Apple AirPods

Headphones are fickle, yet necessary, friends. Be it a fifteen-hour flight to Hong Kong, or a bus ride to the grocery store, they are accessories many of us use frequently. Packing them, though, is a pain. Be it in pocket, purse, or portmanteau, more often than not you end up with a wadded up mess. Worse, the strain on the cord can significantly shorten the lifespan of the headphones.

Wireless, then, is the way to go, and Apple’s AirPods have won over many converts. Mostly iPhone users, naturally, though the buds reportedly work well with Android, too.

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Having used AirPods for a good half year, I firmly stand behind them. Life altering might be a bit of a hyperbole, but they sure have made life easier. Right from the start, pairing them with an iPhone is a breeze and a revelation for anyone who has messed with Bluetooth in the past. You open the charging case, and that’s about it. The AirPods fulfills that stock Apple promise of magical ease of use.

The design of the of the buds is well thought out, with the Bluetooth chip and batteries located in the short stems where the iPhone EarPods would connect to the cord. The buds contain the sound reproduction hardware. In that sense, you will find more compact headphones than the AirPods, but these tend to compromise sound- and pairing-quality. The AirPods rarely give out, and when they do, the glitches last only for a fraction of a second.

Initially, reviewers compare the AirPods’ sound quality to the EarPods. My guess is the notion was based on trying them for a short amount of time in a preview environment. I’m not a hardcore audiophile, but I know good quality, and for $159 — not a price to sneeze at, granted — the AirPods reproduce audio very, very well. The bass is deep, without hitting the Beats overkill, and ambient music, like that of Christopher Willits’s excellent Horizon, comes across in soundscapes the EarPods never could reproduce.

Don’t get me wrong. A $350 set of wired, over-the-ear Sonys deliver higher quality sound. With the AirPods’s mix of convenience and audio, I’d instead take the extra $200+ and apply it to a high-quality turntable/Sonos/HomePod/whatever for the house.

There are some downsides, of course. The AirPods come with four hours of battery life, so a handful of charges are required on longer flights. Luckily, the included charging case means you won’t have to plug anything into the wall to keep the buds going: Twenty minutes in the case will get the headphones back in action. I don’t know how long the actual case stays charged, but based on my use; I would be surprised if it died during flight. Plus, as most planes have USB charging, you could just plug it in for ten minutes, if so needed. It doesn’t take much longer than that for a full charge.

I should also mention how well designed the case is. It fits perfectly in your pocket, nearly unnoticeable. The lid has a satisfying click when it’s opened, and I sometimes find myself idly fiddling with it while ruminating about whatever is happening inside my head.

Things get a bit more muddled with the in-flight entertainment. Airplanes generally do not support Bluetooth, and the AirPods will do you little good with in-flight movies. Of course, the current EarPods require a Lightning Adapter to connect to auxiliary ports, so that is an extra piece of hardware to carry around (small as it may be). With free in-flight headphones, one could argue all of this is a minor issue, but the availability of those seem to be a gamble these days.

The solution might be to bring an iPad or whatever, with some Netflix movies downloaded. Or read a book. It’s good for you!

So, yes, $159 is an investment, but with its ease-of-use and surprisingly decent sound quality, I consider the AirPods my headphones of choice. Should you additionally own an LTE Apple Watch, you can travel untethered with streaming music. The future Minority Report promised us is here!

Special thanks to Erick Doxey Photography for kindly providing To The Landing with AirPods. Erick Doxey is our photographer of choice: See his work in our Great Burger Chase for examples of his work!

The Vault

The Vault cover

The Vault is not a great movie. Whether it’s the technical aspect or the dramaturgical flow, it does not live up to a clever supernatural, heist-gone-wrong concept.

You know the drill: A group of ne’er-do-wells attempt a caper, hostages are taken, cops arrive, everybody is trapped, and so on, and so forth.

But here’s the twist: The robbers learn from an assistant manager — James Franco, donning a ’stache for the ages — that the basement vault holds a vast cash reserve. The haunted basement.

It’s slock in a Tales from the Crypt kind of way. The backstory of victims from a botched 1982 robbery haunting the bank, that whole thing. Lessons will be learned. Conceptually, I find it entertaining.

It’s the execution that leaves something — a lot — to be desired.

First, Franco. It’s painfully apparent his scenes were filmed separately from the rest of the cast. His performance mostly consists of sitting in a corner, looking nervously at the surveillance videos. Only a handful of times do we see him interact with other actors. It’s jarring.

Threads go unresolved, and I don’t mean that in the artistic sense. Rather, the writers and director seem to have forgotten about them. The story of what happened in ’82 is hastily laid out, without the details needed to set up present event, particularly related to one key character.

As for the twist ending, which is set up in one of the earliest scenes, it’s something you’ll have figured out before you even know there will be a twist. It’s bizarre, but it’s all but spelled out in the opening credits, and when paired with the final scene, it’s like you’ve watched two different movies combined into one. I’m still not sure if a caper film and a horror movie were hastily edited together, with a few additional scenes added as glue.

On the positive side, Taryn Manning (you know her as Pennsatucky in Orange Is The New Black), and Francesca Eastwood (not no relations) are stand-outs as off-kilter sisters who are in over their heads. The man in the white mask, too, is appropriately creepy.

It could have been a Tales from the Crypt homage of some class, but The Vault doesn’t bring home the bacon. Entertaining to a point, but it should have been so much more.


Infinity Chamber

Infinity Chamber cover

Minor spoilers below, in case you’re persnickety about those kinds of things. (And no, I have no clue what the tagline has to do with the movie.)

Here’s a movie I had expected to jot down as a guilty pleasure, yet found to be very good in its own right. Infinity Chamber is sci-fi for those who like the more grounded variety of the genre, one that at least seems somewhat plausible within its boundaries.

In a near dystopian future, we find Frank gazing at a photo, as two government agents storm in, stun-gunning him down. In an eponymous chamber, Frank wakes up finding his only companion to be Howard, a HAL-like AI. On the surface, Howard’s job is to keep Frank alive. For what reason? To access his dreams.

For Frank to sleep soundly, Howard provides him with (grubby) food and (disgusting) drinks. A selection of classical music pipes through the room to soothe him. His dream is always the same: Memories of his final day of freedom, from which the totalitarian regime wants to extract… something. Exactly what and why is unclear.

The questions amass. Is Howard really an AI? Who is Frank? Are we seeing his dreams? Are the dreams actually dreams, or is the perceived reality the dream? Who is the dreamer? Hints are strewn about, and interpretations are entirely subjective. Odds of catching everything in one viewing are minimal at best.

I like dystopian sci-fi, and Infinity Chamber scores well in that genre. It’s clear the ambition for the movie was more extensive than the budget — multiple scenes were filmed in writer/director Travis Milloy’s house — but creative tricks and an excellent performance from Christopher Kelly go a long way making up for it. Jesse Arrow’s does a fantastic job as Howard’s voice, too.

The internet is abuzz about the ending, with little to no consensus of what it means. In my mind, Infinity Chamber needs to be re-watched with a completely open mind, confirmation bias thrown to the wayside. I did notice some obvious hints of what it all did not mean, but I would lie if I claimed to understand where the movie landed. To me, it seemed like at a dark place. Many disagree. Others say the ending is inconsequential.

My point is that this is a movie you need to pay attention to if you want to enjoy the ride. Spotting the hints is a lot of fun. In some sense, the film reminds me a bit of the original Cube as far as the dystopian aspects go, though Infinity Chamber is executed better with its slick presentation.

Give it a view. It deserves it, and so do you.


RJ’s Gourmet Grill

It takes some gusto, opening a Mediterranean fast-food spot across from The Gyro Spot. Of course, RJ’s does go deeper than the perennial Olympia favorite, with the addition of an Indian offering. Mediterranean and Indian. Add their American burgers, and you have something commonly seen throughout many European cities — a menu with a mélange of cuisines, all which speedily can be prepared for take-out.

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Was the picture taken in a hurry? Yes. Do I see the need to apologize? No.

RJ’s is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the falafel gyro is good. The pita is fluffy, and the falafel has a good bite to it. I’d even go as far as to say the tahini sets the wrap apart from many of its kin. It has notes of zesty lemon, and enough garlic to keep people at a distance the next day. A curmudgeon’s dream, in other words!

It’s hard to say if the wrap is better than The Gyro Spot’s, though the proximity of the two could make it easy to compare if one is so inclined. RJ’s does serve up a flavorful gyro, at least.

The Aloo Mutter Mushroom does not score as highly. The mushrooms are rubbery, and the promise of ginger and garlic remains unfulfilled. Granted, we did go with the milder option, but a dish like this should not rely merely on spices. It’s too bad. The plate looks good on paper but is dull on the tongue, while the potato lacks much of a bite.

Conversely, I find it somewhat odd to find these items are on a What’s Good menu. It remains subjective if they’re good or not, but does that mean the rest of RJ’s selection is not good? Maybe Specialties is a better title?

We have heard some pretty stellar words about RJ’s burgers, which we expect to return for in The Great Burger Chase. The gyros make a return visit worthwhile as well, though order with care. Our impression of the Indian section is not super positive.