Project Tinkertoy

In looking at technology, you frequently find roads not taken, technologies that for many reason, just never happened.  On of those dead ends was the US Navy’s Project Tinkertoy in the early 1950’s. Project Tinkertoy was initiated because the navy was concerned that electronics could not be manufactured fast enough if a major war were to occur.  This was a matter of concern because as WW2 went on, and electronics became heavily used in more and more weapons and communications shortages developed.  The navy wanted to avoid future bottlenecks by developing automated assembly techniques and new ways of manufacturing components in a more modular fashion as shown on the video below.

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More Moore’s

Humans tend to believe that the same trends will continue in the same way regardless of circumstances.  A trend will get everlastingly worse or better with nothing changing. The fact is that every trend is susceptible to outside factors. Here’s a case in point.

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If You Are Any Kind Of Maker, You will Want This

The complete Amateur Scientist on CD-Rom

When I was a kid, Scientific American always had a science project that people could do in their home shops, usually with normal tools and some scrounging.  The quality of these projects was always extremely high.  Scientific American stopped putting those articles out sometime in the 1990’s, here they all are.  There are thousands of pages of useful stuff and projects to fabricate.  This is especially useful for getting info  on obsolete projects and dangerous stuff.

The End Of Moore’s Law On The Streets Of Shenzhen

Bunnie Huang goes shopping in Shenzhen.

He makes some very good points about how the end of Moore’s law has come for processor speed.  The end of shrinking the gate size is coming shortly as well.  Not necessarily because the physics don’t work but because the machines to make the transistors will have gotten prohibitively expensive.  It seems that there was another exponential in Moore’s law.

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Are Audiophiles hearing something we are not or are they audiophules.

Now you can go to truly incredible and expensive lengths for audio, but does that truly end up in better sound?

Now all those amplifiers look cool, especially with all those tubes and gold plating, but I suspect that when it comes to signal transparency, which is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to electronics in general, those amps come up lacking.

Look, I’ve worked around electronics for decades in applications where distortion and noise were BIG deals.  There is a HUGE difference in 10 to 10k Hz audio signal and 100 MHz RF signal coupled to an instrument detector in sensitivity requirements.  Yet in all the stuff I packaged nobody cared about power cords, isolators or any of the gold plated crap that permeates the audio sphere. Nor did we make special efforts to worry about dirty power.  Now we did use coax and gold plated connectors, but that was because we were dealing with RF and electronic noise was an issue.

As my friend Ethan Winer points out, electronics is not where should be spending you money.

He even wrote the book on the subject.

Of course he does have somewhat of a vested interest in making that point because he runs a company that sells acoustic room treatments.

That doesn’t make him wrong and he uses plenty of real world examples to demonstrate that even the system in a typical sound card in a computer is essentially transparent for all practical purposes.  Also look how good concert halls and theatres are set for sound.  The money is spent in shape and audio treatments and not on big amplifier boxes.

The fact is that just about any system you can buy, unless it’s a white van scam is going to be essentially transparent as far as the electronics are concerned.  That doesn’t means though that the system will be acoustically perfect.  There’s a lot going on once the sound leaves the speakers.  Here’s  Ethan with a look at his set up.

Note how Ethan doesn’t spend a lot of money on electronics.  As he said, his amp is not a very fancy or expensive unit that he’s had a for a long time. Now this isn’t because he doesn’t care about fidelity.  Rather the opposite in fact as the videos below shows.



As Ethan points out here, you can spend big bucks on the sound system and still not get good sound.

Look at it this way.  Where do concert halls put their money, the sound system or the room acoustics.  The fact is that a concert hall will spend far more time and effort on room acoustics than they will on a sound system.  In fact great concert halls are judge on their acoustics.

It would make sense then to consider acoustics in your small listening room.  Frankly it’s likely the biggest cause of the music sounding off is the echo effect causing a few second lag in the sound waves as the waves hit the walls and are reflected back onto the listener.

Do tubes(valves) make for better sound or are they just audiophulery? The thing to remember is that a tube diode is no better than a solid state diode and that a triode or higher number elements is more or less, like Dave Jones  demonstrates here, a big field effect transistor with rather poor characteristics.

The fact is that the biggest source of distortion is in the speaker driver.  Even the best engineers work very hard to get try and minimize distortion effects as this this interview on tested demonstrates.

If you are looking to spend money, having a speaker with low distortion is wher to spend the money.  Even so, even the best speakers these days aren’t outrageously expensive and the higher priced speakers may not have better sound.

I think that the big thing with the audiophiles is that they spend as much on their stuff because they can.  It gives them a feeling of superiority  over us mere mortals who can’t afford to be crazy prices for stupid stuff.

That doesn’t count the audio version of the $10.00 Rolex.

It seems to me as if far too many of the audiophulery is just the White van scam writ large, only instead of the goal being to gull the mark into thinking that they are getting the best sound when in fact, all they doing is taking the mark’s money and adding distortion to the picture.

The ideal goal of a sound system should be that when you listen to music that it draws you right into it whether it’s a classical piece in the shed at Tanglewood, the orchestra at Carnegie Hall or the pit at the biggest rock concert ever.  The best sound should be the sound you experience.