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2019-06-30 00:00:00 +0000

Media diet for June 2019

Books

The Fated Sky — Mary Robinette Kowal

More cool space stuff! I enjoyed the pacing more in this book, and despite the frustration with very 50s attitudes that still pervade the modern world, I enjoyed journeying with these two books to mars.

The Bone Clocks — David Mitchell

A delightful collision of strange characters across time. This book is just fantastical enough to scratch my sci-fi itch, and literary enough to keep me satisfied. I hadn’t read Michell in a while, but diving back in was like slipping on a well-fitting shoe. My only complaint is that I got a bit sick of “psycho-“ being applied to every magic thing, as it felt a bit too much like RPG spell naming, lol.

An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good — Helene Tursten

Delightfully wicked tales of a murderous octogenarian. I laughed, and cringed in turn. A short, strange read.

The Calculating Stars — Mary Robinette Kowal

This is an interesting alternate history where a disaster changes the fate of the planet, and accelerates the space race. Unfortunately, no disaster can change the rampant misogyny and racism of the men in power in this world. The protagonist, Dr. York, is a calculator, and dreams of being an astronaut, after years of flying planes as a WASP. I’m excited to read the sequel, but so many of the scenes of men being jerks to everyone else were pretty frustrating.

Exhalation: Stories — Ted Chiang

Chiang is one of the only authors I’ve read that truly puts the “speculative” into speculative fiction. Combining a curiosity about math, physics, and philosophy, Exhalation’s stories show a very adept storyteller playing with quite a few ideas. Each story is so different, and yet similarly great. I really hope Chiang writes a novel at some point, because I want to roam around his world’s for much longer.

Sourdough — Robin Sloan

A fun book on getting into a new hobby, and getting out of tech. I’m not a baker, but I really liked how Robin described the baking process. There weren’t many characters with real depth, but our protagonist was fun.

The Book of M — Peng Shepherd

An interesting take on a plague/zombie-style post-apocalypse. I had trouble putting this book down, and the story kept me reading most of the day. I got to hear Shepherd read from her book at a literary event in the bay, and I’m very glad I did—this book ruled.

Noumenon: Infinity — Marina J. Lostetter

This series ruled. There were pretty significant characters who were trans, or differently abled, and I feel like they were written pretty dang well. The space exploration and discovery plotlines split and re-intertwined many times, and always kept me fascinated. Definitely one of the most interesting sci-fi series I’ve read in years.

Movies

Force Majeure

A slow burn of a movie. Largely, this is about a family, and a father who is kind of a shit. Tormund from GoT shows up. Lots of skiing. Grey fog. Fin.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

This was super cute, with a nice mix of weird jokes and internet references. It’s wild how many amazing actors they got to join in the strange fun. If you liked the first film, you’ll enjoy the new one.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

This movie wasn’t as bad as critics have said, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Out of the two treatments of the Dark Phoenix, I think this one was better. The story was a bit odd, but overall, it was fun and a lot of shit blew up. B- summer pap.

Starfish

A largely solo trek through grief, loneliness, and the end of the world. The soundtrack to Starfish was excellent, as was the performance of Ginny Gardner. Without spoiling anything, it’s best to say this movie goes in interesting directions and is shot beautifully.

TV

Good Omens

The best parts of this show were the weirdly delightful friendship scenes between Sheen and Tennant. I hadn’t read this book, but the story moved along at a good clip, and remained strange and funny enough to delight me.

Bake-Off: Professionals

I watched two seasons of this show this month—the second season is currently airing. It’s got the drama and silliness of GBBO, but with teams of two, and A & B groups that whittle down for a final set of showdowns. Liam does a great job hosting, and just like GBBO this show is a warm and fun thing to watch while unwinding.


2019-06-09 00:00:00 +0000

iPadOS

It’s probably clear by now that I love my iPad Pro. I travel with it, write on it, and practice Japanese on it. When Apple announced iPadOS, it suddenly seemed liked my dream of only using my iPad had come true.

Major updates

New home screen

With a glance at the home screen, photo of home screen with slide-over widgets it’s clear that this isn’t iOS 12. Onscreen widgets isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it saves me a slide-over every time I want to check the weather, or which meeting I’m headed to next. It’s pretty cool, and even though it’s in some ways a catch-up to what other platforms have had for a while, I dig it.

Copy & paste & select

Copy and pasting also get a refresh in iPadOS, with three-finger gestures copying, cutting, and pasting. I’m not sure how intuitive it is, but for power-users at least, it should work quite well. I’ve gotten somewhat used to the gestures already. Multiple taps allow for some cool selection specificity, though occasionally this feels more frustrating as I struggle to remember how many taps to select a word. I think this will get better with practice

Swipe to type

Ever since I started practicing kanji for an hour or two every day, I noticed I was getting repetitive strain on my thumb and hand. I’m not sure how much this new swipe-to-type will help, but I’m enjoying the faster typing it enables.

Desktop Safari

This single change is the reason iPadOS is a massive update for so many of us. Desktop versions of websites mean I can finally use Google Docs, or Notion, or Figma without pulling out my MacBook Pro at work. In testing, it seems like it really works, which rules. The first version of the OS just launched, so I’d expect we might see even better support between now and the launch of the OS in the fall.

Sign-in with Apple

This sign-in upgrade will come to iPad and iPhone, and is an amazing privacy boost for everyone using an iOS device. By removing the need to give your email address to every service I use, Apple is potentially saving me hundreds of unsubscribes and delete from inbox actions, not to mention all the scraping and ad targeting. I’m very stoked.

Minor changes

Dark mode

I love dark mode, don’t get me wrong, but this update is a small change compared to the rest of the amazing stuff packed into iPadOS.

Files updates

Column view, quick actions, more metadata, and a downloads folder all mean better file management without a desktop. Apple also added the ability to use thumb drives and hard drives in the USB-C drive, which isn’t really something I need, but seems to be a big deal to a lot of folks.

The rest

The list goes on and on

What it means for me

With iPad OS, I can’t think of a single thing I do on my Mac that I can’t do on my iPad with the exception of working with a very large Github repo (just try downloading and updating a 6gb repo over WiFi, yow). With the addition of Catalyst apps on Mac, I hope that even more developers will devote energy to making powerful and fun iPad apps in the future. This fall will likely bring device updates with minor spec bumps, and likely this time I’ll snag a Cellular version so I can take advantage of Google Fi’s data sim. Until now I’ve always been fine with tethering my iPad to my phone, but international travel makes that impossible due to Google’s restrictions, and since it’s essentially a free add-on, it seems like a no-brainer.

As of this year, I carry my iPad to most meetings, and almost always bring it instead of my Mac on trips—even for work. This new OS ensures that this will keep being the case. Macs will keep being a great option for my desk at work, but more and more, the iPad and the iPhone are where I prefer to do my computing.

If you haven’t checked out an iPad in a while, this fall will be a really good time to do so. You might not love it as much as I do, but it might surprise you.


2019-05-27 00:00:00 +0000

On the perfect Thing

The search for the best, most optimized, beautiful, light, and pleasing things.

Scrolling through my RSS feeds, I’m reminded daily that so much stuff exists. I subscribe to newsletters for fashion, backpacks, apps, and general tech, and every single one has an endless march through the days of new things. This app has two columns for editing! This backpack is “able to transition from work to play and travel.” These are the best socks.

I could go on.

The search for the best thing is best represented by the website The Wirecutter, with its incredibly thorough reviews of the best things in almost every category you can imagine. Started by a guy and his friends to get out of the grind of tech reporting, they began to painstakingly investigate categories of tech, gear, and housewares to recommend one thing you could buy. My friend’s homes are filled with these best things. Hell, mine is too. They’re right most of the time, save for when taste or niche need intervenes. But why do we care?

Supposedly, experiences make us happier than stuff, but we still buy a good amount of stuff. Talking with friends, it seems like most of us like to think we’re getting a deal—by buying the best thing, we’re ensuring that our dollar goes furthest. The single thing we’re buying is categorically superior, and knowing that means we can stop looking, secure in the knowledge that we’ve made the right decision. And yet, I still browse these sites.

There’s a sense, at least for me, that something could be better. A new thing might suit my needs, or a specific complaint better. Yes, I have a raincoat, but do I have one I can wear near a campfire? Actually, yes, yes I do. In an effort to be minimal in my ownership of things, I’ve also bought quite a few of them. The irony is not lost on me.

The happiness factor

Honestly, I own three backpacks, and three raincoats, because each of them is the best at some aspect of making me smile. There’s no way to quantify this that I’m aware of, but everyone has a thing, or things that are so neat or personal that every use or interaction with them is a small joy. And we all want to spark joy, right? As hokey as I’m sure many of you think Konmari’s Shinto-sequel philosophy of things is, it has certainly helped me in pinpointing why I own them. I pared back my clothing, and donated bags of tech detritus. And yet, I still look for new joys.

Whether it’s a new iOS text editor, or a new pair of lightweight shoes, I browse through my RSS feeds with a delight in seeing fresh things. And fortunately, the delight of looking is relatively free. This daily routine of mine is akin to the window-shopping of old. I’m fascinated by the portrayal of the new things—the praises of their qualities. The search itself makes me happy.

Hobby hunting

I’ve found it’s useful to check in every so often on why I do things. Do my habits make me happy? Do I find joy in studying 漢字 every day? Lifting weights? Lightweight packing? Is my search fo the best things also a way to hunt for new hobbies? The answer, for me, to all of those questions is a yes. And frankly I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with this search. I do wish that this curiosity could be de-coupled from capitalism, but the world we live in doesn’t seem to wish for the same thing. I think the best we can do is keep on searching if it makes us happy, and share the things we find and the things we own with each other—sharing the joy as well.

We might all search for our own reasons, but curiosity and interest is a one of the best things of all. When we find satisfaction, the key, I think, is recognizing it, and enjoying it. Until then, happy hunting.


2019-05-24 00:00:00 +0000

Media diet for May 2019

This was a really great month for books largely because I got really into the Themis Files series. Price’s book on breaking up with your phone also encouraged me to pick up my Kindle more than I refreshed Twitter, and honestly, so far that’s been a positive experience.

Books

Noumenon — Marina J. Lostetter

Ah! Another great multi-generational space exploration story. I don’t really get why so many sci-fi books are doing this sort of thing lately, but I’m into it. What happens when a ship heads into deep space to explore a distant star? This book. It rules.

Exit Strategy — Martha Wells

A delightful end to this quadrilogy. I hope we get more Murderbot stories, but even if not, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rogue Protocol — Martha Wells

I’m really loving this series. Murderbot meets a new pal on this romp on a research station.

Hatching Twitter — Nick Bilton

This was a tour of betrayal, man-children, and absurd amounts of money. I’d love to see an Armando Ianucci adaptation of this book—especially the incredibly awkward visits with Zuckerberg. Well-written, and easy to read, this kept me very entertained on my flight.

Artificial Condition — Martha wells

It’s really nice to dive back into the series, and the MurderBot continues to be a funny narrator a distant space-bound future. I still think it’s a little odd that these were all published as novellas instead of a full-length, but the episodic quality does give me an easy place to pause and get more to drink. I hope we see more of the new ComfortBot.

Only Human — Sylvain Neuvel

A solid conclusion to an excellent series. It’s too bad there’s not any more to read, but on the upside, it never dipped into uninteresting territory. The tone of this book is a little post-apocalyptic, and I’m a sucker for that kinda thing.

Waking Gods — Sylvain Neuvel

This is a series that seems to amp up the excitement with each installation. The first book set the stage, and this is the play. There is quite a bit of action, and a lot of fallout from the first book. A great sequel.

Sleeping Giants — Sylvain Neuvel

Told through a series of interview transcripts, de-briefings, and diary entries, this rad giant robot story managed to suck me in fast. I burned through this book in a couple of days, and loved every minute. I grew up on Robotech, so some of this plot felt familiar, except without all the singing. If you like giant robots, and somewhat mysterious non-governmental entities, this is a series to check out.

The Traveling Cat Chronicles — Hiro Arikawa

This book was an emotional rollercoaster. I should’ve be surprised, since it’s about a cat—one of the few things that makes me feel all of the emotions, but wow. This book was very, very good from start to finish. I picked it up on a whim, and it’s perhaps my favorite of the year.

How to Break Up With Your Phone — Catherine Price

A pretty solid book on establishing more thoughtful ways of dealing with our devices. The advice to think about why you’re reaching for your phone when you do is extremely good, and deceptively simple. I’ve found myself trying to just be in a place without immediately flipping though phone screens to kill time, and maybe it’s helping? I’m going to keep on following the advice of this book for a while, and see how it helps or doesn’t. There’s good advice on email and other types of organization in here as well.

Killing Commentadore — Haruki Murakami

This novel feels like a return to form, and yet also building on themes and ideas Murakami laid down in earlier books. His obsessions with pits, cats, WW2 history, jazz, and simple lunches are all here. I’m a little tired of the downtrodden male narrator, but despite being first-person, generally our painter guide moved the story along, interspersed with interesting observations. If you enjoy Murakami, there’s much joy here. I hope this author is with us for quite some time to come.

Movies

Wandering Earth

This is the second-highest grossing film in Chinese cinematic history. I’ve heard about this book for a while, and conceptually it’s interesting to think about the Earth moving instead of colony ships leaving, but it’s frustrating that Chinese censors meant that the themes of the film are somewhat limited. The end result felt more like The Core than Star Wars, and overall it was rather disappointing.

John Wick 3

Ridiculous from start to finish. The fights were fun, the plot moved forward at a fast clip, and this is one of my favorite silly action franchise.

Lego Movie: Part 2

Fun, but didn’t match up to the sheer weird joy of the first movie.

Detective Pikachu

Hilarious and so, so fun. This was definitely a kids movie, but aimed solidly at kids who’re 28-35 now—my generation has the funds to relive our childhoods in cinema. I played a few Pokémon games, and watched the cartoon for a little while in middle school, and seeing all of the Pokémon I know flitting around the screen was a hoot. Ryan Reynolds did some fantastic Pikachu voice acting, matched by the incredible CGI of his fur. One of the sillier, funnier movies I’ve seen in a minute. “My clues!”

Burning

It’s been years since I read the story that this movie was inspired by, so I barely remember it. The pacing of Burning was slow, but each shot was artful, and each scene a strange delight. Also, the ambling, slightly clueless protagonist seemed to fit right in to Murakami world.

Arctic

This was in a really intense movie about how fucking cold it can get in the Arctic, and how scary it is to be crashed there. I like to think that this is somehow an extension of the Hannibal universe, and that in order to escape capture he became a pilot.

TV

Ghost in the Shell SAC

I finally finished this series! I stole my haircut (sorta) from the protagonist from Ghost in the Shell, but I’d never made it through the early 2000s anime series. It’s very episodic, and uneven, but there are so many highlights and breathtaking scenes. It’s definitely a classic.

Barry

It’s funny that this show and Patriot exist at the same time, since both tackle duty, and the idea that someone who mostly kills people and carries out clandestine tasks has a fun side. Bill Hader hasn’t ever been a favorite of mine, but I seriously love this goofy show. Everyone, from Henry Winkler, to Stephen Root, to the guy who plays the extremely friendly mafioso is giving their all.