A Good Day to Dye!

Star Trek's Worf in rainbow gay pride uniform

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision struck down gay marriage bans in 14 states effectively making it legal for gay and lesbian couples to finally marry throughout the nation. The announcement sent ripples of rainbow-colored hope throughout the country and on social media. The hashtag #LoveWins quickly spread through Twitter and Facebook and people started updating their online avatars with the bright colors of the gay pride movement in a show of solidarity that I won’t soon forget.

I created the fun image above to help celebrate the historic announcement. Star Trek has always meant so very much to me, and like millions of others who grew up enjoying its themes of peace, diversity and tolerance, the image of proud, honorable Worf standing with his brightly colored rainbow uniform just seemed perfectly appropriate. I also love a good pun and hence I made it sew (see what I did there?).

On a more serious note, the momentous events of this week still have me in a hope-filled, optimistic daze. Obamacare being upheld for some 6 million Americans who rely on it for health insurance was much welcomed news but then the Supreme Court finally recognizing gay people’s right to marry was the proverbial icing on the cake. This has been a long, long time coming and there are some who didn’t think it would happen in their lifetime.

For opponents, the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage represents an unlawful power grab that defies the Constitution, but for the majority of the nation and the court, it represents just the opposite. The Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees that all US citizens are to be treated equally from state to state. Justice Kennedy’s closing paragraph stands as a pillar of legal and moral truth that gave me goose bumps when I read it:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

In their decision, the court didn’t construct a law giving gay people the right to marry, they simply struck down the state laws that were keeping Americans from being treated equally under the Constitution. They re-affirmed gays rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the rest of us sometime take for granted. For the religious-minded among us, the court was reminding everyone of the age-old proverb, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Return kindness with kindness. Respect with respect and love with love. What a wonderful time to be an American. Today is indeed a good day to dye.

‘Fury Road’ Inspired LEGO Creations

Fury Road LEGO

I love it when a movie, TV show or book takes hold in someone enough to inspire fan creations. I was skeptical when I heard all of the hype surrounding the new Mad Max film, but my fears were quickly buried in an awesome heap of twisted metal once I saw the film. A strange mix of classic action and modern, diverse storytelling, Fury Road really did live up to my expectations.

The film has inspired tons of art from fans from all corners of the globe and now comes these amazing LEGO roadsters from build master Calin (_tiler). I love every single bit of these builds especially the simple lines and bits of canvas and string used for the bedroll. Be sure to check out their Flickr page for even more amazing Mad Max vehicles.

These images take me right back to how I felt when I first saw the Kenner’s Landspeeder toy. I would spend hours in the sand playing with that thing until my mom would be forced to call me in for supper. It’s great how something so simple and fun can evoke the child in all of us.

Via Brother’s Brick

Creating the Ultimate Gaming Lair

There’s a lot more to gaming then just having the latest game play systems. Surrounding your arena with a plethora of luxurious gadgets can give you that all important edge in the heat of battle. If you’re thinking of pimping up your gaming space, then have at a glance at some of these fabulous extras:

Gaming Chairs

gaming chair

To kick off your lair you will certainly need to be comfortable. If you’re planning on being seated at your desk for hours on end, and you regularly find yourself involved in some epic gaming adventures that you won’t want to tear yourself away from, then you owe it to your butt and your back to feel relaxed. A gaming chair that offers neck and back support is crucial for arduous sessions but it’s not just any chair, it’s your throne and an entire gaming accessory in itself. High-end gaming chairs not only provide comfort but also boast integrated surround sound and rumble motion to further enhance your gaming experience and truly immerse you in the gameplay.

Monitors

The most important element to consider whilst piecing together your new gaming man-cave is the monitor. You may have picked up a PC or console that comes complete with its own monitor but that might not quite fit the bill. A tailored gaming monitor can handle rapid motions more effectively whilst high definition screens are built to promote wonderfully vivid colors. Ultra HD and 4K monitors are the best of the best but make sure that your games, and of course your graphics card and GPU’s, can even handle this sort of resolution. Swift monitors can help you master fast-paced games and, if you partake regularly at Sky Casino, they can help you harness skills like poker multi-tabling.

Game Pads

gaming keypad

Gaming keypads offer a much more versatile approach to controlling the overall gaming experience. Unlike the standard PC gaming keyboards out there, these more specialized alternatives give players a more ergonomic way in which to play their favorite games. They come with adjustable features that let you control palm and wrist support and some will include thumb mounted joysticks to further comfort and maneuverability.

Headsets & Headphones

Headphones are useful for two different reasons; to help you immerse yourself fully in the gaming environment whilst blocking out background noise and to ensure you don’t drive everyone else around you mad with the constant rattle of virtual gunfire. Headsets also give you the ability to chat and interact with other online gamers via an attached and mounted microphone with wired and wireless options available. There are a number of great options available, so many that it can sometimes be difficult to choose.

Apple, Take Me Away!

LoyaltyTagsRight before the annual developer pilgrimage to Moscone Center, the interwebs become flush with wish lists for Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference and this year is no different. I can’t quibble with my peer’s desires for Apple to focus on fixing bugs and increasing stability rather than adding new and shiny features, but there is one tiny area I’m secretly hoping will play a major role in iOS 9 – Apple Pay Loyalty Programs.

Without a doubt, Apple Pay has been one of the best advancements out of Cupertino in the last 10 years. It makes paying for goods and services generally quicker, far more secure and reduces the amount of “stuff” I need to carry around in my pockets. When it was announced, Apple hinted at upcoming upgrades that would allow retailers to offer loyalty programs and incentives if people used Apple Pay at their retail locations. That was then, and this is now.

Although Tim Cook’s Apple Pay has made impressive in-roads in the space, many retailers have remained skeptical and have refused to join in the secure fun either because they are lazy, cost conscious or can’t get access to the kinds of information that Apple won’t make available via Apple Pay – customer data. Retailers currently have no way to say to Apple Pay customers “If you buy from us, we’ll give you loyalty points you can use for a future discount!” and that’s a problem. As a consumer, I desperately want to reward businesses that make my financial transactions more secure and I want them to recognize my choice by giving me the kinds of incentives I’ve come to enjoy over the years.

Like me, you probably carry around loyalty cards on your keyring or wallet that the cashier swipes when you check out at the grocery store. I hate these things desperately, they need to die a violent death. I absolutely love paying for my lunch via Apple Pay at Panera Bread, but I wince when I have to reach for my wallet to hand the cashier my Panera card just so I can get credit towards next month’s free cookie. It makes no sense.

If there’s any single thing on my wish list for this year’s WWDC, it would be for Apple to give me the ability to never have to carry loyalty/reward cards around ever again. With Apple Pay, Cupertino has made good on its original Passbook promise – A safe, secure and digital wallet without the physical wallet. I’m really hoping that they’ve found a way to integrate loyalty programs into Apple Pay for iOS 9. Doing so is good for the consumer, for businesses and ultimately the economy as paying for stuff electronically gets easier and more secure. Now if I could just get rid of my car’s key fob. Maybe one day.

UPDATE: BINGO! At today’s WWDC keynote address Apple unveiled that they will be adding merchant rewards cards to Apple Pay with iOS 9. Yes Virginia, sometimes dreams do come true!

You Will Adapt Your User Interfaces to Service Us!

picard_firstcontact

Everywhere you look, more and more people feel they are entitled to something they’re not. I and others have written about the obscene level of entitlement some users feel is owed them when they download apps from the App Store, and to be sure this is still a huge problem today. Lately however, I’ve been observing another form of app entitlement and honestly, it has got to stop – iPhone 6 Plus users who think all interfaces should be designed to both fit their jumbo phones AND still allow one-handed use.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 6 Plus and it’s enormous 5.5″ screen, it clearly filled a much-needed gap in the iOS universe. Users had been clamoring for more screen real estate for years and when it finally arrived, they rejoiced. Over time however, these users have developed a sense of entitlement that the apps they run should place all controls at or near the bottom of the screen where they can be reached by the thumb. Sorry, but like Captain Picard in First Contact, I’m drawing a line in the proverbial sand. No, iPhone 6 Plus users don’t get to dictate interface design for the rest of us.

Like it or not, buttons at the top of the screen are not going away any time soon. Developers need every bit of screen real estate to logically lay out controls consistently across a host of device ranges and configurations. From the tiny iPhone 4 to the popular iPhone 6 and the iPad there’s a method to our madness. It might seem like a great idea if every single button, tab, actionable element and control were within thumb’s reach, but that simply isn’t possible, nor is it actually desirable.

When Apple developed iOS, the experts charged with designing its interface laid out regions of the iOS screen for specific interactions. Since the entire navigation stack generally flows from left (where you were) to right (where you are going), the button for closing or going back a level is at the upper left. Creation of new content or taking action on that content, like adding a calendar event or sending an email or a tweet, is usually found at the upper right. Tab controls can be either at the top or the bottom, though generally they are usually found at the bottom. In this way, a user who picks up an iPhone 4 has a reasonable expectation that similar types of controls will appear in similar places when she picks up an iPhone 6 Plus. This helps maintain usability and UI consistency for all apps, not just those that run on jumbo phones.

screencontrols

There are ways that developers can help facilitate one-handed use when it’s appropriate. The swipe to go back gesture is a great innovation Apple introduced back in iOS 7 and is a thumb-saver on larger phones. Many apps no longer require you to reach up and tap “Back” to go back, you can simply swipe from the left edge of the screen to navigate back one level. Apple also implemented Reachability (double tap the Home button to lower the entire screen temporarily) to help reach interface elements at or near the top of the screen. But for some users, these gestures are simply not enough. The thing they forget is that by opting for a large device they gained a huge, highly readable screen but they also sacrificed some level of UI convenience. iPad users have been dealing with this trade-off for years, that’s the nature of the beast, like it or not.

When I first heard about the rumored existence of the iPhone 6 Plus and its huge screen, I wondered how Apple would reconcile its long-held tenet that one-handed use reigned supreme with that of it’s upcoming larger device. Apple even built an entire marketing campaign around the advantages of smaller iPhones vs their larger Android counterparts. But when the Plus was released, Apple quickly abandoned that philosophy in order to sell millions of 6 and 6 Plus’. Funny how that happened.

The problem with these users is that they often think like the Borg – they want the best of both worlds – larger screens and an interface that lets them use every app one-handed. As someone who designs for the screen, I’m here to tell them that until humans evolve longer thumbs that simply isn’t possible. At some point (iOS 10?) Apple may come up with a completely new interface paradigm for iOS, but in the meantime it’s best if they start dealing with reality. Whether it’s assimilating Starfleet personnel or playing with your apps, sometimes you just need to use two hands.

Four Innovations I love in Gaming

FarCry4_1

A lot of times, particularly where technology is concerned, we’re so focused on the future that we forget to enjoy the present. With ridiculously capable laptops, tablets, and smartphones at our disposal, many are looking ahead with hope to Iron Man-style hologram displays. With powerful cars setting new standards for safety and efficiency, we’re seeing advertisements for driverless vehicles. And in gaming, many seem to be turning their focus toward wearable, virtual reality options that will no doubt be widely available in a matter of years—not decades.

That’s all well and good, but as a bit of a gaming nut, I like to focus more on the present and what I can play today. Furthermore, there have been some pretty great innovations—some small, others large—throughout the gaming industry in the past few years. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed in particular.

The Spread Of Open World

Open world gaming is nothing new, but the concept has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. A decade or two ago, a video game employing an open world format felt unique and special. For example, pretty much the only thing that made Skyrim remarkable (in my opinion) was the sheer size of its world. Well, now it’s just about the standard for action and adventure games. Look through this list of the 12 best open world games, and you’ll find a lot of releases from the past couple of years, such as Far Cry 3 and Grand Theft Auto V. To some extent, the concept has even extended to mobile platforms, with Minecraft Pocket Edition now offering a limitless world creative option!

Narrative Gaming

Narrative gaming is nothing new on the console level, other than that it’s gotten better. Not long ago, it was a common complaint among gamers when a game attempted to be too cinematic in nature, but that’s because it was usually done via interspersed, non-playable graphic clips used to move the story along. This is still a problem in some titles, but generally speaking most now have natural, free-flowing narratives that make them more interesting. Even in sports games, “My Player” and “My Career” modes let you play out the story of an athlete or franchise. The trend toward sharper narratives is also particularly prevalent in app gaming, where indie developers like Simogo focus as much on story as action. In my view, this is a positive trend.

Live Dealing & Interaction

This is a trend that exists primarily in the casino gaming industry. Given that this industry now occupies a significant portion of the video game business as a whole, it still feels noteworthy. Live interaction is nothing new. The best online casino sites allow players to face live competition, and even some of the popular poker and blackjack apps, most of which operate with play money, allow for live online games. But one fascinating trend that I first noticed here is the idea of using an actual video feed of a live dealer in roulette and card games. Naturally, this concept makes the games feel a great deal more realistic. While there’s not an obvious parallel in non-casino gaming, the implications of using a live feed in gaming are interesting. One can imagine in-game video chats with other players, Google Maps feeds of real geographical areas, etc. helping to make other games more realistic.

Retro Appreciation

And finally there’s this, my single favorite trend in modern gaming. As mentioned, we have a tendency to always look forward when it comes to technology. But thanks in large part to new-ish formats of gaming, such as mobile app stores and console download stores, there seems to be a broad recognition of retro games going on. In part, we see it through the continuation of old, beloved franchises, with the most relevant example being the coming Street Fighter V PS4 game from Capcom. But mostly, the retro appreciation is seen in apps and downloads. On modern consoles, players have access to huge libraries of old games, either for free or for just a few dollars. In app stores, we can play with all kinds of old characters such as Sonic the Hedgehog, the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat fighters, and so on. According to ZDNet, we may even soon have a Mario game or two available on iPhones! This is a trend any serious gamer can get behind.

Valar Morghulis – The Return of Game of Thrones

The new season of Game of Thrones premiers on HBO in just 8 days, on April 12th, and I simply cannot wait. Season 4 was my favorite so far and with the introduction of new characters like the Sand Snakes and Alexander Siddig as Prince Doran Martell, I firmly believe season 5 will be even better. I eagerly await catching up with all my favorite characters, visiting new locations and enjoying the memorable iconic phrases highlighted in this wonderful GoT supercut. Winter is coming, my friends!

Mr. Spock and I

So many wonderful things have already been written about Leonard Nimoy on his passing this week. I’ve been awash in stories about his life, his contributions to our popular culture and his humanity, but I keep coming back to what he’s meant to me these many years.

I could write a book about Leonard’s portrayal of Mr. Spock but I’ve decided to record my thoughts in audio form instead. Just a couple minutes to try and summarize why I loved him so much, on saying goodbye and an amazing, chance encounter I had with Nimoy as a teenager, growing up in New England. This life-long fan will miss him dearly.

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘Shore Leave’

ops_shoreleave_full

Some of my favorite episodes of classic Star Trek feature plots that venture from science fiction into the realm of the surreal. The series wasn’t afraid to take chances with stories that seemed strange and fantastical, even for Star Trek’s standards. Episodes like The Savage Curtain, Catspaw and Shore Leave all feature elements that, at least initially, can’t possibly make any sense adding an air of other-worldliness that was Star Trek’s hallmark.

When the crew of the Enterprise survey a lush planet in the Omicron Delta region, the place quickly presents itself one of those “strange, new worlds” Kirk highlights in the show’s opening narration. McCoy spies Alice and the Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Sulu finds an ancient Colt revolver and Captain Kirk meets Finnegan, an upperclassman who tormented him endlessly at Starfleet Academy and a long lost love named Ruth. Both people from Kirk’s past can’t possibly be on this planet far from Earth, yet here they are in all their nostalgic glory.

Things get even more bizarre for the landing party when Don Juan shows up and Doctor McCoy is seemingly killed by a dark knight on horseback. The crew eventually discovers the entire planet was constructed so that its creators could come and visit and live out any fantasy they choose simply by thinking about it. One of the planet’s caretakers appears at the conclusion of act IV (accompanied by an alive and well McCoy) and suggests that with the proper precautions, their playground planet could just be what the exhausted Enterprise crew needs to relax.

I love many aspects of Shore Leave, especially how this episode set the stage for the creation of the holo-deck in Star Trek: The Next Generation – a place where you could go and magically experience anything you wished in an instant. The playground planet featured prominently in another episode of Star Trek: The Animated SeriesOnce Upon A Planet, and as you might expect, the crew encounters difficulties then as well.

Our one perfect shot from Shore Leave comes just as Kirk discovers his old adversary, Finnegan, leaning boyishly against a tree. The fantastic nature of his appearance, how director Robert Sparr decided to present him to the audience is wonderful. I always wished we had learned more about Finnegan, perhaps in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, but alas, that never materialized.

Next time Spock gets his first taste of command under extreme circumstances in “Galileo Seven”.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

Managing Movie Expectations

bighero6_banner

One of the problems of living in the age of social media and hyper-connectivity is that it’s become quite difficult for me to manage my expectations of TV and movies. The longer I go before I decide to buy a ticket to a new film or commit myself to watching a new television show, the more I find the opinions of those I follow on Twitter or Facebook color my opinions of it when I finally do experience it. Try as I might, it’s nearly impossible to keep my own expectations in check when the people who’s opinions I value the most tell me “It’s the best movie of the year!” or “OMG, that was a stinker!”

I resisted seeing the mega-hit Frozen for months after its release, but the hype surrounding the film simply became so great that when I finally bought it on iTunes and watched it, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Here was a different kind of fairy tale with no central love story to speak of and a landmark song that everyone and their dog was making parodies of, but I must have missed something because I just didn’t find Frozen that fabulous. Similar experiences happened when I got to the theatre to see PIXAR’s Brave and just recently with Disney’s Big Hero 6.

I’ve been hearing for months how awesome Big Hero 6 was and truth be told, it’s a pretty good film. It’s full of heart and off-beat characters, but for all the raving I’ve seen on Twitter and the internet about it, I just didn’t go ga-ga. The story is one we’ve been told a thousand times and it’s obvious appeal to the base instinct kids have of controlling giant robots and becoming super-heroes turned me off. I also don’t personally think it’s a better animated film than The LEGO Movie which got passed over for Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon: 2 by the Academy Awards, and that is a true shame. I also don’t have kids of my own, so I think it’s fair to say many parents watch and rate these types of movies through the eyes of their children, which makes total sense.

It’s gotten to the point where I purposefully try to convince myself a movie will be bad so I’ll be pleasantly surprised when it’s not. This probably sounds silly, but most of the time it works. When the re-booted Robocop came out in theaters, I knew it couldn’t stack up to the original and convinced myself I was wasting my money going to see it. Turned out that was the right mindset because I came out of the theatre happy. Not for what the movie was but for what it wasn’t – a complete and utter train wreck.

Television shows are a bit of a different beast thankfully and my opinion of them changes and varies over long stretches of time as I watch them. Everyone was telling me that the CW’s superhero series Arrow was one of the best shows on TV, but honestly much of the first season is merely meh. I stuck with it however, and I’m glad I did because the series quickly picked up steam and has become a personal favorite of mine. Season 2 truly is great and I definitely agree with what my friends from Twitter were telling me all along. If you’ve not checked out Arrow on Netflix, give it a go, it’s pretty great.

In the end, the only person who decides if you like a particular movie or television show is you. The opinions of critics, the general public and even your close friends can only hold so much weight. The trick is learning to balance the overwhelming scale of today’s social media with those of your own likes and dislikes. There’s absolutely no question that our personal expectations color our movie and TV going expreiences. I think the trick is to recognize that fact and try and not let it stand in the way of keeping an open mind and having a good time. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself :-/

The TARDIS Takes a New Trip

I love it when fans make awesome contributions to the shows they admire. I also love that technology has reached a point where anyone, with enough skill and the right hardware, can create special effects sequences that rival the series’ actual production quality. Enter this unique, fan-created dematerialization sequence for the BBC’s Doctor Who. I’ve watched it half a dozen times already and I love it to death.

Back before series 8 aired, another fan posted his take on the iconic opening credits for the show that featured elements like spinning gears and clock faces. He did such a wonderful job of it, the producers adapted his creation into the official title sequence for Doctor Who starring Peter Capalidi. It’s wonderful when show runners treat the love of their fans as an asset to be nurtured instead of a threat to their intellectual property. So who knows, perhaps we’ll see a sequence like the one here in a future episode as the Doctor and his companion make their way across time and space.

Star Trek: Next Gen Wallpapers for iPad

iPad_LCARS_Hero

A few months ago I released several iPhone wallpapers that Star Trek fans have really been enjoying. The response to these LCARS-style graphics was tremendous and almost immediately I started receiving requests for iPad versions of them. The problem was there’s no way to design a square LCARS wallpaper that works both in portrait and landscape mode on the iPad. All of the major elements on-screen (the time, date, slide to unlock & camera icon) are positioned differently when you rotate your device.

A big part of the charm of the iPhone LCARS wallpapers is that the iOS elements flow right into the design and become part of it, but this just isn’t possible to do with a single image for iPad. The solution was to not even try and to design separate wallpapers that can be used in either landscape or portrait, not both. The result is the landscape Next Gen iPad versions I’ve created here. I may create portrait versions at some point, but the majority of iPad owners use the device in landscape mode primarily so that’s what I went with.

I’ve been a huge fan of Star Trek Production Designer, Michael Okuda since day one and like the iPhone versions, this project is my ongoing way of saying “Thank you!” for the wonderful, futuristic operating system that Next Gen fans know and love as LCARS. With these new iPad versions, you can definitely feel like you’re using a real Next Gen PADD when you unlock your tablet, it’s super fun!

How to download and apply the wallpapers on iOS 8:

1) Click to view the version of the iPad wallpaper you like best:

• iPad landscape – Original / TNG Colors
• iPad landscape (Starship Schematic) – Original / TNG Colors

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) In the Share menu tap Use as Wallpaper

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

6) Turn Perspective Zoom OFF

7) Position the image so the Lock Screen’s date line is centered inside the thinner, red upper bar

8) Tap Set > Set Lock Screen

That’s it! Sleep/lock your iPad and the next time you activate it, you can pretend you’re Captain Picard himself receiving an important message from Starfeet Command. I hope you enjoy this fun treat & help spread the word via Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to visit my Goodies page to download other fun desktop wallpapers for iPhone, iPad & Mac. Engage and enjoy!

One Perfect Shot: Star Trek’s ‘The Balance of Terror’

The crew of the Enterprise gets their historic first look at the enigmatic Romulans as Kirk is called to defend a string of Federation outposts along the Neutral Zone. A mysterious ship that seems to posses the power of invisibility has been staging sneak attacks and it’s up to Starfleet’s finest to track it down and destroy her before the Romulans start an all-out war.

The Balance of Terror is notable for a number of reasons, but my favorite is that it introduces us to actor Mark Leonard as the Romulan Commander. Star Trek fans will of course know that Leonard went on to play Spock’s father, Sarek in ‘The Journey to Babel’ as well as in a number of other episodes of Next Generation and the movies. Our one perfect shot comes during the stealthy deep space battle between the Romulan Bird of Prey and the Enterprise. The battle itself was patterned after popular on-screen WWII U-Boat conflicts made famous in such films as 1958′s Run Silent, Run Deep.

I just love the look on the Romulan Commander’s face as he realizes he’s finally met his match in Captain James T. Kirk. The two Captains circle and spar like caged tigers, employing every maneuver and trick in the book to try and best each other and the result is one of fans’ top-rated Original Series episodes. The Romulans would return time and time again in episodes like ‘The Enterprise Incident’, but for my money, their first appearance was also their best.

Next time the crew of the Enterprise takes a holiday and gets much more than they bargained for in ‘Shore Leave‘.

Check out the entire series of perfect Star Trek shots to date.

How Broken is Discovery on the App Store? This Broken.

Much has been made over the years about how the App Store could be improved for both developers and customers. Areas like interactive reviews, trial periods, an App Store VP and paid upgrades are all important. One of the key areas many agree is the biggest problem Apple has yet to correctly address is discovery. For small developers like myself, a potential customer’s ability to find your app on the App Store is critical. If customers can’t easily discover and download your software, your app (and indeed your business) has little chance of survival.

The App Store now has over 1.2 million apps available to consumers and with such a wide range of products, it’s more important than ever people are able to quickly find and what they are looking for. Developers have known for years that searching for something in particular doesn’t always yield the results you’d expect, but often it’s downright ridiculous.

Take Twitterrific, the 3rd party Twitter client that my company, The Iconfactory, created back in 2007 and released on the App Store in 2008. Twitterrific was there at the launch of the App Store and the latest iteration, version 5, is available even today, seven years later. Despite many 3rd party Twitter apps going the way of the dodo, Twitterrific, Tweetbot and a few other hearty Twitter clients have survived and sometimes even thrived. This despite Apple’s search results, which bear little resemblance to what a typical user might expect when searching for a simple, straightforward term like “Twitter” on the App Store.

The following list was generated by a manual App Store (iPhone) search on Nov 15th, 2014 for the term “Twitter”. To make the list easier to parse, I’ve called out all apps that allow a user to directly read AND post to Twitter in bold. Everything else is either a game, a utility, or some other social network enhancement. The official app from Twitter is naturally the first result, but the next actual Twitter client (Hootsuite) doesn’t appear on the list until #20 and the next one after that comes in at #62. Even the mega-popular Tweetbot isn’t returned in the results until position #81 and even then, the older v2 of Tweetbot (for iOS 6) comes first. Where’s Twitterrific? Although it contains the word “Twitter” in the app’s name, Twitterrific isn’t seen in the list until you scroll all the way down to #100.

1. Twitter
2. Instagram
3. Framatic
4. Tweegrow
5. Pick Jointer
6. Happy Park
7. Crop Pic
8. Wayze Social GPS
9. Flipboard
10. InstaCollage Pro
11. Symbol Keyboard
12. Find Unfollowers
13. Cool Fonts
14. Symbolizer
15. Big Emoji
16. Get Followers
17. Framatic Mess
18. Alarm Clock HD
19. Textgram
20. Hootsuite
21. Emoticon Art
22. Textizer Fonts
23. 4 For Follow
24. Pixable
25. Just Unfollow
26. Unfollow for Twitter
27. ColorEffects
28. Photobooth
29. G-Whizz
30. New Cool Text
31. Google+
32. Step
33. Tweetcaster for Twitter
34. Vine
35. Camera Awesome
36. InstaEffect Effects
37. Emoticons and Emoji
38. TwitBoost Pro
39. PickGram
40. Insta Scrapbook
41. SpaceEffect
42. Orbs
43. MB2:YouTube
44. Facetouch HD Light
45. Paper Toss Friends
46. Vodio
47. Frame UR Life
48. HayWire Text Free
49. Nimble Quest
50. InstaCollage Pro
51. TweetBoost Pro
52. Right Behind
53. Emoji>
54. Follow Tool for Twitter
55. Color Cap
56. Emoji for iOS 8
57. Camera+
58. Emoji Emoticons
59. Text2Pic
60. Emoji 2 Emoticons
61. Fonts-Cool Font Maker
62. Echofon Pro
63. LiPix Pro
64. Alarm Clock HD
65. Smilebox Moments
66. Everypost for Social Media
67. Google Apps Browser Plus
68. Clipchat
69. VPN Express
70. ÜberSocial for Twitter
71. You Doodle
72. TweetBot 2 (iOS 6)
73. Stocks Live
74. Stocks Live Essentials
75. GameFly
76. Trendyful
77. Oz Quake
78. Buffer for Social Media
79. Yahoo! News Digest
80. Wefollow for Twitter
81. TweetBot 3
82. Photo Notes HD
83. Emoji Art and Text
84. Find Unfollowers Pro
85. Followers for Twitter
86. Follower Boost for Twitter
87. Color Effects FX HD
88. Double Ball
89. TwitGrow for Twitter
90. Twittelator Pro (iOS 6)
91. Emoji Art
92. TwitBoost Pro for Twitter
93. Jedi Lightsaber
94. Get Followers for Instagram
95. Aqua Emoji Keyboard
96. Bloomberg
97. Emoji for Messaging
98. Facely HD for Facebook
99. Timehop
100. Twitterriffic 5
101. IFTTT
102. FollowBoost for Twitter
103. Hyperlapse for Instagram
104. Freebie
105. PhotoFrame
106. Text Pics Free
107. Funimate
108. Followers + for Twitter
109. Emoji Keypad
110. Follower Plus
111. TweetBoost
112. Wow Followers for Twitter
113. Table Top Racing
114. TwitBird Free for Twitter
115. Singing Texts
116. Dice World 6 Free
117. Cool Frames and Picture Effects
118. Bamboo Wallet
119. JustFollow for Instagram
120. Twitter Check
121. TurboBoost for Vine
122. PhillyD Official
123. Hybrid Fonts
124. Mixgram
125. Color Zen
126. Keyboard Pro
127. Symbol Keyboard
128. Tweetlogix for Twitter

148. Echofon for Twitter

167. TweetList (iOS 6)

Every app in bold on this list should precede every other app (save the official client) in the results. This is especially true of apps that are not optimized for iOS 8, yet some apps built for iOS 6 (not iOS 7, 6!) come first. Why? Why games appear on this list at all is a mystery, they are by far the least relevant and don’t even get me started on #18 “Alarm Clock HD” and #93 “Jedi Lightsaber” (really?). Twitter’s own Vine app doesn’t appear here until #34 and some would argue it should be result #2, and rightfully so. It’s obvious that Apple’s search algorithm needs adjusting so it’s weighted not towards downloads or popularity, but relevance.

Finding apps for a small niche category like Twitter clients is relatively easy. Imagine how hard it must be to find a particular game in the vast wilderness that is the App Store if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Until Apple decides to take definitive steps to improve search results, either via human curation, or by lowering dependencies on popularity, easy discovery in the store will continue to be a major problem. Unfortunately for small developers who need paying customers to survive, time is quickly running out.

***

PS – One thing I learned while compiling this post is that there are a lot of apps that purport to help you boost your follower count on Twitter. Like tons. That and emoji apps. Who doesn’t like emoji though? :-)

PPS – One of the ways developers let Apple know that something is broken is by filing Radar reports for a given bug or improvement. Lots of developers have filed radars for the App Store’s irrelevant search results including Radar #18265234 from Simon Booth. In his report, Simon describes just how badly a search related to his music app Smilophone returns results. If you’re an Apple dev, dupe his radar, hopefully it will do some good.

Why ‘Gotham’ Is Awesome

gotham_banner

MINOR SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about general character direction, minor plot points, settings, etc. for Fox’s Gotham. If you know Batman lore, then you’re probably safe to read on, otherwise head back to the Batcave.

I consider myself a superhero fan, but not a super-fan. That is to say my love of the genre comes more from movies and TV than it does from knowing every little detail about a particular character’s origin, backstory and development. I haven’t read Batman comics since I was a kid and I don’t play the Batman video games. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why I’m enjoying Fox’s new show – Gotham so much. The show takes place in its name-sake city, just after the brutal murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and plays out like a gritty crime drama in the biggest, grittiest metropolis of them all, Gotham City.

Like Smallville that tracked the formative years of Clark Kent on his road to becoming Superman, Gotham gives us a sneak peek inside the young mind of Master Bruce Wayne, his guardian Alfred, Detective Jim Gordon and host of future super-villains that will one day make life a living hell for the denizens of Gotham. The comparison to Smallville ends there however. As is true so often, Batman’s story is far more interesting than Superman’s ever hoped to be. I’m a HUGE Superman fan but for some reason I could never could get into Smallville. On the other hand, Gotham has me firmly in its grasp. There are a bunch of reasons for this and I just wanted to outline a few of them here for people who are thinking about watching but who are rightly skeptical. The show just had its mid-season finale which, if you’ve not watched so far, is a great time to dive in and catch up.

Young Bruce Wayne & Alfred

Without Bruce Wayne, there’s no Batman and even though Gotham certainly plays out like a crime drama, full of colorful criminals, crooked cops and political corruption, at its heart the story is about how Bruce eventually becomes the Dark Knight. Perhaps more than any other entry thus far, Gotham gives us a unique insight into the mind of the recently-orphaned Wayne and what makes him tick. From the comics (and countless portrayals in movies & TV) we know Bruce’s parents are killed in front of him in cold blood, but from there we typically jump years ahead, learn how he discovers the Batcave, travels the world training in martial arts and eventually returns to Gotham to don the familiar cape and cowl… and that’s it.

With a weekly TV series like Gotham, writers have a unique opportunity to explore Bruce’s character like never before and show us why he changes from that frightened kid in the alley to the powerful, dark vigilante he’s destined to be. Bruce becomes obsessed with finding the person who not only killed his parents, but also learning about the crime network that made it possible in the first place. He quickly realizes he has the resources to keep tabs on just about everyone, laying the foundation for becoming a master detective in the process. He also begins to test himself, holding his breath in the family pool for as long as possible, balancing precariously on railings and more so he can become stronger both mentally and physically.

Perhaps most importantly, his legal guardian, the loyal Alfred, is there every step of the way to protect him and try and help him make sense of the tragedy that surrounds him. In subtle ways, Alfred unknowingly guides Bruce to become his future Bat-self. When Bruce is bullied at school, Alfred not only teaches him how to physically defend himself, but also makes it directly possible for Bruce to confront his attacker. All of these scenes give depth and meaning to the familiar struggles Alfred endures as Bruce fights for his life as an adult. In the universe of Gotham, Alfred has become the ultimate enabler and in my opinion, it’s the single best reason to watch the show.

The Rogue’s Gallery

Another awesome aspect of Gotham is the entire ensemble cast of characters and getting to explore the intricate web of relationships they have with each other, and ultimately Batman. The show’s primary focus on the fresh, young Detective, Jim Gordon is appropriate and Ben McKenzie does a fine turn as does Donal Logue as Gordon’s partner, Harvey Bullock. Gordon is the one good cop in a bad city which makes the monumental task of cleaning up Gotham seem even more impossible. There are crime bosses like the delightfully villainous Fish Mooney played by Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot played wonderfully by Robin Lord Taylor who steals more scenes than a pickpocket steals wallets.

gotham_villains

There’s a corrupt mayor, police commissioner, hired mercenaries and an odd assortment of crazies that Gotham just seems to breed like some twisted, evil puppy mill. It’s easy to see why the city needs a protector but until Bruce comes of age, Gordon must fill the role for the time being. Sometimes Gotham hits us over the head one too many times with the name of a character just to make sure we “get” who they are, but it’s a concession I’m willing to grant them at this early stage in the game.

Overall, the interplay of the large cast of characters is interesting and contains enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, which I like. I’m also looking forward to Morena Baccarin joining the cast as Dr. Leslie Thompkins after the mid-season break. Dr. Thompkins is an important figure in Gotham lore and should provide some much-needed matriarchal balance in Bruce’s tumultuous life. If there’s one criticism of the cast of characters, it’s that the producers rely a bit too much on the comics. I like meeting characters I’m not familiar with that have been created specifically for the TV show like Fish Mooney. Not every bad (or good) guy has to come from the comics.

Production Design

From the cavernous Gotham PD interior, to the on-location shooting in and around New York City, to the thoughtful costume design and especially the amazing CGI long-shots of the city’s waterfront, the visual design behind the Gotham is inspired. Perhaps more than any other TV show I’ve watched in recent memory, Gotham seems like an actual place. The city feels epic in scope and situated just perfectly between retro and modern styling (there are no smartphones, flat-panel monitors, etc) for today’s television audiences.

gotham_pd

Each week, Gotham looks and feels more like a film than a TV show. It also manages to strike a great balance between shots designed specifically for television but inspired by the comics. The city itself feels huge and sprawling and a character in its own right, which was one of the things I loved most about Twin Peaks, and that’s a good thing. I especially love the long, sideways tracking shots that give us glimpses down between the city’s towering buildings. The CGI and lighting in these shots is masterful and totally realistic. Gotham’s top-notch production design sets it far above other superhero TV entries like Lois & Clark, Smallville, and Arrow and makes the stories that much more convincing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s universe feels as fully realized as Gotham’s.

Conclusion

There are lots of great reasons to watch Gotham, but perhaps the best one is that the show manages to make perfect sense of the fantastical world of Batman. Watching the stories unfold and seeing how the characters evolve from week to week brings info focus the incredible mythos that is the Dark Knight. Bob Kane created a wonderful character in Batman 75 years ago, but in all that time we’ve really only learned a little about what motivates Bruce Wayne to do what he does as well as those who surround him. Fox’s Gotham shines a bright light in that dark corner of the comic book world and the results are fun, unexpected and visually stunning. I only hope the show lasts long enough to watch Bruce grow up into the hero he’s destined to be.

I’ve Got An ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Theory


SPOILER WARNING: This post contains spoilers for ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. If you’ve not watched up through S2, ep 6, back away from the blog post! I’m about to talk about stuff you probably don’t wanna know. You’ve been warned!

This season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has really been firing on all cylinders. After a slow and rocky start, the show started to really come into it’s own after the universe shaking events in Captain America: The Winter Soldier debuted in theaters. Since the fateful emergence of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s nemesis, Hydra and the subsequent dissolution of the agency, the drama has really been amped up for Coulson and his now, tiny, rag-tag team.

One of the best story lines we were introduced to at the start of S2 was Agent Jemma Simmons’ infiltration of Hydra in order to gain critical intelligence on their base of operations. Simmons (played brilliantly by Elizabeth Henstridge) worked as a scientist in one of Hydra’s top labs, flying under the radar of the big bads who, as we learned, have a penchant for brainwashing talented and gifted people to turn them into weapons against S.H.I.E.L.D. Jemma managed to feed intelligence reports to Coulson until she was discovered and rooted out in ep 5 – A Hen in the Wolf House. Thankfully she escaped unharmed and un-brainwashed – or DID she?

tumblr_mw7zn4HWc91qb4zcwo2_500

Here’s my theory – Before she escaped with the help of Mockinbird “Bobbi” Morse, I think Jemma was indeed seized and put through Hydra’s brainwashing program and turned into an eventual mole against Colson, May, Skye and even the now-damanged Fitz. There are a bunch of breadcrumb clues that will make this seem obvious later on. Firstly, Ward tells Skye in the brig that Hydra’s brainwashing is only done in special cases, they have to have a certain type of personality for it to take. Jemma has always tried to be a good agent, following orders and making her superiors proud of her, in other worse she’s perfectly suited to obey programmed commands.

Second, when Morse returns Simmons to the team, Simmons thanks Coulson personally for getting her out before she was made to “Happily comply with all their commands”. Unless I missed something, there’s no way Simmons would know about Hydra’s brainwashing program, let alone the key trigger phrase “You will comply”, unless she had actually been through it herself. Trust me, she’s been turned into a sleeper agent behind our backs, and it’s going to be awesome.

The writers of S.H.I.E.L.D. have demonstrated their willingness to pull the rug out from under us as they did with the fantastic realization that Ward was a secret agent of Hydra in season 1. I think they have something similar planned with Simmons in S2. I’m not saying she’ll re-join the ranks of Hydra permanently, but I do think her story line and that of her close friend, Fitz will intersect in a most dramatic way. At some point, Fitz is going to return to his fully-functioning self and wouldn’t it be the biggest kicker if just as that happened, he and the rest of the team was betrayed by the re-programmed Jemma? Fitz would go literally off the deep end, plunging even further than he did in that box at the end of season 1. The kind of dramatic climax that represents would be off the charts and one that would make for some seriously awesome TV. Or perhaps Fitz will realize Jemma has been brainwashed and his need to protect and cure her will finally coax his brain back into working order.

Any way you cut it, this season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up in fantastic fashion, with tons of action, hidden secrets and wonderful character development. I’ve enjoyed the addition of the new agents, Kyle MacLachian’s turn as Skye’s creepy father and Ward staying a bad guy and not being turned back to the side of right. I can’t wait to see what happens next, but in the meantime, I’ll be keeping one eye squarely focused on Simmons in the weeks ahead and so should you.

You Just Lost A Customer

News today that some businesses have begun disabling the NFC readers in their retail locations so as block customers from using Apple Pay. When I read this, I have to say it filled me with rage. I don’t yet own an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, but I will soon and one of the reasons why I’ve been looking forward to owning one is the secure, easy transactions that Apple Pay represents. Now we learn that a group of merchants wants to introduce their own payment processing system, one that favors the merchants by eliminating credit card fees, but is most likely far less secure, and most certainly more difficult or confusing to use.

If you’re an iPhone owner who’s as upset as I am, I’ve designed this helpful flyer that you can print a stack of and hand to the clerk at CVS, Rite Aid or anywhere else that refuses to accept Apple Pay. Simply put, you’re telling them that you’re going to take your business elsewhere until they come to their senses and accept your money via Apple Pay. Why any business owner would actually refuse a customer’s money in this economy is bewildering to say the least, but we need to let the corporate owners know we have choices and we chose not to give them our money.

Download the PDF version. If you want, sign your name at the bottom and then see they get into the hands of businesses in your area that insist on doing what’s better for them, instead of what’s best for the consumer.

You can also contact CVS and Rite Aid electronically and tell them that they need to support Apple Pay or risk alienating millions of iPhone users. The more our voices are heard, the harder it will be for them to ignore us.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Ollie!

While preparing for the onslaught of technical support that accompanies new releases of our most popular app – Twitterrific, I was curious about just how many updates we’ve actually released over the years. I looked back through the app’s version history as well as a fun timeline of Iconfactory software releases I created a few years ago to find this week’s 5.8 update is the app’s 50th since its launch in the summer of 2008.

If you had told me back then that we would still be coding and improving the little blue bird that could almost seven years later, I probably would never have believed you. Back then Twitterrific 1.0 was a fun, but unproven app for the then newly released iPhone from Apple. It was released along with the launch of the brand new App Store where users could browse hundreds (yes hundreds) of apps for their shiny new phones. At that time there was no official Twitter mobile client, I’m not even sure there were ANY other Twitter apps in the store at launch*.

Fast forward to 2014 and 50 updates later and we arrive at v5.8 for iOS 8. Given the rocky history 3rd party developers and Twitter have gone through the last few years, I’m honestly surprised we’re still here today. Over the years Twitter has focused more and more on controlling their own user experience and branding. This meant imposing design and interaction guidelines on 3rd party devs like the Iconfactory as well as capping the number of total users who can actually own Twitterrific. Thankfully, since Twitterrific was there at the very beginning, our token pool (at least on iOS) is quite large and we can afford to continue developing the app as long as it makes money. The same can’t be said for so many other smaller 3rd party Twitter developers who have either given up or sold their apps to other larger developers. One of the reasons why the Mac version of Twitterrific still hasn’t been updated is due to the limited number of user tokens available to us on the Mac platform, a policy I sincerely hope Twitter re-examines one day.

When I think of all the hard work, hand-wringing and ultimately, satisfied customers, Twitterrific has gone through over the years it really boggles my mind. Knowing that so many people use and love something you’ve created day after day is a wonderful feeling. You keep downloading and sending us positive feedback, and that motivates us to refine and improve the app. Twitterrific would never have flown as far and wide as it has if it wasn’t for all of our loyal customers, and for that we are truly thankful. If you’ve not tried Twitterrific in a while, I invite you to check it out. Everything old is new once again!

* There was at least one other 3rd party Twitter app in the store at launch – Twinkle.

Troubleshooting Broken App Store Downloads

For the past several weeks I was unable to download any app, paid or free, from the iOS App Store. Every time I tried, once I tapped the button to buy an app and input my iTunes password, the App Store would display the progress indicator as if it was about to download and then return to its default state. The app itself was never downloaded to my device.

At first I thought it was a temporary problem that would resolve itself. I tried restarting my iPhone and iPad (it was happening on both of my iOS devices) several times but that didn’t fix the issue. I tried signing out and back into iTunes via iOS Settings, but that didn’t seem to fix the issue either. I waited several days and tried again and again with no luck. My patience finally ran out and I made an appointment to see an Apple genius at my local Apple Store and thankfully he helped me resolve the issue. I thought I would share the steps he took with me for all those out there that might be having the same problem.

Here’s how he corrected the issue and got me back downloading apps on iOS:

1) Open iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > tap your Apple ID and sign out

2) iOS Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings

NOTE: This step will clear all of your current network settings including wifi passwords. You’ll have to re-sign back into all of your saved networks, but unless you have a ton of them, it really isn’t a big deal.

3) Restart your iOS device

4) Re-connect to your current network by re-entering your password

5) iOS Settings > iTunes & App Store > log back into your Apple ID account

If all goes as well as it did for me, you should now be able to download any and all apps from the App Store once again. Before you go through the steps of resetting the network connection completely, you might simply want to try logging out and back into your Apple ID first. The genius told me that this sometimes solves the problem, as does logging out and back into your account from another (different) device like a Mac.

Hopefully this process will work as well for you as it did for me and save you a trip to the Genius Bar. Good luck!