Matt Gemmell’s new book, ‘Writing in Markdown’, is now available →

July 09, 2015 |

Matt Gemmell’s new book is out today. It’s called Writing in Markdown, and it’s the first in a new series of short books by publisher Five Simple Steps. The series is called Fast Reads, and the idea is to create short, informative and densely packed books that are easy to read in one sitting and provide a comprehensive overview on any given topic. In Matt’s own words:

I write every article on this site (and my articles for publication elsewhere, in magazines and online) in Markdown. All my notes are in Markdown files. My weekly members-only newsletters begin life as Markdown files. I even think in that format.

It was fitting, then, that I was offered the opportunity to write a Fast Read – the first in the series, no less – about using Markdown. I gladly accepted, and I’m pleased to announce that the book is now available.

It’s called Writing in Markdown, it’s about 5,000 words long, and you can read it cover-to-cover in around twenty minutes. It costs £2.50 (or $3.80, or €3.50), and it’s available now.

Like Matt, I do most of my writing in Markdown, including all of my writing here on Analog Senses, plus my regular collaborations in other sites like Tools & Toys.

I really enjoy the simplicity of the Markdown format, but I especially appreciate its power. Being able to write in a readable format that can be converted to HTML in a straightforward, no-nonsense way is a huge benefit in my work. If your work — or play — involves writing for the Web at all, you could probably benefit a great deal from using Markdown.

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Samsung announces new 2TB 850 EVO and 850 Pro SSDs →

July 08, 2015 |

Brett Howse, writing for AnandTech:

The 850 Pro retails for $1000, and the 850 EVO retails for $800. Although not inexpensive by any means, and still much more than the $75 of a spinning disk, the prices are right around double the 1TB models in the lineup so there is not any extra premium to get the larger models at this time.

$800 is a lot of money, but if you need an SSD, they’re worth every penny.

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Disney announces Han Solo standalone film →

July 08, 2015 |

Massive news over at

The screenplay is written by Lawrence Kasdan and Jon Kasdan. The story focuses on how young Han Solo became the smuggler, thief, and scoundrel whom Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi first encountered in the cantina at Mos Eisley.

No word on casting yet, though. I just hope they know what they’re doing. Via Kottke.

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Instagram begins rolling out higher-resolution uploads →

July 08, 2015 |

Vlad Savov, over at The Verge:

An Instagram spokesperson tells us that the company started “gradually rolling out 1080 across iOS and Android” last week, meaning that most people should already be seeing the higher-resolution images in the mobile app. Alas, Instagram on the desktop remains a second-class citizen, as Instagram says that “right now we are focused on mobile, with no plans to share on web.”

I don’t mean to brag, but I totally called this one.

Via Mike Bates.

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Last updated on July 08, 2015

It’s no secret that working with models in photography can be challenging. One of the most interesting aspects of the photography course I took over the past few months was the chance to work with experienced models in a controlled environment. That was a great way to learn how to interact with them in a professional way and, more importantly, how to take the reins of a shoot in order to direct the session and get the results you want.

In this piece I’ll share a bit of my own experience during the course, as well as out there shooting in the real world. Hopefully that’ll give you an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and save yourself an awkward moment or two.

Before your first time

There’s no doubt the first time you’re working with a model is a pretty intimidating experience. You’re probably not only inexperienced in being around models to begin with, but you’re also inexperienced when it comes to directing a serious shooting session. Those two things can add up and become more than you can handle, so it’s important to remain calm. The good news is, it really doesn’t need to be a stressful event, if you only take a couple precautions.

Model: Neus Martín.

The first and most important of those precautions is to do your homework in advance. I really can’t stress enough just how critical this is. You should have a perfect idea of what you want to achieve long before the shoot even begins, and plan accordingly. There are several non-trivial aspects to every shoot that require preparation: the lighting, the backdrop, the location, the time of the day, whether you’ll need to provide makeup and/or clothing for the model and so on.

All those things massively affect the outcome and, in many cases, dictate your actions as a photographer and the actions of the model as your subject. Going to a session unprepared is pretty much like attempting to shoot a Hollywood movie without a script. Just don’t. Don’t worry though, we’ll take a more detailed look at all these things in a moment.

Model: Sara Gil.

As for the being around models part, that’s something that will take some getting used to. You’re going to have to learn to deal with it progressively and trust that it will get easier the more you do it — because it will, and surprisingly quickly, in fact. If you feel intimidated by their good looks or are naturally shy, you could start out easy, by arranging a shoot with a model of the gender you’re not physically attracted to.

However, I think that would be the wrong way to go about this. I recommend simply taking things naturally and not worrying about it too much. Just remember you’re both there to work, not to socialize. Being open and friendly is great; being unprofessional isn’t.

Model: Daniel García.

This is where being well prepared ahead of your shoot can prove to be life-saving. If you have a well-defined action plan, chances are you’ll be able to work your way through it despite some initial awkwardness. Soon the technical nature of the work will take over and you’ll start to relax. There’s nothing worse than having a model ask you for directions and not knowing what to say, so be sure to always have a couple ideas you can turn to whenever inspiration runs dry.

Finding a model to work with

If you don’t already know any models you’d like to work with, either in person or through mutual friends, take a look at some of the online photography networks that provide a way for models and photographers to meet. Sites like Model Mayhem — and Litmind in Europe — are very popular and you’ll probably be able to find a nearby model that meets your requirements.

These websites are a great place to start, since they offer pretty good search engines that allow you to filter results by gender, age or any other physical attributes — hair and eye color, for example. If you can’t afford to pay the model, you can also filter the search results to show only models that are open to a time-for-prints arrangement.

This goes without saying but, should you decide to contact a model through one of these websites, be honest and upfront about what you’re looking for. Online services like these are entirely based on the honor system; they only work when the relationship is mutually beneficial. If you’re not really interested in working together, don’t contact a model. You wouldn’t do it in real life, so don’t do it online. And don’t back away from an already established deal unless you have a pretty good reason to do so.

Also, don’t forget that, despite having tons of beautiful people on them, these are not dating websites. Everything you do as an individual user affects the rest of the community, so don’t be a jerk. Seriously.

Managing expectations

Before even meeting the model, both of you should have a clear idea of what to expect from the shoot. Will it be paid work or a time-for-prints arrangement? Who keeps the rights to the final images? These are potentially thorny issues, and you need to sort them out long before pressing the shutter release.

If it’s a time-for-prints arrangement, state clearly and unequivocally whether you’ll be providing prints, digital copies of the images, or both. Also, reach an agreement on whether you’ll be providing the original, unedited shots or only your final edited selections, as well as how much post-processing work is to be expected in the final images. If you have a problem with giving the model your RAW files, say so explicitly. Personally, I’m not comfortable with giving models unedited shots or RAW files, because in my mind, I’m still responsible for the final quality of those images, which are essentially unfinished at that point. Having someone else make the edits seems wrong to me, but your mileage may vary. It also depends on how important each particular shoot is to you, personally.

If it’s paid work, make it perfectly clear who will be getting paid, and how much. Also, reach an agreement on when payment will be made. Typically you have three choices: before the shoot, after the shoot and upon delivery of the final images. You can fraction payment between two or more of those moments if you’re feeling unsure. Don’t let yourself be cornered into a situation you’re not comfortable with. If a model is not happy with your conditions — provided they’re reasonable, that is — it’s better to try and find another one.

Sign a standard release contract. Regardless of whether it’s a time-for-prints arrangement or paid work, it can also be a good idea for both of you to sign a standard release contract in order to avoid any potential legal issues in the future. There are many templates on the Internet you can use for that purpose. Nothing has to go wrong but if you’re concerned about this, better safe than sorry.

Explain what you’re trying to achieve. If the shoot is intended to promote or review a product, say it. If you’re not going for flattering shots, tell the model in advance. And obviously, if you expect to take some nude shots, ask your model before. There’s nothing wrong with either of those things, but make sure the model knows about it and set expectations accordingly.

Once the shoot is done, explain clearly what usage rights you’re granting for your images, and whether you require attribution upon further use. If you’re not ok with seeing your pictures popping up on the Web without attribution, try to explain your point of view to the model, as well as why this is important.

Establish trust from the get go, and don’t break it. Never force a situation beyond the existing understanding. If you haven’t talked about nude shots before, don’t bring it up during the shoot, no matter how easy-going or open-minded the model may seem. You can absolutely ruin the mood of the entire session by creating an uncomfortable moment like that. And worst of all, the model may feel coerced into doing something that wasn’t previously discussed. You don’t want that. There’s always another day, so don’t rush things.

Give the model the option to bring someone along for the shoot. This will help ensure your model feels safe, which will in turn make it a lot easier to work on creating compelling images together. Plus, you may even find yourself with two models to work with instead of just one.

Preparing for the shoot

We’ve already talked about how preparing for a shoot is essential to keep thing things productive and professional, but how does one do that, exactly? Here are a few of the elements you should consider.

The lighting is by far the most important aspect of any shoot, arguably even more important than the models themselves. The first major question you need to ask yourself is whether you want this to be a studio session or an outdoors shoot using, mostly or exclusively, natural light.

If it’s going to be a studio session, there are several things to plan for:

What kind of background will you use? You can use a solid white background, a solid black background or something else altogether, but you’ll need to make your choice beforehand. If you want to use multiple backgrounds in the same session, think about which one you’d like to use first and have that put up in advance in order to maximize the amount of actual shooting time. If you want to use one particular background for the majority of the shots, go with that one first. Also, keep in mind that the light sources you place in the scene will significantly change the way the background appears in your images.

What kind of lighting? Continuous light applied without using a soft box renders sharp shadows and creates high contrast in a scene, which is great for emphasizing body lines and creating an artistic effect. A soft box, on the other hand, creates much softer shadows and is generally more flattering for portraits, for example. And then there are strobes, which can be used to create some specific visual effects.

Tip: Use continuous lights without a soft box in order to increase contrast and create sharp shadows for a dramatic effect.

What about flash lighting? Flash lighting can be used on its own or in combination with other light sources, and can dramatically alter the way a scene looks. A flash can be pointed directly towards the subject — with or without a soft box — or it can be bounced off some other surface to achieve a more subtle effect. It can be used as the main light source in a scene, or to fill darker areas in an image. Depending on what you want to achieve, you will need to prepare your gear appropriately.

Tip: Flash lighting can be used to eliminate shadows on the model’s face. Model: Vanessa Martinez.

How many light sources will there be in the scene? Will you use an extra light source for effect? These can add punch to an image. If you’re going to use several light sources, you’ll need to decide which one will act as the main source and which ones will be secondary. Keep in mind that different light sources may have different color temperatures, so there may be a color cast to watch out for.

Tip: In general, setting your camera’s white balance to match the main light source is a good way to go, but keep an eye on the images as you go.

Conversely, if it’s going to be an outdoors shoot using mostly natural light, pay attention to the following items:

What type of light are you looking for? The most flattering light is usually the one that falls during the “golden hour”. This phenomenon occurs approximately during the fist couple hours of daylight just after sunrise, and the last two hours before sunset. At those times, daylight is warmer and falls laterally, producing longer shadows. By contrast, the mid-day Sun produces much harsher shadows and higher contrast, which are usually not desirable qualities when shooting with natural light. If you must shoot during the central hours of the day, try to pick a day with a cloudy forecast, or a location where you’ll be able to find some shade. Total amount of light will not be a problem, so it’s preferable to focus on the quality of it.

Don’t forget your filters and lens hoods. If you’re shooting outside, you should always keep a polarizing filter on your lens at the very minimum. Natural light is pretty tricky, and reflections can be a real problem if you don’t have the proper equipment. A polarizing filter generally increases contrast and makes colors more rich, vivid and saturated. If you’re planning to shoot black and white images, a dark yellow filter will greatly increase contrast in the sky, for example. And if you want to achieve subject separation on a very bright day, you’ll need to use a neutral density filter in order to be able to shoot wide open without overexposing your shots. These are all very important elements when shooting outside, and planning for them in advance can prove invaluable during the shoot.

What’s the weather going to be like? It goes without saying, but scheduling a bikini shoot in the middle of winter might not be the best idea. Keeping the model comfortable goes a long way towards ensuring a productive session. Similarly, having a shoot interrupted by rain is something that should be avoided. If there’s a high probability of rain around the time of your shoot, try to reschedule or have a secondary location in mind, just in case. Ideally, your secondary location should have a roof, or a protected area where rain will not be a problem.

Tip: You should try to provide a comfortable working environment for your model. For example, if it’s going to get cold, bring a robe or something along those lines.

Do you require permission to shoot at your venue of choice? Some venues like stadiums, museums, churches, institutional buildings and the like can be great locations for photos, but sometimes they have special rules in place that can be a problem for you. Tripods, for example, are usually not allowed in these places. Be sure to check with the proper authorities beforehand in order to save yourself the trouble of getting there only to be denied permission to shoot at the last minute. If you need to apply for permission, do so well in advance.

Will you need additional help? Sometimes your own two hands are not enough. If you need a friend to hold a flash in place, or to carry some of the equipment, try to coordinate with the person before setting up a final date and time for the shoot. You don’t want to commit with the model only to find out later on that your friend can’t make it. Be serious and professional when scheduling your sessions and respect the model’s time as much as you respect your own.

There are, of course, many more questions to be asked, but these should at least give you a reasonable starting point. Be sure to make a list of everything you’ll need, and go over that list before making the final date with the model.

Directing the shoot

Once you’ve prepared everything you’ll need and worked out the details with your model, it’s time to meet. This goes without saying, but: be on time. There’s nothing worse than arriving late to your own shoot. If you’re not able to show enough respect for the model to be on time, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.

First up, introduce yourself and ask a couple generic questions to break the ice. A smile goes a long way towards getting people to feel comfortable, so be nice.

Also, be respectful. If you don’t think you can pull off being respectful and nice, go for respectful first. Keep in mind that the model doesn’t know you and doesn’t know what kind of person you are, so don’t go for weird inside jokes that only your friends would understand. Similarly, don’t insist on making small talk if the model doesn’t want to. At the end of the day you’re both there to work. Getting along is preferred, but it’s not indispensable.

That said, remember that good models are comfortable with following directions — so give them. They actually need directions to do their work properly. Don’t be shy about saying what you need them to do in order for the shot to work. You can, for example, say that you like their hair better this way, or that you want them to stand up to emphasize the length of their legs.

Try to be positive and encouraging with your comments, give them an idea of what you want to achieve in the shot and they’ll get involved and help you. Have it be a collaborative effort, but always maintain control of the session yourself. Your goal is to get the shots you want, so act accordingly.1

Don’t forget to measure!

If you’re working in a studio, measuring the different light sources is critical to achieve the desired effect. It’s easy to forget about this when you start taking pictures, but it’s essential to keep it in mind at all times.

The best way to do this is with a dedicated light meter. These do not come cheap, but provide more flexibility over your camera’s built-in light meter. By placing the meter on the model’s skin, facing towards the light source, you’re measuring incident light directly, which means the resulting parameters will be correct regardless of the photographer’s shooting distance from the model. Also, it’ll guarantee that you won’t overexpose the skin to the point of blowing your highlights.

Tip: If you’re using an effect light to emphasize parts of the image, like the model’s hair in this case, you should position it so that the light meter gives a reading that is exactly one stop higher than the main light source.

Once you’ve got everything set up the way you like it, start shooting, but don’t forget to redo all your measurements whenever there’s a change in the scene. The tricky thing to remember here is that cameras don’t see the same way we do. Even an apparently insignificant change can have major consequences in the final picture. Whenever you alter the scene, even if it’s just by having the model take half a step forward, the entire lighting scheme changes.

Failing to adjust for apparently small light variations in a scene can result in very poor images that are way beyond saving in post production.

Don’t assume you can just fix everything later in Lightroom. Being careful before releasing the shutter pays off later when you don’t have to correct the same mistake over and over again.

And of course, if you’re shooting film, following a proper metering routine becomes even more of a necessity, since you won’t be able to review your images during the shoot.

Review your images

Another hugely important thing to keep in mind — always, but even more so during your first time working with a model — is to check the results as you go. Don’t wait until you get home to review your images. It’s surprisingly easy to get into a groove and be overpowered by the creativity of the moment, but photography — particularly studio photography — is every bit as much a technical discipline as it is a creative one.

Don’t forget to check your exposures every now and then to confirm things are going as expected. Using your camera’s histogram feature can prove invaluable for this task, so pull it up alongside your images and ask yourself some of these questions:

Are your shots properly in focus? Sometimes it’s not immediately obvious whether the focus is right, so be sure to check.

Is the exposure correct?

Is the subject properly lit? What about the background?

Are the highlights blown? What about the shadows?

Is the framing what you were looking for? Are any parts of the model’s body — hands, waist, feet, etc. — being cut out of the frame? If so, was that intentional or an accident?

Can you see both of your subject’s eyes? If not, was that an oversight?

Is there sweat on the model’s skin? It’s especially important to keep an eye on this when using high-powered studio lights, because they emit a considerable amount of heat and can cause the model’s skin to perspire a little. You may not immediately notice it through your viewfinder, but tiny sweat drops will appear as blown highlights in the final images and even after correcting it in post production, you’ll lose the texture of the skin in those areas. The histogram will tell you if there are any blown highlights to look for. Be sure to keep a towel or a tissue box handy just in case.

These are questions that can make or break an image, and once the session ends there’s no going back. You don’t need to check every single image — a bad habit that is commonly referred to as “chimping” — but keep an eye on them from time to time, just to be safe. At the very least, review your images before changing the model’s posture or switching to a different scene and make sure you have at least one or two images you like before moving on. I find that’s a good compromise that works well for me.

Following these precautions will ensure you keep most things under control during your session. Now, not all types of shoots are the same, of course. Some of them are particularly sensitive and require special care. A good example of this are nude shoots.

Shooting nudes (NSFW)

Shooting nudes is one of the best creative and technical exercises in photography. Fine art nude photography is all about mastering the lighting, and playing with shadows to emphasize your model’s body lines. It’s almost like sculpting with light and it very much requires you to bring your A-game to the shoot.

This is not a moment for improvising. When a model is trusting you enough to get undressed, keeping things serious and professional becomes even more important.

You should have a specific plan in mind for every shoot, but even more so for nude shoots. Do a bit of research and try to come up with a few poses you’d like to attempt. Also, work out the necessary lighting scheme in advance and try to have everything in place by the time the model arrives. You’ll still need to measure, but the less time the model needs to stand there waiting for you to get your act together, the better.

Another thing to keep in mind is that nude pictures can vary a lot depending on your model’s body type. Some build types are better suited for direct, harsh lighting, while others look better with a more diffuse light. If you’ve met your model before or have access to their online portfolio, try to think of their complexion when you’re researching, and choose poses and lighting schemes that will go well with their particular body type.

If possible, try to have a separated area where the model can have some privacy to get changed. You should also bring a robe or something along those lines in case the model prefers to be covered in between shots. Again, they may not actually end up using it, but merely knowing it’s there sends the right message and helps establish trust between the two of you. And if there’s one thing that’s absolutely indispensable for shooting nudes, it’s trust.

It’s also super important to act naturally. You’ll probably be nervous on your first few times, that’s perfectly normal. Don’t fight it. Try not to behave like you were just caught skipping class by your mom, and you’ll be fine. If it helps, remind yourself that we’re all naked below our clothes. It really is no big deal. Be aware that you’ll need to look at your model’s body to work the scene. That’s also ok. Don’t feel bad for looking, it’s part of your work. Just don’t stare. There’s a difference.

Take your time with each pose, and don’t rush things. When you’re nervous it’s tempting to try to do everything as quickly as possible, but if the end result is poor that doesn’t help anyone. Make sure your images are correct before moving on to the next pose.

Finally, the most important thing when you’re shooting nudes is giving clear, precise directions to the model. This will serve two purposes: one, it will help them do their job better and you get the results you want, and two, it will convey to the model an all-important piece of information: that you actually know what you’re doing.

Final words: practice makes perfect

To circle back to the beginning, working with models can be a challenging experience. As you’ve seen in this piece, there are many different elements to watch out for, and it takes a fair amount of work to do it right. That said, it’s also one of the most satisfying experiences in photography, and one of the best ways to learn new tricks and take a couple steps out of your comfort zone.

As with everything in life, ultimately the key to doing it well is doing it often. Try getting the same shots with different models to get a better sense of what stays the same and what needs changing. Each person is unique and working with lots of different people is by far the best way to improve your skills.

In any case, it’s always better to keep things small at the beginning, and try new things as your confidence level rises. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, try to enjoy the process and you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

Just be prepared, because that’s when the real fun begins.

  1. Unless it’s a work-for-hire situation where the model is paying you to take their picture. In that case, obviously, having them provide directions is fine, but you should still have a few ideas of your own, in case they don’t know what to ask for.

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Stephen Hackett is going independent →

July 06, 2015 |

Great news from Stephen Hackett over at 512 Pixels:

Starting at the end of this month, I’ll be working from home, recording and editing podcasts, writing here and elsewhere, including The Sweet Setup and monthly at iMore. 512 Pixels took the back burner when we founded Relay last year, and I’m looking forward to giving it some much-needed attention.

Massive congratulations and best of luck, Stephen. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us.

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Steve Huff reviews the new Zeiss Batis lenses →

July 06, 2015 |

Zeiss recently introduced two new lenses for their full frame FE mount, the Zeiss Batis 25mm f/2 and the Zeiss Batis 85mm f/1.8. Judging from their specs alone, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about these two lenses, but apparently that’s only until you use them. Every review I’ve seen so far puts them firmly in best-in-class territory, and Steve Huff’s is no different:

As for these lenses, they deliver on the hype and promise, the really do. I have not used a finer 25mm lens and in the world of 75-85mm lenses, the choices are plentiful, no doubt. Even so, the Zeiss 85 f/1.8 Sonnar is up there with the finest I have used and my faves in life have been the Canon 85 1.2, Nikon 85 1.4, and Zeiss 85 f/2 for Leica Mount. This 85mm delivers the detail, creaminess, nice colors and perfect contrast for those portrait sessions where you want that Zeiss WOW.

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Ending Greece’s bleeding →

July 06, 2015 |

Paul Krugman, writing for The New York Times on the outcome of the historic referendum that took place in Greece yesterday:

But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.

Yesterday, the Greek people overwhelmingly said no to fear, and no to the failed austerity policies of the Eurogroup. This was a historic decision with the potential to alter the course of the entire EU, and its first consequences are already being felt.

That said, I don’t necessarily agree with Krugman’s opinion that Greece leaving the Euro would be “the best of bad options”. In my opinion — and I’m admittedly no expert — there’s plenty of wiggle room to negotiate a viable deal within the confines of the Eurozone, but in order for that to happen, Greece’s creditors must shoulder their fair share of responsibility for what’s happened.

Alexis Tsipras’s government seems keen on reaching an agreement that would secure Greece’s future in the Eurozone, even going so far as to sacrifice their own finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, in order to facilitate negotiations despite having won the referendum. The Greeks have done their part, now it’s time for the rest of the Eurogroup to pick up the ball.

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July 04, 2015

It’s been a turbulent week in Europe. Pretty much every country in the EU is looking at Greece with increasing concern these days, after it became the first developed country to default on its I.M.F. loans.

Greece’s default means it won’t get a third bailout from the Eurogroup, which it desperately needs. All through the week we saw movement from both sides hinting at a possible last-minute deal before the troika’s1 offer expired on Thursday. First Greece said they’d accept the troika’s conditions if they were granted some debt relief, to which the Eurogroup promptly said no. Then the I.M.F., which is actually part of the troika, said no further help would be given to Greece unless it’s also accompanied by debt relief. This appeared to bring both sides closer than ever to an agreement. But then, both German chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras appeared on their respective national televisions saying an agreement was impossible. Merkel wants to wait until Sunday’s referendum before deciding on anything, and Tsipras is campaigning as hard as he can for a no vote that would render all past negotiations irrelevant.

The entire situation feels like watching a fascinating game of cat and mouse between Greece and its creditors in the Eurogroup. And if that is indeed the case, then Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis would be the man who’s pulling the strings. This is not particularly surprising, considering he actually wrote several academic papers on game theory itself. I strongly suspect he’s putting his knowledge to good use here, but only time will tell if it will be enough.

In the meantime, the Greek people are suffering one of their worst weeks in recent memory, with banks closed and food and medicine supplies running dangerously low. In the streets, general chaos is overwhelming, and this comes on top of an already precarious situation that has lasted far too long. Tomorrow, Greeks will be granted an opportunity — maybe the only one they’ll ever get — to speak up and be heard.

Greece’s creditors seem bent on pushing the idea that a no vote in tomorrow’s referendum would be tantamount to Greece leaving the Euro and maybe even the complete disintegration of the Eurozone itself. In reality, however, the situation is much more nuanced. Tsipras has stated repeatedly that Greece remains committed to the Euro and to Europe and so far, nothing that’s happened during this crisis gives us reason to doubt him.

If Greeks say no tomorrow, they may give their government the strength it needs to negotiate on more equal terms with the troika. If they vote yes, it’ll probably be the end of Alexis Tsipras’s government. Whatever happens, we’ll find out soon enough.

Now, let’s go for something a bit more relaxing. There were plenty of great pieces to read this week, so grab your favorite hot beverage and let’s get on with it.

Issue #5: on immigration, Pete Sampras, the voice of Siri, and flirting at a nude beach

This issue includes several very interesting pieces indeed. From a deeply personal letter from Pete Sampras to his younger self, to a great piece on how to make friends at a nude beach, and everything Apple-related in between, there’s enough variety here to keep you entertained all weekend. Enjoy.

You’re better than this, Europe | Nils Muiznieks →

Great piece for The New York Times on how recent immigration policy amendments made by several European countries are threatening refugees’ right to asylum. Immigration is a very real problem in Europe, and the current situation is unsustainable. Sadly, in dealing with that problem, some governments appear to have forgotten the very principles of equality and solidarity the Union was founded upon.

Life is easier when you take the stairs | David Cain →

Another week, another winner by David Cain. I don’t know how he keeps doing it, but he does:

I think what most of us really want is an easier life, not necessarily a more wholesome one. We want less trouble and more enjoyment, probably more so than we want achievement and virtue. But what we often overlook is that embracing difficulty in certain places nets us a lot more ease than our usual “easy” ways. Putting in three hours a week at the gym is easier than being out of shape 24 hours a day. Studying is easier than sitting in an exam room not having studied. Doing a good job at work is easier than wondering when they’ll finally fire you.

I’m used to thinking of ease and difficulty as a pretty straightforward dichotomy: we want more of one and less of the other. And maybe in a sense that’s true, but they are often found in the same place and come together as a package. A small amount of difficulty often serves as the gatekeeper to a large amount of ease.

Spot on, as usual. Beyond the quoted excerpt above, this particular phrase stands out: “Fears tend to stay down once you walk over them once”.

Run to the Devil: The Ghosts and the Grace of Nina Simone | Brian Phillips →

Brian Phillips has been on fire lately. Just days before penning one of the best articles on Roger Federer in recent memory, he published this incredible piece on the troubled life of Eunice Waymon, the incredibly talented girl who would grow up to become one of the most influential musicians of all time: Miss Nina Simone.

Letter to my younger self | Pete Sampras →

Pete Sampras, who was widely regarded as the best male tennis player of all time until a fella named Roger Federer started winning majors left, right and center, writes a letter to his 16-year-old self, when he was about to join the professional ATP circuit. Amazing.

At the heart of the Wimbledon tennis championships lies the IBM bunker | Sebastian Anthony →

I really enjoyed Anthony’s peek into the brains of Wimbledon for Ars Technica. Organizing a Grand Slam event, like any major sports tournament in the world, takes a huge amount of effort, coordination, and technological prowess. This is how the magic happens.

Seven years on, a MacBook Pro prepares for El Capitan | Chip Sudderth →

Apple hasn’t increased the basic requirements for running new OS X versions for a few years now, which is great news for those of us who still own and use old Macs every day. Basically, if your Mac is 64-bit capable, you’re good to go. And since El Capitan is ostensibly optimized to increase performance and battery life on older Macs, upgrading this time around really does seem like a no-brainer.

Losing weight with Apple Watch | Matt Gemmell →

This is a fantastic, in-depth analysis on how it’s entirely possible to lose weight without making huge sacrifices, or changes to your life. A little effort every day, coupled with a bit of intelligent planning and a sound strategy goes a long way. And as as Matt notes, a tech gadget like the Apple Watch can be useful to track your progress and give you an extra bit of motivation, but it’s very much not required.

Love | Brent Simmons →

Brent Simmons, the former lead developer of Vesper, shares his thoughts on the current state of the indie app development industry:

Yes, there are strategies for making a living, and nobody’s entitled to anything. But it’s also true that the economics of a thing may be generally favorable or generally unfavorable — and the iOS App Store is, to understate the case, generally unfavorable. Indies don’t have a fighting chance.

Brent’s piece has been shared to death over the past few days, so you may have seen it already. The explanation for that is very simple: He’s absolutely right. As much as it pains me to say it, the App Store’s promise of a sustainable ecosystem for indie developers to thrive in remains largely unfulfilled. There was a brief period in the beginning when things really were awesome. Then, after the initial gold rush subsided, things were still good. Now they just are what they are. There are people like Marco Arment who still manage to find success, but by and large, the expectations for aspiring indies in today’s App Store are pretty bleak.

Clearly Apple has some of the responsibility here. Their actions as steward of the platform haven’t been focused on protecting indies and encouraging they can create sustainable businesses, and that’s unfortunate.

Disconnect | Dave Wiskus →

Dave takes a look at some of the things that are broken in Apple’s new Connect feature for Apple Music. Connect was designed to bring artists together with their listeners, but the current implementation apparently leaves much to be desired. Dave’s piece ends on a positive note, though:

These are early days, and there’s hope. I don’t like complain-y posts where designers pick something apart and either offer no meaningful ideas or, worse, presumptuously redesign someone else’s work. So instead I’m going to break the fourth wall and make a simple suggestion to Apple: consult with independent musicians. Talk to bands who have succeeded on social media and see what worked for them. Talk to bands who have made great YouTube videos and find out how they get their audience to share stuff. Talk to bands who haven’t made it yet and ask what tools they might need to get there.

Airbnb and the Internet revolution | Ben Thompson →

Great piece by Ben Thompson, as usual. Businesses like Uber and Airbnb are great examples of the endless possibilities for disruption enabled by the sharing economy, but they’re also shady enterprises at their best, with many gray areas in the way they operate:

I increasingly believe that it is the sharing economy that is beginning to reveal the answer: a world of commodified trust has significantly less need for much of the infrastructure of modern society, including inefficient sectors like hotels whose primary differentiator is trust, along with the regulatory state dedicated to enforcing that trust. On the other hand, this brave new world has brand new holes through which people can fall: those who have lost trust, or do not have the means to build it.

The real voice of Siri explains the art of voiceover | Phil Edwards →

I love these behind-the-scenes stories. Voice acting is a pretty well-established industry in Spain, where people have been watching mostly dubbed movies and TV shows for decades. The situation is starting to change over the past few years, as many people — especially younger people — start consuming more and more of their content through the Internet in its original form. Who would have thought that it’d take massively successful TV shows like Lost and Game of Thrones for people to get serious about their English?

Anyway, this piece is a great look at some of the intricacies of voice acting, and who better to guide us through the process than Susan Bennett, the actress behind Siri’s original voice. A very entertaining read indeed.

Switzerland on film | Bijan Sabet →

Fantastic collection of pictures taken on medium format film. Switzerland is a beautiful country, and I love how the rich colors of its landscapes are captured by films such as Kodak Portra. There are plenty of good reasons in this post to go buy a plane ticket.

How to flirt and make friends at a nude beach | Maureen O’Connor →

This was a very interesting piece to read. Apparently, nude beaches feel like stepping into a parallel world, where society is governed by a different set of rules:

Paradoxically enough, every nudist I spoke to said that socializing in the buff is less sexual than socializing in clothes. Complete nudity, Jones points out, prevents a person from emphasizing any one part. Or as her fiancé puts it: “Everything just flops into place. There’s nothing to hold this up or accentuate that — you’re just you.” Meanwhile, pickup lines and overtly sexual come-ons feel unacceptably aggressive (and even more cringe-worthy) when both parties are nude.

This makes so much sense. I’ve never been to a nude beach, but I did spend a year living in Finland, where sauna is one of the most extended traditions. It feels incredibly weird when, soon after you first arrive in the country, you’re invited to stand fully naked among strangers in a tight, confined space that is heated upwards of 100°C. And yet, it’s amazing how quickly it becomes normal, and the naked part starts to feel shockingly natural.

When everyone is naked in a non-sexualized environment, things have a way of working out that is more relaxed, and more civilized. Sauna soon became one of my preferred activities in Finland, and still today I miss it dearly.

The Lamy 2000 fountain pen | Josh Ginter →

I love fountain pens, but I must confess I had no idea this one even existed. I guess it goes to show just how deep certain rabbit holes go. Apparently the Lamy 2000 is a legendary pen that enjoys cult status among pen enthusiasts everywhere. Indeed, going by Josh’s amazing photography alone, it’s easy to see why. It doesn’t exactly come cheap — although there are definitely much more expensive pens around — but it looks to be worth every penny. If you love pens or simply appreciate nice things, take a good look at Josh’s fantastic review.


It’s July Fourth today, one of the most important holidays of the year in the United States. I’d like to take a moment to wish a very happy day to all my American friends, I hope you have a fantastic time with your loved ones. Make the most of it, and celebrate to your heart’s content.

As it happens, tomorrow is another highly celebrated day of the year: my birthday. I’m turning 32 in a few hours, and I’m spending the weekend in my hometown with my parents to celebrate. Last night we had dinner at a new restaurant that a friend of mine opened three days ago, and we had a wonderful time. I really enjoy these quiet moments together, and in my mind it’s the perfect way to get slightly older.

I’m not one to dwell much on my birthdays, but this time around it feels slightly different than past years. I’ve been working for myself full-time for close to a year now, and it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I still have a ways to go to make it sustainable, and I may have to make some hard choices about my life in the near future but for now, things are good. I love doing what I do, and I feel incredibly fortunate for the opportunity to pursue this life. I’m well aware of the privilege it entails, and I’m committed to doing the very best work I can. Hopefully you’ll stick around to see it.

That said, it’s now time for a break. I’m taking a couple of days off in order to enjoy some time with my family and relax for a little bit. I have a great article in the pipeline for next week that I can’t wait to show you, but everything in due time. For now, enjoy these great reads, have a fantastic weekend and, of course, thank you for reading.

  1. The troika refers to the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission.

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Oakley in Residence restores three bicycles and returns them to their lucky owners →

July 02, 2015 |

Oakley in Residence is a hybrid between coffee shop and bike workshop that visits different places around the world. Previously based in Los Angeles, Oakley in Residence is now in London, where it will remain until the end of August.

This is clearly a publicity stunt, but a pretty cool one at that. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reuniting with your long-lost bicycle. Kudos to Oakley for coming up with this.

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