Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

Ghost Goblets: Wine Glasses inside Tumblers

Posted in Food,Luxury by Elliott Back on May 29th, 2008.

You have to check out these wine glasses from Cocktail Vibe. A set of four handblown glasses can be bought for just $74.95; the unique design features a glass sculpture holding your drink inside of a clear tumber; absolutely unique!

ghost-goblet.jpg

I know the above reads like ad copy, but these are the most innovative glasses I’ve seen in a while. SO COOL!!

Inside Elite P2P Filesharing Networks

Posted in bit torrent,bittorrent,Computers & Technology,Copyright,Cornell University,Law,Scandal by Elliott Back on September 1st, 2006.

An Introduction

You’ve heard that private file sharing networks exist, but you’ve probably never had a chance to explore one from the inside. These networks of software, music, television, and movie pirates often are run on the internal network infrastructure of private educational institutions. Because a university network has a fixed set of IP addresses, college pirates can run DC++ and write simple scripts to only allow users from the internal IP pool, or even the residential dormitory pool. This prevents unwanted interference (RIAA, MPAA, Police) with the network by simply making it invisible to the outside world. Also, most university networks are lightly-satured high-speed ethernet, giving student pirates the bandwidth to share large files.

riaa.gifWhile I attended Cornell University, students there ran a large DC++ hub to share files. There were anywhere between 1000 and 2000 users of the DC++ hub, which provided access to terabytes of shared files. Before I left the University to work, I transfered a complete set of users’ file lists to my home computer for later analysis. With 1215 XML file lists from DC++, I wrote a few perl scripts to calculate metrics on the 600mb data set.

Interestingly, the DC++ hub appears to still be around at its old redirect address thchub.no-ip.com:3307. Apparently a student r253141224 is hosting the service on his dorm computer 128.253.141.224.

Data From 20,000 Feet

From the file lists I have, there were 2,456,462 unique files, 5,424,446 total files, 19.07 unique terabytes, and 75.55 total terabytes. Here’s a histogram and data listing of the most popular file types:

file-types-histogram.jpg

mp3	1857432
jpg	828815
m4a	312173
png	264820
gif	224034
avi	203304
dll	133889
wma	116851
htm	82130
zip	79114

The file types follow a classic long-tail distribution, and let us query the data in more interesting ways. For example, for avi movie files, what were the most popular file names? Here’s the top 20:

crash.avi	90
pulp fiction.avi	76
garden state.avi	74
office space.avi	74
good will hunting.avi	72
wedding crashers.avi	67
sin city.avi	66
lost - 2x05 - ...and found.avi	65
super troopers.avi	63
zoolander.avi	60
robin hood - men in tights.avi	59
lost - 2x09 - what kate did.avi	58
eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.avi	57
lost - 2x04 - everybody hates hugo.avi	57
memento.avi	57
american beauty.avi	55
batman begins.avi	55
mean girls.avi	55
lost - 2x07 - the other 48 days.avi	54
old school.avi	54

We can take advantage of common patterns in the data to try and find other patterns, but I’ll save that for another day, and another post in what will undoubtably become a series.

Hidden Radio: A Review

Posted in Hardware,Music by Elliott Back on October 5th, 2012.

If you aren’t familiar with Hidden Radio & BlueTooth Speaker by John VDN + Vitor Santa Maria, it is one of the more popular Kickstarter projects, having $938,771 on a $125,000 goal. Their plan was to create “the simplest, most powerful radio and wireless speaker for iPhone + iPad ever.” In this review, we’ll see if the bluetooth behemoth lives up to the hype!

Unboxing

The packing for HiddenRadio is immaculate, iPhone style, with a certain simplicity that seems to be directly ripped off from an old-school iPod box. There’s no Microsoft-esque list of system requirements or tacky stickers. You’d feel proud wrapping one of the Hidden Radios up for a gift. There is a subtle panel of use-cases on the back, while the other three sides are product shots:

I opened it up; inside you get a few accessories:

  • A USB mini cable for charging
  • An audio mini-jack FM radio antenna cable
  • An audio mini-jack cable to connect to your Sony Walkman or … whatever
  • A microfiber drawstring dust pouch

Also, there’s the unit itself. A rounded grey (hey dude, I order silver!) cylinder, it looks sleek and is shorter than a beer bottle, and slightly smaller than your palm in diameter. They’re cute looking little devices, and it’s the design concept rather than the sound engineering, I believe, which got them their first million dollars in Kickstarter sales:

Build & Sound Quality

So how does it sound? I received two units, and they are slightly different. Both units exhibit a mediocre range with very little bass when placed on a flat surface. Treble is also attenuated, so you end up having to set EQ on your iPhone to “Rock” or a similar setting to get a response that sounds similar to the song you’re trying to listen to. When held in the air, the speaker sounds quite a lot better. Also, the volume control doesn’t work terribly well. If you set your iPhone to 100% output (no eq), the Hidden Radio will actually distort. So instead of using the beautiful twist feature to control volume, you’ll most likely leave your HiddenRadio 80% open and control volume from your iPhone. More than 80% and the sound quality again degrades.

Another sound quality issue I encountered was a constant buzzing from the unit–but only one of them. The other HiddenRadio didn’t have the same poor circuitry causing the buzz. Fortunately, it seems to be worst only when turned on, or in front of a monitor, and not playing sound. Once it locks onto a bluetooth signal, the buzz amplitude is reduced or eliminated–but you might notice it on a quiet song!

As for the build quality, it’s not good enough. I’m not sure why you twist the device left to open, which is an awkward motion for right-handers. The device feels plastic, and doesn’t have enough weight in the base to stick to the surfaces you place it on, so actually turning it on usually takes two hands: one to stabilize it, the other to twist it open. This defaults the main point of Hidden Radio: the gorgeous twits-to-open feature. Both of my units suffer from superficial defects: the first has paint already chipping off the plastic around the base ring, while the second one’s grille has a permanent dimple. See if you can spot it:

Hidden Radio definitely needs to improve their quality assurance process before selling to the mainstream customer. Another example–one unit came with some charge, while the other (better) unit was entirely uncharged:

The base also needs a few more pounds of weight so that it sticks. Right now, I either need to apply more downwards force than it would take to fire an NYPD glock, or pick the thing up in two hands to turn it on.

Ports

The Hidden Radio has all of its input ports on the bottom–you charge it through a mini-USB cable that plugs in on the base. You can also either give it direct audio input or FM antenna through a minijack on the base. There’s also a bluetooth/direct input/FM radio switch and channel picker to control the modes there:

Other Reviews

You can check out their KickStarter comments page which includes mostly negative feedback. The founders appear to be removing anything but positive comments from their Facebook page. Here are a few comments from Kickstarter:

  • I bought a five pack to give as gifts, unfortunately, the one I opened to try (only after hearing all the negative reviews) it sounds TERRIBLE. At low volume it is so distorted that I cannot bear to listen.
  • I received two units, both look very nice. But the first one has a lot of white noise in the background while charging via USB, the second one’s volume control is out of order.
  • Well add one more backer with the frustrating automatic shut-off between two and three minutes. This only happens in wireless and wired mode though. In FM mode the HR stays on.
  • Everything worked flawlessly out of the box. Simple, easy to use, well made and it really does sound good.
  • Frankly I have to say that the sound quality is horrible yet especially at the max volume. Voice being distorted and sound stage is bad.
  • First of all, this thing is solid. It’s surprisingly heavy, which is nice because with the “no movement” pad on the bottom it has no problem staying in place on a variety of surfaces (I tested glass, wood, and laminate). Secondly, the range is amazing. I have a small 3/2 house and I can sit it in one corner of the house and play music in the other corner. That’s going through 3 walls, one of which is insulated. Finally, the volume is loud, surprisingly loud.

TechHive also gave it a big “meh” review.

My Take?

This is HiddenRadio v1, which for $115/unit, you get a gorgeous bluetooth speaker you can plug into your bedroom and kitchen and rock out while you read, cook, do chores, etc. The sound quality is acceptable, if you know how to goose the settings, and hopefully the Hidden Radios will survive the test of time. I’d give it a 3/5, for now, until they improve the frequency response of the units. Bluetooth is also a bit gimmicky, and quite static-prone.

I don’t care about direct minijack access or FM radio; just give me an amazing bluetooth speaker with great batter life, a bigger speaker or more speakers for better sound, and a twist-to-the-right to open, and I’d happily give you 5/5!

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