Hi-Fi and Less Fi

May 14, 2010

I’ve written here before about some of the extremely dubious products that are marketed as being capable of improving the sound reproduction of a stereo system, including fancy wire, and even volume control knobs.  The New York Times recently had an article that illustrates what you might call the flip side of this phenomenon.

Whereas the people who buy these questionable, and typically very expensive, gadgets, are looking for better sound, even by means that violate the laws of physics, many music fans today are apparently satisfied with relatively mediocre sound reproduction.  They apparently favor the convenience of the iPod and other ubiquitous MP3 music players.  But, as I pointed out in that previous post, in order to keep their size down, MP3 files are compressed with a lossy compression algorithm, which severely reduces high frequency response, down by about 30 dB at 15kHz.  (That previous post has graphs comparing the original frequency distribution of a sample of music with the frequency distribution from an MP3.)   As the Times puts it:

In many ways, the quality of what people hear — how well the playback reflects the original sound— has taken a step back. To many expert ears, compressed music files produce a crackly, tinnier and thinner sound than music on CDs.

As I’ve mentioned, I have spent a fair amount of time as a semi-serious amateur musician, and  I know what a live performance sounds like.  Even with my middle-aged ears, I can easily hear that my old-timer’s stereo system produces much better, more realistic sound than an MP3 player.

What I think is a bit sad is that I suspect some younger listeners may come to prefer the (unrealistic) MP3 sound, mainly because they don’t know any better.

Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, said he had conducted an informal study among his students and found that, over the roughly seven years of the study, an increasing number of them preferred the sound of files with less data over the high-fidelity recordings.

If all someone has ever heard is low-fidelity sound reproduction, he or she may come to believe that’s what music is supposed to sound like.  I know from my own experience that serious musicians work hard at getting a good sound; they spend huge sums on quality instruments (have you priced a Stradivarius lately?).   It would be a shame to lose that appreciation.


Review of Ubuntu 10.04

May 14, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a note that the folks at Canonical Ltd had released a new version of Ubuntu Linux, 10.04, code-named “Lucid Lynx”    Now Ars Technica has published a fairly lengthy review of the new release.  One of the goals for this release was the introduction of a number of improvements to the user interface, both cosmetically and functionally; and the review talks about these in some detail.  There have been improvements in the Software Center application, the mechanism that allow users to download and install additional software packages not included on the Live CD for space or other reasons.   The list of available packages is now better organized, and includes a list of “Featured Application” that may be of special interest; this is a very worthwhile improvement, considering that there are over 30,000 packages in the Ubuntu repository. The 10.04 release also includes support for Ubuntu One, a Web-based service for synchronizing files and bookmarks, and imprioved tools for social networking.

Ubuntu 10.04 is a “Long Term Support” release, meaning that it will get bug fixes and security updates for three years for the desktop edition, and five years for the server edition.  (Ubuntu releases a new version every six months.)

If you are at all interested in trying Linux, Ubuntu is a good choice.  It is easy to install, and the Live CD contains a good selection of software to get you started.  (Of course, you can download much, much more via the Software Center.)  The Ars review will give you a good sense of what the interface is like.

Update Friday, May 14, 15:50 EDT

Shortly after making this post, I came across what appears to be another very useful resource for Ubuntu Linux users, especially novices.   The Ubuntu Manual Project has created a user’s handbook, Getting Started with Ubuntu 10.04.  It is available, free, at the Project page, as a PDF file (about 4.6 MB) in 52 different (human) languages.  It is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


Apologies …

May 14, 2010

I’m sorry there has been a hiatus of a few days in my postings here.  I have been a bit under the weather, and was feeling anything but energetic.  Fortunately, it appears to have been just an itinerant virus, and I am well on the mend now.


Microsoft Patches, May 2010

May 14, 2010

Microsoft this month released two security bulletins for Windows and its components this month, both with a Critical severity rating.    The first, MS10-030, addresses vulnerabilities in Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail; a proof-of-concept exploit has been published for these vulnerabilities.  The second bulletin, MS10-031, fixes vulnerabilities in Visual Basic for Applications, which is used as a scripting language in MS Office and other applications.  Further information and download links are in the Security Bulletin Summary.

Because of the severity of these vulnerabilities, and the fact that an exploit for some of them has been published, I recommend that you install the updates as soon as you can.


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