Happy Holidays

December 23, 2015

Dear reader,

I want to take a minute to thank you for being there another year — and boy, what a year it’s been. I wish you nothing but the best for this holiday season, and I hope you have a chance to spend some quality time with your loved ones over the next few days.

For my part, I will also be taking a much-needed break. There’s some really cool stuff in the pipeline that I can’t wait to share with you early next year, but for now it is time to rest, and to recharge my batteries. Before I sign off, though, I have something to ask of you.

Times like these we take for granted all too easily, but trust me when I tell you, they are precious. One can never have too many opportunities to show our love to the people we care about. Please, make it a point to do just that this holiday season. Forget about this crazy Internet family of ours for a little while, and pay some more attention to them instead.

Don’t worry, we will all still be here when you get back. I promise.

Oh, and one last thing: happy holidays!


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December 19, 2015

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee, my weekly roundup of interesting writing.

Issue #28: Star Wars, film, and photography

After a few months of hiatus caused mostly by the pressures of work, these days I seem to be looking at film with a renewed interest once again.

Let’s get to it.

Review: the iPad Pro is a line in the sand | Stephen Hackett →

Roughly a month after the iPad Pro was released, the second wave of reviews are starting to pop up around the Internet. I really liked Stephen Hackett’s take on it, as usual:

And that’s why the iPad Pro, with its crazy-powerful CPU, super-accurate Pencil and 12.9-inch screen is such a mind-bending device to me. The hardware is more Mac-like than ever, and iOS is more flexible now than ever before. In many ways, the iPad Pro feels like a line in the sand. Will we all cross it eventually, or will the computing world remain fractured between those who can use a tablet for everything, and those who can’t?

Travelling Indonesia with an iPhone 6S | Nick Heer →

Great travel log and in-depth iPhone review by Nick Heer.

So you married a supervillain: watching Jessica Jones as a trauma survivor | Kia Groom →

Must-read piece over at The Mary Sue (spoiler alert for Jessica Jones, though):

This is why Jessica Jones is triggering, and this is also why Jessica Jones is vital. While it masquerades as a show about heroes and villains, ultimately, Jessica Jones is not a fantasy. It’s the reality of existing in a patriarchal society that does everything it can to silence, dismiss, and ignore women—that strips power and agency from us at every conceivable level: domestically, romantically, politically, legally, and in the media.

The Force is with film! Dan Mindel on Star Wars: The Force Awakens (no spoilers) →

I was surprised — and delighted — to discover yesterday that the latest installment in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, was shot entirely on film. The majority of the movie was shot on Kodak Vision3 35mm film, except for a few scenes that were shot on Kodak Vision3 65mm film. Considering episodes II and III were 100% digitally shot by Lucas, this represents a wonderful change for the better.

Before you go all pro-digital on me, let me remind you that movies need to endure for generations. Episodes II and III were shot 13 and 10 years ago respectively, and were two of the first fully-digitally shot movies ever. However, they were shot at a then-state-of-the-art 1080p resolution at 24 frames per second, a standard that is already starting to become obsolete. That means these movies can’t be converted to 4K resolution without upscaling. That the master recordings of these movies have only managed to last a decade or so before being out-resolved by existing consumer-grade technology is absolutely unacceptable.

On the other hand, the original trilogy — episodes IV, V and VI — were shot on 35mm film, meaning the existing masters, as complicated a history as they’ve had, offer more than enough detail for a 4K scan and eventual release. In fact, several 4K restorations of the original trilogy are either complete, or currently in the works.

Let me say that again: a movie shot on film in 1977 can be released in 4K today, but a movie shot digitally in 2005 can’t — not without losing detail at least. If there’s a better example of irony in the history of cinema, I don’t know it.

Untouched is impossible: the story of Star Wars in film | Ben Kuchera →

Speaking of Star Wars and film, this great 2010 article by Ben Kuchera for Ars Technica shined some light on the current available copies of the original Star Wars film. Famously, Lucas said a few years ago that the original negative had been heavily damaged in the process of creating the 1997 Special Edition restoration. This was a hard blow for fans of the original theatrical release, many of whom still have hopes of eventually seeing a modern restoration of the original versions of these movies.

To find out if such a release is even possible, Kuchera interviewed Michael Kaminsky, author of the book The Secret History of Star Wars, and this is what he had to say:

Kaminski points out that a duplication of the original negative—commonly printed for the sake of protection—doesn’t seem to exist for Star Wars. Something better was created, though: separation masters. “These are special silver-based copies that do not fade, and in theory should be almost identical in quality to the original negative itself, so even if the negative was destroyed you still have a perfect copy (which is the point of making the separation master).” Duplicates from these prints were used to replace damaged sections of the negative during the restoration before the release of the Special Edition.

This is all fascinating. As for whether film continues to be a good format for long-term archival, Kaminsky says yes, very much so:

It’s unclear how the film exists digitally within Lucasfilm, but Kaminski does know one thing: the scanning done in the past has become obsolete. “The 1997 SE scans were done in 2K and the 2004 Special Edition was done in 1080p, but now the standard is 8K (4 times the 1997 SE and about 7 times the quality of the 2004 SE), and the color reproduction is better too,” he says.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, the original film remains important as the most robust way to store this information. Hard drives fail, and data is vulnerable to time. “This may seem silly because everyone always talks about how fragile film is, but film is the most robust, durable image technology we have ever invented. There are reels of film that date back to the 1920s that still look pretty good.” He claims that color Eastman Kodak film has a half-life of around 50 to 60 years. Oddly enough, the negative film used in the 1970s to shoot Star Wars is less stable than the film used before or after. We’ll get to a point where all we have left are digital copies, but technology has only recently allowed digital copies to rival the original celluloid in quality and detail.

Fujifilm X100T: a camera review | Erin Brooks →

Erin Brooks wrote a fantastic review of the Fuji X100T camera:

The camera is digital, but the results are made to look like film, and it has film filters built in that I can select before I shoot a photo. I love the look of film, so this is a huge bonus in my eyes. The tones and colors are nicely dynamic, with lots of detail captured in shadows and highlights. It’s not exactly the same as film, but it comes close enough for me to enjoy that part of it thoroughly. And, the fact that it’s digital means I get the immediate gratification of having my photos right away. It’s the best of both worlds as far as getting a film look, without the wait to develop the roll. I still usually edit my photos in post, but honestly, I don’t have to with most of my FujiFilm X100T images if I don’t want to: they already look beautiful straight out of the camera.

Built-in film presets are without a doubt the main reason Fuji cameras are so appealing to me, and the X100T in particular seems to capture the essence of shooting film better than any other digital camera out there.

Review: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II | Jordan Steele →

Wonderful in-depth review of the Olympus E-M10 Mark II by Jordan Steele:

The E-M10 II lacks the E-M5 II’s high res mode, has a smaller EVF and lacks weather sealing. However, aside from those major points, it is almost identical. The original E-M10 was also a great value, but Olympus did cut some key things to differentiate the camera. This time around, it seems they cut almost nothing. The E-M10 Mark II feels like a complete camera, with outstanding in-body image stabilization, robust construction, outstanding haptics and ergonomics and an exceptionally long feature set.

Looks like the successor to my favorite small camera is another winner from Olympus.

Sony’s Sky HDR app review | Anastasia Petukhova →

Sony cameras have a rather unique feature: their PlayMemories app store, where you can download apps that provide extra features directly to your camera. Sky HDR is one such app, and it does precisely what its name implies: it allows you to capture high dynamic range images by combining multiple frames shot with different exposure parameters entirely in-camera.

The bad news is that the app will cost you $9.99, which is rather ridiculous considering what you already paid for the camera. It does appear to be pretty useful, though:

There are a few essential uses for this app. First of all you don’t need to carry the whole filter kit and worry about dust and glare. You also don’t need to worry about combining anything in post production. You get as much data in one image as you can get. And for all of us Instagram lovers and social people, you can export this shot right to your phone and post it right away on the spot. You also save money by not buying extra gear that typically is needed to get similar results. Filter kits can go from $50 to $500 if you’re really into it. I know many landscape shooters spend a lot of time in post production, but this is the quicker way to get at least a portion of the job done. This app is not designed to be everything for everyone, so keep an open mind and see if this $10 investment is right for you.

London - November, 2015 | Michael Fraser →

Michael Fraser goes to London armed with a Mamiya 7, a Leica MP, a Wista VX, and lots and lots of film. Lovely images.


It appears film is making a strong comeback in the filmmaking industry and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about it. Many critically acclaimed directors like J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan are unapologetic in their love of film, and this points to a bright future in the industry.

Shooting a motion picture on film not only helps achieve a certain look that is preferred by many, it also enforces a series of logistical limitations in the way productions are handled and shootings scheduled. The slow nature of film has a way of ensuring things are not rushed, and demands that a substantial amount of thought and care be put into every aspect of the shoot.

This may seem like a logistical nightmare in the digital era — and to some extent, it is — but when you see the end result, more often than not the increased complexity and difficulty end up being completely worth it.

As for future-proofing, the fact that 35mm film — not to mention 65mm or even 70mm film — still out-resolves most state-of-the-art digital recording systems should be all the argument we need to persevere in the use of film. It doesn’t matter how good a digital system may look today, the odds of it being rendered obsolete in just a few years’ time are substantially high, and that’s too big a risk to take when we’re talking about movies with budgets in the several-hundred-million-dollar range.

I’m sure there will come a time when digital is unequivocally better than film for all practical purposes, but it appears we’re not quite there yet and, truth be told, I’m in no hurry to get there at all.

On the work front, I’ve been testing Apple’s new Smart Battery Case for the past week or so, and I’m now working on my full review of it for Tools & Toys. It should be ready for publication soon.

Admittedly, at first glance the Smart Battery Case looks terrible, with a super-weird hump on the back. Once you get past that, though, I’ve found it’s actually a pretty good accessory for your iPhone 6/6S.

Now, it’s true that there are other cases out there with bigger batteries inside, but for most people I think the Smart Battery Case will offer plenty of power. Just for reference, I managed to get over three full days of regular use after starting with both my iPhone and the case at 100% charge. Add to that the built-in Lightning port and the integration at the iOS level that only an Apple-made case can provide, and you have a compelling product that will surely sell well despite that unsightly hump.

I’ll have much more to say about the Smart Battery Case in the full review, so stay tuned.

And on that note, we’ve reached the end of this issue. As usual, thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.

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Apple puts Phil Schiller in charge of the App Store →

December 17, 2015 |

Interesting news from Apple today. Jeff Williams, writing for Ars Technica:

SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiler is now in charge of all App Stores across all of Apple’s platforms, which now include iOS, OS X, WatchOS, and tvOS.

Schiller is taking over the App Store from Eddy Cue, who as Apple’s president of Internet Software and Services is still in charge of things like Apple Music, iCloud, Apple Pay, Siri, the apps formerly known as iWork and iLife, and other initiatives.

On one hand, developer relations is under the App Store division, and Phil Schiller strikes me as a far better person to manage that than Eddy Cue ever was. On the other hand, everything else in the division has little to do with Schiller’s area of expertise, so I can’t help but wonder if he has what it takes to run it by himself. UPDATE: Looks like I got this wrong. Developer relations has always been under Schiller, with the rest of the App Store management falling under Eddy Cue’s iTunes division. This shuffle brings everything App Store-related under Schiller’s supervision, which should help improve consistency and mitigate some of the issues that plague 3rd-party developers today. It’ll be interesting to watch what future changes, if any, Schiller introduces in the way Apple runs its various App Stores, that’s for sure.

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Jonathan Poritsky introduces Film Twitter Slack →

December 16, 2015 |

Don’t you just hate it when popular movies get spoiled on Twitter before they’re released to the general public? This is usually done by film critics, filmmakers and, generally speaking, any one person among the crap-load of people who get access to advanced private screenings of those movies.

That phenomenon is known as Film Twitter. It’s incredibly annoying but luckily, Jonathan Poritsky has just the thing:

What bugs me is the Socratic dissection of a film I’m not ready to delve into. I prefer to see movies fresh and form my own opinions. If I could time shift these Film Twitter tête-à-têtes and experience them after I’ve seen the film, that would be lovely. But there isn’t an elegant way to do that without reading the tweets in the first place (yet).

So what to do? Clearly those who see movies before the general public can aren’t going to stop the chatter. And I’m not going to unfollow a community that I love reading. So I put together a thing: Film Twitter Slack.

Great idea. Now, if only all those who love to spoil movies would just sign up and use it, that would be lovely.

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13 million MacKeeper users exposed →

December 15, 2015 |

Brian Krebs, writing at Krebs on Security:

The makers of MacKeeper — a much-maligned software utility many consider to be little more than scareware that targets Mac users — have acknowledged a breach that exposed the usernames, passwords and other information on more than 13 million customers and, er…users. Perhaps more interestingly, the guy who found and reported the breach doesn’t even own a Mac, and discovered the data trove merely by browsing Shodan — a specialized search engine that looks for and indexes virtually anything that gets connected to the Internet.

A couple things here:

  1. If you’ve been using MacKeeper, stop. Seriously, just stop.

  2. Even after you stop, change your password immediately or, better yet, delete your account entirely.

MacKeeper is nothing but a scammy program designed to prey on Mac users’ fear. There is nothing useful or actually safe about it, so just get rid of the thing.

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December 12, 2015

Hello there, welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee, my weekly roundup of interesting writing.

Issue #27: Superhero costumes, movie posters, and human robots

This week’s issue takes a pop-culture turn, with some really interesting pieces on comic book superheroes and Star Wars characters, but there’s also room for some more grounded pieces. Enjoy.

When Will Superheroes Dress Like Us? | Alexander Chee →

Alexander Chee writes about the sartorial choices of Jessica Jones and Supergirl:

Jessica Jones mocks this stereotype in a flashback. Her best friend and foster sister, Trish, having decided Jones should dress the part of a superhero, tries to give her a makeover. She pulls out a white, strapless jumper with royal-blue trim framing the décolletage that looks stolen from Olivia Newton-John’s wardrobe for Xanadu, then puts on a matching, glittery-blue carnival mask, even proposing a name to go with the look: Jewel. “Jewel is a cheap stripper name,” Jones says, rejecting it outright, and to prove the impracticality of the mask, she walks over to Trish and with one playful slap to her head twists it around —€” and the mask is suddenly a blindfold. The lesson is clear: Jessica Jones is not going to die for your idea about what a superhero looks like, Trish.

That was a great scene. I have to say, Jessica Jones is one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.

The best movie posters of 2015 | Adrian Curry →

Gorgeous selection of movie posters. I don’t know many of the films, but now I want to see each and every one of them.

The last human robot | Boris Kachka →

Fantastic profile on Anthony Daniels, the actor who’s portrayed protocol droid C-3PO in every Star Wars movie, including the upcoming Episode VII: The Force Awakens:

J.J. Abrams first saw Star Wars when he was 11, and grew up in an age when fandom went from lonely obsession to superhero multiverse. Now he’s gotten to direct its aging stars — action figures come to life. The most loyal among them is a former stage actor who auditioned reluctantly for “some low-budget sci-fi movie” and wound up a golden robot for the rest of his life. Daniels can be a prickly ambassador, publicly tweaking the Ewoks, the suit, the actors, and Lucas himself. But what true fan, Abrams included, hasn’t had a beef with the franchise? Like 3PO and R2-D2, Star Wars and Daniels have something deeper than love: commitment. “People say, ‘What’s it like to go back to C-3PO?’” Daniels says. “Well, I never left him.”

So great. I can’t wait to see the movie.

How to become less shy | David Cain →

Another great piece by David Cain:

We ought to devote a subject in grade school to certain social micro-skills: how to finish a sentence without tapering off; how to make non-threatening eye-contact; how to ask questions people actually enjoy answering; how to move a conversation along when it starts to stall; how to ask for something; how to say something dumb and not make a big deal of it.

Building these skills reverses the direction of the shyness feedback loop. It is not an overstatement to say this: these skills make nearly every aspect of life easier, every day, forever.

Renting is throwing money away… right? | Paula Pant →

Super thorough analysis on the advantages and disadvantages of renting vs. buying a house. This piece assumes you live in the US, but many of its principles are applicable worldwide. If you’re thinking about buying a house, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Introduction to margin | Shawn Blanc →

Great two-part series by Shawn Blanc on the concept of margin:

When you think of margin in your life, think of health. Physical health, emotional health, mental health, relational health, financial health, creative health.

  • Margin in your finances means you’re living within your means and even have a rainy day fund.

  • Margin in your schedule means you have time to do the things you need to do as well as the things you want to do.

  • Margin in your emotions means you don’t live constantly on the edge — losing your temper or your patience at the drop of a hat.

  • Margin for your thoughts means you have the wherewithal to make clear decisions and focus on your most important work.

The Panasonic Lumix GX8 vs GX7 showdown | Tyson Robichaud →

Tyson Robichaud has been quite vocal in his love for the Panasonic GX7 Micro Four Thirds camera. In this in-depth article he compares it with the new GX8 and tries to find out how much of an upgrade it really is:

While it has been a wonderful couple of years with my GX7, I feel that the torch has successfully been passed. For me, the combo of the GX8 and the GM1 (which will stick around for a while longer as my compact, 2nd body) will provide me with the best 1, 2 punch for the system as I need it to function. The new 20.2mp sensor is a solid upgrade in most every way and while it hasn’t necessarily been seen as such by many reviews I’ve read, I feel that I didn’t really start to see the advantages until I really dug in and explored the files in varying situations.

The Leica SL (type 601) camera review | Steve Huff →

Steve Huff names the new Leica SL as his Camera of the Year 2015. That’s a bold claim, but I’m sorry, I’m not buying it. While I usually agree with Steve’s picks, this time around it appears he’s working extremely hard to give the SL the edge over the Sony α7R II, which beats it in pretty much every area, except for the EVF.

He even brushes aside the fact that the SL has banding problems at high ISO settings, which in my opinion would be a deal breaker right there, especially considering the price of the camera. At $7,500 body-only, issues like banding are simply unacceptable.

I get that Steve is excited about the SL, but you can’t gloss over these important issues just because you don’t want them to ruin the glowing tone of your piece. I’m sorry to point this out because, as I said, I respect Steve and usually agree with him, but this review made very little sense to me.


I’m writing these lines on a cold Friday evening in Madrid, but by the time you read them, it’ll be at least Saturday, and I’ll probably be in Plasencia, most likely inside our favorite local bar, definitely drinking wine with my dad.

Earlier in the week — on Tuesday, to be precise — my dad turned 70 years old. It’s an imposing number, even though he doesn’t look his age at all. It’s also an opportunity for reflection, and for appreciation.

He’s acting like his birthday isn’t a big deal this time around, as he invariably does every year. He may be right — the world just keeps on turning, as the song says — but I disagree. I say turning 70 should be a big deal. It should be as big a deal as it freaking gets.

There are not many chances to celebrate in life, even if you’ve been fortunate. Even if it doesn’t look like it right now. No matter how many times you say it, you can still say it a few more: life is good, sometimes.

Say it to your friends, say it to your partner, say it to your mom, and your dad, while you still can.

Life is good, sometimes.

Thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.

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Drew Coffman’s To-Do deep dive →

December 08, 2015 |

Drew Coffman did an amazing deep dive on the best To-Do iOS apps. To call this “comprehensive” would be quite an understatement:

I’ve always felt like I’m at my best when I’m at my most organized. Undoubtably, this is why I’ve always been drawn to calendar and task management apps — and it seems like the options and possibilities are limitless when it comes to choosing which app is right for you, and how to use it.

A common problem that occurs upon initially selecting an app, however, is that at first glance it’s extremely difficult to parse which one actually fits the way that your mind works. So, to answer the question of “which is right for you”, you have to determine what it is that you actually need, and which apps can provide the solutions in a way that feels most natural.

Great, great work. Picking the right productivity app is no easy task — pun intended — because you must understand how each app works in order to figure out which one you like best. Unfortunately, that takes time and effort that could otherwise be devoted to doing actual work.

For example, I used to be a Things user, both on my Mac and on my iPhone, but it ultimately didn’t stick and I ended up abandoning both apps after a few months. Thanks to Drew’s piece, I now understand that Things was never the right app for me, because it simply wasn’t designed to fit the way I think about work.

Had I not read this piece, if I were to try a new productivity app today, my mind would have jumped straight to Omnifocus. That’s the app I’ve heard most of, it is made by people I respect, and it enjoys a sterling reputation in the iOS developer community. So it would have been an easy choice, at least on paper.

However, after reading Drew’s article, I don’t think Omnifocus is right for me, either. The truth is, everything he wrote about makes me think that either Todoist or Wunderlist would be much better suited for me, personally. And I never would have considered giving those apps so much as a chance if not for this piece.

If you’ve been struggling with your productivity app of choice, or are looking to try one for the first time, I can’t recommend this article enough.

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