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Rewatch

I have been on a pretty serious anime rewatch kick for the past several months. I used to watch Outlaw Star and Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien every couple years because they were my favorites, but I realized recently that I hadn’t seen Outlaw Star in around 5 years and KGNE in around 6. It’s honestly been very interesting to see how well these shows have held up against both modern shows and my memory of how good they were.

So, here’s the stuff I’ve rewatched (in the proper order) and my current thoughts on them (no spoilers/super duper light spoilers).

Outlaw Star – I couldn’t say how many times I’ve seen this show, but my guess is 6 or 7. This show has held up every time I’ve watched it, and I always notice weird new things about it. It’s not perfect by any means, but the 90’s animation is wonderfully charming, and I particularly enjoy the darker colors, music, and space western vibe. My enjoyment of this show almost definitely has a lot to do with nostalgia, but I also believe that anyone that didn’t grow up watching Toonami can still appreciate what this show has to offer.

.hack//SIGN – I rewatched the first episode of this show back in the late 00’s, but that was it. I started this rewatch parallel to Outlaw Star several months ago, and I still have a few episodes left. The original .hack was truly something special when it came out, as it was the show that popularized the “trapped in a video game” trope. It honestly did so in a much more interesting way than modern shows like Sword Art Online, but unfortunately, most of the rest of the show is pretty mediocre besides the music. .hack//SIGN has arguably the best anime soundtrack of all time, in my opinion, but the pacing, characters, and world building just aren’t that great. The animation was probably mediocre for the time as well, but I have a soft spot in my heart for early 00’s animation.

Toradora – I haven’t seen this show at all since my original watch a couple years after it came out (so around 2010). Pretty much everything about this show held up extremely well. Honestly, the only thing that truly dates the show is the usage of flip phones. If not for that, you wouldn’t be able to tell the show didn’t come out last year. That aside, Toradora does a great job developing characters and (light spoiler) is one of the most believable shows about not understanding your own feelings. Character interactions in this show are fun and sincere, and I say all of this despite one of the main characters being a tsundere – a trope I generally don’t like, but adore in this show. The only thing I didn’t like was the ending, which, upon rewatch, I still agree with. The end is simply not believable or up to the standard the rest of the show sets, but it doesn’t take away from the show being an overall great watch.

Clannad – This is another show I watched a couple years after it came out and haven’t seen since then (also around 2010). It’s the longest show on my rewatch list since it has two two-cour seasons (around 48 episodes). I remember loving Clannad, but honestly, after rewatching, my opinion of it has only improved. Clannad is brilliant. It’s heartwarming, it’s funny, it’s inspiring, it’s incredibly sad (you will probably tear up a few times during the second season). The animation is gorgeous even a decade later (Kyoto Animation did a truly phenomenal job), but you do have to get past the girls having giant eyes even by anime standards. The openings, the endings, the music in both of those and throughout the show, the story, the characters, I just cannot say enough good things about how amazing this show is. It’s such an experience that, just like the first time, I found myself constantly thinking about it when it was over. A week later, I was still wishing it wasn’t over.

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien – I’ve seen KGNE (which was called Rumbling Hearts in English, for some bizarre reason, despite not at all being the translation of the Japanese title) around 5 times, and I admit, the last time I watched it, I felt a little let down for some reason. This time, however, it brought me right back to how I used to feel. This is one of those rare anime that (extremely light spoiler) goes past high school and shows adults doing adult things. It’s quite dramatic and might make you tear up. The adult nature and the specific type of drama really set this show apart from other shows in the drama/romance category. That said, the animation in this show really does not hold up well. In fact, it may not have been particularly great when it originally came out in 2003/2004. There are some scenes set in a facility that should have tons of background characters and it’s just…empty. It’s kind of off-putting, but otherwise, definitely still worth the watch and remains high on my list of favorite shows.

School Days – I watched this one probably around 2009 and haven’t really touched it since then. The animation actually held up somewhat decently, and it has at least one pretty memorable song, but that’s not really what this one is about. (Fair warning, this blurb is kind of spoilery on basic plot points, but nothing major) It’s a really divisive anime, and I think a lot of people hate it because the main character is completely unlikable, and much of the story is based around a bunch of people actually liking him. I don’t blame people for watching this one and hating it because they were expecting something else, but I honestly liked it a lot the first time I watched it, and even more so the second time around. I would feel weird saying that it’s a breath of fresh air in its genre, so let’s just say that it’s very different in an unexpected way. The main character’s development is very much unlike most “self insert” boring main characters that this genre tends to churn out, which leads to frustration and pity for other characters, and that understandably turns some people off. There are ways this show could’ve been a lot worse, but the culmination of everything at the end really sealed it. Truly one of the most memorable anime endings I’ve experienced.

And that’s it for now. Next on my list is True Tears, which I’m only one episode into.

2019

I feel like I started off 2018 with some lofty goals and at least two of those crashed and burned, but I did release my fourth novel, Iterate, this year, and I also wrote the rough draft of its sequel, Reiterate.  I also managed to blog quite a bit this year, even if that wasn’t terribly apparent until a few weeks ago if you only followed this blog.  This year was also the first time I traveled internationally, which was a super cool experience.

As for what’s in store for 2019, I’m not sure yet, but I have some ideas.  2018 made it pretty apparent (if it wasn’t already) that Facebook is a scummy company, so I’ve been trying to make sure it’s less a part of my life than it has been in the past.  I deleted the Facebook app weeks ago and the messenger app more recently from my phone and my iPad, but I admittedly did not delete (Facebook-owned) Instagram.  I do still visit Facebook in a web browser on my computers, but it’s far less often, and I don’t particularly miss it.  Through 2018, before I ever deleted the apps, I slowly began to scrub my data from the platform, removing likes, interests, personal information, demographics, etc, even though it feels like a waste of time since I have very little doubt that Facebook retained that data internally.  Even if you’re not on Facebook, they’ve got a shadow profile on you.  This is completely aside from the fact that for the past two years, I’ve had to unfollow dozens of people to remove crappy opinions from my timeline (note for the uninitiated that unfollowing someone means you’re still Facebook friends, you just don’t get that person’s updates anymore.  If that sounds crappy to you, that’s because it is).  Anyway, less Facebook in 2019.

On a similar note, I am also trying to cut back on Google services right now and in 2019.  I definitely trust Google more than Facebook, but the fact of the matter is that when you are the product instead of the customer, the data that these companies collect on you is not insignificant, and that type of data is a target for misuse, theft, and exploitation.  I’m not saying that a company having data on you is bad, but rather, this is a judgement call on two particular companies who haven’t proven super reliable lately.  People have been really upset about Apple’s price hikes this year, and while I do think some of that negativity is justified, I also believe that their privacy-first approach not only warrants a certain price premium, but is exactly part of the reason why some of their competition is cheaper (the data Google collects has monetary worth, thus it makes sense for them to provide their products at a lower cost to get them in more hands).

Tech stuff aside, I probably followed more podcasts in 2018 than I ever have, which has been great, but I feel like I have been missing out on music for a while now, so I may try to make music a little more important in 2019.

As for goals that actually take effort, I want to try to read more in 2019.  This may come as a shock to hear from a writer, but I just don’t find a whole lot of time to read novels (most of my reading is random stuff on the Internet).  My biggest issue with reading is finding time that I’m not mentally exhausted to pick up a book.  During the week, my brain is on constantly from the time I wake up until around 5:30 PM, so when I get home, I just need to shut down and watch TV or play a game or something.  If I read when I am mentally exhausted, I end up reading the same paragraph three times because I just can’t absorb anything.  I used to read every day during my lunch break, but now I use that time to write, which consequently means that even during my break, my brain is still very much turned on and not resting.  I realize that a lot of people find reading to be relaxing, which I won’t disagree with, but it does require a certain level of engagement.  For that same reason, I can’t do audio books because reading is something I need to give 100% of my attention to.  I have no idea why my brain is fine with listening to podcasts, but is unable to focus on an audio book.  So, I’d like to find some time to maybe read a book per month in 2019.  That’s not incredibly lofty, and there are two books I’ve got on my list right now anyway.

Finally, I do have more international travel coming in 2019.  This is less of a goal and more just a cool thing that I’m looking forward to.

I hope 2018 has been to great to everyone and that 2019 can be even better!


What’s wrong with HomePod?

When Apple announced the HomePod, I wasn’t particularly excited.  Honestly, I don’t think too many people were except for the hardcore fanboys and the handful of people that are concerned with privacy and security but still want a smart assistant device in their home.

After a slightly delayed launch, initial reviews raved over the sound quality and criticized Siri’s capabilities.  The consensus seemed to be “if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, you’ll probably like the HomePod.”

This is not a review of the HomePod’s technology because that can be summed up in a paragraph.

The HomePod sounds incredible and is super easy to use.  It shines as an AirPlay target for AppleTV, and the far-field mics can hear you whisper from across the room.  Bizarrely, Siri does not answer general knowledge questions on HomePod like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

There’s really not a whole lot else to say.  I could go on about how Siri is even more useless on HomePod than she is on iOS, or I could complain about lack of connectivity besides AirPlay – heck, I could whine about Apple Music being the only supported streaming service, but that’s not what this article is.  

The simple and honest truth is that every review was right – if you’re in the Apple ecosystem, the HomePod is incredible.  You already know Siri sucks, you don’t need Bluetooth since all your devices have AirPlay, and you probably have either Apple Music or music stored on your iPhone that HomePod can stream.

So why don’t we ever hear anything about HomePod anymore?  Why does it seem like the device isn’t selling well?

A common complaint about Apple products that I have seen for literally my entire tech-adjacent life is how overpriced they are.  10 years ago, I would argue that aside from the Mac Pro, Apple products weren’t overpriced – they were expensive.  That’s an important distinction, and back then, it was true.

These days, that’s not so much the case.  Apple hardware has slowly risen to absurd pricing levels, and while I’m not here to argue the value of the products or say that their pricing spells doom and gloom for the company, I am here to say how disappointing that fact is. 

The Sonos One supports AirPlay 2, has Alexa built in, and is currently on sale for $179.

I bought a HomePod on sale for $249 on Black Friday.  That’s a discount of $100 from Apple’s MSRP, which was a price that I simply could not justify.  At $249, it was still hard to justify, but at the very least, that sale did not price me out of the product like Apple’s MSRP did.  I simply was not interested at $349.

In the past, I always felt like I was paying a premium for a good product when I bought from Apple.  $249 for a HomePod feels like a premium, so what, exactly, is $349 supposed to feel like?

It’s no secret that Apple has been trying to increase their ASP (average selling price) across their line of products.  iPhones, iPads, and Macs cost more than ever, which means that Apple products are exclusionary.  That isn’t necessary as “evil” as it sounds, considering that with cheaper products, you’re paying less in money but more in data.  Privacy does have a cost, and cheap, privacy-focused products simply don’t seem to exist.

In all honesty, I could’ve written this article about any of the aforementioned products, but I chose HomePod specifically because it’s a new category that isn’t completely defined.  Apple can charge a premium for most of its products because people either see Apple as a market leader, a brand they trust, or just the trendy thing, and they will pay the price.  But for a category like this, it just doesn’t seem to be the best move. 

iPhone ASP courtesy of MacWorld

What’s wrong with the HomePod isn’t technical no matter how much anyone complains about Siri or what it lacks in connectivity – it’s the price.  At $349, I wouldn’t even consider buying one.  At $249, I’m considering how I could use a second one.

I suspect I’ll have a lot more to say about Apple’s higher-trending ASP in the near future.

The post What’s wrong with HomePod? appeared first on Philtered Tech.

Source: Philtered Tech

Quick blog update

I setup a feed import so that all posts to my tech blog and my author profile blog automatically get imported here.  I know that, for a while, I tried to separate everything, but it basically resulted in less activity across the board and made it harder to follow what I’m doing/working on.

PhilteredTech.com is still tech.  PhilipDiStefano.com is still my author profile site.  inphiltrate.com is now an amalgamation of everything except my writing blog (inphiltrate fiction).

Rough draft of Reiterate is done!

I know I said a few updates ago that Reiterate might be done in Q4 2018.  Well, Q4 2018 is almost over, and I just finished the rough draft.  Part of the holdup was that Reiterate ended up being longer than I was expecting.  The other delay wasn’t really a delay as much as it was a poor estimate of when I’d be done.  I’ve still got tons of editing to do, so if I had to take another (very likely wildly inaccurate) guess of when Reiterate will be available, I’d say May 2019.

Source: PhilipDiStefano.com

So, you want to buy a Windows laptop…

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote about the incredibly lackluster laptop market, and I have to admit that as far as regular consumer laptops go, not a lot has changed.  Over the past half year or so, I’ve researched Windows laptops extensively, and guess what I ended up buying?

A 13″ MacBook Pro.  Sigh.

My new MacBook Pro

But that’s not really where the story starts.  No, instead this story begins around January when I decided that I’d probably be buying a laptop this year.  I’ve expressed my displeasure with Apple’s current laptops more than once on this site, and as a result, I set out to find a Windows laptop that would make me happy.

In the beginning, I was determined to buy a gaming laptop to replace both my desktop and my laptop, and after hours and hours of research, I narrowed my choices down the Razer Blade 15 and the MSI GS65.  In doing that research, I learned quite a few very alarming things about the Windows laptop market that I’ve been totally immune to since 2005 (when I bought my first Mac laptop).  Yes, I do have a Surface Pro 3, but I never really intended on that completely replacing my laptop.  Settle in, this is a fun list.

  • Trackpads on Windows laptop are either pretty good (read: not great) or awful.  You have to do research on every single model (even if you are just looking at Dell laptops) to make sure you’re getting a good one.  I would never buy a Windows laptop without a glass trackpad and Windows Precision Drivers, and even those are not as good as a MacBook’s.
  • Poor customer support/lack of local support options/quick turnaround for issues is a serious problem.  The best option seems to be buying from Microsoft with their Performance Guard warranty so you can return/repair/get help at Microsoft stores.
  • Screen/light bleed (bright spots on your display) is very common, but the quality varies a lot manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • Build quality varies wildly, including case flex (when the chassis gives if you press down on it) and screen flex, which I was horrified to learn was an actual problem in the Windows laptop world
  • A lot of Windows laptops have questionable cooling solutions and/or try to cram way too much hardware in way too little space, and, as a result, get pretty loud and hot.
  • No Windows laptop has speakers that come anywhere close to Apple’s.  Honestly, Apple’s laptop speakers are magic.  I have no idea how they manage that level of quality from those tiny speakers.
Razer Blade 15, fresh out of the box.

So, after considering all of this, I bought a Razer Blade 15 from the Microsoft Store.  I was drawn to the power and design, as Razer used a unibody design similar to Apple, and it had top-notch specs.  It didn’t solve two problems I have with Macs, though: the high refresh rate screen didn’t have a touch option, and the price was essentially equivalent to a 15″ MacBook Pro.

I brought the laptop home, got it setup, tried to play Fortnite on it, and the fans kicked on so loud that it was actually distracting me from the game.  That area above the keyboard was so hot that it felt like my finger was going to actually burn.  My device also had moderate screen bleed.

On the flip side, the design was “nice,” aside from the gamer-aesthetic Razer logo.  The trackpad was also probably the best I’ve used in a Windows laptop, maybe tied or slightly better than a Dell XPS.

But I returned it the next weekend.  It was too loud, too hot, and generally too imperfect to justify its price.  It was back to the drawing board.

I decided gaming laptops were clearly out, so next I’d find a good ultrabook.  I kept my eye on the Razer Blade Stealth, the Dell XPS 13, and sort of the Huawei Matebook X Pro.  Surfaces don’t have modern ports, and they’re expensive, so they were automatically disqualified.  Apple was also rumored to be updating the MacBook Air, which I was actually pretty excited about.

Then Apple released the update, and they used a Y series CPU.  Yes, I know it’s 7w, but I’m not buying a Y series CPU again.  Apple had once again disappointed me with their laptop offerings.

First off, the Huawei seemed like the best deal, but no matter how I tried to slice it, the design was such a personality-less ripoff and the device was known to have just enough common issues that I knew I’d be disappointed with it.  I didn’t want to have to take apart the laptop to put a piece of paper under the trackpad to make it not rattle, which is a very real and common thing people have to do with that computer.

Dell is also hard for me to stomach.  The XPS line is pretty nice – the design is premium, and it has personality; however, that personality is decidedly “Dell.”  The carbon fiber palmrest design and the general Dell aesthetic is not my thing.  Plus, I keep telling myself after all the issues I have with other Dell products in my life, I probably shouldn’t keep buying Dell stuff.

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of the bezels on the Razer Blade Stealth, but it seemed like the best option.  That is, until I found out all of the issues people seem to have with it besides Razer’s already infamous customer support.  Apparently the screen is prone to phantom touches, and it’s so common that people just disable the touchscreen and live with it.  Come on, this is totally unacceptable.

It was at this point, months later, that I gave up.  Apple does not make the laptop I need, but I was left with no other options.  I could either buy a laptop that had meh power but the right price point (MacBook Air), or I could buy a 13″ MacBook Pro, which had the power the Air should’ve had along with a bunch of other stuff I didn’t need and a price tag I didn’t want.

This was a long, difficult process for me, and I am a tech person.  I can’t imagine how frustrating this must be for the average person laptop shopping right now.  Apple really would’ve killed it if the MacBook Air would’ve come out at a lower price and also offered a U series chip at a mid-tier price point (~$1300).  That said, I do like the MacBook Pro.  I’m dealing with the keyboard and still trying to find a use for the Touch Bar, but I’m sure I’ll have a whole article about that later.

If you’ve gotten this far, sighed, and realized I wasn’t going to make a recommendation, don’t fret, here it is: if you don’t want a Mac, and you want an ultrabook, get an XPS 13.  The other options are just not suitable for most consumers.  If you enjoy or can deal with Dell Aesthetic™, the XPS 13 (and 15, for that matter) is a quality machine, and they will back it up with decent support.  Bonus points if you buy an XPS 13 at a Microsoft Store.  Heck, even if you don’t buy it there, I think you can still bring it in to them for free basic troubleshooting.

The post So, you want to buy a Windows laptop… appeared first on Philtered Tech.

Source: Philtered Tech

The old people app

I recently heard two very conflicting viewpoints on Facebook.  On a tech podcast, a host said that kids today call Facebook “the old people app,” which is something I’ve been hearing for a while.  But a colleague told me that from what he’s seen administering a Facebook group, there’s actually tons of kids on it.  He believes Facebook skipped a generation, since there was, no doubt, an age group for a while that shunned Facebook.

Honestly, I’m inclined to believe my colleague over the tech podcast considering that tech journalists don’t live in the real world.  I wish the tech podcast was right (and maybe they are, I haven’t looked into it), but regardless, I guess that’s enough intro to what that post is about.

About a week and a half ago, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.  There are quite a few reasons, but the gist of it is A) I’m tired of seeing people’s crappy political opinions and B) Facebook as a company is an untrustworthy trash heap, and I want less of it in my life.  I’m not deleting it entirely (I still check it on my computer/iPad, just not on my phone), and I still have Messenger and Instagram on my phone (at least, for now).

I have, over the course of a couple years, been drastically reducing how much I post on Facebook, now I guess I’m just looking at it less too.  I wish I could get rid of it, but I feel like I need it to keep in touch with certain people and to (don’t laugh) promote what I’m working on, aka, my novels, blogs, etc.

So, anyway, I do still post a lot on Twitter, but that platform is usually pretty vapid (that’s not an insult, I like having a platform that is just stream-of-consciousness for mostly unimportant thoughts), so I was thinking maybe I could start blogging more often and just get a plugin for WordPress that cross-posts my posts to Facebook and Twitter (rather than doing it manually).  I suppose I’d still be giving Zuck data that way…I’m not sure that I care too much about links to my own site though.  Besides, as I’ve heard it put best, if you’re not on Facebook, Zuck still knows everything about you from the you-shaped hole in your friends’ accounts.