Things I Like: Beats Solo3 Headphones

Product Page at the Apple Store for these things.

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My oh my…

Everybody heaped a ton of shit on Apple when they announced their wireless AirPod earbuds and I was right with the chorus: they look eminently lose-able, way too expensive, and just goofy-looking. I still think that’s accurate… for the AirPods.

However, Apple announced two other headphones that are also powered by their new W1 chip (this is the magic part that allegedly strips the suck out of Bluetooth, a notoriously shitty, finicky protocol that has historically been so bad that I’ve refused to use it for anything audio-related): the Beats Solo3 (traditional over-the-ear cup headphones) and some PowerBeats designed for the gym use (and, therefore, instantly out of my consideration).

There’s a lot of reasons I’ve avoided wireless headphones up to this point:

  • The aforementioned audio issues. It’s only been the recent release of BT4.2 on some devices that I find the quality of audio over Bluetooth (a protocol that requires compression of audio data to work) at all acceptable. It still ain’t great, but I’d listen to already-compressed music, a podcast or a phone call over it now, at least.
  • Battery Life: it’s been shit to this point. Just total garbage. Even the new AirPods are unacceptable; due to their tiny size, you get 5 hours of playtime on a max charge. I can barely accept the idea of charging headphones at all in the first place so it’s gotta be better than that.

Due to these factors, I paid little attention to the announcement. Until somebody pointed out the 40 (!) hour battery life on the Solo3 model.

That’s… that’s a number I can live with.

I still waited for a lot of reviews to come out on all W1-powered headphones before biting on buying these things. The Solo3’s are not exactly cheap. But, so far, they live up to the promise and have been worth it. Some pros and cons:

PROS:

  • Apple is absolutely not joking about the battery life. I charged them up when I got them last week Tuesday. I’ve used them probably 1-2 hours a day every weekday since (they don’t get much love on the weekends when I’m home; I use wired cans at home). They’re still in the upper nineties %-wise on charge. That’s RIDICULOUS.
  • The W1 pairing stuff, which a lot of people couldn’t roll their eyes hard enough at, is no joke. I turned them on, held them kinda near my iPhone, iPhone said “you wanna use these?” right away, I said “yes” and boom, every Apple device I own now knows about these things and will pair with them no problem. I have yet to lose pairing on any device, either, which is downright miraculous for something running over Bluetooth.
  • The sound is pretty decent. I remember laughing at the first-generation BeatsByDre headphones because they were so overwhelmingly bassy, I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to listen to them. They’ve come a long way since then; the sound still leans towards a heavier bass response than I would prefer, but it also has pretty nice mids and highs. Good cut-through on hi-hats and quieter parts… I still prefer my wired V-Moda set for recording music through, but for general listening, these are just fine.
  • The range; go ahead and wander away from your phone to hit the fridge or something, they’ll be fine. Unlike every regular Bluetooth device I’ve ever used, the W1 chip seems to be able to retain its grip on both ends of the tether over quite the distance. I can’t get them to drop no matter where in our condo I go, including the balcony.

CONS:

  • For the price, you’d like to see a lot less plastic in the construction. My V-Moda’s, I’m pretty sure I could fastball into an intruder’s face, then pick up and keep using without issue. I’m not sure these Solo3’s would survive an aggressive taking-off-of-head movement.
  • For fuck’s sake, a Micro-USB connection for charging? Goddammit, Apple, YOU HAVE THE LIGHTNING PORT. YOU’RE PUSHING USB-C AS WELL. Why were NEITHER of these better choices used here???? This and the fucking Kindle are the last goddamned things I own that use this connector, and I cannot wait for the day when I can happily pitch all of these shitty cheap Micro-USB cables into the fuckin’ garbage where they belong.

Those are not insignificant cons, but I think the pros outweigh them considerably. That I’ve got comfy, reasonably good-sounding cans with no fuckin’ wires tripping me up nonstop that’ll also last, at my usage patterns, weeks between charges is something I didn’t think would ever be possible even a year ago. Apple’s figured some shit out here, and for unfucking bluetooth audio alone we should be building a statue of Tim that’s at least 60% of the size of the one we should make of Jobs.

 

 

Peter Thiel Was Fed A Diet of Lead-Laced Chinese Wall Candy As A Child

NYT decides to give many column inches to guy who shouldn’t be allowed to cross a street unaccompanied, for some reason.

Read that. Note the number of WOW lines such as:

ashleyfeinberg_2017-jan-11

This is just ONE pull quote from an article chock-fuckin’ full of ’em. I don’t know how anybody with a functioning mind can read this profile of Peter Thiel and NOT come away with the impression that he’s anything but a weapons-grade moron.

Can we PLEASE, as a society, stop assuming that, just because already-advantaged and connected and privileged dudes guessed lucky ONCE in their lives and made it super-rich that they have any expertise in anything else whatsoever, or even in their chosen field?

This guy’s a fucking idiot. It takes idiocy to think that Trump not disrupting things enough is the biggest risk we’re facing from his presidency. Only a completely super-loaded sociopathic jagoff can ignore the fact that tens of millions of Americans don’t have the resources to survive “disruption” like he can. This prick bankrupted a whole company and put a lot of already fairly-brokedick journalists out of work out of sheer spite because they dared to report, accurately, that he likes kissing boys. Fuck him.

If there’s a weakness to the American psyche, it’s the assumption that, if one is wealthy, one is inherently smarter and better than those who are not. It’s often nothing more than compounded generational privilege multiplied by luck that leads to the creation of hyper-wealthy creatures like Thiel and Trump, and they always seem to think that their position in life is the result of nothing more than their own personal hard work and grit. It never is; they are just narcissistically incapable of acknowledging the many factors outside of their control that tilted the playing field in their favor.

They’re no better than you or I. Let’s stop treating them like they are.

The Books of 2016: Fiction

I read more non-fiction than fiction, but the books that have stuck me most strongly this year tended to be from the latter category. To wit, here are my favorite fiction reads of 2016 (note: doesn’t mean they came out in 2016, just that that’s when I read ’em):


The Dog Starsby Peter Heller

I love me some apocalyptic fiction, and The Dog Stars is one of the finest examples of the genre, particularly those focused on the impact of a global catastrophe on a very small group of people. If you like this genre mostly for the disaster-porn aspect of reading about society collapsing and all the bad shit that attends that, this isn’t the book for you (not judging you for that; I love that shit, too, but that’s just not what this book is about).

If, rather, you’re cool with picking up the story of how basically one man, his dog, and the less than a dozen folks he’ll interact with for the rest of his life post-apocalypse get on in the face of such sorrow, this IS the book for you. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, but this book gives the reader at least a smidge of hope that, even if everything were to crumble, if you can survive that, there are ways to hold on to your humanity and even perhaps find happiness even given everything you had grown to love and live with being destroyed.


The Nix: A novel, by Nathan Hill

I’m an admitted sucker for the classic Iowa MFA-style of “Big Books About Families”. If this debut is any indication, Mr. Hill is going to be an author on my auto-buy list for years to come. Imagine a Franzen novel where you didn’t loathe every major character and wish them harm. Where the author didn’t revel in their misery. Where bad shit happens, because bad shit happens to everyone, but there may actually be reasons and redemptions along the way.

That’s how The Nix read to me. Spanning generations of a family, from Norway in the 40’s to Chicago in the late 60’s to modern suburbia and even the Internet itself as a place where people form relationships, The Nix explores the many ways the urge to conform to the mores of a time and place can affect people, from outright rebelling against them to taking comfort in such boundaries, if at a cost that will be paid tenfold later in life.

If you at all like the sort of fiction that NPR can’t shut up about, embrace that about yourself and pick this book up. It was wonderful.

Tomorrow, we’ll hit some books that didn’t quite make the cut as my personal Best Of for last year, but are still totally worth reading.

 

Hell Is Other People: Elevators

I think it’s a fairly common fantasy that people indulge in to wonder what they would do if there was like a day where all laws were suspended and one could just unleash hell on whoever we choose. I _think_ this is the premise of those horrible-looking The Purge movies, but there’s no fucking way I’m watching that dumb garbage to confirm it.

That said, I did however indulge in a brief fantasy about this idea this morning when I boarded the elevator at work. I think, if granted a Purge Day where I could murder without consequence, I would murder everybody who gets on the elevator AFTER me but presses a button for a floor BEFORE mine.

I realize this is completely irrational, not at all their fault, and possibly sociopathic.

I also don’t care.

In an era where a presidential candidate literally holds no beliefs and cannot recognize factual truth, and whose supporters actually see this as a good thing, does a light fantasy about stabbing a completely innocent person because they inconvenienced me even move the needle? I don’t think it does.

So, beware, co-habitants of my office space. If society collapses, I’m not going after cops or the Mayor or even people who’ve specifically done me personal harm. It is you, lady who gets on at the 1st Floor and gets off on the 5th Floor, who will die by my hand first.

Bring Me The Head of The Head of IDOT

Sooo… bad enough that the Highland Rd. – Butterfield – I-88 intersection, which is a Double Diamond Interchange as designed by a traffic engineer with a drinking problem and a hatred for his fellow man even when it’s “working as it should”, is mostly closed. My ramp from work to I-88 so I can start the three-highway and one long surface run home is DEFINITELY closed.

Okay, fine. It’s actually encouraging to see any maintenance happening on any of America’s infrastructure whatsoever, and Lord knows that interchange fuckin’ needed some love, so I’ll deal with this in my usual graceful, patient manner.

Ahem.

Take the detour, which is hilariously out of the way because of Yorktown Mall and because suburbs. Head north on Highland away from the ramp that is my blessed escape route and then over onto 22nd to feed into I-88 one exit east of the usual at Meyers…

Now, the detour signage is pretty obscure, and people are fucking morons, so naturally traffic on 22nd as you get near the turnoff for the Highland South detour/I-88 EB ramp is majorly fucknutted.

Surprisingly, whatever piece of shit suburb we’re in as 22nd comes up on Meyers decided, wisely, to deploy some traffic control to deal with this first day of construction hell. Smart move. The next decision they have to make after deciding to do this is: where? Where will our limited suburban po-po resources do the most good?

Would it be the major intersection between six lanes of Meyers Rd. and the four lanes of 22nd all trying to funnel traffic to and fro the immediate ramps to I-88, which, thanks to the construction, are now the only accessible ramps onto that major major highway for seven miles in either direction?

Or should those cops be posted up at the minor pissant t-intersection of 22nd and what is effectively some fuckin’ church’s private driveway a few blocks earlier in the detour from Meyers and 22nd?

Maaaaaaybe there’s some vicious little podunk small-town mentality here that says “our cops should be used to benefit OUR citizens, not a bunch of commuters who just want to get the fuck out of our fair town as fast as they possibly can. Put the cops by the church so our blessed local worshippers can get onto 22nd without having to brave the absolute torrent of pissed-off, backed-up commuters that will block that intersection entirely until this project is over”.

I can almost appreciate that kind of thinking. I’d be pissed, but I’d get it. I’m a Chicagoan and a midwesterner; we’re provincial and suspicious of outsiders as fuck by nature, and “Fuck You, Got Mine” should be our city slogan.

HOWEVER.

Add in that the fucking traffic lights at Meyers and 22nd are unexpectedly dead due to a mistake by the construction crews responsible for all of this mess in the first place. So now you’ve got TEN lanes of traffic merging through a detoured intersection that’s not at all designed for this fourth week of Lilith Fair-grade heavy flow in the first place, AND what little automated traffic control that exists there is on vacation… maaaaybe you’d move your two fuckin’ Barney Fifes to this site to make sure that a major accident or road rage-inspired murder doesn’t occur amongst the THOUSANDS of cars that are going to feed through this asshole of an intersection during the evening rush hour instead of sitting uselessly a few blocks away with their dicks in their hands waving the occasional dopey church-goer into traffic ahead of their turn?

Nah. We’re gonna traffic control the FUCK outta that church driveway, my dudes. Everybody else can go to hell.

Incompetent motherfuckers…

Everybody On The Road But Me Has A Deathwish

Surprisingly, this was only the SECOND stupidest thing I saw on my drive home today:

commute_01

I can only hope that a revenue agent, whoops, I mean cop pulled this dude over at some point and just handed him a hefty ticket for “being an unsafe asshole on the public way”.

The DUMBEST thing I saw, I unfortunately couldn’t snap a pic of in time, but involved somebody driving through like 10 of those construction saw horses the City and IDOT put up when they need to shift lanes of traffic over from their usual path. Y’know, these fuckin’ things:

commute_02

Some dude in a shitty pickup (shitty pickups being today’s theme, apparently), decided that he wanted nothing to do with the ten or so of these lined up to move traffic over on Lawrence Ave.

So he plowed right the fuck through ’em.

Seriously, it’s just a mess of shattered wood pieces all over Lawrence near Rockwell, or at least it was around 6:40pm Monday night. Fuck your construction site, fuck your worker’s safety, fuck the tires and suspensions of other cars that are certainly going to drive through the ripped up lane and/or debris field this caused, because Johnny Silverado has to get to the Taco Bell and he ain’t got time for no steerin’.

Jesus fuck but do I ever hate everybody.

The Books of 2016, #2: Ancillary Sword, by Anne Leckie

ancillary_mercy

What was Book #1, you might be asking? Purity, by Jonathan Franzen. Enough ink has been spilled on that book already to where I see no need to add to it. If you like Franzen, you’ll probably like Purity, tho’ I didn’t find it quite as good as either The Corrections or Freedom. I hated every character, but loved reading about them getting their various comeuppances. It’s a book generally about well-off, hateful white assholes designed to be appreciated and enjoyed by well-off, hateful white assholes. It succeeds miserably and completely on that front. The End.

So, Book # 2 on the year is, uncomfortably, the middle volume of a three-book sci-fi romp that has garnered all the praise and awards (seriously, the first book took home the Hugo, Nebula, Clarke AND Locus. And it was Leckie’s debut novel. That’s some achievement right there), and the first book, Ancillary Justice, sure deserved them. I enjoyed that volume tremendously and was looking forward to this sequel.

Unfortunately, a lot of what I liked about the first entry is missing in the second. Breq, again our protagonist, was rather fascinating as a ship. Not so much as a human. Anaander Mianaai, a wonderful villain and concept (Near-Immortal Emperor of the big human empire who also happens to be at war with herself), is relegated to a brief appearance at the very start and some background mentions in passing otherwise. The completely alien and beyond-powerful Presger? Also almost entirely absent, except for a short stint as a Plot Device spent by the wonderful character of Dlique, their human-born but otherwise completely alien translator. Frankly, even the use of “she” for all genders (the Radch do not recognize gender in their speech, so the characters generally refer to everyone using female pronouns), which was a neat trick in the first novel, is more of a nuisance here, and actually set aside entirely in one scene where it would’ve muddled things up too much.

What we do get is a thinly-(very)-veiled morality play about Why Imperialism And Colonialism Are Bad. Most of the action takes place on Athoek Station and its namesake planet, both of which feature a colonial overlord class that lords it over the other races and keeps them oppressed. On the station, they live in the “Undergarden”, which is heavily and brutally policed, and completely unserved by the social and health services that exist for everyone else on the station. On the planet, the non-Radch are either plantation masters or the actual not-slaves-but-totally-slaves that harvest the tea that is the source of the planet’s wealth. Yes, really. A sci-fi book that centers on tea plantations.

I’m seriously hoping we just had a bad case of Middle Book Syndrome here, because I’ll be getting to the closing volume of the trilogy after a quick palette cleanse, but for now I am as disappointed in this book as I was impressed with the first.