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Month: August 2003

Whee!

Today’s rant is about our disposable society and how it is ultimately affecting everything around us.

“It’s good enough”… God how I hate that term.

Those three little words can do so much damage to the development of something and, unfortunately, it’s become a pervasive concept in our modern civilization. Take audio for example…

CDs are ubiquitous these days; everyone has several of the shiny 5 inch plastic coasters lying about, but the sound quality of these things isn’t as good as an “old school” record. Sure, you don’t get the pops and clicks associated with a cheap turntable running a cheap needle on a poorly cared for album, but you also pay the price in sound quality.

CD’s are compressed, believe it or not, because they are sampled from sounds which are inherently analog. Sampling, by its very nature, misses something in the translation which is why they call it “sampling” rather than “recording”.

The CD format does have some nice features though. They’re smaller and more portable than records and they used to be more rugged before the pressing companies figured out that using softer plastic surfaces resulted in more repeat sales. They essentially switched to a plastic that was “good enough”, but not too good because you don’t want something that lasts too long.

The record companies also, via *much* advertising, pulled a fast one by convincing everyone that CDs sounded better. They like CDs because it costs one tenth the money per unit than a record and, besides, CD sound is definitely “good enough” for the average consumer right?

Ok, time for a little lesson in audio. Up there I mentioned that CDs were sampled right? Well the sampling has a resolution of 16 bits which compresses any point on an infinitely variable analog wave form into one of 65536 possible numbers. Ok, so there is some compression going on there right? Ok. You’re still with me.

Now you have to capture the whole wave form and that is achieved by sampling. CDs are sampled at 44.1Khz and this is where a fellow named Nyquist comes in. Nyquist states in his theory that the highest frequency which can be accurately represented is less than one-half of the sampling rate. So if we want a full 20 kHz audio bandwidth which, by the way, comprises everything a human ear can hear we must sample at least twice that fast; i.e. over 40 kHz.

If we don't, bad things happen.

44.1Khz gives us that 20Khz of bandwidth plus some fudge factor. This is great right? The record companies want you to think it is. But it’s not…

There’s this little thing called harmonics which can be additive or subtractive of the base sound you are recording. Things like the room the performance is in, the types of instruments played, the location of the instruments relative to each other, and a zillion other things all add harmonics to the sound and that is what makes it “alive”. Well, unfortunately for CDs, most harmonics fall above the 20Khz cutoff of their sampling scheme. There is another little issue with the fact that CDs are two channel and it is virtually impossible to recreate the imagery of a live performance with two speakers.

This is where we get a new CD recording scheme called SACD, or Super Audio CD, which is a new product by some very bright folks at Sony.

SACD is completely different in the fact that it samples one bit 2,822,400 times a second. Yes Virginia, that’s 2.8Ghz. So rather than chopping up the incoming wave form into 65536 possible numbers 44,100 times a second, it takes one number and counts how many times it saw it 2.8 million times a second… The more times it sees the number, the more “pulses” it gets and the more pulses, the higher the frequency, up to about 1.4Ghz… WAY beyond the pitiful 20Khz of a mortal CD.

This gives SACD the ability to accurately reproduce an almost pure analog wave form in a digital format including all of the accompanying harmonics. Plus, the format understands 5.1 surround sound and can really put you “in” the room where the music was recorded.

Pretty nifty huh?

Well, unfortunately it’ll probably never see true market penetration because CDs are “good enough”.

I actually blame a lot of this on MP3s. Today’s listener has grown accustomed to getting his or her music simply off the internet. Sure, it sounds like ass, but they don’t care because it was easy to get and didn’t cost anything. This means that when they –do- decide to actually go and spend some money on an actual CD, it in comparison to the ass-sounding MP3 is GREAT!… So who needs a new CD format? Especially one you can’t pirate…

I realize this was probably a lot more about CDs than you would ever care to know, but “good enough” works the same with all sorts of things…

My store sells lots of things, not just computers. We’re kind of a “mom and pop” supermarket of stuff including sporting goods like snowboards, skis, bikes and golf stuff as well as cameras, high end stereo stuff and firearms.

Well, we’ll be getting a “Gart Sports” store in about 100 yards from the store before Christmas and you know what will happen? The same thing that’s happening with our new Super Wal-World… We’re going to have a hard time competing.

See, Gart’s sells crap. They saw the “good enough” trend coming a few years back and started selling junk real cheap. Gart’s won’t carry something like this year’s Unity snowboard which is the absolute best thing you can buy. We have four in different sizes though… The sad thing is, no one will buy the Unity’s off of us because they cost about $150 more than a crap, mass produced Burton over at Gart’s. The same holds true with bikes…

My store has a huge collection of high-end downhill and trail bikes made by companies like Kona, KHS, and Giant. These bikes cost as much as a used car, but will absolutely last longer… Garts sells Schwinn, Mongoose, and low end Gary Fisher. Crap by any other name that will need to be replaced at year’s end. But it’s all $300 cheaper than anything we have and will, therefore, sell like hotcakes.

Just like how we haven’t been able to sell a single camera since WallyWorld moved in. I carry nothing but top of the line real photography stuff like Nikon, Olympus, Mamiya and Leica. WallyWorld sells plastic cameras for half my price and they fly off the shelves.

So, what causes this? Is it the fact people are incapable of saving these days (they really want you to dispose of your income as fast as you can) and so can’t save up for something nice? Is it simply that no one perceives the intrinsic value of better equipment anymore? Or is it just the whole “disposable society” thing again, covering the world in $50 plastic crap that was designed to break in a year?

I wish I knew…

Jesus loves you, everyone else thinks you're an ass…

Today was slow; real slow. Well, ok, there was about an hour of sheer terror as this lady who drops in every now and then dropped in again and wanted to talk to me… For an hour.

Jack says he thinks she’s waiting for me to ask her to dinner or something. I suppose that could be the case, but you pretty much have to hit me with something that says, “I’m interested in you!” Trust me, this has been done before.

Anyways she talked –at- me for over an hour which, in that time, I said exactly five words and nodded several times. When she left to get her computer so she could have me take a look at it, I told Jack that I was going out back to fake my death and I’d see him later… He just laughed.

Geoff was bored silly so I showed him this newfangled internet thing including IRC… He spent the next six hours scaring the crap out of himself by way of talking with all the other conspiracy nuts out there. I think it was beneficial for him, or at least it will be when he runs out of ammo…

The talking lady came back about an hour later and continued right where she left off earlier as I installed a new CDRW into her computer. The install took all of about 4 minutes but getting rid of her took another hour. When she left again I told Jack I needed a better place to hide… He just laughed again.

I guess the day wasn’t a complete waste of time though. I did get to talk to the Secret Service fellow who drops by on occasion to discuss his home made UAV. He’s a pretty cool guy even if he can kill 4 people simultaneously with his shoe… He’s part of the Ford Protectorate. Apparently once you score high enough to be El Presidente, you get a permanent detachment of SS guys for the rest of your life.

He says it’s a lot of fun as he spends the summers at the Beaver Creek Ford Compound and spends the winters in southern California or something at the other Ford Compound.

Other than that, it was a day. I’m off to fire up the fireplace, cook some dinner, and read the rest of this really bad Dragon Lance novel; “Night of Blood”.

Later..

There's a better place…

Have you seen all these oval stickers on people’s cars lately? You know the ones I’m referring to: They’re usually used for identifying the nationality of a car in Europe as you can change countries and languages there as easily as we change states here in the US.

You see these things everywhere now, almost as if we were all living in Luxembourg or something and for me it’s almost become a game to decipher these things while I’m on the road: VT for Vermont or Pb for Leadville, Colorado…

Obviously there are some drivers out there who aren’t very good at the game and now “zip code” ovals are becoming all the rage… I saw a car yesterday from Washington State with an 80443 oval plastered on the rear window… 80443 is the zip code for Frisco Colorado.

But why? Why are these things popping up *everywhere* now? What is it that drives people with Ohio plates to put a Leadville “nationality” sticker on their car?

Maybe it’s because of things like mega-malls and clone stores like McDonalds. Every home town is suffering right now; local mom and pop record stores replaced with “Sam Goody”, the local farmer’s coop hardware store with the really friendly old guy who gives you free sodas in the summer is now a 200,000 square foot “Home Depot”, and the gas station your buddies used to work at for next to nothing just so they could tune their cars on the lifts is now a computer controlled junk food store with 28 pumps… Hell, even your bank that used to sponsor a community picnic in the summer is now a massive multinational conglomerate owned by folks who don’t even live in your town, let alone your state or even the US.

The simple fact of the matter is that you can go *anywhere* and get the same McBurger, the same brand of ice-cream from the same chain grocer, and buy gas from the same gas station you saw a few miles back… There just isn’t any adventure out there anymore. Everything is safety caped, warning labeled, and cloned for our ease of consumption.

Chances are, even your house is a clone of your neighbor’s house, and his neighbor’s house… Sure, you might have a different color of paint, but even that was agreed upon by the housing community you live in.

I think this is why these ID stickers are popping up everywhere. For example, Leadville is still an authentic human civilization with authentic humans living there… No clone-homes, no “Super Wal-Mart”… Even the gas station has a real human being who will happily talk to you about the weather as you fill up on $2.00 per gallon gas, not a sterile LCD screen wishing you a nice day as long as you come inside and buy a hot-dog.

People want to connect to that sort of feeling; a human feeling of community. These stickers mark one as being connected either by visiting or even living there. They are a statement that the owner has seen what life should be like, that the owner has seen the sunset in a clear sky, the sound of wind in the trees, had the pleasure of human contact. The sticker is a badge of an ideal, a symbol of a place that exists outside the glass and steel monotony of day to day living. A place free from glaring high rises, house sized billboards, and eight lane side streets…

Maybe, just maybe, the fact that people are so enamored with these stickers is a good thing. Maybe we intrinsically, deep down inside, all desire the things these stickers stand for. That alone gives me hope for us as a people.

Don't look back, the lemmings are gaining on you…

Wolf and Lyon came up late Saturday night to spend an evening here, away from it all. Unfortunately they got here very late and, after handing me a Tupperware container full of home made red beans and rice (Wolf is an excellent cook), we called it a night. Sunday we had a good breakfast over at the Route6 Café then came back to the house and spent several hours talking about philosophical things and gaming stuff.

Wolf and Lyon are the folks I do most of my sit-down role playing with and are my two play testers for both my high fantasy world and its associated game system. Unfortunately I’ve been out of sorts and Lyon has been very busy on the weekends this last month and a half and we’ve not gotten much done.

Sunday we spent a little time discussing one of Wolf’s story lines that we’re all involved with which pertains to a secret society of mythical creatures who are alive and well in the modern world. These “Mythagos” have assumed human forms and are just one sect in a secret war between the Unseelie Court, human mages, extra planar monsters, and many others who seek to gather enough power to rule this little rock we call Earth. The Mythagos are the only real group on the side of the “sapes” who, as usual, have no idea this is going on… The rest see humans as either “Batteries”, “Food”, “Slaves”, or “Vermin”…

Sometimes the Mythago even fall into one of those categories above… After all, humans really do suck most of the time and it gets really tough to save some football watching, beer swilling, trailer-trash meathead from the grasping claws of something who’d literally like to have him for dinner.

At first brush the whole shebang sounds a lot like the “World of Darkness” setting from White Wolf, but in turn the “World of Darkness” sounds a lot like old European mythology and stories given a decided American edge. Of course *anything* that deals with unknowing masses and secret wars is automatically labeled “World of Darkness” even though DC Comics really started the genera. Basically one could view Wolf’s idea as “World of Darkness – Pro”… There’s also the rumor that White Wolf will be killing off the “World of Darkness” lines in favor of the Next Big Thing, so we’ll see how it goes.

Anyways, after hammering on all of this for a while, as usual, their daughter called right as things were taking off and brought the whole thing crashing down around us. Once that happened it was decided we’d get a late-lunch / early-dinner over at Paddy’s Tavern then they’d have to run back home to deal with the young one. So we did, and they did, and I spent the remainder of the evening reading.

Thus ended Sunday.

Phozone…

Sometimes you just need a good adventure to work the cobwebs out of your day-to-day existence… Yesterday was quite the adventure.

While we discussed the day’s plans Aryntha demonstrated his grill-mastery once again by whipping up some really good veggie-burgers. See, Rai’s a vegetarian and probably the healthiest of us; so while Aryntha and I chow down on all kinds of thing things that would clog the arteries of the DC metro system, Rai does stuff like salad and veggie burgers. Yesterday was my first meatless meat puck but with Aryntha at the helm of the grill it was actually quite good.

After some debate we decided to do a little telephone system spelunking and, after consulting the circa 1976 bellcorp facilities map we have at our disposal and Aryntha’s amazing Phozone detection abilities, our target was originally going to be a few ancient sites near Craig Colorado. Of course, as with any group of hardcore geeks like us, this determination took quite a while with the mapping, internet lookup, route planning, GPS verification, and battery charging…

Well, by the time we were ready to depart we determined that it was just too late in the day to trek though the mountains and halfway across Colorado so we settled for something a bit closer, Leadville.

The telephone infrastructure is mostly based in the “front range” of Colorado which, oddly enough, is where all the people are. Most of the towns here in the high country didn’t have, or probably want, telephone service till the resort expansions of the late 60’s and early 70’s. By then cable and later optical high capacity systems were in play which allowed the central office to be located quite a ways from the customer. Leadville was a terminus on the southern Colorado microwave carrier route which, as I-70 didn’t exist back then, was routed south along highway 50 though places like Salida. So this makes the Leadville switch a real piece of history and off we went…

The drive south along Highway 24 from Minturn to Leadville takes one through some of the best scenery in Colorado.

It’s a steep, deep canyon called “Dark Territory” that was carved by the Eagle and Homestake Rivers and takes you past such notable things as Red Cliff which is a picturesque little mountain town virtually unchanged since the mining era of Colorado, Notch Peak which rises up above the canyon to a height of 14,307 feet, and the truly odd “modern” ghost town of Gilman which sits at 11,000 feet.

The drive from Minturn to Leadville normally takes about 45 minutes and is 33 miles; we did the distance in a record 1 hour, 28 minutes as we stopped at every turn out on the road so Aryntha could take lots of pictures. Here's one of the “USS Lincoln”, my car and the vehicle we generally take on road trips.

By far the longest stop was at Gilman which is a ghost town that supported the Eagle Mine and was founded in 1886.

At its high point had over 2000 residents and in 1950 the output from the mine, which was primarily zinc, was valued at 13 million annually. Giman was populated until the EPA closed the town in 1984 due to heavy metals contamination, such as arsenic (commonly found with lead and zinc), of the upper Eagle River. As of 1996 the EPA has assessed that there is no further risk to humans or wildlife by this site and recently they issued their 5 year review which showed yet more improvement thanks in part to the heroic work that the owning company, Viacom, has done over the years by plugging and flooding the mine and installing a heavy metals extraction plant at the site.

The reason we were so interested in photographing Gilman is because the current rumor has it that Vail Associates (the multi-national octopus organization that runs the Colorado high country these days) plans to buy Giman to make yet another resort town… Gilman is located on the back side of Vail’s ski runs and with the addition of a chairlift up through the valley to the north east of Gilman, could take folks to the top of the runs in minutes. So it’s entirely possible that this long standing testament to what people shouldn’t do to the environment, will be converted into hotels and stores in a few years.

Anyways we eventually made it to Leadville and with Aryntha’s amazing Phozone detection abilities he put us on the only road in town where you can see the microwave tower for the old central office. The central office for Leadville is quite a bit smaller than one would expect and we summize that it probably still contains the original ESS1A switch that was popular on the Colorado routes. What was truely odd, and something that will require further investigation, is the fact that the microwave horn faces north east to a passive repeater on a peak near the highway 24 and 91 merge. The microwave horn should have been, according to the facilities map, pointing south towards Twin Lakes as the route back in 1976 came from there and ended in Leadville. This usually means they've “turned down” Twin Lakes in favor of a route towards Copper Mountain. This isn't on our map, so of course we *must* annotate this new route for posterity and go find out what happened to Twin Lakes. We took lots of pictures for archival then headed back to Minturn to have dinner at Chilly Willy’s.

We briefly returned home to gather radios, lights and other equipment of the trade before heading back to highway 24 so we could get a “better view” of an odd antenna bearing hut we found on the way to Leadville. The trip was a bust as it turned out to be nothing but we chalked it up to practice.

Once we returned to the château here we called it a night as it was about midnight.

Thus ended Thursday, which was a most excellent adventure.