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Why Driverless Cars Will Screech to a Stop

Every driver makes hundreds of daily driving decisions that, strictly speaking, break driving laws (for example, crossing the yellow line to pull around a double-parked vehicle). What company is going to program its driverless cars to break the law?

Will insurance policies for driverless cars cover the car itself? Or will they cover the owner of the vehicle? Or perhaps the technology company that controls the car’s routes? Who will be responsible if there is an accident? The individual owner or the the vehicle manufacturer? Or the company that designed the navigation system?

This is probably the biggest issue that will prevent or slow down the use of driverless cars. Unless they can ride on rails, there will be accidents, and there will be questions of liability.

(Via Why Driverless Cars Will Screech to a Stop | Observer.)

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The Committed Podcast Discusses Go and Artificial Intelligence

The Committed Podcast Icon 1400x1400 01In this week’s episode of The Committed podcast, Ian Schray, Rob Griffiths and I welcome Anders Kierulf to the show to talk about the fascinating world of Go, and, in particular, Google’s AlphaGo, which recently beat a European champion. We also talk about the new Kindle update, Apple’s Error 53 problem, and Ian’s towel problem.

Listen to The Committed, Episode 115: “Single-Use Towel”

If you like The Committed podcast, you can subscribe or leave a rating or review on iTunes, or with your favorite podcatcher.

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How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 17: Hard Disks

It’s been nearly a year since my last article in this series (which I find surprising; the time has gone by quickly). A reader contacted me last week with a delightful story of a website called that ran an article saying that:

Listening tests reveal significant sound quality differences between various digital music storage technologies.

Oh, my, where does one even begin with this? The fact that 1s and 0s are 1s and 0s? Or the fact that that hard drives in the tests are connected to all sorts of other components, such as data busses, connectors, cables (yep), and more.

Nah, not even worth suggesting such things. Instead, let’s marvel at this comment:

QNAP1 was found to serve up music with a similar level of rhythmic drive and image soundstaging as a good CD transport playing directly into our system’s DAC. If anything, there was perceptibly more ‘drive’, in the sense of bass euphony and articulation, but this came with increased level which made the sound a tad bass heavy.

I mean, if you think about it, the hard drive should provide exactly the same sound as a “CD transport” playing the same music. But here, there was more “drive” and it was louder (which, you know, is physically impossible since 1s and 0s don’t have loudness).


Also, QNAP1 did not sound as clean as CD in the higher registers. Some edgy grain exaggerated the sampled horns that sets the scene in the opening of Primal Scream’s Loaded, adding to the color but nudging it off neutrality. Splash cymbals lived up to their name.

Yes, the 1s and 0s were a bit clipped in the high frequencies. Those would be the frequencies higher than 0, I assume.

But then the Keystone audio testers tried using different hard drives in the same NAS. This is an interesting test, because it could should that EVERY HARD DRIVE SOUNDS EXACTLY THE SAME, but, somehow, through the magic of audiophilia, they didn’t.

In our initial listening tests, I couldn’t discern any tangible difference in sound between the two hard drives. Harris thought the Hitachi sounded very ethereal, almost out of phase, and rated it lowest; the Seagate was sharper with a more thumpy bass, slightly brighter with a slight tendency to sibilance. Both lacked much drive in presenting the Madonna track, and were certainly ‘mushy’ compared with the best sound quality we’d heard from the QNAP stable.

Because some 1s and 0s have sharper and more thumpy bass. Now, one could suggest that the sharper and more thumpy bass comes from storing the music files on the outer edges of the disk’s platters, and our team of reviewers should have known that…

Then they moved to a couple of SSDs.

Drive three (a solid state type) gave a far from subtle shift in tone and soundstaging. I thought that here this Kingston SSD spread the stage wider, could really pull apart the multi-track layers, and certainly led in blackness too, sounding agreeably quieter than it had any right to. Yet there was also a dull flatness to its presentation, even a graying of timbre.

It could “pull apart the multi-track layers,” you know, the 1s and 0s. And it “led in blackness;” as you know, 0s are blacker than 1s. But it was dull, gray. Sigh.

What about the other SSD?

If the Kingston SSD stood apart from the disk drives for its mostly good yet quite alien character, drive four made itself known for entirely the wrong reasons. This Corsair drive (another SSD) conspicuously highlighted vocal sibilants, and had a hard, relentless quality that was impossible to miss. Strangely, it also robbed the music of pace; it was the least engaging on any emotional level thanks to an enveloping tunelessness that appeared to carve up a song like an MP3 rip.

Well, I won’t be buying any Corsair SSDs for my computers. It sounds like it’s rubbish!

To conclude:

This initial trial was not intended to be an exhaustive study into all the factors that can affect the sound quality of network and computer audio, only to confirm or deny the suspicion that digital bitstream coming from hard disks are not all equal. Which has to be somewhat surprising, to say the least.

Really now? The bits are different? Hmmm, and how might one prove that… I wonder if there are ways to, you know, copy files and compare them to PROVE THAT THEY ARE EXACTLY THE SAME.

By now we should know better, and acknowledge that digital audio is very far from immutable.

Now, by now we should know better than to trust anyone who actually comes to this type of conclusion.

Post scriptum:

Why do these people never understand that the difference is between their ears? They were seeking differences, and they used the good old confirmation bias to find it. Also, humans are not the same all the time. As the day goes on, our ears and our brain change in the way they interpret sound and other stimuli. Maybe they had a cup of coffee before they listened to the drive that sounded “alien,” or maybe they only tested the SSDS after lunch, or after a few beers. This sort of subjective test is simply dumb. These “hypotheses” can be easily tested to prove that data out equals data in, but as long as there are fools willing to be parted with their money, they will keep on testing for unicorns.

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HazeOver 1.6 review: Dim those background windows so you can focus on the task at hand

There are lots of ways you can manage windows in OS X. You can use Spaces, or you could use multiple displays, and sort your windows on different virtual or physical desktops. But if you don’t use either of these methods, you may find that when you have a lot of windows visible on your display, it can be hard to focus.

HazeOver helps you deal with multiple windows by masking the ones that are in the background, putting a sort of translucent curtain behind your frontmost window. Instead of seeing multiple windows with their text and graphics distracting you from your task at hand, HazeOver lets you focus on the app and window you’re working in. You can dim your Twitter client, your email app, and Messages, so their changes don’t catch your eye when you’re browsing the web or writing in a word processor.

Read the rest of the review on Macworld.

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CD Review: John Cale, M:FANS

Music for a new societyI remember it being a dreary autumn in New York City, back in 1982. It was the Reagan years, and New York was a desolate city. Music was undergoing changes: disco was waning, Talking Heads had found rhythm, and I was listening to music by Joy Division, The Durutti Column, The Cure, The Clash, and others. Lou Reed and Velvet Underground were in rotation, and when I spotted John Cale’s new LP, Music for a New Society, in a record store on Bleecker Street, I bought it right away.

The Velvet Underground was never the cheeriest of bands, and John Cale’s solo music oscillated between sing-along-able songs and experimental music. Music for a New Society was no different. It’s a dark, album, full of angst, yet with such a powerful musical message that I spun it often, and copied it to cassette to listen on my Walkman. Recorded in New York, this album matched the atmosphere of the time.

I hadn’t heard this record in ages. I no longer have the LP, and while it was released on CD in 1993 and 1994, it’s been out of print for a long time, and used copies were quite expensive. Finally, Cale has re-released this record, in a two-disc set. (, Amazon UK) The first CD contains the original album and two outtakes, remastered, and the second disk, M:FANS, is:

a visceral new reworking of the album under the title M:FANS – a record that explores the relationship between old and new, in terms of the sound and vision, and Cale’s memories of the experience, in terms of his life, and the recording.

Many of the songs are dark. Cale himself, talking about the recording session, is quoted as saying:

That album was agony. It was like method acting. Madness. Excruciating. I just let myself go. It became a kind of therapy, a personal exorcism. The songs are mostly about regret and misplaced faith.

There were some examples where songs ended up so emaciated they weren’t songs any more. What I was most interested in was the terror of the moment… It was a bleak record all right, but it wasn’t made to make people jump out of windows.

But it’s not all dark. Three of the songs – (I Keep a) Close Watch, Thoughtless Kind, and Chinese Envoy – are beautifully crafted art songs, closer to Schubert’s lieder, or perhaps to Leonard Cohen, than to the Velvet Underground. (A version of the former is on the 1975 album Helen of Troy.) Cale performed these two songs extensively, and you can hear live versions on the wonderful Fragments of a Rainy Season. (, Amazon UK)

The only song real “rock” song on the album is Changes Made, which features a full band and Blue Öyster Cult’s Allen Lanier playing lead guitar; it’s the “odd one out” song on the album, one that simply doesn’t belong. The rest of the songs were recorded with Cale playing most of the instruments, essentially him accompanied by guitar or keyboard, with some percussion and other odd sounds overdubbed. Changes Made stands out against what is more like an art song cycle than a rock album.

JohnCale MFansThe second disc in this set is M:FANS. Cale said, after the death of Lou Reed:

Making any form of art is always personal to my mind. During the making of M:FANS, I found myself loathing each and every character written about in those original recording sessions of Music For… Unearthing those tapes reopened those wounds. It was time to decimate the despair from 1981 and breathe new energy, re-write the story. Then, the unthinkable happened. What had informed so much over lost and twisted relationships in 1981 had now come full circle. Losing Lou [too painful to understand] forced me to upend the entire recording process and begin again…a different perspective – a new sense of urgency to tell a story from a completely opposite point of view – what was once sorrow, was now a form of rage. A fertile ground for exorcism of things gone wrong and the realization they are unchangeable. From sadness came the strength of fire!!!”

M:FANS is a sort of re-imagining of the original album. Thirty years later, Cale returned to this music and created different versions of the songs. They still retain the original shades of gray, but with a more electronic sound. The order of the songs is slightly different, and there’s a Prelude – a phone call between Cale and his mother, with musical embroidery – and a closing song, Back to the End, which was recorded with the original disc but never released.

Some of the songs sound Enoesque, such as Taking Your Life In Your Hands, which features processed vocals and electronic backing. (Cale recorded an album with Brian Eno: Wrong Way Up.) Thoughtless Kind sounds a bit like Lady Gaga, with autotune and a dance-floor beat. The new version of Chinese Envoy, with backing singers and a finger-snapping background, becomes a poppy tune. Changes Made has a heavy metal sound. Close Watch has become an EDM track with a sort of Kraftwerk beat.

M:FANS is an interesting experiment, taking a set of songs that Cale clearly cared a lot for and bringing them up to the present using the wide variety of musical styles available today. Music for a New Society was nearly the opposite: a denial of the music predominant in 1982, a stripping away of the excesses of the studio. M:FANS is certainly harder for me to get into, and I listen to it as a set of remixes, since I find the original album to be such a masterpiece. But listeners new to these songs will likely have the opposite opinion; they’re more likely to like the new versions and find the old songs to be too dark.

With this double album, John Cale shows two sides of his music, and reminds many of us how much we’ve missed him. He’s been playing a handful of concerts lately, and I hope I get a chance to see him live again and hear him perform this music.

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Writings about Macs, music and more by Kirk McElhearn