AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

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November 28, 2015

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

Issue #25: The worst app, the brain vs. the heart, and 20 years of Pixar animation

With the Thanksgiving holiday and the Black Friday in the US, this was kind of a slow week on the writing front and as a result, this issue contains fewer items than usual. That said, these are all great pieces well worth your time.

Enjoy.

Apple Pencil review | Myke Hurley →

Great review by Relay FM’s Myke Hurley, guest-posting at The Pen Addict:

Let’s face it, it is extremely unlikely that any digital experience is going to ever be able to replicate the feel of a pencil or a pen gliding across a piece of paper. The joy that we all feel when using our favourite combinations are unlikely to ever be matched by glass and plastic. But that’s not what this product is about.

What I was looking for from the Apple Pencil was to be able to write naturally on the screen, in the size I usually write, and it visually match what I would expect to see.

And it does.

The worst app | Allen Pike →

Allen Pike had to deal with a very uncomfortable support situation recently: a scammy developer had listed his email address as the official support contact for a terrible app. Even worse, when he attempted to report the offending app to Apple, he discovered just how messy the procedure can really be:

Unfortunately, one does not simply contact Apple about an app. The official way to complain about an app is via the “Report a Problem” link from when you buy the app. Of course, I’m not going to buy this scam app just to complain about it, so I dug up an alternate form to report a problem. Maddeningly, one of the required fields on that form is an order number - the one you receive when you buy the app. Stalemate.

The good news is, he finally managed to get the app taken down, but he did have to shell out $3.49 CAD to buy the app in order to get Apple to engage. The whole story is surreal.

Which do you enjoy more? | Ben Brooks →

Ben Brooks continues to fire away one awesome article after another in his quest to meet the 50,000-word goal he set for himself this month. In this one, he writes about the internal struggle many people feel between making emotional purchases and rational ones — or, as he put it, between the heart and the brain:

But the middle, the people who adopt some, but not all of the new things — they aren’t any better off, because no one adopts only the right things at the right time. You can’t actually be in the middle, you just can only be less extreme. In other words you may desperately try to print shipping labels from USPS, but at the same time refuse to send email because the hand written letter is the highest form of correspondence.

People who straddle both extremes like this aren’t any better, they are just weirder than people at either of the two extremes. Because at least those at an extreme end are consistent with how they act.

Agreed. I’m afraid I’m one of those weird people straddling both extremes. In point of fact, to use one of his own examples, I just spent way too much money on a leather Brixton messenger bag from Ona, but I also own all three of GORUCK’s original backpacks. Similarly, I’m all over Amazon and same-day Prime shipping for most of my purchases, but I shave using a decades-old straight razor. I own the current-generation Sony α7 II, but I spend countless hours shooting and scanning film with a Canon AE-1 Program camera that is older than I am. I subscribe to both Spotify and Apple Music, but I also own a growing vinyl collection and a 35-year-old record player.

It’s complicated.

Like Ben said, it’s all about making choices you can be at peace with. Sometimes I find that peace in the latest and greatest technology. Others, however, I’m all about the traditional stuff. At the end of the day, whatever works for you is the right choice. So be at peace.

The Silicon Valley suicides | Hanna Rosin →

Incredibly in-depth story by Hanna Rosin for The Atlantic, where she tries to uncover the reasons behind recent teen suicide clusters in Silicon Valley. This is investigative journalism at its best:

Suicide clusters—defined as multiple deaths in close succession and proximity—feed on viral news, which feeds on social connections. McGee and the other administrators worried about vulnerable students reading too many details and overidentifying with Cameron. He had played basketball for years, so he knew people at both public high schools in town; his sister was in middle school; he seemed to have friends everywhere, and the grief was gathering momentum. Diorio had been the head of guidance at Palo Alto High (“Paly,” as it’s known in the community) in 2009 and 2010, during the last suicide cluster, but the big differences this time, she told me, were smartphones and social media. All day long, kids at Paly could get updates from Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. By second period many already knew it was the Caltrain, again. That day, like every day, you could hear the train from most of the classrooms, passing every 20 minutes or so. That day, one student later told me, the warning whistle seemed like the cannon that goes off in The Hunger Games every time a kid dies.

Fuji 35mm f/1.4 vs. Fuji 35mm f/2 | Jordan Steele →

Jordan compares Fuji’s new and affordable 35mm f/2 lens with the highly-regarded 35mm f/1.4 lens, and the results are surprising:

Both lenses are quality optics, but it’s clear to me that the 35mm f/2 shows some clear improvement in optical quality over the 35mm f/1.4. Both will do a great job, and the f/1.4 lens draws beautifully while providing that extra stop of speed, but the 35mm f/2 shows what Fuji can do with an extra few years of lens design for the X-Series.

The 35mm f/2 completely outclasses the faster f/1.4 lens in terms of sharpness throughout most of the aperture range, especially in the corners. Best of all, it costs $200 less. Unless you absolutely need that extra stop of speed, the new lens appears to be a significantly better value.

The Quest for the Absolute | Benoit Lapray →

This awesome project by photographer and digital retoucher Benoit Lapray showcases several superheroes pursuing solitude in nature. I love the gorgeous landscapes and how he paints these very popular characters in a completely different light. Great stuff. Via The Phoblographer.

VOTD: A Tribute to 20 Years of Masterful Storytelling from Pixar Animation | Ethan Anderton →

Ethan Anderton, writing for /Film:

While Pixar Animation is nearly 30 years old, it’s only been 20 years since the company ventured into feature length, computer animated filmmaking with Toy Story. The film was an instant classic in 1996 and it spawned two successful, acclaimed sequels with a fourth installment on the way in 2017, and it was just the beginning of what the animation house had to offer.

In celebration of Pixar’s milestone anniversary this year, editor Kees van Dijkhuizen has paid tribute to Pixar with a supercut of the films they’ve made over the years, from their early shorts to this year’s feature films. You might find yourself getting some tears in your eyes since it’s accompanied by Michael Giacchino‘s score from Up.

Definitely keep some tissues handy:

Afterword

It seems my weeks go by faster and faster with each issue. I’m not sure that’s entirely a good thing, but I’ll take it.

In case you missed it, my review of the Sony α7 II camera was published on Tools & Toys earlier in the week. I’m quite happy with how this one turned out, but as they say, there’s no rest for the wicked.

I’m already working on my next review, which will definitely be shorter, but also hopefully remain useful, entertaining, and interesting to read. Those are three of my goals whenever I write a review — or anything else, for that matter. As accustomed as I am to reading and writing those pieces by now, it’s sometimes still easy to get too focused on the details while losing sight of the big picture, the greater point you’re trying to get across in the piece.

With product reviews, the goal is clear. Any review worth its salt should, at the very least, give you a clear idea of how the product works, what kind of results you can achieve with it, and what kind of user experience you can get out of it.

The specifics and technical details, while important, come in a distant second for me. Whenever I read a review, I don’t need it to tell me details I can read in a spec-sheet. It’s fine that those details are there in the article — and they should be — but it’s not the reason I’m reading.

For that reason, I try not to obsess about that when writing a review. Instead, my focus is usually on what it feels like to use a product, and whether it’s one I’d recommend to others. That, to me, is the ultimate test to any given product.

The α7 II, like most of the products I’ve reviewed, passes that test with flying colors.

I believe that’s all for this week. The next one things will probably be back to normal, whatever normal means on the Internet.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and thank you for reading.

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A matter of respect

November 26, 2015

Those of you who have been following the Samantha Bielefeld saga may already know that a few days ago, new information was made public that caused many people, myself included, to question our role in this whole thing.

It appears — at this point I consider it proven — that Samantha Bielefeld’s real identity is actually a man named Victor Wynn Johnson. Not only that, but this man has been accused of being a pathological liar and a conman in the past, long before Samantha ever entered the picture.

For obvious reasons, that has some very important implications.

Actions

That a man would pass himself off as a woman in order to use a very real and serious issue — the struggle of women in tech — to get attention is already bad enough,1 but it gets worse.

If Bielefeld’s identity is finally confirmed as Victor Johnson, that also means he staged the whole harassment claim that got the ball rolling in the first place, and ended up becoming this huge mess that’s tarnished many a reputation, including mine.

If the above is unequivocally confirmed, despicable doesn’t even cut it.

You may reasonably ask for proof. Currently, the strongest evidence we have was published yesterday by Amy Jane Gruber. Samantha’s IP address matches that of Victor, a fact that can be verified by inspecting the headers of email messages received by John Gruber from both identities.

Now, I’m well aware that IP addresses don’t unequivocally identify people, but we’re talking needle-in-a-haystack odds here. Add to that the fact that both Samantha and Victor had a very similar — and quite uncommon — joke in their blog’s footer, and it becomes as close to a smoking gun as we can realistically expect to get.

I mean, seriously, if you’re a harassed woman, what are the odds of you using the same joke in your blog AND having the same IP address as the man you’ve publicly accused of harassing you?

Right now the only thing that could surpass this level of proof is an outright confession from Victor, but that doesn’t appear very likely. Samantha, in turn, has denied the accusation of being Victor. That may be enough for some, but at this point I consider the burden of proof to be on her.

Which brings me to my next point.

Consequences

For clarity’s sake, I will continue to refer to this person as Samantha and use the female pronoun “her” when commenting on the actions carried out under that identity.

The way I see it, there are two separate issues at play here: Samantha’s criticism of Marco Arment over the patronage model for Overcast, and her alleged harassment at the hands of Marco’s friends and followers.

Those two issues are obviously related, but they are indeed separate. I maintain that many of the points she made on the patronage issue were valid, but the fact that she would fabricate harassment claims just to get attention strikes me as one of the most dishonorable things one can do on the Internet. And when that comes at the expense of a developer’s reputation, the whole thing becomes downright disgusting.

As I said on twitter yesterday, I may still agree with many of her points, but I can’t, in good conscience, support her anymore.

Some people argue that the fact that she made valid points should be enough to redeem her. That she shouldn’t be condemned because she was speaking the truth about important issues in the Apple community that nobody else was willing to talk about.

I could not disagree more with that assessment.

It all comes down to respect. Faking harassment to get attention is just about the most disrespectful thing I can think of, and it completely squanders whatever measure of trust I may have felt towards this person before.

I have no time and attention for someone who clearly does not respect me as a reader. Even if she’s right about patronage, or whatever else she keeps writing about in the future.

Luckily, Samantha Bielefeld does not exclusively own the rights to complaining about the economics of the App Store — or any other topic, for that matter. We do not need her to be the voice to agitate the consciences of the developer community. Others will surely pick up that fight, and I will be glad to support them instead.

An apology

I’ve been writing here at Analog Senses for over six years now. Throughout that time, I’ve always done my best to be respectful towards my readers. I have never taken any shortcuts, and I have never published anything I didn’t honestly believe to be the truth, to the best of my knowledge. That is a line I will never cross here.

When I wrote about this last month, I was going off publicly available information. Clearly others knew more about the situation than they were letting on,2 but I didn’t. I took Samantha’s claims of being harassed at face value, and by publicly defending her, I staked my reputation on that claim.

I was wrong about her, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.

Had I not spoken up about it at the time, I feel I would have done even more of a disservice to my readers. When something like this happens, I don’t want to be the person that watches from the sidelines, too afraid of getting in trouble to do anything about it.

That said, I should have been more careful and gotten my facts straight before placing my trust on this person, and especially before asking you, my readers, to do the same. I was wrong, and I’m very sorry I misled you.

I also owe someone else an apology, and that someone is Marco.

I made several assumptions and character judgements about Marco in my piece that painted him as petty and vindictive. Those assumptions were not only unwarranted, speculative and colossally wrong, they were extremely out of place, and inappropriate.

I am really sorry for that.

I may disagree with some of his business decisions, but I deeply respect Marco. I had no right to question his character, and truth be told, I’ve never witnessed anything that would make me think badly of him as a person.

Surely Marco has done enough over the years to earn the benefit of the doubt, and I am ashamed I didn’t give it to him. If I were ever accused of something like this, I’d like to be given the benefit of the doubt, too. After all, what good is a reputation if we turn on each other at the first sign of trouble?

Moving on

I don’t think we’ll ever get 100% conclusive, unequivocal proof of Samantha Bielefeld’s real identity, but honestly, at this point I don’t really care anymore. I’m moving on, and I suggest you do the same.

I hope I can live up to your trust in the future, and the best way I know how to do that is to get back to work. I have a lot more writing to get done before the holidays, including several reviews in the pipeline. Clearly I have my work cut out for me, which is just the way I like it.

I know I usually say this, but today I need to say it more than ever:

Thank you for reading.


  1. Not to mention the fact that he used that attention to launch a membership program and take people’s money under false pretenses.

  2. I don’t want to put anyone on the spot, but I can’t help but feel that if those people had gone public before, it would have saved a ton of headache for everyone.

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The Ultimate Holiday Millennialsplainer Guide →

November 25, 2015 |

Sid O’Neill:

This week, families will gather to argue heatedly over lukewarm turkey, pallid vegetables, and the dregs of the Franzia. Here are some of the topics that will inevitably be introduced by some uncle (who probably doesn’t even read Slate or HuffPo) and some tips on how to decisively win the ensuing battle.

Great stuff.

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So I pulled a Siracusa — with all due respect — and wrote about 11,000 words on the Sony α7 II for Tools & Toys.

This is the most in-depth review I’ve ever written, and there were still a few more things I could have said about it.

I’ve owned the α7 II for 3 and a half months and in that time, I’ve used it extensively as my main camera. I now feel as comfortable with it as I’ve ever felt with any other camera, and yet I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of what it can do.

This is without a doubt the best camera I’ve ever used, although I do miss a few of the features I had grown accustomed to on my Olympus E-M10. That goes to show what an incredible value the little E-M10 is.

If you’d like to read more — much more — about the α7 II, head on over to Tools & Toys to check out my full review, or feel free to send it over to your read-it-later service of choice.

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November 21, 2015

How was your week? Welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee.

In what seems like a first, there’s not a single Apple-related piece on this week’s roundup. I’m actually proud that it only took 24 issues.

Issue #24: Rdio’s death, how not to die on a bike in London, and the space doctor’s big idea

Fear not: despite the lack of any fruit-flavored pieces, there’s plenty of interesting writing here to keep you entertained all weekend. I don’t know what the weather’s like where you live, but here in Madrid it’s cold and cloudy — in other words, perfect for brewing a hot cup of delicious coffee and getting some quality reading done.

Let’s get to it.

They never even tried for value | Ben Brooks →

Ben has been on fire recently, as he works towards his goal of publishing 50,000 words to The Brooks Review during the month of November. But the best thing about it isn’t that he’s publishing many more words than usual, it’s that he’s publishing great words, period.

This piece on the troubled relationship between publishers, advertisers, and readers is a perfect example:

Advertisers want sites which draw the smartest, most wealthy readers possible. Sites want to to draw whatever advertisers want, but with little risk and little expense to them. Readers, especially the smart and wealthy ones, want the best content they can find — wherever they might find that content.

The problem isn’t attention spans at all, the problem is most sites are filled with shitty content. And that shitty content must be waded through in order to find the good content.

Why Rdio died | Casey Newton →

Earlier in the week, music streaming service Rdio filed for bankruptcy. The service as we know it will soon cease to exist, and the company will sell its parts to Pandora. This is the unfortunate end of Rdio’s struggle to compete against Spotify, but there are a few valuable lessons in here.

This piece by Casey Newton is an excellent post-mortem analysis on what exactly went wrong and, perhaps more importantly, why:

Rdio realized this only belatedly. “Rdio, I guess, made the mistake of trying to be sustainable too early,” Miner says. “That classic startup mistake of worrying about being profitable and having a business that makes any sense before you’ve reached this astronomical growth curve. Which is partly the trap of the business model itself — because of the content licensing deals, the margins for the business were so incredibly thin. No matter what we did, the labels made the lion’s share of the revenue. You have to make it up with extreme volume, which is why you see Spotify going after every human being in the world.”

And yet even with more than 75 million users and 20 million paid users, Spotify still isn’t profitable. It remains to be seen whether Apple or Google can turn their own streaming offerings into viable businesses — or whether they will simply use music as a loss leader to draw consumers further into their respective ecosystems, making the money back on hardware sales or other services.

If Spotify isn’t profitable with its massive popularity, who the hell can be? I’m no industry expert, but this very much sounds like a broken system to me.

Registration complete! | Porter Fox →

Hilarious take on password recovery over at The New Yorker.

How not to die on a bike in London | Haley Campbell →

Some really useful practical advice by Haley Campbell:

12. Nurses treat you better if you were wearing a helmet when it all went wrong. Even if the helmet actively made your injuries worse, the nurse is slightly less likely to badmouth you to the doctor inspecting your face/remains of your mouth. Wear a helmet but know it’s for nurses, not your own head.

Pretty much. Also:

14. Related: There is a man in London with “FUCK” tattooed down one calf and “TAXIS” down the other. He wears shorts all winter and even Criswell can predict how he is going to die.

My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up. | Fay Wells →

Terrifying story by Fay Wells over at The Washington Post:

I said it was only me and, hands still raised, slowly descended the stairs, focused on one officer’s eyes and on his pistol. I had never looked down the barrel of a gun or at the face of a man with a loaded weapon pointed at me. In his eyes, I saw fear and anger. I had no idea what was happening, but I saw how it would end: I would be dead in the stairwell outside my apartment, because something about me — a 5-foot-7, 125-pound black woman — frightened this man with a gun. I sat down, trying to look even less threatening, trying to de-escalate. I again asked what was going on. I confirmed there were no pets or people inside.

I told the officers I didn’t want them in my apartment. I said they had no right to be there. They entered anyway. One pulled me, hands behind my back, out to the street. The neighbors were watching. Only then did I notice the ocean of officers. I counted 16. They still hadn’t told me why they’d come.

Impregnated by a speeding bullet, and other tall tales | Rose Eveleth →

Rose Eveleth writes about one of the most unbelievable stories I’ve ever heard of over at The Atlantic. She makes an excellent point on the dangers of confounding science with myth:

If this sounds extremely unlikely, that’s because it is. In fact, it never happened. The article in The American Medical Weekly was satire, a joke meant to poke fun at the aggrandized Civil War stories the doctor kept hearing. Two weeks later the journal ran an editor’s note clarifying that the piece had been a gag. But somehow, along the chain, the fact that it was a joke got lost. And the story of the impregnating bullet persisted as medical fact as late as 1959.

That’s scary.

The space doctor’s big idea | Randall Munroe →

This is easily my favorite piece of the week. Randall Munroe, of xkcd fame, explains Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language over at The New Yorker:

The first idea is called the special idea, because it covers only a few special parts of space and time. The other one—the big idea—covers all the stuff that is left out by the special idea. The big idea is a lot harder to understand than the special one. People who are good at numbers can use the special idea to answer questions pretty easily, but you have to know a lot about numbers to do anything with the big idea. To understand the big idea—the hard one—it helps to understand the special idea first.

Better buckle up, it’s gonna get bumpy.

Canon EF lenses on Sony a7 II (Firmware 2.0)| Jordan Steele →

Earlier in the week, I published my first impressions on the 2.0 firmware version for the Sony a7 II. I specifically compared the newly available uncompressed RAW files with the previous compressed ones, and found there wasn’t much of a difference in image quality between them.

Jordan Steele also wrote about the 2.0 firmware update, but he decided to focus on the other main feature of the new firmware, and arguably the more important one. He tested several Canon EF lenses with two different adapters on the a7 II, and found that autofocus performance is indeed vastly improved thanks to the use of phase-detection autofocus, something that was previously unavailable for 3rd-party lenses.

It appears Jordan’s findings are right in line with what I expected:

I’ll be updating this post over the next few days as I get more experience with using these lenses to see if my initial impressions change. However, even after this short display, I feel that the Firmware 2.0 truly makes many Canon lenses viable for everyday use on the Sony A7 II. You’re not going to get native speed and compatibility, but provided the lens works well with the adapter, you won’t be too far off in most cases. It’s a dramatic change for the better in using Canon lenses, and it opens up some options for the focal lengths that are lacking in the Sony FE lineup, or are too expensive to bother with.

Review: Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag | Chris Gampat →

Neat review of a very interesting bag over at The Phoblographer. Chris Gampat liked the Everyday Messenger so much he even gave it an Editor’s Choice award, but there’s a caveat:

My biggest gripe about the bag has to do with the shoulder strap. It’s a bag clearly designed to be slung over the left shoulder. Because of the design being mostly padding, wearing it on your right shoulder requires you to reverse the entire strap. Reversing the strap is a painful ordeal that doesn’t make future adjustment of it on your body the simplest to do. In order to reverse the strap, you need to take the entire thing out and unthread it from the loops. Then you need to thread it back in the reverse way. Considering how thick the padding is and how you’ll need to thread the strap back in a way that makes adjustment simpler, it’s frankly the biggest pain in the ass about this bag.

I always wear my messenger bags on my right shoulder, so I’m a bit concerned about this. Luckily, it is possible to reverse the strap, even if it’s cumbersome, but this still sounds like a pretty big design flaw if you ask me.

Afterword

I do hope your week went well, in spite of everything that’s happening all over the world. If it’s alright with you, for once, I’d rather not comment anymore on what’s going on. Others have already said plenty, so I’d like to briefly focus on something more pleasant instead.

This past Wednesday was the 30th anniversary of my favorite comic strip: Calvin and Hobbes. Of course, I posted a brief link about it on that same day, but I’d like to share a bit more about exactly what it is that I love about this strip.

I was two years old when the first Calvin and Hobbes strip was published, but it took a bit longer for me to actually meet them for the first time. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I must have been between 6 and 8 years old, roughly the same age Calvin is in the comics.

What I do remember is how I instantly fell in love with the strip, and how eagerly I devoured as many issues as I could possibly get my hands on. I used to do that a lot as a kid. Even now, as an adult, I still do.

Of course, back then, much of the strip’s subtlety was lost on me. I wasn’t aware of many of the clearly adult themes and life lessons that were masterfully embedded in this seemingly childish strip, and it was only when I revisited it as an adult that I became aware of how exquisitely complex and layered the strip really is. Naturally, I fell in love with it all over again, for very different reasons.

That’s the magic of Calvin and Hobbes: there’s something in it for everyone. Read it, and it will change you. No other work of fiction I’ve ever read or watched has ever affected me this deeply.

I say revisited, but the truth is I never really stopped reading Calvin and Hobbes. It’s always been a constant presence in my life, and I have no doubt it has shaped many aspects of my personality, as well as my values. I certainly have much to thank Calvin and Hobbes for.

Coincidentally, I share a birthday with the strip author’s, the great Bill Watterson. One of my favorite things about Calvin and Hobbes is how true to its original concept it has stayed all through the years, despite clearly being a huge critical and commercial hit.

Watterson could have milked his creation as much as he’d wanted to — and who’d have blamed him — but he deliberately chose not to. He left a ton of money on the table in order to protect his original vision, and to ensure his legacy is preserved.

That takes courage — or insanity, I suppose. It also takes conviction, and no small amount of integrity. For that alone, Bill Watterson will always be one of my heroes.

Happy birthday, Calvin. Happy birthday, Hobbes. I can’t wait for my kids to meet you one day.

It’s time to wrap up this issue. I’m still hard at work on my review of the Sony a7 II, which should be ready for publication soon. The rest of my weekend will be spent writing and processing photos, but given the chilly weather, I’m actually looking forward to it. I have lots of things to say about this very interesting camera, so stay tuned for more if you’re interested.

Thank you for reading, and have a great weekend.

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Calvin and Hobbes started adventuring together 30 years ago today →

November 18, 2015 |

Kim Bellware, writing for the Huffington Post:

Thirty years ago, a spiky-haired little boy set a trap with a tuna fish sandwich, and one of the most iconic friendships in comic strip history was born.

The first strip of “Calvin And Hobbes” ran on Nov. 18, 1985, introducing the world to the mischievous young Calvin (named for the 16th-century theologian) and his pet tiger Hobbes (named for the 17th-century philosopher).

This made my day.

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First impressions on the 2.0 firmware update for the Sony a7 II camera: compressed vs uncompressed RAW

November 18, 2015

Sony released the 2.0 firmware update for the Sony a7 II Full Frame E-mount camera yesterday, a day earlier than expected. The new firmware is available on the Sony Europe site, and you can access the Mac version of the updater here.

I’ve already updated my a7 II and so far, nothing seems to have broken in the process. The update procedure is somewhat finicky though, and I had to try a couple times before my iMac successfully recognized the camera and allowed me to move forward.

Testing the compressed vs uncompressed RAW files

I still haven’t had much time to test the new firmware, other than to verify that I can now select uncompressed RAW as an option and take a few test shots. According to MirrorLessons’ own testing with the a7R II, the uncompressed RAW files bring only slight improvements in image quality, and only in certain situations, like when trying to recover shadow detail from heavily underexposed shots by raising exposure in post production.

With that in mind, I set up a quick test scene to see if I could find a similar difference here myself:

As you can see, there’s quite a bit of underexposure going on here, so this should work nicely. Here’s the same image with the exposure cranked up by two full stops.

Now things are starting to look better. Here’s a 100% crop of the central area (2,000 pixels wide, image optimized for Retina displays):

The JPEG export above was created from the regular compressed RAW, with my usual settings for Analog Senses. For comparison, here’s a similar crop exported from an uncompressed RAW:

Can you see any differences? I can’t. Now let’s see what happens if we raise exposure by three full stops. Again, first an image created from the regular compressed RAW:

And now a similar crop exported from an uncompressed RAW:

See anything yet? Me neither.

If you want to do some pixel-peeping, I’ve also shared the full-resolution high-quality JPEGs on Flickr. Go ahead and knock yourself out.

The takeaway

After reading so many complaints about the lack of uncompressed RAW support in the a7-series cameras, and how that meant these cameras were totally unsuitable for professional use for that very reason, I was curious to try this firmware update and see for myself.

Now that I have, if we’re being honest, it’s hard to call the results of this (very brief and completely unscientific) test anything but underwhelming.

Seriously, what’s the benefit?

For reference, uncompressed RAW files in the a7 II are a rather hefty 49.2 MB in average, roughly double the size of the compressed files. That extra size means everything about using the camera becomes twice as slow when shooting with the uncompressed RAW option turned on. For example, it takes twice as long to write images to the SD card, meaning you’ll often need to wait a few seconds to review your images. More importantly, you can only take half as many shots in burst mode before exhausting your buffer, which is a much bigger issue in practical use. That, to me, is a deal breaker right there.

Having said that, this is hardly Sony’s fault.

It appears the uncompressed RAW movement was largely misguided, and Sony’s compression algorithm was actually doing a pretty great job of keeping file sizes down while preserving nearly all detail in the files. That’s impressive, and Sony should be commended for daring to implement the compression algorithm in the first place. In an industry where the two biggest companies refuse to innovate, Sony made a bold bet, and to me it seems to have paid off nicely.

It seems obvious in hindsight that Sony only enabled this feature to silence its critics, but they must have known full well it wouldn’t have any meaningful impact on image quality. Many people will now say that Sony’s cameras are underpowered and that’s the reason why they can’t handle the uncompressed files, or use lossless compression, without slowing down the user experience. That may be true, but it’s hard to criticize Sony for it. They designed a camera based on certain requirements, and we’re the ones demanding that they make it work under twice the load.

The way I see it, the vast majority of users will probably turn on uncompressed RAW, try it for a while, then turn it back off and never think of it again. And in the end, it’s probably for the best.

I can tell you right now that, if the results of my test are even remotely indicative of more extensive real-world shooting, I won’t be using this feature at all. I much prefer to deal with smaller RAW files and enjoy a more responsive camera, than to use up tons of storage for a nearly imperceptible improvement in post-processing latitude. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Phase-detection autofocus and the new 3rd-party lens landscape

Since I don’t own a Canon EF adapter, I haven’t been able to test the new phase-detection AF system yet, but I’ve read reports from several users stating that performance is vastly improved, much like on the a7R II camera.

If everything works as advertised — and there’s no reason to doubt that — the new phase-detection AF means I have a few difficult choices ahead of me. Up to now, I’d never seriously considered buying Canon lenses, or even A-mount Sony lenses, due to their well-documented poor AF performance on the a7 II. In my mind, adapted lenses were primarily a nice-to-have feature for users who were switching from other systems and already owned several high-end lenses that they were looking to bring over with them to the E-mount system.

Since I was starting from scratch, going with native E-mount lenses was always the more sensible choice for me. Many people will still feel that way even after the firmware update, but there’s no denying the lens landscape has improved dramatically overnight.

If, for example, I didn’t already own the Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 lens, I’d definitely consider the amazing Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 as an alternative. That lens is quite expensive in the US, coming in at $1,299, but it sells for under $900 on Amazon Spain, which makes it a killer deal.

Similarly, I’ve been looking to buy a nice 35mm f/1.4 lens for a while, and until today my only realistic choice was the excellent but expensive Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon. That lens comes in at a whopping $1,598, which is too steep a price for me to justify it right now. However, the superb Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens “only” costs $899, which makes it a much more reasonable alternative. I could even buy the newest version of the Metabones EF adapter together with the Sigma lens and I would still spend about $300 lens than with the Zeiss lens alone. And as an added bonus, I could also use the Sigma lens with my Canon EOS 3 film camera.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Of course, you give up certain features by going with 3rd-party lenses, and that’s worth keeping in mind. Eye-detect AF doesn’t work with adapted lenses, for example, so if you rely heavily on that feature, you may want to stick to native E-mount lenses for now. Similarly, there are certain 3rd-party lenses that don’t work reliably with adapters, like the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II, especially towards the long end of the zoom range. If you primarily use long lenses, be sure to check that they work reliably with your adapter before buying.

In any case, having so many excellent 3rd-party lenses that are now perfectly usable with the a7 II is great news for all users, myself included, and things are bound to get even better in the future, as adapter manufacturers continue to iron out any remaining bugs.

At the end of the day, despite the relatively disappointing results of my uncompressed RAW test, Sony continues to deliver exceptional value and a great set of innovative features to their users, and that can only be a good thing. I continue to be extremely happy with my a7 II, and can’t wait to see what Sony has in store for the future.

One thing I know, though, I’ll be enjoying every step of the way there.

♤ ♧ ♡ ♢

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.

Afterword

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.

♤ ♧ ♡ ♢