MovieByte 124: You’re Not the Boss of Me

TJ Draper and I reviewed Paddington, a very charming British family flick. The young, extra-smart bear goes to London, where he is befriended by the Browns, and is pursued by a malicious museum taxidermist. I give this fun, but often formulaic, flight of fantasy ★★★☆☆.

We also discuss movie headlines, like:

I wish I could have articulated some of my thoughts about Paddington better. Here goes:

  • This film starts off hitting all of the right notes. It is charming, cute, innocent, and… happy. It is true to the Paddington bear source material at first.
  • The Brown family is fleshed out. The city of London and Paddington’s perception of the world around him are lovingly intertwined.
  • The bears’ animation is the right balance of realistic animal and playful art. He usually reminds you of an innocent storybook character, but embodied by a living creature — even though that creature on screen isn’t actually real.
  • Then the villain consumes much of the charm and stands in the way of Paddington’s fun. Nicole Kidman’s Millicent doesn’t add up. She belongs to a different story.
  • The locations for the final showdown in the museum are stifling the potential action. They don’t lend themselves to an exciting climax, like say the airport in Toy Story 2, or Metro City in Megamind. Or consider the final 'battle' in The LEGO Movie. The locations amplify the action sequences.
  • Whenever the movie isn’t adorable, Paddington is paying homage to overly formulaic plot points. It happens more and more during the second half of the film.
  • In spite of the shortcomings that dampen my enthusiasm as a member of adults that watch such films for our children’s benefit, there is ample heart and soul to Paddington’s movie. The kids will overlook all of the flaws.

TL;DR I wish that Paddington’s story was as clever as a Pixar film yet stayed true to itself. I got half of what I wished for. And I wasn’t happy with the villain, Millicent.

Skeuomorphism: A Comforting Lie

Every now and then, some designer or tech enthusiast tosses around the term ‘skeuomorphism.’ It’s a very interesting concept, and one that we all greatly benefit from.

But it has it’s downsides. Sometimes when new, innovative design work looks similar to what it replaces, it will limit and defocus intended use cases.

Since that sounds deep — too deep for my mind at this time of the morning — let me move on to my point. Read the article (linked with this post’s title). It’s a great introduction to skeuomorphism: A comforting lie. Designers can greatly benefit.

Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with the intent of skeuomorphism, and many implimentations have paid off. Some, however, hold us back.

(Via Marco)

According to His Excellent Greatness

I’m very excited to tell you about my friend’s book about the arts and creativity. But first, here’s what another writer, EJ Olsen, said about According to His Excellent Greatness:

When I saw the tagline, “The Practice of Aesthetics for Christians Today,” I have to admit that I did not think that this book would be relevant for me. I thought that aesthetics was limited to visual arts. Being a writer, I was not sure how interesting a book about painting and drawing would be. But I decided to give it a listen. According to His Excellent Greatness proved to be incredibly relevant to my life as an artist and a consumer – or, as the book would say, a “commissioner” — of many arts.

Michael Minkoff, my friend and fellow creative professional, has spent thousands of hours studying the defining principles of the arts. I have read most of his book, and I already plan to read it again. If you are an artist of any kind, or you take special interest in the topic of creativity, this is a book you should read or listen to.

I don’t want to reduce the content to a paragraph description here. There is a wealth of thoughtful — and I mean, very thoughtful — insight in the book. So if you want to know what it’s all about, read Michael’s own description of the book.

The e-book (a PDF) and the audiobook, for your benefit. It’s insanity that he is offering this book for free, so get it before Michael comes to his senses.

Mobile vs. Desktop Usage at Top Brew

Everyone that’s checking out the coffee podcast and site is a savvy tech user (and handsome I'm sure), or at least that’s what I tell myself. So it’s no wonder what the usage statistics reflect.

A screenshot of some Squarespace Metrics

A screenshot of some Squarespace Metrics

These are visits in the last two weeks. This is based on hardly any marketing or public press. All I have done so far is tell my friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook about Top Brew.

And you’re all a bunch of handsome, savvy technophiles after all. I’m honestly encouraged to see mostly respectable and "current" operating systems in the lineup. I know there are lots of older OS still on the web, but with the passage of time, I see less and less signs of their usage.

I wish that the first stat, 93.61 MacOSX, were more specific. But what’s the worse it could be? 47 percent Snow Leopard users? I doubt it.

Quick Tips for Hand-crafted Coffee

Today, on, I published the third in our Quick Tip series. Here’s what we have:

This is only the beginning. I know that many of you are well-versed in the art of hand-crafted coffee. Good! For all of you that are looking for ways to step it up, we have some great ideas at Top Brew, with a new tip every Monday.

If you would like to give us a tip of yours, pass it on through Twitter.

Dare to be Daring

I enjoyed John Gruber’s XOXO talk, wherein he explained the Daring Fireball business model. If given the opportunity, I would enjoy working as a writer in a similar capacity. Many of us geeky writers would.

Speaking of writers, the Desk App is the new app on the block that has turned our heads — thanks to John Saddington’s delightful developer work on this new text editor. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Saddington paid to have his app advertised on Daring Fireball. I say “advertised” but what I mean is, “John paid for Desk to sponsor Daring Fireball, and that’s why we know about his app today.”

Saddington explained in great detail that it pays to sponsor Gruber’s site. I think that many of us kinda knew deep down that it does, but most of us haven’t seen a case study. He also addressed some points we should always keep in mind (which you should read about in detail in his post):

  1. Audience Matters
  2. A Great Product
  3. The Halo Effect
  4. It’s Always a Risk
  5. Timing Matters
  6. Have the Right Attitude
  7. Experiment

I’m always impressed by how often we are absolutely right in our content creation and development approach, yet we don’t have the guts to take action to achieve real success, like John Saddington has. He put his money where it counts. If I could add a #8 to his list, I would say “Commit by Taking Action.” In Saddington’s case, it was forking out a lot of money for the business model he believed in.

Fatty Joe Coffee

Brent Rose at Gizmodo:

People are putting butter in their coffee. And hey, if you're just craving a new flavor experience, more power to you. The problem is that Bulletproof Coffee, the company behind the trend, is claiming that drinking a mug of fatty joe every morning instead of eating breakfast is a secret shortcut to weight loss and mental superpowers, and now the butter coffee has developed a cult of highly caffeinated, shiny-lipped adherents. So now we have to talk about it.

Oh gosh.

Top Brew 2: Barbecue, Lemonade, and Coffee

Episode #2 of the Top Brew podcast was released today. Technically, I want the show available every Wednesday, but my Internet provider took the day off.

Eric Rauch and I discussed our brew rituals, which we wrote about here and here. We also talked up hand-crafted goods. The vocal minority wants to make what they eat and drink from wholesome ingredients, and big businesses have taken note.

Top Brew is to the right of center.

Top Brew is to the right of center.

And in other interesting news, Top Brew is featured under the Food category of podcasts on iTunes. We are very pleased about the exposure.

If you have given thought to creating a podcast, but are discouraged because you assume that the audience’s listening hours are all but saturated, then reconsider. The good listeners are usually looking for more great shows. If you have the right idea, you can earn their attention. The ability to create and succeed with your show is still very much alive.

An Apple Stylus for Creative Professionals

Rumor has it that Apple will make available a stylus pen primarily intended for an iPad Pro device, or some such model of iPad. The idea is that a stylus would make the iPad more powerful, because a pen is mightier than the fingertip.

Maybe Apple will make one, but the idea is a good idea in any case. Fingerpainting isn’t nearly as attractive or detailed as pen and pencil art. You can do more with a long, pointy tool than you can with the blunt, wide tip of a finger. Our index fingers will never be proper instruments for writing or illustrating on the scale of an iPad’s screen. The tip of a stylus offers a precise point of contact we cannot see around the end of our fingers.

The good news is that we don’t need to wait for Apple to give us a decent stylus. I use the Jot Pro by Adonit. This is a power user tool. It is pressure sensitive, has configurable buttons, charges via USB… It can do it all.

The stylus from Apple would probably distinguish itself with more simplicity than its competitors, but most styluses are simple to begin with. It might have a unique feature, but probably not one that eliminates the need for the competition. In fact, I would expect Apple’s stylus to be reminiscent of the Apple TV remote: incredibly small and limited.

One way it could surpass the competition would be with pressure sensitivity. Third party pens depend on their hardware’s built-in solution. The pressure sensitivity of the pen has to be supported by an app, or it will not work.

In theory, the Apple stylus would work no matter the app, because iOS would support it underneath the apps. Most of the time at Apple, software and hardware are made in tandem and keep each other in mind. So, the pressure sensitivity would work without a thought or care from the user. Their stylus might not even need to charge.

We Are Not Snobby Coffee Drinkers

This week, I launched the Top Brew site and podcast. Yesterday, we released episode #1: We Are Not Snobby Coffee Drinkers. And today, we published the first in a series of written interviews I call “brew rituals.”

In this episode, Eric Rauch and I discussed the big picture of coffee culture, and how much we enjoy coffee from our own unique tastes and experiences. We also discussed the latest trend of the craft coffee market.

I want to mention that I thought very long and hard about the length of our podcast. We could easily discuss coffee and everything about it for more than an hour per episode, but we felt it was better to give our listeners shorter episodes that they could easily share with friends and family.

I have introduced many good podcasts to people over the years, and the response I hear the most often is, “How long is it? More than an hour?! Forget it.…” So, for everyone’s sake, Top Brew is mindfully planned and recorded in an attempt to keep each episode between 25 - 35 minutes.

I also want to say a special thanks to our first sponsor. Thrasher Coffee is a fine establishment. Eric works there, and it is for that reason, and our great friendship, that I wanted him to be my co-host. Eric roasts the beans I like most, because they are so fresh (roasted-to-order). I couldn’t be happier than to tell you about Thrasher, and recommend them to you. If you like tasty, fresh coffee beans, then you will love Thrasher.

Let me know on Twitter how you like the podcast.

The 'Unbroken' Movie is Mostly Accurate

I watched Unbroken last night in preparation to review it on tomorrow’s MovieByte podcast. The movie tells the story of World War II U.S. Army Air Forces hero, Louis Zamperini. This Olympic runner suffered the tyranny of Japanese POW camps, and much more.

I was concerned about the accuracy of the account, seeing that it was based on a true story. According to sources, this movie is mostly accurate — more so than many other biopic films, like The Imitation Game, which I reviewed with TJ Draper on the movie podcast last week.

Check out the Slate’s article if you want to know more about the historical account, and see the movie sometime. It’s good. Can’t wait to review it on the podcast.

Mailbox App for Mac Review

The other day, I read a great review of the third party Mac and iOS e-mail app named Mailbox (beta). Jason Snell explains why it is the mail app of choice: that the features excel in simplified mail management. This is a good review, if you care about mail management in 2015.

I had not used Mailbox in more than a year on iOS when I read Jason’s review. I had signed up for the early beta release of the Mac version, and when I tried it in the early days, it was so buggy that I quit the app and deleted it. Now that The Sweet Setup gave it high praise, I thought it was time to return to Mailbox, and give it a second chance.

I used Mailbox for a couple weeks and initially I found very little fault in it. The app is robust in some ways the others are not. I shared my initials thoughts in a blog post December 20, 2014. Since then, I have formed more of my opinion, and I want to call attention to present concerns. Mailbox has a ways to go before it should drop the "(beta)" modifier.

The Mac version strikes me as clean, easy to use, and substantive. There are mail clients that cut the corners — leaving out useful features I’ve grown accustom to, like mailbox/folder/label management. Others still have quirks that make it very cumbersome to add your email address accounts, so when you attempt to use, say, your iCloud or even you Gmail account, you get grief because the app expects you to know what the port number is, and such. I hate it that in the present we still expect the average user to know what the technical stuff is all about… Moving on.

Once you have your mail address in Mailbox, many things just fall into place. Gestures work like a charm. The developers have taken good care to be sure the app is stable. I could tell a huge different over the last month of the app’s performance. The only time it has crashed (ironically) is when I have just quit. the app. I would be content to use Mailbox day in and day out now that It is a fast and robust mail client.

Perhaps the standout feature are the options to review mail messages at a later time, such as:

  • Later Today
  • This Evening
  • Tomorrow
  • This Weekend
  • Next Week
  • In a Month
  • Someday (?)
  • Mobile (?)
  • Pick a Date

These are all options you have when you swipe the mail message (or thread of mail messages). Mailbox will manage them for you; putting them off to the time you have selected. They become invisible, so to speak, but really they move to another mailbox. This is great if you want to cheat your way to "inbox zero." The mail is still not dealt with, but you are committing to it at another time.

On the Mac, press and hold the Command key and all of the clickable buttons in the interface will reveal their keyboard shortcuts. I live in Keyboard Shortcut Land (if there is such a place) and this is extremely useful design on Mailbox’s part. I wish all the Mac apps did this. It is especially handy if you want to move from one mailbox to another. Command+1 selects the Inbox. Command+4 takes you to the archive. And you don’t have to remember the shortcuts, because they reveal themselves a split second after you press the Command key. Brilliant.

The downside to Mailbox, which is still in beta and deservedly so, is the search tool. Many apps still have search shortcomings — even Mac’s beloved Finder isn’t especially intuitive about search. But one Apple app that excels in search is their own Mail app.

I still remember watching the Apple keynote a few years ago when Phil Schiller, an Apple exec, introduced the powerful search controls in Mail. I was impressed, because they were so straightforward. If you type in a person’s first name, you are presented with a dropdown list. You can choose from people that are in your contacts with that name, or subjects with that person’s name in the subject line.

After you choose the person by name, you can use more advanced filtering that is incredibly easy to handle. From the name, define whether you are looking for mail messages sent to the person or from the person. Then, add additional search criteria. You could add a keyword to your search: perhaps a word or phrase that you think was in the mail message.

Nine times out of ten, I find the mail that I’m looking for in Apple’s Mail app within a few seconds. This is not the case in Mailbox. This app is very loose with search keywords. You search for "Jim Bob," and it will look at the mail address, subject line, and the message (and attachments?) and give you a loosely organized collection of results that are not honed. The one thing going for the search results is that they are sorted by most recent. If you look up the word "coffee" because you want that mail message you received yesterday about coffee with Jim Bob, then you probably will find it quickly. But if you are looking for the message from Jim Bob he sent a few weeks ago, then you will find it much more easily in Apple’s Mail.

At the moment, I use six e-mail addresses and a few additional mail aliases. Some aren’t supported in Mailbox, as of yet. That’s too bad, really, because I would be willing to forgive the search tool if I could use Mailbox for all my mail accounts.

Mailbox supports iCloud and Gmail e-mail addresses, and that’s it. No IMAP or POP address of any sort. Tough luck, for people that use custom mail addresses for work. Mailbox is so useful for mail management that I would love to use it for my work addresses. But no can do, Mr. Chips.

This leaves me with a well-designed app that is highly functional in a "bleeding edge of technology" kind of way, that lacks the features of old that all mail clients need to be a complete solution for my workflow.

And it is a toss between Apple Mail or Dropbox’s Mailbox, because the mail management features between the two are different enough that it just doesn’t make sense to try to use the both of them simultaneously. I couldn’t use Mail for all the powerful search and Mailbox for powerful mail management for long, because it is difficult to resist the urge to use custom mailboxes in my iCloud and Gmail accounts that do not appear in Mailbox. (That’s another issue I hadn’t brought up.)

For the time being, I’m back to Mail. The day that Mailbox includes IMAP, I’m going back to Mailbox.

Introducing Top Brew

Thanks to the support of my friends at Thrasher Coffee, the founding sponsor, I have started Top Brew: a podcast and site dedicated to help drinkers find and create the best coffee.

The coffee site is soft launching today. For Day #1, the home page, about page, and other pages are made available. And our first blog post, The Hidden Blessings of Freshly Roasted Coffee, is published. You have something to read and subsribe to now if you are interested in the future of our podcast’s enterprise.

The Top Brew coffee podcast starts this Wednesday, January 14. My friend Eric Rauch and myself will be discussing first things: why we want a podcast about coffee, follow up to our friends that helped start the show, et cetera.

If you would like us to talk about something on your mind about coffee, ask us in a tweet with "#asktopbrew" in your message to us.

Follow Top Brew on Twitter, RSS, Facebook or newsletter if you want to keep informed of the newest updates.

365 Movie Guy (A Reminder)

I call this “A Reminder” because I wrote about 365 Movie Guy the other day. And if you missed that post, I wanted to call attention to it again, as I think you will really enjoy it if you are interested in movies and filmmaking.

For those of you in the audience that love a good watch, I recommend you check out my friend’s new site: 365 Movie Guy. Besides being a good friend, Clark Douglas, the movie critic, has found his niche in his new home on the Internet. I helped him build it, but that doesn’t mean I’m catering to my biases with my recommendation (not necessarily). Clark’s site is, I think, actually rich in content and worth a second look.

The shtick is that he releases one new review every day of the year. For this reason, he is watching a lot of movies! But Clark would have done that anyway, since he’s been watching lots of films for many years. He has a great movie soundtrack related radio show (that he hosts) called The Sounds & Sights of Cinema (here’s the RSS link if you want to listen to it as a podcast). He has been writing reviews for DVD Verdict for many years as well.

But who am I to judge? As a writer, graphic designer, and a podcaster myself that loves to spend most of my time listening rather than reading, I think that Clark’s site is one of the few sites that I actually want to regularly check and read. He’s insightful in the filmmaking craft. He notices a great deal of storytelling nuance. He appreciates how each film relates to it’s predecessors — particularly as the film in review relates to the filmography of its director and leading actors.

So, real quickly, here are some of his movie reviews on his new site I especially enjoyed: Aguirre, the Wrath of God directed by Werner Herzog, The Offence starring Sean Connery, and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit which stars Chris Pine and Kevin Costner. Check these out if you are at all interested in good movie review in the written form.

The World Needs a Great Coffee Podcast

Something I've been thinking about lately are podcasts. For more than the last year, I have worked for/with a local coffee roaster. With coffee on my mind, I felt inclined I check iTunes for coffee podcasts. I wanted something to listen to about coffee while I work, brew, and go about my graphic design projects. And what I found doesn’t look good. There wasn’t a single coffee show that I liked.

Coffee casts are not tapped. Sure, there have been many attempts, like:

It’s difficult to pick and choose coffee related podcasts to reference. Most of them are outdated. Those that fall into the "old and forgotten" category have been cancelled by their show creators. Besides these, other coffee shows look amateurish; they lack enough credibility to be worth mentioning. And the rest that turn up in iTunes and a Google search with "coffee" in the results do not have to do with coffee. Shows like:

The one promising show that I thought was worth giving a try is called I Brew My Own Coffee, but this is a newer show. If the trend is an indicator, it stands a small chance of success.

Coffee isn’t an industry, like say technology, where everyone and their friend named John wants his own podcast and network. So…that’s it. There is one prospective coffee podcast, and if it isn’t what I’m looking for — stuff that is interestingly told in a coffee talk show — then I’ve come to the end of the road.

Why is it that creative people haven’t tapped coffee’s potential? Most people with a podcatcher drink coffee, I dare say. Even if you aren’t fanatical about how you make yours, there is a good chance that a well-made show with entertaining hosts would hold your attention and give you much to enjoy. Have I just found a market waiting for the right producers?

Maybe some creative people lack inspiration for a sustainable show. Maybe the people that have thought about it, and those who have tried, concluded, “Coffee is coffee. We can’t get past episode three. There just isn’t enough to say about…coffee.”

This is basically what happens to many ideas for podcasts. The show creators are inspired and excited to get started, then quit around episode 3. They discover that podcasting, while it is an engaging medium with a low point of entry, is a lot of work. Or they hit a "podcasters block," where they cannot find enough content that is worth discussing.

But if there is anything I learned from The Pen Addict, it is that you can produce a great show about anything and it should thrive for a long time. Somebody out there is interested in your niche, especially when it is discussed from the heart — from people that love what you love. Coffee is one of those topics that deserves that kind of emphasis.

Therefore, I guess now is the time to announce that one of my side hustles is a new coffee podcast and site. This has been a huge understaking and a real treat. We are close to launching. I hope to cover a wide range of topics that all pertain to coffee, like:

  • Brewing tips
  • Roast profiles
  • Cupping notes
  • Home brewing
  • Coffee on the road
  • Flavor enhancements
  • Cream and/or sugar

And much, much more. I think that in due time, we have as much to discuss on our show and site as anyone does about Apple, productivity, or Marvel movies. People like coffee and consume coffee in an incredibly wide variety of ways.

The podcast and site will officially launch Thursday, January 15. Look here and on my Twitter stream for the newest updates.

And if you want to introduce a topic for the show, write us a tweet with #asktopbrew included. Thanks!

Introducing 365 Movie Guy

My friend, Clark Douglas, just launched 365 Movie Guy. This is now one of the best reads on the web. It was a real treat for me to design it with him.

Clark is a professional movie critic. For more than 20 years, he has studied the craft from the audience’s point of view. He’s interviewed filmmakers, and even played a few small parts in films made here in the Atlanta area. I dare say, Clark probably knows more about movies than all of Reddit. Ask him if he has watched any given film, and he has. He could tell you a lot about it too.

365 Movie Guy will feature one new movie review each day. Leap years will include 366, which breaks the rule, but who’s judging? From a cultured perspective, Clark zeroes in on the entertainment and production values in each review. There’s just a hint of his biases, but I have good reason to believe they are all good biases. Clark has good tastes. We don’t always see eye-to-eye about films, but his perspective has always been of value as it is refined and well supported by Clark’s insights.

The Dizziness of Reading Material

I wrote about this topic earlier this year. I feel that it is a good idea to revisit the subject. Now is a good time to reevaluate what, when, and how we read from our devices.

Earlier this year, The Sweet Setup published a great review of the best collection of RSS readers for iOS: specifically for the iPad, though what they state is largely true for iPhone apps as well. It’s a good review by Robert McGinley Myers. He proves several reasons why RSS is still relevant in 2014, and why Unread is the best RSS reader.

RSS lost core mainstream attention when Google Reader was shutdown, but that does not change the fact that RSS is still the most useful way to read your favorite sites. It may be old-fashioned by social networking standards, and sure, site managers would rather you visit their site each and every time you read their content so that they can boost their stats. But RSS best serves readers. It just works when implemented with an especially reader-friendly interface. (Second to RSS might be a Twitter list which I use as a backup of some interesting RSS feeds, but that’s a subject for another post.)

In his review, Robert quotes Jared Sinclair, who created Unread:

Let RSS be the place where great independent writing thrives. Choose your favorite writers and read them closely. If you’re also a writer, write as if you are writing directly to just such a reader, the way Kierkegaard always wrote for: “… that single individual whom I with joy and gratitude call my reader…”

It’s fitting that Sinclair ends this philosophy statement (how many app developers even have a philosophy statement, let alone one so well-articulated?) with a quote from Soren Kierkegaard. I often think of Kierkegaard when I think about the anxiety technology can produce, an anxiety brought on by the power to do so many different things that we’re never quite sure what to do at any given moment. Kierkegaard compared anxiety to dizziness, “the dizziness of freedom.”

We still face the dizziness problem here at the end of 2014. We are bombarded with news and content. Heck, most of you probably want to speed read this post so you can get back to your Twitter feed, texts, and Slack chats. There’s a ridiculous urge we suffer to ‘consume all the things.’ I hate to break it to you, but you are ensnared in the dizziness. This dizziness is more like self-indentured slavery to a bad ideal: the notion that unfiltered content leads to a better understanding of our culture and our work. You and I don’t need that.

What we need is self-structured filters, like the ones we can manage with RSS. An operational definition of the word ‘liberty’ is ‘freedom within boundaries.’ Ah, that’s what we need. By way of limiting our feeds, we can enjoy the content that is most beneficial.

Ask yourself something like If I were marooned on a deserted island, and I could only have 3 site feeds with me, which would I take? Then, ask yourself this again for three more sites. Do this four times, so that you have a nice even number of 12 feeds in total. That should do it. 12 is about as many sites as you can realistically make time for and truly benefit from. Let the Top 12 steer you towards the good stuff, so that you have real time for some highly enjoyable feed reads — none of the dizzy rush to consume all the things.

In early 2015, take some time to prune your feeds, bookmarks, and follows that are bogging you down. You only have so much attention to give them. Stop being a headlines completionist. Be a high-performing reader that focuses on what’s worthwhile.