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Tips to Properly Care for In-Ear Headphones

Velodyne's vPulse In-ear Headphone

Personal audio products are invaluable to many of us who can’t live without our music. When I run long distances, nothing keeps me more motivated than invigorating songs. I am fortunate that my current set of earbuds have been with me for over a year, so I haven’t experienced much downtime. Time and time again, I hear of friends complaining that their earphones from all price ranges have stopped working, sometimes after only a few months. Some choose to stick with cheaper brands and go through them like crazy, not thinking twice about tossing them out for a new pair. This practice can become expensive over time. It is ideal to keep them in good working order for as long as possible, especially if you splurged on a pricier set.  Here are some tips to keep in mind to give your earphones the best possible chance at a longer life.

The vPulse comes with a handy case to protect your earphones

  • Keep them in a case when not in use. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, or even specifically for earphones. The goal is to prevent exposure to debris. A roomy pouch or sack that will prevent the cord from getting crimped, caught or tangled is ideal. Avoid stuffing them into your pants pocket, which is very popular, as excessive rubbing and pulling could damage the cord.
  • Treat them gently. It seems the most common method of “caring” for earphones – which I don’t recommend – is to wrap the cord around iPods or other listening devices.  In general, try to avoid tightly wrapping or folding the cord, and unplug it from your listening device. When unplugging the cord, grasp the plug rather than pull on the cord.
  • Replace foam covers from time to time. Some earphones have foam that covers the earbud that is inserted into your ear canal. This material can break down over time and is not meant to last forever. Fortunately, these covers are very inexpensive to replace.
  • Keep them away from water. Submerging your earphones or holding them under running water generally won’t end well. Just sayin’.
  • Keep them clean. Dirt, oils and earwax  may  interfere with listening quality. There are different cleaning methods recommended depending on your specific type of earphone, but a soft cloth with a dab of rubbing alcohol should safely remove any debris from your earbud. If your earbuds come with removable parts, such as a silicone cover, cleaning these occasionally will prevent buildup as well.

If your earphones have stopped working, try cleaning them before you give up on them and move on to another pair. Otherwise, check your warranty information to see if you are eligible for a replacement.

How do you store your earphones when not in use? If you have any other recommendations for general care or tips for prolonging the life of in-ear headphones we’d love to hear them!

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Velodyne LiDAR’s technology isn’t just for driverless cars and Radiohead videos

The Velodyne LiDAR HDL-64E

There’s a good chance you’ve seen Velodyne in the news recently…and didn’t even know it. Although Velodyne’s HDL-64E LiDAR sensor has been the main force behind autonomous vehicles for some time, the media pitch is clearly on the rise.

It began with the State of Nevada, which recently became the first state in the nation to formally approve legislation authorizing the use of autonomous vehicles on its roadway. Among other things, Assembly Bill No. 511 authorizes the state’s Department of Transportation to develop rules and regulations governing the use of driverless cars.

The public also recently saw the real-life benefits of this technology when California resident Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, was “chauffeured” to a local Taco Bell by a driverless car…

Did you notice the distinctively shaped cylinder spinning on the roof of the car? That’s the HDL-64E LiDAR sensor hard at work. It contains 64 fixed-mounted lasers that are continuously measuring the surrounding environment. Each laser is mechanically mounted at a specific vertical angle, reading its surroundings while the entire unit spins. It generates 1.3 million points per second output rate.

And you may have seen this technology a few years ago without realizing it.  If you’re a Radiohead fan, you already know they were nominated for a Grammy Award in 2009 for Best Short Form Music Video for “House of Cards”.

The inspiration for the video idea came from Aaron Koblin, an electronic artist and researcher at UCLA. Koblin created the flight pattern map featured at the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Koblin said he thought Radiohead would be the only band out there willing to take a risk by making a music video without cameras. Check out how Radiohead used our HDL-64E to create their vision for the song:

Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer commented on the creative process for the video. “I always liked the idea of using technology in a way that it wasn’t meant to be used, the struggle to get your head round what you can do with it. I like the idea of making a video of human being and real and time without using any cameras, just lasers, so there are just mathematical points – and how strangely emotional it ended up being,” he said.

You can be sure this is not the last you’ll see of that spinning cylinder.

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Maximizing the sound setup in your listening room

 

Surround soundIt may seem counterintuitive, but the ultimate goal in properly placing your subwoofer is to create the illusion that it’s not there. The full, rich, big sound should seem like it’s all coming from your speakers. Your subwoofer should be the strong and silent type, while your speakers garner all the glory.

The setup of the sub is critical towards achieving this goal. But don’t worry if you’re not a custom installer. Here are some basic tips for setting up your new sub.

I always recommend experimenting with the placement of the sub. If you have some flexibility, placing it in the corner will usually increase the output by about 6dB. That’s due to what’s called the corner loading effect. But corner placement may also exaggerate your room’s peaks and valleys, so experimentation is still a good idea.

A good place to start is by pinpointing your prime listening position, better known as “the sweet spot”. In layman’s terms, pick your favorite chair or couch spot. Now place your sub in that spot, but not on the floor. It’s best to place it directly on the chair or couch. The idea is to place the sub in the exact location you’ll be sitting most of the time. Now turn on your favorite music, preferably something that’s heavy on the bass.

Now you’re ready to crawl around on the ground to all the locations in the room where you might place the sub. The object here is to identify the spots where the bass sounds the most full and natural. Remember that this isn’t a test of your bass expertise. Sound is subjective and the best spot is going to be the one where the bass sounds the best to your ears. That’s the spot for your sub.

Some additional tips for your listening pleasure

  • Another item to consider is proper output level.  A common tendency is to set the sub volume too loud. The goal here is to integrate the sub into the speaker system so it works seamlessly, producing sound in equal parts throughout the entire frequency range.
  • Keep in mind that hard surfaces are reflective and will generally produce sound that’s a little on the bright side. If you have hardwood floors, an area rug or something soft will help prevent sound reflection by absorbing it and preventing it from bouncing back and “blurring” out other sounds.
  • If your speakers and sub are all small, keep the sub within a few feet of the front left or right speaker. This is so the bass sounds like it’s coming from the speakers, not the sub. If your speakers and sub are fairly large, you have more options for placement.

Does anyone out there have their own personal tips for subwoofer placement? I’d love to hear them!

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The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist

Note: You can find this and all my other playlists on Spotify by using the post titles as search terms.

Ah, love. The ultimate motivator for music, poetry, even a few fingerpaints somewhere, probably; every artistic medium is fueled by overwhelming devotion or shattered hearts. Here’s a collection of songs that will have the hopeless romantic in you sighing about that special someone–or the one that got away.

1. “Easy Silence” by The Dixie Chicks: “I just want to hold on to the easy silence you create for me / … / And the peaceful quiet you create for me / And the way you keep the world at bay for me.” A sweet ode to the comfortable quiet of a relationship, “Easy Silence” is about finding peace in another person. Or, if you’re single, just pretend this song is about noise-reducing headphones; they’re almost as good as sharing your life with someone, right?

2. “Make You Feel my Love” by Adele: Bob Dylan’s lyrics get a stunning makeover in Adele’s version of “Make You Feel My Love”: “When the rain is blowing in your face / And the whole world is on your case / I could offer you a warm embrace / To make you feel my love.”

3. “The Nearness of You” by Norah Jones: “It’s not the pale moon that excites me / That thrills and delights me / Oh no, it’s just the nearness of you.” This song captures the electricity of proximity–surely you’ve felt your pulse quicken in the presence of that one person (you know the one I’m talking about). As an aside, many, many artists have recorded versions of this song. I’m partial to Norah Jones’ slow and sweetly sultry rendition, but the Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong recording is thoroughly lovely as well.

4. “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain: A classic wedding song, this anthemic track is one long promise of undying devotion. ”I’ll be your crying shoulder / I’ll be love’s suicide / I’ll be better when I’m older / I’ll be the greatest fan of your life.”

5. “No Man is an Island” by Jack’s Mannequin: This song was written as a wedding present, and you can definitely tell. Self-explanatory: “As long as your heart’s beating it should never beat alone / No man is an island when a woman is his home.”

6. “You Don’t Know Me” by Michael Buble: Fear and shyness gets in the way of love in this story: “You think you know me well / But you don’t know me / No, you don’t know the one who dreams of you at night / … / Afraid and shy, I let my chance go by / A chance that you might love me too.”

7. “Blue Eyes” by the Cary Brothers: This song is slow and sweet and carries a hint of sadness behind the yearning lyrics. “All the lights on and you are alive / But you can’t point the way to your heart / … / I just want to be the one / I just want to sing a song with you.”

8. “In Your Atmosphere (L.A. Song)” by John Mayer: Sometimes when love goes bad, certain places are rendered uninhabitable by a coating of painful memories. This phenomenon is the focus of John Mayer’s plaintive lyrics: ”I don’t think I’m gonna go to LA anymore / I’m not sure that I really ever could / … / I’m gonna steer clear / I’d burn up in your atmosphere.”

9. “One and Only” by Adele: I’ll admit this song didn’t catch my notice the first few times I listened to Adele’s Grammy-winning album, 21. It’s a bit of a sleeper, but it gets under your skin–give it a couple listens and you’ll be hooked on her brazen pleas. “I dare you to let me be your / Your one and only / I promise I’m worth it / To hold in your arms / So come on and give me a chance.”

 10. “Basket Case” by Sara Bareilles: As the title suggests, this song is about the emotional destruction a bad breakup can wreak. Simple guitar and harmonica support Ms. Bareilles’ silky voice perfectly. Listen to this if you’re in a wallowing mood. “He’s not a magic man or a perfect fit / But had a steady hand and I got used to it / … / Now I’m just a basket case”

11. “Colors” by Amos Lee: Simple in sentiment, delicate in delivery. “When you’re gone / Colors seem to fade.”

12. “City Love” by John Mayer: This particular love story paints a picture of day-to-day romance grounded in geography, namely NYC. I love the way he zooms in on the details: “She keeps a toothbrush at my place / As if I had the extra space / She steals my clothes to wear to work / I know her hairs are on my shirt / I tell everyone I smile just because / I’ve got a city love / … / And I can’t remember life before her name.”

13. “This Year’s Love” by David Gray: Poor David Gray. He’s been burned before, and that makes it hard to fall into something new with the same innocence, no matter how right it feels. “When you hold me like you do / It feels so right / I start to forget how my heart gets torn / … / It takes something more this time / Than sweet, sweet lies / Before I open up my arms and fall / Losin’ all control.”

 

You can find this playlist on Spotify by searching for “The Perfect Hopelessly Romantic Playlist”.

-Benevolent Siren

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A tribute to the music of Entourage

So, I came across a rerun episode of Entourage over the weekend. It’s one of those shows I can watch over and over again without tiring of it. But it’s not the show itself that I look forward to the most. It’s the music.

I love that each song seems to fit the scene and the situation perfectly. I love that I watch every single credit roll because the last song is always that good. I love that the music of Entourage is as much a character as Vince or Ari.

As I watched my weekend rerun, I wondered who was responsible for all the great music. That dream job belonged to Scott Vener, who is currently the music supervisor for How to Make It in America and 90210. Vener had never worked as a music consultant previous to Entourage. He says it kind of just happened.

Vener was a long-time friend of the show’s creator, Doug Ellin. When Ellin showed Vener the pilot episode, he told his friend he couldn’t pay attention to the jokes because the music was so bad. He pitched a few of his own ideas, which were used. By 2007, Vener was hired as the show’s official music consultant.

The man behind the music of Entourage

How did Vener choose the right music?

“I think when I’m placing music, mostly at the end credits, what I’m thinking in my head is, ‘I have 10 friends who I know love music, and if I can stump five out of those 10, then I won,” he told NPR music’s Laura Sullivan. “Or if I can make them say, ‘Oh my god, I remember that,’ Then I won.”

Vener often chose unknown music to reflect the show’s energy and tone. He became known for discovering new music. But Vener says it’s the music buffs online that really deserve the credit because that’s where he looked to find a lot of the music he used.

And Vener says that HBO gave him a surprising amount of freedom with his song selections. “It’s unique for two reasons: You can use profanity, and HBO spends money on the music. They’re one of the few networks that will pony up and pay, and they stay out of your way and let you do what you want to do…”

One of the most exciting things about the music that airs on Entourage is that Vener  has consistently broken tracks before they’ve been released anywhere else.

And long after the show’s final episode, Vener’s music choices continue to reach the masses. There are an endless number of websites dedicated to the music of Entourage. There is a Facebook profile called, “The Music of Entourage.” It features songs from a variety of episodes over the years.

And The Song Detective Blog states, “It’s one of the most common questions about the show Entourage we have gotten over the years: What’s the song playing during the end credits of entourage season x, episode x”. The blog actually offers a complete list of every song ever used during the closing credits of Entourage.

Vener says he has two personal favorites. The first is “In My Lifetime Remix” by Jay-Z (season six). The second is a song he used that was written by his brother, Josh. The song is called “Phone Bill Money” because Josh wanted to pay his phone bill. Vener says his brother made it on Garage Band on a keyboard and got paid about $250 for it. The song made its debut in season two. Vener says he got away with it because it was good and it worked perfectly for the scene.

For the record, Vener says he has only been turned down once on a request for licensing music to feature on the show. It was for “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: In Your Atmosphere (LA Song) by John Mayer

Poignant and raw and dripping with regret, this song breaks my heart into a million pieces every time I hear it.  So, on that note, enjoy! “I’d die if I saw you, I’d die if I didn’t see you…”

I promise I’ll pick a joyful song one of these days, but in the meantime I’ll be keeping Kleenex in the black.

-Benevolent Siren

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Haute tech: Making a statement with wearable electronics as fashion accessories

The back of this gown literally lights up a room

It’s a crazy world we live in today. I feel that technology is a large part of the craziness, for better and for worse. And in the case of modern electronics, for wondrous and a little weird.

A German-based fashion label called MOON Berlin is the perfect example of this. Founded in 2010, this company has transcended pure entertainment (think the Black Eyed Peas’ performance during the Super bowl Halftime show) and taken wearable electronics directly to the streets. The company philosophy states, “The main idea is to combine light technique with high fashion in a sensitive way.”

Pause.

I’m not really sure what that last part means either. But I digress.

What I find intriguing is the mix of companies working together to create this electro-fashion. This label is working in cooperation with jewelry designer Damir Antolovic, DAAN Designstudio, and Stretchable Circuits. Stretchable Circuits is a company that provides engineering services and project management for flexible and stretchable electronic systems, with a specialty in integration of electronic functions into textiles.

Stretchable electronic systems. That is something to think about.

I’ll admit that I’m a fan of pretty things that sparkle and shine. I am also a firm believer in function over form. There is no reason something functional cannot be pretty, but I don’t think form should ever trump function. If you build something that contains both form and function, you’ve hit on something fantastic.

Enter The Orb. This innovative new design is both a Bluetooth headset and a piece of jewelry. Of course, every new product has its own angle in a niche market. The Orb has its own take on the best way to carry your headset with you when you aren’t using it. This innovative new gadget transforms from a wireless earpiece into a ring with one simple twist. It was developed through a partnership between Hybra Advance Technology Inc. and AbsolutelyNew Inc. They’ve promised to cater to those with petite or stubby fingers with the availability of different ring sizes. There will also be a limited edition designer model featuring decorative gemstones with a bling factor.

Ugg ear muffsUgg may be known primarily for boots, but they are one of the many companies out there getting involved in the headphone industry. They are leveraging their well-established brand to sell “tech-savvy knit earmuffs that feature a port for audio devices.” Of course, these are made of shearling, which is the same material they use for their famous boots.

And for those of you who are into using personal audio products as a fashion statement and also enjoy arts and crafts, it’s your lucky day. Click here for a tutorial on how to make a pair of ear muff headphones, which requires “basic sewing and soldering skills.” This tutorial is narrated by Syuzi Pakhchyan, whose blog, fashioningtech, is devoted solely to the idea of wearable electronics.

As you can see, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The common denominator in all of this seems to be the mixing of art with technology. It’s no longer all about the way something sounds to your ears or fits on your body. It’s all about adding innovative technology and taking it to the next level.

In fact, there is an organization in New York City devoted solely to pairing artists and technologists together. The Eyebeam Art & Technology Center offers both education and state-of-the-art tools for digital research and experimentation.

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Must-Hear Song of the Day: “The Cave (Bookshop sessions)” by Mumford & Sons

A Grammy 2012 nominee for Record of the Year, Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” is a nuanced and engaging track that I can’t stop listening to. The banjo is fun and lends a kind of frenetic energy to the song, while Marcus Mumford’s satisfying growl puts delightful substance behind the lyrics. (I call it a growl mostly because his name sounds to me like a well-dressed British lion detective character from a kid’s book. Maybe I’ll write a kid’s book just so I can use that name.)

 

While you watch that, I’m going to go write chapter one of Marcus Mumford and the Case of the Jungle Bow-Tie Thief. …I’m still workshopping the title.

 

-Benevolent Siren

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I just watched the best thing ever: Depeche Mode cover band DMK on YouTube

There are some days that just seem surreal…and I tend to want to embrace that feeling. I was having one of those days when I came across DMK, a Depeche Mode cover band from Bogota, Columbia. They just took “surreal” to a whole new level. And my view of the world became instantly brighter.

This cover band is unlike any other I have seen. I am obsessed. I’ll admit that I find these videos slightly disturbing for some reason, which I cannot seem to name. But their slightly disturbing nature is part of their appeal. You just need to watch.

The leader singer is a Columbian dad named Dicken Schrader and he has some serious skills. Schrader’s band is comprised of his children, Milah and Korben. Some of their instruments include; keyboards, kazoo, tambourine, soda bottles, beer cans, baby rattles, and chocolate mix cans.

I like to think that this is what happens when children watch less television and spend more time with their parents. They seem to be having a lot of fun together.

Everything Counts: Yes…Korben is playing a metal mixer and cheese grater. He looks like a deer in headlights and, when I first watched, I was certain he could not keep it together. But his timing is spot on.

Strangelove: Yes…those are metal binder clips Milah is attaching to her dad’s face. The play on the word “pain” somehow seems very wrong, but in just the right way.

Shake the Disease: It does appear as if dad might be sporting a bit of a hangover this time, but it doesn’t seem to affect his timing. Yes…Milah is playing scissors and a spray bottle. It does appear there is clear liquid in the spray bottle. And the traveling gnome in the corner is like the cherry on top.

Absolute perfection.

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