I initially posted this to Recurrency, where you can support me in writing more critique pieces like this that don’t quite fit on other websites I write for. The article in full is below.
When I wrote my critique of the problematic way in which the Warcraft movie — specifically the women in the movie — is being presented to fans, I focused a lot on an interview director Duncan Jones gave to Time during San Diego Comic-Con, with some tidbits pulled from the panel with the cast (which you can watch in full on YouTube). But beyond the overall presentation (or lack of presentation, really) of movie’s leading ladies, there was something else that bothered me about the movie’s presence at SDCC: a statement by Rob Kazinsky that seemed out of place.
Let’s start with some context: Kazinsky plays Orgrim Doomhammer in the film and is, by all accounts, a huge World of Warcraft fan. Earlier this year, he told Comic Book Resources, “I was a sponsored player. I was [in a] top hundred guild. There was nothing I haven’t done in the guild.” Kazinsky sounds very much like one of us: loving the game and playing it, sometimes incessantly. “It’s not how much money I spent, it’s how much money I lost playing that game 18 hours a day for several years,” he told Zap2It back in 2014. “I started playing eight years ago. Let me put it this way: I was on the set of Pacific Rim and I’d whip out the game and start playing whilst I had a couple hours off. The producer was like, ‘Put it away.’”
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I’m revisiting my determination to write on this blog regularly: it’s surprisingly hard, when I spend so much time writing for others, to find time to write things that serve no specific purpose. But since this particular rant is well too long for Twitter, I present my recent Apple frustrations.
Apple’s basic design philosophy is the removal of choice, which I am okay with. I trust Apple to understand tech and design issues and make good calls in how the design their hardware and software so I don’t have to think about making them myself. It makes my life easier. I come from a Windows background: I grew up using Windows 3.1 and DOS and worked in IT for several years before I stumbled into writing for a living, so I understand the trade-off I’m making. My hardware and software is less customizable, but in exchange I get hardware and software that works as intended with minimal effort on my part. I like this, because it lets me spend less time thinking about how to make my computer or phone or tablet act the way I want and more time doing things.
The down side of this philosophy is the fact that Apple products either work effortlessly or they do not work at all. There is zero middle ground. When an Apple anything is not working, it tends to not work in a spectacular manner. Keeping things simple and removing things from the end user’s control means that, sometimes, when things go wrong in unanticipated ways, there’s no easy way to correct them.
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I recently spent a good amount of time researching battery life woes on both Android and iOS for a set of articles on Techlicious. It was an interesting project which mostly taught me that, regardless of platform, we’re all really unhappy with the battery life we’re getting from our phones. But just as interesting was the wildly different approach Android and iOS take to battery management.
Android, which is all about giving users options, provides fantastic built-in tools to easily tell what’s eating your battery life and your data plan. And Android apps have the power to kill errant apps and shut down battery draining features when you aren’t using them, meaning Android users get great tools like the Juice Defender app, which I really wish I had on my iPhone. But on the flip side, every app you have is doing its own thing and there’s no centralized settings for easily shutting down features that might be battery drains (which the iPhone has). I consider myself to be a fairly tech-savvy individual, but sometimes Android makes me feel really dumb: like when I can’t figure out how to modify the notifications I get from the Twitter app. (Really, I can’t. I’ve tried and given up.) So, while I envy some of the features Android offers in this department, I think I’m glad for the ease of use of my iPhone. (Mostly.)
On the flip side of the coin, iPhone provides few built-in tools to tell you about battery life or data use. And by “few,” I mean there’s a battery indicator and a data use counter (that you have to manually reset monthly if you’re using it to track usage). This has led to an absolute bonanza of apps that claim to help you boost your battery power… and after playing with a lot of them, I’m convinced most of them do little but offer battery life tips straight from Apple’s support site. This is by Apple’s design, simply because they don’t let apps do things like Android’s super usefulJuice Defender, but it makes for an awfully confusing app marketplace. The apps that actually give you useful data on what’s burning your battery are few and mostly lost in a sea of junk apps. But while I can’t get that yummy data Android users so easily have access to, I have all of my app settings for common battery drainers like notifications and location services in a central settings menu where I can easily turn them on or off (without diving into settings menus within every app).
In short: while Android and iOS are still hugely different worlds, none of us are quite happy — especially where battery life is concerned. Well, isn’t that just life.
I’m a long way from being fit (I spend too many hours in front of a computer for that), but I’m inevitably lured in by this new generation of high-tech health gadget that promises to track my activities and help me get in shape. I am, in fact, on my second device from Fitbit after the first one’s plastic housing fell apart. And, worse, I’m always drawn in by new gadgets with new promises (I kind of want a Jawbone Up, despite the fact that it mostly does what my Fitbit already does); it’s possible that I have a problem.
And after running into an article on Wired claiming fitness trackers are “short on credibility,” I think it’s possible I’m not the only one. What these devices do is track data, saving and storing it so you can easily view it. And by seeing this data — how many steps you’re walking, how many stairs you’re climbing, how much sleep you’re getting — you might make different choices about what you do during the day. Say, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking two blocks to get lunch instead of driving. The impetus is still on you to make those healthy choices, but the devices make it easy for us to see the numbers behind them, turning real life into some kind of gaming scenario where you’re trying to maximize your activity. But as Wired points out, the knowledge (and pestering) you might get from a fitness tracker doesn’t have lasting motivational effects — though I kind of think it mostly comes down to you wanting to change your habits. If you don’t, there’s no gadget that will do it for you!
Despite my fascination, though, I don’t think these tracking gadgets are quite there yet — and maybe that’s why I keep eying every new thing on the market. They’re not yet smart enough: they can’t decide what activities you’re doing (without you manually them) and they’re still sometimes error-prone. They’re not yet easy enough to use: requiring too much thought and too much button-pressing on the part of the user, when really they need to be invisible (I can’t tell you how often my Fitbit sleep data goes off-kilter because I’ve forgotten to press a button). And, while they track activity, the other side of the coin for health is about what you put into your body: and though my Fitbit app lets me enter how much water I’ve had and what I’ve eaten, it always seems like far too much effort. That’s another thing a gadget has yet to solve: laziness!
Not long after my post about Disneyland’s @DCAToday Twitter action, I read about Disney’s new “Limited Time Magic” program. And though it has its own special name, this seems a bit like some of the promotion @DCAToday does… though admittedly on a much grander scale. How much grander? Disney launched the program with a three-story tall ice castle in Times Square. Nothing says grand quite like a castle and nothing says limited time like melting ice sculpture, so I suppose the message suits.
For the most part, Limited Time Magic sounds like an expansion of Disney’s existing holiday routine: with special decorations and entertainment for (limited) time periods around special events and holidays. Of course, there aren’t many notable holidays Disney parks don’t already do, so they’ve had to stretch a bit with things like Pirate Week and Friday the 13th. So where does social networking come in? In addition to the events (much detailed on the Disney Parks Blog), there’s a social element that comes into play when Disney asks you to vote on which characters you’d like to see or invites you to participate in scavenger hunts.
It sounds like some added fun to what I already consider a pretty fun experience (there’s no hiding it: I’m a Disneyland junkie), but on the downside there’s that AT&T cell hole I always notice while waiting in line for Space Mountain. But even with the cellular dark spots you’ll find in the parks, with more and more smartphone users plugged into social networks at all times (myself included) this kind of social outreach is has clearly become important enough for Disney to take notice. Now we’re just waiting to see if the rest of the Disney parks Twitter accounts become as pun-ridden as @DCAToday.
Though this particular topic may be somewhat esoteric, I can’t be the only one who’s noticed Disney’s new Twitter strategy. Certainly everyone with an interest in Disneyland knows about the recently completed revamp of Disney California Adventure park — for annual passholders and other regular visitors, the mass of construction throughout the park has not been subtle. But what has been subtle — or at least more subtle than the newly opened Cars Land and Buena Vista Street — is the social media campaign that Disney is using to promote the park.
The Disneyland Resort has long had a Twitter presence (@Disneyland). The account announces operating hours, mentions new blog posts, promotes events and merchandise, and has the occasional splash of color with Disney character quotes and the like. What the account isn’t is interactive. It doesn’t retweet (save for the occasional retweet of another Disney account) and it won’t answer your Disneyland questions if you ask them. It’s a fairly typical corporate account: it strives to get the message out without being too spammy about it.
But when Disney California Adventure had its grand re-opening this summer, it quietly launched its own Twitter presence (@DCAToday). While this account does everything the main Disneyland account does, it also responds to people talking about the park: wishing them a good day, swapping jokes, offering advice, answering questions, and giving away prizes. While attendance is certainly up in the park — even without knowing the exact numbers, the crowds at California Adventure have been impossible to miss — @DCAToday’s social influence (with 15,000 followers) is less than @Disneyland’s (with 240,000 followers). Still, that’s hardly a small number of followers to have gained since @DCAToday’s summer launch.
So what’s the lesson from Disney to you? Social networking is all about engagement. Even having a fraction of @Disneyland’s follower count, I’d bet that @DCAToday’s followers are generally more invested in the virtual relationship: all because they’re invited to be active participants in an ongoing conversation. Time — and whether other Disney social presences begin follow @DCAToday’s example — will tell whether Disney considers this social experiment a success. But in the meanwhile, following @DCAToday is a lark. (Though if I tweeted that at them, I’d expect a bird-related puns in response.)
The best complement I can give my iPhone 5 — and I do mean this as a complement — is that it feels the same as my iPhone 4.
That doesn’t sound very complementary, I know. But I was never really sold on the iPhone 5’s larger screen. I liked my iPhone petite and pocket-sized. So it really is a complement for me to say that now, after a few weeks using the phone full-time, it doesn’t feel any different than my iPhone 4. It fits in my pocket just as well as it ever did the larger screen hasn’t made it more difficult (at least for me) to use one-handed. The loss (and subsequent replacement) of Google Maps aside, upgrading from my old phone to my new phone was a seamless experience. I just plugged the new phone into my computer, uploaded my old apps and files on to it, and bam: I had a newer, faster, sleeker phone that looked and acted just like my old one. And that easily, I am content.
The downside: Even though it’s larger, it’s light enough that I keep not being sure I actually have it in my pocket, so I’m constantly checking that it’s there. But I’m pretty sure that’s a downside I can learn to live with.
Apparently the only time I update this blog is when I’m between jobs: otherwise I’m simply too caught up with whatever project I’m working on to think about it. I’d like to change that, I think, but I suppose I’ll have to see what the future has in store for me.
Which is a very round-about way of saying that my previous gig with Tecca is no more. The site is inactive as of today and many a tear was shed (and many a lolcat was shared) during our last days of operation. I think we built something great and it’s a shame we won’t be able to keep at it. But I’m feeling a lot like I was when I left WoW Insider: I missed the site, sure, but I missed the people more. The web isn’t a static thing and there will always be new sites, new projects, new ideas. But a team like we had at Tecca (and, in my not so humble opinion, WoW Insider — I still miss you guys!) is far less common.
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Dragon*Con is officially over and it’s been… I’ll just say interesting. Some good interesting, some bad interesting, but I’ll hit the highlights and endevour to spend the rest of the year forgetting the rest. (It’s a necessity, or else I’ll never go to a con again. Which I’ve already said I won’t, but there’s plenty of time to talk myself back out of that.)
Parade! Fun! There were 150 Doctor Who cosplayers in the parade, including me. :) At some point during the route we started clapping to the Master’s drum-beat, and we had enough people clapping that it was literally echoing off the buildings downtown. The parade experience might have been more entertaining were I not pretty awfully hungover. Note to self for next year…
Voltaire, as always, super fun to see in person. Bought some CDs that I can’t listen to because I didn’t bring a computer with me. Well, when I get home…
Jim Butcher’s panel was brilliant and has made me both want to re-read all of his novels and work on some writing of my own. The man’s a true geek (and I say that fondly) and I like him more than ever.
Edward James Olmos. I just made one (of the many) BSG panels and, though filled with spoilers (oops), it was entirely worth it. Some great stories, a ridiculously sweet marriage proposal in the crowd during the Q&A (with Olmos’ blessing), and I got his autograph.
Frazer Hines. He’s incredibly charming in person, happy to talk and answer questions, and had a seemingly endless number of entertaining stories to tell. (A great number of his stories seem to involve pretty girls that he was dating at the time. Watch out, ladies.) I’d gone over to talk to Frazer after getting Edward’s autograph, and after some conversation about how I was worried about damaging my autograph before getting it somewhere safe, he found a plastic sleeve for it for me. I know it may sound like a tiny thing, but it’s a thoughtful gesture that a lot of people wouldn’t have bothered with. So it could be said that I’m now in his fan club. I’m told there’s a secret handshake, but it apparently involves bagpipes.
The Brittrack panels, always entertaining, even when there aren’t any guests about. Met the TimeGate folks, too, and may come back out to Atlanta in May for the occassion.
And apparently the Sheraton is already taking reservations for next year. I may have to get in on that, though I’m really not into being the respoinsible person who books the room. Damn responsibility. /shakefist
I’ve been working on the Joystiq network (currently comprising Big Download, Joystiq, Massively, and WoW.com) for four and a half years now, back when WoW.com was WoW Insider and we got as much traffic in a month as we now do in a day. (For laughs, check out my first post on the site, about patch 1.10.) In my time on the network, I’ve written 928,077 words in 2454 posts. I’ve learned more than I can reasonably explain in a simple blog post and I’ve worn more different hats than I can count. It’s longer than I’ve ever stayed in one place before and, no matter how difficult it’s been at times, there’s a comfortable familiarity to it that makes it hard to imagine leaving. But leaving I am, at the end of the month. It’s been a wild ride and I don’t regret a moment of the time I’ve spent here, but gaming has turned into more work than play and it’s time for a change.
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