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Stadia after two months

I’ve been using Stadia for a couple of months now, and I like it. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m more of a casual gamer than a hardcore one, so I was drawn to Stadia by the ability to play console games without the upfront cost of buying a console (although I did have to pay for the Stadia controller, it should be reusable as a generic USB controller in the event I stop using Stadia.

After two months I’m still enjoying Stadia and playing it regularly. More specifically, I’ve been enjoying and playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. After initially thinking more about the technology, now I primarily focus on the games. Destiny 2 was initially fun, but it quickly got repetitive and I lost interest in it. I’m sure it’s got a passionate fan base, but I personally don’t really see the appeal; I didn’t find the storyline that compelling. AC:O, by contrast, has way more story than I expected. Every time I suspect I might be nearly the end of the game, there’s more game.

My shift to focusing on the games highlights the primary challenge I think Stadia faces. If you’re focused on the latest and greatest games, Stadia’s library is still sorely lacking. If, like me, you’re more interested in just playing some fun games, Stadia is a great way to try them without committing to a console. To bring in the gamer audience, Stadia needs to grow its library as quickly as it can. Which they clearly recognize and are working to do.

The part of Stadia’s technology that I really like is its ability to work across devices. While I starting off playing mostly on our TV using the Chromecast Ultra, these days I primarily play off the iMac in our office. It’s really convenient to be able to choose which device to play on, rather than being tied to a particular room and device.

I wasn’t sure in my first month of use whether I’d stick with Stadia, but for now I’m planning to continue my subscription once my initial three month subscription completes.

Android on Chrome OS: kind of embarrassing

These days I often reach for my Pixelbook over my Macbook Pro, often because it’s easy for me to log into my work account as well as my personal one. Plus the keyboard still way better than the awful butterfly one; here’s hoping Apple quickly introduces their improved keyboard across their laptop line (although I haven’t personally tried it, so I can’t yet verify how much it’s actually improved).

But I gotta say, Android on Chrome OS is still kind of a mess. Why can I still not put apps on the home screen? Why is there still no clear differentiation between Android apps and web pages? And why on earth do downloads from the Play Store occasionally slow to a crawl?

The latter is something I’ve observed twice now. For no clear reason, downloads (both new installs and updates) from the Play Store will suddenly slow to a crawl. We’re talking 20 minutes to download and install a 10 mb update slow. The slowness will last for a couple of weeks, and then suddenly it’ll clear up, again for no clear reason.

I suspect it’s potentially an issue with Google Play Services, since at the same time content will stop downloading in the Play Movies & TV app (or it could be an issue with the Download Manager, assuming PM&T uses it to refresh the app content, but is possible but not certain). None of the proposed workarounds suggested online work: forcing stopping apps or services, clearing caches, clearing data. It’s frankly embarrassing that Google even has to propose those solutions; an app should never force users to go in and manually clear out the app’s data. Don’t get me started on the proposed “uninstall and reinstall Android” solution.

I really hope that the relevant teams at Google identify and fix the issue(s). If the company wants to run with Android on Chrome OS as their preferred tablet and laptop solution, they need to make the ability to download and update apps rock solid. A solution that doesn’t reliably let you use apps isn’t a solution.

Final Star Wars trilogy: Abrams vs. Johnson

We (finally) got around to seeing Rise of Skywalker last night. It was fun, but afterward we could help comparing J.J. Abram’s movies (Force Awakens, Rise of Skywalker) against Rian Johnson’s (Last Jedi). I know a lot of die hard fans complained about Johnson’s entry, but frankly it was the best movie of the three.

My major issue with Abram’s movies is that they were intellectual lazy: they didn’t bother to tell an original story. They instead just loosely copied the structure of the corresponding entry in the previous trilogy. Force Awakens? Planet destroying base threatening the rebellion, our heroes have to infiltrate an imperial base, the bad guys kill an older father figure, and after much running around the good guys manage to destroy the base at the last second. It’s A New Hope with some tweaks.

Rise of Skywalker? Look, it’s the emperor! We’re not even going to bother to have a new bad guy, we’ll just recycle the old one along with the plot. Once again he’s poised to crush the rebellion. The good guys have to figure out how to get to him, and they need to take down the shields of the Death Star, I mean imperial cruisers, before they can destroy it. I mean them. All looks lost, to essentially the same sequence in the emperor’s throne room with him gloating, until things turn around at the last second. Sure, it’s not exactly Return of the Jedi, but the structure is pretty damn close.

Johnson’s entry, although many fans got all bent out of shape about Luke still essentially being a rather whiny twit (which, let’s face it, is pretty much his character in 4-6), was actually a fairly original tale. Yes, we still have the mentor sequence, with Luke instead of Yoda, but Johnson arguably keeps it different enough to not feel like he’s just cribbing off Empire Strikes Back. And Ren taking out Snoke in the second movie was definitely an angle I did not see coming. I was actually looking forward to Ren being the sole bad guy in the final film, which hopefully was the direction Johnson was heading in.

But then some hardcore fans got bent out of shape, Disney panicked, Johnson got booted, and we ended up with Return of the Jedi 2, now more returny, instead of something more interesting. Ah well. It was still a fun movie, but I bet Johnson’s version would have been better.

Trying Apple News+

Apple bumped their standard one month free trial of Apple News+ up to three months over the holidays, so I finally opted to give it a try. I’d been tempted for awhile; surely it’d be great to be able to read The New Yorker, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and others whenever I felt like it, all through the convenience of my tablet?

But in practice I just haven’t made that much use of the trial. Sure, I skim the article headlines in The New Yorker whenever a new issues comes out, but I actually read very few articles. And the weekly publication schedule feels somewhat relentless. I already have a backlog of books to read; piling new content that keeps inexorably arriving on top seems like it’d make me feel wasteful for spending money on content that I didn’t get around to reading. I subscribe to the New York Times and use that subscription every day (I generally read it over breakfast), but I think I’ll just quietly let my News+ trial expire when my three months are up.

Healdsburg

We spent the long MLK weekend in Healdsburg, up in Sonoma county. I’ve been curious about it for years, but it never quite crossed the threshold into actually sparking a visit. But the long weekend seemed like a good opportunity, since we didn’t have anything pressing keeping us in town. And with the fires in Sonoma last fall, spending some money in the area seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. We stayed directly in the town, at the Harmon Goest House, roughly half a block from the main town square. It was a good location, since the area around the square is very walkable and has a bunch of shops (including two bookstores!), restaurants, and tasting rooms.

We intentionally made it a low-key weekend, poking around the town, eating some tasty food, and exploring. We did hop in the car to drive roughly 10 minutes to the parking lot for the Fitch Mountain open space preserve. The mountain is really a large hill at the eastern edge of town, but hiking up it got us a bit of exercise (useful after all the food) and provided some nice views of the Russian River and surrounding countryside. I suspect it’d be fun to raft or kayak the river in warmer weather, but that’d be balanced by the increased number of visitors you’d have to endure.

Christmas moose and… koalas?

Google generally does a nice job of decoration its buildings for the holidays; I like the aesthetic of the displays they’ve done the last couple of years. They don’t put displays up in every building, but this year they decorated both our old and new buildings.

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Our old building’s display is a winter scene with a moose, which seems appropriate for the holidays. Plus the wooden moose sculpture is just cool. Our new building’s display, by contrast, includes a winter scene with koalas, which, just, what? It’s summer in Australia during the holidays; shouldn’t this either be a summer scene or feature a different (northern hemisphere) animal?

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Holiday lights at Filoli

This year we finally got around to seeing the holiday lights at Filoli (for that matter, it was our first time seeing Filoli period). We’d heard about the lights before, but we’d never gotten around to catching them. But after 13 years in the Bay Area, we finally got around to it. The lights are definitely worth checking out, and at some point we’ll have to go back and see the house and grounds in the day time (possibly in the spring, when the gardens should be lovely).

ACT’s Christmas Carol

We often catch The Nutcracker during the holidays, but this year we decided to try something different, so we got tickets to the American Conservatory Theater’s performance of A Christmas Carol. The show was enjoyable, although I have to confess that my reference for any Christmas Carol performance is still Mickey’s Christmas Carol (likely due to some combination of it being the first one I saw and it also being the variation I’ve seen most often). Who doesn’t enjoy Goofy as Jacob Marley?

Getting to the theater, however, was a pain. Public transit in the Bay Area just kind of sucks; it never seems to run at the right times or to/from the right places, and it’s usually both faster and cheaper to drive. Plus if you’re dressed up a bit (which we were, even though we were catching a matinee performance) you don’t want to have to stand around outside in winter waiting for a train. So we opted to drive, and thought an hour was plenty of extra time to alot to find parking. Unfortunately we failed to reckon with how crowded the Union Square area would be on the weekend before Christmas; it took us almost 40 minutes to find a garage that had open parking spots. So lesson learned: avoid driving to holiday performances in SF right before Christmas.

First thoughts on Stadia

I bought a Stadia Founder’s Edition because I was curious to try the final version. I’d been skeptical that they’d be able to make the service responsive enough for games to be playable, but I got a chance to try an internal dogfood version and was thoroughly impressed by the quality of the experience. Plus I figured that even if I didn’t stick with Stadia, I could use the game controller for games on my Mac, and we could use the Chromecast Ultra to push content to our TV (which we’ve already done).

In some ways I figure I’m the perfect audience for Stadia. I like playing computer games, but I don’t play that many or that often, and I’m typically a year or two behind the curve when I finally get around to trying a game. And I’ve never bothered to purchase a high-end game console, because I’ll never use it enough to justify the investment in it. But a game platform where I don’t need to invest in a console but can still play console games? That sounds promising.

So far my Stadia experience has been good; high-quality streaming and low-latency input. I’ve mostly played Destiny 2 (access is included in the initial 3 month subscription), but I did take advantage of the initial games sale. My biggest complaint so far, in fact, has been around Destiny’s 2 gameplay: they give you almost zero instruction when you first get into the game, and in fact the story campaign content is essentially hidden (I had to search the Internet to figure out how to start it). Apparently they’ve decided that anyone buying the game at this point is doing so for the multiplayer experiences, but they’ve gone so far in that direction that they’re arguably making the game less fun for new players (they start all new players off with high-powered equipment, and there’s no more need to grow your character by unlocking abilities or subclasses). Since it’s included with the subscription I don’t mind too much, but if I’d actually bought the game I’d feel disappointed.

iPadOS: no, I don’t want a new window

I’ve been less than impressed with Apple’s fall software updates. iOS 13 has been buggy, and Mail just seems to get worse year over year rather than better. I haven’t tried Catalina yet, but I generally wait for the .2 or .3 version of any new MacOS version. iPadOS is the one I have the most issues with, though. I realize Apple is trying to make the iPad more of a productivity device with increased support for window management. That’d be fine if the new capabilities didn’t interfere with my existing habits; I have zero interest in using my iPad that way, but I don’t care if they’re pushing in that direction either. But with iPadOS Apple has made it way too easy to accidentally open content in a new popover window, which is then a pain to dismiss.

One of the main things I use my iPad for is to read content (via the excellent Reeder). All I really need to be able to do it tap on articles to open them, scroll through them as I read them, and then swipe to back to the article list. Straightforward. And yet with iPadOS, I keep accidentally opening content in new windows. Typically it happens when I’m trying to scroll an article. I’ll put my finger down and drag the content, but it’ll often be over an image with an associated link. iPadOS ends up interpreting it as drag-to-open-window, rather than drag-to-scroll. And then I’m stuck with a window that I have to remember how to dismiss (swiping the window up or down, which feels natural because I dragged up to accidentally open the window, of course doesn’t work). It got annoying enough that I went looking for a way to disable drag-to-open, but I couldn’t find a way to do it.

Given that’s there’s already a way to open content in a new window (long-press and then select open in new window), I dearly hope that Apple removes drag-to-open-in-window in a future update.