Core, A Keyboard Story

It has been ages since writing about any new gear on these pages. At one point I realized I probably wasn’t adding much to the bloated conversations on tech and new things in general and slowed my pace to more or less zero. One more opinion just didn’t really seem all that relevant somehow, but today I thought it would be fun to jump back into this space and gush about a new toy that I am excited by and found myself totally in love with at first click. A mechanical keyboard.

I know I am pretty late to the game, and for ages I wrote off the trend as little more than another thing geeks could geek out about, a needless accessory, but this past winter when I was visiting Seoul I made the mistake of casually walking up to a hearty section of mechanical keyboards in the tech section of a bookstore thinking to myself “oh hey, lets see what all the fuss is about,” as I approached the table. It took all of 30 seconds to fall for the charm and addictive feeling of the clicky keys tapping away underneath my fingers. The subtle joy of the experience lingered in my mind for quite some time.

My casual brush with those keyboards planted a seed in the back of my head that slowly grew into enough of a curiosity to poke my head into a few user forums and watch a handful of YouTube videos to listen and learn more about this close knit group of keyboard lovers. Through this I discovered the many different switches, keycaps, build styles, and layouts available. Part of my initial distaste for mechanical keyboards was their size. I move around a lot and rarely have time to sit down in one work space for too long so I wanted something portable so I could put it to use while on the go.

Once I started to pay attention to the different layouts and varieties of keyboards available my interest peaked quite a bit. The 60 percent keyboards seemed small and portable enough for the most part and they do have a layout similar to what I’ve grown used to over the years on MacBooks but overall they were still a little big for a casual every day carry scenario where it would need to live in my backpack most of the time. What really hooked my imagination after learning more about them were the little 40 percent boards which were unique in a way that sucked me right in.

Tiny, adorable, but still fully loaded. The fact that most of the functionality lay behind modifier keys and layers seemed a little confusing at first but the more I thought about it the more I felt OK with it. I use a lot of shortcuts when using my MacBook and I have for years so what would be the big deal in learning a few new ones for less used keys like numbers and some punctuation.

Many keyboard lovers seem to consider these tiny wonders an outlier among the wider cinematic universe of mechanical keyboards, as thought they are maybe more of a novelty or strictly for light usage. While I could see that being true for the type of people that are the core demographic of this world, I myself found a perfect match in these tiny boards.

My needs personally are to have something well suited for writing posts, journal entries, emails, and other longer form writing. I am perfectly happy not having a row for numbers or function keys and the few odd punctuation marks used fairly often like apostrophes, question marks, etc. are not really all that difficult to get to and my fingers have adjusted to finding them when I need them.

Let me take a step back, I should mention which little keyboard I picked up, the Vortex Core. The Taiwanese manufacturer has a glowing base of happy users of their Poker line of 60 percent keyboards and when I stumbled across their adorable and affordable little prebuilt Core I knew I had found a perfect way to jump in, especially with its current cost which is quite a bit lower than they seem to have once been.

So how does it feel to use it? I adore it. Typing with a mechanical keyboard is like taking the side of my brain that needs something to fidget with while I think and feeds it with entertainment while I focus on writing. The feeling makes me want to write more because it’s such a joy to use and I find myself getting lost in the feeling. While reading about these before picking one up I kept seeing reviewers teasing the company for its slogan but I adore it, “enjoy your feeling,” its perfectly apt for a mechanical keyboard product and captures everything I love about it.

I will say this about the 40 percent style layout as it stands on many keyboards, I can’t for the life of me figure out why they could not have designed these one key space wider and included the apostrophe and question mark keys. While I have quickly gotten used to the new shortcuts I still wonder, as creative as this community feels to me why are there not a wider variety of PCB boards from different creators pushing possible layouts in more directions. The closest I have come across to what I would want in a perfect world are in the “ortholinear” keyboards which use an aligned grid of mostly single spaced keys, a layout I am curious about because of its flexibility, but I’m not sure how far down this rabbit hole I want to allow myself to go in.

It’s a hobbyists dream for sure and I completely understand the addiction some people have to having fun with the many different choices out there. Worth noting here also is the programability of the Core which is there, hiding on different user definable layers, but I have not thought of a reason just yet to experiment with this so I can’t offer any comments on this part of its functionality.

Which brings us to the little details about the Core, and perhaps mechanical keyboards in general, that I love so much, starting with the switches. Based on everything I have read what I really wanted was a version of this board that had Cherry MX Clear switches but had to compromise and get Brown switches instead. Both are whats considered a tactile switch meaning there is a second component of the switch aside from the spring which gives it a subtle, tactile bump as a key press is activated. The clears offer a slightly heavier feel and a little more resistance than the browns which is why I wanted them because I like the idea of having a little bit more weight to the keypress.  I like the nuance of the amount of pressure it takes to trigger the key so I am able to clack away quickly or type more gently when I need to be a bit quieter.

The sound of the Browns are just enough to be satisfying and give a nice, almost hypnotic ambience to the typing experience that I quite love. The reason I ended up with browns  because I could not find any Cores in stock with clear switches anywhere, most likely because they seems to be among the most popular switches overall for a lot of people and initial stocks must have run dry.

Then there are the keycaps. I like the vintage looking cream/beige colors and love that they took advantage of this being a prebuilt board with default settings so they could sneak in a cheat sheet for the modifier/fn keys on the front edge of each key. I hear there are versions of this set that also have the third layer of hidden keys labeled with additional punctuation etc. but again, I find myself quickly remembering where things are overall and the more I use it the quicker I get using it. They have a nice solid feel to them and just a slight texture that I like quite a lot.

My favorite part of this board in general though is the size, I am able to store it conveniently inside an old wireless mic bag for safe keeping and keep it around with me everywhere I go. Really, if it weren’t for these tiny bezel-less keyboards that are so easy to travel with I don’t think I would have ended up buying into the idea.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend this keyboard to anyone that does not like shortcuts or has trouble with them. It is almost guaranteed to frustrate if that’s the case, but if your like me and don’t mind this, I can happily give a glowing recommendation for this fun little keyboard. You can find them for under $100 now which is a heck of a deal considering the cost of components in general when building your own keyboard and the quality of its build straight out of the box.

Have any questions? I’m no keyboard aficionado but I would be happy to help if I can, feel free to leave a comment below if that’s the case. At this point I am only still writing because I love using this keyboard so much I don’t want to stop, the gentle clack underneath my fingers is such a weirdly visceral joy. It’s hard to fully explain but it sure does make typing feel good. I love that. Enjoy your feeling and I will see you next time.


With Or Without

It’s quite something to see all the armchair analysts out there share their opinions on one of the few universal audio jacks of the world. The venerable 3.5mm Phone Jack, the 1/8th” cable, the mini plug, the headphone port, the jack plug, the AUX chord, whatever you want to call it, it’s ambiguous and it’s everywhere.

The polarizing swath of opinions has felt louder than most big shifts in the technology world and for good reason. This isn’t a floppy drive or pc only data port to transmit data, it’s a universally accepted means of transmitting electric current to power speakers and there is one fact in the middle of this discussion that is easy to forget; audio reproduction is inherently analog. There is no such thing as digital audio only digital audio transmission and conversion.

This is where things get interesting to me in terms of the future. The 3.5mm phone jack was popularized in portable electronics long, long ago. These plugs could be listed in a dictionary as defining the term universal. An overwhelmingly large percentage of personal electronic devices manufactured in the past 30+ years that featured the transmission of audio has had a 3.5mm audio jack to fill this need.

This modest jack is an overlooked cultural icon, a globally recognized one at that. Even with the birth of better sounding bluetooth audio standards the port has hung in there in as being synonymous with music transmission known most recently in pop culture as the apparently venerable AUX cord. (Yet I remember not long ago it still was universally called simply an iPod cable by most.)

The sheer magnitude of the ports assimilation into modern society will be one they won’t be able to shake off over the course of a couple years but I can see the tide shifting eventually. Even with Apples marketing team flashing the death of “100 year old” tech. The core concepts of audio reproduction remain no matter how hard you try and shake it off.

When looking closer and really considering what Apple has done today, the only people that will be frustrated about the missing headphone jack in the long term will be music lovers like myself who want and sometimes need to have the flexibility and ubiquitous acceptability of a universal analog port for audio output.

Unlike the simplicity of analog audio, wireless audio transmission in its very nature is never going to be truly universal and will always require some variety of proprietary language, adaptor, receiver, etc. and for the general public that will be little more than another hoop they need to jump through to enjoy modern technology and by the looks of it, Apples AirPods are doing a great job of simplifying that process.

While many of the stop-gap dongle adaptors of apples past have since become more or less obsolete, I have a feeling this one will hang around a lot longer than many of their previous vendettas against old technology. As long as they keep putting headphone amps inside of the phones that is.

The idea of a cordless music experience for personal listening is a future many, including myself, have looked forward to for quite some time. I always figured that the point in time it would become ready for prime time would be when they managed to take the iconic apple earbuds and make them wireless but it always seemed impossible. Light enough to not burden your ears, simple enough to manage and keep track of, and with a battery life worth considering. On the surface it seems like they have hit the nail on the head but there are a couple of points I wonder about.

First and most obviously the cost. Could they not have hit a $100 price point at very least? At $160USD they are positioning it as a premium product thats for sure. A little strange considering its a flagship feature of their newest and future phones but I have no doubt that many will jump on board anyway.

As for keeping track of them? While it’s an easy target for the usual new Apple product jokes, I don’t think it will be that big of a deal honestly, unless you are prone to loosing things. The handy carrying case is a nice touch and makes perfect sense.

All in all the timing of ditching the dedicated audio jack feels pretty familiar as far as Apple is concerned. Just as wireless headphones are getting to the point where discerning ears are starting to accept them and a few competitors were able to show their own seemingly clumsy solutions for smaller wireless options Apple swoops in and lays the groundwork for the future. Business as usual.

Something else I wonder, if the audio port abandonment actually manages to stick as an industry trend for smartphones, I could easily see a future where standalone digital music players become trendy again among music lovers. Just a thought because I already know that will be the case for me down the line when I inevitably purchase an iPhone without an audio port.

So, the iPhone 7, a heavily refined iPhone 6, slick, powerful, and as beautiful as ever. Still though, like many others, I can’t help but wonder whats REALLY next up in the story of the iPhone. Cutting one of the oldest cords in the book is a bold move, sure, but it feels like a change they are just getting out of the way to make room for something even cooler coming down the pipeline.


Parallax Error

No, not that Parallax error, it’s another, more frustrating kind. I still get asked when I will release another pack of images for the new iPhones and I am finally one step closer in the right direction to make that happen. I simply could not bring myself to charge anyone for a pack of images if they were the wrong resolution. That said, I am pretty certain I have confirmed the default iOS wallpaper size for the 6+ to be 2706×2706. Unfortunately this is not the end of the story.

The benefit of having the default Apple resolution has been obvious since the release of the iOS 7 when they added the parallax effect. There is an apparent shortcoming or bug in iOS for the 6+ that is making any user set wallpaper look pretty bad when the home screen is rotated. To that end, the horizontal layout on the home screen seems odd to me, why does the lock screen not rotate as well? It feels like they were just trying to show off that the screen is bigger for some reason, I feel the OS and many apps still have a lot of refinement to do before it feels at all natural on this screen size but I digress, back to wallpaper.

When you set a wallpaper, iOS makes a copy of the image and saves it internally, this way if you delete the original, you won’t loose your wallpaper. The problem is that the file it saves is only adequate for a vertical orientation so when you rotate your home screen the image blows up and becomes horrible looking. Troubling! Apple’s default images always rotate perfectly because they are stored internally within iOS and maintain the correct resolution for the longest side of the screen when rotated horizontally, a technique first seen in the original iPad.

So I am banking on 2706×2706 as the resolution to use on the 6+ as it stands today. In my testing, which I will get to in just a second here, the amount of play while setting a wallpaper allows no wiggle room vertically when setting the perspective zoom to “on” any time I cycle that preference after moving the image while setting it I see it drift back to the same exact place vertically on the screen. This, to me, is indication that the resolution is in fact Apples preferred size though my testing methods are hard to pinpoint to an exact pixel size because of the high resolution of the screen itself. Still though, based on my digging online, this is the resolution Apple uses for their own wallpapers.

There is another, similar resolution that has made the rounds, 2662×2662, which is oh so very close to the results I have come up with while digging for copies of default iOS in images. Oddly, there is also a resolution out there which is not only totally wrong, but also the most commonly used, 1242×2208 (the displays scaled, working resolution). Then again, the same thing happened last time with parallax wallpapers on iOS 7 where one wrong resolution was spread as correct simply because it was the first viable option shared. Only until Apple fixes the bug will I be able to really sort out the problem fully but until then, I will stick with my instinct.

I have included a short video below to illustrate the points made here.

The music in the video is by DJ Q-Bert.


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.


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.



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.


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.

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, 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., 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?

To whom it may concern,



• Enjoy the images! It’s a labor of love, thanks for your support!
• Share with friends.
• Send me a quick mail if you are interested in using an image for commercial or personal use other than wallpaper.


• Post desktops elsewhere online.
• Share links directly to images.
• Pass them around in mass.
• Make prints.
• Use images for web banners or graphics. (send a quick email to ask, I’m pretty easy going about this with permission.)
• Use them in commercial work.

If you help me out with these I will be able to keep doing what I love to do. Thanks again, really, for your support and understanding. -J


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When sharing images via your personal blogs I kindly ask that you link back directly to either the post the image was taken from or the base of the website at and give a credit to Do not re-post full resolution desktop images anywhere without permission. If you would like to use an image for your blog background or something of the sort simply write to ask first. Support the artwork you admire! Also, it is greatly appreciated if you do NOT link directly to the zip files. This is more or less the same as re-posting them as it circumvents the tiny bit of support I ask of you which is to simply link back to the original post for others to enjoy the site.

It’s not fair to artists if you do not credit their work and link back to the original content creator. It is theft plain and simple and blogs that attempt to somehow be mysterious by not giving credit to the creators are simply hurting the artistic community as a whole. If you love it so much then please, support it! The artistic community on the Internet is based on trust. Without trust then what do we have? are you going to be one of the responsible users out there or will you be among the bottom feeders, stealing content and passing it off as your own to make a quick buck in ad sales.

Use your best judgement and we will get along just fine.

Thank you for your understanding and support!

John Carey (curator, owner)