Potential iPhone XS Name Leak from Totalee Cases

August 30, 2018

From Inverse: iPhone XS Plus: Case Maker Leak Hints at Apple’s Next Smartphone Names

The cases, spotted by a Reddit user called “Lonz123,” suggest Apple will dub the $699 6.1-inch LCD model the “iPhone 9.” This would place the device, branding-wise, between last year’s iPhone 8 and iPhone X models — the latter of which uses the Roman numeral for 10, according to Apple marketing literature. The $899 5.8-inch OLED model that serves as a successor to last year’s iPhone X will be called “iPhone XS,” echoing the previous naming conventions where a numbered phone release is followed by an “S” year with minimal design changes. In keeping with this, the listings suggest the $999 6.5-inch OLED model will be the “iPhone XS Plus,” also following Apple’s previous naming conventions.

This looks an awful lot like my guess from earlier this week. I just can’t see Apple moving away from numbering this year. It would add too much confusion for the average consumer.

It is a little weird that the “S” would capitalized and come directly after the “X”. I figure there’s going to be at least a space between them to denote a pause.

What’s in a Number? – Apple’s iPhone Naming Problem

August 27, 2018
The iPhone 8 and X create a serious iPhone naming problem

Apple created this problem for themselves. In September 2017, they upended years of iPhone naming conventions to release the iPhones 8 and X (pronounced ten). This instantly created questions about the names for this year’s phones. Would they release an iPhone 9 a year later?

The iPhone 8 and X create a serious iPhone naming problem

Now that we think we know what the 2018 models will look like, we have to ask even more complicated questions and re-evaluate a lot of outdated assumptions.

The 5.8″ OLED

This phone will be a direct successor to last year’s iPhone X. It has an Organic Light-Emitting-Diode (OLED) display, no home button and two vertically arrayed cameras.

Traditionally, based on the tick-tock cycle of iPhone names this would be called the iPhone Xs. However, the iPhone 8 didn’t get an “s” generation so I wouldn’t be surprised if that tradition went the way of the Newton.

The 6.5″ OLED

This phone has a significantly larger footprint, but is otherwise the same as the 5.8″. In years past this would have been called a “plus,” due to its larger size (i.e. iPhone 8 plus).

The 6.1″ LCD

This is the curveball. Clocking in at a 6.1″ diagonal it is somewhere between the other two phones in physical size. It uses a Liquid-Crystal Display like the ones in all iPhones 8 and earlier. This phone also only has one camera lens, placed in an extruding bump similar to the one on the iPhone 8.

Based on the case specifications and the significantly cheaper display panel, many analysts are expecting this phone to be priced way below the other two.

In the past, there have only been two low-priced ‘new’ iPhones: the SE and the 5c. The SE was thought to be a concession to users who didn’t want the larger sizes of the iPhone 6 generation. The 5c was a commercially unsuccessful budget phone made out of cheaper components.

How could Apple name these iPhones?

There are a few different iPhone naming schemes Apple could introduce this year. Almost all of them will create confusion for the lay-consumer. And whatever they decide will dictate the branding of the world’s best-selling phone for years to come.

I’ve assembled a table of some of the possibilities here:

5.8″ OLED 6.4″ OLED 6.1″ LCD
iPhone 11 iPhone 11 plus iPhone 9
iPhone 11 iPhone Pro iPhone 9
iPhone 11 iPhone 11 plus The New iPhone SE
iPhone Xs iPhone Xs plus iPhone 9
iPhone Xs iPhone Pro iPhone 9
iPhone Xs iPhone Xs plus The new iPhone SE
The New iPhone X iPhone X plus iPhone 9
The New iPhone X iPhone Pro iPhone 9
The New iPhone X iPhone X plus The New iPhone SE  

What’s in a number?

The above are just the first nine sets of options that I heard or thought of. I’m sure the branding team at Apple has gone through at least a half dozen more arrays. All of them end up begging the same question though: “What’s in a number?”

I would argue that the average consumer’s expectations of the device are tied to the number.

In the past Apple has kept older, lower-numbered, phones in the lineup and discounted them as a budget solution. For example, at the time of this writing the iPhone 8 starts at $699 while the iPhone 7 starts at $549.

This has been Apple’s solution to the “low-end” of the market for almost a decade. And while this does saddle budget buyers with outdated tech, it creates a consistent nomenclature.

The average Apple Store visitor can easily tell the price difference between iPhones 6 and 7. They can also see the number of additional bullet points under the “tech specs” and gather that the 7 is faster, newer and better despite looking nearly the same.

I, like many analysts, would appreciate a respite from the numbers. The rest of the market may not be ready though.

The Path of Least Resistance

The new LCD phone will probably cost more than the iPhone 8  currently does on its release day. Naming it the iPhone 9 allows Apple to keep the same name/pricing model on the middle-to-low-end devices.

However, the lack of substantial changes to the 5.8″ OLED would suggest that it isn’t “deserving” of a new number. This phone could become the iPhone Xs (ten-s), much to the chagrin of some commentators.

iPhone naming isn’t about pleasing the pros though. At the end of the day, Apple’s goal should be to use a system of names that anyone can understand. 

With that in mind, I expect to see a lot of numbers next week. Everyone, in every country, can at least understand that 9 is better than 8.

Ten Versions of Money

August 20, 2018

Since the middle of the 1960’s rock and roll has been largely focused on songs written by its performers. This hasn’t been the case for every critically or commercially successful single, but third-party songwriters have certainly been pushed further back behind the curtain than they once were. Covers have similarly fallen out of vogue, mostly relegated to b-sides, YouTube videos and live performances.

Original 45 single label for “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong on Tamla RecordsHowever, certain “standards” continue to receive attention and updated iterations over the decades. My favorite example is “Money (That’s What I Want).” Originally written by Motown founder Berry Gordy and his frequent collaborator Janie Bradford, the song is a simple call and response style rocker about wanting some cash.

“Money” became the first hit record for Gordy and Motown when it was performed by Barrett Strong on a single in 1959. Since then it has become something of a rite of passage. It has been covered by dozens of musicians and reimagined in some truly fascinating ways.

After talking about variations in classical music performance on a recent episode of Dudes Brunch, I wanted to take some time here to explore ten varied versions of “Money.” If you want to play along at home, I have my Apple Music playlist saved for your listening pleasure.

Barrett Strong (Original Studio Recording, 1959)

Bradford and Gordy originally wrote “Money (That’s What I Want)” for soul singer Barrett Strong. A slightly swinging piano leads the instrumentation during the opening along with some pretty aggressive tambourine. Strong’s baritone voice echoes slightly as he wails out the opening lines over a simple drum pattern. A classic rock and roll guitar takes over the melodic line while a small group of back-up singers handle the call and response duties. There’s a lot more swing in this iteration than many of the covers, which is characteristic of the time. Strong does some interesting ad-libs in the fade out that aren’t picked up on other versions either. Overall though, the sloppiness of early rock’n’roll is what is most apparent in this 1959 track.

The Beatles (Studio Recording, 1962)

The Beatles version was, of course, my first exposure to this classic. Like the original, the fab four’s cover relies heavily on a piano for melody. Almost all of the swing is lost, in favor of a more aggressive stomping rhythm. John Lennon screeches the lead while Paul and George provide extremely tight harmonized back-up vocals and little “woo’s” on key beats. The sustain on the guitars feels unique, but their tone is pretty similar to the original Motown recording. The Beatles really shine towards the end of the track when they let loose and just jam with it, like they probably did during live performances in Hamburg.

Jerry Lee Lewis (Live Recording, 1964)

Speaking of, Jerry Lee Lewis’ famous cover of “Money” recorded at the Star-Club* is as piano heavy as you’d expect. Jerry Lee really pounds away in instrumental breaks after each chorus. His vocal delivery is a little wobbly at times and lacks the aggression of Strong and Lennon. He more than makes up for it in the improvised bridge added around the 3:00 mark. It’s a unique feature that relies on Jerry Lee’s keyboard work and a rock solid backing band. The mix buries his guitar player, which is unfortunate since it seems like he’s doing a great job with the song.

The Supremes (Studio Recording, 1966)

Out with the funk and in with the Motown sound, Gordy revived his 1959 composition for The Supremes. A funky rhythm guitar and a horn section give this cover that Supremes style. Diana Ross’ lead vocal feels prissy yet effortless and the backing vocals are kind of buried as a result. Buried as a cover on the second side of an album with a half dozen hits this version doesn’t get considered as often as The Beatles’, but I’d consider it just as important to the song’s evolution for the change in instrumentation.

John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band (Live Recording, 1969)

Towards the end of The Beatles, Lennon brought “Money” back as a cover in his solo set with the Plastic Ono Band. His vicious vocal delivery remains, but the harmonized back-up vocals from his band mates are obviously missing. For whatever reason he and the band also slow the song down as well. The result is a somewhat lethargic performance too reliant on the middle eight guitar solo and John’s screaming in the closing chorus. Years in the studio with no touring are definitely showing themselves here.

Iggy & The Stooges (Live/Demo Recordings, circa 1979)

A few recordings of Iggy Pop singing “Money” exist and are notable if only because The Stooges seem to have never formally released a cover of the song. Scott Asheton’s drumming is the highlight of The Stooges rendition. He plays frantically, with proto-punk volume and rapid-fire fills. His brother Ron doesn’t seem to get a handle on the guitar part until one minute in when he suddenly starts wailing all over it. Iggy’s vocal is whiny and almost off-key in places, which betrays that these are demo recordings. Overall, a solid attempt, but they were outshined by another cover in the same year.

The Flying Lizards (Studio Recording, 1979)

Immortalized (for me at least) in Empire Records, The Flying Lizards’ cover of “Money” is perhaps the weirdest. Clanging metal takes the place of the traditional snare drum. A dulcimer-like electric piano plays the lead as straight as an arrow. The female lead vocal is nearly spoken word, the backing vocals are in a bizarre harmony and the only guitar on the track is a blur of feedback after each chorus. This cover sounds like it could have been released in the mid-80s. It’s way ahead of its time in employing synthesizers and a new wave aloofness. There’s an almost ambient bridge with some pretty trippy phasing and artificial echo. One of the vocalists is even shouting through a megaphone on this thing. If a cover is supposed to be a reinterpretation, the Flying Lizards go far above and beyond everyone else so far.

Hanson (Live Recording, 1998)

I initially included Hanson’s cover on my playlist as a joke, but the vocal harmonies ended up making it work for me. The ad libs are abysmal and the piano lead is pretty lifeless. However, the brothers Hanson have also had great harmonies and this cover is no exception. They lean on group vocals throughout the chorus, playing to their strengths, but the solo verses are a little cringe-y. If nothing else, this is a worth a listen just to remind you that this band is more than “Mmm’bop.”

Secret Machines (Studio Recording, 2015)

The neo-psychedelia outfit Secret Machines have re-interpreted a number of classic songs over the years. Their work on the Across the Universe soundtrack was truly impressive. On this surprisingly mellow cover, the band draws out the melodic progression of “Money” to turn it into a dark and mournful ballad. Front-man Brandon Curtis’ whiny indie-rock crooning is a far cry from the barbaric yawp of John Lennon. With a sort of Lou Reed inspired snark he makes lines like “They say the best things in life are free” feel as though they were always satire. Atmospheric synths and a plucky keyboard give way to distorted guitar in a bridge that feels almost cinematic. Clocking in at 7:07, this is the longest version of “Money” I could find. It drags on a little too long, in my opinion, but I love the unique approach.

CID & Bahary (Remix of The Flying Lizards Recording, 2018)

This remix became the catalyst for this post, when it came up on an Apple Music workout playlist last month. CID and Bahary’s re-work borrows that iconic female vocal from The Flying Lizards to great effect here. The Lizards’ chorus is heard briefly, but this remix focuses mostly on the pre-chorus. The line “I want money” is sampled repeatedly over a crescendoing synth pattern. Additional backing vocal samples are used as a supplement to the snare drum. Verses are used as builds to bass drops. A cha-cha slide esque drum break in the center of the song is its only dull moment. Gordy and Bradford could never have seen this coming.

Listening to ten covers of “Money (That’s What I Want)” for the last month has shown me how the essential elements of a song can be adapted to any number of genres and styles. A song written for a soul singer can become a club banger, but only by incorporating the vocal delivery of an art-rock cover from thirty years earlier.

As we approach the 60th anniversary of the original recording in 2019 I’m glad to see this song survive. It’s one of the catchiest in the modern pop canon and is obviously adaptable to many styles. Who knows, maybe we’ll see an indie folk iteration or a retro-rock banger rendition. I just hope people don’t stop playing this one for a while.

* The Star-Club is a venue in Hamburg where The Beatles also held a residency and almost certainly played their raucous covers of “Money.” I’m not sure if Jerry Lee was directly alluding to them by including this cover on his album, but he was known to be aware of The Fab Four in this period.

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 last film, Guardians makes for a perfect palate cleanser.

Chris Pratt 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.