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The Lumia 1520, Windows Phone, and me

Sit down, folks--this one is long.

This is a tough blog post to write. I've been thinking about writing it for some time now; the impetus for finally getting started on it was a question I was asked on Twitter about how I like my phone. The quick, easy, flip answer is that I like it; a more complete and considered evaluation must be significantly more nuanced.Let's start with the basics. I've been a Windows Phone user since January of 2013, when I replaced an ailing iPhone 4 with the HTC 8X, intrigued by the operating system and attracted to its Mondrianesque UI. I've been very happy with the operating system, and it does what I want it to in a way that I find pleasing. The 8X was a nice phone, which unfortunately didn't age well, eventually having severe connectivity issues. Based on my experience with the low-end Lumia 520 that I picked up to test the AT&T network in my area, I decided my next phone would be a Lumia, as there are certain Lumia-specific apps which aren't available on other phones, and which enhance the experience significantly. When the time came to replace the 8X last October, I decided to switch from Verizon to AT&T specifically so I could get the Lumia 1520\.

So last October, I found myself in an AT&T store, selecting a bright green 1520\. It's a big phone, bigger by a fraction than the iPhone 6 Plus. It's big, but not too big, at least for me. It fits comfortably in my back pocket (just have to remember not to sit on it) and in the cargo pockets of my cargo shorts. The display is fantastic, very readable even in direct sunlight, and the rear camera is a 20-megapixel delight. Like all Windows Phones, it syncs up nicely with my Microsoft account, backs up to OneDrive (love that), and even syncs text messages between phones, if you happen to have more than one Windows Phone. I've never been bothered by the supposed "app gap" on Windows Phone, and have had no problem finding apps for what I want to do.

However, it hasn't been all roses.

Hardware quality has been disappointing. One of the things that annoyed me about my HTC 8X was that it developed bright spots on the display over time. Nothing that rendered it unusable, but annoying nevertheless. Much to my chagrin, my 1520 has begun developing these same bright spots. With a year left to go on payments for the phone (I opted for an AT&T Next plan), I'm going to be looking at them for quite a while, and this does not make me happy. I suppose I could see about a warranty return, but as AT&T no longer stocks or sells the 1520, I wouldn't be able to get an exact replacement. God only knows what they'd stick me with.

Also, a couple of months ago, I had an issue where the 3G/4G/LTE connectivity stopped working, along with the Wi-Fi connectivity. Figuring it had to be the phone, I initiated a warranty replacement request. The issue was resolved after about a week, with AT&T claiming the problem was on their end and therefore denying me a warranty replacement. I find that difficult to believe, since Wi-Fi connectivity was also affected, but at least it's working again.

Finally, in the last few days, I've been seeing some decreased battery life--battery drain has been particularly heavy for some unknown reason. I'm deleting unused apps and recently installed ones in an effort to find the culprit, but efforts are ongoing. Update 2015-05-04: I've solved the battery drain issue by unpinning Cortana from the Start screen, turning Cortana off and then on again, and not repinning it.

Despite all that, on balance, I do like the phone. I've had smartphones from Apple, Motorola, HTC, and now Nokia, and each one of them had things that were sub-optimal. It's no worse than any of the others, and markedly better in some ways, at least for how I use my phone.

And then there's Windows Phone itself.

I'm a fan. I've been a fan from Day One. But Microsoft can't seem to make up its mind what to do with phones.

Think about it: There was a clean break from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone 7.

And then there was another clean break from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 (sorry, Lumia 900 owners, no Windows Phone 8 for you).

They did manage an upgrade from 8 to 8.1, but when Windows 10 is released, it will theoretically be the end of Windows Phone per se, as Windows phones (note the lower-case "p") will be running garden-variety Windows 10\.

And then there's this.

Here's the TL;DR on that article: Microsoft is positively _hemorrhaging_ money on Windows Phone. They've been losing money on every single phone they sell. The only real increases in their market penetration have been with low-end smartphones. This isn't speculation; it's in their SEC filing. Please remember that while Microsoft has a stake in remaining in the mobile segment, it's also a public company, and shareholders don't sit still for losses forever--and the coming write-off is likely to be in the billions.

Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to develop apps for iOS and Android, and they appear to be making a particular effort in the Android sphere with a deal to include Microsoft apps on the Cyanogen variant. And they've just announced that they'll enable Android and iOS apps to run on Windows 10, which calls into question exactly why anyone should bother writing a Windows-specific phone app given the single-digit market share of the platform. It seems fairly apparent to me that Microsoft itself has a Plan B in mobile, and it's called Android.

So, given all that, the question for me at this point is not whether I like my Lumia 1520. The question is what kind of phone I'll replace it with next summer, and right now, I'm formulating my own Plan B, because I'm not at all optimistic there will be a Windows phone flagship worth the name by then. They appear to be concentrating on the low end of the market, and ignoring the higher end, which is the end most of us geeks are interested in.

Don't get me wrong. I like Windows Phone a lot, and it's still my preferred phone OS. But I'd be a damn fool if I wasn't looking at the big picture, and right now, the big picture isn't bright.

So, a mixed review. A great operating system, which has been singularly unsuccessful in achieving significant market penetration, and which its own maker may not be committed to in the long run. A great phone, which is let down by some niggling quality issues.

And my recommendation? Well, it's no longer for sale here, so it's a bit of a moot point. To the larger question of whether you should buy a Windows Phone, I'd say if you're interested in the platform you should look hard at the better-quality mid-range phones, like the upcoming Lumia 640 XL and the currently-available BLU WinHD LTE (which, at $199 unlocked, is a hell of a deal). I'd be looking particularly hard at that BLU, since it'll run just fine on Cricket or AT&T GoPhone, and thereby save you a bucket of money.

Sadly, if you want a flagship phone, your money is probably better spent elsewhere, unless Microsoft pulls the damnedest rabbit out of its hat that you ever saw. My own Plan B has me looking at the Nexus 6 and the OnePlus One, with the iPhone 6 Plus as a distant runner-up.

I'd like to say I won't resort to Plan B. I'd like to say I'll stick with Windows Phone no matter what, but that would be false bravado. Sometimes you have to swallow hard, look at the world the way it really is, and deal with what you see.

And that, dear friends, is the Truth.

Hyperbolic silliness

I recently saw a link posted on to an article entitled, "Dear Churches in America: Prepare to Be Treated Like 1st Century Christians in Rome."

Sorry, you've lost me with the title.

Also, whoever wrote that title is an ignorant fool.

The impetus for this article appears to be yesterday's arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage. Apparently, in the eyes of the author--or the eyes of the person who wrote the title--permitting same-sex marriage is equivalent to throwing Christians to the lions.

They're wrong.

Permitting people who don't share your beliefs to marry is not the equivalent of being persecuted, torn limb from limb, or devoured by wild beasts.

In fairness, the article doesn't go on to claim that it is, which means that the title is just clickbait, which is despicable all by itself. But it does go on to portray Christians as victims here, which is silly.

Here's the thing: We live in a secular republic. Its laws will not, should not, always fall in line with what any particular church or religion teaches.

That's important, so I'll say it again: We live in a secular republic. Its laws will not, should not, always fall in line with what any particular church or religion teaches.

Got that?

Anyone who truly cares about religious liberty should welcome that.

We're not a Christian nation, no matter how much some people would like to think we are. We're a nation of Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, and Sikhs, and Buddhists, and atheists, and Wiccans, and every other possible form of religion or non-religion.

Also: Assuming that the Supreme Court acts to legalize SSM in all fifty states, this does not constitute oppression of Christians. The Catholic Church will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages. The Baptists won't have to invite the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to the church picnic. The LDS Church won't have to let the San Francisco Gay Men's Choir perform at the Tabernacle in Temple Square.

It just means that people who love each other will be able to enjoy the benefits of marriage, regardless of whom they love.

It's been said that never in human history has it been accepted, and that's probably true. But then again, slavery was accepted for most of human history, as well as subjugation of women, and now they're not. In South Africa, the Reformed Church supported apartheid, and now they don't. Things change.

(So, yes: I support the legalization in the U.S. of same-sex marriage. And I'm an Orthodox Christian. And if my bishop wants to excommunicate me for that, so be it.)

If you want to know why some people hate Christians, it's because some Christians expect people who do not share their beliefs to abide by the teachings of their religion anyway, which is unreasonable. And often, they're kind of nasty and unfeeling about it, which is then reciprocated, which generates more antipathy, etc.

I've said for some time now that religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage are doing it wrong. If they really care about religious liberty, that should have been their focus. They should have been working on legislation that guaranteed freedom of religion would not be impacted by any potential legalization of same-sex marriage. Instead, they've been focused on things like California's Proposition 8 and other things that amount to "You people stop that right now," and they've squandered an opportunity.

And now that they've squandered that opportunity, they're playing the victim.

Oh, please.

Soylent update

Since I said I'd keep you posted, I suppose I should post something. After three days, I abandoned my Soylent experiment. Probably as a consequence of the odd texture and the taste, I was having my Soylent lunch at the office when I had a sudden epiphany that "I just can't do this." I haven't had any since.I also had, um, bowel issues with it. My body is a lot happier with "normal" food in that department.

Anyway, I may yet try it again when they release version 1.5, and I still have four packets of Soylent 1.4 at home for emergencies (e.g., earthquakes). But for now, I'm done.

The inevitable Hillary

As Hillary Clinton begins her campaign, I find myself wondering if anyone really thinks she's not going to be the eventual Democratic nominee.

And as the Republican field begins to fill with Tea Party favorites like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, I find myself wondering if anyone really thinks the GOP will have a snowball's chance in hell of winning the general election.

And inasmuch as Hillary is unlikely to do anything that will upset Wall Street or the defense establishment in any meaningful way, I find myself wondering why I should give a damn about this election.

It's not people

Pitcher of Soylent

After thinking about it for a couple of weeks, I've ordered a one-time, one-week supply of Soylent, the scientifically-designed food replacement that has been all the rage among a certain subset of geeks. Yes, the name is unfortunate to some (although I like the inherent humor of it), but the science behind it seems to be sound, and I even know of a former chef who is using it as 70-80% of his daily food intake. Being of the generation that grew up with Tang and Space Food Sticks, I'm pro-technology and intrigued by the idea of a nutritionally complete meal replacement.

Yes, nutritionally complete. Even if it wasn't 100% complete, it would be an improvement over the usual crap I eat every day. I'm quite aware that my eating habits aren't ideal, and my doctor would be thrilled if I lost a bunch of weight. With my hours, it's difficult for me to find the time to prepare a healthy breakfast and a lunch to take to work, and meal preparation is a chore in general. Soylent looks like an attractive alternative. Might even help me drop a few pounds.

In any case, I'm only committed to one week. We'll see how it goes. They say it could take four weeks for delivery to new customers, but posts on the Soylent forums seem to indicate that people are receiving their orders within days.

I'll keep you posted.

No, Jeremy. You're wrong.

"There was an 18-year waiting list to be in the audience of Top Gear, but the BBC has fucked themselves. It was a great show and they've fucked it up." --Jeremy Clarkson at a charity event, March 2015

Now that Jeremy Clarksonhas been sacked by the BBC in the wake of his alleged assault of a producer, it's all over but the shoutingâand there will be plenty of shouting, make no mistake about it.

That said, I can't let Jeremy go off into what will no doubt be a well-remunerated future on ITV or Sky without correcting his statement above.

No, Jeremy, the BBC didn't f*ck anything up.You did.

You were the host of the most fantastically successful motoring show in the history of television, and you blew it.

You kept on saying and doing stupid things, despite a string of warnings from BBC management.

You apparently believed that the rules didn't apply to youâa classic sign of a celebrity who's been surrounded by yes-men for far too long.

Since you, yourself, reported the latest incident to BBC management, deep down you obviously know you screwed upâand despite that, despite knowing you were on a very short leash, despite knowing this was becoming an international story, you went on stage at a charity event andcut loose with an obscenity-laden tirade against the people who were at that moment deciding your future with the organization.

I would hope that now that it's over with, you'll at least have the decency to publicly apologize to Oisin Tymon for your behavior. I would hope you'd turn over a new leaf, in some mild way. I don't seriously expect you to do it, though.

What I do expect you'll do is retain the services of a very expensive attorney, and file suit against the BBC for some trumped-up reason. Oh, poor little Jeremy, the multimillionaire who has been treated so shabbily by the big evil BBC. Boo-hoo.

And then you'll sign a contract with someone else--Sky, ITV, maybe even Netflix--and bring over James and the Hamster, and you'll create something very much like Top Gear. And continue to make millions doing it.

But knowing what I now know about you, I don't know if I'll be inclined to tune in. You've revealed yourself to be just another self-entitled celebrity with anger management issues, and frankly, you're just not that interesting to me anymore.

And meanwhile, life goes on.

Top Gear canceled...or is it?

I'm seeing a few people online jumping to unwarranted conclusions on the news that the remainder of the Top Gear series has been canceled by the BBC. A couple of things to keep in mind:

First, "series" is used in the UK to describe what we in the USA call a "season." They've canceled the last three episodes of this season. Whether or not Top Gear as a whole goes forward depends on whether Jeremy Clarkson signs another contract with the BBC. ITV has already made it known they'd pay him a king's ransom to switch networks, so that's far from a foregone conclusion. If they want to put up with him and pay the associated legal bills when he does something stupid, that's their business.

Second, if the series as a whole does go away, grow up and stop blaming the BBC for what happened. Blame Clarkson, who apparently can't control himself well enough to stop from assaulting people when his dinner isn't ready. I'm just a few years shy of Clarkson's age, and I can manage that just fine. I expect him to do so as well. It's called being a grown-up.

Of course, nobody's ever accused Clarkson of maturity before, so perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that he doesn't fit the description.

Clarkson and entitlement

Word came down from on high yesterday that Jeremy Clarkson, popular/infamous co-host of Top Gear, was being suspended pending an investigation into a "fracas" with a producer. The Internet immediately exploded. As of this writing, there is even a petition for his reinstatement signed by over 400,000 people who have done so without knowing any of the details of the incident in question.That's disturbing, yes, but to my mind it's not as disturbing as what this incident represents. We all know Jeremy Clarkson prides himself on being politically incorrect, and that he apparently has the insensitivity and casual racism of an upper-class British schoolboy (or, for that matter, of a lower-class American one), but the fact that he is also the chief host of the most fantastically successful motoring show in the history of mankind, generating hundreds of millions of pounds in profits annually for the BBC, tends to overshadow that fact. Simply put, he makes too damn much money for the BBC to do anything about him.

At least until now, that is. If in fact he assaulted a producer, he's guilty of a criminal act that will have to be answered for. Unfortunately, when it comes to the wealthy and famous, answering for criminal acts is not something they are generally expected to do.

If you're not completely blind, you've probably noticed that while the law ostensibly applies to everyone, it's the poor who usually have it come down on them the hardest. If you're a young African-American male, you're more likely to serve jail time for, oh, say, getting in a car crash and lying to a policeman than someone like Lindsay Lohan, who skipped her court appearance, jetted off to London, and got sentenced to community service. And we haven't even talked about what happened to the Wall Street crowd in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. Rich and famous? You get a pass.

Because of this inequality, Clarkson undoubtedly isn't too concerned about this latest dust-up. His lastfewtweets seem to reflect this, and his co-presentersdon't appear to be too worried, either. And why should they? First off, Clarkson's not exactly the working-class bloke he'd like you to think he is--he's a neighbor of Prime Minister Cameron, and goes to parties at his house. If the BBC fires Clarkson (although they apparently don't need to, as his contract is up at the end of the month), some other network will snap him up in a heartbeat because of All That Money (and perhaps All Those Connections). And they'd surely want to snag May and Hammond as well.

I've enjoyed Top Gear, and I find Clarkson entertaining and annoying in probably equal measure. But if our global society is to work in the long term, we need to make sure that the law applies to everyone equally. Because if history teaches us anything, it's that in a society where the wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top, the law is partial, and everyone but the rich feel the deck is stacked against them, there will eventually be an explosion. Just ask Louis XVI, Tsar Nikolai II, and Fulgencio Batista, to name but three.

But for now, that's all academic. Clarkson's probably somewhere in England having a pint right about now, watching the telly, and feeling pretty confident that the last three episodes of Top Gear will eventually run, if somewhat delayed.

He's probably right about that. And more's the pity.

My ADN State of the Union

This is a Very Special Post. If you go to the main page of my blog, you won't find it. It's only visible if you follow the link from my ADN post, so only ADN people will see it.1 See? I did something special for you. And you thought I didn't care. Anyway….

There's been a lot of discussion on ADN in the past few days about ADN, the network that loves to talk about ADN. People are downgrading, people are upgrading, people are leaving, people are disappearing. Sigh.

In many ways, ADN is like Linux. It's a good idea, implemented in a less-than-ideal way, that has failed to live up to its expectations despite (or perhaps because of) inspiring religious fervor in its advocates. But I digress, yet again.

I'm going to be very clear about several things here:

  1. Yes, I'm renewing my account this month. My @la account has been permanently downgraded, and isn't coming back.
  2. No, I'm not convinced ADN has a bright future. Rather the opposite.
  3. Yes, I'm narrowing down the list of people I follow, because I intend to be prepared when, not if, I eventually downgrade. I want to be in control of with which 40 people I ride into Valhalla when the apocalypse comes.
  4. Yes, I will eventually downgrade. It's inevitable. It's just not happening now. There comes a time when the crusade is over, and you have to decide whether to fall on your sword, or say the shahada and get on with your life. Apologies to anyone offended by that analogy.
  5. I've paid my fair share, and then some. Bad business decisions on the part of management are not my responsibility.

I also want to be very clear about the following: I love ADN. It's the best thing I've ever been a part of on the Internet. I've met people there I never would have met otherwise, and I plan to keep in touch with them in whatever way I can. But I am not a man of unlimited means, and I have other demands on my checkbook and a wife to keep happy.

This is also where I'd like to thank Berg for keeping the lights on this long. He's not getting paid for this any more, and Dalton has vanished into the mists of Y Combinator. It's gotta be a thankless, lonely task. And because of that, I recognize that someday, something big and expensive will break, and he'll look at the last couple of dozen people using the service, assuming they can be discerned through all the Nigerian Viagra spam in Global, and he'll say, "Fuck it. I'm done." And then it will fade to black.

For all of you who are determined to pay for developer accounts, give extra money to Berg, or maintain multiple accounts in the face of disaster, I salute you. You are fine people. I wish I could do the same. But I can't.

  1. This was true when hosted on Posthaven, but the version is here visible globally.