Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

Farewell, Instagram

While Mark Zuckerberg is being raked over the coals by Senators who don't understand the Internet (one Senator said the Facebook user agreement sucks as if he or anybody else actually reads the damn thing), I on the other hand have finally gotten rid of the last vestige of Facebook in my life: Instagram. It joins my Facebook account into the big bin of social media platforms I no longer use (rest in peace, Xanga).  

Indeed Zuckerberg's monolithic company won't profit from me any more (we are the product, not the customer), that is assuming they've kept their word and actually delete my information. Judging from Facebook's track record I'm certainly not counting on that happening. A good few years of my digital life will forever be locked in a data-farm somewhere.  

Another reason for deleting Instagram is I no longer see the point of it. On the base level Instagram is like a photo-centric Facebook, and since I've no use for a Facebook account (couldn't possibly care less what my elementary classmates are up to), keeping an Instagram account doesn't make much sense either. 

As a hobbyist photographer I used Instagram to follow other creatives for inspiration and whatnot (i.e. steal ideas) but I can easily do that elsewhere and be way more productive because I won't be bombarded with images from non-photographers I follow. 

And of course I used Instagram to do what every other red-blooded male does: to follow and thirst after Instagram models. Alas, push comes to shove we can do that without Instagram, can't we? (Shoutout to Tumblr in its early days)

Instagram have turned into a massive time-sink and not worth the value I get out of it. Posting my own photos have become more chore than fun. Having to input metadata like using the appropriate hash-tags and composing a funny caption or compelling short story to tell - for each and every photo - is tiring and not the best place to focus creative energy on; it'd be better spent on this website instead. Pictures on this website have permanence, while on Instagram it's gone and forgotten as soon as the next one is posted. 

Having done the deed and leaving me with Twitter as the sole social media platform I'm on, I feel lightweight and refreshed. More focus on doing the good work. 

Apple will make its own chips for the Mac

Bloomberg dropped a news bomb yesterday saying Apple will soon transition away from Intel chips in its line of computers and will instead manufacture its own processors. Intel stockholders were not amused as the chipmaker's stock dropped 7% immediately after rumor surfaced. 

It's been over a decade since Apple switched from PowerPC to Intel. At the time Motorolla was unable to produce PowerPC processors suitable to Apple's demands of ever increasing power and efficiency. The lineup has stagnated; the dreams of a G5 in a notebook never materialized. 

It somewhat parallels Apple's current relationship with Intel. Fans like to harp at Apple for being infamously slow to update the internal hardware in its Mac line (the guts in the Mac Mini dates back to 2014), but a big contributing factor is Intel's horribly delayed release schedules. Team blue seems to have hit a wall: the 'Core' processors have been stuck on the 14nm process for years. The significant step-increases between each generation early in the Core era are no more: Intel has abandoned the "tick-tock" cadence

Meanwhile Apple have reached performance breakthrough after breakthrough with its mobile A-series chips. In benchmarks the latest A11 Bionic chip is shown to outclass even a base Macbook Pro. Vertical integration of chip, hardware, and operating system have allowed Apple to produce mobile products unrivaled in computing power and efficiency. The iPhone is often criticized for having less RAM than its competition but in truth the iPhone can do the same/more with less memory than any Android unit. 

With Intel in a stagnant position and itself having great success at making mobile chips, Apple's obvious next step is to migrate that expertise to the Macintosh. A Macbook running a bespoke integrated A-series style chip would have performance and battery efficiency not possible with the Intel partnership. 

Not to mention MacOS itself: iOS have rightly gotten the bulk of engineering time ever since the first iPhone. Because of that MacOS is in sort of a limbo mode. It has converted to a yearly release cadence to match its mobile sibling, but the attention to detail in the recent releases have been sorely lacking. MacOS, while still immensely powerful, doesn't have a truly "next-gen" feel like iOS does. Perhaps syncing the processing architecture between desktop and mobile would then allow Apple to reimagine MacOS into a proper desktop facsimile of iOS.   

While the initial stock price shock may suggest otherwise, I wouldn't worry too much about Intel just yet. Even if Apple quit cold-turkey on Team Blue's processors, Intel would only be out 5% of its chip revenue. However, I don't think Intel will take this news lightly because while 5% is small, actions have subsequent reactions, and no one can predict what kind of change Apple ditching Intel can affect in the market. What if Google follows suit with its popular Chromebooks? Microsoft is already working with Qualcomm to have Windows run on ARM

For the near future I think Intel will still carry the mid to upper tier market for the Mac because Apple hasn't yet shown it can (though I'm sure it ultimately can) produce a chip capable of professional desktop-class work (or games). What we can expect real soon are entry-level Mac computers running Apple-made chips, and that's an exciting prospect indeed.  

 

How to get me to buy more cars

As someone who isn't made of money nor does the living situation allow me to fit more than one car at a time, in order for me to sample around the varying types of automobiles out in the world, I've got to keep swapping them out i.e. sell and replace. Listen, no need to lecture me on depreciation curves because I simply take that as the cost of doing business when it comes to this car enthusiast hobby.

There is however one rub I do have a problem with: sales tax. It's the one expenditure I cannot recover when I sell a car, on top of which I have to pay taxes on the new car as well. Living in a high-tax county like San Francisco exacerbates the pain. Combining the last two cars I bought, I've paid over 7,000 dollars in taxes. While most people lumps taxes into the sale price of the car and treat it as a singular sum (less pain that way, I guess), I consider taxes separate because it doesn't pay for anything innate to the car.

I'm somewhat due car change now that I'm homing in on three years of owning the MX-5. However the thought of having to outlay yet another significant chunk towards taxes in purchasing the next car is giving me more pause that it would five years ago. I guess it's true that we turn Republican as we gradually grow older and attain more assets: we'd like the government to take less of our hard-earned stuff.  

In some States buyers can deduct the price of the trade-in in calculating the new car's tax. Tax-heavy California obviously isn't so bold to have such a program. The State's got tons of incentives for electric vehicles though sadly normal combustion-engined cars don't deserve such special treatment. 

I can't be the only person that wants to switch cars but the prospective tax bill is stopping the fun. Why doesn't automobile dealership associations lobby California for some sort of exemption? I for one would buy cars more often - brand new at that - if the tax burden wasn't so heavy. At the very least we should be able to deduct the sale price of the trade-in like other States. 

Some people no doubt would ask "why don't you lease?" because in doing so I'd only be paying taxes on the portion of the payments over the specific loan period. While true in theory, lease deals are horrendous on anything that isn't a basic German luxury car (BMW 3 Series) or mass-market grocery getter (Toyota Camry). The cars I'm into it makes better financial sense to purchase outright.

Besides, spending time to research the appropriate leasing terms and performing calculations isn't exactly my idea of a good afternoon. I'd rather negotiate the price of the car alone and be done with it. 

Auto manufacturers and dealerships: if you want people like me to buy more new cars, lobby the government to lessen our tax burden. We not of the 0.1% can't afford to form LLCs in the State of Montana. 

I'm not fond of April Fools Day

Alternative title: I'm still waiting for that bacon in an In n Out burger. 

It is Easter Sunday today and coincidently the first of April, so the appropriate joke here is Jesus rose from the grave and was like "Surprise! Not dead! April fools!"

As I've aged into my 30s I've grown to dislike April Fools day because honestly I'm easily suckered and tend to take things on their face value. I still cannot get over whichever media outlet it was few years ago that claimed In n Out burger was introducing bacon. For my money - which I would've gladly handed over to In n Out for a bacon cheeseburger - it remains the cruelest April Fools joke of all time. Donald Trump can resign from the presidency today and it still wouldn't top it. 

Now that I think about it Trump really should've fake quit today to play us the fool: can't be any worst that all the other crap that's happened thus far during his presidency. An opportunity lost for good humor. 

April Fools Day isn't entirely horrible: to avoid all the fakery and false hope, today's a good day for me to step off the Internet for a bit and enjoy the more tangible things in life. The wide web will still be there come tomorrow and we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Hope your day is marvelous, and not too upset at the thing(s) that you wished were true. 

#Adulting stops the fun

This particular tweet hits right in the feels.

Surely we've all done this during our youth: when we grow up we're going to do all sorts of things that by being kids we're restricted from doing. But as the tweet points out, once we've  become adults we actually end up not doing those things. For example, fried chicken is my favorite food, and when I was little an intention of mine was when I grew up (and have money) I'd walk into a KFC, buy a bucket of chicken, and eat it entirely by myself. 

I'm 30 this year and I've yet to do that. 

What is it about being an adult that, let's face it, stops the fun? Why don't I play video games all day now that I can now afford all the games and have more time to spare (having to do homework really put a damper on things back then)? Why not eat junk food whenever I feel like? What about staying up late until the wee hours of the morning? 

I think as adults our event horizon widens exponentially beyond the present (dull things like saving for retirement): I don't spend a day playing video games because it's a waste of time and unproductive (we can't all be those millionaire Twitch streamers). I pass on the junk food marathon because it'd be much nicer to not have diabetes and heart disease. Burn the midnight oil just for fun? We adults know that sleep is the absolute best thing in the world.  

It was indeed true wisdom back when our parents prevent us from executing our fantastical inclinations. In their adult mind they know it to be not good for us. My father never ate a bucket of fried chicken by himself either. 

But perhaps it'd be good for us current adults to bring back some of that child-like innocence and narrow focus. Adult life can easily entrap us into always thinking and planning for the future, sacrificing the present (not to say this is bad). Why not periodically think like a child would and say eat ice cream whenever the urge comes to mind? That sliver of joy and escape might do well for our constitution; freshen up our internal batteries for the daily grind. 

As an adult, self restriction comes naturally: if 15 year old me made the same money as I do now, it would be completely squandered as soon as the paycheck hits the account (or worse - max out the credit cards). At 30 I'd never entertain the thought. But as with anything, those restrictions can go overboard: it's important to find the balance between living in the now and preparing for a future. A big component to adults getting burned out is when our minds are too frequently into the what-ifs of tomorrow. 

So sometimes think like we once did: as a kid. Go overboard! Indulge in those tendencies and wants. Be present.   

I'm going to play some videos games for a lot of hours. 

 

 

Where are the affordable performance SUVs?

The big trend in the automotive world recently is the sports-utility vehicle: customers are buying them in droves, so much so that even purest of the pure sports car makers like Lamborghini has come out with one, and their crosstown rivals Ferrari is widely believed to be developing one as well. Few buys the traditional sedans anymore; everyone wants an SUV.

This may sound antithetical to a car enthusiast's ears, and perhaps it's because I'm properly #adulting these days: I absolutely get the allure of the SUV. These hopped-up station-wagons are more compact than the equivalent car so therefore easier to park (have you seen the latest Camry class of sedans? They're longer than minivans now). They've got plenty of suspension travel/tire sidewall so speed bumps and potholes are of no issue (some days are more tiresome than others in the Miata). Armed with all-wheel drive SUVs can practically go anywhere in most weather conditions - with a proper set of tires, of course. 

Modern engineering have enabled SUVs to achieve roughly the same gas mileage and driving dynamics as the typical sedan, so with none of the old drawbacks it's no wonder they've become leading sellers. Honda sells more CR-Vs per year in America than the entire BMW brand. 

I've been looking at SUVs recently, though naturally the models that catches my fancy have more of a sporting bent, however oxymoronic that may be. But there's a problem: SUVs with above average power and driving fun all costs at least $50,000; the offerings below that threshold are more of the mundane grocery-getting variety. In particular a BMW X3 M40i would fit my bill nicely with its 3-Series based chassis and a 355 horsepower motor, but it's starts in the mid $50,000s. 

Though I bet it leases tremendously as do most BMWs.

I think - and hope - it's only a matter of time before automakers produce sporting SUVs for more plebeian budgets. If Subaru puts the 2.0-liter WRX motor into its compact Crosstrek SUV, I'd be first in the line at a dealership tomorrow. The general motoring public is buying SUVs by the shipload, but to attract enthusiasts like me to the party we've got to have some mainstream performance offerings. Not all of us have 55 grand to spend on an Audi SQ5

If indeed people are buying less and less sports-cars and sedans, then why not put those exciting ingredients and engineering effort into the SUVs that are selling well? A Chevy sports-utility with the chassis character of the alpha platform would be tremendous, wouldn't it? Or what about the brilliance Ford Performance has done with the Fiesta ST and Focus ST but in a Ford Escape?

What I am saying is: a sports-utility is high on the list of vehicles for my next car (I'm still shocked this is the case), but said SUV will need to have a proper level of move and agility to satiate the sports-car driver in me, and at a palatable price. Sports-utility vehicle with a capital S: an Ariel Nomad with the body trappings of a typical car. Isn't too much to ask, is it? 

 

The Last Jedi is a brilliant movie

When I came out of the theatre after seeing The Last Jedi the first time, I was hugely confounded and frustrated. How could director Rian Johnson so cavalierly toss away and disregard plot-points set up by The Force Awakens? Rey's parents were nobodies!? You're not going to explain how Snoke - an all-powerful being of the Dark Side - came about? What of the Knights of Ren? How Luke's lightsaber came to be in Maz Kanata's vault?

Nothing. 

Honestly I was so disgusted with the film I couldn't bring myself to see it again in the theatre. A roman numeral Star Wars saga movie ought to follow the strings left by the preceding film, and hardly the proper place to "go a different route". For the all the crap tossed at Episode 7 for being formulaic: well, it worked, didn't it? Us fans lapped it up to it becoming one of the highest grossing movies of all time. 

That was my thought process heading into a second viewing of Episode 8, which recently came out on home media. Instead of looking for satisfactory answers to questions asked by the previous film - which I knew The Last Jedi would not provide - I tried to see The Last Jedi for what it is, and not through the harsh fan-boy prism. 

The Last Jedi is a brilliant movie. 

Indeed my fan-boy expectations colored my thoughts during the theatrical release, but with those out of the way, I found the themes presented in The Last Jedi to be some of the deepest and most thought-provoking. The Force isn't some special talent bestowed only to few: It's the lifestream innate in the entire Universe. It takes no special DNA or Skywalker lineage to wield it, a concept showcased nicely in in the film by the tragic insignificance of Rey's parents.

Luke Skywalker isn't a messianic figure we've all known him to be: he's a fallible human, full of doubts and mistakes. The Jedi myth blinded him into a hubris that ultimately led to the turn of Ben Solo into Kylo Ren. Luke's self-imposed exile isn't an act of weakness, nor does it diminish the Skywalker mythos - because it's a sham. He explains to Rey that his canonization is how they got into the present mess. Yes, he supposedly brought balance to the force by rescuing his father from the Dark Side, but the Force isn't localized to such an event: it will always seek balance, with or without a Skywalker. 

Which explains the existence of Snoke. The Empire's destruction actually left an imbalance in the Force: Snoke was conjured up by the universe to counteract the immense good Luke represented, just as Rey is the counterbalance to Kylo Ren. There's no need to give Snoke a backstory: he exists because of Luke, and when Snoke got killed by Kylo Ren, Luke was then free to leave as well. 

I think The Last Jedi is definitely the most "human" of all the saga films, which I guess can be disappointing for those looking for Star Wars to be this epic space opera with fantastical provenance. I was that person, but after seeing the film a second time I can appreciate the new paradigm to the story Rian Johnson is telling. 

Of course I still would've liked further information on the Knights of Ren, and how Luke's lightsaber forsook him (or did he forsake it?) into the hands of Maz Kanata. Something for Episode 9, perhaps.