Things I don’t get

I think this post has something for all the classes of people that I know have ever read my blog.

1) Why free speech advocates reject the “but it will offend Muslims!” argument as if it were clearly not worth considering.

Personally, I preferred the bear suit.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the idea that you should not be able to draw a picture or write an article about something because somebody might find it offensive really is inherently stupid. I think blasphemy laws suck, that they’re a disgrace to a civilised world and that they’re taking us back to the dark ages. But the idea that some things can offend us simply by existing is not in fact particularly new or unconventional, as much as it might go against my libertarian principles. Few people demand the categorical repeal of obscenity laws, which are essentially just that. Here is a Less Wrong article asking a similar question.

My theory is that this is a problem that inevitably arises in heterogenous societies. Most of us don’t object to a law that bans public masturbation because we share the same instinctual reaction to it, and we don’t share the reaction of an observant Muslim faced with a cartoon of Mohammed. Of course, I still say the offended Muslim can go poke his/her eyes out if he cares that much, but then I’m also perfectly comfortable to generally push “enlightenment values” and secular traditions in the face of local cultures everywhere.

2) Why people cried for Steve Jobs

English: Steve Jobs shows off the white iPhone...

Steve Jobs and a device people now identify with Steve Jobs.

Which is an entirely different question from why people exhibit such strong emotions for their Apple devices. Because let’s be fair, Apple makes a lot of good products. They have great designs and generally trouble-free, marvelously smooth interfaces, and the customer support in Apple stores is wonderful (or so I’m told).  But Jobs himself was never the most savoury of characters. The man was horrible to work for, stole ideas all over the place, never gave significantly to charity despite his vast wealth, promoted quack medicine until it almost killed him, and cared little for how his subcontractors treated workers.

Of course he was smart. And of course he had a good eye for design and had vision and was a good executor and gave good speeches. If I owned a tech company-ok, pretty much any company- and Zombie Jobs offered to run it I would jump at the chance. But since when does any of that lead people to care so deeply about a total stranger?

My answer is a combination of the media’s increasing tendency towards hagiographic obituaries, the fact that he had very consciously developed a personality cult and tied the company and its products strongly to himself, and the simple truth that he was a very well-known figure and there will be someone who cries for just about any celebrity, just because it means a change in their world. I remain unsatisfied at the idea that so many people the world over chose him as the only corporate titan to connect to in such an emotional way, though.

3) Why people care about the US elections

Like the first one, this is a bit of a tease, because I find myself reading a fair bit about it and I’ll probably continue to, if only because I won’t be able to escape it. But from a purely utilitarian viewpoint it’s a pointless exercise.

I mean, look at him.

“But Nikhil!” , you protest. “Perry’s a whore, Santorum’s santorum, and Gingrich is such an obvious prick: wouldn’t it be horrible if one of them won?” And I say: it won’t, because they won’t. The truth is that none of them have a real shot, let alone the gallery of buffoons (Cain, Bachman, and oh God, Palin) that have sprung up and dropped out one by one. Mitt Romney is the only real Republican candidate who has a chance- sorry, Ron Paul- and no matter what he says in the primary to appease the raving horde, his actions as president are unlikely to be significantly different from Obama’s. Of course he’ll be a little to Obama’s right but on most things we would care about-foreign policy, Internet regulation, general IP regulations/agreements, free trade agreements- that isn’t saying much. As long as he isn’t stupid enough to start a new war-and however much you might despise his views, he shows all signs of being a rather intelligent man- the rest of the world could easily close their eyes to this entire circus.

Reluctant Apple Fanboy: iPhone 4 vs Galaxy S2

You'll find this image in every single post comparing the two, but who am I to break ranks?

I’ve had an iPhone 3G for about a year and a half now, and while I have been less than happy with a LOT of things about it[1], it’s certainly been enough of a positive influence that I’m sure I wouldn’t willingly go back to using a mediocre-phone, for lack of a better term. So now that it’s time to switch- and it really is, I bought the phone second-hand, it fell into the sea, it has scratches on the screen and I can feel some sort of buzzing sound in the background when I use it sometimes, which can’t possibly be a good sign for continued use- I was pretty sure that I’d want to get either the iPhone 4 or, more preferably, one of the better Android-based models. My choice up until an hour back was the Samsung Galaxy S2. It has far better specs- faster dual core processor, more RAM, a nicer camera, a better form factor, you can increase the memory relatively cheaply by using micro-SD cards, and so on. But when you actually use it, as my uncle exhaustively showed me, the story’s a little more nuanced.

For starters, very strangely, Samsung has insisted on fitting this phone with some sort of colour display enhancement, which means that everything you see in this is quite noticeably different from most standard displays or from “life”, as you can see if you compare photos. This would have been OK because it really does look quite nice in most cases, except for one thing: you can’t turn it off. There ARE 3 display modes which apply various levels of enhancement but all of them give you substantially different images from what you would see on a “normal” screen. This won’t be a problem for a lot of people and I’m still deciding if this is an issue for me, but for anyone who really cares about the “true” colours of something as opposed to how crisp a movie looks- and it definitely looks crisper, if much darker, even with the brightness turned all the way up- this might be a dealbreaker.

Then, the battery life. The battery theoretically has a greater capacity than the iPhone but possibly because of the better specs it does not, in fact, last as long. This might not be a major issue because it does last 6-8 hours of “active” usage, but it’s certainly less than ideal, and I can think of lots of situations where I would want more than 10 hours between charges.

Third, there’s the fact that it really isn’t as quickly responsive as the iPhone. I’m sure loading times for games and so on will be faster- that dual core processor and extra RAM must show up somewhere- but the basic touch sensitivity is just a teeny bit less. Not necessarily very irritating, but certainly noticeable, even when you’re not looking for it.

Fourth, there’s the screen resolution, which is quite a bit less. This is as advertised, but that doesn’t help the fact that if you’re going to be reading something on it, you’d have to scroll much longer on the galaxy s2 than on the iPhone 4, even with the bigger screen. The iPhone does look positively puny if you set them next to each other, though.

Now, all of these are minor points, and it’s entirely possible that I’m overweighing the small inconveniences and underweighing the substantially greater power of the Galaxy S2, and that awesomely large 4.3″ screen. A lot of these bugs like the colour enhancement are meant to be features, or are inevitable side effects of features, and they probably are features for some people in some contexts. My initial plan was to get a decent Android phone for the present and see how the iPhone 5 will be when it comes out, which probably will not be very long. But at least for now, despite my initial bias, I think I’m going to stick with Apple.


[1]Where do I start? The biggest issues:

  1. Apple blatantly screws over people with older phones, as evidenced by the iOS 4.0 update rigmarole for the iPhone 3G. This update is by far my biggest reason for hating Apple.
  2. You need to resort to some extremely inconvenient workarounds to do anything to this phone without using iTunes every step of the way. I don’t really hate iTunes, I just hate being forced to rely on it.
  3. They… well, let’s just say they don’t have the cleanest corporate image.
  4. I really, really don’t want to be yet another Apple fanboy. Oh, but look…

iPhone woes

Aargh. It’s bad enough that they won’t let me just add music without going through the horrible mess of the iTunes system, but this is a disaster. The stupid thing has crashed mid-sync twice so far, taking hours to do anything, AND when I pulled the plug it’s rendered all my (App-Store purchased;thank god for Cydia!) apps unusable, and DELETED ALL MY PHOTOS, while leaving my music in place, whereas the only thing I really wanted to swap out was the music! And all my books on Stanza are gone, too. Especially considering that I’d lost my ebook collection when I got the new laptop, this is a major pain.

Also every time I plug it in it asks me to restore from backup, which takes ages, although I’m guessing it’s not supposed to. Does anyone have any idea why/what I can do about it?

UPDATE: No help for me now, but for smarter, more careful iphone users, use Sharepod. Portable, simple and doesn’t lose your music.

UPDATE[11:30 AM 30/07]:It seems that after I finish playing every track on the music player it automatically cuts off and returns to the home screen. The same thing happens when I try to skip a track. So it’s almost useless at this point. I’m planning on installing iOS 4 and then jailbreaking and unlocking that (everything was out almost as soon as it was released, apparently), but I don’t think that overwrites any of this so I might have to just find some way to reformat the whole thing, if that’s possible. I’ve backed up my contacts, photos till mid-July (lost everything in NY!) etc and I can back up music through Sharepod if I want to, so now I just want to get this thing working again.

UPDATE [5:20 PM 30/07]: Installed iOS4 and jailbroke it after a ridiculous amount of trouble. Getting it to sync was then an even more ridiculous amount of trouble, but then after refusing to sync because of “internal device error” a few times it magically worked…music, contacts, podcasts, etc. I still need to unlock it and add my jailbreak features (5 icon dock, at the very least), but I need wifi to do that, and I can’t access the campus wifi on this thing. At least it isn’t bricked… worst comes to worst it is now an ipod touch with mic and cam. Unlocking should work, though, at least after some trouble.

Quote of the Week: the Inevitability of Original Sin

[God] puts an apple tree in the middle of [the Garden of Eden] and says, do what you like guys, oh, but don’t eat the apple. Surprise surprise, they eat it and he leaps out from behind a bush shouting “Gotcha.” It wouldn’t have made any difference if they hadn’t eaten it…Because if you’re dealing with somebody who has the sort of mentality which likes leaving hats on the pavement with bricks under them you know perfectly well they won’t give up. They’ll get you in the end.