Please pay attention, because this is how I know that someday we’ll be able to do anything.

As you know, I’ve been copying (‘burning’) my CDs onto my computer, via a free program called iTunes (see November 25 column) thence to be synched at blistering speed onto my iPod.

When I pop a CD into the drive, iTunes generally responds by displaying the title of the CD, the artist, the composer, and the titles of all the songs.

Hmph, I thought the first time I saw this – I guess all that’s encoded somehow in the CD. Who knew? Well, why not – smart.

Every once in a while I’ll insert a disk for which it can find no information – for example, a disk David Lowenherz just sent commemorating his 25 years as a historic document dealer. When I do that, iTunes asks if I want to continue anyway, and gives me a chance to enter the information manually (which I do).

The program seems to be saying it actually checked the Internet to find information on the disk before giving up – but I wasn’t sure what that was about. Could each disk have the equivalent of an ISBN number encoded into it, which iTunes then goes to some central database to look up?

Well, no. If I have this right (and the explanation comes from the estimable Paul Lerman, so I probably do), information is NOT encoded onto the disks. So the engineers at Apple, or someplace, faced an interesting task. How could they figure out what disk had been inserted without having to make the user type it in? And how could they know not just that it’s Beethoven’s Ninth, but which orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s Ninth?

An impossible task.

So get this:

What iTunes does is look at the disk to see how many ‘cuts’ it has – how many separate songs (or movements or whatever) – and how long each one is. It then compares that essentially unique fingerprint with a huge database of CDs.

Think about it. Lots of CDs have 10 cuts, or 6 cuts, or 19 cuts . . . but how many are there with 16 cuts where the first cut is exactly two minutes and 27 seconds long?

And, if that’s not a sufficiently unique identifier, where the second cut is exactly four minutes and 42 seconds long and the third is exactly two minutes 40 seconds long?

Probably just one: London Records’ Opera Gala release of Puccini’s Turandot, that I am listening to now.

Is this ingenious or what? Talk about thinking outside the jewel case!

It doesn’t cure cancer or allow us to travel backward in time. But it encourages me that we surely will cure cancer one day and – even though it would be impossible to travel back in time – maybe we’ll one day do that, too. (And I don’t mean just with the current retrograde policies emanating from Washington.)

Of course, you can take ingenuity too far. Stem cell research, for example. Yes, it could someday save your child’s life. But not if this White House has anything to say about it.

WHITE HOUSE BEHIND CHRISTMAS ATTACK ON STEM CELL RESEARCH?
Contact: Don C. Reed (510) 790-0901
Chairperson, Californians for Cure
Sponsor, Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act

‘This is like Scrooge putting Tiny Tim’s doctor in jail!,’ said stem cell activist Don C. Reed today, reacting to news that White House officials were part of a stealth campaign at the United Nations to internationally ban all forms of cloning, with an up-or-down vote planned for December 8.

‘My son is paralyzed with a spinal cord injury,’ said Reed. ‘Therapeutic cloning for stem cells is our only realistic hope of cure: that he will one day stand up and walk. But the White House continually attacks that research, apparently because of the religious convictions of the President.’

As reported in Thursday’s Financial Times of London, the Bush-backed Costa Rica plan would ban cloning everywhere. This would overturn the November 6 vote by the U.N.’s Legal Committee. By a razor-thin margin, (80-79, with 15 nations abstaining) that vote postponed a decision on the controversial therapy for two years.

‘Mr. Bush did not like the way that vote turned out,’ said Reed, ‘And he wants a new vote. Well, I did not like the way the 2000 Presidential election turned out, but I don’t get to have that vote re-done. Millions of people will suffer if the President can overturn the November 6th U.N. vote. That vote did not approve or disapprove therapeutic cloning. It only says, we should take time make this important decision carefully — what’s wrong with that?’

A more moderate measure, sponsored by Belgium and backed by the UK, would ban reproductive cloning but allow member nations to make their own decisions on therapeutic cloning for medical research. This is opposed by the President, the Catholic church, and anti-abortion organizations.

‘The American Medical Association supports therapeutic cloning,’ says Reed, ‘As does our own National Academy of Science. Exhaustive studies have been done on therapeutic cloning again and again, both nationally and in the state of California, as well as in countries like England, Israel, Singapore and China. All arrive at the same conclusion: reproductive cloning of children is dangerous to the unborn child, and should be banned; but therapeutic cloning of stem cells is potentially enormously valuable to cure hundreds of diseases and disabilities, and should be preserved.

‘None of the stem cell lines approved by the White House can ever be used to help people,’ says Reed, ‘Because all of those stem cells were fed on rat feeder layers, which not only brings the possibility of interspecies infection, but also disqualifies them for human use according to FDA guidelines. To individualize embryonic stem cells for human use, therapeutic cloning for cells is a must.

‘If therapeutic cloning is banned, embryonic stem cell research is effectively killed,’ said Reed, ‘and my son is imprisoned in his wheelchair forever. This is not the sort of Christmas present one expects from the President of the United States.’

Don C. Reed is the sponsor of California’s Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Act.

Life is compromise. On religious grounds, the Republicans will not allow us the life-saving, disability-relieving benefits of stem cell research . . . or the voters of California, nausea-abating medical marijuana . . . or the voters of Oregon, ‘death with dignity’. But so far as I know they have no objection to automatic CD identification.

Final note: Did you watch the Ronald Reagan movie that was dropped by CBS, shown last night on Showtime instead? It was a TV movie, with its good points (quite a few) and bad points (well, it was a TV movie). That CBS would have been cowed into dropping it bodes badly for all of us.

 

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