iPhone X: First Impressions

Background:

I generally try to spend money deliberately, particularly when it comes to what might be considered “nonessential” purposes. This year that included the iPhone X.

Our son is two and a half, so the main reason I’ve been upgrading my phone annually the past few years is to have the very best smartphone camera possible. My wife has the iPhone 7 and (until last week) I had the 7 Plus. The increased quality of the plus (particularly portrait mode, but also low-light performance and even macro) was so substantial that when we’re out and about we would almost exclusively use my phone for photos. The best camera—the saying goes—is the one you have with you, so the premium to capture my son’s moments has been the primary motivator.

(It’s snowing!)

Also, I like shiny things. And it was also my birthday.

I also do what I imagine is a surprising amount of my writing on my iPhone. I dictated the majority of my second book as well as large portions of my blog posts (including parts of this one) using Siri. I even do a fair amount my typing on the phone directly with my handy Bluetooth keyboard and Ulysses. All in all, I consider having a great phone to be a worthy business expense (obviously, I’m still trying to justify myself).

Design & Screen:

I’m ambivalent about the notch. The speaker, selfie camera, and sensors have to go somewhere. Perhaps one day they can be embedded in the screen, but overall I don’t find it as galling as some reviewers have. My main pet peeve is that so far a lot of apps haven’t been updated to make use of the unusual “ears” or rounded corners on the display. Updated apps will often show the clock on the left and wifi/cell signal/battery indicators on the top. Older apps just pretend all that space isn’t really there leaving a black bar at the top and bottom as if it were the size of a regular iPhone 7/8. Over time this will improve, but I’m not sure how well cross-platform apps or the many apps that are essentially webpage viewers will be able to accommodate the new design.

The new OLED screen is really nice. It’s beautiful, bright, and for some reason, almost a little more paper-like and less fatiguing when reading text on a white background.

Face ID:

Touch ID is better, but Face ID works as advertised (mostly). It works in light and dark, with or with my glasses or even sunglasses. It’s marginally slower than Touch ID but not enough to make a difference in most situations, and the change in notifications mostly makes up for it. Now notifications are private on the unlock screen, only showing the app but not the content/message itself until unlocked by Face ID. Then you can tap the notification to go straight into the app, which is a clever little improvement. Elegant.

My main fail point is when lying down or holding the phone at an exaggerated angle it often won’t engage. I haven’t figured exactly how much face the phone needs to see but my experience has been variable (generally poor) in these situations. Bedtime is not a great time for Face ID. I also had a cold recently and if I coughed or made an odd face while trying to unlock it would also fail (it was a bad cold; this was happening more than you’d expect). Chewing also causes it to fail.

My other irritating corner case pet peeve is that Face ID is terrible for using your phone on a table or desk. With Touch ID, you could keep your phone on the table and unlock it with your index finger, never having to pick it up to look at alerts etc. With the X, you either have to hit the side button and loom over the phone to unlocked it or pick it up.

Camera:

In my limited usage thus far, the main difference for me between the 7 Plus and X has the speed of portrait mode (in addition to the new portrait lighting effects). The problem with fast moving toddlers is that sometimes the lag of portrait mode means losing the best moment by the time the photo is actually taken. It’s almost as fast as a regular photo now, though I have noticed some serious auto-focus glitches with close up portrait mode, which I hope will be resolved soon.

I rarely use the front-facing camera, so I haven’t taken any decent front-facing portrait mode photos yet, though it does work as advertised.

Overall:

I like it. Like every new iPhone I’ve purchased over the past six or so years, the iPhone X is the “best” phone I’ve ever had. But it’s still (just) a magical glass brick. Face ID is still mildly irritating and forces a number of unwelcome behavioral changes, and the bugs are annoying. The X’s design is nice but I think most Apple customers would be better off just sticking with the iPhone 8 Plus for this iteration.

More Open Access Journal Shaming

There seems to be a never-ending shaming parade of “peer reviewed” open access journals that exist to extract one-time lump sum payments from desperate authors in exchange for a publishing credit and poorly formatted PDF.

“The conceptual penis as a social construct” in Skeptic Magazine takes it the next level, by also lampooning an entire discipline of academic thought. The article’s approach, summarized by the authors:

We didn’t try to make the paper coherent; instead, we stuffed it full of jargon (like “discursive” and “isomorphism”), nonsense (like arguing that hypermasculine men are both inside and outside of certain discourses at the same time), red-flag phrases (like “pre-post-patriarchal society”), lewd references to slang terms for the penis, insulting phrasing regarding men (including referring to some men who choose not to have children as being “unable to coerce a mate”), and allusions to rape (we stated that “manspreading,” a complaint levied against men for sitting with their legs spread wide, is “akin to raping the empty space around him”). After completing the paper, we read it carefully to ensure it didn’t say anything meaningful, and as neither one of us could determine what it is actually about, we deemed it a success.

This one is a fun ride.

I actually have a case report in an Open Access journal back from my I’m-going-to-be-an-interventional-radiolgoist days (it wasn’t all that good, and my colleague did most of the work, bless him). We submitted but didn’t pay—I think they may have been desperate for articles to publish and just put it up. Case Reports are almost unpublishable now outside of these types of pay-to-publish journals, which creates a bizarre counter-incentive to trying to share interesting one-offs with other physicians and scientists.

I wish—in addition to a robust mechanism for consistently sharing negative results—that there was a better mechanism for sharing research outside of peer review, which is expensive, inefficient, and, in many cases, broken.

Academic publishing is stuck in the pre-digital era. All we’ve done is move physically printed journals online behind paywalls. Comments, updates, additions? Sorry, no. Journals are static, even though science is not. It’s ripe for a big investment by a billionaire to change the status quo. Gates, Zuckerberg—you guys listening?

Why would the brain be spared?

It’s surprising to me that people would question that obesity would have a negative effect on the brain, because it has a negative effect on so many other bodily systems,” he says, adding, “why would the brain be spared?”

– Terry Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C, speaking to NPR about new research concerning obesity’s effects on memory.

Monuments and Symbols

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on the removal of four historic statues commemorating the confederacy:

These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city.

Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it?

Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too?

That last line.

Visions, people, and milestones

Alan Kay on Xerox’s culture back when it was killing it:

A few principles:

1. Visions not goals
2. Fund people not projects — the scientists find the problems not the funders. So, for many reasons, you have to have the best researchers.
3. Problem Finding — not just Problem Solving
4. Milestones not deadlines
5. It’s “baseball” not “golf” — batting .350 is very good in a high aspiration high risk area. Not getting a hit is not failure but the overhead for getting hits.

Doesn’t that sound so healthy and reasonable? Of course, it didn’t last: profit needs and fear can easily trump ingenuity, hard work, teamwork, and progress.

We don’t really fund scientists in the public sector; we fund projects. And outside of politically expedient “moonshots,” we’ve curbed our visions in favor of concrete achievable goals with deadlines.