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

I'm sorry; I lied!

Yes, I completely lied: I went and bought an iPhone 11 Pro after having written adamantly that I wouldn’t be doing so. Indeed, the reviews and praise for the photographic capabilities of the new iPhone have proven to be extremely tempting; the pictures people are posting from the new device are just beautiful and superior - I simply got to have it. So last Friday, on a chance look (yeah, right) at the inventory of my local Apple store, an iPhone 11 Pro in ‘Midnight Green’ guise with 256GB storage came up in stock, so I swiftly placed an order.

It’s going to be really sweet to have this camera goodness for the annual trip to China in two months’ time. Which reminds me: I have to finish the Japan Escape photo stories feature - hopefully by this weekend.

Of course, I have many justifications for moving on from a still immensely capable iPhone X to the iPhone 11. It’s very similar how Porsche 991.1 GT3 owners upgrade to the 991.2 GT3, even though the newer-generation car is only marginally better - we all innately want the latest and greatest (hooray, materialism!). That said, my “old” iPhone is now bequeathed to my mother, who was running a six-years-old (!) iPhone 5C; the upgrade and speed boost for her must be utterly revolutionary. Yeah, I’m merely fulfilling my filial duties by upgrading to the iPhone 11, I swear!

There’s also the classic excuse I mean justification for new iPhones every year: it’s a device I use most often, one I’m intimately attached to (hello, restroom), so it’s worth whatever the costs because the utility factor is significant. Besides, it’s not $1200 dollars for the phone; it’s only $45 dollars a month! Hashtag millennial.

But what about talks of needing to save money after the lavish expense of the Japan trip? Well, that’s important too, obviously. This expenditure for the new iPhone will hamper things somewhat, but the overall impact isn’t that great. I’ll just have to cut back on spending in some other areas to make up the shortfall. It’s imperative to save for the future, but so is living for the present; finding a balance between the two is ever elusive and highly idiosyncratic.

Hollow justifications or otherwise, I’m super happy with iPhone 11 Pro: photos are expectedly fantastic. Night mode is a feature I’ve been requesting for many years, and it is exceptional. I can’t wait for ‘Deep Fusion’ technology to come online: Apple is using computational power to overcome the laws of physics of the tiny camera sensors, and the sample results I’ve seen are quite spectacular. Functionally, the iPhone 11 Pro is largely the same as the iPhone X, though the killer feature (other than the cameras) is the hugely improved battery life. Not since my iPhone 7 Plus have I had an iPhone with this good battery reserves.

Cheers to reversing course on our sound and logical decisions!

Christmas has indeed come early.

The soft power of China part 3

The NBA’s ongoing scuffle with China in its refusal to outright condemn the remarks made by Rockets GM Daryl Morey has brought back to the surface of other incidences where companies and brands have capitulated to the whims of the communist regime. Noah Smith posted on twitter a list of such companies and their particular acquiescence.

I understand that these brands want to protect the Chinese golden goose: there’s shareholders to answer to, after all, but what I’m not understanding is how seemingly easy these companies are folding to the pressure from China, as if they themselves don’t hold any cards of power. Have they all forgotten about their own intrinsic value? Surely a product’s popularity in China isn’t solely because the government allows it to flourish; the product itself have to be good and desirable in the first place.

If China outright bans the NBA from broadcasting in its country, Chinese basketball fans will find a way to watch it regardless - because it’s a beautiful game. It’s the same reason we see Chinese nationals on twitter, even though the app is banned in China. Companies like Apple should remember a time before they were officially in the Chinese market, when Chinese scalpers traveled over the world to procure iPhones to sell back home. Rich people in China will find a way to buy Louis Vuitton bags even if China bans them from sale.

It’s simple: make something valuable, people will want it. Brands need to remember that they too have power, and removing their products from China via a ban by the government can be equally threatening towards Chinese consumers. Despite what some people have said, the 1.4 billion people of China are not a cohesive monolith; many will want an iPhone no matter what the government’s stance towards Apple is. Don’t forget that speech there is suppressed, and we in the west only hear from those the party want us to hear.

Perhaps the NBA should go: “Fine, we’ll cease our presence in China; sure hope Chinese basketball fans enjoy the CBA!”

Three into one.

I almost bought the iPhone 11 many times

I know, I know: it was only last week that I wrote I wasn’t going to get the iPhone 11, specifically, the Pro version.

But then I made the big mistake of reading and watching the reviews. The latest iPhone is only an iterative update to the same formula dating back to the iPhone X, except for one key area: the cameras. Indeed, much of the focus during the iPhone 11 introduction was on the new camera system, and in the ensuing reviews, everyone is absolutely raving about how excellent it is, even when compared to just one-year-old iPhone XS.

The best smartphone camera yet made? Now that has my hobbyist photographer’s attention.

Immediately, my mind began to rationalize purchasing the new iPhone: spending over a thousand dollars for a device you use every single day is well worth it! Think of all the awesome photos I’ll be able to take with it! My mom needs a new phone anyways; get the new iPhone 11 and give your slightly used iPhone X to her! And so on and so forth. The self-convincing was very effective, because at one point I was prepared to make the purchase.

Which presented another problem: unlike previous years, I did not preorder on the first day, and the delivery lead-time for orders made last week was out in the middle of October. This little niggle saved me from pulling the trigger, because I was not about to wait three weeks for the phone to arrive. Normally, waiting that extra bit wouldn’t have deterred me, but I think this time somehow my subconscious was leaving space for me to change my mind. And I did.

So I was resolved once again to not get the new iPhone, until I woke up this past Saturday and for whatever reason decided to check on the stock levels (iPhone 11 launched on the day before) at the Apple stores around me. As serendipity would have it, the Apple Store at Stonestown had the exact model I wanted available for same day pickup: iPhone 11 Pro 256 GB in Midnight Green. The resolve evaporated quickly and I rationalize with myself once more that this is the universe giving me the go-ahead signal.

However, I didn’t complete the checkout at that time, as there remain a hint of reservation with spending that amount of money. Over the course of the weekend, I can remember at least five occasions where I went back to the Apple Store app to check on the stock status, to see if the phone is still available. I came close many times, but ultimately did not jump over the last hurdle. After some mental and paper calculations, while I would enjoy an iPhone 11 immensely, I’m far better served by the money saved from not buying it.

That’s what adulting is like, kids.


I'm not getting the iPhone 11

For the first time in three years, I am not getting the new iPhone on launch day.

It’s not that I don’t want to: i’m obviously a massive fan of photography, and the addition of a new ultra-wide lens to the iPhone 11 Pro is a super enticing factor. Coupled that with the always improving camera logic and lens systems, the iPhone X I currently hold in my hands is looking somewhat pedestrian in comparison. Apple even solved my biggest complaint about iPhone cameras: that lack of long exposure function for shots in low light: there’s now a ‘Night Mode’ on the new iPhone.

However, the march of progress can gets utterly stopped by money sensibilities. If only I was back in my 20’s, but making the same amount of money as I do now: there wouldn’t even be any contemplations; I’d preordered the phone already.

Indeed, I have to take into consideration the monetary outlay whenever I upgrade to the latest iPhone. The monthly payments may remain the same - phone for phone, the iPhone 11 prices have not increased - but it’s easy to forget the one-time costs: the ridiculous upgrade fee the carriers charge (damn you, Verizon), and the tax bill for the entire price of the phone. It amounts to a not insignificant $200 dollars or so, and as it stands right now, I rather not spend that money just for the privilege of having a nicer camera system. In a vacuum, the iPhone X is still very competitive and outputs fine pictures for my needs.

I must note the irony that this is coming from the same person who owns a 911 GT3 and pays the hefty sums to keep it running every month. Well, how you’d think I come to be able to afford a Porsche? It isn’t from wontonly spending every amount of available cash.

I think I am going to wait for the next design evolution to the iPhone before I upgrade. Back when this current design language came out with the iPhone X, it was an absolute jewel of a thing; it’s such a beauty to hold that I even elected to go without a case. As per usual, the iPhone exterior hasn’t changed much at all going on its third year, save for the rear camera module (the three lens array on the iPhone 11 Pro is rather ugly, I have to say.) I shall wait for the next big step-change to make the switch.

In the meantime, I’ll pocket that bit of cash for a rainy day.

No donuts; because the rocks will ruin the paint, obviously.

SSD prices have come way down

It’s been awhile since I’ve looked at prices for solid-state drives, and boy have they come way down from just two years ago. Back in 2017, an external USB-3 SSD in 1 terabyte capacity cost me around $300 dollars. Now, I can get the same capacity drive, but in a four times faster Thunderbolt 3 connection, for just about the same price. The passage of time is such a great equalizer in turning once expensive technologies into something way more affordable.

Which baffles me why Apple still charges exorbitant sums for extra SSD hard-drive storage on their laptops. Take my 2019 15-inch Macbook Pro for example; the base machine comes standard with 256 gigabytes worth of fast SSD. Upgrade to double that - 512 GB - costs $200 dollars, and 1 TB is yet another $200 on top. When equally fast NVMe SSD drives at similar capacities can be bought for PC builders at a third of the cost, that is some hefty price-gouging, even by Apple’s infamous standards.

Being a price-conscious person, and the fact the base laptop is already well over $2000 dollars, I opted to not pay for the extra hard-drive capacity, even though as someone who dabbles in digital photography and videography, the additional space would have been super welcomed. Indeed it would’ve been incredibly convenient to have the massive amounts of storage built right into the machine, but ultimately I couldn’t stomach the horrendous price-per-gigabyte ratio.

Instead, I’m living the dongle life and currently using that same 1 TB external drive I bought in 2017. While obviously nowhere near as fast as its modern Thunderbolt 3 counterpart, USB-3 is still quite adequate for my photo-editing requirements. However, once I get back heavily into video editing, I will have to get a proper Thunderbolt 3 drive. But, it will be immensely cheaper than paying Apple to put the same level of storage into the laptop; for my perspective, that is a win.

Nature is perfect.

I got declined for the Apple Card!?

I obviously don’t need yet another credit card. I happily bank with Chase - except for their savings products which pay absolutely peanuts in interest rate, and currently have their line of credit cards with excellent rewards. I mean, 5% back on Amazon with the Amazon Prime Card! How on earth is Chase making money from me - someone who always pay the full amount on time - on that particular card is beyond me.

But I am a huge fanboy of Apple products, (typing this on my brand new 15-inch Macbook Pro, and getting distracted in the process by twitter on the iPhone X next to it) so when Apple announced a credit card product of their very own - replete with the usual Apple design flare - I was completely onboard. In a landscape full of metal-backed cards, Apple went and produced the Apple Card out of titanium, which sounds awesome. Of course, the entire thing is colored in white.

As far as perks and rewards go, the Apple Card is wholly inadequate. Zero sign-up bonus to speak of, and you only get the industry-typical 3% back when you shop with Apple. Using the actual physical card only nets 1% cash back, which is very pedestrian.

A credit card made out of titanium, though!

So like a good Apple shill, I applied for the Apple Card as soon as the sign-up was available to the general public (I was not amongst the lucky few to get an early invite). To my utter surprise: I got declined! I guess even a near 800 credit score means nothing these days. To Apple’s - and Goldman Sach’s - credit, they do send you an email explaining the rejection, and for me it was because my debt to income ratio was too high(?)

At first I thought this can’t be possible: the only solid chunk of debt I have is the car note on the GT3, and that only amounts to around $750 a month; I comfortably make more than that. Then I realized it was because the loan for the GT3 is uncollateralized; Goldman is treating it as simply a huge lump of debt, something of an albatross that needs to be paid off as soon as possible. Obviously, in reality that’s not structurally true at all.

This probably means it’s not only the Apple Card: I likely won’t be able to apply for any other credit card until the GT3 is entirely paid off. Which is just as well, because like I said, I don’t need any more credit cards.

Highway rest stops in the U.S. are solidly disappointing compared to those in Asia. Where’s the restaurants? Where’s the amenities?

Downsizing on screen real-estate

For the longest time, I’ve only edited photographs on large screens, and by large screens, I mean monitors above 24 inches. It just seemed natural, you know? To have the largest canvas possible, so I can see more of the image in detail, like an architect and his drafting table. Besides, with modern cameras capable of outputting super high resolutions (my trusty Sony A7R2 does 42 megapixels), a screen of commensurate size seems almost prerequisite.

Naturally, I never quite understood how some photographers are able to do editing work solely on their laptops. Isn’t it all a bit cramped? You’d have to hide all the ancillary controls just to get the image to appear large enough, and at the proper 1:1 view, it’s way too zoomed in because the screen simply don’t have enough resolution to show more. I’ve owned many laptops of varying sizes, and as much as possible I avoided editing pictures on them, and instead waited until I get home in front of the 30-inch monitor, or what was the 27-inch iMac.

Indeed, the iMac is no more, due to life circumstances. I now have a 15-inch Macbook Pro as my sole computing device, which means I have no other choice but to run Lightroom and Photoshop on it. Perhaps its the bias of having dropped over $2,000 on the laptop, but I have to say it’s been quite okay doing photo work on essentially half the screen real-estate I used to have. The biggest reason for this is most the latest laptops have intensely high resolution displays, so the issue of not being able to see enough of a photography is mitigated. With the Macbook Pro, I still have to hide all the controls in Lightroom, but once having done so, there’s sufficient space.

Another benefit of sizing down on the screen, one that I hadn’t realize, is the increase in speed. With far fewer pixels to draw compared to the 5K display of the iMac, the graphic system is less taxed on the Macbook Pro. Therefore, making adjustments to a photo returns a more immediate response; there’s no longer that slight pause before the picture reflects the change I just made. It’s a pleasant and welcomed surprise, because more so than screen real-estate, speed is the ultimate productivity assistance.

All things being equal, though, I think I’d still prefer having a large screen. That said, it’s reassuring that doing photo work on a laptop is not the penalty box I’d thought it would be; it’s rather great.

The legendary Shinkansen bullet train.