Author Archives: omo

I’m okay with no more headphone jacks

On smartphones, at least.

There is this nonsense driven by fear of change. Yeah, there are billions of 3.5mm jacks headphones, but who cares about the quality because all billions of those are the $0.02 variety pooped out in China that might as well go straight to a landfill? Wouldn’t an equally lame $0.02 variety adapter work just fine?

I speak out of personal experience, and I know I am just one person with one set of experiences, but a wireless headphone/earbud experience significantly trumps a wired one, when the smartphone is the basis of your sound. Let’s skip the at-home use cases for now (in which you probably want to stream to a receiver or a google cast client of some sort anyway), and focus on the on-the-go and traveling-stationary cases.

In the former I’ve spent enough money replacing wired headphones to know that if this is my use case for a lot of the time, wireless will be the cost-sensitive solution because you will be spending $$ replacing cables all the time. I think my rate was like $20 a year at least. Now I suck it up with an average bluetooth headphone that has no cables, over the ear, because cables always will break if used on a mobile use cases, for prolong (12+ months) periods. To be specific, all I use my headphones for are my ~2hr commutes daily, and sometimes trips and excursions.

There are some times when I’m using my phone for audio and I plug it into an external DAC. I have to use a USB to Go cable, then plug the DAC into that. No headphone jack is involved. And why any self-respecting audiophile doesn’t use a portable DAC for phone audio is beyond me. In this case you have no use for a 3.5mm jack anyway. OK, maybe your favorite amp doesn’t have a DAC, and it’s annoying to have a DAC and an amp, as portable devices, I hear you. But I think in this case you can excuse a wimpy adapter, right? Or even buy a better one than the one out of the box? No bigs.

All this whining and focusing on the losing of the jack is standard, textbook, resistance to change without looking at what you gain out of it. For most people, nobody uses the headphone jack. My folks don’t use it, and my mom uses a headphone all the time on her iPad to watch dramas anyway. So yeah, keep that on a tablet, where size is not a problem. On phones where device component size is a lot more important, the jack takes up a good 5% on the total footprint of the device. Does anyone uses the jack 5% of their phone’s overall lifetime?

Yeah, the only ones that would use it are the people selling stuff using a card reader (Square, etc), and I think those guys will be okay to live with an adaptor so the rest of the society can enjoy the benefit of that extra real estate on their smartphones.

There are other “hardware” ecosystems attached to the smartphone headphone jack, but none of them has to do with your audio experience, nor should it. Get some bluetooth cans and move on to a better future.

Apple vs FBI Nonsense

I feel the debate about unlocking that San Bernardino attackers’ phone is another one the press don’t get the technical stuff right, at least enough.

First of all it is not a balance between privacy and security or safety. In Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the heart of the matter is that safety and freedom come hand-in-hand. More privacy and security means more freedom and better and safer society more often than not. Safety and privacy only conflicts at the edge case. We should not frame this debate as a zero-sum game.

This is the central paradigm of liberty. If we don’t have a shitty government, people aren’t going to behave like criminal as often. I’ve seen a few OP-EDs to this extent and it’s worth pointing out, at least in one instance, where the Snowden leaks revealed the massive government betrayal of trust in not so much just the surveillance, but the lack of oversight and the abuse of gag orders and other quieting devices to keep things dark. If the government didn’t screw this up and we had a robust system to check abuses in this regard, the public might not be as pissy about building a governmental-access-only backdoor or whatever ballyhoo they’re trying to say.

And an extension of this argument is whenever anyone brings up China or Russia and slippery slope of precedence that can lead to those countries getting master keys to iPhones. If China and Russia are trustworthy countries for Americans, I don’t think we would be using this argument. In other words, shitty national governments are directly the reason why shitty situations like this even exists. Or TL;DR, we need strong encryption because safety against government is a thing!

But that’s not even what I find troubling about the coverage on why this is bad. What’s bad is what Tim Cook says about the master key. In this case, the master key isn’t some rogue version of iOS so much. It’s two things together: the necessary keys to decrypt or “backdoorize” iOS, and the engineer needed to make the hack. I mean there’s no reason to assume FBI don’t have coders who can likewise build a backdoor if given Apple’s auth keys to sign the code that you can then sideload into that iPhone Of Interest. But of course Apple will not give out those keys, so this means some Apple engineer is required to produce the hack.

If I run a mid-size company selling smartphones do I really want to spend engineers on FBI requests and other law enforcement requests just so they can investigate crime that are not as dire as international terrorism? But I’m busy shipping code. Maybe a big company like Apple, this ain’t a thang, even if they may get hundreds/thousands of requests a year. But if I was, say, Motorola or something, do I even give a damn? Will I get laid off tomorrow because nobody is buying my perfectly okay phones? Or replace Motorola with OnePlus, and replace “buying” with “can buy” from the previous sentence.

This is obviously why MS, Google, and even Verizon signs on. Because it’s not like the FBI can’t hire people who can code, so why bother these companies? It’s disruptive, it’s intrusive, it doesn’t do their respective bottom lines any good. It’s arguably even bad for security, and bad for all their customers. It is not even a zero-sum outcome. It makes sense for all those tech companies to resist.

The alternative is to fight it out in courts. Okay, you don’t need lawyers to ship code, maybe, but that’s expensive and a piece-meal way to deal with the situation. So yeah, of course you want Congress to make the call just so we can be done with it.

As to the master key itself, I don’t quite buy it that it may be leaked by making it existing in the first place, in that the same danger has always existed before and even today. All the needed ingredient to make that key already exists. Nobody except Apple may know how to put the key together, but it’s not significantly more likely that just by writing it down as to how to put it together makes leaking the components of the master key AND the key more likely. It’s quite possible that a big enough of a security leak at Apple will cause this to happen, if hackers wo obtained certain source codes and the key were able to engineer out the ingredients and put it together.

But this is all just fancy talk that we don’t even want to deal with, and I agree. I’m all for companies helping law enforcement, but the key distinction has to be the amount of work. Shipping a new version of iOS is way overreach and it’s unfair to compel any company for doing it.

Now maybe you can shame Apple into doing it. That seems like a fair approach.

SpaceX vs BO re: Rocket Landing

I already left a bad doodoo in Verge’s post initially reporting the BO landing because they were really gung ho about that comparison. They have since posted a follow-up. And it’s still “wrong” in spirit. Let’s just get the facts here.

  1. SpaceX Falcon 9 re-useable test Stage 1 booster is the only thing they have tried to land, and is the “rocket” in question when the press talks about SpaceX’s landing experiment. It has 23-26 metric ton empty weight as guestimated. Maximum velocity the stage 1 booster achieves is estimated at Mach 10 and height of 97Km. I don’t know if there is official data but this sounds like what Falcon 9 v1.0 does rather than 1.1, which features a slower first stage (Mach 6) because the new Marlin engine can make up the difference. Dunno.
  2. Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a single ship. The whole rocket goes up and then comes back down. It reaches Mach ~3 on the ascent (every rocket that goes to space gets this fast basically), up to 100.5Km during her historic flight. No data on weight, but presumably much less than the Falcon 9 simply because it holds just a fraction of the fuel capacity.

Mach 10 versus 0 mph is where the focus is. Falcon 9’s booster is at Mach 10 at its highest point of ascent; the New Shepard at ~0 mph at its highest point of ascent. It doesn’t really matter if the stage 1 of Falcon 9 went only 5Km or 150Km or 200Km in altitude, the challenge is stopping, not dealing with the fall. And that’s kind of the point of space travel that the mass public don’t get. We understand both instinctively and in the mind what it means to fall down from a high place. On the other hand, we have no worldly or innate understanding of what it means to be going at Mach 10. Or Mach 30, which is what it takes to get to the Lower Earth Orbit. Or that it’s not that you go into space you stay there; it’s because you are orbiting earth at Mach 30 that you can stay up there. Going to space is what lets us to go as fast as Mach 30, as you’ll turn into hot ash if you tried going at that speed at 1Km altitude (Not to mention you have to go even faster if your orbit is closer to Earth too).

Yeah, the SpaceX Grasshopper already achieved the same thing New Shepard did albeit only at 0.25Km, so maybe it’s okay to knock it, but to rocket scientists there’s not that much of a difference between 0.25Km and 25Km or 100Km, versus a few hundred miles an hour and Mach 6 or Mach 10, which is a challenge in an entirely different class. Because it’s not the altitude that matters–free falling from 100Km only gets you to go so fast, thanks to the atmosphere capping your freefall velocity. Let’s just say you don’t even hit Mach 1 for this reason.

It’s the speed that you have to go from, to stop, that matters. In both tests the goal is to slow the rocket to relative speed of ground to as low as possible. Did y’all watch the Martian? Remember the final climatic scene? It’s about relative velocity, relative velocity, relative velocity.

And I’m not even going to get into what the Falcon 9 has to deal with–orientation, construction, weight, accuracy. It has to face a lot more challenges to do the “same thing.” Because, well, they are really different things, with different challenges, to accomplish different missions.

Take home: just read the Wired. Or remember middle school science class.

Apple App Store and my distaste for it

As a consumer I am sort of ambivalent about the iOS app store and iTunes online services, at least, when accessed from OSX or an iOS device.

But as a developer I’m really irate whenever at each WWDC keynote some Apple top dude parades out how much they paid developers. It tells me that to Cupertino, this money is somehow a result of Apple’s work in making it possible. But that is far from the truth–maybe in conjunction with Apple, developers create software that transform iPads and iPhones into wonderful devices and personal appliances. But that sounds like bullshit. Is Time Cook really saying that app developers won’t make money writing software without them? Like, it provides an ecosystem, but to make money writing an app in iOS is no different than writing it for Android, Windows or Linux/OSX. If anything Apple makes it harder because app store policies are entirely Apple-serving and blind to basically any non-mass-consumer use cases.

To use an analogy, the fish doesn’t worship the water it swims in. Maybe the fish dies without the water and is grateful for it, but it also dies when the water is too hot, too cold, or has too much or too little oxygen. It dies if it cannot find food or is eaten by a predator. If the fish is successful, it is in no real way owed to the water it swims in. This is just nature. This is what devs have to contend for. Maybe when back in 2008 or 2010 as a new market space, the App store ecosystem bred a lot of new success stories and added value to developers in total. But today there’s absolutely nothing special about it, besides all these draconian restrictions, limitations, and pervasively depressed prices. The hard work today’s App developers put into their work is what makes them money, just like as if they put the same work into Android, Windows, OSX, or any other large ecosystem that is suited for their software. In more and more cases, they make a living in spite of what the App store does to their sales and business models.

And I think the underlying motive is clear. In order for Apple to make the iPhone and iPad successful during the early days, it has to court a lot of successful apps that cater to consumers. That started its low-price origin in the App Store. Store policy leaned towards things that floated iOS devices as multi-tools of wonder instead of sustainable software marketplace that cherished diversity. The 30% tax is just insult on top of humiliation. By completely mediating the customer connection with developer Apple was able to curate one experience, but at the same time the edge of this one single experience becomes ultimately iOS’s own fish bowl. Which is fine for water, less so for the fish in the tank.

It just rubs off on me wrong that somehow Apple is doing developers a favor when they are pretty much the most self-serving ecosystem out there. Maybe it works for them, but at some point the prisoner’s dilemma is going to kick in. Last night I was channel surfing and heard Jalen Rose proverbially mention that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. I’m not sure Apple really wants to go together; so it’ll be interesting to see if they’ll be forced to do so.

Pebble Time Steel First Month Look

It’s actually only 3 weeks, oops.

I got the Pebble Time Steel gold version. My friends got the steel grey and black ones. They were definitely not as cool looking as the gold one. From a looks perspective the red leather band is a home run, paired with the gold. Black bezel also even looked OK like this.

And here we get to the heart of the problem with the Pebble Time Steel, and Pebble Time in general–that display just does not look good. Colors are dimmed and contrast is like 3/4 of what it was on the original Pebble. Why? Because the new display is a TFT LCD where the crystal layer has to be semi transparent in order to work passively and work with a backlight. When light is filtered partly by the LCD layer, this is how you generate different colors. The original Pebble is B&W, so it either completely blocked light or none at all, giving you better contrast than the Pebble Time screen. Both old and the Pebble Time has so-so viewing angle but the Time really loses out in the dark versus the original Pebble.

The Pebble Time Steel has the added problem of, I think, really demure styling. This watch would work well for women, if it’s a tad on the big side. But that also means it’s quite small as far as smartwatches go and great for people who doesn’t have manly wrists. It looked definitely more stylish than the original pebble, which is something people who dig the Pebble Steel might not prefer–that one is bigger and manly.

I think it does not lose to the Apple Watch on looks, side by side. It definitely does not look as manly, though, without that large crown and less angular styling. I think if you are the stereotypical urban hipster tho, it will look good.

Pebble recently unveiled the Pebble Time Round which looks wicked, but if it follows the same design language, it will be for people looking for a wristwatch for women or people who want something that’s design-wise smart but not aggressive. We don’t know what display it will have, but looks like it’ll be the same as the other Pebble Times.

Pebble Time’s display is slightly worse than Pebble Time Steel’s display because the steel forces the way the glass bond to the display to be closer. It improves the viewing angle and slight ups the contrast. I think this makes Pebble Time Steel a no-brainer choice over the Pebble Time pretty much all around. The styling isn’t even that different between the grey or black ones. They are really two watch lines that aren’t different enough design-wise to be saying you prefer one over the other, especially given the extra $150 you can get more battery life and more durability, and slightly improved display.

To be honest, functionality is already pretty OK for the Pebble. What has to be improved is the looks. I don’t think the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel has achieved enough to call it that. Maybe the PT Round? It is definitely differently looking.

As for the software, it’s faster and less buggy. It uses a different companion app than the Pebble/Pebble Steel. I run it on android, and it’s solid. What I don’t like is the timeline interface, because it’s kind of useless and I don’t want to be pressing a lot of buttons on the watch. Maybe once devs can hook better Pebble apps into it?

The new reply and voice dictate is definitely nice and I appreciate it, even if I don’t see myself using it just because it takes a little getting used to and I’ll have to force myself into doing it. Not a killer app but definitely cool once someone figures out how to integrate it into Google Now.

Battery-life-wise it’s great. Seven days minimum with a wonky PlexFit on it even.

I can get a Pebble Time Round for $200. I might bite. I don’t know. I dig that white one. Maybe for Christmas to give to somebody?