Wednesday, 26 October 2016

On the matter of the iPhone and the headphones

A lot of ink, mostly of the virtual type, has been spent on Apple's removal of the headphones jack from the iPhone 7. I already stated that the underwhelming nature of this phone's release - the fact it's actually an iPhone 6S-S, and the removal of the headphones jack being its most notable feature - has cured me of any will to invest in this new phone despite my current phone being a 4 year old brick masquerading as a smartphone.
However, in my opinion, Apple hasn't been dealt justly with regards to the headphones jack's removal. In my opinion, things are much worse than what we have sort of been stabilised to agree about with regards to Apple's headphones enforcement agenda.
Sure, we can use Apple's supplied adaptor in order to continue using our wired headphones. We can't listen to music while the phone is charging, at least not without the help of yet another dongle, but let us assume for now that is manageable.
Where I think matters are much worse is with the microphone. Most of us use our headphones not only to listen to music, but also to answer calls. My particular noise cancelling headphones come with the added bonus of cleaning out the phone call for both sides, making it a true pleasure to use the headphones for this particular purpose. But no more, says Apple!
The problem is, the iPhone's Lightning connector is digital while our headphones are analog. In order to deal with that, Apple has stuck a digital to analog converter in the dongle it supplies us so we can continue listening to music on our "old" headphones; what it did not do, however, is stick an analog to digital converter in there, too, so that our headphones' microphone can continue working. For that matter, it did not include measures so that the volume and other controls our headphones tend to come equipped can continue working.
Technologically speaking, the compromise is understandable. It has been a major achievement for Apple to cram a digital to analog converter in that tiny dongle it is already providing. But the begging question is still very much - why did Apple decide to bring us down that path in the first place?

iPhone 7 Plus

I can hear the Apple fans arguing the time is ripe for wireless headphones. If you believe that, I have some hot air to sell you.
As the owner of a couple of Bluetooth headphones, I can tell you life is not that glamorous on that side. Using the headphones proves far from "switch it on and they'll just be there"; more often than not there are pairing problems, especially at busy locations. Similar frustrations creep when the headphones just stop working. Or, for that matter, when their battery runs out.
Then there is the matter of sound quality. Bluetooth headphones are more or less limited to a bandwidth of 256kbps, which is nice and dandy for most but not for an audiophile. Even Spotify provides me with music at 360kbps, not to mention Apple itself selling lossless, better than CD, grade music. Sure, you can argue you don't feel the difference and I will empathise. I, however, can feel the difference; not always, it takes good headphones and a quite environment, but I have plenty of both, thank you very much, to consider sound quality vital.
And last, there is the matter of price. The better Bluetooth headphones out there cost $400 or more: I am talking about the Bose QC35, the latest generation of the Parrot headphones (or, for that matter, previous generations), and the Sennheiser Momentum 2. By the way, none of which can compete, sound quality wise, with wired headphone of the same price or even half the price.

I will therefore state the following without prejudice: screw you, Apple, for what you have done.

Image by Kārlis Dambrāns, Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0) licence

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Long Goodbye

I recently had a short chat with a close friend who recently lost his father. I noted how, several years later, I'm still troubled by the loss of my father on a daily basis. My friend's answer opened my eyes to a potential answer for why this is the case (beyond the obvious fact that the loss of one's father is one of life's more traumatic experiences).
I now argue the fact we, my father and I, never had a proper farewell was a big factor. And I am not referring to the fact I wasn't physically present when my father died; I am talking about the lack of closure when he was still in the game.
We often tell one another the obvious, stating that we should tell our parents or other loved ones how much we love them etc. I don't know about your parents, but in my case such an endeavour is pretty hard - borderline impossible - to achieve in a meaningful way beyond the token effort of saying "mother, I love you". How often do opportunities to say such a thing without sounding like or being perceived as an idiot arise?
For a start, I am virtually light years away from my parents, culture wise. I cite my views on religion as the most obvious indication there: they see/saw themselves as Jews and then as Israelis, whereas I refuse to let the accident of birth determine my worldly prospects. I am an atheist, and while I identify with Jewish stuff on many levels, I will never do so on religious grounds; similarly, I am not one for nationalism, considering it and religion a couple of the world's main sources of malaise.
Second, how exactly do I initiate a conversation with my parents? They were never the sort with whom one can hold a meaningful discourse about anything. Add the physical distance between us and things grow worse. I notice the phenomenon with others, too; when we're away from one another we tell ourselves that we will chat when we meet, in the mean time settling for FaceTime/Skype conversations with limited success because the members of the older generations are often less than capable in the technological department. And on the infrequent occasion we do meet face to face, our conversations seem hell bent on sticking to the mundane "how are you today" level.
Charles Stross summed it up well in a recent post of his. The trouble is that we are too different from our parents. It's not like we're working at one frequency and they're at another; the quick turning of history's pages over the past century means they come from the age of the telegraph while we hail to the 802.11ac goddess. We cannot bring ourselves to communicate using morse code, and they have no idea how to set their wifi up (or why they need it in the first place).
The result is communications that mostly misfire. And feelings of missed opportunities. But these are the natural result of the fact that the times, they are a-changin'. I'd argue that if you are lucky enough to not have this friction with your parents, then you're either lucky to have unnaturally progressive parents or an unlucky person stuck in a time that's not yours to have. For the rest of us it's Communication Breakdown.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

I know what I like and I like what I know

We recently had guests staying over with us. As a side effect of having people of a significantly different culture to mine in close proximity over a significant enough period of time, the experience is quite an eye opener. In my particular case, this glimpse of lives lived differently provided conviction and security to the notion that my way of life, as reflected by the choices I have made, is indeed my preferred way of life. True, that last statement sounds obvious, but is it, really? Can you truly claim that the things you do in your life are really the product of your own preferences, the direct and exact results of some plan you've formed?

Kenneth Branagh describes the character he portrays in the excellent (what an understatement!) series Wallander as "an existentialist who is questioning what life is about and why he does what he does every day". I may not be a murder investigator whose personal life is ruined by exposure to abnormal violence, but I do share the approach to life with my fictional Scandinavian counterpart. I do often ask myself if what I am doing every day is the right thing, and I do wonder what I should be doing instead.
I started noticing differences between my wills/wants and conventional wisdom in my childhood already. At the time, the dominant leisure activity after school was over and done was getting down to the street/park for some outdoor play, usually involving [foot]balls. I've enjoyed that, but with time I tended to gravitate more and more towards reading books inside. The introduction of the Atari 2600 games console, and later the personal computer, dealt a knockout blow to outdoor activities.
As I grew up, the default leisure activity for most people switched into "going out". You know what I'm talking about: going out for a movie, for dinner, or for some other type of entertainment usually provided to us by others. I like that, too, but I could not avoid noting how I often preferred to buck the trend and read a book. With time this changed from books into anything that taught me about the world; let's call it non fiction as a catch all phrase. That contradiction between others and I made me feel uncomfortable: what is wrong with me that I do not seek the entertainment everyone else seems to favour so much, and instead I prefer things that others actively avoid? How many of us count learning about the world as their prime leisure activity?
My answer to that question defaulted into "this is what I end up doing not because this is what I actually prefer to be doing but rather because I have no choice". I told myself I have no choice because I do not have the willing partners for going out on town, and later I told myself I have no choice because I need to go to work, and more recently I have been telling this to myself because my parental duties did not leave me with much of a choice. What I never did was stand up to myself and acknowledge that what I am doing is actually the exact thing I like to do best, and to hell with everyone else's preferences.
That has changed. Seeing life through other people's eyes helped me go out of the wardrobe, so to speak. Now I am openly saying that, yes, I actually prefer to stay at home and learn about the latest in technology over going out. Yes, I prefer learning new tricks with computers and playing around with computer programming. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy playing board games like Carcassonne to watching a musical. Yes, I wholeheartedly prefer to watch an episode of Wallander over the latest trash Hollywood blockbuster. Yes, I much prefer to analyse music's finer qualities on my hi fi to a live venue where the seats are uncomfortable, the toilets stink, and the sound is crudely amplified to ear bleeding levels. And yes, I'd take an intellectual discussion over most forms of passive/light entertainment.
I can continue on and on about where I now confidentially stand without feeling the need to kiss up to what others' preferences anymore. But I will conclude, instead, by citing this blog and my other reviews blog: for a person who is occupying himself with existential questioning of life as his main pursuit and prime source of happiness outside of his direct family, these blogs of mine are the inevitable conclusion. Reviewing a book, or analysing certain aspects of my life the way I have been doing here, are by far the easiest tools available to me to achieve my goals with. 

Sunday, 9 October 2016

My Favourite Israeli Song

A recent tide of Israeli music in Spotify has resulted in it finally, at last, after many long years, featuring the song that is probably my favourite Israeli / Hebrew speaking song ever:

In case you don't do Spotify and can't access the above embedded song, the song I am talking about is called Carim Abdul Zamar from the band Mashina. It is taken from the band's first album, released in 1985.
I do have a couple of notes to go with the song.

First, a bit of personal history.
When this record from Mashina came out, it was a big hit in Israel. Virtually all the songs became hits in their own rights (perhaps with a single exception).
I still remember how, coming out of a Friday night cinema experience featuring Iron Eagle 5 (or some other ultra inferior film experience) with one of my best friends, we bumped into another best friend who came out of a live Mashina show that turned out to take place right next to our cinema.
We were disappointed; we didn't even know that show was on. He, on the other hand, was excited, telling us how - during one of the songs (Ballad For A Double Agent, if you have to know) - the singer took out a giant carrot from under his coat and threw it at the crowd. Yes, it was all happening, and we weren't invited.
Luckily for all three of us, school took us to see Mashina later that year. During school time! And a year or two later, it took us again, thus probably making Mashina into the band I've seen live the most times.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I would like to explain why I like Carim Abdul Zamar so much. After all, music wise, we are not talking here about a Beatles competitor.
I guess I like the song because it reminds me of the Israel I sort of remember growing at. It's got its oriental themes but it also got Western rock.
The lyrics are nonsense, made up of gibberish, Hebrew, Arabic, English, French and even German - but that's the nice thing about the song. In the Israel I grew up in one would know, more or less, all these expressions from all of these languages (with the notable exception of the gibberish). No, I do not speak French, for example, but I was exposed to a lot of French cinema (way more than the average Aussie is exposed to); I did not speak Arabic, but we did study it at school and Arabic expressions and swearwords did feature in our daily lives.
Nothing special, I know, until I compare things with the current state of Israel, as recently sampled. Nowadays, Israel is a country where the Jewish population actively distances itself from Arab culture as if it's inferior. Gone is that joyful spirit that allowed the mix of words that turned out into a fun song evoking one of the best [Muslim] basketball players ever to grace this world.
But at least I got my song on Spotify now.