Hi-resolution audio is here at last!

If you are an audiophile or music enthusiast, you “listen” to the music while others merely “hear” it. That means your aural senses are tuned to carefully discern between the ordinary and high resolution audio. While listening to a track on a music system, you’re likely to notice that the deep bass notes or the crisp highs are missing. And like me, you’ll invest in a lot of audio gear before being truly satisfied.

While there has been a lot of progress in display technology with HDTV, Ultra HD and now 4K technologies, I haven’t seen much happening on the audio front. What we have witnessed rather, is the integration of PC connectivity (wired and wireless) technologies with audio receivers — HDMI, USB, BlueTooth and Wi-Fi connectivity is now built into Pioneer, Harmon and Onkyo receivers, for instance. Even car audio systems have evolved a lot, and now include all these connectivity options, plus larger LCD screens.

But the hard disk component was always missing, or was rare in home audio systems. We also had to contend with hooking up our laptops and phones to home audio receivers via the headphone jack — or buy expensive media streamers that accommodated hard disks. You couldn’t plug your hard disk into older DVD players with USB ports because those ports didn’t supply power.

And we music enthusiasts were never happy listening to compressed MP3 songs — the fidelity was always missing, even at higher bit rates.

Sony introduces hi-resolution

500GB Hi-Res Music Player System

500GB Hi-Res Music Player System

So I was pleased to discover that Sony has launched hi-resolution audio.

The product range includes HDD audio player systems (with in-built receiver), USB DAC amplifier, receivers, hi-res speakers and premium speakers.

These products are also tied to online services such as HDtrack.com, ProStudio Masters, Super HiRez, Blue Coat Records, iTrax, and Native DSD Music. More on these later. First let’s try to understand the new format and then take a closer look at Sony’s products.

Hi-res format

The big claim is that the audio quality offered by hi-res audio surpasses CD or MP3. I cannot confirm that at this moment, as I am yet to review these systems. From what I’ve read so far, the new format is  “lossless digital”, meaning you’ll hear something that’s very close to the original; it would be like actually sitting in a recording studio or in a concert hall, watching a live performance. Back in 1982, they said the same thing for CDs too, but then audiophiles discovered that something was missing, and went back to vinyl.

There are various lossless formats and you would have heard about FLAC and Wave. But there are others like AFLAC, AIFF, DSD (DFF) and DSD (DSF).

The  new Sony systems are based on the DSD (Direct Stream Digital), a 1-bit professional format. DSD (DFF) is used in studios for recording and mastering super audio CDs. The DSD (DSF) format is the PC version that’s used to burn files on DVDs. I am betting that by next year, we will see the proliferation of this standard on PCs, and online music stores like iTunes will also offer music in this format (though it might take a bit longer with Apple).

Products

Sony Hi-Res Speakers

Sony Hi-Res Speakers

Now let’s take a tour of the various hi-res products on offer from Sony. You will soon see similar stuff from the likes of Pioneer, Panasonic, Toshiba, Harmon, Denon and others.

Sony’s new hi-res audio products include HDD Audio Player Systems, USB DAC Amplifiers, Receivers, hi-resolution speakers and premium headphones.

If you’ve read this far in my post, you are surely keen to know more about the Sony Hi-Res Audio products.  Here’s the official website.

Go get ‘em!

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How VMware is making a push into #Mobility (and why #Security is not yet core)

Jonathan Chadwick, EVP & CFO, VMware

Jonathan Chadwick, EVP & CFO, VMware

Last week, I was privileged to meet and interview Jonathan Chadwick, the CFO of VMware. Let me share with you some excerpts from that hour-long interview.

First impressions count!  I observed that Jonathan has a deep understanding of technology, more than most CFOs in the tech sector. And understandably so. A quick look at his profile on LinkedIn and I see that he’s also served at tech companies like McAfee (a maker of anti-virus and security software), Skype and Cisco Systems. He’s also on the board at F5 Networks.

So I am keen to know what VMware has achieved in the past year. And I also have questions to ask about the AirWatch acquisition and Security.

You can read my abridged interview in InformationWeek India here (it’s selected as the Top Story this week).

While VMware has achieved leadership in virtualization (compute) it is now making a push into storage virtualization (with its just launched vSAN product) and network virtualization (through its 2012 Nicira acquisition and the NSX product).

MOBILITY

On the Mobility front, the crucial piece that VMware was lacking all along was MDM or Mobile Device Management. MDM is a USD 1.8 billion market and addresses an important enterprise trend called BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), wherein businesses have to adapt its infrastructure to accept a plethora of diverse employee devices — and yet secure its data assets.  VMware took a leap on the MDM bandwagon through its recent acquisition of AirWatch, for an eye-popping $1.54 billion.

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, AirWatch is a 1,600 person company that has been growing extremely fast. Jonathan informs me that AirWatch has built up a base in excess of a 100 million dollar bookings in 2013 alone —  that despite the fact that the company has been in existence for just about 3 – 4 years.

MDM is a USD 1.8 billion market long dominated by players like BlackBerry, Citrix, IBM, and SAP. So I wondered how AirWatch compares with these heavyweights and first movers. And I asked Jonathan what’s the proposition offered by AirWatch, and how VMware is going to leverage this.

Here is Jonathan’s response:

“If you look at Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, of all those players you mentioned plus a few others, AirWatch is in the top right hand quadrant (Leadership) based on the ability to innovate and deliver. They have been proven in the marketplace, and their position with the ten thousand customers so far, has been differentiated against all of the people around them, and they have been doing that as a standalone. With this partnership, we can leverage our presence in enterprise, and especially their enterprise position on end-user computing. We see a really nice combination of very, very little overlap in terms of our own offerings, where we differentiate in the marketplace. And this is one of those examples where the market is moving so quickly, that the big guys have not been able to respond fast enough; and so, five-year startups, a three-year-old startup like AirWatch, in terms of revenue base, has been able to really drive a significant market presence and customer loyalty. It is estimated, I think by IDC, to be around 2 billion smartphone devices on the global basis very shortly. So with data points like that, this is why they are winning,” informs Jonathan Chadwick, EVP and CFO of VMware .

SECURITY

I also see that VMware has not made a strong play on the Security front — and this is an important area, more so in virtualized environments. So how about Virtualized Security? Is that the next thing that VMware is setting its sights on?

Jonathan replied: 

“I do not think that part is so crucial. I think where we see security playing a really big role beyond just the AirWatch example I just quoted, is inside the data center. So what is pretty well understood today is the provisioning of very capable firewalls at the edge of the data center, the ingress and egress points, but the interesting thing, especially now, when you look at how data centers are particularly virtualized today, is a lot of the traffic — about 80 percent of data center traffic now is actually inside the data center.

“The NSX capability (from the Nicira acquisition) as a distributed architecture, includes distributed firewalls that actually firewall the data center virtually in a way that is just not protected today. So if companies want to avoid shocks like some of the bigger security breaches that we’ve heard about in the past, increasingly they are going to be looking at how do I take virtual machine type capabilities, virtualized data centers and deploy things like distributed firewalls. The NSX technology is a highly important part of that security solution. “

So are we talking about virtualized security? Is that the next area in virtualization?

Jonathan: “Precisely, in fact in the data center today, we have virtualized the machine; we virtualized the compute layer; we are virtualizing storage; and within the virtual networking stack, there is a series of distributed firewall capabilities, so each of the virtual machines are firewalled off each other. That is really important technology. It is directly complementary to what the edge firewall vendors are doing, who are pretty much doing the ingress and egress points. This is dealing with the relatively unprotected world inside the data center.”

CONCLUSION

I am betting that VMware will acquire one of the security companies this year. The potential targets for acquisition are CheckPoint or Symantec.

Remember — you read about the idea here first (a line that a leading business newspaper in India uses often).

Great gifting ideas for the Big Fat Indian Wedding

GiftsWhen I got married, I received numerous sets of glass dinnerware, silverware, table sets, cookware and some kitchen appliances. Thirteen years later, these are lying unused, carefully packed and stored away, with the notion that they will be used some day.

A week ago, I attended the wedding ceremony of a distant family relation. Both bride and groom are established medical professionals, practicing in well known medical institutions in India. I noticed that those who lined up to greet the couple, were slipping little white envelopes into the bride’s hand — and the bride would pass these on to a close relative standing in the wings.

Now weddings are a big fat affair in India — in fact families spend exorbitantly and lavishly during these auspicious occasions. I’ve heard about people gifting houses and BMWs in India — not surprising since we have many crorepatis, millionaires and billionaires in a country where, ironically, half the population is below the poverty line.

New gifting ideas

I think there are more rational gifting ideas, rather than hard cash, glassware and things that are destined for the attic. In fact, I am surprised that entrepreneurs in India did not think about this 10 years ago.

Idea #1: Wishlists

The couple can make a list of things they would require for their new home, and this list can be deposited at the check-in counter of a multi-brand retail store (not displayed on a notice board). The invitation card (usually issued a month in advance) could mention the name and address of the store. And the guests could visit this store and ask for the wishlist. They could purchase one of the items and even have it delivered to the couple’s home on the wedding day. The store manager could then strike out the item from that list, to avoid a repeat gift. This is a common practice in Western countries.

Idea #2: Insurance and Health policies

Insurance is really about covering risks and should be viewed as a long-term investment. You can gift the couple an insurance policy by paying a one-time premium. In 2011, actor Ranbir Kapoor bought an insurance policy for his sister Riddhima Kapoor Sahni’s baby girl, who was born in Delhi — thus securing her future.

Idea #3 Gift vouchers and Gift cards

I have fond memories of the Akbarallys and Shoppers Stop gift vouchers. In fact, whenever I received these, I would rush to the store the very next day, redeem these, and choose my gift. Today we have scratch cards and gift vouchers, but they are marketing instruments that lure you to buy things you do not really need.

With online retail taking off now, I see online stores like Flipkart and others now offering gift cards. Great!

When I visited the US last year, I saw iTunes gift cards in Walgreens and 7Eleven convenience stores.

Why can’t we have the same in our D-marts and Kirana shops?

Idea #4 Gift a holiday

Summer vacation is fast approaching and I see many ads from Travel Companies in the local newspapers. How about a scheme where we can offer the couple holiday coupons to various destinations? And these could be redeemed at any time within the first year of marriage.

Idea #5 Hobbies and Passions

Hobbies and DIY (do-it-yourself) are not such a big deal in India. In our wild pursuit for engineering and management degrees, and with high career aspirations, we have little time for hobbies. But we all have dreams and passions.

Say you always wanted to be a pilot or DJ or singer or a teacher, but it was not in your destiny. How about gifting this experience to someone you love? Let him be a DJ or singer for a day. Take him/her out to a Karaoke bar or ask your DJ friends to give your relative a crash course — and let him spin a track at the nightclub! Arrange for a session in skydiving or scuba diving. Take him/her rafting on the rapids. Believe me it is a real joy to experience something you always wanted to do!

I’m seeing this happening with kids at Kidzania at R-Mall in Mumbai.

Idea #6 Magazine and DVD subscriptions

Make a note of the magazines and movies that your relative relishes. Then gift a subscription to those magazines. You could also buy them an annual subscription for DVD rentals. I think a subscription to Readers Digest, Lonely Planet, Time, or National Geographic (to name a few) would be greatly appreciated.

Do you have any other gifting ideas? I’d love to hear from you.

5 years of TechWow!

I just noticed that I’ve been blogging here since March 6, 2009. That’s 5 years for the TechWow blog!

I would like to thank all my 774 followers on the 5th anniversary!

My promise to you is more regular updates with relevant content.

Would love to hear from you, so please comment here or write to me at brian9p@gmail.com

~Brian Pereira

Four theories for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370

It’s been three days since Flight MH370 went missing, and the search operations continue. There was a flicker of hope when search patrols identified an oil slick and something that looked like an airplane door. But on closer inspection, it was determined that these were not from Flight MH370.

MalaysianSince the air controllers did not receive a distress signal, one theory is that the plane disintegrated at its cruise altitude — possible due to an explosion. If that actually happened, there would be debris spread over a wide are.

Another theory is that the airline was hijacked — two passengers were travelling on stolen passports. But that isn’t rare in this part of the world. If Interpol could determine the actual identities of these two passengers, it might offer some useful leads.

One theory that no one has written about yet, is a possible landing of the aircraft on a remote island — or on water. You have to see the film Airport 77 to believe this. Hijackers could have forced the plane to fly at a low level to avoid detection on radar, and then landed it somewhere. I tend to believe this, especially after reading that relatives of the missing passengers attempted to call them on their phones, and found their phones ringing, albeit unanswered.

And yet another theory is that they are searching in the wrong place. The aircraft could have changed course and ended up far from where they are searching.

Well, search teams have widened the radius of the search area, and we should be hearing some news about the missing plane soon.

Regardless of which theory is true, I do pray and hope the passengers of Flight MH370 are safe and alive.

How will LinkedIn ensure quality post in Influencers section?

Now that LinkedIn has decided to open up its publishing platform, everyone on LinkedIn can be an “influencer”.

But the question is, how will LinkedIn separate quality posts from thought leaders, like say, Richard Branson from those of Joe Simple (LinkedIn member)?

This article answers the question to a certain extent.

One thing that LinkedIn could do is to have a ratings system (just as we have hub points here!) Another way to whet the quality is to see the number of likes, number of shares and of course, the number of connections.

Professional titles and experience in a particular field are also parameters to consider for the ratings system.

Another question that comes to mind: Who really ‘owns’ the article that I post on the LinkedIn Influencer page? What if I am re-posting an article from my own site or blog? And what rights does LinkedIn have to syndicate my article (for a fee) to other publishers?

To really get to the bottom of it, you’d need to understand the intricate differences between PAID, EARNED and OWNED media.

Let’s wait and watch.

Are you self-learning like Satya Nadella?

Satya“I buy more books than I can finish. I sign up for more online courses than I can complete. I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things. I’m a life-long learner”

Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

I was thrilled to read the news about the appointment of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. And I read this news  late at night, on my mobile phone, and again next morning in the newspaper. 

The thing about Nadella is that he is in a process of continual learning, always driving himself to learn new things. And that’s what keeps the mind sharp. So you should be a learner for life.

Today’s generation is lucky to have a plethora of learning resources at its disposal. And these are not limited to the confines of a library or classroom. There are plenty of free and paid online courses. Let me talk about my own experiences.

While  studying Digital Marketing at NIIT last year, I was often referred to certain videos on YouTube. In fact, I learned a great deal about Google Analytics on YouTube! I have to say that YouTube is one of the best online learning resources, that offers the shortest learning curve. On YouTube there are videos that teach you how to fix or build things. There are videos that show how to design websites, repair PCs, debug software, learn programming techniques, and there are numerous other topics ranging from photography & gardening to leadership & management.

Watch a 10 minute video on YouTube — or read a 200 page Dummies book to learn the same thing. What would you prefer?

While YouTube is a free resource, you shouldn’t dismiss paid resources, which have really good tutorials on a variety of subjects. A good one that I recently discovered is Lynda.com. For a flat monthly fee of $25 (approximately Rs 1,500), you get access to unlimited courses — all you can eat for a flat price. And the fee is settled through your credit card; you can cancel the charge from the next billing cycle. And Lynda.com has an app too, so you can log in using any device, from anywhere and pick up where you last stopped. I’m currently using Lynda.com to hone my WordPress skills. But I’ve also bookmarked courses on digital photography, photo & video editing — which I’ll complete sooner or later.

If you want industry recognized certification, try Skillsoft.com. They offer Cisco, Microsoft and other certifications. Read my interview with Skillsoft VP John Ambrose here.

Another good (free) resource for courses is Coursera.org. But I must forewarn you that they offer more academically-oriented courses from various universities. So if you want to brush up your statistics, calculus, engineering, language, history, chemistry etc, Coursera’s the place to learn online. However, they also offer courses for other topics such as songwriting, music production, Equine nutrition, gamification, decision-making, and courses in other diverse categories. The great thing about Coursera is that these courses come from reputed universities and are backed by certifications.

Also try out Khan Academy.

If you don’t have time for an online course and just want reference material that quickly explains a concept, then look up sites like About.com, Wikihow.com, eHow.com,  Howstuffworks.com and of course, the mother of them all — Wikipedia.org. And then, there are specialized sites like Dictionary.com, Thesaurus.com and Grammarly.com.

I haven’t talked about books so far, but these days you have plenty of resources for e-books online. Apart from Amazon.com (and the Kindles) you could also look up Project Gutenberg.

In these times when jobs are hard to come by, the best thing you could do for yourself, is to learn something new each day. Why wait for instructor-led training (offered by your company) when you can learn by yourself, at your own pace?

Go online and sign up now!