This is 40

I wanted to like This is 40 more than I did. I’d heard positive reviews from friends and heard Judd Apatow give a great interview on Jesse’s Bullseye (embeded below).

The thing I heard in many reviews was how this comedy struck a common thread with people turning 40, and as a guy that is barely a couple months past that milestone, I looked forward to a personal and brilliantly funny comedy about the things I’ve had to deal with in the past year.

Opening night of this film I saw a friend tweet about how This is 40 was basically just “rich white people problems” and I thought that was a cynical take until I watched it. Ultimately, I think this was the downfall of the film. Sure, the script does feel very personal and I’d say it’s a safe bet that three quarters of what happens on screen happened in Apatow’s real life, but the film lost me by not being the common-man-turns-40 comedy I was expecting it to be.

They live in Santa Monica, one of the most posh neighborhoods in West LA. Judging from the minimum of 3 bedrooms and the huge backyard I’d say their house is worth around $2mil. Rudd’s character drives a $80k 7-series BMW and Leslie Mann’s (Apatow’s real-life wife) character is in a $50k Lexus. Rudd runs his own record label, and Mann runs a clothing storefront, both in Santa Monica (where rents would be astronomical). They both have enough time and flexibility to exercise for an hour or two each morning and their only obligation seems to be getting up early enough to drop the kids off at school before exercising and eventually showing up to their workplace. One of the core conflicts in the movie is they are having money problems, but when you look at their lives, that conflict felt weak given their amazing circumstances.

They also lie constantly, a personal pet peeve that made it hard for me to love the main characters or root for them. I have no patience for dishonestly in my personal life and one of the worst scenes in the film was one where the parents both flat out lie to Melissa McCarthy, whose character gets so frustrated she flips out and looks like the crazy one in a scene that ends up with everyone laughing at the stereotypical fat “hysterical” woman that left me kind of sad that a good movie had to stoop that low.

It’s not all bad, the movie is funny and cracked me up endlessly in parts and yes, that included a few scenes from my own life that went in a similar way. Judd Apatow is amazingly good at packing a comedy with honest moments from life and there are plenty in this. One of the best was when the 13 year old daughter flips out at her parents and drops the f-bomb repeatedly. It was such a perfect capturing of the moment where you are thirteen and have hormones coursing through your body and you’re completely frustrated by a lack of control in how the world is going at that age and you can’t do anything but rage into the abyss about how everything sucks. There were lots more moments that rang both funny and poignant: dad sitting on the toilet for 30min playing iPad games, siblings hating each other and making up later, dad farting in bed while discussing their lack of sex life, etc. Still, in the end, it fell flat of being as good as the title “the sequel to Knocked Up” lead it to be.

Continue reading “This is 40”

Listening to podcasts piecemeal: huffduffer & Instacast

For the past few years, there’s been a site called huffduffer (started by Jeremy Keith) that lets you link to bits of audio you find online and it shows you popular items across the service. I’ve always thought of it as Instapaper or delicious for audio, but I never found myself considering it a useful tool that met any of my own audio needs.

Last year I found Instacast, an iPhone app that fully replaced my podcast listening through iTunes. It works around Apple’s previous limitations that require you to sync your phone to a computer and requring wifi to download episodes. It’s a great app and keeps you up to date on everything you love, even when you’re on 3G.

What’s weird is in the years since podcasting came out, the world has changed and there are lots of different podcasts producing infrequent content. You also hear about one-off events or shows, or single stellar episodes in an otherwise established series. I finally found a personal use for huffduffer recently as a way to collect all the single podcast episodes I want to hear without the committment of subscribing to a podcast and having to download every one of its 100s of episodes.

Take for example the Marc Maron show. He’s at 339 episodes, many of which go beyond a couple hours, and though it’s an incredible comedy interview show you’re talking a pretty significant chunk of time if you subscribe to the show. On the other hand, I’ve had friends that listen to the show say there are 4 or 5 episodes you shouldn’t miss, and I’ve been happy to listen to those but I simply don’t have the time to follow 2hrs of new content a week from the podcast forever. Another example is friends doing a guest spot on a show I’ve never heard of, it’s a great way to just pluck out that single episode and save it to huffduffer. This also works the other way. If I hear three good single episodes of a podcast chances are I’ll subscribe to the full feed.

How To

The final step in the puzzle is wiring your huffduffer feed to instacast. It’s easy, but I couldn’t find any instructions for this online so I’ll post them here. Sign up for huffduffer, use the bookmarklet to add single episodes to your account, then look for your personal podcast feed, which takes the form of:

http://huffduffer.com/{your username}/rss

Next, go to your Instacast client, hit the + button to add a new podcast, then click the link button in the upper left. Put your huffduffer podcast URL listed above and save.

That’s all there is to it, whenever you hear about an amazing episode of a podcast or someone you follow on twitter guest stars somewhere, add it to huffduffer, pop open your phone and enjoy.

Lightning Adapters in the Elevation Dock

Remember my last post where I was talking about 3D printing? After writing it, I contacted my friend Michael Buffington, who recently won a Makerbot at the XOXO conference.

I showed him a few basic lightning adapter designs on Thingaverse, which he printed, but then we realized in testing them out they all had drawbacks. The fit wasn’t perfect in any of them, one was great at holding a cord but you could push the cord out of the device when connecting it on a table top. None of them dealt with the bend of a new Apple lightning cable very well.

Buffington tweaked some things and made a new second part that holds the cable down while also forcing the hard bend. Photos of the dock with the parts mounted are here in a Flickr slideshow:

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=122138
and here is video of the dock being used on my desk:

It’s just two pieces of printed plastic and a couple off-the-shelf nuts and bolts going into existing holes to put it all together. Buffington’s design is now on Thingaverse, my hope is anyone else with a Elevation dock can upgrade it to allow for iPhone 5 charging.

As always, 3D printing your own parts in real-time is totally awesome and I can’t wait until everyone has a desktop 3D printer at home.

3d Printing and the speed of progress

image from thingiverse-production.s3.amazonaws.com

This is fascinating, someone has made a 3d printed insert for the Elevation Dock to hold a new lightning cable. In August, I received a few Elevation Docks after funding it earlier this year, and I loved using it each day as my phone finally had a nice bedside charger. Since I replaced my iPhone I've missed using it and disassembled an Elevation Dock the other day to see if I could wedge one of the new iPhone cables into it. Unfortunately, the plastic trim that holds the 30-pin connector in place is too narrow to squeeze/hold the lightning adapter high enough for charging in the dock.

I was considering cutting some of the plastic and trying to get it to work but found out Mike Hellers already solved this by putting up a design on Thingaverse which you can get printed/shipped for about $10 from Shapeways.

This is great for owners of a new iPhone that backed the Elevation Dock. I'm impressed at how quickly this 3d model was conceived and printed and is now available. As I was disassembling my dock, I looked at the electronics that Casey, the designer behind the Elevation Dock created and realized it was mostly unnecessary if you could just bend/hold an existing iPhone charger cable. Casey told me at the XOXO conference he was working on a new connector for the lightning connector, but rumors are there's a chip in the cable that would make 3rd party cables impossible.

The most interesting aspect is how 3d printing disrupts things. Casey built these heavy, beautiful docks and spent months creating a circuit board to support charging that is now incompatible and likely impossible to replicate for the new connector. In some industries, I could see a company/creator going after someone making rogue parts like this printed cable holder, but I really hope in this case Casey partners with Mike and figures out a way to print/ship these to existing Elevation Dock owners. It would reduce the Elevation Dock to basically a hunk of heavy aluminum that simply holds a cable inside, but from the outside the existing dock isn't much more than that. (via jdd)

Ten months with a Nest

With the recent news of a new version of the smart thermostat Nest coming out, I figured I should finally write up what it has been like living with the first version of the product since last November, when mine arrived.

Overall, it's been a great little tool, smart in lots of smart ways and dumb in just a very few and eons ahead of similar products I've used. Back in the early 2000s, I spent some time in my first house trying to automate everything. I used x10 to control my lights and set up schedules to turn lights on and off at certain times and I bought a programmable thermostat in the hopes of not only saving energy but also allowing me to wake up to a pre-warmed house in the winter.

I recall how quickly my adoration with home automation faded when I decided to stay up 15 minutes later than normal only to have the entire downstairs lighting shut off to pitch black per the schedule I created. I also remember spending hours programming the thermostat with complicated weekday versus weekend programs, and how after a couple months I just gave up and used it like a normal thermostat that sat at fixed temperatures.

When I heard about the Nest, I immediately ordered one and patiently waited the months until it arrived. It came with a free professional installation that would be scheduled a couple weeks later, but I decided to try it myself and like my last house it was pretty easy to do and 20 minutes after I started, everything was running and it was downloading software updates from wifi (pictured above).

In use

After about a week of using the thermostat to adjust temps (fun bonus: cranking up the heat on a cold December morning from the comfort of your bed, using the Nest iPhone app), it started to realize our patterns and follow them (I rarely have to run the iPhone app these days). It was a nice change from the hours of programming I did in the past and it just seemed to work for my family, realizing that we woke up around 7am most days, went to sleep around 11pm, and started shutting itself off whenever we were gone for the day. After about a month, I went onto the Nest.com website to check the schedule and it only required a minor amount of tweaking to follow a perfect pattern.

Let me say straight up that the motion sensor in it is pretty amazing. It realizes when no one has been home for a couple hours and sets your thermostat to auto-away mode, saving energy by going to prescribed temp extremes (colder than normal in winter, warmer than normal in summer). I've never had it go to auto-away while I was home working even though it's in a different room. I should also say that if I had a normal office job, the Nest would be doing an even better job. I'm at home about five days a week so it doesn't get tripped into away mode as often as typical houses where most people are gone during the daytime weekday hours.

It's hard to say what the bottom line is on energy savings for me. I don't watch our electric bills super closely and our bill includes charges for water too (which usage fluctuates wildly), making quantifying the post-Nest world a bit tougher, but I do know the system goes into auto-away mode reliably several times a week and it's been great to set the whole system to away mode when we've been on vacation. Having a vacant house heated and air conditioned is a lot like running your lawn sprinklers during a rainstorm, a total waste of money. It's also great to have the iPhone/web connections to control it even though I don't need it very often. I remember bringing up the phone app and taking the house out of away mode at the airport when we landed from a vacation, and arriving to a cool house in the summer an hour later.

About the only downsides are how it sometimes acts a bit too eager to please. You might have a dinner party and turn on the air conditioning a few degrees cooler than normal to keep guests comfortable, and the thermostat is supposed to ignore one-off moments like this, but I found it slightly adjusting itself at odd times that reflected short term changes. This also happened when I left the country for a week while the rest of my family stayed behind, introducing a new schedule where I wasn't home all week in my home office that had to be adjusted later when I went back to my old schedule.

Apart from those minor schedule nits, the Nest has been great, warming the house on winter mornings, shutting down each night about an hour before we typically go to sleep, following our coming and going patterns appropriately and being completely controllable in real time from either the web or our phones (and also by the nice weighty dial on the unit itself) if we need to change things. I won't be buying a new one (for the same reasons Marco states here the software updates make getting a new one unnecessary) but I can wholeheartedly recommend it to all my friends as a neat way to save a bit of energy and turn a dumb appliance like your heating and air conditioning into an automatically configured smart object that works with your own patterns of behavior.

Keystroke links: Using Coda 2 to write blog posts

Up until recently, my favorite text editor was TextMate, and I not only used it to write code for websites, I also used to write blog posts in it. It had this hard-to-find feature that would let you highlight a word, and turn it into a link that lead to whatever was in your clipboard (copy/pasted URLs). I started using Coda 2 more and more and missed this feature. When I asked the Panic guys about it, they explained it in a couple tweets and I made a little video to show you how to do it too:

  1. Make sure the sidebar is visible in your main window (check the View menu if it is not)
  2. Click the Home icon, then Clips
  3. Right-click to make a new Clip
  4. Type out the code for a link
  5. Click between the quote marks and put in the option for “Clipboard Contents”
  6. Click the area between the tags and select “Text Selection”
  7. Set a keystroke for it, I selected Control-Shift-a.
  8. Save it, and start blogging up a storm in Coda 2

As silly as this one feature is, I’ve found it has saved me gobs of time when writing long blog posts that have tons of links in them. You just switch to your browser tabs, hit copy, then add them as links in your text, and repeat. I end up using this feature 20x a day it seems so I wanted to make sure other people know how to do it too.

(you might want to view the video full screen to see it more clearly)

XOXO!

I spent last weekend at the XOXO festival in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been close friends with Andy Baio, one of the organizers for about a decade and he’s talked about doing a conference for the past couple years so it was pretty amazing to see those conversations about ideas turn into reality over four glorious days.

I would say right up front the conference was a wonderful confluence of passionate organizers combined with incredible attendees. I’ve told friends that every new conference that comes along is typically amazing for the first 2-3 years since the organizers are super motivated and filled with ideas, while more mature conferences start to hit a rhythm and have a familiarity among attendees that loses something eventually.

The XOXO conference had incredible food, good entertainment, fun parties, was held in a great space, and had some awesome speakers. The attendees are really what made the whole thing work. Everyone that signed onto a first year conference completely blind were people that knew either one of the Andys or had complete trust in them to deliver a good experience. I remember early on Andy Baio was telling me that perhaps the audience would be designers and tinkerers just starting out and he wanted me to speak about my longer term experience as a way of giving them advice to help them get started, but when I saw the attendee list just before the event I was blown away by the depth and breadth of knowledge collected. There were many people with a decade of experience and they came from all aspects of creative and technical industries.

Part of the amazingness of XOXO was being one giant old school blogger meetup. I got to meet people I hadn’t seen in 5 or 10 years and in a few cases got to meet people I’d been reading online for 15 years but never saw face-to-face. Whenever I got to interact with the strangers sitting next to me or standing in lines, I was constantly amazed at the cool projects people worked on and it was great to meet so many people.

Overall, the entire conference felt like Andy Baio’s linkblog/twitter stream come to life. There was every food cart he loved, every quirky band he liked to listen to, and every speaker was doing something he had highlighted previously. As a speaker there, I was a little distracted and I got a slightly different experience than most, but I got to see almost every talk and attended most parties and loved it all. I thought the speaker track would be a sideline distraction but really made the whole gathering gel. People talked about independent success, the tools they used and how they used them, and in some cases the things to look out for. There was a lot about Kickstarter and Etsy as platforms (together they are bringing well over a billion dollars in sales/funds to creators in 2012) and we heard from a lot of success stories. I think in my case and Dan Harmon’s it was a lot of what can go wrong, and how to avoid it.

The speakers and attendees were all incredibly engaged, like others said, out of 400 people I only saw about 4-5 laptops out during talks, I barely noticed people looking at their phones, most people were talking or taking notes quietly on paper. I was actually a bit dismayed after my talk because there was so little chatter about it on Twitter. If you’ve given a talk at a technology conference in the past few years you’ve probably noticed you get real-time, instant, and often scathing results from your talks but if you could imagine a room of 400 people hanging on your every word, very few of them were bored enough to break out a phone and jot down a comment about my slot (also, the amazing Dan Harmon followed me so they were probably busy waiting for him). That said, later that evening and throughout the next day I got tons of great feedback on my talk and felt it went over well. Anil Dash took great and extensive notes of my talk and everyone else’s too.

I can’t think of anything else other than to say I really hope there is another one next year that I can attend, which is just about the highest praise I can give for a conference.

Satellite Eyes = awesome

Coronado, San Diego, CA via Satellite Eyes

The app Satellite Eyes is a great little addition to any traveler's mac laptop. It automatically figures out your location then fetches map tiles of where you are located at that moment, and makes them your desktop background. It offers several options of mapping, either full satellite photos, terrain maps, simplified black and white line maps, and finally watercolor.

Watercolor is the killer part of the app here. It was already a beautiful option that could be used in interesting ways when added to Open Street Maps a few months ago, but it's truly amazing when you are traveling and you get an unexpected gorgeous desktop out of it like the one pictured above. Last week, I opened my laptop up at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, California and took a screenshot. I love it when software offers unexpected delights such as this one and I can't recommend this app enough for those on the go (on a desktop it will never change which is a bit blah).

Oh, and I'm using the app WeatherMin (also download worthy) to display the outside temp on the desktop in the screenshot above.