Liner Notes (November 9th, 2018)

Another week has come and passed. As I sit here writing this, I can see the leaves falling from the trees, and we’re already making plans to cook turkeys and put together gift lists. I love this time of the year.

In this week’s roundup, I rank Star Wars movies, talk about new iPad apps I love, recommend digitizing your paper files, give some first impressions of the new Andrew McMahon album, and go through my usual weekly media diet. Plus, a playlist of ten songs I loved this week. The supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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Site Update: A Few Changes to the Ad System Coming

One of the biggest challenges to running this website has been figuring out a business model that works, and that allows me to sleep well at night. This website is my full-time job, and the income it provides is how I put food on the table. My goal from the start has been to find a way to make this website the only job I have to have.1 Right now I do some consulting work to make up the difference between what the website brings in and what my family needs. The vast majority of the website’s revenue comes from our readers and our supporter system. It’s because of all the people that read this website and visit our forums that it exists.

Over the past two years I’ve played around with a few other ways to bring in additional revenue, the main one being advertising. I set up a self-serve advertising system where anyone could buy display ads on the website, and I priced them way under what most websites charge for the number of impressions they would get. Unfortunately, they never sold as well as I hoped they would. So, it’s time to try something different again.


  1. The long-term goal was, and continues to be, to hopefully find a way to expand the website into an entity that could support more than one person.

Liner Notes (November 2nd, 2018)

November is here. Leaves are now covering the ground and the switch from spooky movies to holiday cheer can begin. I’m already getting excited about Thanksgiving and itching to decorate the place for Christmas. I want to take a quick moment to encourage everyone reading this to make a plan to vote, vote early if you are able, and get your friends involved as well. The mid-term elections are extremely important.

This week’s roundup has me ranking Yellowcard albums (it was time), talking about the new iPads announced this week, and going through my usual weekly media diet. Some good movies were watched, some great music was heard. The supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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Liner Notes (October 26th, 2018)

It finally got cold enough to where I had to turn on the fireplace — only to find out that the pilot light wouldn’t ignite. Which, of course, meant I had to wait to have it fixed. After a few days of being sad, it has been fixed, and I’ve turned it on for the first time this season. It’s gloriously warm and the cats are cuddled up next to it like it’s the only thing in this world that matters. They may just be right.

This week’s roundup finds me ranking Anberlin albums and going through my usual media diet. There’s also a playlist of music I loved this week and some way-too-early talk about holiday decorations. The supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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Creating a Simple App Launcher With a Custom Icon for iOS

In iOS 10 Apple introduced the ability for app makers to offer alternative app icons for their apps. A few of my favorite apps have taken advantage of this. Overcast has a cool dark icon for subscribers, Carrot Weather has a huge selection to choose from, and the MLB At Bat app lets you pick your favorite team’s logo as the icon. It’s a nice way to add a little bit of customization to your device. However, not every app has taken advantage of this new feature. For example, it’s a no brainer that the NBA should copy baseball and let you put a team logo as the app icon … but, they don’t. So when it came time to move from having the MLB app on my home screen, to the NBA, I started looking into all the different ways I could maybe change-up the icon. I have no desire to jailbreak my phone and this really isn’t an app I open up all that often anyway. I check it maybe a couple times a day, at most, to see what games are on, check scores, and watch one via League Pass if it’s coming down to the wire. Because of this, I thought about just using a Siri Shortcut to act as an app launcher and being done with it, but I didn’t love how the shortcut would launch, then switch to the Shortcut app, and then launch the NBA app. Sure, it worked, but it took longer than I wanted to even for an app I only open a few times a day.

However, I realized that if there was only one slight pause and a redirect to the NBA app, without first going through Shortcuts, that would probably work just fine for what I wanted this to do. So I took a look at how Shortcuts was creating these launchers and realized they’re basically just Web Clips that when opened redirect to a Shortcuts URL scheme. Looking a little closer I saw they created these Web Clips in a pretty clever way that kept everything local on the device. Usually a Web Clip will launch Safari and hit a web site, which is slow, however, if it’s a local HTML file it doesn’t need to do anything at all. So I copied their technique.

I created a basic HTML file that redirects to the NBA url scheme, created the icon I wanted for it, turned the background black, and then added a startup image that displays the logo on a black background. That way, when I tap the icon, instead of just getting a brief white background, I get a cool all black Trail Blazer screen before being sent to the NBA app. There’s still a slight delay, but it’s passable this time, since I’m sent right to the app and not to Shortcuts first.

And it means I can have the Blazer logo on my home screen:

If anyone is interested in how I did it. Here’s the basics: I started with a simple HTML document.

<html>
<head>
<title>NBA</title>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”text/html; charset=UTF-8″>
<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0, maximum-scale=1.0, user-scalable=no, viewport-fit=cover” />
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-capable” content=”yes”>
<meta name=”apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style” content=”black”>
<meta http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0;URL=’nba://'” />
<link rel=”apple-touch-icon” href=””>
<link rel=”apple-touch-startup-image” href=””>
</head>
<body style=”background: #000;text-align: center;”>
<img src=”data:image/png;base64,” width=”175″ style=”position:fixed;top:47%;left:49.2%;transform: translate(-50%, -50%);”/>
</body>
</html>

The meta refresh tag I set to the NBA URL scheme. I told the Web Clip to be full-screen (apple-mobile-web-app-capable). Set the status bar to black to match the background (apple-mobile-web-app-status-bar-style). (Change “black” to “default” to make it white.) And set the icon (apple-touch-icon) and the start up image (apple-touch-startup-image) to their respective images (you can find the recommended sizes via Google depending on what device you use).

Now, in the middle of the screen I wanted to show the Blazer logo. However, I didn’t want this image to be hosted on a server somewhere and slow down my little launcher. So, I recommend optimizing your image as much as possible and then converting it to Base 64. Grab that code and set it as the source for the image. I tweaked the size and positioning so that on load the start-up image and my little website thing would look the exact same.

After that I borrowed how Siri Shortcuts adds home screen apps. Convert the entire HTML page to Base 64. You’ll get a giant string representing your Web Clip. Mobile Safari won’t let you just copy and paste this into your browser, so you’ll need to link it from somewhere. I created a page that just had one link on it:

<a href=”data:text/html;base64,”>click me</a>

After the comma, I put the giant base 64 string. I tossed that on my server, opened it on my phone, and clicked it.

(I’m sure you can use something like this to do that too.)

It opened up the HTML page I created and asked if I wanted to be redirected to the NBA app. I clicked cancel, then just created the home screen app like usual (share sheet, add to home screen). I tapped the icon, it showed my startup screen, and then the NBA app opened up. Exactly like any of the Siri Shortcut apps and all without having to jailbreak my device or create a custom profile on the phone. Just a basic local HTML page turned into a web clip. I’d never do this for any app I open all the time, but this use case is just about perfect.

I share other things like this in the Apple thread from time to time.

Oh. And go Blazers.

Liner Notes (October 19th, 2018)

I blame Federico Viticci over at MacStories for going on a deep dive of playing around with Siri Shortcuts all week. Once I start down the path of automating things or organizing my phone, I always end up going overboard. Still, it was a fun way to spend a few nights.

In this week’s roundup, I look at a few new apps I’ve been using and explore the Siri Shortcut stuff I’ve been playing around with. I also share my first thoughts on the upcoming album from Saves the Day, go through my usual media diet from the past week, and share ten songs I loved this week. There’s been lots of Halloween and fall-themed entertainment in our household recently. The supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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Liner Notes (October 12th, 2018)

Bring on the weekend! We’re moving into “pumpkin-spice-everything” territory, and I’m getting excited to start watching some of my favorite Halloween movies, breaking out the festive beers, and making all kinds of warm foods in the ‘ol Crock Pot.

This week I rank albums from Andrew McMahon, give the first impression on the new Laura Jane Grace album, share a playlist of ten songs I loved this week, share what I’ve been working on behind-the-scenes, and go through my weekly media diet. Some outstanding albums out this week you shouldn’t sleep on. The supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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First Impression: Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises

Pale Waves

Debut albums are tricky. On the one hand, they’re the first real look most people will take at your band. Sure, you’ve released a bunch of singles, maybe even a few EPs, but the actual debut album still seems to end up being where you take all the momentum you’ve had, and make a push to build a fan base around your music. So far, Pale Waves have been doing everything right. They’ve released a variety of songs, they’ve been building some buzz, and they have locked down the style they’re going for. On the other hand, getting a debut album right means finding a collection of songs that can keep those early adopters happy (since they’ve probably overplayed a good portion of your record already) while also building around it a cohesive feeling. My first impressions of Pale Waves’, My Mind Makes Noises, is that they have a lot of really good songs, but I’m not sure they have a really good album.

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Review: The Night Game – The Night Game

The Night Game

Do you remember your first kiss?

A few weeks ago my mom stopped by for dinner and brought with her a shoebox she had found in the basement. The box, now flimsy and tattered, contained love letters and notes from elementary school up through college. I laughed when she gave them to me. Over the years she’s dropped off countless things from my childhood whenever she decides it is time to redistribute the stuff neither of us knows what to do with any longer. When she left, I almost just tossed them aside. However, on top of the pile, I caught a glimpse of something that caused sensory memories to start flooding back. I took a sip of beer, mumbled “fuck it” under my breath, and pulled a few folded pieces of paper from the box.

I recognized handwriting. I recalled the way specific notes were folded. Ink colors. Inside jokes. Faded pencil sketches of pen-names and scribbled between class “I love you’s.” I started to feel long-buried memories of when these little pieces of paper, pre-cell phone and instant messaging, meant everything to me. When each letter represented possibilities and of being so in love that these possibilities, these fleeting ideas of a future, all felt inevitable. And each, now, clearly also representing a moment of heartbreak; of unfulfilled youthful promises.

The Beautiful, Ugly, and Possessive Hearts of Star Wars

Film Crit Hulk:

I don’t care if you liked or didn’t like something. You are absolutely entitled to your opinion. But the opinion is not what matters. The point is that when you say something is “bad writing” or “bad direction,” I want to understand what you actually mean by that, and why you think that. And if you can only stammer out a few confusing words that add up to “that’s how I felt,” then I can’t understand you. And the simple truth is that applying the right words and backing them up with clarity, while showcasing an understanding of the nuance behind them, is literally what criticism is. Which is precisely why I take so much issue with critical culture trying assign a specific kind of value judgement, just because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Amen.

Friday Thoughts (August 31st, 2018)

I thought the new format for these “Friday Thoughts” worked really well last week, so I’m going to use it again this week. They’ve slowly been becoming longer and more fleshed out. Not quite a weekly newsletter yet, but almost.

This week looks at new music from Alkaline Trio, Pale Waves, Young the Giant, The Night Game, and more.

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First Impression: Alkaline Trio – Is This Thing Cursed?

Alkaline Trio - Is This Thing Cursed?

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on August 29th, 2018. I’ve decided to make it free to all users of the website. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.

I figured with the album coming out on Friday this was really the last time I had to try and get some early thoughts down on this album for everyone before you’ll be able to hear it. Hell, there’s always the chance this leaks while I’m typing this up. Then everyone can join in with me.

At a high-level, this album works for me more than any of their albums have since Crimson. I’ve liked the stuff that followed, but it never really captured that same magic as their earlier work. I would find myself listening to them for a few weeks (with the exception of This Addiction, which never really grabbed me), but after that, when I wanted an Alkaline Trio fix, I’d go back to Crimson or something before it. That’s just how it played out for me. I can’t predict with certainty that this is going to be an album I come back to in the future, but there’s something about it that hits me just right and gives me that feeling. There’s an energy here, a feeling of immediacy that they touched on with My Shame is True, but one that feels much more rolled into a “classic” Alkaline Trio-sounding album. This urgency to the songs is really resonating with me at the moment.

GoRuck to Raise Prices in September

GoRuck, who make the best backpack you can buy (the GR1), are increasing prices in September. If you are on the fence about picking one up, I wouldn’t wait:

So instead of surprising our community, and that means you, about a price increase on all pieces of GORUCK gear and apparel, we wanted to give you fair warning. So here it is: September 1 at midnight, prices across the board on GORUCK built Rucksacks and Apparel are going up, on average 20-30%. This will be GR1‘s first ever price increase.

Friday Thoughts (August 24th, 2018)

Another Friday is here. I hope everyone has a good week as we move toward the end of summer. I’m not ready for it to end. I’m ready for it to be less hot though. The temperature finally dropped here the past week. That coordinated nicely with the smoke coming in from all the fires. Been pretty gross air-quality-wise lately. I’ll take a few days in the 70s for a while. I’m looking forward to fall. Fall’s my favorite season. I love the weather, the crisp feeling in the air, and I like wearing fall clothes. I feel too hot all the time in summer. I like being able to put on long sleeves, and jeans, and wear shoes. Bring on the sweaters I say.

I’m going to try something a little different today and attempt to organize this round-up a little more.

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Where’s the Hype?

A conversation in the Thrice album thread got me thinking this morning. Does hype around an album even matter anymore? In the past, the idea of a hyped release meant that a lot of people would be anticipating, talking about, and building “buzz” for the release. The thinking went that the more hype around a release, the better it’d sell, then there’d be more people out on tours, you’d get bigger and better tours, and then you’re on your way. The time between announcing an album and releasing it into the world seemed to, in theory, be built around coordinating and focusing this hype as you built toward release week and getting those first week sales. But here, in 2018, does this hype really mean anything and can we measure its success?

Over the past few months I can’t think of many rock bands that had more buzz, or “hype,” than the most recent Foxing release. All the right publications were talking about it. All the right “taste makers” liked it. Premieres on all the right websites. Features were written. Cool, unique, campaigns. Awesome podcasts. And it was all backed by, in my opinion, one of the best albums so far released this year. It came, it was released into the world, and it sold just fine in the first week. (Around 3,500 copies.) So, by quite a few of the metrics we’ve always used to define what a good album rollout looks like, this one had it all. It had the buzz. It had the “hype.” It had our forums anticipating the album from announcement all the way up to the day it was released into the world. The question I started asking myself this morning was centered on if this was actually effectively better than the Thrice album rollout — which seems to have die-hard fans upset because there isn’t enough to keep them interested. And, furthermore, how do we adequately measure “hype” and if it matters in the rock or alternative music world today?

First Impression: Thrice – Palms

Thrice - Palms

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on July 19th, 2018. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.

This new album from Thrice is a tricky one to pin down. I’ve spent the last week trying to figure out the best way to put into words what I think about it and, specifically, what it sounds like. I think going broadly I would describe the album has having a nice groove to it. A groove that reminds me most of Beggars, and one that doesn’t wholly eschew the rock sound they had on their last album, but instead leans into many aspects of that sound in new ways.

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Friday Thoughts (August 10th, 2018)

I hope everyone had a good week. I spent most of my week working on this stupid posting bug where the posting box goes behind the keyboard, but everything I’ve done to fix it ends up causing a headache in a different and new way. It’s driving me fucking insane. So, I’ve decided to pause that until next Monday and do some other maintenance things today. Take a step back for a bit and see if that helps.

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