Shared posts

08 Jul 19:22

Further Evidence That Wine Tasting Is Wildly Subjective

by Freakonomics

(Photo: Tony Alter)

A few years ago, we did a podcast on whether expensive wine tastes better. There is now further evidence that the answer to that question is no — even for elite wine critics. Winemaker Robert Hodgson recently collaborated with the California State Fair wine competition on a little wine-tasting experiment:

Each panel of four judges would be presented with their usual “flight” of samples to sniff, sip and slurp. But some wines would be presented to the panel three times, poured from the same bottle each time. The results would be compiled and analysed to see whether wine testing really is scientific.

The first experiment took place in 2005. The last was in Sacramento earlier this month. Hodgson’s findings have stunned the wine industry. Over the years he has shown again and again that even trained, professional palates are terrible at judging wine.

“The results are disturbing,” says Hodgson from the Fieldbrook Winery in Humboldt County, described by its owner as a rural paradise. “Only about 10% of judges are consistent and those judges who were consistent one year were ordinary the next year.

“Chance has a great deal to do with the awards that wines win.”

(HT: The Daily Dish)

08 Jul 18:24

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees

by Michael Zhang

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees DxdKIJe

Portland, Oregon-based photographer and art director Mako Miyamoto has an ongoing project that consists of lifestyle photographs… of Wookiees. The photographs have scenes and aesthetics you might see in some kind of clothing catalog or marketing campaign, except all of the models are sporting giant furry Chewbacca faces.

Activities seen in the images range from the mundane (e.g. sipping a drink at a bar, looking over a river during sunset) to the extreme (e.g. martial art fighting on a beach, swinging an axe at a car windshield while wearing a bloody apron).

Here’s a selection of photographs from the project that’ll give you an idea of what Wookiees do when they’re not zipping around the universe in spaceships or hanging out on Kashyyyk:

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees feARknX

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees 3jDCJll

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees Eev81P4

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees MBHtL0D

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees cUDuMsq

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees wmtAJfy

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees yO7KMRO

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees QNWQJK8

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees RYCtV7c

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees 31ksMB4

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees bO5hiEo

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees EeWWuYq

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees 99iDIBB

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees L0CRG4y

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees tSR98CN

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees cJKy5IB

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees BdltjFN

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees pCpt2k3

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees m56HfPv

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees Qm7EEIU

Lifestyle Photos Featuring Wookiees hVQor3g

You can find the entire set of these photographs over on the project’s website, Neon Werewolf. To find some photographs by Miyamoto that don’t contain fur and fangs, check out his personal photography website, which includes this project and more.

(via Laughing Squid)

P.S. Interested in shooting your own Wookiee photos? You can find similar masks over on Amazon for about $50-$100.

Image credits: Photographs by Mako Miyamoto

08 Jul 17:54

The Shape of Design

by Chris Gonzales

The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero is a fantastic book that examines the world of design, and the role of designers that inhabit it. This isn’t a guide to making websites look great, or a how-to on making apps. Chimero encourages the reader to think about the why behind great design, not the how.

There are fantastic quotes and illustrations sprinkled throughout the entire book. Here’s a quote from the first chapter that really stuck with me:

“The creative process could be said to resemble a ladder, where the bottom rung is the blank page and the top rung the final piece. In between, the artist climbs the ladder by making a series of choices and executing them. Many of our conversations about creative work are made lame because they concern only the top rung of the ladder – the finished piece. We must talk about those middle rungs, understanding that each step up the ladder is equal parts Why and How. To only entertain one is to attempt to climb a ladder with one foot: it may be possible, but it is a precarious task.”

And there are plenty more where that came from.

You can read the book in its entirety online, or you can download it in a variety of formats (ePub, MOBI, and PDF), all for free. He used to sell the eBook for $10, but apparently he decided to start giving it away after selling out of his entire stock of physical copies.

There’s no reason not to add this book to your collection, so do yourself a favor and pick it up right now.

Check it out.

08 Jul 17:54

Spies, Hypocrites, and Fools

There are angry voices sounding in Europe over the NSA’s large-scale indiscriminate information-gathering there. It’s perfectly possible to be suspicious and cynical about the US spooks, a fan of Ed Snowden, and still think those voices are those of either Euro-hypocrites or Euro-fools.

In general, I approve of espionage and yet intensely distrust law-enforcement organizations. I think a healthy civic society should:

  • Aggressively regulate its own security establishment.

  • Worry intensely about overreach and privacy abuse by security officials.

  • Empower those officials to watch its enemies closely and its allies even more closely.

  • Assume that foreign security establishments will routinely try to capture every word spoken and every picture taken.

  • Where there are useful measures that can be taken to protect citizens’ privacy from foreign snoops, take them.

Why Spying Is Good

Governments are less likely to do risky things that might have the side-effect of starting wars when they know that other governments know what they’re up to. It’s as simple as that.

And as long as religious leaders are out there teaching the clueless that God wants them to kill, I want spooks trying to head them off. Yes, I’m wearing my atheist heart on my sleeve here, but face facts: Contemporary terrorism is by and large a faith-based activity.

Why Distrust and Regulate Spooks?

Because every law-enforcement organization in history has had an us-against-them psychology. And every one has also had a statistically-unsurprising number of members who are corrupt, paranoid, or just stupid, and will abuse their access to privileged information.

And while the risk of a sudden lurch into tyranny seems remote in the civilized nations of the developed world, a good way to keep that risk low is to keep your security professionals on a damn short lease.

The notion that you need a search warrant to break down doors or tap phones or unlock emails is absolutely a central keystone of civilized life. Anything that weakens it is terribly dangerous.

I’m confident that Ed Snowden has done the world in general and America in particular a favor, by forcing into the public conversation what most “insiders” already knew. Among other things, my impression is that the spook organizations are ludicrously inefficient and wasteful. Whether or not it’s a good thing for them to be capturing all that information, it’s pretty likely that whatever the benefits are, they’re not worth what we’re paying. Let’s talk about that.

What would be even more valuable to the public discourse would be some public-finance insider opening the kimono on how much we’re actually paying for whatever it is that funding the spooks is buying us.

Home Spooks Vs Foreign Spooks

Assuming you’re not actually planning to bomb a legislature, it seems obvious that your own government’s spies are way more dangerous to you than are foreigners. Your own can put you on a no-fly list or hand you to a foreign government to torture or quietly advise a funding agency that your research proposals shouldn’t get a warm welcome or arrange that you go to secondary inspection every time you re-enter your homeland.

And they can do any of these things because they’re paranoid or corrupt or just stupid. Which some proportion of them will always be.

Foreign intelligence pros are simply not apt to care that much about what you do unless there are good reasons to think you’re a threat to them.

So You Like Being Watched?

Uh, no. I think it’s entirely sane to be paranoid, in a balanced way. Use HTTPS everywhere. Don’t share your location freely, trade it for things you need. Bear in mind that your telephone company always knows where you are, and has no business reason not to tell anyone in a uniform, if asked. And that your email provider, presented with a proper warrant, will efficiently cough up yours, including those you thought you’d deleted. And that anything going any distance over the public telephone network is probably being tapped by at least one government. And that Internet-voice and Internet-video operators may not even ask for a warrant before they spill your beans.

There are lots of perfectly-legal reasons to want privacy. If you act all the time in a way that sensibly preserves yours, when one of those legal reasons becomes important you suddenly won’t be acting different in an attention-catching way.


I’m not so idealistic as to think that the Canadian government has any interest in defending my privacy from the NSA; it’s actually more likely that they’re cheerfully handing anything they know over on request. But if there’s anything that a developed-world state could do to defend its citizens’ privacy from barbarians equipped with listening technology, I hope they are.

The Euro Angle

So, the Germans are upset that the Yanks are listening in to whatever they can? Given that 9/11 was planned in Frankfurt, they can’t plausibly claim to be surprised. So like the title says, I’m thinking hypocrisy or foolishness.

And since Germans in particular regulate their own security establishment with what looks to me like an eminently intelligent and sanely-paranoid framework, let’s rule out foolishness.

05 Jul 17:16

Hello Sony. Goodbye Nikon. The Story of why I am Switching from Nikon to Sony.

by Trey Ratcliff

“‘To take an interesting photo, some may choose to carry around a lot of metal and glass and mirrors and silicon. I choose to carry around less metal and glass and silicon. Oh, and no mirrors.’ – Me, quoting myself.” – Trey Ratcliff

Oh, Nikon… Sad Emoticon

Nikon, you’ve been good to me over the years. It’s not you. It’s me. Well, maybe it is kinda you. You’re kinda getting heavy; let’s be honest. I have this other new spunky Asian I’ve been seeing. Her name is Sony. Yeah, she doesn’t have those giant lenses…but… she fits nicely in my hands, you see. Oh wait… let’s stop this line of storytelling… it’s kind getting into the 50 Shades of Greymarket territory…

Sony NEX Review

Here’s the full-on Sony NEX-7 Review – (and check the latest price on Amazon). I wrote this a long time ago and have recently updated it, but the story here is all about my recent decision, especially in how it compares to the Nikon Full Frame DSLR system.

Disclosures about Sony

None! I have no disclosures! Sony didn’t pay me to write this article or give me free equipment. I paid full price for my Sony NEX-7 and my Sony NEX-6 and the lenses. Now, Sony did indeed contact me and offer me free cameras and lenses after my FIRST article, The China Experiment: Dumping Nikon for Sony. I told them no. It was a very nice offer and there were no strings attached for the free cameras and lenses, but I still told them no. Note this doesn’t rule out any kind of sponsorship or other arrangement that may transpire in the future, of course, but as of right now, there is nothing motivating this article other than me simply wanting to use the best.

DSLRs are a dying breed

Over a year ago, I wrote a controversial article called DSLRs are a Dying Breed. I got a lot of hate for that… but that’s cool. But now, the transition to the dark side is complete, as you can read about in detail below. Join me, and together we can rule the galaxy.

Is the Sony NEX-7 Really the Best???

Yes, the NEX-7 is the best for my kind of photography. I’m using it exclusively now and will be in the immediate future until something better comes along. Will it be the rumoured NEX-9? Will it be some secret full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens system from Nikon?

Above: After weaning myself off Nikon over the past 4-6 weeks, I had no hesitation at all whipping out my Sony to get this shot a few nights ago. That 55-210mm lens effectively lets me zoom all the way into 315mm with the crop factor, and all in a lens that is smaller than a Coke can!

Who knows… better stuff always comes along, but I will tell you this: Changing from Nikon to Sony was no small decision. It creates tidal waves of change across my entire world.

I’m also sensitive to the effect that this has on other people that are also interested in this stuff! If you add up G+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, I just passed 11 million followers, which is totally insane, and I can’t quite get my head around it. So, just understand that I am very careful and don’t say crazy things, because I know the magnitude of the effects!

Is the Sony NEX-7 WAY better than the my previous camera, the Nikon D800? No. Is it better enough to switch? Definitely. Want to know what’s better/worse? Keep on reading!

Hey look, it’s not all roses. I’ll give you my honest assessment below. Depending on the kind of photos you take and the kind of person you are, maybe this doesn’t apply to you.

If I were designing the camera, there are many changes I would make to the hardware and the software to make it perfect. I’ll list those below. I know Sony is watching this post, so you guys are welcome to jump down to that area and start taking notes! :)

Results of the Experiment

So this article is all about the results of my month-long experiment where I set aside my Nikon equipment to see if I could do just as well (or even better) with my Sony equipment. To see the nature of the experiment, see The China Experiment: Dumping Nikon for Sony. As I said in that article, much of my experiment is impure because a) I’m not doing side-by-side lab testing and b) I love to post-process my images. But I don’t claim to be a journalist or have lab-conditions. I’m an artist, and I feel like tools are there for me to bend to my will. Life’s too short not to use the best and most flexible equipment.

But, before I talk about the advantages of the NEX over the Nikon and the advantages of the Nikon over NEX, let’s look at some sample photos. And if you’re one of these internet-camera-forum-nerds that hates post-processed photos, well you can just go away now… I already know your opinion and it doesn’t matter to me.

Interview about the Sony NEX vs. Nikon

I know this has been a controversial decision, so Frederick Van Johnson, host of This Week in Photo, wanted to get me into this interview. Now, here’s a cool thing. If you go to This Link For the Interview, you can scrub forwards and back in the video until you see the question you want answered. Man, it is a long interview, but everything you ever wanted to know is in there! :)

Sample Photos

Let’s start with some sample photos. In all honesty, I don’t think I could have done any better with my Nikon D800, which is thousands of dollars more expensive and six times bigger!

To see MORE images, visit my Sony NEX Review Photo Gallery over on Google+.

Sony NEX Review

Above: When I got up in this situation atop one of the highest buildings in Beijing, I was used to having my old trusty Nikon system there. But, I vowed to continue the experiment and leave the D800 back in the hotel room. So it was just me and the Sony NEX-7. I wasn’t disappointed, and I am now more than confident enough in this little Asian number.


Sony NEX Review

Above: These were windy and rainy conditions in Toronto, but the NEX performed well. Because of that horrible decision to require the user to HOLD DOWN the shutter button during auto-bracketing, the photos would have come out too shaky. So, that means I did not use auto-bracketing and instead turned on the 2 second timer so I could let go and let the camera become stabilized. I had to rinse and repeat this for a few different exposures.


Sony NEX Review

Above: A low-light shot in China where I was really able to use the manual focus and focus peaking to make sure it was perfect!


Sony NEX Review

Above:  She was backlit and coming through the hallway at me. The RAW file is nice and thick and full of light… I had more than enough to get what I needed.


Sony NEX Review

Above: Here’s one of the first photos I took with the 10-18mm lens of a little path down to Lake Hayes in Arrowtown.


Sony NEX Review

Above: The idea that you can get to 315mm with a lens that is smaller than a Coke can is pretty mind-bending. I pulled out the camera and shot this right behind my house!

Sony NEX Review

Above: I’ve gotten a lot better at taking night shots with the NEX-7. It really helps if you have a tripod and set it up with the 2-second timer so you don’t get the camera shake.


Sony NEX Review

Above: Here’s a photo of my kids I took with the kit lens.


HDR Photo

Above: Here’s an old abandoned farmhouse. This was also shot with the 10-18mm.


Above: Even though it is not as hardy as the professional builds of the Nikon, it stands up to the cold really well. I’ve yet to have a problem in this rather bitter New Zealand winter!


Sony NEX Review

Above: The China Experiment actually ended up starting before China, while I was still in San Francisco. Here’s an NEX shot of the city from above…


Why am I talking about Nikon and not Canon?

Look, anything I say about the Nikon below you can substitute the word “Canon”. They are pretty much the same! I talk about Nikon a lot because that is what I have most used in my life.

What does it look like to shoot with the NEX and change lenses?

Here is a video I took that shows you what it is like to shoot photos with the NEX-7 and change lenses. It starts to get a bit into post-processing, but I fast-forward through that bit, assuming you are only interested in the hardware bit for now.

The Main Reasons I prefer the Sony NEX system over Nikon cameras

There are many many reasons. I’ll list them out here, not in any order:

  • The onboard focus systems - Since this is a mirrorless system, I get to see exactly what appears on the sensor. If I want it to be tack-sharp, I am assured of that. I noticed with my Nikon D800 that it sometimes came out a little bit soft. I think that is because even if the mirror/lens/sensor alignment is a little bit off, you can still get softness.
    Above: I took this one morning on the way to Milford Sound with the kit lens.
  • The onboard Manual Focus system - When I was on a tripod and wanted to be extra-sure I got good focus, I loved switching to manual and then twisting the focus dial. It shows me in the viewfinder the scene at 100% When I had that + Focus Peaking turned on, I knew I was nailing the focus. If you don’t know what Focus Peaking is, it allows me to see a “green” (or any color) outline of exactly what is in focus. It’s like a video game, actually!
  • The size and weight - Man, this thing is 6x smaller than a D800. It is TINY! It’s over 9x smaller than a D4! Nine Times Smaller. And it is so light. The lenses are so light too! I was able to walk around without a bag – you can see in the video below. I would just put my favorite tiny little lenses in my jacket pocket. My arms and back never even got remotely tired. Even better, it was just an absolute joy to pick up the camera and run out for a quick shoot. I didn’t feel like I was preparing for a major weight-carrying operation.
  • 24 megapixel – Sure, the D800 did 36 megapixel, but I found that 24 megapixels was more than enough. The Nikon D4 only has 16 megapixels, so this has 50% more and is 8x cheaper (if you’re only concerned about megapixels).
  • The speed – When I wanted fast photos, I could not have been more impressed with the 10 FPS.
  • Movable LCD – I LOVE not having to squat all the way down or lay on the ground to take a close-to-the-ground photo. My knees hate that move. These hips don’t lie.
  • Autobracketing – The autobracketing with the new firmware upgrade is “good enough” — it can take 3 exposures from -3 to +3 (or step down less too). It’s not as good as my old Nikon, but it gets me there 95% of the time.
  • Amazing viewfinder – Some people do not like the digital optical viewfinder (the EVF), but I love it. That organic LED is simply amazing. I love seeing the histogram and level graphical overlays on top of the photo. I feel like it is a HUD for a fighter pilot!
  • More inexpensive – This is not a deciding factor for me, but I do understand budgetary constraints. It’s over 3x cheaper than the D800 and 8x cheaper than the D4! This means I can buy 2 or 3 cameras and have backups and never really have to worry if one breaks for the price of one D800!

Minor Reasons I prefer the Sony NEX System

These are minor bullet points, so I wanted to separate them from the main bits above.

  • Intelligent Auto – Even though I am in Aperture Priority 90% of the time, I love going into iA (Intelligent Auto) when taking photos of my kids. This means I don’t always have to switch stuff around when chasing my kids from inside to outside, from daytime to night. iA almost always makes the right decision!
  • E-Lenses – There are not nearly as many lenses available for this E-mount system as the competing Micro Four-Thirds system, but, for me, there are enough. The 10-18mm is a godsend. I use that for 80% of my landscapes! And, the other 55-210 lens (effectively 82.5-315mm) has gotten me enough flexibility for some of those outlier landscape situations. The kit lens fixes the middle range with no problem. The lenses are not that “fast” with great f-stops, but I don’t care so much with my landscape shots where I like everything in focus.
  • Tiny Batteries - I like carrying around a few extra tiny tiny batteries. True, the batteries don’t last nearly as long as the professional Nikon batteries, but they are easy to pop in and out.
  • Firmware Updates That Don’t Suck - Everyone complained about the lame Auto-Bracketing on the first release of the NEX. A few months later, they released a new firmware that fixed all the problems. Wow. That doesn’t happen much with some of these companies! (note, see the bottom of the article for Suggested Improvements to take it to the next level)
  • Movie Mode – it’s even easier to get into movie mode with the NEX-7 than the Nikon. In fact, some people complain (rightly so!) that it is too easy to get into movie mode and they click it by accident a lot. That has been fixed in the firmware update and its cousin, the NEX-6.

Big Japanese Companies in Social Media

It’s so interesting to watch how these giant companies navigate the social media landscape. In many ways, it reminds me of my dad using his AOL account to send me a photo or a website. In other words, there is a lot of confusion involved.

Nikon is often quite ridiculous on social media and they continue to waste millions on magazine ads that hardly anyone sees any more. They should be spending a bigger portion of their marketing budget on the web, where most tech purchasers actually make decisions. Everyone “in the know” hangs out on the internet now to get their information, and so I still can’t believe some of the nonsense I see from Nikon on social media. I remember just recently they made a ridiculous statement that says, “A photographer is only as good as the equipment he uses.” Apparently, this copywriter is just hitting his prime, because I saw a post yesterday on Facebook that asked, “What would you rather photograph – Tennis or Water Polo?”

Conversely, after I put up my previous story on social media, Sony actually replied in the thread on Google+. It was a fun and unexpected response. To me, this is a good sign from Sony on social media, albeit rather anecdotal.

Sony NEX – Three Great Lenses

Want to know my favorite three lenses? Here they are! Often times a camera will come with a “kit lens” that is pretty versatile and can get you a long way. The Sony NEX-7 comes with a 18-55mm lens that produces great pictures. But there are many lenses that are better for more specialized situations.

  • Sony 10-18 f/4 (Amazon | B&H Photo) – A great new lens that gives you maximum wide-angle flexibility for landscapes and architecture
  • Sony 55-210mm (Amazon | B&H Photo) – This lens is a little big but its versatility is perfect for mid-range stuff like landscapes, birthdays, sports, etc. I’ve also used it to zoom in and get shots of the moon (like you can see below)
  • Zeiss 32mm prime f/1.8 (Amazon | B&H Photo) – f/1.8 will give you some incredible depth of field. It’s great for taking photos of people, objects, or other little things you find throughout your day.

Major Disadvantages of the NEX and why they don’t matter to me

Now look, these may matter to YOU. But they don’t matter too much to me for my style of landscape shooting.

Above: Night photography was a lot of fun with the NEX-7. The preview image through the EVF is always very grainy and looks horrible. But when I actually took the shot (note I was on a tripod) and looked at the result in the EVF, it is nice and buttery-smooth..

This is a smaller sensor than the full-frame Nikons. There’s no way around that. This means that the sensor collects less light. What does that mean? It’s harder to take good photos in low light and in darker, handheld situations.

If you’re shooting a lot during the day, then this is not a worry. It’s especially not a worry for me because I use a tripod. Sometimes, during the day, I do not use a tripod, but I certainly do at sunset and night.

I set the ISO to 100 on the NEX and then get myself up on a tripod. This overcomes a MAJOR shortfall with the NEX-7 compared to the full-frame sensor on the tripod. So, really, with a tripod, this major weakness does not affect me, as you can see from the shots.

I still end up with a “little bit” of noise, but it frankly is not that bad and Lightroom gets rid of the noise without even thinking about it!

A second disadvantage with the NEX-7 is also related to the sensor size, and that is the amount of bokeh (or blurry background for the new-photographers). There’s no doubt that bigger sensors mean better bokeh, but mine seems more than good enough. I have a 1.2 Leica-mount lens that looks nice and buttery, and I’ve even tried a few 1.8 lenses from Zeiss where the bokeh looks good enough to put on the cover of a wedding portfolio website with a watermark that is in flowing cursive.

Should I get the NEX-6 or NEX-7?

This is a popular question I keep getting! I’ll try my best to answer. If you are doing mostly landscapes, architecture, etc — in other words, the kind of stuff I usually shoot — stick with the NEX-7. If you tend to do more portraits and handheld stuff, go for the NEX-6. The NEX-7 has more megapixels and is better suited for epic landscapes. The NEX-6 has better performance in low-light and is better at auto-focusing. Personally, I have both! I use the NEX-7 for my landscapes and carry the NEX-6 as a backup. Now, even though the NEX-6 is a backup, I still use it to take pictures of people, objects, and this sort of thing. It’s handy to have two cameras around for different kinds of shots for me.

Where the Nikon system is better

Well, there are MANY different Nikon cameras. It’s hard to compare the NEX to every single Nikon camera. People (well-meaning!) always email me and ask, well what about Camera Model X, as if I am an expert on every single camera model! I really don’t know… I own a Nikon D800 and D3S (and, well, a D3X, D2X, and a few others… bought them all myself… nothing free from Nikon), so I have a pretty good basis to know what I am talking about with these newer full-frame cameras.

Above: I’ve been enjoying putting on that 55-210mm lens and zooming in with a vertical orientation for some of these downtown shots. With such small lenses, I don’t really mind changing them… Honestly, I would sometimes avoid changing giant lenses on the Nikon because I got a bit lazy.

What are the advantages of the Professional Full-Frame Nikon Cameras?

  • Build Quality - They are tougher. They can stand bumps, bruises, and drops better than the NEX cameras.
  • Water and moisture – The professional Nikon cameras are also more water-resistant. I’ve never had anything happen in rain or anything with my NEX, but I DO worry about it. I never worried about it with my Nikons. Well, that’s not true. I got a lot of rain on my D3X in Hawaii and it broke. So I take that back.
  • Action Sports with Changing Focus – Do you shoot high-speed action sports that need a focus point that is changing? The D4, for example, is still much better at getting a high FPS where the subject is moving closer or further away. I’d frankly (and controversially) say that the NEX is better if the focus is NOT changing, because you can nail 10 FPS with no problem.
  • Autobracketing – This is a sore spot with me! I much prefer all the autobracketing options (plus use of a timer to start it all!) on the professional Nikon bodies.
  • Buffering - The professional Nikon cameras also have less of a “buffering” problem. That is, the NEX can take photos very quick, but it does start to buffer pretty quick. So it’s great in short bursts, but it wills start to slow down if you’re trying to take 14+ photos very quickly. This problem did not bother me at all, since I never encountered it.
  • Lenses - Nikon has a ton of lenses! There is no doubt about that. If you are doing specialty work, such as wildlife or birding, for example, then you should make full use of all the Nikon cameras. You’re not going going to get one of those crazy 600mm lenses with a great f-stop on the Sony system any time soon. However, as you can probably tell, I have all the lenses I need for the Sony system already.
  • Astrophotography – Also, if you are into hardcore night and astro-photography, you probably also want to stay with the full-frame systems. They’ll do a better job of collecting all that light when there isn’t much of it! In fact, I’ll probably hang on to my Nikon D800 just for Astro-photography, which I do very little of. But, I would still do okay with low-light astrophotography with the NEX if so-pressed. You can see the moon shot above, although that is not really the best example because it was not pitch black.

Does any of the above affect my travel and landscape work? Not really, and that is why I am sticking with the NEX as my main weapon.

The Sony NEX-6 as a backup camera?

Every professional photographer needs to have a backup camera at all times! If your main camera breaks down, you better have a backup ready to go! I don’t want to take around my Nikon as a backup because that would also require a whole set of extra lenses (which are quite huge).

Above: Here is another photo with the kit lens. If you want to see more kit lens examples, just check in the gallery down below. I keep all the EXIF info with the photos, so you are welcome to dive deeper!

I could have gotten another NEX-7, but there are a few things I like about the NEX-6:

1) It is 16 megapixels rather than 24. That means it will do better in low-light.
2) It will be my main secondary camera that I use for family, people, or object shots. I don’t just keep the backup in my bag in case the first one breaks. I actively use it!
3) The NEX-6 has a few apps that are pretty cool.

I am even thinking about getting a third NEX camera as a backup-backup! After spending $3000+, $6000+ etc on cameras, I find the idea that I can buy a bunch of cameras for around $1000 to be rather intoxicating! If you want to know more about the NEX-6, see my friend Doug Kaye who has written a thorough review.

The NEXT camera – what I really want

What I really want is a full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens system. I don’t even mind buying all new lenses. But we’re not here to talk about that… But, Sony, since I know you’re reading this, just file that away.

People love the idea of re-using lenses from “old” cameras and systems, but I hope (and think) that is a tradition that will fall away like using old LPs on new record players. At some point, everything changes and you just buy new kinds of “songs” for new kinds of “devices”. Now you buy MP3s from Amazon to play on your phone. I mean, things just totally change over time, and I think the same kind of thing will happen with cameras and lenses. This is especially true when a new generation of cameras and lenses is very cheap, and you’re not looking to shell out a bunch of much money to create the kind of images you want, faster and better.

Improvements to the NEX-7

  • Bracketing timer - Let us click a 2 second timer that will then take all the auto-bracket images without requiring me to hold down the shutter button. When I hold down the shutter button now, it causes camera shake, even with a very steady tripod.
  • More Autobracketing – Let us take more than 3 brackets.
  • Smarter Timelapse - Let me totally customize taking time lapse photos. I also don’t want the screen to come on all the time and wear out the weak battery.
  • Fun Filters – You have these great built in features like HDR, filters, B&W, and all these sorts of things, but please don’t just flatten to a JPG.  Also save the RAW for me so I have more options down the road.
  • Redesign the menus - Your menu systems are ridiculous. They were obviously designed by Japanese masochists. I barely understand them, and I am a camera expert! But I know they scare the hell out of “regular” people who are, I believe, your biggest customers. I can’t figure out if your menus are designed by a single masochist or a committee of them.
  • Better Viewfinder Cap - I’d like a bigger, better rubbery one that covers up my whole eye and makes it nice and dark. The current one is dinky and falls off all the time.
  • Waterproofing - I don’t want to worry about it in the rain.

Sony NEX Review

Above: Another wide-angle shot with the NEX. Even though the “Experiment” was only supposed to last until I left China, I’ve been shooting exclusively with the NEX-7 ever since!


More suggestions for Sony

As long as I have your ear in a public forum, here are more thoughts:

1) Apps - Your decision to include apps with the NEX-6 is good, but your execution is something that could only come out of a committee that been infected by marketing-nonsense. While it’s a good idea to have apps on a camera, here is where you had bad execution:

  • All your apps are internally made by Sony and you did not allow other developers to do it. You should open up your API and let others create apps for you. I guarantee you that people out there can make much better apps than you can.
  • There are less than 20 apps, and you are charging money for them. This is crazy. If I pay $1000 for a camera, why are you trying to make a few extra dollars from apps? I can see the marketing meeting now: “Hey, Earl, you know Angry Birds made like over a million dollars!” “Wow! We should sell our apps too!” You don’t have the ecosystem to make any significant income from your apps, and you certainly never will as long as you have a closed system! (Hint: Choose Android as an OS and build on top of that. If you don’t watch out, Google or Apple will start making cameras and they will bury your camera line in less than 2-3 years. Samsung is already a threat you should watch with their Android-based cameras.)
  • Installing your apps is ridiculous! My god… the app store is clunky, and then hooking up my camera via the USB and rebooting and all that nonsense… I mean… I know you guys are embarrassed by it too. If you are all are going to make “apps” the purchase and installation should be at least as easy as iOS or Android.

2) Long-Exposure Feature - The Olympus OMD has an amazing feature you should steal. You can take a long-exposure photo and watch it live as it is being built then stop it any time. This is great for light-painting, fireworks, or any other situation where it’s hard to guess how many seconds to keep the shutter open.

3) More Modular Hardware for Open Frankenstein Accessories - Many of your Micro-Four Thirds competitors have all kinds of wonderful gizmos that people attach to pimp-out their cameras. I’m jealous! Me, for example – I’d love an extended eyepiece so that my nose does not smash the screen (I prefer to use my left eye). Some people will prefer extended battery units, extended grips, or external mic booms, etc.

4) Glass - Integrate with Google Glass ASAP so that people can use Glass as a viewfinder for the NEX. The first camera company to do this will create real excitement.

5) For Professional Cameras - two card slots that will allow overflow or auto-backup.

6) GPS - just add it. Comon… I can’t believe we even have to ask! :)

Do you have a Nikon DSLR because of my previous reviews? Don’t stress!

I saw this comment on G+ from Christopher Neumann Ruud, and it is a good example of many others I am seeing:

But on a serious note. I feel a bit gut-wrenched about this, since you, +Trey Ratcliff, is the reason why I started this hobby of mine in the first place, and although I know your reasons and I agree with the valid points in your decision to swap (good for you!) I still feel a bit sentimentality because in some remote stupid corner of my self-consciousness, it invalidates the time and effort (and above all, money!) that I have invested in my Nikon-park of lenses and utilities. I know, its a silly thing to feel and it should mane no difference at all, but I got into Nikon on Treys recommendations and now I feel almost left behind :) Best of luck in the NEX-world for now, and I will continue to shoot stunning images with my d700 and building those muscles from luggung around that beast in the mean time :)

It is a lovely comment, actually. I am so honored to see things like this. I know that tons of people around the world have bought Nikons because I said they were the best over the past 5+ years. I saw a few comments where people (not longtime web-friends like this) are MAD at me… like I am somehow threatening their current DSLR! That’s just crazy… there is no need to be defensive about it. For those of you that are overly defensive and combative (not kind people like Christopher here), don’t take out your mental imbalance on me! You can carry around whatever combination of metal, mirrors, sensors, and glass you desire. I’m just saying I’m carrying around a little bit less metal, sensors, and glass (but not mirrors, hehe).

Now, for YOU, Christopher, here is my answer: No worries mate! That Nikon DSLR system you have will serve you well for years to come. In fact, you may be in really good shape when this mirrorless thing really hits its prime. Many new Sony cameras (or maybe even Nikon or Canon will make something compelling) in 2014 or 2015 when you decide to go to the next level. I’ll be here with you the whole time mate and always try to suggest the best when you are ready. Until then, you’ll get great shots with that d700 of yours! :)

More Photos with the NEX-7

Here’s a gallery link over to Google+ that has a bunch more photos for you.

Sony NEX Review

Free Newsletter

We have a free newsletter that goes out to anyone that wants to join in the fun! I’m working hard with the rest of the team here at Stuck in Customs to make the Internet a more beautiful place for you!

What the newsletter will contain:

  • Any upcoming news, events, or plans about Stuck In Customs, so you can be the FIRST to know!
  • A collection of fun links that I find/post on Google+/Twitter, neat finds, and other things to inspire you.
  • Advanced secret links to upcoming reviews so you can be the first to see and provide feedback! !! This is a cool one, eh?
  • A review of the latest, most interesting photos.
  • A nice, compact, beautiful email that you can share with your family and friends. These are just the sort of pretty emails that can make you popular in your email circle o’ friends.

Newsletter Sample

Want to see what it looks like? Visit our archive of past newsletters to see what you’ve been missing!

Daily Photo – Evening on the Lake

Here’s the final photo from the video above of Lake Tekapo.

We’re still editing together a bunch of detailed how-to videos. If you want to sign up to find out first when they are available just grab the free newsletter above! :)

Lake Tekapo
05 Jul 17:05

Initial 1978 Boba Fett Costume Screentest

by John Gruber

Never noticed the spur-jangling before. So great.

05 Jul 17:05

The Top F2P Monetization Tricks

by John Gruber

Ramin Shokrizade, writing at Gamasutra, on the “coercive monetization” tricks that game designers use to get you to make in-game purchases. Interesting, but depressing. (Via The Brief.)

03 Jul 18:44

SunTimes/DarkTimes: From a Reader

SunTimes/DarkTimes: From a Reader:


I received this email recently, and I think it has some great insight, so I figured I’d share:

"Thanks for keeping this blog.

I went through both papers’ galleries of the Blackhawks’ victory celebration and here is what I learned:

From the Tribune:

• It was a huge celebration

03 Jul 18:43

Are Photographers Spending Too Much Time Screwing Around And Not Enough Taking Pictures?

by scottbourne
Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons - Olympus OMD

Photo by Scott Bourne – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons – Olympus OMD

I think so. And I did something about it. This last year, I said no to 80% of the speaking engagements I was offered and 90% of the workshops I was asked to teach. I stopped trying to be part of every social network under the sun. I stopped reading ANY photo-related comments on web sites (usually they are just trolls complaining or link-baiting.) I stopped reading 90% of the photo-related information I used to read online and stuck to tried and true sources. I stopped reading all but two photo-related print magazines. With very rare exceptions, I stopped going to camera club meetings (or leading them.) In other words, I stopped screwing around and I went out and shot pictures.

I left my cell phone at home. I left my voicemail on. I stopped checking e-mail every 10 minutes and I spent months shooting. Some of it for work, and some of it just for me. Some of it I shared, and some I will never share. I involved myself in personal projects. I fired all the clients that are too cheap to pay me what I am worth and started ignoring those who were too demanding (given their limited budgets.) I started only accepting work I enjoy. I stopped dealing with advertising agencies (with only two exceptions.) I stopped going places I didn’t want to go to make photographs I don’t care about. And you know what happened? I made good money and had more fun and despite my advanced age, I think my photography got better.

I decided that if I was going to do something, it would involve me picking up my camera and shooting what inspired ME. Period. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way. In removing myself from so many circles, I probably cost myself some business and some sponsorships. Maybe some of the cool kids ended up getting those gigs instead of me. I don’t care. I did what I needed to do and I revitalized my love for photography. It made me a better photographer. It made me happier. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Too many photographers get caught up in too much bull crap. They make excuses. They put things off. It’s time to pick up the camera and just shoot dammit.


Shoot some more.

Take one picture after the other like you would walk one foot in front of the other.

Start a personal photo project and FINISH IT! Before you start the next thing.

Start involving yourself in photography that moves you.

If your photos don’t come out the way you want, fix them. Shoot them again. Work on them in post. Reset if necessary but keep moving – one frame in front of the other.

Have fun. Photography is SUPPOSED to be fun.

Pity and laugh at the trolls. They have no power over you unless you grant it. Shoot while they talk. Make photos while they complain. Protect memories while they whine. You’ll win in the end.

Believe in yourself, photography and its power to change the world.

Anoint yourself a high priest of memory protection.

And if you can’t do all or any of the things on this list…….At least get off the couch.

Happy shooting.


This Post Sponsored by: Learn photography anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace—from bite-sized tutorials to comprehensive courses. Try free for 10 days by visiting Photofocus.

Mosaic A complete solution for photographers using Lightroom who want to manage and share their photos. You can easily view images with their iOS app or web service. Plus your photos are backed up to the cloud with several plans to match your needs.

The HDR Learning Center Check out new ways to use High Dynamic Range photography to make compelling images. Free tutorials and posts to get results. Produced in partnership with HDR Soft.

500px Join the world’s premier photo community. 500px lets you discover, share, buy and sell inspiring photographs.

Drobo Not only is Drobo 5D fast, but it’s easy-to-use, expandable, flexible, and protected.

Skip Cohen University Professional photo education for wedding & portrait photographers.

03 Jul 18:04

The Big Fat List of Documentaries About Photography

by Michael Zhang

The Big Fat List of Documentaries About Photography filmphotography

Want to watch a non-fiction film about photography? Here’s a list of documentaries (and some other stuff) concerning photography that I’ve collected over the years.


The Big Fat List of Documentaries About Photography series




  • Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography 2012 – YouTube
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson Interviewed by Charlie Rose – YouTube
  • James Nares – STREET – Lecture – Vimeo
  • Joel Meyerowitz 1981 Street Photography Program – YouTube
  • Magnum Photos – Earthlings by Richard Kalvar – YouTube
  • Magnum Photos – Personal Best by Elliott Erwitt – YouTube
  • ‪Mark Feeney: "Four Photographers on Three Wheels: William Eggleston's Tricycle and Before"‬ – YouTube
  • Peter Fraser 2011 talk on his work and workshop assignment – Vimeo
  • Sarah Moon is a Master of Photography (from Contacts) – YouTube

Feel free to suggest any films we’ve left off the list in the comments below.

About the author: Wirjo Hardjono is a photography enthusiast who enjoys finding and watching films about photography. This article originally appeared here.

Image credit: film-reel by eelke dekker, Be Kind Rewind film reel by seafaringwoman

03 Jul 17:58

Retired PE Teacher Wore the Same Outfit for 40 Years Worth of Yearbook Photos

by DL Cade

Retired PE Teacher Wore the Same Outfit for 40 Years Worth of Yearbook Photos yearbook

It started out as a mistake. Back in 1973, PE teacher Dale Irby wore an era-appropriate polyester shirt and brown sweater-vest to picture day. The next year, entirely by accident, he wore the exact same thing. At first he was horrified, but the next year, his wife Cathy dared him to do it again.

What started as a mistake, turned into a dare, and then ultimately into a 40-year tradition that ended this year when Irby chose to retired.

The story comes to us courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. They did a feature on Irby and his 40-year photographic tradition. From 1973 until 2013, you can pick up any of Prestonwood Elementary’s yearbooks and find an aging Irby wearing the same exact outfit.

Retired PE Teacher Wore the Same Outfit for 40 Years Worth of Yearbook Photos yearbookheader

“I was so embarrassed when I got the school pictures back that second year and realised I had worn the very same thing as the first year,” says Irby. But once the dare got underway, things changed: “After five pictures, it was like: ‘Why stop?’”

Here’s a slide show of Irby and his sweater through the years:

As you might imagine, age had some effect on the picture day routine. By the end of the tradition, weight gain forced Irby to bring the shirt and sweater with him to school separately, only donning it long enough to take the photo. He admits that, these days, he can only button the shirt if he “suck[s] it in a little.”

(via Laughing Squid)

03 Jul 17:58

Photos of Diet Wiegman’s Mind-Blowing Shadow Sculptures

by DL Cade

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 02 Shadow Dancing ©Diet Wiegman

Voted “The Most Brilliant Artist of the Netherlands” in 2009, Dutch artist Diet Wiegman is a master of his craft. But of all the amazing creations he has to his name, his work with light and shadow is most breathtaking. Using garbage, pieces of glass and other rubble, he creates a sculpture that, with the help of a light source, projects a beautiful image onto a wall.

You can stare at the photos for a very long time (trust us, we have) and it still won’t make sense that a carefully arranged pile of recycled items can produce Michelangelo’s David. Or that a pile of broken glass and a few other items can somehow produce a beautiful image of a sunset.

Although we have cause to be jealous of Wiegman’s work, it’s worth keeping in mind that he’s been doing this for a while. He created his first shadow sculptures all the way back in 1965. But the message behind most of his shadow and light work has remained simple: creating “ideal beauty” from “trash.”

Here is a selection of his most impressive work, courtesy of the Diet Wiegman Archive:

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 01 Regarded from two sides 1984 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 03 David deformed ©Diet Wiegman 1983

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 06 Dutch Landscape 1987 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 04 Venus on fire 1984 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 05 Dialogue between two chairs 1993 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 08 Homo Habilis 1988 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 07 Geedy Consumption ©Diet Wiegman 1993

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 09 Misty Eyes 1989 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 10 Off Balance ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 11 Rembrandt illuminated ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 16 Self reflection ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 13 Sisyphus 1992 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 14 Untitled ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 15 David 1983 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 12 Shadow out of shadow 1986 ©Diet Wiegman

Photos of Diet Wiegmans Mind Blowing Shadow Sculptures 17 Exhibition Metamorphoses ©Diet Wiegman

Wiegman is an accomplished artist in almost every respect, but it’s these shadow sculptures that have earned him international acclaim. And yet, this pioneer of the technique doesn’t believe that he’s creating shadows per se: “I did not invent the phenomenon shadow,” says Wiegman. “I just make holes in the light.”

To see more of Wiegman’s work or learn more about this incredibly talented “art omnivore,” head over to his website by clicking here.

(via MetaFilter)

Image credits: Photographs by Diet Wiegman Archive and used with permission.

03 Jul 17:57


Officially, Google killed Reader because “over the years usage has declined”.1 I believe that statement, especially if API clients weren’t considered “usage”, but I don’t believe that’s the entire reason.

The most common assumption I’ve seen others cite is that “Google couldn’t figure out how to monetize Reader,” or other variants about direct profitability. I don’t believe this, either. Google Reader’s operational costs likely paled in comparison to many of their other projects that don’t bring in major revenue, and I’ve heard from multiple sources that it effectively had a staff of zero for years. It was just running, quietly serving a vital role for a lot of people.

This is how RSS and Atom have always worked: you put in some effort up front to get the system built,2 and in most instances, you never need to touch it. It just hums along, immune to redesigns, changing APIs, web-development trends, and slash-and-burn executives on “sunsetting” sprees.3

RSS was the original web-service API. The original mashup enabler. And it’s still healthy and going strong.


RSS grew up in a boom time for consumer web services and truly open APIs, but it especially spread like wildfire in the blogging world. Personal blogs and RSS represented true vendor independence: you could host your site anywhere, with any software. You could change those whenever anything started to suck, because there were many similar choices and your readers could always find your site at the domain name you owned.

The free, minimally restricted web-service-API era has come and gone since then. As Jeremy Keith wrote so well a few weeks ago (you should read the whole thing), those days aren’t coming back:

But [Facebook] did grow. And grow. And grow. And suddenly the AOL business model didn’t seem so crazy anymore. It seemed ahead of its time.

Once Facebook had proven that it was possible to be the one-stop-shop for your user’s every need, that became the model to emulate. Startups stopped seeing themselves as just one part of a bigger web. Now they wanted to be the only service that their users would ever need… just like Facebook.

Seen from that perspective, the open flow of information via APIs — allowing data to flow porously between services — no longer seemed like such a good idea.

(He also addresses RSS. Read it. I’ll wait here.)

This isn’t an issue of “openness”, per se — Twitter, for instance, has very good reasons to limit its API. You aren’t entitled to unrestricted access to someone else’s service. Those days are gone for good, and we’ll all be fine. We don’t need big web players to be completely open.

The bigger problem is that they’ve abandoned interoperability. RSS, semantic markup, microformats, and open APIs all enable interoperability, but the big players don’t want that — they want to lock you in, shut out competitors, and make a service so proprietary that even if you could get your data out, it would be either useless (no alternatives to import into) or cripplingly lonely (empty social networks).

Google resisted this trend admirably for a long time and was very geek- and standards-friendly, but not since Facebook got huge enough to effectively redefine the internet and refocus Google’s plans to be all-Google+, all the time.4 The escalating three-way war between Google, Facebook, and Twitter — by far the three most important web players today — is accumulating new casualties every day at our expense.

Google Reader is just the latest casualty of the war that Facebook started, seemingly accidentally: the battle to own everything.5 While Google did technically “own” Reader and could make some use of the huge amount of news and attention data flowing through it, it conflicted with their far more important Google+ strategy: they need everyone reading and sharing everything through Google+ so they can compete with Facebook for ad-targeting data, ad dollars, growth, and relevance.

RSS represents the antithesis of this new world: it’s completely open, decentralized, and owned by nobody, just like the web itself. It allows anyone, large or small, to build something new and disrupt anyone else they’d like because nobody has to fly six salespeople out first to work out a partnership with anyone else’s salespeople.

That world formed the web’s foundations — without that world to build on, Google, Facebook, and Twitter couldn’t exist. But they’ve now grown so large that everything from that web-native world is now a threat to them, and they want to shut it down. “Sunset” it. “Clean it up.” “Retire” it. Get it out of the way so they can get even bigger and build even bigger proprietary barriers to anyone trying to claim their territory.

Well, fuck them, and fuck that.

We need to keep pushing forward without them, and do what we’ve always done before: route around the obstructions and maintain what’s great about the web. Keep building and supporting new tools, technologies, and platforms to empower independence, interoperability, and web property ownership.

  1. Over the years, comma usage after prepositional phrases has also apparently declined. 

  2. Then you spend twice as much time figuring out how to deal with poorly crafted feeds, ambiguities, and edge cases — especially for Atom, which is a huge, overengineered pain in the ass that, as far as I can tell, exists mostly because people always argue with Dave Winer and do their own contrarian things even when he’s right, because they can’t stand when he’s right. 

  3. They never hear about it, and don’t know what it is if someone starts explaining it. To most “business” people, RSS might as well be NTP or SMB. “Something the servers do.” 

  4. This plan is particularly problematic because Google+ is, relatively, a clear failure so far. 

  5. Apple dragged Google into a similar war for extreme mobile-OS lockdown — that’s why Google had to do Android. 

03 Jul 17:57

The Battle of Gettysburg: 150 Years Ago

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Pickett's Charge, the last serious effort by Confederate forces to attack Union lines during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg -- considered to be the turning point of the American Civil War. The following day, July 4, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated, leaving Gettysburg for Virginia, and both sides tallied the costs of the war's bloodiest battle. At Gettysburg, more than 27,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were wounded, a further 7,800 men were killed on the battlefield. The war lasted another two years, but the tide had turned in the North's favor. Collected here are images from the battlefield 150 years ago -- some of the first war photography ever seen by the American public -- and scenes from a massive re-enactment of the events that took place over the past few days. [33 photos]

Confederate Civil War reenactors launch an evening attack during a three-day Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment on June 29, 2013 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Some 8,000 reenactors from the Blue Gray Alliance participated in events marking the 150th anniversary of the July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was defeated at Gettysburg, considered the turning point in the American Civil War. (John Moore/Getty Images)

03 Jul 17:55

Is Privacy Dead?

Newsweek Cover From 1970: Is Privacy Dead?

funny to see the cover of newsweek, 43 years ago.

Since the revelations of NSA snooping, we're all a bit on edge about privacy in these digital times. But back in 1970, the writers at Newsweek were already worrying about the effects technology and mass communication would have on our private lives. If only they could have been as insightful about the business model of printed news magazines...

(hat tip: cyrus)

03 Jul 16:37

BitTorrent's Secure Dropbox Alternative Goes Public

BitTorrent’s Secure Dropbox Alternative Goes Public:

BitTorrent Inc. has opened up its Sync app to the public today. The new application is free of charge and allows people to securely sync folders to multiple devices using the BitTorrent protocol. Complete control over the storage location of the files and the absence of limits is what sets BitTorrent’s solution apart from traditional cloud based synchronization services.

03 Jul 16:02

July 01, 2013

Holy living balls, it's July.
03 Jul 16:02

Realistic Criteria

I'm leaning toward fifteen. There are a lot of them.
03 Jul 16:02

This Is Mirror's Edge In Real Life. It Is Terrifying

by Luke Plunkett

I can’t tell if these guys are imitating Mirror’s Edge, or if this video is just a testament to how well the game captured what parkour feels like. Either way, this first person Parkour video is so much like Mirror’s Edge that it’s actually a little bit terrifying.

There’s even moments that feel like it is straight out the game — like the first moment you slide down a rooftop in the game, or hurdle a fence — this real life video seems to imitate the animations in the game, or is it the other way around.

I can’t decide. Either way, this video needs more red, otherwise the poor bastards won’t know what direction to run.

You have to watch this video. It’s the greatest thing I’ve seen all day. Easily.



03 Jul 15:47

Realistic Criteria

I'm leaning toward fifteen. There are a lot of them.
01 Jul 19:29

How to Make a Vesper: Design

by Dave Wiskus

Vesper is opinionated software. Every interaction, pixel, and line of code was carefully considered, and no work was too precious to throw away. I’d like to share some history of how Vesper came to look and feel the way it does.

The Idea

Last summer, Justin Williams approached me about doing a project based on an idea John Gruber came up with. The idea was simple: you’d have a list of things, and instead of using a masochistic system for managing the context of each thing, you’d just tag them. If you wanted to adjust priority, you would drag them up and down. When you’re done, just mark it as done and move on.

The idea sounded simple enough, and the first round of design was more or less done in a day.

My goal was to go with a pretty flat view hierarchy and make it feel more like a Twitter client than a to-do list. You’d create items in something similar to the iOS in-line tweet sheets, complete with hash tags to give them context for sorting. As you marked items off, they’d go into the archive. But there was a single option: to leave archived items visible in the main list for tracking.

Visually, it looked the way you’d expect an iPhone app to look, with lighting effects and gradients and glowy things and noise. Overall, not terrible. If we ignore the fact that search was weirdly segregated, this could be a shipping product.

When Brent pulled John and me aside at Çingleton to talk about working on something together, he didn’t have a specific project in mind. I brought up John’s to-do idea and showed them what I had so far, but something about the idea felt wrong to us. We talked about wanting to work something that solved a real problem for us. Something we would use. Something to take our ideas and help turn them into something usable. Something that helped each of us do better, more focused work. Along the way, we realized that John’s idea was perfect; we were just calling it the wrong thing. Use the same system — but for ideas, not tasks — and you’ve got something.

That was our first round of iteration, and set the pattern for how we’ve worked together since.


If you’re really good at what you do, it looks easy. But easy is tough to sell to clients, so we designers develop bad habits in order to make our work look impressive. Early on with Vesper, we realized that the existing design was okay, but felt cheap, like it was built using the same visual tricks everyone uses to make something look designed. As it happened, we were all heavily addicted to Letterpress, and we wondered aloud if that visual style might be where the puck was headed. If so, what would that mean for UI in general? The only way to pull it off well — and a good idea for us at this stage anyway — was to strip away everything and add back only the pieces that we needed.

[Look closely and you'll see an early placeholder version of the Q Branch logo.]

This lack of texture and lighting effects fascinated me. Some things remained for a while, like the curved shadow on thumbnails. But the philosophy was simple: how much stuff do we need to show the user? What really helps, and what’s just decoration? Things that were ornate or whimsical for their own sake were thrown out.

Depth in Motion

From the beginning, our interface goals for Vesper were speed and direct manipulation. With the lighter UI, we were forced to think more about the way users interacted with the objects. The obviousness of buttons, the contrast between visual elements, and the way things moved around the screen suddenly became way more important.

These are obviously both very early animatics, but you can already see how the switch to less UI helped us to bring the content forward. One of the things we realized was that focus means not showing everything at once. We’ve always wanted to encourage users to keep notes short (our earliest description was “single-user Twitter”), but there’s a certain amount of suggestion we could use to get the best of both worlds.

[Update: People keep asking how I did these animatics, so I put together a list of the tools I use.]

We decided to not place any arbitrary limit on note length, and to truncate in the list. The question, then, was how to handle the transition from list to detail. The obvious thing to do would be to push the navigation stack over to the left. But that feels really heavy, since all you’re really saying when you tap on an item is “show me the rest of this”. Why push the UI all the way over when all the user really wants is to focus in? Zoom, not relocate.

Changing the navbar in-place was tricky. We tried a couple of variations on movement, with the nav controls moving to match the note’s momentum. But ultimately it was too much stuff happening at once, and we switched to a simple crossfade to reduce distraction.

Refining the feel of this kind of animation took way more revision than I can show here. Brent and John weren’t initially sold that this could work in practice, and there was a strong suspicion that we’d end up with a standard navigation style in the end. Luckily for everyone, Brent had built a system by which all of the controls for design and animation were handled within a plist that I could edit. I built an animatic so Brent could get a rough idea of what to code. When that was ready, the rest was handed over to me and John to fiddle with. Once we had it dialed in and running on the device, we all agreed it was the right way to go.

We realized very quickly that we had created a system in which all of the interaction happened on the z-axis. Elements moved forward or backwards, at least in practice. This had the amusing side-effect of making the “back” button a little less “back”. Since our views don’t slide left and right, that arrow makes slightly less sense.

We tried variations of “back” that used non-standard button shapes and styles to mark the difference, but they all pointed left. “Up” sent the wrong message and was confusing. And “Done” wasn’t quite the right message. In the end, we realized that it’s totally okay for “back” to be a conceptual movement rather than a physical movement. Web browsers have been doing it with little confusion for years.

Color and Iconography

There are four main colors in Vesper: our steely blue, black(ish), orange, and off-white. On the rare occasion when we deviate, the deviations are based on one of these four colors—black for text, off-white for backgrounds, and blue for interface elements. Vesper’s blue was chosen for its ability to be both distinct and non-intrusive, something that would lend itself to repeated use, not just the first glance.

While each of the colors we use means something fairly specific, orange has the honor of being our “hey check this out” color. I picked orange because it contrasted well with blue. John hated the shade I chose and spent literally days iterating through hues to find exactly the right orange for Vesper.

Left: #e4a730. Right: #ee8033.

We looked through photographs of luxury watches, thinking about how they used orange as a pop color for branding or second hands. I offered opinions, but John tracked hex codes along with impressions in a Field Notes notebook. We aren’t afraid to sweat the details.

With limitations on color and gradients, drawing icons became a lot more fun. Glyphs needed to be distinct and meaningful, of course, but they now also needed to be attractive even without fanciful decoration.

A couple of these are tracings of Apple’s icons, but Safari is a slight 2D re-imagining. The camera, however, went through a few variations before finding its own personality.

I started out pretty blocky with the camera, and it wasn’t until my friend Brad Ellis sent me the middle camera unsolicited that I stopped to reconsider the shape. He was right: the glyph was too bland. We decided to go an extra step, though, and make it look like the kind of camera we would actually want to use. The make and model are left to the user’s imagination.

Brad also helpfully redrew my activity arrow icon, and pushed us to use the keyboard dismissal icon instead of a “Done” button.

We had test-driven this icon months earlier, but abandoned it for some reason. When Brad brought it up, none of us could recall the argument against it.


Fonts were probably our single largest expense. We tried many, many faces in Vesper to see what felt right, and striking a balance required a lot of careful consideration. iOS uses Helvetica Neue as its system-standard font, and while Helvetica Neue is fine, it left us no room for personality.

Just a few of the many, many fonts we auditioned.

Eventually we landed on our beloved Ideal Sans. But the story of Vesper’s typography doesn’t end there. We still had to consider weights, colors, placement, cap style, number style, then throw it all away and go back to Helvetica, only to realize what a huge mistake we’d made and beg Ideal Sans for its forgiveness.

Early versions featuring Ideal Sans. Element spacing was all over the place.

Around this time, John sent me a copy of The Elements of Typographic Style. It’s a little dry, but a wonderful resource for anyone designing with type. Of particular importance to us were caps, numbers, and spacing. We loved small caps a ton, and still use them for button labels in popovers, but it turned out in user testing that they made note titles a little harder to read.

Numerals come in two basic flavors: lining and old-style. The short version is that lining numerals conform to the expectations of uppercase letters, while old-style numerals have a mixed-case look, with some numbers dipping below the line. Lining tends to look better when the bulk of the text is numbers, where old-style mixes better with written words. Since our objective was to create a place for people to capture thoughts and ideas, it seemed logical that those thoughts and ideas would primarily consist of words and letters. So we picked old-style.

Spacing has a set of rules, but even these tend to be subjective in application, so we went with a lot of trial and error. Boiled down, we wanted titles and notes to feel like a single thing, but we wanted to have each note in the list feel distinct from the others. I had set a design goal of omitting dividers from the list view and using whitespace instead. It looks cleaner, and feels better with Vesper’s nothing-but-what-you-need aesthetic. There were a few close calls, but we pulled it off.

Timeline and Photos

Maybe it’s because we’re so used to thinking in terms of Twitter clients, but we’ve always referred to the list view as the timeline. It just feels right, even if it isn’t technically accurate.

Arguably our longest-running design challenge, photos in the timeline didn’t come together until very late in development, and at one point we considered dropping support for photos entirely. It started when we moved to note truncation. At first we supported as much text as you could throw into a note. But that made the timeline look like iBooks. So we started truncating after 8 lines, gradually moving down to 3. Along the way, we realized that some notes would have a photo and very little text. In fact, some notes might have a photo and no text at all. This made for a very ugly timeline, especially since we have no dividers. We tried a few things to work around this.

Smaller thumbnails looked too frail, and the Instagram-style giant squares dominated the view. Not to mention that archiving gets really weird when so much of a cell can be off-screen.

We tried a sliver approach, where a random slice of the photo would be shown at the maximum cell height, but things just got weird when you had multiple photos in a single list.

Brent was a saint, swapping things around so that we could easily toggle between variations in code and see them running on our phones. You never really know what it’s going to feel like until you’re holding it in your hand. Thanks to this process, and lots and lots of feedback from our beta testers, we realized that the same considerations for spacing we used to create the typography of Vesper should be used here. Little things: if the thumbnail is taller than the note, the leading between notes shrinks a little to feel more consistent. If a photo is added with no text, some default text is added for context and visual weight. This arrangement ends up being surprisingly versatile, and users have sent us screenshots of Vesper being used as an expense tracker with photos of receipts, and as a recipe storage system.

An animatic I made for Brent, showing how thumbnails should transition.

Web Browsing

My biggest pet peeve in all of iOS is the prevailing design pattern for in-app web browsers: navbar at the top with a back button and page title, toolbar at the bottom with browser navigation, refresh, and some share/activity options. This sounds great, until you tap on a link you see in a tweet, follow it for a few pages, then want to go back one when, oops, you hit the navbar back button out of habit and now you have no simple way of getting back to where you were.

We decided that the way to solve this problem was through simplification. An in-app browser should be treated as a modal view, not part of the app’s navigation, so we can throw out the navbar entirely and use “Done” to close the view. Now the only navigation we need to worry about is the browser’s, removing any ambiguity about what a left-pointing arrow might mean.

To go one step further, we thought it would be fun to add pull-to-refresh. Websites aren’t always designed with the kind of more-stuff-at-the-top list layout that, say, email or Twitter clients use, but that’s okay because you’re also less likely to need to refresh a website. By using pull-to-refresh, we keep the less commonly used function from occupying screen real estate full time. There’s also a practical reason for this: URL and state information. We don’t need the page title (or worse, a truncated version of it) filling up a navbar in the top 44pt of the screen, but some information about where you are and whether the page is done loading is interesting.


Vesper is tagging. Tags create a system by which ideas are connected, sorted, curated, and recalled. In the original design for Vesper, tagging was done Twitter-style, with in-line hashtags. But that made the action feel too passive, and made for uglier text in notes. After the three of us began work, the tagging system started to evolve into something much friendlier.

There are a lot of different tagging systems out there, but they all end up feeling like you’re filling out a form. We wanted Vesper to be enjoyable to use, and tagging is crucial. How do you make tagging feel good?

Early designs had the tag button on the left, and when you tapped it, it would create a new bubble to the right for you to type in. Another tap would push existing tags to the right, keeping the button in place on the left. Aside from some animation awkwardness, this created the problem of making it attractive to over-tag.

Early tag removal UI.

Vesper is opinionated, but possibly nowhere more so than in tagging. Tags can be any length, but there are subtle suggestions that you should keep it short. You can add as many tags as you like, but the fact that the new tag button gets pushed off screen after a few tags is a hint that you may be over-doing it. You can swipe left and right to scroll through your tags if you have too many, but we won’t show all of them on the screen at once. For a long time, we showed tags in the timeline. But that sent the wrong message about how tags should be used, and weighed down the notes within the list.

Early tagging versus 1.0.

Once we understood the way in which tagging should be opinionated, we set about adding clarity. In-progress tags became outlines. Tag suggestion thought bubbles became popover-style speech bubbles.


We wanted to be very careful not to turn the archive into a throw-away dumping ground, a trash can with a fancy name. We simply wanted to encourage users to think of their notes as a collection. In a to-do list, the goal is to mark things off and make them go away. In Vesper, the goal should be to curate and tend to ideas. To give them a place to grow and develop.

The archive shouldn’t be a second-class citizen. It should be another place, similar to the main collection, but different in subtle ways. The most obvious difference is that all of the text is italicized. This is to give visual distinction, but it’s also a typographical cue in the sidebar menu and in the archive gesture.

Typographical cues and clues.

Notes are plain text, rendered in Ideal Sans Book, but archived notes are rendered in italics — a typographic visual cue that instantly lets you know whether the note you’re looking at is archived or not.

Sliding items to remove them from the list was in place since the original design, but reducing the UI led to a couple of interesting new challenges. First, how to handle overlap. As you pull the text of the note over, the archive indicator is revealed. But with no physical boundary between the two, there would inevitably be some overlapping of text. We tried to solve this by alpha-fading the archive indicator forward as the text moved over. This looked okay, but still felt a little wrong.

Our second problem was that it wasn’t immediately obvious what you were dragging. Having the text be the item is great in theory, but it made the action feel a little flimsy.

In both cases, the problem really came down to a lack of physicality. After some experimentation, we settled on the idea that the note — the thing — is text on a white card. It doesn’t intrude on the design of the list view, but it does lend a physical presence to the archive gesture, and allows us to draw clean lines between things that ought to have clean lines between them. As a bonus, the backing view also served the same function in the list-to-detail transition, preventing text from overlapping into alphabet soup.

We also discovered in testing that our plan to slide right to archive was confusing to people. It turns out our testers wanted to slide right to open the sidebar, and so we set about experimenting. At one point, sliding from the edge of the screen would open the sidebar, but further inward would archive the note. Great idea on paper, but what ended up happening was that people were accidentally archiving notes. When we decided to switch to slide-left archiving, it immediately made more sense, and with an unexpected cognitive bonus: it now feels like you’re sliding the item into the “Archive”, which appears on the left when the sidebar opens.


In our sidebar there’s the “All Notes” list, which does what it says on the tin, and a series of other lists. These aren’t really “lists” in the traditional sense, but more like smart playlists in iTunes, where each item refers to a tag. A note can have multiple tags and exist in multiple lists. When switching between them, it’s more like enabling and disabling filters on the All Notes list. It seems like a complicated system, but by presenting these things as lists, people seem to intuitively understand what’s going on. The challenges, then, are almost entirely visual.

Original versus final design.

We had a weird alignment quirk where the navbar and the selected state created a single, dominant blue bar when “All Notes” was selected. We considered switching the colors up, but that still left us with an awkwardly overbearing bar. The first step was to fade the navbar as it slides over. I like this, because it feels like the list view is handing its selected state over to the sidebar, pulling the user’s eye and making it obvious what’s going on. But it was still possible to make things look weird if you dragged the sidebar open slowly. We did end up switching away from the blue selected state in the sidebar, but that was more for conceptual consistency than visual; blue is our dominant color, and should be reserved for primary interface elements. Using it in the sidebar made the list feel like a stack of navbars.

Late in the game, we were still struggling to get the sidebar to a place where it felt complete. Icons here had always been spotty at best, and while the blocky little list icons were okay, they were very visually heavy. With a lot of tags, it suddenly felt like the icon—not the text—was the dominant visual element.

To keep things in balance, I opted for a silhouette version of the app icon for All Notes, and a small tag silhouette for each list. It links what’s going on in the sidebar to the tagging action taken in a note, and the visual is lightweight enough to not weigh down the sidebar list. Best of all, with a large set of tags they end up looking like celluloid sprocket holes. Happy coincidence, that.

The final touch ended up being exactly what the sidebar needed: a better sense of depth. We use shadows very rarely, but the main list has always cast a light shadow on the navbar. John suggested we inset the sidebar from the top and bottom of the phone, adding depth and buying us the ability to shrink the cell size below 44pt. Watching the sidebar items slide in with the parallax effect as the list moves out of the way gives a sense of satisfaction that I was honestly worried we weren’t going to be able to pull off in the sidebar.

The App Icon

Vesper’s icon is a lot like Vesper itself: opinionated, divisive, and not the least bit afraid of being what it is. During our beta period, no one concept or element was as discussed as the icon. People either loved it or hated it, and often for the same reasons.

By the time we started user testing, we had gone through a number of icon revisions already, and were pretty set on the shape.

Can you spot the elephant in this picture?

The core of Vesper is minimalism, elegance, and typography. That last one is especially important to us but difficult to put across in an app icon without seeming like another lazy first-letter icon. We joked that the only thing worse than a “V” icon would be a checkmark. Or a checkmark made out of a “V”.

Early on, John suggested that we approach the creation of Vesper less like a piece of software and more like a film. As a joke, I made a movie poster.

This ended up being the earliest glimpse at the spirit of Vesper, and later made it into the app as our credits screen. Whenever we would get stuck on a design, we’d look back to the poster. When we went through revisions on the icon, we trusted the poster to guide us.

Tags are the primary method of organization and hierarchy in Vesper. We felt the best way to represent that on the home screen would be to take a sampling from the UI itself and display it in the abstract; something recognizable in the evocative sense, if not literally.

Update: You can also read about the design of our 1.007 release.

14 Apr 19:00

Readerpocalypse - The Alternatives


It's been a month since Google announced it was going to shut down Reader, so I decided to gather up all the various links to 'alternatives' that I've been saving over the past few weeks, do some searches on Twitter to see if anything had popped up that I missed (a few actually), and then take a step back and try to categorize all the various services and apps into groups to try to understand what the options are out there so far. As I'm working towards launching, I want to be aware of what others are doing so I can figure out the best way to present the service.

The results are pretty interesting I think. If you check out the links you'll see that in some ways there's a lot of variety right now, but it's pretty clear to me that there's a level of stagnation as well. (Which is good for what I'm trying to do). I'll post some other thoughts about this soon, as I want to start blogging more about what I'm working on (it helps me think through things), but for now check out the list yourself.

Below is a complete list of actively hosted news readers and a few alternative apps, categorized by function and type, with comments where needed. If I missed anything big, leave me a comment.


P.S. Whoops - decided to change the title be more specific.

Reader Replacements - BigCos

  • Feedly - "More than 3,000,000 Google Reader users have switched to feedly."
  • Wordpress Reader - "Keep track of all your favorite blogs and discover new ones with the Reader."
  • GoodNoows - "ZNet Labs develops Good Noows - Your personal news stream."
  • NetVibes - "A dashboard for all your apps, pics and tweets. A reader for all your real-time articles and posts. The best of both worlds."
  • Taptu - "Instant access to all your interests in one beautiful little app. DJ your news." Can only import 100 GReader feeds... odd.
  • Bloglines - "Bloglines is the fastest way to find and track your favorite websites and blogs in real-time."
  • - "Read all your feeds online as a single stream." They also have an OEM edition as well.

Reader Replacements - Startups with Open Source

  • NewsBlur - "NewsBlur is a personal news reader that brings people together to talk about the world. A new sound of an old instrument." $24/year Code in Python plus Android client
  • Rssminer - "Yet another free RSS reader" Code in Java/Clojure...
  • FeedHQ - "FeedHQ is a feed reader built with readability and mobility in mind." Code in Python.
  • CommaFeed - "Bloat-free feed reader" Code in Java w/ AngularJS.

Reader Replacements - Startups

  • Feedbin - "A fast, simple RSS feed reader that delivers a great reading experience." $2/month
  • The OldReader - "Welcome to The Old Reader, the ultimate social RSS reader. It's just like the old google reader, only better."
  • Rivered - "A simple RSS feed reader that focuses on doing one thing right: Letting you interact with content you're interested in." $20/year
  • Rolio - "News, business, entertainment, sport, social media and much more aggregated into your own customizable real-time feed"
  • Memamsa - "Memamsa helps you stay posted on stories, trends and topics of interest."
  • FeedFiend - "Feed Fiend is a web-based RSS reader that makes it easy to follow the sites and blogs you love without much technical knowledge."
  • FeedInbox - "Single inbox for all your feeds. Supports all types of feeds RSS, Atom. Powerful search through the feeds. Folder wise organisation of feeds."
  • BazQux - "BazQux Reader shows blog posts and comments in one seamless stream, tracks what was read and displays only new discussions next time." $30/year
  • Syndifeed - "Keep up with all your favourite sites." You can login into the demo account using demo and demodemo.
  • - " is a news reader created by Elbert Alias." Very slow server, but clean interface with training algorithms.
  • Yaegr - "the minimal news app - hunts, eats and displays rss feeds for you"
  • Yanobs - "We operate on a freemium business model, so we won't have to shut down the service!"
  • Wellread - "Never miss what matters from your news, professional and social networks!"
  • Fetch [n] Read - "We fetch content from your favorite sites, you read it when and how you want."
  • ModeFeed - "ModeFeed lets you effortlessly follow your favourite sites and blogs by putting them in one easy to read feed."
  • NewsVibe - "Newsvibe is an RSS news feed reader that will enable you to read your news feeds in any browser and will keep the news that you want to read in sync across all your devices."
  • - "This is an RSS and Atom feed reader." Fully functional front page demo.
  • FeedWrangler - "I wanted a more modern approach that focused on providing the best possible experience for navigating my news feeds. Feed Wrangler will be a paid, subscription service"
  • Hive Reader - "Hive, the place to read the internet on the internet."
  • Pikareader - "Pikareader is a RSS feed reader built by and for news addict !"
  • g2reader - "g2reader is Google Reader inspired RSS reader"

Reader Replacements - Anonymous

Amazingly, all of these services are missing an about page or contact list. No Twitter accounts listed, no country of origin, nothing. Crazy.

  • NuesByte - Fully functional front-page demo and signup, no contact info. Looks good though.
  • Pheedr - "Pheedr is a minimalist, web-based, RSS reader designed for reading."
  • Feedspot - "Social Feed Reader. We are Rethinking the RSS Reader and building an entirely new platform from scratch."
  • Pagetty - Completely anonymous. Screenshot looks nice. Again, no about page.
  • - "A Really Simple Syndication Synchronization Machine... A syncing API is on the way."
  • InoReader - "RSS reader built with simplicity and speed in mind. Inspired by Google Reader. Made for Google Reader fans."


  • Bloglovin - "Sure, there were other blog readers out there, but they were technical, boring, and cluttered with features. We wanted to build something for the rest of us."
  • Subpug - "The beautiful free RSS reader with comments and filters" Nice job on the UI, but it relies on Google's JSON feed API.
  • HeadSlinger - "All the news, half the time."
  • Skimr - "Skimr is a very simple web based RSS reader for desktop and mobile." I like the minimal interface and cross-device focus.


  • Rockmelt - "Rockmelt is re-imagining what navigating the Web should be: mobile, visual, social, and personalized."
  • MultiPLX - "Multiplx is a reimagined RSS Reader developed by Kosmaz Technologies LLC. "
  • Mocharoll - "MochaRoll is an elegant way to follow all your favorite sites in one place"
  • Ego - "Made by a bunch of geeks in UC Berkeley."
  • Backstitch - "backstitch is your personal web and its all of your favorite websites & services working together under a unified experience."
  • Kelinux - "Es un agregador de noticias con pretensiones" Con lo peor nombre imaginable....
  • Mixtab - "We started Mixtab because we wanted a better way to read news, and keep up with our interests." Mac, iPad and HTML5 versions


  • Flud - "Flud helps product teams keep up with tech and design trends, marketing teams share brand insights, and field sales reps stay on top of market news." Flud was a Flipboard clone, but apparently they pivoted and announced 'Flud for Teams and Businesses' last year. $125/month
  • Delve - "Turn news into knowledge" A news reader for workgroups/businesses. Very important I think. Article about them: Easier daily news consumption with Delve
  • HootSuite RSS Reader - "Add streams of articles and stories via RSS feeds" - Not a standalone service, but an add on 'app' which plugs into their social media monitoring stuff.
  • Q-Sensei FeedBooster - "Discover RSS Feeds Multi-Dimensionally"


  • Superfeedr - "Superfeedr will provide a partial replacement for the Google Reader API by the end of June."
  • FeedsAPI - "Full RSS to email in real time" I'm not sure how much of a market there is for this, but like that this a paid service. $9/month to $79/month
  • BlogTrottr - "Blogtrottr delivers updates from all of your favourite news, feeds, and blogs directly to your email inbox."
  • Curatic - "Curatic is an intelligent RSS service that will save you time searching for the stories that are relevant to you."

Commercial Self-Hosted

  • Fever - "Fever is a PHP and MySQL application that you run on your own server. " $30
  • River2 - "River2 is a River of News feed reader with lots of features." From the Father of RSS Dave Winer, his river-style server software for Windows or Mac. Free

Open Source Self-Hosted

  • Tiny Tiny RSS - PHP-based and pretty full-featured.
  • Selfoss - "The open source web based rss reader and multi source mashup aggregator" This one looks nice - named after a waterfall...
  • Fastladder - Open Source / Free Download. If you prefer your readers in Ruby...
  • Lilina - "Take control of your feeds with Lilina. Style your reader and add the features you want."
  • Leed - "Leed est un agrégateur de flux RSS/ATOM dit KISS : minimaliste, simple, léger et rapide." Open Source, PHP, French.
  • Bottle-Fever - "A clean-room clone of the Fever RSS aggregator, focusing on providing a compatible API and a simple feed store based on SQLite" Under active development by the always gracious Rui Carmo.
  • Canto - For the completely insane, a console-based feed reader. :-)
  • ownCloud News - "We expect to release a stable version of it in less than two months" This is a plug-in to the bigger ownCloud set of open source cloud-based apps.
  • Leselys - "I'm Leselys, your very elegant RSS reader." Mongodb and Python
  • Potion - "Potion (aka f33dme-ng) is a flask+sqlalchemy based feed/item reader." Python
  • Miniflux - "Miniflux is a minimalist web based news reader." PHP
  • BirdReader - "Home-made Google Reader replacement powered by Node.js and Cloudant"
  • Temboz - "Temboz is [an open source] RSS aggregator inspired by FeedOnFeeds (web-based personal aggregator), Google News (two column layout) and TiVo (thumbs up and down)."
  • RSS2Email - "A free, open-source tool for Windows and UNIX for getting news from RSS feeds in email." Python
  • Stringer - "A [work-in-progress] self-hosted, anti-social RSS reader." Ruby

Native Apps

I just listed a few big names - there's a ton more out there.

  • Reeder - "... the plan is to add more services you can choose from in the next weeks and months."
  • Feeddler - "Feeddler is the most popular RSS reader for iPad."
  • Press - "We took away the clutter of 'feature' heavy RSS readers and concentrated on giving you what you want: Simply reading your news."
  • SkyGrid - "SkyGrid connects people to the things they care about. The SkyGrid platform provides web-scale infrastructure to help people connect with what they are passionate about."
  • WebReader - "Thanks for choosing the best desktop rss!"
  • Vienna - "Vienna is an [open source] RSS/Atom reader for Mac OS X, packed with powerful features that help you make sense of the flood of information..." A Mac-only desktop app, but under active development.
  • BlogBridge - "BlogBridge is for true info-junkies who want a better way to wrangle all their RSS feeds from blogs and news into one pretty cool organizer."
  • ReadKit - "Bringing Post-PC reading to the Mac"
  • Instacast - " Subscriptions, show notes, playback and playlists, more" Mac/iOS

Magazine-style Apps

  • Flipboard - "Flipboard is your personal magazine, filled with the things you care about."
  • Pulse - "Our Mission: Elevate daily media consumption to foster informed discussion." Just got bought by LinkedIn.
  • Prismatic - "Prismatic is the most interesting place in the universe"
  • News360 - "The News360 semantic analysis platform is a culmination of 7 years of development and natural language analysis experience. "
  • Zite - "we're excited that we've been able to build something so quickly for disgruntled Google Reader users and look forward to adding more features."
  • Thirst - "Keep up with what's up."

Invite Only

  • News Maven - "Rockin' RSS for News Addicts. Sign up for News Maven now!"
  • SwarmIQ - "SwarmIQ is a personalized reading experience that helps you stay on top of your topics, express your opinions and learn what others are reading."
  • Bloganizer - "Organize & Manage Your Blog Life - Bloganizer supports a single-step transition from Google Reader. PLUS AWESOMENESS."
  • - "A visual feed prioritized by how much time you have and what you're in the mood for."
  • Sprightly - "Keep up to date with all your favorite content"
  • SubReader - "New way to keep up with your favourite websites."

In Development/Coming Soon/Vaporware

  • - "Keep it simple, stupid. Make it fast (like, really fast). Synchronize across devices. Make it easy to import from existing Google Reader accounts"
  • - "The Future of News Readers" Wooooooohoooo! :-)
  • Curata Reader - "Curata Reader is specifically designed for marketers and businesses to give you a reader experience like none before."
  • FeeDeus - "Stay up to date with them here in FeeDeus, Keep, Bookmark, Organize, Share and many more features in an easy and friendly way."
  • Viafeeds - "We've been building a replacement that will be ready in a couple months."
  • Read - "A simple replacement for Google Reader."
  • Worpy - "Worpy is a multi-platform RSS feed reader devoid of fancy gimmicks."
  • Fez - "Fez isn't ready yet, but the progress is pretty great."
  • Bulletin - "With a mobile-first interface, robust API and a feed recommendation / summarization service, Bulletin is the perfect Google Reader replacement."
  • - "The reader you'vebeen looking for"
  • Feederous - "The minimalist, user-friendly and intutive RSS reader - is coming soon! Follow us for updates and invitations."
  • Skystone Reader - "A free Web-based RSS feed reader. Limited BETA release coming in May 2013."
09 Apr 19:56

Genghis Khan Rides Again: Huge Statue of Emperor Dominates the Mongolian Steppe

by (RJ Evans)
Just over thirty miles east of the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator the old Emperor, Genghis Khan, rides again.  Sat atop his horse, surveying his dominion (which was after his death to become the largest contiguous empire in history) a huge 131 feet statue of Genghis Khan dominates the steppes of Mongolia.

The sculpture, designed by D. Erdenebileg and architect J. Enkhjargal stands at the banks of the Tuul River.  It is here that the great emperor was said to have found a golden whip at the age of fifteen – though there is no exact evidence to support this.  It was, however, this whip that is said to have inspired the young Temujin (his birth name) to go on to conquer much of the known world.

Temujin was born in the middle of the twelfth century in Delüün Boldog close to Burkhan Khaldun mountain and the Onon and Kherlen rivers now in contemporary northern Mongolia.  It is in this eastern direction that the statue symbolically points.  Below the statue (seen above towards the end of its construction in 2008) is a museum, surrounded by 36 columns, one for each of the Khan dynasty of emperors.

Visitors to the statue can walk through the statue to the head of the horse (there is also a lift if you are not inclined to tackle the steps).  Here, cradled by the great man they can enjoy the panoramic views a statue of this size affords.  It came at something of a price too – the whole complex cost over $US4 million, which was spent by the Genco Tour Bureau, the company responsible for most of the tourism in Mongolia.

Image Credit Flickr User Ludovic Hurlimann
Image Credit WhatsAllThisThen
Known locally as Chinggis Khaan, the statue is the latest (and largest) of a number of monuments which have risen to honor the founder of the Khan dynasty since the country relieved itself of communism in 1989.  The image of Chinggis Khaan is now everywhere in the country, the nineteenth largest but most sparsely populated country in the world.

Image Credit Flickr User Rich_Lem
Image Credit WhatsAllThisThen
Mongolia, now an independent nation, is looking to effectively re-brand itself (and Khan) after centuries of foreign influence, being bordered by the behemoths of China and Russia.  Through projects such as this the Mongolian people are seeking to draw Genghis Khan not as a ferocious and merciless ruler who ordered the deaths of innumerable people but as something a little more palatable to contemporary sensitivities.

Image Credit Flickr User LD PIX
Image Credit Posti8
However impossible it is to treat the ‘Universal Ruler’ (as his name translates) as a simple and straightforward national hero, the statue comprehensively ignores any such gradation. There is little room for shade and tone here.  Genghis Khan is portrayed very much as the brilliant military strategist, who joined warring tribes together in order to establish the world’s biggest empire ever.  One thing is for sure - he is magnificent.

Image Credit Flickr User Bert Van Dijk
Image Credit Flickr User Alastair Rae
Image Credit Flickr User Mario Carvajal
Image Credit Flickr User Bert Van Dijk
Image Credit Flickr User eLJproks
Image Credit Flickr User Bert Van Dijk
Image Credit Flickr User Michael Foley Photography
Image Credit Flickr User Coursin Decurtins
First Image Credit Massimo.Botelli
09 Apr 19:55

"I know I’ve told this story before, but my abusive ex refused to let me take birth control. I was..."

I know I’ve told this story before, but my abusive ex refused to let me take birth control. I was on the pill until he found them in my purse.

I went to the Student Health Center—they were completely unhelpful, choosing to lecture me about the importance of safe sex (recommending condoms) instead of actually listening to my problem.

Then I went to Planned Parenthood. The Nurse Practitioner took one look at my fading bruises and stopped the exam. She called in the doctor. The doctor came in and simply asked me: “Are you ready to leave him?” When I denied that I was being abused, she didn’t argue with me. She just asked me what I needed. I said I need a birth control method that my boyfriend couldn’t detect. She recommended a few options and we decided on Depo.

When I told her that my boyfriend read my emails and listened to my phone messages and was known to follow me, she suggested to do the Depo injections at off hours when the clinic was normally closed. She made a note in my chart and instructed the front desk never to leave messages for me—instead, she programmed her personal cell phone number into my phone under the name “Nora”. She told me she would call me to schedule my appointments; she wouldn’t leave a message, but I should call her back when I was able to.

And that was it. No judgment. No lecture. She walked me to the door and told me to call her day or night if I needed anything. That she lived 5 blocks from campus and would come get me. That I wasn’t alone. That she just wanted me to be safe.

I never called her to come to my rescue. But I have no doubt that she would have come if I had called. She kept me on Depo for a year, giving me those monthly injections in secret, helping me prevent a desperately unwanted pregnancy.

I cannot thank Planned Parenthood enough for the work they do.


Curious Georgiana (via ifonechitiri-g)

09 Apr 19:14

Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes

by Ree

sourcreamThese pancakes…aren’t just any pancakes.

They’re…wait for it…

They’re Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes!

Of course, you probably already figured that out based on the title of this post.

I’ve always been really great at building suspense.

Or not.

Sour Cream PancakesI love this recipe so much, I put it in my first cookbook. It’s turned out to be one of the most-enjoyed recipes in the book.

Sour Cream PancakesRecently, I was sharing with Edna Mae (she’s Marlboro Man’s precious grandmother) some of the nice things people have told me about her delicious pancakes, and it dawned on me that I’d never, in the six years since I first started posting about cooking, posted it here on my website.

What an outrage!

What an oversight!


Well, I’m righting that wrong right now. Alright? Righty-Oh.

Right on.

I’ll stop now.

Sour Cream PancakesThe ingredients couldn’t be more simple: Sour cream, flour, baking soda, sugar, salt, eggs, and vanilla!

Sour Cream PancakesSour cream is the star of the show.

Sour Cream PancakesMeasure a cup…

Sour Cream PancakesAnd throw it into a bowl.

Sour Cream PancakesSprinkle in the flour, and it is at this time that I’ll point out that aside from the comments I hear from people who love these pancakes after they make them, I receive quite a few questions from people before they’ve made them for the first time.

“That can’t possibly be the right amount of flour…can it?”

Yes! It’s correct, baby! That’s what makes these glorious little wonders so…well, wonderful. They’re not weighed down with flour; they’re light and a decidedly different texture. You’ll be able to tell from the first bite.

Sour Cream PancakesNext, add baking soda…

Sour Cream PancakesSalt…

Sour Cream PancakesAnd sugar.

A note on the sugar: Edna Mae’s original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon. I sometimes do two or three, because it makes the pancakes a little sweeter…but if you prefer all the pancake sweetness to come from the syrup you pour over the top, go ahead and keep it at one.

I realize that made no sense. Sorry.

Sour Cream PancakesNow, stir the sour cream and the dry ingredients until it just starts to come together.

Sour Cream PancakesIn a separate bowl, crack 2 eggs…

Sour Cream PancakesAdd a little vanilla…

Sour Cream PancakesAnd whisk it together until totally combined.

Sour Cream PancakesPour it into the bowl with the sour cream mixture…

Sour Cream PancakesAnd whisk it until it just comes together. You don’t need to beat it to death, and you shouldn’t be concerned with lumps—that’s what it should look like.

Sour Cream PancakesTo fry ‘em up, smear a whole bunch of butter on a griddle or skillet over medium-low heat (get the griddle totally heated before you do.)

Sour Cream PancakesWhen the butter’s sizzling, grab 1/4 cup of batter…

Sour Cream PancakesAnd pour it on.

Sour Cream PancakesLet it cook for 2 minutes or so, and when the sides look like they’re starting to set and bubbles just start to form…

Sour Cream PancakesFlip it over and let it cook for another 2 minutes or so.

Sour Cream PancakesKeep going with the rest of the batter until the pancakes are “done,” but note that they’ll be a little softer than regular pancakes. As long as both sides are nice and deep golden brown, they should be good to go!

Sour Cream PancakesSo here’s how I roll with pancakes.

Sour Cream PancakesKeep going…

Sour Cream PancakesKeep going…

Sour Cream PancakesKeep going…

Sour Cream PancakesOkay. I think I’ll stop there.

Sour Cream PancakesWarm syrup is a must. A requirement of life. A mandate.

Sour Cream PancakesLean in for a minute. I wanna tell you a secret.

Come closer…

Come closer…

Sour Cream PancakesYou’re going to absolutely love these. They’re light but decadent, different but familiar. Lemme know how you like ‘em.

Sour Cream PancakesHere’s the handy printable.

Have a wonderful Monday, everyone!


Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes

Prep Time:
Cook Time:
Print Recipe


  • 1 cup Sour Cream
  • 7 Tablespoons All-purpose Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 whole Large Eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • Butter, For Frying And Serving
  • Warm Syrup, For Serving

Preparation Instructions

In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate small bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, stir together the sour cream with the dry ingredients until just barely combined (don't overmix.) Whisk in the egg mixture until just combined.

Heat a griddle over medium-low heat and melt some butter in the pan. Drop batter by 1/4 cup servings onto the griddle. Cook on the first side until bubbles start to form on the surface and edges are starting to brown. Flip to the other side and cook for another minute. (Pancakes will be a little on the soft side.)

Serve with softened butter and syrup.

Posted by Ree on April 8 2013

09 Apr 19:13

The Best Ways To Recover Data On Linux

by Danny Stieben

recover data on linuxNo matter whether it was your fault or not, things can happen to the data stored on your devices. Hard drives, solid state drives, and removable media can all potentially “lose” files because of numerous different causes. Additionally, sometimes you may delete a file – no matter if on purpose or by accident – and then determine later on that you actually need it.

Instead of freaking out over the fact that the file appears to be gone, it may be a better idea to try a file recovery tool first to recover data on Linux.

How Does File Recovery Work?

File recovery tools work on the fact that, although systems may recognize a file as “deleted”, the data may still be physically present on the storage device. For example, modern file systems determines whether space is “free” or “taken”, and can declare a space to be “free” although the data is still technically there. It simply allows the new free space to eventually be overwritten with new data.

File recovery tools can scan through the storage device to see if it can find any files that are physically still on the device, even if the file system claims that it’s gone. There are plenty of these tools available under Linux, but here are some that I recommend the most.


recover data on linux

Safecopy is a rather simple data recovery tool which simply copies data to a new location. As such, it doesn’t recover individual files, but instead is a way to copy data off of a failing device.

The difference between this utility and a normal copy command is that Safecopy doesn’t quit at the first sign of file corruption, whether it be from a bad write operation or a damaged sector. There plenty of additional options to customize what the utility actually does, including the ability to create a filesystem image from damaged media, recover data as thoroughly or quickly as possible, combine data from partial sources rather than a single source, and access RAW (unpartitioned) areas of your storage media.

The utility can be installed by searching for Safecopy in your distribution’s repositories. Ubuntu users can also run the command sudo apt-get install safecopy. Once installed, you can recover files from partition X on drive “a” and write them to a pendrive with the command sudo safecopy /dev/sdaX /media/PENDRIVE_PATH/recovery_image.


linux data recovery

TestDisk is a different kind of data recovery tool because it doesn’t try to copy data off a failing device, but instead can fix some partition-level issues that may be messing with your data. The utility helps recover lost partitions, make disks bootable again, fix the partition table, restore the master boot record, restore boot sectors and filesystem tables, undelete files from NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ext2 filesystems, and copy files from deleted NTFS, FAT, exFAT, and ext2/3/4 filesystems.

The different commands for accomplishing all of these will vary widely, so it’s best to look at the utility’s documentation before getting started or look at the program interface carefully. However, it has a very nice set of features that is sure to help a lot of people get their data back onto safe hands. You can install the utility by searching your distribution’s repository for testdisk. Ubuntu users can also run the command sudo apt-get install testdisk.


recover data on linux

Last but not least, if you’re focusing specifically at looking to recover videos, documents, and archives, you should check out PhotoRec. The advantage of PhotoRec, however, is that it completely ignores the file system and looks at the underlying data, which means it’ll still work if the device has been damaged or reformatted.

To prevent any issues from arising while using PhotoRec, it uses read-only access to recover the data – that way it won’t accidentally overwrite something that you may have been looking to recover. Just note that with PhotoRec, you’ll need to stop all writing operations immediately after you have the need to recover a file. Otherwise, the possibility exists that the underlying data will be overwritten with something new, making recovery impossible.

Again, there are plenty of options to look at while using this utility, including the selection of file extensions which you’re going after, so it’s best to look at the documentation for correct usage or look at the program interface carefully. In order to install, you’ll need to search for either the testdisk or photorec packages in your distribution’s repositories.

Some distributions, such as Ubuntu, combine the two programs into one package as they come from the same developer. Therefore, Ubuntu users can also install it using the command sudo apt-get install testdisk.


These three recovery tools should cover a broad range of data recovery needs, but undeleting files to copying over data that may be found on damaged media. Just be sure to look at the documentation for each of them carefully so that you’re doing exactly what you need to. As there aren’t many tools with graphical interfaces for system tasks, these will run solely through the terminal. Thankfully, TestDisk and PhotoRec have a terminal interface, which is still better than being driven by commands only.

Also, in case you didn’t know, all three of these tools to recover data on Linux are featured on our Best Linux Software page, along with loads of other great programs. Plus, if you’re new to Linux, then you should probably check out our guide on getting started, or even our guide specifically targeted at Ubuntu. Finally, if you need any help, just comment below or submit a question at MUO Answers!

What are your favorite data recovery utilities? Any tips on common issues or workarounds? Let us know in the comments!

The post The Best Ways To Recover Data On Linux appeared first on MakeUseOf.

09 Apr 19:12

Homemade Mosquito Trap

by Jonco

Mosquito trapWorks on Gnats too!

Items needed:

1 cup of water
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 gram of yeast
2-liter plastic bottle

1. Cut the plastic bottle in half.
2. Mix brown sugar with hot water. Let cool. When cold, pour in the bottom half of the bottle.
3. Add the yeast. No need to mix. It creates carbon dioxide, which attracts mosquitoes.
4. Place the funnel part, upside down, into the other half of the bottle, taping them together if desired.
5. Wrap the bottle with something black, leaving the top uncovered, and place it outside in an area away from your normal gathering area. (Mosquitoes are drawn to the color black or white.)

Change the solution every 2 weeks for continuous control.


Thanks Cari


16 Mar 23:36

Galatasaray Bests Schalke :: Fuji x100s Bests Leica

by Zack


I’m currently on a 22 hour layover in Paris. I’m on my way home from Istanbul. I was sent there by FujiFilm to give the new x100s a run for its money. I am working on a full review of the camera but until I have that up I’ll be making a few posts with photos. 

I was having a beer at a pub a few nights ago and I heard an explosion of chants and cheers from around the corner. I had already been on the streets for about 10 hours that day and I was just trying to steal a moment of solitude and rest in the pint glass of a Guinness. The sounds I heard though made me grab my stuff (including said pint) and run to see what the deal was. The “deal” was football.


Galatasaray (Turkey) beat Schalke (Germany) that night and advanced to the quarter finals. What that means to non sports people like myself is that sh!t went crazy.




As all the fans poured out of every bar they were singing, and chanting, and lighting flares. I was caught in a mob of thousands of people and not once… not for a single frame… did I wish I had another camera with me. Not once did I curse my little x100s. It did what I needed it to do. In the middle of all of this it clicked in my brain.

Fuji is the new Leica.

I’ll talk more about that in the upcoming full review of the camera.



16 Mar 23:34

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off-Camera Flash

by Michael Zhang

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 6

Japanese photographer Satoki Nagata moved to Chicago in 1992 to document the city and its people. His background is in neuroscience (he has a PhD in the field), but his passion is creating intimate documentary photography projects in his city.

During a recent winter, Nagata decided to try his hand at using a flash for street photography at night. Instead of mounting his flash to his camera, however, he decided to use it off camera. Combined with the light rain and falling slow, the flash turned many of his photographs into abstract and surreal images that almost look as though he overlaid photographs of stars.

The resulting series is titled “Lights in Chicago.” Nagata tells us,

In my most recent work I see the light and shadow produced by flash is the pure form of reality of people living in the city. Inside the bright light line, the significance of existence of the person appears. The image is abstract and surrealistic but also full of life and personality. Transparent layerings are created by flash with slow shutter speed and no reflection is involved in these images.

He stumbled upon the “look” seen in these images by placing his flash behind his subjects and using a slower shutter speed. Although the photos may look like double exposures, reflections, or Photoshop jobs, they’re actually ordinary single exposures.

“I like the simplicity of this technique,” Nagata says.

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 1

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 2

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 3

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 4

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 5

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 7

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicagostars 8

Starry Street Photos of Chicago Captured Using an Off Camera Flash chicago

You can find more of Nagata’s work over onhis website.

Lights in Chicago by Satoki Nagata (via Colossal)

Image credits: Photographs by Satoki Nagata and used with permission

15 Mar 21:20

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography

by Arno Rafael Minkkinen

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography vands 04

We are in the midst of sea change — a tidal wave might be more accurate — within the medium of photography. While the lens is still firmly fixed to the camera body, the body itself appears to have imploded. The inner workings — that is, the guts of the camera from Talbot’s days (when cameras were called “mousetraps” by his wife who was always tripping over them) — have changed faster than anyone expected.

The digital camera, the DSLR, has become the new tool for lens-based professionals and artists almost overnight. Everywhere. We all have them now. But the pictures have not changed. Nor have the ground rules for making them. The need for pictures that make a mark on our lives, that give meaning to experience, that park themselves deep in our consciousness, the way new music often does, has never been greater, the appetite for lens-based visual culture stands above most other mediums of communication hands down.

In the art world, photography has stepped forward as the most important art medium of our times. Roberta Smith, writing for The New York Times a few years back, put it this way (and I am paraphrasing here): “In the last thirty years, no medium has had a more profound effect on art than the medium of photography.” This, mind you, comes from one of America’s foremost critical thinkers in the art world.

The Helsinki Bus Station

There is a bus station in Helsinki I want to invite you to see, a bus station just across from Eliel Saarinen’s famous train station. Surrounded by Jugendstil architectural gems such as the National Theater and the National Art Museum, the Helsinki bus station makes a cool backdrop for Magnum wannabes armed with DSLRs and vintage Leicas, you know, ready for anything.

You might find yourself there, one day too.

But getting back to what makes the bus station famous, at least among my students at UMass Lowell, the University of Art & Design Helsinki, the École d’Art Appliqués in Lausanne, Switzerland or the many workshops I give in Tuscany, Maine, and Santa Fe, is the metaphor it offers students and professionals alike for creative continuity in a lifelong journey in photography, the metaphor is provides to young artists seeking to discover their own unique vision one day.

The Helsinki Bus Station: let me describe what happens there.

Some two-dozen platforms are laid out in a square at the heart of the city. At the head of each platform is a sign posting the numbers of the buses that leave from that particular platform. The bus numbers might read as follows: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.

Each bus takes the same route out of the city for a least a kilometer, stopping at bus stop intervals along the way where the same numbers are repeated each time: 21, 71, 58, 33, and 19.

Now let’s say, again metaphorically speaking, that each bus stop represents one year in the life of a photographer, meaning the third bus stop would represent three years of photographic activity.

OK, so you have been working for three years making platinum studies of nudes. Call it bus #21.

You take those three years of work on the nude to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, and the curator asks if you are familiar with the nudes of Irving Penn. His bus, 71, was on the same line. Or you take them to a gallery in Paris and are reminded to check out Bill Brandt, bus 58, and so on.

Shocked, you realize that what you have been doing for three years has already been done, and by someone with far greater fame than you have attained thus far. So you hop off the bus, grab a cab (because life is short), and head straight back to the bus station looking for another platform.

This time you are going to make 8×10 view camera color snapshots from a cherry picker crane of people lying on the beach. You spend three years and three grand at it and produce a series of works that elicit the same comment: haven’t you seen the work of Richard Misrach? Or, if they are steamy black-and-white 8×10 camera images of palm trees swaying along a beachfront, haven’t you seen the work of Sally Mann?

So once again, you get off the bus, grab the cab, race back, and find a new platform. This goes on all your creative life, always showing new work, always being compared to others.

What to do? It’s simple: Stay on the bus. Stay on the f**king bus.

Why? Because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference. The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest. For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail each other for a spell, but soon they split off as well. Irving Penn is headed elsewhere.

It’s the separation that makes all the difference, and once you start to see that difference in your work from the work you so admire (that’s why you chose that platform after all), it’s time to look for your breakthrough.

Suddenly your work starts to get noticed. Now you are working more on your own, making more of the difference between your work and what influenced it. Your vision takes off. And as the years mount up and your work begins to pile up, it won’t be long before the critics become very intrigued, not just by what separates your work from a Sally Mann or a Ralph Gibson, but by what you did when you first got started! You regain the whole bus route in fact.

The vintage prints made twenty years ago are suddenly reevaluated and, for what it is worth, start selling at a premium. At the end of the line — where the bus comes to rest and the driver can get out for a smoke or better yet a cup of coffee — that’s when the work is done.

It could be the end of your career as an artist or the end of your life for that matter, but your total output is now all there before you, the early so-called imitations, the breakthroughs, the peaks and valleys, the closing masterpieces, all with the stamp of your unique vision.

Why? Because you stayed on the bus.

When I began my photographic journey, I was enamored with the work of Ralph Gibson, Duane Michals, and Jerry Uelsmann. I was on their platforms. Each told me that it was possible to use your mind to make pictures. As a copywriter on the Minolta account (before I became a photographer) I wrote: “What happens inside your mind can happen inside a camera.” I took that credo and made it my own. Not with multiple images like Uelsmann or in sequences like Michals. But it was Ralph Gibson’s images that haunted me.

There was this one picture in particular that I loved of hands coming up over the prow of a boat, which he made in 1970. I had a picture of my foot coming over the prow of a Finnish rowboat the other way, made in 1976. I am sure his image inspired mine even though I wasn’t thinking about it when I made my picture.

In 1989, there was a show in Antibes called Three Masters of the Surreal with Eikoh Hosoe, the great Japanese master, Ralph Gibson, and, humbly, myself. At the party after the vernissage, I told Ralph about my trepidations when I first began photography. He nodded his head and said, “When I first saw your work (this was in 1975 or thereabouts), I had that feeling of something familiar.” But then he was quick to add, “But you know, it didn’t take you long to find your way.”

I had found the difference. Ralph went on to photograph women and walls, color and surreal light. I continued my bus route less haunted, more assured.

So, our best chance of making our voice and vision heard is to find that common attribute by which the work can be recognized, by which audiences are made curious. It can happen early, as my teacher Harry Callahan stated it: you never get much better than your first important works. And they come soon.

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography sp 28

© Arno Rafael Minkkinen

At an auction in London at Sotheby’s a few years back, one of my pieces came up for bidding. It shows my upside-down face with mouth wide open on a boardwalk in Narragansett, Rhode Island. When the auctioneer announced the piece, certainly he or she didn’t describe it as a student work, which, in fact, it was. I had made it for Harry’s class.

And that’s why I teach. Teachers who say, “Oh, it’s just student work,” should maybe think twice about teaching. Georges Braque has said that out of limited means, new forms emerge. I say, we find out what we will do by knowing what we will not do.

And so, if your heart is set on 8×10 platinum landscapes in misty southern terrains, work your way through those who inspire you, ride their bus route, and damn those who would say you are merely repeating what has been done before. Wait for the months and years to pass, and soon your differences will begin to appear with clarity and intelligence, your originality will become visible, even in the works from those very first years of trepidation when everything you did seemed to have been done before.

We can do a whole lot of things in art, become ten different artists, but if we do that, there is great danger that we will communicate very little in the end. I say ride the bus of your dreams and stay the course.

In closing, I want to take you to Switzerland where I also teach. Imagine a mountain before you. You see its peak and want to climb up to the top. It is your life’s goal. Start by standing back far enough to confirm it is really there, then head straight for it knowing it will disappear from sight for most of your life as you climb and meander the hidden forest trails that lift you ever higher even as many sections force you to drop down into the mountainside pockets of disappointment or even despair, but you will be climbing soon enough and always headed toward your goal.

There will be those special occasions — and may there be many of them — when the fruits of your labors are suddenly made visible, to be celebrated, when you will again see the peak, only closer now, giving you confidence to step forward ever more briskly and bravely.

At one point the tree line will thin out the way hair on the top of an old man begins to bald away, but the air will be clear and the path sure.

At the top you will delight in what you have accomplished. You look around you and see just how far you have come. But then your turn around and as you do you become aware of mountain peaks far higher than what you had ever dreamed of, peaks that from the distance when you first looked up were not even there, completely hidden from your view.

And now, there they are, huge peaks but your climbing days are done.

The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography wands 27

© Arno Rafael Minkkinen

You have three choices: You can look up with raging jealousy and end your days in sadness and regret. Or you can look down at all the distance you climbed, become arrogant about every step you took and not have many friends with whom to share your closing days.

Or you can skim the horizon and take in the gorgeous sweep of the panorama before you. If you can do that you will know peace and rare humility.

We do not have to be number one in this world. We only have to be number one to ourselves. There is a special peace that comes with such humility. When you reach this peak in life, you’ve reached the highest mountain peak of them all.

God can’t bless both sides of a football field anymore than she or he should bless one country over another. You can’t be number one without having a number deux, tres, quatro, or funf.

It’s a lesson we are learning back in the classrooms of America I think. I hope. When I see bumper stickers that read: “My child is on the honor roll,” I see all the sons and daughters that didn’t make the list. Tracey Moffatt has a poignant series of works dedicated to athletes who’ve come in fourth place: no gold, no silver, not even bronze. Being numero uno? Stardom is no dream to chase. We just need to be good. And make good work.

So, be the caretaker of your vision. Make it famous. And above all, remember, that art is risk made visible. Good luck and see you out there. You’re going to be great.

This piece was a loosely edited transcript from a lecture given by Arno Rafael Minkkinen to the graduating class of 2006 at the New England School of Photography in Boston, MA.

About the author: Arno Rafael Minkkinen is a Finnish photographer who resides in the United States. He is the Nancy Donahue Professor of Art at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Visit his Wikipedia biography here and his website here.