'Vintage & Rare' Category

Frank Zappa: Technology, Business & the Web

During his lifetime, Frank Zappa was an inspirational free thinker, a compelling speaker and, often flying right in the face of the norm, held absolute conviction in his beliefs. For me, he was also the greatest and most inventive composer and guitar player to grace the planet.

Business Nous, Technology Vision

In addition to those bitchen’ factoids, Frank is also a business and technology hero of mine, and it’s maybe not so widely known how switched on to these fields he was throughout his career.

From the very earliest days of his career, Frank was determined to maintain creative and business control of his own product – by 1969, he headed a pair of record labels (Bizarre/Straight), releasing his own solo & Mothers of Invention material as well as other artists, including Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley and Captain Beefheart. In the mid-late 1970s, Frank demonstrated his absolute commitment to control, entering a legal spat with Warner Bros. records after they refused to distribute the ‘Läther’ four-LP box, instead chopping it into four separate album releases. He was vindicated in court, winning back the rights to all of his MGM & Warner Bros. recordings. All of his releases post-1979 appeared on his own Barking Pumpkin or Zappa Records labels.

After years of complacency, poor management, lack of innovation and an inability (or unwillingness) to explore new business models, many major record labels are on their knees today, a direct result of their ignorance of digital distribution – a concept invented by Frank way back in 1983. In fact, Frank’s idea to distribute music over a phone or cable connection was designed specifically to save money on distribution and curtail piracy. Yes, not only did Frank predict Napster, LimeWire et al, but he also came up with iTunes as a means to prevent the recording industry meltdown we’re now in the midst of.

Frank’s embrace of the latest technology began before the days of the Mothers of Invention – even in the early 60s he worked with a 5-track multitrack recording system, when such a setup was very high technology indeed and restricted to only the most expensive recording studios. In the 1980s, he began creating music using the New England Digital Synclavier digital audio workstation, largely obviating the human performers he had relied on for the rest of his career. As the Synclavier’s technology progressed, Frank stayed at the cutting edge – adding disk drives to store samples and more and more memory for multitracking. Compare the (Grammy award winning!) Jazz From Hell album with the final masterpiece, Civilization Phaze III, to hear the difference between the cutting edge FM voices of 1986 and the most sophisticated wavetable synthesis available in 1993. Frank’s Synclavier in its ultimate form was specced with 640MB of sample RAM. (In 1993, my desktop was running Windows 3.1 on a 486 with 4MB of RAM.)

FZ Online, 2011

Even in his absence, Frank’s following today is stronger than ever, thanks greatly to the dedicated community of fans using the web to share, enjoy and spread the word. Tomorrow, I’ll share my favourite Zappa-centric corners of the web, but for now, Easy Meat.

Apple Rhapsody OS Screenshot Gallery

Extending my recent tutorial on installing the Rhapsody OS under VMWare, a gallery of screenshots of the ‘missing link’ between Mac OS X and NeXTSTEP.

Install Rhapsody DR2 on VMWare [How To]

Way back in December of 2010 I wrote a tutorial detailing how to get the NeXT OpenStep 4 OS loaded up in VMWare Fusion on the Macintosh. NeXT operating systems are full of nascent incarnations of OS X features, which makes them great fun for Macintosh geeks (myself included) to have a poke around in. Exploring OpenStep yields some interesting gems, but the trail really picks up in Rhapsody. Development of Rhapsody began when NeXT was purchased by Apple in late 1996; the OS itself takes the BSD underpinnings of NeXTSTEP/OpenStep and the desktop experience of the Macintosh, architecturally prototypical of what we now recognise as Mac OS X.

Needless to say, it’s a very interesting OS to explore, and can run pretty smoothly under VMWare. Here’s how:

(more…)

Royal Wedding iPhone 5 Birth Certificate


Sure fire way to increase traffic.

Vintage & Rare Part II – Windows Me Beta 1 (Georgia)

No, you read that title correctly – there actually was a beta version of Windows Me. Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft did test Me before shipping it, under the beta code name of Georgia. I loaded up Georgia 4.90.2380 on VirtualBox this week to take a look at a prerelease version of a product who’s negative reception could give Vista or Kin a run for its money any day of the week.

I decided to set my VBox ostype to ‘Windows98’ for this installation rather than ‘WindowsMe’…this is a beta version which definitely still has more in common with 98 than the final product. This VBox is equipped with a generous 128MB of RAM and a 2GB hard drive.

The Georgia CD is bootable, and immediately asks if I’d like to install Windows 98. The mislabeling of the OS on the CD is a pretty good indicator of the completeness of the CD installer – my copy didn’t even have the facility to partition and format the hard drive. Instead, I had to boot to a Windows 95  installation disk to prepare the disk. Further to this, the installer wouldn’t load automatically from the CD: even if you select ‘Start Windows Setup’ at the main menu, you are sent to a command prompt with an error message declaring that the Windows setup files cannot be found. Luckily, switching the prompt to the CD drive and typing ‘SETUP’ kicks things back into life. (more…)