Tuesday, 10 November 2015

UPDATED: A Storm In A Teacup? (aka #FAIL)

At long last, we seem to have entered the era of affordable yet powerful smartphones. With the commendable efforts of OnePlus, a few other Chinese vendors, and now a home grown one, Wilefox, one can rest assured that they can get their hands on a "flagship killer" for less than half of the flagship smartphone price.

Having tremendously enjoyed the first "flagship killer", aka OnePlus One, and currently finding that OnePlus Two seems to be a worthy successor (as is likely the OnePlus X), it was with great excitement that I learned about the first "designed in UK" (because, natch, everything these days seems to be "made in China") effort, the Wileyfox Storm and Swift.

Of course, the Swift is not exactly a flagship killer. Rather, it is a "bargain basement killer". You are probably way better off getting the Swift than, say Moto G or some such great deal smartphone. However, having got used to a little bit more of a powerhouse, the Swift never really whetted my appetite - especially after I learned about the "killer feature" (or a componenet, if you will) of the Storm: the 20MP Sony EXMOR IMX220 BSI Stacked (60FPS) CMOS Rear Camera.

Now, I don't particularly care for the peta-pixel counts, but this sensor is by views of most people who know that sort of stuff a real gem when it comes to picture quality and especially in low light situations. As these days I tend to take too many photos on my phone - mostly by virtue of it always being handy, but also because it will automagically make photos appear in all the (safe) places I care about this sounded like an opportunity not to be missed.

A little trial was in the offing...

And what could possibly go wrong? Let's review the most basic items on the spec sheet: 4GB RAM - great!, FAST CPU - hooray!, 5.5" screen - nice size, I found the 6" of Nexus 6 a bit too much, off screen Android buttons - a favourite, dual SIM or SIM + MicroSD card - bingo!, and of course, that little gem of a camera.

OK, there is no optical image stabilisation (OIS). But, I can live without that, especially with the camera that has supposedly great low light performance. This alone can compensate for sensor shake by allowing faster shutter speeds. So, nothing to worry about. Let's get going and take some lovely pictures!

We now hop into our time machine and fast forward a few days...

What disappointment! What anti-climax! And let's not even bother with the, possibly serious, issues of the Storm seemingly having trouble with a Three UK SIM card randomly deciding it was not present any more then suddenly changing its mind. And let's not bother ourselves even with scorching heat (almost impossible to hold at times) that emanated from the top rear of the phone whenever the CPU did any serious work.

Oh, no. Instead, let's just focus on that lovely camera:

True, its low light performance is brilliant. True, it is able to create really lovely pictures in pretty much any light conditions. True, even, that lack of OIS is not much of a problem even in low light. But. But! BUT! Auto-focus. Or shall I rephrase: What auto-focus? Because, essentially, for all intents and purposes the thing has none. None at all. None that is in any way useful for anything but taking nice pictures of architecture. Very large and stable architecture. For any other subject auto-focus is so slow that you are pretty much guaranteed NOT to get the photo you intended. And I don't just mean kids jumping up and down. I haven't tried, but I suspect even taking a photo of a drowsy sloth may be a challenge. And this was not just the case with the stock camera app. Oh, no. Google Camera struggled, too, as did a couple of random tries from the Play Store.

Don't believe me? Try it yourself. Ask a mate who got one (it's on open sale in UK).

Does this make the Storm a flop? In my opinion, and for my money - yes. These days we have come to expect our phones - especially "flagships" and "flagship killers" - to be at least competent cameras as well. Storm fails miserably in this respect. Its camera - unless it receives a major software (firmware!) update - is more or less not fit for purpose. If you want decent photos in your life either get a different phone, get a second phone, or carry a small camera with you at all times. Just don't relay on Wileyfox Storm to fit the bill.

Does this make the Storm a useless phone that I am going to get rid of and look for a different second phone? Well, no. It's the MicroSD card slot (and a possibility of dual SIM operation) that clinches the deal for it as a second phone as is its overall spec sheet. But only ever as a second(ary) phone which is destined to take a role of a hard disk based music player I realised I needed and couldn't quite get these days. And, in a pinch, with careful forethought and patient subjects - it will even make a decent camera.


A little note on Dual SIM phones...

Very useful things, Dual SIM phones unless you have a very specific requirement for it, Dual Standby is probably as much as you need in terms of simultaneous operation. However, there is one quite serious downside: you forget/lose/misplace your Dual SIM phone and you're as good as having no phone at all. I would recommend having two phones if you really need to be accessible at all times. Get a Dual SIM phone by all means. Heck, make both your phones Dual SIM. Just never let just one hold both your important SIMs. I find the following works best: the main phone holds main SIM, the other SIM slot is taken by a local/cheap rate SIM that will still help out in areas of random patchy coverage, or when you're abroad. Have your other important SIM in a different phone and use its secondary SIM slot for MicroSD card to store media on. Just never ever put all your important communications eggs into a single basket.

You will lose it one day...


My new Storm is on its way back to Amazon. Reason? Not what you may have expected. I could actually live with the slow focusing camera. It's actually apparent poor build quality: the backlight under the off-screen navigation keys (Back and Home, if you have to ask) has started to flicker randomly - and annoyingly. Thank goodness for Amazon 30 day no questions asked return policy (not that I didn't tell them the thing's faulty).

OnePlus X, here I come...

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Repost: Seriously Silly

A very early one, this. But @Pontifex got me thinking about this again today...

Via venerable Rosa, a list of questions from one Eric Hovind...

As Rosa already pointed out, the questions are indeed silly and certainly not something "science can't answer". She even goes as far as providing sensible replies to each and every one of them (even if some are a bit tongue in cheek). What I'll try to do is give questions exactly as much respect as they deserve, which is very little. And I don't think it matters, or that Eric (or his dad, Kent) will really care. After all, they certainly didn't ask them so they can get sensible and correct answers, because if they did their whole world-view would collapse around their ears. So, let's have a bit of fun...
  1. Why am I here?
    Here? What here you have in mind? On Earth? In my office? In general? I'm sorry, but there is no "in general". Unless you mean the birds and the bees. But Rosa already told you about that...
  2. What happens when you die?
    Nothing, really. Unless you meant the funeral, mourning of those who survived you, and suchlike? In which case you're again asking silly questions.
  3. What is the purpose of my life?
    The purpose of your life is to make people believe in falsehoods. The purpose of my life is to enjoy it while it lasts. The purpose of life in general is to replicate the genes. You should read more Dawkins, you know.
  4. What determines “Good” and “Evil”?
    It's the wrong question. It's not "what", but "who". Even you should know that, and even if a god existed. Unless, of course, your god is a rock or something, rather than someone. In any case, it's you and me baby, who determine good and evil. I wonder we share the definitions, though, you and I.
  5. Where did love come from?
    Which love you have in mind, Eric? My love for my wife comes from me. Her love for me comes from her. Your love for your god comes from some sort of delusion, but that's your problem, not mine.
  6. Why does mankind abuse and kill its own?
    Let me answer with a question once again: Why do most animals abuse and kill their own? But if you really want to know, it's for personal gain and enhancing chances of one's (genes') survival. Oh, but if I grant you a god exists then the answer is obvious: because your god wants it like that. Which means he/she/it must be evil (see also question number four).
  7. Where did the first teeny-weeny molecule of matter come from?
    As Rosa kindly explained it came from the first teeny-weeny atoms of matter. Go grab yourself a textbook on physics, will you?
  8. Does a physical world exist beyond my mind?
    Yes it does. It's all that stuff you can feel with your fingers.
  9. Why are there male and female?
    You really should spend more time actually finding answers, rather than just piling up questions. By the way, there are also living things that do not have male and female forms. And now go grab yourself a biology textbook.
  10. Why does it take both sexes to create a new life?
    Not necessarily. See above. And that textbook. You can sure afford one. Oh, and because it's fun. Sex. Seriously. You don't think so?
  11. What is life?
    Have a look in the mirror. Then go to a farm and look at all the animals and plants. Then, if you're still curious ,go get yourself a microscope and have a look into a drop of puddle water. But seriously... No, can't be bothered. And by the way, why is such a question even relevant? Interesting, yes. But relevant? Not sure it is.
  12. Where did laws come from?
    In UK, the laws are enacted by parliament. The parliament is elected in general elections, generally held every four or five years. Elected are 650 (soon to be 600) members of parliament. All of them human (at least by the outside looks). So, I guess the laws come from men (and women). At least in Britain, and I suspect in the States, too. Don't tell me you didn't know that?
  13. How did Time, Space and Matter come into existence?
    Here, you should read more Hawking. Can you really not afford a good book? It does seem your funds only stretch so far you can buy a Bible, Internet access, and a computer. Or did you have to borrow all of those, too? (I see you capitalised them all. If you actually meant specific people or objects by those names then I'm sorry, but I don't know (of) them personally so can't help.)
  14. How did something come from nothing?
    This is something that can be read about in a b-o-o-k. One on (quantum) physics. Not a Bible. Sorry.
So, there you have it Eric. A completely useless set of answers to a completely silly set of questions. You asked for it mate. Just don't go crying into your beer. But I guess you don't drink. A shame. Inebriation makes intense religious experiences easier to obtain. It does go hard on your liver, but what's a liver when enlightenment is in the offing. Or, for much better results, you could actually go to a decent school or university (or both, in that order) and get yourself up to speed with science. Real science. Repeat after me:

B-i-b-l-e   i-s   n-o-t   a   s-c-i-e-n-t-i-f-i-c   t-e-x-t. 
I-t   d-o-e-s   n-o-t   e-x-p-l-a-i-n   t-h-e   w-o-r-l-d.

Phew, that was a mouthful. Shame you won't listen. I can almost see you with fingers in your ears shouting la-la-la-la-la so you're not infected with that greatest of all evils - the truth and knowledge.

Sad. Truly sad...

No need to thank me for giving you answers to more questions than Rosa did. Really. It was my pleasure.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Ultimate Netbook?

Despite seemingly living in the day of tablets (and not the kind you pop into your mouth to make you feel better - or transport you into brave new worlds) I think we can all agree that said gadgets do not make a perfect travel companion for the wo/men who wants to have all their data close at hand at all times.

And no, the cloud doesn't really cut it either - as everyone who found themselves on the wrong side of the base station antenna, a roaming agreement, or a ridiculously expensive hotel WiFi can attest to.

Think of carrying a portable hard disk with all your stuff on it? Think again. It's cumbersome to keep up to date. It's cumbersome to haul in your baggage. It's even more cumbersome to keep tethered to your main device - especially if that device is a tablet which usually means jumping through hoops to treat external storage as naturally as if it were internal.

Oh, and did I mention you may also need to bring an external keyboard should you wish to type any significant amount of text?

Add all this together and you actually have all the workings of a humble little netbook, a format that flourished some years ago and now almost extinct. And wouldn't it be nice to have a, say, 10 inch little laptop with decent CPU, a moderate amount of RAM, and a hard disk (or, even better, an SSD) that can hold all the data you may ever need on your travels (or, for that matter, in your own bed or a sofa). If it could also become a tablet on demand - so much the better, eh?

Hey! Lo and behold: you actually can!

Enter Asus T100A-DX066H - a 10 inch tablet with detachable keyboard, sporting an Intel Atom Z3775 CPU running at respectable 1.46 GHz, with 2GB ofRAM, and - wait for it - a 500GB hard disk, a real proper spinning kind, 9.5mm thin SATA job. It runs Windows 8.1 and has a touch screen, too. Pretty much exactly what I described above, right? But it gets better: the hard disk is not only easy to replace (think a few screws and opening and closing the keyboard part - which has pretty much no other key components to break, either), but replacing it won't void your warranty.

So, if your storage requirements are like mine, and especially if you have similar hard drives knocking about your drawers already (like I do) you can easily beef this little fellow up to, say, 1TB SSD or even go wild and have it with 2TB spinning rust disk instead. Now, the only other thing you need to sort out is making sure your main machine is nicely cloud connected and/or backed up on-line and then install the required clients on the T100 to have mirror your stuff whenever it is connected to a sufficiently fast (and cheap!) Internet pipe.

For the latter part I heartily recommend any or all of the following: Dropbox, Google Drive, Insync, and Crash Plan. Of course, if you are that way inclined (and do not run Linux as your main OS) there's always OneDrive from the Beast (these days, by the way, very seriously on the way to Beauty side of the spectrum). Have these all properly wired up and connected, and live through the pain of initial sync (it will take days, trust me) and you will end up with an almost perfect mirror of your digital world that you can take with you literally everywhere. A win, if ever I saw one.

A word of caution, though: you will have to make sure you power up and connect your T100 to a decent data pipe often enough for its storage to be a reasonably up to date copy of your main data repositories. You will also have to make sure you carefully partition your data on the T100 if you want to use it as a tablet as well, since the hard disk stays with the keyboard and the tablet part has a meagre 32GB (~10GB usable when everything is installed) of SSD storage. This can be bolstered with a MicroSD card of up to 256GB, but again, anything above this will have to remain with the keyboard half. Personally, I don't find this limiting, but caveat emptor.

One last word before I leave you to ponder the possibilities which, albeit not endless, must be quite tempting - even if you decide not to bother upping the hard drive capacity and/or speed. Yes, I mean the pesky Windows 8.1 that comes pre-installed and hard to get rid of. Yes, I would very much like to be able to easily boot it off and have a nice, lean, Linux distro instead (Xubuntu Core, I'm looking at you). But, on the flip side, one does, on occasion, have a need for a Windows machine and since this T100 should have by now become a Mini-Me of your main PC - whatever OS that runs - having it run an alternative, even if inferior, OS can almost be seen as a plus.

So, there you have it: if you were looking for your ideal digital travel companion I don't think you can go wrong with the T100, especially modded and kitted out as outlined above. Add to it a decent smarthphone (how about this One), a smartwatch (this one's nice), and why not a decent compact digital camera (fine example here) and your travels will become that much better and more pleasurable - and all for a modest price (unless you opt for a 1TB SSD, of course) and all fitting in a surprisingly small volume.

Happy travels!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Repost: Religious Tolerance

(As relevant today as it was almost five years ago...)

Religious tolerance... What is it? Do we need it at all? If yes, then how do we get it? Read on, for yet another one of my rants that meanders wildly before totally getting out of hand...

All these questions have been asked for as long as the concept itself has started doing rounds somewhere just after the Dark ages. Recently, the issue got another boost when plans emerged to build a mosque close to the Ground Zero of the 9/11 attacks on New York. As year's 9/11 anniversary loomed just as this got me thinking (again) I decided to postpone writing about it.

Now the anniversary is safely behind us (even though the next one will soon again become "near enough", I'm sure) here's a few of my thoughts on the subject. As if anyone cares... I know I don't (that nobody does).

To anyone following this blog, my opinions about religion in general should be well known. I can also promise to continue my religion-bashing with the same carefree abandon. But this post is not about whether religion is good or bad, needed or superfluous. Here, I will assume that religion is here (and probably here to stay - unfortunately), and ask (myself) how best to arrange our society so it (both the religion, and the society) does the least harm possible. So, let's see where we can get with this...

[...a few days, and a few abortive attempts later...]

Oh dear...

When I set myself this task I thought sensible word would come pouring out like a clear, fresh mountain stream. Instead, I ended up with a number of anti-religious tirades that had a distinctly stale whiff around them. Nothing wrong with them, per se. Just nothing new, and really, nothing to promote religious tolerance. Or, more correctly, promoting religious tolerance mostly in the same way as a parent tolerates an immature child's silly shenanigans. And the problem is: religion's (and religious) shenanigans, both historically and these days, might be silly, but they's also usually deadly serious.

Have a look at this particular development. I could possibly, maybe, just, agree with The Economist blogger that total freedom of speech should include the right to burn books, flags, and whatever else is seen as fit to incinerate (apart from other people, obviously - though not always and to everyone). Although I am not so sure. At least here in Europe, we have too often associated book (and people) burning with the worst of the worst. I am, however, very happy to agree with the following, from the same post:
It is, in fact, part of a global religious-extremist tag-team rally, in which provocateurs in the West gin up obnoxious anti-Islamic gestures that give extremists in Islamic countries an excuse to damage property and assault people, which in turn grants more publicity to the Western provocateurs. Extremists on both sides end up with more media prominence and more political and social power, and everybody wins.
Tag teams indeed. Squares quite well with the fact that, for example, evangelical creationists in America cooperate closely, and quite happily, with Turkish Islamic fundamentalists, sharing experiences, advice, and efforts to discredit the fact (not the theory!) of evolution. And at least these guys have lunches together. Which is not to say that I necessarily approve of that particular kind of "religious tolerance". Sounds too militant to me - by far - despite all its "peacefulness".

All of which again leads me around in circles, failing to come up with any sensible thing to say about religious practices. Any religious practices, really. Apart from maybe the ones which are conducted somewhere very private, where I, and the world at large can go on about our peaceful business unimpeded.

Because, see, I really couldn't care less about which religion should have more or less "rights", "freedom", or be better "tolerated". What my argument seems to be slowly, but surely, boiling down to is that, yes, everyone should enjoy freedom of religion - or any other delusion they care to pick - provided they do not create public nuisance. And religion, of late, just like of the last few millennia, is creating an almighty racket.

Wars, prosecutions, discrimination, child abuse, promoting unsafe sex practices - you name the ill, they've peddled it. And not just to their own flock. Oh, no. Pretty much every single religion would love nothing more than to see the whole world shaped in its image. Tolerant? My...

So, yes, I am happy to be tolerant of any religion and/or belief, but only for as long as they are tolerant of me - and everybody else who does not care to join in. Do it a much as you like, but do it so I don't have to notice. And do note, this does not mean you shouldn't build your temples, or whatever other fancy takes your fancy. Please do. And please do it wherever you see fit - if it fits with the laws of the land. But do also note that, just like you cannot be allowed to build a tower that is in danger of collapsing and killing innocent bystanders or passers by, you should not be allowed to do stuff that can conceivably result in something similar - like, for example, publicly burning other people's religious texts.

Not because those texts are in any way sacred - they're not, and surely no more than your own - but because every man (and his dog) knows you're doing precisely so you can cause as much damage to innocent bystanders as you can.

Does this sound intolerant to you? I'm sure it does. It is meant to be intolerant, too. Intolerant of irresponsible and dangerous (religious) practices. So, put down you matches, and go back to your temples. No need to stay there, but when you do come out, do try to blend in.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

A $17k FAIL

Once again, you must have lived under a very large rock for a very long time if you didn't realise Apple have finally lifted the curtain on iWatch, sorry, Apple Watch.

Sadly, a very large portion of the tech press seems to have lived either under a similarly large and mossy rock for an even longer time, or Apple didn't only keep a curtain on their latest smart-watch creation, but also on the tech press' collective eyes, ears - maybe even noses.

How come?

Well, if you have read any coverage of the Apple Watch announcement you may have come away with an impression that Apple Watch is the first product on the market to do the following (exaustive!) list of smart things:

  • it's a smart-watch, i.e., it connects to a smartphone
  • it'll show you notifications from said smartphone
  • it'll measure your heart rate
  • it'll let you interact with said smart-phone from your wrist
  • it'll tell you time
How revolutionary! you may think. Before the ninth day of March, anno domini 2015, there existed no such device. The world is a better and a richer place now, infinitely more worth living in.

This, of course, provided the above mentioned rock - or an iDistortion Field™ - shielded you from the simple fact that thing like Pebbles (no, not the sort you get on a beach), LG Watch Gs, Moto 360s, a few other rather smart ones - even lowly Martians - already happily existed and did substantially, if not exactly, the same things.

Now, you may argue that Apple Watch is prettier but that is a matter of taste. You could try and argue it's somehow smarter, but that is very arguable. Nothing in the Apple keynote suggests it does any of the things it does any better - or even differently - to any other similar device already on the market. It doesn't even have an iota better battery life. 

What it does have and is unique to most other smart watches is that it is way more expensive - and that's on top of the fact it requires a smartphone which is also way more expensive than those required by, say, Android Wear watches. Go get a brand new iPhone for less than $200 if you can. And then there is that ridiculously expensive $17k Apple Watch. Yes, it's gold. It has all of ~$700 of gold in it. Add to that the full price of the cheapest Apple Watch and you get a BOM of the whole of $1000-ish. Why would anyone buy a piece of kit with a mark-up of $15k+ that will become a) obsolete, and b) the battery of which will die in two years or less is totally beyond me. If I were Apple, I'd probably make two to make product photos and videos and then not even start on the third one until some deranged individual clicks BUY button next to the $16,999.99 price tag and a PhotoShopped image of the iRolex.

Which is, actually, all well and good. I tend to subscribe to the view that it is morally wrong to allow stupid people to keep their money. However, please, please, please, just don't go around telling urbi et orbi that Apple has again managed to be first to market with a revolutionary iProduct.

Because that, my friends, is the kind of stupidity not even worthy of those with a $17k burning their pockets.