Mad Men – Season 7 Part 1

[Spoilers ahead for Mad Men. If you aren’t caught up, probably don’t read on at all]

Six and a half seasons are in the books, and after an uneven first half (or first quarter?), the first part of season 7 ended up being great for the most part. It certainly feels like it’s channeling the Vinnie Chase arcs of “new season, new movie”, but replacing the word “movie” with “company”. The early part of this season sure made it feel like Don was on his was to a sad ending. His life and career were crumbling. The plane was on it’s way down, and then somehow at the last minute he was able to pull it out of the nosedive. And now, more than ever, it’s hard to make out where this is all going to go.

With the ship going down, things made sense. Don was going to hit rock bottom, move on, and the show would end, but that would be an odd turn after the end of last season at this point. Leading to either a sudden death (heart attack? Angry Paul Kinsey returning and shooting him?), or a “life goes on” type ending. There are some who think the last season will be a major flash forward (10–20 years) showing where everyone ends up down the road. But seeing as Matthew Weiner studied at the altar of David Chase, things almost certainly won’t end so tidily.

The “reset” button on the season, as it were, makes it seem like this was almost a filler type season. And although Don learned a lot about himself, and Peggy took a big step up, overall the show kind of seems like it is right back where it ended last season. The moments were great, and any excuse to get more episodes of this show are good for everyone, but it is at least a little rough to see the forest for the trees right now.

Thankfully, Betty had a very limited role this year, and if not for Sally, it’s a wonder if that aspect of things would even still exist1 to be visited on a regular basis. Bobby and Henry might as well not exist, so having Betty there seems like just an excuse to keep Sally relevant.

Vincent Kartheiser, who plays Pete Campbell on the show, probably gets the least respect for his performance. But he has been spectacular over the years, going from twerp, to valuable resource, to crazier version of Roger Sterling with more rage. It’s weird to see how much he has Don’s back after the way Don treated him for so long at the first agency. His personal relationships are as screwed up as anyone, and he is the odds on favorite to have a sad ending to this story.

With just 7 episodes to go though, it’s hard to see another drastic shift in the company. That means that either something catastrophic will happen to everyone, just Don or that things will just continue on with the show just ending. Fans demand more closure these days, but Weiner doesn’t cater the masses, and it’s likely this show will end in an unsatisfying way to most people. But so far, the ride has been fantastic.

  1. I am of the belief that Sally will play a bigger factor in the last leg of this show []

White Sox June 2014 Check-in

Time to check-in on the White Sox again. They have slowed a bit, sitting at 3 games under .500 and in 4th place. The injuries have stung, but it can’t be fully to blame.

Offense

Starting with the good, Jose Abreu has been amazing. Despite missing some time with an injury he 4th amongst qualified 1B in wOBA and also 4th in offensive fWAR. The 2nd is impressive considering he has placed about 10 games less than the guys ahead of him. He has 19 HRs, but doesn’t walk much and has an above average strikeout rate. Overall though, his line looks sustainable provided teams don’t find out how to strike him out more, but his strikeout rate has not increased in June. Gordon Beckham doesn’t have enough PA to qualify, which is too bad because he would be 5th among AL 2B in wOBA if he did. His slash line is up, but so are his strikeouts and his walk rate is down. He has been a little lucky so far, so it’s hard to call his stats “real” so far. Alexei Ramirez is having a huge season. He is 2nd in wOBA and 3rd in fWAR amongst AL shortstops. His walk rate is up slightly, and he has almost as many walks as all of 2012 so far. Major red flag with his unsustainably high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) meaning that he might come down to earth a bit at some point. Conor Gillaspie fits right in with the rest of this team. High wOBA, high fWAR, not enough ABs to qualify, and an unsustainably high BABIP. His 16 doubles have made up for the fact that he hasn’t hit a home run, but his batting average probably isn’t sustainable. Offensively, the White Sox outfielders have been pretty bad. Dayan Viciedo’s April was a huge mirage. His numbers fell off a cliff since then. His walks fell way off, and his strikeouts are back up. He has stopped hitting doubles and even though he added some home runs, it hasn’t helped. Adam Eaton has been OK so far, and is actually having a great June so far. Like a lot of guys, his BABIP is a little high, but because of his speed it might be a bit more justifiable. Alejandro De Aza though, has been a train wreck. His season last year was a little overrated thanks to 17 home runs, but this season is hard to explain. His BABIP is much lower than his career mark, but the rest of his stats line-up mostly. So he could bounce back a bit at some point. Tyler Flowers has come way back down to Earth after a torrid start. His only two hits in June are home runs, and he has struck out in 22 of his 37 plate appearances. He has been just awful this month. And after nearly 800 major league plate appearances, it seems like it might be time to move on. Adam Dunn has been pretty regular this season. His BABIP is a little high, but most everything else checks out. As for the bench guys, there is literally nothing to be excited about.

Defense

Defensive sample sizes are still small at this point, but Jose Abreu has been one of the best so far. Gordon Beckham has not been all that great, but isn’t awful. It’s early but Alexei Ramirez’s decline continued this year, where he has actually been worth negative value so far (sorry dad). Conor Gillaspie also has not been very good so far. The Sox outfielders are just middle of the road. From a team perspective the Sox are not great defensively.

Pitching

Chris Sale hasn’t done enough to qualify yet, but he has been so great so far. It’s a small sample size, but his strikeouts are up, and walks are down. He also hasn’t given up many home runs, but he has been a bit lucky so far. The book on Sale continues to just be whether or not he can stay healthy consistently. Jose Quintana has quietly been one of the best dozen or so starters in the AL this year. His ERA is a bit inflated, but his FIP and fWAR put him ahead of Max Scherzer and Mark Buehrle so far. His numbers are very much in line with his career benchmarks but his BABIP has been a little high, which explains why his ERA looks high. It looks like he is the #2 starter the White Sox were hoping for. John Danks has had an OK June, but he still hasn’t been great so far this season. He has had a problem with walks, but his lower home run rate has helped balance that out. His ERA is deceptively low though. Hector Noesi hasn’t been terrible, but there is not a lot to judge him on yet. He has probably been about as good as Danks so far, which isn’t bad for the #4 guy on a team. He has a problem with home runs, and walks though. Andre Riezno has been lousy though. He has always had a walk problem, but home runs have been an issue too. He hasn’t really been unlucky either, just bad. There are just no other options.

The Sox bullpen has been a bit weak so far. Ronald Belisario has settled down a bit but hasn’t been spectacular by any means. He is just the shiniest turd in the bullpen. Zach Putnam has been good, but his ERA is definitely deceiving. His BABIP indicates that his luck has been good, but there is not a lot to get excited about. Scott Downs hasn’t been bad outside of a major walk problem, and his ERA is probably a little deceiving as well. It’s hard to find much else worth mentioning. Most of the rest of the guys have deceptive ERAs that are much lower than they should be. Walks are a major problem with this bullpen. They are almost a full walk per 9 IP worse than the 2nd worst team. They are also tied for last in K/9

Outlook

The Sox are probably overachieving as a whole right now. It’s hard to see anyone getting a lot better, and the bullpen has been far too lucky so far. Their defense might improve but it’s hard to see their record being better in 6 weeks.

Game of Thrones – Season 4

[There are spoilers ahead, but there is a bigger warning before those actually start]

Four seasons in, HBO’s Game of Thrones is hitting on all cylinders. The ratings are high, the budgets are getting bigger and the story is progressing. This show is so different than anything else on TV, mostly thanks to the fact that it is (almost entirely) based on a book series. But what is so interesting is how drastically things seem to change in this show. If someone were to watch the first 1–3 episodes and then skip ahead to last night, it’s almost impossible for them to have any idea what is going on. And that fits in with the serialized dramas that have become commonplace to this point. But this show is does something that Breaking Bad and Mad Men wouldn’t. In an almost reality show like way, no one is safe. Julianna Marguiles was not supposed to survive her suicide attempt in the pilot of ER. Aaron Paul was not supposed to last past season 1 of Breaking Bad, but both of those things happened in response to audience reactions. Not having the ability to react in that way is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part comes with the “anything can happen” mentality without having to be too outlandish, or spending too much time trying to “top” previous stories. This means that the show just has the added suspense of knowing that any character could go at anytime without much warning in ways that would never happen on other shows. The curse comes from the fact that bad storylines cannot be abandoned. The best examples of the latter can be found throughout Friday Night Lights where there are numerous forgotten storylines or just big continuity questions. For now though, this strategy continues to pay off for Game of Thrones, which is arguably the best show on TV right now1.

SPOILERS BELOW!

Season 4 was solid for the most part, and had enough “OMG!” moments to make it very enjoyable2. Rather than re-hashing the entire season blow by blow, it might make more sense to take a look at some of the major storylines and where they seem to be heading.

The Wall and Jon Snow

The former leader of The Wall (don’t remember his name) was conspicously absent from the funeral for the dead men. It’s unclear whether or not he survived the attack. Is Jon Snow going to become the new leader? More importantly now that the Wilding army has been stopped by Stannis, is it time for more Whitewalker battling? Jon Snow is one of the few characters that seems pure enough to be unabashedly rooted for at this point, but he is a bit of a dry character and his story has been a bit boring at times. If he is now the new commander of The Wall, then things get interesting. Otherwise, his story has hit a bit of a wall (no pun intended). Completely random thought: was there something between Snow and Melisandre? Did I catch something there? Could she be his mother?

Whitewalkers

Speaking of the Whitewalkers, this story has dragged on damn near forever. It was literally the first scene of the first episode, and this looming threat seems emptier by the day. “Winter is coming”, they all say, but WHEN!??!

Arya Stark

Arya’s buddy journey with the Hound was entertaining, but more importantly it let her character grow significantly. The Braavos coin was surely going to come into play at some point, and her meeting back up with her sister never really make much sense. It seems clear that she is going to be on her own, with a new batch of characters potentially. Some informal polling seems to indicate that Arya is one of the most like characters on this show, and at this point has the most room to grow.

Tyrion Lannister

Simply an amazing performance, and even more amazing story in season 4. Several spectacular scenes in the cell, including his epic story about his cousin. But little tops his trial monologue, which might have been the best moment of the entire season. Then there is that totally crazy moment when he shot his dad on the toilet which took things right to 11. Then he climbed into a wood box with holes to be smuggled elsewhere. There is no telling what chain of events this sets off, or where he will end up (presumably Braavos or somewhere else across the Narrow Sea). He is almost everyone’s favorite character at this point, and this season really elevated him on this show. Presumably his sister will have people looking for him, so if he can’t use the Lannister name, how will he get by?

The Other Lannisters

Tywin Lannister, the patriarch, is dead. Things are going to get very interesting within the ranks of the Lannisters. Cersei could get rid of the alliance Tyrells (or at least Margaery), and Jamie could potentially be named Hand of the King and not have to go back to Casterly Rock. But how long will it take for them to figure out that Tyrion is responsible? And what if Cersei finds out Jamie released him? This should be a very interesting dynamic next season.

Daenerys

Once the most interesting part of the story, she has devolved during the last two seasons into somewhat of a bore. It has become clear now that the Iron Throne is far from her target anytime soon. Her freedom fighting across the sea is a bit stale, and her dismissal of Jorah leaves her entourage without it’s best component. Now two of the dragons are locked up, and this story just really isn’t as interesting as it once was. Her fight is a noble one, but anything that doesn’t directly tie to the bigger picture just isn’t that interesting.

Bran Stark

A very slow burn, but at least the finale paid off with some intrigue and mystery. The problem is that this story is terribly uninteresting on it’s own. Like with Dany, it’s much better when it ties into the grand picture more than when they are isolated. Arya and the Hound managed to debunk that, but Dany and Bran haven’t. This story will be far more interesting when (if?) it interweaves back in with the main plot.

Stannis

The “one true king” finally made a move of sorts. He rode to the Wall to take down the Wilding army, quite easily it should be said. What is confusing here, and perhaps is just a product of only having 10 episodes to play with, Stannis was broke, and his army weakened significantly by Blackwater; the Iron Bank turned down his request for money; what kind of deal was made with the pirate to make this raid possible? Seems like a confusing hole in the story [edit: I have been told Stannis did indeed get the money from the Iron Bank, but this seemed confusing and I missed it]. Also, what does Stannis get out of doing this vs. saving his men and money to attack King’s Landing again? Assuming Tywin Lannister is dead, no one is in a better position than Stannis, who almost certainly will take another shot at King’s Landing. The show has spent far too much time with Stannis up to this point for there not to be a bigger payoff coming.

Sansa and Littlefinger

Absent from the last two episodes, but clearly on their way to something, althoughit’s unclear what Littlefinger’s long game is at this point. Is it just to live well at The Erie and marry the daughter of his lifelong crush? One would have to assume that Littlefinger’s return indicates a much bigger involvement in season 5, but to what end is yet to be determined. Sansa finally seems ready to play the game, and one has to wonder if Littlefinger will try and retake the North with Sansa at some point.

One Liners

  • The Theon/Bolton arc has been boring, but again is clearly building toward something bigger. Hopefully sooner than later.
  • Where is Rickon Stark? This guy has totally disappeared and it seems like he won’t be playing a role anytime soon. Is he dead?
  • Does Jorah go fight as a sellsword? Does he have a bigger plan? Or is he just gone forever now?
  • What about Brienne and Podrick?We still don’t know his secret with women. And Brienne’s story seems far from over.
  • The Martells will certainly be involved going forward. With Tywin out of the picture perhaps they go for more revenge.
  1. If I was making a personal TV Mount Rushmore of current shows it would include Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Shameless and The Americans. []
  2. I have long been of the belief that the quality of a TV/movies is much easier to determine on a second viewing, so it’s interesting to see how the quality holds up for starting over []

The Future of Office Space?

Ben Brooks goes to work on the future of office space:

Maybe corporations don’t have offices anymore, but maybe individuals do have offices. Sometimes that is a desk in the corner of a room full of desks, sometimes that’s an office in a building full of offices.

Brooks’ ideas are very good. The entire post is worth reading for anyone with an office job. More and more companies seem to be getting creative with workspaces, and the “open office” concept seems to server two purposes. First it’s cheaper because people have less space, and second it discourages individual lack of productivity because everyone can see you all the time1. But as more and more people work remotely, either part time or full-time depending on geography, something like rented office space could make tons of sense.

Brooks’ suggestion that companies pay rent for this seems a little farfetched. What seems far more likely is some sort of stipend for office space/supplies be issued that the employee could put towards whatever kind of space they wanted. Since space would vary in quality and size depending on location it would be up to the employee to decide how much over the stipend is worth spending.

The problem here is that this probably only works for a certain size company. A very large company likely owns a large campus or two already, and selling off parts of that probably isn’t simple depending on how it is laid out. Also company culture will come into play. If a company doesn’t have many remote workers already it would be a big adjustment.

But this seems like an interesting concept that could be attractive to some employees. The problem is that it is somewhat a “chicken or the egg” sort of problem. Employees can’t rent individual offices from people until such a system exists, but people won’t provide these offices until there is a demand.

Co-working spaces have become more popular, but tend to be more for freelancers or people who work remotely all the time. These don’t tend to be offices per se, but more like small work areas in a more “open” space. Maybe someone will be able to take it a step further.

Either way, it seems like a clever idea.

  1. A someone who has worked in an open space before, this formerly individual “screw off” time is now replaced by more frequent social conversations that seem even more anti-productive []

Pygmy Reviews #43 – iOS Apps

Instashare (Free)

One Line Description: Share files between iOS devices or between iOS and OS X devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Unlike the similar, and great, Command C, this app was not completely sherlocked by Apple last week at the WWDC 2014 Keynote. Like Command C, Instashare can be used to move files between iOS and OS X devices. How it differs though, is that it allows for files to be transferred between iOS devices over Bluetooth, where Apple’s Airdrop and Command C both require the devices to be on the same Wi-Fi networks. This is a really nice touch for those occasions there is not a Wi-Fi network available and files need to be transferred from iPad to iPhone. This is probably a pretty rare occurrence for most, but it’s a nice feature in a pinch, and with the ads the app is free.

You Need A Budget (Free)

One Line Description: The companion app to the Mac app of the same name.

This app won’t work without buying the (rather expensive) Mac app of the same name. Even with the Mac version, the iOS version is pretty limited. It seems mostly suited for adding items on the go or getting a quick update of how much is remaining in each category. That being said, adding items is very easy and fast and could really allow a diligent person to keep up on their budget management pretty easily. This is free, because again it doesn’t work without the Mac version, so it’s a no brainer for any existing YNAB users.

2048 (Free)

One Line Description: A tile matching game where the goal is to create the tile with 2048 on it.

Similar to the insanely popular Threes, but a free clone, 2048 plays just slightly different than Threes. For those unfamiliar with Threes, the basic premise is that you combine two matching tiles to create a single tile in it’s place with the value representing the sum of the combined tiles1. This is done until there are no moves left or the 2048 tile is created. Once the 2048 tile is created, it is considered a “win”, but a player may continue to try and get higher value tiles and scores. There are a few differences compared to Threes. The tiles do not just move one space but instead all the way as far as they can go in that row/column. Also each new tile can only be a 2 or a 4, where in Threes a new tile can be a 1, 2 or any higher number. Another difference is that there is no “half-slide” preview of what is going to happen next, meaning a player has to be confident in the move they want. It’s addictive and fun. This particular app is not actually the “official” one, but it plays better and looks just slightly nicer.

Friend Check (Free)

One Line Description: Keep track of follows and unfollows on popular social networks.

There are lots of services out there like this already, but this app has support for the four major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram) all in one place. It has always seemed weird that these networks don’t give people an easy way to see who unfollows them, but there are plenty of services who have picked up the slack. This app seems pretty good (full disclosure: I have only tried it with Twitter) and when refreshed quickly shows a number of new follow/unfollows. Each number can be clicked on for more details. It also comes with lots of in-app purchases to provide more data. Overall it’s a solid experience that provides some value for people who care about being unfollowed on social networks.

Mirror (Free)

One Line Description: A slightly better option for a mirror vs. the camera app.

This app does one thing, and literally has no settings or anything. Basically it just attempts to turn your front facing camera into a mirror. It differs from the camera app since it doesn’t have any camera controls on it and basically fills the whole screen minus the iAd at the top. The picture doesn’t look any different than the camera, so this is probably only useful to someone who uses their phone as a mirror a LOT. Still, it’s fast and good at what it does for a free app.

  1. In other words, combine two tiles with a ‘2’ on them and you are left with one tile with a ‘4’ on it []

Is a Triple Crown Winner Bad for Horse Racing?

California Chrome goes into Saturday’s Belmont Stakes hoping to be the first horse since Affirmed in 1978 to win horse racing’s triple crown (winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes). Dozens of horses have come up short after winning the first two races since Affirmed. It seems like it happens far more frequently than it does though.

After Sunday Silence finished 2nd in 1989, no horse got the first two legs until 1997. This started a run of three straight two and out horses. After a two year gap, there was another three year run, including Smarty Jones and Funny Cide, who both seemed like good bets to win it all. In the 9 years since only twice has a horse had a chance at history. Big Brown got hurt in the Belmont in 2008 and didn’t even finish, and I’ll Have Another was scratched leading up to the Belmont in 2012. In other words, it’s been 6 years since a horse has come out of the starting gate at Belmont Park with a chance, and 10 years since a horse (potentially) will cross the finish line still in the hunt.

In a couple of days, none of that will matter because in about 2 minutes time history will either be made, or it won’t. But the better question is, what’s better for the sport?

Horse racing has a very long history, and was dubbed the “Sport of Kings” long ago. There was a time when it was something that catered more to high society. But expect for three Saturdays in the Spring it has become more of a seedier landscape mostly traveled by heavy gamblers. Those three Saturdays draw everyone in though.

The Kentucky Derby is probably the most famous race in the world. It draws a massive crowd and massive attention. The Preakness stakes, run two weeks later, doesn’t draw the same excitement, but any attention it gets is focused on whether or not the horse than won in Kentucky can pull off another win. When that happens, the run up to the Belmont means something to even the casual racing fan (and perhaps casual sports fan in general). Part of that hook though, is that this hasn’t happened in 36 years. That means there are a good chunk of sports fans who have never seen a Triple Crown winner. Everyone holds their breath for two minutes on two Saturdays hoping for it to happen.

But when it does, then what? No longer will people utter the words “not since Affirmed in 1978”, or “12/13/14/15 horses have won the first two legs but failed in the Belmont since the last Triple Crown winner.” And then, will anyone care? The 86 years the Red Sox had to wait for a World Series was a massive deal in 2004. When they won, it was the end of the “Curse of the Bambino.” But then they won in 2007. And again in 2013. And non-Boston fans didn’t care. The streak had long been broken. The allure was gone. The same thing will happen to the Cubs, who are going on 106 years since they won one. Once it happens, most people won’t care about their next one.

For at least two Saturdays every fall, horse racing is relevant again. It’s mainstream sports news, and gets to be mainstream news if a horse wins the first two. When the novelty goes away though, it’s hard to see most people having any interest. That’s why the best thing that can happen to horse racing is for California Chrome to come up short on Saturday, so the streak lives on. Otherwise, people won’t care.

WWDC Keynote Highlights

Apple help it’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote on Monday, announcing both OS X Yosemite and iOS 8. Although neither was a surprise, both contained some interesting new features. What follows is not a comprehensive list, but more a focus on some of the key ones.

OS X Yosemite

OS X got a much-needed, and after iOS 7, expected, facelift. It features new icons, a new system font, more translucency and some beefed up features. For those people who have Macs and iPhones but still communicate with some people on non-iPhones, the addition of SMS is a godsend. No longer will Android users SMS messages go unnoticed because the iPhone is on the other side of the room on silent. This seems like such an obvious feature that it seemed inevitable at some point. It appears that SMS is basically integrated into the Messages app on OS X and can be used from the Mac through the phone as long as they are on the same WiFI network. This is a gigantic convenience. Of course Apple didn’t stop there. They also added a way for phone calls to be routed to the Mac from an iPhone as well. Instead of just notifications that a call is coming in, the call can actually be answered from the Mac. It’s unclear if headsets will work or if it’s only the internal mic and speaker, but this is still a nice touch that will save some missed phone calls.

One the other annoyances between OS X and iOS was the lack of Airdrop support. Airdrop currently can be used between iOS devices on the same WiFi network, or between Macs on the same WiFi network, but not between Macs and iOS devices. This meant that if someone was not using Photostream, and wanted to get a photo from their iPhone to their Mac they either had to plug it in and use iPhoto, or email/iMessage it. Finally photos can be shared much more easily. It’s yet to be determined whether this will be a good batch file transmitter or if it will just be useful for one file at a time. But either way, it’s a nice addition.

Some other more minor changes:

  • Messages has gotten a re-design of sorts and looks like it will be more of a clone of Messages on iOS. This app badly needed a new look.
  • Notification Center got a couple of changes. First it got the “Today” view that iOS Notification Center has. It also got widgets (iOS did too) that allow for some dashboard like apps to be inserted. The usefulness of this depend exclusively on what kind of widgets are available.

iOS 8

iOS got a massive redesign last year so as expected the changes here were more incremental. Since Apple is releasing a new version every year it makes sense to see more incremental updates each year.

Potentially the biggest addition is what Apple is called Extensibility. The idea being that apps will be able to better communicate with each other. Currently apps like Drafts and Launch Center Pro use the x-callback-url to communicate with other applications. Apple baking in more hooks means that these things might feel less “hacky”. The problem for now seems to be that no one knows what the limitations will be, and how much an app will have to do to make it work. Will it be as simple as an app like Due creating a way for other apps to add reminders, or will every app have to work behind the scenes with Due to arrange that? More information should come out in the next week as to whether or not this is truly a game changer.

Lots of other features seemed to center around convenience. The empty space at the top of the screen in the task switcher can now be used to access recent and favorite contacts. This accomplishes something that many people who use Launch Center Pro for currently, which is quickly calling/texting someone without needing 10 taps. Most novice users will love this feature. Similarly, push notification banners can now be responded to directly. In other words, a text message can be replied to from the notification banner at the top of the screen instead of having to load the Messages app first. It looks like this will work with all kind of functions. It’s unclear at the moment whether third-party apps can take advantage of this though. This is probably really great for people who spend a lot of time working on their iPads and don’t always want to bounce between apps.

Another convenience feature that Apple copied from Android is a modified way of predicting text. Apple’s Quicktype shows several suggestions above the keyboard rather than just one in a hard to tap bubble. The unique part of Apple’s implementation seems to be the “smart” aspect of it. The image below shows an example when a simple “or” question is asked. This has a lot of potential.

More keyboard news comes with the news that Apple will finally allow third party software keyboards. Things like Swype will now be available system wide, which according to some Android users, is life changing.

And last but not least, iCloud doesn’t suck anymore! Apple finally bit the bullet and turned iCloud into a more Dropbox like storage area instead of an app-specific sandbox. This means that iCloud can be used to access the same files from multiple applications. This could mean that Dropbox is in trouble if most developers focus on this solution which now appeals to a much larger audience. But suddenly apps that only used iCloud before just became much more useful.

Some minor things:

  • Battery usage by app, much like the addition of data usage by app last year, is huge for finding out what is causing the most problems. Battery life is a major issue for some people and this could possibly be the key to helping that.

What Was Missing?

Siri got but a brief change, the addition of Hey, Siri which allows Siri to be activated without touching the phone. This is huge for all the hands free states out there since activating Siri while driving is not always the easiest thing. But that was all. For a feature that was heralded as a flagship feature the last two years it was interesting not to see it get more love. It certainly seems like this is falling into niche feature territory.

The much rumored “side-by-side” app view on the iPad didn’t happen. Not shocking.

Also not shocking was the lack of hardware announcements. No new iPhone or iPad was least shocking. No new/upgraded Macs was at least a little bit of a surprise.

Wrap-Up

Overall it was a very good day for users and developers. Apple continues to make improvements to their software, and seems to be listening to a lot of complaints people have. Android users can say what they want about “all of these features being on Android already”, but the truth is that so many Android phones don’t even have the latest OS it’s hard to claim they all have these features. As as Apple closes the gap on these smaller things, it just pushes them farther ahead in the big picture.

What is Wrong With Ballmer’s $2 billion?

There has been a great deal of criticism towards Steve Ballmer for “overspending” on the Los Angeles Clippers. The theory is that recouping $2B from this purchase is nearly impossible. But this is confusing.

Starting with some comparisons to recent tech company purchases, here are some examples of recent companies that were bought:

That last one is a great benchmark here: $16B for a chat app/service which is currently free for the first year. $16B is an insane amount of money for a company that does something somewhat ubiquitous, and with a mild revenue stream. When and how will $16B profit be made to recoup this? It doesn’t seem remotely possible. And yet this amount is 8x what Steve Ballmer paid for the Clippers.

There are only 30 professional basketball teams in the NBA. No other professional basketball league is about to crop up and steal customers the way that a photo or chat app could theoretically steal customers from Instagram and WhatsApp. So owning a professional sports team is essentially not a free market.

Speaking of markets, Los Angeles is the 2nd biggest “market” for sports in the country. They have no professional football team, and even though they have another more well-known basketball team, it’s still a huge city. Big city teams can still thrive (at least for a while) even without much success if they are run properly. And the upcoming possibility of a massive TV deal cannot be overlooked.

Thirdly, the Clippers just made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They have two of the 20 best players in the league. They have a top five coach. These situations rarely come up when teams are sold. The Milwaukee Bucks and Sacramento Kings have both recently been sold. Both are bottom feeding teams in need of new arenas. A team comes up for sale on average probably every 2–4 years. A team with a situation like this probably comes up once a decade, if that.

Sports teams don’t really lose money anymore. There are probably some instances where this is not, but generally they make loads of cash, despite what they try to make people believe. Good teams in big cities alway make lots, and that is the Clippers right now. Plus with a new owner and the current Lakers slump there will certainly be a rejuvenated interest in the Clippers in the next couple of years. It will probably take Ballmer a while to get back his $2B just on profits, but it’s unlikely he won’t chip away at it significantly in the next 10 years.

That doesn’t even factor in the possibility of selling the team again someday. Donald Sterling paid $12 million for the Clippers in 1981, which seems to be about $32M in today’s dollars. In other words, it’s unlikely the Clippers are going down in value any time soon. If Ballmer wanted to flip this team in five years, he almost surely would come out ahead.

The criticism just doesn’t make sense when there are all these other bizarre purchases out there being made that are far less safe than a sports team in Los Angeles. Rich guys don’t like to lose money, and one thing almost all sports owners have in common is that they are rich guys. So this is totally working out.

Paranoia vs. Convenience

How does someone balance paranoia and convenience in the technological world of today? Macstories recently reviewed Notifyr, an app that forwards push notifications from iOS to OS X. This is a genius application that solves a lot of issues for people who spend a lot of time on a Mac and put their phone somewhere else either on purpose or accident. But this means that this application somehow has access to every push notification that comes through1. There is no reason to automatically suspect something nefarious is going on here. But the developer is a 17-year-old from the Netherlands as opposed to a company that has been creating reputable software for years.

TUAW also recently reviewed an app, Marco Polo, which is used to help find a misplaced iPhone. Essentially a person yells “Marco”, and the phone responds “Polo” allowing the person to locate it. Another genius idea, but this means that when this app is running in the background that it is listening to the microphone all the time. So again, assuming the worst this means that this app could essentially hear everything a person says within earshot of their phone.

The Xbox One contains technology to be controlled by a person’s voice. This includes the ability to turn it on and off. But in order to turn it on with voice, it must always be listening for the command. Which means that even when it is off it would still be listening to everything that is said.

Of course none of these scenarios mean that anything bad is going on, just that there is potential for such. Most people get up in arms when Facebook changes a privacy setting, but these same people post their location all over the place, and use features similar to the ones discussed above.

How does a person find balance?

It’s difficult to completely avoid any sort of risk when using the internet. All information being sent can be intercepted one way or the other. Even encrypted data is eventually unencrypted somewhere. So where does the line get drawn?

Just like the real-life version of trust, much of it has to do with reputation. Has a company proven to have a solid track record of not abusing customer data/information and doing what it can to protect it? Target proved they don’t fit that criteria. Buying software is no different. A company like Panic has an established reputation and could be trusted if they created apps like Notifyr and Marco Polo. But when it’s indie developers, there should at least be some pause. And ultimately it comes down to risk vs. reward. If a person is constantly misplacing their iPhone then perhaps Marco Polo is a worthwhile risk, especially if that person doesn’t often have conversations they don’t care if other people hear2.

Nowadays it seems that most people prefer convenience and price above all else. The millions of people who use Gmail have proven that time and time again. If you throw caution to the wind, these two apps seem pretty awesome.

  1. Assuming they aren’t using some non-public API, I wonder how they are doing this. Does this mean that ALL iOS apps have access to push notifications from other apps? []
  2. If it isn’t clear by now, I by know means think that app developers are doing something they shouldn’t all the time, or with these specific apps, but there is always the possiblity []

Pygmy Reviews #42 – Movies

21 Jump Street (2013)

One Line Description: Two cops are asked to go undercover at a high school to catch a drug ring.

(Loosely?) based on the late ’80s TV show of the same name1. This one combines current star of the moment Channing Tatum with Jonah Hill as the duo. In classic fashion, Tatum is the good-looking cool guy in high school, while Hill is the nerd. When they go back they find the roles reversed and have to adjust. This movie was really funny, and it’s unsurprising a sequel is forthcoming. Hill and Tatum have great chemistry and Tatum continues to show some depth in some of his roles. There are more than enough laugh out loud moments to make this worth at least one viewing.

Last Picture Show (1971)

One Line Description: A crumbling 1950’s Texas town is home to some “coming of age” boys.

There is so much to say about this movie. It won two Oscars and was nominated for a bunch more. It was the screen debut of both Cybill Shepherd and Randy Quaid. It also featured Jeff Bridges, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn and Eileen Brennan. It’s weird to see a movie from 1971 in black and white, but it’s clear that the purpose behind this was to give the movie a more authentic 1950s feel, which this film has in spades. Timothy Bottoms plays the main character and this story illustrates what appears to be his last year of high school, which includes work and relationships. The movie covers well what a small town in the 1950s must have been like, and the story is entertaining and engaging. It’s hard to draw comparisons, but something like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dead Poets Society might touch a similar nerve. Very excellent movie.

Identity Thief (2013)

One Line Description: A married man tracks down the woman who stole his identity in an attempt to clear his name.

Melissa McCarthy sure is getting a lot of movies made lately. She capitalized on her role in Bridesmaids and has pretty much played the same character since. This is an utterly terrible movie. Despite enjoying the occasional Jason Bateman performance he is just brutal in this one. It does have a healthy dose of laugh out loud moments, but that is enough for most people to find this enjoyable.

White House Down (2013)

One Line Description: Terrorists infiltrate the White House with revenge in mind.

The writers of this movie must have read Action Movies for Dummies and just went to town. Jamie Foxx appears to be doing a rough take on Barrack Obama. Channing Tatum is Bruce Willis from every movie he has ever done. Both Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty) and James Woods provide solid supporting roles. This movie is actually a solid action movie for a while. Exciting scenes, nice twists, Jamie Foxx being the coolest guy in the room a lot. But it really, really falls apart near the end. The movie really seems to just outstupid itself over and over, and the last parts of the story just makes you wonder why someone would do this? Skip the last 30 minutes and this is a fun action flick. But the ending takes away anything it had going for it.

We’re The Millers (2013)

One Line Description: A drug dealer must pose as family man to smuggle drugs into the US from Mexico in order to pay off a debt.

I wanted to like this movie. If nothing else, Jennifer Aniston out to prove she still has a smoking body at age 44 is worth the watch2. I try to like Jason Sudeikis though, and I can’t. I haven’t seen a lot of his other movies yet but this just does’t bode well. The story here was a little better than Identify Thief, but the laughs were a lot worse. The funniest moments were by far the outtakes after the movie, including a great one for all the Friends fans. Aniston has a couple of scenes that will make anyone (like me) who grew up with a huge crush on her watch the whole movie for. But outside of that, this one misses pretty hard. \

  1. I have never seen the show so all thoughts are based just on the movie []
  2. Spoiler alert….she does []