Z is for Zero Crossing

Step 1: Attach metal bracket to wooden frame using provided screws.

Step 2: Fasten screws and bracket.

Step 3: Attach lower support to table legs using "C" brackets.

Step 6: Fasten all screws from Step 5 using included Allen Key.

Step 5? Where's Step 5?? What happened to Step 4?!

You find yourself building a piece of furniture and halfway through you realize that your instruction booklet is missing a page. You’re left hanging; there’s no obvious next step and you’re at a loss of what to do. Your cursing starts picking up speed and hopefully – for the sake of your new furniture and for the people walking on the sidewalk below – your half-assembled table is too heavy for you to pick up and throw out the window.

The scene probably hits close to home because we all know how infuriating this is. In a strange way there’s a lot of similarity with digital audio that has been edited without looking for a zero crossing.

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Y is for Y-Signal

We see in two dimensions. It sounds strange, but have a look around you. What you see with your two eyes is that some things are smaller and some are larger, but the only data that comes to us through our eyes is height and width. Depth is a magical addition we give the world through years of experience in knowing whether a small thing is far away, or just small. If you throw a baseball to a friend standing 10 metres away, the only information each eye gives you is that the ball is shrinking until it arrives at your friend, who’s smaller than she’d be if she were closer to you, and larger than she’d be if she were farther away.

That’s the one-eyed picture of the world. But once we add a second eye which gets a slightly different image because of its gap with the first, depth just seems to appear. The most miraculous thing about the optical illusion that we call our perception of the world is that we think nothing of it. Yet the ability to assemble two slightly different images of the world and – fairly accurately – interpret a third dimension gives a person a huge advantage over cyclopses and pirates who can’t be sure whether pterodactyls are swooping down at them, or just growing really quickly.

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W is for White Noise

The French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, famous for bringing the Little Prince into the world, famously said “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Maybe that’s why the Little Prince was from such a small planet.

This is the sort of quote you can imagine neatly screened on the wall of a super hip firm in San Francisco who designs artisanal pencils and garbage bins, working off empty desks in a restored carpet factory. Yet for the mass of our culture represented by Walmart, big box stores, McNuggets, and weekend sale madness flyers – Saint-Exupéry’s quote might as well be flying around on a little planet in outer space.

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V is for VST

Tiller rope. Oarlock. Skeg. Gunwale. These are all parts of rowing boats that you will not see when you walk into your local gym and inspect their fleet of indoor rowers. What’s interesting when you look at these machines is if they didn’t bear the name that connects it with the thing people do in boats, it might be a real leap to figure out how they were even associated. Yet the rowing machine has become so established in its own right that there are even competitions held. Love the idea of sliding back and forth while pulling a handle on a chain, but hate the water? Maybe this is for you.

The indoor rower is good example of a design that has shed most of the vestiges that connect it to its waterborne counterpart. For avid rowing enthusiasts, a person could easily imagine a rowing machine complete with a useless hull and even a water sprayer to make the ‘rower’ feel a bit closer to the lake. Absurd as they may be, these elements sometimes go a long way in making users feel more acquainted with a new machine. They’re called skeuomorphs, and are elements that have no functional purpose, but resemble familiar elements that may have been necessary in designs once upon a time.

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X is for XLR

Every name has a story; some names have strange ones and others are more boring than you think. The rock group Lynyrd Skynyrd took its name from a high school gym teacher who made a point of enforcing the school’s policy against men wearing their hair long. The rock group changed the vowels and added a D to the end of Leonard Skinner’s name to avoid a lawsuit, and made him the most famous gym teacher in history (and got a ton of mileage out of the letter Y acting as a vowel).

There are other names with less colourful histories which take words and compress them down so they roll off the tongue a little more smoothly – Nabisco, from National Biscuit Company, or Adidas, from the founder’s name: Adolf “Adi” Dassler.

The humble XLR cable, used so commonly in the audio world, is a bit of a surprising acronym, maybe because anything that starts with an X sounds like it should be drinking Red Bull and doing backflips off high cliffs.

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U is for USB

The year is 1887 and in what is modern-day Poland, a physician-linguist named L. L. Zamenhof set out to solve a problem. In his town a handful of different languages were being spoken, and these language lines divided their speakers into tribes that hardly intersected.

Zamenhof's solution? Construct a universal language that everyone would speak and which would bridge the gap between people that were physically neighbours, yet psychically foreigners. The language was Esperanto, and suffice to say, you don't see it on the backs of cereal boxes tucked underneath the English and French.

Esperanto may have never caught on as the universal language of a nineteenth-century idealist’s dreams, but the idea of a common form of communication isn't completely foreign, if you're willing to include the way computers communicate with the gadgets that are attached to them.

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T is for Timbre

Can you taste the difference between a lemon and a strawberry? I hope so. If you, blindfolded, had a chunk of each fruit fed to you, how would you describe the difference? Certain attributes like texture and bitterness might be obvious but there are elements of the taste that'd be harder to describe. Yet your difficulty in finding the words wouldn’t mean you’d have any trouble distinguishing a lemon from a strawberry.

When it comes to sound we have a real challenge when we talk about timbre. Timbre isn't a Canadianized spelling of the word you yell when a tree is falling down or if you're Pitbull (feat. Ke$ha) wanting to make a night you won’t remember or be the one you won’t forget. The timbre we're talking about is pronounced TAM-burr and we know it comes from French but there isn’t a really clear translation for it.

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S is for Sidechain

If you've ever played the board game Mouse Trap, you can easily understand one of the most interesting digital audio techniques: sidechaining. You might remember that Mouse Trap involves a scheme for capturing mice that's far more complex than your standard cheese/spring/snap design available at the dollar store; Mouse Trap was a child's introduction to the incredible world of Rube Goldberg machines. 

The fact that there was even a board game connected to this incredible scheme was a surprise to me as I went back to do a bit of research, because all I remember was turning a crank which makes a red hexagon hit a boot that kicks a bucket that sends a marble down a ramp...until finally a small cage descends on whatever poor mouse happens to be waiting below it. I don't ever remember rolling a die or moving my pieces around the board – I'm pretty sure we'd just set up the machine and run it again and again until we got bored.

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R is for Reverb

Every space has a sound, like every person has a fingerprint.

We've talked a lot about the way that sound happens physically, and by now you probably can recite in your sleep the way that anything vibrating causes all sorts of disturbances amongst the air molecules surrounding it, and those air molecules then bump into their neighbours, and those into theirs, until the collisions eventually reach your ear.

At its most basic level this is where the conversation ends, because we haven't discussed what happens to the 99.999% of those air molecules that don't move in a direct line from the sound source to your ear drum. What happens is reverb.

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Q is for Q

Gold is one of the most durable value keepers in the world. Yet long ago, sneaky folks realized that gold could be mixed with less valuable metals to dilute its purity and create something that may have appeared similar, but wasn't the same. In some movie you've probably seen a pirate or some market vendor bite a gold coin to figure out its purity –that's because pure gold is relatively soft, and a bite could [roughly] indicate its purity.

Nowadays we use the carat measurement to determine gold' purity instead of our teeth, and although it might give them a bit less business, our dentists are probably thankful for it. 24 carats is the goldest gold you can get and if there's any other metal present it’s of such a negligible quantity that it’s not even worth mentioning.

In the world of digital audio – specifically when it comes to frequencies and EQing – we have something similar that we call Q. What is Q? The Quality factor. Yet aside from having a technical role in mixing the [very] occasional gold-certified record, what can an EQ possibly have to do with gold?

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P is for Parallel Compression

2300 years ago, a Greek mathematician named Euclid wrote what would become one of the most successful and influential books of all time. It didn't contain characters, a plot, or even morals, but was filled with mathematical descriptions of the way our world is composed. Although his phrasing was far more technical and arcane, many are familiar with the postulate of his Geometry which states that two parallel lines will never intersect. Hurtling down the highway or aboard high speed trains, we at least hope he was right.

Well, well, well, Euclid. As you were figuring out other earth-shattering truths such as the roundness of circles and the pointiness of triangles, who would have thought that your famous unintersecting lines would years later also lend their name to one of the most successful and influential studio techniques?

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O is for Overtone

One of the wildest experiences I ever had was eating in the dark. And when I say dark, I mean dark. The restaurant is called O.Noir, and I guess you could call it a concept restaurant; not only do they feed you, but they give you the experience of a blind person – after ordering your food in a dimly lit bar area, you're guided into a completely lightless room and seated at your table by one of the restaurant's blind waiters. After struggling for minutes to see anything, you eventually give up. You're in darkness so deep that having your eyes open or closed makes absolutely no difference.

And then the food arrives. I should also add that for the more adventurous souls, the restaurant offers "surprise" dishes – that is, well, exactly what it sounds like. I distinctly remember the first bite of something with a slippery texture like a cooked mushroom, the smell of tomatoes and garlic. As I realized, it was pasta.

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N is for Nyquist-Shannon Sampling Theorem

Every day we deal with the problem of squeezing more of our world into smaller containers. How many books can you fit on your shelf? How many hours of sleep can you fit into your busy schedule? How many clothes can you cram into your suitcase as you pack for a trip? As time goes by, we gradually become crazier with this, always trying to squeeze a little more into a little less: we squeeze the books a bit closer, fold the shirts a bit tighter ... you get the idea.

When it comes to audio, we do exactly the same thing, though you wouldn’t know it. If the world of physical sound (that is, vibrations in the air) is one shore and the world of digital audio (that is, the way we represent those vibrations numerically) is the other, we need some sort of boat or bridge to shuttle between them, otherwise we’re in for a mean soaking.

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M is for MIDI

Even if you never saw it live, the image of Apple's famous 1984 Superbowl ad is probably easier to bring to mind than Apple execs could ever have hoped for, 30 years ago: rows upon rows of bleak, soulless automata listening to a harrowing speech by some Big Brother-esque dictator on a giant screen. In runs the only bastion of human hope – a blonde woman in a white tank top and red shorts that are short even by today's standards – and launches a sledgehammer into the talking screen.

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L is for Latency

I often find myself running late. I try my best, but at times it seems like there's nothing I can do; sometimes I think it's genetic. I know I'm not the only person in the world whose timing can improve, and believe it or not, I don't only share this with people, but also with digital recording systems.

How, you wonder, can digital recording systems have timing issues?

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K is for KBPS

Walking down the aisles of your local supermarket, you may be amazed how difficult it is to find pure grapefruit juice. Oh, don't get me wrong. There are plenty of grapefruit-inspired liquids: cocktails, blends, elixirs, and other forms of snake oil that the taste chemists at Ocean Spray concoct to keep folks happy, well-hydrated, and protected from the bitter reality that accompanies citric acid.

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J is for Jack

I remember a family trip to Florida, having just bought a new Jerky Boys CD and suffering through the car ride home because I had my Discman but forgot my headphones. This was a time before white earbuds could be found with reasonable probability just by opening a glove compartment or checking one's pocket. At some point during this car ride I remember turning up the Discman's volume to its maximum and holding the empty headphone jack to my ear, straining to hear my beloved prank phone calls squeaking through.

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I is for Interface

You might think Google had figured out how to cure chickenpox or turn coal into gold because of the miracle stories you hear about their Translate app. It may not be that important of a development, but it is pretty nifty. On my recent trip to China, I really got to experience how useful the app was. With the exception of a few translation oddities, I was able to communicate effectively enough to purchase iPad covers of questionable branding origin, request meat-free food, and not only get ripped off by buying an apparent 1 terabyte USB stick, but actually get my money back when I realized I'd been duped. The app enables communication between two people who share only a small amount culturally, and nearly nothing linguistically.

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H is for Headphones (A Guide for the Perplexed Buyer)

You may not like Dr. Dre's music, but you have to thank him for one thing: putting headphones back on the map. Or at least, slapping his name on a product on which people will pay far more for the letter "b" than they would on Wheel of Fortune.

In the last few years, headphone sales have exploded, with Dre's famous Beats headphones leading the charge and soaring past $1 billion in sales. The celebrity endorsements and prominent placement in Apple stores surely don't hurt, but if you step back and consider how radically the headphone market has changed over the past few years amongst non-audiophiles, it's pretty astonishing.

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G is for Glitch

It's broken - don't fix it.

This is the unspoken motto in the world of glitch music. To anyone who has used a computer, the word 'glitch' shouldn't be terribly foreign: glitches are errors. Things that are broken, not the way they're supposed to be, like potholes in a road or cracks in a window. Usually we work to avoid these broken-nesses but some cr/azy folks among us actually use these as the palette they paint with.

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