The tech of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad

Nathan Mattise at Ars Technica takes a look at the subtle but effective use of VFX in two of this century’s greatest shows:

On the surface, nothing about Better Call Saul appears particularly innovative. Crime and legal dramas stand as one of TV’s oldest formats, and this one happens to be set in the near-past. The show can’t even draw on the latest headlines where the bleeding edge of tech runs into law. On top of that, of course, Saul spun-off from the wildly successfully Breaking Bad, meaning a lot of this world’s largest narrative arcs have been spelled out already (to say nothing of the critical shadow Breaking Bad casts).

The included video is a great watch, but you may want to skip it if you haven’t finished Breaking Bad- there are series finale spoilers.

They used to be called “commercials”

Netflix has been testing out the playback of video promos that play in between episodes of a show you’re watching. No joke. Shannon Liao at The Verge:

Users who have spotted the test feature have taken to (since deleted) Reddit and Twitter to voice their annoyance at having their show-binging interrupted by an ad for other shows. A bug appeared for some users where they were unable to skip the promo and had to watch a certain amount — like with ads on YouTube — before they were able to get to the next episode of their show. Netflix told The Verge that the video promos are supposed to be skippable and that the feature is not permanent. “We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster.”

It’s not clear if this will ever get out of the testing phase, or what other shows Netflix would choose to promote in the middle of your couch-bound binge session. In theory they could sell that eyeball time the same way a traditional network sells advertising.

When cable television was new, the dream was that you’d pay a monthly fee in exchange for commercial free channels. This New York Times piece from 1981 is a perfect time capsule of that era:

Although cable television was never conceived of as television without commercial interruption, there has been a widespread impression – among the public, at least -that cable would be supported largely by viewers’ monthly subscription fees. These days, however, as cables are laid across the country and new programs constantly pop up to fill the gaping maw, cable experts are talking as glibly about the potential advertising revenues as they are about opportunities for programming.

Google admits it’s still tracking you

Ryan Nakashima at AP News:

Google has revised an erroneous description on its website of how its “Location History” setting works, clarifying that it continues to track users even if they’ve disabled the setting.

Shocking.

…its help page for the Location History setting now states: “This setting does not affect other location services on your device.” It also acknowledges that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

Previously, the page stated: “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

I usually default to Google Maps on my phone when navigating around town (or around the country) and it bugs me every time. I know I’m giving away my personal data for Google to sell, but in my experience Google Maps does a better job than the competition in most cases. Maybe I’ll give Waze another shot. Oh wait, Google owns them too.

The future of eGPU support on the Mac

Back when the cylindrical Mac Pro was hitting the scene in late 2013, there was much made of the twin AMD FirePro graphics cards tucked away inside. When developers updated their applications to take advantage of them, performance would soar.

The reality has been quite different. Aside from Apple’s own Final Cut Pro and Motion, not many companies jumped on board. In some cases systems would overheat because a pro application would overtax one GPU and leave the other one sitting mostly idle.

With Thunderbolt 3 here now and a promised (modular) Mac Pro replacement on the horizon*, things seem to be looking up for high end users. Apple now fully supports third party eGPUs (ones that sit in an external box connected via Thunderbolt) which is a pretty big deal. Jeff Benjamin at 9to5 Mac pushes the envelope with dual GPUs in his testing:

On this week’s episode of Back to the Mac, we go nuts with an eGPU setup featuring two Sonnet eGFX Breakaway Box 650 units mated with a pair of workstation-class 16GB AMD WX 9100 GPUs.

The results are pretty astonishing. You should check out his video too.

I learned something new while filming this episode: the 2018 MacBook Pro can handle up to four eGPUs — two eGPUs per Thunderbolt 3 bus — simultaneously. On the MacBook Pro, or iMac Pro you can connect eGPUs to any of the available Thunderbolt 3 ports. I briefly dabbled around with connecting four eGPUs to my MacBook Pro, and needless to say, it was downright absurd.

We’re slowing coming full circle, back to the place where we were with the “cheese grater” Mac Pro tower- you can add your own additional components for your niche high end use. Sadly, this now means a string of boxes, cables, power supplies, and fan noise instead of an all-in-one solution. Apple bet heavily on the 2013 Mac Pro and came up short. Let’s see what 2019 holds.

*iMac Pro and MacBook Pro users can take advantage of this tech today.

Fortnite released (in beta) on Android

I had no idea that the Android version of Fortnite wasn’t out yet. Marc Lagace on Android Central:

Fortnite is a great concept for a game and has proven itself to be wildly popular amongst gamers of all ages. I’ll admit to being among the millions of people who will watch Fortnite streamers on Twitch because there’s just something fascinating about the level of creativity that the open world and building mechanics allow.

It’s just a damn shame how Epic Games has gone about releasing the game on Android.

Epic Games is making the beta build of Fortnite for Android available outside the Google Play Store, initially for Samsung Galaxy devices only. Lagace reports “janky” graphics, laggy performance, and low frame rates compared to other platforms.

I suppose there’s just too much money to be made to hold back even a sub-par release, especially considering the average lifespan of a trending video game is unpredictable. Lagace sums things up:

Fortnite is supposed to be a game that pits players against one another, but Fortnite for Android instead pits players against the game itself.

The return of…Palm?

Andrew Orlowski at The Register:

Of all the intellectual property rights on which our future prosperity depends, perhaps trademarks are the most undervalued. The deep emotional power of a brand endures, long after its parent has expired.

Don’t believe me? Well, Palm is coming back. Yes, Palm.

This sounds like a Palm-in-name-only deal where the 2000s era name will be affixed to an Android phone for…nostalgia seekers? Seems odd to me.

The death of the shared family computer

Computers, like telephones, originally entered U.S. homes in a single unit, tucked away just out of sight but usually accessible to all. Katie Reid at The Verge:

I can still see the Dell I grew up using as clear as day, like I just connected to NetZero yesterday. It sat in my eldest sister’s room, which was just off the kitchen. Depending on when you peeked into the room, you might have found my dad playing Solitaire, my sister downloading songs from Napster, or me playing Wheel of Fortune or writing my name in Microsoft Paint. The rules for using the family desktop were pretty simple: homework trumped games; Dad trumped all. Like the other shared equipment in our house, its usefulness was focused and direct: it was a tool that the whole family used, and it was our portal to the wild, weird, wonderful internet. As such, we adored it.

I remember the phenomenon of losing my dial up internet connection because someone picked up the phone, or patiently waiting my turn to check my email. The PowerMac 7200 (or the IIsi before it) was parked in a spare bedroom and required time and effort to log on. The thought of having unlimited personal access to the internet anywhere you went seemed crazy.

Today when I stand on the subway platform virtually everyone is staring down, their faces aglow in blue light. I’m just as guilty as anyone else- with Bluetooth earbuds plugged into my head I commute in a personal media bubble. As a perfect example of “do as I say and not as I do” we attempt to limit the kids’ access to devices as best we can, knowing that society will eventually force us to relinquish control. Katie Reid:

The advent of constant access has inevitably changed our relationship with tech. At one time, discovering the magical capabilities of our devices astonished and invigorated us. Now, we find them glomming on to our routines: joining us for dinner or family strolls, going on vacations or out on dates with us, waking us up in the morning and tucking us in at night. Though it was harder to come by, the computer time you ended up with on the shared family desktop was cherished and, maybe as a result, that much sweeter. Yet there was an untroubled ritual that, day after day, required us to step away.