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aaron swartz lead

I met Aaron Swartz in Cambridge shortly after he’d been indicted for downloading lots of JSTOR articles on MIT’s network in 2011. My Wired colleague Ryan Singel had been writing about his story, and I’d talked a lot with my friends in academia and publishing about the problems of putting scholarship behind a paywall, but that was really the level at which I was approaching it. I was there to have brunch with friends I’d known a long time only through the internet, and I hadn’t known Aaron that way. I certainly didn’t want to use the brunch to put on my journalist hat and pepper him with questions. He was there primarily to see his partner Quinn Norton’s daughter Ada, with whom he had a special bond. The two of them spent...

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“The campaign is in a lull. The wars overseas are winding down. Washington is paralyzed. I’ve loaded up my iPod with some new songs. There’s nothing to do but….hit the road!”

With that, veteran TIME political columnist Joe Klein began his three-week, eight-state road trip, which ended last Friday. Klein has made this sampling of the country’s political climate a yearly tradition. This time around, TIME sent three of the magazine’s contributors to accompany Klein for different legs of the journey. Here, LightBox presents a selection of their work as well as their thoughts from across America.


What was the single most memorable experience you had on the trip?

Andrew HinderakerIn Richmond, Virginia, at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in a Drug Rehabilitation Center, we met a woman who’d struggled with addiction since age nine. She was a convicted felon, and now, in her 40’s, was 21 months clean. She’d recently convinced a friend to allow her to farm a piece of land. For someone like her, whose addiction left her reliant on medical care most of her life, President Obama’s healthcare legislation meant for her a fresh start. With affordable healthcare, she could be a small business owner, a farmer, an active, contributing citizen; without it, she’s just a recovering addict. We learned her story because another man at the meeting expressed his disdain at the Healthcare Reform Act. We got to watch their argument, and this woman’s story change a man’s mind. It certainly proved Joe’s point about getting to know one another; perhaps the government should sponsor free coffee and organize meetings once a week with a group of local strangers.

What was the economic and political mood of the parts of the country you visited?

Katy Steinmetz: People seemed disappointed and exhausted by the political and economic state of things in America. Many were hopeful, but more were resigned—past anger and yearning for a little compromise.

What was the #1 problem facing the people you met?

Pete Pin: This was dependent on class. For a group of upper middle class voters in Charleston, West Virginia, they were most concerned with the visceral partisanship of the country and the future of the health care law. For rural voters in Jackson and Newcomerstown, Ohio, they were most concerned with jobs and social ills.

What was their #1 reason for hope?

Pete: Community at the local level. I learned that in spite of the partisanship and bickering in Washington, people genuinely believed that things can and will get better, not because of intervention by the federal government, but rather because of the community coming together at the local level.

Andrew Hinderaker for TIME

Leslie Marchut and Briggs Wesche eat breakfast with Joe Klein in Chapel Hill, N.C.

What is the national character? Are there uniquely American traits?

Pete: The singular thread I found was an overwhelming sense of self-reliance. Liberalism in the classical sense, John Stuart Mill.

AndrewEveryone likes barbeque.

Did you return from the trip more or less optimistic about the future of the country?

Andrew: Certainly more optimistic. One of the things that struck me most about the places that we visited was all the conversation. In all these pockets of America, folks more than willing, eager even, to talk and debate reach new conclusions. I don’t think it’s the impression you’d get of our citizens from watching the nightly news, but it’s something I observed in every niche.

Andrew Hinderaker is a former TIME photo intern and a photojournalist whose work has appeared in TIME, The Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine.

Pete Pin is currently the international photo intern at TIME and a photographer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times and Forbes.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau.

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Lately I've been trying to rid my life of as many physical artifacts as possible. I'm with Merlin Mann on CDs:

Can't believe how quickly CDs went from something I hate storing to something I hate buying to something I hate merely existing.

Although I'd extend that line of thinking to DVDs as well. The death of physical media has some definite downsides, but after owning certain movies once on VHS, then on DVD, and finally on Blu-Ray, I think I'm now at peace with the idea of not owning any physical media ever again, if I can help it.

My current strategy of wishing my physical media collection into a cornfield involves shipping all our DVDs to Second Spin via media mail, and paying our nephew $1 per CD to rip our CD collection using Exact Audio Copy and LAME as a summer project. The point of this exercise is absolutely not piracy; I have no interest in keeping both digital and physical copies of the media I paid for the privilege of owningtemporarily licensing. Note that I didn't bother ripping any of the DVDs because I hardly ever watched them; mostly they just collected dust. But I continue to love music and listen to my music collection on a daily basis. I'll donate all the ripped CDs to some charity or library, and if I can't pull that off, I'll just destroy them outright. Stupid atoms!

CDs, unlike DVDs or even Blu-Rays, are considered reference quality. That is, the uncompressed digital audio data contained on a CD is a nearly perfect representation of the original studio master, for most reasonable people's interpretation of "perfect", at least back in 1980. So if you paid for a CD, you might be worried that ripping it to a compressed digital audio format would result in an inferior listening experience.

I'm not exactly an audiophile, but I like to think I have pretty good ears. I've recommended buying $200+ headphones and headphone amps for quite a while now. By the way: still a good investment! Go do it! Anyhow, previous research and my own experiments led me to write Getting the Best Bang for Your Byte seven years ago. I concluded that nobody could really hear the difference between a raw CD track and an MP3 using a decent encoder at a variable bit rate averaging around 160kbps. Any bit rate higher than that was just wasting space on your device and your bandwidth for no rational reason. So-called "high resolution audio" was recently thoroughly debunked for very similar reasons.

Articles last month revealed that musician Neil Young and Apple's Steve Jobs discussed offering digital music downloads of 'uncompromised studio quality'. Much of the press and user commentary was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of uncompressed 24 bit 192kHz downloads. 24/192 featured prominently in my own conversations with Mr. Young's group several months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no point to distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or 16/48, and it takes up 6 times the space.

There are a few real problems with the audio quality and 'experience' of digitally distributed music today. 24/192 solves none of them. While everyone fixates on 24/192 as a magic bullet, we're not going to see any actual improvement.

The authors of LAME must have agreed with me, because the typical, standard, recommended, default way of encoding any old audio input to MP3 …

lame --preset standard "cd-track-raw.wav" "cd-track-encoded.mp3"

… now produces variable bit rate MP3 tracks at a bitrate of around 192kbps on average.

Encspot-omigod-disc-3

(Going down one level to the "medium" preset produces nearly exactly 160kbps average, my 2005 recommendation on the nose.)

Encoders have only gotten better since the good old days of 2005. Given the many orders of magnitude improvement in performance and storage since then, I'm totally comfortable with throwing an additional 32kbps in there, going from 160kbps average to 192kbps average just to be totally safe. That's still a miniscule file size compared to the enormous amount of data required for mythical, aurally perfect raw audio. For a particular 4 minute and 56 second music track, that'd be:

Uncompressed raw CD format51 mb
Lossless FLAC compression36 mb
LAME insane encoded MP3 (320kbps)11.6 mb
LAME standard encoded MP3 (192kbps avg)7.1 mb

Ripping to uncompressed audio is a non-starter. I don't care how much of an ultra audio quality nerd you are, spending 7× or 5× the bandwidth and storage for completely inaudible "quality" improvements is a dagger directly in the heart of this efficiency-loving nerd, at least. Maybe if you're planning to do a lot of remixing and manipulation it might make sense to retain the raw source audio, but for typical listening, never.

The difference between the 320kbps track and the 192kbps track is more rational to argue about. But it's still 1.6 times the size. Yes, we have tons more bandwidth and storage and power today, but storage space on your mobile device will never be free, nor will bandwidth or storage in the cloud, where I think most of this stuff should ultimately reside. And all other things being equal, wouldn't you rather be able to fit 200 songs on your device instead of 100? Wouldn't you rather be able to download 10 tracks in the same time instead of 5? Efficiency, that's where it's at. Particularly when people with dog's ears wouldn't even be able to hear the difference.

But Wait, I Have Dog Ears

Of course you do. On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog. Personally, I think you're a human being full of crap, but let's drop some science on this and see if you can prove it.

On-the-internet-nobody-knows-youre-a-dog

When someone tells me "Dudes, come on, let's steer clear of the worst song ever written!", I say challenge accepted. Behold The Great MP3 Bitrate Experiment!

As proposed on our very own Audio and Video Production Stack Exchange, we're going to do a blind test of the same 2 minute excerpt of a particular rock audio track at a few different bitrates, ranging from 128kbps CBR MP3 all the way up to raw uncompressed CD audio. Each sample was encoded (if necessary), then exported to WAV so they all have the same file size. Can you tell the difference between any of these audio samples using just your ears?

1. Listen to each two minute audio sample

Limburger
Cheddar
Gouda
Brie
Feta

2. Rate each sample for encoding quality

Once you've given each audio sample a listen – with only your ears please, not analysis softwarefill out this brief form and rate each audio sample from 1 to 5 on encoding quality, where one represents worst and five represents flawless.

Yes, it would be better to use a variety of different audio samples, like SoundExpert does, but I don't have time to do that. Anyway, if the difference in encoding bitrate quality is as profound as certain vocal elements of the community would have you believe it is, that difference should be audible in any music track. To those who might argue that I am trolling audiophiles into listening to one of the worst-slash-best rock songs of all time … over and over and over … to prove a point … I say, how dare you impugn my honor in this manner, sir. How dare you!

I wasn't comfortable making my generous TypePad hosts suffer through the bandwidth demands of multiple 16 megabyte audio samples, so this was a fun opportunity to exercise my long dormant Amazon S3 account, and test out Amazon's on-demand CloudFront CDN. I hope I'm not rubbing any copyright holders the wrong way with this test; I just used a song excerpt for science, man! I'll pull the files entirely after a few weeks just to be sure.

You'll get no argument from me that the old standby of 128kbps constant bit rate encoding is not adequate for most music, even today, and you should be able to hear that in this test. But I also maintain that virtually nobody can reliably tell the difference between a 160kbps variable bit rate MP3 and the raw CD audio, much less 192kbps. If you'd like to prove me wrong, this is your big chance. Like the announcer in Smash TV, I say good luck – you're gonna need it.

So which is it – are you a dog or a man? Give the samples a listen, then rate them. I'll post the results of this experiment in a few days.

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About a year and a half ago, I researched the state of routers: about as unsexy as it gets but essential to the stability, reliability, and security of your Internet connection. My conclusion?

This is boring old plain vanilla commodity router hardware, but when combined with an open source firmware, it is a massive improvement over my three year old, proprietary high(ish) end router. The magic router formula these days is a combination of commodity hardware and open-source firmware. I'm so enamored of this one-two punch combo, in fact, I might even say it represents the future. Not just of the everyday workhorse routers we all need to access the Internet – but the future of all commodity hardware.

I felt a little bad about that post, because I quickly migrated from the DD-WRT open source firmware to OpenWRT and then finally settled on Tomato. I guess that's open source, too many choices with nobody to really tell you what's going to work reliably on your particular hardware. But the good news is that I've been running Tomato quite happily with total stability for about a year now – primarily because it is gloriously simple, but also because it has the most functional quality of service (QoS) implementation.

Tomato-qos

Why does functional Quality of Service matter so very much in a router? Unless you have an Internet connection that's only used by your grandmother to visit her church's website on Sundays, QoS is the difference between a responsive Internet and one that's brutally dog slow.

Ever sat in an internet shop, a hotel room or lobby, a local hotspot, and wondered why you can't access your email? Unknown to you, the guy in the next room or at the next table is hogging the internet bandwidth to download the Lord Of The Rings Special Extended Edition in 1080p HDTV format. You're screwed - because the hotspot router does not have an effective QoS system. In fact, I haven't come across a shop or an apartment block locally that has any QoS system in use at all. Most residents are not particularly happy with the service they [usually] pay for.

When I switched from DD-WRT and OpenWRT to Tomato, I had to buy a different router, because Tomato only supports certain router hardware, primarily Broadcom. The almost universal recommendation was the Asus RT-N16, so that's what I went with.


Asus RT-N16

And it is still an excellent choice. If you just want a modern, workhorse single band wireless N router that won't break the bank, but has plenty of power and memory to run Tomato, definitely try the Asus RT-N16. It's currently available for under $80 (after $10 rebate). Once you get Tomato on there, you've got a fine combination of hardware and software. Take it from this SmallNetBuilder user review:

I'm a semigeek. Some of the stuff on this site confuses me. But I figured out enough to get this router and install Tomato USB. Great combination. Have not had any problems with the router. Love all the features that Tomato gives me. Like blocking my son's iPod after 7 PM. Blocking certain websites. Yeah, I know you can do that with other routers but Tomato made it easy. Also love the QoS features. Netflix devices get highest bandwidth while my wife's bittorrent gets low.

Review was too heavily slanted against the Asus software, which I agree is crap. I bought the router for its hardware specs. Large memory. Fast processor. Gigabyte lan. 2 USB ports.

What's not to love? Well, the dual band thing, mainly. If you want a truly top of the line router with incredible range, and simultaneous dual band 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz performance bragging rights, fortunately there's the Asus RT-N66U.

Asus RT-N66U

This is, currently at least, the state of the art in routers. It has a faster CPU and twice the memory (256 MB) of the RT-N16. But at $190 it is also over twice the price. Judge for yourself in the SmallNetBuilder review:

As good as the RT-66U is, our wireless performance results once again show that no router is good in every mode that we test. But that said, the Dark Knight clearly outperformed both the NETGEAR WNDR4500 and Cisco Linksys E4200V2 in most of our two and three-stream tests. And it's the only router in recent memory able to reach to our worst-case/lowest-signal test location on the 5 GHz band, albeit with barely-usable throughput. Still, this is an accomplishment in itself.

If you're going to spend close to $200 for a wireless router, you should get a lot for your money. The Dark Knight seems to deliver wireless performance to justify its high price and has routing speed fast enough to handle any service a consumer is likely to have, even our friends in Europe and Asia.

Its only weakness? Take a guess. Oh wait, no need to guess, it's the same "weakness" the RT-N16 shared, the sketchy Asus firmware it ships with out of the box. That's why we get our Tomato on, people! There is complete and mature support for the RT-N66U in Tomato; for a walkthrough on how to get it installed (don't be shy, it's not hard) Check out Shadow Andy's TomatoUSB firmware flashing guide.

Does having nice router hardware with a current open source firmware matter? Well, if your livelihood depends on the Internet like mine does, then I certainly think so.

Internet-serious-business

At the very least, if you or someone you love is also an Internet fan and hasn't given any particular thought to what router they use, maybe it's time to start checking into that. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go donate to the Tomato project.

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Update Required

To play the media you will need to either update your browser to a recent version or update your Flash plugin.

It’s finally here, a music player from us that you can listen to on your mobile device.

The design has been updated as well with a larger play button, larger font, and links to iTunes & Amazon if available.

**Try it out and give us some feedback.

Special thanks to Karl Peterson for making this happen.

Update: You might need to have the latest Java update installed. Also you may need to clear your browser cache after the update.

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I've tried watching movies, but they were too distracting. I do enjoy listening to music while programming too, but have found something better. I love listening to audiobooks as I'm programming. I found that I'm able to focus on both perfectly with the exception of writing/reading more that a few sentences of text. If I need to read or write something I will just pause and then play after I'm done. I think that the left/logical side of my brain can focus on the code while the right/creative can focus on the audiobook without any interference. I'm really curious as to if anyone else has tried this.

submitted by StratusPROgramming
[link] [15 comments]

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