Dipping My Toe Into HI-FI Audio

Audiophiles exist in the world. You might have had a conversation with one of them. You can easily recognize an audiophile when they tell you how good music sounds on vinyl. I am not saying that I am an audiophile per se, but I see how someone gets there. This is my story.

Audiophile T-Shirt

With the stay-at-home order, I found myself looking for things to do around the house. I am doing my own yard work, starting a garden, and arranging things. I did notice stacks of CDs from my 90’s college days. Filter. Smashing Pumpkins. Nine Inch Nails. Tool. Christina Aguilera. For the past decade, I have been listening to music via MP3s or streaming services. Music has become background music in my life. Except for the Trolls soundtrack. I have heard the Trolls soundtrack on Amazon Echo for both movies probably 100 times. My son loves Daft Punk. We play the song One More Time, one more time frequently.

I wanted to listen to the CDs and I discovered that I have 3 devices in the house that play CDs: a CD drive in my PC, a disconnected Blu-ray player, and a Trolls themed CD player/radio. I got the “hug, sing, dance” player at the thrift store for my son which included the Frozen soundtrack disc in the player for $2.99.

The first CD that I listened to was Filter – Title of Record from 1999. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded coming out of my computer speakers. My ears have been listening to compressed, streaming audio for over 10 years. I started digging around the closet for a nice pair of headphones and tried my earbuds and a pair of AKG K240 Studio Monitors that I got as a gift. The earbuds were OK. The AKG headphones were worse. I expected a lot out of them, but they didn’t sound great. I turned to Google and search around for an hour and discovered that the AKG headphones have a high impedance of around 55 ohms and my computer doesn’t really support that. This finding led me to a number of high-fidelity audio forums. I learned about headphone amplifiers and digital-to-analog converters (DAC).

I decided to experiment and ease my boredom a bit. I bought a the SUCA Audio tube headphone amplifier that was recommended to me on one of the forums. I waited a couple of weeks to get it and built up the anticipation of plugging in my AKG headphones.

Wow. Wowzer. I could believe how good the music sounded. I enjoyed the warmth and overall tone. The SUCA Audio amp is arguably a low entry point into headphone amps. My research over a few days showed me how deep this rabbit hole goes. There is an endless supply of gadgets to elevate your audio experience.

Going next level. I kept reading mentions of other vacuum tubes to try. I learned about the RCA 6AK5 tubes to get even better sound. I found a pair of “new” tubes on eBay and tried those. eBay tip. “NOS” means New Old Stock. They don’t make vacuum tubes anymore so you have to find new, old tubes. You also want to find a matched pair. And, yes, I can hear a difference. Or, I am not admitting that I can’t hear a difference – that’s part of the audiophile’s code.

This is my first toe into the deep waters of HI-FI audio and the water feels great. I have been enjoying some old tunes and hearing things that I never heard before. Maybe one day, I will be the guy at the party telling you about my audio gear.

New Google Search: Instant Narcissism

If you use Google Search as a lot of people do, then you have noticed the new feature from Google. As you type you get instant search results. It is an interesting feature and I am not sure how much this will change my search patterns. I still want to hit the return button after I type in a search phrase.

For the vain, the new Google Search will allow you to “google” yourself instantly.

Hans Scharler Google Search Vain

Will Windows 7 be better than Vista?

“Will Windows 7 be better than Vista?” is the wrong question to be asking. We should be asking, “Will Windows 7 be better than XP?”

Chris Hernandez of Microsoft posted on his blog, “One of the main goals with Windows 7 in general has been to be better than Vista.” Chris’ quote scares me. Being better than Vista is not what I am looking for. I want an OS that makes me want to upgrade from XP. XP has served me well and I want a clear upgrade path. What are the killer new features? What makes Win7 an “upgrade”?

I have been using Windows 7 on my laptop for a few months. I do like some UI improvements, but compared to XP it misses the mark. Compared to Vista, Win7 is better. Although, Win7 requires pretty good hardware to install where XP is able to install on my pieced together machines with parts 8-10 years old in some cases. I hope by the time Windows 7 is on the shelf, someone figures out that we are not looking for an upgrade from Vista, we are looking for a real upgrade to XP.

Wireshark 1.2.0 – New Version

Wireshark is a tool that performs packet and protocol analysis on a network. Packets are the virtual transport mechanism that moves are data from sender to receiver. Each packet has a header and payload – the header contains information about where the packet came from and where it’s going, as well as the protocols being used. The payload has our actual digitized data – parts of a website, text, a section of a photo, or a clip of audio from an MP3 or a phone call. If you don’t get all of the packets then a phone call may sound choppy or it may take a while to download a complete file. Wireshark allows you to take a look at the packets you are sending and receiving and learn a lot more about what it happening and what’s breaking down. Wireshark is not for the lighthearted, as the tool requires knowledge of protocols and a deep understanding of OSI, IP, and TCP/UDP at the very least. But, with time, Wireshark becomes invaluable to the troubleshooting process. I have relied on the tool for my work supporting Voice-over-IP (VoIP) and system and application connectivity. The only side-effect of Wireshark is that you will soon realize why it’s not a good idea to surf the web in a public spot (without a VPN or encryption).

The new version of Wireshark includes more protocols that it will decode, supports 64-bit Windows, and has GeoIP integrated support. Also, Wireshark works perfectly with my passive network cable. Visit www.wireshark.org to download the latest version and learn more about it.

Clearblue Screen of Death

Everything is going digital. I know, a profound statement, but the consequences of “digital” are a future riddled with software bugs, failures, and EMP induced outages (the EPT EMP to be exact). We rely on technology to get us through our days and we will be faced with crashes when we need technology the most.

“Clearblue” has released a digital version of their pregnancy tester. My girlfriend, completely fictional to make a point, and I was discussing the ramifications of a digital pregnancy test. One day the test will be dependent on an Operating System to drive the user interface. It might even have Windows on it.

In your critical moment, of whether you will be with a child or have more time to yourself – unshackled by a disappointing version of yourself, the pregnancy tester will crash giving you an ambiguous result.

Take a glimpse of the future. You have been warned.

New Battery or New Cell Phone?

I have a phone that’s three years old. Yes, I admit it, the phone is not smart, no “i”, or no Android as of yet. My mobile is a clamshell with no QWERTY keypad, so texting “I love you, too” is “444#55566688833#99966688#8666666” while near-hitting a bridge abutment. The phone still works, makes calls, and fits into my pocket with my Moleskin.

Over the last few weeks, the battery holds a charge for 10-15 minutes. I found myself pouring over new phones, visiting the local shops, and reading about the G1 and the new Blackberry touch. I was willing to switch carriers since my phone was as good as dead. I had it in my mind that I was going to get a new phone. I was looking for a reason and the battery dying was the proverbial straw.

After forgetting about the battery condition for a day or two, I came back to my senses and searched eBay for a new battery. I found a vendor from NYC that had non-OEM batteries for my make and model. I am sure they were stolen, refurbed, or a fire hazard, but the battery was $6 with free shipping. I got the battery last week in a plain white envelope (now the free shipping makes sense). I popped the “hot” battery in and it held a charge for 3 full days. Three days is more than 15 minutes, so my concerns with possibly feeding the black market all of a sudden went away. I left positive feedback and my desire for a new phone also vanished.

I am not sure what the moral of the story is, but I am sure there is a life lesson here. Maybe there are many solutions to problems in life, maybe I should save my money instead of buying new stuff, etc. Regardless, a new cell phone is pretty sweet.

Fiber Optics Considerations

Fiber optic technology uses tiny strands of glass or plastic fibers to trap light allowing data to be carried extremely fast over long distances. Don’t look for any hype here, fiber delivers what it promises – speed, which enables high-speed internet, television services, and telephone communications. The technology is all around our lives and has been for quite some time. Recent advancements of fiber optics versus copper, reduction in deployment costs, and customer demand have brought fiber optic technology into the attention of everyone from consumers and technicians to engineers and managers alike.

Passive fiber optic technology is a key advancement allowing for fiber to be deployed in the last mile, which connects communication offices to consumers directly. For example, Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) uses passive amplifiers and splitters serving housing developments off of a single strand of fiber. In a copper-based scenario, each house would be connected with a pair of copper wires or networked together using coaxial cable. In either case, the distance and speeds are limited, which further restricts the carrier’s service offerings and competitiveness. Copper is also prone to interference from other cable pairs, radio services, and power lines causing high maintenance costs and degraded services.

Lasers, LED’s, amplifiers, fiber optic cable, light receivers and all of the components that allow fiber optic equipment to operate have become very inexpensive allowing for new products and technologies to be developed and offered to carriers, business, and consumers at low or similar costs. In new housing developments and office parks, establishing fiber optic technology will be the most advantageous deployment. As the copper local loop and backhaul networks age, fiber will also be present allowing for current and future service offerings to meet market demand and carrier requirements.

The need for speed has always been a driver in the communication markets. Besides the luxury of just speed, fiber optics in the minds of consumers bring about visions of fast internet, high-definition and interactive television, and mobile multimedia features. To the carriers, fiber optics offers a world converged to one technology, multiple service offerings, increased capacity at cellular sites, and minimized maintenance expenses. Inside business networks, fiber optics will be the connections that are made between routers and switches allowing for business to handle more clients, devices, and bandwidth-intensive services like Voice-over-IP (VoIP) and video conferencing.

The limitation of fiber optic technology exists only with each of us and those who will work on fiber systems. Fiber is just not installed and all of our visions come to a reality and all of our existing issues disappear. Proper design, installation, maintenance practices, and provisioning will be essential in the success of fiber optic deployments. For example, learning the proper way to clean a fiber optic connector is one skill that will mitigate several issues at communication offices, cell sites, office buildings, and residences. Engineers and managers will have to know which fiber solutions to consider and determining loss budgets while having an understanding of terminology and fiber optic technology concepts to make proper decisions. Technicians will be responsible for installation, maintenance, and provisioning as the technology spreads quickly through their networks and sites. Critical skills that require training and practice are splicing fiber optic cables, cleaning connectors, putting on new connectors, cable section replacement, and installation of cable between devices.

Fiber optic technology introduces new infrastructure, maintenance, and testing equipment to be installed and used properly. In the Local Area Network (LAN), routers and switches will have fiber optic connections to connect fiber optic cables, store cable slack, and Panduit to run cable through the premises. In restoration or installation practices, fusion splicers will be required to connect and repair fiber optic cables. Once the network is established, testing devices such as light and power meters, light generators, Optical Time Domain Reflectometers (OTDR), fiber optic scopes, and visual fault locators will be used to determine proper levels and faults.

She’s Gotta have IT

I venture from the lair to meet up with the opposite sex from time to time. I had a date recently that turned from a romantic encounter to awkward tech support. Our evening started at an exotic and unique restaurant that just opened in my home town called Applebees. I had the riblets and Jenny had a couple of veggie wraps. I was killed by chocolate and she had a Weight Watchers dessert that only cost 4 points on her daily allowance. I have known her for a while and was attempting to make this transition into dating. I was going strong. We shared our dreams and passions. She wanted to be a lifeguard. I wanted to level up my RPG character. She has a cat. I have my mom. It was a bonafide match as she uncomfortably laughed at some of my puns. The awkwardness reached a crescendo when we talked about our favorite books. I like William Gibson. She likes road signs. After dinner, we had drinks at a local establishment where we discussed philosophy, economics, and the “flight” of humankind as she put it.

To my surprise, she asked me back to her place for a drink. I am sure I had something on my schedule, but I went anyway.

She opened a bottle of wine, put on the new Mariah Carey, and she sat beside me on her couch. We got closer as our conversation got deeper and the alcohol took its desired effect on me.

“I want to ask you something,” Jenny said.

My anticipation grew.

“My wireless router is dropping my connection from time to time… would you take a look?”

If this situation was in a movie, the song “Touch My Body” would have come to a screeching stop.

I fixed her router. Well, I did fix her router even though this is where I didn’t want the night to end, but I made her WEP key easy to guess. It wouldn’t take Tommy Tutone to be able to figure out Jenny’s password. There probably won’t be a next time, but if she needs help with something she is going to have to submit a trouble ticket like everyone else.

Network Printer Issues with Windows Vista

So you bought that new laptop with Windows Vista, set it up, got on the Internet, downloaded some updates, checked YouTube for the latest video of someone miming a boy band song, and bumped your ex-girlfriend from your Top 8. Now you want to print something across your home network through a shared printer. That printer happens to be shared on a Windows XP machine. You never had a problem before, but this new laptop keeps sending you an error message: Windows cannot connect to the printer. Access is denied.

If you are like me, you begin troubleshooting to figure out what is going on and start by downing a caffeinated beverage. You check UAC, permissions, reinstall the printer, and finally REBOOT. None of your tactics worked.

After research and struggling with the same problem, here is what I have come up with. Give thanks to Melonhead on TechNet for inspiring my streamlined solution to this printer problem that will become an issue for many users. I recreated the scenario and 60% of the time the following solution works every time.

    • Install the Windows Vista printer driver on the new Windows Vista computer
    • Open Control Panel and double-click on Printers
    • Remove all of your previous attempts at adding the printer
    • Click on Add a printer and Choose to Add a local printer
    • Select Create a new port and Type of port: Local Port
    • Enter a port name (the port name is in the format of
      “{computer name}{printer name}”)
    • Verify installation by viewing the port settings in the printer properties window

UberNote for an Ubermensch

“Web 2.0” is a bonafide buzzword. What happened to versions 1.1 through 1.9? What does 2.0 mean exactly? To me, Web 2.0 defines the separation of static web pages to truly dynamic and useful web applications. There will be other versions, but this is the first clear step in my mind.

Examples of Web 2.0 applications are Google Mail, Basecamp Project Manager, and UberNote – Note Management.

I recently became aware of UberNote by reading through articles at The Tech Brief. The UberNote application (almost wanted to call it software because you forget that this is a web application since it is so useful and easy to use) allows for quick note-taking, advanced editing, and intuitive tagging.

I am a note-taker. I always have a notebook in my pocket, so I never miss a fleeting idea – maybe one about how toothbrushes with a blue strip fade prematurely while using whitening toothpaste – wouldn’t want to lose that gem. There are times that I email thoughts to myself, leave voice mails on my Skype (which are the only voicemails I get), write on the back of a placemat at a diner – you get the idea. After getting invited to use the UberNote site, I have been putting my thoughts online and have found this a way to keep track of my little thought nuggets that will return literally tens of dollars someday in the future.

I recommend trying UberNote, joining their forums, and helping them shape their initial product offering. Check it out soon, so you don’t miss Web 2.0 and before the Web moves to 3.0 and maybe even Web 3.0 beta.