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Apr 29, 2003

Well I just got finished spending a couple of hours playing with Apple’s new Music Store service. The verdict: I am very impressed. I suppose there are many things not to like about the service, such as the AAC encoding (instead of MP3) and limited DRM. I also don’t like to leaving my credit card number on Apple’s servers.

However, there are a lot of things to like about the service. The selection is better than I thought it would be - for example, they have some of my childhood favorites such as Brand Nubian and Jungle Brothers. At 200,000 tracks, the selection is certainly not all-encompassing, but if your musical tastes are anywhere near the mainstream, you should be able to find some tracks that you like.

I was initially disappointed that the rumored $0.99/track pricing proved to be true. But after playing with the service - and buying 4 singles - I’ve concluded that the pricing is close enough to impulse pricing for me. It’s probably not low enough for college students to adopt the service en mass, but let’s face it: college students have no money so anything short of free is likely to be a hard sell anyway.

So how does AAC sound? The results of my thoroughly unscientific testing (basically listening to the 4 tracks I bought, as well as AAC preview samples of music I’m of which I am familiar) indicate that it’s not bad. It’s definitely not CD quality. I’d estimate that AAC encoded at 128 kbs is probably comparable to MP3 at 160-192 kbs, at least for pop music, so Apple’s quality claims appear realistic.

Of course it’s ironic how researchers are developing ways to bring the consumer higher quality music, yet industry pundits are predicting that future of the music business is lossy-encoding. It remains to be seen how this will play out.

But at least the major music companies are starting to get it. I for one got interested in acoustics because I love listening to music, and it was frustrating to see how the major labels were stifling our enjoyment of music. Hopefully that is beginning to change.

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Apr 24, 2003

The BAS sponsored a meeting at the Berklee College of Music regarding the SACD being developed by Philips and Sony. We were treated to a 30 minute demonstration of various 2-track and 5.1-track Direct Stream Digital(DSD) recordings, including a track from the infamous Dark Side of the Moon reissue. All in all, I was very impressed by the sound quality (using B&W speakers didn’t hurt). Can you believe that the SACD audio is sampled at 2.8 MHz per track? For up to 8 tracks!

The next segment of the meeting was equally interesting. Paul Reynolds from Philips gave a presentation that described the development of the format, and future goals. After the presentation, there was a question and answer session. Most of the Q&A focused on the various copy-protection schemes built into the SACD. As Paul explained it, there is fairly robust copy-protection built into the specification, primarily at the behest of the Big 5 Record Labels.

As pointed out by several audience members (which consisted of various recording professionals from the Boston area, as well as Berklee students studying to become recording engineers) these various schemes make life very difficult for recording engineers and producers. For example, one layer of the copy protection is based on a physical characteristic of the “pits ” on the disc. This characteristic can only be produced by a multi-million dollar pressing machine, and SACD burners will basically be impossible to produce in the near future. That means producers who want to make one or two “evaluation” copies of a work-in-progress will have to spend a significant amount of money to have a commercial SACD plant press a few discs.

Considering the makeup of the audience, I fully expected most people at the presentation would have been somewhat receptive to the copy-protection measures, but it seems that the opposite was true. Certainly it was clear that the record companies (and their lawyers) are playing a significant part in the development of the SACD, and I believe this has the potential of killing the format. Think about it: Philips and Sony want to phase out the CD within 10 years and replace it with the SACD. However, because CD’s (and the SACD-incompatible DVD-Audio format) are the only way to record audio in a non-lossy format, CD-burners (and therefore CD-players) will still be commonplace for a long time. Given the suggested price of $18.99 for a commercial SACD, what reason does the average consumer have to buy into SACD? You can make an argument about sound quality, but remember that most people think Home-Theater-in-a-Box makes for a high-end sound system.

The record companies are trying to cling to their high-margin business plan in a commodity market. It ain’t gonna work.

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Apr 22, 2003

“Friends have e-mailed me from out of state expressing surprise that this dog was not shot, too. Obviously, that is an exaggeration, in this instance, but it is embarrassing and hard to defend.”

Just what is it with Tennessee and dogs?

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Apr 18, 2003

Hmmm - I’ve forgotten how much I hate programming serial communications.

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Apr 14, 2003

From the Boston Globe - Commuter rail expansion may yield to urban transit: “Rather than pursue [the Greenbush and New Bedford lines], the Romney team is preparing to push urban transit projects, such as the completion of the Silver Line from Roxbury to Logan Airport via South Station, the extension of the Blue Line to Lynn, the Green Line extension to Medford, and the Urban Ring, a rail-and-bus service circumventing Boston. ” - wow

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Apr 10, 2003

Farewell Concorde, we hardly knew you (but we definitely heard you!). I bet Bill must be happy.

Police are using acoustic detection systems in several locations to track the source of gunshots.

Grade separation for railroad/highway crossings is a good things. FYI, while the Feds to require trains to blow horns at grade crossings, the familiar “long, long, short, long” pattern is not required by Federal regulation. Some state and local jurisdictions may call for that pattern, but generally it is an accepted convention rather than a requirement.

Skywalker Sound gets a major infrastructure upgrade for their recording system, including 12 TB of storage. Yummy.

Oh, and there is a minor subway project in New York City that is starting to show signs of progress.

According to Wired, the MIT Media Lab is in trouble. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I can believe there are having financial troubles, primarily because their sponsors are having financial problems, but the students are professors at the Media Lab are among the most driven staff on campus. They will adapt.

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Apr 07, 2003

So, you’re a contractor working in a residential neighborhood, building a new house, or maybe you’re renovating a barn. Your work crew starts promptly at 7:00am every weekday morning. Because line power may not be available, your crew needs to bring gasoline-powered tools to run their equipment.

Before you drag your trusty ole’ generator from the equipment shed, may I suggest trying out one of the Honda “handheld” generators? They are light, powerful enough to drive a trailer full of audio equipment, and most importantly, very, very quiet. The EU2000 is rated at “59dB of sound at 7 meters with a full load,” which is a bit ambiguous, but having seen the unit in operation, I can verify that it is much quieter than the typical portable gas-powered generator one is likely to see on a small construction site.

Please try one. Those of us who like to sleep until 8:00am will greatly appreciate it.

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Apr 06, 2003

Digging down deeper into one of the links I posted yesterday reveals the existence of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology, “an international association of affiliated organizations and individuals, who share a common concern with the state of the world soundscape as an ecologically balanced entity.” Looks like they’ve been around a while, I’m not sure how I missed them. Oops.

Via USENET comes a post from Gordon Brown that may address one of the Google questions I pointed to yesterday. A paper prepared by Casella Stanger describes the difficulty in finding sources of any low frequency noise. Note that despite the pessimistic tone of the posting, finding a source of low frequency noise can be done - just understand that it may not be easy, and in many cases may be expensive and time consuming.

Courtesy of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse is a White Paper by noted expert Paul Schomer that discusses annoyance from noise. Again, the paper has been around for a while, but it’s worth noting because the paper gives an excellent summary of the different noise criteria used by U.S. Federal agencies, including the FAA, FHWA, FTA, FRA, and HUD.

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Apr 03, 2003

Interesting links from Google Answers that I discovered a long time ago, but only now have gotten around to posting:

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Apr 02, 2003

Wow, I had an RSS feed before Microsoft did. I’m so cool.

People are starting to recognize the power of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators. Me? I think there’s more potential in RSS than most people realize. We’ll see if I’m right in a month or so.

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