Philippines senator calls for Duterte to face crimes against humanity inquiry | World news | The Guardian

The Guardian:

A leading member of the Philippines’ senate has called for an international criminal investigation into the country’s president in an effort to stop a vicious war on drugs that has killed more than 3,800 people since June.

Senator Leila de Lima, a human rights advocate and former justice secretary, has told the Guardian that foreign intervention was the only hope of putting an end to “state-inspired” extrajudicial murders that have terrorised parts of the population since president Rodrigo Duterte came to power four months ago.

In an interview De Lima urged world leaders to consider sanctions and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague to launch an investigation into Duterte and those who worked for him.

Regardless of how noble President Duterte’s motives are, for cleansing his country of drugs, this doesn’t excuse him from using methods that are illegal.

This is how the world is viewing the Philippines from the outside and, frankly, it sounds terrifying. I wouldn’t want to go visit at any point now and probably scores of tourists and businesses wouldn’t either.

I really wonder how the news is like on the ground, in the streets of Manila and for average citizen. Are they happy? Do they still whole-heartedly support their president?

In another 3 years when the bloodshed has subsided, this may really mark the turn-around for the Philippines as a whole. But even so, does the ends really justify the means? We’ll just have to wait and see.



Oct 2016 Quick Update

It’s been a hectic past 2 weeks.

We had a guest from overseas staying with us, followed by a quick family holiday to Taiwan.

Taiwan was a real good escape for me from Singapore. I never knew what to expect and I must say that it’s given me just enough that I’m hungry to experience it more. My mandarin is absolutely rubbish but somehow being there was both familiar and alien. More thoughts on this once the dust has settled.

Also in the back of my my mind is this pressure to develop my online presence.

For starters, since I find it so hard to churn out posts here, I’m back to posting images on Instagram. For the 2 or 3 readers who frequent this blog, you can find me at @saentinel where I try to post something interesting and insightful a couple of times a week.

For this blog, I’ve got so many plans and ideas. I really want to increase my creative output, writing more, sketching more, posting more photos. I have a whole world of ideas inside me but there’s just no time to capitalise on them immediately. Everything has to take a back seat until it’s ready, which sometimes feels like ‘never’.

For those who’ve been following me thanks for sticking around. When I started this blog it was just meant to be about curating a public persona that lived online. But in recent years I’ve wanted to do more than just share my thoughts. I’ve wanted my thoughts to mean something. The internet is awash with so many people just sharing what they’re thinking in the moment that it’s gotten a bit overwhelming. Smartphones have enabled split second sharing that’s become so thoughtless it’s almost meaningless. What I’d really love is to do the opposite of that and post finely crafted and carefully considered items online. Things that I can stand behind and be proud of.

More to come!

5 GB is the new 16 – 512 Pixels>

Stephen Hackett, writing at his site 512 Pixels, has the best description I’ve read about what iCloud storage is to Apple’s product line:

Unlike One Drive or even Dropbox, iCloud storage is key to extending and improving the experience of using a Mac or iPhone. Dropbox may be a semi-magical folder that syncs data to other devices, but iCloud is the glue between Apple’s various platforms.

But unfortunately he’s poured quite a bit of cold water on my thoughts that Apple should give more iCloud storage to each device:

A popular suggestion is to grant users additional space based on the devices they purchase. Buy a 128 GB iPhone 7, get another 128 GB worth of storage on iCloud. While I like the idea, I’m not sure it’s feasible. What happens if you are like me and buy a new iPhone every year? Does my free storage just increase forever, or does it get adjusted based on my active devices? […]

There’s more to it than that, I’m sure. I’m no data center expert, but bumping everyone to even 10 GB would be a huge increase in disk space needed at Apple’s data centers. I don’t know what that sort of change would cost, but I can imagine it’d be huge based on Apple’s sheer number of customers. Whatever slice of profit off of iPhone hardware goes to paying for iCloud storage would certainly take a hit.

It’s a good point and he ends off his piece on the same note that Apple should still consider upping the free tier of storage as more and more people shift to using iCloud for storing their valuable data.

OK Google, why is iCloud storage so expensive? | The Verge>

The Verge is arguing that Apple is charging too much for iCloud storage compared to it’s competitors:

I don’t mind paying for storage as long as it’s reasonably priced, but Apple’s 1TB pricing is not reasonable, especially when the iPhone’s camera is a major selling point and iCloud Photos is the culprit maxing out everyone’s storage plans.

Apple charges $9.99 per month for 1TB of iCloud storage, or roughly $120 per year. Compare that to Amazon, where for $4.99 per month you get unlimited storage. Hell, Amazon Prime subscribers ($99 per year) get free unlimited photo storage as just one of many membership perks. Microsoft’s 1TB OneDrive plan costs only $6.99 per month and you get full access to the Office 365 suite of apps.

Ever since macOS Sierra has been released, many reviewers point to the fact that Apple is pointing people towards their cloud services, but not providing enough of it for free. Something I also believe they should be doing. 

Having to pay for more storage limits the adoption of their new features, creating an opening for other companies to steal their customers:

Google, meanwhile, is doing exactly what Apple should be doing. People who buy Google’s new Pixel phones are given free unlimited Google Photos storage to host all their original photographs and 4k video. For Google it’s a fair trade, it gets to scrub your photos for anonymous data that will ultimately help it sell better ads, and Pixel owners never have to worry about seeing a “storage is full” message when uploading their imagery. Apple’s not making money from ads like Google, but it definitely wants the world to think iPhone when deciding what camera to buy next.

Dropbox comes close to Apple’s exorbitant pricing model but Dropbox is in the business of selling cloud storage. Even then, 1TB Dropbox Pro subscriptions cost $99.99 per year. Just think about that for a second; Apple charges more than Dropbox even though iCloud storage is a fundamental requirement for the features Apple promotes to help drive hardware sales. And in case it wasn’t obvious to you by now, Apple still makes its money by selling hardware.

I agree with that last sentence, Apple is way more profitable than any of these cloud service companies which basically make their money from their users data. Apple should hit them all where it hurts by giving their customers no reason to change handsets.

It probably doesn’t matter much to most users but to some it’s worth considering jumping ship to Android. And if Google keeps on improving the user experience of their products while at the same time jumping leaps and bounds ahead of Apple in AI, then who knows how it’ll play out for Apple in the long run.

Mossberg: How Google’s bold moves shake up the tech industry – The Verge>

I like Mossberg’s take on how Google’s new focus on hardware will shake up the entire industry, not just Apple. Though there is are some points which should cause the team in Cupertino to sit up:

The world’s biggest tech company finally has a fitting rival. For decades, it has battled mainly software platform makers (Microsoft and Google) which had to depend on unrelated hardware partners to showcase their technology. And with hardware makers (Dell, Samsung) which had limited ability to integrate and make the most of others’ software. In the last 15 years or so, it’s done brilliantly in that matchup. Now, it will face a smart, rich rival that aims to do it all.

Apple squandered its early lead in integrated AI, with Siri, which still is clumsy so often that many just ignore it. It has similarly lost its early lead in music, waiting too long to embrace streaming and depending on hardware integration to make Apple Music an easier path for iPhone loyalists than Spotify. Another early advantage, its AirPlay system, which beams video and music to TVs and speakers, seems to have been forgotten in recent years, while Google’s Cast system is integrated in speakers and TVs from a variety of other manufacturers and a centerpiece of the new Google Home connected speaker.

I’m personally pretty excited about the Google Pixel and all future iterations. Google’s putting all their bets on hardware for their future and (putting aside privacy concerns) I think they’ve taken a solid first step.

Most people think I have an irrational love for Apple products, but that really isn’t the case. I just love using products that work. For me Apple’s products have embodied that philosophy. But Apple’s strengths have so far been in hardware design, or things in the physical realm. Their software and online services have been good but are increasingly lagging behind the competition.

Put it this way: for every leap and bound that we see from Apple’s hardware offerings, we get smaller less bold steps from their software iterations. Are they progressing? Yes. But are they getting better faster? Not really. To me, Google is now catching up to Apple on design faster than Apple is catching up with Google on services. And that’s a little frustrating.

It’s telling though, that when Apple removes a hardware feature (3.5mm audio jack), it’s marketed as ‘courage’ and everyone wants to talk about it. When Google changes their design you don’t quite hear as much chatter. I guess we being humans, there’s a certain connection with our ‘hold them in your hand’ physical products which doesn’t quite translate as well to software. But still, there’s an argument to be made about the importance of the user experience and I can say that Google’s apps have been improving tremendously over the years.

Android has also long suffered for being so fragmented as it’s spread across so many manufacturers. When I had an Android phone (an LG) I hated the experience of using the native apps, which were developed by the manufacturer to replace the ones by Google. Despite Samsung creating beautiful hardware their shell over Android is, to me, a terrible user experience. None of it appears to have been studied holistically.

Altogether Apple products still form a more compelling overall product (hardware and software) than Google’s. And for the moment this lead in unified design means that I’m willing to put up with the limitations of using Apple’s online services as well. However if the Pixel creates the same unified experience for Android, but within a solidly designed hardware wrapper, this could give Google a strategic advantage over Apple in the long run.

And ultimately, may the best product win.

Theranos will close labs and fire 340 employees – The Verge>

Theranos will fire 340 employees — about 40 percent of its workforce — in California, Arizona and Texas, as well as shuttering all its clinical labs and Theranos Wellness centers, the company said in a statement today. The troubled start-up appears to be moving back to doing more research and development.

The development comes after a decision by regulators that Theranos chief executive officer Elizabeth Holmes will be banned from operating laboratories for two years. The sanctions were imposed by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is responsible for supervising labs. With all its labs closed, Theranos may no longer be under CMS’s purview. The company declined to comment on whether CMS would continue to oversee its work.

Interesting decision to lessen their accountability.

Google jumps into the phone hardware market with Pixel>

I’ve got to say, regarding Google’s recently announced Pixel phone, I’m actually quite impressed.

It’s cleverly marketed to take advantage of physical features that the iPhone 7 lacks (e.g. the 3.5mm audio jack) as well as services. I really love how they’ve highlighted the integration with Google photos and think this is really smart, especially the tagline,

Unlimited storage for all your photos and videos. Say goodbye to those “storage is full” notifications.
Knowing this is a common bugbear with iPhone users who ultimately run out of space for their photos is a Sun Tzu, ‘know your enemy’ kind of tactic. Doesn’t hurt that Google Photos provides unlimited storage for users.
Google is finally making their own hardware which is super exciting and, I believe, finally gives the Android the hardware platform that it needs to be not just a ‘good enough’ alternative to the iPhone but (I hope) an excellent alternative.

Where the cobalt and graphite in our batteries comes from

The Washington Post recently published 2 articles highlighting the disastrous effects that mining for cobalt and graphite have caused to both the workers and the areas surrounding the mines. Dubbed the battery series, the focus is on minerals that make up lithium ion batteries that exist in most (if not all) mobile electronic devices.

Accompanied by graphics, videos and images, both articles are eye-openers.

1. The Cobalt Pipeline

The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is at times met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, government officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.[…]

[…] Lithium-ion batteries were supposed to be different from the dirty, toxic technologies of the past. Lighter and packing more energy than conventional lead-acid batteries, these cobalt-rich batteries are seen as “green.” They are essential to plans for one day moving beyond smog-belching gasoline engines. Already these batteries have defined the world’s tech devices.

Smartphones would not fit in pockets without them. Laptops would not fit on laps. Electric vehicles would be impractical. In many ways, the current Silicon Valley gold rush — from mobile devices to driverless cars — is built on the power of lithium-ion batteries.

But this comes at an exceptional cost.

A trace of graphite is in consumer tech. In these Chinese villages, it’s everywhere.

A t night, the pollution around the village has an otherworldly, almost fairy-tale quality.

“The air sparkles,” said Zhang Tuling, a farmer in a village in far northeastern China. “When any bit of light hits the particles, they shine.”

By daylight, the particles are visible as a lustrous gray dust that settles on everything. It stunts the crops it blankets, begrimes laundry hung outside to dry and leaves grit on food. The village’s well water has become undrinkable, too.

Horrific stuff. What are we doing to our fellow men?

This is the ugly side of globalisation. Without a direct link between the consumers, factories and suppliers, no one has a clue where things really come from. Exporting your manufacturing and mining overseas might result in a cheaper product but it means that labourers are not protected and are often vulnerable to exploitation. It’s time for companies to play a larger role in pressurising their suppliers to provide better conditions for the workers who are sacrificing their health and safety.

The other alternative is for consumers to turn to locally sourced and manufactured products. In fact I think there will be a resurgence in ‘locally made’ goods in the coming years as artisanal products get more valued. Hopefully then stories like the ones linked to above will become a thing of the past.