Merry Christmas, Here’s a 10-year Old Album You Missed

As a Christmas gift to you, I direct your attention to singer-songwriter Joel Alme’s “Waiting for the Bells,” a beautiful, nearly forgotten album from the very beginning of this decade that we’re about to close out. It’s not expressly a Christmas album, but its eleven tracks achieve that fine balance of celebration and melancholy that you hear in Darlene Love’s immortal “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the best Christmas song ever recorded, so for that reason I think of it as holiday fare.

Like his fellow Swede Jens Lekman, Alme specializes in hooky pop music with a literate, brainy twist. But “Waiting for the Bells,” in my view, far exceeds anything that the more successful Lekman ever achieved. Its concise, thirty-two minute runtime features an unbroken string of impeccable song craft, delivered with Alme’s unique crooning vocal style, which balances searing rawness and classical crooning. You can get a taste of it in the video for “If You Got Somebody Waiting,” embedded above.

“Bells” was the musician’s second album, and he was able to secure grant money from the Swedish Arts Council for its production. The results are tastefully lavish string and brass arrangements, and a soaring, Phil Spector-esque quality that give it an irresistible immediacy. The fact that the music listening public largely did resist it, though, almost underscores its timelessness; it’s not quite an album from another time, but rather an album from no particular time. I dearly cherish it and listen to it almost continuously, and I think you may find yourself doing the same if you give it a chance. Happy holidays.

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Movies Watched, November 2019

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There’s a lot packed into Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” even beyond its generous three and a half-hour runtime. It would almost be enough that it gives us a tour of decades of gangster lore at the intersection of American politics, but there’s also complex and quite eloquent contemplations on the nature of violence and regret; exquisite recreations of mid-century urban landscapes; and, unavoidably, large scale CG-driven de-aging of its central performers. Scorsese, as ever, brings it all together with the grace of a master; few directors can paint with such nuanced detail in such consistent a manner across canvases as wide in scope.

I got to catch a screening during the movie’s limited theatrical release, and felt fortunate for having been able to experience Scorsese’s vision uninterrupted, in the immersive cocoon of a dark cinema. It’s a rich text, worth seeing in any context, but I have to confess that it also felt somewhat…inessential. “The Irishman” offers a new, more pensive perspective on Scorsese’s longstanding preoccupations with the dark side of American exceptionalism, but it’s still a gangster movie, still a meditation on mafioso codes; still a revival of that same mid-century, mid-Atlantic, Italian-American milieu. I’m game for revisiting this territory as much as anyone, but after, “Silence,” Scorsese’s shockingly unsparing look at the persistence of faith in the face of brutality, “The Irishman” seems like a regression. Scorses does illuminate new dimensions of gangsterism with this movie; it’s just not as rich and new a territory as he is capable of.

That said, no one can accuse the director of shying away from the new when it comes to digitally de-aging his performers. That creative decision is at the heart of the film; it allows Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, particularly, to deliver performances along a chronological range that may be unprecedented, thereby allowing Scorsese to race freely up and down the decades as he sees fit. Opinions are divided on the effectiveness of the retouching but for me, when combined with the overfamiliarity of the subject matter, it was too much, too distracting. The technology is simply not there yet; DeNiro, particularly, never looks younger than fifty, even when the script pointedly refers to him as “kid.” I kept wishing that the director had simply cast another actor to play DeNiro’s character at younger ages, much as I kept wishing that Scorsese had chosen to tell a different story.

In addition to “The Irishman,” I saw fifteen other movies last month, including “Parasite,” which I also managed to see in theaters and which I also found to be somewhat less satisfying than the glowing critical consensus promised. The first three-quarters of Bong Joon-Ho’s class and morality drama (with a horror film stashed inside of it, sort of like a toy surprise inside a candy box) is almost perfect and the director could have easily called it quits at that point and declared victory. But in the last segment he scrambles to pay off what came before, hastily gathering back together all of his principal characters to essentially face off one another in a not entirely convincing way, and then stretching credulity even further with a far-fetched denouement. Again, I found myself wishing he’d gone another way.

Here’s everything I watched in November:

  1. The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear” (1991) ★★★
    Rewatched. Not too bad actually.
  2. Shadow” (2018) ★★½
    Exquisitely made martial arts epic that’s devoid of feeling as to the point of grotesqueness.
  3. The Bourne Identity” (2002) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Never gets old.
  4. Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult” (1994) ★★★
    Rewatched. Surprisingly maybe the best one?
  5. The Irishman” (2019) ★★★
    Very distracting.
  6. The Hate U Give” (2018) ★★★
    Comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.
  7. Parasite” (2019) ★★★½
    So, so close to being perfect.
  8. Dolemite Is My Name” (2019) ★★★½
    Eddie Murphy pure charm elevates a by-the-numbers biopic.
  9. The Addams Family” (2019) ★
    Frighteningly boring.
  10. Mother” (2009) ★★★★
    So emotionally true it’s harrowing.
  11. The Killing” (1956) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. My favorite Kubrick work; a definitive text for every heist movie that followed.
  12. Ford v Ferrari” (2018) ★★★
    Perfectly fine but it’s easy to imagine what it could’ve been in the hands of a more distinctive directorial talent than James Mangold.
  13. Do the Right Thing” (1989) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Electrifyingly urgent, even thirty years later.
  14. Suspiria” (2018) ★½
    Shallow ideas dressed up with high class pretensions.
  15. Chris Claremont’s X-Men” (2018) ★★
    A look back to when comics grew up, before the rest of the world noticed.
  16. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969) ★★
    Rich people problems from the Sixties.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in October, in September, in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January and a full list of everything I watched in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at letterboxd.com.

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Shortcuts and Screenshots on iOS

Shortcuts App Icon

Periodically I’ll find myself fascinated for weeks at a time with Apple’s Shortcuts automation app for iOS and iPadOS, tinkering endlessly on shortcuts that are ostensibly intended to save me time. If I’m being honest though it’s really all about the pleasure of hacking.

Playing with shortcuts is a bit like peeling back the surface layer of the iPhone and iPad, exposing a hidden dimension where apps can work together and tasks can be automated. For someone like myself with very meager programming skills, it’s also empowering: the Shortcuts app is a beautifully simplified scripting environment that puts some of the vast capabilities of true coding in the hands of novices. I’ve got shortcuts that tell me when the next bus is arriving on my block, that change the volume on my home theater, that search for reviews of any movie, show or product that I highlight in text, that help me publish posts (including this one) on my blog, and many more.

Many incredibly useful shortcuts can be set up in less than a minute or two, but it’s also possible to spend hours creating richer, more complex ones too. Even if doing this consumes more time than you could ever conceivably save in productivity, the satisfaction you get from a shortcut is a bit like the bargain you strike when you train a dog to fetch your slippers: it takes a lot of work, but it’s a neat trick.

Given all of this energy I’m pouring into creating shortcuts, I thought I would share some of them here. This first one is called “Screenshot(s) to iCloud” and it helps cure a longstanding annoyance: removing screenshots from the iOS/iPadOS camera roll by archiving them intelligently.

Like a lot of designers and pretty much anyone who’s enthusiastic about mobile apps, I take a lot of screenshots. iOS dumps all of those into the system camera roll in the Photos app alongside all of the countless personal pictures I’ve taken. Naturally, that commingling has always irritated the fussy part of me that likes everything in its right place.

It’s certainly straightforward if tedious to manually export that backlog of screenshots from the Photos app’s “Screenshots” smart album, which helpfully collects them all in one place for you. But that method yields files with names like “IMG_6651.png,” which is not particularly helpful or elegant.

My shortcut not only allows you to give each screenshot a descriptive name on the fly, but it also helps you keep them all organized by prepending the file names with the date that the screenshot was taken. You can run it on one image at a time or in batches, and they all get saved to a designated directory in iCloud. (It’s also easy to modify this shortcut to export the files to Dropbox if you prefer, though Dropbox is pretty much redundant these days.)

For example, I’ve got a number of screenshots from the past year or so that I took each time I hit some significant karma milestones in Todoist. I snapped one when I hit a streak of four hundred consecutive days of meeting my daily task completion goal, back in November of 2018, and then another when I hit six hundred consecutive days this June. And then in July, I took several screenshots when I was just one karma point from hitting the “Grand Master” top tier of usage, or roughly 16,000 completed tasks. (I use Todoist all day long.)

To dispatch these old screen grabs easily, I simply select the images in Photos and run the shortcut from the Share menu. (Due to a bug in iOS/iPadOS 13.3, you unfortunately can’t run it from the Instant Markup screen immediately after you take a screenshot, at least today, but hopefully Apple will fix that soon.) The shortcut asks me what I want to name the series and I type in simply “Todoist.” Then it checks if any two or more of the screenshots were created on the same date. For those that were, it appends a sequential number to the file name.

The shortcut also checks if any of the images I’m exporting have a file size larger than two megabytes, and for those that do it automatically compresses and exports them in JPEG format (smaller files are preserved in their original PNG format). Exported images get sent to an iCloud directory called “Screenshots for iOS” inside the “Shortcuts” folder. (Unfortunately Apple does not allow shortcuts to automatically create directories in iCloud the way that they can with Dropbox, so you have to manually create that directory ahead of time.) Once that’s done, it asks me if I want to delete the screenshots from Photos, which of course I do because that’s kind of the whole point to begin with. And finally it confirms the whole process with a notification that shows the names of the exported screenshots alongside their final image sizes.

Once all of that’s done, this is what results in the Files app:

Exported Screenshots in Files App

As you can tell, this shortcut performs a lot of mildly intelligent operations that would be time consuming to perform manually, all bundled up into a one-tap trigger. And it’s really just a demonstration of what can be achieved with even as little coding smarts as I have. To put it mildly, the Shortcuts app is really powerful and, as I said earlier, really empowering in that it allows me to bend these devices closer to my will. In particular, Shortcuts has been a boon to productivity on my iPad (I still prefer to use my iPad rather than a MacBook whenever I can) because it adds capabilities that I could not achieve as easily or as quickly without this capability—sometimes more easily and more quickly than on a Mac, even. I’ll share more of these shortcuts in future posts, but for now, if you want to download “Screenshot(s) to iCloud” and give it a spin for yourself, you can get it at this link.

Note: You’ll need to be running iOS/iPadOS 13 to use this shortcut. You’ll also need to enable the horribly named “Allow untrusted shortcuts” option in Settings.

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Movies Watched, October 2019

Still from “Joker”

No one asked, but my one-line, all-in assessment of Marvel movies would be: “They’re lowering our standards.” Over the past decade or so their potent mix of CG-driven spectacle, nominally interwoven soap operatics and mildly amusing comedy have convinced millions of us that a multi-platform marketing plan is a fine stand-in for a real movie. They’ve also made the case that, beyond box office success and toys sold, genre films—comic book films—are not to be taken seriously at all.

So when a movie like “Joker” comes along and tries, however fitfully and frightfully, to be something more, to be even a faint echo of better, more ambitious movies, it seems incredibly inappropriate. It almost seems like an affront to the blending of marketing and cinema that Marvel has mandated as the standard for this kind of fare. Here is a film that is incredibly flawed, not particularly original, and potentially even harmful (though not really). And yet, it’s trying to do something that no Marvel movie has done before: it asks questions about the extreme nature of the absurd characters living in super-hero universe. It actually considers death and killing as consequential acts. And it tries, however imperfectly, to try and take its subject matter somewhat seriously.

“Joker” is not a great movie, and it certainly doesn’t live up to the prior art (“Taxi Driver,” “The King of Comedy” etc.) that it shamelessly swipes from. But it’s ambitious, at the very least. And more than that, it’s audacious. It challenges our idea of what a comic book movie is, or even should be. I’ve watched so many Marvel films that washed over me with a numbing boredom that I found it fully exhilarating to watch the many parts of “Joker” when I literally had no idea what would happen next. You just don’t get that with the Avengers et. al. You also don’t get actors doing what Joaquin Phoenix is trying to do here: suffuse an entire film with the inner life of the character he’s inhabiting. Phoenix’s performance is amazing in part because it’s actually a real performance inside a comic book movie; it’s worlds away from the self-satisfied mugging, quipping and posturing that Robert Downey Jr. fobs off as acting.

Part of what’s so confusing is that it’s really difficult to talk about “Joker” without talking about Marvel movies, because it so clearly stands as a response to that monoculture that we’ve all been smothered with for twenty-two movies now. But that’s also exactly why the movie is interesting; it represents a moment of change, of evolution. It is in a sense a reassessment of what comic book movies are, and in so doing it’s making a worthwhile—though not unassailable—contribution to the discourse, much as late period noir and western films were instrumental to expanding the possibilities of those genres. In the end, I predict, it will be remembered favorably.

Anyway, that’s pretty much what I’ve wanted to get off my chest about “Joker” after seeing it in theaters last month. Here are all sixteen movies I watched in October:

  1. The Five Venoms” (1978) ★★
    Everybody really was Kung fu fighting.
  2. Robin Hood” (2018) ★½
    A bold reimagining of the classic folk tale as a terrible action movie made for idiots.
  3. Transit” (2018) ★★★
    Fantastic execution of a plot that doesn’t always bear scrutiny.
  4. Inside Out” (2015) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I got emotional.
  5. Wonder Woman” (2017) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A so-so movie elevated by two very charming leads.
  6. Joker” (2019) ★★★½
    A funny thing happened on the way to the box office.
  7. L’Eclisse” (1962) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Emptiness was never so beautiful.
  8. Ad Astra” (2019) ★★★
    For a movie about the vastness of space, it’s surprisingly narrow.
  9. Columbus” (2017) ★★★★
    A wonderful meditation on the spiritual power of Modernist architecture. Recommended.
  10. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (2019) ★★★½
    Inessential except as an excuse to enjoy Vince Gilligan’s ingenious storytelling chops.
  11. Anna” (2019) ★
    Hard to believe, but this movie about a supermodel assassin is not very good.
  12. The Laundromat” (2019) ★★★★
    I’ll take this over “The Big Short” any day.
  13. Toy Story 2” (1999) ★★★
    Rewatched. They should’ve stopped here.
  14. I Knew Her Well” (1965) ★★★★
    Neo-realist gem that both celebrates and skewers post-War Italy.
  15. Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985) ★½
    Rewatched. They made this in the Eighties and it stank then too.
  16. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!” (1988) ★★½
    Rewatched. This one is special to me but it’s less zany than I remembered.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in September, in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January and a full list of everything I watched in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re really interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at letterboxd.com.

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Passwords Are a Design Problem

Illustration of a Password Entry Field

Like a lot of urgent advice, this terrific article about best practices in creating strong passwords, written by Jon Xavier of Fleetsmith, feels both necessary and tragic. Necessary because, as the article says, there is “so much outdated, misleading, and just plain wrong information” about how to create and maintain passwords out there. And tragic because this most basic of security measures, which few of us have ever really mastered, seems likely to continue to challenge most users of digital products for the foreseeable future. It’s well worth reading the article in full, but a quick rundown of its main takeaways is also worthwhile:

  • Passwords should be a minimum of ten characters long, and ideally as long as possible
  • Neither special characters nor numbers are necessary in order to make passwords stronger
  • Cleverly swapping numbers for letters in your passwords is completely ineffective
  • A password should only be changed when there’s reason to believe it’s been compromised
  • The same password should never be used on multiple sites
  • Two-factor authorization should always be turned on if it’s available
  • Never give honest answers to password security questions, e.g., What’s your mother’s maiden name?

Xavier goes deep into the myths driving password implementations and usage today, but one thing he doesn’t touch on is how poor is the user experience of passwords across platforms and products. Create six different accounts at six different web sites and you’ll very likely encounter six different approaches to encouraging and enforcing password strength and security, some egregiously lax and others excessively restrictive.

That inconsistency alone undermines much of the vigilance that otherwise responsible users might bring to password creation. If you’re presented with a new set of rules to comply with each time you undertake the same essentially diversionary task (no one sets up a password as an end in itself; they only do so as a means towards achieving some other goal), your devotion to security will inevitably be worn down to a lowest common denominator approach.

Perhaps the most important advice that Xavier offers is:

The most important factor in password safety is how they’re stored.

If you’ve used password managers like 1Password, my personal favorite, you’ll likely nod your head in agreement here. Not only do password managers markedly improve password safety, but they also ameliorate the experience of using them to begin with. Once you’re up and running with 1Password or similar apps, your online activity feels inherently more secure.

Still, huge gaps remain. For example, when generating a new password, these utilities can only guess at the security requirements of a given site or app. So if the constraint mandated by the site is, say, twelve characters including at least one number, and the password manager happens to be set to generate strings of random words that are thirty-two characters or longer, it’s up to the user to mediate the disparity.

It’s also difficult for a password manager to understand when a password is applicable to more than one site or app. Once a password is created, it’s often matched exclusively to the domain of that site. So if your login is also valid on a closely related site, as is the case with many sites from large companies, the password manager won’t automatically recognize the relationship and present the relevant login.

What’s more, grasping the added complexity of a third-party piece of software can be a challenge to many new users. To use one of these utilities effectively, you have to adopt it as a habit, which can take time. That can result in an intermediary phase where some passwords are stored in the manager and others are stored elsewhere using other means, confusing novice users even more.

Of course you could use the password utilities now built into many operating systems or browsers, which lately have been improved significantly. But if you go this route then you’re sort of stuck there, because accessing those passwords across the wide chasm between products or platforms is high friction at best.

On the desktop, while it’s easy enough to generate and access passwords in a browser, doing the same for native apps, much less the operating system’s own password prompts, is less straightforward. Manual copy and pasting is often the only way to bridge that divide. And this is especially true on iOS and iPadOS. While password access has improved greatly over the years on mobile, the landscape is still pretty unpredictable. Generate a new password in one app, and you may or may not be able to access it easily on the corresponding web site.

And none of this takes into account the excessive frequency with which all kinds of products and platforms prompt users to type their passwords, often without making it completely evident why password entry might be necessary at a given moment.

Compare the experience of passwords with the experience of, say, accessing your email, using a web browser, or performing any kind of search. Regardless of your host or client or even platform, these conform to more or less the same patterns of experience. That’s because like passwords, they’re decentralized pieces of technological infrastructure, but unlike passwords they’ve benefitted from an accretion of best practices that over time have have evolved into more or less universal standards. By contrast passwords still seem immature, developmentally arrested by efficacy myths, and suffering from continual UX neglect. Passwords are clearly a user experience problem starving for design attention.

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My Favorite Podcasts

Castro for iPhone

The makers of the podcast app Castro were recently kind enough to invite me to share five of my favorite podcasts, and this week they published that list as a feature story in their app. If you don’t have Castro on your iPhone you can read it on their blog, but if you listen to podcasts and haven’t tried it yet, you should download it.

I’m particularly fond of Castro’s ability to “side load” podcast content, a feature I use all the time while working on “Wireframe.” When a new rough cut of each episode is ready, the producers share the audio file for review as a Dropbox link. I open that up in the Dropbox app on my phone and then, using the Castro extension, I copy it to over to Castro. That lets me listen to these rough cuts exactly as I would experience them in real life; with my headphones on, as I walk around town or ride the subway.

Anyway, in the feature article, I share these podcasts from my heavy rotation: “Wireframe,” obviously, but also “The /Filmcast,” my favorite movies show; “You Must Remember This,” which digs into the history of Hollywood; “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,” which always leaves me in stitches; and “Story Pirates,” a sketch comedy/musical show for kids that’s secretly fun enough for grown ups.

You can read more about what I have to say about each of these in the post, but since there was only room enough for five, I thought I’d share a few more of the shows I listen to regularly. Fair warning: they’re basically all about film.

The Big Picture,” a movies podcast from The Ringer, does a great job of covering the current cinema. But it also does a better job than nearly any other news source I know of continually asking the question “How are movies changing?” The hosts examine everything from how the conversation around new movies is evolving, to the way streaming platforms are impacting our ideas of what movies can be, to how the Oscars race and other awards programs incentivize different kinds of filmmaking, and more.

The Next Picture Show” bills itself as a “movie-of-the-week” podcast that comes in a series of two-episode arcs, with one episode examining a new movie and the other examining an older movie that set an interesting precedent for that newer film. So in recent months they’ve looked at both “Joker” and “The Dark Knight,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Shampoo,” “John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum” and “The Warriors”… you get the idea. The pairings are fascinating, and the commentary is wonderfully thoughtful and friendly.

Blank Check” is a podcast with a unique format that examines the full filmographies of prominent directors. So, for weeks at a time, they will immerse themselves, film by film, in the work of directors like Tim Burton, Ang Lee, Brad Bird and more. I end up either listening to every episode for weeks at a time, as I did with their recent series on the work of Michael Mann, or I tune out entirely for long stretches. But the banter between the two hosts, while raucous, is also terrifically incisive about what makes films work.

The Business” is a weekly radio show from KCRW that covers the entertainment industry from, well, the business side. It’s very current, as it covers a lot of weekly news items. What I enjoy is the fact that it’s essentially disinterested in celebrity culture and more focused on how movies and TV shows get made. Actually I find it to be a continual source of inspiration for how anything gets made.

Zig Zag” is an example of how new forms of media are often at their best chronicling themselves. It’s essentially an audio blog from two entrepreneurs, both veterans of public radio, trying to build a new company in the podcasting space. As journalists, they bring a more self-aware understanding of the entrepreneur’s journey than most entrepreneurs and, frankly, most tech podcasts.

Looking back at this list and the one that Castro published, I realize now that my podcast listening habits have gravitated towards shows with higher production values. There are definitely some shows of the “a few mics and some banter” variety here, but what’s consistent is they all invest at least a commercially viable level of preparation into each episode. It helps when there’s professional broadcast talent, too, or at least an extremely winning chemistry among amateur hosts. This is probably why over the years, I’ve cut out almost all of the design and tech podcasts from my diet. There are plenty of terrific shows on those subjects of course, and I used to listen to them more than shows from any other category. But over time they’ve felt narrower and narrower to me, while I’ve come to appreciate professional production values more and more. I’ve also come to realize that reading about tech, particularly, is preferable for me; it’s not just more efficient, but the thoughtfulness and analysis is richer. To each their own, of course. The beauty of today’s podcast landscape is that there’s so much to choose from.

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Movies Watched, September 2019

Still from “Between Two Ferns: The Movie”

Just as in August, I wasn’t able to make it out to theaters to see a single movie in September. I try to go at least once a month, so this is a bummer for me. But work—and more specifically traveling for work—tends to constrain my free time during this part of each year. The only new thing I watched was Zach Galifianakis and Scott Aukerman’s “Between Two Ferns: The Movie” on Netflix. I had admittedly unwisely high expectations for it, given how much I’ve enjoyed the web series’ reliably raw comedic disposition over the years, but this adaptation felt flat and uninspired.

Watching old movies yielded better results. I continued powering through Quentin Tarantino’s back catalog by watching “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” and “Kill Bill: Vol. 2,” both of which fully stand the test of time. I also rewatched a few other old favorites, including the 1937 screwball comedy “The Awful Truth,” if for no other reason than to reconfirm for myself that this is one of the greatest movies ever made. Romantic comedies have earned a terrible reputation over the past few decades but this classic of the genre starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne shows the true potential of the form.

Thanks to The Criterion Channel, I also got to see a number of other old movies for the first time—five of them, in fact. Jean Renoi’s “Grand Illusion” and Charlie Chaplin’s “Circus Time” were the standouts. Pound for pound, I get far more pleasure from this streaming movie service than Netflix, Hulu or any other. It’s just a treat to have access to this library of truly amazing films, and the fact that the service’s native apps now allow downloads to your phone or tablet for offline viewing makes it even more invaluable.

Here are all sixteen movies I watched last month. Regular readers may notice that I’m including the star ratings from my Letterboxd diary entries here too. More on that in a future blog post.

  1. Police Story” (1985) ★★½
    It’s hard to resist Jackie Chan, but this one is way too sloppy for my taste.
  2. Ralph Breaks the Internet” (2018) ★★★½
    Could be a pretty decent trilogy in the making.
  3. High Life” (2018) ★½
    The production values of a 70s sci-fi TV show, the brains of an insufferable art student video.
  4. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance” (2005) ★★★½
    Off the wall bonkers from Park Chan-wook.
  5. Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. The thrills remain but the characters somehow work even better now.
  6. Stalag 17” (1953) ★★★½
    A prisoner of war movie as a cozy blanket.
  7. Widows” (2018) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A masterpiece hiding in plain sight.
  8. The Awful Truth” (1937) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Just confirming that this movie deserves its spot on my top five all time best list.
  9. Battle of Britain” (1969) ★★
    Sounds like homework, and pretty much is.
  10. The Circus” (1928) ★★★★
    Chaplin at his most effervescent.
  11. Kill Bill: Vol. 2” (2004) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. This is the movie that convinced me Tarantino is a genius.
  12. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” (1971) ★★
    Why people are sentimental about this movie, I have no idea..
  13. Between Two Ferns: The Movie” (2019) ★★
    You can’t make a conventional movie out of an unconventional show.
  14. Grand Illusion” (1937) ★★★★
    A prison break tale with unexpected humanity.
  15. American Psycho” (2000) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A black hole of humanity.
  16. Un Flic” (1972) ★★★
    Painstakingly made but tests the limit of macho posturing.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I watched in August, in July, in June, in May, in April, in March, in February, in January and a full list of everything I watched in 2018, in 2017 and in 2016. And, if you’re interested, you can follow along with my movie diary at letterboxd.com.

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Wireframe S2 Episode 6: Falling in Love with Good Design

“Falling in Love with Good Design” by Lucas Wakamatsu

Our sixth installment of season two of “Wireframe” is here, and it’s all about a topic that I knew absolutely nothing about at the outset: the world of dating apps.

Well to be clear, I did know that dating apps have become mandatory for single people, and also that Tinder’s card swipe interaction has become the reference point for how users of these apps think about the people they encounter within. From that starting point, the episode then asks whether the UX of dating apps are truly trying to help people find their ideal matches, or whether they’re actually just trying to keep people in the app, swiping endlessly.

Listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.

As I mentioned, this world is more or less completely foreign to me. I started dating my wife before “the apps” (as they’re colloquially referred to, I learned) really took hold. Of course, there were dating web sites before that, but I never really used those either. So this episode was a real crash course in how a nontrivial aspect of modern living has been materially impacted by user experience design.

Actually, during the pitch stage of this season, I was skeptical about whether dating apps were really a design story; to me they just seemed like a tech story—the ubiquity of mobile technology over the past dozen years had “eaten” the dating market. But in the course of producing the episode, I was quickly disabused of that illusion. Design matters deeply in these apps because, in a crowded market, the experience of finding someone is exactly the differentiator that helps one app stand out from the others.

As we talked to the people behind apps like Bounce, Hinge and HER, it became clear how commoditized dating tech is, and how much each app relies on some novel twist in the interface or some carefully crafted constraint in the interaction in order to increase the likelihood of success. It was thoroughly fascinating to explore this world—and, I’ll admit, a bit of a reminder of how brutal the dating experience can be. Many people regret the transactional nature of dating as mediated by these apps, and I certainly empathize with that point. But dating has always been terrible for most people, and technology hasn’t been able to fundamentally change that.

This is ostensibly our final episode of the season (though we have a bonus entry coming soon—not next week, but not long afterwards). So it’s fitting to note that the point I made about my initial reluctance to dive into this topic of dating apps is a great illustration of my experience—not just as the host but also as an editorial collaborator.

The vast majority of the research and reporting for “Wireframe” is done by the amazing team of producers at Gimlet Creative. They’re incredibly talented but they’re not design specialists. They’re generalists in fact, and have trained in how to create podcasts that appeal to general audiences. My role is to try and steer the stories we develop so that they’re as design-oriented as possible.

One of the things that I’ve found is that it’s often easy to mistake a tech story for a design story, because the latter is so closely tied to the former. So when the producers and I look at an episode idea, what we try to do is ask whether that story could be told without designers or without looking at the interactions that are key to that particular category of technology. If design can be dispensed with in the narrative, then it’s probably not a design story.

In retrospect it’s clear that design is indispensable to the story of dating apps. The fact that I initially missed its inherent importance was a bit embarrassing, but it was also an instructive moment for me. First, it underscored for me how little I knew about this space—I mean, I knew I didn’t know a lot, but I really knew nothing. And second, it showed me that design really is everywhere. I mean, of course that’s something that I already believed and readily tell people all the time, but sometimes it’s really revelatory to find design “hiding” someplace that not even a designer suspects it might be.

And third, it brought home for me how valuable the combination of design and editorial can be. Giving credit where it’s due, it was the Gimlet producers who insisted that this had the makings of an episode, and their persistence was proven right. Honestly, given how interesting this episode was to create, and hopefully how interesting it is for you to listen to, this is one of those times when I’m more than happy to be proven wrong.

My collaboration with this production team has been the funnest thing about producing these shows. That’s not just because they’re smart, funny and personable (they are), but also because of how design comes alive for me in a new way when a rigorous editorial lens is applied to it. I often talk about how important it is for designers to articulate what it is we do in a way that’s understandable and relatable to everyone, those who already understand design and also general audiences who can benefit from a better understanding of design. In the case of this episode, and really, when I think about it, in just about every episode we’ve produced over two seasons, the mere act of putting these stories together has benefitted me tremendously as a designer and as someone who’s always looking to understand design better. And it just wouldn’t have been this way without our partnership with Gimlet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed season two. As I mentioned, stay tuned for a bonus episode soon. And please subscribe and tell a friend about the show. We hope to be back with season three before too long.


As with each episode, there’s plenty more background on this topic in a companion blog post at Adobe. If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.

Art by Lucas Wakamatsu, who has illustrated each episode of this season.

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Wireframe S2 Episode 5: Faking Good Design in Movies and TV

“Faking Good Design” by Lucas Wakamatsu

We’re in the back half of our second season of “Wireframe,” the documentary podcast about good user experience design hosted by yours truly, and we have a couple of killer episodes lined up. See the end of this post for a preview of next week, but first up and out right now, we have a topic that combines two of my great passions: design and film. This episode is called “Faking Good Design” and it looks at how fantasy user interfaces, or “FUI,” are created for movies and television. Listen to it below or subscribe in your favorite podcast player.

You’ve seen these in everything from the “Bourne” franchise to Marvel movies to “Black Mirror” and more. As filmmakers and TV producers increasingly embrace technology in their storytelling, designers have been called upon to add verisimilitude to these productions with elaborate, sometimes wildly fanciful interfaces.

As a designer, these creations have always fascinated me, especially as we’re seeing them more and more. On the one hand, I admire the sheer imagination that often goes into the design of them. On the other hand I sometimes bemoan how often storytellers lean too heavily on fantasy user interfaces to carry the burden of their narratives. In fact this episode’s producer, James Green, starts off our discussion with this quote from a blog post that I wrote three years ago:

…Often, a computer interface serves as a kind of a crutch for the plot. I always balk when a tense moment relies on a progress bar getting to 100% or something; it really feels like the screenwriter didn’t really do his or her job of creating a legitimately compelling dramatic challenge for the protagonists.

That came from an interview I conducted with designer Kirill Grouchnikov, who runs an amazing resource for FUI work over at pushing-pixels.org. If you’re interested in this subject then that interview is well worth a read, though unfortunately Kiril does not appear in this episode. However, we were able to include some terrific commentary on FUI from designers like Mark Coleran, who worked on the the “Bourne Identity” series, Gemma Kingsley, who worked on “Black Mirror,” and Robyn Haddow, who works on Marvel films. They provide some wonderful insight into what it takes to bring these to life, including an aspect I had never considered: the need for the designers to be on set, coaching actors on how to use the unique, one of a kind interfaces.

As with each episode, there’s plenty more background on this topic in a companion blog post at Adobe. If you’re not familiar with “Wireframe,” it’s a unique kind of design podcast produced by Adobe and Gimlet Creative and hosted by yours truly. Instead of merely interviewing well known designers, we dig into the world of interaction design via heavily researched reporting and engaging narratives. In other words, stories instead of résumés. If you liked today’s episode, be sure to check out all six of the installments from our first season as well.

Finally, tune in next week for our last episode which draws back the curtain on the weird, mysterious (to me) world of dating apps, and how user experience design drives the way people find love in 2019.

Art by Lucas Wakamatsu, who is illustrating each episode of this season.

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