February 20, 2013
An Open Letter to Dwight Howard

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Dwight,

I know things aren’t going well for you. It seems like whatever was going on in Orlando has followed you to LA and all the bad vibes that went with it.

Dwight, some people think you’re a Jonah. Did you ever see Master and Commander, when the crew thought one guy was causing their problems  and finally he drowned himself and all the problems went away? Thy called him a Jonah. I’m sure you’ve read the bible a lot, so you remember that Jonah was thrown off of a ship cause he was running from God’s will and causing everybody around him to suffer.

You aren’t a Jonah though. It doubt there is any benevolent will surrounding max contracts and free agency. That’s more the devil’s territory.

I’ve seen you play this whole season. And I’ve got to be honest with you, apart from the 2009 finals, I hadn’t seen you play all that much since the Lakers only played you twice a year. But everyone said you were dominant and frankly how could you be worse than Andrew Bynum going through puberty. So of course when I heard you were coming, i thought it would be the best thing ever.

I don’t need to say how wrong I was for thinking that, you’ve played most of the games, you know how big of a bust it’s been - how you and nash can’t run a pick and roll, or how you and Pau couldn’t dominate the boards and score off put backs. I saw the vacant stares during close games with bad opponents. I get it, you just want this season to be over. Me too.

But when I saw you in the All Star game, that’s when I finally realized how injured you’ve really been. I saw how even playing with Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, you weren’t fastbreak dunking a billion times like Blake Griffin or blocking shots into the rafters.

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Nope, in fact, you looked slow. Kind of lost. Kind of like you didn’t belong. Sure you drained that 3, that musta felt cool (Bosh airballed 2 of them). But the only other play i remember was Kobe getting you a pass for an easy, if unimpressive dunk. The guy you probably h8 the most in the league, fed you in the All Star Game.  

And now it all makes sense to me. You aren’t Superman this year. Playing with all the superheros in the NBA Justice League - King James, Black Mamba, The Durantula, The Boshtrich - you sorta looked more like, a sidekick. 

You don’t have any powers this year. Sure you look just fine. In shape, buff, smiling like always. From the outside looking in, the only thing it looks like you’ve lost is your will to compete. Which, is sort of what I thought it was during the first half of the season.

But now I think that, at least partially, you physically can’t compete. Not two years ago, you were Blake Griffin, only stronger, more dominant, more physical, more athletic. Set aside all that lame all star dunk contest superman BS, in actual games, you were a load. 

You single-handedly beat up the Celtics when they were still good, kept Lebron out of the finals (thank you) and all around delivered on the promise of a guy defenses had to focus on stopping.

This year though, you’ve been playing below the rim. I saw you get defended by Kuame Brown and Jermaine O’Neal. Those guys suck. They’re just big bodies, but they pretty much kept you from doing anything on offense. Even though you complain about touches -and I definitely agree with you a lot of the time- sometimes they do get the ball to you on the block with a nobody behind you. In the past that would have been a single dribble and a dunk all over that dude. Now, more often than not you try some sort of hook shot and you are way way way too stiff to make that shot. Sometimes it’s like you are trying to throw it through the backboard not lightly into the hole. 

But you know that. I hope you get better, I really do. Despite the horrible season this has been for all Laker fans, and the strong possibility you will split when the splittin is good, I hope you recover 100 percent. The league needs powerhouse post guys. I mean Blake Griffin has some tight fastbreak dunks, but he’s about as effective in the post as you are at shooting 3’s. Other than you, Dwight, everybody else is about fastbreaks and shooting 3’s (except Uncle Drew, that guy is awesome).

So, sorry for getting on you about whining and not wanting to help the lakers win, you’re hurt, I get it. Try to forget about this season in the summer, work way way way harder at getting a great post game and get healthy so you can dominate guys like Kendrick Perkins. I seriously h8 that guy.

Sincerely,

Steven

P.S.

Get serious dude, nobody except my girlfriend likes it when you smile.

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February 8, 2013
I/O: Conversations about race and tech

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One of the more intriguing and heated stories circumventing the tech blogosphere this past week was centered around an article by Jamelle Bouie from The Magazine issue 7 which explored the reasons why minority, and specifically Black and Hispanic, writers might be underrepresented in the field.

In response there was a followup blog post on The Atlantic Wire about a twitter thread by blogger Jason Calicanis also addressing the same thing. 

Together, these posts bring up some interesting observations about tech media and its responsibility to diversify.

***

There is a common argument on many internet forums and in comment sections which follows the line of thinking that “if I am related to the subject, my opinion matters more.” It usually starts with a statement like this,

"I am a _____ male" or "I am a ______ woman"

followed by their personal opinion. 

It is essentially an anecdotal way of giving credence to an opinion. In some matters it can be important. It is difficult to address things when an author has no apparent authority in the matter. For instance, it’s very difficult to accept that a married, middle-class man could have a nuanced view about something like being a single mother on welfare. 

This isn’t because they can’t be correct or pose a good point, but there are still times when your background can supersede your knowledge in matters of credibility. 

I don’t want to do that. I am a Hispanic male who loves reading about the tech world and would some day like to write about and participate in it too. On the surface, it seems like I am the person those articles are about. But I don’t want to use my experiences to affect what is essentially my opinion. I don’t think I’m more or less right than Jamelle Bouie or Jason Calacanis, this is just what I think.

With that in mind, I do think there’s something about this premise that feels off. 

Bouie’s excellent article is dealing with a tough subject and he even says as much. But one thing that always happens when America is talking about race is that race tends to become a big dumb monolith.

As a result we get indications that something is prohibiting people of color from mirroring white people of similar interests and education.

But it’s so hard to prove that. Along the way some nuance is lost or some statistic is assumed and the premise as a whole becomes paper thin.

There are often too many variables to get useful conversation going and in the end, talking about race breaks tends to break down into a strange, tense argument about what is and isn’t. Often times, based on your experience, you’re almost forced to take a side. In binary terms you are either a 1 or 0, black or white, on or off, right or wrong.

***

One thing I absolutely agree with Jamelle Bouie about is that acting like there could be nothing wrong could lead things to a place where something is wrong.

There was a time when television was clearly making an effort to be racially diverse. Whether good or bad, realistic or hokey, shows like The Cosby Show, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Chico and the Man, The George Lopez Show used to be obvious (and sometimes cringe-worthy) examples of Hollywood making an effort to improve its very homogeneous, racially closed off past.

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But today, in a renaissance of television, with content as moving and realistic as it has ever been, I can look at television and say, why are there almost no Hispanic or African American leads on major networks right now? Not even network, lets add major cable networks too. Race has gone from being the hot topic to being nearly forgotten.

I think you can make an argument that in a visual medium where the actors and their roles are the content, that a lack of diversity is the result of some form of discrimination through absence. Whether by viewers or studios.

Ultimately, it’s important to always keep diversity in mind, even in a much more liberal and color blind industry like tech journalism. 

***

Tech is different from television in important ways. Just because tech companies are based out of diverse places like California and New York, doesn’t mean that the people who work there are locals. Many work remotely. Some work from other countries and many grew up in small boring places, like me, just wanting something more.

The work they do is different as well.

What is the highest traffic day of every major tech website? Probably an Apple keynote. Content is king and in tech media because the tech is what people are coming for.

Secondary to that, are the editorial voices. That’s where allegiances are formed.  That’s where the writers come out from behind their words and we get a sense of who they are. Guys like Leo Laporte, Tim Stevens,  Ryan Block, Dan Benjamin, Josh Topolsky, Sarah Lane, Kevin Rose; those are the faces of tech media. You come for the news, you stay for the rhetoric.

So where is the diversity? It’s there in smaller numbers. There are guys like Peter Rojas, Nilay Patel, Jesus Diaz and Brian Lam ; all of whom are extremely influential in their own right. But their race doesn’t overtly color their commentary because ultimately, all we really want are intelligent ways of interpreting the tech world.

I don’t think there needs to be a Latino Engadget or Black CNET to reach minority audiences and employ minority writers. That is what television did and the result is the balkanization of ideas and art rather than an enlightened inclusion of them. 

That is why it is important that people of all cultures and walks of life find their way into the conversation.  With more diverse voices, the scope of technology writing will broaden in ways that we never expected and because of this, it really benefits tech media to find a place for them. This is a conversation we can have without it turning into a witch hunt for racists or resorting to forced hiring through affirmative action.

I’m convinced that as long as diversity is acknowledged as the advantage it is, the tech world will no longer want to be made up of just 1’s and 0’s.

February 4, 2013
Shlok’s Theorem

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 ”The more Chinese food you eat, from a Chinese food place, in a week, the unhappier you are.”

Shlok Vaidya, Quit! episode # 10 

So true.

As an avid listener of podcasts and avid corporate stooge, the Quit! podcast on the 5by5 network is my must-listen program every week.

It’s specifically tech leaning, but there is so much essential advice to anyone looking to change their career path, or get started on one, that I would recommend it to anybody I know.

Dan Benjamin and his guests just seem to get it and if you’re somebody who has come to a crossroads or even dead end in their professional lives, his advice goes a long way toward making transition seem possible.

February 2, 2013
When your gods are falling from heaven

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“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”

-Paradise Lost, John Milton

Bill Simmons recently wrote a great column about the apparent prevalence of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) in professional sports in reaction what is becoming the most common story of the 21st century: the cheating athlete.

For some background, Football Player Ray Lewis has been in hot water (well mildly hot) since a few news outlets broke the news that he may have used something called Deer Antler Spray to recover from a torn tricep that happened early this very season. What would normally be a season ending (and in Ray Lewis’ case career ending) injury was only a two month sideline for the 37 year-old linebacker.

Anyone who watches sports, follows sports or even just played sports knows that our bodies typically peak in physical prowess around 27 years of age and have their best seasons from then until around 30. Then, as natural as the sun setting, there is a distinct and sometimes very noticeable diminishing. It doesn’t matter how many years or minutes an athlete played at some point their stats drop off.

Which isn’t to say it’s crazy that a 37 year-old man is still a professional athlete. Baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. famously played a streak of 2,632 games, 17 straight years, and retired when he was 40. Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired when he was 42 having won 6 NBA championships and scoring over 38,000 points (6,000 more than Michael Jordan) in his career. To top it all off, he and the Lakers went to the NBA finals in his final season.

So athletes can naturally have longevity and effectiveness well passed their prime. And in some ways, that was how we separated the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) from the mere mortals.

But not all great players had long careers. Jim Brown retired in 9 seasons at 29 and is widely considered the greatest running back ever. Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, Tiki Barber, even Michael Jordan (despite retiring three times) all had amazing yet, by some standards, brief careers.

Which brings us back to today. Ray Lewis is being accused of cheating. He allegedly used a PED which helped him to recover quickly from an injury which almost certainly would have ended his season. And perhaps in part, his expedient return helped put the Baltimore Ravens on a late season run which got them into the Super Bowl.

If it turns out that Ray Lewis cheated, in lieu of recent revelations about other noted cheaters, he might end his season on a high note only to have his Hall of Fame career forever tarnished.

But what does it mean to cheat? And what does it say about sports when cheating is so rampant that I find myself questioning any and all “miracle” stories?

Cheating, on the surface, a simple thing. A good player wants to have an edge in a competitive league. Rather than work hard and play the hand they’re dealt, they instead take drugs and load the deck. With beasts like Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa, it’s easy to dismiss their actions as selfish and deceitful. Because of their cheating they went from good hitters into physically dominant sluggers who turned every hit into a home run.

Or Lance Armstrong. He doped his blood and did whatever else he could to give his body the kind of edge that matters in a sport like biking, endurance.

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But, that’s not really the case with Ray Lewis. I’m not saying that he didn’t go that route in the past. For all I know the reason he was a monster at middle linebacker for 17 years is because he always used PED’s and it literally made him a monster. I’m talking about this case, right now. Deer. Antler. Spray.

What is so remarkable about his comeback is not that all of a sudden he was playing like it was 2003 again. It’s remarkable that he was able to come back at all.

As Bill Simmons mentioned several times in his article, a torn tricep typically takes 6 months to recover from. Ray lewis was back in 2. Had he taken 6 months that would have meant his season would end and since Lewis already announced his retirement, that would have been the end of his career.

So let’s assume he used the spray and it allowed him to play again before he retired. Is that the same thing as a competitive edge? I would almost say it sounds like medical treatment.

If you or I tore our tricep and went to the doctor, they would give us a diagnosis that might include some sort of surgery option, some physical therapy, some drugs and probably a sling or brace of some kind. We would probably have to stop working out or playing catch for at least 6 months (for a normal person like you or me, maybe more).

But what if a doctor recommended we use the same chemicals in the Deer Antler Spray combined with intense physical therapy and we could probably recover in say, 3 months. That sounds like a better option. That sounds like a good treatment.

And that is what happened. Ray Lewis came back in 2 months and managed to salvage what was left of his last season as a football player. A football player got to play more football. Realistically the only thing he cheated was time. But in the NFL, he also cheated the rules.

Right now, when a sport has rules about drugs or other illegal PEDs it bans every substance for any and all uses. When there are exceptions it tends to make the league look suspect.

What if, instead of going through the cat and mouse game of cheating players evading drug testers, and journalists hearing about it from their sources, everybody was on level ground?

What if we took the approach that not only will all players be regularly tested by the best methods possible with all penalties that come with it, but also that the league might change its view on what cheating really was. Let’s say that the NFL had a policy wherein, injured or older players with bodies naturally breaking down could openly explore any option to get back to playing form and only had to request the league review the substance and its use case.

In that case maybe a player like Ray Lewis could tear his tricep and ask the league, ‘hey can I use this stuff to recover quickly so I can play some more football’? Then the league could approve the use so it isn’t shady and under the table and also monitor its use to determine whether or not Lewis was only treating an injury or trying to add 20 pounds more muscle.

Maybe I don’t know enough about PED’s. Maybe there is no case where its use isn’t sinister and selfish. But we have to consider that athletes in any sport are destroying their bodies on a regular basis for high salaries, high ratings, high revenues and most of all, great television. So maybe instead of acting like cheating is always cheating and players are just selfish, rich egomaniacs, the league could acknowledge that they created this beast actually own responsibility for taking care of it

Until then, we’ll have moments like this and this and probably this.

They’re dropping like flies out there.

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“O sun, to tell thee how I hate thy beams

That bring to my remembrance from what state I fell,

how glorious once above thy sphere,

til pride and worse ambition threw me down.”

-Paradise Lost, John Milton

January 31, 2013
Blackberry made something nice

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Blackberry showed off some cool phones yesterday. I watched the coverage from  Engadget and came away feeling impressed.

It isn’t impressive because I think Blackberry 10 is very innovative, or the hardware is class leading, but because it feels like the ability to make a really, really good smartphone and operating system is finally within the reach of most large tech companies.

The first obvious sign of this was the Samsung Galaxy S3. The hardware was amazing, the software, while not an ideal version of Android, was certainly not lacking. Most of all, people bought them in droves. Then Nokia made the Lumia 920 and it was pretty good too, with its nice camera and unique design. Now the Blackberry is releasing Z10 and Q10.

They have flaws, reviews have made that clear. But I can remember watching Android phone reviews even a year ago and being able to plainly see the limitations of software and hardware; cheap looking plastics and buggy, laggy software. 

But watch the Q10 hands-on on Engadget. It’s soo smooth. Very modern, very nice. Even the physical keyboard, an interface that is ancient and forgotten, looked nice. I thought iPhone had proven that we didn’t need them anymore.

And who knows what the Q10 will really be like under more intense scrutiny. The Surface looked pretty good too until people were able to use it.

My point being that what was once the territory of a few companies, now seems to be an achievable goal for many. I was listening to a mobile centered podcast they talked about how every company except Apple could have faster update schedules because for those companies, it was matter of choosing the parts and putting them together. For Samsung or Blackberry, they only need to choose the best hardware for their target price point from a myriad of third party manufacturers.

Contrast this with Apple, a company intent on owning and designing every part of its devices.This is a choice which has traditionally lead to high quality, finely tuned experiences and it still does.

But looking at whats coming out now and what could possibly be on the horizon. I have to wonder, is that enough? Innovations like Retina displays have gone from new technologies to meaningless terms because everybody uses high quality screens. Every day it seems that Apple’s lead is shortening. If chamfered edges and crystal lens covers are what separates an iPhone from the best Android/Windows/Blackberry phones, then maybe the approach these companies have chosen isn’t that bad. 

Maybe, like the Blackberry Q10, it’s kinda nice, actually.

January 29, 2013
Life in the era of the 128GB iPad

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It’s a new year which means Apple rumors are beginning to bud. The heartbeat of the tech forest reverberates with leaked photos, unnamed sources and commentary.

And today, they confirmed/announced the 128 GB iPad. No redesign, no Tim Cook or Bob Mansfield. Just a minor spec bump. 

This should be the least interesting story of the year. But will it be?

Current rumors are pointing to a 9.7 inch iPad redesign looking exactly like the Mini. It makes sense to consolidate the line I guess.

And then there’s the assumed retina upgrades of the Macbook Air’s and the iPad mini. High quality screens are the industry standard now, it seems prudent.

A new Mac Pro? Made in America? Maybe. They are pretty old.

Supposedly there’s rumors of a new size of iPhone or cheaper iPhone or both. Well the Mini was real so sizes aren’t immutable as they were a few years ago.

… uhh…yeah…

Gosh remember the year of the iPhone 4? When Gizmodo acquired that prototype, it was insane. It didn’t even look real. But it totally was.

Or the iPad? The rumors pointed to a tablet but people were all over the place on what it actually would be. 

Remember when Apple was cool and they weren’t releasing boring spec updates or consolidating line ups or adding iCloud functionality? Remember when late January was only months away from a rumored launch date that somebody who knew Walt Mossberg mentioned and you cared? Remember when guys were getting strong-armed for leaking devices, your parents still had Motorola Razrs, and Steve Jobs was like, ‘you’re holding it wrong bitches’ (paraphrase)?

Now the story is about Market caps and investor confidence and a supposed Apple TV set which may or may not be as good as we assumed because cable companies aren’t desperate idiots like the music labels were.

Now my parents regularly use emoji—-on their smartphones.

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Here’s to the crazy ones: 2013.

January 28, 2013
500px, Vine and the Apple Kid Gloves

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So a surprisingly large story over the weekend was the fact that low and behold, Vine, had become a portal for 6 second porn films. 

More specifically somebody searched #porn on the Vine app and discovered something dirty, if not a bit obvious. Within hours of the story breaking on local news outlets all over the country, Vine shut down their hashtag search while it cleaned up its newly tarnished name.

And meanwhile tech news sites and commentators took a different angle on the story, Apple has a porn problem.

This story seems to stem from another thread from earlier in the week. Apple had shut down an App called 500px for its pornographic content. While 500px was a legitimate photo sharing service, used by upwards of 1.5 million people, it highlighted an interesting and, some would say, troubling aspect of the App Store. Apple has the ability to shut down any app which it interprets as violating its own policies. 

Since the App Store and iOS are properties of Apple they are the judge, jury and executioner of the App Store, unlike something open like say, the Actual Internet. On the Actual Internet porn is rampant and easy to find as are almost anything your mind can fathom (see Chappelle Show skit where the internet is a real place). But today, the internet is becoming an increasingly mobile dominated medium. And because of this, iOS has become just as important to accessing internet content as Chrome, Firefox, or any major browser. Only browsers typically don’t sensor you and Apple does.

The point, I think, tech sites were making is that, since Apple shut down one service while not shutting down another which could also violate their terms, they were being uneven, heavy handed and too involved in a free market. And this is an argument that has been made since the App Store was introduced and Apple blocked flash from its browser. They definitely want to curate your experience. In much the same way that we might go to a mall for its easy, centralized and safe (Ontario Mills Mall excluded) experience over say, a store somewhere that specializes in one thing on some street somewhere, Apple understands that people will give up choice, when presented with easy shopping experiences. That’s why iTunes, Pandora, Netflix, XBox 360, Cable TV and Walmart exist. 

And guess what; only one of those has porn. It lasts longer than 6 seconds, you have to pay for it and your parents learned how to block it right around the time you learned how to find it. 

Apparently, parents have a porn problem too. 

Ultimately the commotion about porn and the internet comes from a good place. Anybody who loves and understands free speech knows that you have to defend things like porn in order to defend things like say, a tech news site. And from that angle, I agree to some degree that the internet really is a better thing when it is open because freedom of speech is a good thing. 

But just like the signs in restaurants that say “We have the right to refuse service to anybody” private business doesn’t play by the same rules.

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And my feeling is, that in some way, business is better for it. If I went a restaurant and there were crust punks walking around barefoot, I probably wouldn’t want to eat there again. Not because I think dirty people should be thrown in jail, but because, I’m spending my money on an experience and frankly people’s dirty feet are not part of it. So Apple is determining when and where we see dirty feet while having a browser in Safari which still lets you have access to all the dirty feet you can take.

Luckily we aren’t required to us iOS. But I don’t know if porn apps will be the reason I’d switch to Android.

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January 25, 2013
There is a lightt that never goes out

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The other day Twitter released its video sharing app Vine to some podcast acclaim and website coverage. It lets you upload short, 6-second clips that loop and playback with sound.

While it’s not the first app to offer this kind of service, with a juggernaut like Twitter backing it, this one seems like it has the best shot of getting adopted.

This is bittersweet to me. A few months back, I heard about an app called Lightt which, instead of video clips, takes a serious of photos that play in succession, creating a stop-motion looking video clip when played in full. 

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My girlfriend and I played with Lightt a little and while it was strange at first, we started to get it and have fun. The most compelling feature was a horizontal timeline of random users which you could scrub through forward or backward in time. It was enjoyable and enlightening, seeing moments in the lives of people from all over the world strung together in a never ending film. There were hardly any loading times and when I had a good connection it was easy to get lost in the spectacle.

The App was clean and well designed, simple in the best way.

But we could never convince our friends to join and over time, even my girlfriend and I used it more sparingly.

So I downloaded the Vine app today to check it out. And my first impressions are that, full motion video is definitely less jarring but the interface is wrong. It posts them in a vertical timeline like Instagram, separated by user info and comments. Also, because it’s video and not a series of photos like Lightt, they take a while to load.  The color and UI are a childish looking pastel; coming off simple in a bad way.

I suspect that Vine is more capable than Lightt ever could be, but with all the different sections and categories and hashtags, it completely lacks the freedom and discovery element that Lightt has.That was what made a service like this interesting to me. 

I don’t think Lightt has much of a chance to succeed under the weight of something like Vine, which has integration with Twitter and, as a result, a sizable built in user-base.

Maybe Lightt never actually had a chance. It seemed to lack the kind of quick adoption that a new social network needs. The idea of a short video version of Instagram is still an unproven concept. Maybe Vine wont succeed either.

But I’m still sad. Sometimes, good design and good ideas don’t win.In Vine’s and Lightt’s case, I feel this is true.

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Filed under: Vine lightt 
January 25, 2013
Head in the clouds

Nothing is worse than writing a cover letter for a job and then thinking about it later and realizing I probably came off sounding desperate, somewhat aggressive and anything but the person they were looking for  like a dork.

I am though.

But who says that?

Me in a cover letter.

January 24, 2013
Super Episode 8 (7&9)

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So JJ Abrams is going to direct Star Wars. I feel like this was something we all were thinking when we heard Disney bought out George Lucas.

It just seemed like such a natural fit. Star Trek was pretty good and entertaining even the bad guy was kind of Anakin Skywalker-like in that he was pissed about his wife and went crazy.

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I usually like his films because he knows how to direct action without going CG crazy (cough* LUCAS cough*) and when he uses CG it doesn’t look like a pixar film.

The only thing i’d say is that his characters tend to be emotionally shallow with the exception of maybe Super 8. But George Lucas wasn’t good at that either.

So hopefully it will be entertaining. Isn’t that all a Star Wars fan could hope for at this point?

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