AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Bonus Round: The Great Galaxy Experiment’s conclusion →

March 27, 2016 |

Sometimes it’s easy to become complacent with your smartphone platform of choice and ignore what competitors are doing. If you’re a long-time iOS user, as I am, you probably look at Android phones with a certain ambivalence. But how long has it been since you checked out an Android phone objectively, without letting your opinion be biased by Apple’s marketing machine?

Luckily, my friend and co-host Marius Masalar spent the past few weeks testing the new Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and comparing the experience with his existing iPhone 6s Plus. You know, for Science.

This is a fair, thorough, and all-around excellent write-up, and I greatly enjoyed reading along as Marius slowly figured out the kinks in the experience and reached his eventual conclusion. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I won’t be quoting any excerpts here. Suffice it to say, this one deserves to be read slowly, preferably with a hot beverage in hand.

Normally I would have included this link in the Top Five section of today’s Morning Coffee, but I do believe this series is strong enough to merit its own separate post. If you haven’t been following along, check out Part 1 and enjoy.

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March 27, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge it’s been a while since the last issue. This has been so due to some recent events in my personal life: two weeks ago I broke up with my girlfriend of four years, after a long and difficult few months of struggles. It’s always sad when a personal relationship fails, especially one with so many great memories attached, but it had become increasingly clear to me that neither of us were getting what we needed out of the relationship, and so there was only one way forward.

Ours has been an amicable split, but it still takes some getting used to. As you would imagine, my past couple of weeks have been spent on the most tedious of human affairs: moving out of our shared apartment and taking care of every bit of bureaucracy that goes with it. It’s a soul-destroying process, and one I can’t be done with soon enough. Thankfully, I’m almost finished by now, so here we are, back to writing. I’ve missed this.

I’m not one to dwell on the past, and I strongly believe the best way to deal with these things is to focus on what lies ahead, not what’s left behind. With that in mind, let’s pick things up where we left off, shall we?

Today I’d like to tell you a bit about the Easter holiday tradition in Spain: the Holy Week.

Issue #37: Semana Santa

The Holy Week, known as Semana Santa in Spain, is the last week of Lent, the week immediately before Easter Sunday. Every day of the week there are penance processions in many Spanish cities, involving millions of people in this deeply religious tradition. Going back to the Middle Age, these processions commemorate the Passion of Jesus Christ.

The processions are organized by several brotherhoods, each of which is devoted to a particular moment of the Passion as described in the gospels. The main features of the processions are pasos, which are floats with incredibly detailed sculptures depicting these scenes. They are carried by the members of each brotherhood.

The common attire worn during the processions is the nazareno, a penitential robe which includes a tunic, a hood with conical tip — known as capirote — that covers the person’s face, and a cloak. The emphasis on anonymity is the main characteristic of the nazareno, and indeed the Holy Week as a whole. It is supposed to offer a chance for sinners to repent and atone without being publicly shamed.

There are also other roles in the procession which are performed by people wearing different types of attire, but explaining all of that would be too complicated, and outside of the scope of this piece.

I’m not so much interested in describing the particulars of the holiday, as I am in explaining why it’s so important for so many people in Spain.

The Holy Week is perhaps the one week of the year when religious fervor runs rampant in Spain. Some people even participate in the processions barefoot, as a sign of further penitence. These passionate believers, however, are only a small minority among those who participate in the Holy Week. Even people who don’t consider themselves religious participate, too, in many cases going as far as to carry the pasos themselves in the processions.

But why would non-religious people get involved in such a markedly Christian holiday?

Spain is currently a non-denominational state, meaning there’s no official religion in the country. That said, Spain has been historically linked to Catholicism more than any other religion, and there are still many people who are adamant in their faith. That has little to do with why the Holy Week is so popular, though.

Due to the many historic ties with Catholicism, numerous families in Spain have been educated in the Christian faith for several generations. This has created a strong tradition that is often carried on by the younger generations during the Holy Week, even if they don’t particularly identify with the spiritual aspect of it.

This has been the case in my own family, at least, with both my brother and I participating in the processions for many years, despite the fact that neither of us are Catholics — or even religious, for that matter. In fact, I can’t even remember the first time I participated, but I couldn’t have been more than four or five years old. This year, my 4-year-old niece is participating in her first procession, and she’s far from being the only kid there. You clearly can’t have an understanding of what religion is at so young an age.

The reason we do this in my family is because one of the main pasos in Plasencia’s Holy Week — the crucifixion of Christ — was discovered by my great-grandfather in an abandoned mill in the very early 20th century. He personally paid for its restoration and then donated it to the newly established brotherhood, which has carried it out in procession every Good Friday since then.

Neither my brother nor myself participate in the procession anymore — and haven’t for a few years — but my family has been involved with that image of Christ for five generations already, and there’s a good chance the tradition will live on for a few more at least.

And that’s exactly the key to this particular mystery. For most young people, the Holy Week is a matter of tradition, not necessarily religion. It’s also a very important event culturally, historically and artistically, not to mention one of the most popular events of the year among tourists.

One thing appears clear: Spain’s Holy Week has a very distinct energy and an air of solemnity that is hard to ignore. Regardless of your particular religious beliefs — or lack thereof — there are plenty of reasons to be interested, or even fascinated by it.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces of writing.

Top Five: OS X turns 15, the Amazon Echo, caffeine in sports, changing careers in middle age, and the real power of metadata

This week’s top five pieces are all superb. Enjoy.

Mac OS X 10.0 | John Siracusa →

OS X turned 15 years old on March 24, and what better way to celebrate the milestone than by going back to John Siracusa’s review of Mac OS X’s first public release, codenamed Cheetah.

Reading this review in 2016 was lots of fun. John has certainly changed much in the way he writes about software over the past 15 years, but his unmatched attention to detail and his incredible passion for the technical underpinnings of the platform were already evident back then.

Via Stephen Hackett.

Amazon Echo review | Drew Coffman →

My friend Drew Coffman penned an awesome review of the Amazon Echo on Tools & Toys a couple weeks ago. He eloquently dubbed the device “a glimpse of Tony Stark’s Jarvis”, which is pretty much all I needed to know to want one.

Sadly, the Echo is still not available for sale in Spain, so for me Siri will have to do for now. If you can get your hands on one, though, Drew’s review is a great place to start learning about Alexa’s many talents.

How athletes strategically use caffeine | Murray Carpenter →

This piece is fascinating on several levels, but there’s one thing in particular I’d like to point out. According to the article, caffeine used to be on the International Olympic Committee’s banned substances list, but was removed from it in 2004 because it’s so ubiquitous that pretty much everyone takes it. Go figure.

Now we’re actively encouraging athletes and regular people to use it as a performance-enhancing drug because, hey, it’s legal. It really wouldn’t surprise me if it was put back on the banned substances list at some point in the near future, and what happens then? Do we go back and invalidate all the records of caffeine-using athletes? It’s a mess waiting to happen.

For the most part, I find the history of banned substances in sports to be a joke. The banned substances list should be nearly immutable, and adding or removing substances from it should be an incredibly rare occurrence.

Maria Sharapova’s recent ban for using meldonium, a drug she’d been legally taking for over a decade, is a perfect example of this. Another egregious case is that of Spanish cyclist Pedro Delgado, who won the 1988 edition of the Tour De France despite testing positive for probenecid, a masking agent for steroids. The problem back then was that, even though probenecid was on the IOC banned substances list, it wasn’t on the UCI’s own banned substances list, which is cycling’s governing body. The irony is that probenecid was added to the UCI banned substances list only one month after Delgado’s victory.

These episodes are incredibly frequent across all sports, and it’s a joke. Only by being consistent on which substances are banned can these cases be avoided. Unfortunately, governing bodies need to operate under the assumption that athletes will always try to take things as far as they can within the confines of the rules, which is why each change to the list can potentially destroy many a career and tarnish many a reputation.

Ultimately, though, it is an athlete’s responsibility to know what they put in their own bodies, and if they’re found to have broken the rules, they should be held accountable. In my opinion, Sharapova’s excuse — that she did not open an official letter informing her of the changes to the banned substances list — does not justify her actions, or limit her liability in any way.

Quit your job | Barbara Bradley Hagerty →

Another great piece over at The Atlantic:

Some researchers believe that the midlife slump is driven by a sense of dashed expectations. According to Hannes Schwandt, an economist at the University of Zurich, as young people, we overestimate our future happiness, and so we feel disappointed as life goes on. But as we approach 60, we start underestimating our future happiness, and then are pleasantly surprised by reality. We also seem to don rose-colored glasses later in life: Brain studies suggest that as we age, we disregard negative images and focus on the positive.

In other words, you may be able to outwait your malaise. Indeed, the particulars of your job may be incidental to it.

Well worth your time.

How your innocent smartphone passes almost your entire life to the secret service | Dimitri Tokmetzis →

What an eye opening — and scary — piece. Read this one through to the end.

Afterword

After the past few difficult weeks, Semana Santa has been a refreshing change of pace, and a chance to spend some much-needed quality time with my friends and family. There’s lots of exciting work to do on the horizon, but at least until tonight, it’s still time for relaxation.

And if you’re driving back from the holidays today, please take enough precautions and make sure you’re well rested. CEST kicked in last night throughout most of Europe, and one hour less of sleep is something you can definitely feel when you’re on the road.

Be safe, happy holidays, and thank you for reading.

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Candid, Episode #6: Accidental Apple Podcast →

March 25, 2016 |

This week’s special episode of Candid is all about the recent Apple event, where the 4-inch iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro were announced.

We only wanted to do a quick overview of the event but as it turns out, once you start talking about Apple product announcements, it’s really hard to stop.

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Candid, Episode #5: Mobile Workflows →

March 17, 2016 |

This week’s episode is all about mobile workflows: what apps and services we use — or don’t use — to shoot, edit and share pictures from our mobile devices. We also dive into the best ways to get your pictures from a dedicated camera onto your phone in order to share them on social networks. And we go over what’s already there vs what’s still missing in iOS for the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil to become the ultimate photo editing setup.

Lots to unpack in this one, for sure.

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My review of the Rode PSA-1 boom arm was published today on Tools & Toys.

This was a fun product to review. As some of you may know, I recently launched a photography podcast alongside Josh Ginter and Marius Masalar, and choosing the right gear to get started was a crucial part of that process.

On one hand, I didn’t want to spend a fortune on gear, especially when there was no guarantee that this would be a profitable business. On the other hand, I didn’t want to sound terrible, either, and I definitely didn’t want to sound a lot worse than my two co-hosts, so it was a matter of finding the right compromise for me.

In the end I settled on borrowing an XLR microphone from my father’s FM radio station. It turned out to be an old Shure 10A dynamic microphone (now discontinued), which on paper is a rather basic model, but it just so happens to work incredibly well with my voice. I also needed to buy a Tascam US 2x2 audio interface to connect the microphone to my computer.

Being a dynamic microphone, though, the Shure 10A is extremely picky about my posture, and requires consistent technique to sound any good. It soon became clear that a traditional desk stand just wouldn’t do, so I decided to invest in the Rode PSA-1 boom arm and I never looked back.

The Rode PSA-1 is a great product: it is very solid, and it offers all the features of more expensive studio arms at a very reasonable price point. What’s not to love?

All things considered, I spent about $250 total for my setup, and I’m really happy with how well it’s working for me. I can’t recommend the Rode PSA-1 boom arm enough, especially if you own a dynamic microphone, or are planning to get one anytime soon.

As a side bonus, I recorded a short video for the review, where I go over the main advantages of having a boom arm vs a desk stand for your microphone. You can find it embedded below. I’m well aware there’s lots of things to improve as far as production goes, but for a first attempt at a multiple-camera video, I’m quite happy with how it turned out.

It’s not that bad, is it? Especially considering this was my first time ever working with Adobe Premiere Pro and I only had a couple hours to assemble the final cut before submitting the review to the editor. I cringe here and there every time I watch it, and there’s definitely a couple things I would have done differently had I had more time to work on the edit, but I think for a first attempt it’s pretty respectable.

If you want to read more about the Rode PSA-1 boom arm, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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Matt Granger is abandoning the Sony E-mount system for all his professional work →

March 15, 2016 |

This wasn’t exactly surprising — Matt’s complained about Sony’s abysmal customer service before — but it is significant. Watch the linked video all the way to the end to get the entire story. Via Marius Masalar:

Matt makes a great point, and I completely agree that a company that treats their professional customers so poorly doesn’t deserve their business. There’s just no excuse.

That said, I can’t help but feel that the entire point of Matt’s video is rendered rather moot after Sony’s recent announcement that they’re launching a proper professional customer service network. Matt himself acknowledges in the video that this changes everything, but he then goes on to complain about his bad experiences with Sony’s previous customer care network.

I mean, I get it; he’s saying that if the new system is anything like the old one then it’s going to be no good for him and many other pros, but I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that will be the case. This looks like a completely new service with well-defined features, requirements and deadlines, although that 3-day turnaround time promise does seem too good to be true.

I think Sony deserves the benefit of the doubt here. Let’s give them a chance to prove that they’re really willing to walk the talk before writing them off, because the truth is, I don’t see any other company innovating like they are these days — with the exception of Fuji, but that’s a different category. If professional customers abandon Sony, then those fancy a7-series cameras are going to stagnate and eventually be abandoned sooner rather than later.

I do believe Sony is serious about their professional photography business, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. I for one am willing to give them a bit more time to get it right. Of course, your mileage may vary and if your needs are anything like Matt’s, it does make sense to be skeptical. In any case, we’ll know soon enough.

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Last Sunday I went hiking in Navacerrada, one of the tallest mountain passes in central Spain. It’s a gorgeous place, covered by pine forests as far as the eye can see, and it’s perfect for hiking, even in the winter.

This photo essay on Tools & Toys tells the story of how the day went, along with some nice landscape shots. It was a fantastic experience, and one I can’t recommend enough.

If you’re ready for a micro adventure, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full photo essay.

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Candid #4: “Canvas Snowman” →

March 09, 2016 |

In this week’s episode of Candid, we start off with a brief conversation on exposure compensation: what it is, why it’s there, and how to use it. Then we move on to the main topic of discussion for the week: camera bags. Lots and lots of camera bags.

Among other things, Josh and I share our experiences with ONA bags, and Marius is reviewing a new Wotancraft messenger bag. We also take on the eternal argument: backpacks vs. messenger bags. Good stuff.

As a personal note, this is easily my favorite episode of Candid yet. There are many fun, spontaneous moments during the show, and the conversation seems to flow more naturally than in previous weeks.

Oh, and there’s also the Bag That Shall Not Be Named.

Enjoy.

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