Debaser Uncategorized

Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time

As with everyone else on the planet right now, I’ve been playing the just released Plants vs. Zombies 2: It’s About Time on iOS. The biggest change this time is of course that it follows the free-to-play model, and so far I’m not having a problem with it – and from what I’ve been reading, you can enjoy the entire game without dropping a cent. Let me say that I wouldn’t have a problem paying a flat amount for a game like this, but what I usually hate about the free-to-play model is that you often need to pay for “time” in the game, which I refuse to do (I am fine with unlocking stuff though). So yeah, it’s still as addictive as ever, with some fun new changes, and I’m very happy that your game saves across your iPhone and iPad, as I can see myself playing this both when I’m out and about, and when I’m back home (which I’d prefer to do on my iPad).

Music Web

Salyu x Salyu

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been excited about any music coming out of Japan in quite a while, but as I mentioned in that quick post on the new episode of Codex, I am absolutely in love with the new album by Salyu (using the name “Salyu x Salyu”), s(o)un(d)beams, produced by Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada). It’s basically like getting a new Cornelius record, but an inspired one (something I did not feel with 2006’s Sensuous).

Here is a video for the first single from the album, but even better is to experience it using the Chrome Music Mixer (and here’s another video that sort of replicates the same effect). There’s also an iPhone app music visualizer based on the album.


Nike+ GPS

A while back you probably noticed me tweeting and raving about Adidas’ miCoach app, which I’d started using for running (replacing Runkeeper). I was recently brought in to consult with the team behind rival program Nike+ about all things technology and Tokyo (and gaming too), and one of the things I promised before leaving was that I would try their Nike+ GPS app — hey, this coming from a guy who walked in wearing a pair of Adidas sneakers, and professed how much he loved the miCoach app.

Nike+ GPS is the follow-up to Nike’s previous running program, which required an extra tracking unit that you placed in your sneakers. The new app works more like miCoach in that it sticks to using the GPS capabilities of your iPhone (although you can buy an extra tracking unit to use with miCoach, to get better readings). Also, unlike the free miCoach, Nike+ GPS is $2.

So I bought it last night and went for a run, and so far I’m pretty happy with how it works. One of the things I really liked about miCoach is how it actually coaches you, telling you what “zone” to run in. The Nike app doesn’t do that, which I don’t mind at all. I’d started feeling like following the miCoach program was actually slowing my progression down. With Nike, it’s more about giving yourself goals, and also following group goals. As I said, I’ve only gone for one run so far, but I’m finding the website pretty slick, and prefer how it displays your runs on Google Maps.

I think I’m going to at least try it for a couple of weeks, to give it a good shake and see how I feel about it, and then decide if I want to stick with it, or go back to miCoach, or even Runkeeper.

Magazines Technology

Esquire on iPad

The latest big title launch on iPad is Esquire, with its October issue getting an iTunes App Store release just a few days ago. Although Esquire has had an iPhone version for a while now with fluctuating prices (older issues are currently being sold for $2), the first iPad version is priced at $5, although it appears that nothing is set in stone yet.

It’s currently a single app download with no in-app store, but we’ve already seen a lot of first issues come out this way, and so there’s a very good chance that from next month the app will be updated to include a store component.

The first thing you should do is go here and watch the video the publisher has put together, which showcases what to expect from the magazine. Overall, I’ll say that it’s not a bad first foray in the world of digital magazines on iPad, but it’s far from perfect. Let me also start by noting that this is one of the first major titles to stick with one layout mode only, in this case portrait — switching your iPad to landscape mode will not rotate the page. Leslie over at MagCulture had been suggesting that this would happen soon, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. Let’s see how long it takes for others to follow suit.

One of the magazine’s strengths is the way it deals with video, especially how it gets incorporated within the pages. Opening the app, you are first greeted by the screen-filling head of actor Javier Bardem (above, in color), the feature for the issue. It may sound hokey, but it comes off looking rather nice, and it’s one of the first times — as far as I remember — that I see the use of full-screen video in portrait mode. The same technique is also used within the feature itself, this time with a black & white Bardem reciting a poem in Spanish (above) — it’s a great addition to the article, and manages to bring me closer to the subject.

Another great example of video use is pictured below, for the issue’s “2010 Esquire Car Awards” feature. Unlike most times I experience video in a magazine on iPad — where you are clearly greeted by a video box — the intro video in the article is framed as if it was just another image, but gives a nice bit of motion to the intro page, especially fitting since we’re dealing with cars.

In terms of layout, the opening section of the magazine — the “Man at His Best” bits — follows a very blog-like structure (a constant sidebar on the left lets you navigate to the different sections), but the designers have managed to dress it up in a way that doesn’t feel too web-like, with an aesthetic similar to what you get in the print edition. When it comes to the “articles” though, some issues crop up.

The first thing to note is that all of the text in the magazine is in fact selectable, but that’s all you can do. No matter how many times I tried, I was unable to get the “copy” option to pop up, and so I don’t understand what the point of HTML-ing the text is, if there’s absolutely nothing you can do with it. Even stranger, the app includes a survey — I filled it out because you run a chance of getting a 6-issue subscription — and it mentions sharing features, but there are none to be found. Something that is planned but wasn’t ready in time for the launch of this issue?

But the biggest issue I have with the text is that although it uses vertical page flipping instead of scrolling — something I generally prefer, as it’s done in Wired — the page cuts have not been clearly indicated, and so you end up with a lot of unreadable sentences that are cut in half (see below). Sure, you can hold your finger on the screen to gently move the page up or down to read it, but this is not very elegant, and these awkward cuts are found throughout — and as you see in the example below, they cut images as well.

Other than that, you get a lot of interactive features like we’re used to seeing in Wired, like the fashion page below that lets you rotate the model, with his jacket (and accompanying description) changing on the fly. One problem I encountered a few times on these pages was lag when you started touching — other pages also took some time to load, so this is not limited to the interactive features.

But the most annoying part of the magazine is how they’ve decided to handle ads. Unlike other magazines that include regular ad pages throughout, this issue of Esquire is entirely sponsored by Lexus. Now there’s nothing wrong with a magazine having just one sponsor, but it’s the execution that is annoying. Instead of being placed at regular intervals, it randomly pops up while you’re reading. And not only is it the same ad every time, but it’s an interactive ad (you’re supposed to zoom in with your fingers to see a video of a car in action) and it often takes a bit of time to load (or rather, to exit the page).

Another thing that I found slightly annoying was that I never had a good sense of where I was inside the magazine. The only table of contents that you can access opens up at the bottom of the screen, and there’s absolutely no indication of where you are in relation to the rest of the magazine.

Despite all these criticisms, it’s still an interesting first try, and from the editor’s intro, it does seem like they are looking to take in feedback and improve things for upcoming issues. Pricing is also a big problem — I’m certainly never going to buy another issue at $5 — but it does sound like they are going to be experimenting with that, just as they have with their iPhone app.

Magazines Technology

Books Are Not Magazines, and Vice Versa

Craig Mod recently posted a new essay in relation to digital publishing — the throat swallowing titled “The ereader incompetence checklist (for discerning consumers, editors, publishers and designers” — and as with everything else he’s written of late, it’s a must read for anyone with even a passing interest in the topic.

BUT, I do have to say that I’m starting to disagree with some of his stances, and mostly because I feel that he continues to treat the digital treatment of books and magazines in a similar manner, while these are in fact quite different mediums, and the way we interact with them is quite different as well.

The biggest issue I have with his views on magazines is that he prioritizes readability over any thoughts of design, and that’s just not how I experience most of the magazines I love. For me, the beauty of the magazine medium is in its marriage of text and images, and the ways that art directors manage to combine these in an appealing presentation. Text alone or images alone do not make a magazine (although I’ll readily admit that there are some magazines, like The New Yorker, where it’s really just about the text).

While we were out for drinks the other night — in commemoration of his leaving Tokyo for more “digitally charged” pastures — he mentioned how his favorite magazine experience on the iPad is through Instapaper, and I think that says it all. Don’t get me wrong, Instapaper is not only of my favorite apps (on both iPhone and iPad), it’s also one of the apps I access the most, and it’s because of it that I was able to get back into reading long-form journalism (something I’ve never felt comfortable doing over the web). But a great magazine experience? There’s no magazine experience there at all, it’s just a better way of reading an article, independently of any design touch.

For me, same goes for Flipboard, the “Social Magazine.” While yes, it does offer a more pleasing (compared to the web) and magazine-y way to read collections of articles, the fact that it’s automatized means you quickly tire of the layout. I think “Social Newspaper” would be a better way to describe it, since most of the time (and emphasis on the “most,” since there are definite exceptions out there) layouts in newspapers tend to be conservative and relatively standard. It’s why I love the New York Times iPad app, and wouldn’t really want it to change (although I’m quite tired of the inclusion of image heavy/slideshow photo rounds-ups, with the images missing).

So going back to Craig’s piece, I’m of course all for a greater level of accessibility in digital texts, but when it comes to magazines, not at the price of losing any though of layout that doesn’t simply copy a web-like approach (long flows of text).

Update: The discussion continues — with a response from Craig — in this post.

Books Technology

I Live in the Future, and It’s on the iPad

I rather like Nick Bilton‘s tech coverage for The New York Times — he runs the Bits blog — and this week he has a new book out called I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works. I quite want to read the book, but the reason I bring it up here is that Bilton has also released a free iPhone/iPad app to help with the promotion.

While it’s not particularly pretty, it’s a neat way of letting people explore the book before buying, as well as getting them engaged. The app includes long-ish excerpts of every chapter, including links of interest at the end, ways of sharing that content online (through email, Facebook, and Twitter), and at least one video that I found (an intro by Bilton).

There are also sections that let you access Bilton’s own blog, as well as his Twitter feed — nothing I’d like to use on a permanent basis, but nice in that it gives you one place to not only explore the book, but learn more about the author and what he’s all about.

It’s a nice start, and something I’m betting we’re going to see more of, with maybe even more engaging content (interactive elements, community features).

Magazines Technology

Vogue Hommes Japan

So far things have been relatively quiet on the magazine front when it comes to major releases on the iPad, and we’ve been mostly limited to Dentsu’s MAGASTORE, which is basically a Japanese version of Zinio, with the same functionality (but none of the “enchanced” media functionality that is popping up more and more in Zinio releases). Although Vogue Hommes Japan may not be the first stand-alone Japanese app magazine to hit the iTunes Store, it’s one of the most notable. So what do we end up getting?

Again, this is another examples of something that comes closer to a PDF-like Zinio reader than anything on the Wired/Popular Science end of the spectrum. Some notable differences are that touchable areas are immediately “highlighted” by a glowing colored box (see above), which blinks for a few seconds after loading the page. These links either lead to another page in the magazine, or open a slide show showing photo or video ads.

Other than that, it’s pretty much a page-per-page copy of the original print edition, that you zoom in to read. The app works on iPad and iPhone, with a similar interface on both. It should be noted that turning to a new page often takes a second or two for loading.

The one thing that I did quite like is that on the store page for each issue (Vol. 4 and 5 are currently available) there are two buttons: One to buy (issues are $4) and one labeled tachiyomi. That preview button brings you to a good size preview, about 15-20 pages or so, and it’s something I’d really like to see more magazine apps use. Sure, more and more of these apps are including a free issue to sample, and other apps have preview buttons that give you a detailed table of contents (like Time), but the preview functionality in the Vogue app goes as far as letting you see the first page of any article that you link to (from the real table of contents for instance).

Conde Nast Publications Japan has also launched Vogue Nippon, using the exact same app structure.

Magazines Technology

Expanding Magazine Content on iPad

You may have noticed the latest issue of Wallpaper, featuring guest editors David Lynch and Robert Wilson — it even has a fancy interactive cover. Although Wallpaper doesn’t have a proper iPad edition — they only have an iPhone app that acts as an interface for its website’s content — this issue will introduce an iPad-only supplement, the Director’s Cut, featuring video content by Lynch and Wilson.

I would still rather Wallpaper go and launch a proper iPad version of the magazine, which could then include these extras — just like Wired has recently been including more and more video content — but the idea of a supplement is not a bad one. The app is not out yet, and there’s no word yet on whether it will be free — it’s “presented by Tudor,” so I’m assuming it will be — but there is something to the idea of releasing supplementary content in iPad form, especially when it works as it’s own thing (like the Lynch/Wilson collaboration).

Meta Photography

Panasonic Lumix G2

One thing that’s happened to me over the past few years is that I’ve pretty much stopped taking photos. Sure, the odd iPhone-to-Twitter shot is still a regular occurrence, but in terms of taking photos with a relatively descent point-and-shoot — in my case, a series of Canon PowerShots — either for this site, for other sites, or even just for personal use, that just kinda stopped. You’ll notice it also if you check my Flickr account — except for a little rekindling courtesy of an iPhone/Toy Camera fling last year in Macau, not much has gone up over the past couple of years, to the point where I haven’t even renewed my pro account in years, and this coming from someone who was particularly active there.

So why? That’s a good question, and there are several answers to it. One thing is that I grew dissatisfied with the quality of what I was taking and sharing, but lacked the energy (and money) to move up to decent gear and shoot (yeah, pun sadly intended) for more. It also doesn’t help when you have a lot of friends who are so damn talented when it comes to photography — some would say this can be inspirational, but I’m on the side that tends to think, oh well, better leave this to those who are better at it.

But to be honest, the biggest reason is one that actually affected a lot of the content that you saw appear on this blog, and that’s even pre-SNOW Magazine. It got to a point where I just couldn’t “experience” anything for myself anymore. Every time I was out and about and spotted something interesting, I was immediately composing a blog post in my head about it (even if I had absolutely no intention of writing one) and taking photos to “document” it. This ended up literally getting in the way of my enjoyment of things. Many are sure to say that this is a handy skill to have, and I wouldn’t disagree, but it can also be a negative in the sense that I started losing something rather important, and that’s the pure sense of enjoying the moment/space you occupy.

Sure, this wasn’t just about photography, but I think one way to fix this for me was to remove that part from the equation. And you know what, after a while it did in fact work. I no longer cared which angle of what I was seeing or experiencing would best tell the story.

“OK, Jean, but this post is titled ‘Panasonic Lumix G2,’ no?”

Yes, how perceptive of you.

My wife has been wanting a decent camera for a while now, at first mostly to use for her next field research trip to China, but also to just start taking better photos of the things around her, including of course our dog. She finally pulled the trigger on a purchase yesterday and ended up getting the aforementioned Panasonic Lumix G2, the follow-up to the company’s G1, the camera that kicked off the whole “Micro System” craze. For months I’d been suggesting to her the GF1, in part because of Craig Mod’s amazing field test article, but also because at least 5-6 of my friends ended up buying one, to great satisfaction. She was able to get something a bit better — the GF1 is sort of a paired-down more compact version of the G2 (or rather its predecessor, the G1).

So this means we have a nice new camera in the house, and she says I’ll be able to use it when I want — although there seems to be some sort of unwritten rule stating that such sharing will happen after a fixed amount of time. The prospect of learning photography has me rather excited, and despite my fears of getting back to that sense of always being in reporter mode, I’m thinking that it will help get some more original (not reblogged) content on SNOW Magazine.

To be fair, I also have a feeling that the iPhone 4 is going to help with that. I finally got around to ordering one yesterday — the wait will take up to a month though — and from the examples I saw in this Boing Boing post, I think it will make for a great device when you’re in a pinch. But more than just the camera, it’s the prospect of HD video recording that has me excited, and I’m hoping that you’ll see the results on SNOW as well — and hey, that G2 takes some pretty decent HD videos too, just look at what Craig was able to get out of his GF1.

Next up is moving to some more serious photo editing tools — iPhoto and quick Photoshop touch-ups have been fine so far, but I want to move up. After asking about Adobe Lightroom versus Apple Aperture on Twitter, the feedback was overwhelmingly pro-Lightroom, and Adobe certainly makes it easy for you to try it out for yourself. It seems that Lightroom 3 was actually released just recently, so looks like I’m hopping on at a good time.

What you see at the top of this post is just me having fun with some of the filters in Lightroom, on a photo my wife took of me this morning — this is pretty much what I look like, and where I find myself, everyday. Funny how adding a vignette/sepia filter makes everything look oh-so serious. Looking at the photo, I really feel like a hard-working writer. Yeah.

Design Technology


Although we got a preview of it at PauseTalk Vol. 39 earlier this month, it’s nice to see that Hawken King‘s first iPhone app, Facemakr, is now out and for sale on iTunes App Stores around the world. An extension of the service he previously offered — making icons based on photos you would send him — the app puts the creation process in your hands, and it’s actually quite versatile, especially when it comes to repositioning and enlarging certain parts of the face.

Above, what I think I look like these days, but maybe I should have looked at a photo while making it. Great fun though, and definitely worth the $3 he’s charging.