Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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Yet Another, Another End of the Year

I closed out 2013 with a post about my feelings on the year. It was the style at the time. Seems only fair to go through it and continue forward, like time was linear, or something.

2012, and 2013, were not especially good years for me. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, but there were two events that shaped each of those years. I was laid off (that’s both of them). It is a very dramatic way to put it though because I was hired back both times. The revelation is that my work has become almost seasonal. It was always project based, but It was nearly seven years before I experienced the first layoff, and a year later I experienced the second. I am currently working, so don’t get too sad. It does appear it will happen in 2014 as well, and the cycle will repeat.

Point for me, I was right on that one! Not long after this, I was laid off, along with many others, when Amazing Spider-Man 2 wrapped. Unlike 2012 and 2013, SPI did not hire me back because they shifted their business almost entirely to Vancouver.

I did however find another job in the fall for a television show with some rather intricate visual effects that have resulted in some pretty exhausting demands of my time, but the good news is that I feel like I might be kept on and move forward with it. Strangely, it seems more stable than film work which you would not really think would be the case.

In 2013, I did a much better job handling the “time off” than I did in 2012. In 2014, I’d like to think I will improve further in this area. Nothing bad happened to me in 2012, or 2013, as a result of it. Lack of a current job doesn’t mean I am not a person that’s doing well, in the grand scheme of things.

Another point for me, I dealt with the long period of unemployment pretty well. I took the time to work on this blog, literally the stuff that generates the blog as well as the writing. I also did something rather bold for someone with my personality, and that was start a podcast with my internet-friend Dan Sturm. Neither of these things have actually generated any money at all, but they were an important first step to validate that I wasn’t just a nobody.

Indeed, it’s pretty evident in my post last year that I deeply enjoyed the silly recognition I got for my Terrible Podcast Screenplays. I haven’t written one since May 22, 2014. There are so many I want to write now, when I’m working and have no time, but lacked the inspiration for this summer.

2014 had some unanticipated ups and downs.

  • I cracked a premolar and chipped three teeth (boo!)
  • My sister got married (yay!)
  • My boyfriend of 5 years visited Tampa for the first time and met all of my family (yay!)
  • Sony Pictures experienced a massive data breach and all of my personal information has been compromised (boo!)

I hope that I can continue to work on my ability to cope with sudden changes, and strive to gain a healthier balance between work and my free time. I might not ever be an independent rogue, like Jason Snell, but it’d be nice if I had more time for fun podcasts.

Thanks for all those that read along here, endure me on Twitter, and listen on Defocused. You made my 2014 better.

2015-01-01 13:38:30

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Unauthoritative Gift Guide 2014

What better way to start my birthday than with a useless gift guide for other people? Birthdays near Christmas are the worst. Buy me a birthday cake decorated with poinsettias at your own peril.

For Tea and Coffee Drinkers

Bauer Pottery Coffee Mug

$29

A beautiful, handmade ceramic mug from sunny (it’s raining right now) Southern California. The aqua-glazed beehive is my favorite container for warm beverages. If you want to really wake yourself up in the morning, the orange is eye-searing.

For Fussy Hipsters

The Moscow Mug

$19

This copper chalice makes your moscow mule look like a million bucks.

The main reason it’s on this list is because Matt Alexander doesn’t stock enough of them so you can’t have any. Excuse me while I go back to hoarding copper mugs.

For Aspiring Podcasters

Audio-Technica ATR2100 USB/XLR

$60

I recently switched over from the Blue Yeti to the ATR2100 because of issues I’ve had in my recording space regarding ambient noise. I’m very pleased with it, and it’s a bargain over many competing mics. I need to get better at speaking in to the microphone, because it’s not as forgiving as the Yeti, but it’s worth it to not have it pick up every little noise in the world.

For All Humans

iPhone 6

$199-$849

I love my phone. I still have problems with the rough spots in iOS 8, but the overall experience makes the device something you just can’t put down. Even when you really, really should. Like when someone says, “You love your phone more than you love me.” Probably a hint that the phone is great. (Also might be a hint about something else… whoops.)

For Internet Tinkerers

Digital Ocean

$5/mo

This is for the person that constantly talks about running scripts for things, or how great it will be when he finishes his static blogging engine. You know, the real nerds. Not like you and me. (Cough.)

For Aspiring Writers

Byword

$2.99 + $9.99

I almost exclusively write in Byword. I’ll even write notes in Byword because it’ll sync between my Mac and my iPhone. The publishing features are very nice if you happen to blog with one of the supported platforms.

For Aspiring Screenwriters

Highland

$29.99

This is John August’s special little app. It can convert Final Draft documents, PDFs, and plain text. It even has a very simple text editor inside of it. It wins out over Slugline because I find the “helpful” margin shifting stuff really distracting when I’m trying to write a fake screenplay. There is a free demo of Slugline though.

For Visual Effects Artists

Winner: Rowan’s Creek

$42-$50

This is quite possibly the most hideous bourbon bottle you will ever see. That’s great for you though because it means it’s camouflaged from all the people that would think this isn’t worthwhile. And remember, pretty containers aren’t always good choices.

The bourbon is aged for 12 years, and has a traditional mash mix that is very pleasant. However, it is quite strong at 100 proof. You may have trouble locating it.

Runner-Up: Four Roses Single Barrel

$38-$50

Depending on where you the gift recipient lives, you might not be able to buy, or ship, the bourbon. A decent fallback bourbon, that’s more widely available, is the Four Roses Single Barrel. I’m specifically saying the “Single Barrel” one here because I don’t find any of their other products to be very impressive, and I certainly wouldn’t gift regular Four Roses to anyone.

2014-12-17 08:10:00

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Ahoy Microphone!

In episode 12 of Relay FM’s Upgrade, Jason Snell discusses podcasts, and his feelings about how people should just get out there and start making things. It really grinds his gears when people snobbishly push other people away. He defends the Blue Yeti microphone as a perfectly acceptable microphone. He does all of his podcast recording on it, so if it’s good enough for Jason Snell’s Podcast Empire, it’s good enough for you, me — anybody.

He also briefly mentions a few other entry-level microphones, some of which he has not had the chance to use, but have been recommended to him. One of those is the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone. Right after I had posted my podcasting setup, Listener Jeff asked me if I had used the ATR. (Sigh.)

Even Tim Smith, podcast proprietor of Good Stuff FM, was surprised by the quality of the microphone.

I found a nice video review on YouTube by Andy Slye if you want a quick lowdown.

One of the only drawbacks I’ve found with the ATR2100 is that I think it’s a little too quiet when I monitor myself with the built-in headphone jack. That was the first thing I noticed when I recorded with it instead of my Yeti, where I can hear myself more clearly. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it something to be conscious of while you record since you might not hear yourself getting quieter if you drift away from the microphone.

Which brings up the most important part: mic technique. When you use a dynamic microphone that minimizes sound outside a certain area from the mic, it means you need to talk inside that area. Who knew? This is one of those things where it’s easy to know that fact, but not aware that you’ve suddenly leaned back in your chair. Some adjustment can correct for these moments, but it would be in your best interest to pay attention to where the mic is, relative to your kisser.

One of the interesting features of the ATR2100 is that it handles both USB and XLR. The USB makes it easy for anyone to use, just like with the Yeti, and the XLR makes it easy to incrementally upgrade your recording environment to include a mixer. That dual functionality is pretty unique, and to be honest, piqued my interest. I’m probably not going to spring for a mixer anytime soon, but it’s nice to know I can. (I want a soundboard so badly, like you don’t even know. You don’t even know.)

What About the Yeti?

The Blue Yeti still has the Snell-of-Approval™, and I still recorded a lot of decent stuff with it. It is also a more versatile microphone because you can switch between different recording patterns, push the mute button, and dial the gain to suit many situations. It is definitely more expensive than the ATR2100 though, and if I was buying My First Microphone over again, I’d go with the ATR2100. I bought my Yeti at Best Buy last year, in a (gasp) brick-and-mortar store because they had a sale going on and it ended up only costing me $80. Buying it at normal retail price, around $120, is kind of a bummer.

The thing that I felt like I was fighting with the Yeti was ambient noise. The space I have for recording is surrounded by paper thin walls that don’t block street noise, other tenants, or TVs blaring in the other units. A unique feature is the echo chamber on either side of the apartment building between my building and the neighboring buildings. It’s swell. Even little noises, like touching a piece of paper get picked up by the Yeti. I had to train myself to sit far away from the microphone so I wouldn’t fidget with anything and regret it later.

If you mostly plan to record just yourself, in your imperfect apartment, I strongly recommend you consider purchasing the less expensive ATR2100, it’s a real bargain at $60. Throw in the foam windscreen they recommend, like I did, because it’s what Amazon calls an “add-on” item. I believe that works best when it is added on to things.

Hashtag pro podcasters.

2014-12-16 21:31:00

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It's About Ethics in Link-Bait Journalism

Sunday night, an Aaron Sorkin op-ed was published by the New York Times. The piece was on why no one should be reporting — at all — on the data hackers stole from Sony. He cherry-picks some examples of salacious things that have been printed that aren’t all that worthy of being printed, and then calls anyone reporting on the contents of the stolen data “morally treasonous” and makes a NATO metaphor.

Media organizations had a very strong reaction in exactly the opposite direction — as one might imagine.

Editors, and writers for the online technology site, The Verge, were not happy with Sorkin at all. They cited their reporting on Project Goliath as reason enough to continue reporting. They also wrote a long, hand-wringing piece about the ethics of what they are doing. Monday, they ran a piece that really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Today, The Verge saw fit to publish a headline that spelled out the ending of The Interview, along with video of it stolen from Sony.

WHAT.

THE.

FUCK.

How, the fucking hell is the end of a movie that isn’t in theaters something that should be published? Even if this was edited, it’s still basically the ending. “Oh well the film is the target.” So? Verge, you don’t get to publish the ending to score some sweet ad dollars, bros.


UPDATE

Shortly after this went up this morning, Polygon (a video game centric website under the same parent company as The Verge) posted exactly the same link-bait garbage that The Verge did. What does this have to do with games? Something-something Sony game console so reasons.

My headline suggestion for them: “You Won’t Believe The Piracy We’re Endorsing”

2014-12-16 08:25:31

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Sony Emails Reveal Failed Efforts to Recruit ‘Lego’ Directors to Run Animation Unit ►

This is huge, and immensely depressing. These emails occurred this summer, and it appears nothing has changed. So very troubling for my friends that still work for Imageworks. Pretending this doesn’t exist is impossible. The only hope is that this might bring about some change for the better.

2014-12-13 12:45:00

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The Hack

Reminder: This is a personal blog, and not a news outlet. My views do not reflect those of any past, present, or future employer.

At the start of last week, an image of a skeleton on a screen made the rounds on every news site. Ominous reports started to leak that Sony Pictures Entertainment had been hacked.

This seemed bad, but at the time I wasn’t very concerned. How much damage could someone do to one of The Big Six? There are six major, movie studios in the whole world. There are many other movie studios, but in terms of scale, there are six big ones, and they’re all located headquartered in the Los Angeles area. Even the large studios own their own smaller studios. Sometimes those include animation studios, visual effects studios, games, interactive media, etc.

I worked for Sony Pictures Imageworks for many years. SPI is a division of Sony Pictures Digital (Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc.). SPDP is part of Sony Pictures, which is a subsidiary of Sony.

Fun stuff.

The hack affected Sony Pictures Entertainment, and I expected it to only affect the computer systems tied specifically to the parent company. However, all of the paperwork for the other companies under it appears to be held on the same servers.

I heard, through a few people, that they had obtained the list of file names that the hackers claimed they would release. Just file names, nothing else. When I saw my name, I knew I was in there for real. That it wasn’t just some gimmick. Especially when they had a t-shirt order form with my name on it in addition to all those performance reviews and contracts. No one would purposefully go to that level of detail for me, the hackers obviously grabbed everything that wasn’t nailed down. (It appears things might not have been thoroughly nailed down.)

It’s hard to describe the violation someone can feel about data relating to their identity, and their work. On the one hand, I know no company would seriously use any performance data obtained from this hack, but on the other hand I know that it’s just out there. My reviews aren’t even bad, but what about everyone else? I’m sure not everyone has paperwork as vanilla as my own.

Social Security Numbers, however, are timeless. All it takes is one person to save a file for use later on. A timebomb on your identity, and credit.

Not to mention the revelation that there are spreadsheets with the medical history of employees. If anyone has a private medical matter, it is now publicly available to unscrupulous people.

I unequivocally condemn the hack. SPI is not my current employer (after they relocated to Vancouver they are unlikely to be my employer again) but this kind of attack exploits and punishes all the employees, and former employees. The company was already in the midst of a restructuring, and this will make that even worse. People will lose their jobs, either directly as a result of the hack, or indirectly due to financial losses the company will incur because of the hack.

Answers

Sony Pictures was mostly silent since the news of this hack first leaked. All they would initially confirm was a “disruption”. Some employees leaked memos to the press. No effort has been made to proactively contact former employees, and no statements have been released to the press for how former employees should contact the company. No effort has been made to announce anything through the media to former employees at all.

This is a media company that, the very same week, launched an all-out blitz for the next James Bond film, and hosted the annual company holiday party. I believe it was, and is, possible for them to do something for former employees seeking answers.

After learning of the hack, I attempted to contact the SPE main lot. I was helpfully directed to the appropriate department. The phone rang for a bit and then someone picked up the phone and hung up on me. I sent an email to an HR address, and three days later, on Sunday the 7th, I received a response. I do appreciate that they were working the Sunday to respond to emails. They said my name was added to the list of the provider they selected for identity protection, and that I should wait to be contacted by that company. They had no idea what information was compromised by the hack.

Perpetrators

No one knows who is behind this. The best guess is North Korea, because a lot of the communication has centered on the film, The Interview. Other speculation has mentioned an insider, though it may be some combination of the two. The FBI investigation is still ongoing.

Media

The data dumps have been going on at a steady pace. They appear to be lumps of similar data in each batch. Either how they were originally organized, or how they were reorganized by the hackers to package for distribution. They have been irregularly dumping hundreds of gigabytes of files.

Some people are reacting to these dumps with glee, because they can pick apart all of the damaging secrets. I am not one of those people. I do have complicated feelings about the reporting. Even though they are a former employer, I have no desire to see the company destroyed. I still have friends that work there, and I want the best for them.

If you’re excited because Sony might sell Spider-Man back to Marvel you’re disgusting.

Phil Lord, famous for several films he’s made with Sony, is staunchly against any data being reported on.

The Sony hack is terrorism. Publishing the information aids terrorists. Sony execs are victims, and filmmakers. We should stand with them. — Phil Lord

Similarly, Rian Johnson:

This Sony hack is some vile shit. My policy: don’t click & note who’s posting stolen emails it so I can continue to not click in the future. — Rian Johnson

Here’s the thing though: Not talking about it doesn’t make the data go away. It’s still being dumped, and people are going to go through it. Sure it’s easy to be upset at Gawker, but what if there is stuff in there on employees being screwed? Where does that ethical line get drawn?

I have a harder time saying that nothing should be reported on. I disagree with the esteemed directors that reporters, and readers, should sit on their hands and let people without a moral compass be the only ones that see the data. Feel free to follow their interpretation though, they are cool dudes.

Sadly, you can’t unexplode this by ignoring the explosion.

2014-12-10 23:45:00

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How We Make Podcasts

Casey Liss posted last week about his podcasting setup. This went on to inspire some spirited discussion about microphones, and how people should be encouraging, and not exclusionary, with their podcasting recommendations. What is a pro? What is art? What is the nature of the universe? Is this real life?

Ahem.

I seldom get asked about my podcasting setup, but there are a few things that are different about what we do that might be interesting to someone.

(Crickets chirping.)

Mein Mikrofon

I use the much-reviled Blue Yeti microphone. If you are an audiophile, you have feelings about this. It is an imperfect device, but it fills the role I need it to, for the money I’m comfortable spending. If you seek advice on creating a podcasting empire with the dulcet tones of your voice, look elsewhere for advice. I do not excuse the Yeti, or say that it is good enough for anyone, it is simply appropriate for my specific situation. Should I ever fall face-first on a pile of money I will wash my face, because money is dirty, but then I will spend the money on some gear.

Pros:

  1. Relatively inexpensive, and frequently on sale through various retailers.
  2. USB interface makes it a breeze to use.
  3. Headphone jack input on the device allows me to hear what the microphone is picking up while I record, and to hear Skype calls.
  4. Physical mute switch that I forget to disable every time I plug in the Yeti.

Cons:

  1. Everyone freaks out that you use a Blue Yeti.
  2. It comes with a weird stand that is not effective because it’ll be on a table, or desk, in front of you and pick up every vibration from you contacting the table or desk.
    1. Most people replace this silly stand with something more professional, perhaps on a boom arm, or tripod.
    2. I have a hand towel that’s folded over on itself that acts as a shock absorber. Cry your little tears, audiophiles!
  3. The Yeti is very sensitive to any noise around you. Street noise, a refrigerator in another room, loud neighbors, etc. I do record in less-than-ideal circumstances for this kind of device, and we have had interruptions in our recording because of it. Your mileage will vary.

On the Line

Like many podcasts, Dan and I use Skype to call one another, and then each of us records our ends of the conversations. Referred to as a double-ender (snicker). When we started, Dan and I used QuickTime to record the audio input that was being used for the Skype call. QuickTime does this for free, but you have to remember to launch and start, and stop, the recording.

One time, I opened QuickTime before I plugged in my USB microphone, so QuickTime didn’t see it as an input and recorded the system microphone on my MacBook Pro. That is not so good. After this incident, Jason Snell recommended Skype Call Recorder to me. I hemmed and hawed about spending money on it, since I didn’t technically need it, but it’s worth the piece of mind to buy Call Recorder. Having used it for months now, I can safely say that I recommend it, even if you’re just starting. You’ll just feel safer about your recordings, with is worth the cost of the software.

Cutting Room Floor

Dan and I both come from backgrounds in video, and film. We both believe in editing podcasts. The degree to which a podcast is edited can vary, but our edits generally consist of:

  1. Removing garbage from someone hitting a table, or a water bottle (unless it’s not possible to safely extract, so it’s another reason to be mindful while recording.) In a screenshot below you’ll see how much stuff gets scrapped out when we’re not speaking.
  2. Trimming start and ends. Most of the time, Dan and I launch right in to the show at the start of the call, unless it’s a call with a guest. We stay on the line a little at the end, and remove part of that. “Not editing for content” doesn’t mean you literally leave in every second of recording.
  3. Recordings get out sync as time goes on. It usually just requires a quick cut with the razor and slipping the track a bit.
  4. We do edit for content. If you listen, you’ll hear us flub a lot of stuff, so it’s not really editing to make us sound better, but we might remove a small aside about something for the episode, or excise a bit that didn’t come out like we meant it to. It’s really not anything crazy. We aren’t manufacturing a pristine illusion of two intelligent, funny guys, that would be a lie.
  5. Flare. This is my favorite part. Early in our podcast’s life, Dan started inserting little bits of audio for pop culture references (I am not a lawyer, but totes fair use). On the two occasions I’ve taken on editing duties, I’ve tried to emulate this. Usually with music that stops at just-not-quite-the-right time. Last night, Dan didn’t get “very cold in space”, so I spliced in some audio and left a huge spike of music before it cuts back to him talking about how unimportant it is that he get the reference. That’s something you can do in editing, for comedy. Shows like Bionic/BONANZA! have a system where Myke can play live audio in the call because of his mixer. This is some on-the-fly editing.
  6. Bleeps. We try to edit bad words so we don’t have to have an explicit tag. The bleeps kind of come out funny, in their own way. Especially if you’re playing a game of not actually saying a bad word.

Editing Software

Dan uses Soundtrack Pro to edit almost every episode. I do not know much of the process, because I’ve never seen him edit anything, and I’ve never used Soundtrack Pro.

The two times I’ve edited the podcast, for Galaxy Quest and Interstellar, I went with Adobe Audition CC 2014 (just rolls of the tongue). I had an existing relationship with Adobe that made this tool appealing to use. Almost every podcaster uses Logic Pro to do their work, so please don’t place a purchasing decision on me editing two episodes in something that was convenient for me.

The application is similar to Premiere, which I’ve had experience with in the past at school, and for cutting my demo reels. The tools it has for adjusting audio are great, but it’s not as easy to manage a 2 hour clip of audio as I would like it to be. Also? I spent an hour trying to figure out why variable-bit-rate encoding was producing files of different sizes and lengths before I went with constant-bit-rate and sent the file to Dan to compress further.

Here’s our episode on Interstellar:

Review

We review the episodes we record. Sometimes, we listen to the raw Call Recorder version, and sometimes we listen to rough cuts. In some situations we spot-check episodes instead of listening to the whole thing over again 1:1. We rely on a shared Dropbox folder for this. Recordings go in to it, and a “Review” folder displays the latest episode being worked on. The Dropbox app on iOS allows us to listen to the episodes while we go about our lives.

Slacking

From before we start an episode, until after an episode ships, we use Slack to discuss things, and keep things organized. Currently, we use the free account to do this. We have different rooms for different kinds of conversation, and we use them to handle things like shownotes, and title suggestions. Crucially, this is where we decide when to record, and agree to a topic to discuss. It would not be possible to manage the podcast without a real-time chat app with dedicated areas for different discussions.

The All-In-One Platform You Need

Dan uses a Squarespace account to manage the show’s site. This includes managing the RSS feed for the podcast, and the published shownotes. It doesn’t serve our audio files. This is far easier than some moron trying to write RSS stuff themselves.

To Serve Man

Perhaps the most unique aspect of our show is hosting the audio files on my specific server configuration. Most podcasts use LibSyn, or Soundcloud, or some fancy content caching system. In an effort to not spend any money, we decided to use my existing VPS to handle our podcast. I was concerned it would be overwhelmed, but it’s been over twenty episodes and we’ve never had an incident of it going down.

DigitalOcean’s $5/month VPS serves everything. A single droplet, running Ubuntu, with the Twisted framework serving static files. VFX software integrates Python 2.7.x stuff for scripting things so Twisted is just easier for me to deal with than Apache. When I first started blogging on this VPS, I used Python’s SimpleHTTPServer to handle things and a strong breeze would knock it over. Twisted is solid. My datacenter is in San Francisco, and there was one time Casey Liss experienced latency that I could not reproduce, so it may not work for every possible person ever, but it’s certainly affordable, and very flexible. Also, who cares about Casey?

To upload files, I use Panic’s Transmit on the Mac, and iOS. Yes, the iOS app is robust enough that I can download the file from the review folder in the Dropbox iOS app and upload it through the Transmit iOS app.

We have no sponsors, so we aren’t investing in an analytics platform. I have written a python script that allows me to open the access logs from Twisted and count the number of times that a file is download from a unique IP address, each day. I use Panic’s Prompt on iOS to run this on the logs on the server.

When I’ve uploaded the file, I send Dan the path and he puts it in with the shownotes and pushes out an update to the feed.

JIFs

Infrequently, I make silly images to promote the show. Sometimes, they are animated GIFs of someone’s face very loosely tracked on to a short clip from a movie. I have a license of Apple’s old compositing software, Shake, from a short project. I use it to generate a short video, and then I take that in to GIFBrewery where I adjust some knobs to generate a GIF. It’s not a technically impressive task, but a few people have asked how we do it. I would not recommend anyone reproduce this workflow, because Shake stops working on any version of OS X higher than Mavericks.

Content is King

Content is such a buzzword, but it’s appropriate shorthand to cover the variety of things that can be in a podcast. Sound, music, vocal ticks, words, even silence is part of the content. No one will ever tell you how to be interesting, and there will never be a guide on it. Dan and I certainly don’t appeal to everyone, but we’ve carved out what we like to do, and the small audience we like to do it for. We might have a casual tone on the podcast, but we do care about what we make.

Dan and I threw away hours of audio recordings from before we even knew what we wanted the show to be. Even then, it changed over time. No one has a guide for that.

An Explanation, Not a Guide

To be very clear about something: I am not telling you to do what Dan and I do. This explains what we do. Do what you will with the information. (You should probably do nothing with it!)

2014-12-01 08:27:27

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Wish List: Touch ID Integration with Apple TV

Dan Moren wrote a post over on Six Colors where he brings up his wish for Siri integration with Apple TV. He details several points where Siri would make using the device smoother, and each hypothetical is an improvement over the current input schemes. However, I feel like Touch ID would be a more practical wish (I probably don’t understand how wishes work). Before I explain why I would prioritize Touch ID, let me detail a couple things that keep me from being super-excited about Siri on Apple TV.

I’m bullish on Siri being useful in a living room. When I first got my iPhone 6, with iOS 8, I felt like I was in The Future. Until The Future misunderstood nearly everything relating to proper nouns, and locations. Media is Proper Noun City. I have had very little success getting Siri to queue up specific artists, or albums. In Dan Moren’s example of The Flash what if it returned Flash Gordon (king of the impossible)? Even if she does understand the proper noun, she’s still going to prompt for a user to pick which thing they wanted, as so often happens with inquiries to Siri. Dan mentions seeing search results listed for Hulu or Netflix, but what if you forgot to log in to those? Even if the list has the thing you want, you still need an input device to select the result you want and confirm viewing, or purchasing it.

Someone might wonder why touching something is better, or easier, than talking, so let me ‘splain why. Apple TV currently requires you enter your iTunes ID password when you set up and log in to the device. This is annoying. You have to do this before you setup your Apple Remote App on your iPhone too, so you get to use the milled aluminum stick with the six buttons. It is not fun. You also have the interesting experience of Apple not prompting you for a password on your purchases because they know how annoying that is. So … that seems unsound if you live with people that might buy stuff on your iTunes account. The parental controls are also pretty clunky. What if you could just hold your finger on your iPhone, or your remote, for a second and it just figured out who to log in, what content they were authorized to see, or buy? What if your Touch ID logged you in to anything tied to your account, like Netflix, or Hulu? What if you used it to purchase your Netflix or Hulu subscriptions? There’s a lot of things that get smoothed out when passwords get taken away. Touch ID shouldn’t just be for some iPhone’s, and it’s utility shouldn’t just be at its best in iOS 8.1 with Apple Pay.

Let’s go back to the out-of-the-box experience. Let’s say you get an Apple TV (Why would you, the integrated television set is just around the corner?!?!). What if you could just move your iPhone near it, have NFC pickup the Apple TV, and place your finger on the Touch ID sensor. The whole thing is set up and ready with your iTunes account, and any subscriptions paired with your iTunes account. You’re all set to go.

This obviously addresses completely different problems raised by Dan. It’s not really an either or situation. If someone at Apple wants to do both Siri integration, and Touch ID, then do both.

If not, then just do my thing.

Me. Me. Me.

2014-11-27 14:43:30

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The Valley

Not that one, the other one.

Monument Valley was a fantastic game when I first played it, and remained a fantastic game when I played it over, and over again. Even though the puzzles are not difficult, and the outcome is known on repeat plays, it has ineffable whimsy and delight. To someone that expects to be challenged by XTREME PUZZLS this game is a disappointment. I’ve also seen people complain about the heaps of praise the game earned. In addition to not being difficult, it is also relatively easy to complete in a matter of a couple hours. There’s no hidden side quests, and no palette-swapped enemies to grind on and elevate ones XP. It’s just pretty pastel colors, and pleasing isometric perspective.

My favorite levels of the original game were the box level, and the level where we were first introduced to the totem. I love the totem. I care about it more than our protagonist. Both of these elements were further explored in the Forgotten Shores expansion that premiered last week.

One-Star Sholes

There was a huge kerfuffle over charging for the expansion. Regardless of whether or not you feel like the way the developers delivered the expansion was appropriate, I think we can all agree Apple’s App Store reviews are completely broken, and unhelpful, in cases like this. People felt entitled to more levels, for free, and so they gave the game one-star reviews, even if they were not intending to buy the expansion. Even if UsTwo Games had released the extra levels as it’s own app, the App Store still lets anyone review something. Any person feeling slighted that there was an expansion could grind their axes on two review scores, instead of one.

Unfortunately, the method for resolving this is just as inappropriate as the source of the problem. Fight fire with fire, they say. There was a call-to-arms and people, that also had not played it, rushed in to defend the honor of the game by leaving positive, five-star reviews.

Good grief.

Forgotten Shores

The game plays like a dream — in more ways than one. The player is presented with the option to play the original game, or download and play the expanded levels. The levels do away with the spinning box with level numbers on the side, and present a straight-forward mapping of levels. The very first involves defeating a balrog.

SPOILERS:

There is a wonderful little moment where we see a dear friend come to the rescue of our protagonist. Then they ride up through the level, together. They complete a puzzle and they’re outside, on a snowcapped mountain with an impossible object and the goal. Snowflakes flitter about. The attention to layering in detailed atmospheric effects in the expansion really helps create depth, and life, in an environment that is otherwise flat-shaded, and static.

The totem accompanies for several other missions until something unspeakable happens. I wish I had a camera record my face the exact moment it happened, and my world was changed.

WHAT THE FUCK?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

The mechanics of the game have also improved with new ways to adjust the terrain, and properties of gravity, in the expansion.

The new-new box even includes clever ways in which reality is filtered through viewpoints through the box. It’s delightfully disorienting.

Fortunately, all is not lost, and we are reunited with able to reunite the totem. Honest to god, without this last level, I might have been one of those one-star reviewers, flipping their ish.

At $3.99 for the original game, and $1.99 for the expansion, it’s still a steal, and I very highly recommend it. The game is worthy of recognition for the visual merit, as well as the gameplay mechanics.

2014-11-18 00:55:12

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Tim Cook “I’m Proud to be Gay”

Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote in Bloomberg Businessweek today that he is gay. He did not technically come out of the closet, but he had never stated that he was or was not gay. We should not need to live in a world where people need to spell this out, but frankly, we do. It made me tear up. I sincerely hope you all take the time to read it, and think about his words.

The most important part of Tim’s piece is:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

That is the value that is carried forward. He is a role model. Mark my words, there’s a kid somewhere, terrified of acknowledging a truth about themselves. It might be personal attacks that caused this fear, terror about being rejected by family, or just the ambient dread homophobic remarks affords us. Seeing a positive role model in Tim Cook, and seeing the acceptance, and love, his public announcement garners, helps quell those fears.

It is not acceptable to maintain that gay people should be inferior in any way. That they should feel guilt, or remorse. His announcement doubles-down (love you, Tim) on his previous statements. It is a sacrifice of his privacy, and it does make him a target for abuse. Many might look at this as a small thing. That it was an open secret, so no big deal, but he is the focus of intense scrutiny already, just for things like storage sizes, and iPad models. A focus on his life outside work is an even bigger burden to take on. Tim Cook is a prominent, global figure, not simply an American one. Imagine the whole world watching you. That is the downside to the tremendous example he sets for others. This benefits others. This benefits future generations.

He also specifically cites same-sex marriage:

America is moving toward marriage equality, and the public figures who have bravely come out have helped change perceptions and made our culture more tolerant.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama won the election against John McCain, the California ballot measure Prop 8 passed. I don’t know how Tim felt at the time, but I certainly wasn’t happy. There was a futility to all of it. I sat through ads telling me to think of the children having to learn about gay people — I’m sure Tim saw them too. Would his eloquent entry have swayed the outcome then, even though he was COO? Would it have caused Apple more harm than good, and kept him from being in a position where he could go on to take this stand, as CEO? I don’t know. I don’t blame him. Everything’s moving forward. Anyone with an axe to grind with Tim over when he chose to make his public statement is simply not being productive.

Tim Cook’s Empathy

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry.

That speaks to me as well. That is not to say that being gay is a requirement for empathy, but it does give you a different lens to view the world through. It’s not the same experience others have, especially not as a white male, but it does make me question “traditional” opinions on matters of race, gender, sexual identity, etc. as archaic, and harmful to people, and society. Look for, and accept, the experiences of others. A lack of empathy, and sympathy, is troubling in the present-day. The people that make excuses for racism, that claim gender bias doesn’t exist, the ones that bend over backwards to claim victimhood for hurting others … those should not be the loudest voices in the room. Even ignoring their loud voices, not feeding the trolls, does not truly help with the pain inflicted on the targets. Making a firm stand, as Tim Cook has done, really shines a light on the ways in which we are all unequal.

Recent events, like GamerGate, seek to punish women. Matters of representation, and game development are distorted in to arguments explaining how women should feel, and explaining how it’s all about merit. Fair pay acts get shot down constantly. A female CEO, or politician is far more likely to be picked apart for what they’re wearing, and how they look, than any white-male counterpart.

Racism in this country is strong, and constant. Make no mistake about it, it is not a coincidence that Tim Cook so often cites Martin Luther King Jr. Racism is denied in words, but not in fact. Non-white people are looked down on in spite of success. President Barack Obama has long been pilloried in ways that debase him as a human being. Martin Luther King Jr. is paid lip service by many conservative pundits that turn right around and justify reducing voting early voting, and creating hurdles to register, specifically to oppress, and remove any opportunity for role models. It’s about the “best” candidates, you see, and the “best man” for the job.

Transgender men, and women — men and women — are often abused, assaulted, and killed in this country. Even in supposedly enlightened states. Try to imagine what a circus this country would turn in to if someone that was formerly a man or a woman ran for president. What horrible, debasing things would be said. If Tim Cook had written about having spent the first 20 years of his life as a women, would all the same Apple pundits throw in support for him? There is still a divide between people that will accept sex reassignment surgery and those that accept gays, or lesbians.

Tim Cook expressing his views on our basic humanity, and need to be respected, should be embraced by all.

Importance of Role Models

I keep circling back around to how inspiring this was to read this morning. I can’t help it. I sure would have liked to just link to Tim’s writing last week when I explicitly stated on this blog that I am gay. I sure would have liked something like this years – decades ago. I am no role model, but I would have put his words front and center when thinking about how I fit in to the world around me, and my value.

As Casey Newton concluded today on The Verge:

And many still do, particularly younger people, and particularly younger people growing up in the more rural and religious parts of America. Someday, maybe someday soon, we’ll hear about how Cook’s essay today helped someone there through a difficult time. And then we’ll hear it again, and again, and again.

So “move on,” if Cook’s essay today makes you so uncomfortable. Return to talking about his fastidiousness, or his supply-chain management, or whatever. But there’s no moving on for me, not today. This I’m going to savor.

2014-10-30 18:19:17

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