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Apple TV Service: Only in Dreams

Ever since the announcement of Apple Music, and Beats 1, Twitter has been atwitter with discussion over what this could mean for Apple’s oft-delayed TV and Film efforts. I’m still relatively certain that the most probable outcome is that Apple will merely empower broadcasters, and studios, to setup their own apps with content services with rich, multi-media experiences. I don’t think it’s going to be as dramatic a shift as some are forecasting. More of a transition away from cable boxes, to Apple TV boxes, with a limited set of services that more or less mirrors the kind of television metaphors North American audiences are used to. (Including ads.)

That’s not as much fun as Apple taking on curation authority and crafting the whole experience of interacting with the content. So let’s entertain some of the farther-fetched ideas. Only in dreams, we see what it means…


No, not Swift, not even Taylor Swift, but the thing everyone calls “curation”. It’s not really a museum, it’s selecting, and placing, multiple pieces of entertainment in a linear order. Even Apple Music’s playlists are a form of programming, even though they aren’t “on the air”. Beats 1 is all about linear programming. Calling it curation just makes it sound so much more artistic.

A piece of content can also frame other programming inside of it. Like when a DJ’s block starts on a radio station, or on Beats 1, and they provide the frame around the songs that are played. TV has similar vehicles, with MTV’s VJ’s in the 80s and 90s being the closest approximation. There are also those monster-movie blocks, with Elvira, or Dr. Paul Bearer. There’s that guy in a suit on TCM, or even a disembodied voice on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. Even something like VH1’s old Pop-Up Video program puts the framing inside of the media as an overlay.

While there is a certain silliness to that kind of framing on television (it’s often done with very inexpensive sets, and very inexpensive to license media) there can be an element to it that many find valuable. There was a bit of time where social media feedback ran in tickers around the screen in order to get people to tune in to provide the frame for the inexpensive movie or show.

In terms of taste, I’m not sure I buy in to that kind of execution from Apple. I could see, perhaps, the VJs, since there are musical minds at play at Apple, and music videos are still popular online, even if they aren’t on the garbage station MTV turned into.

That’s a very tiny slice of programming, for a very specific thing. Audiences are mostly favoring consumption of serialized, hour-long dramas with short seasons these days. Would Apple license marathons? Unlikely. Would they program their own TV channel to showcase programming from different sources? How would CBS feel about mixing their shows with AMC and FX? TV is very unlike radio in this regard. Zane Lowe has the luxury to pick and choose from labels.

This could be possible with film. There could be an AMC-like host, or a FX “At the Movies” set of hosts, discussing what people are about to see, maybe some interviews with stars, and directors. It’s certainly been done before, and it’s possible to buy the rights to broadcast films on a TV channel from a variety of studios.

That means that in our list of hypothetical formats we have MTV VJs, and people introducing movies — both on linear, live, video.

(If anyone at Apple is reading this, and they need some volunteer film buffs, please, get in touch, I’m totes down for this bananas plan!)

How do you satisfy network TV in a way that doesn’t turn over authorship to the networks? They would have to select off-the-air TV, like Netflix and Amazon, or they’d have to finance their own TV production, like Netflix, and Amazon.

Apple Studios

This is the part I can’t ever see happening as long as we’re in a business climate where the large broadcasters have content people want to watch. Really, I think this isn’t feasible. The second Apple opens up shop and starts financing pilots for TV shows, the broadcast networks are going to start pulling their shows from sale on iTunes, and any collaborating with Apple on a streaming OTT service will cease.

Apple absolutely has the money to do it, but they would have to do all of it. This isn’t like Beats 1, this is like Apple producing all the artists you hear on Beats 1. Totally different situation. Totally different skillset, and a real commitment to something that isn’t Apple’s primary goal.

Sure, anything’s possible, but it would be an enormous leap to go it alone on TV production just to sell phones and TV set-top boxes. Pragmatism would dictate trying to create the same, comfortable TV metaphors and associations, but with a better user experience. That means the networks.

Netflix started their own film studio, but the theater chains are refusing to show Netflix’s films in their theaters because Netflix will show them day-and-date on the service and in theaters. It hasn’t stopped Netflix from moving forward, with Netflix’s Ted Sarandos vowing to release more films. It certainly wouldn’t stop Apple, but it just means Apple needs to really be focused on this.

The Little Fish

Something more likely than Apple starting up studio operations, is providing funding, training, tools, and promotion for independent productions.

Let’s say you’re in film school, and you have a great idea for a film, you pitch it to Apple for a grant, receive it, and create the video, available for Apple’s video service. Apple doesn’t like to directly fund people (see app developers) so it might be some sort of VC fund thingy. Whatevs. Money stuff.

Another possibility is training people to perform, and manage the tasks required for their independent productions. Like WWDC, but for an Apple-focused production, and publishing suite of tools. Now imagine it’s also sort of like a cross between SXSW , NAB, and SIGGRAPH. There’s a showcase of the previous years’ work, panels, camera vendors, motion tracking vendors, lighting rigs. Hopefully it would have good food too, that would be nice.

In terms of tools, Apple has ceded most of the ground it had in the mid 2000s when they bought up, or internally developed, all the top-tier pro software they could. Tools that rivaled what Adobe and Avid had at the time. Then everything has slowly been withering up since then. Replaced mostly with an emphasis on inexpensive, third-party apps that are more specific in the tasks they do, and not the all-encompassing apps they once were. It’s still conceivable that Apple can reinvigorate those efforts. Sure, not a lot of people bought a Mac because Shake ran on it, but what if your goal isn’t Mac sales, but iPhone sales from things made on those Macs? You can justify spending money on pro software for Macs if it significantly improves the availability of media for the devices you make profit off of.

Not to mention, you can also partner with Adobe to make specific Mac focused tools that simplify production for Apple’s video service. Fill out some metadata fields, and push the one-click publish button, and your feature film is in iTunes Connect ready to go. Easy as YouTube[^1]

[^1]: Not really, I imagine that Apple would want to review the content in some fashion. It’s a family-friendly company. It would be interesting to see who would be responsible for securing ratings, or if Apple would come up with approximate, internal ratings. What could go wrong?

There are also production services Apple can provide. A limiting factor for many independently produced films, and web series, is the money to buy the right infrastructure for their project. Some of that is physical equipment, some of it is software, and some of it is craftsmanship others provide. It’s very expensive to hire a VFX house to do your greenscreens, add fire, muzzle flashes, and blood hits. They have infrastructure costs, and people they need to keep staffed. What if Apple had a service for connecting these artists so they could do work for one another? Even a booking schedule? Someone like me could be available for compositing work, and deliver assets through an Apple pipeline, even review, and track time for billable hours. That’s not off-the-shelf software, and it’s not something YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, or Netflix provides. There’s so much friction in film and television production that has to do with infrastructure and manpower issues. Poof, Appled-away.

Finally, the biggest tool Apple can wield with any of their services is promotion. They select apps for promotion on iOS, and the Mac App Store (to varying degrees of profit). They select films and TV shows to appear in those categories of the storefront. Apple Music taps select artists for playlists, and to appear on Beats 1. Imagine a showcase of independently produced material. Many people jump at the chance to be seen, or have their work seen.

The part where Apple might get tripped up, is what terms they set for their generous help. Exclusive streaming to Apple’s service? Forever, or for a window? What physical rights do they have? You’ll notice Apple hasn’t taken the book publishing world by storm with iBooks Author. All the best tools and services don’t amount to much if you can make more money elsewhere (or at least the perception that you can).

If you don’t like working with the established parties, and you can’t outright remove them, slowly increase the relevance of other parties, diminishing your reliance on the established ones.

Back to Reality

Apple’s totally just going to release TVKit which will let companies build rich-media apps to showcase individualized, branded streams of content, bundling some expenses together, and we’ll have new-cable, via Apple. More like what Apple Pay did for credit cards, than what Apple Music has done for music streaming.

But when we wake, it’s all been erased, and so it seems, only in dreams…

2015-07-08 08:15:00

Category: text

For You, Perhaps, But Not for Me ►

The internet’s favorite curmudgeon, Dr. Drang, has arranged his thoughts on Apple Music. They’re mostly negative, as anyone who follows the good doctor on twitter might expect.

Let’s start with Connect. This is, to me, the least interesting part of Apple Music because I’m far too jaded to believe that anything put here is straight from the artists themselves.

Yes, this is the experience I’ve had. Connect automatically forms a list of people for you to follow based on what you purchased through iTunes (at least, I haven’t seen any artists that were purchased through Amazon and synced to iTunes). This includes my buddy, Mr. 305 — Mr. Worldwide — Pitbull. His Connect posts occur often and exclusively feature a promotional photo of Pitbull. This is not really something that excites me, and seemingly is by some PR assistant somewhere. A few things, from other artists, read like tweets about tours. I don’t go see tours, even though I live in LA, so these sorts of broadcasts don’t mean anything to me as a fan. The only novel feature is the occasional posts with music in them, such as one by ZEDD, or Macintosh Braun. That’s really not the predominant Connect experience, and still doesn’t feel direct, in any way. You can comment on some of the posts, but there seems to be absolutely no point in doing that, and no value to be gleaned from the comments of others — a huge surprise.

Dr. Drang goes on to highlight several problems he has with Beats 1. However, if you pay attention to the wording of it, Dr. Drang hasn’t listened to much of the linear programming — curation — being done on the channel. He’s mostly poking fun at the notion of it. The praise, from many young people, is mostly about the concept as a vehicle for music discovery. Something another of the Internet’s top curmudgeons, Philip Michaels, agrees is pretty silly. Modern radio programming is mostly not very good even though it’s conceptually similar. So the praise is warranted, if overblown when it comes to the notion of sequencing audio clips with DJs.

Dr. Drang is also open to the idea of some shows, and willing to write others off. He even talks about an old radio program he’d like to hear, but again, he’s not really listening to all of the current programming to know if it’s missing. Not that I fault him for that, I certainly can’t listen to most of the programming. Even a show that piqued my interest, Elton John’s Rocket Hour wasn’t on at a time that I could listen. The schedule is also nowhere to be found in the app and relies on listeners finding the Beats 1 Tumblr page.

Effectively, they’ve reinvigorated the need for a DVR, or On Demand (podcasts), and TV Guide. Ironic, no? Particularly in light of trends in television services.

Next on the Apple Music list of services is My Music. Because I didn’t already have an iTunes Match account, I had to go through the process of scanning and uploading my iTunes library. This took about two days of continuous connection, and both iTunes on my Mac and the Music app on my iPhone lied to me through most of the process. For example, even when the progress circle in iTunes showed the uploading to be nearly complete, none my Beatles tracks were ready. Their iCloud status in iTunes was still “Waiting,” and they were unavailable for streaming on my iPhone.

I’m a little disappointed in Dr. Drang for jumping on iTunes 12.2 so quickly and letting it mangle his music library. The nice thing about the iOS app is that it’s not mangling my jams through some first-generation importing and syncing method. On the day Apple Music launched, Apple released iOS 8.4, and many hours later iTunes 12.2. As I noted on Twitter:

Spoiler alert: It was rushed out the door and wrecks some music libraries.

Hard pass.

I’ll eventually (probably accidentally) update to a newer version of iTunes, but I’ll wait a round.

A brief tangent: Apple should do what many other services with apps do and distribute a version of the app that can use the service in advance of the service being available. Then they can turn on, or off, the availability of the service as needed. When I mentioned this practical approach on Twitter (which has an iPhone app that follows this methodology) I recieved pushback that Apple probably rolls out iOS and iTunes updates at the last minute because it’s a way to meter the traffic on the service. Poppycock. Whether or not someone will update their software is not an effective metering tool, compared to controlling the ability to connect to the service as a meter, and the ability to patch the clientside software because you see problems with the service rolling out. Not doing both at the same time.

Anyway, back to Dr. Drang’s post:

Part of the problem is that generational thing. When I went through the For You setup and made the Genre selections, I ran into a dilemma: should I include R&B or not? I knew perfectly well that Apple Music would see R&B as primarily Chris Brown, Beyoncé, Usher, and, God help us, Robin Thicke; so my inclination was to turn it off. But if I did that, would I be blocking Curtis Mayfield, Prince, Gamble & Huff, and the entire Stax label? That was too much of a risk, so I left R&B in my Genre list. To my chagrin, I soon found lots of current R&B in my For You suggestions, but not a hint of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

It’s not simply generational. Indeed, Dr. Drang generously lays much of the blame on the fact that he’s old (I would say that has more to do with reluctance to try new things). The problems I’ve had with “For You” have been similar even though I’m a spritely 32 year-old.

The bubbles are whimsical, and pretty, but they are not the best way to get started with my musical tastes because the bubbles are overly generic. I have a library full of music, and a rich history of iTunes purchases. Connect uses that to find artists for me to automatically follow, but none of the bubbles are pre-populated by this data. It’s like I’m setting up my music tastes from scratch, which is a chore. After refreshing the bubbles many, many, many times I gave up and confirmed it, figuring it would be easier to prune later. It hasn’t been easy at all. Country music is a genre I typically loathe, almost universally, and yet, there was country music. You know, for reasons.

Long-pressing something I’m not interested in, and selecting the menu item to see less of that, doesn’t remove it from the “feed” of the For You section. Cee Lo Green just sat there, staring at me. His smile mocking my very attempt to control his authoritative playlist.

Even the playlists that are aligned with my tastes don’t appeal to me because they are, for the most part, too tame and too obvious. Of what value, for example, is a “Led Zeppelin Deep Cuts” playlist to someone whose library already has every Led Zeppelin album? If I’ve said I like Cheap Trick, I’ll probably like the songs in a Cheap Trick playlist, but how does that help me discover new music?

This is a huge problem with For You, and something that could be improved by actually using any of the data that Apple already has available to them. I received an “Intro to Pitbull” playlist and an “Intro to Queen” playlist. I own every track on both of the lists. I can tell Apple I don’t like the suggestions, but that’s not true. I want Apple to form future recommendations from those, but I don’t need my whole library I already bought available to be streamed back to me for a monthly fee.

Dr. Drang skipped the New tab, but I’ll just assume he doesn’t like it either. I absolutely hate the way this is “organized” it’s like they maxed at 5 items on each list and moved on to the next. The UI widgets are all over the place. Presumably, this is mostly to distinguish these quick blobs from the other quick blobs. There’s stuff that’s “Hot” and “Discovered” which doesn’t connote anything to me about wether or not I might like it. There are lots of hot things I don’t like. Hot pans, hot weather, scalding hot tea, I could go on.

The category selection, like all of the other category selection, is so broad that it’s not completely effective as a filter. As Jason Snell pointed out on a recent episode of Upgrade where he discussed Apple Music with Myke Hurley, what Apple interprets “Alternative” to be covers a whole lot of ground.

There are a few things that are buried here that have really delivered though, and that’s in these same playlists that For You tries, and fails to surface. Browsing through the maze of playlist sections I found an absolutely fantastic playlist (The Tropical Side of Pop by Apple Music Pop). I gave it a heart, and then I couldn’t find it. The hearts don’t store it anywhere for me to access, and I couldn’t remember the exact name of the playlist, just that it had pink, lawn flamingos on it. I found it once, to add it to my music, and I found it again, just now, to try and remember where it was buried in the interface. It’s not that the playlists are bad, but that For You is doing such a terrible job of surfacing the ones I want that relying on the New tab to find interesting lists raises all the same questions about discovery that For You is ostensibly supposed to solve.

Dr. Drang hints several times in the piece about the value of the service relative to other options. Indeed, his whole piece is about the value for him, specifically. I see many of the same problems he sees mirrored in my own experience with the iOS app, and I do wonder about the value. I buy less than one album of music from iTunes a month, often going three, four months without buying a single track. For Apple to convince me to stay on after the trial is over, they need to convince me I would end up buying, and listening, to more music that would justify the monthly rate I would be paying.

As a free service, it’s great, but it’s not really a free service in three months.

2015-07-08 08:10:00

Category: text

Apple Music: Share and Share Alike

After waiting the requisite number of hours to update to a new iOS release, I started poking around with Apple Music, and I’ve been particularly interested in how it has functioned offline in comparison to its predecessor. Like, 1 in 5 buttons in the main interface show you a white screen with gray text saying that you are, in fact, offline. It’s a barrel of fun, turn on Airplane Mode and give it a whirl.

Fortunately, you can make tracks, and albums, available for offline listening, but there’s no genius playlist functionality. Finding it in an ellipsis menu (not all ellipsis menus offer the function) yields a modal dialog that you need to be connected to cellular or WiFi to create a genius playlist.

This was not a problem in the previous iteration of the app, because the genius data was updated when you synced your phone, and available offline.

I’m not sure a lot of thought went into something which matters so little in 2015, but hey, I thought I’d mention it.

Something more relevant is the all-encompassing, unexpected junk-drawer of the ellipsis button. The button is seemingly attached to every part of the interface, and they don’t mean you’ll see the same items when you click on each of them.

The closest, existing analog for this is the share button. A box with an arrow pointing out of the top would either bring up the system share sheet, or a custom menu with share options, depending on the application.

The ellipsis does not improve on this button, because now the share functions are occasionally in the ellipsis menu, or in a share button. Sharing a song you are currently listening to now requires, 1-3 modal menus, depending on where you are in the app, and which button you clicked on. If you are viewing an album, there’s a share button that immediately brings up a share sheet. Curiously, the same share button feature is present in the ellipsis button next to the share sheet button. This is an odd redundancy.

As for tracks: If you are viewing a track of the album, and it’s taking up the full screen, the share button brings up a menu asking if you want to share the song, then the share sheet.

If the track is not taking up the full screen then you’ll have the ellipsis to use for access to the menu with share options.

This makes the ellipsis buttons, that have share features notched in to their many-tiered, ever-changing menu of options, the most reliable way to share albums and music. The text buttons have no share sheet iconography. They spell out what they do in centered text alongside all the other options for building playlists, etc. Like a menu in OS X, or Mac OS, the text items that bring up other modal sheets/menus present ellipsis next to them. Menus with stuff, and more menus with more stuff. It’s ellipsis’ all the way down.

There’s also the rather unexpected behavior of what happens when you try to share something in your library that is not in Apple Music. In the above image, that Leonard Cohen track, from that specific album, is not available to share. However, it still presents you with the menu items to share it, and opens a share sheet. If you click “copy link” nothing is copied to the clipboard buffer. If you try to tweet it, a blank sheet unfurls for you to send out a completely empty tweet. In a rather perplexing move, the same song, on a different Leonard Cohen album, is available to share. No error pops up, and no option to refer people to the other, available track, is presented. As far as I know, the track in my local library is just like everything else … only it isn’t. Surely this came up in testing? Are there no Leonard Cohen fans at Apple?

A big part of the business proposition of Apple Music is discovering new music. Word of mouth plays a huge part in spreading music around. Apple knows this, because the app basically wants you to have access to a menu item to share things. Apple just has a lot of slack they can tighten up here. This was a ground-up overhaul of this app, and it seems they could not come up with any elegant solutions for this all-new first impression of the app, other than putting “…” everywhere. It feels like Microsoft Office.

Which takes me to the new Clippy, “For You” …

2015-07-05 18:30:00

Category: text

Supreme Court Legalizes Marriage Nationwide ►

I’m overwhelmed by the news this morning that marriage between two men, or two women, is possible in all 50 states. The same excerpt from Justice Kennedy’s opinion that you’ll see everywhere today:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embod- ies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people be- come something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be con- demned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civiliza- tion’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

That’s really the heart of it. People are people, and they want that dignity. Even if someone is not going to be married, or they are and they get divorced, the point is that it’s a possibility. (The same can be said of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.) That they are every bit as human — deserving of love and respect. Even all those single people can feel whole.

2015-06-26 09:00:00

Category: text

Inquisitive #44 - Dan Moren and 'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' ►

Myke Hurley shifted gears on Inquisitive a little while ago, and started talking to guests about their favorite albums. While I’ve listened along to the show since the transition, I’ve felt a little outside of it. I don’t appreciate music at the album-level. I’ve always been selective about what I’ll listen to off of any album, and don’t really have a deep connection to an artistic story the artist wants to tell. I wouldn’t survive in the record store in High Fidelity.

However, Dan picked the perfect thing, a soundtrack. I have had a deep love of soundtracks since I was a kid. I suppose I didn’t really consider them “albums” because they’re part of the film they come from. It’s not the same creative relationship as the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds. Beats in the songs have to align to editing of the film, and action from the story. Many soundtracks are great to listen to because they evoke the film — I can picture Khan’s attack on the Enterprise in the track “Surprise Attack” just by listening to the score. Divorced from the film, I can’t help but wonder what kind of listening experience people would have.

Listening to Dan recount his love for soundtracks, and lack of appreciation for pop music, really echoed the same feelings I had about music when I was younger. I do appreciate his selection, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back by John Williams, because I also love the score. Two years ago, I even had the chance to listen to John Williams conduct the LA Philharmonic at The Hollywood Bowl while people in the amphitheater waved lightsabers around.

Sometimes, on these podcasts that prompt a guest, or panelist, to answer a question, I try to figure out how I would answer. Not because I am in any danger of being asked it, but because it’s a fun creative exercise. Like Dan, I assume I would wind up staying “on brand” and selecting a Star Trek soundtrack.

Then again, it could be kind of fun to troll everyone and pick the first music I ever bought, the Mortal Kombat soundtrack with George Clinton, The Immortals, Orbital, KMFDM … untz, untz, untz.

2015-06-25 08:30:00

Category: text

Starbucks Without Lines

Starbucks has an online ordering program available to customers using the Starbucks app on their iPhone. For those unfamiliar, the app is pretty weird. It bridges the gulf between gift card, loyalty card, store locator, and “special offers” inbox. Before you can use the online order, you must have money on a Starbucks gift card, or you can create a virtual gift card inside of the app and load it via a credit card, PayPal, or Apple Pay. This is honestly the weirdest part. It’s like buying Xbox Live points, but at least there’s the utility, and security of Apple Pay.

Once Starbucks captures your money, you can brandish your iPhone at any Starbucks register, and get it scanned to pay for orders. Customers can now use the app to browse the menu and place orders for pickup at a store, bypassing Starbucks’ lines.

This is a key differentiating factor between Starbucks and every other coffee company out there: convenience. They need to compete on convenience because their coffee usually tastes like cremated goats. Even if you are a fussy coffee drinker, it’s important to take a pragmatic look at how Starbucks is deploying technology.

2 to 5 Minutes

Press “Order” in the Starbucks app and you’ll see a little collage with any previous order at the top, and some other photos of suggestions below. A search box appears at the bottom, and clicking on it brings up the standard categories, as well as just letting you type the name of what you’re looking for. The menu displayed is for the nearest Starbucks location to you. You can swipe to other locations, or manipulate the map to find them. You don’t have access to search for an address (let’s say you’re driving somewhere and want coffee at the destination). All locations seem to display the same “2-5 minutes” for your potential order.

For some reason, Starbucks’ reserved roasts they use in their Clover machines are not available for purchase at any location I’ve examined so far. I suspect that’s because the availability of the beans varies so widely they decided to skip that level of inventory tracking.

Once you select an item, you can pick and choose what goes in it. The first time I placed an order via the app I made the mistake of not examining what it considered standard to include. I was quite unhappy to find 4 pumps of “classic syrup” in my iced coffee. This can be easily altered, and it was user error, but I do encourage you to examine what’s toggled on in your beverage.

Once an order is placed, you receive an immediate modal notification that a receipt is available to view, and a tip can be left. A banner notification also drops down, and the screen behind the banner and the modal dialog shows the order is confirmed. They should tweak that part of the experience.

Leaving a tip is painless. You can adjust it after leaving the tip, or wait to leave it at all until much later in the same day (I believe the window is 8 hours?) and it comes out of the same card-money. This is nice if you haven’t had time to go to the ATM, but at the same time, I have to imagine that cash tips are preferred.

The pickup experience is as awkward as I’m capable of making it. The first location I picked up a beverage from made the drink in under a minute so I wasn’t even sure it was mine. The app also says you should “ask the barista” for your order, so I did because I didn’t want to just grab and drink and walk out. He pointed out that the printed label that said “JOSEPH > MOBILE” was, indeed, my mobile order. The second Starbucks location was busy kicking out drinks, and I didn’t see mine on the counter so I waited quietly. Eventually, the barista asked me if I was waiting for an iced Americano. I sheepishly replied that I was, but not the “venti” size she was holding with “DENISE” written on the side with marker. I started to explain that it was a mobile order, in the only way I know how (with too much detail) and before I could finish she was apologizing for and pulled a completed drink out from behind the counter. I apologized back because I should have just asked right off the bat, instead of looking for it on the counter like the first place. Picking up online orders is totes awk.

I would rank each experience highly for speed, and for the intangible benefit of not having to stand in a line and listening to other people order things. Their coffee is still their coffee.

2015-06-23 09:45:00

Category: text

James Horner

Tonight, on Twitter, I saw reports that James Horner’s plane crashed near Santa Barbara. At first, no one was sure it was him. His assistant confirmed it, and I was overcome with sadness. He was a tremendously talented man, and hugely influential on my appreciation of films, and of film scores.

His scores for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock contain musical cues, and themes, that I can hum on command. His work for Aliens contains mainly similar elements, to his Star Trek scores, but arranged in a distinct, and bone-chilling way. I have a playlist that pulls action pieces from those three (as well as from Cliff Eidelman’s Star Trek VI score) that I listen to sometimes when I’m driving around in LA traffic (it’s exhilarating).

Even some of his work on the “cheesy” things early in his career – like Battle Beyond the Stars and Krull – are full of bombastic, action beats.

Chronologically, I think the first film I heard his score for might have been The Land Before Time. It’s a heartbreaking, sweeping score, and the animated feature would lack weight without it. The scene where Littlefoot’s mother dies still breaks my heart, even though this is a film I saw in 1988.

Horner’s score for the Rocketeer captures a child-like wonder, as well as Americana. Glory‘s choral elements are very moving, and spiritual. Titanic has that element of romance.

To me, I’ll most often think of him when I hear the blaring crashes in Surprise Attack.

He will be missed.

2015-06-22 23:00:00

Category: text

One Year of Defocused

With the release of “A Podcast Loaf”, Dan and I have just past a full year’s worth of podcasting. 52 episodes released in total. It might not sound very impressive compared to the output of many other programs, but I feel quite rewarded by the experience.

While it may be a hobby, and not an empire, Dan and I treat it pretty seriously behind the scenes. Microphones, recording spaces, software, etc. We have a calendar, we schedule our late-night recording times. We have a Slack group with multiple channels for organizing work for the show, and show-related tasks. Even the silly, little flourishes like gifs (soft “g”), or a couple seconds of a song comedically spliced in, all require collaborative work.

Speaking of work, Dan has edited almost every single episode of the show. Though I am quite happy to dabble in the task from time to time (most recently with The Birdcage.) He really deserves a round applause for it.

I’m also pretty proud of our lively mix of movies we’ve discussed. It’s not a sci-fi podcast, or a 90s podcast, or an action movie podcast — it’s a little bit of everything.

Here’s a list of films that you can traverse to go right to an episode if there’s anything you might have missed and want to check out.

Our show mythology isn’t really all that deep. There’s the notion of the “shame burrito” (which has it’s origins in giving up on life and just getting a burrito you know you probably shouldn’t eat). “Cats Per Mango” is just nonsense, so really, don’t worry about what that means. Of course there’s the fan favorite pastime of Star Trek and Simpsons references that go over Dan’s head (something he is very proud of).

It’s a fun show to make, and we’ll keep making it. Thank you to all the fans that engage with our brand on Twitter, and to the few guests we’ve had on (something we will hopefully have more of in the future). You’re the real heroes for putting up with us.

2015-06-21 09:30:00

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Unjustly Maligned 15: Watchmen with Merlin Mann ►

Ever since I was aware of Antony Johnston’s podcast premise – discussing with a guest why something has been unfairly derided – I suspected someone would get around to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen film. A couple weeks ago, when I saw Merlin Mann tweet a lot about Watchmen I suspected he might be the guest on the show doing that. He was. Turns out.

I always get a little trepidatious about people discussing the film for a few reasons:

  1. I worked on visual effects for the movie.
  2. Most people do not like the movie.
  3. It is my favorite movie I’ve ever worked on in my 9+ years of doing visual effects.

Set trepidation to maximum:


I enjoyed listening to the episode, overall, and I’m recommending you listen as well. One of the more surprising aspects (to me, anyway) is that this was the first time Antony had seen the film.

My opinions about the project are strongly colored by my time working on it. When I think of it, I think first of the Dr. Manhattan shots, and then about everything else. The amount of effort, and time, people put in isn’t immediately evident to viewers, but it was all difficult VFX back in 2008 (keep in mind the movie was released in Spring of 2009). It was a huge team effort. Animation, effects, textures, rigging, lighting, resource management, compositing – literally everyone.

Most of my favorite shots are the subtle ones, where there’s just a curl of the lip, and a tilt of the head. The subtle churning of effects under his skin providing some extra life. Most of that is overlooked in the film, particularly if the film is just a general affront to your sensibilities as a comics fan. That’s a shame, from my point of view, but I am a little biased.

Many of the shots are still used in my demo reel.

Fortunately, Antony and Merlin agree that they approve of Dr. Manhattan. That’s all the validation I really need. Group hug.

Also, I’m really sorry about blowing up Rorschach.

2015-06-09 09:30:00

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Unhelpful Suggestions 2: A Better Idiot Box ►

A couple weeks ago, Marko Savic and I recorded our first episode of Unhelpful Suggestions. A podcast about technology, but discussed through a slightly different lens (very-slightly different, depending on how you classify lenses, and people as lenses). It’s not a gay podcast, per se, but it’s part of that whole lens thing I was talking about.

Reactions weren’t negative, so we made a second one, and released it last night. That’s also my cue to blog about it here.

The first and second episodes discuss the Apple TV, and we ride a sweeping, emotional roller-coaster from rumors of a new box, and OTT service, to rumors that there’s no new box, and no new OTT service. It’s a pretty short roller-coaster.

Feedback on the show is appreciated.

2015-06-05 08:30:00

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