Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

Well, it’s better than the first one. It’s pretty sad that a movie set in this universe has come down to that for a one-sentence review, but here we are. First though, my history with this franchise.

When I was about six years old my dad rented from the video store the 1977 Rankin/Bass animated Hobbit movie. Sometime afterwards I watched the Rankin/Bass Lord Of The Rings film as well, but I didn’t actually read Tolkien until the summer before the Peter Jackson Fellowship Of The Ring film was released. I borrowed a copy of The Hobbit from a college roommate and was instantly hooked on the world. After reading that book I bought a hardback edition of the complete Lord Of The Rings. I read the novels. I saw the Peter Jackson movies. In fact, I saw Fellowship Of The Ring five times in the theater in 2001/2002! I absolutely love Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings. If any of the movies are on TV I’ll sit down and watch the whole thing. That’s why Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies have, so far, been such a disappointment.

When it was announced that The Hobbit would be made into three massive Lord Of The Rings-length movies I knew the writing was on the wall. LOTR is a massive, detailed, dark work of writing. The Hobbit, which was written earlier is a quick, light read aimed at children. The Rankin/Bass cartoon movie is 90 minutes long and manages to convey all of the major events of the book. So why the need for what will wind up being a twelve-plus hour cinematic experience? The short answer is that it’ll make a lot more money for Warner Bros. that way.

Peter Jackson loves The Lord Of The Rings, that much is evident. The LOTR movies do a better job of staying close to the books (especially Fellowship) than probably any other film adaptation. There are some liberties taken, but with the exception of Faramir they’re fairly minor. The problem is that while Peter Jackson clearly has great reverence for LOTR, he doesn’t seem to have much at all for The Hobbit. It’s really best to think of Jackson’s Hobbit movies as his own prequel series to LOTR that is roughly, and at times only loosely, based on the novel “The Hobbit”. To be sure, some of the changes incorporate things that Tolkien wrote later, but Jackson has also fabricated characters and events completely.

It’s true that making a movie adaptation of The Hobbit after LOTR presents some challenges. Lord Of The Rings is dark and drawn out while the Hobbit is lighter and more kid-friendly. A straight adaptation might not have met the expectations of audiences familiar with the LOTR films but not the writings of Tolkien. The problem Jackson runs into with stuffing the Hobbit full of LOTR foreshadowing is that the films are tonally unbalanced. You have goofy scenes like the dwarves washing Bilbo’s dishes in the first Hobbit film alongside really dark and scary scenes like Gandalf’s confrontation with the Necromancer in Smaug.

I also wonder if Jackson felt compelled to add more LOTR scenes because there’s so much less at stake in The Hobbit. In LOTR the fate of the world rests upon Frodo and the fellowship while the Hobbit is really just a fairy tale about a band of dwarves out to reclaim their stolen treasure from a dragon. Nevertheless, I would much rather have seen an adaptation of The Hobbit that is at least as faithful as Jackson’s adaptation of LOTR and it makes me wonder if this might have been better if someone else had been chosen to direct it.

These movies feel bloated with unnecessary subplots and details. We don’t need Tauriel at all, much less her extremely unlikely love triangle. Legolas shouldn’t be here either. I think he’s partly in the movie because Jackson loves playing with the character, but mostly I think he’s there to help bring audiences back to the theater. The most cringe-inducing scene in the movie has Gloin showing Legolas a picture in a locket of his son Gimli. Give me a break! There’s also an unnecessary subplot about Bard being out of favor with the mayor of the lake town. While LOTR’s length was generally packed with relevant details and action and aided you in feeling the magnitude of the journey, the Hobbit movies just feel tedious and unnecessarily long.

Desolation Of Smaug also continues the use of silly and cartoonish action scenes that made the first Hobbit film so groan-inducing. In one part of the barrel riding scene a dwarf-filled barrel bounces around in pinball-like fashion killing several orcs. The end sequences with Smaug are ridiculous and seem there just to squeeze in more action and give the dwarves something heroic to do. The melting gold statue scene is just stupid.

But there are some good things about the film. The acting is top-notch. Martin Freeman is great as Bilbo and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect for the voice of Smaug, though having these two share scenes together makes it hard not to think of Sherlock and John. Likewise Evangeline Lilly, despite portraying a character who shouldn’t be in this movie, is quite good. There are also, once again, many beautiful shots of the New Zealand countryside and mountains, and the dwarves are all quite good when they’re not being given cartoonish action scenes, particularly Richard Armitage. Unfortunately all of the good elements of the film are outweighed by the bad.

It will take years for it to happen, but I hope one day someone does make a faithful adaption of The Hobbit. Until then, we can only hope for vast improvement in the final film in this trilogy.

Review - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is one of the most ambitious and impressive undertakings in cinema history. I doubt if anything so audacious has ever been done in film. Marvel/Disney have for years been weaving together their movies (and now TV series) together to make this incredible shared narrative.

It’s been massively successful and most of the movies have been good to very good. Perhaps my favorite character to emerge from the MCU is Steve Rogers/Captain America. Unfortunately both stand-alone Captain America movies have been bad.

Before I go much further I should say that I don’t come at this as a fan of Marvel comic books. Growing up I read very few Marvel books. I was a DC guy, particularly a fan of Superman. So when I go to see a Marvel movie I’m judging it almost entirely as a film. I doubt if I’ve ever read a Captain America comic book.

The character of Captain America as written is this naive caricature of a nationalistic do-gooder who sees things in black and white. It would be so easy for the character to be portrayed in a goofy, unbelievable way. What sells the character and makes him one of my favorites in the MCU is the actor that plays him, Chris Evans. Evans gives the character a level of complete sincerity, to the point you feel like you could follow him through a brick wall. I can’t imagine any other actor pulling this off so completely. Evans makes the character rise above the silly star-spangled costume.

While Evans is fantastic, the stand-alone movies he’s been put in have been atrocious. The problem for me is one of cognitive dissonance. Up until the movie Captain America: The First Avenger, the MCU had delivered us a world essentially just like our own, with heroes that you could almost believe could exist in the real world. Tony Stark was a wealthy weapons manufacturer who built a flying battle suit. Ok, there are similar, if more rudimentary, contraptions in real life. You could almost imagine Elon Musk actually becoming Iron Man. Likewise Bruce Banner as the Hulk is a scientist whose experiments with gamma radiation have unintended consequences. Even Thor was setup as an alien playing off of the Arthur Clarke maxim that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

So while I could suspend my disbelief that these heroes could arise (or in Thor’s case reappear) in the present day, my cognitive dissonance began with the first Captain America movie when the MCU literally re-wrote the real history of WWII. I didn’t mind the idea that the U.S. government covertly created a super soldier serum that turned a scrawny Steve Rogers with pluck into the ripped Captain America, but a massive army of ray gun-wielding Nazis was too much. And on top of that they were extremely goofy and cartoonish bad guys. Making matters worse, the ending was badly written.

Now probably that was all in keeping with the comics, but I wanted something that was a little more believable. Frankly, I loved the idea of a period comic book movie, but I really wanted The First Avenger to be a dark, gritty, realistic WWII movie along the lines of Battleground, only with Captain America.

While I liked The Avengers, it only caused my MCU cognitive dissonance to grow with the introduction of the heli-carrier, a flying aircraft character operated by the clandestine government agency SHIELD, headed by Nick Fury. It was definitely a cool ship, but completely unbelievable.

So going into Captain America: The Winter Soldier I actually had a lot of hope that I would enjoy the film. After all, the only MCU movie I considered bad was the first Captain America film (I haven’t yet seen Iron Man 3 or Thor 2), so the odds were I’d enjoy it. At least they were done with the goofy Nazis with ray guns, right?

It’s hard to summarize the plot of this movie because it’s so complicated and has so many different moving pieces. I was so confused after the first forty-five minutes that I knew I would need to watch the movie again just to understand everything that was going on (I haven’t done that yet).

Steve Rogers is beginning to feel uneasy about working for SHIELD. He’s not sure if he can trust Nick Fury and doesn’t find find the battles he’s fighting as clear cut as they were to him in his WWII days. Meanwhile the bureaucrat that Fury reports to (Robert Redford) is building a clandestine fleet of heli-carriers/satellites that will identify and eliminate perceived threats before they lead to terrorist attacks. But there’s more! Nick Fury is attacked and nearly killed by commandos led by a mysterious dude called the winter soldier with a fierce mechanical arm, leaving Steve Rogers, Black Widow, and a new hero called Falcon to try to figure out what’s going on while simultaneously evading SHIELD and the Winter Soldier. When eventually we learn that Hydra (the ray gun Nazis from the first movie) not only wasn’t wiped out but in fact covertly infiltrated and co-opted SHIELD decades ago and is now behind Redford’s heli-carrier plan I groaned internally. I really thought we had moved past those guys.

Part of my problem with Iron Man 2 was that Iron Man once again faced off against a guy in an Iron Man-like suit. Can’t Iron Man fight a different kind of foe? Similarly, must Captain America battle Hydra in every movie? Why can’t Captain America fight a bad guy in a robot suit and Iron Man battle some other kind of bad guy? You get the point.

I did actually kind of like making SHIELD the bad guy. They’ve always come across as creepy and Big Brotherish and even have a Naziesque emblem. It would have been really bold for Nick Fury to have turned out to be a bad guy, but apparently he’s one of like twenty SHIELD agents who actually weren’t working for Hydra. I also like the idea of incorporating real-world concerns like government spying, drone attacks, and pre-crime into the plot, though a good deal of that social commentary is spoiled by making the goofy Hydra responsible. In retrospect Star Trek Into Darkness actually did a better job at handling social commentary and it was a much worse film overall. In the end SHIELD is apparently disbanded (which I suspect has big implications for the SHIELD TV show) with the handful of good SHIELD agents now working for other, equally sinister real-world government agencies to round up all the Hydra agents they can find.

Another thing that bugged me is how little the Winter Soldier actually played into the plot of the movie. They really should have called the movie, Captain America: The Shield Falls or Captain America: A House Divided. Something like that. Basically the Winter Soldier turns out to be Steve’s friend from WWII brainwashed into being a Hydra/Soviet operative, and they definitely foreshadowed his potential bigger involvement in upcoming MCU films, but he really wasn’t all that crucial to this film.

I also have gotten really frustrated with the tendency for Hollywood blockbusters to go over the top with massive CGI set pieces. Think the heli-carrier in The Avengers was a little over the top? Deal with three of them in this movie! To paraphrase Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, “Your CGI artists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Contrast Winter Soldier with the first Thor movie. The latter essentially took place entirely within a small southwestern town! In general I prefer these movies when they’re smaller and more grounded. Another accurate title for this film could have been Captain America: ‘Splosions!

There were also a lot of movie clichés in this film. The final sequence where the Winter Soldier tries to stop Captain America from inserting the control chip into the heli-carrier’s computer core was extremely similar in plot and look to the scene at the end of Serenity where the parliament operative tries to stop Mal from sending out the regime-toppling broadcast in the transmission computer core thingy. There’s also a scene where the Hydra controllers are counting down to bringing the heli-carriers’ weapons systems online that is comically similar to the Death Star coming in range of the rebel base at the end of Star Wars.

Now for some little gripes:

Scarlett Johansson’s acting is incredibly wooden. Based on what little we know about Black Widow and her past she’s a character that should have some interesting nuances, but Johansson plays her like she’s carved from stone.

I know they can’t assemble the Avengers for every situation, though they could have used them here, but why couldn’t they at least have had Hawkeye? He is, like Black Widow, an actual SHIELD agent after all. Is he a Hydra operative too? The movie never tells us, but it would be a good thing to find out.

I almost laughed out loud both times characters used a laser torch to escape from a vehicle. A laser torch that can cut through the roof or floor of a car? I can see that. But also cutting through several feet of asphalt, rock, and whatever else is under the car? That’s just goofy.

Another unintentionally comical scene involves Black Widow removing a digital face mask she’d been using to make herself look like a different person. No movie should remind the audience of Mission Impossible II.

Look, I get that my expectations are probably a little off here, but I’d like to see the MCU movies stay a little more grounded, at least in the stand-alone films. I absolutely love Chris Evans’s portrayal of Captain America, but he’s only contracted for a couple more movies. I fear we may never get to see him in a good Captain America film, and that’s sad. Still, I’m looking forward to Guardians Of The Galaxy. And Marvel’s got some upcoming competition from Fox’s new X-Men film. Yes, X-Men is a Marvel property, but they don’t own the film rights to the franchise. X-Men: First Class was one of the best comic book movies yet, so I have high hopes for the sequel.

The Downfall Of Sherlock

Warning! Massive spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk!

After watching seasons one and two of Sherlock for the first time a year or two ago I proclaimed it possibly the best drama I’d ever seen. While I still hold those first two seasons in extremely high regard, season three has significantly dinged the series’ reputation. The first two episodes featured a mix of the usual great writing alongside some mildly bothersome moments, but it was the last episode of season three, His Last Vow, that really sunk the ship. More on that later. First, some relatively minor things that bothered me this season:

While the series has always featured comedy and a focus on Sherlock and John’s relationship, season three featured too much of both. When held in the right balance with detective part of the show, this really helps draw the viewer into the characters and stories. In season three the writers definitely oversteered away from the mystery and toward the comedy and relationship. Episode one spends a lot of time (understandably so) dealing with how Sherlock reveals to John that he’s back and how John copes with this shocking news. The way Sherlock attempted to tell John by drawing a mustache on himself and pretending to be a foreign waiter was goofy, and felt like something from a Marx Bros. movie. It was totally out of character for Sherlock.

I was also mildly bothered with how the writers clearly weren’t interested in explaining how Sherlock survived what appeared to be a fall to his death from several stories up at the end of season two, though I held out little hope that they actually would. Maybe season two was planned to end the way it did all along as part of some grand scheme, but it really felt like one of two things happened: 1) they didn’t think they were ever going to get a chance to make more episodes, so why not end the series as shockingly as possible or 2) they just wanted to shock the audience for the fun of it with no care for explaining the how of it. Either way, if you left season two thinking there was no reasonable way for the writers to explain Sherlock’s survival, you were right. That kind of cheating the audience is disrespectful. I would have thought the Lost finale debacle would have made writers think twice about that.

But all of that pales in comparison to the crime against the characters wrought by the writers in the final episode of the season, His Last Vow. (I’m assuming if you’re still reading you’ve already seen season three. If not, turn back now!) Having John’s wife turn out to be an ex-CIA assassin seemed ridiculously cliched. This series has led me to expect far better writing than that. And then they attempted to explain the ridiculousness of that away by saying that John somehow subconsciously knew what she was and is drawn to that because he has a dark past. Pscho-babble rubbish.

Then there’s the Mind Palace. It was introduced in a previous season but way too much time was spent depicting it in season three, particularly in His Last Vow. It was sort of interesting having Sherlock sort out how he was going to survive the gunshot wound, but the scene dragged on way too long. Then later on in the episode we learn that Mary, an expert shooter, intentionally shot him in a location that would be survivable, making the earlier scene with his struggle to survive kind of pointless. The Mind Palace got completely farcical when we learned the bad guy had a Super Mind Palace which included a Terminator-like red print-out in his field of vision that fed him data about his victims.

But of course you know where this is going. The absolute worst thing this episode did was make Sherlock into a murderer. The bad guy defeats Sherlock quite soundly in a game of wits, and Sherlock’s response is to murder the bad guy by shooting him in the head. He did this ostensibly to protect John’s wife from prosecution. What bothers me most about this (though doesn’t surprise me) is that this doesn’t seem to bother most viewers. We’ve gotten to this place in our culture where our moral compass is so skewed that we’re ok seeing our on-screen heroes murder people as long as the people they murder are “bad”. To make matters worse, the guy Sherlock murdered wasn’t even that bad. He wasn’t himself a murderer. He wasn’t even a terrorist with his finger on the button. He was a tabloid mogul who happened to have dirt on John’s wife. Sherlock murdered a man to prevent him from using his knowledge to aid in the prosecution of John’s wife, someone who (based on the hints the episode gave us about her past) is quite deserving of prosecution. And there wasn’t even a quip by Donovon about how she was right about Sherlock snapping and crossing the line eventually. Awful, awful.

As a postscript let’s talk about the return of Moriarty. They really painted themselves into a corner with the season two cliffhanger in part by having Moriarty (apparently) commit suicide by putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) because Moriarty is the original arch nemesis in fiction and 2) because Andrew Scott’s interpretation of the Moriarty character was so original and compelling that you hated to see the character go. That’s why I wonder if the writers thought season two was the end of the series. Fortunately for the viewers (I guess), Moriarty made an appearance at the very end of His Last Vow, though we don’t know yet whether he’s still alive, or maybe just back in the form of a computer program left by the real Moriarty. I guess we’ll find out in season four. If he is still alive, don’t expect these writers to do you the decency of clearly explaining how.

I plan to watch season four, but I won’t go into it with nearly the anticipation level I had coming off of season two. Now Sherlock’s nothing more than a petty murderer.

Tags: Sherlock TV

Falling In Love With The Mac

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Macintosh, and Apple has made a big deal about it on their website, and threw a big bash on their main campus in Cupertino, California. Apple’s anniversary website even has a section asking fans about their first Mac. In honor of this I thought I would share the story of how I first fell in love with the Mac.

Sometime in the late 90’s I saw a documentary on PBS. While I can’t be sure, I think it was Triumph of the Nerds. That was my first introduction to Steve Jobs, and I was immediately intrigued by this man who was clearly passionate about the computer, something that I had always considered fairly sterile and appliance-like. Around the same time I saw a picture of the original Bondi Blue iMac in a magazine in the waiting room of my doctor’s office and from that point on I knew I had to a have a Mac.

At the time I was convinced I wanted an iMac, and I began learning all I could about Apple and the Mac. I started eagerly looking forward to each new Apple event so I could watch Steve Jobs take the stage on a postage stamp-sized QuickTime Player window. It was so refreshing to see a computer company that was passionate, and opinionated about its product. The very things that repulse many about Apple drew me to the Mac like a moth to the flame.

When the iBook was unveiled I decided to abandon my desire for the iMac and go for the portable instead. After all, I was about to go to college, so a laptop seemed like the thing to get. I bought an iBook Special Edition in the summer of 2000 with graduation money. It’s color was Graphite and its specs are laughable by today’s standard: 800x600 display, 6 GB hard drive, 64 MB of RAM, and a single USB port.

It was a little rough being a Mac user in the pre-OS X days. Ridicule was a common reaction to being seen with a Mac. If only I’d known then just how successful Apple would be in the coming years.

Tags: Apple iBook Mac

Instapaper Is Free This Week For iOS

I’ve written many times before about how much I enjoy (and how I use) Instapaper. Apple has named the iOS app its “App of the Week”, which means it’s available for free through December 19th. If you’re on the fence about whether or not this would be a useful service/app for you, get it now while it’s free!

Apple Adds ABC, Crackle, Bloomberg, and KORTV To Apple TV

Apple sent Apple TV owners a Christmas present yesterday in the form of new content apps/channels. After years with little change to the offerings on Apple TV, Apple’s been very aggressive in bringing new content partners onboard this year. Here’s what’s new:

ABC - When I first learned there was new content available on the Apple TV, this was the app that most excited me. My wife and I are loyal Castle viewers, but we’re never able to watch live. We’ve long relied on the ABC app for iPad to watch the latest episode a day or two after the fact. It does allow you to AirPlay it to the Apple TV, but we all know that’s not as satisfying as being able to go right to an Apple TV app. Unfortunately, this app is a major letdown for cord-cutters like us. In order to watch shows on the ABC Apple TV app you have to have an existing cable/satellite TV plan. The fact that I can watch Castle via AirPlay from the ABC iPad app but can’t watch it on the native Apple TV app shows fear and uncertainty on ABC’s part. The industry has taken some nice small steps toward embracing the shifting tide in the content distribution game, but there’s still a long way to go.

Crackle - Like ABC, Crackle has long had an iOS app that allows AirPlaying to the Apple TV, but because there wasn’t a native Apple TV app I’ve rarely used it. Now I’ll actually use this service from Sony. Unlike the ABC app, Crackle’s content is (at least as far as I can tell) available to watch for free with no activation required. There are commercials, but I think that’s a worthy trade-off for free content. Like Netflix it’s not necessarily going to have the movie you’re looking for, but it’s going to have a decent, rotating mix of titles. This is a particularly nice addition to the Apple TV for those who don’t have a Netflix or Hulu Plus subscription, but even for those who do it’s a nice supplement.

Bloomberg - Bloomberg too has long had an AirPlay capable iOS app, so a native app seemed inevitable. This international-news-with-a-financial-bent channel is a nice complement to Sky News and WSJ Live, and also free to watch, including live streaming.

KORTV - KORTV broadcasts Korean television online. As you would expect, it’s mostly in Korean, but there’s also at least one English channel on the service. It’s a mix of free channels and paid premium channels, as well as on-demand content. This looks like a great service for those who are fluent Korean speakers and/or are from Korea, but I would imagine this is also a great learning tool for those who are learning the Korean language. What a great way to immerse yourself in the language/culture without the expense of travel. Even though I don’t know the language, I think it’s neat to have access to video content from around the world. I’d love to see more international content for Apple TV in the future.

Apple Adds Christmas Stations To iTunes Radio

I thought about adding the word “finally” to that headline, but I could just imagine John Gruber frowning at me if I did that. Still, it seems like an eleventh hour addition to iTunes Radio. I was getting worried that they weren’t going to add Christmas music, or that they were part of that “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving” crowd. I’d been checking every few days for the last few weeks, and as recently as Friday tweeted that iTunes Radio was still missing Christmas music. I’m not sure when Christmas stations first started popping up in iTunes, but they seem to have added some since I first spotted one this morning

Right now, if you click on the + button to add a station and search for the word “Christmas” you’ll get:

  • The Sounds Of Christmas
  • Children’s Christmas Holiday Sing-A-Long 

Search “Holiday” and you’ll get:

  • Holiday Hits
  • Holiday Classics
  • Latin Holiday
  • Soulful Holiday
  • Rockin’ Holiday

The search function seems to not be fully up-to-date, because up in the “Featured Stations” section there’s also a Country Holiday station. Feel free to leave a comment if you see a Christmas station I missed, and I’ll try to update this list if I spot any new ones.

It certainly came later in the game than I would have liked, but Apple seems to have given us a nice variety of Christmas music to choose from in iTunes Radio. Happy listening!

PBS And Yahoo Screens Come To Apple TV

After years of uncertainty about the Apple TV, Apple has over the course of the last year or so been adding new content sources here and there. It’s sporadic, and usually unexpected. It’s also not the app store that I and many others pine for, but it’s something and something not insignificant. Some of these releases are better than others. Today’s update is pretty good because it’s all free stuff. Note, this is a soft update. You won’t have to run the Apple TV’s built-in updater to get the new “channels”. Just fire up your Apple TV and you’ll find PBS and Yahoo Screens (I refuse to insert the exclamation point).

The awkwardly named Yahoo Screens is interesting. People my age and older likely think of Yahoo as a search engine, but in the last decade it’s pivoted into being primarily a content and services company. Though it had never occurred to me that Yahoo would develop an Apple TV channel, it really was an inevitable development. Some of it is original content, including Yahoo Sports material, but it also includes video content from brands like SNL, Comedy Central, and Martha Stewart. I haven’t spent a ton of time diving through it all, but it seems to be all short videos. It’ll be interesting to see what Yahoo adds to this over time. In a way it’s sort of like Yahoo’s own Apple TV within an Apple TV.

The more interesting addition to me was that of PBS. Like one of the paywall channels you have to activate the PBS “app”, but it’s free, at least monetarily. You visit and plug in a code that appears on your Apple TV’s screen. You then either create a PBS account or sign in with your Facebook or Google account and you’re all set. However, your email address will be sent to your local PBS station, so you can be sure to get emails about pledge drives, etc. In return you get access to a ton of full-length PBS content with some short clips mixed in as well. The app sort of feels like it’s not fully developed however. I noticed several shows that had no content. I can only assume they’ll fill that in later. One very cool thing about the PBS app is that it gives you access not only to their national programs, but also programs produced by your local PBS station. Mine automatically found my two nearest PBS stations and I selected Nashville Public Television. What’s neat about that though is that after you activate the PBS app you can go to the app’s settings and plug in a different zip code to presumably select any PBS station in the country. I plugged in a Tallahassee zip code and got WFSU and WGTV, the two PBS stations I watched growing up in North Florida. Being able to switch stations at will is a really nice feature, and I hope it never gets taken away.

Some Brief iPad Air Impressions

So far I’ve only had a few moments with the iPad Air, but it was enough for me to see what I needed to see. I wasn’t particularly interested in the quality of the camera or the speed of the A7 processor. I’m sure they’re both impressively better than the previous generation. No, I was primarily interested in how the iPad Air looks and feels.

When I switched from a full-sized iPad to an iPad mini last December I was blown away not by how small the mini is, but by how large the big iPad suddenly felt to me. It’s fair to say the mini ruined the bigger iPad for me. For months before the iPad Air was announced there were rumors that the full-sized iPad would adopt the iPad mini’s thin bezel and that it would see a reduction in weight. My question was, would it be enough to bring me back into the large iPad fold? In short, I don’t know. 

Much was made of how light the iPad Air is, and this is reflected in the name. I wasn’t wowed by the weight, which is still heavier than the iPad mini, but that’s because I’ve been toting around a mini for almost a year. If you’ve been lugging around a big iPad for any length of time, you’re going to appreciate the weight difference. You can (barely) hold it in one hand, still one of the best traits of the iPad mini. On top of that, with the narrower bezel, it feels like a smaller device in a good way.

The biggest thing I don’t like is the “blingy” look the iPads have taken on. The bezel has a shininess too it that I don’t particularly care for, especially on the white models. Along with the gold iPhone 5s, the newest iOS devices have a little too much of a “jewelry” look for my taste.

That aside, these seem like great advancements in the iPad line. I can’t wait to see the iPad mini with Retina display in person. Apple’s made it tougher to choose which iPad is right for me, and that’s not a bad thing. Both models are compelling, and it really just comes down to which screen size is more appealing to you.

The Atlanta Braves Are Leaving Turner Field

When my wife told me today that the Braves were moving to Smyrna, a few thoughts crashed through my brain all at once. Was nearby Smyrna, Tennessee getting a Braves minor league affiliate? That would rock! Then I thought, are one of the Braves minor league teams moving to Smyrna, Georgia? Gwinnett hasn’t been at its facility for very long, so that couldn’t be it. Then I learned that what’s really happening is that the Atlanta Braves are planning to move to a new ballpark to be built just outside of the Perimeter near Smyrna, Georgia. When that realization sank in I can tell you that I have never been more stunned by any sports news in my life. I was in shock.

I’m very much a newbie when it comes to Major League Baseball. Like every other kid I collected baseball cards, but didn’t follow the sport. I grew up hundreds of miles away from the nearest MLB team in a town where college football was the dominant sport. I did attend several college baseball games as a kid. I married into a family of Braves fans in 2004 and quickly grew to love the sport and the Braves. Turner Field is the only home of the Braves I’ve ever known. I’m more than a bit sad that in 2017, if all goes according to plan, the Ted will be little more than a memory. That said, I’m not inherently opposed to the idea of the Braves moving to a new location, but I do have three major concerns:

1. Taxpayer Funding. Unfortunately this is the way of things when it comes to major sports facilities these days, and while I won’t boycott a team because it takes taxpayer money, I’m not happy about it. Public financing of ballparks makes professional sports organizations and their owners into poor financial stewards. After all, why save up to pay for facilities upgrades or a new facility when you can get someone else pay for them? The problem is, that someone else is the taxpayers. At best the idea comes up for a vote in a public referendum. All those who vote against the measure still get their money forcibly taken from them against their will. The county is planning to steal money from its people and give that money to rich businessmen, and that’s not right. Plus, what’s to stop the Braves from holding Cobb County or some other county or city for ransom in another fifteen or twenty years for another facility or massive upgrades. Though I’m sure there was probably some smaller amount that he would have been willing to spend, I do applaud Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed for saying no to the Braves. From the AJC:

We have been working very hard with the Braves for a long time, and at the end of the day, there was simply no way the team was going to stay in downtown Atlanta without city taxpayers spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make that happen.

It is my understanding that our neighbor, Cobb County, made a strong offer of of $450M in public support to the Braves and we are simply unwilling to match that with taxpayer dollars.

2. Losing A Historic Location. While Turner Field is relatively young in ballpark years, it sits adjacent to the location of the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium where the Braves had played since moving to Atlanta nearly fifty years ago. Between the two ballparks there have been World Series games played, division championships clinched, champaign celebrations, and (oh, yes) the shattering of Babe Ruth’s home run record by Hank Aaron. When the Braves leave South Atlanta, they leave all that history behind. Not a deal-breaker, but I sure wish they’d find a way to preserve that location. I at least hope they somehow maintain the 715 monument.

3. Losing A Great View. Turner Field’s location affords game attendees a fabulous view of the downtown Atlanta skyline. You’ll still be able to see the skyline from the proposed new location, but it’ll look a lot smaller and more distant. That’s one of the true joys of visiting Turner Field now. Will it really feel like the “Atlanta” Braves when you’re sitting across the street from the Cumberland Mall?

They say all good things must come to an end. The new ballpark isn’t scheduled to open until the 2017 season. Hopefully I’ll get to spend a few more afternoons at Turner Field and take my kids there for the first time. Thanks for the memories, Ted.