Books Covers of Note January 2015 →

January 22, 2015 |

Some really wonderful cover designs on this month’s selections by The Casual Optimist. I love the ones that are apparently simpler. “Simple” here is of course a terribly misleading word to use, because minimalism in design is hard: it often takes a lot more work to make a simple design that looks good instead of a more complicated one.

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Microsoft announces HoloLens →

January 22, 2015 |

Vlad Savov, The Verge:

Microsoft has just revealed its next great innovation: Windows Holographic. It’s an augmented reality experience that employs a headset, much like all the VR goggles that are currently rising in popularity, but Microsoft’s solution adds holograms to the world around you. The HoloLens headset is described as “the most advanced holographic computer the world has ever seen”. It’s a self-contained computer, including a CPU, a GPU, and a dedicated holographic processor. The dark visor up front contains a see-through display, there’s spatial sound so you can “hear” holograms behind you, and HoloLens also integrates a set of motion and environmental sensors.

Ambitious, to say the least. I confess I’m impressed, although there are still far too many unanswered questions, and it’s early to predict how well this will work in the real world. That said, the potential is definitely there.

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What it’s like to work for Fujifilm →

January 21, 2015 |

Photographer Leigh Diprose tells the story of how he came to work for Fujifilm Australia, and what that’s actually like:

Over the last year I’m finding a slight shift in who’s using Fujifilm products. These days X-Series cameras are being used by people who have never touched a camera before due to recommendations from current or previous owners. I’m also seeing and hearing of many photographers worldwide ‘jumping ship’ from the brands they’ve loved. The main reason I hear this is due to the lack of support from the brand. I find it’s a sad state of affairs when some companies don’t listen to their end users.

It’s a nice story, if a bit too close to PR-speak for my taste. Still, what he said is mostly true: out of all mirrorless systems out there, the Fuji X-series is the one that’s seriously challenging my love for Micro Four Thirds. Fuji does so many things well, and their design philosophy — dedicated manual controls on the bodies and top-notch lenses with manual aperture rings — just feels so right.

I’m still a happy MFT camper for the most part, but I admit it wouldn’t take much to win me over to the Fuji side.

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Why diners are more important than ever →

January 21, 2015 |

Ed Levine writes a love letter to the American diner:

I’ve had an egg- and toast-loaded three months of eavesdropping while eating my way through New York’s diners, as many as I could without getting divorced, and have come to the inescapable conclusion that they are as essential to our way of life, our democracy, and our sense of community, as any other American institution we have right now.

One of my favorite memories from my second visit to NYC was eating breakfast with my brother at 3:30 am — on a Tuesday — in a greasy, lively, absolutely perfect diner in Chelsea. There’s nothing quite like that to replenish your body and soul after a really long day out and about in the greatest city in the world.

Now that I can hold my own with a decent camera, I totally have to go back.

Via Kottke.

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A fussy way to make coffee →

January 21, 2015 |

Speaking of AeroPress, Chase Gallagher’s review covers all the basics, including this wonderful Sandwich video:

Charming, as ever. Here’s how Gallagher describes the process of using the AeroPress:

Enter… the Aeropress. First, it’s the basic principle of the press pot. But they ad a syringe-style plunger (which creates serious air pressure) and the cleanliness of a paper filter. You measure out your grounds, add hot water, steep, press. That’s it. Clean up? Unscrew the filter assembly and plunge further and your grounds and filter go into the garbage (which automatically wipes clean the cylinder). A quick rinse and you’re set for a nice, gentle air dry.

I’ve known about the AeroPress for a while now but honestly, I never felt enough interest to try it. Sure, I appreciate the simplicity, but my home espresso machine works perfectly and I’m just too set in my ways when it comes to making coffee. That said, the other day I walked into my local coffee shop to buy some freshly roasted beans and sure enough, the AeroPress was there, in all its plastic exuberance. I’m usually not one to believe in signs from the Universe, but I may have to give it a try, after all.

I’ll keep you posted.

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When used properly →

January 21, 2015 |

Allen Pike has some advice for the makers of AeroPress:

Side by side on a shelf with a more familiar coffee machine or french press, our beloved plunger is going to lose out. It’s unattractively packaged, strange, and its price seems too good to be true. I suspect the testimonials are intended to make it seem less weird, but beside the clean lines of a Bodum’s box they do the opposite. Shoppers looking for a gift are so turned off by AeroPress’ package that there is a market for aftermarket gift boxes. A sad state for a great product.

Sometimes it’s hard not to judge a book by its cover.

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The Rescued Film Project discovers 31 rolls of undeveloped film from a WWII soldier →

January 21, 2015 |

What an amazing story. The Rescued Film Project is an online archive gallery of images captured between the 1930’s and the 1990’s, curated and restored by photographer Levi Bettwieser. He rescues images found on film from all over the world and he recently made an incredible discovery: a batch of 31 rolls of undeveloped film, all from the same photographer — a WWII soldier — and all over 70 years old.

The images are impressive, but the developing process itself is also fascinating. I definitely have to try that sometime. Via Messy Nessy.

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Walt Mossberg on why you don't need to ride the tech upgrade treadmill →

January 21, 2015 |

Very thoughtful piece by Walt Mossberg for Re/code:

Just because we or other writers say “this is the best iPhone yet” doesn’t mean you need to run out and get it. It may indeed be the best, and yet not worth it for you.

Some tech products just don’t benefit dramatically from upgrades, depending on how you use them. I personally believe that’s one reason why the upgrade cycle has stretched out for laptops, and seems to be longer than once imagined for tablets. Newer models are certainly better than older ones, but not so much better that they justify spending more money.

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Jordan Steele reviews the Sony A7 II →

January 21, 2015 |

Fantastic review, as always. I was most interested in reading Jordan’s take on the Sony A7 II’s new In-Body Image Stabilization technology (IBIS). Here’s the appropriate excerpt:

Sony claims 4.5 stops of extra handholdability with their IBIS system, which I found a bit too optimistic. With both native lenses and adapted manual focus lenses I found the system to be good for an extra two to three stops of handholdability. This is below the very best optical stabilizers (and not quite as effective as Olympus’ excellent IBIS on the E-M1), but it is still a very good result, allowing me to get sharp shots in many demanding situations.

One thing to note is that to use the in-body stabilizer with manual focus lenses, one must first enter the focal length of the lens, so the body knows how much to correct. This is done quickly and easily via an on-screen menu, and thankfully can be assigned to the camera’s Fn menu for super easy access. One bizarre omission is that the input of focal length for IBIS is not appended to the EXIF data, which would have been very nice for helping to organize shots taken with manual focus lenses.

Not bad at all. The fact that it doesn’t quite seem to reach the performance of the E-M1’s IBIS is a bit disappointing, but understandable. After all, this technology is a first for Sony, and apparently it’s much harder to stabilize a full-frame sensor than a Micro Four Thirds sensor.

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Matt Gemmell, patronage, and Vincent Van Gogh

January 20, 2015

Yesterday, Matt Gemmell made a great case for patronage as a way to support the long-term survival of the creative works we enjoy:

The reality is that creative output involves cost - whether it’s at the professional end, with staff and materials and print runs or editing suites, or in the spare-bedroom office of the independent artist, where the cost is time, and what else might have been accomplished during it.

If we don’t support the things we love, with actual money, those things will go away. If we ignore the kickstarter campaigns, and block the ads, and read the content without supporting the author, and pirate the apps, sooner or later we’ll lose those things altogether.

Matt made the jump last year from a successful career in software development to an uncertain career in writing, and that is terrifying. I know, because I’m doing it, too. The uncertainty of not knowing if you’ll make it is by far the most difficult thing to deal with on a daily basis, at least for me personally. And by “making it” I don’t mean fame and fortune, mind you. I mean earning just enough to pay the bills and keep the lights on. That’s how high the stakes are for most creative people.

I’m sure Matt will make it, he’s just too good a writer not to. That’s what my instinct as a discerning reader tells me. However, a more troubling thought is that his future is not entirely in his hands anymore. We like to think that the creative industry is a meritocracy: great apps earn millions, bad apps don’t. Great authors get published, and bad writers don’t. It’s a comforting notion, but reality is seldom that clear-cut. Unfortunately, there have been plenty of great artists before Matt with talent to spare, who never actually managed to make a living out of their creative work. You’ve all heard about Van Gogh, but there are millions of Van Goghs out there today: great artists with passion, dedication and creative vision that are completely devoid of any means of support, to the point that they can’t afford to pursue their creative goals anymore. That’s tragic, and it’s largely on us.

We all love reading success stories. It’s inspiring to see how someone can have a successful career by doing what they love. But for each story we see, there are hundreds more we’re oblivious to. In the real world, Van Gogh is still struggling to sell his paintings.

The good news is, it doesn’t take much to make things better, but we all need to do our part. I’ve been supporting the work of my favorite authors for a long time, either by becoming a patron or a member, or by buying their books whenever I can. It’s not always easy but I try to put my money — my actual money, as Matt so eloquently put it — where my mouth is.

These incredibly brave authors are facing a world of uncertainty very few people could handle, and it’s not just them: their families are sharing the burden as well. If even one of them had to give up their creative work because they can’t earn enough to make a decent living, the Internet would be a darker place for me. Unfortunately, there’s only so much any one of us can do individually. Unless we collectively start valuing creative people and their craft in terms of actual money and not just praise or readership, we’ll continue to incur a huge risk that one day they’ll be gone, never to return.

As a creative person myself, I’ll admit to having a vested interest in this. I’ve been working full-time on Analog Senses since August and while readership is steadily growing, it’s still nowhere near big enough to be a sustainable business. I don’t even mean a sustainable full-time business, although that is what my vision for the site is. I still have a few months to go and I’ll keep working my ass off to make it, but there’s no guarantee it’ll work, and that’s sometimes frightening. There are several strategies I can and will try that have proven successful in the past, like weekly sponsorships and subtle ad placement, but those usually only go so far. The day is coming when I’ll need to ask for reader support in one way or another and then my fate, just as Matt’s, will not be in my hands anymore.

In the meantime, I only hope I can prove myself and provide enough value to you, dear reader, that you’ll consider supporting me when the time comes. I don’t know if things will work out or if I’ll be left to chop off my own ear1 but whatever happens, I’ve made my peace with it and I’m determined to find out.

  1. Figuratively speaking, of course. I apologize if that was too graphic.

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