Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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Sour Note

I mostly listen to podcasts in Overcast these days. I banished Apple’s Music app from the iPhone’s dock row to the folder for seldom used Apple apps. If I want to listen to something, I pop open the “Oubliette” folder and jump through menus, or use Spotlight. Siri’s natural language abilities yield mixed results in finding things, though I occasionally give it a shot too. Every now and then — seemingly at random — I get a full screen advertisement imploring me to sign up for Apple Music. I’ve even disabled Apple Music in the Music preferences. For the love of all that is good, leave me alone. I know Apple knows I tried the Apple Music service and canceled it before the free trial was over due to bugs.

Get thee back, demon!

iCloud Music Library, which was a requirement of Apple Music, caused data loss where it would randomly delete my playlists that predated Apple Music. That was also disabled. I even filed a bug report with Apple, which was closed as a duplicate, so I have no idea if it’s even fixed.

That was all supposed to be old news, but then I wanted to listen to a playlist yesterday. All of my playlists were gone, except for one playlist of Star Trek film scores, and the automated “Purchased” playlist. How could this happen? I haven’t had iCloud Music Library enabled, or Apple Music.

Fortunately, my Mac’s iTunes Library never had Apple Music or iCloud Music Library enabled, so I can get the playlists back. But … That’s the fifth time I’ve done that (several times for testing back when I did the bug report) so … what keeps my data safe?

My Queen Platinum Collection set is showing the album art for “A Night at the Opera” on my iPhone, but the correct gray and black art in iTunes where it originated. Why?

Naturally, I assumed that I must be back in iCloud Music Library, so I went to disable that. To my chagrin, there is neither the option to enable, nor disable, it my preferences on my iPhone or in iTunes. Schrödinger’s Music Library Setting.

I started spelunking around Apple’s support pages and the “Apple Support Communities”. These forums are full of people struggling with iCloud Music Library and Apple Music issues. Missing custom radio stations. Even playlists. There’s also some advice I’m skeptical of, like deleting your web history in Safari to restore your playlists.

A cursory glance through the forums seems to indicate that either the 9.2 or 9.2.1 update is when most of the people in the forums think they lost their playlists. Some had Apple Music enabled, some did not (like me).

Extricating myself from the human suffering and bad advice, I decided to just try to sync with my local iTunes Library again and cross my fingers. The sync didn’t copy over any music, album art, or playlists, in spite of the boxes all being checked in iTunes. I’m going to need an old priest and a young priest.

A Glossy Magazine for Your Ears

Going down this rabbit hole of fuckery just made me realize how much I absolutely loathe the Music app. What was once a major strength of Apple — a simple-to-use music player and digital storefront — turned into the kind of garbage software that runs on cable company set-top-boxes. The experience has been turned into something more akin to a website for a print publication. You’re constantly jumping in and out of various things, which slide in from different directions, the stuff you want is buried several taps deep in hierarchical menus, and it’s centered around getting you to sign up for Apple Music. Full page ads are for morally-bankrupt growth-hackers. UI chrome that functions if you pay for something is a gnawing reminder of this. Even with the option to show “Apple Music” disabled, you still have have to deal with a hierarchy of icons that devotes half the persistent navbar to “Radio” and “Connect”. Radio is useless without a subscription now, and Connect is useless even if you had an Apple Music subscription.

Infuriatingly, Apple Music even contaminates simple things like sharing. Nearly every aspect of the interface as a share button buried somewhere in it. That’s wholly dedicated to generating links to music in Apple Music. If you try to share something purchased on iTunes, but not in Apple Music, it doesn’t generate an iTunes link, it generates nothing. It succeeds at generating nothing, which is the really wild part, since obviously, I wanted to send a completely empty tweet. That’s been like that since the beta. Brilliant work. Kudos.

A Better Way

I don’t typically say anything nice about Amazon. They don’t exactly inspire passion. They are the cardboard they ship things in. When I wanted to listen to my copy of the Tron Legacy track, I realized that it wasn’t in iTunes, because the smart playlist that’s supposed to sync it over was missing, and I purchased it on Amazon. If I wanted to listen to it when I was at work, I was going to have to download the Amazon Music app for iOS. I’m quite glad that I did because it has really changed my opinion of Amazon, and Apple.

You sign in, and you have everything you’ve ever purchased through Amazon, or if you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you have access to their streaming Prime Music service. I mooch off of my boyfriend’s Prime membership, so my Amazon account does not qualify for Prime Music. Still, I made many Amazon Music purchases in my rebellious years, and I have access to all of them.

The application is dead simple. Black, with elements of transparency like smoked glass. There’s a simple, sliding interface where you move your thumb left to right to shift from album, to artist, genre, etc. Then vertical scrolling. A bar with controls is a persistent element at the bottom of the screen, with better tap targets than iOS. Everything loads fast, and smooth. I experienced no hiccups on cellular or WiFi. There’s offline playback as well, but the default is to stream everything.

Playlists created on my iPhone are also instantly available on the web client. There’s seemingly no lag at all. Maybe they self destruct like Apple’s playlists, but there’s only one way to find out.

A fascinating addition is the X-Ray Lyrics feature available for some tracks. Not every song on an album is guaranteed to have it, but those that do have a small badge to the right of the track name. While playing the song, you can see a banner on the bottom that displays the lyric that’s being said while it’s being said in the song. If you expand the lyric view, you can see all the lines before and after the current line with the current one highlighted. It’s like a tiny karaoke-machine in my pocket. Apple thinks I want to look at magazine-spreads of band members, and Amazon thinks I want to know about the music. I’ll let you guess who nailed it.

There’s no option to share music, or generate links to buy music on Amazon’s store, but Apple executes that so poorly that it’s not something I miss. Another major downside is that it doesn’t integrate with things like Siri, and there are no Amazon apps for the Apple TV. The app does include an AirPlay button (if there’s an AirPlayable device near) in addition to the one in iOS’ Control Center. If you want to purchase music, you have to do it through a web browser, not through any Amazon app. That could be a huge setback for some people, but with the way the iTunes Store App is it’s like six of one and half dozen of the other.

If you do certain things in the interface you run into paywalls for Prime Music, where it nudges you that a certain feature — like uploading music not purchased on Amazon — is only available to Prime customers. I didn’t find it egregious compared to Apple’s nonsense. Even comparing the cost makes it seem more than equitable.

Amazon Prime is $99 per year, with that you can upload 250 songs from anywhere, and you have access to all music in the Amazon Prime Library. 250,000 may be uploaded for an additional $24.99 per year. That’s $100 or $125 and Apple is $9.99 a month, so it’s $120. Amazon and Apple have different libraries, but Amazon’s membership covers a wider array of services that Apple’s does not. Many people are already Prime subscribers that don’t use those features (if you are, give the Amazon Music app a shot, and let me know if you’re more or less satisfied with it over Apple.)

Amazon is routinely criticized for their grotesque, and difficult-to-use software, but comparing Apple’s and Amazon’s music apps is like night and day. How did Amazon manage to out-Apple Apple on Apple’s own platform? The application is not only slick, but it’s considerate.

Amazon Music is like, “Hey bro, you probably just want to listen to music. The lyrics are pretty sweet, so I’ll leave them here if you want those too, bro.” and I’m all like, “Oh wow, I didn’t know it could be like this.” and Amazon Music is all, “Totes.”

2016-02-04 08:30:00

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Defocused: 2015 Year in Review

Last year, Dan and I decided to do a short sketch of a fake awards show with some clips. We modeled it after The Incomparable’s radio theater efforts, and their clip show, though it is unique to our … sensibilities. This year, we repeated the process. We didn’t receive many responses for end of the year clips, so the show is a relatively short 19 minutes.

There is some vulgarity (clutches pearls) so the version in the show feed is censored:

Defocused 78: 2015 Year in Review

That’s sort of distracting though so we have a version that is not bleeped:

Bonus Track d78: 2015 Year in Review (explicit version)

There are also some outtakes from the recording session for the sketch:

Bonus Track d78b: Who is Anne Pancakes?!

The sloppy outline for the show is available in PDF and Fountain if you’re super bored.

Thanks to the guests that were on in 2015 for providing some very entertaining moments. I hope we will see some return guests in 2016, as well as some new ones.

2016-01-04 08:10:00

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Sad State of What to Watch on Apple TV

The Apple TV has been out for two months so let’s look at the bold changes the device has made to the media landscape. On the 30th of December, in the U.S., the What to Watch section of the Apple TV’s App Store features 30 apps. 19 explicitly mention unlocking content through a participating TV provider. 21 have no privacy policy. Only 5 explicitly mention closed captioning, but many more offer it.

These are featured. These are What to Watch. I did not randomly select these applications.

A company that is very concerned about privacy does not make it mandatory to mention what data is being collected by their featured apps. What is there, is something you have to research by manually entering the URL on another device. They do not make it mandatory to include closed captioning, or even offer any kind of visual token that it is available in the app in the store interface.

Only four apps offer an in-app-purchase for a subscription, and two of them have counterpart applications in the same list which work with authentication from a TV provider. If I include the two PBS apps which require an account be created on a computer — That’s one-third of the apps that use a participating subscription, or membership, which you can’t get from the Apple TV to actually get full functionality in the apps.

If you don’t have a participating, traditional, subscription then you download apps that have frustrating, poorly defined barriers. Some episodes open, others prompt you to sign in. The exact behavior of each application is a crapshoot.

This is the featured, what to watch viewing experience for a $150-200 box from Apple.

  1. HBO NOW - Free Month. I.A.P. subscription $14.99 per month, or participating broadband provider. No privacy policy.
  2. Netflix - Free month. No pricing details. No privacy policy.
  3. Hulu - I.A.P. Subscription. Privacy policy URL.
  4. Showtime - Free Month. I.A.P. subscription of $10.99 per month. No Privacy policy.
  5. YouTube - No disclosure about ads, or privacy policy. No mention of YouTube Red or how to subscribe.
  6. CBS - 1 week free. I.A.P. subscription of $5.99 per month. Privacy policy URL
  7. PBS Video - Activation is not detailed. No privacy policy.
  8. PBS KIDS Video - Activation is not detailed. No privacy policy.
  9. NBC - Watch Now and Stream Full Episodes - “If you don’t have a provider, you can still watch — most new episodes are unlocked 8 days after airing on TV.” The app’s selection is challenging if you do not authenticate. No Privacy policy. Mentions Closed Captioning.
  10. ABC - “The ABC live stream and the most recently aired full episodes [sic] require you to authenticate with a participating TV provider account. Show and episode availability are subject to change. Live streaming available in Chicago, Fresno, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco.” Privacy policy URL.
  11. FOX NOW - Authenticate with “applicable” provider. Restrictions on availability too fine to print here. No privacy policy.
  12. Comedy Central - Authentication requirements are not disclosed. “For more information about this app and online behavorial advertising, check out http://srp.viacom.com/sitefaq.html.”
  13. MTV - Authenticate with your TV provider. “For more information about this app and online behavioral advertising, check out http://srp.viacom.com/sitefaq.html.”
  14. Nick - Authenticate with your TV provider. “The Nick app collects personal user data as well as non-personal user data (including aggregated data). As needed, Nickelodeon and/or a third party may generate an identifier that is unique to the application as downloaded to a specific device, known as the Core Foundation Universally Unique Identifier (CFUUID). User data collection is in accordance with applicable law, such as COPPA. User data may be used, for example, to respond to user requests; enable users to take advantage of certain features and services; personalize content and advertising; and manage and improve Nickelodeon’s services.” Additional privacy policy URL included.
  15. HGTV Watch - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  16. Watch Food Network - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  17. Made to Measure - Free. No privacy policy.
  18. Watch Travel Channel - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning.
  19. FXNOW - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  20. USA NOW - Authenticate with TV provider, but some, select episodes are available without sign-in. No Privacy policy.
  21. HBO GO - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  22. Showtime Anytime - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy. Closed captioning and parental controls available.
  23. WATCH Disney Channel - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  24. CNBC TV - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  25. WATCH Disney XD - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  26. WATCH Disney Junior - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  27. A&E - “The A&E app is free to use. If your TV provider is supported you can sign in and get access to even more content. More TV providers coming very soon.” This is nebulous, but in testing most content appears to be freely available with ads. No privacy policy.
  28. Lifetime - Similar restrictions to A&E app. No privacy policy.
  29. HISTORY - Similar restrictions to A&E app. No privacy policy.
  30. WATCH ABC Family - Authenticate with TV provider. Privacy policy URL.
  31. The Nat Geo TV - Authenticate with TV provider. No privacy policy.
  32. Bloomberg TV - Free. No privacy policy.

Below I’ve included excerpts from Hulu’s privacy policy to demonstrate what a company will willingly mention they collect and monitor.

This app features third party software which enables third parties to calculate measurement statistics. To learn more about digital measurement product and your choices in regard to them, including opting out, please visit our privacy policy.

We may work with mobile advertising companies and other similar entities that help deliver advertisements tailored to your interests both on and outside of the Hulu services. For more information about such advertising practices, please visit our privacy policy at www.hulu.com/privacy

There’s something unsettling about the privacy policy.

Social Networking Data. If you choose to log-in, access or otherwise connect to the Hulu Services, or contact Hulu, through a social networking service (such as Facebook), we may collect your user ID and user name associated with that social networking service, as well as any information you make public using that social networking service. We may also collect information you have authorized the social networking service to share with us (such as your user ID, public profile information, email address, birthday, friends list, and pages you have “liked”).

Also check out third parties, including the disclaimer:

The Hulu Services may be provided through third-party websites, applications and other means of access operated by other companies (collectively, “Third-Party Access Points”). For example, you can access the Hulu Services through websites of our distributors. In addition, you may launch a Third-Party Access Point using various devices such as gaming systems, smart TVs, mobile devices, and set top boxes. The Hulu Services also may contain links to third-party websites or applications. None of these Third-Party Access Points, devices, websites or applications are operated by us, even if they contain our name or logo, and we are not responsible for the privacy practices of their operators. Accordingly, we recommend that you review their privacy policies.

Just for funsies, maybe go to their page for opting out of their data collection practices. Be aware that anyone not logged-in, is opted-in.

2015-12-30 08:00:00

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End of the Year Defocused Updates

Time is just flying. Dan and I just finished 7 episodes about Star Wars films. Last year, around this time, we were doing Christmas movies, but we’ll won’t manage to squeeze one in this year because we ran out of space. (Get it? Because Star Wars is in space? Get it?)

We covered Star Wars in the order it was released, and we also evaluated the very latest changes that George Lucas had made to the original three.

We also finally pulled the trigger on a t-shirt campaign that we’d been kicking around since before we joined The Incomparable Network (TIN — Jason Snell’s just going to have to run with that). The funds from the campaign are currently going towards paying the person editing the podcast (almost always Dan). For anyone curious: It takes 1.5-2.5 hours to watch a movie, 1-2 hours to talk about, and about 4 hours to edit it. The show is a fun hobby, and I really enjoy it, but it would be nice to modestly support this hobby. Our most sincere thanks to anyone that buys a shirt. They’re available until January 4th through Teespring. Dan and I also haven’t run a shirt campaign, so feedback is appreciated. We also know that people probably have too many podcast shirts, so don’t feel obligated to purchase one if you don’t want it, we’ll try and devise other things besides a shirt at some point in the future.

Don’t worry, it’s also in charcoal.

The last piece of business is the End of the Year show. Dan and I did a little, fake awards sketch last year with clips of the show. The initial idea was that it would save time to record just a few snippets of dialog and then fill with clips. Hilariously, it consumed the most time of any episode. LOL. HAHA. TOTES HILAR. We think we have the kinks worked out for this year.

We do need to hear from listeners about what their favorite moments of the show have been in 2015. We have a few so far, so keep ‘em coming. Episode numbers and timestamps are appreciated. If we can’t track down an exact clip we might have to forgo using the recommendation.


2015-12-21 08:00:00

Category: text

Point One Better

Yesterday, Apple dropped a slew of physical products, and software updates. One of the updates was for tvOS 9.1. Like the update from 9.0 to 9.0.1, this update offered no release notes. Unlike that update, this one did include features that many felt were missing from the initial Apple TV release. The Apple TV now supports the Remote app for iOS, and Siri support is available for Music.

Remote App

For me, the Apple TV was recognized by the Remote app on my iPhone 6 and I was able to use direction, menu, play/pause, and —most important of all— the iPhone’s virtual keyboard. This does not cover the full range of features that the Siri Remote can handle, and there are interface bits that the 4th generation Apple TV does not support (the options element does nothing).

There was no update at all to the Remote app. Not even for branding. As Robb Lewis pointed out on Twitter, this is rather absurd and unhelpful. Instructions for pairing are different for the fourth generation, and the icon for iTunes is even 3 years-old.

Curiously, I didn’t have to pair mine, it just worked. When I went to check the remote settings (“Settings” -> “Remotes and Devices” -> “Other Devices” -> “Remote App”) it displayed the text “Pairable Devices” and a little spinner next to it. No listing for a paired device. To test if this was some weird fluke, I hit “Edit” in the app and removed all the entries, except one Apple TV entry that was greyed out. That undeletable Apple TV still worked as a remote, and I saw my iPhone listed under pairable devices on the TV. When I pair it, it adds another Apple TV icon. That means I have one “Paired Device” listing, and two icons that launch functional remotes. If I hit “Edit” again, there’s still an Apple TV I can’t delete. If I go to “Paired Devices” and delete the iPhone listed there, it removes one of the Apple TV icons, but the remaining one launches to a blank, white screen. If I pair them, I get two icons back. This is pretty perplexing, particularly if you are a first time user that thought you needed to pair it.

Also, since it’s not an updated Remote app, there are several things it can’t do that your Siri Remote can do:

  • Use Siri to do searches or control the TV.
  • Scrub timelines.
  • Flick through lists.
  • Scrub.
  • Control the volume through HDMI-CEC
  • Use the iPhone in a game that does not implement it’s own convoluted game pairing setup (Crossy Road, for example).

There’s a degree of overlap between the Siri Remote and an iPhone that made it very strange for Apple not to have supported the iPhone — their most popular, profitable product — as an input device when designing and launching the Apple TV.

This is when Eddy Cue dropped a bombshell on John Paczkowski at BuzzFeed News:

“We’re working on a new Apple TV remote app that will give you the full functionality of the Siri Remote on your iPhone,” Cue said. “We’re hoping to ship that in the first half of next year.”

That is a horse of a different color. Was this never part of the plan for the full product? If it was part of the plan, why was it never mentioned before now? Why mention it half a year from the release of the app instead of at the unveiling?

Siri Search for Music

This works even if you are not an Apple Music subscriber, but it can do weird, and unexpected things. Particularly when you compare it to what the text based search does, or when you compare it to what Siri does on iOS. Jason Snell made these observations as well. Since so much of Siri is really on datacenter servers, I was confused why the same hooks for iOS were absent from tvOS when the TV shipped. How Siri and Music worked together was mostly a known quantity for months prior to the TV shipping too.

Query Comparison:

  • “Video killed the radio star”
    • iOS Siri: “Here’s what I found on the web for ‘Video killed the radio star’:” (“Top Hit” is a link to the iTunes store for “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.)
    • tvOS Siri: “Hmm, I’m not finding anything for ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’”
  • “Play video killed the radio star”
    • iOS Siri: “Sorry, I can’t play videos.”
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’
  • “Play total recall soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: “Here’s ‘Skyfall’ by Adele”
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
  • “Play total”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
    • tvOS Siri: “Playing album ‘Total Recall (The Deluxe Edition) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]’
  • “Play star trek soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
  • “Play star trek the motion picture soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture (20th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek The Motion Picture (20th Anniversary Collectors’ Edition)’
  • “Play star trek six the undiscovered country”
    • iOS Siri: “I found this on the web for you…”
    • tvOS Siri: Search results page for versions of the film to buy or rent.
  • “Play star trek six the undiscovered country soundtrack”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)’
  • “Play Alan Menken”
    • iOS Siri: “I don’t see Alan Menken in your collection, shall I play Alan Menken radio?”
    • tvOS: “Sorry I couldn’t find ‘Alan Menken’ in your music.”
  • “Play Jerry Goldsmith”
    • iOS Siri: ‘Star Trek: Insurrection (Music From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) — Children’s Story’
    • tvOS Siri: ‘Alien — Acid Test’

It’s kind of weird to think about how Siri handles the same question differently depending on the device you’re asking on. iOS doesn’t have a unified video search page, and tvOS doesn’t have a web browser fallback. They both have radio, but only one prompts to see if you want the radio. (Also, both were wrong about Alan Menken, I was literally looking right at ‘Poor Unfortunate Souls’ when I asked.)

Titles with keywords like ‘video’ also throw it off in really surprising ways on both platforms. If I was on the Apple TV team, the very first thing I would do is make sure that Buggles song worked. That’s the team anthem.

Still No Backup and Restore

I’m getting a little concerned about the lack of these two very important features. Not because I want to restore my device from a backup, but because that sort of thing happens. As I was downloading the update I wondered if I’d have to start over if there was a failure in the installation. It’s not that I have a lot of irreplaceable material on my device, but I do have it set up in a specific way, with apps logins, and settings, and I would like to not redo all that in the event of an emergency. This device’s state needs to be preserved somewhere, preferably before the next Apple TV hardware ships and people set it all up from scratch.

All the other issues regarding integration with Apple services, logins, etc. all still stand. Shipping with these things does improve the experience, but this still isn’t a fully formed device with a clear vision.

Dropped For Time

Jon Gruber interprets Apple’s opaque 9.1 release as intentional tardiness.

I think it’s a safe bet these were things that were planned for the new Apple TV all along, but simply were dropped for the 9.0 release because they ran out of time.

I don’t see anything to indicate they ever intended to ship support for the Remote app. An Apple representative flatly told Jason Snell that the Remote app would not work with the new Apple TV, no elaboration provided. No “coming soon” featured. However, Eddy Cue gave that interview to John Paczkowski and teased a new, better Remote app. That had never been mentioned before, and no official announcement exists other than what Eddy Cue just said.

Something doesn’t sit right with me about the time-crunch narrative either. Sure, they obviously seem to have rushed this out the door, but that doesn’t mean it needed to be rushed out the door. This was not on a yearly update cycle. No service was announced to launch with it. Eddy Cue seems intent on pushing people to make their own apps, rather than offering up any over-the-top service indications. No other product requires an Apple TV, let alone this specific model.

What started the crunch time that they couldn’t meet? What were the goals they didn’t meet, and are still trying to meet — other than a completely new Remote app? The parts that have been released in 9.1 have bugs, and seem unfinished, are they going to be “good enough” so other things can be added, or will they be improved at the expense of adding more? I could go on.

I’m left with more questions than answers every time there’s an update.

2015-12-09 08:30:00

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Captain Avenger: Avengers War

I’m pretty disappointed with the first trailer for the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Franciseverse. Civil War was a controversial story arc in Marvel comics which pitted superheroes against one another in a fight over personal freedom, and security. Taking away rights to insure safety for all. As written, it would not translate to the big screen, but that’s for the best. Instead, what they have adapted appears to be “Cap and Tony fight” and it appears to be over Bucky Barnes — the Winter Soldier.

That seems substantially less ambitious, in either the political climate of 2006-2007, or in our political climate today.

There’s every possibility that it’s just the way the first trailer was cut, but “it’s a trailer” isn’t an excuse because it is the pitch to communicate why I should see a movie. Maybe it’s a bad pitch, but it’s the one Marvel Studios is making.

I did like Captain America: The Winter Soldier a good deal, and I think the Russos did a very good job directing it. Hopefully this particular project didn’t spiral out of control.

Lastly, I would like to draw your attention toward this hilarious tweet from Freddie Wong:

lol captain america trailer aka a movie in 2016 where a guy suddenly and dramatically disappears from behind a vehicle wiping frame

2015-11-25 08:10:30

Category: text

The Expanse Surprise Premiere

Followers of the blog might know that I’m a big fan of The Expanse series of books written by the team of writers under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. The books have their ups, and their downs, and they’re certainly not highfaluting tomes. I was quite reticent when I heard that the SyFy channel would be adapting it to a television series. Despite the involvement of the original writers, I was pretty sure that the money SyFy would spend would not create what I had in my mind while I read. The production stills that were released certainly gave the impression of Babylon 5 (lights shining through colored gels and grates onto gray-painted MDF).

Then, over the weekend, there were some rumblings on Twitter that the first episode might come out very soon. Turns out, it was Sunday night. You can go watch it online, for free, on YouTube right now. I only mention this because I hadn’t seen any marketing about this happening at all. It appears that it’s still going to premiere on TV, but that’s not until December 14th. So … Weird, right? Surprise, it’s online, you can watch the first episode for free, and it’s not broadcast for almost a month. That’s certainly the most unusual television show premiere I’ve ever heard of. Typically science fiction shows have a very difficult time getting nerds to watch broadcasts when shows air because nerds use time shifting services (or other services) to watch things on their own terms. Fans of series like Stargate Universe might recall the cast on Twitter basically begging people to tune in when new episodes came out so that they could stay on the air (they did not).

I can only assume that a month worth of watching the first episode for free will only harm their premiere numbers. There will be a new episode out the following night, December 15th, but I have no idea how that will shake out either.

It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off.

Now I’m going to start blathering on about the episode, so if you haven’t watched it yet, then don’t read this. After that, I’ll have spoilers for people that read the books, and have seen the episode. Seems pretty fair, no?

Spoilers for the First Episode of The Expanse

The episode starts with a pretty nice title sequence, and we get the general impression that people might have ships that have explored places and stuff. Then there’s a lot of exposition that fades in. Turns out there’s some political tension with belts and stuff. But you know how belts are.

Then we have a montage of a woman with CG hair floating around. She’s locked up in a thingy, and would like to be let out of said thingy. I found the hair really distracting. I get that they wanted to convincingly portray that she was in zero gravity, but it’s moving more than it should. Go watch videos of astronauts with long hair in space. It’s more like she’s underwater in a pool. Don’t worry, they save money by having her tie her hair back. Then they also save money by having magnetic boots.

She has a jump scare and then finds a room full of totally harmless-looking blue stuff that might be absorbing someone. This will all be fine, I’m sure. She screams and we cut away to some ships being maneuvered around in some sort of time-lapse sped-up way.

Ceres station, as the narrator informs us, is kind of a bummer of a place to be. Earth and Mars took all their ice and stuff. Which seems like a pretty lame thing for them to do. The camera fly0through is really, really, really, distracting. I know they wanted to make it feel big — expansive, one might say — but there’s only so much CG space station you should really fly through. Particularly air shafts which are too shiny.

We land on the guy giving the big speech about what jerks planets are, and we see the crowd the man is addressing. Thomas Jane is enjoying a shot of booze, and he’s addressed as a “badge” so we can tell he’s an edgy cop. We can also tell he’s one of the belter people, and his buddy is not.

We start to get the idea that Thomas Jane, as Detective Miller, is maybe a corrupt cop. Maybe. Also his handheld device has a crack, which is a nice touch. He’s going to go find Julie Mao, who looks suspiciously like the woman from the beginning of the episode. Almost like these stories all tie together or something.

We meet the Canterbury ice hauler. A guy gets his arm casually chopped off, and then we cut to a zero gravity sex scene. Hello, James Holden’s ass. Then we get a guy who’s very casual about that missing arm. Really, really casual.

I’m not sure how they got Adam Lisagor to agree to be the captain, but he does a pretty good job. The X.O. is … unwell, and Holden is trying to get out of getting promoted to his job.

Then we go to earth and have a nice family moment.

This is about the time when you realize that no matter where we are in the solar system, you’re going to be looking at blown-out highlights and crushing color correction.

Granny is not super-nice.

The crew has to go respond to a distress call, and there’s a very dramatic high-G maneuver they execute. It bugs me a little because the blacks of the ship are blue against space. They should be the same value as space. Holden and Naomi have a little chat about the distress call they’re responding to.

Back on Ceres, Miller is being Millery and he’s talking to someone about the missing person he was tasked to find.

When they approach the Scopuli, the ship is having some moire issues. It might just be something YouTube’s doing to the image, but it’s crawling when I checked it on my computer and on my Apple TV.

They board it and find … nothing. A suspicious amount of nothing. It’s not like it was at the beginning of the episode, and there’s a hole in the hull. They also find the source of the distress signal. They do some helmet cam stuff, but it’s a little strange because it’s not supposed to be helmet cams that are actual cameras in their world, just cameras for us as the audience. There’s also an error just above the bridge of Holden’s nose where we lose data. So… that’s kind of unfortunate. If you watch the “well it wasn’t pirates” you’ll see the flickering rectangle.

They realize this is a trap and there’s another ship that was using some sort of stealth tech.

Back on Ceres, Miller comes across a father and daughter. The daughter is playing with a bird. The bird is animated and rendered. They probably wanted to make it move like it was a bird in a low-G environment. It wouldn’t need to flap as much, and would basically be a little floaty. Unfortunately, the result is something really unconvincing as a bird. The unconvincing bird, and the coughing kid, inspire Miller to go beat up and suffocate the guy he took the bribe from earlier.

We go back to the Cant, shuttle, and mystery ship. The mystery ship fires torpedoes! They’re way too blue and saturated! Blue without a white core isn’t really how things flare. Then there are a couple torpedo shots where it has a white core and it’s a little more purplish. Not sure if these were divided up between different artists, but they’re not quite the same. This is particularly weird when the Cant blows up we get a strange mix of things including super-saturated anamorphic flare lines.

The effects are better than I thought they would be but while I can excuse the bird as potentially being an issue with time and money, the stuff with the black levels of the ship, and the weird hyper-saturated flares have very little to do with time or budget.

Hopefully we’ll find out what happens to people with the things and the stuff.

If you haven’t read the books, but have watched the episode, get in touch with me on Twitter and let me know how you feel about the episode. Was it clear what was happening, or was it disjointed?

Spoilers for the Book

Some of the casting decisions are not what I had pictured. Naomi in particular is very polished from what I had envisioned from her description in the book. Amos also doesn’t seem quite as rough, and thug-like as I had pictured. It’s not really throwing me out of enjoying it, but it is strange.

Also Chrisjen isn’t in Leviathan Wakes, so I’m not quite sure what her character will be doing for this series. I don’t outright object to it, but I’m curious to see how they’ll integrate her. I haven’t read any spoiler sites, so if you know, don’t tell me.

Are there any changes people felt were egregious? I don’t see any.

I still think I prefer the big-budget epic in my head more than what I see on the screen.

2015-11-24 09:23:30

Category: text

Starting at Sixty Nine

Let’s leave out the Bill & Ted jokes and instead talk about the third generation Apple TV. It’s still in many stores, like Target which displays a 4”x5” price tag for $69 and a tiny, little shelf-edge-sized tag for the $149 one. Apple’s site has “TV” in the bar across the top, and devotes almost all of the page to the new model, but at the bottom there’s a link to buy the previous generation, and a link to a comparison chart. The chart is entertaining because Apple couldn’t make it any clearer that they do not want you to buy the third generation model.

That is the Bezos graph of comparison charts.

Why Keep This Thing Around?

A few possible reasons, in no particular order:

  • They don’t want to say “Starting at $149”.
  • They want to continue offering a sub-$100 AirPlay video experience.
  • They want to use the large install base of the previous generation as a bargaining chip in negotiating content deals, potentially for their OTT service as well.

Remember that they made a big deal out of this price reduction in March at the same event when they made a big deal out of HBO Now. It’s not entirely unreasonable to assume that while the device will never see a significant update, it might still receive “channels” of content.

It’s still possible to argue that those arrangements could be done without selling the current device at all, but maybe those content partners are skittish about deals for a $149-199 box?

Let’s not forget that Apple has the second-most expensive streaming media box. Only the Sony FMP-X10 4K Ultra HD Media Player is more expensive at $699.99, but no one’s really buying that one so we’ll set it aside.

The Next-Year Discount

Many have made the case that next year, the fourth generation Apple TV will receive a discount to $99, when a fifth generation premieres. Everyone pulled $99 out of their butts, but it sounds like a good number. We don’t actually know if the device is even on a yearly refresh cycle at this point though since there’s no pattern. It is still conceivable that it may be the case, but that’s still a 40% price increase to the entry point.

Regardless, that still means they’re selling the third generation TV for a full calendar year until that happens. Does that seem absurd to anyone else?

AirPlay Express

On a recent episode of the podcast Clockwise, Anže Tomic posed the question about why Apple doesn’t have something more like the Chromecast, or like the streaming sticks of Amazon or Roku. If there really is a customer that just wants to stream stuff to their TV, then they’re currently best served by the third generation box — as sorry as that sounds. Jason Snell coined the term “AirPlay Express” as a half-joke to describe such a thing, and I agree that it would certainly help make the lower end make a bit more sense than the current situation.

My cohost on Unhelpful Suggestions, Marko Savic, has argued against such a thing because he doesn’t think Apple needs to compete in the low-end space. Apple doesn’t make $200 netbooks, so why sweat it? Why not just drive those people toward spending a little extra? The merit of spending any time or effort on an entry-level streamer is debatable, I just happen to fall in favor of Apple doing it. A large volume of streaming-only service devices that aren’t 4-5 years old seems like a decent thing to do to appeal to many people.

Let’s not forget people live in homes with more than one TV set, and while people like Bradley Chambers and Zac Cichy buy up fistfuls of fourth generation devices for every TV, there’s a market of people that will only buy one $149 device for the household. Why not fill every room a fresh Apple scent?

2015-11-20 08:45:00

Category: text

Thank You, Alex

As I detailed in the Release section of my Apple TV post, I had some problems with the way the initial launch went. The package that I didn’t want, but needed to return once it arrived, never got into my hands. Where that package is, I don’t know. I repeatedly tried to get in touch with OnTrac, only to be referred to Apple’s customer service line. If I was out the money for the TV, then I was out the money for the TV, I just wanted to make sure OnTrac put it on the landing in front of the door to my apartment, and not anywhere else in the universe. If some unscrupulous thief made off with the package then that’s not OnTrac’s fault.

After briefly bouncing around some automated phone tree branches I was on the line with Alex. He was sorry to hear about my issues, and said they had been having some problems with OnTrac. He had the same tracking info I had, and said that they would open a service ticket with OnTrac and talk to them about the delivery. He did mention that if they found there was an issue they’d send me a new one. I didn’t think much of it at the time, because why would they ship me a new one? If I had, maybe I should have explained I was going to return it anyway.

Well, they shipped me a new one with FedEx. It arrived at the bottom of the stairwell, not the landing, but at least it was the right stairwell, and at least I had it.

I’m not sure what the specifics of Apple’s policies are here, or what happened to the first Apple TV, but it sure goes above and beyond at making me feel better about Apple as a company. Thanks.

2015-11-13 08:20:00

Category: text

Pushing for Controllers

When the Apple TV was announced several games were demoed on stage. Disney Infinity, and Guitar Hero were two of those games that require novel input. The developer docs even said that games could specify that they required a controller — a policy that was very quickly changed to mandatory Siri Remote support for all games.

Disney Infinity the app, not the hardware, was available as a free to download game with a level for the “Battle of Yavin”. Siri Remote support is there, but when I tested that for manipulating the flying ship, I just kept crashing into everything. It really did not feel like the Siri Remote and game were intended to work together at all. The other day, Disney announced the actual physical component of Disney Infinity for the Apple TV, a platform that allows special figurines placed on it to unlock content on the device. The platform is similar to the other ones that Disney makes for other consoles, except it’s black. More importantly, it comes bundled with a game controller. The SteelSeries Nimbus game controller that Apple recommends, but does not include. This is the only console Disney does this for.

Con: You must pay extra for the package with the controller regardless of whether or not you need a controller if you want the portal/platform.

Con: It is the most expensive edition of Disney Infinity at $100, and the other consoles at $65. If you had another console, there seems to be very little reason to pay extra for this version.

Pro: Discounted controller for the Apple TV.

Pro: You can unlock the characters with codes instead of buying a portal/platform for any of the Disney Infinity console or PC versions.

I’m inclined to believe that Disney knows the game is terrible to play without a controller and is trying to fill the gap Apple left here.

On MacStories, Federico Viticci hopes that more game studios will offer these sorts of discount bundles on controllers for the Apple TV. I don’t agree with this because the Apple TV only supports up to two controllers, so if you bought two games, that’s it, you’re good on controllers for forever. In the case of Infinity, there’s the whole code redemption instead of hardware platform, but I’m fairly certain people actually buy these things or they wouldn’t make them.

Skylanders, which has the same physical figurine component (predating Infinity) will allow people to use their existing “portal” from the iOS version of the game. In fact, it’s one of the featured apps in the “Games” category of the TV App Store. Right along with Disney Infinity and Guitar Hero.

The really interesting game is Guitar Hero. They’re the only game on the TV App Store that can require hardware other than the Siri Remote. Just them. Now, the primary reaction is to say “Oh well, duh, you totes need a guitar.” There is a version of Guitar Hero for iOS that doesn’t require a guitar controller. I don’t disagree that you need that sweet axe, it’s just strange that they are the singular carveout for this requirement. I have no idea why that is, other than they might have been wooed to the platform before the Siri Remote mandate and worked out a deal to avoid it.

Activision Publishing, Inc. Games [9+] ★★★★☆ [Editor’s Choice] PLEASE NOTE: Guitar Hero Live REQUIRES the Bluetooth GUITAR CONTROLLER to play (available at your local or online retailer).

Offers In-App-Purchases [Bluetooth] Accessory Required

Just them. Weird, huh? Not like world-ending-panic weird, just weird.

Keep in mind that you can’t even use a Bluetooth keyboard with the Apple TV, even though it’s based on iOS. Last night, Steve Troughton Smith (an iOS developer) uncovered keyboard support for the TV’s focus-switching in the iOS 9.1 beta, so it’s either in there, and off, or it’s coming. It’s unlikely that we’ll see apps that require a keyboard, but hey, if You’re Activision, you can require a guitar.

2015-11-12 08:30:00

Category: text