MATTEO DALL'OMBRA

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Disney, You Have My Attention

August 15th, 2015

Take a look at the picture below. If that’s not a sign of desire to take over the world, I don’t know what that is.

 

image

 

There’s a lot of exciting stuff in there, with Star Wars on top1, closely followed by Doctor Strange and Toy Story 4 (OMG Toy Story 4!!!!).

 

I’m not entirely sure about a new The Jungle Book or The Beauty and the Beast. They are both great and beloved movies and they both represent stepping stones in the early Disney’ success. I’m also aware of the fact that new generations may not be aware of those two movies and so Disney has definitely enough freedom to rethink those stories, still I hold the original very close and dear to me.

 

Couldn’t really care about Guardians of the Galaxy or another (yes another) Pirate of the Caribbean, but hey it cannot be all good along the way.

 

The lesson to learn here is that Disney is showing the result of an amazing vision. Everyone was kind of surprised when they bought Marvel first and Lucas Films later.

 

Now you can see why, can’t you?


  1. Only the new trilogy gets the exciting treatment. Still not sure how to feel about Rogue One. More on that later. 

Give Me My Intelligent Car

August 14th, 2015

Mark Harris reporting for The Guardian

In May, engineers from Apple’s secretive Special Project group met with officials from GoMentum Station, a 2,100-acre former naval base near San Francisco that is being turned into a high-security testing ground for autonomous vehicles.

In correspondence obtained by the Guardian under a public records act request, Apple engineer Frank Fearon wrote: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate around other parties who would be using [it].”

This theory has been alive for a while now, so I guess there might be quite some truth underneath it. Once again Apple is following a trend started by many other companies in the last few years, rather than breaking a completely new ground.

 

The big difference here seems to be once again the level of secrecy that the Cupertino company wants to keep. While other companies such as Google (or I guess Alphabet now), BMW, Audi and Mercedes have all shown us their concept vehicles, already putting them on the streets with great pride, Apple is still preferring the silent treatment.

 

According to the tone of the article, Project Titan seems to be almost imminent, so why such secrecy? Building such an intelligent vehicle1 at this point in time should be in my opinion a group effort. The different manufacturers should all put their brain power together to create the ultimate vehicle.

 

If you really think about it for a second, the future of the car industry is not a bright one. Unless they really manage to crack the problem of sustainability2, there isn’t really going to be a future for that industry. What’s the solution you ask? I’m not really equipped to answer, but let’s try to use a massive hypothetical here for a second.

 

What if all the car manufactures came together to build and sell the car 2.0 of the future?

 

The outdoor design and aesthetic from let’s say, Ferrari. For the battery technology to power the vehicle we should ask Tesla. As of today they are by far the company that has done the most work toward a real all-electric consumer-focused car. Of course, since the battery is also by far the biggest bottleneck, this is an area where joint efforts would pay-off the most, so everyone should chip in.

 

Apple of course should be chosen for the interiors. Not really the design (I would leave that to the Germans of Audi/BMW/Mercedes), but the equipment. They know ecosystems, they would be in an ideal positions to really connect the car. I know that so far CarPlay hasn’t been off to a great start, but in my vision it wouldn’t be just a screen, it would be an entire intelligence in charge of bridging the gap between the “technical intelligence” and the “infotainment intelligence”.

 

I know all of this is a very long shot, and surely Apple is not the company to play ball with others in such a way, but dreaming doesn’t really cost anything.


  1. There is really never a direct mention of self-driving, so I’ll call it intelligent for the time being. 
  2. Please everyone, just copy what Tesla is doing! 

Almost Everyone Made It Out Alive

August 13th, 2015

Please note: as always when I’m writing about a TV show that just ended, this piece will be likely full of spoilers. You’ve been warned

 

So, I’ve just finished watching the last episode of True Detective, and now a question is stuck in my head: who the f**k killed Caspere?!

 

Well, ok, truth being told we know who killed Caspere, but still the question remains. What have I watched for the last eight weeks of my life? To that question I don’t really have an answer. This season of True Detective for some weird reasons decided to build an impossible puzzle of incredibly twisted and messed up stories and I fear that even the writers on the show lost track of where they wanted to go.

 

For six out of eight episodes almost nothing happens. We are spectators of seemingly completely unrelated stories, which remain so until the penultimate episode when suddenly things collapsed together, to leave viewers in an even greater confusion.

 

Mid-way through the season the three protagonists find themselves with all the pieces of the stories on the table and they clearly have no clue about what they should do with it. That’s not a good sign. Not at all.

 

This season clearly had many problems, first of which was having to follow the majestic season one. The build up that led to the big reveal at the end of season two represented a major obstacle for the second instalment since the casting got announced.

 

Colin Farrell. Ok.
Rachel McAdams. Mm-ok.
Taylor Kitsch. Mmmm-ok.
Vince Vaughn. Oh come on….

 

How can you take four actors mostly known for their roles in romcoms and/or straight comedies and put them into what was supposed to be the finest drama series of the year? You can try to do that, but don’t be surprised if the common reaction is just an outcry of desperation and incredulity about the delivered result1.

 

To me it wasn’t just about the cast. At the end of the day Farrell kind of saved himself, Kitssch remained in total anonymity, McAdams tried her best and Vaughn…well he’s a comedian…the problem was the story. There was no alchemy between the actors on screen. They all had arcs to follow to evolve their characters, but they all got erased from the story abruptly (well, almost everyone).

 

What made season one so beautiful was the slow build up that brought us week after week closer to the truth, while getting to know the dark side of the two protagonist. In season two we had four of them to keep track of and of course there wasn’t enough time to tell everyone’ story in a meaningful way. Plus the main story had way to many up and downs and consecutive cliffhangers that didn’t actually led to anything of sort. I can give you two examples: the street massacre and the orgy. Both extremely full of drama and emotions, both absolutely meaningless and useless. They were good to attract some newspaper headline the day after broadcast but they didn’t contribute to the story. Cut them out and you won’t see any difference.

 

It is kind of bad when the most meaningful quote of the season is from Frank (Vince Vaughn) during the last episode:

Everything’s ending. Time to wake up.

Yes, finally time to wake up. But to what? He’s dead, Ray’s dead, Woodrugh’s dead, Bezzerides’ on the run with a child (I’m guessing he’s Ray’s) and a new generation of bad guy is replacing the old generation of bad guys (because they are all dead too).

 

Season One gave us some hope toward the end, Season Two brought us down into a spiral of death and suffering where nobody seemed to have emerged as a victor. Yes admittedly they left the door open to a possible future where the Times journalist may reveal the story to the press or maybe not.

 

The only tangible legacies are one again of complete sadness: there’s an highway named after Woodrough and then there’s Ray’s paternity test that shows how he’s the legitimate father, implying that his history of violence was for nothing.

 

I had very big hopes and expectations for this TV show and I felt like I’ve been let down. I’ll be curious to listen to the TeeVee panel to see if and how they’ll be able to make some sense of all of this.

 

The only real consolation is that every season is a self-contained story, so we can just put this one behind us, thinking positively toward the future.


  1. I don’t have enough space to link all of the complaints. Just do a quick search and you’ll see for yourself. 

Audi A3 2015 – First Impressions

August 13th, 2015

I’ve been now almost two weeks in my new Audi A3 Sportback S-Line and I though it was a good time to give my first impression about it. Before we start, these are the tech specs of my model:

 

Model Engine Gearbox Extra Equipment
Audi A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI (110) 7 Gears S-Tronic Parking System Plus

 

I want to focus my thoughts on 3 main points: gearbox/engine/drivability, media system and equipment/interiors.

Gearbox/Engine/Drivability

 

I’ve always preferred Diesel to Petrol engines. To me they just sound better and they keep behaving great over time. I know that today the gap in long term reliability between the two technologies has been bridged more and more, but I still consider a Diesel engine superior to its counterpart. The 1.6 liters 110 HP power unit in my car is a small pretty beast. It’s a very tightly designed engine (as you would expect from a German manufacturer) and despite being “just” a 1.6, it can easily drag the car around with a nice responsiveness.

 

 

Coupled with that I have an S-Tronic 7 speed gearbox with additional paddle gear shit on the steering wheel. The gearbox is extremely responsive and the shifts are very quick and silent that you almost never notice when the shift is happening. It doesn’t matter if you are accelerating slowly or quickly; that gearbox is always there, listening and waiting for your move, to deliver just the right amount of power every time is needed.

 

The S-Tronic gearbox, coupled with the Engine Select system (standard on the S-Line configuration) will allow you to change the Engine/Gearbox settings, to better adapt to your driving style. There are 4 main settings to chose from, plus a fifth one that can be further customised by the driver. Available configurations are: Economic, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual.

 

My most used function to date is certainly the Auto one. Economic simply doesn’t deliver enough. The car is extremely tuned down in every aspect. Of course in this setting you may see fuel consumption going up to almost 90mpg, but don’t expect to be able to turn on the air conditioning system! Comfort would be the standard option where the car stays in its sweet spot, making sure to deliver a good deal of power, still maintaining fuel consumption at a decent rate.

 

Auto is a very nice addition because it’s sort of a real time Individual option. You can set the individual to have different configuration for the engine and the steering wheel so as to get the most out of your car. The Auto mode does the same but it’s a computer that decides how to shift the balance between the two, reacting to your driving style.

 

Finally, the Dynamic setting is by far where this engine can shine and deliver every single horse power that it has under the hood. The trade-off is of course the fuel consumption which spikes almost immediately. This is the engine mode you use during the weekend when you’re going out to drive and have fun while driving; and it won’t disappoint you.

 

Media System

 

The media portion of this car was one of the most researched items during the pre-buying moment. I knew I was going to get a nice pop-up LCD screen to manage music, bluetooth phone integration, engine select and navigation system.

 

The music interface works via bluetooth or via a dedicated and proprietary cable hidden inside the central arm rest. Even with my limited experience it’s clear how the music management is much easier if done via the cable. Doing this will allow you to browse all your albums, playlist and songs on the media screen by using the central command console. Via bluetooth instead you only get the song title and author on screen and you only get the option to skip forward, no music navigation.

 

At this point I need to open two different parenthesis: music playback controls and Apple Music.

 

Music playback controls were not that intuitive in the beginning. It took me a day to realised how to skip forward by using a physical button. On the steering wheel there is an asterisk button which can be configured to act if few different ways. From the car menu setup you can chose between a certain number of functions and one of those is the ability to skip forward during music playback. I wish there were more dedicated audio buttons so managing the music would be much easier and more convenient. You still have access to all the playback controls via the media screen Functions but that requires the use of the central console which is not immediate and definitely not convenient while driving around.

 

The second point is about Apple Music. One of the reasons why I was happy to switch from Spotify to Apple Music was because I knew it was going to be easier to manage in-car entertainment if my music was all stored in the default music app on my phone. You can of course play music from Spotify or any other audio app (like Overcast for podcasts), but what you don’t get in those instances is the ability to move between folders and music hierarchy without having to pick up the phone. What I’ve found so far is that the new Apple Music doesn’t always play nice with the Audi MMI. This is the situation as I think it’s working right now:

 

1) via the MMI controls you can see and navigate only between songs/album/playlists that are marked as offline on Apple Music;

2) via Apple Music on your phone you can access everything and start playing everything on MMI.

 

Depending from which point of access you are using you might see different things. I blame this weird behaviour on Apple entirely. My best guess is that songs that are online-only don’t leave any physical trace on the device for external systems and this in turn leads to MMI not having a clue about those tracks being there at all.

 

Interiors/Equipment

 

The other reason (if not the prime reason) why I’ve ultimately chosen this car was all about the quality of the interiors and the standard on-board equipment. With the S-Line configuration you get a lot of nice stuff: front sport seats (half leather/half cloth) with the S-Line logo; automatic dual-zone air conditioning, the aforementioned MultiMediaInterface system for media and general car setting; flat-bottom sport steering wheel and much more.

 

In general my feelings toward all that equipment has been super positive since day one. The quality is apparent and can be felt every time you operate one of the many on-board controls. The responsiveness of those controls is also very good and immediate, giving you the feeling of being fully in control of your machine.

 

At the end of the day there’s probably even too much technology on board. I still feel like a Formula 1 driver, constantly operating buttons, switches and levers at any time during any drives!

 

Overall Impressions

 

If you made it this far into this article, you may still want to read my overall impressions. Well, the short answer is that I’m extremely satisfied with my choice. Engine, gearbox and equipment really all come together brilliantly to create and extremely satisfying driving experience. It’s a car that I can greatly recommend and I’m really looking forward to the next 4 years of adventures on the road!

My Thoughts On Apple Music

July 27th, 2015

It’s been a month almost since the initial release of Apple Music, so I thought it might have been a good idea to weigh in with my own impressions. This is not going to be a review, just a flow of thoughts and personal experiences with this new Apple service.

 


 

A new design

The first notable change when you update to iOS 8.4 is going to be the new icon on your home screen. I’ve been a fan of the orange Music app icon since the launch of iOS 7, but I feel like they’ve done an extraordinary job with this new one. It definitely sets Apple Music apart and looks beautiful on the iPhone dock.

The icon is only a small part of the overall redesign that Apple gave to its music app. With iOS 7 and then later with iOS 8, the music app has been slowly but surely streamlined, in order to better fit with the overall flat trend of iOS.

Among all of them, the inside album view is definitely the aspect that I like the most about it. I like how the entire UI picks up the dominant colors of the album art so to blend in and give a much better experience to the user.

The new design unfortunately is not always helpful. There are many cases in which the new UI becomes an obstacle when trying to understand what’s going on. One classic example is the offline availability of tracks. First of all, why by default Apple Music is not showing the streaming-only tracks? That doesn’t seems to be a good implementation choice. Also, the switch to change this behavior is hidden in the last place you would be going to look for it (the menu where you can switch between album/artist/song view).

In addition to that, it’s very difficult to exactly know which track is available and which one is not. Usually next to the offline track you would get a small phone icon which should signal that the track is saved locally. In reality this system seems to be a bit of a hit and miss. I have one playlist where I put all the songs that I like (a kind of Best Of). This is the first playlist I wanted to save locally, so that no matter what I always have some good music with me. You can save the entire playlist, but only some of the songs have that little offline marker. All of the tracks are actually stored locally, but simply by looking at the visual clues, you wouldn’t be able to tell that.

On a single playlist is not a major issue, but if you start managing a bigger offline library, things may get ugly pretty soon.

 


 

There are now five main tabs within the new Music app: For You, New, Radio, Connect and My Music. My Music is basically all that the Music app used to be before the introduction of Apple Music, so I won’t spend too much time on it. As a matter of fact, if you decide not to subscribe to Apple Music, the My Music tab is all you’re left with.

 


 

For You

This section quickly became my favorite part of Apple Music. During the initial setup of the service you are asked for your musical taste. This and favoring tracks while playing them will help in making sure that the service can deliver the best music experience for you.

So far this has been working almost magically for me. What you get from For You is a mix of playlists and albums, which so far has been a mix of things that I already know and love but also quite a lot of new stuff that made me discover such great music.

I particularly enjoy the playlist side of For You. You generally have a mix of ‘songs inspired by X’ where x might be an artist already in your library and these are the ones really useful for discovery; ‘deep cut of Y’ where is all about a specific artist and then depending on the time of the day you also get contextual playlists: something relaxing for the morning or a party compilation for the Friday night.

Then there’s also another type of playlists which I’ve seen a few times already: the geo-location playlist. I’m not sure if this is a real thing or it’s just chances, but I do get lots of lists London-based. This seems a great way to discover local music. I haven’t changed my regional settings to see what you get in the US or other European countries, but if it’s really location-based it would be another great feature of Apple Music.

 


 

New

As the title of the section suggests, you would think that the ‘New’ tab is all about new music releases and the hot tracks of the moment; and you would be only 50% right. Indeed there’s new music and new releases, but there’s also a lot more. The first thing that you’ll notice is that in there you can find many celebrity-curated or magazine-curated playlists, alongside the ‘mood-playlist’ (are you outdoor? do you want BBQ music? it’s a dinner party? that kind of mood).

It is for this reason that I find this section a bit confusing. Mostly because I only look at the label and I think to myself, ‘here I’ll only find new stuff, so it’s not worth to check there daily’. I always forget that there’s a lot more going on in there, so I end up missing a lot (even if I rather prefer the dynamism of the For You section anyway).

 


 

Radio

Radio is the new big thing of Apple Music. Beats 1 is live 24h 12h a day (is about the same 12 hours repeated twice every day) with three main hosts and a number of a-list musicians hosting their own smaller shows. I love Zane Lowe, I used to listen to him all the time when he was at BBC Radio One and I was extremely pleased that Apple brought him on board for their radio. He’s always been on top of the new music scene, bringing to the wider audience so many great artists over the years.

Now on Beats 1 he keeps doing the same show as ever and therefore he keeps being the best way of discovering new music. I like Julie Adenuga’ show as well although sometimes it goes outside my comfort zone in terms of musical tastes, but it is still a good listening exercise. With Ebro Darden instead I’m almost always lost. I’m not into the kind of music that he regularly plays (lots of rap and hip-hop) and he also makes cultural references that are escaping me since they are very US based.

All in all I think this is a very good mix of hosts and diverse music backgrounds to appeal to such a wide audience (Beats 1 is live in more than 100 countries as we are often reminded during the broadcast).

The celebrities shows are also great, I especially like the St. Vincent Delivery Mix Tapes; not just for the music (which is always great) but also for the stories and how the music blend in so perfectly. Despite having lots of great shows, Beats 1 has a discovery issue. Yes there’s a Tumblr blog where you can find the schedule, but you can only look ahead about 12 hours and the times there are not always 100% correct, making it sometimes difficult to tune in at the right moment.

Myke Hurley (of Relay.fm) makes a good point of saying that Apple should have an iCal ready for user to download and integrate within the calendar app. I would even go as far as saying that they should give an option online where you can pick and choose which show you want to add to your personal calendar, so you can be reminded of the shows you really care about.

Another possible improvements could be to serve this music shows as downloadable podcasts after the facts. Right now, once the show is over you get a playlist with all the songs played during a specific show (not for all the shows and not always straight after the show is over). The interesting parts of those shows are the DJs interaction, which are currently lost once the show as aired twice. I know that by doing so, you may lose a bit of the appeal of listening live, but I still think it would be a great improvement for Beats 1.

 


 

Connect

Now comes the only bit of Apple Music of which I have nothing to say about. The premise would be of a revamped and improved Ping (remember that??…me neither…), the reality is that is just about the same. You can follow artists which are more or less regularly posting materials on there. To help you populating the Connect section, Apple Music will make you follow all the artists which material you add to your Music, a behaviour from which you can opt-out from the app settings.

 


 

Is it worth the jump?

I’ve been a Spotify Premium subscriber since the very beginning of Spotify. Last week I’ve cancelled my subscription after replicating all my playlists onto Apple Music, which itself was a very painful and manual process.

So far I’ve been pretty satisfied with Apple Music, it has offered me a solid service. For me the biggest advantage is to have a service that is full system-integrated so that it allows me to use Siri for example.

It definitely might not be for everyone, but I think that Apple is moving in the right direction.

The Long And Winding Road

July 26th, 2015

I’m currently waiting at the airport in Turin, waiting to fly back home in England. How did I ended up here? Well, yesterday I drove all the way down from London to Turin. A 14-hours-long-day, mainly spent on the scorching French motorway after leaving the British rain (surprise!) behind.

 

So why did I do that?

 

Well, after 8 years and around 153,000 km it was time to say goodbye to my good old car. I spent the last few years driving my Italian car in UK and despite loving that car, it was time for an upgrade. My little Grande Punto gave me so much over the years and went pretty much everywhere in Europe in some of the craziest road trip ever.

 

On that car I had a chance not just to drive, but also to talk to people. In my car, on the road is where I’ve cemented many great friendship relationships. To me it wasn’t just a car, it was an everyday companion, something that had always been part of my life. It was my first car, a gift from my late grandmother when I turned 18. I will always be grateful for it and I will always treasure those memories in time.

 

Now it’s time to turn the page, opening a new motoring chapter.

 

Farewell my friend, you’ll be missed.

F1 2015: Australian GP

March 15th, 2015

A new F1 season has started and we already had many confirmations and few surprises. But nothing in the race was nearly as good as the post-race interview, where a joyful Hamilton said the following to the Terminator himself: “I thought you were taller!”. Joking aside, 2015 started with a bit of a low tone. 13 cars lined up on the grid (after losing 2 cars in the lap to preceding the formation lap) and only 11 saw the chequered flag.

Despite not having had many technical changes compared to last year, it’s already clear that reliability will play a big role in this season. Speaking of reliability, we have to mourns McLaren. Only Button made it to the initial grid (Magnussen’s engine exploded before he reached the grid) and he only managed to finish 11th out of 11 cars, having to deal with a new Honda engine only running at 40%. Everybody had massive hopes for the renewed partnership McLaren-Honda, but it yet has to show its real face (and it seems it won’t happen anytime soon).

Speaking of surprises, as I said at the beginning we had a few. First was Ferrari, with the surviving car of Sebastian Vettel achieving an impressing 3rd place that prompted him to salute his new team and fans with a surprisingly good Italian (he spoke more Italian in one race that what Schumacher did in his entire career with the Scuderia).

I also want to mention the new drivers, because they all provided great entertainment and showed once again what F1 has to do more of. Max Verstappen, Felipe Nasr and Carlos Sainz Jr. all showed great tenacity and fearless racing. They always “went for it” whenever there was an available space and the three of them I think overtook a lot, certainly more than what we have seen in recent years.

A very early take away from this first race is that Mercedes is going to dominate the entire season once again, while the real race will probably take place between Ferrari and Williams with than everybody else watching from a distance.

All in all a good start but the really important thing is that F1 is back and in a very good shape.

Parallelisms

January 11th, 2015

As always, when it’s about movies: spoilers ahead. Read with caution!

Yesterday night I went to see American Sniper, the latest Clint Eastwood movie; featuring a marvellous Bradley Cooper (I was very skeptic of this choice, especially if you think of any of The Hangover movies).

When the credits started rolling at the end, my first reaction was: I already saw this story.

Let me explain.

American Sniper is the real story of a cowboy turned Navy Seals sniper after whitnessing what happened to the Twin Towers in New York in 2001. After joining the Army and being sent after Bin Laden’s own army, he starts killing one enemy after the other, earning for himself the title of Legend. One enemy, another sniper, is his main adversary, taking many American lives. An incredible final shoot will see the Legend triumphant in the very end.

On the personal side, the sniper has a wife and two childrens, but ha has difficulties in coping with life away from the battlefield. He always feels responsible for all the lives he cannot save, rather than regretting all the lives he took.

Stop me if you have already heard this.

We need to travel back to 2001, year of release of Enemy at the Gates. This movie tells the story of a Soviet sniper, Vasily Zaytsev, engaged in a three day battle with a German sniper during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 during the Second World War. He enlists in the Red Army because he had no choice at the time and after being discovered by a Soviet political messenger and thanks to his skills, quickly became a poster-child of the War.

If you take the stories of these two extraordinary men and you put them side-by-side, you can see that the parallelisms go back to when they were both children. They were both trained with the rifle since they were very young and both later on went on to become legends and at same time propaganda tools. Their successes were used to boost the soldiers’ morale and intimidate the enemy. Their reputations will give them both a fierce enemy, putting their lives even more on the line.

On the personal side, they both struggle with their love. Vasily looses his woman in war, being killed by the opponent German sniper, Chris has a family but he has trouble to connect with it and when it does it’s too late, being killed by a young War Veteran.

These two stories, happening 70 years apart, share some incredible similarities and really they make you think. It makes you look back and reflect on how true it is that we can learn a lot from history and at the same time we can predict what will happen.

It really seems that history keeps repeating itself.