Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for August, 2013

“Smart” Watches

Janko Roettgers, GigaOm:

At Google, WIMM’s employees are working with the Android team, which may seem natural since WIMM’s platform was based on Android, but it is actually a pretty good indicator of the role this acquisition is playing for Google. The company chose not to turn its smartwatch efforts into a Google X moonshot project that may take years to see the light of day, but instead brought it to the division that is making the world’s most popular smartphone operating system. In other words: In the nascent world of smartwatches, Google means business.

Between this, the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Pebble, and the various other watches out there, it seems a lot of companies are stepping up to try to create a smartphone for your wrist.

But, as I’ve said before, smart watches which are just a second screen for your smartphone don’t make much sense. In fact, most watches which are not analog are a hard sell. The largest group of people who wear watches these days do so for style; smartphones have replaced the need for a dedicated timekeeping device for most people.

Non-analog watches have never really caught on as a fashion item. Of the high-end watchmakers, Omega produces one of the few digital watches, and it’s simply an augmentation of an analog face. The challenge all of these “smart” watches need to overcome is to position them as a piece of both function and fashion, substance and style. WIMM’s first attempt, the One, is ugly, and when has Samsung ever produced a truly beautiful mobile product?

I don’t see how any of these watches are anything but the equivalent of a calculator watch for the twenty-first century. They’re not fashionable, and their function is — so far — largely made redundant because you must also carry a smartphone.

Advertising AdBlock

Leo Mirani, Quartz:

As marketing stunts go, this one is impressive. AdBlock is a free piece of software you can add to your web browser to, well, block ads. Its creator, Michael Gundlach, says it is used by 20 million people. But he wants more.

And — in a twist — Gundlach apparently believes the best way to tell people about a product is still to advertise it. Or to do something noteworthy enough for journalists to write about it. Gundlach has done both. His idea was to launch a crowdfunding campaign to fund an ad campaign.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Moore’s Law Will Be Dead Within a Decade

Joel Hruska, ExtremeTech:

“For planning horizons, I pick 2020 as the earliest date we could call [Moore’s law] dead,” Colwell said. “You could talk me into 2022, but whether it will come at 7 or 5nm, it’s a big deal.”

First, a law that is temporary is a pretty shitty law.

Second, this is entirely expected:

People often talk about Moore’s law as if it’s the semiconductor equivalent of gravity, but in reality, nothing else we’ve ever discovered has scaled like semiconductor design. From mud huts to skyrscrapers [sic], we’ve never built a structure that’s thousands of times smaller, thousands of times faster, and thousands of times more power efficient, at the same time, within a handful of decades.

24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

Bit of followup regarding the LG G2’s ostensibly ultra-high-quality audio stack from earlier this month. I linked to this article from Christopher Montgomery, creator of the Ogg Vorbis format, in 2012:

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple’s Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of ‘uncompromised studio quality’. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young’s group several months ago.

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.

Here’s a test you can do to see if you have golden ears:

  1. Get a friend who knows what they’re doing.
  2. Ask them to burn you a CD of twenty copies of the same song; roughly half of these should be lossless, while the other tracks should be high-quality MP3s (LAME’s V0 setting is adequate).
  3. Play back the CD on whatever audiophile bullshit stereo equipment you can find, and try to guess which tracks are MP3 and which are lossless.

I have decent ears. I can barely tell the difference between high-quality MP3s and lossless files, and that’s only after knowing what to listen for. As Montgomery explains (with science), you almost certainly can’t tell the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/192 fidelity.


Before you write an angry letter to me regarding my praise of the “audiophile edition” mastering option for Nine Inch Nails’ new record, note that there’s a big difference between what I’m complaining about above and what I’m complaining about with regard to record mastering. The loudness battle, induced by hyperactive compression and poor mastering, is a real thing. Like bad kerning, it’s extremely grating after you notice it.

By contrast, the difference between the aforementioned lossless audio formats is simply inaudible to any human ear. We don’t have the ability to hear that spectrum.

Apple’s Dark Horse for Streaming Music

Good article from Harry Marks. I’m surprised at how great of a deal iTunes Radio is:

Apple is making iTunes Radio free ad-supported for all users with an ad-free option for iTunes Match subscribers. For $25 a year, listeners will get iTunes Radio without any ads, as well as access to their iTunes libraries stored in the cloud from any device. Not a bad deal when compared with Pandora’s annual $36 fee for better streaming quality, no ads, and “custom skins”.

If you want mobile support with Spotify or Rdio, it will cost you $120 per year.

Gone Phishing

Remember how I said that the attacks on the New York Times and Twitter were likely caused by human — not technical — error? Paresh Dave, Los Angeles Times:

The U.S.-based sales partner’s credentials ended up in the hackers’ hands after a targeted phishing attack was directed at the firm’s staff, Melbourne IT Chief Technology Officer Bruce Tonkin said early Wednesday. Essentially, several people at the U.S. firm were duped by emails that coaxed them into giving up log-in credentials.

Google Hangouts Switches to VP8

Janko Roettgers, GigaOm:

To enable HD, and prepare for this plugin-free future, Google quietly started to transition Hangouts from the H.264 video codec to VP8, an open and royalty-free video codec the company released back in 2010.

VP8 is still being used almost exclusively by Google. Skype is the only other major player using VP8, and they were doing so in 2011; why has it taken this long for Google to switch their own product to their own codec?

Also, why aren’t they using their newer VP9 format?

Details Behind Today’s Internet Hacks

Matthew Prince, writing on the CloudFare blog:

You purchase and manage domains through organizations known as registrars. NYTimes.com is managed by a registrar known as MelbourneIT. MelbourneIT has traditionally been known as one of the more secure registrars. In addition to the New York Times, they are also used by large web organizations including Twitter and the Huffington Post. […]

An email that MelbourneIT just sent to all its customers appears to indicate that the hackers somehow used a reseller account as part of the hack. While we are only speculating at this point, it’s possible that there was a security vulnerability in the reseller interface that allowed a privilege escalation to take over control of other MelbourneIT customers.

It’s spooky just how simple this attack apparently was. Every so often, I have to help move a client’s website or mess around with their registrar; occasionally, they have lost their domain registration details. It’s crazy what I can do simply by contacting customer support for their registrar. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were an error of the more human than technical nature.

(Also, this is yet another example of why it’s bad to put all your trust in one company.)

Two Different Masters

Tom Baker explains why there are two different versions of “Hesitation Marks”:

The standard version is “loud” and more aggressive and has more of a bite or edge to the sound with a tighter low end.

The Audiophile Mastered Version highlights the mixes as they are without compromising the dynamics and low end, and not being concerned about how “loud” the album would be. The goal was to simply allow the mixes to retain the spatial relationship between instruments and the robust, grandiose sound.

I couldn’t resist — I grabbed the leaked version last night and have been listening to it nonstop (I’ve preordered it; stop whinging). It’s one of the best albums of the year, but I was dismayed at the extent to which the record is clipped; Baker and Alan Moulder are usually much more careful with their mix. I’m very glad to hear that I’ll have the opportunity to hear it in a more pristine format.

OmniKeyMaster

Dave Messent, OmniGroup:

OmniKeyMaster is a simple app that finds App Store copies of Omni apps installed on your Mac, then generates equivalent licenses from our store – for free. This gives Mac App Store customers access to discounted pricing when upgrading from the Standard edition to Professional, or when upgrading from one major version to the next. Another benefit: since they don’t have to wait in an approval queue, our direct releases sometimes get earlier access to new features and bug fixes. OmniKeyMaster lets App Store customers access those builds, as well.

A very elegant solution to a problem that simply should not exist, yet does because of some inanity by Apple regarding upgrade pricing, license transfers, and all things required to get approval to sell in the Mac App Store. The App Store model is phenomenal on iOS, and great on the Mac for typical users. But for power users, the Mac App Store is awkward.

300 Days with the iPad Mini

Interesting observation from Dan Frommer:

The major difference between the iPad mini and my original iPad, purchased in 2010: I’m still actually using this one every day, almost a year after I bought it.

I shied away from buying an iPad Mini and stuck with my (heavier, bigger) third-generation iPad for two main reasons:

  1. The Mini doesn’t have a retina display. While this doesn’t seem to be an issue for most people (judging by the number of iPad Minis sold since its launch), it is for me.
  2. The iPad Mini is significantly lacking in RAM. I mention this because Frommer cites web browsing as something he does a lot on his Mini:

On an average, everyday basis, almost everything I do on the iPad mini is in two apps: Safari and Twitter. […] What does this all mean? Is iPad web browsing just really good? Sometimes. Other times, frustrating.

For me, it’s simply frustrating on the iPad 2 (and, by extension, iPad Mini). The amount of RAM in those iPad models is so piddly that just a few Javascript-heavy pages — of which there are many these days — result in an inability to switch between open tabs in Safari without causing a page reload.

Happily, the fix for this is coming in two different ways this autumn.

Apple’s Processor Design

Steve Cheney:

One of the biggest — if not the biggest — advantages Apple has in not being reliant on merchant silicon (they don’t buy standard application processors designed by others) is that they can customize the A7/A8 etc to exactly fit their own apps / services frameworks, without making generic design compromises.

Steve Ballmer’s Straight Jacket

Another good article from Guy English who, as far as I can work out, is actually French. Well, Canadian. He’s from Montreal. Anyway, the pull quote:

Ballmer has completely shaken up the way that Microsoft has always worked. Now they don’t only need to find a new CEO who believes they can lead Microsoft out of the hole they’ve dug themselves but one who believes that the last decision that Steve Ballmer made, a company wide reorganization, is the way they, as the new leadership, want to run the company.