AnalogSenses

By ÁLVARO SERRANO

October 24, 2015

This week marks the 20th issue of Morning Coffee. Over the past few months I’ve tweaked the format a little bit but it’s fair to say that, for the most part, Morning Coffee has remained true to its original formula.

I’m now considering making more changes to the format, and maybe even offering it as a newsletter instead, or alongside the existing one. I will continue to think about this over the next couple of weeks, but if you have any comments or suggestions on how to improve Morning Coffee, I’d be most interested to know what you think.

Now, let’s move on to some interesting pieces of writing. Enjoy.

Issue #20: Apple accessories, Microsoft lapblets — or is it tabtops? — and one too many lens comparisons

This week’s selection turned out quite a bit a bit nerdier than usual. That comes as a result of the tech industry’s natural pace — reviews for new products tend to appear all within just a few days of each other — but was also caused by my own work, and the sort of research I dive into when writing a review.

This time around, my research has me knee-deep in lens comparison pieces, and so it was only natural that a few of them would make it into this issue. Other than that, Apple and Microsoft have been busy lately and as a result, so have been Apple and Microsoft writers. Finally, there are also a few pieces on Analytics, Mac Pros, Filed Notes, James Bond, and the difference between farther and further. See? Nerdy. I told you.

If you’re ready to move further — but not farther — grab your favorite beverage, and let’s get started.

Magic Keyboard review | Rene Ritchie →

Rene Ritchie reviewed all of the new “Magic” Apple accessories over the week. His reviews were not only insightful and interesting to read, as usual, but they were chock-full of cool pictures showing the new accessories in the best possible light.

If you enjoyed this one, don’t forget to also check out Rene’s reviews of the Magic Mouse 2, and the Magic Trackpad 2. Good stuff.

Why I bought a ginormous iPhone | Aleen Simms →

Nice pro-Plus argument from Aleen Simms:

Pockets were also not much of a consideration. When the bigger phones were announced last fall, I was concerned that the iPhone 6 would be too big to fit comfortably in my front jeans pocket, where my cell phones have lived since the early 2000s. As it turns out, I was right. It didn’t take long before I mostly abandoned my front pocket and started carrying my phone either in my hand or back pocket, removing it when I sat down. My phone only goes in a bag when I’m making my way through airport security.

Sometimes I forget that both of these iPhones are pretty big, certainly bigger than my beloved iPhone 5S. For many people, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6S is already too big to comfortably fit in their front pockets, which means the extra benefits of the 6S Plus come with almost no extra penalty in terms of convenience.

Once you have to carry your phone in some other pocket, or in a bag, it doesn’t really matter which model you own. For those people — and I may very well be one of them — the iPhone 6S Plus definitely seems like the one that would provide the most value.

Racking Mac Pros | IMGIX staff →

Terrific — and super nerdy — story on how IMGIX managed to rack-mount several of the new, cylindrical Mac Pros in order to use them as image rendering servers:

The R2 design consists of a metal chassis which houses four Mac Pros in a horizontal, sideways orientation with separate hot and cold air compartments. This chassis allows us to mount Mac Pros as we would any other server: on rails, in a rectangular enclosure, and with front and rear port access. The chassis itself is completely passive (although it could be adapted for fans in poorly ventilated sites). Each system within the chassis operates independently of the others.

Honestly, I doubt all this trouble was worth it, other than for the PR value. In terms of actual raw processing power, surely there must be a more efficient — not to mention cheaper — way to build something powerful enough for their needs.

Surface Pro 4 review: The tablet that still doesn’t quite replace your laptop | Peter Bright →

Solid review by Peter Bright. The Surface has matured into a nice product, and it’s easy to see why some people would prefer it to an iPad. That said, I believe this pressure to be the device that has to replace your laptop is keeping it from realizing its true potential.

If Microsoft embraced what the Surface actually is — an excellent tablet computer that’s making some wrong compromises — they’d have a much better shot at creating a hit.

Microsoft Surface Book and Surface Pro 4 review: New hope for Windows hardware | Joanna Stern →

Another interesting and mostly positive take on Microsoft’s latest hardware announcements:

It’s not that simple, though. The Surface Book is a laptop, but it moonlights as a tablet with its detachable 13.5-inch touchscreen. And then there’s the new Surface Pro 4, a tablet that can pretend to be a laptop—if you buy its much-improved keyboard dock.

That may sound like a riddle, but at least it’s one that will eventually solve itself. Both new Surface PCs point to a future where we have fewer gadgets that do more. For now, there are a couple of distinct (and sometimes painful) sacrifices you must make for combining the tablet and the laptop.

The Surface Book and the Surface Pro are two sides of the same coin for Microsoft. In my opinion, they’d be much better off letting each device embrace its own category: let the Surface Book be a great laptop, and the Surface Pro be a great tablet. This sort of middle-ground approach may please some people, but it will delight no one.

Death to Analytics | Ben Brooks →

Great piece by Ben Brooks:

That stress of only reaching 20 people, or the even worse stress of reaching thousands of people. Knowing how many people read your site will effect what you say, and what you write about. You’ll hold back because your audience is too large, or not edit enough because you audience is too small.

But if you don’t know the size of your audience great things can happen.

This is so true. Self-censorship is a very real problem when you’re too concerned about the way your own audience will perceive your work. It’s ironic, because it’s getting the whole thing backwards: your audience follows you because they like your work, not the other way around. We shouldn’t write trying to please an audience, but instead produce genuine work we love, and let the right audience find it.

To that end, turning Analytics off could very well work, although it may not be enough. After all, there are other ways to be aware of the size of your audience — Twitter followers, for one. You’d probably need to live a hermit-like online life to remain oblivious to all the metrics, but that would be missing the point.

Turning Analytics off is making a statement, and a promise to yourself. Keeping that promise, of course, is then up to you.

Daniel Craig on James Bond | Rüdiger Sturm →

This is a great interview with Daniel Craig, shortly before the release of the next film in the Bond franchise: SPECTRE. What I found most interesting from the exchange is just how detached Craig seems to be from the role. It’s as though he’s trying to make the point that he’s very much not like Bond, and that there’s nothing particularly admirable about the character in his mind:

But James Bond is one of the most legendary movie heroes of all time. Surely he must have a couple of inspirational personality traits?

Let’s not talk these films up as some kind of life-changing experience. Bond is what Bond does. Bond is very single- minded. He takes his own course. And that’s simple, which is great.

Definitely a weird way to promote a picture, but what do I know. At least he’s honest, I’ll give him that.

Field Notes Colors: Shenandoah | Mike Bates →

Loved this story by Mike Bates. His pictures of the new Color edition of Field Notes notebooks are gorgeous. I have to admit I’m not much of a Field Notes user myself — I prefer classic black Moleskine notebooks — but I do love the autumn season, and Mike captured it in perfect fashion.

A day in Cambridge – Hands-On with the Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 (Sony E-Mount) | Mathieu Gasquet →

Mathieu took the just-announced Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8 lens out for a spin, and the results were lovely.

ZEISS Batis 1.8/85 and Batis 2/25 1st Look | 3D-Kraft! →

Nice look at the new Zeiss Batis lenses, including some impressive comparisons between the Batis 85mm f/1.8 and the jaw-dropping - and wallet-melting — Otus 85mm f/1.4:

Even though there was not much time for an in-depth look, I am sure, both members of the new Batis family will find friends easily and sell like hot cakes. The Batis 1.8/85 may not have the level of perfection like an Otus 1.4/85 and relies in some situations a bit more on lens correction profiles provided by camera firmware and/or raw processors but taking into account the enormous resolution and processing speed of today’s cameras, this seems like a very well balanced compromise. This allows to provide a professional grade lens in a compact and lightweight form factor including autofocus and optical stabilization with a reasonable price tag.

The Batis 2/25 surprised me with extraordinary sharpness across the whole frame right from open aperture in a compact, lightweight housing. At f/2.0 you may have to correct some vignetting and some minor CAs but these almost disappear already when you stop down one step to f/2.8. Thanks to its wide aperture and short close focus, it provides additional options to play with depth of field and shows a pleasing bokeh not available when using wide angle zoom lenses.

Most adorable 50s | 3D-Kraft! →

Another super-interesting lens comparison by the folks over at 3D-Kraft!. This time they arranged a comparison between some of the best 50mm Full Frame lenses money can buy:

The candidates this time tested on a Sony A7R:

  • Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM (Nikon mount version)

  • Zeiss FE Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8

  • Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH

  • Zeiss Otus Apo Distagon T* 55mm f/1.4

As pricewise the Sigma Art 50/1.4 and the Zeiss FE 1.8/55 are closest to each other, this test focuses mainly on a direct comparison between these lenses but some aspects are compared in similar settings with the Summilux and the Otus as well.

I came across this piece while doing some research for my upcoming review of the Sony Zeiss FE Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 lens, and couldn’t help but read the entire article in one sitting. Really great comparison, with lots of impressive pictures to go with it.

Further and farther: A theory | Caleb Crain →

Allow me to leave you with this wonderfully intricate and ultra-nerdy explanation of the difference between two of the most commonly misused words in the English language:

A mathematician might say that further is referring to the increase of a vector, and farther to the increase of a distance. To say it in English rather than in math: farther refers to a greater distance, literal or metaphorical, from a shared measuring point. Further refers to a greater progress in a shared direction.

Not quite clear on it yet? Let’s try an example:

If John was able to carry the Holy Grail only a hundred yards into a primeval forest before expiring, and Mary buckled on her armor and picked up the Grail where it lay, her intent would have to be to carry the Grail further, not farther. In fact, it’s possible for her to carry it further even if she doesn’t carry for as great a distance as John carried it.

Got it? Good. Glad we cleared that up.

Afterword

This week I finally got to try one of the greatest home entertainment experiences ever. To those living in the US this will come as a shock, but we only just got Netflix here in Spain. The company started offering the service a mere four days ago, and I signed up for it on Thursday.

In the couple of days I’ve had to use it so far, I have to say I’m really, really impressed. The implementation on the Apple TV is flawless, and the recommendations are great. I am yet to experience any playback issues whatsoever, and the HD quality is stunning.

I was also particularly impressed with how, whenever I switch devices, Netflix keeps track of what I was watching, and even preserves my language and subtitle preferences when I move over to a new device. That may seem like a small detail, but it makes the entire experience much more cohesive, and enjoyable.

Netflix’s arrival in Spain was long overdue, so this gets a well deserved finally. The first rumors that the company was harboring plans to operate in Spain surfaced in 2012, but some sources claim it was quickly discouraged from doing so by Spain’s unreasonable tax system. Allegedly, due to our infamous tax on digital media, Netflix soon realized they wouldn’t be able to offer the service at a competitive price, and so the whole deal went on hold, until now.

I’m not aware of any special negotiations between Netflix and the government, but I’m definitely glad the company finally decided to move ahead with its plans because the truth is, the streaming landscape in Spain was in sore need of disruption.

In the work department, my review of the Sony Zeiss FE Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 lens for Tools & Toys is well underway, and it’s on track to be published on Tuesday.

This has quickly become my favorite lens on the Sony A7 II, partly because I love prime lenses, and partly because it’s just the sharpest lens I’ve ever seen. It also has an incredible bokeh, and handles like a dream in the field.

The Sonnar 55mm wasn’t the first lens I bought, but If I only could have one lens for this camera, it would be this one, without a doubt.

I can’t wait to show you the full review. Until then, thanks for reading, and have a great weekend.

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Sony A7R II: compressed vs. uncompressed RAW files →

October 21, 2015 |

Great post over at MirrorLessons. Long story short, there is a small improvement in image quality, but it’s only noticeable in extreme cases and at high ISOs, and it comes with massive penalties in file size (2x bigger), and performance (number of shots in a burst before the camera slows is cut down in half, and time to write to card roughly doubles).

Honestly, I don’t see a real-world scenario where the new uncompressed files would be worth it. It appears current A7-series cameras simply aren’t equipped with enough processing power to handle fully uncompressed RAW files, which is a bit of a disappointment. This is a wasted opportunity, because had Sony implemented lossless compression, as opposed to no compression at all, performance would probably have been much better.

The good news is, Sony has already shown they’re willing to work on this to get it right, so maybe they’ll add a lossless option in a future firmware update.

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Brent Simmons on Internet abuse →

October 21, 2015 |

Fantastic piece:

The community had always been on my side, so this came as a shock. But I should have remembered Dave Winer’s words to me from 2003, after I released NetNewsWire 1.0. I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, but they were something like this: “You’re the golden boy now. Enjoy it. They’ll turn on you later.”

For the next six months after the pile-on I asked myself every day if I should just quit the industry. Seriously. Every day, and especially every night. I came very close.

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The elephant and the mouse

October 20, 2015

Over the past week I witnessed one of the most uncomfortable and unpleasant controversies of the past few months unfold before my very eyes, and it’s left me feeling uneasy ever since.

On October 13th, precisely one week ago to the day, Marco Arment published an explanatory piece, titled “Pragmatic app pricing”, on the reasons behind his change of business model for Overcast 2.0. You should go read it now if you still haven’t, because the rest of this article largely hinges on what you make of Marco’s words from that piece. Here’s a relevant fragment:

Similar reasoning as last year guided me on this year’s model:

  • I’m not doing anything that other developers can’t do.

  • Nobody is entitled to keep their market share, including me. It’s a constant battle to get and keep customers in a crowded market, and I need to ensure that I don’t fall behind.

  • My previous headlining features are being implemented by more competitors, and this will only increase over time.

Some might say those are the words of a smart businessman doing what he needs to do in order to give his app the best possible chance at long term success. There’s a bit of nuance to that argument, but in my opinion those people would be mostly right. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Other people, however, might argue that Marco’s piece is uncharacteristically defensive and somehow feels off right from the start. They would be right, too.

Both groups have a point, but admittedly I’m leaning more towards the latter. I can’t help but feel that Marco’s second post was unnecessary, mostly because he had already explained his reasons for the change when he announced Overcast 2.0, back on October 9th. This is what he wrote then (emphasis his):

80% of my customers were using an inferior app. The limited, locked version of Overcast without the purchase sure wasn’t the version I used, it wasn’t a great experience, and it wasn’t my best work.

With Overcast 2.0, I’ve changed that by unlocking everything, for everyone, for free. I’d rather have you using Overcast for free than not using it at all, and I want everyone to be using the good version of Overcast.

That right there is all the explanation anyone needed. Of course, many were left wanting to know more, but here’s the thing: we’re not entitled to know any more than Marco feels comfortable sharing with us at any given time. All good businessmen keep a few cards close to their chest because, guess what, that’s how the game is played.

As Elbert Hubbard once said:

Never explain — your friends do not need it and you enemies will not believe you anyway.

What, then, compelled Marco to write and publish his explanatory piece? He’s a smart man, surely he must have known he stood to gain very little from elaborating any further than he already had, right?

I don’t think Marco had a problem with people judging his business decisions, it’s the implied character judgement that goes with it that got to him. The notion that, even if it made sense from a business standpoint, his actions were somehow ethically wrong, and what that says about him as a person.

When you’re attacked on a personal level, defending yourself is an instinctive reaction. And so he did.

However, the more you explain yourself, the more opportunities you give people to poke holes in your narrative. And when someone does so successfully and others seem to agree, the feeling of being under attack only intensifies, as does the instinct to respond in kind.

Samantha Bielefeld was one of those people. On October 14th, she published a piece on her blog, titled The Elephant in the Room, where she thoroughly dissected Marco’s argument from the day before. Again, if you haven’t read her piece, you definitely should.

Samantha made the perfectly valid point that no, what Marco is doing is not something any developer could successfully do, and is instead made possible by the privileged position — totally earned, but privileged nonetheless — he occupies in the iOS development scene.

That’s a fair point, even if it was made somewhat harshly. There was one particular section in her piece that many considered in poor taste, where she discussed Marco’s finances. This was unfortunate, mostly because it wasn’t really necessary to make her point, and all it achieved was polarizing many people against her. You see, for all the talk about transparency and honesty on the web, nobody likes to talk about actual money.

It may have been an unfortunate move — and she admitted as much — but it shouldn’t detract from the validity of her point. Marco does, in fact, enjoy a position most iOS developers can only dream of and as such, the opportunities available to him and the impact of his actions in the community cannot in good faith be compared to those of the vast majority of indie developers out there.

The legitimacy of Marco’s position was never in doubt, mind you: Samantha explicitly acknowledged that he has earned every bit of his success, and I have enjoyed and admired his work for years, ever since I first installed Instapaper on my iPhone 3G.

It’s been a long road, but it’s only fair to acknowledge that Marco’s stature as an indie developer has grown dramatically since the early days of the App Store. Whenever he does or even says something these days, there’s a ripple effect that can be felt throughout the entire community. With many thousands of well-deserved customers, followers, readers, and listeners, he is very much the elephant in the room now, as Phil Schiller so adequately put it.

And yet, even something as big as an elephant can feel threatened by a mouse.

Perhaps that explains why Marco felt the need to respond to Samantha, instead of merely ignoring her. We’ll never know what would have happened if Marco had just gone on with his day instead of engaging her, but count me in with Ben Brooks: if past Internet history is any indication, I believe the whole thing would have probably died out without causing much trouble for him.

But he did engage her, and so the storm began. What followed was perhaps one of the most uncomfortable and, frankly, appalling public exchanges I’ve seen in a long time.

Samantha initially held her ground, no doubt emboldened by conviction in her argument. She may have felt strong against Marco, but at the end of the day she remained a mouse, and Marco an elephant. Their relative strengths were never equal, and so when Marco’s followers joined in the fight, it was all over for Samantha. Any hopes she may have had that her point would be fairly considered went out the window the minute the @-replies and emails started coming in, and every minute Marco and the rest of his high-profile Twitter friends stood there and watched — if not actively encouraged it — made matters much worse.

Of course, the aforementioned passage where Samantha discussed Marco’s income didn’t do her any favors, and soon the whole conversation centered exclusively around that, ignoring her greater point and giving everyone an excuse to have a bit of fun at her expense. Then it became a matter of joking about Marco’s money and/or popularity, something I’m afraid I’m also guilty of.1

But it wasn’t all fun, certainly not for Samantha. Soon after the jokes, the threats started coming in. And that’s just something you don’t let happen, whether you’re responsible for it or not. If you have an inkling at all that something like this is going on around you, it is your obligation — your responsibility even, as Matt Gemmell put it — to try and put an end to it any way you can. Which is why Marco’s silence during all this was, and continues to be, so deafening.2

I know none of this will probably make a difference — I am, after all, just another little mouse in a world filled with elephants with much louder voices — but I do want to make my position clear to my readers. I don’t want to remain silent or ambiguous on this; I think it’s the very least I can do.

If you’re harassing Samantha over something as petty and inconsequential as this, you seriously need to stop. It’s not something any civilized person should ever do, and there’s no scenario where such actions could possibly be justified. So, please, just stop.

I love Marco’s work, and have the utmost respect for him as a developer. In my opinion, he is in the wrong here, and though I could perhaps understand the reasons behind his actions, that doesn’t justify them in any way. I do hope he reconsiders and publicly calls upon his followers to stop such a horrible behavior immediately.

As for Samantha, I’m sorry my unfortunate tweet contributed to the misdirection that was going on, even if it was unwittingly. I hope she continues to write and speak her mind, because I’ve genuinely enjoyed reading her words. Great, honest writing is too scarce a resource these days, and I definitely hope she sticks around.

This was all deeply regrettable, and it should have been handled much better by everyone involved, myself included. There’s still time to make things right, though, but now the ball is in Marco’s court. I just hope he picks it up before it’s too late.


  1. 1) Yes, that typo will haunt me forever. 2) In my defense, I have to say I had no idea what was going on then, which should tell you just how effectively the noise created by Marco’s followers managed to drown out Samantha’s initial point.

  2. Much to his credit, John Siracusa did publicly ask his followers to stop harassing Samantha.

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Leica announces new SL Full Frame mirrorless camera →

October 20, 2015 |

This is interesting. Leica just unveiled the Leica SL, a new mirrorless camera designed with professionals in mind, along with three new SL lenses, including a new 50mm f/1.4 Summilux that they’re labeling as “the new reference lens of this focal length”, and that looks absolutely amazing.

What’s even more interesting, though, is that Leica somehow managed to make the new SL camera compatible with all existing T-mount lenses without the need for an adapter. Considering the Leica T has an APS-C sensor, I wonder how they’ve managed to cover the entire Full Frame sensor of the Leica SL with those lenses without suffering from severe vignetting.

My best guess is that they may have recessed the sensor of the SL deeper into the body, but I’m not sure that would work, since the focusing plane would be off with T lenses. Another alternative is that T lenses may have been designed with Full Frame coverage right from the start, which would show impressive foresight on Leica’s part. Whatever the case, I suspect we’ll find out soon enough.

However, it needs to be said: with nearly identical specs and features, the new SL clearly seems to be Leica’s answer to the Sony A7-series. If you wanted a Leica-branded Sony A7 — and many people sure looked like they did — I suspect this is as close as it gets.

We still need to see how well it performs, but for now, the Leica SL looks like an interesting product, if one clearly aimed at photographers with several thousand dollars to spare.

The new Leica SL is available for preorder at B&H for $7,450. It will begin shipping on November 21st.

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Shawn Blanc and Mike Vardy announce The Awareness Building Class →

October 20, 2015 |

Exciting new project by Shawn Blanc and Mike Vardy:

The Awareness Building Class is a 5-part series of audio teachings filled with real-life stories and actionable advice to help you stop guessing and start going.

Perfect description, although of course there’s much more to it than that. Follow the title link to check out everything that’s built into the class. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

Plus, as a nice added bonus, if you’ve already done The Focus Course or sign up for it before October 26 (next Monday), you get the class for free.

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My review of Peak Design’s Capture camera clip was published today at Tools & Toys. This small accessory was something I purchased a few months ago, mostly out of curiosity, but it has grown to become essential in my kit. These days I can’t imagine going out for a shoot without having it attached to my bag.

It’s surprising just how often you need to use your hands on any given shoot. The Capture is a fantastic way to quickly and securely set your camera aside for a moment, and do whatever it is you need to do without being worried about dropping it. It provides essential peace of mind, and that’s something you can’t put a price on.

If you’re interested in something like that — and you probably should be — head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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October 17, 2015

How many ways are there to start a weekly linkage piece? It turns out, more than I thought, but not nearly as many as I hoped.

Every week I try to find an original, kind-of-witty introduction to ease the reader into the piece. This week, alas, I’m fresh out of ideas, so there will be no remarks about the quietness of summer, the busyness of autumn, or the closeness of the holiday season. Nope.

Instead, I propose we simply dive into the week’s most interesting pieces of writing right away. Imagine that.

Issue #19: More iPhone reviews, Marco’s Controversy of the Week, the troubled state of the web, and blowing up the Universe

This issue starts off with some more iPhone reviews, followed by a couple pieces on Apple as a company. Then it’s time for the controversy of the week: Marco Arment and his new business strategy for Overcast. This segues nicely into two more pieces on the reality of abuse on Twitter and the problems that arise when companies and products cater exclusively to male audiences. Finally, we explore some more personal topics, and we finish on a lighter note by drinking our whisky neat and destroying the Universe.

Wait, what?

Enjoy.

The iPhone 6S | Josh Ginter →

Great review by Josh, as usual. I find it particularly interesting that this is the first piece I’ve come across where someone who last year went with the iPhone 6 Plus decided to switch to the smaller iPhone 6S this time.

Everybody else who jumped to the bigger iPhone last year, like Relay FM’s Stephen Hackett and, famously, Myke Hurley, seem to still be absolutely convinced that the Plus is the better device. That’s all well and good, but I suspect that for some of those people, at least on a subconscious level, there may be a bit of post-purchase rationalization going on.

The Plus is an awesome device, but its tradeoffs in terms of size are significant. That so many people are dismissing it as a mere inconvenience you can get used to reeks of cognitive bias to me.

For that reason, it is refreshing to see a different take on this. Josh is a person who isn’t afraid to question his own assumptions, which is why his reviews are always so insightful. Here’s what he has to say about his choice this time around:

So I’ll take the next year to decide if the 6s is the superior of the two iPhones. When it’s time to write a review of the iPhone 7, I’m sure I’ll be left with the same conclusion as today: Apple’s continual improvements have made the iPhone the most widely loved smartphone on the planet, and having to choose between the two sizes is more a lesson in knowing who you are and what you like than defining which is technically superior.

A level deeper | M.G. Siegler →

M.G. Siegler also shared his thoughts on the iPhone 6S/6S Plus earlier in the week. Good read:

But I know I’m an extreme case and not everyone is willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone each year (though the new-style subsidies probably make it even more attractive). To those folks, I normally wouldn’t recommend an “s” upgrade if you just bought the last version of the iPhone. But this year, thanks solely to 3D Touch, things may be different. This is the future of not only this device, but all devices.

The inside story of Apple’s new iMacs | Stephen Levi →

Great piece by Stephen Levi over at Backchannel:

There are many reasons why Apple is the world’s most valuable company. Tim Cook is celebrated as a supply chain Maester who has internalized the focus on innovation that his predecessor inculcated in the culture. Jony Ive has drawn global raves for making Apple a design icon. Its marketing and branding practices set industry standards. But a visit to the lab where its legacy products — computers — are made suggests another reason.

Sweating the details.

On Apple’s insurmountable platform advantage | Steve Cheney →

Great piece by Steve Cheney:

In 2007, when Steve Ballmer famously declared “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance”, Jobs was off creating a chip design team. If you study unit economics of semiconductors, it doesn’t really make sense to design chips and compete with companies like Intel unless you can make it up in volume. Consider the audacity back in 2007 for Apple to believe it could pull this off. How would they ever make back the R&D to build out a team and pay for expensive silicon designs over the long run, never mind design comparative performing chips? Well today we know. Apple makes nearly 100% of the profit in the entire smartphone space.

It is – in fact – these chip making capabilities, which Jobs brought in-house shortly after the launch of the original iPhone, that have helped Apple create a massive moat between itself and an entire industry.

Apple’s in-house chip design expertise was and continues to be instrumental to Apple’s success, and yet most people seem to be oblivious to this fact. If you want to compete in the smartphone business with Apple, using off-the-shelf components isn’t going to cut it. The problem is, building your own chip design team takes years. That’s why Apple continues to be well ahead of the curve in terms of performance: this expertise is something their competitors simply can’t copy.

Pragmatic app pricing | Marco Arment →

Marco stoked quite the fire the other day when he announced his new business model for Overcast, which is based on the idea of patronage. In an attempt to clear things up, he wrote this follow-up piece explaining his reasoning:

I’m trying not to repeat my mistakes, and one of the biggest mistakes I made was putting short-term gain from paid-app sales above long-term growth. I watched my biggest competitor clone all of my features, raise VC money, and hire a staff. I knew he’d go completely free months before he did. He wasn’t doing anything I couldn’t do, but I wasn’t doing it. I knew I was vastly outgunned, but I just sat back and let it happen.

Ah, the inevitable race to the bottom. There’s a lot more nuance to this issue than Marco would have you believe here, but I trust his motivation to be genuine. Still, that doesn’t take away from the uncomfortable fact that one of the most influential iOS app developers just told the world that he believes apps should be free if they want to have a shot at long-term success.

That’s a very, very dangerous statement and, although I know Marco isn’t suggesting his idea applies to every indie app out there, the reality is his words carry far more weight than even he seems to realize.

The elephant in the room | Samantha Bielefeld →

Samantha Bielefeld had a problem with Marco’s narrative in the above piece, and the consequences his actions may have on his competitors and the podcasting app market in general.

This article earned Samantha tons of criticism, most of it pretty nasty, from Marco’s followers. It’s unfortunate that these things continue to happen whenever someone — particularly a smart woman — dares share her opinion online. As a community, we really need to put and end to this shameful behavior, and the sooner the better.

Enraged Internet people aside, be sure to also read Samantha’s follow up post, where she clears a few things up, restates her point, and lays out her theory for the future of Overcast. It’s not pretty, but it’s honest, which is more than I can say about those attacking her.

Why Twitter’s dying (and what you can learn from it) | Umair Haque →

Fantastic piece:

Here’s my tiny theory, in a word. Abuse. And further, I’m going to suggest in this short essay that abuse — not making money — is the great problem tech and media have. The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today. It is greater than censorship, regulation, or (ugh) monetization. It is a problem of staggering magnitude and epic scale, and worse still, it is expensive: it is a problem that can’t be fixed with the cheap, simple fixes beloved by tech: patching up code, pushing out updates.

To explain, let me be clear what I mean by abuse. I don’t just mean the obvious: violent threats. I also mean the endless bickering, the predictable snark, the general atmosphere of little violences that permeate the social web… and the fact that the average person can’t do anything about it.

Many people lead a pleasant everyday existence on Twitter, but for many others, Twitter is a cesspool of abuse, filled with threats, fear, and violence. And this is a problem that won’t go away on its own.

When things you love stop being yours | Chris Brosnahan →

Another great article by Chris, on the recent shift that we’re starting to see — even if just barely — in comics, video games, and even wrestling, from a focus on a male-first or male-only audience in order to be more inclusive:

I have never seen anything like this in wrestling before.

Nor in comics.

And this is my complaint.

What the hell took so long?

There’s nothing to gain by limiting your audience. Nothing. When you look at anything – be it movies, books, horror, wrestling, comics, or (and yes, this is a big one) videogames – the longer that it’s purely aimed at young (and, in my case, not so young) men, the longer it becomes a defensive monoculture.

Yep.

An open letter to my daughters | Erin Brooks →

What a beautiful letter:

The truth is, for your whole life at times, you will feel uncertain. You will battle your body. You will see images plastered everywhere of women who you don’t, and can’t, look like, because even they don’t and can’t, and are a product of photoshop, and an industry that provides them with an entire team of people to keep them at an almost-starving body weight. They risk losing their careers if they don’t maintain that weight. Isn’t that terrible? I would hate to live with so much pressure and fear.

Break | Matt Gemmell →

Deeply personal — and moving — article from Matt. This is one of those pieces that don’t deserve to be spoiled, so go ahead and read it in full.

The nonsense of “smooth” whisky | Mark Bylok →

Now, let’s go for a more light-hearted topic. Mark Bylok’s recently revamped site has been wonderful to read these past few months. Take this piece, for example, on how the popular trend towards smooth, flavored whiskies is deeply misguided:

When I run whisky tastings, there’s often a group of people that are new to the whisky world. I encourage them to drink their whisky straight, without water or ice, to get a flavour for what whisky tastes like on its own.

An interesting thing happens when new whisky drinkers have their whisky straight. Those cheaper products taste about the same as they remember them—one note, not entirely fun to drink. The more expensive sipping whiskies are not without harshness, they often contain even more alcohol by volume, but there’s flavour there to reward the tastebuds.

Palates are adjusting. With the enjoyment of higher proof and flavour-forward whiskies comes the appreciation of what’s inside the glass.

I couldn’t agree more. Over the summer, particularly on those unbearable tropical nights, I drifted towards drinking my whisky with ice. That had nothing to do with me wanting the drink to be smoother, though, I just wanted it to be slightly cooler to better cope with the heat.

Now that the nights are getting chillier once again, I’m back to drinking my whisky neat, as one should, and I’m finding I very rarely need to add water anymore, something I also used to do quite often when I first started my whisky journey.

I’ve always enjoyed pure flavors, and drinks that stay true to their original character. In that sense, I couldn’t agree more with Mark’s take.

Proton Earth, electron Moon | Randall Munroe →

This week’s What If? set a new record for the most destructive scenario to date. So great.

Revisiting the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in Moldova | Jordan Steele →

Great reminder that we don’t need the latest and greatest equipment to capture great photos.

Afterword

Today I want to talk to you about something important: empathy.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. That’s a very succinct definition, but it perfectly encapsulates the reasons behind the incidents we’re seeing time and time again on the web, particularly on Twitter.

You see, Twitter makes it awfully easy to not empathize with a person. The whole system is designed with bluntness in mind: you only get 140 characters to make your point, so there’s hardly any room for subtlety or nuance. Instead, all that is left are raw, elemental ideas, the very essence of what would otherwise be a several-paragraph-long argument.

That’s precisely what made Twitter so incredibly popular to begin with, and why it continues to be the Internet’s preferred medium for exchanging ideas and broadcasting unfiltered thoughts. Unfortunately, it’s also the reason Twitter has become the preferred medium for harassing, attacking and abusing people.

When you don’t have to see the real person in front of you, it’s so much easier to be hurtful, and aggressive. When the system, by design, allows you to insult someone and then blissfully move on with your day with zero repercussions, it’s hardly a surprise to find out that some people actually do so.

I believe the vast majority of individuals who insult and harass other people online wouldn’t have the courage to say and do those things to the other person’s face. That would require a much greater effort on their part to suppress their empathy. It would require them to be willfully, consciously inhumane and cruel to a fellow human being, which is something that, luckily, very few people in this world can stomach. At least, that’s what I choose to believe. Then again, I was always an optimist.

I was tempted to use the expression “in real life” before, but I immediately realized it was the wrong thing to say. Saying Twitter is different from “real life” is giving ammunition to those who enjoy making fun of others, as if the impact of their actions is somehow lessened by the fact that they were only done jokingly on an irrelevant forum.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is 2015, and Twitter is very much real life. For many of us, it’s actually the primary way we interact with many of our colleagues, friends, and even family members every day. The times when you could brush aside what happened on the Internet as irrelevant and negate the impact it had on your very real life are long gone, I suspect never to return.

We need to start acknowledging that fact, and we need to start now. If a person’s actions could land them in jail — or, at the very least, in front of a judge — in real life, then our reaction should be exactly the same when it happens online. There’s just no discernible difference between the two anymore, and it doesn’t make any sense to continue pretending there is.

Impunity needs to stop, and as soon as it does, many of those instances of harassment will probably disappear with it.

Online harassers are real people, and I’m sure the majority of them don’t see themselves as particularly bad persons, either. But they’re taking advantage — consciously or not — of the fact that the system makes it incredibly easy for them to just not care. To have a few laughs at other people’s expense and just move on with their day.

It is a deeply flawed system that allows that to happen, and breaking that dynamic won’t be easy. Twitter the company bears some responsibility here, but the bigger battle will be fought by us, the people at large, every day. And if we hope to preserve what makes Twitter great, this is a battle we can’t afford to lose.

That was intense. To finish the issue in better spirits, allow me to share a couple pictures from my last portrait session with you.

On Wednesday, I arranged a meeting with my friend Sabina and we headed to a nearby park. I took all my lenses with me, as well as, for the first time, a flash. I recently purchased a Sony HVL-F43M flash unit, and I have to say it adds a whole new dimension to the shooting experience.

By being able to actually manipulate the light in the scene, I’m finding I can create some images that were previously outside of my reach. I love the possibilities this has opened up for me, and I’m having so much fun with it in my shoots.

However, what I still can’t do is position the flash off-axis — that is, away from the camera and at an angle — because I would need something to trigger it with. Unfortunately, Sony flashes aren’t compatible with radio triggers, so it appears the only way forward is to buy a second flash unit to act as an optical trigger. And that’s where we have a problem.

I could buy an inexpensive flash like the Sony HVL-F20M, but that model won’t allow me to control the remote flashes’ power ratio in a multiple-light scene. I’m thinking my money would be better spent on another HVL-F43M, or perhaps on the slightly smaller Sony HVL-F32M. This model offers a better compromise between features and price, and is also smaller to boot, so it may not be a bad choice, after all. We’ll see.

Lighting in photography is a deep, deep rabbit’s hole, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it. For now, I’m content with what I already have, but the journey is only just beginning.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a peaceful weekend.

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Sigma announces new 20mm f/1.4 Art lens →

October 16, 2015 |

The excellent Art series of lenses from Sigma keeps growing. Today the company announced the latest addition to the lineup, the upcoming 20mm f/1.4 Art lens. This is the world’s first f/1.4 ultra-wide-angle lens for Full Frame DSLRs, which scores Sigma another nice win in the bragging rights department.

It’s still soon to tell if this new lens will be any good, but if the rest of Art lenses is anything to go by, it’s probably going to be a stunner.

Perhaps most interesting, though, is Sigma’s Mount Conversion Service, for which the new 20mm Art lens is eligible, along with the rest of the Art lenses and many others. This service means that, should you decide to change camera systems in the future, you’ll be able get your existing Sigma lenses converted from one mount to another by Sigma, enabling you to carry them over to your new camera system.

As of today, you can only get conversions to and from mounts that Sigma has already released in the market, meaning you can get a 35mm f/1.4 Art lens converted from Canon to Nikon mount, for example, but not to Sony’s E-mount, because that lens isn’t available for the E-mount yet. These limitations aside, that’s still a fantastic service, and one that only 3rd-party manufacturers can offer.

The Sigma 20mm f/1.4 Art lens will be available for Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts in mid-to-late November for $899, which will surely make it a red-hot holiday item among all super-wide-angle lovers out there. It is already available for preorder at B&H.

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