Monday, April 18, 2005

A One Million Peso Audio System

There is a saying that a million peso stereo system is bound to sound terrific primarily because you have already spent a lot of money on it. I laughed when I first heard this somewhere. It makes a lot of sense. Perception has a lot to do with satisfaction with a thing and perception is nudged in the direction of satisfaction if it happens to be expensive.

For example, I know someone who really loves Chuck Taylor shoes. She has, I think, more than 30 pairs of those pricey pumps and from the way she gushes at it in her blog, she sounds really satisfied with them. Now, I wonder how much she would gush at those very same Chuck Taylor shoes if they happen to be sold at P150 a pair? If those Chucks cost P150 per pair, she can buy more of them. Will she?

I can speak from experience, mind you. I jog regularly so I need running shoes. I can go to the nearest Mall and buy myself a pair of P10,000 Nikes but since I'm stingy (blame that on my Ilocana Mom) I just can't allow myself to buy a glorified sneaker. Instead, I went to the nearest warehouse sale and bought a pair of chinese-made athletic shoes for P180.00.

Am I satisfied with the purchase? Well, let's see. I jog about 6 to 8 km every other day and I reckon those chinese-made sneakers have already logged more than 500 km since I bought them. They are still intact though the faux leather has already cracked in some places. Despite those cosmetic aberrations, the shoes are still perfectly comfortable and useable. They also pass the kid-test. Kids who see me wearing them think they are cool. And who better to judge sneaker coolness than young kids?

Judging by the objectives I had in mind when I bought the thing I would categorically say that YES I am satisfied with the purchase. If you object and remind me of the cracks in the rubber, I can retort that all I need to do is spend another P180.00 and I shall have a perfectly new one. So yes, I am satisfied with the shoes and my satisfaction has nothing to do with the price, mainly because I have decided that price has nothing to do with whether I should be satisfied with a purchase or not.

Not everyone's like me, however.

Last week, my brother came home from the US lugging a 1 million peso Blaupunkt stereo system for some other brother's FX van. Ok, it's not really a 1 million peso audio and video system but it could well be. Me and my brothers call it the one-million-peso audio system because it's a complete home theater system packed into a family-sized van. Its got a DVD player, an FM tuner, two large amplifiers pumping 100 watts in each of four channels (that's a total of eight channels pumping 800 watts into an enclosure that is only slightly larger than a comfort room), a CD player with cd changer, a 15in foldable LCD monitor, a graphic and space equalizer, several sets of speakers and a subwoofer as big as a large ice-chest. There are also extras like infrared headphones so you can watch a movie on the LCD monitor without distracting the driver.

I am not a stereophile but even I was impressed. Also, it was the first time I have seen a 1 farad capacitor. A 1-farad capacitor is probably not new to the audiophiles out there reading this blog but the capacitors I usally deal with have capacitances in the micro and milli farad ranges so the 1-farad capacitor was exceptional to me.

My two brothers spent three days tearing through the van. They removed the panels, snaked wires all over the body and pasted large areas of the van with a special tar-based dampener. The amplifiers, equalizers and other gadgets were meticulously placed under the seats so that no one peering through the windows would realize this FX hides a one-million-peso(tm) stereo system. My brother joked that he thought a Pajero was to be the recipient of the system so he spent a lot of money on it. I wonder what he would have bought if he thought it was a Hummer?

When the surgery on the van was over my brothers eegerly flipped the on-switch. 15 volts of electricity surged through the wires and 800 watts poured out of the speakers. It was loud, you can feel the subwoofer jumping on your chest. It sounds great too though the audio engineer ear in me heard a few frequencies that should be boosted and some other frequencies that need to be attenuated. A little fiddling with the equalizers should solve that problem.

Obviously, it could not compare with the surround sound of our home theater system nor could it hold a candle to the large bass and sparkling trebles of a good PA system. (A good PA system has amplifiers tuned to the frequency response of the speakers. The best speakers are the powered types where each speaker enclosure carries its own amplifier and cross-overs.) The confined space of a van affects the frequency response of the speakers. The LCD monitor is too small for my taste and watching widescreen DVD movies make it look smaller still. Still, compared to most in-car audio and video systems, it is definitely at the top of its class. I believe my brother intends to put the van in exhibition at the next carshow. I hope it wins.

But to tell the truth, I could never quite get the idea behind this thing. I work with audio systems as part of my job so I know what a good speaker system sounds like but I can never quite grasp why someone would like an 800 watt audio system inside a van. When I am inside my father's Honda, I can actually feel the air pressure build up and push against my eardrums whenever the door is closed! My brother's million-peso(tm) system is so loud that the windows flex and appear as if they are about to explode. With the special dampeners installed nothing rattles inside the van but I can just imagine the punishment someone's eardrum will endure inside whenever the volume is set high enough. Surely you can't listen to it at high volume while driving at the same time!

My two brothers were smiling and grinning. They were satisfied. They asked me what I thought of it and I said it sounds perfect. I never did continue with of course it has to sound perfect, you just spent a million pesos and three days on it.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Farewell Pope John Paul II

The Florida Today newspaper reports the Rev. Eamon Tobin of Ascension Catholic Church in Melbourne as describing the late Pope John Paul II as a modern day St. Paul.

I think not.

Whatever Pope John Paul II's faults are as a human, however untruthful is the doctrine that there exists a god who cares for us all, John Paul II was most unlike the lying Saul of Tarsus --- founder of the catholic church.

John Paul II sincerely believed in what he was preaching and in what he was doing. Saul of Tarsus, being the inventor of what later became christianity, knew that everything he was preaching was a lie. He invented meeting the dead Yeshua ben Yosef (Jesus son of Joseph) and he later invented the teachings that he falsely attributed to the dead Yeshua. Isn't it strange that a complete outsider had more to say about the teachings of the purported messiah than the disciples themselves? Saul of Tarsus was a charlatan and a crook, through and through.

I do not believe in God. I am an atheist. But I sincerely believe that John Paul II was an honest man and one of the greatest popes ever. He could have done more to lift the world away from superstition and to transform the church from a medieval anachronism to a modern day beacon of wisdom, of tolerance and of compassion. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for that. He shall be sorely missed. Farewell Pope John Paul II. Requiescat In Pace.

The religion of the cat species

I saw something several nights ago that reminded me of the cruelty of life.

A stray cat ventured inside our house. It was intent on feasting on the leftovers left on the dinner table when it was discovered and scared away. A shoo sent the white stray scampering for the open door where it plunged right into the maw of our three mongrel but big dogs.

It never had a chance. It tried to run away but was cornered and the three dogs pounced upon it like it was a rabbit. I heard the commotion outside and looked. A dog had its canines buried on the neck of the cat while the other dog had bitten it on its rear thighs. The dogs were pulling on the ends they have managed to clamp their jaws. They were trying to tear it apart. Sometimes, when one dog's hold slips, the other dog would thrash the graceful feline torso side to side, up and down. The cat was flung like a rag doll.

I watched fascinated as the dogs mauled the struggling and fighting cat until it lay limp, still and dead. I could have stopped it. But why should I? It was our dogs doing their job isn't it? The cat was nothing more than a stray. This is probably the same cat that forages for food in the kitchen, upsetting and breaking the plates and glasses on the kitchen table.

When the cat stopped struggling, the dogs lost interest too. They stared at the dead cat with curious eyes but when it showed no movement the dogs left the scene of death one by one. They were panting very hard. The smell of blood and flesh seems to have excited them very much.

Dogs were bred from wolves by generations of humans. They are a product of genetic manipulation that have spanned thousands of years. I know this. Still, the atavistic behavior that recalled their wolf pack days disturbed me somewhat. These are the same dogs that would whimper and bark outside my door whenever they want to be petted. These are the same dogs that would wag their tails and stare with excited eyes whenever I arrive home from work. It was jolting to realize that these same dogs can be just as cruel as they are loyal and sweet.

As I gathered the remains of the cat and prepared to dispose of it, I kept thinking of what cats may have been talking about if they can communicate with each other. What would their attitude be towards dogs? Would they consider dogs and the humans who love them a natural part of this world? Or would they look upon dogs as evil hounds and their masters as evil Gods?

Would the cats have a religion where dogs are the devil? I wonder what part humans would play in this cat religion?