August 18, 2016

Stranger Things

The Netflix original series have been hit and miss, so when I heard about Stranger Things I was cautiously optimistic. Then I heard it was a modern take on an 80’s Amblin film. At that point I thought about Super 8 and I got kind of scared. I decided I was going to give it a shot. Everything deserves a shot. From the first episode I was hooked.

Stranger Things is an eight episode Netflix series by the Duffer Brothers. It is hard sci-fi, and at times it is quite scary. It is clear that the Duffer’s are huge fans of Steven King, Steven Speilberg, and 80’s aesthetic and storytelling in general. Stranger Things almost feels like something that was made 30 years ago and lost; only to be unearthed by Netflix in 2016. You can see just how much they borrowed from their 80’s inspirations in this YouTube video.

I really enjoyed Stranger Things. It was a ton of fun to watch. Like I said, I got hooked in right from the beginning and I didn’t stop until I was finished. I watched all eight 45 minute episodes in a week. Which is extremely fast compared to my normal pace of tv watching.

There were a lot of things to like about Stranger Things. I loved the music. The cold intros and then cuts to the title sequence worked really well. The cinematography was beautiful. There are some memorable shots. I’m sure a lot of them were inspired by classic 80’s films. I didn’t care. I thought Stranger Things looked awesome.

The characters and performances are well done. It feels like so much care and planning was put into make the aesthetic of the film feel authentic.

I was surprised by how much Stranger Things hooked me in and made me want to keep watching. It is hard-core sci fi, which typically isn’t my thing. It can also be quite scary at times… also not my thing. More importantly, it is a visually interesting and well told story, and I can get on bored with that. Even though the plot felt somewhat meaningless, it was a fun watch that I would gladly revisit. I have a lot of questions about the monster and the “upside down”, but I would probably be content if they never got answered.

It seems like Stranger Things has been a big success. I haven’t heard if it has been renewed for a 2nd season, but I imagine it will. At the end of the first season it was definitely left open to continue the story on. I would rather see Stranger Things come back with an entirely new story. Either way, I will be looking forward to watching more.

July 16, 2016

Starting Fresh With An iPad 3

I do the majority of my writing and internet browsing on an iPad. The same iPad 3 that I bought in March of 2012. About a year ago[1] it started freezing up and crashing. I’d usually restart it and it would work fine for a while, then I’d repeat the cycle. Yesterday my 4.5 year old iPad finally pooped the bed.

My iPad got into these crash loops. It would reboot itself, then immediately crash again and reboot. It would repeat this process for 30 minutes or so. If I tried to do anything on it another crash loop would begin.

I wanted to go to the store and buy an iPad Pro, but that wasn’t in the cards. I decided the best course of action would be to start with a clean slate. I was going to restore my iPad back to factory settings and start fresh.

The process was pretty painless. I don’t store pictures or files on my iPad itself, so I didn’t have to worry about losing anything. I hit the restore button in iTunes and left to do yard work. An hour later I came back and it was done.

I was starting with a brand new iPad. No apps. Nothing. It was freeing. I had built up so many unused apps. I had been meaning to weed through them, but this method was way better. Just get rid of them all and only re-download the stuff you absolutely need.

I’ve used my iPad for a week since refreshing and it has been working flawlessly. It feels like a brand new device. It is so much more responsive. I haven’t had one instance of lagging or crashing. I only have a few apps on it, but that is all I need for now.

I use a Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad a lot. A few months ago there started to be a noticeable delay between when I typed on the keyboard an when those letters showed up on screen. There have been times when I’d type out a whole paragraph with nothing showing up on the screen. I’d sit there and wait for several seconds and then the words would start to appear. Before the refresh it would happen to some extent every time I typed. I am writing this post right now with my bt keyboard and it hasn’t happened once.

It appears that my old iPad has new life, and should be able to get me to whatever iPad announcement Apple makes this fall or early 2017. I am still hoping to upgrade then. For now I am just happy to have an iPad that works.

I was skeptical about how effective it would be to restore the iPad. I had resigned myself to the fact that it was old and probably wasn’t going to work very well ever again. I’m amazed by how big a difference it made. If you are having any slowness or weird problems with an older iOS device give it a shot.

  1. Probably around the same time I installed iOS 9 on it.  ↩

July 7, 2016

Finding Dory Review

I was thinking a post about Finding Dory was going to be my return to the movie blogging game. Here we are two weeks after I saw the film and still no review has been posted. It’s weird because I have actually written 3 of them. All have been scrapped. At this point I am just going to write something and go with it.

Finding Nemo has been one of my favorite Pixar films. In my eyes Nemo and the Toy Story trilogy are elevated well above the rest.[1] I was really hoping, and expecting, to be able to put Finding Dory right up on that pedestal.[2] Dory didn’t live up to the hopes I had for it. I enjoyed the movie, but it is middle-of-the-road Pixar for me. The story felt sloppy, which I can almost never say about Pixar’s normally extremely tight storytelling skills.[3]

I feel very similarly about Finding Dory as I did about Up. Both films have great moments, but they just get… weird. The gravity of the story becomes lost when you have to imagine a crazy universe where this stuff might actually happen. There were so many times in Dory where I found myself asking “why?”. Maybe if I see it again some of the events and character motivations will make a little more sense to me.[4]

My biggest head-scratcher was the sea lions. The two main sea lions seemed like nice helpful guys, but that didn’t stop them from bullying poor little Gerald off their rock. His exclusion was played for laughs. I’m not sure what Gerald’s purpose was.[5] In the scope of the overall film his treatment sent a mixed message. The movie as a whole seemed to advocate for the acceptance of those with differences, yet it was funny to bark at Gerald until he got off the rock.[6]

I imagine I will like Finding Dory when I see it a second time. It won’t have the weight of the expectation to live up to. I will be prepared for the random weird stuff that distracted from the story. Maybe I should go read some Dory think pieces that will explain exactly what the point of it all was. Surely somebody has ascribed some method to the madness.

I did really like Frank. I thought he was an interesting character. I didn’t like the fact that a majority of the film took place on dry land and Dory was usually confined to a small vessel. It made me claustrophobic. Frank’s ability to maneuver on the turf made me a fan merely because he was a character that could actually do stuff.

I feel like I have been hard on Finding Dory. I did legitimately like it. Even mid tier Pixar is better than most movies out there. My daughters liked it so I am sure I’ll get to watch it over and over… and over. Maybe I will grow to appreciate its loose plotting and oddball charm.

  1. Though I haven’t revisited many of the Pixar movies since they first came out.  ↩

  2. I may have had my expectations set a little too high.  ↩

  3. I have never seen Cars 2.  ↩

  4. I’m not really sure why Nemo & Marlin were in the movie… except for they kind of had to be.  ↩

  5. And why couldn’t he talk? Or why didn’t he talk?  ↩

  6. Don’t even get me started on Becky the bird.  ↩

July 1, 2016

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

June 21, 2016

Dave Chen writing about Finding Dory at /
Both of these characters feel like cheap jokes. For the kids that are in the audience, they send a pretty clear message: It’s okay to laugh at people who are different, or who aren’t as smart as you are. Sure, Dory is differently abled. But she doesn’t fundamentally look/function different than most of the other characters in the film. Becky and Gerald, though, are fair game. For a movie that’s all about how anyone can achieve anything, that’s disheartening and inconsistent.
As I watched Finding Dory with my 5 year old I found myself thinking the same thing. When the two sea lions barked the weirdo off the rock my initial reaction was to laugh along with the rest of the theater. Then I thought about it for a second and realized that it wasn’t funny… and felt kinda mean.

May 21, 2016

An Update

Over the past week I’ve had two separate acquaintances ask me if I’m still writing this blog. I had to tell them no. Their next question was obviously… Why not?

I have made the excuse to myself that I don’t write movie reviews anymore because I don’t watch movies. This is true. My film consumption dropped off significantly about 3 years ago.

I’m in full-on Dad mode these days. Even when I do watch a movie I don’t feel like I have the time to sit down and write about it. But the truth is, if I really wanted to, I could find time to write. For some reason I have way less motivation to share my opinions on the Internet.

Coincidentally my domain name came up for renewal this past week. For a minute I thought about letting it lapse. Maybe I was done. Ultimately I couldn’t let that happen. I don’t know how long I am going to keep it, but I am not quite finished with it yet. I’m actually sorta feeling like sharing my opinion on the Internet again…

March 9, 2016

November 29, 2015

Digital vs Analog Note Taking

➔ Handwritten Notes — The Brooks Review

Ben Brooks wrote this good piece on analog vs digital note taking. I have asked myself these same questions. At work I use a combination of both, but primarily when I go to meetings I take a notebook and pen. I’d say 90% of my notes are taken on paper. Then a small fraction of that is actually consolidated and written down into an Evernote note.

There are many times when I find that I need to get a lot of information down quickly. In those cases digital note taking is almost always better. It is so much faster for me to type. I have never been one that can scribble notes quickly. When I get into this situation and only have pen and paper I feel lost. I miss too much detail unless I am able to ask for things to be repeated.

When I take notes digitally I feel like I am able to get more stuff down. What’s even better is that information is stored in Evernote where it is easy to search and parse that huge list of items you talked about. When you have to reference something later digital is almost always better.

In my experience, I think it would make sense for me to take my laptop or iPad (with keyboard) to every meeting I attend. The benefit of having those meeting notes and thoughts stored digitally would usually outweigh the negatives for me.

➔ Which Do You Enjoy More? — The Brooks Review

The next piece from Ben addresses that inexlicable pleasure we get from these things. Should we do something because it is objectively better, or should we do something because we enjoy it more; ultimately making it more effective?

Like Ben, I don’t really care which method I use for taking notes. I love using pen and paper but in my job the most important thing is bettering the pertinent information down. Digital is probably the most efficient way to achieve that.

My quandry comes in journaling. Up until recently (in the last 3 years) I dint have a good digital solution for journaling. Then I found the Day One app. It looks great. It makes it easy to tag entries and attach photos. The calendar view makes it simple to look back and read old entries… and all the entries are searchable. Day One is awesome and makes organization easy. Objectively it is clearly better for journaling.

However, I still keep a paper journal. I cannot clearly explain why, I just enjoy it. I like the feeling of a fountain pen nib scratching across the paper. Hand-made lines on a page are so much more personal than a keyboard’s apathetic text. I don’t think I will ever stop writing in a notebook. Using pen and paper seem to help find clarity.

So now I have two separate places to store my thoughts and I don’t like that one bit. I have tried to integrate the two. I created a script on my phone that allows me to capture the physical book and page number, type in a quick synopsis of what I wrote about, and create a digital entry as a placeholder. I can then search for something and see that I wrote about that topic on this day in this notebook. This obviously requires numbering and catalogging all of your notebooks. The concept was great, but I have never been able to keep up with it. Even though it isn’t time consuming, I rarely create the Day One entries.

Every now and then I get renewed focus on a hybrid journaling system, but it never seems to stick. For now I will keep waffling back and forth. It seems to be working alright. At least I am writing.

I have also considered going through each month and dictating all of my analog entries into digital entries. Again, this is time consuming and I ultimately I have never been able to keep up with it. For fun I dug out a notebook from 14 years ago and started creating the Day One entries back on the corresponding date I wrote it. Reading those entries out loud made me cringe[1], but I’m still glad I wrote them.

  1. Mortified is a really entertaining podcast. You should listen.  ↩

November 25, 2015

Ex Machina - Robots With Attitude

It is a rare occasion that I write about a movie on this blog. Last week I watched Ex Machina and I am forcing myself to write about it even though I had a very lukewarm reaction. Over the last few months I have watched at least a dozen movies without creating a single post. I need to get back at it.

Ex Machina is a low-budget sci-fi film about artificial intelligence. Nathan, an accentric billionaire is working on some top secret stuff on his island compound. Caleb, a programmer at his company, wins a chance to visit the island and work on a special project. Caleb is wisked off to the island and introduced to Ava, the humanoid robot with the face on a angel and a silicon brain.

Ex Machina seemed like it was right in my wheelhouse. It was reviewed well and I usually eat up this type of sci-fi/drama/suspense. My expectations were pretty high… and they were letdown in almost every way. I am not saying it was a terrible movie, but I didn’t find it to be nearly as “smart” as everyone made it out to be. The dialog felt awkward and forced, which always kept me at an arms length from the story.

The entire plot hings on the relationship between 3 characters, and the motivations behind those relationships. Even after everthing is revealed in the end I’m not sure I understand what is going on in the characters’ heads. To the film’s credit I thought about it quite a bit when it was over, but I feel like there are some pretty big plot holes, and I still don’t understand what is going on in Caleb’s brain. Maybe I need to watch it again, which I might do since it is now available on Amazon streaming.

Ex Machina does a really good job of creating tension from the beginning and sustaining it throughout. There is always this sense that something isn’t quite right, and from the beginning Nathan made me uneasy. Even so, I feel like his actions were mostly justified. Maybe it is just my personality, but I could not humanize this being that is clearly not human. When it came down to it I could not understand why Caleb acted the way he did, and it seemed incongruious with his character. His supposed relationship with Ava, which happens in short snippets over just a few days, does not justify anything his character does in my opinion.

I like thinking out the concept and ideas behind Ex Machina. I think it is intereesting to consider the possibility of artificial intelligence and what that would mean. Ex Machina raises the idea that true AI would include the concept of free will and the desire for freedom. How would the creation overcome the feeling of being enslaved by the creator? I guess the plot of Ex Machina gives us a what-not-to-do.

October 22, 2015

Facebook iOS Battery Drain

iOS 9 added the ability for users to see battery usage by individual app for the last 24 hours and 7 days. This is the first time I know of that you have been able to see how much battery each app is using. I was looking around in the settings a couple of weeks ago and noticed that the Facebook app was always on the top of my list. That made no sense to me. I open the app several times a day, but I don’t spend much time in it. I check out what is new and then close it. It was #1 on the battery usage with “Background Audio” listed as the reason. That makes no sense. I don’t listen to anything in Facebook, and I’ve never had the notifications turned ont.

I found this post on Macstories talking about the very issue I was experiencing. I immediately went into the Facebook settings and turned off the auto-play video, which I didn’t even realize you could do[1]. I have also started killing the app when I am not using it.

Facebook quickly dropped down the list of most battery usage. I doubt fore-qutting the app every time had much of an impact. I feel like turning off auto-play video solved the background audio issue. This was validated by a Techcruch article.

Facebook has confirmed it is investigating reports of excessive battery drain caused by its iOS app apparently continuing to run processes in the background — even with background app refresh disabled.

Facebook was one of the first apps I installed on my very first iPhone. It has been there from the beginning, presumably draining my battery the entire time. I was late jumping on the smartphone bandwagon. One of my largest reasons for holding out was the massive drop in battery life I was sure to experience[2]. It is frustrating to learn that an extraneous app has been siphoning off precious battery all of these years.

  1. Or else I would have turned it off a long time ago.  ↩

  2. I still miss the good ol’ days of charging my phone once or twice a week.  ↩