Thursday, March 27, 2014

Scott Hanselman: The Floppy Disk means Save, and 14 other old people Icons that don't make sense anymore

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A really amusing article about GUI design, focusing on icons that don't make a lot of sense or are hopelessly outdated.

Of course, some of these are more wrong than others, but it is a good read.

Unfortunately, trying to come up with replacement icons for some of these (especially the floppy disk) that will be intuitive to novice users is not an easy task.

Monday, March 24, 2014

AP: Camera used on moon landing sold for $758,489

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The Hasselblad 500 sold over the weekend is described by Vienna auctioneers Galerie Westlicht as part of the equipment carried by the 1971 Apollo 15 mission -- and the only camera ever bought back from the moon.
Read more. (Including a photo)

I am a bit disappointed that NASA decided to sell it. This camera really belongs in the National Air & Space museum, or possibly in the Kennedy Space Center museum - alongside the other Apollo artifacts.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Bloomberg: Missed Alarms and 40 Million Stolen Credit Card Numbers: How Target Blew It

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According to a detailed report by Bloomberg, December's credit-card heist from Target was detected by their outsourced security firm well in advance of any real damage. Target's security people were alerted and had plenty of time to purge the malware and lock out the hackers, but they sat on their hands and did nothing. They took no action until after the news broke and government investigators got involved.

Lots of people in high places in Target should lose their jobs for this. It's one thing to be the victim of crime. It's quite another to pay big bucks for an outsourced security system and then deliberately ignore them when they tell you there's a massive attack in progress.

RootMetrics: Cell phone coverage survey

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RootMetrics has completed their survey of cell phone coverage by network. They have created an interactive map that you can use to zoom/scroll around the country and see various coverage statistics (call performance, fastest speed, best technology) for all the major carriers at a fairly detailed resolution.

The results are not too surprising. Verizon has the best coverage, with AT&T not far behind. T-Mobile and Sprint cover most of the populated areas, but with what could be annoying gaps if you travel the countryside. For example, Oswego New York is has coverage by all four networks, but the surrounding towns (Wolcott, Fulton, etc.) have no T-Mobile or Sprint coverage, and some of the towns (like Sterling, where the Renaissance Festival is held) are only covered by Verizon.

Warning: Avoid using Google Drive on Mac OS X 10.6

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At least avoid using it until Google fixes this bug. It's a pretty nasty one. Panics your entire system with symptoms that masquerade as a RAM or motherboard failure.

Fortunately, I never installed this app. I access my GDrive entirely using the web interface.

xiph: 24/192 Music Downloads ...and why they make no sense

Another article (this one from March 2012) about high-definition audio, sampling rates, human hearing, and why the CD-standard format is a really good format for distributing audio.

Some notable quotes:

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

Yes, this surprised me too. Unnecessary, I agree, but inferior?. As it turns out, inaudible ultrasonic content frequencies can cause intramodular distortion that may be audible unless you've got very high-end equipment that can cleanly reproduce it.

The concept is similar to how high/mid/low frequencies can interfere with each other, which is why most good amplifiers and speakers use separate discrete components (along with appropriate filters and crossovers) to process these ranges independently.

The article also talks about how 16 bits really is enough to capture the full dynamic range a human ear is capable of hearing:

16 bit linear PCM has a dynamic range of 96dB according to the most common definition, which calculates dynamic range as (6*bits)dB. Many believe that 16 bit audio cannot represent arbitrary sounds quieter than -96dB. This is incorrect.
With use of shaped dither, which moves quantization noise energy into frequencies where it's harder to hear, the effective dynamic range of 16 bit audio reaches 120dB in practice, more than fifteen times deeper than the 96dB claim.

120dB is greater than the difference between a mosquito somewhere in the same room and a jackhammer a foot away.... or the difference between a deserted 'soundproof' room and a sound loud enough to cause hearing damage in seconds.

And has so much range that any recording actually using it would be annoying to listen to in a normal room - I'd be constantly turning the volume up (to hear the quiet parts) and down (to avoid pain during the loud parts.) Just like I sometimes have to do when listening to music in the car or when trying to watch a movie while others are talking in the same room.

I would contend that 16-bits is more than sufficient, because audio that is comfortable to listen to in an uncontrolled environment should be compressed to less thaneven 96dB. (Although the high dynamic range is definitely welcome when I'm in a quiet room listening on good equipment.)

Finally, I want to quote a section on how loudness can impact preferences. I always knew that people tend to prefer louder sound, but I didn't realize how subtle the changes can be, and why you can't eliminate this factor from audio testing without specialized equipment:

The human ear can consciously discriminate amplitude differences of about 1dB, and experiments show subconscious awareness of amplitude differences under .2dB. Humans almost universally consider louder audio to sound better, and .2dB is enough to establish this preference. Any comparison that fails to carefully amplitude-match the choices will see the louder choice preferred, even if the amplitude difference is too small to consciously notice. Stereo salesmen have known this trick for a long time.

The professional testing standard is to match sources to within .1dB or better. This often requires use of an oscilloscope or signal analyzer. Guessing by turning the knobs until two sources sound about the same is not good enough.

Please read the complete article including the footnotes. There's a lot of great information in here.

If people want to switch to a new audio format that sounds better than the MP3s they have now, they would be best off by simply re-ripping their CDs into a lossless format like FLAC or Apple Lossless. By simply removing all compression artifacts, you will get audio that will sound great if your playback equipment is up to the task.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Dork Tower: On The Etiquiette Of Sharing Web Comics

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Yes, I'm aware of the irony of sharing this comic on my blog. Please click through so John Kovalic can get some ad revenue from it.