the candler blog

Helluva Quote from Erik Spiekermann

Design, Link

Great reporting from Jason Fagone in New York Magazine on the dissolution of type juggernauts Jonnathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. Halfway through the piece, though, type designer Erik Spiekermann, who is quoted earlier calling Frere-Jones “one of the two or three best type designers in the world,” steals the show with this tid-bit:

According to Spiekermann, who knows both Hoefler and Frere-Jones, Frere-Jones is “a cool kid” who “wants to make cool stuff,” whereas Hoefler is “the little nitty-gritty mean little bastard. He is a tight-ass, as we say in German.”

I tried doing a search for how to say “tight-ass” in German. Um…don’t do that.

iCloud OS and Realizing the Connected Digital Hub

Technology

Yesterday, Apple announced OS X Yosemite and iOS 8, updates to the company’s two big operating systems. There is a lot to love in each respective update, but by far the most intriguing to me is how both systems are coming closer together server-side.

For a long time now, many have suggested that iOS and OS X will eventually become one operating system. The fear is that both would be hampered in the transition, with iOS dragged down by complexity and OS X stripped of all usefulness in the name of simplicity. Apple’s next move, though, shows the company’s commitment to letting each OS do what it does best while unifying both of them in invisible ways. Behind all of it is iCloud, the real OS at the heart of Apple’s future.

Apple’s history with cloud services has long been dubious. The company’s failures in this space get far more attention than what it gets right. iTunes Radio, for example, is viewed by many as a half-hearted attempt to take on bigger streaming services (one of which, Beats Music, Apple just bought). iTunes Match, however, is a pretty damn good example of using a cloud service to keep a library in sync across multiple machines. For $25 a year I get all of my iTunes library on all of my devices with metadata like play counts and star ratings kept in sync. There is a disconnect here, though, because having a pile of files taking up space on your machine is so five years ago. Still, iTunes Match seems to me an excellent execution of keeping digital media in sync.

Which brings us to where Apple is taking iCloud in the OS updates coming later this year. The biggest headline is iCloud Drive. In short, iCloud Drive is a Dropbox-like folder with app-specific folders for sandboxed media. Previously, iOS apps could sync documents over to the Mac only if they had a corresponding Mac app. Those documents would only be accessible by the one app on both platforms (though there were workarounds for this). Now, all documents in iCloud can be accessed through the new document picker on Mac and iOS, so you can (finally) start a document in one app on iOS and finish it in another on your Mac without having to make a copy of it.

What’s more interesting to me is the new iCloud Photo Library. What iTunes Match is to your music, iCloud Photo Library is, at least in concept, to your photos. Photos will no longer (all) be stored on the phone, they will be accessible via iCloud, so you can look years into the past at your photos and download them as needed.

There’s even a new Mac Photos app that will ship “early next year.” It is essentially a Mac version of the iOS Photos app that hooks into the iCloud Photo Library. Credit where it’s due, John Gruber nailed this in his WWDC 2014 Prelude over the weekend:

To that end, here’s what I’d like to see: a ground up rewrite of iPhoto, designed as a client for an iCloud-centric photo library.

When presenting the new iCloud integration with Photos, Craig Federighi put a slide up that said the following:

All your photos and videos
Original format & resolution
Uses your iCloud storage

That’s huge. No, literally, that’s, like, way too huge. Original format and resolution? Video too? iCloud pricing is changing to accommodate massive photo libraries. Your first 5 GB (a pittance, really) continues to be free, but under the new pricing 20 GB of iCloud storage will be just $0.99 per month, and 200 GB will be $3.99 per month. Currently iCloud storage is billed annually, with an additional 20 GB going for $40 per year, 50 GB fetches $100 per year.

The new pricing isn’t nothing, but it’s a helluva lot cheaper than the competition. Dropbox charges $19.99 a month or $199 for the year for the same 200 GB. Apple’s bill clocks in at $47.88 a year, a quarter the cost of Dropbox.

With iTunes Match, Apple proved adept at keeping metadata in sync to manipulate media in multiple locations. Extending that to photos and videos could prove monumental to the creative process. Keep everything in sync, editable from anywhere.

I imagine that Photos for Mac will replace iPhoto and probably Aperture as well. If it can seamlessly import my Aperture library with edits and versions, then I can’t wait to get on board. Photo Stream has been the main reason I’ve stuck with Aperture all of these years, but it’s clunky and hard to manage. The idea of keeping the photos from my Nikon and the photos from my iPhone in sync in one beautiful, organized (and I hope fast) library is something I can get behind.

Not too long ago OS X updates cost $129. That price dropped like a rock until the updates became free. iOS updates have always been free so long as you own a supported device. It should be clear now, though, that the real OS Apple wants to sell you is iCloud. On their own, the free OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 offer an incredible value to consumers with a variety of improvements. But their true power is unleashed with iCloud storage.

Yesterday Apple only announced pricing for their 20 GB and 200 GB plans, but they did say they will offer up to 1 TB in iCloud storage. I could see myself inching toward 1 TB (my photo library, at present, hovers around 300 GB) over the next few years in an effort to free up space on my iPhone and iPad without sacrificing great old memories.

Back in January of 2012, shortly after the introduction of iCloud, Tim Cook said the following on an Apple earnings call: “iCloud is more than a product, it’s a strategy for the next decade.” That strategy is coming into focus. iCloud is now more than just the glue between OSes; it’s an OS unto itself. This should have been clear long ago. In his last keynote, in introducing iCloud, Steve Jobs described it thusly:

We’re going to demote the PC and the Mac to just be a device, just like an iPhone, an iPad or iPod Touch, and we’re going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud.

The “digital hub” insight is what drove Apple’s success in the last decade. The plan was always to have iCloud drive success in the coming decade, but it’s only becoming clear now as they build it out.

So I’m excited for the iCloud OS, Apple’s next big thing we didn’t even realize was a thing.

Journalism is Crap Because Facebook, Says Vox

Journalism, Technology, Writing

Let’s start with Matthew Yglesias’s first, illustrative mistake. In a defensive, reactionary piece over at Vox, “Facebook product director furious at Facebook’s effect on news,” the writer and in-house Red Mage sets up a response to a Facebook post by Mike Hudack by describing him, “importantly,” as “Director of Product at Facebook.” Yglesias includes a link to Hudack’s LinkedIn profile which, sure as shit, says “Director of Product at Facebook” right up top.

Something sounded off about that title to me, so I took the extra five seconds to figure out who the hell Hudack is. Some 500px south of Hudack’s name on LinkedIn, his current position is listed as “Director of Product Management” for Facebook. His personal website lists his current position as “Director of Product Management for Ads and Pages at Facebook,” which, I think it’s fair to say, sounds like an actual job I can wrap my head around. It also makes more sense to me that someone with such localized interest at Facebook would feel free to lob bombs at the media: a director of all product can’t afford to be so cavalier.

The point is that Yglesias (whose LinkedIn profile lists him as Associate Editor at The Atlantic Monthly, an outlet he hasn’t published at in almost three years) misleads readers right up front out of a glaring disregard for getting the simple facts right. And he does so in a piece about how Facebook is ruining the news.

With that out of the way, what did Hudack say? And how did Yglesias respond?

Hudack’s self-described rant takes much of the media (print, web and television) to task for just reporting “what people tell them, whether it’s Cheney pulling Judith Miller’s strings or Snowden through the proxy of Glenn Greenwald doing roughly the same.” It’s not exactly quotable, but it’s well worth the read. It cuts to the heart, if ham-handedly, of how shitty the media landscape appears to an outside observer.

His final three paragraphs are dedicated to tearing Vox apart.

Personally I hoped that we would find a new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native and natural to people who grew up interacting with screens instead of just watching them from couches with bags of popcorn and a beer to keep their hands busy.

And instead they write stupid stories about how you should wash your jeans instead of freezing them.

No wonder Yglesias had to respond. Vox has to defend itself. Personally, I think Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein should really have crafted the site’s response since Hudack calls him out by name, but I’ll just assume Yglesias is speaking for the site and its EIC in the only formal acknowledgment of being called stupid.

Yglesias gets right into it:

…it is not hard to tell who is to blame for the fact that the jeans story (which is a great, interesting, informative story) got more readers than Andrew Prokop’s excellent feature on the DATA Act. Facebook is to blame.

Go on…

…for better or for worse, traffic on the internet right now is all about Facebook sharing behavior.

Ah. Now we have arrived at the disconnect. Traffic on the Internet is about Facebook sharing behavior. In order to get into the headspace of Yglesias and be able to blame Facebook for the proliferation of bunk content, you have to first accept that getting traffic is the point of journalism.

Here’s where Hudack (and me) and Yglesias part ways. Hudack wants journalism, Yglesias wants clicks.

Naturally, this runs into bigger questions of monetization, advertising, journalist pay, etc., etc. One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past two years is that the click economy is untenable. Getting attention on the web has proven to be eminently game-able. Great journalism still can’t be gamed, it can’t be faked.

Blaming Facebook for the state of journalism is a child’s argument. It misses the point of the bigger issues at hand: that chasing ratings or clicks or subscribers is deleterious to great writing. But it’s easier to hate the player than the game.

Anyway, why do women fake orgasms? Go to the Vox, the future of news, to find out.

Instapaper Highlighting

Apps, Productivity, Technology, Writing

You would have no way of knowing this, but I’ve been trying to write more about movies around here. That means reading more about movies too. Which in turn means my usual screwing around with apps and workflows and things…

I’ve been trying to write a piece that involves pulling together the disparate strands of a number of things other folks have written in the past little while. No foolin’: earlier this week I spent an hour or two trying to find a quick and easy way to organize highlights from my Instapaper account. I cobbled together a number of tools and gave up, assuming it was hopeless.

Then today Instapaper pushed out a huge update to their apps and web backend, including integrating highlighting. What luck!

Highlights do just what they say on the tin and then some. Select text in an article, click highlight, and voila, the text turns into a different color. Highlights also get their own section in Instapaper, allowing you to quickly see all the highlighted text across folders in one view. Plus you can set Instapaper to automatically trigger an action when you highlight text. More on that in a moment.

Before I go any further I should mention a point that has already kicked up some dust in the Instapaper Blog comments. In order to get unlimited highlights across Instapaper, you need to have a subscription. Otherwise, you get 5 free highlights per month.

Instapaper subscriptions have long been a confusing point of contention for some users who think an app that costs money shouldn’t have additional costs. According to Instapaper’s FAQ, for $1 a month (really $3 every 3 months) you get:

  • Full-text search
  • Unlimited highlighting
  • Third-party API access
  • Better Kindle functionality
  • Ads removed from website

That third-party API access is key for me since I love using ReadKit to organize articles. Honestly, now with highlighting, an Instapaper subscription is a steal at twice the price. But it’s an important point: without a subscription you’ll want to use highlighting sparingly.

Back to highlighting tricks.

Highlights to Evernote

Any sharing account you have set up in Instapaper (like Twitter, Evernote or Pinboard) can automatically share out a highlight in the background. So if you’ve set up Evernote to “Post Highlights” every time you highlight text, a new note will be created in your default notebook with the article title as the note title and the highlighted text and url as the note content.

Here’s a tip: save a search in Evernote for author:no-reply@instapaper.com. This will filter out only notes emailed to Evernote from Instapaper, which in my case will only be highlights.

Highlights to Pinboard

Right now I have everything I save to Instapaper going to Pinboard as a sort of firehose backup of all my links. Now that highlighting adds the ability to post to Pinboard, with the highlighted text going into the description field, I’m thinking of changing that setup. This way only articles I have enough of an interest in to highlight some text will make their way to Pinboard. Even better: highlighting text is much, much faster than using Instapaper’s sharing panel to send articles to Pinboard.

I’ve long used Instapaper and Pinboard alongside one another, but that relationship has become fraught over time. Ideally Instapaper is my “hot” storage while Pinboard is my “cold,” or deep, storage. However, more or less the Instapaper links clutter up Pinboard. Highlighting with background sharing, I hope, should help the bring out the best of both services. I’ll give it a go and report back.

Other Goodies

I also really like that the article view includes a small, conspicuous flag letting you know if an article has highlights and how many it has. In daily use this may not seem important, but when I’m doing deep research on a topic in folders, this could be a huge boon.

All this gushing about highlighting and I haven’t even mentioned the major redesign of the web app (pictured in screenshots above) with drag and drop organization, plus subtle but important tweaks to the iOS apps. And they’ve even got a brand new logo from Kris Sowersby, the typographer behing my preferred monospaced font, Pitch.

Though the rest of these features play second fiddle to highlighting today, I’m interested to see how they change the way I think about Instapaper. For so long it has been an app for reading content. Today’s updates prove that it’s no slouch when it comes to organizing content. Mostly, though, I’m excited to see how ambitious all of these updates are. It’s nice to know there are people working, iterating and making a service and app you love better.

Anyway, I’ve got to get back to marking up all of these articles in Instapaper so I can get back to writing about movies.

DuckDuckGo Next and an Updated Alfred Workflow

Productivity, Technology

Back in March of 2013 I whipped up a little Alfred 2 workflow for searching DuckDuckGo by way of Google Suggest. In short: you get all the benefits of Google’s auto-completions right from Alfred while using a search engine that doesn’t bubble you.

As noted by Chris Herbert at MacStories, the folks at DuckDuckGo recently launched DuckDuckGo Next, a beta of a massive overhaul of both the design and functionality of the upstart search engine. I really love the way DDG Next looks and works. They’ve done an amazing job of offering context-specific results without obscuring more general ones.

For example, searching for “chicken recipes” on both DuckDuckGo Next and Google brings up two very different pages.

In a browser window that was originally 935 x 1013 px, DuckDuckGo offers nine results and a single ad. Four of those nine are to specific recipes, accompanied by a photo and a brief ingredient list. Even better, the recipes up top can scroll horizontally, where a total of thirty-five recipes can be seen without leaving the page. In the same size window, Google returns six ads and six results, two of which are filed under “News for chicken recipes.” In this instance, one of these search engines is an order of magnitude more helpful than the other.

The first I heard about DuckDuckGo Next was actually in the comments section of my Alfred workflow. It turns out there are quite a few regular users of the workflow. A few started asking for an update that pointed to DuckDuckGo Next. I whipped one up, available for download now.

The workflow still relies on Google Suggest for autocomplete. If and when I can figure out how to switch that over to DuckDuckGo’s new autocomplete I will make the change. Until then, enjoy searching the lovely DuckDuckGo Next from the comfort of Alfred.

Download Google Auto Complete to DDG Next.zip

Bittman & Bagels

Writing

I really enjoyed Mark Bittman’s New York Times opinion piece, “Bagels, Lox and Me,” though not just for its content (a delight) or its message (important). What stands out to me is how the author ties a recent anecdote into a larger story he has been telling for years now.

Bittman’s mission is simple: get people to eat better. What separates his cookbooks (namely my preferred How to Cook Everything) and recipes from those of other authors is the focus he puts on understanding not just how to cook, but how cooking works. Anyone can throw a potato in the oven; Bittman explains what makes varieties of potatoes behave differently and when to use them. The underpinning to cooking “everything” is knowing how most everything will cook.

He also knows that helping to foster a lasting relationship with food and cooking isn’t nearly enough, which is why he writes socially conscious distillations of the current political landscape. For years he has railed against the soda and junk food industries, taking Coke to task for disingenuous ads and spreading its sugar (and resultant disease) far and wide. Just last week he connected the dots between the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision and how we eat. From that piece:

In the food world, change from the ground up is all well and good. We desperately need cooks, gardeners, farmers and teachers. But we also need legislation.

Back to bagels and lox.

This week’s piece impressed me because it was a new spin on Bittman’s ongoing narrative. Real change takes time. His eating of an unhealthy (and non-vegan, going against the title of his latest book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00) yet familiar, comforting food doesn’t undo the work he has done. Instead it becomes a recognition of the cultural significance of what we eat and where we come from. It is yet another building block to the long-running story of Bittman’s career.

I aspire to find moments like that and weave them into the story I want to tell. And I wouldn’t mind some appetizing either.

Five Years

Messages

Five years and change ago, I launched the candler blog, my home for “movie reviews, cinema essays, personal rants and the like…” This wasn’t my first crack at a blog, but it’s the one that stuck. And what a ride it’s been so far.

I’ve interviewed filmmakers, sparked debate and even helped a few people better use Mac productivity apps along the way. This site allowed me to become involved in the Fountain plain-text screenwriting project. This site is how I landed a gig at Heeb Magazine. The candler blog of today is nothing I could ever have imagined five years ago.

Let me also mention the contributors who helped make the site what it is: my friends Sunrise Tippeconnie and Daniel Kremer. At the beginning I thought the candler blog would be a full-fledged outlet, with a staff of writers covering a range of topics. Over time I turned it into my personal blog, but their contributions still mean the world to me.

A trap that I often fall into is viewing each of the site’s milestones as a victory. When traffic is high, for example, I always get this silly feeling inside that I’ve “arrived.” When a writer or outlet I admire links to me, I think I’ve accomplished something. But that’s all bullshit. Achieving small successes is easy; maintaining the site is hard. I bring this up here merely to point out (mostly to myself) that five years is nothing. I am sentimental and proud, but there is so much more to be written (and so much I regret not writing over the years). There is plenty of work ahead.

So I wanted to just say thank you. Thank you for sticking with the candler blog. Thank you for your patience. Here’s to the next five years.

Review: Creep

Movies, Reviews, SXSW 2014

A found-footage mumblecore horror film basically sounds like the last thing I would want to watch. One of my goals at this year’s SXSW, though, is to leave my comfort zone a bit and see films contra what my gut tells me. So I went and saw Patrick Brice’s Creep, and I’m quite glad I did.

The film stars its two creative fathers: director Brice as Aaron, a videographer, and Mark Duplass as Josef, who, I think it’s fair to say based on the film’s own promotional material’s, fulfills the role of the film’s title.1 At the film’s opening we see Aaron heading to a cabin in the mountains where he has been hired (via Craigslist) to shoot an undisclosed subject for Josef for $1000. Two guys, a cabin, a camera and a mystery. Go.

So, here’s my problem with found footage films: they’re (often) based on the false premise that the camera and the eye are in equal standing when it comes to perspective. Of course, they are not. The eye can’t zoom or rack focus, has peripheral vision and works in conjunction with the brain and the rest of the body to scan an area so our field of vision is, ideally, extremely wide. We can’t see behind us, but we know how to look. The camera doesn’t.

Brice’s camera offers us an extremely limited perspective in order to heighten tension. This is no sin, but it also feels inorganic. We learn a bit about Aaron, over time, starting with the fact that he uses his video camera as a diary. Aaron and his camera are very much a character in the film, but there is a disconnect between the two. Why, for example, does he use only one camera both for professional filming and self-diarizing? Who is he documenting his life for? As far as we know he is a loner; no family, no friends. Does he put his diaries online? Save all the tapes in his apartment? The answer to these questions is probably “Who cares?” because Aaron’s camera is a creative conceit to move the found footage premise forward.

Duplass, as Josef, is a delight. He commits to the role to an incredible degree. There is no wink-wink cleverness to his performance. He rises to the challenge of presenting us with a compassionate, charismatic creep. He manipulates Aaron and the audience in equal measure. It is a deft performance from him that, frankly, makes the whole project watchable (as it should since he’s the only person on camera some 80-90% of the film). The same, I should mention, cannot be said for Brice. It would have been nice for Duplass to play off of a more seasoned actor, but the film works despite Brice’s forced and stilted performance.

For about the first half to two-thirds of Creep I basically tolerated it. The narrow perspective of Brice’s camera is used to pull off a few too many simple horror parlor tricks (actually just “Boo!” sometimes). The dialogue sort of circles around aimlessly2 and somewhat predictably. After all, we know that Josef is a creep; we assume he will get creepier.

I won’t give anything away, but at the aforementioned halfway/two-thirds marker the film takes a turn with a rather clever plot device that pulled me back in and elevated the whole story. To Brice and Duplass’s credit, this turn would not function the same without the groundwork they had already laid. And so one must take the good with the bad, but the good is, in fact, so good that it changes the entire experience.

Creep is basically a backlot horror picture. The story is simple and the execution even a little sloppy, but it all comes together, eventually, as a great, chilling little yarn. Duplass’s performance is a career milestone. The complexity he brings to Josef makes the film almost a master class in lunatic charisma. If you see it for no other reason, see it for him.

  1. There is one other performance, a woman’s voice from off-screen, that goes uncredited.

  2. This, mind you, is why I will apply the admittedly outmoded “mumblecore” moniker to the film.