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iMic = YES

prod_imic2_side01.jpgNow I am no audiophile by any stretch of the imagination. My only claim to aduio expertise is that I've owned a lot of audio equipment, which I have sold and consolidated into a single PowerMac with iTunes and output to a pair of analog harman/kardon soundsticks w/jellyfish subwoofer. (Yes, I actually sold my entire CD collection in 2004 after scanning the cover art and ripping all the music at high quality to liberate my bookshelves and have a larger "randomizeable" playlist)

I listen to music from my collection, streamed from neighbors apartments, and from internet radio. Music is playing from every conceivable genre about 10 hours a day from my home office.

Until recently I thought the setup sounded pretty good to my ears. This is until I talked myself into buying Griffin's iMic. Immediately after plugging it in and resuming the song I was playing I finally understood what people mean when they talk about a "sound stage" as I had just gotten one free with my purchase.

At the same volume settings the playback was louder, and there was much better separation between the highs and the lows. There was more full bass, filling the room instead of feeling like a directional speaker. There were also frequencies I seemed to be hearing that I wasn't before -- kind of like there were gaps in the spectrum that were now filled in. In short, my music came alive.

For some it will seem a little pricey for a device that let's you do the same thing you've already been doing (sound in/out) but it is true that it's a lot cheaper then almost any other audio device that does the same thing and I'm sure you'll notice the difference.

TECHNICAL NOTE: On a generously equipped and recently patched PowerMac G4 QuickSilver there are very real performance issues using the iMic with the internal (USB 1) ports. Music playback is steady for just under a half minute before it "skips". I am not sure if this is a software issue or a bandwidth limitation of USB 1, but there are absolutely no problems using it with a USB2 PCI card.

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on March 24, 2006 | Comments (0)

When Supply & Demand goes wonky

I recently found myself going through a long and tedious comparison of a few cell phones as it's almost time to upgrade to one that is more appropriate for a tech person on the go. This morning I saw this post in the New York craigslist that I had to reprint here because it's true, a few of these smartphones are still miles ahead of anything else on the shelf, and are desireable enough to be messing with how the marketplace works:

Why are so many people trying to sell USED Treo 650 's at RETAIL PRICE
Date: 2006-03-23, 4:04AM EST

a used Treo 650 costs $275-300. if you look around enough you can find one for $225-$250. People are crazy. The value of things goes down after you use them. Its called "depreciation". Treo 650's are not fine wines, rare jewels, or collectors items. As a customer you need to demand a fair price. Don't offer more than $300 for a treo, wait a week and save yourself $100. or buy one new for $400

Another post in the search results for "Treo 650":

Will trade magic beans for your Brand New Treo 650
Date: 2006-03-21, 6:28PM EST

lets get real people

It goes to show irrational exuberence can flare up anywhere in the tech world. This should be a clear message to phone makers: stop with the baby step crap and produce a decent phone that does what people want at a decent price.

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on March 23, 2006 | Comments (0)

Cell Phones: The Long Constant March

March 15, 2006 (You have to date entries like this so you can get the historical context weeks later when they are obsolete): Why do we buy so damned many cell phones?

phone-rotary.jpgIt used to be that when you needed a phone you saved up for it, went to your local hardware/department store and brought home a 10lb brick of a phone and it lasted forever. Really, we all know someone, either an older relative or a thrift-store surfer who has the old rotary phone, or the first-gen button phone in their home, that still works -- bell ringer and all.

I bought my first cell phone somewhere in the vecinity of 1997. It lasted me two years then there was a fancy new james-bond like flip phone that I just had to have. Did it have any tangible improvements? Well, it was a little smaller, and the screen wouldn't scratch when closed and that was good enough for me. I forget how much I plunked down for it, but the way cell phone companies work, you pretty much double the advertised price of any phone (even if on sale and even with the signed service agreement) -- there are a lot of service and activation charges, taxes, blah blah blah.

This phone lasted three years, which was the longest I've owned any single cell phone to date. It survived through four batteries and two antennas (they used to be extendible and very delicate when unsheathed). The reason for the upgrade? Well, everyone was starting to do this "text messaging" system and it seemed very useful. I also *really* liked the idea of bluetooth syncing of my address book with my computer. So the deal was made and my new phone was plugged into the network.

Though I wasn't shopping for a phone with a camera, mine came with one. The quality is so bad that it is actually hilarious, and the blues are always off. I've affectionately referred to it as my "digital lomo". So the phone is great, I can make calls with it, text, bluetooth sync my calendar and contacts... but of course the internal memory was rather small so not all of my contacts will fit in it. I'd also now like to play music files on it as many phones on the market can today...

You can see where this is going.

The march of the cellphones (and digital convergence) is not a conspiracy, WE are the ones paying for their R&D by continuing to upgrade our phones every year or two -- sometimes at a ridiculous cost.

If you want phone the you've always imagined (and with each new feature you get the next one becomes easier and easier to imagine, doesn't it?) then all you have to do is buy the one that's close to feed the machine and it will spit out your dream in 6-12months, by which time you'll want even more.

At some point there is the potential for phone sales to stall while manufacturers toe the chasm between "convergence phone" on one side (adding all the features that are easy, one at a time to keep sales high) and actual computer phones on the other.

Both sides will represent different kinds of people and likely the "phone" side will stagnate and become the side that gives you "free" phones when you sign up for plans; already there is a group of die-hard cell phone users that only want their phone to be... a phone.

phone-robot.jpgThe other group wants to push phones as far as they can go -- but would they stop at live 3D holograms of the people they are talking to? That is yet to be seen, but there's no reason to think that this side of the chasm will want to sit for long when there are so many new and amazing things you'll be able to do with these portable supercomputers.

The long and the short of it is that for the time being cell phone manufacturers and distributors are completely addicted to this extra revenue stream of phone sales and it's not likely that they'll quiet down about the newest phone and flog you with advertisements and promotions to lure you into buying.

Before we get to excited and look at our existing phone as "obsolete" and not worthy of keeping, let's consider what modern cell phones can actually do, and what features they have that people actually use:

Today's cell phone can:

Today's cell phones have replaced these items that would otherwise be on your desk:

Tomorrow's cell phones will replace:

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on March 16, 2006 | Comments (0)

Turn Your PowerBook Into The Wifi Lone Ranger

It seems that a lot of the decisions Apple makes are not just made by Steve Jobs and his eccentric (and usually brilliant) design team; more and more they seem to rely on surveys (like when they recently polled PowerBook users to see how many used the modem port and decided to axe it from the MacBook Pro. They likely didn't ask when people *do* use it, how important it was, otherwise they might have been left in for another revision).

My guess is that Apple asked people how they use their wireless and 90% said in their home or office or said they paid to use internet at a Starbucks or similar -- therefore reducing the need for a sensitive, powerful wireless antenna.

So this works for most -- the artists and fashionistas and those in the suburbs with paper-thin walls. Those in the city, those who travel a lot and those who are of a technical bent (read: power users, network admins, Unix heads, etc.) need something a little more robust but may not realize there are very workable options.

Say you want to keep the sex appeal to your laptop while you're at home/work (and use the built-in AirPort Extreme card) but need some extra range when traveling, you can do it with the purchase of 2-4 parts:

1, MANDATORY: A PCMCIA wireless card that uses a chipset other than the broadcom chipset (which Apple Airport cards, Buffalo cards, and others use) like the Orinoco Gold:

2, MANDATORY: The Wireless Driver For Mac by OrangeWare which controls these non-broadcom wireless cards and integrates seamlessly into the system preferences allowing you to flip back-and-forth between your built-in AirPort Extreme card and your "power user" card of choice. Here is where to find the driver and the list of cards they support:

3, OPTIONAL: If you purchased a card with an antenna jack (like the Orinoco Gold) you can buy a 5DB antenna to affix to your laptop screen for big gains (see list below):

If you want to be "crafty" you can do the following "fashion upgrades" to your antenna setup:

Velcro attachments for antenna mount

Antenna mount spray-painted silver to match Aluminum finish of PowerBook

Installation is very straightforward:

  1. Download and install Wireless Driver For Mac (you get 10 minutes at a time to test -- if you like how it works you can register through the System Prefs pane)

  2. Plug in your wireless card

  3. Open system preferences and click on Wireless Driver and go through the tabs to get set up -- free networks can simply be selected, other networks will require a key.
    NOTE: If your AirPort Base Station is using 128-bit encryption and you set your password as an actual human-readable word you will need to open Airport Admin Utility (in Applications/Utilities), connect to the base station, and select the menu "Base Station/ Equivalent Network Password" -- this is what PCs would have to enter to join your network and what you will have to type when using the Wireless Driver for Mac.

  4. thedriver.jpg
    The Driver in System Preferences

  5. Click on the "Network" System pref and you will be notified of a new port being available. Give it a try!

I live in a "railroad style" apartment and as such I have three "zones" in my apartment where the signal goes from strong to completely non-existant which makes it the perfect testing ground for this new setup. Green denotes strongest signal.

Airport Card: 54
Buffalo AirStation: 55
Orinoco (low-power 10mW setting): 82
Orinoco with antenna: 100

Airport Card: 37
Buffalo AirStation: 53
Orinoco (low-power 10mW setting): 50
Orinoco Antenna: 79

Airport: 10 (though no web pages load)
Orinoco (full power): 0
Orinoco Antenna: 55 (usable)

The Orange Wireless Driver allows you to control the power usage for battery savings. I did not notice any tangible difference between performance on any setting until you hit 10mW, where web pages loaded slightly slower even if the signal strength was high.

Antenna jack in use

Even in the livingroom where the Airport Extreme has "4 bars" the Orinoco with antenna does feel tangibly faster when loading pages -- nearing that "snap" of PCs

View of PowerBook with 5.5DB gain antenna
PowerBook with 100% connection, user view

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on March 16, 2006 | Comments (0)

Using technology is also to use momentum

A large and unchanging component of life is:
- creators/distributors of things conspiring
- the rest of us trying to figure out what it is the creators/distributors are doing, exactly

Posted by Aaron R. Deutsch on March 15, 2006 | Comments (0)