Nintendo recently released the NES Classic, but good luck finding it.
The NES classic is a small, $60, HDMI compatible replica of Nintendo’s iconic first console, the NES, which hit the US market in 1985. The classic comes with 30 games preinstalled, with the potential for more to be added later. It includes all of the classics many of us can still remember playing as kids, albeit on our parent’s childhood Consoles. Now you can play Pac-Man, Super Mario Bros, the Legend of Zelda, Kirby’s Adventure, and more, all in a cute little NES with two controllers (which are compatible with the Wii U) that can fit in the palm of your hand! Or you could, If it wasn’t completely sold out.
Nostalgia took its toll and Nintendo proved that their games are timeless. Some stores sold out within 10 minutes of officially selling them, and all preorder lists for stores like Target, Best Buy, Walmart, Gamestop, an even Amazon are long and without a date or shipment size for when they will get their hands on more.
Such a clamor has been made about the new consoles that a site with the sole purpose of tracking mass shipments of them has gotten a nice bump in traffic http://www.nowinstock.net/videogaming/consoles/nesclassicmini/
Some that are ultra desperate to get their hands on the gadget have been shelling out as much as 5 times the original cost(sometimes as much as $300-500) on ebay and craigslist to own the otherwise sold out NES classic.
Not everyone who likes to play video games has the time, money, or know-how to build their own gaming PC. These people will more often than not opt to get a gaming laptop instead, which with their high cost and TDP/wattage-limited graphics solutions prove unsatisfactory for high intensity gaming. If not a gaming laptop, then they do what they can with their thin & light notebook with integrated graphics that, while great for portability, can not run games very well at all. Using an external graphics dock you can get the best of both worlds! There is minimal assembly required, and you can have your thin and light laptop to bring to class or to work, then when you get home plug into your external graphics dock and have all the gaming horsepower and display outputs you need.
Sounds Great! How Do These External Graphics Docs Work, Then?
The most basic eGPU dock
The basic concept of an external graphics dock is this: take a regular desktop Graphics Card, plug it into a PCIe slot in a dock, get power to the dock and the Graphics card, then plug that dock into your laptop. After installing the right drivers and performing two or three restarts, hark! High frame rates at high settings are coming your way. The internal GPU is completely bypassed and data is sent from the laptop to the GPU to an external display, and in some cases back to the laptop to power its own internal display. The graphics card will have to be purchased separately, and to see a sizable difference in performance over a dedicated laptop GPU you will be looking at around $200 for that card on top of the cost of the dock. Each commercially available dock has their own benefits and drawbacks, but all of them share some basic properties. They can all accept any single or dual-slot GPU from AMD or Nvidia (cooler size permitting), and have at least two 6+2-pin power connectors to power the graphics card. Along with the GPU support, docks usually also add at least four USB ports to connect peripherals similar to the laptop docks of olde.
So What Are The Performance Numbers Really Like?
In general, performance loss over using that same GPU in a real desktop is 10-15%. This can be due to a reduced bandwidth over the connection to the laptop, or due to bottlenecking from less powerful laptop CPUs. However, even over a dedicated laptop GPU the increase in performance when using an external one is roughly double. Here’s a few benchmarks of recent AAA titles, courtesy of TechSpot. Listed from bottom to top, each graph has performance of the internal GPU, the Graphics Amplifier with a desktop GPU, and that same GPU in a regular desktop PC.
Let’s Take A Look At What is Available Today:
Alienware Graphics Amplifier (MSRP $199):
Pros – Relatively inexpensive, High bandwidth interface, Good airflow, PSU is user upgradeable
Cons – Only works for Alienware machines (R2 & up), Uses proprietary cable, Requires shutdown to connect / disconnect
Razer Core (MSRP $499):
Pros – Universal Thunderbolt 3 interface, Adds ethernet jack, Sturdy aluminum construction, Small size
Cons – High cost, Compatibility list with non-Razer computers is short
MSI GS30 Shadow:
Pros: User upgradeable PSU, Includes support for internal 3.5″ drive, Has integrated speakers
Cons: Only works for one machine, Huge footprint, Dock cannot be purchased separately
After seeing all the facts, does using an eGPU sound like the solution for you? If none of the options available sound perfect right now, don’t fret. As the popularity of eGPUs grows, more companies will inevitably put their hats into the ring and make their own solutions. Prices, form factors, and supported laptops will continue changing and improving as time goes on.
For years, there have been rumors that Apple wants to move away from Intel and x86 processors to something that they design in house. This desire comes from a combination of Intel’s slowing pace and the rapid improvement of Apple’s own A-series chips that the company uses in the iPhone and iPad. Moving to a new CPU architecture is not without it’s challenges, and it would not be the first one that Apple has undertaken. The last major change was from PowerPC to Intel in 2005. That transition was made due to the lack of innovation from IBM. Intel’s future roadmap had much more powerful chips than what IBM was offering. IBM was slowly moving their product line to be more server oriented. They were already having issues meeting the power demands that Apple was trying to achieve.
Much of that same situation is happening now with Intel and ARM processors. For the last several generations, Intel’s improvements have been aimed at power efficiency increases. Many PC owners haven’t had a reason to upgrade their Sandy Bridge CPUs to the latest generation. Intel’s latest generation chips, Kaby Lake, is based on the same architecture as two generations ago. Kaby Lake is the second “iterative” step for the same process architecture. This is mostly due to Intel’s problems with being able to produce 10nm chips(their current chips are based on a 14nm process). Intel has not delivered the increased power that many Mac users have been craving, especially for their pro desktops.
On the other hand, Apple has been one of the leading innovators in ARM processor design. ARM holdings designs and produces the basic architecture design. It then licenses these designs to companies such as Apple, Samsung, and Qualcomm to manufacture their own systems on a chip (SOC). While these chips are not x86, they are much more power efficient and require less transistors. ARM chips are getting to the point where they are almost as powerful as some Intel chips. For example, the iPad Pro benchmarks higher than the 12” Macbook for both single core and multi-core tests. It would totally be possible to produce a high power ARM processor that would replace the Intel chips that Apple uses. With the slow progress that Intel has had, its not a matter of if, but rather when.
Rumors are saying that Apple has already ported macOS from x86 to ARM internally. This rumor has also stated that the new version of macOS meant for ARM chips has many similarities to iOS. While the pros and cons of this are up for debate, its easy to predict from past macOS updates that this is where the platform is going. A switch to ARM would mean that app developers would have to do some work to update their apps, as x86 applications will not natively run on ARM chips. But Apple has made similar transitions from PowerPC to Intel. In that case, the pros and cons were very similar to what they are now, and overall the market was very happy with the switch. Would you be happy with a switch to ARM chips if that meant a faster and lighter machine for you?
After the purchase of my iPhone 7 and the tragic loss of my ability to use my Audiotechnicas’s m50xs, I decided that it was time to go wireless. The use of the 3.5 mm headphone jack to lightning was not something that I wanted to use; it would be too easy to lose and just looks silly. I wanted to get good all around earbuds that I could use while studying, biking and walking around campus, working out at the Rec and going on runs. Some of the potential candidates were the Beats Powerbeats3 Wireless, JLab’s Audio Epic2, Bose SoundSport Wireless and Apple Airpods.
Powerbeats3 currently going for $149.99 on Amazon and $199.99 from Apple. The Powerbeats have a cable that connects the two I also didn’t want to get such a lengthy cable, but they’re very good for exercise and have a long battery life of 12 hours. They also have a remote and microphone support to take calls.
JLab’s Audio Epic2 had a more modest price tag at $99.99. They have a cable that connects the two wrap-around inear earbuds and also boast a 12 hour battery life. I’ve enjoyed using the Epic2’s over the last several weeks since my purchase. The wireless earbuds come with seven different size and form factor plastic in-ear pieces so they fit comfortably and the wires wrap around the ear for a light and well secured fit.
My one complaint with the ear pieces is that they insulate from outside noise almost too well so they have to be pushed out whenever you want to have a conversation with anyone or purchase a coffee on your commute to classes.
The JLab Audio Epic2s also perform admirably as wireless fitness earbuds. They’re loud and rarely need to be turned up to the max even in a noisy gym setting. They also feel light and well secured and don’t shift with movement which makes them an ideal running or exercise choice for music on the go. They’re also protected against damage from sweat or splashes so you don’t have to worry about short circuiting them; which was a concern by some of the reviews I read on Amazon.
All in all I would say that these are a solid purchase for wireless earbuds. They come at a low price in comparison to their competition, and although they don’t look as flashy as Powerbeats, they perform just as well with the same battery life. I would strongly recommend these to anyone who is looking to go wireless or made the decision of purchasing an iPhone 7.
Today April 13, 2017, Elon Musk sent out a tweet stating that his Tesla company plans on releasing their plans for a Semi-Truck line in September. Tesla is the same company that produces electric automated cars. The fact that Tesla is making semi-trucks in itself not important news, it is more about the repercussions that come because of it. When I first saw the tweet it made me think of the semi-trucks from the Logan film that was recently in theaters. They were automated without anyone driving, basically this would be what Elon Musk and company are striving to achieve, that took movie took place in 2029 and it could be a reality by then as well. The problem that not just the U.S but the rest of the World will face is another industry that is taken over by machines and a loss of millions of jobs. According to Alltrucking.com the U.S has 3.5 Million Truckers, and actually are looking for more. This touches on a larger issue in our society today, more industries are becoming mechanized. With more industries no longer using the same number of humans to create labor, this creates a labor crisis, it’s why Donald Trump was elected he promised to bring jobs to America, but didn’t realize the real problem is not jobs leaving for other countries but our increasing technological advancements. This isn’t just a Trump issue but a problem has been with every leader in the world. How do we create jobs via the government or to get other businesses create jobs and industries that can’t be taken over by computer systems?
If it is not possible for us to make the jobs required, then we must come up with subsidies and an allowance for those people that cannot acquire a job. The Trucking industry maybe the next industry to go, but it won’t be the last and might not even have the most impact. The Oil industry is also an industry that won’t last and it supplies 8.5 million jobs and it will depend on what the governments of the world replace it with if the economy will be able to handle the massive hit.
Do you feel that Windows no longer respects your privacy? Or do you feel that Macs are too expensive? Linux might be just right for you then! Linux is an open source operating system. Although it has been around for some time now, it is slowly gaining more popularity. While Linux is often seen as the geeky computer nerd operating system, it can be perfect for average users too. Linux is all about allowing user customization and giving fine system control to the user.
Linux is Completely Free!
One of the greatest things about Linux is that it is completely free. Unlike Windows or macOS, you don’t need to pay anything in order to use it. As the latest version of Windows or macOS slowly becomes old, you will eventually need to upgrade them. Sometimes this means purchasing new licensing, which can be a unneeded financial hit. If you have the hardware, you can simply find a distribution you like, and install it. Whether this is for one machine, or 1000 machines, Linux will never bother you for a license key.
A Tweaker’s Dream
Linux is the dream operating system for someone that enjoys playing around with settings to fine tune their machine. Linux offers multiple desktop environments which completely change how desktop behavior is handled. Each of these have hundreds, or possibly thousands of settings so that a user can make their experience exactly how they envision it. This is contrary to Windows and macOS, which consists one one desktop with fairly limited customization options. Almost everything in Linux has a right click menu which allows for further customization. For the extremely motivated tweakers, there are also configuration files which allow you to modify almost anything on your system. A personal favorite tweak is a use of universal keyboard shortcuts. As an avid user of terminal, I’m able to launch terminal from anywhere with a single touch of a button.
Gaining a Better Knowledge of Computers
Linux features a terminal similar to macOS. Mastering the terminal allows you to tell a computer what you really want it to do. With terminal, you no longer have to rely on menus and clicking. Linux is an excellent choice to learn terminal commands because you will easily learn how to use it whether you need to fix something, or just due to the ease of access.
By using Linux, every user becomes aware of file permissions, and how they work. Users also become adept at using commands like top and ps aux to understand how processes work. Linux users also often learn to use commands like rsync to create backups. Finally, many users that delve a little deeper into Linux also learn about computer architecture, such as how operating systems work, and how storage devices are mounted.
Linux Has Some Amazing Software
While Linux has a reputation for being incompatible with certain software, it also offers an enormous repository of software for its users. Many major programs such as web browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox are also available for Linux. Additionally, many programs have Linux alternatives that work just as well, or even better. Better yet, software on Linux is completely free too. You can get incredibly good productive software like LibreOffice for creating documents, and Okular for viewing pdf files.
Linux is Efficient
Linux fits on small systems and large systems. It works on slow computers and fast ones too. Linux is engineered by efficiency-obsessed engineers that want to get every ounce of computing power out of their machines. Most flavors of Linux are designed to be lighter weight than their Windows or macOS counterparts. Linux also offers excellent utilization of computer hardware, as the operating system is built to efficiently handle resource management.
The storage architecture of Linux is built in a way where any dependency for a program never needs to be installed twice. All programs have access to any dependency that is already installed. However, in Windows, every program that you install needs to have all of its dependencies packaged with it. This often leads to programs having the same exact software packaged together and thus taking up more space on the harddrive.
Hardware Just Works
Perhaps you have an older laptop, or maybe new cutting edge PC. A common problem for these types of hardware is a lack of drivers. Older computers often have hardware that is no longer supported by new operating systems, and new hardware occasionally plagued by buggy driver support. On popular distributions such as Ubuntu or Linux Mint, driver support for almost all hardware is provided. This is because the Linux kernel (or core) is designed to have these drivers, whereas Windows often requires them as a separate install. Additionally, Linux drivers are much more generic than Windows, which allows Linux to reach a broader spectrum of hardware, even if the driver was not designed for older or newer hardware in mind. Finally, Linux’s amazing hardware support is a product of its users. If you ever decided to dig around in the Linux kernel, you would find an enormous amount of very specific hardware drivers simply due to various Linux users over time. Unlike Linux, Windows does not have a way for an average user to create a driver for their hardware. Linux’s software and distribution model empowers users to create their own drivers if hardware is not supported.
Overall, Linux is a finely tuned operating system that deserves a look. With its many features, it is able to offer an experience tailor made to any user. You can reclaim control of your computer, and make it exactly the way you want!
Since the dawn of time, humans have been attempting to record music. For the vast majority of human history, this has been really really difficult. Early cracks at getting music out of the hands of the musician involved mechanically triggered pianos whose instructions for what to play were imprinted onto long scrolls of paper. These player pianos were difficult to manufacture (this was prior to the industrial revolution) and not really viable for casual music listening. There was also the all-important phonograph, which recorded sound itself mechanically onto the surface of a wax cylinder.
If it sounds like the aforementioned techniques were difficult to use and manipulate, it was! Hardly anyone owned a phonograph since they were expensive, recordings were hard to come by, and they really didn’t sound all that great. Without microphones or any kind of amplification, bits of dust and debris which ended up on these phonograph records could completely obscure the original recording behind a wall of noise.
Humanity had a short stint with recording sound as electromagnetic impulses on magnetic tape. This proved to be one of the best ways to reproduce sound (and do some other cool and important things too). Tape was easy to manufacture, came in all different shapes and sizes, and offered a whole universe of flexibility for how sound could be recorded onto it. Since tape recorded an electrical signal, carefully crafted microphones could be used to capture sounds with impeccable detail and loudspeakers could be used to play back the recorded sound at considerable volumes. Also at play were some techniques engineers developed to reduce the amount of noise recorded onto tape, allowing the music to be front and center atop a thin floor of noise humming away in the background. Finally, tape offered the ability to record multiple different sounds side-by-side and play them back at the same time. These side-by-side sounds came to be known as ‘tracks’ and allowed for stereophonic sound reproduction.
Tape was not without its problems though. Cheap tape would distort and sound poor. Additionally, tape would deteriorate over time and fall apart, leaving many original recordings completely unlistenable. Shining bright on the horizon in the late 1970s was digital recording. This new format allowed for low-noise, low cost, and long-lasting recordings. The first pop music record to be recorded digitally was Ry Cooder’s, Bop till you Drop in 1979. Digital had a crisp and clean sound that was rivaled only by the best of tape recording. Digital also allowed for near-zero degradation of sound quality once something was recorded.
Fast-forward to today. After 38 years of Moore’s law, digital recording has become cheap and simple. Small audio recorders are available at low cost with hours and hours of storage for recording. Also available are more hefty audio interfaces which offer studio-quality sound recording and reproduction to any home recording enthusiast.
Basic Components: What you Need
Depending on what you are trying to record, your needs may vary from the standard recording setup. For most users interested in laying down some tracks, you will need the following.
Audio Interface (and Preamplifier): this component is arguably the most important as it connects everything together. The audio interface contains both analog-to-digital converters and a digital-to-analog convert; these allow it to both turn sound into the language of your computer for recording, and turn the language of your computer back into sound for playback. These magical little boxes come in many shapes and sizes; I will discus these in a later section, just be patient.
Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) Software: this software will allow your computer to communicate with the audio interface. Depending on what operating system you have running on your computer, there may be hundreds of DAW software packages available. DAWs vary greatly in complexity, usability, and special features; all will allow you the basic feature of recording digital audio from an audio interface.
Microphone: perhaps the most obvious element of a recording setup, the microphone is one of the most exciting choices you can make when setting up a recording rig. Microphones, like interfaces and DAWs, come in all shapes a sizes. Depending on what sound you are looking for, some microphones may be more useful than others. We will delve into this momentarily.
Monitors (and Amplifier): once you have set everything up, you will need a way to hear what you are recording. Monitors allow you to do this. In theory, you can use any speaker or headphone as a monitor. However, some speakers and headphones offer more faithful reproduction of sound without excessive bass and can be better for hearing the detail in your sound.
Audio Interface: the Art of Conversion
The audio interface can be one of the most intimidating elements of recording. The interface contains the circuitry to amplify the signal from a microphone or instrument, convert that signal into digital information, and then convert that information back to an analog sound signal for listening on headphones or monitors.
Interfaces come in many shapes and sizes but all do similar work. These days, most interfaces offer multiple channels of recording at one time and can record in uncompressed CD-audio quality or better.
Once you step into the realm of digital audio recording, you may be surprised to find a lack of mp3 files. Turns out, mp3 is a very special kind of digital audio format and cannot be recorded to directly; mp3 can only be created from existing audio files in non-compressed formats.
You may be asking yourself, what does it mean for audio to be compressed? As an electrical engineer, it may be hard for me to explain this in a way that humans can understand, but I will try my best. Audio takes up a lot of space. Your average iPhone or Android device maybe has 32 GB of space but most people can keep thousands of songs on their device. This is done using compression. Compression is the computer’s way of listening to a piece of music, and removing all the bits and pieces that most people wont notice. Soft and infrequent noises, like the sound of a guitarist’s fingers scraping a string, are removed while louder sounds, like the sound of the guitar, are left in. This is done using the Fourier Transform and a bunch of complicated mathematical algorithms that I don’t expect anyone reading this to care about.
When audio is uncompressed, a few things are true: it takes up a lot of space, it is easy to manipulate with digital effects, and it often sounds very, very good. Examples of uncompressed audio formats are: .wav on Windows, .aif and .aiff on Macintosh, and .flac for all the free people of the Internet. Uncompressed audio comes in many different forms but all have two numbers which describe their sound quality: ‘word length’ or ‘bit depth’ and ‘sample rate.’
The information for digital audio is contained in a bunch of numbers which indicate the loudness or volume of the sound at a specific time. The sample rate tells you how many times per second the loudness value is captured. This number needs to be at least two times higher than the highest audible frequency, otherwise the computer will perceive high frequencies as being lower than they actually are. This is because of the Shannon Nyquist Theorem which I, again, don’t expect most of you to want to read about. Most audio is captured at 44.1 kHz, making the highest frequency it can capture 22.05 kHz, which is comfortably above the limits of human hearing.
The word length tells you how many numbers can be used to represent different volumes of loudness. The number of different values for loudness can be up to 2^word length. CDs represent audio with a word length of 16 bits, allowing for 65536 different values for loudness. Most audio interfaces are capable of recording audio with a 24-bit word length, allowing for exquisite detail. There are some newer systems which allow for recording with a 32-bit word length but these are, for the majority part, not available at low-cost to consumers.
I would like to add a quick word about USB. There is a stigma, in the business, against USB audio interfaces. Many interfaces employ connectors with higher bandwidth, like FireWire and Thunderbolt, and charge a premium for it. It may seem logical, faster connection, better quality audio. Hear this now: no audio interface will ever be sold which has a connector that is too slow for the quality audio it can record. This is to say, USB can handle 24-bit audio with a 96 kHz sample rate, no problem. If you notice latency in your system, it is from the digital-to-analog and analog-to-digital converters as well as the speed of your computer; latency in your recording setup has nothing to do with what connector your interface uses. It may seem like I am beating a dead horse here, but many people think this and it’s completely false.
One last thing before we move on to the DAW, I mentioned earlier that frequencies above half the recording sample rate will be perceived, by your computer, as lower frequencies. These lower frequencies can show up in your recording and can cause distortion. This phenomena has a name and it’s called aliasing. Aliasing doesn’t just happen with audible frequencies, it can happen with super-sonic sound too. For this reason, it is often advantageous to record at higher sample rates to avoid having these higher frequencies perceived within the audible range. Most audio interfaces allow for recording 24-bit audio with a 96 kHz sample rate. Unless you’re worried about taking up too much space, this format sounds excellent and offers the most flexibility and sonic detail.
Digital Audio Workstation: all Out on the Table
The digital audio workstation, or DAW for short, is perhaps the most flexible element of your home-studio. There are many many many DAW software packages out there, ranging in price and features. For those of you looking to just get into audio recording, Audacity is a great DAW to start with. This software is free and simple. It offers many built-in effects and can handle the full recording capability of any audio interface which is to say, if you record something well on this simple and free software, it will sound mighty good.
Here’s the catch with many free or lower-level DAWs like Audacity or Apple’s Garage Band: they do not allow for non-destructive editing of your audio. This is a fancy way of saying that once you make a change to your recorded audio, you might not be able to un-make it. Higher-end DAWs like Logic Pro and Pro Tools will allow you to make all the changes you want without permanently altering your audio. This allows you to play around a lot more with your sound after its recorded. More expensive DAWs also tend to come with a better-sounding set of built-in effects. This is most noticeable with more subtle effects like reverb.
There are so many DAWs out there that it is hard to pick out a best one. Personally, I like Logic Pro, but that’s just preference; many of the effects I use are compatible with different DAWs so I suppose I’m mostly just used to the user-interface. My recommendation is to shop around until something catches your eye.
The Microphone: the Perfect Listener
The microphone, for many people, is the most fun part of recording! They come in many shapes and sizes and color your sound more than any other component in your setup. Two different microphones can occupy polar opposites in the sonic spectrum.
There are two common types of microphones out there: condenser and dynamic microphones. I can get carried away with physics sometimes so I will try not to write too much about this particular topic.
Condenser microphones are a more recent invention and offer the best sound quality of any microphone. They employ a charged parallel plate capacitor to measure vibrations in the air. This a fancy way of saying that the element in the microphone which ‘hears’ the sound is extremely light and can move freely even when motivated by extremely quiet sounds.
Because of the nature of their design, condenser microphones require a small amplifier circuit built-into the microphone. Most new condenser microphones use a transistor-based circuit in their internal amplifier but older condenser mics employed internal vacuum-tube amplifiers; these tube microphones are among some of the clearest and most detailed sounding microphones ever made.
Dynamic microphones, like condenser microphones, also come in two varieties, both emerging from different eras. The ribbon microphone is the earlier of the two and observes sound with a thin metal ribbon suspended in a magnetic field. These ribbon microphones are fragile but offer a warm yet detailed quality-of-sound.
The more common vibrating-coil dynamic microphone is the most durable and is used most often for live performance. The prevalence of the vibrating-coil microphone means that the vibrating-coil is often dropped from the name (sometimes the dynamic is also dropped from the name too); when you use the term dynamic mic, most people will assume you are referring to the vibrating-coil microphone.
With the wonders of globalization, all microphones can be purchase at similar costs. Though there is usually a small premium to purchase condenser microphones over dynamic mics, costs can remain comfortably around $100-150 for studio-quality recording mics. This means you can use many brushes to paint your sonic picture. Often times, dynamic microphones are used for louder instruments like snare and bass drums, guitar amplifiers, and louder vocalists. Condenser microphones are more often used for detailed sounds like stringed instruments, cymbals, and breathier vocals.
Monitors: can You Hear It?
When recording, it is important to be able to hear the sound that your system is hearing. Most people don’t think about it, but there are many kinds of monitors out there: the screen on our phones and computers which allow us to see what the computer is doing, to the viewfinder on a camera which allows us to see what the camera sees. Sound monitors are just as important.
Good monitors will reproduce sound as neutrally as possible and will only distort at very very high volumes. These two characteristics are important for monitoring as you record, and hearing things carefully as you mix. Mix?
Once you have recorded your sound, you may want to change it in your DAW. Unfortunately, the computer can’t always guess what you want your effects to sound like, so you’ll need to make changes to settings and listen. This could be as simple as changing the volume of one recorded track or it could be as complicated as correcting an offset in phase of two recorded tracks. The art of changing the sound of your recorded tracks is called mixing.
If you are using speakers as monitors, make sure they don’t have ridiculously loud bass, like most speakers do. Mixing should be done without the extra bass; otherwise, someone playing back your track on ‘normal’ speakers will be underwhelmed by a thinner sound. Sonically neutral speakers make it very easy to hear what you finished product will sound like on any system.
It’s a bit harder to do this with headphones as their proximity to your ears makes the bass more intense. I personally like mixing on headphones because the closeness to my ear allows me to hear detail better. If you are to mix with headphones, your headphones must have open-back speakers in them. This means that there is no plastic shell around the back of the headphone. With no set volume of air behind the speaker, open-back headphones can effortlessly reproduce detail, even at lower volumes.
Monitors aren’t just necessary for mixing, they also help to hear what you’re recording as you record it. Remember when I was talking about the number of different loudnesses you can have for 16-bit and 24-bit audio? Well, when you make a sound louder than the loudest volume you can record, you get digital distortion. Digital distortion does not sound like Jimi Hendrix, it does not sound like Metallica, it sounds abrasive and harsh. Digital distortion, unless you are creating some post-modern masterpiece, should be avoided at all costs. Monitors, as well as the volume meters in your DAW, allow you to avoid this. A good rule of thumb is: if it sounds like it’s distorting, it’s distorting. Sometimes you won’t hear the distortion in your monitors, this is where the little loudness bars on your DAW software come in; those bad boys should never hit the top.
A Quick Word about Formats before we Finish
These days, most music ends up as an mp3. Convenience is important so mp3 does have its place. Most higher-end DAWs will allow you to make mp3 files upon export. My advise to any of your learning sound-engineers out there is to just play around with formatting. However, a basic outline of some common formats may be useful…
24-bit, 96 kHz: This is best format most systems can record to. Because of large files sizes, audio in this format rarely leaves the DAW. Audio of this quality is best for editing, mixing, and converting to analog formats like tape or vinyl.
16-bit, 44.1 kHz: This is the format used for CDs. This format maintains about half of the information that you can record on most systems, but it is optimized for playback by CD players and other similar devices. Its file-size also allows for about 80 minutes of audio to fit on a typical CD. Herein lies the balance between excellent sound quality, and file-size.
mp3, 256 kb/s: Looks a bit different, right? The quality of mp3 is measured in kb/s. The higher this number, the less compressed the file is and the more space it will occupy. iTunes uses mp3 at 256 kb/s, Spotify probably uses something closer to 128 kb/s to better support streaming. You can go as high as 320 kb/s with mp3. Either way, mp3 compression is always lossy so you will never get an mp3 to sound quite as good as an uncompressed audio file.
Recording audio is one of the most fun hobbies one can adopt. Like all new things, recording can be difficult when you first start out but will become more and more fulfilling over time. One can create their own orchestras at home now; a feat which would have been near impossible 20 years ago. The world has many amazing sounds and it is up to people messing around with microphone in bedrooms and closets to create more.
The Internet of Things (IOT for short) is the common term for devices that have become integrated with “smart” or internet connectable technologies that use the global infrastructure of the Internet to bring both accessibility and highly improved product experiences to millions of users of common electronics. In this article I’ll be discussing some implications that IOT has on the landscape of the Internet, as well as some IOT devices that have become commonplace in many homes across the nation.
Some things to note about IOT
Many IOT devices offer very promising integrations with online services that make their usefulness indispensable, however, this usefulness can come at the cost of security so it’s always good to understand the implications of adding an IOT device to a network. A most notable event that underscores the importance of securing these connected devices was the Mirai Botnet attack carried out on DynDNS on Friday Oct 21 2016, relevant article here.
Some of the Things:
A smarthome hub created by Amazon with the ability to integrate with various devices and services to command and control your smart home and allow for easier access to informational resources. The Alexa service provides an easy to use interface for interacting with various services via speech, a query to Alexa can perform web searches, interact with online services, as well as control some of the devices in this article. More information can be found here.
Google’s equivalent to Amazon’s Echo, recently released as of November 2016, the Google Home is able to integrate with about the same amount of services as the Echo, as well as integrates more directly with the Google smart home ecosystem. The ability to stream directly to a Google Chromecast device connected to the same network as the Home is one of it’s notable features.
Nest Product Line: Cam, Thermostat, Protect
These smart products aim to keep your home automated yet safe, the Cam is a webcam that is accessible via the internet, has the ability to perform speakerphone functions. the Thermostat is a remotely controllable thermostat that adjusts based on user presence in the home. The Protect is a smoke-detector with internet connectivity that can perform remote alertive actions as well as speaks based on the location of the source of the smoke.
Smart Lighting Products: Phillips Hue, GE Link, LIFX
Smart lighting affords users the ability to customize lighting based on their location data, as well as by time of day. Being able to remotely turn on and off lighting also affords users some peace of mind in being able to determine whether they forgot to turn of the lights before leaving the house. These products typically connect to a Zigbee based hub, which can be used with all Zigbee compatible devices.
Smart Appliances: Coffeemaker, Dishwasher, Clothes Washer and Dryer
Various smart appliances allow for remotely starting, stopping, and manually controlling settings individualized settings.
Smart plugs: TP-Link Smart Plug
The smart plug allows for remotely turning on and off a device that is connected to the socket. This type of smart device allows extending remote capabilities to anything that uses a standard power socket.
Smart wearables: Apple Watch, Android Wear, Tizen and Pebble
These devices allow for data to be gathered from our person, heart rate/fitness information, location based information, and remote notifications are some of the data that can be gathered on these devices for display to the user.
Be sure to secure your things, as the data they collect and create become increasingly more critical the more integrated into our lives they become.
The internal combustion engine as we know it has always required some level of electronic signal to operate the ignition system. Before the 1980s when the first engine management computer was produced, the electrical hardware on an engine was fairly rudimentary, boiling down to essentially a series of off and on switches for ignition timing. This is what’s referred to as mechanical ignition.
Mechanical ignition works by sending a charge from a battery to an ignition coil, which essentially stores a high voltage charge that discharges when provided with a path. This path is determined by a distributor is mechanically connected to the crankshaft of the engine. A distributor’s job is just as its name suggests – the rotation of the crankshaft causes the distributor to rotate, connecting the ignition coil to the individual spark plugs for each cylinder to ignite the mixture at the right time in the engine’s cycle to produce power.
Of course there are more complexities to how an engine produces power, involving vacuum lines and the workings of a carburetor and mechanical fuel pumps, however for this article we’re going to focus on electronics.
The First Computers Designed for Engines:
Electronic Fuel Injection, or EFI, has been around since the 1950s however before the mid 1970s was primarily used in motorsport due to its higher cost compared to a carburetor. Japanese companies such as Nissan were pioneers in early consumer EFI systems. The advantages of EFI over carburetors include better startup in cold conditions, as well as massively increased fuel economy. Then in 1980, Motorola introduced the first engine control unit, ECU, that would begin the computer takeover of the car industry.
An ECU replaces the direct mechanical connections with sensors that each read data from different parts of the engine, and feed back to ECU which crunches numbers and then determines how to adjust the various components of the engine to make sure it is operating within predetermined limits An Oxygen Sensor, or O2 sensor, is possibly one of the most important parts of a modern engine – connecting to the exhaust, the O2 sensor reads the levels of oxygen present after combustion. This is extremely important as it tells the ECU information on how efficient the engine is currently burning fuel. There are numerous other sensors on engines, but their jobs are all under the same umbrella: to feed information back to the ECU, so that the microprocessor can adjust timing and how much fuel is going in the engine accordingly.
Replacing the mechanically driven timing of early engines allows for a wider range of adjustability and control to ensure the engine is running right. This led cars to burn gas much cleaner and become much more efficient in general. As technology progressed, engine management became even more advanced, allowing for yet more meticulous control, as well as added safety measures. But what else did this computer-powered control do for the automotive industry?
Improvements in Performance
With ever increasing processing power, the computers in cars advanced just as quickly as any other computers: exponentially. More efficiently controlling fuel and timing quickly led to tuning for maximum power and response. EFI, and direct injection increased the throttle response, and further tuning could be done to make the car have a wider powerband – a term used to refer to the range of revolutions per minute (RPM) where an engine was making usable power. Manufacturers, realizing the extensive power of ECUs, started building mechanical parts around them to utilize their strengths. Below is a list of variable timing technologies used by several different companies:
Variable Valves/ Variable Cam Design
Honda VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control)
Mitsubishi MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control System)
Toyota VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing with intelligence)
While differing in name and how they are applied, these systems all boil down to controlling the engine timing at different engine speeds (RPM). The word ‘variable’ stands out in all of these, and is possibly the most powerful tool that advanced engine tuning enables. In this case, variable refers to the ability to change the behavior of the engine’s valves and camshafts (a long rod at the top of an engine that tells the valves when to move). As the engine speed increases, what might have been a good design at lower RPM soon starts to fall short, and this is what causes the powerband to drop off. Being able to alter the timing of the engine allows for better high and low end performance, as manufacturers essentially have the opportunity to design their engine for both, and use the ECU to switch modes at the optimal time.
Most people think of hybrids as the Toyota Prius, something designed with pure efficiency in mind, however some supercar companies have taken hybrid technology and adapted it for performance. Supercars such as the McLaren P1 and Porsche 918 utilize electric engines to compliment the power of the conventional combustion engine. Managed by an advanced ECU, the electric engines are used to provide immediate power while the gas engine is accelerating into its powerband. While the electric engines can be used separately in place of the gas engine, they mainly serve to further fill in the gap that the variable timing technology we talked about previously could not. As regular hybrid technology continues to advance, we can expect to see the same with respect to response and performance.
While engine efficiency is still being improved, the means to do so are based on these core engine technologies and their supporting computer systems. Now, manufacturers have once again started producing supporting components to utilize the ECUs ability to process data.
A Hard Disk Drive (HDD for short) is a type of storage commonly used as the primary storage system both laptop and desktop computers. It functions like any other type of digital storage device by writing bits of data and then recalling them later. It stands to mention that an HDD is what’s referred to as “non-volatile”, which simply means that it can save data without a source of power. This feature, coupled with their large storage capacity and their relatively low cost are the reasons why HDDs are used so frequently in home computers. While HDDs have come a long way from when they were first invented, the basic way that they operate has stayed the same.
How does a HDD physically store info?
Inside the casing there are a series of disk-like objects referred to as “platters”.
The CPU and motherboard use software to tell what’s called the “Read/Write Head” where to move on the platter and where it then provides an electrical charge to a “sector” on the platter. Each sector is an isolated part of the disk containing thousands of subdivisions all capable of accepting a magnetic charge. Newer HDDs have a sector size of 4096 bytes or 32768 bits; Each bit’s magnetic charge translates to a binary 1 or 0 of data. Repeat this stage and eventually you have a string of bits which when read back can give the CPU instructions, whether it be updating your operating system, or opening your saved document in Microsoft Word.
As HDDs have been developed, one key factor that has changed is the orientation of the sectors on the platter. Hard Drives were first designed for “Longitudinal Recording” – meaning the longer side of the platter is oriented horizontally – and since then have utilized a different method called “Perpendicular Recording” where the sectors are stacked on end. This change was made as hard drive manufacturers were hitting a limit on how small they could make each sector due to the “Superparamagnetic Effect.” Essentially, the superparamagnetic effect means that hard drive sectors smaller than a certain size will flip magnetic charge randomly based on temperature. This phenomenon would result in inaccurate data storage, especially given the heat that an operating hard drive emits.
One downside to Perpendicular Recording is increased sensitivity to magnetic fields and read error, creating a necessity for more accurate Read/Write arms.
How software affects how info is stored on disk:
Now that we’ve discussed the physical operation of a Hard Drive, we can look at the differences in how operating systems such as Windows, MacOS, or Linux utilize the drive. However, beforehand, it’s important we mention a common data storage issue that occurs to some degree in all of the operating systems mentioned above.
Disk Fragmentation occurs after a period of data being stored and updated on a disk. For example, unless an update is stored directly after a base program, there’s a good chance that something else has been stored on the disk. Therefore the update for the program will have to be placed in a different sector farther away from the core program files. Due to the physical time it takes the read/write arm to move around, fragmentation can eventually slow down your system significantly, as the arm will need to reference more and more separate parts on your disk. Most operating systems will come with a built in program designed to “Defragment” the disk, which simply rearranges the data so that all the files for one program are in once place. The process takes longer based on how fragmented the disk has become. Now we can discuss different storage protocols and how they affect fragmentation.
Windows uses a base computer language called MS-DOS (Microsoft Disk Operating System) and a file management system called NTFS, or New Technology File System, which has been the standard for the company since 1993. When given a write instruction, an NT file system will place the information as close as possible to the beginning of the disk/platter. While this methodology is functional, it only leaves a small buffer zone in between different files, eventually causing fragmentation to occur. Due to the small size of this buffer zone, Windows tends to be the most susceptible to fragmentation.
OSX and Linux are both Unix based operating systems. However their file system are different; Mac uses the HFS+ (Hierarchical File System Plus) protocol, which replaced the hold HFS method. HFS+ differs in that it can handle a larger amount of data at a given time, being 32bit and not 16bit. Mac OSX doesn’t need a dedicated tool for defragmentation like Windows does OSX avoids the issue by not using space on the HDD that has recently been freed up – by deleting a file for example – and instead searches the disk for larger free sectors to store new data. Doing so increases the space older files will have closer to them for updates. HFS+ also has a built in tool called HFC, or Hot File adaptive Clustering, which relocates frequently accessed data to specials sectors on the disk called a “Hot Zone” in order to speed up performance. This process, however, can only take place if the drive is less than 90% full, otherwise issues in reallocation occur. These processes coupled together make fragmentation a non-issue for Mac users.
Linus is an open-source operating system which means that there are many different versions of it, called distributions, for different applications. The most common distributions, such as Ubuntu, use the ext4 file system. Linux has the best solution to fragmentation as it spreads out files all over the disk, giving them all plenty of room to increase in size without interfering with each other. In the event that a file needs more space, the operating system will automatically try to move files around it give it more room. Especially given the capacity of most modern hard drives, this methodology is not wasteful, and results in no fragmentation in Linux until the disk is above roughly 85% capacity.
What’s an SSD? How is it Different to a HDD?
In recent years, a new technology has become available on the consumer market which replaces HDDs and the problems they come with. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are another kind of non-volatile memory that simply store a positive charge or no charge in a tiny capacitor. As a result, SSDs are much faster than HDDs as there are no moving parts, and therefore no time to move the read/write arm around. Additionally, no moving parts increases reliability immensely. Solid state drives do have a few downsides, however. Unlike with hard drives, it is difficult to tell when a solid state is failing. Hard drives will slow down over time, or in extreme cases make audible clicking signifying the arm is hitting the platter (in which case your data is most likely gone) while solid states will simply fail without any noticeable warning. Therefore, we must rely on software such as “Samsung Magician” which ships with Samsung’s solid states. The tool works by writing and reading back a piece of data to the drive and checking how fast it is able to do this. If the time it takes to write that data falls below a certain threshold, the software will warn the user that their solid state drive is beginning to fail.
Do Solid States Fragment Too?
While the process of having data pile on top of itself, and needing to put files for one program in different place is still present, it doesn’t matter with solid states as there is no delay caused by the read/write arm of a hard drive moving back and forth between the different sectors. Fragmentation does not decrease performance the way it does with hard drives, but it does affect the life of the drive. Solid states that have scattered data can have a reduced lifespan. The way that solid states work cause the extra write cycles caused by defragmenting to decrease the overall lifespan of the drive, and is therefore avoided for the most part given its small impact. That being said a file system can still reach a point on a solid state where defragmentation is necessary. It would be logical for a hard drive to be defragmented automatically every day or week, while a solid state might require only a few defragmentations, if any, throughout its lifetime.
If you’ve ever wondered what the geekiest gadget is to own you may get a few different responses. Maybe its a drone, maybe its a ringtone that is an anime intro song, but for a lot of tech nerds it was the Pebble watch.
Why do gadget heads love it so much? Well, Back in 2012 Pebble did a kickstarter campaign to fund the would-be watch company. It ended up being the most funded kickstarter ever. And geeks love a good kickstarter story. It’s the nerd version of David vs. Goliath.
But we also loved the technology behind it. Pebble watches were always water resistant. The battery life was about a week. The display is a e-paper display, and tech savvy people love discussing how much they love e-paper displays. Looking at the first generation apple watch, pebble had more battery life (7x more, actually), it had swimming support, and it did it all years before anyone else did.
Pebble was the under dog that never stopped impressing.
It’s app store had 1000 applications. That’s a ton for the little smart watch that could. You could attach the time piece to your bike and it would track your speed. The pebble watch 2 with heart rate could track your sleep schedule and calories (full disclosure, I bought one of these yesterday and am currently waiting for it to come via snail mail). It vibrates when you get a text or email; and unlike the latest and greatest Fitbit Charge 2, you can respond to text messages from the watch! All while maintaining incredible battery life.
Back in 2016, pebble was bought out by fitbit. A worthy adversary. And for a company that was primarily funded via kickstarter, it was an entrepreneurs’ dream. This means that pebble is selling off all of their inventory, so get yourself a pebble watch before they go away forever. Then you too can have the geekiest gadget around.