Chasing the Type 9

The MBTA is in the process of adding 24 new streetcars, called the Type 9, * for the Green Line for the extension to Somerville. The first one, #3900 went into revenue service in December, and I’ve been wanting to ride one since.

A gentleman by the name Stefan Wuensch has created a site showing real time location data of each train on the system, and I’ve been monitoring it to see if I could see #3900 running. Yesterday, it was running on the B line with #3902, and I decided to head into town.

I got to Riverside, and checked the site again. #3900 was inbound from BC, and I was curious to see whether we would get to Kenmore before or after it. The B line is shorter, but also slower. As we approached Fenway on the D Line, I could see it approaching Blandford Street on the B. As the lines merged at Kenmore, it was one train ahead of us.

I saw that the Type 9 train was terminating at Park Street. I decided I wanted to see if I could take it back outbound. Decisions, decisions. Do I take my train all the way to Park Street, and hope it takes some time to turn the Type 9 around, allowing my train to catch up, and allowing me to board an empty train? Or do I get off at Boylston? That way, even if the train is turned around fast, I’m still going to be ahead of it. It also means I will have to pay to re-enter on the outbound side, and possibly getting onto an already crowded train. I decided to get off at Boylston, walked fast past the old PCC and Type 5 parked on the outside inbound track, up to the Common and back down to the outbound platform.

First up was a Type 8/7 combo bound for the B Line and Boston College. “Great,” I thought. “The Type 9 will be less crowded. The train loaded, and left, and I saw the the next train approach. It was the Type 9, and it was now signed for the C Line. “Great,” I thought. “It’ll be easier to get back to the Riverside line”. As the trolley pulled into the station, I grabbed my phone, and took its picture.

MBTA Type 9 #3902
MBTA Type 9 #3902

And then it continued on, without stopping. Curses, foiled again.

* The MBTA uses the same “Type” nomenclature to designate models of Boston streetcars that its predecessor, the Boston Elevated Railway, did. Types 1 – 5 were Boston Elevated models, dating from the early 1900s up to the early 1950s, before going to an industry standard streetcar, the PCC streetcar in the 1940s. When it came time to replace the the PCCs, they prototyped a Type 6 car before going with the US Standard Light Rail Vehicle, manufactured by Boeing. When the Boeing LRV failed to live up to expectations, the T went with a custom design, the Type 7, which is still in service, along with the Type 8 cars, which are a “low floor” car designed for wheelchair accessibility.

Ex Post Facto

One of the earliest constitutional protections we have–even before the Bill of Rights — is that neither the federal nor the states can pass ex post facto laws, which are laws that retroactively criminalize an act which was permitted before, or retroactively make the punishment worse than it was before, or changes the rules of evidence in such a way that makes it easier to get a conviction.

This means that if I do something that is not against the law today, and a law is passed forbidding it next week, I cannot be prosecuted for it, because the law criminalizing it was passed after the act. The term is derived from Latin meaning “out of the aftermath”.

The concept is only binding in terms of criminal law, but it seems to me that nowadays people are much more likely to condemn actions or statements or people from previous eras for things that are considered impermissible today.

For example, there was a move to rename Faneuil Hall in Boston, because its donor, Peter Faneuil, was a slave trader. Is slavery good? No. Was slavery back then morally right? No. Was it legal? Yes. Was it considered socially acceptable? At least in some circles, albeit not in others. I see no need to rename the building.

Lincoln held views on blacks that we would consider racist, but were in tune with his times. That does not diminish his accomplishments.

MeTV is running the first season of M*A*S*H right now. Watching them now, it’s amazing what a pair of harassers Hawkeye and Trapper were. It was considered funny back in 1972.

Any time the #MeToo movement comes up, my mother always retells the story of an executive at the First National Bank who would make passes at her while she was working there in the mid-fifties. I don’t get the feeling she was offended or felt threatened by him; she didn’t take him seriously. It was part of the culture then, though totally unacceptable now.

I think we have evaluate people or things in terms of their times, not in terms of how things are today. History is history, warts and all, and we should not be in a hurry to expunge it or remove the warts.

To be clear, I am not saying we should tolerate current offensive behavior. I don’t think it’s acceptable to treat women as objects, or to be racist. The First Amendment says that the government cannot throw you in jail for something you say or write. Period. It doesn’t mean that people or private entities have to tolerate statements they find offensive, or publish everything anyone cares to post. It doesn’t mean one can’t ostracize others they find abhorrent. It doesn’t mean I have to listen to your diatribes, and in fact, I probably won’t. (Certain relatives should take that as a hint.)

In terms of evaluating people, I think it’s more useful to consider their current behavior or opinions than to judge them on something they did long ago. Someone who is a sexual harasser today? They need to know they need to stop, and they need to stop now, and if they do not stop, they need to know they will be stopped, or be removed. Someone who did something stupid thirty years ago? I want to know if they’ve learned better. I’m a lot more tolerant of someone saying something racist in the 1860s than I am of someone spewing it now, in the 2000s. I also think it’s wise to recognize the possibility that people can grow, and change, and learn from their mistakes.

Photography Weekend

I really dislike football, and I really dislike the hype around the Super Bowl, and I dislike it more when the Patriots are involved, because the news stations around here don’t know when they’ve done a story to death. (WCVB, I’m looking at you). To get away from the nonsense, I have my own personal tradition of heading for the Cape to take pictures.

Frozen Charles

This weekend, I took it a bit further. I hadn’t been out in a while, so I drove into Boston on Saturday for a walk along the Charles. I’ve become very sedentary lately, and am feeling like a fatted veal calf, so I wanted to get some exercise. I decided to walk from the Cambridge Parkway, across the Old Charles River Dam to the North Point Park, over the footbridge across the tracks, under the Zakim Bridge, past the New Charles River Dam, all the way to where USS Constitution is docked in Charlestown. I took the camera with me, and decided to try to take some shots which would work in black and white.

When I got to Cambridge Parkway, which runs along the Charles near the Science Museum, I discovered the river was frozen. It was cold but comfortable, but we’d had some bitterly cold weather a few days before. It was a lot quieter than normal — no sound of water lapping at the edge of the water. Just an eerie silence, punctuated by an occasional dull thunk as the ice stressed and cracked.

Boats covered and tied up by the Museum of Science
Boats covered and tied up by the Museum of Science

Frozen Cape Cod

The next day, after a late breakfast I headed toward the Cape. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, just that I wanted some scenery. I hoped I’d see some pack ice, but I wasn’t confident that I’d see any. I wasn’t disappointed.

My first stop was Sesuit Harbor. I’ve never been there before, but harbors are often fertile places for photography. The harbor itself didn’t do much for me, but I drove on past it, and found a beach area by the breakwater. Yes there was ice, yes, there were seagulls, yes, the clouds were starting to break, and yes, I took a fair number of pictures.

From there, I headed to familiar ground. First stop was Rock Harbor, where I found the harbor entirely iced in, with pack ice on the Bay beyond. It was fun playing with the angles and composition.

Next stop was Coast Guard Beach, on the ocean side of the beach. The winter beach is much narrower than the summer beach, and winter storms were already eating into the dunes. I went down from the overlook and walked along the beach a ways; at one point I could see a bit of a break in the dunes by the fork in the road.I have a feeling the road doesn’t have too many years left. As I was leaving the beach, I bumped into a guy who was telling me that the Park Service had carbon dated the cedar stumps the ocean had exposed, and found them to be about a thousand years old.

The last stop was First Encounter Beach on the Bay side, for sunset. By the time I got there, the tide had gone out; there were big chunks of sea ice scattered all over the tidal flats. Because First Encounter faces Cape Cod Bay, to the west, you get a sunset over the water, which is unusual on the East Coast. It was strange to see the sun setting much farther to the left of where it does during the summer; of course, this means it’s setting further to the south.

Colds Suck

I’ve been dealing with a cold now since Wednesday. Wednesday wasn’t too bad, mainly a scratchiness at the back of my throat that’s always an omen of bad things to come, and a feeling of deep weariness, enough to cancel out of a planned MeetUp. Thursday was a little worse, and Friday it really began to hit – I had real trouble focusing, my sinuses were not liking me, I had a headache, and it was clear I was running a fever. I managed to get my work done for the day, and went to bed directly after supper.

For some reason, I have weird work dreams when I’m sick and Friday night was no exception. I spent most of yesterday in bed, and today I’m in full drippy mode, too foggy to read, eyes watering so much that all I want to do is close them, but too rested to sleep,

One of the unlovely things I’ve noticed about getting older is that colds seem to take longer to run through their phases. It used to be that a cold would come on in a day or so; this one took three days to get going, and it’s already been two in the massively drippy stage.

Hopefully, tomorrow, the worst of the drippiness will be over, and I’ll be into the gooey stage; it’s still kind of messy, but at least I’ll be feeling better.

I still remember the first bad cold I got; I’d had non-serious colds before, but I got a really bad one in third grade, and I remember being shocked at how bad it felt; this wasn’t fair, it was only a cold!

I know this too, shall pass, and I’m feeling fortunate that the worst of it (I hope!) is happening on the weekend, when I can spend the days in bed. But still, colds suck.

Happy 2019!

Happy New Year!

Today I’m closing out the last day of a Christmas vacation. It frankly hasn’t been a great vacation — I came down with a GI bug just before Christmas Day dinner at my brother’s house. I’d been fine when I left here, but an hour or so after we got there, things went south; I lost my appetite, was unable to eat my sister-in-law’s wonderful roast beef dinner, and when the chills started up, I knew I needed to get home, the sooner the better. I had my mother do the driving, and we nearly made it home before the puking started. Fortunately, I had a pan with me.

That night is a blur of fever and gastric upset. I distinctly remember thinking some code I’d written the week before must have had a bug in it that made me sick; I was dreaming of editing the code to fix the bug. I haven’t been that messily sick since I was a kid.

The rest of the week was only somewhat better. I spent Wednesday and Thursday kind of tippy-toeing around my GI tract — the fever was gone, and so was the imaginary coding, but I still felt nauseous, and I wasn’t eating much. So I spent most of the week playing games on my iPad, catching up on Twitter, and color correcting old photos. I’m finding that Photos does a much better job of color correcting underwater pictures than Aperture or iPhoto did (or else I’m better at it now) and I’ve been able to bring up some pictures quite nicely.

I did try to get out on Friday, to the Museum of Fine Arts to see the Ansel Adams exhibit, but as I drove past, I could see a line out the door, and I knew I was in no condition to stand in the rain waiting to get in.

I was finally feeling better enough to try again on Sunday, and did in fact, spend the afternoon there. It’s always cool to be able to see his actual photographic prints, made by hand, and signed by him. Juxtaposed with his pictures are some pictures of the same subject matter both by earlier photographers, and current artists.

I decided to give First Night another try yesterday. We were expecting rain in the evening, so I went in around 3 to see the ice sculptures, and take in a performance. I got into Copley just in time to get over to Old South Church to see a performance of the King of Instruments — Old South Church’s massive organ.

Old South Church's massive organ pipes
Organ pipes at the back of the church

The organist talked about all the various kinds of instruments it could emulate, and played about six pieces. It was very enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the rest of First Night was a real let down. I remember when there were massive multiple installations at both Copley and on the Common; this year, there were a couple at Copley Square, and then I walked up through the Public Gardens to the Common, and couldn’t even find the installation at first.

I finally found it: unlit, unloved, only about the size of my motorcycle, and with a pile of trash nearby:

Ice sculpture by the Frog Pond
Ice sculpture by the Frog Pond on the Common.

Compare this with this sculpture from ten years ago:

Ice sculpture of surfers, from December 31, 2008
“Pipeline” ice sculpture, from 2008

After finally finding the ice sculpture, I wandered around the Common a little, and got some pictures of the Christmas Tree. To be fair to First Night, the Grand Procession probably would have been cool, but rain was approaching, and it was already cold and raw, and the only other show I would have liked to have seen was another performance at Old South Church. It used to be that First Night had a variety of performances of all kinds at all sorts of venues across the city; now there are only a couple of locations and some open air performances at Copley Square. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I headed home.

Today, the Christmas tree came down, and the living room’s been restored to its normal layout. It feels empty. The overnight rain left this morning, and left behind almost springlike temperatures, so I took the motorcycle out for an hour or so. It was great to be on the bike, and I was not the only motorcyclist out there. Tomorrow is back to work. It’s about time.

Making of a Christmas Card, 2018

Most years, I tend to get rather frantic trying to figure out what I’m going to put on my card  that year. In 2013, I recorded this sequence of steps, and it’s pretty accurate for most years:

  1. OMG, I have no idea what I want to do, and it’s already December 8th (or 9th, or 10th. Sometimes as late as the 13th). Increasingly frantic as time goes by.
  2. Do I really want to do a card this year?  In the middle of this phase, I tend to get a card from someone saying they’re really looking forward to my card this year. Oh crap.
  3. I get an idea, but I’m not sure I can pull it off. Or more precisely, I don’t think I can pull it off, but I’ll give it a go, and if it doesn’t work out, go to Plan B. If I can think of a Plan B.
  4. A false start. Or two. I suck, and the idea is looking less and less promising.
  5. I start to figure out the mechanical details of how to pull it off.
  6. Hey, this is starting to look like something!
  7. Done! I did it! Now the purely mechanical chores of laying out the card, and printing them. Yes, my printer does still hate me.

This year, though was different, because last Christmas Eve, we had a storm the night before, which left everything under a coat of ice. 

Besides the hedges, I also got some pictures of the bows my mother put on the front railing. As soon as I saw this picture, I made a mental note to save it for this year:

Ice covered bow and greens

It turned out the picture required very little in the way of retouching, which was good, because my ancient copy of Photoshop has given up the ghost under the most recent version of macOS.

I’ve been printing my cards on quarter fold card stock for ages. I started using it over a decade ago because I was having difficulty getting cards through my printer, so I wanted to be able to get two small cards per sheet. I bought a new printer a couple of years ago, though, and production has been easier. So I decided to go with half fold stock this time, giving me a larger card.

I never know what to put on the inside of these cards. I generally put a holiday message printed on the inside, and add a handwritten note to each one, (hoping that the recipient can read my writing.) Most years, it’s the same message, just updating the year. But I had more room to fill this year.

The latter part of this year has been pretty crummy — starting in July, nearly every non-work moment for several months was either rainy, or devoted to chores. I haven’t had much chance to take the motorcycle, bike or kayak out, and I only went diving a couple of times this summer. But then, I was looking through my photo library, and realized I really had done some cool things this year – Bonaire in January, England in May, the balloon festival in June, and a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard. So I decided, since I had the extra space in this year’s card, to put some pictures and text of what I’d done on the inside. Since the front was a horizontal picture, I had the additional fun of trying to lay it out in Pages sideways.

Inside cover of 2018 card
Inside cover of 2018 card

As it turned out, the printer was less cooperative this year than last. For some reason, I could not get it to print two sided, meaning I had to print the two sides in steps, and apparently there is spilled ink inside it, as a fair number of cards were spoiled until I rearranged the layout so that if there were any smudges, they would be on the back of the card.

In hindsight, I think the quarter-fold layout works better for home-printed cards, both because it saves on printing time, but also because the smaller card size gives you cards that feel stiffer, even though the stock is the same weight. Nitpicking, I think I lightened up the picture a little bit too much. I may carry forward the idea of inside cover photography though. Here is the final result:

2018 Card cover

Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas in Rockport

I first became acquainted with Rockport, a small town at the tip of Cape Ann, as a diver. I was certified at Old Garden Beach, and spent nearly every Sunday for the first couple years of diving in either Rockport or Gloucester, and gradually became familiar with the area, but I never spent much time in the town center.

Eventually, after a few years, I decided it would be fun to visit the town at Christmastime, and ever since then, I’ve gone back nearly every year. They put a big tree in the center of town, and the are a lot of small crafts-y type shops in the town center.

We paid our annual visit today, this time with my mother, sister, and sister-in-law. Before heading into town, we stopped at Halibut State park, where we took a hike down around an old quarry, and ended up at the overlook over the ocean. We wandered around for a while, then headed into town.

The there was a “Maker’s Fair” today; we had to park about four blocks up, by the train station. We poked into a couple of stores, and I picked up some stocking stuffers at Tuck’s Candy store, then stopped into one of the restaurants for lunch. We probably should have moved on when they told us they couldn’t sit us by the harbor as they had a large party coming in; as it was, the service was slow, and by the time we were done it was getting dark. 

When we got out, I got a couple of pictures of the Christmas tree. The iPhone XS automatically shoots in high dynamic range, which helps even out the exposure for both the lights on the tree and the tree itself. Then we did a quick tour of the shops on Bearskin Neck, and then called it an evening, taking the long way back in order to see the Christmas lights along the way. It was a good day.

Rockport's Christmas Tree
Rockport’s Christmas Tree

The Case of the Dead Drone

I took my drone out for the first time in a while last Saturday. It also turned out to be the last time.

I haven’t had the opportunity to do much shooting with it lately. The weather has been crappy, and the dry days we’ve had have been occupied with yard work. I’ve also been discovering that a lot of the area around here is restricted. Finally, at the end of the day last Saturday, I decided to take it down to the playground and just play with it.

The playground is at the end of a street, and is at the edge of some wetlands, so there are woods all around the non-street sides. Further down the street, there is a sewer road running through the wetlands.

Despite the cold, I had a good time with it, and despite being late in the afternoon of an overcast day, got some decent stuff. I got video circling the playground, then followed the sewer road. I followed the loop of the road around the block, and then crossed over the brook, through the woods, and found myself, rather to my surprise, flying over the ruins of an old barn that burned down in 1982. At that point, I switched over to stills, and got some pictures of it, plus some more stills of the area around the playground.

The end came about stupidly. I was flying at fairly low altitude rather quickly down the street. I’ve found that flying low and fast gives a really good sense of motion. The area above the street was clear; no trees; no wires. At least, there were no wires until it reached the playground, and the wires crossed over the street. I didn’t see them, and flew right in them. The drone caught, hung, then dropped to the ground, shattering its propellers  and spat out its battery.  Happily, it didn’t seem to have done any damage to the wires.

The other day, I carefully charged the battery to see how it was, and it seemed OK, and running the motors, they seemed to be running OK too, so I was cautiously optimistic when I went back to the playground to try it out again with a new set of propellers.

Unfortunately, as soon as I started it up, it was obvious that  it wasn’t going to work. The propellers made a buzzing sound; looking more carefully, I realized one of the arms — its a quadcopter — was bent, and the propeller was rubbing against the body.

At this point, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I really enjoy flying it, and I like taking aerial pictures, but I live in an area where a lot of the air space is restricted. I have to make a call just to fly it within my neighborhood. Eastern Massachusetts has a lot of helipads and small airports, and they all have to be notified when you want to fly nearby.

In addition, I never really got the hang of editing video. I put together a video of Medfield State Hospital that came out well for a first try, I thought, and then I forgot most of what I’d learned about iMovie because I wasn’t immersed in it.

I’ve already had to repair it once this year after it had been attacked by an osprey in Wellfleet Harbor; it ran me over $300, because the insurance I had taken out on it had expired. DJI had given no notification that it was about to run out; had they, I probably would have renewed it, but because of this history, I didn’t take the insurance when they offered it when they sent it back. I’m not sure I want to spend another $300 plus on something that I can’t use very much. On the other hand, it’s really fun, so who knows?

The Damage Trump Does

Shortly after the 2016 election, I wrote “So, Trump.” In it, I expressed the cautious hope that Trump would “pivot away from his more extreme positions, and perform reasonably,” and ended up concluding “it will come down to his willingness to be bound by the rule of law. If he recognizes that, while it won’t be great, we’ll be OK”.

Since then, I’ve been heartsick about what he has done to this country.

The American Constitution has been rightly celebrated for creating a government of checks and balances, and the way it balances the rights of individuals with the needs of the community to have law and order. It is set up to prevent too much power from accumulating in any one institution, and allows one branch of government to check another.

But just as important as the letter of the law in the Constitution, is the culture of respect for the law that has grown up around it. America was incredibly lucky in the Founding Fathers we had; they believed in the rule of law, and were respectful of it. Washington stepped down voluntarily after two terms; when John Adams was defeated, he made as many lame duck appointments as he could, but he also accepted the verdict of the election, and came home to Braintree. And when Jefferson became President, there were no purges of Federalists; the streets did not run with blood.

Over time time, this respect for the law became institutional and cultural. Sure, there have always been fights and arguments and disagreements, but they have been, for the most part, within the rule of law, because we’ve all internalized those values.

Character matters.  It matters especially with public servants. We expect them to have internalized the values our legal system was designed to promote. It is very hard to write rules to cover every contingency; oftentimes, it’s not hard to find a way to follow the letter of the law while flouting its spirit. Character matters with public servants because we have to be able to trust them to do what’s right, to respect our principles, and to put our interests ahead of their own, and we have to be able to trust them to do it, because it’s right, not because they’re afraid of getting caught.

About 10 – 15 years ago, a large company wanted to put a large complex in our neighborhood. The neighborhood organized, and it ended up in front of the local Zoning Board. I was so impressed by the Board. They were fair to both sides, they listened, they asked intelligent questions. It was clear that they were after what was best for the Town. They were what I expect from every public servant.

Trump is morally bankrupt. It’s rich that he and his mouthpieces bray about “Fake News” when he has no respect for the truth. I don’t think he would know what the truth is if it came up and bit him. He even lies stupidly, about silly things that don’t matter and are easily checked. He can’t help himself. He has – needlessly – squandered the trust in the office that the office requires.

He doesn’t think, he just reacts. He is constantly undermining subordinates, and tossing bombs foolishly on Twitter. He constantly needs to have his ego stroked.

He has made it very clearly that he regards racism and misogyny to be acceptable behavior, which has emboldened the racists and misogynists to come scuttling out of the woodwork.

Even before the 2016 election, it was clear that, at the very best, he had little respect for women, and at worse, was an abuser.

He has filled the government with the corrupt or the incompetent, or the corrupt and incompetent in the case of the EPA head.

Frankly, I believe he has sold us out to the Russians for the sake of his own business interests, and is following Putin’s instructions that will (and I don’t know if he is bright enough to realize it) wind up damaging our government, our nation, and our allies. I don’t know it, but I believe it.  I am hoping the FBI can either prove or disprove it.

But whether he is Putin’s Little Puppet or not, the damage he has done to our political culture is incalculable. He is dissipating the culture of respect for the law that has kept this nation going since its founding, and that’s the damage I worry about the most. He is constantly demonstrating that you can get away with flouting our values, that you can get away with disregarding inconvenient laws. You can get away with demonizing the free press, despite the fact that a free press is one of our core values. We cannot afford this erosion of respect for the law, because when the law is not respected, it cannot protect us any longer.

So far, he has kept — or been kept — within at least the letter of the law (mostly), but he has brought us a lot closer to the point where we are vulnerable to the kind of government takeovers we used to think could only happen in undeveloped countries. It doesn’t take much. Just a leader who feels above the law, and a force that will follow. It’s clear that Trump leans toward totalitarianism; whether he feels he could follow through, I don’t know, but whether he knows it or not, he is paving the way for some even more unscrupulous person.

I started this essay a few months ago; I set it aside because I couldn’t express what I was feeling. The mid term elections give me a little hope; it’s clear that respect for the law and our values is alive within many citizens, and they have made their disapproval known.

iPhone Ten Ess

I picked up the new iPhone XS a couple of weeks ago, the day it first became available.  I was replacing the iPhone 6s that replaced my iPhone 5s that shattered when some thoughtless fool knocked it out of my hands at the train station. I’ve had the 6s for about two and a half years; it still works, but the battery runs down quickly, and having skipped a couple of years of iPhones, I’d already decided that this would be my upgrade year, even before this year’s models were announced.

I took a lunch break the day the phone was released, and went over to the Apple store in Dedham. There was a very very short line — it didn’t run out the store — and they had the model I wanted: 256 GB, gold. It took them a few minutes to fetch it out of the back, then it was brought out, and I moved my SIM card over from the 6s to the XS; no fuss, no muss. I’ve kept the 6s, by the way, as I’ve been doing some responsive stuff for work, and it gives me another device to test on. Once I got it home, I plugged it into my Mac and restored it from the backup I’d made of the 6s that morning. A short time later, I was all set.

How it feels

Unlike the 6 and 5S, the XS has a glass back. It feels really nice in the hand, and the glass back is grippier than metal back on the 6s. I like it, at least until/unless I drop it.

The case is only a little bit bigger than the 6s case, so I don’t notice much difference in my pocket. The screen is much bigger, but I tend to use my phone two handed, so reaching the top of the screen hasn’t been too much of a problem.

How it looks

The XS is a revision of the form factor introduced with the iPhone X — it has no home button, and the empty area at the top has been reduced to a small notch at the top of the screen. Although the case is only slightly bigger than the old phone, the screen is a lot bigger — taller, especially. It is really nice for reading, both webpages and books. The text is sharp, and the screen is contrasty, thanks to the blacker blacks offered by an OLED display.

How it works

Because it has no home button, the way you use the phone is different from my old phone. Instead of touching the home button to recognize a fingerprint, and unlock the phone, the iPhone XS has Face ID – it can recognize your face by projecting an infra-red dot pattern on your face, and cameras to interpret the pattern, match it to your stored face pattern, and unlock the phone. 

It’s simple enough to set up; you go to Settings and Face Id, where the phone shows a picture of your face inside a circle of index marks. You move your head around until all the index marks turn green. 

So far, it’s worked well. It recognizes my face — even with my Oakleys on, and no one else’s. Operationally, Face Id will work anywhere where Touch Id was used before.

Because it has no home button, to get back to the home screen, you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen. This has been mostly OK, though there are times I’m finding myself pressing on the home button that isn’t there to get back.

Battery life has been much much better than the 6s, but then, the 6s is nearly 3 years old. I was having real trouble getting the 6s to last through the day, and it nearly led to some problems while I was London, and heavily dependent on the phone for finding my way around. I spend most of my time at home, on wifi, and I’ve been able to get two days out a charge if I forget to charge it overnight. The phone does offer wireless charging, and I’ve been thinking of picking up a wireless charger for my desk.

The phone is much faster than the 6s, and in fact, doing work development, I’m noticing it actually loads web pages faster than my work Mac. 

I haven’t used the camera too much yet; what I’ve seen so far, I’ve liked. I have seen some complaints online that the XS over-smooths photos. The choice to shoot HDR (high dynamic range) or not is no longer a choice. When you take a picture, the camera automatically shoots a burst of photos and combines them to create a HDR image on the fly — the processor is that powerful. Take a look at this sunset picture I shot near the end of my bike ride today:

Sunset along the Charles

Not only is the sky not blown out, but there is detail in the foreground. 

One of the benefits of this computational photography is Portrait mode. In Portrait mode, the phone makes a depth map of the picture, and then applies lighting effects to the foreground and blurring effects to the background to simulate the effect of using a longer lens and a wider aperture on an SLR. On the XS, the artificial depth of field enhancement can be applied after the fact.

I was showing off the camera to my friends the week after I got it, and snapped a picture of Rich, because he was unlucky enough to be be sitting across from me, and then played with the picture, adjusting the “depth of field” until the lights behind him were slightly blurred. It was easy to go from no effect to too much; we decided to go with something in the middle.

One interesting thing I’ve noticed a couple of times now is Hand Off for phone calls — I moved the SIM card from the 6s to the XS, so the 6s is now wifi only, but because both phones are generally on the same wifi network, and the 6s is still active, both phones will often ring when I get a call. 

Overall, I’m pleased with the new phone. In a lot of ways, it’s the same, especially since I started with a backup of the 6s. I have the same apps and music and books and the icons are mostly in the same place — the home page layout is mostly the same, the icons are just a little bit bigger and more spread out. I love the speed and battery life, and the having the extra screen space without a lot of extra bulk is really nice.