Author Archives: omo

Calling to arms for the Attention-driven Tech Industry

With the Incident on the Capitol, the rooster is coming home to roost: It is very likely that US Federal legislation will go on to address some major links in the process that lead to a fascist liar and the party that enabled the behavior, driving a crowd and breaching the legislature building on January 6th, 2021. The link we all are familiar with is Facebook.

But the way laws work, it doesn’t make sense to sue FB or make a law that applies to only FB. After all the whole of the attention-driven economy is partly at fault, including the media. Maybe individual sites could be targeted if they cross over the customary Free Speech lines (all the public sites those protests organized on are probably going to get deplatformed if they resist taking down the content related to the event on 1/6). This means every site will have to bear the brunt of FB’s “negative externalities.” In other words, a powerful tool for humanity is going to get hammered due to one bad actor.

The exact same has already been happening for some time: Facial recognition. Clearview AI is well known in the Machine VIsion industry as unscrupulous shits where profit comes first before anything, being the only major player that enables law enforcement (and others) to do the same things the CCP does to the Uighurs. Thankfully US local law enforcement, as we know, are clumsy bad actors, lacking the technological sophistication and ruthless purpose that emboldens the Chinese government. But in 2020, these human rights abuses of facial recognition has basically started the banning of such uses by local US governments. Amazon is also a big-time no-no here, making one of the most commonly deployed product (Ring doorbells/cameras) tied to unconsented law enforcement use, after making similar mistakes letting any law enforcement at their big data sets.

Ultimately this is about externalities. I think it needs to be extremely clear, if you are doing a large-scale deployment of any new business and tech, to examine externalities. Think of it as risk assessment. It’s one thing to break fast, it’s another to break so fast that you never recover from it. It’s a third thing, unfortunately, that you break it so nobody else can ever touch it again. If the wrong legislation comes down, these technology sectors are dead ends.

It’s really important for big tech companies to be careful and not fuck it up for the rest of humanity. It’s not about starting Civil War 2, it’s about not starting the next Chernobyl (for nuclear power). It’s about not throwing the baby of advanced AI, out, with the bathwater of negative externalities that unethical actors like FB or Amazon is generating.

Sony WH-1000XM4

I finally bit the bullet and upgraded my Sony WH-1000X, the OG wireless bluetooth cans with badass sound cancelling–the one that didn’t use SBC! I went from mark 1 (technically they’re just not mark anything, but I’ll call them XM1 to keep it simple) to XM4, so there are actually some big differences. Most of them are probably already there if you got the mark 3s.

For one, I went from a refurb pair to a new pair. My 1000X was $180 refurb back in 2017 holiday season. It’s 3 years later and I went up to about $275 for these. I think that is a stretch, not because the sale was not big enough for me, but because I haven’t had a regular commute to work since March. If I had my usual workday commute, $300 for a three-year investment is well worth it, because these cans are just great all around.

Since I’m comparing the XM4 with the original, it is probably easier to just say what remained the same between the two, and what didn’t.

SAME SAME:

  • Sound signature: still a tad thick overall versus neutral, is what I’d call it.
  • LDAC and AAC support
  • Basically the same form and form factor, with small changes.
  • Still comes with a carry case with the same fold style and shape
  • Still comes with a 3.5mm jack for wired use
  • Same kind of ear pads
  • Still fits my large-ish head comfortably, if on the snug side
  • Still comes in black (I got the black one, but there’s also a silver XM4)
  • Freakishly good ANC
  • Touch control on right can, buttons on left can (only 2 buttons now on XM4)
  • Mic still not great (XM4 is better though)

Differences:

  • XM4 has nearly double the battery life
  • There’s an app. Since XM2 there was an app but the XM4 stuff is pretty wild. It’s the same app for the WF-1000 line (I also own a pair of WF-1000XM3).
  • Seamless pairing thanks to Android advances (not that it was particularly an issue before, just much easier now). Also smooth onboarding that’s more or less automatic.
  • More…bass in the XM4. By a good amount.
  • XM4 is lighter and less rigid than XM1, which addresses the stress tension failure they had in the OG.
  • Multi-point support–it’s barely working but it does work. Only caveat is it only supports SBC/AAC when you enable this feature, up to 2 devices max. Honestly AAC is fine for me, but sometimes I still prefer LDAC with the high resolution stuff.
  • The case is a bit lighter but also a bit flimsier. XM1 case is quite rigid and took a lot of beating (I beat on it a lot, on that note). XM1 case is also a tiny bit more circular and thus a tad bigger. It also didn’t have the little hole in the divider inside to stow the airplane adapter, 3.5mm cable, and possibly your charger cable.
  • Oh, USB-C on these, so I probably will just ditch the charger cable in the case. My XM1 was literally one of the last two things I carry that still used micro-USB. That said I am likely still to carry a micro-USB cable around even when I go to 0 micro-usb items just because I have some packrat tendencies. [The other micro-USB thing is a BT audio dongle/DAC.]
  • I think the USB-C port on the XM4 actually has data, where as it’s just power on the XM1, correct me if I’m wrong here.
  • The XM4 also is $50 more on MSRP, but this is the kind of thing you would never buy MSRP, so not a big deal. I got mine for $278 plus tax minus some credit card promo. Not bad for newish hardware on a Black Friday sale, as the XM4 came out in August 2020.
  • XM4 sound is more delicate than XM1, but I think this is just a general improvement on Sony’s part.

Overall I think once the ‘rona stay-at-home vibe is over I will be working these hard. I find these headphones teetering more and more towards “need” than “want” over time, even if obviously I don’t need them. It’s just such a nice luxury. Also my XM1 is heading towards physical breakdown due to the headband stress fracture issue. It’s not beyond repair, that said, so maybe they’ll make as great backup or a hand-me-down.

Midnight in the Box with the Electoral Schrödinger’s Cat

As I write this, the clock just struck midnight on the US East Coast as the calendar turns the page to November 5th. It’s been over 48 hours since the clock struck midnight on the US East Coast as the general US election began on its constitutionally mandated date of November 3rd. Thousands of elections and ballot initiatives have ended with a winner or a Yea or Nay, but a bunch hasn’t yet, including the biggest one of them all: the US Presidency.

The news cycle has been on overdrive ever since Donald J. Trump’s candidacy in 2016, and it never has really let down given the regular dose of outrage, dog whistling, gaslighting, and outright lies coming from the Mouthpiece In Chief throughout his presidency. A tired and elated electorate tries to move on from a generally horrible year of 2020 for the United States.

The odds of Trump’s reelection, as predicted throughout the 2020 campaign period, was not great. The toll of coronavirus plus just his general performance was mixed at best. But as the polls close when the sun rises on November 4th, the truth is that we are at another junction like 2016, the electoral vote path shrinks through a few battleground states with very close vote counts. The added stress of moving many votes (with a heavy Democratic lean) from the usual polling process and moving it to mail-in voting further protracts the canvassing process, and gives room for Trump and the Republicans to play the voter suppression gambit, and undermine the legitimacy of the democratic process.

But while vote counters work and results trickle out, we are in a zone where the real-time tally collected by major news outlets lag behind the reality of votes in the bag, giving us real time, non-stop TV coverage since early Tuesday. States with leads from one candidate change into the other as the later-counted mail-in ballots make it into the tally.

If you follow the pre-election coverage and predictions, there will be some swing states that are the tipping point, which makes or breaks a candidate’s bid for the White House due to the cross-state electoral correlation and the weight of its electoral college. During this period of time, the public sentiment for, say, Georgia, might be entirely different than what we thought a few days ago, when it’s a known battleground this year but always had low odds as a tipping point. Pennsylvania and Florida, huge tipping point states in 2016, may play a very small role this year if Biden retake Wisconsin and MIchigan, and take Arizona back for the Dems–piling up to 270 without those big classic turning point states.

But that’s just me writing late night, which might change in another few hours as the votes come in. In the face of uncertainty, we can doomscroll until the sun comes up, which some might have done, but it’s also a weird zone of impermanence. It is a weird piece of peace in the endless horseracing talk of presidential electoral politics.

[Updated because I forgot to mention the first go-around]

This US General Election, with the very heavy use of the mail-in ballot, is a perfect example of what a quantum state means. Fact is, by the time polls closed on 11/3, the voters have already spoken. The results were collected–the collective, final count unknown at the time–and it has been the same this whole time. The counting went on but the truth was established days ago, if not earlier. The horserace-like coverage pinges on the vote counting, not the actual voting. When ballot processing and counting occurs, the collective whole of humanity was in the act of observing, measuring this system. In reaction to that, the system collapses into a known and measurable state.

The people doing math prior to the election are the folks trying to calculate the quantum state of the thing without directly measuring the thing. The use of mail-in ballots merely exaggerates the measurement and lets us take time to observe the observation and collapsing.

Galaxy Watch3 Quick Impression

I ordered the Galaxy Watch3 on launch. I think I ordered it on August 6th and got it on August 13. After mulling over a bit and not able to find any detail specs after the announcement (and I was pretty busy that day) I went with the 41mm black/silver combination. That smaller 41mm one was definitely sold as a “women’s watch” IYKWIM. As you may know my biggest gripe about smartwatches are how big they are. They are chonk. They are thicc bois. So I went with something smaller, based on my experience with my current smartwatch.

A bit of background here–I used to wear a watch all the time, a pretty pedestrian Casio was my last watch but ditched it after I got fully on board on the smartphone revolution (Nexus One babeee). It wasn’t an immediate thing, but it made sense after a while so I went without it for a few days. It felt fine and segue easily into the lifestyle where I carry a smartphone on my person all the time. Which I still do.

Fast forward like, 10 years? Now, I ask Google Assistant what the time is sometimes. I’ve been rocking a Pebble Time Steel for the last 5 years. It’s a great watch but it is getting a bit long in the tooth in terms of the feature I would like. It is also, as I would find out, less comfortable to wear than modern Android watches with their teardrop backs. There are other drawbacks of the Pebble Time Steel, but it is a compromise I can live with given its long battery life and decent look. The gold watch can confuse some onlookers as if it’s the high end Apple watch when they first rolled out the line but not anymore.

Prior to the Pebble Time Steel I had a normal Pebble, being a backer from the original Kickstarter. Other than that, I’ve seen other folks’ fitness devices and smart watches. My mom actually likes them so she wears them pretty much since they became affordable. Ticwatch is great…back in 2017. Other relatives use Apple Watch. I studied it a lot and would have gotten one if I am going to upgrade from the Pebble. There is definitely a vacuum of smartwatches for non-iOS users. That’s nothing new.

So I think I agree with Engadget’s headline saying the Watch3 is the best Android smartwatch. The core Tizen/Exynos 9110 combo does great and for the most part surpasses most WearOS combinations on Qualcomm. The industrial design goes the way of a chonk watch, which is at least a watch thing, not the “device” thing Apple Watch is. They are sort of competing schools of thought but you would think the freedom of the Android ecosystem allows different companies and OEM design drastically different looking smartwatches. That makes them like, well, watches.

I decide to return the rather-expensive (it came to over $420 after tax) Watch3 today because after using it for a couple days, I think I can opt for the slight bigger (by 4mm) and slimmer (by 1mm) 45mm version. If I tried for the titanium version it would even be almost 6g less heavy. But that one is not available yet. The 45mm is $25 more, which is trivial when it cost $399 to just get in the door. That is a chunk of change, but I actually think that is the right price for this watch.

The idea about smartwatches is, like I said earlier, either about a device or a watch. I can keep wearing my Pebble Time Steel in 2025 because it actually looks rather appropriate despite the aging, arguably terrible display. Because a watch really is about how it looks on your wrist, which most of it comes in the stuff outside the display.

The Watch 3 is just a proper piece, a fine looking watch. The 41mm might be a bit cheeky for a luxury watch because it’s a bit nondescript, but the 45mm looks like a proper watch. The rotating crown is a great navigation tool and it really accentuates the watch, plus adding protection to the screen. It speaks a very stated, balanced, Korean-Asian sense of style. Go walk around SIN, HKG, or HND, look at all the luxury stores and ads, and you know what I mean.

My only reservation is with the size, and given Watch3 45mm is still a good 14-20% smaller than Galaxy Active, that means it’s finally not too big to be unwieldy, that I won’t press the crown buttons by bending my wrist. Even my relatively small Pebble Time Steel gets into that.

If you are tracking this product category, though, you would be a bit concerned that a Watch Active can be had for under $200, but this launches for over $400 after tax? Given the two really aren’t different outside their guts, what is going on? And it comes to that a smartwatch is not just a device. It’s also a watch. And you would never be able to justify a $20000 or even a $2000 watch, yet that’s where the game is.

So I think a fine looking hardware like Watch 3 45mm Titanium for a yet-to-know price is probably worth it. I dig the new features for sleep tracking and ECG. I like how it has heartbeat and O2 tracking over the Pebble. I like the crown. I like the display. I don’t like I have to use Samsung Health–mainly because it doesn’t integrate well with what I already use. The sleep tracking app I use also doesn’t seem to integrate with it (not a surprise, may take some time). I don’t like that I have to buy a 3rd party app for Google Fit integration. Samsung Health sleep tracking is okay, but is lacking compared to what I currently use. It can survive a full day (with always on turned on), but not so hot on how it takes a while to recharge.

But it’s good enough that I can make it work on my routine day. Kind of like Android watches generally they meet the minimum at best. I like the watch overall, which justifies the price, but it has added Samsung baggage that holds it back still. Another reason why I have returned the watch… Once Google’s acquisition of Fitbit clears.

More thoughts on the police riots and protests

It’s never exceedingly wise to pour your half-baked policy and philosophical mode into the public as a place where one can stick his flag on some probably-worthless mole hill to die on, if attackers dare. So I will preface this as I am definitely open to other opinions and really I am seeking those who can, in good faith, propose some legitimate and vetted solutions, points of views, what have you. I don’t have the most open mind but my position is not immutable, and I would rather have a better if not the best opinion. I mean, wouldn’t you?

Given the lax attitude about police brutality from those who can hold them accountable, it is probably out of several or all of these reasons, and including others I missed. First, the laws are tilted one way versus another. That relates to the qualified immunity bit, insurance and what not. Second, police is organized into unions and other organizations that are not directly beholden to the people they serve. This is most notable in the Minnesota situation with the Trumper union chief. Third, there is that “a few good men” thing in which culturally there is a “us and them” that makes “good apple” cops toe the line. This is most notable in the Buffalo NY situation when the one 75yo man’s literal pusher’s firing solicited the boycott of an entire riot squad.

Then there are the systemic (if those weren’t already systemic enough) issues in regards to race relations in the USA. Of course none of it is so simple, and there are plenty interplay between them. The above issues only make sense if we think of it in the right context. That hit me when I read Banksy’s recent IG post earlier today, and it’s basically a rehash of another idea I heard earlier. The purest form of this idea is laid out by Chris Rock some years back. In an interview with the New Yorker he said:

When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.[]

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

[For completion, here’s what Banksy said.

At first I thought I should just shut up and listen to black people about this issue. But why would I do that? It’s not their problem. It’s mine.

People of colour are being failed by the system. The white system. Like a broken pipe flooding the apartment of the people living downstairs. The faulty system is making their life a misery, but it’s not their job to fix it. They can’t, no one will let them in the apartment upstairs.

This is a white problem. And if white people don’t fix it, someone will have to come upstairs and kick the door in.

Here goes hoping he doesn’t build a shredder into this one.]

In America, I think it’s fair to say that minorities live and play in a white world. They are our leaders, they are our billionaires, they are our bosses and managers, they are our teachers and cops. They fight our fires, prescribes our medicines, and pretty much set the rules for every position of power, and is also the make up of majority of people in power. They are judges and lawyers, legal scholars and lawmakers, and whites make up even far majority of the members of the press. And in a democracy with a majority white voter base, the country is literally being driven by white people. That is everything working by design. Numbers being what they are, there will always be pockets of exceptions. For example there are more non-Whites than Whites in my town. My dentist is Chinese. My coworkers is half white and half non-white? You get my drift. I suppose there are a lot of Filipino nurses? You think Chinese food chefs are still going to be mostly Chinese people (although there are, uh, an alarming number of hispanics at this job in the US. It’s probably still less alarming than the number of Chinese chefs making Korean and Japanese foods at US restaurants though).

Strictly speaking, black people don’t have a say how things turn out. The only power they have is the power everyone has–the power to disrupt. Of course, individually, each of us is capable of changing the world through what we do or not do, but collectively humanity generally is a brick of stupid. But just because we may be stupid, it doesn’t make collective action less powerful. Maybe think of it as the difference between a screwdriver and a sledgehammer. I believe that is a good analogy for both individual action and collective action. If you want to swap out your old lightswitch with a fancy IOT one that you can talk to, you might want a screwdriver and not a sledgehammer. That is how we affect the changes, say, to fire a police chief. Or get rid of the New York Times Opinions editor. But if you wanna kick down the door upstairs in a hurry, a sledgehammer is going to be slightly better.

But that still is missing the forest for the trees. We still live in a white person’s house. Yes, maybe now that the lightswitch is no longer an unabashed racist, because we swapped a haunted one that can shock you with one that can pay lip service, but if the rest of the house is still haunted with Nazi ghosts trying to lynch every black person spending the night there, I don’t think it matters much. And that is the problem BLM, MLK, and other Named Historical Things have tried to address in the annals of America’s racist past. All of it is just because the white leadership and the system they have created do not give a damn about other people who might not be the same as them. Yes, we have asked the white landlords to make the house less deadly, and they have, but people are still dying, gassed, whatever. And the whole understanding behind democratic systems and guaranteed human rights, is just to provide the escape hatch in case the lightswitch is trying to kill you again. In some ways, I see it more like, building these levers of balance into the structure is more like building a fire escape for black people so when the ghost of Adolf Hitler comes, we have a way to deal with that.

But that is not the real structural change. The real change comes from, like what Chris Rock puts it, having nicer white people. Fact remains even with massive waves of immigration from Asia, America will remain a white people’s house. And the only way to really deal a fatal blow to systemic racism is to address every level in which racism happens. Thankfully this is just, well, dealing with racist white people. I mean that is the blessing and curse of democracy. In an fascist dictatorship, if the leadership is actually black, maybe we won’t need to go down this route? Well there will be bigger problems than racism at that point.

Just like trying to make a police department not racist means rooting the racists out of the group, trying to make a country not racist means rooting the racists out of the country. That is the ultimate and possibly the only real solution. After all, the Church is not a building but its people, and so is a nation. Although that sounds just as untenable as asking people who disagree with your interpretation of some Americana principle to move to Canada, that is what the ghost of Adolf Hitler is trying to do–get you to leave the house.

Otherwise you are just going to bottle in these in-power racists who, just like black people, are entitled to their voting rights, their speech rights, and they probably have long-established platforms able to reach more white people than black folks and their black platforms, and thus reach more ears in high places. It will never be fair. Sure, we can punish, deplatform, and remove them, but that does not deprive them any of the tools blacks have to affect change in the past 150 years when they were the subjects of censure, indifference, Jim Crow, what have you. If a bunch of slaves (and they were all slaves back when) can change the world, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Let’s be honest here–on average, white people have, to their credit, become less racist and nicer over time. But they are still responsible for the horrors they have done and continue to do.

The road to improved race relationship is on the backs of white people fixing themselves. That is the takeaway. Sadly blacks and minorities are here only as poster children to make the rest of us feel bad–because unless the whites cooperate and listen, only the suffering of minorities will gain traction. I mean, we all felt bad when Floyd was senselessly murdered, and maybe after enough blacks die in the hands of the police, one of the deaths might convince enough white people that this has got to change. Again, white people are the ones who have the power to change, because they are the ones who are responsible for this nonsense. It’s not like we can ban whiteness from America either. Removing the individuals is just going to allow another one to take that place sooner or later, so real systemic change is not just replace the lightswitch or staircase, it’s exorcising the ghost.

Racism is ultimately tied to a set of ethnocentric beliefs that has to be removed from the public consciousness. I am thus all for good racial relationship as a means to improve the kindness of whites and to help whites understand what it means to be non-white in America. That is the only persistent, permanent, and meaingful solution. How we manage this will vary and it is not a matter of sledgehammers, but of screwdrivers. Or maybe both, because you need some way to hammer them into shock and incapcity, and threaten each one individually with something sharp? Joke aside, I think just saying that racism is the problem and not racist is not a helpful distinction. But there you have it. Sometimes it’s nation-wide protests, sometimes it’s better K-12 curriculums, sometimes it’s just being a good person, and sometimes it’s good policy changes implemented by elected officials who the people can hold to account.

It’s like what this video essay says about Ip Man, that racists never think they are the bad guys or are racists. Racists tend to cling to the belief that they are good people. If you are white and you think Chris Rock is full of shit, well, you just proved his point.

And sure, there are blacks and asians and other minorities who are also racist just like white people. But there are two key distinctions–one is that in America, Minorities do not run the country. I mean, they are minorities, by definition in a democratic society this is necessarily the case. Second, in discussion of systemic racism, leaders ultimately have to take responsibility for the success and failure of whatever they are leading. If 44 of 45 US Presidents were white, I would think white people (and 44 people is a pretty large sample size all considered) ultimately need to put the issue of racism in their pocket.

This lead me to think about another thing, which is more in line with what Banksy said. Ultimately, if police brutality ain’t a thing, does it really matter if cops are racist pigs? Maybe the MInneapolis PD would have had a easier time staying in existence. If the pipe isn’t broken, the people living in the basement won’t be up here and trying to kick the door down. It makes you think if we can sufficiently nerf all the sharp, racist edges in the system in order to keep the current order to things. Well, it’s not a line in the sand to say what is the new order and what is the old order. It still comes down to America continue to produce ever-nicer white people. But if I was a fascist, my reaction to civil unrest (say, in HK), is going to come down to a measure of competency over than systemic issues bubbling to the fore. It is an internal weakness to become corrupt to power–different people have different resistance to it. If I was a powerful white man in leadership of a gang, I would probably terminate the goons who screwed things up and made the public pay attention to whatever gang activity. Just like how it is incompetence of Minneapolis PD union/leaders to not fire that dude who already had repeated violations and a prior murder. But as they say, it’s systemic, so fixing bad apples is not going to fix all bad apples, eventually some edge cases will happen that you did not account for. What i could say about this is that corruption and opening doors for incompetent managers into the system (like #3 in the second paragraph, but also, uh, Donald Trump) only accelerates this process.

In a nutshell, the past week we saw both extremes–nationwide (and internationally, thanks errbody) protest and also nationwide police brutality. For some reason nobody realizes unless you are Turkey and China, as countries with fully fascist political and media systems, plain brutality just won’t work. People armed with wireless networks and cell phones will know what is true and what is up, because a troll army can only overpower so many people in so many places in the same 7-day period. There hasn’t been a real count but the amount of protesting done is going to overwhelm any lamebrain 50-cent-army system in Russia or China. Nobody scales humans that fast, at least without being noticed. This is also on top of the mainstream press obviously putting these horrific footage in the mainstream broadcast channels. Zuck-chan from FB may hand-wring about blocking Trump’s post but that is low stakes versus amplifying fake news and trolling to overpower legitimate, organic citizenry signals, which thankfully algorithmically is at least undesirable. Outrage sells both ways and it is really outrageous to see innocent people being screwed over by police in military gear. It is not an over-exaggeration to say that it took a genocide in SEA and multiple homicide in India for FB to learn this lesson.

Which seems to be the kind of price to teach white people anything these days. Sad.