The plan: Finish writing chapter four today.

The reality: I realize a tertiary character who’s telling a story about a crew of shipwrecked adventurers needs to mention the name of their ship, so now I’ll spend who knows how many hours researching what it’ll allude to.

Mac OS Catalina still doesn’t have the System 7 technology to make Finder windows remember their size, position on screen, and whether they were in icon, list, or column view.

I submitted my iOS 13 update the morning after XCode 11 GM came out. It’s been “waiting for review” for a week now. I assume there’s a lot of work for reviewers, but it makes one nervous. I made very few changes but need time if there’s a rejection.

The Good Place: The Selection

The good news: There’s a The Good Place web series that bridges the gap between seasons three and four.

The bad news: It’s set in the Bad Place, by which I mean you have to watch it on a television network’s crummy website.

I’m guessing Apple TV+ will release shows all at once, Netflix style (aka the bad way). I think they’ll think their catalogue is too small to do weekly releases. Otherwise you’d sign up and have 1 episode of a handful of shows and that’s it. Would love to be wrong here.

I really like the point made on @KeanuPodcast about how gentle & genuine Bill & Ted’s is. The premise is a farce, but it asks you to believe, even if only for laughs, that art & the “be excellent to each other” ethos could make the world better.

Logic and Final Cut Pro having entirely different keyboard shortcuts for doing the same thing, cutting a trimming a clip, really messes me up.

Apple TV+ seems like a strange thing. There’s little about it that Apple can inherently do better than anyone else paying for shows to be produced. They’ll be good or they won’t whether they’re on TV+ or HBO.

I’ve written about this before over the years, and my feeling more or less hasn’t changed on what I’d like TV to become. I think the current exclusive-based business model is harmful in a way that was made illegal for movie companies 60 years ago.

Start by thinking about how someone in the future—say, an off-duty officer on the Starship Enterprise—might watch TV. Does our young ensign sit down at an LCARS console, choose between Space Netflix, Space Amazon, Space HBO, etc., navigate through some menus, and pick a show or movie? No. She just says, “Computer, play the next episode of Space Friends,” and it plays. Point being, this thing where we have to know what service a show comes from has to go.

Streaming music basically works like this now, and it’s pretty great. For me, the HomePod is more or less exactly what I wanted in a living room stereo. I ask it to play Van Halen and it does. If I want a specific version of an album, I can peck for it in my library, but generally Siri gets it right. Bands make records, their labels make deals with Apple Music, and I pay for it.

Of course we sorta had this with cable. You paid a monthly fee and you got all of the channels. Now it’s all on-demand but you have to pay for each different service and learn how to use each’s app. Yet I also don’t really want to pay for a universal streaming video service where the cost includes a ton of channels I’ll never watch. That’s why I ditched cable in the first place.

Rewinding quite a bit, in the old days of cinema, the movie business was broken into three parts:

  1. Production. The studios making the movies.
  2. Distribution. Taking the printed film and renting it to movie theaters.
  3. Exhibition. The movie theater.

Over time, the big movies companies started to own all three. They’d make a movie, distribute it themselves, and show it only in their own movie theaters. This was eventually ruled to be illegally anticompetitive. Any movie theater company had to be allowed to show any movie regardless of what studio made it.

Turning to streaming services, productIon is the easiest to understand. As I argued above, there’s nothing about production that I think gives Apple an edge. JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah’s shows will either be good or bad whether their budgets come from Apple or another company.

Exhibition is what I think Apple can be really good at. It makes the devices you watch the shows on. It can ensure its displays are calibrated properly, decide which video and audio formats to support, etc. It’s pretty good at making apps (though the current TV app is only *okay*—it’s better than Hulu’s, at least). Given permission from the shows’ owners, it can create the sort of USS Enterprise interface I’d like, where playing a show is as easy as asking for it or tapping a button without having to worry about the stuff I don’t care about like what network initially aired it. This works passably right now for services that participate in Apple’s TV app.

Distribution is the tricky part, largely because it involves getting all the stakeholders to sign on. And part of this is because of the same sort of vertical integration that the court broke up in the 40s. Netflix pays for Stranger Things, so it gets to distribute it itself, and exhibit it within its app. United States v. Paramount Pictures put a stop to this sort of thing, but that was a different era.

How do I think it should work? Basically more like any other industry. A studio makes a show and then sells it to streaming services for a price. Those services then charge you to subscribe to them. You buy a TV or box or computer to watch it on. They don’t compete based on the number of exclusives they have but rather on price, how well they work, how easy their apps are to use, etc.

There could still be differentiated services, of course, if they can make it on the open market. One service might have a huge offering that gets you every show, ever, like Spotify and Apple Music do for music. Another, though, could be cheaper but only offer a few genres. Think a Criterion Collection-like offering, or American Movie classics. And of course you’d have a sports package. These could all operate alongside services like iTunes that lets you rent movies à la cart. And yeah, this all winds up basically being cable, except instead of having a local monopoly—a choice between Comcast or Comcast—you get to choose which service you subscribe to based on if you like them, not on what shows they offer.

Final Cut Pro crashes on launch in the latest Mac OS. Fortunately I was able to load it on my seven-year-old MacBook Pro and export the app preview videos I spend days on. What a morning. 🤕 (Here it is, if Apple approves it.)

…or a hair shirt and hair pants? I don’t know. I guess the second hair shirt would only be marginally more uncomfortable. (This is why I hired an editor.)

Today I have a sea of red marks from my editor to wade through plus the anxiety of submitting an update to app reviewers. It’s like wearing two hair shirts.

Sometimes I wonder what the new Thing will be that I’m too old to get. It really might be VR/AR/AR glasses.

I think the reason today’s Apple event felt a little weird is that these things are no longer a scrappy computer company unveiling new tech. They’ve now totally transitioned to being a hugely popular company showing off mass market stuff. That’s good, but different.

Apple’s Basic search ads are supposed to be simple, but this is what I get when I try to log in often. Maybe a bit too Jony Ive?

Enjoying the relaxing last few moments I don’t have to spend actively avoiding Rise of Skywalker material for four months.

There’s also a novella, Flowers of Transylvania, that’s a prelude to the main story. It has sex, vampires (but not sexy vampires), Ancient Greek philosophy, and ½ the chapters are named after songs from the Labyrinth soundtrack for some reason.

Chapter 1 has untranslated Latin Catholic liturgy, gay Hungarian folk dancing, and a puppet show. Chapter 2 is sorta Downton Abbey with vampires plus board games. Also subscribers get to vote on what happens in chapter 3.

My app, Wallachia, is now available. I’m writing an ongoing vampire story set in 19th century Romania. You can download and read the first chapter for free. If I can then convince you to subscribe for the high price of $1/month, you’ll get new chapters every few weeks.

Day Zero

A good number of years ago I left my job to work on something new. That something comes out tomorrow. Today, here’s the story of how I got from there to here.

It starts with Kermit the Frog.

The Round Pegs in Square Holes

The Muppets have always lived in this place in my heart that whispers up to my brain, saying, “You can be anything you want to be. You can be creative. Major in Philosophy or Film Studies. Don’t worry about what you want to be when you grow up.” As one gets older, the impracticalities of this fantasy start to show through, but the general idea never left me.

2009 or ’10. I have a job at a university that’s fine but isn’t really pushing me. I like the people I work with (and am still in touch with many of them). They treat me well and respect me.

One day I go to a meeting with my counterparts from other campuses. Some are much older than I am. I see my future if I keep doing it. (I don’t mean to belittle them. As I said, it was a good job, just not one I had any passion for.) A little voice whispers again, tells me that I’m wasting myself coasting on a job that isn’t challenging me.

Then Steve Jobs dies. To me, Jobs always represented this guy who had an idea and went for it. That “go where your passion takes you” spirit becoming a true success story. In 2005 Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University. He said:

And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

I wasn’t where I needed to be.

Interlude: All I Needed

My wife and I were big fans of The Office around the time we were planning our wedding in ’06. I was looking for a song for our first dance that was 1) not your typical wedding dance song and 2) not very long so that we weren’t out there with everyone watching us for ages.

We saw the scene in the Christmas special where Dawn kisses Tim and loved the moment. I suggested “Only You.” Is it the best wedding song? No, but its use in that Office episode was special and it worked for us.

(The correct answer, FWIW, is “The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields. Or maybe the Peter Gabriel cover. I didn’t know the song then.)

The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me

Thanksgiving holiday, ’11. I suggest to my neice and nephew we go see The Muppets. Not having been raised on the characters, they’re not tremendously eager, but they agree to come along. There’s a Toy Story short attached that helps loosen them up. By the end, they’re totally on board with the Muppets. It’s a delightful movie and we have a wonderful time watching it together as a family.

I have this general idea that for something to be your favorite movie or favorite book or whatever, it has to qualify as something of literary merit, not be too popular but also not so obscure that you look like you’re trying to prove something. Like, you don’t pick Citizen Kane because that’s too much of a classic, but you don’t pick something frivolous or over-popular, either. But screw that. My favorite show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I’ll say it: “Rainbow Connection” is my favorite song. It’s so damn genuine. It accepts both the folly of following your dreams and the necessity of those aspirations.

A few months later. My wife and I expecting our second child. I’m walking to the Metro. “Rainbow Connection” shuffles onto my headphones and I start to cry.

Rainbows are Visions

May 2012. After a frantic high speed car ride I’m in the hospital holding a brand new baby. I start to tell her, “I promise I’ll never let anything happen to you,” and then catch myself.

I have a vision. I see myself as a baby, being held by my own father on the day of my birth, and he’s wondering what I’ll be when I’m his age. (As I write this, I’m now that age.)

The right promise isn’t that you’ll protect your child. Of course you will. But that’s not your real job. What I see in that moment is that this little baby I’m holding has already been given a set of gifts by God. Talents waiting to be discovered. It’s my job to help her grow into a person who can figure out how to use them. I wonder, if my dad’s holding me thinking the same thing, am I, decades later, on the path that’s letting me make the best use of my gifts?

I have some ideas for iOS apps. At an IHOP I present my plan and my amazing wife agrees. When her maternity leave ends I’ll quit my job and stay home with the kids while I work on programming.

Now I need to tell my boss.

I’m sitting in a restaurant eating lunch, working up the courage to resign.

“Rainbow Connection” comes on the radio. It feels like a sign, like I’m being told, “You can do this.”

I finish my falafel.

“Only You” starts to play.

God puts His hand on my shoulder, says, “and you’ll have support.”

It’s Something that I’m Supposed to Be

My childhood was a steady stream of Gen X encouragement. Everyone’s special. You can do anything you set your mind to. Follow your dreams. Thing is, growing up I was good at most things I tried. Math, science, reading. Honors and AP classes, All-District band. But what did I want to, like, do?

I was always a little jealous of the people who went to college already knowing what they wanted to major in, what job they wanted. I sure didn’t. Didn’t know after I graduated, either. Nor when I turned 30.

Eventually, gradually, I started to figure it out. I wish it hadn’t taken this long, but here’s what I think I can offer: figure out the thing that, when you’re doing it, you often have a moment where you look at the clock and realize you’ve forgotten to eat. Or that it’s way, way past time when you should have gone to bed and you had no idea because you were just so caught up in what you were doing.

Life’s Like a Movie, Write Your Own Ending

Somewhere in there, I found those things for me. I started a company and named it Probably Magic LLC, after a line from “Rainbow Connection.” There was a weekend where my wife and both kids were on a Girl Scouts camping trip, and instead of playing Heroes of the Storm for 24 hours straight, what I wanted to do was work on the app.

It comes out tomorrow. It’s called Wallachia. I hope you like it.