Lumia 930 after two years

Previously:

Reading back through those old posts, it’s clear I was never really happy with the Lumia 930. Right from the start it was a compromise, because I didn’t want to splash out on a brand new flagship phone. For the first year I was able to convince myself that it was a worthwhile tradeoff. More recently I have been loathing every minute I spend with it:

  • The MSN Health app was disabled a few software updates ago, and the few compatible walk tracking apps in the Microsoft store are buggy pieces of ad-serving garbage.
  • The Life360 app I had been using for cross-platform location tracking (we’re a mixed platform household) has been discontinued for Windows Phone. I can download an old version, but it crashes on startup.
  • The built-in Podcasts app I complained about last year has gained even more bugs. It still sometimes keeps playing when I ask it to stop. But now it also regularly just stops playing audio after a couple of minutes, and when I press “play” again, it resets to the original start point.
  • The camera has got slower. There is now a regular pause between me pressing the button and the phone actually taking the picture. I could forgive this when it took a while to acquire focus in low-light conditions, but now it happens in broad daylight as well.
  • The automatic upload to OneDrive regularly fails to start, and skips photos. I have to check each batch to make sure that all photos and videos have all been uploaded correctly. When they haven’t, I have to connect the phone to my Windows PC and extract the data the old-fashioned way, because neither Microsoft nor Apple care enough to make the Lumia recognisable to OSX.
  • No ad-blocker for the Edge browser. Browsing the web with ads is just awful.
  • With no new first-party phones, Microsoft has made it pretty clear that the Windows Phone platform is dead. The software ecosystem, which was never that great to begin with, is dying. I don’t use many productivity apps, but I miss having basics like 1Password.
  • It confuses the heck out of people when you hand it to them and ask them to take a photo or a video with it.

I got the faulty camera module repaired under warranty last year, but it took about two months. During that time I went back to a cracked-screen iPhone 5. It was fine, but I’m too used to a big screen to go back to something so small again.

After two years, enough is enough. Until now, I have always taken Abi’s hand-me-down iPhones, or bought non-flagship phones (Android or Windows) that offered good value. Abi isn’t lusting after this year’s new iPhones. I am. I always find it easier to spend money on other people, but screw it. I can afford it, and I really want a phone that will make me happy. The new Google Pixel phones are due out soon, but I’m happier with the iPhone software ecosystem. So that means I’m going to get an 8 or a X. As Ron Swanson may have put it:

Why not? I like the kid and I have the money. One thing I promised my self when I buried gold in my backyard is that I would never be a hoarder or a miser about it.

Or as Tom Haverford would have it: “Treat Yo Self”

Mixed media, Sunday 17 September 2017

Films:

  • Baby Driver: Excellent
  • John Wick 2: Repeat of the first film with different locations, and many more intriguing glimpses into the mythology of the underworld of assassins he wants to escape. All set up for film 3.
  • Wild: Lovely emotionally raw performance by Reese Witherspoon; lovely cinematography.
  • Straight Outta Compton: Excellent. Thoroughly absorbing performances by the O’Shea Jackson Jr and Jason Mitchell especially.
  • Split: I enjoyed this. Signs and The Village soured me on M. Night Shyamalan some time ago, but good word of mouth brought me back to Split.
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: Visually spectacular with some amazing action sequences, but flat characters and a slow, dull plot let it down. It’s about 45 minutes too long for the story it’s trying to tell. Pack this into 90 minutes, and it would have been amazing.
  • In the Blood: I love Haywire, also starring Gina Carrano. It’s obvious that she’s not a great actress, but with the right direction and editing she’s a great action hero. In The Blood doesn’t have great direction or editing. Still watchable enough, but disappointing in comparison.
  • Miss Sloane: Jessica Chastain is fantastic as a super hard-nosed, high-powered lobbyist who switches sides to fight for a cause she believes in. This could have been chokingly cynical or unrealistically hopeful, but the film manages to walks a careful line between the two, and succeeds brilliantly, largely because of Chastain’s performance.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge: it has pirates, and it has revenge.

TV shows:

  • 12 Monkeys season 2: Could use to pick up the pace a bit.
  • The Magicians season 2: Much less interesting and focused than season 1.
  • Agents of SHIELD season 4: This season had three big 6-8ish episode story arcs (knitted together) rather than a single season-long arc. It felt like a set of 6-issue comic book volumes, and I enjoyed that. The different arcs allowed lots of varied character development. Would like to see this continue.
  • Rick and Morty seasons 1 and 2: I watched the very first episode some time ago and didn’t enjoy it. Alex and Fiona persuaded me to persist, though. I’m hooked now.
  • The Defenders: Apparently I watched this.
  • Orphan Black seasons 3-5: Not as good as the first seasons. The layering of conspiracies all gets a bit much, and when it turns out everything is being run by a single Dr. Moreau-ish cartoon villain it pretty much lost me. Tatiana Maslany’s performances remain amazing throughout, though.
  • Parks and Recreation seasons 3-4: Enjoying this a lot.

Books:

(I read quite a lot of books over the summer holiday.)

  • Bryant and May and the Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler: Good. (Not a great introduction to the Bryant and May series if you’re looking for a starting point.)
  • The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross: Good
  • The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross: Excellent. I liked having Bob back as the viewpoint character. This volume reads as a gritty political espionage thriller.
  • Home by Harlan Coben: Myron Bolitar thriller – good.
  • Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil: Excellent, thought-provoking.
  • The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi: Reminded me of Star Wars episode 1. Think merchant guilds and trade disputes. Gets better towards the end, but not a solid hit for me.
  • The Scarecrow by Michael Connolly: solid thriller
  • Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid: solid police mystery
  • Out of Bounds by Val McDermid: solid police mystery
  • Monstress volumes 1 (Awakening) and 2 (The Blood) by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda: sumptuous art that is somehow both kawaii and eldritch at the same time. The setting is rich with lore and mystery. I appreciate its depth, but I’m not sure if I really like it, though.
  • Ms Marvel volume 7 (Damage per Second) by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa et al.: great addition to the series. The Doc.X arc is terrific.

Music:

I haven’t been exploring much new music lately. I started listening to Logic again after seeing him pop up in Rick and Morty on the episode “Vindicators 3: The Return of World-Ender”. I like the new album Villains by Queens of the Stone Age, and I’ve been listening to their whole catalogue on heavy rotation. They’re going to be playing the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 12 November, but I’m going to miss it because I’ll be in Scotland. (Not sure if I would pick up a ticket anyway. I’d love to see them at a smaller venue, but I’m feeling reluctant to splash out on big arena gigs.) The one real new thing that has stuck with me is Hip Mobility by Quindar, which I found through an article in Ars Technica. Ars doesn’t feature music very often, but Hip Mobility has a NASA and space theme, so they made an exception.

Scotland road trip with Alex, Saturday 17 June 2017

Alex in Kyleakin. Skye Bridge in background for scale.

On Friday 16 June Alex took his first solo (passenger) flight, from Amsterdam to Edinburgh. I had been in Edinburgh that week, and I was there to pick him up after border control. Our original idea for the weekend had included trips to Stirling and Aberdeen, but plans change, and we decided to take a road trip to the hilly bits instead.

We set out around 11:00 and drove up the A9 to Inverness. We stopped there for lunch and a wander around. On our quest for fish and chips, we found a spot just opposite a game store (Ellerium Games). Alex has been on the lookout for a specific Commander deck for Magic The Gathering, so we stuck our head in there after we had eaten. Nice shop, with a friendly bunch of people playing board games upstairs, but they didn’t have what we were after. We walked up to Inverness Castle, decided not to go up the tower, and returned to the car to figure out where to go next.

We still hadn’t seen much satisfyingly craggy mountains on the drive up the A9, so we headed further towards Kinlochewe. The further west we got, the wetter it was. We pulled off the road at a parking spot just short of Kinlochewe for view down towards Loch Maree, but most of it was obscured by low clouds and misty rain. We stopped for petrol just after the village. The shopkeeper told me that the weather had been much the same all day, and wasn’t any better further west. The Celtman extreme triathlon was taking place that day as well. (3.4km swim in Loch Shieldaig, 202km cycle, full 42km marathon including two munros.) He told us to watch out for soggy runners on the road.

Somewhere on the A896 between Kinlochewe and Torridon

Despite the weather and the low clouds, the scenery was still beautiful. We drove along Loch Maree, over to Gairloch, and stopped for a photo and to decide where to go next. We turned back to Kinlochewe and cut across to Shieldaig. Then we took the winding coastal road all the way to Applecross, and came back east again up over the Applecross pass. I remember doing that road as a kid in the back of my parents car, and finding it really exciting and scary. As we were heading over the pass, the low clouds meant that we could hardly see twenty meters ahead or to the side. We couldn’t decide if that made it more or less terrifying. Despite the lack of scenery, it’s still a nifty little road. Must go back again in better conditions.

On the coastal road to Applecross. I suspect that Alex hates this photo, but it makes me very happy.

At Strathcarron we could have gone north-east or south-west to start the big drive home. We went south-west and took a minor detour to Kyleakin on Skye, just so we could say we’d been there. (I had never been to Skybe before.) It was 9 o’clock by that time, and we hadn’t had anything substantial to eat since lunchtime. We pressed our nose against the glass of a restaurant, but the menu didn’t really appeal to Alex, and taking a long sit-down break would mean it would be really late before we got back home again. Instead, we turned back around and stopped for road snacks at the Co-op in Kyle of Lochalsch. We stopped against shortly after that as we passed Eilean Donan. Even though the light was fading, you can’t pass it and not take some pictures. But after that it was pretty much just a hard drive back to Pethshire. We got back around 01:00, and staggered straight to bed.

Eilean Donan, because why not.

It was a great trip. Alex and I spent a lot of time talking, and listening to music and podcasts. Alex played us a bunch of videogame theme music, and he introduced me to the Daft Souls podcast. My choices were some Hello Internet and the “Detonating the C-bomb” episode of the Allusionist. I did some estimating with Google Maps, and I reckon we did about 650km that day. It was a long drive, but I’d happily do it all again.

Mixed Media, Saturday 8 July 2017

TV:

  • Master of None, season 2: Just like season 1, I loved this. Funny and touching, with a difficult love story threaded through it all. It’s not “heartwarming” — it just feals real.
  • Orphan Black (seasons 1 and 2 so far): Just amazing. It’s a clever thriller series about human cloning, but its greatest trick is making you forget that all the clones are played by the same actress. Tatiana Maslany inhabits them all perfectly, and the show is completely matter-of-fact about it. It is never (or at least, very rarely) self-indulgent about getting multiple clones in the same shot. They do it when it is necessary for the plot, but otherwise it’s NBD. The story has to be good in its own right, and it is.
  • Archer, season 8: the first couple of episodes spent a lot of time establishing the new setting, and felt weak as a result of not being able to play on established relationships between the characters. It picked up after that, but was more restrained and less irreverent than earlier seasons.

Films:

  • Mississippi Grind: Good film, but very hard to watch. I found it agonizing to see the characters induldge their self-destructive impulses, wanting them to stop, knowing that they wouldn’t or couldn’t.
  • La La Land. Undoubtedly beautifully shot, but I found the characters bland, the story lacking in conflict and narrative drive, and the songs and dance routines weak. I hated the sound editing — some of the songs felt natural and embedded in the scene, whereas others were obviously lip-synced and jarringly artificial. Overall: disappointing. Bear in mind that Singing In The Rain is my all-time favourite film, and my standards for cinematic musicals might be unrealistically high.
  • Wonder Woman: Good, but disappointing that it ended with such a conventional “two dudes punching” superhero boss battle climax. (Even though one of the dudes is a dame.) I had hoped they would find a more interesting way to resolve the conflict. Still by far the best DC film since Christopher Nolan’s Batman run.
  • Burn After Reading: A perfect Fiasco scenario, and would probably have been more fun played that way. Watching it as a film: meh.
  • xXx – The Return of Xander Cage: I have no idea what that was all about, but it looked amazing.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Much less angsty than the previous Spider-Men, partly because with this reboot we don’t have to go through the whole origin story and Uncle Ben thing again — that’s taken as read, and we can move on with a real story. Tom Holland captures the perfect amount of sassiness and immaturity I expect from Spider-Man. Just as importantly, Michael Keaton as the Vulture is one of the most relatable antagonists the Marvel Cinematic Universe has provided so far, and he is rewarded with a suitable ending. The action is mostly low-key, rather than cosmic, which suits the characters. The only thing that didn’t work was the boat scene. I think that could have been much more effective if didn’t wrap up as cleanly as it did. Still: excellent.

Books

Music

Escape room

At the start of May when Susan was visiting we took a family trip to Amsterdam to do an escape room. We went to the “Wake up!” adventure at Questomatica on the Foelistraat. I don’t want to give away plot points, so I’ll just say that it was excellent. Alex has done an escape room game at school, but for the rest of us it was our first time. We’re all seasoned video game puzzelers, but the thrill of being right inside the puzzle was a great sensation. I don’t know if “Wake Up” is a representative example other escape rooms, but take on its own I thought it was well-constructed, challenging, with a theme that kept us engaged and excited all the way through. Highly recommended!