Archive for July 2010

Product Review: Bose QC15 Headphones   4 comments

My lovely wife, who exceeds the bar for awesome wifeliness on a routine basis, has simultaneously managed to raise a bar while in the process of jumping over it, and thus deserves recognition for superior gift giving skills.

My birthday present this year was a pair of Bose QC15 headphones.  To summarize the below, they rock out. They get my enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Now, lest one be concerned that I’m a Joe Average consumer, let me state for the record that my first BBS account was on AudiophileBBS, an electronic message forum for hard core audio geeks (you young kids, go read about the Internet before it was the Internet if you want to know what a BBS was… or, just imagine Internet Forums without trolls).  I once contemplated spending several obscene amounts of dollars on a *needle* for a turntable.  Now that I’m working/married/parenting/going to grad school, of course, I have neither the time nor the resources to properly fuel the obsession with extending the operational range of my home stereo equipment.  Plus, like anyone over 25, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, so unless I have a great *room* to put great stereo equipment *in*, it’s largely a waste of time.

But I digress.

From a lapsed audiophile standpoint, Bose stands in the same section of the pantheon that, say, some computer manufacturers stands among the computer geek crowd: often praised for their product quality, often snarked at for geek purity reasons (not always unjustifiably – in fact, often justifiably).  In the case of Bose, they don’t publish their technical data, so in many cases the audio consumer needs to rely a bit too much on, “Trust us, we’re Bose” prior to purchase.  This is the sort of antics that make “real” audiophiles want to froth at the mouth and grab pitchforks and torches… annnnd, it must be said, geek mob mentality can jump to conclusions just as often as any other mob mentality.

Like Mercedes, though, Bose employs a bunch of people who really do know what they’re doing.  And also like Mercedes, if you’re buying one of the right models, you’re getting more than what you’re paying for, since the overpriced models (the ones that the chumps buy for the sake of the name) subsidizes the production of the good stuff.

The QC15 appears to be one such animal.

The first test was the noise cancellation.  In my new glass-skinned building at work, the rooms have individual passive panels for air conditioning (just about the only way the building was going to make a high LEED rating while simultaneously having operable windows in every room).  When the system needs to kick into high gear – like, say, when it’s 95+ degrees outside and the aforementioned glass skin has been soaking up the therms all day long – it sounds not unlike working in the main pump room of a large hotel when everyone in the building jumps into the shower in the morning.

Bam, you can’t hear it *at all* with these on, and yet you can still hear yourself snap your fingers.  Outstanding ambient noise cancellation.  I have not tried them on an airplane, but they get rave reviews for that test elsewhere, surpassing the Sennheiser PXC 450, which is fine company.

Second test is frequency response.  Again, my hearing isn’t what it used to be, but I can still listen to a good recording of a symphony and follow any particular instrument I’m interested in listening to as it weaves in and out of the piece… at least, I can if I have good audio.  The home stereo speakers are great speakers.  The room they’re in is terrible for listening to music, however, so I haven’t really listened to music since 1998 or so, which was the last time I had a decent space in which to fire up the stereo properly.  I can actually listen to a symphony again!  Holy beejezuz!  Check!

Third test is volume.  This one isn’t too tough, I don’t blast anything the way I used to when I was younger.  However, you want to be able to crank the volume up *past* your threshold of comfort and still have the sound quality come across without muddling or the like.  A good test for this is George Thorogood or Metallica: if you can get it loud enough that it classifies as enhanced interrogation techniques without losing clarity of sound, your speakers/headphones pass.  Check!  Slightly weak on the low, low end of the base, but both Primus and Tommy Potter on Conception come through sounding better on these than any other audio platform I’ve heard in a while.  Pass!

Fourth test is wearability.  The QC15’s are closed-back (over-ear) headphones and I have big ears on the sides o’ my skull.  Previous experience with over-ear headphones has been spotty, with 30 minutes to 1 hour capping out the maximum amount of time I can wear them without getting really uncomfortable.  So far, I’ve worn these for up to four hours at a stretch with only minimal discomfort of the sort that you really can’t avoid with closed-back phones (ears warm up a tad), and that’s certainly worth the overall sound quality.  Pass!

About the only drawback: they don’t work at all without the noise cancellation turned on.  Which isn’t that big of a deal from an acoustic standpoint, but it does mean you’ll want to pocket an extra AAA battery for extended wear.

Thanks, love!

Posted July 15, 2010 by padraic2112 in tech

Moar Megmemes   Leave a comment

I gave up on the monthly meme.  Mebbe I’ll finish it later.  But I needed something to write about today that isn’t crazy-making (there aren’t many things right now today that aren’t crazy-making), and Meg supplied a meme, so here ya’ll go:

1. The phone rings; who don’t you want it to be?
Anyone telling me somebody’s in the hospital.

2. When shopping at the grocery store, do you return your cart?
About 80% of the time.  I make no apologies for the other 20%.

3. In a social setting, are you more of a talker or a listener?
I talk quite a bit, but I have a tendency to acquire more information than I offer.  Parse that how you will.

4. What was the last compliment that someone gave you?
Hannah called me silly.

5. Do you play the lottery?
Won $10 with my last ticket.  Yes, I’m something of a mathematician.  Yes, I’m aware (probably more than you can know) exactly how stupid the lottery is.

6. If abandoned alone in the wilderness, who would you want with you?
Someone who has their catering truck and satellite phone handy?

7. Do you like to ride horses?
Yes.  I’m not good (in terms of overall skill, I don’t practice enough) but I have a knack for letting the animal know I’m in charge.  Have no idea when I acquired that ability.

8. Did you ever go to camp as a kid?
Yes.  My eardrum exploded in spite of explicit instructions to the camp counselors as to my likelihood of getting an ear infection and how to deal with it.

9. What is your favorite party game?
This is an odd question for me to answer; my idea of “game party” is probably not yours.  I’ll go with nostalgia and say “3-man” (hey, I went to college).

10. If a sexy person was pursuing you, but you knew he/she was married, would you go for it?
A sexy person who is married is pursuing me regularly.  I go for it (after all, we’re married to each other).  Oh, you wanted the non-trivial answer?  No.  Even when I was single.  Regardless of how horrible your marriage may be, just kill it before coming after me, please.

11. When was the last time that you lied?
Everybody lies to themselves every day.  Better question is, “When’s the last time you caught yourself?”  This morning, for me.

12. Could you date someone with different religious beliefs than you?
Hell, I married a Lutheran.  They don’t buy transubstantiation.  Hm, wait, neither do I.  Let’s rephrase the answer: “It depends upon the set of beliefs”.

13. If you have a S/O, who pursued who? If not, do you like to pursue or be pursued?
This is a complicated question to answer, in practice.  Our courtship wasn’t as cut and dried as all that.  But when the main critical juncture hit, I suppose you’d say that I was the one that went after her, right dear heart?

14. Use six words to describe yourself.
Engineered, Ineffable, Pithy, Weird, Critical, and Distracted.

15. Name a song that could make you cry?
Songs alone can’t make me cry, it takes something along with.  I’ll betray my sister and say Megan’s answer is:

16. Are you pleased with your education?

17. How do you feel about gun control?
There are about 309 million people in the U.S.  12,000-14,000 people are murdered in the U.S. every year (about 90% of them with guns).  About 40,000 people are killed by automobiles.  Also:

  • Heart disease: 616,067
  • Cancer: 562,875
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 135,952
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 127,924
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries): 123,706
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 74,632
  • Diabetes: 71,382
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 52,717
  • Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 46,448
  • Septicemia: 34,828

I figure, the question of gun control is largely something that is completely stupid to spend even 30 seconds of your time pondering.  Let the individualists buy a gun.  Donate your money to the American Heart Association.

18. If your house was on fire, what thing would be the first thing you grabbed?
Assuming people don’t qualify as “things”, I’ll say the backup hard drive.

19. How often do you have a romantic weekend?
Since I can’t peg a number off the top of my head, I’ll say, “I wish it was more often”.   Logistics are the limiter, here.

20. Do you think more about the past, present or future?
The unreal.

21. What was the last adult magazine that you have read?
Playboy; I think it was a Harlan Ellison short?

22. What are you told about your eyes?
They’re in my head.  Seriously, that’s the last thing someone told me about my eyes (also Hannah).

23. How tall is just right?
For what?  If I’m playing basketball, I’m wishing I was 7′.  Most other times, that’d be too dang tall.  Kitty seems to be the right size whether she’s wearing flats or heels, so I’ll say, “However tall Kitty is at the moment”.

24. Where is your dream house located?
On an island.  It’s not a house, it’s a lair.

25. Do you have a secret fetish?
This is not the proper medium to discuss.

26. Have you tried bourbon? If yes, what type?
I don’t easily trust a man who won’t have a drink with me.

27. Have you ever seen a male or female stripper?
Yes.  Bachelor parties are typically rather stupid, but culturally traditional.  I didn’t have a stripper at mine, but I’ve been to enough of them that the intersection of “bachelor parties I’ve been to” and “bachelor parties with strippers” is not the null set.

28. When was the last time you were at TGI Fridays?
Forever ago.  We used to go a lot in college.

29. When was the last time you were at Church?
At Church?  Or at Mass?

30. Where was the furthest place you traveled today?
Home-to-work.  2.5 miles.

31. What was your favorite job?
Vacuuming Grandma’s house.  She was a good boss.

33. Bud is hosting Thursday Thunks this week. Will you play?
Nope. Don’t know Bud.  Not sure where Bud is.

34. Do you look like your mom or dad?
Both.  Neither.  I dunno, ask Meg?  I don’t look like what I think I look like, so it stands to reason I don’t know how much I look like anybody else.

35. Who was the last person that you showered with (it’s okay to leave out the name)?
Too many of these memes are obviously written by single people.

Posted July 14, 2010 by padraic2112 in memes, noise

The Iron Law of Confirmation Bias   2 comments

Ben Goldacre posts over on Bad Science about the distressing tendency of people to reject that which does not confirm their already-held beliefs.

Their views on each issue were added together to produce one bumper score on the extent to which they thought science could be informative on all of these questions, and the results were truly frightening. People whose pre-existing stereotypes about homosexuality had been challenged by the scientific evidence presented to them were more inclined to believe that science had nothing to offer, on any question, not just on homosexuality, when compared with people whose views on homosexuality had been reinforced.

When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate bid to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken. This is an interesting finding. But I’m not sure it makes me very happy.

This is in and of itself not a terribly astonishing finding (depressing though it may be).  There is a very large body of evidence to show that people are resoundingly poor at objectively measuring evidence using a consistent standard.

Simply put, if a study has a conclusion with which you agree, you tend to ignore the limitations of the study and place more trust in the conclusion.  If a study with the same exact design has a conclusion with which you disagree, you have a tendency to focus on the limitations of the study and place less trust in the conclusion.

Even if the methodology is precisely the same.  Depressing, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, this tendency is not minimized by intelligence quotient.  Smart people, as I’ve said before elsewhere on this blog, are not guaranteed to be wise.  As I observed over the weekend to the pater familias, people who have invested huge quantities of time and training in a field (and thus have a justifiable belief in their own expertise in that field) unfortunately have a tendency to assume that competence possesses fantastic osmotic capabilities.

Which is fascinating, as they’d jump straight to how much work they had to complete to gain basic competency in their own field as a justification for their position for their beliefs in their field… but the expertise acquired by someone else through their own study of some other field is trumped by… well, I’m not really sure.  The “obvious truth”, I suppose.

People who are mathematical mavens assume that they understand economics better than they actually do.  People who are biologists assume that they understand psychology better than they actually do.  Successful politicians assume that they can understand engineering, everybody assumes they understand everybody’s theology, and so on.

You see this a lot when you start arguing about the philosophy of science.  Scientists, as a class, make fun of other fields in order of their likelihood to line up with postivist standards of measure.  Mathematicians famously make fun of scientists (and the philosophers make fun of the mathematicians).  I’ve thrown this XKCD comic up before, it’s a classic which illustrates the situation fairly well:

Sadly, as you move away from mathematics towards physics, you move away from an axiomatic system to constructive empiricism.  You lose truth, but you gain facts, something I’ve mentioned before.  The problem, of course, is that your facts are based upon your ability to observe, which is largely contingent upon the accuracy of your measurements.  The farther away from physics you go, the more uncertainty you get in your measurements, and the more qualifications you need to put upon your observations (which has the distressing tendency to produce the, “Social scientists aren’t *real* scientists” attitude among the hard science crowd).

This follows, of course, when you have a biologist who has a particular ideological stance, but some whippersnapper sociologist comes along and challenges that ideological stance.  The biologist, of course, depends upon science for their livelihood, so they can hardly disclaim science.  They can cheerfully disclaim sociology.

The point?

You know, I’m really not sure I’m going to bother to say.  If you’re reading this, and you agree with me, you’re already going to know what the point is.

And if you don’t, you’re going to disagree with the point, right?

Posted July 7, 2010 by padraic2112 in philosophy, rants, science, Uncategorized