Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Apple Watch Review: More is Less

Everyone keeps asking me about the Apple Watch, which I have had now for about two weeks. I keep thinking about what to say. There is not much to tell. Well, I guess there is a little to tell. For a brand new Apple product, this may appear as a bad sign, but the more I wear and use the watch, the more I realize it's not. With previous Apple products I could say things like "there's 128GB of space," or "it's got a great camera with lots of new features." Like The Six Million Dollar Man—better, stronger, faster. But with the Apple Watch, I'm like, "meh, it's OK," or "I don't know," or "leave me alone I'm still figuring it out and I have not found the words yet!"

The truth is that no one ever asked me about any of my previous watches, except to say that they liked how they looked. The time, sure. The thing always tells the time. That's a given. But does it look cool? I have a HUGE Nixon watch that is the size of a dinner plate. That watch looks badass on my wrist. I have a Seiko diving watch similar to the one Mick Jones is wearing on the cover of a Big Audio Dynamite album. In the past, I've even owned a very nice Omega. I tend to not last too long with crazy expensive things. I don't like the whole "look at me" ostentatious thing. That being said, my Omega was so beautiful and traditional looking that it barely got noticed. I sold it eventually anyway because I did not like walking around with 4k on my wrist. I knew the money could be better used elsewhere and I was right.

So what's the deal with the Apple Watch? Well, for starters, it tells time. You get to choose from different watch faces. I picked one and I'm good. (I imagine more faces are coming.) You can customize each face and add or remove info like battery life, date, sunrise/sunset, color, weather, etc. I own the Apple Watch with the leather strap, the sapphire crystal with the stainless steel case. Since I've owned nice watches and crappy watches in the past, I knew to spring for the more robust materials. Sapphire is very hard and not likely to scratch. Ever. I already banged the watch into a metal outdoor chair and there is no evidence on the watch. A watch needs to be sturdy so it won't look like a damaged piece of crap on your wrist. The basic design of all Apple Watches is the same. It considers design before practicality. So the watches made of the lower-end materials will suffer scratches, dings, and bangs the most.  Unless you plan on being careful all the time, I suggest getting the Apple Watch with the sapphire crystal and the stainless steel. The bands can be swapped easily so you have options in that department.

So what else does the watch do? Well not much, but that's the point. This is not a device to do things on. That's what your phone is for. The Apple Watch makes it so you pull your phone out less. Apple brings the watch back onto our radar and teaches us that some of technology's woes and downsides can be solved with a watch. That is, if you feel they need to be solved. If you love checking your phone and you hate wearing a watch, I suggest keeping your money. If you like watches, as I already do, and you want to be alerted to every email and text, but at the same time don't want to check your phone every two seconds, then the Apple Watch might be for you. It took more than a week of wearing the watch for my body and mind to recognize the new subtle vibrations and dings. I was missing alerts at first and I thought the watch sucked. But Apple is a freaking genius, and no I am not just sucking from their cooperate teet. If something sucks, it sucks, and no logo will help me love it. I enjoyed Google Glass but it's not practical, it attracts a lot of attention, and now it's in a box. I rarely use it.

The Apple Watch does a lot more too.  For example, I used it to take remote pictures with my phone. I took a selfie with the good camera, not the shitty Facetime one. I stopped alarms on my phone with my watch when the phone was elsewhere in the house. I changed music tracks on my phone from the watch as I listened to music on a bluetooth speaker outside. I replied to texts simply with prefab responses. I checked the weather easily without digging for my phone. I checked the calendar easily. I put some family photos on the watch that I can see easily. I shazamed music easily.

There are also many apps and alerts that can be turned on or off via your phone. If you want the weather, time, Twitter feed, Instagram feed, etc., then they are there for a quick look-see. Mostly I just check the time, see my wife's texts come in, ignore many notifications, and use the watch to use my phone less. So far it's come in most handy when driving. Eyes on the road and I can still see who texted. It's easier to look at than the car radio, and I don't even need to take my hand off the wheel to look at and activate the screen.

And so far the Apple Watch is this understated blah of a device that does not do much, but somehow does everything. It's too small to do anything substantial, but just right to help you do everything.

I'm loving the simplicity of it in a way that I never dreamed possible.

The James Bond in me does wish it had a camera in it. And also a laser.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mad Max The Linchpin Hero

Mad Max: Fury Road

Vague spoilers. FYI.

Sell the house. Sell the car. Sell the kids. 

There has not been a film like this for a very long time. I'd almost forgotten a film like this could exist. I skipped Avengers Age of Ultron. I know what to expect.... More formulaic characters with a few tentpole action scenes thrown in here and there. I already know the story from the trailer. I'm sure it all gets worked out in the end. I can wait for the Bluray. 

With Fury Road, I had no idea what the hell was going to happen as I sat and watched. The trailer showed a lot but it did not spoon feed me the plot so that I could already see the end before even handing over my money. 

We're not spoon fed Max's backstory like the comic book films continually do when they force-feed endless origin films that everyone already knows. Like Spider-Man's origin, again. Yawn! Fantastic Four origin, again. Double yawn! 40 minutes of Max's background? Nope! Fury Road did not waste your time telling you what you already know. Every second of the film was carefully engineered to push the story forward, even if you were not ready to be pushed forward. 

This is not just a film with 20 minutes of action stitched together with weak, inexpensive talking scenes that attempt to tell a story. This was a biblical tale with Max Rockatansky as the linchpin for the entire adventure. 

Yes, he's the linchpin.

Max is the hero on the hero's journey. Without Max, the entire plot falls apart. He is pulled in by forces beyond his control. Max is not a superhero. His ability to overcome conflict is not always a given, and that's why the film is so amazing. When the hero's outcome is not a foregone conclusion, then the audience becomes more invested in the character. He does not always outwit the forces against him. He is not infallible. He has flaws. Max's character, background, wits, and skills also figure in—but sometimes fate, luck, chance, and happenstance all play a part. The screenplay is so well-written you can't sense the writing. The action also does not let up. The only time you have a moment to breathe is when Max has a moment. And there are not many of them. 

Yes, it's true, Charlize Theron's character is very much the protagonist in this story. Others have criticized her character and the plot as feminist propaganda. WTF? Only male-chauvinist caveman thinking would arrive at such a conclusion. This is a classic and complex story that is much larger than the lone-wolf Max. He just becomes a part of Furiosa's adventure. And although the Furiosa character is the true protagonist, without Max there as the linchpin, the story would have collapsed. Furiosa would likely have failed. Max is essential. Just like in The Road Warrior—where without Max as an unwitting decoy, the adventure would have failed, imploded, collapsed. Remember Road Warrior? Max did not care. He did not want to get involved. He got his ass kicked. Eventually he gave in to fate and played his part in the bigger story that played out before him. He gave in to destiny and played his role. Fury Road had a different story, but Max fell in and out in much the same way. 

"As for the Road Warrior... That was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now... Only in our memories."...until the next film, where he'll likely wander into some chaos that is much larger than himself, again somehow figuring in as the story's linchpin hero. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Apple Watch & Your Judgmental Snobbery With Other People Using Technology

So I just got the new  Apple Watch. 

Verdict... it's OK. No homerun. No strike out, either. 

It's a fancy watch that links to my iPhone. It does stuff. Some stuff I want, some stuff I don't want. I can turn that stuff off. 

I own it now. It's mine. I like it OK. I have no plans to sell or return it. I also only just got it. I'm sure I'll learn more about it, and more apps will come out for it. I also know no one with it, and I can see that it will be more useful if I can communicate with other  Apple Watch users. My gut reaction, rather than some in-depth pro/con review about every feature is more important for me. My gut reaction says that it's OK. It's certainly not as necessary as a cell phone is. 

Technology is for individuals. Not for everyone. Each and every one of us needs to make choices about everything in life. What do we want to do? Where would we like to go? Who do we want to hang out with? What do we want to wear? All personal choices. Problems arise when people think they know what's better for others with the personal minutiae in other peoples lives. 

"People who like Apple are fanboys and suck!"

"Android users just don't get it!"
"Technology sucks and is ruining our lives."
"Books are better than tablets." 
"Humph! Look at that asshole with his phone out at dinner."

While I personally feel new technology needs to be navigated carefully and a good measure of etiquette needs to be exercised, I am more shocked by people who feel they know better and thumb their noses at other people they see simply because they are not doing things the way they would do them.

If you care that someone at another table is continually checking a cell phone at a restaurant, then you have a problem. If you see someone walking and texting and you are annoyed by that, you have a problem. If you see a family all checking phones, playing games, and buried in screens and you are annoyed, you have a problem. As long as other people are not being rude, driving while texting, or affecting those around them then the problem you have with them using technology is your problem, not theirs. What is the difference between someone sitting alone at a cafe looking at a tablet or a book? Maybe when the book first came out people hated them and wanted scrolls?

We need to stop worrying what others are doing and how we think it's bad just because it's not the way we would be. Society seems to be responsibly creating laws, where needed, to deal with dangerous situations that put the public at risk, like texting and driving. People seem to be getting the idea, though, that it's rude to interrupt others with technology--such as in a movie theater.

The gray area is when we see people caring more than we feel is normal about technology. If I saw someone knitting on a train or restaurant I might think it's a bit out of place, maybe. But I'd not think the person has a problem with knitting and should stop being obsessed.

The judgmental snobbery that many people have adopted for others' unobtrusive day-to-day technology use is entirely worrisome to me. Stop worrying that other people are not like you!

This all being said, if you want to be bothered less by your phone, get a  Watch. It might help you. So far, though, it has no app that will help you worry less about how your friends, acquaintances, and strangers use technology. 

If you think it's bullshit to add another device that will help you use your phone less, then fine. Don't buy it.