Dead but not yet buried

Rattling around on the back seat of my car is a spindle of CDs which I burned to listen to in the car after I upgraded to one that had a CD player.

Catching sight of them the other day, it popped into my head that the phrase ‘dead man walking’ describes CD (and DVD) technology perfectly. CDs were marvels of technology when they were launched in 1982. They held a whopping 700 MB of data, the equivalent of about 80 minutes of uncompressed audio.

CD BruléImage courtsesy *** Fanch The System !!! ***

CDs made buying and carrying your music around much more convenient and, when CD writers and blank discs became available, they were a great boon to computer enthusiasts as well. No longer did we have to plug in 50-odd floppy disks when installing such packages as Microsoft Office; the whole shebang would now fit on one CD disc.

*** Aside *** Who remembers their first CD- Rewriter? I remember buying my first one. It was 2-speed HP external drive which connected to the computer with a parallel printer cable and seemed to create more dud discs than anything else. It was so clunky and yet so cool and convenient at the time.

Time has passed, unfortunately, and CDs have now become too small and too inconvenient to survive in the long term. I first became aware of this when I found that I was having to use two or three CDs to back up the pictures from a single photographic shoot.

I had no problem burning CDs to listen to in the car and popping them in and out of the player when it was safe to do so. I was occasionally frustrated at having to listen to the same one over and over again when I had either forgotten to burn a new one, or it wasn’t safe to fiddle around in the glove compartment looking for something fresh.

And then everything changed one day recently when an interesting parcel arrived from my niece in Australia. The contents were described as ‘Old iPod. Donation for poor’, and turned out to be her old third-generation iPod Nano, with a 4 GB storage capacity.

Around the same time, when riding in a friend’s car, I noticed he was playing his own music through his car radio using a modulator plugged into the cigarette lighter. These cool devices are available around town at around R120 and broadcast audio in such a way that your car radio can receive it and play it through the car hi-fi system.

The modulator I bought allows you to plug SD cards or flash drives with audio recorded on them directly into it, or you can connect a music player using a cable. I soon had a cable made (3.5mm male audio plug to 2.5mm male) and I was in business.

It was a revelation to me when I realised I was now able to carry my entire collection of music and a couple of podcasts on a device very little bigger than a credit card. The easy-to-use interface and the tiny screen makes it incredibly easy to find the item I want to listen to, but I also enjoy letting the iPod play songs at random.

I was already using Apple’s iTunes software to play music on my computer and to subscribe to free podcasts from the iTunes Store. I am now already in the routine of plugging the iPod into my computer every few days, to recharge it, and to copy over a couple of podcasts that iTunes has downloaded in the meantime.

I was lucky to receive an iPod as a gift and I am very aware that the South African price of the units puts them out of the reach of many people. Luckily, there are many other options for people to carry their audio entertainment with them. There are reasonably priced portable MP3 players that can also do the job, while increasing numbers of people have mobile phones that can be used to carry music as well.

An even cheaper option that I’ve already alluded to, is to buy a modulator which can accept cheap SD cards or flash disks. A setup like that needn’t cost more than R150 or R200 and is a perfectly viable way of keeping yourself entertained.

Based on my own experiences and those of other commentators, I truly believe that the era of storing data on discs is passing away at great speed. Solid-state memory, such as we get into flash drives and music players, is here and will rule the roost until a better technology comes along and replaces it.

CDs will disappear first and then so will the various flavours of DVD, not all that long behind them. Then factor into the equation the rise of online music and video stores, and it becomes clear that neighbourhood shops selling music and video discs are going to have to think of a new business model.

Listening to music and podcasts in the car has now become so convenient that it is a part of my daily routine. I’m now thinking that it’s time that my computer was connected to the hi-fi, so that the same entertainment is available to me in quiet times at home. But that’s another story.

Just a quick note to end on: has anyone noticed how cheap ADSL bandwidth is starting to become. Afrihost.com is now offering prepaid bandwidth for R39.00 per Gb (R28 on contract) and is currently running a 2 for 1 special. And not only that, if the experts on the ZATech (zatech.co.za) podcast are correct, even cheaper bandwidth will be with us soon.

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