MP3: The Definitive Guide
by Scot Hacker
O’Reilly and Associates
When was the last time an algorithm gained this kind of notoriety? Probably never. The world of computer science is littered with neat solutions to difficult problems, with interesting names like The Dining Philosphers, the Towers of Hanoi, and the ever-popular Bubble Sort, but it’s rare — even unprecedented — that one manages to break out of the dusty world of ones and zeroes and out into the popular vernacular.
“MP3” (short for “MPEG-1 Audio Layer III”) is a compression algorithm developed by German think tank Fraunhofer and Thomson, as part of a set of methods for compressing and decompressing digital video and audio. On a more practical level, MP3 is a way of reducing the size of an audio file tenfold — while a 3-minute song takes up about 30 MB on an audio CD in its native format, once it’s passed through an MP3 encoder, it reduces to an easily-downloadable 3 MB. The effects of this compression are easy to measure on a technical scale, but once you get out into the real world, the implications are somewhat far-reaching and fuzzy. Think of what would happen if the price of a new car dropped tenfold.
MP3: The Definitive Guide, like all O’Reilly books, forms a necessary and fundamental referernce source, in this case for anyone interested in MP3s beyond their usual download-and-play scope. Author Scot Hacker gives us a brief introduction, then gets the gory technical details of what the algorithm does (fascinating to a bit-head like me) out of the way. A few chapters are dedicated to the care, feeding and maintenance of MP3s (players, downloading, encoding your own), but the real meat of this book lies in the later chapters, which provide fairly comprehensive guides to setting up a webcasting server (in Linux, NT and Mac flavors) and to the legalities involved with downloading and distributing MP3 files. As an added bonus, there are chapters on MP3-based hardware (such as the Diamond Rio) and an overview of other compression formats out there.
If you’re an average Metallica fan who is content with downloading files and depriving gentle balladeers of their sustenance, you won’t really need most of this book. Just log on and start ripping people off, dude. However, if you are at all intrigued by the technology, or wish to take things to the next level and make your MP3s available online (legally, of course), this is a must-have.