A Brief History of Spider-Man in Cinema
THWIP THWIP on the big screen
February 4, 2022
Fingerprints on my MacBook
Just give me a damn touch screen already, Apple
September 2, 2021
iPhone 12 Pro Pacific Blue Review
Fingerprints are part of the aesthetic
November 5, 2020
The Last of Us Part II Review
A tedious, abrasive, but visually stunning story of revenge
July 25, 2020
Splash Mountain
Br’er Rabbit’s gettin’ evicted
June 17, 2020
iPad Pro (2020) and Magic Keyboard Review
A powerful, beautiful device hindered by its operating system
May 5, 2020
Joker Movie Review
A beautifully uncomfortable character study
October 25, 2019
The Blue Shell — The Worst Item in Mario Kart
A design failure that can't be fixed
September 1, 2019
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A Brief History of Spider-Man in Cinema
THWIP THWIP on the big screen
February 4, 2022

The Spider-Men: Toby, Tom, and Andrew

Spider-Man has been a popular comic book superhero since he first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962. Created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spidey has been web swinging on the pages of comics and newspapers, in cartoons, television shows, movies, video games, amusement parks, and even on Broadway. This post attempts to catalog Spidey’s first 50 years on the big screen, including behind the scene struggles to produce films, his imprisonment within Sony Pictures, and what the future holds for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.Spider-Man premiered on film in the 1969 fan film Spider-Man, featuring special visual effects, miniatures, explosions, and stunts performed by a Spider-Man blow-up doll. The climax (at about the ten minute mark) features Spidey swinging after the villainous Dr. Lightning (played by Doctor Doom in a t-shirt) as he attempts to make his escape in a red muscle car. The film was made by amateur filmmaker Donald F. Glut (who also stared as Spidey) and who had previously made several other superhero-related fan films. Glut would later go on to write for the classic 80’s Spider-Man cartoon series and a variety of other cartoons, including an episode of X-Men: The Animated Series. Glut’s Spider-Man fan film was actually screened at the University of Southern California, truly making it the first Spider-Man film shown in a cinema.The first official live-action Spider-Man film was the 1977 CBS TV movie Spider-Man, featuring mind-controlled bad guys and staring Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The ’77 Spider-Man, while not a true cinematic release, launched a live-action TV series that ran for 13 episodes with impressive (for the time) wire work that gave Spidey his ability to wall crawl. The series also features cheesy dialogue, a disco soundtrack, and bellbottoms. Two theatrical releases were eventually produced for distribution only in Europe by editing together multiple episodes.Also in the late 70’s, Toei Company, a Japanese production company, released their own version of Spider-Man on television and in theaters. While Spider-Man has all of his normal abilities — shooting webs, climbing on walls, Spider Sense, and the classic red-and-blue costume — his extraterrestrial origin and the enemies he faces are entirely unique to Japan. In the 40 episode series, Takuya Yamashiro uses a large wrist device to transform into Spider-Man to fight a monster-of-the-week type villain. Near the end of the fight the monster grows into a giant version of itself, at which point Spider-Man calls down his spaceship that transforms into a giant robot with a sword, and he defeats the monster in a huge explosion. This was a very different Spider-Man created for kids and designed to sell toys, with Spider-Man's robots and cars created out of necessity as a way to finance the show. If all of this is beginning to sound mighty familiar to you, this is probably because Spider-Man's success in Japan heavily influenced the Toei-produced Super Sentai series, better known in the West as Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. When Toei began work on Spider-Man, they put the current Super Sentai series on hiatus for a year. When production resumed, the Battle Fever J team introduced giant mechas to the franchise, a staple of Super Sentai to this day. And later, Spider-Man's transforming robot, Leopardon, would also heavily influence the creation of the Marvel comic book The Transformers (in which Spidey briefly battles Megatron). Stan Lee praised Japan's Spider-Man TV series for the action and special effects, noting that Japan's culture necessitated different approaches to the traditional Marvel character.Back in America in the mid-80's, Stan Lee veto’ed the “Peter Parker transforms into a giant, hairy, eight-armed tarantula and is locked in a basement after refusing to join a mutant master-race” concept at Cannon films. Spider-Man languished in development hell as budgets were slashed repeatedly over the next decade. Due to the failures of Superman IV and Masters of the Universe, Cannon eventually bailed on the whole idea of a superhero movie and the film rights to Spider-Man found their way to 21st Century Film Corp. At one point James Cameron submitted a script draft with Arnold Schwarzenegger attached to play Doc Ock. (Let’s just pause for a moment and imagine the alternate reality where that film was made. Okay, let’s move on.) As part of a severance package from Cannon Films, co-owner Menahem Golan walked away with 21st Century Film Corp. and the film rights to Spider-Man (and Captain America). To get financing for the Spider-Man film, Golan sold the TV, home video, and theatrical rights to three different companies, but of course the film was never made. In 1995 a judge ruled that the film rights as originally sold to Cannon had now reverted back to Marvel, but a year later, with the entire comics industry hurting, Marvel filed for bankruptcy. With the bankruptcy came the ToyBiz merger, with co-owner Avi Arad becoming Marvel’s CEO. Marvel sold the film rights to their most popular characters for whatever amount they could get in the late 90’s. Sony Pictures picked up the film rights to Spidey in 1999 for a mere $7 million, which is where Spider-Man remains jailed in perpetuity.Staring Toby Maguire and directed by Sam Raimi, 2002’s Spider-Man was a massive success and the first film to earn $100 million in an opening weekend. (I know, how quaint, right?) The original teaser trailer for the film shows a helicopter trapped in a giant spider web strung between the World Trade Center towers, and the original theatrical poster has the towers reflected in the eyes of Spider-Man’s mask. Both trailer and poster were recalled after the 9/11 attacks. In the film, Spider-Man’s classic origin story is played out in full as Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider, gains spider-like abilities, watches Uncle Ben die, kisses Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) while hanging upside down, battles the Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), saves New York City, and – oh yeah – shoots webbing out of slits in his wrists. Now, spiders don’t shoot webbing out of their little spider legs, they actually pull webbing from their – well, it doesn’t matter, the film was a huge hit.The 2004 sequel Spider-Man 2 featured Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus and focused on Peter Parker’s desire to be “Spider-Man No More!” (a plot thread largely influenced by Amazing Spider-Man #50). The film was made so long ago that it was cheaper to use practical tentacles for many of the shots of Doc Ock instead of computer visual effects. This movie was another huge hit, remaining the top rated live-action Spider-Man film until 2021.Then Spider-Man 3 somehow happened. In the film, Spidey takes on Sandman, the Goblin, and Venom, while also dancing and pointing at women on a crowded New York sidewalk. 2007 was a bad year for Spider-Man. Sam Raimi’s rein on theatrical Spider-Man films is finally put to a stop after this train wreck, and a planned Part 4 will never see the light of day. Spider-Man is officially rebooted just five years later.The Amazing Spider-Man, directed by Marc Webb and staring Andrew Garfield, is another big success in the Spider-Man franchise despite re-treading the same origin story audiences saw just a decade earlier. Future Academy Award winner Emma Stone stars as Gwen Stacy, replacing MJ as Peter’s love interest, and the Lizard (Rhys Ifans) is the new solo villain. Amazing features the return of Peter’s self-designed, artificial web shooters and the first time Peter’s parents are seen on film before ominously disappearing. There were many plot threads left open by the end of the film and many characters in the shadows we never see, with the clear intention of building a Spider-Man Cinematic Universe to compete with the growing popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.The Amazing Spider-Man 2 forces audiences to sit through 141 minutes of fake teen relationship drama no one wants to see in a superhero movie. Electro (Jamie Foxx) and the Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan) are Spidey’s foes this time around, while Black Cat and the Rhino make some blink-and-you-miss-them cameos. More backstory is revealed about the disappearance of Peter’s parents, but before all the mysteries are revealed the film is over and the bad reviews are out.The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was supposed to be a major launchpad for Sony’s Spider-Man Cinematic Universe, with Venom, the Sinister Six, Black Cat, Spider-Man 2099, and two additional Garfield-staring Spider-Man films planned and in various early stages of production. However, after Amazing 2's poor box office performance and lackluster audience and critic reviews, Sony needed help. Amy Pascal, at the time a top executive at Sony Pictures, called Marvel's Kevin Feige (who had produced previous Spider-Man films but had not been part of Amazing Spider-Man 2's production) and asked for help on producing the next Spider-Man film. Feige pitched the idea of Tony Stark making Spidey's suit, ultimately bringing Spider-Man into the sprawling MCU. Eventually, Pascal agreed, and Sony's Spider-Man Cinematic Universe was shelved.in 2014, eighteen year old new-comer Tom Holland is cast as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Spidey finally joins Iron-Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Scarlet Witch, Winter Soldier, Falcon, War Machine, Vision, and (also making his MCU debut) Black Panther, in a German airport to fight against Cap as he attempts to track down the man who has brainwashed Bucky and caused the death of— you know what? The plot of Civil War is pretty convoluted. Spider-Man, however, makes a huge introduction to the MCU in this film. Peter Parker is young and funny, throwing classic Spidey quips during the battle, and the new Stark Suit is Very Cool (the re-sizing of the eyes allow for expression in the mask that hasn’t been seen on film before). Holland is introduced at almost exactly the half-way mark of Civil War (wearing a pizza t-shirt) and through a six minute chat with Tony Stark the audience skips the “bit-by-a-spider” origin story and we’re off to Germany. The chemistry between Tom Holland and Chris Evans, Sam Wilson, and Robert Downey Jr. is proof of the great casting that went into finding Holland for the role. Civil War is another huge success in both the MCU and Spider-Man franchises.Spider-Man: Homecoming picks up immediately after where Civil War left off, with Peter Parker still euphoric over his fight against 50% of the Avengers. Homecoming, produced by both Pascal and Feige, introduces a few new characters to Peter’s world, including best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) and future love interest Michelle, who goes by her initials MJ (Zendaya). Spidey battles Michael Keaton as the Vulture, and Robert Downey Jr. has a $10 million cameo as Iron-Man. Also showing up in cameo form is Donald Glover as Aaron Davis, aka The Prowler, aka Miles Morales’s Uncle, aka Childish Gambino, but so far, Miles has only shown up in animated form (more on that a little further down). Special nod towards Tony Revolori, who shines as Peter’s obnoxious nemesis Flash Thompson. Homecoming showcases Holland’s expert performance at being an awkward geek and a wise-cracking superhero. Missing from the Maguire/Garfield films were those moments in the comics when Spider-Man makes a trademark quip (or two, or twelve) during the fight with the villain. The audience also gets much more screen time with Spider-Man in-costume as the origin of his powers (and the explanation for where this bright red and blue suit magically appears from) have already been satisfactorily explained in Civil War. The MCU seems tired of retreading long, overplayed origin stories at this point and we’re now bee-lining into original stories with our heroes. No complaints here!Spider-Man’s next MCU appearance will be the massive Avengers: Infinity War spectacle in 2018 and the following year’s Avengers: Endgame. In Infinity War, Spidey heads to space with Iron-Man and Doctor Strange where he meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to battle Thanos. Star Lord goes off-script and Thanos defeats the team in space before heading to Earth to complete his collection of Infinity Stones. With the snap of his fingers, Thanos breaks the heart of every person in the theater as they watch Peter Parker dissolve into dust. Five years of movie time (and one very long real year) pass before Endgame picks up again as the remaining Avengers devise a plan to travel into the past and borrow the Infinity Stones from previous MCU films. The Avengers snap-back everyone dusted by Thanos, who’s past self shows up to try the whole snapping plan again. Spider-Man joins the Avengers and almost everyone else from every other MCU film as they fight the big purple guy once more and his massive army of Chitauri. Tony Stark sacrifices himself to save the world, proclaiming once again that he is Iron-Man. The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes hold a funeral for their fallen friend.Spider-Man: Far from Home picks up just days after the events Endgame, coining the disappearance and reappearance of those affected by Thanos’s snap as “the blip.” Conveniently, all of Peter’s classmates are blipped, so they all return for the sequel. The class takes a little field trip to Europe, where Spider-Man meets a version of Nick Fury and Maria Hill, and encounters new BFF Quentin Beck/new arch-nemesis Mysterio. Spider-Man is given special Tony Stark designed spectacles, called E.D.I.T.H., that can summon killer drones and hack smartphones. Peter also self-designs a new black and red suit in a homage to the original Iron-Man suit design montage, complete with “Back in Black” soundtrack. (Happy gets the reference.) By the end of the film Peter’s secret identity is now known by Happy Hogan, Aunt May, Ned, MJ, Mysterio, everyone working at S.H.I.E.L.D, everyone fired from Stark Industries, and, oh right, the entire planet, as J. Jonah Jameson (J. K. Simmons, reprising his role from the Toby Maguire films) shares Beck’s final parting words with all of New York: “Spider-Man’s name is Peter Parker!”Shortly after Far from Home crossed the billion dollar box office mark, a new record for a Spider-Man film, Marvel and Sony announced they had been unable to reach a new agreement to continue co-producing future Spider-Man films. Spidey would exit the MCU, and Sony would return to independently producing future Spider-Man films, keeping Tom Holland as Spidey. A few weeks later, Marvel and Sony announced a new agreement had finally been reached, with Marvel co-producing the next Spider-Man film. Financially, Marvel’s parent company, The Walt Disney Company, will be footing 25% of the cost of production and taking 25% of the box office haul – and as Far from Home has proven, 25% of a Spider-Man box office is still a massive payday, even for Disney.This was an important agreement for Disney to make. With the Marvel lands opening at various Disney Parks over the next couple of years, and the Spider-Man ride specifically swinging into Disney California Adventure in 2021, getting Spidey back into the MCU was a must. The story as Disney CEO Bob Iger tells it is Tom Holland called him on the phone about the deal with Sony and encouraged him to fix it. Iger called Sony and he said, “we have to get this done, for Tom and for the fans.” And to both of these massive corporation's credit, they did.


Spider-Man: No Way Home (delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic) released on December 17th, 2021, co-produced by Marvel and Sony, with Tom Holland returning for the sixth time as Spidey. Joining him are Zendaya as MJ, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange, Jon Favreau as Happy, Jacob Batalon as Ned, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Benedict Wong as Wong, Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Jamie Foxx as Electro, Rhys Ifans as the Lizard, Thomas Haden Church as Sandman, and with Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield returning as their multiverse Spider-Man counterparts from the previous Sony francises. (In the script, they're referred to as Raimi-Verse Peter and Webb-Verse Peter, after the names of the previous film's directors.) In the film, Peter Parker attempts to undo his public outing as Spider-Man with the help of "Mr. Strange" but the spell goes awry, tearing open the walls between the multiverse and attracting both friend and foe from universes beyond Peter's own. The film spends a great deal of time tying up loose threads from the previous Spider-Man franchises and allowing previous heroes and villains to make amends with their past. Working together, the three Spider-Men are able to cure the five villains, but repairing the multiverse causes the entire world to forget Peter Parker, including Ned and MJ. This is also the first time in the MCU a character says the line, "with great power, comes great responsibility". Even during an exceptionally deadly rise in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, No Way Home became the sixth highest grossing film of all time, earning over $1.7 billion worldwide. It was the highest grossing film of 2021, the highest grossing Spider-Man film, and Sony's highest grossing film of all time — all from a $7 million purchase in 1999. Critics and audiences praised the film's actors, direction, and visual effects.Shortly before No Way Home premiered, Holland stated that playing Spider-Man as a thirty year old meant he had "done something wrong" during his career and that No Way Home was the final film in his Spidey contract, highly suggesting he was exiting the role sooner rather than later. However, a few weeks later Sony producer Amy Pascal stated that work had begun a new trilogy of Spider-Man films with Holland, with Marvel producer Kevin Feige promising the partnership between Disney and Sony would continue through this new trilogy. The details on Holland's contract are vague, but it's safe to assume there's a future Avenger's clause somewhere in it.Speaking of future MCU films, Jon Watts — director of the three most recent MCU Spidey films — will be directing the MCU's Fantastic Four. No cast or date has been announced, but 2023 sounds like a reasonable timetable for release. I mention this only because the inclusion of Tom Holland as Spider-Man seems like an obvious pairing of the heroes. Putting Spidey in the Fantastic Four gives Marvel's First Family a huge introduction and, maybe most importantly, sets it apart from previous FF films that have not been super successful (or good). Telling a story with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man is something never before seen on the big screen, and the possibilities of putting a paper bag over Tom Holland's head are endless.While we wait for news on the next Spider-Man film, Sony has been working on some other standalone Spider-Man-related projects, some of which have already been released, and some which are releasing soon:Sony released Venom in 2018, a reboot of the character from the Toby Maguire Spider-Man days. Venom stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock, a reporter down on his luck who breaks into a medical research center and comes into contact with the symbiote, forming a buddy-cop type relationship. In the comics, much of the character of Venom is based on Spider-Man, but this film version of Venom is not set in any Spider-Man universe, and his film origin shares nothing with the wall crawler. In the comics, the design of Venom is based heavily on Spider-Man. Venom’s eyes, the way he attacks with those tentacle-like globs, his ability to wall crawl, his ability to react to danger – basically everything that makes the character who he is, he learned from Peter Parker as the symbiote. Including, crucially, Peter’s sense of power and responsibility, which changes Venom from the monster that he was into the comic book hero he’s become in recent years. Venom as a standalone character without the Spider-Man origin feels hollow and turns the Venom film into a generic monster movie. Despite Venom receiving mostly negative reviews from critics, it made a lot of money at the box office, so Sony made a sequel.Venom: Let There Be Carnage introduces the Carnage symbiote into Sony's Venom-verse. Serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) is on death row when he bites Eddie Brock, unknowingly infecting himself with the symbiote. In the comics, Spidey and Venom often team up to defeat Carnage, but the film version of Venom manages to eek out a win. By the end of the film, Eddie Brock is a wanted fugitive and leaves the country. While staying in a dingy motel, he's transported to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where he sees the news of Peter Parker being outed as Spider-Man. Hardy makes an uncredited cameo during an end credit scene of No Way Home in which Eddie Brock is sent back to his own dimension, but a tiny droplet of the Venom symbiote is left behind in the MCU.Tom Holland filmed a Spider-Man cameo for the first Venom film but Marvel asked Sony to remove it. With the new agreement between the studios, Sony will be allowed to use Holland’s Spider-Man in their non-MCU films, including the brief cameo at the end of Let There Be Carnage and possibly in the upcoming Morbius film starring Jared Leto. This is Sony’s second attempt at launching a cinematic universe using Marvel’s Spider-Man characters, but while the films are not considered canon in the MCU, Sony considers the MCU events canon for their films. Confusing? Think of it like this: Sony's films are fan fiction for the MCU.Meanwhile, Sony won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature with 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, topping Disney's Ralph Breaks the Internet and Disney Pixar's Incredibles 2. This was my favorite film of 2018 (a year with a lot of great movies, including Infinity War) and its Oscar win was well deserved. Into the Spider-Verse finally brings Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) to the Big Screen, telling a Spider-Man story with real heart, humor, and stunning animation. Swinging along with Miles is Peter B. Parker/Spider-Man (Jake Johnson), but a kind of washed up, out of shape, down on his luck Spider-Man who recently suffered a breakup with MJ. Gwen Stacy, aka Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld), Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage), the anime-inspired Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) and her SP//dr mech, and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) also help Miles as he fights the Kingpin (Liev Schreiber) and Doctor Olivia "Liv" Octavius (Kathryn Hahn), saving the world from a collapse/explosion of the (animated) multiverse. Multiple Spider-Verse sequels are already in production, including a direct sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse releasing in two parts — Part One on October 7, 2022 and part Two in 2023 — with Miles and Gwen being joined by Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman (Issa Rae), Miguel O'Hara/Spider-Man 2099 (Oscar Isaac), and Takuya Yamashiro, the Spider-Man from Toei's Japanese Spider-Man series. I mean, how great is this movie going to be? Additionally, a Spider-Women spin-off with Gwen, Jessica Drew, and Cindy Moon (Silk) is also in development. I highly recommend watching Into the Spider-Verse on the biggest, highest-definition screen you can find with HDR enabled — it's an absolutely beautiful film.In 2021, the Marvel Cinematic Universe entered Stage 4 with new heroes, new movies, and new streaming series on Disney+ (Spider-Man appears in the Disney+ series What If... as Zombie Hunter Spider-Man). Marvel and Sony have a unique opportunity to work together and share these fan-favorite characters to tell stories of power and responsibility that have never before been told on screen. As long as Marvel and Sony can continue their Spider-Partnership, and as long as audiences continue going to the movies in record numbers, the cinematic future of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has never been more amazing.

Fingerprints on my MacBook
Just give me a damn touch screen already, Apple
September 2, 2021

SO MANY Fingerprints on my MacBook

I can’t stop touching my MacBook's screen. The buttons are so big. I’ve never seen anything designed like that for a mouse pointer. They look so much like the buttons and switches on iPadOS. It just looks so easy to tap and swipe across my Mac's screen.But the Mac doesn’t have a touch screen, and Apple has said they’re not planning on changing that.When macOS Big Sur was previewed at WWDC20 last year, the question on a lot of Mac user's minds was, "are we finally getting touchscreens?"But when the new MacBook's with Apple Silicon were announced, touchscreens were not part of the deal. In an interview with Andrew Griffin for The Independent Apple's Craig Federighi said, “I gotta tell you when we released Big Sur, and these articles started coming out saying, ‘Oh my God, look, Apple is preparing for touch’. I was thinking like, ‘Whoa, why?’ We had designed and evolved the look for macOS in a way that felt most comfortable and natural to us, not remotely considering something about touch."I have one question for Federighi: After a long day of using your iPad and Magic Keyboard, have you ever sat down at your MacBook and tried to tap a browser link or swipe to switch apps? Because I have, repeatedly.macOS 11, aka Big Sur, is designed to be used with a touch screen. Check out those redesigned menus with generous line spacing. No pixel perfect pointing device needs that much space. Mail, Photos, Safari, Pages, all of their buttons and UI elements look designed for a finger. Maybe this is a finer tipped finger than iOS was originally designed for, but we’ve had fifteen years of becoming experts on touching user interfaces. Even if the buttons are smaller than they would be on an iPhone screen, the screen on a MacBook is bigger — there’s built-in room for error.In addition to the macOS redesign, Apple now allows Macs with Apple Silicon to natively run iPadOS apps, and without any re-design needed for a mouse or trackpad. Most iPad apps are designed with a finger in mind, and swiping and pinching are natural motions for these apps — so what's Apple's solution if not a touch screen on the Mac? Using WASD to simulate tilting the device, holding the Options keys for multitouch, and the arrow keys for swiping.Just, why?When I’m using my iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, I find it’s often easier to reach up and touch what I’m looking at. Although not always as precise, it’s a faster, more natural motion, and I prefer it. And now, after a few months with my iPad and Magic Keyboard, I find myself doing the exact same thing when working on my MacBook, often with comical results. I’ll reach up and press on the screen. I’ll wait. Nothing happens, so I try again. And still nothing. “What the heck,” I wonder aloud. I press the screen a third time. And then: “Oh.” And I sheepishly move back to the trackpad. And I know I’m not the only one: I suspect there are many MacBook screens inside Apple Park with fingerprints on them.MacOS and iPad OS feel like two distant celestial bodies — like the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxies — destined to collide in the future. We can already see some of these early collisions — keyboard shortcuts in iPadOS, Catalina’s super lockdown of the Desktop — and while Apple claims they envision two distinct platforms, hardware and software changes. A year ago no one was predicting an Apple-designed scissior-switch keyboard for the iPad, but here I am, typing on it.Is a touch screen on a MacBook so far out of left field that Apple has never even tested it?The iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard are all the proof anyone needs that a keyboard under a touch screen is the best way to compute. Having the best of both worlds is a world without compromise. Apple has spent over a decade perfecting touch screens and touch interfaces — iPhone, iPad, Watch — but you're telling me they can't stick a touch screen onto a Mac?I know it's not as simple as "sticking" a touch screen on, and I know a lot of Mac users worry about the added complexity or sacrifice of having a touch screen on a Mac, so here's what I want to say to the nay-sayers of touchscreens on MacBooks:If you don't want a touchscreen, that's fine, you can choose not to use it. If you use an iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, you never have to touch the screen if you don't want to (but who doesn't want to?) Forr those of us who want a touchscreen, however, if there isn't one we can't chooseto use it! Telling someone to "go buy an iPad" is a dick reply – I already have an iPad! And I want a touchscreen on my Mac, and wanting a feature that provides greater usability and accessibility shouldn't be disparaged by other Mac users. Don't touch the touch screen if you don't want it — but by not having it, I don't get a choice.While Federighi never says "absolutely never going to happen" about a touch screen Mac, he does play the "shocked and surprised" card really well. Despite what Federighi said in the interview, I can't believe that Apple isn't actively sourcing and experimenting with Mac touchscreens. They have the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard, so their "ergonomics" argument is lost. And Big Sur is another nail in that coffin, as they've introduced the oversized control center, larger menus, and bigger buttons. And now we're supposed to believe we'll be using iPad apps on our Macs with the WASD keys and a trackpad? C'mon.But if Federighi isn't playing a classic Apple bluff here, and they really have no future plans for a touch screen Mac, well, what's that line that John Gruber likes to use? Oh right, then I'd say Apple is "skating to where the puck was".

iPhone 12 Pro Pacific Blue Review
Fingerprints are part of the aesthetic
November 5, 2020

iPhone 12 Pro in the Pacific Blue

A few hours after I finished setting up my new iPhone 12 Pro, the fingerprints were everywhere. This is — of course — an Apple device, and fingerprints are part of the aesthetic.
But unlike fingerprints on a screen, which can distract and annoy, the fingerprints on the side of the iPhone aren't easily noticed on the dark — yet shiny — Pacific Blue stainless steel when using it.
I'm not sure if it's the color, the new design, or if I'm just running into Apple fans, but I got the "Is that the new iPhone?" question a lot last week. This is arguably one of Apple's most striking visual changes in years, and people are noticing. It's also — I think! — my favorite.The iPhone 12 Pro is one of the nicest looking and nicest feeling phones I've ever used. The Pacific Blue color was a little different from my usual Space Gray or Jet Black color picks, but I quickly became a big fan. I really hope the positive reviews on the Pacific Blue color embolden Apple to be a little more daring with future iPhone colors.I prefer the shiny stainless steel sides of the iPhone 12 Pro to the dull matte finish of the aluminum sides on the iPhone 12, but this isn't my only reason for choosing the iPhone 12 Pro. I needed more than 64 GB of storage, and I wanted the extra RAM, the telephoto camera, and, yeah, the shiny sides. As many reviewers have pointed out already, if you need to upgrade the internal storage of the iPhone 12 from the 64 GB base, the price difference between the two suddenly decreases by quite a lot. At that point, if you're like me with disposable income to waste on a new iPhone every year, you might as well get the Pro.And while the improved camera systems and larger battery of the Pro Max are important to me, the Max size is just too big. Before the pandemic I spent a lot of time in Apple Stores playing with all the different sized phones (and some Androids at Best Buy) and while I like the idea of a 6.7 inch display, I find it's a bit awkward for my hand. I didn't have an opportunity to try the Mini before ordering the iPhone, I did get to pick it up briefly and my initial impressions were very positive.The physical design is really the marquee new feature of the iPhone 12 line this year, and that design, as I've said, is a favorite of mine. It's a callback to the original iPhone 5, with rounded corners contrasted against the squared, flat sides of the body. The Face ID, multi-camera system, and OLED screen are all slightly refined from previous iPhones, but the technological leaps are mostly in the new A14 SoC processor, which most people will never see or think about. According to Geekbench, in the single core test, the iPhone 12 Pro scores 1587 while the three year old iPhone X scores 921. Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S20, Samsung's newest flagship phone with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865, scores 878 — trailing even the iPhone X. Apple's SoC team is ridiculously good at their job, and I think Tuesday's November event is going to put the current line of Intel CPUs to shame, but I digress. The point is, even the iPhone X remains a powerhouse with a long lifespan, making the iPhone — any iPhone — a good, longterm investment.Let's get into the rest of the phone now:Face ID is still terrible when trying to use Apple Pay or even check a text message while in public. It's not Apple or the phone's fault, it's just the world we're unfortunately living in, and upgrading from a X, XS, or 11 doesn't make the situation any better or worse. Mid-pandemic update: Apple has added the ability for the Apple Watch to unlock an iPhone connected to it. It's a pretty good feature and has made unlocking the phone or using Apple Pay at the store much easier.The three cameras are all improved, and night mode is great, but of course Apple is doing sneaky things with the cameras. If you are in a low light situation and tap the 2x zoom, the iPhone doesn't switch to the telephoto camera. In low light, it digitally zooms the 1x wide camera to 2x zoom. The digital and low light smoothing is so good (algorithms!) you don't even notice the digital zoom happening. (You can test this by covering the 2x zoom lens with your finger when taking a photo at night zoomed to 2x.)Night mode, regardless of Apple's trickery, just keeps getting better. This time around the larger sensor is a major contributing factor to the improved night mode photography, but I'm certain the photo team has been refining the software over the past twelve months as well. Apple's hardware-software one-two combo is what makes the iPhone camera system so incredibly good.Battery life is about as good as the iPhone 11 Pro, although I don't have the ability (or desire) to do strenuous, scientific testing on my battery. I rarely drain the battery on my phones to zero over the course of a day, so I don't know if I'm the best person to listen to when it comes to battery life. I will say that after a year with the iPhone 11 Pro, the battery's max capacity was still at 100% — specifically due to, I think, the Optimized Battery Charging setting. I don't see any reason my iPhone 12 Pro won't have the same result in a year, and I think this is a really underrated aspect of Apple's battery and charging technology. The iPhones are designed to last for years — a lot of people still have iPhone 7 and 8s, and some are even older — but a battery powered device is no good if it can't hold a charge throughout the day. The iPhone's ability to smartly and slowly charge the battery and learn your charging patterns means these phones really can last for years, and that same smart battery technology is built into every iPhone at every price point.And because Pizza Emoji is committed to fully testing and reviewing the iPhone 12 Pro, I also did a few drop tests with the new phone to test the ceramic shield. I can confirm that an iPhone dropped from about a height of three feet onto a pillow will not result in any noticeable damage to the screen. Your results may vary!Okay, let's talk 5G. 5G is one of the most disappointing new features, if we're being honest, on the new iPhone 12 Pro. Verizon and the carriers advertise 1 Gbps or faster speeds on 5G Ultra Wideband, and it's true, but those insane speeds only apply to 5G UW — the short range, outdoor only signal that you can only get in a handful of downtown cities. The vast majority of us won't ever get to use 5G UW anytime soon. 1 Gbps 5G is slightly more than a marketing gimmick. But even so, with only 20 or 30 gigs of monthly bandwith on most cellular plans, why would you burn through all of your data just to download a few movies while standing on a street corner in downtown? Give us data plans to match the 5G UW bandwidth and we'll talk. For us non-street corner loitering folks, the "regular" 5G is even more disappointing. Around town, I'm getting an asynchronous 50 to 60 Mbps with 5G; if I switch to LTE, I get 70 to 80 Mbps. (And, supposedly, better battery, but I'd wait for some serious battery tests for a definitive answer on that). Last week I spent a good deal of time driving around SoCal, streaming music and podcasts but I never noticed the phone's network connection behaving any better compared to the iPhone 11 Pro. Everyone has already said this, but if you're upgrading your phone for 5G, you're upgrading for the wrong reason.I don't have an iPhone 12, so I can't compare and contrast from a first person perspective, and I can't even go to an Apple Store to test it out, but I spent a good deal of time debating internally between which to pre-order a few weeks ago. I'm very happy with my choice, but I think Apple's in a tough spot these days making both the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro. On paper and from a stock photography perspective, there's just not enough to differentiate between the two to justify producing two models. Even the price difference is barely notable. I like the Max and the Mini being at the opposite ends of the product line, as they serve two clear and distinct markets, but iPhone-in-the-middle and iPhone-in-the-middle-Pro are just too similar. I'm also not a fan of the Pro moniker at all, but I guess Apple's committed to it.Naming aside, the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max are the gold standard for smartphone design, performance, and quality. The iPhone 12 Pro in this stunning Pacific Blue finish is my current favorite iPhone ever (replacing the iPhone 5 and the Jet Black iPhone 7 as the previous top contenders). Coupled with the iPhone SE 2, there's a current-generation iPhone for everyone, at any size, price, or color. The iPhone stands as one of the most powerful consumer commuting devices ever made, and the iPhone 12 Pro is the best iPhone Apple has ever made. If you need, want, or crave the best new smartphone, the iPhone 12 Pro is the phone to buy.

The Last of Us Part II Review
A tedious, abrasive, but visually stunning story of revenge
July 25, 2020

Ellie wants information in TLOU2

Warning: Spoilers for The Last of Us Part II follow.There’s a point in The Last of Us Part II where Ellie needs a woman to provide her with information about Abby, the person she’s been pursuing across the city of Seattle. The woman is choking on spores in a hallway and will be dead in a matter of hours, but she tells Ellie she won’t give up her friend.Ellie says, “I can make it quick, or I can make it so much worse.”A metal pipe is clenched in Ellie’s hand, but the woman is defiant. At this point, the camera cuts to Ellie’s face; anger flashes in her eyes, her breathing intensifies, she grits her teeth. The game prompts the player to press Square. When the player pushes the button, Ellie strikes the woman with the pipe. The prompt to press Square returns, and so the player again pushes the button. Ellie strikes the woman a second time with the pipe. Ellie’s face is splattered with the woman’s blood, and the Square button prompt returns once more. The player presses the button, Ellie swings the pipe, a scream, and the game cuts to black.It’s a violent, terrible way to die, and it’s a violent, terrible way to kill someone. Even in a video game.And I didn’t want to press Square. There are many points in this game where I don’t want to do what Ellie is doing. Ellie does terrible things to every person she encounters in this game, including her friends, but especially her enemies.Sequels are rarely what we want. We think we want a part two, but as is so often the case, the sequel is a disappointment. And we’re partially to blame for that disappointment: we spend months and years speculating and envisioning all the ways we want that sequel to play out, the character arcs, the settings, the major and minor story points. But in The Last of Us Part II, Naughty Dog takes Ellie into such a grim and cruel place that I struggled to find anything redeeming about the character or story by the end of the game. This wasn’t the version of Ellie I wanted to spend my nights and weekends with, and I’m upset by this terrible journey Ellie’s been on and everything that’s been taken from her.This was not the same girl from just four years ago who I traveled across the country with, stopping to hear bad jokes and watching her watch grazing giraffes in awe and wonder. In the final flashback of the game, of the night prior to the inciting incident, Ellie tells Joel she wished he hadn't saved her in that Salt Lake City hospital, so that a vaccine could be developed and her life — and death — could have purpose. Days later she leaves for Seattle to enact revenge. Ellie's blind rage is a character flaw so great that it devours the character and everything good along with it. If anything, Ellie's character arc changes from a girl with depth and desires and feelings and needs into an undeveloped comic book villain from the 60's, just another cookie-cutter bad guy. The problem with the main character in a video game being a cookie-cutter villain is it makes for a boring main character.Working through this game was a slog; the game felt tedious and overly long. The constant gray skies and rain didn’t help the exhaustion. Part of that exhaustion is replaying the game as Abby, Ellie’s new antagonist. Abby could be likable if not for her own story of revenge (take a number). The player assumes control of Abby immediately after she kills Ellie’s friend, and it is a jarring and difficult transition. It took me a long time to get to a point where I found a type of forgiveness for Abby. But Naughty Dog builds Abby on a worn out formula, and while the game likes to remind the player that Abby is a layered and flawed character, it never gives the player an opportunity to decide that for themselves. Even less is learned about her stereotypical friends, who come off as nauseatingly charming right from the start and are cannon fodder for Ellie’s rampage. They help to reveal nothing about Abby, and then they die. Abby's companion through most of Part II is Lev, and I feel like we get a better idea of who he is on their journey together. I was honestly moved by his story, his loss, and his bravery. But Lev isn't driven by revenge, his motivation in the beginning is love. It's a stark and refreshing contrast to Abby's cold blooded golf club torture and murder. I wonder if she ever tells Lev about the cabin in Wyoming, and I wonder how he'd react. Someone tell me when the Lev DLC is coming. (It's not?! What's the matter, Naughty Dog, you guys just don't like money?)By the time the player is back in control of Ellie, for the extended epilogue of an already too long game, Ellie’s setting out to slaughter more dudes. Again, these are the actions of someone I just don't recognize, and the only reason I can find for Ellie to set off again is to keep the game going. By the time Ellie can finally confront Abby, they’re both weak and nearly dead. And here’s the final spoiler of the game, so last warning — Ellie doesn’t kill Abby. Ellie has killed dozens of people by now — militia and cultists and biker dudes — to get to Abby, but she can’t take just one more life. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation. With Abby nearly dead, after tracking her up and down the West Coast, fighting off monsters and Infected, Ellie just lets her go. For the final, final epilogue in the game, Ellie returns home only to realize that she’s lost everything.While the ending of the first game left players with many questions and interpretations, it provided closure for Joel, and by extension, the player. During the final hike together, Joel talks openly about his daughter with Ellie for the first time. It's taken Joel twenty years, but he's finally starting to heal from that unthinkable night in Texas. But Part II just keeps taking things from Ellie. She never gets the chance to come to terms with her loss, or her grief, or her PTSD attacks, and because of that I don't think the player gets that chance, either. It's a tough ending that doesn't sit well with me. While I have no doubt Part III will try to wrap up these loose feelings, I don't think it's good storytelling to force your audience to wait six years for closure.Technically, gameplay hasn’t changed at all from the original, with enemy encounters feeling mostly reused from the previous game. Crouch, sneak, press Triangle. You either enjoy it or you don't. I enjoy the scavenging and being forced to try different tactics to conserve ammo or use weapons I'm not particularly fond of using, but there's not a lot of variety in the setups. Some dudes are patrolling an area, usually one will walk out of sight of the others, you send an arrow into his head, rinse and repeat. Ellie and Abby are visually different and use a slightly different set of weapons, but the tactics and techniques you learn for Ellie are identical for Abby. Even Mario and Luigi have different run and jump styles in most Mario Bros. games, so I'm disappointed the woman's physics are essentially a copy and paste job. Sometimes the stealth system was a little persnickety when it comes to hiding from enemies, and I found the dogs highly unpredictable and buggy. Hopefully future patches can iron these little illusion-breakers out.Visually, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Cutscenes are rendered beautifully and the detail of the models — even on an eight year old console — are some of the best I’ve seen on a PS4. Eyes look wet and life-like, and faces carry so much expression that it’s easy to see actors Ashley Johnson and Laura Bailey in their performances of Ellie and Abby, respectively. And I don't want to gloss over the performances: from the voice acting to the motion capture to the animation and modeling, the artistry on display here is extraordinary. I grew up playing with pixels and I'm now walking along roads on horseback with actual living, breathing people — or at least my brain wants to believe these collections of polygons and audio files are real people. It's funny how real Ellie and Joel and Tommy and Abby and Lev and Sarah are (or were) to me, and ironically it's this attention to realism, the performances from this amazing cast and animators, that make me care so much about Ellie that I find the story of The Last of Us Part II so damn polarizing.The Last of Us Part II is a tedious and abrasive story of revenge. The game is a visually stunning masterpiece but lacks all the heart and soul of the original. While Ellie's actions often feel as if they're needed simply to keep the game's plot moving, there's no atonement or return home for either Ellie or Abby, and the journey of the hero is left unfulfilled. This story takes everything from Ellie and leaves the player with less. It's not just a sequel I didn’t want to play, it’s also a bad sequel.

Splash Mountain
Br’er Rabbit’s gettin’ evicted
June 17, 2020

Splash Mountain with a Notice of Eviction sign

It hasn't been a “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” day on Splash Mountain lately. There have been calls for Disney to re-theme the ride and remove the Song of the South songs, characters, and other elements from the popular attraction.I like the theme. I don't know if I've ever seen Song of the South in its entirety, but I know a lot of the songs, and I like them. Of course, in researching this post I learned that “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” may have been inspired by a racist pre-Civil War folk song, “Zip Coon.”But I still like the music, and I still like the theming, and I still think Splash Mountain must be re-themed.Sure, I’ll miss hearing “Zip” after coming down the flume and turning the bend into the riverboat finale (which seems broken more often than not — maybe the fact they can’t keep these animatronics from the 70’s working for more than a day is another good reason to say bye-bye to Br’er Rabbit?) but I try to picture myself at The Happiest Place on Earth, seeing a towering icon in front of me that was based on stereotypes meant to degrade and humiliate me, and I can’t help but feel a little sick and angry. Disney can do better.Side rant: I’ve always held that Disneyland should have been swapping out dark ride interiors every decade or so. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride could have become a taxi ride through New York with Oliver and Company, and Peter Pan’s Flight could have become a soaring Magic Carpet Ride with Aladdin over Agrabah. Yes, these are beloved rides, but only because us aging Disneyland fans have rode them dozens or hundreds of times for the last 65 years. Imagine what a Moana or Big Hero 6 dark ride could have been to this newest generation of Disney-fan. They don’t know much about the kid with the nose, but they love that ice princess. Disneyland can’t survive if they aren’t willing to do a little recycling in the space they have. What’s a kid born in 2050 going to think of the Alice ride?My point is, this could be an exciting opportunity for Disney to turn something old into something new. Nothing about the core of Splash Mountain — not the name (which was named after Tom Hank’s mermaid movie Splash), not the flume, not the logs, not the water aspect — nothing about the ride has the slightest relationship to the Song of the South film — except for some of the animatronic characters. But most of the animatronics were recycled from the former America Sings attraction and don’t appear in the film. There’s no argument that can be made that a log flume ride requires songs and characters from a 1946 live-action/animated hybrid film with heavily racist stereotypes and overtones.The Princess and the Frog has been heavily recommended as the new theme for Splash Mounatin, and the art and characters and songs for that film are wonderful — a large part of the film even takes place on the water! And with so many great songs in the film , I doubt anyone will miss “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” for very long. The Princess and the Frog on a flume ride would be a thrilling way to celebrate black lives at Disneyland, with the New Orleans land theming extended way out into Critter Country. (That name will probably have to go, but I’m sure Pooh and Tigger won’t mind.)As Walt used to say, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Let’s use that imagination on Splash Mountain 2.0 and make something better, something filled with Disney magic, something that doesn’t break down every week, and something celebrating black lives matter.Update: Disney has confirmed that Splash Mountain will be re-designed with characters and songs from The Princess and the Frog, and you can read more about the story and design on the Disney Parks Blog, here and here....Not that anyone asked me, but, my idea for a new Splash Mountain theme is Goofy’s Splash Mountain, and every time you go over the falls you hear an “AAH HOO HOO HOO HOWEE!!” on the way down. Anyone? Hello?

iPad Pro (2020) and Magic Keyboard Review
A powerful, beautiful device hindered by its operating system
May 5, 2020

iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard and a Hummingbird flying out of the screen

With the iPad Pro sitting in landscape orientation on my desk, the volume keys are on the top left. The “Volume Up” key is on the left, and the “Volume Down” key is on the right.On iPad OS, the volume indicator displays the volume increasing by filling a bar from left to right along the center top of the screen. This makes sense, as most Western UIs read left to right and showing progression is indicated by left to right visuals. (See car speedometers, computer loading bars, video game health bars, etc.)However, on iPad, when pressing the left Volume key, the indicator fills to the right. When pressing the right Volume key, the indicator decreases to the left.Now, in Portrait mode, the volume keys make sense. Up is up and Down is down. But in Landscape mode, the left volume key should switch and become Volume Up, and the right volume key should become Down. The keys aren’t physically labeled and the UI knows when it’s in landscape or portrait. (This is also the behavior the always-in-landscape mode Nintendo Switch follows, so the same keys, in almost the same location on similar devices do the exact opposite.)Turning Up the VolumeAnd that is my review of the iPad Pro 2020. Because the iPad Pro’s volume-in-landscape perfectly exemplifies everything great and everything wrong with the iPad Pro, where you have hardware and software literally fighting each other, totally unnecessarily. It reminds me, dare I say it, of Windows installed on a MacBook with Bootcamp, but Bootcamp was better. With Bootcamp, when booted into Windows, if you pressed the F-12 key for Volume Up, the volume went up — it even made the little volume up sound and displayed the Mac’s native volume UI graphic. This worked so well because Bootcamp took the time to install the drivers to make these features work on Windows just like on the Mac. The same with remapping the Command key to function as the Windows key, and all the way down to the drivers for the graphics card.Remapping the volume keys on the iPad Pro was not a feature that was cut for time or delayed until iOS 23 because Apple has too many other great features that they’re working on. This is either something every single person at Apple, from Tim Cook and Craig Federighi down to the iPadOS student intern, either didn’t notice or didn’t care enough to spend ten minutes adding a few lines of code to change the button mapping. Or, it was deeply considered at all levels and the decision to leave it the way it is won out, but my money is on the shrug emoji.The 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a big touch screen with the A12Z, a nearly identical SoC to the previous model (with an additional unlocked graphics core) that Apple routinely touts as outperforming “most laptops” yet it routinely does less than my 5-year-old MacBook. Currently, my iPad Pro is running Ulysses, a fancy word processor. And that’s it. That’s all I’m allowed to have open, one app at a time. (Unless you can figure out Apple’s multitasking touch controls, but they're so convoluted and unintuitive that I rarely bother with it.)And yes, even though you can have two apps open side-by-side on the iPad Pro, you can’t have three. A device that outperforms most laptops, but it can’t run a browser, a Twitter client, and a notepad app all at the same time. It also lacks Final Cut Pro, Motion, After Effects, and Xcode, to name just a few professional apps. So how does having all this performance and all these unlocked graphics cores help me?The obvious place to point the finger is iPadOS, which is too much of a mobile-first OS, even after ten years of powering the iPad, and eighteen months powering the iPad Pro. iPadOS was born from iOS, Apple’s iPhone operating system. Having one app open at a time on a 4-inch phone screen made a lot of sense when we were collectively learning how to type with our thumbs, but I’ve mastered thumb typing. I’ve got a full sized keyboard and trackpad now, to boot! I’m ready for an iPad with proper multi-window and multi-app support. I’m ready for professional apps. I’m ready for iPadOS to step out from the iPhone OS shadow and become its own operating system, but Apple holds it all back with a single app paradigm that this pseudo-laptop still clings to.The plan a month ago was to do as much work as possible on an iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard, and to form some opinions on the viability of an iPad Pro being a full time replacement for a traditional laptop. Volume keys aside, here’s my take.Not a Laptop, But Laptop-likeI’ve owned a few iPads over the years, but this is my first time with an iPad Pro, and the first iPad I’ve owned since the big multitasking launch a few years ago. I have always been a Mac user, but I’ve also worked with and owned a number of Windows and Linux-based PCs over the years. This is all to say: I’m pretty damn comfortable on a traditional desktop OS.Moving to an iPad Pro full time, I knew right away that there’s a lot about the Mac I’d miss. BBEdit, Acorn, Amphetamine, Automator, Final Cut Pro/Adobe Premier, and the Finder were all at the top of my list. I tried iMovie as a replacement for Final Cut, and boy was that an uncomfortable experience. Files for iPadOS is not a Finder replacement, either, and there are simply some things you can’t do on iPadOS without a Mac, like unzip a file or add a custom alert sound to the device (like a New Mail sound).The most jarring adjustment is the way iPadOS handles files. Unlike with the Finder, you can’t just save an often used file on your Desktop (or Home Screen, as there is no Desktop). If you want to open a file on iPadOS, you need to open the app where the file is stored, then open the file from within the app. If you want to open the file with another app, you can do so through the share sheet system, but even on the iPhone I still find the share sheets difficult and clunky and time consuming. When sharing text from Ulysses, for example, the share sheet shows Zoom and Brave and Scriptable as sharing options. Scriptable at least says the file (text) is not supported. Brave tries loading it as a webpage but just hangs there until I get bored of waiting. Zoom is the best: it just totally ignores that I shared a file with it. Why is the share sheet cluttered with apps that can’t open a text document, and why do the order of the share sheet options keep changing? And why do I have to open every app and remove Zoom from every share sheet?iPadOS makes a lot of attempts to simplify and organize a traditional Desktop, especially for those people (you know who you are) with hundreds of PDFs, Word documents, photos, folders, and the occasional .exe file creating a nightmare desktop. But by completely removing the desktop, Apple has had to make compromises and Files app-like crutches to make up for the total lack of a user-accessible file system. I’m not arguing the Desktop or the file system is good design, but I am arguing that for a Pro device with a Pro workflow, the share sheet is bad design.Some apps, like Amphetamine, don’t and likely won’t ever have iPad alternatives, and it’s baffling to me that the iPad doesn’t have a way to distinguish sleep settings and screen brightness between plugged into power and running on battery. Isn’t this Power Management 101?But then there are apps and experiences, like Procreate with the Apple Pencil, that I could never have on the Mac. I’ve always been able to draw with a #2 pencil or a cheap office pen, but the iPad and Pencil have reignited the artistic spark in me that I thought I’d lost back in high school. There are moments (more on this in a minute) where I’ve doubted my decision to buy this iPad and the $500 in additional accessories. I could have waited a year and bought an ARM based Mac in 2021 and probably been very happy. When I have these doubts I pull the iPad Pro off the magnetic keyboard and do something that the MacBook could never do: draw on the screen, or lay in bed and read comics, or sit on the floor and play games, or go to the park and browse the web with my iPad’s cellular connection. You don’t need the Magic Keyboard or even an iPad Pro to enjoy these experiences, because this is where iPadOS shines, when it does Just One Thing.But then I snap the iPad back to my Magic Keyboard and I try to do Real Work and find myself doing Just One Thing again and I sort of wish I was using my MacBook.Say Hello to KeyboardThe Magic Keyboard is almost certainly the most expensive keyboard you’ll ever buy. As a PC gamer with a love of mechanical keyboards, I’ve bought some expensive keyboards, but the Magic Keyboard is significantly more expensive. But as a keyboard, you do get a little more, and a little less, with your purchase.For this review, I have the iPad Pro 12.9-inch and the corresponding $350 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard.The Magic Keyboard is only an additive to the iPad Pro. It does not remove any functionality, nor is it required. It’s very much an Apple Pencil-type of accessory, in that it provides you with another way to interact with the device. If you don’t add the Magic Keyboard to your setup, the iPad Pro is still the same iPad Pro you’ve always had.But having the iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard creates a pseudo-laptop type of device, with a keyboard and mini trackpad. The keyboard itself is similar to a 60% keyboard, lacking the top row of F-keys and the Esc key, but includes the inverted-T arrow keys and dual Command keys. There is also a bonus Emoji key that brings up the onscreen emoji keyboard (okay, it’s actually the Globe key that allows you to change the input language, but it’s the Emoji key to me) that replaces the function (Fn) key — unused on iPadOS. The real pain point is the lack of an Esc key — I cannot tell you how many times I’ve hit the backtick (or grave accent) key while trying to Escape, as many 60% keyboards replace backtick with Esc. I prefer this, however if you need to escape out of something, the Command + period hotkey will usually do the job. Usually. You can also re-map the Caps Lock key to function as an Esc, which turns out is a very popular work around for iPad and Mac users, but I’m not sold on this.The Magic Keyboard is the same width as a 15-inch MacBook keyboard, and the keys are really nice to type on, with a small amount of travel and a nice clicky sound. The keys are backlit, with the backlighting controlled by the iPad’s ambient light sensor. (In almost every review I’ve read on the Magic Keyboard, one of the major complaints is the lack of an easily accessible backlight control, but I think this is ridiculous. I’ve never felt the need to adjust the backlighting on the keyboard, and if you stop using the keyboard for a few minutes the backlighting turns off automagically. I’m not sure this is the kind of product-breaking issue that warrants repeated complaints. I rarely change the backlighting on my MacBook keyboard and I’ve never felt the need to adjust it on my Magic Keyboard. Just let the iPad set it and forget it.)Typing a double space with the Magic Keyboard types a period, just like with the software keyboard, and the keyboard does have auto-correct and auto-capitalization on by default. All of these can be disabled in Settings app, General, Keyboards, Hardware Keyboard. (I had to finally disable auto-cap; starting a sentence with “iPad” kept changing it to “IPad” and the auto-correct wouldn’t fix it.) The top row of the software keyboard actually appears at the bottom of the screen with the Magic Keyboard, complete with Undo and auto-correct suggestions. It’s actually a really nice addition to the writing experience.The actual keys feel like the keys of a real keyboard, and that’s because this is a real keyboard, not that weird, squishy Smart Keyboard that costs significantly less. It comes in one color, a solid black with black keys. The soft rubbery case is a different shade of black, but I consider them both black. It’s like a black pair of jeans and a black T-shirt: both black, but different materials with a slightly different shade. It does get a bit of a glare, especially on the trackpad, from my (washed regularly) fingers and hands, but it can be cleaned easily with a dry microfiber cloth. There’s also a rubbery, chemical odor to the case. It’s not particularly strong or noticeable while using the iPad, but I left it laying on a pillow for a few hours and the pillow absorbed the unpleasant scent. Unless you enjoy strange, bitter odors while sleeping, I wouldn’t recommend leaving your Magic Keyboard on your pillow.The Magic Keyboard is heavy, but durable, and in the few times I’ve moved around with it, it hasn’t felt significantly worse in weight than a 15-inch MacBook. The USB-C port on the hinge is for charging the iPad Pro through the Smart Connector, giving you an extra port on the opposite side to plug other devices directly into the iPad for data transfer. The cheap little white USB-C to USB-C cable from Apple was way too short for me to use with desk, so I had to buy a longer cable. It’s kind of annoying: the amount of money I spent on this setup and Apple couldn’t provide me with a USB cable longer than a couple of feet.I also almost never close the iPad Pro like I would a laptop. I leave it up pretty much full time. It’s ridiculously easy to tap the screen and wake the iPad up; it’s ridiculously difficult to pry up the screen from the fully closed position. Look at the front edge of your laptop, there’s probably a little notch cut out to slip your finger in and lift. On my iPad Pro, there’s no such notch, it’s like a very heavy one page good, and, oh yeah, there’s a magnetically attached Pencil in the way. Also, the “top” is the entire computer/screen/battery (sans keyboard), making it very top heavy. You need two hands to open it. I mean, sure, physics, so there wasn’t much I could imagine Apple could do in this situation, so I just leave it open.


For Mice and iPadsThe built-in trackpad on the Magic Keyboard is nice, if not a bit small, and it works exactly as it would on a MacBook. The trackpad physically clicks, but you can click it from anywhere on the pad. The pointer for iPadOS has been completely redesigned, and I really thought I was going to hate how it morphs into buttons and gets absorbed by icons, but it’s actually a nice, subtle effect. Although it doesn’t get absorbed by every icon and UI element, and when it doesn’t it’s a little jarring. This is mostly noticeable in Google’s YouTube app, which doesn’t feel like a designed-for-iPad kind of app in the first place. But open Ulysses or Fantastical and it functions as you’d expect. It also morphs onto the Safari close tab button, which is just tiny enough that I really dislike jabbing my fat finger into. Apps with custom UI buttons, like Overcast, need some updates to properly absorb the cursor and give it that little bit of pizzaz.One weird aspect of the trackpad is the ratio between it and the actual screen. The iPad Pro screen is 4:3, but the trackpad is an ultrawide 16:9 (while the MacBook's screen and trackpad ratios are the exact opposite). I think this was Apple’s attempt to make the trackpad look bigger, but while it helps with side-to-side scrolling, up and down still requires a few swipes with the fingertip. The alternative is to have the case extend past the iPad Pro when closed, and that would be... actually, that might be okay. With the Apple Pencil on top, and the slightly wider case closed, it could cover the Pencil too, preventing it from getting knocked off. I wonder if Apple experimented with that in the prototyping phase and found it didn’t work for some reason.Display Me Something GoodThe iPad is a giant screen. Ripping it off the Magic Keyboard is fun, but it’s also a unique transformation of the device that I don’t think anything else is able to similarly do today. I suspect when you hear people say, “I prefer working on an iPad,” they aren’t saying “I hate the Finder,” but instead enjoy this transformative experience.And this is where I go when I feel I’m not getting the value I wanted or expected out of this iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil. I transform it into a comic book reader that can display comics at full size, just like their print counter-parts, or I lay it flat and draw something, or I sync my PS4 controller and play a game like What the Golf? on that nearly edgeless display. My aging MacBook Pro is still about as powerful as a $999 MacBook Air, but the iPad’s fanless operation and solid state internals make it feel so much faster. I’m giving my Apple Arcade subscription a run for its money.One angle of the iPad Pro that you sort of lose with the Magic Keyboard is orientation. You can only magnetically attach the keyboard in Landscape, which I find really disappointing. As a writer, I would love to be able to twist this screen 90 degrees and get a lot more writing space. This was an easy opportunity to one-up the MacBook writers, but Apple completely whiffed on it. With Ulysses, for example, the default is to show you the set of Library folders, the files in the Library, and the page you’re typing on, so a three-way split. About half the screen is just static space at best, a distraction at worst. You can tap the full screen view, but now about one quarter of the screen on either side is just dead space. I appreciate a good margin, but so much is wasted in Landscape. This is the biggest shortcoming of the Magic Keyboard. I would have happily spent another $50 for a Magic Keyboard that can mount the iPad in both Landscape and Portrait orientation.Otherwise, it’s a great display. It easily wipes clean with a microfiber cloth, which oddly Apple doesn’t include in the box, but they include microfibers with MacBooks. Or they used to — do they still provide the little black microfiber cloths? I’m also really happy with the 12.9-inch size. I was concerned it would be too big, but I think this almost-13-inch screen is a great compromise between reading, writing, and watching movies while still being highly portable.Smile for the LiDARThe Magic Keyboard has a little cutout in the back of the case for the iPad Pro 2020 camera system. I’m sure this is more about accommodating the unnecessarily large camera bump and less about really expecting people to take a photo while holding the Magic Keyboard with iPad Pro attached to it in the air. But that’s exactly what I did.The camera does not have night mode. I’m not sure what the camera generation is, but I’d wager around the iPhone XS based on the quality of the night shot I took. Which is to say, extremely disappointing. “But why are you trying to take a photo with your iPad, anyways?” you may be asking. Well, I’ve been asking that for a decade. The iPad should have a forward facing camera. And that’s it.There’s also a LiDAR system on here but, just, why? I know, the rumor is the iPhone is going to have it in the Fall, so this gives Apple a way to put the LiDAR system in their developers’ hands for app creation without spoiling the fact the iPhone will have LiDAR in the fall. Well, if the whole reason is to give devs something to play with before the iPhone gets it, aren’t we basically spoiling the iPhone?This is all to say, the iPad Pro camera system is bad, unnecessary, and I will probably never again launch the camera app for the rest of this iPad’s life.The iPad Pro front facing camera is the real story. The front facing camera is great, but when attached to the Magic Keyboard (or placed anytime in Landscape mode) the camera ends up off to the side. Despite actually looking at the screen, the camera angle makes it appear you’re looking way off to the side and not participating in the conversation.This is another situation, like the volume keys, where Apple could have made a choice to place the front facing camera on the edge of the iPad Pro that would usually be on top when in Landscape. Instead, they chose Portrait. The issue with Portrait is that Apple has positioned the iPad Pro as a competitor to traditional laptops, all of which have front facing cameras that frame their users in Landscape. If you set the iPad Pro to Portrait, you are framed noticeably different than everyone else on their landscape laptop webcams. If you set the iPad Pro onto your Smart/Magic Keyboard, you’re looking way off to the side.Inside and OutThe 2020 iPad Pro has the A12Z SoC and 6 GB of RAM. It’s available with up to 1 TB of storage, and a giant battery. Also, I have the LTE version.The design of the screen, the edges, the buttons, is outstanding, just as you'd expect for an Apple product. Even the volume buttons are nicely designed. The iPad Pro uses USB-C, and while I've said for a long time that Apple is not going to switch the iPhone to USB-C anytime soon, now that I'm starting to build a collection of USB-C devices, I definitely understand the passion of Team Make-the-iPhone-USB-C-Already,-Apple, but remain firmly on Team It's-Just-Not-Gonna-Happen,-You-Guys. But here's hoping.There are some significant differences between Magic Keyboard sizes for the iPad Pro. All keys on the 12.9-inch keyboard feel full size and nearly identical to their placement on a MacBook. The 11-inch keyboard has many of the none-alphanumeric keys, like punctuation and Command, Option, Control modifier keys, reduced in size by varying degrees. It also appears, based on what I’ve heard and read, the screen overhang is more pronounced on the 11-inch, causing more finger bumping when trying to type numbers or Delete.We Need to Talk, iPadOSiPadOS still has too much iOS in it.The one app at a time paradigm is not suitable for a professional computer. Case in point: Video conferencing. If I’m using Zoom on my MacBook, I can easily click to check my email, then click to my notes, then open a browser window to reference something, then back to my notes, all with Zoom still running uninterrupted. You cannot do that on an iPad. As soon as you swipe away from Zoom, the camera and mic cut out, as iPadOS doesn’t allow background apps access to the camera and mic.Little things, like the App Switcher (Command + Tab) has a max of 9 apps that it can show and allow you to switch between, and the Home Screen has a max of 30 apps it can display on a single screen. There’s a lot of empty space left over on both the App Switcher and Home Screen. Sure, the spacing feels nice, but do what Gmail does, and give users the option of cramming more information into these spaces.As I’ve discussed, a lack of professional apps and a lack of real multi-tasking/multi-window support don’t just impede a workflow, but can outright break it. Multitasking needs to be re-thought if Apple wants to push the iPad Pro as a pro-device, because the way it works (you can only multitask with apps in the dock, you can’t have, say, Tweetbot paired with Safari and Mail, etc.) make multitasking frustrating and difficult. I would love to have Messages open next to every app I’m using, but I’m not going to manually drag it up every time I switch to a new app.It’s also impossible to know which app is in focus (in front) when apps are side-by-side when doing this split-view multi-tasking approach. I’ve tried to start typing in one app so many times only to realize the other app was in focus.And arguing for deeper Shortcuts integration is fine. Shortcuts are a great addition to the OS, but they’re a band-aid to a bigger issue of usability and design (determining which app is in focus is not solved by more powerful Shortcuts).Nothing about iPadOS feels designed for a power user. There are too many animations and transition effects making the iPad Pro feel slower than it is (run a Shortcut that calls actions from two or three apps, then do the same with macOS's Automator, and you’ll understand my point). All of this can be improved, but Apple has got to allow iPadOS to grow up and be it’s own OS.LastlyThe iPad Pro is an extremely powerful, beautiful, multifunctional device hindered only by its operating system. iPadOS is both elegant and frustrating in its simplicity of design.iPadOS is a great OS, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great OS for a $329 iPad purchased for a kid, or a 20-something looking for a simple social media device, or a grandparent. It’s reliable, secure, sometimes intuitive, inviting, fun, and really difficult to break. (Remember back on System 7, how you could just drag the System file to the Trash and then restart to get the Flashing Question Mark Folder? Good times.)iPadOS is a great OS, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great OS for a $329 iPad purchased for a kid, or a 20-something looking for a simple social media device, or a grandparent. It’s reliable, secure, sometimes intuitive, inviting, fun, and really difficult to break.But as a professional desktop replacement, the iPad Pro lacks so much. Pro apps, to start with. A file system. Real multi-tasking. Apple sold me a real keyboard and a real trackpad and a beautiful screen all powered by an OS designed 13 years ago for a very different type of device, and for a very different type of audience, an audience that ohh’ed and ahh’ed as Steve Jobs demonstrated touch scrolling on the iPhone for the very first time. Sure, Apple added (and then kinda broke) text selection and copy and paste, and my Home Screen can now display the weather and my calendar, and now there’s a cursor for my trackpad, but we’re so far away from the power of a true desktop-class OS.Not that I bought my iPad Pro expecting to find a desktop-class OS. But someday I would like to have, maybe, two windows open and be able to visually identify which window is in focus. The ability to have multiple windows on screen ups the complexity, but it doesn’t diminish security, and it doesn’t make the iPad less fun. I can still tear it away from the Magic Keyboard, lay in the grass, and sketch the large tree in the front yard with Procreate at full screen. This is the iPad’s strength, its bread and butter, its joyful experience. But when I get back inside, and re-attach it to my Magic Keyboard, I need it to cut the whimsey and let me get back to work.And unlike the iPhone, there’s no Up or Down on the iPad Pro. Regardless of how you hold it, any edge can be Up. But if you hold the iPad Pro with the front-facing camera on the bottom, and the USB-C port at the top (effectively “upside-down”), even though iOS correctly rotates the screen for you, the volume buttons remain hard-coded, and now the volume key on top turns the volume down.The iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard is all about fun, which is why I’m finishing my iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard review on my MacBook Pro. iPadOS is just not quite ready to take the workday seriously, but that’s okay: I have a lot of comic books saved up that I need to read, and it looks like a nice day to read outside.

Joker Movie Review
A beautifully uncomfortable character study
October 25, 2019

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker

Warning: Spoilers for the movie Joker follow.Joker is a lot of things, but it is not a comic book movie. But Joker is, of course, a comic book movie, and this is where people deciding that one type of film genre is considered cinematic but another type isn’t really starts to break down. Just like comic books themselves, movies based on the medium are evolving and changing rapidly. It doesn’t matter what kind of film you label Joker as, because that doesn’t change the fact that it is still a dark, violent, shocking film. Joker finally shows theater audiences what comic book nerds have known all along: there’s a lot more in those pages than just a cartoon and a speech bubble.We’ve had decades of twenty-somethings in bright spandex outfits jumping around in front of a green screen while amazing special effects and massive orchestras take us through an amazing fantasy world. In other words: incredible cinema.Then The Dark Knight Trilogy came along, shifting the bar towards a gritty realism while containing the action and special effects of the established genre in a PG-ish rating for the whole family to enjoy. Deadpool and Logan would again push the genre in new directions while remaining distinctive comic book action films.Joker throws out the comic book action and special effects entirely, instead taking the approach of an uncomfortable character study of Arthur Fleck, a man full of delusions and anxieties from a childhood of abuse. This is the rare movie that forces the audience to live with a character who has a serious mental illness and experience with him his day-to-day interactions with the public, co-workers, and family. Arthur is a difficult protagonist to watch on screen; here is a man who wants to be part of society while being rejected by it.Arthur has a simple goal in life: to make people laugh. The problem, of course, is he isn’t funny. Joaquin Phoenix plays the part with humanity and empathy for Arthur. Phoenix’s slow, eventual transformation from Arthur into Joker is a remarkable affair to watch. The performance is at once disturbing and honest. Phoenix and director Todd Phillips keep the characters and city of Gotham grounded in our reality, despite the world being torn out of a comic book. This is not a world of cool gadgets or incredible acts of bravery. Arthur’s world is painful, unclean, and cruel.Gotham is a world deeply divided by class: the ultra rich and the ultra poor. Arthur lives in the ultra-poor, struggling as an employee of Ha-Ha as a clown for hire. His medical condition, uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate moments, leaves him with few friends; he spends most nights with his mother watching the late night talk show (hosted by Robert De Nino). When he’s given a handgun for protection, he quickly finds use for it against three suit wearing ultra-rich thugs on the subway. Arthur finds a disturbing zen-like inner peace from the killings, slow dancing with himself, more himself than he’s ever felt. As the gruesome killing of the business suits sends a riotous ripple out across the city, Arthur smiles in self-satisfaction.Arthur has been violently attacked, fired from his job, mocked in front of thousands by his late night TV idle, dismissed by the man he believes to be his father, lied to by his mother — and now, alone in a world that rejects him, the last sane part of Arthur Fleck dies. A ringing phone and an offer to appear on the late night talk show he so admires is answered by The Joker. In full Joker makeup — white face, green hair, big grinning mouth, and bright orange suit — he confronts a world that has hurt and harmed him, and to which he will soon do the same.As the film ends, Joker rises above his minions, finally finding the acceptance he has longed for. As Joker, both Arthur Fleck and Joaquin Phoenix are unrecognizable.Joker is not a comic book origin story. It’s a study of a man with a mental illness and his place in society. We feel sympathy for a protagonist who can commit murder without remorse. We have complex feelings and contrasting emotions for a man who doesn’t deserve them. We reject and accept his actions. As the credits roll, we leave our theaters and re-enter a world we recognize as having just spent the last two hours watching.

The Blue Shell — The Worst Item in Mario Kart
A design failure that can't be fixed
September 1, 2019

The Blue Shell on the Rainbow Road

The third game of the 2017 Nintendo World Championships was Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch, the latest in Nintendo’s long-running, turtle shell throwing, mushroom boosting, banana dropping, power sliding, kart racing series. The first race was 50cc Mount Wario, with the slower speed class chosen to possibly throw off the competitors who were more likely accustomed to the faster cups.By the end of the first leg of the race, the top four racers had settled into their placements, with “Kyle W” taking a commanding lead in first. The commenters attempted to keep the race exciting with their commentary but the skilled racers kept red turtle shells at bay by holding defensive banana peels behind their karts. It was, from a spectator’s viewpoint, a somewhat boring race (not surprising given the slow speed class).But then, with “Kyle W” seconds from the finish line, the notorious Blue Shell made its appearance and the commenters lost their collective minds. “Oh! But here comes the Blue Shell! Here it comes!” they excitedly shouted while talking over each other. The Blue Shell, fired from a racer in last place, flew quickly down the track, honing in on the racer in first. With nothing but coins in hand, the Blue Shell exploded over “Kyle W’s” kart, but the experienced racer mitigated the majority of the hit by purposely driving off the track. This tactic allows for slightly less downtime as opposed to a direct hit from the shell, and in Mario Kart, every second counts. As "Kyle W" is moved back into place by Lakitu, the commenters question if the second place driver now has a chance to take the lead. However, “Kyle W” recovers quickly and it’s clear the Blue Shell had no significant effect on the match. “Kyle W” crossed the finish line with his closest opponent seconds behind him — an eternity in a 50cc Mario Kart race.As anyone who’s played a Mario Kart game knows, running across question blocks and strategically using items is an essential part of winning a race. Good driving skill will get you near the top, but skillfully fired shells and stratigically held bananas will get you into first. The Blue Shell, however, is something of a unique case.The Blue Shell (sometimes referred to as the Spiny Shell) first appeared in Mario Kart 64, the second game in the Mario Kart series. The Blue Shell acts as a long distance homing missile, locking onto the player in first place and exploding on impact, causing the player’s kart to spin out and stop moving for a few seconds. The Blue Shell is only obtained from the question blocks by racers in or near last place.The Blue Shell’s original design purpose, according to Hideki Konno, the director of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, was to keep a tight race right up to the finish line by keeping everyone tightly clumped together. However, the Blue Shell is failing at its original objective. As the Nintendo World Championships this year clearly demonstrated, and as you can experience for yourself by playing online or watching the Pros race on Twitch, the Blue Shell is ineffective at keeping a race close.The Blue Shell has many problems in its design and implementation in the Mario Kart series, but crucially, the Blue Shell doesn’t benefit the racer who fired it. The last place racer who gets a Blue Shell can’t see what items the first place racer is holding (Super Horn, Mushroom), so they can’t see if the hit will be successful. But it never matters to them, because firing the Blue Shell doesn’t change the race for that player. Is their kart suddenly faster? Can they no longer fall off the track? Are they transported to the point of impact in first place? No. The player firing the Blue Shell remains in last place. The Blue Shell may have helped second or third place pull ahead, but it’s a blank for last place. You, as the last place racer, may get a good laugh when you see the kart spin out on the mini-map, but — bad news — you’ve still lost the race. Any item would be more advantageous to have in last place than a Blue Shell for a racer hoping to make a comeback.Second, the Blue Shell is a skill-less item. Most items, from the Red Shells to the Lightning Bolt, still require some sort of skill to effectively utilize them. You can’t blindly fire off a Red Shell, you’re more likely to hit a banana peel, and the effectiveness of the Bolt is dependent upon your ability to drive and drift past the slow, tiny racers. Firing a Blue Shell requires about as much skill as pushing a button on your controller.Which brings me to point three: It doesn’t matter your placement in the race, the Blue Shell makes the game less fun for everyone. No one in last place wants to get it, as it does nothing to help them, and no one wants to be hit by one, as it feels cheap and undeserved. Isn’t the point of the game to have fun?The director of Mario Kart 7 and 8, Kosuke Yabuki, has said about the Blue Shell: "You know, sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes in life you have something where you feel that’s not right, and that’s frustrating." I agree, but Mario Kart is not life. Mario Kart is a game created by people who have the ability to make games that are both balanced and fun. When the Blue Shell hits the player in first on the last turn of the last lap, and the next three racers fly past her across the finish line, the designers have deliberately created a situation in a game that is not fair and is not fun.The Extra Credits video "The Blue Shell — Why Mario Kart’s Most Hated Item Exists,” posits that being in first place the entire game, and thus not being able to interact with other players or items, isn’t very fun. By being hit by a Blue Shell and knocked back into second or third place, these players are now having more fun. While true that Mario Kart’s best items are usually found by racers in 4th to 12th place, the challenge of holding first place can be equally enjoyable. And I’d argue that being knocked out of first by someone in twelfth never feels fun. Just an unearned knock.In Entertainment Weekly, Kevin Sullivan argues that the Blue Shell keeps the game fun, preventing you from coasting to an easy victory, and giving you “the edge you need to come back from the bottom.” But the Blue Shell does none of this. Releasing your first Blue Shell is fun until you realize, “Well damn, I’m still losing.” But being hit by one? Let me ask you: Has your console of choice ever crashed during a boss fight? Has you PC ever blue screened just before the next auto-save? Did the wifi ever go out when your online team was closing in on victory? That’s the same level of fun as getting hit by a Blue Shell on the last lap of the race. This “edge” to climb back from last isn’t the Blue Shell — it’s a Starman, Golden Mushroom, Lightning Bolt, and good drifting.So what do you do if there's a Blue Shell headed in your direction? If it was recently fired, then there's a good chance it hasn't locked onto you yet — it's simply working its way to the front of the pack. If your opponents are close behind, hit the brakes — then follow behind at a safe distance. Once the shell explodes, cruise on back to first. If you have a pretty good lead on the competition, or the shell is already locked onto you, steer into a banana peel or other obstacle. Your kart will spin out, but a spin out is less time consuming than a full on explosion that stops your kart for a second or two. If you don't see a banana peel or shell, follow Kyle W's example and drive off a nearby ledge.There’s no single item in Mario Kart that can equalize two players of unequal driving skill, at least not one which will be fun and fair for both players. A racer who knows the tracks, knows the shortcuts, and knows how to drift is at a massive advantage before the race ever begins. The design team of Mario Kart 64 attempted to fix a problem with the original Super Mario Kart by designing an all new item. They failed. Later iterations of the series have continued to try and continued to fail to fix the Blue Shell, because this isn’t an item that can be fixed.The Blue Shell is attempting to fix a problem without a solution.Throughout human history there has always been a last place. If you were last place in the Stone Age you were eaten. If you’re last place in Mario Kart, your character cries after crossing the finish line. I'm certain Nintendo would like everyone to finish first in a perfect 12-way tie, but that's just not how a racing game works. When a red shell or fireball hits me, that hit feels earned — it came from an opponent directly behind me, fighting me for first.But a shot from last place? It feels cheap, unearned. As racers zoom past, it feels like the race has been stolen. It's a bad feeling. And the racer who fired the Blue Shell is still losing. Future Mario Kart games have plenty of design space for new items, tracks, karts, and characters, but game design can't fix a difference in skill level. The Blue Shell was an attempt to equalize players of varying skill — a design that has repeatedly failed — and it’s long past time to retire the Blue Shell from the Mario Kart series.