Tracking My Movies and Books in 2020 with Letterboxd and GoodReads

Tracking My Movies and Books in 2020 with Letterboxd and GoodReads

Part of my “New Year’s resolutions” (for lack of a better description) was to track what media I consumed in a more organized way.

Movies in Letterboxd

Letterboxd has been around forever, and is a popular way to track and review movies. Trackt is another option here, and if you prefer that, I recommend Cinema Time, but the concept is similar.

There is a social aspect to Letterboxd, so you can choose to follow some people if you’d like to see what your friends are watching (I’m mattbirchler there), but for me it’s how it makes documenting movies easy.

Just open the app, tap the + at the bottom to add a new diary entry, search for the movie you want, and just give it a rating. I almost never leave a written review, but you totally could if you want.

Your Letterboxd profile has a “recent activity” feed which I screenshot and share on Twitter for fun. Hat tip to Timothy Huneycutt for the idea.

Letterboxd is free, but you can pay for a pro subscription and you basically get some more elaborate filtering options (like “show me movies on my watchlist that are on Netflix”) and an annual review with a bunch of stats presented in a fun way. It’s totally not necessary, but it’s fun.

Books in GoodReads

This one is a little harder to explain, but the concept is the same as Letterboxd. You can log what books you’re reading, and leave reviews for them when you complete them. There is also a social aspect, and you can follow me at mattbirchler there as well.

The big difference here is that since books typically take more than one sitting to read, you can track your progress through books. I do this because I find it fun to update the progress bar on each book, but you can also just mark a book as “I’m reading this now” and then mark it “read” when you’re done.

I also like that you can set up reading challenges. I have one set up to read 25 books this year. And of course, there is a year-end compilation of your reading stats to show you how much you read and a few other stats that are pretty interesting.

GoodReads is free, and as far as I know there is no paid tier.

Portrait Mode Confusion

Portrait Mode Confusion

This photo comparison was really interesting to me. I shared a portrait taken from the iPhone 11 Pro and Pixel 4 and asked people which they preferred. Opinions were split, to say the least. Here are the photos for your viewing pleasure:

Pixel 4 Portrait Mode
iPhone 11 Pro Portrait Mode

I personally think the iPhone shot is way better than the Pixel one. The colors are far more accurate to reality, and also looks better in my opinion. When I zoom in on the images, the statue itself is sharp on the iPhone photo, but looks way over-sharpened on the Pixel one. The fake bokeh is similar on each photo, but I think the iPhone's is a little more pleasant and has a better roll-off on the statue.

But these feelings are not universal!

Devon thinks the PIxel one looks way better.

I prefer the look and feel of the second photo, for sure. Quality is all together higher, but could be lighting factors.

Kareem agrees.

  1. Not too bright. Not too dark, perfectly balanced.

Fouzan triples down.

IMO 1 is too vibrant for the overcast day it was shot in.

You could increase contrast with 2 and fix it. The DOF effect is very unrealistic with 1, and really bothers me. It wouldn’t be easy to fix.

What I find most interesting about these is that numerous people who thought the Pixel was better cited the "accuracy" as a reason for this. The reason this is interesting is that, as the person there, I can tell you the Pixel shot looks much different from the reality of the scene. For example, the fox statue is straight up not the color shown in the Pixel photo, while the iPhone one is pretty spot on.

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

Dynamic Range, Telephoto, and the iPhone 11 Pro & Pixel 4

One thing I've noticed in the last few months using the Pixel 4 and iPhone 11 Pro day-to-day is that photos off the iPhone's telephoto lens tend to be better quality. The Pixel 4 is no slouch, but side by side, the iPhone tends to do better for me.

As an example, below is a shot I took this morning directly into the sun. The sun is obviously super bright, but the ground is all backlit and darker. The photos have very similar colors, which is not always the case between these cameras, but you can see there is much less clipping on the highlights in the iPhone shot (look at the cloud above the sun), it avoids the lens flare that the Pixel has front and center, and the little details like the tree branches are more sharp.

iPhone 11 Pro
Pixel 4

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

A Slower Apple Photos Sync

I don’t know if this is happening to everyone, but I’ve noticed a pretty big regression (in my eyes, at least) in Apple Photos since around the time iOS 13.1 shipped. Basically, no matter what is going on with my iPhone and no matter if the battery is at 5% or 100%, photos seem to upload to the cloud on some sort of schedule I can’t figure out.

Basically, I’m seeing the above image a ton, and it’s annoying me.

Previously, you would take a photo and it would start uploading to iCloud the moment it was done processing. This was really useful for two reasons:

  1. I knew that if I took a photo and my phone was destroyed a minute later, my photos would be backed up and I would have zero data loss.
  2. I could take a picture/screenshot on my iPhone and then use it on my iPad seconds later.

Now neither of those is valid since my phone will wait a while (sometimes an hour or more passes) to so the upload. I’m sure this is a decision that was made to improve battery life (and the message says as much), but it’s not something I’ve seen the Mac or iPadOS do, so it’s a bit of a pain to have it happening on one device only.



I’ve been reading the new(ish) book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and as the title suggests, it makes the case for why being well-rounded, experimenting so you have more than one skill, and having the ability to think on your feet are important to success in the modern world.

We all hear the story of Tiger Woods, who had a father who wanted him to be massively successful, pushed him from the age of 1 to practice hours per day, and simply had raw talent that took advantage of this early push. But the argument the book makes is that people like Tiger Woods are the exception, not the rule. Most people will not be Tiger Woods, and if as a society we can accept that, we can help more people be successful.

The book talks about how there are some areas in life that are “kind” environments, and others that are “wicked.” Kind environments are like golf or chess, where goals are predictable and where things like pattern recognition are incredibly valuable in figuring out what to do next. But the world in general is made up of wicked environments, which don’t have such predefined answers and are constantly changing. The metaphor I like where the author describes the world not as tennis, but Martian tennis: you can see the players, the court, the rackets, and the ball, but no one has told you the rules.

Without getting into full on book report mode, I will say that although I didn’t really think of it this way, much of the success I’ve had in my career has come from being able to think critically and perform many things well. My current job, at a very basic level, is to write tasks for my dev team to execute, and work with them to make sure that good, user-centric decisions are made, all while getting these tasks released on time. The reality is that I do that plus make video tutorials for our users, I run design for the whole company and had to build a design system from the ground up, I give regular presentations in front of the executives on new products we’re releasing, and I talk to clients in a semi-sales pitch, semi-technical contact capacity.

The fact that I can do multiple things is a huge asset, and makes me a more valuable employee. Going to school for video editing, teaching myself UI/UX design, and immersing myself in the world of people who care deeply about great software has been very beneficial in the long run.

I don’t know if this book is 100% on the nose, and I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it so it could all fall apart, but thus far this book is resonating quite well with me.

Guess What Bozo Doesn’t Understand Encryption

Trump says Apple needs to ‘help our great country’ and unlock iPhones used by criminals - 9to5Mac

In the tweet, Trump emphasized that the government is “helping Apple all of the time on trade and so many other issues.” Despite this, Apple refuses to break encryption for iPhones used “by killers, drug dealers and other violent criminal elements,” Trump says.

He might as well be saying, “come on, I gave you something, now you can build in a back door to your software right? There isn’t a single example of those backfiring!” I’m shocked, shocked he doesn’t get it…or doesn’t actually care.

Adding a Safari Quit Confirmation with Keyboard Maestro

Adding a Safari Quit Confirmation with Keyboard Maestro

John Gruber wrote this simple, but useful AppleScript that warns you when quitting Safari if there are multiple tabs open. His post suggests how to implement this with FastScripts, but I wanted to use it with Keyboard Maestro, so here's how you do it:

One: Copy the script from the Daring Fireball post.

Two: Make a new Group in Keyboard Maestro that only activates when inside Safari.

Three: Make a new Macro that activates on the keyboard shortcut “Cmd+Q”.

Now you should have something like this:

Now when you hit Cmd+Q in Safari, it will make you confirm the action. Done!

The Magic of Using HomePods in Stereo Mode

Stereo HomePods for Difficult Rooms and Social Listening - Jim Willis

The HomePods are strange in this way in that you can be sitting very close to one of the pair but still not sure if what you’re hearing is predominantly coming from the speaker closest to you or the one on the other side of the room.
Moreover, as you move further and further away from the HomePods, the volume of the music does not seem to fall off quite so rapidly. Meaning it’s easier to have a conversation in the room while music is playing and the music volume always seems just about right now matter where your are sitting.

Jim wrote this as a bit of a response to me and  Kirk McElhearn’s pieces on how HomePods compare to the Sonos One. He makes a compelling point about the HomePod that I didn’t mention in my comparison, and that’s on me for skipping it. The HomePod does a very good job of creating a “level” sound throughout the space in which they’re playing. The Sonos is pretty good here too, and it’s certainly better than your average Bluetooth speaker, but it’s not quite at HomePod’s level.

This is a classic Apple-style feature in that you just get used to it being great. I thought about it when the HomePod was new and I was getting use to having it in my life, but as time went on I kind of forgot that the even audio quality and volume around the room I was in was indeed a really cool feature.