Housing Free-Fall: They Didn’t Care When It Wasn’t Them

The percipitous drop in American housing prices is causing a lot of the consternation in the financial markets these days.  But it’s not without precedent in the U.S., or at least in Texas, where many doutbtless remember their own housing prices "going south" in the wake of the oil bust in the early 1980’s.

The 1970’s were in general an era of high energy prices, but two spikes in particular were bookends to the whole adventure: the 1973 embargo spike after the Yom Kippur War (which also signalled the emergence of OPEC as a force to be rekoned with,) and the 1979 spike that went with the Iranian Revolution.  The latter actually detonated a 2-3 year spate of high oil prices, which fuelled a boom for both the oil companies and the oilfield service industry.

It was a great era to be in that business.  In Canada it was the era of the Dome Petroleum bubble.  In this country, the oilfield states–Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma in particular–had an economy which basically went nuts.  Detroit seemed to empty itself out and move to Houston.   The Offshore Technology Conference hit its peak attendance in 1982 at just over 100,000, something it has never done since.  It was a time when it was virtually impossible not to make money.

But that came to an end.  A combination of the effect of energy conservation measures and the emergence of the spot market induced the collapse of oil prices, and the industry that went with it.  Prosperous companies literally disappeared overnight, leaving a wake of rusting equipment and unemployees.  The housing market collapsed too.   In 1982 my brother bought his house in Spring; in two years it had lost half of his value, and he was (along with a lot of other people) "upside-down" on their mortages.  Some responded by simply abandoning their homes in the dead of night, leaving the bank with the keys, to take a serious haircut on the loan.  The Texas financial system, once a network of independent regional banks, was taken with it, never to regain its previous autonomy.

The whole disaster changed the psyche of the region to a more sober and, in many ways, mature one. Today the entire world is facing what the oilfield had to deal with a quarter of a century ago.   But now everyone cares; this country has an economic elite with a very low tolerance for pain, one born in part of attitude and in part from very high leverage of themselves and their assets.  It’s easy to ignore a problem when it isn’t yours, but now it’s everybody’s.

Prince Harry Doesn’t Like England. Join the Club.

Prince Harry doesn’t care much for the centrepiece of his realm:

But Harry, third in line to the British crown, didn’t seem overly happy with his homeland’s press, who have given generous coverage in recent years to his partying escapades in the nightclubs of London and elsewhere.

"I don’t want to sit around in Windsor," he said, referring to his barracks near a royal residence outside London in a pooled interview in Afghanistan last week, released after the blackout on his whereabouts was broken.

"But I generally don’t like England that much and, you know, it’s nice to be away from all the press and the papers and all…"

Neither did the many who left the British Isles to fill two entire continents.  And the result is an improvement, as I note in the appendix to the Positive Infinity New Testament.

Ignatius, the Anglicans and the Bishops

Back in the fall, in response to my post St. Jerome’s Idea of Bishops and Presbyters, Abu Daoud asked me the following:

I am wondering how you square Jerome’s idea with the much earlier statements by Ignatius of Antioch regarding the centrality of the bishop in the ministry of the church (ie, do nothing without your bishop.)

Looks like a number of people up in Canada may be asking themselves the same question:

On his way to Rome to be executed for spreading Christianity, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote letters to leaders of a still-small church emerging around the ideas of Jesus Christ, crucified only decades before.

His letters spelled out what it meant to be Christian and formed the basis of the Catholic Church and, later, the Anglican Church. too. This week, some 1,900 years later, Ignatius’s words are echoing in a legal battle over church property.

At issue is what it means to be an Anglican; at stake is who can claim title to three conservative churches that have voted to break away from the Anglican Church of Canada in a dispute essentially over the blessing of same-sex marriages.

For the Anglican Church of Canada, Ignatius’s emphasis on loyalty to the local bishop as a defining characteristic of church membership is as important today as it was in the 2nd Century.

"He pushes hard for unity centred around the bishop," Anglican canon law expert Rev. Alan Perry says.

"Ignatius says to the people not to gather at another table for the Eucharist, but gather with your bishop as a symbol of unity."

Yet some self-professed conservative Canadian congregations are implicitly taking issue with Ignatius, leaving the mother church and hoping to take parish property with them.

The key issue here is the unity of the church.

Both Ignatius and Jerome agree that the role of the bishop is to insure the unity of the church.  So for that matter does TEC and ACC.  The problem comes when heresy arrives.

Ignatius lived in a church which literally lived in the shadow of the Apostolic teaching.  They had an orthodox and homogeneous view of what it meant to be a Christian and of the truth that defined that.  So bishops defended both orthdoxy and church unity.

In the case of Jerome, he came to prominence in an era when Christianity was struggling to emerge from the Arian controversy.  In that fiasco many sees had two or more competing bishops.  Jerome himself was caught up in the competition for the Patriarchal see of Antioch; depending on how you count them, there were three or four competitors, one Arian, one old Nicene, one "new" Nicene, and later an Appollonarist.  In this situation bishops did little to encourage unity but in fact perpetuated division.

The lesson from all of this is simple: if you’re going to have unity of church structure, you’ve got to have unity of belief, and that belief must be in accordance with the clear intention of the Founder.  Heretical divisions delegitimise the structure of the church.  Simply appealing to episcopal structures won’t cut it.  It didn’t in Jerome’s day and doesn’t now.

Hillary Clinton’s Red Phone Ad: It Works, But…

Having been alive and remembering when Lyndon Johnson "nuked" Barry Goldwater with the "daisies" ad, I have to admit that her "red phone ad" is pretty powerful.

One big problem: she’s pitching it to the party of Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma where it will not resonate as it could elsewhere.
Below is the "archetype" of Clinton’s current ad.

Digitising Vinyl with an Old Mac

Note: since I originally posted this, the technology has changed.  Now we have rigs to directly convert vinyl to mp3 (although vinyl purists cringe at the thought.)  But I’m not sure these are the best way to go; the turntables and cartridges aren’t always the best.  I still prefer a Mac for this and use a MacBook for the purpose, although the software is available on Linux and Windows.

A recent offshoot of The Ancient Star-Song, the Christian music blog, is http://learntodigitizeyourrecords.blogspot.com/, which is a forum for “tips and tricks” on getting your vinyl (or tape) into a digital format. Having done some of this, I thought I would outline how I get this done on my old, low end Mac. Most this can be accomplished in pretty much the same way on a PC with a few modifications.

The Mac I’m using is a Titanium G4 Powerbook. This laptop has an line audio input (as opposed to a microphone input, which won’t do for this job,) which makes digitising easy. That’s one of the main reasons I bought the Powerbook to start with. The manufacturers’ inclusion of a line audio input on a computer has traditionally been an on-again, off-again proposition, and now it’s almost mandatory to use some kind of USB appliance for line audio input on most computers.

One thing that makes the process considerably faster and less prone to digital skips is to use a high-speed hard drive, like one would use for video production. In this case I have a 7200 rpm, 100 GB hard drive for the job. I’ve used slower hard drives but wouldn’t go back to them.

Recording and Digitising

In any case, I’ve always tried to put the quality up front. To play the records, I use a Goldring G900 SE cartridge with an AR turntable and a Quad 33 preamp. I rigged a special adapter to connect the 5-pin DIN connectors on the Quad to the miniature (that terminology dates me!) jack for the computer. All records are cleaned at least with a Decca record brush, and either Diswasher or Ball Sound Guard if the occasion calls for it (which it will, especially if you’re a true collector.)

The main software to digitise the incoming signal is Audacity, which is free. Audacity generally defaults to a 44 kHz sample rate, which is what you want. My usual procedure is to record the album onto one continuous file, pausing the recording to turn the record over. It’s generally a good idea to also display the level meter in the system settings as well as Audacity, to make sure you’re not overloading the input and producing a great deal of clipping. In the old days, one always had to shoot between too high of an input (which produced analogue clipping, as opposed to digital) and low (which featured the noise too prominently.) It’s always better in both cases to err on the low side, but with digital recording one doesn’t have to worry too much about the noise problem.

Once I’ve done this, I take a look at the sound profile from start to finish. If the pops aren’t too bad, I’ll have the program automatically amplify the file as much as possible. If the pops restrict the amplification, I’ll play around until I find the amplification necessary to avoid clipping the main signal (which is essential for good quality.) Amplifying the signal in this way keeps the relative dynamic range of the songs the same as the original album, and amplifying it as much as possible is a convenience for the listener, who can avoid fooling around with this volume control. (An example of an album that didn’t do this kind of amplification is the otherwise outstanding Outpouring album.)

With the file amplified, I save it in WAV format, then use Audacity’s “save selection” feature to select each song and save each as an individual file. Before starting this, create a folder and put each of the songs into the folder as separate WAV files.

File Catalogue and mp3 Conversion

After this, I generally use iTunes to catalogue the files and perform the mp3 conversion. You can use the LAME encoder with Audacity, but I’ve found that iTunes’ results are smoother sounding and have a smaller file size for the same streaming rate. You can import the entire folder in one shot using iTunes, then batch modify the file information to include the artist, album, year, genre, track number, and other information you’d like to include. I set iTunes up to actually import the files rather than use them in place. Once you’ve done all this, create a smart playlist and burn an audio CD of the results. This is for two reasons: a) it enables you to play and review it away from your computer, in your car for example, and b) gives you a digitised archive without any lossy compression, which is important if you ever lose your iTunes library.

Now you’re ready to do the mp3 conversion. The advantage of iTunes is that you can batch convert the files into mp3, then remove the WAV files (make sure you’re trashing the WAV files, iTunes isn’t always clear on which is which!) Although I’ve seen a 320 streaming rate for most of the albums I’ve downloaded, I don’t think it’s necessary for vinyl; 192 is fine, and will result in about a 30-40% smaller archive.

Cover Artwork

Obviously the best way to capture cover artwork is to set the cover up and use a digital camera to photograph it. Use the highest resolution you can, shooting in conditions with good lighting but ones that avoid any glare from light sources on the cover. Use a tripod so you don’t have to use flash; the results are generally better. Once this is done, I import the files into Photoshop, crop them and eliminate perspective distortion, correct the colour, and save them both in their native resolution and in the resolution you’re planning to use on the web.

One common fault I’m seeing with some cover photos is that the camera is too close to the cover, which makes the corners “curl away” from the centre, creating a distortion that’s hard to fix. It’s also a good idea to do both front and back.

Archive Files and Uploading

At this point you’re ready to upload. My situation is different from most others in that I do my own web hosting. In my early postings, I simply uploaded the individual mp3 files and had people right-click on them one at a time. This is generally a pain, although you’ll find your songs will disseminate more profusely. Now I put an album into a single archive file. Most music blogs use the rar archive format. This format is beloved of hackers because search engines have problems seeing what’s inside, which is frequently warez software.

The simple truth is, however, that after you’ve applied a lossy compression method such as mp3 files use, putting a lossless one on top of it with the rar, zip, or gz will shrink the file little, if any. My favourite method of putting an album’s archive files is to use a Unix front end such as CocoaZip and make a tar archive out of them. You can also include the cover art in such as file.

Once you’ve done that, you upload the file where people can access it, link to it, and it’s ready for dissemination. You can take a look  my terms and conditions for examples of dealing with artists’ and other copyright holders’ wishes for their music.

Other Items

  • Some of the Macintosh programs I use can be found here. If you’re still using OS 9, I don’t have a good audio editor for this, but you can still use iTunes for the mp3 conversion and organisation, and Coaster (available here) to actually digitise the analogue signal.
  • There’s another description of the process (more centred on PC’s with a more modern set-up in every way) here.