Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Best iPhone App Review Site, Reviewed

Actually, it's not just the best iPhone app website, it's also the only one I've seen that's any good at all. One might imagine that anyone setting out to help users sift through the 85,000+ programs now available via Apple's app store would take a cue from the gadget itself by creating a website that's reasonably simple and intuitive. Instead, pretty much all of the dedicated app review sites available are bloated, hard to use, and ugly.

In contrast, First & 20 takes a simple idea and executes it beautifully: it has asked a growing collection of "designers, developers and tech writers" to provide a pic of their iPhone home screens and to write a little about some of the apps they use most. The website's simple design also takes many cues from the iPhone's user interface. But most of all, it answers the first question if want to ask anyone with an iPhone: what apps do you like and use the most?

Of course, it would be even better if the net was widened a little to include people from some other, less techie industries. Judging by the choices up there right now, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everyone who uses an iPhone is also obsessed by Twitter (the two most popular apps are Tweetie and Birdfeed). And the running count of white/black phones seems rather superfluous. But, these small grumbles aside, I love it simply for introducing me to a bunch of excellent apps people with brains actually use.

Originally published at Ludovician.com.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

KQED: The Most Serene Republic's State of Distress

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder as "a persistent pattern of inattention or hyperactivity/impulsivity that is more frequently displayed and more severe than is typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development." I only mention this as an illustration of the lengths I went to in trying to find some sort of useful description for the manic, breathless, ever-changing, and generally unclassifiable confusion that is The Most Serene Republic's third album ...And the Ever Expanding Universe.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read the full article here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Last Post: When and How to Close a Blog

I've just posted the final entry on my other blog Strange Things Will Happen. I started it a couple of years ago when I moved to the States from Britain, and it was my first adventure in blogging. Closing it was therefore a difficult decision to make, but ultimately the central idea -- me writing about life on the wrong side of the pond -- had run out of steam. Over time, the lack of desire to write fresh posts tells its own story. But, after realizing that it's time was up, I decided to finish with a definite full stop rather than just let it die through neglect alone: hence the concluding post.

Still, I feel slightly weird that it will continue to be available online for the foreseeable future. Part of me wants to delete it now, rather than let it grow old and stale in plain sight. But I realize that this is just my inner print journalist talking. Sure, libraries always do their best to make sure printed copies of newspapers and magazines don't ever disappear completely, but prior to around 1996 the effort you would have to make to find any publication more than a few months old meant that, to all intents and purposes, it had ceased to exist. The same is still true for many print-only publications. Being put in an archive box or relegated to microfiche may not be death, but it's close enough.

Here online, everything stays as it is -- or at least it's supposed to. Google is even digging up old books and resurrecting their pages through the god-like power of scanning. Soon nothing will disappear, and everything will be available with a few taps of a keyboard -- unless one of those taps is marked "delete," that is.

Originally published at Ludovician.com.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

KQED: SFBC's Bike-In Movies

Some things are just better outdoors. Food, for one: why else would so many otherwise sane people choose to endure traffic fumes and jostling pedestrians while dining at sidewalk tables outside restaurants? Alcohol also gains something special from alfresco consumption (although it seems that our local abstinence authorities would prefer that we kept our beer drinking hidden away indoors). Even culture benefits from a little extra space now and then, as pale, sun-deprived performers of all kinds are dragged blinking and confused to play at outdoor festivals across the land. But in our age of 3D movie megaplexes and surround-sound high-definition nuclear-powered plasma screens at home, are we in danger of forgetting the simple joys of seeing a movie beneath a blanket of stars?

Thankfully, help is at hand and fresh-air filmgoing seems to be undergoing a mini revival in San Francisco. Two annual programs (Dolores Park Movie Night and Film Night in the Park) have already blazed a trail, and now these established screeners are being joined by an unlikely new champion of non-movie-theater big-screen movies: the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Not content with harrassing city officials into building a labyrinth of bike lanes around town that will eventually form a picture of Greg LeMond's face visible only from space, the SFBC has also been busy organizing a series of free Bike-in Movie Nights in a SOMA hotel parking lot.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read the full article here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

KQED: The Amazing Vivian Girls Time Machine

We all know about the well-worn link between smell and memory. One sniff is apparently all it takes to whisk your mind to some moment from the past. Music can spark a similar experience and, because tunes can be recorded, you get to examine the strange tricks your brain plays on you in ways you can't with a fleeting whiff. Did that cheese really smell like your best friend's sweater from elementary school? Who knows (or cares). But do fresh-faced Brooklyn-based lo-fi power pop trio Vivian Girls really sound like my life circa 1991? Well that's a different matter entirely.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read the full article here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

KQED: Wavves of White Noise

Here's an incontrovertible theory for you to agree with: anyone who doesn't like loud music is OLD and BORING. Of course, I first developed and proposed this subtly nuanced hypothesis when I was a) young and b) incredibly excited by music that involved as much overwrought amplification and obnoxiousness as possible. But even as I've grown up (a bit) and matured (a little), I can't quite bring myself to admit the underlying premise is in any way flawed. Sure, these days I tend to listen to music that's more muted, understated, and fragile, but I'm also developing an ulcer and a beer gut. Aren't all these things just so many signs of middle-aged tedium and fast-approaching death?

So thank the gods of noise for the arrival of Wavves in my life to shake things up a bit.

By Keith Laidlaw. Read the full article here.