Category Archives: Uncategorized

Apps that are glorified mobile web page wrappers are evil incarnate.

AT&T just updated its myAT&T account management app with a brand-new UI! And by “brand-new UI”, I mean a brand-new Android app wrapped around its god-awful mobile web page. The mobile web page has been redesigned, too, and now shows your data usage on the front splash of the app, as opposed to being buried in a secondary page.

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This is undoubtedly my biggest pet peeve on Android, or really, any mobile OS. It’s lazy. It’s bad UX. You can see just how lazy AT&T is quite easily – try to swipe left or right on the main page and you’ll see the borders of the viewable area move around slightly. It’s sort of like walking into one of those Hollywood sets where all the buildings are just plywood facades and the skyline is painted on a wall. It’s not a real app, AT&T just wants you to think it’s a real app. 

Now, if AT&T’s mobile web page was actually really good, or pretty, maybe i could understand this. But it isn’t. It’s slow, has ugly animations, and the navigation layout is horrendous. And seriously, a sidebar inside the app that navigates around the mobile web page as a redundant alternative to the shortcuts displayed on the page? AT&T, what are you smoking?

I’m not saying AT&T is the only one guilty of this, far from it. And I’m not saying there is no reason to use a mobile web page as part of an app’s UI. There can be legitimate reasons in some cases. I’m struggling to think of them, but I’m sure they’re out. I hope.

But this. This is bad. This is annoying. It’s lazy. Stop it.

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It’s time to let the “$300 Moto X” go.

It seems the Android / tech community at large have recently become obsessed with the idea of the “cheap, good phone.” Every time a new carrier announces unlocked Moto X pricing, it’s news.

Google did a cheap, good phone with the Nexus 4, so why can’t someone else? And Motorola [Mobility] is now a Google company, so shouldn’t they follow along with Google’s revolutionary business model?

The thing is, Google’s pricing of the Nexus 4 isn’t a business model for a phone, it’s a business model for a platform. Just like carriers get you to sign up for 2 years of service in exchange for a low price on your phone, Google is giving you a low price on its phone to get you hooked on Google services and the Android platform at large. How well the Nexus program is accomplishing that in the grand scheme is a bit harder to tell, but the point is this: Google doesn’t make money selling you a phone. Google makes money on what you do with it. A carrier does not make money selling you a phone. A carrier makes money selling you the service that phone requires. Neither Google nor carriers are in the business of selling phones. They’re in the business of selling (I use that term loosely with Google) attached services and products.

This model cannot work for Motorola. Motorola does not sell a platform. Motorola sells hardware, and it derives profit from selling that hardware to consumers, or more accurately, carriers and retailers. If you want to be a successful OEM in the US, you have to play ball with the carrier / OEM relationship. Even Apple does this. It’s how you make money.

You cannot maintain a multi-billion dollar business on razor-thin (har har) margins in a highly competitive, volatile, and ever-evolving market. If I am Joe Consumer, how interested am I in the proposition of – in my mind – walking into a store and paying more for something that isn’t as good (a $300 phone) as something that would cost less and is better (a $200 subsidized phone)?

The idea would undoubtedly resonate with some consumers. But not enough. Not enough to make a multi-billion dollar business of it. Not enough to spend tens of millions of dollars on product R&D.

But what about those $150 Chinese quad-core 1080p phones? Clearly it’s possible. Well, yes, in China it’s possible. Where you aren’t paying hefty import and shipping costs or taxes, where there really is no support structure, few if any OTA updates, and quality control / component sourcing can be most optimistically described as “questionable.”

Maybe one day a $300 unlocked phone really will be something Motorola can pursue profitably. Maybe. Right now, it isn’t going to happen. Not in the US. But what about the Moto X that’s going to be offered outside the US? Why not bring that here? Well, again, because business model. A lower-end phone wouldn’t be as competitive in the US, and it would be less profitable. A cheaper, less powerful Moto X only makes sense outside the US because that is what Motorola is competing with outside the US – other cheap, not very good phones. There’s a low-end phone market in the US, for sure, but the bulk of the profit – and attention – is at the high end of the price spectrum for the time being.

While I wouldn’t buy a Moto X, I applaud Motorola’s current direction. They really seem to have put a great deal of focus into restructuring their business and products in a way that focuses on the company’s strengths; namely, R&D and branding.

Think of it this way – if it were your business, what would you do? I look at Motorola’s trajectory and see a risky, but highly logical, attempt to reinvigorate a company that was falling by the wayside. It may work, it may not. They cut all the crappy smartphones, they kept the highly valuable and successful DROID VZW partnership (killing it would have been monumentally stupid – it’s a moneymaker), and they made one really good phone platform without betting the house on anything too radical (like crazy pricing).

Baby steps. Today, Motorola is focusing on building an image, regaining consumer confidence with quality products, and cementing a position with carriers as a reliable OEM partner that can bring in customers. Let the company get on its feet before you declare it dead.

Working from home is weird.

If you didn’t know, I work from home (read: my bedroom) full-time as the Senior Editor of Android Police. Yep, I bring you in-depth reviews and news three feet from my mattress. Doesn’t that sound nice? Most people seem to think so – every time I tell someone I work from home, they express envy. I’m not so sure they always understand what working from home can mean, though.

Working from home can actually be difficult, and sometimes flat-out undesirable. You have to be disciplined and stay focused – not exactly easy for me to do, personally.

For example, I like to keep a tidy work space, but I also tend to put various crap all over my desk when the day is done, and like to have electronics, tools, and other stuff I might want within arm’s reach at any given moment. I wage a constant war against myself going from clean one day to messy the next, and sometimes I just give up. Then, I have a hard time focusing because my desk is cluttered.

I absolutely get cabin fever being in my room for hours and days on end. Sometimes I go to a coffee shop or library to work, but the internet connection is so slow that it makes doing my job much less efficient.

The moment I decide I’m done for the day, I have to force myself to get out of my own room, or I’ll go a little crazy. That’s so weird to me. Shouldn’t home be the place I go to relax? I have a really hard time with this on occasion, and have taken to long post-work walks around town just to get my mind out of “work” mode.

No commute means that figuring out when I “start” work is really just a matter of deciding when I want to get up (to an extent). If I start at 6:30AM, do I stop early like I would at a normal job, or do I go until I feel like I’ve done enough for the day? At a desk job, you typically have scheduled start and stop times, and while some people hate this, I can’t lie – I miss the structure sometimes.

My home computer is my work computer. So is my laptop. My work programs, Chrome tabs, and other stuff all come up automatically when I log in. It’s easy to get drawn back into a small work task just because I notice an email or message in chat. Working remotely can make “escaping” work hard.

There’s no dress code, so sometimes it’s an excuse to be kind of a slob.

There are benefits, of course. No money spent commuting. No worrying about being late (generally). I can largely make my own schedule if I have things I need to do during the week. Once I’m done for the day, I’m already home! But working from home is not without disadvantages, as you may be able to see now. I often wondered what it was like before starting AP, and now I know. Would I prefer to work in an office? I’m really not sure. For this job, maybe I would – I really like the people I work with, and I’m sure we’d have an awesome time working together in person.

All in all, it’s a matter of preference, of course. Working from home is far from the worst thing in the world, but it definitely takes adjusting to, and requires you to much more actively enforce a life / work balance.

On cheat days and scales.

I always hear from people giving armchair diet advice to “take cheat days” on my diet, so as not to get discouraged or over-stressed. I have mixed feelings about cheat days. Every time I do one, it’s almost always A.) unintentional at the outset of the day, and B.) highly likely to result in regret the next morning. There’s nothing worse than waking up and thinking “I went backwards.” It guts me. I also think for people doing very nutrition/calorie-centric diets, cheat days are dangerous. They’re a reminder of the enjoyable part of getting fat, and when you’re just getting started, especially, they can derail an entire diet plan. I have had several cheat days in the last month, but I didn’t feel good about any of them.

Scales. I have long avoided buying a scale, because I fear it may do more harm than good – it would be easy to get discouraged if my measurable progress fell below my expectations / estimates. After weeks of deliberation, I bought a Fitbit Aria. It wasn’t cheap ($130), but so far I’ve found it to be a truly excellent and motivating investment. It has largely tracked with my own estimates, and the automatic Wi-Fi uploading of weight / body fat to the Fitbit site is amazing. Worth every penny. I honestly prefer it to the idea of a fitness tracker right now, because it gives me concrete results, not estimates. The precision is a bit wanting (I’d say +/- .3 lbs), but it’s accurate enough that I can already see a trend line emerging after 2.5 weeks with it (that trend line is pointing downward, thankfully). The body fat measurement is far from accurate from what I’ve read (+ / – 5%), though it is pretty consistent as long as I’m not weighing right after I get out of the shower (the moisture on your skin decreases your electrical resistance, screwing up the reading). And the Wi-Fi setup isn’t exactly a breeze. But overall, totally “would buy again.”

A brief and overdue review of Bioshock Infinite

I played Bioshock infinite a few months ago, and I had meant to write up my thoughts on the game here shortly after finishing it. I did finish the game, but I never wrote about it.

Bioshock Infinite is easily the most engrossing PC game I’ve played since Half Life 2. In some ways, though, it is a bit of a mess, and I hope that if there ever is another Bioshock, some of those mistakes will be learned from.

Put simply, there are two reasons you play Bioshock – the visual splendor, and the tale. Gameplay is secondary to these things, and it shows. At times, painfully so.

But it also doesn’t matter. Infinite is worth the $60, easily. Even if you only play through once. Which is probably all most people will do – there is no substantial reason to repeat the single player story, not until you’ve forgotten the various niceties of the plot 6 months to a year later.

Bioshock Infinite takes what players loved about the first two titles and tries to turn them up to 11. It succeeds. You thought Rapture was grand, ambitious, and original? Columbia makes Andrew Ryan’s undersea utopia look like a quickly sketched sand castle. The level of detail and imagination is truly astonishing. Subplots go deeper. Characters don’t simply advance the lulls in firefights or puzzles, they have real intrigue about them – they make you want more. And the story arc, well, although I doubt anyone cares about spoiling it at this point, I wouldn’t want to even risk it. It’s not perfect, but it surpasses the first two games in almost every conceivable way.

Bioshock Infinite is, frankly, a piece of art. You want to stop and appreciate the little things, to take in the full experience. The stuff you’d never notice in any other first-person shooter, because who gives a fuck what’s behind the produce counter in one of a half dozen shops on a street? In Bioshock, you care. And you should – the one piece of lore, the one Vox tape you need to really connect the dots at a particular point in the story, could be there.

Find me another game like that. All the way until the very, very end, you are utterly driven to dig deeper, listen harder, and look closer. This is the reason Infinite is a game you must play.

Oddly, the reason you shouldn’t play it, however, is the “playing” aspect. The first two Bioshocks had relatively simple but decidedly entertaining and unpretentious combat. As soon as you accepted this fact, you loved it. You’d use a weird Adam power just because you could, because it was hilarious or visually pleasing. Weapons had clear, defined purposes.

Bioshock Infinite just mucks everything up. Too many guns, too many powers, too many ways to tweak those guns and powers, and too much dependence on them to get yourself out of complex combat scenarios. They just tried too hard. Like the story and the visuals, 2K turned up the combat system from the original to 11. It wasn’t a good idea. Health is harder to come by. So is ammo. More fun, simple weapons become laughably ineffective later in the game, and your powers are either totally worthless or absolutely required based on the combat situation. There are too many enemies, and most of them just shoot at you (either with guns or powers) – how lame is that from the series that brought us wall-crawling hook-handed fish people? It just isn’t very fun. It’s not bad, but it’s not great by any measure. It tries to make serious a combat system that was never meant to be serious.

It by no means ruins the game, however. Combat is simply a means to an end. You hate it at times (a sniper rifle in Bioshock? Really?), but not others. One / two on one combat, for example, allows you to play with your powers and more unorthodox weapons – and you can have genuine fun that way.

Most of the time, though, it feels like busy work mowing down a dozen baddies and a George Washington robot from a hundred yards.

Even with the lackluster combat, though, Infinite gets an easy 9/10 from me. A fantastic game that any gamer should play through once, even if it doesn’t have a dog.

Yeezus: A quick review

I’ve heard opinions from three people I personally know about Kanye West’s new album Yeezus. All three have extremely negative critiques of Kanye’s shortest LP to date (a mere 40 minutes).

I suppose I can understand why. Yeezus almost completely foregoes the soulful hooks and choruses, by and large, of West’s older albums. Even My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy occasionally played it safe (All Of The Lights, Power), and had its moments of gentler reflection (Blame Game, Lost In The World).

Yeezus, however, will fray your nerves through all 40 jarring minutes. It will test your ability to stand Kanye’s narcissistic, self-pitying, and off-and-on misogynist / racist lyrics. Unlike other songs which struck such self-obsessed chords (“Monster”), Yeezus’ backing beats offer little in the way of distraction from the grating content of the verses. This, I think, is where Kanye’s hip-hop audience and more casual fans will parts ways with the album.

Since his rise to mainstream popularity, Kanye West’s music has largely been lost on tweens and twenty-somethings looking for “pop-ish” hip-hop or club / dance mixes. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, though I also think it shows that many of West’s “fans” actually have very little respect for him as an artist, and look at him more like a glorified DJ (and I do consider that an insult). There is very little appreciation for what he has to contribute to the canon, as compared to how many tracks he can produce that are suitable for tonight’s playlist.

This is why, although it is not perfect in every way, I welcome Yeezus. Kanye has struck back hard against an audience that began to demand things of his artistic output, a demand I think no audience has any right to make of any artist. Not only that, it is a polarizing and artistically ambitious – not to mention risky – effort.

To draw on analogy, in 1975, an album called Tonight’s The Night was released by Neil Young, one of my favorite musicians of all time. It was hated by the majority of his fans. Even critics were less than totally receptive to it at the time (by contrast, critics seem to love Yeezus). It was dark, dreary, recorded by an absolutely shitface-drunk band, and incomprehensibly out of character for Young after he achieved fame for hits like Old Man, Heart of Gold, Ohio, and After the Gold Rush. Today, it has a very secure spot on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums Of All TIme.

To critics of Yeezus, I say this: give it a month or two. Come back to it. Something tells me that if you really do like West as an artist, you will. And you’ll enjoy it. It’s now an integral part of the in-progress portrait of a man who may well be hip-hop’s most progressive force. Don’t be so quick to judge a change of direction.

On being fat.

I’ve been on one successful diet in my life. I’ve also been obese, apart from that dieting stint, since I was about 13. Being fat does suck. It makes your life more difficult, and is extremely damaging to your sense of self-confidence and motivation.

Even in America, where the “it’s not what’s on the outside” mantra was pummeled into us as children, it is still very apparent that being obese is considered a bad thing. And that is in part because major health issues that can be drawn back to consumption habits – heart disease, diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, kidney or liver failure – have been found time and again to occur at a higher rate in obese individuals.

Not only are obese people more likely to suffer from these sorts of health problems as they advance in age, they’re also much more prone to experiencing an increased rate of general physical deterioration, brought on by excessive weight and / or poor diet. People who are obese age more quickly and die younger. Obesity has also brought about a wider culture in the US that accepts or even celebrates excess indulgence in food and drink, a trend that food and beverage corporations have been all too happy to exploit over the years. (Largely through the use of high fructose corn syrup and processed meat that have made packing caloric density into cheap, fast meals easier than ever.)

This has often led me to ask myself: Why am I fat? If it’s so terrible and so harmful to me as an individual, why am I not terrified of the consequences? Well, you could probably ask the same of any obese person, and the answer would likely boil down to this: we like food. Or soda. Or candy. Or beer. Food is comforting – it makes us feel better. Our brains exhibit a highly positive, encouraging response when presented with foods or drinks we greatly enjoy. This obviously doesn’t explain everyone’s obesity (there can be severe and difficult-to-treat underlying medical conditions that cause obesity), but it does in many cases – like mine.

But doesn’t everyone experience this? Well, yes, to an extent. But not always to the same degree, or for the same root reasons.

It wasn’t until my teen years – often an age where food consumption increases quite a bit anyway to spur growth – that I started turning toward food to ease the extreme emotional burdens of social life (or lack thereof), acne, and my responsibilities as a student. It was a perfect storm of factors. Eventually, it simply became a habit. Much like playing video games or watching TV, food became something to do to distract myself from the emotional rigors of my daily life. I hated being a teenager – and I look back on that time of my life with little fondness. My life was not terrible, but I certainly wasn’t happy. Food was a comforting addiction to cope with that, even though it was also contributing to the problem.

Even as I became more comfortable in my skin during high school, I got fatter. I don’t know exactly where or when I peaked – I would guess around freshman year of college – but I was a little fatter than I am now. I also wore it like a younger person – more in my face and neck than I do today (now is much more in the gut, hooray).

I don’t remember when or why exactly I made the decision to lose weight. After freshman year of college, I felt a little less socially awkward, but I wasn’t really enjoying myself. I was frustrated. I’m sort of an angry person sometimes, and I do try to put that to effective use, and that’s what I did. I remember being so upset that I was fat, so infuriated at myself that I had let it happen to me, and that it was all my fault.

I began to research in earnest about daily calorie burn figures, and devised a plan that is similar to what most family doctors would recommend: calorie counting. I limited myself strictly to 1500 calories per day, which is on the low side for a male in their early 20’s, but by no means dangerous for someone who is obese (it might be a little dangerous if, say, I weighed 130lbs – something I absolutely do not anticipate ever being as a 6’1” male). I tracked my caloric intake religiously. I would never give myself the benefit of the doubt on foods where I could not get an exact count, and wrote off dinners where I couldn’t find or accurately estimate calories as 2000 calorie days, or more if I felt particularly guilty. I calculated my weight loss over time, and it actually matched up to reality pretty well.

Let me be the first to tell you: it’s pretty fucking hard to do this. It takes an insane amount of focus and dedication, and the ability to deny yourself when your mind is screaming at you to just eat a little more. The first two weeks were, frankly, torturous at times. I don’t recall if I “broke” during those fourteen days when I started. I probably did, once or twice. Most fit people (or those who just have ultra-robust metabolism) simply don’t understand the lengths to which your mind will go to convince you that you need more. It is what I imagine an alcoholic or a heroin addict goes through very early on in the withdrawal process, waiting between fixes. Of course, that’s also as bad as things get when it comes to hunger, though – you’re not going to go into a flop sweat, hallucinate, and start convulsing on the floor from having a case of the munchies (or your body telling you that you are), it’s just… uncomfortable.

The initial shock was probably made worse because I, as a result of being a broke and lazy college student, chose extremely high-protein, calorie-dense foods that were even less likely to provide a feeling of fullness. Canned chili and dairy-free soups – foods with few or no simple carbohydrates. Our bodies exhibit a much more marked emotional and physiological response to simple carbs, producing (allegedly) dopamine and serotonin in our brains, and a shot of insulin in anticipation of an increased blood glucose level. The foods I ate did not regularly produce this response. I think this helped me lower my emotional attachment to food significantly. The first two weeks were hell, the second two merely difficult. After that, my stomach shrank and my mindset changed, and dieting became much easier.

About 9 months into this routine (with more and more lenience in my diet as I lost more weight, actually), I had lost around 65lbs. Now, I know some people will say “it’s not healthy to lose so much weight so quickly without a lot of exercise involved,” but really, I didn’t give a fuck – I had gotten so far, made so much progress. A big help came from 6 weeks of archaeological field school, where I was able to eat more, but also did intense manual labor for 4-6 hours every single day. My metabolism got a boost, I’m sure. I was the happiest and healthiest-feeling I’ve ever been. Really. I was buying nice clothes in normal sizes, being social, and enjoying my life so much more.

By late in senior year of college, I had gained back maybe 25-30lbs. I put the onus here largely on beer, not food (well, maybe a few late Friday night post-bar Jack In The Box runs). I had turned 21, and my love of craft brews went straight to my gut. But by the time I left undergrad, I was ready to start turning it around again. And then I went to law school, and my plans were utterly derailed. It was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I hated it. I met some nice people, but it wasn’t the right professional culture for me. I know for a fact now that I would despise being a lawyer. So, I drank beer and ate fattening foods to cope with the stress. I got fatter.

I’ve been away from school one year now, and at this point I have basically gained back all the weight I lost in college. It is extremely aggravating. But about 2 weeks ago, I resolved to start again on my 1500 calorie routine. In part, because I was involved in a rather jarring car accident back in January that injured my back. I’ve been told several times by my doctors that I risk aggravating any long term effects of my injuries, and the health of my back in general, by maintaining my current weight. It was a good enough reason for me.

I’ve been pretty good – not perfect – but good enough that I feel confident about what I’m doing. I feel more positive with each day I can say I achieved what I set out to. And while I’ve had two previous false starts in the last couple years, this is by far the most successful one yet. I also know a lot more about what to avoid post-diet, and anticipate (hopefully) a lower-stress environment in which to re-acclimate to normal levels of food consumption when I reach a point I am happy with.

So, why am I telling all of you? Well, because I’d be a liar to at least several dozen people who read part of this (let’s face it, it’s long) if I was still as fat as I am today 6 months from now. I’m not going to post a bunch of updates (that seems weird to me), but I’m going to look back at this during trying times, and I’m going to think about what I said. Just knowing I put it out there will strengthen my resolve – so thanks for reading.