Pokéwall Wallpaper for iOS

Pokewall Wallpaper on an iPhone 6

I designed these mobile wallpapers to work specifically with iOS, but there’s nothing that says you can’t use them with Android or Windows phone too. I’m just not going to make a bazillion size variants for all those devices :-P

There’s no denying that the new augmented reality game Pokémon GO from Nintendo and Niantic, Inc. has taken the world by storm. People of all ages are getting their butts up off the couch and heading out into the real world to try and capture as many of these cuddly, courageous animals as they can.

I thought it would be fun to whip up a mobile wallpaper that let’s you turn your smart phone lock screen into a Pokéball, and so Pokéwall was born. Now you can become the envy of all those shiny new friends you’ve made while you explore your community at all hours of the day and night!

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS:

1) Click to view the wallpaper that best fits your device:

• iPhone 5 Series – Original
• iPhone 6 – Original
• iPhone 6 Plus – Original
• iPad & iPad Pro – Original

2) Tap & hold on the image in mobile Safari & save it to your photo library

3) Open Photos, view the image then tap the Share button in the lower left

4) Scroll to the right in the Share menu and tap Use as Wallpaper

5) Pinch Zoom OUT on the image to size it exactly to the screen

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPhone and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re about to catch that elusive epic Pokémon you’ve always wanted. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook. Have fun and stay safe!

PS – If you liked Pokéwall, be sure to check out my Star Trek LCARS wallpapers as well.

Guest Judging Food Network’s ‘Cake Wars’ Was a Sweet Treat

Cake Wars Emoji Panel

Pictured L to R: Myself, Cake Wars regular judges Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas with host Jonathan Bennett

In my career as an icon artist I’ve had the privilege of working on tons of great projects, meeting fascinating people and participating in lots of wonderful events. This past March however, I was invited to appear on the Food Network’s reality baking competition, Cake Wars, as a guest judge and quite simply, it was an adventure of a lifetime. The theme of the episode I was to appear on was emoji, something I’ve become intimately familiar with these past few years. Needless to say when we received a request for one of us to fly to L.A. and participate as a judge I nearly fell out of my chair. From start to finish, my experience on Cake Wars was fantastic and so I just want to share some of those experiences with you.

The Journey

I’ve been a fan of reality TV cooking competitions for years with shows like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Great British Baking Show and more recently Food Network’s Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen. Over the years I’ve considered applying to a few of these shows in the hopes of showing off my amateur cooking skills but had never gotten off my butt to do it. So you can imagine how amazing it was to ultimately be sitting at the Cake Wars judging table next to the incredibly talented Ron Ben-Israel and Waylynn Lucas.

From our initial email exchanges to arranging the trip, all of the people from Super Delicious, the company that produces Cake Wars for Food Network, were positively wonderful and made my time on set a joy. My first surprise happened as soon as I stepped out of the car on the Cake Wars lot. Ron Ben-Israel had also just arrived and he immediately came over to greet me outside the main door. He stepped right up, introduced himself and said “You must be Gedeon!” As we entered the building, he proceeded to tell me all about myself, where I went to school, some of the projects I’ve worked on over the years and even how long I’ve been at the Iconfactory. “You see Gedeon, I do my homework!” The sheer fact that Ron warmly greeted me and knew all about me was such a thoughful way to be welcomed to the set that I could hardly believe it.

All throughout the day, Ron helped me to know where to look for the camera, gave me speaking tips and even signed an autograph for me which I now have hanging on my desk at work. He even took time to answer any and all questions I peppered him with like how he makes the incredible buttercream for his award-winning cakes! In exchange I showed him how to receive animated emoji on his iPhone and tried not to gush over sitting right next to him *too* much. I’d be remiss if I didn’t say for the record that Waylynn Lucas and host Jonathan Bennett were also both super nice to me as were the entire crew of over 60 people. It was easy to see they had all done their jobs dozens of times before and knew where they should be, how to speak, what the director was looking for and more from the start.

Judge’s Table

If you’ve ever watched TV and wondered what it must be like to sit behind the judge’s table to critique culinary creations, let me try and set the scene. Cake Wars is broken down into two rounds; a smaller initial round where one of the four contestant teams is eliminated at the end and then a big, show-stopping round with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize. I’m not going to spoil the episode and tell you who won (you’ll have to watch to find out) but I will say that watching the bakers work and tasting their creations was a privilege. Both Ron and Waylynn warned me to be prepared to taste both great and not-so-great cakes and naturally they were right. Some were moist and delicious, some were flavored perfectly and some were so sweet they made my toes curl.

All of the cakes arrived at the judge’s table via production assistants with perfectly cut slices, meticulously arranged on white flatware in front of me. Needless to say I took great care when handling my fork and made sure to take my time, taste everything and made mental notes on each as I went. Thankfully the producers explained my primary concern was to critique the overall design and visual appeal of the cakes, how well they conformed to the emoji theme of the challenges and if they had been executed well or poorly. Since I’m not a food critic I gratefully kept the majority of my comments focused on the designs of the cakes. The contestants seemed to appreciate my feedback through the various rounds.

Behind the Scenes

Between rounds, each of the judges had the opportunity to retreat to their dressing rooms while the contestants baked. The final round happens over the course of 4 hours and so there’s a lot of work on set for the contestants to get their show-stopping cakes completed before time expires. The production assistant explained to me they would come and get all of us for the final 30 minutes of baking but I asked if I could stay in my seat and watch while they worked. She allowed me to remain on set and I’m so glad I did. Not only did I get to see the inner workings of the show and how it’s filmed but I also was able to ask one of the floor directors a bunch of questions that he graciously answered.

One thing I asked was if the producers look forward to “food disasters”, i.e. when cakes fall or major mistakes occur on set. His answer was telling. He explained that of course most producers will say they think these unplanned problems make for great TV, but they also tend to push the production schedule later in the day, sometimes much later and that’s bad. Things have to be re-filmed, stations reset and it just throws a monkey wrench into the works which wastes time, money and makes the entire production crew cranky. Ultimately he explained that Food Network wants the contestants to succeed in their efforts and produce the best cakes they can so in reality, it’s better to have everything go as smoothly as possible in the end.

That’s a Wrap

From the moment I stepped onto the studio lot, just like the emoji I was there to judge, I wore a huge smile across my face. To say I was honored to be a part of Food Network’s Cake Wars emoji episode just doesn’t do it justice. It was quite literally a foodie’s dream come true to be able to travel to L.A. and participate in judging these amazing cakes from talented bakers across the country. One of the teams however was much closer to home than I ever suspected.

I learned just this week that one of the teams I judged is based right here in Greensboro, NC! I went to visit Taylor Kisselstein at Easy Peasy Decadent Desserts and ordered a dozen cupcakes (emoji of course!) for the viewing party I held at my home the night the episode aired. Thanks, Taylor!

When I think back on my experience I will always remember the excitement of being on the set, but I also warmly recall the people, especially Ron Ben-Israel. He is a professional in every sense of the word with an amazing talent for baking positively beautiful cakes. I’ve spoken with him a few times since filming and even now he continues to be just as warm, gracious and helpful as he was that day and has even encouraged me to audition for Chopped! To him, and all the other members of the cast, crew and production team, and to everyone at Food Network, thank you for having me on the show. It was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.

The Emoji episode of Cake Wars is available for purchase via iTunes. Enjoy!

Miscellaneous Thoughts & Observations

• Each of the judge’s chairs have a leather pouch hanging from the back of the seat for their cell phone should they wish to keep it handy but not on their person during filming

• The feeling you get when you see your own name on a dressing room door is just as amazeballs as you can imagine

• Ron Ben-Israel used to subscribe to MacAddict Magazine & was a huge Mac gear head back in the day

• Multiple people on set told me the “Minecraft” ep of Cake Wars was… challenging to film

• Each baking team has its own “story producer” who encourages them on set to be energetic, enthusiastic & speak clearly during the course of filming

• If all teams are in the weeds and are behind, the producers have been known to give them extra time to complete their cake creations

• Almost all of the judge’s dialog is unscripted. In contrast, nearly 100% of host Jonathan Bennett’s dialog is written for the camera. The script is edited in real time and constantly finessed and adjusted as events unfold during filming

• Fraternizing with the contestants prior to filming was strictly forbidden. Also, if one of the contestants approached me before filming began I was supposed to let the powers that be know O_o

• Having to eliminate people from possibly winning a $10,000 prize really stinks

• Awarding a $10,000 prize to a talented cake artist is incredibly awesome and more than makes up for the former :-)

Why I Love the Music of ‘The Martian’

While I was watching ‘The Martian‘ for the umpteenth time I had a mini-epiphany regarding the film’s music. One of the best parts of the movie for me is the sprawling, technical and beautiful score by Harry Gregson-Williams but I never realized why I loved it so much until recently. If you’re a fan of space-themed stuff like Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series then be sure to check out my take on the music of ‘The Martian’ in this short YouTube video.

Update: Here are links to all 3 albums discussed in the video:

The Martian – (Original Motion Picture Score)
Vangelis – Albedo 0.39
Vangelis – Direct

The Best BitCam Review. Ever.

BitCam review from the app store: WHY? - In 2016, why in the world would I want an app that makes my photos look WORSE? why? WHY?! I downloaded this app just to tell you guys ya crazy for giving it 5 stars. BOOO BOOO BOOOOO. Go HOME. And if you're at home, go stick your head in the ground. 8 bit camera...sheesh, good grief. As long as we're throwing out dumb ideas how about soggy bread, it goes down so much smoother! And what about ants in your pants? Oh yeah sounds like a great idea too; 5 stars for both. Finally, WHYYYYYY?!?

I and everyone at the Iconfactory are grateful so many people have been enjoying our little photographic throwback to the 1990′s with our recent release of BitCam. For those who remember the era it’s a nostalgia trip that brings bittersweet memories of straining modems and ear-piercing dot-matrix printers flooding right back. Millennials are not old enough to understand this however. To many of them, a dot-matrix printer is the tool that was used to print the flower patterns on the out house toilet paper back before there was indoor plumbing and colors hadn’t been invented yet.

Someday about 20 or 30 years from now, ya boy jax may well pine for the days when images were taken on a physical device instead of inside his eyeball. A time when talking with his friends meant tapping on a glass-covered screen to launch an archaic app like Snapchat instead of projecting a hologram of himself from his floaty chair onto whatever the internet eventually becomes. On that glorious day, I will push back in my recliner at the old folks home and smile the smile of kings.

We’re Talking Twitterrific and Accessibility

Twitterrific was recently honored by the folks at AppleVis with an induction into their App Hall of Fame for iOS Accessibly. The folks behind AppleVis invited me to their Extras podcast to talk about the nature of the award, how and why Twitterrific became accessible to VoiceOver users and what Twitterrific users can expect in the future. I had a great time chatting with them on this important subject. The AppleVis Extra podcast #44 is available for streaming online from their website. Enjoy!

Fear of Trump Sparks Surge in Citizenship & Voter Registration

More and more I hear from friends on social media that they’re worried Donald Trump is going to mop the floor with Hillary Clinton. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns, but at the same time it’s important to keep in mind how much the demographics in the United States have changed, even in just the last four years. In order for Trump to take the presidency, he would have to convince ALL of the states that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 to vote for him in addition to Hispanic heavy states like Nevada, New Mexico and especially Florida. It’s a tough electoral college pill to swallow.

As this report from the Washington Post shows, the Hispanic community, in this case California, is coming out to register to be citizens and vote like never before. Prior to Trump people stayed in the shadows out of fear of exposure and possible deportation. Now they realize just how much is on the line and they’ve decided exposure be damned, it’s more important to fight for their interests. My favorite part of this video is how the poll workers explain that this movement has spread among family members. It’s not just one member of the household, it’s ALL of them. The silver lining here is that many immigrants who were here illegally are taking steps to become official citizens. Good for them.

Much can happen between now and November, but if and when Trump loses in the fall I have little doubt it’s going to be because of the racial divide he’s built in the form of a metaphorical wall on the US / Mexico border. The GOP is going nuts trying to rein him in but thankfully for all us sane people who oppose him, he’ll never change. He’s doing serious damage to the GOP’s ability to reach out to hispanic and african americans and they know it.

How to Make Spiral Cut Hot Dogs

As recipes go this is about as simple as it gets so it’s not really about the ingredients so much as the technique. Why spiral cut your hot dogs prior to grilling them? When spiral cut, the hot dog ends up having more surface area to cook and this means more of that yummie, caramelized goodness after it comes off the grill. It also is just plain fun and looks cool on the plate. One you go spiral, you never go back.

My ‘Game of Thrones’ S6 Wish List

Tyrion & Varys In Meereen

SPOILER WARNING: This post covers events up to and including the first episode of S6′s Game of Thrones ‘The Red Woman’. If you’re not caught up, you probably want to hop the next boat to Essos because there’s nothing ahead for you except spoilers and regret. You’ve been warned!

After what seemed like an unusually long hiatus (it wasn’t I just was going through GoT withdrawal), one of my favorite TV shows of all time has returned to HBO for season 6 – Game of Thrones. Last season was an amazing mix of drama and building suspense as we witnessed Daenerys evolving from conquerer to ruler, endured the horrors of Sansa Stark’s betrothal to Ramsay Bolton and witnessed the coming fight with the White Walkers and their undead army. I’ve never read any of the novels but that no longer seems to matter as the show has now caught up to the novels and as such, season 6 should be as much of a surprise to book readers as to the rest of us.

To say I’m excited for season 6 would be a massive understatement but this was also true for each of the previous seasons as well. Like any dedicated fan, I find myself hoping for specific plots to take focus or characters and places to be revealed on screen so I thought I’d put together a wish list of those plots, characters and places I’m longing to see in season 6.

Casterly Rock

Casterly Rock is the seat of power for the Lannister family, an impressive castle hewn out of solid rock on the western-most shores of Westeros. The books describe Casterly Rock as almost two leagues long from west to east, containing tunnels, dungeons, storerooms, barracks, halls, stables, stairways, courtyards, balconies, and gardens. It’s popularly believed to resemble a giant lion in repose when the setting sun strikes it. We’ve heard the Rock mentioned numerous times in the television series but we’ve never actually seen it yet.

In the novels, Casterly Rock sits atop one of Westerns’ most productive gold mines which helps account for the Lannister family’s enormous wealth. Due to its legendary status, it is said visitors to the Rock sometimes believe the entire fortress was constructed out of solid gold. Artists and fans have put forth their interpretations of Casterly Rock but I really want to see how the show’s creators depict the mythical home of Tyrion, Jamie, Cerise and Tywin Lannister. Hopefully we’ll finally get to visit this epic destination in season 6 of Game of Thrones.

Cerise’s Revenge

You know a series’ writing is top notch when it can take one of the most reviled villains in all of television and turn them into a protagonist. Such was the case last season with the evolution of the incestuous Queen Cersei Lannister. Things have not been going well for Cersei for several seasons but by the end of S5 I was squarely on her side. Between being locked in prison by religious fanatics, her humiliating atonement of being forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing, and watching two of her three children violently murdered, I’d say Cersei deserves some payback.

The Mountain carries Cerise to safety

When Cersei had Tyrion wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of King Jeoffery (her eldest son) back in S4, I didn’t think I could hate a fictional character more than I hated Cersei. But the winds of change blow quickly in Westeros and given how much delight others have taken in the physical and emotional torture of the Queen, I now find myself counting the minutes until she unleashes her new pet, the re-animated remains of The Mountain on her oppressors. I’d like nothing more than to see the High Sparrow and Septa Unella beaten to death with their beloved Bell of Shame. Fingers crossed!

The Long-Overdue Stark Reunion

Ever since the end of season 1, the House of Stark has been a poster child for familial tragedy. With the death of their father, Eddard Stark at the hands of King Joffrey, the Starks were split up across Westeros, torn apart by war, distance and circumstances beyond their control. In particular, the two sisters, Sansa and Arya have not seen each other in years, nor do they even know the other is still alive. We’ve all been waiting patiently for at least 2 of the surviving Starks to get an on-screen reunion but to be honest I’m not sure we ever will.

The premiere episode of season 6 presents us with a small glimmer of hope however as Brienne of Tarth arrives in time to save Sansa and her slave turned savior, Theon Grayjoy from Ramsay Bolton’s soldiers and vicious hounds. Brienne lays her sword at Sansa’s feet and pledges her life to protect and defend her, and Sansa gladly accepts her and Podrick’s service. I’m willing to bet good Lannister gold that the first order of business in episode 2 will be for Brienne to reveal to Sansa that Arya is still alive, or at least she was when she and Podrick encountered Arya on their way to the Eyrie.

Brienne pledges her service to Sansa Stark

Will this revelation set Sansa and company on the road to find her long, lost sister? Perhaps, but more likely they will continue north to Castle Black where they believe Sansa’s half-brother, Jon Snow is alive and ready to help them. Little do they know that Jon was betrayed by his fellow Knight’s Watch brothers and killed as a traitor just a few short hours ago. Then again, perhaps Jon will be alive (and well?) when they arrive, which brings me to the final item on my Game of Thrones wish list.

Zombie Jon Snow

So many Starks have bitten the dust over the course of six seasons, you would think losing the bastard son Jon Snow at the end of S5 would feel like a pin prick, but you’d be wrong. Deemed a traitor by the Knight’s Watch for going beyond the wall and attempting to work with and save the Wildlings from the evil White Walkers, Jon was stabbed over and over again and left for dead in the cold snow.

Fans of the book and TV series alike have all theorized that Jon isn’t actually dead however and that he may come back to “life” as either a minion of the Walkers or as a resurrected servant of the Lord of Light, courtesy of the Woman in Red, Melisandre. Personally I think the former theory would be much more fun and lead to some seriously cool scenes where Jon takes revenge on the Knights Watch members who betrayed him, including Ollie, but the later is much more likely. Jon has king’s blood in him you see and there was plenty of it left over in a big, strange puddle after Sir Davos recovered his body. Perhaps Melisandre can work her magic one last time and defrost Jon in time for Sansa’s arrival at Castle Black. Whatever the ultimate fate of Jon Snow, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more of him very soon.

Hopefully at least some of these wishful predictions will come true in the weeks ahead as we journey through season 6 of Game of Thrones. If they do, I’ll be sure to update this post with all the relevant developments. The Stark Reunion is by far the least likely but I’m hopeful Cerise’s revenge will soon come to pass. No matter what happens, it’s going to be fun to watch!

•••

UPDATE: I’m pleased to report that several items from my wish list came to pass in last night’s ‘Home’. I was extremely happy to see Cerise’s revenge lumber into action as the re-animated Mountain squashed that dude who waved his junk at the Queen during Cersei’s Walk of Shame. It felt like a medieval Michael Meyers moment and I can’t wait to see who’s next.

As predicted, Brienne told Sansa about her encounter with Arya and also as predicted, the group (sans Theon) will continue onto Castle Black. Finally, we witnessed the anticipated resurrection of Jon Snow. Can’t wait to see the faces of Team Snow when Jon walks out of that room with Ghost at his side. ‘Home’ was a great second episode (giants flinging archers against walls… splat!) in what promises to be an incredible season. Can’t wait for more!

Animated Carl Sagan Radio Interview

If you follow me on Twitter or have frequented my blog then you probably know the late astronomer, Carl Sagan, is a personal hero of mine. It was in part thanks to him I became fascinated with science and outer space at a young age. His ground breaking PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage held me enraptured when it aired in 1980 and his books and writings like The Pale Blue Dot are among my all-time favorite.

I wish this brief radio interview from 1985 with Studs Terkel was longer, but regardless it’s wonderful to hear him expound on life in the cosmos, how science strives to uncover universal truths and how religion is tied to the history of our species. If you love Sagan, astronomy or just need a few minutes to take a break from the stress of the day, press play and check it out. You can also learn more about Sagan via the SciShow’s wonderful video tribute to him they recently produced. Great, starry stuff.

Super Tribes for iOS Walkthrough Plus Tips + Tricks

I’ve never actually done a video walkthrough of a mobile game before so this is new territory for me. As such, this review of the fun, turn-based iOS game Super Tribes is a bit longer than it probably should be but I’m still learning so go easy on me! My friend @Bigzaphod turned me onto Super Tribes and I’ve been playing it on and off for about a week. It’s really fun, light and doesn’t suck a huge amount of time which is perfect.

The best part about Super Tribes is that the game length is fixed to 30 individual turns which means a typical game can last anywhere from 20 minutes to about an hour and that’s it. You play against the AI, not other people or friends. Depending on your style of gaming this may be a plus or minus to you, but I personally enjoy it. There’s tons of stuff I didn’t cover in the walkthrough but what I do cover should be enough to get you up and exploring the flat, grid-shaped world of Super Tribes in no time.

The game is free to play in the App Store, but if you do try it and like it, I beg you to purchase at least one of the in-app tribe packs to help support the developer. Games of this quality take thousands of hours to design, produce, test and deploy and we want them to continue making them, they need to eat. That’s all I’m saying. Enjoy!

Thoughts on the Tesla Model 3

The Tesla Model 3

Full disclosure: I own stock in Tesla Motors. Now you know!

Last week Elon Musk finally announced the long-awaited Tesla Model 3. The Model 3 is the final step in the company’s “Master Plan” to bring affordable electric vehicles to the masses and judging from the number of pre-orders I’d say it’s about to become a reality. There’s a lot to love about the Model 3 including a minimum driving distance of 215 miles on a single charge and a base starting price of $35,000.

There’s also many unknowns including how many of the over 250K pre-orders Tesla will convert into actual sales. With a promised delivery of somewhere around the “end of 2017″ it’s unclear if the government’s $7,500 EV tax credit will still apply to the Model 3 at the time of its release. The credit only covers the first 200,000 units of a given model which means some 53,000+ buyers may not be eligible. In addition, thanks to an anti-electric vehicle assault the Koch brothers plan to mount this year, the entire tax credit structure may not survive in Congress long enough for owners to take advantage of purchasing a Model 3.

Tesla Model 3 Interior'

I’ve read lots of strong opinions on the Model 3′s styling; from its strange lack of a front grill to the huge flat-panel display that seems overly distracting when sitting behind the wheel. The smooth nose I understand and I think I could get used to, but the large, center-mounted instrumentation panel does seem like a deal breaker, at least to me. I’m curious to see how the display looks when driving at night as well as how responsive it is to touch commands. The entire interior of the Model 3 seems overly minimalistic which isn’t necessarily a bad thing I just feel like I’ll be sitting inside Flynn’s home from TRON: Legacy.

Without a doubt the most appealing aspect of the Model 3 is its range of at least 215 miles on a single charge. Having owned a Ford C-MAX for almost a year now, which has a maximum distance of just over 24 miles on a charge, I can’t wait for the rest of the industry to catch up to Tesla. Whenever my car switches from EV mode to combustion I feel disheartened, like I’ve somehow let the environment down. Having the freedom to travel great distances without worrying about re-charging will be a huge selling point for Tesla and makes hybrid car owners like myself seriously consider it for their next vehicle.

Although I didn’t put a pre-order in for a Model 3, I am enthusiastic for those who did. The entire world will be watching to see if Tesla launches the Model 3 on time and on budget. Meanwhile, other companies like Nissan, Chevy and even Apple are eager to see where Elon Musk’s vision takes us all next. The company’s success or failure will undoubtedly influence the direction of sustainable transport around the world for decades to come. Personally, with the threat of climate change worsening day-by-day, I’m rooting for Tesla to succeed and drag us all into a cleaner, greener future whether we like like how it looks or not.

The Joy of Creation

I count myself fortunate that I have the ability to create. On any given day I create digital artwork in the form of icons, interfaces, logos, illustrations or even just doodles and I have a grand time doing it. I also enjoy whipping up culinary creations in the kitchen which is extremely satisfying to me since unlike most of my work, my food takes physical form (at least until it’s eaten :-) ). So I can only imagine what it must be like to be able to take a stack of wood and in the span of a few hours and create something as physically beautiful as the nightstand seen in this video.

Add to that the fact the woodworker has cleverly added a secret compartment into his design and you really have something special. Trust me and take a few minutes out of your busy day to just sit back and watch this table take joyous shape. Seeing the final product really is wonderful, it makes me wish I had taken wood working during my days at RIT.

I Swear He Had Orange Eyes. Orange Eyes!

Donald Trump and Scut Farkus

Back during the run-up to the 2008 election, I blogged about politics a lot and I do mean a lot. Barack Obama’s historic contest against John McCain had so much riding on it after the disastrous 8 years we experienced under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney I felt personally compelled to speak up. Back then, Obama was a relatively unknown quantity trying to pull off an upset against an establishment candidate and the more we all weighed in, the better.

Since then, I’ve somehow managed to avoid blogging about politics. During the election of 2012 I dabbled with a few posts but mainly stayed out of the fray. I think this was mainly because I was confident Obama would win re-election and thankfully that’s what came to pass. President Obama ultimately convinced a majority of the American people that he had done a good enough job with his first four years that he deserved to continue his efforts for another term. Since his re-election unemployment is at historically low levels, the Dow & stock markets are up, the price of gas is down, great strides have been made towards marriage equality and more Americans are insured than ever before. I firmly believe if Barack Obama could run for a third term, he’d win in a landslide.

Which brings us to 2016. Like so many, I’ve watched the run-up to the Presidential Primaries with a mix of astonishment, disgust and a newfound understanding for just how badly some people are willing to set aside good judgement for their political beliefs. When Donald Trump first announced his candidacy for President by descending an escalator to throngs of people paid to be there and support him, not for one instant did I actually believe he would become the GOP nominee. I sat and watched the first FOX News debate with both of my parents and told them again and again that Trump would never make the cut. I truly underestimated how far bluster, simple-talk, and praying on people’s fear will get a bully in politics.

No longer.

The rise of Donald Trump deeply disturbs and offends me and makes me want to start blogging once again. It’s not enough to simply sit on the sidelines and watch others call him out for his egotism, misogyny, racism and utter lack of respect for the truth. There’s a big part of me that can’t believe people actually want this ignorant blowhard to become the leader of the free world. More and more I feel it’s the job of everyone who opposes him to stand up and make their voices heard.

I know I probably won’t change the hearts or minds of those who support him. There will always be those who adorn their cars with TRUMP bumper stickers or their heads with “Make America Great Again” hats and they have already made up their willful minds. For them, I suspect, it’s not so much about backing a billionaire who blames illegal immigrants or muslims for their live’s problems as much as it is for spite.

Since Obama took office, conservatives have felt slighted by republicans in Congress who’ve continually ignored their demands. In time they fought back and begat what eventually became the Tea Party. When the Tea Party didn’t get the job done they naturally latched onto the biggest bully they could find to muscle their agenda through – Trump. Trump promises the sun and the moon if they’ll just trust him. Never-mind the fact he has zero political experience and doesn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah.

Grover Dill & Scut Farkus from 'A Christmas Story'

Collectively, Trump’s supporters remind me of Grover Dill, the smirking toady of school yard bully Scut Farkus in ‘A Christmas Story’. To Dill, Ralphie (in this case liberals and RHINO’s alike) are weak sheep who deserve the political pummeling they’re about to receive and Trump is just the ruffian to dish it out. Grover’s out for revenge and isn’t afraid to talk smack, but careful to stay firmly behind the bully. The curious thing about most bullies however is they’re really just big babies who run home sniveling when you turn and give them a taste of their own medicine.

Like Ralphie, I’ve had enough of this thin-skinned, can-dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it buffoon so yes, I’ll be blogging more about politics from now on. If you care about what I have to say then tune in here from time to time or follow me on Twitter for my thoughts on this great circus we call an election. It’s a long time until November and anything can happen but I’m hoping to add my voice to the growing choir of progressives, conservatives and even children who all agree Donald Trump should never, ever be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

Gif vs Jif: One Is My Name, The Other Is Not

Recently Apple released a new iPhone commercial and aside from the usual cool technology on display, the internet’s big take-a-way was that Apple came down on the side of the age-old debate of how to pronounce the image file format acronym Gif. According to Apple it’s pronounced with a hard G and that really surprised me. I realize the debate about what is “right” when it comes to Gif vs Jif will rage on for years, but Apple has a tendency towards respecting the rights and wishes of content creators and in this instance they have clearly failed.

Back in 2013, Steve Wichita, the creator of the Gif format supposedly settled the debate once and for all and told the world that the name is pronounced like the peanut butter. Regardless of how you personally feel about context or syntax or any other factor, Wichita’s wishes, at least to me, are the deciding factor.

I’m reminded of a scene early in Star Trek: The Next Generation when Dr. Pulaski pronounces Cmd. Data’s name incorrectly. Both pronunciations are technically correct, as is the case with Gif vs Jif (at least according to Webster’s Dictionary), but only ONE way represents Data’s actual name. When you choose to pronounce Gif with a hard G, you choose to disregard the wishes of the format’s creator, and that’s the main reason why I say Jif instead of Gif.

Lookback: The Best Gaming Mice of 2015

PC gaming is back with a vengeance and this means developers have churned out out some fantastically useful gaming accessories for players to enjoy. Making game controls faster and slicker are crucial to play feel and this past year’s range of top level gaming mice are the ideal accompaniment if you’re considering an immersive gaming experience.

Roccat Nyth

Roccat Myth Mouse

A slick mouse is a must-have for dedicated gamers, particularly those who multi-table or switch through online casino games or online slots at Royal Vegas. Never has a mouse allowed you to control as much as the Roccat Nyth. Thanks to its special selection of side buttons you are able to configure up to 36 potential combinations which gives more control over your favorite MMO’s or indeed any PC-based game you can enjoy. Its highly customisable features combined with AlienFX illumination and hot-swappable sidegrips makes this your next must-have gaming mouse.

Razer Naga Chroma

Razer Maga Chroma Mouse

It’s a bit more expensive than the Nyth but Razer’s Naga Chroma is great for those style hungry gamers looking for a bit of color in their lives. The mouse’s Chroma lighting allows the user to customize no less than 16.8 million different color options, brightening up any gaming experience. But it’s not just about looks, the wireless Naga mouse includes a tilt-click thumb grid and can run for up to 8 hours on a single charge.

Logitech G602

Logitech G602 Mouse

It may have a significantly low DPI at just 2,500 but what it lacks in mouse sensitivity it certainly makes up for in power. This offering from Logitech has in-game sensitivity switching and can last up to an incredible 250 hours making it the perfect gaming accessory for those avid gamers looking to make the most out of their MMO gaming marathons.

Roccat Kone XTD

Roccat Kone XTD Mouse

If you’re hunting around for a more cost effective option but don’t want to skimp on the quality of a finely crafted gaming mouse then look no further than the Roccat Kone XTD. With its ergonomic design and 8,200 DPI it’s by no means fragile and its robustness allows even the most frustrated player to give it a damn good tapping from time to time. It includes customizable buttons and also a 32-bit processor which is perfectly suitable for all your gaming needs.

If you love PC gaming, there’s never been a better time to invest in one of these high-tech input devices. Your team mates will thank you and your opponents will fear you. Enjoy!

Learning to Lighten Up

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Over the last few years I’ve developed a growing concern for Neil deGrasse Tyson’s seemingly inexorable slide towards Richard Dawkins levels of jerkdom. He hasn’t sunk to attacking children with a penchant for science or engineering, but he has been punching down at topics that either don’t bare close examination or has just been plain rude in his media appearances and it’s really starting to hurt my heart.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me he justified why he feels the need to call out movies & TV shows when they depict something wildly inaccurate and came off as a smug know-it-all in the process. As I was listening with my wife in the car, I was actually embarrassed to call myself a fan. I get that picking apart science inaccuracies wherever they exist (even in fiction) may be Neil’s “thing” but it increasingly just makes him look petty & arrogant or as my friend John Gruber described it on Twitter, a “Killjoy”.

Tyson’s friend and mentor, the noted scientist Carl Sagan, also led the charge against scientific fallacies but unlike Neil, he never picked fights with science fiction or subjects that didn’t deserve it. Sagan had a famous beef with the pseduo-science of astrology and often railed against it, but he did so from a position of authority on a subject that many people saw as fact, instead of the fiction it really was. If Twitter had been around in Carl’s day, I doubt he would’ve felt compelled to nitpick the science behind Star Wars as Neil recently did. We all know the “science” behind Star Wars isn’t real, can’t we just enjoy it as the fun-filled escapmism it’s intended to be?

It’s always difficult when you realize your personal heroes have feet of clay just like everyone else. I still love Carl Sagan, Steve Jobs, Gene Roddenberry and Neil Tyson despite their character flaws. They are, after all, only human. In the recently re-booted Cosmos series, Neil tells us that he learned from Sagan not just what kind of scientist he wanted to be, but also what kind of person he wanted to be. I wish Neil would take more of those life lessons Carl conveyed to him to heart sometimes and focus on what matters. I love Tyson so much, but lately he’s really bringing me down. To take a cue from Star Wars, hopefully he’ll unlearn what he has learned and learn to simply lighten up.

It’s Not a Tumor!

Apple's new extended life battery case

Today Apple introduced their new iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case and I feel pretty confident in saying it’s easily the ugliest piece of industrial design to come out of Cupertino in the past 15 years. While their efforts to bring iPhone users extended battery life are laudable, for the life of me I can’t imagine how this clunky eyesore of a case got all the way through design to arrive in Apple’s product line up.

Even worse, it seems as though the design and engineering teams at Apple forgot to talk to each other because the new case seems like a perfect opportunity to make use of Apple’s much-touted terraced battery technology. When the new Macbook was introduced, Phil Schiller made a big deal (and rightfully so) about how every millimeter of space in the new Macbook was able to be used to expand the total battery capacity. But looking at the new Smart Phone case, it seems like all that incredible design research just went out the window. The bottom and top of the battery bumps on the new case could have been terraced to both maximize battery capacity and at least try and display some elegant lines instead of what we got.

terracebattery

There are times when, for the briefest of moments, lose faith that Apple knows exactly what they’re doing. It doesn’t happen often but there’s no doubt the new case is going to be the object of ridicule and rightly so. As I sit and ponder just how bad this case looks, I just can’t get Arnold’s hilarious line from Kindergarten Cop out of my head. Apple missed an important opportunity to tout new technology in a stunningly beautiful way.

Click Me. Just Once. The Answer To Annoying Click-Bait

These days click-bait is everywhere. Those oh-so-tempting headlines that promise amazing facts that will blow your mind and keep you in the know. Even the BBC, renowned throughout the world, and thought of as highly as the British royals themselves has fallen for the lure of the click-bait sirens. Yes the British Broadcasting Corporation is now producing content entitled a ‘certain amount of reasons we must do something’, trying their darndest to feed us “life hacks”.

We’re living in a world where even the Beeb are trying to capture us with cheap, over-egged headlines. It should come as no surprise that the main culprits lie with the likes of The Daily Mail and Buzzfeed however.

clickbait

You can hardly miss it, and one brand who has taken a stand is Ladbrokes Bingo. They’ve created a clever answer to click-bait with the Lingo Bingo generator to poke fun at the ridiculously over-the-top posts that are plaguing our collective web browsers.

Their headline generator allows users to generate Facebook, Daily Mail, Hollywood, Reddit and Buzzfeed titles with dozens of different headlines to choose from, putting to shame national newspapers and widely read sites with posts that are equally as unbelievable.

clickbait_headline

With titles such as ‘Lauren Goodger narrowly avoids torrential rain’, now you too can join the click-bait parade and openly mock the horrendous nature of stories hitting the web. And while ‘How to pick your nose like a pro’ remarkably hasn’t yet appeared on Buzzfeed, it feels right at home on Lingo Bingo.

It really is depressing how plagued the web has become with these kinds of fluff-filled headlines, but perhaps the most worrying part is we wouldn’t really be surprised if they actually hit the press or at least became the basis for Onion articles. At least for now we can take solace in fooling friends with our own home-grown click-bait shared via social media ourselves. After all, who wouldn’t want to catch all their followers with a finger up their nose?

How Modern Game Engines Are Improving Mobile Gaming

Batman_Arkham_Full

The widening selection of game creation tools available to mobile developers have come a long way in improving players’ experiences when gaming on the go. Game engines are special software frameworks designed to augment the strengths of modern gaming hardware and aid the rapid development and creation of new and exciting titles. Modern game engines contain all the necessary tools for developers to be able to create their kick-ass games more quickly and easier than ever before and the results have been impressive.

Thanks to the advent of smartphones, tablets, phablets and now wearables like Apple Watch, the monetary worth of the gaming industry is enjoying exponential growth. The mobile gaming market alone is predicted to hit $9 billion in 2016. The convenience of playing both casual games like mobile bingo, as well as pulse-pounding, hyper-realistic racing games have all helped the industry set new records. With the continual improvements of next-generation of gaming platforms and quality titles like Splatoon and The Witcher 3 to go with them, gamers are enjoying a bright future packed with high-quality titles from a host of publishers, and powerful engines are driving their success.

The Unreal Engine has long been a favorite among developers and has been responsible for helping to create such popular titles such as Batman: Arkham City Lockdown, Injustice, Borderlands Legends and the Infinity Blade series. To date, the Unreal Engine 3 has been installed on some 2.25 million computers worldwide and comes complete with an integrated Unreal Editor suite which has helped revolutionize the way developers build and develop their mobile game projects.

Plants vs Zombies title screen

For PopCap Games’ popular tower defense game Plants vs Zombies and OMGPop’s rather addictive mobile app Draw Something, the Marmalade SDK helped provide the facility and resources needed to create cross-platform C++ games.

The software development kit gives developers the ability to compile their Xcode and Visual Studio projects for Android or iOS which helps cut development costs while widening their potential audiences at the same time. Marmalade also provides an acceleration tool called Marmalade Quick which provides an even more flexible, open environment for developers to experiment with. This is particularly useful for those companies looking to get their games up, running and monetized more quickly.

Other game engines such as Unity can make 3D development a breeze whilst the Corona SDK helps solves issues of cross-content publishing giving developers more freedom to concentrate on other aspects of their games.

There’s little doubt that the modern state of game engine development now offers something for every type of game developer and this means more and more players are reaping the rewards. From casual to hard-core and everything in-between, these advanced tools in the hands of talented studios can only lead to every-higher quality mobile gaming experiences. What a great time to be a gamer!

Taking Stock of Your Online Subscriptions

picture of woman entering credit card info into her iPad

With the impending launch of Apple Music this week, it dawned on me that I don’t exactly know just how much I’m spending on digital subscription services. Back in the day I had physical newspapers & magazines show up on my doorstep every month so it was relatively easy to keep track of what I had subscribed to. Those bound, blocks of paper acted as reminders of what I was and wasn’t reading. Subscriptions these days can be tricky things; sign up for a Patreon here, add a new online media service there and pretty soon you’ve lost track of just how much you’re shelling out for the convenience of online content.

The new Apple Music service will cost $9.99 a month / $119.88 yearly but I already subscribe to iTunes Match which costs just $24.99 a year. Do I really need both? There are additional benefits that Apple Music offers that go beyond iTunes Match of course, but is it worth it strictly from a cost basis?

Before I can answer that question I really need to know just how much I’m spending month to month on all these things, so I went through and tried to catalog all of my digital subscriptions. Here’s what I found.

• MLB TV $129.99 yearly
• Netflix $8.53 mo / $102.36 yearly
• America’s Test Kitchen Multi-site Membership / $69.96 yearly
• iTunes Match $24.99 yearly
• Patreon $8.00 mo / $96 yearly
• iCloud 20GB Plan .99¢ mo / $11.88 yearly
• Angie’s List Basic $7.99 yearly

So in total, I’m currently paying $347.17 annually in online subscriptions which breaks down to roughly $29 per month. Overall that’s better than I expected, but then again these are only the subscriptions I could track down or remember I was paying. There are probably a few others I haven’t accounted for yet. I wonder if the amount of content I’ve subscribed to is below or above average for today’s consumer?

Are there subscriptions I could cancel to help get the new Apple Music service into my budget? I’m definitely considering ending my America’s Test Kitchen subscription for instance. The two Patreons I subscribe to (Kurzgesagt & Apple World Today) may not be necessary, but they bring me awesome content every month that I enjoy and wish to support. There’s no way I would ever ditch Netflix, it’s one of the best content providers I’ve ever had.

In the end, switching out my iTunes Match subscription for a year of Apple Music would bring my monthly total up to around $37 or $442.06 annually. That’s an increase of roughly 27% of what I’m currently forking over which seems like a lot at first glance. Will Apple Music be worth it? As I don’t currently subscribe to any streaming music services like Spotify or Beats, it’s pretty much impossible to say, at least for now. The good news is Apple is offering that infamous 3-month free trial when it launches on Tuesday so I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking advantage of that to evaluate the service.

If you’re cost conscious or on a budget and have not taken stock of your online subscriptions recently, now might be a good time to do so. Knowing just how much you’re spending each month can really be an eye-opener that will help you make informed for future subscriptions. At the very least, this exercise has taught me to categorize all of my online subscriptions similarly in Mint so I can easily review what I’ve subscribed to. Lastly, the folks over at iMore have also put together a fantastic guide to Apple Music that answers every question you could possibly have. Hopefully this all helps you as much as it helped me!