Over the past two weeks I’ve taken more pictures with my iPhone than has been the case in months. A lot of that has been due to travel to neat places where, often, it would either be inconvenient to carry my mirrorless camera or where I’d be disallowed to carry that camera with me. I won’t pretend that the 28mm equivalent lens on the iPhone is my favourite but, at the same time, I’ve taken many photos on my iPhone that I genuinely like and appreciate. To some extent, my ability to get certain shots is linked to having used the camera in the iPhone 7 for about two years.
I bring up my (limited) abilities with the iPhone’s camera because of the discussion of how much better the cameras in the iPhone Xs and Xr are in comparison to previous iPhones. In a certain sense the reviews are correct: the computational capabilities of the newest phones can produce even more ‘true to life’ images than earlier iPhones. But, at the same time, I think that reviewers that make this point are failing to account for the practice of learning any given camera system.
My (now quite old) Moto X tended to have prominent lens flare, and the colours were very much not true to life. And yet many of the photos I took with that ‘inferior’ camera remain amongst my favourite photos that I’ve ever taken. I learned how to work with the capabilities, and limits, and uniqueness, of the Moto X camera to take some shots I found aesthetically pleasing. I can’t take the same shots with my current or past iPhones, and certainly not with the newest line of iPhones.
I have no doubt that the new cameras in the newest iPhones have significant positive capabilities. And I’d love to play with a new iPhone and it’s camera! But I feel that just stating that the camera is ‘better’ ignores that it’s only after holding and using a camera and lens for an extended period of time that they’re combined full properties and potentialities really emerge, and that those variations will be preferable to some persons’ photographic interests and less so for others. In short, while I believe and trust that there are technical elements of the newest iPhones that constitute technological advances in what iPhone cameras can do, such technical elements do not necessarily or inherently make for a better camera or imaging system or aesthetic output.
I’ve been mildly obsessed with the opportunity to have donuts in California ever since learning about their history in this region of the United States of America on the Sporkful. I can now say I’ve had a donut from a Cambodian donut shop and it was transformative. I’ve never had such a moist, chewy, and flavourful apple fritter. Each donut I had in San Francisco was genuinely a palate changing experience.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
“Talk less, smile more, never let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.”
Aaron Burr, from “Hamilton: The Musical”
Great Photography Shots
Music I’m Digging
Ciara – Level Up (Single) // Ciara’s newest single is just terrific; the beats combined with her voice are electrifying and just compel you to start dancing.
Kidswaste – Free (Single) // I’d never heard of Kidswaste before, but I’ve been really enjoying the lyrical and acoustic contents of this single. The sense of freedom expressed in the lyrics resonate with me, at the moment, especially as I’m travelling with someone who is working to genuinely express the meaning of freedom is when juxtaposed against the lack thereof in past communist regimes.
Neat Podcast Episodes
Planet Money – Modern Monetary Theory // Why can’t governments just print money? While the obvious answer is ‘inflation stupid!’, modern monetary theory challenges this by suggesting inflation only takes place when government printing or purchasing artificially inflates prices, and that this is a common but not necessary consequence of government involvement in the economy.
Gene drive used to turn all female mosquitos sterile // This is really amazing, and exciting, and terrifying research. That we, as a species, are getting to the point where we might able able to remove species from ecosystems based on genetic manipulation was once the thing of science fiction but, now, is increasingly looking like practices which will be publicly performed in the near future. The far future is almost here. The question will be whether we are so arrogant as to invite it, or instead defer such genetic manipulations and acknowledge our fallibilities.
Safari Content Blocker Evaluations – 9/26/18 Edition // If you’re an iOS user, this is a helpful and frank evaluation of which content blockers are the best for different people. I was surprised that TunnelBear’s product was so effective; it speaks well of their team to produce software that is designed with end-users truly in mind.
Popular Weed Killer May Be Responsible for Global Bee Deaths // The deaths of the world’s pollinators coming as a result of Roundup will, almost surely, be seen as an indicator of our arrogance in thinking we can distribute chemicals without negative consequence for the world writ-large. And given that Monsanto is involved I expect that protestations will follow for years to try and keep the product on the market. All while pollinators become increasingly vulnerable to disease, to the detriment of life on earth.
Google Executive Declines to Say If China Censors Its Citizens // It is breathtaking and revolting that a Google privacy lawyer is unable to positively assert that China engages in censorious behaviour. If the lawyer truly did not know then he has no business being in his position, at Google, at a time when the company is considering re-launching it’s business operations in China. If he does know — as we all know he does — then he should be punished for lying to the Senate Commerce committee.
I’m going to be travelling for three weeks in the USA and am trying to decide on what lens(es) to bring with me. I want to travel lighter so I’m leaning towards probably just bringing a 35mm equivalent or a 50mm equivalent or a 24-84mm equivalent, but just can’t decide which is better.
Over the years that I’ve been engaging in photography, it’s largely been either a solo activity or undertaken with one or two close friends. I think it’s probably fair to say that, in the time I’m been shooting, I’ve typically been the most enthusiastic photographer when I’ve been out. Most of my learning has been in my own, whether through watching YouTube videos, reading books, being inspired in Instagram, or visiting museums and art galleries.
I recognize just how amateur my shots are and, also, that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I even can, let alone alone should or need to, learn, if I’m to improve the quality, kinds, and nature of my images. The past few years have been as much about learning basic camera functionalities, a set of tricks that I find enjoyable, some styling, basic editing methods, and muddling through composition. I have a lot of bad images but, increasingly, more and more that I’m satisfied with (and some I’m even happy with!). I can also see progress in what I’m shooting, year over year, so I’m confident that the images I’m producing are at least becoming more pleasurable for me to look at and enjoy, and that’s great given that I shoot for myself first and foremost.
However, this weekend I did something that was a bit scary for me: I joined a Toronto photography group and wandered around part of Toronto with them. There were a total of five of us, and I was by far the youngest and most amateur person there; some had been shooting for thirteen years longer than I’d been alive! But it was a really positive experience, insofar as I could see how people engaged with the environment according to what they found interesting. It was also an opportunity to see how people go about getting consent to take other persons’ photos: the thing that’s always kind of scared me about street photography is taking other people’s images, but how it’s (responsibly) done is a little bit clearer after the walk. The other reason the walk was great? All of the people who I was on the walk with were super nice and friendly and inviting to me, the newcomer.
I also appreciated the opportunity wander with good company and for the express purpose of taking photos: there was a nice sense of camaraderie that I hadn’t experienced in this way before. That other people planned their recreation around photography — going to different locales, near and far, for the purpose of photographing the world while also enjoying where they were visiting — was inspiring because while I’ve read about, and listened to, people who are so committed to photography I’d never actually met such people in the flesh. In some respects it almost feels like I’ve found my ‘tribe’ of folks, and I’m looking forward to the next walk I’ll have with them to explore my photography (and city!) with the group.
I’ve been trying another journaling technique over the past week that’s inspired from an application I was referred to. Rather than producing elongated entries (the kind I’ve pretty well always written) I have the date along the left hand side of the paper, and then sentences with a major thing or thought that I had in the day beside it, with each sentence separated by a slash symbol (i.e. ‘/‘). I’ve been finding it pretty useful for speeding up reflections, to the point that it takes about 3-5 minutes, whereas a longer entry has historically taken me 20+ minutes. These shorter journals won’t replace the more occasional longer journals — which tend to be more focused and in-depth on a given subject or issue — but I could see them as becoming a very regular part of my routine.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
“How well you take criticism depends less on the message and more on your relationship with the messenger. It’s surprisingly easy to hear a hard truth when it comes from someone who believes in your potential and cares about your success.”
Great Photography Shots
On the one hand, I think that Wire Hon’sshots with superheroes in everyday situations are just funny. But from a technical level I find what he’s doing pretty amazing: using forced perspective, he makes the toys appear as life-sized and involved with him, his family, and each other. Hon’s work is a reminder that you can do a lot of impressive work without photoshop if you just prep your scene effectively.
Music I’m Digging
ZHU – Ringos Desert // I’m really enjoying this for generally walking about but, in particular, when I’m heading to the gym.
Tash Sultana – Flow State // I really can’t get over how amazing the vocals and instrumentals are throughout his this record. While I enjoyed Sulana’s earlier EP, Notion, this record is far more sophisticated.
Neat Podcast Episodes
Dissect (Season One) // I’m only partway through the first season of Dissect but I’m already blown away. The thesis of the show is that it will spend one season doing a deep dive analysis on a particular album. The first season kicks things off with a focus on Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. The depth of analysis that takes place on this show is exceptional: it shows how Kendrick’s lyrics build between albums and the relationships between tracks’ lyrics and his life growing up, as well as the playful multiple interpretations that come up routinely across the album. If you like Song Exploder then you’re probably going to love this show.
Clear and Vivid – Cheryl Strayed Shares Her Advice on How to Give Advice // I’m continuously impressed with Alan Alda’s work on developing better communication. His episode with Strayed, of Modern Love fame, emphasizes how having compassion and wanting the best for the person whom you’re giving advice to helps to develop empathetic bonds that facilitate communication. She also notes that in presenting oneself as vulnerable, advice that is provided tends to resonate more with the receptive to because both parties are reducing the barriers between themselves.
CBC’s Ideas – It’s Alive (Frankenstein at 200) // Like most people, I was first exposed to Frankenstein through visual mediums and it was only much later in life that I read (and…forgot…) the actual novel. In this long-form piece, Ideas unpacks the significance and meanings within Shelley’s masterpiece. I came away from the episode with a deeper appreciation for the work and recognition of just how critical the book was of the scientific activities being undertaken at the time and, arguably, today as well.
CBC Ideas – The Politics of the Professoriat: Political diversity on campuses // This was a maddening episode, where Ideas largely interviewed conservatives who assert that campuses are overly political biased, and that there are things that students have identified as threats and harms that conservatives themselves scoff at. I include it because it’s important to listen to — and disambiguate — the kinds of issues that some conservatives raise about the problems of campuses; specifically, that social progress, integration, advancement of basic rights, and support for more multicultural and integrated systems are somehow problematic, as opposed to emphasizing the need for social order predicated on police forces and so forth. It was deeply disappointing that instead of opening some of the conservative thinkers’ positions to debate they were, instead, left to make assertions about the state of the academy without challenge.
Good Reads for the Week
Lonely City // Xu’s photoessay of longing and loneliness in Taipei felt like it hit all the right notes: the text was minimal and interspersed through a series of photos that were well-curated for the mood he was seeking to convey.
How the Dutch Do Sex Ed // In a comparison of Dutch and American policies towards sexual education, Rough finds that effective and comprehensive sexual education both reduces unwanted pregnancies (and decreases abortion rates), the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and the rates of sexual violence. Given these benefits, it’s particularly heartbreaking that the current government in Ontario is adopting a regressive policy concerning sexual education in public classrooms, largely in a mirror of American politics linked to sex ed.
All of Toronto is getting older, but it’s tougher to age in the suburbs // May Warren’s opinion column focuses on the challenges of the elderly living in the suburbs, with a core problem being that those parts of the city were designed in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ’70s with the assumption that residents will have cars. In effect, urban planning errors — which include not only not building sidewalks, but also failures to invest in transit and separation of living space from social and commercial space — continue to have serious impacts on the persons who try to live in the city. Despite the awareness of the problems in planning, however, Toronto as a city continues to prioritize cars by investing in road systems at the expense of improves cycling and walking spaces: lessons, seemingly, have yet to be learned about what is needed to keep the city itself safe and functional for all users, not just those who ride around in automobiles.
Teaching in the Age of School Shootings // Throughout this piece I felt like I was on the verge of tears, as teachers explained what they had done in the immediate aftermath of school shootings and the trauma that they tried to cope with following the event. It never ceases to amaze me that, despite the relative regularity of school shootings in the United States of America as compared to other countries, authors still are obligated to include language such as “[l]ess than 1 percent of all fatal shootings that involve children age 5 to 18 occur in school, and a significant majority of those do not involve indiscriminate rampages or mass casualties.” Despite the empathy of the piece, that the author had to include this language speaks to the fundamental bizarreness of American gun culture as juxtaposed with gun cultures elsewhere in the Westernized world.
Do You See Camera As A Photographer’s Tool Or A Gadget? // Robin Wong’s assessment of talking about photography equipment isn’t novel, per se, insofar as the idea that photos are more important than the gear used in making the photos. But he makes this argument with an honesty and enthusiasm that’s infectious and delightful.
Ming Thein’s Artist’s Statement, 2018 edition // While I can’t really imagine myself ever engaging in photography at the level that MT does, I find myself routinely inspired by his images and the thoughtfulness that permeates his work.
He Asked Permission to Touch, but Not to Ghost // In this Modern Love essay, Sanders recognizes that how ‘consent culture’ in the #metoo era has entered the bedroom can be stiff and challenging: the regular verbal requests for affirmation seem legalistic, as opposed to trying to read the situation and move ahead. And, more broadly, that the consent culture doesn’t extent to caring culture: it’s a caring of not violating physical boundaries, but doesn’t carry with it a caring of another’s emotional wellbeing when someone ghosts following a romantic encounter. With regards to the regular questions concerning consent, I think that some of that is linked with men just starting to figure out/learn what is or isn’t required or appropriate; it’s a social norm and set of behaviours that will evolve as men, who may not have previously sought clear consent, integrate consent into the ways in which they interact with their romantic partners. But the author’s broader issue — that consent culture isn’t caring culture — is an excellent point…depending on what the relationship is intended for; if it’s designated as a particular kind of physical relationship, expecting it to extend to something else is perhaps unfair for the other party involved. But where the relationship is predicated, first and foremost, on the potential or expectation of mutual care then the failure to act in a caring way is a violation of social norms…though not necessary one that is, or should be, satisfied by consent culture.
Conserve The Sound // As our old technologies fade to the mists of time, this German website is collecting the sounds of classic electronics (mostly from the analogue and early-digital ages) so that we don’t forget their auditory characteristics.
Shed of the year 2018 finalists // Some of these sheds are absolutely amazing. But what’s more amazing is that there even is an 11th annual best sheds competition; stumbling across this kind of randomness reminds me of how the Web was once packed full of wackiness.
Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule Will Help You Focus On The Things That Matter // I appreciate how quickly this video outlines a method of setting goals (make 25, prioritize 5, exclusively work on those top 5 and only add another goal when one of the five is completed) but was left wondering about what constitutes a goal that can be ‘completed’: for open ended projects, aspirations, or goals, do they just get closed at some point? Or is it, instead, key that all goals have definable conclusions/points of ultimate success?
I’ve been putting off getting a book printed that contains my best photos of 2017. Today I decided to just pull the trigger and get it printed and I’m super excited to have it in my hands in a few weeks!
I think that I really fell in love with photography after purchasing, and shooting with, a used Fuji x100. It was a terrifically flawed little camera: autofocus was terrible, it was generally slow, and battery life was subpar. Furthermore, I didn’t really know what I was doing: I had shot on an iPhone for years and I didn’t really understand how to configure the x100 for semi-automatic shooting (e.g. setting aperture priority, the importance of difference ISO settings, etc.). Frankly, the x100 was probably too much camera for me at the time…but I loved it, nevertheless.
But as I’ve written about previously, I’m not entirely certain that I really enjoy shooting in the 35mm format. Some of that, I suspect, is associated with how I fell (back) in love with photography. I originally bought my Olympus OMD-EM10ii to travel to Cuba, and purchased a Panasonic 25mm 1.7 lens for the trip. While it’s inadvisable to take a new camera and lens with you when you travel, that’s what I did, and I walked out of Cuba with a lot of images that I really, really loved. I shot exclusively on the 25mm (50mm equivalent) and it lead me to understand how the lens worked in ways that I don’t think I’d have ever appreciated had also brought and use a zoom lens. However, I bought the lens because it was what reviewers said was a good ‘first’ lens insofar as it’s pretty versatile for anything and everything: you can do some portraiture (not really my cup of tea), can do landscape (as I did for that week in Cuba), and some architecture shots (also, as I did in Cuba).1 But without learning other focal lengths I was just going on what other people said the 50mm equivalent lens was good for without understanding from practice what I thought of it.
Fast forward to last week, when I travelled into the United States of America for a wedding and some quiet time in Savannah. Before I left I had to answer a hard question: what lenses should I bring with me? I decided to bring the Olympus 17mm 1.8 and the Panasonic 25mm 1.8, with the goal of trying to learn which I might prefer for general walkabout photography, and why I prefer one over the other.
To be honest, for general walking I think that I really enjoy the Olympus 17mm lens. I truly began to appreciate the ability to capture a broad scene, in excess of what the 25mm lens could capture. And I truly, absolutely, with all of my heart love the manual/automatic focus clutch; I tend to shoot exclusively in manual with the 17mm and it just feels right.2 I also started to come to terms with the differences in how the lens present colour; I don’t know that I prefer one or the other and, instead, just appreciate the differences that come from either one of them.3
However: I also learned that I really, really, really dislike how the 17mm presents humans — and in particular my own body — when not carefully used. I saw one picture in particular and was shocked: was that how I appeared? Was my entire sense of my body inaccurate?
I mean, I’m sure that my perception and the world’s perception of my body varies. But the 17mm could be incredibly unflattering if not used with a degree of deliberateness that I’ve never required with the 25mm. (It can also produce some pretty nice portraits, too, based on some shots a friend took of me.) For anyone who’s shot these two focal lengths for any period of time this won’t come as any kind of a shock. And I’ve seen enough online tutorials to know that what I saw was to be expected. However, I’d never actually lived the reality of having shots of myself, from 35mm equivalent and 50mm equivalent lenses, put beside one another. It’s meant that I have a pretty visceral and lived reality with either focal lens which is, in and of itself, a photography experience that I’m delighted to have had. Even if it made me question my body for a little bit until I figured out why some shots appeared one way, and others another!
I do a fair bit of personal reading that is like eating candy — i.e. fiction that caters to my guilty pleasures — and some that is like eating fibre — i.e. non-fiction and fiction alike that impress upon me the lived realities of other cultures, groups, and persons.
I just finished Adam Hochshild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and, at various points in the book, I felt like I’d been hit by a baseball bat. The kinds of actions which were taken against persons living in the Congo were, at their best, barbaric. What was most striking was how those historical facts were so carefully hidden away, destroyed, and removed from the minds of Western and African persons alike. I’ve read anti-colonial literature in the past but this was the first book that helped me genuinely appreciate the horrors inflicted by Western nations on persons around the world; the stories from the victims, quoted in their entirety, were particularly painful and sickening to read. I think that it’s also the book that has opened my eyes to some of the challenges around excavating history of colonialism, and how such excavation and hardship is the necessary pre-condition to coming to terms with the past: Western governments and elites buried the past and, before the past can be reconciled, it must first be made present in our daily lives.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
“People matter. Meaning matters. A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it’s a lens through which you see and create your world.”
— Jonathan Fields
Great Photography Shots
One of the things that I’m trying to get better with is presenting images according to how I imagined them. This is distinct from how things may have looked: I often want to transform the scene in some way to present something that was in excess or slightly aside from the scene itself. It’s for this reason that I really like Gilmar Silva’s shots that juxtapose the ‘before’ and ‘after’ portraits he takes. In taking us behind the scenes of a final shot it’s easier to think through the logistics and editing that may enter into making an image, as opposed to snapping a photo.
Music I’m Digging
Gang Starr – Daily Operation // I’ve had this 1992 album on repeat for the past week or so; the tracks are incredibly solid mind melds of DJ Premier and The Guru. What’s striking — and depressing — is that so many of the tracks on racism and segregation in America (and North America more broadly) are as poignant and accurate, today, as they were when written over twenty years ago. Whither progress?
Seafret – Tell Me It’s Real // Seafret reminds me ofBannersin terms of their sound and topics that they sing about. And, to my ear and taste, that’s a good thing! The album spends time focusing on the themes of love, loss, and despair, all themes that have resonated deeply with me over the past few months.
Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems // Cohen is a staple in my daily listening, and has been ever since I visited an exhibit/memorial to him in Montreal last December. His dry, cutting, lyrics combined with his lyrical whimsy were what caught me, and it’s the pain of love and life that keeps me coming back listen after listen.
Neat Podcast Episodes
On the Margins – Jason Kottke and Twenty Years of kottke.org // I have to admit that I’m having a hard time with On the Margins. On the one hand, I find the idea of having discussions with authors about the bookmaking process to be pretty neat. On the other, I find that Craig Mod (the interviewer) is too heavy handed in some of his engagements; he has a tendency to push the conversation in unnatural or forced ways. All that having been said, this episode on kottke.org, one of the older websites in existence, is pretty interesting insofar as it digs into the rationales for why the site exists in the first place, projects that have been considered and set aside, and reflections on what comes next.
The Daily – When We Almost Stopped Climate Change // Warning: this is a deeply enraging podcast, because it walks through how there were active efforts that almost led to real action to affect climate change in the 1980s…and which was stopped by conservative politicians on the basis of their economic interests. The episode does a good job in walking through efforts to raise awareness and combat climate change while, at the same time, making it very clear how naked capitalist interests are responsible for selling out the next generations.
The Daily – The War Inside the Catholic Church // I don’t follow religious politics particularly closely, but am aware that the current Pope is in routine conflict with more conservative elements of the Catholic church. As a non-Catholic I personally believe that Pope Francis is the best thing that could have happened to the Church, at the time it’s in now, and so it’s particularly distressing to learn how American conservative Catholics are actively engaging in warfare meant to diminish the current Pope. (As an aside, Francis’ book, The Name of God is Mercy, is a beautiful book that clearly both sets him as a progressive while simultaneously acting as a curious introduction into what the Church could and should be through his understanding of Catholicism.)
The Art of Photography – Your Camera Is Better Than Ansel’s // It’s easy to get caught up in gear that is used to make images but focusing on equipment mistakes the importance of technology versus vision. This episode emphasizes the need to develop our vision first and foremost, with equipment being of tertiary importance.
Good Reads for the Week
We’re in a new age of obesity. How did it happen? You’d be surprised // In another analysis of the obesity epidemic, Monbiot asserts that it’s less about people exercising less, less about the quantity of foods people are eating, and more about the manner in which foods are chemically designed. He writes, “we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.” This kind of assessment is important because it pushes back on the concept that people become obese because of a lack of motivation or other self-drive rationale: weight gain is a community problem, driven by chemists and marketers, and obese individuals are their victims.
Facebook Fueled Anti-Refugee Attacks in Germany, New Research Suggests // This study again speaks to the ills of the filter bubble economy: to drive engagement, persons are shown more and more polarizing material which often includes anti-immigration materials. This polarization isn’t ‘just online’: it leads to increases in physical violence towards immigrants, and when Internet outages take place the rates of violence decline in statistically significant ways. At some point the mountain of research has to showcase that services like Facebook are prone to increase misinformation and threaten certain communities in serious and lasting ways.
‘We Cannot Afford This’: Malaysia Pushes Back Against China’s Vision // While the prospect of China assuming greater and greater regional power isn’t necessarily surprising, the pushback against Chinese efforts is curious. The article, generally, provides a good overview of Chinese-Malaysian relations but what got me laughing was how obviously corrupt some of the business dealings have been. As an example, a company who’s past work included building a zoo and bird park was hired to build a series of artificial islands as well as establish a deepwater port capable of hosting an aircraft carrier. I guess building cages for animals made them well suited to build housing for military vessels?
Woman: My iPhone was seized at border, then imaged—feds must now delete data // The suit against the government for having seized and imaged the woman’s iPhone is novel. But it was the 90-day period for which devices can be retained that struck me: what is the time delta for updates to be developed to successfully crack iOS devices these days? Is the period of time for which devices are retained functionally the period of time required before attacker’s can successfully overcome Apple’s protections?
Prosecutor: Suspect must give up his phone’s passcode in fatal hazing case // Case law in the USA remains disturbingly unsettled concerning whether compelling a person to disclose their decryption password constitutes a Fifth Amendment violation. This Louisiana case adds further confusion as to how to interpret that law; it’s only a matter of time until the Supreme Court is compelled to determine the scope of Fifth Amendment protections as they pertain to securing contemporary electronic devices. God help us all if they find that decryption doesn’t infringe up existing rights, as such a ruling would likely have a cascading global impact, to the detriment of citizens’ rights around the world.
How the Trump Administration Is Remaking the Courts // Zengerle has done a masterful job analyzing and assessing how the Trump presidency has been quickly and significantly affecting the political leanings of courts throughout the United States, and how his actions rely on the Senate having changed its own rules concerning judicial appointments. The impacts of these appointment will likely be felt over decades, not days or months, and could ultimately lead to significant changes in the nature of American jurisprudence as old norms are overturned based on novel legal philosophies taking hold in courts across the United States.
What about those mandate letters, Premier Ford? // An apt column by John Loric summarizes the significance — and historical precedent — of the Ontario government refusing to publish the letters to the Cabinet. Those letters indicate the objectives Ministers are expected to meet; absent them, and absent a real campaign platform, the public has no real way of understanding what the government is specifically directed to do or whether everything is just being made up on the fly. The Ontario government’s decision is bad for democratic accountability which is, ostensibly, one of the issues voters had identified as an issue in the previous government.
Researchers Edited Mice Genes to Stop Them from Dreaming // Though the researcher’s ultimate goal of the research — to better understand the role(s) of REM sleep to human well-being — is a serious goal, the article itself almost reads like a finding one would stumble across in a dystopia hellscape. “Researchers liberate workers from non-productive sleep elements, ensuring the regime’s productivity.” On second thought, I could imagine an ever-so-slightly modified headline of that type in at least a half-dozen western newspapers in as many different countries…
I know: 35mm is often regarded as better for landscape and architecture alike, but I personally enjoy how you can isolate particular characteristics of a scene using the Panasonic 25mm. ↩
Although for the love of all things even marginally holy I wish that Olympus would push a firmware, so that when I set the clutch to manual the camera would activate focus peaking. It drives me nuts that this is only included in the Pro line of lenses. ↩
I’ve found a particular editing aesthetic with the 17mm that I like; it seems to start to approximate Fuji’s Classic Chrome look (the sole reason I wish I owned a Fuji is for that look!). In terms of the 25mm, I like the vibrancy of its images, as compared to the more neutral colours of the 17mm. For both lenses I tend to shoot jpg and in the ‘Natural’ colour filter on the camera. ↩
Over the past few weeks I’ve been visiting art galleries and spending a lot of time — sometimes 20 minutes or more — in front of certain paintings to try and understand why the artist made their composition decisions.1 This has involved both trying to understand the positionality of different subjects, the roles that light played in directing attention across the canvass, and more broadly trying to understand the emotional or intellectual responses that I experience when spending time with the work. To be frank, it’s a strange kind of experience just because standing, silently and quietly, in front of something in public contemplation feels abnormal. However, it’s a feeling that I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with: for a long time, it didn’t make sense to me that someone would spend tens of minutes, or even hours, or longer over the course of years, to view particular works. But I’m very slowly starting to really appreciate why people do that; in my case, probing a piece of art seems to involve letting go of myself to explore, consider, evaluate, reject, and refine thoughts that I have when taking in the artist’s works.
I’ve read, repeatedly, that photographers can benefit from spending time looking at paintings and other canvass-based pieces of artwork. Photography, in many respects, aims to accomplish many of the same things as paintings: good photos affect the viewer’s mind and emotions, while telling a story that is more or less simple. Even the starkest abstract or architectural photographs can ‘say’ something to the viewer. This is contrasted against snapshots that may capture a moment in time, but which aren’t necessarily meant to affect how the view experiences their lives. There are, of course, difficulties because what are sometimes regarded as snapshots may, in fact, be photographs: good street photography, as an example, may resemble snapshots but is actually meant to convey a more-or-less subtle story to the viewer.
None of this is to say that snapshots are bad kinds of images. They can hold incredible value: snapshots I’ve taken over the years of family gatherings, as an example, hold immense value to me. This value is heightened when they’re the only ‘real’ reminder I have of certain family members who have since died. But they’re not ‘artistic’ in isolation.2
It’s in the process of sitting or standing, silently, with our own photographs that I think we can come to imminently realize whether whatever was shot genuinely crosses the line between a snapshot and a photograph that is seeking to convey something beyond what was captured. And, over time, I think that it’s this practice that leads to photographers capturing more of a scene that is self-evidently visible in the pigments and paper used to print on: it’s by careful study of our own work, and that of other photographers, that we can train our minds to almost automatically see what is a photo, why, and how to capture it in its entirely instead of simply snapping a quick shot. Unless, of course, a snapshot is all that you want to capture at the time!
It’s baffling to me that Apple Music lets users create profiles, so that we can share what we’re listening to with other users, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to link into our profiles from the public web. It seems like another of Apple’s failures to understand that social discoverability shouldn’t be exclusively be constrained to very limited sharing within their closed environment.
Inspiring Quotation of the Week
Stop caring with other people think.
Choose your bosses carefully. Bad habits are difficult to unlearn.
Turn the fucking Internet off. Do the work.
Know where you are going. 100% of people who go to a train station know where they want to end up.
I was really stuck by Oleg Tolstoy’s photographs of Japanese taxi drivers, both because of her artist’s statement — she wanted to explore persons who were almost from another era, given their dress and professional silence while transporting passengers — as well as because the images themselves possess an almost cyberpunk-cinematic quality. I also found that the photos were evocative insofar as how the drivers were staring into the distance were incredibly effective in directing my on attention through the photographs. It’s obvious as soon as you look for it but, prior to then, it’s a subtle forcing of the eye through the frame which brings out a lot. In pulling myself away from how I’m ‘meant’ to look at the photo I quickly shift to a series of (to my mind) interesting questions: what is, and isn’t drawn clearly into our visual frame as we follow the subjects’ eyes? What can we learn from what our eyes are ‘told’ to ignore or to pay attention to? What would be the difference in how the pictures were viewed, based on whether you were trained to read left to right, right to left, or top to bottom?
Music I’m Digging
The Prodigy – Need Some1 (Single) // I’ve long been a fan of The Prodigy and this song has all the hallmarks of their better work: it’s almost impossible not to start moving as soon as it starts playing!
Nine Inch Nails – Add Violence (EP) // The second of three short EPs published by the Nine Inch Nails, the dull and gritty sounds of the album are really striking. I’m less a fan of Trent Reznor’s ‘louder’ songs, and far prefer ones which are more haunting. The songs ‘The Lovers’ and ‘This Isn’t the Place’ are the standout tracks for me, with the latter song in particular being strikingly haunting and, to my ear, amongst the band’s better work in the past few years.
Neat Podcast Episodes
Eat This – Barges and Bread // An in-depth discussion of the historical ways in which wheat was transported in Britain, even prior to the Romans developing fortifications around contemporary-day London. I learned both a lot about how and why wheat was transported in the bulks that it was, as well as the difficulties in using barging systems today to transport grain and other materials across British waterways.
The Daily – The Trump Voters We Don’t Talk About // Based on a relatively large-n sample, and measured across time, this episode unpacks the demographic groups that voted for Trump. Moreover, it looks at which groups are steadfastly supporting him, and where Trump’s voting base may have begun to fall away.
Lawfare – The Challenge of Digital Evidence // While encryption has sucked up a lot of the air concerning the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have in prosecuting crimes, this podcast focuses on all the other (often more serious) problems authorities have in obtaining digital evidence. The episode is a good introduction to the solvable problems: figuring out ways for authorities to determine who has the relevant data they need, educating authorities so they can actually process contemporary digital evidence, and establishing an central office that can coordinate authorities’ requests for data. It’s a solid overview of the non-encryption problems facing American law enforcement along with generally reasonable solutions.
The Sporkful – Michael Ian Black Is A Man Who Eats Salads // Like many episodes of The Sporkful this one uses food as an entry point into a discussion about more serious social issues. In this case, food and eating is used as a way to engage with concepts of often-toxic masculinity, the social constructions men live (and chafe) within, and the challenges associated with food and body image that men often experience. I found my head nodding throughout the episode as Michael carefully works through some of his own issues with how masculinity is constructed and the ways in which he tries to grapple with the associated social norms.
Good Reads for the Week
Ontario brewers should think twice before they buck themselves // While the craft beer market remains in an uneasy state in Ontario, any breweries that start producing dollar beers are almost certain to produce swill and irreparably damage their brands. Plus, should craft breweries attain any real market share as a result of producing dollar beers the big breweries will almost certainly just sell their own beers at a loss to run off ‘craft’ brews selling for under a buck.
How to Photograph a Vacation // Rose’s suggestions for image making on vacation resonate with me: the different techniques he uses (e.g. anchoring shot, unique shots, isolation shots, etc) are things I’ve done to varying degrees of success, but that I find helpful regardless. I also really like the idea of culling a trip to a small number — he suggest six — of photos that ‘define’ the trip. While my number tends to be higher, I may also spend a lot more time engaging in photography while travelling? (Disclosure: I tend to shoot prolifically when on vacation, to the tune of hundreds or thousands of images. Shooting is a key element to my experiencing a happy vacation.) Regardless, I find that culling down to the best 10-30 images is something that I actually enjoy doing because it’s a good learning moment; it compels me to ask what photos are my best, and why?
The disturbing record behind one of B.C.’s top billing doctors // While over billing was a serious issue with this doctor, the more deeply problematic element was his incredibly poor medical care that left women scarred mentally and physically. Persons who haven’t dealt with bad obstetrician-gynecologists really can’t understand how deeply debilitating their actions can be or how long it can take to recover. I can only hope that this case encourages Canadian colleges of physicians to more carefully monitor and police their members, though I’m not confident that’ll be the case.
“9/11esque” Tweets and the Saudi Spat // Craig Forcese has a terrific (academic) blog where he reflects on the terrorist promotion and advocacy statutes in Canadian law and asks: would they apply to tweets sent by parties friendly to Saudi Arabia and which showed a plane tunnelling towards the CN Tower?
How Big Is the Alt Right? Inside My Futile Quest to Count // While far from scientific, Grey Ellis argues that the alt-right in the United States is once more being pushed underground on the basis that fewer people are likely to turn up to public events. However, this assessment discounts the effectiveness of online recruitment; while those persons may not show up in person to demonstrate they will be woven throughout society and able to exert their views in perhaps more subtle ways as they harass individuals, discriminate on a local level, and spread their hate and prejudice in more private settings. Pushing hate underground doesn’t inherently make it any less of a social evil.
Workplace Wellness Programs Don’t Work Well. Why Some Studies Show Otherwise // I’ve been suspicious of wellness programs for a long time; they’ve struck me as ways of externalizing poor health issues onto employees and then blaming them for not being proactive about their health. But where my worries have mostly revolved around the issue of insurance cost hikes, this analysis by the New York Times showcases that wellness programs don’t really lead to significant improvements in quality of health for those in wellness programs when appropriate controls are established. So the idea that wellness necessarily leads to better health for employees generally doesn’t hold. Instead, there are just certain classes of people inside, and outside, of wellness programs who will live healthier lifestyles. It’s a person-thing, not a wellness-member thing.
Tree Bark Generates a Weird Force That Defies Gravity // While many people think that the internal fibres of trees are responsible for their upright posture (I definitely did!) it turns out that trees’ bark growth plays a significant role in maintaining vertical stability. This is why some parts of tree bark are thicker than other parts: those thick elements are used to maintain posture, and removing or weakening that element of the epidermis of the tree will cause it to begin to tilt. Fascinating.
Fire in Cardboard City // What if fire broke out in a land of cardboard? How would a city respond and with what consequences?
Native Land // A mapping of the lands the indigenous people in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand once claimed as their own.
IKEA’s “ENEBY” Bluetooth Speakers // I already have three separate speaker systems for my 1-bedroom condo. But I really, really like the idea of picking up some of these IKEA speakers (assuming they sound good enough) to install in my bedroom and bathroom. I just wish that they were Airplay 2 compatible so that I could stream music throughout my home without having to constantly be re-pairing with different speaker sets.
Generally I’ve been focusing on European art from between the 1600s to 1800s. ↩
There is a case to be made that, assembled in aggregate, what might have been snapshots can become proper photographs with a story and emotive element. But at least with the snapshots I’m thinking of — and seeing scroll on my TV — they definitely don’t rise to the level of a photograph with a particular intent behind them besides documenting a time and moment. ↩