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How to buy the best possible audio system (for the least amount of money)
04:07 pm



Buying audio equipment is an addiction for some people (99.99999999999% of these “people” being male people, of course). Although it is perhaps a more respectable addiction than either drugs or alcohol, and less expensive than gambling, it is, at its root, still an illness. For once you begin climbing on the ladder of high fidelity audio… they’ve got their hooks in you. You’re never satisfied, because there’s always something better. Buy that better amp and it’ll just expose the weakness of your speakers. The solution? Better speakers! But those new speakers don’t really blend well with your subwoofer, do they, which now sounds kinda flabby, doesn’t it? Finally you simply can’t take it anymore and replace your sub with a better one… Repeat this process several times per decade, if not annually. The story ends with the death of the audioholic or else said audioholic’s better half putting her foot down on his headphones while he’s wearing them.

That said, high fidelity audio equipment, like HDTV sets, is getting waaaaay cheaper while quality and performance is going up, up, up. A $10,000 stereo system purchased in the late 1990s is nowhere near as good as what you can buy for a fraction of that today. Over the years, I’ve owned gear from Marantz, Pioneer’s Elite line, Sony’s ES series, Carver, Klipsch, Hafler, Rotel, Harmon-Kardon, Boston Acoustics, Polk Audio, Yamaha, Philips, Panasonic and others. I am by no means an “expert” but I do research this stuff obsessively and keep up with what actual experts have to say. And I look a lot at the Amazon rankings and reviews because the group mind is seldom wrong in consumer reviews (and where do you go to demo and hear this kind of equipment in action anymore? Depending on where you live, it might take a leap of faith).

Recently a friend of mine asked my advice on building his sound system and this is the gist of what I told him…

First off, you’ll note that I’m keeping turntables out of the equation entirely. I disagree with the likes of Neil Young and others, who feel that vinyl is superior to digital. It’s not. No audio engineer thinks that. Young told a reporter at the CES show that “[vinyl is] the only place people can go where they can really hear.” Bullshit. It’s where you can really hear pops, clicks and dusty grooves. These things can be tested and measured, of course, it’s not a subjective judgment call. A pressed platter made of a petroleum product with a needle running across it isn’t going to sound as good as a CD, SACD, Blu-ray “Pure Audio” disc or a download from A record will not—will never—have that kind of sonic range.

If you are someone who “feels” vinyl sounds better than a CD, that’s fine by me, but let’s not pretend that the technology is superior. After all, it’s Neil Young himself who is hawking the “high definition audio” 192kHz/24-bit downloads for his PONO device. His was the first major artist Blu-ray box set, too, so his message seems muddled at best. Nevertheless, Young should applauded for at least trying to educate the public about better sound quality. He’s done more than any of the major labels ever have, that’s for certain.

So how best to work with the newfangled audiophile formats like Blu-ray audio and HDTracks digital downloads kept on an external disc drive? There’s really only one obvious solution, if you ask me, and that is an OPPO universal Blu-ray player. The top of the line OPPO players are packed full of super high quality features and components like the SABRE32 Reference ES9018, the world’s best performing 32-bit audio DAC for high-end consumer and professional studio equipment, 4K video upscaling and a proper headphone amp. In a word, they are magnificent.

My first bit of advice: Make an OPPO player the centerpiece of ANY home theater AV system. More than a mere universal disc player, it’s a full featured, powerful digital media nerve center/switcher that can even take the place of a high quality pre-amp—there’s simply no longer a need for one—and handle just about any kind of format you can throw at it. This Amazon review gave me a hard on. Read it now and then come on back, I’ll wait.

We all know Apple fanboys, well I’m an OPPO fanboy. Listening to music is one of the greatest pleasures in life and my life noticeably changed for the better the day that my OPPO BDP-105D was delivered. Unboxing it was a lot like getting a new Mac, come to think of it, and the OPPO player’s solid, obviously high quality build is impressive indeed, just like getting your hands on a new Apple product for the first time. (It’s also VERY heavy. When the Fedex guy handed it to me, I wasn’t prepared for this and nearly toppled over.)

Everything I had sounded better on it. I am currently still in the process of rediscovering my entire music collection through fresh ears, and hearing nuances I have never heard before in familiar songs. That’s really a gift, isn’t it? In the event of a fire, after my pets were safe, my OPPO BDP-105D and the drive with my music on it are the very first things I’d grab.

Now the OPPO BDP-105D player is their most expensive model ($1299), a hot-rodded version, if you will, of their OPPO BD 103, with the addition of aforementioned DACS, headphone amp and something called Darbee Visual Presence Technology, which is essentially a subtle drop shadow/luminance value effect that brings out insane levels of extra fine details of an 1080 line video signal (something users of HD projectors will REALLY notice, especially with wide shots) and even improves upon standard definition video sources. (Here’s a video that explains how Darbee works.)

Bear in mind that a good outboard DAC can cost $1000 and a decent headphones amp about the same or more. If you’re on the more demanding team of audiophiles, you’ll have to have the BDP-105D—it’s drool-worthy—but the rest of the OPPO line are pretty damned amazing, too and are priced starting at around $499 for the OPPO BDP-103 (a decent VHS player cost $600 in the mid-1980s for some perspective) and $599 for the OPPO BDP-103D with Darbee Visual Presence (a stand-alone Darblet costs $200).

As I was saying at the start, acquiring a better component—and let’s face it, the OPPO BDP-105D player is the ultimate better component—can expose the weaknesses of your system. The OPPO line features 4K video upscaling so you’re going to want a receiver that can handle 4K too and that would mean something introduced to the AV market in the past year or so. If I was going to buy a new, mid-priced receiver right now, I might go with something like the Onkyo TX-NR636 which has really nice specs, sounds great, handles Dolby Atmos multidimensional sound and is 4K video ready. If you are buying a new receiver today, you’d want something that won’t become obsolete too quickly and the Onkyo TX-NR636 is a popular model that’s a great value (it lists for $600 but Amazon sells it for around $430) and about as “future proof” as you are going to find today considering that 4K sets are about to become the next new thing in home entertainment. It’s even got a phono stage if you want to hook up a turntable.

(Some of you reading this might get sniffy at the idea of a mid-priced receiver, but do keep in mind that much of the circuitry present in receivers costing from $300 to $3000 is EXACTLY THE SAME STUFF.)

Which brings me to some utterly amazing—and as these things go, dirt cheap—speakers. A few years ago, Pioneer put out a line of low cost speakers designed by their chief speaker engineer Andrew Jones, a man known for making reference speakers that sell for $70k and now even audiophiles who can afford speakers that are that expensive find themselves preferring his cheap ones. Jones set himself the challenge to make the best possible speaker for the lowest possible price utilizing Pioneer’s vast resources, bulk purchasing power and production chain. The result is that the various models in the line of Andrew Jones Designed speakers have absolutely mind-blowing sound for a fraction of what it normally costs to buy sound gear that is this crazy good. A pair of Jones’ bookshelf speakers—perhaps the best smaller speakers I have ever heard—cost just $127. Two of the towers will set you back around $260, the subwoofer around $156 and the center channel speaker $97, but the sound is pretty priceless if you ask me. Amazon also sells the entire Andrew Jones 5.1 home theater speaker package for $549.

So if you add all of that up, for a totally kickass 5.1 home theater surround system, 4K video ready to boot, it would be around $1500 for a system utilizing the OPPO BDP-103 and $2100 for one built around the OPPO BDP-105D. I think the modded audiophile add-ons of the BDP-105 are well worth it for getting the most out of the newer digital audiophile formats, and the Darbee processing highly desirable for use with HD projectors, but with any OPPO model, you really can’t go wrong.

In conclusion, some of you reading this will think “He’s right, that’s not a bad little system for the money” and others will probably totally disagree with me, although I suspect near universal agreement on the merits of the OPPO BDP-105D, because it’s just that amazing of a device and is, if you ask me, not only a total game-changer in the AV marketplace, but something that should be incorporated into ANY attempt to put together a high quality home theater system. (They rated the hell out of an OPPO BDP-105D on Audioholics, tests which showed levels of distortion almost too low to measure. It’s so close to perfection already that it would almost be impossible to improve on its specs… well, for years to come.)

Quibble with the details in the comments, please do, but I think I gave my pal some damn good advice. Although the price is certainly right, this is no mere “entry level” audio system that I suggested—with all of his money Tom Cruise can’t buy a better universal media player than an OPPO BDP-105D and neither can you.

*Fun fact, our own Marc Campbell’s video rental store in Taos, NM was the first authorized OPPO retailer. These days Marc’s the proprietor of The Sound Gallery in Austin, TX, probably the world’s largest retail selection of vintage audio gear.

Below, a reviewer from AudioHead on the OPPO BD 105.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Did the Beatles’ inventor promise to build them a flying saucer?
06:57 am


The Beatles
Magic Alex

Magic Alex and John Lennon, 1968
If you’ve ever read a biography of the Beatles, you’ve probably come across the name of Alexis Mardas, or “Magic Alex,” as John Lennon called him. Mardas worked in electronics—Bob Spitz’s Beatles biography claims Alex was working as a TV repairman when he met the band—and the Beatles put him in charge of Apple Electronics, a company that was to have marketed Mardas’ inventions.

According to the books, Magic Alex was full of gear and fab ideas for the lads from Liverpool. Here’s one Ringo remembers: “He had this one idea that we all should have our heads drilled. It’s called trepanning. Magic Alex said that if we had it done our inner third eye would be able to see, and we’d get cosmic instantly.” My buddy Joel looked it up on wikiHow, and I am undergoing the procedure as I type this.

John Lennon and Donovan at Magic Alex’s wedding
When the New York Times called Mardas a “charlatan” in 2008, he sued the paper and issued a nine-page statement in which he attempted to set the record straight about his activities at Apple Electronics, his alleged role in the Beatles’ break with Maharishi, and the goodness of his name in general. (“As a result of these connections,” Mardas writes of his subsequent work manufacturing electronics, body armor and armored cars for governments around the world, “I developed personal friendships with the kings of Greece, Jordan, Spain, Morocco, and with the President of Egypt and the Prime Minister of Canada.”)

The whole statement is entertaining, but point fourteen is a special treat. In that section, to address “various allegations made by certain persons as to alleged promises by me to invent certain fantastical products,” Mardas enumerates every crazy gadget he is supposed to have pitched to the Fabs. I haven’t been able to read this list through once without laughing out loud. Can you?

I have never promised nor discussed, let alone try to invent any of the following:

14.1   an X-ray camera which could see through walls;

14.2   a force field which would surround a building with coloured air so that no one could see in.

14.3   a force field of compressed air which could stop anyone driving into one’s car;

14.4   a house which could hover in the air suspended on an invisible beam;

14.5   wall paper which could plug into a stereo system and operate as a “loudspeaker”;

14.6   an artificial sun which was intended to hover over Baker Street and light up the sky during the gala opening of the Beatles clothes shop, the “Apple Boutique” on 4th December 1967.

14.7   Magic paint which would make objects it was painted on invisible;

14.8   Electrical paint which could be plugged into a wall and would light up the room;

14.9   A flying saucer made from the V12 engines from George Harrison’s Ferrari and John Lennon’s Rolls Royce or

14.10   A force field around Ringo Starr’s drums that would isolate the drum sounds from the rest of the microphones in the studio. In this connection, I once had a discussion with John Lennon about this topic. I said that it was possible, theoretically, to create an ultrasonic barrier generated by ultrasonic transfusers. This would prevent sound travelling over a certain field. I never suggested that I would make such a barrier.

Just what is an ultrasonic transfuser, anyway? For fun, here’s point fifteen from Mardas’ statement:

15. Further, I deny any suggestion that I promised the Beatles in the presence of Liliane Lijn that I could levitate them using “electro magnetism” and also make them “disappear”. For a start, I never met this lady in the presence of any of the Beatles and the suggestion that I could “levitate” anyone is obviously absurd.

When Mardas refers to “certain persons” making these allegations, the Beatles themselves must be included among them. Some of these claims come from Paul, George and Ringo’s own mouths in the Beatles Anthology book. Paul: “He thought of using wallpaper which would act as loudspeakers.” Ringo: “Magic Alex invented electrical paint. You paint your living room, plug it in, and the walls light up!” George: “I was going to give him the V12 engine out of my Ferrari Berlinetta and John was going to give him his, and Alex reckoned that with those two engines he could make a flying saucer.” Faced with Mardas’ strenuous denials, one wonders where the Beatles got all these ideas, and why they attributed them to him.

In the outtake from Magical Mystery Tour below, a person who appears to be Magic Alex allegedly sings “Walls of Jericho.”

Posted by Oliver Hall | Discussion
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Wish you were vaporized: Charming postcards from the atomic age

One of the strange things about the Cold War, especially the first couple of decades, was the outpourings of public enthusiasm over atomic energy. In the abstract, it might not be so odd to celebrate the awesome power of the atom, discovered by brilliant scientists, with the ability, in theory, to solve the species’ energy problems for ever. But in the event, atomic energy was introduced to the public in the near-annihilation of two Japanese cities, and all of the rhetoric around the technology occurred in the context of a deadly game of global brinksmanship between the United States and the USSR. Add to that the scary disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, disasters that the skeptical had been predicting for decades, and it’s hardly possible for happy-go-lucky celebrations of atomic energy to seem anything other than dopey.

These fascinating postcards from the end of WWII up to the 1970s and beyond constitute an irony-free zone.  They come from the dazzling volume Atomic Postcards by John O’Brian and Jeremy Borsos, published in 2011 by the University of Chicago Press. Perhaps the cards represented a kind of “poker face” in the deadly no-blink game of mutual assured destruction between the two Cold War superpowers but also China, Israel, and Japan—if you can write a cheery postcard about it, clearly you are not worried about the deadly destruction your enemies can muster.

At DM we have looked at this side of the Cold War before, when we looked at “Tic, Tic, Tic,” Doris Day’s jaw-dropping ode to the geiger counter in Michael Curtiz’s 1949 movie My Dream Is Yours, which counts among its fans none other than Martin Scorsese.

As Slate’s Tom Vanderbilt writes, “Taken as a whole, the postcards form a kind of de facto and largely cheery dissemination campaign for the wonder of atomic power (and weapons). And who’s to mind if that sunny tropical beach is flecked with radionuclides?”

These pictures are in approximate chronological order, to reflect the progressive phases of wish-you-were-here atomic propaganda.



The is the reverse side of the image above it.




The is the reverse side of the image above it.


More astonishing atomic postcards after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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SWAT! Marky Ramone’s DIY solution to rude dickheads with smartphones at concerts
09:24 am


Marky Ramone

We’ve surely all been there. Enjoying a concert when the asshole right in front of you holds up his/her phone to shoot video, forcing you to watch the event that you’re actually at in miniature on a video screen. Don’t even get me going on the motherfuckers who do that shit with tablets. As a frequent concertgoer, I find that to be among the most annoying of the new etiquette breaches that the smartphone era has ushered in, but—leave it to the old-school—Marky Ramone has the solution! It’s the Cell Phone Swatter, patent and trademark pending, I assume. He’s made a hilarious PSA for it, and for good measure, he gets in a plug for his recent autobiography Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone. It’s short, so I won’t describe/spoil it except to say I don’t think I would go around gluing shit to my vintage Ramones 7"s. Marky’s probably got extras, though.


Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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‘Amazing Stories’: The bizarre-o pulp science fiction artwork of Frank R. Paul
09:24 am

Pop Culture

Frank R. Paul

Frank R. Paul Covers
The hardest part about this post has been deciding which of Frank R. Paul’s mind-bending works of satisfyingly strange science fiction art NOT to feature here on Dangerous Minds. Virtually everything the man touched was oddly compelling. The creative genius behind some of the most delightful pulp magazine cover art in history and widely recognized as the “Father of Science Fiction Illustration,” Paul crafted hundreds of vibrant and wonderfully weird compositions to be used as illustrations for several pioneering science fiction periodicals including Fantastic Adventures, Wonder Stories, Science Fiction and Amazing Stories among many others. 

Some of Paul’s work was collected in a 2013 book called Frank R. Paul: The Dean of Science Fiction Illustration from IDW Publishing. In the portion of the book on trailblazing science fiction publication, Amazing Stories, the chapter’s author, Frank Hill documents Paul’s storied working relationship with influential science fiction publisher Hugo Gernsback. According to Hill, Gersback began publishing Amazing Stories in 1926 after the success of his Science and Invention magazine at a time when there were only two other science fiction magazines available: Argosy and Weird Tales

It’s pretty incredible what you could by for a quarter in those days. Here’s Hill’s description of the first issue of Amazing Stories:

Naturally, the cover and interior illustrations for this issue were supplied by Frank R. Paul, who had been in Gernsback’s employment since around 1914. The new magazine had a distinct look about it, containing ninety-six pages and printed on heavy paper with even heavier cover stock. The whole magazine weighed in at half a pound, measured over a half-inch thick, and contained stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, among others.

With Frank R. Paul working as illustrator, Amazing Stories quickly became very successful according to Hill, reaching a distribution of 100,000 readers. Ray Bradbury once said: “Paul’s fantastic covers for Amazing Stories changed my life forever.” 

Frank R. Paul was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009.

I did the absolute best I could in matching the images below with the publications in which they originally appeared, and I hope that I wasn’t too egregiously off on any of these.
Tetrahedra of Space
“Tetrahedra of Space,” November, 1931 Wonder Stories Cover
Air Wonder Stories Frank R. Paul
Air Wonder Stories Front Cover August, 1929
Wonder Stories Cover, February, 1933 Frank R. Paul
Wonder Stories Cover, February, 1933
Much more after the jump…

Posted by Jason Schafer | Discussion
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The AMAZING $20 cure for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and wrist pain
02:45 pm


Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Okay, so this post has nothing to do with the topics normally considered to be within our wheelhouse—no punk rock, cult films or other avant garde zaniness here—but if you or someone you know suffers from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or severe tendonitis from working on a computer all day, read on, I hope this will be of (great and lasting) benefit.

As the editor of a blog and a small business owner, I’m generally online most of the day and it’s not at all unusual for me to be at a keyboard for twelve hours at a time with few breaks. I fit into the category of extreme workaholic, but since around May of last year, my body has been trying to send me a message I wasn’t heeding: a painful tendonitis afflicting my right hand and arm due to squeezing a mouse and right-clicking all day. It went very quickly (a matter of weeks) from being a minor but persistent irritation to becoming a “9” out of ten on the pain scale. From my wrist to my elbow, my inner arm felt raw, red and swollen.

The top of my hand was worse, with my “mouse finger” feeling like it was soon going to become useless altogether, as in my hand felt like it was on the verge of no longer functioning much like a hand anymore. Not only did it really hurt when I was working, even when I was away from my desk, it made common activities like washing dishes, opening a car door, brushing my teeth or even wiping my ass excruciatingly painful. Anything I had to grip at the gym was a problem. I began to wonder how much longer I could take doing what I do for a living before I had to go on a long break, or get an operation or some sort of physical therapy.

I mean it really sucked. BIGTIME. And no one ever feels sorry for you for having a repetitive strain disorder unless they’ve been troubled with it themselves. You seem fine, and you look just fine, but the reality is, it’s super depressing when you lose the proper use of your hand and your livelihood itself causes you lots and lots of pain. A little over three weeks ago, I dropped and smashed a Coke bottle in the shop around the corner. It slipped right out of my hand as I stood in line and exploded on the floor. It was embarrassing enough, but I’d dropped something equally messy the day before in the very same shop. I didn’t even feel it slip out of my grip. Like I say, depressing!

After that I decided to get aggressive and went online to research my options. The first advice you read—and it’s sage wisdom—is to STOP doing whatever it is that you are doing that is causing the problem in the first place (i.e. what I was doing at that very minute). That’s great advice if you don’t have to worry about making a living, but unsatisfying for those of us who do.

A lot of the advice centered around alternate keyboards and ergonomic mice. To that end, I bought the RollerMouse Red “ergonomic mouse-central pointing device” from Contour, which reviewed very well and came with a money back guarantee and free FedEx shipping. It’s not cheap, but it made a significant difference and I found it easy to get used to. I liked it so much that I bought an ergonomic mouse from Contour as well, which I loved at first, but then came to find that it made my problem even worse than it already was. (This is not to say the same would happen for you. Contour Design’s product line is very, very well-thought out and I am using the RollerMouse Red to type this.)

Nearly ready to admit defeat, as of three or four weeks ago, I was starting to investigate speech recognition software and picking up the phone again for the first time in years instead of writing email. I bought another mouse that’s shaped like a pen, an Anker vertical mouse (which I like and use, but it’s not perfect) and one that works sort of like a joystick. Nothing really produced any sort of improvement (save for the RollerMouse Red) let alone a breakthrough.

Reading on Amazon about the various CTS “splint glove” arm guard options and then realizing that most people say they don’t work at all (which seems obvious the minute you put one on) I kept clicking until I came across the inexpensive M BRACE RCA. It was $20 and had amazing reviews. Why not? If it brought ANY relief whatsoever, it was worth more than 20 bucks and if it turned out to be snake oil, it was only 20 bucks. Despite the stellar reviews, my hopes were muted.

The M BRACE RCA is a Velcro-fastened wristband with an angled plastic piece that’s meant to fit over your wrist. THAT’S IT. My first thought was “How’s this going to work?” I looked at the box for instructions or any information about it, but all it basically said was “make a fist, pull strap tight, but not too tight, fasten” The packaging really offered… not much of anything.

I put it on at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon. I remained skeptical and I was annoyed at first by the feel of the plastic brace on my wrist. Within a few hours I noticed not just a slight reduction in pain, but actually a significant change! I had cause for optimism if this unassuming device could work that fast.

The next morning I woke up and forgot about the M BRACE RCA until my throbbing tendonitis quickly reminded me of it. I put the wristband back on and spent the entire workday nearly pain free. If I had to quantify the situation, the pain went from being a “9” (the cusp of unbearable / “I can’t take this anymore!!!” territory) to a “2.5” in LESS than 24 hours.

It was crazy. It was totally unexpected. I felt like doing the happy dance of joy it was such a major RELIEF.

The Amazon Marketplace dealer who sold me the M BRACE RCA sent an email offering to mail me, at no additional charge, padding for the M BRACE RCA should I find that it was irritating (it doesn’t) and directing me to his quite extensive explanation of how he came to find out about the M BRACE RCA himself and how it works to the actual patent application filed by the inventor, Dr. Mark A. Davini, DC, a Boston-based chiropractor.

It’s been three weeks, maybe a little longer now since I got my M BRACE RCA. The tendonitis pain has gone from a “9” to a “2.5” and today, as I type this, I’d say it’s about a “1” on the pain scale. Maybe less. The M BRACE RCA basically does one thing: it prevents your wrist from being flexible enough to cause a repetitive strain injury (RSI) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. You’re forced to work slightly differently (without curtailing movement much) but this makes all the difference. It also creates the space to allow the wrist’s median nerve to heal, which for me continued rapidly for over a week until I was virtually pain free.

I don’t want to make this post overlong because I want the message to be simple: Try this thing, like I did. It costs practically nothing and if it doesn’t work for you, who cares, you’re not out very much. It worked GREAT for me and for most of the reviewers on Amazon.

Additionally, I wanted to stress how getting rid of the mouse, or more specifically switching to the Contour RollerMouse Red (which requires no constant gripping, you could probably operate it wearing oven mitts) really helped in my case. Without the M BRACE RCA I wouldn’t be saying that, but I have noticed that when I use my Anker vertical mouse for too long—or not even that long at all—it starts to hurt again. For me, the ideal combination is the M BRACE RCA, the Contour RollerMouse Red and a standing desk, but without a doubt, the M BRACE RCA was the primary and most important factor in my own (speedy!) recovery from severe tendonitis.

If you take my advice about the M BRACE RCA and find that it works for you, too, consider leaving advice for others in the comments and spreading the word about this simple, cheap and nearly instantaneously cure for RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and even severe tendonitis brought on by spending too much time on a computer.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Gramovox: The Bluetooth gramophone for the douchey anachronistic hipster music fan in your life
03:35 pm



I tend to have a pretty unsentimental perspective on “media,” as opposed to art. Beyond preferring books to e-readers (mostly for the comfort of a spatial division of text), I find a lot of media nostalgia pretty hokey, vinyl-obsession included. Don’t get me wrong, I love my records, but the quality of my favorites have definitely deteriorated over time—those “warm” crackles and pops are fine by me, but they’re hardly integral to the song. If an album is good, it’s not “ruined” by a decent transfer to digital—although a lot of that obsession with “quality” is bullshit, too, and certain things, like old sci-fi movies, can look pretty ticky-tacky after hyper-clear Blu-ray transfer. As unsympathetic as I am to pining for giant and expensive music collections, I understand that people have their preferences for a myriad of reasons—different strokes and all that.

The Bluetooth gramophone however, is where I draw the line.

First of all, gramophones sound shitty. If you have ever heard one, it’s novel and it’s interesting, but they’re tinny, and the recording is buried under a soft static of white noise. That is why the technology has been improved upon since Edison. Second of all, no one in the target market for this thing legitimately nostalgic for the gramophone, and no one who DID actually grow up with one is thrilled they’re making a retrofitted comeback! If they’re even alive, it’s more likely they’re surprised you’d eschew technological and space-saving advances in favor of dumbshit retro aestheticism. You’ll notice in the product description, very little attempt is made to justify the design from an audiophile perspecticve:

The Gramovox Bluetooth Gramophone is a bold design with a vintage sound inspired by the 1920s horn speakers. Use any Bluetooth-enabled device to stream nostalgia and experience the vintage, organic sound of a gramophone. Utilizing the latest Bluetooth 4.0 technology, the Gramovox Bluetooth Gramovphone has a range of over 30 feet and battery life of 15 hours, meaning it can easily be controlled from across the room all day.

Is the novelty of a “vintage” sound really worth a product that was designed to look cool, rather than sound good? Or are people just so nostalgic nowadays that “vintage” automatically translates to “good”? Some vintage things sucked! Ever hear of… progress? So if you’re trying to sell this boondoggle of a speaker, you’d better do better than, “It looks like what your grandpappy had!” or “Make your music sound shitty!” Oh and their commercial! Dear god, the that fucking commercial!

I try so hard not to use the word “hipster,” since half the time it’s just code for a thinly-veiled homophobia sneered by some meathead in cargo pants who would have beat the shit out of Richard Hell back in the day for “dressing queer,” but man—this thing was funded on Kickstarter and goes for $400 at Urban Outfitters? If you want a beautiful historic object in your home, why not just buy an actual antique gramaphone?

I can’t possibly think of anything less cool than this thing! Hipster, heal thyself!

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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Dirty Teletext pages from Germany
12:25 pm



This lady has an “Apfelpo”—that is, a butt like an apple
These images require some clarification. Roughly a decade before the rise of the World Wide Web in 1995, citizens of Germany and Austria (I’m not sure where else) could access through their TV sets a digital mode of information dissemination known as Teletext, a system that had been developed in the U.K. during the 1970s. If you had the right kind of TV with the right kind of remote control—and they weren’t uncommon at all, loads of German speakers know about this—you could switch your TV into an interactive mode where you could dial up certain basic, updated information such as headlines, weather information, sports scores, traffic updates, and even flight departures and arrivals at airports.

Many channels (ZDF, 3sat, etc.) have their own Teletext systems, and by punching in “100” you could get the homepage; other 3-digit numbers would be displayed on the screen for other forms of information, and if you typed in one of those numbers, you would get a page dedicated to this or that story or perhaps a list of cities and temperatures or the like. What was charming about it was that it was pretty resolutely low-bit—the screens would often use a crude form of ASCII art for logos. Furthermore, the system scarcely seemed to change over time—during an era in which incredible resources were being thrown into improving and maximizing browser technologies, poky old Teletext just stayed the same year after year. You could look at a Teletext display from today, and it would look about the same as an equivalent display from 1990. The fact that Europe was so far ahead of the U.S. on such matters was not lost on me, I would sometimes tell Americans, prone to gushing about U.S. tech superiority, about it.

I’ve spent a lot of my life in Austria, particularly in the pre-WWW years of 1992 to 1995, when I lived in Vienna full-time (although I didn’t own a TV set), so all of my associations with Teletext are uniformly from that country. Here’s a “normal” Teletext screen from ORF, the Austrian news organization, with headlines (Schlagzeilen) about military helicopters (101), terror arrests in France (127), Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann (115), a demonstration in Leipzig (133), something about the Swiss Franc (117), and Argentina (134).

Every one of those numbers will lead to a “story” that is parceled out in screens of no more than 12 or 15 lines at a time, and maybe 35 characters across. It’s a little like trying to read a newspaper on a clam phone—it’ll do in a pinch, but not really satisfying. Useful as Teletext may be—and it is useful—it’s also unremittingly boring. Once you find out about the immediate news you were seeking, there’s almost no way to spend more than about 10 minutes fiddling with Teletext on the TV.

I didn’t know until today that there exist XXX pages on Teletext, when some of them popped up on a blog I sometimes look at, text-mode, which is dedicated to ASCII art and anything that has a remote resemblance to pixelated art (certain kinds of weaved tapestries, for instance).

I found these Teletext pages funny, and I thought you might as well. If it’s not entirely obvious, these are ads for phone sex workers

I suspect that the numerical string “80085” does not require translation, but for those of you without a calculator, it’s “boobs.”

“AV-Spass” = “AV fun,” where “AV” means “Analverkehr” or nevermind…

“Dauergeile” means “constantly horny,” “stute” means “mare,” so it’s like you’re boning horny mares. Eesh.
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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This is what the bacteria that lives on your cell phone looks like
05:42 am



This week the University of Surrey in England released images of the types of bacteria that live on cell phones.

Scientist at the university put their phones in petri dishes containing agar—a gelatinous substance, obtained from algae that is supplemented with nutrients—to document the bacteria’s growth over three days. Though the images look gross most of the bacteria are harmless, and the final photos give a close-up view of the microscopic world with which we all intimately interact on a daily basis.

The most troublesome bacterium found was staphylococcus aureus that can cause skin rash, respiratory disease and food poisoning. The boffins at Surrey thought the staphylococcus aureus contamination had been caused by someone picking their nose.

Dr. Simon Park, senior lecturer in molecular biology told the Daily Mirror:

“From these results, it seems that the mobile phone doesn’t just remember telephone numbers, but also harbours a history of our personal and physical contacts such as other people, soil and other matter,” he said.

“[The experiment] was a way of showing [our students] directly and quite strikingly how contaminated their phones could be.”

The best advice to stopping this kind on bacteria thriving on your smart or cell phone is simply to clean it every week with some disinfectant.
Via Daily Mirror.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘American Psycho’ babble: E-mails from Patrick Bateman

In 2000, online marketing of Hollywood movie releases was in its infancy. Does anyone remember the Beast, the online alternate-reality puzzle that was created to promote the Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubirck movie A.I.? That was in 2001. A year earlier, Lions Gate Films, tasked with distributing the Mary Harron’s movie American Psycho, created an online advertising campaign in which you could sign up to receive emails from the movie’s psychotic protagonist, Patrick Bateman. The emails were helpfully collected by and have been posted online by a man named Brian Kotek.

The book American Psycho has had a remarkable journey since its incredibly controversial release in 1991. I can’t think of another case in which a book was so shunned by the publishing community—Ellis had always been considered somewhat suspect, a flash in the pan, by New York publishing types, and when his third novel turned out to be a deadpan account of a psycopathic day trader, the New York publishing community, as one, decided they weren’t interested in plumbing the work for irony. The novel was acquired by Simon & Schuster, but the company dropped the project because of “aesthetic differences.” Vintage Books then purchased the rights to the novel and published the book. Essentially, the novel was unjustly treated as …, shall we say, a piece of disgusting pornography when in fact sensitive adults should have been perfectly able to differentiate between that kind of titillation and a more nuanced critique of American capitalism or of the violence of life in America. However IMO the negative perception of Ellis by people in the publishing world, overly eager to serve him his comeuppance, blocked that option.

When the movie was later adapted by Harron, the feminist-identifying (and British) director of I Shot Andy Warhol, that considerably helped resuscitate the book’s image and make it easier to see it as a deliciously nasty jape rather than a soulless exercise in sadism, which it never was in the first place. The movie has become something of a cult item, and Patrick Bateman (particularly for a passage in the book, repeated in the movie, relating his adoring attitude towards Huey Lewis) has become a favorite in memes, to the point that Weird Al Yankovic and Huey Lewis filmed a parody of the American Psycho scene for Funny or Die! in 2013.

This image comes from one of the Patrick Bateman emails.
The emails were not written by Ellis, but Ellis did approve them, so it’s not a stretch to consider the content of the emails as canon—at the time, they were touted as an “e-quel” to the novel (gag). In the emails we are transported from the heady world of the late 1980s to the year 2000, the present tense for the email recipients, and it turns out that Bateman did indeed marry Jean, his secretary. They have a son (Patrick Jr.) and he would like to get a divorce. Bateman’s attitude in the emails is more or less that of a truth-telling asshole, pretty much what you’d expect of a shallow, aggressive day trader who has literally gotten away with a handful of brutal murders. The emails are quite well written. We’re excerpted two of them here, but you can read ‘em all at this website.

Sun 3/26/00 4:45 PM
Subject: 10 Things I Hate

I Hate False Hope.

Don’t tell me everything will be fine when you know in advance that it won’t.

I Hate Bad Service.

You’re an Actor, fine. Go sleep with a Producer, and allow a trained professional to filet my Salmon.

I Hate people who refer to themselves in the third person.

It’s only acceptable if you’re already dead, as in the opening scene of “Sunset Boulevard.”

I Hate Davis Ferguson.

I believe I’ve already touched on that.

I Hate Bad Albee.

Don’t bring up your inner demons to share with the others at the table. We really don’t care to know if you’re afraid of Virginia Woolf. Stay home and freak out. Buy a Chainsaw.

I Hate The Work of Jean Michel Basquiat.

Let’s see what he could do sober.

I Hate Politicians Who Comb Over Their Bald Spots.

If you are going to lie about the state of your own head, how can anybody trust anything you have to say about anything important?

I Hate False Modesty.

Why bother?

I Hate Beggars.

They CAN be choosers, like in choose to get a job.

I Hate Not Being Understood.

Do I make myself clear?

I Hate Davis Ferguson.

All right, that’s 11.

Virtually yours,
Patrick Bateman

This next one is a personal favorite of mine because Bateman shows off his music criticism skills, which won him so much favor when he applied them to Huey Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square.”

Tue 4/4/00 1:21 PM
Subject: The Hills Are Alive

In spite of Rap Artists’ protests to the contrary, music today, for the most part, has lost it’s soul. Actually, “Killed” is a better word, for the call to violence that is such an integral part of today’s music betrays what music was meant to be. From the first caveman who noticed the haunting chant of the wind over an entrance to his cave, all the way to the most contemporary interpretations of techno-pop by artists such as Tangerine Dream, music is meant to glorify life—to be a treat for the soul, an exclamation point, an expression of hope, a celebration. Not an outlet for hate.

The mood and needs of a Society are best expressed by the work of the Artists of the day, who speak for a people better than any politician or pundit.

Bob Dylan expressed the need for self-evaluation during Vietnam. Cole Porter spun fantasies as the world faced depression. Elvis liberated the youth of America born during a time of War. The Beatles were perhaps the world’s first cultural happening, bringing together the children of the world across the boundaries of geography and culture.

Madonna doesn’t just sing about freedom for women. She IS freedom for women. It is fascinating that after the turn of the Millennium, the world has found a renewed appreciation for artists such as Burt Bacharach and Santana, comfort food for the ears.

Meatloaf, if you will, both literally and figuratively.

Virtually yours,
Patrick Bateman


Another image from the Patrick Bateman emails.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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