Droid to iPhone: First bad impressions

15 August, 2011 (08:11) | Gadgets | By: david

My beloved Droid X has been having some issues lately. Spontaneous reboots, freezing apps, seemingly poor web performance, general wear and tear. I was eligible for an upgrade from Verizon Wireless, so I did some research about the newest Droids on the market and went to the store with the intention of buying a Droid Charge because its battery life and weight compared favorably to the other 4G LTE phone on the market, the HTC Thunderbolt.

I got to the store and was helped by a sales guy who seemed to know what he was talking about. I started the conversation by saying “If I’m not going to be watching movies, does 4G – ?” He saw where I was going and assured me that for normal web surfing the difference between 3G and 4G would be negligible. I explained that I was also interested in the Charge because of its good battery life compared to my Droid X (see, for example, this review at Engadget). He thought the reviews must have been lying, because there was no way a 4G phone would have better battery life than a 3G. He said that if I wanted good performance and good battery life, there was only one way to go: iPhone.

I hadn’t given an iPhone a serious look in a couple years, but I knew that a bunch of my friends had them now and seemed to like them. The 16 GB iPhone was $100 less than the Charge, too, so I thought I’d at least take it for a 14-day test drive. After only a few hours into my trial, I started leaning heavily toward going back to an Android phone. Here’s a list of reasons – I’m not saying they’re good or bad reasons, and I’m not trying to start a fight here. They’re just things I’ve noticed that I don’t like:

  • Weight is comparable but screen is much smaller.
  • No Swype.
  • No menu button. I like menus.
  • The virtual keyboard on the Droid is far superior. The keys visually toggle between upper case and lower case. (On the iPhone, you have to glance over to the left to see if the shift button is on to know whether the next letter you enter will be capitalized or not.) If I want a number or punctuation mark on the Droid, I just hold that key for a second. On the iPhone, I’m constantly going to the ".?123" button.
  • I had the iPhone connected to my car charger and was using a mapping app, and the display kept going off. That’s fine if the phone is in my pocket, but if I have the phone in my windshield mount, am using a map, and have the phone plugged in, that’s a pretty good indication that I want the display to stay on. I’m sure there’s a setting for this somewhere, but my Droid just figured it out by itself.
  • Switching between apps is a pain. It’s much easier on the Droid, which (a) has a "back" button to cycle you through recently viewed screens and (b) can show you ALL your open apps at once, not just four at a time.
  • I have my mail set to "push," but as far as I can tell that doesn’t work with my Google Apps account. Whenever I open my mail I have to wait for the new mail to get downloaded. Has that been changed since this article was written?
  • The Droid will tell me on the home screen whether a new e-mail has come in since the last time I checked my inbox by displaying a little envelope icon. As far as I can tell, there’s no equivalent on the iPhone – there’s just an unread message count.
  • Options for dealing with messages in Gmail are greatly limited. For example, I can’t tap and hold a message in the inbox to get options for archiving, deleting, muting, and so on. I have to open the message first. And even then I don’t have all the message handling options I want. I suppose that’s to be expected. It stands to reason that if I want a phone optimized to handle Google mail, I should get one that has a Google operating system.
  • Everyone I talk to says a case for an iPhone is an absolute necessity. That’s not true for the Droid X. I’ve dropped my Droid X from at least waist height onto very hard surfaces on a number of occasions and it still works. But when you put an iPhone in a case, it won’t fit in the windshield mount (at least not the one they sell at the Verizon Wireless store). And if you get the OtterBox, which I’ve heard offers the best protection, then the iPhone won’t even fit in my "oversize" exercise armband for smartphones. The OtterBox is getting returned immediately, and I think I’m going case-less for the rest of my iPhone trial.
  • I don’t like the Car Dock software that comes with the windshield mount for the Droid X, but at least the car charger is integrated. That saves me a step every time I put the phone in the car. I don’t have to connect the charger to the phone end, I just have to plug the other end into the power outlet.
  • The Droid comes with Google Navigation, which is free. The iPhone requires you to download an app. I have been trying MapQuest, one of the few free turn-by-turn navigation apps for the iPhone, and Google Navigation seems much better. For example, MapQuest seems not to have a horizontal display option, and it doesn’t seem as smart about things like telling you to make turns in order to stay on the same street. (Here in Boston, we have LOTS of streets that make sharp turns without changing names.)
  • I don’t like having to enter my AppleID password every single time I download an app. True, in the long run I wouldn’t be downloading apps all that often, but still, it’s a pain.
  • The Messaging feature on the iPhone doesn’t show me a running total of the number of characters I’ve entered in each text message.
  • I’ve heard the benefit of the Apple OS is that it "just works." Not true. I’ve had downloads freeze and apps lock up.

That’s not to say the iPhone doesn’t have some advantages. They include:

  • The Roboform app is better. It’s a real app, not a browser interface.
  • The display is pretty, I must admit. But there are Droids with very pretty displays, too.

To be fair, I’m going to give the iPhone at least a few more days. It’s going to be a really hard sell, though.

National Parks slide show

9 August, 2010 (09:26) | Entertainment, Travel | By: david

I finally finished compiling the photos from our trip to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon National Parks in June. Here it is – a 12+ minute show. (I’ve embedded it here for convenience, but it looks like the resolution is better, especially in full-screen mode, if you go directly to the Vimeo site. Click the icon that looks like four outward-facing arrows to get the full-screen image.)

I took the photos (with perhaps one or two exceptions) with the Canon EOS 7D. I did the editing with Pinnacle Studio 14 Ultimate, aided by Image Cropper – a nice shareware utility for cropping 4:3 images to 16:9 size. This was a good introduction to video editing. The number of decisions involved was nearly overwhelming, and I could easily have spent the rest of the year tweaking and improving it. But you’ve got to stop somewhere.

I hope you enjoy it and that it makes you want to visit these wonderful parks.

Crop! How should I edit this photo?

19 July, 2010 (20:29) | Entertainment | By: david

Some people go down the cereal aisle with determination. They’re in and out within seconds. Others stare at the columns and rows of boxes, endlessly comparing nutritional content, varieties, and unit prices. I fall into the latter category. And while I’m generally happy with my cereal in the morning, this kind of indecision can be awfully paralyzing in other contexts.

I’m still teaching myself how to shoot and edit video. Right now I’m working on what sounds like a fairly simple project: a slide show of photos I took on my recent vacation to Utah and Arizona. What’s complicating the project is that I want the final output to be in true HD quality. The good news is that my camera takes wonderful photos, and my video editing software can handle the HD format. The bad news is that HD format uses a 16:9 aspect ratio (1920 x 1080), and my camera takes photos in 3:2 (5184 x 3456). The 16:9 ratio is significantly wider than it is high (for landscapes), so to get my 3:2 photo in full frame I have to lose quite a bit off the top or bottom or both.

One option would be to simply crop from the center, taking out an equal amount from the top and bottom. I was planning to do that until I realized how serious the consequences of this non-decision can be. Take a look at the following photo from Zion National Park. The first is the original, in 3:2 ratio (I’ve resized it to 20% for presentation on the web).

Now take a look at the same image, cropped from the center to a 16:9 ratio.

DSC01328_16x9-least sky

It’s nice, but the canyon walls on the right look like they’re fighting to get out of the frame. They feel oppressed somehow.

Here’s another take, leaving in as much sky as possible at the top.

DSC01328_16x9-most sky

Now the mountains have room to breathe, but I’ve lost too much foreground. The sense of three-dimensionality is gone.

I can bring back the bottom of the photo, but …


Now my eye is drawn to the tree/shrub that’s front and center, with the canyon serving merely as backdrop.

I don’t know what the right answer is. I doubt there is one. Going through this exercise has taught me a lot about composition and editing. I never realized that every photograph contained so many boxes of cereal.

How would you have cropped the photo? Why? And how long would it have taken you to make a decision?

PolitiFact Embraces Equivocation, the Truth Gets Squeezed

6 July, 2010 (19:38) | Uncategorized | By: david

The real problem here is our need for reductionism. We can’t handle a lot of facts. We need short answers. True or false? Guilty or innocent? Approve or disapprove? “American” or “Socialist?” Who won the week? Which is the more important question here — whether KBR owes the government a lot of money, or whose description of the events is more accurate — Huffington’s, Cheney’s, or PolitiFact’s? Until our society can cope with complex questions and answers, we’re not going to make much progress toward solving complex problems.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

U.S. Soccer: I’ve got a name for you

26 June, 2010 (13:37) | Sports | By: david

It’s a shame that our soccer team, now playing so well in the World Cup, has no good nickname. I think I’ve got the answer.

The official name is the U.S. Mens National Team, or MNT. If we were Canadians, we could easily play on that acronym and call ourselves the Mounties. But we’re not Canadians. Nevertheless, we can still use that inspiration and call ourselves …

The Purple Mountains.

I think that moniker has a lot going for it:

  • It’s an obvious reference to “America, the Beautiful”
  • Mountains are solid, strong, and tall – all good qualities for athletes
  • Many national teams have colorful nicknames, such as the Black Stars (Ghana), the Azzuri, Les Bleus, the Oranje, and several others.
  • Although there’s no purple in the American flag, we all know what you get when you mix red and blue.

How about it, U.S. Soccer?

A Croatian Limerick

4 May, 2010 (12:16) | Humor | By: david

My sister is on her way to Dubrovnik. To mark the occasion, I composed the following:

Said Niko Horvat, of Dubrovnik,
"I’m feeling a little bit lovesick."
He went to Tatjana,
Who said "I’ll get on ya,
But first you must put on a glove, Nick!"

A question for "limited government" advocates

30 April, 2010 (11:53) | Public Policy | By: david

On the heels of a report that one federal agency is now investigating another federal agency in connection with the recent West Virginia mining disaster, I’d like to ask Tea Party folks and other advocates of limited federal government:

Which part of the federal bureaucracy would you like to see eliminated? The part that is supposed to protect mine workers from mine operators who put profit first and safety second, or the part that investigates violations of federal law, whether committed by private or public organizations? Or would both the FBI and the Mine Safety and Health Administration still be around in your ideal scenario?

I wear his scorn as a badge of honor

26 April, 2010 (16:49) | Jay Severin, Media | By: david

I’ve started posting all my Jay Severin comments at my dedicated blog, Severin Watch. But I’m making an exception today because I actually got on the air and recorded it.


Having Jay Severin call me an a-hole is like having Lady Gaga call me a hermaphrodite. (I know Lady Gaga is not a hermaphrodite, but I thought that if I used the terms “Lady Gaga” and “hermaphrodite” I might get some hits on Google.)

Tax stories

18 April, 2010 (21:46) | Public Policy | By: david

Does the average voter care how much the average voter pays in taxes? I don’t think so. I think the Smiths care how much the Smiths think the Smiths pay in taxes compared to what the Smiths think the Joneses pay in taxes, and compared to what the Smiths think the Smiths used to pay in taxes. (I put the “think” qualifier in there because I believe that most people don’t really have a very good sense of what the actual numbers are. I, for example, have recently filed my tax returns and the only number that sticks in my head was how much of a refund I qualified for. I have no idea what percentage of my income went to taxes.)

Consequently, I think reports of what the median-income family of four pays in taxes now compared to years past have little impact. People like stories with characters they can relate to, and how many people live next to a family that has been making the median income for the last sixty years?

So with the help of the awesome tax and spending calculator from USA Today, I’ve put together a few stories about “real” taxpayers and how they’ve fared since the Reagan era. Each of these taxpayers files individually, uses the standard deduction instead of itemizing, and has one exemption.

Paula Pooriskova. Paula has spent her entire adult life earning the federal minimum wage, working 2,080 hours a year. Paula earned $6,448 in 1980 and $15,080 in 2010. Her tax rates have gone up as well, from a total (income + payroll) tax of 8% thirty years ago to 11.5% today. She was hit hardest by the Reagan-Bush years. By 1992, her total tax rate had jumped to 12.64%, and at the end of the Clinton administration it was essentially unchanged. Since then, it’s fallen by about one percentage point, with her marginal tax rate – the tax rate on the last dollar earned — dropping from 15% to 10%. (Note: the calculator does NOT factor in the Earned Income Tax Credit, so her actual tax bill may be overstated.)

Mandy Mediate. Mandy has been doing average, which is to say better than Paula. She was making the median family-of-four income when Reagan was elected: $24,332. She’s gotten raises every year since then, but only three percent each year – less than the average rate of inflation over that time. (Her income climbed to $59,000 in 2010, but to keep pace with inflation, she would have had to reach $64,000.) Unlike Paula, Mandy has seen a slight but steady decline in her tax rates. She went from an effective rate of 24.74% in 1980, with a marginal rate of 34%, to an effective rate in 2010 of 22.26%, with a marginal rate of 25%. As a percentage of income, Mandy’s payroll tax rate has been the same as Paula’s: 6.14% in 1980, and 7.65% today. Mandy’s total tax rates went down by two percentage points under Reagan-Bush, up a hair under Clinton, and down another percentage point under Bush II.

Tim Toomedian. Tim is probably a typical Tea Party member. His income in 1980 was $48,664 – twice the median income for a family of four that year. Since 1980, his income has kept pace with inflation, so he now makes $127,908. Paul’s tax burden, however, is much lower now than it was thirty years ago. His federal taxes have gone down from over 35% to less than 28%. And the marginal rate fell from 55% to 28%. Paul’s income tax went way down, from 32% to 21%, but that cut was offset slightly by an increase in payroll tax for Social Security and Medicare, which went from 3.26% to 6.63% – which is still less in percentage terms than Paula’s and Mandy’s. (Social Security taxes apply only to the first $106,800 earned.) The decline in Paul’s tax rate has been pretty steady. During the Reagan-Bush years, his rate dropped from 35% to 29.15%. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, the rate stayed nearly constant, going up to 29.67%. They came down again under Bush II, although they actually went up by hair between 2004 and 2008.

Ricky Richardson. Ricky is living the life. He was making $100K way back in 1980, and his income has grown at a steady 10% clip ever since, far outpacing inflation. Today, Ricky makes a cool $1,744,940. While Paula, Mandy, and Tim have seen mild to moderate changes over time in their tax rates, Ricky’s rates have shifted wildly along with the political winds. When Reagan took office, Ricky was paying nearly 50% of his income in federal taxes and the marginal rate was a whopping 68%. Eight years later, Ricky’s tax rate was all the way down to 29% and the  marginal rate had been cut by forty percentage points. Under George H. W. “Read My Lips” Bush, Ricky suffered a setback and his effective and marginal rates went up to 31%. Then Clinton came along and Ricky’s marginal rate shot up to 39.6%, with his effective tax rate close behind (38%). Next came the “Bush Tax Cuts” and Ricky’s marginal and effective rates went back down to about 35%. One thing that hasn’t changed much is Ricky’s payroll tax burden. That’s because of the cap on wages that are subject to Social Security tax. Ricky paid 1.59% of income to payroll taxes in 1980, and pays 1.83% today. (Of course, few people in Ricky’s tax bracket are taking the standard deduction, so Ricky’s tax liability is likely overstated here.)

In brief: Only one of our four taxpayers has seen an increase in federal tax rates since 1980, and that’s poor Paula on minimum wage. The Clinton era helped her with her income tax rate, but since her payroll taxes are higher than her income taxes the relief was moderated. During those Clinton years, only one taxpayer saw more than a one percentage point increase in tax rates, and that was Ricky the millionaire.

In 1980, when middle-class folks were paying 35% of their income in federal taxes and the wealthiest were subject to a 68% marginal tax rate, tax revolts and cries of “socialism” might have been justified. But it’s much harder to make that same case today. The Tea Partiers might have a better case if they warned that unless we cut spending, the only way we’ll be able to service our debts is to raise tax rates all the way back to those 1980 levels. There may be some merit to that argument and I’ll take a look at spending in another post.

Nice find: An online historical tax calculator

18 April, 2010 (10:06) | Public Policy | By: david

A Facebook friend of mine posted a link to this income tax rate graph, which shows that the “average federal income tax rate for a median-income family of four” has declined from about 12% in 1980 to about 5% today – although it has been rising again in the past few years. My friend asked whether this would take some steam out of the Tea (i.e. “Taxed Enough Already) Party arguments.

I said the Tea response to this is that a) it’s unfair for "working people" to be paying the lion’s share of the nation’s income taxes in order to subsidize people who "choose" low-income lifestyles, and b) earning whatever amount of money it takes to put you into one of the higher tax brackets doesn’t actually make you "rich." (In other words, the average Tea Partiers probably think their incomes are higher than average and that therefore they pay more than the average federal tax.)

The analysis I’d like to see is this: Take a two-income family of four making the median income in 1980. (For sake of argument, call it $35K.) How much would they have paid in federal taxes — including Medicare and Social Security — assuming the standard deductions? Now follow that same family, assuming their wages rise with the CPI. What would their taxes have been over the last 30 years? Now follow a second family who started in the same place in 1980 but whose incomes went up a constant 5% per year every year (ignoring CPI). How much would they have paid in taxes over time?

Any idea how I could get those numbers? Is there an on-line historical tax calculator somewhere?

As usual, I should have Googled before I asked the question. Of course there’s an on-line historical tax calculator somewhere, and here it is. This calculator, from USA Today, shows not only how much a household’s tax burden would have been, but what the money would have been spent on. It doesn’t do the analysis exactly as I proposed above, but it’s pretty close. I think I’m going to have a little fun with this tool … results in another post.

By the way … another Tea response would be that even if taxes are at historic lows, they’re still too high. If we could get rid of all that “wasteful government spending,” they’d be even lower. Rebutting that argument requires an entirely different approach.

A second by the way … I put “average federal income tax for a median-income family of four” in quotations because I don’t really understand this concept. Where does “average” come in? The graph shows what that hypothetical family would have paid each year, so it’s not averaged over time. And I can’t imagine they’ve taken a sample of median-income families in all 50 states and averaged each family’s federal tax burden. I think I’ll have to ask the CBPP about that one.