Candy Shop for Metalheads

Candy Shop for Metalheads

Aug 24

November 24, 1984. I was fifteen. It was the night of my first real rock concert.  A bunch of classmates and I piled into a few cars and found parking in the neighborhood, behind the Jack in the Box.  We had some time to kill before the doors opened, so Jeff said, “Let’s check out the Cavern.”

march_of_the_saint

One of the albums I’d read about but never got to listen to.

I didn’t know what the Cavern was, but as we turned a corner, Jeff pointed up to the second floor of what is now the Gary Galiher building (that two-story building right behind the Jack in the Box).

It was a record store.  When we stood on the lanai right in front of its door, we could hear the quiet thumping of music, but when we opened the door, a massively loud noise washed over us like the ripples of a nuclear explosion.  It was loud.  It was so loud that, once we were in the store (with the door closed behind us) and had looked around a little, I stood directly in front of the cashier, only the counter separating us, and had to yell my question to him.

The Cavern only had heavy metal, and I think it only had vinyl.  I didn’t see a single cassette in there, but then the details of my memory are slightly hazy.

Heavy metal is not my favorite music, despite what some may think.  My favorite is still the stuff we call classic rock.  I’m not sure it’s even my second favorite music, but it’s definitely up there.  I love it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its outsider status, and the outsider status its listeners identify with.

gary galiher

That’s the Jack in the Box (Kapiolani and Ward) on the right. The liquor store was on the first floor, all the way to the left. The Cavern was behind that upstairs second door from the left.

Man, it was difficult to get ahold of.  Local radio stations only played the pop stuff that was on MTV, and while I loved that, I knew there was a gigantic world of metal out there that I had access to but couldn’t try out.  I bought every issue of Hit Parader and occasional issues of Circus, whose articles focused mostly on the glammy, hair metal that was popular at the time: Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot.  There was always an article or two about some old-school metal band who had put out a new album (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Dio).  It was all great, more music than I could afford to keep up with except whatever got played on MTV and on the radio.

Tangent: There was a local AM station that had Filipino and Korean programming all week, but reserved late Saturday nights for an English-language metal show, but I didn’t discover it until after college.  Also, the college station had a few metal shows, but I didn’t discover them until I was in college.

In those magazines would be articles about (and advertisements for) bands I never got to hear: Saxon, Diamond Head, Raven, Anthax, W.A.S.P., Kix, Keel, and Armored Saint, for example.  I even saw the albums at Tower Records, but Tower wouldn’t spin anything it didn’t already have open.  If I was going to hear any of it, I was going to have to pay for something before getting to hear it.  That was too big a gamble with my paltry resources, and there was enough music I knew I wanted anyway, other forms I could hear on the radio and purchase with confidence.

But there I was, standing in a far-too-narrow aisle between rows of LPs with the names of those bands on the covers.  I carried a Diamond Head album to the counter and yelled, “IS THIS BAND FROM HERE?”

The long-haired guy yelled back, “NO!  BUT THEY’RE REALLY GOOD!  YOU SHOULD GET THAT!”

“CAN I HEAR IT FIRST?”

“SURE!  I’LL GET IT ON AFTER THIS ONE’S OVER!”

But we had a Rush concert to get to, so I never got to hear that album until much later.  Thank God for the Internet.

My friends had pretty open minds about rock music’s many genres, but I was the only one who really liked metal, who pursued it with geeky fervor, so as we walked to the arena for what is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, I looked over my shoulder, longingly, swearing that when I got a job someday (I’d already had a paying job in my ninth-grade year and was waiting for things to calm down in my sophomore year to look for a new one) I would spend all my free time in that store and all my hard-earned cash.

It was gone within a few months.  I never made it back.  But I think of it almost every time I go past, that super-loud record store with nothing but heavy metal music at an age where just about everything was delayed gratification.  I swear, if I had ten million dollars right now, I’d open something just like it and never worry about customers or making money, just have it there for people like fifteen-year-old me who needed to find it.

Review: Rocket Science

Review: Rocket Science

Aug 23

Rocket Science (2007)
Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick. Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz.

rocket6“It’s one of those two, love or revenge,” says ninth-grader Hal Hefner in explaining his motivation. It’s the kind of rationale that can turn a nice, lightly absurd teen comedy into something dark or cynical, but Rocket Science tiptoes on the tipping point, does a couple of those oh-no-I’m-losing-my-balance arm-waving things, then floats gently back to earth, its parasol of earnestness setting it down right where it should, in the land of hope and optimism.

rocket4Hal is a stammerer. It’s not fair: his mother, father, and brother have all kinds of problems, but their problems don’t cause them ridicule or loneliness. Hal can’t speak up in class even when he’s the only one who knows the answer his teacher is trying incompetently to wring out of her students. His counselor doesn’t know what to do with him, saying, “It’s really a shame you’re not hyperactive, because that I know well.” When he’s presented in the lunch line with the choice of pizza or fish, he can’t spit the word “pizza” out, and is stuck with an unidentifiable piece of fish.

But then Ginny Ryerson recruits him for the debate team. She’s won every award in high-school policy debate except the state championship, and she wants him to be her partner in her final chance at that last trophy. She’s a senior, and she’s smart and pretty, and she convinces him that his brains and insight are exactly what she needs in a debate partner. That stammering stuff will work itself out.

rocket7That’s a heck of a premise. Add excellent acting, smart direction, a silly but realistic presentation of high-school campus life, and a script that remembers how bizarre any fifteen-year-old’s existence feels to the fifteen-year-old and to everyone around him, and you get a pretty good teen movie. If you can look at this film and feel the slightest compassion for its characters – all of them – you can understand why I loved teaching ninth-graders for sixteen years. Director Jeffrey Blitz also directed one of my top-five documentary films of all time, Spellbound, about the National Spelling Bee, and it’s clear he gets this weird place young people occupy, crammed somewhere between their upbringings, their environments, and their emerging, independently thinking selves. Figuring out where their places are and finding their voices shouldn’t be rocket science, Hal suggests, but Hal doesn’t know yet that rocket science is a piece of cake compared to “all this, you know? Everything.”

8/10
88/100

64 Love Affair

64 Love Affair

Aug 22
C64

I get misty just looking at photos of it.

When I was in eighth grade, Santa was really nice to my sister and me. He left a Commodore 64 under the tree. The 64 meant it had 64 kilobytes of RAM, which means it would take 125,000 of them to equal the amount of RAM I’ve got in the laptop I’m typing this on. He also left a Commodore 1541 floppy drive, which read 5.75″ floppy disks. My dad had taken a few computer courses related to his work, including some BASIC programming, and when he wasn’t messing around with his loaner C64, he let me play with it, so of course I taught myself BASIC as well.  When Santa came through for us, I was ready.

mario_bros

Mario Brothers, an adaptation of the arcade coin-op game. One of the best C64 games ever.

The C64 was mostly used for gaming. It had a port for our old Atari 1600 game system joysticks, and for a couple of years, that’s pretty much all we used it for when I wasn’t still teaching myself BASIC, mostly by typing in the code that computer magazines used to include. You’d purchase the magazine, read the article about the program being offered, and then type the code into your own computer, line by line. It was enormously fun, and most of what I know today about programming comes straight from typing game code. Once the code was in (and debugged, because there were always a few typos in the first attempt), I’d play around with it, changing variables to see how the changes affected what I was seeing on the screen (which was a television, because although there was a Commodore monitor, we never got one of those, and the TV was just fine).

You had to tear those sprockets off at the perforations on both sides.

You had to tear those sprockets off at the perforations on both sides.

Within a couple of years, my sister and I were using it for typing long-term assignments (you know, reports and stuff), but we didn’t have a printer yet, so we’d save the work on a floppy as a text file. My dad would take the floppy to work and print our assignments from his dot-matrix printer there. We’d tear off the perforated sprockets on each margin, then tear each sheet from the others.

I didn’t get very far in my coding education. Three-dimensional arrays were giving me problems, and the programmer’s manual was difficult to understand at this point. I knew what the array was and how it worked, but the way the programs used it was super difficult to figure out. This meant that while I could program music, one note at a time, I couldn’t take advantage of the C64’s three voices, which enabled the machine to play three notes at once (chords!).  I could program one voice using a one-dimensional array.  The Apple // computers (until the //gs, I think) only had one voice, so all they could make were these one-note beeps, which is why the Commodore was the superior machine. Commodore vs. Apple was the Mac vs. PC argument of the mid- to late-80s.

def_leppard_logo

The first font I ever created for myself was based on the letters in this logo.

I did get a basic grasp on programming graphics. I could redefine the way the keys displayed, so hitting the A key could display anything I wanted (limited to whatever could be created with eight 8 pixels across and 8 pixels down). I wanted to write my online handle in tall letters for something I was working on, so I designed letters that were 8 pixels across and 16 pixels down. To display my new 8×16 “A,” for example, I would have to display the A on top of, say, the $, because the top half of my new A was the A key, and the bottom half of my new A was the $ key.

That was fun, and it was my first personal font design (although I didn’t know the word “font” until my first experience with a Mac years later), based on the font in the Def Leppard logo.

Then I taught myself sprite design, but only at the very basic level.  I could design a one-image sprite and make it move across the screen, but I never got to the point where I could make it controllable, say from a joystick or the keyboard.  If I set the graphic to move across the screen from left to right, for example, that’s all it did the moment you ran the program until you stopped it.

My friend Derek’s birthday in 11th grade came at a good time for me to put it all together.  His birthday card was a 5.75″ floppy disc (he had a C64 too).  He inserted the disk into his drive while others at the party looked over his shoulder.  He typed “run bday” and hit enter.  The screen went black, and the words of the Happy Birthday song typed themselves on the screen (in the regular font) as the notes to the song played, a kind of follow-the-bouncing ball (or karaoke) presentation of the song.

flying v

The Gibson Flying V. I would rather have created a Fender Telecaster sprite, but the lines and angles of the Flying V worked better than the sexy curves of the Tele.

I’d taken a few years of piano lessons, so I knew how to program the notes and rests I needed, and at the correct speed and duration.  When the song ended, there was a dramatic pause, and then a Flying V electric guitar flew across the screen (repeatedly) from the lower left corner to the upper right.  Hitting any key blacked the screen out, then showed my online handle in my personal Def-Leppard-inspired font.  It got enthusiastic applause from the other party-goers.  It was a cute little program (my dad’s words) and I thought it was going to be the beginning of a whole bunch of fun projects for my friends’ birthdays.

Still, it was super super super super rudimentary stuff, and only the surface of what the C64 could do, but that’s about as far as I got with sound and graphics.  Other things took over, and I’ve always regretted not getting deeper into the programmer’s reference than that.

Review: The Lobster

Review: The Lobster

Aug 21

The Lobster (2015)
Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly.  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.  Written by Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou.

lobster1The world can be unkind to romantically unattached singles, many of whom spend their whole lives searching for someone who will connect with them in some deeply meaningful way.  Or, barring that, someone who will at least agree that life spent with just about anyone at all is better than spending it with nobody.  This is not a new theme in film or in any other realm exploring the miserable stuff of life.

Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster takes our preoccupation with love (or at least couplehood) to absurd extremes in a way that’s supposed to be funny but leans so far over into terrible that I found it difficult to laugh even when I knew I was supposed to, although most of the time I wasn’t sure whether scenes were meant to make me laugh, cry, or recoil in utter horror, which I suppose is the point.  Characters go to ridiculous lengths to establish connections with potential lovers, one of them arriving at the baffling conclusion that it’s easier to act like you don’t care about someone who doesn’t like you than it is to act like you do care about someone who does like you.

lobster2Considering what’s at stake, it’s difficult exactly to judge any of them, for in this dystopian Ireland, newly single people check into hotels and are given forty-five days to find new partners.  If they don’t, they are turned into the animals of their choice.  When David, the film’s main character, is abandoned by his wife, he brings his dog to the hotel, because the dog is his brother.  The hotel has strict rules, all of them designed to encourage partnering up before the grace period is over, and although everyone is there for the same reason as David, connecting with someone just isn’t easy.  That woman is very pretty, and this woman is sweet and friendly, and that sexually uninhibited one over there keeps inviting you to her room, but…but…but…

Lanthimos does interesting work in framing the love-obsessed world, but then he rotates the image, skewering and condemning unapologetic singles who pass judgment on couples. This next-leveling turns what would have been a creative but rather shallow black comedy into something much more interesting in a kind of not-so-fast-you-in-the-condescension-corner-yeah-I’m-talking-to-you way.  If I like this movie at all, it’s because I found myself tsk-tsking in the first half and dodging the finger of accusation in the second.  What a neat, amusing, and embarrassing experience.

lobster5Everything about this film is cold.  The lighting is cold.  The acting is cold.  The dialogue is cold.  Even the score, mostly chamber-type classical music, is cold.  It’s tempting to call the acting flat and inhibited, but there’s something stirring down there, beneath the surfaces of these characters who seem so insipidly conceived.  They don’t have names, and only one or two have backstories.  I don’t know what the rationale was here, but this approach makes the film more challenging than seems necessary.  Still, flashes of warmth and realness by Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and a few of the others give the impression that there’s some real acting going on, and I may need another viewing to get a better idea of what the actors are doing.

The Lobster is easily a movie about love, but I wonder if it’s not also about faith, or politics, or education, or anything else with a dominant culture, a defiant counterculture, and people who can’t seem to find their place in the tiny space between.  Either way, I find it an inspiring film despite this weird feeling that I’m not supposed to be inspired by it.

8/10
83/100

Election Reflection, Part 3: Finding My People

Election Reflection, Part 3: Finding My People

Aug 20

In the early 90s, I was still in college, even though I was supposed to have graduated in 1991. I heard, around the fringes of my awareness, murmurs about gay marriage. I had never really thought about it before, so I kind of listened in on a few conversations, and what I heard was a lot of failure to connect. People in favor of it weren’t arguing on the same plane as people who were against it, so no amount of conversation was going to find any kind of agreement.

I thought about how I could come to a position by putting both sides on the same plane, and this is what I came up with.

We disagree on the idea itself as a law, so if we can trace our argument back to where we agree, we can work from there.

It seemed to me that laws in this country are designed to protect (a) freedom and (b) public safety. I didn’t think gay marriage was a public safety concern, so I considered it a freedom issue. And in this country, we are free, pretty much, to do whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t interfere with others’ rights to do what they want.

I had never heard American citizenship defined this way, but I liked what I came up with. I spent a lot of time evaluating my other beliefs against it. Seatbelt laws worked for me, because I considered keeping a person in a vehicle during a crash a matter of others’ safety. Litter laws protected my right to enjoy public places the way they were meant to be used and enjoyed. I didn’t like anything that got in the way of free speech, so decency laws really bothered me, especially those regulating broadcast and print media. On a strictly idealogoical basis, I also leaned in opposition to gun control laws, and it seemed to me that donating to political campaigns was a matter of free speech.

Then there were the laws about sex. Always a tricky issue, but removing children from the equation and considering only adults, sex seemed to be something that involved only its participants. And gay marriage? As long as I wasn’t forced to be in one, I didn’t see how any of my rights were threatened. I had some late-night conversations with my roomies (this is the year I was living with Reid and James), and they were both opposed to gay marriage, but the more we talked about it, the more I knew I was in favor of it, because of this let-people-do-what-they-want-as-long-as-it-doesn’t-interfere-with-my-doing-what-I-want ideal I felt we all could agree on as the founding principal of our country.

Let them say what they want. Let them worship whom they want. Let them decide whether they will offer quarter to soldiers. Let them vote for whom they want. Let them maintain their privacy if they want, unless probable cause is determined by a judge.

I spent the next few years (still in college — I was there for a long time) looking at everything through this lens. I don’t remember how I finally connected my positions with the concept of small-L libertarianism, but something told me to look into it. I found the Usenet libertarian FAQ (this is before the web had taken off), and though I was iffy on a few issues, I found myself nodding most of the time.

I had found my people, and they — I mean we — had a name.

Review: Sicario

Review: Sicario

Aug 19

Sicario (2015)
Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin. Directed by Denis Villeneuve.

siSicario is technically a well put-together movie, with lighting, sound, and camera work providing enough imagery to show what’s going on while they build suspense in a convincing, real-life way. When FBI agents burst into the safe house of a Mexican a drug cartel, we get the tension of not knowing what’s down a dark hallway, who’s going to be cooperative when a rifle is pointed at his face, or what’s behind a closed bedroom door. And when the agents gradually realize the horrible stuff they’re dealing with, we’re carried along like reporters embedded with the team—not directly involved, but present enough not to be objective.

Too many thrillers force suspense upon us, with unrealistic sounds (such as knives that make metallic sounds just by being brandished in the air) or things that pop out of nowhere just to be startling. I don’t know what it’s actually like to be in a drug cartel’s safe house, but this film makes me believe in the reality of the situation, which is more than tense enough, just given the details as they exist.

caDespite its technical excellence and fine acting, Sicario tells an intriguing but unsatisfying story. It defines Emily Blunt’s character as the protagonist, gives us something to admire about her, and never really gives her any agency. As the FBI’s Kate Macer, she’s focused, dedicated, and tough, but this film isn’t really telling her story; she’s being brought along in service to a larger plot that has no protagonist. It works on the micro level: we get to feel as confused by strange developments as our supposed heroine, but on the macro level, when it’s all over, we’re left feeling kind of empty.

rioMuch of the buzz around this movie had to do with Blunt’s emergence as a new action star, with Entertainment Weekly including her on its shortlist for possible Daniel Craig replacements as James Bond (tangent: I still think Jack Black should be given a shot). I don’t have any doubt she would be excellent in that role, but my confidence in her is not based at all on this film. Her performance is solid, but her character is never given the chance to carry her own movie.

To call it a dark film is probably understating things, and while I do like darkness in my cinema, I want it to emerge from characters we root for, so my own tortured soul has something to relate to. Sicario’s darkness is all in its story. That can work. Yet without a main character to take us through it, it works only as a downer, and this is a downer as a movie and as a filmgoing experience.

5/10
50/100

Friday 5: French Kissing

Friday 5: French Kissing

Aug 18

From here.

  1. What’s your favorite kind of French fry?
    Huge, potatoey steak fries.  I’m a French-fry fanatic, but my enjoyment of fries increases with their size.  Wedges are good.  Steak fries are great.  I don’t love shoestrings as much, especially if they’re cooked to crispiness.  I don’t mind curly fries or waffle fries, but would much rather have something simple and starchy.  Most crinkle-cuts are good too!  In my area, some of my favorite places to get fries are at Bob’s Bar-B-Q, where you can get “monster fries,” which are basically huge wedges; Wing Stop, which has nice, thick fries and a variety of sauces; and (strangely) Regal Bakery in Chinatown, where you get a plate of previously frozen crinkle-cuts covered in so-so chili and cheese for pretty cheap.
  2. Where can you get really good French toast?
    I haven’t yet had French toast that blows me away, which leads me to wonder if there’s a low ceiling on French toast.  However, I love custardy things, and French toast is basically a custard when done right, so I remain hopeful.  Kenny’s Restaurant in my hood, which no longer exists, had a pretty great sweet bread French toast for not much money.  I think right now the French toast I enjoy the most is at Zippy’s.
  3. What are your feelings about French salad dressing?
    I love Catalina French, although it seems to be watered down in a lot of places I go, which can be a disappointment.  Standard French dressing is an okay substitute, but I’ll usually get ranch or something else that’s creamy if Catalina’s not available.  You know what’s really good covered in Catalina?  Taco salad.  When I was in high school, Jack in the Box had a pretty good taco salad, and I would pour Catalina all over that and it was delicious.  If I make a taco salad (or a Hawaii-specific dish called “taco rice” which is basically a taco salad over hot rice), I always make sure I have some Catalina in the fridge to go with it.
  4. What’s something you know how to say in French?
    R spent a semester in France, and she lived in the French House her senior year at Stanford, and she once read me a whole chapter of The Little Prince (the chapter about taming the fox) in French, so I learned a lot of French from her.  Oh, and there’s a gentlemen’s club near Waikiki called Femme Nu, which she taught me the meaning of, somewhat to her later chagrin as I would whip that phrase out whenever it seemed fitting.  My college dorm manager was also a French lecturer at my university, and she taught me a few phrases, including “Pardon me, that’s my heart you’re crushing into bits and pieces,” which I asked to learn in celebration of R’s return from France that semester.  One night while I was saying good night to her at her front door, I whispered it in her ear as we hugged goodbye.  I still know how to say it.  I never learned a thing about how to write in the language, though, so I shan’t give it a try here.
  5. What French films have you seen?
    It’s quite possible that I’ve seen more French-language films than Chinese-language or Japanese-language films, and I’ve seen a lot of those.  A few of them:
    Amélie
    Delicatessen (one of my favorites)
    Jesus of Montreal (French Canadian)
    Chocolat
    Alphaville
    The Hairdresser’s Husband (another favorite)
    Certified Copy
    Indochine (overrated)
    Tous les Matins du Monde
    Nikita (which the TV series La Femme Nikita was based on)
    My Father’s Glory
    The Return of Martin Guerre (remade in English as Sommersby with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster)

This makes me want to comb IMDb and complete this list.  It also makes me miss R, but then everything makes me miss R.

Review: Café Lumière

Review: Café Lumière

Aug 17

Café Lumière (2003)
Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano. Directed by Hsiao-Hsien Ho. Japanese with English subtitles.

cafe lWhen the credits rolled at the conclusion of Café Lumière, I wasn’t sure what I’d been watching for an hour and forty-three minutes, but I knew I liked it. Most of the film is absent any music; its soundtrack is the ambient sounds of Tokyo’s trains, train stations, street traffic, and background conversation. Interior scenes are in small spaces where camera angles seem not to be chosen for the way they frame the characters, but for available space the camera operator can squeeze into, and if that means seeing the backs of everyone’s heads and no faces, that’s okay. Exterior shots follow Yoko through streets and across train platforms, but from a distance, allowing passing traffic to obscure our view for half a minute in some places. There are very few jump-cuts within scenes, there is very little camera movement, and there are no point-of-view shots. Film-making the way our prehistoric forebears did it while living in caves.

cafe lThere’s kind of a plot, and there are themes, but director Hsiao-Hsien Ho does his best to lead you to them gently, without exposition or voiceover. It’s a film that encourages repeat viewings, and your takeaway could be different the first couple of times you watch it. I saw it on a DVD whose special features included interviews with Yo Hitoto, a Japanese pop singer in her first acting role, and Tadanobu Asano, a notable Japanese action movie star who plays that Asian-looking, butt-kicking warrior in the Thor films. They are asked to share their favorite scene from the film, and they both say their favorite scenes never made the final cut. One gets the feeling that if a scene was too memorable, it was left out for fear of taking over the film’s overall impression. What we’re left with are quiet scenes of characters in small spaces where it seems impossible for characters not to connect, and large spaces where there is always something physical separating them.

cafe lThe main character is Yoko Inoue, a young writer researching a 1930s Taiwanese composer who worked most of his life in Japan and married a Japanese woman. She lives in a tiny apartment some distance from her parents, and spends a lot of her time on trains. Whether trains are merely a mode of transportation or something else isn’t clear, but trains are a dominant motif throughout the film. A young man who may be merely a friend or possibly a romantic interest works in a used bookstore, spending his free time recording ambient train station sounds on his mini-disc player.

cafe lThe film is probably best left for each viewer to examine for him- or herself, so I’ll leave it there, with the advice to see it more than once, and to look at the supplemental material if you have access to it. And then message me so we can talk about it, because I’d love to know what others think.

While it has certain sensibilities in common with American mumblecore films, Café Lumière lacks the low-fi approach those movies embrace—there is nothing low-fi or DIY about the deliberate way it is put together. It’s a quiet film that takes its time and refuses to hammer its ideas into your skull, and it’s rather a terrific movie.

9/10
90/100

Apple to the Core, but Now a Seed of Discontent

Apple to the Core, but Now a Seed of Discontent

Aug 16
my favorite mac ever, the imac g4

my favorite mac ever, the imac g4

I’m an Apple guy, when I can afford to be.  For decades, Apple hasn’t done everything right, but it has done things the right way.  We’re talking about lifestyle hardware here, necessary tools for daily living, yes, but also stuff we have to interact with on personal levels.  PC manufacturers’ approach, before they figured out they had to do at least a few things in Apple’s spirit, was to focus on utility: technology as a tool.  Apple looked at it differently: technology as style, personality, and relationship.  Early Macs actually smiled at you when you turned them on.  As I used to tell my students, a PC is a tool.  A Mac is a friend.  And that’s been the dividing line, most of the time, between PC people and Mac people.  As a guy who likes to roll my sleeves up and get my hands dirty with my technology, I totally get the PC appeal.  I want to pop open the back and move things around.  I like PCs.  But most of the time, I want to interface with my tech.

So Macs.  Then iPods.  Then iPhones.  Then iPads.  Then iWatches.  With a focus on design and interoperability (plug any Apple device into a Mac, and they know what to do), Apple keeps giving us solutions to problems before we’re even aware we have problems.  It’s why the other manufacturers always seem to be playing catch-up.  I will save my treatise on Apple’s M7 motion coprocessor (now on M9 and soon to be on M10) for another day, but that’s a huge example of what I’m talking about, something most Android devices are still not caught up with, something that solved a problem with a new trend — fitness tracking — before people knew it was a problem.

This is why it breaks my heart to say this, but Samsung’s new phone is the first gigantic leap in smartphone technology I can think of that Apple didn’t come up with, and it’s a huge disappointment.  Besides the fear of losing a smartphone, what stresses people out about their phones most?  Two things: dropping them in water, and dropping them on a hard surface.

under. water.

under. water.

Water is such a big deal that when an iPhone isn’t working and you bring it to a Genius Bar, the first thing they ask you after “What seems to be the problem?” is “Did you get it wet?”  And because people know water is the enemy and a sure sign of negligence, they often lie about it.  That’s why every iPhone has a water indicator on each end of the phone.  The Genius looks into a hole at the top of the phone and another at the bottom to confirm or refute your claims about getting it wet.

The other fear, dropping it on a hard surface, remains a challenge, although I’ve read that the new Gorilla Glass is nearly indestructible.  I admit I don’t know much about this detail yet.

under. freaking. water.

under. freaking. water.

Weirdly, I follow on Snapchat two women who were invited to the Note 7 previews, one in New York (Samsung flew her from her home in Alabama or Arkansas to New York without telling her what she was going to participate in, and of course she Snapchatted the whole thing, which is why she was invited in the first place) and one in Manila, and the previews were on the same day.  And the big reveal, in case you haven’t heard, is that the Note 7 is waterproof as deep as five feet (or so; I don’t know the exact number, but I know it’s deeper than a bathtub or sink).  These two women, half a world away from each other, got to demo the phone under water, using some cool apps designed specifically to show off this feature.  Not only did the phone survive under water, it was usable under water.  Snapchatting underwater.  Swiping and finger-sketching on the phone’s glass surface, underwater.  And then, of course, participants in the preview got to take their new Note 7s home for use right away, weeks before the big rollout later this month (perhaps later this week, even).

I honestly can’t think of a single more significant improvement on the original iPhone’s design than this, because it addresses a bigger problem with the technology than any other, except maybe the shattered glass.  Every other improvement in these ten years — the better swiping, the better cameras, the bigger or smaller screens, the thinner designs, the improved voice commands, or anything else — simply made the experience better.  It didn’t actually remove one of the two biggest (easiest) ways to break it.  I suppose the case can be made for Find My Phone, but I’m not buying.  A phone you can get wet.

I’m not in any position to make the switch any time soon, and I probably wouldn’t anyway, but come on, Apple.  This should have been your thing.  Now copy the idea and get on that shattered glass problem, and maybe all will be forgiven.

Review: Craft Beer in Japan

Review: Craft Beer in Japan

Aug 15

Craft Beer in Japan (2016)
Directed by Maarten Roos and John Lobreglio.

File_000Craft Beer in Japan is a 28-minute, made-for-TV documentary exploring the niche market in Japan for craft beer. In the United States, craft beers have a twelve percent share of the beer market; in Japan, they claim only one percent, which our host sees as a possible opportunity for craft brewers. He interviews brewmasters, cultural historians, and beer lovers as they break down Japan’s turning beer into its own thing, no longer merely a borrowed beverage from other cultures. Craft brewers are exploring bonita flakes, yuzu, and shiso leaves; brew pubs are pairing beers with specific Japanese dishes; fans are learning to appreciate beer the way they’ve always appreciated sake.

It’s a pretty good skim, but I would have appreciated another 28 minutes to get a little deeper and to spend more time hearing about the beer itself. As it is, it’s an interesting, thirst-inspiring look.

7/10
72/100