Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Long Tail - Audiophile Niche Not For Everyone

Monday, May 7th, 2007

I’m reading Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail. If you’re not familiar with the concept or the book, the “long tail” refers to an economic graph that begins with few high selling hits and flattens out (but never to zero) to many low selling niches. The book goes into detail of how digital distribution and filtering pushes consumer demand into the large market of the long tail. Anderson’s examples of business and marketing models that succeed and fail in this new territory are really sparking my mind with new business ideas. Who knew I’d ever read an economics book.

In one niche example, Anderson nutshells the audiophile electronics market refusal to cater to the lowest common denominator [p 118]:

If you’re interested in audiophile stereo equipment, the finest gear is not going to be among the top-sellers at Best Buy. It will be too expensive, too complicated, and too hard to sell to the average customer. Instead, it’s going to be available at a specialist, and in overall sales ranking will be far down the Tail. Because this gear is so right for the audiophiles, it’s probably not right for people with less focused interests. Niche products are, by definition, not for everyone.

I don’t know if I agree with “too complicated” if he is talking about operation, most audiophile class components are pared down to their primary function (gain and source switching only for a stereo pre-amp). What may be “too complicated” is the appreciation of design that services sonic quality over jazz DSPs. He is right about the “too hard to sell” bit, though.

If you want to know more about the economics of the Long Tail, check out its excellent wiki.

Popularity: 16% [?]

New Book - High-Performance Audio Systems

Monday, March 26th, 2007


Robert Harley, the Absolute Sound’s editor in chief, has written a new book: Introductory Guide to High-Performance Audio Systems: Stereo - Surround Sound - Home Theater. Because so few books exist on my main topic of interest, high end audio, I already ordered it, sight unseen. I’ve learned many listening and system building skills from Harley’s previous books. I hope this new volume contains new information and isn’t simply a Reader’s Digest version of the other books.

Of the book’s contents, the inclusion of the now dead DVD-A and SACD optical coaster format is worrying, one would hope for some speculative coverage of HD audio on Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Amazon’s description:

How to choose, set up, and enjoy the latest high-technology audio systems are all given expert insight in this indispensable guide for stereo shoppers. Consumers today often use home-audio systems for both stereo music and surround-sound music, they buy multichannel systems instead of two-channel stereo systems, they may have HDTV and flat-panel televisions, and they have largely moved to in-wall and on-wall loudspeakers rather than floorstanding units. Questions relating to all of these changes are covered in a novice-friendly way, as well as Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio formats, and all of the latest surround-sound formats for home theater. The emphasis is not only on solving shopping dilemmas, but also on getting great sound from an audio system.

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Popularity: 18% [?]

David Fincher’s Zodiac and Digital Cinema Problems

Monday, March 12th, 2007


My parents visited last week to see their grandchildren and offered to babysit a few nights so my wife and I could go out on some much needed dates.

On the second date we went to see David Fincher’s Zodiac. As usual, the movie theater experience was less than satisfactory. I was distracted the whole 160 minutes of the feature by red light blooms on each bottom corner of the screen (I assume from EXIT signs, how dare the theater choose fire safety over my videophile ideals?). In the film’s many darkly lit scenes the red reflections were the brightest element in my vision. I also didn’t appreciate the jabber-jaws sitting two seats to our left (what luck with only like eight people in the entire theater).

Zodiac was shot in HD digital and then processed with slight de-saturation and sepia for a vintage 70’s look (to my eye, more detail on the Cinematographers’ Guild (click on magazine and then find the 3/2007 issue with the Zodiac article)). A problem I had with this style is a complete loss of color in dark scenes and shadows o brighter scenes. The effect looks like a gray-green posterization in the shadow of a face that should be a deep brown as in the screen cap above). The reason this look bugs me is that it’s a common artifact of an underexposed, noisy digital still camera image. It just looks like a mistake rather than a pleasing effect. Other movies that exhibit this artifact include Zathura and Serenity. (My real gripe with this “dead shadow” look is I thought it was my projector’s fault, or more specifically, my custom calibration of the projector, as I’m more confident about my calibration skills now, I know it’s the sources’ fault.) I saw a film print of Zodiac so maybe there was a problem with the digital printing to film, though I doubt it, we’ll see if the DVD looks different.

Other than my visual quibbles I really enjoyed the content of the film. The murder scenes are very point blank, matter of fact and Fincher slo-mo detailed all at the same time. All the investigation and theory bits reminded me of one of my favorite movies: All the President’s Men. Every performance was great, including Jake Gyllenhall as obsessed and unreliable cartoonist/crime author Robert Graysmith (intrigued by the film, I read Graysmith’s first book Zodiac in a few days, then I was confused by some differences between the book and film and found the Zodiac Killer site where message board members fact check Graysmith’s books and shoot holes in many of his accounts which are twisted to fit his prime suspect. The Zodiac wiki may be more objective.)

Popularity: 12% [?]

My Quest for How Audiophile Electronics Work

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Captain Jack Harkness: “No idea. We know how to use it, not how it happened…” Torchwood SE1E1.

With so many consumer electronic buying choices it only makes fiscal sense to understand how and why your CD player, processor or amplifier works. All the way from the discrete electronic components (you know Black Gate capacitors are better than Radio Shack’s, right?) to the complicated recipe made up of multiple circuits. I want to understand audio electronic engineering enough to design and build my own DIY projects and gain the ability to detect bull-crank claims in manufacturer white papers and hi-fi press reviews.

Building the CMOY mint tin headphone amp (unfortunately, I’ve only cut the proto board in half and soldered the jumpers in place) got me curious about the inner workings of all my gear. With the CMOY I can follow the instructions and hopefully get good audio out of it without electrocuting myself, but I want to understand more than the beginner instructions and know how to improve the input, output and power supply circuits. So I bought some books.

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Popularity: 14% [?]

Library Drops $10 Credit Card Minimum Because of Blogger

Saturday, November 4th, 2006

I could be completely ego-tripping here, but I think my post last July, complaining about my local library’s $10 credit card minimum, actually made the library change its policy and drop the minimum.

My daughter, Paige (I’m dropping all my cute “geek” code names for my family members for their real names, I guess the black helicopters aren’t coming to take us away after all—wait, did you hear that?), and I visited the offending library branch on Friday night. I was looking for a few Seth Godin marketing books (I have three checked out now: Small is the New Big, Permission Marketing and Survival Is Not Enough), the new TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain (didn’t have it). My wife wanted me to find as many Sandra Boynton board books as I could for Paige. In the unorganized (or organized by two year olds) board book shelves, I found three. Paige picked out an additional board book about mother and daughter polar bears playing in the snow.

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Popularity: 13% [?]

J. Gordon Holt’s Audio Glossary Book Will Improve Your Audiophile Vocabulary

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

After reading and writing audio electronics reviews for a few years I thought I had built up a reasonable audio vocabulary. At least when I read a review in Stereophile I got a sense of what the reviewer was describing in a iPod review, like “cold” and “etched” and “bass shy.” Now that I’ve found J. Gordon Holt’s Audio Glossary from 1990 I can be sure that I understand every last bit of subjective criticism. I’d also like to improve my own writing vocabulary so you can understand me and trust me when I say my system is improved by DIY acoustic panels.

Stereophile ran a series of articleexcerpts from the book by Holt in the early Nineties that are available on their website. Here’s an sampling from the letter D:

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Popularity: 22% [?]

Public Library’s $10 Visa Minimum Ruins My Day

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

I never carry any cash. I figure, anything I need can be bought with my Visa check card. I use it for small purchases at Starbucks ($1.87 every weekday for a grande coffee in a venti cup with a cold soy topper (they used to charge me for soy, but not after I complained that New York City Starbucks provided a soy carafe at the “creation station”)) lunch, the bookstore, video store, grocery store and whatever else asks me for money. The Check Card transactions get posted to my bank account allowing me to track all my purchases. I don’t have to deal with change and tip jars. It reminds me that I’m living in the twenty first century.

Last night, with pockets empty of cash, I tried to use my Visa check card to pay the Naperville Public library $2.20. The $.20 covered a previous late fee (I know I returned the book on time, they just didn’t process it until the next day). I was paying the $2 for renting the American Splendor and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow DVDs.

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Popularity: 31% [?]

Superman Returns - Good Movie, Bad Theater

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

My wife and I hired a sitter Saturday night so we could escape to dinner and a movie (this was only the fourth or fifth time we’ve been out without our daughter since her birth). I wanted to see Superman Returns; my wife wanted to see… Superman Returns. Weird.

Since our date night began early—about 5 PM (we had planned to attend Naperville’s Ribfest to eat festive ribs standing up over yellow jacket swarmed trash cans while listening to REO Speedwagon’s live “new stuff” but the weather looked too thunderstorm-y)—we stopped by the theater and picked up our tickets for the 7:20 show. I had a feeling it was sold out, but it wasn’t. Before I ran into the box office, my wife told me to ask the ticket booth guy if there was any good restaurants in the area. Me: “Two adults for the 7:20 Superman.” Booth Goon says something away from the mike while staring at his computer screen. Me: “What?” Booth Goon: “$17.50.” I pass my credit card into the trough under the glass. Booth Goon speaks again, I still think I’m involved, “What?” Then I realize he’s talking to his booth mate. Card, tickets and receipt are thrown into the trough at me. I hop back in my car. My wife asks, ” Did they know any good restaurants?” Me: “No.” We drive around to kill some time and end up at a sports bar in the movie theater parking lot that served very dry fried meat.

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Popularity: 13% [?]

Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno - Audiophile Ideal

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Hairstyles of the Damned is a fictional memoir of a metal head, Catholic high school loser on the south side of Chicago circa 1990. Though I went to high school at the same time, my experience was way different with children’s theater, skate rock and Shadowrun in the Pacific Northwest instead of diner parking lots full of airbrushed vans, heavy metal and Dungeons and Dragons in the Midwest.

Today, during my evening commute, I read the following bit (it’s in the context of smoking pot for the first time):

Mike got up and put on some Black Sabbath and all of a sudden it started to really hit me. The song, which I knew well, "War Pigs," sounded different, broken into a hundred parts like a symphony, each instrument separate and multiplied, Ozzy’s voice warmer somehow, like he was someone I knew singing in the room with me.

The passage struck me as perfectly describing the audiophile ideal: separation of instruments, warmth, presence and more real than real. I listen to music to escape into an emotional fog, the closer it sounds like the passage above the better the experience.

Maybe Joe Meno could make some money on the side with high end audio amplifier and loudspeaker promotional copywriting.

The book is funny and sad and offers a ground level view of what it’s like to be a "teenage teen," check it out (I still have a third of the book to go).

Popularity: 21% [?]

Watchmen Absolute TPB Finally Read

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

WatchmenIf you haven’t read Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, you need to because it will expose the contemporary super-hero murder mysteries like Powers and Identity Crisis as shortsighted, insignificant stories. Murdered super-heroes can only mean one thing: Armageddon.

I worked in comic book specialty shops from 1990 to 1995. The Watchmen covers always stood out among all the other comics surrounding it alphabetically by publisher from Warlord to Wonder Woman. I never read them because they were expensive, too wordy and I wasn’t impressed with Gibbon’s art style. I was always more in the mood for Jim Lee’s X-Men and Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man (I read Grendel and Shade the Changing Man too, so don’t think I’m a complete poser).

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Popularity: 17% [?]