24 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

Ged Maheux's response to creationists demanding "balance" on FOX's COSMOS

Gedeon Maheux wrote a great article in response to some creationist group's complaint about COSMOS — which airs on FOX of all places. Here's my favourite quote:

The irony is so thick in this story you could cut it with a knife. For those people who continually ignore the scientific method and established facts about our world and universe to suddenly complain because they themselves are being ignored is nothing short of poetic justice.

20 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

My first impressions of the Nexus 7 and Android

For the past six years my primary computing devices have been iPhones, iPads and Apple computers. Five days ago I was given an ASUS Nexus 7 by my employer for testing purposes. Here are some of my first impressions.

The Device

  • The form factor of the Nexus 7 feels strange. Having used iPhones and iPads for years a 16:9 screen feels alien for browsing the web and reading books and other written content.
  • The build quality is good. To be honest I was surprised by this. It's not comparable to current Apple tablets or even the Microsoft Surface 2, but on the other hand the Nexus 7 costs a lot less. With the exception of the SIM card slot I'd equate the build quality and the perceived density of the device to an iPhone 3G.
  • I'm not a fan of soft-touch coatings on devices and the Nexus 7 is no exception. They feel interesting for a while, but when they wear off the devices look crappy. Admittedly the coating on this tablet is among the best I've seen so far and I'll reserve my judgement for when it has been used a few months.
  • The cameras, both front and back, are decent but nothing to write home about — which is perfectly fine for me as they only need to deliver good video quality for video calls and the occasional snapshot.
  • The display itself is stunning; colours are great, viewing angles, too. Watching videos on it feels more natural than reading articles on the internet.
  • The speakers are lousy, but at least the headphone port is decent.
  • The buttons on the side are nice and firm and react precisely.

The Operating System

  • One thing I noticed immediately was that the interface is a bit laggy. This tablet is one of the fastest Android devices out there, yet iOS 7 on my iPad 2 from 2011 feels more responsive.
  • The system (Android 4.4.2) is a bit overwhelming to be honest. The amount of customisablity—some, it seems, just for the sake of it—often has me second-guessing myself. I won't deny that Android is powerful, but it demands a lot from the user. The learning curve is very steep and I think that the average user won't ever scratch the surface of what it can do.
  • The way Android approaches home screens and applications reminds me very much of Windows. Instead of a number of apps I have five small desktops that I can customise to a certain degree, but all my apps still reside in the applications menu (like the start menu). Another system I feel reminded of is my old Psion 5mx running EPOC32, the precursor to Symbian.
  • I'm not thrilled by the widgets. I already installed a good number of apps but with the exception of a few, widgets are rarely more useful than an icon with a badge. I have a good weather widget installed and the GMail widget, but most widgets seem to have been designed as an afterthought. Google's widgets show that there's potential, but I've seen nothing really compelling so far.
  • The way notifications are handled is great. Same goes for quick access to core features of the device. Apple has nailed the latter with Control Center in iOS 7, but it's very clear that Android was the inspiration. Notifications are something that Apple definitely needs to work on, because right now it's neither here nor there.
  • Having access to the filesystem has certain upsides but also a lot of downsides. Personally I like not having to deal with a filesystem in iOS, but it's great that on Android more than one app can access the same file without requiring me to move it between apps. Allowing an app to see, open and modify all files it's capable of opening on the entire device, is something I will need before I can truly start replacing my laptop with an iPad.

The Software

There are very few applications I miss. The ones I do miss are pretty specialised apps that not many other people will find useful, but the most important ones all have fairly decent equivalents or acutal counterparts. The biggest drawback I see in most apps is that they don't integrate (well) with the third-party services I use (like Pinboard) but your mileage may vary.

  • RSS: On iOS I use Reeder 2 syncing with Feedbin. On Android I found Press. It's only a few bucks and possibly the best RSS reader on Android right now. It reminds me heavily of the old Reeder on the iPad and I really enjoy using it.
  • App.net: Riposte + Whisper is what I use on iOS for ADN and ADN private messages, on Android Robin is my app of choice at the moment. It looks great, makes even greater use of the tablet's screen (especially in landscape mode) and is very responsive. The only oddity is that I can't seem to filter out conversations as well as in Riposte.
  • Twitter: Nothing beats Twitterrific on iOS for me, on Android Falcon Pro seems the way to go, even if setting it up is more than convoluted thanks to Twitter.
  • Movies: AVPlayer HD might have a slightly odd interface, but has very meaningful gesture controls and deals well with different file formats. On Android the VLC beta is the way to go for now.
  • Skype: I use the service very often and the Android app is not only a lot nicer than the iOS app, it's easier to use and more responsive. It was a very pleasant surprise.
  • Dropbox: Similar to Skype, the Dropbox app seems a lot more useful on Android than on iOS and the UI is much nicer.

So, these are my first impressions of the device and the software. In a few weeks I'll write some more, once I've really gotten to know both.

18 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

Possible evidence for the Big Bang found

In the most anticipated announcement in physics since the discovery of the Higgs Boson, the first detection of a gravitational wave has been reported. If verified, the find will dispel any lingering doubts about Relativity theory, transform our understanding of the universe's beginning and provide astrophysicists with a new tool to probe the universe. The importance of the detection is hard to overstate.

If this discovery can be verified, the effects it will have on astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics are hard to put into words.
First the Higgs Boson and now this. Wow, just wow.

Read the entire article at I fucking love Science

16 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

Dog enjoys a nice dinner

I know, I know, peanut butter is not healthy for dogs and I hope that this was a one time treat for the pooch, but I haven't laughed so hard about a video in a long time.

You can see in this dog's face that it's utterly confused, but it just goes with it, because hey… PEANUT BUTTER!

Found on: Sad and Useless

12 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

A few thoughts about the Pono

I'm very sceptical about the Pono.

Dave Mark over at the Loop wrote a short but thought-provoking piece about this new digital audio player, linking among other things to a pretty bad and overly negative piece that didn't really address issues that go beyond taste and personal preference.

The design is not an issue. To each his own. Even when Apple was crushing the DAP industry with the iPod, companies like Cowon and iRiver did their thing and still sold devices. The latter two and a few others gained a reputation for delivering great sound, better than the iPod's and that reputation was well-earned. Until the iPod Classic came around they definitely used the better audio chips, took more care in designing the circuit boards, which resulted in objectively better sound.

Nowadays there are players like the HiFi-Man that not only do what the Pono can do already, but also cater directly to the kind of people that the Pono will try to win over. What's more—and that's something the Pono will have to prove—is that the HiFi-Man delivers enough power to drive big expensive and small and expensive headphones and in-ear monitors without the need for a separate amp.

But where I'm really sceptical about the Pono (and the HiFi-Man for that matter), is that the audio files they can play, the fidelity they claim to offer, is nearly impossible to appreciate by humans.
Back when the Pono was first announced, Christopher "Monty" Montgomery of the XIPH.org Foundation (makers of the OGG codec) wrote a great article about the limits of human hearing and why to even the best ears, 24 bit/192 kHz music doesn't sound better than 16 bit/48 kHz.
It's well worth a read to understand that whatever claims will be made about the device's audio quality prowess, is most likely going to be voodoo, misdirection and lies aimed at nothing but selling devices and music.

Even worse, a possible debate what constitutes good audio quality might not revolve around "Having a good offering of losslessly encoded music would be amazing!" but "24/192 or death!", akin to the megapixel race that brought us ever smaller digital cameras with small chips and big numbers that amounted to no better pictures than the generation before them — thankfully the photography industry has found its way out of this mess.
This debate will be led by a small groupp of very loud people who listen to gear rather than music, who value the numbers and specs of the technology they listen with more than the what the technology was made for. To quote my friend Darby Lines: "Nerds ruin everything". This breed of audiophiles is deluding themselves and has already created an industry around them that sells $ 1000.- ethernet cables for better audio quality — a digital connection, mind you.

I love music. I'm also a fan of good audio gear. My home system is a well set-up Yamaha Pianocraft E400 and my mobile setup is my iPhone and a pair of Westone UM3X RC with custom earmolds (frankly my favourite earphones so far; not the objectively best earphones I've ever had, but I simply love the tuning). I'm also a proponent of losslessly encoded music, because it sounds a lot better than what is being sold in the iTunes Store or on Amazon at the moment. But there are limits to what we can hear and I think that having Apple, Amazon and others offer FLAC or Apple Lossless files in their stores would be a greater step in the right direction than the Pono ever will be.

(It would save me from having to still buy CDs among other things.)

11 March 2014 by Alexander Hoffmann

Bryan Chaffin debunks falsehoods and misinformation spread by the NCPPR

Remember the NCPPR?
The National Center for Public Policy Research?
The organisation that's denying climate change?
The organisation that received quite a bit of press after Tim Cook got angry during Apple's last shareholder conference, about their demands that Apple would only do things that are good for the bottom line of the company?
The organisation that was told by Tim Cook to get out of the AAPL stock if they didn't like the way Apple operates?

Well, they wrote a rebuttal after the shareholder conference, accusing Apple of only faking ecological responsibility and Tim Cook only faking anger when he told the NCPPR off.
It's pretty much what you'd expect from an organisation like this.

Bryan Chaffin of The Mac Observer wrote a great editorial in response to their rebuttal, outlining all the falsehoods they spread. Read it, it's well worth your time.