Oct 21, 2012

Worlds most expensive FRS Radios: $1 Million Bucks!

This has to go into the, "Gee, somebody goofed" list:

A pair of Midland FRS-type consumer-grade walkie-talkie radios that should normally sell for around $60-80 USD is listing on the Amazon site for a gut-busting one million dollars.

That's right, bubba.  If you're an uber-rich billionaire with money burning holes in your pockets you can be the ONLY person on the planet to purchase this single pair of million-dollar radios.

Being the good Samaritan-type I decided to alert Amazon to the pricing snafu; their response was that since it's been listed by a third party it's their right to set pricing, and Amazon has no responsibility to pull down what is either a gross error or, an outright scam.

While I seriously doubt anyone who's not been declared legally insane would actually purchase these radios it's still amazing to me that Amazon would simply throw their hands up and play dumb.

An email to the listing seller should clear this up.  Right?

Sep 21, 2012

Focal XS Book: Review

One of the things that reviewers often do - and I'm guilty of this at times as well, is starting off with a bunch of background info on the product before getting into the meat of the review itself.  This time around I'll spare you the reader, that agony and just get to it.
Because of my previous experience with Focal's other monitors I'd almost expected the little XS Book pair to sound like a scaled-down version of one of Focal's professional near-field monitors.  Well, they do and they don't.

Right off the bat these little dynamos sound "boxy", for lack of a better term.  And logically they should; the drivers are in a physically small-ish enclosure with not much airspace internally to push around.  Ah, but if you take that as the overall impression you'd be missing out on the real powerhouse the little gems really are.

Yes indeed, they do have a narrow-sounding resonance that's akin to the boom-boxes of the 80's.  (Those of you who didn't grow up with either 8-track or cassette tapes as a primary method for listening to music won't know what the hell I'm talking about.)  And like any desktop-sized monitors they do have their own sonic fingerprint that you'd have to adjust to especially if you're used to listening to flat, near-field monitors.

But after you break in the drivers the XS Book really opens up, most especially in the ranges handled by the tweeter.  And with the front-firing port you don't need these to be mounted near a wall to have PLENTY of bass reinforcement.  In fact, even at mid-volume levels your desk will most definitely be vibrating to the point that you'd risk having a laptop hard-drive start skipping if it were on the desk.  That's heavy-duty SPL's, my friend.

Overall the sound is definitely well-rounded, musical, with plenty of low-end to fill out the airspace near your ears and, once broken in the tweeters are bright and airy without being shrill.  Do these sound like $1500 monitors?  Of course not, if they did Focal would have transcended even what Bose can't do, which is make small, sub-5" inch monitors sound like big ones.

The main driver is 4" inch, the tweeter is aluminum (with some Focal-proprietary materials behind the main tweeter face that makes it more organic sounding), the crossover is at 3 Khz and the pair is rated at 55hz-22khz.

A few items of note:

One reviewer said that he found unusually high instances of floor noise, "white noise" or hiss as it was referred to with no input or "idle".  I can tell you that ANY self-powered speaker will exhibit some audible floor noise at idle, even those costing thousands of dollars, but you have to be in an extremely quiet environment to hear it.  The source of the floor noise is the built-in amplifiers that live inside the speaker housing and, because of their uber-close proximity to the drivers themselves it's nearly impossible to shield out ALL the RF energy caused by the amps doing their job.

Floor noise in the XS Book was not noticeable at all to me in my home office when it was totally quiet around me.  However if I put my ear close to the tweeter - is in about an inch away, I could hear the customary "hiss".  More than totally acceptable, the floor noise in the XS Book is actually less than some high-end active monitors I've tested. (look at my review of ANY M-audio monitor).

Also, the grilles that come with this pair have a very thick plastic wire-frame on the inside which unfortunately blocks quite a bit of the audio output from the tweeters; you need to REMOVE the grilles if you want to hear all the goodness the tweeters are capable of.  Not sure why Focal felt it necessary to make the interior grille framework so thick and wide.

A few niggles I didn't like:

There is no "OFF" switch.  Right, once you connect power and turn it on the first time all you can do is put the units to "SLEEP".  Which also leaves you with the totally ridiculous white LED in low-power mode to remind you the speakers are sleeping.  Totally unnecessary and very, very annoying, to have this semi-bright LED glaring in your eyes.  Again, there's no logic to this lack of a true power switch and it's something very "Apple-like", where they leave a light on to tell you the unit is "off".  ugh.

Also, the instructions that come with the unit...well, there are no instructions per-se.  There's a diagram that shows you what parts come in the box - in various languages - and arrows to show you where to connect the various cables, the volume dial and the not-so-real "power" switch.  That's it.  Nothing about proper setup, break-in period... nada.

That's really disappointing because Focal is known worldwide as a top-notch provider of high-end professional audio equipment, so for this unit to be left out in the cold with no owners manual to speak of is very odd, to say the least.


The Focal XS Book is extremely well built with solid enclosures, superb craftsmanship, comes with high-quality cabling (every type you'd need) and most important, they're one of the best non-2.1 desktop monitors I've ever heard.  In fact, this is probably the BEST stereo pair desktop-sized monitors I've heard, period!

Sep 2, 2012

F-86 in FSX

While not a fully-adopted-for FSX, here's a model designed for FS9 that's been ported over to FSX: The venerable F-86 Sabre from SectionF8.com.

The Sabre has always been one of my favorite fighters and even today it still has gorgeous lines.

It's interesting that while the F-16 is known as having the worlds best near-360-degree view, the F-86 had a gorgeous bubble canopy, not unlike it's prop-driven predecessor the P-51 Mustang.

Not sure when SectionF8 will release a fully compatible FSX version, but this one flies just great as is - and damned if it doesn't look nearly real in the air.

Here's a few screenshots from a recent "flight".  Enjoy.

Aug 9, 2012

Science Fiction becomes reality. Sort of.

Today I saw a video of a NASA moon-lander prototype being tested (and subsequently failed) for it's autonomous takeoff-landing capabilities:


I couldn't help but notice how very similar it looks to another moon-transport vehicle, the "Eagle", which came from a little-known Gerry Anderson sci-fi series from the 70's called, "Space 1999".

Take a look at this clip and tell me you don't see an erie similarity, with the external truss-like landing gear and bulbous apparatus hanging off the side:


Unfortunately I can't find any clip on the web from the original series of an Eagle lifting off from the pad, but the same dust-blowing-out from beneath the craft looks exactly like this NASA prototype's footage.

Cool stuff.

Aug 5, 2012

OpenDNS: Don't buy into the hype.

Recently I was listening to a talk-radio show dedicated to solving common computer issues, and of course the focus is nearly 100% about PC-based systems since they're the ones normally flush with viruses, spyware and registry issues.  (not that Mac's are trouble-free but certainly OS X users don't suffer the same daily headaches PC users do, not by a long-shot - and I use BOTH platforms daily and can speak from decades of experience.)

In this "talk-show for PC geeks" it was suggested that everyone on the planet, both home and business users alike, should be using "OpenDNS" to control the DNS IP addresses that your browser uses to surf the 'net.  The claims were that using OpenDNS servers would both speed up the browser and, create extra security.

On the surface it sounded like a good idea and there is *some* logic to the arguement that having control over DNS server names/IP's would in theory create a more secure browsing environment.

OpenDNS has several levels of service offerings, ranging from free to expensive monthly fees specific to large business server platforms.  I tested the home/free version both on the Mac and PC side.

OpenDNS is a collaboration of two things:  Manually inserting the OpenDNS server addresses in your router or directly in your browser if you don't use a router of any sort and, their "updater" software which runs in the background and supposedly makes changes to DNS settings shoud the OpenDNS people decide that for security reasons they need to change something.

Without getting too technical about exactly how OpenDNS works let me explain it in laymens english and use a simply analogy:

The internet is very similar to the highways and roadways across the country. If you want to get from point A (your computer) to another website anywhere in the world (point B) you (your data connection) has to use these roadways to travel to where that website lives so it can share that information with you.

But getting TO that website isn't as straight-forward as you might think and here's an example:

Let's say you live in LA and want to drive to say, Denver CO.  How you get there is totally up to you.  If you're in a hurry you'd take the straightest, most direct route and use the highway system and it might take you 2 or 3 days to get there.  Or, if you're in a sightseeing mood you could take the backroads and literally take weeks instead.

When you type in any web addresss or click on any link on a website your browser sends out a signal (a data packet in techno-speak) through your computer's internet connection which starts "driving" through the internet on it's way to the destination website.  As your packet is traveling along it reads various roadmaps that tell it how to get it's intended destination - and here's where the trouble can happen:  There's more than one roadmap, in fact there are millions, and it the information is incorrect or worse, if it's *intentionally* wrong, as in a hacker trying to re-direct you to another website, then your packet gets re-routed to the wrong place or worse, it gets fed information to report back to anonymous hackers YOUR computers information.

It's all incredibly complicated and convoluted, but the premise behind OpenDNS is that THEY are supplying a huge databank of "clean" internet servers that don't intentionally re-direct your packet to the wrong place and, are supposedly sweeping for the work of hackers who are trying to find ways into your computer.

That's all well and good, but what's really going on behind the scenes at OpenDNS is that by purposely installing their background software AND, by purposely using their DNS server database guess what... they now have TOTAL control over where your data packets go and furthermore, have a complete list of every browsing session you create, what servers your packet goes to, how long and even how much data you extract back and forth.

Not too long ago companies like Google and Apple were fined by the Feds for purposely putting tracing software in cell phones to track your usage, your location and other information and then using it for their own purposes - mostly to feed you advertisements along tracking your location.  And they did this all on the sly, using software very cleverly hiden deep inside the operating system code of the cell phone itself, not external software.

With OpenDNS the same thing is going on; you're totally opening up your system to a big corporation and hoping and trusting that they're NOT going to use all this information that you're freely sharing with them for purposes other than "keeping your computer safe.".

In practical use I did indeed find that while using OpenDNS my web-page browsing was being purposely re-directed to other servers (you can see this activity in the address bar of your browser when you clink a link or hit "enter" on a manually entered web address).  But instead of speeding up the browser it actually slowed things down - and by quite a bit - while all these "safe" re-directs were going on.

These obvious re-directs made me quite suspicious especially since one of their big selling points is that they're supposedly going to make browsing the 'net faster.

Then my next big red flag was when I decided it was time to get off the OpenDNS service, there was NO LINK to cancel or deactivate my OpenDNS account.  Huh?  They make it easy to sign up and share my information, but when I decide I DON'T want to be part of their world there's no method for saying "no thank you, cancel me." ?

The only way you can cancel your OpenDNS account is to send in a request to their tech support and request it.  There's no explanation as to why this is the method however it's been my experience that internet-based companies who are doing something on the down-low don't make it easy to get off of their service.

In fact, that's how spyware works on PC's: you install some program that promises to "help" your computer, and then when you figure out it's not and try to uninstall it... it won't LET you uninstall!

OpenDNS has a plethora of positive testimonials supposedly ranging from home users all the way to Fortune 100 companies who swear the service is the best thing since sliced bread.  And while I have no proof that OpenDNS is doing anything outright malicious, I was able to quickly debunk their claims of higher security and faster browsing.

As far as I can tell, OpenDNS is nothing but a very high-gloss method for allowing a big company to oversee your browsing activity and keep records on what you're doing.  For what ultimate purpose I can't say, but when I consider the false claims of speed and security coupled with a not-so-direct method for cancelling an account I have absolutely no reason to trust them.

And neither should you.

Jul 30, 2012

Got the Compressor blues? Use Adobe Media Encoder!

I'm fortunate to have both FCP 7 and Production Premium CS6 on my system.

Just yesterday I was going to use Compressor to encode a very short Blu-Ray to then be authored in Encore.  (There has been a workflow for this ever since CS4)

As fate would have it, Compressor started giving me the infamous, "I can't do any kind of work because I've lost my mind..." error message.  Actually the error message was, "Qmaster file agent not found."  First time I've seen that excuse not to work.

After spending 20 minutes trying to suss out the issue and running through the usual methods for troubleshooting - including using Digital Rebellions' Compressor Repair - I finally gave up and fired up Adobe Media Encoder and "got 'r done".  What a relief. Remember those old Apple ads for Macintosh, "It just works." ?  That's what can be said for AME.

In another post I did a comparison between Adobe Media Encoder and Compressor and the results were fanatasic, both in speed benefits and quality.

So why even bother with Compressor at this point?  Eh, force of habit and I simply wanted to compare H.264 encodes for BR and see what the differences were.  But since Compressor decided to take a nap, that just wasn't possible!

Adobe offers AME as a download on it's website however, it's not clear if you can use it *without* Premiere Pro also being installed or not.  It's worth trying if you can't get Compressor to play nice.

Jul 23, 2012

Bias Inc gone!

If you're a user of Bias Peak, Peak Pro, Deck or any other audio-editing software created by Bias Inc, you're out of luck with future support:  The company has ceased operations.

And what's worse is that nobody picked up their product lines, not Avid, Apple, Microsoft... nobody.  The entire Bias product line is just dead.

If you've already purchased the software fear not, it will keep working presumably forever or, until you upgrade your system to the point that the software is no longer compatible, but if you've only gotten a trial version there's no real way to make it a full version now.  Not unless you're willing to hack into it with some code-monkey wrangling that I'm sure people on the internet are offering.

I don't know the circumstances surrounding the companies demise but they never were that great when it came to customer support and some of their products really needed a serious re-vamp, such as Deck, which went virtually unchanged for years.

So what are your options for products similar to the now defunct Bias offerings?  To be honest I'm not sure myself.  Adobe has a few audio editing offerings, as does Avid and a few others, but an exact replacement for Peak or Deck?  I just don't know.

I've been using Peak for years, ever since version 4 and don't have plans to replace it with anything since it does it's job quite well, but at some point I'll have to invest in something that has support!

FYI to the community.

Jul 1, 2012

VirtualPilot3D: A repackaged flight-sim scam - again!

Not long ago I published an article about "Pro Flight Simulator", and that it is a full-on scam to swindle you out of your hard-earned cash (see post for details).

Now it appears the same people who created PFS have re-named their high-gloss, flight simulator scam into "Virtual Pilot 3D" with a new website.  Apparently there's big profit in scamming flight-sim enthusiasts into purchasing what you can actually get for FREE, otherwise there wouldn't be this refresh of an old scam.

If I had the time and money I'd make it a point to legally go after these f****rs and shut them down.  No, it's not like they're cheating the elderly out of their healthcare funds or abusing little children, but the blatant and rampant attempt to sell their re-packaged crap is offensive, nonetheless.

If you believe their hype, they make it appear that you'd be purchasing the "Mercedes Benz" of flight-sim software, but in fact all you'd end up with is a Mecury Merkur, with all the warts and failures.

For those unfamiliar with the original Pro Flight Simulator scam:  It's a retail packaging of FREE software called, "Flight Gear", which has been around for years and is open-source.  The only difference between FG and PFS - and now VirtualPilot3D - is that they compiled all this free data into a self-installing routine, rather than you having to manually bind and install the Flight Gear data yourself.

And for this "favor" of creating an installer, you can throw out the window as little as $67 dollars on "special" or, if your money is just burning a hole in your wallet you can give them as much as $120 - and more!  All for a product that is and has been 100% free!

By contrast, the GOLD version of Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) which includes the Acceleration Pack is now avaialble for direct download for less than $30.  And you can still purchase the DVD set for less than $19 at some retailers.

And as far as I'm concerned, FSX is still the undisputed king of flight-simulation software.  And yes, that's includind comparing it to the recently released Aerofly FS, Microsoft Flight, and X-Plane 10.  And for those who wish to debate that assessment, save it for another thread; this topic is about helping people from throwing away their money.

If you're into or curious about flight-sim software, don't get hooked by the ultra-glossy campaign for either Pro Flight Simulator or, VirtualPilot3D.  They're both scams, both software packages are actually available for free AND, they don't compare to what FSX has to offer.  Not even close.

Jun 11, 2012

As close to Top Gun as it gets. Again.

As many of you know, aviation has been a huge part of my history.  And it just so happens I have a friend who owns - and sometimes flies - a cold war era F-104 Starfighter.

That's yours truly grinning like a 12-year old with a new toy.

I sure wish you could manually control exposure on the iPhone like a 'Droid.  Eh, whatya gonna do...

(Here's a link to a video shot a few years ago of us starting up this old bird:  http://youtu.be/vdDoKosn-88)

Anyway, we were out there again yesterday with another engine run-up, no flying unfortunately, not even a fast-taxi down the runway to fire up the afterburner.  But it was fun hearing the howl of that old J-79 engine and sitting the cockpit dreaming that one day we'll get this thing airborne again.

Here's the view forward from the front seat:

That's a P2 Neptune being used for fire-bombing sitting in front of us and.  You can see the long pitot tube with a tennis-ball on the end of it pointing at the red air compressor.

If cars were built was robustly as this 1960's fighter the only things that would wear out would be tires, brakes and rubber parts.  This thing is a tank with wings.

Mar 5, 2012

Microsoft Flight: Review

Many of you know that one of my passions is for flight, and one of my hobbies is playing Microsoft Flight Simulator X or, "FSX" as flight-simmers refer to it.

Back during the '08 recession (which we're still not out the woods from yet) Microsoft announced that the ACES Studio which created FS9 and FSX was being shut down.  Then a year later word came that another division of ACES was being revitalized and a new version of FSX was in the works.  Suffice it to say everyone in the flight-sim community was abuzz and waiting to see what MS would offer us.

As of February 29th the wait is over and we now have "Microsoft Flight" as the supposed FSX replacement.  I can sum up the review of this new sim with one word: Crap.

What MS has done to the venerable FSX platform is nothing short of despicable.  This new "Flight" simulation should have the word "simulation" stripped from it's genre, as this is much more game-like than a simulation.  So what's wrong with Microsoft Flight?  Here's a simple breakdown list of some of the most obvious problems:

1.  All that is available to fly around in is the Hawaiian Islands - and to get full access to all the areas and features you have to pay $60 bucks!   You can buy a "gold" copy of FSX (which now comes with the Acceleration pack built-in) for less than $30 dollars and you get THE ENTIRE PLANET!

2.  Only 2 aircraft readily available; a few others you have to purchase.  FSX planes are NOT compatible with this sim and there's no method to install third-party add-ons - yet.

3.  No tower view!!  Huh?

4.  You're forced to start off with "lessons" on how to fly one plane; to gain access to other planes/areas to have to pass more "lessons".

5.  Aircraft graphics seem to be OK, but terrain is just fair, even on high settings.  Add-on packs for FSX blow Flight away by a far margin.

I could go on with pages of rants about why this new sim really isn't a sim anymore, and die-hard FSX fans - and even student pilots will be severely disappointed in this new release from MS.

The king of the hill has been and still is FSX.  I seriously doubt MS will take notice of all the poor reviews MS Flight is getting and retool this game back into the King of Flight Simulation that it's been for decades, but for now if you're into FSX then stick with it.

On another related note:  Ikarus has created a new flight-sim of it's own, based around it's years of experience with radio-control PC-based trainers (they use the radio transmitter hooked up to your PC to control a virtual RC model).  It's called, Aerofly FS and while it's just been released in the EU it's not available in the USA just yet.  But, the graphics capabilities of this sim would easily outpace both FSX and MS Flight, so that's worth watching for.