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Review of the BMW i3

BMW i3Now I’ve got back in to the “blogging habit”, I have a ton of stuff that piled up over the past 4-5 months while I commuted (YUCK!) on the M20 & M25 to work. For those outside the UK, these are two major motorways that often have traffic problems. The worst experience I had was when my 1-1:15h commute took over 4 hours! At one stage, I did consider getting another car for this as we have a Renault Megane Coupet Cabriolet, but it guzzles the gas. Being a fan of electric / hybrid cars I did some investigation and realised that hybrids like the Lexus, Prius and whatever else are pretty much a waste of money as their efficiency is about the same as a modern petrol engine. The only thing that made sense was an electric with a range-extender which is basically a petrol powered generator which can charge the battery.

After quite a bit of research, the car which appealed to me most (and which I fell in love with as soon as I sat in it) was the i3. With a range of around 200 miles, a 120 mile round trip should be easy. Luckily I decided to do a test drive for a day and found out that all is not quite what it seems as you’d only get anywhere near that range if you did 55mph, which is not really what you’d want to do when the speed limit here is 70mph. The end result was that I had to stop for fuel on the way back – I may of just made it on one tank (which only holds 9l – huh?) but didn’t want to find out… Even if so, this would mean that I would have to fully recharge and refuel the car every day – that’s a bit too much effort.

BMW InteriorWith all the cons out the way, what are the pros? Well, a lot!

If you did shorter commutes or lived in a major city, this would be a very viable option as the interior is amazing – this shot doesn’t do it justice, but it all just feels so open. Add on to that the amazing acceleration of an electric vehicle and a top speed of just over 90mph, it can definitely hold it’s own in cities, towns and motorways.

Then, there’s a large list of features which really are quite innovative and show BMW’s commitment to creating a future full of electric cars:

  • Active Cruise Control – either cruises at your set speed or the speed of the traffic in your lane and will (safely) slow down if someone cuts in front of you
  • Traffic Jam Assist – will drive the car at speeds of up to 24mph on the motorway – this is absolutely amazing and eerie! You do have to keep a finger on the wheel so it knows you can take over if necessary
  • Parking Assist – if you never mastered parallel parking, don’t worry – this will do it for you
  • Connected Drive Services – assistance with anything – it connects you with a call centre that can answer any question and download routes to your car. It doesn’t stop there though, the navigation can show you public transport information and incorporate that in to your journey!
  • A Remote App – lets you monitor your car and even heat it up before you get in it – great for winter
  • Connected Drive Your car can connect to the internet and act as a hotspot, with no data restrictions – great for a long drive, if you could do it ;-) Along with that you can get Online Entertainment and Speech recognition for emails and messaging
  • Usage of other BMW’s – for the times when you need a petrol car, you can loan one from BMW – I’m sure I read this, but can’t find a reference now – I think this was at a ‘reduced rate’ or something. A great idea that acknowledges we’re not there yet with electric cars.

All in all, it’s a pretty amazing car, which I would of bought (well, probably leased) if only it had the range. It’s really quite revolutionary with its carbon-fiber chassis and other innovations so I look forward to the time (hopefully only a year or so) when they have a version that has more range by just increasing the size of the petrol tank.

Postscript – when researching this, I found a statement that BMW anticipate fully automated driving on European motorways by 2020 – can’t wait – that’s only 5 years away!

Western Digital My Cloud Review

Western Digital My CloudRating: 4/5

I rarely impulse buy anything. I always want to thoroughly research anything thoroughly before I buy it. In the case of the Western Digital My Cloud, I  didn’t thoroughly research it (I did do a quick review check in Maplin’s though which showed it got 4/5) it was an impulse buy. I’d remembered those ads from the trains though which had got me curious, so full marks to WD’s marketing people. 

Styling wise – need I say more? It’s a nice minimalistic design about the size of a hard cover book (remember those? ;). The setup is surprisingly easy* on iOS, Android, Mac and even Windows.

Usage however, is dependent on the OS so the experience on Windows (7) is not as good, with drives sometimes dropping off and difficulty uploading files. On iOS and Android you run a client which is pretty close to DropBox, except of course it’s connected to your cloud :-) On Mac and Windows you get a custom app, shortcuts to the Web Admin console (below) and the ability to map your cloud drives.

WD My Cloud

So what’s actually in the box? This is where it gets really interesting as it’s running Debian Linux! Yep, all you need to do is activate SSH and after accepting the fact that you may void you’re warranty by using the command line, you’re in! You should theoretically be able to install anything using apt, but you’d need to be careful not to clobber or mis-adjust any of the existing packages which the WD My Cloud software depends on.

Security

The physical security seems pretty good as the connections to your drives (if over the internet) are encrypted using SSL. My only gripe is that the default settings for “user folders” (which are automatically created for each user you add) are to “Public”, which is probably not what you want as there is already a Public Share shared folder on the device. It’s just a matter of remembering to unshare user folders when you create the user. The permissions (on the interface – you could probably tune them using the shell) are quite basic – No Access, Read or Full Control but it’s pretty easy to set up a few users with private areas and shares amongst a group. You need to do it manually though as there’s no such thing as groups.

Summary

WD My Cloud is a great little device and fairly consumer friendly. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone with no knowledge of computers, but anyone with a bit of experience and enthusiasm could easily set up and maintain this securely. As for value, I got mine for £170 (for a 4G unit) reduced from £250 at Maplin, so with the sale price it really is a bargain. At the full price I’d be investigating other alternatives.

Later, I’m planning on carefully enhancing this and will do another post outlining my adventures. In the mean time, if you don’t like command lines or are worried about voiding your warranty, you may want to check out the WD My Cloud EX2 which would set you back £260 at an equivalent sale price and has the ability to install some “apps” like WordPress, Joomla, PHP BB and a number of torrent programs. There’s only 8 in all, so you’ll probably want to do some custom installs anyway.


* One piece of information which I didn’t see anywhere is that the “user” you set up on installation has no real “home directory” so it’s ideal to have as an Admin user if you’re planning on having more than one user on the system. Later users will be allocated their own home directories which have public access by default.

 

 

Transcendence movie mini-review

Transcendence - Johnny DeppToday I decided to see Transcendence, despite Wired actually canning it – Transcendence: A Movie Too Terrible to Even Hate-Watch. In my opinion, that’s being way too harsh. Of course the movie could of been better, but it could of been way, way worse.

I won’t give any spoilers, but it’s basically a movie where Depp ‘Transcends’ in to a computer, a-la Kurzweils singularity. This bit is quite cleverly done as there’s a conceptual twist that is so obvious yet rarely mentioned in singularity literature.

Things go pretty well, as they do when you have a brain the size of a planet, but of course we can’t leave it there. With people involved we know there will be twists, and there are. I thought the ending was quite brilliant and romantic, even if a bit Hollywood which is to be expected as it’s a big budget film. With a cast of Depp, Rebecca Hall, Freeman, Paul Bettant and great supporting cast there’s no problem with the acting. The special effects are great to illustrate what a giant Quantum computer and associated peripherals may look like.

4 out of 5If you’re in to computers, AI and the like I’d rate it 4/5 – it’s as least as good as the brilliant British movie “The Machine” which takes a different spin. If you’re not in to computers and AI then it may be a 3/5 – not wasted time, but you could wait until an online/DVD release.

PS If you’re in UK, you may want to go elsewhere than Cineworld as they didn’t turn off the lights during the movie and have terrible “customer service”

PPS To end on a positive note, this is my first (of I’m sure many) posts using the absolutely brilliant BlogPad Pro App on my iPad. It actually makes it possible to use your iPad for blogging and at £3 is a no-brainer

Review – Google Chromecast

ChromeCast BrainFreeze

I think the above error message from ChromeCast really applies to it, in that Google should really try again to make this device, but this time with an eye to making it work for most people! I was hoping this would be a fairly positive review for an “up and coming product”, but unfortunately my executive summary for this is:

Don’t buy it – wait for the next generation

I’d always delayed getting an Apple TV and wanted to test the waters of IPTV, so when I heard it was out I added it to our shopping list. Couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a try…

Set Me UpSetup took me 2 1/2h, which really is a bit much. Theoretically, it should only take 5-10 mins, but that’s only if you have the right router – what’s that?

I had a middle of the road router which worked for a few days and then ChromeCast stopped working with it. Even to get my router (a Netgear WNR 2000 – not exactly unusual, in fact widely used in the UK) working, I had to throttle it back from 802.11n (the current fast standard) to 802.11a (the oldest and slowest standard) which is a well known problem with my router and ChromeCast – see the bottom for more info.

Ready To CastAs mentioned, ChromeCast actually worked once I dialed my router back and it certainly had some cool features, such being able to “cast” the tab of a browser which is unfortunately broken as it’s extremely slow (as in – is not usable if there’s video in the tab).

What does work is YouTube and an extremely nifty Chrome extension called VideoStream. If you do have a ChromeCast, then you should definitely get it as VS allows you to play files from your laptop which as the apps tag line says “What you bought your ChromeCast for”

Chrome Cast ExplosionSo what went wrong?

I thought I’d be able to play around a bit with ChromeCast and it’s potentially cool applications until I went to show it off to my neighbour a few days later – that’s funny, it wasn’t registered on my iPad… Nor was it on the windows laptop…

Ken is a fellow geek, so he hung around for about 10 mins as I rebooted everything in various combinations but to no avail.

That was basically it! I suppose I could of done more web research or whatever but frankly I’d lost patience with ChromeCast as it is supposed to be a consumer device that I could plug and play with. Instead, it was plug and play and break and fix and pray and play and break and fix and … well, I just couldn’t be bothered.

Routers

The main problem is WiFi

As mentioned before, I have a Netgear WNR 2000 router. It works with my iMac, a Windows 7 laptop, iPad and 2 Android phones from Samsung and HTC at full 802.11n speed or fallback. Unfortunately, to get ChromeCast to work with my router, I had to set the speed right back to 802.11a! Not good – I was actually prepared to set up another ‘special slow router’ for ChromeCast, but then it just stopped working after 2-3 days and as mentioned. This was not what I expected or would tolerate. To their credit, PC World accepted the unit back without argument (maybe this wasn’t the first?). Was it just me though? A search of ChromeCast Problems yields about 15M results, so there must be something going on here…

The funny thing was that my router is OK on the ChromeCast Router Compatibility table. But note, that’s only when it is with the “default settings”. I’ve obviously got quite a few customisations on mine and there was no way I was going to set everything back to factory just for one little device.

But why the good reviews? you may ask… as looking around, it mostly seems to get from 3-5 *’s out of 5 from most mainstream outlets. I think this just indicates that they didn’t thoroughly test the device, took materials from press releases, were “favourably biased” or just plain incompetent – take your pick ;-)

Anyway, caveat emptor and fortuna, si emere

Intuos Manga Review

Intuous Manga

SummaryDon’t buy an Intuos Manga*, Do buy an Intuos Pen & Touch if you are in the right market segment…

*Assuming you’re not a comic book illustrator – see note at end

There, with that out the way, hopefully no-one else will get sucked into the useless combo that is Intuos Manga! Why do I say that? Because Version (4) of Manga software which is included in the package is absolute crap from a UX perspective (think Windows 95) and is one (very significant) version behind the current version.

I’m jumping a bit ahead here though, so I’ll go right back to the start as there are a few things I found out along my pen tablet journey. I was obviously in the market for a digitiser to do a bit of mucking around and to start work on some “RSA Type” animations for Right Shifting**. As I’m not a professional illustrator and would only use this occasionally I was trying to keep the cost down.

For this review I’ll be using the recent/new model names as Wacom “recently” (2013) “updated” their line in that some of the names are changed, so Bamboo is not Bamboo, it’s now Intuos and Intuos is now Intuos Pro. What’s Bamboo?…

bamboo padIt’s new and would be the most seemingly obvious budget solution, until you read the reviews. It really is a new product and the digitisation and pressure don’t seem too good even for a low end product. Hopefully Wacom will fix this as it’s a great concept, form factor and price point and I’d buy one just to use beside my Mac regularly.

IntuosPenandTouchThat leaves us with the Intuos range. Wacom have managed to achieve what Apple seems unable to – their digitizer can co-exist with a mouse! The Pro versions really are what they say – I don’t see any need to buy them unless you  are using them professionally. As mentioned, the Intuos’ really are the upgraded version of the old Bamboo, but with (optional) touch. I initially (unknowingly) ordered the pen only one and immediately returned it as touch really does make a difference in usage as highlighted in the video below – apologies in advance for the slightly strange colours, but iMovie suddenly decided to saturate it. I’ve done the best I can with some manual tweaking to make it viewable (which the original wasn’t):

So why did I buy the Manga, which is an Intuos Pen / Touch with Manga Studio 4?ArtRage

Because I was in a hurry and didn’t bother researching MS4 thoroughly. It would seem that comic book illustration is a very specialised area and MS is certainly one of the leading products. I’m sure it’s usable after a steep curve (I’d shudder to think how long it would of taken to get to a point of doing that video above with it, but we are talking days to weeks rather than hours!). If you’re an amateur or just someone who wants to do some “graphic noodling” then what to use?

Easy – Art Rage! It’s a fantastically intuitive and flexible package which you can also get for your iPad or iPhone

I hope this has been of help to anyone considering a digitising pad, which you should if you have any interest in drawing, painting etc… Feel free to drop me a note in the comments if you have any questions or experiences you’d like to share.


* Unless you really do comic illustration – Manga really does seem to be regarded as one of the best packages for comic illustration, as I discovered this is a world away from intuitive art tools like ArtRage

** Want to find out more about Right Shifting? The best place to start is the guy who came up with it – Bob Marshall, the @flowchainsensei and his blog, especially the Rightshifting section. More questions? Probably best to ask him…

Lightning Autumn / Winter, Hiking / Walking Boot Review

nikeIt looks like this week will probably be the last “warm” weekend for this year in the UK. We can’t complain though as it’s been a reasonable length summer.

Last week though I noticed a bit extra moisture on the grass and in the soil, i.e. some of it is starting to get rather soft. Not really ideal for the Nikes (left) that I bought at the beginning of Summer when I started walking again.

They’ve been good, but after a recent walk I returned with soggy socks, which isn’t that bad now, but in a months time will not be pleasant…

Asics Gel-Arata G-TXSo it was off to the local designer outlet to see what was on offer. By total co-incidence, the first store we went to was Asics who only really had one shoe, the Asics Gel Arata G-TX*, but it fitted! As my feet are quite wide for their length, I’m always having problems finding shoes that fit, so when I tried these on, that was it!

I had to try out these “new toys” and so went on a walk. I wasn’t planning on much over 1/2h as with a new pair of shoes (like the Nikes) that’s all you can do the first time.

To Asics Gel-Arata G-TX Soulmy surprise though, after a few adjustments they felt “OK” and after 1/2h they were feeling fine so I ended up doing my usual 1 1/4h walk and feeling like I could of gone on more.

As you can see from the soul, these are serious walking shoes – while going around paddocks I felt like I owned the track (UK people will know what I mean :) as the souls were very solid and supportive. Furthermore, when I returned, thanks to the Goretex and rubber front on these shoes my feet were totally dry.

Conclusion

If you have wide feet, these should fit you nicely as they’re quite adjustable. You could easily use them for serious hiking in any season except winter (where you really need some boots). As for walking or even “country running” they’d be fine in any season although probably a bit warm in summer.

Overall, it’s easy to recommend these as a great overall shoe for most sorts of walking and “country running”. If you do a google, you’ll find that these rank between 4-4.5/5 Stars, so I think they’re definitely worth considering if you’re after this type of shoe.


* Note: These are not current stock on the Asics site, but are available through Amazon and other sites. For some reason the current Asics site does not have anything like this, which is a bit of a pity as this type of shoe / boot (shoot? ;) is ideal for walking and hiking in English coutryside and I’d quite happily use it in Australia which means it’s fine almost anywhere…

Lightning Review – Wireless Video

AT LinkCastAV EU VersionRather than some of the longer reviews I’ve done such as The Unbearable Lightness of LightTable and  FTTC in the UK where I go in to quite a bit of detail, I’ve decided to start doing some “Lightning Reviews” where I don’t give all the reasoning, but simply what I’ve chosen and why.

Atlona AT-LinkCastAV-EU

Basically, I scanned Google and there was only one stand out unit for HDTV wireless streaming, the Atlona AT-LinkCastAV-EU. There are many other units out there, at this or lower revolution, but at the end of the day, this is the only one that won the CES 2012 Innovations Award

Pros

  • These guys are seriously professional – check out http://www.atlona.com/ and drool over their high-end gear (if you run a TV station or the like ;)
  • The device is ridiculously easy to set up in Windows 7 (& I’d assume Windows 8)

Cons

  • On another (older) laptop, also with Windows 7, there seemed to be occasional dropouts – luckily, this one would only be used occasionally

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that Atlona is “best of breed”, with the one issue that it may not work consistently on your computer. I’m assuming that this would be a rarity and may of been due to the HDMI version on the older laptop or something.

I’d therefore rate this as a Cautious Buy, i.e. make sure you can try it at a store (if it plays 10 minutes without a dropout then you should be right), or that it’s covered by “Distance Selling Regulations” / the ability to return it if it doesn’t work with your particular device.

Overall I’m extremely happy with this as it’s simple and works :-)

How to Create a Mind – Review

NOTE: Not complete yet, more to come…

Firstly, I must admit I’m a bit of a Kurzweil Fan. Not in a groupie kind of way, but more in a way that I’m an optimist who believes in technology, and so is he. So as soon as I found out that he’d written a new book (which was about a day after it was released) I ordered it. Then on Monday I had and started reading… I’m not a speed reader and have no intent to even try on this book, so it will probably take me until the weekend or beyond to finish it (I also have a life that doesn’t involve computers & books ;). I therefore thought I’d to an Agile / Iterative / Incremental / Progressive review. I won’t publish every day, but every few until I’m done (and I may slow down near the end as I suspect it’s one of those books that builds up as it goes).

My plan is to go by the chapters I’ve read, then summarise / comment and probably go back over the whole thing and refactor in to a “Gold Release”.

Before we get in to my review, for a counterpoint, you may want to check out The New Yorker’s “Trendy, Dubious, Sarcastic” Review (just my opinion ;) entitled Ray Kurzweil’s Dubious New Theory of Mind. It seems to be not just me that has this opinion though as one of the Anonymous comments best sums up reasoned (to me) opinion:

This is a very poor excuse for a review. It misses so many points that it appears to be constructed for the purpose of allowing Gary Marcus to pose as a smug intellectual superior to Ray Kurzweil, and the ad hominum crap in the comment section only confirm my dismay at how thoroughly personal psychology trumps reasonable thought. Demeaning Kurzweil’s understanding may get you off, but it’s clear to this reader that this book is filled with interesting information and insights, and is a valuable contribution to the intellectual life of anyone interested in these matters.

I mean, who knows who Gary Marcus is and what has he done (other than write a seemingly vengeful review) in the bigger picture vs Ray Kurzweil?

Anyway, on to the good stuff – the review!

Chapters 1-3

As I mentioned, I’m quite familiar with Kurzweil and the history of science, so in this light I was personally a bit “disappointed” by Chapter 1 “Thought experiments on the world” and Chapter 2 “Thought experiments on thinking” as I already knew most of this and therefore skimmed quite a bit. I can understand why it’s there though as this is an “enthusiastic layperson” book and he has to give some background. For me, Chapter 3 “A model of the neorcortex: The pattern recognition theory of the mind” is where the book really starts – it’s a great introduction to Kurzweil’s theories and obviously a basis for the whole book that will be expanded on. It talks about his theory that the brain operates as a hierarchy of pattern recognisers with some illustrations. Part of this theory is that the brain works in one-dimensional lists – what a mind blower, as this is the basis for Lisp which was invented by John McCarthy. There is much reference to his earlier work, such as the “Book reading machine for the blind” and the “Kurzweil Synthesiser” (which I’d buy if I was loaded) that shows this is the track he’s been on all along and is finally realising it…

Chapters 4-6

Now we start to get down and dirty and gooey as Kurzweil starts off in Chapter 4 covering “The Biological Neocortex”. This was really interesting to me as my knowledge of the brain and it’s various areas is quite basic. He also refers to the recent NIH study of the brain and had the same thought as me – it looks like a crossbar switch! Are we inherently creating brains in our technology? The next Chapter 5 covers “The Old Brain” where Kurzweil contends the Neocortex has taken over much or at least severely enhanced many Old Brain functions. Hormones are given pretty short shrift though – maybe Richard Berglund, author of Fabric of the Mind may disagree. Only time and experimentation will tell. This is all pretty much wrapped up in Chapter 6 “Transcendent Abilities” which covers Love and Aptitude that touches on nature vs nurture but kind of neatly sidesteps the whole issue.

Chapters 7-8

Having set the biological background in the previous chapters, Kurzweil now moves on to the question of “how do we build one of these brain thingies”, starting with Chapter 7 “The Biologically Inspired Digital Neurocortex” which starts off talking about brain simulations, gives us some more background on his original research and outlines Vector Quantisation that is a technique that provides a compressed way to capture learning. He also outlines Hidden Markov Models which seem to have a similarity to the brains functions. There’s also mention of LISP, which also works in 1-D lists – coincidence or reflection of our structure? After all that theory, there’s a nice general discussion about out current efforts in machine intelligence, such as Watson which leads nicely in to Chapter 8 “The Mind as Computer” that gives a compressed history of the original development of computers. My only criticism is that like most Americans he overlooks Turing in preference to von Neumann with regards to implementing a fundamental computer architecture. There is one thing I didn’t know here, which is that von Neumann wrote near the end of his life about neural processing and even tried to estimate the amount of computing needed – these estimates still hold today!

Headphones

LotsOfHeadphones.jpg

Its been a while, I’ve fallen out of the habit of blogging, and have decided to get back in to it. One thing that’s been on my mind recently is Headphones, and I realise that it’s probably something most people don’t think about much – just go in to a store and buy some for however much money you want to spend, which will certainly work for under $100 (note: all prices are in Australian $).

Over $100 it gets tricky as you have brands like Apple Beats Headphones which are just over-priced crap (and they’re not the only ones). Luckily though, the sweet-spot for good headphones is around $1-200 with the next stop being $1k and over – you just have to know what you’re buying. If you’ve not been in a studio, or created a home studio, you may not of heard of most of the brands I’m going to mention, but all these brands are literally the ones used to produce the music we all listen to.

Roland-RH-5.jpgLet’s start on the “budget end” and for those I’d have to recommend the Roland RH-5s. Roland are probably best known for their instruments and studio equipment, but not so much their headphones. When I bought a pair of these a few years ago I did a lot of research and found them to be the best value for money “entry level headphones” (ie not crap). I think I payed around $100 at the time, but you can now get them for $75 which makes them incredible bargain. Their specifications are better than a lot of headphones which cost twice the price with a frequency response (ie the frequencies they will reproduce) of 10Hz to 25kHz.

The astute amongst you will say “Hang on, humans can only hear between 20Hz and 20kHz” and you’d be (pretty much) correct, but that would be with respect to a 20yo who had not been to any loud concerts (hearing loss in the young is horrendous, also because of in ear headphones). As you get older, that top frequency gets lower, so the average 50 year old tops out around 15kHz so an important thing is to only buy better headphones if you can actually hear the difference. Having said all that, there’s a lot more subtlety to response curves than just the frequencies, just as cameras are not all about megapixels.

KRK-KNS8400.jpg

Unfortunately, my Roland’s met an unfortunate end under someone’s foot (my fault, I’d left them on the floor!) which set me off on my quest for a new pair of headphones. Luckily, it was End of Financial Year here so there were a heap of sales. Looking at the place where I get most of my gear, https://djcity.com.au/, they had a great price on some KRK KHS8400s, reduced from $250 to $180 – done! How do these compare to RH-5s? They are significantly better:

  • The outer pads are larger and made of memory foam – I can tell these will be good for multi-hour sessions
  • Their frequency response is 5Hz – 23kHz, and you do notice the increased bass. Although 5Hz is below our threshold of 20Hz, our bodies can still sense this and all I can say is that the “bass is bassier”. Top end – superb! Can be almost a bit too sharp with some music (probably my only criticism) but I can easily correct for that with EQ.
  • The separation is phenomenal! Instruments are much more clearly placed in the stereo field. I don’t know how they do this, but definitely better than the RH-5’s – part of the art of any acoustic design.

These headphones are basically so good that I’d say even if you can’t get them on sale, they’re still a good buy at $250. It’s also worth noting that some reviewers have referred to the KRK’s as “the best headphones available for under $1,000”.

Sennheiser-HD800What if you want to spend over $1,000? To me, there’s only one brand in this category, and that’s Sennheiser. Call me a “Headphone Snob” (and I probably am, so it’s OK ;), but they are the ones who literally invented the open ear headphone and they are literally setting the standard. In fact, my first pair of headphones that I personally bought were Sennheisers and I kept buying them for a few decades, but they now seem to of become a “premium brand” and I think you can do much better than them in the low cost and mid range area. At the top end though, they still rule for me! At $2,000, the Sennheiser HD 800s pretty much top things out. I’ve never tried them, but could take an educated guess, based on the law of diminishing returns, that they’d only be 10-20% better than the KRKs I’m using at the moment.

One can go further though, and that’s in to the world of “high end audiophile headphones” – with these, we’re talking about cans which you use on your yacht whilst docked at Monaco during “the season”

Sennheiser HE1

This brings us in to the rarefied territory of the Sennheiser Orpheus HE-1s –  with a price of around $80,000… you know these will be no “ordinary headphones”. But are they any better than Sennheiser HD 800s?

Sennheiser HE1 open.jpgThe HE-1s are a follow up to their legendary HE-90s, which were quite revolutionary at the time, although not the first. The HE-1s  are certainly amazing, with a response from 8 Hz (note: my KRKs are lower at 5 ;) to more than 100 kHz (that’s 4 times “normal headphones”!) they have the lowest distortion ever measured in a sound reproduction system: 0.01% at 1 kHz, 100 dB SPL.

Sennheiser HE1 HeadphonesThe interesting thing is that when you look at the original reviews for the HE-90s, they actually weren’t that complimentary: “sounded a bit shy on the bottom—it lacked sufficient body and weight, seemed rather lean through the midbass, and was without a fully natural warmth“. Unfortunately in these days of Corporate Suckupery, Consumerism and “news” organisations which are mostly extensions of PR firms, I don’t believe the reviews.

Stax SR-009SBesides, if you’re going electrostatic, the best bet is the company who invented them, the Japanese company Stax and their ST-009S headphones which will probably be better than the Sennheisers and only set you back $4,325 (don’t know whether that AU or US, but at this level, does it matter?).

KRK KNS-8400-angleWhere does that leave us? Well, with me and my KRK KHS8400s – I’ve been wearing them for around 5 hours today and they’re still comfy. They may not look as snazzy as all those high-end headphones, but for my ears they’ll do as I’ve been listening to Blade Runner 2046, Pink Floyd, Daft Punk, Dream Theater, Tron, Bach, Louis Armstrong and A Clockwork Orange and all I can say is that they produce the best sound that I’ve heard so far, so they’ll be good enough for quite a while, as long as I don’t leave them on the floor…

Star Trek Beyond – BRILLIANT!

StarTrekBeyond

NOTE: Spoiler Free Review :-)
VERDICT: BRILLIANT!

Before going to see Star Trek Beyond (in VMax & 3D at Crown Cinemas in Melbourne) I just happened to see one review which was rather negative, so I thought I’d write this one as my (and IMDB & Rotten Tomatoes) experience was pretty much the opposite. The film is GREAT! It’s probably the best of the Abrams reboots (at least as good as the first, and better than the second in my opinion).

With the price of movies (and Popcorn!) these days I’m pretty picky about what I see at the cinema, but the Abrams Star Trek movies need to be seen on a large screen in 3D. Speaking of 3D, I think they got it right as some films have given me a bit of a headache – this one was fine.

As this is a spoiler free review, there’s a lot I won’t cover, except what is revealed in the trailer – the Baddie (Krall) and his force are great, and there’s a clever twist at the end. Jayla is a great new character and hopefully we’ll see more of her. As to the ‘old gang’, well, they’re the crew of the Enterprise and all seem to get pretty even exposure throughout the movie.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • The graphics in general – no more lens flares ;-)
  • “Gravity Scenes” – obviously a lot of thought put in to them
  • The view of warp from the outside – such a great new visualisation
  • The “Super Star Base” (York Town)
  • There’s a Gay character – obviously not groundbreaking in movies, but at least for Star Trek – and it’s handled well in that it’s “no biggie”, but “just the way it is”

Any Cons? Not really… this movie is not perfect, but it’s very good and moves along at a reasonable pace. You have to “suspend disbelief” to be in the “Star Trek Universe” – I can’t comment on what this film would be like for an “objective person” (who I presume would of never seen anything Star Trek in their life ;) as I literally grew up with Star Trek (my early first memories of TV were Star Trek as it was very (on the edge) scary to me at the time). There was some criticism of “dark scenes”, but there’s only a few really dark ones and it’s used effectively to dictate the mood.

Overall, I think they’ve now got a really good “tone” to Star Trek Beyond (thanks in part also Justin Lim’s (Fast and Furious) direction) which sets things up very nicely for the next movie – seems like they’ve really found their feet. As I mentioned earlier, this is a movie to see on a large screen and 3D. It’s also a movie I’d definitely see again (on DVD) as I’m sure there’s some bits I missed.