Sunday, November 26, 2006

Silly FAQs / Shure Earphones

I'm doing some research on the Core 2 Duo system that I'll be building. So far I've completed research on the motherboard/processor, and am still left with the graphics card, hard drive, memory, monitor, sound card and chassis. Before getting the sound card, I'm also considering buying a Shure microphone in the future, and so needed to know more about the configuration and sound card needed to make this happen. Shure has a great resource for that: their Frequently Asked Questions section. It's probably the most readable and enjoyable FAQ I've yet come across. It just feels like there's a straight-talking human answering the questions, and not some manager from the PR department. I periodically go there to read, just for fun. Consider this question, which was answered.
Should we bang on mic to see if it's on? Please settle a matter for us. We need a professional opinion. We have Shure SM58 microphones at our church for our praise team to use. Is it ever ok, when checking sound, to bang on a mic to see if it’s on. If not on these models, on any mics?
Mind you, this question is from the professional products FAQ section, and not the consumer section. Now, if you work in the FAQ department, how would you answer this question from a customer who is supposed to be a sound professional? I'd probably go like this: Are you nuts?! What kind of ridiculous question is that? Do you bang on your mobile phone to see if it's working? Would you kick your computer if it crashes? You do know that banging the mic voids the warranty. So sure, go ahead, make my day. Bang it to see if it's on. You think I care? Of course not, for you'll be getting a new Shure soon enough. I like that idea, a lot. Well, the official answer, typed with a straight face, is:
No, you should not. It will not hurt the microphone, but you stand a chance of damaging your loudspeakers. Instead, try snapping your fingers in front of the mic.
I love it when silly questions are answered by nice people. Someone said the only stupid question is the one not asked. Why is it, then, that people don't like to ask silly questions? The first reason is that they are afraid that they would be scolded (or get some form of disapproval from peers). Problem is, this starts the vicious cycle. A person who wants to ask a silly question obviously doesn't know the answer. And if the person doesn't know the answer to a simple question, it means that the more difficult questions remain unasked and unanswered. In school, teachers sometimes don't like students to ask too many questions. I think the objection is towards students who ask frivolous questions, and not serious, 'value-add' ones. But this judgement might be problematic, for what teachers see as frivolous, students might view them as quite serious. (I think the microphone question is quite a serious one, actually.) Then again, which teacher like to see their lesson plans getting waylaid by runaway questions? Maybe only a few... In online communities, there seems to be this dislike for folks who ask simple, nOOby questions. The usual response would be 'go read the FAQ', or 'go Google it'. I think that if I can take a few seconds type the answer, I'd do it, rather than say go look for it somewhere else. It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me, but many people still enjoy saying 'go RTFM'. The time one takes to reply with that unhelpful response can be used to give the correct answers. Anyway, since I'm talking about Shure, might as well help them advertise a bit. After i got my iPod, I thought that I should a more expensive pair of earphones since the iPod isn't that cheap to begin with. I'm not sure of the correctness of that argument, but I do know that the earphones are so good, it actually provides more than good music. It actually buys you peace of mind. These are the E2c Sound Isolating Earphones. You need to stick them into your ear canals, and they become like earplugs. If I wear them, and you stand in front of me, I can't hear what you're saying to me. It's quite incredible how you feel you're able to instantly disappear amongst the crowd when you put on one of these. I guess Sony intended to achieve that when they invented the Walkman, and I think the illusion is complete with ear isolating earphones. The other benefit is that you can save your hearing because you don't need to switch on the music too loud to be able to hear the music. I can turn down the volume of the iPod to the lowest setting, and still be able to hear the music on a quiet night. The sound quality is great, though it's quite expensive around S$155. For the peace it provides, I guess the price is worth it...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Portal Redesign

I just attended a preliminary research debrief of the 'rebuilding the Portal' focus group interview session that I participated last month. They gave me a $20 Robinsons voucher for my time. I'd have given them money instead if that meant that my two cents would be considered by them. The school portal as it stands, can probably be described as, at best, 'it works OK, I guess', or at worst, 'this thing is soooo bad.' What precipitated my interest was this interesting phenomenon of the technical people not really using, or aware of, what's happening in the Internet space these past couple of years. One of my social studies tutors wanted to do a wiki for us so that we could upload our stuff and share with others, and I believe the tech person he approached didn't know what a wiki was! Maybe I heard wrongly, or maybe there's a technical restriction, but it certainly is a weird situation when students can't make use of current technology to do their stuff. My classmate Billy has more on related issues. In my interview that they taped, I just let it fly after getting the assurance this was what they wanted. This is one of the most bizzare and unsettling portals I've seen. The first section is completely separated from the academic modules section. This makes absolutely no sense, it destroys the cohesiveness of the whole thing. Folks don't hang around in the Portal. Why? Because there is no stickiness. No, no, no, nooo, noooo!! Forums might have a chance to achieve that. Get the community going! Get the academics to share and talk with the students. Get the students to talk with students. And not just about pedagogy, about anything. COMMUNITY. There is none, or little of it, right now. But the forums are confusing. So many categories. This is what you must do. Take out this, this, and that. Put them into a single category. When the traffic goes up, then consider splitting them up. Too many features in each of the Blackboard module sections. No sensible and reasonable way to get to where you want to go or do what you wanna do. Now what can be done about this? Dump Blackboard! Yes, even if it hurts. Use another CMS, or create it inhouse. Integrate everything together, the modules and the rest of it under one Portal. Don't separate it, there's no logic to it. Bring in the rest of the things that everyone is using. Blogs. Yes, blogs, even if you have heard very bad things about it. And bring in the wikis too. Get the SHARING going... Anyway, the Siemens consultants get it. I was quite happy to see the some of the results of their interviews with staff and students, their recommendations, and their initial new mockups. The user interface designs look a lot better. It's still early days, but they are recommending bringing in the blogs, the wikis. They are making the whole thing much more open to the world, and they seem to be modelling it in part after the Stanford Wiki, and strangely enough, Also, they feel that students' work/resources should exist perpetually even after leaving school, to be shared with future cohorts. I think things are really going to change, for the better...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cover Girl

I've just discovered that the aircraft repaint I did last year made the April cover of Computer Pilot magazine! I'm going have to buy that back copy now...hehe I'm taking too long a flying hiatus, shall resume next month when I get a new Core 2 Duo desktop... woohoo!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

On Naivety

Princeton Uni professor Harry Frankfurt has come out with a new book called On Truth after his On Bullsh*t became an unexpected hit. I haven't seen the Truth book yet, but Stephen Colbert's On Truthiness might just as as informative. Today, we shall look at a new pamphlet called On Naivety, something that speaks the truth to a lot of us, I reckon. From the ST:
Opposition MPs 'naive' to expect upgrading funds OFFERS of upgrading in opposition wards were part of a slew of policies proposed by People's Action Party candidates during the General Election, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said yesterday.

But as voters rejected the PAP's candidates, it was 'naive' of Mr Chiam See Tong (Potong Pasir) and Mr Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) to now expect the Government to give them the funds for upgrading, he added...

Yesterday, Minister of State (National Development) Grace Fu... made the point - reiterated by Mr Mah - that the PAP's upgrading offer was part of a larger package of policies which the ruling party offered to voters.

'The electorate in Potong Pasir has obviously not supported that and therefore they should not stand to benefit from any surpluses that are generated from that suite of policies,' she said.

On Naivety deals with what we think we know, and what actually happens in real life. It has to do with the disconnect between our ideals, and how the world actually works. It delineates the idea that even though everyone matters, some matter less than others, especially those who live in certain districts. It reminds us that despite a call for inclusiveness and that everyone pays taxes, some won't have access to the benefits accorded by those same tax monies. On Naivety forces us to self-reflect; that even though we have come so far, we need to do so much more. Anyway, On Bullsh*t might be appropriate reading at this juncture. Update (!): An 'anonymous coward' has tomorrowed this entry.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Garmin Constructivist Logo

My favourite GPS manufacturer Garmin announced their new logo a week ago. This is the old one they've used for the past 16 years. Nice globe. This is the new one; it's very classy.Naturally, one might ask what the triangle represents. The reply from the person writing in the company blog was: we don't really know; you tell us! And I thought, wow! The customer needs to activate their prior knowledge and schema to interpret the logo! Which is most brilliant because the logo then becomes an apt metaphor for what Garmin is all about. It is understood best by the individual using the device, for everyone has different ideas, objectives, and how to use it. It's pretty much open-ended... Generally though, on any Garmin GPS, the pointer/cursor/triangle represents where you are. It also points to the heading that you're travelling on. So it can just be that; a simple pointer. Or it could be a mountain. I think it represents something that urges the person on. The pointer will be on the GPS screen even when you need to move around obstacles (like, for e.g., the embarrassingly lame SS assignment I handed in recently), and eventually, it'll lead you to the destination. You just have to keep on moving forward until the next waypoint appears. The satellites will take you there...