My Home Screen Setup

I enjoy seeing what apps people use and how they’re arranged. In the past, I’ve shared my home screen on sites like homescreen.me, but recently I learned about the iOSsetups subreddit which is more active than the websites I previously used.

Here’s my current home screen (select to view a larger version):

home screen

These are the apps I use the most or I want easy access to. As for my wallpaper, I’ve been enjoying the built-in multi-colored dynamic wallpaper. Below are a few notes on some of the apps I have on my home screen.

tweetbot

Tweetbot
For me, this is the gold standard of what a Twitter app should be. With thoughtful design and interactions, timeline sync, and more, Tweetbot is an all-around terrific Twitter app.

workflow

Workflow
This is an indispensable app for connecting and combining apps and actions to automate tasks to save time and effort. This helps make things a little more efficient.

partly sunny

Partly Sunny
I’m the developer and designer behind this app that shows your weather in quick glances and detailed looks. If you just want a quick glance at what’s happening, Partly Sunny can show that. If you want a more detailed look at what’s happening in the next hour, day, or week, Partly Sunny can show that too. Whichever you prefer, everything is meant to feel at home on iOS. Some of the key features include: customizable hourly graphs; customizable conditions in current, hourly, and daily forecasts; interactive radar; a widget; and a dark mode.

momento

Momento
A journaling app that collects manual thoughts and media and also automatically imports tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts, and other social-media feeds. I’ve been using Momento for several years now, and looking back at memories and what I was doing, thinking, and even tweeting years ago is something special.

transit

Transit
I’ve tried several apps for navigating cities’ public-transportation systems, and Transit has stuck. Thanks to its ability to show nearby stops with realtime train and bus times and its active-trip mode that lets me know when to get off, whether or not I’ll make a connection, and what my ETA is, Transit helps me get to where I need to go on public transportation. Also, they often have fun release notes—a welcomed thing in the age of “bug fixes and performance improvements”.

apollo

Apollo
I enjoyed using Alien Blue back in the day, but after it became the official Reddit app, it lost its charm and what made it a great app. Not being able to find a great replacement, I only occasionally browsed Reddit. But then Apollo came along. With its many customization options, the gestures, and the jump bar, it’s such a joy to use that I found myself browsing Reddit much more.

lire

lire
I recently started using this RSS reader, and one of the most notable things for me is it feels at home in iOS 11 with its design choices. Add to that it can fetch the full text of articles that get truncated in feeds, and this feels like an app with staying power.

clash royale

Clash Royale
I’m rather addicted to this game right now (send help?). Does anyone play? I’m looking for a more active clan.

halide

Halide
A polished, powerful manual camera app. One of my favorite features is when in manual-focus mode, you can turn on highlighting of what’s in focus in the frame—immensely helpful when trying to compose a shot where I need a particular thing in focus.

launch center pro

Launch Center Pro
A sort-of speed dial for apps and actions that uses apps’ URL schemes to launch or deep-dive into the apps more quickly and efficiently.

And in my Dock:

cesium

Cesium
Since iOS 9, the stock Music app has not been for me. Thankfully, Cesium exists with its customizable tabbed navigation, powerful list sorting and grouping, track details, queue editing, dark theme, and more. (I’m using an alternate icon to match the iOS 7 Music app color.)

drafts

Drafts
This app is great for when I need to jot down a quick note. From there, I can decide what to do with it later or immediately perform an action or set of actions on the text and send it somewhere else like a message, a tweet, or elsewhere with a URL scheme.

One other note about my Dock: since iOS 7 introduced Control Center with its shortcut to Camera, I had the app buried in a folder on another screen. When my phone was unlocked, I used this shortcut to launch Camera. But with Control Center’s less-than-convenient placement on iPhone X, I brought back Camera to my home screen—changing my Dock arrangement for the first time in years—to have easy, quick access to Camera. Here’s hoping iOS 11.x finds a better way to access Control Center on iPhone X.

So that’s my home screen setup. January 2018 edition. As I like to tinker, no doubt this will get tweaked soon.

Project 365

Project 365

Photography is a creative outlet for me, and I’ve been wanting to take more photos for a while (especially now that I have an iPhone X). So, I decided to try a Project 365 photo challenge for the year: a photo every day in 2018. Let’s see how this goes!

Above are three of my photos so far. You can follow along on Flickr.

Partly Sunny 1.3

I’ve been working on a big update to my weather app Partly Sunny for many months now, and it’s finally done and available on the App Store. This is the biggest Partly Sunny update yet bringing you more tools and more options to help you check your weather.

1.3

This update introduces the Partly Sunny Club. With a monthly or yearly subscription, you can unlock additional features: interactive radar, yesterday’s weather, time machine, more saved locations, and custom app icons & colors.

club

If you’re worried this will fundamentally change the app, worry not. All the functionality that was in the app will remain—and even expand! The subscription will include new functionality on top of what was already there.

Why the subscription? I have to purchase the weather data that is shown in the app, so every time the app is opened and the forecasts are refreshed or radar is shown, that costs me money. With the subscription, I hope to offer more features that use more data while ensuring the app doesn’t become too expensive for me to maintain and continue to improve.

Whether (weather?) or not you’re in the Partly Sunny Club, there are many more new things in this update. In addition to iPhone X support, on iPad, you can now use Partly Sunny with Slide Over and Split View.

multitasking

The condition that displays with high and low temperatures in daily forecasts and the condition that displays below hourly graphs can now be customized.

customization

If you’d prefer Dark Mode automation, it can now be toggled automatically based on your device’s screen brightness or your selected location’s sunrise and sunset times.

darkMode

But wait; there’s more! Moonrise and moonset times can now be displayed in Day View. More reliable and more accurate automatic location naming. iMessage stickers. Keyboard shortcuts.

more

After having been working on this update for a while—and learning new things in the process—having it done and available on the App Store is a huge relief. Just in time for any shiny new iOS devices you may be receiving for the holidays.

You can grab the update or download the app on the App Store.

iPhone X

iPhone X

You all weren’t kidding how crazy good iPhone X is. The device—especially the screen—is simply marvelous. Here are a few initial thoughts:

I don’t miss the home button. The swipe gesture is far superior. I just wish Control Center were integrated into that gesture. (Perhaps Control Center could be activated by continuing the swipe up gesture past activating the app switcher.)

Face ID is magic. I keep expecting there to be something else I need to do, but it just does its thing without me even thinking about it.

I do miss the 3D-Touch app-switcher gesture on X. The left/right swipe of the home indicator is fine but not as convenient.

I’m very curious for the future. What will iPhone X2 look like? What will Apple take from X to the rest of their product line?

Well done to everyone at Apple who brought us iPhone X. It’s the future, and it’s crazy good.

Workouts

From this Apple Support tweet, I’m mesmerized by these animations. Does this little guy have a name? Does he ever get tired? What does he do when he’s not exercising?

Promote the General Welfare

(I tweeted all this earlier, but I’m including it here too.)

In the preamble of the Constitution are the words “promote the general welfare”. Why doesn’t health care count toward that?

Why should Americans have to worry about getting sick and not being able to afford health care? Why should Americans have to chose between treating illness or buying food and paying rent? Why should Americans not be free to quit their jobs and start their dream business without fear of losing their insurance? Why is single-payer Medicare acceptable for Americans 65 and older but not for Americans 64 and younger?

Health care should be alongside public schools, libraries, roads and highways, and police and fire protection. All things that promote the general welfare. All things that we don’t have to think about—worry about—being around or being able to afford.

We don’t worry whether or not the fire department will come if our house catches fire. Why do we have to worry whether or not treatment will come if we get sick?

Don’t Be the Product

Nicole Nguyen at BuzzFeed writes about the Uber/Unroll.me news and more generally on free apps and services.

The Unroll.me/Uber fury is a good reminder of the ol’ Internet adage, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

But some sites are much more egregious than others. So here are some ways you can assess an app’s trustworthiness and find out if your free faves are problematic.

I don’t use either, but the Uber/Unroll.me news has me thinking about the “free” apps & services I do use.

If there’s only one thing you take away from this article, let it be this: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

NFL Network Draft Coverage

I worked with the NFL Network on a new touchscreen graphic for their draft analysts to project what players could be drafted by what teams.

NFL Draft

Here it is in action discussing moves the Miami Dolphins could make:

And the New York Jets:

Jeff Sessions: Wrong for Attorney General

Protecting and ensuring civil rights is important to me—which is why I believe Senator Jeff Sessions with his record of being on the wrong side of America’s ongoing civil-rights fight is the wrong person to lead the department of justice.

I wasn’t happy to learn Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of my California Democratic senators, was not committing to voting against him.

So, I wrote a script to use for a phone call and an email to her office.

If civil rights are important to you too, please call your US senators and urge them to vote no on Jeff Sessions for attorney general. Feel free to use my script or modify it to explain why you are against Sessions.

You can find contact information for your senators on this senate page. Californians: here’s Senator Feinstein’s contact information.

And if your senator (or senators) is on the judiciary committee tasked with recommending or not recommending his nomination to the full senate, I doubly urge you to contact your senator(s). Here’s the committee and their phone numbers:

Senate Judiciary Committee

Here’s my phone script:

Hello, my name is Joe Hribar, and I am one of Senator Feinstein’s constituents from Los Angeles. I am calling to urge Senator Feinstein to vote against Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general.

In 1986, he was deemed too racist by the senate for a federal judgeship. Since then, he has remained on the wrong side of America’s ongoing civil-rights fight with his opposition to the Voting Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act as well as his support of suppressive voter-ID laws and a religious test to ban Muslim immigrants.

Senator Sessions is the wrong person to be entrusted with protecting and ensuring civil rights, and I urge Senator Feinstein to vote no on him for attorney general.

Thank you for your time and attention.

And here’s my email:

Hello, my name is Joe Hribar, and I am one of Senator Feinstein’s constituents from Los Angeles. I am writing to urge Senator Feinstein to vote against Senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general of the United States.

Senator Sessions has a clear record of racist and anti-equality positions and is therefore the wrong person to lead the department of justice.

In 1985, he wrongly prosecuted three civil-rights activists (they were acquitted), including an aide of Martin Luther King, for voter fraud.

In 1986, he was rejected by the senate for a federal judgeship largely because of his racist past. As part of his hearing, Coretta Scott King wrote the senate in opposition to Senator Sessions stating he would “irreparably damage the work of my husband” and that “anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.”

The department of justice is responsible for enforcing the Voting Rights Act. Senator Sessions has called it a “piece of intrusive legislation”. When the US Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the VRA, Senator Sessions called it “good news, I think, for the South.”

He is a proponent of the widely debunked claim of voter fraud and supports suppressive voter-ID laws.

Additionally, he has supported a religious test to ban Muslim immigrants, he voted against the Violence Against Women Act and the extension of the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and he has consistently received a “F” grade from the NAACP.

Senator Sessions is the wrong person to be entrusted with protecting and ensuring civil rights, and I urge Senator Feinstein to vote no on him for attorney general.

I will be watching the vote closely. Should Senator Feinstein decide to vote in favor of Senator Sessions, I will be an active and vocal supporter of her primary challenger next year.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,
Joe Hribar
Los Angeles

Partly Sunny: Design Notes

When I set out to make Partly Sunny, my weather app for iPhone and iPad, there were a few design and technical solutions I knew I wanted to include: things like making custom icons and using specific APIs. These solutions would go toward building the weather app I wanted to use and would help differentiate Partly Sunny from other weather apps on the App Store.

What follows is a sort-of behind-the-scenes look at Partly Sunny. I’ll start with discussing some of the design solutions and show some draft designs, and in a subsequent post, I’ll discuss some of the technical solutions. Select any image below for a larger version.

From the start, one thing I wanted to include in Partly Sunny was a view that gave summary information for both my current location and for any saved location. I wanted a way to quickly glance at the weather for these places. But I didn’t just want some basic information like the current temperature and an icon representing the current condition (e.g. “clear” or “light rain”). I wanted this view to be more useful, so in Partly Sunny, the list view includes the current temperature and condition for each location but also offers more: a sentence stating what’s happening over the next many hours at that location as well as the high and low temperatures and the chance of precipitation for the day.

locationsList

Whereas some weather apps might declare this to be too much information, I wanted this view to be useful for understanding what’s happening. A simple icon stating it’s clear right now doesn’t help in understanding a couple hours later it’s going to be pouring.

From this simpler-but-still-useful view, I wanted to be able to select any location to view more detailed information—what’s happening over the next hour, the next day, and the next week at that location.

locationView

And the key to help visualize this information was graphing it. While this isn’t a new solution to weather apps, some do it and some don’t, and I wanted Partly Sunny to do it. So looking ahead in the hour-by-hour forecast, there’s a visual representation of how temperature, chance of precipitation, humidity, wind speed, and more are changing.

features_hourlygraph

And looking ahead in the day-by-day forecast, there’s a visual representation of the high and low temperatures over the week. Reading, for example, that the high temperature will be 55° on Monday, 68° Tuesday, 75° Wednesday, 52° Thursday, and 48° Friday is one thing. Seeing it rising and falling on a graph is another.

dayByDay

This experience was something I wanted to have on both iPhone and iPad. Some of the weather apps I had been using previously were iPhone only, and some of the iPad-friendly apps weren’t the best. So for when my iPad is in-hand and I want to check the weather, having Partly Sunny run natively on both iPhone and iPad giving me the same experience on both devices was a must-have.

iphone_ipad

Also a must-have was making custom icons. I know of several apps that use Climacons by Adam Whitcroft. They’re great icons, and I could have used them as well. But I wanted Partly Sunny to use its own icons. So I learned how to use Sketch and made my own. Here they are:

Icons

For the navigation bar, I made a system of icons using a dots-and-dashes theme.

Dots and Dashes

Sure, my icons aren’t going to win any design awards, but they’re unique to Partly Sunny, and that’s what I wanted.

Icon design wasn’t all I used Sketch for. I also, uh, sketched drafts of the various views in Partly Sunny. For example, here’s my first pass at the location view, a subsequent pass, and what it looks like in the app:

locationViewDrafts

The list view went through a few explorations and largely ended up with version 4:

listViewDrafts

Sketch was also helpful in working out another design solution I wanted to include: a dark theme. I’m a proponent of having dark themes for apps so that in lower-light environments, the UI isn’t blinding me (I still wish iOS had some kind of system-wide dark theme).

darktheme

Not all the design solutions in Partly Sunny were planned out from the start, of course, but these were many that were. My goal was to build the weather app that I wanted to use, and that goal included a few specific design and technical solutions. I hope those solutions are useful to you as well and help make Partly Sunny the weather app you want to use too!

Partly Sunny is available on the App Store for $2.99.

Next time, I’ll discuss some of the technical solutions built into Partly Sunny. Stay tuned!

Partly Sunny

For the past several months, I’ve been learning Apple’s Swift language and how to build iOS apps. Learning this has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while, so it’s been both a fun and rewarding challenge.

To bring together everything I’ve learned, I built a weather app—not because the App Store doesn’t already have enough of them but because the apps I like don’t do exactly what I want them to do. So I made my own because now I can.

Meet Partly Sunny:

intro

Partly Sunny shows your weather in quick glances and detailed looks.

Some of the features of Partly Sunny:

Locations List
Quick glances of what’s happening in the sky at your current location and your favorite locations.

locationsList_black

Location View
Detailed looks at what’s happening throughout the hour, the day, and the week at your locations.

locationView_black

Day-By-Day
Swipe up in location view to show a day-by-day graph with the week’s high and low temperatures plotted.

dayByDay_black

Day View
On the day-by-day graph, tap any day to see a detailed forecast for that day.

dayView_black

iPhone and iPad
Partly Sunny runs natively on both devices.

ipad_right

Dark Theme
Toggle between Partly Sunny’s light theme and dark theme in the app’s settings or with a handy gesture.

darktheme

Hour-by-Hour Graphs
Tap on any hour-by-hour graph and choose to plot temperature, chance of precipitation, cloud cover, humidity, wind speed, or more.

features_hourlygraph

Rain Graph
For U.S. & U.K. locations, a rain-intensity graph for the next hour will appear when it’s raining.

features_raingraph

Pollen & NOAA Links
For U.S. locations, links will appear for pollen forecasts and the local NOAA weather office for winter-weather predictions, tropical forecasts, marine forecasts, and more.

features_pollen

Widget
Partly Sunny includes a widget to show both a quick glance and a detailed look at your current location’s forecast.

features_widget

3D Touch
3D Touch the app icon for the widget and shortcuts. Peek and Pop in the locations list; the location view’s severe-weather alerts, pollen-forecast, and NOAA buttons; and the day-by-day graph.

features_3dtouch

Dark Sky
Partly Sunny forecasts are powered by Dark Sky to give you super-accurate data.

While you may not always enjoy the weather, hopefully you enjoy checking the weather with Partly Sunny.

Of course there are things I want to tweak and more features I want to add, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far. I set out to do a thing, and I did it.

You can visit Partly Sunny on the web at partlysunnyapp.com and follow @partlysunnyapp on Twitter.

Partly Sunny will be available on the App Store tomorrow for $2.99.

Fired Up. Ready to Go.

(I tweeted all this earlier, but I’m including it here too.)

The election broke me. Twitter made me more depressed, so I took a break. But I’m back. And I’m ready to fight. I’m fired up & ready to go.

Perhaps you, like me, are looking for ways to start dealing with the reality of what’s coming. Let’s stick together and help one another.

It’s symbolic, yes, but it’s a start: wearing a safety pin in support of those who are afraid and possibly harassed.

But a pin isn’t all we should do. If we see casual racism around us, let’s help stop it.

All of us showing up, stopping Trump, and taking care of each other is important right now.

And while we work for change at the local level, let’s also work for it at a more national level by supporting new leadership at the DNC.

I’m with Bernie Sanders in supporting Keith Ellison to be the next DNC chair. I encourage you to support him too.

ellisonForDncChair

Things will be rough, but we’re all in this together. So let’s not give up. America is already great. Let’s keep it that way.

False Equivalence

(I tweeted all this earlier, but I’m including it here too.)

I’m not particularly fond of Hillary Clinton, but I get angry hearing people say she and Donald Trump are equally bad. Not even close.

Don’t believe me? Let’s start with this from conservative writer Conor Friedersdorf:

To regard [Clinton & Trump] as equivalently bad candidates for the presidency isn’t just absurd, it is reckless.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s Jamelle Bouie on Trump undermining US democracy & possibly inciting racial violence:

Violence and intimidation” incited by Trump “will be against the chief targets of [his] campaign: people of color.

Still don’t believe me? How about this from conservative writer and former-George-W.-Bush speechwriter David Frum. Frum on voting Clinton:

You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s Seth Meyers:

One candidate is bad at email. The other is a racist, misogynist, xenophobic, ignorant, serial-lying, swindling, narcissistic man-baby.

Is either candidate a great choice? No. But they are nowhere close to being equally bad. And only one—Hillary—is qualified to be president.

Copying Efficiency in Workflow

Workflow by DeskConnect has become one of my most used and most indispensable iOS apps. With its powerful and efficiency-gaining functionality, Workflow is an app I use repeatedly throughout the day and take delight experimenting with.

If you haven’t used Workflow before, the app connects and combines apps and actions to automate tasks on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. With the ability to create workflows ranging from choosing pre-written messages to send someone to changing the case of a text string to combining burst photos into GIFs to adding entries into Health.app, Workflow has hundreds of actions to create countless combinations however you see fit.

If you have used Workflow before, perhaps you’ve run into the same situation I have: you have a string of actions in one workflow you’d like to have in another workflow, and getting those actions in the other workflow requires you to recreate them one by one. Depending on how many there are, this can be rather vexing. What Workflow could use is the ability to copy actions from one workflow to another. How might that work? Like this.

Start with a new workflow:

New Workflow

Like usual, you swipe right to reveal the actions view:

Favorite Actions

From there, you drag a new “Copy Actions” action to the workflow:

New Workflow With Copy

At first, this action doesn’t do anything as it awaits further, uh, action in case you want to set something else up first. When you’re ready to copy actions from another workflow, tap the “Select” button and you’re presented with a new view containing all your workflows:

My Workflows

Choose the workflow that has the actions you want to copy, and the workflow slides in from the right with its actions grayed out and selectable:

Copy Actions Unselected

From there, select the actions to copy:

Copy Actions Selected

Once you select all the actions you want to copy, press the “Copy Actions” button at the bottom, and the view disappears to reveal underneath the new workflow with the selected actions in place of the “Copy Actions” action:

New Workflow With Copied

And there we have an easy way to copy actions from one workflow to another that both maintains and builds upon the existing foundation and interactions in Workflow.

But why stop there? Perhaps you noticed another new action in the favorites list: “Run Workflow”. The block of actions copied above really could be a reusable workflow that is called from multiple other workflows. You could use the above method to copy the actions into those other workflows, but what happens when you want to update that reusable workflow? You’d have to update it in multiple places. Nah.

Instead, what Workflow could also use is a “Run Workflow” action that pauses the workflow it’s in, allows the designated workflow to run and optionally return something, and then continues the original workflow. How might that work? Like this.

Using the actions above, create a new workflow that checks for input text or otherwise asks for input. Below that block of actions, drag a new “Return” action:

New Workflow With Return

In this case, the action would return text, but in other workflows, it could return an image, a URL, a date, and more.

Back in the original workflow, you can now delete that block of actions and replace it with a “Run Workflow” action:

Run Workflow Unselected

Like with the “Copy Actions” action, tap the “Select” button, and you’re presented with a new view containing all your workflows:

My Workflows

From there, select the workflow to embed, and the view disappears and updates the action:

Run Workflow Selected

When you run the workflow, it executes the embedded workflow to get or ask for text, returns the text, and proceeds with the rest of the workflow.

Now in the future if you want to build on this reusable workflow (for example by adding a string of actions to replace dumb quotes with smart quotes), you can make edits in one place and have all the other workflows that embed the reusable workflow enjoy those edits. That’s far more efficient.

And efficiency is what this is all about. Each new version of Workflow gets better and better with more actions to build more workflows to be more efficient. And I hope one day soon building workflows becomes a bit more efficient with the ability to copy actions from one workflow to another and the ability to embed one workflow in another. If I may quote Workflow, that’s powerful automation made simpler.

Copying Efficiency in Workflow

Favorite Film Scores of 2015

With the books closed on 2015, it’s time once again to share my favorite film scores of the year. As usual, while these may not be the best film scores of the year (although I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of these earn Best Original Score nominations this month), they’re the scores I’ve had on repeat over the last year.

Previous entries: 2013, 2012, 2011.

Let’s begin our 2015 musical journey.

11. JUPITER ASCENDING — Michael Giacchino

Before the movie was released, I tweeted, “Michael Giacchino’s Jupiter Ascending score kiiinda makes me want to see that beautiful trainwreck of a film.” Well, I did end up seeing the film for its score. And the film did end up being a beautiful trainwreck. But the score certainly wasn’t. With its rich themes, large scope, and brimming excitement, this score launched a stellar year for Michael Giacchino who continues ascending in his own right.

10. ANT-MAN — Christophe Beck

I’ve written in the past lamenting over the lack of musical cohesiveness between the Marvel films and the disappointing thematic representation of the characters. And when Christophe Beck was announced as the composer of ANT-MAN, I tweeted, “Ant-Man has a composer, and it isn’t Brian Tyler. Will the Marvel scores continue to be a mess?”

While I’m not optimistic for what the future holds musically for the Marvel Cinematic Universe—especially since Brian Tyler, my pick as house composer, was sort-of-but-not-really replaced on AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON and Henry Jackman will most likely be back to rehash his abysmal CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER score for the next film—Christophe Beck did not disappoint with his score for ANT-MAN. Beck wrote a jazzy, snazzy caper score that was fitting for both the character and Alan Silvestri’s and Brian Tyler’s established musical world. Many of Beck’s scores tend to err on the generic side, but he wrote an inspired and enjoyable score for ANT-MAN.

9. WOLF TOTEM — James Horner

It’s difficult to reconcile 2015 will be the last year of new James Horner music (unless the story of him secretly composing music for Antoine Fuqua’s upcoming MAGNIFICENT SEVEN yields a surprise score later this year). Thankfully, 2015 included a score as good as this one from James Horner. With its beautiful and sometimes haunting melodies, lush orchestrations, and sweeping scope, this is James Horner at his best. It’s disappointing there won’t be more of this.

8. THE MARTIAN — Harry Gregson-Williams

Going into this movie and score, I wasn’t expecting much from the music given the rather derivative and uninspired scores for Ridley Scott’s recent films. After composing additional music for Scott’s last few movies, Harry Gregson-Williams was given the opportunity to compose the full score. And, unlike some of his previous ventures, fully compose he did. His score is contemplative, industrious, and, well, sciencey. He seems to have scienced the shit out of this score.

7. STEVE JOBS — Daniel Pemberton

A recurring theme in my list this year is enjoying scores by composers who have disappointed me in the past or by composers who are new to me. Daniel Pemberton falls into the latter category. Prior to this score and his MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. score, I had not heard of him. But he’s now on my radar thanks to this eclectic score that delightfully took me by surprise. Given the varied styles running throughout the score, choosing one track to include here was difficult. The score has some electronic parts, some operatic parts, and some dramatic parts. And all of those parts form a rather pleasing whole.

6. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION — Joe Kraemer

As the JAMES BOND films have become more like the JASON BOURNE films, the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE films have become more like the JAMES BOND films of yore: espionage, gadgets, and a grand, stylish orchestral score.

This film’s score is by Joe Kraemer who, like Daniel Pemberton, I was previously unfamiliar with but now eager to hear more from.

In addition to the bold, flavorful orchestrations, what makes this score great is that it honors its past with generous use of Lalo Schifrin’s original themes (the trill Kraemer inserts into the main theme in the first and last cues is rather tantalizing). The use of existing themes in a major franchise is refreshing as too often new-to-the-franchise composers don’t use other composers’ existing, established work for a franchise. For example, the post-John-Williams HARRY POTTER scores often seemed to forget the themes he composed. Sure, the later films were much darker, but a talented composer could take Williams’s themes and twist them into brooding, minor-key renditions. In the case of MAN OF STEEL, Hans Zimmer could have easily paid homage to John Williams’s work, but he didn’t. And in the case of Iron Man, he’s had three different themes from three different composers in three different films. So for Joe Kraemer to use Lalo Schifrin’s original themes not just bookending the film but all throughout is a welcomed change.

5. PAN — John Powell

PAN was going to fly right by me, but then I learned who was scoring the film: the semi-retired John Powell—one of my favorite film composers. Given his absence of late, it’s great to have a new John Powell score. It’s even better to have a new John Powell adventure score.

Strong thematic material, rich orchestrations, and sheer fun. These are all hoped-for things in a John Powell score. And he didn’t disappoint.

4. INSIDE OUT — Michael Giacchino

This score cruises through various emotions. Joy and sadness, of course, make appearances. As do excitement, hope, love, anxiety, and wonder. But even as Michael Giacchino writes for specific emotions, the score never feels disingenuous. As it runs through its ups and downs, the score feels authentic. And it doesn’t fail to put a smile on my face.

3. CREED — Ludwig Goransson

This score was a definite surprise for me. Prior to listening to it, I had not heard of Ludwig Goransson. But after this score, I’m interested in hearing more from him (the third instance of this on my list). The score is powerful, exciting, and a worthy successor to Bill Conti’s ROCKY scores. Though the score makes solid use of Conti’s original themes, the new themes Goransson composed are the stars and easily stand alongside the originals. They’re memorable, stirring, and noticeably come from the same family as Conti’s themes (especially noticeable when they’re used as counterpoint with Conti’s themes and vice versa). Overall, the music has a crisp and fierce sound. And it doesn’t fail to make me want to go out and find a punching bag.

2. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS — John Williams

Without a doubt, this was my most anticipated score of the year. I was expecting a healthy dose of the Force theme—my favorite of the series—and I wasn’t disappointed. While I might have also hoped for a return to the greatness of his THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK score, John Williams’s writing is in a different place these days, and this score has more in common with the prequel scores than the original scores.

But that doesn’t detract from the dazzling work on display here; John Williams composed an outstanding addition to the franchise. Rey’s theme, developed as the score progresses, appears in several different treatments and is gorgeous. That theme and the Resistance March won’t leave my head.

1. TOMORROWLAND — Michael Giacchino

As if Frank Walker’s jetpack were strapped to it, this score rocketed to the top of my list early and remained there all year. There was only one other score that could have knocked it from the top. But THE FORCE AWAKENS didn’t, and here sits TOMORROWLAND as my favorite score of the year.

This score works incredibly well in its film—and outside of it—evoking the same sense of futuristic nostalgia and hopeful optimism as the film. The themes are as catchy as they are inspired. And the track above, “Pin-Ultimate Experience”, is hands down my favorite track of the year.

Too bad TOMORROWLAND wasn’t a bigger commercial and critical success because both it and the score deserve more recognition. Perhaps, like with another Brad Bird film that enjoyed success after its run in theaters, the future will bring a return to TOMORROWLAND.

With three of his four scores this year making my list and the fourth (JURASSIC WORLD) just missing it, it’s clear 2015 was The Year of Michael Giacchino for me.

What else is clear from my list this year: there are still directors who desire bold, orchestral scores for their films. And there are composers who can still deliver those scores. So here’s to some more orchestral magic—and some more pleasant surprises—in 2016. Huzzah.

P.S.: if you’re so inclined, here are selections from each of my favorite scores. I hope you enjoy. I sure did.

Improving the iOS incoming-call screen

My friend is coming into town, and he messaged me to see about meeting up. So I start typing a response. Type type type. While I’m typing, I’m suddenly interrupted, I lose control of my screen, and I can’t finish what I was doing. What happened? I received a phone call.

Or maybe I’m looking up which train I need to take home to leave me enough time before I have to be on my way somewhere else. And bam. Incoming-call screen.

Or maybe I’m editing a video and trying to precisely trim the end of it. And bam. Incoming-call screen.

Whatever the task, the incoming call commandeers my screen and forces me out of the task I was performing.

Because the device is a phone and making and receiving calls is a primary function, let’s assume the incoming-call screen is here to stay. So how can the screen be just a bit less intrusive? I have an idea.

Let’s say my friend John Appleseed is coming into town and wants to meet up. A text conversation might go something like this:

JA: Hey, I’m in town tomorrow. Care to meet up? I should have time in the afternoon.

Yeah, so I just checked, and I’ll have the afternoon free. So I’m up for meeting if you are.

JH: Of course! I can let you know when my appointments wrap up. And then we can grab some food. Perhaps a movie too?

JA: Yeah, that all sounds good. What time are you thinking?

I begin typing my response:

chat

…and bam. Incoming-call screen. Mom is calling:

Current incoming-call screen

On the incoming-call screen, I have a few options to deal with the call. I can accept the call, I can decline the call and send the caller straight to my voicemail, I can send the caller a text message, and I can set a reminder (with the last two requiring further steps). With the hardware side buttons, I have another option: silence the ringer. Although my phone stops sounding or vibrating, the call continues and after a period of time automatically goes to my voicemail.

When I receive a call I can’t (or in some cases don’t want to) take, I choose the latter. With the ringer-silencing option, the caller may think I’m unavailable. Or if the caller is an unrecognized number like from a marketing call, the caller may think the number isn’t actively used. If I decline the call, it sends the caller directly to voicemail letting them know I’m on the other end and deliberately ignoring them.

Choosing the latter, though, means I have to stare at the incoming-call screen until the call automatically goes to voicemail when I just want to get back to the task I was performing.

But what if I could dismiss or minimize the incoming-call screen without taking or declining the call? That’s what I propose.

When a FaceTime call fails, iOS presents a screen with three buttons: “Call Back”, “Cancel”, and “Leave a Message”:

FaceTime unavailable

Let’s take that middle button and add it to the incoming call screen. So now when someone calls, the screen would look like this:

New incoming-call screen

If I tap the new “Minimize” button, the screen would animate out of view while a notification banner would animate on:

chat

Like when I press the volume buttons on the side of my iPhone, the ringer would silence, and the call would continue until it automatically went to my voicemail. But unlike when I press the volume buttons, I could resume the interrupted task.

Because phone calls—and the incoming-call screen—get an intrusive level of priority, the banner notification would as well. While the call continued until it automatically went to my voicemail, the banner would remain at the top of the screen.

While other banner notifications can be swiped up to dismiss them, this one would remain pinned to the top. If I tapped the notification, I would return to the incoming-call screen. Though I wouldn’t be able to swipe up on the notification to dismiss it, I would be able to swipe down on it to reveal action buttons:

chat

Once the call automatically went to voicemail, the banner notification would disappear like normal as I continued my task.

Ideally, I would like iOS to ditch the incoming-call screen altogether and just present an actionable banner notification when I receive a call (like other notifications, it would be customizable to appear as an alert box instead). Maybe the banner would look something like this:

chat

This way, there’s a far smaller interruption of my task. More of a distraction rather than a full interruption. The decline or accept buttons on the banner would do exactly that. If I couldn’t or didn’t want to take the call, I could still press the volume buttons on the side of my iPhone to silence the call and let it automatically go to voicemail. And if I swiped down on the banner, I could chose to be reminded or send the caller a message:

chat

But assuming the incoming-call screen is here to stay and an actionable banner notification isn’t in iOS’s future, this new workflow could be a way to dismiss the screen without telling the caller I’m ignoring them.

Because I promise I’m not ignoring you, mom.

incoming call screen

Improving iPad Multitasking

Multitasking on iPad received an enormous update in iOS 9 in the form of Slide Over and Split View. But however advanced and, well, pretty cool both are, the execution of Slide Over has puzzled me since I first played with it. The list of apps available for multitasking is presented in an excessively roomy fashion—meaning finding the app you’re looking for can be unnecessarily difficult.

Jason Snell wrote this week about a few ways to improve iPad multitasking. After reading the article and finding myself in agreement, I mocked up some ideas last night based on his suggestions. Let’s start.

Here’s what Slide Over looks like currently on an iPad mini.

Current Slide Over

There are four (FOUR!) apps visible in the menu. Finding the app you’re looking for can result in scroll after scroll after scroll.

Jason wrote, “A denser design that presented the app list in a more straightforward manner would be welcome, especially when the list is long.” So what might that look like?

Compact Slide Over

I made the buttons a comparable size to a list view for familiarity, but perhaps they could be a smidge bigger. Also, I’m designing for an iPad mini, and I realize what looks good on the mini might not look good on the pro, so perhaps some dynamic resizing could be in order depending on the device.

I think this is already an improvement. Sure the list is still long (a product of having so many great apps!), but the compact nature reduces the amount of scrolling necessary.

In addition to the “denser design”, there is a search bar at the top. Don’t want to scroll to find the app you’re looking for? Search for it instead.

Also of note is the button shape. I retained the rounded rectangles with the idea of keeping a similar shrink-down animation when closing an app in Slide Over.

Now that more apps are visible, finding the app you want is easier. But what if there are a few apps you want quick access to in Slide Over. Why not pin them as Jason suggests? Tap “Edit Favorites” to enter edit mode. App icons and names slide over to reveal a star outline.

Add favorites

Tap the star, and the app animates into your favorites list.

Add favorites

(Since Twitter’s favorites and stars have recently found themselves unemployed, I put them to work here.)

Add favorites

Grips on the right of the buttons give you the ability to reorder your favorites as you see fit. Tapping a star on a favorited app would animate it back to the list of unfavorited apps. Tap “Done” to exit edit mode.

Add favorites

Now we have a more compact design, the ability to search for an app, and the ability to pin apps for quick access.

The final bit of functionality to add is the ability to save app pairings—app buddies as Jason called them. The idea here is to have quick access to two apps you like to use together in Split View. The current system, as he describes, can make getting those two apps together a pain. So how about favoriting an app pairing? In edit mode, tap “Add App Pairing” to open a popup with the list of available multitasking apps.

Add app pairing

Select two apps, tap “Done”, and Split View will now remember you want those two apps together.

Add app pairing

I imagine when selecting a paired favorite from the list, an elegant animation would animate the current app off the screen and the two selected apps into position. And tapping on the star of an app pair would simply delete the pairing.

Slide Over redesigned

So there you have it. While iOS 9 introduced great new multitasking tools, selecting apps to multitask with can be a chore. But a few tweaks and some new bits of functionality could go a long way to improving iPad multitasking.

Slide Over redesigned

Singing the Apple Music Blues

Lost in recent Apple Music discussions is how the usability of navigating on-device music has been unnecessarily over-complicated. Apple’s focus on Apple Music the service has seemingly come at the expense of Apple Music the app.

Along with Apple Music the service, iOS 8.4 brought a new organization scheme to Apple Music the app. Previously, the bottom navigational tabs in the app were customizable. I could choose four of Playlists, Albums, Composers, Genres, Songs, Compilations, Artists, and Radio.

Customizable Tabs

To jump from one list of items to another involved a single tap (provided both were present in the customizable tabs). For example, say I wanted to navigate from my list of composers to a specific album. Let’s say I want to listen to a track on the Tomorrowland score. Before 8.4, I would tap the Albums tab, tap the T in the letter slider along the righthand side, scroll to reveal Tomorrowland, and select the Tomorrowland album. Four steps.

Navigating in 8.3

In 8.4, that process has become more complicated. To navigate from composers to Tomorrowland, I tap the status bar to scroll the list of composers to the top, tap the sort button, select Albums, scroll the Recently Added section out of the way, tap the T in the letter slider along the righthand side, scroll to reveal Tomorrowland, and select the Tomorrowland album. Seven steps.

Navigating in 8.4

The steps to navigate are nearly doubled. I could search for the album or track I want to listen to, but I shouldn’t have to rely on search to navigate. While Apple Music the service has made streaming favorite artists and albums easier, Apple Music the app has made navigating on-device artists and albums harder.

In Settings > Music, if I toggle off “Show Apple Music”, the “New” and “For You” tabs in Music are replaced with a Playlists tab.

Toggle off Show Apple Music

And in Settings > General > Restrictions, if I toggle off “Apple Music Connect”, the Connect tab in Music disappears.

Toggle off Apple Music Connect

Why make customizing this row of tabs buried and convoluted especially since in the previous version of the app this customization was forefront and simple?

Navigating my music isn’t the only frustrating new thing about Apple Music the app. The Now Playing view features album art positioned flush against the top of the screen. This top-heavy design makes the whole view unbalanced. And the album art’s new position means the status bar covers the art—making for situations were the status bar is illegible.

Now Playing view

While the new Apple Music the app has become fraught with usability frustrations, the app does have two new features in particular that are welcomed additions.

First is the Up Next feature similar to iTunes on the Mac to show all the upcoming tracks to play. This is especially helpful to create an on-the-go playlist that iPods of yesteryear could create. Here, I can reorder, remove, or add tracks to the currently playing list of tracks.

Up Next

Also of note is the ability to add the currently playing track to a playlist. If I am listening to a particular track and think, “Gee, this would fit really well in X playlist”, I can immediately add the track to said playlist by tapping the ellipsis button and “Add to a Playlist…”. Previously, I would have to browse to the playlist, tap on Edit, tap +, and find the track in the library.

Add to Playlist

While these two new features are great usability additions to Apple Music the app, they don’t overcome the larger usability frustrations of the redesigned app. These frustrations are enough to have me experimenting with alternative music players. I’m hoping a future version of Apple Music the app restores easy customization of the tabs—and thus also restores the superior usability of the old app.

Nagle. Hribar. Oscars. Part III.

Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition? Like last year and the year before, my friend @nagle and I made Oscar predictions. I’ll update this throughout the evening as winners are announced. Two years ago, I beat him by one point. Last year, we tied. This year, if the trend continues, he should beat me by one point. Given our predictions differ in two categories, that just might happen.

UPDATE: Another tie. Well done, sir. Well done.

Nagle: 20
Hribar: 20

Below is a breakdown of each category with the winners in bold.

—BEST PICTURE—
Nagle: Birdman
Hribar: Birdman

—ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE—
Nagle: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)
Hribar: Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything)

—ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE—
Nagle: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)
Hribar: J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

—ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE—
Nagle: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Hribar: Julianne Moore (Still Alice)

—ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE—
Nagle: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Hribar: Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)

—ANIMATED FEATURE FILM—
Nagle: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Hribar: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Neither: Big Hero 6

—CINEMATOGRAPHY—
Nagle: Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Hribar: Birdman (Emmanuel Lubezki)

—COSTUME DESIGN—
Nagle: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hribar: The Grand Budapest Hotel

—DIRECTING—
Nagle: Birdman (Alejandro Iñárritu)
Hribar: Boyhood (Richard Linklater)

—DOCUMENTARY FEATURE—
Nagle: Citizenfour
Hribar: Citizenfour

—DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT—
Nagle: Crisis Hotline
Hribar: Crisis Hotline

—FILM EDITING—
Nagle: Boyhood
Hribar: Boyhood
Neither: Whiplash

—FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM—
Nagle: Ida
Hribar: Ida

—MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING—
Nagle: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hribar: The Grand Budapest Hotel

—MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)—
Nagle: The Theory of Everything (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
Hribar: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Alexandre Desplat)

—MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)—
Nagle: “Glory” from Selma
Hribar: “Glory” from Selma

—PRODUCTION DESIGN—
Nagle: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Hribar: The Grand Budapest Hotel

—SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)—
Nagle: Feast
Hribar: Feast

—SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)—
Nagle: The Phone Call
Hribar: The Phone Call

—SOUND EDITING—
Nagle: American Sniper
Hribar: American Sniper

—SOUND MIXING—
Nagle: Whiplash
Hribar: Whiplash

—VISUAL EFFECTS—
Nagle: Interstellar
Hribar: Interstellar

—WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)—
Nagle: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)
Hribar: The Imitation Game (Graham Moore)

—WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)—
Nagle: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness)
Hribar: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, Hugo Guinness)
Neither: Birdman

Nagle. Hribar. Oscars.

Who doesn’t enjoy a little friendly competition? Like last year, my friend @nagle and I made our Oscar predictions. The final score:

Nagle: 20
Hribar: 20

Below is a breakdown of each category with the winners in bold. Until next year!

BEST PICTURE
Nagle: 12 Years a Slave
Hribar: 12 Years a Slave

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Nagle: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
Hribar: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Nagle: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
Hribar: Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
Nagle: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
Hribar: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Nagle: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)
Hribar: Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
Nagle: Frozen
Hribar: Frozen

CINEMATOGRAPHY
Nagle: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)
Hribar: Gravity (Emmanuel Lubezki)

COSTUME DESIGN
Nagle: The Great Gatsby
Hribar: 12 Years a Slave

DIRECTING
Nagle: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)
Hribar: Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Nagle: The Act of Killing
Hribar: The Act of Killing
Neither: 20 Feet from Stardom

DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
Nagle: The Lady in Number 6
Hribar: The Lady in Number 6

FILM EDITING
Nagle: Captain Phillips
Hribar: Gravity

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
Nagle: The Broken Circle Breakdown
Hribar: The Great Beauty

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
Nagle: Dallas Buyers Club
Hribar: Dallas Buyers Club

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
Nagle: Gravity (Steven Price)
Hribar: Gravity (Steven Price)

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
Nagle: “Let It Go” from Frozen
Hribar: “Let It Go” from Frozen

PRODUCTION DESIGN
Nagle: The Great Gatsby
Hribar: The Great Gatsby

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)
Nagle: Get a Horse
Hribar: Get a Horse
Neither: Mr. Hublot

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)
Nagle: Helium
Hribar: The Voorman Problem

SOUND EDITING
Nagle: Gravity
Hribar: Gravity

SOUND MIXING
Nagle: Gravity
Hribar: Gravity

VISUAL EFFECTS
Nagle: Gravity
Hribar: Gravity

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)
Nagle: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)
Hribar: 12 Years a Slave (John Ridley)

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)
Nagle: Her (Spike Jonze)
Hribar: Her (Spike Jonze)

And the Oscar for Best Picture Goes To

After 12 Years a Slave to arthritis, Philomena, once an accomplished ballroom dancer, succumbed to the Gravity of Her situation and stopped dancing. Today, though, she was feeling the itch to dance again as she journeyed from Nebraska to the Dallas Buyers Club of New and Used Dance Shoes to meet some old friends.

Acquainted with the aged former star, the pilot of the flight she was on exclaimed as she boarded, “Why if it isn’t The Wolf of Wall Street on my flight today.” (She earned her nickname because the dance studio she belonged to was in the financial district and competitors said the unassuming woman who dominated the competitions was like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.) She replied, “Oh, Captain Phillips! So nice to see you again.”

After the flight, he asked for a dance. As they spun around while dancing the American Hustle, she started leading him. Noting his surprise, she whispered in his ear, “I’m the captain now.”

Once again this year, I did my Oscars homework and watched each of the films nominated for Best Picture prior to the Oscars telecast. And like last year, I posted a review on Letterboxd after viewing each film.

Here are my reviews of the nine nominated films ranked by my level of enjoyment of them.

9. 12 Years a Slave:

A well-made, difficult-to-watch look into this dark and disgusting chapter of American history. Well made, but not something I ultimately enjoyed. The cast—particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o—was superb.

One point in particular, though, left me wanting. After being subjected to horror after horror, I wanted something more substantial in an ending. While Solomon’s actual story may have been this anti-climactic, I felt the resolution seemed too enabled by a deus ex machina in Brad Pitt’s character.

Other aspects, while not leaving me wanting, left me puzzled. For example, the woefully miscast Brad Pitt. I understand he was a producer on this film, but what was he doing in the film. The scene with Alfre Woodard seemed like it didn’t belong in the film. Was it the content of the scene? Was it the scene stylistically didn’t seem to fit? Several places during the film, the camera held on something or someone for just too long. Is this just Steve McQueen’s style? Was this to make a point of something? Was it to make the audience uncomfortable? And there’s Hans Zimmer’s score. I didn’t think the score was effective, and I am dumbfounded regarding the praise it has received. The score is barely there and barely musical, and the parts that are approachable are a(nother) rehash of his score for The Thin Red Line.

Ultimately, the film was a mixed success for me. As a film exploring this repulsive time in American history, the film succeeds. As an acting vehicle for Ejiofor, Fassbender, and Nyong’o, the film succeeds. But as a cinematic story and experience, too many elements kept me from fully embracing the film.

8. The Wolf of Wall Street:

As mentioned before, I have difficulty enjoying films that in any way sensationalize or trivialize the debauchery and douchebaggery of Wall Street. This film was no exception. Add to that the plodding nature of this film—and the ridiculous runtime—and you get a film I did not enjoy.

7. Dallas Buyers Club:

Another Best Picture nominee where performances in the film outshine the film itself. This film is all about Matthew McConaughey’s performance with a bonus in Jared Leto’s. Both are surely deserving of the accolades that have come and will be coming their way.

6. American Hustle:

A stellar, electric cast in a stylish-and-frenetic-but-sometimes-dragging caper.

5. Nebraska:

The message I took from this bleak-yet-funny film: get to know your loved ones while you still can.

4. Captain Phillips:

Knowing the outcome of this story arrested some of the suspense, but not knowing or forgetting many of the details boosted the suspense. And the end. Well done everybody.

3. Philomena:

Heartwarming and bittersweet. Dame Judi was a treat. (I’ll avoid any commentary on the Catholic Church because I have nothing nice to say.)

2. Gravity:

Wow.

Beautiful yet frightful. Expansive yet sparse. Vast yet claustrophobic. And all around, a visual masterpiece.

And might it be a sonic masterpiece as well? Both the sound effects (no sound in space until POV shots where we hear what the characters would hear in their suits) and the score were superbly rendered. Before I heard Steven Price’s excellent score, he was unknown to me, but now I look forward to hearing more from him.

Both the film and the score will be present on my end-of-the-year favorites list.

1. Her:

What defines love? Who determines who or what is capable of love? Or capable of being loved? These questions and more are posed by Spike Jonze’s terrific film. Both introspective and extrospective, the film is firmly rooted in all things melancholy—never does it become sappy, but never does it become depressing. But that melancholy is contrasted (complemented?) by the warmth of the production design (it’s almost like the these contrasting feelings are a play on Louis CK’s “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy”). And, much to its credit, never does the film overtly take a stance on our technological fate: the film doesn’t make technology the savior nor the destructor.

What the film does, though, is examine relationships of all kinds—coworkers, friends, strangers, lovers—and posit we all are looking to connect to someone—or something—else. How do we find that connection? How do we keep that connection? Where do we go if we lose that connection?

These are the questions I found myself asking after seeing the film. But I suppose the biggest question I came away with was where do I download the Samantha voice for my iPhone?

Unlike the last two years, my favorite film of the year—Her—is amongst these nine nominees, but I still want to point out one of my favorites which you should all see:

The Way, Way Back:

My first 2013 film I can describe as thoroughly charming. And let me throw in heartwarming and comical. Sam Rockwell was a definite standout of this film. But Allison Janney was my highlight. The first several minutes of her performance exemplify why I love watching her.

And while I did love watching her and watching Her, it will be a film I did not love watching that will win Best Picture today: 12 Years a Slave. While I did not enjoy it, I can’t argue it is both worthy and well-made.

My Top-Five Eight-Favorite Film Scores of 2013

As 2013 comes to a close, I present to you my annual end-of-the-year list of my favorite film scores of the year. As with my previous lists, these scores likely won’t be considered the best scores of the year (and only three of these will receive an Oscar nomination next month for Best Original Score), but they’re the scores I had on repeat throughout the year.

And if you’re so inclined, here are my favorite scores of 2012 and my favorite scores of 2011.

Guilty Pleasure of the Year:
The Lone Ranger
Hans Zimmer and Geoff Zanelli

As usual with a Zimmer score, there are cues that were obviously mail-ins that have no originality or brains. But then there are several cues that drip fun as they either pay homage to western scores of yore or aptly plow forward with the steady, propulsive determination of a locomotive.

And then there’s the cue “Finale” from Geoff Zanelli. This cue, which is easily the most fun cue of 2013, is a rollicking ten-minute arrangement of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” infused with Zimmer and Zanelli’s themes from the film. Tremendous.

5. The Book Thief
John Williams

A no-nonsense Williams score showing off what he does best. Nothing novel here, but great to hear new Williams material—and a score that doesn’t eschew proper orchestral and thematic developments—in his semi-retired state (especially for a non-Spielberg film).

5. Escape from Tomorrow
Abel Korzeniowski

Abel Korzeniowski has been producing some gorgeous scores in the last few years, and Escape from Tomorrow is one of them. What’s interesting about this score is the sort-of classical approach the music takes on for a film that’s somewhat experimental.

4. Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World
Brian Tyler

I wrote last year lamenting over the lack of musical cohesiveness between the Marvel films and the disappointing thematic representation of the characters.

Enter Brian Tyler. For both Iron Man and Thor, Tyler not only created a theme that aptly represents the characters but crafted a score that kept up with the film. Starting with a solid orchestral foundation (something not always present in previous Marvel scores), Tyler added something extra for each: Iron Man got a slight rock edge to his theme, and Thor got a heavy dose of what can only be described as epicness. (Thor 2 also featured a delicious quoting of Alan Silvestri’s Captain America theme (a theme that pleasingly now appears in three Marvel films).)

As both scores showed, Brian Tyler’s musical style excellently suits the Marvel universe. For that reason and for the sake of musical consistency, he should be Marvel’s house composer going forward.

3. Star Trek Into Darkness
Michael Giacchino

Michael Giacchino returned to the Star Trek world with a score that’s sharper, more driving, and more percussive than his original. And once again, a highlight of the film and score involves the Enterprise rising from something as Giacchino’s main theme is unleashed in all its glory.

2. Saving Mr. Banks
Thomas Newman

For a charming, magical film, Thomas Newman created a charming, magical score. All of Newman’s usual, eclectic orchestral mannerisms and colors abound in this delight of a score.

1. Gravity
Steven Price

My surprise of the year. Prior to seeing Gravity, I had not heard of Steven Price. I went into the film not expecting much more than a typical, simplistic Zimmer-derivative score for this blockbuster. I was wrong. Steven Price delivered a masterful score that expertly charted and complemented the chaos and emotions of the film. With no sound effects for the destruction in space, the film relied on the score to ratchet up the tension. And because of the skeleton cast, the film also relied on the score to ease that tension that might otherwise have been eased through multi-character banter or interaction. All this is capped off with the final cues where Price unleashes the full force of the orchestra and his main theme to craft a powerhouse of an ending. Thanks to his Gravity score, Steven Price is no longer an unknown for me. And thanks to this score, I look forward to hearing more from him in the future.

And speaking of hearing more in the future, here’s to more orchestral magic—and some more pleasant surprises—in 2014.

Yeah, Bitch! Lists!

Prior to the start of Breaking Bad’s second half of season five next month, I wanted to rewatch the entire series to be as fresh as possible with the show’s past events as I watched the final episodes. But I didn’t get started early enough, and by now, that’d just be crazy.

So instead, I looked through several best-of lists and compiled this list of best/most-popular episodes (thanks to @nagle for checking the list and catching one I left off). And for continuity, I included all episodes of the first half of season five. This will be my watchlist in anticipation of Heisenberg’s return.

And if you’d like to work through this list as well, you have, as of today, 28 days to watch 29 episodes. Tight but doable. I am the danger (to your free time).

1.1: “Pilot”
1.3: “…And the Bag’s in the River”
1.6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin’”
2.2: “Grilled”
2.6: “Peekaboo”
2.8: “Better Call Saul”
2.9: “4 Days Out”
2.12: “Phoenix”
2.13: “ABQ”
3.3: “I.F.T.”
3.6: “Sunset”
3.7: “One Minute”
3.10: “Fly”
3.12: “Half Measures”
3.13: “Full Measure”
4.1: “Box Cutter”
4.8: “Hermanos”
4.10: “Salud”
4.11: “Crawl Space”
4.12: “End Times”
4.13: “Face Off”
5.1: “Live Free or Die”
5.2: “Madrigal”
5.3: “Hazard Pay”
5.4: “Fifty-One”
5.5: “Dead Freight”
5.6: “Buyout”
5.7: “Say My Name”
5.8: “Gliding Over All”

Ostinatos, Kryptonite, and Hans Zimmer

For a film-score fan like me, a film’s musical accompaniment has the ability to foster increased enjoyment of its film. For example, the delightful How to Train Your Dragon. Add in John Powell’s should-have-won-an-Oscar score, and it’s now the utterly delightful How to Train Your Dragon.

Of course, the opposite is true: a film’s score can tarnish or even sink the enjoyment of a film for me. In the case of the former, the later Harry Potter films with their disappointing scores lacking appropriate thematic development and eschewing musical continuity; in the case of the latter (and no pun intended), Titanic with its score’s amateurishly cheap-sounding vocals attempting to ripoff Enya and exceedingly grating overuse of that damn song’s melody.

The former is also the case for Man of Steel (coincidentally partly for the same reasons as the later Potters). The film itself was fairly underwhelming (save for a terrific cast) while simultaneously being over the top. Add in Hans Zimmer’s disappointing score, and the film struggles to earn a three-star rating from me.

Calling Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel score a disappointment, though, is being kind. His score is overly simple, thoroughly generic, and astoundingly devoid of any intelligent ideas.

Once again, Zimmer scores the film he wants to score and ignores what other composers have established for the genre and, in this case, franchise. I’d be more forgiving of Zimmer’s blatant disregard for a film’s musical genre (see: the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Gladiator, Man of Steel, etc.) if the music were actually good (see: Pirates 3, Gladiator). Zimmer’s music used to be a novelty; now it’s just the mark of a lazy composer unwilling (incapable?) of composing anything else.

Jonathan Broxton at Movie Music UK has a thorough review that I’m in agreement with. I’ll add this:

I understand John Williams’s iconic theme for Superman couldn’t be used in this reboot/reimagining of Superman. It simply wouldn’t fit.

But given Zimmer’s affinity for ostinatos, he could have—no, should have—used the Williams Superman ostinato. Here’s the ostinato driving the main titles as arranged by John Ottman for Superman Returns:

The most frustrating part of Zimmer not using Williams’s Superman ostinato? It would have easily fit. Slow it down slightly, and it could have easily been layered underneath Zimmer’s Superman “anthem” heard here:

The track already has ostinatos underneath. Why not replace one of them with Williams’s? Here’s the ostinato paired with Ottman’s Lex Luthor theme (again from Superman Returns):

Sure, the bright-sounding trumpets wouldn’t work with Zimmer’s style for the score, but he could have kept the rhythm and changed the orchestration. John Powell in the two non-Superman superhero films he has scored used the ostinato. Here it is starting at 0:24 in this cue from X-Men: The Last Stand:

…and here it is throughout the first part of this cue from Hancock:

Why couldn’t Zimmer in an actual Superman film use it? Pride? Laziness?

Whatever the reason, Zimmer’s Man of Steel is an enormous missed opportunity and joins the increasing list of his recent scores that have lost most of the intelligence and inspiration that his past scores like The Lion King, The Last Samurai, and even Pirates 3 exhibited—scores, unlike Man of Steel, that he clearly approached not just as a job but as an opportunity.

Curiously, his score for The Lone Ranger sounds more inspired and fits the genre and franchise far better than his Man of Steel score. Not surprisingly, it’s also his most enjoyable and entertaining score in years. But will it prove to be an outlier amongst his recent bland efforts or the beginning of a course correction? Can Zimmer break free from the shackles of his kryptonite: his laziness? I hope so.

Apple “No’s” Best

Here’s a post about something Apple has done recently that isn’t regarding pastel colors or flat design. Apple’s new “Designed by Apple in California” ad:

This is it.
This is what matters.
The experience of a product.
How it makes someone feel.
When you start by imagining
What that might be like,
You step back.
You think.

Who will this help?
Will it make life better?
Does this deserve to exist?
If you are busy making everything,
How can you perfect anything?

We don’t believe in coincidence.
Or dumb luck.
There are a thousand “no’s”
For every “yes”.
We spend a lot of time
On a few great things.
Until every idea we touch
Enhances each life it touches.

We’re engineers and artists.
Craftsmen and inventors.
We sign our work.
You may rarely look at it.
But you’ll always feel it.
This is our signature.
And it means everything.

Designed by Apple in California.

I cringed when I read that for the first time. Certainly not over the sentiment. Over the apostrophe. Did Apple commit the grammar sin of using an apostrophe for pluralization? No, and here’s why.

Apostrophes are used for omissions (e.g. “can’t”, short for “cannot”, or “Oakland A’s”, short for “Oakland Athletics”) and possession (e.g. “the dingo’s last meal”). Not, not, NOT for pluralization (e.g. “1900’s”, “DVD’s”, or “the Hribar’s”). So what’s going on with that “no’s”?

Turns out, if you have more than one “no”, you have “noes”. And that means the apostrophe isn’t an attempt at pluralizing “no”—it’s omitting the ‘e’ in “noes”.

So, technically, “no’s” is correct. I’m guessing someone at Apple decided “no’s” looked less awkward than “noes”.

While “no’s” still does look awkward and the line probably could’ve been rewritten to avoid the issue altogether, the apostrophe usage in the ad is technically correct.

And thus concludes your grammar lesson for the day.