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13 October

It was my birthday yesterday we had pleasant but quiet evening. On a blog-relevant note, I got a Shure MPA-3c "Music Phone Adapter Cable" as a gift. It's a cable that plugs into the iPhone and let's you use any pair of headphones (such as my nice in-ears ones), but it also has a microphone on it and also a switch within the cable so you can control the iPhone just as with the standard iPhone earbuds. In my opinion this is a must-have item for iPhone users, and no other cable or adapter is comparable (even Apple Store staff we not consistently well informed on this issue).

In-ear headphones were first recommended to me by Eric Bourque (computer scientist and former musician) and they are well worth the hefty price tags. They side right inside your ear canal and block out extraneous sound without being bulky; they provide good sound quality, and they preclude your having to turn your earphone volume up (thus preserving your ears). It's worth getting high-quality set since they come with different inserts to assure a comfortable fit for your particular shape of ear. I have had a couple of pairs and the ones made by Shure (like the SE310-K and or SE530PTH) are by far the best with respect to comfort. I also have a cheaper pair made by Bose and the erognomics are much worse (to the point I never use them), even though the sound quality is as good.

The Shure cable has a decent microphone, is nice and sleek, and works perfectly. It also allows you to use the iPhone for audio and/or simultaneous telephone conversations in the car too.

You can find them at the Apple on-line store (currently with a 3-week back order) or the retail stores (where they are usually sold out, but they are a bit cheaper at
Amazon.com [link to item] Note that the SE530PTH combine the features of this cable with a pair of in-ear phones.

The full Shure part ID is MPA-3C-K-EFS

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
24 October

Free TV will be gone by 2020. Technical flaws with HD over the air, combined with new laws, assure this.

For some time I had been dismayed at how the USA has mandated the termination of regular analog TV as of 2009, but was relieved that Canada had not done the same thing. I just learned that the CRTC in Canada has mandated that as of 2011 no further analog (regular) television will be broadcast in Canada either. In addition, the situation for HDTV over the air, no matter where you live, is much worse than I had realized.

Canada decided (a few years back) to use the ATSC digital TV system, used only by the USA and a couple of other countries, as opposed the the DVB-T standard that was adopted world-wide (including all of Europe). As a result, ATSC devices are going to be more expensive than DVB-T, less compatible with assorted devices, and slower to come to market. Oh, and ATSC doesn't even work as well as DVB-T; nobody really knows yet how to make it work well with mobile devices.

Oh, and more frustrating yet, if you want to receive a full selection of digital TV broadcasts over the air (which is the only non-subscription choice), then in many (most?) you need a complicated set of one or more outdoor antennas, which may have to be to be directed using a rotor! Among other things, that precludes rapidly switching channels (I guess broadcasters love that). Ugh! Antennas on the roof! Wires, cables!

This just amounts to a not-so-slow and ugly death for over-the-air television. How many people are really going to mount an outdoor antenna, or a set of antennas. With rotors! What about those whose home or apartment faces the wrong way? Broadcast TV, and hence free TV, will be gone by 2020 as a result of this move. As the number of viewers shrink, so will the available programming, and prices will go up. That's a death spiral for sure.

Instead, we'll have televison you have to pay for, and for which there is steady feedback to the broadcasters regarding who watched what, and for how long (as already exists with most cable TV devices).

Background information

While standard definition remains the dominant viewing choice the world over, HDTV is already making gradual and progressive inroads. When color TV was introduced, it was developed to be backwards compatible and it gradually forced out black and white TV by being more appealing. In contrast, within the United States, Canada, and several other countries legislative action has been taken to force analog television off the air and replace it with terrestrial HDTV broadcasts. Satellite or cable broadcasting can remain with non-HDTV formats.

The primary reason for this is that digital broadcasting makes more efficient use of the available bandwidth, so if analog broadcasting is replaced by digital, the spectrum space is made available for other uses such as cellular phones or additional channels. More cynical explanations include the fact that forced adoption of digital technology closes the what the rights holding industries called the "analog hole", meaning the ability of home viewers to record or event distribute programming they received.

In the North America at least, digital television occupies largely the same portion of the electromagnetic spectrum as traditional analog television. Due to its digital nature, if the packets making up a program are too badly degraded, no signal whatsoever will be viewable. As a result, in locations with poor reception digital television may not function whereas analog television might still deliver a degraded signal.

On final concern about HDTV broadcasting in Canada, in particular: it doesn't accomodate disabled people properly. For years, there have been legistative requirements re. closed captioning of regular broadcast TV to assist those who are hard of hearing (or vision, since closed caption narratives can be transformed into audio fairly easily -- know any older people?). Quoting from Joe Clark's long article on this subject: "There is no requirement that Canadian HD devices receive, decode, or display captioning. Of course the U.S. has a requirement and we usually get the same equipment, and of course captioning is included in the ATSC specification, but there is no legislative guarantee that caption-capable high-definition equipment actually make it into Canadian homes." (... or that broadcasters insert captions into HD content.)

Well, good riddance. Maybe we'll read books instead.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
Rate item 83: Rating: 29.1/10 (8 votes cast)
15 December


Books I am looking at to give for gifts. Most of these have a science flavor. I own a couple and like them.

Scientific American The Amateur Biologist (Paperback)

Filled with experiments from a wide range of specialties, including botany, genetics, behavioral studies, cellular biology, microscopy, microbiology, and entomology, this fascinating book also contains helpful hints and clear instructions on how to build experimental apparatus using simple household materials and affordable alternatives to more expensive scientific equipment.

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich
Hardcover. What do you do? Tim Ferriss has trouble answering the question. Depending on when you ask this
controversial Princeton University guest lecturer, he might answer:
I race motorcycles in Europe. or I ski in the Andes. or I scuba dive in Panama.

Whoosh Boom Splat: The Garage Warrior's Guide to Building Projectile Shooters (Paperback)

These are the homemade machines that youve dreamed of building, from the high-voltage Night Lighter 36 spud gun to the Jam Jar Jet, the Marshmallow Shooter, and the Yagua Blowgun.

The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century: Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Finney, Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, (Paperback)


The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century: Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Finney, Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, (Paperback)


The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century: Stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Finney, Joe Haldeman, Ursula K. Le Guin, (Paperback)


Other stuff at:

this list of science gift suggestions

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
25 December

The robot uprising starting with an onslaught on our morale. I saw robots stealing Christmas Trees at the Atwater farmer's market.

Claw coming to get trees

Trees being hauled off

And this is really the order in which things were happening. The trees were being taken away, not deposited for sale.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
30 December

I've been off the air for a couple of weeks. My son had the flu, my step-father had a touch on pneumonia, and my cousin died.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
02 February

Focus groups and polling have become a standard approach not only for advertising, but also for developing political platforms or even for developing courses. Even research, to some extent, develops by building consensus, but sometimes this just doesn't allow for creative leaps and exceptional judgement. In some ways, this lowers the creative process to the lowest common denominators. There are lots of stories of scientists having this kind of breakthrough, but here's a well documented one from advertising (with an amusing video).

Here's a good example. The "1984" Apple advertisement has been cited and one of the most creative and influential advertisements of the 20th century. There's a real focus group of people who have never seen it commenting on it.

Now the focus group is not alone. Most of Apple's board also disliked the ad when the y first saw it (before it was ever aired), decided not to air it, and Mike Markkula supposedly said "Who wants to move to find a new agency?"

After it aired it immediately received immense publicity and recognition. It proved to be highly memorable and won over 30 awards. In a 2004 USA today article, Kevin Manley said "Twenty Super Bowls later, many tech industry leaders say the ad and the first Mac played an inspiring role in their career paths."

For the record, the actual final ad can be seen here. Steve Jobs authorized it after trepidation by his predecessor. It was directed by Ridley Scott and the production apparently had a budget of $900,000.

The take home message? Sometimes when you have a creative vision you have to follow your own instinct and ignore other people's advice.

Of course sometimes, a bad response results from not pitching your idea well. Here's a link on grant proposal writing that deals with that issue.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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