Why I bought an iPhone 11 Pro Max Instead of a Camera

iPhone 11 Pro Max and Sony RX100 VII

Admittedly I’m a technology snob. I’ve always purchased relatively good DSLR cameras, high end computers and devices, excellent microphones and sound editing gear, and have tried to find the sweet-spot of best quality vs. price.

When it comes to cameras, however, I’m always torn about taking a bag with the camera, two lenses, and a tripod with me to shoot photos. It’s too much bother and fuss, even though the images I can capture are outstanding!

A few years ago we went, as a family, to Italy. I wanted to enjoy the trip and knew that it would be hot and I would not want to carry a big bag with lenses, or even a single, big DSLR camera with one “walking around lens,” an 18-200mm one that would cover what I’d likely need on our trip.

Instead I purchased the best small travel camera on the market at the time (and arguably still the best travel camera as Sony just released version 7), the Sony RX100 M2. While the “reach” of this camera’s lense was not what I wanted, the photo quality was unbelievably good and I got some good photos on the trip.

So with upcoming trips in 2020 — and no desire to carry my big Nikon on any of them — I decided to purchase the Sony RX100 M7 which now does have a better lense, microphone input and other great features. I even had it in my Amazon cart with all of its accessories and the cart total was close to $2,200.

THE IPHONE 11 PRO MAX
Then I watched the Apple September 2019 keynote where the new iPhone 11 series was introduced and I made my decision: I would preorder the iPhone 11 Pro Max with 512GB of storage and NOT buy the Sony RX100M7.

Wait just a dang second Borsch … what!?!

For quite some time I’ve been watching the acceleration of computational photography and have realized we are at (or very close to) the tipping point where smartphones will supplant every kind of photo capture device except for truly high-end, professional cameras.

In fact, check out this paper and the video on this page about 3D rendering and creating a “Ken Burns effect” from *a single image* as it shows what’s possible computationally with photography.

One could argue we are already there, what with camera company sales down trending dramatically, according to a brilliant tech analyst and writer Om Malik. Om wrote this post about the down trending of camera sales and included this graph:

One of Om’s reasons for this decline is the acceleration in smartphone sales and the “good enough” quality of images shot on these devices. While I recoil at the thought of millions of muddy, not sharp, bad color photos being shot by hundreds of millions of us around the world, this is the future of photography whether we “prosumers” or “pros” want it or not.

Having heard this (possibly apocryphal) response by a professional photographer to a novice who had asked, “What’s the best camera I should buy?” and the pro’s response was, “The one you have with you” have made me realize how many times I’ve been somewhere when a great photo opportunity has presented itself.

Yes, this is a glib response to a legitimate question, but one thing is clear: If you don’t have your camera with you, you are unable to take any kind of photo and almost all of us have our smartphones with us all the time. I know I do.

So when I saw the computational photography capability of the new iPhone 11 Pro Max, I knew that I’d have to buy it and not buy the Sony RX100 M7.

By the way, I still often go out with my sole intention of taking photographs and schlep all of my gear with me. But now that I have tripods and a gimbal for my iPhone (and have had them for some time), now that I will be able to take better quality photographs I’ll use these accessories even more.

Food for thought…

Is My Honda Clarity Fixed?

Thought I’d write a quick update as a full post, rather than update yesterday’s post here.

Since the battery was dead in my Clarity so I couldn’t start the car, I called Honda Roadside Assistance. The tow truck driver did jump the car and it started, but there was something obviously wrong so I had the car towed to my dealer, Rancho Santa Margarita Honda, on Tuesday in the early afternoon.

Finally, after TWO DAYS of repeated calling and talking to several of the service advisors to find out what was going on with my car (there were seemingly multiple advisors on my car and no one returned my phone calls promptly or had answers) I picked up the car late yesterday after calling-in to talk to the general manager of the store to get some action.

The punchline? Is the car fixed? I have no idea but suspect it is not. Why? Because there is NO explanation as to why the battery was completely dead. Or why the check-engine light was on four times in July and August with the same error codes. Forget about any explanation on all the other issues I’ve had like this dangerous one after only a few days with the car.

The fix? Basically the service tech “reset” the car by clearing the codes, reset the steering and braking sensor system, but apparently did not identify any root problems with the control systems in the car. There were no software updates required (or performed) and apparently no aberrations or issues uncovered, even though there were several error codes and all of them show that there is some issue with the car’s internal communications system (likely bugs in the software and/or problems in the communication bus within the car itself):

In my printed receipt, here is what they gave me showing what they found and the action they took to “fix” my problems:

After reading this Inside EV forum thread about others with goofy Clarity electronic issues, my level of confidence in the Clarity is at an all-time low, after only three months with the car and 4,600 miles.

I’m going to give it two weeks and, if there are continued problems, I’ll ask Honda to buy back the car or I’ll sell it on the secondary market (or likely trade it in on a Tesla Model 3).

To be continued…

The Honda Clarity is Dead

My Honda Clarity is dead.

No, this is not a post about the fact that Honda has pulled back the Clarity PHEV from multiple states to only California. It’s also not because my confidence in the Clarity is low after owning this car for only a few days and then this happened. Or that my wife says, “Just so you know, I am NEVER driving that car!

Instead the reason I’m saying the Clarity is dead is because, after a long Labor Day weekend with it parked in the garage, I went out two hours ago to run errands in the car and NOTHING on the car worked!

Sigh…I verified it has a fully charged 17kw battery from being plugged in while we were away but I couldn’t get anything on the car to work. Once I unplugged the car and shut the plugin’s door, even THAT would not open. The 4-way flashers were dead. I couldn’t even put the car in neutral to move it out of the garage. There was no charge in the car at all and, like a desktop computer with a bad power supply, the car was not going to “boot up.”

The Clarity’s 17kw battery pack is 100% charged, but the 12V battery is dead so *nothing* on the car functions!

Called Honda’s Roadside Assistance and they arranged to have it towed to the dealership from where I bought the car. That gave me time to read several forum posts about others who have had this same issue, but people said it’s due to dealers not keeping the 12V battery charged up on their lots caused the battery to drain and die. My car had just come in days before I bought it, so that’s highly doubtful.

Adding to my frustrations with this car is that the check engine light comes on frequently and the dealer sees no error codes or anything wrong when I have them look at it. My only conclusion is that this is one poorly engineered automobile.

First car I’ve owned in all my decades on this earth that I haven’t been able to just get in and drive, all while ensuring I maintain it properly. I’m constantly fretting over the Clarity and am wondering when the next issue will appear … but I didn’t expect this on a brand new car with just over 4,000 miles on it.

Unfortunately American Honda’s escalated customer service folks have been no help at all with any of these issues (and are likely instructed to ‘admit nothing’ to ensure Honda isn’t opened-up to any liability). The dealer is great, but they just shrug and say, “Ah…we don’t see anything wrong.”

Guess I should have bought that Tesla Model 3 after all.

Want to Learn How to Anger Supportive Customers? Bury Offending Support-Community Posts and Then Don’t Help Them

In just eight months I’ve had three pair of the $250 (now $199) Bose Sleepbuds. The first pair ‘lost’ connection in the right sleepbud after a few months. I brought the complete product back to the Bose store in the Irvine Spectrum Center in Irvine, CA, and the staff not only didn’t bat-an-eye when I asked if I could exchange them, they glanced at each other and one of them immediately gave me a completely new shrink-wrapped complete product.

I was surprised but pleased. But that super-easy return made me immediately suspect that Bose knew they had a big problem with these sleepbuds and just gave away a new product to anyone who complained.

Two months later I had to do another exchange and get a second new pair and I’m now on my third pair of Bose Sleepbuds which are now unusable. Sigh…

BOSE COMMUNITY
So I joined the Bose Community to see if others had the problem and if there was something I’d not yet done to fix it (as a techie I know to run updates, reset, delete and redownload the mobile app, etc. which I’d already done … multiple times). Nothing would fix it.

Then I posted this as a new thread for discussion and to get some help:

As a techie I am overly careful with devices like my noise-masking sleepbuds (and case) while ensuring that they are clean, charged properly, updated immediately (e.g., case firmware), and otherwise handled with care. I adore what these sleepbuds do for my sleep, but have since learned that they only work for a couple of months.

So when, some months ago, my few-months-old sleepbuds saw that the right bud stopped charging fully. I brought the buds, case and all pieces to the Bose store in Irvine Spectrum Center (Irvine, CA). Told the guys what happened and they instantly returned it and gave me a new one! I was surprised, but quite pleased that they did that.

Less than two months later the exact same thing happened, this time with the left sleepbud. I updated the case firmware and both buds, and everything was fine for a week or so. Then it happened again with the right bud not charging. I took it back to the Irvine Bose store and you guess it … they replaced it *again*!

It’s now been six weeks or so and two days ago the left bud would only charge to 38%. It didn’t get me through the night, but was still workable as I could get to sleep. Did you guess that it now is only charging to 1%? Yep…so my third pair of sleepbuds have stopped working.

This is SO frustrating for a gift my wife gave me that cost her $300. It’s the only Bose product I’ve ever owned that I’ve not been consistently over-the-moon and also a product that lasted years.

I’ve read this community forum frequently trying to figure out what I might be doing wrong, but when I handle this device gently, keep it updated and clean and it still doesn’t perform, I can only surmise that it is just plain bad engineering.

If anyone from Bose is reading this and has any suggestions — and please don’t give me links to support docs since I’ve done EVERYTHING in all your troubleshooting guides — then I’m open to real solutions. Otherwise I guess I’ll take them back to the Bose store AGAIN and have them replace them for me so I can get another 6-8 weeks to find another, reliable solution.

So what did Bose do? One of their “community admins” (moderator) merged it with another thread that supposedly contained the solution … one that did not work for me so I still have an unreliable product.

They did NOT offer me any kind of personal response. There was no link to a post in the private message the “community admin” sent me. I tried to reply to it with a copy and paste of his message to me, but the HTML in it was refused and my 2nd attempt to message did not go through and resulted in an error message that I was “over my private message limit”. Holy shit this is poorly managed.

There is a “Phone Free” mode which seems to make the sleepbuds function … but I lose the alarm and other phone-connected functions (and the right sleepbud still disconnects) so that’s not a great solution.

Taking the sleepbuds out of the case they connect, then disconnect, then connect,
then stay connected for an intermittent number of minutes, then disconnect again!

So I think now my only course of action is to pack up my current sleepbuds and drive half an hour over to the Bose store to return them … this time to get our money back vs. exchanging them. My wife bought them for my December 2018 birthday and it’s been less than a year, so they definitely should refund us.

So Bose … if anyone bothers to read this post, you’ve got to step-up your game and learn how to perform customer support. I know this isn’t a huge sale at $250, but I’m about to go out and buy a sound bar for my expensive Sony 4K TV, and I will not be considering Bose because of this incident and how you handled it. Perhaps it’s time to bury your remaining sleepbud inventory in a landfill.

Great Marketing Video for a Service Called ‘Chatbooks’

As you may know from reading this blog, I’ve been using Flickr for my photo albums for years. Once owned by Yahoo, it was sold last year to the family-owned — and very well run photo service website — SmugMug. As you can see from two posts I wrote about preserving digital media here and here, I’m very concerned that photos of family and friends taken today with smartphones will disappear in to the digital ether at some point. If so, they won’t be in some shoebox in the closet 50 years from now for guys like me to scan, digitally clean up, and preserve.

SmugMug will occasionally send me marketing emails, most of which I ignore like I do with most ads of this kind. But I happened to get a marketing email from them and had time to view it and again, SmugMug never spams me so I clicked on the link and ended up on a site called Chatbooks, one of SmugMug’s affiliate partners.

Immediately my thought was, “Oh…just another photo book printer” until I watched the marketing video you see below and found myself laughing and delighted with it. It is an amusing and well-produced video pitching their service called Chatbooks and I smiled just about the entire time the video ran.

The service that caught my eye (and is the subject of the video below) is their Ongoing Photo Book Series which you can set up to publish a new soft or hard cover small book for every 60 photos you take with your smartphone. It’s a no-muss, no-fuss way of preserving photos for future generations, especially if you lose your phone and have never done a backup!!

Of course, I’m not the target market (Moms are for this video) but it still tickled me and made what they’re offering stand out in my mind and seriously consider the book series option. Well done Chatbooks!

Unfortunately Trump Doesn’t Understand Technology

President Trump tweeted this morning that “Apple will not be given Tariff waiver, or relief, for Mac Pro parts that are made in China. Make them in USA, no Tariffs!Perhaps he doesn’t know that every time he does something like this we all laugh at him?

Unfortunately, Trump’s basic understanding of technology — and which country has the manufacturing capability to even make the required components for the new Mac Pro — is laughingly ignorant.

According to CNBC, Trump says Apple will not be given tariff waivers or relief for Mac Pro parts made in China:

Apple asked for waivers on tariffs on the Mac Pro. Apple said it wanted to be exempt on some parts it uses for the new Mac Pro, including a power supply unit, the stainless-steel enclosure, finished mice and trackpads and circuit boards.

“There are no other sources for this proprietary, Apple-designed component,” Apple said in a filing.

Apple said in June that tariffs on its products will reduce its contribution to the U.S. economy. In a letter to U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer, Apple said tariffs would “also weigh on Apple’s global competitiveness” since Chinese companies compete with the products Apple builds. Trump met with Apple CEO Tim Cook in June to discuss trade.

Just a suggestion, @realDonaldTrump, but before you tweet would you at least ask someone in the White House — who has above a grade-schooler’s understanding of technology, manufacturing, and who can even make certain stuff in the USA — what is feasible and what isn’t?

*Any* Backdoor in to Encrypted Devices Will Not Work!

UPDATE July 23, 2019

February 14, 2019: President Trump congratulates his new Attorney General, William Barr

TechCrunch reported today that US attorney general William Barr says Americans should accept security risks of encryption backdoors and this idea is a very, very bad one. There is NO FUCKING WAY that I will allow my devices to have a backdoor in them … ever … and please note: this is NOT about me maintaining my social media, email or chat privacy. This is about protecting MY data and MY personal and client accounts.

If the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Medicaid, Army, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Defense — and companies with their business and reputations at stake — can’t keep hackers out of their systems, how will the government protect a backdoor?

Check out this list of breaches on Wikipedia which starts out with this in the opening paragraphs, and scroll down to see how many companies and governmental organizations have been breached:

It is estimated that in the first half of 2018 alone, about 4.5 billion records were exposed as a result of data breaches. In 2019, a collection of 2.7 billion identity records, consisting of 774 million unique email addresses and 21 million unique passwords, was posted on the web for sale.

If a backdoor is legislated to be put in our smartphones, tablets and computers, I can absolutely guarantee that it will get out in to “the wild” and be used by blackhat hackers, regardless of what NON-TECHIES like Barr and Trump spout off about in rallies or articles.

Like CGPGrey has said, “There’s no way to build a digital lock that only angels can open and demons cannot. Anyone saying otherwise is either ignorant of the mathematics or less of an angel than they appear.” I submit that most leaders are not only ignorant of both the math and why it is not technically feasible to put a backdoor in to encryption, they only care that we can keep governmental (and hacker!) prying eyes out of our most sensitive information.

One glance at my iPhone shows that there are numerous apps that could destroy me financially and potentially provide access to my LastPass password manager … allowing subsequent access to nearly 2,000 passwords for clients and every website I’ve signed in to in the past. For example these apps being compromised:

  • Charles Schwab with access to my entire portfolio
  • Wells Fargo with access to my wife and my accounts
  • My Bitcoin wallet
  • My Apple Wallet with multiple credit cards and Apple Store cards with money in them
  • Signal communication app — which protects our communications when my wife, kids or myself are traveling overseas
  • My LastPass app with connections to my password vault…
  • …and too many more.

I could go on and on but let me have John Oliver amusingly inform you about the realities of having the government put a backdoor in and defeat encryption:

Tracking Companies Are The Real Threat To Our Privacy And Congress Is Doing Nothing About These Secondary Surveillance Networks

Congressional “theater” is happening right now and our ‘Congress Critters’ are all seemingly outraged at the privacy violations by Facebook, Google, and all the other tech companies we all use every day. Some even want to break them up as do various Democratic presidential candidates.

But I’d like you to notice that there is not a *peep* from any of them about all the other tracking companies out there, especially ones like Palantir.

Those tracking or “secondary surveillance network” companies are the REAL privacy threats. Literally everything you do digitally is tracked including:

  • Buying anything either online or offline as your credit card data can be purchased by tracking companies and combined with other data
  • Emailing and texting metadata is captured (the content is protected as a warrant is needed to search within an email)
  • Moving around with your smartphone in your pocket provides tracking data of your movements
  • Everything you do (or your devices do automatically) through your internet service provider is tracked now that net neutrality is dead (ISPs can sell your data)
  • Everywhere your face is “recognized” by a camera connected to an increasing number of systems without any regulation since your public persona can be photographed
  • And much more.

Want to See How Bad It Is?

Palantir is one company that has always scared the beejeezus out of me out of me as I’ve personally analyzed this completely opaque and secretive organization. But it wasn’t until I read this article Revealed: This Is Palantir’s Top-Secret User Manual for Cops did I say HOLY SHIT THIS IS BAD!

Turns out Motherboard obtained this Palantir user manual through a public records request, and it gives unprecedented insight into how the company logs and tracks individuals and their system goes far beyond what I ever imagined as a worst-case scenario:

“Palantir is one of the most significant and secretive companies in big data analysis. The company acts as an information management service for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, corporations like JP Morgan and Airbus, and dozens of other local, state, and federal agencies. It’s been described by scholars as a “secondary surveillance network,” since it extensively catalogs and maps interpersonal relationships between individuals, even those who aren’t suspected of a crime.”

In addition, this article 300 Californian Cities Secretly Have Access to Palantir shows how hard various law enforcement and other agencies are hiding the fact that even use Palantir:

Motherboard obtained documents via public record requests which reveal that the scope of Palantir’s influence in California is significantly larger than previously documented. Payment records indicate that between January 2012 and March 2017, about three hundred cities, collectively home to about 7.9 million people, had access to Palantir’s Gotham service through the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center (NCRIC), which is run through the Department of Homeland Security.

Why use Palantir’s Gotham service instead of licensing the software outright?

Gotham is one of Palantir’s two services, and the other service is Palantir Foundry. These 300 police departments could request data from Palantir, and an NCRIC agent would retrieve this data and provide it to local police. Per this arrangement, none of these departments have to disclose the fact that they have access to Palantir.

Read these articles and go scan the manual and you’ll see that it is trivial for any user of their system — whether directly with Palantir or one of their “service” companies — to obtain a HUGE ARRAY OF PERSONAL DATA on any one of us!

Again, notice how Palantir is not even in the conversation any Congress Critters or presidential candidates are having? Also, where is the mainstream media in all of this?

These secondary surveillance network/tracking companies are already out of control. Congress must act now but they won’t unless you tell them to do so and vote accordingly going forward.

Want to know more and/or take action like I have?

Ask your Congressperson and Senators to pay attention to and regulate these tracking/secondary surveillance network companies:

Why We Didn’t Buy Near the Sea When We Moved to California

Homes along the cliffs of Pacifica are hanging on to time. Some have already been condemned or removed.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

When my wife and I were looking for a home to buy after moving from Minnesota to California just over one year ago, we considered spending more than we wanted to on a home with an ocean view or in a beach community here in Orange County. Most of those homes were far beyond our budget or willingness to spend — especially as we were downsizing as we get closer to entering our “third half of life” — but there were two things that always gave us pause when considering investing quite close to the ocean:

  1. We’d spend A LOT to get a small home in an area packed with people (and cars on the street) and knew that it would feel horrible.
  2. Sea-level rise is going to inundate California coastline and flood many of the areas we’d considered!

So we bought in to an inland development. We’re 14 minutes from Doheny State Beach and 20 minutes from either San Clemente or Laguna Beach, so it’s easy to get our ocean “fix” anytime we want to do so and we do so often. Plus I ensured that we built our new home in a seismically (and wildfire) stable area in order to minimize our risks living in this geologically and dry state.

But sea-level rise is going to be a doozy of a problem for a long time, regardless if you believe in climate change or not (which is probably another post I’ll do at some point).

California Against the Sea

The Los Angeles Times published California Against the Sea this past Sunday and it is a sobering article to say the least, especially these paragraphs in the opening:

THE CALIFORNIA COAST GREW AND PROSPERED during a remarkable moment in history when the sea was at its tamest.

But the mighty Pacific, unbeknownst to all, was nearing its final years of a calm but unusual cycle that had lulled dreaming settlers into a false sense of endless summer.

Elsewhere, Miami has been drowning, Louisiana shrinking, North Carolina’s beaches disappearing like a time lapse with no ending. While other regions grappled with destructive waves and rising seas, the West Coast for decades was spared by a rare confluence of favorable winds and cooler water. This “sea level rise suppression,” as scientists call it, went largely undetected. Blinded from the consequences of a warming planet, Californians kept building right to the water’s edge.

But lines in the sand are meant to shift. In the last 100 years, the sea rose less than 9 inches in California. By the end of this century, the surge could be greater than 9 feet.

Holy cow…9 feet! New research released earlier this year by U.S. Geological Survey scientists showed that:

More than half a million Californians and $150 billion in property are at risk of flooding along the coast by 2100 — equivalent to 6% of the state’s GDP, the study found, and on par with Hurricane Katrina and some of the world’s costliest disasters. The number of people exposed is three times greater than previous models that considered only sea level rise.

Sea Level Rise Viewer

Do you live in California or have friends and family you are concerned about? You might want to use a tool from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which is pretty sobering if you are like me — someone looking in an area to buy and then realizing it’s 8 feet above sea level and likely to be under water by 2100 — you might want to look elsewhere!

This was a tool I used often so check it out:  [ Go to the Sea Level Rise Viewer ]

Yes, I Believe in UFOs and It Turns Out So Does The U.S. Navy

Ever since I’ve been a kid my fascination with space and the universe has been quite strong. I’ve always paid attention to and that only accelerated when I first watched Carl Sagan’s TV series Cosmos.

Sagan was always teased about his answer to the question: How many galaxies and planets are there? His answer was always “billions and billions” which is, in fact, a best-guess correct answer. Astronomer’s educated estimates are that approximately 100 billion galaxies exist and our own Milky Way galaxy could contain 300 billion stars with a possible 30 billion planets surrounding them!

The University of Cambridge Institute of Astronomy gets a little more detailed than Sagan did in his answer:

In terms of the number of solar systems present in the universe, there are something like 300 billion stars in the Milky Way, so if 10 per cent of them have planets there are around 30 billion planets in our galaxy alone, and there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable Universe for a total of something in the order of 10^21 (that’s 1 then 21 zeros) planets in the observable Universe.  There is still quite a bit of uncertainty in that number however, and we don’t yet know how many of them would look like our solar system.

So from the time I was a kid until now as an adult, I’ve always believed that it would be quite likely that there could be trillion’s of planets in the universe and therefore very unlikely that ours was the only one in the universe with intelligent life.

Bear with me as I disclose my own UFO encounter, discuss a recent Netflix documentary, and close with the U.S. Navy patenting what is believed by many to be reverse-engineered alien propulsion technology.

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