All spoilers must die

Two ideas. 

The first is easy. Why is it not a thing on Facebook (or Twitter, I guess) to tell the site not to show you content about a TV show or movie if you haven’t already seen it? I watch Game of Thrones (though sometimes I think of it as more an abusive relationship than anything else). Last night, HBO aired the typically epic penultimate episode of the season. I did not watch it because reasons. That’s OK, though, because HBO Go. I’ll get to it tonight (probably). So why, when I land on Facebook this morning and am confronted by the first of about 63,000 GoT recaps and hot takes couldn’t I have flagged it as spoilery and ask Facebook to hide all similar content for 24 hours? Next morning, Facebook could ask me if I’d like to see GoT content again and I could either say no, still haven’t seen it, or sure. In which case, Facebook could offer me the top three posts on the subject. This seems ridiculously easy. It would make my Facebooking experience so much better. 

Take this one step further. The new Captain America movie is in production and there have been a similar 63,000 blog posts about leaked production shots, etc., that all give away some elements of the story that people like me would like to avoid. So why can’t I tell Facebook to hide Cap spoilers? They know which stories I’m talking about. For starters, any one that has the word “SPOILER” in the headline. Or other keywords like “rumored” or “spotted” or “don’t read this if you don’t want to know.” Sure, I tend not to read these things, but I also don’t want to have to see them cluttering up the joint. Plus, some sites are really bad at shielding spoilers and I end up seeing them through no fault of my own (WARNING: SPOILER). 

Take this two or three steps further, and what I’m talking about is intelligent muting. For instance, I don’t want to see any crazy-ass right-wing conspiracy stories about Obama some of my less politically enlightened friends might have liked or commented on but I am OK seeing stories about those stories from other sites making fun of them. Or maybe I’m over any further mention of Caitlyn Jenner’s intro on Vanity Fair. A simple “I’ve seen enough stories about this” item is what I’m talking about. More than the option of not seeing any more items from a specific site. What I want is not to see similar items from that site and others like it. Seems like Facebook could absolutely pull this off.

The other thing is Twitter specific. I like to watch live TV with Twitter streaming along side. Specifically, baseball but also things like the Oscars or whatever. Sometimes, I’m intentionally delayed because I’m DVRing but usually I’m off by about 5 or 6 seconds because I watch baseball via MLB.tv and it takes a few moments to digitize the video and compress it and send it to satellites in space and then pull it back down FROM SPACE and then stream and uncompress it and all that and then “live” is only kinda live. It’s enough that I sometimes stop looking at Twitter because I don’t want the action I’m looking at to be spoiled.

So how come I can’t DVR Twitter? Tell my client app to offset the tweets by a specified amount of time. Of course, anything I tweet will be going out in real time (asking Twitter to tunnel through spacetime and drop my tweet back when whatever I’m commenting on took place is, I admit, a steep ask), but what I see will be better synced to what’s happening in front of me.

Turns out, I’m not the first guy to think of this:

That’s from more than three years ago. And still nobody’s done this!? How hard can it be?

Anyway, those are my ideas helping us to live in a spoiler-free world. 

Tomorrowland

With “The Incredibles,” Brad Bird advocated the notion that when all people are considered special, no one is. When those with certain abilities and gifts are not allowed to use them, everyone suffers. That’s the super-condensed version, of course. “Tomorrowland” has, at its core, the same message. The special ones, if given a chance, can make a great big beautiful tomorrow. Except this time, they need to allow themselves to do so.

When did we stop thinking about tomorrow with optimism and excitement? When did we become obsessed with an inevitable decline and start expending so much energy looking for signs of it everywhere? When did we start to act as though a lesser tomorrow was inevitable? When did we lose our confidence that we can always be better than we have been? And why do we find those who reject those notions of doom to be hopelessly naive? In Bird’s “Tomorrowland,” there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. In the real world, though, it’s so much more complicated. 

If I were to make a stab at it, I’d say Bird wants viewers of his new film to do two things. One, snap out of it. Remember when we saw great things ahead and start moving forward again. Two, just like “The Incredibles,” we need to let our special ones be special. Stop being so cynical and allow those with gifts and abilities do what they do best and build the future. Or, in the case of where we sometimes appear to be heading recently, save it. 

“Tomorrowland” is about optimism. It’s about rejecting fear and the notion of inevitable decline. It’s about embracing the potential of human imagination and running with it. In many ways, it channels Walt Disney himself. It’s not a perfect movie, but I think it is a good movie. 

Big Hero 6

Big-Hero-Six-Previews

So it’s 2014 and that means John Lassiter of Pixar leads Walt Disney Animation to make movies based on Marvel comic book series. You know, just like Walt did.

I’ll get to the movie in a minute, but it’s worth spending a moment reflecting on the synergistic juggernaut Bob Iger has wrought. They can dredge up second and third tier franchises from the Marvel story vat and convert them into money printing machines. See Guardians of the Galaxy and, of course, Big Hero 6 (not to take anything away from the $1.3 billion-generating Frozen — which is to say, Walt’s descendants can still tell a profitable story of their own). So we live in a world where Stan Less gets a sweet post-credit cameo in a Disney cartoon (and, you know, there’s a post-credit scene).

Anyway, the movie’s great. A real Marvel story for the younger set but funny enough and with ample action to entertain anyone who loved any of the previous Marvel movies (or comics or comic book movies in general). There are moments derived (sometimes, too obviously) from previous Marvel juggernauts, though. Sometimes it seems like they’ve snapped together elements from other winners into a new and slightly different shape like some kind of Lego construction, but in the end, there’s enough new and novel here to make for a swell time. It was fun, harmless, has some genuinely beautifully rendered moments, and, like any good Disney/Pixar endeavor, makes you laugh and then forces you to shed a tear at the end.

Verdict: Go see it.

A modest proposal

It’s once again pledge time here on the northern plains. Our local public radio outfit is doing their quarterly hat-passing which, of course, as a sustaining member (meaning, they get an automatic donation from me every month without fail) I totally acknowledge as a critical imperative.

I’ve been listening to pledge drives for more than half my life now. The worst were when I lived in Brookline and someone at WBUR thought placing a phone with an actual ringing bell in close proximity to the microphone so you could hear your fellow listeners calling in…at 5:45 in the morning…was a great idea. Nicely done. From the “more annoying the better” school of thought, no doubt. I even volunteered a few times to man the phones for my local station (back before you couldn pledge any other way). A lot has changed, but a few things haven’t.

Pledge drives go on too long and totally suck.

As I recall, they used to say on my local station (though they don’t anymore for some reason), “If everyone who was going to pledge all pledged right now, the drive would be over and we’d go back to our regular programming.” But that doesn’t happen. EVER. Nine times out of ten, the drive goes right up to when it was planned too because those public radio bean counters are really good at that kind of thing. They do it for days. On an on.

And I kept thinking, what if we had the technology to stop hearing the pledge drive as soon as they got my pledge? Or for sustainers such as myself to never hear the drive in the first place? Because it’s radio, the first mass electronic media, and what I described isn’t possible. But a lot of the time, I don’t listen to public radio on the radio. I listen on my phone. I stream it.

So here’s my idea. Add account authentication to the app (i.e., let me sign-in). Once recognized and identified as a sustaining member, let me listen to a different stream. One without pledging. Not special content because presumably whenever someone local is talking, there’s an NPR story they’re not playing instead. So play me that. Then switch back to the local stuff after the pledge break.

This is totally possible. I’m not talking science fiction here.

Personally, I’d only make this feature available for sustainers because those are the members public radio wants the most. Nice, uninterrupted cash-flow. But, they could also make it possible for those who pledge through that app. Instant upgrade. The only real issue to this in-app pledge idea is that Apple would want their regular 30% cut. In that case, make the iOS users do it on the website. Problem fixed.

This would totally change the pledge drive dynamic. Right now, a huge wall of people wait until the very end because they know there’s no reason not to. They get no benefit pledging on day one because they have to listen to the whole pledge drive anyway. In fact, their procrastination might actually be rewarded if they never get around to it and the drive ends. But with the alternate pledge-free stream option, the faster you act, the faster you can avoid the horrible pledging monotony. There’s a real, tangible and immediate benefit to pledging. They really could end a pledge drive in a day.

This does, of course, penalize those without smartphones or computers (the alternate stream could also be fed though the station’s website). But those people are fewer and farther between than they used to be and would totally benefit from the shorter drive like everyone else.

In any event, it seems to me this must be something someone at some radio station somewhere is working on. If not, why not? Why are pledge drives still run like it’s 1974?

Whiny Mashable

Mashable posted “9 Worst Things About iOS 8” and I was stupid enough to click on it.

1. Massive to download
If you already have iOS 8 (and upgraded from iOS 7), you likely know how huge the update was to download. While the file itself only occupies about 1.2GB of storage, the download requires you to have up to 5.7GB of free storage on your phone. In response, people deleted pictures, apps and music to make room for the iOS. The good news, however, is that there’s a workaround, if you don’t have iOS 8 yet: Sync your iPhone or iPad to the computer and download iOS 8 directly from there. This won’t suck up any space on your device, and you can manually transfer the new software back to your device.

This isn’t significantly worse than when 7 dropped and is part and parcel with upgrading any computing device. A pain to be sure, but you don’t have to upgrade. The upsides to having a device you never have to plug into a computer to use are far more numerous than this inconvenience.

2. QuickType
Apple has a new built-in keyboard now with predictive text, giving you word suggestions before you type anything (based on what’s previously written). Although some people love the feature, othersdo not — often, the predictive suggestions aren’t at all on point. But for the first time, Apple is allowing iOS users to download better keyboard options from third-party developers, like Swype, SwiftKey and Fleksy, so all hope isn’t lost for a smarter keyboard experience.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

3. Key contacts
On one hand, it’s nice to know you can double-tap the home button and see a carousel of all the people you’ve recently messaged with at the top of the screen. But it highlights contacts you might not want others to know about, too. For example, if you’ve deleted a conversation you recently had with an ex (and you don’t want to broadcast this to anyone looking over your shoulder), their name will still display. To remove this feature, visit Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars > Show in App Switcher and switch it of Off.

So turn it the fuck off. One setting (WHICH YOU INCLUDED). Bang.

Jesus.

4. iCloud Drive
iCloud Drive is perhaps the biggest fail of iOS 8. If you’re not running OS X Yosemite on your Mac — and you’re probably not, unless you’re participating in the public beta program — iCloud Drive will cut off your apps from syncing with older (iOS 7/OS X 10.9 and earlier) devices. Whatever you do, don’t enable iCloud Drive when updating iOS 8 until all your devices are compatible. Here’s more on why to avoid iCloud Drive on iOS 8 for now.

An unfortunate byproduct of device launch dates not syncing with software release dates. Annoying for the moment, but will be so damned cool when Yosemite drops.

5. Unavailable HealthKit
One of the most-buzzed new features is the Health app, the company’s first major step into the health and fitness space. While Apple has been calling on developers to connect their apps and data to its hub, you can’t download HealthKit-enabled apps from the Apple App Store just yet — the launch has been delayed for a few weeks. This means the Health app is currently empty on the home screen, without any explanation on what it is and how to use it. It’s a missed opportunity from Apple not to roll it out to users out of the gate.

You’re bitching about something that didn’t exist before iOS 8 not being ready on the very day iOS 8 was released? Sure, a minor disappointment, but since I hadn’t integrated HealthKit into my first world lifestyle, it’s hardly skin off my nose.

Jesus.

6. Camera Roll Change
Apple mysteriously removed its default Camera Roll album, which has caused a bit of panic (many first assume their photos have been deleted). Although it’s more difficult to locate and organize your iOS pictures, they should be all there. Now, you’ll see albums for Recently Added, Panoramas, Videos, Bursts, and Recently Deleted— along with albums created by third-party apps such as Instagram. Pictures taken more than a month ago are stored in the Collections folder, within the Photos app.

So turn the new layout the fuck off. One setting. Bang.

Jesus.

7. Deleted Photos
When you delete photos on iOS 8, they’re not actually erased yet. The new Recently Deleted folder holds them for up to 30 days before trashing them for good. This could be a good thing for those who accidentally delete photos they want to recover, but in most cases, it’s just an extra step to get a photo off of your phone.

I guarantee you the vast majority of people would look at this as a good thing. Stop whining about shit that’s not broken just because it’s different.

Jesus.

8. App Weirdness
Some apps have had a bumpy ride post-update. Twitter, for example, moved the Drafts folder, and some users reported that their tweet drafts disappeared.

Third-party’s app bugs are Apple’s fault? And you can only come up with one example?

Jesus.

9. Glitchy Family Sharing
Apple’s new Family Sharing program has its upsides: you can share purchases from iTunes, iBooks and the App Store without sharing accounts. But there are limitations. Whenever you download something new, it notifies everyone in the group — and the same goes when others go on a downloading frenzy. It’s convenient but not private.

SO DON’T USE IT.

Jesus!

Drained by guzzling clickbait

Damn you, pot!

The NBC News homepage has the above headline telling us that poor, parched California is being sucked dry by marijuana growers. The headline on the story is even worse:

Water-Guzzling Pot Plants Draining Drought-Wracked California

Having spent the first twenty-one years of my life in California and experiencing the nasty drought of 1976-77 (and the general rarity of water that comes with the Californian climate), I do commiserate with my home state and try to keep up on its water woes. But come on, NBC.

Drained by guzzling clickbait

The aliens of Facebook

The more I think about this secret Facebook psych test the more I’m disturbed by it. And not in the outrage de jour kind of way, either. Facebook is a company with nearly a billion daily users and no compunction regarding screwing with their emotional state. What does it say about a company that would do such a thing with apparently no idea normal non-Facebook employees would be horrified by it? Reading their reaction to the outrage, it seems as though they’re truly blindsided by it. Unbelievable. 

Every successful corporation has a kind of cultural DNA that motivates their actions. Facebook’s DNA is truly and deeply screwed up. It’s like the company is run by a group of aliens who only somewhat understand how humans work and only have that insight based on analyzing social graph data. 

This episode raises all kinds of questions for me. How big is too big in social media? Who will ensure companies like Facebook are acting in an ethical manner? How can misuse of their power to influence us (either by them or third parties) be safeguarded against? 

I guess, in a way, it’s a good thing Facebook stumbled face-first into this pile of horseshit in the innocently and socially clueless way they did. Now we know what can be done to us by them. How will we respond? And when I say “we” I mean everyone since that’s approximately Facebook’s user base. Every damned one.