Goodbye Parenthood

(SPOILER ALERT: The following post (obviously) contains spoilers about the Parenthood series finale.)

For some reason people thought that at the end of Breaking Bad Walter White got too much of a “happy” ending, even though he died, lost his family and couldn’t be sure they would ever get the money he left them. But if Walter White had a happy ending then the Braverman’s are like lottery winners. Series finales are generally supposed to leave happy moments for the audience, but Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, The Wire and others showed it doesn’t always have to be that way. Parenthood went a different way though.

Minus Zeek’s inevitable death, everything came of roses for every member of the Braverman clan. There has already been plenty of (digital) ink spilled over the finale, so there is no reason to completely rehash it all, but at least some people pointed out that things were a little too perfect.

Todd VanDerWeff of Vox on the financial woes that seemed to come and go:

By and large, that disappeared from season four onward. Brothers Adam (Peter Krause) and Crosby (Dax Shepard) launched a risky recording studio venture in season three, seeing it almost fall apart, only to spend most of seasons four and five doing just fine for themselves, even as the real world music industry was completely falling apart. (The final season suggested the studio was not long for this world, before the finale completely reversed this, somewhat inexplicably.) Sarah’s economic circumstances suddenly seemed much firmer, and while Julia left her job to care for her newly adopted son, she and Joel never seemed to worry about money.

Alan Sepinwall with some closing thoughts:

Do I buy that everything would come up roses for the remaining Bravermans? No. Is it what the show needed to give us as our last glimpse? Abso-damn-lutely. The whole finale is fantasy camp, but that’s just the way it had to be.

The show was indeed a fantasy camp; one that probably only succeeded because the cast was one of the best/most talented assembled this century. But so much talent left some stories unfinished or rushed and while the show was good week-to-week it’s hard to see it having the prolonged shelf life of something like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. It was definitely solid and fun, but not a top tier show all-time. Uneven is a great word to describe this show, and some of it can probably be blamed on weak ratings, or a network that didn’t seem to appreciate the quality of program it had on it’s hands. Either way this show wasn’t everything it could have been.

Last thing, HuffPost had a breakdown of all the stuff that happened in the flash forward.

2014 Newsies Awards

The fourth annual Newsies awards (a little later than usual this year) are dedicated to my favorite things I discovered/saw/bought for the first time in prior year. It’s also a homage to one of my great guilty pleasure movies of all time, Newsies.

Remember that these aren’t necessarily things that came out in 2014, but 2014 was when I got them, watched them, etc.

TV Show – Orange is the New Black

Netflix was added to the Hippo Household in 2014 and a large reason for that was House of Cards. Despite a particularly strong first season, a progressively disappointing second drove it from this list completely. Orange is the New Black however, lived up to the hype and then some. The second season was just as strong as the first. The backstory flashbacks are always entertaining and there remains a few characters who’s backstories are a mystery, so there is still time to drag that hook out further.

Still this show likely has a limited lifespan as (theoretically) only so much can happen to the same prisoners so many times. Although it doesn’t get as much publicity as House of Cards, Orange is the the better overall show, and has chance to be a top tier show before it’s over.

Runners-Up

  • Transparent – Amazon’s award winning show about a man (played by Jeffery Tambor) making a transition into a woman. It’s funny, smart and well acted. It may feature a little bit too much craziness for one family to be a show that works long term, especially with three “anything can happen” children in the mix. But for now, it’s very, very good.

  • Silicon Valley – The subject matter earns extra points on a personal level, but this show had some of the better laugh out loud moments of the year. TJ Miller’s ridiculous over the top character was constantly hilarious, and the gag near the end of the season regarding “physics” was one for the ages.

  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Despite never being a fan of The Daily Show or Colbert it was hard to know what to expect from this show. The weekly format undoubtedly makes it easier to watch than something on every day, but John Oliver delivered a masterpiece. This show was informative sure, but it was also downright hilarious. The “look at how stupid society is” jokes has always felt a little like Seinfeld’s go-to joke type. Can’t wait for season two.

Movie – Silver Linings Playbook

Few movies live up to the hype, praise or awards thrust upon them. Silver Linings Playbook does, and then some. Bradley Cooper is just amazing, and it seems crazy that he did not win an Oscar for this performance1.

Runner-Up

  • The Sting – One of Paul Newman’s most famous movies, and a great con man movie based in the 1930s. Robert Redford is Newman’s partner and the story is great, with even better twists along the way. It took a long time to see this one, but now it seems like it will be re-watched many times.

iPhone App – Paper

Facebook put out an alternative app this year, called Paper. It is a different way to view Facebook statuses that always has move of a “cards” kind of feel. For many, it has become the goto app for Facebook. It also features a separate area to view news of various topics, but for most it’s just a Facebook app. It lacks some features of the full Facebook app, but is a much better experience.

Runners-Up

  • Camera Sync – For anyone that wants to save/copy/backup photos from iOS without using a third party service, the options are truly limited. CameraSync offers a one click solution to upload all new photos to a WebDav/FTP site. This makes it super easy to save pictures from a phone without needing to copy them one by one, plug into an actual computer or use a third party service that then has all the photos on their servers, and likely costs money. Obviously this app requires a server to move files to, but setting up FTP or WebDav on most computers is fairly simple.

  • Narwhal – While certain parts of Reddit focus on sharing of links, it has also become a large message board of sorts, particularly with certain topics. The fact that it’s userbase is so huge means that lots of different topics have a lot of fans. Narwhal is a nice looking Reddit client with most features included. It seems to lack a way to see the sidebar of a subreddit, but for the most part it has everything else.

Gadget – URC-WR7 Universal Remote

Good universal remotes seem to hard to find, and the most popular line, Logitech’s Harmony, are expensive and require crappy software to program. There is a company called URC that makes all kinds of home automation, including universal remote controls as well. The WR7 model was only around $30 and works incredibly well and is easy to program. Unfortunately it turns out that for some reason this model has been discontinued, and it seems like URC only make models for professional installations now. Bummer.

Runners-Up

  • Kinivo BTC450 Bluetooth Car Kit – For cars without built-in Bluetooth there are a ton of third party options out there. The problem is that when iOS changes come out sometimes certain functionality doesn’t work as well, or at all. A similar adapter from Belkin stopped being able to skip ahead/back after iOS 6 (or so). The Kinvio is the most popular, and highest-rated model on Amazon. It works very well, and has worked flawlessly for the last year. There are some cheaper options at this point that offer more features, but the Kinvio is still a worthy option.

  • Synology DS413j NAS – There are tons of options out there for network-attached storage (NAS) devices. At this point, most geeks consider Synology to the be gold standard. They offer a wide range of products of all shapes and sizes. The DS413j has since been replaced by the DS414j but they are both pretty much the same. Synology has really great software for managing the system and in almost a year of use there haven’t been any problems. It’s fast as well, and the software offers tons of services and apps that can be used on a home network for a variety of cool functions.

Mac App – You Need a Budget

Budgeting apps are not new, and a good ol’ spreadsheet is often sufficient, but You Need a Budget (YNAB) is so wonderful constructed it almost makes budgeting fun (seriously). In addition to a nice layout, it seems to have a solution to any situation and is very customizable as well. There are also tons of tips and tutorials on their website for both using the app and budgeting itself. The heft price tag scares people off, but if budgeting money is an issue, it will surely pay for itself within a year.

Runner-Up

  • Slack – All the rage in team communication these days, Slack is a super solid alternative to Google Hangouts and group e-mail or text chains. It’s not disposable enough to use just once, but for recurring talks over a period of time it offers a lot of advantages or e-mail. Plus it has apps for pretty much every platform.

Website – CBS Sports

Bill Simmons’ latest ESPN suspension provided an opportunity to explore other places for sports news. It turns out that CBS Sports is pretty darn good. Their website has a very clean look, and they don’t hide good content behind a paywall. The quality of their content still often seems to fall a bit below ESPN, but not enough to offset everything it has going for it. Definitely a worthy alternative and a new addition to the sites visited daily.

Runners-Up

  • Six Colors – After Macworld.com was basically gutted, former editor-in-chief Jason Snell launched Six Colors, a nerdy blog with an Apple slant that has featured another former Macworld contributor, Dan Moren, frequently. While the blog tends to focus mostly on Apple, it ventures out to other areas of nerddom and has proved to be a valuable addition to the RSS list.

  • Vox – A news website founded by former Washington Post writer Ezra Klein that focuses on bringing just the facts of a news story without a political slant. It uses a lot of visual presentation that can sometimes get annoying, but for the most part the stories are very interesting and informative.

Podcast – Bad for Business

Jerry Ferrara, of Entourage fame, jumped feet first into podcasting with his own show. There has been plenty of Entourage talk along the way, as well as many guests from the show, but any Entourage fan will just enjoy these episodes even more. It’s funny, and gives a nice look at what it’s like to be a medium-caliber celebrity.

Runners-up

  • The Moment – Filmmaker Brian Koppleman2 on the Grantland network brings in famous people to talk about how they got to where they are, and the “moments” along the way that defined their path to stardom. There are lots of good stories and connections revealed on this show and it works so well because Koppleman is so comfortable with the people on his show.

  • We Have Conerns – Jeff Cannata (formerly of web series the Totally Rad Show) launched two new podcasts this year. The second of which, We Have Concerns pairs him with Anthony Carboni to discuss current news stories (usually about science or tech) and what they really mean. Things get silly, but their impromptu skits acting how the innovation or discovery factors in is often hilarious. It takes a specific kind of person to enjoy this show, so it is not for everyone, but anyone who likes it likes it a lot.

  1. Between this, American Hustle and American Sniper, Cooper is making his mark as potentially the next great actor. I have long been wondering who the next Tom Hanks would be, and with Cooper’s comedic run this could really be it []
  2. He wrote Rounders, Runaway Jury, Ocean’s 13 and Runner Runner []

No Need for Voice Plans on Cellphones

Mat Honan of Wired discusses the lack of needing a “phone”

So why do we still need voice plans? Dunno. You can get LTE on any decent tablet. And with LTE, you can send and receive calls with Skype and its ilk even, say, on the bus. You can send text messages with services like WhatsApp. You can port your existing mobile number over to Google Voice and continue calling and texting, from the exact number you have right now, on your iPad.

A thousand times yes! Most people under 35 hardly use their phone for voicecalls at all1. Most people hate talking on the phone these days. In this world of constant task switching2 a phone call is to much of a dedicated task. Text messages and the like has become most people’s preferred method of communication, mostly due to the asynchronous nature of them. In other words, a person can text another person and that second person will answer when they have time, or are able to. As opposed to the old method of needing the second person to be available for a phone call at a specific time.

The problem is that the carriers make so much of their money off these voice plans. It is their bread and butter. And for the time being, it isn’t going away. There are still issues with certain VoIP technologies that make them not as reliable as a traditional voice call, and that will scare off “average folk.” In order to get a subsidized price with a carrier a voice plan has to be purchased. Even if an unlocked device is purchased it’s unclear whether a data-only plan could be purchased for a phone device the same way it could be for a tablet. Then on top of that a problem exists with having a phone number for traditional phone calls (e.g., doctors, repairmen, etc.) that would need an actual number.

At the moment it is just to difficult to circumvent the phone call system without too much disruption. At some point some carrier will make the shift and draw in a bunch of customers and force the hand of all the other carriers in the same way that many previous options have done. In the meantime the carriers will just keep fooling people into thinking there is a difference between voice and data traffic.

  1. I have a relatively modest voice plan and I have over 4,000 rollover minutes []
  2. Although people love to throw the word “multitasking” around it’s really just frequent context switching []

Expanding the College Football Playoff

Nate Silver on expanding the college football playoff to six teams:

One-loss major conference champions will just about always make it. One-loss non-champions from major conferences will make it about 80 percent of the time. Undefeated teams from minor conferences still struggle a bit, but overall this seems to strike a good balance. As a major conference team with just one loss, you’ll make the playoff unless there’s a lot working against you. With two losses, you’ll won’t make it unless you have a lot working for you. There are still some tough decisions to be made, but the committee won’t have to cleave the second tier in half, as it often will under a four-team playoff.

Silver’s breakdown of expansion options is great, and as usual incorporates some actual statistical analysis. He explains why it is not as cut and dry as it seems as well.

Six teams has always seemed like the perfect sweet spot. It will keep any of the Power 5 conferences from feeling slighted like the Big 2 this year. It will give non-Power 5 teams a fighting chance to make it in, so teams like Boise St. would actually have a shot1. By giving the top two seeds a bye it would provide a much larger incentive to finish one or two rather than just win the conference. It would also help those teams who get nudged out with one loss but never get to play for their conference championship.

Really a six-team playoff solves most of the issues people have with the current system. There is the logistical piece to sort out, including finding a way to fit an extra playoff game in somewhere2, but college football will find a way. Letting the 3 and 4 seeds host these games means a guaranteed full stadium and no concerns about finding a neutral field.

A six-team playoff probably never happens though. The ability to include two extra games in an 8-team playoff just adds more money to the pot, and that will ultimately be the driving force. Once the jump is made from four to six most would argue going to eight is not a big deal. Most would argue that this won’t cheapen things, but it will just a bit. Even if one of the eight spots is guaranteed to a non-Power 5 team, there is always the chance that this spot is filled by like a 2-loss Marshall team.

If the NCAA decided to move to six-teams it would be a huge success, and they likely would not bump it to eight anytime soon. Unfortunately it seems unlikely that it will have that chance, and an 8-team playoff is likely before 2025.

  1. Don’t let anyone fool you, they have basically no shot in the current system []
  2. If you were betting I would bet that the season gets extended. In other words, first round New Years Day, second round about a week later, championship a week after that. As opposed to trying to find a way to fit another game in before Christmas []

The iOS Music App Needs Some TLC

Dan Moren on Six Colors on the iOS Music app:

If the conversations I’ve had are any indication, the Music app on iOS isn’t particularly beloved. I don’t dislike it as much as many seem to, but nor do I find it particularly compelling—I use it because it’s what’s provided. Despite being part of the core functionality of the iPhone and the iPod before it, it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in recent versions, outside of a graphical refresh for iOS 7/8.

The main point of his piece was discussing the need to add the “Up Next” functionality found in the Mac version of iTunes that allows for on-the-fly playlist building. Instead the iOS music app essentially has no sort of of queueing system, and is particularly crappy for listening to music that isn’t part of an existing playlist, or on shuffle mode.

It is crazy that this functionality is missing from the iPhone/iPod Touch. At this point most people have given up their iPod for an iPhone and to not have this functionality on iOS when it’s there on OS X is just bizarre. Third party app Ecoute claims to have this functionality, but it doesn’t seem to work at all like it should and it’s terribly unreliable.

It does not stop there though. The Music app is somewhat crappy in general. The only way to see all songs by a particular artist is to have them grouped by album. This looks dumb when a person has a few random songs from an artist. And for an artist like The Beatles, with many, many albums this method of finding a song is a pain.

The Music app hasn’t gotten much of an upgrade–other than a fresh coat of paint with iOS 7–since the beginning. It feels log in the tooth in an unnecessary way. But the pressure to release a new version of iOS every year makes it difficult to spend a lot of time on something like the Music app. But now that the big redesign is in the rearview mirror, and the first post-redesign release is too maybe something like a redesigned Music app would make sense.

Pygmy Reviews #48 – Fall TV

Transparent – Season 1 (Amazon)

Winner of some Golden Globes, and a big win for Amazon’s future as a content creator, Transparent’s first season was wonderful. After Netflix paved the way, Amazon has taken it to new places by basically crowdsourcing the evaluation of pilots to the masses instead of focus groups. That led to a great show like this being created. Jeffery Tambor is know for playing oddball characters, probably most famously as the patriarch of Arrested Development. In this show he is a man in his sixties (?) who has decided to fully transition into becoming a woman. He is divorced and has three grown children all with their own personal and professional issues.

Tambor is really spectacular. His brand of humor is definitely not for everyone and in the past just hasn’t felt all that great, but this is an absolute home run and he deserves the accolades he has already won. His oldest daughter is married with a couple of kids before running into her ex-lover from college, a woman, causing her to question everything. The middle child is the only son, and is music executive with major relationship issues as well as a dark secret. His youngest daughter is played by Gaby Hoffman, in a pretty standard “2010s Gaby Hoffman Character” archetype. She is single, unemployed, and pretty much a mess in every way.

Although the beginning of the season focuses on Tambor coming out to his children, it becomes just as much about the kids using this revelation to learn things about themselves, and reevaluate their whole upbringing. There are nice flashbacks mixed in to show how Tambor’s character got to where he is now.

The show isn’t without it’s flaws. The ending to season one felt very abrupt and some of the story lines seemed to take some odd jumps along the way. But it was still good, and Amazon has definitely planted their flag.

Kingdom – Season 1 (DirecTV Audience)

DirecTV has made some original programming over the last few years, and most of it has flown under the radar. Kingdom appears to be no exception. There seemed to be very little buzz or discussion about the drama, which takes place in an MMA gym. The show focuses on the gym’s owner Alvey, a former MMA champion who trains fighters now, including his two sons Nate (Nick Jonas of The Jonas Brothers) and Jay (Bob Little, mayor of Parenthood). Nate is younger, but has tons of potential. Jay is the older brother, the guy who wasted his potential and seems to be in trouble a lot, pretty classic family dynamic. Ryan (Matt Lauria of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood) is a former protege of Alvey who is released from prison, and trying to get back into society without slipping back into his bad habits.

Surely because of the subject matter (but not just because of it), this show feels a bit like the failed FX drama Lights Out, but it is far more interesting. It definitely provides a peek into the MMA world that the average person has never seen, and the family dynamic amongst the group is very interesting, especially with the inclusion of Lisa, Ryan’s ex and Alvey’s current love interest, and Alvey’s ex, the mother of Nate and Jay.

The show suffers from a few lulls since it is mostly building up to a fight that isn’t coming until the end of the season, but there are so many random things that happen (including a parole office with a bizarre fetish) that it manages to keep moving along. It’s not a great show, and not on the same level of Transparent, but it’s a show about a different subject matter that seems to do a good job with it. Worth checking out if the MMA world is mildly interesting to the viewer.

Benched – Season 1 (USA)

USA continues to churn out new dramas and comedies each year. They all seem to have a bit of a similar feel to them, and Benched is no different. Unfortunately this show has already been cancelled, so this will probably be short.

The premise is that an attorney at a big firm has a nervous breakdown followed by a destructive freakout and is fired. And the only job she can get is as a public defender. The show then follows the familiar tropes of a “fish out of water” struggling to understand how her new world works before not only eventually fitting in, but enjoying it. Like every sitcom before it this show insists on trying to inject a romance component in the good ol’ “will they or won’t they” trope. Eliza Coupe is funny at times, but doesn’t seem capable of carrying the load thrust upon her as the lead character.

It is not terribly surprising the show won’t be back. It was just OK from day one, and didn’t get a whole lot better.

Whale Wars – Season 7 (Animal Planet)

Whale Wars is a show about the Sea Shepherd Conservation group and their efforts to stop Japanese whalers in the Antartic Ocean. The last couple of years the show has shifted from a full blown 10 (or so) episode season to just a few hour special. This year’s edition was technically three episodes, but they were all shown together on the same night.

This reality show is probably not terribly expensive to make since it just requires a few extra bodies on the ship to film content, and it’s instead more likely that limited run of episodes is more due to lack of interesting content. The last couple of “seasons” had only been a couple of hours each and haven’t been all that exciting, so that has likely influenced the decision to not show more.

Paul Watson, the head of Sea Shepherd is not captaining any of the ships because he is facing charges for the groups actions in previous years. That takes a way a bit from the show. And the new man in charge is a familiar face to anyone who watches this show. There seemed to be some manufactured descent against Captain Peter that magically vanished by the end of the show.

Unfortunately for Whale Wars the show has gotten pretty stale. It feels like every season is just a repeat of the last one and it’s hard to see how long they can keep making it while keeping people’s attention.

Joystiq is Dropping Scores From Reviews

Richard Mitchell discusses why Joystiq isn’t scoring reviews anymore:

A score can’t answer these questions. A score can’t tell you what a critic liked or disliked about a game, or why. It can’t tell you what qualities are most valued by the review’s author. Without the full context of a review to explain it, about the only thing a score is good for is deciding whether you want to take the time to read the review in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with that impulse (goodness knows I’ve done it) but it serves to identify a problem. If a score is meaningless without context – context that can easily be ignored – then there’s no reason to have a score at all.

This is such a great point, and the decision to ditch scores is also a good one. Reviews in general are somewhat broken, mostly because what one person values might not be what someone else does, and even if two people agree on an aspect being important, there are varying degrees.

The conversation about Android vs. iPhone comes up frequently. Which is better? Which should a person buy? But the answer isn’t the same for every one. It will vary from person to person based on what is important. Prior to the iPhone 6/6+ people who wanted a much larger phone went to Android because that was the only option, and having a bigger screen was an important enough feature.

As Mitchell also points out, the numbers mean different things to different people. Reviews in the iOS App Store are perfect at depicting this issue. One-star reviews for silly, petty reasons pepper many of the app pages. These types of people might look at a 3-star review, buy a product and be disappointed because of something minor that was not important to the reviewer.

Rolling up review scores on something like Metacritic, or using a composite average of customers reviews like many sites (ex: Amazon) do helps some, but at the end of the day it still lacks context.

There has long been a gap with review websites that is dying to be filled. A website that is clear about what is important, and what isn’t to the particular reviewer. Individual blogs, like Brooks Review can gain a reputation over time that allows the reader to know what toe expect. But a site like Joystiq with a rotating and ever-changing review team makes it more difficult to figure out what reviewer shares interests with the reader. The Sweet Setup and The Wirecutter come closest to this by picking the best from a particular category and then explaining their rationale behind determining the best. That doesn’t work with something like video games where one is different than the next and having a review on day one is too important.

Joystiq’s new strategy of quickly summarizing thoughts on the game, and awarding a “seal of approval” on the very best games is a subtle step in the right direction, but it’s not revolutionary. And for games that do not receive the seal it still leaves a gap for people trying to determine if the game is any good.

Someone could try to solve this problem, but the answer is probably to complicated at the moment.

The 12-inch One, USB Port MacBook Rumors

David Sparks, a.k.a. MacSparky on the rumored 12 inch MacBook Air

I think a higher resolution MacBook Air is a swell idea but if Mark Gurman is right and the new machine has just one USB port to cover power, external display, and external devices, I’m going to go on record as saying that is a little bit crazy. Can you image having to unplug your external drive so you can print or unplugging your power so you can connect a scanner?

MacSparky is a smart guy. He has lots of good thoughts, and the Mac Power Users Podcast he hosts is great. But printers? Scanners? Someone using a Mac for work could potentially run into this problem with printers (are scanners used commonly that often?), but even with printers many are wireless or network printers anyway.

That doesn’t completely invalidate the point, only one USB/power port is potentially issue. It is more an issue though if there isn’t a way to charge the device and use a USB device at the same time (there might be some sort of adapter that would support this). The 13-inch MacBook Airs only have two USB ports, and anyone that would need to use them would almost certainly be at a desk of some sort that could easily house a USB hub as well.

The way this machine is being theorized it doesn’t seem like it is designed for someone who is often somewhere with a scanner, printer or multiple USB devices to plug in. It seems geared more towards someone who doesn’t need lots of power, just loads of portability and more than an iPad offers.

Of course all of this is just speculation on rumors anyway.

Pygmy Reviews #47 – iOS Apps

Velocity ($2.99)

One Line Description: Speed reading app.

Velocity is not the first speed reading app I have tried1, but it might be the best. These apps are designed to show just one word at a time, and because it just keeps firing words, articles can (theoretically) be read faster. There are downsides to this method since it doesn’t include formatting or images, and it also doesn’t allow a person to skip around2. Velocity offers some nice customization options. There are dark and light themes, and different fonts (something ReadQuick did not offer). Of course the speed is adjustable. It can pull articles from different services like Pocket and Instapaper as well as have articles manually added. Anytime the “playback” is paused, a display shows how much reading time is left, allows the speed to be adjusted, and most importantly provides a scrubber to easily move forward and backward3. Overall it seems like a solid app, but it really comes down to whether speed reading makes sense or not. Some people will not find it all that comfortable.

Diptic PDQ ($0.99)

One Line Description: A simple photo collage maker

There is absolutely not shortage of photo collage making apps out there. In fact, Diptic PDQ itself is just a slimmed down version of the regular version of Diptic which just seems to have more features4. The PDQ version gets the job done though. It is indeed fast and super easy to use. Without a basis for comparison, it’s hard to say whether this app is better or worse than other options. And most people will certainly balk at paying even $1 for something so many free alternatives, but Diptic PDQ is a great ad-free option for quickly making the photo collages that are all the rage.

Transit (Free)

One Line Description: Public transportation finder/tracker.

This review is written after using the app for a couple days in Chicago.

Public transportation app experiences will vary greatly depending on whether a person is a full-time public transportation user, a visitor to a city or just an occasional rider. But Transit seems to be incredibly solid. It can find nearby busses and trains5, and supports train tracking so that the actual trains show up on the map. The app has a very pretty map overlay, and is easy enough to use once a person figures out what the buttons w/o text labels mean and where swiping is used to navigate.

The app is so heavily driven by the map that it is almost a perfect application for occasional riders, or visitors to a city who need an easy way to get from one place to another. The ability to move the map around and find the nearest lines is great for planning ahead as well. The only real downside to the app is the swipe heavy navigation that might be hard to figure out for some people. Also, many of the buttons don’t have text labels, just symbols, so figuring out exactly what those do requires just some trial and error. It’s hard to imagine a transit app being better than Transit, so if nothing else this is probably in line with the best public transportation apps out there.

My NBA 2K15 (Free)

One Line Description: Companion app for NBA 2K15 that also provides opportunities to earn extra VC points.

Anyone that plays MyTeam or MyPlayer in NBA 2K15 knows that VC points are needed for upgrades. The are earned by playing the game or paying for them, but it turns out there is a third way to earn them, and it doesn’t take much time. The My NBA 2K15 app offers a couple of different ways to earn VC points, and they are somewhat effortless. First is the Daily VC Bonus which is just a draw of three cards from the board. Six cards can be held at once and any three cards can be combined for a reward of VC points (and other stuff). Matching three cards results in double the bonus. Three cards can be drawn every 24 hours and this activity takes about 1 minute once the app is open. There is also the opportunity to pick the winner of each NBA game every game. Each correct pick nets 50 VC points. Knowing much about the current NBA is not that big of a deal since each game only has two games to pick from. Even with zero knowledge a person could earn points a little at a time.

Last is the card game itself, which is the point of the app. It’s very similar to MyTeam in the sense that a player picks cards and randomly gets players, then puts those players in a line up and plays games against other people’s teams. The game’s aren’t live, it’s just a game against someone else’s active team. The game isn’t complicated, but that doesn’t matter. For each “quick game” played in a day, 50 VC points are added up to 500 total, regardless of winning or losing the card game matchup.

When it is all said and done, on most days a person could earn about 1,000 VC points with about 10 minutes of effort. On a great day it could be 1,500–2000. Either way, it’s worth 10 minutes for people playing MyTeam or MyPlayer.

  1. I thought I had reviewed ReadQuick at some point but now I can’t find the review []
  2. Some might argue those are upsides I suppose []
  3. Something that was annoying to figure out in ReadQuick []
  4. I have no recollection of why I bought the slimmed down version vs. the full one. I am positive that this was recommended by someone somewhere []
  5. Including Metra in Chicago []

TV Bingeing Works For Slow Shows

Alan Sepinwall talks about Amazon’s new show Mozart in the Jungle and the benefits of binging:

But plenty of series improve greatly when watched in rapid succession, whether they were made with this new model in mind or not. In some cases, like “The Wire,” it’s incredibly useful to see a lot of episodes in a row just to figure out who the hell everybody is and what they’re doing. In other cases, like “Parks and Recreation” or Amazon’s new “Mozart in the Jungle,” the binge is helpful because it allows the viewer to zip through early growing pains and get to the good stuff before they lose interest.

This is an interesting point to be made. There have been so many shows over the years that have lost viewers because of slow starts. The aforementioned Parks and Recreation is one of the more well-known examples, but Sepinwall’s point about The Wire makes tons of sense. Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones are even better more recent examples. Shows with lots of characters or story lines that take weeks off are much easier to follow without weeks in between episodes.

It even begs the question if Netflix’s House of Cards would have been as successful without the ability to be viewed all at once. The second season was pretty rough, and got a little ridiculous as time wore on. If it had been viewed, reviewed and recapped weekly it might have been compared more to Homeland, which is a struggle to watch one episode at a time because the lows are so low. When consumed all at once though the highs are more enjoyable and the lows are less noticeable.

As the model shifts more and more towards frequent TV bingeing and original shows from places like Amazon and Netflix this will become more relevant. The networks that release all of the episodes at once will actually benefit from this mindset as more people just get going on a show and see it through because they can at will rather than having to wait until weeks later. It would be interesting to see some data on this. Does Netflix or Amazon see more consistent ratings across episodes for the first season of a show compared to something like CBS or NBC? Netflix and Amazon don’t pull shows “mid-season” but that is obviously a result of them releasing all the episodes at once.