Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The US need never default

Both Megan McArdle and Mosler are concerned that the Democrat/Republican impasse over the debt ceiling will not be resolved, and the US will default on its debt.

This will be a calamity and drive the US back into recession. I'm seriously considering liquidating all my equities and moving into cash and gold.

Note that this disaster was entirely man made. As a sovereign issuer of fiat currency, the US need never default. That does not mean that it might choose to not pay its bills, but that choice is entirely a political choice, not a consequence of not having the money (which it always does).

Really a disaster.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Off topic: Notes from the California Audio Show

Good luck meant I had a few moments to check out the California Audio Show. My impressions:

Magico Q3

They were playing some bass or cello piece. I felt that the high frequencies were extremely disconnected from the upper bass and mid range. The entire thing sounded harsh and artificial. The lower registers were not round or soft.

Wilson Maxx

I wanted to hate these, but I could not. They were actually quite good. When I entered the room they were playing some lousy smooth jazz that sounds like plastic, but the sound was totally integrated all the way up and down the frequency range. Tone and texture were good.

Next up as a Bach Partita I know very well and like. It was great -- texture and microdynamics were super, but the piece is not challenging to reproduce either.

There was a more complex chamber piece next that I did not recognize. There was no congestion or compression anywhere in the range, and it was, again, totally seamless.


These were really interesting. The high frequency special effects are quite remarkable. Sound stage was very wide and detailed (if you value that). But the mid range was textureless, and the bass was very recessed (and the room was small!). I don't know how you can have such great HF and lack tone in the midrange. Anyway, I also I liked the complex classical music they played.

Magico Q1

I liked these much more than the Q3. They were in a smaller room, and they had a punchy, integrated sound without that disconnected HF noise I got from the Q3. Still a little aggressive and dry overall though.

Wooden Gallos

The bass was surprisingly good and the HF was well integrated. They sounded kind of boxy and the texture was flat. I was a little bummed not to hear the Gallo 3s. They are tiny in real life, and look very unusual.

Little Tannoy

I went to the Linn room to hear a multi-amp setup, but they were playing a little Tannoy. Oh well. The played the opening track from Bueana Vista Social Club, and I know exactly what I want that track to do. Unfortunately, the Tannoy was not up to the task, and the bass lacked swell and body. I don't think the little room helped either.

Sony SSAR1

Yay Sony for trying to make a quality, high-end speaker! They had a model there disassembled, and it was amazing how perfectly all the parts were manufactured. I'm sure the workmanship is fantastic. The entire rig was powered by a gamut of massive, Passlab amps. I cannot seperate the amp from the speaker, but the sound while rich and warm, lacked texture. The integration up and down the frequency range was not great tonally either, although I have no doubt it will measure as flat as a ruler. It didn't sound fake, just a little flat.


They had a reel to reel source playing Copland. This is a great choice -- challenging music and it sounded great. I cannot remember which speakers they were using, but the overall sound had exaggerated HF, warm mid range, and a bass that was fine but congested easily when you asked it to do anything complicated.

Acapella High Violoncello

I think these were the only horns at the show, and I'm glad I was able to spend a few moments with them before I had to leave. This was a three way speaker, with the horn loaded tweeter and mid range, and direct radiator woofers in the lower plinth. The mid range and upper bass was really poorly integrated with the upper mid range and HF. Pity because the texture and dynamics out of the horns were fantastic. And by "poorly integrated" I mean boomy and muffled.

Further thoughts

This was my first audio show, and I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to all of these setups. I wish I had had more time.

First, I'm struck by how much sensitivity matters. The texture you get from high sensitivity speakers, to me, really made the world of difference. Maybe this is why the MBL and Sony seemed flat, while the Wilsons and Violoncello, despite other problems, were so vivid. Or maybe my Zu Druids have just habituated me to listen for microdynamics, and therefore, texture.

Second, driver integration matters too. I didn't think this would be an issue with multi-ways, but it was. I think this is especially problematic when the HF, instead of extending and texturing the midrange, becomes a distinct channel by itself.

Third, my Druids are *really* directional. Most of the speakers I listened to had decent listening positions of maybe 10 sq feet, but my home setup really only works in 1 sq foot. (My head, while large, is not that large).

Fourth, careful room integration matters. I think many of the problems I heard with boomy, or worse, muffled bass was because the rooms were not loaded properly, or tried to fix bass problems with traps. I have dual subs, and use them to roll off my Druids at 60 Hz, and I have taken some care to dial them into the room. It's not great, but my home system has more weight and softness than what I heard at the show, with no boomyness.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Down on Google day -- part 3

People keep inviting me to join Google+. OK, I'll check it out.

When I try to join, I get this:

I am now confused. Why should linking Picasa to Google+ have any bearing on me joining Google+?

I ask my buddy at Google. He says:
picasa is being rebranded google photos and will be basic part of google +. So that is the strategic reason google is doing it.
Google did not get great by rebranding. And by "strategic" I think he means some exec commanded it, because I don't think it's required by the Laws of Physics. It gets better.
The reason you should be ok with it is that you don't ever have to share anything in picasa with anyone in google +. Nothing is shared by default. You get to choose exactly who sees what. Very different than facebook.
So I don't have to share, yet I'm being forced to link a private photo account where I picked Picasa because I don't like how Facebook forces you to share all your photos. But he assures me that unlike Facebook I don't have to share my photos. But I do have to link my photo account.


From a customer perspective, being required to link your photo account suggests that you will have to share your photos (otherwise why bother requiring it??) Picasa's main advantage, of course, was that it was a great way to privately share photos. This whole thing is so bad from a product perspective, I don't even know where to start.

Google used to understand customer needs, but the drive behind Google+ as well as the new designer-centric design, it seems to be paying more attention to itself and other companies, not the actual customer.

Finally, I have yet to see anyone, anywhere, actually nail the use case Google does poorly at by Facebook does well at. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Down on Google day -- part 2

Wired has a long article on the birth of google+. Read it if you dare.

What struck me was the complete lack of strategy behind Google's entry into the social space. There's a certain kind of executive, whom you run into a lot at the certain level, who has very crude reasoning for what he does. It's all very ENTJ run amok. I'm sure there are slides floating around the Googleplex that shows Facebook is now competing with the internet for user time. But I'm wondering if this is really important. It's like the portal strategy Yahoo! & company were running in the late 90s to make eyeballs more "sticky". Then Google comes along and shows that it's not about sticky eyeballs -- it's about creating customer value and them capturing it.

Here we are 10 years later, and now Google is worried about how sticky the eyeballs are. Sad.


Tech bubble? part 2

You know there's a public market bubble when the guy who fixes your water cooler starts giving you stock tips.

I guess you know there's a private market bubble when hedge fund investors start to buy private internet companies.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Down on Google day -- part 1

I do not like Google's new designs.

Take the new Google calender. This is what the today button looks like when you are in week view with today in that view:

This is what the today button looks like when you are in week view with today NOT in that view:

Seems logical, right?

But think about it from a user perspective -- when I go to Google calender, I am disoriented because I do not know if the calender is showing the right week or not. I want to know where "today" is and get it it ASAP. So, I look for a button marked "Today" that will take me to "Today".

But, with the new design, I cannot find the button.

The use of the "today" button is not just a control -- to change state -- it is also a form of feedback that lets you know what your current state is. By embracing minimalism over clarity, Google has weakened the "feedback" function to a weird, negative that makes me have to think. "If I don't see something I need it means I already must have it".


Confusion on Greece

Megan McArdle's column highlights all the confusion going on in Greece right now. One commenter gets it right:
Jay wants to know why the Greeks should bother to leave the euro if they're going to default anyway:

My own belief is that Greece should exit the euro, and redenominate its debt in drachmae, which would constitute a de-facto default
In what way does changing currencies help? I mean, you're already defaulting.

Is the idea that you'll be able to inflate away future debts more easily? Who would buy Greek debt knowing that the only reason they are issued in Drachma instead of Euro is specifically because the Greeks intend to inflate it away?

Isn't this just the difference between nominal and real interest rates?
This is exactly correct. If Greece re-denominated the debt in drachmae it would constitute a default. It would also constitute a re-assertion of monetary sovereignty, and Greece would never have to worry about defaulting again, it would just need to worry about balancing unemployment against inflation. The better it gets at tax collection, the more it can better it can do at lowering unemployment without triggering inflation.

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