Sound Decision

July 13, 2013

tony-headphonesA while ago I borrowed a friend’s Beats Audio headphones to listen to the vinyl transfer of Sign o’ The Times another friend of mine made for me. The CD of the album is horribly mastered for some reason, and I had a dream about finding a vinyl copy at a flea market. Trusting my dream, I drove down the road to the local flea market (fortunately it was Sunday morning so it was open) and within five minutes found the record for $10 (a bargain, but I negotiated it down to $6 for the fun of it).

Anyway, while listening to that and all the other music I’ve been into lately I became spoiled by the quality of the sound coming out of those Beats. The clarity of the sound was way beyond what I experience from my trusty white Apple earbuds. With the seed planted I knew I had to start my research into that state of over-the-ear headphones. I didn’t want to buy a pair of Beats because they are far too trendy for me and way more than I wanted to pay ($250 for the model I sampled). After spending a few hours reading reviews (both professional and Amazon user) I decided on the Sony MDR-V6, which list for $100. Amazon had them a bit cheaper but I wanted an even better bargain so I added them to my wish list and waited. A few weeks later they came down briefly to $60 and I ordered straight away.

I couldn’t be happier with them. They sound a bit different than the Beats. Not better or worse, just different. The Beats boost the bass (naturally, considering their hip-hop origins), and I prefer a more neutral sound for my broad musical tastes. The sound field is a bit more “airy” on the Sony phones, almost as if it was on a wider stage or something, and the Sony matches the sound clarity that allows each note to be heard distinctly. The Beats are a bit louder, but that’s not a problem since I don’t turn the sound up all the way on the V6s anyway.

So why are Sony headphones such a bargain? After all, they’re not exactly known for undercutting the competition. Well, it turns out that Sony has been making these headphones for decades. They are used widely in professional audio and video circles (where the neutral sound is appreciated) and haven’t changed much in all this time. I remember over-the-ear headphones being popular during my childhood, but they went out of favor with the advent of Sony’s Walkman (ironically) and then the iPod craze.


My annual F1 Post

March 13, 2013

mp4-28F1 returns this weekend! As usual the season starts down under which means that the first race will be shown live on NBC Sports Network here in the US at 2:00 a.m. early Sunday morning. It promises to be another exciting, closely fought season since the rules haven’t changed much since last year. This tends to let the slower cars catch up a bit since they can make bigger gains than the already better optimized cars. Fortunately, the ugly duckling look to the cars has been banished by a rule allowing a vanity panel to smooth out the nose. Next year there are big rule changes including a new engine (1.6L Turbo V6 with ERS). The biggest change this year is on the driver front – Lewis Hamilton has moved from McLaren to MercedesGP, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Mexican Sergio Perez has slotted into the plum McLaren seat vacated by Hamilton and alongside my favorite driver, Jenson Button (shown above).

I’ve been thinking recently about why I love F1 so much when my interest in other professional sports has waned to the point where I hardly watch football or basketball on TV at all. The spectacle is certainly there – the start of an F1 race is a 22-car drag race to the first corner, where they usually (and miraculously) find a way to funnel into formation without crashing. Exciting stuff. But it’s way more than that. F1 isn’t really a driving competition, it’s an engineering competition. All 11 teams (two cars each) design and build a new car every year, and update that car throughout the season (new front and rear wings, bodywork, and more). It’s a relentless battle of minds that is manifested in an auto race every two weeks. Between those races teams are working flat out using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) systems, wind tunnels, simulators (similar to this one), and hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a pure meritocracy that would make even Ayn Rand smile.

I will, of course, be watching the race live in the middle of the night. Any F1 fans  (or “normal” insomniacs) who are reading this are free to join me.

Letters and logos

September 16, 2012

I wrote a letter to the editor this morning. I haven’t done that in a very long time (7-10 years?). I was reading the iPad version of USA Today and came across a very sensible column inspired by the Chicago teacher strike that identified one of the biggest problems in our schools. I decided to chime in with a partial solution to the problem.

This is the fourth time I’ve written a letter to USA Today, and I’m risking lowering my percentage significantly if it doesn’t get selected. So far two of my three letters were printed;I can’t remember what the rejected on was about, but I remember the other two. I’ll keep you posted on the new letter’s status.

Meanwhile, USA Today has a new logo. The old logo was certainly in need of refreshing and was looking a bit dated (the paper was founded in 1982).

Before I critique the new one, let’s look at the old one. The “line screen” effect on the globe was very popular back in the day, and in the context of being used for a printed newspaper makes a lot of sense. It also transferred a sense of dependability to a new entity since AT&T used it at the time (on a sphere and in blue no less) as did IBM (and still does since it is less complex and therefore has held up better). But now that people read their news online and on tablets something new was in order.

The new logo is typically minimalist, following the latest fashion. In the “letterhead” form on white shown above I don’t like it much at all. It’s simple to the point of being generic. If I were putting the final touches on that design I would have aligned the baseline of “TODAY” with the equator of the circle for a bit more solidity and left to right flow. Note that the letter spacing is a bit loose, suggesting it is designed for smaller sizes (letter spacing should decrease as point size increases as a general rule). The old logo used mashed together letters  which was easily read in print since the logo was quite large on the printed newspaper.

Look at the website that is still using the old logo here and you can see why they felt the need to change. The “globe” is just mush. Moving to the beta of the new website and the new logo is a big improvement, especially since here it is on black instead of white, uses larger (in relation to the circle) one-line logotype lettering, and is vertically centered with the circle.

Sneak Peak

August 16, 2012

I’ve finished my latest game! It’s the only one I completed this summer (I had hoped to get at least two done). My rough start to the summer meant a lack of focus so instead of fighting that I let myself work on whatever I felt like working on each day. That resulted in a bunch of proof of concept type apps (will this idea work?) and now I have five or six apps in development that have a decent foundation. With the school year starting soon it probably won’t be until fall until I have another one done though.

Anyway, this app is called SumDice and it’s coming out for the iPhone very soon. It takes Apple a week to ten days to approve an app (which feels like an eternity) and I sent it in a few days ago. I’ll post an update here once it’s available. The app is free, which is only way for an indie developer to get it out to enough people without an ad budget. But don’t worry, I’ll still make some money. The game has ads in it, which is handled though Apple and can be lucrative if enough people are playing. Unfortunately, Apple recently changed their policy and won’t display ads in apps made for children, so Battle Times went from making a relatively small but ever-increasing amount of money to making nothing overnight. Because of this, you probably won’t see any cartoon characters in my games again for a while (they assume that means kiddie game). In addition I’m trying to “upsell” the game once players play it and (hopefully) like it. A “Bonus Pack” will be available within the game for 99¢ that adds features including a SuperDice mode with three dice instead of two and 12 buttons instead of 9. I tried that method with Battle Times HD (iPad) and it hasn’t worked out too well, but I blame that more on the interface (not linear enough) and audience (too young). If the in-app purchase in this one works I’ll modify the menus in that one to see if it helps.

To promote SumDice I’ve created the web version (click here to play) that required a bit of juggling and graphic modification since the iPhone version is “portrait” and web apps are “landscape.” Other than that it plays a lot like the iPhone game, except without some of the iOS-specific features like Game Center leader boards and achievements. I did manage to include the in-game mini-math-lesson. Look for it under “Options” as “Odds and Ends.” Enjoy!

P.S. I tried to embed the game on this page, but WordPress wouldn’t let me do that for some reason.

Fans of the show Fringe will recognize this building as the Fringe Division headquarters in alternate universe (the one with the hotter redheaded, cargo-pants wearing version of Olivia). I’ve admired the building during every location shot and finally decided to look it up to see if it is a real building or if it’s computer generated (all too easy to do these days). I was happy to discover that it’s a real building, though it is not in NYC as in the show (at least not in this universe). It’s actually the Vancouver Public Library. Amazingly, the people of Vancouver were given a few choices for the library project and chose this beautiful and radical design over more conventional ones. Obviously modeled after the Roman Colosseum ruin, it manages to be modern and classical at the same time. The interior views are just as spectacular, since the library itself is a 9-story rectangular building that is surrounded by the elliptical outer wall that connects to the building on the east side with glass to enclose a spacious concourse.

I’m going to deviate from my recent obsession with architecture to write a bit about another of my old loves… automobile design. Here’s a photo taken right after I bought my Mazda3 in 2004. I bought the car for a number of reasons… driving dynamics, perfect size (I like sedans that are just big enough to transport four adults), a high-quality interior, and solid and sporty exterior styling. The car has excellent proportions with short overhangs and nice detail work.

My favorite part of the car is highlighted above… the C-pillar (for sedans, the C-pillar is the most rearward support of the glass area, the B-pillars are between the doors, and the A-pillars frame the windshield). The C-pillar of the 3 features an extreme example of the Hofmeister kink commonly found on BMWs, which sits above the hard (for the time) “shoulder” crease that runs the length of the car, another feature I like quite a bit.

More Providence Architecture

February 28, 2012

I was down on Thayer Street today having lunch at Andrea’s (gotta love their Greek Burger), and as started driving home I noticed a dome up on the hill. I drove closer to it and discovered this lovely building, the The First Church of Christ Scientist on Prospect Street in Providence. As you can see it’s a neo-classical design, and its placement at the top of College Hill makes it more imposing. Sadly, I wasn’t able to find out much about the building itself. It was built between 1906-1913 and its location had been used previously for warning beacons against Indians in 1667 and against the Brits in 1775.

Architectural Tour, part 1

February 21, 2012

On Sunday I went on a mission to check out a building I had briefly spotted at night a few days before while going out to dinner. I noticed a large church near the ramp to I-195, so I checked it out on Bing maps (I like the bird’s eye view) and was amazed to discover a huge gothic cathedral in Providence. Upon looking it up, I discovered it is the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul and it was built from 1878 to 1889. It’s in the gothic revival style (the actual gothic period ended in the 16th century). Its two prominent towers made me think of Notre Dame and are 156 feet tall, 70 feet shorter than that great French cathedral’s towers.

My other target for this trip was this building, The Arcade, which was the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States when it was built in 1828. This granite structure was built in the Greek Revival style and its 21 foot tall Ionic columns are much heavier up close than they appear here. Its opposite end (Westminster) also features a portico, but differs in that it also has a pediment above them. The Arcade is currently closed but is expected to reopen this year as a one-story shopping area with student apartments in the upper two stories.

Finally, I noticed this attractive building. I was struck by it’s extensive use of glass, though it is obviously an older structure. It is the Del Sesto building (formerly called the Summerfield Building and the Morris Building), currently owned by Johnson & Wales University. This Early-Modern 72-foot low rise on Weybosset Street was built in 1914 and renovated by the university in 2004.

Look for my next architectural tour installment later this week. I might head north for this one…


The ugly ducklings

February 7, 2012

F1 is back! Today is the start of winter testing in Spain, and many of the brand new F1 cars (each team designs and builds a brand new model each year to suit the current regulations) are actually running on track as I write this. It’s an exciting time that follows the launch events of the cars (media events where the car is first shown – though Ferrari’s event was cancelled due to snow of all things). As excited as I am about the start of the new season, there is some bad news – F1 cars are ugly this year.

If you look at the “nose” of the car you will notice an odd and dramatic bump that lowers the height of the nosecone. Sadly, this is due to a change in the regulations that requires a lower nose for safety reasons, but allows the bulkhead (the part where the driver’s feet go) to remain at the same height as before. Each team’s aerodynamicist has crunched the numbers and determined that this ugly bump is the best way to go (it allows more to flow under the nose, which is then directed around the car and to the rear downforce-generating diffusor). I have nothing against a nose with a little character, but I’m having trouble getting used to these abominations.

There is some good news, however. For 2013, the bulkhead maximum height has been lowered too, so this will only be a single season affliction. And the even better news is that I happen to be rooting for the one team that has gone a different direction and has produced a truly beautiful car. Behold the McLaren MP4-27 driven by Jenson Button…


Cars, indoors

February 4, 2012

Today I went to the Northeast International Auto Show in Providence. I’ve been meaning to go for years and finally got there.

For a very long time I’ve wanted to go to the Detroit Auto Show, where a lot of new models are unveiled with lots of hoopla, but in these days of internet leaks its impact is somewhat diminished so it’s a bit less appealing (which it has to be to justify a trip to Detroit in January). Incidentally, one of the other January trade shows I’ve long wanted to attend has also faded a bit – Macworld in San Francisco now suffers from a lack of an official Apple presence, leaving CES  (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas at the top of my trade show list (though the Geneva Auto Show in March sounds pretty good).

So back to today’s show… every major auto manufacturer was represented, and there were a few models that haven’t made it to showroom floors yet that were on display. The most important of these were both Ford products. The new Ford Fusion (out this fall) is an impressive looking car with a wide range of cutting edge power trains. The existing model, especially the hybrid,  has been selling very well despite it’s staid appearance. I expect sales to jump significantly with this stylist and more mechanically impressive model.

The other Ford that will surely make a big splash is the new Escape. It also replaces one of the least stylish models in the Ford fleet, and like the Fusion is nicely proportioned and detailed. Small SUVs (basically tall small cars these days) are a hot segment and this one should jump to the head of that pack in sales.

There was another small SUV that I was hoping to see… the new Mazda CX-5. From what I’ve seen so far I just may be tempted to replace my trusty Mazda3 with one in the coming year, especially if the diesel model that Europe is getting finds its way over here.