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Tablet Time Warp

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Just over two years ago, I bought a Motorola Xoom tablet. It had been the top Android tablet of 2011, which is damning with faint praise. But, it was $600 for the Wifi-only model or $800 for the 3G model when it was released. I got the 3G model but never used the 3G part of it, and only paid $200 18 months after it was released. Needless to say, it did not do well in the market of the time. This month, I splurged and got myself an Nvidia Shield tablet. This is at the top of the Android tablet market for 2014, so it seems a good comparison can be made about the progress of Android in the tablet space over the past three-plus years. It’s a mixed bag, to be sure.


The first thing you notice about a tablet when you pick it up is how it feels in your hand. The Xoom weighs 730 grams (over 1.5 pounds), while the Shield weighs 390 grams (less than one pound). The Shield is so lightweight, I’m constantly amazed at how much it can do. Of course, the reviews talk about the Shield as being heavy, so apparently less-powerful tablets are lighter. But, the Shield can play Half-Life 2 and Portal! Besides weight, there are other physical aspects of the tablets that strike me. The Xoom feels like a tank. Its body is primarily metal, with a plastic strip to expose the various antennas. The Shield feels delicate. It’s all-plastic, and my first one had a crack when I took it out of the package (RMA time!). For this reason, I’ve ordered a hybrid shock-absorbing hard case for the Shield. If I’m going to be using it to take credit card orders at craft shows, I want it to be protected.


Once you get the thing in your hand, you’ll turn it on. The Xoom has a 1280×800 screen (160 ppi) that can be described as adequate. Colors are a little washed out, and viewing angles are not bad. The Shield’s 1920×1200 screen (293 ppi) is really nice. It’s only 8 inches, instead of the Xoom’s 10 inches, and so it squeezes a lot of pixels into a small space. The tablets with even higher resolution might be just chasing specs, since this has no visible pixels at normal viewing distances. The colors don’t shift, the blacks are blacker, and the whole feeling is just nicer. Even though it’s 2 inches smaller, I can read pages at least as easily on the Shield as the Xoom. It does seem that both screens are a bit dim, so sunlight is a tough place to use them. Both devices also have stereo speakers, but the Xoom has them facing away from the user for reasons that remain inexplicable. The Shield gets loud and the speakers face front.


What about power? Whooboy, have things changed in the performance realm. Xoom and Shield both use Nvidia Tegra chips. The Xoom is a Tegra 2, a dual-core 1Ghz CPU with a 400Mhz GeForce GPU. It was quite a nice piece of kit for 2011, but programmers have been expanding the capabilities of Android apps and Google’s own services since then. It’s feeling pretty sluggish today, with pauses and hiccups aplenty. The Shield SOC is the Tegra K1 32-bit variant. This has a quad-core 2.2Ghz CPU with a Kepler-class GPU. Overall, the power of the K1 is in the same ballpark as an Xbox 360 (which came out in 2005, so don’t get too excited). Benchmarks are phenomenally different between the two systems – Xoom gets an Antutu score of 5000, Shield is over 40,000. 3dmark Icestorm on the Xoom gets 1290, but 31500 on the Shield.


But, what about daily usage? That’s where things get frustrating. In 2012, I was struck by how frequently I ran into portrait-only apps on Android. I have not seen a huge increase in non-Google apps that use the landscape orientation, other than games. In fact, some apps which did work on the Xoom in landscape last year were updated to be portrait-only this year. TiVo is a big offender here. It was late bringing out an Android version to begin with, then it produced two – one for phones and one for tablets. Earlier this year, they merged the two, but dropped support for landscape mode and dropped support for the older app as well. In fact, loading the app which worked just fine would cause it to immediately close with the message that you needed to get the new one, regardless of the fact that the new one didn’t bloody well work on the device. So I ended up with no TiVo-branded app on my Xoom. There are a number of apps which work in landscape on the Xoom but force the Shield into portrait mode. Apparently the programmers figured the smaller screen meant, “treat it like a big phone.” For some reason, the popular casual games Simpsons Tapped Out and Family Guy Quest for Stuff are buggy as heck on the Shield, but work just fine on the Xoom. I’ll be generous and give them some time to fix them, but the Shield did come out in July.


Even Google’s own apps are not perfect when it comes to landscape mode. The Google Inbox program (which is starting to grow on me) works in landscape, but doesn’t make very good use of the extra width. Worse, it forces you to perform the quick setup steps in portrait mode. If even El Goog doesn’t care enough about landscape to allow their programs to work exclusively in that orientation, the likelihood of anyone else supporting it enthusiastically is pretty low.


Overall, I’m pretty happy with my Shield. I got it during the Black Friday promo, so it came with not just Trine 2, but Half-Life 2, Portal, Half-Life 2 Episode 1 (upcoming), and the Shield Controller. The controller makes the smaller screen less cramped for games that support it, that’s for sure. That I can place Portal or some very impressive racing games on a device that weighs less than a pound is just amazing. That it cost half what the Xoom did less than four years earlier is really a testament to Moore’s Law.

Testing Crosspost to LJ & G+

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I’m testing a new plugin for WordPress to post to Livejournal. The old one seems to be inserting random characters in my posts, and breaking URLs and otherwise not functioning as desired. The fact that it hasn’t been updated in a year, while WordPress has been updated a dozen times since then, leads me to blame incompatibility between new WP and old plugin.


Be Skeptical

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So many Facebook posts are mindless or poorly-considered reposts of something vastly misleading or irrelevant. Here are some I've seen this week.

For example, "Bibles are not allowed in schools." This is not true, and has never been true. The only prohibition is that teachers and staff can't force or coerce students in religion. There has never been a case that was upheld in which a student was forbidden from bringing a Bible (or other religious book) to school, nor from praying in a non-intrusive fashion.

"The President takes a lot of vacation," claim folks on the Right. No, he doesn't. He takes more than I do, but I also don't have to be on-call even while on vacation. I'm not sure the President could ever be considered to be truly on vacation, as he takes his entire operations center with him everywhere. He does not take more vacation than his predecessors. Let's say he keeps up the pace he's been, which is around 21 days of vacation per year. That will be 168 days in 8 years, or just about the same number as Bill Clinton (174) and significantly less than GW Bush (1020 days according to his Library, with 490 of them in Crawford) or Reagan (335 at his California ranch). I can't seem to find someone with good numbers on George H.W. Bush's full term, but by all accounts he was below average in days away from D.C. in his term (another reason to like Poppy Bush). Obama's vacations do tend to cost more than the Bush or Reagan vacations, since he doesn't own a vacation home and has to pay (OK, we have to pay) for his lodging.

"American soldiers in the Middle East are being forced to observe Ramadan fasting restrictions!" No, they're not. Well, not really. It's complicated. If you're stationed overseas, there are two sets of laws you need to follow. If you're on-base, you follow US laws, as modified by the military and local command. If you're off-base, you follow the local laws. In Saudi Arabia, it is literally illegal to not fast during the Ramadan days of fasting. That's the local law. To ensure that US service members don't run afoul of the local law, there are briefings telling them what they need to do, off-base. They can still go to the chow hall or Burger King on-base, with no problems of any kind.

Any statement that begins with "liberals believe" or "conservatives believe" is probably bullshit. It rises to near-certainty if the terms used are "libtard" or "rethuglican." No group seems to be well-represented by the loudest members of that group in modern politics. Most conservatives and liberals seem to disagree with most of what the two political parties put forward as party platforms, as if "conservative" is not synonymous with "Republican" and "liberal" is not synonymous with "Democrat." Go figure. Most actual people are not cartoon character villains, and pretending they are does no one any good.

I have nothing profound to say, just ranting about nonsense which is easily refuted by two seconds with the Google. Before you repost something that sounds great to you, maybe take a little time to find out if it's got any basis in reality.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

KARE Crafts on Etsy

Cute Pussy
I recently started selling paracord crafts on Etsy, to support Kat's animal rehab work. If you're not comfortable emailing me or contacting me via Facebook message for custom work, you can hit up the Etsy site for more structure.

We could really use the support right now. The sales we've made so far this year have not covered all our animal rehab expenses, and this weekend Kat's truck got wrecked by someone running a red light. I'll work my fingers to the bone to create all the leashes and collars and other crafts you order; I've got plenty of cord and supplies, and a budget shortfall that was not anticipated.

Thank you, and the squirrels thank you.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Bowe Bergdahl

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I have a lot of veteran friends, obviously. But, I also have a lot of non-vet friends who may not fully understand what's going on with Bergdahl, or not get why so many vets are ambivalent about his fate.

In 2009, Bergdahl was an odd duck, a leg infantryman (not qualified to jump out of planes) in an airborne unit. He was also apparently a bit of a philosopher, and seems to have become somewhat conflicted about the actions of the USA in Afghanistan. This is not uncommon among both vets and non-vets. It's certainly true that we made some bone-headed moves, as well as smart moves. The balance is not something I'm going to get into, but it's definitely an important backdrop for Bergdahl's story.

He left his forward operating base (tiny outpost in dangerous territory) one morning, and was not seen again by the public except on video until this week.

So...the discussion centers around what the hell this low-ranking soldier was doing leaving a safe-ish zone in the middle of a war zone, while leaving his buddies to take up his slack. It becomes increasingly clear that Bergdahl was, at best, a confused young man. He apparently thought life should be more like the movies, and he was the hero. He may have thought he could change the Taliban into warm fuzzies, he may have just felt guilty about the small part he played in destroying pieces of Afghanistan. There's no way to be certain at this time, but his motivations are almost beside the point.

The biggest point to veterans is this - he left his buddies in the lurch. He was part of a team. That team needed to trust *every* member to do his duty, and be where he was supposed to be, doing the job he was supposed to do. Any person missing not only reduces the effectiveness of the group by his absence, but reduces the effectiveness because they are duty-bound to try to find his ass. Trust and honor are words that carry a lot of weight in the military. These guys all needed to know that the guy sitting next to them would be capable and ready to defend each other without fail. One guy going missing isn't just one guy - he's a wound that is hard to heal in the body of that unit. The unit wants to be complete and whole, and will work to find missing or fallen members.

And this is what they did. His platoon (group of 30-50 men with guns) searched for him, taking away from their mission of defending a small part of Afghanistan. At least six people died during searches for Bergdahl. Some people say that the continuing low-level mission of "find Bergdahl" may have cost many other lives, but the military is not confirming that publicly.

Regardless of his motivations, and regardless of his causing disruption to his unit, there is also the constant reminder over the last five years that we had one prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and we wanted him back. We wanted him back because "No Man Left Behind" is a saying that soldiers believe in. He may have been a soup sandwich, but he was an American soldier, and damned if we didn't want him returned to us. Several of my Army comrades have been posting "Bowe Tuesday" reminders for years, reinforcing that PFC Bergdahl was wanted back in the fold. Later, that became SGT Bergdahl, as without a determination of desertion, he was entitled to automatic promotion while a prisoner.

Now, he's back, and the cost may be high (how valuable the prisoners we're giving up are is a debate for someone with much more knowledge than I have about the subject), but he's back. I assume there will be an investigation into his departure, but it will probably be very low-key and out of the public eye. I do know that he's unlikely to ever serve another day as a normal soldier. If he's still wearing a uniform in a year, I'll be very surprised. I'm very curious whether his views on the relative value of American vs. Taliban culture and justice have changed.

So, welcome home, SGT Bergdahl. You've got some explaining to do.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Name-calling and Non Sequiturs

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I may have, once or twice, stooped to derogatory name-calling when mentioning a major public figure in the past. If you look, I’m sure somewhere I may have called G.W. Bush “Shrub” as so many others did, thinking we were witty. But, in general, I referred to him as President Bush or Dubya. I can defend Dubya as not derogatory, as that’s what so many of his friends and family called him for decades. On those occasions when I was childish, I apologize for being childish.

It doesn’t seem that anyone on the Right is capable of calling the current President by his actual name. This does not make them seem witty, any more than referring to Bush as “Shrub” did years ago. Further, it seems that they can’t stop doing it, nor coming up with an ever-increasing list of names they think are clever. Not only are they not clever, they serve as a barrier to entry for anyone not already in the bubble where these things circulate. This may be deliberate on the part of some pundits, but certainly the average person one encounters is merely following along in someone else’s script. This has actually been going on far longer than the Obama administration. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask someone to whom they were referring when they would use a completely impenetrable nom de wit for a public figure. Uncle Joe, Moochelle, Obummer, etc. – the list seems endless. The effect can frequently be that nobody who isn’t already part of the conservative movement even knows what you’re talking about and therefore won’t engage in conversation. This leads to conservatives erecting a wall of rhetoric, never hearing anything that doesn’t reinforce their belief that libtards and commies and nazis are taking over the government and the UN is leading troops into the US to round every True Patriot up and put them in FEMA camps, financed by the Amero coins and the Law of the Sea Treaty, or whatever Jerome Corsi wrote about this week.

I’m not saying liberals don’t engage in name-calling. I know they do. They’re just not as all-encompassing about it. Most of the liberal pundits will call Boehner by his actual name, no matter how tempting it would be to mispronounce it. And they referred to President Bush by his name most of the time. Most liberals do not call Republicans “Rethuglicans” except when a specific group is acting like bullies. Most of the time, these things are true. When conservatives refer to liberal name calling, they most often point to liberals calling conservatives stupid or racist or misogynist. This is a form of name-calling, to be sure, but they are at least actual words with known meanings, as opposed to “libtard” which is pretty darned weird. My theory on the ubiquity of conservative terms, as contrasted with the truly disorganized liberal canon, is that conservatives are just a whole lot better at staying “on message” and on framing debates. Hell, they even made “liberal” into a term so dirty that most Lefties call themselves progressive now. It’s impressive. The out party is much more likely to engage in rhetorical bomb-throwing, which is why the name-calling and general unpleasantness is heaviest from the Right currently. The Left should not get a pass on this either, but they’re just not as noisy about this particular gambit currently.

And then there are the non sequiturs. Yes, we get it, President Obama (sorry, B. Hussein Obummer) wears “mom jeans.” Haha. And this means what, exactly? At least come up with something that is relevant to the discussion, eh? Sure, it’s possible that unflattering casual wear is a thing that has some importance, but most of us do not work for GQ. Oh, and he wore a bike helmet? Yeah, so did GW Bush when he went for a bike ride as President. It’s just being a good example for the children of the country.

If you can’t call someone by their actual name, if you refer to anyone you don’t agree with by derogatory terms, do you expect to influence anyone? Or are you just trying to prove to your imagined audience of sycophants how clever you are, because you can parrot names someone else coined? It’s pathetic, and it’s a sure way to get blocked or ignored by me anyway. Grow up.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Cedar

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I would like to inform my fellow west Texas residents that the cedar tree is a large evergreen, not a shrub. Just so you know, here’s a cedar tree:
Great_cedar_tree,_Stanley_Park,_Vancouver,_BC,_1897

This is a juniper bush:

Juniper

And this is a tamarix plant:
Tamarisk

 

Just sayin’.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Exempt from Obamacare

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If you’re passing around something saying that Congress and federal judges are exempt from the Affordable Care Act, you’re passing around bullshit. There is no health care program called “Obamacare” to be exempt from or to participate in. The federal government’s health insurance already complies with the mandates for coverage contained in the PPACA, so they don’t need to change. Is that “exempt” or is that “already compliant with” in your mind?

Congress is a special case. The GOP inserted language in the PPACA to require congresscritters and their staff members to participate in the health insurance exchanges, rather than stay on their (already PPACA-compliant) federal health insurance. This was a weird thing to do, as the exchanges were intended to be available to people who did not otherwise qualify for employer-provided or other health insurance. It was a deliberate political ploy to portray “Obamacare” as so repellent that the Dems would reject the provision. That ploy failed. They neglected to include language in the law regarding whether the government (as the employer) would continue to pay for the health insurance or not. The OPM issued a ruling this summer saying that, unless another law is passed changing it, the government will still be authorized to pay the same portion of the insurance premium they do for other federal employees. Is that an “exemption” or is that a “unique situation contrived to be as insane as possible” to you?

Many of these memes passing around also state that unions are exempt from “Obamacare.” Since that is still not a specific thing from which to be exempt, what could they possibly mean? Many unions got waivers from a particular provision of the law, which would have required coverage caps to rise to $750,000 by last year and be gone entirely by next year. Some companies and unions didn’t want to pass that expense on to their employees, so they asked for and received waivers until 2014. At that time, the waivers for coverage caps will go away. It’s kind of an exemption, but not from the full force of the law. And, it’s going to go away in a few months. So…not really “exempt from Obamacare” after all. Oh, and only 25% of the waivers have gone to unions, but you know how much the Right hates unions. Now, personally, I would have denied the waivers for caps. That particular provision was intended to prevent people from running out of insurance if they had a long period of illness or an expensive procedure. It’s somewhat inhumane to allow some people to be subject to caps, but not others.

There are some groups which are completely exempt from any health insurance mandate. The two biggest groups are Native Americans and some religious groups. The religious groups which are exempt are the ones which are also exempt from paying into (and drawing from) Social Security, such as the Old Order Amish, and groups which have a mutual self-aid system in place that essentially has everyone pay for anyone’s health care in the group. Also, if you make so little money that you don’t even have to file a federal tax return, you are exempt from the mandate. You’re also in a really crappy life.

Anyway, anything to do with the Affordable Care Act is complex and hard to nail down to just a quick meme, but don’t believe everything that you read just because it feels truthy to you.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Crazy Tablet Time

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Tablet computers seem to have matured quite a bit in the past two years, giving the market a great deal of options for consumers to pick through. What’s really amazing is to see the older generations showing up on daily deal sites. Today, the DailySteals folks have the original Galaxy Tab (no 2 or 3 or plus) on sale for $100. That may seem like a great deal for a tablet that got middling reviews on its release, until you realize that its release was in 2010. How is there still any stock left of those things?

Meanwhile, over on Nomorerack, the Sony Xperia Tablet S is available for $280. This is a tablet that was launched 10 months ago for $400, so that may seem like a good deal to you as well. Ten months is not so long ago, and it has the same basic guts as the much-loved Google Nexus 7 (along with a full-size SD card slot for the shutterbugs out there). But, the reviews from last fall should make you think about staying away from that one too. It has issues with GPS lock-on and some strange concepts of when wifi should shut off, along with a skin that sucks some of the power out of that Tegra 3 chip. It might be a good deal, if you never use GPS and don’t need background data to run when the tablet is asleep, but then again this does appear to be a time of great new tablets this fall so you may want to wait just a little while.

Google is probably going to introduce the NewNexus 7 or whatever they end up calling it (the only inventory screen I’ve seen calls it the Nexus 2 7″ for what that’s worth) very soon. It’s showing up all over the place, and looks to be a giant leap above the rest of the 7″ tablet pack. And, there are a pack of Tegra 4 and Snapdragon-powered tablets from other manufacturers in the pipeline. If you’re a portable gaming geek, you probably already ordered your Nvidia Shield.

Last August, I bought a Motorola Xoom, not really sure if I’d really use it but willing to drop $200 for an $800 device. It turns out that I use it a lot, with the Chromebook just collecting dust for months now. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to reading the reviews of the new batch of tablets when they come out. The Asus Transformer is what I’m leaning toward, as I’d certainly get the keyboard dock and then have a decent typing experience on the tablet when I needed it, while Asus has developed a great reputation with their previous tablets (let’s just forget about the TF201 entirely, shall we?). While I was willing to “go cheap” on the Xoom, just to test the waters, I’ll probably consider my next tablet a serious purchase, so no last-year’s refurb for me this time around.

Anyone else watching the tablet wars?

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

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Trayvon Martin

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Like anyone else with a functioning neocortex and access to modern media, I have an opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting. And, like almost everyone else, my opinion was worth exactly zero in the legal proceedings that just ended. This is what is supposed to happen; if you’re not part of the case, your vote is not counted. Also, the media don’t share every iota of information that the jury received, but do add a lot of information that the jury is told to ignore from a legal standpoint. This is just how things work in America. There are rules of evidence that are fundamental to ensuring that innocent people don’t get convicted. These rules don’t always work, to be sure (check out The Innocence Project if you ever feel that police and DAs are infallible), but there are rules nonetheless.

The evidence that is agreed true by all legal experts is that Zimmerman saw Martin walking in the rain at night, in a neighborhood that has had a rash of burglaries. Zimmerman was told by the police dispatcher that they would prefer he not confront Martin directly, but that was not a legal order, just a request. Between that moment and the moment that the police showed up, the only other thing we all know for sure is that Zimmerman fired his pistol and killed Martin. We do not know who the original aggressor was. We do not know if Zimmerman was acting under some racist animus. We do not know what Zimmerman and Martin said to each other. If you claim to know, you’re wrong. If you claim that Martin assaulted Zimmerman before he was killed in self-defense, you are making that up. If you claim that Zimmerman gunned Martin down in cold blood, you are making that up. You just do not know.

I have my own biases and beliefs and feelings about the case, and I think Zimmerman is a well-meaning man who did something stupid that ended tragically. But, I don’t know that for sure, and it’s equally likely that any number of scenarios are true. The problem I had with the case from the beginning was not that a “white” (hispanic is not a race, no matter what Nixon thought) man shot a black “kid” (17 is not a little kid). The problem I had was the lack of a real investigation at the beginning. If Florida did not have a “stand your ground” law, the police would not have been allowed to just let Zimmerman leave the scene that night on his own. If the police weren’t so lenient with their definitions of what “your ground” meant, they would have launched a real strong investigation that night, rather than dropping it until public outcry forced them to investigate. That seems like a problem to me. You may disagree, and that’s fine.

Once the investigation was complete, it seems that the DA didn’t really have a good case but felt compelled to go to trial anyway, because of the same public outcry. This led to the fairly bizarre trial we just saw unfold. If the DA really didn’t think it had a case, it should have dropped it after the investigation. The Zimmerman trial did not help anyone feel good about our justice system.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook with titles like “What about …” with some other shooting victim’s name at the end. These are all, without exception, some white kid who was killed by a black man. If that isn’t a classic case of race-baiting, the term has no meaning. What about those other people? Well, did their killers get investigated? Did their killers get charged with a crime, if it was deemed appropriate? That’s the difference, not what skin tone the guy with the gun had. If you think the uproar last year was because a white guy shot a black guy and got away with it, you’re not paying attention.

I’m really happy to see that most of the protests about Zimmerman being acquitted are peaceful (what’s up with Los Angeles?). I hope everyone understands that being acquitted in a criminal trial means that the jury found some reasonable doubts about his guilt. It does not mean that he was an angel or a devil, just that there is reasonable doubt. That’s how things are supposed to work. Sometimes, we let people go who might be guilty, rather than lock people up who might be guilty. If you think Zimmerman is a horrible person, it may make you feel better to realize that he’s going to be paranoid about vigilante justice coming for him for a long time to come. That may be irony.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.