Category Archives: Audio

Marco Arment on the Instapaper business model and more

Marco Arment on Planet Money

This is a great interview. The Planet Money guys are brilliant and Marco gets right in sync with their style.

Marco made and sells one of my all time favorite utilities: Instapaper. In a nutshell, if I start reading an article on my computer and want to finish it or read it on my iPad, I hit a button on my browser “read later” and the article is sent up to Instapaper, a cloud-based service that acts as my breadcrumbs in the clouds. Later, when I’m using my iPad (still connected to wifi) I click the Instapaper app and update its cache of saved stuff. The article appears and I can read it there.

What many don’t realize is that Instapaper caches the articles on the iPad and/or iPhone and so, I can read them there when I’m not connected, like when I’m on a plane. So, before my regular trips to LA I routinely load up my Instapaper account with things I want to read on the plane, then update the iPad’s Instapaper cache memory and I’m set.

Instapaper has many iBook-like reading tools including typographic control and more.

I’m hoping to use Instapaper to help my mother read The New Yorker as its app is totally worthless for anyone who can’t read small type.

India Marks a Year Free of Polio

India Marks a Year Free of Polio

A polio-free India means that there are just three nations where polio is considered endemic: Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria.

Incredible. As a polio survivor this is particularly meaningful to me. It’s an enormous job to do this in a huge, developing country like India and the Gates Foundation and the World Health Organization deserve praise for their hard work over many years.

Anatomy of a skyscraper

Terry Gross (Fresh Air) recently interviewed Kate Ascher on the topic of How The World’s Tallest Skyscrapers Work. Fascinating stuff. Kate’s book The Heights looks good.

What struck me in this interview is that the world’s tallest building (at the moment), The Burj Khalifa, built in Dubai is a very modern building built in a city with no city wide sewage system (yet). Because of this waste from this huge building has to be trucked away constantly and the trucks wait in lines to dump their waste into a sewage treatment plant for as much as 24 hours. Kate mentions in this piece that in many ways a city sewage system is a bigger challenge to build than a skyscraper. As an American, this strikes me as amazing because even though I live in a rural place where we have our own well and septic system I take for granted that cities and towns have services like these built in from the start. But, what we as Americans might call a natural evolution of a city or an infrastructure gets turned on its head with things like the internet and cellular phone systems which allow everyone in a developing country to have a cell phone or even a smart phone long before there is a land line infrastructure.


Young Entrepreneur Has A Better Idea. Now What?

Meredith Perry turned 22 this month. She just graduated from college and started a new company built around a technology she recently invented.

There’s plenty of bad economic news these days, but Perry and her company, called UBeam, are trying to defy it — she’s hiring and entertaining funding offers from investors.

Perry’s invention: A transmitter that can recharge wireless devices using ultrasonic waves. It’s like Wifi, she says, except instead of a wireless Internet connection, her’s transmits power over the air.

Fantastic. UBeam for an iPhone. I hope she makes it, we really need this.

Tinnitus and other ear problems

Tinnitus: Why Won’t My Ears Stop Ringing?

NPR’s Nancy Shute describes tinnitus and the current state of work on getting rid of it.

For the past eight months I’ve had ear problems that are similar although more vexing because various doctors can’t figure out what it is.

One morning I woke up with an allergy-caused runny nose. It went away quickly but my ears felt clogged like I had some water in them from a shower. That clogged feeling changed in small ways, one ear feeling more clogged than the other but it never went away. This problem makes it quite difficult to know where a sound is coming from because my stereo hearing is now un-calibrated. It also makes hearing a phone conversation tougher because high end noise is breaking up, like distortion from a cheap speaker.

I eventually went to our doctor because I had to fly and I was scared I’d rupture an ear drum. We tried a steroid to kill what might have been a sinus infection fast for the flight but the ear problems remained and I cancelled the flight. Went to an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) and had my hearing tested and my ears examined further. No recommendation except time. Two months passed and no change and it was really driving me nuts and I decided to go to another ENT who happens to be an old friend of ours. This ENT told me authoritatively that I could fly because the problem wasn’t causing my eustachian tubes to close. I did fly and had no problem except the plane’s engine noise was more annoying than usual and I used noise canceling headphones to drown it out.

My doctor ordered a CAT scan of my sinus which showed nothing wrong. The second ENT thinks it might be a problem with my cochlea but he’s not sure. So, three doctors visits and an expensive CAT scan later the only thing I’ve learned is that I can fly, but the problem persists.

Since then I’ve flown numerous times and the pressurization has never bothered my ears. The problem remains and at times it drives me crazy. While this probably isn’t tinnitus (I don’t hear ringing) I have empathy for anyone suffering from that problem. The part of this NPR piece that piques my interest is the idea that an initial problem can leave an imprint on a brain and even though the problem is gone one might continue to suffer with it because the brain attempts to adapt to it. Whether this is true in my case or not my guess is that this happens with many physiological problems.

Silk Road: Not Your Father’s

Silk Road: Not Your Father’s

Silk Road (anonymous marketplace), Tor (anonymity network), Bitcoin. If you’ve never heard of this stuff listen to this NPR: All Things Considered piece on Silk Road, an e-commerce site that sells cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and marijuana, among other illegal drugs.

Rachel Martin interviews Adrian Chen, a Gawker staff writer. The original Gawker article by Chen is here: The Underground Website Where You Can Buy Any Drug Imaginable.

I have no interest in the drugs but the technology is fascinating. Where there’s a market, there’s a way.

A Curious Case of Foreign Accent Syndrome

A Curious Case Of Foreign Accent Syndrome

This is quite amazing. Listen to the piece, it will blow your mind.

Karen Butler, an American with a “neutral” American accent had dental surgery and came out of it with a Scottish brogue. Listen to her answering machine message and her current accent.

I heard this a while back when NPR first broadcast it and put it in my Instapaper collection for another listen. Just listened again. Amazing.

Apple updates iBooks app with ‘read aloud’ feature

Apple updates iBooks app with ‘read aloud’ feature

Help your children learn to read with the new read-aloud feature included in select children’s books from the iBookstore. The read-aloud feature uses a real narrator to read the book to you, and in some books, it will even highlight the words as you read along.

This is incredible news, not just for people who have a hard time with reading but also for people who are learning English as a second language and (hopefully in the future) for excellent readers who want to give their eyeballs a break.

[via Edward McKeown]

Creation myth

Malcolm Gladwell Looks at Technology Innovations

Robert Siegel (All Things Considered) and Malcolm Gladwell look at the mythic story of how Steve Jobs toured Xerox PARC in 1979 and came away with the basic ingredients of the Macintosh computer. This is a brief discussion of a piece Gladwell has in the May 16th issue of The New Yorker.

PARC = Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox PARC was a think tank much like IBM’s Watson Research Center or MIT’s Media Lab and the folks at PARC developed some of the fundamental tools of personal computing but they never made these tools commercial, they were expensive prototypes that Xerox had no way to turn into products.

Some think Jobs stole the ideas but Gladwell (and others including me) think he took the essence of the ideas and simplified and improved them and found ways to engineer them so they were affordable.

Technically speaking, it wasn’t only Jobs who was on the tour that day, it was also Bill Atkinson who designed much of the original Macintosh user interface and underlying operating system along with other members of the original Macintosh Team at Apple. Atkinson has said numerous times that he got the idea for overlapping windows on the PARC tour but the way he did it on the Macintosh (the programming) was totally different from anything the folks at PARC knew about. This underscores Gladwell’s point about the difference between being first, and being first with a viable product.

Remember Me Project

Separated By War, Reunited By The Web: Photo Project Links Holocaust Survivors

A few days ago All Things Considered ran this piece by Claire O’Neill on how the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is using scanned images and social networking to connect children who survived the camps and have been attempting to find members of their families which scattered to the world after the war. The Remember Me project is a wonderful use of social networking.

Real audiophiles don’t multitask while listening to music

Whatever Happened To The Audiophile

I have a dedicated two-channel listening room. My passion is for vacuum tubes and this set up consists of a KT88 based tube amp, tube preamp, tubed CD player, tubed digital-to-analog converter that is partnered with an iMac for digital files and wonderful pair of very efficient speakers. Power to the room is on dedicated lines.

Listening to music used to be a plop-down, stay-still event. Now it’s something people do while doing something else, like eating while driving or chatting on a phone while walking. The experience of listening to music these days, says Timothy Doyle of the Consumer Electronics Association, is “not unlike personal computing: It’s a 24/7 multilocation proposition; people are taking their music with them, and as a whole, the world has changed so that there are simply fewer and fewer ‘old school’ proponents of sitting down and listening to music.”

When sound equipment moved from tubes and records to iPods and mp3/AAC we not only lost fidelity, we lost the need to single task listening to music. Portability led to using music as background noise rather than foreground signal.

To this day I cannot hold a serious conversation over music, even in the lo-fi car. I have ADD but I think there’s something else going on here: I listen to music actively and when I’m listening I’m listening, not talking. I would never consider myself an audiophile but I am a single tasker in many domains.