tick-tock

Smart Watch Apathy

It’s amazing how a rumor from what feels like ages ago stating Apple may be making a “smart watch” caused such a dramatic ripple through the tech industry. The slow, predictable attempts to beat Apple to the punch are reminiscent of the swell of news about “slate” computers just before the launch of the iPad. Trouble with this approach of course is that Apple doesn’t really wear its heart on its sleeve, who knows what direction they will take its users in.

Whenever I think about smart watches I can not help but imagine a late night infomercial selling the idea complete with black and white disaster footage of mobile phones slipping out of hands and crashing to the ground as users helplessly try to pull them out of their pocket. Smart watches are a perfect example of a forced evolution of technology. While most technology progresses naturally, attempts such as this feel as though they were born out of a lack of fresh ideas and emanates a desperation to innovate before Apple makes it’s next move. The real question in this flood of reporting and opinions on the idea that I don’t see asked enough is do we really need another hardware platform right now? I have to give credit where its due, that Android Wear propaganda video sure does make you think we do.

The problem here is that the idea of a smart watch feels dated no matter how modern you try and make its interface look. In todays market the idea is an exercise in frivolity and tries to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Do you really think Dick Tracy would care about his watch if he had an iPhone in his pocket? Many seem to forget that much of what has defined changes in the consumer tech market over the years are simple claims of contradicting physical attributes among competitors. Bigger, smaller, thinner, longer, stronger, faster. It is a culture of gullibility and marketed desire. New for the sake of new.

We are at a point though where there is still so much to be explored and fine tuned within existing, established platforms. Unity of data and information among devices and multiple platforms is still far from being fully efficient or reliable. The idealistic vision of future technology that most of us picture in our minds is impossible without more of a mutual respect among competing platforms.

The only concept entering the market with any honest potential for wider adoption is the continued development of activity tracking wearables and it’s not at all surprising that Apple pundits are gently nudging readers toward the idea of Apple working on something other than a screen strapped to our wrist. Seems obvious enough considering their addition of an activity tracking chip in the 5s.

While competing players in the market are more savvy and persuasive than ever before, there is still plenty of room for them to sweep all these hyperbolical concepts under the rug and latch onto whatever the mass market decides to accept ignore. Never underestimate the tech industries ability to turn a blind eye to failures.

In a world where social media has groomed us to be comfortable sharing our lives loudly it seems inevitable that semi-intrusive technology will continue to grow and take advantage of this fact over time. I’m just not sold on the idea of  smart watches both currently on the market and waiting in line to be released, being the next big thing.

(The watches pictured above are made by Uniform Wares, YoungDoo and I bought them together to celebrate our wedding and I love them. Though they no longer make the model seen here they have plenty of other great watches to choose from.)

Gold Master

iOS 7 Wallpaper Crop GM

Now that I have that wallpaper pack out of the way I can get back to other things here on the site. Many were curious to hear more about how I settled on the resolutions I chose to use to take advantage of the “parallax” effect in Apples iOS 7.

The short answer is more or less a lot of trial and error. Before iOS 7’s official release I remember seeing a twitter message (here, then here) posted by illustrator David Lanham who had done his own testing and come up with a general rule of thumb that a 200px padding on all sides of an image would be enough to over the effect.

Given the chance to finally test it on an iPhone 5 I quickly noticed the shortcomings of this approach which was made more or less as an educated guess in the early days of iOS 7 being in developers hands. No fault to David really on this, it did make perfect sense at the time. Problem was the OS seemed to be cropping too much of the image and did not let me set a vertical adjustment when deciding how the image should sit on the screen. The 200px padding approach seems to make sense on the surface but it eats up far too much of the image in practice because of the way Apple handles the process. When cropping a wallpaper for a device I want to have as much control over the end result as possible.

As far as I know his mention of this theory was the first time it was brought up and since then has been widely adopted as being the best image size for the effect. Un-satisfied after my own testing, I took to the net in search of other opinions and came across someone that had ripped the original apple images out of the iPhone version of iOS 7. While the resolutions seemed completely arbitrarily size wise, as soon as I tested it I quickly realized it was in fact the ideal resolution.

I tested this by cropping images to Apples default wallpaper resolution then drawing a red box on top the pixel size of the iPhones screen resolution. I then loaded the resulting image into my iPhone and checked to see where the edges of the red box fell on screen. After trying a number of different cropped resolutions I discovered if I made any changes to the resolution set by apple the box would no longer line up ideally on the screen at a neutral position.

When it came to the iPad the same issues arose and while no one was out there talking about ideal iPad resolutions for parallax I was able to find someone sharing Apple’s included images online and sure enough the resolutions matched up better than any others I had tested.

All in all it seemed obvious to me that whoever at Apple was working on the effect found the ideal amount of give to the parallax panning to get a natural feel and set the dimensions of new desktop images to fit this ideal down to the pixel. Therefore, to get the most natural fit for your wallpaper images in accordance to their current programming I highly recommend you crop iPhone wallpapers to 744x1392px and iPad wallpapers to 2524x2524px.

My only question at this point is weather or not apple will end up tweaking that ratio in the future. I would imagine testing was thorough enough so that these resolutions will be just fine for a good long while.

So for all those “maybe 200px padding is best” tinkerers out there, think again. I can safely say that apples own set resolution is the clear winner for accuracy in their new iOS design.

If you are in the need of some nice wallpapers cropped, zipped and ready to roll then by all means take a look at my latest pack of wallpapers for iOS devices here.

4s/OM

Five S

Everyone is already well versed on the new Apple devices by now I’m sure. You may have even been reading quite a bit about the fancy new cameras hiding inside the new iPhone 5s. I have been reading a fair amount and have been trying to piece together my thoughts on the matter since first hearing about some of the clever new features packed into their new phone, and that is the perfect word for them, clever.

After reading through Patrick Rhone’s writeup on the matter A few things finally started to settle into place in my mind and I thought I would share my perspective as well. What Apple has done here with their miniature camera is choose not to compete on sensor or lens design within their camera (not much room in these skinny phones for that), rather they have engineered great software and processing power as a means to synthetically render great photos based on common human error and misunderstanding of how cameras function. In other words, they have created a camera for those who honestly want nothing more than to get the camera out of the way, point, shoot, and capture a great photo.

Obviously your average consumer doesn’t need or want to know what f-stop is best for what situation. The iPhone 5s is the first step toward casual shooters realizing they don’t need to drop $1500 on a DSLR system to make great photos of their family friends. This is only the beginning.

As for Patrick’s observations on camera manufacturers not having the resources to pull off what Apple has. I’m not totally sold on this idea and only find it half true. The simple fact is that camera manufacturers are creating cameras based on their legacy and history of image making and live within the constraints of the idea that when you press the shutter button there are only a few variables that decide what it is and how an image can be captured and recorded. What Apple has done here is chucked out the entirety of photographic evolution up to this point and that is bold to say the least. I have long wondered when it would come to this and what manufacturer would be the first to introduce such forward thinking ideas because most live in fear of the backlash of the photography community but of course, Apple is not a camera manufacturer. (Not to say they haven’t dabbled here or there)

The problem in looking at photography based solely on its past is that it has evolved to be far greater than its origins are able to dictate. Photography as we witness it today is no longer a chemical experiment, it has evolved to be greater than simply mimicking or disrupting the art world, and now very clearly it has moved beyond its retro-nostalgic throwback allure. Photography has become a universal language in which to communicate and cameras are our pen and paper, as essential to us as anything else in our daily lives.

Apple has clearly been doing its homework and obviously this is just the beginning. If the camera in the iPhone 5s works as they describe I see this as a last call for camera manufacturers to fine tune their future strategies. Funny to see so many of them all but abandon the pro market only to now see things come full circle. While they desperately tried to stay relevant in the wake of mobile photography a couple of them seemed to overlook the idea that if they lost the war to get the casual user all they would have left are the pro’s and enthusiasts.

The way I see it photography as a craft and as an art form will only end up growing stronger. The approach Apple has taken in their camera technology has no place in the pro or enthusiast world of photography outside of being exactly what it is, a great snapshot camera. The essence of the craft and the art of using the fundamentals of exposure combined with great glass and continued excellence in design will have plenty of room to flourish among casual shooters in the exact same way it does today. Camera manufacturers such as Fuji, Olympus, and Sony clearly understand what their audience is looking for and who their audience is and I don’t see any reason for them to worry.

The future is as bright for photographers as it has ever been and the new ideas and technology laid in place by Apple could end up helping the pro market as far as I’m concerned. Moving forward lets ignore those who fight against such advancement and understand that there is plenty of room for casual shooters to have a software driven marvel such as the 5s as well as the humble enthusiasts such as myself to have a great classic shooter by their side. Film, digital, software, its all a a means to reach an end. To explore and to live and to capture little pieces of life’s essence to share down the line.

Ydwork

Progress

Before I get started here I would like to point out that the only experience I have had with the new retina MacBooks are within the confines of a few visits to the Apple store and messing about with Aperture on their demo machines for a good long while. I very much encourage any photographers with personal experience using one of these new pixel dense displays to chime in and share your opinions based on your experience. I trust you guys will keep things civilized, I know opinions run deep with this sort of topic.

I can’t help but dwell heavily on impending high resolution displays that could be entering the market. After reading an article containing some basic projections on the future of high density displays in mac products I cringed to imagine that my 5D images would not be a high enough resolution to fill the screen on an iMac with a retina display. In fact, the 27″ model could potentially use an only slightly smaller resolution than a full raw file from a 5D Mark III. That is pretty insane to imagine.

To edit photos on a display like that it may look good on the surface but zooming in to view details would suddenly become much more difficult. You could argue that it looks good enough to edit accurately without zooming in but sometimes fine tuning takes an enlarged view to accomplish what you need. Even with the current high density Macbook Pros I find editing on photos, even from fully capable raw files from a 5D mark II that editing is in some ways improved and in other ways muddled by the ability to only zoom in slightly on an image to fine tune it before software kicks in and starts filling in information with pixels that don’t really exist. So while photos DO look gorgeous on the display I would hesitate to say that is perfect for editing photos.

And this is just with the high end camera market. The iMac has long been considered a home computer but has quickly replaced the Pro towers Apple makes as they are more than capable of handling the needs of most. So what of the average consumers who have been using modest smaller resolution point and shoots or the ones attached to their iPhones. The resolution of their snapshots has been perfectly fine for sharing online, looking at on their computers, or making prints to share but soon enough these modest images will look worse and worse on larger high density displays. Apple touts its full screen iPhoto as a beautiful way to edit and view photos but what about when the screen resolutions eclipse that of the cameras in use today?

Photographers have been debating “The Megapixel Myth” for years and year now (similar to the “megahertz myth” of old mac marketing). Points are always made in consideration of what resolution a person could honestly need their photos to be. It has been welcoming to see recently how camera makers have been able to comfortably improve and enhance the image quality and low light performance without having to waste as much time reaching for senseless megapixel numbers.

The fact that is bugging me is that I sort of felt as though technology was starting to find level ground in the war of speed and resolution and in this space we started to see some honest evolution again in the world of computing and technology. For example, with computers we found the introduction of the iPad and tablet computing. Within the camera market we seemed to be seeing manufacturers actually focus on the usability, functionality, and performance of their cameras rather than racing for higher resolutions resulting in the booming micro four-thirds market.

Movers and shakers in technology had started to focus on user interface design and creative engineering that felt like it was pushing forward to the future and creating compelling products again rather than suck up time and resources fighting to build the fastest machine with the greatest specs. The only thing that had threatened that stance was a race for cheaper pricing on technology but Apple has shown that one obviously does not have to be the cheapest to succeed in the market, you just have to make honest products and stand behind them.

But in this case, I can’t help but fear that display technology may kick start yet another senseless spec war not only in screen resolution technology but within camera makers as well. It is a slippery slope I feel we are on right now and while I don’t fear the worst I am certainly curious to see what happens over the next couple years in this space.

As photographers it’s time to stand up and stop concentrating so heavily on tech specs and other such nonsense and get back to what makes the history of photography so rich and eclectic. It’s time to focus once again on creating emotional and effective imagery that is able to stand the test of time, not be seen and instantly forgotten. Photography is a place where philosophy and technology mix with art and its ease of entry has diluted its user base to the point of over saturation. While chemistry and technology has always been a central pillar in this space, I fear it could drag it down even further unless we start to greet some of this forward momentum with at least a whisper of skepticism. I guess the best way to break this down is simply to ask, when will we ever be satisfied? When will sharp be sharp enough, or big be big enough? When do we reach the point within some areas of consumer technology where we are making progress simply for the sake of progress?

Just when I thought maybe were starting to come to terms with certain technological advancements and actually enjoy ourselves within our technically enhanced lives I have been quickly reminded that it will never end. I don’t mean to be overly pessimistic but you have got to admit it does feel a big daunting at times does it not? It is a subject I have long explored on these pages and I know I am not alone.

Getting back to the matter at hand, screen resolutions can be beautiful, effective, and amazing at these ultra high resolutions, but I can only hope that we move forward with realistic expectations. On my iPhone a retina display makes perfect sense because the size of the screen is a bit smaller and it aids in its use. On the iPad it is a natural evolution of another device held close to you as you work in a very personal way. Now, on laptops we start to explore the fringe of what may or may not be a relevant need. As we see high density screens get larger and larger I start to question, why? Just because we can?

Let me take a moment here to apologize to all those using a new macbook retina for the 5+ years of posts now containing thumbnail images that are now absurdly awful looking. Of course I will admit WAY back in the day they were even smaller when the average screen size was 800x600px. We evolve as technology evolves, is that right?

While designers are able to adapt to these new technologies by developing new types of scalable designs and techniques (and I will admit it does seem kind of fun and exciting) photographers have little choice but to either continue to use current display technology as long as it is available or continue the frivolous, all too frequent camera upgrades in effort to stay relevant, and people wonder why its so expensive to hire a good photographer. Not everything we use needs to have such short shelf lives does it? At least my 20+ year old film cameras still work. (The image above was shot with my Hasselblad)

I really have no intention of coming across as overly sensitive or hesitant to continue to grow or move forward, I just like to keep things in perspective is all. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and this display tech transition will be smooth as silk.

Followup:  I noticed this post from Marco Arment, as I’m sure a lot of you did as well who follow the mac blogger circles. He seems to be realizing similar things that I have been writing about lately here on 50ft. The benefits of an iPhone as a camera are clear but so are the limitations. It’s interesting that it took the new retina display for some to realize the limitations of shooting with an iPhone weigh just as much as the benefits. I am still fascinated by what kind of an impact these screens may have in the tech industry overall, not just for geeks and designers.

Bitmap image resolutions have seen a slow steady growth over the years but the dawn of dense resolution displays comes as a slap in the face sort of change as many images created or shared in the recent past and in many cases, near future are left in the dust. It will be interesting to see others come to their own conclusions and realizations about this transition as time moves forward and we evolve into the new era of high density resolutions.

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Why My iPad Is Not My Laptop

I have been reading a lot of talk about iPads and their growing capabilities as creative tools. Most of you reading this know of the “my ipad is my laptop now!” hype. Problem is, I come up empty handed whenever I try to figure out why there seems to be such a need to validate the ipad as a  personal computer, of course its a PC! What is there to even debate or dwell on? The input device of choice doesn’t define what a computer is, and neither does the operating system, its as simple as that. A touch screen device like an iPad is a perfectly natural evolution of personal computing. The part of this whole thing that interests me, however, is the software.

I would say a good 90 percent of the debate on the iPads usefulness as a computer is coming from writers and casual users and this is where I find the debate getting a little one sided. Of course a writer would like the ipad. The tools most needed to get their work done are right there for the taking, you can hunt and gather all day long and it does make a fantastic, distraction free space to write in. I can wholeheartedly agree that the iPad is an increasingly great tool to gather ideas, write stories/articles, and stay in touch but for the time being this is where the road unfortunately ends. For many, including myself, the iPad is still not much more than a high tech note pad.

When it comes to many jobs within the professional creative community the iPad is still more or less incapable of handling any honest workload. At least as far as things stand at this point in time. There are no designers that I am aware of using it to create much outside of concepts. There are niceish vector, sketching, and image editing apps available but nothing with the horsepower or precision that it takes to complete a finished product. The same goes for web design, coding, print design, industrial design, etc. Writers can sing praises all day long about how nice it is not to use a laptop to write and how easy it is to focus with one but its still far from useful within many areas including the creative field I am closest to, photography. It seems to me that most photographers today trying to use the iPad as an honest tool are doing it for the novelty. The simple fact of the matter is that it’s still kind of a pain in the ass to manage photos. There is still no easy way to manage files outside of iCloud/Dropbox integration or the clever but usually awkward attempts at using a LAN network to transfer files back and forth. Apples weird little iTunes app file window is sadly obscure and tedious.

I’ll admit there are a few nice photo editing apps available but you still always hit the same dead end. Cloud services can only get you so far, especially when dealing with full resolution RAW files. I can not dump 8Gb of RAW images onto my iPad and expect to get any real work done on them. For most professional photographers, a couple days of shooting equals large amounts of big files which takes forever to import and export, even with access to cloud storage which is not nearly as fun when you are dealing with anything other than small files. There is an obvious bottleneck that has no current solution for a larger quantity of high resolution image files.

For instance, while traveling you would think the iPad would be a great tool for the job, small, light, an endless battery, but as a photographer who has tried this a few times I can say that it is woefully inadequate for my needs. In my times trying to use the iPad as a point in the food chain of shooting while traveling I come across the data bottleneck get lost. RAW images saved to the iPad with the camera connector feel trapped. Getting them on and off is a buggy and frustrating endeavor that takes much longer than it should. In my experience it takes multiple attempts to pull off all of my photos and laves me frustrated and nervous about loosing images.

There was one instance where I thought it would be a wonderful tool while out on a shoot at a company campus. I had appointments with individual employees within a department and between each shoot I moved the images from my 5D to the iPad so I could show them the results afterward with a bit of flare and ease. The process ended up so slow that I had to juggle between cards to make it work and later nearly loose the images to the transfer process. While conceptually it was a nice idea, it was far too unstable for me to try again as things are.

I have tried using the iPad as a photography tool more times than I care to admit, that is, until I finally gave up on the idea and now take my laptop with me whenever I know I will be shooting a lot. I would be curious to hear what others experiences are that may have tried similar things.

For such a supposedly simple to use device the iPad it sure makes it complicated to move files around. In this case, Apple is entirely responsible with their rebellious idea to avoid traditional file structures. I can not fathom why it would be so difficult to have a system level file management area that is as convenient to use as the notification system they have so diligently been working on. Something which is not so flawed and cumbersome as the hidden data that lives within each app.

iCloud’s photo stream is clever but simply mirroring your photos doesn’t really do a whole lot of good for someone like me, especially with the current limits in place. In my opinion things either need to go full cloud or stay local, and full cloud is simply not possible yet. Network data and staying connected to the net at all times is simply not affordable or widespread enough.

Outside of data management failure, software is only really halfway capable. If I were a casual photographer shooting JPEG images I may be able to get by sometimes but as it stands I can’t honestly use any current app to edit photos. In fact, I can’t even come close to my normal work flow for creating content for fiftyfootshadows. I cannot accurately crop images or re size them for posts, more or less add my watermark, zip files up with my terms of use, and upload them to my server. So for a process so simple on the surface (edit, crop, compress, share) it involves details in the process that iOS can not handle as it is. Everyone seems to sort of tip toe around the topic as though they are afraid to admit that it really is not all that well suited for a number of things. Sure, you could mow your lawn with a pair of scissors, but do you really want to go through all the extra effort?

Then there is iPhoto on iOS, something I was looking forward to since the first iPad and its hugely lacking photo viewing app. I know people have been ragging on the interface since its release but that’s not all it fails at. iPhoto is a black hole within a hole where edited photos from your “camera roll” somehow end up in limbo within the app and you have to send edited versions back to the photo roll to do anything else with them other than making a journal. Talk about a mess. Your edited photos then end up piling up on top of duplicate versions of the unedited ones. It’s obvious they tried to do something interesting and capable but their own horrible file system keeps biting the hand that feeds it. Please, correct me if im wrong here but the whole process feels very un-Apple. Also, have you tried “beaming” photos back and forth from the iPhone to the iPad? Every time I have tried  to accomplish this seemingly simple task it has taken multiple attempts to the point where I simply let myself forget that it was even possible.

As it stands, the iPad is amazing. I use it every single day for writing, browsing the news, sketching ideas, and reading though email or tech riders and I love every minute of it. It f complements my daily life and on days when I don’t need to get any real work done, I leave my laptop at home. But when it comes to honest creative work I can not help but find the iPad as little more than a sidekick. I can say with certainty though, that this is far from the last word on this. I can clearly see a future where touch screen devices such as the iPad become more and more viable for the kind of things I have discussed here today. It is still new territory being explored and I for one can not wait to see where it takes us.

*The above image was shot on my iphone 4S and edited with TiltShiftGen and VSCO CAM, then cropped and compressed in Photoshop before posting.
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Don’t Drive Angry

There seems to be a fair amount of talk recently about comments on weblogs. It’s interesting to me, the love hate relationship so many have with them. It’s such a simple idea that it’s hard to believe it is generating so much heated discussion and defensive behavior. The way I see it, the use of comments engages readers to participate, not by running off to their own corners of the net and writing up replies in their own blog, but by taking a knife out and whittling in their own thoughts right there on the trunk of the tree. Must we hole ourselves up like islands? I fully support others writing on their own blog space but does a reaction always warrant that?

The comment space is a whiteboard where others are able to expand on ideas or opinions on whatever topic is at hand. This is an understatement, of course, because as everyone that has ever visited a site with the ability to comment knows, they are often abused. With the first painful stroke of the word “first!” comments became a questionable commodity. This is where the debate over the necessity of this ability usually begins. No one wants to invite people into their home just to have their guests scribble all over the walls and trash the place. This of course begs the question, just who is it you are hanging out with in the first place?

A readers response to an article is entirely dependent on the article itself and the feelings it evokes within the reader. Are you writing opinion articles, thick with facetious banter, talking shit about this or that, and heavy handedly suggesting the person reading believe what it is you are writing? Then you should expect emotional responses in line with the way you are writing.

Blogs that contain this kind of heavy opinionated content are often quite popular because we all have opinions and we all like to challenge our beliefs. We are also, whether we want to admit it or not, well aware that the phones we use, the apps we put on them, and the font we choose to type our secrets in don’t make us any better or worse than anyone else. If you have opinions on the world of technology that leave you with feelings of anger or discontent I suggest you ask yourself why. Technology is fun, it is there to make life easier and its nice to stay informed but don’t let the things you consume in turn, consume you.

It’s only human to want to be heard but it’s your choice how you decide to say your piece. This may seem random, but I recently saw some ancient episode of the TV sitcom, Scrubs, and within the episode there was a bit where the main character stated, “Anger like this has a way of being passed on to whoever’s closest” and this couldn’t be more true. We all know information on the net is a virus but it’s not always just information that is passed, it’s the emotion embedded within it. Of course I am not suggesting that every blogger with an opinion has an angry one. It is the way in which we present our opinions  that dictates what kind of audience we will draw.

That said, yes, I could see how many bloggers out there may not want comments available on their site. It’s not always appropriate and many don’t have the time or patience to handle comments left by followers. Many users simply thrive on online conflict because it gives them a chance to have a voice and with comment systems they don’t have to reply in obscurity within their own space, they can contribute directly at the source. In life outside of the net is it not often encouraged to speak your mind directly to someone rather than behind their back?

My point is this, there is not a lot of ground for debate here. There is no right or wrong unless you are speaking of a specific site. The only other sites that may need some constraints in place with commenting are those with an overly large, broad audience. It comes down to the trust you have in the audience you have built. It’s a sad truth of the internet that to have a concrete opinion that draws a lot of attention, people will come out of the woodwork to prove you wrong. No one want’s to read comments full of aimless attacks. This backlash against comments feels harsh and unwarranted. The inherent dissonance and pride associated with writing on a comment-less blog feels like a trend like any other.

Two sites come to mind that provide good examples to these ideas, neither currently support comments and most likely never will. Shawn Blanc of shawnblanc.net, and Ben Brooks of The Brooks Review. The two stay closely affiliated with one another yet have two very different approaches in reporting news in the tech world. Ben has an outspoken presence and seems to have strong opinions and is not afraid to rub people the wrong way to get a point across. Shawn writes in a way that is more down to earth and considerate of a broad audience. I could not imagine comments on The Brooks Review would be a good idea, he draws an audience more passionate and opinionated, others like himself, and would lead to needless arguments that simply wander in circles of stubborn opinion. Shawnblanc.net, however, I feel would not suffer from having comments around at all. He has an open, trusting relationship with his readers that became even more apparent when he went full time with his writing for the site and started up a more personal podcast that is available to paying subscribers. Two different approaches to a similar end, and while a fair amount of the audience is shared, the two bring out much different reactions among their followers.

In my personal experience here on 50ft, having comments enabled has taught me a lot about the people that follow along with the site. I am not in it for affirmation or coddling my ego, any writer that accumulates a moderate audience gets enough of that in other ways. It gives me a direct link to gauge the reaction of a post or image which in turn, allows me to further develop myself as a writer and photographer while building a healthy audience. Sure, there is Twitter and other social networks that also provide me with this feedback but these are disconnected from the source and offer a different kind of response. I also love the sense of community comments here have built. They help readers feel part of what is going on rather than the usual disconnect that breeds an unfortunate sense of entitlement in so many. I’m not a newspaper, professor, or preacher.I am here to talk with you, not at you.

While often I find a blanket statements of simple praise, I also discover a number of small stories and opinions that agree or differ with what I have written in a space not for full length articles or tiny, restricting tweets, but one for that gut reaction or memory brought forth after reading or seeing something. I actually encourage readers to browse though comments as well as articles because of this. I enjoy being challenged and even if I do have a fragile conscious at times, I take anyones point of view at face value. The amazing thing is that the replies I find are often fairly constructive additions to the overall narrative of what I was discussing. Even if only one percent of readers pay any attention to what others have scribbled there on the wall it is still there for those who choose to read on and have a place to discover what others may think about the subject. If you’re not interested, simply don’t scroll down.

Maybe I am lucky, but I honestly feel that it has a lot to do with the mutual respect I try to encourage with the people that follow along here. I realize that a lot of what I do is simply sharing photographs and musings on life, photography and the occasional article such as this but still. Out of the 32,000 some odd visitors that currently graze here each month I feel fiftyfootshadows makes for a humble exception to the mentality that comments are for axe wielding crazies trying to hack their way through the forest rather than stop and admire the grace and power of opinion the net gives us.

It’s really not as complex and dramatic as many are making it out to be because it really does simply come down to what works best for different voices online and does not warrant any drama. Who knows, one day I may change my mind here on 50ft. I did shut off all comments and even the dates on entries over on my not updated enough side project, You Disappear because they felt in the way with that project. If I feel they get in the way of the bigger picture here then I wont hesitate to pull the plug but until then, lets keep things civilized, shall we?

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Path

As many of you have pointed out to me, the mobile social network, Path, has launched a new version of their App that features many of the photographs you know and love from here on 50ft. I am excited for the opportunity and flattered that they have chosen my photographs to be part of the feel of the amazing new GUI within the App.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Path is a social network built around the idea that you don’t need to have hundreds of “friends” to enjoy its services. It takes a more humble approach and allows a maximum of 150 friends within your personal network. It’s a fascinating approach that I find I really love. Its nice to know that there is a service that does not encourage the endless thirst to achieve the greatest number of followers. With Path, you have more of a personal Journal showing where you are, what friends you are with, and what you are up to, as a way to share rather than impress. You do this by posting photos, videos, location check ins, written thoughts, music, and even when you sleep and wake. The information is then folded into your main timeline and shared with others in your network in a beautiful way that encourages interaction. It’s the perfect place to share with closer friends and family in a more intimate way than other social networks. I will share some of my thoughts and feelings on thisin just a bit.

Before I get too far away from my reason for writing today, I would like to discuss what everyone out there seems to be chattering about above all else when it comes to Path 2.0, the UI. It’s an old saying, and common knowledge at this point in our technology driven lives, that the best kind of interface is one that does not get in the way of you accomplishing your goals and this is an area where Path excels.

It is highly refined, beautiful, incredibly fluid and nearly effortless in that most needs are only a couple of taps away from your fingertips. It’s not every day a group of designers manage to create something truly forward thinking but that is exactly what they have done. Clearly a lot of time went into this update and it shows.

As I mentioned above, the guys over at Path have included many of my photographs as the default imagery within the app’s updated timeline. The space at the top of your home page, which they have brilliantly decided to call the cover image, is where you will discover one of my images when first using the app. This of course can be customised to your own personal photo but as of now you are not able to go back to any of the built in images. After a mail or two with the founders of the company, I have discovered that a future update will include the ability to specify which of my images you would like to use for your cover rather than its current automatic decision. (see note on this in the Path FAQ here) This choice would of course be in addition to the existing choice to pick one of your own images. Many of you have asked me about this ability so I am happy to be able to say that it is on their list of future features.

I find it hard to express how greatful I am to be part of this great new UI design, even in such a subtle way. I am not a part of the team at Path nor am I affiliated with the company in any way, just so you know. My thoughts in this article are strictly my own feelings and have not been written to sell the idea of the app. To be honest, I discovered my images inclusion at the same time everyone else did. While they did write to ask for permission to use them within a future update it was a surprise to me when I saw them used in such a natural way within the apps layout. It’s exciting to know my work is able to reach a wider audience and hopefully be at least a tiny factor in that, ‘wow’, moment upon toying around with the interface for the first time. A big part of why I share my photos the way I do is because of the happiness I hope they can bring others so this is a natural extension of that desire.

For me, personally, I feel Path will be a great tool to fill the hole Gowalla left behind when they completely uprooted and changed direction. I only ever used it for personal use or to share with friends anyhow so Path is going to become a natural evolution of that habit for me. Having a private network with such information is a nice thing to have among family and friends in my life. The addition to version 2.0 of being able to add entries as private notes which are not shared with others is also nice because it elevates its potential as a journal for moments in life I don’t want to forget but also may not want to share. All that said, please don’t be offended if I don’t add you as a friend within the network as I plan to stick with people I have at least a casual friendship with that I feel comfortable letting see closer into my day to day life.

Many seem to be a bit confused by what benefits Path offers over existing ones. The main reason for this seems to be because you are able to take photos using filters in a way similar to Instagram. Well let me tell you now, this is not at all Instagram. Instagram has an abysmal social side and sort of halfway encourages you to share or interact with others. Just look at the “Popular” page, in my opinion, its embarrassing for the service in general and I can only hope they have plans to clean up that side of what they do.Their last update was nice and all but felt like they are just plugging holes rather than polishing things more overall. Of course it does do one thing well and has given many a chance to share and enjoy photography with a simple approach that anyone can enjoy and I have had a lot of fun with it and will continue to do so.

Instagram became the default place to snap photos and share them in so many minds because of its hype, much in the same way Twitter grew so suddenly. These types of social networks (including Facebook and countless others) have one thing in common, they are all designed for you to have a place to not only share but to show off. To fudge the truth just enough to feel like you can be anyone. While it’s true that not everyone has the end goal of accumulating as many followers as possible, the semi anonymous nature in most social networks is something that Path has done a brilliant job in avoiding and it would seem this confuses a lot of journalists and those trying to figure out what to make of it. This is not to say that networks like Twitter or Instagram don’t have their place, it’s just that Path has managed to build something really wonderful in the social network space. Something more personal, a space where you can feel safe in sharing where you are, or who you are with.

I see those online acting jaded and apathetic toward the idea of another social network but I’m not exactly sure why. I understand the initial reaction to some degree but to automatically dismiss something without knowing more about it seems rash. Why bother saying anything at all? I for one am sick of so much cynicism online. Anyways, sometimes it feels as though most everyone is on Facebook by default except for a few, such as myself, who choose not to participate in that madness and I think there are a lot of people out there that are growing weary of such outlandish widespread sharing of their personal life. It’s your choice what networks you decide to be a part of and I believe there is room for more than one. Twitter, Instagram, and  even Tumblr have proven that. Facebook is the huge bloated monster that it is simply because it tries to do everything and as soon as the non-tech savvy members of the world caught on it reached its tipping point and flooded our every day lives so it was bound to reach a point where many start to pull away from it.

This is why networks like Twitter, Instagram, Path, Stamped, and others have been able to make their place and show that the ‘do one thing well’ space is starting to catch on. Surely most of us understand the benefits of a focused effort being a more enjoyable experience than a swiss army knife service that gives us a multitude of tools which just get in the way of each other when we want to accomplish anything more specific. WIth Path, what we have been given is a simplified place place to be more at ease within than other, wider reaching networks.

With Path I don’t have to feel guilty about posting a note about how my car has been fixed at a lower cost than I thought it would be, or how I thought my dinner was delicious while posting a photo of it, because I know that the people that I am sharing it with are those who I consider to be trusted and closer to me and would be more interested to know such things. There is no one I would follow that I would not be willing or able to invite to my own home or meet with in person. If I started using Twitter in a way that many used to make fun of it for and start tweeting about overly personal bits of my life I would be annoying many of those who choose to follow me. The landscape of social media is quickly changing and I feel Path is a brilliant move in the right direction.

As for Path having overlapping functionality with other networks, I feel many are looking at the service and scratching their heads because they don’t want to post the same moment in two or three different places and that is totally understandable. But remember my point above, think about how we have begun to use the different social networks that are in place. Many, if not most, of us have turned our life online into a business of sorts. Sharing has become less about sharing and more about flexing muscles. It only makes sense things would have evolved in this direction and its great that we are all now capable of having a voice and being heard, but this does not seem to be what Path is for. When you post a photo or a thought to Path you don’t have to let the idea that hundreds of people may be reading burden you. It’s here to share yourself and your life, not to exploit and spread your grand ideas and statements with the world.

Here is one real world example of what I consider to be a good use of the app. There is a person I like to follow on Instagram who is a reader of 50ft and I have enjoyed his photography and spoken with him casually here and there over the past year or so and I chose to follow him on Instagram because I enjoy his photographic work. Trouble is, he LOVES to share moments through his day with photos and ends up sharing a lot of what seem to be more personal moments with friends and little inside jokes and things that would really only interest those in his inner circle of friends who he seems to love and is around often and that is wonderful. Instagram became a quick way for him to share these moments with his friends but at the cost of a casual follower like myself having to sift through dozens of personal snapshots from him rather than just a few more curated moments that could draw more of a broad interest. Sure, the easy solution would be for me to not follow him any longer but I really do enjoy following his photos when they are not just snapshots of his friends or his new wardrobe. I of course mean no disrespect here, but I feel I could suggest to him and his other close friends to give Path a go as a viable alternative for sharing these moments with each other and save Instagram for those moments he would like to share with his extended network of friends and followers. Of course, it is totally up to him how he uses the service but it is exactly this type of user that Path is perfect for.

One last thought that sprang into mind is this. Path could also be highly simplified as far as how many followers you choose to add is concerned. It could be used specifically for your eyes only with no other friends added to it at all. The beautiful interface would work wonderfully as a simple Journal app for your own personal needs while sharing only specific moments through its connection to Twitter, Foursquare, Facebook, and now Tumblr. You certainly can’t argue with a free Journal app that automatically saves all your info for you. Alternatively, you could use it with one other person, it could be a direct connection to your significant other or one or two of your closest of friends. The way you use it is up to you, I’m just thinking out loud.

Speaking of sharing only specific entries on path through another service. While writing this article I posted a quick snapshot of the iPad I am writing this on through Twitter. The shortlink it shared directed others to a web based Path page where you could see the post and photo attached as well as leave a comment on the post. It is a perfect solution that uses the web as a back door to combine the strengths of both services. This makes for a beautifully simple way to branch out thoughts posted within Path with a wider audience via the other shared services they offer to connect to. A brilliant move that I am surprised to see no one has brought up yet among other discussions online and makes it even more functional for me from day to day.

Great thing is that it will only get better with future updates (iPad support anyone?) so what are you waiting for? If you have an iPhone or Android phone head over to your app store and check it out for yourself and tell your smartphone wielding friends. All of the hype it has been getting seems to be very much deserved. I for one am getting more and more excited about having this service available to me and continuing to explore it and I have a feeling that if you give it a chance, you will too.

For anyone interested, I have created a wallpaper of the image above which you can access using the links below. Also, feel free to share your thoughts on Path or social networks in general within the comments. I know opinions run thick with this sort of thing so use your best judgement when sharing if you would.

ipad

The iPad, A Year Later

I was asked a number of times recently to write about my experiences with the iPad. I set out to write a short something on what it has done for me since having one around and how that use has evolved over time but the writing sort of took off without me. For such a simple device it certainly took a fair amount of thought to focus in on what has made it great. I decided to also use this space to go ahead and talk some about the apps that see the most use.

There are many who still find the iPad to be relatively weak as far as it’s usefulness is concerned. I can admit that when the iPad was first introduced I was drawn to it not because it seemed like an important or useful device but because it looked like a wonderfully fun gadget to have around in my day to day life. By the time I actually ended up investing in one I had come to the conclusion that it would hopefully become a perfect way for me to have access to important information while traveling or simply away from home. I hoped to be able to leave my laptop behind and go about my day as usual with this new, lighter, easier to access device to help me continue to be functional at work as well have a quick way to stay connected to the never ending Internet.

A couple of months into this new foray into iPad living I fought myself still lugging around my laptop everyday as I always had before but not because the iPad was not as useful as I thought it would be but because I failed to realize just how much I rely on tools like Aperture, and other work related needs that simply didn’t really exist yet on touch screen devices. There Was a period of time that I found the iPad rarely seeing any action as my laptop was simply a more viable way to get done what I needed to get done through the day.

Then, I’m not sure what it was that triggered it exactly, but I discovered that I had the iPad out a lot more often than I once did. Somewhere along the line I realized that the applications built for the device were starting to aid the iPad in becoming a much more useful tool. I was able to print out PDF tech riders for concerts I was working as well as store them locally in iBooks. I found myself using the iPad more and more to write distraction free as I am right now using the great writing app iA Writer. More and more apps that I enjoyed but didn’t use often because it was such a pain to get information on and off the iPad were becoming useful as they started to use dropbox as an amazingly simple way to keep things in sync. Now I use it so much that I actually have days where I may find myself with a 30 percent battery life at the end of a busy day which is amazing considering the battery life really is as good as you hear it is.

I discovered I was replacing much of what I was doing with the laptop with my iPad and it feels good to finally feel as though it has caught up to my needs almost fully at this point. I have a simple Manhattan Portage messenger bag with a space that perfectly fits my iPad and it’s lovely cushy sleeve that I wrote about here before and it makes it so very easy to pull out my iPad and instantly be checking my mail, opening up a tech manual for a new piece of gear at work, catching up on the latest news, or sharing a few photos quickly and easily on the big screen. This kind of casual quick approach computing isn’t as accessible on a laptop. Well, maybe on one of those tiny little MacBook airs to an extent but not in the same way.

I think a big part of why I started using the iPad gradually more through the time I have owned it is not just because the apps have become more capable but also because I have grown accustomed to using the simplified approach of using a touch screen device to access and manipulate information. It is largely a single task device and while it really is quite simple to jump between apps I find it does take time to get used to using the iPad after coming off years of laptop and desktop use. It takes a slightly altered mindset to approach it and make it work for you in your own personal workflow from day to day but once its usefulness clicks you won’t look back. I was trying to think of a good real world example of a time when the iPad stood out as being extra ordinary and I think I have a perfect instance.

A few months ago I was hired to shoot individual portraits of a team of employees at an international company whose headquarters are located here in town and the client was willing to take the photos on the campus surrounding the buisness which is a beautiful area surrounded by woods. One by one a team member would come out to a predetermined location where I would have a few minutes with them to capture a handful of images. The iPad came into play when I finished each individual shoot. Using the camera connect kit I pulled off photos between sessions to double check results and gather them all into one place.

The best part of this came when the sessions were over and I could step back into the offices to share the images with those who I took photos of. The iPad excels at this because I am able to put the photos on this big wonderful screen and put them right in their hands. I could then easily transfer the images from the iPad into Aperture in full RAW resolutions.

While I am eagerly waiting for iPhoto to appear on the iPad to allow better on device organization of photos this was still an easy process that made for a great presentation tool while out shooting. Sure, I could have just as easily used a laptop but the personal touch of showing photos this way can add a lot of personality and intimacy to a presentation.

I do have a complaint to lodge as some of you may know already, connecting devices to the USB camera port is fairly limited because apple decided to limit the amount of power the dock connector is able to supply to a device. This really annoyed me when I discovered that I could not use my flash card reader any longer. While I have not tested this under the new iOS update I don’t doubt there is still this limitation in place and its something to be aware of. Connecting to a camera directly works like a charm but it’s a slower process.

Speaking of using the iPad for showing off photos, it makes for a wonderful place to keep a portfolio. I highly recommend an app called minimal folio for this. As soon as they added simple dropbox support it ended up being a fantastic way to showcase images on the iPad.

Of course showing off photos is not at all the core use for my iPad. There are a handful of other apps that see very regular use these days. The built in mail app, while not perfect, is certainly a great way to catch up with new mails and fire off simple replies. One thing that I wish it could do is easily re-size photos from my photo library but it’s not a pressing need, this and it would be nice to be able to flag emails. I know there are some power email users out there that have very strange and specific ways of working and may need something more powerful but for me it’s more than adequate.

Another app that is a daily fixture for me is what I consider to be the best RSS experience anywhere on any device and that is Reeder. Is a brilliantly simple approach and allows me to quickly navigate through my news feeds with ease through the day. If I had one request for this app to improve I would ask that feeds be manageable from within the application. I really hate having to use the web interface for google reader, it’s just a mess. I have tried a number of other RSS apps but they have always come up short of my expectations.

Next up is twitter. It is currently the only official twitter app that I like to use. While at first I didn’t really see the appeal it has since grown on me and I greatly appreciate it’s layered approach to seeking out content featured in any message as well as following conversations. It takes the mess that Twitter has become and turns it into something a bit more logical and easy to follow.

Then there is Instapaper. I think there is nothing but universal praise for the concept and I love it too, now with readability around as well feeding back to the content makers I can’t think of a reason not to use such a service. I tend to simply read a lot straight in reeder but Instapaper provides me with a great way to come back to articles I want to examine closer.

Last but not least in my short list of most used apps is iA Writer. I have had this for quite a while now but only just recently started to put it to good use. The last few things I have posted were written here in Writer synced over to my laptop with dropbox then formatted and posted with mars edit on my laptop. I tried pairing a bluetooth keyboard with this app and found it was a great environment to write in. It left me to focus on nothing more than the text. No casual trips to the dock to check my mail or twitter like on my Mac. My favorite things about the app are the additional typing tools above the keyboard letting you have access to arrows to skip through text and quick access to punctuation. This and the fact that hiding the keyboard turns what I have written into a book of sorts while in portrait view and makes for a great casual editing environment.

As for the subject of games on the iPad, I love a good game here and there and gaming on my iDevices has pretty much become my sole source for gaming outside of my Wii or old playstation 2 heh, maybe because I don’t own a TV anymore. So as for games on the ipad, I find ones that I enjoy most are ones who’s control structure works well on the iPad. Not all iPhone games work well on the iPad due to the size of the thing. I find that I usually have one game that I come back to for a few weeks and keep closer to the front page of my apps. At the moment that game is Land-a Panda and sometimes an old casual favorite, Sneezies. Simple but a good distraction here and there when I need a break.

All in all, the usefulness of the iPad, for me, has boiled down to the apps available for it. I think its a fairly obvious deduction if you follow the apple world at all but its true. I have written a couple of posts focusing on iPhone photo apps but I am considering starting these back up again with other types of apps as well in the future. A year after its introduction and I feel like the platform is just starting to take shape. There is still a lot of growth left to do. Just look at how the ipads smaller sibling started off. I remember seeing the iPhone rotating in a little glass tube in front of me at Macworld years ago when it was introduced with its meager built in app offerings. Who knew what kind of crazy revolution it would spark in our daily lives. Whether that is for better or for worse is up for interpretation and ill leave that for another day, the simple fact remains that the iPad has been a great addition to my daily life and at this point there is no turning back.

ipadd.jpg

White

I have seen a lot of chatter about the white versus the black iPad 2′s and after a good amount of messing about with both models side by side in an Apple store I drew up my own conclusions on the mildly controversial white iPad and the fact that some seem to think it feels more toy like than the black model.

I feel part of the reason for this is because the white surface takes on the color of the light surrounding the device so the overall feel of the device is altered greatly in different environments. I was trying to think of another product like the white iPad that uses a combination of a glass surface with a white backing but can’t come up with many. Typically when you think of shiny white things you imagine polished, shiny plastic. Largely because of Apples own product line in the past. The soft round bezel on the edges of the new iPad simply add to the mental idea that it is a curvy piece of plastic but it’s all in the mind. This is certainly new territory they are breaking into and I feel it messes a bit with our perception.

The black iPad seems to be preferred for many because of the idea that it feels more like you are simply holding a screen, there is nothing else to distract you from the content there in front of you. Not to mention black is the classic geek chic color of choice and to many back means classy. I feel as though black electronics like this have this feeling because of the emotional nature of the color in our minds. The deep black of space, it is a color that consumes light, not one that adds to it. Psychologically, a black iPad appears to be stronger and more solid because of this simple fact. The same goes for the idea that black is somehow less distracting, that it blends into the environment around you. This is a largely circumstantial argument, however and totally boils down to ones own taste.

Then there is the argument that the screen feels further away from the glass which is not actually true at all but you want to think that because of the way the light falls onto the white bezel, it tends to bend in a different way because of the light reflecting back up from the white on the back of the glass giving you the feeling that the content on the scene is further away from you.

There is also a black edge around the content of the screen. This is most likely unavoidable. The screen would have had to be pressed up against the glass to be rid of such a gap. This or the bezel would have to overlap the edge of the screen not unlike the bleed used in print design but this would result in a glowing bezel and lost pixels. I find that the black gap is not as much about the distance from the edge of the bezel to the edge of the first pixel on the screen as it is simply the illusion of a larger gap because of your perspective looking down into the dark behind the bezel or maybe thats just me.

To some this may be a troubling distraction but honestly I think that, like the comfortable feel of black, it is also a matter of what you are used to seeing. What you see as a distraction may simply be your mind wanting to push against something you are not used to seeing, our instincts evolve quickly sometimes and its important to pay attention to the reasoning behind why we make the decisions we make. I feel that with a few days of use that thin black edge would never be noticed again and simply be seen as a border to the screen. It makes for good tech writing to discover things that could be seen as wrong with a new devices design and while things like this do warrant being pointed out I always find it troubling when its not really investigated or thought through well enough before jumping into the group think mentality that leads to assumptions and misguided opinions. Perhaps I am making an assumption myself in saying this, who knows.

Whats my personal taste leaning towards? While after a year of using my first gen iPad with its deep black screen I still feel as though the thick black bezel feels heavy around my screen. I understand the functionality of having a bezel large enough to hold in my hand though, which is a functional compromise for the better in my opinion.

There is also the emotion involved within a color choice. We are all emotional beings after all and so its hard not to bring emotion into the conversation while talking about a device that could end up being so closely intertwined in your every day life.

I find that I like the peacefulness of having lighter colors around me while I work and live my life or at least a nice balance of color. So for that reason alone, the airy lightness of a white iPad seems more appealing than yet another black monolith laying around on my desk. I feel like I have had enough black for now. The white border hardly feels distracting to me personally and in fact feels more natural and welcoming if it’s possible to say such a thing about an electronic device. This, of course, is simply my opinion, and many of you may prefer black for the same reasons I prefer white.

I have really loved having the iPad around and I have discovered that I have been using it more and more as applications continue to progress into new levels of functionality and appeal. I will explore this a bit more in another post soon. The reason for writing this was simply to mention my opinion on the ongoing discussion of the white and black iPads which seemed to vary somewhat from what I have read elsewhere. Funny thing me writing about a product I don’t own though. Thats what opinion articles are about though then aren’t they? What do you think?

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