December 28, 2014

The Serial Conclusion

A few weeks ago I wrote about how awesome the “Serial” podcast was and speculated about how season one would end. Now it is over, and I am much less positive about the show. I guess it is my classic style to start out loving something and then over time start to dwell on all of the faults, in the end deciding it was never quite as great as I once believed.

“Serial” was extremely well made and I can’t deny that I enjoyed Koenig’s take on this crime story. In the beginning it felt like a storyteller… well… telling a story. Over time it sunk in that this was an actual case and these are actual people. It started to feel more like an episode of Dateline, where they go back and look at the details of a case.

Here is a quote from an interview Sarah Koenig

I’ll present what my reporting bears out, and that’s my responsibility. It’s not my responsibility to entertain you with some wonderful, perfect ending. I don’t mean that in a holier-than-thou way at all—it’s just—I’m a reporter.

I’m not sure why, but that made me uncomfortable. “Serial” didn’t feel like reporting. It wasn’t just reporting the facts. Every episode was filled with opinion. Lots of opinion. Whatever “Serial” was, is way more entertaining and engaging than reporting. I couldn’t wait to listen each week, which I have never said about the news. I don’t care that “Serial” didn’t stay objective, but the way it all came off was a bit strange. Then for the producer to say that she was just reporting the facts kind of took me off guard.

As a listener I’m not sure how much we really know about Adnan’s trials. I didn’t go out and read anything else about the case. When it was all said an done I tried to find something to take away from “Serial”. I think this piece in the New Yorker sums it up for me…

Episode twelve conclusively proved that what we’ve been listening to is not a murder mystery: it’s a deep exploration of the concept of reasonable doubt, and therefore an exposé, if unwittingly so, of the terrible flaws in our justice system.

Koenig announced before the end of the series that they had enough support to come back for a season two. I will for sure listen. I hope it isn’t a continuation of this case. I hope that it isn’t a crime case at all. Unless season two is a full year out, I’d imagine they’d have to be working on at least one story already. I hope its a good one.

November 15, 2014

Serial Podcast

Yesterday afternoon at work I had a couple hours of work to get through that wasn’t going to command all of my mental facilities. I decided I would start at the beginning of Serial, the podcast about a 1999 murder case with a lot of still unanswered questions. It is produced by the same people who make This American Life so I knew it was going to be awesome. I’d heard Serial was the most popular podcast ever, so my interest was really piqued.

I started listening at work, then I kept in on in the car after work while I ran a couple errands. I listened while I was cutting up veggies for dinner. I took a break and then listened again when I laid down to go to sleep. Before I fell asleep last night I had caught all the way up through this past week’s episode.

Wow. I expected this to be a well made and thought provoking story, but I didn’t expect to be so rapt by it. It is an audio version of a crime drama, and it is so good.

After I finished the episode last night I realized that this probably won’t end in a satisfying way. This isn’t a work of fiction with a scripted ending that will be delivered with a bow on it. When everything is said and done we likely won’t get any answers to. It is real life, not a Hollywood movie. I’ve been conditioned to want, to expect, a resolution to a narrative arc. I don’t know how Serial is going to end, but I’m interested to see how these very talented and smart producers approach it.

If you aren’t listening to Serial, and you have time, I would highly recommend it. Did I mention it is SO GOOD. I can’t wait for next week’s episode.

November 12, 2014

Some Thoughts on the iPhone 6

I’ve been using the iPhone 6 for almost 2 weeks now. I realize that far more qualified people have released reviews of the 6 & 6 plus weeks ago, and nobody really cares what I think about a new phone… but I’m writing this anyway.

The Big Screen

The 4.7" size of the screen is nice. For me the extra width makes it much more comfortable to type on the virtual keyboard in portrait mode. While I don’t think a ton of apps are taking advantage of the added pixels, the extra real estate is nice. Anything where you are navigating down a list is better, especially scrolling through the Tweetbot timeline. Sitting down with the iPhone and reading or typing is much improved.

However, anytime you try to use the phone on the go the experience is worse. One-handed use is difficult, and while walking it is almost out of the question. The phone is rounded and generally more slippery anyway. Combine that with trying to shift your grip so one hand can reach everything and you have a recipe for lots of drops. I have dropped my phone once in my house. I fumbled while trying to pick in up off the table and it feel onto our hard wood floor. Luckily it was in a case.

The Design

When I first saw shots of the new phone I quite liked the design aesthetic. When I saw it in person I liked everything but the curved glass on the screen. It somehow looked cheap. Now that I have the phone I can say that, aside from the nice big screen, the design of this new phone is worse in every way. It is the first iPhone that I prefer to use in a case. Apple is taking the concept of the naked robotic core to the next level. On its own the phone feels flimsy. It isn’t nearly as pleasing to hold as the 5 & 5s. I had a case for my 5s, but would periodically use it uncovered for several days at a time. By itself it felt solid, and it was always nice to get back the thinness and lightness of not having a case. The 6 is thinner and lighter, but I doubt I will ever use it without some sort of case. I bought 2 cases for it right away, and I have a 3rd on order.

I worried that the larger size would make the phone awkward to carry in my pocket. I was surprised how comfortable the 6 feels in my pocket when it is uncovered. I have one very thin case that feels pretty good also, but the added bulk of a tougher case does make it slightly uncomfortable in my pocket. Not a big deal though.

A phone has to strike a balance between being powerful and being portable. After using the 4.7" screen I don’t think I could ever go bigger. The sacrifices in comfort and portability would be too great.


Aside from the re-design, not a whole lot changed on the 6. I’m sure it is faster than the 5s, but not in any way that I can perceive. The camera might focus faster, but other than that I don’t see a major difference. The speaker is noticably better. It is much louder and clearer.

At first my battery life was bad. Anytime you get a new toy you mess with it a lot. I’m sure the screen was lit up a lot in the first few days, but the extremely poor battery life worried me. I noticed the gps arrow was showing every time I unlocked the phone, but could not identify which app was using it. After a google search I found a bug with motion calibration and more importantly, a solution. It has been better since I fixed that, but battery life is not noticeably better than the 5s. It’s about the same

Overall I like the iPhone 6. Most tasks, especially reading and Internet browsing, are improved with the larger screen. The extra width makes typing in portrait much more comfortable for my hands. But the phone feels a little unwieldy. I’m worried I will drop it. I try to avoid taking it out of my pocket as much as possible when I am out and about. Sometimes I kind of miss my 5s.

November 9, 2014

The Cubicle Life

I found reading this article at The Atlantic to be extremely depressing. Why does working at a corporation have to be this way?
…work is increasingly reduced to “make-believe,” that at the office, “image counts more than product, seduction more than production.
In a society where presentation is everything, it’s no longer about what you do, it’s about how you look like you’re doing it.
➔ The Art of Not Working at Work - The Atlantic

October 8, 2014

Coffee Snobery

I’ve been drinking coffee for the better part of 14 years, but it has only been within the last year that I have gone down the rabbit hole. I went from throwing pre-ground beans into a drip coffee maker to home-roasting green coffee beans, grinding them with a hand burr grinder, and brewing them in an Aeropress. It all kinda happened without me even realizing it, and now I am making the best, allbeit fussiest, coffee of my life.

I’m not sure how you draw a distinction between being a coffee fan and being a coffee snob. I like good coffee that I roast and brew on my own . However, I drink coffee from a Keurig brewer all the time, and won’t turn my nose up to a cup from Starbucks or even McDonalds. I’ll drink all sorts of coffee as long as it is black. I don’t do the sugar and cream garbage.[1]

The bottom line is that coffee is awesome. I really like drinking the stuff. If you like coffee and have never had fresh roasted coffee I think you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. I knew I wanted to try it, but didn’t even think roasting it myself was an option. I was wrong. My setup is surprisingly simple, and comes out to be much cheaper than buying “good” packaged coffee at a store.

Raw Materials

The most important ingredient to a good cup o’ coffee is the beans. I’m sure there are several places where you can get green coffee beans. I have only every purchased them from Sweet Maria’s, and have been extremely happy. They have these awesome sampler packs where you can get coffee beans from several different continents and regions and see which ones you like best. A one pound bag is enough to try roasing to a few different darkness levels and see how the flavor changes. The best part is that these single-sourced green coffee beans are less than half the price of buying similar pre-roasted beans at a coffee shop.


Roasting coffee sounds daunting, but is actually quite simple. I use an air popcorn popper. Sweet Maria’s describes the process on their website. I actually bought the Westbend Air Crazy that they sell. I started out with an even cheaper one that worked well for a few weeks and then inexplicably died. I’m not sure if it was because I was roasting coffee beans in it, or if was just crappy.

Roasting is very easy and only takes a few minutes. It takes a little practice to get a feel for when to take the beans out for certain darkness levels and I am definitely still learning. I typically roast about 1/3 - 1/2 cups of beans in each batch, which gives enough to make 3–4 cups of coffee. I will roast a batch every couple days so I always have freshly roasted beans to use.

The Coffee

It is hard to describe why fresh roasted coffee is better. I think the beans are inherently better quality than what you could buy at most coffee shops. You often will get blends, or a mix of beans from several different places. Sweet Maria’s sells you a whole pound from the exact same location. You really get a sense for the flavors of that specific coffee type. So far my favorites have been beans from India, though the Coasta Rican beans are a close second. My favorite ones from India are not available anymore. They seem to rotate what type they have in stock giving you an always changing selection.

The flavor is also greatly improved by the fact that the beans have just been roasted and still retain most of the oils and compounds that provide the flavor. Here is a good Ted x video about the benefits of drinking fresh roasted coffee.

Fresh roasted coffee is still coffee. It doesn’t taste fundamentally different than the beverage genre we refer to as “coffee”… it is just better coffee. Before I always drank medium or dark roasts, but since I’ve been roasting my own I’ve found that I actually prefer the flavors you can get from a light roasted coffee. Light roasted coffee also has more caffine, so it is a win-win.

I’m a novice in this whole coffee experience. I’ve read quite a bit online, and listened to Marco Arment talk about coffee on an episode of The Pragmatic podcast, which is worth listening to if you have the time. I look forward to continuing my journey down the rabbit hole, and continuing to drink great home-roasted coffee. If you like coffee it is worth giving it a try.

  1. Okay. Maybe once a year I will consume something containing pumpkin spice.  ↩

September 15, 2014

My iOS Podcast Client of Choice

I listen to podcasts… a lot of them. That might make me weird, or nerdy, but I genuinely enjoy it. I have been listening for years. I started back in the day when you had to download everything through iTunes then sync it over to your iPod. It is crazy how much easier the whole process is to manager nowadays, and there are tons of great iOS apps to help you out.

For years I had been using Downcast to download and organize my podcasts. The interface is good, and it has a ton of great features. I was happy and saw no reason to change to anything else. Then a couple months ago Marco Arment released Overcast and I had to check it out. Overcast is free to download with a $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock all the functionality, which I immediately purchased.

Compared to Downcast, Overcast seems simple. The design is clean and modern. The interface is “flat”, and there are a lot fewer screens to navigate. Overall simpler is better, but I felt a little lost without some of the playlist controls offered by Downcast. After the first couple days I thought about going back, but Overcast’s Smart Speed and Voice Boost kept me around. Both features work so well that I didn’t want to listen to podcasts anymore without them.

I’ve been using Overcast for several weeks and I’m throughly impressed. The few playlist features I missed in Downcast haven’t been a major issue, and Overcast has its own advantages as far as playlists go. In Overcast, listening to podcasts is a more enjoyable experience. The audio features are great, but there is something more. The design of the app makes it feel more like entertainment. So often I’d look at my un-listened count in Downcast and it would feel like I was working through a to-do list. Overcast makes the entire concept of listening to podcasts seem more fluid and ephemeral, and most importantly it takes away the guilt of not having listened to every episode.

Conversely, Overcast does make it more difficult to go through the entire back-catalog of a show. Several months ago I started with episode 1 of Roderick On The Line and managing it was very easy. I tried to do something similar with the Cast of Kings podcast in Overcast. It sufficed, but it was more difficult and I had to remember which episode I was on. I could have downloaded every single episode, but I didn’t want to fill my phone up with 4 seasons worth of Game of Thrones analysis. In Downcast you can mark an episode as unplayed, but not actually download it. I think that would be a welcomed feature for me in Overcast, though it would add some complication. I am going to keep Downcast on my phone at least until I go through every episode of You Look Nice Today.

Overall I am a huge fan of Overcast. i don’t regret spending the $5 for one minute. It looks great, is easy to use, and sounds better than any other podcast client out there. The podcast discovery features are also very good. I’ve listened to several shows based on recommendations from my twitter friends, and subscribed to a few shows from Marco’s “starter kits”. If I listen to a couple episodes and decide it isn’t for me, there is no shame in deleting it from my feed.

As if a blog posts about podcasts wasn’t nerdy enough, I will go ahead and make it worse by sharing some of my favorite podcast feeds with you…

  • This American Life - Amazing show. Probably the most popular podcast there is.
  • Radiolab - They don’t make a ton of them, but they are all great. So so good.
  • Accidental Tech Podcast - I could listen to John Siracusa talk about anything.
  • /Filmcast - A long-time favorite movie review podcast. Dave Chen is great.
  • The Pen Addict - It is absurd how much I like this show. My obsession with pens is out of control.
  • Inquisitive - This show has changed a couple times over the years. It was recently re-branded under the umbrella. Myke Hurley is a great interviewer. I always look forward to listening.
  • Hello Internet - This is a recent addition to my list. I’ve only listened to a couple episodes, but I really like it.
  • Roderick On The Line - I’m am not sure how to describe this show. You just have to check it out. The episode about Uncle Lickey had me laughing so hard.
  • Back to Work - Consistently entertaining and informative.
  • Analog - Another new addition that I’ve grown fond of.
  • How Did This Get Made - I don’t listen to every episode of this, but the ones I do are usually hilarious.

If you listen to podcasts and somehow still use the Apple app, do yourself a favor and download Overcast for free. It is so much better. If you’ve never listened to a podcast go download Overcast and subscribe to This American Life.

August 22, 2014

Consuming All The Media

Things have been pretty quiet around lately, but not because I haven’t been consuming any media. After going a long time without watching anything, I have been on a streak lately. In the last couple months I have watched a half dozen movies, read a couple books, and marathon-ed the first 3 seasons of Game of Thrones. I even watched the amazing True Detective without making a single post on this blog.

I’m not sure why I haven’t posted. I guess I just haven’t felt the need to comment on anything. Writing movie reviews seems a little boring to me, but I’m sure I’ll snap out of that. I have fallen in love with Game of Thrones, and considered writing about each season. Then I realize that I am years behind, and nobody cares. It is too easy to just hit play on the next episode and absorb its awesomeness without sharing my thoughts. I can’t wait to start season 4, but I will be a little sad when I catch up and have to wait like everybody else. I like the Game of Thrones series so much I am considering reading the books. I am not typically a fan of the genre, but I think I would get into those.

After taking this long break I feel like I want to start writing for this blog again. I’m sure I will still review movies and ramble about television shows, but I’d like to start writing about other things as well. We will see if I am actually able to keep up with it.

June 18, 2014

"If you need to stay awake but don't like coffee, simply reflect upon the many terrible decisions you've made in your life."
@sixthformpoet on twitter

April 19, 2014

Orphan Black Season 1

A couple weekends ago I dove into Orphan Black. I watched the entire first season from Friday to Sunday. I’m usually not one to marathon a single show like that, but Orphan Black sucked me in and I couldn’t get enough.

The show ran its first season in Canada a year ago, then came to BBC America after that. I had never heard of it until a couple months ago. It became available on Amazon Prime streaming so I decided to check it out. I had absolutely no clue what it was about going in. After the pilot episode I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep going, but I went on to episode 2 anyway… then the story took a turn and I was hooked. I didn’t stop until I had finished the 10th episode.

April 2, 2014

Bad Sandy

After I wrote my initial reaction to Gravity the other day I decided to go read some other reviews. I liked the ones that focused on space as an allegory for depression. I didn’t immediately draw that parallel until (spoiler alert) dead George Clooney shows up and gives her a pep talk. By that point the movie wasn’t going to redeem itself in my eyes.

My dislike for such a widely praised movie got me thinking about my most over-rated movies of all time. Off the top of my head I thought of course of Gravity, but my other two choices were very revealing… Crash & The Blind Side. Hmmm… I sense a theme.

I didn’t think I hated Sandra Bullock, but maybe I really do.

April 1, 2014

Finale Blues

I watched the first two seasons of How I Met Your Mother, but have only randomly caught episodes here and there over the subsequent 7 years. Even so, I decided to watch the finale last night. I did not enjoy the way they went with the story at all. Most of the feedback I saw on Twitter didn’t like it either. This is a good piece written by Alan Sepinwall about the finale and how the writers had trapped themselves. The inglorious ending to a long-running show brought back memories of LOST, and it made me wonder if all the tweets about “wasting 9 years” were valid.

The first 2 seasons of LOST were amazing. The next 3 were okay. The 6th season was rough, but I held out hope to the end that it would all come together. When everything was said and done, the LOST finale definitely ruined the series as a whole for me, but I still love those first 2 seasons in spite of it. I have to ask myself the question, was “wasting” 4 years worth it because I got to experience the first 2?

March 29, 2014


Gravity was visually impressive for sure, but beyond that it didn’t do much for me. For as much hype as the film had, it was a major letdown. I had no emotional response. A few times they obviously were trying to elicit some emotion, and they all fell flat.

I didn’t enjoy Bullock’s performance. Her dialog was pretty bad at times… not that it is easy to pull off a mostly solo performance and make dialog interesting. I wanted to like the film, and at the beginning I thought I would. It went downhill and then it completely lost me when Bullock started howling.

I might even go so far as to say this movie was kind of dumb. Like, there was no substance, and no point. The characters felt so shallowly drawn. The film seemed to think it was powerful, which made it even more dorky. At the end when Bullock stamped her food on the sand and the music swelled… I cringed and wondered what anybody saw in this mess.

March 10, 2014

Justified Season 3

I finished the third season of Justified a few days ago and I am already half-way through season four. From the start Justified has been great, with its interesting characters and surprising flourishes of violence. In my opinion the third season was the best so far, but a lot of that is due to the foundation that was built through the first two. Raylan Givens and Boyd Crowder are two of the best characters on television today.

February 9, 2014

Bad Grandpa

I was the correct age and gender to get maximum enjoyment out of the Jackass tv series and first movie. The subsequent movies have so been great , though it was clear in Jackass 3D that the crew was getting a little too old for the shenanigans. I actually didn’t think we’d ever see another movie from them, so I was a little surprised when Bad Grandpa came out.

Bad Grandpa has some funny bits, but they pale in comparison to the Jackass hijinks of old. They tried to weave in way too much narrative. It felt like Borat, but the funny parts weren’t as good. In the hierarchy of low-brow comedy it is definitely in the bottom half, but that isn’t all bad considering Johnny Knoxville and friends own the top.

There are a few segments of Bad Grandpa that are definitely worth seeing. However, I don’t think there are enough good parts for me to recommend watching the entire thing.

February 8, 2014

Frozen & Feminism

Dani Coleman on Frozen (via Medium)
What else does Anna have going for her? She isn’t intelligent, no matter how many words she can spit out per minute. If she were, she wouldn’t rush into an engagement with Hans, nor — for that matter — leave a man she barely knows in charge of her kingdom while she rides out in the snow without a coat. She’s certainly self-absorbed, using the first opportunity to make Elsa’s coronation all about her; and she’s vain, believing absolutely in her ability to talk some sense into Elsa despite having had no relationship with her sister for what looks like roughly ten years.
To be honest, I didn’t read the entire post. To be fair, the post is longer than the actual movie. There is something to be said for a writer that can rant for so long about a film and make it mostly coherent.

February 7, 2014

SNL "Her" Spoof

I was watching hulu+ last night and decided to catch up on some SNL. I decided to watch the Jonnah Hill episode from a couple weeks ago. Overall it was good. I got a few laughs out of it. But the spoof they did of Her was amazing. You will appreciate it a lot more if you’ve seen the film, but either way it is funny stuff.

➔ YouTube - Jonnah Hill SNL “Her” Spoof

February 5, 2014

Spike Jonze's Her

Her is a Spike Jonze film that takes place in the not-so-distant future where they wear high pants and computer keyboards are non-existent. Theodore Twombley (Juaquin Phoenix) is a lonely guy who falls in love with his cell phone named Samantha, but everybody seems to be pretty cool with that.

The premise sounds ridiculous, but the movie is surprisingly good. Once you get past the absurdity, it is an effective drama that explores our relationship with technology. There are some big questions asked in Her, and I'm not sure it ever elaborates on what it is trying to get at; but I'm not sure it really has to. In the end it seems to center on the simple, and maybe cliche, concept that we need to step away from the glowing screens and seek out human interaction.

Overall I really enjoyed the film. It is extremely well made, and anchored by Juaquin's performance. He is on screen for 99% of the movie, most of the time interacting with a only a voice. It is impressive that he is able to make this strange situation feel so genuine. It is worth watching Her just for him.

I did have a few issues with the final third of the film, specially when Samantha starts hanging out with other OS's for these secret cyberspace rendezvous. It seemed to take focus away from the relationship that we were invested in for the first two-thirds of the film. If you've seen Her I'd recommend listening the the /Filmcast episode where Dave & Devindra discuss it. I agree 100% with all of Dave's complaints about the film, and like him I still loved it. When it comes out on dvd I'd definitely recommend checking it out.

February 4, 2014

Inside Llewyn Davis

The newest Cohen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, follows a short span of a folk singer’s unfortunate life as he sulks around in self pity and alienates what few friends he has left. It is almost universally loved by critics, but I doubt it will be joining Oh Brother, Where Art Thou in the average movie fan’s dvd collection.

If you like the rest of the Cohen filmography you will surely love Llewyn Davis. It is shot beautifully and Oscar Isaac puts on a wonderful performance as Llewyn. His acting makes it believable, his singing makes worthwhile. As a film, it is impressive, but the story meanders to an unsatisfying conclusion. We are subjected to the plight of the tortured artist, and feel a little bit tortured ourselves.

January 22, 2014

Sherlock Series 3 Premier

This past Sunday night Sherlock had its series 3 premiere on PBS here in the US. I have been eagerly awaiting this day. I had to stay up late to watch it[1], and it was totally worth it. If you aren’t familiar with Sherlock, it is a BBC series that puts out three 1.5 hour episodes a year. It plays more like a long segmented movie than a television season. The first two seasons are available on Netflix and I’d recommend giving it a shot if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes even a little bit.

January 7, 2014

Korean Cinema - The Chaser

I felt like I hadn’t seen a non-cartoon movie in months, so I decided it was time to go in the complete opposite direction by watching a Korean film. I’d heard The Chaser was decent and available on Netflix so I decided to check it out.

Even though I don’t like horror movies I have become quite a fan of Korean films that show quite a bit of gore. I really liked Oldboy, Mother, and even I Saw The Devil. Mother wasn’t bad at all, but both Oldboy and I Saw The Devil get pretty gruesome. I’d say The Chaser was on par with those films, retty harsh, but with a couple scenes that were even more difficult to watch.