Monday, November 24, 2008

Why 'HD' Radio Isn't HD

Those of us experiencing the new USA HDTV, the over-the-air TV technology standard, have discovered one fundamental thing: If your reception before HDTV was lousy, it will still be lousy with HDTV. Sure, you get a far superior picture when it works. There's no more snow or image flipping etc. But what you get instead is DIGITAL BREAKUP. Is that preferable to the image and audio noise from before? No it is not. It is in fact extremely annoying and frustrating. With digital media streams you either have the data, or you don't. It's either on or off. I live near the center of a city, down hill from the TV towers. My over-the-air TV reception has always been crummy. I bought a well reviewed Philips amplifier antenna to help, and it does. But I still get intermittent Digital Breakup. With certain local TV stations I wish I could simply turn off the digital signal and go back to analog. What I typically do instead is watch them via my cable TV connection, which is often a lot better.

Despite the same-old-stuff of bad reception, I am pleased that at long last the USA has moved to digital TV. The standard we are using in the USA is very good and, when it works, it is a nice improvement in picture and sound quality over analog TV. I like the technology.

Meanwhile, however, to accompany HDTV in the USA is something called
"HD Radio." It uses either AM or FM radio bands to transmit digital audio to specially updated digital radio receivers. Good golly. It's digital, so it has to be an improvement over analog radio, right? Well, you're still going to get the usual prime problem: Digital Breakup. But it has to sound better than analog radio, right? It does away with radio reception noise! Unfortunately, 'HD' Radio has one gigantic problem, one that in my opinion, completely nullifies any point in bothering with the technology: 'HD' Radio is SEVERELY COMPRESSED, resulting in a remarkably worse sound quality than the analog radio audio it replaces. This is a big letdown. You can stop chanting the mantra 'If it's digital it's better.' In this case it most definitely is not.

So what is this meagre technology, and how was it allowed to happen?

You can thank the
FCC, the US Federal Communications Commission. If you've followed the work of the FCC over the last 8 years you know they have developed a terrible reputation. That is, unless you're a corporate lobbyist. Then you're probably happy as can be. Wikipedia has good coverage of the story:

HD Radio

The short history is that the FCC accepted a proprietary technology invented by iBiquity to be the standard for US digital radio. The 'HD' moniker is actually meaningless. It is NOT by any stretch of the imagination 'High Definition.' How these two letters were tacked onto the name of this atrocity is beyond comprehension. I consider it a marketing scam that should be persecuted under false advertising laws. The FCC doesn't care. The compression used within this digital standard is so drastic that the resulting audio quality is seriously worse than what we are currently used to with AM and FM radio. If you have listened to MP3 audio, 'HD' Radio on the FM band sounds about as good as 128 Kilobit per second MP3 audio. It's fine if you're listening to talking. It's terrible if you're listening to music.

One sick thing going on where I live is that our
National Public Radio station, who play classical music most of the day, are pushing for listeners to move to 'HD' Radio. Serious classical music fans, such as myself, are appalled.

And there's another downer: 'HD Radio' is being allowed to ride on top of current AM and FM band radio. It takes away 1% of the signal strength of the analog bandwidth, resulting in poorer analog reception. So no matter how you look at it, 'HD' Radio has lowered the quality of modern radio.

Thankfully, at the moment, the FCC has no plans to replace analog AM and FM radio with this digital dopiness. Let's hope it stays that way until such time as the FCC pulls its head out, dumps the iBiquity format, catches up with modern technology and approves a digital audio format that is either as good as or better than CD quality, no kidding, no false advertising, no scam required.

Digital Progress: I'd personally like to see the CD audio standard tossed on the garbage heap of history. It should go the way of 8 track tapes. It compromises high frequency sound quality far too much to satisfy audio purists. The free, Open Source, cross platform program Audacity is able to save 96000 samples per second audio, over twice the current sampling rate for standard CDs. The improvement in treble quality is dramatic. There is essentially no more sawtooth or square wave distortion of high frequency sound. Anyone can record this quality digital audio on any computer equipped with an audio card. 96000 samples per second should be the new digital audio quality standard. CDs will be replaced by DVDs for playback.

Considering the state of the art of audio quality available to anyone with a computer, over-the-air digital audio should have enough bandwidth to keep up. Having a worse than retrograde digital radio standard foisted upon us, in the form of the fraudulently named "HD Radio," is a sad and stupid joke. Shame on the FCC.

The best way to kill off the iBiquity 'HD' Radio scam is to vote with your dollars and completely
ignore it. Stick to purchasing analog-only AM and FM receivers. Another step to take is to write to your federal representatives and ask for a superior technology that reflects modern digital quality. You can also write directly to the FCC and kindly tell them to catch up with the computer world. Replacing an analog technology with a lower quality digital technology is not acceptable.

BTW: Even lower quality digital radio standards have been foisted upon the citizens of Europe. The public response has been a resounding yawn. Receivers have been gathering dust in the shops. I hope the same dust gathers here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Change the one-hour interval of Time Machine backups

At a recent Mac user group meeting a member pined for a way to change the one-hour interval of Time Machine backups in Mac OS X Leopard (10.5). Solution found!

TimeMachineEditor: Version 1.2.1 was just released. Here is it's site LINK.

And it's FREEWARE! To quote:

TimeMachineEditor is software for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard that lets you change the default one-hour backup interval of Time Machine. You can change the interval or decide to make a backup once a day, once a week or once a month.

This is useful if you don’t need to backup every hour and don’t want the performance penalty. This is also especially useful if you manipulate lots of data within one hour as you would spend the whole day backing up.

And here is the download LINK.

That should do ya! Thank you TimeSoftware!


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2008-02-11 - Update Day Deluxe

Apple let loose a slew of updates today. Most are for Macs, but the Apple TV 'Take Two' update was also released. Before I go through the list, let me review what I have found to be the best possible approach to updating your Mac OS X system.

1) You guessed it: Make sure your BACKUP is up to date. If you haven't made one, go back one article and read it.

2) Repair your boot volume structures. I repair all my volumes once a week. But performing repairs just before any update is critical IMHO. If you are on 10.4 and above you can perform a verification of your boot volume from Disk Utility. If it shows any proble
ms, then you need to boot from another volume to perform the repair. I use AppleJack, which runs while you are in Single User Mode. It is very easy to use and provides some other good features, including number 3:

3) Repair your boot volume permissions. Don't underestimate how important this is. Also don't underestimate how badly your permissions can be damaged. There are some developers who provide installers that leave an incredible mess in their wake. One of them is Adobe. In general, if you install anything it is very useful to repair permissions both before and after the installation in order to avoid permissions related problems.

Beyond Apple provided repair tools and AppleJack there are several very good 3rd party repair tools. I will no doubt review some of them in the future. For now I will only mention my personal favorites. DiskWarrior is terrific at what it does. It is safe and provides excellent basic repairs to volume structures and files. TechToolPro is another of my favorites. It does a lot of what DiskWarrior can do and a lot of things it can't. It's best unique features include checking all your computer hardware and optimizing (defragmenting) your volumes. SpeedTool Utilities offers, among other things, a terrific method for finding and mapping out bad sectors on your hard drives. For freeware, Onyx does a useful verification of your system, but no repair.

4) It may be helpful to check what problems are being reported about any particular Apple update at I have been a member there for many years and have always found it useful. But keep in mind when you read the reports that it is extremely common for Mac users to have problems with update installations because they have not followed steps 1 - 3 above. If a Mac user's system is a mess, it is no wonder an update leads to problems! So read MacFixIt with a grain of salt, as we say. The best information you will learn from MacFixIt is how to remove a bad update and return your Mac back to its former state. Of course, if you have a thorough backup that's easy.

OK, time for the list. I am not providing a list of the features in these updates, but you can find links to detailed information as well as installer files at:

1) Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.2. This includes both client and server versions of Leopard. There are separate updates for Intel and PowerPC Macs. - Sadly 10.5.2 doesn't solve all Leopard bugs and it still doesn't complete the promised Leopard feature set. But it is a significant update. This is the second update for Leopard. (Windows Vista has had how many at this point? None? Apart from monthly security updates, Vista still has had no system updates).

2) WebObjects Update 5.4.1 for Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. - If you don't know what WebObjects is, don't worry about this update. You do not need it. WebObjects is an incredible free technology Apple provide for creating powerful websites. It also has a very steep learning curve if you aren't already a programmer.

3) Leopard Graphics Update 1.0. You must install the 10.5.2 update before making this update. The update provides stability and compatibility.

4) Security Update 2008-001. This update is for both Intel and PowerPC Macs. You can read details about all security improvements provided by Apple at this page:

I also maintain a separate blog covering Macintosh Security issues at: 

5) iLife Support 8.2. This update provides stability and performance improvements for all iLife applications. 

Let me finish off the list with a quick review of all the other updates from this past month:

- iMovie 7.1.1
- Front Row 2.1.2 for Leopard
- iTunes 7.6 for both Mac and Windows
- Pages 3.0.2
- Keynote 4.0.2
- iWeb 2.0.3
- ProKit 4.5 for Apple's professional applications: Final Cut Studio, Final Cut Express, Aperture, Logic Studio and Logic Express
- Braille Display Update 1.0 for Leopard
- iPhoto 7.1.2
- QuickTime 7.4.1 for Panther, Tiger, Leopard and Windows

After your Mac updates: Remember to perform a permissions repair on your boot volume. Apple have had a very good record recently of cleaning up permissions after their installations. But they aren't perfect. I've had people rant at me that this final step is not necessary. Experience proves them wrong. It only takes a minute, and I guarantee it will save you future headaches after a sloppy installation.

Also out today is an update for the Apple TV:
Apple TV 'Take Two' update: To access this update, go to the Settings/Software Update menu in the Apple TV interface. You can read about the new free features of this update at:

This past month Apple also provided the 'January '08 Update' to the iPhone. You can read about it and watch a video at:

Share and Enjoy!


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Number 1 Rule Of Computing: MAKE A BACKUP

Now that the manifesto is behind us, here come the Smarticles:

What is the Number 1 rule of computing?


If nobody told you that, for shame. The first words out of any computer guru's mouth to a newbie should be: Make a backup.

Now you are a smarty. You know that deep secret knowledge of computing that was hidden behind all the cultist rhetoric and vagary. There is no ritual, there is no secret handshake, there is no little red book, there is no hidden room behind a secret panel that only the upper echelon of our holy order can enter. You've already been initiated. You bought a Mac (I hope). The secret is yours: Make a backup.

How to make a backup. OK, this is where things get complicated. In the future I will analyze a bunch of backup options. Happily my local Mac User Group did a review of some basic applications and methods last week (relative to this post date). I'll provide a summary in a later post. Meanwhile, I will simply toss you the names of some applications and some brief comments. You can look up all these applications at the great and wonderful (now owned by CNET). The entries there for each application have the price, if any, for the software as well as links to the developer where you can find out more.

  • Retrospect - This was once considered das wunderkind der welt. But EMC, the company who bought the original developer Dantz, has essentially buried the product in its Insignia division for medium and small businesses. If you go to EMC's own website it is literally impossible to find Retrospect listed. Visit instead, which still works. A happy sign that Retrospect may have a future appeared last year when ECM updated the client portion of the server version of the software to 6.2, a Universal Binary, capable of running natively on both PowerPC and Intel Macs. Hopefully an updated version of the server portion of the software will be provided as well, one of these years. The program itself is very complicated but very powerful. It easily provides you with the most backup options of any program I know for Macintosh. It is 100% optical and tape drive savvy with very regular compatibility updates. It is easily the most professional of the current options. Bug: Apparently this now olde, dilapidating version 6.1 of Retrospect is messing up BSD flags, HFS+ extended attributes, permissions, modification dates and ACLs. Conclusion: Wait (possibly forever) for a better, UB version to appear.
  • Time Machine - It comes with every current Mac as part of Mac OS 10.5 'Leopard.' It is super fun and easy to work and play with. It also still has a few bugs and remains somewhat incomplete. Hopefully the 10.5.2 update will complete the program. We shall see. If you've got it, us it! It does require you have an external drive. It is optical media clueless.
  • Backup - This is also from Apple. You can only get it and use it while you are a .Mac member. (.Mac is Apple's niffy kewl online service for Mac users. I love it. I'll have mine with extra SPAM! Actually it has a very good SPAM filtering system. Buy a year's subscription of .Mac via Amazon [CLUE!] as it only costs $80. Otherwise it will cost you $100). The latest version is the first respectable version. It was rubbish in the past. It works great for making daily backups of your most crucial files to your .Mac iDisk space. Apple provide 10 GB. Set it and forget it. It just works.
  • Carbon Copy Cloner - Thank you Mike Bombich! It's free, it's free! Thank gawd allmighty, it's free! This is the single most powerful freeware backup application you can find. Its most famous attribute is the ability to make a bootable backup, meaning that if you use it to back up to an external hard drive, you can boot your Mac from that hard drive. The vast majority of backup programs for Mac, sadly including Apple's own, do NOT provide a real life full complete backup that is bootable, which sucks. CCC is now a Universal Binary. Praise the lawd.
  • SuperDuper - Following in the footsteps of Mike Bombich, this application also makes bootable backups. In 'unregistered mode' it is a rather minimal but effective backup program to an external hard drive. Pay up the $30 for registration and you get bells and whistles well beyond CCC, well worth the cost. This program is beloved among the Mac cognoscenti.
  • iBackup - This is a great little donationware program for backing up files to drive space connected to your computer. It does NOT make bootable backups, it is totally clueless about optical drives. For what it costs, I like it. Use it as a substitute for Apple's own Backup program from .Mac.
  • SilverKeeper - This is about as minimal as you get. But it's free from LaCie. It only backs up to connected drives.
  • Data Backup - Well respected and rated, powerful backup program, a not-quite replacement for Retrospect. Fab! It can make bootable backups. It can write to optical media as well as connected drives. The only things missing are tape archiving ability and unmounted network client capability. It has a decent interface that is less confusing that Retrospect. 30 day trial. Costs $59.
  • Toast - Great for a quick DIY backup to connected drives or optical media. The current version allows spanning a backup across multiple optical discs. Way kewl. I use it a lot. It's biggest failing: You can't make bootable disc images. Don't argue with me. Read the manual. See? You can't. Don't even try.
  • DiskUtility - It comes with Mac OS X! It is a bit less capable than Toast, but does the job for a quick DIY to a connected drive or optical disc. Again, no bootable backup capability.
  • Sync - There are three versions: Backup, Standard and Pro, costing respectively $25, $35 and $45. Each has a 30 day trial. I have never tried them. Previous versions had bugs that dropped metadata from files. Apparently the latest versions are much better. Folks like the interface. It is limited to connected drives. It does not make bootable backups (as far as I know).
There are piles of other backup programs for Mac. If you search for 'backup' at you'll get a list of 205 sort-of-related programs, usually yawners or very old. But I have left out a few gems for particular niches. These include the 'Synchronize!' series, Deja Vu (which comes with Toast), SmartBackup, AASync, MimMac, FolderSynchronizer, and BRU (which may well be a reasonable replacement for Retrospect).

VERY IMPORTANT: I suggest you check out the article linked HERE to review the potential bugs in a variety of Mac backup programs, including several I mention above. When you read this article, take note of the version they are talking about. This article is now OLD (April 2006), and many of the applications have since been updated with solutions to these bugs.

Use your knowledge. Ancient Techno Geek Proverb: He whose hard drive crashes and has no backup, gets what he deserves. --Sad but true.

Share and Enjoy,