Wednesday 20 May 2015

More Green Socks

OK, so Fred, as you recall, discovered that wearing green socks resulted in an improvement in his car’s fuel economy, only to be put down and mocked by friends and colleagues alike who for the most part were not willing to even try it for themselves.  Even though Fred, a rational fellow, was unable to come up with any explanation for how the colour of his socks might impact his car’s fuel economy, he was perfectly happy to benefit from the result.

He decided that surely the shade of green must have an effect.  After all, hues of green can vary from bluish-green through to yellowish-greens.  Then there were light and dark shades, and patterned socks with a greater or lesser proportion of green threads.  He set about attempting to quantify this conundrum, and after a while came up with a clear conclusion.  The best results were obtained when the socks were all the same plain shade of green with as little patterning as possible.  Also, the best shade of green was that shade associated with St. Patrick’s day, Pantone PMS-347 (although, interestingly enough, while researching this, he discovered that the official colour of St. Patrick, patron saint of all Ireland, is in fact blue).

Fred was still happy to share his discoveries with anybody who was sufficiently interested, even though the inevitable response was something along the lines of “You’re a looney, mate”.  And then one day, much to his surprise, he spoke with a casual acquaintance Long Xiao who not only nodded sagely at his weird tale, but actually said “Yes, that makes sense”.  Xiao, it seems, was an adherent of the philosophy of Dress Feng Shui, a variant of the ancient Chinese metaphysical art.  It seems that wearing footwear in this particular shade of green was associated with being able to travel freely without having to endure weariness or fatigue.

Fred became an adherent of Dress Feng Shui, studied with Xiao, and eventually became an acknowledged master of the art in his own right.  He regularly travels to China to lecture on the subject.  Fred soon learned that although green socks were great for driving, they were not great for a lot of other things.  Fred began to change clothes several times a day, according to what it was he wanted to do next.  It worked well for him.  Fred, of course is not his real name, and today, Fred is CEO of a Fortune 500 consulting company.  The inside of his private jet is decorated in a colour scheme that is said to leave his guests dumbstruck.  He closes a lot of deals over both the Atlantic and Pacific, and even once over the North Pole.  And, rumour has it, he has not been seen in a gas station for several years.

Of course Fred’s story has been invented to illustrate the apparently unbusinesslike situation we find ourselves in here at BitPerfect.  We know that if we write audio playback software in a certain way, we can improve the resulting perceived sound quality.  At the same time, we know of no measurements that can be applied that demonstrate any effect BitPerfect has on any parameter known to impact sound quality.  We are agreed that, when all the peripheral arguments are distilled to their essence, its audible impact boils down to whatever its users report it to be.  At the same time, the vast majority of our users are evidently disposed to agree with us that the audible impact is both beneficial and at the very least worth $10.  One statistic we monitor very closely is the uptake rate of our free updates.  We assume that, for the most part, only serious BitPerfect users are downloading those updates.  Currently, each of our updates is being taken up by something over 60,000 users worldwide.  It is not a bulletproof metric, but it surely means we are doing something right.

If the likes of BMW and Audi can deliver well-thought-out, impeccably conceived and designed, and flawlessly engineered products, and still have customers say “No!  It’s wrong!” then it just goes to show that a bulletproof engineering basis is not by itself the answer to the young maid’s prayer (if I may borrow an expression from my youth).

While it is true that we don’t have that bulletproof basis for precisely how our software impacts sound quality, like Fred and his green socks we at least understand pretty well which shade of green works best.  We understand where in our code we need to optimize the audio engine for sound quality, and how to set about doing those optimizations.  And now we are starting to learn some of our own “Dress Feng Shui” to maybe take us to the next level.  This guides us with some new principles that we can apply to the way we code our audio engine which normally, as a programmer, might offer you no particular benefit.  However, experience is telling us a different story.

For the last couple of weeks Tim and I have been testing out prototypes of our new Fourth-Generation Audio Engine.  It is early days yet, but it would be no exaggeration to say that we are profoundly shaken by the magnitude of improvements that we appear to have unleashed.  I would go so far as to say that the difference between our Gen III (the current version used in BitPerfect 2.0.2) and our new Gen IV audio engines is greater than the difference between BitPerfect 2.0.2 and plain old iTunes.  I had no idea that such untapped reserves remained to be unearthed.

It will be a little while before Gen IV makes it to the App Store.  It needs to be optimized and further refined, and then shaken down by our team of Beta Testers.  But it should emerge sometime this summer.

BitPerfect is only a small company, and no matter how successful it proves to be, it is not going to earn us enough money to buy a private jet like Fred’s.  But we might just be able to treat ourselves to a couple of pairs of green socks, maybe with an appropriately propitious matching wardrobe.