Amazon announces new typographic features for Kindle, including much-awaited hyphenation →

May 28, 2015 |

John Brownlee, writing at Fast Company:

But the new app finally gives the boot to the hideous absolute justification of text that the Kindle’s been rocking since 2007. The new layout engine justifies text more like print typesetting. Even if you max out the font size on the new Kindle app, it will keep the spacing between words even, intelligently hyphenating words and spreading them between lines as need may be.

The layout engine also contains some beautiful new kerning options. They’re subtle, but once you see them, you can’t unsee them: for example, the way that the top and bottom of a drop cap on the Kindle now perfectly lines up with the tops and bottoms of its neighboring lines. Like I said, it’s a small detail, but one that even Apple’s iBooks and Google Play Books doesn’t manage to quite get right.

I’ve always hated justification in my Kindle books. This sounds like a great update, but Marco Arment isn’t impressed, so take it with a grain of salt:

Now, hyphenation is being added (which Amazon is doing not by changing the client-side configuration, but by slowly updating their entire catalog of the books themselves to individually enable it, and it won’t apply to all books). Hyphenation is a big improvement for the books that get it, and makes justified text suck less, but it still sucks.

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Chris Gonzales launches ‘Stellar Edits’ →

May 28, 2015 |

Exciting announcement by Chris Gonzales:

This is where I come in. Stellar Edits is a professional editing service I’ve created to help indie creators publish their words with confidence. Everyone has a unique voice, and I want to help you strengthen yours.

Let’s tell your story better.

Every time I’m working on a lengthy piece I wonder how some guys1 are able to publish thousands of edited words per week without any noticeable decrease in quality or polish.

The reason I wonder is because writing is the easy part. It’s where all the fun happens and if you get in the zone, you can easily get through a whole piece in one sitting. The problem is, once you’re done writing you still have a long way to go if you want your piece to be polished and ready for publication. If you aspire to maintain a certain standard for your work, you have to edit.

And guess what? Editing is hard.

It’s hard not only because it’s less fun to do — which it is — but because as the original author, you’re probably not even equipped to edit your own words professionally. Great editing goes way beyond simple grammar-fixing, it’s all about making sure that the message gets through to the audience as clearly as possible and if you’re the one making the mistakes, you’re probably not going to be able to fix them on your own.

A brilliant editor you can trust is probably one of the most — if not the most — valuable assets any writer can have.

I’m really excited about this. Everything we can do to increase the level of polish and professionalism of the written Web is a win in my book, and Chris just scored a big one for the team. I know I would trust him with anything and I’m sure once you try his services, you’ll never look back.

  1. Jason Snell, I’m looking at you.

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John Gruber on Jony Ive’s “promotion” →

May 28, 2015 |

Astute analysis by John, as ever:

I can see Cook-Ive as a sort of titular reversal of the Jobs-Cook C-level leadership duo. Cook oversees operations and “running the company”; Ive oversees everything else. So they created a new title to convey the authority Ive already clearly wielded, and promoted Dye and Howarth, his trusted lieutenants, to free him from administrative drudgery. I could be wrong, and we’ll know after a few years, but that’s my gut feeling today.

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The Apple Watch Review over at Tools & Toys →

May 28, 2015 |

Great review by my friends at Tools & Toys. Bradley Chambers takes us on a journey — literally — over three days of using Apple Watch, and how it impacted many areas of his life and the way he communicated with others:

The magic in Apple Watch lies in what it can’t do. There is no web browser. There is no App Store on the device. It’s providing just enough data to keep you in touch and informed, without being a distraction. If Apple Watch owners are simply more aware of what is going on around them, then the product is a success in my mind. It’s allowing us to have access to great technology, but still live in the real world. I wonder if we will look back at the world where people have their eyes glued to their iPhones as an era where people didn’t know how to control themselves.

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The Desire Lines of Cyclists – The Global Study →

May 27, 2015 |

Great initiative by Copenhagenize Design Co.:

The Desire Lines of Cyclists – The Global Study – is the natural evolution of our original Desire Lines analysis of cyclist behaviour and how cyclists react to urban design called The Choreography of an Urban Intersection. The results of which were unveiled by CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen at Velo-City 2013 in Vienna. This study from Copenhagen in 2012 was based on video-recorded observations of 16,631 cyclists during a 12 hour period. We explored the anthropological details of bicycle users and how they interact with other traffic users and the existing urban design. Three categories of cyclists were identified: Conformists, Momentumists, and Recklists.

Thanks to this study we created a new methodology to analyse urban life: the Desire Line Analysis Tool, which is designed mostly to decode the Desire Lines of cyclists. The main purposes of the analysis is to get a thorough understanding of bicycle users and to rethink intersections to fit modern mobility needs. Like William H. Whyte before us, we want first to observe people. We employ anthropology and sociology directly to urban planning - something we feel is sorely lacking.

They’re expanding their study to other cities around the world, including Cape Town, Paris, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. Their goal is to assist cities worldwide in developing the right kind of infrastructure for promoting the bicycle as transport.

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Re/code acquired by Vox Media →

May 27, 2015 |

Yesterday, Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher announced in a joint statement that Re/code is getting bought by Vox Media:

We are thrilled to announce that Re/code’s parent company, Revere Digital, is being wholly acquired by the highly respected digital-native media company Vox Media. This is the next big step in our mission to bring you quality tech journalism, because our work will now be amplified and enhanced by Vox Media’s deep and broad skill set.

Thrilled, we tell you. This is great news! Call me paranoid, but I don’t like it. And the positive spin they felt they needed to include to avoid awkward comparisons with The Verge doesn’t help:

We plan as well to collaborate where appropriate with Vox Media’s current and very successful tech news site, The Verge. While the two sites occasionally overlap, we have focused on the business of tech, while The Verge has focused on covering tech from a lifestyle perspective.

Riiight. Got it. No conflict at all there. But wait a second, here’s an excerpt from Walt Mossberg’s ethics statement, which is available as a popover window next to his contact information in the article’s header:

I am not an objective news reporter, and am not responsible for business coverage of technology companies. I am a subjective opinion columnist, a reviewer of consumer technology products and a commentator on technology issues. I don’t offer investment advice, or follow the financial progress or stock prices of technology companies. I focus on products and services, not revenues and earnings.

So, let me get this straight. Re/code has “focused on the business of tech”, but Walt Mossberg is “not responsible for business coverage of technology companies”.

How does that work again, exactly?

Seriously. I get that Re/code is bigger than Walt Mossberg, but he is definitely one of the main draws for the audience. I’d be willing to bet that many people, probably even most people, go to Re/code to read his reviews and then stay for the rest. I know because I am one of those people. Which makes all of this rather important. How is his work on the site any different than what The Verge does? Are they seriously expecting us to believe all of a sudden that Re/code is just a business site that just happens to feature one of the most popular and respected product reviewers on the Internet?

Just once, I’d like to see a company being acquired treat their customers — in this case, their readers — with respect, and state upfront that they did it mostly because the money was too good to turn down, and that they have no clue how things are going to work out moving forward but they’re hoping for the best. That wouldn’t be very encouraging, but at least it wouldn’t be an insult to our intelligence, either.

Having said all that, I really do hope things work out well for everyone involved, because Re/code is one of my favorite sites, and I have nothing but admiration for the work they do.

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Is Amazon Prime actually an EcoCrime? →

May 27, 2015 |

Om Malik:

Yesterday I received a package from Amazon Prime. It had two small items inside: a Gorilla Pod , and a pair of eco-friendly water filters for Soma Water Carafe. There was nothing unique about these items—they were puny in size and yet they arrived in a giant box bursting with air-filled packaging material. And I looked at that box with absolute and complete disgust, wondering, Is Amazon Prime actually an EcoCrime? Others on Twitter agreed with that take, which only reaffirmed my guilt for using Prime—for being an unwitting enabler of waste.

He makes a great point. Any packaging excess, even if it’s only for small items, becomes a huge problem when a company ships at the volume Amazon does. That’s why, for years now, Apple has been putting so much thought into reducing packaging for their products as much as possible.1

For what it’s worth though, I haven’t seen the same issue here in Spain with Amazon Premium — our version of Amazon Prime, which is identical except it doesn’t come with Amazon Instant Video. In fact, I have had the exact opposite thought a couple of times when receiving an order from Amazon Spain in the past. They really do use super efficient packaging over here, so I wonder what else is different in how the company operates across different countries.

  1. Well, that and the massive economic savings that come with it: you save on the materials for the packaging, you can ship more devices per plane so you also save fuel, and you save quite a bit of storage space for inventory. So there are plenty of selfish reasons to do the right thing here, apart from environmentalism.

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Josh Ginter goes to Vancouver: Day 2 →

May 27, 2015 |

Josh Ginter and family continue their May Long Weekend trip to Vancouver. Plenty of cool stuff, including a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium and a U2 concert.

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Olympus vs Panasonic: the devil you know

May 26, 2015

As I was working on the previous link post to Tyson Robichaud’s excellent review of the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 Micro Four Thirds lens, there was something that caught my eye:

Due to what I can only assume to be some amazing optical engineering, I’ve seen next to no chromatic aberration, even when shot wide open. In areas of extreme contrast by way of a subject being backlit, there can be a very, very slight shift, but it is as well controlled as I’ve seen on a lens, especially one this fast.

The Nocticron is no doubt an optically superb lens, but the real reason Tyson didn’t see barely any trace of chromatic aberration (CA) with it is that Panasonic cameras automatically correct CA when using Panasonic lenses. Since he used a Panasonic GX7 camera to review the lens, any possible CA artifacts or fringing would have been automatically corrected in camera and gone by the time he opened his RAW files in Lightroom, Photoshop and/or Adobe Camera Raw.

Now, in general, this sounds like a great reason to prefer Panasonic cameras but before you rush to sell all your Olympus gear, remember that all in-camera corrections inevitably result in some loss in resolution, and this one cannot be disabled. Unless you use a special RAW converter which bypasses the CA correction feature, you won’t be able to see the real optical properties of the lens.

To be fair, you will rarely ever need to do so, especially with a lens as good as the Nocticron, which is more than sharp enough to make up for any potential resolution losses caused by the CA correction. Still, I’m not a fan of this Panasonic “feature” at all. I always prefer to make any corrections myself, and only when I actually need to, as opposed to having them imposed upon me by the camera manufacturer. This is partly why in general, I have a strong preference for Olympus over Panasonic when it comes to camera bodies.

Why, then, am I looking at a Panasonic lens?

The devil you know

The general consensus on the Internet, probably inherited from the DSLR world, seems to be that you’re better off using lenses from the same manufacturer as your camera, i.e: Panasonic bodies work better with Panasonic lenses and Olympus bodies work better with Olympus lenses.

Playa de la Barceloneta, in Barcelona. Picture taken with the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens on an Olympus E-M10.

There are several facts that appear to support that claim. For example, high-end Panasonic lenses usually have image stabilization technology built-in to make up for the fact that Panasonic cameras usually don’t have in-body image stabilization (IBIS).1 Olympus lenses, on the other hand, are all non-stabilized because most Olympus cameras do have IBIS.

A Patio in Barcelona. This image had traces of chromatic aberration visible on the table in the foreground, which were easily corrected in Lightroom. Picture taken with the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens on an Olympus E-M10.

In my opinion though, the situation is not as simple. I agree that owners of Panasonic camera bodies have very good reasons — like the aforementioned lack of IBIS — to stick to Panasonic lenses, but owners of Olympus bodies can use both Panasonic and Olympus lenses without any issues — they simply won’t be using the IS technology of the Panasonic lenses, but since Olympus’s own IBIS technology is clearly superior that doesn’t really matter. And considering I’m not a fan of some of the other Panasonic “features” like the automatic CA correction, I’d say Olympus bodies actually work better with both Olympus and Panasonic lenses.

Metrópolis Building and Gran Vía at Night, Madrid. Advanced features of Olympus bodies, like Live Composite Mode, work flawlessly with Panasonic lenses. Picture taken with the Panasonic 20mm pancake lens on an Olympus E-M10.

Of course, these are just my two cents, and your mileage may vary. For example, I hardly ever shoot any video with my camera, and Panasonic cameras are admittedly superior when it comes to video.

That said, for taking still pictures the combination of an Olympus body with all kinds of lenses gives you, I believe, the best of both worlds. I own an Olympus OM-D E-M10 camera and five lenses — four, if we don’t count the kit zoom. Two of those are Panasonic lenses: the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, which I absolutely love, and the amazing Panasonic Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4, which is arguably the closest kin to the Nocticron as far as character and rendering go.

Miriam and me. This image had traces of chromatic aberration visible on the utensils towards the left side and also in the background. Both were easily corrected in Lightroom. Picture taken with the Leica 25mm lens on an Olympus E-M10.

I love my Panasonic lenses and their unique properties. The 20mm pancake is super sharp and compact, perfect to take with you anywhere, while the 25mm Leica has given me some of my favorite images since I’ve owned my E-M10 and the more I use it, the more I like it. It really is capable of greatness.

My friend Pedro. I love how his eyes pop out in this one. Picture taken with the Leica 25mm lens on an Olympus E-M10.

Together with my other two Olympus lenses — the 17mm and 45mm f/1.8 primes — these Panasonic jewels make for a super high-quality kit that remains small, light and versatile. I have owned both lenses for close to a year and have shot with them extensively, for both personal and professional purposes. In all those months, not once have I had a serious problem with CA when using them on my Olympus body. CA is admittedly present sometimes, but it’s always easy to correct in post, taking no more than a couple seconds to fix.

Shooting against the light is a frequent cause of chromatic aberration, but even in extreme cases like the second image here, they’re always easy to correct. Both pictures taken with the Leica 25mm lens on an Olympus E-M10.

Bottom line

Unless shooting the best possible video is important to you, there are few reasons today to recommend a Panasonic body over some of the excellent Olympus OM-D offerings, particularly if you’re interested in exploring lenses from all manufacturers — and you really should be.

Similarly, if you own an Olympus body, there are few reasons to limit yourself to Olympus glass only, as great as it may be. If you have been avoiding some of the excellent Panasonic lenses for fear of not being able to use them to their full potential, fear not.

Finally, the Panasonic Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 may well be the single best piece of glass for the Micro Four Thirds system, and not only on Panasonic bodies. It will perform admirably regardless of which camera brand you own. Whether you need it though, or whether it is a good fit for you, is an entirely different matter.

  1. With the exception of, coincidentally, the Panasonic GX7.

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The Ghost Army of WWII that Duped Hitler →

May 26, 2015 |

Messy Nessy Chic:

Using dummy tanks, cannons, jeeps and trucks, fake aircrafts, phony radio transmissions and special effects, this small group of American soldiers pretended to be two divisions of up to 30,000 allied troops moving in for the attack, when in actual fact, the real attack (with real tanks and artillery) was going to take place miles away.

Surely though, a few inflatable tanks and trucks couldn’t fool Hitler and his army in their final stand?

But the Ghost Army was so much more than that.

Super cool story.

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