• Newsletter Issue #626

    November 28th, 2011


    In the wake of a published report that Android OS malware had grown tremendously in recent months, you had to wonder whether the notorious Windows virus problem was due for a replay. At one time, it was said that you could connect an unprotected Windows PC to the Internet and have it infected with malware within 15 minutes. But it’s not nearly as bad now, inasmuch as Microsoft began to take the problem seriously and started to offer built in security enhancements.

    But the Android OS is relatively new. It’s distributed free to wireless handset makers, and the official Google app repository is basically not curated. Sure, Google will remove illegal and infected apps if they are alerted to the problem, and make needed OS updates. But it’s not as if owners of Android gear are assured of ever getting such updates. That’s up to the carrier, who evidently ceases to care about customers after the contracts are signed, except to deal with call quality issues and, of course, questions about your bill.

    Well,  John Martellaro, a Senior Editor for The Mac Observer, decided to do his own investigation, and so he contacted media and industry experts on the subject. He wrote an article about it, and also reported the surprising results of his investigation on our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.  John also discussed the curious troubles he encountered upgrading his aging DirecTV DVR to the latest version. It appears that DirecTV cannot always guarantee you’ll get a current model, and that is a really foolish move on their part. I hope I don’t face a similar obstacle when my DirecTV set top box gets long in the tooth.

    We also talked about the ongoing problems with iTunes Match and other topics with outspoken commentator Peter Cohen, of the “Angry Mac Bastards” radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, who also offered some offhand observations about the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet.

    Author and commentator Kirk McElhearn revealed why Apple won’t let him use iTunes Match on his desktop computer, and he also detailed his ongoing and downright strange Mac hardware problems.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris explore UFO sightings through the ages during wartime with Mack Maloney, author of “UFOs in Wartime: What They Didn’t Want You To Know,” which covers a number of compelling and not always well-known cases from our early history until modern times.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    So the manager at our favorite pharmacy takes out a white iPhone 4s from his pocket and announces, sadly, “I really didn’t need this. My iPhone 4 was working just fine, and Siri isn’t of much use to me.”

    I asked him if he’d tried it much, and he said, “yes, but I don’t need to ask about the weather. I just tap twice and there it is. Besides, how would it look if I started to talk to my phone while working?” With a smile, I thought about his customers staring at him as he filled their prescriptions.

    Of course, Siri isn’t the only attraction of an iPhone 4s. The interface feels noticeably snappier than its predecessor, and the camera is good enough to have made more and more people set aside their regular point and shoot models. Wasn’t that sufficient to justify the upgrade?

    That appears to be debatable. Sure, better performance is always good, but if you’re not into gaming or performing other chores that tax the processor, maybe it won’t make so much of a difference. The camera? Well, if you don’t actually print 8x10s and expect photo quality to match up with a traditional high-resolution digital camera, the upgrade may also be less compelling.

    But what about that sophisticated diversity antenna system, where the antenna that grabs the best signal is used? Doesn’t that pretty much eliminate the so-called “Death Grip” problem for most anybody? Won’t superior reception mean the difference between holding a solid connection and dropping the call?

    Again, that only matters if you live in a region where your current wireless carrier’s cell phone reception is sub-par and you need all the help you can get. Some of you might suggest that this condition exists pretty much everywhere if you use AT&T. But it’s also true that recent surveys indicate that Sprint customers with iPhones have an even higher incidence of dropped calls, but maybe they just need to tune their networks better.

    Now I doubt skepticism about upgrading your iPhone 4 should necessarily come as a surprise to anyone. The critics lambasted Apple for failing to deliver a compelling product refresh, though beyond a new case — assuming you agree it looks better — and perhaps a larger screen, they surely improved the iPhone as much as you have a right to expect. Besides, isn’t Siri becoming a sort of cultural icon? I’ve seen some of those YouTube videos lampooning Siri, such as the one where a husband and wife use Apple’s personal assistant as an intermediary in an argument. Funny stuff that!

    As you’ve heard, the editors of Consumer Reports downgraded the iPhone 4s because it didn’t offer a larger screen, or 3D capability. The former might make sense if it can be done without seriously enlarging the case. Today’s iPhone fits perfectly in your hand; making it noticeably larger may make the fit less than perfect for many people. But CR isn’t in the business of actually testing the usability of tech gadgets in real world situations. If one product has more bullet point specs, and no obvious performance deficiencies, that product earns a higher score.

    And please don’t get me started about 3D! That gimmick has yet to prove itself even on TV sets.

    For me, I’m on the fence about the upgrade. Now that Apple has fixed the “case of the wrong ID” problem on my iPhone 4, everything is working just fine, thank you. My lingering problems have more to do with iTunes Match bugs, such as failing to match all the tracks even on mainstream albums that are in their catalog, than with general usability.

    But I doubt very much that I’m in Apple’s target audience. There are millions upon millions of iPhone users who don’t have an iPhone 4 and are anxious to buy an upgrade, now that their contracts are up. Besides, the addition of Sprint to Apple’s carrier partner list has to have brought in customers who might have otherwise considered deserting this nation’s third largest cell phone company.

    There are also people buying smartphones for the first time, or ready and willing to depart the Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone universes, and the iPhone 4s may prove to be just the ticket. Certainly those stellar sales tallies indicate that Apple is really on to a good thing, even if current iPhone 4 users decide to sit this upgrade out. For them, the possibilities of a real iPhone 5 and a major overhaul in 2012 will be really tempting, helped along by the expiration of their carrier contracts.


    When I was very young and very foolish, my parents bought me a cheap record player. It lasted through my teen years, and I didn’t actually get a real hi-fi system until I was well into my 20s, although my brother did give me a few spare components from his music system.

    Over the years I had some middle-priced systems and one that was to me at least, relatively expensive. It consisted of a set of Carver Amazing Platinum speakers, in a black shiny finish, plus an assortment of other gear from Carver and another company Bob Carver founded, Sunfire. Indeed, my preamp was a tube-based affair, although I can’t say it made any audible difference in sound quality.

    That system was a casualty of downsizing some years ago, and I hope it continues to serve the new owner well. But I still follow the audio business from time to time. Just recently, I got an issue of Stereophile magazine, a publication that caters to mostly well-heeled customers that, depending on your point of view, crave audio perfection, or merely hope to return to the 1950s, where LP records and tube gear ruled the roost.

    To the editors and writers of Stereophile, every single component or accessory you place in your audio system can color the sonic experience in some drastic or subtle fashion. Merely swapping cables, and they tout products that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per pair, can change the quality drastically. It doesn’t matter that level-matched double-blind listening tests have failed to demonstrate the existence of such audible differences, except, of course, when the cables are damaged or inadequate for the purpose used. An example might be a long run of thin speaker cable, where signal degradation is heard and measured.

    There’s also a story where the founder of one of those exotic audio cable companies failed to discern differences between his very own expensive products and cheap cable.

    No matter. Those who write for these audio magazines regard themselves as possessing golden ears. They claim the ability to listen into the music and discern the subtle differences created by swapping out any single component in their system. Although such magazines as Stereophile will include detailed measurements, there appears to be no measurement that accounts for why one amplifier with basically similar measured results as another will deliver more “air” in reproducing woodwinds or give vocals more depth. To them, the engineers who design such gear, many of whom are worshipped as heroes in those publications, design gear from a artist’s palette rather than employing sound scientific principles. Change a part and they can make the sonic experience less involving, remove a part or slightly alter an almost unmeasurable spec, and strings become luscious and warm.

    And, of course, vinyl is king. Forget about CDs and all that “digital haze.” Real music is meant to be heard on a records, even though the audio quality will begin to suffer after just a few plays. The loving ritual of preparing for the experience is cherished. You slowly and deliberately take the LP out of its sleeve, being careful not to put your fingerprints on the surface, and you use some sort of exotic and overpriced cleaning solution to make sure dust is wiped away. You place the LP onto the turntable, gently place the needle on the groove, sit back and listen. Well, at least until it’s time to turn the record over.

    But understand that automatic turntables or record changers are verboten, and the turntable and cartridge will often have five-figure price tags. And, yes, I’ve heard such systems, and they’re still phonograph records with scratches and all the other artifacts of surface noise. They are also far from perfect reproductions of the original master tape, but they alter the sonic experience in a way that seems more pleasing to some listeners. You see, they deliver a sense of warmth, and perhaps comfort, to many dedicated music listeners for whom the iPod and iTunes are travesties.

    Regardless, you’ll find an amazing selection of equipment. A lot of it can get costly, particularly when you’re dealing with hand-wired parts, sporting gold-tipped wiring, tubes, fancy chassis layouts and well-finished cases. The workmanship, from a visual point of view, is simply stunning, and you wonder if Steve Jobs was ever influenced by the high-end audio industry. And a lot of this gear is even made in the good old U.S.A. if you wish to make a patriotic statement.

    Yes, exotic audio systems can sound mighty good, if you can afford them. But whether it’s taking you closer to the master recording, which is what I presume they want, is highly debatable. But that shouldn’t stop you from having a great time anyway. Then again, some people prefer rebuilding old cars.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    17 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #626”

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    2. chano says:

      What a shame then that our hearing begins to deteriorate so quickly.

    3. Jeff says:

      I spend quite a bit of time on the high-end audio forums and the golden-eared vinyl zealots are equally as annoying as the anti-Apple “bullet point” PC spec zealots.

      The bulk of my listening is done on a iPhone 4s using a pair of decent Sennheiser headphones. Most of my recent additions are in Apple Lossless format, but truth be told, there isn’t that any audible difference to me between the iTunes “Plus” format and lossless. I did upgrade to the 4s from the iPhone 4 to take advantage of the 64GB size available and double my storage capacity.

    4. rsmurf says:

      So i guess the “tasters” employed by wineries, distilleries, food cos are all frauds.

      Obviously you can’t hear anything. There are obvious differences between audio components, cables etc.

      Just because you choose not to hear them or cannot does not mean they aren’t there.

      a friend of mine only eats fast food hamburgers and can tell the difference between each. I think they all taste the same (like crap).

      And jeff you are a zealot for using the word zealot.

      I can hear the differences from whatever (component cable or source) and i appreciate good sounding music.

      • @rsmurf, This is an old and tired argument, and it has nothing to do with what I hear or cannot hear, or what I choose to hear.

        You may believe you hear differences in cables, but if you don’t know which cable you’re listening to, and whether it’s cable A or cable B, you might find that what you think you hear so easily wasn’t so audible after all. With electronics, you also need to match the levels to within .1 dB via instrumentation, because tiny differences in level are often perceived as differences in color, not differences in volume. You can’t do it by ear; nobody can.

        And, no, audio components are not the same as food and wine and, yes, double-blind tests of both are done to validate results.

        Audio is governed by a tried and true set of engineering principles, and what you hear can be readily measured. There are no phantom differences that do not show up in a standard set of measurements.


        • jfutral says:

          @Gene Steinberg,

          Hey, if I’m spending $1500 on a set of speaker wires (http://www.avguide.com/review/tested-argentum-acoustics-aureus-2-speaker-cable-mythos-interconnect), you bet I hear a difference, whether it’s there or not.

          I remember attending a live audio workshop and the guest ran some tests to check everyone’s hearing at different frequencies. Most everyone who was honest stopped hearing things about about 14kHz. One guy said he heard the 18k frequency until the speaker said he didn’t actually play that frequency.

          I also remember back in my recording days, that every so often someone would join the forums and ask what mic reproduced the sound the most accurately. The answer was pretty much none. Most everything colours the audio as it is recorded, no two microphones sound alike, including your own ears. No two people hear the same and there is even a difference between ears on the same person.

          This is not to say that there aren’t people out there with hyper-sensative senses. I believe it has been fairly well documented. Only to say that, if you have to get out a spectra scope to _show_ me the difference of what I can’t hear, then chances are the differences are not that important on any number of levels and most differences are perception, which is also affected by any number of things.


        • rsmurf says:

          @Gene Steinberg,

          you misunderstand the concept!

          So 6 ounces of tomato is the same as any six ounces of tomato. NO NO NO

          If you measure whatever yes they are the same but there are many other things that go into the taste. Like color, texture, temperature etc.

          Same thing with sound.

          Take 2 things and measure one of the aspects of it (or many) and if they are the same than they should be the same? you are crazy.

          So if i measure 2 cars and they are both the same length width height weight then they should perform the same i think not.

          You ought to stay away from things you cannot conceptualize.

          • @rsmurf, Actually, the characteristics of a tomato can be measured, except, of course, for the taste.

            When it comes to sound, the conditions that make components sound different are readily measured and understood. If the differences are significant, they will be audible, and you can predict the areas in which differences might be heard. How you react to those differences and your interpretation of those differences will, of course, be subjective. But if there’s no measurable difference, or the difference is below the level of audibility, the components under test will sound the same.

            As to cars, clearly this is an area you cannot conceptualize. Having the same width, height and weight are only basic aspects of a car. There are readily defined performance factors governing engine, transmission, axle ratios, suspension, and so on and so forth. You have thousands of parts interacting with one another, which is why motor vehicles are nowadays designed with sophisticated computer sampling techniques, and test driving to verify the results of those measurements. But there is a correlation. Yes, there are issues of beauty and ride and handling that may be interpreted subjectively, but engineers understand the whys and wherefores.

            If two audio cables do not measurably alter the signal end to end, they will sound the same. If one alters the signal in a significant fashion, it will sound different, and the measurements will tell you why. But I see you can’t conceptualize that either.

            Have a nice day.


            • rsmurf says:

              @Gene Steinberg,

              You obviously don’t understand this world.

              So if you can measure the characteristics of tomatoes then you should be able to measure the taste based on those characteristics. Thats what you want me to believe with sound!

              It is arrogant to think that the things we can MEASURE are the only things that make up something.

              We dont know everything there is to know if we did you might have an argument.

              When i was in high school my science class told me that we needed specific things to survive now after discovering the deep sea vents we have determined that there are other forms of life that survive on other things that would kill us.

              Maybe the sound difference is something we have not discovered how to measure.

              Peace and fresh vegetables

            • @rsmurf, I’m about to ban you from our site if you continue to deliberately misconstrue what I write and add insults about what I understand about the world.

              I didn’t say you could measure taste. I said you could measure physical differences in tomatoes.

              In terms of audio equipment, you are dealing with well-known properties that have been readily measured and confirmed audibly for decades. I’m not telling you how to characterize a difference you may hear, only that you won’t hear it unless there’s some measurable reason.

              More to the point: Do you think you would be able demonstrate that you can hear differences in audio cables if the labels were hidden, and you didn’t know which product you were hearing? If measurable differences are insignificant, you won’t. If they are significant you will, but I won’t presume to tell you how to characterize such differences. The question has always been whether they exist.

              I know it’s one of the shibboleths of some high-end audio fans that there are properties in audio equipment that can be heard but not quantified by measurements. That, however, is just not so. We don’t measure good or bad, only if the difference is sufficient to be heard even by a golden ear.


            • rsmurf says:

              @Gene Steinberg,

              Look…. you wrote an article that ridiculed people that say they can hear a difference in different audio equipment even though some measurement that you vaguely refer to as

              “well-known properties that have been readily measured and confirmed audibly for decades”

              Is proof enough to your ears that NO one can hear a difference.

              Tell me what these well-known properties are!!!

              So if there is a difference in sound then what is causing it. I have 2 8 ohm speakers they MUST sound the same.

              You still don’t understand this world and if you want to ban me fine.
              Stick to writing about something you know about.
              Intellectual rigidity does not go with


            • @rsmurf, You need to do a little research to understand the whys and wherefores of audio engineering, although it’ll probably be over your head.

              You also need to demonstrate to me that you can hear differences between audio cables that are not significantly different in measurements. When you can prove that in a double-blind test, with a sufficient number of trials to reduce the possibility of chance, we can talk. But that’s a challenge that you won’t even acknowledge.

              Have a nice day.


            • rsmurf says:

              @Gene Steinberg,

              Just answer this instead of hiding behind “whys and wherefores of audio engineering”

              what are the “well known properties”

              Look…. you wrote an article that ridiculed people that say they can hear a difference in different audio equipment even though some measurement that you vaguely refer to as

              “well-known properties that have been readily measured and confirmed audibly for decades”

              Is proof enough to your ears that NO one can hear a difference.

              Tell me what these well-known properties are!!!

              Now you are slinging insults you need to take the hi road.

              Peace… and fresh no chemical vegetables taste better than petroleum based vegeables!

            • @rsmurf, it works better when you actually read what people write, as opposed to making assumptions without evidence.

              If you think you can hear differences with audio cables, prove it! Instead, you refuse to even mention the requirement of a double blind test.

              You’re done here!

              UPDATE: I’ve had some private communications with our alleged “golden ear.” He seems utterly afraid to even mention the issue of a double-blind listening test. Curious!


      • Jeff says:


        Well, I’ll admit that some wine reviews can get pretty ridiculous and over-zealous in their use of descriptive terms, and there are plenty of wonderful wines available in the $10 to $20 range, but I’ll defend to the death the precipt that a burger from most local burger joints beat a Big Mac, hands down.

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