Review #51: Amazon Fire TV (Gen 3 - 4K HDR) ★★★★☆

Normally, whenever I get a new device, the instinct is to analyse it in depth. Unfortunately, certain constraints prevent me from doing so with the Fire TV 4K, primary of them being that I have no 4K display devices at present. However, a lot of thought had gone in to purchasing this device for a 1080p non-HDR TV, even though it is not officially available in India. So, I would like to share these thoughts along with the experience of setting it up so as to get the most out of it. Thus, this article will straddle the line between a tutorial and a review, but I have decided to classify it as the latter since this article, while being instructional, is still appraising the product.

Musing #48: Impact of Spectre/Meltdown patch (With Intel's March Microcode Update)

Spectre and Meltdown have been all over the news in the past few days. While the seriousness of the bug cannot be understated, the speculation on the performance impact of the patch, especially on older processors, has been particularly worrisome. Google and Intel have put forth some assurances, but the end result is yet to be seen.

As my desktop is equipped with the generations-old i5-3470, I have to brace for whatever performance degradation comes with the patch. Unfortunately, with ASRock having released the last BIOS update for my motherboard in 2013, one can only hope to receive an official update. For the time being, the only option is to rely on Microsoft's Windows 10 patch which only partially mitigates this issue.

Even then, it offers a first glimpse at the performance that has to be scarified in lieu of security. Intel has stated that the impact will vary based on the task and hence there is no easy way to determine the impact of the patch. I went with Cinebench R15 and CrystalDiskMark to quickly capture the impact on some everyday tasks.

As can be seen in the screenshot below, the performance impact seems to be quite significant with the post-patch score being nearly 7% lower. This is by all means a huge impact and cannot be disregarded.

Musing #53: Cluedo Champ!

Somehow, my childhood never crossed paths with Cluedo amongst the myriad of board games that helped shape it. Ironically, I watched the related movie several years back without having ever rolled the dice within Tudor mansion. I suppose the ignorance of those days, without access to mobiles and the Web, was a bliss in more ways than one. However, the competitive spirit was fostered by other familiar games as well as ones whose obscurity isn't lessened by scouring the Web.

It is never too late to start with something and hence I didn't bat an eyelid in getting the iOS version of Cluedo once I became aware of its existence earlier this week. I immediately felt like a duck in the water and soon found myself at the top of the leader board without much effort. Who knew that all those years of reading and watching whodunnits would make me such a great detective? Now, if only someone were to accept Cluedo as proof of my real-life logical reasoning skills.

For anyone looking to jump in to the app, I would recommend it with a few riders. The good part is that the digital representation is faithful to the physical one and is certainly captivating. On the flip side, the app has more than a few game breaking bugs, the biggest one being that the murder cards are repeated when there are not many players online and bots make up the numbers (looking at you, GreenToucan838). This can prop up the score if you so wish and I encountered it at least half a dozen times; but such instances are frustrating and I wish the developers had done a better job of it.

While I enjoyed partaking in Cluedo with people around the world, I felt it best to leave at the top. I suppose the screenshot below will immortalise my tryst with Cluedo, even though I am sure that the more persistent players would have beaten it by now. Yeah, that's Scarlett you see as me. I hope that a lot of players harrowed by my existence would now breathe a sigh of relief. Just may be, I have a come back in me somewhere down the line.

Musing #52: Art Doppelgängers

This site doesn't feature a picture of me, but that doesn't imply that there can't be ones that look like me. Fortunately, Google Arts & Culture is here to identify the artistic me. Unfortunately, it couldn't do so with high confidence; the match percentage hovering between 55-65%.

It seems that the images are particularly sensitive to eye size as opening the same to varying extents produces the most variances. Perhaps, someone could just reverse engineer these images to identify the real me. However, it seems Google itself wouldn't do a great job of it as its image search failed to identify most of these paintings.

As a bonus, there was even a match of me from the opposing gender. Surprisingly, the match percentage was quite high as well (59%) in the context of things, especially as the image was not of my side face. Going by the results, I really shouldn't have much trouble in being a master of disguise.

Musing #51: The philosophical difference between Formula 1 and Formula E

Compared to last year and the year before, I have decided to change tack and throw Formula E in to the mix this year. While the renders were shared in January, Formula E physically unveiled its Gen2 car at the Geneva Motor Show earlier today. I find it to be an attractive design, specifically as it is something that Formula 1 is unlikely to mimic anytime soon; unless its American owner, Liberty Media, manages to miraculously convince the teams that the show is more important than the performance.

This brings me to the point of why Formula E finds it favourable to adopt such a radically different design compared to Formula 1, marketing reasons aside. I cannot profess to be an aerodynamicist but over two decades of following motorsports has led me to be more appreciative of its technical aspects. Also, it feels satisfying to be able to tap in to my years of studying physics and engineering, and leverage it to satisfy the curiosity of a random commenter on the Internet.

Formula 1 is considered to be the epitome of motorsports and rightly so. It is all about harnessing the ultimate performance from the machine and achieving the ultimate lap time, much of which is accomplished by being fast through the turns. Hence, F1 cars are set up to have the highest possible downforce so that the turns can be taken as fast as possible while ensuring that the high drag that comes with it doesn't impact the straightline speed as much.

Unfortunately, most of the downforce in modern F1 cars is generated using aerodynamic structures and appendages which leaves a significant disturbed air flow for the car following behind. A consequence of this approach is the poor racing that we see in F1 these days. The much-maligned Drag Reduction System (DRS) overcomes this specific obstacle for the following car, though it seems the wider cars and even more intricate aerodynamic structures have rendered it less powerful (and thankfully so).

On the contrary, Formula E being a spec chassis series, isn't focused on ultimate performance. The philosophy here is to accelerate quickly out of the corners using the instant torque from the electric motors, reach the top speed as quickly as possible down the straights and then coast for the remainder of the straights, before breaking hard while already cornering to aid the charging of batteries using the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS). The power absorbed by drag increases with the cube of speed increase, so less drag results in less energy expense over a lap, while ensuring higher top speeds along the straights. The less disturbed air of a low drag/downforce setup certainly helps the following car but a side benefit of this, coupled with the low-grip, all-weather Michelin tyres, and instant torque is that the cars are incredibly difficult to handle around the corners due to which we see a lot more driver errors in Formula E compared to F1's cornering on rails.

I hope Season 5 of Formula E brings in better uninterrupted racing, made possible by having a single car complete the race. However, I hope that some strategic element of a pit-stop is retained, e.g., allowing for quick, short recharges for additional power at the expense of lost time. Formula 1 and E aside, 2018 is looking to be another cracking year for motorsports with a competitive MotoGP field littered with manufacturers and the the new low-downforce IndyCar.

Musing #50: Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music

Amazon launched its Music service in India earlier this week, so I thought I'd do a quick comparison of it with the other streaming services I have been using, Apple Music and Spotify. Before any one brings it up, I have trialled all the other music streaming services available locally in India (Gaana, Wynk, Saavn, Hungama) at one point or another and found them to disappointing in terms of quality and catalogue. Even Google Music didn't offer much to dislodge Apple when it launched in India, though it hit the mark with its pricing.

I didn't term this article as a review, since it isn't one. Since majority of my listening is done on the iPhone, now with my RHA MA650, Apple Music happens to be my preferred option. It offers the best integration with iOS (e.g. Siri) and has the best quality when streaming over Bluetooth. Spotify complements Apple Music really well with its cross-platform compatibility, track discovery and catalogue. On the other hand, I wouldn't really pay for Amazon Music if it existed as a separate subscription service but as yet another Prime membership perk, it is totally worth it.

I have briefly covered the features of each service in the table below along with the availability of various tracks at the time of writing this article. It should give a good idea of what each platform has to offer.

Review #50: RHA MA650 Wireless Earphones ★★★★☆

When wireless doesn't mean getting less! 

Bluetooth headsets have always been a matter of convenience for me rather than a technological evolution over wired headsets. For a long time, I preferred to use wired headsets whenever possible and took recourse to Bluetooth headsets when on the move. However, the abysmal performance of Bluetooth plug-in headsets like SBH54 and the Fiio BTR1 left me extremely disappointed and finally set me on course to finding a standalone wireless earphone.