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  • feedwordpress 20:48:00 on 2017/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: Review   

    Review: From Plato to Post-modernism 


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    51GBGRne7aL._AA300_.jpgOne thing I’m going to try this year is to write a review of every book I get a chance to read. It’s March already so I’m a bit behind and the next few will be out of order, but this seems like as good a place to start as any.

    One new thing I’ve been doing this year is listening to audiobooks with an Audible account, so this first book review is actually an audiobook. Great Courses is actually an old school thing you could order lectures on tape, and my guess from the references in the lectures this is sometime from the 90s. This one is called From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author ($25 on Audible, $9.99 on cassette tape 🙃).

    I really enjoyed this series. Some of the early lectures covering Aristotle, Loginus, and Sidney’s “Apology for Poetry” were quite brilliant. Later ones from Foucault and Derrida on were weaker and harder to follow, which I think it’s a function of both the material, which can be dense when it starts getting into Modernism, the length, fixed at 30 minutes, and the lecturer, Louis Markos. Markos teaches at Houston Baptist University and in his asides can sometimes be a little traditional, but in an adorable grandpa way. He has an infectious enthusiasm that makes even the slower chapters on Kant and Schiller bearable, but his love and fluency with the earlier classics is really a pleasure.

    It made me curious to check out more online lectures and sometime this year I’m going to check out this one on Value Theory at Khan academy. I also picked up a used copy of Critical Theory Since Plato which had the original text for many things discussed in the lecture, so was a great reference point when I was at home in Houston, where I end up listening to most audio content since it’s a driving town.

     
  • feedwordpress 21:25:20 on 2015/05/04 Permalink
    Tags: , Review   

    Macbook & USB-C Review 


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    macbookI’ll start by saying I’m writing this on a 12″ Macbook in space grey. The screen, weight, size, and weird keyboard have captured my heart and I’m enjoying using the machine. It has replaced a 15″ Retina Pro as my primary laptop for about 2 weeks now, with most of that being on the road.

    For better and worse, it’s a lot like an iPad — the size and weight feel very natural in your life, and the screen is really gorgeous. It’s also not worth plugging anything into it besides its charging cable. It feels great to open and pick up right where you left off. The speed feels more than adequate for everything I’ve thrown at it so far, though I haven’t tried video editing or photo management outside of the new Apple Photos app. If there was a perfect iPad and keybard combo, it would feel and look like the new Retina Macbook.

    The second thing I’ll say is I wouldn’t recommend this laptop for everybody yet. There are some trade-offs, for example I can get 5-6 hours from the battery but it’s a little shorter than I expected. It’s refreshing to have a computer that’s totally silent with no fan, and I’ve only had a heat warning once when it was sitting in hot direct sunlight for about 20 minutes. I moved into the shade because I was also wilting a bit from the direct LA sun.

    The main reason I’m not sure if I’d recommend this Macbook right is hopefully ephemeral: USB-C. One of the very coolest things about the new Macbook is it charges (quickly) with a new standard called USB 3.1 with a Type-C connector, which is open for anyone to use, is reversible, and I think is going to be the future as I’ve written about on this blog before.

    USB-type-C

    Today, however, USB-C is bleeding edge. I actually have one other device that uses it, Google’s new Chrome Pixel laptop, but when you search on Amazon for “USB-C” there are almost no results except sketchy or not-in-stock generic things, and Apple doesn’t have any USB-C stuff in stock, even in their stores. (Perhaps related to the general stock issues I ended up writing about last time I tried to pen this Macbook review.) I was able to get a cable that had male old USB and male USB-C on Amazon, that was pretty much it. The promise of USB-C is incredible: standard cables for charging everything super-quickly, a battery pack that could charge your phone or laptop, smaller power bricks, a next-gen Thunderbolt display with one cable for all data, display, and charging. You can see and imagine a really perfect ecosystem around USB-C, but it doesn’t exist today. Some cool stuff has been announced but isn’t coming until the summer, even thumb drives.

    The problem in one sentence: it is impossible to buy a cable, from Apple or otherwise, that let’s you plug an iPhone 6+ into the Macbook. They’ve announced but not shipped (to me at least) an adapter for old USB stuff (Type-A), but the last thing I need in my life is another dongle.

    I thought I would miss this but in practice it has been a surmountable problem. Instead of using my laptop as a battery, I’ve been using a battery to recharge miscellaneous electronics on-the-go, and everything else including transferring photos from phone to computer is now happening wirelessly.

    apple-line-upI think the most perfect tech combo in the world right now might be a 5k iMac at home, an iPhone 6+ as your phone, and the Macbook as an on-the-go device. (The iPad isn’t in my must-have list anymore.) The strengths of each of these products complement each other, and as Apple gets better about the cloud with things like photos, tethering, keychain sync, and continuity it’s really becoming a pleasure to use these products together. I also have an Apple Watch in the mix, but still forming my thoughts on that one.

    The thing I might be most excited about is when some of the new tech in the retina Macbook around the keyboard, screen, trackpad, and battery is applied to their “Pro” series, which will probably be a bit more in my wheelhouse.

     
  • feedwordpress 16:44:35 on 2015/04/28 Permalink
    Tags: , Review   

    Who is Steve Jobs? 


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    I checked out the new book Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli because there had been some interesting excerpts published to the web, and apparently those closest to Steve didn’t like the Walter Isaacson book, with Jony Ive saying “My regard [for Isaacson’s book] couldn’t be any lower.”

    Along with about a million other people I bought and read the authorized biography, and didn’t think it portrayed Jobs in a way that made me think any less of him, but there must have been some things in there that someone who knew him closely felt were so off that as a group they decided to coordinate and speak with a new author to set the record straight, as Eddy Cue said of the new Becoming book, “Well done and first to get it right.” I will never know who Steve Jobs really was, but it is interesting to triangulate and learn from different takes, especially Isaacson’s biography that Jobs himself endorsed but might not have read and this new one promoted by his closest friends, colleagues, and family.

    As an independent third party who doesn’t know any of the characters involved personally, I must say that I felt like I got a much worse impression of Steve Jobs from Becoming than from the authorized biography. It was great to hear the direct voices and anecdotes of so many people close to him that haven’t spoken much publicly like his wife Laurene — he was a very private man and his friends respect that. But the parts where Schlender/Tetzeli try to balance things out by acknowledging some of the rougher parts of Steve’s public life, especially the recent ones around options backdating, anti-poaching agreements, book pricing, (all overblown in my opinion) or even when trying to show his negotiating acumen with suppliers, Disney, or music labels, they make Jobs look like an insensitive jerk, which seems to be the opposite of what everyone involved was intending.

    The direct quotes in the book could not be kinder, and it’s clear from both books that Jobs was incredibly warm, caring, and thoughtful to those closest to him, but Becoming tries so hard to emphasize that it makes the contrast of some of his public and private actions seem especially callous. The personal anecdotes from the author are the best part: one of the most interesting parts of the book is actually when Jobs calls Schlender to invite him for a walk, as one of the people he reached out to and wanted to speak to before he passed, and Schlender — not knowing the context — actually chastises him for cutting off his journalistic access and other trivia, and then blows off the meeting, to his lifelong regret.

    It’s tragic, and it’s very human, and that’s what makes for great stories. No one suggests that Steve Jobs was a saint, nor did he need to be. His legacy is already well-protected both in the incredible results while he was alive, and even more so in what the team he built has accomplished since his passing, both periods which actually amaze and inspire me. Becoming Steve Jobs tries harder and accomplishes less to honor the man. It is worth reading if, like me, you gobble up every book around the technology leaders of the past 40 years and want a different take on a familiar tune, but if you were only to read one book about Jobs, and get the most positive impression of the man and his genius, I’d recommend Isaacson’s Steve Jobs.

     
  • feedwordpress 19:34:51 on 2015/04/08 Permalink
    Tags: , Review   

    Best Headphones Spring 2015 Edition 


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    Since my last headphone post I’ve been trying out lots of different models, and have settled on two new ones as my daily drivers: the PowerBeats 2 and the Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless.

    beats_by_dre_pr_sentiert_lebron_james_in_re_established_powerbeats2_wireless_01I’ll talk about the Beats first because it’s easy: before I used a Plantronics set for exercise, but the battery life wasn’t great and they would often fall out when running. The Powerbeats 2 are light, have great battery life (they claim 6 hours, that feels about right), stay in place even when running in the Houston heat, charge fast, and as a bonus they look cool. (Beats has always been great about that.) The sound? They’re bad, but good at it. There’s basically no isolation so you can hear traffic and things around you at lower volumes, which is actually a bonus, and if you turn up the volume they get loud enough to drown other stuff out. Buy these for the function, not the sound quality, and you can pick them up from any Best Buy kiosk in the airport or Apple Store if you lose or forget them, so they’re pretty ubiquitous.

    71mNNnOhCKL._SL1500_-2I heard about the Sennheisers from Carl Hancock who tried them and gave them a high recommendation. I had trouble finding them but there was a pair local to me at B&H in New York so I got them delivered and I was immediately impressed with them. They’re better than my previous wireless over-ear recommendation the Samsung Level Over in every way: sound, size, compatibility, aesthetics, usability, noise canceling.

    The sound is the best I’ve heard from wireless headphones so far. Just the right balance. The noise canceling apparently uses 4 different mics and I’ve found it more than sufficient on dozens of plane rides, including passing the noisy baby test. My only complaint is they don’t “grip” my ears as much, so some sound leaks in that way. They fold up to be pretty small, and I just toss them in my backpack. 81FYeTRjv4L._SL1500_-2The battery goes forever, or as they claim 22 hours. You really forget to charge these things for a while and they still have plenty of juice. The volume and other controls actually work with the iPhone, and bluetooth calls have sounded great and people can actually hear me. Only downside is they have basically a proprietary connection for their 1/8th inch cable, so you have ta carry that around, but they charge with standard micro-USB. The only possible challenger I can think to these are the BeoPlay H8s, which I haven’t tried yet.

    tl; dr: If you want to exercise and get sweaty, get the Powerbeats 2 in your favorite color. For traveling, listening to music, talking, and generally enjoying amazing sound without worrying about wires, try out the Sennheiser Momentum Wireless.

    I think it’s interesting that both of these recommendations are version 2.0 of a product, it’s good to see companies iterating and improving on products even if they’ve already been successful in the marketplace.

     
  • feedwordpress 17:15:50 on 2014/10/12 Permalink
    Tags: audio, beats, , Review, samsung   

    Beats Studio Wireless vs Samsung Level Over 


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    I listen to music pretty much constantly, and it’s not unusual to see me on the road with just a carry-on and still have 3 or 4 headphones on me that I’m testing.

    First off, Bluetooth changes everything. It’s so nice to not ever worry about cables, or even proximity for the most part, like having your phone charging by the laptop and still able to walk around the room. Audio quality is great now, only downside is having to charge something, but they’re all pretty good about battery now.

    I’ve been enjoying a category I’ll call: Bluetooth, over ear headphones that let people know not to bother you, that you feel kind of cool wearing, that are great for planes, and cost around $300-400. The pioneer in this category is Beats, and I bought a pair of their Studio Wireless (in matte titanium, natch) after Apple bought them because I wanted to see what the fuss is about. More recently I got some horribly named but well-reviewed Samsung Level Overs, so this is a comparison of those two. (Another contender in this category would be the Parrot Zik ones, but just skip those. Great idea, annoying in practice.)

    Beats Studio WirelessLet me start with how the Beats are better: they fold up, look cool, sound pretty decent on calls, and everything works nicely with the iPhone. For me they have two fatal flaws: comfort and noise. The earcups are kind of small, or my ears are kind of huge; whichever it is, sometimes after wearing them for a few hours my left ear starts to become quite sore. Second is they have active noise cancellation (ANC) that causes what can only be described as a constant hiss you can hear both while music is playing and while it’s off, it’s like like noise addition rather than noise cancellation. The fit and finish of the Beats are nice, as well as the accessories like cables, how it indicates how much power is left, et cetera.

    Samsung LEVEL overThe LEVEL overs (wow that’s awkward to write) are big, and they don’t fold, but they float around in my backpack pretty much the same as the Beats, especially if you don’t use the included case. The battery seems to go forever. The ANC can be turned on and off (battery goes longer with it off), and when it’s on it’s good, like miss-the-announcement-for-your-flight good. For me this is the deal-maker — I didn’t realize what I was missing with mediocre ANC before on the Beats, I’m now able to concentrate and relax much better on planes. I’ve flown every third day in the past month, so this is a big deal to me. They also feel like they’re better made — less plastic feeling than the Beats. The have a touch gesture control on the right cup like on the Zik, but it actually works well. The cups fit completely over my ears and in general it feels more comfortable on my head, I can wear it for hours at a time and it’s totally comfortable. I don’t think they look as cool, but that’s probably because I haven’t been conditioned with pictures of my favorite musicians and athletes wearing them. (Though not in football anymore.)

    Main downsides: the cable it comes with doesn’t “work” with an iPhone or Mac as a mic or control device, and is also clunky. (Bluetooth control works fine.) This is apparently because the remote control resistor on Apple-targeted cables work differently from everyone else’s, which I think we can all agree in 2014 is ridiculous for both sides. My fix for this was to use the cable from the Beats, which you can also buy online, which looks cooler, is smaller, and works great with my Mac for G+ Hangouts and Skype calls. Perhaps related to this is when the Beats or many other Bluetooth headsets I’ve used are connected to the iPhone there’s a battery indicator and the Samsung doesn’t support this, but since the battery life is so good I don’t worry about this too much.

    Matt with SamsungsToo long; skipped to the end: The Samsung sounds better, is more comfortable, and is better made. Try it out if you’re considering buying headphones in this category. I don’t expect this to be a long-term advantage because I’m fairly certain Apple will do amazing things with Beats in the future, even if that just means a lightning connector, but I’m guessing that’s a 2015 thing.

    Extra credit: What headphones do I use in other categories? (An update to my 2009 post.) For in-ear wired I use Ultimate Ears 18 Pro Custom molded to my ears, but I also recommend Sennheiser IE 8i for friends who don’t want to go to audiologist, for running/exercise or when being discreet like on a subway I use the Plantronics BackBeat GO 2 with charging case, at home I like the Auduze LCD3 usually with a Red Wine Audio amp. I agree with many of the assessments in Marco Arment’s mega-review, and I got turned on to the Samsung’s by Wirecutter’s noise cancelling review.

     
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