The Stochastic Game

Ramblings of General Geekery

Is Bluetooth Even Working Correctly?

I’ve been critical of Bluetooth before. In my mind it’s nowhere near ready to be the default way we listen to music… but when my dear Bowers & Wilkins P5 headphones1 started exhibiting balance problems, the nice people from the support department offered, among different options, to replace them with a discounted Wireless P5 model.

I figured what the hell, let’s try this brave new world where everything has to run on batteries and on different versions of different protocols.

New headphones

Now you must realize that those are pretty much premium Bluetooth headphones. I got them at a 50% discount, but they otherwise sell for around $400. Even then, they’re much better that I expected. Barely heavier than the wired model, and with excellent battery life. I noted a few glitches in audio playback but I haven’t checked whether wireless was to blame, or whether it was the streaming or player app being at fault.

The thing that I was mostly wondering about was how it handles multiple devices. Our wireless speakers at home2 have a lot of trouble figuring out what phone (between mine and my wife’s) to play from. My headphones would typically – on a daily basis – switch between my phone (for music and podcasts) and my trusty, original Nexus 7 tablet (which I use to run Plex and watch TV shows on the go). I sure didn’t want to go through all the trouble we typically have to go through with the speakers.

Well I can report that it works fine, but not in the way you would expect.

I have no idea how or why, but my headphones just won’t connect automatically to any of those devices. I have to connect to them manually3, which is frankly fine by me since it takes slightly less time than untangling a cable4 and plugging it, especially on Android where you can do a lot more system automation than on iOS (on my Nexus 7 it basically takes me a swipe and a tap, whereas on iOS I don’t think there’s a way around going in the Settings apps manually).

However, the simple fact that I have no idea if this is a feature or a bug should tell you all you need to know about the state of Bluetooth.


  1. The first generation, not the new Series 2. I’ve had them for a few years. 

  2. A couple of JAMBOX’es, which seem to have been discontinued, since there’s not much on the Jawbone website

  3. “connect”, not “pair”. They stay paired with both devices. 

  4. I developped a slightly quicker/dirtier version of this technique over the years and my headphone cables pretty much never get tangled. 


Missing The Point Again

I’ve seen quite a few Apple bloggers link to this piece from Adam Geitgey about the new MacBook Pro, and how it’s supposedly “kind of great for hackers”. All because you can plug a lot of different things thanks to USB-C ports1.

Huh… OK?

Well first, it’s great to see Apple users realize the benefits of standard ports – and based on how Adam seems to easily use lots of peripherals without any apparent problem, it’s good to know that some concerns about the compatibility landmine of USB-C may be overblown. I thought it was a given, that standard ports are better, and that yes, Apple ditching proprietary ports is an excellent (although baffling in some ways) development. But MacBook Pros having USB ports of any version is not a new thing. The only new thing is that they upgraded to the latest version of the standard… should we celebrate them for that? Isn’t that like saying “thank you” to cars stopping at red lights?

I feel like people are missing the point. Again.

The problem isn’t whether the new MacBook Pro is a good machine or not. It is a good machine. It’s the best MacBook Air that Apple ever released. It’s arguably an excellent MacBook, too. It’s just a shitty MacBook Pro because, in many ways, it’s a downgrade from the previous iterations – something thatApple does quite often.

But of course, it seems to pay off. Like I said before, Apple is now focused on mass consumer markets.

Someone (I don’t remember who) said that “Pro” now meant “Premium” in Apple’s line-ups. You don’t necessarily get a more complicated machine anymore. Instead, you get a fancier and pricier one. That’s arguably why they called the big iPad an “iPad Pro”. Not “iPad XL”, or “12” iPad”, or “the new new bigger iPad” or something.

Pro” is now the opposite of “Mini” and “Air2 – not the opposite of “consumer” or “simple”.


  1. You know what would be great for hackers? For Apple to stop changing, obfuscating, and removing the Unix-y parts of macOS. So we can keep hacking things. Plugging a peripheral into an USB port is not what I would call “hack-y”, unless I’m some character in a Hollywood blockuster thriller about being chased on the Internet or something. 

  2. Air” actually doesn’t mean much anymore either. It’s the middle point in the iPad line, but the lower point in the MacBook line. 


From New York To Stockholm

I’m back from some travels – plural, which is extremely rare for me.

There she is

New York City (first time visit) followed by the usual annual trip to Stockholm for EA’s Frostbite DevDays conference, where various game devs from the company converge from all around the world to chat and drink.

View from the conference hotel

EA is a weird company in the sense that, for a video game company, people tend to stay there for very long stretches of time. It’s very common to talk to people who have been at EA for more than 10 years – at EA Vancouver, DICE, Bioware, whatever. This makes it difficult to find new points of views on technical problems… although, well, maybe it’s the same in many other big companies like Activision or UbiSoft, I don’t know.

Either way, I was happy to meet several people who not only have shipped AAA games at other companies, but also worked on those games’ cameras – which is my current area of interest, being in charge of the Frostbite Camera System. Finding people who work on (and care about!) cameras is a challenge to begin with, seeing how little infrastructure and long term investments are generally done on that crucial aspect of any game (more on that in a future post), so I’m pretty happy with this year’s conference for that, at least.


The iOS-ification of hardware

It’s been an interesting week. Apple announced some new Macbook Pros and everybody’s unhappy in the Apple blogosphere – something I wasn’t sure could happen anymore. Just look at Michael Tsai’ roundup and be amazed. All those people unhappy because they finally realized Apple doesn’t care about “pro” users. Apple effectively made a new version of the MacBook Air, but called it “Pro” and that’s obviously not a great move.

It’s not a great move because it means a lot of compromises. A shitty keyboard. Mediocre specs. No useful ports. Some people are getting into the wrong debate, discussing how Apple designs for the future, but the reality is different. Will DSLRs use USB-C keys to store photos? Will network switches use USB-C for connections? What kind of future has Apple in mind where you won’t need adapters and dongles to efficiently transfer gigantic RAW pictures onto your NAS or other safe storage?

The truth is that this has been coming for a long time. This is a company that killed their pro-sumer photo editing software Aperture and replaced it with the family-friendly Photos. The company that crushed their pro video editing software into Final Cut Pro X and only looked back when petitions grew big. The company that is, slowly, inexorably, removing or hiding pieces of macOS’s underlying Unix system. The company that, over the years, removed the ability of customers to hack their own machines, whether it’s just replacing the battery or RAM or hard-drive in a notebook, or more important upgrades like replacing the CPU or GPU in a desktop machines.

At first this was all dismissed as “reasonable” compromises because hey, look how sleek those Macs look and work compared to the competition… but more and more people started getting annoyed. And now maybe we’ve hit some kind of point of no return? I does look like the majority (or a much more vocal than previously minority) is saying “that’s enough”.

I wonder if it’s too late. Apple has made 1/6th of the keyboard into a touch screen, while the remaining keys are slowly disappearing into the frame – it’s a matter of time until that keyboard is so flat that they have no problem replacing it with a giant touch screen. Actually, hardware is becoming so integrated that I wouldn’t be surprised if next year they were announcing a yearly subscription for MacBooks, similar to the one for iPhones. You were licensing your media, and then you were licensing your software – soon you’ll be licensing your hardware. And all the while they’ll continue their (timid, for now) attempts at hiding the file-system from users. Phil Schiller may say now that they will never merge macOS and iOS together but that doesn’t mean they can’t replicate the iPhone’s success formula with Macs… and it wouldn’t be the first time an Apple exec (or any exec for that matter) flat out lied about something they were doing.

I wonder if it’s too late. Even Microsoft is doing Apple-ish stuff. Their new Surface Studio looks amazing, but instead of being a monitor you plug into a computer you can replace or upgrade, it’s an all-in-one, tightly integrated system. Either you’re rich, or you learn to live with the same specs for 6 years.

I wonder if it’s too late. Tim Cook thinks you can replace PCs with iOS devices, and that the iPad Pro is the “future of personal computing”. Sure, he’s probably talking about the average, mass-market customer here, but that tells you all you need to know about where Apple’s focus is. Apple’s focus is not on the million-dollar markets anymore. It’s on the billion-dollar ones. They’ve tasted absolute power and boy how did it absolutely taste neat.

I wonder what Apple programmers will have on their desk in 5 years… Maybe that’s what will keep Apple in check eventually – can they build software and cloud services on average consumer hardware?


Inside Star Citizen

Speaking of fallen video game superstars, I also recently finished reading through Kotaku UK‘s various impressively thorough articles about Star Citizen.

There’s not much to say except that, even before the Kickstarter campaign ended, half of us backers knew it would be a shit show. It’s just fascinating to see how exactly the shit show is going – from the totally dysfunctional project and scope management to the size of Chris Roberts’ balls for selling non-existing digital items for several hundreds of dollars… with the nice addition of fans that are so extreme they can make some Apple or Linux fanboy look balanced.

I personally backed Star Citizen for the same reasons I backed Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar: as a big “Thank You” for having made, in the past, some of my all-time favourite games. I mean, I was so in love with Wing Commander that I wrote my school notes in its iconic font for several weeks after finishing it. And I still have, to this day, t-shirt that came with the awesome collector’s edition of Wing Commander III… but those new games? Meh. Star Citizen was suspicious from the moment I learned they were using CryEngine. Shroud of the Avatar’s use of separate zones with loading screens (probably because of limitations with Unity’s streaming features) and antiquated UI made it vastly unappealing to me – although I give it a try once every few months to see the progress.

Hey, at least, in terms of pure entertainment, we can’t say we didn’t get some of our money’s worth with Star Citizen ;-)