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Five facts about Rust

Rust is a programming language aimed at system programming – for which high performance and low-level system access is essential – but with safety features that make it harder to write dangerous or insecure code (though it is still possible). Since all programmers value both speed and stability, Rust is being used for tasks other than system programming as well. Rust is open source and sponsored by Mozilla, which uses Rust in its own development including parts of the Firefox web browser.

Rust is not one of the most-used programming languages; according to a StackOverflow survey only 3.2% of developers use it. Among professional developers that figure drops to 3.0%.

Yet Rust comfortably tops the list of most loved languages.

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Second, Rust has built-in support for unit tests, in conjunction with Cargo, the Rust build system and package manager. Cargo will both generate test functions and run tests for you. You can do unit tests in any language, but this is a great way to prompt developers to use them.  Tests are a big deal. I recall Sqlite developer Dr D Richard Hipp telling me that testing was core to the project and without it, it could not progress as it does. Sqlite has 662 times more test code than the code in the Sqlite library itself.

Third, Rust can be compiled to WebAssembly so you can run it in a web browser.

Fourth, Microsoft is considering using Rust on the basis that it “could eliminate an entire class of vulnerabilities before they ever happened”.

Fifth, work is under way to build a new operating system with Rust, called Redox. I wrote about this briefly for the Register.

If asked to think of a language that is as efficient and powerful as C++ but nicer and for many of us more productive to use, I think of Delphi (or Object Pascal). Delphi has an ardent niche following but is unlikely to grow its usage much beyond it. Rust on the other hand is a modern language that benefits from things we have learned about programming in the last forty years (C++ was first thought by Bjarne Stroustrup when writing his PhD thesis, though the name dates from 1983), and with a refreshing lack of legacy. And Delphi is not open source, unless you mean Lazarus.

Worth a look if you have a moment – see here for how Verity Stop got on.

Mad but great: Sony Walkman 2019 NW-A105

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Who would want an expensive dedicated mobile music player in 2019, when any mobile phone is capable of excellent sound quality, more likely streamed from Spotify or Apple Music than played directly from music files on the device? It is a bit crazy; but Sony is still out there promoting high resolution audio and believes that smartphones are not the last word in audio quality. The new NW-A105, which retails at £320 in the UK, is not even the top of its range. The Walkman WM1Z Signature Series is £2500, complete with gold-plated oxygen-free copper chassis, making the humble A105 seem quite a bargain.

The audio world is replete with misleading claims about what makes for good sound, and you can make the case that you will not get any audible benefits from spending this kind of money. That said, I attend Sony events from time to time – the latest was IFA in Berlin earlier this year – and I am always impressed by the sound quality of Sony’s high-end portable devices. I was glad to get the opportunity to review the NW-105 therefore. Who knows, it may not be quite the sonic equal of the WM1Z, but as soon as I tried it I was delighted by the almost uncanny realism of some of the best-recorded tracks I have available.

Which tracks? For example, I played Let me touch you for a while from the Live album by Alison Krauss and the Union Station, and was transported to the Louisville Palace in April 2002. There is space around the instruments, the guitars sound like guitars, you can follow the bass, the applause sounds like you are in the audience. Then Claire Martin’s cover of Bowie’s Man Who Sold the World. a demo track from Linn that is beautifully recorded, and you can hear immediately that the sound quality is a notch above what we normally hear. It is spacious, the instruments sound distinct and realistic, the vocals have great presence. Then the Cranberries, I Still Do, not demo quality this time, but you get the ethereal quality of the much-missed Dolores O’Riordan’s voice, the dense instrumentation, the thunderous bass at the end of the track. I just wanted to keep playing, in a way that I have not done for a while.

The A105 (which is more or less the same as the A100 and some other models) is notable for running Android 9.0, unlike some of the other models which run Sony’s own custom operating system. Running Android has pros and cons. On the plus side, it means you can run any Android app, such as Spotify, YouTube, Google Play Music, Apple Music, and so on. You can also connect to public wi-fi using your preferred web browser. The disadvantage is that Android consumes more space and drains the battery faster than Sony’s dedicated firmware.

I love this device, but it does have a number of annoyances. Here are the main ones:

  • Just 16GB of on-board storage, which soon fills up if you put a few hi-res albums on there. In fact, available storage is less than 7GB thanks to Android. A DSD album in SACD quality is typically between 1.5 and 2.0 GB. Fortunately there is a microSD slot (supports microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC) which lets you expand storage up to a theoretical maximum of 2TB. I fitted an inexpensive 200GB card.
  • You can play music either from the Sony Music Player or from other Android apps. If you play from the Sony player you get maximum sound quality and volume is controlled only by the Sony volume control. If you play from Android apps you are limited to 48 kHz/16-bit and higher resolutions will be downsampled, and volume is controlled by the Android media volume as well as by the Sony control. It’s best to turn the Android media volume to max and just use the Sony control.
  • The maximum volume is not that loud. If you have inefficient headphones and want to listen in noisy environments this could be a problem. I found that with Sennheiser HD 600 headphones, for example, it was not always loud enough. With other more efficient headphones, or with Shure earbuds it was fine. The volume depends on multiple factors, including the volume of the source, and whether you engage the “Dynamic Normalizer” sound affect.
  • The battery seems to drain quite fast if the unit is on standby. Turning wi-fi off helps, but you need to turn it off completely if you want to extend battery life. I recommend powering it off when not in use.

Format support is comprehensive, including MP3, FLAC, MP4 including Apple lossless, DSD right up to 11.2896 MHz, and MQA-encoded FLAC. DSD is converted to PCM. Hi-res is supported up to 32-bit/384 kHz

The home screen is standard Android with a link to a detailed manual, and three Sony apps: Music player, Sound adjustment and Ambient sound settings. The player app is basic but easy to use. The Sound Adjustment has various sound processors, including Dynamic Normalizer for normalizing volume between tracks, Vinyl Processor which supposedly “recreates the warm, rich playback of a turntable”, Clear Audio +, graphic equalizer, and DSEE HX which supposedly makes CD quality more like hi-res, and DC Phase Linearizer which is meant to make low frequencies “more analog”. You can also set Direct mode which bypasses all these and is my preferred setting. The Ambient control lets you enable noise cancelling and ambient sound mode (letting you hear external sounds through a headset); but these settings only work with a specific Sony headset.

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A fun feature is the cassette screen that you can set to appear on playback.

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The quality of the cassette varies according to the format. You can even see the reels spin faster if you fast forward or back. An nice touch.

As I experimented, I installed Spotify, tried Google Play Music, and used some Bluetooth headphones. Everything worked, but I have to say that some of the magic seems to disappear with all these options. On the Bluetooth side, the unit supports Bluetooth 5.0 and the A2DP, AVRCP, SPP, OPP and DID protocols. Codecs are SBC, LDAC, aptX, aptX HD and AAC. The quality you will get does depend partly on whether your headset supports the best resolutions. Unfortunately I don’t have a Sony headset that supports LDAC, a Sony-developed codec that supports 96 kHz/24-bit though with lossy compression. Perhaps that would make a difference. The sound is not by any means bad, just not as special as with a wired connection.

Similar reservations apply to the sound from Android sources other than the Sony player. I conjecture that the Sony player has some special support for the custom hardware that you do not get when playing via the Android sound system. Again, the quality is very good, but there is a noticeable difference to my ears.

The A105 supports Meridian’s MQA, a controversial effort to improve quality by folding high resolution into space in the audio file that would otherwise be unheard. I have a number of MQA demo files and can report that they do sound exceptionally good on the Sony, though whether this is because of MQA or simply that they are demo-quality recordings is open to question.

Update: I tried this on a flight for the first time. I used some Jabra headphones which have both a wired a a Bluetooth connect. In a quiet environment the wired connection sounds better. On the plane though, with the background roar of the engine, the volume was barely sufficient with wired. I switched to the Bluetooth which overcomes this since you are then using the built-in amplifier in the headset. In the end I felt this was preferable. Wireless is also an advantage in a somewhat cramped environment. It certainly made the flight pass more pleasantly.

Hardware

Android is fast and responsive on this player, thanks to 4GB RAM and a 4x 1.8 ARM chipset. CPU information is below:

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What has Sony done to achieve better quality? The specifications refer to things like the aluminium milled frame, film capacitors and “fine sound” resistors. There is also a circuit board layout optimized for sound with the audio. There is a bit more detail on the hardware here if you are curious. What makes a difference to the sound, and what is just marketing? Hard to say, but as I mentioned in the opening of this post, all I can say is that the sound quality is real.

Conclusion

Despite the high price (or low price if you measure it against other premium portable devices such as those from Astell & Kern, or higher in Sony’s range), this is a great device and one which offers many hours of enjoyment. There are a few cautions though. The annoyances are real, including the short battery life and limited volume. I am not sure it is worth it if you plan to use wireless headphones most of the time. And if you are impatient with the idea of downloading files or rippling physical media, in this age of streaming, it is not quite so compelling. None of these issues are dealbreakers for me; I am just enjoying the sound.

The problem with price comparison sites

A piece in the weekend Guardian by its excellent personal finance correspondent Patrick Collinson includes, almost as an aside, an explanation of why price comparison sites are bad news for some customers.

Collinson’s report concerns a man who discovered that his elderly parents-in-law were being asked for £579.08 for home insurance from the Halifax. He considered this excessive, went online to get a quote direct from Halifax for the same house, and was quoted £108. In other words, the renewal was more then five times more expensive, a shocking penalty for loyalty or inertia.

Why is this happening? In part, because insurance companies can get away with it, but that is not the whole story. The problem, Collinson explains, is the price comparison sites which “drive nearly all new business.”

It is obvious that price comparison sites tend to increase prices, since they are financed by commission on sales made through the site. This effect in itself will not make such a dramatic difference though. The bigger problem is that in order to secure the sale, prices for new business have to be cut to the bone. The only viable way to quote such low prices is to subsidise new customers with profits made from existing customers.

That does not justify the behaviour of the Halifax, which actually increased the premium demanded from this elderly couple by £96.52 from that asked the previous year. But it does show why these sites tend to increase unfair pricing.

Microsoft posts another strong set of results, does not know how to invest its profits

Microsoft has announced its quarterly financial statements, reporting revenue of $33.1 billion, up 14% on the same period last year (though fractionally down on the previous quarter).

It does not know how to invest the money it is making. It returned $7.9 billion to shareholders via dividends and buybacks.

What’s notable? The fastest-growing business is Azure, with revenue up by 59%, followed by Dynamics 365 up by 41%.

Office 365 commercial revenue up by 25%, Dynamics 365 up by 41%.

Microsoft notes that it is achieving “higher average revenue per user” on Office 365, indicating some success in adding premium features.

LinkedIn is performing well, revenue up by 25%.

Xbox hardware revenue is down by 34%, but gaming revenue overall down by only 7%. The next hope for gaming will be when the next generation of Xbox appears, Project “Scarlett”, expected this time next year.

In Windows. business revenue is up in both “commercial revenue” (Microsoft 365 and other license sales) and OEM Pro revenue (PCs with Windows 10 Pro installed). However consumer Windows is down 7%. Microsoft says “pressure in the entry level category”, but my guess is that home PCs are just not being replaced and that Chromebooks and iPads are eating into laptop sales.

Quarter ending Sept 30th 2019 vs quarter ending Sept 30th 2018, $millions

Segment Revenue Change Operating income Change
Productivity and Business Processes 11077 +1306 4782 +901
Intelligent Cloud 10845 +2278 3889 +958
More Personal Computing 11133 +387 4015 +872

The segments break down as:

Productivity and Business Processes: Office, Office 365, Dynamics 365 and on-premises Dynamics, LinkedIn

Intelligent Cloud: Server products, Azure cloud services

More Personal Computing: Consumer including Windows, Xbox; Bing search; Surface hardware

Xcode on Catalina update hassles

I have a Mac running Catalina. It is almost new and I did not migrate anything from the old Mac, so should be a very clean install.

I installed Xcode 11 from the App Store. All fine.

Yesterday it wanted to update to Xcode 11.1. But the update took a long time and then failed. Try again later. I did. Same. The App Store UI gives you no clue what is not working.

I ran the Console app to check the log. Install failed “The package is attempting to install content to the system volume.”

Annoying. Suggested fix is to download the DMG. Another idea is to uninstall and then reinstall from the App Store. I like having it App Store managed so I did the latter and it worked.

Together with Gimp permission problems it looks like permission issues in Catalina are a considerable annoyance. Which is OK if security is better as a result; but that does not excuse this kind of arbitrary behaviour.

Marley Stir it up Wireless Turntable: a good introduction to the vinyl revival?

I have been trying a Marley Stir it Up Wireless turntable over the last couple of weeks.

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This is the wireless version of an older model, also called Stir it up. The name references a Bob Marley song, and yes there is a family connection. Marley manufactures a range of relatively inexpensive audio products with a distinctive emphasis on natural and recycled materials.

The turntable is no exception, and has an attractive bamboo plinth and a fabric cover in place of the usual Perspex (or similar) lid. The fabric cover is actually a bit annoying, since you cannot use it when a record is playing (it would flop all over it).

I am familiar with turntable setup, and otherwise would have found the setup instructions confusing. The belt is a suppled already fitted to the platter. You have to poke it round the drive pulley through a hole in the platter. That is not too hard, but there also conflicting and unclear instructions about how to set the tracking weight and bias correction. What you should do is to ignore the printed instructions and check out the video here. This explains that you fit the counterweight to the arm, adjust it until the cartridge floats just above the platter, then twist the weight gauge to zero, then twist the counterweight to 2.5g, the correct tracking force for the supplied Audio Technical 3600L cartridge. Then set the anti-skate to the same value as the tracking weight.

Connections on this turntable are flexible. You can switch the phono pre-amp on or off; if ON you do not need a phono input on your amplifier, just line in. Alternatively you can plug in headphones, or connect Bluetooth speakers, using the volume control at front right.

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There is also a USB port at the back of the unit. You can connect this to a PC or Mac to convert records to audio files.

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Playing record is a matter of placing the record on the platter, setting the speed as required, unclipping the arm, pulling the arm lowering lever FORWARD to lift it, moving the arm over the record (which starts the platter rotating), then pushing the lever BACK to lower it (I found the lever worked the opposite way to what I expected).

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All worked well though, and I was soon playing records. First impressions were good. I found the sound quality decent enough to be enjoyable and put on a few favourites. My question had been: can a cheapish turntable deliver good enough sound to make playing records fun? The answer, I felt, was yes.

This was despite some obvious weaknesses in the turntable. The arm does not move as freely as a top quality arm, and the fact that it operates a switch is sub-optimal; it is better to have a separate switch to turn the platter rotation on and off. I also noticed mechanical noise from the turntable, not enough to be spoil the music, but a bad sign. The cartridge is from a great manufacturer, but is about the cheapest in the range. Finally, the platter is lightweight, which is bad for speed stability.

This last point is important. I noticed that on some material the pitch was not as stable as it should be. Marley quote “less than 0.3%” for wow and flutter, which is rather high. I decided to do some measurement. I recorded a 3.15kHz tone into a digital recorded and opened the file in Audacity. Then I used the Wow and Flutter visualizer plugin from here. I repeated the test with my normal (old but much more expensive) turntable, a Roksan Xerxes, to get a comparison. In the following analysis, the +/- 1.0 represents 1% divergence from the average frequency. A perfect result would be a straight line. The Marley is the top chart, the Xerxes below.

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Essentially this shows a cyclic speed variation of up to about 1.8% peak to peak for the Marley, compared to around 0.4% for the Xerxes. Note that when converted to weighted RMS (root mean square) this is probably within spec for the Marley; but it is also obvious that the Marley is pretty bad. Does it matter? Well, it is certainly audible. Whether it bothers you depends partly on the kind of music you play, and partly on your sensitivity to this kind of distortion. I noticed it easily on Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, not so much on rock music.

The Marley is £229 full retail. Can you do better for the same price? That is hard to answer since the Marley does pack in a lot of flexibility. All you need to add is a Bluetooth speaker, or headphones, and you can listen to music. If you compare the Rega Planar 1, which is £229, you do get a turntable more obviously designed for best quality at the price, but it is more of a bare-bones design, lacking the phono pre-amp, headphone socket and wireless capabilities. And even the Rega Planar 1 does not have a great spec for wow and flutter; I cannot find a published spec but I believe it is around 0.2% – there is a discussion here.

I still feel the Marley is a good buy if you want to have some fun playing records, but getting the best quality out of records has never been cheap and this is true today as it was in the LP’s heyday back in the 60s and 70s.

I cannot fault the AT cartridge which gives a clean and lively sound. The headphone output is not very loud, but fine for some casual listening.

Is there any point, when streaming is so easy? All I can say is that playing records is good fun and at its best offers an organic, three-dimensional sound quality that you do not often hear from a digital source. Quite often records are less compressed than digital versions of the same music, which is also a reason why they can sound better. In terms of signal to noise, wow and flutter, distortion etc, digital is of course superior.

Just ahead of the launch of Oppo Reno 2, here is a look at Oppo Reno 10x Zoom

Oppo will launch Reno 2 on 16th October, under the heading “Make the world your studio”. Oppo mobiles have been making a an impression as an example of high quality technology at a price a bit less than you would pay for a Samsung or a Sony – similar in that respect to Huawei, though currently without the challenge Huawei faces in trying to market Android devices without Google Play services.

Oppo is a brand of BBK Electronics Corp, a Chinese company based in Chang’an, Dongguan. Other BBK Electronics brands include OnePlus and Vivo. If you combine the market share of all these brands, it is in the top four globally.

My first encounter with the Reno brand was in May this year when I attended the launch of the Reno 10x Zoom and the Reno 5G (essentially the 10x Zoom with 5G support) in London. Unfortunately I was not able to borrow a device for review until recently; however I have been using a 10x Zoom for the last couple of weeks and found it pretty interesting.

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First impression: this is a large device. It measures 7.72 x 16.2 x 0.93cm and weighs about 215g. The AMOLED screen diagonal is 16.9cm and the resolution 2340 x 1080 pixels.

Second impression: it takes amazing pictures. To me, this is not just a matter of specification. I am not a professional photographer, but do take thousands of photos for work. Unfortunately I don’t have an iPhone 11, Samsung Galaxy Note 10 to test against. The mobile I’ve actually been using of late is the Honor 10 AI, a year older and considerably cheaper than the Reno but with a decent camera. I present the below snaps not as a fair comparison but to show how the Reno 10x Zoom compares to a more ordinary smartphone camera.

Here is a random pic of some flowers taken with the Honor 10 AI (left) and the Reno 10x Zoom (right):

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Not too much in it? Try zooming in on some detail (same pic, cropped):

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The Reno 10x Zoom also, believe it not, has a zoom feature. Here is a detail from my snap of an old coin at 4.9x, hand-held, no tripod.

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There is something curious about this. Despite the name, the Reno has 5x optical zoom, with 10x and more (in fact up to 60x) available through digital processing. You soon learn that the quality is best when using the optical zoom alone; there is a noticeable change when you exceed 5x and not a good one.

The image stabilisation seems excellent.

The UI for this is therefore unfortunate. The way it works is that when you open the camera a small 1x button appears in the image. Tap it, and it goes to 2x.Tap again for 6x, and again for 10x. If you want other settings you either use pinch and zoom, or press and hold on the button whereupon a scale appears. Since there is a drop-off in quality after 5x, it would make more sense for the tap to give this setting.

There are four camera lenses on the Reno. On the rear, a 48MP f/1.7 wide, a 13MP f/2.4 telephoto, and an 8MP f/2.2 ultra-wide. The telephoto lens has a periscope design (like Huawei’s P30 Pro), meaning that the lens extends along with the length of the phone internally, using a prism to bend the light, so that the lens can be longer than a thin smartphone normally allows.

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There is also a small bump (surrounded by green in the pic below) which is a thoughtful feature to protect the lenses if the device is placed on a flat surface.

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On the front is a 16MP f/2.0 sensor which also gives great results, excellent for selfies or video conferencing. The notable feature here is that it is hinged and when not in use, slides into the body of the camera. This avoids having a notch. Nice feature.

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ColorOS and special features

We might wish that vendors just use stock Android but they prefer to customize it, probably in the hope that customers, once having learned a particular flavour of Android, will be reluctant to switch.

The Oppo variant is called ColorOS. One good thing about it is that you can download a manual which is currently 335pp. It is not specific to the Reno 10x Zoom and some things are wrong (it references a non-existent headphone jack, for example), but it helps if you want to understand the details of the system. You might not otherwise know, for example, that there is a setting which lets you open the camera by drawing an O gesture on the lock screen.

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How many customers will find and read this manual? My hunch is relatively few. Most people get a new smartphone, transfer their favourite apps, tap around a bit to work out how to set a few things as they want them, and then do not worry.

If you have a 10x, I particularly recommend reading the section on the camera as you will want to understand each feature and how to operate it.

The Reno 10x does have quite a few smart features. Another worth noting is “Auto answer when phone is near ear”. You can also have it so that it will automatically switch from speaker to receiver when you hold the phone to your ear.

Face unlock is supported but you are not walked through setting this up automatically. You are prompted to enrol a fingerprint though. The fingerprint sensor is under glass on the front – I prefer them on the rear – but there is a nice feature where the fingerprint area glows when you pick up the device. It works but it is not brilliant if conditions are sub-optimal, for example with a damp hand.

The Reno 10x Zoom supports split screen mode via a three-finger gesture. With a large high-resolution screen this may be useful. Here is Microsoft Teams (Left) with a web browser (Right).

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Settings – Smart services includes Riding mode, designed for cycling, which will disable all notifications except whitelisted calls.

VOOC (Voltage Open Loop Multistep Constant-current Charging) is Oppo’s fast charging technology.

Dolby Atmos audio is included and there are stereo speakers. Sound from these is nothing special, but sound from the bundled earbuds is excellent.

Quick conclusions

A Reno 10x Zoom is not a cheap smartphone, but it does cost less than the latest flagship devices from Apple or Samsung. If you are like me and need a great camera, it strikes me as a good choice. If you do not care much about the camera, look elsewhere.

Things I especially like:

  • Excellent camera
  • No notch
  • Great audio quality though supplied earbuds
  • Thoughtful design and high quality build

There are a few things against it though:

  • Relatively bulky
  • No wireless charging
  • No headphone jack (less important now that wireless earbuds are common)

Spec summary

OS: Android 9 with ColorOS 6

Screen: AMOLED 6.6″ 2340 x 1080 at 387 ppi

Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SM8150 , 8 Core Kryo 485 2.85 GHz

Integrated GPU: Qualcomm Adreno 640

RAM: 8GB

Storage: 256GB

Dual SIM: Yes – 2 x Nano SIM or SIM + Micro SD

NFC: Yes

Sensors: Geomagnetic, Light, Proximity, Accelerometer, Gyro, Laser focus, dual-band GPS

WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4GHz/5GHz, hotspot support

Bluetooth: 5.0

Connections: USB Type-C with OTG support.

Size and weight: 162 mm x 77.2 mm  x 9.3 mm, 215g

Battery: 4065 mAh. No wireless charging.

Fingerprint sensor: Front, under glass

Face unlock: Yes

Rear camera: Rear: 48MP + 8MP + 13MP

Front camera: 16MP

Finding the multi-factor authentication and authenticator options in an Office 365 account

Microsoft has done some good work enabling and promoting multi-factor authentication in Office 365, including use of the Microsoft Authenticator app.

Strangely though, it has made the user settings for this hard to find.

Logically it should be in the My Account – Security and Privacy section, but it is not.

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Where is it then? The easiest way to find it is here:

https://aka.ms/mfasetup

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Yamaha’s vinyl revival on display at IFA in Berlin including GT-5000 turntable

At IFA in Berlin, Europe’s biggest consumer electronics show, there is no doubting that the vinyl revival is real.

At times it did feel like going back in time. On the Teac stand there were posters for Led Zeppelin and The Who, records by Deep Purple and the Velvet Underground, and of course lots of turntables.

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Why all the interest in vinyl? Nostalgia is a factor but there is a little more to it. A record satisfies a psychological urge to collect, to own, to hold a piece of music that you admire, and streaming or downloading does not meet that need.

There is also the sound. At its best, records have an organic realism that digital audio rarely matches. Sometimes that is because of the freedom digital audio gives to mastering engineers to crush all the dynamics out of music in a quest to make everything as LOUD as possible. Other factors are the possibility of euphonic distortion in vinyl playback, or that excessive digital processing damages the purity of the sound. Records also have plenty of drawbacks, including vulnerability to physical damage, dust which collects on the needle, geometric issues which means that the arm is (most of the time) not exactly parallel to the groove, and the fact that he quality of reproduction drops near the centre of the record, where the speed is slower.

Somehow all these annoyances have not prevented vinyl sales from increasing, and audio companies are taking advantage. It is a gift for them, some slight relief from the trend towards smartphones, streaming, earbuds and wireless speakers in place of traditional hi-fi systems.

One of the craziest things I saw at IFA was Crosley’s RDS3, a miniature turntable too small even for a 7” single. It plays one-sided 3” records of which there are hardly any available to buy.Luckily it is not very expensive, and is typically sold on Record Store Day complete with a collectible 3” record which you can play again and again.

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Moving from the ridiculous to the sublime, I was also intrigued by Yamaha’s GT-5000. It is a high-end turntable which is not yet in full production. I was told there are only three in existence at the moment, one on the stand at IFA, one in a listening room at IFA, and one at Yamaha’s head office in Japan.

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Before you ask, price will be around €7000, complete with arm. A lot, but in the world of high-end audio, not completely unaffordable.

There was a Yamaha GT-2000 turntable back in the eighties, the GT standing for “Gigantic and Tremendous”. Yamaha told me that engineers in retirement were consulted on this revived design.

The GT-5000 is part of a recently introduced 5000 series, including amplifier and loudspeakers, which takes a 100% analogue approach. The turntable is belt drive, and features a very heavy two-piece platter. The brass inner platter weights 2kg and the aluminium outer platter, 5.2kg. The high mass of the platter stabilises the rotation. The straight tonearm features a copper-plated aluminium inner tube and a carbon outer tube. The headshell is cut aluminium and is replaceable. You can adjust the speed ±1.5% in 0.1% increments. Output is via XLR balanced terminals or unbalanced RCA. Yamaha do not supply a cartridge but recommend the Ortofon Cadenza Black.

Partnering the GT-5000 is C-5000 pre-amplifier, the M-5000 100w per channel stereo power amplifier, and NS-5000 three-way loudspeakers. Both amplifiers have balanced connections and Yamaha has implemented what it calls “floating and balanced technology”:

Floating and balanced power amplifier technology delivers fully balanced amplification, with all amplifier circuitry including the power supply ‘floating’ from the electrical ground … one of the main goals of C-5000 development was to have completely balanced transmission of phono equaliser output, including the MC (moving coil) head amp … balanced transmission is well-known to be less susceptible to external noise, and these qualities are especially dramatic for minute signals between the phono cartridge and pre-amplifier.

In practice I suspect many buyers will partner the GT-5000 with their own choice of amplifier, but I do like the pure analogue approach which Yamaha has adopted. If you are going to pretend that digital audio does not exist you might as well do so consistently (I use Naim amplifiers from the eighties with my own turntable setup).

I did get a brief chance to hear the GT-5000 in the listening room at IFA. I was not familiar with the recording and cannot make meaningful comment except to say that yes, it sounded good, though perhaps slightly bright. I would need longer and to play some of my own familiar records to form a considered opinion.

What I do know is that if you want to play records, it really is worth investing in a high quality turntable, arm and cartridge; and that the pre-amplifier as well is critically important because of the low output, especially from moving coil cartridges.

GT-5000 arm geometry

There is one controversial aspect to the GT-5000 which is its arm geometry. All tonearms are a compromise. The ideal tonearm has zero friction, perfect rigidity, and parallel tracking at all points, unfortunately impossible to achieve. The GT-5000 has a short, straight arm, whereas most arms have an angled headshell and slightly overhang the centre of the platter. The problem with a short, straight arm is that it has a higher deviation from parallel than with a longer arm and angled headshell, so much so that it may only be suitable for a conical stylus. On the other hand, it does not require any bias adjustment, simplifying the design. With a straight arm, it would be geometrically preferable to have a very long arm but that may tend to resonate more as well as requiring a large plinth. I am inclined the give the GT-5000 the benefit of the doubt; it will be interesting to see detailed listening and performance tests in due course.

More information on the GT-5000 is here.

Saving documents in Office 365 desktop applications

Those readers who also follow The Register may have noticed that I am writing more for that publication now, though be assured that I will still post here from time to time. My most recent piece is on saving documents in Office and reflects a longstanding annoyance that in applications like Word and Excel Microsoft mostly bypasses the standard Windows file save dialog in favour of its own Backstage,  now supplemented by an additional dialog which the team says  will help us “save your files to the cloud more easily.”

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Admittedly the new dialog is small and neat relative to the cluttered Backstage but it is not very flexible and if you use multiple sub-folders to organize our files you will be clicking More save options half the time, defeating the point.

There is also a suspicion that rather than helping us with something most of us do not need help with, Microsoft is trying to promote OneDrive – which it is entitled to do, but it is an annoyance if the software you have paid for is being used as a surreptitious marketing tool.

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