Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Halloween 2017

Friends. The whole bunch.Halloween is probably one of the children’s favorite holidays. They were anticipating it for a long while. Aroshka even had post Halloween blues the next morning, but luckily the sadness passed quickly.

This year they chose to be a puppy and a giraffe. Danya was a little worried about Arosha’s costume pick since the vast majority of boys his age were dressed as either a superhero/movie character, someone scary or someone like a policemen, fireman or some kind of warrior. Daniel was worried that other children would tease Arosha and ruin the joy of it for him, but luckily this did not happen.

Anna's class.This year our school has a new principal — a young woman, who so far seems to be very nice and well liked by both teachers and parents. Our previous principal was a bit rigid for my taste. He was a young man with a military background and sometimes I was not sure if he cared more about the school, or his career advancement. Anyhow, with this new principal, the children were allowed to wear costumes to school, and also the parents association prepared a trick-or-treating event for all grades on the school yard. I think that something like this did not happen for a long time, if ever.

Anna's teacher.After school we went home to eat and then meet up with the usual gang — Erica, Ilona and Natasha with their children. We went trick-or-treating through our local stores as we do every ear. It took us about an hour, and the children were super excited. We went to the playground afterwards. They weather was on the cold side, but at least it was not raining.

Our units.When we got home, Arosha talked me into continuing trick-or-treating throughout our building. I don’t like doing it to be completely honest, but I did not have a heart to deprive him of this, since we’ve done it every year for the last 4 years. I did put a time limit on this activity though, so we did not go through the whole building, but just through our wing.

Units.They got two huge buckets of candy at the end. They will eat very little of it though since I limit their sugar intake, and normally they prefer ice-cream to any other sweets. Anna’s eczema resurfaced the next day — she is sensitive to certain things, and I guess all those artificial colors and other bad things in candy might have triggered it.

All in all it was a happy day for the children and they already started to plan their next Halloween.
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Saturday, November 11, 2017

New York Aquarium

New York Aquarium.Today we had a spontaneous visit to New York Aquarium followed by a nice walk at Coney Island Boardwalk.

Daniel.The only camera I had with me was my brand new iPhone X and I think the photographs came out really well.

Amazingly talented sea lion.The first thing we saw at aquarium was a sea lion show. We missed the beginning, but we got to see one of the sea lions dancing and doing a lot of quite impressive tricks. Kids couldn’t stop laughing.

Arosha.And as opposed to usual hot summer days when this place is overfilled with people, it wasn’t crowded at all and we got to seat close to the stage.

Otters.Then we saw a bunch of different animals in different habitats — otters, seals and penguins.

Alëna.While looking at the penguins Alëna and I commented that penguins have a lot of predators that eat them such as seals, sea loins, sharks and killer whales to which Arosha replied that penguins must be quite delicious.

Sharks. Too many reflections from the glass.Then we proceed to a large shark tanks with a good number of various sharks and it also had a giant sting ray.

Squishing pennies.After that we bought the kids a large pretzel and got some quarters and pennies so our kids could squish them in the penny squishing machines.

Hogfish.And after that we proceed to an indoor aquarium with lots of different exhibits where kids had a chance to look a lot of different kinds of fish and coral reefs.

Coral reefs.While before they usually would get bored fairly quickly they have grown noticeably and can spend a lot more time looking at things such as these.

Coney Island. Playing in the sand.All in all we spent almost two hours in the aquarium. And then we walked out onto the famous Coney Island Boardwalk and kids ended up talking Alëna into letting them play in the sand.

Us at Nargis Cafe.And then we wanted to get a quick lunch at Nathan’s, but none of us were really in the mood for junk food, so we ended up going to Nargis Cafe for some of the best shish kebabs in Brooklyn.

Coney Island.While iPhone portraits do have noticeable mistakes in processing it is still quite usable and is a great leap forward for cell-phone photography.
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Sunday, November 12, 2017

iPhone X

iPhone X. My home screen.I’ve only had iPhone X for 5 days and I already have a number of thoughts with regards to it that I want to jot down. But the short summary is that I love it. Such a big leap forward for me personally going to iPhone X from iPhone 6S.

Pre-Order


First — a couple of words on my pre-order ordeal. Things did not go as have envisioned them. I woke up at 2:55am to get ready for 3am pre-order process. I was planning to go with Apple’s upgrade program that has no additional costs and allows for an upgrade to the next phone by trading in your old one. I don’t think I would need to upgrade in a year, but it was nice to have an option since it doesn’t cost anything extra.

Back side.I tried using Apple Store app which worked very well in previous years. The store came up soon enough after 3am, I saw a phone that I wanted available to be delivered by November 3rd — first day — and the first couple of steps worked fine. I even didn’t get stuck on AT&T verification. However in order to get approved for Apple upgrade program one has to fill out a good deal of financial information to get credit verified.

And that’s where all the problems started. I had to fill in all this stuff numerous times and it kept failing to get to the next step. Eventually the delivery time slipped to 1-2 weeks and then to 2-3 weeks. In the end it said that all the information was accepted, but I would have to wait for an email with-in 8 hours that would provide me with further information. I tried going trough the process a couple of times more, but was not able to reach the final step at all.

When I saw the delivery time-frame slipping I decided to check what was happening at AT&T. Instead of being to do a pre-order there I was placed into some virtual queue which said that I had 30-40 minutes wait time — never seen anything like that. Anyhow, I apparently left this page open and when all my attempts over at Apple have failed I looked at this page and I had 3 minutes of queue left. So I ended up placing an order after 4am through AT&T which claimed that I would get my phone on November 3rd. In exactly the configuration that I wanted.

Lock screen.It seemed really iffy to me since the delivery time-frame on Apple’s site has gone to 5-6 weeks by then. But what do you know — I did get my phone on November 3rd, as promised. I guess everyone had to go through a similar AT&T queue and as a result the stock wasn’t sold out as quickly. First time I ordered an Apple product through AT&T and it worked out just fine.

And in the morning I did get an email from Apple saying that they couldn’t verify my information after all and I should try placing an order again. Glad I ordered via AT&T as a backup.

The Phone


I have purchased an iPhone X in silver with 256GB of storage. Initially I was going to go with 64GB as my current phone is, but then I thought that I actually like not having to remove photographs from my phone. And it didn’t make a big difference on monthly basis over the course of 2 year loan.

iPhone X. HealthView app.The phone is gorgeous. Silver back, completely black front, and shiny stainless steel sides. There is no visible separation between thin bezels and the screen on the front. It’s all 100% black. Same as on Apple Watch with OLED screen the display itself is indistinguishable from the rest of the glass. The only time when the screen actually shows is when it’s in a very bright sun.

The phone is too good looking to put into a case of any kind and I haven’t used cases since the very first phone I had because of the added bulk. But this phone being as expensive as it is I’ve bought into Apple Care Plus program for the first time for some insurance, just in case — but that’s yet another $200.

Some Specifics


The first most obvious thing is the lack of home button and Touch-ID along with it. The phone can be woken up by pressing sleep-wake side button or by simply tapping on the screen — à la Apple Watch. The swipe up gesture that replaces the click of a home button feels great. I somehow didn’t even notice any kind of re-learning process. It just felt right from the start. And it actually feels like a much more natural alternative to a physical and somewhat wobbly button of my 6S.

Ilya. Stage Light mode when it works looks great.Beside the regular swipe-up to go to home screen the bar can be swiped from side to side to switch between recently used apps. They stay in the queue in the same order that they have been opened in. So I can open Overcast, then open Waze and the swipe from left to right will bring me back to Overcast. And the next swipe from right to left will bring me back to Waze. Very convenient. The Control Center however has been moved to the very top right corner of the screen. I wasn’t using it often, but the new location it’s not ideal.

The notch turned out to be a non-issue. When you look at screenshots of the phone the notch seems to be the only thing that your eyes run to. When I use the phone — I don’t notice it at all — I’m looking at a gorgeous screen and the content displayed on it. Notch is just sitting up there, not being annoying. And even the bottom aligning of status bar elements doesn’t seem to bother me as it id on the screenshots.

The size of the screen is very pleasant. The actual phone is slightly bigger then the regular model of 6, 6S, 7 and 8. The screen itself is the size of those phones. It fits comfortably enough in my pockets and has a screen that is bigger than one on the Plus phones. And it’s an OLED screen which looks good enough — not that LCDs looked bad either. The best thing is the deep blacks that match the rest of the glass — when an app hasn’t been updated to fit on iPhone X it just looks like your holding an older black 6S-like phone. The only give-away is the lit up icons on the top and home indicator on the bottom.

Face-ID


So much fuss was made of Face-ID and fears of losing Touch-ID and it was all for nothing. Face-ID really just works. It actually makes the phone feel like there is no lock of any kind of it. You just use it as you normally would and Face-ID just does it’s thing. So it should be treated as if just didn’t exist at all.

Arosha. Portrait mode.The place where I can actually observe its speed is on locked apps such as 1Password. It authenticates you via Face-ID and it takes a fraction of a second — 2nd generation Touch-ID was probably faster, but here you don’t have to place a finger over a button or do anything at all. Totally acceptable.

In addition to all that there are several interesting things that Apple is dong with it. I had my previews of notifications disabled on all my phones for security reasons — you don’t want somebody to see a confirmation code that might come to you via an SMS message for example. So notifications of certain things were just not very useful. Now all the notification previews are off by default, but once the phone sees YOU — the owner — looking at the screen they just unroll and show the preview — great.

I also noticed that if the phone call comes through and you happen to be looking at the phone the ring comes through with a very low volume — if you’re not looking at it, it’s very loud. And another thing is that the phone no longer dims its screen if you looking at it.

Artur. My barber, portrait mode.Face-ID seems to a little less reliable in very bright sun light. It seems to take a little bit longer to work it’s magic in this specific case. But on the other hand even when the phone is mounted on the dash of my car and I’m off center it works just fine. And it does work through my sunglasses and my beard doesn’t scare it either.

Restore Process


I’ve been using iCloud backups to move over to new phones since the time it was possible. This time I did the same thing. And after everything was restored and all the passwords have been entered I was dismayed to find out that none of my Activity Achievements that I’ve been collecting over the past two and a half years have been unlocked, even though all the health data and filled in rings have been ported just fine.

Aleksey. Portrait mode.Luckily I haven’t dismantled my 6S yet. So I hooked it up to iTunes and made an encrypted backup from it. Then I restarted the whole setup process and restored from this iTunes backup. Luckily everything came back up correctly. Phew. And I didn’t have to re-enter all the passwords either. I’m probably going to stick to this process, although it’s a scary prospect if iCloud backup doesn’t get some things right, since that really is the process that I rely on in case something happens to the phone itself.

The Cameras


Now this is the crowning jewel of iPhone X. This is THE MAIN reason why I wanted to get my hands on this phone as soon as possible — a camera system that can measure depth and fit into my pocket at the same time. Like the saying goes — the best camera is the one that you have with you — and I always have my phone with me. And having as advanced of a camera system as this one on a phone is amazing for somebody who takes as many pictures with the phone as I do.

I love what Apple is doing on the software side to overcome the limitation of physics and tiny lenses. The portrait process with blurred background works really well. I do notice that it makes small mistakes here and there, but in most cases it does great. What separates iPhone X from iPhone 8 Plus is also the fact that you can take selfies in portrait mode as well thanks to the array of sensors in the notch. It has same issues though as Face-ID does with a bright sun light.

Home screen.Blog. New phone call indicator.Have a double optical zoom on a phone is also incredibly useful. I never use digital zoom that was available for a while on iOS since it just ruins the photo quality, so it might as well just not be there. But optical 2x zoom — perfect.

The different lightning modes that Apple is doing by using the depth information is also pretty great. I really like Studio Light and Contour Light modes. Stage Light — all black background — though doesn’t work as well yet. In certain conditions it does wonders, but most of the time it just ruins the photograph. Luckily all these things can be adjust in the post-processing on the phone since all the depth information is stored along with the photo.

Yesterday we went over to Coney Island with the family and I took a good number of photographs. So there is a good collection of samples. I did put them through my normal post-processing steps in Photoshop, but this is the first set of phone photographs that are actually good enough initially to go through that.

Issues


I’ve ran into a weird issue where my Automatic Pro OBD scanner in the car seems to cause Bluetooth interference which affects the call quality when it goes through the car audio system. I’m going to create a ticket on Autmatic’s site to see if they have any suggestions, but for now I had to unplug it from the car — annoying. Worked just fine with iPhone 6S.

Another thing I already mentioned — bright sunlight degrades the performance of the front sensors. It hasn’t been annoying yet, but we’ll if it becomes that as the time goes by.

Waze. Dark theme.Weather Line. Hasn't yet been updated for iPhone X app.While OLED screens do have their benefits burn-in is a thing. I keep Waze running for long periods of time — 3+ hours per day on my commute and I don’t know how it will affect the screen. I switch Waze into dark theme, which I like less, but now I have to be thinking about preserving the screen. The time will show how it holds up.

And the last issue that I think will go away — I have a little bit of pain between my thumb and the rest of my fingers that seems to be caused by the fact that I have to reach to the bottom of the screen and swipe up to use home indicator in place of a button. Again, hope my hand will just get used to it and the pain will go away.

Conclusion


Overall I’m very happy with this upgrade. Older phones somehow look very dated very quickly after using this new phone. The new one is just so much better in so many respects. As I said at the start — so far I’m loving it.
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Anniversary In Quebec

For this year Alëna and I have planned a trip that is smaller than our usual anniversary trip. Instead of flying somewhere far we decided to simply drive to Quebec Province of Canada1. Our total trip is six days long including two full days of driving.

Our first stop is Quebec City where we will spend three nights in Hilton Quebec2 and celebrate our anniversary. We’ve been to Quebec City once a long while ago, so we’re looking forward to re-exploring it again. On our way to Quebec City we will try to make a stop at Montpelier — the capital of Vermont. We’ve been there as well, but it was in the middle of the night, so we haven’t seen much.

Our second stop of the trip is Montreal. We’ll spend 2 nights in Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville3 — the same hotel that we stayed at with kids during our trip of 2015. Montreal we remember rather well, but it’s just a nice city.

This is the first year since our wedding when Thanksgiving falls on the same date — November 23rd. And my parents will look after our kids.

One of the concerns that we had with Quebec was the fact that it was going to be too cold. But looking at the map ALL our European vacations except for Italy, Spain and Portugal were in locations closer to the North Pole than Quebec City is. So we just need to get a little bit lucky with weather.

  1. 1 USD was worth 1.28 CAD at the time of the posting. []
  2. Hilton Quebec — C$464.10 for 3 nights for kind bed room with taxes included. []
  3. Hilton Garden Inn Montreal Centre-Ville — C$383.75 for 2 nights for 1 king bed room with taxes included. []

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