The Plumber Problem

The farm house from the movie Interstellar

“The Plumber Problem” is a phrase I coined to describe the experience of watching a movie that touches on some subject area that you know way more about than the average person, and then some inaccuracy in what’s depicted distracts you and takes you out of the movie. (This can occur in any work of fiction, of course: movies, TV, books, etc.)

Here’s an example. A plumber is watching a movie with a scene where something having to do with pipes is integral to the plot. But it’s all wrong, and the plumber’s mind rebels. No one else in the audience is bothered. They’re all still wrapped up in the narrative. But the plumber has a problem.

I’m not sure how long ago I came up with this phrase. The earliest recorded occurrence I can find is from 2021, in episode #153 of Reconcilable Differences (at 47:02) where I explain it to my cohost, Merlin, so it obviously predates that.

The Plumber Problem is loosely related to the “Gell-Mann amnesia effect” which is “the phenomenon of experts believing news articles written on topics outside of their fields of expertise, yet acknowledging that articles written in the same publication within their fields of expertise are error-ridden and full of misunderstanding.”

Anyway, I was thinking about this today thanks to some people on Mastodon sending me examples of The Plumber Problem. Here are a few (lightly edited):

Simon Orrell: My first exposure to “The Plumber Problem” was sitting in a theatre with my dad in 1973 watching “Emperor of the North” and my dad leans over to whisper, “They didn’t make culvert pipe like that back in the ’30s. It was plate, not corrugated.”

Tim Allen: In Speed 2, a plot point involves a laden oil tanker about to collide explosively. My wife, native to a major oil port city, couldn’t follow the plot because she could tell the tanker was empty just by looking at it, so she didn’t understand why everyone was saying it would explode.

Dan Morgan: Interstellar’s farming scenes were just SO BAD. I’m not going to detail them here, but this retired farmer and agronomist found it hard to watch. I’m sure the physics were fine though. 😂

Someone also mentioned that “The Plumber Problem” is not an easy phrase to look up online, so here’s hoping this post remedies that situation.

Here’s one more bonus post that I enjoyed:

magic: In Star Wars, Luke turns off his targeting computer to use the Force for his attack run on the Death Star. I’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but I’ve never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field that controls my destiny.

Hypercritical T-Shirts Return

Hypercritical T-Shirts

It is said that every five years, Hypercritical t-shirts return. The last sale was in 2018, so the time has come! This sale ends on Saturday, August 12th, so if you want a shirt, don’t delay. Last time, I hinted that it would be five years before the shirts were sold again, and some people didn’t believe me. But it was true then, and it’s true now. If you want a shirt, buy it now, or resign yourself to waiting until 2028!

The shirts are available in men’s and women’s styles and in light and dark colors:

My sincere thanks to everyone who has purchased a shirt, past and present, and to all the people who continue to read this website and listen to and support my podcasts.

A lot has changed since my last Hypercritical t-shirt sale. Most notably, I went independent in March of 2022, turning my former “side projects” into the sole source of my income.

Over the past decade or so, advertising has made up the vast majority of my podcast income. The podcast ad market has taken a big downturn this year for shows like mine, which has been rough. Thankfully, podcast membership has helped make up some of the difference.

Merchandise sales like these also help—though less than you might think. Manufacturing and shipping physical products is expensive, and the costs are always increasing. But every little bit helps. And as a podcast fan myself, I understand the draw. A shocking amount of my daily wardrobe consists of podcast t-shirts from the shows I listen to.

That’s really what these sales are about: fans want shirts, and I want to provide them. And, yes, each shirt sold does make me a few bucks, so the more I sell, the better. But there’s a reason I only do these sales once every five years. I want these shirts to be special.

And when people’s shirts are starting to become threadbare five years from today, I’ll have another sale for those who want to buy replacements. Think of it as a really slow, non-renewing subscription plan for Hypercritical t-shirts. Just try not to spill anything on your shirts in the meantime. (Or consider buying backups! You know me and backups…)

Destiny Music Videos

Sniper crosshairs over a charging Hunter’s head in Destiny 2

I’m part of the MTV generation. If you can immediately picture the videos for Hey Mickey, The Safety Dance, You Might Think, Money For Nothing, and Take On Me, you might be too. I was transfixed from day one, not just by the bands and the music, but by the format. Some videos told a story (of varying levels of coherence). Others were more of a vibe, as the kids say these days. But always, the combination of sound and images, intertwined, synchronizing and diverging, pressed all my buttons.

My affection for an equal partnership between music and video is reflected in many of the movies I love. Goodfellas, one of my all-time favorites, is arguably structured as a series of music videos separated by exposition. The best Star Wars movies are famous for their pervasive and dominating scores.

Even today, the alchemy of carefully combined music and video has not lost its power. Witness the outsized cultural impact of a certain scene in Stranger Things season 4.

In all these cases, it’s not just the fact that there’s music in addition to dialog and sound effects. It’s that the music steps forward—both technically (in the audio mix) and emotionally. The music is a main character in much of the media that I love.

When game consoles added the ability to easily record gameplay, I immediately knew what I wanted to do with that capability. I wanted to make music videos.

Enter Destiny

I’ve been playing Destiny since shortly after it was released in 2014. For complicated and mostly business-related reasons, the game I’m playing today is called Destiny 2, but it’s been a largely unbroken experience across the two games for the past eight years.

There’s a huge amount of Destiny-related video content on YouTube, and I’ve watched a lot of it. Two things are very clear about these kinds of videos. First, much like golf or tennis on TV, you’ll find it a lot more interesting if you’ve ever played the game yourself. Second, also like televised sports, the people playing Destiny in these videos are usually very good at the game.

I am not very good at Destiny. Even after literally thousands of hours1 of playing, I am just about average. And although Destiny is a popular game with millions of players, the chances of someone seeing one of my videos and also being a Destiny player is quite small.

This is not a formula for success. My lack of game-playing skill means I can’t produce the raw material (i.e., gameplay recordings) needed to make really great videos, and my existing audience of Apple tech nerds has only a small overlap with the world of Destiny.

But did I let this stop me? I did not. Six years ago, I started with a few tentative uploads of some awful (even by my standards) gameplay with minimal editing, no commentary, and no music. (I also snuck in a gag video based on my realization that the movie Moana and the first season of Westworld both have the same emotional climax. It’s true!)

My first Destiny music video shows me learning how to not be irredeemably awful at using a sniper rifle in Destiny. It’s a record of the moment when, after four years of playing the game, I finally understood how sniping is supposed to work. It shows me graduating from “truly awful” to “merely bad.” (This was back when a single sniper headshot wouldn’t kill a roaming super, whippersnappers!)

Next came the “quest” videos, each of which cataloged my journey to acquire some in-game item (e.g., a pinnacle weapon). This is where I started to develop a recognizable style and format.

Rather than retreating from the skill and audience problems described earlier, I embraced them. Since few people would ever see my videos, I could remain blissfuly unconcerned about enticing titles and custom thumbnails. As for the assumed knowledge necessary to get the most from these videos, I piled it on instead of trying to minimize it.

Take my Revoker Quest video as an example. To understand its premise, you’d have to know that “Revoker” is a sniper rifle and that the quest to obtain it requires a large number of sniper kills while playing against other people in Destiny.

On top of that, it would also help to know some things about me. You might know (perhaps from watching earlier videos) that I’m not very good at sniping in Destiny, and you might also know that my preferred weapon in PvP is a shotgun (or at least you might know that shotguns are widely considered “easier to use” than sniper rifles). If you were playing Destiny when the Revoker quest was active, you might be familiar with how quest progress is presented in the user interface, and you might further know that the Revoker quest had multiple components, not all of which required sniper kills.

You need all of this context to understand the orchestrated climax of the video (starting at around 5:12), in which I realize that I have completed the sniper-kills portion of the quest and can finally switch back to a loadout where I feel much more competent: a shotgun and a hand cannon. Oh, and that hand cannon? It’s Luna’s Howl, the arduous acquisition of which was documented in an earlier quest video.

Similarly, only someone who is average (or worse) at Destiny and has suffered through the pain of having to get 200 double-kills with a grenade launcher in PvP and 100 Calculated Trajectory medals in order to complete the (pre-nerf, dagnabbit!) Mountaintop quest can truly appreciate the pain and suffering documented in my video about it. Fighting for heavy ammo to get “easy” kills with a heavy GL; getting one kill and then immediately dying; learning how to use Fighting Lion, a weapon I’d ignored until its ability to use primary ammo made it uniquely suited to this quest—it’s all in there.

If this is all starting to sound like gibberish to you, I understand. It’s asking a lot of the audience to have so much background information and experience. The fact that I’m unable to communicate the prerequisite knowledge in the videos themselves is a condemnation of both my skills as an editor and as a game player. (I can only work with gameplay recordings that I generate myself, after all.)

And yet…I love these videos. I love the idea that a handful of people might watch them with all the context required to fully appreciate them. I love watching them myself from time to time, if only to see my own progress as a player and an editor.

I also love the moment during my normal life when inspiration strikes and I know what song I’m going to use for my next music video. Sometimes it’s months between the moment of inspiration and when I finally get around to making the video. This was the case with my most recent release, but I’m glad I waited long enough for it to be my first video made with 60-fps gameplay from my PlayStation 5.

It’s not a “quest” video (Bungie removed pinnacle weapons a few years ago), so the scant narrative scaffolding that used to exist is gone now. Instead, I’ve gone back to my roots. I’m just trying to make a good music video. Here’s hoping someone else out there enjoys them as much as I do.

If you don’t want to wade through everything on my channel, here’s a list of my Destiny music videos in reverse-chronological order.

  1. 4,124 hours as of February 5, 2023.

SwitchGlass 2.0

SwitchGlass 2.0

SwitchGlass 2.0, the first major update to my customizable app switcher for macOS, is now available on the Mac App Store. It’s a free update for existing SwitchGlass users.

Download SwitchGlass on the Mac App Store

Since the initial release of SwitchGlass in 2020, the top feature request has been the ability to manually reorder apps in the app switcher. Version 2.0 adds that feature, and many more. To learn more about SwitchGlass, read the FAQ and the introductory post from 2020.

Though SwitchGlass 2.0 does not appear very different on the outside, more than 50% of the code has changed since the last 1.x release in April, 2022. The view that runs the app switcher saw the most significant revisions, thanks to my graduation from “absolute beginner” to “novice” when it comes to writing SwiftUI code. Baby steps.

I had to bump up the minimum supported OS to macOS 12.0 Monterey in order to implement drag-and-drop reordering in the app switcher. This is the price of using a framework like SwiftUI that’s still in its infancy on the Mac, I suppose. I would love to continue to update and support the 1.x version that runs on macOS 10.15 Catalina and later, but the Mac App Store does not allow it. Customers who purchased an earlier version of SwitchGlass can still use and re-download that version on pre-Monterey systems, but I can’t publish any new 1.x releases to the Mac App Store.

I started using TestFlight for macOS to distribute early versions of SwitchGlass 2.0 to a small group of beta testers. Thanks to everyone who provided bug reports and feature suggestions. If you’re interested in testing prerelease versions of SwitchGlass, let me know. There are always more bugs to be found…

Frame Game

Frame Game

In the Spring of 2019, I was looking for a way to promote one of our time-limited merchandise sales for Accidental Tech Podcast. As part of these sales, we receive promo codes from our vendor for hitting certain milestones. Each promo code is good for a free t-shirt (including free shipping). I decided to give away these promo codes to fans on Twitter.

I wanted to do it in a fun way, perhaps with an Apple-themed trivia contest. Sadly, most trivia succumbs immediately to the power of a web search engine. I needed something that wasn’t so easy to Google. My first attempt was to post some hand-drawn line art, then ask people to identify it. Since I’d just created the drawing, I knew it wouldn’t be in any search results. And the crude nature of the art meant that a Google image search wouldn’t turn up any matching photos.

It worked (I think), but I couldn’t come up with anything to draw after that. Instead, I posted a small portion of a larger image which I asked people to identify. Again, success. The image I’d chosen happened to be a frame from a TV show, and that gave me an idea.

From that point on, I’d post a small portion of a frame and then ask people to identify the movie or TV show from which it was extracted. I created a notes document to keep track of everything, and I titled it “Frame Game.”

Since then, I’ve posted almost sixty frames over three years, including a few excursions into audio. People seem to enjoy it. Movies and TV shows are great, and who doesn’t like free stuff?

What I enjoy the most about Frame Game is the process of carefully selecting the frame and the crop such that people who are very familiar with the piece of media will be able to guess the answer, while people who are not will be absolutely dumbfounded that anyone was able to figure it out at all, let alone so quickly. The best example of this was when I posted a tiny, 64-pixel square from a 1920 x 800 frame that was guessed in one minute and four seconds.

Have some people figured out how to use computers or web searches to brute-force this game? Almost certainly. But it makes me happier to believe that most people are playing it legitimately. I’d like to humbly suggest that playing for real will make the players happier too.

Frame Game has taken place entirely on Twitter, and it’s meant to be played in real time. Unfortunately, the way I’ve chosen to chain the tweets does not make it particularly easy to follow in the Twitter archives. In an effort to better preserve the historical record, I’ve created my own archive, linked below.

Frame Game History Viewer

There is no score-keeping, but you can “play” the game by attempting to guess the answer before clicking to reveal the full frame. If you cheat now, you’re only cheating yourself! Some frames also have hints that show ever-larger portions of the frame. (Hold down the Option key when clicking the button to reveal the full frame immediately without seeing any hints.)

I’ve had to resort to posting hints a few times during Frame Game, but the history viewer contains all the hint frames that I had prepared, regardless of whether or not they were needed. I’ve also linked to the original tweet, the declaration of the winner, and the winning tweet itself, if available. (Some winning tweets have since been deleted.) The time elapsed since the question was posted is also shown.

If you like this kind of thing and want to play something similar every day, check out the recently released, Wordle-inspired framed.wtf.

There is no schedule for Frame Game, other than usually coinciding with one of ATP’s seasonal merchandise sales. I’m not even sure if it helps increase sales at all. It’s just something fun that I like to do for the handful of fans who like to participate. If you want to play, follow me on Twitter and watch for a tweet that begins with the magic phrase, “The first person to identify…”

Frame Game can start at any time, so be vigilant!