Friday, 27 January 2017

REPOST: Burqa: What's Really Wrong With It, And Why It's Bad For Muslims, Too

This post appeared originally almost exactly seven (7!) years ago, on 18 January 2010. It is 27 January 2017 today, the burqa discussion is still alive and in places the voices are nearing a crescendo. Being such zoon politikon the latest coverage prompted me to express my opinion on the matter - again. Being lazy, more than studious, I remembered my original post and decided to check if at least portions of it (e.g., the accompanying image) could be reused. On inspection it turned out, I am happy to say, that my views on the matter have not changed an iota (nothing wrong with changing ones mind, of course). Therefore, dear reader, you are now treated to a re-post, re-heated in the 2017 vintage microwave oven and presented to you in all its browned to perfection, non-cancerous, glory...

This weekend in the UK a hornet nest has been poked yet again. The UK Independence party (UKIP) chief, Nigel Farage, called for a total ban of Muslim head gear which covers the face. Whether you call it burqa or niqāb, whether you think it's right or wrong, and for what reasons, you are likely to have opinion on this, too.

Well, so do I. But let's first recap what seem to be the opinions of the majority, one or another...

In the pro corner are mostly practising Muslims, who consider this type of robe as something desirable, if not mandatory, in order to live by the tenets of their religion. The exact reasoning behind this requirement are various, but not really relevant for this discussion. Alongside Muslims, there are some free speech supporters and libertarians who may support this as a person's free choice and/or self expression.

In the contra camp, the vast majority quote two issues: that forcing women to cover their faces is oppressive (even if they claim to do it of their own free will - then it's attributed to peer and society pressure and oppression), and to a somewhat lesser extent security issues (not unlike not allowing motorcycle helmets and balaclavas into banks). To a much lesser extent, and most likely to be on the wrong side of the argument are those who insist that Muslims in non-Muslim countries have to adopt an outer appearance as close to the hosts as possible.

As you may have guessed, I tend to disagree with all camps outlined above. In a nutshell, my position on this is that Muslim women are, of course, free to wear whatever they want (obvious security exceptions, to which they tend to bow anyway, notwithstanding), whenever and wherever they want. But, if they do, they really do it at their own peril. And no, I am not saying they should fear any sort of retribution. However, they should be prepared to be excluded, in a very soft and passive manner, from any society where hiding your face is not customary.

As I am pretty certain that what I just said will be easily misinterpreted, I'll have to flesh it out a little bit more. It will probably help if I spell out what I, personally, find is wrong with covering one's face where this is not usual practice.

Quite simply, in societies where people walk around with their faces freely visible to anyone who cares to look, people tend to become adept at, but also dependant on, being able to judge other persons' state of mind, mood, intentions by a quick glance at their face. Humans are very good at that, you know. We've been evolving for millions of years to be able to do it. Not to mention that even animals, and especially primates and apes are also very good at this. Remove this ability from someone who has spent their entire life (not to mention their species' history) perfecting this skill, and no wonder they become wary, even distrusting. Yes, eyes can tell a lot, but they are hardly enough (note that some Muslim head gear hides even the eyes). There's also the issue of voice almost certainly being muffled a bit by the cloth in front of the mouth.

So, without such vital clues, how is one to communicate with ease with someone covered by burqa or niqāb? I know I am always finding it more difficult, and always with a niggling feeling that there's something missing, something essential. The net result of this is that I try to avoid having to deal with covered women if I can help it. And trust me, this is not because I mistrust them, or think they they have something to hide, or anything like that. It is just because I feel uncomfortable not being to see any facial clues as to other person's state of mind, and not least because I feel the exchange is unfairly slanted against me, as my facial expression is freely available to the other side.

So, in the final analysis, as far as I'm concerned Muslim women can continue wearing whatever they want on their heads. If they do not feel oppressed by it, who am I to judge. Also, I do not fear that any of them are potential terrorists. Certainly no more are than their bare-faced male counterparts, Muslim or non-Muslim alike. No, the problem is, I feel something has been taken away from me when it comes to face-to-face (face-to-burqa?) communication, and what's worse, it's just me that's losing out.

Therefore, if a self-imposed exclusion from communication with otherwise well-meaning people is something Muslim women are happy with, then they should by all means cover their faces as much as they want. And all the while I will support their right to choose to do so, and all the while I will expect them to respect my unease and unwillingness to deal with people who hide their faces from me.

There, I said it. The shooting can start now...

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.