This time I got a non-Max iPhone (Pro)

This is one of those things I can’t quite explain, but after having received and used the new iPhone 11 Pro Max for a couple of weeks, I decided I wanted to give the non-Max a shot.

This is the first time I’m playing around with the second-largest screen (though I did get the max 512GB of storage), and to be honest, the thing that even got me thinking about it in the first place was that Pop Sockets won’t (yet) stick to this newest round of phones. That simple—though slightly embarrassing—catalyst was enough for me to really start examining the pros/cons of switching.

The single biggest thing that pushed me in that direction was the relative parity of the models’ batteries. No, they’re not equal, obviously, but given the massive efficiency gains between this generation and last, both are now truly all-day usable. Plus, they charge faster now too.

With power now a non-issue (2019! Quote me!), a few things I was “nervous” about when going to a smaller screen were photo editing (I do all of my post-processing on the phone), a smaller keyboard, and kind of a “feels less than” sort of thing. None one of these concerns amounted to anything.

Unless something crazy happens, I think I’m sticking with non-Max models for the foreseeable future.

Obviously, the smaller phone has the same issue with PopSockets not sticking to it. It was because of this that I started looking at minimal cases. I know, I know (believe me, I know!), but Apple has forced my hand (and this isn’t the first time 🙈).

I tried quite a few (surprise!) and settled on this case from Spigen. It’s plain as shit, fits like a glove, doesn’t cover any of the buttons, costs $10, and, most crucially, leaves the bottom screen edge completely open. I’ll never understand those cases that effectively put a bump there, the exact spot where you control many of the phone’s gestures. (Full disclosure: I ordered this aramid fiber case last week, but haven’t received it yet.)

Twitter finally broke me

It only took nearly their entire existence, but here I am, using their iOS client. At long last I’ve given up on trying to understand why Twitter hates filling in timeline gaps and viewing tweets in chronological order. I’m going all in on their algo.

Do I like to admit this? No. Do I even remotely like it? No. Yet here we are. Twitter slowly but surely kept draining 3rd-party clients of features, to the point that I eventually felt certain I was missing out on something (other than ads 🙃) by not using the offical client. Now, that may or not be true, but I wanted to find out for myself.

Looking back, it’s insane the lengths some of us went to to get the kind of experience we wanted. Remember Brizzly? TweetDeck (before Twitter bought it)? Hashtags, @s, and retweets before they were officially implemented? URL shorteners (TinyURL,, etc.)? Lack of native image embedding/hosting (TwitPic, yfrog, TinyPic, etc.)?

Hell, even I built a few things along the way to make Twitter better.

And the biggest issue of all for me—the one I’ve complained about most over the last decade—is that Twitter simply refused to do a proper detect-gap-and-fill. “Oh, hey Twitter, you just want to throw me into some random spot in my timeline that isn’t even really a ‘timeline’ like I’m NOT AN OBSESSIVE COMPLETIONIST?! Cool, cool.”

I will say this though of the current version of the official app: it’s much better now at retaining state when you’re jumping in and out of the app, which makes the experience a little less…grating.

Anyway, hit me up on Twitter, but realize I may not see a notification for your @mention/DM because, well, I’m using the offical client and it seems like it shows me shit like that at random. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Don’t call it a comeback

I’ve been wanting to get back into writing (consistently) for a long while now, but something has always gotten in the way—work, family issues, my mental health, etc. But now, now I’m ready to get back in the saddle and start writing like I used to. Opinions and prognostications here I come!

Moving away from Medium

As most of you know, I had really high hopes for Medium and for a long time I enjoyed writing Anxious Robot there, but I came to despise the whole “likes” situation, and the inability to turn all of that stuff off.

The final straw was when they stopped allowing new publications to use custom domains, and forced them to use subdomains off of At that point I felt the writing was on the wall, and that eventually they’d take that away from those of us who were “grandfather’d” in as well.

(If you never followed me over to the AR Medium publication, I suggest you have a look at the last ~45 posts here; I’m proud of a lot of that writing, and found a seamless way to import it here.)

Moved to…WordPress? How do I follow you?

I thought about going back to Jekyll/S3 (which I put an insane amount of time into a few years ago), and even Gatsby, but ultimately I decided to run WordPress on a VPS via an AWS Lightsail instance.

Good thing about WordPress is that I (used to) have a lot of familiarity with it, wrote plugins for it, etc. Additionally, it’s massively popular and has a kajillion different ways to modify/add to it without too much hassle.

Still subscribed to the feed?

You probably don’t need to change anything (I’ve redirected /atom.xml to /feed) and so everything should just work. That said, you might want to just unsubscribe from the old feed and point your aggregator to /feed.

Coming here from the Medium publication?

You of course can point your aggregator to /feed, which is probably the best option, as I don’t think I can create a forwarding rule that works for every case.

What about email?

I’m working on this—there are a lot of options.

For a time I was considering using Substack for everything (I even bought from some random guy), but they’re pretty strict these days about custom domains, and so it really just wasn’t in the cards for me.

FeedBurner’s (RIP) RSS-to-email service was pretty great, and I’m sure there are a lot of services that provide this now (including some from WordPress proper), but I’ve yet to do the research. Once I do, I’ll be sure to make it available for all of you weirdos that don’t use an RSS aggregator. 🙂

Is anything broken?

It probably goes without saying that I’m not fully OK yet with the design/interactions of everything here yet, but I just wanted to get it to a place where I felt comfortable to start posting again. And I have.

If you notice anything wonky please don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter or email me.

Why I switched to Google Fi

I’ve had my cellular service via AT&T for nearly 20 years, but last week I cancelled my account and moved over fully to Google Fi.

(To preface all of this, I’m on iOS, which only recently became a candidate for Google Fi (for obvious reasons). It’s in “beta” on iOS right now, and so many of the benefits below don’t yet extend to iPhones, but I signed up hoping that they eventually would. Don’t fuck this up, Google and Apple 🙃.)

WTF is Google Fi? WiFi?

I get this question — and this (mostly erroneous, but wholly understandable) association — nearly every time I bring up the service. Google Fi is an MVNO (mobile virtual network operator), meaning that it basically piggybacks off of cellular infrastructure it doesn’t own or operate.

In the case of Google Fi, it switches between T-Mobile, Sprint, and U.S Cellular (at least in the US) — whichever is best at your current location.

Effectively, Google Fi is your cellular provider. So, why is it better than any single US carrier?

A hard $80 price ceiling (for individual users)

Basic, this-is-a-phone service is $20/mo. Non-throttled data is $10/GB until you hit 6GB, after which it’s free, but your speeds eventually get throttled after you hit 15GB. (By how much, I’m not yet sure.)

International data is no-fuss

Traveling overseas? No problem. It just works. In 170+ countries. As anyone who has traveled overseas knows, the US carriers will fuck you. Yes, often you can buy an international SIM once you’ve landed, but most people will just want to take whatever their carrier offers, and it’s usually shit.

With Google Fi, international data is treated no differently than domestic data, and requires zero preparation or setup.

Tethering is free

Turning your phone into a WiFi hotspot costs nothing; though, obviously, the data used counts against your plan.

Aren’t you worried about Google spying on every bit?

Sort of. I don’t know the deal Google has worked out with these carriers, and could find no information re it on the Fi site. But, generally, cellular data is encrypted, though not necessarily end-to-end, and from what I understand the type of encryption can vary wildly from provider-to-provider and from tech-to-tech.

In any event, I’m kind of a weirdo when it comes to VPNs (surprise!) and so this just isn’t something I worry about too much. If Google Fi conflicted with or caused any problems with either my DNS provider or any of my VPNs, I’d sound the alarm, but I just haven’t run in to that yet.

The books I read in 2018

Due to my not insignificant embarrassment over the number of books I read in 2018, I’m going to try to redeem myself by posting my Pocket numbers for the year. I suspect I was the #1 reader overall in 2018, but I’ll never know.

Anyway, give me a proper-book pass. 🤓

Thanks for indulging me. Now, here’s 2018’s pathetic list. 🙃




As always, please feel free to buy me any of the books in my wish list. 😘

The books I read in 2017

In addition to the usual science/technology reads, 2016’s serial-killer obsession carried forward into 2017, though I think at this point I’ve read all of the best studies/biographies, and so it may be time to put that topic to bed for a while.

In 2017 I also got sucked back into the JFK assassination and couldn’t read enough about Hitler and the rise and fall of Nazism.

(For those curious, the “master” list of read books is now fully current.)





Thoughts on the iPhone X

I tend to not do these sorts of things anymore, because, well, it all feels a bit me-too these days, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry dropping their opinions. (There were a lot fewer of us writing about smartphones in 2003.) But, it’s been 10 years since the first iPhone came out, and I just felt like I had to say something.

So anyway, here’s a few rapid-fire thoughts after a few days with the X:

  • Don’t notice the notch at all in normal use, but everyone else does — it’s a bit too conspicuous.
  • It’s just beautiful, and feels incredible in the hand. There are no edges — it’s seamless top-to-bottom, left-to-right. As Sebastian De With says, “Apple has taken 10 years of those innovations in industrial design and essentially summarized it.” I completely agree — it feels like a culmination, almost a literal compression of a decade of refinement.
  • After using a Plus for the past two cycles I can tell you that the X feels tiny. It’s great for protracted use, even without some sort of third-party grip, something I nearly always used on my Plus-sized phones. (For those wondering, the goStrap is the best one I’ve come across). It’s slightly heavier and thicker than you’d expect, but nothing you won’t get used to, and frankly, I think it adds to the luxury feel. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ Further, I’ve long said I’d trade a little weight/thickness for better battery life, and that’s exactly what we’ve got here.
  • Face ID works like a charm. Truly magical. It disappears. One issue I had though is that I set it up while wearing my glasses and it wouldn’t work at all when I wasn’t wearing them. I fixed this by re-training it with my glasses off; after doing that it works perfectly with or without glasses. (It’d be cool if we could add another “version” of our face (e.g., with glasses), kind of like how we could add multiple versions of the same (or different) fingers for Touch ID.)
  • Tap-to-wake works just as you’d expect. It’s nice.
  • It’s about time iPhones got an OLED display, and boy is it beautiful (and no doubt helps the battery situation). In fact, according to DisplayMate, it’s the “most innovative and high performance Smartphone display” they’ve ever tested. Not sure what I can add to that other than to say it’s a joy to behold.
  • It took a little time to get used to all of the new no-button gestures, but now they’re mostly second nature. As others have mentioned, the new gesture that’s the hardest to remember is the pull-from-top-right-corner to get to the Control Center. It’s awkward because it’s only on one side of the notch and in the opposite direction of the old gesture we’ve all been trained on.

In summary, it’s nearly perfect and I love it.

Darwin and AI

Ability without understanding

Darwin was one of the greatest minds of our species (no pun intended). His hard work and intuition gave us a framework for how every single living thing on this planet came about. The why and the how. It’s all just random variation — a collection of mutations. Richard Dawkins’ “blind watchmaker.”

Darwin’s theory basically says that an exemplary machine can be built without knowing how to make it. The eye for example. The eye evolved (multiple times) over many generations of deleterious and beneficial mutations, until finally a process was converged upon because it not only worked well enough, but proved more beneficial than not.

Somewhat relatedly, Alan Turing said, “It is possible to invent a single machine which can be used to compute any computable sequence.” At some level this means that a suitable machine can compute anything, even if it has no idea what it’s computing.

In the beginning “computers” were people (mostly women) who had to have at least some rudimentary understanding of math, logic, number theory, etc., all of which Turing realized could be reduced to nothing more than a list of discrete operations carried out by a machine.

AI, like natural selection, works only on state + input. If the output “works,” or is “better” (or at the very least not harmful), it’s kept (i.e., reproduced).

If we connect Darwin’s theory with where AI is headed, it seems a fait accompli that humans are doomed. Machines, blindly, will iterate, iterate, iterate as they redesign themselves — and at a rate nearly infinitely faster than humans can reproduce — until, given enough training data, there’s nothing they won’t be able to do better than us.

We’re losing our grip on understanding why the machines are doing what they’re doing, but what makes you think they know any better than us? They don’t (yet). They’re flying blind (yes, we imbue them with some purpose or direction, but then they’re off to the races without us) — much like evolution — ingesting data and almost accidentally getting “better.”

I guess the connection I’m trying to make here is that both evolution and AI seem to converge on the notion of competence without comprehension.

Are most alien intelligences “artificial?”

In just 150 years humans have gone from being able to harness electricity to radio to computers to internet to narrow AI. The universe is 13.8 billion years old, and life on earth 3.8 billion. In the last couple of centuries (just 0.00000005 of the time life has existed here) we’ve come to run the planet, and are talking seriously about colonizing others.

This rapid progression — together with Drake’s equation — makes it seem likely that many other lifeforms have similarly evolved on other planets, and that many (most?) of them are thousands or millions of years ahead of us. Can you imagine us in a million years? A thousand years? Given how far we’ve come in just the last 200, you can bet that we’ll either be mostly synthetic or extinct.

Another thing to think about is that an artificial alien intelligence wouldn’t necessarily need a planet at all. At base it would only need raw materials and energy, which it may be able to gather/exploit in ways we haven’t yet figured out (e.g., from a black hole).

It seems to me then that given the timeframes we’re talking about, most intelligences out there not only are way beyond ours, but are artificial to boot.

How Instagram made me a better photographer

Hermosa Beach, California

The gist is that Instagram forced me into a much more frequent posting schedule, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that. One of the phrases I’ve always liked is “kill your darlings,” which means, loosely, don’t selfishly hold on too tight to your successes/loves.

Before Instagram, back when I was running my own photoblog, each photo was my darling, and I never wanted to post the next picture because it effectively “killed” the previous one. Silly? Sure, but that’s how I thought about it.

Once I started using Instagram regularly — and gaining more interest and followers — I was compelled to shoot more, edit more, and post more. It’s a vicious cycle, but a necessary one. Now I regularly post two images a day, whereas on my photoblog I was lucky to post one a month.

Are all of them perfect? No. In fact, and of course, none of them is, which is kind of the beauty of it, and of photography generally. Instagram taught me that they don’t have to be perfect — that all of them are darlings — you put them out there and then it’s on to the next.

For years after Lightroom came out for macOS, I proclaimed it my favorite software ever. I used to spend an incalculable amount of time in that application. But, no more. Now I do all of my editing on iOS.

It works now because iOS itself (and many apps, including my personal favorite, Snapseed) supports RAW image files. This always was something that kept me from using the iPhone for editing; instead I’d edit in Lightroom/Photoshop, export to JPG/PNG, and finally get it on the phone.

Once iOS-only editing became a reality, I found myself posting more. These days I simply take the SD card from the camera, pop it into a Lightning-to-SD adapter, move the photos over, and get to editing.

I’ll probably regret it one day, but I don’t even use Lightroom to store/catalog my images anymore. As soon as I post something to Instagram, I send it to Dropbox and delete it from my phone. So, really the only classification system I have for my shared photos anymore is chronological by upload date. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

You can follow me on Instagram here