25.10.08

First Android phone!

Not sure how long this has been out there, but here it is:

http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/mobile/android/hpp.html

Let's hear it for open-source software!

iTunes' Sound Enhancer

If you're like me, you always peruse the preferences for every program you own.  I remember when I first did that with iTunes and found the Sound Enhancer.  And turned it on and liked the sound I got through my pedestrinan Maxwell headphones.  And so I turned it up all the way.   And left it on for about a year or so. 

About 9 months after I turned on the Sound Enhancer, I bought a new pair of headphones: a set of AKG K-44's.  They're not expensive (~$30 if you shop around) and sound good enough to do cheap mixes by (although I can hear the nonlinearites, especially if I listen for a while).  I was listening to music with these, and after a few weeks decided that there was something muddy in all the music I was hearing.  So I wandered back through iTunes' preferences and for kicks turned off the Sound Enhancer.  The music was quieter, but cleaner.  A LOT cleaner. 

Fast forward another year.  My old laptop dies, I buy a MacBook.  And today I decide to find out exactly what the Sound Enhancer is doing.  So I turn on some music (Grateful Dead's Althea, FWIW--a concert recording, so no mastering/compression applied to it, but I also tested with Pink Floyd's Money, which does have those goodies) and turned on Sound Enhancer.  I was first listening through the built-in speakers and noticed that the music became much louder--which is good, since the MacBook's speakers don't have amazing volume.  But listening on my headphones, I heard that what Sound Enhancer really does is boosts the frequencies that have the 'important' parts of the mix in them--the vocals, guitars, cymbals, and keyboard melody.  It probably also does some compression.  However, it leaves the mix entirely out of whack, especially if you're listening on headphones. 

My guess is that they tailored it for the built-in speakers, as it's hard to hear any flaws listening through them.  (One noticable point: in Money it seemed to over-emphasize some frequencies and gave me a headache, even through the built-in speakers.) 

So, the point is: if you've got el-cheapo speakers, and you don't care about what the mix was supposed to sound like, go ahead and turn it on.  It will probably make it 'feel' better.  However, if you've got anything near hi-fi speakers and actually care about the days of work that went into making that recording sound exactly how it should, TURN IT OFF. 

22.10.08

A totally awesome program for OSX

For all the one mac user who reads this blog, I have a major software recommendation for you: Visor.

It's a must-have if you have the slightest inkling about using the Terminal. It lets you assign a key combination to a drop-down terminal window.  Press a key and your terminal shows up.  Press it again and it disappears.  Press it again and it shows up right where you left off before you hid it.

And it also has cool eyecandy effects =]

http://code.google.com/p/blacktree-visor/

15.10.08

A very well planned credit card fraud

Here's an article about an international credit card fraud:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122366999999723871.html

Basically, the thieves somehow managed to insert bugs into the Chinese-made credit card readers, then used those bugs to capture credit card numbers and PINs, then transmit them to a server in Pakistan.  Quite impressive.

And another proof that you can't have security and a life.

Note to terrorists: do not wash your laundry in a laundromat.

Here's a well-executed terrorist trap used by the UK once:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/10/clever_countert.html

So, what do we learn from this?

First, having a sense of humor will get you a long way in catching terrorists.  "I propose we operate a laundromat.  That will catch them!"

Second, everything you say and do can be used against you.  The disconcerting thing is that this did not require a warrant to determine where the terrorists were.  The reason why it worked is that the terrorists were releasing data--their laundry--with the intent of it being used only in the way they intended.  It's similar to the cell-phone story I posted earlier.  We hand out our data, not expecting strange things to be done to it.  We put our lives on Facebook.  We blog.  We send emails with all kinds of confidential data in them--reference Sarah Palin's email account getting attacked, or the Nikon camera sold on eBay with tons of top-secret UK government data on it.  And we expect that other companies and governments will respect our privacy and not misuse our data.  And they don't.

I'm becoming more and more cynical about privacy every day. 

New Macbooks

I don't know how I didn't hear about this, although I have deliberately stayed away from mac rumors after getting my macbook =], but yesterday Apple released a new laptop lineup.

MacBook Pro:
SSD option=meh.
User-accessible hard drive=Yay!
New design--whatever.  Some people complain that the design is old.  I liked the old design =]
MiniDisplay Port--whatever.  It's the same thing the MacBooks have had.  Another $20 for users who want an external screen.  Face it, Apple: no one else uses your display port.
New NVidia chips--cool.  Wish you would put these in the MacBook =]

MacBook Air:
Faster CPU--good.  Always need more speed
128 GB SSD--Ok, more space.  Now it makes sense to pay the extra $$ for an SSD

MacBook:
Metal case--well, if they fix the wifi range problems, I guess it's a good thing.
Lowered price--well, I paid $999 for my MacBook, so it doesn't bother me that much.  Another $100 off when I decide to upgrade, though =]

One thing I still didn't see--multitouch on the MacBook.  Although I would be saddened if I did see it, because I would have a shiny old piece of obsolete junk.  The thing is, there isn't going to be any major developer support for multi-touch until Apple puts it in their mainstream notebook--the MacBook.

[Edit] They DID put multitouch on it! YEAH!  I think Apple's getting it...but they took firewire out.  BOO!  For all the aspiring video and audio folks who can't afford a MacBook Pro, Apple has just removed themselves from the lineup.  I'm kinda liking my MacBook =]

[Edit 2] You can get firewire on a MacBook....the $999 one!  That's because it's a last-gen 'book.  Still, you'd think they'd do something about this disparity in the product line =]

Clickjacking. Yeah. Hijacking the interwebz!

Here's an article on Clickjacking, a newly discovered security problem in the internet:

http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&taxonomyName=Security&articleId=9115818&taxonomyId=17&pageNumber=1

Basically, an attacker hides their own page behind code from a legit page.  Then when you click a button on the legit page, you also click the button on the attacker's page behind it.  Sneaky. 

So, what can you do?  First, COMMON SENSE.  Check where you are at and if it looks OK.

Second, use Firefox and NoScript:

http://hackademix.net/2008/09/27/clickjacking-and-noscript/

NoScript, however, is not for your grandma, unfortunately.  But, it's not THAT hard to learn how to use, and it will speed up the internet as well =]

Cell Phone (and other) data harvesting

Crypto-Gram came in today, so I'll have some articles from it =]

I ran across this one about how the NSA can legally (in the letter, not spirit, of the law) use off-the-shelf products to get data about cell phone usage.  It's pretty comprehensive data, too--location, tracking people across multiple sim cards, etc. 

http://news.cnet.com/8301-13739_3-10030134-46.html

I also found this story about the Pentagon thinking that World of Warcraft could be a vector for terrorists to plan attacks:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/09/the_pentagons_w.html

I like Bruce's analysis of this:
"My guess is still that some clever Pentagon researchers have figured out how to play World of Warcraft on the job, and they're not giving that perk up anytime soon."

The way these two articles are related: if the NSA can harvest all kinds of data legally, and the Pentagon wants all kinds of data, then our privacy is pretty much gone.  Unless something changes.

I kinda like my friend's perspective on privacy:

http://www.netcolony.com/tennineteen/privacy.html

Isn't life great?

13.10.08

Fixing USB Audio Static on Mac OSX

(My sincere apologies for the lack of posts...almost a month! =[  I guess I have reasons...I got a job, and a MacBook.  I'm not totally slacking off; I've got some articles planned which I hope to write soon.)

(NB 2...This is a nerdy post.  Regular readers don't have to read this =])

On Mac OSX (particularly 10.5) occasionally there will be horrible static in recordings and playback from a USB audio device.

I may have found a solution. (Leopard 10.5.5, fwiw)

The problem, according to some people in a different forum, may be related to the clock source of the USB box.

To fix this, I went into Apps/Utilities/Audio Midi Setup. In the Audio menu there is an entry "Open Aggregate Device Editor". Click that.
In the dialog, click the + button at the bottom of the list, which was empty on my machine.
It will add a new device and in the bottom pane all the sound devices in your computer will show up. Only check the ones you want to use (USB audio). Then use the Clock radio button and select one of the USB devices as the clock source (I used the output).
Click Done.

Now set your default input and output to "Aggregate Device".

In the output options on the Aggregate Device (lower pane of the main window in Audio MIDI Setup) I set the output rate from 8 bits to 16. I don't know why it would default to 8 bits unless Apple lives in 1986. Go figure.

That fixed it for me. YMMV, as always.