Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On iOS vs Android

This post will be a mere shadow of what I at one time intended it to be, but have delayed writing for a while now.  It concerns the two dominant mobile platforms, iOS and Android, and why I'm not in the iOS camp (and hopefully will still not be in 10 years).

This was mostly motivated by the releases of the iPhones 6 and iOS 8.  With these releases, Apple addressed a couple of the major gripes I had with their mobile phones and OS: screen size and extendability.  After a couple of years of marketing that 4 inches is the best screen size, Apple admitted that consumers demand bigger (but don't get me started on their hyperbolic and hypocritical marketing).  I fall in that bigger screen camp, though I do think some of the phablets are a little too big for me.  On the software side, Apple added the ability for apps to better interact with each other and added support for third party keyboards.  These are of course gross oversimplifications of what their fall releases brought to the table (and you can find a lot more detailed info with a simple web search), but those were two key points.

So after September I considered that an iPhone 6 might actually be a "usable" device for me (quotes because it's ridiculous to think that I couldn't use or even be mostly satisfied with previous iPhones).  So much so that I pondered testing one out for a week to see how I liked it, especially compared with the (then) upcoming release of Android 5.0 Lollipop.  Well, I never did the test drive.  And I don't really have much motivation to.  I'm still quite pleased with my two year old Nexus 4, and don't see much reason to upgrade to anything newer on either the Android or iOS side (let alone any of the other mobile platforms).  It got the Lollipop upgrade relatively quickly, it's still pretty responsive, and has the hardware to support just about all current features that I care to have in a smartphone.

This doesn't mean that I'm not open to trying out an iPhone sometime in the near future, especially if T-Mobile updates their test drive program to use the newer phone.  But I did have a conversation last night (at dinner with a couple of Claire's friends who were visiting) that reminded me of one of the issues that I would expect to infuriate me about using an iPhone: the forbidding of third party default actions.  One example that was mentioned (in addition to Safari) was how selecting an address link would open up the location in Apple Maps, and this behavior cannot be changed.  This sounds like a pretty "awful" user experience, given how terrible Apple Maps seems to be in comparison to Google Maps (and I also got first hand testimonial to this effect last night).  Obviously this is not the worst thing in the world - you an always simply copy and paste into Google Maps.  But it speaks to the general "closedness" of the iOS/Apple ecosystem, and I'm not a fan of that.  The other issues that I expected to have with using iOS generally involved extensibility of apps (e.g., getting a reliable scrobbler for Last.fm, and an automation equivalent of Tasker), but in the end they're not really world-changing features.  And that's why I think most people could be reasonably satisfied with either platform at this point, despite the fanboy flame wars.

I should also point out that Android is not without its faults.  One glaring area in which I think it is lacking is that of app permissions.  On Android, you basically must give an app all the permissions it lists in order to run it; and that list can get really long; plus it's hard to even understand why some of them are being included.  Google tried to help the situation a bit by categorizing the permissions so that once you install a version of the app that gives it a permission in a category, you don't have to re-approve updates with new permissions in the same category.  I'm not really sure if this made things better or worse.  On one hand, I get fewer requests to manually approve updates due to minor changes in permissions.  But on the other hand, the automatic updates are gaining new permissions without my knowledge (yes, I know I can turn off automatic updates altogether, but that's another hassle).  And the new categorizations make it harder to tell what specific permissions an app is listed as using, and what has changed between versions.  In contrast, iOS has much fewer permissions which each have to be specifically granted by the user for each app.  This means that iOS apps need to be written in a way that they sorta function (or at least don't crash) if they are not granted permissions.  If Google allowed revocation of individual permissions right now, Android apps would be crashing left and right.  I'm not sure what the solution for Android is at this point, but I would like to see a move toward revocable permissions (perhaps with stubbed content to help mitigate crashes if a permission is revoked).

I'm pretty sure I could come up with more areas where I would prefer the iOS implementation over the Android one (or lack thereof).  But in the end there's little doubt for me that right now I'd be happier with an Android device than an iOS one.  And I'll be sure to post some updated thoughts if I do give that test drive a try.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Alt-J @ The Pageant (12/3/2014)

  • Claire and I arrived a little later than desired (@ 9 PM), but still saw pretty much all of Vance Joy, who she wanted to see.  He didn't really do much for me, but I'm happy if she's happy.  Meg Myers was long gone by the time we arrived, so I can't comment on her.
  • Considering that they only have two full-lengths out, it wasn't too surprising that they played lots of songs from both albums.  If there was any sort of segregation, it seemed that the first half had more older songs while the second had more from the new album.  But they ended with "Breezeblocks" (from the first album), so it's tough to say that there was really a split.
  • The drummer was right up front on the right side of the stage, as opposed to the typical positioning in the back center.  I liked this set-up, as it put all four members up front.
  • The light show was pretty solid - looked like quite a few LED racks.  Not overwhelming, but a good match for their style.  It seemed that the band was mysteriously shadowed for a lot of the show - Claire commented during the last song that you could finally see them.
  • Interestingly, the keyboard player did all the banter, as opposed to the lead singer.  But he also held his own quite well on back-up vocals.
  • No extended jams - I appreciate when a band doesn't noodle around.
    • Although they led off with my favorite song on the new album, "Hunger of the Pine", the sound mix sounded pretty terrible for that song.  Thankfully, that improved quickly.
    • There are several aspects that makes this band's sound unique (including the singing style), but one that worked really well for me live was the drumming.  The drummer's kit has a few non-standard items that really came through well, especially once the sound mix was fixed.  It also seemed like there was a bit more added drumming on the live renditions (especially on a couple of the quieter songs), but that could just be the live mixing emphasizing the drums more than the studio mixes.
    Rating: 4.5/5

    Thursday, November 27, 2014

    Wager with Nathan Rosenstock

    Earlier this summer, Nathan and I made a small wager about my tech future.  I am documenting our e-mail exchange on the topic here...

    Obi Orjih, 2 June 2014:
    Let it be noted for the record that you (Nathan Rosenstock) predicted that I (Obi Orjih) will be using an Apple device as my primary personal mobile device 10 years from today (i.e., June 2, 2024). You are so confident in this prediction, that you would switch to a vegetarian (not vegan) diet for one month if you are incorrect.

    Nathan Rosenstock, 2 June 2014:
    And if I am correct, you may not watch or listen or monitor in any way either live or recorded the first world cup soccer game after June 2, 2024 in which a US team is playing. You may see unavoidable replays of short length, but you must inform yourself of the outcome of the game as soon as possible after the game has concluded.

    Obi Orjih, 2 June 2014:
    Agreed. But I want an out in case I "have" to make plans for that game... In order to watch the game, I must pay you USD$100. This all assumes that I lose the wager.

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Thoughts on smartwatches in general, and the Apple Watch in particular

    If you're a tech geek like me, then the concept of "wearables" (i.e., wearable computers/electronics) is kind of a hot field right now.  While this could include many possibilities, the ideas with the most traction right now are things that you wear on your wrist and things that you wear on your head/face1.  There is more doubt that face things will be a thing, as Google Glass (and the like) doesn't quite appear to be catching on outside of a small niche community.  So, I guess that leaves wrist things to talk about...

    The wrist thing market is basically split into two categories - fitness trackers and smartwatches - though many smartwatches are now also doing fitness tracking.  The fitness trackers include the Fitbit Flex's and the Jawbone UPs of the world.  And more recently Microsoft got into the game with the Microsoft Band.  I think there is a legitimate market for these things, but I don't really feel like they are mind-blowing or game-changing.

    I'm still trying to decide whether smartwatches can be mindblowing or game-changing.  The first thing that I can remember being a proper smartwatch is the Pebble.  This was one of the first big Kickstarter projects, and is probably one of the biggest successes.  Although the display is not particularly fancy (it uses an e-paper display), it last for days without needing a charge (7, reportedly) and works with Android and iOS devices.  The compatibility and battery life are a plus, but the integration with more powerful pocket computers (aka smartphones) is superficial at best.

    Deeper integration is where Android Wear and Apple Watch come in - they are designed to provide richer integration with their respective mobile OSes.  Android wear has been out for months now, and seems to be getting a bit better as more features are added.  Initially, the functionality didn't go too far beyond the sort of things Pebble could do - notifications, music controller (i.e., the phone still plays the music, but the watch can pause, skip, etc.), turn-by-turn directions, and the like.  Oh, and they tell time too.  Recent updates have solved issues with custom watch faces and added the ability to play music directly off the watch itself via Bluetooth.  There are also fitness capabilities built in - for example the Moto 360 (aka 270, if the flat tire of a screen doesn't quite do it for you) has a heart rate monitor built in.

    But even though I'm firmly in the Android camp, these smartwatches don't quite do it for me.  I think they're an interesting concept, and I'm glad they exist, but they don't really fill a need that I have.  Everything that they do, I can do better with my phone.  I will grant that glance-able notification can be helpful (especially in situations where pulling out your phone would be socially awkward), but I don't really think that's worth going back to wearing a watch.  The other potential value add would be fitness tracking capabilities, but that's not something that I'm into.  And (while it doesn't apply to me at the moment, but would have in the past, and could again in the future), I know plenty of people who literally would not be allowed to wear a smartwatch into their workplace at Boeing.  Oh, and these things have to be charged at least every other day, if not every day.

    There are other smartwatch platforms out there (Samsung has a couple of Tizen watches, among other players in the game) but none is terribly compelling.  That is, perhaps, except for the forthcoming Apple Watch.  I've read way too much about this thing since it was announced a couple of months ago, and I still don't quite "get it".  It seems to me that Apple is trying to do way too much with it.  For example, why on earth would I want to scroll through photos or read a map on a tiny screen on my wrist?  And don't get me started on the doodle feature, or the heartbeat-sending gimmick.  Some other smarter (or at least more respected on the Interwebs) people have different takes on the thing, and they could end up being right.  But I don't see the watch being someone's main computer any time soon, unless some unbelievable breakthroughs are made in battery technology and processor packaging.

    What I will give Apple credit for, though, is creating the most fashion-forward entry into this product category (even though I'm a bit surprised at how bulbous the thing appears, especially for Apple).  They also created a very clever and functional mechanism for attaching/detaching the straps - like previous precedents (e.g., lightning connector), they eschewed compatibility with standards in favor of creating something functionally superior.  I can see them selling a lot of these things as fashion items, in addition to their simply being Apple products, even though the rumored price points for the gold version sound crazy to me.  And even though I tend to kind of root against Apple (for reasons that I might explain in a future post), I'm curious and excited to see what happens with this new product.

    1 There are other current wearables that you can attach to a piece of clothing, but I don't really see many people talking about those.

    Saturday, November 01, 2014

    Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard

    This one goes in the category of solving first world problems...  One of the reasons that it took so long to post my Brazil 2014 travelogue is that the quality of the original composition is questionable.  Back in 2008 or so, I realized that I have a terrible memory, so composing the travelogue after the trip didn't work too well.  So I started typing up the travelogues on a mobile device while on the trips.  Well, it turns out that I'm a terrible phone/tablet typist, on top of the fact that typing on those things sucks anyway.  Despite this I persevered, and continued to crank out travelogues.  But this sucky typing experience makes for poor quality posts.  And this is further exacerbated by my robotic matter-of-fact prose style.

    All of this is background info for why I was in the market for a more "typable" mobile device this year.  I initially considered something like the Surface Pro 3, or a similar convertible tablet type thing, but decided that $800 (or even $500) was far too much money to spend on something that I would essentially only use for one two-week trip every year.  So I was pretty excited when a couple of months ago I stumbled across an article touting the upcoming release of the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard.  I just bought one last week (see picture above), and can definitely understand why the black model is in short supply.

    First, the product basics.  It is a Bluetooth keyboard that folds up for easy transportability.  It has a supposed battery life of 3 months (it comes with a USB charging cable), and supports paring with up to 3 different Android, iOS, or Windows devices.

    As for my thoughts after playing with it for a few minutes...  I like it a lot.  Well enough to post about it.  One thing that I was initially concerned about was the 3 device support - the device switch has 3 positions, one each for Android, iOS, and Windows.  So I figured that if I wanted to switch between pairing it with my phone and my tablet, which both run Android, I would have to redo the pairing process while keeping the device selection on Android.  Well, it turns out that the keyboard will pair with Android devices even when on a non-Android switch position - I accidentally tested this out with my Android tablet and the Windows switch position.  The downside is that you lose the OS-specific functions (which are a really nice feature) when you mismatch, but most things still work great.  And I guess it's a little confusing to have to remember that the Windows position is actually for the Android phone/tablet, but you would have to remember the pairings with a generic 1/2/3 switch anyway.

    The other minor "complaint" I have is that the keyboard is pretty cramped.  This obviously makes sense when you consider that mobility is one of the goals, but I did find myself making quite a few typing mistakes the first couple of minutes while using the keyboard.  I got used to it pretty quickly, though, and my error rate began approaching normal.

    Overall, I'm really glad Microsoft released this product.  The compact design is great for traveling, and typing isn't too terrible on it.  And I love the multi-OS support.  This should hopefully improve the quality of next year's trip's travelogue.  While this keyboard doesn't end poverty or bring about world peace or anything like that, I feel that it is an excellent product that is worth the $80 and my recommendation if quality mobile typing is a use case that you have.

    Thursday, October 16, 2014

    Sharon Van Etten @ The Luminary (10/15/14)

    Someone gave Sharon a rose during the encore.
    She hung it on her capo while she played the last song.

    I'll forgo my usual (as of late) review structure for this one, as I don't have too much to say.  This show was focused purely on the music - there were no fancy lights or other stage bling at all.  It's a bit unusual for a national act, even in such a small venue, but it works for her.  The music itself didn't blow me away (not that I expected it to), but it was still a good show.  It was understandably heavy on the latest album, which is a bit hit or miss for me.  One stand-out new song performance was "Your Love is Killing Me"; and in general I liked it when they turned up the volume (so to speak).  And Sharon has some cutesy and adorable mannerisms that kinda make me want to be her friend.

    As for Tiny Ruins, I only caught their last couple of songs.  I don't think they're really for me, but (like Sharon) their singer seemed to have a great voice.

    Rating: 4.0/5

    Sunday, August 10, 2014

    Brazil 2014 pictures and travelogue finally posted

    Better late than never, right?  I finally got around to organizing all my (and Raj's) pictures and editing my travelogue from my trip to Brazil 1.5 months ago.

    The travelogue, organized by day (with pictures for each), can be found here (in reverse order, sorry): http://excursions.obezma.com/search/label/Brazil%202014

    If you only want to see pictures, my favorites can be found here:

    Lastly, for a bit of amusement...  While I was uploading my selection of Raj's pictures, Google+ prompted me to tag some faces in the set of pictures.  I found the screen presented pretty funny, due to all the various faces that I made in the pictures:

    Wednesday, July 16, 2014

    Hundred Waters @ The Luminary (7/15/2014)

    • I saw half of one song by Golden Curls, so I can't comment on them much.
    • Mas Ysa was an interesting happening.  He's one of those button-pusher/knob-twister types, though he also sings.  When he first started out I was pretty sure I was going to hate him, but some of his stuff turned out to not be so bad.  The parts that sound like real music with a beat are sometimes interesting.  But, unfortunately, it comes across to me as music for people with ADD, or ADHD, or whatever they call it these days.
    • At first glance it didn't look like Hundred Waters' stage set-up offered much, as there were no crazy lights or anything - not that one would expect much at such a small venue.  But they made amazing use of a fog machine and (what looked like) two projectors that they set up on either side of the stage.  They basically created videos that projected as if they were an expensive light set-up, almost looking like lasers at times.  I tried to capture this in a couple of photos, but they didn't come out too well (blame my Nexus 4, which takes crappy low-light pics).
    • Basically, this was a band that I had only heard of 5 days ago (from Pitchfork's Best New Albums list).  Before even getting through my first listen of the album I knew that it would be one of my favorites of the year.  And then while buying tickets for Sharon Van Etten in October I happened to find out that they were in town in 4 days.  I debated whether to go to the show since I barely knew the band, but then decided to go only if tickets were still available at the door.  And I'm very glad that I went.  The music was pretty great and the projector light show was fantastic.  Their rating is probably a bit inflated for being such a pleasant surprise and exceeding my low-ish expectations, but their show was definitely a good time.
    Rating: 4.5/5

    Sunday, May 18, 2014

    Mogwai @ Wooly's (5/17/2014)

    • Don't know, don't care - some electro dude that wasn't very good.  Only caught the last bit.
    • Opened with first track off the new record, and then spanned most, if not all, of their albums as far as I could tell.  With instrumental music like theirs it's hard to pin down names of songs and where they're from.
    • For a relatively small club, they brought more lights that I expected.  But I guess this band has been around for a while.
    • The most unexpected thing for me was how freaking loud they were.  It didn't help that I was pretty close to the speaker on the right side of the stage.
      • I liked just about every "song" they played, even the ones I didn't know (or wasn't quite sure if I knew).  The glaring exception to that was the last one, which seemed like a lot of loud noise followed by a lot of quiet followed by a lot of loud noise.
      Rating: 4.4/5

      Tuesday, April 08, 2014

      Phantogram @ The Pageant (4/8/2014)

      • Teen.  I missed them.
      • All of the "hits" and my faves were thrown in there, except for "Bloody Palms".
      • A few songs didn't really work well for me live; or at least they didn't sound much like the studio version.  These were generally songs that I wasn't a huge fan of anyway.
      • In general, I liked the performances of the songs that I liked from the albums.  The others were hit or miss.
      • I don't now why, but I liked how neat and uncluttered the stage was.
      • They had some very bright lights that nearly burned out my retinas on a couple of songs when they happened to be shining pretty much directly into my eyeballs.
      • They apparently now tour with 2 additional members, for a total of 4 - one on drums, and another on synth/guitar/effects.
        • Not really a low-light, but the really cool bass part on the chorus of "Howling at the Moon" was missing (or inaudible) in their live performance; although that part just about makes the song for me, it was still a good live rendition.
        Rating: 4.2/5

        Monday, January 06, 2014

        Top Albums of 2013

        I think my 2013 edition of top albums is another good one.  This year saw an uptick in the number of very strong hip hop albums, as well as a continuation of my tendency toward electronica.  Alt/indie rock is also represented by a couple of prominent selections.  You can compare this to 2012, or 2011.

        A new feature this year: the album name link is to a YouTube video of my favorite (or one of my favorite) song on the album.  I have also embedded a playlist of all the videos at the bottom of this post.

        Top 10
        1. James Blake - Overgrown
        2. Sigur Rós - Kveikur
        3. Local Natives - Hummingbird
        4. Kid Cudi - Indicud
        5. A$AP Rocky - LONG.LIVE.A$AP
        6. Beacon - The Ways We Separate
        7. The Range - Nonfiction
        8. Jay-Z - Magna Carta...Holy Grail
        9. Tricky - False Idols
        10. Snowden - No One In Control

        Best of the rest...
        11. Foals - Holy Fire
        12. Until the Ribbon Breaks - A Taste of Silver (EP)
        13. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name
        14. Nosaj Thing - Home
        15. Atoms for Peace - Amok
        16. Son Lux - Lanterns
        17. Natasha Kmeto - Crisis
        18. Bonobo - The North Borders
        19. Moby - Innocents
        20. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
        21. Black Milk - No Poison No Paradise
        22. Buke and Gase - General Dome
        23. Weekend - Jinx
        24. Junip - Junip
        25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito
        26. Sleigh Bells - Bitter Rivals
        27. The Besnard Lakes - Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
        28. Washed Out - Paracosm
        29. The Naked and Famous - In Rolling Waves
        30. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
        31. Gauntlet Hair - Stills
        32. Phoenix - Bankrupt!
        33. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
        34. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork