October 31, 2015

Welcome to another issue of Morning Coffee. I hope you all got you new Apple TVs already, and I also hope you won’t stay the whole weekend at home sitting in front of it like mindless drones.

If I may make a suggestion, this would be a great time to sit on the couch — or, if you prefer, pay a visit to your favorite barista — grab a nice hot cup of the good stuff, and enjoy some interesting pieces of writing.

Lucky for you, I happen to have just the thing.

Issue #21: Making a digital scale, the ethics of ad blocking, and the rise of the writer’s space

This week’s issue includes some of the usual nerdy stuff — like how to turn your iPhone into a digital scale — some of the usual important stuff — like why CEOs should fight patent trolls and why online abuse matters — and some of the usual photography stuff — like camera and lens comparisons, packing for Fashion Week, and shooting in New York City.


Turning the iPhone 6S into a digital scale | Ryan McLeod →

This cool story has been making the rounds on the Internet all week, and it’s easy to understand why. When a developer comes up with an ingenious idea to use the technology in the iPhone in new and exciting ways, only to see Apple reject the app for what seem like totally arbitrary reasons, people get understandably frustrated.

I don’t think it’s in Apple’s best interest to maintain this black-and-white approach when it comes to interpreting the rules. It’s often by thinking outside the box and coming up with new and innovative ideas to use existing technology in different ways that we create an opportunity for great things to happen.

No ‘inverted T’? No thanks | Riccardo Mori →

Riccardo Mori touches on something that’s been on my mind recently: the redesigned layout of Apple’s Magic Keyboard, and the new MacBook’s before it. Particularly, the new positioning and size of the arrow keys. Instead of the traditional ‘inverted T’ layout, the new keyboards come with full-sized left and right arrow keys, which apparently screws with muscle memory because pretty much everybody — myself included — uses the gap above the keys to feel your way around the keyboard in order to find the right position for your fingers to type on the arrows.

Clearly, we’ll all end up adjusting to the new layout, but what bugs Mori — and, to a lesser extent, me — is that there’s just no good functional reason to adopt this new design:

Of course, what else can you do? Apart from returning the keyboard, there’s no other option than adjusting to the new arrow keys design. I’m absolutely baffled by this change, because it’s simply poor design. It impacts usability, it goes against the majority of keyboards out there, it seems completely unnecessary and arbitrary, something like Let’s fill up all the space because the empty areas above the left/right keys don’t look cool. Something users have to take time and adjust to for no justifiable reason.

Why one software CEO agreed to meet a patent troll—and then fought it to the end | Joe Mullin →

I enjoyed this report on the legal case between Pegasystems and a patent troll called YYZ LLC. When CEOs decide to stand their ground against patent trolls and fight instead of just paying up, the entire industry is better off as a result. Kudos to Alan Trefler for doing the right thing, despite the financial risk to his company.

Why it’s OK to block ads | James Williams →

Great piece on ad blocking by James Williams over at Practical Ethics, an official blog tied to the University of Oxford:

I often hear people say, “I use AdBlock, so the ads don’t affect me at all.” How head-smackingly wrong they are. (I know, because I used to say this myself.) If you use products and services whose fundamental design logic is rooted in maximizing advertising performance—that is to say, in getting you to spend as much of your precious time and attention using the product as possible—then even if you don’t see the ads, you still see the ad for the ad (i.e. the product itself). You still get design that exploits your non-rational psychological biases in ways that work against you. You still get the flypaper even if you don’t get the swatter. A product or service does not magically redesign itself around your goals just because you block it from reaching its own.

Exactly. You need to read this piece right now.

Why online abuse matters | Richard J. Anderson →

Richard J. Anderson:

But let’s bring this discussion back down from the cosmic level. In the last year or so, online harassment and abuse has become a major issue, in no small part because of organized campaigns like GamerGate. Despite this, the attitude remains among people who should know better, that online harassment and abuse is less than real and worthy of their time. The idea that a harassed person can just turn off their phone, unplug their computer, and go about their life, blissfully free from the virtual slings and digital arrows of outrageous fortune is a myth. It has been for over a decade. The Internet is real life, not some sort of magical cyberspace that we can slip into and out of at will. It a part of nearly everything we do, and the people who are decidedly not connected to it are a shrinking minority.

Well said.

Greenland is melting away | Coral Davenport, Josh Haner, Larry Buchanan and Derek Watkins →

Fantastic piece over at The New York Times.

The strange rise of the writer’s space | Evan Hughes →

Evan Hughes, writing for The New Yorker:

There is something embarrassing about working from home. You wonder what the UPS man thinks of you when he delivers advance copies of new books. So this guy just reads all day? You worry that the prominent figure you are interviewing by phone can hear the refrigerator door or the neighbors’ kids upstairs. (Skype video interviews are even worse; the trick is finding a camera angle that doesn’t reveal anything blatantly domestic.)

As a writer who works from home, I so can relate to this. Luckily, there’s a way to make things better:

A relatively new institution, the shared writers’ space, fills a niche so small that it isn’t covered in Saval’s book. At these urban oddities, members get access to a quiet room or two full of desks, often with an adjacent eat-in kitchen, perhaps a couch—in other words, an office. But without a boss. And you pay them, instead of the other way around.

It sounds like a great place, but I could never get any work done there, for one simple reason: the silence. As Hughes writes:

It’s a different beast from the “co-working space,” where, as I understand it, startups and entrepreneurs gather under the banner of cross-pollination and ideation and use whiteboards. My writers’ space, by contrast, sternly enforces silence in the main room. White-noise machines, earplugs, and cough drops are provided, and a sign advises, “PLEASE WALK SLOWLY & LIGHTLY.” (The library-like atmosphere does present difficulties for reporting; I have called sources from the stairwell, as others walked past, to discuss their days dealing cocaine.)

That would be an absolute deal breaker for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Co-working spaces are becoming increasingly common among writers all around the world, and with good reason. I don’t know about you, but I find that having some noise and movement around me acts as a very effective shield that really helps me concentrate. By comparison, whenever I’m at home in complete silence, I often struggle to get into a decent writing rhythm, which is why I usually have some music playing, or a podcast episode I’m not even listening to, really. Anything works for me, except silence.

But the human connection is also important: writing at home can be a lonely experience, if you do it every single day. Going somewhere else where you meet actual human beings in the flesh helps a great deal, and sharing a common working space goes a long way towards creating a sense of community. All those things are conducive to better, more consistent creative output, at least in my case.

Packing guide to photography at Fashion Week | Tyler Stalman →

Cool piece by Tyler Stalman on what it takes to prepare for a week of fashion shooting in New York City, London, Toronto and Paris. It’s not all about the equipment, mind you, you also need to look the part:

As a photographer no one is paying attention to you and that is the way it should be. A monochrome outfit is as much about being practical as it is about style. I heard about a photographer who was new to fashion week and wore a bright orange jacket. He drove every other photographer crazy because when he was in the background of a shot, all you see it a bright orange coat. Stick to simple colors, which for me is black, white and blue.

Photographers don’t need a three piece suit to to fit in at fashion events. Just keep it clean and minimal.

Comparing two M.Zuiko portrait lenses – Olympus 45mm f/1.8 vs. 75mm f/1.8 | Heather Broster →

I have the highest regard for the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens. In the 18 months or so I used the Olympus E-M10 as my main camera, this little gem of a lens was always my go-to piece of glass for portraits, and I even used it a fair bit for product photography and even street photography. My enthusiasm was obvious when I reviewed it for Tools & Toys, as it should be: it is a superb portrait lens.

Olympus also has the longer and more expensive 75mm f/1.8 lens in the lineup, and most people agree that it’s one of the sharpest and technically better corrected lenses in the MFT system.

A comparison between both lenses seems trivial, but for some reason I haven’t seen many of them around, certainly none that I can recall off the top of my head, which is why this piece from Heather over at MirrorLessons was so interesting to read.

The results, of course, came out as expected: the Oly 75mm is clearly the better lens, but the 45mm offers the better value. All in all, two excellent pieces of glass for your MFT camera.

The Panasonic GX8 done grow’d up! A first look comparison | Tyson Robichaud →

Tyson Robichaud got his hands on the new Panasonic GX8 MFT camera and he did an awesome in-depth comparison between the new 20-MP camera and his beloved Panasonic GX7. If you’re considering an upgrade or are otherwise interested in the GX8, this is a must-read for you.

A trip to New York | Jordan Steele →

Gorgeous photoset by Jordan Steele in the greatest city in the world:

I hadn’t been to New York for a real visit since 1996, and back then, I was a casual snapper, having not really gotten into photography as a hobby and artistic endeavor until around 2003. As such, I really wanted to capture a few key prominent places, because while they have been captured by many photographers over the years, there’s a reason they are popular photography spots: they’re great subjects. These included the skyline from Brooklyn, the city from the top of one of the tall buildings (I chose to go to the Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Plaza), Central Park, the new One World Trade Center and 9/11 memorial and Grand Central Terminal. I’ve wanted to photograph these for quite a while, so I’m very glad to have gotten the chance to do so.

Amazing stuff. This is making me want the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 FE lens so badly.


It’s been interesting to read people’s first impressions on the new Apple TV and for the most part, I’m intrigued about the device. I will probably end up buying it, but I’m not in a great hurry to do so.

The truth is, I don’t usually think of the Apple TV as more than a device I can use to watch movies and TV shows and for that purpose, my current 3rd-gen Apple TV works just fine. I suppose getting Siri search to work across all apps and services would improve the experience somewhat, but I’m not really looking forward to playing games on my Apple TV, to be perfectly honest.

As for other, non-gaming apps, I’m sure there will be many interesting ways to exploit the new Apple TV’s capabilities, but really, how many of them will be things that we can’t currently do on our iPhones, Macs, iPads or, for those who own one, Apple Watches? The range of features and services that will be unique and exclusive to the Apple TV seems exceedingly small to me, and I’m not sure they’ll be all that compelling to begin with.

That’s not to say it won’t be better than the current version because in fact, I’m positive it already is — it’s just that I’m content with watching from the sidelines for the time being.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a bit concerned that Apple seems to believe that the answer to all their long-term problems lies in more platforms, more OSs, more App Stores. In less than a year, they’ve added two new OSs to the ecosystem, and if the car rumors are true, we may even see a third one soon.

The potential for innovation that those new platforms create is great, but Apple needs to remember that building new platforms is not about making them popular for a month, or a year, but about making them sustainable. Apple has never had any problems with popularity, but we’re still not sure how good they are at sustainability.

The new Apple TV will probably be OK — people, after all, love on-demand entertainment — but Apple’s relentless drive to build new platforms capable of running 3rd-party apps may end up hurting them in the long run.

One of the reasons 3rd-party apps for the iPhone were so successful was that back in 2008, the iPhone was the only real game in town. If you wanted to develop a cool new mobile app, you needed to be on the iPhone. There was no iPad, no Apple Watch, no Apple TV, and not even Android to distract you from your goal. Today, the situation is very different.

Is it really wise to direct so much attention towards a brand-new platform, when the Apple Watch is heading into its first holiday quarter? All those new SDKs inevitably compete for the attention and finite resources of 3rd-party developers, and the lack of focus could well end up being worse than the lack of options.

It’s easy to be bullish on Apple — they are, after all, the most profitable company on the planet — but let’s not forget that so far they haven’t managed to replicate the original App Store success story on any other platforms: the iPad was built largely on the back of the iPhone and is already rapidly losing steam, the Mac App Store is far from a resounding success, and it’s still way too soon to tell if 3rd-party Apple Watch apps will be successful enough to create a sustainable market.

Apple is great at creating platforms and tools for developers to work with, but in their ambition, it’s possible they may be overwhelming those developers instead of helping them focus, and that may end up coming back to bite them.

And on that note, I think it’s time to close this issue. I have a very good friend visiting in Madrid for the weekend, and tonight we’re celebrating the birthday of another one of my closest friends, so it’s hopefully going to be a fun couple of days ahead.

As always, thanks for reading, and have a fantastic weekend.

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Sizing up the new Apple TV →

October 29, 2015 |

Dan Moren, over at Six Colors:

One could almost argue, then, that the 64GB version of the Apple TV is the “game console” version, with the 32GB primarily targeted as a “set-top streaming box.” The 64GB version is also for customers who want to not worry about running out of storage or want to feel like they bought the best Apple TV available. And, as with the 16GB model of the iPhone, perhaps the 32GB model is there to stake out the low ground, and convince customers on the fence that it might be worth it to spend the mere $50 to upgrade to 64GB.

He makes two excellent points here. Apple has a history of offering entry-level products of questionable value in order to upsell customers to higher end models, so there’s a distinct possibility that the new Apple TV could be another example of that.

That said, I like his former point better: that the 32GB version is simply the one for people that don’t think of the Apple TV as a gaming device and are not likely to need the extra storage capacity of the higher end model.

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The Verge reviews the new Apple TV →

October 29, 2015 |

If you’re one of the many people who are still waiting for their brand-new Apple TVs to be delivered, Nilay Patel’s review over at The Verge will keep you entertained for a while:

The streaming boxes on the market right now all compete to do very few simple things: get everything you want to watch in a single place, make it all easy to search and discover, and get out of the way. And the Apple TV does that as well or better than anything else on the market. It has virtually every streaming app save Amazon Prime video, Siri works reasonably well and can answer a wider range of questions across services than the Fire TV 2 or Roku, and playback is super fast. If you just want a new streaming box, you can happily buy a new Apple TV. (I would buy the $149 base model.) You’ll like it.

In other words, the new Apple TV is not quite the revolutionary experience many of us were hoping for, but it is a pretty solid product considering today’s sorry state of affairs in the TV industry.

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My review of the Sony Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 Sonnar T* lens was published today over at Tools & Toys.

I’ll be the first to admit that, just by looking at the specs, this 55mm f/1.8 lens sounds a bit pedestrian. However, as you can probably guess just by looking at its $1,000 price tag, this is not your typical nifty-fifty. If you’re considering this lens but are concerned that its performance may not live up to its cost, fear not: this is an incredible piece of glass, easily the best I’ve ever used. It has quickly become my favorite, too.

I don’t know what it is about it. It may be its blistering sharpness, or maybe the contrasty look that just screams of Zeiss quality. It may well be its gorgeous bokeh, or the fact that even though it is a Full Frame lens, it still fits in the palm of my hand.

Either one of these things alone would be enough to justify the purchase of a lens. But when you see them together, well, that’s when you know you’re onto something special.

Incidentally, this is the longest review I’ve ever written for Tools & Toys — or anywhere else, really. There was just so much to say about the lens that I ended up going well past my usual length.

If you want to learn more about this fantastic optical instrument, head on over to Tools & Toys for the full review.

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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.


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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