Blog

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.

The soft power of China

Daryl Morey, GM of the Houston Rockets NBA team, caused quite the stir this weekend when he tweeted in support for Hong Kong people fighting for their freedom. A seemingly ordinary and inoffensive tweet - for us here in America anyways - set off a negative chain reaction in China, culminating in the Chinese broadcast partner of the NBA to cease any and all operations with the Rockets.

The immense soft power of China was on full display, and in quick succession, too. To go from an “offensive” tweet (keep in mind that twitter is officially banned in China) to then mere hours later a total severing of relationship is surprisingly rapid. It certainly gets results: Morey was (let’s face it) forced to offer a follow-up concession for hurting the feelings of China, and the NBA office released a statement acrobatically apologizing to Chinese basketball fans without outright outlawing Morey’s right to free expression.

It’s amazing to watch all of this unfold. For better or worse, China is now the preeminent super power on this planet. The Chinese market is so lucrative for the NBA that it had to reprimand one of their own for supporting democracy! This is the same league that moved its All Star Game from Charlotte in protest of a bathroom bill, and is widely recognized as the most progressive of the major sport leagues.

I guess money still speaks louder than woke-ness, and when billions are at stake, capitalism will always triumph. Personally I’m not surprised the league groveled to China in such a fashion; let it be a reminder that it’s a machine to make money first and foremost, and the NBA support for progressive causes only goes so far as the impact on league profits. Hating on the orange man at the White House is seen as a positive; criticize anything about China is most definitely not.

Basketball players will speak to power on the treatment of migrants at the Mexico border all day long, but anything to say about the situation in Hong Kong? Not a chance. When actual paychecks are at stake, mouths will shut.

It’s interesting to watch.

991; how appropriate.

Time to pay up to Chase

Yesterday I got charged the annual fee for my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, a quite hefty sum of $450 dollars. My Asian mother would never approve of paying a yearly fee for a card, much less one in the hundreds. Indeed, on the surface I do not fit the salary profile of a person who carries credit cards with high annual fee, but the beauty of Chase Sapphire Reserve is that it literally (?) pays for itself.

It’s just one of those things that catches you off guard when it shows up on your bank statements, like the annual membership for Amazon Prime. Just yesterday I wrote about being austere through the rest of 2019, and this charge was certainly a sudden shock. Thankfully, unlike Amazon Prime which has hiked its rates many times (I can remember when Prime membership was only $70 dollars), at least the Sapphire Reserve card has stayed consistently at $450 per year since inception. I’m very glad Chase did not follow the footsteps of American Express, who raised the fee of their premium Platinum card to $550.

It’ll be my fourth year with the Sapphire Reserve card, and as long as I remain traveling on a consistent basis, I completely make the annual fee back through points accrued. The $300 travel credit is still there, and that not only can reimburse for obvious stuff like airfare and hotel, but Uber rides and public transportation also count. Via rudimentary math, that cuts the net annual fee down to a manageable $150, which will get canceled out once I spend a cumulative $4,000 on travel and restaurants next year (a very easy target for me to hit.)

I reckon there will come a time when I will divorce from the Sapphire Reserve card and switch over to a pure cash-back variety (hello, Capital One!) I don’t suppose I’ll keep on traveling as I have done for the past few years, and at that juncture there won’t be enough appropriate spending to offset the annual fee. In the meantime I think Chase would be smart to split up the annual charge into monthly payments, because us millennials love that sort of accounting: my phone only costs me $40 dollars a month!

The new Salesforce Tower appears quite literally everywhere you go in the city.

But a recession is coming

I am ready and itching to head off on another travel adventure. It’s been a solid two months since my return from Japan, and as typical with the ebb and flow of these things, I’ve physically and mentally recovered, and recharged to set off again.

Of course, I don’t have nearly that much freedom from work to be able to skip town every two months, nor do I have the appropriate budget to do so. Indeed, the trip to Japan drained quite a bit of my cash reserves; a stash that was already lower than previous years due to my purchase of the GT3. I’m going to need at least a few more months to store back up the reserves, so even though I’m pining for another escape, the smart thing to do is to enact austerity.

Besides, I’ll be making my annual trip back home to China come the end of December. What’s another three more months of waiting, honestly. More importantly, homecoming trips don’t cost me any money because our family uses the proceeds from our rental property in China to fund it. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be making the trip this year.

Because the recession is looming, and I think it’s important to batten down the hatches for such an event. Perhaps it’s idiosyncratic to my San Francisco locality, but I am seeing the recession signs all around: vacant storefronts, restaurants closing down, houses not selling, and rooms not renting out. Things definitely don’t look as prosperous as the stock market and unemployment numbers would indicate.

There are similar signs as well in an area near and dear to my proclivities: the automobile. The recent car auctions in Monterey back in August saw a 34% drop compared to 2018 results. You know things are turning sour when ultra rich people are holding off spending their free cash. Just yesterday, Subaru announced its first month of decline in sales after a streak of 93 months (almost eight years!) consecutive growth. That’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine stuff, and the entire auto industry in a downturn now.

I don’t think I’ll stop traveling if and when the recession happens, god willing that I myself don’t get laid off from employment, but for sure I need to build back up the war chest so to speak, for the next rainy day.

Anywhere you go, there you are.

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.

Daybreak.

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.