Musing #69: Modern Monetary Theory


Heterodoxy can usher in amusement and stimulation in equal measure. In the context of economics, I have seen it pop up quite often at the mention of Modern Monetary Theory, to the extent that I have run out of fingers to count on. In the same breath, MMT (not this one) is equated with the license to print as much money as needed with it being a "creature of law". This makes nought sense to anyone having the faintest idea of economics and neither does the zero sum game between government spending and private saving.

Even if the theory has merits, it is often over-simplified by those pushing for its acceptance in the mainstream, which in turn makes it sound quite crazy. After quite some time, I have come across a source that does a simple and good job of discussing it. In general, I would recommend subscribing to the 'After Hours' podcast considering the fact that I ended up binge listening to it the first time I "tuned in".

Considering what happened in Zimbabwe, it will take a lot of effort to convince anyone that "unlimited printing of money by government" is a good idea, all things considered. At the same time, running fiscal deficits is a great idea, assuming there is a limit to it and that you are getting your money's worth. After all, debt makes the world go round. Running a deficit with a manageable debt-to-GDP ratio makes a lot of sense provided the government is getting a positive ROI in terms of social and economic benefits. What makes less sense is turning fiscal and monetary policies on their head without understanding their due impact.

There is no denying that the economic system is a belief and a social construct but there is no turning back the clock as well. Instead, the idea is to bring in meaningful change and MMT can contribute to that in parts, though not as a complete alternative. In the meantime, Calvinball anyone?

Musing #68: Making the most of Audible trial


Listening to a book doesn't quite have the same panache as reading one, but sometimes it is the only option. While I am an avid fan of podcasts on long commutes, sometimes audio books can fill the void quite well. However, in case of audio books, for me, it is unabridged or nothing, which depending on the author's preference for brevity can extend to numerous hours; a significant investment of time whichever way you look at it.

Review #56: Xgimi Z6 Polar ★★★★½

Update #1 (March 1, 2019):

In my video review, I had stated the audio to be just about good enough, despite the Harman Kardon branding. In fact, I would still recommend getting an external speaker for the best experience. However, if that is not possible, then the wizardry mentioned subsequently will enable you to get the most out of the Z6 speakers.


As it turns out, Xgimi has a hidden "Design Menu" within GMUI which can be accessed, at least in the case of Z6, by long-pressing the "right" direction key on the 'System Information' screen. The "hidden" menu pops up on the left as seen in the above image. At this point, I should make it clear that the 'Audio' settings that I am discussing is listed under 'Non-standard options', so there is no guarantee that it wouldn't damage the device. Hence, caution is advised.

Within the 'Audio' menu, there is a "prescale" option that goes from '0x00' to '0xff' in Hex, or "00" to "255" if you prefer Base 10. My rather rusty knowledge of electronics from eons ago helps me recollect the use of a prescaler in a microcontroller to determine which oscillator pulse triggers an interrupt. How the prescale value specifically impacts the audio in this case is beyond me.

But impact the audio it does. The default value is set at '0x01' and on changing it downwards, I could immediately perceive an increase in volume while incrementing it didn't seem to have much of an impact. Thus, it was time to note down some observations. I changed the value to 2 levels from default in either direction and then to various quarter levels (25%, 50%, 75%) to gauge the impact.

Prescale Value
Decimal Notation
Max dB
Avg dB
Comments
0x00
0
96
86
-
0x01 (Default)
1
88
76
-
0x02
2
90
76
-
0x03
3
88
77
-
0x3f
63
93
82
-
0x7f
127
95
86
-
0xbf
191
95
88
Moderate distortion
0xff
255
95
89
Extreme distortion

If I don't go by the values alone, then I would say '0xff' seems the loudest, probably because it is also extremely harsh to listen to. Practically, '0x00' and '0x7f' are the best values for this option. They are nearly identical in volume, but I found the sound from '0x7f' to be livelier, probably because it adds the right amount of "harshness" that becomes unbearable at the higher values.

It is miles away from the quality I get from the JBL Xtreme, but in terms of loudness, it makes the Z6 much more suitable for a small room.


Original Article (December 18, 2018):

My previous post on the Z6 alluded to the upcoming review but it was around that time I decided to embrace the video format over written words, not that you are spared reading, as the video is littered with text overlays.

It also provided me an opportunity to try out various non-linear editing systems (NLE) and I eventually settled on Lightworks. Considering it took me a few hours to come up with this output, I can't recommend it enough, simply for its lack of a learning curve, though I expect mastery of it to take ages. The video itself is a farrago of poorly shot video, PowerPoint slides and images, so make of it what you may.

The down side to using the free version is that export is limited to 720p but I am sure you can live with that. With that (again), I will let the video to do the talking, especially as I haven't done any.


Review #59: JBL Xtreme ★★★★½


My review of the Xgimi Z6 Polar mentioned my disappointment with the in-built Harman Kardon speakers, especially when in pursuit of the home theatre experience. Since then, I was on the lookout for options that would fill this specific void.

It was natural to first consider a sound bar. Here, I was looking at two extremes in terms of (limited) budget as well as sound quality. At one end of the spectrum was the Mi Soundbar. For the price of INR 4999 (USD 70), one can't go wrong, going by the spec sheet. However, it would be unfair to expect it to be anything apart from middling in terms of quality. At the other end of the budgetary spectrum, I was enamoured by the Yamaha YAS-108 selling for INR 18500 (USD 260). It would be my choice (along with the YAS-207, budget permitting), if I ever decide to go with a sound bar. However, an infrequently used projector setup and the awkward option of mounting a speaker below the projection screen led me to look for something more versatile...and portable.

Portability inevitably means switching focus to a category of speakers that one would casually term as "Bluetooth speakers". To make it clear upfront, I have never been a fan of Bluetooth codecs and iffy connectivity, but sometimes it is worth the convenience. In this case, the concern is somewhat alleviated by the fact there is also an Aux-In input present in most cases, though one has to forego advanced digital connectivity options like S/PDIF and HDMI-ARC. It is human to want everything in everything even though compromise is imminent.

With this frame of mind, I headed over to Amazon and as it happened, a Bose banner occupied the front page. The Soundlink Mini II became the object of my focus on account of its stellar reviews. However, the age of the product, accentuated by its archaic Bluetooth version of 3.0, a pretty lowish battery life by today's standard (10 hours) combined and a not-so-lowish price of INR 13000 (USD 183) stressed my little grey cells a bit more than I wished for. Also, keeping algorithmic trickery aside, there is no beating the quality constraints put forth by the physical dimensions of the product. This made me yearn for the Soundlink III, but unfortunately it isn't sold locally and the other products from the Bose range didn't fit my bill.

Venturing to other brands then, I came across my eventual purchase - the JBL Xtreme. In fact, it wasn't so straightforward as I went through numerous other options from Harman Kardon (Onyx Studio), Ultimate Ears (Megaboom), Marshall (Kilburn) and Sony (XB41). The focus in most cases seemed to be on waterproofing (as a poolside speaker), raucous lighting and mega-bass, all of which I was not particularly attuned to. NFC is another feature that gets mentioned a lot, but I can't see myself pairing devices to a speaker so frequently so as to necessitate its presence.

It was a review of the Soundlink III that led me to the JBL Xtreme as it was listed as an equivalent, if not a better option in the same price range. In case you are going by looks, then you wouldn't find anything distinguishable about the Xtreme compared to its smaller and cheaper siblings - Flip and Charge. In fact, it would be completely wrong to form your opinion about a brand based on a product alone, especially a cheaper one. Sound quality doesn't scale linearly with price and it is always a tight rope walk finding a balance between the two. In this case, I can only assure you that size does matter.

Even settling on the Xtreme wasn't without further complications. Considering the price I mentioned previously for the Mini II, one can only imagine a Soundlink III to come close to the USD 300 mark in INR, if it was sold locally. This meant I was staring at the outer realms of my budget. Luckily, with the JBL Xtreme 2 picking up the mantle in this price category, the Xtreme was relegated to a lower price tier, though still commanding a price of INR 15000 (USD 211). This brought me to my second consideration - whether the price difference to the Xtreme 2 is worth it. From the reviews I read, the difference in sound quality between the two is largely imperceptible and the main draw for it, as you can guess, is waterproofing. Pfft.

Would I have spent even INR 15000 on the Xtreme? Possibly no. The real clincher was that I managed to get it for INR 10800 (USD 152). It was quite a matter of luck, patience and persistence. I happened to find a single unit of Xtreme listed separately on Flipkart at the aforementioned low price and correctly postulated it to be an open box item, considering it had a delivery time of 11 days as against 2 days for one listed at the normal price. Listing an open-box product as a new one is deceitful, but it worked in my favour as I was able to avail of the 10-day replacement policy, but not without considerable haggling.

I mentioned the word "portable" previously in relation to Bluetooth speakers. In the case of the Xtreme, I'd rather use the word mentioned on the box - "transportable". It weighs over 2 kg, so calling it portable would be a stretch by any means. Conscious of this, JBL has thrown in a shoulder strap, though I suppose someone from the design team had a good laugh at it. However, having a multi-instrument, vocal Dholak hanging from the shoulder isn't as ludicrous as it may seem.

All that heft must account for something and in the case of the Xtreme, it does so in the form of 2 x 65mm woofers, 2 x 35mm tweeters and two thumping passive radiators with a rated power of 2 x 20W (Bi-amp). With specs, comes power consumption and in the case of the Xtreme, JBL provided an ample 37Wh (10000 mAh at 3.7V) Lithium-Ion battery which is rated to be good enough for 15 hours. On my first complete run on battery, I got about 15h 25m over Auxiliary and 2h 15m over Bluetooth, totalling a run time of 17h 40m. Of course, the battery life depends a lot on the volume, content as well as Bluetooth usage, so my figures are simply empirical. The battery also works as a power bank and the Xtreme features two USB-A ports that can cumulatively output 2A (1x2A or 2x1A) in addition to the charging, aux-in and a service port.


The Xtreme comes with a round-pin charger rated at 57W (19V 3A) which is an awful lot for a battery powered device. However, it ensures that the device gets fully charged within 3 hours (though the specs mention 3.5 hours). To my amusement, I found that the charger works with my Z6, so in effect I now have a charger redundancy, which is always appreciated, to a point. The battery life is indicated with the help of 5 LEDs on the front which is pretty vague and the device could have done with a battery percentage callout. Lastly, despite its age, it comes with Bluetooth 4.1 on board which is any time better than what's onboard with the similarly old Soundlink Mini II.

Moving on to the most pertinent aspect of the device, the sound. The thing that hits you in the face (specifically the ears) on your first playback is the bass (along with the vigorously vibrating radiators). If your first track happens to be a vocal one like mine was, then you would be justified in harbouring some doubts. However, even with overpowering bass, the width of the soundstage becomes evident and it is able to reproduce sound pleasantly across the spectrum. The bass tends to eat in to the mids for tracks that have even a modicum of it, though the treble is unblemished. This helps it as a party (and home theatre) speaker but not as a music one.

Thankfully, pressing the 'Bluetooth' and 'Volume -' buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds significantly flattens the frequency response and brings any vocal or instrumental track to life. What it actually does and why it isn't documented in the manual is beyond me. There are 30 volume steps present on the device itself when used independently but it links up to the phone volume levels on pairing. The speaker is plenty loud to fill up any mid to large sized room, though oddly, the volume over Aux is significantly lower than over Bluetooth. There is no official mention of any other codec support and going by the fact that Android always defaults to SBC on selection of any other codec, it seems that's the only supported codec. While I couldn't bear SBC on cheap Bluetooth headphones in the past, the sheer quality of the speaker makes it less of an issue, and one can always switch to good old Aux. Lastly, there is the 'JBL Connect' button to pair up additional compatible JBL devices with the Xtreme but I find no use for it in a home setting.

The app support for this device is pretty barebone. The 'JBL Music' app on iOS simply lists the songs from Apple Music and mentions AirPlay support. The "AirPlay" option is nothing more than the native iOS selection of a Bluetooth receiver, so is of no practical use. Having said that, playback of the same track on Apple Music is much better than Spotify, though it is mostly due to the impact of transcoding from AAC compared to Ogg Vorbis. The 'JBL Connect' app is a tad more useful in the sense that it is supposed to provide firmware update notifications, though I didn't get any and it is unlikely I ever will, considering the age of the product.

To conclude, if you can get the device for less than $160, then there is simply no better option available. Sound doesn't degrade with age (of the speaker, unfortunately not of the listener), so it still holds up well against the $300 Xtreme 2 in terms of quality but beats it in terms of value for money. In short, for a discounted price, the Xtreme is highly recommended.

Review #58: Yeelight Smart LED and Motion Sensor Nightlight ★★★★★

With the purchase process detailed out previously, this post moves on to the products that constituted the buying experience. I had made a reference to Yeelight in the earlier post, though it was bereft of any specifics. Now, I can reveal the products to be the Yeelight Smart LED Bulb (Colour) and the Motion Sensor Rechargeable Nightlight.

1. Yeelight Smart LED Bulb (Colour)
Philips Hue has been the trendsetter in the category of wireless lighting for eons but it would be best to call it an aspirational piece of equipment after factoring in the cost of the setup also involving the Bridge. For anyone looking at wireless lighting with nothing more than inquisitiveness, there is no better option than the Yeelight Smart LED Bulb.

Review #57: ShareSave by Xiaomi ★★★★☆


I have been accustomed to buying products of Chinese origin from AliExpress for years now and thus I am well acquainted with the various brands promoted by Xiaomi as part of its ecosystem like Huami, Yeelight and MiJia to name a few. Like Xiaomi, their products are targeted towards offering value for money with a simple design aesthetic.

Sundry #13: Rebranding!

My blog is about to complete 3 years later this month and it has been one hell of a ride over the years. In anticipation of continuing this journey for years to come, I had renewed my domain smajumdar.com for another 3 years.

However, it seems my site entered a mid-life crisis and needed a change of identity to reinvigorate itself. Inanimate issues aside, the pronunciation of my previous domain name has been a subject of inadvertent butchery by many a souls over the years, causing a part of me to die at every such instance.

Despite my arguments from 3 years ago, I felt it was time to let go of a direct association with my name and instead adopt something more frivolous. At the same time, I was disinclined to let go of a personal connection. Thus, heysama.com was born just a few hours ago.

With a name change comes great responsibilities and thus I had to set up everything to redirect to the new domain over the past few hours. I believe I have scrubbed all references to the old domain which unfortunately also led me to delete the mobile apps, which were anyway of little bearing.

It is inevitable that old links and Google searches will redirect only to the new home page, but such is the nature of change. The HTTPS activation and redirection should come in to effect over the next 24 hours, thereby completing the full feature migration to the new domain. I expect bits and pieces of work to turn up over the next few days, but barring that I am glad to have made the migration so soon.

The old domain will continue to redirect to the new one until it expires. If however, you happen to be someone sharing my name and desperately in need of the domain, feel free to get in touch with an offer that I can't refuse. For everyone else, Hey!