Bullshit Baffles Brains – the Dunning-Kruger Effect

The triple B factfinder’s column – Bullshit Breakfast Club

Google has unwittingly inspired many armchair wannabes to become experts in most fields, specifically dominating the IT, mechanical and electrical engineering industries but having its origins we believe in politics.

The ability to write well, stick a bun on the back of your head and behave with an air of confidence is fast becoming the norm, a frightening thought if one understands the phenomena known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Society has become full of it, possibly driven by the relatively new lack of standards in the IT industry. Now we smell the fresh aroma of cow dung at every gathering, party or pub visit.

Bullshit Anon – The fresh smell of manure in the air

On a recent visit to Orlando I had to chuckle to myself when I overheard an aviation expert persuading his many listeners in the smoker’s lounge that the reason why smoking on aircraft had been banned was because the authorities had calculated that over 200 kg of tar had accumulated in the passenger cabin of a 727 after only one year in service. The mind boggles.

Has one noticed that oft a geeky, pimply youth would wrap a nerd-like set of specs around his scrawny head, create or attach the bun hairstyle, drop the trousers to the knees plumber style and transform into a potential Bill Gates. Or the guy with a multi-meter becomes a Carver or Voltaire. In recent times I have come across real mechanic donning a clean pair of jeans and golf shirt but the dodgy around the corner auto expert puts on a dirty pair of overalls. It’s all perception folks.

My GP come medical practitioner come doctor does not wear a white coat and stethoscope, some of the best IT boffins look normal and yes, because you wear a suit doesn’t make you an honest individual fighting for the cause. A friend of mine whom holds two degrees, one in electrical engineering and one in computer science tells me when he is stumped. He is also very intelligent.  The typical anti BBB candidate.

Is the reason for Donald Trump’s many recent successes because he is anti BS. He is certainly not politically correct, indeed possibly even blatantly sexist. I’d love to see an unbiased listing of the demographics of his voters. I think we may be surprised. But yes, maybe this is what we need – someone who calls a spade a spade. I personally don’t like bullshitters. Even more, people that don’t even know they are bullshitters. I don’t want to walk into a shop which only sells high end audio gear thinking that the more I spend the better it’s going to be. I want auto manufacturers to build a car without frills so when I buy it second hand five years later I can fix it without breaking the bank. I want to buy anything based on the transparency of the sale. I want to see a website showing all the flaws in products. I do not want some geeky, pimply dude with a bun hairstyle telling me this is how it is.

Can you imagine a politician becoming a salesman? The bad news is that good sales people are as close to dammit as politicians.  From Wiki: “Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition “of, for, or relating to citizens”) is the process of making uniform decisions applying to all members of a group. It also involves the use of power by one person to affect the behavior of another person.” Note that there is no reference to “the advancement or betterment” of “another person”.

I like musicians. They understand politics because many of them write about it. They do more than politicians to serve the poor.  Musicians practice what they preach (mostly) and have very little tolerance for bullshit. Tracy Chapman, Roger Waters, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ed Kowalczyk, etc – 99% of them. Real musicians. Often politically incorrect but mostly not suffering from the Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.  You will never become famous if you are not good. A musician cannot tell you how good they are until – they have to prove how good they are.

An international airlines pilot is a rated professional. They have regular tests to check competence. Whether all the tests are relevant is immaterial. We have to learn to trust this individual or individuals. In most industries this is not the case. A Bsc graduate in auto engineering may be totally incompetent in his field whilst the highly competent artisan is sidelined. This happens very often – Bullshit Baffles Brains.

In years to come we will reflect on the old artisans, long since pensioned off and deceased whom did what they said they could. We live in an age where the voice of authority is expert. Every single car manufacturer out there vies to have the best technology available whilst the roads collapse, where drivers cannot drive and there are no trains or buses. We live in an age where we sell curved TV, have 8K cameras and where the cheap Atom processor outperforms high end processors of ten years back. We have millions of computer languages, compilers and translators. We have multistandard TV systems, mains voltages of 100, 110, 120, 220, 240V.  We can read up on this and more.

But that doesn’t make us a real chef, real technician, real mechanic, real artisan or trusted doctor, attorney or accountant. And that’s what makes Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Voltaire, Marconi, Flemming, Sinclair, Ford, Wright Brothers, Prince, Jackson, Benson, Bono, Madiba, Rooseveld, Churchill, Bosch, Stanley, Livingstone different. Because they did it.

Actions speak louder than words.

Einstein said:  “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe”.

(Ed’s note: Eduan was forced to write this article after an office braggart told everyone how he had changed the idling speed of his car to make the engine run slower to get a higher top speed.  Also the same guy with a not seen helicopter license and “designer-engineer” part time for a manufacturer. What we do know is that has made two girls pregnant in the office and is employed as a “marketer”).

The Danger of Autonomous Cars

Autonomous Cars – embracing the inevitable

Let’s face it, we all dream about it but know it can’t happen – a self driving car! Yet, this is on the cards. Mercedes, Kia, Toyota, Ford, Audio, BMW, Volvo, you name it, they all have a car which can drive autonomously. “Not on our roads though” say the authorities.

It wasn’t that long ago that our great-grandfather was told never to drive faster than 100 m.p.h. because the blood would leave his body. In those days 40 m.p.h. was classified as breathtaking. Now we have Andy Green in his ThrustSSC breaking the sound barrier. He might have been white as a sheet when he cruised to a halt but his blood flow was normal and his body parts were still intact. Of course we digress but isn’t this what science is about – proving it wrong!

[GARD]

Autonomous or rather automated vehicles which require external and environmental assistance through usually magnetic strips and road navigation transponders is not something new, in fact was on the drawing board in the early 1980s. However, with smaller, faster and more reliable computers, highly sophisticated sensor systems and state of the art electro-mechanical output devices we have come to a cross-roads – cars which are driven near autonomously and when to mass manufacture? Only time can tell although major manufacturers already talk about the latter part of this decade, some as near as 2017. Unfortunately all of this will come to a nought, we believe, because of the road traffic authorities. Actually more so, the fraternity of global electronic engineers all shake their heads in disapproval. The thing is, we can fly an aircraft totally unmanned only because there are critical backup and redundant systems in place, not many obstacles to bump into and even less corners to negotiate. Motor cars are on land, they rely on absolutely accurate input data at all times and last but not least, the critical thinking aspect to this entire exercise, no errors or hardware failure. And this is where we have a problem. Imagine driving merrily along at 70 m.p.h when a sensor fails, the radar decides to stop working or the computer decides to reboot (unlikely but who knows).  The global think tank may be right.

Control freaks will never let go of the steering wheel. They are also some of the world’s worst drivers. Every year hundreds of thousands of people, pedestrians, drivers, occupants, (animals too) are killed on our roads. Traffic authorities have all but given up. What percentage is caused by driver failure?

Partially automated vehicles already protect the occupants of a vehicle when crossing lanes inadvertently, applying brakes when needed, stabilising a vehicle which may be on the verge of rollover and preventing unnecessary skidding.  So why can’t they be made to drive the occupants to a destination without driver intervention?  Because it cannot. It’s called the unknowns. What happens if?

[GARD]

Interesting to note that driverless cars use the cloud but flight MH370 didn’t. Losing communication to the driverless car may make it pull over to the side of the road and stop. What happens if the side of the road happens to be a cliff, dropping 300m to the sea or a rocky outcrop? No thanks. Although the same electronic engineers designing the workings of your trusty four wheeled carriage will swear to the reliability, they are the first to banish the notion of driverless cars. Quite rightly.

Autonomous Cars – if the roads allow it

Just as one was told that you may drive safely but not necessarily the “other” driver so it just so happens to be the reason why driverless cars may be on the drawing board and even successfully tested, it’s the “other” car that remains the problem. Just because the roads in Sweden and Germany are better than most third world countries makes the very idea of driving the Yungas without a steering wheel a frightening thought.

But no, as a matter of fact we do believe that driverless cars are here to stay. We do believe that if the road is not safe the driverless car will stop and tell you that you are on your own. If a machine which has proven to have more powerful thought processes than the driver’s brain pulls over because it is not safe then believe me, you are not safe.

Many years ago most drivers took to the roads because of the pleasure of it. Nowadays it’s a case of whether you will make it back alive. We cannot blame the authorities neither can we blame the electronic, automotive and mechanical engineers. Unfortunately scientists and engineers alike know that we can no longer rely on the human element, there has to come a stage where there is forced intervention. We can only blame ourselves. The authorities and engineers shouldn’t put a ban on it but embrace it.

 

Audio Amplifiers – Passed the Edge

On the Edge – amplifier design

Isn’t it frustrating to shop for the ultimate sound system on a limited budget. You see one, you hear one and that one on the next rung up always sounds that little bit better.  Fortunately we have good news. It’s all in the mind.

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Anyone being an avid reader of any electronics and audio magazine that does comparison tests will often get overwhelmed by the amount of products on sale, let alone by the costs of these high end pieces of equipment. It’s almost like playing chess against a grand master – no matter the move, there is always one better. So it is with audio gear. The problem is, we often fall foul of the marketing machine and sales personnel pressure. Don’t. Whatever you do, never buy a sound system based on whatever someone else tells you.  What we do know is that power output is no longer directly linked to pricing, semiconductors are cheap.  Even Chinese manufactured toroidals are no longer the price it was ten years back. But what should one know?

Inputs and more inputs, all with the same output

Most audio amplifiers brought out over the last few years have surprisingly good build and sonic quality. For movies one loves the idea of being able to set up the sound stage through a microphone and an automatic process. However, audio installers complain about most users not setting up their systems properly even with electronic assistance Read up on this in the manual. If you are only buying the integrated amplifier like most of us do then ensure you have sufficient inputs. This seems to be the most important thing in the designs found currently on the market – millions of inputs. On a practical level these inputs should be HDMI and one or two for legacy use.

[GARD]

Marketing trends push for big power and in our experience this is true, go rather for overkill.  Pick up the amplifier, weigh it if necessary. Most of the weight is transformer and cooling based. A Class D amplifier is light – that’s a design advantage. Class AB will be heavy – that is also a design advantage. If it’s Class AB, delivers upwards of 60W x 5 or 7 channels it will be heavy. How heavy is heavy? We have our own estimations but do look at manufacturers such as Marantz and NAD. These guys don’t skimp on components least of all quality of the mains transformer. The importance of this is multi-fold. Read up on how tests are done and in this case, specifically output power measurement. Transformer secondary (output) voltages sag when under load. Power supply regulation is critical and to compete with the best there should be no compromise. This is where most budget systems cut costs.

Purchasing an amplifier which lacks oomph will cost more in the long run – you will be disappointed. If it’s a headphone amplifier you want then one needn’t be looking at killing your ears in one sitting. And no, you cannot put audio amplifiers in series to get more power. What you can do is purchase separate pre-amplifiers/processors and power amplifiers. It will work out cheaper in the long run if you need to upgrade for higher power.  This a more expensive solution but possibly a better long term plan. A well looked after, carefully selected preamplifier/processor may even prove to be a lifetime “investment”.

Six channels or more, two is best

Two, three, four, five, six, seven or ten channels? Here the choice is yours. There are many audiophiles passionate about their movies but only use two channels or stereo. The home movie expert may prefer the most amount of channels he can afford. 5.1 is still rated about the most common.  Quantity over quality? A good quality stereo setup beats a multi-channel movie theater setup for music anytime. (of course this is bias).

Tubes versus semiconductor?  Dollar for dollar there is absolutely no equaling the transistor or semiconductor. (I will add this though – my own opinion is that early transistorised amplifiers lacked the musicality of tube amplifiers. If transistor amplifiers were first on the market maybe I would have rewritten this and in all likelihood battled to justify the rationale. The fact remains though, musicians on a whole tend to prefer tube sound. So there!).

Why on the edge?  The objective of any audio amplifier is to faithfully reproduce the input signal as an exact image except for amplitude at its output. Through the years scientists and engineers have near perfected this art. A bench tested audio amplifier which reproduces with clinical precision the input program material to its output will sound good through a quality loudspeaker system. Most amplifiers today, except for cost cutting in the power supply will do exactly that. So where to now?

[GARD]

Digital is Doomed

Although we are living in the digital age man and machine will never be the same. Our logic is often irrational and therefore biased. We cannot live in peace with each other because of this exact reason.  With audio equipment we take a very sophisticated (in scientific terms) analogue signal, convert to binary, we then read the binary and convert to analogue. We them chop the analogue at a high frequency, modulate with a sawtooth wave, switch at a high voltage and finally filter out the high frequency component. We then feed the analogous high amplitude signal to a transducer which is an analogous device. Then the marketers come along and tell us vinyl is back!

We have fine tuned the Class D amplifier for home use but yet it’s true advantage is when used in cellular technology. We have lowered the cost of high powered audio amplifiers through this technology but yet loudspeakers have always been the obvious weakness, both in cost and efficiency.

It is time for manufacturers to look at cheaper and more efficient methods to reproduce this amplified signal.  The fixed magnet, moving coil paper or synthetic cone speaker *aka dynamic driver) should be cast to the ash heap, audio amplifiers have been re-looked at so many times that it’s run out of steam.

How it works… further reading:  Loudspeaker types