January 2008 Archives

New Ringtone

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I changed the ringtone on my iPhone, it was driving me crazy. I used the "Old Phone" ringtone, it is the loudest sound that comes with the iPhone. But it is muffled sometimes when I keep the phone in my pocket, it sounds distant, I can't quite tell where the sound is coming from.
But what really drove me crazy is that the Old Phone sound is the exact sound effect used in TV and movies. What drove me over the edge was when I watched an episode of Law and Order, they used the sound repeatedly, with several phones ringing at once. So I searched around and the loudest ringtone I found was CTU-ringtone (download is in iPhone format and ready to install).
Apparently this is the phone sound from the TV show "24," I don't watch it so I wouldn't know. It reminds me of the sound of the old AT&T Merlin phones, we had a fancy Merlin rig at an office where I worked.
Fortunately, the new IPhone 1.1.3 upgrade makes custom ringtones easy. I tried importing sounds into GarageBand but it crashed every time I tried to export to the phone. And this is supposed to be the new feature that made it easy.
I discovered I could just import a sound file into iTunes, then re-encode it to AAC. Once the file is encoded, you can change the extension from .m4a to .m4r. New in the 1.1.3 software, you can manually manage files on your iPhone, enable that feature on your iPhone settings. Then dock your iPhone and in iTunes drag your .m4r file to the iPhone's Ringtones directory. Your ringtone is installed and ready to use.
Once I changed to a new ringtone that did not sound like Old Phone, I felt much better, I wasn't listening for that ringtone anymore, the new tone is different enough that it grabs my attention. But I still keep imagining I hear the Old Phone. Some people call this the "Edison Effect." Thomas Edison thought he heard voices in the static of Marconi's newfangled Radio. But it is an illusion, the brain always tries to impose some sort of order on randomness. For example, many people have thought they heard the phone ring when in the shower, the brain tries to pick out sounds from the random white noise of splashing water droplets.
And now I've got a similar phenomenon. My furnace is really loud when it's running, sometimes it makes a faint ringing sound when it runs, just enough to make me wonder if I'm hearing Old Phone.

A Leopard Trick

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One of my favorite obscure MacOS X 10.5 "Leopard" features is the customizable Finder bar. I took a screen cap of the folder with the graphics from my last blog entry.

Look closely under the word "Sony." There's a little round icon, it's not part of the MacOS X icon set. Look over on the left, it's the same little icon as my Downloads G5 folder. If you drag a folder to the Finder bar, it will stick; option-drag it away, it will disappear with a "poof." Click on the icon and you're instantly transported to the folder. I understand you can put other things on the Finder Bar, like apps or Applescripts, but I don't like too much clutter. It is incredibly convenient to put shortcuts there, it's much quicker than searching through the sidebar.
One of the reasons this looks so good is because of the beautiful icon. Its gray tone matches the Finder well, it isn't too intrusive, you'd hardly know it's there. I found it on a Japanese icon designer's website, I'd give him credit if I could remember his name. He made beautiful, subtle icons, which were all totally useless to me except this one.

Sony Style 1996

I bought some Sony gear in 1996 when I was in Tokyo. In some ways, this gear represents Sony at its peak, these designs have never been surpassed. And in other ways, it is all totally obsolete. But it continues to serve me well, so I thought it deserved a little homage.

I was shopping in the consumer electronics stalls in Akihabara when this Sony SRS-T10 portable speaker caught my eye. The design was so compelling, it was a little round oval like a clam shell. It's a limited edition that was never sold outside Japan.

I asked if I could see it, the speaker opened up like a flower, I said it was beautiful. But the vendor said, "You don't want to buy this, it sounds like crap!" I figured it was about as low-fidelity as I could tolerate, but at least as good as the speakers in a laptop. He insisted I hear it before he would sell it to me. The vendor loaded it with batteries and plugged it into a little CD player, I thought it sounded fine, considering how cheap it was, under $20. So I bought one, much to the exasperation of the vendor, he thought I was crazy to like such a piece of crap.

I asked the vendor if he had anything that sounded better. He showed me a slightly bigger model, the SRS-T50. This model had more batteries and can pump out a lot more volume. It uses the same basic design with little wings that fold out to reflect the stereo sound. But the vendor objected again, he said this speaker sounds like crap too. So once again, I had to hear it before I could buy it. I thought this model sounded pretty darn good, so I said I would take two of them, and again, the vendor growled with exasperation, I had to laugh. I gave one of these speakers as a gift to my brother, he said everyone asks where he got it, and comments on how good it sounds.

It's a shame Sony never sold this particular unit in the US, they sold the same speaker in a garish yellow and grey "Sports" design that was a huge flop, I think it would have done better in the stylish Tokyo black and grey. My only problem with the design of the SRS-T50 is the placement of the power switch on the top. I throw this speaker in a bag or suitcase, the switch gets bumped and it powers on, wasting the batteries. So I usually just put a piece of tape over the switch before I carry it.
That's my pet peeve, I used to carry my CD player in my briefcase, the switches would activate, and by the time I discovered it, the batteries were exhausted. I looked around a long time for a CD player with no protruding switches, I was determined to find the ultimate design, it took a few weeks of research, but I finally found the Sony DiscMan ESP D-777.

This was really what I'd gone into this store to buy, this premium CD player was hard to find and I'd spent weeks hunting for it. Now the vendor was quite pleased, he said, "oh yes, this really is excellent equipment, Sony's best. But it's quite expensive." And indeed it was, for it had Sony's latest design. This was the thinnest CD player ever made, the smallest, most minimal mechanism that could play a CD, thanks to the new NI-MH battery design. Previously the thinnest CD player had to be thicker than its AA batteries. Now it only had to be thick enough for the rechargeable NI-MH flat packs, about 2/3 less space.

What really sold me was the remote. All the new music devices in Japan used little remote controller badges, you'd clip it on your lapel and plug your headphones into it. Then you could remotely control your CD player, skip tracks, adjust the volume, etc. without ever having to touch the player. You can see my remote buttons are worn down from constant use, but the player is in pristine condition. I used to keep the player in its case in my jacket pocket, with the badge clipped to my lapel. Everyone in the US asked what it was, there were no remotes like that available in the US yet.

I remember paying about $200 for the D-777, which was a lot of money even back then, most portable CD players were between $50 and $100. About 9 months later, I saw the newly imported D-777 for sale in Best Buy for $395. What a deal. But there still hasn't been a CD player made that's better than this unit.
And that's the problem with the D-777, it was a huge design accomplishment, Sony still lists it on their history website as one of their greatest products ever. But today you can get a better music experience in an iPod Shuffle that's smaller than the Sony remote controller. The D-777 was the last, best CD player ever, I used to mix and burn my own CDs and I carried it constantly, it was so light and easy to carry. But mp3 players made it totally obsolete. Still, Sony's design innovations like the remote controller were very influential in the design of the next generation of mp3 players.
I haven't used my CD player in years, not since I bought my first iPod. But the speakers still work great, and I plug them into my iPod and iPhone all the time. The speaker technology is outdated, but I'll keep using them until I find something that sounds better, and looks better.

Storage Closet

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This is my storage closet. It is completely full of empty boxes and other storage supplies.

Secret Blog

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I started a secret blog. You'll never find it. It's just some silly fiction, I thought I'd see if my anonymous writing would find an audience on its own.
I decided to do some "Journalling," a writing exercise I read in a book by Rudy Rucker, as he interpreted it from Jack Kerouac. You just write down some of the events you see in daily life, as they are happening. But I also follow Rudy's school of Transrealism, so I make the events just outrageous enough to make you wonder if they are true or not.
OK, I gave you some hints, but you'll still never find my secret blog.
I just returned from voting in my local Democratic Caucus. Under Iowa Democratic Party rules, candidates must have a minimum number of voters to receive a delegate. In my precinct, the number was 49. I went to the Edwards camp. I was Number 49.
Even one single vote can make a big difference. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

2008: Year of the Rat

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