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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

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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

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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

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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:

Yeeeeaaaahhhh…

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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Clockwise 90: Cord Nevers ►

I always enjoy the Clockwise podcast. It’s a bite-size tech podcast (compared to most) and still packed with interesting people, and perspectives, interacting in unanticipated ways.

Unfortunately, this week, the Apple TV news dropped a few hours after it recorded. It still contains many things to keep in mind about the anticipated service, and platform changes. Notably, Christina Warren is on the episode to share her insight on entertainment. As always, I agree with her predictions about bundles, etc.

2015-06-03 21:30:00

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The Same Progress as Last Year

Brian X. Chen at The New York Times is reporting that Apple will not be announcing the rumored Apple TV at next week’s WWDC event:

Yet one much ballyhooed device will be absent from the conference: a new Apple TV, Apple’s set-top box for televisions. The company planned as recently as mid-May to use the event to spotlight new Apple TV hardware, along with an improved remote control and a tool kit for developers to make apps for the entertainment device. But those plans were postponed partly because the product was not ready for prime time, according to two people briefed on the product.

Apple declined to comment.

(Takes a deep breath.)

“The product was not ready for prime time” is not a hardware issue as Variety chooses to interpret it.

It’s not even the HomeKit integration, as 9to5 Mac discovered in an official Apple support document that the third generation Apple TV will do all the HomeKit stuff too.

Gaming didn’t kill it, because that was on wish lists more than it was ever hinted at by any of these reports or leaks. Seemingly the “TVKit” rumor had more to do with apps, which we know can include things like streaming media apps.

What really killed this was the OTT service. Recode reported earlier this week that the OTT deals would not be in place by WWDC and so no service would be announced.

Supposedly, that missing piece has killed every would-be update that’s been rumored for the last three years.

That’s fine, really. The OTT service was never announced, but it was so heavily rumored, and reported on, that it felt like it was inevitable. Les Moonves, President and CEO of CBS, was openly discussing a streaming service for Apple at the Code Conference only a week ago. He hinted that the big hang-up was money, but was “excited” about his ongoing conversation with Eddy Cue.

Indeed, Showtime, which is owned by CBS, has gone ahead and announced Showtime as a standalone service available for Apple TV and iOS devices today, but nothing about CBS’ other properties or even existing digital programming.

As Jason Snell noted on Six Colors, it’s “one of those stories that reads a bit like Apple managing expectations…” I agree. Better to disappoint everyone this week, than leave the media, and audience, wondering why it’s absent next week.

Let’s look at this excerpt from The Verge’s 2014 WWDC predictions from last year:

Apple TV: Tim Cook has been teasing for a while now that more is in store for the Apple TV, but there’s exactly nothing in the way of details. Multiple reports have suggested that Apple is trying to work with cable providers to get live video content and effectively replace your set-top box with something much more powerful — how exactly that’ll work, however, is still unclear. Other reports have suggested that some key improvements will come to even the familiar Apple TV software soon, including support for Siri and third-party apps, giving the tiny box a whole lot more potential. All we know for now is that Apple remains very interested in television — and the rest is still to come.

Again, we’re at the point where there’s nothing new, and it might be on the horizon. We’ll just keep moving the horizon back like that dolly-zoom in Poltergeist.

You’re almost to the door, Diane!

On the Bright Side

There are three, positive things to note about the Apple TV:

  1. Apple’s only selling a three year-old set-top box. There are still 11 months before they’re selling a four year-old box.
  2. No FOMO over not buying a new Apple TV, because no one can.
  3. The Apple service errors are easy for very young children to recognize, and comprehend.

2015-06-03 15:55:00

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Print Magazine Advises Hollywood Subscribers Not to Panic

The Hollywood Reporter ran a piece about global, shifting market conditions for the entertainment industry. The data comes from PricewaterhouseCoopers and it isn’t very shocking if you’ve read about the trends in the industry over the last few years. What is surprising is the “see, everything’s fine!” analysis. The U.S. is stagnant, or shrinking, over time. Much of the growth is anticipated overseas, particularly in China, and mostly for first-run box office numbers.

Look at this bullet-point on advertising:

Web ads will hit $83.9 billion in 2019, overtaking TV ads, which will generate $81 billion.

Advertising is the primary revenue source for broadcast TV networks, and cable networks. Internet advertising overtaking TV ads before TV is really on the Internet is not a good thing. They should be moving lock-step with the ads.

This piece by THR is the reassuring pat-on-the-back that the old ways are still working. That’s to be expected from THR which still feels compelled to print this at the top of the article:

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

No, you did not travel through time, it is still June 2nd. Hey wouldn’t you like to buy some dead paper with 10 day-old analysis about how old media is fine?

2015-06-02 18:15:00

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Defocused Q&Anniversary

This Thursday night, Dan Sturm and I are recording a Q&A episode of our podcast Defocused. We would really appreciate any questions you might have. Either tweet them at the show account, or contact us on the site.

It’s been almost a year since Dan and I released the first episode of Defocused. It came from trying to record another podcast. We didn’t even have a name for the show when the first episode was recorded. It’s been a long road, getting from there to here.

We are going to record our “anniversary” episode before Dan leaves for a vacation. It didn’t seem right to make it like other episodes, where we usually discuss a movie, or to make it about one particular topic. It’s also been too soon to do another version of our award/clip show.

We really appreciate all the people that listen, and send in feedback. If you feel compelled to write iTunes reviews for the podcast, or share some favorite episodes with the Internet – what are you waiting for? An invitation?

2015-06-02 13:15:00

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