10 December, 2011

I've Just About "Had It" with the Microsoft Family of OSes

(jump to the 12-Dec-2011 update)

I've really "had it" with the quirkiness of Microsoft operating systems.  I just spent about four hours over three sessions (about an hour from 2130 to 2230,  about another two hours remotely from home from 2300 ET to 0100 the next morning (this morning), and another hour or so a few hours after sunrise today) trying to figure out why my XP profile wouldn't "stick."  Mind you, this is on a computer on a domain which is not mine (belongs to the folks who are contracting my services), so there are certain limitations which I cannot control (such as whether or not to use Active Desktop).

I guess I should take a paragraph to "step back" and explain the whole employment situation.  I work directly for Computer Plus Staffing Solutions, the FinancialPeople division.  And that's really only due to the existing relationship with FP of a financial director of the company where I (do the) work.  I don't really do anything financial at all, such as accounting, which is weird why I'm an employee of FP.  I'm doing mostly Avaya (PBX) administration.  Mostly what I'm tasked with is adding users, removing them when they're separated/terminated, and the associated backend record keeping (e.g. we gave Smith a Sonexis Conferencing account related to his phone, so when he goes, not only do we remove his station, we also delete the conferencing credentials).  The company where I work (not sure if I'm allowed to mention them), due to a merger happening soon, is unsure about their future, so in order not to have to worry about the legal requirements of short-term employment, they wanted the arrangement as a contractor instead of a direct-hire.  And I didn't want to have to worry about all the legalities of running my own business (directly contracting with the company where I work), so I'm going though this temp. staffing agency.

It all started after a business day which seemed never to end, with wonderful challenges, and some great discussions on planning for the future direction of operations.  In particular we were talking about things like taking Excel workbooks and turning them into SharePoint lists, setting up no-longer-used Avaya gear as a nonproduction switch (with due concern for the networking people with a strict policy of not having dev and prod systems on the same network).  It was getting late, having been there around 11 hours already (elapsed time, not working the entire time, mind you) when I logged in just to take a look at one more thing.  Things were proceeding normally enough...except neither the desktop nor the taskbar were appearing, the essential root functions of the explorer.exe Windows shell.  I thought, "that's odd..." and used the usual Ctrl-Alt-Del t to run the task manager.  And I ran another copy of explorer.exe with it.  Well...the desktop and task bar appeared, the items in the startup folder ran...so that logon session seemed to be salvaged.  But I logged out, then remembered, hey, there once again was one more thing ("honest this time!") I wanted to look at.  It was at this time I got the dreaded...Setting up Internet Explorer.  And of course, my %USERPROFILE% now had a "." and the domain name in all upper case appended to it.  Mind you, this was a particularly crushing "defeat," which I'll try to explain (as Paul Harvey would say) the rest of the story....

I'd like to take you on a little flashback of sorts.  Like many companies, the usual policy when bringing someone in is to give the new hire a fresh workstation OS and app build (using Symantec Ghost in this case, as is quite popular with larger companies).  But I guess everyone except the site support/help desk people thought what was there was just fine, having been used by two or three previous employees filling the same role as I was performing.  I wouldn't need to spend any additional time installing software, such as Avaya Site Administration (ASA) or other various and sundry tools a telecomm tech might use.  As it is, I wanted more software on there than was on there anyway, such as Cygwin, the 2003 administration tools for XP, copy path to clipboard, JoeWare's sectok...quite a few things actually which I find extraordinarily useful.  So I did spend virtually the entire first day there poking around to see what was there, and downloading and supplementing it with the tools I like.  But then I sought a little improvement.

When accessing their trouble ticket tracking system, Altiris, every time I brought up a results page (such as the list of tickets assigned to me) for the first time after opening IE, I would get a big, honking window pop up with an OK button, the contents of which seemed to indicate the ActiveX component used to display and interact with that results list was unlicensed.  Really, it was just a minor annoyance; all one had to do is click the OK button, and that session was good-to-go, without any more popups.  So I decided to report this by fillling out an Altiris incident.

One of the fine service desk techs gave my system the once-over, and tried some things, all before I arrived the next morning.  He said, and I had to agree, he had already spent...oh, I don't know, let's say a half or three-quarters of an hour ...and was no closer to eliminating this unnecessary popup.  He also remarked it was a build he's never seen before, and was highly nonstandard.  Again, I had to agree with him; there were things like Wireshark and SnagIt on there, things not typically on a corporate computer unless the user has specific use for them.  So, he could putter around with it for hours, and still not have any success at eliminating the popup annoyance, or use Ghost.  So, let's schedule a time (which should take about an hour to an hour and a half) to reimage your machine.   "Hmmm...yeah, that'd probably do it all right," I was thinking, but the key part is I would have to do some "homework" to find out, of the things installed, what would I really need, and from where could I get that software?  So, essentially we both put our little rebuild project on hold.  Plus, it would give us an opportunity to figure out which package in particular, after installation (or possibly use), was causing this popup anomaly to manifest.  And as an added benefit, we could devise how to deploy the things I needed automatically, such as ASA, instead of a telecomm tech having to install it themselves.  After all, there are a few dozen packages which were set up for remote installation from some sort of Altiris inventory control console page.

I actually held off on this a while because after all, it was just an improvement; this popup was just a nuisance and didn't prevent me from doing my work.  But Windows, being the quirky little black box that it is, was not content to do that, and let me live in peace.  No, about a week or so after I told our service desk engineer that I wasn't sure how to get all the files I needed (in particular, which versions of the stuff stored out there were appropriate for putting on my workstation), I logged in to the dismay of seeing all my settings, all my customizations, all my everything ***GONE*** .  Oh, mind you, Cygwin was still there, copypath, cmd here...all that stuff was ready to be used again, but ***EVERYTHING*** would have to be reconfigured.  I even took a look, as admin so there would be no access permission issues, at the scorched remains of what was my former %USERPROFILE%.  Nothing was left, except for the "Application Data" folder, and a few empty folder levels below that.  What's worse, every time I would log on, a new %USERPROFILE% would be created, and no settings would stick.  Heck, I was all the way up to me.DOMAIN.004 (I think it was) before I had any luck at all running anything close to normally.

I thought, I cannot tolerate setting up EVERYTHING every single time I log in, so I'll finish up the urgent incidents (such as the teminations), and I'll finally give them the word to trash what was on there.  But by the time I had nailed all that down, it was near the end of the day (1900 hours), where the person who could initiate the rebuild would have to leave; he would need at least 10 minutes to do all the necessary procedural steps.  Well, OK...it is what it is.  I repeated this the next day, except for the part where I came to the service desk too late.  We basically kicked it off, watched it go part way, but eventually just let it do its thing overnight.

I came in the next morning, and basically started the whole process over again, like I'd just arrived on the job for the first day.  Except this time around, I had accumulated all the installation sources, because as is my habit, I don't just download stuff to some temp directory; I set aside a definitive installation directory, usually some variation on /usr/local/lib/inst (in this case, drive 0 was partitioned into C: and D:, so this happened to be D:\usr\local\lib\inst).  Before ordering the wipe of my 'puter, I had copied virtually the entire contents of D:\ up to my network "home" directory, around 2GB.  And in fact, before I headed into the office that morning, I logged in via Citrix, then RDP, to initiate a copy of that data back to the (now blanked out) D:\ drive.  So, I installed a bare minimum of stuff (ASA, asked for all the links again to the Web-administered stuff, and so on).

For about the next week, which culminated in last night, I would mix performing the job duties with installing and configuring some niceties, such as SudoWin, Cygwin, Firefox, and so on.  As the week progressed, there would be a couple things every day which I remember now I could really use this or that, and would install/configure it, or just plain play around with the system (such as setting up a service, set to interactive, which executes CMD, thus giving an on-demand command shell with the SYSTEM security token...the superuser of Windows).

And so it went, until last night, when, as I wrote previously, some software somewhere along the way wedged, and caused XP all manner of grief, and by extension, me too.  It was probably some in-use files, or programs which wouldn't close them properly, which caused the login process not to trust what should have been my %USERPROFILE%, and for it to create a brand new version of one.  Except, this one wasn't quite as bad as the early part of this week; the previous profile wasn't empty, it still seemed to have most if not all the files and folders there. So, let me try to relate the things I tried this time 'round after getting over the incredulity.

The first thing of course was to copy completely the profile directory.  That way, if XP decided to wipe it out again, at least I'd be able to "get at" things like shortcuts, URL shortcuts, the NTUSER.DAT (probably can load it as another hive tree and export subtrees, such as the PuTTY session settings).  What was most disturbing after logging on and off a few times is that the "system control panel" (the advanced tab, button for profiles) was marking my profile as "Temporary" (ugh!).  This I guess definitely means nothing will be saved on logoout.  Of course, the thing to try is putting a copy of the profile where the system expects it (y'know, Documents and Settings\username) and hope for the best.  This used to work great under NT 4 anyway, and a lot of times works for XP.  Do you think it'd work?  Not on your life.  So then I tried the sysctrl panel profile copy feature, specifying my domain user as "allowed to use."  Again, that didn't quite work.

Next, I surmised there was an ownership issue, so I whipped out setacl and recursively set the ownership of my profile directory to my domain user SID.  This time...well...this time things started getting very weird.  On login, an error would pop up about something wrong with my Active HTML folder for my desktop.  I hate Active Desktop, but it's the only Microsoft-sanctioned way to force a uniform look to everyone's desktop (background color, background image, and so on) through GPOs.  What's worse, pieces of the XP Explorer left pane were along the left of about a third of my RDP window, with what looks like the rest of the desktop to the right of that.  And if explorer.exe was killed, it's like a layer was removed and some previously hidden windows appeared.

What really "gets" me is that making my domain username admin of that workstation would, at least a couple of times, cause "normal" profile behavior (it would stick).  But I don't want to run as admin all the time.  It's just really, really bad SOP.  That's why I use SudoWin extensively: start out lowly, and elevate privileges when required.  (...not this UAC nonsense of being admin but interfering when doing admin-ish things.)

Sadly, most errors go away, including this HTML desktop one, if I make myself admin before logging in.

I even tried blowing the whole profile away (with explorer), and basically starting afresh.  Yeah, well...you'd think that might help, but it didn't.  Then I even tried using that system control panel profile manipulation tool to delete the profile, figuring there was some other stupid, arcane, backend hoo-hah which would be updated appropriately when using the sanctioned tool instead of simply deleting the profile directory.  Alas, that wasn't much help either.

What I'm most concerned about is that, I will have lost about another week's worth of work, providing I have to tell these folks to reimage my workstation...AGAIN.  And it's probably something exceedingly stupid, like an ACL somewhere seems dodgy and the login process doesn't think it's "safe."  And who knows; maybe the all users folder and/or default user profile got corrupted somehow, and all I'd need would be a precise restoration of C:\Documents and Settings and all might get back to what passes for normal under Windows.

As it stands presently, I want to eliminate the RDP and Citrix angle, although I don't think that should have significant effect...meaning waiting and stewing about this until Monday morning.  I have a profile which sticks, but I think last time I logged in I was admin.

It's just all f'ed up.  This sort of thing should be straightforward and obvious.  The way to fix it likewise should be straightforward and obvious.  When the system thinks something is wrong and it feels only starting a new profile will be safe, the login process should prominently display not only what's wrong, but the specific object which is unsuitable...not merely "logging you on with a temporary profile," but what specific folder in the profile folder, or what specific registry entry it doesn't like, and specifically what it doesn't like (such as  the specific ownership or ACE problem).  What's worse, I've seen the "logging you on with a temp profile" message before (years ago), but this time I didn't see any such warning/error message.

But I guess that's asking waaaaaayyyy too much from Microsoft.  After all, they are the folks of "page cannot be displayed" and "bad command or filename," instead of "DNS name not found"/"Connection refused"/"No route to host" and "XXX is neither a builtin nor found in your PATH" like real people would like to know.  In other words, provide a useful error message?  Why would a user want that?  We have to dumb it down, ostensibly for the user to be ABLE to understand it.

I guess I could sum it up with, I'm sick of wasting hours and hours of my time because of things like this.

UPDATE, 12-Dec-2011:

It is the considered opinion of "the powers that be" that the reason that workstation1 does not "hold" a profile for a "normal" (e.g., non admin) user is that the guest account and anyone logging in are inexhorably intertwined somehow, and that somehow SudoWin is to blame.  Well.....no.  I call shenanigans.  The most I will be willing to admit is SudoWin plus some other piece of software on there (such as maybe the Win2K3 admin tools for XP, which does several system DLL replacements, not necessarily correctly in the case of some releases) might be to blame. The latter is the only thing which makes sense. It's the last thing I installed, either Thursday or Friday. It was operating quite fine up 'til then. I still don't believe it, but I'll be very, very hasty to point out, that's all it is: a belief. I have no hard evidence otherwise, so I must rely on the opinion of the caretakers of the domain of these machines.  SudoWin I'm asymptotic to 100% sure is in use around the world on thousands if not millions of XPSP3 systems. and I'll bet only a scant handful like this one have any trouble whatsoever related to such profiles.

Still...reality encroaches. Where I'm working, the business is not Windows engineering, it's something else entirely which just so happens to use some of that. Therefore noone involved wants the correct answer. All we (yes, "we"...including me) want is an expedient solution. My intellectual sense really wants to figure this out, but my business sense says I've got to get back to the job at hand. It's a pie-in-the-sky world where we can all take the time to pursue such theoretical tangents. The harsher reality is that we have to settle for expedient to make progress.

1I'm actually trying to be more careful now not to call it "my workstation" as I have absolutely no title whatsoever to it, and I acknowledege the company where I'm working graciously allows me to use it.

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

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17 October, 2011

Whoa! Slow Down There, Glenn

On the Glenn Beck Program today, Glenn and his guest by phone were getting all bunched up about a school in Texas which was teaching the Mexican national anthem and pledge.  Not knowing anything more, I'll have to assume the latter is similar to our (the United States') "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of Ameria..."  Initially, I was about as indignant as Glenn and his guest.  From what I've heard, there's been quite enough, thank you, of indoctrination of people into a mindset that America is bad, Americans are aggressors, and such-like.  But then I heard more.

The guest was the father of the girl who was "forced" to recite/sing these.  He related that this was for a Spanish class.  It was then I had more of a reaction like the initial reaction of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" when they first encounter the rabbit ("you got me all worked up over nothing!").  I too was schooled in Spanish, albeit in Cheektowaga, NY, not Texas.  This is very likely very mild, and no cause for concern at all.

When learning a language, while not strictly required, it is often quite helpful to learn some of the cultural aspects as well.  It's just standard practice, best I can tell.  While I never had to do anything like memorize any Spanish-speaking country's anthem, it's a fine way to enlarge vocabulary and learn a part of the culture.  The complaint presented was really weak too.

The caller complained about Spanish being derived from Spain, so why should they learn the Mexican anthem?  Why not the Spanish anthem?  That's so ridiculous that it barely requires explanation.  And this is a subject with which I have a slight amount of expertise.  I was taught there are two major variants of Spanish: the European (or Castillian in English, Castellano in Spanish) and the Latin American (LA).  Just like English, there are variations on that, but likewise I'd say there's American English and British English.  We were made aware of the differences in Spanish (chiefly pronunciation), but we concentrated on the LA variant.  You can imagine why.  As residents of America, we're far more likely to encounter people speaking the LA variant.

I personally don't think Glenn is much predisposed to sensationalism, but I think that applies here.  Sorry, but I think obstinance on the part of this Texas family is why this girl got a 13 for this exercise (presumably percent).  Just because you're asked to memorize and repeat some particular passage doesn't mean you are actually agreeing with such a pledge.  It is merely a memorization exercise, combined with knowing when someone hears the pledge or anthem, one is able to identify it and its significance.  It won't be merely a semirandom collection of words to the listener/student.

If this had been during the course of some other, non-Spanish-language, class, I could understand, and agree with, the outrage.  But really...this is much ado about nothing.  But I would agree with part of the referenced article: I don't agree that the US stole parts from Mexico, and would prefer students not be told that.  In particular, it's called "The Gadsden Purchase," not "The Gadsden Annexation."  I will have to admit history is my poorest subject, so I'm not sure of the circumstances of the Texas annexation.

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

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12 October, 2011

I'm Conflicted About Sibilant Voice Talent

When you hear somone speak the words of an ad (radio or or TV), or give you the options for an IVR, or perform for an animated program, the people who do that are called "voice talent" or "voice actors."  I myself have recorded some voice talent, and have been a minor one, having produced a few PBX recordings for Sitel.  (I also recorded some of the autoattendant announcements, such as at +1(716)871-6400, if it still happens to be there.)  But what I don't quite understand is, why do media producers think sibilant people are good?

If you don't know what sibilance is, it's kind of difficult to explain concisely.  All I can tell you is, when sibilant people pronounce words with the letter "s" in them, you'll definitely know it.  Sometimes, but not always, President Obama speaks with sibiliance.  If a dog is lying down and trying to get to sleep for a nap within a kilometer, a sibiliant person should make them raise their head and point their ears in the sibilant person's general direction.  (Well, maybe not, but I was trying to think of an analogy to illustrate higher than normal high frequency content.)

The problem is, for some people, like myself and a friend of mine named "PJ," hearing a sibilant person talk evokes a reaction like most people have to the scratching of fingernails on a chalkboard.  This is so much so that we have to, as politely as possible, leave the vicinity of sibilant speakers.  One such example I can recall vividly is the birthday party for a mutual friend of ours.  His wife just nails each "s" so hard, we had to sort of try our best to steer clear of her.  Thankfully such high audio frequencies have similar characteristics to high radio frequencies: they're mostly "line-of-sight," so ducking around a corner (such as into a different room) alleviates that feeling of anxiety...so that's all we generally had to do.

Now, I realize that PJ and I may be in the minority, maybe even in the vast minority, but still...don't you think ad producers in particular would want to irritate as few people as possible?  After all, aren't you trying to establish the widest possible audience for the product you're pitching?  I daresay, choosing sibilant voice talent is one way to cut down on your audience size.

The saddest thing about it is, I know there's virtually nothing these people can do about it; that's the vocal tract their genetics have made.  The best we audio engineers can do is add a sibilance controller to the processing chain1.  But this only helps so much.  It's more-or-less only a Band-Aid on the problem.

So, in short, I don't know.  I'm very conflicted.  Sibilant voice talents are usually quite superb in every other respect.  In one sense, I'd rather not see them be fired or not selected for a given voiceover job (because it's something they are rather than something they choose to be), but on the other hand, I want to cringe less.  But just like I am innately unsuited for many jobs, such as being a Buffalo Sabre or a member of a construction crew (either of which requires quite a lot of strength which I don't have, and probably never will), so too these people really could do rather better in some other endeavor...please.  And I do say/write that with a certain amount of regret, please believe me.

1 A sibilance controller is a circuit or (DSP) software which applies an automatic gain control to high frequencies.  It's as if a person were constantly monitoring the audio, and cranking down the treble whenever sibilance is heard (and cranking it back up to normal when there isn't so much sibilance).

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

Please join me on Google+!

01 October, 2011

A Little Disillusioned by Technology

I know it's pretty wrong to judge almost anything on very few data points, but....It's been a rainy half week here in western New York State, some days to do indoor rather than outdoor things.  So I thought it was the perfect time to make some tweaks to my stereo system.

For a few months now I've been listening to my sound system, primarily an Onkyo TX-8211 receiver/amp, A Behringer DSP8024 equalizer, and some Pioneer speakers, with only a very "basic" euqlization (or "EQ") curve entered into it. And to explain that, I guess I'd have to flash back to a few months ago for a little while.

I have had basically this system since early 2002, when my previous receiver/amp gave out (it appears its anti-impedance-mismatch circuitry1 is "unhappy," including possibly a broken relay that controls switching on the speakers...end result, no relay click, and no sound).  I don't know what parts in particular I have trouble with, whether it's the amps I choose, or the speakers, or just plain buying everything "on the cheap," but I usually end up with something sounding "hollow..." really overly rich in the midrange I guess.  It's something I've nicknamed "the Kraco effect" after the less-than-stellar car speakers brand which were really lacking in good lows and highs.  So I've more-or-less always used some sort of equalization to counteract that, and have what subjectively sounds like more even sound.

The Behringer manual states there is a battery (actually a cell) inside the equalizer (or "EQ") which keeps the settings, response curves, etc. when the power is off, and it should last several years.  Well, "several" was about "nine" in this case, which is pretty darned good.  And finally, earlier this year, a "WARNING: battery low" message showed on the display on powerup/boot.2  Behringer's recommendation is to ship it off to them to replace this so that nothing is lost.  After all, it has 100 EQ curve memories (31 bands each) and dozens of settings, so yes, if I would have done the smarter thing (and either figure out how to back them up over its MIDI port, or at least note down my settings), I wouldn't have caused myself all the vexation.  I wasn't about to spend the money to ship this thing to them and wait for it to come back.  And I don't have a MIDI interface on my 'puter either, if it's even possible to read those sorts of things out of the device.

So, I took it out of the stereo stack, and for the first time ever, I opened up the case some months ago to see what was what inside this wonderful machine.  It turns out it has a CR2032 cell, like the vast majority of computers.  Some time ago, perhaps a year or so, I had gotten a whole card of CR2032 cells at a discount store (Ollie's Bargain Outlet), so I had plenty to spare.  I had it all ready to go, on my living room floor.  And I swapped that thing just about as fast as I could, and I figured the CMOS charge would hold in the RAM through a second or three.  I figured it would probably be unwise to try and swap it with the unit powered up (mainly because I might slip up and short out something with the metal case of the new or old cells for example), so I had it unplugged.  As far as the grief it subsequently caused me, I think maybe I should have attempted this powered up.  When I did power it back on, I saw a message "battery empty: memory cleared."  (whimper...)  Oh, well...since I don't even know someone with a TARDIS so that I could go back in time and do it all differently, I figured there's nothing I can really do except move forward.

So, I buttoned the case back up, put the EQ back in the stereo stack, and I entered in a very basic "anti-Kraco-effect" curve.  But it still sounded a little hollow.  What would really be required was to use its real-time analyzer (RTA) and signal generator to at least start with a flat response for the equipment.  This is done by connecting a microphone (mic) to the EQ's mic input, turning on the signal generator, and having the RTA figure out the response of the amp, speakers, room acoustics, etc.  But that's complicated.  One has to set up a mic who's response characteristics are known (like this one for the Audio Technica Pro2ax that I have):

entering the opposite of that curve into the EQ (a compensation curve), routing the EQ through the system so as much of the system is tested as possible, and finally telling the EQ to take a snapshot at some time and plopping the inverse of that response curve (again, a compensation curve) into one of its memories.

The level captured by the mic is simply too low, even with the EQ's mic gain all the way up, so consequently the amp basically has to be cranked way up in order to get the compensation curve centered somewhere close to zero.  When I was in south Buffalo, I did this, no problem.  This time around though, not so much joy.  The room the system is in now is considerably smaller than where it was before the "big move," and probably concentrated the sound so much that it was uncomfortable to perform the testing.  Thankfully I have some muffs I wear when using power tools and such.

So yesterday, I finally had enough of listening to this Kraco effect, and took some time to enter the inverse of that curve above into one of the memories.  Since it was so dreary outside, this seemed like an ideal day to finally get this done.  And I put on the muffs, cranked it up for a while, and was watching the display.  Muffs of course don't totally block out all sound, so I could hear the white and pink noise during the test.

But suddenly, the noise sounded very wrong, like the noise generator suddenly went wrong somehow, so I just stopped the test.  And I thought when I started it up again it sounded OK.  I finished the test, and I had a white noise "anti-curve,"  and a pink noise "anti-curve."  The pink one seemed to have less of the Kraco effect, so I began with that.

In about a half hour, I had something I thought sounded a lot better than "straight through" (unequalized), almost totally cancelling the Kraco effect.  I listened to WGRF-FM for a couple of songs, and it seemed OK.  Later that night though, I started watching a recording from my MythTV, and as usual, to get really good stereo separation, I put on some headphones (and I left the speakers on to give some subsonic feeling).

"Hmm...this is kinda 'bright'," I thought.  Well..sure enough, I took a closer look at the EQ curve, and there is a steep rise at 2KHz, with a relatively flat (but amplified) response through 16K, then almost up to maximum for the remaining two bands.  I remembered through experience that anything 16K or above has to be almost completely attenuated, or else it seems to start interfering with the stereo subcarrier of my wireless headphones (keeps toggling between stereo and mono).  So those were sharply lowered.  My ears are so aged these days that they can't tell much of a difference anyway at frequencies that high.  I can still just barely hear the flyback transformer of an NTSC monitor, whereas a decade ago I could tell if one was on or off just by listening for just a sec.

It then dawned on me...I must have blown both my left and right tweeters. I must have turned up the gain so much, and put so much power in the high end through the speakers that they just "imploded." I confirmed this today by connecting one of the speakers that I used previously3, and sure enough, it had an unbalanced, tinny sound. Now when I'm listening w/o 'phones, I realize the sound is very lacking in the high end, with very little "detail" to the sound.

Now...here's where the disillusion part begins.

If the tech is working like it should, the compensation curve arrived at through "AUTO-EQ" as Behringer calls it all the higher bands should be "on the roof" (in this case, at +16dB), trying to compensate for the tweeters "not being there?"  Shouldn't the midrange element be able to compensate by putting out more treble?  (Well, maybe not...especially if there is a crossover network in the speaker enclosure.)

Admittedly, all my electronic and acoustic knowledge is self-taught, so I could be missing quite a bit.  And my testing/calibrating methodology might be totally skewed.  I don't know.  But the subjective results say the tech is all screwed up.

I guess for the most part, it doesn't matter that much.  The majority of my listening is talk radio anyway.  And for that, the other EQ I have (a  7 band Sony) sharply cuts off high and low, with most of the energy in midrange where voice is.  And for that input on my mixing board, I put the bass knob "on the floor."  Still...I can see a trip to The Stereo Advantage for some replacement speakers in my future.

1Power amplifiers want to be loaded with the proper impedance (like audio amps with speakers  for example), or they will damage themselves.  It has to do with efficiency of power transfer, the fact that with no load, the power developed on the output of the final transistors would be "reflected back" into the circuit because it "has nowhere to go," thus basically melting itself.  I don't know how to design it, but there is a circuit which was developed which can detect this impedance mismatch/power reflected condition, and shunt the output into a loading resistor instead so that the power "has someplace to go."  In that case, the loading resistor has the same impedance as speakers would, and dissipates the audio power as heat (as any resistive element would do with power applied).

2Yes, this EQ takes about 10 seconds to initialize itself after poweron, so I would say, "boot."

3I don't use these speakers much anymore because there's some sort of rattle/buzz when the volume is up some.  I think either there's a tear I can't quite see, or perhaps the cone is beginning to separate.  I only use them for speech/talk...more elsewhere in this post on that.

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

Please join me on Google+!

27 September, 2011

If This Isn't a Sign Google Have a Deity Complex, I Don't Know What Is

I recently heard about how Doug Edwards, former Google employee, spoke up at a BHO "jobs rally" (or whatever...some sort of town hall to rah-rah for his jobs bill).  He said the IMHO disgusting thing of (paraphrased) "please raise my taxes."  It turns out he has a Blogger blog (Xooglers) too.  The name is obviously a mashup of the prefix "ex," Google, and the suffix "er(s)."

In his "So different, yet so alike" post, comparing The San José Mercury News and Google, he states (about Google):
Smart, articulate engineers, who know what people really need, even if they don't
Huh...maybe that's why we get such misfeatures as fading up of some parts of the main search page, SearchWiki, the leftnav DIV, and other useless crap.  They somehow get it into their heads we wanted something other than what used to be the best, most relevant, KISS search page in the history of mankind.

Sorry, Doug; you don't.  You obviously think you do, but really.....YOU DON'T.  All you need to do, with extremely little effort mind you, is look at userscripts.org for all the fixing of what Google broke.  And just take a look at the failures of Wave and Buzz (and SearchWiki, and likely other stuff too).

Although...I must say they deserve some props, for Google+ in particular.  It's not quite great, but good enough to attract more than a few Facebook users.

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

Please join me on Google+!

25 September, 2011

Mr. Keillor: Really? Are You Serious? Please Tell Me it was Mere Hyperbole

In doing the simple 24x7 arithmetic, there are 168 hours per week.  Usually, a quarter of this time (at least) is spent by most sleeping (42).  Ideally this is more like 56 hours.  The vast majority of TV programs are only an hour, and a lot of them only a half hour.  So to block out a solid 2 hours each and every week would seem to take a bit of commitment to become a fan.  Ever since I've heard "A Prairie Home Companion" many years ago (probably a couple of decades) on WBFO, I have mostly enjoyed the show.  It's generally my type of humor, and I like to hear off-the-beaten-path artists every now and again, such as Jack Knife and the Sharps.  But for the last couple of years, it's been more and more difficult to maintain my allegiance to the program.

I can remember making a donation to WNED (which ordinarily I would not be inclined to do at the time, due to limited income) just so that I would have a much better chance at being able to buy a ticket to the first Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater performance in late spring of 1994.  Around that time the coolant pump on my Tempo gave way, and would not have survived a drive there, so I had to beg my parents to borrow their Tempo to go there, lest I miss the show.  I did not have my career job at the time, and could barely afford the ticket.  A few years later, I likewise didn't like the coercion, but ponied up some more money to WNED so that I could attend the Shea's Performing Arts Center 22-Dec-2001 performance.

But I tell ya...because of Mr. Keillor's insistence on bringing more and more political statement to his show, my fandom has faded a lot.  The subsequent Shea's performance I decided was just not worth the money.  And his recent Rhubarb tours and such at Artpark...well, honestly, I just couldn't see giving that kind of person any more of my hard-earned money.  This is much like the only Michael Moore movie I ever saw was "Roger and Me," and that was on broadcast (or maybe cable) TV.  I think the turning point was around the time he started singing his song about "we're all Republicans now."

This past Saturday, 24-Sep-2011, I just about couldn't believe my ears.  Lest I be accused of hearing something inaccurately, I abstained from posting immediately on Google+ about my disgust, and instead waited until today when the audio archives were updated with the soundtrack of the show.  The relevant segment of the show is a short oral introductory missive by Mr. Keillor to his rewriting of the lyrics to "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."  (Hopefully public radio, this archive of the show, and the means to access it, especially by time index, will remain in place by the time you stumble across this.)  If you find the audio somewhere other than the site, it is from approximately 0:56:30 to just over the hour mark of the show (so presumably from 22:56:30 UTC to 23:01:00 UTC).  I took painstaking care to listen to this many times and transcribe it.

I just want to take a sec. here to acknowledge the following quotes are very likely copyrighted material, not sure of the holder, but likely American Public Media, Prairie Home Productions, or Garrison Keillor.  But I firmly believe this blog entry falls under fair use provisions of US copyright law, as it is a commentary on his performance.

Mr. Keillor begins:
Now I don't want to get us onto the subject of politics...
Can you see that freight train coming?  I started cringing.  You know you're "in trouble" with an opening like that.  Do you think perhaps you should have taken your own advice (sort of) and just omit this?  He continued:

 ...and get everybody all fussed up about this, but...

This really has more to do with language than--politics. The word "socialism" is being used out there in a little different way from what I had assumed it meant; I thought it referred to "Marxism."
I could be misinformed, but I would say Marxism is socialist, but not all socialism is necessarily Marxism.  US (and NY) citizens are taxed, and part of that money is given to people whom the government thinks are poor (so-called welfare).  I was fairly certain that's socialist, but not really Marxist.
And now it's being used out there just to refer to any kind of governemnt or any kind of--taxation. There are people running for President who seem not to believe in any form of taxation... 
It's at this point I started thinking of the parable of the blind men and an elephant.  Do I even live in the same country as Garrison?  Just which candidates did you hear propose a policy of anarchy and total lack of taxes?  Now, I admit I'm pretty dumb at times, and don't pay attention to everything, but that candidate has been totally off my "radar."
...and who believe every dollar that you earn ought to belong to you.
Why shouldn't it be mine?  What would be the use of money if it weren't mine?  Please do not misunderstand, I do believe we all have to be taxed somehow to compensate government employees and to acquire all the things a government needs (notice I didn't write "wants").  There's no question we need a government, and that goverment needs buildings, supplies, maintenance, trucks, and many other such things, and the workforce to make it all work.  Libertarians like me and our country's founders believe this needs to be kept to some reasonable minimum though.  And we can debate all day just what is that reasonable level; I welcome the discussion.
Well...there are schools, there are highways; there's the Army, there's the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and so forth. And "class warfare" is a term that's being tossed around to refer to any kind of progressive...uhh...taxation, of the income tax, the progressive income tax, which has been around in this country a long, long time; the idea that people who earn more should pay more.
 Well, duh.  Of course we need to fund armed forces, build roads, and do many other such things which would be impossible or nearly so for any private entities to accomplish.  And we are very arguably far better off having a public school system rather than none at all (although its present form is only minimally better than none at all...but that's a topic for another post/day).  But here's the thing: I have yet to have it demonstrated to me how it is justified taxing people based on earning level.

Until the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913, it had been, what, 124 years of our nation's existence before an income tax was codified?  And some States to this day do not have an income tax.  Yet somehow this country managed not  only to survive, but to thrive without an income tax!  Likewise, didn't it do fairly well until The Great Society where the government decided to get into the charity biz?  Seems to me there is charity if one truly needs it (Catholic, Episcopalian, United Way, Salvation Army, and on and on).

At the heart of the usual liberal/progressive argument is, "well, the rich can afford it more!"  Bunk.  Balderdash.  What constitutes "enough" for someone to live their life?  It's simply  impractical for a goverment to determine that (accurately).  The variation of humans is just way too great.  As one small example, someone with a drug dependency (let's say insulin)  has a "more expensive" life than most.

It's massively dragging everyone down to some subsistence level, where there is little or no incentive to do well.  If income is going to be taxed at all, I know of no rationalization for increasing the percentage owed based on level of earnings.  Either make it a flat percentage for everyone, possbily with a single offset (standard deduction if you will) indexed to inflation to make an accommodation for the really, really destitute, or have no income tax at all.  Try a sales tax for example.

And so...are you seriously arguing that just because something's been practice for a long, long time, it's good?  How about pre-Abolition?  How about pre-Civil Rights Act of 1964?  I just don't know, again at times I can be really dumb.
Class warfare...so as long as they're accusing us of class warfare, we might as well just engage in class warfare, I say. Here's a song about class warfare; feel free to join in on the chorus.
So the rationalization for doing something is that if you're accused of doing it,  you're somehow unable to defend your position so do it anyway?  That's a nifty rationalization to do just about anything...except I can't quite subscribe to it.

It's time for working people to rise up and defeat
The brokers and the bankers and the media elite
And all the educated bums in panelled office suites
And throw them in the street

== Chorus ==

Glory, glory what's it to ya?
Glory, glory what's it to ya?
Glory, glory what's it to ya?
The truth is marching on

== End chorus ==

Down with all the east cost liberal aristocracy
Down with all the lawyers who live in luxury
Down with all the lobyists in Washington, D.C.
We'll run them up a tree

Let's reverse the social order
Oh, wouldn't it be cool?
Down with management and let the secretaries rule
Let the cleaning ladies sit around the swimming pool
Send the bosses back to school


We'll take them from their country clubs and luxury resorts
We'll take them from the golf course and from the tennis courts
We'll take them out of first class and with a mighty cheer
We'll send them to the rear

And then we'll get the media, those mighty millionaires
Who weave their little fictions sitting on their derrieres
We'll grab them by thier flabby hands and make them say their prayers
And kick them down the stairs


When the umpires come out, everybody boos
The high and the mighty, we kick dirt on their shoes
And won't it be great when the New York Yankees lose
We will all cheer the news


Where do I even begin?  So you'd like to form a mob and just tear down all success merely because you can't seem to achieve it yourself?  You're moderately successful now, Mr. Keillor; I'd just like to know if you swapped places with, say, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Jon Huntsman, Sr., or Terry Pegula you'd feel the same way about having your wealth forcibly taken from you.  Better still, by implication, you'd like the government to be your strongman, your bouncer, and do it for you?  Yikes!!  Again, I'm not quite sure I live in the same country as him.  This sounds quite Marxist to me, a full-fledged Bolshevik Revolt.  I'd really rather you tried that somewhere else, not here.   just sayin'

As so many of the audio clips I hear and stories that I read, I don't know quite which is more disturbing, the individual statements made, or the crowd's reaction to it.  It sounded like the vast majority of the theatre was cheering the sentiment.  One Web page which also transcribed the song had the following:

Yes, FINALLY, someone who people trust and listen to is speaking out. The saddest thing is that now it is considered "brave" to speak up for justice. 
Justice?  For where, the USSR?  Again, yikes!!  Whiskey tango foxtrot!  Where the heck am I???

English is a difficult enough language to interpret correctly when its rules are followed, let alone when the speaker or writer chooses not to follow those rules.

"Jeopardy!" replies and randomcaps really suck!

Please join me on Google+!

Hello, World

As many programmers know, the first program one writes while learning a new language is called your "hello, world" program.  The intent is to do nothing more than output the string "Hello, world." to whomever runs the executable, typically to whatever serves as the stdout in the language's target environment.  Its purpose is to ensure one knows the basics of working with the language, such as everything that must be written in the source code file to produce a functioning program, how to build the executable, and so forth.  Its name stems from the C programming environment, where the Bell Labs folks who invented C inaugurated this idea of something very simple to demonstrate basic functioning; almost a diagnostic.

Inasmuch as Blogger is a programming language, this is my "hello, world."  And it sort of is, because Blogger is "programmed" partially with HTML.  Very basic HTML is used to create the links in the middle of posts, like the ones you see above to footnote/explain "source code," "C," and so forth.  This is more or less for me to get a feel for the platform, and see how my posts are rendered.

Well, actually, I want to include one other concept.  I want to explain the reason I started this blog at all.  It was so that longer-form writings need not appear in the middle of my Google+ (or "G+") posts.  While it is true that there is nothing particularly which will limit G+ being used as a means of blogging, the general usage patterns of other users seems to be to keep it short and to the point.  I learned from FLOSS maven +Eric Raymond (thanks, Mr. Raymond) to use this technique of posting the (more) complete thoughts on a blog, then just write a summary of it and link to it on G+.  Unfortunately, I have posted some blog-esque writings on G+ already, but those will remain as-is.   I will tell you, what has nudged me to create this blog this time 'round was the 24-Sep-2011 episode of "A Prairie Home Companion."

OK, so there's one more thing I wanted to cover briefly in my first post, just to clear one thing up right out of the gate.  "R. Chandra" is not my given name, it is simply a handle I have been using on the Internet for many years.  It comes from a character in Arthur C. Clarke novels, "Dr. R. Chandra."  What really started it all (for me) was Bob Balaban's portrayal of that character in the movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact, which is an adaptation of the novel 2010: Odyssey Two.  It's the ID I use to log into many Web sites, so I thought, why not for Blogger too?