AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

Introducing Candid

February 17, 2016

Today is a big day.

I’m incredibly excited to announce Candid, a new weekly podcast about the craft of photography, covering the skills and technology we contend with on the road from hobbyist to professional.

Once a week, Marius Masalar, Josh Ginter and yours truly will be getting together to talk about every little thing that piques our interest in the vast world of photography. That includes everything from creative advice, inspirational topics, the struggle of being a professional, and of course, gear talk. Lots and lots of gear talk.

We’re thrilled to show you what we’ve been working on, and we really hope you join us for the ride. Check out our first episode and, if you like what you hear, please take a moment to help spread the word and rate the show on iTunes. It only takes a minute, and it helps a ton. Thanks!

Love,
Álvaro.

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Tim Cook challenges US government’s request to build iPhone backdoor in public letter to customers →

February 17, 2016 |

Yesterday Tim Cook published a public letter to customers on Apple’s website, wherein he explains why Apple is challenging a request by the US government to build a backdoor into the iPhone:

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

I have the utmost respect for Cook for standing up to the US government’s unreasonable and outrageous request. This is a hugely important issue: he’s fighting to protect our right to privacy, and he seems to be the only one with power in the tech industry who cares enough to do it.

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My review of the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS lens was published yesterday on Tools & Toys.

This lens is a bit of an odd creature. On paper, being an f/4 lens, one would expect it to be a great-but-not-quite-outstanding optical instrument. After all, the standard in the industry for professional-grade zooms is f/2.8, so that would position this lens more towards the enthusiast and amateur segments of the market.

However, once you start taking pictures with it, such narrow definitions immediately prove to be short-sighted. This lens is, simply put, a stunner. It’s super sharp, renders colors beautifully, and handles like a dream. It truly is a professional-grade lens in every way, despite what conventional wisdom dictates.

If you want to learn more about it, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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February 13, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been taking an extended look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Last week we talked about the unlikely friendship that develops between Finn and Poe in just a few short minutes of onscreen interaction. Friendships like that usually take years to form, and yet the film’s creative team managed to sell it impressively well.

We also analyzed the role that friendship as a general concept plays in the Star Wars universe, and how it is actually central to the entire story.

This week I want to talk to you about how The Force Awakens makes a refreshing effort to subvert some of the most damning tropes we’ve come to expect from big Hollywood movies, and why that is great news for Star Wars fans, and the industry as a whole.

Of course, before we begin, a fair spoiler warning is due.

WARNING, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Issue #33: Stop taking my hand

Last we saw of him, Finn had gotten stranded in the Jakku desert following his more-or-less successful escape from the First Order. Dehydrated and exhausted, he eventually walks into Rey’s village, and soon after he meets both her and BB-8, although not in the most graceful way.

As soon as Finn is able to find some water to quench his thirst, he sees Rey being assaulted by two very unsavory characters in an attempt to steal the droid for themselves. Without giving it a second thought, Finn immediately springs into action and comes rushing to Rey’s rescue.

However, in a delightfully surprising move and before Finn can do anything about it, Rey swiftly dispatches her two assailants, deftly kicking their asses with her staff and freeing BB-8 once again.

This is such a funny moment, but also an incredibly refreshing scene for us, the audience: here we have, finally, a non-sexualized female character in a huge Hollywood movie who can not only hold her own in a dangerous world, she can actually kick as much ass out there as the best of them.

Still trying to assimilate what he’s just witnessed, Finn can’t do anything but stare at her in disbelief. In another brilliant directing move, Finn’s incredulity is supposed to represent the traditional filmmaking trope that a lady shouldn’t be able to do those things. Furthermore, Finn’s education as the film goes on — how his incredulity turns into respect and eventually admiration for Rey — is also ours.

But Finn still has a ways to go before he’s ready to learn those things, as are we. In the meantime, he’s about to experience Rey’s fighting prowess first-hand.

Indeed, just after the assailants are dispatched, Finn immediately recognizes BB-8 as the droid Poe was talking about — orange and white, one of a kind, he said. However, BB-8 also spots Finn, and for some reason it immediately goes into a high-pitched frenzy, prompting Rey to kick his ass with her staff, much to his surprise.

It all has a logical explanation, of course. Finn is, after all, wearing Poe’s jacket, the one he recovered from the sinking TIE Fighter ship they both used to escape. Now, if you’ve seen the previous movies in the franchise, you know it’s very likely that Poe somehow managed to get out of the wreckage alive, but as far as Finn’s concerned, he is surely dead and gone.

At this point, Finn makes what can only be described as an apparently foolish choice: when Rey assumes him to be with the Resistance, he plays along with the idea, trying to act tough in the process.

This is an incredibly stupid lie to tell, but probably his best choice, all things considered: it’s definitely better to say you’re one of the good guys, than to explain you used to be a soldier for the bad guys — you know, those who slaughtered an entire village yesterday — and you’ve just had a change of heart. The way I read that scene, it’s not so much that Finn wants to play the hero to impress Rey, it is that he’s afraid to admit who he really is for fear of getting his ass kicked once again, or worse.

In any case, Rey is thoroughly amused and unimpressed by his tough-boy act, but she believes him, and is totally fascinated after learning BB-8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker, who she believed to be a myth.

These little droplets of knowledge are important, because they tell us more about the status of the Force in this new society. Once the keepers of the peace and perhaps the most powerful and influential group in the galaxy, it appears the Jedi have now been relegated to lore status.

However, before Finn can explain anymore about Skywalker and the map, BB-8 bursts in, warning them of an impending attack: the First Order is there, looking for the droid, Finn, or both, and it’s time to run.

Still foolish and still underestimating Rey, Finn tries to hold her hand while they run, to which she responds in the only reasonable way: by telling him, “I know how to run without you holding my hand!” Not the subtlest of ways, but it’ll certainly do. At this point Finn is acting out of pure survival instinct, so Rey’s words don’t really register, and he tries to hold her hand again, only to be scolded by her again.

“I know how to run without you holding my hand!” Yes she does.

When a blast from a TIE Fighter sends them both flying, Finn is briefly knocked out. Suddenly the tables are turned, and it is now Rey who offers her hand to him and helps him up. The shot of Finn’s face that follows only lasts a split second, but it’s all we need to realize he’s a stubborn one: even after she’s the one helping him, he still asks “are you ok?”

If this was a typical Hollywood film, Finn’s actions would be interpreted as chivalrous, and would be a way for him to become the hero and win the girl’s heart. Here’s the man worrying about the lady even after being knocked out, what a darling, isn’t he? Surely she must come to appreciate his selflessness and fall for him eventually.

Instead, we get a Rey that is almost annoyed by this guy who continues to underestimate her, and just decides to humor him because it’s the easiest and, crucially, fastest way to get the hell out of there. This is such a great way to subvert the typical “damsel in distress” trope that I really hope directors and screenwriters everywhere are paying attention.

“Are you ok?” Pretty much, dude.

These instances keep repeating themselves throughout the rest of the movie. Finn keeps believing Rey needs his help, and Rey keeps proving him — and by association, us — wrong. Every time Finn goes to her rescue, he not only finds she has already rescued herself, but she actually helps save him, too. Even in the final climactic battle, when Finn gets into a fight where he’s hopelessly outmatched, he still does so with the hope of protecting Rey, despite her being a much more skilled fighter herself.

What makes Rey so awesome as a character, however, is that despite being incredibly skilled at pretty much everything, she’s still gracious enough to genuinely appreciate Finn’s efforts. She’s moved when she learns that it was Finn’s idea to go to Starkiller base to rescue her, and she’s even considerate enough to protect his fragile ego when she saves him from the Rathtars. She’s a complex, nuanced character, and the most exciting thing to happen to the Star Wars universe in a long, long time.

Finn, on the other hand, has much to grow and learn, but he’s getting there. He does have two key traits that redeem him, despite his stubbornness: his selflessness, and his willingness to keep an open mind about anything. The good guys are not always who they seem to be, and there’s always more to people than meets the eye. Finn knows that, perhaps better than any other character in the film, so there’s definitely hope for him, and maybe for us, too.

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

Top Five: Detecting gravitational waves, figuring out time travel, and the Leica Q

In case you haven’t heard, gravitational waves were detected for the first time ever. We then try to make sense of how time travel works in the Star Trek universe. We also learn what it is like to spend a year talking to strangers, and witness the fall of the biggest polygamist cult in America. And finally, we take a look at an incredibly gorgeous review of the Leica Q six months in the making.

Enjoy.

Gravitational waves exist: the inside story of how scientists finally found them | Nicola Twilley →

Fascinating article on what is arguably science’s biggest discovery of the decade:

The collaborators began the arduous process of double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking their data. “We’re saying that we made a measurement that is about a thousandth the diameter of a proton, that tells us about two black holes that merged over a billion years ago,” Reitze said. “That is a pretty extraordinary claim and it needs extraordinary evidence.”

No kidding.

Trek at 50: The quest for a unifying theory of time travel in Star Trek | Xaq Rzetelny →

I’m a sucker for time travel theories, and there’s enough of those here to keep you entertained until you really need to pee or your sanity goes, whichever comes first.

I spent a year listening to strangers tell stories they can’t share with anyone else | Helena Bala →

Great piece. Via Jorge Quinteros:

For a little over a year now, I’ve listened to strangers I meet on Craigslist tell me stories they’ve never told anyone before. I’ve interviewed someone who went through gender reassignment surgery and was falling in love for the very first time, as his true self. I’ve spoken with a man who had lost his wife to alcoholism and was struggling to rebuild his life without her. I cried when I spoke to a veteran who had lost both of his legs after serving two tours of combat abroad. My body shook with anger as I heard the confession of a father who had sexually abused his two daughters when they were young girls. I’ve heard stories about sexual abuse and mental illness, divorce and death, addiction and disability—stories that have left me in awe at the breadth and depth of humanity.

Read this one through to the end.

A polygamist cult’s last stand: the rise and fall of Warren Jeffs | Jesse Hyde →

This whole story is so surreal I can’t even begin to describe it:

But the FLDS isn’t expected to go without a fight. Once a fringe religious community seemingly stuck in time, Short Creek has fallen into a spell under its prophet, Warren Jeffs – a spindly, hollow-eyed man who allegedly runs the town despite serving a life sentence in Texas for multiple convictions of child rape. Jeffs has banned all TV and the Internet in Short Creek. His private security force roams the streets in SUVs with blacked-out windows, enforcing church discipline and tailing anyone who passes through town. FLDS members who disobey his word are banished.

The Leica Q: a six month field test | Craig Mod →

To end things on a decidedly happier mood, check out this beautifully photographed and incredibly well-written review of the Leica Q:

I believe that in hindsight — and I realize this sounds kind of crazy, as if I’ve binge-inhaled all of the Leica Kool-Aid at once — the Leica Q will be seen as one of the greatest fixed-prime-lens travel photography kits of all time.

Fire up the percolator, pour over another single-origin, steep some English Breakfast, or just grab a flask of rye and your pitchforks and let’s deconstruct this beautiful thing.

Let’s indeed.

Now, I’m not a fan of the Q, by any means, but even I have to admit it is one good-looking camera indeed. If only it had a 35mm lens and I had a few thousand dollars burning a hole in my pocket, I might even be tempted to buy it.

Actually, nope, probably not even then. But damn, is it beautiful.

Afterword

Another week has gone by, one that was mostly spent taking care of things outside this Internet realm of ours.

Besides that, my next review for Tools & Toys is already in the final stage, so I’ll probably spend the remainder of the weekend tweaking the last few details. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the Sony FE 70-200mm F4 lens. No matter how you slice it, it’s an incredibly impressive piece of glass.

I’ve also been working on a special project I’m really excited about, and I do hope to have some more news for you very soon. I do apologize for being so cryptic, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.

Until then, have a fantastic weekend, and thank you for reading.

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Gravitational waves explained →

February 12, 2016 |

Fantastic explanation of gravitational waves — what they are, why they’re so important, and why they’re so, so hard to detect — by Jorge Cham over at PHD Comics. Definitely a must-read.

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February 07, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

For the past few weeks, we’ve been taking an extended look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Last week we left off with Rey and BB-8 meeting each other for the first time, and we explored the introduction of Rey as a character.

This week, I want to talk to you about what is perhaps the cornerstone of the entire Star Wars universe: friendship.

Of course, before we begin, a fair spoiler warning is due.

WARNING, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Issue #32: My friend is out there

Star Wars is traditionally defined as a space opera, a genre where space battles are supposed to be the main driving point of the plot. However, while there are certainly quite a few space battles in the Star Wars movies, I never felt like I was watching a story about war.

Most people say Star Wars is really about Anakin Skywalker. That, at its core, it is a story about family. To me, though, it is a story about friendship.

If we look back at the original Star Wars movie, we see how an unlikely friendship develops between Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. These two characters don’t even like each other much at first, but gradually warm up to each other and by the end of the film, it is thanks to this newly developed bond that our heroes save the day.

Indeed, even though Luke had the Force on his side during the climactic trench run to blow up the Death Star, it took an intervention from Han at the eleventh hour for Luke to be able to fire his proton torpedoes in the first place. Had it not been for Han’s change of heart, the story might have had a very different end.

This change of heart is incredibly powerful because of what it says about Han as a character. By this point in the story, his arc has taken him from being a mostly amoral mercenary who cares about nobody but himself — and Chewie, of course — to being the guy that risks his own life to save his friend’s.

Make no mistake: when the battle to blow up the Death Star ensued, Han wasn’t invested in the Rebellion at all. He had been living happily enough under the Empire’s rule, slipping through the cracks of the system and making a living doing what he did best. I don’t think saving the day for the good guys was the driving force behind his actions, but rather a much simpler, much more powerful impulse: to save his friend from certain death.

To further drive the point home, it is through Luke’s friendship that Han becomes involved with the Rebel Alliance at all. At the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back, Han — now General Solo — is still only half-interested in the military aspect of things, but he is fully, unconditionally supporting his friend Luke. And when Luke gets stranded in Hoth after being mauled by a wampa, Han once again doesn’t hesitate for a second to risk his own life in order to rescue his friend.

“Your tauntaun will freeze before you reach the first marker”.
“Then I’ll see you in hell!”

This is, to me, the defining aspect of the Star Wars universe, and the central idea that permeates the entire story: that great things are only accomplished when we act selflessly, and when we are loyal to our friends to the very end. It’s a nice sentiment, and one that was conveyed brilliantly in the original trilogy.

If we then look at The Force Awakens, we see that the same theme is still alive and well. Friendship is, indeed, the driving force that makes everything that happens in the film possible, and it all starts when two strangers in need meet by chance.

When we left him a couple weeks ago, Poe Dameron was being held hostage by the First Order for interrogation. At the same time, Finn, our Stormtrooper with a conscience, was having a full-on panic attack after realizing the truth about the enterprise he works for.

Once Kylo Ren successfully extracts the location of the plans from Poe’s mind using his trademark Force-aided interrogation tricks, it becomes clear that Poe is largely useless to them, and so his life is in grave danger. Finn knows this, but more crucially, he knows Poe is an accomplished pilot who can fly them both out of that horrible place once and for all.

Finn then does the only thing he believes he can do: he decides to set Poe free so that they can both escape together, essentially linking his own fate to Poe’s in the process.

The scene is comical, but definitely powerful, as well. When Poe asks “why are you doing this?” and Finn replies, “it’s the right thing to do”, Poe sees straight through Finn’s BS and immediately realizes what Finn needs is a pilot. That “I need a pilot” line always gets a laugh out of the audience, but there’s something else going on in that scene that I believe is worth mentioning.

Poe is well aware that his pilot skills are needed, but he’s also aware that Finn is risking his life to help him, and so any possible concerns he might have felt towards Finn are immediately brushed aside and replaced by trust.

After their escape attempt takes a turn for the worse, we as an audience continue following Finn’s path and we, too, wonder what happened to Poe when Finn finds his jacket among the remains of their TIE fighter ship. At this point we get to experience Finn’s sense of loss, and it comes as a surprise at first, but then it makes all the sense in the world.

Finn’s face when he picks up Poe’s jacket and starts walking through the desert dunes of Jakku is that of a man who is not only lost, but who has just lost someone.

In the few minutes these two characters have been together, a very real bond has formed, one that hints at much bigger things to come in the future. We are no doubt witnessing the beginning of a remarkable friendship, one that is very much reminiscent of Luke and Han’s. This is the kind of stuff these films are about.

Of course, having seen the film, we know Finn will go on to reunite with Poe, but first he will meet a certain scavenger and a little droid, both of whom will forever change his life.

But that, as they say, is a story for another day.

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

Top Five: Macs, iPads, lenses, managers, and whisky

In this week’s Top Five, we get a tinge of nostalgia for our beloved Macs, followed by a couple of interesting reviews. Then we have a great essay about the importance of setting aside enough time to focus for a manager, and finally, we learn about the details of whisky maturation. Enjoy.

A Mac for all seasons: Why the Mac has so much staying power | Dan Moren →

Great piece by Dan Moren:

I also can’t discount the power of emotion. I love my Macs—always have. And despite the fact that I carry my iPhone with me everywhere I go, I’ve never quite developed the same attachment, in part because I trade in my iPhones nearly every year. By contrast, my iMac, on which I type this, is nearing the five-year mark. There’s an old Blue & White G3 sitting next to my desk. Somewhere in the mess that is my office is my PowerBook G3, one of my favorite Macs of all time—and the first laptop I ever owned.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, and given that I’ve spent the majority of my life using a Mac, it’s no surprise how many memories are tied up with the platform. From typing my first stories as an elementary schooler, to writing papers in high-school, to editing videos in college, the Mac’s been there at every stage of my life.

This is absolutely spot-on. It’s very easy to develop an emotional attachment to your Mac.

If you’ve ever gotten a Mac stolen from you, you know how painful it is, and not only in terms of money. There’s a very real sense of personal loss there, too.

For me, it comes down to the reality of my life’s circumstances when I bought it. For most people, buying a Mac is an expensive investment. It takes effort, and you give up other things for it. That helps a great deal in making it feel significant. You don’t tend to think of them as disposable devices, but rather meaningful additions to your life.

Both my Macs are nearing the end of their life, and I will be sad to see them go when they finally kick the bucket. I haven’t experienced the same feelings with any other Apple devices I’ve ever owned.

iPad Pro review | Marius Masalar →

This is one of the most interesting iPad Pro reviews I’ve seen. And definitely one of the better photographed, too:

Trying to hold it above your head to read your Instapaper queue at night is the beginning of a bedtime story about how noses break. It isn’t that it’s heavy, disproportionate, or imbalanced in any way, it’s just not the same kind of device.

To me, the moment it all clicked was the moment I let go of treating the iPad Pro like just another iPad.

That makes so much sense. I would love to use an iPad Pro as my main computing device, but unfortunately there is still one must-have feature in my workflow that iOS fails to provide: RAW file support. Until it becomes feasible for me to have an iOS-only editing workflow for my pictures, the iPad will remain a close but still unreachable dream for me.

The Panasonic Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Micro Four Thirds lens review | Josh Ginter →

Josh Ginter reviews what is arguably the best MFT lens you can buy today. There’s not much more to say about this gorgeous lens: it is, quite simply, as good as it gets for the system.

However, I still find it funny that the aperture rings and built-in image stabilization systems found on some Panasonic lenses, including the Nocticron, don’t work on Olympus camera bodies. It’s been a couple years now since we started seeing these features, and it seems like this is something that should just work seamlessly across manufacturers. These small issues, while certainly not deal breakers, do give an overall amateurish impression of the system as a whole, something that is fortunately not mirrored by its technical quality.

The biggest competitive strength of the MFT system is that it has two major manufacturers pushing innovation forward at a tremendous pace. But when these two manufacturers don’t collaborate with each other, the end user experience suffers considerably. Despite being rivals, Panasonic and Olympus should be working together really hard to ensure the MFT system has a bright future. They’re already facing strong competition from other systems, and I don’t think they can afford to fight each other on top of that.

Taking focus time as a manager | Ben Brooks →

Ben Brooks shares some insights on how to stay focused on what matters as a manager:

When I first started managing teams, I would respond to emails as fast as I could. I wanted to get answers back, to keep people going. But soon all I did was respond to emails.

So one day I stopped.

Not forever, but for that day. I did anything but respond to emails. Something interesting happened: people with real fires called me, and those were worked out. And the next day, when I went to look at my email, I started responding with: “Is this issue resolved now?”

This was a great read.

The challenges of “do it yourself” whisky maturation | Mark Bylok →

I’ve always been fascinated by how whisky picks up the character and flavor of the environment it was matured in. This feels like alchemy to me, but of course there is method in this particular madness. Mark’s piece, as always, skillfully explains the intricacies of the process, and even opens the door of experimentation for the brave.

Afterword

This has been a busy week for me. In case you missed it, I published a cool photo story of my recent trip to Paris for New Year’s. This is something I’ve been working on for a pretty long time, and I’m very excited to finally share it here.

I love photo stories, and I think they make for great memories. Hopefully, though, they will also be entertaining for other people to read — at least, that is my intention. This particular trip was different because I really tried to document it as thoroughly as possible, and I do believe the end result was worth the effort.

Other than that, I’m working on my next review for Tools & Toys, and on a couple other projects I hope to be able to share with you soon. It’s going to be an interesting month, no doubt.

Until then, thank you for reading, and have a great end to the weekend.

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February 03, 2016 |

Ah, Paris. The City of Light. So much has been written about this beautiful city that I feel there’s nothing else I could add that would do it justice.

But it’s not just writers that are fascinated by Paris’s unique atmosphere. Au contraire. All kinds of artists have been inspired to produce their best work by this enchanting city: painters, photographers, actors, musicians, you name it. There’s just something special about it that seems to wake our imagination like perhaps no other place on this planet.

Paris is one of a kind, so when Miriam and I decided a few weeks ago that we would be spending New Year’s Eve there, my brain was immediately filled to the brink with wild expectations.

Since a regular article wouldn’t be appropriate for such a wonderful city, I came up with something that’s new for the site: a photo story.

Just follow the title link to get to the beginning. I do hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.

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January 30, 2016

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

Last week we embarked upon an epic-length review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We went over the opening scene in great detail, but there’s just so much more to say about the first proper Star Wars movie in over 30 years that I couldn’t possibly fit everything into a standard issue of Morning Coffee. So, here we are.

Today I want to talk to you about the second scene, the one that introduces us to the proper main character in the film. Like I said last week, I didn’t know anything about the plot going in, and I didn’t know anything about the characters, either. I assumed JJ Abrams would try to balance the old cast and the new, and I also assumed the movie would try to focus more on the new cast, as they’re meant to represent the future of the franchise as a whole.

All that was fairly easy to predict, but what I never would have predicted is that I was about to meet my second-favorite character in the entire Star Wars universe.1

That character is first introduced to us as a lonely scavenger, left behind on a forsaken desert planet. However, much to our delight, she soon reveals herself to be so much more than that.

At this point, a fair spoiler warning is due. If you still haven’t watched the film, you may want to jump over to the Top Five section. Everything from that point on is spoiler-free.

WARNING, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Issue #31: The scavenger and the droid

Last week we left off with BB-8, Poe Dameron’s little droid companion, rolling away quietly into the desert night after narrowly escaping a Stormtrooper raid that resulted in the capture of its master. As we were told, BB-8 is carrying a small device containing a map to Luke Skywalker, the last remaining Jedi. This map is ostensibly revealed as the key to everything that’s going on, and keeping it safe from the bad guys is paramount.

Now the focus changes to a quiet and mysterious figure, roaming inside a vast mechanical structure and gathering a few pieces of machinery. The figure’s movements are swift and precise, and betray a sense of familiarity with the place, and the situation.

By the time our masked figure reaches the outside of the structure, we get a glimpse at her face. She’s young, but strong, and there’s a certain roughness to her gaze. She’s clearly used to living in hardship. She drinks the last remaining drops of water from her bottle, and then slides off a huge sand dune using a metal sheet as an improvised toboggan.

It is at this point that we finally comprehend the reality of the situation. The mechanic structure she was searching is revealed to be a huge fallen Star Destroyer. It appears to have been abandoned for a pretty long time, suggesting it was probably left behind shortly after the Empire’s disastrous fall from power at the end of Return of the Jedi.

The tracking shot that follows her from the top of the dune until she reaches firm ground does a fantastic job of conveying the insane scale of those monstrous ships. Her tiny figure descending with the Destroyer in the background serves as a powerful reminder of the Empire’s former might, and of the incredible odds our heroes faced in the original trilogy.

The girl finally reaches her vehicle, a kind of futuristic motorcycle that glides above the surface, not unlike Luke’s speeder in the original Star Wars. As she glides away, we get another tracking shot, this time panning as she leaves behind the remains of another huge Star Destroyer, similarly abandoned for the desert to claim. Once again, we are reminded of the sheer size of these things, and how crazy our heroes must have been to oppose them.

As the planet’s sun sets, the girl reaches something resembling civilization: a small colony of scattered tents with a flea market that appears to be the only social structure that still functions in the entire planet. As she cleans some of the pieces she found, she observes an old woman, her face and skin badly damaged from too much exposure to the sun. The girl gets lost in contemplation for a moment, no doubt wondering whether she’ll end up like the old woman one day. She then proceeds to sell the pieces in one of the shops, obtaining a measly quarter portion of food in exchange. She appears disappointed, but she clearly has no other choice but to accept.

When she reaches her home, the first thing we see is a small plant. This is a meaningful image that tells us something important about the girl: she cares about other living things enough to grow a plant in a planet where water is so scarce. We also see a doll dressed as a Rebellion fighter pilot, which tells us the girl surely dreams about something beyond what her current life has to offer.

Indeed, as she quickly consumes a frugal meal, she sits outside her tent — which turns out to be the remains of a fallen AT-AT Walker — quietly watching the horizon while she puts on a pilot’s helmet bearing the Alliance Starbird shield. Thus, we know that she prefers to live by herself, away from society. The helmet is another symbol, too: something like that must be worth something in that world, and yet she decided to keep it for herself instead of selling it, despite her precarious living conditions. This is a girl for whom some things are more important than money.

Now is the moment when two of our main characters meet for the first time. The girl suddenly hears a faint alien dialog in the background, and as soon as she realizes what’s going on, she jumps and starts running towards the source, not without picking up her staff first. As she climbs over a small dune, we see our little droid being hauled away by an alien figure riding a mechanical beast. The girl doesn’t hesitate to intervene and rescues the droid, threatening the alien, who promptly releases BB-8 and leaves it with her.

She goes on to explain the alien’s purpose to BB-8 — “he wants you for parts”, she says — and then she proceeds to fix its antenna, which had been bent at some point since the previous night. It’s also apparent that she understands the droid’s beeps and boops, just as she understood the alien’s language. She then points BB-8 in the direction of the nearest outpost, and proceeds to go her own way.

However, BB-8 pleads to come with her, to which she reluctantly agrees. The droid emits a few grateful beeps, and she calmly replies, “you’re welcome”, before they both walk away.

Exposition done right

I’m going over the first few scenes in so much detail because they’re jam-packed with relevant information about our characters and/or the universe we’re in. Just as in the opening scene, there is not a wasted moment in this one: every shot and every word of dialog tells us something important, and lets us understand this new world in a better way.

Think about it: we already know that the girl is physically very fit, that she can survive by herself in a pretty hostile environment but she doesn’t want to waste her entire life in that place, that she’s good with machines and speaks at least three languages — English, BB-8’s language and the alien’s language — that she cares for living things, that she shies away from society but doesn’t shy away from a fight, that she empathizes with others and values some things more than money, and that she dreams of being a pilot in the Rebel Alliance. We’ve also been shown the remains of the fallen Empire, while simultaneously being reminded of its past glory. Finally, we’ve learned that Jakku is a pretty desolate planet where water is scarce and everyone seems to be fighting hard for their mere survival. All of this and more in literally just five minutes. Damn impressive.

This is, of course, exposition, but it’s brilliantly done and it never feels out of place. If this was a lesser movie, we would have gotten a random character whispering to another: “oh yeah, that girl, she’s just a filthy scavenger. Spends all her days looking for scrap parts in those old Destroyers. Don’t go near her!

Instead, we got a few gorgeous tracking shots, some amazing landscapes, and only a few words of dialog. The scene never feels rushed, despite being so densely packed with information, and from the first moment we feel like we understand the girl, and empathize with her. I really have to give it to JJ and his team: this was an impeccable scene, and it shows how much thought and care were put into the film.

The music

As we get to meet the girl we also get to listen to my favorite theme in the entire film’s soundtrack. I’ll be honest, though: generally speaking, the film’s score didn’t blow my mind. I think it’s overall very correct, but it doesn’t reach the heights of other films in the franchise — with one notable exception.

If Star Wars had that wonderful Binary Sunset moment, and Empire had the Imperial March, this film has Rey’s Theme — which, incidentally, is the name of the girl, although we’re not supposed to know that yet.

Rey’s theme, whose main motif we get to hear in this scene for the first time — the track for this scene is called The Scavenger in the album — is whimsical and light-hearted at first, but it also has a sense of wonder and discovery, and a touch of melancholy towards the end… it’s a fantastic piece of music, and it suits the character perfectly.

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for a few weeks and the only theme that’s gotten stuck in my head is Rey’s Theme — and its variations, like The Scavenger. It may take some time, but I suspect it will go on to become every bit as iconic as all the other great themes in the previous films. It is that good.

I think that’s enough Star Wars talk for now. Now let’s take a look at some of the week’s most interesting pieces of writing.

Top Five: Windows Phones are dead, Barbie’s got a new body, and the great whiskey heist of our time

This week’s roundup includes a bit of everything. Enjoy.

Where next for Windows Phones? Probably nowhere | Ian Betteridge →

Great piece by Ian Betteridge on the precarious situation of the Windows Phone platform:

There’s an old joke, probably dating back to Roman times, which goes like this: “Never kick a man when he’s down – he may get up.” Following that advice would be the only possible reason right now not to write that Windows Phones are dead and buried, and that Microsoft ought to just quietly forget about them.

This reminded me of Michael Dell’s now infamous 1997 quote on Apple. Sometimes a company manages to turn things around before it’t too late, but those are exceptional cases. Now, if there’s a company capable of creating a successful platform through sheer insistence, it’s definitely Microsoft.

The website obesity crisis | Maciej Cegłowski →

This fantastic presentation on the current issues with website bloat was clearly the highlight of my week. Via Marco Arment:

The Medium team has somehow made this nugget of thought require 1.2 megabytes.

That’s longer than Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky’s psychological thriller about an impoverished student who fills his head with thoughts of Napoleon and talks himself into murdering an elderly money lender.

Racked by guilt, so rattled by his crime that he even forgets to grab the money, Raskolnikov finds himself pursued in a cat-and-mouse game by a clever prosecutor and finds redemption in the unlikely love of a saintly prostitute.

Dostoevski wrote this all by hand, by candlelight, with a goddamned feather.

So great. I’ve always tried to keep Analog Senses as lean as possible, but clearly I still have some room for improvement. If you care about such things, this will definitely give you the motivation to start working on it.

Being a movie set photographer | Alex Pixelle →

Great interview with Alex Pixelle on ilovehatephotography. I love her style, and there are lots of interesting tidbits sprinkled all through the inteview:

To me photographing an actor/artist, is above all, bringing the best out of him/her and sublimate their charisma. The complete opposite of the craziness of the paparazzi. You have to respect them. It is pro to pro relationship, that is how they accept you. This is a very big but also very small world so we meet often with the same people. That allows to create recurrent professional relationships and even friendships. It works a lot with the word of mouth. They like how you work, your punctuality, your motivation, your work etc… then they call you back and they recommend your work to others. Having unexpected and wonderful encounters is one of the best things in this job. Learning again and again from these people, from their life experience and evolve in this job is awesome! That might be funny but “my idols” are behind the cameras, be it film directors, artistic directors, chief of operation and of course directors of photography with whom I love hanging around with.

Barbie’s got a new body | Eliana Dockterman →

In case you haven’t heard, the world’s most iconic doll just got a whole lot more diverse:

Three new bodies, actually: petite, tall and curvy, in Mattel’s exhaustively debated lexicon, and beginning Jan. 28 they will be sold alongside the original busty, thin-waisted form on Barbie.com. They’ll all be called Barbie, but it’s the curvy one — with meat on her thighs and a protruding tummy and behind — that marks the most startling change to the most infamous body in the world.

It’s a massive risk for Mattel. Barbie is more than just a doll. The brand does $1 billion in sales across more than 150 countries annually, and 92% of American girls ages 3 to 12 have owned a Barbie, thanks in part to her affordable $10 price tag. She’s been the global symbol of a certain kind of American beauty for generations, with brand recognition that’s up there with Mickey Mouse. M.G. Lord, a Barbie biographer, once said she was designed “to teach women what—for better or worse—is expected of them in society.”

That last sentence is really scary, mostly because it’s very true. That’s why something seemingly as inconsequential as a doll offering more realistic body shapes is so important.

The great whiskey heist | Reeves Wiedeman →

This story has it all right there in the title: whiskey, and a heist. What more do you need?

Afterword

I hope your week was productive. Mine has been pretty good, actually. The app I submitted for review last week has already been approved by Apple and is now available on Spain’s App Store. Seeing the app released was a great feeling for me, and I’m quite proud of the result.

Other than that, my review of the Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long tripod kit was published on Tools & Toys, and I’m now working on the next one, which is due in a couple weeks.

Other than that, there’s something new about the site that I’m getting ready to show you next week. I don’t want to spoil anything, though, so you’ll have to wait a few more days to find out what it is :)

Until then, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.


  1. Second only to Han Solo, of course.

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My review of the Manfrotto 209 + 492 Long tabletop tripod kit was published today on Tools & Toys. I’ve owned this little tripod for a few months, and I’m super impressed with it. It’s so tiny that I always have it in my bag, it’s actually useful, and it’s made to last.

As a side note, I made a quick time-lapse video to show what you can do with this little thing:

Not too shabby, is it? If you want to read more about it, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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