Category Archives: Tech

Bose Quiet Comfort QC15 Headphones (with Mobile Communications Kit)

Posted on May 29, 2010 by

I picked up a set of Bose noise cancelling headphones. I have been quite unhappy with the sound of my Apple iPhone‘s factory-standard earbuds right from the beginning. Yes, the whole “white” thing is cool for a bit until you realize that the great sound experience you are looking for just does not appear while using Apple’s earbuds. I have also been looking for noise cancelling headphones.

Why was I interested in noise cancelling headsets? Let’s just say I have a really great neighbour who sometimes enjoys different types of music than me and it seemed easier to buy these for those times when I would rather listen to something else!

So it is rather funny that I listened to my first set of Bose Quiet Comfort QC15 Headphones while visiting an Apple retail store in San Francisco, California. They had all types of headsets on display for demonstrating their quality, noise cancellation, etc., and this one beat them all, hands down. The store was bustling with well over 100 very eager Apple fanatics, lining up and grouping up to play with and throw their money at the recently released iPads. It was also located on Stockton, just off Market Street, in one of the busiest areas in San Francisco’s downtown core. Add to that the noise from the amplified Apple Genius giving a training session on the aforementioned iPad, as well as the Genius Tech Support bar and the other large batch of regulars who make up the customers in the Apple stores and I think you will understand how loud it was in there. It was noisy!

I put many headsets on while I was in the store, but these were the only one that drowned out the din of the store and let me listen to the music. It sounded like I was alone in a hall somewhere listening to a private concert. That was impressive!

After a few weeks of thinking it over, comparing alternatives, and speaking with some knowledgeable audiophile friends, I decided to buy a set and try them out at home. I mean, who needs to eat? I could do to lose a few pounds anyway…

Headset

(All images are from the originals on the Bose site. I made no changes other than cropping and sizing to fit)

The quality of workmanship is high on this set, considering there is a significant amount of plastic. The band is covered with a leather wrap, and the earpieces are also leather. This device is actually quite light and comfortable to wear over extended periods of time. Trust me, I’ve done it.
Screen shot 2010-05-28 at 4.52.34 PM.png

Noise Cancellation

Yup, it’s there. Yup, it works! As a matter of fact, it works great!

One night I was doing laundry and listening to the usual washer and dryer audio detritus when I decided to put these puppies to the test. I didn’t even have music playing in the background, I simply placed the set on my head and threw the battery power switch. Instant silence. Wow!

I have a friend who swears by his set of QC15s for all airline flights. He said you just sit down, put the headset on, and you can easily avoid talking to the chatty person beside you, eliminate the engine roar, and ignore everyone else on the plane. His advice: if you do any amount of traveling, these are a must to own. After my experience in the Apple store and now my quiet laundry day revelations, I would have to agree with him. I have a trip to Toronto in a few weeks, I’ll have to do my airline tests then.

How does it work? The QC15 headset is battery operated. Somehow, they trapped a Leprechaun into each headset and somehow that Leprechaun stops noise from entering by using a magical sound-capture device. Or maybe it uses electronic frequencies and electronic engineering. I can’t remember which…

In any case, it takes one AAA battery to power these bad boys into noise cancellation mode, and the propaganda states you get about 40 hours of listening with each battery. This is actually quite good compared to some others headsets I have researched. BUT… while requiring batteries isn’t unusual for noise cancellers, what happens when your battery dies is disappointing with these ones. These headsets become expensive ear warmers without power. Not ony does the noise cancellation feature stop working, the headset stops working, there is no sound at all!!! That is a major flaw, and one that I think could (and should) be rectified by Bose in future models.

While I understand that power is needed to create a noise-cancelling environment, these headsets are dead in the water if your AAA battery dies on you. So, “always keep some spares around” is good advice, but in all honesty, why did Bose miss the boat so badly on this one? Why not simply allow them to function as normal headphones when batteries are dead and/or the switch is off? Others headsets do, why not Bose?

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Cable

OK, it is good that they created a detachable cable. The cable is by far the most likely item to wear on a headset. It also has a detachment mechanism that will withstand normal tug, but will also release if there is a sudden tug, as my 4 year old daughter proved by jumping on my lap while I was drowning out her cartoons…

It is also a single cable, and it plugs into the left ear piece.

But while they very properly made the cable a separate piece, they also counter-sunk and moulded the end of the cable that plugs into the bottom area of the left earpiece… That means you must order genuine Bose replacement cables and, an even bigger mistake on their part, Bose must manufacture a different replacement cable for each of their products. Not smart. Really. Think about it, nobody would question a generic looking cable that plugged into the bottom of a pretty moulded earpiece!

Airplane adaptor

One of the things they tell you not to do in the manual is plug these headsets directly into the older dual-prong airline audio systems. (Yes, I read the manual, right after I had used the headset for a few days…) Luckily, they provide an adaptor for the old style plugs.

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(Sorry about the lack of good images for this – this is all they had on the website and I was too lazy to set up a photo shoot for this thing. Sue me…)

Carrying Case

The headphones come with a great little carrying case that is semi-hard sided. Nothing says “Steal Me” quite like an identifiable carrying case, but hey, life is all about labels and branding these days!

This case should serve well for keeping the headset and cable protected from most day-to-day hardships and from the wear and tear of being inside backpacks and laptop bags. It also has a pouch for holding your airline adaptor, some corny “About my headphones” cards you are supposed to give to people who are so interested in your head fashion (Bose? WTF???), and some extra room, which is great for your spare batteries! (and of course the crappy Apple earbuds that you will need to use if you run out of batteries…)
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Review by the numbers

Design 8.5/10 – The overall design is awesome. I would almost rate it as flawless, if it weren’t for what I see as a major example of form over function –

Sound Quality 9.5/10 – The sound quality really is awesome! I have placed these on the heads of several people who were very skeptical of the price and they were suitably impressed. One of the first things I listened to when I received them was a podcast of an interview by CBC’s Q host Jian Ghomeshi with Van Morrison from last Fall and I could hear every nuance, every tapped finger, every half-breath… Impressive.

If there were one weakness, it would be with the bass. It seems a tiny bit weak. Now, I’m not a fan of massive, hard-hitting bass all the time anyway, so this really doesn’t concern me (it really isn’t THAT noticeable), but the fact I noticed it means someone who was a metal head or acid rocker or similar may be a bit disappointed.

Functionality 8.5/10 – I would love to rate these higher, but their major strength – noise cancellation – is also what takes away from their functionality. Unless you are well-insured, don’t try wearing these while walking around in traffic-filled streets. I guarantee you won’t even hear the car or bus that takes you out… Also, the fact that without battery power they are useless is a big detractor. Yes, I purchased a 4-pack of AAA batteries to ensure this never happens, but this level of headset really should at least work without noise cancellation when the battery dies mid-flight.

Value 8/10 – Value is always like beauty, in the eye of the beholder. These headsets are phenomenal, no question. But they are also at the high end of the spectrum, even for noise cancellers. $299 USD ($349 CDN) is a steep price to pay for a headset. Period. What is a fair price? Not sure. My Shure SRH440s were about $120 CDN and provided a similar sound quality, but they were bulkier, heavier, and not as comfortable to wear for long periods of time. They were also not noise cancellers.

Overall Assessment – If you can afford them, they are worth their weight in gold for noise cancellation. They also have a great sound and are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. But if you have a relatively controlled noise environment and don’t fly or travel by public transportation much, save your money and buy something without noise cancellation for $100 – $150 less and you will get really great sound that doesn’t need batteries.

***

Mobile Communications Kit

Despite the initial price tag, the QC15 is designed specifically as a headset and not for use with a smartphone right out of the box. I was a little concerned about this when I was doing my research, because I wanted something to use mainly with my iPhone, and I already had a set of Shure SRH440s that I had to take off whenever I received a call on my iPhone. That was a pain and I was not willing to continue doing it. I looked into other options.

Shure has a mobile microphone adaptor (they better, they are known for microphones!), but it does not replace the headset cables, it simply acts as an adaptor, giving me an even longer set of cables to deal with Shure headset cables are 10′ and coiled – imagine carrying that cable around, attached to your iPhone!

So research showed me that Bose has a “Mobile Communications Kit” (MCA), which can be purchased for use with the QC15s for about $50. As I have already described, an add-on like this is a must for anyone using their iPhone as their music source. It also has various cable size adaptors, which might be handy, but the default connector fits my iPhone 3GS perfectly, so not so necessary for me.

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As you can imagine, after having forked out for the headset, I was a bit queasy with the idea of a $50 price tag on top of that. I kept thinking “it is just a microphone and cable!”.

But when they arrived, whether or not I agreed with the methodology, I understood the price. The cable replaces the original cable and the end that inserts into the headphones is engineered to fit exactly into the same spot and fill the missing curved area, just like the original. Remember when I said it would have made more sense for Bose to make the cable jack more generic? This is where they would have saved on manufacturing costs, and I could have saved on the retail cost.

However, with all the great work and thought put into the rest of the piece, would it be too much to ask for a talk/end button? Their mobile earbuds have it, their over the ear mobile set have it… Did they just forget???

Review of the Mobile Communications Kit…

Design 10/10 – Although I think it was stupid of them to make the cable the way they did, I am sure someone thought it was prettier this way (and I’ve already beat them up about that issue above).

Sound Quality 10/10 – (of the microphone) Anyone I talked to has stated the sound quality when speaking with me was great. I have yet to try it outside on a windy day or in a busy area, but I will eventually.

Functionality 5/10 – I gave it a 5/10 because it functions as a microphone allows me to answer calls without removing the headset. But that is only 50% of the functionality of a smartphone microphone. I must actually take the iPhone out and touch the screen to answer and answer AND end calls… Major fail for Bose on that one. Fire that design engineer!

Overall Assessment – They are designed specifically to fit, the microphone quality is great, and the cable is short. That makes this device great to use with your iPhone and QC15 headset. But the lack of a Talk/End button is really annoying and I would have to recommend anyone looking at this (or any other headset they use with a smartphone/iPhone) to look into the Griffin SmartTalk adaptor for less than 1/2 the price.

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CIOs told to scrap enterprise IT departments?

Posted on August 31, 2009 by

Peter Hinssen, chairman of consulting firm Porthus in Belgium and a teacher at the London School of Business, gave an invitation-only speech to Canadian CIOs and explained to them that CIOs should scrap enterprise IT departments.

He states that CIOs need to be more than just nerds who manage nerds, which I agree with. However, he almost brags about cutting 5000 IT workers from the payroll at proctor & Gamble and outsourcing their jobs.

From a numbers-only, business bottom line point of view, Hinssen’s ideas this may sound like a solid idea, but what he is missing is the synergies that come from having real employees and not contractors. He advises removing a central IT department and a repository of skill sets to choose from.

I would suggest that Hinssen is a bit too much of a numbers guy and not a people person. HR departments are having trouble recruiting talent and finding solid workers. Any company that doesn’t provide employee loyalty is not going to receive it either and will spend enormous amounts of money recruiting and training new employees and contractors on a continuous basis.

Rather than, to abuse an old cliché, ‘Throw the baby out with the bathwater’, I would suggest a centralized IT management scheme and PMO that distributes IT resources throughout the company but still remains in control and up to speed on projects would be a more efficient model.

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New Safari 4 Browser impressive on Mac and Windows, and follows Web Standards too!

Posted on June 22, 2009 by

When I first read the article in eWeek, I was a bit sceptical. After all, like everyone else I knew, Safari was on the Mac when it arrived, but for the most part, I used it to download FireFox and continued on with that.

According to the article, Safari “is currently the top dog in standards support”, scoring on the Web Standards ACID3 test, the only non-beta web browser on the market today to do so.

The other item they noted was speed. Safari was the fastest performing browser available for testing. So, not being one to simply believe what i read, I decided to try to benchmark things myself. Here are my benchmarks from my (underpowered!) Dell laptop I use at work (and at home when Nadine won’t let me use the iMac because she is so in love with it!!! ;-). The laptop sports an older Pentium M class with only 1 GB RAM, so application speed is a factor. As you can see in the results below, Safari’s performance score is impressive (1246), scoring over twice as high as FireFox (555) and blowing Internet Explorer (252) out of the water!

image

This was a much more significant difference than I expected, so I will be repeating these benchmarking tests on my Apple iMac at home in Mac OS X and also in Windows XP SP3 on Bootcamp and will post those results when I get the chance. My iMac has a 3 GHz dual core processor and 4 GB RAM, so I expect the results to be even more impressive. Maybe even enough to convince me to switch to using Safari!

However, in closing I must inform you that there is a downside… FireFox is well known for plug-in/extension support, whereas Safari lacks the same level of support. There are still plenty of add-ons for Safari, but not nearly as many as for FireFox. I know, because I use several myself –> TwitterFox for my Twitter feeds, ScribeFire to create blog pages, and TinyURL Creator to turn obscenely long web page urls into something much more manageable.

So, I guess I will have to decide which I prefer, speed and standards or the benefit of more plug-in support. I will also be seeking out some other browser benchmarking sites to get more feedback results, so if anyone has any recommendations, feel free to share them! In any case, Internet Explorer is relegated to the minor leagues!

Added Later:

Just finished testing Opera over lunch (let it run while I went out) and Opera scored about even with FireFox, so Safari definitely wins the crown on this machine!

BrowserBenchmarks

iMac at Home

Here are the results from Safari 4 and FireFox 3.0.11 on my iMac and Mac OS X Leopard at home. A significant difference between them!

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Ecto on the Mac vs. Windows Live Writer

Posted on June 16, 2009 by

ecto_128px vs. Windows

For those about to blog, we salute you!

Some days blogging is fun, some days not as much. When I am at home and on the Mac, I really enjoy using ecto as my blogging software. It allows me to drag and drop almost anything into my post, edit is as if it were in a word processor, and then one-click upload it to a site.

But the problem is that they do not make a Windows version, so I end up needing to use the WordPress or Blogger sites, and they are just not anywhere near as friendly.

I have used Windows Live Writer in the past and found it was OK, but every once in a while it would spontaneously lose my blog site settings and I would have to enter all the info in again to post. That was annoying.

So, tonight I downloaded and installed the latest version (build 14.0.8064.206 en according to the help screen). I really want something simple because I have way too many other things to keep me occupied and don’t really want to battle with weak designs.

So, this post was created with the new Windows Live Writer. It has lots of the same type of features ecto has – WYSIWYG editor, drag and drop/resize images and videos, spell-checking, add maps, etc. Both allow me to size the images to fit into the column width of my blogs. Neither has a way for me to set column size for the entire post, which I guess makes sense given the dynamic nature of HTML.

Overall, it isn’t bad!

ecto-shot-tm ecto

overview Writer

But it acted weird for a bit… For instance, I like to type out an entire post, then go back and add the hyperlinks later. ecto is great, you just highlight the text and then click the link button and add the url. Sometimes in Windows Live Writer, it won’t let me highlight and I need to actually insert the link, it won’t allow me to highlight existing text and add a link to it, then other times it works fine… like I said -> weird! Maybe it is something I haven’t figured out yet, but I will give it some time.

In a nutshell, Windows Live Writer is better than using WordPress or Blogger web-based  post-creation pages if you like adding images, video, etc., and you are more comfortable using a WYSIWYG editor. Plus, if you don’t own a Mac, you can’t get ecto anyway… 🙁

And I know I’m a bit biased by my love affair with most things Mac, but I think Windows Live Writer, if they have fixed the bugs I was having in the previous version with losing settings, and if I can figure out how to make it let me highlight existing text and add links all the time, will be almost as good as ecto. If this post uploads, it will be the final test…

Best part is, it’s free (ecto isn’t free, it is $19.95, but it really is slick and they don’t charge for upgrades!)

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Twitpocalypse – Fact or Fiction?

Posted on June 12, 2009 by

NERD ALERT! Non-techies need not continue…

So, according to the hoopla around Twitter, they are running out of ID numbers for tweets.

They apparently assigned a 32-bit signed integer value for their unique ‘tweet’ IDs, so they had a limit of 232 ? 1 ? 1 values (for those binary and/or mathematically challenged out there, that is the largest integer value available in a 4 byte storage location and is about 2,147,483,647 or a little over 2 billion). Apparently, they are close to this upper limit and will run out of unique IDs soon.

If this is true, I guess when they developed Twitter, they didn’t expect to be this popular! ;-)I suspect they will need to take it down deliberately before the crash and alter the database table to use a more ‘large number friendly’ data type like a bigint (or the equivalent, though I suspect they are a MySQL based operation), which can be up to 264 ? 1 ? 1 (9,223,372,036,854,775,807) before bringing it back up. Uses a bit more memory, but they seem to need it… Hopefully they have already tested this on a dev server somewhere!

For computer programming students out there, please note that this is a real-life example of why actually taking the time to properly analyze the present AND future system requirements sometimes does make sense… 😉

UPDATE: A bit more reading shows that this is not a Twitter issue, but an issue with all the Twitter apps out there who will have to be able to handle the unique IDs larger than 2 billion. Apparently those Twitter folks did properly analyze, but some apps may not have! 😉

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I hope Sun Microsystems didn't use Glassfish for this!

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

So, I’m a bit of a Java nerd. OK, if you must know, I teach it at the College whenever Dave M can avoid doing it! In any case, I belong to the Sun Microsystems tech developer network (if I recall correctly, the criteria for becoming a member was an email address, the ability to type your name, and enough skill to click a submit button once the little boxes were completed, but I digress…).

Today I received an email from them titled “Build a High-Performance, Open Web Platform with Sun GlassFish Portfolio“. Neat. I sometimes use Sun’s NetBeans IDE for teaching Java development, and I have heard good things about Glassfish as an app server. Being the uber-geek I at least pretend to be online, I went to the web page, filled in all the pertinent information, then clicked ‘Submit’. I figured “Let’s give this document a read and see where it goes”. I’m always looking for more samples and ideas to use as teaching material!

You would think that if you were offering to provide your developer network with a document describing how to use their web platform and development software to “Build a High-Performance, Open Web Platform with Sun GlassFish Portfolio“, they would have a kick-butt example at their own site to display their capabilities.

Unfortunately, after what seemed like an eternity of watching the ubiquitous beachball spin and the web page just sit there, I received the following server error from the Sun website:

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Really instills lots of confidence in their ability to “Build a High-Performance, Open Web Platform with Sun GlassFish Portfolio“, doesn’t it? 😉

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Rare Snow Leopard Pictures

Posted on June 11, 2009 by

National Geographic just published pictures of Snow Leopards caught by camera traps.

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The article states:

Once found throughout the high altitudes of Central Asia, the cats are thought to number only about a hundred in Afghanistan, conservationists say.

Makes me wonder… If National Geographic can manage to capture footage of some of only the estimated 100 snow leopards in Afghanistan, maybe the US military should hire them to find Osama Bin Laden

Come to think of it, those of us in the Mac user community are wondering if maybe we can borrow some of these camera traps to see if we can’t capture images of our own elusive Snow Leopard anytime soon…

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