more than you probably wanted to know about audio compression

A somewhat dense but really good article from IEEE Spectrum (found via Slashdot). It comes complete with a somewhat-irritating but still very informative Flash demonstration of the topic it discusses: how recorded music has become louder and more fatiguing as a result of an arms race between music producers that trades upon our pathetically easily-fooled nervous systems. It’s like the omnipresence of corn syrup in processed foods: everyone says they don’t like it, but it’s hard to argue with figures showing that sweetness = sales.

The article covers a lot of ground, touching on numerous issues related to how audio storage technology works (I had no idea that engineers could alter vinyl’s dynamic range during mastering — sort of like adjusting the bitrate on an MP3). Definitely worth a read. And if you have any irritating audiophile friends, you may want to send them the link. If they don’t understand the piece, politely tell them to shut up for a bit about how awful digital audio technology is.

I have been remiss

Lots of people I know are doing great things on the internet, and I haven’t been paying enough attention. So here! Some links that you ought to pay attention to, two of which are shamelessly lifted from DCeiver.

  • Yogaball is sweeping the nation, and all that you can hope to do is familiarize yourself with its rules before a rising tide of family fun sweeps over the carpeted floors of your home and you just stare — and then it’s like the time between now and that first spreading sheet of water never existed, and suddenly you’re crying/gasping for breath in a small pocket of air near the ceiling, an indifferent flashlight bobbing next to you, and you can hear yourself and the splashing water but otherwise it’s silent. THAT’S how fun Yogaball is. Prepare yourself, and consider purchasing flood and/or lawn sport insurance (if available/extant).
  • Have you ever wondered what Sommer’s favorite food is? Of course you have. Well, stop torturing yourself about it. This and other revelations can be found in her interview with Washingtonian, which she handled with grace and wit.
  • This is what Western civilization has been working toward all these years. When I look at that meat cake I suddenly understand how Christopher Hitchens has been feeling these past six years.

some links

  • Comcast claims they aren’t interfering with BitTorrent despite strong evidence to the contrary. The problem apparently isn’t affecting all Comcast users, and TorrentFreak says that some BT client authors are integrating workarounds into their programs. So if you’re a Comcast customer perhaps you don’t need to panic after all.
  • Frank Deford on pro wrestling’s high mortality rate. It’s nice to see a real sports journalist talk about wrestling and its occasionally tragic aspects without sneering. But Deford’s stretching things when he tries to connect the deaths directly to steroid abuse in other sports. Yes, wrestlers’ anabolically-enhanced bulk contributes to a lot of premature heart attacks. But that’s just part of the story — there’s also abuse of other substances among wrestlers, particularly opiates. The industry involves a lot of travel and an economic structure that encourages wrestlers to continue to work while injured. As a result a staggering number of wrestlers get addicted to painkillers at one point or another, and often other drugs as well. The lifestyle is basically that of a chemically supercharged carny. Steroid use certainly isn’t healthy, but I don’t think it completely explains why the wrestling industry produces so many dead men in hotel rooms.
  • And on a cheerier notes, here’s the requisite link to Salon’s coverage of the MediaBistro poll… irregularities.

what a bunch of crooks

CLERK: Mo/rris House Bed & Breakfast, how can I help you?

ME: Yeah, hi. My parents got me a gift certificate to your hotel for my birthday and I’d like to make a reservation to use it.

CLERK: Certainly sir, I can help you with that.

ME: The only thing is, the certificate says it expires on August 31st, and I’d actually like to make the reservation for September 1st, the day after. Will that be a problem?

CLERK: Uhh… I’ll have to check. Can I call you back?

Later…

CLERK: Hi, this is Mo/rris House. I talked to my supervisor and she said it’ll be fine for you to use the certificate on September 1st.

ME: Great!

CLERK: Let me just check and… oh. Hmm. There’s a problem. We only have one qualifying room left on that date.

ME: Great, that’ll be fine.

CLERK: No, see, I can’t give you that room. It’s our last one.

ME: I don’t understand. The certificate has been paid for… It’s not like you’re giving me the room for free.

CLERK: I’m trying to work with you sir, but if you look at the gift certificate it does say “subject to availability”.

ME: Right, and you just told me that a room is available.

CLERK: Listen, I’m trying to work with you, sir. We’re trying to be flexible about the date.

We go through this several more times. The hotel’s policy does not begin to make more sense.

ME (exasperated): Okay. I understand the hotel already has the money for this gift certificate and doesn’t want to honor it if it can possibly earn more money from someone else instead. Can I pay an up-charge or something and get the room?

CLERK: Uh… I’ll have to check. Can I put you on hold?

Without hanging up, the clerk calls me on a different line.

CLERK: I got good news for you, sir! I can give you the room if you pay an extra $20.

So fine, I paid the $20. But really now: c’mon. My parents’ thoughtful gift has already been paid for with perfectly good money. It’s time for you to honor your end of the bargain. Stop being such jerks.

I’m Googleproofing this for the time being so that the Mo/rris House people don’t do horrible things to our breakfast or play more reservation shenanigans. But this is pretty sleazy behavior. It’s just one goddamn day. Is it really worth jerking your clients around for an extra $20?

slightly more Heliocentrism

I might have to reconsider the Ocean: Matt tipped me off to the fact that some intrepid Helio users have figured out a way to load J2ME apps on the phone. The first big success is Opera Mini, an excellent web browser that can now supplant the Ocean’s neutered default browser.

The advance is related to a wrapper that’s been written for the platform. Lots of phones can run Java Midlets, and consequently lots of Midlets are available. But Helios can’t use them. They employ a less-common Java technology called WIPI. That’s the crux of the breakthrough: someone’s come up with a way to wrap Midlets as WIPI apps. There are kinks to be worked out (the QWERTY keyboard on the Ocean doesn’t work within Opera, for example), but this is clearly a big deal.

admitting defeat

the American Quarterhorse Association?I had a dream, and a beautiful one at that: I wanted to stop opening my mail.

Mail is terrible. In my experience it’s uniformly either irrelevant or bad news. Mostly it’s the former, of course: American Express seems to feel they need to check in with me about four times a week, and various bafflingly unfamiliar organizations keep trying to push credit cards on me (at right: The American Quarter Horse Association’s offer, received just a few hours before I wrote this).

The important stuff — which is, of course, indistinguishable from the junk — is always, always bad news. Mostly it’s bills. Sometimes it’s a coded warning that in several months I’ll almost forget to buy a wedding present for someone. The best case scenario is that I’ve merely slid a little further into emotional debt to a faithfully corresponding family member. Good news arrives electronically. Duties are printed on paper, like military orders.

I tried to at least dispense with the bills. Bank of America made it seem like I could plausibly receive and pay bills online. When they added a feature that allowed me to automatically respond to incoming bills — no attention or volition required! — I enthusiastically handed my checkbook over to a robot. I spent the last 8 months or so throwing away every communication that looked even a little bit like it was from a credit card company. Sometimes I’d tear them up (identity thieves lurk everywhere!) but it was more satisfying to shove their evil, glossy bulk straight into the trash can. It was a wonderful time in my life. I felt free.

Sadly, I’m now putting my shackles back on. Several-too-many completely unexpected and alarmingly large credit card bills have proven to me that automatic bill payment is too erratic to trust. I’m sure that some day it’ll be possible not to have to worry about debts on a near-daily basis. But I’m now convinced that it’ll only happen after Star Trek-style collectivism finally kicks in and does away with currency altogether.

fair enough

flies through air with the greatest of ease

Following in the footsteps set last week by carnival-attendance pioneer Michael Silberman, this Saturday a small group of daring adventurers set out for the Montgomery County Fair. The results were well-documented.

There’s video, too:

I ended up eating one fried dough product too many and returned home with a splitting headache. But it was worth it! Really, this was by far the best fair experience I can remember.

the sun sets behind the hang ten

Yahoo Pipes and PHP

I’ve got a quick post up at EchoDitto Labs detailing how to use the new Yahoo Pipes Web Services module with PHP. Not exactly rocket science, but might come in handy for anyone who doesn’t want to ponder the Java example that Yahoo provides.

Many thanks to son1 for tipping me off to the existence of this module — it makes an already-powerful service even more versatile.