Wednesday, September 14, 2016

bluetooth headphones for the wireless age: 23 dimensional review

For those fretting over the end of headphone jacks, I just wanted to share my experiences with bluetooth headphones which I got obsessed with about a year ago. These days I only use bluetooth and love it as they don't get tied up in knots in your pocket and don't get tugged out of your ear when you are at the gym. The prices came down so Amazon has a huge selection for under $20. I wound up buying and trying a lot of them. Finding the perfect pair was surprisingly hard. I finally settled on the Amazon Basics which they discontinued for some reason but is available for $13 on ebay…/AmazonBasics-Bluetooth-…/131865024214…
Most reviews focus on sound quality. To me since I mostly listen to podcasts, sound quality didn't matter. But when I started thinking about it, there were about 20 other dimensions that did.
Aptx - look for the AptX codex, otherwise, they tend to have latency. This is fine for music, but not cool for video where the audio starts to lag the picture by a second or so.
Noise Isolation, Sounds quality, Loudness - obvious
Bluetooth reception, my $300 beats headphones I got as a gift a few years ago was unusable in NYC because of all the bluetooth signals on the street. This may not matter anywhere else. But many headphones got staticy once you put your phone in your pocket.
Wire tangled - did the wire between the left ear and right ear tangle?
Comfort - how comfortable was fit? This is just trial and error.
Pairing - pairing was mostly easy
Interface buttons - different headphones have surprisingly different interfaces for volume and fast forward or rewind. This was pretty minor though.
Synced volume - this was rare but the best could control the phone volume directly (only my $300 Bose headphones did this consistency). most just had their internal volume control and you still controlled your phone volume independently.
Multiple devices - most support multiple devices. this usually worked surprisingly well but its always a bit awkward switching between them but less awkward than you might think
Battery life, Power on - most had decent battery life and would last a few days to a week of heavy use. but unacceptable ones died within a day.
battery indicator - most should have a battery indicator on your phone to indicate the headphone battery. older models will not.
Works while charging - this isn't a big deal but most could not be used while plugged into the wall charging. the bose and amazon ones could.
Phone calls - i rarely talk to anyone on the phone but when I do, the quality did vary a lot in terms of the quality of the microphone and how it dealt with ambient noise
Ease of charge - some had annoying rubber plugs over their charging ports that made it a pain to charge. however, sweat proofing is important. many would start to spark when i was at the gym.
Breakability - a lot of my $15 headphones did break. but ultimately all my headphones break after a year or two, even the expensive ones.
How often it falls out, While jogging.
Can I wear it around neck when not using. Can I stuff in the pocket.
Does it look douchy. My $300 Bose over ear headphones (another gift), was the only one that satisfied all of the above categories, but they are huge and I feel stupid wearing them in public.
The Bose are also the only ones I tried that have a regular 3.5mm wire option to use on the plane.
Ultimately the $13 Amazon Basics is nearly perfect on all these categories. The only downside is it is not an ear bud if you prefer that kind of thing.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Economics of Imaginary Worlds

One of my favorite podcasts is talking this week about the economics of imaginary worlds.

As a long time fan (since day 1 of the podcast) and as an economist, I have thought a lot about these questions. I've always planned to teach a class on the economics of science fiction/fantasy. I wrote about Issac Asimov's 2nd foundation as my inspiration for the study of economics in my grad school essays (apparently Krugman did the same) since Asimov's psychohistory was simply the application of math to predict human behavior, which is exactly what economics does. Krugman is also famous within the economics community for working out in grad school the economics of interstellar trade when sub-light speed travel is going to screw up all of your interest rate payments since time is moving at different speeds.

I love all the shows mentioned (BSG, Firefly, and Game of Thrones are among my favorites of all time) and was impressed by how much insight we derived simply the law of scarcity. The idea that scarcity would simply shift from material goods to status or experiential goods once we have replicators is something most people under appreciate. Even my favorite economics podcast planet money got it wrong. But its a natural shift. Even today material goods are a small part of the US economy (see my column in US News) and Adam Smith first wrote about this in the 1750s.

However, there is so much more to economics than simple scarcity. For example, for Lannister's motto (a Lannister always pays his debts) there is a theory called "tying the kings hand" by Nobel Prize winner Douglas North that the reason England eventually became the dominant power in Europe is because England always pays its debts. Most kings have a habit of just deciding not to pay when times get tough. In England, the Magna Carta empowered parliament to "tie the kings hands" and force the king to pay, which made lenders much more eager to lend to the king of England, which gave England more resources than other kingdoms, and therefore the advantage needed to build the British empire.

Other interesting debates exist about the feasibility of a money-less economy as envisioned by Roddenbury. (Mostly dumb) Neal Stephenson (my favorite novelist) does an excellent job unpacking many economic issues, like the invention of monetary policy by Issac Newton, to what happens after the disintegration of the nation state in Snowcrash.

Anyway is a fun exercise to think about how the economies of worlds work in fantasy or scifi worlds where the boundaries of physics as we know it have changed. Perhaps I will get to teach that class someday.