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Everything New Sucks
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January 2010

 

Introduction         top

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I personally buy from Adorama, Amazon, Ritz, B&H, Calumet and J&R. I can't vouch for ads below.

 

It hit me as I was visiting my mom on Long Island, and watching her 25" color TV.

Like everything in mom's house, it's a traditional CRT (tube) TV, with the normal-shaped (4:3) screen. She has no cell phone, no microwave, and not even a push-button phone.

Not only does her old CRT TV have much better colors than any modern plasma, LCD or LED flat screen, every picture always fills her big, tall 25" screen, not just the middle or sides as they do on HDTVs. On her TV, not only does every picture fit, the news graphics are also always exactly where they should be on the sides and corners, and not hanging out in the middle of her picture.

All this, and no one looks stretched-out or fat. Everything looks like it should.

Then I started to think a little more broadly as we enter a new decade. I came to the horrifying realization that it's not just new TVs that suck: everything new sucks!

How can this be?

There is a unifying cause behind all of this. What has happened in the past ten to twenty years is that manufacturers of consumer products have learned that:

1.) Consumers are easily misled and will buy based on features that have numeric specifications attached to them, since they lack the skills and experience to appreciate more subtle, but more fundamental, quality differences,

and

2.) It costs a lot less money to jam features into software instead of into the actual hardware.

Manufacturers of commercial products spend about twice as much developing the firmware for a product than developing the hardware, and it's probably a greater ratio for consumer products. This is because once developed, software costs nothing per unit, while the hardware still costs.

It costs money to add a real hardware button. It costs nothing incrementally to add a new feature via firmware. A new firmware feature, with the same hardware, means some button now has to do more things.

By giving that one poor button more things to do, sales are increased because the new product can list more features on the box, but no one will every be able to figure out how to use it.

Since I'm one of the few writers still young enough to dream, old enough to remember and honest enough to admit when things are bad, here goes.

 

eMail Sucks         top

Does spending 3 hours a day reading email save time?

Really?

I don't know about you, but I remember a day when I could enjoy life and enjoy work without typing at a computer all day.

All those meaningless reports the bosses want, but never read? Those reports didn't exist before eMail became commonplace.

Before email, we got even more done. Leave eMail for the computer nerds who invented it.

Solution: Just don't read it, only send it. That's what I do.

 

Energy-Saving Lights Suck         top

Fluorescent lights (CFLs) suck on many, many levels.

 

Crappy Light

The biggest problem is that CFLs make crappy light. It looks nasty, and worse, makes people and food look horrible.

If you think I'm kidding, look at the back of your hand or a plate of fresh food under normal tungsten light, and then look at it under fluorescent or compact fluorescent (CFL) light.

Lighting professionals know bulbs have a rating called Color Rendering Index, or CRI. Sunlight and normal tungsten and halogen bulbs have a CRI of a perfect 100%; everything looks as it should.

CFLs have horrible CRIs, typically about only 40%. That's why you rarely see the CRI rated on retail CFL bulbs; it's too bad to want to list. Even professional CFLs used in TV lighting only have CRIs of about 80%, meaning they are missing about 20% of the color spectrum. We artists see these things.

 

Bad for our Environment

Energy saving lights destroy our environment. They are loaded with lead in their connectors and circuit boards, and have mercury inside their tubes! That's why you'll see the recycling logos all over them; they are so poisonous that they are prohibited from being thrown away in the trash!

Regular light bulbs have no lead and have no mercury; just glass and inert metal wires.

These heavy metals cause cancer, mutation and retardation today, and cause the same in future generations as they enter the environment.

 

Don't turn on, and then flicker

Some CFLs take so long to turn on that you've left the room by the time they get bright enough to see anything.

Many of them keep on flickering even after they've turned on.

 

Burn out too fast

Adding to the drain on our environment, CFLs are always dying and burning out.

The long life ratings on the box are for leaving the light on continuously. The catch is that unlike real light bulbs, CFLs are deeply stressed when turned on, so in actual use where they're turned on and off all the time, they die young.

 

Don't save electricity

Since they use so little power, people often leave them running since it's too much bother to turn them off and then on again, and wind up using just as much power, even in summer.

 

At least big business wins

The reason for the push for CFLs is the golden rule: those with the gold make the rules. The huge light bulb makers like GE lobbied to get these pushed, because GE sells a CFL for $15 while it costs them 29.7 ¢ to make in China, while real light bulbs only cost them 15¢ to make, but sell for only 25¢ each.

Bulb makers had to do something to scare people away from buying real light bulbs; their profit was all gone.

Bulb makers make a lot more money on CFLs, and worse, the bulb makers have gotten governments to use our tax dollars to subsidize them at retail!

 

Directly Cause Cancer

I don't believe this, but many intelligent people do: in addition to the lead and mercury, fluorescent lights cause cancer directly from radiation in the form of very-low-frequency (VLF) electromagnetic fields (EMF). Put an AM radio next to a fluorescent light and turn the light on and off. It's enough radiation to interfere with 50,000 Watt radio stations!

Energy-saving bulbs radiate this because they force electricity to float through the gas in the tube on its own, instead of conducting it directly and safely in a wire. Some of the energy floats out of the tube, and causes cancer.

 

So why do people use these things? Cheap motels use them because they use less electricity to make light, and require less frequent replacement. Just like orange street lights, they save money, but put out awful light.

Power companies push these bulbs because it saves them money or work. Most power companies are regulated to make fixed profits, and this saves them from having to build new generation plants, with new risks and liabilities. If the power company is run by a municipality, it saves the city or county from having to do the work to get the people the power they deserve.

Bulb companies push "energy saving" bulbs because they cost more and make a lot more profit.

They are bad for consumers in every possible way, and are pushed because they make lots of money for the rich people who run everything.

Solution: Use real light bulbs. In winter, they help heat your home, too!

 

Plastic Sucks         top

I'm ashamed as I rifle through my local electronics recycling bin looking for treasures. People throw away perfectly good old scales and toasters, replacing them instead today with plastic appliances that will be junk in a few years.

The old, all-metal items were built to last a lifetime, if people would only come to appreciate that.

Today, people can't think more than a month into the future, and cheerfully pay a dollar less for a crappier plastic made-in-nowhere item that will be broken in a year, and have to be bought again. It may be a digital camera or a vacuum; it all gets more disposable each year as manufacturers learn how to make items wear out closer and closer to their warranty expiration dates.

Solution: Keep and repair your older items.

 

Automobiles Suck         top

Cars suck because no one can figure out how to tune the radio anymore. If the radio has a knob on it, you can bet that it has nothing to do with tuning or with the volume control. The tuning knob on my wife's Volvo selects input sources, and there is no knob on her Porsche, not even a button for tuning. On the Porsche, it expects you to pull over during your time on the Nürburgring and do it through a menu!

More expensive cars make it just as impossible to adjust the air conditioning.

Really expensive cars now have systems like COMAND or iDrive that require using a mouse and looking away from the road to a small screen to operate. These distractions result in accidents and deaths.

Even the gauges are harder to read. Instead of bold red hands on black faces, gauges have become so fluffed-up that you no longer can read them out of the corner of your eye.

Distractions = accidents = death and dismemberment.

The best news is that automobile brakes, handling and power plants have improved greatly year over year. All the other crap is added to save money, but at least cars today handle and drive better than ever.

Solution: Drive a older model kept in great condition with a radio you can tune and gauges you can read.

 

Home Appliances Suck         top

When I cook, I want to twist one knob to set the timer and start, or to set the temperature. Ditto for a washer or dryer: I want to twist one knob once and be done.

It costs next to nothing to add a touch screen. Electronic calculators sell for under a dollar, thus it costs less than a dollar to add just a keyboard and display to a range, toaster, washer, dryer or microwave oven.

Simple knobs cost more. They look simple on the outside, but cost a lot of money to design and manufacture the internal electromechanical cams, timers, followers and thermostats needed on the inside, different for each model of product.

Because consumers are too stupid to realize how much simpler it is to twist one knob to give two-and-a-half minutes on the microwave, consumers fall for it and pay more for the cheaper-to-manufacture microwave with a touch screen that requires playing twenty-questions with little buttons to press TWO THREE ZERO START instead.

Solution: Buy the cheapest models which still have real knobs.

 

Digital Cameras Suck         top

When I shoot a real camera, I drop in my film, shoot it, drop it off at the lab, and then drop the slides in my projector. I'm done, and get fantastic colors with no work.

Ditto for prints. I get my film back, and have 39 perfect prints on a roll of 36, complete with negatives for back-up. If I want digital files, I check the box for Pictures on CD, and I'm done.

With digital, no one can get their cameras to go. Half the time the pictures don't take when you press the button. Maybe there's no card in the camera, maybe you have it set wrong, or maybe the battery is dead. Good luck, sucker!

If you can get the camera to work, good luck trying to figure out how to set it. There are hundreds of garbage features in its menu system, so you never can get to the two or three features that actually do something useful.

Even if you get a digital camera set and ready to go, you have to try each picture six times looking at the LCD, until you get a good result.

When you are done shooting, you're not done. You now have to spend untold hours on your computer trying to get it to look as good as film would have, and you still don't have prints.

Inkjet prints went obsolete in the 1990s, but some people still make them. Inkjet prints look awful compared to real prints made at a lab from digital files on real Fuji Crystal Archive paper. Don't even get me started on B&W prints: nothing looks as good as real fibre-based B&W prints, which is why so many inkjet systems try to claim "almost as good as."

Hey - if you have to run over to Costco to pick up your prints, wouldn't it have been much easier just to have shot film and saved all the trouble?

Want to project? It takes longer to get the computer and projector to talk to each other than it does to develop film!

Worse, digital cameras are disposable. Ever come across an 8-year-old digital camera? It won't even turn on. Even if it does, why on Earth would you want to? With digital cameras, you have to buy a new one every couple of years.

Find a 50-year old LEICA or Nikon at a garage sale? It still works great.

Digital cameras? You can pay thousands of dollars and still get stuck with disposable plastic crap.

If you know how to shoot, go shoot some slides and drop them in your projector. You, like me, will ask yourself what all the hubbub was about back in the 2000s with digital.

Solution: Shoot film like a pro.

 

Television Sucks Big-Time         top

The Colors Suck

The best pictures come from CRT (tube) TVs. I know: I worked in Hollywood for a decade.

CRTs are used in careful Hollywood color-grading. Plasma, LEDs and LCDs lack the color accuracy and repeatability required to make careful color corrections.

Since Sony no longer makes their $30,000 CRT BVM monitors, Hollywood's top post houses are hoarding their CRT monitors since there is no replacement for them yet.

Home LCD and plasma sets have crappy colors. Yes, they have bright, snappy colors that sell in the TV store to people not used to staring at $30,000 studio monitors all day, but modern TVs don't have accurate colors.

Look at people's faces on some drama DVDs. Skin tones should look like skin tones all over the faces, in shadows and highlights. They do on CRTs, be it a $30,000 Sony BVM studio monitor, my mom's 10-year-old CRT TV or a $99 Wal-Mart combo CRT set, but on a modern flat screen set, you'll see green and magenta color shifts and banding in the highlights and shadows of faces, and dark areas.

This is caused by insufficiently precise quantization steps in the digital driver circuitry of the digital sets. CRTs are analog and require no such quantization and thus have no such color problems in darker areas.

CRTs look the same from any angle. LCDs look even worse if you don't view them head-on.

 

No Blacks, Just Dark Gray

CRTs make black.

LCDs and plasma only go to dark gray, which makes movies look dull when watched in the dark.

They've been getting better at this, but still not as good as a CRT.

 

The Pictures Don't Fit the Screen

I've worked in HDTV since the nineteen-eighties. Here's the dirty secret: you can't make a picture look good when cut into two different-shaped rectangles.

Usually what happens is that you wind up with borders on the top and bottom, or left and right, and sometimes on all four sides of your image.

Not only will you get borders, but you'll also get fat-looking people as the 16:9 sets try to stretch everything to fit.

In television, even with wide-screen (16:9) programming, we "protect" for 4:3 (normal TVs). This means that even if you're viewing the wide-screen version, all the titles and action never go outside the inside area. You can chop off the side and not miss anything.

Thus when you watch on a full 4:3 TV, not only does the screen always fill with the image, the useful part of the image, meaning subjects, titles and action, fill your screen. On wide TVs, even if the image fills the whole width, the sides are filled with nothing but junk, not important parts of the action.

When watching broadcast and cable TV, the conventional full-height 4:3 TV tube is the best.

Wide (16:9) screens are only good for watching DVDs.

 

Garbage Covering the Pictures

What's with all the annoying crap that gets splattered on top of my picture?

Do you really think that flashing IDs like "MORON NETWORK" all over my screen makes me want to watch more?

If I wanted to watch TV, I want to concentrate on enjoying the show, and not be disturbed by bone-headed graphics littering my screen.

 

Data Reduction

Data costs money to ship around. Why broadcast 10 channels when you could get 25 in the same space?

Instead of TV and cable companies transmitting a few high-quality images, they instead reduce the bit-rates for each program to cram more down the same cable, or to pay less to carry it over a satellite channel.

The result are pictures worse than worn-out VHS tapes.

 

Sound and Lips Don't Match

With all this digital foolishness in your TV, the cable company and at the networks, audio and video take completely different paths until they get to your set.

Video usually requires much more involved digital processing, thus it becomes delayed. Broadcasters attempt to correct for these errors in audio-video delay, but can't get it right because equipment often turns on each time with different delays.

Thus you'll rarely get to watch a show where the sound and picture line up. Thank you, digital technology, for saving broadcasters so much money.

 

The Shows Stink

As if I almost forgot, once you get settled in with crummy colors, bad blacks, huge MPEG artifacts, pictures that don't fit the screen and sound that doesn't match the picture, the shows stink.

Even if you actually enjoy reality shows, the same shows repeat ten times. It saves broadcasters lots of money by recycling the same shows ten times in a week, instead of making 10 different shows for us to enjoy.

 

Solution: Watch DVDs, not cable or broadcast TV. Subscribe to Netflix. Get a CRT set. In the early 2000s you could get CRT HDTVs, the best ever made.

 

TV Remote Controls Suck         top

My Apple computer has a five-button remote. Apple computers can do about a zillion different things, like publish this website.

Apple iPods have only four buttons, and they have music players, photo browsers, calendars, clocks, calculators, playlists and album management, and video players, too.

Any of these Apple products are very fast and easy to use.

A TV, CD or DVD player remote control has 57 tiny, illegible look-alike buttons on it.

All a TV does is change channels or the volume. With 57 buttons, there is no way to control it.

All a CD or DVD player needs to do is stop and start, and maybe go backwards or forwards.

So why do dedicated video remote controls have 57 buttons, while Apple products, which do a hundred more things than a TV, do a better job with only five buttons?

Because consumer electronics suck.

More specifically, they suck because the Oriental companies responsible for this garbage have no sense of taste or style. They don't appreciate simplicity, good design, or the importance of the user experience. All they know is that the more worthless buttons they cram on a remote control, the more money stupider customers will pay them for this junk.

It costs more to make a simple remote, because in order to use a simple remote, the company needs to spend a lot of time and money in forethought to get the firmware in the unit to work intelligently and clearly with so few buttons. Oriental tech companies just don't know how to make their consumer products work well, so they punt and throw up a smoke screen of 500 buttons and hope we can figure it out.

I don't think so.

 

HD-DVD Sucks         top

I bought an HD-DVD player. It took forever to start playing a disk.

Since Netflix offered HD-DVDs for the same price as regular DVDs, it was good times, for about a week.

A week later, when the player finally read the disk and it started to play, the format went obsolete, and suckers like me had to make one more trip to Goodwill to drop off more donations.

Solution: Don't be a sucker and buy HD-DVD as I did. Any $37 Sony DVD player works better, and the pictures are as good. Subscribe to Netflix.

 

Blue-Ray Sucks Worse         top

Blue-Ray, a format so bad that even it's promoters can't spell it properly, is horrible.

DVD is bad enough, since it asks us to press a button to make the disk play after we insert it. What does it think we want? Barring that, DVD is great.

Blue-Ray take a half hour to read my disk. What is it reading? It's a disc, not a book.

After it finishes reading, it then refuses to play the disk. The disks are so copy-protected that about 2/3 of them won't play.

The few that do play well still take a long time to be recognized, and then if you're still awake, require about ten button pushes on a remote control to get it to PLAY.

Solution: Blue-Ray is a dead format, just as SACD never replaced CD and HD-DVD never replaced DVD. Blue-Ray's promoters would love for you to go whole-hog and buy into it. If you do, I hope your popcorn stays warm until the disk decides to play, and that your movies are short enough to finish before Blu-Ray follows HD-DVD and Betamax to the Goodwill store.

Instead, buy any $37 Sony DVD player, which works better, the pictures are as good (or better most of the time when Blu-Ray disks won't play), and it will outlast the dead Blu-Ray format. Subscribe to Netflix, which supplies either kind of disk.

 

Telephones Suck         top

Remember when you could pick up a phone and understand the person at the other end?

Digital cell phones use the same data-reduction technology to cram 10,000 phone calls into the same channel that used to hold just one call. The results? Voices sound like garbled gibberish.

Even if you could understand people, with all the garbage features crammed into today's cell phones, the batteries don't last long enough to complete your call. My wife's brand-new crappy LG text-internet phone on Verizon has to be charged a few times a day. Wow.

This is done to keep you signing new contracts when you buy new free phones, which insures that you can never break free from the wireless company.

Even if you have enough battery power and can understand people, good luck trying to find and use the features for which you pay so dearly. My wife's past few phones have had cameras in them, and God bless her if she ever figured out how to get her pictures out of the phone.

Solutions:

1.) Use a GSM phone with a "smart" SIM card (AT&T and others, not Verizon). You can pop that card into any other phone without having to sign new contracts. When you need a new phone, get a cheap one and just pop in your card. All your account settings and stored numbers live on the card; the phone itself is meaningless.

2.) Use a phone that plugs in the wall, and that has a cord connected to the handset. You'll enjoy superior intelligibility, and spare yourself the radiation that comes from all cordless, cellular and GSM phones, which causes cancer. Telephone land lines use no new data compression; you still get a full-bandwidth voice channel.

 

Radio Sucks         top

Remember when you could get different music and different shows on different stations?

Today almost every AM station broadcasts Rush Limbaugh all morning and Doctor Laura all afternoon.

Maybe you prefer FM radio? The music sounds crappy on FM because the music almost always gets passed through at least one low-bitrate chain on its way to you. That's why cymbals sound more like squishes, and everything sounds so lifeless. it's the same problem as cell phones.

XM and Sirius? It's the same problem, exacerbated by the fact that the entire satellite radio network always goes through severe data compression to fit 300 channels into one satellite channel. The music is lifeless. At least on AM and FM you might find one good station, like KDB in Santa Barbara, that doesn't screw with its audio.

Solution: Listen to CDs.

 

Music Sucks         top

Well, not really, but CD and music audio quality has been going downhill since about 1995 when CDs went mainstream.

When introduced in 1983, CDs were perfect copies of studio masters. That's great, especially when CDs were cut from masters intended to go to CD, not from older master tapes created for LPs.

As CDs became popular, producers (not musicians) started pushing mastering engineers to make CDs louder, which means making the softer parts too loud. In tech speak, this is called dynamic compression and peak limiting. By cutting back the loud peaks, and bringing up the soft sections and the spaces in-between notes, the overall level can be increased so that everything is 100% loud.

Why? Producers thought that this would make radio programmers more likely to pick the CD, since it was louder. I kid you not, they really think like this, just as radio people have been doing the same thing to radio audio since the 1960s in the hope that you'd listen to their station not based on what's playing, but on how loud it sounds.

Because everything on a CD is often made 100% loud, nothing is any louder than anything else. Because you and I turn down the volume to the same level at which we'd listen to anything else, we've just lost all the louder dynamics and percussive impact.

For example, give a listen to 1985's Dire Straits "Brothers in Arms" or Talking Heads' 1984 "Stop Making Sense," which have their percussives and dynamics left intact. Newer releases of the same albums often have their dynamics chopped off. If you think I'm kidding, load two versions into iTunes and compare.

Louder CDs are worse because you lose the peaks as you turn down the volume to playback at the same average level. Because we turn up the volume for a softer CD to get the same playback level, softer CDs have louder peaks when played.

When I whined about this to my recording industry friends, they also blamed it on composers getting less competent at scoring. Since scores aren't always written well enough to balance everything with different instrumentations at different dynamic levels, it's easier to add dynamic compression instead of getting the composer to re-do the score.

LPs suck more. Analog master tapes are great, but LPs are awful. Audiophiles are often hoping that I'm endorsing LPs, but no. These "plastic dog plops," as one mastering engineer referred to them, are loaded with noise, wow & flutter, distortion, echoes, room feedback and even pitch changes from never being pressed on-center. LPs usually have their lows cut, or at least summed to mono. Some people prefer the added noise and distortion, much as a veil hides the defects in an ugly woman's face, allowing our brain to fill-in what we want to see. I never bought LPs. 16 bits as a release format, done properly, is more than enough to capture everything.

What doesn't suck is that with direct-to laptop recording and editing, anyone today can compose and produce their own music. Apple's Garage band lets any kid do things that used to take ProTools or an $800-an-hour studio to edit, and it's in just about every Apple computer, for free. For all I know, my laptop probably has 24-bit 192 kbps converters built-in, too,

Solution: Choose older versions of CDs, not more recently remastered ones. The dbx 3BX sometimes helps:

 

Apple's Snow Leopard Sucks         top

One of the few things that didn't used to suck was Apple.

Today, Apple's latest operating system (OS 10.6) has reverted to the same flat gray graphics that were the reason I left windows for Apple in the first place.

I'm on OS 10.4.11 simply because the icons and everything I use all day look better. If I wanted crappy graphics, I'd go back to windows.

The new OS works great, but looks ugly and makes it harder to find things as I mouse-around very quickly. On the OS 10.4 and earlier I can find things by color, without having to stop and read everything more carefully.

Solution: Stick with OS 10.4.11.

 

Windows Still Sucks         top

Windows has always sucked.

What's worse is that after about 15 years of continuous bugs and viruses, it still doesn't work any better than it did in 1991. Windows Longhorn, later called Vista, was so bad that everyone took it off their computers. It didn't work at all, regardless of what Microsoft told us.

If a company founded by two dropouts, Google as founded by Brin and Page in September 1988, can develop a better OS than windows in less time with a lot fewer resources than Microsoft, it is proof positive that windows works this poorly by deliberate design.

Solution: Get a Mac. I did back in 2000, and have never looked back, except to laugh at all the suckers still throwing money away on windows!

 

Help me help you         top

I support my growing family through this website, as crazy as it might seem.

If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

If you've gotten your gear through one of my links or helped otherwise, you're family. It's great people like you who allow me to keep adding to this site full-time. Thanks!

If you haven't helped yet, please do, and consider helping me with a gift of $5.00.

The biggest help is to use these links to Adorama, Amazon, Calumet, Ritz, J&R and when you get your goodies. It costs you nothing and is a huge help to me. eBay is always a gamble, but all the other places have the best prices and service, which is why I've used them since before this website existed. I recommend them all personally.

Thanks for reading!

Ken

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