Monthly Recap: Wired for Sound – The Times They Are a-Changin’

What a month! It started with the vocal backlash of the tech community against the new MacBook Pro which prompted my post, “The Rise of the Incompetent Experts,” continued with the elections, and culminated with our fascinating trip to Cuba which I photographed with the new iPhone 7+. Along the way, the post, “Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’” explored the interesting acoustics related idea that Apple may be paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods.

nokiaaudioDespite what might seem like missteps, Apple definitely has a well thought out plan and acoustics will continue to play a major role. How could it be otherwise? They made the first commercially viable MP3 player with the iPod and pioneered the first digital music ecosystem with iTunes. Also, many people don’t remember that cellphones used to have proprietary audio connectors. Apple was the first manufacturer to standardize on the 1/8″ headphone jack. The BBC News post, “The 19th Century plug that’s still being used” is wonderful if you want the full story.

As for the title of this post, it comes from another major change in the world of audio recording that’s all but forgotten: the wire recorder. This is strange because it is still the recording format with the longest history, over 70 years! ArsTechnica wrote an excellent, in-depth article about it recently, “Forgotten audio formats: Wire recording.” Along the way, the article revisits Woody Guthrie’s recordings, the first audio bootlegging, and its impact on the language in phrases such as “wire tap,” “on the wire,” and “wired for sound.”

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Using the iPhone 7+ in Cuba

We just returned from a week in Cuba and it’s hard to explain what a strange and wonderful country it is. First, the people are incredible in every way: kind, patient, creative, and resourceful. At the same time, the country is broken in every way: the physical structures, transportation, pollution, communication, etc. Here is a photo of a tourist restaurant in “Old Havana” where excellent, international dishes were served in a modern setting. It was empty at lunch, but jam packed with customers every evening.

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This is the view from the building less than a block away.

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We traveled with a group of professional photographers so we visited many non-tourist locations that I shot primarily with an iPhone 7+. Here are 10 things I learned.

  1. Swipe to open camera is a fast, fluid gesture that I used probably a 100 times a day.
  2. Low light performance is so good that the flash was rarely necessary. This was good because it’s very slow to fire.
  3. The 2x optical is surprisingly useful, but I also used an inexpensive point and shoot with 10x zoom that came in handy. Mine has an articulating screen which was perfect for waist level candid shots. Sticking a big camera lens in someone’s face just feels wrong.
  4. Backups without iCloud – The was one of the biggest issues. The internet is not available in Cuba unless you count 5 Mbps speeds in a park or hotel lobby shared with 100 others as access. Since iOS is a closed system, I used this device which was kludgy, but workable.
  5. Waterproofing – It was a true revelation to be able to use an unprotected iPhone in the rain. Also for navigation without the internet, Maps.me was a lifesaver.
  6. VPN – Even when we could use the internet, a VPN connection was required to access our US accounts. It’s a good idea for safely using any public Wifi when traveling.
  7. Editing photos with iOS is super advanced. The stock photo app is great. Adding professional level tools like Snapseed, PicsArt, Pixelmator, and Photoshop Fix can result in photos like these.
  8. Airdrop is awesome! Even without internet access, we transferred photos within the group with ease. Even sending photos to 15 people at once was simple. You need to have Bluetooth and Wifi turned on, but it’s peer-to-peer so the internet is not required.
  9. Triggering the camera with the Apple Watch is cool. You can get a refurbished series 1 for around $240 now. Here’s one I took.
  10. Portrait mode is icing on the cake. Take a look at the these shots.

So there are some interesting observations from our trip. The iPhone 7+ is a powerhouse of a travel camera that can replace a GPS and a laptop for editing. If you’re reading this on Turkey Day, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. Travel always reminds me that we have a lot to be thankful for!

Acoustics – Apple’s Future is ‘Ear’

Last month’s recap ended by citing one expert’s opinion (John Kirk) that the future of Apple is potentially intimately entwined with acoustics. His article, “Apple’s Future is Ear” from Tech.pinions provided a detailed analysis of the historical and current events leading to his conclusion. It’s obviously a clever title. To summarize, the author thinks that Apple is paving the way for an audio user interface accessed through the soon to be released Apple AirPods. This is not as far fetched as it sounds. Siri had an early lead in this area and currently Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Now personal assistants are gaining popularity. What didn’t do well was the visually based system called Google Glass. Due to its invasive nature, people who wore them became known as “Glassholes.”

With all the negative press about Apple these days, I was concerned that Kirk’s lengthy analysis might be fundamentally flawed so I took the time to carefully reread the almost 7,000 word post. I came away even more convinced that the naysayers do not understand Apple’s core values when it comes to innovation. Buried right in the middle of Kirk’s article is the section called “Socially Awkward.” In it, he says “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that resistance to the new AirPods is anything new. There has never been a meaningful change that wasn’t resisted by self-righteous, holier-than-thou, know-it alls” and goes on to list the “technologies” that have fallen into the same category such as the cell phone, Walkman, radio, automobile, bicycle, phonograph, and kaleidoscopes, and books. “Novels were considered to be particularly abhorrent. In 1938, a newspaper ran an article with some top tips for stopping your kids from reading all the time.”

It’s true that Siri is not up to the job yet, but as Kirk points out, Apple has always had a long-term plan and the benefits would transform the technology world… again. A few of the benefits of an AirPods based interface could include:

  • Walking instructions – Which are in their infancy, but on their way… It’s not a good idea to look at a screen while walking.
  • Spatial awareness – They’ll remind us to take the mail with us when we leave the house, and to buy toilet paper when we pass by the local supermarket.
  • Contextual awareness – Sensors in the device will know if we are in conversation and will break in only with the most important verbal notifications.

Kirk mentions many more and the quotes he uses to support his assertions are wonderful. The entire piece is a far cry from the negative knee jerk reactions that are filling the Apple news outlets lately. Overall, the Tech.pinions website seems to be true to its name. It has “the singular vision of providing the technology industry with quality opinion based columns.” They also explain that they “only allow contributions by those who have credible, respected, original, authoritative and informed opinions on the technology industry.” From the balanced, high quality articles they post, I believe them.

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The Rise of the Incompetent Experts

Recently, the backlash against Apple has become relentless. Even the more mature, balanced sources for news from experts have begun to take potshots.

donglesOne reason for this is related to the growing number of “Incompetent Experts” online, also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. As Wikipedia explains, the D-K effect is “a cognitive bias in which low-ability individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability as much higher than it really is.” It has become so prevalent recently that ArsTechnica published an excellent post on it called, “Revisiting Why Incompetents Think They’re Awesome” based on the original APA paper “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF).

Of course, when it comes to technology, Reddit has the largest number of incompetent experts. The Verge article mentioned above was only five hours old when I wrote this and it already had almost 500 comments on Reddit. It’s hard to understand the haters. Apple transformed the personal computer first with the Apple II, then with the Graphical User Interface in the original Mac, the music industry with the iPod / iTunes, the mobile phone with the iPhone, the laptop with the MacBook Air, and tablets with the iPad. You would think by now people would give Apple the benefit of the doubt, but these so-called experts have proclaimed (again) that their newest products are flawed in a huge wide variety of ways.

One corollary of the effect is that it is hard to tell who is really an expert without a basic level of expertise. Also a true expert opinion might be “context sensitive,” i.e. an expert with an opinion that helps one person might be completely inappropriate for a slightly different person or situation. The article explains this in detail in sections entitled, “Context is everything,” “Culture complicates things,” and “Education and work.”

Of course, this effect not only applies to Apple: In the first paragraph of the ArsTechnica article, the author points out tongue-in-cheek, “Another election day in the US is rapidly approaching (Tuesday, Nov. 8—mark your calendars!). So for no reason in particular, we’re resurfacing our close examination of the Dunning-Kruger effect from May 25, 2012.”

Monthly Recap: Apple’s Future, Costa Rica, and The Whingers

We just returned from a two week Spanish Immersion school in Costa Rica. Speaking Spanish for 8+ hours a day was an intense experience to say the least, not to mention the culture shock involved in living with a Costa Rican family. To summarize, the school was outstanding, but the capital of Costa Rica is nothing like the beach areas tourists typically visit, but this post is not meant to be a travelogue. Maybe the biggest cultural difference we found is that nobody complains in Costa Rica. They don’t complain about the horrendous traffic, dirty streets with huge holes and no sidewalks, the poor quality of food, the rain that falls everyday in October (and doesn’t fall at all in the summer), or the steel bars protecting every home and business. They just don’t complain. In fact, they are proud of their country and often boast about the biodiversity, the temperate climate, universal healthcare and education, and political stability. There is certainly a bit of denial going on, but the message is so consistent, it’s impossible not to be charmed by their “Pura Vida” attitude.

In contrast, Apple released a new MacBook Pro last week and the whingers came out in force. The “Keynote Megathread” on Reddit has over 4,000 comments, most of which say the same things: it’s too thin, it’s too expensive, it doesn’t have USB ports, it can’t support more than 16 GB of RAM, whine, whine, whine. Of course, Reddit is a bubble universe of its own where outspoken minority opinions can get blown out of proportion, but it is a good way to find out first hand what the tech community is feeling. A contrasting post, “I work in Hollywood and everyone is really excited about the new MBPs” was a nice reality check. The author made an outstanding observation:

I had gotten sucked into the Reddit hive mind and convinced myself I was dealing with a large representation of the population. I am not. A certain handful of people are attracted to reddit, and a smaller handful actually take the time to post, and post negatively at that.

Finally, after watching the Apple Keynote and reading dozens of articles, the post, “Apple’s Future is Ear” from Tech.pinions seemed to say it best. In four parts, John Kirk analyzes the history of the current structure of Apple product line (including the controversial risks they’ve taken along the way), the current state of technology, and tries to predict the future Apple is heading toward with or without the approval of self-proclaimed “experts in the field.” It’s a very long read, but well worth it for the wonderful quotes alone. My next post will explore how that future is intimately entwined with acoustics, so stay tuned.

Apple is taking a risk by ignoring the whingers, but as Geena Davis (and many others) famously said, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.”

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