Uneducated Thoughts on the 2010 WWDC Jobsnote

Uneducated Thoughts on the 2010 WWDC Jobsnote

Jun 08

The new phone feels more like an evolution than a revolution. This did not stop Jobs from continually positioning it as a “revolutionary” device. I’m starting to understand where this “reality distortion field” comes from.

I think the positioning of the phone was impacted by the Gizmodo leak. Without that leak, Jobs gets a big gasp and applause from the mere visual introduction of the new form factor and look. Since that was already widely seen and known beforehand, he had to lean harder on the feature set to get the kind of reaction he wants from a Jobsnote–excitement, making way for keen interest, bursting into unadulterated awe, all from the Apple acolytes.

This phone will probably be successful, but I don’t know if it’s exciting enough to impact general consumers in a significant way. If you’re going to buy an iPhone anyway, or thinking about it, it’s a no-brainer. It will impact a lot of fence-sitters. It will probably push those holding out for some kind of Verizon iPhone to just grit their teeth and suck up AT&T’s crappy service. But it’s not the kind of device that makes Joe Wifi drop his Droid in the trash and run out to the nearest Apple store.

Part of that is because I think the reality of the front-facing camera right now and the Facetime app is nowhere near the fantasy that Apple depicts in its new commercial. Unless you and all your loved ones near and far will be there on June 24 to buy the new device, you won’t have anyone with which to schedule time to view your face. The API is open so it’s a safe bet that before the end of this year, there will be a third-party app that brings the front camera to older iPhones, or the web. Until then, your face will be lonely.

That being said, I kinda want one.

I’m starting to wonder about whether Apple should tweak its product refresh cycle. I had no expectations of any big iPad news yesterday, but you know there’s gonna be a new one, and with the tablet market heating up, I’m betting it’ll be out within a year.

But when? If you release it a year from the iPad announcement, you get late January. To me that’s not an appealing time for any kind of product refresh. There’s nothing to hook it onto. Then again, I don’t think there’s anything in particular to hook the iPhone’s traditional June refresh onto.

It might make sense to refresh the iPods and iPads at the same fall event, or to push the iPad refresh to like August, to maybe grab some back-to-school business…which could push the iPhone refresh up to like March, maybe in conjunction with an iOS refresh.

That begs the question of whether there will be another new iPad before the end of this year, maybe incorporating some of the tech we saw in iPhone 4–the retina display, cameras, possibly even a new form factor. That would goose the iPad for the holidays, and maybe lower the low-end price point on the older version, making it a more appealing gift. Unlikely, but the slim possibility is fascinating.

As you may already know, I want an iPad too.

Consumerism as an interactive spectator sport is fun. In a blowhard kinda way.

In "The End," How I Found Lost

In "The End," How I Found Lost

Jun 01

The final episode of Lost was a profound experience for me.

Maybe it was for you too, or maybe it was a disappointment. Maybe you thought it was kick ass in spots, confusing in others, and were just cheering for Frank Lapidus the whole time anyway, so whatever. 

You’re probably right. I don’t care. Because I don’t think the final outcome of Lost is really about what we can agree was cool and what wasn’t, and the questions we all had in our heads and our hearts that we were hoping would be answered. In other words, if you watched that and really felt pissed that there wasn’t an adequate explanation of the fertility god statue, you missed the point–or at least, I think you missed the point, but that’s up to you, really. You take what you can carry. You leave behind the rest.*

The last fifteen minutes of Lost are many things, no doubt different for each of us, but one thing I think they were for me is a metaphor for how we are meant to come to terms with the show itself. For six seasons, we have watched and wondered; we have speculated and vented; we have engaged a complicated and frequently convoluted “mythology” and a rich tapestry of characters, both of which occasionally beat us about the face and head (OH JESUS NOT ANOTHER JACK EPISODE WHAT IS IT WITH THIS GUY ANYWAY). 

At the end, there aren’t a full set of answers. There isn’t even an acknowledgment of many of the questions. The show has dealt with what the show will deal with. It’s about moving on–accepting what you’ve been given (or not) and waking up the next morning. Or something. You take what you can carry. You leave behind the rest. 

(The only speculation I’ll offer from my personal mental wanderings is that the final scene in the church suggests that what we saw was specifically Jack’s spiritual closure, and not everybody’s; kind of a shame, if true, since all the characters deserve the same fulfillment. But in a sense, from our perspective, they got it; we just perceived it through Jack’s experience. 

(He was always the man at the head of the action, many times placed in the leadership position of the group; he was a doctor, dedicating his life to the health of others. He had issues with his own father, true, but also needed to know that he had brought all these people he became entangled with to safety and good health, away from the island. 

(So we see somewhat incongruous things, like Sayid with Shannon instead of Nadia, or Charlie and Claire cradling Aaron; and we miss other things, like Penny and Desmond’s child. Surely some of these details would be more fulfilling for those specific characters than what was shown? 

(But not to Jack. Jack fought long and hard, up to the very end, to insure the safety of the others with whom he shared the island experience. In his final moments before walking into the light, he knew everyone from that experience was okay. I presume, as long as I’m speculating, that there are similar moments, maybe in similar churches, waiting for all the island’s castaways, eventually.)

At the end of the day, this series was always about the characters as well as the mythology. This last season did explore and resolve some of the mythology issues, but the amount of time devoted to this “sideways” universe made it clear that in the final summation, what would matter most for this show were the characters, and not the many, MANY bits and pieces of plot that floated around them. 

So if you didn’t get the answers you wanted, so what? Did you enjoy the experience of watching the story unfold, of speculating about what may be going on with the island? Did the episodes themselves satisfy beyond the simple progress on some imagined straight path toward a never-to-come final rundown of why everything was? 

Does life work that way? Do you think you’re moving through your days toward some last conclusion someplace where every event of your life will be explained and contextualized into a neat and tidy megaplot? I realize the writers have been seemingly asking us all this time to care about the island’s complicated mythology, but as the show concluded, they were gently guiding us down a different path. If you choose to follow or not, that’s up to you. You take what you can carry. You leave behind the rest. 

In that sense, it reminded me very much of the exceptional Sopranos finale. There was closure to be found; there were plots that ended, characters whose arcs resolved. But in the end, it was as sloppy and unexplored as life itself. What mattered was emphasized and shown; what didn’t matter was ignored. That’s how it goes. 

That two hours of television, for me, was this amazing spiritual thing that glistens and curves in the memory. It also had some goddamned kick ass stuff in it, like the Jack vs. Locke showdown, and Lapidus getting that plane off the ground, and Desmond uncorking the bottle. Jorge Garcia deserves an Emmy simply for his reaction to Jack dying in the cave. Terry O’Quinn needs one too. 

My friend Jeff Stolarcyk said of Lost that “any answers that we’ll accept are going to be the ones we discover for ourselves.” That is the true gift of this show, and this final episode. We are being handed an opportunity to reflect upon six years of crazy and amazing storytelling, and then realize how it all came down to people helping people, and learning to move on, together. Take what you can carry. Leave behind the rest. 

This is a show that has invited us over its six seasons to bring our own questions and ideas to the table, and which at its end gives us one final idea to ponder. You can speculate, analyze, discuss; you can unpack the ways in which the eventual abandonment of the many questions within the mythology was disappointing. In the end, it wasn’t about that. The Beatles had it right: “And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” 

Move on, into the light. 

* That recurring bit is a shameless swipe from a great Bruce Springsteen song, “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which I think fits this final episode and its message well. It’s what I want to believe about the world and life itself, neatly fit into around eight minutes and change. 

Posted via web from Pop Geek

Happy Birthday, Empire Strikes Back

Happy Birthday, Empire Strikes Back

May 21

Yep, I had that lunchbox as a kid. Nope, it’s not for sale.

There’s a classic story about George Lucas and the opening day of Star Wars in 1977. As the film premiered in New York and Los Angeles, he was busy in a dark room mixing foreign language versions of the film. His then-wife Marsha arrived and they decided to have dinner together.

Heading toward the Hamburger Hamlet on Hollywood Boulevard, directly across the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, they sat in a terrible traffic jam, wondering what could be causing such a disruption. It wasn’t until they finally reached the restaurant and glanced across the street that they realized what they were seeing. Star Wars was playing, and the lines stretched down the block.

“So we sat in Hamburger Hamlet and watched the giant crowd out there, and then I went back and mixed all night,” Lucas told author Dale Pollock for his biography of the filmmaker, Skywalking. “It wasn’t excitement, it was amazement.”

Imagine the pressure, then, of creating the inevitable sequel to Star Wars. You have a public clamoring for the latest adventures of Luke, Han and Leia. You have a burgeoning nerddom already scooping up collectibles and discussing the film eagerly at conventions and in fanzines. You have pressure from your collaborators and pressure from the studio. Pretty intimidating stuff.

Somehow, Lucas and his team managed to satisfy just about everyone. In 1977, George Lucas transformed Hollywood and popular culture with Star Wars. In 1980, he upped the ante by suggesting a new strategy. He defied just about every convention of popular filmmaking, and he let the bad guys win.

By the time the credits roll, The Empire Strikes Back has floored you with the emotional impact of a punch in the gut. Five minutes into the film, Luke Skywalker is attacked by a scary snow monster. Two hours later, Han Solo is on his way to Jabba the Hutt, Leia is mourning the loss of her newfound love, and Luke is coming to terms with four words that would change his life forever (not to mention the loss of his right hand).

On the surface, Empire is as fun and fast as Star Wars, yet somehow more relentless than the intense original film. The classic chases between the Millennium Falcon and the Imperial fleet move at a breakneck pace, helped along by John Williams’ breathless score. Action moves briskly from an ice planet to a swamp planet to the depths of space and finally to a mystical city in the clouds, where our heroes face the ultimate reckoning against the Empire. Even when the film seems to slow, it never stops.

As Han and Leia and the comic relief wing their way hither and yon in their futile efforts to escape evil, Luke finally learns something of substance about the mysterious Force that flows so strongly through him. His sequences with Yoda provide interludes of humor and depth between the frantic chase sequences, and so it’s easy to take them for granted as you wait to soar again through space in the Falcon with Star Destroyers hot on your tail.

Watch Yoda and Luke and Artoo more closely next time you see Empire; inhale with your brain and take in every detail. Each scene is a minor gem of filmmaking magic, especially in today’s CG-drenched age, where Frank Oz’s puppetry has been pushed aside and replaced by ones and zeroes. You find yourself quickly and fully invested in a puppet and a robot and a young student struggling to grasp profundities rattled off in a grumpy growl.

Some have called Lucas’ notions about the Force little more than pop hokum; others have adopted them as a near-religion. Whatever your own feelings, there’s some beautiful and simple ideas there, expressed by the script and the actors with uncommon grace. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter…” We could do a lot worse than to live by those words as we shuffle through this world.

Meanwhile, the Falcon soars on, and the dialogue onboard the spacecraft effortlessly fleshes out the characters through classic one-liners, each of them delivered with the anxiousness of that one panicked moment when all seems lost and they’re about to be obliterated by their adversaries. There’s not a single scene between Han and Leia that doesn’t crackle, as screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett cast Han and Leia as an otherworldly Hepburn and Tracy, quipping their way across the galaxy with the Empire’s sinister agents in hot pursuit.

But whatever the fun, whatever the quips, whatever the depth of Empire, an undercurrent of darkness and desperation runs beneath it all. The desolate opening sequence on Hoth suggests the loneliness and impossibility of the Rebellion’s struggle. Throughout, evil is never more than a step behind our heroes. The Falcon never does manage to completely shake the Empire until Han has been frozen in carbonite and Luke has narrowly slipped between Vader’s fingers. Even the sequences in which Yoda teaches Luke the ways of the Force are insidiously downbeat—we may learn a lot from the sage Jedi Master, but Luke certainly doesn’t seem to.

No moment is more bleak, more impassioned and more desperate than when Artoo finally opens the hatch that will lead Leia and Lando and the rest out to the waiting Falcon at Cloud City. Williams’ bittersweet romantic theme for Han and Leia swells, Artoo unleashes a cloud of smoke that provides an uncertain haze, and Leia blasts angrily at the stormtroopers hot on their tail. The look on her face tells us that she has no idea that she’ll ever see the man she loves again.

It’s a crushing moment, and honestly, has a big summer event movie ever managed to crush you emotionally the way Empire can? Even when you know that Return of the Jedi will come along next and make everything okay, it still has an undeniable impact. It’s still that punch in the gut.

As a sequel, Empire did the impossible. It raised every possible stake in the Star Wars series. The characters and story gain unexpected new dimensions that echo both backward to the original Star Wars and forward into Return of the Jedi. That makes Empire the heart of the original trilogy.

Taken on its own terms, The Empire Strikes Back is as sweeping as Gone With the Wind, as sharp as The Philadelphia Story, and perhaps the most simply imaginative sci-fi film ever. The Rebellion may have lost this one, but in the end, it was geeks the world over who won.

Taken from the pages of Poodoo, my book-length compilation of writings about Star Wars, available now and absolutely free! Even on yer iPad!

More great Empire tributes:

The film that introduced a generation to tragedy
The movie that made being a nerd cool
30 Reasons the Empire Still Rules

Rekkids: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Rekkids: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

May 19

I currently have 1,884 albums on my 160GB iPod. I will listen to them all, in a random order, and write about them.

I clicked over to the Albums list on my iPod, started spinning the dial with my eyes averted, clicked twice on the center button, and this is the record that began.

In some ways, it’s a fitting choice to start this sure-to-be-abandoned-eventually project, since it’s one of those perfect pieces of pop art that are so damn appealing to me–a huge popular smash that’s part of the cultural wallpaper of the seventies, and classic rock radio ever since, but also a critical success that has held up for me well over repeated listenings.

Of course, I was about seven months old when the record was originally released, in February 1977; during the first six months of my life, the members of Fleetwood Mac were apparently enduring a personal relationship hell while recording Rumours. That’s part of the album’s mythos and it’s become intertwined with the lyrical content, to the point where Rumours is universally regarded as this big giant turmoil breakup record lathered in crisp, shiny production.

It’s the production that has kept me coming back to Rumours, though there are of course some absolutely titanic songs on here. You can go ahead and roll your eyes if you want but remove this album from the context of its era and you’re left with a stunningly personal folk-rock record crammed to bursting with gigantic hooks. It’s a pretty amazing blend, too, which is kinda rare in rock records; you don’t often hear an eleven-song set that you can honestly say represents all of the creative viewpoints of the band, but here you’ve got Lindsey Buckingham’s straight-ahead arena bile, and Christie McVie’s understated plinking, and Stevie Nicks being all weird and gypsy all over the place.

But back to the production. It’s so clean. Whether it’s warranted or not, I tend to lump in the sound of such diverse artists as the Eagles, Warren Zevon, and Fleetwood Mac into the same bucket; I think of it as a specifically west coast style. I imagine all these endless nights of debauchery at the Record Plant or A&M culminating in these pristine recordings, mixed together with each instrument just barely rubbing up against the next.

It’s got a sunny disposition at times but Rumours is a pretty dark record, especially in the final moments: “Rock on, gold dust woman…take your silver spoon and dig your grave…” The blinding light of southern California, the decadence of the seventies rock lifestyle, and the disintegration of love all collide and intermingle.

When I was in college and home on break, I found myself drawn into some kind of VH1 special about the making of Rumours. A friend of mine called while the show was on, and I asked my dad to tell him to call me back, cause I was watching this show. As I recall, my dad kinda rolled his eyes at me, and started dancing in the living room, singing, “Thunder only happens when it’s raining…players only love you when they’re playing…” Unforgettable as a sleepless dream, like the album itself.