Is iPhone X the Real Deal?

iPhone X

Engadget had a nice spreadsheet comparing the specs of the iPhone X with other flagship smartphones. I have translated this into pros and cons to help me think through whether this will be my next phone.

iPhone X Pros

  • It is the most compact of the flagship phones, but competes in screen size. Apple has lagged in this area for many years compared to Android and now they take the lead.
  • Battery life. Android phones may start out well, like my Pixel, but are notorious for getting worse as they age. The iPhone typically is as good years later as the day one buys it.
  • Camera. DxOMark recently ousted the Pixel as the smartphone with the best image quality. The new holder of that distinction is the iPhone 8 Plus. There is no reason to think the iPhone X would have a worse camera than the 8. Also, Androids lack the portrait mode that blurs the background and suits the iPhone to artistic use. UPDATE (10/03/2017): The Galaxy Note 8 has tied the iPhone 8 Plus DxOMark score of 94.
  • Video. The ability to shoot 1080p at 240 fps means you can do action scenes in super smooth slow motion. Of course, it also shoots 4K.
  • Screen quality. The True Tone Apple display is one of the best on any device for viewing photographs.
  • Integration with the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS+LTE. For me having a watch that shares my phone’s number so I don’t always need to carry my phone is awesome. This and the battery longevity are the two factors most likely to cause me to switch back to an iPhone.
  • Aesthetics. The new flagship Android phones are long and skinny giving them a goofy look. This phone is pretty enough to lay on a wireless charger on the same desk as my iMac.
  • According to leaks of Google’s upcoming flagship, the iPhone X is priced competitively with the Pixel 2 XL. After a year, my Pixel battery seems to be shot. It doesn’t make it through the workday. I had the same issue with my Galaxy Note 4 before that. The new Note 8 is $60 less. So, yes, $50 or $60 more for a phone that doesn’t crap out in a year seems pretty reasonable to me.

iPhone X Cons (not that the iPhone is an ex-con)

  • The pixel density lags the competition. However, it is still extremely good and the difference to the eye will be barely detectable if at all.
  • There is no external storage. Because this is a phone that will last, I would spring for the 256 gb memory. Even if you don’t need it today, you will in a couple of years. 4k video takes up a lot of space.
  • It is only IP67, which is splash proof. Many Android phones are IP68, which can be taken swimming. Previous iPhones have survived submersion when tested by reviewers, but who wants to gamble with a $1149 phone? If it were waterproof, the iPhone X would be safe from obsolescence for years. I suspect in the next couple of years they will move to IP68.
  • The ability to integrate Google services like Google Maps, Assistant, Calendar, Voice, etc. is clunky and these services are in general superior to those provided by Apple.
  • While the iPhone works with some VR headsets, it doesn’t work with a universal controller. (Some app developers sell controllers for their apps.) This reduces the amount of interaction one can have in VR. This is also where the lesser pixel density will be most apparent.

TBD

  • We don’t yet know the amount of RAM. Apple has traditionally lagged behind Android in this area, but their integrated engineering has allowed them to still perform multi-tasking very smoothly.
  • Face ID has not been proven in the field, but Apple seldom introduces half-baked technology, especially when it relates to security. But then again there was Apple maps.

The Elephant in Your Face

  • At this point, the jury of tech reviewers is pretty unanimous in their condemnation of that ugly notch that disrupts the beautiful edge-to-edge screen.
  • The main issue to me is that the notch covers part of panoramic pictures. I’m guessing an iOS update will eventually fix that, though. At least a quick tap shrinks videos so that they aren’t covered.
  • We’ll see whether it becomes one of those niggling little annoyances that somehow manages to rob us of the joy of ownership.

Going for it?

  • Mark October 27, 2017 on your calendar. That’s the date on which we can pre-order, if we decide the pros outweigh the cons. Keep in mind that there are reportedly supply chain issues that will cause the iPhone X to sell out quickly. Is an iPhone X in your future?
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Fake Media – Watching the Death of Journalism

I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite, the Huntley-Brinkley Report, and later the reporters who broke the Watergate story, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. It may offend our modern sense that crowdsourcing is always better than curated, but I appreciated what journalists did back then. There was a sense of duty to the public. Find the stories that people ought to know about and share them in their order of relevance. Journalists took the initiative to look beneath the surface and uncover information the public needed to hear about. The Associated Press and United Press International fed stories into the newsroom from around the world, presenting the facts on the ground. Each news group selected from those stories and/or the stories of their own journalists and decided what deserved air time, space on the frontpage, or inclusion in the magazine. Consumers of the news would select the news outlet that best reflected the way their own values would prioritize the news.

Maybe their choices of what was and wasn’t newsworthy were questionable. Were they right to hide Roosevelt’s disability from view or Kennedy’s affairs? But I think their stories were selected on the fairly noble basis of what was in the public’s interest to know.
Now, let’s compare and contrast that with the ways in which we receive our news today. For purposes of convenience let’s break those sources into three categories: mainstream media, Fox “news”, and social media.

Mainstream or the established media has often descended from the news media giants of yesteryear. Examples would include ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. Fox “news” was truly a complete break from historic outlets. Riffing off of the success of CNN, Fox “news” was a cable network with a mission to support purveyors of conservatism at any cost – even when it meant hiding parts of a story, ignoring a story, or, on occasion, manufacturing a story. Finally, we have social media like Facebook and Twitter. Social media quickly evolved from where we find out from our friends what they are doing that day to a disintermediated source of news.

In my years of development, there was a sense that television news was for the common person and newspapers were for the thinking person. Today, influencers read and watch the news as well as consuming propaganda from those who share their own established perspectives. These influencers then flood social media with disintermediated news which the common person uses as their primary means of news gathering.

Let’s break this down a little further. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to speak in broad strokes and there will be some generalizations.
First let’s look more deeply at the mainstream news outlets. Once bastions of investigative journalism and authoritative news, ABC, CBS, and NBC have wandered far from their roots. A half hour news broadcast has about 22 minutes of content. Approximately half of that content will be the kind of news stories that their predecessors would have recognized as news. The other half is a combination of public service announcements (like changes in the recommended age a man should begin to have his PSA checked) and fluff pieces. This part of the news looks strangely like what you found on YouTube Trending the week before – often they are exactly the same.

The mainstream outlets that once curated news with apparent concern for the public good has been supplanted. Modern media curates the news on what will increase their number of viewers – particularly in the younger demographic most attractive to advertisers. To accomplish this, mainstream news relies on three primary tools: fear mongering, sensationalism, and warm fuzzies. News is only a ruse and not at the core of their mission.

As you watch the evening news tonight, as each story ends ask yourself which of the three categories did it fit into. How many were purely useful information?

The good news about mainstream media is that they take the facts seriously. If you don’t believe me, ask Dan Rather or Brian Jennings. They might use the facts to scare you or sensationalize how important they are, but they do work with facts. When President Trump refers to media that doesn’t represent his alt-right base as ‘fake media’ it is usually this group that he is targeting. Despite his plethora of tweets and leading rallies in chants, he has never mentioned an instance in which the mainstream media got a fact wrong. There was the mistaken removal of the King bust and smaller number of the Patriots at the White House stories, but both of those were promptly corrected by their outlets.

But the duty of the fourth estate goes well past fact checking and garnering high Nielson ratings. They are the ‘fourth estate’ because they are to be the watch dogs over the activities of the three branches of our government and to call to our attention any of their abuses of the democratic process. Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation into Watergate is a prime example of journalism as the fourth estate protecting democracy. Murrey Marder of the Washington Post investigated McCarthy’s claim that Army personnel in New Jersey were involved in espionage and showed that his claims were false. Seymour Hersch uncovered the My Lai massacre. These are just a few high profile examples of how courageous and committed journalists provided the public with information that they would not otherwise have had and which strengthened our democracy. Note that it wasn’t until well after the Republican primaries were over that journalists began to do their job of looking into Donald Trump’s crooked business dealings, bankruptcies and alleged sexual assaults. Journalists still haven’t determined the extent of Trump’s financial entanglements with Russian financiers. A cynical person might think that the media wanted to stretch his candidacy out for as long as possible because Trump was good for ratings (advertising revenue).

I have presented traditional journalism and mainstream journalism as being different entirely. It would be more accurate to say that the preponderance of emphasis has changed from providing useful information to the electorate to baiting viewers for their advertisers. The New York Times estimates that then-candidate Trump received 2 billion dollars worth of free media coverage in comparison to other candidates. Trump brought eyeballs to advertisers. He didn’t do it by discussing policy that informed voters, but by fostering fear, sensationalizing facts, and channeling a latent anger among those in the electorate who felt otherwise neglected. By the equal-time-for-each-candidate mindset of yesteryear, it is highly doubtful he would be president today. FCC rules allow a disproportionate amount of time to be given to only one candidate if it is done in the context of an interview. Clearly, giving one voice disproportionate exposure in an election is not fair. It represents a breakdown of the role of the press as envisioned in the First Amendment. It is my opinion that mainstream media is not fake news in the sense of disseminating false information. They are fake news because they have deteriorated to the point of being little more than an infomercial disguised as a news broadcast.
I do want to mention that some newspapers, like the New York Times and Washington Post appear to be continuing many of the virtues of traditional journalism. But we are in an age where the discussion among journalists is whether newspapers are on the verge of extinction. Fortunately, the President’s criticism of the media, and the New York Times in particular, appears to have given the real newspapers a whiff of new life.

Now, let’s look at what has been until recently the leading cable news network, Fox News. Until Trump starting abusing CNN, Fox News often outperformed both CNN and MSNBC combined. But by so publicly subjecting his critics to churlish ridicule, President Trump has fed them the viewers they needed to stage a comeback of sorts. Of course, the news that Fox has paid several women who alleged sexual abuse and harassment millions of dollars in settlements hasn’t helped their popularity. Nor, has the news that Fox hid these liabilities from their investors.

Fox News invented the ill-mannered-host-shouting-over-his-guests-with-neck-veins-popping genre. They leave out facts that don’t support their alt-right agenda. For example, in reporting the story of Jimmy Kimmel’s baby’s health issues, they omitted the part where he made a plea for affordable health care. They make up false news, like Judge Napolitano’s claim that Obama was wiretapping Trump. When those fake news stories are shown to be fake, there is no news correction. According to PuditFact, CNN has the fewest false or mostly false statements of the cable news networks followed by MSNBC, which is more of an opinion network than a news network. They claim that a full 60% of Fox News “news” is either wrong or mostly false.

So, the question must be asked, if Fox News tells more lies than facts, why is it so popular? I think the answer lies in what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’. There is a psychological stress that occurs when our beliefs are challenged by our perceptions. If we bought a car and then read in Consumer Reports that the model we bought has reliability issues or depreciates rapidly we experience stress. It is only human to avoid pain. If we are far left, we don’t want to watch Fox News because their perspective is inconsistent with our beliefs. If we are alt-right, we don’t want to watch CNN for the same reason. The alt-right view is based on gender, race, religious, and cultural bias. Bias is hard to sustain when presented with facts. Facts cause bigots pain. Where can they go for reassurance that their anger and hate is justified? The “news” on Fox News fills the bill.

Now, let’s make no mistake about it. There are more than a few bigots in the United States. The fight for justice made great progress. But we have also backed the devil into the corner. Jesus describes Satan as a Deceiver, Killer, and a Destroyer. Those ignoble aspects of our nature that are fed by the Breitbarts and Fox News of the world have yet to inflict the last of their devilish damage.

Donald Trump sees the more accurate media outlets as a threat to his America, because facts stress him and his followers out. Truth will not lie down with hate. As our judiciary and legislative branches have drawn his attacks for limiting his power, it is no surprise that he has so vigorously opposed the truth-tellers. Based on his tweets, it would appear that he spends many of his non-golfing hours glued to Fox News and reading Breitbart.

I encourage all of us to expose ourselves to cognitive dissonance as much as we can stand it. It is important to understand how others think and how they feel. Whether it was Nazis convincing working people that their problem was the success of Jews or Republicans convincing working people that their problems were due to minorities, immigrants or treaties, it comes back in large part to feelings. From the time Adam pointed the finger at Eve who pointed her finger at the serpent, humans have only improved at passing blame. It is always easier to pass the blame to someone else – even when it isn’t their fault. We have a psychological need for a concrete place to place blame that isn’t us. Like cognitive dissonance, self-blame or grasping for a cause for misfortune is psychologically stressful. Oh, look, there is someone who is a different gender, color, religion, or culture. How handy. It’s their fault.

The alt-right is enabled by the misinformation that dodges cognitive dissonance and blame shifting that feeds bigotry. Fox News isn’t going anywhere. They will be lying and hating until Jesus returns. It concerns me how many Christians are feeding the devil with a swift click of their remote.

UPDATE 2017-05-14 13:20: I should repeat that these are generalizations. Even Fox News has people like Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith, who exhibit journalistic integrity.

Both mainstream media and Fox have moved dramatically away from serving the public to pandering to the public. A major contributor to that trend has been social media. As a college student, I had access to the AP wire as part of my journalism class on copy editing. As a soldier working in intelligence, I had access to classified information. In both cases, I found it intoxicating to have such unfettered access to what was going on in the world. In fact, that was one of the hardest parts about leaving the Army. One of the reasons frequently cited for the addictive nature of social media is the fear of missing out (FOMO). If there is an uprising in Turkey or Egypt it is not surprising that we first hear of it directly from the people involved by Twitter or Facebook. No need to wait for tomorrow’s paper or even the broadcast news. Just open the Twitter app while you walk to your next meeting. I have friends with varied interests who obsessively vomit links to the stories they find interesting into their Facebook feeds. People who use social media can feel that they “know enough” about what is going on from what they see in their social media feeds. Websites quickly learned that the best way to get people to click on those links was to have topics and headlines that have come to be known as clickbait. “Woman dies after opening the trunk in her grandmother’s attic. Find out why.”

Mainstream media and Fox both felt the pressure from social media’s immediacy, lack of scruples in generating clickbait, and appeal to the lowest common denominator among the public. The new normal in news is largely driven by this.

How do you make money as a “news” agency in three easy steps?
1. Compete with the immediacy of social media by reporting stories before you have confirmed your sources or understand what is happening. What is important is to be first. We’ll worry about being right later, but only if we get caught.
2. Compete with the internet’s clickbait stories by either re-sharing them or sensationalizing the ones you already had.
3. Appeal to the lowest common denominator by turning away from investigative journalism and enabling the avoidance of cognitive dissonance and blame shifting. Tell them everything they want to hear and help target some scapegoat with hate and fear.

This three-pronged approach will work whether your organization targets the alt-right or far left. It is very flexible. Of course, democracy loses when journalism takes this approach because it depends on an informed electorate. But, hey, when was the last time democracy put money in your pocket?

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Another Pillar Falls – the Senate

United States Constitution Page 1 (Wikipedia)

There are times when I think that perhaps I am witnessing the end of the American epoch. Riding to victory on the shoulders of our country’s white, less educated, males (Pew Research), Trump has ushered in a typhoon of chaos that is wiping away the weakened vestiges of the pillars of our forefathers’ democratic experiment. In my lifetime, the groups that once defined the fringe of each political party has become “the base”. And the base of the two parties has moved increasingly further apart (The Rise of Partisanship).

Although our current president has usurped the adage, “America First”, he apparently means for ‘America’ only to apply to those who would serve to further his political power and the value of his business. This hyper-partisan approach to governing is the natural evolution of the changes in our political landscape.

Last week, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed by the Senate. Let’s look at how that came to pass as a case study in the current state of U.S. government. Senate rules state that Senators can speak on a pending decision for as long as they wish. It requires a three-fifths vote of the Senate in order to bring that debate to a close. Using that right in order to obstruct progress toward a vote, is what is known as a ‘filibuster’. Like many of our traditions, including the electoral college, these rules were designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority. The requirement for 60 votes meant that members of the majority party were under pressure to garner support from the minority party before a bill would be federal law or a candidate would become a federal judge or ambassador. Unlike the House of Representatives, the Senate, with its longer terms, was to be less partisan and to give greater weight to the good of the country than the Senator would give to her own state’s constituency. The greater number and more frequent elections of the Representatives was designed for each of them to give greater care to the interests of their relatively tiny districts. No one was to be forgotten or lack representation, but in the end the nation’s greater good was to outweigh the interests of any individual or tiny district.

The Constitution is wise and beautiful in this regard. The realization of its promise has never been complete and the degree of realization has been more or less substantial in different periods of history. I have to wonder if its fabric has been stressed to this extent at at any time since the end of the Civil War.

How did a highly qualified nonpartisan judge, come to be the breaking point for the Senate’s rule designed to encourage the Senators to reach across the aisle? Was it Chuck Shumer’s abuse of the filibuster? Was it the Mitch McConnell’s refusal to work with colleagues across the aisle?

There can be some debate about what constitutes a filibuster. Just because a Senator talks, it doesn’t mean that they are trying to delay a vote. One suggested metric is that a filibuster is defined as talking long enough that there is a motion for cloture. From 1967 until now the Congressional Research Service noted 86 motions for cloture on debate about judicial nominees. 50 of those 86 occurred before Obama. Another way to look at this is that there were 36 justices before Obama who were subjected to filibuster. If you do the math, that means that some of them had votes for cloture more than once. During Obama’s term, the exact same number of nominees, 36,  were filibustered.

At this point it becomes clear that, under President Obama, Senate Republicans used the filibuster at a feverish pace. Perhaps they appropriated the strategy from Shumer who had used the filibuster against President Bush’s nominees. In 2013, Shumer became so fed up with Republican filibusters of judicial nominations that he changed the rule with regard to non-SCOTUS judicial nominations so that the motion for cloture would only require a simple majority. It should also be noted that the Republican-led Senate refused to even hold hearings for President Obama’s last nominee for SCOTUS. Arguably, this was the greatest dereliction of the Senate’s constitutional duties. Article II, Section 2 states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court”.

As partisanship in America worsened, the filibuster became more common. Before 1967, there was no record of one having occurred. As beautiful as our constitution may be it does not appear to have been composed with the possibility that those governing would be so polarized that they would abrogate the role of the Senate to be a voice of nonpartisan considered advice and consent of the President’s judicial nominees. But McConnell and Shumer have managed to drag that once proud institution to this historic low point to appease their respective, and polar opposite, fringe party “bases”.

One hopes that our electorate will awaken and realize that the American political process, based on the wisdom of our constitution, is not a reality TV show. It is not a wrestling match in which our little group struggles to wrest what we want out of the hands of our fellow countrymen for personal gain. It is the process by which a balance should be struck between the will of the many and the rights of the few.

America will never be great as long as we insist on excluding those with a different view from our definition of America. I have a dream that we will again see a day where cooperation across the party aisle is not equated with collaborating with the enemy.

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Those Who Cannot Remember

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” ~ George Santayana

Have we so quickly forgotten the mistakes of our past that we now wish to return to our old ways of bigotry and hatred and call them “great”? This recidivist tendency must be resisted. Ava DuVernay communicates this lesson in a visceral way.

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followshows improvements

There are a lot of shows on TV these days. It has reached the point that we need a way of keeping track of which was the last episode we watched of each TV show we follow. I previously wrote about followshows.com, but they’ve made a significant improvement since then.

The first feature I didn’t cover in the previous post is that when you hover the mouse over an episode that has already aired, links to different services appear. Simply click on that link and you will go to the service and the specific episode you wanted. This is a huge time saver. When you’re done, go back to followshows, hover over the episode, and click the button to mark it as watched.

That’s cool, but what you can do with the followshows app is awesome. In the menu, go to Tracker. At the top of the queue is the episode you probably want to watch next. Touch that episode or scroll to the one you are in the mood for and touch it. Again the buttons appear. Touch a button, for example the ‘Free’ beside CBS. It will take you to that app and open it to the specific episode you want to watch. Tap the Cast button (usually in the upper right corner) to cast the show to your Chromecast and now you’re streaming that episode to the TV. When you’re done, go back to followshows and mark the episode as watched. This is revolutionary for cord cutters. You’re welcome.


Acknowledgements
To sign up for this free service go to followshows.com

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