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Stephen Green

Stephen Green began blogging at VodkaPundit.com in early 2002, and has served as PJMedia's Denver editor since 2008. He's one of the hosts on PJTV, and one-third of PJTV's Trifecta team with Scott Ott and Bill Whittle. Steve lives with his wife and sons in the hills and woods of Monument, Colorado, where he enjoys the occasional lovely adult beverage.
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Blockbuster’s a Dud

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

I have not set foot inside a Blockbuster during this century — and apparently the same was true for just a lot of former customers:

Blockbuster, the video rental chain that’s been pummeled by the rise of digital and on-demand entertainment, said it will close its 300 remaining U.S. stores by early January.

The Blockbuster By Mail service will end in mid-December.

Blockbuster’s current owner, DISH Network Corp., said there will be about 50 U.S. stores operated by franchises not affected by the announcement. But DISH said it is also closing all its U.S. distrubution centers.

Talk about bad management. Blockbuster was late to the party on three new forms of video distribution: mail, internet, and kiosk. They got trounced once by Redbox and twice by Netflix. They were slow to change, apparently figuring that people really liked standing around on cheap carpet under bad lights where the whole world could watch them trying to decide between Mack Chestwell Blows Everything Up Real Good or Bikini Girls III: Revenge of the Sling.

Netflix came along with a nifty web front-end for a mail delivery-and-return rental service. By the time Blockbuster had a decent copy of that, Netflix was busy moving into digital streaming. Where’s that Blockbuster app for your Apple TV? Um… they’ll get back to you on that.

While Blockbuster was spiffying up their stores, the smart folks at Redbox figured out that vending machines could do 80% of what Blockbuster’s stores do, for a fraction of the cost and at an even smaller fraction of the real estate footprint. Easier to move around to hotter retail spaces, too.

Thanks to Redbox and Netflix, watching what you want when you want is far easier than it ever was when Blockbuster was still king.

Now that’s capitalism’s creative destruction at work — and it didn’t require any government mandates whatsoever.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Omigosh Nikon What Have You Done?

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

If you fell in love with shooting SLRs before there was a D in front of the name, you might be willing to write Nikon a check for one of these — whatever it is! — sight unseen.

The official announcement comes on Tuesday, and I’m on pins and needles until then.

Did you hear that shutter? Did you hear that dial… that shutter speed dial? Watching that ad I was back in high school again, shooting Dad’s vintage F2A. For what it’s worth, the F2A was possibly the best pre-electronic SLR ever made. It’s a tank. You could drop-kick it into a pile of cinder blocks and it would just keep shooting. Pick one up on eBay for $150, and I promise you you’ll take the best pictures of your life, with nothing more than a aging 50mm f/1.8 lens. Walking is how you frame great shots — not zooming.

I still have Dad’s F2, which hasn’t been shot in 20 years, easy. But I bet if I cleaned it up and dropped a new button battery in, it would shoot every bit as beautifully as it did 35 years ago.

That would certainly be a lot cheaper than buying whatever it is Nikon is showing off in this ad.

But I still want it. Whatever it is.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Future Just Got Closer

Saturday, October 26th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

OBJECTS IN MIRROR

What to get to go with your 3D printer? A 3D laser scanner, of course.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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The Empire Strikes Back Screenwriter Back on for Star Wars VII

Friday, October 25th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

empire_strikes_back_large_verge_medium_landscape

Best. News. Evah:

J.J. Abrams and “Star Wars” veteran Lawrence Kasdan have taken over screenwriting duties on “Star Wars: Episode VII,” replacing Michael Arndt, who was originally hired to pen the project.

“I am very excited about the story we have in place and thrilled to have Larry and J.J. working on the script,” said Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. “There are very few people who fundamentally understand the way a ‘Star Wars’ story works like Larry, and it is nothing short of incredible to have him even more deeply involved in its return to the big screen. J.J. of course is an incredible storyteller in his own right. Michael Arndt has done a terrific job bringing us to this point and we have an amazing filmmaking and design team in place already prepping for production.”

If it weren’t for Kasdan’s script and Irvin Kershner’s direction, The Empire Strikes Back would have been a Lucas-infested and disappointing sequel. Instead, it’s inarguably the best movie of the original trilogy.

I have a new hope for the upcoming sequels.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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This Is Why They Made an Internet

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

TRAP

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Will Netflix Beat HBO?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

FLIX

That’s from Derek Thompson who asks, “How long can Netflix’s amazing run last?

But I think that’s the wrong question.

The right question might be, Why is HBO’s subscriber base nearly static?

HBO has seen Netflix grow and grow, yet have clung to their same old model. There was some brief excitement here at Casa Verde when they announced HBO Go, but the excitement quickly subsided when we found out it’s a “halfway pregnant” effort. Even at that HBO Go is available only to existing cable subscribers. Their growth model is… well, it’s there on the chart.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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An Honest Question: Who Thought Darren Aronofsky Should Direct a Bible Epic?

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

NOAH

Who in their right mind thought Darren Aronofsky was the right director to helm a Biblical epic? I always enjoy a new Aronofsky movie, but I’m honestly waiting with glee for the stinktastic box office results on this one.

Maybe I’ll eventually put Noah in the Netflix queue for one of our “Must Have Cocktails for This One” movie nights.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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This Is Why Microsoft Fails

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

 f6851e6f-ecd6-4686-bd53-c70a75b7890b

Oh, good — now Microsoft is going to further muddy the waters of their mobile computing efforts:

Microsoft tablets, both its own Surfaces and those from third parties and both those running Windows 8 and Windows RT, have been hobbled by software that just doesn’t fit touch devices very well. The upcoming Windows 8.1 improves matters by reducing the frequency with which users have to resort to the traditional Windows Desktop UI, but it can’t change the fact that this is an operating system with mice and keyboards and a traditional desktop file system at its heart, with a lot of touch features bolted on. This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that the features Microsoft counts on to distinguish its tablets, such as keyboard in the ability to run Desktop Office, define them as ultralight PCs, not true tablets.

The enhancements to Windows Phone only confuse things further. It is entirely possible that coming months will see Windows Phones with 6″ displays next to Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets with 7″ screens. For devices this close in size to be running different and incompatible operating systems is a recipe to deepen the bafflement of customers, OEMs, and software developers.

The stupid, it hurts.

Windows Phone 8 is a perfectly good platform. It’s doing so-so in Europe, and has a few diehard users in the US. Not enough, but Nokia is making solid devices running a fine mobile OS. They beat the hell out of most of the crapulent el cheapo phones running Android. I believe there’s room in the market for a third mobile OS to be at least moderately successful. And if anybody has the deep pockets and stubborn sticktoitiveness to make that happen, it’s Microsoft.

(Room for four mobile operating systems, if you include Amazon’s long-rumored cellphone using its custom Kindle fork of Android.)

But I swear Redmond’s unwanted, unloved, ill-conceived Surface tablets are squashing half the life out of Windows Phone.

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Leave the Nikon, Take the iPhone

Saturday, October 19th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

mann-travel-photo-5s-fitzroy

A nature photographer takes his iPhone 5S to Patagonia — and no other camera. The results are pretty impressive.

No fooling, the 5S might be the best camera ever for taking pictures of the boys. I can snap ten frames a second, choose the best one, delete the rest with a single swipe — and all in camera. The big Nikon still gets hauled out for portraits and (linked story not withstanding) nature trips, and any time I’m shooting in low light. But otherwise, it’s all iPhone, all the time.

Here’s a snapshot I took just this morning of some of the fall colors coming into our back yard. I haven’t edited, retouched, or cropped this at all — just used the phone’s built-in (and instantaneous) High Dynamic Range. Click for the full-size image and enlarge in your browser window if you need to, and you’ll see the sharpness is pretty impressive.

IMG_0391

That’s as much detail and more color than I used to get out of my then-current Nikon D200 just six or seven years ago. The only thing my current Nikon D7000 does better is shoot in low light, provide more megapixels, and change lenses. It can shoot only 4.5 frames per second to the iPhone’s ten, with a buffer limit of about 15. If the iPhone has a buffer limit, I’ve yet to hit it. It seems to be able to shoot 10FPS, every second, until you completely fill the memory.

Hot-dam, but if you’re chasing kids around that’s the greatest thing ever.

Even the front-facing camera produces decent results under crappy conditions. Since I take the boys to school most mornings, I cram the three of us into the frame for a three-man selfie to text to Melissa. The sun is coming in at a bad angle, everybody is trying to squeeze down to the level of Nate’s car seat, we’re in a rush — but the phone still does a passable job.

IMG_0324

This shot is also unedited — just cropped to square and resized for your browser.

Then there’s the iOS version of iPhoto. It’s hands down the best general-purpose photo editing software for mobile, and plenty powerful enough for editing the kinds of pics you’ll take with your phone. That means I spend way less time alone at my desk, poking around with Aperture or Photoshop.

If I were Canon or Nikon, I’d be getting plenty worried about what cellphones are going to be doing just a couple of years from now. With phones this good, there’s no reason for anyone other than pros and dedicated hobbyists to own an SLR. And you can forget about point-and-shoots. They were always pretty lousy; now they’re also redundant.

Me, I’m going to enjoy hardly ever having to carry a camera bag around, and missing fewer shots of my overactive kids. And I’m going to enjoy it with one of these.

IMG_0323
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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Not Coming Soon Enough to a Theater Near You

Friday, October 18th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Leonardo Dicaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street

WSJ sat down with The Wolf of Wall Street director Martin Scorsese, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. Here’s something from the intro:

In theaters next month, the glitzy, audacious blockbuster is based on real-life rogue trader Jordan Belfort’s memoir of his 1990s pump-and-dump flameout, during which he launched the infamous Stratton Oakmont “boiler room” brokerage, inflicted over $200 million of losses on investors and sunk a 167-foot yacht—all on his way to a federal indictment for securities fraud and money laundering and 22 months in prison. (Belfort is currently working toward building a career as a motivational speaker and paying $110 million back to investors.) The film will be the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, following Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Aviator and Shutter Island. And by all accounts, filming it was an act of deep mutual trust: their most adult, debauched project to date. “[Our relationship has] evolved in the sense that with every new picture, we get to know each other a little better, trust each other a little more and go a little further,” says Scorsese.

Shutter Island left me cold, just because of the theme, but The Departed is probably the best mobster movie of the Naughts. Really looking forward to this next flick.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Driving You to Distraction

Thursday, October 17th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Nokia-Samsung-windows-phone-8-Techsemo

Windows Phone 8 is getting a nifty new feature:

Something that may appeal to motorists: a new Driving Mode will automatically silence incoming calls and texts so that you can focus on the road. You also can configure the feature to automatically send out a reply to say that you’re driving.

It can be activated automatically when the phone is linked wirelessly with a Bluetooth device in the car, such as a headset. Apple has a Do Not Disturb feature for iPhones, but that needs to be turned on manually.

What the Driving Mode won’t do, however, is block outgoing calls or texts. And there will be ways to override it. The feature won’t stop a teenager from texting while driving, but it will help reduce distractions for those who want that, says Greg Sullivan, director for Microsoft’s Windows Phone business.

During six years of iPhone use over three different models, I had to turn off the “Ask to Join Networks” feature under WiFi — and leave it off. Every time I drove somewhere, it would pick up local WiFi routers for just a few seconds each, and ask me each and every time if I wanted to join them. The popups were a noisy nuisance. The M7 motion chip in the new iPhone 5S tells the phone when it thinks you’re driving, and automatically stops hunting for WiFi networks for the duration of the trip. I like that a lot, and have switched “Ask to Join Networks” back on for the first time since 2007.

But this Windows Phone feature would be a very nice addition to iOS 7.1.

Hint, hint.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Don’t Be Evil or Whatevs

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Dont Be Evil

Creepy:

Google is facing a backlash over plans to put people’s faces and comments about products and places into adverts.

The “shared endorsements” policy change starts on 11 November and covers the comments, “follows” and other actions people do on Google+.

One protest involves people swapping their profile pictures for that of Google boss Eric Schmidt so his image rather than their own appears on ads.

Google said it had made it easy for people to opt out of the system.

But they’ll still collect and collate and who-knows-what your data.

Reminds me a bit of a digital version of one of the scariest moments of my life. Summer of ’84, I spent a month in Germany with our German teacher and a dozen other 15-year-old boys. We were there during the Los Angeles Summer Olympics — the games the entire Warsaw Pact (minus Romania) had boycotted in protest of… Reagan or whatever. Really it was just payback for our boycott of the 1980 Moscow games. Needless to say, tensions were high.

And there I was with my friends, getting ready to cross a Berlin Wall checkpoint to travel from West Berlin to East.

Guard towers with machine guns, soldiers with automatic rifles — the works. The worst part was sticking your passport through a slot in an otherwise blank concrete wall. You’re standing on unfriendly territory, without your passport, while people you can’t see are doing who-knows-what to it.

Every American ought to experience a police state like that at least once, although right now maybe I should be more careful about what I wish for. But I digress.

Google reminds me a bit of a much-friendlier version of that East Berlin border crossing. In exchange for free services like Google+, Gmail, and Google Docs, you surrender pretty much all your browsing information and tons more — to Google. And what are they doing with all that data and metadata you provide them?

It’s a lot like that slot in the wall in East Germany. You put your data in and Google does …stuff… with it.

Good stuff? Bad stuff? I dunno. Just… stuff.

I avoid Google’s data wall slot as best I can, by using Dogpile as my search engine, using my own, paid-for email as much as possible, and avoid signing in to Google at all. Except when I need Google Voice for conference calls or to upload YouTube videos. The rest of the time I’m signed out and using DoNotTrackMe at all times.

But I get the feeling I’m fighting nothing better than a rearguard action, and probably losing.
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Crossposted from Vodkapundit

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Civil War Photographs, Colorized

Friday, October 11th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

custer-1

Via Business Insider, some Reddit “colorizers” are doing their thing to Civil War photos. The quality of the photography — and the colorization process — is amazing. Digital is easy, but nothing (yet) can reproduce the results of a big slab of film inside a big box camera.

As fine a job as the Redditers are doing, there’s still something missing, because you know the color was added later. For the real deal, check out this collection of rare color photographs from the First World War.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Paint Those Blues Away

Thursday, October 10th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

MacPaint

I never owned a Mac before seven or eight years ago, but every time I could get myself seated in front of one back in the ’80s, the first thing I’d do is launch MacPaint. You drew things with a mouse, various brushes and tools, and a selection of fill patterns. That was it — but there had never been anything like before in simplicity and ease-of-use. Perhaps the most revolutionary thing is that the Mac’s screen used square pixels, instead of the traditional oblongs of every other CRT screen. So when you drew a circle in MacPaint, your square-pixeled printer printed a circle. People using any other computer would print an oval.

There could be some serious load times if your artwork was any bigger than the workspace, because MacPaint and your creation all had to fit in the original Mac’s 64k of working memory. So any scrolling was accompanied by some pretty lengthy read/writes to the 800k floppy drive.

This website’s banner takes up more than 90k and renders just as quickly as your internet service can pipe it to you.

The point of all this is that MacPaint is back as CloudPaint, completely re-engineered in HTML5. It looks and feels just like the original — but I bet it’s quite a bit bigger than 64k.

Give it a whirl.

(H/T, Gruber.)

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Tom Clancy: RIP

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Clancy

Say what you will about Tom Clancy, but the man knew how to tell a story. Of his self-written novels — leaving aside the Clancy “branded” books and his current crop of co-authored works — there was only one real misfire. Reading 2002′s Red Rabbit, you might find yourself thinking, “I liked this better when it was called Day of the Jackal.” Not bad for a former insurance salesman who had hoped to sell his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, to a few hundred Navy officers — until it got blurbed by President Reagan.

People talk about how Clancy made high-tech weaponry understandable to the layman, but that wasn’t his ace — it was his ability to keep countless story threads going, all over the globe, without the reader ever getting lost or tangled up in them. Most people can’t just drive to the corner store without swerving out of their lane a few times. And when Clancy dug deep, as he did with 1993′s Without Remorse, he could really affect you. He wrote that one after losing a childhood friend to cancer, and I think Clancy used that experience to show he could do more than simply quicken the reader’s pulse.

Clancy quit writing for years after 2003′s mostly-OK-but-not-great The Teeth of the Tiger. I don’t know if he stopped because his last two books hadn’t been all that great, or — as I’m starting to suspect — for health reasons. He did come back three years ago, with a series of books co-written with different co-authors. Against All Enemies (with Peter Telep) remains the only Clancy book I couldn’t get through — and quickly. There was just something missing from that one, but the others since 2010 have all read like “classic” Clancy of the ’80s and ’90s. Just a few days ago I pre-ordered Command Authority, due out in December. I suppose it will be his last.

Clancy was never afraid, in print or in person, to call out lefties. Appearing on Larry King to promote some novel or other, King asked one stupidly ignorant question after another, and an exasperated Clancy finally barked something like, “Read the damn book, Larry.” I hope I’ve remembered the quote exactly. It was for sure my favorite moment of the old Larry King show.

Is it really possible that Larry King, who’s looked like day-old scrambled eggs for thirty years, outlived Tom Clancy? Stranger things have happened, but this one I’m taking a little personally.

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I’ll Have What the Gentlemen on the Floor is Having

Monday, September 30th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

wine glassSo this is a thing:

A new study from Iowa State and Cornell revealed that individuals who use a narrow glass and pour wine while keeping the glass on the table drank less, compared to those who used a wide glass and poured wine while holding the glass, Nature World News reported.

According to the researchers, it all has to do with the drinker’s perceptions of quantity.

“People have trouble assessing volumes,” said Laura Smarandescu, an assistant professor of marketing at Iowa State. “They tend to focus more on the vertical than the horizontal measures. That’s why people tend to drink less when they drink from a narrow glass, because they think they’re drinking more.”

In reality then, the glass is neither half empty nor half full. It’s simply time to refill your drink.

(The engineer will tell you the glass is exactly twice the size it needs to be, but who the hell do they think they’re kidding?)

Salut.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Why This Avengers Fan Has No Interest in ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Loved The Avengers. Loved, loved, loved that movie. After one viewing it was added to our short & selective Go-To Movies playlist in Ye Olde iTunes Movie Library. The wife loves it, the kids love it, and I think the dog even loves it.

That’s why I’m pretending the new Avengers spin-off TV show, Agents of SHIELD, doesn’t even exist. The reason? They brought back Agent Phil Coulson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character and Clark Gregg plays him with just the right mix of authority and humanity. But Coulson died for a reason in the movie. His death meant something. Only by a beloved character getting stabbed-through-the-chest dead was Nick Fury able to forge his dysfunctional group of feuding heroes into a team.

Take that away, and you take away what made The Avengers something more than just popcorn fare. Coulson’s death didn’t just galvanize the heroes; it galvanized the audience.

Yes, I know comic books bring back characters from the dead all the time. But you’re talking about decades-old franchises in need of freshening up every now then. The Avengers is a movie that came out just last year — it still has that new franchise smell. It needs freshening up like I need water in my brandy glass at bedtime. What the hell good did that ever do anybody?

So it doesn’t matter to me how compelling of a backstory Joss Whedon & Co. come up with to explain Coulson’s return, or how much success I wish for Gregg. I’m not going to watch this show, period.

Bring Coulson back for the inevitable reboot, please. But he fell a hero, and that’s how we should remember him.

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Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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iOS 7: A Small Review and One Big Gripe

Monday, September 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Control Center

People hate iOS 7 so much, they’ve upgraded 200,000,000 devices to it since its release last Wednesday — double the upgrade pace iOS 6 enjoyed last year. I believe that makes it the most widely-used version of any mobile operating system.

Not bad for an OS that’s only five days old.

OK, it’s barking remarkable.

I’m pleased as punch with the performance improvements and enhancements over iOS 6. Nothing just appears; everything comes from or goes to some particular place as you touch or swipe the screen. That might seem a small thing, but it isn’t. You always know exactly where you are, how you got there, and what will happen with your next gesture. (Want to have fun with Android owners? Ask them what the Back button does. Almost every answer will begin with, “Well…”) In iOS 7 everything has a certain cause and a certain effect — everything is done with a purpose. The visual clues give your eyes memory, the way your fingers remember how to tie your shoes.

I was afraid my ancient iPad 3 would find its graphics co-processor — already running at Ludicrous Speed just to maintain the Retina Display — overwhelmed by all the new visual bells and whistles. But it still performs with all the speed and slickness you expect from an Apple mobile device. My son’s iPad mini handles iOS 7 just as nicely. My iPhone 5S won’t arrive until Thursday, but my two-year-old 4S feels faster, no joke.

The new Control Center (cribbed pretty shamelessly from Android, but turnabout and all that) is a great addition. I find it’s a little too easy to activate it when swiping up to scroll through web pages, but there’s a setting to disable it while you’re in apps, or also from the lock screen. Turn it off in apps/leave it on in Lock, seems to be the best combo for both me and my wife.

Siri is smarter. Last week, I could not for the life of me get her to understand that I wanted her to play Frank Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim’s recording of “One Note Samba.” “Siri, play ‘One Note Samba’,” I must have said a dozen times with perfect diction. Every time she’d reply, “I’m sorry, Stephen, but I can’t find one note somber.” And finally me shouting at my phone, “No! It’s samBA, samBA, samBA!” like a demented dance instructor.

I tried it again in the truck this morning, and instead of getting Siri’s error message, my reply was Frank singing, This is just a little samba, based upon a single note…. That’ll put a bounce in your step on a Monday morning.

Siri

iOS 7 is also more security-minded. As you go through the quick initial setup scheme, it will default to having a four-digit passcode. If you choose to turn it off, the OS will ask you if you’d like it to stop using autofill for your browser logins. Smart.

If you thought the camera was fast before, now it’s faster, and complete with HDR, Instagram-type filters, and other nifty new tricks. It’s the best camera I’ve ever used that didn’t say “Nikon” on it and pair with my shelf full of lenses. And remember, this is a two-year-old iPhone 4S we’re talking about here. I got all this new speed and functionality from a simple OS upgrade. Can’t wait to put the new 5S camera through its paces later this week.

Graphically, iOS 7 is hit or miss.

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What I Re-Read on My Summer Vacation

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013 - by Stephen Green

ProntoYesterday I wrote that it was impossible to pick a favorite Elmore Leonard novel. But when I went to pick up one to re-read last night, I reached for Pronto without even having to think about it. It’s the first of Leonard’s works to star Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens, but it wasn’t meant to be.

The first part of the book focuses an aging Miami bookmaker, Harry Arno, one of Leonard’s most visceral characters. I hate to use the cliché “leaps off the page,” except that he does. Harry is greedy and self-absorbed and a bit of a whiner but you just love this guy because he’s so real. He might be old, but his girlfriend is a stacked ex-stripper named Joyce, and you can totally see them together.

Harry is in trouble with the Mob for skimming profits off the top of his bookie operation. So he sneaks off to Italy, which he loves because he fought there in World War II and because of a brief acquaintance with Ezra Pound in an Army stockade.

But the Mob isn’t the only organization that wants Harry. The Justice Department wants him to testify against his old (and peeved) boss, Jimmy Cap. So Raylan is sent to bring Harry home before Cap can have him killed. And, oh yeah, Harry already got away from Raylan once — the only stain on Raylan’s record as a deputy marshal.

Leonard poured his heart into bringing Harry to life. Here’s a guy pushing 70 with about a million dollars of stolen Mob money in a Swiss account, dating a former stripper only half his age, and who once gave the slip to a cowboy marshal — and you believe every last bit of it. That’s some amazing writing.

Problem is, Harry Arno loses control of his own story. Rather, Elmore Leonard lost control of his own novel.

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Pacific Rim: High Concept, Big Fun

Saturday, July 13th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

pacific-rim-monster-600

Short version: Best popcorn flick of the summer.

Longer version? OK, longer version.

Giant monsters (Kaiju) from another dimension are invading earth through a trans-dimensional rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. They come one at a time, months apart, giving mankind time to unite and figure out a way to fight the beasties. And of course you fight giant sea aliens by building giant, human-piloted battle robots (Jaegers). The neural connection between man and robot is too much for a single human brain to handle, so two pilots are connected together in a neural “drift” and act and fight as one. Think of them as a flesh-and-blood RAID 1 array, if you’re geeky like that. The problem is, the alien attacks are growing more frequent and of course the aliens are also getting bigger and tougher. They even evolve weapons of their own, like acid spit and an EMP-type thing.

If you think giant monsters versus giant robots is just an excuse for city-busting battles… well, yeah. Of course. And if you think the neural “drift” is an excuse to heighten the human drama… well, yeah. Of course. Even better, the deeper connection between the characters, the better they connect in the “drift,” and the better they fight.

I told you it was high concept.

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Why Blu Ray Failed

Friday, June 28th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

 Blu-ray-Disc-player

I should very excited about this story, but I’m not. We’ll get to the why not in just a moment:

In a bid to limit movie piracy in Asia, Disney and Sony have quietly begun testing a bold new on-demand service in South Korea which offers movies to rent while they are still playing in theaters. As noted by the Wall Street Journal, the two companies are the first US studios to provide consumers anywhere with the option to buy a ticket to see a movie or watch it in their own home using their cable, internet, or satellite-TV subscription. Django Unchained, Wreck-it Ralph, and Brave had all been made available as part of the trial.

These are 2012 movies here in the States, but I’m assuming based on the story they’re in current release overseas.

But why make this a piracy-fighting move? Why not just …I dunno… give audiences what they want? Increasingly, that’s to watch movies in the comfort of our own homes, with a picture quality better than many movie theaters of just ten or 15 years ago.

I’m still counting on Hollywood to screw this one up, however.

Do you know why Blu-Ray has failed to take the place of DVD in lining Hollywood’s pockets? Because Blu-Ray sucks. The picture quality is outstanding. And the sound is an audiophile’s dream. But the discs are so locked down that they’re a total pain in the bottom to actually use. Loaded with FBI warnings we can’t skip, menus that can take forever to load, and years-old previews you’re forced to watch again and again. And — oh, yeah — most of the movies are crap.

So we rent from Red Box or stream from Netflix or download from iTunes. Or we just pirate the stuff.

Because as nice as it sounds to be able to stream a current summer blockbuster release like Melting Flying Zombies vs The Buxom Flamethrower Pirates, I’m pretty sure Hollywood would fill it up with all the same, lame stuff they cram onto shiny new Blu-Ray discs.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Apple’s New Ad is a Minus

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Consumers just aren’t that into the whole “Designed by Apple in California” thing:

According to data from Ace Metrix, a consulting firm that analyzes the effectiveness of TV commercials through surveys, Apple’s new ad scores just 489 points on its scoring system, far below previous Apple campaigns.

The industry average is 543 points, and other Apple commercials have received in excess of 700 points. So what’s the problem with the new ads?

“Apple was never a company that bragged about itself,” Edward Boches, a professor of advertising at Boston University, told Bloomberg. “In a manifesto ad, it’s hard not to come across as self indulgent. And even though it suggests the wonderful things Apple products can do, the ad lacks joy.”

Around the time Steve Jobs died, some smart Apple observer (I wish I could locate the link) came up with a way to try and determine if the company was losing its footing. His caution? If Apple started running ads about Apple. “We’re Apple. We’re awesome. We’re Apple.” Loser companies tell you how great they are. Winners show you the product.

60084-525-393When Jobs came back to Apple in 1996-97, he made it a 100% product-focused company. And that is what it’s remained, even if increasingly the products are digital services rather than slick hardware. That focus has always been most visible in the company’s advertising, which is the product, the whole product, and nothing but the product.

“This is the iWidget. This is how awesome it is. This is the iWidget.”

Set it to a bouncy pop tune and you’re done — deceptively simple, chillingly effective.

The product was always front and center, with little mention of the company at all other than the iconic logo. The furthest Apple got away from that was in its famous “Get a Mac” ads, in which the Macintosh (and also the PC) were played by likable actors. We never saw a Mac in action, but we still got the idea: Mac was cool, relaxed, easier to use.

That’s still very product-centric.

Oh, and the ads were “Get a Mac,” not “Get an Apple Mac.” That’s an important distinction to make here.

Now here we have Apple’s “Blah blah blah we’re a cool company ad,” and all I can think is, No wonder consumers are rejecting it. Don’t show us the cool company; show us the cool product. The product makes the company cool, not the other way around. Jobs once said that “marketing is about values,” and from Apple’s marketing we know that the company values making good product above anything else.

There was one important exception however.

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Another Smart Move by Microsoft

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

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Yes, that’s two in two weeks. Here’s the latest:

Microsoft Corp will offer its console and computer games for Apple Inc’s iPhone and other smartphone platforms this fiscal year, through a tie-up with Japanese smartphone game maker Klab Inc, the Nikkei said on Monday.

Through a licensing deal, Klab will bring Microsoft’s Xbox and Windows-based computer games to the iPhone and smartphones using Google Inc’s Android operating system, according to the Nikkei.

As I’ve strangely felt the need to remind them over the last few months, Microsoft is a software company. And with iOS and Android there are hundreds of millions, maybe more than a billion, of software platforms bereft of Microsoft software. Which, for a software company, seems… odd.

I suppose the problem is, Microsoft came to dominance in the ’90s as a platform company. But in mobile, they don’t own any platforms. OK, technically with Windows Phone and Surface RT they own two mobile platforms — the problem is that consumers don’t own them. They seemed to think they could buy their way into platform dominance in mobile, but a confused effort has prevented that from happening. Also, with Apple owning most of the profits and Android owning most of the low end, there just isn’t much room for a Microsoft platform.

But selling software, starting with Age of Empires?

Microsoft is great at that, and they’ll be a welcome new developer to both platforms.

POSSIBLY RELATED: Barnes & Noble is getting out of the business of making their own Nook tablets, as a way to stem their losses. I know very happy Nook owners, just not many Nook owners. They’ll license the platform to third-party OEMs.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Bye-Bye, DOMA, Bye-Bye

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

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Did anyone else notice that the Supreme Court just knocked down a goodly-sized portion of Bill Clinton’s legal legacy?

Fancy that:

The justices issued two 5-4 rulings in their final session of the term. One decision wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.

The other was a technical legal ruling that said nothing at all about same-sex marriage, but left in place a trial court’s declaration that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation’s most populous state in about a month.

The high court said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.

The only part I have any real trouble with is covered in that first graf — marriage shouldn’t come with any tax, health, or government pension benefits. It simply isn’t the government’s business to lavish things on people for being married.

What’s interesting is the non-ideological split of the 5-4 vote. There aren’t many issues where the winning team consists of Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia. It’s disappointing (but not entirely surprising) not to see Clarence Thomas in there making it 6-3.

The best part is Roberts’ ringing defense of federalism regarding California’s Prop 8. He wrote, “We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit.” Exactly right. Although I suspect Ginsburg and Kagan found themselves siding with Roberts out of a conviction favoring gay marriage, rather than a conviction that there are any real limits to what Washington may tell the states to do. It’s a good guess that’s one reason Roberts wrote the decision himself.

A SCOTUS win is a SCOTUS win, but a well-reasoned SCOTUS win is a thing of beauty and healthful to the Republic. But I’ll give my Twitter self the last word on this one.

Tweet

CORRECTION: I’ll give the last word to the President instead.

BMO

*****

image courtesy shutterstock / Syda Productions

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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