The Roundup for September 1-30, 2019 Edition

(Blurred Vision by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of links! Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


I’ve been thinking more and more about the process of making street photos. When I first started seriously trying to make photos, about four years ago, I pushed myself some to take candid shots of people. These efforts culminated with a transit worker challenging me because I’d taken a candid of him without permission. Now, it was lawful to take his photo—I was shooting from a public space—but the confrontation itself left a lasting impact on me. And, so, I didn’t really shoot photos of people for years because I didn’t want to have that kind of negative experience again.

But for the past few months I’ve gotten increasingly comfortable taking photos that include people. So, what’s changed? First, I’m not really taking photos of people, per se, but instead of scenes that happen to include people. I’m not looking for any particular person and, instead, looking to just fill a scene with humans or interesting subjects. I’m also not being sneaky like some street photographers advocate: I’m making it clear, by raising the viewfinder to my eye, that I’m taking a photo. But I linger at a scene with the camera raised, and don’t move when people are wandering through my frame. They don’t necessarily know if I’ve taken a shot. I just sit with my discomfort of waiting.

I don’t know that I have a lot of great photos, yet, as I’m taking shots of people. There are some that I like but I definitely don’t have a ‘style’ at the moment, per se. But I’m pushing myself way outside of my comfort zone when I’m taking photos that, just two years ago, I felt psychologically barred from taking. By getting out of my comfort zone I know I’m expanding the range of the subjects, and environments, and stories I’m able to capture. It’s hard but, I have to believe, will be valuable over time as I teach myself how to be comfortable working in very different styles and types of making photographs.


I might be shifting how I publish these roundups in the near future; I keep finding that it takes me a long time to get all of the pieces together due to workflow changes over the past six or seven months, and that means these come out once a month or so (at best). And I think I like the idea of stuff coming out more commonly. Stay posted…


Inspiring Quotation

You can’t be what you can’t see.”

― Marian Wright Edelman

Great Photography Shots

I’ve been shooting a lot with my new iPhone 11 Pro the past little while, and so wanted to showcase some really nice shots taken on mobile phones that effectively use negative space.

(Morning sun‘ by @x1234)
(This Place‘ by @joseeh)
(Sometimes God holds you back temporarily until the road is clear to continue‘ by @nnkrenz)
(A lifeguard is like a lighthouse, guiding ships to safety‘ by @rawsdeb)
(G O L F L I F E‘ by @iphotokunst)
(Untitled‘ by @ipiotrxs)

Music I’m Digging

  • My favourite songs of September 2019 are public. Songs bias towards R&B, rap, and alternative (as normal), though with a fair number of songs about the ends of relationships and managing the aftermath.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary – World War Two: The economic battle // This was a really interesting review of the second world war, wherein the core argument is that part of the reason for the UK’s success is that it had fully embraced a market economy and so could focus on certain productivity activities (e.g., factories for building planes and war material) and outsource others (e.g., production of food). This economic position was significantly mirrored by Japan, and contrasted against the economic frameworks of China and Germany. Definitely an argument that I’d never heard, or thought about, before.
  • Commons – Dynasties 2: The Irvings // This season of Commons is surprisingly good. I’d largely abandoned the show a few years ago because I didn’t find the content worth spending my time on, but this season is very different. In this episode, we get taken into the land of New Brunswick and how the Irving family functionally controls it and has deliberately (and in bad faith) signed deals that benefit the company’s bottom line to the detriment of residents of the province. If you want to learn more about one of Canada’s most secretive and wealthy families I can’t recommend this piece highly enough.
  • Lawfare – WTF, Ukraine! // There is a lot going on in the news about Ukraine and the Americans at the moment. This episode of Lawfare breaks down all the major players, the history, and what is really going on in the most recent Trump-related scandal. If you want to figure out just what is going on in under 60 minute, then this is the podcast for you.
  • 99% Invisible – The Help-Yourself City // I really appreciated the discussion of “informal urbanism” that is the focus of this episode. In effect, this mode of urbanism takes place when individual or groups of urban residents transform elements of their city without the permission of the government. It includes everything from neighbourhood signage, park benches and chairs, bus shelters, graffiti, and more. While there are some problematic outcomes to these behaviours—significantly linked to liability when these informal elements of the urban landscape cause harm to someone—it was pretty great to just have a concept to capture these essential elements of living and vibrant cities.

Good Reads

  • Utopia, Abandoned // The rise and fall of Ivrea, a corporate town in Italy that was based around concepts of social justice, modernism, and social welfare, speaks volumes to all attempts to artificially manufacture spaces: while they can be made, the ethos behind them will, eventually, pass away and be replaced with dramatically new social, political, and economic circumstances. And, yet, the buildings and infrastructures will remain. The question that I’m left with, I guess, is how things will age; to what extent should our buildings stand fast against change and defy efforts to rehabilitate them—making us live history by conforming modern life to the architectures of the past—or design them to be mutable and inherently rebellious to their designer, builder, and inhabitants. Should we seek to reify ourselves through our buildings, giving us a sense of stability, or instead acknowledge and embrace the inherent uncertainties of the future?
  • What’s the secret of Filipino food in Manila? // I would never have attributed sourness to Filipino foods. Now I’m trying to go through all that I’ve previously eaten and reflecting on memories of tastes to determine if I just absolutely missed a huge part of the cuisine, or if what I’ve eaten just used different techniques and methods.
  • The Gothic Pedigree of Vampire // Justin Achilli, the former lead designer of Vampire, had an interesting comment on why Vampire possessed a different game structure than Dungeons and Dragons or other games. He wrote: “The overarching story container was not a “campaign,” with its military-conquest connotations, but a chronicle, a record, a retelling of events that happened. And in so doing, it relied very heavily on unreliable narrators, so you were never sure you were getting a clinical accounting of events as much as you were getting a definitely biased perspective of events, unless you were there, and even if you were, you’re not unbiased yourself.” I’d never really thought of how useful it was to just think of how sessions between game systems are designed differently, and Justin’s writing definitely has me reflecting on how I think I try to bridge between the two philosophies when running D&D games insofar as I try to build a series of scenes that make a story, as opposed to focusing on the militaristic languages associated with a campaign.
  • When the Soviet Union Paid Pepsi in Warships // Pepsi sought to expand its distribution during the Cold War and, after some impressive diplomatic hijinks, managed to get an exclusive deal with the USSR. The catch was that the ruble was worthless outside of the Republic and, moreover, they couldn’t be taken out of the country. And so Pepsi worked out a barter system, first for Russian vodka and, later, for old Russian warships (to be sold as scrap), with a future deal meant to give Pepsi a number of functional cargo vessels. Pepsi, at one point, had a fleet of ships that was larger than those of many nations. Sometimes fact is stranger than fiction!
  • The 5 Years That Changed Dating // I appreciated how Fetters examined, in depth, the drawbacks and benefits associated with online dating. Core, to my mind, is how apps have adjusted the spaces where people used to socialize to find potential romantic partners: whereas, once, you went out in the interests of finding someone interesting, now the goal is to just spend time with friends (with no real expectation of finding someone interesting). The article also discusses how the more extensive profiles encouraged on some apps, such as OKCupid, affect the likelihood of a long-term match, as opposed to apps that encourage very short profiles, such as Tinder.
  • The Future of Political Philosophy // Katrina Forrester does a terrific job of working through the importance of Rawls in contemporary Anglo political philosophy. She argues that due to how the theory was presented, along with its failure to address disruptions to liberalism in the 1960s, has led it to showcase a theory that may be significantly unable to respond to the contemporary challenges facing the nation-state and Western politics. In effect, both the requirement that novel modes of critique settle within pre-defined intellectual boundaries, combined with a sunny optimism of how liberalism ought to be, have led to the potential crisis in Rawlsian-inspired liberalism itself.

Cool Things

An Amateur Photographer’s Review of the iPhone 11 Pro Camera System

I bought my most expensive camera system last week: an iPhone 11 Pro. While the screen and battery life was something I was looking forward to, I was most looking forward to massively upgrading my smartphone camera. The potential to shoot portraits with a 52mm lens (as well as landscapes, street shots, and architecture…50mm is my preferred focal range), plus general shots with a 26mm and a 13mm equivalent was exciting. I’ve printed iPhone photos in the past and been happy with them, but would the new camera system live up to the marketing hype?

My Background

To be clear, I am by definition a very amateur photographer. Which, I think, actually makes this review a bit more useful than most. I’m not reviewing the iPhone 11 Pro as a phone or the entirety of the underlying operating system. I’m just focused on how well this device helps me make photos.

For the past few years I’ve shot with a bunch of cameras, including: an iPhone 6 and 7, Fuji x100,1 Sony rx100ii, and Olympus EM10ii. I’ve printed my work in a book, in photos of various sizes that are now hanging on my walls,2 and travelled all over the world with a camera in tow. I have historically tended towards street photography (broadly defined), some ‘travel’ photography (usually nature and landscape shots), abstracts, and admittedly relatively few portraits. If you want to get a rough assessment of the kinds, and quality, of photos that I take then I’d suggest you wander over to my Instagram profile.

I should be pretty clear, upfront: I make photos, not videos, and so have pretty well zero comments about the video camera functionalities on the iPhone 11 Pro. Also, if you’re looking for some raw technical stats on the iPhone cameras, I’d suggest you check out Halide’s assessment.

Body, Controls, and Handling

The iPhone 11 Pro is considerably larger in hand than the iPhone 7 that I came from. It’s also, with the Apple-branded clear case, quite slippery. This means that I’ve been super cautious in taking photos where dropping it might mean I’d lose it forever (e.g., shooting outstretched over rivers and major highways). The buttons are significantly more solid than my iPhone 7 and, as such, I’m disinclined to use them as a shutter button for fear of messing up my composition or introducing camera shake. Though if I’m being honest, it was pretty rare that I used anything other than the on-screen shutter button on my iPhone 7.

The screen of the iPhone 11 Pro, itself, is bright and beautiful. It’s night and day between it and the iPhone 7. To activate the camera from the lock screen you press and hold the camera icon; after a second or so, the camera app will open and you’re probably ready to shoot. Probably, you may ask? Yes: there’s a glitch in iOS 13 that means that sometimes the camera app launches but the image of what you’re trying to capture isn’t shown on the display. The solution it to take a shot and, afterwards, the display should display the image the camera is showing. Usually. But not always.

If you used burst mode a lot to get the right shot in a burst, get used to a lot of missed shots. In iOS 13, you press the shutter button in the camera app and slide to the left to initiate bursts; holding down on the shutter button start recording a short video (slide to the right if you want to record video and not hold down on the shutter button in the app). In actual use, I’ve ended up accidentally taking a bunch of short videos instead of a burst of shots, which meant I’ve missed capturing what I wanted to capture. A ‘Pro’ camera should let me set photo controls. The iPhone 11 Pro fails, seriously and significantly, in this regard.

When composing a shot, you’ll routinely see what is beyond the focal length you’re using. This means that, as an example, when you’re shooting with the 26mm lens, you’ll see what would be captured by the 13mm lens. On screen, the extended parts of the scene which would be captured by the wider camera is slightly desaturated and on the outskirts of the grid you can enable in the Camera app settings. Some reviewers have said that this looks like what you might see when looking through a rangerfinder-style camera, like a Fuji x100. I fundamentally disagree: those reviewers have not clearly used a rangefinder for extended periods of time, where you can see to the left and right of the frame when looking through the viewfinder. It’s helpful to have that in a camera you’ve raised to your eye, because the rest of your vision may be obscured and so you may not realize what’s about to step into your frame. This is less of an issue when shooting in a smartphone. Much less of an issue.

If you rely on a tilted screen in a mirrorless or DSLR to get the shots you like, while, you’re going to be out of luck. It’s a camera phone without an articulating screen. Maybe Samsung’s folding phones will integrate this kind of feature into their camera app…

I haven’t shot using the flash, so I can’t comment on what it’ll be like to use.

If you’ve used the iPhone Camera app, you’ll find that few things have meaningfully changed. The ‘big’ changes include a notification along the top left corner if night mode is activated (along with how many seconds it’ll take to use the feature) and an arrow along the top of the app that, if tapped, will let you switch some of the default features (e.g., flash on/off/auto, live images on/off, timer, or filter). Despite being a ‘professional’ device—which has a pile of internal gyroscopes!—the camera app doesn’t include a horizon level, though if you’re taking flat shots you’ll get an indicator to show if you’re perfectly level.

I tend to see the stock photos app as part of the control of an iPhone camera. Some of the additions are good—tilt shifts in particular!—but I loath losing how iOS 12 ‘grouped’ features into categories like light, colour, and black and white. And I really miss being able to adjust neutrals and tones in the black and white setting. Why’d you take those away, Apple? WHY!?

The battery life when I’ve taken the iPhone 11 Pro for a day of shooting has been great; I was out for about 7 hours one day to just shoot and took about 250 photos, while listening to podcasts and reading news and such. I had 17% after a full days normal use plus shooting, but I was shooting with a brand new battery in ideal temperatures for batteries (20-24 degrees). The real test will be when winter hits in countries like Canada or the northern USA and we see how well the batteries hold up in semi-hostile environmental conditions.

Image Quality

I’ve been super impressed with the camera system included in the iPhone 11 Pro. Despite being impressed there are definitely areas where computational photography is still very much a work in progress.

I’ve been taken aback by just how much dynamic range is captured by this camera when I’ve been making photos. This is especially the case when I’ve used the camera in low-light or sheer dark conditions. As is true of almost all cameras, it generally performs admirably in well lit situations. What follows are a selection of shots taken over a three day period; they are all edited to my taste, using just the stock photos app. What follows is a (broad) selection of those photos in indoor, high day, and sunset conditions.

I also did a late evening photowalk. It was pitch black (for a major urban city…) and so the following images are good representations of what urban photographers can probably pull off without a tripod.4 In many of the images I was resting the camera either tightly against my body or something in the natural environment (e.g., a tree trunk) to reduce camera shake.

I did run into some computational…weirdness…in some of the shots. When shooting the Cinesphere, I sometimes got this weird yellow arc that stretched along the top. Also when shooting scenes with the Cinesphere and the Japanese Temple Bell, there were times when it looked like the upper right of the frame (proximate to the Cinesphere in the shot) had extremely severe vignetting. Also, I noticed that I got lens flare when shooting at night; while this could be corrected in post using something like Snapseed I can’t ever recall dealing with flare on a regular basis on prior iPhones.

Also, don’t buy this camera and expect to get cool light trails using the default camera application. While night mode takes a lot of exposures to create the final shot, you’ll only get the slightest of blur from moving vehicles. Similarly, due to the fixed aperture of the cameras you’re not going to get any cool light flares or sun stars , nor can you seriously control the depth of field as you could in a camera with much more manual control.5

Conclusion

The iPhone 11 Pro is a marvel of a camera system. Seriously: it’s spectacular for the size of the sensor, though it damn well better be given its sheer cost!

I can see this camera fitting into the lives of a lot of creative amateurs. (Probably professionals, too, but with grumbles.) For me, and people with at my skill level with photography, this is a major equipment investment that I think will be pretty great: it’s a supplement to, not a replacement for, the aging Sony rx100ii I carry with me on a day to day basis, and it’s genuinely fun to shoot on. The Photos app, while annoying in some of its reconfiguration, is generally more powerful than in its last version. And the ability to easily and quickly shift between the 13-52mm focal ranges cannot be appreciated enough: it’s like having a permanent kit lens attached to your smartphone, and that’s just awesome.

Should you upgrade or buy this camera system? I dunno. I had an older phone and totally could have stuck with it for another year or so, and I’m happy with my upgrade. But for around $2,000(CAD) you could get some really nice new glass, which might be a better investment if you’re always carrying your mirrorless camera or DSLR with you, or if having better control of aperture, camera levels, or other ‘niceties’ are the core thing you’re looking for. But if you’ve increasingly been leaving your ‘big’ camera and glass at home, but still want a lot of functionality when making photos on your smartphone, and have the disposable income, then you’ll probably be pretty happy with the iPhone 11 Pro.

  1. In honesty, it was too much camera for me at the time, but it taught me to really love and want to work on my photography. ↩︎
  2. My largest prints are 24×36, from my Sony rx100ii and Olympus EM10ii (using an Olympus 17mm 1.8 lens). ↩︎
  3. Why won’t Apple bring the camera filters in Messages straight into their camera app? Oh hey! Did you even know Apple had a pile of filters for fun stuff in Messages? I bet not given how buried they they—open messages, tap the star button in the lower left side, then tap the three concentric rings, fight with the stupid UI a bit, and tada!↩︎
  4. If using a tripod, the internal gyroscopes will detect this and let you take up to a 10s ‘exposure’. ↩︎
  5. Some of this might change as Halide and other competing camera app manufactures update their applications. But the stock camera app is pretty limited in computation control of the aperture, especially for landscape or street photography. ↩︎

The Roundup for August 1-31, 2019 Edition

(My Most Popular Photo by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


Inspiring Quotation

“Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.”

Great Photography Shots

The whimsy, symmetry, and lines of these bowling alleys make me want to go bowling in Germany!

Music I’m Digging

  • My ‘Songs I Liked in August’ playlist is done, and is biased pretty heavily towards rap, R&B, with some metal (i.e., TOOL).
  • Dave – Game Over (EP) // ’My 19th Birthday’ and ‘Question Time’ are really amazing tracks that showcase Dave’s ability to engage in contemporary social and political issues in the UK, but which also affect most developed countries. The former song grapples with the challenges he has with his first major relationship, questioning how he should behave and how he can overcome his own patriarchal attitudes towards women. The latter is an anthem for the UK under Prime Minister May, where has asks her, along with all other major UK politicians, the hard questions that were likely on the minds of most socially consciously citizens of the United Kingdom.
  • Dave – PSYCHODRAMA // This full-length album continues Dave’s encounters with himself, and situations of himself growing up in South London. His flow remains as strong as his earlier work, and continues to work through the challenges of growing up socially conscious, in a time that often feels more ignorant, racist, and nationalist then decades past.
  • TOOL – Inoculum // Their first new album in 13 years, the technical instrumental skills alone make this 80+ minute album worth the listen and the wait. But it’s more than that: Keene’s lyrics continue to impress, while deftly floating in and out of the instrumental scores.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Secret History of the Future – Dots, Dashes, and Dating Apps // This is a fascinating episode that showcases just how much the telegraph, and writers of that era, imagined the uses of the Internet which are now commonplace. As always, everything old is new again, and it behooves is to attend to our pasts to both foretell the challenges of the present as well as better envision new futures.
  • Planet Money – The IT Guy vs The Con Artist // It’s fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes look of how the US Postal Office was able to take down scammers using an insider. The bravery exhibited by the protagonist in the episode, Filipe, and willingness to right wrongs, makes this a particularly positive episode to listen to.
  • Modern Love – The Night Girl Found A Day Boy // Modern Love has to be one of my favourite podcasts, and I really enjoyed this episode’s story of how the couple overcame a major and inflexible difference to develop a long lasting and positive committed relationship. Throughout, I was thinking about how much a couple can push through if they’re able to stand side by side together to support one another, while simultaneously appreciating and respecting one another’s differences.
  • The Daily – Inside Hong Kong Airport // The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are pitting democratic values against those of autocracy, and protestors are valiantly trying to secure their democratic processes. The reportage in this podcast drove home, at an emotional level, just how committed protestors are, as well as the seeming indifference or disbelief amongst mainlanders that individuals could rise up against their government on their own, and without having been manipulated by foreign government spies.

Good Reads

  • Ham of Fate // Without a doubt this is the most scathing, and articulate, assessment of Boris Johnson that I’ve read to date. Of particular note is the ways in which Johnson masks a very deep racism through elite language. Whereas Trump is blatant and boorish, Johnson is slightly more subtle and studied.
  • What Apple’s T2 chip does in your new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro // Gallagher has a pretty accessible, and extensive, article outlining everything the T2 chip is doing in Apple’s newest devices. I knew about the security properties but was unaware of the audio and image processing it also is involved in.
  • The forgotten part of memory // I’ve been pretty convinced for a long while that perfectly recording and remembering information is detrimental to a person’s life, on the basis that from an evolutionary and social perspective we have forgotten information and seemed to still persist and evolve as a species. Research in Nature showcases the apparent truth that forgetting is normal and important, and that we may do it to abstract away some details of precise encounters so as to build up abstract thinking that’s suitable to solving a range of problems, instead of being overly mired in the details of solving very specific incidents and experiences.
  • Combating disinformation and foreign interference in democracies: Lessons from Europe // Though written to derive lessons for the United States Government to learn from, this article from the Brookings Institute does a good job outlining the successful, somewhat successful, problematic, and disasterous responses to adversarial disinformation and influence operations campaigns. Ultimately, however, the crux is mostly missing from the article: should states and their populations truly fear disinformation—is the Swedish approach genuinely useful or is it, perhaps, just that some populations can sense disinformation when they see it? Regardless, the comparison between actions undertaken by Sweden, France, the United Kingdom, and Bulgaria provides a handy overview of some policy options available to democratic states, if not effective assessments of the utility of such options.
  • Influence Operations Kill Chain // Bruce’s assessment of the elements of effective influence operations is pretty on the money, though I do have to admit I’m partial to the comments made by Jones, which recognizes that while it may be hard to deal with influence operations, there are things that the government can do to address issues which arguably have much more significant (and problematic) roles on election fairness. These issues include: 1. Gerrymandering; 2. Deregulated political spending; 3. Systematic black disenfranchisement; 4. Black box electronic voting machines; 5. VoterID laws; 6. Drug felons who can’t vote; 7. Domestic for-profit news propaganda; and 8. Campaign strategies to game the Electoral College. Still, even fixing the aforementioned list will do little to prevent information operations from, over a long-term, threatening democratic integrity as clefts in society are identified and widened in efforts to decrease trust in the democratic system itself.
  • Housing Crisis Grips Ireland a Decade After Property Bubble Burst // Things in Ireland, like major cities in Canada, are terrible if you want to either rent or own. In effect, rent prices are too high to enable saving for a downpayment while, at the same time, owning is sufficiently affordable that — if people want — an owner can save up for another downpayment, and the cycle simply continue.
  • How the El Paso Killer Echoed the Incendiary Words of Conservative Media Stars // It’s one thing to strongly believe that the language of the American right wing is fuelling the violence, hatred, racism, and misogyny being expressed by a host of white supremacists throughout the country. It’s another to have the very words of American media commentators placed against the language of the President of the United States and white supremacists alike.
  • Acquisitions Incorporated Review // I’ve been on the fence about the new D&D sourcebook based on Penny Arcade’s adventuring groups. On the one hand, I appreciate the humour of the games but I wasn’t certain about whether the gaming supplement that’s emerged from those games was just Wizards cashing in on the popularity without adding real substance. This review has mostly convinced me that this is a neat supplement that I might want to add to my (growing…) collection of gaming books.
  • Facebook’s Illusion of Control over Location-Related Ad Targeting // This deep dive into how Facebook tracks location showcases just what a lie it is that you can exercise control and stop the company from tracking your location. Well researched and yet another indication as to why this is a malignant company that needs to be heavily regulated.
  • Do not Fall in Love with a Smart, Introverted Man // While some of the assertions of introverted men seem a bit off — we’re not all messy or nearly as eclectic as Lowe makes us out to be — I can appreciate this line: “One day, he will decide to leave you. It will be sudden and swift with no warning.” The thing is…I don’t think that’s true. The messages which communicate warning are made, deliberately and regularly, but are often unheard. And that failure to hear us is, in and of itself, one of the reasons why we may have decided “quietly, independently — because that is how he has solved every problem — that it’s over.” There’s a fundamental values mismatch, and communications mismatch, and potentially even an intellectual stimulation mismatch, and so the introverted man is making a decision they know is correct. Even if that’s not what the other partner thinks or wants.

Cool Things

  • Trails of Wind // While in our conceit, humanity may believe it changes the world without regard for the environment, a mapping of how we actually terraform the earth can showcase that we unconsciously, as a species, build in accordance with global environmental patterns and characteristics. I wonder, though: as climate forces changes in the jet stream, will we end up with monuments to the past that are left abandoned or will we, instead, re-engineer these monuments so as to continue using them?
  • The World’s Greenest and Most Economical Shelving System? // This shelving system is substantially based on Dieter Ram’s design philosophy and design language. While it’s expensive as hell, once invested you’d never need to buy shelves again in your life. Definitely want!
  • The Best VPN Services // The Wirecutter has done terrific work sifting through various VPN providers to identify solid choices. If you use or want to use a VPN then check out their work!
  • Paramour: A One-Shot Music Video Filmed From the Perspective of a Toy Train // Just a cool bit of filming!

The Roundup for July 14-31, 2019 Edition

(Confused Exposure by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


I’m in the process of determining what new camera I want to buy, principally to replace my aging Sony rx100ii. That camera was bought in used condition, and has been to four continents and taken approximately 20K shots. It’s been dropped, frozen, and overheated. And even gotten a little damp from salt air! It owes me little and still produces solid (black and white) images: it seems that in my abuse I did something to the sensor, which means colour images sometimes just turn out absolutely wacky.

So what do I want versus what do I need? I know from my stats that I prefer shooting between 50mm-100mm equivalent. I know that I want a fast lens for the night.1 I don’t take action shots so I don’t need the newer Sony cameras’ tracking magic. I don’t want anything bigger than the Sony—it’s size is a killer feature because I can always carry it around—but definitely want a pop up viewfinder and a 90 degree tilt screen. I don’t want another interchangeable system: my Olympus kit has me covered on that front.

What do I want? I’d love to have easy access to an exposure dial. An internal ND filter would be super great. Some in-body image stabilization would also be stellar, and if I could squeeze in the ability to charge from a USB battery pack while keeping prices under $1,000 that would be perfect. Oh, and something better than Sony’s pretty terrible menu interface!

What don’t I need? Any more than 20MP, actual waterproofing2, a big body or permanent viewfinder, an APS-C sensor, audio-in features, dual SD card slots, or crazy fast tracking.

This currently means I’m very interested in some of the older Sony rx100 cameras—namely the iii and iv—and maybe the new Canon G5Xii. I know my actually photographic outputs are, in order, Instagram, my TV, photos on my wall (no larger than 24×36”), and then photo books. I know a 1” sensor is more than enough for all of those uses. Now I just need to see how the Canon’s reviews shake out, the cost of them, and then evaluate the differential between Canon’s and Sony’s cameras!


Inspiring Quotation

Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.

  • Marc Riboud

Great Photography Shots

I have a set of abstract photos that I’ve taken over the years and, to date, while I appreciate them they aren’t ones that I’ve decided to print or routinely display. Still, several of the below abstracts (taken on smartphones) are inspiring just to look at and think about the process of developing the respective compositions.

(‘Last ices of the winter‘ by @paulenovemb)
(‘Untitled‘ by @lisalam628)
(‘Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier‘ by @bazillus)
(‘Untitled‘ by @reneetakespics)

Music I’m Digging

  • Goldlink – Diaspora // Goldlink’s album is a terrific summer album: lots of pop notes with a taste of Caribbean beats and good mix between somewhat gravelly male and ethereal female voices. It’s been a lot of fun to listen to while writing or reading, working out, or just doing chores around home.
  • Machine Gun Kelly – Hotel Diablo // I’m still trying to really get a handle on what I think of this album, but I’ve definitely listened to it a lot over the past week or two. I think I’m appreciating it principally for its nostalgic value: it has a lots of beats and sounds from late-90s/early-00s nu-metal and rap. So I don’t think that it’s ‘quality’ per se, but definitely speaks to my younger self.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare – Jack Goldsmith Talks to Former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter // To begin: I’m never a huge fan of a Secretary of Defense who is a strong advocate for war, and Ash Carter is definitely that class of Secretary. However, he provides a superb view of the entirety of the Defense Department and what goes into running it, as well as the baseline challenges of both engaging in offensive cyber operations as well as the role(s) of legal counsel in developing military operations. If you want an insiders view of the different layers of the Pentagon, and how the institution has developed over the past few decades, then this is a great episode to listen to.
  • Frontburner – What did Canadian peacekeepers accomplish in Mali? // Richard Poplak has a non-nonsense, direct, discussion with Michelle Shephard of just how little value Canada derived from its half-billion dollar peacekeeping commitment to Mali. At least part of that failure is linked to how Canada’s foreign policy had to be entirely recalculated to deal with Donald Trump when he was elected President but certainly everything cannot be laid at Trump’s feet.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Meat and Potatoes // I have to admit, I never really thought about how important potatoes were to the Europeans in establishing a reliable source of caloric intake, nor how you could connect the potato with contemporary efforts to find new foods to both feed the contemporary world and save the environment at the same time. If you want to think a bit more about the source of your food, today, and what it might mean for your food, tomorrow, then this is a solid episode to sink your…ears?…into.
  • The Secret History of the Future – Infinite Scroll // Proving once more that everything new is really just the old reborn, Slate examines how Renaissance scholars were entirely overwhelmed by information and had pretty well the exact same issues with information, then, as contemporary societies do with the growth of the Internet and rapid spread of information. It’s interesting to hear how scholars and the public fought against things like indices, tables of contents, and reviews of books; similarly, today, we hear people push back against any and all efforts to summarize, synthesize, or distil books, articles, and (even) podcasts. The commonality between the arguments of yore and today are largely identical, which speaks to how important it is to take history into account when evaluating the travails of the contemporary era.
  • Lawfare – Jonna Mendez on ‘The Moscow Rules // Ever been curious about the different tricks that were used by CIA case officers in Moscow during the height of the Cold War? Then this is the episode for you! Mendez, a former CIA officer, recounts the various techniques, technologies, and troubles that the agency developed and overcame in the process of engaging in espionage against the most equally matched adversary in the world on their home turf. Though mentioned somewhat sparingly, there are lessons to be gained from the stories she recounts from her time in the Cold War, including the very real value (at the time, for the USA) of obtaining military technology secrets well in advance of the technologies entering production: with these secrets in hand, as an example, the USA successfully built in countermeasures to Soviet radar systems. Today, you can imagine how the Chinese government’s theft of American and other allies’ military secrets may similarly position that government to develop countermeasures much, much faster than otherwise expected.

Good Reads

  • ‘Orientalism,’ Then and Now // Shatz’ review of Said’s Orientalism and application of its key insights to the geopolitical changes in how the Other is conceived of — as now a threat, not because it is external and to be created through our knowledge of it, but because it is within us and is changing ‘Us’ — presents a stark view on the era of racism, fascism, and ignorance today. Whereas the orientalism that Said focused on was, principally, that linked to elite power-knowledge constructions that served the West’s practices of colonization, today’s is born of a deliberate lack of expertise and knowledge. Whereas the past cast the Other as external and a threat, today the Other is within and consequently domestic politics is the focus of elites’ aggressions. While Shatz is hesitant to assert that the end is nigh, his hopefulness towards the end of the essay is perhaps not as hopeful as he imagines: there are, indeed, efforts to defray, mitigate, and prevent the contemporary situations of hardened and violent orientalism. But despite the power and influence of art it remains unclear to me how effective these cultural acts of resistance genuinely are against a structural practice of aggression, harm, and ignorance.
  • Congress Will Ignore Trump’s Foreign Affairs Budget Request. Others Will Not. // Both chambers of the US legislature are opposed to the significant cuts that the Trump administration has sought in its budget appropriations. However, the signals sent by the administration have meant, internal to the State department, that staff resistant to democracy promotion have enjoyed enhanced status and positions in pushing back against attempts to preach American values abroad and who are, instead, advancing the transactionalist style of politics favoured by the current administration. Simultaneously, autocratic leaders abroad have taken the administration’s stance as a signal that their activities are not going to be denounced, or strongly opposed, and sometimes even supported, by the American government. While all of these signals may change following the next presidential election (though perhaps not!), the denigration of the State department is not something that can be remedied by electing a new president: it will take decades to rebuild trust, restrengthen ties, and hire and train new staff. The long term effects of the Trump administration will be felt throughout the world for a very, very long time regardless of whether he is currently in the White House.
  • Doug Ford’s Legal Aid Guarantee // This quotation from Spratt’s assessment of the Ontario government’s cuts to legal aid speak volumes: “Unrepresented accused are also more likely to be steamrolled in our courts. You see, our justice system is adversarial and only functions if the adversaries – the prosecution and the defense – are equally matched. An impoverished, marginalized, or unsophisticated self-represented litigant stands no chance against the well-funded state. With odds stacked against them, many unrepresented accused are coerced into pleading guilty, even when they are not. Because of Ford, there will be more wrongful convictions.” Worse, given that legal aid is being cut to assist in bail hearing, more accused will simply plea out so that they can go home and work the jobs they have to try and survive; losing the job they have could have catastrophic consequences, as could being unable to get home to care for their young family members. Ford’s cuts won’t save money in the short term and will almost certainly lead to increased court time and costs, and remuneration to those improperly convicted, going decades into the future.
  • The Future of the City Doesn’t Have to be Childless// I fundamentally agree with the premise of the article written by Love and Vey. Cities are very much being designed without families—or, at least, middle and lower class—families in mind. I agree that parks and other amenities are needed, as are spaces to facilitate youth development and lower income housing. But that isn’t enough: housing has become an investment space, where hundreds or thousands of properties are traded in an instant by holding companies, and where developers are building for investors rather than residents. We need to correct the market by pushing market forces out of housing development: rental buildings need to be prioritized for development, and developers of high rise condos obligated to pay significant fees to foster inclusive social properties around their buildings. Doing anything less just picks around the edges of the catastrophes propagated by the market in urban environments.
  • The Future of Photography // I keep thinking about what kinds of cameras I want, and why, and whether I really need them given the technical characteristics of contemporary cameras. I think that this post significantly, though not quite entirely, captures my current thinking when it’s author writes: “Today all modern cameras give you an image quality that is good enough even for the most demanding applications, in fact most of us will never use their full potential. What we usually do is to make a photo book now and then but most of the time the pictures will be displayed on the internet or on our TVs. So the ever increasing resolution makes no sense anymore. If your camera has 24MP you trow away 66% of the pixels in case you display them on a 4K TV in case you use them for the internet it is 90% or more. If you change to a 61MP camera you just trow (sic) away more pixels. … I think the real key is to offer a satisfying shooting experience so that you just want to take out your camera to take some pictures. A nicely handling camera with a good shutter sound and solid lenses with a real aperture ring is all it takes. That’s why I think Fuji has grown so popular.” The only thing I’d add is this: I really, really like flip out screens and the ability to see what I’m shooting in the bright sun through a view finder.
  • Why we fight for crypto // Robert Graham has a good and high-level assessment of why calls by the US government to undermine the security provided by contemporary cryptography are wrongheaded. Worth the read to recall why all the current Attorney General’s calls, if adopted, would endanger individuals and society, and constitute irresponsible policy proposals that are not supported by an evidentiary record of requiring such modifications to cryptography.
  • How to Prevent and Treat Tick Bites and Lyme Disease // Part of a broader, and frankly disturbing, special series on ticks and the dangers they pose, Heid’s short article gives you all the information you need to limit the likelihood of getting bitten by a tick, and what to do should you discover one on you, and how to respond should lyme disease symptoms appear.
  1. Recognizing that a ‘fast’ compact lens isn’t really all that fast when looking at full frame or even APS-C equivalencies.
  2. I’m in love with the idea of shooting in the rain, but not so much the actual getting wet part, so I don’t think I need full waterproofing and most camera can take a bit of light rain here or there in my experience.

The Roundup for June 24-30, 2019 Edition

(Paradise? by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


When I first really realized that I liked photography, it was while I was using the Fuji X100. The experience of shooting with it was really special but, unfortunately, I had to sell it during some unpleasant financial times. In its stead, I picked up (and have extensively used) a Sony RX100M2 and, later, an Olympus EM10ii. I’m a huge fan of both of those cameras, and I’ve been forcing myself to learn manual shooting (in black and white) with the RX100M2 over the past few months.

But…despite the fact that I’m really happy with how my photography has developed over the past year or so, I keep lusting for another Fuji camera. I’d like to imagine that the reason is I want to enjoy the colours of the Fuji line. I’m sure that’s (almost!) true! But, really, I think it’s more that I appreciated the aesthetics of the X100, that I disliked the reason and rationale for having to get rid of something that I loved, and that the idea of constraints in photography appeal to me.

So, what has me burning tens-of-hours per week on looking at cameras? It’s mostly associated with thinking if I want to get a X100S or X100T or X100F, or instead shift over to getting something like the Fuji X-Pro 1 (or even, perhaps, the X-T1) and a 50mm equivalent lens. I really like the idea of spending a lot of time shooting manual at 50mm, as 35mm just hasn’t ever come naturally to me. But the Fuji camera that I fell in love with was the X100…and so a rangefinder-style body is definitely what I really want to have on my shelf…

At the same time, I’m wondering if I should just hold out and either see if the next iteration of the X100 line comes with weather sealing, or if I should instead wait until there’s something interesting from Olympus, or just invest all of the money I’d dump into a Fuji system into some new 50mm equivalent glass for the M4/3 system…


Inspiring Quotation

“Old friends cannot be created out of hand. Nothing can match the treasure of common memories, of trials endured together, of quarrels and reconciliations and generous emotions.”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Great Photography Shots

This work by Greg Girard (posted at My Modern Met) is just…wow…In his series of shots taken in the 1970s and early 1980s, Tokyo looks like Blade Runner or other truly classic science fiction movie or as described by the sci-fi authors of the time.

Music I’m Digging

I’m really loving Thom Yorke’s Essentials playlist from Apple Music.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • OPPO – You Have No Constitutional Right To An Abortion // The two topics of the show — abortion rights in Canada and the Liberal government taking credit for being advocates of homosexual rights — are really well covered. Gerson’s assessment of the laws and politics around abortion in Canada was useful for dispelling a lot of the myths around what can, and can’t, be done to a fetus in Canada, and Ling has a good critical analysis of the federal Liberals’ actual work to support gay rights. OPPO is typically crazy solid in what they assess, and this episode is no exception.

Good Reads

  • What I Learned Trying To Secure Congressional Campaigns // Without a doubt, this article is one of the most exceptional pieces of practical advice on developing security training that I’ve come across in several years. It’s filled with good, accessible, explanations of what is possible, what works, and what is impossible or doesn’t work, when attempting to provide practical security advice to political parties or campaigns.
  • Hypersonic Missiles Are Unstoppable. And They’re Starting a New Global Arms Race. // Smith’s long form article in the New York Times Magazine makes clear that the research being into hypersonic weapons, absent serious diplomatic engagement to establish terms on their (non-)use, could potentially amplify the international risks associated with great-power conflicts. Such weapons could render much of America’s existing military infrastructure moot in a war fighting situation, where great powers were actively seeking to disable one another’s core land- and sea-based military infrastructure. To put it in perspective: Russia might strike at the Pentagon with only five minutes warning, or China at Guam in under ten minutes, the or USA at China’s inland missile bases in ten to fifteen minutes.

Cool Things

  • House DZ // This is a beautiful piece of minimalist architecture.

The Roundup for May 21-June 22, 2019 Edition

(Tap! by Christopher Parsons)

Welcome to this edition of The Roundup! Enjoy the collection of interesting, informative, and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee or grab yourself a drink, find a comfortable place, and relax.


So Apple has announced all the big changes forthcoming in iOS 13. While lots are great and exciting, the update still won’t bring baseline feature parity between MacOS and iOS core applications. The result is that serious users of consumer MacOS applications can’t fully transition to iOS or iPadOS. What’re just two baseline things that are missing, from my self-interested perspective?

1. Smart lists in Apple Music & Apple Photos

I get that smart lists may not be everyone’s deal, but self updating lists are pretty important in how I manage and organize data. To give an example, I use smart lists in Photos to determine what camera I used to take which photo. Does this matter for lots of people? Probably not, now that smartphones have colonized the photography business. But for someone like me who wants to know such metadata, the absence of it is noticeable.

2. Detailed information about photographs in Apple Photos

I don’t know why, it you can’t check aperture, shutter speeds ISO, or other basic camera features in Apple Photos, in iOS 12 or 13. Nor can you create a title for a photograph. Again, as someone who takes tens of thousands of photos a year, and reviews them all to select a rarified thousand or two ‘keepers’ each year and titles many of those kept, I really want to record titles.1 And it drives me nuts that I can’t.

I get that there are a lot of pretty amazing things coming in iOS 13. But can’t these pretty table-stakes things come along? These aren’t ‘Pro’ features: there’re the baseline features that have been available on consumer apps in MacOS for years. You shouldn’t need to own and use a Mac to enjoy these capabilities.


Inspiring Quotation

“Society is not some grand abstraction, my friends. It’s just us. It’s the words we use, which are the thoughts we have, which determine the actions we take.”

– Umair Haque

Great Photography Shots

I really appreciate some of the great shadows that come out in these shots over at Mobiography.

(‘lines and shadows‘ by @arpixa)
(‘Shadow casting‘ by @poetry fish)
(‘Untitled‘ by @lasina)
(‘On the dark side‘ by @jawdoc2)
(‘ RED ‘ by @dviviano)
(‘high light reverie‘ by @chasread)

Music I’m Digging

Having figured out the problem of songs not being added to my ‘Songs I Love’ lists, my monthly lists are going to be a lot more expansive than those in the past. My May 2019 list clocks in at around 5 ½ hours, with a mix of hip-hop, rap, pop, and a bit of alternative and rock.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • Lawfare – Avril Haines, Eric Rosenbach, and David Sanger on U.S. Offensive Cyber Operations // This is an insightful, and nuanced, consideration of the equities which are taken into account when the United States engages in different classes of cyber operations. While the title of the podcast is focused on offensive cyber activities, the same logics can clearly be applied to defensive activities such as those linked with vulnerabilities equities processes or development of activities intended to mitigate harms emitted from foreign adversaries.
  • Lawfare – Jim Scuitto on ‘The Shadow War’ // While Scuitto doesn’t necessarily talk about anything excitingly novel in the summary of his book, he does an absolutely terrific job in summarizing the high-level threats to American (and, by extension, Canadian and Western) national security. From submarine threats, to space threats, to cyber, the threat landscape is remarkably different today as compared to twenty years ago. In terms of responses or solutions, key to the American approach is reconsidering and re-engineering the responses to aggressive actions. Clearly American responses have failed to dissuade actors such as Russia and China in certain spheres, such as aggressive military engagement and cyber espionage and propaganda, and so more directed cyber-based activities meant to expose the corruption of foreign leaders might represent the next logical step for the U.S. military establishment.

Good Reads

  • When the Hard Rains Fall // Welsh has done a terrific job in both outlining the policy and financial and scientific causes that lead to serious, and dangerous, flooding in Toronto while marrying it with superb storytelling. Not only does the article provide a huge amount of information in an impeccably understandable format, but the graphics that accompany the piece in certain sections are almost certain to elicit an emotional reaction. Stories like this demonstrate why it’s important to pay for investigative reporting, while also showcasing how contemporary technologies can improve narratives for clarity and impact.
  • ‘Botanical Sexism’ Could Be Behind Your Seasonal Allergies // In an ironic turn, when trees were routinely planted in urban environments in the 1960s, males of the various species were chosen on the basis that they wouldn’t promote litter by dropping seeds. However, these trees expel significant amounts of pollen which has had the effect of creating ‘pollenpocalypse’ events that both severely aggravate seasonal allergies and leave vast swathes of pollen coating the city.
  • Female Spies and Their Secrets // As in so many fields, women’s contributions to the intelligence and security services were largely erased from history as men replaced them. However, newly recovered and disclosed histories are showcasing the role(s) that women played throughout the second world war to lead underground resistances and otherwise facilitate Allied intelligence efforts.
  • Your threat model is wrong // Robert Graham’s abrasive and direct writing is refreshing, especially when he writes about phishing: “Yes, it’s amazing how easily stupid employees are tricked by the most obvious of phishing messages, and you want to point and laugh at them. But frankly, you want the idiot employees doing this. The more obvious phishing attempts are the least harmful and a good test of the rest of your security — which should be based on the assumption that users will frequently fall for phishing.”
  • After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown // In the United States, some big box stores are attempting to (and succeeding in) reduce their property tax bills by arguing their stores should be valued at millions of dollars less than their current valuation. The result is that small towns, many of which invested in significant infrastructure projects to lure these stores, are at risk of having to reduce their services or defer additional investments that are less-focused on the company in question. Activities like this, combined with the general massive reduction in corporate taxes following the US government’s taxation changes under President Trump, threaten the very ability of small and large towns and cities to invest in infrastructure for the betterment of their residents.
  • The Secret to This Brazilian Coffee? Ants Harvest the Beans // In another instance of how weird and amazing the ecosystems of the earth are, ants that have inhabited an organic coffee farm in Brasil are affecting the taste of the beans in the process of removing the fruit around the beans to feed to their young. Apparently, this has effects on the acidity and taste of certain stronefruits, while also showcasing the interdependence of organic beings in the same ecosystem.
  • How To Make A Relationship Last // The guidance in this piece spoke to me, and reflect how I personally view long- term relationships and choice. Cage nicely summarizes that challenges of continuously choosing to stay in love, and in doing so provides a good set of instructions for others to follow and innovate upon.
  • How To Be A Leader — For Someone Who Hasn’t Been A Leader Before// This is really, really good and quick advice for someone who holds a leadership role, or is about to assume one. They key bits that stuck out include: put others before yourself, act as a role model instead of a boss, and be transparent about where you have weaknesses and work with your team to make sure they’re covered off. In effect, leadership under this model involves being humble, supportive, and aware of the need to improve the life and lots of your team.

Cool Things

  1. Ok, what I really want is to be able to add a title to a photo in Apple Photos on iOS, and then when I export the photo to, say, Instagram for the title to be automatically updated. But I realize I shouldn’t dream of such ‘exceptional’ capabilities and so will settle for adding titles manually in iOS and Instagram. Like an animal.
Gallery

Black and White, Compacted

I’ve been spending a lot of time seriously reacquainting myself with my Sony rx100m2. This is an older camera at this point, but I’ve made a decision that I exclusively shoot black and white on it, and this is the camera that is (almost) always with me. I’m basically forcing myself to actually shoot black and white, as opposed to adding black and white filters to colour photos. It means some colour shots are probably “lost” but, at the same time, a whole pile of amazing shots (to my eye) are being captured because I’m learning a whole new way of seeing the world.

Below are some of the happier results of this experiment; I can definitely see a future where I print out a pile of these types of photos to put up around my office or home.

The Race! by Christoper Parsons
Stand! by Christopher Parsons
Home by Christopher Parsons
The Spot by Christopher Parsons
Trapped by Christopher Parsons
Apparition by Christopher Parsons