Monday, July 21, 2014

Tech Review: Samsung Galaxy S5

So I went to the Verizon Store for my biannual rogering.

You may remember my review of the Droid X2.  The X2 didn’t age well.  The WiFi would usually need to be restarted before it would communicate with my home network, but because it connected it would turn off my 3G coverage.  The GPS likewise would need reinitializing before it would work.  The camera app would often lock up the phone, and the phone itself had a bad habit of rebooting right when I picked it up to do something.  But worst of all, actual phone calls were being delayed.  As in, I could dial the number and press “send”, but nothing would happen for a full minute.  I had mitigated these problems temporarily by performing a factory reset, but who wants to have to do that?

Say what you will about iTunes (indeed, I’ve said most of it myself) but the OS on my 2nd gen iPod Touch is still as crisp as it ever was (although at v4.2 it is no longer compatible with any apps now being released).

Anyway, about the rogering.

I compared phones on the website and had pretty much decided on the LG G2, but when I arrived at the store I was disappointed to learn that, like the iPhone, the battery was not removable.  Since I have frequently resorted to removing the battery as a last-ditch method of rebooting my previous smartphones, this put me off.  The salesman recommended the Samsung Galaxy S2.  I had to think about it for a week, since this would be the first time I had actually paid money for my phone since my Motorola Razr in 2006.  But with my wife’s blessing (possibly motivated by her own interest in upgrading from the iPhone 4S to the 5c) I bit the $99 bullet.

Except . . . it turns out that every new phone Verizon sells or gives away comes with an unadvertised and previously unheard-of $30 “upgrade fee”.  WTW?  This is different from the “activation fee” for a new line.  Every phone is in fact $30 more expensive than they advertise.

Verizon.  Come for the phone.  Stay for the rogering.

I lost the unlimited data plan I received with the Palm Pre Plus and kept “grandfathered” with the X2.  As a consolation, I received a 6GB limit instead of the usual 2GB.  I still have to pay an extra $20 for tethering, and with which I receive an extra 2GB.  The good news is that all 8GB becomes available for both tethering and phone usage, whereas before only 2GB were available for tethering.  That’s very advantageous; I seldom use more that a couple of hundred MB in a given month, unless I’m traveling, in which case I will also be tethering extensively.

The first thing to say about the S5 is that it is big:  16 square inches of surface area, compared to 12 for the X2 and 9 for the pre.  It seems like the revolution in miniaturization is reversing itself.  Granted, phones are thinner now, but I wonder if future generations will mock today’s phones as we mock the bricks of the 80s.

The second thing to say is I had grave difficulty connecting the phone to my Dell E6420 laptop via the USB cable, and no amount of tech support from both Verizon and Samsung could fix the problem.  The S5 connected to other computers without hesitation, and all my other phones connected to E6420.  I was resigned to the necessity of reinstalling the Dell’s operating system, but then I came across this article that mentioned Kaspersky anti-virus.  I had used Kaspersky on the Dell the first year I owned it and uninstalled it when the update subscription expired.  (Now I use Security Essentials.)  Even though the problem it described was different from mine, I gave its registry edit a shot.  It worked.

Much of the increased computing power of the S5 seems to go into the user interface, which is a good deal more . . . lively than my previous smartphones.  I’m not exactly sure what having the picture of the sun on my weather app spin, but it sure looks cool.

Some improvements:  my (a.k.a. contacts will now accept entries from my phone.  It took me a long time to learn that when I tried to create a contact entry on the X2, it wouldn’t actually save to my account.  Sometimes it would save to my Google account, but usually . . . pfffft, into the ether, never to be seen again.  It was one of the first things I tested on the S5.

Parenthetically, I’m frustrated that “linking” my Google and Live accounts don’t actually keep the contacts on one updated on the other.  Really, it only just copies the contacts once.  This is not the fault of the S5, however.

The copy and paste functions are now more intuitive.  I never did figure out how they worked on the X2, but now when I highlight text, I get a popup menu asking what I want to do.

The phone has a front-facing camera.  No surprise there, but what’s new is that the camera detects your eyes looking at it (usually, if your face is well lit and if you aren’t wearing glasses), and keeps the screen on as long as that’s true.  Which means that . . . the phone is always watching.

It’s also always listening.  Both “Google Now” and Samsung’s “S-Voice” listen for their respective start commands all the time.  For instance, I say, “OK Google”, and the phone chirps and waits for a command like “Call Mrs. Phi” or “Navigate to Lily-white Phi-ville” or “Play ‘Ride of the Valkyries’” and the phone will execute it.  Similarly with S-Voice, although I haven’t actually got it to work yet.  With S-Voice, I can double-press the “home” key and it waits for a command.

More mundane perhaps, but it’s predictive word recommendations, supposedly trained by analyzing past keyboard entry, is already pretty good.  Sometimes I can go for a good bit of a sentence by doing nothing but selecting each recommended word in sequence.

I hope it never learns to read lips.

The phone comes with a program called Google Play Music, which is the default player when music is requested with Google Now.  If I understand correctly, Google Play Music is a fee-based service, but it only plays music already on the phone.  Obviously, I won’t be using it once the trial ends.

One feature too many is a windowing option:  keeping two applications on the screen at one time.  But this is probably more than I can keep up with.  One of the virtual buttons, always available along the bottom of the screen, allows the user to switch between recently-used applications, much like the iPad allows by double-pressing its home key.

One feature to few is tracking mobile hotspot usage by device.  I had turned on this feature for a couple of cross-country automobile trips.  Typical usage:  2GB in a single day!  Fortunately, these trips fell on different days, but what I really want is to be able to identify which of the connected devices (our old phones now in use by our kids) is sucking down the data, and perhaps figure out which applications are offending.  Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a single app that breaks down hotspot usage at the device level.  Any thoughts?

The S5’s pride-and-joy is its video camera, which can now record in Ultra-HD.  Of course, this isn’t really much use unless you have an Ultra-HD monitor or TV (I don’t), and I have my suspicions that the F-stop of the optics won’t really support that level of resolution anyway.  But I will say that video recorded at 60 fps (an option Samsung calls “smooth motion video”) looks really . . . smooth.  The still camera offers high-dynamic range photography, which is basically offering different quantization for differently illuminated segments of the image, but the effect doesn’t seem as dramatic as when I use the feature on my Nikon.

But mostly, I’m just happy to have a phone that doesn’t crash or lock up all the time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Taliban Analogy #FAIL

Via Ross, a New Yorker article of surpassing ignorance:

Tehrik-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, is a closely held, profit-making enterprise organized on religious principles. One of its principles, announced as public policy in July, 2012, is that children should not be inoculated against polio, because the vaccines violate God’s law. So sincere are the Taliban’s religious beliefs that its followers have assassinated scores of public-health workers who have attempted to administer polio vaccines in areas under Taliban control or influence.

If the Pakistani Taliban, aided by clever lawyers, organized a closely held American corporation, and professed to run it on religious principles, might its employees be deprived of insurance coverage to inoculate their children against polio? And would the Supreme Court, by the five-to-four decision issued on Monday in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, endorse such a move?

Let us count the ways . . .

Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the government must meet a two-pronged test before it can “substantially burden” the free-exercise rights of American citizens:  it must (1) demonstrate a “compelling government interest” and (2) impose the “least restrictive means” available to pursue that interest. 

Whatever the importance of birth control to individuals, the interest of the government in preventing pregnancy doesn’t strike me as especially compelling.  (My reading of Hobby Lobby is that the Court expressed similar skepticism without reaching a judgment, and went on to rule on test #2.  But others have read it differently.)  In contrast, preventing pandemics is the very definition of a compelling government interest, and I have no doubt the Court would recognize that.

Which brings us to least restrictive means. Google confirms my recollection:  the government already, and for my entire life if not the lives of my parents, provides free vaccines in public health clinics.  So it already has in place a less restrictive means of providing vaccines than forcing employers to pay for them.

Ironically, if the New Yorker really wanted to use vaccinations to make a case against RFRA, it would attack the exemptions given on religious grounds to individuals from the otherwise mandatory (for public school enrollment) schedule.  (I’m personally in favor of such exemptions.  While I do not share the skepticism of, for instance, Vox Day, I have yet to see a compelling cost-benefit analysis that quantifies the interest of the public in the vaccination of any particular individual against his wishes.)  But that, of course, would undermine the New Yorker’s attempted point, that people preserving their religious freedom in the conduct of their businesses is somehow uniquely troublesome.

As a further irony, the New Yorker inadvertently makes a compelling argument against Muslim immigration. Religious accommodation becomes progressively more difficult the more society’s demographics stray from its Protestant-and-Protestant-inflected-Catholicism-with-a-sprinkling-of-Jewish core.  If that sounds too ethnocentric, let me cast it more generally:  diversity+proximity=war+tyranny.  What happens when FGM comes to America?  Will the government show a compelling interest?  Will it even want to?  I’d answer “yes” and “I sure hope so” to these questions, but I have difficulty articulating a rationale that doesn’t start with you sick raghead bastards.  Far easier to keep such people out.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dallas Buyer’s Club

I saw the movie Dallas Buyer’s Club on DVD.  Several thoughts:

It’s a very well-done movie, and I recommend it with the caveat that people, gay or straight, who tend to contract HIV also tend to lead dirty lives.  In this, the movie is more honest than much of not only contemporary discourse but also dramatic portrayals going back to Philadelphia.  Be forewarned.

I align with other reviewers who recognize in DBC a tale of a benevolent entrepreneur taking on a predatory big government bureaucracy, in this case the FDA backed up by the IRS and DEA.  But . . . how much if this is actually true?

The Wikipedia page on DBC concentrates on the character and sexuality of Ron Woodroof, whose own article is woefully short.  Similarly, the page on AZT has nothing on the drug’s history during the 1980s.

The reason I ask about this is that, in my recollection of the time, backed up at least by this brief paragraph on its cost, AZT was very much in demand from patients and “AIDS Activists” in the late 1980s, with popular pushes to secure insurance company funding of the expensive treatment and expedite FDA approval in the face of doubts about its actual efficacy.  (This was the subject of at least one episode on the 80s legal drama L.A. Law.)

But in DBC’s telling, the FDA is cramming AZT down people’s throats at the behest of Big Pharma, while Ron is learning from de-licensed doctors in Mexico that AZT is toxic and that better drugs are available everywhere except the U.S.  My reading from the links above hint that this is mostly exaggeration:  AZT is still part of the cocktail used to arrest HIV today, although it is true that in the high doses originally prescribed, and in the absence of other drugs to control its adverse side effects, its usefulness was limited.  Meanwhile, DDC, the “good drug” in the movie, isn’t even used anymore.

In the end, after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, Ron Woodroof died in 1992 – seven years later.  For all his self-medicating, this strikes my recollection as about par for the time.  In consideration of all this, it’s hard to see in Ron’s real-life story the libertarian parable that DBC makes it out to be.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Harnessing the State

From "The Agony of Liberal Gun Lovers" (H.T.: "Trumwill)

Outside of the Liberal Gun Club circle, many left-leaning gun owners have found there’s not much room for their perspective in public gun discourse. Their arguments fall between the cracks. For example, Ed Gardner of the Boston LGC chapter dismisses the typical pro-gun line about “freedom from tyranny, stand[ing] up against the government.” But at the same time, he argues that guns offer an especially important measure of protection to minority groups usually identified with the left. “Our transgender, LGBT, African American members, they’ll talk about real oppression,” he says. “The police aren’t going to come. That’s meaningful defense.”

On the other hand, Leftist policy in the post-Black Panther era has been to compel the police to do their bidding. And in this they have been wildly successful. Indeed, it is impossible to think of a signle institution that does not actively abet the Left's priorities. There may be an occasional holdout -- Hobby Lobby perhaps, or an odd conservative church -- but these are far and few between. Leftists today enjoy, with only occasional exceptions, the unfettered support of the courts, the Congress, the Presidency, business, academia, churches, the military -- every institutional power supports their agenda. Suspicision of the police among Leftists exists only as a romantically-held relic of an earlier time.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Independence Day

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

Monday, June 30, 2014

Range Report 100m

Following Prof. Hale’s instructions, I started testing my ammo at 100m range.  All shots were fired from the bench using the collapsible bipod, holographic sight with 5x magnifier.

Let’s start with the weak stuff first.

MFS (Russia) Zinc-plated FMJ 55gr. $7.39/20:

MFS .223 Rem FMJ 55gr

The Brass Kings (Reloads) “Metal Piercing” FMJ 62gr. $27.95/50:

The Brass Kings 'Metal Piercing' 62gr

WPA (Russia – Wolf, I think) HP 62gr. (don’t have the price, but it was probably cheap):

WPA (Russia) .223 Rem HP 62gr

TulAmmo (Russia) FMJ 55gr. (don’t have price, but probably around $.30 per):

TulAmmo (Russia) .223 Rem FMJ 55gr

I had written previously that the Russian ammo gave solid performance for the price, but I’m not seeing it today.

CBC FMJ 62 gr.  I don’t have the price again, but I think I paid to much, maybe $.45 per:

CBC 5.56x45mm FMJ 62gr

Barnaul FMJBT 55gr. $6.95/20.  This one is missing a couple off the right side.

Barnaul .223 Rem FMJ (Boat Tail) 55gr

Brown Bear (Russia) HP 62 gr. $7.29/20 when I bought it, but it’s less now.  Also missing a couple off the right side.

Brown Bear (Russia) .223 Rem HP 62gr

The others did better.  Here’s a new one:

Silver Bear (Russia) bi-metal HP zinc-plated 62 gr. $6.95/20.

Silver Bear (Russia) .223 Rem Bimetal HP Zinc-plated 62gr

That’s not terrible, but what I really want is to find a not-too-expensive 62 grain hollow-point that shoots a consistent 4-inch group at 100m.  This might be it, but I’ll have to test it again.  This was my next-to-last test of the day, and I was getting tired.

The Brass Kings (Reloads) FMJ 55 gr. $31.95/100:

Considering the price, not too bad a plinker.

Aguila (Mexico) FMJ 55gr. $174.95/500 (pre-Newtown prices). 

Still shooting way off to the left while almost everyone else shoots to the right.  Probably failed the 4-inch test.

Colt FMJ 62 gr. zinc-plated $7.49/20:

Colt .223 Rem FMJ Zinc-plated 62gr

Inside a three-inch group!  Too bad it’s not a HP.

PMC Bronze FMJ 55 gr.  Probably paid $.35 per.

That’s not too bad for PMC Bronze.

Here’s another new one.  Hornady Match BTHP 75 gr. $17.95/20:

  Hornady Match .223 Rem BTHP 75gr

So, well inside a 3-inch group.  I’ve been looking for a match-grade HP to replace the Korean PMC Precision, which is no longer sold in the U.S.  This might be it.  That was my last test of the day, and as I said, I was getting tired.

But the day’s winner is still . . . the DRS FMJBT (Reload) 55gr. at $36.95/100:  match-grade performance at plinker prices!*

Dam, if the internet ever finds out how awesome this ammo is, it’ll bid the price past what I can afford!

Oops, wait . . .

Moving on, my perception is that I have trouble maintaining a consistent "cheek weld" through a group. Now, the alleged benefit of a holographic sight is that it is supposed to be "parallax free" -- in other words, the reticle should at distances 50m or greater consistently line up with the target regardless of what aspect the shooter has on it through the viewfinder. But I'm not sure that's really the case, at least with my $100 Sightmark.

* I've been singing the praises of DRS for a while now, but since writing this post, I opened my second 100 round bag, purchased much later. I may have to add some nuance, so don't run out and buy it just yet.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

How do you boycott free?

I have a question in the wake of the Brendan Eich business.  I’ve never installed the Firefox browser on my laptop; Internet Explorer handles my browsing needs just fine, thanks.  I have an older desktop that’s still in service, but IE bogs down so we use Google Chrome instead.  I do have Firefox installed on my work computer; I have a couple of programs that require it, and my experience is that it is modestly more robust that IE on our crappy government networks.

But my question is, how do Mozilla and Google make money on free stuff?  Google supposedly makes money on targeted advertising and on selling consumer data for marketing purposes.  But while I regularly use Google for internet shopping, I have never – not once that I can recall – clicked on an embedded Google “targeted” advertisement and bought something.

And Mozilla?  They’re not even a search engine!  The only product they make that I know about is Firefox.  I assume they have an option to track my browsing history, but the user can opt out of that (as I have done at work).

So while I’ll be happy to help punish Mozilla for gross moral turpitude, I don’t actually understand the path a dollar takes from my wallet to Mozilla.

Any explanation would be appreciated.