COVID changed the way we use drugs and alcohol — now it’s time to properly invest in treatment



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Nicole Lee, Curtin University

During crises and disasters, alcohol and other drug use often changes. But the changes are not straightforward and impacts may be different for different groups of people.

There doesn’t seem to have been significant overall increases or decreases in alcohol or other drug use during the COVID-19 pandemic, but some groups are at increased risk. And access to treatment is more limited for those who need it.

It’s a complex picture

There’s a bit of data around, but the picture is still not quite clear.
As researchers from the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University have argued in an editorial published today, we need more research to understand the influence of the pandemic on use.

There were some early indicators of increases in Australians’ alcohol consumption as the pandemic hit, possibly related to increased stress. But that effect seemed to reduce as we settled into the new normal.

At the beginning of COVID-19 restrictions in March, Commonwealth Bank reported spending had increased on alcohol, but this was then reversed in April.

And in April, a study by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education found that most people who had stockpiled alcohol reported drinking more. Also around the same time, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed more people had increased their drinking (14.4%) than had decreased it (9.5%).

By May, the Australian National University found more people had decreased their drinking (27%) than had increased it (20%). The Global Drug Survey between May and June found similar results among the mostly young people who responded.

However, alcohol use seemed to increase among some groups, possibly those who are more vulnerable to harms.




Read more:
Worried about your drinking during lockdown? These 8 signs might indicate a problem


In both the ABS and ANU studies, more women had increased their drinking than decreased it, which seemed to be related to higher stress linked to increased responsibilities at home.

In a survey of people who use illicit drugs, more people increased (41%) than decreased (33%) drinking. And among people who inject drugs around 11% reported increased drinking.

There have also been indicators that family violence has increased during this time. Alcohol and other drug use is a risk factor for family violence.

We need more data about heavy drug use

Since the onset of the pandemic, two studies found cannabis use had increased but other drug use had decreased or was stable. The respondents were mostly young, used for recreational purposes and were not dependent nor did they have serious problems.

Reductions in use of drugs like MDMA and cocaine, which are associated with festivals and parties, are not surprising since these large events have been restricted for months.

Two studies suggested cannabis use was on the rise, but we still need more and better data on how the pandemic has impacted heavy users.
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Most of the research hasn’t involved people who are heavy or dependent users, so we don’t know much about changes in use in these groups.

One study of people who inject drugs (who tend to use more regularly) reported some changes to availability and purity of some drugs, and small changes in use, but again some people increased and some decreased their use.

With physical distancing and lockdowns, it’s likely more people used alone or with fewer people. This means if anything goes wrong, help is further away.

Telehealth for drug treatment?

A survey of treatment services found that among services that reported changes in demand, most had an increase. Most services also reported that mental health problems, family violence and financial stress had all increased among people who use their services. These factors can make treatment more complex.

There is some evidence fewer people accessed medication treatment for opioids during the restrictions, like methadone.

COVID-19 restrictions have changed the way many services offer treatment. Most residential rehabilitation services have reduced the number of places available so they can ensure physical distancing.

Many treatment services are reporting increased demand.
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Before COVID-19 there were already long waiting lists for residential rehabilitation, so with more than 70% of services reporting reduced capacity, people may have found it harder to access residential treatment.

Non-residential services (like counselling or day programs) haven’t significantly reduced the number of people they see, and most have partially or fully moved to telehealth.

As a result, around 35% of services said fewer people missed appointments. This might be due to the easier access telehealth provides, including the reduced travel time.

However, around 25% of services said more people missed appointments. Anecdotal interviews suggest some of this might be due to difficulty transitioning to online appointments. One person said: “I know they are on Zoom but I don’t know how to use it”.

These adaptations are more complex than they appear. The time and effort required for services to make significant changes takes time away from providing treatment.

The move to telehealth is a significant one, requiring additional hardware and software, training of staff, and help for people who use the service to work out how to use the technology. Things like ensuring confidentiality can be more difficult when someone is receiving counselling at home with family around, for example.

Piecemeal funding for treatment services

The alcohol and other drug sector was already significantly under-resourced and struggling to meet existing demand before COVID-19.

In April, federal health minister Greg Hunt announced A$6 million in funding for alcohol and other drug services. Just over half of this was allocated to three organisations to increase online access to support services. The rest went to information and awareness campaigns. But no funds were set aside for existing treatment services to make COVID-19 related changes to their services.

Various state governments have allocated some funding to support alcohol and other drug services to adjust to COVID-19:

  • Tasmania released a total of A$450,000 to help services transition to telehealth

  • Western Australia allocated a total of A$350,000 for specialist alcohol and other drug services to maintain services amid the pandemic

  • Victoria and South Australia announced additional support to help people access medication treatment.

Further funding is needed to ensure services can continue to provide COVID-safe services.

It’s important for people who use alcohol and other drugs, and for the public, that alcohol and other drug treatment is well-supported to continue to operate during these changes. We know treatment is cost-effective, reduces crime and increases participation in the community. For every dollar invested in drug treatment, $7 is saved to the community.

Getting help

If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s alcohol or other drug use, you can get help by phoning the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

You can also access support online through CounsellingOnline, Hello Sunday Morning and SMART Recovery.

You may also be eligible to access one of the new telehealth services. Talk to your GP to find out more.The Conversation

Nicole Lee, Professor at the National Drug Research Institute (Melbourne), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

More screen time, snacking and chores: a snapshot of how everyday life changed during the first coronavirus lockdown



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Deborah Lupton, UNSW

With Victorians heading into a new round of even harsher lockdown measures, there will again be a focus on how people will cope — the various ways such restrictions change lifestyles and how we adapt to them.

New data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics provides a snapshot of how Australians changed their behaviours, activities and consumption patterns as people were forced to stay home during the country’s first COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year.

To understand how the virus affected people’s everyday lives, the ABS ran a fortnightly survey with the same group of 1,000 people from April 1 to July 10. Here are some of the key findings.

Higher levels of anxiety

Lockdown restrictions began to be implemented in Australia from mid-March. Not surprisingly, in the first ABS survey in early April, respondents reported some immediate changes, such as a loss of contact with other people.

Just under half of people reported having no in-person contact with friends or family outside their household. Nearly all had used phone and video calls and text messages to keep in touch.

By mid-April, financial hardship was also starting to set in for people. Nearly a third of respondents reported their household finances had worsened due to COVID-19.




Read more:
We need to flatten the ‘other’ coronavirus curve, our looming mental health crisis


People’s mental health was also beginning to suffer by mid-April. Compared with a pre-COVID health national survey of Australians, twice as many people reported feelings of anxiety at some point. One in nine Australians also felt hopeless at least some of the time.

More women and younger people reported these feelings compared with men and people aged 65 years and over.

Working from home and changes in diets

Survey results from early May 2020 began to show how people were adjusting their lifestyles to the new routines. Restrictions had just started to ease slightly at this point.

Findings from this stage showed some gender differences. Women (56%) were more likely to be working from home compared with men (38%). Perhaps related to this, women were also more likely to be feeling lonely than men (28% compared with 16%).

The ABS found some notable changes in consumption habits. The early May survey showed fewer people were purchasing additional household supplies (21%) compared with March (47%), suggesting panic-buying had subsided.

Empty supermarket shelves were a familiar site during early lockdown days.
James Gourley/AAP

People were spending their money on other purchases instead. From early April to early May, one in five people reported eating more snack food, while 13% of respondents were eating more fruit and vegetables.

Purchase of takeaway or delivered food declined over this period, with almost a third of respondents reporting less frequent consumption.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of people were not drinking more in isolation. Just 14% of people reported increasing their alcohol consumption.




Read more:
Coronavirus: it’s tempting to drink your worries away but there are healthier ways to manage stress and keep your drinking in check


More chores and reading

During the early May phase of the lockdown, people were also seeking solace in home-based activities.

Though a majority of people (60%) were reporting more time on screens during lockdown, others were turning to hobbies and other activities.

Forty-one percent of respondents said they were spending more time on household chores and other work around the house and garden: for instance, 39% were doing more reading and crafts, and 38% were spending more time cooking or baking.

When it came to physical health and exercise, though, just one in four people had increased their level of physical activity during lockdown, while one in five had actually spent less time exercising.

Restrictions ease but some lifestyle changes remain

As more restrictions began to ease around the country, people began to think about what they would do once lockdown ended. By late June, Australians’ mental health had improved compared with the height of the lockdown in April.

Fewer people reported feeling stressed, lonely, restless, nervous or that everything was an effort.

More than 90% were still keeping their distance from others, but fewer were avoiding social gatherings.

Interestingly, the easing of restrictions did not change other lifestyle routines that significantly: many people were still spending a lot of time on screens and with pets, cooking, baking and online shopping compared with before the lockdown period.

Life began to return to streets in cities like Sydney in early July, but people still reported avoiding large gatherings.
Dean Lewins/AAP

An optimistic outlook, except for Victorians

When the final ABS survey was conducted in early July, things were looking brighter for most Australians.

Three in five respondents reported their mental health status as good or very good. Most people had an optimistic outlook on the future, with over half believing life had already returned to normal or would return to normal within six months.




Read more:
The psychology of comfort food – why we look to carbs for solace


The big exception was people living in Victoria. In late June and early July, Melbourne had begun to experience a second wave of infections and a re-introduction of restrictions.

Not surprisingly, only 2% of Victorians said their life had already returned to normal or had not changed due to COVID-19.

Where to from here?

The ABS has finished this survey, but is starting a new monthly survey in August, with a new group of respondents. This survey will also focus on Australians’ everyday lives and well-being during the pandemic.

There are also many university-based social research projects currently underway. Once completed, their findings will provide a more detailed picture of how life has changed in Australia during COVID-19 — a situation that continues to evolve day by day.The Conversation

Deborah Lupton, SHARP Professor, Vitalities Lab, Centre for Social Research in Health and Social Policy Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

COVID-19 has changed the future of retail: there’s plenty more automation in store



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Gary Mortimer, Queensland University of Technology; Jana Bowden, Macquarie University; Jason Pallant, Swinburne University of Technology; Louise Grimmer, University of Tasmania, and Martin Grimmer, University of Tasmania

Australian supermarket giant Woolworths has announced its single biggest investment in logistics infrastructure, spending A$780 million to replace up to 1,300 workers with robots.

It plans to build one semi-automated and one fully automated distribution centre in south-west Sydney. About 650 jobs will be created at the new centres, to open in 2024. Three existing centres (two in Sydney, one in Melbourne) will close as a result.

Woolworths’ chief supply chain officer, Paul Graham, emphasised the safety benefits of automation:

Cutting-edge automation will build tailored pallets for specific aisles in individual stores – helping us improve on-shelf product availability with faster restocking, reducing congestion in stores, and enabling a safer work environment for our teams with less manual handling.

In these COVID-conscious times that’s the obvious spin.

But it’s true this is a response to the changes being wrought on the retail sector by COVID-19.

The principal change is a matter of pace. COVID-19 has turbocharged the shift to online shopping. Even as social-distancing rules ease, this trend will consolidate. Many bricks-and-mortar shops are in trouble, particularly those in shopping centres.

Retail will also be shaped by how COVID-19 has changed our shopping behaviour, with thrift and value being important.

Shopping online is the new norm

In April, 5.2 million Australians shopped online, according to Australia Post’s 2020 eCommerce Industry Report. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates those sales were worth A$2.7 billion, 11.1% of all physical retail sales, compared with 7.1% in March 2019.

This sharp hike in demand exposed weaknesses in retailers’ online capabilities. For example, crushing online demand meant both Woolworths and major rival Coles temporarily suspended their online shopping services.

More automated fulfilment centres are part of meeting these online demands. Of course, such investments were already on the radar.

In March 2019, Coles announced an exclusive deal to use the “end-to-end online grocery shopping solution” developed by Ocado, a British online supermarket chain that has no stores, only warehouses. Its technology spans the online shopping experience, automated fulfilment and home delivery.

An Ocado warehouse in Wimbledon, southwest London.
Willy Barton/Shutterstock

The Coles plan included two new “highly automated” customer fulfilment centres in Melbourne and Sydney, to be ready in 2023. Coles also announced plans for two new automated distribution centres in Queensland and NSW, costing A$700 million, in October 2018.

Woolworths itself has already opened the Melbourne South Regional Distribution Centre, whose automated features are hyped in the following promotional video.

So these latest moves are part of a trend, albeit one unexpectedly accelerated by COVID-19. And once consumers try new channels, studies show, they are likely to stick with them.

The future is dark

At the other end of the supply chain, the shift to online shopping has created demand for “dark stores” – essentially, stores without customers. These smaller, decentralised facilities, located in suburbs rather than industrial parks, are designed to pick and dispatch online orders quickly.

Woolworths opened its first dark store in Sydney in 2014. Coles opened its first in Melbourne in 2016. Existing stores are also being repurposed as dark stores. In April 2020, Australia’s Kmart temporarily converted three stores to use as fulfilment centres.

Such moves may become permanent, as shoppers demand faster delivery times and physical store assets become less viable as “traditional” retail businesses.

Existing stores are also being adapted to respond to customer demands for faster, more efficient online shopping. In January 2020, Woolworths began building its first “eStore” – an automated facility adjoining its supermarket in Carrum Downs, Melbourne.

Fewer, smaller stores

As online shopping increasingly provides greater revenue streams for retailers, more physical store closures are also on the cards.

In May, Kmart’s owner, Wesfarmers, announced it would shut 75 of its Target stores (and convert the rest to Kmart stores). Also looking to downsize are Australian department store icons Myer and David Jones, which have accelerated their plans to reduce floor space 20% by 2025.




Read more:
Don’t blame COVID-19: Target’s decline is part of a deeper trend


Footwear giant Accent Group – which owns more than a dozen shoe brands and has more than 500 stores in Australia and New Zealand – is planning to close 28 stores and focus more on online sales.

As online revenues grow, expect more “right-sizing” and closures.

Repurposing shopping centres

All these closures will add to the woes of shopping centres.

Though crowds reportedly surged back to centres when “lockdown” restrictions were eased, growing awareness that the pandemic is not over and social distancing protocols continue to create consumer anxiety.




Read more:
Brick-bait: three tricks up retailers’ sleeves to lure you back to physical shops


Until people feel safe shopping, dining and gathering in crowded public places, consumer aversion will remain.

In response to these COVID-conscious times, shopping centres will endeavour to enhance those aspects of the shopping experience, such as sensory elements and entertainment, which the online shopping experience can’t provide.

The retail mix will change: fewer fashion and general merchandise shops, and more services such as medical centres, offices and childcare centres.

Opportunities for smaller retailers

One bright spot may be for local and independent shops.

Smaller retailers can often adapt faster than larger ones. Smaller community pharmacies, for example, implemented social distancing and hygiene measures more easily than larger retailers, due mainly to their smaller size and having less traffic.




Read more:
Coronavirus shopping tips to keep you safe at the supermarket


There are opportunities to leverage shoppers’ desire to support local shopkeepers, producers and growers. Locally made goods and services are also less likely to have long supply chains that will impede overseas deliveries while COVID-19 is uncontained.

But they’ll still need to sort out their online shopping experience.The Conversation

Gary Mortimer, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Queensland University of Technology; Jana Bowden, Associate Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Macquarie University; Jason Pallant, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology; Louise Grimmer, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, University of Tasmania, and Martin Grimmer, Professor of Marketing, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The dual citizenship saga shows our Constitution must be changed, and now



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Jacqui Lambie bids a tearful farewell in the Senate this week, after becoming the latest politician caught up in the dual citizenship saga.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Joe McIntyre, University of South Australia

It is time to accept that Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is irretrievably broken. In its current form, it is creating chaos that is consuming our politicians. This presents a rare opportunity for constitutional change. A referendum could address not only the citizenship issue but the entirety of Section 44, which no longer looks fit for purpose.

The “brutal literalism” adopted by the High Court means that there can be no quick or stable resolution to the citizenship saga consuming the national political class.

Even a thorough “audit” of current politicians, such as the deal announced this week by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, will offer only a temporary respite. Not only can it be extremely difficult to determine if someone has foreign citizenship, the agreed disclosures will not capture all potential issues (for example, it only extends back to grandparents).

Moreover, as foreign citizenship is dependent on foreign law, a foreign court decision or legislation may subsequently render a person ineligible.

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This issue will continue to dog all future parliaments.

The idea that the Constitution provided a “flashing red light” on this issue is mistaken. The dual citizenship problem has long been an open secret. It has been the subject of numerous parliamentary reports over the last 40 years, the most recent in 1997.

A royal commission was once suggested to audit all politicians. This has been a time bomb waiting to go off, but one that stayed strangely inert for more than 100 years.

Current version of Section 44.

Moreover, no-one really knew how the High Court would resolve the “citizenship seven” case. Turnbull was widely mocked for his initial certainty about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s eligibility.

Following the High Court’s unexpected same-sex marriage decision, few commentators felt any confidence in predicting how it would decide the “citizenship seven” case. The result could easily have gone the other way.

More significantly, the court has imposed a far harsher test than expected. Not only is knowledge of potential ineligibility irrelevant, it is not sufficient that a person takes “reasonable steps” to divest foreign citizenship. Unless a foreign law would “irredeemably” prevent a person from participating in representative government, the fact of dual citizenship will be sufficient to disqualify a person.

It is this strict new interpretation that has cast doubt over the eligibility of politicians such as Labor MP Justine Keay. Keay had renounced her British citizenship prior to nomination, but did not receive final notification until after the election.

Arguably, she is ineligible. This was not a failure to undertake “serious reflection”, but a consequence of it.

Prospective politicians would be required to irrevocably rid themselves of dual citizenship early enough to ensure this is confirmed prior to nomination. The Bennelong byelection provides a graphic illustration of the issue – the ten days between the issuing of the writs and the close of nominations would be far too short for any effective renunciation.

Serious unresolved issues remain, even before we get into the difficulty posed by the “entitled to” restriction in Section 44. This provision could, for example, render Jewish politicians ineligible under Israel’s “right of return” laws.

Section 44 is not only unworkable, it is undesirable. The spectre of Indigenous leader Patrick Dodson being potentially ineligible, or Josh Frydenberg facing questions after his mother fled the Holocaust, reveal the moral absurdity of this provision. In a modern multicultural society, where citizenship rights are collected to ease travel and work rights, a blanket prohibition is archaic and inappropriate.

Perhaps by giving us an (unnecessarily) unworkable interpretation, the High Court has unwittingly provided the impetus to reform the entirety of Section 44.

That section is concerned with more than just citizenship. Disqualifying attributes including jobs in the public service, government business ties, bankruptcy and criminality.

In disqualifying Senators Bob Day and Rod Culleton earlier this year, the High Court again interpreted the provisions unexpectedly strictly. Again, this strict interpretation has invited challenges to other politicians.

Under the current law, it seems a potential candidate must irrevocably rid themselves of all (potentially valuable) disqualifying attributes prior to nominating, on the chance they may be elected.

Jeremy Gans, one of the most vocal critics of the High Court’s decision, has described this as “one of the Constitution’s cruellest details”. Moreover, as Hollie Hughes’s case illustrates, a defeated candidate may need to avoid these activities even after the election on the off chance of a recount.

Proposed version of Section 44.

Constitutional change offers a chance to break this deadlock. The process does not need to be long and convoluted. We already have a draft text. The proposal suggested by the 1988 Constitution Commission scrapped all disqualifications except the prohibition on treason, and offered a reworked restriction on employment. Other matters would be left to parliament

This well-considered proposal is compelling. We could have an act passed by Christmas, and a referendum early in the new year. The same-sex marriage survey, a matter that will affect many more people far more substantially, has been organised and executed in a far shorter time.

This is a technical issue, but it is consuming vital public resources and distracting our politicians from the role of governing Australia. Changing the Constitution is the only way to draw a line under this chaos.

Our Constitution was never meant to be a static document. It is now more than 40 years since we successfully amended the Constitution, and nearly 20 years since a referendum was even held. Both of these are record periods of time for our Federation.

The ConversationThis has perpetuated the myth that constitutional change is effectively implausible. A referendum on Section 44 would re-engage the Australian people in this vital process. This will, in turn, make it easier for other causes, including Indigenous rights and the republic, to be taken to referendum.

Joe McIntyre, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not dead yet: how MP3 changed the way we listen to music



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MP3 compression of digital audio files made music more portable.
Shutterstock?Roger Jegg Fotodesign Jegg.de

Yanto Browning, Queensland University of Technology

First developed almost three decades ago, the MP3 format made large digital audio files relatively small and easy to pass across an internet that was largely accessed via a very slow (by today’s standards) phone dial-up connection.

Now the companies behind the file compression format, Technicolor and Fraunhofer IIS, have decided to end their support for the licensing program for MP3. The last patent for the tech format is due to expire at the end of the year.

So the MP3 is dead. Again. Or is it?

What is MP3?

MP3 is a form of codec, a way of compressing (co) and decompressing (dec) the data in audio files.

The organisation responsible for defining the standards for audio and video compression and decompression is the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG), a working group of several authorities. So MP3 is just short for MPEG-1, Audio Layer 3.

The development of MP3.

Full resolution digital audio files are relatively large, around 10MB per minute of stereo, CD-quality sound. Today, streaming 10MB/minute might seem trivial but in the early days of digitally transferred data it was a lot.

MP3s were initially developed with the goal of a 12:1 compression ratio achieving acceptable sound quality. A 60MB song could therefore be compressed into a 5MB file. Other compression ratios can be used, with higher ratios yielding more obvious sonic artefacts (unwanted sounds) and lower ratios resulting in higher file sizes.

Hear the quality (or not) of MP3 compression at different bit rates.

A “lossy” compression codec works on the theory that, as the human ear is already discarding a lot of information in the perception of sound, you might as well simply not encode this redundant information.

The term lossy comes from the fact that this data is lost, discarded and gone forever. MP3 and rivals AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) and WMA (Windows Media Audio) are all lossy formats.

The audio that gets edited out in MP3 compression, in this case from Suzanne Vega’s version of Tom’s Diner.

Conversely, lossless compression reduces file sizes, but does not reduce quality. Something like a compressed zip file is an example of lossless compression. Uncompressed files are a straight 1:1 transfer of the digital file.

MP3: dead or alive?

Developed in the late 1980s and standardised in the early 1990s, MP3 was first pronounced dead in 1995 and nearly abandoned as a technology. It was deemed commercially unsuccessful despite heavy investment from the Fraunhofer institute and a decade’s development by the project’s leader Karlheinz Brandenburg.

It was the victim of a format war, led by Dutch manufacturer Philips. Fraunhofer’s MP3 was consistently overlooked in the early 1990s by the MPEG standards group in favour of Philips’ MP2.

The MP3 format only found early commercial success in the sports broadcast market, with the compressed digital audio saving broadcasters thousands in satellite transmission costs.

So deeply unpopular was MP3 in commercial music applications that the developers effectively gave it away for free.

As a result, the format was close to being abandoned by its developers again towards the end 1996, in favour of the AAC format still patented and supported today.

The AAC format was developed initially by the same team behind the MP3, in part as a way to circumnavigate technical limitations imposed by Phillips on the MPEG-1 standard.

AAC generally performs better than MP3 at higher compression ratios, and the patent does not require a user to obtain a license to stream or distribute AAC encoded audio.

Listen carefully to the cymbals.

It was only the proliferation of filesharing internet sites, built around the distribution of pirated content, that revived interest in the MP3, first as isolated “warez” sites, and then as peer-to-peer networks such as Napster.

Stephen Witt’s 2015 book How Music Got Free (a source for much of this history) says that the first time the term MP3 was used by mainstream press was May 1997, with a USA Today article detailing how college students were uploading bootlegged albums onto university servers via file sharing sites.

By this stage, the first time most people had even heard of the MP3 format, the horse had already bolted, and the music industry would never be the same again.

The first portable MP3 player, the MPMan, debuted less than a year later, and Apple’s move into the market in 2001, through the release of iTunes and the iPod, cemented the ubiquity of both compact music players and compressed digital formats.

Music sharing

Early MP3s didn’t sound great and were generally disliked by audiophiles and record producers alike.

But they allowed consumers to stockpile music to an extent that had not been possible before, heralding a new relationship between digital information and ownership.

A market model based on scarcity had been turned on its head. While copying music had been around for decades, each copy was physically coupled to the medium – a vinyl record or magnetic tape cassette, for instance.

The rise of peer-to-peer file sharing networks, most famously Napster, meant that now anyone with a computer and internet connection could access another person’s entire music collection. A single file could by copied by thousands, all at the same time.

This changed listening patterns: instead of buying perhaps one album per month (depending on what you could afford), and then listening to it several times, music fans could constantly scour the internet for new music. Some would even stockpile music that they would never even listen to.

From share to stream

Today, playing MP3 files is increasingly being superseded by the ubiquity of streaming services. With fast and cheap access to mobile internet, services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play and others now all offer extensive music libraries that can be accessed for a subscription fee.

Just one of several online music options.

Presciently, Brandenburg’s mentor, Dieter Sietzer, had suggested as early as 1982 that the most effective delivery of digital audio was through streaming, as a way to make use of Germany’s new digital telephone lines. His patent was refused.

If it was the increase in portable MP3 players and the proliferation of pirated content that cemented the role of the MP3 in youth culture, it is the rise of streaming services that define current habits.

Despite Fraunhofer’s termination of its licensing program for the MP3 format, the MP3 file will continue to live on, unsupported by the developers, but now unrestricted by patents or licences.

While better codecs now exist for compressing digital music files, it’s interesting to note the revival of the old format of vinyl.

Today, events such as Classic Album Sundays are emerging as an attempt to reclaim focused listening experiences through the use of analogue technologies that have been nominally obsolete since the late 1980s.

The ConversationI believe it very unlikely that similar listening parties will develop in an attempt to celebrate the early MP3.

Yanto Browning, Associate lecturer in Music and Sound, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 9 July 2013


A lot has changed over the last couple of weeks in Australian politics. Pressure on the coalition is beginning to increase as the election slowly draws closer and as the government under Kevin Rudd claws back much lost ground and re-election begins to look a more and more viable prospect. ALP reform is increasingly a vote winner for the government and the link below is to an article that takes a closer look at the proposed reforms.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/08/kevin-rudd-bolster-labor-pms


After applying months of intense scrutiny to Peter Slipper and Craig Thompson concerning various alleged rorts, Opposition leader Tony Abbott is now facing his own travel rorts scandal for wrongly claimed travel expenses. Will Tony Abbott now do what he expected to be done concerning those he criticised opposite him? Unlikely I’d say. The link below is to an article reporting on the matter.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/09/tony-abbott-refusal-travel-expenses

Also of current interest is the climate change denial policies of the Coalition under Tony Abbott and the link below is to an article that takes a look at that.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/southern-crossroads/2013/jul/08/tony-abbott-climate-policy-australia

On a lighter note (perhaps), the link below is to an article that takes a look at the ‘tie’ in Australian politics.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/09/tie-colour-kevin-rudd

Then there is the size of the senate election voting ballot form…

New Look


Hi all. I have changed the appearance of the Blog and I think it does look a lot better. The main reason for the change was that the titles of posts had for some reason stopped appearing on the front page. I could find no way to correct the issue and thought a change of theme may work – it has. Having changed the theme, I do think the Blog appears much better overall.

The other small change is the Blog title – I have shortened it a little to just Random Thoughts. So not a great change – the larger title made the appearance of the Blog look just that little bit awful. Now we can’t have that lol.

I hope you find the new look helpful.

Facebook: Email Outrage


  1. Facebook just doesn’t learn. If there’s something that Facebook should know by now it’s that the social network’s users don’t like things being forced upon them and having their settings changed without notification and permission. Yet despite this, Facebook has done it again and changed everyone’s default email setting to that of a Facebook email address. Poor form Facebook, poor form. It really annoyed me to find it so today, but thankfully I have processes in place that should warn be of such Facebook ineptness before too much harm is done. Not so for all, so hopefully this story will bring awareness to others, as well as providing information as to how it can be corrected.

Christian Woman Freed from Muslim Kidnappers in Pakistan


Captors tried to force mother of seven to convert to Islam.

LAHORE, Pakistan, March 11 (CDN) — A Christian mother of seven here who last August was kidnapped, raped, sold into marriage and threatened with death if she did not convert to Islam was freed this week.

After she refused to convert and accept the marriage, human traffickers had threatened to kill Shaheen Bibi, 40, and throw her body into the Sindh River if her father, Manna Masih, did not pay a ransom of 100,000 rupees (US$1,170) by Saturday (March 5), the released woman told Compass.   

Drugged into unconsciousness, Shaheen Bibi said that when she awoke in Sadiqabad, her captors told her she had been sold and given in marriage.

“I asked them who they were,” she said. “They said that they were Muslims, to which I told them that I was a married Christian woman with seven children, so it was impossible for me to marry someone, especially a Muslim.”

Giving her a prayer rug (musalla), her captors – Ahmed Baksh, Muhammad Amin and Jaam Ijaz – tried to force her to convert to Islam and told her to recite a Muslim prayer, she said.

“I took the musalla but prayed to Jesus Christ for help,” she said. “They realized that I should be returned to my family.”

A member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lahore, Shaheen Bibi said she was kidnapped in August 2010 after she met a woman named Parveen on a bus on her way to work. She said Parveen learned where she worked and later showed up there in a car with two men identified as Muhammad Zulfiqar and Shah. They offered her a job at double her salary and took her to nearby Thokar Niaz Baig.

There she was given tea with some drug in it, and she began to fall unconscious as the two men raped her, she said. Shaheen Bibi was unconscious when they put her in a vehicle, and they gave her sedation injections whenever she regained her senses, she said.

When she awoke in Sadiqabad, Baksh, Amin and Ijaz informed her that she had been sold into marriage with Baksh. They showed her legal documents in which she was given a Muslim name, Sughran Bibi daughter of Siddiq Ali. After Baksh had twice raped her, she said, his mother interjected that she was a “persistent Christian” and that therefore he should stay away from her.

Shaheen Bibi, separated from an abusive husband who had left her for another woman, said that after Baksh’s mother intervened, her captors stopped hurting her but kept her in chains.

 

Release

Her father, Masih, asked police to take action, but they did nothing as her captors had taken her to a remote area between the cities of Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad, considered a “no-go” area ruled by dangerous criminals.

Masih then sought legal assistance from the Community Development Initiative (CDI), a human rights affiliate of the European Center for Law & Justice. With the kidnappers giving Saturday (March 5) as a deadline for payment of the ransom, CDI attorneys brought the issue to the notice of high police officials in Lahore and on March 4 obtained urgent legal orders from Model Town Superintendent of Police Haidar Ashraf to recover Shaheen, according to a CDI source.

The order ultimately went to Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Asghar Jutt of the Nashtar police station. Police accompanied by a CDI field officer raided the home of a contact person for the captors in Lahore, Naheed Bibi, the CDI source said, and officers arrested her in Awami Colony, Lahore.

With Naheed Bibi along, CDI Field Officer Haroon Tazeem and Masih accompanied five policemen, including ASI Jutt, on March 5 to Khan Baila, near Rahim Yar Khan – a journey of 370 miles, arriving that evening. Area police were not willing to cooperate and accompany them, telling them that Khan Baila was a “no-go area” they did not enter even during daytime, much less at night.

Jutt told area police that he had orders from high officials to recover Shaheen Bib, and that he and Tazeem would lead the raid, the CDI source said. With Nashtar police also daring them to help, five local policemen decided to go with them for the operation, he said.

At midnight on Sunday (March 6), after some encounters and raids in a jungle area where houses are miles apart, the rescue team managed to get hold of Shaheen Bibi, the CDI source said. The captors handed over Shaheen Bibi on the condition that they would not be the targets of further legal action, the CDI source said.

Sensing that their foray into the danger zone had gone on long enough, Tazeem and Jutt decided to leave but told them that those who had sold Shaheen Bib in Lahore would be brought to justice.

Fatigued and fragile when she arrived in Lahore on Monday (March 7), Shaheen Bibi told CDN through her attorneys that she would pursue legal action against those who sold her fraudulently into slavery and humiliation.

She said that she had been chained to a tree outside a house, where she prayed continually that God would help her out of the seemingly impossible situation. After the kidnappers gave her father the March 5 deadline last week, Shaheen Bibi said, at one point she lifted her eyes in prayer, saw a cross in the sky and was comforted that God’s mighty hand would release her even though her father had no money to pay ransom.

On four previous occasions, she said, her captors had decided to kill her and had changed their mind.

Shaheen Bibi said there were about 10 other women in captivity with her, some whose hands or legs were broken because they had refused to be forcibly given in marriage. Among the women was one from Bangladesh who had abandoned hope of ever returning home as she had reached her 60s in captivity.

Masih told CDN that he had prayed that God would send help, as he had no money to pay the ransom. The day before the deadline for paying the ransom, he said, he had 100 rupees (less than US$2) in his pocket.

Report from Compass Direct News