Posts Tagged ‘hardware’

Rather than having to sync music or photos or other data with your multiple iPods/iPhone/iPad, waiting for each device to finish before doing the same job with the next one, you can do it now at least for two devices at the same time with CableJive’s Sync Splitter Cable.

Via SwissMiss

An interesting post by Gizmodo, warning of making specs the basis of purchasing decisions.

Bullshit button, photo by Tristan Nitot/

by Bryan Gardiner,

To measure is to know, said Lord Kelvin. But as marketing departments get more and more creative with their published specifications, what we’re left measuring — and by extension, knowing — about our gear is increasingly worthless.

With the gadget-buying squarely in season, most of us will soon be turning to those ubiquitous columns of numbers, ratios, and percentages before making our final selections. Frequency responses will be consulted, dynamic contrast ratios compared, and color gamuts critiqued — all in an effort to gauge performance, determine value, and quickly pit one product against one another. The only problem? In many cases, you’d better off consulting chicken bones and fingernail clippings. Not only are a growing number of published specs misleading and/or overinflated, some have become downright meaningless. And it’s getting worse.

gizmodo_logoRemember how impressive something like Blast Processing sounded when you were 15? Made the Super Nintendo look downright wimpy, right? Well, spec cooking operates on more or less the same principle. Only instead of inventing empty marketing words manufacturers plop a bunch of faux math in our laps.

These lies and fabrications happen for a few reasons. First, numbers have tremendous sway over the decisions we make. A recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that quantitative specifications are so powerful that, even when given the ability to directly test the attributes of a given product ourselves, we still tend to choose the thing with the longer list and bigger numbers (ahem, megapixels).

Another reason for the proliferation of BS specs? Rivalry.

44 GHz buttons!
“The gadget world is loaded with gimmicks and lies because it’s extremely competitive,” says Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate Technologies. Soneira, who penned what many consider the debunking Bible for display specifications over at MaximumPC, says that as technological complexity increases in the gadget world, it gives manufacturers and marketers even more leeway to futz with the numbers. And futz they do.

“Most consumers don’t understand the technologies anyway so they are easily misled, fooled and even swindled,” he says.

More than anything though, there’s one simple reason behind the rise of dubious specs: It’s become an industry necessity. The temptation to exaggerate is now so overwhelming that attempting to stay out of the gimmick game is now seen as akin to product suicide. Try to anchor your specifications in the real world (with meaningful numbers) and your product will look inferior. Don’t publish them at all, and you’ll look like you’re trying to hide something. It’s an insidious Catch-22 for anyone with an ounce of integrity, so manufacturers and marketers simply make the easy choice.

David Moulton, a veteran audio engineer, musician and producer characterizes the gadget spec situation like this: “When engineers make a product they use specific tests to measure the performance. But when sales departments gets a hold of those test measurements, they start using those numbers as describers of value. They become, in essence, sales arguments.”

So which “sales arguments” should you avoid, dismiss, or at the very least raise a skeptical eyebrow at? We’ve compiled a quick list of some of the more brazen spec gimmicks to be wary of this holiday season.


Color Gamut

400% color gamut!What it is: This spec represents the range of colors a given display can produce, and is usually expressed as a percentage of a particular color standard, like Rec.709 (HDTVs) or sRGB (computers and digital cameras).
Why it’s bullshit: Manufacturers don’t tell you this, but the color gamut you actually want on all of your displays is the same one that was used when the content you’re viewing was created. If it’s different, you’ll see different colors than you’re supposed to see. Nevertheless, most companies are happy to exploit the common misconception that a wider color gamut is somehow indicative of a better display. So what’s up with those 145 percent color gamuts? Nothing special, really. Here’s what a larger gamut will do: make everything look saturated. Indeed displays claiming to have more than 100 percent of any standard color gamut aren’t able to show colors that aren’t in the original source image, says Soneira.

Contrast Ratio

12 thousand trillion:1 contrast ratio!What it is: Divide the brightness of peak white by the brightness of black on a display (after it’s been properly calibrated) and, voila, you’ll get what’s known as the contrast ratio.
Why it’s bullshit: In the real world, this measurement typically falls between 1,500:1 and 2,000:1. And that’s for the best LCDs, says Soneira. But those numbers are a thing of the past. The allure of bigger ratios has prompted manufacturers to bake this specification into a full-fledged nonsense soufflé. Today, we get what’s known “dynamic contrast ratio.” That’s reached by measuring blacks when a display’s video signal is entirely, well, black (when it’s in a standby mode). As you can imagine, that significantly reduces the light output of the unit and is obviously much darker than what’s actually used to determine the traditional contrast ratio with an actual picture present. Using this trick you’ll get, in some cases, astronomical contrast ratios like 5,000,000:1 or, in Sony’s case, “infinite.” While still technically true, this spec is utter nonsense and completely unhelpful in gauging real world performance. The only information that dynamic contrast ratio can relay is how much brighter the whites can be than the blacks.

Response Time

.000001 ms response time!What it is: Also referred to as latency or response rate, response time is a standard industry test that tries to quantify how much LCD motion blur you’ll see in fast moving scenes. (It doesn’t apply much to plasma displays). It’s determined by measuring the time it takes for one pixel to go from black to peak white and then back to black (rise-and-fall). And it’s not a particularly good indicator for real picture blur.
Why it’s bullshit: Consider this. In the span of five short years, display response times have gone from 25ms (milliseconds) to, in some cases, 1ms. How did this magic happen? Well, it kinda didn’t. The problem here, according to Soneira, is that most picture transitions involve much smaller, more subtle shades of gray-to-gray transitions, which usually take much longer (3-4 x) to complete. Those response times are far more important to a display’s ability to handle motion blur. But consumers often have no way of knowing which response time is being measured (gray-to-gray or rise-and-fall). Because the published specifications can have a considerable impact on sales, it is often more important for a manufacturer to reduce the black–to–peak-white–to–black response time value rather than improving the visually more important gray-to-gray transitions. The result? The LCD display with the fastest response time specifications may not have the least visual blur.

Viewing Angle

840 degree viewing angle!What it is: Pretty simple stuff: the maximum angle at which a display can be viewed with acceptable visual performance. Yes, there are generalities about viewing angle that everyone should know: A plasma display, for instance, willyield a wider view angle. But when it comes to the listed angles that manufactures include in spec sheets, you can pretty much ignore them.
Why it’s bullshit: Today, it’s not uncommon to see 180-degree + (total) viewing-angle specifications for many displays. This has absolutely no bearing on the actual acceptable viewing angles, according to Soneira. What most consumers don’t realize is that the angular spec is based on where the contrast ratio falls to a level of 10:1, hardly an acceptable (or visually pleasing) figure. More realistically, an angle of ±45 degrees may reproduce an acceptable contrast ratio, but only with very bright and saturated colors. Pictures that include a wide range of intensities, hues and saturations will appear “significantly degraded” at much smaller viewing angles. Of course, no one tells you this.


Dynamic Range

What it is: In the audio realm, this spec is measured in decibels and describes the ratio of the softest sound to the loudest sound a musical instrument or piece of audio equipment can produce. Audio engineers started worrying about this back in the days of analog recording when tape noise — the inherent noise embedded in magnetic recording — was a big problem. Today, with digital recording, it’s pretty much irrelevant.
Why it’s bullshit: Dynamic ranges are almost always over-represented, says Moulton. The main thing that consumers should known about dynamic range is that you’ll want it large enough so that there are no annoying noise artifacts. And, mostly, in the realm of music and film, we’re just fine. Moulton explains: “Electronically, we can manufacture much greater dynamic range than is available in the real world. When somebody claims 120db dynamic range, that’s just silly. We don’t get there. In the real acoustic world in which we live, our usable range is about half that, or 60db. What that means is that the really soft stuff can’t be heard because of the sounds in the spaces that we’re in. And the really loud stuff is so loud that if we played it back at that level we’d probably generate complaints and legal action.”

Frequency Response/Bandwidth

holographic noise reduction!What it is: There are two parts to this spec, really. First, there’s another word for it, which is bandwidth, or the width of the spectrum we are hearing. Our ears happen to have a very broad bandwidth—ten octaves to be precise (or ten doublings of frequency…or a ratio of 1000/1). The lowest frequency humans hear is about 20 Hz. The highest frequency is about 20 kHz. And for educational and musical purposes we divide that into 10 octaves. Each octave is a doubling of frequency.
Why it’s bullshit: When manufacturers make and sell audio gear, they cheat. Period. Today, it’s very common to specify 20 Hz – 20 kHz bandwidth, which is ridiculous. First, very little audio gear will do that in really rigorous way. Second, you speakers definitely won’t — unless they cost you about as much as the house in which they’re installed. It’s just beyond the capabilities of all but the most expensive equipment. “Frequency response is something that’s kind of claimed and you have to take it with a grain of salt,” says Moulton. “Everybody is going to claim good frequency response and everybody has, more or less, poor frequency response.”

Power Handling/Wattage

What it is: Crank it up! For many of us, beefy power handling equates to house shaking sound. Yet when most of us listen to music we are actually using very little power — typically about 1 or 2 watts. Still, it’s hard to discount that gorgeous pair of 1,200-watt speakers, right?
Why it’s bullshit: Power is, more often than not, irrelevant to most people’s music listening experience. Here’s a nice rule of thumb to think about power when you’re out shopping for a new sound system or speakers: Each doubling of power is barely audible (~3db). Put another way, ten times the power will make a woofer or loudspeaker sound almost twice as loud. So the difference between a 300-watt and a 1200 watt system…actually not so big.

So if more and more specs are offering less and less useful information, what’s a gadget geek to do? When possible, it’s always a good to try out gear yourself. The other option? Find a site you trust that reviews and plays with gadgets daily. You happen to be looking at one now.

Send an email to Bryan Gardiner, the author of this post, at

Photo credit: Tristan Nitot/Flickr

This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.


This clip makes it look easy to replace an iPhone battery. MacWorld on backstage of iFixit during a demo of deconstructing the iPhone 3GS

Steampunk flash drive

Posted: June 12, 2009 in creativity
Tags: ,

steampunk flashdrive

Not that I own any steampunk gadgets or accessories, but I do like them for their mix of old world charm and modern technology. Here’s a good example that my mate Harry forwarded to me (thanks!): a steampunk memory stick. Like many steampunk items, it’s not mass-produced and this one has been sold already – for US$ 165. Pity.

The key is made out of purple heart & has approximately 26 Ruby’s which look great when the key catches the light, & when the Keys plugged into a USB, it glows green from underneath the gears giving the key a good sense of movement.

Via CrunchGear

PRE I haven’t looked at all video leaks and certainly haven’t made any detailed comparisons with the iPhone yet, but overall I’d say the Palm Pre might shape up a more than serious contender to Apple’s success icon. I certainly hope so coz I might be looking for a replacement once my contract is up.

The extract below from Download Squad mentions the Invisible Man as the leaker, and his feature testing leaves a lot to be desired – it would have helped if he had familiarised himself with the Pre emulator before making the videos. The mix of the guy himself exploring the Pre features while filming, the fact that they were running in an emulator and that it’s not clear how far removed their development stage is from the final release makes it a bit difficult to judge them. My feeling is that in some respect the iPhone UI might be more user-friendly in regards to certain features (eg entering calendar appointments), while in other cases (eg web browser) the Pre might have the edge. For a closer look though check out the Download Squad links below:

Over the last few days, a member of the PalmPreForum going by the name of “invisible man” has posted more than 20 videos showing everything from the WebOS web browser to the built in PDF viewer. You can also get an overview of the contacts, calendar, search, and phone applications as well as a first look at applications like YouTube, Google Maps. There’s even a video dedicated to the copy & paste feature.

You can check out a few videos after the break or check out more videos at the PalmPreForum YouTube channel.

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There’s been a lot of hype about users being able to run their Windows XP applications on a virtual machine within the upcoming Window 7. The new Windows Virtual PC though (now available as a beta release for the Windows 7 Release Candidate) requires hardware-assisted virtualization, which means for your PC to run XP Mode in Windows 7, the CPU has to support Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel VT) or AMD Virtualization (AMD-V), and this support has to be enabled in the BIOS.

Under the title “How many Intel CPUs will fail the XP Mode test in Windows 7?“, ZDNet’s Ed Bott has assembled a spreadsheet of Intel processors that will make the cut – and it’s not simply a question of processing power.

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LaCie USB keys

Posted: March 15, 2009 in science & technology
Tags: ,


LaCie offers a range of of USB sticks that would perfectly fit on my keyring; one of them even does have a Micso SD card reader built in.

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A wink, a smile or a raised eyebrow could soon change the music on your iPod or start up the washing machine, thanks to a new Japanese gadget. The device looks like a normal set of headphones but is fitted with a set of infrared sensors that measure tiny movements inside the ear that result from different facial expressions. The gizmo – called the “Mimi Switch” or “Ear Switch” – is connected to a micro-computer that can control electronic devices, essentially making it a hands-free remote control for anything.

“You will be able to turn on room lights or swing your washing machine into action with a quick twitch of your mouth,” said its inventor, Kazuhiro Taniguchi of Osaka University. “An iPod can start or stop music when the wearer sticks his tongue out, like in the famous Einstein picture. If he opens his eyes wide, the machine skips to the next tune. A wink with the right eye makes it go back. “The machine can be programmed to run with various other facial expressions, such as a wriggle of the nose or a smile.”

The Mimi Switch could also store and interpret data and get to know its user, said Taniguchi, chief researcher at Osaka University’s Graduate School of Engineering Science in western Japan. “It monitors natural movements of the face in everyday life and accumulates data,” Taniguchi told AFP in an interview. “If it judges that you aren’t smiling enough, it may play a cheerful song.” Some may use the device for relaxation – perhaps by changing music hands-free while reading a book – but Taniguchi said it could also have more serious applications to make people’s lives safer and easier. “If the system is mounted on a hearing aid for elderly people, it could tell how often they sneeze or whether they are eating regularly,” he said. “If it believes they are not well, it could send a warning message to relatives.”

The device could also serve as a remote control for appliances for physically disabled people, from cameras and computers to air conditioners, or alert medical services if a person has a fit, he said. The Ear Switch follows on from an earlier device called the Temple Switch that was small enough to fit inside a pair of eyeglasses and also read the flick of an eyelid. “As the ear switch is put in the ears, its optical sensors are unaffected by sunlight,” Taniguchi said.

He said he was planning to patent his new device in Japan and abroad, work on a wireless version, and seek corporate funding to market it for practical uses — something he expected might take two or three years.

[AFP via SMH]

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New Scientist, 23. February 2009
by Paul Marks

plasticlogicelectronicreadingdevice-cropGADGET-makers have long promised us a flexible electronic book, but actually producing a robust, bendy screen has proved tough – until now. Plastic Logic, a display technology company based in Cambridge, UK, says it will launch the first flexible electronic book in January.

The two most popular e-books on the market, the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle, are paperback book-sized devices that use first-generation black and white electronic “ink” displays. These consist of a plastic sheet containing pixel-sized voids, each filled with black and white ink particles. Electric fields attract the ink to the top of these voids to display print. The problem is, the transistors that apply these electric fields sit on a layer of glass, making the displays fragile.

Plastic Logic says it has now perfected a way of printing polymer transistors onto a layer of bendy plastic – allowing the screens to flex and bounce. “Screen breakage is the number one complaint with today’s e-reader technology. Our display can take a lot of rough and tumble,” says Joe Eschbach of Plastic Logic.

To produce the transistors, the company prints a droplet of conducting polymer and a surfactant onto the plastic substrate. The surfactant makes the droplet water-repellent, so when a second droplet of polymer – without surfactant – is dropped on top of the first, it slides off and lands next to it, ending up precisely 60 nanometres away because of the size of the droplets. This close proximity is important for producing transistors with fast display switching speeds.

The company says it is now ramping up to commercial production of the screens, which will be just under A4 in size. “It’ll be a much better e-reading experience at this magazine size – keeping layouts and graphics intact without converting them to small and unattractive formats,” Eschbach claims.

The device will have wireless internet connection and a touch screen, allowing use of a virtual keyboard for annotating text. In contrast, the latest Sony Reader has a touch screen but no wireless connection, while the latest Kindle, which was launched this week in the US, connects to a book download store via 3G but wastes screen space with a manual keyboard.


Ever wondered what makes your laptop batteries last longer? Sander Sassen from Hardware Analysis tested a couple of options. Over a period of eight months he used two identical notebooks. One has been connected to the power adapter all the time, being used for approximately eight hours every day, the other has had its battery drained and recharged, usually once a day, but has also been running for eight hours every day.

The results: the notebook that has been connected to the mains has a flat battery now, allowing about ten to twenty minutes worth of battery power before going on standby. The notebook that has had its battery cycled does not offer the plus four hours of battery life it used to give, but is still good for more than three hours of use.

While not necessarily conclusive given the small sample, it seems that having the laptop more often than not connected to the power supply could very well be putting more wear on the battery than actually draining it fully and recharging it once or twice a day. Maybe notebook manufacturers should make mention of this! But then: given the money they make on overpriced batteries, why would they tell us!