Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

The Absolute Bose: down to earth

Thursday, November 17th, 2022

Admittedly, the “how much?” exercise was over the top–and I doubt that even most multimillionaire audiophiles will be buying tape decks, so let’s call the actual total about $2,840,000.93

Yes, you can buy a system of stuff TAB likes for a lot less. Sticking with floorstanding loudspeakers and ignoring tape decks, I find:

  • Speakers: PSB Alpha T20, $849.
  • Integrated amp with phonostage: $799 (the combination of a Schitt Audio Mini $149 phonostage and NAD C328 $599 integrated amp is $50 cheaper, but then you need an extra interconnect)
  • CD player with DAC: Arcam CDS50, $1,320.The boig
  • Streaming device with DAC: Cambridge CXN-2, $1,099.
  • Turntable/arm/cartridge: Rega Planar 1 Plus, $725 (or ProJect Debut Carbon EVO turntable/arm $599 and Grado Prestige Black3, $99–$26 cheaper but a bit more setup).
  • Interconnects and power cables (one speaker, three interconects): Transparent Audio The Link interconnect ($100 x 3), The Wave speaker ($250), High-Performance PowerLink AC ($340 x 4).

So that’s $4,725 for components, $1,910 for wires: $6,635 total–or 0.234% of the top-notch system. I’m guessing it would provide 99% of the pleasure for most folks–oh, maybe adding a nice JL Audio or GoldenEar subwoofer for $1,100-$1,500 for that bottom octave of bass, but–even with another $590 for AC and cables–that’s still less than 0,3% (that is, one-third of one percent) of the highest-end system…

i was going to price out Stereophile’s most expensive class-A/class-A+ system, but why bother? The biggest differences would be the amps ($230,000 rather than $700,000, since Stereophile doesn’t have speakers that require two amps each) and loudspeakers ($335,000 rather than $750,000), but what’s $830K between friends?

Just for fun, I counted speakers in three price ranges in both sources–up to $10,000 (a  natural cutoff since that’s roughly the price of the cheapest full-reference-quality speakers), $10,000-$100,000, and over $100,000. Stereojphile has more in the least-expensive range (59 compared to 51), a lot fewer in the expensive range (43 compared to 57), and just over half as many in the ultra-expensive range (seven compared to 12).

And that’s it for fun with audio magazines & prices.

As for what I listen to music on? While the Grado SR80 headphones are still available (at a slightly higher price, around $120), the Cowon Plenue portable players seem to have disappeared, and an equivalent (?) seems to be at least $600 (more than twice what the Cowon cost)…s0, no recommendation here.

The Absolute Bose 3: How much?

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

How much would you spend to get TAB’s bets system? Hard to say: where Stereophile divides its recommendations by grade, apparently everything at TAB is wonderful, so it’s arranged by price. So I guess the most expensive must be best.

Here’s the picture in 2022:

  • Speakers: Magico M9. $750,000–oh, and you must use two amplifiers (two stereo or four mono). Which also means two sets of speaker cables.
  • Power amp: Burmester 159. $350,000 for two monoblocks–but, again, double that.
  • Preamp: Boulder 3010, $142,000.
  • Phono stage: VAC Statement, $80,000.
  • CD player: dCS Vivaldi Apex, $48,500. [The full “Vivaldi stack” is $140,000, but there’s an Even Better digital, see below.]
  • DAC (digital/analog converter): Wadax Atlantis Reference, $157,000. Really–and it’s three boxes and weighs 206 pounds.
  • Music server: Wadax Reference Server, $76,495 with optical interface.
  • Turntable: TechDAS Air Force Zero with tungsten platter: $550,000.
  • Tonearm (no, TechDAS doesn’t include one): Swedish Analog Technologies CF 1-09, $50,000.
  • Cartridge: Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement V2.1, $17,500.
  • Tape deck: United Home Audio SuperDeck, $89,998. [Of COURSE you need a tape deck so you can play those 15ips tapes that can cost $290-$500 and WAY up.]

So, setting aside power conditioners, record cleaners, and the like, you can get a top-notch system for a mere $2,551,493 (plus tax and shipping). So if you read about spending $600,000 or so to add a proper listening room…well, consider.

Ah, but you still need proper power cables and interconnects: ten AC cables, two pairs of speaker cables, three analog interconnects and two digital interconnects. So…

  • Power cables: Echole Infinity, $24,500 (times ten)
  • Speaker cables: CrystalConnect…Art Series Da Vinci: $48,000 (times two)
  • Interconnects: Nordost Odin 2, $26,999 (times three)
  • Digital interconnects: Transparent Audio XL, $3,670 (times two).

Add that up, and you get $429,337 for cables. So that’s…

$2,980,830. Which if you only have a paltry three million set aside for your stereo system. still leaves almost $20,000 for accessories. Or 1,000+ CDs, maybe 700 LPs, or a few dozen tapes.

It might be interesting to price out a system with components TAB calls bargains or the like. Or maybe not.

The Absolute Bose 2: purple prose, cheerleading and plausibility

Saturday, November 12th, 2022

A few more notes on TAB, a semi-mythical periodical that’s either for audiophiles or true believers, or a little of both.

Purple prose

Much of it seems taken directly from manufacturers. Others comes from the two demigods and their lesser minions. But it does come hot, heavy and long.

Just looking at one page from the Big Book of Wonderful Equipment (the November issue), I see in two adjacent speaker raves the phrases “the fit and finish are breathtaking” and “the mirror-like finish [is] breathtaking.” The next page and next speaker just has “a visual image that might win it an entry in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.” That kind of purple prose abounds–an “almost magically neutral midrange,” “uncanny levels of purity and resolution,” “sensuous silhouette,” and so on. [And those are for what for TAB are modestly-priced speakers, “only” $20-$35,000 a pair.


This is more evident in full-length reviews. TAB loves some manufacturers; many reviews really do sound as though the writers should be wearing little skirts and waving pom=poms. (A terrifying mental image, that.)

The two audio magazines I read both invite manufacturer comments, presumably only after the reviews are written. In the other magazine, the manufacturers are frequently arguing with the reviewers (especially the technical reviewer) about some comments that are less than laudatory. In TAB, the manufacturer comments almost always seem like lovefests.


I should be clear here. I am not of the camp that says “if it’s not measurable, it’s not audible”–too much of musical reproduction can’t be fully measured, especially since music is inherently dynamic. I am also not one who believes in double-blind testing as the road to nirvana. Double-blind testing, in my experience, tends to minimize differences (that’s how you get StoreBrandCola tasting identical to Pepsi, $3 wines tasting as good as or better than $50 wines…). I’ll admit that I would love to see some single-blind audio reviewing (feasible for some preamps, some phono cartridges, most cables, some digital gear and, with help, most speakers): that is, reviews where the reviewer doesn’t know the identity or price of the particular item under review until the review is written. But that won’t happen, especially since a thorough review can involve weeks or months of listening: the overhead of single-blind is too high.

But, you know, some things can be measured–and some improvements or solutions may strike me as just a tad implausible, stretching the sound-is-created-in-the-mind truth a bit too far.

I think especially of very expensive AC cords, speaker cables, interconnects–especially digital interconnects–and of, unusual additions.

At one level–that is, faintly plausible but perhaps overstated–you get examples such as:

  • A $695 power conditioner that offers “profound” enhancement of “soundstaging, dimensionality and depth” from a CD drive.
  • An $8,000 power conditioner that gives you “far greater resolution of air and space”–which must certainly be plainly audible, given that “far.”
  • A $26,000 (no, I’m not kidding) box that “allows listeners to ‘peek’ into the sonic information below the noise floor” and yields audible improvements “across all criteria [that] are not subtle but staggering.”
  • A $16,000 power cord that “seem[s] to lower the level of noise and coloration”–but, of course, you’ll need one of these for each component. (There’s another one for $24,500 that’s “sonically outstanding.” Let’s see: with a turntable, CD player, phono preamp, preamp and power amp,m that’s $122,500 in power cables alone…)
  • A $48,000 speaker cable that yields “immediately audible” improvements–or maybe that’s the $23,900 interconnect.

At another level, I find the claims entirely implausible, but what do I know? For example:

  • While they list a $15 Belkin USB cable that is probably well worth it, if only because it’s probably better made and likely to outlast a true cheapo USB cable, I find it implausible that a $3,250 USB cable could be remotely worth the cost–but then I don’t hear that “chalky midrange and treble” that Roha assures us “plagues the USB interface”–I don’t even hear the “graininess.”
  • So, yeah, I’m also unlikely to believe that a $3,670 digital cable makes binary transfer so much better that it immediately improves transient speed (whatever that is) and makes treble “noticeably smoother” and bass “firmer and more refulgent,” rendering the sound “more tactile.”
  • How about $830-$2,750 for a “modular system” you put under your equipment that emits an electrical field that “manipulates the electromechanical resonances in its immediate vicinity” t’ “synchronize your stereo system”?
  • Consider $230 “stones” with “proprietary noise-reduction technology” that you put on top of amps, preamps, and other electronics, that TAB says reduce noise and enrich timbre. Note that actual noise reduction should be measurable, but TAB doesn’t do measurements. Oh, you can use these wonderstones–which have no electrical contact with the equipment–in your car, where–the company says–they increase horsepower when used near the car’s computers.
  • $650 for a record mat? A paper record mat at that? Absolutely! It improves the “continuousness of musicians making music ensemble in a real space.”
  • And, for good measure, the same company sells a $2,800 “LP conditioner” that “demagnetizes” your LPs, and “greatly reduces noise, deepening background silences and, thereby, raising resolution.”

I could go on. I remember the Tice Clock, a $500 alarm clock–really a $25 Radio Shack digital alarm clock that’s been Specially Treated–that was supposed to work wonders for stereo systems in the same room. That went away, but lots of other magic devices are still with us.

And I will say this again: If you believe a device will make a difference in how you hear music, then it probably will–because hearing takes place in the brain, not the ear.

Part 3 will be less argumentative and more factual: what does this all cost?

The Absolute Bose: a silly non-political essay (or two)

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

Consider the following statements about stereo systems:

  1. A good stereo system should reproduce the recorded material as faithfully as possible.
  2. A good stereo system should make beautiful music.

If you don’t see a difference between the two, you’ll find this “essay” completely meaningless. And if you’re in Camp Two, you’re a target reader for The Absolute Bose, my sort-of mocking name for one of the two stereo magazines I currently read. (I’ve read/subscribed to many over the years; unfortunately, falling subscriber counts and consolidation have reduced the “mainstream” choices to one magazine, and I finally gave up on Sound & Fury–not the real name–after a change in editor and the strange decision that audio gear shouldn’t be measured but video gear should left me feeling like it was a waste of time.)

I use the name The Absolute Bose advisedly, as it’s becoming increasingly clear that (most, not quite all, of) the writers regard “musicality” as preferable to accuracy. Some of them are blunt: at least one reviewer has flat-out stated that an amplification system needs to have a certain amount of “second harmonic”–leaving out that nasty word “distortion”–to make pretty music. But there are lots of other indications–a belief that tube equipment is always better than solid-state, a belief that vinyl is *inherently* superior to digital (even when the LP was actually cut from digital sources, with the digital version being readily available, the LP is “more musical”), etc., etc.

The abbreviation ED springs to mind, but not the problem many older men have. No, this is euphonic distortion: changes in the original signal that make the music prettier. If anybody tells you that a recording or speakers or digital source is bad because real music doesn’t have “edges”…well, that’s ED. Real music does have edges at times. {When I put my very good hearing aids in in the morning, I’m reminded that the world is a noisy place, and some of the noise is, well, scratchy and unpleasant.]

I find TAB amusing in some ways. The mag has two demigods, call them Roha and Jova, who both have superhuman hearing and discriminatory capabilities, and apparently limitless funds. The mag seems to pay by the word, and Jova’s reviews (pretty much always raves, as are almost all reviews on TAB) use two-thirds of a page for an exhausting, er, -ive list of his many reference components, even those having no relevance to the review–apparently it’s important to be reminded that Jova is the King of Component Excess. On the other hand, Roha is known to smite those who belittle TAB’s infinite wisdom with hard-hitting editorials. And multipage feature reviews, with lots of pretty pictures, that feel a bit like audioporn sometimes.

TAB doesn’t do measurements.

TAB uses lots of descriptive language, with lots of terms that mean whatever the writers want them to mean. Most TAB writers appear to have perfect hearing and uncanny abilities to describe what most folks might think of as trivial or nonexistent differences as major, breathtaking, whatever. I believe most of the men (all men?) are middle-aged or older, but apparently none of them have the usual hearing losses the rest of us tend to.

About hearing: I do not doubt that the reviewers, including Roha and Jova, hear what they claim to hear. I don’t doubt that because, after all, hearing is not what comes into one’s ears: It’s what the brain makes of them, including all the non-auditory factors that affect any brain activities. I think it it possible, even likely, that some of the distinctions that these writers so clearly hear may not actually exist as measurable differences in sound waves, but after all, TAB doesn’t do measurements.

Do I find it a bit odd that Roha editorializes that the tiny (if existent) “improvements” bought about at huge expense in refining a system are actually more significant because they get you that teeny bit closer to The Absolute Bose? Sure, but that’s me. Am I envious? Not really. We’re not poor–but our sound systems suit our needs just fine. (My personal “system” cost about $400 total; our weekend system is still three-digits, but higher. I used to have a four-digit system, five digits including source material, when I was spending a lot more time listening to music. I find that I can’t really write or read while actually listening to music, and that I’m not much for background music, so…)

I could cancel my subscription to TAB, but it has its uses as an example of, well, whatever (and the multiyear subscription was so cheap–after all, it’s the advertisers who are really paying the bills–that it’s pointless). I could wonder about priorities involved in seven-digit systems that probably “need” six-digit upgrades/refinements each year, and wonder how much these superpurists spend on recordings or live music, but it’s their money (and I assume they give to good causes, or at least can hope

I realized what I actually felt about TAB and its writers, maybe as I’m going through their annual buyer’s guide and reading about how much five-digit audio cables and four-digit replacement power cords (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!) will improve your six-digit or seven-digit sound system:

Sadness or pity. That’s what I feel. Sadness that people who apparently have the time to pay that much attention to music appear to focus most of their resources and attention on tweaking their sound systems, not enjoying a world of music on what might be only 99.9%-outstanding gear.

[That’s part one. Part 2, if there is one, will quantify just how much this all can cost.]

Warriors Classic 50 Movies, Disc 6

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

Son of Hercules in the Land of Darkness (orig. Ercole l’invincible or Hercules the Invincible), 1964, color. Al World (Alvaro Mancori) (dir.), Dan Vadis, Spela Rozin. 1:20.

As offered here, this is one in a series of Sons of Hercules films, with a lively and very silly theme song at beginning and end—and apparently offered as a two-parter, since roughly an hour in we’re given a fast preview of the final 20-28 minutes as “in the next part.”

Never mind. At times fast-moving, at times just lots of scenery with son Argolese and his cowardly sidekick wandering around either looking for a city surrounded by lava or within the city. The first 20 minutes have the daughter of a rustic village king stripping down to take a swim (although she winds up holding her short tunic in front of her) and about to be attacked by a lion, which Argolese naturally defeats. He’s told that would be enough to win the hand of anybody but the daughter of the king—but for her hand he has to slay a non-fiery dragon that’s threatening the village and bring back a tooth. Which, with the aid of a witch, he does—all in the first 20 minutes,

Meanwhile, the soldiers of an evil queen—frim the lava-surrounded city—destroy the village and take all but the coward prisoner. That sets up the rest of the movie. We see that Argolese has almost unlimited strength (he can easily defeat hundreds of armed soldiers, partly because the only use they make of their spears is to let him grab them and throw them, once impaling three soldiers on a single spear), but he’s not quite strong enough to keep two circus elephants from tearing him apart—until his quick prayer to his gods results in one of the chains breaking.

Lots more plot in one final busy day, and all ends well—if we’re to believe that the beautiful daughter, who’s been strapped to a St. Andrew’s Cross and bleeding nearly to the point of death is wholly recovered six minutes after being rescued. I guess love is strong.

Silliness aside, this is well-mounted, a generally very good color print, panned-and-scanned well enough that it wasn’t bothersome, and fun. I’ll give it $1.50.

Gladiators of Rome (orig. Il gladiatore di Roma, and IMDB has the singular “Gladiator”), 1962, “color.” Mario Costa (dir.), Gordon Scott, Wandisa Guida, Roberto Risso. 1:40.

Sometimes life really is too short. The title credits were in yellow text on a shades-of-yellow background; after that, at least for the first 15-20 minutes, it was black, red and white, with various reds the only colors to be seen. Add to that the pace: several minutes of people talking so quickly that I could never follow the plot, followed by action sequences basically showing that the current emperor was a bloodthirsty villain determined to drive out Christianity at all costs. Oh, there’s a superhumanly strong slave—and a beautiful slave girl who is, according to the IMDB summary, really a princess.

What the hell. It’s on Amazon Prime and might even have real color there. I gave up. According to IMDB reviews, I was probably right to do so. $0.

Goliath and the Dragon, aka Vengeance of Hercules (orig, La vendetta di Ercole), 1960, color. Vittorio Cottafavi (dir.), Mark Forest, Broderick Crawford, Gaby André. 1:27.

Now this is more like it! Very widescreen (if your TV can zoom the small 3×4 picture), fairly good print (a bit red-shifted at times, but fine overall), and…did you notice the second named actor? That’s right, Broderick Crawford is King Eurystheus, the sadistic ruler of Italia, a kingdom nearby Thebes, which is protected by Goliath.

Goliath has been sent on a mission to restore the Blood Diamond from a god’s statue that Crawford hid—in a cave protected by three-headed/flaming dogs and, I guess, a not very impressive dragon. Crawford’s convinced that Goliath is dead, making Thebes right for the plucking. Things don’t quite work out that way…

The oddity here: we’re told early on that Goliath has been granted not only enormous strength but immortality—yet one of the subplots involves Goliath’s brother poisoning him (don’t ask). Maybe immortality has a different meaning than I thought?

Anyway: bare-chested specimens of brute strength. Women in peril. Men in peril. Telepathy. Visits from an ethereal representative of the gods—in the final one of which the representative apparently cares more for Goliath than for the gods. A reasonably happy ending. (Well, not for Crawford…)

There’s also a little peasant who could be a sidekick, but he’s only in the movie for maybe two minutes total. Oh, and Goliath is also apparently Emelius the Mighty. Oh, and Mark Forest is apparently our old friend Lou Degni.

Apparently the American version, which I saw, is significantly different than the original, including the pretty much unconvincing stop-motion animation of the non-flaming dragon. It also changed hero names because American International released it—and Universal owned the rights to Hercules. Gods are easy; studio licensing departments are tough.

Oh, the US version has all new music, by Les Baxter no less.

All in all, I found this one satisfying: by the low standards of Warrior flicks, a full $2.

Maciste in King Solomon’s Mines (orig. Maciste nelle miniere del re Salomone). 1964, color. Piero Regnoli (dir.), Reg Park, Wandisa Guida, Bruno Piergentili. 1:32.

Good things: the version I have doesn’t rename Maciste as Samson (although others apparently do, including the IMDB page, which clearly shows the Maciste title). Equal opportunity villains: the king who’s usurped the throne and his partner in crime, a woman who wants half the profits from the mines (which the old king had kept closed to avoid problems) are both sadists—which I guess explains why they take forever to carry out their Fiendish Tortures, thus allowing Maciste to save the day. Oh, and if you relish extended closeups of a grotesque hero’s muscles, well, you get lots of that.

Otherwise…it’s a panned-and-scanned segment of a widescreen movie. Another case where blues and yellows rarely appear. Reg Park comes off as an absolute doofus even when he’s not captive to a magic ankle bracelet (and yes, first overcome by a special garland—don’t these folks ever learn?). Indeed, his “acting” seems about as lively when he has no will as it does the rest of the time. It’s slow. And slower. Then, sometimes, it’s slow. Generously, $0.50.

If you have to ask…

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

Way back in 2016, a Media commentary in Cites & Insights included my lament about not renewing Conde Nast Traveler, in part because the new editor had adopted the “If you have to ask…” policy–that is, eliminating all mention of hotel prices, since if you have to ask…

I don’t subscribe to National Geographic Traveler, which I suppose you could call a fellow Traveler, but my wife does and I read it. We’ll probably continue to get it. But I find that I’m frustrated by the same If You Have To Ask attitude: there are lots of mentions of hotels (and cruise lines, etc.), even roundups of them…and nary a clue as to how much they cost.

My reaction to IYHTA is to assume the worst: that hotels are probably $1,000 per night or more, that resorts are probably at least $1,500, that all-inclusives are $2,000 per night or more.

Just for fun, I took one recent issue, which as usual mentioned a lot of hotels, and did quick checks: jotting down the price if it took me less than 30 seconds to find one.

Not surprisingly, my worst-case assumption is unfair to many of the hotels–and I think it’s stupid and arrogant of NGT not to include basic price info. The usual three-hotels-in-one-city feature turned out to have prices of $112, $237, and one that’s not actually open yet. Much lower than I’d have guessed, especially since this was for a major European city.

Another article had one hotel, which turns out to cost $516. Another city feature had hotels at $134, $85, and $350.

Then there was a major feature on one class of resorts around the world–and from the descriptions and total lack of information I would have guessed $2,000 a day and up. In some cases I would have been right: $2,100; $2,250; $5,000 (all inclusive). But in other cases: $950; $769; $680; $450 all inclusive; $680; $490; $630; $930 all inclusive; $1,500 all inclusive; $360; $1,333; $303; $278; $1,430; $1,719; $631. That’s quite a range…and I would have wrongly ruled out a dozen of them because I’m not willing to pay $1,000 a night for a room.

Other articles? $360; $248; $266; $241 (both of these are much lower than I would have expected); $127; $169 (ditto these two); $263; $260; $232; $531.

The point? Many of these hotels are quite reasonably priced–but there’s no way to know that, given the If You Have To Ask attitude of NGT–and especially given prices for some of NatGeo’s own tours and cruises, and their branded lodges.

Too bad. I still like NGT, but it would be a lot more interesting and useful if it included just a little more information.

Saying goodbye: another OFP

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

I like good magazines. Good magazines are carefully curated* collections of content delivered on a regular basis, and if done well the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. (If done really well, the ads in a magazine actually enhance the package instead of getting in the way.) *I’m not wild about overusing “curated,” but I think it’s the right term for thoughtfully-edited magazines.

Saying goodbye to a magazine I’ve subscribed to for years is always difficult–made less so lately because I suffer from CTCT (Cover-To-Cover Tendency, the tendency to read all of a magazine) and can’t keep up. (This is also why I’ve never subscribed to The New Yorker and don’t subscribe to any weeklies: I couldn’t keep up.)

I said goodbye to one old friend of a magazine last year, but that was because Conde Nast Traveler‘s new editor had changed it from a content-heavy travel magazine full of good information into an oversized art portfolio with lots of photos, little text and never any prices for anything actually travel-related. It became one of those “if you have to ask” magazines. I still miss it. (Fortunately, Travel + Leisure seems to have stepped up its game, although I worry about the Meredith takeover of Time Inc. We shall see.)

This month marks two more goodbyes, for different reasons.

Porthole–one of two cruise-related bimonthlies we subscribed to for many years–always was an “if you have to ask” magazine and almost entirely fluff. We both finally just lost interest. (It wasn’t hard to jeep up with: I could usually read a whole issue over breakfast. And then note that I hadn’t gained anything from the experience other than a meal.)

Analog is a much tougher case. It’s the oldest of the surviving science fiction/fantasy print magazines (originally with a more vivid name), and published many first-rate stories in the “golden age” and beyond. I don’t know how long I’ve subscribed to it, but probably more than 40 years (based on my awareness that I’ve always read Asimov’s, and it’s celebrating its 40th anniversary). I’ve subscribed to all three remaining SFF magazines for many years, even as they’ve gone from monthly to bimonthly (but with the same fiction page count: each issue of each magazine is now, I’m guessing, well over 100,000 words long).

I’ve been falling behind, and decided something had to give. That something is Analog–and not just because I’m falling behind (thanks to more bookreading, other demands on my time, and just plain slowing down). The other factor is that recent issues seem to be short on good story-telling, as though the new editor doesn’t think that science fiction must first be fiction. Increasingly, I either give up on a story partway through or get to the last page and wonder why I didn’t find it satisfying or intriguing or humorous or informative or much of anything.

That “what did I just read, and why is it considered a story?” feeling almost never happens with Asimov’s or The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, but it’s happening most too much of the time with Analog. So it’s time to say goodbye. It was great knowing you for some decades; too bad things have soured.

Getting it wrong–to your own disadvantage

Monday, October 16th, 2017

I wouldn’t bother to note a bonehead arithmetic error in an ad–even if it’s a full-page ad in Fortune–because there are so many of them. But this one was odd, because the error works to the disadvantage of the advertiser.

The ad is for Charles Schwab’s Total Stock Market Index Fund; I saw it in the August 1, 2017 Fortune (as usual, I’m about to months behind on magazines), but it’s probably appeared elsewhere.

The ad compares Schwab’s Total Stock Market Index Fund, 0.03% cost with $5,000 investment (or any investment), with Vanguard’s Total Stock Market Index Fund, 0.15% cost with $5,000 investment.

And under the 0.15% says “Nearly 80% more expensive than Schwab.”

Which is a true statement, but a boneheaded one. 400% is “nearly 80%” with a whole lot left to spare.

The Schwab fund is 80% less expensive than the Vanguard–but percentages are not commutative: 80% more and 80% less are not at all the same thing. If A is 80% less than B is 400% more than A.

I’m not sure where the “nearly” comes from in any case, unless those cost percentages are rounded.

I suspect the error didn’t come from Schwab itself, but from a copywriter or editor who thought “80% more expensive” under Vanguard was more impressive than “80% less expensive” under Schwab.

In either case, it’s wrong. And boneheaded. (Not an attack on Schwab, given that we use them.)

A few more notes on the “Big Three”

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

…or…”What? Two posts within a week of one another that aren’t about C&I or OA? What is this world coming to?”

The most recent post was about the “Big Three” science fiction magazines and the fact that, as of January 2017, each one publishes six very large issues a year (to save money on postage and handling: the amount of fiction appears to about the same, the equivalent of one longish novel in each two-month issue).

I thought I’d add a few notes about the “Big Three” and my own reactions to them.

What’s so Big about the Big Three?

In 1980, Analog and Asimov’s each had about 100,000 circulation. That’s a lot for a print fiction magazine of any sort. F&SF ran about 60,000: still enough to make it one of the Big Three–especially since so few other magazines survived for very long (sigh: I do remember Galaxy and [Worlds of] If).

At this point, these three are mostly survivors of the pulp fiction era. By 2004, Analog was don to something like 40,000; Asimov’s to something like 30,000; and F&SF to something like 20,000. By 2009, those numbers were 26,000; 16,000; and 17,000 respectively.

The latest figures I can find for print circulation are lower, but not that much lower. The latest USPS form (in the Jan/Feb 2017 issues of Analog and Asimov’s, which curiously arrived on the same day) are–for the year as a whole–19,963 for Analog and 13,966 for Asimov’s; the latest-issue figures are in both cases nearly the same. The most recent figures I can find for F&SF have print circulation just under 12,000; I’ll update this post when the USPS form appears. (Unlike Analog and Asimov’s, F&SF actually publishes issues within the cover date range.) All three have electronic subscriptions as well, probably numbering in the thousands: it’s quite possible that overall circulation has stabilized. On the other hand, I wouldn’t pay more for a lifetime subscription than for a five-year subscription…

These are three distinctively different magazines, even if all three use small type on cheap paper (they’re still pulps) and the two A’s are the same length and published by the same company. Here’s my current personal take:


The one with the visible gears–this is very much the Hard Science Fiction place, also in some ways the traditionalist magazine. If you know about the Sad Puppies…well, they’re more likely to appear here than in the other two. It’s the only one where you can expect letters saying that certain stories Really Don’t Belong Here.

I’m finding more and more that the gears show in the writing as well. While some first-rate writers appear here, there’s more clunkiness here than in the other two; I’m finding a couple of authors that appear all the time where it’s liberating to give up after a few pages, something I almost never do elsewhere.

No fantasy. Humor tends to be frowned on (except in short-short “Probability Zero” pieces). Lots of science and “science” articles.

I’ll look at this one very carefully when renewal time comes around (like the others, subscriptions tend to be around $37/year or $63/two years: these mags just don’t have many ads). Maybe after decades of reading I’ve gotten too young for Analog.


To my mind, the best writing tends to appear here (but F&SF is close), and there’s a broad mix of all types of science fiction, including humor and some fantasy. For a long time, you could predict that a significant percentage of Nebula and Hugo short-fiction and editorial nominees would be from Asimov’s, and as of its 40th year, the magazine notes that stories have won 53 Hugos and 28 Nebulas, with editors receiving 20 Best Editor Hugos.

[I just slapped together a little table using Wikipedia’s lists of Hugo nominees and the find function. Here’s what I find from 1978–when Asimov‘s began–to the present:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 34 80 28
Novelette 32 78 30
Short Story 27 77 33

That suggests something about writing quality, I think. (Asimov‘s editor has apparently been nominated every year but one, and won half the time.)

Here’s a similar table for the Nebulas, chosen by writers–again since 1978:

Analog Asimov’s F&SF
Novella 23 75 42
Novelette 15 66 56
Short Story 8 55 48

Anyway: I’ve read Asimov’s from the start (kept ’em for 20 years but lost them somewhere along the way, more’s the pity: were it not for the mailing labels defacing covers, that collection would probably be worth something…) and I’m likely to keep reading it for years to come.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I think the order of the title is significant: F&SF is particularly strong on fantasy and the occult, and tends not to have much hard science fiction. It uniquely runs cartoons and reader competitions, and has a healthy respect for humor.

I’ve read it for decades off and on, and am likely to keep doing so; I sometimes think I’m likely to outlast the magazine (which could, unfortunately, be true for all three). I’m not sure I have a “favorite” between Asimov’s and F&SF; both seem to have high editorial standards and publish a wide variety of good fiction.

Trying to imagine a Venn diagram of the three–that is, with overlaps for stories that could appear in more than one of them without raising the ire of the readers (that being apparently mostly an issue for Analog), I’d guess about a 20%-25% overlap between Analog and Asimov’s, about a 30%-35% overlap between Asimov’s and F&SF, and maybe a 5% overlap (if that!) between F&SF and Analog, although that overlap would have been higher before Asimov’s came along.

[When do I read these magazines? Back when I was speaking, we were vacationing, and I was attending conferences, I mostly read them during travels. Now I read them at lunch–and I’m about half a year behind, one reason that Analog may get cut.]

Science fiction magazines: the “big three” all 6 BIG issues a year

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

I’ve subscribed to all three of the “big three” of science fiction print magazines for a long time–e.g., I’ve read every issue of Asimov’s, which is in its 40th year, and both Analog and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) even longer.

I put “big three” in scare quotes because none of them have large circulations. (There are other SF magazines, some of them probably in print, but these are the three with long histories.)

A couple of years ago, F&SF switched from monthly issues to bimonthly (that is, six times a year), while making each issue much fatter: the postage costs were killing them financially. Meanwhile, both of the others (which are both published by Dell, also home to two mystery magazines) went to slightly larger but fewer pages–and to 10 issues per year, two of them double-thickness.

Now the shift is complete: as of January-February 2017, all three magazines publish six double issues per year. (They’re double issues so they don’t have to double the length of outstanding subscriptions.)

Initially, I thought the results meant less fiction. Now, I think it may mean more, as fewer pages are devoted to columns, editorials and overhead. So, for example:

  • The November/December 2016 F&SF has four novellas and seven short stories in addition to its two book review columns and film column.
  • The January/February 2017 Asimov’s has one novella, four novelettes and seven short stories plus poetry, a book review column, and three other editorials and columns.
  • The January/February 2017 Analog has one novella, four novelettes and eleven short and short-short stories plus a fact article, book reviews, poetry and several columns.

That’s a lot of text–novellas are 17,501 to 40,000 words while novelettes are 7,500 to 17,500 words.

It felt like I was getting at least a fairly long novel’s worth of reading in each issue. A quick scan and crude OCR of page pairs from each of those issues bears that out. F&SF has smaller pages and a little more leading, but more pages: 256 pages, which seem to average about 370-400 words. In other words, with six pages of overhead an issue could have up to 100,000 words; I’d guess the average is 90,000 or more (given that four novellas alone are at least 70,000 words!). The other two appear to have 650 words per page (roughly), and run 208 pages; given 8 pages of overhead, an issue could have 130,000 words or so, and I’d guess these issues run on the order of 100,000 words.

(Those numbers could all be seriously off–this was just one pair of pages scanned using Canon’s built-in OCR routines. Let’s just say that each double issue is probably between 75,000 and 130,000 words, and quite possibly 100,000 words or more–in any case, at least as long as a novel.)

Now, if I could keep up with them…while still reading actual novels. I wonder how long they’ll survive in these book/zine forms?