Paris Revisited, Day 0: Depart and Arrive

It's been a whirlwind of a trip, so I thought I'd revisit it. Many have asked for more photos, so here we go!

The Flight

We lucked into Business Class seats for our journey. I've never flown anything above coach, so this was a pretty cool experience — fully recline-able seats, ridiculous in-flight meals, and a selection of over 500 movies to watch for free during the direct flight to Paris. I managed to squeeze in Foxcatcher, Veloux, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, and The New Girlfriend.

The food was better than anticipated overall, and we even managed to get some rest! Overall, a very nice experience. Here's a rundown of the food we were served:

They kicked things off with a mushroom amuse-bouche, assorted nuts, and of course a glass of wine from Côte de Rhone.
Our first course comprised of a pair of refreshing starters, a mango appetizer and a lime lobster bite. Both delicious, and the mixed green salad made for an excellent addition.
Main course came with options. I opted for steak, which was medium but still managed to be tasty. The potatoes, asparagus, and Roma tomatoes were excellent, and the assorted cheeses were a tasty addition.
Dee opted for the scallops. They were pretty good for plane food, but like the steak, the overall cook left a little to be desired. The sauce, however, was pretty tasty when paired with the white rice and veggies.

The final course was dessert comprised of a pair of sorbets (mango and raspberry) and a trio of tasty bites. Overall a pretty nice offering.

Post-sleep, we awoke to find that we were being served breakfast. Needless to say, breakfast was probably the most underwhelming thing served during the flight — egg and cheese omelette, jambon, and au gratin potatoes. The jambon won the meal, and if pressed I would throw the au gratin potatoes under the bus.

On The Ground In Paris

The usual waiting for luggage, etc. and a short taxi ride to our hotel later, and we found ourselves in Paris. We stayed at the Hotel de Londres Eiffel, a wonderful little boutique hotel in the 7th Arrondissement. The staff here is amazing, and the hotel is well located — convenient Metro stops, not too busy neighborhood, and foodie satisfying restaurants right around the corner.

Our first move was to settle in. Once refreshed, we decided to venture out to eat at Cafe Constant — a corner cafe from Michelin recognized Chef Christian Constant. Cafe Constant is actually one of three Constant restaurants in our neighborhood. We wound up eating at two of them multiple times. For our first visit, Dee opted for an amazing curried shrimp and fish and rice dish (not pictured), while I went with a simple chicken and pommes dish. Delicious!

We booked a 7-day tour of Paris through Rick Steves, but that wasn't set to begin for a couple of days. So, we decided to keep things light for our first couple days in Paris. After lunch we strolled to Le Tour Eiffel, walked in le Champ-de-Mars, and visited les jardins du Trocadéro.

Tour Eiffel is absolutely massive up close. Prior to the trip, I could rattle off several things I was excited to do in the city, and Tour Eiffel was lower on the list in a section titled “Things I know we will do, but seem very touristy.” I was left dumbfounded when we first walked under the tower. It's so immense, so intricate…it absolutely has to be seen. We skipped the lines and opted to come back to the tower later for a tour. Instead we took a selfie, and headed over to les jardins du Trocadéro.

It was a particularly hot afternoon, and people were sunning by the fountains. Many were even wading into the water, playing in the sprinkling fountain mist. It was a nice scene, but the effects of travel and jet lag were beginning to take hold, so we decided to call it a day and head home.

More soon!

 

Instagram != Flickr + Snapseed

The question has been lingering in the back of my mind for a while now, “Am I really getting anything out of Instagram?”

When I first joined, Instagram solved a problem — it was a fast, fun, and unique way to share photographs across a number of services. Anything I shot while mobile had the opportunity to be instantly shared to Twitter or Facebook, backed up to Flickr, and have the appeal of applied filters (something I'd been accomplishing via Photoshop and CameraBag respectively). I immediately dubbed it “the app Flickr should've built” after my first upload, but then retracted that assessment when I got a closer look at the cost in quality/resolution on the Instagram side.

Last year in February I ran a comparison of Instagram and Picplz and likened the two companies to the battle that was emerging between Facebook and Flickr over photosharing dominance. It's funny how that turned out, Instagram later sold to Facebook for piles of cash, and Picplz shut down. In many ways, Picplz launched an app similar to the existing Flickr product, with a few standouts — filters and the ability to toggle applied filters on/off post-publishing.

A lot has changed since then. I never gave up on Flickr being the place my photos are stored, however the community activity has waned a bit. The good news is, Yahoo! appears to be putting more wood behind the Flickr arrow in the new Marissa Mayer regime. The 2.0 app is a revelation — not perfect, but a damn solid step in the right direction. If you can do it on the Flickr site, you can do it in the app…and it's snappy as all hell. Filters have been added, although that's not the important piece of the puzzle. What matters is that the community infrastructure is still intact. The wood isn't completely rotted, it's just a little more vacant these days. That's not a bad thing.

I've been playing around with the new app in combination with Snapseed (full disclosure: I work for Google and they own Nik Software), and I find the pairing to be quite ideal. I have been favoriting photos, commenting, and uploading on the go since the launch of the app, and slowly others appear to be resurfacing as well.

So what solution does Instagram serve now? Nothing. Are there people there? Sure. I just don't know that I need to be there too. I'm increasingly more wary of the direction they will be heading in the future, so why stress about it? I have all the control I need on Flickr, and the Pro membership isn't unreasonable to ask for in trade-off.

Here is what I plan to upload as my final post on Instagram:

I'm not sure if I'll completely remove my account and all of my photos, but I will slowly delete photos of my kids and my home over time. I have them backed up elsewhere, so I don't see a need to keep them there considering the loose soil of the Instagram/Facebook TOS. For what it's worth, I've taken a hard line against uploading to Facebook as well. I guess this is the natural evolution of things, and I've decided to keep my eggs in the Flickr basket for now.

GameStop’s New Low: Lying to 6-year-old Kids?

Confession time: I love playing Pokemon on my 3DS. Over a decade ago, I took a trip to the Philippines with Denise, and on a whim we picked up two Gameboy Colors and copies of Pokemon Blue & Red. We battled, traded, and adventured our way through those games and had an absolute blast. Since then, I’ve always had a soft-spot for the game.

While I’m mostly a tourist when it comes to playing Pokemon these days, I recently picked up a copy of Pokemon White, and I’ve been enjoying it. Nintendo has been doing some really interesting things with both social gaming (e.g. Streetpass) and DLC-like content on the 3DS, so I wasn’t surprised to find this email in my inbox on Friday:

Continue reading GameStop’s New Low: Lying to 6-year-old Kids?

One Year Ago Today…

I'm joining Meebo

I made a change. The product I took on, at the time, was called “check-ins,” and it was largely about site loyalty, VIP, and a quest platform. In under a year, we've completely re-invented and are working hard on building an interest graph. I work with amazing people, I enjoy every minute of it, and I can't believe I'm at the 1 year mark already. Outstanding.

I've got a deeper post brewing about what I've been up to, and the evolution of a product over time. Right now, it's off to work. Here's a few snapshots of what greeted me when my offer arrived. It sort of shows the kind of thought that goes into things over here.

Welcome brownies

Brownies! Everyone gets greeted with baked goods, and these were delicious.

It's the personal details that count

The bike map, personalized card, and various tips and notes about Mt. View, etc. were not only helpful, but thoughtful. The team knew how much I love biking, and added a little extra care to help make me feel welcome.

 

Preview: ‘I Am A Ghost’

Full disclosure: I backed ‘I Am A Ghost’ on Kickstarter.

I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the screener cut of H.P. Mendoza’s latest film, “I Am A Ghost.” While I’m not equipped to give it a full review just yet, there are a few things you should know. Here’s a preview write-up to whet your collective appetites.

Anyone familiar with Mendoza’s films will immediately focus on the “Ghost as departure” angle. While it’s true the film is without a single musical number, ‘Ghost’ still feels like a film that has been on Mendoza’s mind for some time. The atmosphere, the framing, and the sound design, even in the rough screener cut, carry a weight of meticulous detail. This isn’t a departure, its an emergence.

The production design is at the center here. I’m not sure how Ersatz Film pulled this off, but the set and overall design is taken up several notches in comparison to Mendoza’s previous work. Cycles play out like streams of moving Instagram photos, revealing bits and pieces of the narrative as they progress and loop.

Like any good ghost story, ‘Ghost’ revels in a slow burn that pays off deliciously in several ways. I am about to write the most cliched sentence imaginable, but even when I thought I knew the expected outcome, ‘Ghost’ manages to jump the rails into something so devilishly frightening, you can’t help but jump.

In retrospect, I regret not seeing this in the theater. Even as I type this out, sitting in a bar in the dreaded Las Vegas airport, I yearn to see this project on a big screen. It’s too late for me, but not for you. “I Am A Ghost” is playing this weekend as a part of the CAAM Film Festival.

Meanwhile, I’ll settle for a single malt scotch and a replay of the screener cut on my iPad as I await for my delayed flight.

Update: Tomorrow is the last chance to catch the film. Do yourself a favor, if your in the Bay Area and enjoy supporting local film take a look at the screening times and buy a ticket.

 

 

Thoughts on Netflix: Where They Lost the Trust

The subscriber exodus from Netflix following their price hike has been eye opening. The company continues to take a beating on the stock market, and the announced intent to split the company into two separate entities (one focused on mailed disc-media rentals, the other on streaming content) has done little to thwart the rapid decline. If anything, the decision to name the new offshoot Qwikster (the butt of many jokes) combined with the unfortunate @qwikster account on Twitter has provided fodder for the comedic onslaught.

Somewhere along the way the company lost touch, and in turn it compromised the trust built up over the years between countless Netflix subscribers and a company who clearly seemed to “get it” from the onset — or so it seemed from the outside looking in. How did the company that foresaw the demise of disc media come up with the idea to split the company in two and apply a name seemingly rejected from every web 2.0 startup naming pool?

Anyone not paying close enough attention to the events as they’ve unfolded could easily blame the attrition on the price hike, after all this was the tipping point for a large group of people who’d grown accustomed to the virtues of Netflix’s service. Unfortunately the truth is that the poorly handled fee hike was just the result of the company’s detachment from reality, a side effect brought on by distancing themselves from the very things that built the company up as a disruptive service to a growing audience seeking new ways to access their content.

So where did it all go wrong?

Continue reading Thoughts on Netflix: Where They Lost the Trust

Seriously. @twittersuggests is a White Hot Bucket of Fail. Er, Win. Gah! I Don’t Even Know Anymore

I first noticed the new experimental @twittersuggests feature a couple months ago when it @mentioned me in a tweet to a newly registered Twitter user. At the time I thought this was a cool way for the company to actively use their own product to help solve a discovery problem for new users to the service. My Twitter account was included in a series of tweets that mentioned other notable accounts (@superamit, @juliebenz, and @sacca), so the secondary reaction was a positive emotional one — I was flattered.

Twitter describes the service on its help pages as:

…an experimental feature that helps you find interesting new accounts to follow by tweeting Who To Follow suggestions, personalized just for you! This feature was created by Twitter, and it looks like a normal Twitter account – it will Tweet recommendations which you can reply to, retweet or mark as favorites.

Pretty cool, right?

Since then not every mention has been as flattering (obviously, the purpose of this service isn’t to dole out flattery to nobodies like myself), but for the most part they have been decent overall. Over time, the quality of the mentions declined. Today tipped the scale. In a tweet posted earlier I was @mentioned alongside what can only be described as a spam account. Nay, a porn spam account. See for yourself:

Twitter Suggests == Fail

So, I may be guilty for tweeting a lot. I may also be guilty for running my mouth off from time to time. But how in the world am I in the same class as a porn spam account? Better yet, how can this possibly be acceptable from an official Twitter account?

How does it work?

@twittersuggests is a feature which looks like a Twitter account – it algorithmically generates suggestions of users to follow and sends them to you.

@twittersuggests will tweet recommendations to you via @mentions, and this Tweet will appear in your @mentions timeline.

Sure, the company describes this with words like “algorithmically” and “experimental,” but it’s really hard to believe that this was launched with any sort of testing whatsoever. If there are any resources applied to this experiment, they certainly don’t appear to be doing any tuning that is having a positive impact. To the contrary, the quality appears to be decreasing over time. The sad thing is, if I were new to Twitter I might find a service like this valuable if the accounts recommended remained of decent quality, but that’s just not the case here. Worse still is that there are so many simple ways this could be avoided.

Before I get pummeled with the argument the “false positives are expensive” argument (Yes, I’ve read @kellan’s excellent write-up, and have firsthand experience with this as well) let me call out that this is an entirely different scenario. The cost of false positives is only applicable when you choose to deny accounts access to basic services. If a company restricts an account from using the basic functionality of a site because of an unsubstantiated suspicion, then sure…that’s expensive.

However, tweeting account recommendations that might otherwise trip overly sensitive spam-detecting algorithms is a choice mistake. Twitter owns this account, they have the right to be overly choosy about the accounts featured in their recommendations, and an account that includes obvious keywords like “sex” and “porn” is a safe one to filter out of that list, just to play it safe. Now, building a recommendations engine is tough. It’s not easy to get these things right, and I’m certainly sympathetic to this. I guess I’m reacting so strongly here because this feels like one of those avoidable mistakes, especially because there is literally no harm in restricting an account like this from being recommended.

In other news…

Speaking of mouthing off…I shared my thoughts on the news of the Beyonce-pregnancy-VMA induced milestone Twitter reached in terms of TPS (FYI — that’s, obnoxiously, “tweets per second”) this weekend, and look what happened. Awesomesauce.

Superchunk retweeted lil' ole me?!

From the Bin: Week 1 — Rebooting the Comic Book Engine

Welcome to the Bin

I’ve been out of the comic book game for a while now, but have wanted to get back into collecting for some time.

When you’ve been away for so long (hint: I dropped off back when Marvel was in the middle of a Civil War and DC was recovering from Infinite Crisis vis a vis 52) how do you know where and when to jump back in? Thankfully a series of recent events have pushed me back in the direction of the comic bins, and I’m finding my way. So with this double-sized post I’m kicking off a new themed column called “From the Bin.” Enjoy.

Blame the Kid

First, I’m raising a comic book nerd. My daughter has a growing interest in comics ever sense she accompanied me to a screening of Thor. She found the trailer via the Flixster iPhone app, and had a dozen questions about the Norse God of Thunder. Eventually this lead to the penultimate question, “Daddy, will you take me to see Thor?” I knew it was a gamble. Branagh was hired on specifically to bring a staged feel to the film, so I knew there would be stretches of dialogue-rich banter between Thor and his paterfamilias. How would she fair during these sequences? In the end, she made it through loving the film and the characters, which has been odd for me because while I certainly enjoyed Thor’s involvement in The Avengers, I’ve never been a huge fan of the Thor books in standalone. The Warriors Three? That’s another story.

Whatever, it got her into the idea of comics, so who’s complaining? Certainly not me.

Continue reading From the Bin: Week 1 — Rebooting the Comic Book Engine