Archive: June, 2013

Mad Men finale recap: the only unpardonable sin

Matt Zoller Seitz on season six (warning, full article and my notes below contain spoilers for the season finale):

I’ll revisit this whole season again later this week and write an overview piece. For now this strikes me as Mad Men’s weakest season overall, often lacking the thematic, visual and rhythmic unity of seasons one through five – though there’s a chance that it’ll feel more complete and organized once I’ve had a chance to re-watch the entire thing. It might even seem to have a certain “drunk’s logic” to it, with the show flailing and lurching and stopping and starting like Don groping toward his epiphany.

I’m no critic, and nowhere near the TV intelligence of a master like Seitz, but I’d agree with his assessment. Thematic unity was something that when I think back to the earlier seasons was really prevalent: Don’s struggles in season one, the women characters being brought to the forefront in season two. Naturally when you get to know these characters after this much time, some jumping around in season six was expected. But not quite this much. And frankly, while the great acting helped a lot (reason number one this show remains clearly one of the best on televison) I didn’t buy Don’s ‘coming clean’ moment at all.

I still can’t wait to revisit those Peggy and Don scenes at a later date. Just phenomenal work. I have no idea where Matt Weiner will be taking us for the last season but I’m excited.

How to keep up to date on front-end technologies

Pretty brilliant set of links and advice from Guille Paz, Her Mammana and Lean Linares.

Beautiful and claustrophobic: Mad Men’s inferno

Press Play’s Arielle Bernstein:

In many ways, Mad Men’s insistence on denying us the pleasure of resolution is the secret to its success and the reason so many of us are hooked on it, despite being frustrated that nothing ever really changes, time and time again. Repetition of experience is electric. It grounds us in the past and connects us to the present. We think what we seek is an experience, which is new, but what we really want to feel connected to is an experience that makes us feel happy and safe, in a way we once felt happy and safe before.

PS4: my next-gen console of choice

I’m far from a “hard core” gamer, but a mere two days after E3’s start this year, I preordered the PS4. I’m bullish on Sony for two main reasons: indies and focus.

The indie developer factor

E3 pressers lean on the tried and true: AAA first person shooters, racing games and sports. These are the Hollywood blockbusters of gaming, big budget games that rarely deviate from an expected template to avoid alienating fan bases. I’m not above partaking in AAA franchises with better graphics and AI, but those games will always be there. At this point diversity and originality matter more and it’s increasingly smaller budget indie developers that fill this need.

With development and distribution costs dropping, indies are a rapdly growing presence on most gaming platforms. Mobile gaming is dominated by small developer content, and indie games have become huge sellers on Steam. And it’s not just sales; some of the most critically acclaimed games last year (The Walking Dead, Fez, Journey) were decidedly indie.

Despite this, the XBox One seems tone deaf to the indie movement. The XBox E3 presser gave indies five minutes to hustle through two quick trailers, a total afterthought. Microsoft also forces indie distributers through a lot of red tape. For instance, there’s no self publishing and XBox Live often charges expensive patch fees (often prohibitively expensive for smaller dev teams) to keep games updated. It’s bad enough that several smaller studios have dropped XBox One development entirely.

In contrast, Sony has a more indie-friendly approach: a showcase of eight indies in the middle of their worldwide E3 presser. Self publishing. Aggressive courting of indie studios with PS4 dev kits. The results are almost 30 indie game console exclusives to be released by end of 2014. Sony still has to ensure their online stores are set up so gamers can discover indies easily (a major problem on the current gen XBox 360) but overall Sony has an impressive start.


Sony appears very disciplined, an about-face from their aloof stance during the PS3 debut. They’ve lined their top ranks with gaming veterans like Mark Cerny, Shuhei Yoshida and Shane Bettenhausen. The heavy gaming thrust of the PS4 is also realistic and practical. Don’t battle against Apple TV, mobile platforms or the many other web browsers and Netflix players in the living room; coexist and focus on what you do best: games.

Contrast that with Microsoft where both the personnel and vision is all over the place. Exhibit A: the DRM PR mess that’s followed Microsoft around from E3 to its 180 flip flop last week. There’s also been little added support or push around Kinect’s gaming benefits, even though it’s the main reason the system carries a $100 premium over the PS4. And XBox One’s split screen, live/cable TV focus feels dated. It’s Google TV all over again, tech effectively dead on arrival.

Smaller issues

Issues that have dominated gaming discussion online are pretty overrated. XBox and PS4 disc DRM is now on even terms and within a year or two I suspect digital downloads will be the default anyway. Microsoft’s pre-E3 vision of an all digital future isn’t just fantasy, it’s an inevitability (the rest of the tech industry – most notably Steam – have already moved this way.) While neither Microsoft nor Sony have revealed their next gen digital download policy, I’d wager they will start on similar footing.

I won’t give either system an edge on hardware either; Sony’s supposed superior gaming architecture could easily be nullified by XBox Live’s cloud computing. That leaves the launch lineups exclusive to each console, both of which are fairly weak (though Microsoft’s Forza 5 looks incredible.) And based on previous console gens, it’s a folly to extrapolate launch titles out to the quality of a console’s library years down the road.

Regardless of what happens, the future of console gaming is uncertain as mobile and PC gaming continue to make inroads. The PS4 could soundly “win” over the XBox One in sales for its first year and still be a failure. But if I’m betting now, I think Sony will start out of the gates ahead on Microsoft.

Ughck. Images.

Lead Paravel developer Dave Rupert:

If the web cannot keep pace with a native experience in speed (rendering in under 1000ms), we’re all going to be out of the job. An uptick in native app usage means budget dollars would follow the trend and be poured into native apps. Meanwhile public facing websites will be left to rot because no one cared and we littered the web with bullshit. Native wins, the web dies, Zeldman hangs up his beanie, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee cries a single tear.

Somewhat scary yet very relevant advice. Bottom line, web sites are perceived as “slow”, and it’s our job as developers to counter that notion. Dave emphasizes here that yes, a responsive or pared down approach to images is difficult. Yet it’s critical work.

Roll your own yeoman generators

Developer Will Vaughn:

Yeoman isn’t about taking plays from someone else’s playbook, its about designing your own offensive scheme, and executing it.

I really enjoyed reading Will’s experience sitting down with Yeoman for the first time and feeling…completely overwhelved. Been there, done that. But there’s some great advice here on how to start with Yeoman in small but effective steps. He leads with Grunt, something I’m already a huge fan of. It’s enough for me to get back on the Yeoman bandwagon and give it a try.

Xbox One vs. indies

Ben Kuchera, writing for The PA Report:

Microsoft doesn’t allow developers to self-publish their games on the Xbox 360, nor will it be allowed on the Xbox One. There’s been much talk about this limitation, but few really understand what it means, or why that decision not only screws over indies on the Xbox One, but the PlayStation 4 and PC as well. Microsoft, in one very broad stroke, has made it much harder for smaller developers to operate in gaming as a whole.

Occasionally I questioned if some of the examples here were a bit hyperbolic. But I’ve been reading so many reports of this from different sources that there’s clearly a lot of truth here. As a article commenter points out, it’s ironic the Microsoft tried this experiment back with 360 and the XLIG. Seeing where they started and where they are now…pretty crazy.

Front end dev reactions

A great animated gif Tumblr blog that almost any front end developer can identify with. I especially love that The Wire reference used for “when asked to do an HTML email”.

Designing for breakpoints

The legendary Jeremy Keith, talking about best practices for responsive web design:

And here’s the key: try to come up with as few major breakpoints as possible. That might sound crazy, since we’re talking about responsive design. After all, we have media queries, so let’s use about 12 of them, right? No! If a linear layout works for every screen and is appropriate for your particular concept, then there’s no need for different layouts.

I’ve learned this the hard way in my early responsive work; you find writing more and more media queries easy, and next thing you know your responsive code gets out of control. Follow Keith’s advice here; simpler is generally better.

The thing about Vesper

Kevin Whipps writing for iPhone AppStorm:

The thing about Vesper is that it’s great to use and sure is pretty. But if my notes are trapped on my iPhone, it’s pretty much useless to me.

Bingo. Kevin also goes after Vesper’s creators for their lack of Markdown support; not as critical in my mind as syncing, but it’s still a problem.