29 December 2017

Batting for Apples

I have a Playstation Vita and I swear that after one particular upgrade to its firmware, my battery life got cut in half. I thought it was just my imagination or finally taking notice of how long I'd had the thing. However, I found a few other users on forums reporting the same issue, with one offering the possibility that the firmware has a new protocol for the Wi-Fi antenna. I don't have the exact post, but it was something about refreshing more often or using more power. If this sounds familiar, you've likely been following the news of Apple slowing down performance of older phones for the sake of preserving battery life (or not, depending on how you read the nuance of various conflicting statements). 

So, as an iPad user who uses an iPhone as a backup for my Android daily driver, here are my thoughts on Apple's whole battery "fiasco".

I don't care. 

I'm not going to go so far as to say #appledidnothingwrong because that's fueling a fire that nobody asked to have started. As far as big corporate deceptions go, this is small potatoes. When I was at T-Mobile, HTC had this "hybrid" style of smartphone (bit of a last hurrah before Android) with battery life so atrociously below specifications that they offered trade-ins for bigger battery packs. 

From my perspective, as someone who got to see the Google G1 phone in person months before any consumers got their hands on it, Apple's exclusivity deal with AT&T was a massive blunder on their part, but also the very definition of serendipity. I have no doubt we'd have gotten Android phones anyway, but that "power vacuum" created by Big Mama Bell had an undeniably immeasurable impact on the smartphone landscape. Smartphones were now for everyone, and everyone deserves as many options as possible for the consumer-based economy to work best. Some people like to tinker with what they buy, while others just want the damn thing to work as advertised. 

My point is, if you're just joining us, welcome to the wonderful world of how upgrades work for Apple fans. You trade customization for stability, and that stability means every few years you get a whole new machine. That sounds cynical, and even condescending, but it's really what Apple users have expected, asked for, and gotten in spades since the beginning. They want their creative productivity machines to be super easy to use and ready to roll right out of the box. In short, Best Buy's Geek Squad is an aftermarket version of Apple's entire business model. If you own a Mac, chances are the most work "under the hood/bonnet" work you've ever had to do with it is upgrade your RAM. Now, by a show of hands, who knows what RAM stands for? Don't be embarrassed if you don't know. As far as adventures in technology goes, RAM upgrades are like changing a diaper or your car's oil. It may not be intuitive or obvious, and can certainly seem daunting, but you can be walked through the whole process in about 2 or 3 steps. 

If you're an iPhone user, you're only holding onto your phone because A) it's still working fine for what you need and you probably don't use it enough to even notice the battery's gradual diminishing, B) you've upgraded and it's now a backup in case something goes wrong with your new one, or C) it's good enough as a hand-me-down or something to occupy a kid or other family member who only needs it for something specific. Speaking of specific needs for family members, check out Music and Memory if you've got a few old iPhones, iPods, or even iPads resting in drawers. 

In my admittedly limited experience with Apple's iPhone line, they're sort of like the original Star Trek or Batman films in that every other iteration seems to get things right. For example, the iPhone 2 was panned by critics for having a lackluster camera despite a high price tag (their Macbook Air had the same problem). Later, the iPhone 4 became a laughingstock because you literally couldn't hold it in your hands without interfering with its reception. The iPhone 6 gave us #bendgate, enough said. More recently, the iPhone 8... well, admittedly those swollen batteries were a rare occurrence possibly blown out of proportion, but they didn't address complaints about the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, so we'll count that as a missed opportunity. Jury's out on the X, though that facial recognition feature causes more problems than it ever solved. Not only can it be fooled by an embarrassingly crude mockup, but if you're under arrest, a cop can unlock your phone just by pointing it at you. It's a scary prospect. 

As for the odd-numbered lot, I can only really speak for the iPhone 5, which is damn near perfect. The most important feature was the variety of 5 models available. There was the standard 5 and the slightly nicer 5s, but then there was the 5c. Intended as an economy/budget-level device, I had a 5c and while it definitely felt like its price tag, it still felt way more solid than any similarly-priced Android phones, and the display alone ran circles around the competition. Later, after I'd finished having my laugh over the 6, I admit to getting genuinely excited for the iPhone 7. Sure, the headphone jack was nowhere to be seen, but they'd given us an awesome camera and finally, finally made it at least splash resistant. For comparison, my Xperia Z Ultra is about 3 years old and nearly every review you'll see from its launch has it getting dunked in a fish tank. It's a small gesture, but I'll take it. 

Building on the success of the 5, Apple made another smart move that may not quite fit the odd-numbered pattern, the SE. The phone has almost identical dimensions to the 5s, but with upgraded guts from the bendy 6. In terms of price, it's filling the same position as the 5c. Sadly, this is a model that's been listed as afflicted by the battery throttling. That said, I've had mine for a few months, and I haven't noticed it. Then again, I only have it as a backup for my Xperia, the same as my old 5c, which I'll be carting off to Music and Memory along with my old iPad Mini 3. I'm sure whoever gets them won't mind some less-than-stellar battery performance. 

27 December 2017

Even I Use MSPaint

I didn't have MSPaint growing up because mine was a Mac household. Plus, by the time I was drawing digitally, I had a wide array of apps to work with, but I've always had a respect for the use of a limited toolset in creating art. A professor of mine had a quote from Jean Cocteau on every syllabus of his, and I still love it. He said, "Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."
Similarly, I used to use a 3D modeling program called Strata Base. The company is still around, but the exact freeware program is long since retired. On its user gallery, someone commented on an image made with the software, "It's not the tools, it's the talent." I don't know of a concrete origin for that quote, but it's effectively saying the same thing as Cocteau
It shouldn't surprise anyone that many talented artists out there have done some incredible things with MSPaint, which in no small part helped keep it from the brink of extinction. Recently and thanks to Vox, I came upon an artist named Pat Hines, who shared some of his tips and tricks, including the use of gradients. Making gradients is actually easy, but it may not be obvious to users of more ample drawing applications. 
Zenbrush, my personal favorite drawing app despite the likes of Procreate and Autodesk Sketchbook residing on my tablets, has many similar qualities to MSPaint in terms of having a limited toolset, so this is a little bit of a handshake between these two gateways. 

18 December 2017

Sirens in the Old Mountain Town

Had a few entries kicking around in the drafts bin, but not really feeling it on most of them. Some are outdated, and others just turned into "out of my system" exercises that I was satisfied with once I had enough on screen. In any case, until I get those solidified, here's a new ambient soundscape to go along with a recent painting. 

01 December 2017

Twit Tweets About Tech

I call it "Addled Existentialism... With A Toolbar"
As much as I like to think of this site as a tech-blog, I also have to be realistic about a few matters. The most important of these is that I am not an early adopter, not as a rule. I'm of the opinion that nobody gets a product right on the first try. Unless you're resigned to buying the same product twice, it's best to wait until all the bugs are ironed out. Sure, I still have my first generation PSP, and while improvements were made since then, I still like mine, almost more than the Vita. The other matter of importance is that we've reached a point in product development, particularly on the software side of things, where this "extended beta" paradigm is not only acknowledged, but deserves to be nurtured. Yeah, day one patches are annoying, but at least they get patched to begin with. Yeah, it gives developers an easy out on the QA and deadline fronts, but it also opens them up to a wider spectrum of feedback they may not have had before. 

I was going to do a write-up of Fifty-Three's latest update to Paper, its native app meant to accompany their Pencil stylus. In the interest of full disclosure, I've been very impressed with the support I've received from Fifty-Three and I appreciate them going above and beyond the call of duty in resolving a small issue with connectivity I was having with a stylus I'd purchased over a year ago. I have genuinely used the Paper app in the workplace when discussing design challenges with coworkers. All that said, the Pencil is not my favorite stylus. It is the second, once tied with Adonit (who are now dead to me for reasons I'll get into another time), paling in comparison to the ever-versatile Sensu Brush. Obviously, that is not a fair comparison, but that's my point when I talk about the Paper app, and why I decided to take a different approach to discussing its recent overhaul. 

I am not the person this app was made for. 

Paper is not an art program. Their Twitter feed may have you believe otherwise, but this is not the primary, or even secondary, function of the app, talents of the users notwithstanding. Paper is a productivity app, and a very simplistic and accessible one to boot. It is Microsoft One Note for visual thinkers. It is Evernote for doodlers. It is Powerpoint/Keynote on the fly. It is Post-It Notes without the litter. It is a dry erase board without the noxious fumes and notable lack of portability, fume-induced out-of-body experiences notwithstanding. 

If apps were physical items you had to visit a brick-and-mortar store to purchase, Autodesk Sketchbook would be at Michael's and Paper would be at OfficeMax. However, apps are not physical items and there's generally only one store you get all of them from. Given that they're not physical items, some consumers view this as anti-them, taking away their precious ownership... that they didn't really have to begin with because that's a sales receipt and not a stock certificate. The point is that the law rightly treats digital media as physical ones as its ultimately a human (or team thereof) producing it on their own time and dime for others to use, but that doesn't mean they're used in the same manner, much less produced. If I bought a game on my Sega Genesis and it was a glitchy, slowdown-riddled mess that may have even had a level or two that were simply impossible compared to what came before, that was your lot. Now, 20-some years after the fact, the lead programmer for Sonic 3D Blast is revisiting his old game and updating it. It won't be available in physical form (yet), but any user with a PC running an even half-decent emulator will be able to play this game that once may have been charitably described as rough round the edges. While I only rented Blast back in the day, I'm honestly excited to see a game I thought was impressive get that extra little bit of polish it needed. Why throw something away when it can be fixed? 

After summarizing all this in a brief tweet, someone commented: 
Ok so I am not the only one. Did the same: 2 emails. I found huge productivity loss with Paper 4 due to regressions and bugs.
I'll give this guy the benefit of the doubt (i.e. anonymity) that he wasn't fully paying attention to the original tweet, namely the part where I specify that the gripes I have with Paper's 4th iteration are cosmetic. What may not have been so clear is that I consider these faults cosmetic because I was trying to view Paper as an art app rather than a productivity app. As for it being a productivity app, the blame-shifting here is hilarious. Sure, it utterly bites (bytes?) when a piece of tech essential to your job doesn't work, but holding up Paper on some kind of pedestal makes you look more than a little inept. There's a reason I still carry a Moleskine and a handful of pens in the same bag as my tablet. 

To put this in perspective, here's a funny-if-pitiful story about when I worked for T-Mobile in customer service. I once got a call from an especially irate customer who wanted 60,000USD. He wanted 60K from us as compensation because of a business deal that fell through. Said unspecified business deal fell through because a text message was delayed by an equally unspecified amount of time. I can't emphasize enough that his complaint was that the SMS text was delayed briefly. Unless you were an early adopter of the iPhone or you've never known a time when smartphones looked like the illegitimate offspring of a graphing calculator and a toy keyboard, you've probably experienced a text not showing up the instant the other guy hits send. 

What kind of business banks a five-figure deal on a text message? 

Seriously, you're either so financially secure and well-off that it's a risk you're as willing to take as you are to shrug off as small potatoes if it falls through, or you're so desperately incompetent you can't even make a call to confirm someone got your urgent, time-sensitive message on time.