First Time Through Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

August 13, 2018
Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Two

Continuing my chronological voyage through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I finally finished phase two.

This is where I gave up on seeing the movies as they were released in theaters. Of the six movies in this set I had only seen one before.

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Two

Overall, I enjoyed Phase Two, but it does feel a lot like a twelve hour sequel to its predecessor. Many of the films in this phase are following up origin stories, but they don’t quite recapture the magic.

These films, released between 2013 and 2015, are also considerably darker. There’s a grittiness and a grayer color palette here. It seems like executive producer Kevin Feige felt like he needed to prove his films had weight.Themes of surveillance, corruptible power and the civilian toll of superheroes are preached from on high here.

The notable exception, Guardians of the Galaxy, was rightfully praised for breaking the mold. It was the only Marvel movie I saw over these three years, and it is still my favorite of the bunch.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

I must have fallen asleep during this movie on a plane or something, because I remembered the beginning and the end on this viewing. Tony Stark has PTSD and some other unchecked mental illnesses that nearly cost him his life, his partner and a lot of civilians. Downey portrays the trauma well, but the script holds him back in a few key moments. The Mandarin is almost unbelievable as a villain, and then it turns out he’s supposed to be. Extremis isn’t explained very well and the final confrontation, while interesting is also kind of insane. I really wish they would have let Jon Favreau go three for three on directing these films.

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

For as much as I wanted to dislike the first Thor film, I really enjoyed it. For as much as I wanted to like this one, I did not.

The Dark World follows the same story beats as its predecessor, but spends way more time on Asgard. This makes it somehow feel both repetitive and uniquely boring. The sci-fantasy element of parallel planes of existence could have been interesting, if the movie hadn’t literally made a joke out of how dumb it was. Stellan Skarsgard and Chris Hemsworth both put in admirable performances. Natalie Portman is turned into a hot potato for the characters to pass around as if she has no agency. And former Doctor Who star Christopher Eccleston is wasted on a boring big bad.

I’m glad Ragnarok is apparently much better.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

This could have been two good movies. Instead the Russo brothers were asked to combine a great spy thriller about the fall of an international defense agency and a character study of a brainwashed assassin. 

The first half of the Captain America sequel is a fast-paced espionage film full of deception. Nick Fury gets to be a badass, Natasha Romanoff actually has chemistry with another character and Steve Rogers learns about the modern world. There’s a lot to love about this movie before you even hear the name “Bucky Barnes.”

The pursuit of the titular Winter Soldier throughout the second half of this movie feels shoehorned in. It was obvious that they needed to re-introduce Barnes for Civil War to work later. However, he’s unnecessary in Hydra’s plot to overthrow SHIELD. Most of the time spent on him is a distraction for the audience and for Rogers. I think there could be a good movie made about the hunt for Bucky, but that potential was wasted in this rushed adaptation.

Anthony Mackie is awesome as The Falcon, and I’m so glad to see him throughout the next few films.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

After the whole of western civilization turns on one another in The Winter SoldierGuardians makes for a perfect palate cleanser.

Chris Evans and company are magnetic throughout this fun romp of a movie. The screenwriting here is some of the best in the MCU. This film has quotable quips for days.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Take a deep breath, because you won’t have much time for it in this film. I checked the time at what I thought was thirty minutes into the film and it was halfway over. Even at that fast pace though, this plot line feels rushed.

Its like Marvel told Joss Whedon to take what he did in Avengers and double it. There are more characters, more locations, bigger set pieces and a villain who is literally every and nowhere at once. The result is a dizzying and disorienting film that feels more frantic than fun.

The choreography, cinematography and poor character development leave the fight scenes feeling somewhat meaningless. There are new powers and abilities, but otherwise it feels like a lot of the same.

Characters love each other and turn on one another so quickly I lost track a couple of times. I had no idea that Wanda was supposed to be The Scarlet Witch and I only started liking Quicksilver right before he died. The strain of condensing a years-long comic book series into a single film shows.

Ant-Man (2015)

God bless Edgar Wright. His stop-and-go pacing and smart dialogue make Ant-Man an absolute delight. Paul Rudd is another example of an actor falling into the perfect role within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. His sardonic smirk fits the Scott Lang well.

After the furious and disorienting carnage of Ultron, this movie feels like a fun diversion. The shrinking mechanics are a little dizzying, but that seems to be intentional. The plot has huge stakes, but it resolves in a (fittingly) small and simple way.


For the most part, Phase Two exists to set the stage for the current incarnation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was no doubt that these movies would succeed commercially, so they bankrolled the expansion of the empire.

There aren’t many surprises here. Many of the themes of these films were already alluded to in the first phase. Most of these faces are familiar, and the handful of new ones who are phenomenal.

We start to see new character here that will become more significant. It was around this time that the franchise was getting heavily criticized for its homogenous lead roles. Phase Three is where the diversity begins and the color palette brightens a bit. And I’m very ready for it after watching these films.

Halfway to Half Marathon

August 6, 2018

This is my second time training for a half marathon. The first year that I lived in Atlanta I fell and sprained my ankle five weeks into a twelve week training plan.

After a brief recovery period and a year of casual running I decided to give it another shot. I didn’t want to jinx it by blogging about it until I was at least half way in.Today is the first day of week eight and training has been going much better than I expected.

I’m working from a really solid training plan that my Dudes Brunch co-host Shaun Evans wrote for me. I’ve been slacking on the meditation sessions he recommended, but the runs have ramped up nicely.

I did make the mistake of training for a race in the heat of the summer in the south. I’ve survived by doing most of my weekday runs at dusk and getting up early on Saturday mornings for the longer distances.

I invested in a set of Apple’s AirPods for this training season and it is one of the best decisions I made. I love not having to worry about wires and cords while running. And on short runs they allow me to leave my phone at home and just take my Apple Watch.1

Longer runs necessitate the iPhone both for safety and podcast playback. My half marathon is a week or so before watchOS 5 will be released and bring podcasts to Apple Watch. That’s fine though. I’m making it work in the meantime.

On those shorter runs I’ve been listening to a lot of new music. Apple Music’s curated workout playlists have been a great way to power through high intensity runs.

I’m slowly building up a playlist of new songs for race day, but in the meantime I’ve used the longer runs to keep up with The Talk Show, Pop Rocket and Accidental Tech Podcast.

Music and podcasts have been crucial in keeping my mind occupied throughout this process. As much as I’d like to be one of those zen-like runners that can focus intently on their breath, I’m not that guy. I need the distraction.

Now that the distances are getting longer than my typical 5k, I’ve had to start getting more inventive with routes. This weekend I spent a sunny Saturday morning zig-zagging through side streets in Atlanta’s artsy Cabbagetown neighborhood. It was the perfect street run.

I’m not sure where I’ll go when I start getting closer to ten miles, but I like the idea of just making it up as I go. It adds a sort of creativity to what might otherwise be a chore.

That’s actually what’s been the most interesting to me about all of this running. I expected to feel like more work than it has.

Yeah, it kinda sucks to come straight home from work and head out again. It is inconvenient to plan my weekends around workouts. The runs themselves, though, have been fun. More fun than I expected.

We’ll see if I feel that way come September.


A lot has already been written about how great Apple Watch is for running. I don’t have a lot of new insight to add here, except to say that things are only getting better this fall with watchOS 5.

Bo Burnham’s Emotionally Affecting “Eighth Grade”

July 30, 2018
Poster art for Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade"

Poster art for Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade"

This weekend I saw Eighth Grade, the first film written and directed by stand-up comedian and former teen YouTube sensation Bo Burnham. I knew it would be funny, but I didn’t expect it to be as emotionally affecting as it turned out to be.

In an excellent profile for the New Yorker, Burnham described the main character, Kayla:

“I did not set out to write a movie about eighth grade,” Burnham told me one afternoon in May. “I wanted to talk about anxiety—my own anxiety—and I was coming to grips with that….Anxiety makes me feel like a terrified thirteen-year-old,” Burnham explained. Because his own anxiety set in later, he didn’t use himself as a model. He watched hundreds of teen vlogs; the girls tended to talk about their souls, and the boys about Minecraft, so he made his protagonist a girl.

 

Burnham excels at portraying the hormonal anxiety of middle school through eighth-grader Kayla Day. From her opening vlog on “being yourself” to encounters with her crush and her first pool party. The film drags the audience through the most socially terrifying moments of adolescence.

It reminded me of a recent essay I read on McSweeny’s, “Welcome to Anxiety Dream High School”:

 

Congratulations on your arrival at Anxiety Dream High School, home of the Crippling Self-Doubts! As it turns out, you never actually graduated high school, went to college, or had any success at all. So on behalf of the faculty, staff, and everyone you’ve ever disappointed, I’d like to welcome you back, once again. Though certain locations will be familiar, our shadowy and ever-shifting campus can be a real challenge to navigate.

 

Eighth Grade transported me, and the friends I saw it with, just like a nightmare. I laughed, I cringed and at one point the whole audience called out “No! Don’t do that!”

Part of our visceral response could be attributed to the visual language Burnham borrows from horror films. Long tracking shots follow Kayla in her most embarrassed moments. Extreme close-ups on her face and eyes during panic attacks make Instagram DMs seem like murder threats.

Anna Meredith’s synth-driven score underscores the traumatic moments in sharp bursts. While soft pads and arpeggios lift up the tender scenes where Kayla progresses. And the bass drop whenever her crush walks by gets a solid laugh every single time.

Burnham plays into the universal social suffering of middle school. However, he also places the film in the present day to take a stance on social media. He’s not trying to take us back in time, but he does voice some concern about the power we give to our technology.

 

“I don’t know. I think there are probably certain elements about social media that we’ll look back on in the way we look back on smoking, where we’ll be, like, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t all have been doing that.’ The equivalent of ‘My doctor smoked’ will be, like, ‘My shrink had a Twitter.’ ”

 

Kayla’s “advice videos” serve as a sort of social crutch, keeping her from reaching out to the world around her. She slowly realizes over the course of the film that advice is only  good if its acted upon and technology is at its best when it facilitates real interaction.

For a debut film, Eight Grade is ambitious and extremely affecting. I think it will easily go down as one of the best teen movies of the decade. And I can’t wait to see what Burnham does next.

Revisiting the First Phase of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe

July 23, 2018
Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One Title Card

Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One Title CardPrompted by The Incomparable’s Summer of Marvel I’ve decided to watch all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order. I recently finished Phase One, which runs from 2008’s Iron Man to 2012’s The Avengers.

This weekend, The New York Times published an article on the evolution of superhero films and TV shows that included a brief look at the early MCU:

The legacy of director Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man,” the first film in the official Marvel Cinematic Universe, can be seen in theaters three times a year like clockwork, as Marvel cranks out a serialized story, one gigantic hit at a time. As Hugh Jackman was to “X-Men,” the casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark (originally created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby and Don Heck) was integral to the movie’s success and influence.

Up until this summer, that was pretty much how I understood Marvel’s movie-making juggernaut. I knew that Downey’s Iron Man was the linchpin and that the movies made a lot of money.

Watching the films again, and listening to The Incomparable’s coverage, I’ve started to notice interesting nuances in each film. The MCU, on the whole, isn’t as vapid as I remembered. In fact, there’s a lot to learn from Marvel about the evolving culture of America in the 21st century.

I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here. There have been a lot of great works written about these films over the past decade. I just wanted to share my impressions as I’ve been watching and thinking a little too much about these movies.

Iron Man (2008)

The start of it all. Re-watching Iron Man felt like visiting a familiar place and realizing how poorly you remembered it. I completely forgot how much of this movie takes place in Afghanistan. In hindsight, that was a somewhat risky move on Marvel’s part. As the first film in a crowd-pleasing mega-franchise, Iron Man takes a surprisingly harsh stance on the military-industrial complex. It’s also fantastic to watch Robert Downey Jr. enter the role of Tony Stark with a fresh face and razor sharp wits. It makes his performances in later movies feel very tired.

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

A lot of people don’t even think of this film as a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s pretty good reason to think that way. The only real crossover is a Tony Stark cameo in the last scene. It was also produced concurrently with Iron Man and released just three weeks later. And audiences still had a foul taste in their mouth from 2003’s  Hulk. This movie had no chance to succeed. It’s unfortunate, because I actually really like Ed Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner. He was less fond of the role and exited before The Avengers. This is a lesson in wasted potential.

Iron Man 2 (2010)

I somehow skipped over Iron Man 2 when it was released. Though not quite as timeless as the original, I have to say, Jon Favreau put together a fun film here. The addition of Don Cheadle rounds out the cast nicely and his War Machine character softens the franchise’s stance on the military. Two years into the project things start to feel more familiar here. The MCU aesthetic is beginning to take hold as more crossover character appear. There’s an unfortunate amount of video game-ificaton in this movie including a pretty cringe-worthy climactic fight scene. It was 2010, after all, and everything was about selling those licensed products.

Thor (2011)

I expected that I would hate this one. I avoided it like the plague in 2011, which was wrong of me. Thor is a delightful romp of a movie. A lot has been said about Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. It’s a great performance, but Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings make this movie work for me. I love their human reactions to the supernatural. Dennings, in particular, gets some of the best quippy lines in the film. I love the running joke that her character can’t pronounce Mjölnir. There’s a valiant attempt to blend science and mythology here, but it doesn’t land nearly as well as the jokes do.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Maybe it’s our current political environment rubbing off on me, but I didn’t remember how campy this movie is. The whole training sequence with Steve Rogers before he gets injected with the Super Soldier Serum is super long and almost twee at points. This movie has more montages than the series finales of some sitcoms. That combined with the extreme earnestness of the wartime environment has really aged this one poorly.

The Avengers (2012)

This is where things start to feel familiar. The Avengers feels like a tentpole action blockbuster of the 2010s. It has a massive ensemble cast, snappy banter and a ton of set piece action sequences. Some of the Captain America camp remains, but there is a note of darkness in the sheer amount of civilian casualties in the film. This, of course, becomes a key plot point in later films.

What strikes me about The Avengers on re-watching is how crowded and disorienting it is. Throughout the early 2010s, action movies tried to use frenetic camera movement to make CGI battles look more intense. While it certainly is more engaging than the longer shots used in earlier films like The Incredible Hulk, it gets confusing. The climactic battle at the end of this film is something like twenty minutes long and takes place across Manhattan. It’s hard to follow even when you know what’s going to happen.


What surprised me most on returning to the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the light and playful tone. The common narrative is that superheroes all went dark and gritty after The Dark Knight in 2008. That doesn’t seem to be the case here. The darkest film in this phase is Captain America and even it has a villain with a red skull instead of a face.

I was also intrigued by how long it took before the films started to share an aesthetic and tone. Other than the occasional cameo, the first three origin story films in the franchise feel wholly separate.

As the Summer of Marvel continues I’m hoping to watch through all 20 films in order. I’ll attempt to post a recap after each phase for comparison and further commentary.

Drake vs. The Beatles — A Look Into Chart Topping Singles

July 9, 2018
Drake's "Scorpion" album cover and The Beatles "Please Please Me" album cover

Drake is having a pretty good summer. After releasing his double album Scoprion on June 29, the Toronto-based rapper/singer is breaking historic Billboard chart records.

From Billboard, Drake Claims 7 of Hot 100’s Top 10, Breaking the Beatles’ Record, As ‘Nice For What’ Returns to No. 1 For Eighth Week:

Drake breaks the prior record of five simultaneous Hot 100 top 10s by the Beatles. On April 4, 1964, at the height of early Beatlemania, the band dominated the entire top five, with, in order from No. 1 to No. 5, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.” The following week, the same five songs placed between Nos. 1 and 9.

It honestly amazes me that The Beatles held on to this record for 54 years. Plenty of artists have had multiple hit songs on the charts at a time. They just didn’t have as many as The Fab Four.

The fact that Drake is the first to best their 5/10 standing speaks to his talent and influence. His 7/10 standing also speaks to major changes in the distribution of music that have occurred since April 1964.

Each of The Beatles charting hits during this week in 1964 was the A-Side of a 45 RPM single bought in stores and played on the radio. They were purchased and engaged with individually.

These fives songs were also recorded and released over the span of nearly eighteen months.

“Can’t Buy Me Love” was the most recent Beatles single when the group had their record-breaking week in the Billboard charts. At that point it had been in US record stores for less than a month, having been released on March 16, 1964.

“Please Please Me” was the oldest of the five. It had been available for over a year in the US with a release date of February 7, 1963. It was released nearly a month earlier in the UK on January 11 and had been getting consistent airplay there.

Drake’s seven top-ten tracks, by comparison, were mostly released on the same date: June 29, 2018. The buzz around each track positively affected the popularity of the others.

Drake’s songs were all theoretically packaged together on Scorpion. Plays of the whole album counted towards their chart position. Plays of the songs as singles counted equally toward the chart position. Playing one hit track also often lead directly into another using streaming features like “Top Artist Tracks.”

I’m not writing all of this to say that I don’t think Drake deserves the crown here. On the contrary, I’m surprised it took this long for anyone to take it.

The Beatles were up against intense technological and logistical barriers when they had five top-ten hits. Plenty of artists in the streaming age have dropped surprise albums with multiple hits on them.

So why did it take so long for any one of those records to have five real hits on the chart at once?

And what does it say that Drake had to release a bloated double album to get the requisite number of record-breaking hits?

The whole thing just surprises me.

The Small Design Signatures of iOS 12

July 2, 2018
Apple iOS 12 Logo

Apple iOS 12 LogoLast week, Apple released the Public Beta of iOS 12 which I promptly installed only my iPad. I’ve learned from experience the dangers of installing an iOS beta on a phone, but the iPad generally seems to be a safer place to test the new system. What I’m struck by in this year’s release are a few small design changes that give iOS 12 a unique visual feel over past iterations.

Re-Arranged Status Bar

The redesigned status bar in iOS 12

 

In iOS 12, all iPads receive the divided status bar first seen on the iPhone X. This places the cell/WiFi signal and battery indicator in the top-right corner as usual. It moves the time to the top-left corner and adds the date.

The addition of the date is the first thing I noticed on booting my iPad in iOS 12. I love having it accessible on every screen. Granted, this is a pretty small change, but it is nice to have.

The battery indicator also got a slight redesign to include a lightning bolt overlay when the device is charging. This brings the indicator in line with the Apple Watch and is a great example of design parity across the Apple ecosystem. I’m a fan.

Predictive Text Redesign

The new predictive text keyboard in iOS 12

Apple added predictive text above the stock on-screen keyboard in iOS 8. It hasn’t seen much love since that first version. For the most part it seems to have been an under-utilized bar of dark grey rectangles with white text showing words that were vaguely relevant to your current sentence.

In iOS 12 this area is given the same grey background color as the rest of the keyboard with the words rendered in black type. The suggestions seems to be a lot more accurate than in previous versions as well. And as outlined below, iOS 12 is just faster than most previous versions, finally making this feature actually quicker than typing out full words with your fingers.

Subtler Control Center

A more subtle Control Center for iOS 12Last year Apple redesigned the Control Center for iOS 11 and the iPhone X. What used to be a bulky three-pane dialogue at the bottom of the screen became a bubbly full-screen overlay.

On most iOS devices it was still accessible at the bottom of the screen, but on iPhone X it moved to the top-right. Unfortunately it seems the top-right is going to be the winner in this gesture war as Control Center has been moved for all iPads running iOS 12.

However frustrated I may be by the new gesture, I am in love with the subtle new redesign. The background blur effect overlaying your current screen is significantly subtler in iOS 12. It makes flicking open Control Center to adjust volume or brightness feel like the temporary state change it was meant to be all along.

There is also a nice bounce to the on-screen animation that gives a great sense of motion. This combines with multi-touch support to allow dexterous users to pull open the panel with one-finger, hit a button with another and then flick it shut all in one combined gesture.

Bolder Buttons and Controls

A common complaint since the great flattening of iOS 7 has been that Apple’s flagship OS is just too minimal. It seems like each year the design team takes a step back toward detail to appease the masses. iOS 12 is no exception there.

This year many of the buttons and controls throughout the OS have bigger outlines and bolder labels. Notifications, in particular, now have large “X” buttons to close and are labeled with bolder headings.

I think this is great a choice on behalf of the software design group. As screens got bigger the thin lines and slight fonts of iOS 7 started to get lost in the sea of white. These steps toward boldness make the OS more accessible and feel more personable.

Faster Animations Feel More Fun

Apple made a big to do on-stage at WWDC about the performance improvements they’ve made in iOS 12. I was skeptical during the presentation, but one day with the beta was enough to win me over. This feels like the fastest OS my iPad has ever run.

The speed is particularly noticeable during on-screen animations. I know a lot of users are frustrated by the amount of animation involved in simple actions on iOS. With this speed bump though, the characteristic zoom in and out of launching and closing an app feels almost instant. Swiping an app into pop-over is so fast I sometimes hold too long and send it flying to the far side of the screen.

Some of the iPhone X multi-tasking gestures brought over to iPad are a little too sensitive in this first build. Overall though, these speeds make the animations feel like a feature rather than a frustration. It actually makes iOS feel like it looks in the demos: fun.


Many of the initial reports about this year’s iOS release said that it would be focused on refinements rather than new features. That turns out to have mostly been true. And while there are still many more small changes I wish we would have seen, I’m pretty happy with this release.

Apple addressed a number of small design issues that had been bothering me and greatly improved the overall experience of using the platform. I’m excited to see what other surprises surface as the summer beta season continues.

If you’re running the iOS 12 beta on any of your devices I’d love to hear what you think. Drop a comment below with your thoughts.

Espresso in Edinburgh

June 18, 2018
My americano, with sugar and milk at Chapter One Coffee Shop in edinburgh

My americano, with sugar and milk at Chapter One Coffee Shop in edinburghLast fall I went on a two week trip to Dublin, Liverpool and Edinburgh with a friend. We intentionally took solo days in each city to explore new places in our own way. And on one of those days I discovered Chapter One Coffee Shop in Edinburgh.1

On previous trips I’ve always tried to do and see everything. I would push myself to stay out all day and night, then wonder why I was exhausted from my vacation when I got home. These days of quiet exploration were a great conscious exercise in avoiding that tendency.

On this particular day, I was still a little groggy from the preceding night of scotch and ale. A meager breakfast and instant coffee were available in our hostel, but I was in need of some quality caffeine. After a little bit of research I decided to walk into Haymarket to the nearest coffee shop that served hot breakfast.

Chapter One Coffee Shop is a brightly decorated cafe that sits inside a curve in Dalry Road. It has wide windows that let in plenty of sunlight, which bounces invitingly off of the eggshell walls. There were a couple of other patrons at tables reading and sipping drinks when I arrived.

I (fittingly) ordered an americano and a sausage roll. After ten days of instant coffee it was amazing to have espresso. And the sausage roll was flaky and fresh, the exact opposite of the stale cereal in our hostel.

The best part, by far, of Chapter One is the quiet ambiance. The couple of hours I spent there were the quietest and calmest I’d been in a long time. I wrote a little, read a lot2 and even wrote a few personal emails to old friends.

The barista occasionally stopped by my table and asked if I needed another americano, which of course, I did.

Striding out of the shop thoroughly caffeinated I spent the rest of the day exploring the streets and museums of Edinburgh. However, when I look at photos from the day my favorite is the simple iPhone snapshot of my coffee.

It isn’t a fancy coffee. There’s no art in the foam or anything. It was just a simple pleasure in the middle of an exciting adventure. It carries a warmth and a quietness with it that I want to experience more of in every day.


1 I have since learned that Chapter One Coffee Shop has a second location in Guayaquil, which does significantly increase my interest in a vacation to Ecuador.

2 On this trip I read The Beatles: All These Years, Volume 1 by Mark Lewisohn. It is the best and most thorough biography of the group I’ve ever read. That’s saying a lot since I’ve read close to a dozen, and it is only the first in a three volume collection.

On Ferris Bueller and Favorite Movies

June 11, 2018
Theatrical poster for Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Theatrical poster for Ferris Bueller's Day OffToday is the 32nd anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of my favorite movies of all time. Part of the reason I think I love this movie so much are the associations it has in my brain with important people in my life.

I’m sure this is true of a lot of things we all like. We feel strongly about them because they remind us of people we feel strongly about. Ferris seems to occupy that role for a lot of people though.

I was introduced to this 1986 film sometime in the mid-2000s. My mom found a DVD copy at the library, or Hollywood Video or some other place where you used to borrow physical media. She brought it home for my brother and I to watch with her because it reminded her of her brother. Everyone in the family always talked about how my uncle watched his VHS copy of Bueller until it broke.

What struck me on that initial viewing was (of course) all of the swearing. My mom hadn’t remembered that PG meant something very different in 1986 than it did in the 2000s. I felt incredibly cool for having watched a movie with so many bad words in it.

It was when I was given my own DVD copy the following Christmas that I got really into the film, as many middle and high schoolers had before me. I loved the fourth-wall breaking narration and the abundance of one-liners. I was too young to know who John Hughes was, but I still memorized most of the names in the opening credits.

I watched every special featurette, listened to the included commentary track multiple times and desperately searched for a soundtrack album1.

I joined a small circle of like minded nerds and we all bonded over our affinity for Ferris. On days off from school I would call my buddy Jake and we would sync up our DVD copies to re-watch together.

He could rattle off all of Cameron’s lines while I attempted to keep up with Matthew Broderick’s razor-sharp quips. Every time I see the prank call scene in the Bueller’s kitchen I fondly remember those snow days.

Over the next few years I dutifully packed that disc along through various dorm rooms and apartments in college where it always got at least one screening per year. Any faint reference was immediately met with a call-back to Abe Froman or Ferris being sick nine times.

It’s been a few years since my last viewing, but I still recall scenes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by the friends and family members who love them2. Images of their smiles and the sound of them speaking their favorite lines are more memorable than the work itself.

There’s just something about the instantly relatable characters of Hughes’ high school universes that grabs us in that way. Over time the films become the background players to the cast of our lives. And nowhere is that more true than in the 1961 Ferrari GT California, with the top down, on the streets of mid-80s Chicago on that last day off before graduation.


1 It is truly tragic how long the world had to wait for an official Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Soundtrack. It was eventually released in a limited run of 5,000 copies in 2016. However, this version was incomplete. It lacked three songs featured in the theatrical release most notably The Beatles’ cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout.” To be fair, though, it amazes me to this day that Hughes even got the rights to use that recording in the parade scene to begin with.

2 For the record, my favorite scene is when Cameron comes back from his catatonic state and sarcastically says “Ferris Bueller, you’re my hero” with that crazy glint in his eyes.

On Having Time Off

May 28, 2018
After a busy couple of months consisting of a lot of travel its been nice to have some time off this weekend. I don’t just mean off from work though. I had no plans going into this long weekend for the first time in month. It got me thinking a lot about the lack of unplanned time in my life.
 
Earlier this year I read an article on The Art of Manliness about setting aside a “reset day” to spend on things we normally put off.
 
A weekday reset day gives you eight dedicated, distraction-free hours, by yourself, to set your physical and metaphorical house in order — to recalibrate everything that’s gone awry.
 
Instead of constantly putting out one fire, while another rages, you give yourself a chance to extinguish all the hot spots. You give yourself an entirely fresh start, a clean slate upon which to begin your efforts anew; it completely clears your mind of all the cobwebs formed by unfinished to-dos, burdensome distractions, and nagging questions.
 
I really liked this idea. I’ve had a lot of little projects and nagging impulses in the back of my head lately. Rather than fill my long weekend with a bunch of pre-determined activities I decided to take on a modified version of the “reset day.” Instead of one day I took an extended reset weekend and loosely focused on different maintenance areas each day.
 

Day One: The Physical

 
I started off the weekend working on a lot of the obvious physical stuff that needed to get done. I cleaned my whole apartment. I put in a bunch of maintenance requests I was putting off. I worked out. I cleaned out the fridge, then went to the grocery store and did some meal prep.
 
All of these tasks are usual weekend chores, but I went much more in depth with them since I had the extra time. Putting in the extra effort to do things thoroughly felt really good and it’ll keep me from having to follow up on some of these things in the next couple of weeks.
 

Day Two: The Social

 
I spent Sunday on more social matters. I caught up with some friends via iMessage and Facebook in the early part of the day. Then I went to a local arts festival to get a change of scenery and delicious street food. On the way home I called my parents and chatted with my aunt.
 
In the evening I went out for drinks with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a month or two. Over some excellent beer we caught up about our recent travels, professional developments and old classmates. We made plans to get together again when a mutual friend from college visits Atlanta next month.
 

Day Three: The Mental

 
Today was spent mostly closing mental loops that I’d been running for a while. This meant fun things like reading the end of a book and finally getting caught up on the latest season of a tv show. These may not seem productive, but they were on my long list so I just figured I’d just knock them out.
 
It also meant taking some time to do some open ended thinking and journaling. At the end of any busy season I always wish I’d been more proactive about writing and reflecting when things were happening. Today I didn’t let myself get bogged down in that. Instead, I just filled the page which is also why this post is longer than it probably ought to be.
 
Finally, I tried not to fill every second of the day with a screen or a sound. When I was watching, listening or reading I tried to focus in on the text at hand. I left my phone on the counter rather than having it in my lap while watching tv. I refrained from Twitter as best as I could. And I avoided headphones at all costs.
 
I’ve been thinking about my distracted state a lot since reading a short piece on boredom on kottke.org. Leaning into my under-stimulated moments today made for a kind of calm day that I haven’t had in a long while.

It has been really relieving to cross a bunch of things off of my list and reset some elements of my life this weekend. I hope everyone else had a solid Memorial Day.

6 Tweaks I Hope to See at WWDC 2018

May 21, 2018
Apple's announcement image for WWDC 2018

Apple's announcement image for WWDC 2018The weather is heating up, the pollen has finally settled down and I’m getting excited for Apple’s new operating systems. The technology giant unveils most of their new software features at their annual World Wide Developer Conference or WWDC.

This year, at WWDC 2018, there have been rumors that Apple will be primarily releasing refinements to their systems rather than flashy new features. I’m pretty excited by that prospect as the iOS 11 cycle and MacOS High Sierra have been pretty rough. Assuming that this rumor holds true, I’ve assembled a list of a few tiny tweaks and refinements I think Apple could make this year to improve their computing platforms.

Improved Contact Syncing

The contacts app got a visual overhaul in iOS 7 to match the new all-white color scheme and flat design. Short of a couple of other visual tweaks it hasn’t been touched since and it shows. Syncing contacts across multiple accounts or devices is a trainwreck, especially from iOS to MacOS.

I constantly have problems applying photos to contacts. They randomly crop themselves after I’ve saved the contact card and sometimes they don’t appear outside on other devices. Syncing text fields and a single image for each contact doesn’t seem like it should be this hard.

Universal Swipe Gestures in Mail

The Mail app added swipe gestures for messages in then inbox a while ago. However, the actions those swipes initiate are set individually by mail account for some unexplained reason.

They’re also different from device to device. Swiping right on a gmail message on iPhone deletes the message, on iPad it marks the message as unread and on Mac it archives it.

Now, I may have my settings configured wrong. That’s kind of my whole point though. These gestures are only productive and elegant when they’re the same in every instance of the app.

iPad Keyboard Shortcuts for Multitasking

At last year’s WWDC, Apple unveiled a whole new multitasking system for the iPad. They demoed this in ads for the iPad Pro throughout 2017, often with a Smart Keyboard attached. The only problem is the new multitasking falls apart as soon as you try to use that keyboard.

It’s been well documented that when you have two apps open and using the keyboard iOS makes it nearly impossible to tell which app you’re typing in. I’m as bothered by this as the rest of the Apple community, but it’s the lack of keyboard shortcuts that really jams my butterfly switches.

You can alt-tab between apps, but this shortcut swaps the whole app frame most of the time and pulls up an app in pop-over some of the time. If you have two apps open there’s no way to swap out one of them with the keyboard. This all seems like an oversight that would be easy to fix in iOS 12 with a couple of new shortcuts.

Denser home screen on iPad

As iOS devices have gotten bigger the home screen has stayed exactly the same. Federico Viticci mocked up a denser home screen for larger iPad displays in his iOS concept video for MacStories last year. I love the way his team rendered this layout and I really hope we see something like it soon. The current tiny home screens are just insulting to these beautiful devices.

Record Label links in Apple Music

I’ve been talking about this one for a while now. I really would like to see pages for all of the record labels represented on Apple Music. At the bottom of each album page it lists the copyright date and the label. While these links may not be useful for the huge labels like Warner Music Group, it would be awesome for smaller indie labels.

Boutique labels headed by curators like Peanut Butter Wolf (Stones Throw), Ian MacKaye (Dischord) and James Murphy (DFA) release a consistent flow of releases from artists I’d never otherwise hear about. I’d love to be able to view their entire catalog on a page in the app.

Icon Consistency for Mail, Contacts and Calendar

This last one is mostly just a gripe from my inner designer. Now that we’re more than a decade into iOS it is high time the mobile operating system had icon parity with MacOS. It frustrates me every time I open a core app like Mail, Calendar or Messages that the icons on Mac are different from those on iOS.

The worst part is that some shared apps, like Photos and Safari, have the same (or similar) icon on both platforms. I’m not saying that MacOS should be filled with the rounded rectangle icons of an iOS home screen, but it should at least use the same iconography. It’s so odd that Mail on Mac is a stamp and Mail on iOS is an envelope.


I’m always excited for new features at every WWDC and I expect we may get a couple this year. However, I really hope Apple addresses these and a few other simple fixes this year. It would make the whole ecosystem look and feel more polished and I think that’s been lacking in the last few release cycles.