Unauthoritative Pronouncements

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Disney's Hyperion Renderer ►

Seriously, go watch the cute video done in that 50s-Disney-educational-cartoon style. Never has path tracing and ray bundling been more appealing. Literally, never.

There’s further explanation, and some swippable demos there as well. The linked PDF is also available for the very-very curious.

There are many similarities between this renderer and Arnold, which I used at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

2015-08-01 12:15:00

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Apple Music: iCloud Music Library Data Loss

I know that many people find the complaints around Apple Music tiresome, but I’m not complaining because I hate it. If I hated it, I wouldn’t talk about it at all. I certainly wouldn’t spend any time trying to improve my experience with it, or writing about my experience in the event my troubleshooting helps someone, or someone can provide advice to me.

The problems break down in to recommendations, UI, social, uptime, and data loss. All of these can improve over time, and hopefully will improve quickly. There is a lot that Apple Music already has going in its favor, such as editor playlists, and a vast content library at your fingertips.

I’m just going to go over issues with data loss in this post to keep it focused. Specifically data loss due to iCloud Music Library, which is a cloud service, and not your iTunes Library, which is the local data on your computer.

Chance Changes

My iTunes library has some albums that are from polymer circles people used to buy at physical stores. Those not-from-the-iTunes-store albums seem to be the central issue for people experiencing problems with metadata on their tracks changing. Album art, album versions (particularly greatest hits), tracks (live recordings vs. studio recordings), etc.

When Apple’s quiet service changes something in a user’s iCloud Music Library some of the changes affect local copies of files (my queen songs were already on the device when it reorganized the albums and album art). Other changes only affect what happens if a file is no longer on your device, or was never on the device, and is downloaded. You might get the wrong file. This happens in ways that are not always reproducible.

That’s really concerning because then you’re just rolling dice. You open the app and something’s missing, or changed, and you’ll have no idea how long it’s been that way. If that wrong data has migrated to all your backups, or if it just happened a minute ago.

Another kind of data loss is missing playlists. I first saw Anthony Waller point this out on Twitter this morning. Then I said to myself, “Oh that sucks for him, I know my playlists are there because when I opened this the other day — OMG WHERE DID MY PLAYLISTS GO?!” Indeed, all of my playlists that were not created after my iPhone was updated, and the iCloud Music Library were enabled, were gone. That left me with “Purchased”, like Anthony, an Apple Music editor’s playlist I saved, and “Star Trek” — because I’m a super cool guy.

The playlists were all still there on my MacBook Pro. When iTunes 12.2 found its way on to my Mac, I didn’t enable the iCloud Music Library like I had on my iPhone. This isn’t my first rodeo. I use my Mac as an organized repository of collected works — you know, like a library — and I thought caution was appropriate. Turns out that was a really good idea!


Apple has provided no way for users to revert changes that are being made in iOS, and no mechanism to recover deleted data. That really bothers me because if an automated system is going to make changes to optimize my data then it’s never going to be 100 percent accurate. Dropbox is really close to perfect these days for maintaining the integrity of my data, but they still have mechanisms to recover files and revert versions.

My iPhone would not sync with iTunes. When you have iCloud Music Library enabled on your phone, it disables it and cheerfully reminds you that all your music lives in the cloud — the place where it’s totally safe and stuff. So obviously the software engineers didn’t think you needed to manually sync anything.

  1. Disable iCloud Music Library on the device.
    1. Settings > Music > iCloud Music Library toggle.
  2. Backup the iCloud Music Library on your computer. Just in case!
    1. File > Library > Export Library …
  3. Sync your iPhone with your computer.
  4. Check both libraries.
  5. Optional: Don’t reenable iCloud Music Library

Some might find this too paranoid, but really it’s just laziness. I know I have the data, I’m not sweating bullets over that, I just don’t want to repeatedly have to restore things. You can use Apple Music just fine without iCloud Music Library. Most people might not know that. The tracks all download offline, the playlists work, everything. It’s just about keeping the “My Music” section identical on all the devices without user-initiated sync. That includes keeping the things you’ve “hearted” in sync to improve recommendations.

Since reactivating iCloud Music Library would probably cause random, quiet, data loss I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort. Like I said, it’s a bigger waste of my time to purge problems than to keep it up-to-date.

Kyle Seth Gray, of Twitter infamy, went about this a different way, and he’s still relying on iCloud Music Library. In spite of his problems, he prefers the ubiquity to any potential consequences.

Whether or not you turn it back on, it’s pretty clear that this isn’t an optimal user experience, and it further tarnishes Apple’s reputation with cloud services. I would really like a bright, and gleaming reputation. You know, a silver lining…

2015-08-01 11:45:00

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The Hollywood Reporter: "More Theaters Sign Up for Paramount's Daring VOD Plan" ►

The Hollywood Reporter might be misusing the word “daring”, but Paramount does have a unique plan to reduce the window between theatrical release and on-demand release. The agreement only covers some films (right now, it’s two horror films), and there’s still a small window of theater time. When the number of screens showing a movie drops below a threshold (300) then Paramount can release it through video on demand services in as little as 17 days. The theater chains receive a share of the profits.

“This is all about changing the definition of theatrical windows. Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends,” Paramount vice chair Rob Moore told The Hollywood Reporter when the deal with AMC and Cineplex was struck.

Big movies, like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation aren’t part of this. People are willing to go see those kinds of summer blockbusters, and everyone would love to protect the profits in that window.

Contrast that with Netflix’s day-and-date approach where none of the major chains will screen their films.

This could be a way to make more mid-budget pictures in the future, if they can be quickly moved to digital, on-demand markets, and out of the high-stakes opening-weekend races.

2015-07-30 16:00:00

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Rumor: "Apple Will Debut New Apple TV In September" ►

Well, well, well. Guess what’s back? It’s Apple TV rumors! John Paczkowski wrote that BuzzFeed’s sources tell them that the new TV box will be unveiled at a September event. The next iPhones are also rumored to be announced at the same event.

John recaps:

The device itself is pretty much as we described it to you in March, sources say, but “more polished” after some additional tweaks. Expect a refreshed and slimmer chassis and new innards; Apple’s A8 system on chip; a new remote that sources say has been “drastically improved” by a touch-pad input; an increase in on-board storage; and an improved operating system that will support Siri voice control. Crucially, the new Apple TV will debut alongside a long-awaited App Store and the software development kit developers need to populate it.

Maybe Apple’s just trolling everyone at this point?

It’s not like I care, or anything.

Curiously, John’s sources say that the OTT service will not be unveiled at the same time.

When rumors of the rumored unveiling were last destroyed via a leak to The New York Times, the blame for it was placed on the content partners not cooperating on the OTT service. (Specifically, trying to get local broadcast stations onboard, not just national networks, and studios.) As I’ve repeatedly argued, there is plenty of justification for upgrading the device even without the OTT service.

Obviously, if this rumor is true, and the device ships without an OTT service, it can only mean that Apple Executives love reading my blog. No other conclusion, really.

2015-07-30 14:15:00

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Radar Followup

Yesterday morning I typed up a little post agreeing with Marco Arment about many of his feelings regarding Apple Music. Specifically, the lack of specificity about what was setting off those feelings. It’s not really required that people cite every little annoyance they’ve had with Apple software in order to express their displeasure.

One part of it concerned someone telling me to file a Radar (Apple’s bug tracker). I did, but I whined about how I don’t really feel like that’s called for when it comes to end users (me) picking up release software Apple ships and promotes for public consumption (Apple Music). The Radar process itself is odd, go poke around if you’ve never filed one before, and you don’t really have any idea if you’ve filed it correctly, or if anyone will check it out. Someone may check it out in six months and close it. It’s opaque.

Jason Snell saw my post and replied.

Things escalated quickly with an ensuing conversation involving many people, including Michael Jurewitz, who works at Apple and is certainly in a capacity to speak about the process.

There were many others that saw what Snell and Jurewitz were talking about and weighed in on it.

At the end of the day, I’m not sure if it’s any clearer what will happen with the Radar I filed, or any future Radars I might file, but I do feel a little better knowing that it’s not completely futile if I elect to do so. It does seem that there’s a general agreement that it’s not a requirement for end users to file one in order to express unhappiness, or disappointment. Which is probably good, since that’s all I really bring to the table.

Anyway, here’s a pug filled with ennui:


2015-07-28 08:15:00

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Critiquing Fish

I read Marco Arment’s opinion of the current state of Apple Music, and he’s certainly not being koi about how fishy he thinks the service, app, and iTunes integration are.

That place is great. Nice staff, casual atmosphere, good food.

You didn’t like it? Really? Why? It’s great.

Oh, you got the fish? Rookie mistake. Don’t order the fish, it’s terrible. But everything else there is good!

Marco’s frustrations are broad, and far-reaching. He’s not articulating a specific problem he’s had, but he’s been burned by various things, and most importantly, knows other people burned by things.

On the one hand, my immediate reaction is to agree with what he’s saying. Then my second reaction is to wonder if it’s too harsh because it’s not a specific account of an issue. Then I’m back to where I started because it doesn’t matter if it’s a specific account of an issue, because that’s not how people function. He’s very correct in his restaurant analogy. Bloggers might be one-star-Yelp reviewing Apple Music, and iTunes, but that’s life.

The other day, I mentioned on Twitter that I stumbled across a problem with my music library after the Apple Music transition.

Someone replied to it with “radar ticket”.

For those unfamiliar, Apple has a bug tracker called Radar. It’s mainly for developers, and people participating in betas to use. It’s not for real humans to use. You can tell, because it still has pinstripes on the page, and shaded iOS pre-iOS 7 widgets. It’s not linked to the apps, you go find it, log in, and write a report.

I am no stranger to bugs, and bug-tracking, as I’ve had plenty of experience with a ticketing system Imageworks uses to internally track software bugs. A problem with these ticketing systems is that most people (myself included) can’t fill out the perfect ticket, or their ticket might be a duplicate issue. No one has a perfect ticketing system.

The closest analog a restaurant has to this is a comment card, but it’s a comment card customers aren’t supposed to know about, so that doesn’t really work. It’s not like calling the manager over, that seems to require a very public declaration.

While I did file a Radar, I wouldn’t really fault myself for not filing one. Nor would I fault others for simply deciding not to come back to the restaurant to order 🐟.

The allure of this particular restaurant is that it’s supposed to be a no-hassle experience.

2015-07-27 08:45:00

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Apple Music: Share Testing

I already outlined the problems I’m having with Apple Music’s “…” and share buttons in a previous post and in an episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. Not to Beats One a dead horse, but the problems with consistency in the UI persist. Here’s a little story in pictures I shared on Twitter last night.

Also, Pat Carrol singing “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is amazing, so don’t judge.

I got the following reply from Ezekiel Elin about changes in iOS 9.

These reduce the number of text buttons but don’t seem to add much clarity. And what is up with the inconsistent white space around borderless tap targets?

Isn’t it also a little weird that there are different versions of the Apple Music interface being maintained for iOS 8.4 and iOS 9 when they’re basically rolling out changes to both? Poor people must be burning the candle at both ends to do all this work.

2015-07-26 22:45:00

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New Patent Group Threatens to Derail 4K HEVC Video Streaming ►

Gather round boys and girls and listen to Ars tell the tale about how the companies fought each other over patents and licensing!

A new industry group called HEVC Advance is threatening to demand royalties for the new HEVC video codec that could halve the bandwidth required for streaming online video, or offer higher resolutions with the same bandwidth usage. The organization is promising to demand a royalty of 0.5 percent of revenue from any broadcaster that uses the codec. This move could re-ignite the arguments surrounding video codecs on the Web, and may well jeopardize services such as Netflix’s year old 4K streaming service.

Maybe if we all get really lucky they’ll just keep this Sword of Damocles hanging over UHD streaming, and whatever the next format happens to be?

This fragile situation is now jeopardized by HEVC Advance. MPEG LA has no authority over the patents—it doesn’t own them, it simply has a non-exclusive right to sell licenses to them—and companies with HEVC-relevant patents are under no obligation to join MPEG LA. If those companies are unhappy with MPEG LA’s terms, they don’t have to participate

They should have gone with Pied Piper. It has a higher Weissman Score than HVEC.

2015-07-23 23:00:00

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Variety: Digital Star Popularity Grows Versus Mainstream Celebrities ►

Variety wrote about a survey conducted with 1,500 people aged 15-17 comparing traditional media celebrities to YouTube celebrities. (Sample size could have been bigger and also compared different age groups, but whatever.)

On the surface, this is eye-roll-inducing. For someone my age, this seems trite, but this isn’t about me. It’s where about where ad money will go in a few years.

In other survey findings: Teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity; and YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars.

Again, even though that sounds like the soulless drivel that content marketers bathe in, it’s important to consider how shifting advertising money shapes content and services we all use.

We’re already being influenced by those advertising dollars starting to move. For example: Shaun McBride’s native advertising for Snapchat.

2015-07-23 12:30:00

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Defocused Live! ►

Dan and I are going to be doing the same thing we do every Wednesday night, at 9 PM Pacific Standard Time, trying to take over the world discussing a movie, but we’ve started to broadcast the recording sessions. If you’re familiar with other podcasts, like Accidental Tech Podcast, or podcast networks like Relay FM, The Incomparable, and 5by5 then you know how it works.

For those unfamiliar: A piece of really old-looking Mac software broadcasts the tenuous Skype conversation as a stream that you can listen to in your internet browser of choice. There’s an optional, IRC chatroom, where people listening to the stream can react to all the terrible things being said. There’s also, typically, a chatroom bot (referred to as a “showbot” (not a GoBot) which accepts any IRC message beginning with “!s ” as a title suggestion for the episode.

Unfortunately, both Dan and I kind of skipped the last part, so suggest titles, and Dan will use magical regex to get a list of the suggestions from the chatroom. (Dan’s not a GoBot either.)

This all worked pretty well last week when we tested with our “Maybe this will fall on its face” trial run.

We announced on Monday that we’ll be discussing Jupiter Ascending. If you haven’t seen the movie, then consider whether you would like to before tuning in. There will 🐝 spoilers. Keep tabs on the show’s Twitter account for announcements about recording times, and movies, we’ll continue to provide advanced notice there.

If you can’t tune in to listen, or you haven’t seen what we’re discussing (and you actually want to), then have no fear because we’ll still be releasing this thing called a “podcast” where audio is recorded and downloaded over the internet.

2015-07-22 08:30:00

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