Quick Review: The Expanse

A few weeks ago the wife decided to start watching a new series. At first I wasn’t interested, but eventually I decided I wanted to check it out. The Expanse is a sci-fi series that originally launched on the SyFy network, but after three seasons was cancelled. Amazon has agreed to pick up Season 4, and so all the previous seasons are not available on Prime.

The premise is that in the future, humanity has colonized the solar system, and there is an uneasy truce between Mars and Earth. Caught in the middle of this struggle are the Belters, who inhabit the moons and asteroid belt of the outer planets. These Belters are often seen as commodity labor, working to provide resources to the two giant warring factions.

The story begins with a rebellious daughter of a corporate CEO going missing. Through the entire first season we follow the journey of two different groups that are trying to find her, that eventually come together. Throughout the story you learn more about the world that these people inhabit, and a large portion of the show is about the political dealings of the major factions. Although there are action scenes, this is really a noir-style sci-fi show, that deals with the gritty reality of a solar system on the brink of war.

We’re part way through the second season, and so far I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen. On the positive side, there are a lot of great storylines that are woven together throughout, and I loved how they come together. The political drama is pretty typical, but Shohreh Aghdashloo delivers the goods when it comes to playing the high-stakes game of brinksmanship. For me, she is the absolute best part of the show. She presents a visage of dignity and calm, but can get her hands dirty with the best of them.

On the negative side, some of the acting is a bit wooden, which is often typical for shows of this caliber. Similar to shows like Arrow, once you invest in a main character, you’re pretty much stuck with them, even if they don’t grow as an actor as much as you hope. I am still optimistic that the main character, James Holden (played by Steven Strait), will eventually develop more depth beyond righteous do-gooder with family issues.

I’m looking forward to finishing out the first three seasons, and then see what Amazon will do with it going forward. If you’re in the mood for something sci-fi, that’s not just guns and ship battles, The Expanse is a worthwhile watch.

Some north shore photography

I haven’t done a pure photo post in a while, so I decided now’s a good time. I was on my way back from volunteering at the Spring Superior Trail races and decided to hit a few cool spots along the way. Particularly, Gooseberry Falls. I put an album up over on my SmugMug. Enjoy!

North Shore May 2019

Quick Review: Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus Rear Trunk Bag

A couple of years ago I decided to get a rack on my Trek FX7.2 to enable me to carry more stuff when using my bike for commuting or running errands. Since my bike is a Trek, I got a Bontrager rack. However, to save a few dollars I ended up getting some semi-decent bike panniers from Banjo Bros. to tie me over until I figured out what I really wanted.

This past April, there was a sale going on at Freewheel Bike on the Bontrager trunk bags. My friend Chuck has an Interchange bag and loves it. So I decided to head over to the store and check out the selection and see if I found something I liked. I did some examinations of the three different models, and as soon as I showed my wife the features on the Deluxe, she insisted I invest in the higher end model. I’ve been using it for a few weeks now, and I couldn’t be happier.

DSC09244The Bontrager Interchange Deluxe Plus rear trunk bag is the top of their Interchange line. The Interchange series simply means that it hooks into a Bontrager rack easily and quickly, without any velcro straps. The front of the bag hooks into the front metal loop on the rack and then it clips into place on the rear. It’s a super simple system, and it’s solid and foolproof.

The main compartment is around 10L of capacity, and I use it to store all the essential bike gear, such as tire levers, CO2 canisters, and a spare tube. The beauty though, of this model, is the expanding side panniers that allow you to increase your total storage to a full 36L. You unzip the side pockets, and they expand into a full pannier on each side that velcro’s to your frame at the bottom. It’s quick and easy to expand, as well as simple to pack away again.

DSC09247I used this rack for a shopping trip this past Sunday and the expanding capacity was perfect. I used a single pannier for my laptop on the way down to the co-op and coffee shop, but then once I finished shopping I extended the other pannier and loaded it down with groceries. I also had a fair amount of space left over in the main trunk that I could use as well. It was the perfect amount of space for a small grocery shopping trip. If I hadn’t had my laptop with me, I could have even fit more into my bags, but as luck would have it, I didn’t need the additional space.

DSC09246-2My bike was pretty weighed down by the time I started heading back home, but the bag stayed put, and I never noticed any type of rattling as I rode. As I rode I also encountered another wonderful feature of this bag… a rain cover. I came across a short sprinkle on my journey, but all I had to do with pause quickly and pull out the hidden rain cover that is stored under the lid. It doesn’t cover the side bags, but the main trunk stayed nice and dry.

Despite the expense, I can’t say enough good things about this bag. I love not needing the full panniers for most casual rides, but love the flexibility to expand my storage when I need it. I’d recommend keeping your eye out for a sale to ease the sticker shock, but even at full price, it’s a great piece of gear that I hope to use for a long, long time.

Smartphone Mid-range war

This week at Google I/O, they announced a new phone that has been taking the tech press by storm, the Pixel 3a (and 3a XL). This pared down version of the Google flagship Pixel 3 is priced starting at $400, which is half the (list) price of the Pixel 3. The 3a cuts out a lot of the top-of-the line specs, and leaves you with a phone that is an awesome deal for people looking for a mid-range level phone. The camera from the higher level phone comes down to this model, and creates a really compelling option for people looking to get a better phone than some of the other $300-$400 phones on the market.

One of the stranger things that I’ve seen, is how the press is comparing this phone to the iPhone Xr, which is Apple’s lowest price flagship phone. They look at the affordability of the 3a and lament that Apple doesn’t have anything near that price range. However, this just isn’t factually accurate. Apple has adopted a different model for it’s mid-range phones. They simply keep supporting, and updating, their older phone models, and downgrade them from being a flagship phone, to something more mid-range and affordable.

Currently, you can get the iPhone 7 (a phone I still use) for $449, and the iPhone 8 for $599. This puts them solidly in the mid-range price bracket, and a much better comparison to the Google Pixel 3a. From a performance perspective, the iPhone 7 is actually slightly faster on Geekbench scores, despite being an older model phone. The more expensive iPhone 8 scores nearly twice as high as the new Pixel 3a on milti-core Geekbench ratings.

I’m not here though to start a flame war between the two camps. What I want to accomplish with this short blog is show that there’s more than one way to the same goal, which is a full range of smartphones that span the gamut from mid-range to flagship. Whereas Android manufactures often design different lines of phones to meet the needs of both ends, Apple chooses to simply move their phones down the line and support them as long as it’s feasible. Even today you can put Apple’s latest operating system (iOS 12) on the iPhone 5s, which was introduced in late 2013 (though I wouldn’t really recommend it).

Android takes a different approach, and companies like Samsung have their Galaxy S line for their flagships, and their Galaxy A line for their mid-range. They then increment each line in turn, and deprecate the older models in each line. One big advantage of doing this is that even the mid-range phones get small pieces of new tech, because they get to come along for the ride with the new flagships. The Pixel 3a benefits from having the latest and greatest Google camera, because it’s available, and apparently cheap enough that Google can put it into the 3a. In the iPhone line, you’re stuck with the tech that was available when the phone was launched, and that includes whatever camera was considered state of the art a few years ago.

It’s an interesting contrast of philosophy, and it means that when we’re talking about the mid-range cell phone war, we can’t just compare Android to Apple. They’ve taken very different paths to cover the mid-range and flagship market. However, as a consumer, it’s important that we understand the distinction, so that we can make more educated choices about where we spend our money. It’s not just about grabbing the latest and greatest. There is a real choice that we can make, and that’s refreshing.

Quick Review: Avengers: Endgame

When the first Ironman movie came out my children were elementary school age. I was still a hands-on software developer, and my first marriage wasn’t quite over yet. It’s been 11 years since this film launched, and just like real life, a LOT has happened. In this past decade we’ve been introduced to dozens of new characters, and the small little plotline that started as an after-credits scene has exploded into a cinematic phenomena that redefined how to film comic book movies. The entire MCU experience has changed the very notion of a big blockbuster, as fans flocked to movie after movie with high expectations of seeing big battles, great humor, and a complex intertwined plot that spans the childhood of a generation.

It all came to fruition in Avengers: Endgame. Instead of putting up big spoiler warnings, or trying to write a vague review, I’m going to seek to answer one simple question.

Was it worth it?

Reflecting back on how the entire Infinity Stone saga moved through all of the various properties I’m struck by how smart it was for Marvel to invest in an entire universe instead of trying to retcon one thing after another. Marvel took a big picture approach to the entire story arc and it showed in the execution. Comic books have long been the king of the crossover event. Going back into my childhood I remember big events in the DC Universe like Crisis on Infinite Earths that would span multiple titles, and would culminate into a huge world changing finale. As a comic reader I would find myself buying titles I never would have thought to pick up, just because they were part of the overall story arc. It introduced me to lots of different characters that I might never have read, and gave me a broader perspective on the world that the writers were trying to create.

In a nutshell, that’s what these final movies in the Infinity Stone saga are. A perfect representation of this old comic book paradigm, brought to the big screen. Each of these movies in the saga can stand on their own, and the writers and actors did an amazing job bringing an unbelievable world to life. However, our desire to see what happens next helps draw us to one after the other. We want to see our favorite heroes, but we also want to find out what happens next with these weird stones. It brings us into the world in a way that no other movie property has done in the past.

However, these big crossover events don’t work unless the payoff works. In the case of Avengers: Endgame, the entire saga comes to a wonderfully satisfying conclusion. It’s the perfect movie to wrap up something as huge as the story that’s been built up over 11 years. I walked out of the theater with a smile on my face, mostly from the satisfaction of a masterfully told story. The visuals are amazing, of course. The action is epic, and the humor is spot on. All of those movie elements are executed perfectly but what impressed me the most was the story.

The payoff was totally worth it. For me, that’s the best thing I can say about this movie.