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Google’s new hardware

Google announced its new hardware this week. As I’ve mentioned previously, I hate notches on smartphones, so I’m not that fond of the Pixel 3 XL. Thankfully my Pixel 2 XL is still in good shape, so I’ll just stick with it. I do like the Pixel Stand, though; we played with a number of UX ideas for docked phones when I was at Samsung (the patent application is public now, so I can talk about the work in vague terms), and I’m happy to see that  someone is pushing on the idea (even though I think our work at Samsung actually pushed the boundaries a bit more).

The Pixel Slate looks kind of interesting too. I’ve got a Tab S4 with a keyboard cover that I bought before I left Samsung. It’s got a great display (which isn’t surprising for Samsung), but it’s never run Android particularly well. I’m not sure if Samsung did a lousy job putting their custom changes on top of Android (which is entirely possible), or whether the tablet is just underpowered (although from a purely spec sheet perspective it doesn’t seem like that should be the case). So I’m a bit curiously what it’d be like to have a really performant Android tablet. Plus it’d be nice to get regular OS updates, something that has never been Samsung’s strong suit.

The Google Home Hub is the device that I find most interesting, though. We’ve got one of the first generation Echo speakers and we use it every day, but really just to stream music and occasionally check the weather, which pretty much any smart device can do. But the Home Hub will also tie into my Google Photos account and show pictures from it, and it’d be great to regularly see the pictures we’ve taken over the years. Plus $150 is a really nice price point. So I suspect I may end up getting one once they’re actually on sale.

Mac laptops and issues with sleeping

When I first switched to using Macs from PCs, when I was faculty at Georgia Tech, one of the things I really appreciated about them was how reliably they went to and woke from sleep. Windows was crap at sleep / wake at the time, which meant you were basically stuck with turning off your laptop every time you wanted to put it away. By contrast, you could just close your Mac lid when you were during using it, put it away, and when you wanted to use it again you just pulled it out, opened the lid, and it was ready to use.

So I find it sad that sleeping really seems to have gone south with Macs over the last few releases. Earlier this week I closed the lid of my Mac laptop at work and left for the day, only to discover the next morning that the battery was dead. And then today I pulled my laptop out at a coffee shop to catch up on some things and discovered that its battery was also dead, despite sleeping it just 2 days ago with roughly 85% charge. I’ve gotten used to my laptop (a 2017 MacBook Pro) draining faster than my older laptops used to, to the extent that I’ve started shutting it down if I’m not going to use it for a few days instead of sleeping it. But losing 85% charge over 2 days? Clearly it never actually went to sleep. At least the old MacBooks had the heartbeat light that let you know when the machine was in sleep. Since Apple did away with it, there’s really no way to check whether it’s actually slept correctly. Apparently I’ll have to go back to just shutting it down every time to be sure.

At least OS X boots faster now.

Google turns 20

Google turned 20 this week, and they had a number of pop-up birthday celebrations around the campus with tasty cupcakes. It was interesting to contrast it with IBM’s celebration of its 100th birthday, which happened while I was still at IBM Research. On the one hand, IBM made a much bigger deal of its birthday than Google did (of course, it’s a lot more impressive for a company to make it to 100 than it is for.a company to make it to 20). On the other hand, I was right at the Googleplex for the celebration. IBM’s primary celebration was on the East Coast, since that’s where IBM is primarily based. So while Google’s celebrations were smaller, they were also more directly visible. And hey, who doesn’t like party hats?

Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA

We swung up to SF today to catch the Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA before Caltrain stops direct service into the city until the spring. The exhibit was enjoyable. They had a variety of pieces from different periods of Magritte’s career, so you got to see some of the different approaches and themes that he took over time. They did have Son of Man (which I can’t look at without hearing Nina Simone’s Sinnerman from the Pierce Brosnan version of The Thomas Crown Affair), but personally I liked the pieces from Magritte’s Dominion of Light series. The exhibit is definitely worth catching if you find yourself in SF before Oct. 28th.

The notch, price, the storage; I’ll wait

I split my time between a Pixel and an iPhone so I can keep tabs on both the Android and iOS ecosystems. My current iPhone is the 7 Plus, and I’ve been upgrading every 2 years to keep current. But I think this time I’m going to wait at least another year before upgrading.
Part of my decision is due to the notch. I hate notches on phones with a fiery passion. They’re ugly as hell, and they represent a triumph of marketing over design. You couldn’t actually make the display really go edge-to-edge, but you wanted to say you could, so you decided to stick an unsightly blob at the edge of the display and claim victory. I’ve been deeply disappointed that most of the Android ecosystem followed suit, and I’m really glad that Samsung has (so far) resisted.
Part of my decision is also due to the price. I paid $950 after tax for my 128GB 7 Plus 2 years ago, but now to get an XS with at least as much storage I’d be looking at roughly $1250 after tax. Technological advancements are wonderful, but $300 represents quite the price hike.
And there’s the storage tiers. Apple is implicitly admitting that 64GB at the entry level is insufficient, since the next storage tier is 256GB. For my use, 64GB isn’t quite enough, but 256GB is way more than I need. If the entry model were 128GB I’d only be looking at a roughly $100 increase and I’d be a bit more tempted. But 64GB? No thanks.
Lastly, my 7 Plus still works great, and the XS (seriously Apple, you wanted to one-up Microsoft’s WinCE name by going with Excess?) doesn’t offer anything that’s enough of a step function differentiator (for me) that I really feel the need to upgrade.
So I’ll wait, and hope that technological improvements are sufficient for Apple to do away with the notch next year.

Apple’s photo books

We’ve used Apple’s photo printing service to create books for our vacations for years; they’ve been a way to both preserve our memories in a more concrete form (digital photos have a lot of advantages, but they’re not really great for pulling out and reminiscing over) and share photos with my parents. So I was sad to hear that Apple is doing away with its own service and instead supporting extensions for 3rd parties. Yes, in theory this approach will open up more choices for creating books. But Apple was a known quantity (with known quality); I didn’t have to worry about how the photo books will turn out.

Since the end date is the end of this month I created one last book for our July Alaska trip. I might use the photos from our Kings Canyon trip to test out an alternative; sadly it’s unlikely the available alternatives will offer free trials…

Kings Canyon National Park

For Labor Day weekend we visited Kings Canyon National Park, staying at the Cedar Grove Lodge. For Columbus Day weekend last year we visited Sequoia National Park, and during that trip we visited the Grant Grove near the entrance to the park. But we wanted to see more of Kings Canyon, so we arranged a follow on trip this year. And although the John Muir Lodge in Grant Grove Village is supposed to be nice, we opted to stay in the Cedar Grove Lodge in Cedar Grove Village. The latter is roughly 46 miles from the former, so you get a lot deeper into the wilderness. It was definitely a good choice; staying in Cedar Grove you’re actually in the Canyon, and there are a number of great hiking trails you can just walk to from the Village.

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On our first day we hiked from the Roaring River Falls along the River Trail to Zumwalt Meadow, where we walked the loop around the meadow and then headed back to the falls. We did the hike in the evening, and the setting sun made the lighting on the surrounding mountains particularly dramatic.

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On the second day we hike up the canyon wall on the Hotel Creek Trail to the Cedar Grove Overlook, where we got a great view into the canyon. There were surprisingly few people on the trail, despite the number of people in the park. We had the Overlook to ourselves for lunch, and in total we passed maybe 16 other people on the trail. It was a particularly toasty hike; the high hit around 86, and there wasn’t a lot of shade on the hike. We were glad we got an early start for it, hitting the trail around 9:30.

Now that we’ve visited both Sequoia and Kings Canyon, I’m not sure which I like more. They’re actually very different parks: Sequoia is all about the giant Sequoia groves (obviously) and hiking in the woods, while Kings Canyon is drier and is more about hiking through the canyon and through chaparral. I’ll confess that I prefer Yosemite over both, but each of the two has their own charms that makes them both worth visiting.