iOS 7 and Windows 8

Microsoft and Apple have a long history of being engaged in a hard-fought rivalry. Each company has at times managed searing coups and suffered ignominious defeats. Both have forced the other to adapt in order to compete. It’s no revelation that Apple has been in the lead lately, pushing Microsoft to delve into the hardware and mobile markets.

One interesting segment where Microsoft was a leader but became a follower was their new OS shift. Windows 7 was a beautiful and capable operating system. It featured high levels of transparency that really evoked images of its namesake but the transition to Windows 8 stripped all of that away.

I’ve spoken with Windows 8 developers who thought that translucency is overused and cheesy. Windows 8 is all about sharp corners and flat colors and, while it does result in a pleasing aesthetic, I think it is clear that the harsh criticism of Windows 7 was overblown. The truth of it is that single layers are easier on mobile batteries.

Now, surprise, surprise, Apple releases iOS 7 and one of its most visible changes is the heavy emphasis on transparency in the UI. In a bid to stand out, Apple grabbed what Microsoft dropped.

But then, this is Apple’s strength. They took the notification pane from Android. Their multitask interface steals from the underrated WebOS. The new picture organization borrows heavily from newer Samsung devices. All in all, they take the best elements of what is already out there and deliver something that even the jail breakers can’t complain about.

Well, that last part might need to wait until Apple officially allows icon customization.

Hesitation Marks


There has been so much happening in the world of Nine Inch Nails lately that it was maddening trying to predict what the next album would bring. My biggest hope was that fans wouldn’t be given another How To Destroy Angels/ The Slip/ Ghosts offering. I wanted something that rocked, wasn’t overly ambient, had undeniable personality, and, at this point in the band’s large catalog, stood strong on its own. It’s hard to say Hesitation Marks didn’t mostly deliver.

Various Methods Of Escape
Various Methods Of Escape

One of my friends emailed me his thoughts on the new album:

"This record sounds like [Trent] recorded a bunch of drum beats in his bedroom and then slapped some synths on top of it."

That was supposed to be an indictment obviously but, shit, that description sounds awesome to me!

Right off the bat, the first surprise is that the album is a bit more minimalist than one would expect from a Nine Inch Nails record. This isn’t the type of music that you want to lock yourself in your room and scream and cut yourself to (but hopefully you’ve grown out of that phase anyway). Instead, this is a mature return to drum beats and synth. And unlike some of Trent Reznor’s recent projects, all the tracks are competent and complete songs that find ways to be more melodic, more meaningful, rather than just consisting of harsh noises or strange beats. Hesitation Marks is not a side project or a film score; that much is clear.

The single, Came Back Haunted, is a solid effort with a powerful chorus reminiscent of With Teeth and Year Zero. I mostly appreciated the layered emotional synth that rises over the verses. The song then ends with a staggered melody as a throwback to Closer.

None of this means Hesitation Marks is immune to some of NIN’s more recent esoteric leanings. Some of the band’s familiar strange sound effects make appearances but even these songs are more likable because of their constant beats and clean structures. Satellite, for example, sounds like a Year Zero b-side but is much more catchy and upbeat.

While I’m Still Here
While I’m Still Here

The great part about the album is that some of the songs sound completely unlike any previous NIN work. Remember when The Perfect Drug single came out, or when you heard Broken for the first time? Some of the tracks on Hesitation Marks capture that freshness. Unfortunately, critical fans may be justified in calling some songs subpar or citing repetition.

Let me take a break to mention that I bought the physical deluxe cd and this is literally the coolest cd packaging ever! Don’t let the bonus disc fool you, it has forgettable remixes and is worthless. But check out the case, it feels like a hardcover book.

Not only that, but it IS a hardcover book. The liner notes are all printed on color bound pages and the discs fit into the hard sleeves. I know I’m old school but I wish I could get my entire cd library set up like this.

Overall, this is what I wanted out of Hesitation Marks. A fresh take from Trent. A new era. And no wife on backing vocals.

Hell On Wheels

I noticed what I thought was a new series premiering on AMC, Hell On Wheels, and watched the first episode before I realized it was the third season. What I watched was good enough, with a mysterious protagonist, well cast as a ruthless western frontiersman.

I like historical dramas like this (the BBC’s Copper is the same time period, placed just at the end of the Civil War). The window into the old wild world is very cool, and Hell On Wheels focuses on the building of the Union Pacific railroad westward.

The first two seasons are on Netflix so I caught up. While there are a couple slow moments, the greatest scenes are masterfully done. Bohannon plays a sympathetic killer and ex-slave owner. As a man of few words, he does most of it with his eyes and face. The supporting cast is mostly good although there are the usual tv moments where conflicts feel manufactured just to keep things exciting.

The first season stands alone well. The protagonist has an inner journey and events stay mostly believable. Subsequent seasons don’t hold up as much. There are incredible swings of fortune good and bad and the characters continue to endlessly scheme against each other without any apparent memory of past events or connections. Still, episodes are mostly entertaining and viewers will continually be rewarded with cool moments.

The Awakening

This isn’t a true review and, really, this film deserves more because it is so good, but I neglected posting about it when I saw it and just wanted to quickly get this word out there. Also, there are apparently about 20 films with the title The Awakening so just make sure to get the 2011 version pictured.

I’ve talked before about the differences between good horror movies and bad ones. Bad overdone elements are usually cheap scares and plot resolutions that ignore previous details and lack common sense. The Awakening is very well paced and ends just as good as it begins.

An interesting note is that The Awakening shares a LOT of common elements with The Orphanage. The significance of the protagonist, the location- even some of the aspects of tragedy and redemption are mirrored. Though, while an interesting case study, both films manage to create their own mood, be creepy in their own ways, and end differently. I would say make sure to watch both movies, but I’d give the nod to see The Orphanage first because I think it is the better overall movie (unless you don’t do subtitles).

The Conjuring

I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a great horror movie but there is something about The Conjuring that puts it a step above most others. It’s not especially original and there are no twists or unexpected developments- it’s fair to say that you know exactly what is going to happen in this movie after watching the beginning.

In some ways, the straightforward plot is a strength. I kept waiting for a stupid twist to ruin things and nothing ever came. It was refreshing for something to be taken at face value and simply be what it is.

Still, this is the craftsman’s film. Every aspect of it is well executed. The acting is relatable. The scares do rely on a lot of jumps but they usually aren’t cheap ‘come from off screen suddenly’ tricks. If M. Night Shyamalan perfected the art of horror without showing, The Conjuring perfects showing slowly and drawing out the dread instead of simply having a ghost appear behind someone.

I definitely wouldn’t suggest this film could reach the heights of other horror masterpieces like The Orphanage or The Others, but it is definitely worth a viewing if you like to be terrified.

New Miller Lite Bottle

I’ve ranted before about the hoops big beer companies need to jump through to make their products seem fresh. It essentially comes down to glorified repackaging of an old product. Well, Miller Lite is at it again.

The commercial has a simple yet serviceable enough premise – a group of guys are apparently ogling the waitress but it turns out they are hot for the new bottle.

The funny thing is, advertisements are supposed to extoll the virtues of their products. So when it comes times to explain why Miller Lite has a new bottle, this is the slogan they came up with:

"The new bottle? What’s there to say?"

This question strangely leaves the audience hanging in the last few seconds of the commercial, free to come up with their own answer, the only possible one that makes sense being: nothing. There is absolutely nothing to say about the new Miller Lite bottle that even a 30 second commercial introducing the bottle written by a team of marketers couldn’t come up with anything.

Then the closing narration:

"The new Miller Lite bottle: Find one at a bar near you."

Sadly, this is probably a more sensible move than attempting to make a premium budget beer. Nothing will convince me to order a Miller Lite at a bar, but for people who don’t care much about taste and just want a cheap American Pale Lager, maybe the new bottle stirs enough curiosity to make a sale.

Kveikur – Sigur Ros

Sigur Ros have always had a lot of depth in their music. Just  a year after their last release (which is too quick in my book) comes Kveikur. Now, layered between electronic effects and a new harshness, the music is quite different from anything else out there let alone any of their previous albums. From a band that is accustomed to capturing a different mood with every effort, they’ve managed to avoid my expectations while somehow aptly retaining that signature Sigur Ros sound.


Taking listeners to primal places has always been a staple of this Icelandic trio. While the band often exudes a playful mood, it is this writer’s opinion that they are at their best when they go dark. Because of this I can unequivocally say that Kveikur is their best album since (). Takk and Meo are too happy and upbeat, practically to the point of joyful. Valtari has some good sounds but is too soft and atmospheric. Here, we are treated to more active, less ambient.


Kveikur eschews the familiar positive vibe for pure raw expression. The album starts heavy, for a few seconds unrecognizable, before the sweet sounding vocals smooth over the distortion. The drum beats really drive the energy in a way that is welcome and fresh, and the mood experienced when listening to the full album is gritty and majestic. With this, the right combination of ingredients and a long wait since a release like this, you surely have a top-notch Sigur Ros outing.

Zimmerman Trial Outrage

I am sorry, I hate hitting on political talking points but there is so much misunderstanding and misinformation about the law that I had to get a few words in about the Zimmerman trial. As an added point, I detest the issue of race being used ignorantly and blindly where it has no place.

So I’ll start out for the record as saying that I support the verdict of the Zimmerman trial. None of us truly know what happened but with the amount of evidence available I believe justice was served. Remember, it is better to set a guilty man free than send an innocent man to jail – it is the basis of our legal system. That said, I don’t think Zimmerman broke the law.

On Race

There’s no proof that Zimmerman was racist. In fact, despite wanting to be a police officer, he spoke out against the department’s cover up of the beating of a black homeless man.

On the other hand, while I’m not accusing Martin of being a thug, the prosecution’s star witness said he called Zimmerman a cracker. So if there’s any proof of racism here, it’s against Martin.

But to the real point – was Zimmerman racist? The answer is: it doesn’t matter. We live in a free country and people are allowed to be racist if they want to be. What the law boils down to is criminal activity and Zimmerman’s actions may have been unwise but they were not illegal. Martin’s attack on Zimmerman, however, was.

On Thuggery

Many want to testify to the character of Martin one way or the other, either as an indication of his fault or his innocence. While some of his history may have been relevant in order to make certain assumptions about his character and his likely intentions, again, the truth is: it doesn’t matter.

Martin’s actions that day are all that matter. While the incident wasn’t well documented, all available evidence leads to the presumption that Martin engaged in violence first, which was the only illegal act. Whatever Martin may have tweeted about before is irrelevant, and in fact, I am not in the camp that thinks he was ‘looking for trouble’. I believe he was just a teenager returning ‘home’ from the store after getting some candy. What happened was surely a tragedy but Martin was to blame.

On Martin’s Size

Many use Martin’s ‘small size’ as ammunition to present Zimmerman as clearly taking advantage of the situation. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I am a grown man, on the skinny side but I work out and am in shape, and I weigh the same as Martin. 158 pounds is plenty big enough to cause damage. I understand that Zimmerman is heavier but that is much less of an advantage when you are on the ground being pounded in the face.

On Stand Your Ground

Anyone citing this tragedy as proof that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law doesn’t work either a) is grossly misinformed, or b) has a political agenda. This is because Zimmerman never invoked the Stand Your Ground law. That’s right, this case had nothing to do with Florida’s special protections and the two should not be mentioned together.

Instead, this was a case of simple self defense. Zimmerman may have unwittingly incited Martin into violence, but what happened before is hardly relevant. The case answers the simple question: when someone is on top of you potentially beating you to death, self defense is a valid option.

On Fault

Anyone angry with the Zimmerman verdict will say that he was an adult and should be blamed for his actions, which range from harassment to stalking to racism to forcing a violent confrontation. This is all completely irrelevant, because while I would have done things differently if I was Zimmerman, he did not do anything criminal. People are afforded many freedoms in this country and profiling someone, following them, and asking what they are doing are not illegal actions. They may be ignorant, racist, ill-advised, etc. but they are not law-breaking offenses.

For the sake of argument, even is Martin was a choirboy and Zimmerman called him a nigger, the escalation to combat was wrong. Even if Martin felt unfairly harassed he should not have responded the way he did. It all comes down to the simplest of lessons we learn as children: it is wrong to solve your problems with violence.

In Closing

While I am not black, I was young, and I can relate this to some of my personal experiences. Do you know how many times as a teenager I had adults treat me like a punk kid up to no good? Or had the employees in 7-11 follow me to make sure I wasn’t stealing candy? It wasn’t uncommon. And do you know how many of those times I responded by punching the adult in the face, knocking them down, and beating them? Never. And, sorry if it makes light of the matter, but that’s probably why I’ve never been shot at either.

Twin Peaks

I didn’t pay a whole lot attention to this tv series when it originally aired in 1990 but I just went back and saw both seasons since they became available on Amazon Prime.

Twin Peaks, at its core, is about the weird goings on of the inhabitants of a small town and how initial appearances are usually not as they seem. Everybody has their own secrets and schemes and things tend to just get more complicated over time instead of getting neatly resolved. On the more immediate surface, the series revolves around the murder of the high school homecoming queen, Laura Palmer. This plot motivator kicks off the pilot and is vital to the series because it provides a mechanism to affect all the characters and bring them together. It also carries the theme of hidden secrets, as the well liked girl isn’t as innocent as everyone believes.

When Twin Peaks works, it beautifully creates a creepy atmosphere and features eclectic characters in interesting situations. What else would one expect from David Lynch? The protagonist, Agent Cooper, is a vastly likable combination of dysfunctional yet able. The small town and mystery exude a unique aura that really stood out among other tv offerings at the time. These differences and the water cooler effect really drove audiences to watch in the beginning but the luster started to wear off when people realized how weakly some of it was planned.

This is because Twin Peaks is a soap opera, but of course, that is the point. The first season goes as far as to feature scenes of characters watching a soap opera that often mimics the events they are experiencing. After time, it becomes difficult to separate the execution from parody. While the murder of Laura Palmer is the big event that kick starts everything, the series loses focus and characters begin to lack reasons for existing. It is hard to fault a show for so completely living up to its pulp premise but that truth shows how deeply flawed the idea of Twin Peaks really is.

In many ways, audiences weren’t really ready for this series. What begins as a mundane murder mystery strays into the occult with opaque clues, unsettling dream sequences, and evil spirits. Still, a lot of this subversion is what makes Twin Peaks so groundbreaking. Some of the most memorable images from the series are rooted in mysticism (a simple Google Images search will prove that much). This doesn’t mean that the show is perfect in retrospect. Indeed, it’s pretty easy to create a list of grievances.

For one, mysteries often fail to deliver on their promises. It’s easy to make a bunch of weird shit happen to create a spooky atmosphere but when it comes time to explain all that stuff, well, the writers just shrug and hope no one notices. It’s like the sea monster in Lost. So while Twin Peaks *does* ultimately deliver on revealing the murderer of Laura Palmer, and while I actually thought they did a good job with those episodes, so much else in the show seems invented immediately before filming just to give the actors on set something to do. This is especially true in the second season where characters sometimes have motivations inconsistent with prior events. The creators have admitted that they were just winging it with plot points and David Lynch never even intended to solve the Laura Palmer case- he just wanted that to be a lynchpin that starts the series off and then have the show devolve into the soap opera of the lives of the small town inhabitants.

Also, while resolving the mystery of Laura Palmer worked for me, the writers of the show had no idea what to do afterward. As mentioned, the seemingly random plots that occur were always the direction the show was intended to go, but it really didn’t work. While the creators have said that solving the murder let some wind out of their sails and audiences were no longer interested, the truth is that audiences needed more coherent major story arcs to hold things together. The campy soap opera worked while there was an underlying drive to force character interactions – the death of Laura Palmer was the single lynchpin that connected everyone. In the second season, when Twin Peaks starts conjuring random unrelated situations for people to deal with, the reasons for characters to get together feels plainly contrived. And with motivations and situations changing every episode, there was no reason to maintain interest.

It’s hard to recommend this series unless you are a big fan of camp. Past that, if you can appreciate the meandering nature of the wandering plot, then perhaps there is a cult classic waiting for you. Twin Peaks certainly leaves a strong impression and has had a lasting influence on television drama- that alone should be enough reason to check it out. Personally, I enjoyed it more than I didn’t, but the flaws keep the series from achieving true greatness.

Combination ATM/Credit Cards

I recently wanted to use a Wells Fargo debit card but I forgot my PIN (I actually never set it up yet- this was a new account). Curious, I took a chance and selected the ‘CREDIT’ option on the machine. Imagine my surprise when the charge went through successfully! But it bothered me that I wasn’t quite sure what occurred during this transaction. What credit account was this?

An interesting thing happens when using a debit card as a credit card. The money gets charged to an intermediate credit line, then within hours, or a day at most, the money is automatically deducted from the bank account. As a customer, I never see or have access to the credit line- I just see the money deducted. Now, call me a stickler for security, but doesn’t this give thieves direct access to my bank account?

To back up for a second, I’ll explain why credit cards tend to be very safe. We use them to rack up a bunch of charges then, at the end of the month, we get an itemized list of every expense and then (and only then) we choose to actually pay the debt. If you can manage it you should pay in full, avoid all interest, and use the card as a means of making transactions more convenient.

So what if a thief steals your wallet and spends YOUR credit line? It’s very simple. You contest the charge, it gets removed or suspended, and you never lose a penny. It’s all rather mundane these days and the credit companies are very good at dealing with it. So what happens if a thief steals your debit card and charges money out of your account? Well, when you notice, you are already out the money, and I have a suspicion (although I haven’t been through this) that it would be much more of a hassle to get your money back at that point. Not impossible, I’m sure, but it is YOUR money that’s gone, and YOU’RE the one that needs to worry about getting it back.

Essentially, the PIN is your personal secret code that should be an extra step of security to protect your actual bank accounts and this credit line work-around is a security flaw.

So I visited my friendly Wells Fargo bank employee the other day and asked to get this credit functionality taken off my ATM card. He tried to convince me otherwise, saying that vendors "should always check ID" and "that should be enough". No thanks, vendors usually DON’T check ID, and online purchases skip that step altogether. And if I wanted to use a credit card, well, that’s what my credit cards are for. But I made a point to say that I wanted to protect my account from thieves.

"Yeah, we’ve had a lot of problems with fraud lately…"

That was the bank associate’s response. I was waiting for a "but" followed by a reassuring set of procedures the bank was adhering to in order to prevent the fraud but instead he just trailed off and sat there in silence. I then strongly reiterated my argument and he sent new cards in the mail.

So if you would like to make sure your bank account debit cards are more secure, please take a look at them. If they say ‘Visa’ or ‘MasterCard’ or whatever on the front then they are bad and allow a credit transaction. Or, perhaps, there’s a way to make sure that credit line does not auto-deduct from your bank account, but I’d rather play it safe. My new ATM card doesn’t have a credit symbol so my mind is at ease. Now I need to do the same with my B of A account.