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Tidying Up Digitally

Originally published as Tidying Up Digitally at www.mcneill.io.

Marie Kondo is an expert on tidying a house. Her Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and two books (both of which are worth reading, best in chronological order) are best-sellers: - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) - Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) She suggests that her principles can apply to organizations and work life as well. However in both respects the digital aspect is not tackled at all. Even the humble inbox is not discussed, though of course Inbox Zero is an obvious fit to her approach toward paper-based information (which is essentially, to have none of it, or only the bare minimum of contracts and warranties). While other industries have looked to a bit of click-bait around Marie Kondo, such as the Financial Times woefully inadequate How to Marie Kondo your investment portfolio, the idea of using intuitive judgment is certainly something that can apply to other aspects of our lives. Because financial investing is something only experts in financial investing have intuitive expertise in, this application does not work out very well. Gary Klein's Sources of Power is still the best account of how intuition works for experts in time-limited, high-risk situations. For Klein, the subject of research was experts with 15 or more years of experience in high risk decision-making. For everyone who has lived through adolesence, intuition regarding ones household possessions have crossed into that line where there is functioning intuition which can be drawn upon.

Digital Tidying

Applying tidying principles of the Kon-Marie method makes perfect sense in terms of the digital landscape: - Applications and Apps - Email, Documents, and Media (Ebooks, Audio, Video)

Two-Stage Tidying

The two stages of tidying are: - Discarding - Organizing

Digital Discarding

Discarding fairly straightforward: does this application, data, or media provide any spark of joy. One can't hold it in one's hand, but one can nevertheless reach a conclusion. In the case of mobile apps and desktop applications it is fairly straightforward. In some cases, necessity may posit the need to keep something around that is less-than-joyful but also might as well inspire a search for a more joyful replacement.

Digital Organizing

The basics of organizing are putting related things (category, size) in one location. Since digital things are not generally put away, it is the original location that is key (and finding things later). Since files are sometimes best kept by file time (that is, so that programs editing those files can go to a single location, for a certain class of file). Example: Which of the following is preferred: - /brands/brand-x/images/... - /brands/images/brand-x/... In some cases where a given file may deal with more than one brand, then clearly the second is more effective, but in the case of a larger set of files for a specific brand, then the first is definitely a better organization. Obviously both are possible, but it is important not to get too imprecise and flexible, as that generally yields only confusion and file disorganization.

Digital Space

Even given very large storage space, data and applications can clutter a device. Marie Kondo suggests that not the place of use but the place of return is most important (that is, give things a home that it is easy to return it to, rather than trying to optimize for where it is easy to pick up). As mentioned above, storing things in easy-to-remember locations will be key, as putting things back into those locations (a digital file structure) will be very important. Visual clutter is still present when viewing directory trees, and is a significant failing in terms of Linux distributions and their file structures in terms of where applications and related data lives in logical drives.

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Generic Roadmap

This is meant to be a reminder of important issues/decisions that already have some thought put in them (usually by others). - Automatic categorization of text is a core tool now - Instead of offering advice, rank priorities - Build a website first (before an app), some forgotten article but the point is: faster, and desktop users expect applications to work (and to pay for them). Plus if done correctly, this can work on all platforms (and then build the app for the appstore). Stick with what we know in the marketing channels we know. Expand products, and channels for those products.

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Artistic Creation Endeavors

Back in the early stages of adulthood, I had at times contact with, interest in, and time spent doing art. This was mainly poetry, short fiction, and painting. Giving it up because of a statement of Baudelaire, and psychic exhaustion, was not the best idea, but it is where I have been with this. It is time to begin to turn the ship of state that is my vocation and avocations back toward that blessed horizon.

Some Blender Resources

Jama Jurabaev

The Next Leap: How A.I. will change the 3D industry

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Xiaomi Mi Pad 4

Google Play Store on Xiaomi Mi Pad 4

While the Xiaomi Mi Pad 4 ships with Google Play installed, if one does a factory reset, then the resulting MIUI 9.x does not bundle with Google Play Store or the GBoard keyboard. There are several steps needed to get it set up, including: - Find, download, install Google Play Store + Google Play Services - Install and enable the Google Gboard, and Gboard Keyboards

Evie Launcher and Launcher Configuration

I find the Evie Launcher to be a good, modern, and clean interface. Basically it prevents one from getting lost or accidentally creating new screens, which is a fundamental flaw on both Android and iOS default launchers.

Firefox Browser

The Firefox Browser is the go-to browser for all devices. Also, search is using Duck Duck Go.

Things to Turn Off, and On

  • Quick Ball = off
  • Battery Percentage Display = on
  • Enable buttons, turn off full-screen gestures

Other Apps

  • Foscam Viewer
  • Telegram
  • Google Contacts
  • Duo
  • Gmail

MIUI 9 vs. MIUI 10

MIUI 9 focused on speed, removing many components that were generally not used by consumers. MIUI 10 will have much more so-called intelligence, which will likely slow it down to a crawl (unless the AI is turned off, in which case MIUI 10 might be as fast as MIUI 9. For now, I'm holding off on MIUI 10 for most devices (except for the Xiaomi Redmi 6A which does have it come as an OTA update).

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Kindle Paperwhite 4th Gen

I've used a Kindle since the Kindle Keyboard (3rd gen), and since then purchased and used the DX for a while (the much larger model). On 06 September 2012 the Kindle Paperwhite was released and I registered mine on 10 September. I broke that model within six months by wedging it in a bag that had too many objects in it, but Amazon sent out a replacement free-of-charge (which included free shipping, and I live outside the United States). Well folks, the first generation Paperwhite has served me well, and I did not feel a need for an upgrade, at the prices that were available for fancy versions like the Voyage and Oasis, or non-Kindle devices such as what Kobo offers. However, at this point, on the eve of the release of the fourth generation of the paperwhite, that has changed, and I intend to upgrade.

Specifications of First and Fourth Generation Paperwhite

Generation Dimensions Weight Lighting Screen Storage Bluetooth Audible Waterproof
First Gen 117 x 169 x 9.1 mm 213 grams 4 led 212 ppi 2gb no no
Fourth Gen 116 x 167 x 8.2 mm 182 grams 5 led 300 ppi 8/32gb yes IPX8

Reasons to Upgrade

At 12% smaller (mainly due to thinness) and 15% lighter, less is more, and this is a significant motivator to upgrade. Storage is not an issue for me, and 8gb will be fine. The increased quality of the lighting 5 vs. 4 led) and screen resolution (300ppi vs. 212ppi) are nice, but not essential. Bluetooth audible is ok. I don't use audible now but might later. I certainly would not upgrade for that feature. The waterproof quality, combined with dimensions/weight and screen, is what puts this over the edge in terms of a desire to upgrade.

Open Source, Open Content

While I do use a Kindle, most of my content I have in PDF and Epub formats. PDF is not very readable on the Kindle and I rarely do it. However, Epubs are easy to convert using Calibre, an open source, cross platform library and ebook management tool. The DeDRM toolkit is very useful for stripping out the nasty DRM that comes with Kindle ebooks. I prefer unlocked files as my main library repository. Also, many ebooks are available at a variety of locations including Library Genesis, a resource of unparalleled breadth and depth. I prefer to use the Kindle device due to its quality hardware, and ease of access of their ebook offerings (I do regularly purchase content from Amazon). The DRM they use I simply work-around/ignore. In the past I've rooted both the Kindle Keyboard (3rd Gen), Kindle DX, and Kindle Paperwhite, though my current version is using stock Kindle software on the device. I'm not irrevocably mated to Kindle and Amazon, but it is my current preferred platform.

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Octavo Touch-Type Form Factor

In this post I outline what I would consider a compelling form factor, one which existed for a while, but which may be is returning for certain niche uses.

Usability and Useful Form Factors

While the term notebook has been taken over to mean a laptop computer that is much larger on average than a standard physical lined-paper notebook, that in my experience is best sized as Duodecimo or 12mo. With a size of 4.75-5" x 7.25-7.5". I consider this one of the handiest form factors for books. However, dealing with a computing device with a touch-typable keyboard (less than 100% in size, but still able to achieve 80-wpm typing with less than 5% error rates (above standard practice), one needs a different size: Octavo. Technically this could be 7"-10" in length and 4.5"-6" in width.

Handheld PCs - Mobilepro - Jornada - Viao P

The various form factors of H/PCs from the late 1990s through the 2000s ranged from the diminuative HP Jornada to the quite similar NEC Mobilepro and Sony Viao P: - 7.4"-9.7" length - 3.7"-5.2" width - 0.8"-1.3" thickness - 6.5"-8.1" screen diagonal - 510g-770g weight The 9.6" x 4.7" x 0.8" (24 x 12 x 2 cm) and 500g (or lighter) is possibly the best form factor, with 88% standard keyboard it supports full touch-typing. The NEC Mobilepro has 79% sized keyboard, which is certainly adequate for small to medium-sized fingers of an adult male. For the purposes of touch-typing, the Jornada is likely too small for a majority of touch typists. However, it is likely possible to do a clever keyboard layout that still supports touch-typing, and get the length somewhere around 8.5", shaving off an inch or so, while keeping the same screen dimensions (if desired).

Screen Sizing and Usability

The screen of the Viao P is 1,600 x 768 in 7.99" which is ~222 ppi. Even when having a slightly smaller form factor, it should be possible to get close to a 9" screen, which would go a long way to making for a much more usable device. The Viao P is a nearly 2:1 aspect ratio. In landscape mode, this maked for cramped reading. However, in portrait mode, this is much more usable in terms of reading for documents and websites. The question is, at what size does reading standard websites become possible? The 768 pixel height is too small for most websites, which do not appear able to handle such widths, and devices with this are trapped in a no-man's land of almost, but not quite, mobile. Resizing web pages can reduce general legibility.

What is Not Needed in an Octavo Device

Generally there are several misgivings regarding an Octavo-class device, as we are calling this design thought experiment. These are things that such a device does poorly, at best, including: - Webcam (actually, this might be very useful, esp. to replace the handheld) - Speakers (moderately adequate are good enough) - Trackpad / Pointing devices (touchscreen covers it) For the first four items, simply dispense with them. There is no need for a webcam, speakers, a trackpad, pointing devices, and the like.

Ports Aplenty

Include the following: - Headphone Jack - MicroSD Card Slot - 2 x USB C for power, HDMI out, etc. Bluetooth and WIFI as necessary evils, but support decent USB C dongles that can include HDMI, additional USB, RJ45, for docking purposes.

ChromeOS to the Rescue - Or Not

The one major issue regarding such small devices are the poorly designed and bloated operating systems that go on these. Focus on the streamlined, secure, and regularly updated ChromeOS, including support for Android and Linux apps. This seems way more appropriate than a version of Windows, which is unfortunately the standard. ChromeOS can deal with Battery Life much better than other general purpose operating systems. In addition, Debian is a better option if the distribution supports the various hardware components/drivers. That said, Windows 10 is the go-to OS for full-featured laptops and netbooks. Debian is generally possible on most standard platforms.

Flip/Convertable Chromebook

Having a flip/hinge mechanism and of course touchscreen support means that the 9" screen is a small tablet form factor as well as a touch-type keyboard device.

E-ink & Ebook Reading

A final improvement on the back of this device would be an E-ink display, and especially the ability to read ebooks.

Convergence and Device Unity

Currently, I bring my 200g Kindle Paperwhite to read. It isn't too far to be able to integrate what is effectively a Kindle, a Tablet, and a Keyboard.

Tablets Advantages and Disadvantages

To be honest, many tablets are very close to what is desired (not including e-ink) as bluetooth keyboards can be added to things like the Huawai Mediapad M5 (which is an 8" screen in 300g), or the cheaper, heavier Lenovo Tab 4. The Huawai comes in at 8.4"x4.9"x0.3" and has a 2560 x 1600 screen. A great form factor and with accessories such as bluetooth keyboards and cases, this is already mostly a viable computing platform.

PDA, Palmtop, UMPC - 2018

While this was originally published in August, 2018 it turns out that there are three brands producing models that more-or-less meet/match these specifications and needs. These are more recently being referred to as PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), Palmtops, and/or UMPC (Ultra-Mobile Personal Computers). Whatever the computer niche, they are a welcome return of this form factor. These are: Planet Gemini, GPD Pocket, and One Mix Yoga, and most recently the Topjoy Falcon.

Planet Gemini

First or rather most recently there is the Planet Gemini -- the name refers to twin OS support: Android and Linux (which is to say, Linux and Linux) -- which is specifically attempting to recreate the Psion (and indeed has a designer who was involved in it). This is the smaller of the three, with only a 6" screen, and weighting 320 grams. Also, it is the only one which is in its first generation / initial release.

GPD Pocket, GPD Pocket 2

The GPD Pocket 2 is on presale as of October, 2018.

One Mix Yoga, One Mix 2 Yoga

By the company One Computer is a smashup of model names one, mix (at least not miix) and yoga. Still, this is the larger of the three brands, weighing in at 515 grams. It is an upgraded processor at 1ghz core-m Kaby Lake, with 256gb PCIe. A solid offering.

Topjoy Falcon

Topjoy Falcon is the most recent netbook launched on Kickstarter in October, 2018.

Overview of Current PDA/UMPC/Palmtops

Model | Weight | Screen | Dimensions | Processor | Ram | Storage | Camera | 4g | 2-in-1 | SD-Card | Price -------------- | ------ | ------------------ | ---------------- | ------------------ | --- | ----------- | ------ | --- | ------ | ------- | ----- Planet Gemini | 320g | 6" 2160x1080 18:9 | 17 x 8 x 1.5 cm | MediaTek 6797T | 4gb | 64gb eMMC | Front | yes | no | yes | $599* GPD Pocket 2 | 467g | 7" 1920x1200 16:10 | 18 x 11 x 1.5 cm | intel Core M-5Y10 | 8gb | 128gb eMMC | none | no | no | no | $699* One Mix 2 Yoga | 515g | 7" 1920x1200 16:10 | 18 x 11 x 1.7 cm | intel Core M3-7Y30 | 8gb | 256gb PCIe | none | no | yes | yes | $649** Topjoy Falcon } 650g | 8" 1920x1200 16:10 | 20 x 13 x 2.0 cm | intel Silver N5000 | 8gb | 128/256 SSD | none | no | yes | no | $499* *Prices are current/sale prices at Geekbuying or Direct/Kickstarter/Indiegogo **Note also the One Mix Yoga at $449

Other Form Factors

While Octavo is first and foremost a smallest functional full keyboard, there are other options that are interesting (and moreso than a wrist watch), such as Runcible.

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LMDE3 Cinnamon Modifications

Here are some ways of getting things tweaked. Your mileage may vary.

Mint-Y-Dark

This theme has some hardcoded colors in PNG files. Grayscale them with ImageMagick, as follows:

for file in /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/*.png; do convert "$file" -colorspace Gray "$file"; done
for file in /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-3.0/assets/*.png; do convert "$file" -colorspace Gray "$file"; done

Edit the /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/gtkrc file for color. Replace #8fa876 with #993333 for a nice red to go with Mint-X-Red Icons. I prefer scrollbars with 15px width. Edit the /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-3.0/gtk.css file for color and scrollbar width. Replace #8fa876 with #993333 for a nice red to go with Mint-X-Red Icons. I prefer scrollbars with 15px width. Double the size of the following .png files in /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/ - slider-vert.png - slider-vert-active.png - slider-vert-insens.png - slider-vert-prelight.png - trough-vertical-active.png - trough-vertical.png

convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert.png
convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-active.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-active.png
convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-insens.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-insens.png
convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-prelight.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/slider-vert-prelight.png
convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/trough-vertical-active.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/trough-vertical-active.png
convert /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/trough-vertical.png -resize 200% /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets/trough-vertical.png

Cinnamon Theme

Unfortunately there are also lots of .svg files in /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/cinnamon/ (both in subdirectories of /common-assets/ and /dark-assets/) with colors also hard-coded into them (bizarre, to say the least). These cannot be handled with ImageMagic convert, but rather either need to go through a process of conversion, grascaling, then converting back into .svg format (such as with Autotrace), or some other tool which can directly deal with color inside .svg files. Edit the /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/cinnamon/cinnamon.css file for color and scrollbar width. Replace #8fa876 with #993333 for a nice red to go with Mint-X-Red Icons.

Atom Application Scrollbars

Atom does not inherit these gtk configuration/theme settings and needs its Atom Scrollbars to be Configured Manually.

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Scrollbars in Atom, Firefox, Cinnamon

Scrollbar usability is shoddy and slipping across wide swaths of the web and software in general. Of course I am getting older, which means this is more and more of an annoyance. We know already, and for some time, how to do scrollbar usability and accessibility. Putting aside voice commands, just the bare minimum of finger and mouse pointer usability seems to hard for so many projects, and for so long. - Jakob Nielsen on Scrollbar Usability

Modifying Scrollbars in Atom Editor

Atom Editor requires several CSS overrides to get scrollbars modified.

Modifying / Customizing Scrollbars in Firefox

[Firefox has been without -webkit scrollbar functionality for the last 5 months, no wait, for the last 9 years... no wait, for the last 18 years. The work-arounds for this situation are a PITA. The only way to really deal with this is at the operating system level.

Modifying / Customizing Scrollbars in Linux Mint (and other Gtk windowing environments)

Editing Gtk themes for Linux Mint and other distributions takes a lot of effort of digging around. In many cases the CSS is imported in binary format for Adwaita, the Gtk3 base theme, and override ~/.config/gtk-3.0/gtk.css file doesn't work. While for Mate and Gnome there are tools, there is no tool to edit the scrollbar in Cinnamon. So, besides the gtk-2.0 and gtk-3.0 various files, there are the .svg files for things like the scrollbar, which are hidden in a gtk-2.0 subdirectory, for example: - /usr/share/themes/Mint-Y-Dark/gtk-2.0/assets in .png file format or is that - /usr/share/themes/Mint-X/gtk-2.0/images/scroll in .svg file format It is all a quandry and the Linux Mint folks really need to be a bit better organized, no matter how disorganized their upstream Gtk cousins may be. Suffice it to say there are many different files, and different file syntaxes at work here. Some examples: - Gnome Developer gtkscrollbar - Linux Questions: How to enable scrollbar arrow? - Question about GtkScrollbar Class in Custom Theme - Cinnamon issues - scrollbar configuration in Sys Wrestling with these issues, I've been able to get some things working (e.g., arrows) and others not (e.g., widths), at various times, depending on the base theme that is enabled and edited. That said, I've still been unable to get the Nemo scrollbar to stop disappearing when not hovered/clicked/being scrolled. This is simply pathetic usability and accessibility. Don't hide important navigation elements. If scrolling is not possible (e.g., all content is viewed on a screen, and there is no part to scroll to) then by all means hide/remove the scrollbar. But when I am viewing a directory structure with more rows of files yet to see, hiding the scrollbar removes important information from the display.

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Xiaomi – Brand on the Rise

In my household we have been introducing Xiaomi products for the past six months. Overwhelmingly positive, but not without a hiccup here and there. In general, there is an odd mixture of: quality, design, and value. I say odd because generally those things don't go together. Great price, good looks, and works well. Not perfect, but nothing is. Xiaomi may have much bigger rivals, especially in China, but they have such a strong combination that they are able to compete with, and in some cases beat out such giants as Samsung in markets like India. Robin Li is seen as the next Steve Jobs in many ways, but one way that he is not is on price. The return of Steve Jobs to Apple was a corporate success story of huge proportions, but it certainly didn't focus on anything but the bottom line. Of course in some cases the bottom line (seen with sufficient vision) can produce quality, and even value. Really though the better comparison is an aspect of Amazon (the hardware part). While Amazon had a significant failure in producing a cell phone, their success in the Kindle, tablets and tvs, and now home devices is the real comparison for Xiaomi. Decent design, great price, reliable quality (and great customer service to bolster reliability in the case of failure).

Xiaomi Products Work Together

As with any decent ecosystem, a good product begets more product purchases, and the best products increase their value through network effects. Hence: - Xiaomi Mi Band - 900 THB on Lazada - Xiaomi Mi Box - 4K set top box - 2,700 THB on Lazada - Xiaomi Mi Redmi A4 - 3,000 THB on Ebay - Xiaomi Mi Smart Scale - 1,200 THB on Lazada - Xiaomi Mi Wireless Mouse - 500 THB on Lazada - Xiaomi Mi Earphone Piston - 300 THB on Lazada The Xiaomi Mi Fit app and integration of the Mi Band and the Mi Smart Scale is surprisingly good. The Xiaomi Mi Box Remote app is adequate, but the Mi Box remote itself works great and so the app is not needed. The Wireless Mouse is way better than bluetooth (which is generally a failure of connectivity, except where its narrow skillset is needed, such as with bluetooth speakers and smart health device connection (watch, scale, phone). The Mi Box was a great replacement for essentially all other set top boxes (when residing outside the US), including the continually crappy AppleTV, Google ChromeCast, Amazon Fire Stick, and Vero 4k.

Xiaomi Product Caution

One aspect of Xiaomi-branded products that don't work are those which need to network or communicate with the Xiaomi Home application (which has poor ratings). Though it may be a one-off experience, I could not get a Xiaomi home security camera to work. The Xiaomi Cube is very cheap, but there was no way to get it to connect to any device, and various forums point to the same problem. I'm sure it works inside China with the Chinese servers, but the external Singapore and US servers never worked, and as I'm not inside China, the Chinese servers didn't work either. The children's watch/gps looks like a great product but it is designed to only work inside China on Chinese telecom, and in fact has GMT+8 hardcoded so the timezone cannot be changed.

MIUI and MI Cloud

While the A4 hardware is excellent for the price (camera is a bit of a letdown, but sufficient for daily needs), the launcher environment and MI Cloud backup should be avoided. I've previously spent time on Android, including installing custom ROMs, so I already have a launcher I'm familiar with and suits my needs better than the MIUI interface. The MI Cloud is as exciting and functional and secure as the Apple Cloud, which means avoid and ignore as much as possible. It's definitely not needed for backup and restore when Google already does that. My guess is it is only something needed inside the Great Firewall of China.

Criticism of Design Copying

Xiaomi rightly has been criticized for copying Apple (and others) designs and if it was not located in China, it likely would have been sued into oblivion. However, there are several points to be made: - Young companies can learn from older companies by emulating (copying) them, in order to learn design in that way. This is akin to all the kinds of paintings done by Picasso long before he became a unique painter and stylist in his own right. - Apple has enabled this kind of emulation by outsourcing its production to a company which offers its services to others. What could have acted as a barrier to entry (namely, production capacity and expertise of manufacturing at scale) is something that has largely been given over to the manufacturing companies. - The lack of design protections for a non-Chinese company in China is a cost of doing business in China, wiht Chinese manufacturing. The profits reaped (due to the massive greed and focus on profits by Apple) have a downside which was known and forseen. Finally, the pricing essentially at a BOM by Xiaomi, and the learning of design and manufacturing, combined with dramatic control over inventory (they keep less inventory than any other phone device manufacturer via their flash sales), has produced a juggernaut which is more nimble than Apple, offers better prices than Apple, and is approaching the design sophistication of Apple. Once Xiaomi cellphone cameras reach parity with Apple, the Apple profit margin will dramatically at risk, as it should be.