mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

Thoughts on the Pixel 3

A colleague recently asked me for my thoughts on the Pixel 3 as he was considering picking one up given the recent $200 off promotion. In the four months I’ve had this phone:

  • When I call people in speakerphone mode, more often than not, they cannot hear me. I got my Pixel 3 replaced after talking to Google customer service about this and sending them some system logs. I never found out what the root cause was and even worse, the replacement still has the same problem.
  • I’ll be talking to someone on the phone and the entire network stack will kick the bucket. The call disconnects, it says No (Cellular) Service, and WiFi shuts off. I tried toggling Airplane mode on and off to soft restart this stack but no dice. It required a hard reboot. This has happened to me three times.
  • When turning on hotspot functionality the icon will blink as everything gets set up and eventually it turns solid once the hotspot is on. About one in five times the icon stops blinking and the hotspot just stays turned off. I’ve gotten around this by going to the Settings app and turning on the hotspot from there but sometimes that’s not enough and I have to hard reboot the phone.
  • People will call me, I’ll good cell service, but the call goes directly to my voicemail. This one is absolutely egregious.
  • I intermittently will be talking on the phone using the Google USB-C Headset and the person on the other end will say they can’t hear me very well. The headset is plugged in the way it always is and the mic is sitting in the same position it always sits in.
  • Once, my Google USB-C Headset was not recognized by my phone. I plugged it in and nothing. Sound still came out of the speakers. I rebooted the phone and that didn’t resolve it but a few hours later everything started working again.

I had none of these problems in the 2.5 years I owned a Pixel 1 so I’m fairly confident there’s anything going on with my carrier. My experience with the Pixel 3 so far easily makes it the WORST smartphone I’ve ever owned and I don’t plan on ever buying another Google phone. The Google Support folks are kind and try to be helpful, but from where I stand Google is only focused on swapping bad phones out for new phones and hoping that resolve issues instead of actually digging into the problems and fixing them. I love the ecosystem (Google Photos is amazing) but I strongly, strongly recommend against buying a Pixel 3.

Why not just return the phone and get something else? I’ve asked Google several times if I can return this phone for a refund given all the problems I’ve had but I am always told I am outside the acceptable window for returns.

Vicious and Vengeful - Villains

The next book in my reading journey once again comes courtesy of the Goodreads Choice Awards of 2018. Vengeful by V.E. Schwab won in the Science Fiction category and given it was a sequel to Vicious I read both of them.

I enjoyed reading both books. The anti-hero superhero theme gave both books a very fresh starting point. Here there are no heroes or singular villain but rather people - some ExtraOrdinary - doing what they feel is right and others taking serious issue with their interpretation. While Vengeful picks up where Vicious left off and generally wraps up the story, I found the opening act - Vicious - to be a more enjoyable read. Vengeful introduced a lot more characters and story arcs to follow that made it a bit more difficult to track.

Vicious hooked me but there were times where I didn’t feel bad putting Vengeful down. If you’re into superhero stuff but want to spice things up a bit you should check out these two books. If Vicious hooks you, definitely pick up Vengeful.

Remembrance of Earth's Past

On February 2nd - my birthday - my friend John ignored my wishlist of books and instead gifted me the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy by the acclaimed Chinese science-fiction author Cixin Liu.

On February 7th, I started reading the first entry in the trilogy: The Three Body-Problem.

On February 9th, I dove into the second entry: The Dark Forest.

On February 14th, I started leading the conclusion to the trilogy: Death’s End.

On February 18th, I was done reading the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.

This reading velocity is definitely on the more extreme end for me but when you stumble upon really good literature you can’t help but be pulled in and obsessively spend time reading. This series is a fantastic read from start to finish and I can easily recommend it. Liu is an expert universe builder (world building doesn’t capture the magnitude correctly) that keeps readers hooked and keeps pages turning.

The last time I remember being this enthralled with a series was back in 2017 with N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy.

For ignoring my wishlist, many, many, many thanks John!

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World

When speaking to a Twitch colleague a few weeks ago he shared his Goodreads account so I dug my account up and started logging my reading activity there. I stumbled upon the Goodreads Choice Awards and leveraged those for guidance on what book I should read next.

Further diversifying my reading roadmap in 2019, I decided to expand the pool of books beyond leadership and fiction. Dinosaurs are super cool and I haven’t read a non-fiction book in a while so The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World, which won Goodreads Choice Awards of 2018 in the Science and Technology category, was an easy pick.

The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs walks us through the time before dinosaurs, the rise of dinosaurs to dominance, and the eventual downfall of the dinosaur empire. Spoiler alert: the Earth goes through very cruel phases where it becomes a very, very, very inhospitable place to live. These periods are like hitting the reset button: clearing out old-timers and providing space for new species to emerge and dominate.

A new species of dinosaur is currently being found, on average, once a week. Let that sink in: a new dinosaur every… single… week.

Steve Brusatte, a young but already very accomplished paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, walks us through the dinosaur journey. He provides both insight into the tools used presently, and in the past, to piece together the story of dinosaurs. Brusatte is passionate and it comes through repeatedly and clearly even in his writing. He loves dinosaurs and wants to infect everyone with dinosaur passion! He goes over some amazing factoids like how fast a T-Rex had to grow during its teenage years, how much destruction occurred in between the geological eras, and how dinosaurs are still with us today. If you’re into dinosaurs and want some real deal information, you can’t go wrong with this book.

During its teenage years, from about ages ten to twenty, Rex put on about 1,700 pounds (760 kilograms) per year. That’s close to 5 pounds per day!

That said, I feel this book could have been enhanced with more photos. There are many concepts covered in the book that could’ve been aided greatly with visual aids: how Pangaea split apart over each era covered, cladistic analysis, the basin geographical feature, and the size of T-rex to its ancestors to name a few. Brusatte went into so much detail to describe what could’ve been better described by a helpful visual aid. Even color would be cool to see in the book. While Power Rangers has taught us the T-Rex is red, the triceratops is blue, and so on, Brusatte covers how we can actually determine the color dinosaurs by analyzing melanosomes in fossils! It’d be awesome to see these facts come through explicitly in images.

The dinosaur empire may be over, but the dinosaurs remain.

If you’re into dinosaurs you’ll love The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs. But for someone who doesn’t know all the dinosaurs, all the dinosaur sizes, all the geological terms, I hope to see an enhanced edition of this book that makes it easier to put all the amazingness of dinosaurs into a more digestible and understandable visual format. Color would be nice too! 😀

The Sympathizer

At the New Years party for the SF Kendo Dojo I was talking to my senpai Koji about the reading I had done over the holidays. I recommended he check out the one leisure book I read: A Tale for the Time Being. Like a good senpai, Koji had a recommendation for me. He told me to check out The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I always trust my senpai, but I did some quick research before buying the book and found very compelling evidence that this novel was indeed worthy of reading given it won a slew of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016.

The Sympathizer begins at the close of the Vietnam War. The protagonist is a captain in the US-backed South Vietnam army that has just been routed by the communists of North Vietnam. More importantly, he’s also a double agent and actually allied with the communists who just won the war. As the South Vietnamese flee to the US, our protagonist is tasked with keeping tabs on all the refugees and reporting back to the communists.

Some might say I seeing things, but the true optical illusion was in seeing others and oneself as undivided and whole, as if being in focus was more real than being out of focus. We thought our reflection in the mirror was who we truly were, when how we saw ourselves and how others saw us was often not the same. Likewise, we often deceived ourselves when we thought we saw ourselves most clearly. And how did I know that I was not deluding myself as I heard my friend speak? I do not.

The Sympathizer is a lot of things. It’s a story about the refugee experience of the Vietnamese in America following the fall of Saigon. Sometimes it’s oozing with James Bond vibes. Then it takes a turn and explores the power of Hollywood to both distort and exploit. Other times it reads like a soft-core erotic novel where the protagonist expounds on the power of cleavage. These more lighthearted passages juxtaposed with passages on the various incredibly cruel torture methods leveraged by both sides in the conflict exposes readers to a gamut of emotions.

I pitied the French for their naïveté in believing they had to visit a country in order to exploit it. Hollywood was much more efficient, imagining the countries it wanted to exploit.

Throughout this all, we see a protagonist torn by a world that seeks to neatly label everyone in extremes: us versus them, Democracy versus Communism, American versus not American, Vietnamese versus not-quite-Vietnamese. In this world there is no comfortable place for someone like the protagonist, a sympathizer, who is able to see things from all sides.

I might have been just half an Asian, but in American it was all or nothing when it came to race. You were either white or you weren’t.

Above all, the Sympathizer is also one more thing: a book you should definitely consider reading! Also, if you’re in the Bay Area and interested in hearing Viet Nguyen speak, he’ll be visiting SF State on February 19th!