Kinda strange but cool that the most internally consistent (and my personal favorite) serial TV shows are The Wire and The Venture Bros.
Kinda strange but cool that the most internally consistent (and my personal favorite) serial TV shows are The Wire and The Venture Bros.
Something strange happened last night. I plugged my backup T5 Samsung drive in to my Mac, and Carbon Copy reported disk read/write errors. Then I plugged in the other T5 drive I use for media, and that wouldn’t even appear in Finder or Disk Utility 🤔
TIL: 101 Dalmatians (1996) had a $75 million budget!! But I mean… worth it for Glenn Close tbh
Thankful to be feeling 💯 today 🙏
I really enjoyed watching this webinar about @NASAPersevere, feat. my friend @CosmicRaymond! youtu.be/XUcLPW0rQ…
FYI: there are still gems in the @dailycal archives of my skinny ass 13+ years ago!! 😅😂
Two of the smartest people I met at Berkeley were my Arts & Entertainment editors @dailycal: @radiowagner, who’s now a reporter @KPCC, and Rajesh Srinivasan, who now practices law in D.C. They always pushed me to make my writing the best it possibly could be w/o losing my voice.
In the past, I felt that Thom Yorke’s The Eraser was one of those albums where the artwork is better than the music. But upon listening to it again recently… I think it’s a properly good album?? 😳
I’ve been learning quite a bit about cars (taste, maintenance, best practices, etc.) thanks to great YouTubers like @HooviesGarage @DougDeMuro and David (aka Car Wizard) ☺️
Depression is like having one hand tied behind your back, while the other one slaps you in the face repeatedly. All while you say, “Stop hitting yourself!” 👋👋
“Otis Blue” is a perfect album, and it’s only 33 minutes long. Give it a listen ☺️ (preferably in mono)
After several days of use, my new iPhone 11 had already developed many scratches on its screen. So against better judgement, I bucked up and trekked to the Americana at Brand on a Sunday, and went to an appointment at the Apple Store, just a week after the company rolled out new iPhones.
Perhaps it was a defective first batch of phones, or perhaps it was just a continuation of the glass in last year’s iPhones. Regardless, I shared good news on Twitter:
To @AppleSupport’s credit, they did the right thing and replaced my iPhone outright in-store. Learned interesting lessons about how hobbled I was without a second Apple device (for 2FA) and my Apple ID password (which was in 1Password). https://t.co/9UTOT4Svh5— Max Siegel (@mrmaxsterr) September 30, 2019
The problem was, I’d wiped my old new iPhone too soon, before I had a chance to set up the new new iPhone that Apple gave me in-store. This led to some sobering insights into to the fragility of our increasingly digital lives, even when adhering to best practices and using a password manager:
I do not know most of my accounts’ passwords, including my Apple ID; I only know my Master Password, to unlock 1Password. If you are also in the Apple ecosystem (aka the “walled garden”), this is a problem. The Secret Key, which combines with the Master Password to encrypt or decrypt passwords, gets synced via iCloud Drive. This is a convenient feature, but in order to use it, I needed to know my Apple ID’s password.
Solution: Memorize my Apple ID’s password, which can be accomplished if I use 1Password to create a memorable, word-based password. Print a couple of hard copies of my Secret Key and Apple ID password, and distribute it to friends or family. I could even keep another copy in my wallet.
I hoped I’d be able to find my Apple ID in the 1Password app on my Apple Watch. Perhaps this was a WatchOS bug, or a 1Password bug, but the app only listed a few random, out of date passwords 😞
It isn’t mandatory to sign in with your Apple ID when setting up a new iPhone. I just transferred my SIM card over from my previous phone, which allowed me to use data in the Maps app to guide me home.
If I was to sign in with my Apple ID on the new iPhone, I would have needed to use another Apple device to act as my second factor… which I didn’t have on hand in the Apple Store.
Once I was back home, I was able to easily transfer my Apple ID and Wi-Fi information to my new phone and restore nearly all settings and data from my iCloud backup. It even offered to pair my Watch to the new phone; no need to wipe it and restore from a backup.
2012-era Max takes a breather from doing a video review of Night of the Hunter for class. This is also a prescient and appropriate way to react to world news post-2016.
My parents recently embarked on a quest to transfer old home movies from the '90s and early 2000s onto our modern-day computers. With some brainstorming, we came up with a workflow that actually works:
Hi8 camcorder --> RCA cable --> MiniDV camcorder --> FireWire 400 --> old external hard drive w/ FireWire input --> USB 2.0 --> iMac
We were fortunate to still have all of these devices (and their manuals) on hand, because we first had to transfer the Hi8 tapes to new MiniDV tapes. Also, it's kind of amazing that an app like iMovie can control, transfer, and transcode DV footage (but not Hi8).
This process is only going to become more of an issue going forward, as we lose machines that are able to read these older formats. And then we have the preservation of digital formats themselves, which is a whole other issue.
The first four episodes a new web series I shot, For Your Birthday, have been released.
Each of them are only 5–7 minutes long, so the entire series is a quick watch. This was a fun shoot with an incredible cast and crew—headed by writer, producer, and actor Rachael Wotherspoon and director Molly Ratermann. We faced a few big challenges:
But somehow we managed to get everything we needed, on schedule. Every shoot is a learning experience, and this one is no different:
The hardest scene to shoot was the fight among the siblings in Episode Two. It prompted a difficult but important on-set conversation among the key creatives about how best to portray the intensity of a multi-page-long, dialogue-heavy fight. Thanks to all of us coming together, we were able to figure out blocking that captured each actors' key moments, most of them within a single shot.
I particularly enjoy the first half of Episode Three, where the family members experience a reconciliation. The stationary closeups between the actors, particularly on Robert, really come together. It's a touching moment.
Anyway, thanks for checking out the project! Hopefully I'll have more news to share soon. ☺️
You know how hipsters who don’t admit they’re hipsters are, in fact, real hipsters? That’s kind of my relationship with Apple. I’ve always been drawn to them, and have accumulated many of their products over the past two decades. All without admitting I’m actually a fanboy. This article will prove without a doubt that I really am one of those Apple fanboys.
After finding a deal for a slightly used 13" 2016 MacBook Pro yesterday, I decided to spring for it. This particular MacBook Pro goes by a few clunky names—all very un-Apple-like. It’s officially called the MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports). This model is also known colloquially as the MacBook Pro without a Touchbar, but I’m assuming marketing didn’t want to spring for that phrase because you can’t advertise a product based on what it’s lacking.
It’s obvious that Apple’s priorities have changed over the years. And so have mine.
My first computer was a mid 2007 MacBook, which my parents gifted to me for college. You have to remember that this computer existed during a time when the dorms at Berkeley still didn’t have wi-fi. 
The little MacBook served its purpose as a relatively inexpensive Mac for casual use. It came standard with 1 GB of memory, weighed a hefty—but for its time, sort of light—5.1 pounds. It also had a tendency to shut off after streaming videos for approximately nine minutes because the CPU would overheat.
But still! It was a fine computer for a freshman.
Over the next four years, my priorities changed. I’d gotten into photography and doing video work. The brave little MacBook, my knight in white plastic, was simply “fine.” I thought I needed more of everything. That’s what being a professional is all about, right?
After much deliberation, which annoyed my boyfriend at the time to no end, I settled on a replacement: the early 2011 15" MacBook Pro, aka the “aircraft carrier.”
In hindsight, this was a confused product that was introduced at an awkward time. It came with a 5400 rpm hard drive standard, which I upgraded to a whopping 7200 rpm. By this point, the MacBook Air, with its solid state drive, light weight, and good value, had become the computer for casual Mac users.
And just a year later, in 2012, Apple released MacBook Pros with Retina displays. Those computers also came with USB 3.0 ports and Bluetooth 4.0.
My then-new-ish 2011 MacBook Pro came with two USB 2.0 ports, and had Bluetooth 2.1. This means I missed out on much faster transfer speeds—I’m talking 10x faster USB—and handy macOS features like Continuity.
It also came with a discrete graphics card, which turned out to be the model’s Achilles heel. The chassis’ design hadn’t changed from the previous generation’s, and the thing just got too hot. Fans whirred at top speed all the time. And I had to take it in for logic board replacements several times.
And yet here I am, over six years later, still using that machine—albeit a Frankenstein’s monster version of it, since only the bottom case and DVD drive (yes, it has one of those) are original.
Apple and I both made mistakes in 2011. I overestimated how much computing power I really needed, and missed out on reliability and lightness. Apple couldn’t reconcile making a mobile computer that was also powerful. The product was a quagmire that dragged its owners down with it. This powerful-yet-obsolete, unintentionally immovable computer couldn’t help but draw attention to itself.
Time has marched on; technology has definitely moved on; and I’m ready for a change. At three pounds, the new MacBook Pro is almost half the weight of my 2011 model. It’s a startling, eye-opening difference. With that change alone, my hope is that I’ll be more willing to go mobile and engage with the world. That’s the ultimate goal in the relationship between computers and people: to enable us, rather than to hold us back, through technology.
The MacBook Escape is just “fine.” And I’m fine with that.
While watching All the President's Men, my friend pointed out that cinematographer Gordon Willis uses deep focus in many shots to keep both the background and foreground elements in focus. This is just a quibble, but the movie actually makes use of a tool called split diopters to achieve an effect that's similar to deep focus.
In this scene, Bob Woodward, played by Robert Redford, attempts to listen to crucial information from an informant while his oblivious coworkers host a party that overshadows his conversation. One approach may have been to "rack" (or switch) focus between Woodward and his coworkers. Here, Willis decides to draw our attention to both Woodward and the loud coworkers equally, so we realize more fully what is at stake if Woodward can't hear his informant over the hubbub.
In Citizen Kane, cinematographer Gregg Toland used a technique called "deep focus" to achieve a similar result, perhaps most notably in the scene where a young Charles Foster Kane plays in the background while his parents sign his life away.
So both techniques end up drawing viewers' attention to all of the planes in the mis-en-scène. The techniques, however, are quite different.
Roger Ebert defines deep focus as:
"… [A] strategy of lighting, composition, and lens choice that allows everything in the frame, from the front to the back, to be in focus at the same time. With the lighting and lenses available in 1941, this was just becoming possible."
Have you ever wondered why it's easier to see or read at night when the lights are turned on? That's because the extra light makes our pupils smaller, effectively making the aperture smaller, thus increasing our eyes' depth-of-field. Deep focus achieves a similar effect with camera lenses, except that a huge amount of light is required to achieve that same, increased depth-of-field. And considering how insensitive, or "slow," older film stock was, Tolland would have had to use lots of light.
A split-focus diopter, on the other hand, is an optical adjustment that became popular in the '70s. Wikipedia describes how it works:
A split diopter is half convex glass that attaches in front of the camera's main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. The lens can focus on a plane in the background and the diopter on a foreground. A split diopter does not create real deep focus, only the illusion of this. What distinguishes it from traditional deep focus is that there is not continuous depth of field from foreground to background; the space between the two sharp objects is out of focus. Because split focus diopters only cover half the lens, shots in which they are used are characterized by a blurred line between the two planes in focus.
You can see that line of demarcation in the above screengrab from All the President's Men.
So in short, one method requires major lighting setups to achieve a greater depth of field, while the other method uses an optical solution to create a similar effect. A small, but important, difference.
2015 ended on an inauspicious note, with the death of Holga. Dan Cepeda of the Casper Star Tribune provides some background on the medium format camera:
Photographers typically paid less than $20 for the camera. That affordability was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, its construction quality was a complete joke: the poor-fitting plastic body allowed light to hit undeveloped film. And that plastic, fixed lens… it was awful, soft and distorted to hilarious extremes. Yet that very lens (and those light leaks) also lent Holga photos a haunting and even, on occassion, a breathtakingly beautiful quality.
I received a Holga at a Secret Santa exchange, when I worked at an art house movie theater in Berkeley. (It's still, by far, the best Secret Santa exchange I've experienced.) Holga dropped all of the complicated shit and stripped a camera to its most basic component: as a lightbox that records an image onto media.
My Holga continues to be an endearing toy, and it never fails to make photography feel fresh and fun. Below are some photos I've taken over the years with it. RIP.
According to Wikipedia, “A commission is the hiring and payment for the creation of an [art] piece, often on behalf of another.” And according to Wikimedia, the etymology of commission comes from the Latin word commissio, meaning “to send together.”
While casually looking at listings for real j-o-b-s, I have encountered a troubling trend. Take this real-life example:
Please submit a sample 1–2 minute video, using [our site's] post as inspiration. Send us an unlisted link and mention the title of the post you based it on. Focus on clarity and engagement. Inform us, entertain us. Inspire us. Make us want to share it.
If we ignore buzzwords like engagement and clarity, we get to the heart of the matter: this company requires applicants to submit commissioned art for free. Such an arrangement goes againt everything commissio stands for: “to send together.” It is decidedly tilted in favor of the potential employer, who gets new content for free, regardless of the outcome of the application process.
More troubling, this requirement limits the application pool to a particular, exclusive club, whose members are independently wealthy or have an abundance of free time. Unsurprisingly, very few people have the time or money to work on such an assignment, when they have bills or loans to pay. The few applicants who are able to submit applications are rewarded with the slim chance of netting a measly three-month, paid internship.
I prefer the late Aaron Swartz’s hiring process. In his post, How I Hire Programmers, Swartz enumerates the ways he vets potential employees. Most pertinently, he lays out a solution that satisfies both employers and applicants:
[T]here’s a final sanity check to make sure I haven’t been fooled somehow: I ask [applicants] to do part of the job. Usually this means picking some fairly separable piece we need and asking them to write it. (If you really insist on seeing someone working under pressure, give them a deadline.) If necessary, you can offer to pay them for the work, but I find most programmers don’t mind being given a small task like this as long as they can open source the work when they’re done.
First, Swartz would pay applicants for their work. Second, the applicants would use their commissioned work for the greater good, by submitting to open source projects, activities that stay true to the root of commissio. In this kind of arrangement, an employer vets a more diverse set of candidates by paying them for their work, which should theoretically increase the company’s "engagement" stats. In such an employer-employee arrangement, the words "free" and "commissioned," with regard to work or the arts, never existed in the same universe.
Léa Seydoux, who plays the Lady with the Blue Hair, is a marvel. Her performance, unlike that of Adèle Exarchopoulos, hints at a deeper backstory, one where she's spent much of her life attempting to cover up past emotional injuries. After three hours, it felt like I had only just gotten to know her.
That said, the movie could have easily been only two hours long. I actually sped up parts of the movie, particularly the ones where Adèle teaches children or stares off into the distance during parties, at double speed and did not miss anything. Turns out, watching a character do real life, every day tasks at normal, real life speed without any edits is pretty boring.
The narrow aspect ratio (2.40:1) is a missed opportunity. Director Abdellatif Kechiche and cinematographer Sofian El Fani love to to shoot their characters in extreme close-ups (ECUs). Traditionally, filmmakers tend to "save" ECUs for essential, movie-changing moments. Their overruse signals that the filmmakers may not have truly understood their story, since each moment is depicted as essential. There are great moments sprinkled throughout the movie, but I would have a difficult time pinpointing them because the ECUs inured me to their importance.
The sex scenes also feel like missed opportunities. They are long and sensual, for sure, but remember that this is Adèle's first sexual encounter with a woman. Wouldn't it have been compelling if she had to try to keep up with the older, more experienced Léa? With that approach, audiences would have better related to Adèle's experience. Instead, both women act like they are assured experts in bed, which is surprisingly boring to watch.
I agree with critics, such as Manohla Dargis, who argue that the sex is shot from the perspective of a straight man. The bedroom is lit brightly, so everything is visible, but it's not true to the intimate moment; the women moan loudly in the exact manner of porn performers faking moans. The two performers apparently felt very comfortable with each other on camera, so the errant approach to the sex scenes is all the more tragic and wasteful.
In April 2012, Elie Wiesel visited Chapman University to take part in an extensive Q & A session. From my vantage point in the auditorium, it seemed that half of the questions, mostly asked by students, centered on morality in fictional scenarios. For example, In a fire, is it better if someone rescues more people, or rescues just the children?
Wiesel answered the same way, each time: “I don’t know. I don’t know the full story, so I can’t say.”
This clearly flustered the students asking these questions. (At one point, one of them exclaimed, “Really?!”) Wiesel didn’t come across as obstinate; rather, his answers came from a place of humility, nurtured over the course of a lifetime.
An excerpt from the 1995 documentary Krzysztof Kieslowski: I am so-so…, taken after the interviewer, Krzysztof Wierzbicki, asks director Kryzstof Kieslowski how society should solve contemporary cultural issues. (They are both sitting next to a fireplace.)
“If I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be sitting by some stupid fireplace, but in a president’s chair, telling everyone what to do to make it better. But I don’t know. Knowing isn’t my profession.”
In September 2015, cinematographer Roger Deakins participated in a Q & A session at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, after a screening of Sicario, which he shot with director Denis Villeneuve. I have listed some of Deakins’ answers below.
“How did you make the final car sequence in Prisoners so pretty?
We actually shot that scene on the last day of shooting, and kind of figured it out at the last minute. Much of the crew had already left set, I believe. But when you’re in the middle of shooting, you do the best you can with the tools you have. [Shrugs]
In response to a requisite audience question about whether Deakins prefers to shoot with film or digital formats.
Well, I’m not really a technical person. I like images.
“Do you have any advice for aspiring cinematographers?”
The only thing I can really say is, find your own sensibility. You get hired for your eyes.
“Do you get frustrated when someone watches one of the big, beautiful films you’ve shot on an iPhone or iPad?”
Well, I once caught [Sicario director] Denis Villeneuve watching Citizen Kane on his iPhone, when we were on set. But I’m just happy if someone watches our movies.” [Pauses and shrugs]
I don’t know.
It was Christmas Day, which fell on a Wednesday in 2013. And Grandma Paula—82 years old and drifting toward the end of an agonizingly long battle with lung cancer—was only now catching up on the The Times' Sunday edition. I sat next to her at the kitchen table, keeping her company while futzing around on my phone. It must have been the late afternoon, as sunlight filtered through the partially closed blinds and bathed the kitchen in sepia.
I glanced at Grandma, then at the front page of The Times, angled toward me as she powered through the meat of the paper. A headline about the newly elected Pope Francis occupied much of that page.
Now, my Great-Grandma Becker, Grandma Paula's mother, hated the Catholic Church. She felt that they were complicit with the Nazis, who murdered most of her family/my family in Poland. And Great-Grandma Becker made sure to pass that … passion on to her daughter.
"So," I said, breaking the long silence between us. "What do think of the new pope?"
"Not much!" Grandma said.
She chuckled softly, smiled at me, and went on reading her favorite newspaper.
On a recent morning, I attempted to drive my trusty old Prius, Mindy, and by instinct, toggled the gear selector into
[D] (as in “Drive Mode”). It was at this moment that Mindy decided to go sentient, filling the cabin with an incessant, deafening tone, accompanied by a surfeit of red warning lights & rather ominous instructions.
After pulling into a nearby driveway, and averting a mild panic attack, I wondered what terrible, terrible thing could have befallen Mindy. “Park”? “Batteries”? “Transaxle"? Those words could mean: an imminent car-wide failure, or that I had somehow trashed the transmission, or worse yet, that the battery pack had failed.
As that display had instructed, going into
[P] made all the noise & lights go away. I tried
[D], once more; Mindy screamed. A couple minutes later, I took a closer look at one of the warning lights—the “door open” one.
Turns out, the driver’s-side door was ever-so-slightly open. Once I closed it,
[D] worked as expected, without any further intrusions from Mindy.
This incident reminded me of a Vanity Fair feature, written by William Langewiesche, on Air France Flight 447. Investigators had little idea why the Airbus A330 crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in 2009—until search teams recovered the black boxes from the ocean floor in 2011. Investigators were then able to piece together the events that caused the plane to dive from 36,000 feet to the ocean’s surface in under four minutes.
Langewiesche’s reporting on the A330’s automated flying & warning systems grabbed my attention when I originally read the article last year. That plane’s seemingly minor design issues mirror those of Mindy. For example, the black boxes revealed that crew members were overwhelmed by confusing & intrusive automated warnings:
In the cockpit, the situation was off the scale of test flights. After [Captain] Dubois arrived [from his break], the stall warning temporarily stopped, essentially because the angle of attack was so extreme that the system rejected the data as invalid. This led to a perverse reversal that lasted nearly to the impact: each time [First Officer & Pilot Flying] Bonin happened to lower the nose, rendering the angle of attack marginally less severe, the stall warning sounded again—a negative reinforcement that may have locked him into his pattern of pitching up, assuming he was hearing the stall warning at all.
Another design quirck, which only added to the confusion once the inexperienced pilots’ Crew Resource Management (CRM) protocols broke down:
[T]he pilot and co-pilot’s side-sticks are not linked and do not move in unison. This means that when the Pilot Flying deflects his stick, the other stick remains stationary, in the neutral position. If both pilots deflect their sticks at the same time, a DUAL INPUT warning sounds, and the airplane responds by splitting the difference. To keep this from causing a problem in the case of a side-stick jam, each stick has a priority button that cuts out the other one and allows for full control.
The arrangement relies on clear communication and good teamwork to function as intended. Indeed, it represents an extreme case of empowering the co-pilot and accepting CRM into a design. More immediately, the lack of linkage did not allow [Backup Pilot] Robert to feel [First Officer] Bonin’s flailing.
Robert actually thought he was in control of the plane for those final minutes, but Bonin had flipped the “priority button” switch on his own side-stick. In the midst of the commotion on the flight deck, Robert couldn't really tell that he wasn't in control.
Mindy & the A330’s automated systems technically worked as designed. If Mindy’s driver’s-side door is ajar, the vehicle automatically goes into
[N], presumably so a driver won't fall out of the car when it's on the freeway. And the display gives correct information: the battery system isn’t capable of being charged when it’s in
[N]. But Mindy's blaring warning tone & opaque instructions didn’t translate to a remedial action that I could take.
These particular systems exhibit Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI), described by Tim Urban, in his eye-opening article, The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence, as:
[Computers that] only take in stagnant information and process it. To be human-level intelligent, a computer would have to understand things like the difference between subtle facial expressions, the distinction between being pleased, relieved, content, satisfied, and glad, and why Braveheart was great but The Patriot was terrible.
How do ANIs' problem-solving capabilities compare to those in humans?
Hard things—like calculus, financial market strategy, and language translation—are mind-numbingly easy for a computer, while easy things—like vision, motion, movement, and perception—are insanely hard for it. Or, as computer scientist Donald Knuth puts it, “AI has by now succeeded in doing essentially everything that requires ‘thinking,’ but has failed to do most of what people and animals do ‘without thinking.'
We are in a transitionary period, where computers are currently capable of doing only grunt work extremely well; people are still required to make sense out of all that information & act on it. Mindy and the A330’s systems worked as originally designed, but the engineers who created them failed to take into account how people, in real-world situations, might interact with them.
Systems that are designed, from the start, with people in mind offer actual remedies & choices that can save lives. At a minimum, there shouldn’t be a need for panicked Prius owners to flee to the internet because of a startling warning.
N.B. This is the first installment of a new series on this fine website, ’cause it’s not like other people haven’t already done this kind of thing.
Statement of Purpose: To shed light on a hodgepodge of recent articles & podcasts that I found to be interesting/informative/ridiculous.
The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence [Part 1 of 2]
“As far as we’re concerned, if an [Artificial Superintelligence] comes to being, there is now an omnipotent God on Earth—and the all-important question for us is: Will it be a nice God?”
—Wait But Why, Tim Urban, 2015–01
How Well Can You Hear Audio Quality?
“Despite the high-profile launch [of Jay-Z’s company Tidal], Jay Z has admitted that Tidal’s hi-def tier isn’t for everybody. In April, he told NYU students, ‘If you have a $10 pair of headphones, you should probably buy the $9.99 plan.’”
— NPR, Tyler Fisher & Jacob Ganz, 2015–06–02
What Was Gay?
“In an increasingly accepting world, homosexual men are all too eager to leave their campy, cruising past behind. But the price of equality shouldn’t be conformity.”
— Slate.com, J. Bryan Lowder, 2015–05–12
Roderick on the Line: Ep. 156: The Dumbest Guy I Ever Met
“The Problem: John knows all about LBJ.”
The Show with Sam & Joe: Ep. 45: This is going NOWHERE
“The problem is, I don’t know how to tell people that I never want to see their fucking faces again in my entire fucking life.”