20140915

Catching up on technology

I watched with some interest, Apple's announcements last week.  I chuckled a bit at how the video, which I'd had on for ten or fifteen minutes without issue, died horribly right at 1300, when the keynote started.  In fact, I wasn't able to bring it up again, and resorted to watching Ars Technica's liveblog of it.

And what do I think?

Eh, I'm skeptical about the larger phones.  My suspicion, without playing with one, is that it's too big.  Even the littler one.  We'll see, I guess.  I did find the adjustments to improve one-handed use interesting, but have no idea how well they'll work.

Outside of that, I loved the camera enhancements, especially on the larger model.  I was surprised that going to phase detect autofocus would only double the speed of focus-finding, but that's still a big deal.  And image stabilization?  That's pretty cool.

ATP had some interesting talk about it, but I wanted to add a couple things to their coverage.  Marcus stated that DSLRs use in-lens stabilization, rather than sensor-based.  That's true for Canon and Nikon, but not for Sony.  In-lens is the only option with long lenses, but doesn't matter much at more normal distances.

I'm curious about how good the stabilization is.  Nikon's best allows four stops of improvements (they only have a couple of lenses with this much), but they have many with three.  I don't really know what Sony's best (on-sensor) stabilization can do, and have no idea with Apple (not that they're likely to talk about it).

They also advertised improvement in panorama capture, and I wonder how that works.  For sure, there's a lot of room for improvement over my 5S.

They also talked about improvements in both CPU and (especially) GPU, although I don't yet see any need for that.  Although I'm looking forward to an iPad Air with that improvement.  I play more games with that, and am much more likely to notice the difference.  Of course, there's also the issue that nothing's being written for the extra cycles yet; maybe that will change.  But I doubt it.

I thought the memory change was weird; moving the base to 32GB would be a lot better, although putting the up-steps to 64GB and 128GB a significant improvement (though a declining benefit with streaming music/movie services improving).  I have yet to get close to 32GB of use on my 5S, but am well over 16GB, without any movies, few photos, and with iTunes Match enabled.  So I agree with the ATP hosts that 16GB is getting to be ridiculously limiting.

The iPad-style layout on the 6+ in landscape is an interesting hybrid.  I can certainly think of situations where I'd like it, but I don't think I'd like it universally.

The other thing that will, I think, be a huge deal in the long run, is Apple payments.  I'm wondering about the security of the whole system (should re-watch the video to get the explanation), as it sounded a bit fragile, but hopefully I'm wrong on that.  If I am (and I hope so), then it should be a really good system, adding a world of convenience.

To facilitate it, there are two completely new pieces in the new iPhones.  A security chip, that will keep your credit card info in some encrypted fashion that is inaccessible to the rest of the system.  If it becomes allowed (it probably won't), don't use any third-party tool to access that.  And an NFC beacon, which will be used at the Point of Sale (POS) to do the payment.  From what I remember, you (in some order) tap the phone and use TouchID, so you pay without pain.

This has incredible potential, although I think it'll be iffy for a while.

But the Apple Watch... wow, has the media been waiting for that for a while.  And boy, do they deserve every bit of pain it has caused them.

I read a review from a watch geek, and it seemed that the watch piece was very, very good.  I haven't worn a watch in decades, personally, and eschew jewelry, so it has no interest to me from that perspective.  Functionally... I don't know.  The only part that seems very appealing to me is the use of Apple Pay.  Basically, touch the watch instead of the phonee, so you don't need to take that out.  Again, some impressive convenience.

As a fitness tracker... dunno.  That's one reason I would consider one, although I wonder how good it will be.  It won't be useful as a sleep tracker for the simple reason that it'll need to be charged at least daily (and I think battery life is going to be a serious limit on the first generation).  The ability to distinguish between running and biking is pretty cool, although I'm not sure how useful it is.  Does it really matter, as long as it tracks both?

The "taptic" vibrations could be cool, although it would take some tuning to figure out how much stuff to filter out for each person.  The idea of twitter or facebook vibrating on every incoming message is pretty horrific.  Especially when driving.

I think, though, the fact that it turns the display on when you bring the watch up to view it is a major saving grace, in terms of battery life.  I assume it also turns itself off after a set period of inactivity.  So, to get back to driving, I would assume it would turn on when putting your hands on the wheel, and turn off again pretty soon.  At least, I hope so, as the alternatives would blow.

All in all, it definitely leaves me curious, although I still wouldn't be able to use its killer app, as I won't have a 6/+ (6-series) iPhone at least until the next generation comes out.  And probably not until the 7 arrives (I'm with Casey, in that I don't think the current numbering scheme will even last until 10.  Although with numbers incrementing every other year, that still gives them quite a while to change it).

So do I want to spend $350+ on an Apple Watch.  Almost certainly not, at least for another year.  But I'm definitely looking forward to seeing where they go with it.

Catching up on politics

In the last week or so, several very important things have been going on that I haven't been talking about.

The most important is the President declaring war on a terrorist group.  Ignoring the fact that declaring war on them is a huge boon to their recruiting efforts, and ignoring (for the moment) that I think Obama's approach to doing so is pretty good, this is still a big mistake.

First, I disbelieve Obama's fundamental assumption that ISIL (or ISIS) is a threat to the US.  It's possible that it's a threat to US interests.  It certainly threatens to destabilize the region.  And that instability might push oil prices up.

But does that justify going to war?  Even if it's "only" an air war?

We've been providing lots of materiel to various regional powers (primarily Israel and the Saudis, but many others as well) for years.  That's a large part of why the US' trade imbalance isn't more severe; the US' biggest export is weaponry.

So, let them own the fight.  It's their region, they can pay for it themselves.  If they want to buy more weapons, great.

But the US has spent way too much of the last forty years being the world's police force.  Too much money and too many brave young men and women have been sacrificed.  The people we're "helping" generally don't like us being there.  The insurgents get a recruiting bonanza out of it.

In the end, I don't at all believe that it advances US interests.  It keeps the cost of oil down, but there are plenty of less-expensive ways to do that.  And the price at the pump needs to go up anyway; the ludicrous national highway tax is absurdly too low.  Letting the price rise will encourage more use of footpower, pedal power, and public transportation, all of which are beneficial to all of society.

And this idea that they're a direct threat to the US?  That's approaching the level of farce.  Maybe they have some agents with some interest in attacking the US.  For sure, they'd be able to hurt some people, but unless they have a way to manufacture WMDs in the US (because they aren't going to import them), then they're a matter for the police to deal with.  Without the SWAT approach, even.

And for them building a real state?  That's basically impossible with their current, nihilist (kill everyone) strategy.  The only way they'd be able to do that is to get the support of the populace.  And they've shown zero inclination to even work in that direction.

Getting back to Obama's strategy, I have to say that I like his slow and careful approach that gets buy-in from allies.  If we're going to go to war anyway, then that's infinitely preferable to Bush's cowboy (or maybe a better term would be "X-games") approach.  But the approach still doesn't justify the end.

20140910

Biking thoughts

I started biking again largely inspired by teaching my daughter, and mostly for fitness purposes, but I've got to admit these early morning rides are a blast.  Just flying along the trail (the road riding is only fun when there are few/no cars around)... It's quite a feeling.

We'll see if I keep it up, but I've gotten some cold-weather clothes on sale, lately, so I'm prepared for winter biking.  I must admit to being scared of the possibility of lots of snow, however; I'm not sure how to handle that.

One thing I did see this morning, that was kind of amusing, was someone that had four lights on their bike (three of which were directed... poorly, and the fourth was blinking) and another on their head.  I understand wanting to be seen, but that's just begging to blind people going the other direction.

I'm wondering what to do with my light, actually.  I have it directed only about ten feet in front of the bike, but I still do see a few people covering their eyes.  And I go fast enough that even having it aimed that close can be problematic (I had to slow down several times this morning because I couldn't see far enough ahead).

I wish there was a bike light with some sort of baffle that would allow blocking the light (hopefully redirecting more downwards) that would shine into people's eyes, while allowing a good amount of brightness on the ground.  I'll have to look around, I guess.

20140905

New appreciation for pro cyclists

I've switched to a longer bike ride in the mornings, which takes me up a steep hill about a mile from my house.  The hill's only 74 feet tall, according to strava, but at an 8% grade.  One of the segments covering it is called the 'Williamsburg Soulcrusher'; slightly over the top, I'll admit, but I'd call it the Legcrusher without a second thought.

It's made a bit worse by having a quarter-mile or so of slight incline leading up to it, where you can see it coming.  Ugh.

Anyway, it gives me a lot more appreciation for the Tour de France riders, who regularly face inclines that steep that are far, far longer than that.  I certainly don't envy them those climbs.

20140904

And not-so-whee

We also went, Tuesday, to a local steakhouse that we've visited several times before (J Gilbert's, in McLean).  The food and drink (they're the second-best lemon drop martinis in the area, I think, behind Cheesecake Factory, of all places) were very good.

But what was most interesting was that, with all the exercise and what-not I've been doing, the rare steak (I'll order rare at nicer places) I ordered didn't sit well with me.  I never got to the point of throwing up (or even close to it), but just didn't feel quite right for most of a day afterward.  Kind of weird; think I'll be avoiding rare steaks from now on.

Whee, the Pizza

On Friday, we were thinking about where to go for dinner, wanting someplace in Crystal City.  There are quite a few options around there, but we chose "We, the Pizza".

It was very convenient, and we've walked by it a number of times, and it smells divine.

I wasn't able to get what would be my first choice (I forget exactly, but it had andouille and caramelized onions), as I'd be the only one to eat it, but we shared a hawaiian, which was very good.  And they had freshly-made sodas (seriously, I watched them make my pineapple soda and the fruity concoction my wife wanted); very unusual, to put it mildly.

Good meal, all the way around.  And I'm still looking forward to that andouille pizza.

20140902

Political amusement

Was out in my yard yesterday, picking weeds while my daughter was riding her bike.  A guy walked up, said he was running for Congress, and was going house to house.

I wasn't too terribly sure what to make of that to begin with, as he was walking and looked hot and sweaty.  Shows dedication, for sure, if not the more buttoned up image usually associated with Congressmen.

But he then immediately asked if the hose worked, so he could fill up his water bottle.  Well, no problem there.  No comment beyond a simple "yes" when I asked if he was looking to replace Moran.  Then just said to check out his website, and left me a flyer as he continued on.

Two things of amusement there.  The flier was written like a letter, and the second paragraph said, "I stopped by today to hear your concerns and share my vision...".  If so, it was well-concealed.

The other point was that there's no indication of party affiliation (not even an indication of 'Independent').  That immediately led me to believe 'Republican', this being a very blue district.  And, now, after looking at his website, I think that's probably right, although I don't see any indication there, either.

But his policy positions seem pretty right-leaning.  They're couched in fairly moderate language, but there's some potentially scary stuff there (school vouchers, mention of "clean coal", support for fracking, support for middle east interference (read: war-mongering), and a halt in all government services as all agencies do cost-analysis of all existing regulations).  He also mentions involvement in the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and then pretends that there was a plan that came out of that (a common fallacy, to be sure, but if he was even remotely involved, then he knows that that's a lie).

I'm also amused that he mentions being a senior congressional staffer working towards bi-partisan solutions.  The last ten years have set new records for low levels of bi-partisan effort, simply due to one side having no interest in solutions (it's much easier to work against any solution, and then rail against the ability of the government to deliver solutions.  It astounds me how well that strategy, combined with gerrimandering, has worked).  So if he wants to claim that, it does not redound in his favor.

Anyway, good luck to Mr Edmond, but he certainly does not have my vote.

20140828

In more somber news...

My lack of time to post recently has also caused a lack of time to track news.  I haven't been following it closely, but the situation in Ferguson is just horrifying.

The police continued trying to provoke the protesters, with what would have been Geneva Convention violations if they'd been done against enemy troops (yes, tear gas in war is a Geneva Convention violation, largely due to unknown health risks, especially towards expectant mothers).

The National Guard got involved, but seems to've been deployed just to provide cover for the police provacateurs, rather than to protect the citizens.  I hope the governor pays for that, down the road.

It took several days, but the smears against Michael Brown came out in many different forms.  First, there was the claim that he started charging the officer from 35 ft away, but was dead 25 feet away.  Then there was the claim that he'd stolen cigars from a store just before that.  Then there was the claim that he used marijuana.  Then the claim that he'd broken the officer's orbital ridge, I think it was.

Let's first stipulate that none of those have any relevance, even if they had been true.  The officer approached him for jaywalking, got upset when Michael Brown gave him some lip (let's stop for a minute to contemplate what percentage of 17-year-olds have issues dealing with authority), then shot him.  None of that other stuff would have any relevance to the matter at hand, even if it were true.

And let's clarify a couple other matters of relevance, before returning to those earlier items.  First, the police are around to protect and serve the public.  They are not out there to be judges, juries, and executioners.  They should not be pulling their weapons unless lives are threatened.

Second, police officers should be getting trained to be thick-skinned.  They have to deal with people under a lot of stress, all day, every day.  They're going to be hearing people at their worst, all the time, and they need to be ready to deal with that.  They can't be dealing with that with their guns.  Too many people will end up dead, if they do.

To return to the earlier, for Officer Wilson to have gotten six shots off in the time it would take for Michael Brown to run ten feet, especially given that that would include the time to realize the threat and draw his gun.  It's an absurd claim.  Nobody can shoot that fast.  That's about two seconds.  I doubt a machine could fire a semi-automatic weapon that fast.

As far as the cigars, the surveillance footage had the portion of the tape where he paid edited out.  The lawyer for the shop also says there was no theft.  But even if their had been, would petty theft justify a death sentence?  If the officer had known about it when he made the stop?

Marijuana?  Don't make me laugh.  When's the last time you saw an aggressive stoner?

The broken bone?  Yeah, it was broken in 2008.  Lots of relevance to Michael Brown's case.

And the media played along with these claims without even questioning the claims.  This is yet another example of the media abjectly failing to be an effective check on government power and overreach.  This is the media being tools of the state.

The saddest part?  The local DA got a grand jury (not convened especially for the occasion) with nine white people and three blacks.  In a city that's 2/3 people of color.  Doesn't exactly seem right.  I hope they vote to indict, but it would shock me.

That's the saddest part of all.  Every indication so far, is that Officer Wilson will walk, without even a slap on the wrist.  And somehow, people have managed to raise $200k for his legal fees.  I have no comprehension of how so many people support his cold-blooded killing of a young black boy.  I just don't get it, at all.

So even if it does go to court, he's not going to be paying for it.

20140827

Keeping up

Haven't had a lot of time for writing lately; been biking early and going to bed early.  Only downside is that I haven't been doing the Quick4 workout, but definitely having fun with riding.

It's kind of funny, going on cycling boards, as most people talk about hundreds or thousands of miles; I wonder how they manage (unless they're young and single).  I've only managed 112 miles this month, but that feels like a lot to me.  And my longest ride in that time was just over twelve miles; mostly a lot of 6-10 mile rides.

I didn't much feel like getting up to ride this morning, but did it.  Glad I did; I averaged 16.5mph over my 8.5-mile loop, which is about .75mph better than my previous best (even over shorter rides).  I thought it was interesting that the top-end time wasn't much different than previous rides over that "course", but the bottom end didn't go nearly as low.

And I've been using my cadence to set pacing; probably power would be better (starting to wonder if a power meter is, indeed, worth the (very high) cost).  One thing I noticed this morning is that it makes a really big difference to maintain a cadence, rather than letting it drop and then getting back up.

One other small note; I've learned that doing exercise before breakfast (and not skipping breakfast) maximizes the weight-loss benefits.  And that's what I've been doing.

I'm not below where I've been before, from exercising (I once worked my way down about five pounds lighter than where I am now, but it took an immense amount of work, especially as I didn't do anything about attacking it from the input end), but I'm lighter than I've been in several years.  I'm hoping to lose close to another ten pounds.  We'll see how that goes.

Update: Forgot to mention.  My bike had a seatpost with a spring in it to soften bumps a little bit.  With it, I couldn't put both my reflector and my light on there, so I replaced that with a plain post.  Man, is it a pain to install a saddle on a post.  Especially my old saddle, which didn't have a lot of space between the bars and the seat.  I got it on, but it was a pain.

But I also replaced the saddle, just yesterday, with an "anatomic relief saddle".  I'm not sure I didn't want a saddle a centimeter or so wider, but definitely thumbs up on the anatomic relief part.  I'll decide in the next week or so about the width, I think.