Constantine TV series: Supernatural too?

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ConstantineI really liked Constantine the movie, even though it turned out to be not quite “accurate” (blah-blah-blah, British accent missing, blah), so I was quite interested to see the “TV” version on NBC. This Constantine is different. Way more scruffy, way more typically British and way more… formulaic. I mean I haven’t actually read any of the comic books but the very first episode seemed to be basically way too predictable, especially if you watched anything else — Supernatural, or the Dresden Files (despite the fact that it was severely castrated compared to actual books).

Constantine miscalculated and managed to get little girl dragged into hell, so now he’s suffering because of it and is damned. Demons now about it, so does a pushy angel, and the only question is “can he redeem his soul before death”. First episode is traditional “victim hunted by demon without knowing of her super-power” cliche story plot. With a bit of exposition.

Nothing especially clever, not much humor, unfortunately. I’ll see second episode before making final decision but for now it’s all too much of a “meh”

Google Nexus 6: cool phone, crazy price and size

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nexus 6Sooo, we now officially have Google Nexus 6 from Motorola. And Android Lollipop too. Which is nice. But the price…

Up until now all Nexus devices were examples, shiny beacons of how you could have an awesome almost-flagman android device at super-affordable price. Your choice was to get “pure” Google experience and manually smooth over rough edges of some questionable UX decisions, or pay twice that and get something from HTC or one of the other OEMs and also sometimes deal with questionable UX decisions.

Now this “super-affordable” price aspect no longer applies. It’s twice the price of older Nexus 5. $650 for 32Gb version. Um… not sure it’s worth it any more.

Because you can get a new Moto X 32Gb for $100 less. Or a new LG G3 for $50 less. While rapid charging is an awesome feature, all the sweetness of Android 5.0 Lollipop will be available on both of other phones (rapid charging should also be available on new Droid series device from Moto/Lenovo). Heck, LG G3 has a better screen and smaller size. I use LG G3 now and the phone is already slightly too big for me, going even larger with 6″ form factors is basically no-go for me.

Yes, people can compare Nexus 6 to Galaxy Note 4 series, but I don’t want a Note or mega-Phablet and do think that Note prices are batshit crazy. Phone will suffice, thank you very much.

I guess Google has finally made good on promise to not compete aggressively with OEM manufacturers. If you want an awesome flagman at an awesome price, go with Motorola X 2nd gen. If you want better screen and a bit less of a bulk — there’s LG. For overpriced cases and die-hard “only Google Experience” fans, there’s now Nexus 6 🙂

Fans will now commence a traditional Apple-fanboy-like song-and-dance telling you of how much more value you get, and thus price is “totally reasonable” but… while “reasonable”, it’s unremarkable and certainly isn’t awesome price any more. Aside from “pure” Google experience and faster processor (which shouldn’t be that important given that Lollipop promised better graphics optimization) and lack of SD card (oh wait, that’s not a feature), is it worth its higher price over Moto X? I can’t say “of course it does”.

Extant: quite good, actually

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ExtantCBS’s Extant turned out to be better than I expected.

After Almost Human got whacked due to low ratings I don’t expect science fiction series to survive long, but Extant might have a chance. Even though it gives me this mixed feeling of familiarity and compote made out of all the tropes they could throw together. I might give away some plot details accidentally, but if you’ve been watching trailers and such you probably know all of this already.

There is space travel and, therefore, aliens of sorts. Because never waste a space trip. In the “Event Horizon” kind of way (but so far less scary).

There is an unexplained pregnancy when “all hope is lost”, so there has to be a creepy pregnancy-related horror moment here and there. In the Prometheus kind of way.

There is an android child, made by the husband, so cue in “robots will kill us all” warning notes. In the A.I. Artificial Intelligence kind of way.

There is a super-powerful mega-corporation, capable of everything and anything, and seemingly deeply involved in everything that’s going on.

Throw in a few pinches of betrayal, add a dash of conspiracy and…. it’s quite nice so far 🙂 I like how they keep adding layers and layers of it all, and so far I am interested in seeing where it goes.

Alas, given that the show already is being moved around the timetable due to fall in ratings and thus it might not survive that long.


Summer madness: branding and social craze

Posted by & filed under Misc, Reviews, Technology.

Wow. I did not expect several companies go bonkers this summer practically at the same time. What worse, in each case it seems to be a long-planned (and horribly executed) move that leaves me scratching my head.
Let’s start with AirBnB and its universal symbol for vagi certain body parts. I understand desire to re-brand from time to time. Usually happens during crisis, as instead of improving product company rushes to slap on some fresh coat of paint because “old logo didn’t represent us”. In some cases, where original logo was really crappy or looks very outdated it kinda makes sense. You get sensible face-lifts and changes that don’t distract from the primary product that company is still making. For example AT&T did a remake on its “death star”, Apple moved to more monochrome sign, or Starbucks moving away from initial boobies and fishtails — it all kinda makes sense.
And then there’s AirBNB.

AirBNBNew logo makes me think of office products store, because it looks like a mutilated paper clip. But worse, they chose to “apply it everywhere”, including that fogged up window which made it look significantly more… questionable. When people started to post reactions, company stomped its feed angry at people not getting this grandiose feeling of “belonging” and putting to question desire of AirBnB hosts to slap this logo on their door.

Guys (and ladies), come on. What is your primary function? To help hosts rent out their rooms/homes. I understand that some of those rentals will be happy to use this rounded-up logo but you probably don’t want to be officially associated with them. How exactly would you explain to someone who lived under a rock and never head of your company what that is? You know what will happen? A dialog like this:

— “This represents the sense of belonging”
— Okay, but what is it that you sell?
— Vacation rentals
— Ah ok.

Your logo doesn’t say “vacation rental”. It says “office supply” or “3 year old’s doodle”. It certainly doesn’t help people think “I should ask this company to provide cleaning services for my rental home”, so the whole thing seems to be pointless and silly. And certainly not tested well enough with regular users.

Users, who love your service because you help them avoid paying a ton of money to hotel. You are trying to play up “experience things like locals do” part of this arrangement, and it’s nice, but primary goal is to find a place to stay when hotel is not an option. And instead of adding such basic function as sorting of search results you’ve spent a ton of time and money on logo that looks like a butt. I hope this falls under “any kind of publicity is a good thing” in the end and things will blow over. But your logo will stay just that, a logo, with nobody in their right mind wanting to brand their home with a corporate identity, especially as they might go for another provider like Home Away, which has problems with dated logo, but improved their site significantly. The whole “belonging” thing is just marketing bullshit, unfortunately.

Now another “logo and more” story, the Foursquare.


That’s a prime example of abandoning primary function completely and chasing after mythical “social component”. Foursquare might have felt a bit stale lately, but it still provided the original fun — people checking in, posting photos, writing comments on places. I even started using the app to find interesting things nearby (the exploring mode) all while feverishly competing with other people for mayorship. Duh, gamification.

But… Gamification is out. And “social” is in. As well as over-gratification. I guess it was kinda sad that some people couldn’t compete for mayorships, so Foursquare created a new app, Swarm, where everyone is a winner because, well, you’re only competing with your friends. I suppose for some people that’d be their whole class or all other students they’ve befriended at the university. But for many people it’s completely irrelevant because most friends are moving around. And by “moving” I mean “took off to another part of town/state/continent and live there”, so you don’t really “compete” as your local grocery store is yours (and everyone else’s, as mayorships are now gone). If application is meant to be for “social planning” (hello, e-vite) then that’s fine, but not many people need one, or we’d have a runaway hit of sorts already. Heck, if someone wants to hang out at the bar, they’ll just snap a photo on Instagram with “come hang out” or something or Facebook it. But for the rest of the time people are sufficiently far away to not care, so “global” competition with strangers is way more fun than non-competing with friends.

Foursquare wasn’t happy with the fact that not all users followed through and downloaded a new app. So it nuked checkins in Foursquare app in addition to never-ending nagging. What the bleeping bleep are they thinking. All of the exploratory functions are secondary. And they kill the primary function instead. And promise some “personalized search”.

Do you know what “personalized search” means? Tracking. It’s okay when you voluntarily check in into some venues and whatnot, and then that’s used to “personalize” some recommendations for you. But how do you get that information if there are no check-ins? I don’t need another app that tracks my every move hoping to use it for something useful later, eating up battery. I don’t like Swarm app, which is slow and buggy and irrelevant (see above). So why would I want to have two apps when they’re not useful without each other? Fine, just rename your app into Swarm, port all users there and have both explore and check-in in one app. It just doesn’t make any sense.
But then you’d lose all those users who already installed Foursquare. For, you know, checking in. Sigh

As a bonus, new logo looks like a sharpened glowing acidic F. Excuse me, “watermelon”-colored F. Here’s a picture of similar super-F for you:

Scene from Fairly Oddparents cartoon

I hope Foursquare still has a chance to stop this madness — allow users to continue to check in from the old app, stop the day-glow colors in “new” version of Foursquare (venue screen looks waaaay better) and just work on improving suggestions via regular app. But something tells me they will be stubborn and watch install-base shrink by about 20%. Not everyone has same amount of guts as Netflix to stop idiotic idea when public tells them how stupid the idea is.

Which is sad.

Mobile App UX: Don’t be a hysterical princess

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So, Facebook actually decided to improve their mobile application experience after going to Africa. It’s nice of them. Except they didn’t really need to go to Africa, just go to a bad coverage area. Or look at an overage charge from AT&T. And hey, suddenly US mobile life is not that great.

But I digress. I’ll re-iterate the rules of pleasant user experiences that applications should (but probably don’t) follow. It will make the mobile world waaaay better.

1. The most important rule: don’t be a hysterical princess. Crappy connections happen, so you should expect your internet connection to be abruptly yanked out. Or slow down to a crawl. It may disappear at any moment. No, user can’t wave a magic wand and make it re-appear, so don’t ask.

1a. Cache everything. All successful calls should be stashed into a local cache (ideally configurable as to how large it should be, with some reasonable default, say, no more than 1% of available storage). You have internet? Refresh. No internet? No biggie — show last successful data set (with date of refresh, if you’re nice). When nothing is available (first run, for example) show a calm and polite message, saying that data will be right there, as soon as stable internet connection appears and stays on long enough. You can even offer to show a notification when initialization is successful (“Let me know when initialization is complete). It’s nice to think that user is very interested in your app, but if they have something else to do, it’s even nicer when your app is polite and doesn’t make user stare at an empty/broken screen.

1b. No “internet connection lost!!” alerts. User doesn’t care. He/she is probably annoyed as-is at everything dying on the phone and your app having hysterics about lost connection, popup and all, is not going to make their day better. If you want to show that connection is lost, add a status icon? A plug, perhaps, or a tiny indicator light (green solid circle — everything is okay, red square — no connection, yellow triangle — crappy connection, color and shape for users that have color blindness).

1c. All outgoing operations should be stashed into queue and executed whenever connection re-appears. User wants to post? No problem, here’s local copy, once everything is back to normal, re-send the post. You should not do the classical “Can’t post right now, try later!”. No. You “try later”. Save it, send it later. Unless this app controls live-by-wire robot performing surgery, sending data later is not a problem (if you do write robot-controlling medical app, you probably know all this already). It’s okay to show “blah posts pending” somewhere. A good way would be to say “saved, will post as soon as internet is available” when having issues, and “posted successfully” when/if everything is fine.

2. Always make sure you support incremental upload/download. Google Drive suffers from it, for example (probably because engineers live in ever-connected utopia). If something has to be uploaded, we should be able to do it half-way now and half-way later. Because connection could be so unstable, that you can’t push that whole 13 megapixel photo in a single setting. Sorry, but that happens. So to avoid updating file over and over and over again, just re-stitch together bits on the server. I know you’re smart enough to do it.

3. If you can limit data amounts — degradable image quality, different amounts of downloads — do it. Things like compression probably should be turned on by default. Whatever the amount of energy required to unzip things is probably going to be well compensated by running active data transmission 30% less.

4. Please respect user’s privacy. I know your marketing department demands to have email right now, as well as all user’s contacts, mandatory right to post onto Facebook and all other totally “essential” (and completely irrelevant from the user’s point of view) things. Resist. If you do require a registration, allow it to be delayed? User probably trying out your app in a not very convenient location and forcing a total profile write-up at the moment of installation is a bad idea. Ask one question at a time, allow delayed answers. And please allow user to edit/enter stuff via desktop — tiny phones are tiny. And you won’t believe what auto-correct does to some fields 😛

5. If you are writing operating system, please keep in mind that “free/open” WiFi can be a fake internet connection. Phone sees it, grabs onto it and… everything is dying because that provider demands you to click “I agree!” on a page of legalize nobody ever reads. But until that happens you’re in a limbo — WiFi is present but it’s not working. So resilience is very important, and ideally until WiFi interface is up and running reliably everything should be still using wireless data. Android was very good at showing if WiFi was connected and if it was actually working (different color of indicator).

6. Ideally your app should allow turning on and off background sync (with frequency of synchronization). Even better if you also allow option to sync more over WiFi or when connected to a charger.

7. If you do allow signing up for some sort of an account via “third party authentication”, such as Google or Facebook, or Twitter do not require additional info. You allowed Twitter auth? That’s it. No, you should not show “okay, and now also enter an email and password” because why the hell would I want to give you a twitter auth if I still need to enter an email. And a password. If your marketing department demands email, just don’t use email-less auth.

And that should be enough for data/connectivity experience to be much better 🙂