Morning Coffee

November 14, 2015

As you probably already know, a series of terrorist attacks occurred in Paris yesterday. As of this writing, 127 people have been confirmed dead and over 200 wounded, at least 80 of which are in critical condition.

This is madness.

President François Hollande called this an “act of war”, and placed the blame on ISIS. As reported by The New York Times:

“It is an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France,” Mr. Hollande said from the Élysée Palace, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “It is an act of war that was prepared, organized and planned from abroad, with complicity from the inside, which the investigation will help establish.”

It’s tempting to lash out against everyone when the unspeakable happens, but it’s worth remembering that there are still many things we don’t know about what happened. To help with that, The New York Times has lifted the paywall so everybody can stay informed as events unfold.

Some people will take this as an opportunity to advance their political agenda. Many will call for European borders to be closed, and even for refugees to be sent back to their countries. Sadly, there’s a good chance others will listen.

Whatever your political views, now is not the time to air them. Today is for mourning, and for helping out in any way we can. What happened in Paris could have happened anywhere, and we all need to stand together in the face of terror.

I’ll be completely honest with you: I seriously considered scrapping this Morning Coffee issue entirely. I also considered filling it with news reports and the like.

I’m not doing any of that.

The truth is, I’m not a reporter, and at times like these we need to get our information from professionals. The best I can do is point you in their direction, but it’s not my place to comment on their job.

I also don’t want to scrap this issue because, on some level, it would be like admitting defeat. I’ve always thought that the best thing to do in these situations is to carry on living.

With that in mind, I’m asking you to stay informed about what’s going on, but when you need a respite, here are a few interesting links to make your weekend a bit more tolerable.

Issue #23: Showrooming Amazon Books, the resurgence of Lara Croft, and a letter from Morocco

This issue begins with a piece by Stephen Hackett on the lack of any first-party apps designed specifically to suitcase the new iPad Pro’s features. We then move on to a great piece by Ben Brooks on why he’s happier with a 12-inch MacBook than he would be with a 27-inch iMac. After that there’s an epic story on how a fan of independent bookstores beat Amazon at the showrooming game, followed by the fascinating story behind the critical and commercial success of the Tomb Raider reboot. Then we wonder about the safety implications of Airbnb’s business, and we get inside the mind of a long-distance runner. A bone-chilling letter on what it’s like to be a woman in Morocco comes next, and then we take a photo-walk around New York City with Matthew Gore and Alfred Lopez. Jordan Steele’s review of the Batis 25mm lens rounds up the photography-related links and, finally, we cap the issue with Mark Bylok’s first impressions on the Kickstarter-funded Norlan whisky glass.

On the lack of a flagship iPad Pro app from Apple | Stephen Hackett →

Stephen Hackett makes the rather interesting point that all of the apps that were demoed on stage during the introduction of the iPad Pro were made by 3rd-party developers:

I’m not saying that a first-party sketching app or vector drawing tools would fix any of this, but they could help set the tone for what seems like to many just a bigger iPad. Apple leaving the fate of its newest product in the hands of third-party developers seems, perhaps, less than ideal.

I disagree. If anything, I take the current situation as a hopeful sign that Apple may have finally come to realize that iOS devices live and die with 3rd-party apps. I’ve never been impressed by Apple’s own iOS apps: iPhoto, Pages, Numbers… all of these are fine apps in their own right, but none of them are best-in-class in 2015.

Apple just doesn’t seem to care terribly about developing and/or maintaining iOS apps anymore — nor should they. It’s one thing to ensure there’s at least one decent photo-managing or word-processing app on the App Store when you’re releasing a new category of device in 2010, but the situation today is a lot different. 2015’s Apple is stretched far too thin to be able to develop and maintain highly specific, professional-oriented iOS apps that are best-in-class. I don’t see how they could compete with Adobe or Microsoft in this field, and I’m glad to see they’re not even trying to.

If an Apple-made app isn’t best-in-class, there’s simply no good reason for it to exist, at all.  

Living with a 12” screen | Ben Brooks →

Great piece by Ben on why the new MacBook is the best computer for him, instead of something bigger like a 27-inch Retina iMac:

Thinking on this more now, it is the difference between a gigantic empty room, and a small empty room. A small empty room can feel fine as it is, but a gigantic empty room feels empty and that bothers me. So I stick with the small empty room, the room where I do my best writing because I don’t have to worry about what else is in the room. I think the same is true for me with larger displays.

I completely agree with this.

Independent bookstore fan showrooms Amazon Books | Paul Constant →

Awesome story. Via Daring Fireball.

From sex symbol to icon: How Crystal Dynamics saved Lara Croft | Brianna Wu →

Brianna Wu takes a trip down memory lane to explain the reasons behind the critical and commercial success of the newly rebooted Tomb Raider franchise:

And that commitment to diversity continues in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Women over 40 are rarely represented in games as anything but stereotypes of wives and mothers. Shattering that mold is Ana, the breakout character of the new Tomb Raider — stealing every scene she’s in. She’s the former lover of Lara’s dead father. She’s a character filled with anger and desperation, but also radiating a deep sense of hurt. “Every character in Tomb Raider is the hero of their own story,” said Stafford.

Stafford’s suggestion to write everyone as a hero is a lesson the rest of the industry could learn from. In thinking about the disastrous portrayal of Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V, it’s hard to imagine she thinks of herself as a hero. Rather, she is an object for you to leer at. It’s not the sexualized costume that’s the problem, it’s that there’s no real person wearing the costume.

I can’t wait to play the game, although I’ll have to wait for it to be released on the PS4.

Living and dying on Airbnb | Zak Stone →

Zak Stone, whose dad died in an Airbnb rental:

Startups that redefine social and economic relations pop up in an instant. Lawsuits and regulations lag behind. While my family may be the first guests to speak out about a wrongful death at an Airbnb rental, it shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. Staying with a stranger or inviting one into your home is an inherently dicey proposition. Hotel rooms are standardized for safety, monitored by staff, and often quite expensive. Airbnb rentals, on the other hand, are unregulated, eclectic, and affordable, and the safety standards are only slowly materializing.

What we think about when we run | Kathryn Schulz →

Kathryn Schulz, writing for The New Yorker:

But where the scientists fails, the writer may succeed. “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” may be the most famous story ever written about running, and it does an exceptional job of capturing how the mind of a runner wanders and swerves and expands as the miles unfurl. Its protagonist, a seventeen-year-old known only as Smith, spends his daily morning runs thinking—occasionally about pace and pain and his surroundings, but chiefly about money, moral codes, friendship, his father’s death, the crime that landed him in a juvenile detention center, and how to assert himself over the authorities who are simultaneously keeping him locked up and championing his running career. Smith is a fictional character, of course, so his thought process as he runs is both an invention and, in a sense, a formal convention—a way for Sillitoe to structure his narrative. Yet his story might get closer than Samson’s study to answering the question of what runners think about while running.

I need to get me a copy of that book.

Lost Girls | Sarah Dohrmann →

Sarah Dohrmann writes a letter from Morocco:

Seated on my sofa, Meriem narrated her life story. I stopped her on occasion to be sure I wasn’t misunderstanding her Moroccan Arabic. “Your childhood boyfriend raped you?” I asked. I repeated the word she had used, which I assumed meant “rape.” She nodded while I looked it up in my dictionary, but rape wasn’t there.

I tried a different tack. “You’re saying he forced you to have sex with him?” She nodded, sipping her coffee. Then she shook her head. “No,” she said, “we were friends.” I offered her a cigarette. She got a phone call and started arguing with the person on the other end. Then she started crying. She was saying, “I want to live in Spain, Mama. I don’t want to live in Morocco anymore.”

Exploring in New York | Matthew Gore →

Matthew Gore and Alfred Lopez took some time to walk around New York City during PhotoPlus Expo, and they took some incredible pictures along the way. While Matt has a strong background in photojournalism, Alfred is more comfortable as a street photographer. This created an immediately obvious contrast between their respective images, which I found very interesting.

Review: Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 Distagon T* | Jordan Steele →

Jordan Steele’s latest review is excellent, as ever. In this case, he took the 25mm Batis lens out for a spin, and the results are gorgeous.

First impressions drinking from a Norlan whisky glass | Mark Bylok →

Mark Bylok tries the latest Kickstarter-funded whisky glass:

It is a fun glass to hold and drink from. The design is simple and beautiful. It’s almost as thick as a rocks glass, but because there’s a gap between the outside glass and the inner glass, it’s really quite light and delicate to hold. Norlan glass is quite comfortable to lift and sip from. I disagree with the Kickstarter video that suggests Glencairns are antisocial. Glencairns might be awkward to sip from at first, but so are broad wine glasses, large coffee cups, and tiny espresso cups. You get used to it.

Interestingly enough, as well, this Norlan glass is intended for neat whisky sippers. While the inner part of the glass is slightly larger compared to a Glencairn, it be awkward to place ice-cubes inside. It’s a sipping glass for whisky drinkers that find the proof levels of whisky too strong, but would prefer not to water it down or use ice.

Sounds like something I’d be interested in.


I have a few good friends who live in Paris, and thanks to Facebook’s Safety Check feature, I know they’re all fine. A few years ago, the only way I could have known is by attempting to contact them individually, or waiting for them to reach out to me.

Back in 2011, when a tsunami hit Japan causing a disaster in the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the safety check feature hadn’t yet been implemented by Facebook — or anybody else, for that matter.

A very good friend and former roommate of mine lived in Tokyo back then. I remember not being able to contact him when the tsunami hit, and the uncertainty of not knowing if something had happened to him was by far the worst.

I also remember the moment I heard back from him. It was late in the afternoon on the day the crisis started, and all I got was an email from him with an empty subject line.

When I opened the message, all it said was: “I’M OK!”.

This message was, no doubt, sent to every contact in his address book amidst the chaos and the confusion. It wasn’t exactly reassuring, but it was enough.

After that, I didn’t hear from him again until a full month later, and when I did, he told me he was volunteering in Iwaki, a city in the prefecture of Fukushima, and described it as “Hell on Earth”.

I still can’t imagine what he must have gone through.

I’m sure many people in Paris today have gone through a very similar experience. I’m also sure that, if not for Facebook’s Safety Check, there would have been a lot more. This is a great example of what technology can do for us when used in the right way.

I’d like to leave you with that small positive feeling. It’s not much, and not entirely reassuring, but for now, it’ll have to be enough.

That was it for this week’s issue. I hope it at least served to take your mind off things, if only for a little while.

Stay safe, and stay hopeful. Terror will never win, because we won’t let it.

Thank you for reading.