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Five Eyebrows

I had seen some episodes of Doctor Who being rerun on PBS in the early 90s. It was utterly ridiculous and impenetrable to me. I couldn’t tell you the Doctor in it, nor the stories I saw, but it was not for me. I saw the Fox television movie, and… I was interested to see more of it, back then, but there wasn’t anything to see.

I gave it a shot when the series was revived on the Sci-Fi Channel. It was still utterly ridiculous, but it wasn’t incomprehensible. I would start, and stop watching it at random. The first time I started watching regularly was with the introduction of Matt Smith. BBC America made a big push to air it the same day as episodes aired in the UK, along with an all-out marketing blitz. Billboards for Doctor Who!

I also introduced Jason to the show. He still hasn’t watched anything from before Matt Smith, and doesn’t want to. To him, Matt Smith is The Doctor, and Amy and Rory are his companions. The last season with them disappointed him, and he didn’t like Clara because the character was a bland nothing for a whole season. I can’t say that I disagree with him.

There is an uneven, up-and-down mess with the episodes during this showrunner’s run. Casting is always good, character moments are very often well-executed, but narratives have been unreliable. Often episodes end with twists we saw coming, or with just a bunch of made-up stuff in the last five minutes. They’re more like episodes of Scooby-Doo.

Doctor Doo

Perhaps Moffat’s plot logic is more pronounced now that the Doctor has changed? Capaldi is a very serious actor (even when he’s being comedic, he plays it completely straight). The episodes, for the most part, have had serious, life-and-death moments where this Doctor has given up on saving people in under a second. Clara provides the touch of humanity, and morality, missing from our new Doctor – a role she didn’t have last season (series? Blah.)

To be perfectly clear: I don’t hate Doctor Who at all, but I am regularly disappointed in it. I am given to understand that this season has been particularly polarizing with different fans liking, and disliking, various episodes with seemingly little rhyme or reason. At least I don’t hate Doctor Who, like this guy in Manchester. I think we can all agree that he’s the real problem.

Seriously though, it’s just a TV show. Hate’s a strong word.

Deep Breath

I hate this episode. Moffat started by cutting in on an event in progress — a thing he loves to do – and it was confusing nonsense. The dinosaur was a ridiculous spectacle. We met up with the old gang, and the Doctor had some funny lines, and then we started doing a bunch of things that made no sense.

The things that happen in the episode are motivated around getting characters to pair off in certain ways to have conversations, and not conversations motivated by the story. Instead of, “What would he say if this happened?” It was, “How can I get them together so he can say this?”

I despise this writing. I’m watching a story, not a pile of index cards with yarn connecting them.

There’s a perfectly wonderful scene with Clara and The Doctor in the restaurant, but it doesn’t save all of the other scenes where people enter and leave rooms just to have conversations. Indeed, the first kiss between female actresses was explained by a whole lot of breathing based on sight nonsense. They could just kiss because they love each other, you know!

That skin balloon. Oy vey.

We’re also shown this year’s mystery, Missy. Jason asked me who she was and I said she was this year’s crack in the wall. The crack worked because it was simple. (The payoff on what the crack was is another matter entirely…) We don’t need a crack every year. Also, the worst cracks have been the ones with actors. I know Moffat is trying to go for a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer thing, but Moffat does it as a mystery instead of a villain with scenes and a motive. We don’t get the Mayor conspiring, and eating people, we get purposefully obtuse stuffing.

Inside the Dalek

I confess to having a preconceived dislike of the episode when I saw the preview and the title. Honey, I Shrunk us in to the Dalek starts with action (of course), and establishes some kind of conflict with Daleks. The effects here were atrocious. I don’t usually bad-mouth VFX, but it was a ship, stars, and some asteroids. No characters, no deforming geometry, this should be a cakewalk in 2014.

We quickly find out we need to go inside a Dalek with a shrinking device. Then we go to scenes with Danny Pink, and Clara Oswald at a school in England. These secenes all work surprisingly well. Then the Doctor shows up and takes Clara over to go inside the Dalek with him and we go back to the bad plot in this story.

The whole thing is laughable, but without the laughs. Shrinking people is always silly. Always. To make this serious instead of a comedy is a huge error. This isn’t even Whedon-esque where the characters comment on all the silliness of the things that are happening.

The Doctor is in denial about there being such a thing as a good Dalek, when… Uh… That’s happened more than once, actually. Most recently with a version of Clara copied through time that made soufflés. Clara is kind of with him, so it seems a bit odd to forget that time…

The inside of the Dalek was goofy. So. Goofy. Here’s some flexible, corrugated, plastic duct work. Let’s just put it everywhere! There are lit-up status lights, which seem like a bizarre thing to include at the scale they’re supposedly in. Think of how small those bulbs must be. Even the tiny, hovering antibodies, which seem directly taken from Let’s Kill Hitler are silly. They have a beam that vaporizes and vacuums people away to a waste reclamation system? These things are smart enough to divine the source of a grappling hook, but not see a bunch of tiny people as a threat?

To quote from one of my favorite movies:

Gwen DeMarco: What is this thing? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway. No, I mean we shouldn’t have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here? Jason Nesmith: ‘Cause it’s on the television show. Gwen DeMarco: Well forget it! I’m not doing it! This episode was badly written!

The stupid thing was fixing the Dalek after all that talk about the Dalek’s memory system. Of course, things go south. They realize that maybe the memory thing is not a good thing to have on. The Dalek says “Resistance is futile” twice, but once was enough, thank you.

The Doctor stands in front of a greenscreen and gives a speech while Clara crawls through … Uh… A service duct? Turning on light-up memory circuits like this is HAL 9000?

Hooray the Dalek kills the other Daleks and we can all live happily ever after!

My favorite part of this is when the Dalek tells the Doctor that he’s “the good Dalek”. It adds a layer to all of it.

We also get Missy, serving tea. So, here’s the crack again. In another jarring scene.

Robot of Sherwood

This is my favorite episode from this season. That is a controversial pick, because this episode is goofy. I criticized In to the Dalek for not acknowledging that it was ridiculous. This episode, in contrast, doesn’t take itself seriously at all. In fact, the Doctor is funny because he doesn’t believe in what is happening instead of going along with all of it.

The absolute worst part, of course, is the gold, and the golden arrow. None of that makes a lick of sense whatsoever, and it is the part that weighs down the episode. This is writing to have a teamwork moment happen, rather than writing what would happen and then inserting teamwork around it. Lazy, really.

I thought the Sheriff was a little odd. It didn’t seem to make any sense why the robots would follow his commands. Though there seemed to be some hinting at him being a robot. It was peculiar. I found out after the episode that he was supposed to be a cyborg of some kind, rebuilt by the robots after he was crushed by their ship. This was revealed in a beheading scene that was cut out of respect for current events. All very understandable.

We also get a reference to The Promised Land, but no Missy. This is also the second of three episodes to feature a crashed ship run by robots preying upon humans in England, in the past. So… Probably could have spaced those out a little more.

Listen

I hated this episode. None of the motivations for events made any sense at all. The Doctor starts the episode off by wondering, aloud, if it was possible for a creature to hide itself perfectly. This theory is seemingly confirmed by some rolling chalk, and the word “listen” scrawled on the chalkboard.

Danny Pink and Clara are going on a date. The date doesn’t go well and Clara returns home filled with regret. This is a very Clara heavy episode, and I don’t object in the slightest.

We get the weird telepathic circuits we’ve never seen before and we’re off to Danny Pink’s past because Clara couldn’t get him off her mind. Clara, however, lies to the Doctor at every turn about how much she’s thinking about Danny Pink, or why they would be here.

The thing on the bed is… well it could be anything, really. The Doctor is strangely non-confrontational toward it. His whole plan was to catch one, and here it is, and his big plan is to let it get away. Why? Well the reason is that Steven Moffat wants us not to know so he can do this again.

Clara lies some more and asks to go to her date. She wants to walk in at the point where she stormed out. Which is great except she forgot her coat and she totally makes everything worse. Now Danny is the one that leaves. This is interesting, this effect of time travel on relationships is fascinating to explore. Too bad about the spacesuit wandering through the restaurant full of people totally unshaded by seeing it! I really thought that was a horrible way to end the scene. It makes no logical sense, none of the patrons react, he doesn’t talk to Clara, and then they’re back on the TARDIS. The whole time, Clara is mad because she thinks it is The Doctor, it is not, it is Danny Pink with different hair!

Turns out that the Doctor scrounged around with the telepathic info he found from Clara, and it pointed him to some other person in the Danny Pink lineage. Clara lies some more about this.

Apparently, his name is Orson, and he’s from the not-too-distant future when humanity started to test their own time travel ships. He got lost at the end of the universe. The Doctor went there, retrieved him, suited him up, sent him in to a restaurant to retrieve Clara, and then took them all back to the end of the universe. Sure. Why not?

The Doctor is convinced that Orson knows something about the unseen creatures and decides to keep them all there to spend the night –there is apparently a night at the end of the universe, but that’s because night is scary, not because night is logical. This reveals the glow-in-the-dark reminder Orson wrote for himself not to let things in through the looked door.

The Doctor wants to let the things in. This is stupid for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because it is the exact opposite of how he handled things in the orphanage.

Yay it’s nothing, for reasons, and we can all go home. What a good use of an hour.

I don’t mind that it wasn’t a monster –or robots on a crashed ship– but why does anyone do any of the things they do in this episode? They didn’t even do those inconsistent, poorly-reasoned things to get us to some interesting conclusion. The most interesting part about it was the soap opera that is Danny and Clara.

Time Heist

We start off with more stuff about dates, and then a phone call. The phone call cuts directly to a dark room where Clara and the doctor are joined by two other people and they’re all holding worms.

This is the most interesting opening of the season. Everything was normal, then something mysterious happened. We didn’t start on a scene of them in action like Moffat likes to do. We got the chance to breath, establish things, and upend it all.

A voice recording establishes, to their immediate satisfaction, that they all consented to this. There is a mysterious Architect. They must all get in a crazy bank, and take stuff, using their unique abilities.

They run away from some ineffective law enforcement and we establish that one character has a computer in his head, and the other is a shapeshifting mutant human (this lets her genetically copy people, but that doesn’t make sense of she’s a mutant because then the gene that lets her do that wouldn’t match the targets genes.)

They go in the bank using a genetic identity that was gifted to them by The Architect.

They witness a creature, called The Teller (what’s with all the THEs?!) detect the guilt of someone else and cave in the guy’s brain. This is all directed by a very prim, posh, head of security. She is so arch, and her dialog so campy, that it makes the circle from ‘bad’ to ‘good’.

The Teller detects none of the guilt from the four people that know they have to rob a bank. Because, apparently, they didn’t know enough about how they would do it to be perceived as guilty.

Our robbers enter a room and they satisfy a genetic lock. The Doctor then uses a device from the case that he thinks is a bomb, and they shift part of the floor to another dimension, complete with burn marks, and then they shift the floor back and there are no burn marks. That’s not really how burning things works, but whatever.

They spread out and find another case. There are syringe-looking things inside the case and the Doctor guesses it will kill them. Which is an odd conclusion to jump to…

This is when logic was strained for me, because the case needed to be placed there, which means someone got past the security before. The Doctor says it might have been another team that was caught. It seems more likely that someone with a go-almost-anywhere box put it there.

They run through some corridors and there are things. They do the patented Wander Past the Sleeping Creature but Accidentally Wake Them Up Maneuver and we loose Sabra. This scene is really protracted and ends with something that looks more like a teleporter than a disinitigtrator. There’s probably a reason for that!

They moop about the “dead” person, except the Doctor, because he’s used to leaving a trail of dead extras in his wake. We get a vault thing and the Teller is awake, so they need to split up, because their telepathic trace will be weak, or something. Cyberpunk sacrifices himself to save Clara and uses another syringe. It was pretty clear to me at this point that The Doctor was The Architect and that they were being teleported. What wasn’t clear was if he was intentionally lying to them, or if he genuinely didn’t know. His callousness led me to believe it was the former, so I guessed wrong there.

We get in to the vault, and we get stuff that will magically repair Cyberpunk’s memory, Mystique-Rogue’s shapeshifting, give Clara ruby slippers, and give the Doctor a brain. I was kidding about two of those because they were captured.

They’re taken to the head of security, after a Bond speech she leaves them to be disposed of by her henchmen. One of the henchmen has no helmet, which is the first time we’ve seen this in the whole episode. It’s kind of important or the morph wouldn’t look as interesting. Surprise!

They all go to the private vault now, through some very wide ducts. The vault is filled with the contents of a 1920s propmaster’s dreams, and we meet the villain behind the bank. She looks like the head of security. She’s not, and she fires the head of security. Which will consist of burning the clone. She hates her clones.

We get a scene where the doctor finally puts it all together and says that he is The Architect. If you are in the audience, and you were remotely surprised by this reveal, then I have a bridge to sell you.

This is when we find out that the terrible line about not being able to trust someone with your own eyes was there just to set up a moment here at the end. Of course. Still doesn’t make any sense really. There are a lot of people that would really… uh… trust all over the place with themselves.

She leaves, because the solar storm got worse and bad things might happen to the planet. The Doctor gives her his number because he predicts she will feel guilty when she’s old and call him to set this all in motion. Indeed, editing and makeup reveals this to be true.

That doesn’t make sense though because she would have only called him after all this happened and he gave her the number. It’s a paradox. Oh well, no time for that, I guess? The Teller is here and he’s going to kill them! But wait, The Doctor figured out the thing that kept The Teller in their service, a captive mate.

They use the 6 teleporter syringes –which are fortunately immune to the effects of a planet-destroying solar storm– and they all escape. They drop off the aliens to somehow form a genetically viable population like they were on Noah’s Ark. We’ll name them George and Gracie. Celebratory take-out Chinese food for everyone!

We end on Clara going on the date she was planning on at the start of this episode.

Overall this episode was fine. If I didn’t see the twists so soon, then it might have been more enjoyable. My viewing companion for these episodes agreed Time Heist was fine, but he didn’t see any of the reveals coming. He just hated the ending in the Private Vault onward.

He still misses Amy and Rory though.

Doctor Who Episode Pitch

We start on a giant, alien monster crushing East London. There’s so much screaming, and no one knows what’s going on. We see the TARDIS flying around the alien monster, and The Doctor in the door, unspooling a cable. He’s wrapping it around the monster. Inside the TARDIS are two people the audience has never seen before. Monsieur Mars, an Ice Warrior stranded in France since the 1950’s, and his valet/lover Aristotle. The audience literally has no clue at all what’s happening and they start to wonder if they missed part of the episode.

The alien creature is subdued, AT-AT style, and the doctor makes up some story about using the cable to tow the alien creature through time and space to its home. Then he introduces the two people the audience doesn’t know to Clara. She’s quite alarmed by all of this, as she was in the middle of regretting how a date with Danny Pink went. She regrets it ever so much. We get some flashbacks to it not going well at all. Poor Clara and Danny, so awkward!

The Doctor says that they need to go back in time and find out what lured this alien creature to Earth in the first place. He says that it’s a special kind of alien creature that only shows up when it’s lured somewhere. Fortunately, The Doctor lands them all in the past on exactly the right day they need to be.

They are in Victorian London, once again. The TARDIS is in an alley, and a robbery is occurring. The Doctor ducks back in to the TARDIS and makes a plan with Clara, Monsieur, and Aristotle to foil the robbery. When they exit the TARDIS they see that the robbers have already been dispatched by Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax. Strax calls all the robbers women and we laugh. Oh how we laugh.

After a long series of introductions with many sexual innuendos, they all agree to find the thing that drew the alien to earth, in the future. They leave the unconscious robbers in the alley and walk away, chatting. The camera stays in the alley as one of the robbers comes to. Just in time for an arm, enrobed in black, to grab the robber.

The gang arrives back at Madame Vastra’s home. Jenny and Clara go to make tea. They chat about their love life. Clara has some more flashbacks to things she said to Danny, and Jenny has some flashbacks to things that didn’t go well with her first dates with Vastra. The tea is ready and they return to the parlor to find that The Doctor has torn up a bunch of old newspapers. There have been disappearances of men in the area around the docks. Whatever they’re looking for must be in or near the water.

The Monsieur suggests that they all split up in to pairs to cover more ground searching the docks. Good idea, what could go wrong? Because splitting up is for the writers, more than the characters, we’ll pair them up as follows so we can have interesting conversations:

  • Jenny, The Doctor, and Strax
  • Madame Vastra, and Aristotle
  • Clara, and Monsieur

A nefarious-looking robbed figure watches all of this from the shadows. Of course.

The Doctor asks Jenny why Clara’s been acting so weird, and Jenny says it should be obvious that she’s having boy troubles. Strax talks about how confusing the anatomy of human males are.

Madame Vastra and Aristotle talk about philosophy, but only in double entendres.

Clara and Monsieur talk about why he chose to stay in Paris, with Aristotle. How Monsieur knew he was the right one, even though Monsieur was a warrior, and Aristotle wasn’t.

Just then, all three groups are surrounded by black-robed figures, because it was a stupid idea to split up and wander around the fucking docks.

They’re all cuffed with christmas lights and taken down to a specific dock. A large metal cylinder rises from the water and opens a door. The robbed figures herd the people inside.

Once inside, the doctor sees all the technology and surmises that they are aboard a crashed ship. A crashed ship! No way! The gang is herded past groups of workers welding things inside the crashed ship.

The gang stops inside of what appears to be a bridge. There’s corrugated plastic tubing EVERYWHERE. Monsieur demands to know who the robbed figures are. The robes collapse to the floor revealing floating spheres with singular, cycloptic, blue eyes. They look like large versions of the Dalek antibodies from In to the Dalek. The cuffs all drop to the floor as well.

The Doctor tells everyone to shut up, a lot, and calls Aristotle a puddinghead, and then tells everyone that OF COURSE they’re in a crashed alien ship, but not just any crashed ship, this ship is an enlarged Dalek. One of the Dalek antibodies speaks and says that they passed through an area of warped space on their way to The Promised Land, and that enlarged the Dalek, but killed the mutant at the core of the machine. They crashed in London in the 1500’s and eventually the computer system evolved enough that the antibodies could make conscious choices. For the last three years they’ve been abducting dock workers to fix the Dalek shell. Once it is capable of flight, they will dominate the Earth and use the population to build more large-scale Daleks, and antibodies, like themselves.

Clara wonders what any of this has to do with the alien creature that was lured to Earth. The Dalek antibodies say they have no intention of luring any aliens to Earth, that it would add an unnecessary impurity.

The Doctor puts it all together, and says that he knows who summoned the alien. He uses his sonic screwdriver on the Dalek antibodies and there’s a high-pitched squeal. He tells everyone he just sent the transmission that will summon the alien creature so they will all go back in time and find the Dalek army. No paradoxes at all here, none whatsoever. Let’s just keep moving, because this is ridiculous!

They all run down a corridor, while the Dalek antibodies regroup. One of the antibodies kills Aristotle with a ray.

Aristotle is having champagne with Missy in the Promised Land.

The gang runs through more corridors and then they all run back in to each other in the empty spot where the dead Dalek mutant would have been. Madame Vastra asks the doctor what their plan is. The Doctor says that they might be able to self-destruct the Dalek if they can trigger failsafes that prevent non-Dalek’s from operating the system. He says the way to do that is for someone to join with the machinery that connected the mutant to the machine. Clara asks if that person could leave once the failsafe is triggered, and of course they can’t. Monsieur volunteers to do it because he can’t go on living without Aristotle. The gang runs away, to find an exit back to the docks. Monsieur inserts some cables under his skin and the whole place (just the camera, really) shakes. Strobe lights flash. Clara, Jenny, Strax, and The Doctor shout for the dock workers to run for it. Dalek antibodies block the exit. The Doctor does the same alien transmission trick, disorienting the antibodies used to broadcast the signal, and they all escape to the dock while the water starts to boil, and glow.

Madame Vastra comments that she would have done what the Monsieur did, if Jenny had died. Jenny tells Clara, in a reference to earlier, that she should go talk with her own Monsieur.

The Doctor and Clara are traveling back in the TARDIS when Clara asks about the second signal. The Doctor casually remarks that they just have to go subdue another alien when they get back, and it shouldn’t take more than a few hours.

2014-09-22 11:03:58

Category: text


Analog(ue) #5: 'The Only Way Out is Through' ►

This is not a light-hearted episode. It is, however, a heartfelt one. I have an enormous amount of respect for these three.

2014-09-14 11:47:51

Category: text


Industry Paradox

No, I’m not referring to that time that James T. Kirk asked an industrial computer an impossible question. I’m talking about how things everyone is interested in, aren’t generating sustainable income.

This morning, Twitter started to circulate stories about the staff of Macworld being laid off. I read Jason Snell’s heartfelt post about his reasons for leaving his position, as well as the optimism he has for making things again.

Jason Snell was my metaphorical white whale. I think he’s the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees — that’s a lot of conflicting animals, but bear with me — He’s a real standup gent. He’s also been professionally successful in a geeky business doing geeky stuff. He’s hobnobbed with all sorts of Apple people that I would just gawk at, mouth agape. He’s a real pro, through and through. What I admire most of all, is his side project, The Incomparable. What started as a nerdy, panel discussion of rotating topics has turned in to a bit of a nerdy empire. He obviously draws great satisfaction from creating things for audiences.

I used to love buying Macworld issues. I was not a subscriber, but I would spend a few bucks, when I could, to read Mac magazines (I also read MacUser before it was acquired by Macworld, but honestly I couldn’t mentally distinguish specific articles from one or the other right now). This was, of course, during the dark times at Apple when they weren’t doing too well. You would not know that from the issues. They contained delightful spreads about upcoming projects. Glossy photos of Apple’s hardware (which they made look interesting, even though they were mostly reused cases) with artfully placed copy. Everything about it was a real, honest-to-goodness experience. How can you make an unimaginative product name like, “603e” sound interesting? They did! There were huge comparisons of all the Mac clones (they were mostly identical in performance). I vividly recall an image of a prototype Apple notebook that had a detachable screen (never shipped) as well as a special Japanese Powerbook that never shipped to the US. I lusted after these amazing things. That magazine is where I first saw Rhapsody, and read about Yellow Box and Blue Box. There was so much there, and it was all dressed to the nines, despite Apple teetering on the edge of oblivion.

However, Macworld, like almost every publication that existed, botched the internet. (Jason Snell talks a little about urging MacUser, and Macworld, to take the internet seriously in an interview with Anže Tomić.) I moved away from Macworld. Their monthly issues were still beautiful, but the information was often not current. When things around Apple changed quickly, the news lagged behind — something you wouldn’t notice in the 90s.

I started to go back to Macworld after I started listening to Jason’s creative outlet, The Incomparable, since many panelists were writers, editors, and contributors to the stories on the site. They revised their site to be less-bad, and I often refer to it for content that you don’t find on those “BREAKING! EXCLUSIVE!“, Betteridge’s-Law-breaking, feeding troughs of “Sources close to”, triple-paraphrased tech sites. Serenity Caldwell wrote great stuff about ebooks, because she was in charge of making them for Macworld. Lex Friedman (who left to go in to podcasting ad sales) has in-depth articles on things you don’t think you need to know, like managing your Gmail through Fluid app instances. It’s all really great, really geeky stuff, and not eHow stuff. Philip Michaels even made fun of this crazy, media world in his Macworld Pundit Showdown series. It’s not all news, it’s life, it’s meta.

It is strange that while Apple has risen to a level that surpassed where it was in the 80s, and interest in Apple has increased to match that, the old media outlets that covered Apple in the 90s declined. Layoffs, and turning around and publishing the web items as next month’s issue, have done very little to balance the books for Macworld. It’s a very cruel irony that the fortunes of these people, and this company, are moving in a direction opposite to the products they cover.

As someone that has gone through layoffs, I know that hearing things like, “good luck”, and “land on your feet” can sound kind of hollow, but it’s often the only thing we can think to say to one another^1. It’s certainly what I said to the Macworld people I follow on Twitter. I wasn’t sure what else to say, even though I’ve been on the receiving end. (While there are more VFX shots in films than there ever have been, almost all the work in California left with our water.)

From Jason’s interview with Anže around 47 minutes in:

There was a time when I thought that the media companies in the future would be all sales people, and that the editors would just all be fired, and that they would have freelancers, you know, computers writing things, and databases — and, and my job would be over, and it would just be the sales people. They would rule the Earth. But for the last five or ten years, I’ve been thinking: no, the future of the media is that the sales people are all gonna disappear, and it’s just gonna be the editors and writers because they make the thing that has value. And Google, and it’s ilk, are going to completely invalidate all the ways that things get sold. That’s probably extreme, but some of that is happening. It is — It is really hard to use those old sales approaches in a world where there are ad networks, and ad exchanges, and Google out there to do this stuff. So that will be interesting to see. What is the right model for a media company? Is it a bunch of single people? Is it a collective of, like, five writers? Or is there room for a fifty, or a hundred person company with sales people, marketing people, and an editorial staff, and some staff writers, and some freelancers? That’s what we are, and I don’t know if that’s a shape that will fit in the landscape in five years. I honestly don’t know, it might. But it might be that what you really want is a staff of five or ten editors, and writers, and then a couple business people, and then an ad network. I really don’t know what the economics are going to be like.

Jason goes on to say that the middle-ground has dried up. That small places can get by, because they’re small, and big places can get by because they are eyeball/content mills. The stuff between those extremes is not making money. Paywalls scare people away, requiring larger fees, there need to be huge ads, or creepy advertorials, etc. Someone needs to pay for the stuff, and it’s not the traditional advertising sales model of “We’ll print X of these.” There are rumblings around Kickstarter, and Patreon, but they’re not fully tested, and Patreon can often be about financing someone that has a proven track record. People that seek funding often turn to swag, like shirts, and mugs, to gather money. It seems dubious, and unsustainable, to encourage people to make things for free, for a living, until they make money (cough). It’s also unstable. There need to be rainy-day funds, there needs to be capital. Dramatic ups and downs are no way for people to live. Project-based freelancing, without benefits, is not comfortable for many humans over the age of 30. Retirement benefits sound silly, when you’re young, because it feels like it’s a long way off. It’s not.

Jason says we can’t all be Daring Fireball, surely no one is going to read 18 Daring Fireballs. Text has a very low barrier to entry (hi) but that is no guarantee it’s any good (I need an editor!) or that it will satisfy the specific, steady intervals people want writing released in.

The written word is definitely still a part of our society, despite print’s ever-demising demise. People still lie in bed, scrolling through text, sit at work (totally on a break!) reading news, or enjoy their commutes with all the things they want to catch up on. The former Macworld writers, and editors, are still capable of offering that crucial service they offered before. Hopefully, they are satisfied by whatever options presented, or the options they make for themselves.

Jason’s desire to create for audiences rings true to me. Even when I work as an artist, I don’t always feel artistic. Silly things that can fulfill me in ways that I don’t always get from working on movies. That’s not to say that I hate movies, or that the writers hate writing, or the editors hate editing — but when the industry you are in is crumbling, while the industry that benefits from your work is excelling, it can make you bummed about your work, and your career. (I should have gone to business school, then I could finally art-direct movies.)

^1: I hope no one said that, “When God closes a door, he opens a window” line because that is just the worst. “This could be a good thing for you.” Is my runner-up.

2014-09-11 00:33:32

Category: text


Defocused 13: 'Racing Bulldozers' with Stephen Hackett

Stephen Hackett, of 512pixels.net and Relay FM fame, was kind enough to be a guest on our silly podcast. He’s a former Apple Genius, and has a love for all things Apple. ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ seemed like a natural fit. We love to have guests on that are excited, and passionate about the movie they want to talk about. (Casey Liss and ‘Collateral’, and Myke Hurley and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’.) Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t quite as we remembered it.

I still have a certain fondness for it, if only because it reminds me of how I felt about Apple at the time I watched the TV movie in 1999. Even the unintentionally comedic moments in the scene are still interesting.

2014-09-10 09:53:40

Category: text


Watch the Cloud

For weeks, Apple teased a special event for the morning of September 9th. Instead of a usual invitation, there was a countdown clock. Apple even redirected their main site to the countdown clock. This was going to be so big. Everyone should pay attention to this. Apple would even be running their own liveblog of the event, in addition to streaming video. They were planning on controlling the message on this incredibly important event. They didn’t want this news to filter down through the press, being shaped by the press’ inevitable cynicism of Apple events.

Unfortunately, everything fell apart. The live streaming was in a constant state of skipping through time, freezing, or flat-out denying access. Even when the live stream was working, their audio was all over the place. In the pre-show, they broadcast music over other music. In the event, they broadcast a translator’s feed over the presenter’s talking, at the same volume. This was, unequivocally, a disaster for managing the story they wanted to tell to customers.

I feel terrible for the people trying to manage the event. There’s no, “give me an hour” on a live show. There’s not the chance to come back and do this tomorrow. There’s a whole auditorium full of press. While I do feel bad, this is hardly the first time this has happened. This was, however, the most severe. It’s worse for Apple than it is for me, here on my couch. This failure means they are not getting what they want from their event — control.

Pick an iPhone — Any iPhone

This was not surprising to anyone paying attention to the rumors, and the conjecture. Even though I did not seek any leaked photos, sites still posted them to Twitter and I saw them. We got the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus. They are both larger phones than the preceding iPhones. Last year’s iPhone 5s and 5c will stick around — presumably for people that would like cheaper phones, or smaller phones. People that want the latest-and-greatest, in a small package, are at a distinct disadvantage. I do question how big of a deal this will be.

My identity has not been tied to the things I buy for many years. I’ll buy Guava Goddess Kombucha, and fancy wines, or I’ll buy a grouper sandwich in a Florida dive with a Yuengling. It doesn’t say anything about me. iPhones are just things, there’s such an abundance of similar things that it hardly matters. Sure, when I was a kid, and my mom bought off-brand stuff I would be embarrassed, but there are larger concerns than Apple not specifically crafting an iPhone around what I think I want. Big ones, small ones, whatever. I keep an open mind, because I’m a generous soul.

Looking at the lineup, and my antique iPhone 4, I’m leaning towards the iPhone 6. It will be a huge change for me, but I have the cargo shorts to pull it off. (No really, cargo shorts are amazing. Don’t read this, Matt Alexander.)

The Plus is enticing to me because “optical image stabilization” sounds like a great thing to have. Then I thought about that for 5 seconds and remembered that it’s so tiny, it’s probably not the most effective optical image stabilization there is.

The fitness features honestly mean nothing to me. I know there are people that measure runs, and that this (like all bits-o-fitness) is advertised as something to motivate me. Tim underestimates my laziness. They are theoretically neat, but feel like they’d be more at home on a Samsung phone than an Apple one.

Pay Apple

The tech press got themselves in to a lather over NFC payments again. They do this, from time to time, but this event managed to actually pull off their prediction.

They did a bungling, late-night infomercial to lead in to this and it drove me up the wall. Not a single female presented in this event, but they made sure to show overstuffed purses. “Does this happen to you?” BOING! Cards everywhere.

I sincerely question the implementation of this service. From the demonstration, all you have to do is take a photo of a card. This seems… not very secure to me. Perhaps credit card companies are also verifying that the photographed card is being used on a phone that has the phone number of the cardholder on file? I’m not entirely sure. It does make me wary. They also show that it’s linked in to Passbook. I’ve used Passbook, and it’s kind of a mess. Instead of people looking for cards in their overstuffed purses, they’ll be looking for them by swiping around on a glass slab that has no tactile indications of what you’re touching. Then scanning their fingerprints with the Touch ID scanner, which sometimes gets fingerprints wrong. I can’t wait until I’m in line behind someone that’s not ready with the card they want pulled up on screen. It’ll be like being behind someone with a personal check.

The really strange thing is when they made a big deal about how secure this was, and then they showed an Apple Watch being able to make purchases. That doesn’t have a fingerprint scanner. Is it just authorized to work as long as it’s in proximity to your phone? Then someone would just need to take your phone and your watch. Do you have to use Touch ID every so often to confirm the watch and phone are still in your possession? Because then it kind of defeats the purpose of the watch being a payment method.

There are just a lot of questions. I am not coming down against it, but I do want to see how this works for people in real life. When Passbook was introduced, many people wrote that it was Apple’s answer to NFC. That the NFC sensors didn’t exist, so it just made more sense to use scanned codes. Who really uses Passbook? I am at a loss to think of anyone in my life, but perhaps there’s a very large, dedicated community of users I’m unaware of.

Status Symbol

The Apple Watch, a long-rumored device, finally made its big debut today. People loved it, and people hated it. People are the worst. It does things that are, in a purely technical sense, amazing. However, it does a lot of really weird stuff that seems totally outside the mandate of a teeny-tiny device for my wrist.

I am not sure where the Apple Watch is aimed. It includes a dizzying list of features that would entice any Android smart watch owner to consider it. It requires an iPhone, of course. It’s $350, which is more expensive than many entry-level, on-contract iPhones, but it is a watch.

If you’re a bro with a G-Shock, or hipster with a Seiko, it might seem exorbitant to charge this — a king’s ransom — for that kind of a watch. For those that love Automatic Swiss watches, this is a paltry sum. However, the lovers of those Automatic Swiss watches do not want features, they want exclusive, meticulously crafted jewels. The G-Shock owners want those features, and they don’t care about rubber, plastic, or mass-market, quartz timekeeping.

It is very peculiar that Apple chose to walk the line between the two. There are fussy materials, but not the craftsmanship. It’s cheap as dirt compared to Tissot, but it’s too expensive for Timex. It’s G-Shockingly ugly, and bulbous, but it’s glossy and sleek. Who is this for?

I had known before the event that the device would not appeal to me because I don’t wear any watch at all. I am in the camp that feels like cellphones cover all of my timekeeping needs. I’ve never felt like my notifications are too far away, or unreachable (cargo shorts) so it seemed unlikely Apple would have invented something that would sway me towards wearing a watch. That’s just an honest perspective, and not a judgment.

This is actually a huge relief to me. There is no super-special feature here that I would feel locked out of. No exclusive ability that would make me ashamed. Just a “smart watch”. I will be glad to see it find a home with other people, and see those people come up with creative, and useful ways to explore what a wrist device can do, but I’ll catch up to them later if I feel like it.

Cloudy Horizons

Today’s event did nothing to allay concerns about Apple’s cloud infrastructure. They can’t organize and host their own events reliably, like Google can, they still have data plans that don’t seem to really keep pace with their competition. Their headline feature from WWDC, Continuity, was removed from betas weeks ago.

Todays event was about devices, but I was never really concerned about devices. There would be a new iPhone. There would be stuff for people to buy. Where’s the focus on what connects these things?

Apple, don’t be scared of cloud stuff, or it will be a bigger threat than an unannounced watch. Get the services right Apple, everyone else is. Understand it. Key in the sequence, Tim.

2014-09-09 16:25:20

Category: text


Legitimate Text Processing

Update: Hours after this post went up, and Jeff Atwood renamed his fork of Markdown to “Common Markdown”. All the criticism below is still 100% valid. They’re making a project that suits their own needs, but using a (new) name to suggest some level of primacy over other Markdown dialects, and Markdown itself.

Markdown was made by John Gruber, and it’s a great way to turn easy-to-read text in to unreadable HTML. It’s a limited set of syntax for things, that can be expanded on. It’s become wildly popular, particular for blogging, or for web sites that have comment systems. It’s even influenced Fountain, a similar specification for writing heavily formatted screenplays with just plain text.

Some people have to write code that supports processing Markdown text in to HTML. Many people hewed closely to what the original tool generated, which makes sense. Then people ran in to cases that weren’t precisely explained, or areas where the tool didn’t have what someone wanted. This means that sometimes things will produce different HTML code, but even that doesn’t always look wrong in the browser. More often than not, people wanted to add on features.

People called their Markdown implementations something clever. Like “GitHub Flavored Markdown” or “Python Markdown” or “Kramdown” or whatever. So here you have a ton of little tools that do slightly different things — either intentionally or unintentionally.

This drives some people nuts because they want there to be a proper way. They want the correct way. That’s cute, because the same people that want a correct version to refer to, and test against, are the same people that make their own syntax features.

Here, let this guy lacking self-awareness explain how he oversaw two different Markdown implementations:

We really struggled with this at Discourse, which is also based on Markdown, but an even more complex dialect than the one we built at Stack Overflow. In Discourse, you can mix three forms of markup interchangeably:

  • Markdown
  • HTML (safe subset)
  • BBCode (subset)

If there was a standard, Jeff would still have ignored the standard if it didn’t fit the products he made. The flexibility to make your own dialect trumps adhering to anything. This is the point of every Markdown service.

Jeff highlights John MacFarlane, creator of PanDoc, and a tool John made called Babelmark. The tool lets a person compare the code generated by the default behavior of a variety of Markdown tools. Example. This is neat, and clearly, you can see that the code is different. If you flip over to the preview, you’ll see there’s not much visual difference here.

I know, horror of horrors, it’s not conforming to one, specific thing that can be tested and verified. Pass or fail. That would be neat and tidy, wouldn’t it? It ignores reality though.

In the “Standard Markdown” spec, they include GitHub Flavored Markdown’s “fenced code blocks”. Oh! Well, would you look at that! It’s a feature that serves the needs of one of the “Standard Markdown” contributors. It has nothing to do with the original specification of Markdown. This isn’t solely about removing ambiguity, of course, it’s about making the Markdown someone wants in to the correct Markdown.

Where are the tables? Tables are not a “core feature” like GitHub fenced code blocks. Where’s ids for headers? No one needed it, but Jeff agrees about maybe putting it in. Where’s the metadata storage? Guess no one needed metadata storage. Maybe they’ll come later on, and we’ll have “Standard Markdown 2.0 Compliant” badges we can adorn our blogs with. Maybe we can put a special header in our text files that says what the human-readable text should be processed with? You know, like “!#/usr/bin/StandardMarkdown/Official/2.0.1.a/” Something easy on the eyes.

This blog, which is really simple, and dumb, uses Python Markdown. It offers a series of extensions that can be enabled, disabled, and configured to suit my needs. I use metadata to store things like the title, and publish date. I use a table of contents package to create anchors for the headings. None of this stuff is supported by Markdown or “Standard Markdown”, and Python Markdown doesn’t even do it out-of-the-box.

Byword is my writing app of choice. It includes certain visual cues for Markdown elements based on the popular MultiMarkdown (MMD) syntax. I don’t get visual hinting for all of the elements I write that Python Markdown will convert. That’s fine. It’s great that neither strictly adhere to Gruber’s original Markdown. There’s enough here to make this all work smoothly, and I’m not surprised by the outcome very often. The alternative is that I have a rigidly enforced system that does not do what I want it to do.

Like Stack Exchange, Discourse, or GitHub, we all have needs. This is here to make things easier for us. If we have to have some cockamamy specification laid down that all must yield to, then I don’t find it appealing. Is the “Standard Markdown” team going to allow all these customizations? They fly in the face of what they deem correct. Will every customization need vetting and approval through some Discourse board where I’ll have very little sway?

I Can’t, With That Name

A petty, vainglorious power-grab of a name. What’s in a name? That which we call a Fork, by any other name would be just as forky.

  1. Standard - This is like telling everyone you’re cool. “Hi everyone, I’m Cool Joe! Come hang out with me!” Congratulations on jinxing yourself? The iPhone is not called “Standard Phone”. Also, as I’ve established above, this is only standard in name only. A few guys made this in secret to scratch their own itch.
  2. Markdown - Lots of things use “Markdown” as part of the name of their implementation of Markdown. The Python library I’m using does this. It’s usually not paired with “Standard”, “Official”, “One and Only”, or “Legal” to imply it holds some special place. This is, after-all, a fork.

This is about legitimizing their fork over all the others. Not just another fork here, this one is named “Standard Markdown”!

For someone that says he loves Markdown, Jeff doesn’t seem to understand anything about why it is popular. Or why attempts to rein in the wild sprawl are bound to fail.

2014-09-04 13:20:51

Category: text


Analog(ue) #3: 'White Whale Syndrome'

Welcome, once again, to the all-podcasting all-the-time blog! This one is Gorn-free. It is in an outline format, followed by self-deprecating stuff! Isn’t that fun!

(Ragtime music)

  1. All y’all know Casey is Southern.
  2. All y’all know Casey’s the internet’s favo(u)rite.
  3. Followup editing noise.
  4. Tagging, and checking-in, are controversial because it can provide access to you in a way that varies from creepy, to overly-familiar based on who has access to that data now, or in the future.
    1. Hypothetical: Casey has a stalker — Definitely not. Who would listen to every episode? And then blog about it? And tweet?
      1. (Looks away)
      2. (Loosens collar)
      3. (Clears throat)
      4. (Continues outlining)
    2. Hypothetical: Someone sees a tweet sent directly to someone else, and decides they should show up anyway.
    3. Hypothetical: Same scenario, but the person is already at the same location you are.
    4. Hypothetical: What if your friend, ‘Joe Smith’ shows up at the bar and even though he’s your friend, he’s not the friend you want there.
  5. Identity: What do you like to be known for?
    1. Casey mentions his wife, and she identifies as a teacher, and has since college.
    2. Myke identifies as a podcaster. Then he says other stuff.
      1. Myke is a “marketeer”, and Casey says it sounds like a Disney property. I think it sounds like a different Disney property. Myke does not identify as any of those things.
        1. Friendship sacrifice is here, under identity. I only took AP Psychology, so I’m not qualified to speculate about why that is. Seems like it’s related to friends in meat-space not understanding his identity as a podcaster.
        2. Online friends are a component of Myke’s identity.
          1. Being with those internet friends, in person, cements a relationship.
          2. Myke needs human interaction, still, and would go to a co-working space rather than sit in his room.
    3. Casey has a dual identity.
      1. A J.O.B. job that used to define him more.
        1. It doesn’t satisfy him as much as it used to, but it is still a part of him.
      2. His internet life, twitter, internet friends, podcasting, that he’s getting more from these days.
        1. This is why Casey is so obsessed with Twitter.
          1. Healthy.
            1. Myke and Stephen are good.
          2. Unhealthy.
            1. Ignoring Erin, or real-life friends.
  6. Internet followers.
    1. Myke.
      1. Ego: Loves seeing follower count go up, and just looks at it every now and then.
      2. Business: Seeing people from companies, sponsors, that follow.
    2. Casey.
      1. Affliction (no, not that one) — White Whale Syndrome.
        1. You really want to be followed by someone, and then they do follow you, and you feel great. It is an affirmation that you exist, and that they’re at least interested in you.
        2. “Why doesn’t John Smith follow me? We’ve exchange tweets?” — What does Casey have against the Smith family? Jeeze!
        3. Once you get that follow, then you just have someone else you want to follow you.
        4. Like a crush, or not being picked for sports, or really wanted to be friends with the cool kid at school.
        5. Everyone, to some degree, gets some amount of their identity from twitter followers. Even the amount, and wanting more than the amount they currently have, defines part of them (I like how the first number Casey throws out is 1,000.) because they want what they can’t have.
  7. Online, or Offline, are you the same person?
    1. Casey.
      1. Hesitates on tweeting every little thing he might otherwise say. He’ll coarsely filter his thoughts.
    2. Myke
      1. Cursing.
        1. Joe Steel, in the chatroom, mentions Myke curses in the livestream on occasion. (This was the minute I tuned in. I probably shouldn’t have opened my mouth. Why did I open my dumb mouth?! Joe’s identity is opening his dumb mouth.)
        2. Myke can filter cursing because of his parents, and he tries to keep his podcasts clean, but swears often in real life.

I totally understand the followers stuff. I would never have said it if they didn’t mention it first, because honestly, I’m worried it makes me sound super self-absorbed — which, uh, I am.

There’s something I’d add to the ‘White Whale Syndrome’ and that’s shame. I’m really good at adding shame! What if you get what you want, and you feel like you didn’t deserve it, or you’re concerned about them seeing something unflattering about you? I guess that’s more ‘Monkey’s Paw’ Syndrome? Jason Snell picked me for the kickball team — I can’t disappoint Jason Snell! I was fine disappointing the rest of you. (Wink.)

In that ‘Launch Anxiety’ post, I mentioned freaking out about Myke’s retweet, and the pressure of having someone following you. Sure enough, Myke retweeted my blog post about how much his retweet freaked me out and Jason Snell followed me. I had thought it would be cool if Jason Snell ever followed me, like Casey mentions in Analog(ue) #3, but it’s actually kind of intimidating. I’ve already managed to disappoint him by not liking a Doctor Who episode. Good job, Joe.

It’s not even really about internet-famous people, there’s an aggregate pressure from all the followers. Myke and Casey talked about the follower count numbers increasing, and that’s an encouragement. That they weren’t concerned about the number decreasing — neither am I. What I am concerned about is that the higher the number gets, the more likely I am to be a jerk to someone. To not reply to a tweet about Defocused in the way they wanted. After all, I want to be funny, so doesn’t everyone contacting me want to be funny too? Don’t they, sometimes, want me to follow them back? God, what if I’m someone else’s ‘White Whale’? Like in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion?!

The part that’s far more embarrassing is that I tuned in to Analog(ue)’s livestream late, at the very tail end. I joked that they could start the episode over again, but I shouldn’t have because it immediately seemed obnoxious to me, and doubly so after listening to the entire podcast. After their recording, Casey and Myke kept the livestream going and complimented Dan Sturm and me. It was extremely flattering and extremely uncomfortable. Just like with the white whale syndrome, of getting that Jason Snell twitter-follow, I got a barrage of compliments from two people I respect, and I immediately felt like I didn’t deserve it, and that they should not have said anything so nice to me. On the one hand, I knew it wasn’t part of the episode, but on the other hand, it still felt like I was getting attention I wanted, but didn’t deserve to have. (Casey was extremely complimentary.)

I used to think that my career defined me, much like Casey, but I want to be liked, and that’s never happening with my career, so it seems to hinge on my commentary. That sounds kind of dull, right? I am not going to start a podcasting empire, and I’m not going to be on the Biggest Podcast Ev4r, but I want to create lots of little things. Most of this identity — this personal brand — is trying to be entertaining with my observations. Not a comedian, but entertaining, hopefully. If I assert a little ego here, I’d say I’ve managed to do that, to a degree. I’m not wildly popular, but I obviously have more people interested in listening to me, and reading me, than I had a year ago. There is a certain measure of success there. But if they’re interested in my observations, than that’s sort of like being interested in a mirror. In holding a mirror up to a podcast episode, a book, or a movie. I am not the true source of what’s interesting, and I don’t think I have that capacity.

2014-09-01 00:17:50

Category: text


The Incomparable #209: 'One Gorn Limit'

The Incomparable started a new initiative to discuss the best, and worst, of Star Trek in a series of episodes. It is required listening for this post. I’ll pretend that I had a turn in the draft roundtable discussion after Brianna Wu, Scott McNulty, Tony Sindelar, and Jason Snell:

Best Episodes of Star Trek (First Pick)

My pick is ‘Cause and Effect’ from TNG. This is pure Star Trek all the way through. There’s a mysterious puzzle to solve, with details bleeding over from previous iterations in the loop they’re all stuck in. Also, the Enterprise blows up (a lot), which is always interesting.

Worst Episodes of Star Trek (First Pick)

I’m going to side with the ‘offensive’ critics over the ‘organ stealing’ side. The episode that precedes ‘Cause and Effect’ — ‘The Outcast’ that I didn’t like as a kid. I saw it, and thought the aliens were idiots, and the conflict in the episode made no sense. It wasn’t until years later that I learned this episode was supposed to be their episode on sexual orientation — their gay episode. It’s really a very weak gender identity episode, which is not the same thing. They were scared of how their audience might react to gay characters. The character of Soren is tragic, but the tragedy is undermined throughout the episode by the decisions of the show’s producers. Even making her brainwashing a flawless success is dumb because then it implies that reeducation treatments are good, instead of, you know, horrible.

When David Gerrold (a gay writer on TOS, TAS, and TNG) came forward with his story that was an allegory for AIDS, the producers didn’t want to do it because it featured two guys in a relationship. Eew, gross, icky. It was rewritten by another writer, to remove the gay characters (still wasn’t produced), and Gerrold left.

Questions about sexuality on Star Trek kept getting asked, and five years later, Rick Berman went with ‘The Outcast’ to be the episode that would explore the issues, but it was about male and female gender relationships, not about same-sex relationships. This episode with an androgynous race that condemns gender is pretty much the opposite of what they should have been doing. They also cast the character that Riker kisses with a female actress, playing a character that identifies as female and seeks a male, which really is not all that unusual. Rick Berman was worried the audience would find two men kissing “unpalatable”.

There have been several episodes featuring women with feelings for other women, but not a single one about men. The later series (DS9, Voyager and Enterprise) even ran while Will and Grace was on the air and the best they could do was hedge with Trill gender swaps and a non-same-sex allegory about AIDS with forced mind-melds. JJ-Trek is in the unfortunate position of having their main characters shipped to them from the 60s, so it’s unlikely anything progressive will happen now unless they add characters.

‘The Outcast’ - The least-progressive progressive episode ever.

Best Episodes of Star Trek (Second Pick)

‘Sacrifice of Angels’ is the second half of a Dominion War episode from DS9. Things had been going very badly for the Federation, for many episodes, and this is where things turn around. This is like Return of the Jedi only the Ferengi are less annoying than the Ewoks. The Dominion is convinced that they have the upper hand, and it’s all lost. All of it. Gul Dukat’s own daughter, the daughter he sacrificed his career for, reveals her treachery and she’s fatally shot by Damar. Gul Dukat collapses. Marc Alaimo is so incredibly fantastic in this episode.

“I forgive you too.” - Broken Dukat handing Sisko the baseball that Sisko left when the station was taken.

Worst Episodes of Star Trek (Second Pick)

Jason stole my pick, drat. My backup is ‘Profit and Lace’ from DS9. In DS9’s defense, they can’t all be winners, but WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! The episode was meant to be a farce, but it’s so, so, so ill conceived. I love wacky, comedic episodes of Star Trek — like Voyager’s ‘Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy’, or ‘Message in a Bottle’ — but this is just atrocious.

Best Characters of Star Trek

It’s a toss up between Spock and Data, but I’m going with Data. He has a very unique struggle, wanting to experience emotion, and wanting to be loved and respected. When I was a kid, I really identified with the episode ‘Hero Worship’ because I really looked up to a character like Data and see myself in the role of Timothy Vico. (Spoiler Alert! This episode is not as a good as I remember it being! UGH!)

He’s been on trial for his rights as person or appliance (conflicts that The Doctor of Voyager experienced), and his right to procreate.

Worst Characters of Star Trek

Travis Mayweather makes me sad. Tell me something about Travis. He’s a really good pilot, right? OK, well that’s good, because he is a pilot. Kind of important to be good at piloting ships when you pilot ships for a living. He’s a main character on Star Trek: Enterprise and he does… uh… and his arc over the series is… uh… Wasn’t there something about parents and freighters? Or something? Or that xenophobic reporter girlfriend that tricked him?

Hoshi and Malcolm are both primarily defined by their job on the ship, to the exclusion of almost everything else. They’re still more fleshed out than Travis.

What a total disappointment. Like all of the Enterprise characters, the Mirror Universe version of Travis was far more interesting and we barely saw that one. He’s by far the least developed member of the main cast of the show. Enterprise really focused a lot on Archer, T’Pol, and Trip, to the unfortunate exclusion of all of the other characters.

2014-08-31 16:35:28

Category: text


Defocused 11: 'I do This for a Living' with Casey Liss ►

Welcome, once again, to my Casey Liss and Myke Hurley fan club. While Casey and I were scheduled to be on John Chidgey’s podcast, we made arrangements for him to appear on Defocused. Since we try to anchor the podcast with a movie to discuss, we asked Casey to pick one. He selected Collateral, which I had never seen before (I typically avoid Tom Cruise movies). It’s a great movie, and everyone should go check it out if they haven’t already. I really appreciate Casey’s selection for the show, and I hope others do as well.

You’re not going to miss anything if you’re not completely caught up on Defocused. Dan and I are terrible people. I tease Casey about Firefly on Twitter, and then I watched all the episodes. There, all caught up.

After listening back, there were a few nits I neglected to pick on the show:

  • The helicopter shots. So many aerial helicopter shots. They don’t really serve as good establishing shots, because they don’t have much to do with where characters are, or are going. They’re kind of night-shot filler.
  • If you’re watching the very end of the movie, there is some distracting greenscreen work that detracts from the acting. It’s a real shame.
  • The way the police are dressed, and their hair, is … uh … something.

2014-08-27 11:30:21

Category: text


Not the Twitter We Want, but it's the Twitter we Deserve

Everyone, look under your seats, you all have favorites! I have talked about my opinion on favoriting things in the past, but to quickly summarize: I favorite for a variety of reasons, but I favorite things often. Their use can impart something to the conversation you’re having in a way text would not, and they can also be simple bookmarks.

Since a favorite alone can be used as a form of communication, it is important to know when one has received a favorite. Which means notifications need to be enabled for them. However, if you use Tweetbot, those notifications are not sticky, they go away as soon as they pop up in the app. If you want to know what happened, you need to open the official Twitter app, or the Twitter website, and look at the “Notifications” section. This is why I juggle two apps, back and forth. I hate the regular Twitter app’s timeline, but I need the context of what was favorited to steer a conversation, or to know that a conversation ended amicably. People often favorite the last tweet in a conversation as a form of punctuation, that they enjoyed the conversation, but it’s over for right now.

None of this mattered at all until this week when Twitter changed how they displayed the timeline in the official apps. Now, my promiscuous picks, pokes, and polite nods are going to appear, at random, in the timelines of random people that follow me on Twitter. These out-of-context artifacts will just hang there, taking up about 1/4 of someone’s visible timeline on a mobile device and leave them scratching their heads. Attempt to follow the conversation from one of those tweets and you’ll be totally lost. Some sarcastic interchange might appear to be closely-held beliefs without proper context. Will people just see self-contained gems of 140 character insight? Only tweets with links to news, or products?

Also troubling, are two other injected types: ‘[One of your followers] follows’ and ‘From Twitter’. The ‘follows’ one might be familiar to anyone that’s accidentally looked at Twitter’s ‘Discover’ feed, only now they’ve seen fit to migrate it to the main feed. You get a popular, recent tweet from that ‘follow’ presented to you. These have so far included things like Buzzfeed: “John Krasinski and Emily Blunt’s #IceBucketChallenge is why they are the best couple ever [buzzfeed pageview metric link]” and Cory Doctrow “Child arrested after writing story about shooting a dinosaur [boingboing]”. It offends me, not because I find Buzzfeed’s desire to share cynical, or BoingBoing’s news old, but because some algorithm has decided that these things suit me. That these are the things that I will click on, the content I will consume. It makes me want to shout, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” But, in a way, they do know some of me. They see my actions and try to infer meaning from them, which is not the same as understanding me — yet. I’m sure they will get better at it, which also disturbs me.

The same goes for ‘From Twitter’ only it’s using some mechanism that makes no sense to me. I’ve only ever seen one of these, and it was for someone I do not follow, and I don’t think anyone I follow, follows them. There is one connection, Buzzfeed, so maybe it’s topical? “Meet AdDetector — the browser plug-in that labels native advertising with a huge red [sic] banner [Wall Street Journal pageview metric link]” The algorithm is so cynical, and inept, that it selected a story about the offensive injection of reading material people do not want to inject in to my timeline.

The ‘Discover’ tab is crap for this very reason. It is a company highlighting things that align with how they would like me to use their product. Twitter’s appeal, for me, has been in my ability to select who, and what, I see. It was clear before, you followed someone, you saw their tweets. You followed two people that talked to each other, you saw their conversations. You’d only see tweets from people you did not follow when they were retweeted.

Twitter Hates Completionists

Twitter wants to control what I see. When I’m out of tweets to read, it wants to pick one for me. When I’m scrolling through, it wants to put something that is closely aligned with its interests in the list. They want me to amplify the voices of the popular so they stay popular and engaged with the service — especially publications, and large blogs, that tweet frequently.

A real peril is that when I start from where I last read twitter, I will read everything, as it unfolded. I will see the first news post instead of a promoted one. I will see the first time something funny was said, instead of the one that has been selected for popular reinforcement. Most importantly, I will read everything, and stop using the service until later, because I know Tweetbot won’t lose my place.

Tweetbot isn’t going to exist forever, neither will any of the other clients. Their functionality is hamstrung, and their profitability is constrained. Where’s the update to Tweetbot for iPad? Why am I still using an iOS 6 app on the eve of iOS 8’s launch if for no other reason than it’s not in the developer’s interests to release it? Twitter would like it very much if Tweetbot went away.

The worst thing in the world, from Twitter’s perspective, is for me to read only what I want to read. To see only what I want to see. What I want does not make them any money. What I want is at their expense.

Twitter, as it existed for its first few years, was not profitable. It needs to be profitable. Services can’t run on adoration and appreciation, they do need money. Investors want a return on their investment greater than just breaking even.

Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Casey Liss talk about this, and all things related to the Twitter experience, in Accidental Tech Podcast episode 79.

“Web 2.0” was a great lie. The power of social, connected data on dynamic webpages — for free. We participate in the lie every day. Look at Tumblr, acquired by Yahoo, and making its own moves to lock itself down. Their “Sponsored Posts” have animated gifs, so they’re still cool, right? Axe body spray is cool, right? They even insert suggested blog posts now. It doesn’t hurt that the suggestions are from popular blogs that are selling products. I’m sure that’s a coincidence!

Let’s Make Our Own Twitter! What Could Go Wrong?

Diaspora Still Works!

Diaspora, a federated network of nodes that presented people with a Facebook-like interface received funding from Kickstarter in June of 2011, but didn’t launch fast enough, it took years. Nodes are still up and running, but don’t pretend it achieved its goals of providing a social space, they just built a mostly empty city that will live forever. You can go use it right now, if you want, but almost no one is.

Generic Dot Cereal

App Dot Net is the most infamous flop because its slow-motion death is ongoing. App Dot Net was the name for a social application platform, but what everyone associated the name with was “Alpha” the Twitter clone that the App Dot Net employees made to showcase their social application platform. This was the biggest danger. Mentally, all App Dot Net was, was a Twitter clone. The technical underpinnings did not matter to the vast majority of users. The other “cloned” services like Backer weren’t even a blip on most people’s radar. People could build whatever they wanted to build, but it didn’t seem to matter because it was all about the Twitter clone component.

How often to clones of things outpace the original? Usually, only when the clone is cheaper than the original, and even then that’s not guaranteed. You might buy generic, bulk toilet paper, or generic breakfast cereal, but there will be things you choose not to compromise on. App Dot Net was never going to be cheaper than Twitter. That means you need your clone to do something novel. App Dot Net had a slightly longer word length. I would not call that a distinguishing feature for your Twitter clone.

App Dot Net was also going to be different from Twitter, or Facebook, because users would pay to use the service. Here, look at their funding page, that they no longer have online. It’s hard enough to convince people to use a service that, on the surface, is ‘just’ a Twitter clone, but now you’re asking people to pay money for it. This limited the number of people using the service, which limited the conversations, and made for a really uninteresting social experience. All the while, people were still posting on Twitter, because that’s where conversations could really happen. The developer-friendliness of it was immaterial to people posting about their food, or what was on TV.

App Dot Net eventually made a free tier, and turned the platform in to a “freemium” service, but by that point, all the new users could see was a Twitter clone full of straight, white, male programmers and technology enthusiasts. It was about as fun as a party organized exclusively by engineers. I joined around this time, telling myself I would pay for the service if I liked it. I was certain I would reach the limit for the number of people I would follow because it was so low compared to my Twitter account. Turns out, that there wasn’t a reason to follow most people because they were cross posting with Twitter, and many accounts from people active at its founding were unused, or only occasionally updated. Engagement is a word I love to make fun of, but seriously, there was no engagement.

The Tent is in the Jargon Cupcake

Tent/Cupcake is a total mess. It is a service like App Dot Net (the platform, not the “Twitter Clone” part). Tent is more like Diaspora in that it’s decentralized. Anyone can create a Tent server.

Tent is decentralized like email and the web. That means that users interact with each other in the same way whether they’re on the same service provider or across the world. That means no one company can control the ecosystem. If a service provider starts behaving badly, users can move to another provider or set up their own servers, taking their data and relationships with them. Unlike email, address books are updated automatically so migration is seamless.

That sounds really neat for a second until you realize that the positive part of their metaphor is email. Almost everyone uses free, ad-supported email, and even services that mine email for ways to sell ads to you. You can migrate wherever you want, but will you? Won’t you just stick to the free ones that will probably suck in some way? Being really excited about Tent, is like being really excited about IMAP. IMAP is not your email, it’s what allows your email to happen.

Cupcake.io is run by the guys that make the Tent protocol, and they provide a “freemium” experience — like what App Dot Net added. What’s the freemium experience like? I don’t know! What are the apps like? Couldn’t tell you! It’s a total mess. This website is not how you get someone to try your service, it’s how you make someone close their browser tab and go back to Twitter.

Great apps

We have apps for everything from microblogging to file sharing. All our apps are free to all users. And of course you can use any Tent app in the world with your Cupcake account without limitation.

Where are the apps? I don’t sign up for things just because you’ve prompted me with the field to sign up, show me what’s at the end of this process. No matter how much I don’t like Twitter, it’s still socially viable and your service is only jargon to me.

When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth

In the beginning, there was darkness, then we had an explosion of social, web-centric applications. Services would rise and fall. People would have accounts on multiple services. Services having APIs to make clients was a cool idea. This bubbling primordial ooze produced lots of things that have died off. Even services that promised to aggregate all your other social feeds, like Friendfeed (bought by Facebook), and SocialThing (bought, and destroyed by AOL. Fortunately, we got the last laugh because the SocialThing guys ruined AIM.) Typically one led to the next though. Friendster was followed by Myspace, which was followed by Facebook. Then Facebook stayed. The reason this rise-and-fall was broken was because Facebook refused to be acquired, and as such, it had to have a business plan. They turned their creepy, awful, social pressure in to a tool to lure in more investors and IPO. They had money to do their own acquisitions. This caused an imbalance, because before, things would just shutter, or get acquired and shutter. Google, Yahoo, and AOL were, and continue to be, really bad at social platforms. They don’t even know what to do with their instant messaging platforms most of the time.

Twitter rose up around the same time as Facebook, but much smaller, and it’s been its success on handheld devices that’s enabled it to run in parallel with Facebook, which continues to fumble mobile. Facebook’s biggest success in mobile is from an acquisition of a company that lets you take photos, something they were incapable of doing internally.

Twitter is Facebookifying themselves because they want the financial success of Facebook. The controlled timeline, even superficial things like banners and avatars. And Facebook is Twitterifying themselves with the digestible tweets. And they’re Snapchatifying themselves with their messaging stuff. They’re Flipboardifying themselves with Paper. Tumblr is changing from a blogging service in to a feed-focused service, like Twitter and Facebook. Where else can you put the ads?

Where once there were tons of silly, ridiculous, obnoxious, fun social services, now there are only a few and they’re interested in maintaining themselves by eating the small services, and morphing parts of themselves in to one another.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s what happened with all the original web companies. AOL, Google, and Yahoo all needed webmail, they all needed news services, they all needed blogging platforms, photo services — Hell, Yahoo bought Tumblr.

Seeing the craptacular nature of things doesn’t matter. We get riled up every six months on the internet about how social networking giants work. So what? Our collective outrage as resulted in a few abject failures we can pat ourselves on the back for. The next big thing probably isn’t going to come from any of these nerdy, nice people making things, it’s probably just going to be another Twitter or Facebook that seems more attractive to us because Twitter and Facebook will continue to be less attractive to us.

As the social survivors of “Web 2.0” gorge themselves on gifted youth they start to move further away from being things people enjoy. They become business-degree-managed sameness.

If this evolution in to generic commodities continues, then when will we see the next fish crawl out of the mud? What will that fish be? I hope it’s an awesome fish that I won’t hate for a few years.

2014-08-22 11:35:51

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