Monday, June 29, 2009

Audio Revelations

The evening started out innocently enough… I was just going to check online to see what professional audio reviewers have had to say about a backup set of studio monitors (speakers) that I have had for like 4 years but have only taken out of the box a few times since I got them, only to be surprised that for the most part they have gotten glowing reviews almost universally. I haven’t ever thought incredibly highly of them, mostly because my expectations were low because they were quite inexpensive for monitors, and from a brand that doesn’t have the best reputation among audio professionals. But I haven’t ever spent enough time listening to them to really get a feel for how good or bad they were. So I decided to pull them out, hook them up, and listen to a few songs I know well to see just how good these things actually were. It turns out, just like the reviewers have said, they are excellent.

But, I digress. The most significant part of the whole experience, and my main reason for creating this post, was having some revelations about what a quality set of speakers can do, and how things have changed over time with regard to the way that music has been recorded.

Revelation #1:

I almost feel bad for the vast majority of people who enjoy listening to music, because very few will actually have the opportunity to listen to it on a good set of speakers, and they have absolutely no idea what they are missing. These days iPod headphones are the most common device people use to listen to their tunes, and that is terribly unfortunate because they are, well… atrocious. A good set of speakers (like studio monitors, for example) nearly become totally transparent, and you are almost transported to a place where a performance is taking place. Contrary to popular opinion, this does not mean loud, or anything typical of a rock concert, what it means is that the overall feel is that you are sitting in a small room where it is just you and the musicians… the electronic devices used to reproduce the music almost disappear. With a well recorded selection and well-written and performed song, it becomes an almost religious experience. I wish more people could experience what good audio sounds like, because there aren’t words that accurately convey what it is like to hear music the way it is really meant to be heard.

Revelation #2:

In the process of listening to a wide variety of music from the last three decades I began to notice a trend. Though we have come a really long way in terms of our technical ability to record music, it doesn’t mean that we have done a better job. In fact, it seems like over the last 10-15 years that things have actually degraded. Somewhere in the mid to late eighties seems to be where we peaked as far as the ability to capture popular music in a meaningful and artistic way. Prior to the 1980s the equipment to get a good recording was scarce and expensive. Engineers had to be clever about the way they captured a performance to get a decent version of it electronically. Somewhere during the 1980s the equipment became affordable enough for many professional studios to have access, and at the same time those rascally clever engineers from the previous decades were still around, taking full advantage of the new tech at their disposal. Then in the late eighties things began to change again… radio engineers got involved and decided that louder was better than real dynamics, and all of a sudden every recording became very in-your-face and buried in piles of digital effects. The biggest tradeoff to being loud was the loss of clarity in some of the things going on in the background. Subtle instrument parts that used to exist as an enhancements to the front stage had to become a part of the front stage in order to be heard at all. Mixes became something like a line of people all screaming at you at the same time rather than everybody in a room taking their own turn.

I may be a little biased since I was in Jr. High and High School in the mid-to-late 80s and that’s when I really started to become familiar with popular music, but listening to recordings from back in the day now, compared to newer songs which I otherwise enjoy just as much seems to validate the theory.

Revelation #3:

Another side effect of the “loudening” of recordings was that they have almost become tiresome to listen to. Again, back to the analogy of a line of people in front of you. If they’re all yelling at you at the same time, it’s going to become exhausting trying to focus on any one of them. But if they’re taking their turns, it’s a much more pleasurable experience.

Revelation #4:

Generally artists from decades past had to be more talented and skilled.

A good set of speakers reveals things about a recording that we wouldn’t pick up on otherwise. A LOT of things. For example, on Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” did you know that on a good set of speakers or headphones you can clearly hear the click track coming from her headphones while she was singing her vocal? It’s almost painfully obvious that it’s there. Did you know that most of the lower notes that Britney Spears “sings” are actually synthesized, and that it is unmistakable when heard through the proper equipment. Okay, so you probably knew that already. Artists that use pitch correction too much become totally obvious, like one of the hottest country female artists out there now. You can tell when an artist does their own backup parts vs. having another singer doing it for them. You can often hear when a vocalist’s microphone is turned on and off in the recording, or where various takes are pieced together to make one good one. The list goes on and on. The better the equipment used to listen to music, the more you find out about how good or bad an artist really is.

Revelation #5 (okay, it’s a continuation of #1):

It’s quite the revelation to go back and listen to recordings that I am very familiar with only to discover that there are 1, 2, 3, or sometimes 4 or more additional instruments being played that couldn’t be heard at all before. Vocal harmonies jump out like never before. You can very clearly hear every little nuance of the mechanism of a real piano vs. a synthesized one. You can hear fingers sliding up and down guitar strings. People taking breaths between phrases, or while playing a woodwind instrument. Or the saliva in a singer’s mouth. Or pick out that what you thought was a single guitar was actually two or three. Or that a particular take of a vocal was considered to be good enough to be used in a final recording even though it actually distorts or has other imperfections (this is much more common that you might think).

Revelation #6:

Music recordings are much bigger than most people will ever know. With cheap speakers or headphones, you hear sound coming from two distinct places… the left speaker and the right speaker. You can’t really hear anything coming from anywhere else. With a good set of speakers things open up much more. It’s almost shocking. Instead of just having a range of positions between the two speakers for sound to come from, things get opened up much wider. And higher. And deeper. Just as an example, as part of my auditioning process I put on Madonna’s “The Immaculate Collection.” Several of the songs on that album are engineered particularly well (ignoring what you may or may not think of Madonna). But a few of the songs on that CD really open things up quite a bit. One song has a drum part that not only appeared to come from outside the set of speakers, but WELL outside the speakers… as in, immediately to my right. And several feet above me. Another song had another drum part that appears above the right speaker, while another has another instrument part that appears about 18” to the left of the left speaker, just above the plane of the speakers. Another instrument part comes from about 3 feet between the speakers, and 1 foot above them. But those same songs, played on standard equipment sound flat and lifeless. I have heard numerous songs over the years that have parts that appear to come from BEHIND the listener. Or between me and the speakers (and not from them). Impressive stuff. I wish everyone could experience it.

Revelation #7:

Audio engineers in the 1980s and earlier were much more creative in the way they mixed songs. These days nearly everybody puts the vocalist “up front” in a mix, drums way in the back, and all of the instruments somewhere in between. (Or at least they try to; adding the “loud” factor effectively puts everything in the same place.) I have plenty of examples of songs where the engineer moved things around a bit. I just finished listening to “Kyrie” by Mr. Mister, and hadn’t really ever noticed before that that song is mixed in such a way that the lead vocal is sort of placed in the “middle” of the stage, both left to right, and front-to-back. The instruments are all placed around the vocalist, not just behind him. There are instruments that are in front of as well as in back of the vocal part. Michael Jackson’s (may he RIP) “The Way You Make Me Feel” was recorded with the verses with Michael set way in the back, with the harmonies and choruses off to the sides and in way up front. (And it’s kind of hard to tell on regular equipment that it is him doing the harmonies and counterpoint on that song). Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” has a breakdown that moves things all over the place, front to back, left to right, top to bottom. The guitar solo in Mike+The Mechanics “All I Need is a Miracle” is all around the listener, totally separate from the main soundstage. The drums on The Human League’s “Human” are HUGE, and fill a space much wider than the speakers they’re being played on while being somewhere at the back of the stage at the same time.

Unfortunately I still haven’t really come up with any good examples of any of those sort of techniques being used on any popular music recordings made since 1990. [UPDATE: I found a post-1990 recording with an interesting mix... "Harder to Breathe" by Maroon 5. The mix puts the lead guitar way up front (outside the speakers), and the lead vocal pushed way back. Unusual for such a new recording.]

Revelation #8:

The audio output on the iPod isn’t very good. (I’m shocked! Okay, maybe I’m not, and I already knew that.) Many of the details I’ve talked about here are virtually non-existent on an iPod, but are obvious in the original recordings or when played on other devices.

Revelation #9:

MP3 is a terrible file format. I’ve known that for forever, but it really stands out when heard on quality equipment. We’re really extremely unfortunate that it has become the de facto standard for music. So many of the nuances that music a pleasing experience are lost being converted to MP3. Virtually every other format out there is a lot better. But none, even CD, are without some sort of compromise. CD is as close as most people will ever get to hearing a good quality recording.

Revelation 10:

Most music is best listened to unaltered. That means not adding any effects. In other words, for most people this means turning OFF the equalizer that they have tweaked to give their system more bass and treble. These adjustments are usually made to compensate for the missing sound quality of their speakers or headphones, but what they don’t realize that in doing so they have actually covered up even more of the subtle nuances that were already nearly difficult or impossible to discern. The more you make a speaker work harder to play sounds that you want to accentuate, the more you take away its ability to reproduce the other sounds that are barely there. In most cases turning on the EQ or any other effect just makes a muddier mess of an already dirty listening experience.


When I say “good speakers” I’m not talking just about the $100,000-each models that are out there, or even the $3000 speakers you can buy locally at some Best Buy stores. I’m talking about speakers that are affordable to anyone willing to invest. The set of speakers I have been listening to tonight were $280 for the pair brand new, and they have their own built-in amplifiers so an iPod, Zune, or other music player can be connected in directly without any other fancy or expensive electronics.

I still feel bad that most people who enjoy music will never really experience the music they like so much. They’re missing out on so much, and an awful lot of that is the emotion that was put into a recording, so in essence we’re missing out on much of the whole experience.

One last note before I wrap up this (now extensive) post. If you are someone who is considering building yourself a home theater or stereo setup, I recommend avoiding consumer speakers altogether. They all not only have their own nuances that color the sound coming through them, but this coloration is DESIGNED into them to make them stand out from other models and manufacturers. This coloration, by definition, is taking away from the original intent of the recording. Why not go with the same type of speaker used by the engineers and artists making the recordings, so you hear exactly what they did when they made them? So I STRONGLY recommend skipping the consumer speakers and going directly to studio monitors. They’re harder to find, and they can be more expensive, but I’ll take a $500 studio monitor over a $3000 consumer speaker any day. They make for a much more pleasing experience. Music becomes an experience, not just a pastime.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The light at the end of the tunnel

For the last 3-4 weeks I have been keeping myself very busy working on rebuilding my video production equipment rack.  “What is that?” you might ask?  I’m glad you did. 

There are two primary ways that video is created.  There is taped video production, and live video production.  Most of the people that I know that work with video do taped production primarily… making movies, commercials, and the like.  Each shot is planned out ahead of time, shot multiple times from different angles. Video made this way can take a long time to create.

The other is live production, where a crew of camera operators, a director, and other technical crew members will setup multiple cameras at some type of event and switch between the cameras live.  A director sits and monitors the different shots from the various cameras, selecting different shots to go out “live,” and giving instructions to the camera operators on what shots to get to make the video interesting and flow naturally.

I love working with video, but I’m not a huge fan of the editing phase, so focusing on live video production interests me more than taped production.  Not only that, but there aren’t very many people that do live production, so it’s a relatively easy market to create a niche in, especially for lower budget productions.  So I have concentrated on building an arsenal of equipment to handle live video easily.  It’s a lot more of a financial drain than taped production, as it takes multiple cameras and very expensive live switching equipment at a very minimum.  I have 7 professional quality video cameras (5 HD), and sometimes even that doesn’t feel like enough.

After a technical disaster I had shooting the graduation of a local college recently, I decided it was time to rebuild my existing rack of video production equipment.  We were having issues with the video from different cameras cutting in and out, problematic communication equipment, just to name two of the major issues that came up.  When I found out that my stake is having another conference a few weeks after that (this coming Saturday and Sunday) my pace for rebuilding was picked up drastically.

IMG_0034 The 48 cables removed from the previous video rack.
These are NOT going into the new rack.  Good riddance!

This was also a great opportunity to upgrade the capabilities of my equipment.  The focus of the new setup is a 64x64 video router, which has inputs for 64 different video sources (like cameras, DVD players, etc.) and outputs for 64 different destinations (like DVD recorders, video monitors, etc.)  (For comparison, my previous router had 16 inputs and 2 outputs.)  I have had this thing for about two years but it has been sitting idle waiting to be used.   The router itself can be seen in later pictures; it’s the big blue thing on the back side of the rack, or the device with tons of blue wires coming in and out of it in the “inside” pictures.  Here’s a screenshot of some software I threw together to control the video router during the testing phase.

IMG_0052I had used some inexpensive cables in the old rack, and this was causing at least some of the problems I was having, so this time around I spared no expense on cabling.  I used extremely high quality video cable, with the best connectors available on each end.  Each cable was cut to the exact length needed, and the ends were crimped on.  Here’s an example of what a completed cable looks like:

IMG_0033 I had to make about 80 of these cables in various lengths from a few inches to a couple feet.  Each one takes about 5 minutes to create.  A few shots of some of the cable after installation…

IMG_0013 IMG_0006



I especially like that last shot.  The 16 short cables all lined up like that are kind of pretty.  :)  But even with those, it still doesn’t look like there are 80 blue video cables in there… but there are!

The making of cables didn’t end there.  Because my rack also processes and mixes audio, I had two panels of various audio connectors, and a pile of cables to create for integrating an audio mixer.  The connectors in the next shot were particularly time consuming, as there are six individual wires that need to be attached to each one, in a relatively small space.

IMG_0026IMG_0029IMG_0027Instead of being crimped, the audio connections all must be soldered… on both ends.  That took quite a while to get all of that done.  I spent several days sitting at my workbench soldering connectors.

The rack also houses communication equipment.  A sort of intercom system that allows communication between the director and the camera operators.  None of that is visible directly here, but it took nearly as much time to wire as the audio connections did.

Those of you with a keen eye will notice that there is a considerable amount of twisted pair (CAT-5) cable in the rack.  This is because my former roommate Brad and I developed a system about 5 years ago that sends all of the audio and video signals over a CAT-5 Ethernet cable (one per camera).  Each cable carries two video signals (one from the camera, one to the camera), an audio signal from the camera, bidirectional intercom audio, and tally (the red light that lights up on the active camera).  An Ethernet cable is run from the back of my equipment rack to a small box of electronics at each camera.  Yes, we did build these from scratch:

IMG_0012 This makes setup much easier, as once the production rack is setup, it’s just a matter of running a single Ethernet cable to each camera to get things going from there.  Much faster than running four or five cables to each camera, though I still do have that option if I choose to exercise it.

So here’s the finished rack…

IMG_0035IMG_0056 IMG_0036One thing obviously missing is a video switching console.  I may be one of the only people on the planet that does video switching that doesn’t use a conventional console to do so.  I have come up with something much more innovative and easy to use.  It’s all done on a computer with a touch screen monitor.

One of the pieces of equipment in this rack takes up to 16 of the 64 video sources and compresses them down into a single signal that is sent to my laptop.  The laptop then displays these sources in a 2x2, 3x3, or 4x4 grid (depending on how many cameras I might be working with at the time), then the touch screen of the laptop is used to select video sources.  So all I have to do is touch the video I want to be “live” and the computer sends out the signals to the equipment in the rack to re-route the signals as needed to make the transition to the new video source.  I’ll try to remember to get some screenshots while I’m using it for conference this weekend, but it’s very slick (though VERY unpolished at this point).  It only takes about a minute to train people on how to use it, which is certainly not the case with conventional video switchers.  My system also announces (verbally) the typical instructions that directors give (“Ready 3…. Take 3…. Dissolve 2”) automatically over the intercom, freeing me up as a director for other tasks, like monitoring all of the cameras and giving meaningful instructions to the camera operators.

One other innovation I have come up with, and has been made possible by using the huge 64x64 router is the ability to send different video sources to the different camera operators.  Each operator has an LCD monitor mounted on top of their camera so they can see the live video that is being broadcast or recorded.  With this new rack of equipment I can now each allow operator to select which video source they want to see on their monitor, whether that be the live program feed, the preview feed (the next source about to go live), the feed from another camera, their own camera, or even a script or set list coming out of a computer somewhere.  But as of now I can also send a combination of these things.  Each camera operator can now see which video source is live, plus all of the other cameras at the same time should I choose to send it to them.  An example may help to illustrate:


This isn’t exactly what an operator will see, but it gives you the idea.  The top 3/4 of the screen show the program feed (active video program), and the bottom row shows feeds from three cameras (the same source is being used for all three here, but normally these would be different), and the preview feed.  So each camera operator can see what the others are doing, and know which source is about to go live.  That makes my job as a director a lot easier, as a good camera operator will make sure to give a different type of shot than everyone else, and especially different than the live feed. 

Another example of what can be sent to the cameras, this time using color bars:

IMG_0019 Even though the rack is finished I’m still not done with the project.  I need to spend a couple days working on my switching software to make it work with the new setup, and take advantage of its capabilities.  Hopefully it will all go smoothly.  And if I remember I’ll post some screenshots to show just how easy to use this system is.

Monday, June 22, 2009

HD-DVD vs Blu-ray, 15 months later

I was shocked by this announcement, but apparently more than 15 months after the official demise of HD-DVD, there are still more HD-DVD players than Blu-ray players in the wild.  And HD-DVD discs are still outselling Blu-ray discs.

A poll from Harris shows that 11% of Americans own HD-DVD players, while only 7% own Blu-ray players.  Consumers are buying approximately 6 DVDs every six months, and 0.7 HD-DVD discs, and 0.5 Blu-ray discs in the same time period. 

For a format that has been dead for 15 months, it is absolutely shocking that there are more HD-DVD players out there than Blu-ray players.  Blu-ray no longer has a like-format disc-based competitor.  Its primary competitor now is electronic download, provided by iTunes or video-on-demand services provided by Cable, Satellite, game console, and Internet companies.

The poll also shows that 93% of those that do not own Blu-ray players are not likely to buy one in the next year.

On another note, the Blu-ray folks recently announced that they intend to support a feature called Managed Copy, which would allow you to copy your movies onto a computer so you can play them without the disc.  This feature will require new players to work and will also not be compatible with existing discs (yet another hardware upgrade required).  Movie studios have to sign on to support the feature as well, but I don’t believe many, if any, will do that.  Managed Copy, incidentally, was planned into HD-DVD from the beginning and should the format have survived existing discs would have worked with new players adding this feature.

I’m beginning to wonder if Blu-ray really is going to ever catch on.  People are moving toward digital downloads more and more, and our Internet connections are getting faster and faster, making it easier and easier to download those movies.  Many carriers are now offering connections fast enough to start watching even high definition movies almost instantly, taking away a lot of incentive for people to invest into Blu-ray.

Personally I do buy some Blu-ray discs, but I also still buy HD-DVD discs because they’re cheap (around $4-6 now).  I’ll only buy Blu-ray if they include a DVD copy of the movie in the package, or it is a movie I already own on DVD.  I’m not willing to buy something ONLY on Blu-ray because if I did it would mean I wouldn’t be able to play it in a lot of places I watch movies.  I’m also very much put off by the high prices of the discs.  Generally I have a $20 ceiling on what I’ll pay for a Blu-ray disc, with only very rare exceptions to that policy.

iPhone OS 3.0: Getting Closer

Of those features that I require in a phone, the iPhone has been missing quite a few in the past.  With OS 3.0, they’re getting closer.

Features added in previous releases:

  • Microsoft Exchange synchronization.
  • Third party application support.

Essential features just added in 3.0:

  • Sync multiple folders with Microsoft Exchange (finally).
  • Internet tethering for laptop Internet access (waiting on AT&T to “turn it on” and detail their pricing plan).
  • Voice dialing (requires new 3GS hardware, and it doesn’t work with Bluetooth).

Features still not present:

  • Multitasking between multiple apps.
  • Higher resolution screen.
  • Reliable carrier in the USA.
  • Decent battery life.

They’re getting closer.  Should T-Mobile or Verizon get the iPhone I’d consider pulling the trigger and getting one.  But for now my dream phone still remains the Tosihba TG01.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

iPod Touch 3.0 Software Update

I bought the software upgrade for my iPod Touch (2nd Generation) yesterday.  I know a lot of iPhone owners have been looking forward to 3.0, and I kind of was too, because it is supposed to address some of the issues I have had with the iPhone ecosystem.  Here are a few thoughts.

  • I like that they have added Cut, Copy, and Paste.  I can’t believe how long it took to add this must-have feature. 
  • Bluetooth is enabled.  The 2nd generation iPod Touch has always had a Bluetooth radio, but it has been disabled until the 3.0 upgrade.
  • The landscape keyboard in Mail is nice.  It does take up a lot of the screen, but the larger buttons are easier to press.
  • The installation went mostly without a hitch this time.  With the 2.0 software upgrade, it took 4 hours and multiple attempts to get it to work.  Fortunately that wasn’t the case for me this time.
  • I like that they have added search capabilities.  Though I’m not pleased with the way it was done.
  • Push notifications are absolutely not a substitute for multitasking.  Only running one application at a time is a ludicrous limitation.  Apple needs to fix this.  Everybody else has been doing multitasking for years, and there is no valid excuse for not supporting it.
  • I can’t get the Bluetooth to work.  (more on that in a minute)
  • The way that Cut/Copy/Paste was implemented is just screwy.  You can’t just “click and drag” to select text; it is a multi-step process that isn’t that intuitive. 
  • Search doesn’t search email message contents.
  • Shake to Shuffle and Shake to Undo are just weird and gimmicky.  Shaking a device isn’t intuitive, or even easy to do.  On-screen buttons would have been a much better choice.
  • The Spotlight search feature was implemented as a screen to the left of the home screen.  I keep accidentally scrolling over to it by accident.  It should have been added as an app button like everything else.
  • There are still inconsistencies in the user interface.  For example, swiping left/right while viewing pictures selects the next or previous picture.  But doing this while playing music takes you to the track listing, or nothing at all. 
  • The default applications still don’t have the same styling… some use black backgrounds, others white, others gray, yet others blue.  Consistency would be nice, and it is usually something Apple takes seriously.
  • Not all applications support landscape yet (notably Calendar, which could really benefit from a Week view in landscape mode).
  • Still can’t attach more than one photo at a time to an email.
  • Still can’t add attachments while composing email messages.
  • Exchange synchronization still only synchronizes the Inbox folder (ignoring other folders).
  • It doesn’t feel like I got much for the $10 the upgrade cost.
Bluetooth Won’t Work

I can’t get the Bluetooth feature to work at all.  I was hoping to use it with a headset to make Skype calls.  But it just won’t go.

When I turn on the Bluetooth radio the iPod starts searching for devices.  But it never finishes.  It will sit on the Searching screen as long as I will allow it to:

photo It never finishes the search, or finds anything to pair to, despite the fact that there are at least four Bluetooth devices in range.  Even worse, it fails to pair from a computer as well:


I have tried pairing with multiple computers, headsets, resetting the Touch, you name it.  Basically the feature doesn’t work at all, and its alleged Bluetooth capability is totally broken.

Message Searching

Another advertised feature is the ability to search messages.  That doesn’t work for me either.

The idea is this: you enter text you want to search for and it will find all messages that contain that text.  Nope.  Doesn’t work.  The text I’m searching for here definitely appears in a message in my Inbox, but it fails to find it.


 photo Initially I heard that searching an Exchange server for message contents wasn’t going to work, but then I heard that at least I could search messages that are already downloaded onto the device.  I can say definitively that neither one works, making the message search feature next to useless.  You can search the From, To, and Subject lines of email, but that feature really isn’t that useful.

Worth it?

Is it worth the upgrade?  For iPhone users, definitely, since it is a free upgrade.  For iPod Touch users, I’m not convinced it is worth it just yet.  With some of its basic functionality totally broken, I’m still holding out for future upgrades.


What does your computer desktop look like?

Here’s a pretty typical example of mine…

desktop Except I hate when my text goes blurry like that.  Oh well.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Still waiting…

You’ve heard me say it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, I don’t think Apple writes very good Windows software.

I’ve stared at this screen for about 5 hours.


Then I clicked Stop and stared at this screen for another few hours:

image I’ve been through this three times this week.  It’s never going to work.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Digitally Transitioned: Really?

So the Digital TV transition happened today at noon.  Uh, yeah…

Only the major mainstream network stations disappeared here.  I’m still picking up analog TV from 6 stations.  So that means we only lost about half of the analog stations previously available in my part of Utah.

Supposedly exceptions to the digital transition requirement were going to be pretty hard to get.  If half of the stations here got them, what makes them so hard to get?  And why did we bother?

The main reason for the transition was supposed to be so we could free up some frequencies (TV channels 52-69) for other services like digital communication (“mobile internet access”) and emergency services (homeland security, etc.).  In truth adding those services only required that SOME TV channels go away.  Okay, I’m fine with that.  The frequencies allocated for TV years ago occupy far more space than we have been using, and they are considered “prime real estate” because of their ability to travel long distances with relatively low power.  Taking some of that away sounds logical and reasonable.  But taking away those frequencies really had nothing to do with digital TV at all. 

You won’t hear me complaining about the fact that we have added digital TV.  Not at all.  High definition is a wonderful thing, and our picture quality is vastly superior to anything we ever had via analog, not to mention some of the other added benefits.  My complaint is with the way that this has been pushed by the government as a “need” to discontinue analog TV.  That’s really a lie.

In theory existing stations could have been allowed to keep their analog transmissions in parallel with their digital transmissions.  The channels they have been using aren’t even being reallocated for any of the new services that are going to be offered.  This has just been an excuse on the part of the broadcasting industry to not be required to transmit two signals simultaneously and equipment manufacturers to sell more equipment, and doing it by pressuring government officials to mandate that by law.  If we truly “needed” to move away from analog, nobody would have been granted an exception to keep using it.

Most of the frequencies being vacated in the VHF band are the sort that they aren’t really considered to be that valuable any longer.  They won’t carry the large amounts of data that higher frequencies can, and they require larger antennas (though the signals will travel longer distances).  The FCC is discouraging (but not disallowing) their use for digital TV, yet they’re still allocated for television broadcast, so nobody else can use them.  Nobody wants to put their digital signal there (for good reasons) but these frequencies are still reserved for television.  I don’t think this whole thing was very well thought out.

To sum up:

  • We made this transition to add new services on existing higher TV frequencies (52-69).  Fine, I guess.
  • Existing wireless microphones use channels 52-69, so they are no longer legal, and those that own them have to buy new ones.  Stupid.
  • Analog broadcasts are being shut down, except when they aren’t.
  • Digital transmission is being made a requirement, except when it’s not.  Huh?
  • The frequencies being vacated by shutting down analog transmissions are going to be unused. 

Like most government-run programs, the whole thing has turned into a big mess.

Anyone else see any problems in this?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

There’s a hole in my ceiling!

Two days ago I went to take a shower in the downstairs bathroom and found that I was getting wet before I even turned on the water.  Water was dripping from the ceiling from the vent above the bathtub.  Not good.

I looked into it a little bit and thought it might have been the toilet upstairs.  I found a small leak there, and patched it, and thought I might have fixed the problem.

Yesterday the same thing happened… Water still dripping from the ceiling.  Only this time I found the problem… actually two… the valve to the bathtub upstairs was leaking, and it was running down the wall into a hole at the spigot, down the wall, landing on the ceiling of the downstairs bathroom, running downhill to the easiest point of exit, the air vent.  As a result the whole ceiling is soggy, molding, and developing a pungent aroma. 

A plumber came this morning to investigate and see what could be done, and he knocked a hole in the ceiling to get a peek as to what is going on.  Sure enough, same diagnosis… water from the bathtub upstairs.  He was going to charge a fortune to fix it, so my landlords let him go and will be fixing it themselves.


In the mean  time I still have a wet, dripping hole in my bathroom ceiling.  It’s pretty gross.


Please forget the lettuce

I’m not sure if people just don’t listen, or if they aren’t too bright.  At least when it comes to filling food orders.

I can’t eat lettuce.  It makes me sick to my stomach.  I also can’t stand the taste, texture, or smell of it.  So I always ask for “no lettuce” when ordering sandwiches.  Some food service establishments are pretty good about honoring the request, others not so much.

Taco Bell is the absolute worst offender I have ever been to. At LEAST half of the time they’ll go ahead and put lettuce on whatever I order, even after they have repeated back my “no lettuce” request to me.  It’s bad enough at my closest Taco Bell that I have pretty much given up on ordering anything that normally contains lettuce, which doesn’t leave a lot left on the menu.  So I definitely don’t go as often as I might otherwise.  (It also doesn’t help that it takes 48 minutes to service 6 cars in the drive-thru line.  I timed it.)

Burger King is usually okay, especially if I ask for some sort of other customization on the sandwich… extra ketchup or tomato, for example.  But even though they claim I can “have it [my] way” it seems as though about one time in five they’ll mess it up.

Wendy’s has been better with a roughly 15% screw-up rate.  I can’t speak for McDonalds, as I don’t eat there often enough to get a feeling for how well they are doing, and almost never order anything that normally comes with lettuce anyway.

I was shocked today to find that Gandalfo’s messed up on my lunch order.  Usually when you pay a premium for a sandwich you’ll get premium service.  Today not only did my sandwich have lettuce on it, it had virtually no sauces of any sort, leaving it very dry and blah.  Disappointing.  I expect much more of them.

The worst of the worst are the ones that use shredded lettuce, as it is next to impossible to remove.  Some folks, like Wendy’s, use whole lettuce leaves, so it’s much easier to remove.  But even the remaining items have been tainted by the flavor of the lettuce and it really ruins the experience for me.

If you happen to work at a fast food joint, please pay attention to your customers’ requests.   Having to remove an unwanted item from their food is sure to annoy, and it’s bad manners.  People will be much happier if they just get what they ask for.

New iPhone

With all of the “I love the iPhone” articles out there (so much for objective journalism) I want very badly to write my own on where Apple dropped the ball with the new iPhone, but I’m going to bite my tongue.

That is all.

The lack of multitasking is a definite deal breaker for serious smartphone users. Battery life, though it is supposed to be better, is still going to be atrocious.  Battery use with the phone is going to remain unchanged.  How about a BIGGER BATTERY? Exchange support is still very much half-baked.  Why won’t they synchronize folders other than the Inbox?  And where is Search? AT&T is the worst decision that Apple ever made.  Thankfully I think they’re regretting it now, and maybe they’ll do something else.  Video editing?  On a phone?  Seriously?  Fix the other stuff first! Tethering is a nice addition, but it looks like AT&T is probably going to charge up the yin-yang for the privilege.  (It is, always has been, and will remain free on my phone.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Free Coldplay Live Album

Did everybody get their free copy of Coldplay’s live album LeftRightLeftRightLeft?

If not, get it here.

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