The Core Dump The Core Dump is the online home of Nic Lindh, a Swedish-American man living in the Sonoran desert. 2018-03-21T13:40:56-07:00 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. Smell the Foam Finger Nic Lindh 2018-03-11T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/dodgers-stadium.jpg" /></p> <p><i>Dodgers Stadium. Photo: Tom Denne</i></p> <p>I’ve started a second podcast. If you know me personally, the topic will shock you: Sports! And not just sports, but American sports.</p> <p>I obviously don’t know anything about American sports, so I enlisted a friend to help out with the knowledge. Meet my co-host: <a href="">Tom Denne</a>.</p> <p>The impetus for <a href="">Smell the Foam Finger</a> is that I’m a systems thinker, meaning I have a compulsive need to understand how things work. And sports make up such a large part of the fabric of American society, a part I understand next to nothing about. So I wanted to learn more. And Tom sure loves talking about sport. Boy, does he ever.</p> <p>So let’s kill two birds with one stone! I’ll learn about American sports and others who also want to understand more about it can follow along on the ride.</p> <p>I do realize there’s probably about three American nerds who want to go on this journey, but the cunning plan/hope is that sports-interested people from outside the U.S. would like to understand the sports they are exposed to in American movies and TV. Hopefully those people will enjoy being provided a greater understanding of the American sports scene.</p> <p>If you listen and think to yourself, “Is it even possible that Nic is that ignorant of sports?” the answer is yes. Yes, I am that ignorant.</p> <p><a href="">But hey, I’m trying.</a></p> <p><a href="">Join us on this journey of self-improvement</a>, why don’t you?</p> Book roundup, part 25 Nic Lindh 2018-03-03T00:00:00-07:00 <h2 id="non-fiction">Non-fiction</h2> <h3 id="fantasyland-by-kurt-andersen-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">Fantasyland, by Kurt Andersen</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Fantasyland</em> is a history of the United States that attempts to unravel how America became the sort of nation that elects a person like Trump to its highest office.</p> <p>It starts at America’s humble beginnings as a 1600s scam convincing British people to move to a Virginia claimed to be littered with gold. Yes, the first British immigrants weren’t religious people seeking to create their own utopia, but suckers in a gold scam.</p> <p>But the religious people followed and set vigorously about building their utopias.</p> <p>Andersen places a lot of weight in America’s Protestant roots, and how Protestant faith is centered on finding your own relationship with God—there are no authorities who can tell you you are wrong.</p> <p>But Protestantism started in Germany, you say? So why didn’t the same ferocity of religion happen there? Andersen thinks a lot of the reason is that German culture already existed, along with deep Catholic roots, which tempered Protestantism a bit.</p> <p>From there on, <em>Fantasyland</em> takes us through America’s centuries of fervent <em>belief</em>, both religious and non-religious, and a cavalcade of hucksters, grifters, and showmen.</p> <p>Until we arrive in the 1960s, which, Andersen—who lived through them himself—argues, triggered the anti-reality tendencies that are flowering now.</p> <p><em>Fantasyland</em> is very interesting and does a lot of heavy lifting to connect the wilder pieces of America’s psyche over time with where we are today.</p> <p>It’s also quite long and exhaustive and, frankly, depressing.</p> <p>But if you’re interested in where America is today and not satisfied with interviews with blue-collar people in rustic diners in Iowa, it is highly recommended.</p> <h3 id="the-miracle-of-dunkirk-the-true-story-of-operation-dynamo-by-walter-lord-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">The Miracle of Dunkirk: The True Story of Operation Dynamo, by Walter Lord</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Dunkirk</em>, the movie was fabulous—I really enjoyed it. And it made me want to learn more about Operation Dynamo. So I picked up <em>The Miracle of Dunkirk</em>.</p> <p>Both the movie and the book do a great job of illustrating the utter, complete chaos in which Operation Dynamo took place.</p> <p>If you enjoyed the movie or if you’re interested in general about World War II, I highly recommend <em>The Miracle of Dunkirk</em>. If you’re at all like me you’ll read this book and then watch the film again and understand the film a lot better. You will also appreciate the film more, as it does an amazing job of hinting at the real events and using them as dramatic backdrop without hitting you over the head with them.</p> <p>The importance of the Miracle of Dunkirk for the rest of World War II and thus for the fate of the world simply can’t be overstated. If the Germans had managed to eradicate the British Expeditionary Force, Britain would have stood defenseless.</p> <blockquote> <p>Britain could replace the 2,472 lost guns, the 63,879 abandoned vehicles; but the 224,686 rescued troops were irreplaceable. In the summer of 1940 they were the only trained troops Britain had left. Later, they would be the nucleus of the great Allied armies that won back the Continent.</p> </blockquote> <p>For the Miracle to happen, the Germans had to go out of their way to fail, the weather had to hold, and British civilians in unheard-of numbers had to take their vessels to sea against the might of the Luftwaffe, German submarines, and the German guns surrounding Dunkirk, shelling the port and the sea.</p> <p>Operation Dynamo really shouldn’t have succeded.</p> <p>When it comes to the Germans, we can lay the blame on Göring and Hitler—Göring feared the tank units that had driven the Expeditionary Force and its French allies to the sea would get too much credit and thus too much status in the endless internecine battles that plagued Hitler’s inner circle, so he convinced Hitler the Luftwaffe could finish the job and the tanks should be pulled back.</p> <p>Amazing.</p> <p>And the weather:</p> <blockquote> <p>The English Channel is usually rough, rarely behaves for very long. Yet a calm sea was essential to the evacuation, and during the nine days of Dunkirk the Channel was a millpond. Old-timers still say they have never seen it so smooth.</p> </blockquote> <p>Amid all the stories of heartache, bravery and suffering that fill the book, there are also brilliant nuggets like this:</p> <blockquote> <p>McCorquodale was one of those throwbacks to a glorious earlier age in British military history. Gleaming with polished brass and leather, he scorned the new battle dress. “I don’t mind dying for my country,” he declared, “but I’m not going to die dressed like a third-rate chauffeur.”</p> </blockquote> <p>If by some chance you haven’t seen <em>Dunkirk</em> the movie, I highly recommend reading this book before you do. Reading the book and then watching the movie again will really open up the movie for you.</p> <p>Highly recommended.</p> <h3 id="das-reich-by-max-hastings-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">Das Reich, by Max Hastings</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>As you’d expect from Hastings, <em>Das Reich</em> is a clear and lucid tome. It covers the horrific massacre committed in the village of Oradour by the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich on its way to repel the Allied invaders at Normandy, but also puts the behavior of the SS in the context of the war.</p> <p>Which is not to say that the book in any way shape or form excuses the atrocity, but simply elucidates why the Das Reich acted the way they did.</p> <p>Part of the answer lies in the sociopathic and brutal culture of the SS as a whole:</p> <blockquote> <p>The aspect of their conditioning that is most relevant to this story is the extraordinary respect with which they had been imbued for the virtues of strength, of ruthless dedication to the task in hand, and the equally extraordinary indifference to the claims of the weak and the innocent. All their virtues were reserved for others within their closed society. They possessed neither charity nor mercy for any who were not deemed to have deserved it by their own code.</p> </blockquote> <p>Another reason—not excuse—was that the Das Reich had just been recalled from the hell that was the Russian Front, where war was total and merciless:</p> <blockquote> <p>They abandoned shaving for weeks on end to protect their skin, forgot mail from home, for it never came, grew accustomed to seeing their own ranks shattered in battle, rebuilt and shattered once again until their old units were unrecognizable. Casualties provoked meteoric promotions to fill the gaps. Heinrich Wulf found himself commanding a battalion reduced to a tenth of its establishment, yet when he himself left Russia, only one in ten of those men was left. ‘Our only concern was not to be captured,’ he said.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>[…]</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>The West came to seem almost a dream world. To the men of the Das Reich who emerged from the East in 1944, the rich fields and vineyards of south-west France brought them back to the glorious, happy memories of 1940. Yet they found that much had changed. Those who served there in 1940–1 had found most of the French people astonishingly relaxed and friendly. They now discovered that in public civilians addressed them coldly, or not at all. There was less to eat. The terrorist threat meant that it was impossible for vehicles or men to travel alone outside city centres. Even in Toulouse, the officers’ messes and the Soldatenheim were faced with wire mesh against grenade attack.</p> </blockquote> <p>To add to the frustration, German High Command decided to use this elite armored regiment to suppress French Resistance activity—a task for which tanks are ill-equipped—instead of helping repel the Allied invasion.</p> <p><em>Das Reich</em> also spends a lot of time explaining the setup and situation of the maquis, its different factions, and how the British and Americans made half-hearted efforts to arm and train the maquis.</p> <p>In the end, despite great risk, great effort, and horrific losses, the maquis only managed to delay the movement of Das Reich toward the beaches by a few days—though crucial days they were—and most of their efforts were in vain. Except, as Hastings makes sure to explain, the real victory of the maquis was to help the French self-image:</p> <blockquote> <p>Much more than this, much more than the number of days that the maquis delayed the Das Reich, every man and woman who played his part and survived was exalted by the experience even through the terrible layer of pain. The great contribution of Resistance – that which justified all that SOE did and made worthwhile the sacrifice of all those who died – was towards the restoration of the soul of France.</p> </blockquote> <h3 id="the-undoing-project-by-michael-lewis-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis</a> ★★☆☆☆</h3> <p>The topics of <em>The Undoing Project</em>, the behavioral economics work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, their shattering of the economic theory foundation of the rational customer, both their incredible life stories, their intense friendship, their lives during World War II and then in an Israel at war, are great and very, very important.</p> <p>But the book is a slog.</p> <p>Perhaps it felt like a slog since Michael Lewis has made his career writing punchy, breezy books about difficult topics and has proven again and again he can boil the topics down to their most human essentials. Perhaps it’s this, that it feels so different from his other works, that makes it so disappointing.</p> <p>However it may be, Kahneman and Tversky’s contributions to our understanding of the fallibilities of the human brain are fascinating.</p> <p>Kahneman and Tversky’s lives were fascinating.</p> <p>The tensions of Israel’s co-existence with Arab nations in the Middle East after World War II is interesting.</p> <p>But <em>The Undoing Project</em> is still, disappointingly, a slog. This is the first Lewis book I had to power through. It feels like he’s in love with too many topics and has a bit of a problem deciding where to cut, so he includes everything.</p> <h3 id="waiting-for-the-punch-by-marc-maron-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">Waiting for the Punch, by Marc Maron</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Waiting for the Punch</em> is a compilation of best moments from Maron’s successful podcast <em><a href="">WTF</a></em> in written form together with new words to introduce the sections written by Maron.</p> <p>It’s great. Parts are harrowing, some are sad, some are laugh-out-loud funny. Having these great moments from what is probably the most intimate and vulnerable show in the world collected thematically is powerful.</p> <p>If you’re a fan of <em>WTF</em>, getting the bone broth version is a strong experience, and if you’re not a listener, this is a good introduction.</p> <p>For me, personally, this kind of material is not something I want to listen to, but would rather read, so <em>Waiting for the Punch</em> provides a great entry into the best of the show.</p> <p>And if I were to get all <em>WTF</em> on it, perhaps wanting to read instead of listen to all the hours of audio says something about how I want a layer of separation between myself and the human voices, or perhaps it shows my neurotic fixation with time management, or perhaps it just shows I like to read.</p> <p>Who can tell? But it is a great, powerful read with lots of grit.</p> <h3 id="vacationland-by-john-hodgman-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">Vacationland, by John Hodgman</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p>Hodgman made a nice career for himself being an offbeat tweedy goofball who manufactures lies. The media climate in 2017 being what it was, he decided to stop lying and start telling the truth. And his truth is a wonderful place, a warm bath to slip into.</p> <p>As he himself calls out in the book, Hodgman performs “white privilege comedy,” and it doesn’t get much more white privilege than having not one but two summer homes, one in Maine and one in Massachusetts and worrying a lot about being, as the people up there say, “from away.”</p> <p>Which is not a criticism. <em>Vacationland</em> is gentle and warm, a tonic for these troubled times, and while not laugh-out-loud funny, very much droll.</p> <p>I enjoyed my time in Hodgman’s brain a lot.</p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="points-of-impact-by-marko-kloos-"><a href=";tag=thecoredump-20">Points of Impact, by Marko Kloos</a> ★★★★☆</h3> <p><em>Points of Impact</em> is the 6th novel in the Frontlines series, which it continues with aplomb.</p> <p>Obviously, being the 6th in a series, it’s not the place to start, but if you’re already a fan of the series wondering if you should pick this one up: Yes, you should.</p> <p>It moves briskly along with some good battle sequences and some character growth for our protagonist Grayson, who, in his 10th year of war and with most people from his past dead, is starting to suffer from PTSD and Weltschmerz.</p> <p>My one frustration with <em>Points of Impact</em> is that it still feels a bit stuck in neutral. Sure, lots of things happen, but the main storyline needs to start progressing; we need to learn more about the Lankies.</p> <p>I’m hoping the next installment kicks in the afterburners.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.</p> The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread Nic Lindh 2018-02-03T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.</p> </blockquote> <p>― Anatole France</p> A report from surveillance cylinder land as we wait for HomePod Nic Lindh 2018-01-27T00:00:00-07:00 <p>Whether it’s from long-standing Star Trek-fandom or general sci-fi nerdiness, I’ve been very excited about the possibilities of voice computing since the release of the Amazon Echo.</p> <p>Being able to talk to air and have things happen is pretty close to magical.</p> <p>Being a huge nerd, once I had an Echo surveillance cylinder in my house I very excitedly changed the wake word to “computer,” so I could get that whole Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise vibe going.</p> <p>But then I had to change it back to “Alexa” since I listen to a lot of nerd podcasts that use the word “computer” way too often. So that was sad for me.</p> <p>Pout.</p> <p>My home has both an Echo and a Google Home, since I’m interested enough in voice control to try out both contenders for the throne.</p> <p>I’m happy to report that after over a year of daily usage, I can strongly recommend, well, either.</p> <p>Really, they’re both fine and it comes pretty much down to the ecosystem you want to romp around in.</p> <p>Want to buy things from Amazon? The Echo it is. Use Google services a lot? Google Home it is.</p> <h3 id="a-note-on-surveillance">A note on surveillance</h3> <p>I’m cavalierly dumping the cylinders into the category “surveillance cylinders.” Because in order to do what you ask of them, they have to listen to you at all times.</p> <p>But they are not massively privacy-invading, at least according to how Google and Amazon explain the functionality.</p> <p>Basically, they sit around and listen to everything going on around them, but only wake up when they hear the wake word. At that point, they’ll light up to indicate they are active and will then send your voice commands to servers somewhere on the Internet for parsing.</p> <p>Amazon and Google do, however, keep logs of everything you’ve asked your cylinder, and that log is tied to your account.</p> <p>This is yet another area where Apple’s stance on privacy becomes important: Apple doesn’t want to sell you laundry detergent or serve you ads, so the company doesn’t need to keep individual data. Instead, the commands you give HomePod are anonymized and aggregated.</p> <p>And all the cylinders have manual off switches on the microphones so you can be sure they’re not listening.</p> <p>Although at some point you have to decide whether you trust the companies. It simply boils down to that.</p> <h3 id="my-actual-usage">My actual usage</h3> <p>The more important question is, after enough time of having surveillance cylinders in my life that the novelty wore off, what did I end up using the cylinders for?</p> <p>Here’s a rundown.</p> <h3 id="morning-briefing">Morning briefing</h3> <p>It’s great to be able to set up the information you want to get while getting ready for the day—it feels very go-go CEO-ish.</p> <p>When it comes to the morning briefing, the Echo gets the nod as it includes a custom daily message, often one where Amazon tests out new features of Alexa’s voice. It also contains some of the most egregious dad jokes you’ve ever been subjected to. If you have a strong tolerance for hideous puns, it’s fun.</p> <p>Google Home is strictly business. No dad jokes from the hive mind. And it has a super annoying bug where it refuses to include the daily commute in the morning briefing. It’s maddening. I’ve done everything, including re-setting up the device, but it refuses to include the commute in the briefing. It’ll tell me if I ask for it specifically, but in the briefing? Nope. Good job, global AI company.</p> <h3 id="podcast-and-music-listening">Podcast and music listening</h3> <p>I listen to a lot of podcasts, and it’s great to connect my phone via Bluetooth and have them spooled up.</p> <p>Which brings us to audio quality. Both Echo and Google Home are terrible speakers. <em>Terrible</em>. Which makes sense because physics—they’re simply physically too small to move a lot of air. They’re fine for spoken word, but an atrocity when it comes to music.</p> <p>Some people do use them as audio sources since it’s so easy to speak to the air and have music appear. Which is indeed glorious.</p> <p>Here’s the straight scoop: If you’re the kind of person who is satisfied with the audio quality of Google Home or Echo, you are not even in the neighborhood of being an audiophile.</p> <p>Which should make you happy, and especially should make your wallet very happy. Good audio is stupidly expensive, so if you are happy with listening to your music through a tiny cylinder, good for you! Do something else with your money!</p> <p>Audiophilia is a very, oh so very, expensive condition to maintain. It isn’t treatable, it can only be maintained, and the cost is literally “how much do you have?” You have a million dollars? Great, buy a sound system for a million dollars. You have $2,000? Great, buy a sound system for $2,000.</p> <p>If you have the money, you can spend it on audio. And then you can argue with other audiophiles on forums and declare them all boorish philistines.</p> <p>Fun.</p> <p>In the world of normal human beings trying to get through their time on Earth, the $349 Apple is asking for HomePod is a serious amount of money. In the world of audiophilia, it’s what you pay for <em>a cable</em>.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> I haven’t heard the Google Home Max, so can’t make comment on its audio quality, but from the reviews it seems at minimum decent.</p> <p>Still, you can connect either cylinder to your good stereo and listen through it, which gives you the best of both worlds.</p> <p><a href="">Sonos</a> was the first company on the scene with mesh-based whole-home audio. And it was glorious. I think. Cause I couldn’t even contemplate dropping that much money on disposable audio equipment.</p> <p>But the concept was great—play music in sync all over your home and control it from one location.</p> <p>Apart from the money, what kept me away from Sonos was that I really loathe having my speakers tied to technology. Speakers are something you keep for a lifetime, or until somebody cranks the stereo too much at a glorious, drunken party and blows the tweeters. But Sonos were quite expensive (for non-audiophiles) speakers <em>that are worthless if the company goes out of business</em>. Yes, if Sonos goes out of business, your expensive speaker system becomes landfill.</p> <p>Hmmm. That doesn’t seem great.</p> <p>I’m obviously not against disposable electronics, what with all the phones, tablets and other electronic detritus I’ve cast away over the years. But <em>speakers</em>—it just seems wrong. They should last forever.</p> <p>Which is why I’m fine with surveillance cylinders that sound crappy. Least they can be connected to good speakers and you can have the magic of calling up music from the air and also have audio quality as good as you’re willing to spend.</p> <p>On that topic, if you’re not independently wealthy and looking for things to blow your money on, but a normal person who would like decent sound, I really like the <a href="">ELAC B6 speakers</a>. <a href="">My full review here</a>.</p> <p>And Sonos has competition these days: Google is throwing its weight behind its Cast technology, which works really well and provides good audio quality, provided you hook up the little Cast pucks to decent sound systems.</p> <p>And Amazon has introduced multi-room audio to the Echo line. You can buy cheap Echo Dots, hook them up to your amplifiers around the house, and boom, budget Sonos.</p> <p>Both Chromecast and Echo multi-room are nice in that you use regular audio equipment and augment it with electronic pucks. Once the pucks are upgraded or obsolete, just replace them, but keep the core of your audio system, the expensive part.</p> <p>But if you’re an iPhone user, Chromecast can be cumbersome and lacks support from many apps, especially Apple Music. Since of course Apple wants to push its competing technology, AirPlay.</p> <p>It’s annoying to have these these technology wars, but it’s still a young market, so just part of the landscape, I suppose. Still, Grrr.</p> <p>It’s bad when mommy and daddy are fighting and all you can do is hide under your bed.</p> <h3 id="home-control">Home control</h3> <p>I’ve resisted the temptation to go hog wild with home automation, since that’s another market still in its infancy with competing, incompatible standards. To dip my toes, I purchased a <a href="">Samsung Smart Home Kit</a>, which is compatible with both Echo and Google Home. If you want to roll up your sleeves it’s also <a href="">compatible, sort of, with Apple’s HomeKit</a>.</p> <p>Home Hub is pretty nice and Samsung is continuing to improve it, but yes, early days it is.</p> <p>Nascent as this market still is, telling your cylinder to turn lights on and off is nonetheless delightfully Star Trek.</p> <p>But you have to make sure whatever gear you buy is supported by your surveillance cylinder and that the manufacturer is committed to updating the gear as the cylinders advance.</p> <p>Home automation is one of those fields that just resists convergence with all its might. My theory is that it’s so, so nerd heavy that the people involved simply can’t see beyond technology into usability. But that’s just a theory I will fill your head with any chance I get.</p> <h3 id="enter-homepod">Enter HomePod</h3> <p>And soon Apple’s mysteriously delayed <a href="">HomePod</a> will be upon us.</p> <p>I’d really like to know what the delay was all about and why Apple choose to unveil it as early as June 2017. But that’s neither here nor there.</p> <p>Expectations are low for HomePod. Low, low, low. There’s the delay, the fact that AirPlay 2 (which will make it into a Sonos competitor) is delayed to an unspecified date after the speaker itself is released, and of course the cost of $349.</p> <p>Early impressions from people in the nerdosphere who have heard the things in person say that they indeed sound very good, surprisingly good for the sound and price, but we’ll see once they land.</p> <p>Add to the concerns that Siri’s reputation is <em>not good</em>. As some wit said on Twitter, using Siri is like being mugged by RoboCop.</p> <p>For a company that claims to have “music in our DNA,” HiFi audio has been the reef Apple keeps floundering on for a long time.</p> <p>The company’s previous attempts in the HiFi market have tried to find some mystical not-audiophile who has money and who hasn’t bought a ridiculously expensive sound system but who nevertheless likes music enough to spend significant money on the Apple product.</p> <p>This particular unicorn has so far stayed hidden in the forest.</p> <p>We’ll see if HomePod will be the virgin that attracts it.</p> <p><em>Narrator:</em> It won’t.</p> <p>HomePod is a midrange HiFi speaker with surveillance cylinder capabilities in a world of cheap cylinders hooked up to good HiFi systems, people who are happy with the sound of the cheap cylinders, and Sonos whole-home audio systems.</p> <p>It’s an odd product. It’s also an extremely Apple-y product, in that Apple has wanted to create a mass-market HiFi product since forever.</p> <p>And strangely enough, I, personally, feel good about it. I want one of these things.</p> <h3 id="conclusion">Conclusion</h3> <p>Should you buy a surveillance cylinder? As stated up top, I’m bullish on the concept of voice computing—actually, I’m bullish as heck on the whole concept of ambient computing, where technology moves into our surroundings and augments our reality, but that’s another post.</p> <p>If you have the $50 or so to spend on a mini-puck, I recommend it. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun.</p> <p>Pick the ecosystem you want to be a part of and go to town!</p> <p>“Tea, Earl Grey, hot!”</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> Some links in this post are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something from them I get a tiny kickback, which is greatly appreciated.</p> It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them Nic Lindh 2018-01-20T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>It is not necessary to understand things in order to argue about them.</p> </blockquote> <p>—Pierre Beaumarchais</p> iPhone X impressions Nic Lindh 2017-12-30T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/iphonex.jpg" /></p> <p>Yes, this is the best iPhone ever made. Of course, every iPhone, as Apple loves to remind us during the unveiling, is the best iPhone ever made. How could it not be? Faster processor, better camera, better screen, etc.</p> <p>But iPhone X is fundamentally different. Ditching the home button is a <em>massive</em> change to how you interact with the device. Swiping from the bottom of the screen and unlocking with FaceID sounds like a detail, but it is not—it’s a fundamental change to the soul of the experience. More than ever, it feels like you’re interacting directly with a ghost in a machine.</p> <p>Side note: This is probably part of Apple’s somewhat pathological loathing of physical buttons and ports. Anything on a touch device you can do by touching the screen itself is a little bit closer to the platonic ideal of the device, while buttons and ports are grudging allowances to physical realities. Realities that are to be hunted down and destroyed whenever possible.</p> <p>I feel pretty confident on a late-night tea jag Jony Ive scratched open a vein with a perfect pencil and wrote that phrase or something like it on a wall in the design studio in his own blood, calligraphing the San Francisco font perfectly.</p> <p>But enough fan fic.</p> <p>Of course, iPhone X is not perfect. Nothing man-made is. But it’s a major leap toward that platonic ideal.</p> <p>For the record, I moved to iPhone X from iPhone 7, so just one generation. (Unless you want to enter Apple’s space-time continuum and count iPhone 8 as a generation immediately superseded by iPhone X within a month. But that’s a bit silly, isn’t it?)</p> <p>The first thing to notice about iPhone X while setting it up is the screen. That OLED display <em>still</em> looks fake to me sometimes. It just doesn’t seem a screen can look that good. Really. That screen is jaw-dropping even if you’re just coming from a phone one generation away.</p> <p>It’s like the first time setting up a Kindle, when I thought the e-ink screen was a sticker on the screen—a screen just shouldn’t be able to look that good.</p> <p>But like with Kindle, iPhone X’s screen really does look that good. It’s incredible.</p> <p>The device itself feels hefty. Not heavy, but substantial, and it is just a touch too large to be comfortable one-handed. Not as ungainly as the Plus models, but just, just too large. (And I say this a large peasant-man with beefy hands.)</p> <p>So what about the dreaded notch? Meh. You stop seeing it very quickly.</p> <p>Obviously it would be better if it wasn’t there, but apart from marring the platonic ideal, in actual usage your brain filters it out quick.</p> <p>Though as somebody who uses a VPN quite a lot, it’s annoying that the notch can’t display your VPN status continuously; it just reminds you of the VPN right when it connects on the right side of the notch, and from there on it’s up to you to check the status yourself.</p> <p>Annoying, but I’m probably an outlier in even using a VPN.</p> <p>The home bar—a.k.a. home indicator, a.k.a. blotch thingy, a.k.a. grabby thing—is your visual cue to, hey, dummy, swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go back home.</p> <p>It’s a very useful visual reminder for the first few days of using a home button-less device about what you have to do to escape from an app, and a clever idea in general. The kind of thing that reminds you that very smart people who care a lot built this thing.</p> <p>But after a few days it becomes visual clutter. It would be nice to have a switch in the settings to remove it, but that probably won’t happen for a while. Patience, grasshopper: Apple will not remove it or allow it to be removed until they feel sure the removal won’t overwhelm the elves at AppleCare.</p> <p>In the meantime, your brain gets good at filtering it out as well.</p> <p>It is interesting, though, those first few days when years and years of habits have to be broken—it’s a bit panicky at first to not have the comfort of the home button there. <em>Oh, no, what do I do?</em></p> <p>And even though Apple gets a somewhat deserved amount of shit for their “courage” in removing things, making a radical change like removing the home button must have caused more than a few sleepless nights for the <a href="">denizens of the space ship</a>.</p> <p>They didn’t have to do that. Nobody was telling them to do that. But they did it. And it was the right decision.</p> <p>For me, FaceID has worked mostly flawlessly. The only—very slight—annoyance is that I have to hold the phone just slightly higher than my body’s default for FaceID to recognize me. And I’m starting to hold it higher, inch by inch, without really thinking about it.</p> <p>FaceID is smart. FaceID is always learning. At first it had difficulty with my face without glasses, but a couple of password entries later, it got that. Then it had a problem with the wreck that is my face when I first roll out of bed in the morning, but same story, a few password entries later and all good. Always learning.</p> <p>The battery life is spectacular, at least comparable to battery life on the Plus size models. I haven’t done any specific benchmarking, but it feels like a Plus and I never feel battery anxiety.</p> <p>The battery life is greatly aided by QI charging. QI charging is magic. Spend some money on little pucks to litter around your home and office and now you can just drop the phone on them whenever you’re not using it and the phone sits there and charges.</p> <p>It’s a lot like remote controls for TVs, which—since I am as old as the seas—I used to scoff at when they first showed up back in the day. What kind of loser can’t get their lazy ass off the couch to change the channel, I yelled at the sky. What kind of decadent bastard <em>wants this</em> I yelled, shaking my fist at the sky.</p> <p>Turns out I did, as did everybody who ever got their mitts on one.</p> <p>It’s obviously not a hardship in any meaningful way to stick a cable into your phone to charge it—it’s preposterous to pretend otherwise. But QI charging is just that tiny little bit less frictionless, that little bit more sci-fi.</p> <p>And yes, I know Android had it first. Thank you for the reminder.</p> <p>I’m not about to switch platforms and ecosystems and find app replacements and purchasing my apps again just to be able to lay my phone upon a puck, no matter how magical it is.</p> <p>Still, pretty freaking neat.</p> <p>Here’s where we talk about how Apple gets me every year: Better cameras. Before the keynote, I am steady in my resolve. I do not need to update. The phone I currently have is great. I shall not be swayed and keep giving them all my money.</p> <p>Apple, during keynote: “New iPhone has a much better camera.”</p> <p>Me: “Dammit, I need that.”</p> <p>And iPhone X has fantastic cameras. So much better than previous generations. As is, amazingly, par for the course.</p> <p>The last thing, which is a smaller thing and not a reason to upgrade by itself, at least for me, is that Apple keeps defying physics with the speakers. Every generation they get a little bit better and louder. Physics being physics, they’re not what anybody would call objectively <em>good</em> but they are indeed better and louder.</p> <p>They’re not good enough that I’m not going to go Bluetooth to a speaker to listen to podcasts in the morning, but they are getting there. In an incredibly small physical package.</p> <p>This is why iPhone X feels so substantial—even if the most of the weight is battery, you know there’s so much technology brought back from the edge in there, it’s touching, in a weird way.</p> <p>The amount of software engineering, materials science, and manufacturing prowess evidenced by iPhone X—and the other flagship phones from other manufacturers—is almost humbling. We, as a species, can build this. Or, we can argue about whose holy text is the correct one and murder the ones we don’t agree with.</p> <p>I like Apple’s focus.</p> <p>If you’re a technology enthusiast, iPhone X will make you very happy indeed.</p> <p>If you’re a normal human, you can wait and spend the money on something else that makes your life better, knowing this kind of technology is coming to us all as time marches on.</p> <p>It really did take courage to release something like this and break with so many traditions. So kudos, Apple.</p> The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it Nic Lindh 2017-12-28T00:00:00-07:00 <blockquote> <p>The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.</p> </blockquote> <p>—Sir Terry Pratchett</p> Smart homes for the wealthy Nic Lindh 2017-12-17T00:00:00-07:00 <p>We had a contractor at the house a few days ago to do some maintenance. Because it turns out houses fall apart as they age and you have to keep pouring money into them—who could have guessed?</p> <p>But anyway, the contractor noticed my Google Home in the kitchen and talked about how he’s been installing smart switches for his clients for several years now.</p> <p>After our house he was going to another client with a much, much more expensive home to install Malibu lights and a sprinkler system. Instead of installing the timer systems that comes with the sprinklers and the lights he was going to install smart switches and show the clients how to use them with their voice and their phones.</p> <p>This is probably a “duh” thing for a lot of people, but I know that if I was a contractor I’d dread the tech support calls I’d get for something like that. He said he never gets a call—his clients love the smart switches.</p> <p>His decision also makes a ton of sense if you’ve ever had to program a sprinkler system or Malibu lights with the timers that come with the systems. Those timers are—I can only assume, based on the amount of swearing I did myself setting them up when we first bought our house—designed by engineers who actively and enthusiastically loathe humanity, progress, and beauty.</p> <p>Don’t believe me? Here, have a cold beverage and <a href="">enjoy some instructions</a>.</p> <p>What surprised me about our contractor’s faith in smart devices is that as far as I’m concerned we’ve been so achingly close for so long for this kind of devices becoming acceptable for the masses.</p> <p>They’re not there yet since we still have competing standards, not just with Echo, Google Home, and HomeKit, but also competing wireless standards on the backend. Oh, it gets complicated, boy does it ever get complicated.</p> <p>So it was interesting to get a report from the frontlines saying we’re at that stage in the technology cycle now where rich people are passively getting set up with voice controlled devices and are happy with them.</p> <p>Or contented, at least. And if you have spent any kind of time providing services to the kind of people who own multi-million-dollar homes, you know that they are not the kind of people who are shy or timid about expressing their displeasure. Which means the kind of smart devices this contractor is installing are huge successes with his clients.</p> <p>Which means the smart devices are close to ready for mass consumption. The installation just needs to get easier so you don’t need a contractor to install the things and help you get up to speed.</p> <p>And of course the prices need to drop significantly.</p> <p>Smart homes are close now. Closer and closer.</p> <p>And yes, I know that anecdote is not the singular of data, but what he said jives with everything else I’m seeing.</p> Book roundup, part 24 Nic Lindh 2017-11-27T00:00:00-07:00 <h2 id="non-fiction">Non-fiction</h2> <h3 id="retribution-the-battle-for-japan-1944-45-by-max-hastings-"><a href="">Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, by Max Hastings</a> ★★★★★</h3> <p>Just like all of Hastings’s other World War II histories, <em>Retribution</em> is utterly masterful. It covers the horrors of the last year of the conflict in great detail, weaving together the different strains of events into a master narrative, and paints an indelible picture of the madness of Japanese culture at the time, the perversion of <em><a href="">Bushido</a></em> into virulent, nihilistic fascism.</p> <p>Hastings also makes a strong case for how the events of World War II in the Pacific laid the intellectual framework for how America was to engage in its future wars:</p> <blockquote> <p>The outcome of the Pacific conflict persuaded some Americans that they could win wars at relatively small human cost, by the application of their country’s boundless technological ingenuity and industrial resources. The lesson appeared to be that, if the US possessed bases from which its warships and aircraft could strike at the land of an enemy, victories could be gained by the expenditure of mere treasure, and relatively little blood. Only in the course of succeeding decades did it become plain that Japan was a foe uniquely vulnerable to American naval and air power projection. Some modern US historians assert that the pursuit of decisive victory is central to the American way of war. If true, this renders their country chronically vulnerable to disappointment. The 1950-53 Korean conflict proved only the first of many demonstrations that the comprehensive triumph achieved by the US in the Second World War was a freak of history, representing no norm. Modern experience suggests that never again will overwhelming military, naval and air power suffice to fulfil American purposes abroad as effectively as it did in the Pacific war. Limited wars offer notable opportunities to belligerents of limited means. Only total war enabled a liberal democracy to exploit weapons of mass destruction.</p> </blockquote> <p>He also provides a strong case for how the release of atomic weapons over two Japanese cities did not by itself avert the necessity of an Allied invasion of the Japanese home islands, but rather that they were the logical escalation of the ongoing American terror bombings that, together with the naval blockade, already had the Empire on the verge of collapse.</p> <p>(“Olympic” was the code name for the Allied invasion of Japan.)</p> <blockquote> <p>The Japanese continued to delude themselves that they had time to talk, time to probe and haggle with each other and with the Allies. They believed that their ability to extract a huge blood price from their enemy before succumbing represented a formidable bargaining chip. Instead, of course, this helped to undo them. It seems irrelevant to debate the merits of rival guesstimates for Olympic’s US casualties—63,000, 193,000, a million. What was not in doubt was that invading Japan would involve a large loss of American lives, which nobody wished to accept. Blockade and fire-bombing had already created conditions in which invasion would probably be unnecessary.</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>[…]</p> </blockquote> <blockquote> <p>The dropping of the bombs did not represent, as Truman and others later claimed, a direct alternative to a costly US invasion of Japan. The people disastrously influenced by the prospect of Olympic were not Americans, but the Japanese, whom it persuaded to continue the war.</p> </blockquote> <p>Other historians disagree, of course.</p> <p>If you’re interested in history, and especially if you’re interested in World War II, Hastings is your guy. Brilliant.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> <em>Retribution</em> is titled <em>Nemesis</em> in some markets.</p> <h3 id="boomerang-travels-in-the-new-third-world-by-michael-lewis-"><a href="">Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>After the economic collapse of 2008, Michael Lewis decided to travel to world hotspots of the aftermath of the collapse to see how they were faring, including Greece, Iceland, and Ireland.</p> <p>Lewis is, of course, a master storyteller and has a wonderful knack for finding interesting characters to illustrate his points.</p> <p>In <em>Boomerang</em> the Greek monks who became real estate magnates and a colorful Irish protestor stand out as larger-than-life yet still believable characters, but the book is full of them.</p> <p>Personally, I decided to read <em>Boomerang</em> thinking it’s almost been ten years since the crash and I was emotionally ready to relive it. I was wrong.</p> <p>Reading the aftermath of a bunch of sociopathics making themselves millionaires on the backs of the rest of the world still makes me fume, and probably always will.</p> <p><em>Deep breaths.</em></p> <h2 id="fiction">Fiction</h2> <h3 id="the-collapsing-empire-by-john-scalzi-"><a href="">The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>Just like <em><a href="">Old Man’s War</a></em>, <em>The Collapsing Empire</em> is grand, fun space opera in the tradition of Heinlein. John Scalzi, of course, is the current master of that tradition, having mastered the interplay between grand sci-fi ideas, character building, and goofiness, all coupled with deceptively simple prose that doesn’t call attention to itself.</p> <p><em>The Collapsing Empire</em> is the beginning of a new series and as such it has to spend a fair amount of time and energy on world building, but with that caveat out of the way, it still doesn’t reach the heights of <em>Old Man’s War</em>.</p> <p>The problem, at least for me, is that the world just isn’t as invigorating as the one in <em>Old Man’s War</em>.</p> <p>But it’s a good start to a new series and just plain fun. Hoping it hits its groove in the next installment.</p> <p>If you’re a fan of Scalzi’s other works or fun space opera in general, you can’t go wrong with <em>The Collapsing Empire</em>.</p> <h3 id="all-systems-red-by-martha-wells-"><a href="">All Systems Red, by Martha Wells</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>This is a fun medium-future sci-fi novella about an android that is rented out for security duties in corporate space exploration.</p> <p>However, this particular android has a broken “governor module” meaning that it can make its own decisions.</p> <p>It also refers to itself as “Murderbot.” (Cue dun-dun-DUN sound.)</p> <p><em>All Systems Red</em> is a quick, fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a little space opera and a little cyberpunk with a sprinkling of noir.</p> <p>I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.</p> <h3 id="ninefox-gambit-by-yoon-ha-lee-"><a href="">Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee</a> ★★★☆☆</h3> <p>The first installment in the <em>Machineries of Empire</em> series, <em>Ninefox Gambit</em> is trippy and weird far-future space opera.</p> <p>The main thing to know about this novel is that you will have a very hard time understanding what is going on, but at the same time it is beautifully written and ultimately worth it to understand the opaque setting.</p> <p>But you need to be tolerant of confusion and having strange and sometimes disturbing ideas thrown at you.</p> <p><em>Ninefox Gambit</em> is weird, yo. If you’re up for putting on your thinking cap, it’s a very interesting read, loaded with Grand Ideas.</p> <p><strong>Note:</strong> The links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase through them I get a tiny kickback, which motivates me to keep writing these reviews. It’s appreciated.</p> Review: Bosch TV series Nic Lindh 2017-10-04T00:00:00-07:00 <p><img src="/images/bosch-review.jpg" /></p> <p><em>Bosh</em> is a TV series on Amazon Video, included with Amazon Prime, based on the novels by Michael Connelly.</p> <p>I’ve been a fan and reader of the novels since they first started appearing, way back in the halcyon days of 1992, so I was excited when the news broke of the TV serialization.</p> <p>If you’re not familiar with the novels, they are gritty police procedurals that follow detective Hieronymous “Harry” Bosch as he deals with gruesome murders, even more gruesome police department politics, the press, and his own psychological dysfunctions.</p> <p>And yes, he’s named after the <a href="">painter of grotesque hellscapes</a>. Which is fitting.</p> <p>In my opinion it’s one of the great detective series, up there with Ian Rankin’s inspector Rebus. Both series do a great job of following a character through time, having their circumstances change, and having the events they live through affect their personalities.</p> <p>Thumbs up to both series.</p> <p>If you’re new, you should most definitely start at the beginning, which for Bosch is <a href=""><em>The Black Echo</em></a> and for Rebus is <a href="">Knots and Crosses</a>.</p> <p>(<em>Knots and Crosses</em> actually isn’t all that good, but it is the beginning of a series which gets way, way better after that and damn it we have to have rules or we’re just animals.)</p> <p>Personally, though, I think Connelly’s <a href=""><em>Lincoln Lawyer</em></a> series is sharper than the Bosch series. Those might be fighting words in some circles, but Connelly started the <em>Lincoln Lawyer</em> series at the height of his powers after he’d worked out his (few) kinks with Bosch so they’re more spare and focused.</p> <p>But this is about Bosch. One of the great police procedural thriller series and one that uses Los Angeles almost as a character. Los Angeles in all its grit and sun-blasted weirdness.</p> <p>And since 2015 it’s a TV series.</p> <p>As of this writing, there are three seasons to the series, which instead of going novel-by-novel uses several novels per season, banging them together, tweaking and updating them for today.</p> <p>In the novels, Bosch is a Vietnam veteran, but TV series Bosch is a middle-aged man today, so he’s made into a Gulf War I veteran turned cop. (It’s necessary to keep his military background since it formed his personality so much.) In the novels Bosch was a “tunnel rat”—the soldiers who went into the Viet Cong underground fortifications to fight and die alone in the darkness, while TV Bosch was, wait for it, <em>sigh</em>, special forces.</p> <p><em>Why? Why always special forces?</em> There are other soldiers.</p> <p>But be that as it may, the series is updated for today including the age and background of Bosch.</p> <p>So how is it?</p> <p>First off, the cinematography is great. The series uses Los Angeles as a character just like the novels do and a lot of it is gorgeous. If you happen to have a 4K TV with HDR support, <em>Bosch</em> will show you why you spent all that money on your black slab.</p> <p>The acting is also good straight through—weary detectives, sleazy politicians and sweaty perps, everybody digs in and seems to have a good time working.</p> <p>The first season has some interesting development of supporting characters, especially Bosch’s partner and Bosch’s boss, who both foreshadow plot points of interesting lives.</p> <p>Unfortunately, that gets a bit lost in seasons two and three, both of which feel a bit uncertain—the pacing gets ratcheted up with Bosch dealing with a murder, and another murder, and a court case, and his daughter, and office politics, and on and on, in a frenetic pace.</p> <p>It feels—at least to me, and I could certainly be wrong; this is just a feeling—like the writers didn’t feel sure the source material was strong enough, so the show had to become faster, more amped up.</p> <p>The pacing and supporting character development were great in the first season. It felt a lot like a British crime procedural. Seasons two and three feel more American.</p> <p>This is not a compliment—most American crime procedurals are dreck as far as I’m concerned. Looking at you, <em>CSI: WhateverleastIgotpaid</em>.</p> <p>That being said, it’s still good. I wouldn’t have watched it all the way through if it wasn’t. At its best it’s riveting, with some great plot points and turn-arounds.</p> <p>The biggest problem with the series is Bosch himself. <a href="">Titus Welliver</a> plays the title character and he does do a good job of it. But he’s terribly miscast.</p> <p>Bosch in the novels is a live wire—a damaged individual who oozes menace and physical violence. At least the way I read them, he’s also an imposing, physical man. Welliver is not.</p> <p>He tries to make up for it with a three-cups-of-espresso intensity that might work if you haven’t read the novels. But if you have, it’s just not the same thing.</p> <p>Somebody like Swedish actor <a href="">Mikael Persbrandt</a> from the <em>Beck</em> series or, if he hadn’t passed away, <a href="">James Gandolfini</a> of <em>The Sopranos</em> would have brought that sheer physical menace to the role.</p> <p>This is what keeps the series from being really great and from embodying the feeling of the novels, that sense that Bosch is on the edge of <em>hurting someone</em> all the time.</p> <p>Nevertheless, what we do have is pretty good. If you’re into police procedurals, <em>Bosch</em> is well worth watching.</p> <p>But, screamed the old fogey, the books were better!</p>