Watches I have known

I got a new watch. Again. I bought my last watch in 2001. There was nothing wrong with it. However, Casio brought out a new version that drops the moon phase and tide graph, and instead has 5-band radio atomic clock synchronization. As you can see, it’s not a major departure, visually speaking. The function of the buttons is slightly rearranged, the actual time is larger and easier to read, the time zones don’t have editable names, and the alarm now has a snooze function.

Phone vs watch

I gather that increasing numbers of people these days use their cell phone to tell the time, and don’t bother with a watch. However, the watch is fighting back. Behold, the quad band GSM phone in a wristwatch, with Bluetooth (so you can pair it with a headset for phone use) and OLED display showing analog hands. Plus 1.3MP camera, kinetic battery recharge, and MP3 player. At 13mm thick it’s still pretty bulky, but not much worse than my Casio G-Shock.

One billion heartbeats

One of the defining features of mammals is the four chambered heart. A curiosity of biology is that all mammals have more or less the same lifespan, if you measure it in heartbeats: one billion beats, give or take a billion.

If you’re a large mammal, like an elephant, your heart beats slowly, and you live many years. If you’re a mouse, your tiny heart beats far faster, and you’re lucky to live more than a handful of years. If you’re a human, your heart usually beats around 70 times a minute. Mine is a little different. It likes to throw in an extra beat here and there.

À la carte TV myths

The controversy over à la carte cable and satellite programming keeps resurfacing. The basic problem is that cable prices keep rising, to the point where the basic level of digital cable is over $50 a month in many places. Prices have risen 40% in the last decade.

(As an aside, I’m amazed at the whiners in the UK who complain about paying £126.50 a year for a TV license that gets them the best premium programming from the US, as well as UK TV. I pay $588 a year to get a similar selection.)

Viewers find it galling to pay for a hundred channels when there are only a handful they watch on a regular basis. Hence there has been a campaign to get the FCC to rule that cable and satellite providers must offer the option of à la carte programming, where you can choose to subscribe to only the channels you actually want.

The cable and satellite companies don’t want to see that happen, as it would eat into their fat profits. Since the same companies own a lot of the mainstream media outlets, I’m constantly seeing astroturf coverage explaining why à la carte programming is impossible, would make your cable bills skyrocket, is tantamount to Communism, and so on.

This is my attempt to cut through a lot of the common bullshit spouted on the subject.

“Signs” …point to ‘No’

In a word, avoid. Unfortunately it’s a competently executed movie, at least as far as acting and cinematography—so sadly, I must break with etiquette and provide a synopsis. It’s the only way to explain how truly bad the movie is.

Gadget musings

I notice that 1GB of CompactFlash has dropped to under $100. It’s only a matter of time before it makes sense to replace DV camcorders with flash memory units. With MPEG-4 compression, a unit like the Fisher Sanyo FVD-C1 can record about an hour of NTSC quality video in a GB. (In fact, there are already some pro camcorders which use RAID arrays of CompactFlash, believe it or not.) Sure, DV is cheap, but DV also sucks a lot.

Why Fischerspooner compresses badly

From Remix: Sitting next to his beloved Mac G3 iBook in the cool confines of his Manhattan apartment, Fischerspooner programmer, tuxedo aficionado and one-time classical violinist Warren Fischer has a theory about why electro has staged such a surprising comeback with an audience once enamored of hot house and techno turbulence. “There is a new element of DIY in the electronic-music world,” he explains. “The development of software synths made it easy to reproduce the sounds of expensive equipment.

Reynols “Blank Tapes”

At the weekend I bought a CD: “Blank Tapes” by Reynols. As the title suggests, it’s entirely made from recordings of blank analog audio tapes, dating from 1978 to 1999. The source sound has been processed in various analog and digital ways; because of course, an analog tape is never really silent on playback, even if it’s blank. The result is an ambient soundscape of hissing, screeching, muffled rhythmic throbbing, ocean-like washes, and occasional bursts of distant echoing thunder.