Thursday, 28 July 2016

A Phone To End All Phones?

 OnePlus 3
You must have heard this one before, right? The Thing™ to end all things™. Talk about famous last words. Laughable, eh? There'll always be a better mouse trap. De gustibus and O, mores!

And you'd be right (reader is always right). But...

Let's talk about buts (not butts; of those maybe some other time).

Or rather, let's talk about shapes. Of things™.

Remember the good old telephone? Not the mobile variety and not necessarily the cordless one either. If you do, good. If you don't do a Google search and revel and marvel at the variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and all the other ways various models could be distinguished. Quite a few variations on the theme there, right? Right?

Now, cast your  mind's eye on how many different shapes "modern" mobile phones came in and - more importantly - come in today. Disregarding the antenna (or lack thereof), thickness, and the curvatures and I think we can agree what we have is essentially a brick shape.

Yes, some "bricks" are made thinner than the others - especially these days - but overall we seem to have now settled on a slate-with-one-side-covered-by-screen form factor.

And it is good. Don't get me wrong. Hard to improve upon even. Which is exactly the point I'm trying to make.

Therefore, I think we can agree that the phone to end all phones is, more likely than not, going to be brick-shaped. A slate if you want.

QED. For now.

Now, by this point you must have guessed (you readers, who are always right, are a clever bunch) where I'm going with this, trying to prove to you (even though you, being a clever bunch who is always right, certainly know better) that above pictured OnePlus 3 is, indeed, the phone to end all phones. And again you clever lot would be absolutely spot on. On the money, as it were.

But how does being brick-like help a phone be such a marvel? If you bear with me you may be enlightened (despite yourselves).

So, bear with me...

Being of perfect basic shape is, of course, not sufficient for world domination. So, let's introduce some limiting factors. Let's introduce some conditionality. Being a phone, our OnePlus 3 will have to be just the right size, proportions, and weight that it satisfies the largest number of its users. And it does, but how does it do it?

First, at 5.5" the screen is large enough to allow most things on it to be readable, legible and useful. It really does: do a side-by-side between 5", 5.5", and 6" screens and see for yourself. And now that you've done it (you did do it, right?) you also know that this size is also very good - if not perfect - for holding and using single-handedly. It also has just enough pixels for clear view, but at the same time not too much so that the battery lasts for fifteen minutes between recharges (I hear you shout "VR!" - I whisper back "get real").

Second, it's weight and thickness make it feel just right in hand. It's not too light. It's not too heavy. It doesn't have tendency to flip over the top of your hand (try a 6" variety). Yes, it may still wobble a bit placed on the desk, but hey, who these days does not keep their phone in a cover? Get one and the camera bump will no longer be an (rocking) issue.

Now, what else do we want out of our phones these days?

Processing power. Check. As of this writing OnePlus 3 runs on the fastest CPU there is.

Storage. Check. Yes, it's non-expandable, but 64GB is quite something, especially in these cloudy days.

Working memory (aka RAM). Check. There's 6GB of that. Yes, six. That's two more than nearest competitor. It's also probably three more than reasonably required. But it comes with a twist: only up to twenty apps will be held in memory at any given time. Too little? You must be raving mad! Too much? Probably, but there's another twist: you can select which apps will stay in memory whatever happens. Now both the size and the twenty apps limit start to make sense. Oh, and root your phone and change this setting to your liking.

What else we're concerned about?

Ah, yes. Camera. Well, check. There is one. And it makes nice pictures. It's focus is good and quick enough. It's colours are just fine. The selfies are nice (as selfies go, that is). It does video well enough. Want professional photos and videos? Buy a DSLR or something. Even a mirrorless will do a better job. Some bridge cameras, too. A budget compact? Probably not. Therefore, OnePlus 3 has as good a camera as one needs on a phone. Probably better, too. Get real.

Anything else? Of course.

The Big B. Or, rather, more like a small b these days. The Battery.

Yup, OnePlus 3 has one. And it's not the biggest there is. Nor is it the longest lasting, alas. Still, it'll last you a day. Maybe a bit more. Don't tell me you don't recharge your phone at least daily. More like, your phone is being plugged more times a day than what even the most industrious lady of the night might find acceptable on a night before the mortgage is due. So, it doesn't really matter. As long as, in a pinch, your phone can keep going between two bedtimes it's fine. No, it really is. Get real.

Almost forgot. There's this OnePlus thing called Dash Charge (not Daesh, mind). This will charge your phone from almost empty to almost full in around half an hour. Really. It works. As. Advertised. Does that small(ish) battery look better now?

Anything else I didn't cover? Oh, yes. The OS.

It's Android, of course. While you may think you covet other people iPhones because of their inherent iPhoneyness, it is really other bits of their lifestyle you're after (and the bank balance part of it most of all). Yes, they're nice. Yes they sell like hot cakes. But they're also a minority pursuit. Don't trust me on this. Just count 'em. Oh, and Android is inherently better than iOS - if you even care. And, after all, pretty much every app worth its salt is available on both. And if you ever do decide to switch phones, your investment in Android apps gives you way more options of alternative handsets. With iPhone you're doomed to whatever Apple decide to sell you next (anyone channeling drug dealers by now?).

OK. So far I have described just a really, really nice phone. But how does all of this make it the phone to end all phones? That's relatively simple to prove, too. Just look around yourself at the apps that are in vogue now. Yes, please put an emphasis on the most resource heavy ones. Apart from full-blown VR experience on you phone (get real!) there is barely a whiff of a doubt that apps won't get significantly more performance hungry in the foreseeable future (remember, it's a phone, not a dedicated games console).

So, I finally submit that OnePlus 3 is future-proof to the point that nobody would want a better phone in the foreseeable future barring having lost or broken one. OnePlus, save for the non-replaceable battery, have almost designed themselves out of their jobs. So, come the time your OnePlus 3 battery finally meets its maker, you may indeed have to hunt for a replacement. But, having already started with a rock-bottom price and considering it can only go down with time, you may find that your phone needs are best served by digging out another OnePlus 3, new from well hidden stock reserves, or maybe even used, but with still acceptable battery life.

That is, unless, like all excellent things, the price of the last few well-preserved ones does not sky-rocket - as it is often wont to do.


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

But Is It Theft?

Taurus, geddit?
It is very likely you are familiar with this particular, most people would say classic, number. On the other hand, I bet not many have ever been acquainted with this one, as decent a tune as it is.

Either way, hopefully by now you managed to listen to both. If not, I'll give you another chance. Go back and click on the links. Either order is fine, although the latter precedes the former by a few years.

OK. Now that you listened to both Stairway To Heaven and Taurus you may be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Did you spot any similarities?
  2. If you did, would you say Led Zeppelin owe any money to Spirit?
  3. If yes, how much, exactly?

As you may or may not be aware, this is a aeries of questions that will soon be put to a group of twelve good men and women. Apparently, the estate of the late Spirit guitarist decided Led Zeppelin did rip off Spirit for a few seconds of a harmony (somewhere between 30 and 130 second mark of Taurus, repeated twice) and to the tune of some 10% of royalties Stairway To Heaven earned to date (and in the future, presumably).

Now, said harmony in Stairway To Heaven is most definitely present in Taurus, too. Also, Spirit most definitely toured with Led Zeppelin at the time Taurus was being created and a few years before Stairway To Heaven was composed. It is thus extremely likely that Led Zeppelin did hear the chords in question, probably somewhere backstage, before or after joint gigs. That much is indisputable.

Art inspires art, geddit?
What is also indisputable is that art inspires art. There would be no Schubert without Mozart. It would also be possible to find echoes of one in the other if one listened carefully enough, maybe even a few seconds of a shared musical phrase. Feel free to substitute Schubert and Mozrt with any two (or more!) musicians that ever lived, and especially if they happened to precede one another or were contemporaries known to each other (much more difficult in the era of Schubert and Mozart than these days).

But also listen carefully to the entirety of Stairway To Heaven and Taurus. Now, judged as a whole, do these two works have much in common? No, I didn't think so either. And here it is irrelevant which one is a masterpiece of late sixties and early seventies rock. To be fair to Taurus, it stands out in Spirit's catalogue. More so, the catalogues of the two bands are so much miles apart that a few chords repeated in one song most definitel ydo not constitute anything but - possibly subconscious - fair use, derivative work.

And yes, I have listened to pretty much entire catalogues of both Spirit and Led Zeppelin (the former much more recently trying to find out for myself the merits of this court case).

With all this, I am quite amazed that a US judge decided that the question should be put to the twelve good men and women. My fear is that, in this age of angry 99%, they will - correctly - hear that the chords are almost the same and be inclined to rule in favour of the "little guy".

Worse, the actual composer of those (and many other just as fine) chords will have precisely zero benefit and 0% of royalties or other compensation that may be awarded. Why? Because he is dead.

Who? I wonder. Geddit?
Who will benefit? The composers "estate".

Who will lose out? Led Zeppelin. A little. Others, especially aspiring musicians, much more. I would even dare say they'll lose out horribly, through the chilling effects of the sentence. It surely can't be easy (or even possible) to go around and ask your peers - and especially the "big guys" - for permission to use a musical phrase.

Who will lose out the most? Listeners, for possibly being denied some brilliant remixes, reworks, unexpected musical quotes, homage pieces - you name it.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Self Defeating Intelligence?

I have recently found an interesting article on what your own belief about the nature of intelligence (fixed trait or something that can be developed) seems to be able to do to your own performance on IQ tests. Article is based on some proper research and you may be able to have a look at the source yourself. I haven't I have learned to trust Ars Technica's science coverage enough to not bother just for fact checking (not so if I believe something more can be learned from the source that could not make it into an article aimed at general readership).

Anyway, you'd be well advised to read one, other, or both before continuing reading what will shortly become a critique of the findings.

First off, let me make clear I do not necessarily disagree with the result of the study. The methodology seems sound enough and the conclusions drawn from the results seem reasonable enough, too. Still, let me say that I would very much like to see more studies, using different (but also some with same) experimental setups confirming - or refuting, as the case may be - this particular one. My objection, which I am going to describe here is fairly subjective, based on the particular experiment run and may not even be a refutation of the validity of the result, but a comment on artificiality of IQ tests as applied to our, essentially, stone age software.

Let me first quickly recap the study and its findings (but do make sure you also read Ars Technica article or the study itself). Subjects were given an IQ (or IQ-like) test after their views on nature of intelligence were assesed. The result show that people who believe intelligence to be a fixed, inborn, trait tended to tackle the easy questions first, while those who believed intelligence to be something that can be influenced by training, learning, etc, tended to tackle the more difficult questions first. This also held true if the subjects were primed with one or the other belief. Priming was also able to reverse subjects behaviour on the test (for subjects primed to the nature of intelligence contrary to their own original beliefs).

The researchers interpreted this to say that people who believed intelligence to be malleable employed test solving strategy that benefited their own intelligence by exercising it more and thus potentially increasing it in the process. On the other hand the fixed trait intelligence group tackled the easy questions first thus setting themselves up on a path of keeping their intelligence as it was (by not challenging it) and thus proving their own point of view. Whether clearly stated or not (and I am not sure on this point) the feeling I got was that the former group was somehow becoming better off by challenging their intelligence and thus improving it for the future tasks.

Now, while this last assertion may very well be true - I for one subscribe to the view that intelligence can be improved, or degraded, by training, or lack thereof (although I do also believe that the maximum intelligence one can attain is an inborn trait) - I also tend to think that this strategy may well be a self-defeating one when it comes to the outcome of the task at hand. What I am trying to say here is that, while improving your intelligence further by tackling the hardest questions first, this also means that almost certainly more time is being spent on them. In the setting of an IQ test where most often the time available is limited (as in real life, where pretty much any task at hand becomes irrelevant - and you may become dead, too - if you take too long to solve it) this may mean scoring lower overall due to lack of time to the easy questions.

The article (I haven't checked the original study - partly because the link in the Ars Technica article seems to be broken), unfortunately, doesn't say which group scored better overall, in absolute terms or, much more interestingly, when controlled for natural variation. Were this piece of information available my critique - not of the study, but of the test solving strategy employed - would be easily proven wrong, or otherwise. Namely, if the group of "intelligence is malleable" believers were to score consistently higher than their matched and statistically controlled "intelligence is fixed" peers then their implied better strategy (because it trains their intelligence even further during the test) would be vindicated (and quite possibly their view on intelligence, too). This would also be case were the group of "intelligence is malleable" to be proven statistically more intelligent (possibly due to past winning behaviour) than the "intelligence is fixed" one as indicated by school record, prior IW testing, life success, or any other proxies for higher intelligence available.

As it is, my gut feeling - supported by anecdotal evidence - is that, while there may be long term benefits from training one's intelligence by tackling, and spending more time on hard tasks, it would likely be offset - if not entirely rubbed out - by failure to complete the test to the extent required to score highly on it (and in real life actually failing at the overall task when it is irrelevant if the "hard" parts of it have been completed - think of a mechanic managing to do a stellar job of fixing and improving a part while failing to get the actual car usable because they ran out of time to put the wheels back on before the race finished, or loosing so much time it made rejoining the race irrelevant or futile).

As for anecdotal evidence: my own schooling and professional career (although much more the former than the latter - as the failure at the former seems to successfully prevent people from properly joining the latter) is full of examples of brilliantly intelligent people who spent (wasted?) their time figuring out the hardest part of various subjects and related training problems only to find themselves scoring poorly on official tests, or maybe even worse, actually failing to pass official tests until they attempted them several times. On the other hand, colleagues who concentrated on the more easily doable exercises tended to do much better both on tests and in their subsequent careers.

Finally, whatever the case may be in the end, I am looking forward to some more in-depth research on the subject, hopefully addressing concerns listed above.