Divulging and Disseminating Scanner Communications

One of those laws that everyone thinks they know, but no one can really identify, is supposed to make it illegal to divulge or disseminate information you hear on the scanner.

RadioReference seems to have thoroughly debunked it, though, using an obscure technique known as “Looking the law up and seeing what it says.” In fact, the oft-cited law refers to anyone transmitting or receiving (or assisting therein) “any interstate or foreign communication by wire or radio,” which automatically rules out most scanner communications. But then, as if that weren’t enough, it has a giant exception, clarifying that it’s entirely legal to intercept anything received “through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public,” and also explicitly permits interception of any signal which is “for the use of the general public, or that relates to ships, aircraft, vehicles, or persons in distress,” or any transmission “by any governmental, law enforcement, civil defense, private land mobile, or public safety communications system, including police and fire, readily accessible to the general public.”

On Florida ham radio operator, who streams his scanner audio over the Internet, asked the FCC for clarification. Their response is here, and unambiguously confirms that what he is doing is not illegal under FCC law. (Additionally, it clarifies that the “readily accessible to the general public” references encryption.)

Both of these links are discussed in this thread on RadioReference, started to call attention to an article describing a California police department which issued a memo warning officers about smartphones with applications that stream online feeds of police scanners. (There are several for the iPhone, most (all?) of which work by streaming the Live Audio section of Radio Reference. Boston PD is conspicuously absent; a few people have discussed hosting one but it’s yet to come to fruition.)

Solved: ‘configure returned error 77’ in Mac Ports

I’m posting this in the hopes that the next person stumped by this will find it…

Using Mac Ports, I just tried to install mtr, but received a cryptic error during compilation:

Error: Target org.macports.configure returned: configure failure: shell command " cd "/opt/local/var/macports/build/_opt_local_var_macports_sources_rsync.macports.org_release_ports_net_mtr/work/mtr-0.75" && ./configure --prefix=/opt/local --without-gtk " returned error 77

This didn’t convey much information to me. I then tried installing wget for something separate, only to get this:

Error: Unable to execute port: can't read "build.cmd": Failed to locate 'make' in path: '/opt/local/bin:/opt/local/sbin:/bin:/sbin:/usr/bin:/usr/sbin' or at its MacPorts configuration time location, did you move it?

Ah-ha! No, I didn’t move it. I don’t have it. The real fix is to install XCode, which is on your Snow Leopard install DVD. (I believe it can be downloaded from the Internet, too, if need be.) After installing XCode and restarting,

TuneUp Reviewed

TuneUp is a program that works in conjunction with iTunes to go through all your generic music and clean it up: fixing metadata and grabbing cover art. I tried a free trial and found that it worked, so I bought it when I found it on sale a while ago.

I have copious amounts of unidentified music, because, uhh, I imported all of my legally-acquired music and lost the metadata. Lots of others have the same problem. Here’s a pretty good sample of what Cover Flow in iTunes looks like for me:

Before treating with TuneUp

You’ll also notice that the album is called “Unknown Album,” but at least the artist is identified. I have more “Track 01” by “Unknown Artist” albums than is reasonable, and still more songs that are correctly labeled but that lack cover art.

I haven’t finished running my whole library through it yet, but here’s how it’s looking. For one, here’s a shot of it in action:

TuneUp in Action

(Why on Earth aren’t my images being resized?!) As you can see, TuneUp is a sidebar that sits on the side of iTunes. You drag songs into TuneUp, and it’ll go off and try to identify each of the songs. Incidentally, this screenshot shows a pet peeve: the song it’s identifying is definitely not “Gotta Get That Money Mayne.” It’s really easy to understand how these things happen, but it’s still an annoying experience.

More annoying, though, is its tendency to correctly identify songs, but place them on strange albums. Compilations / mixes, such as the “NOW! 456” CDs are prime candidates. “A Long December” is apparently from a “Buzz Ballads,” by “Various Artists.” I have some really obscure songs, but Counting Crows aren’t among them. Oftentimes, I find that it’s correct, but in an annoying way. My copy of “Stairway to Heaven,” for example, is apparently a version recorded for the BBC that’s a bit longer than the ‘normal’ one. And although rare, it seemed to guess totally-incorrect songs here and there. (One song, whose name I don’t actually know, was named something in a foreign language from an artist of a very different genre.) Another time, I mistakenly let it name a song who was named completely correctly, it with something by “Various Artists.” Boo. I think these things come with the territory, though — taking audio files saved in lossy formats and uniquely identifying them can’t possibly be an exact science. Although sometimes, the mistakes are unforgivable, like renaming a Jay-Z song to a Dino song. Another song was correctly labeled but given cover art for “Inde – Rajasthan: Musiciens professionnels populaires” appearing to show a bunch of Indian musicians in traditional attire, which is not the cover art I would have chosen for a Jesse McCartney song.

Still, at the end of the day, it’s accurate a lot more than it’s wrong, so I’m willing to let it go. For $29.95, I think it’s worthwhile. If you’re feeling less sure, you can always give their free trial a go; it’s capped at 100 songs or so. But remember that it’s not perfect, and that you can’t just accept all its results unless you’re willing to have it give some of your songs incorrect names.

A Resolution

Yesterday, I realized something: by givings a thumbs-up to songs that were mildly tolerable, I was encouraging Pandora to play more tolerable music. In an instant, my whole strategy changed. Instead of givings a thumbs-up to anything that was okay, I only give a thumbs-up to a song if I’d consider buying it. And a thumbs-down is no longer reserved for truly awful songs, but for anything that would have caused me to change the station if I were listening in my car. (Which is to say, well over half of what’s played.)

I think there’s a good life less in here somewhere.