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Bloviating on Blogginating

If you haven’t been following my constant complaining on Mastodon you might be wondering why your RSS feed reset the read count on all the posts. I recently undertook a lot of technical work on this site that I had been putting off, the side effect being whatever happened to the RSS. It’s fine now, I think? Probably?

This blog was set up when I had a lot of free time on my hands between jobs, as the film VFX work in Los Angeles really dried up, and before the push for film-quality VFX work in TV. While I was doing all that TV VFX work, the technical underpinnings of this site just kind of sat there. I never could figure out how to configure certificates to get https working, but I excused it as unimportant because it’s not like people were doing banking on this site.

For the past nine years I would just write when I had time, and if the site needed maintenance then I couldn’t write. It just needed to keep barely being sufficient so it wouldn’t be in my way.

The site was also written in Python 2.7, which I was familiar with from it’s use as a scripting language in VFX software packages. Migrating to Python 3 hasn’t been easy for anyone, and the rewards for migrating are … well. Someone can let me know what they are later. The biggest issue was that all the third-party modules I relied on to generate this static site required different arguments and produced different results than they did in the 2.7 branch of the same software.

Lastly, the virtual server this site is/was hosted on, used a 32-bit install of Ubuntu, which Ubuntu stopped updating, and there is no migration path from a 32-bit install of Ubuntu to a 64-bit install. It would be unsafe to continue running and hosting stuff connected to the internet, especially as time went on.

That’s why I started up a new server instance last week, configured Caddy (which wouldn’t even install on the old 32-bit server) to serve https:// crap, and then proceeded to rewrite the static blogging script until it produced almost identical output (if you diff the html pages there are some formatting anomalies, like html entities vs unicode entities, but the rendered result is the same). I also tweaked some CSS stuff. I’m a fan of solarized, which gave that yellowish background color to the site, but my friend Dan whined about it so it’s white now. Happy, Dan? Of course you aren’t.

I’ve also added template logic for Open Graph images, so if I provide a path to an image, in the multimarkdown metadata on a post, it will display the image when shared with anything that uses Open Graph to render previews. Old posts will still show that shrug thing.

I’m hopeful that I’ve reduced the friction to post on the site, and friction for people to read the site (I know the scary security warnings in the web browser title bar certainly alarmed people visiting the old server, even though it was harmless). If you do experience a problem after today, please let me know, as I might not be aware of how your particular feed reader has parsed my site. I am deeply uninterested in moving anything for another nine years.

2023-10-12 12:00:00

Category: text

Death By Special Offers

I truly don’t know what’s going on over at Amazon these days. In the past couple of weeks they announced a barrage of hardware and software that spanned everything from updated FireTV sticks that only have a $10 price difference between models (why?), to security camera products for both of Amazon’s security camera product lines, to a new Hub that can do Show stuff but Shows can’t do Hub stuff, to a $600 router, and stealing Panos Panay from Microsoft. Alexa, hasn’t had a meaningful new feature in a while, but now it’ll have a newer, more natural voice, and will use everyone’s favorite buzzword, AI in the form of a large language model that will slowly roll out to make sure it doesn’t hallucinate too much.

On the services side, Amazon is also increasing the additional monthly fees they can tack on to Amazon Prime, and devaluing Prime Video further. Previously, they caused confusion and diluted the Prime Video “brand” and app with the insertion of IMdB TV, which was renamed FreeVee. Selecting one of those titles showed ads, even though Prime Video titles did not (other than self-promo pre-roll ads that all VODs show). Now advertising comes for us all, unless Prime subscribers pay an additional $2.99 a month. Alexa Guard, a feature where Amazon listens for disturbances in your home while you are away (smoke detectors, the sound of breaking glass, etc.) has been retired so that it’s features could be added to Alexa Emergency Assist, which will be an additional $5.99 a month fee.

In many ways, Amazon is the anti-Apple. Instead of steady (if glacial) progress, there are these bursts of activity that don’t feel especially focused or cohesive. Like the aforementioned FireTV sticks, which compete with each other ($10 price difference!) in addition to competing with Roku. Also they get software features for a new Up Next row that won’t launch until some later point, and the more expensive of the two can turn your TV into an ambient smart display that only the “high end” Amazon-branded TV sets could do before.

A large part of my skepticism about the products is from my negative experiences using Amazon products in recent years. They used to be inexpensive, not particularly beautiful, while still being functional. Often performing features that Apple charged a premium for, like having 4K HDR video under $100, with a voice assistant, and universal search. They even do things Apple can’t do, like aggregate live TV programming guides from disparate apps into a single OS-level interface for navigating “what’s on”.

They have had Echo Show, and tablets with an Echo Show mode, for years while Apple just launched their Stand By mode only for iPhones in a horizontal position on a MagSafe dock as their first foray into ambient (if pretty limited) computing.

However, the Echo Show tablet I have will not stay connected to the Eero WiFi, and not a single FireOS update has fixed that. All the updates have done is push more junk into the thing when it is connected to the network. The writhing mass of growth-hacking bottom-feeders (the product managers) at Amazon just keep adding new categories to the Echo Show that need to be opted out of. Like every brainless marketing bro who just ads a new opt-out newsletter to hit the email inboxes of everyone who opted out of the last newsletter, and the one before that. Lazy, invasive ads that you can’t pay extra to remove.

There is a distinction, of course, between paid advertisements (where a third party has paid Amazon to promote something), first party advertisements (enticing someone to purchase or subscribe to something through Amazon), and feature announcements (Alexa can now do handstands, just ask Alexa to find out how). To most people those are unwanted ads, even in cases where a product manager argues they’re helping by surfacing products that might be relevant, or increasing awareness of functionality, or TV content. I certainly haven’t found that to be the case recently.

Three photos of the Echo Show tablet displaying various ads. The first is "Try the Alexa Super Mario Bros. theme." The second is NFL news, and the third is to create a character using Alexa with your child.

Last month I gave up on trying to reconnect it to the WiFi because what’s the point? Seeing the weather and time is no longer worth the frustration of this spam, nor is talking to Alexa in its current state. Here’s Dan Seifert, of The Verge, on Mastodon:

There’s nothing enticing about the prospect of buying any of those newly announced ambient displays precisely for that reason. It’ll just be paying for that same experience (although hopefully with a more reliable WiFi stack) and that’s not a “deal”.

I stopped using my FireTV Stick altogether. Only occasionally plugging it in to check on the live TV updates, which are genuinely interesting in the field of smart TVs. The day-to-day experience of using the device has gone from functional to just bad. It really came down to the changes Amazon made to their home screen, to once again, shove garbage there. While Apple TV’s TV app has the same issue with sacrificing user experience to growth hack Apple TV+ subs, the TV app can be wholly bypassed in a way the FireTV’s home screen can’t. A new quad core chip for the FireTV 4K Stick isn’t going to lure me back. Faster trash? No thanks!

The changes to Alexa are, once again, something I’m deeply skeptical of. I just want to set timers and ask for the weather. The simple things in life. The move to push “Did you know I can…” and “Would you like me to…?” responses after every query has made both myself - and my boyfriend - use Siri on our iPhones instead. Not because we deeply love and respect Siri, but just because we don’t want to have to yell “NOOOO” at Alexa after every request for a simple task.

I have never been particularly alarmed by how invasive the devices are, but the inconvenience — the abject shittiness of it — that’s the issue for me.

There’s a pretty invasive feature to map your smart home, which would be a useful, and novel thing if Apple did it. And not something that made me feel like I was just scanning my house to help Amazon.

Even during these actual announcements, Janko Rottgers published a piece about rumored projection-mapping hardware from a startup Amazon acquired that could leverage your mapped house for some neat projection stuff. However, it just made me think of College football ads projected on the walls, or suggestions to buy some piece of e-waste that’s a combination cable adapter and unregulated battery pack.

There’s never been any taste at Amazon, but there’s also never been this much thirstiness either. Treating all the customers like we’re Clockwork-Oranged to anything they put in front of us is really assuming a lot about what people will put up with.

Apple in the year 3000

And again, to contrast that with Apple, it’s not like Apple has radically improved their approach to smart home stuff over time. They built that whole life-size dollhouse set to show off connectivity in a home, and still no one really lives like that. There are no real control hubs, or first-party devices beyond expensive speakers with humidity sensors inside. Errors in the Home app are still frustratingly cryptic and managing the whole thing is nearly opaque.

However, does Apple really need to try harder or do better as Amazon self-sabotages? Will there ever be a turning point where the low-low prices aren’t of value? Will Panos Panay be able to shift any of this, or just make more attractive packaging for it? Will the people buying these devices on deep-discount and shoving them in the back of their closet, or pawning them off as burdensome gifts, change to something where there’s a desire for the new-ness over the deep-discount?

We might get a true smart hub from Apple in a couple years at this pace, and maybe there will be a generation of HomePods that isn’t just great sound, but a great Siri experience. God knows when we’ll ever get a great Siri experience, but that’s gotta happen some day, right? Maybe in another millennium?

That probably won’t ever replace Amazon because of the sky-high prices, but at least it can be a more viable alternative. And hopefully, there are people inside of Apple that recognize how encrusted with distraction these Amazon devices are and can lobby for less of that (services ads in the system, App Store search bullshit, etc.) in their own products.

The Smart Dark Ages

For now, I’m not investing in any additional smart garbage. I waited for Matter, and nothing about that lived up to the sales pitch. Investing in anything else feels like throwing away more money. I’ll let people tinker away with their Raspberry Pi’s and Home Bridge, and all that crap. I’ll limp along with this rag-tag fleet of smart plugs, bulbs, thermometers, and cameras until we’re on the other side of whatever this current era is. Where I trust both intention and function.

2023-10-03 11:30:00

Category: text

The Californians

On the most recent episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, Marco Arment described a recent ordeal with a moving truck. He recounted his list of grievances from using a rented box truck in New York, and mentioned the issue of roads that trucks aren’t allowed on, or won’t fit on. New York parkways (park on the drive way, yeah, yeah we all know the joke) apparently don’t allow trucks. The major mapping applications he mentions - Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze - don’t have a feature to avoid roadways that don’t allow trucks, as they do for avoiding tolls.

He used two crappy apps that offered truck routing, but both were poor quality and he lamented that this isn’t just a feature of Apple Maps, Google Maps, or Waze.

Then John Siracusa joked about how this is because Apple’s based in California. “I don’t even know if they have toll roads in California. If you live in California please don’t tell me you don’t have toll roads, I don’t want to know.”

We have freeways which have free in the name because the West Coast was very pro-car after WWII. There are very few toll roads, because then they wouldn’t be free ways, and the unfortunate use of free influences a lot of our infrastructure. With only High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, and HOV stickers for some EVs to try and shape all that free, bumper to bumper traffic.

Another day of sun. The 105 110 interchange with one of the lanes of traffic going the wrong direction, but don't worry about it.

A quirk of this is the conversion of some of those HOV lanes into a number of toll lanes, referred to in some places as High Occupancy Toll (HOT), express lanes, or managed lanes. Several of those are great ways to dodge the word toll. There are different regional agencies that operate under the toll collection brand of FasTrak.

A FasTrak transponder

FasTrak lets everyone have their cake and eat it too. The freeway stays “free” but the HOV lane is usually expanded and repurposed to allow for vehicles with transponders to use the lane, and be charged a dynamic, demand-based fee. Depending on the time of day, and occupancy of the vehicle, it could be $0. Buses also use these lanes, and even have very bus-rider-hostile transportation centers shoved in the middle with their own entrances and exits that cars should not enter or exit.

Two-Dimensional Thinking

However, this means there are now lanes of fast moving traffic on the inside of a freeway that need to enter and exit past all the people not using these lanes. Also some of these older freeways have a lot built up around them so they can’t always expand their lanes, which means some sections are elevated above the regular traffic. To enter, or exit, the lanes you must either be in a section of the freeway where all lanes are at the same elevation, and a break in the lanes allows for merging, or there must be a grade-separated flyover to allow direct entry and exit from the lanes.

All of this stuff is visible in Apple Maps, and Google Maps. You can even see these complex interchanges in 3D in Apple Maps, or tap right along the route in Google Street View. Marvel at the volume of data collected about, but not applied to, this problem.

Apple Maps views of the 105, and 110 interchange and elevated sections

That is the 110-105 interchange in Los Angeles, which is a good example of every kind of lane connection possible. It is a monstrosity, but we’re not debating whether or not it should exist, it’s there, and it’s been there since the 90s, with the HOV/busway converted to FasTrak in 2012.

Now it’s time to engage in every Californians favorite pass time, talking about roads that connect to other roads. If someone is heading South on the 110 to travel from Pasadena, East Los Angeles, or Downtown Los Angeles they can enter FasTrak lanes just south of Downtown. Those two left lanes then travel in several elevated sections above the rest of the 110 traffic without any flyovers, and only a couple spots where the elevation changes to allow for merging in or out. When the 110 meets the 105 the FasTrak lane splits in two, with one lane for the 105 heading toward LAX, and the other continuing to other overpasses to go East to Norwalk, or continue South towards San Pedro.

Hideous markup on top of a map with truly vomit inducing ASCII colors.

Let’s say, theoretically, that you’re by yourself, in a car with a FasTrak transponder heading from Downtown LA to LAX, which means taking the 110 S FasTrak lane. You enter the FasTrak lane, and receive no objections from Google. Then it tells you to exit right to get on the 105 W, but the signs say to stay in the leftmost lane for the 105 W and LAX. You dutifully ignore your navigation app, and it tries to urgently reroute you as you arc across every other possible lane of transportation layered in that spot. The apps assume that you have logically fallen hundreds of feet through the air to one of the many other roads, Blues Brothers style, and then fallen over, and over again.

It eventually stops freaking out once the flyover has fully merged with the 105 W, because you’re oriented with the 105 W, but that lane is a HOV 2+ lane, because the 105 is not FasTrak. There are signs that “FasTrak must exit” so your single-occupancy vehicle needs to do that immediately. That’s not a big deal, because you should be reading traffic signs, but it should be something a navigation app can remind you off, just as it reminds you of any other lane change.

Google Maps view of the reverse direction from 105 E at the interchange.

If you are traveling in the reverse direction, eastbound from LAX and northbound to Downtown LA, then your single occupancy vehicle will be in the flow of regular traffic and you will be directed to the right lane to exit for the 110 N. Unless you ignore the navigation, read the signs, and enter the HOV 2+ lanes to use the flyover from the leftmost lane. Of course attempts will be made to reroute you as you get a lovely view of the Downtown skyline, and eventually settle into the FasTrak lane of the 110 N.

If you were in that same 105 E HOV 2+ lane, with two passengers, and no transponder, heading from LAX to Downtown LA you would need to exit the HOV lane and merge on to the 110 N at the right. If you stayed in that HOV 2+ left lane because you didn’t understand the signage, you would be dumped into the FasTrak lane that requires a transponder.

I’ll leave it at just those examples, because you get the idea. These paricular lanes have been like this for over a decade. Other lanes like this exist elsewhere throughout the state, and more are being completed right this very minute.

Existing Metro ExpressLanes in Los Angeles County, and proposed expansion.

Apple and Google are totally clueless about these lanes, which is bizarre when you can see them represented in maps, satellite views, Street View — everything.

Waze HOV toggle

Waze, which is owned by Google, added a “HOV 2+” toggle when it shows you a suggested route with HOV 2+ lanes. This is a mixed bag, because they don’t differentiate between FasTrak and HOV 2+. So no information is presented about transponders, or other rules. Remember that a vehicle could be crossing into and out of various requirements along a route, and that HOV 2+ is an over simplification that could lead to bad directions.

The lack of proper routing extends beyond the directions alone, because it means there’s no accurate representation of the flow of traffic. You’ll notice in some of the screenshots above that Traffic data is drawn on the elevated sections of the road, but that traffic data is from the part of the freeway below.

Generally, when my boyfriend and I take certain FasTrak lanes, we know it can shave at least 10 minutes off of the route a route estimate, or more. However, if the traffic is extremely heavy the route may not be suggested at all, because there’s no understanding that we’ll be bypassing the flow of the stopped traffic. We can trick it sometimes by changing our start, end, or adding a middle position that puts us specifically on a route to see why it’s not recommended, but that still relies on our knowledge, and hunches about things. You’re also assuming the FasTrak lane is completely unaffected by the traffic, which is not always true. That’s not really want you want in the mapping applications from two of the most powerful companies in the world, who just so happen to be in the same state as you.

I know that from a user interface perspective anything added to the interface makes it less clean, and straight-forward to use, so there’s no simple suggestion of “just put toggles in for everything.” However, the reality of different kinds of traffic regulation — whether that’s occupancy, transponders, box trucks, or other forms of traffic control — isn’t going away. Our phones are integral to transportation, so maybe someday, in the far future, we’ll have ways to manage electronic toll collection through them, and then it could all become a part of the navigation process itself.

Both Apple and Google need to tackle this problem in a way that helps their navigation apps perform better, especially when Apple is working on whatever that misguided car thing is, and Google is working on being the infotainment backbone of the automotive industry.

At the very least, they can do better for The Californians.

2023-08-25 15:00:00

Category: text


I felt, well in advance of Tim Cook unveiling the Apple Vision Pro at WWDC that it was nearly impossible it would be a product that appealed to me. Other people knew well in advance that they absolutely wanted whatever it was. It could have been an Apple-branded ViewMaster and they’d want it. I don’t seek to tell those enthusiastic people that they’re wrong, far from it, but I’ll explain why I don’t want anything on my face, and I feel like my explanation might be applicable to other people as well.

After working on stereoscopic “3D” movies for many years I know this well. We would sit at our desks, with our active shutter glasses, and work for hours. We would go to the small screening room, equipped with a projector and polarized glasses, and we would try to get final approval there because it was better than the active shutter glasses. It’s not fun to wear stuff for extended periods of time, even the uncomfortable active shutter glasses that are featherweight compared to the world-building power of the Vision Pro. Thus I was unable to envision anything I’d wear on my face when the rumors were circulating. It’s not for me, and I suspect it’s not for some other people either. There are ways to shave down the device here or there over time, or redistribute the weight — like the top strap only visible in one shot of the WWDC keynote. But it will always require pressing something to your face because that’s how it has to function. Even the electrostatic paper masks we’ve all used leave unpleasant creases on our face, or pinch in the wrong spot (and I gladly masked the fuck up out of necessity).

What I was absolutely enamored by though was visionOS. Not from the WWDC keynote presentation, which just made it seem like a movie computer interface, but from the WWDC developer videos released after. I highly recommend watching those regardless of your level of skepticism about the hardware. Functionally, it seems like such a natural and organic extension of interaction metaphors we’re already using, while at the same time being adapted to inputs in space. What was unclear in the Keynote, was that your eyes are your “cursor” which is natural because they are your focus. Your hands are at your side like you’d have them for a touchpad or mouse. The array of cameras and sensors monitoring your hands and eyes make this all possible.

It made me want to use visionOS … just not with a Vision Pro.

I know that might sound a little contradictory, and silly, but I’d rather sit at my two UHD monitors with a camera pointed at my face, and move windows around inside the confines of those monitors, than wear anything. With all the complaining people have done about not having touchscreen MacBooks, imagine not pressing on anything on a MacBook just to scroll a web page. Hell what if — not to go all Gene Munster — what if they shipped a HomePod/AppleTV that had a series of projectors and those hated passive glasses for people to use exclusively in dark rooms?

I mean, that’s not going to happen, but that’s where my mind went. Apple does apply their effort on one platform on to their other platforms, in some scenarios, so some cross pollination might be possible, but that really is wishcasting.

With the focus on building a headset empire, I guess I’ll return to critiquing that product and how Apple currently pitches using it.

  • 2D and 2.5D windows arranged in space to do office work and web browsing.
  • Teleconferencing.
  • 2D and stereoscopic theatrical experiences.
  • 3D family photos
  • Immersive locations.

Notably absent was gaming. Everyone expected Hideo Kojima’s presence in Cupertino to be tied to this headset but it was for porting old games. At this point we should really all know better than to expect anything significant with gaming. It’s for the best that they don’t either, because Apple doesn’t believe in making game controllers. There still isn’t one for the Apple TV, and it doesn’t matter how many times Apple says you can bring your own controller to use, it’s not the same thing. Controllers are a shortcoming of competing VR headsets because you have to use them, but the benefit of having them is mostly physical feedback. Nothing about physical response is present. Functionally every interaction people have seems to be at more than arms length.

Let’s talk about those arms-length interactions:

Cocooned in Email and Spreadsheets

Windows in virtual spaces are nothing new, and honestly I’m happy Apple didn’t try to do some bizarre 3D application interface. Emails should just look like emails, and spreadsheets should just look like spreadsheets.

That’s not to say that I have any idea why anyone would want to work on their email or spreadsheets with a headset on. That seems like something for ardent futurists and not practical for large groups — let alone office environments. Even virtualizing screen real estate doesn’t seem to be a tremendous boon if you’re going to get eyestrain from lower text resolution (WWDC videos note that body text weight should be increased to be legible in the headset if that helps visualize how the displays in the headset aren’t exactly like having multiple real monitors).

Safari seems like a better use case, because that is laid-back on the couch stuff. You’re shopping, or reading sub-par blogs like this one, and it’s more about consumption than work.

Calls From Creeps

A poorly received part of the WWDC keynote was the teleconferencing story. Apple doesn’t want you to feel cut-off from people, which is why they have the creepy eyes on the outside, but making a full creepy avatar of a person to have calls with isn’t helping. That persona, as they call it, has more in common with a Sim than a human being. Not just in terms of performance (seriously look at that mouth move) but in terms the qualities we expect in a video conference call.

99% of people are bad at video calls, but they’re still fundamentally people. We see their messy rooms - not particle cloud voids. We see their cats, their dogs, their kids, what they’re drinking, what they’re wearing. For people that don’t want to participate in that we have this amazing technology where the camera doesn’t turn on.

It’s also pretty telling that Apple doesn’t offer up Continuity Camera so the people you’re on the call with can see you, with your Daft Punk headset and creepy eyes because Apple considers that to be a real world solution for talking to flesh and blood.

The real teleconferencing solution is that you just take off your headset.

Best Seat in the House

Apple didn’t invent virtual movie theaters in VR either. They seem to have made it very nice though, by virtue of their displays being better than competitors. It doesn’t seem like it’s a great social experience though. I know that there’s SharePlay, but I mean social in terms of in your own home. This is designed for an audience of one. Which is a valid movie watching experience to have, some of the time, for some people.

What’s particularly interesting is an emphasis on stereoscopic media — which is almost entirely movies from that window of time when “3D” was being used as a way to charge more for ticket prices, and get people in to theaters for experiences they couldn’t have with their HD TVs, or projectors. Then the HD TVs and projectors started to build it in whether you wanted it or not.

Companies realized that it was very expensive to make these stereoscopic movies so they tried to reduce labor costs, and the quality of the stereo movies notoriously went down. Most filmmakers had very little to do with stereo and it was an afterthought for someone else. A requirement of making the thing that didn’t have to do with them.

This is notably why James Cameron’s most recent Avatar movie was used in demonstrations for the press, because he spans that time period from the original Avatar until now as an ardent proponent of stereoscopic movies.

So, as you might imagine, that makes it a little bit of a niche use case and people will mostly be watching good ol’ fashioned 2D on a really big virtual screen.

Also if I hear one more person say that Apple TV+ shows might all be “3D” now because of machine learning to generate depth I will jettison them from this planet.

Family Photos

This is a really interesting use case, just not with the headset. The most chilling moment in the whole keynote was when that guy took a photo of the kids with the headset. There are no “we just aren’t used to it yet” arguments I will accept, nor does the analogy to the VHS camcorders of yore work. This is an inhuman scenario and I’m perplexed that no one working on this presentation had a similar reaction.

What I will accept is some kind of volumetric capture coming to iPhones. The demonstration seemed to indicate that everything dithered into a stochastically pleasant point cloud as it got further away from the subject, so that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be stereographic capture of two images. Some combination of the depth data being captured, along with more than one camera might get somewhere in the ballpark.

Why would people with iPhones take 3D photos if they don’t have a headset and aren’t planning on buying one? I would imagine that there would be that shadowbox-like tray view of 3D, where as you move your iPhone the parallax in the image shifts as if there’s depth. It’s one of the Apple Design teams favorite iOS interface gags. Or perhaps just good ol’ fashioned wiggle-grams, where stereographic images just toggle back and forth. There would be plenty of ways to execute it. It just seems likely they’ll do at least one of them because people who own iPhones will be the likely people to buy the headset and giving them some material in their libraries that they can look at would be more compelling than starting them with nothing and setting them loose on childrens birthday parties.

Location Location Location

The immersive location stuff is interesting except it’s never depicted as immersive location with motion. It all seems very QuickTimeVR where you have a nodal view of place. It works well as a backdrop to other interface activities, but you don’t seem to do much with the location itself. That’s fine, I happen to love QuickTimeVR. I downloaded the crappy Babylon 5 qtvr files from AOL back in the day, and I had Star Trek “Captain’s Chair” where you could see all the Star Trek bridges. Technology that we use today for selling homes on Redfin.

I don’t object to it, but it’s interesting how it’s just a “desktop background” of sorts.

Eye Look Forward To More

I wholly reject this particular hardware, but I’m absolutely fascinated by the software and what it could mean when it’s applied in different contexts. I wonder what the developer story will ultimately wind up being because adding another dimension doesn’t reduce labor costs, and it doesn’t reduce the cut Apple wants to take from developers for expending all this effort for a niche platform. Those sorts of financial things are beyond the scope of my analysis, but are a very real issue. Meta, lead by Mark Zuckerberg, has been having big financial problems because this whole metaverse thing isn’t working out for him. While what Apple is doing is different from what Meta is doing, it’s not so different when it comes to development costs for 3D experiences.

The best part of the Apple Vision Pro might very well be Mark Zuckerberg freaking out and announcing his Meta Quest 3 early, and a Meta Quest 2 price cut, ahead of WWDC and no one cares. Kudos to Tim Cook for that.

2023-06-11 10:45:00

Category: text

Happy Hour vs. Wine Lists

We are definitely in a period of instability for — well, everything. In the entertainment industry, the cable-cutting chickens have come home to roost, and the things people knew would happen eventually, are all happening very quickly instead of very slowly. Eight years ago I was writing my silly posts about what these behemoth companies ought to do, when Richard Plelpler was on stage to introduce HBO Now for the Apple TV 3rd generation, and I wrote about things like why we have bundles (a bunch of things is cheaper than à la carte) and why there needed to be ad-supported tiers when Apple introduced their Over the Top Service (remember when that never happened?) What I wrote that companies like Apple should do was laughable garbage, but the problems they needed to navigate around are still the problems they face today. This is what consumers thought for the past eight years:

  • Consumers hated paying for channels they didn’t watch. They believed they were paying only for what they were watching when they made the move to cut the cord and subscribe only to streaming services they used.
  • Consumers hated to see ads because they didn’t need that junky stuff in their life.

That was always wrong because when you pay for a bundle you’re getting a discount on the things you don’t usually watch — something that has perturbed people interested in watching live TV events in this streaming era is that they realized they did actually use some of those channels a couple of times a year. That’s how they have money to pay for those events that you can’t miss. That’s what the money is for!

I also regret to inform everyone that advertising, as a general concept, absolutely works. People think that they magically gain awareness of media and products through a reliable word-of-mouth network where a carefully cultivated list of friends guide what they watch and what products they use using only their friends’ discerning taste alone!

Everyone is swimming in ads, especially your friends. Your exposure to irritating ads might go down if you only use premium on-demand services, at their highest-paid, ad-free tiers, but that’s also a lie. The preroll ads before a show tell you about what the streamer would like you to watch. The officially branded podcast and websites where you can hatch dragon eggs and shit.

The app, and system interfaces are an ad, which is why companies will do everything they can to try and keep you in their interface, looking at their banners and promoted shows. Steering a person’s attention and behavior, and thus a person’s money, is the whole game.

Of course there are people that just don’t care about ads cut into video, and will gladly accept them for free, or discounted service. They’re not fools, because they’ll be able to watch a wider variety of things for less money at the people who can’t abide seeing them.

The reality is that there isn’t a single group of consumers. MIND BLOWN! KABOOM!

We, as consumers, like to think that all the other right-minded consumers agree with us. This has a lot to do with the echo chambers we find ourselves in on social media where we talk about watching the same shows as if we’re all on the same living room sofa.

Companies are way ahead of people here. Part of the reason cable has been so slow to address cord cutting in any meaningful way is because they knew they still had people who did not want to cut the cord, despite high prices, and ads. Invariably this comes down to how we use television to adjust the balance of chemicals in our brains.

Not everyone wants on demand content that they specifically select from a menu like they’re looking through the wine list at a restaurant. Some people just want whatever the happy hour specials are. That’s not an indictment of the consumers, or the restaurant/streamer, but simply a function of preference. Sometimes people go back and forth in their behavior based on their mood. Stop the presses: People have moods!

This is why Free Advertising Supported Television (FAST) services like Pluto, Tubi, and FreeVee (née IMdBTV) are all able to grow by offering something like a worse cable TV experience. Grids of “channels” that are really playlists of antique reruns, or bottom-shelf no-name fare, all populated with repetitive ads. These companies promise stuff in a very similar way to bloated cable TV packages.

However, even the snootiest of snooty à la carte subscribers should notice that their à la carte choices aren’t the incredibly specific fare that they thought they were getting. All these streamers have been trying to “bulk up” or merge to get enormous catalogs of stuff so that you must stay subscribed to them even when they don’t have a specific thing you want at this moment.

Disney - Disney+/Hulu/ESPN

Speaking of that stuff, here’s Bob Iger in February, via CNBC:

“We are intent on reducing our debt,” Iger said. “I’ve talked about general entertainment being undifferentiated. I’m not going to speculate if we’re a buyer or a seller of it. But I’m concerned about undifferentiated general entertainment. We’re going to look at it very objectively.”

Disney currently owns 66% of Hulu, with Comcast owning the rest. The two companies struck a deal in 2019 in which Comcast can force Disney to buy (or Disney can require Comcast to sell) the remaining 33% in January 2024 at a guaranteed minimum total equity value of $27.5 billion, or about $9.2 billion for the stake.

Just five months ago, then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he’d like to own all of Hulu “tomorrow” if he could. Chapek’s strategy revolved around eventually tying Hulu together with Disney+ to give consumers a “hard bundle” option in which viewers could watch programming from both the family friendly Disney+ and the adult-focused Hulu. Comcast’s stake in Hulu prevented Disney from moving forward with his plans.

It would be pretty easy to say that Chapek was a happy hour guy, and Iger is a wine list guy, but I don’t think it’s so clear cut with Iger. Iger knows, and is aware of, the desire people have for stuff but Iger also knows he can’t charge premium prices for stuff and he is worried about turning highly desirable, specific things into stuff by taking away anything that makes it special.

As absolutely absurd as it was to see those brand tiles revealed for the Disney+ launch they do mean something. They are a way to direct people to choose.

Does FX on Hulu mean anything? Does a Hulu Original mean anything? Hulu, despite being outside the Disney+ app at this time, is also a brand in North America. Whether Hulu branding stays, it seems pretty clear that Disney needs a brand tile for undifferentiated stuff.

What about ESPN? The wine list and happy hours apply to sports too. Sometimes people want to watch any game that’s on, and sometimes people only want to watch their team, or The Big Game. The current sports media landscape is very, very, very bad. I wouldn’t personally know, because my monocle pops out whenever I even think about watching a sportsball game, but Jason Snell and Julia Alexander do an excellent job of explaining the never-ending ways in which the sports media landscape is a mess in the Sports Corner segment of their Downstream podcast, including ESPN.

Warner Brothers Discovery - Max/Discover+

We’ve seen this dynamic play out slightly different with Warner Brothers Discovery, which is run by a greedy, unlovable caricature of an executive that no one likes, David Zaslav. This happy hour guy ran Discovery, and it wasn’t red or white wine and some beers, it was a chain of bars where you could get novelty plastic cups filled with a variety of watered-down, bottom-shelf, sugary, fruit-flavored, frozen daiquiris. Happy-hour-slushy guy bought Warner Media, and declared that the quality of Warner Brothers, and HBO, would be the same, he was merely going to cut out of control costs.

This is weirdly not how things were run before where there was a fine dining restaurant with wine list, and then a second slightly-not-as-good fast casual version was opened up. Anything worth saving from that fast casual place was folded back into the restaurant. Then the restaurant was razed and replaced with a Daiquiri Deck but one that had a discerning wine list available upon request for a little more than you were paying before.

The new slogan says it all: Max - The One to Watch.

Max - The One to Guzzle.

Paramount Global - Paramount+/Showtime/Nickelodeon/BET/Everything/Pluto

One of the big happy hour players, for a long time, has been the various entities that have been spawned from and reabsorbed by Paramount, CBS, and Viacom. Just a burbling primordial soup of happy hour specials (don’t order the primordial soup special). They are Darden Restaurants in this happy hour analogy.

Their whole deal, in all iterations, was to diversify out to different channels in the bundle and increase the amount of money that they got out of the cable subscription carriage fees. It didn’t matter to Viacom which channels people were watching, or what they watched on them, as long as they had a lot of channels. It also didn’t matter how many of their channels were showing new content, overlapping content, or never-ending marathons of old stuff.

That sounds like a perfect fit for streaming, but they were so dependent on those carriage fees that they couldn’t do anything meaningful to adapt to changing consumer demand, and their high-prices and low-quality were what people were exactly complaining about in their bloated cable bills.

They had some very bad apps, and very bad websites, that all wanted to leverage your cable login to see stuff a day later — it was a mess. This lead them to look outside for a possible solution and that was Pluto TV, which they acquired in 2019. Instead of making a bad clone of cable, they could buy it.

CBS, the old people channel (that had been spun off as it’s own company by Sumner Redstone in 2005 because it was losing money, but then became worth more than Viacom) made CBS All Access and Showtime’s separate app. Shari Redstone, daughter of Sumner Redstone, maybe kinda-sorta-possibly-maybe-allegedly had something to do with Les Moonves getting fired for sexual misconduct, replaced most of the board, and got the companies to merge again. Then CBS All Access became Paramount+ and could start absorbing bits and pieces of the former chain restaurant empire, including Showtime, which only ever has one good wine.

Pluto TV, as a FAST network, is still separate from Paramount+ with Showtime because they don’t conflict with each other in terms of how people want to watch shows. However I wouldn’t be surprised to see attempts to cross promote and try to get the people buying Star Trek licensed wine to buy into the happy hour lifestyle, and vice versa.

Shari wanted the companies together to make them worth more as a whole thing to sell to someone else though, not because she wanted things tidy. She knows that Paramount Global, even after merging with CBS, is too small, and too strapped for cash, to be a complete destination. Before their mediocre fare could take up as much space in the mall and adjacent buildings as possible, but now the mall is dying and they need you to want to choose to go out of your way for them.

Amazon Prime Video/FreeVee

Amazon’s main driver has never been their video products, it’s been their shipped-to-your-home retail empire. Despite this, Prime Video often has shockingly good movies and TV shows that rotate in and out of their library, but it’s mostly surprising because people don’t think to go Prime Video. Their original content was supposed to be a big driver, but it’s not apparent the money they spend on originals has directly lead to any kind of general improvement in their video brands.

This disorganized approach has led them to try all kinds of categories, genres, and business models. Like injecting the IMdB brand into the name of their FAST service, and then injecting that into Prime Video to somehow entrap people expecting ad-free video to watch ad-supported video. Then rebranding that as FreeVee, which is kind of a repellant and genius name all at the same time.

Lest I neglect to mention it, they also bought MGM, which they absolutely did not need to do. It seems to not have benefited them or led to any kind of substantive plan other than more reorgs.

It’s always seemed like they’re flailing and they don’t know what to do. One minute, they’re practically giving away high-priced Bordeaux, and the next minute they tricked you into drinking a Zima. But it all comes back to shopping, I guess?

Apple Apple TV+

Apple is in a more straight-forwardly weird spot. They were late to the game, and they’re not a restaurant, or wine bar. They’re a winery that has a few estate-bottled wines that have aged enough to sell, but they mostly fill up their cellar with grapes they’ve bought elsewhere. The only wine that’s been a clear success every vintage is a collaboration with another winery and that is going to end soon. They bought up a lot of billboards, and entered their wines into many contests, but they’re still a single winery that just doesn’t scale up to offer much variety, or historic depth in their library.

That’s fine, if that’s where their ambition ends, but I don’t believe it is. At some point they’re going to acquire or partner with another company that caters to a broader clientele. They already sort of tried to do something loosely along those lines with Apple TV Channels, but it didn’t really benefit their partners much.

Cash-strapped Paramount Global is a likely target. Or bundle-friendly Zaslav who won’t sell HBO, but would likely be willing to consider an Apple+ Max — the name is so bad it’s already perfect.


That leaves us with the one that got us all into this mess, The Cheesecake Factory. Netflix has the length, and complexity of a wine list, but one constructed from just about whatever they could produce as quickly as possible. A laminated, spiral-bound monstrosity where there’s no clear vision or purpose but to have something for anyone and everyone.

Just like The Cheesecake Factory, you can have a pretty good time if you have to spend time there, but you’re there to consume in a liminal space between a fancy meal and every stall in a mall food court. Much like The Cheesecake Factory adapted to changing economic conditions, I’m absolutely certain Netflix will be fine, financially, but the way they fit into people’s lives might change. Growth is no longer the game, and neither is quality, but there’s plenty of room to work on what costs what.


People have been sleeping on bundles. Every cord cutter with two brain cells tweeted, posted, or kvetched at some point in the past year about how much they’re spending on all these streaming services, and realized “it’s just like cable”. These companies are going to get their money for making the media that you consume. The illusion of it not costing much, and being able to pick and choose has been replaced by the same basic reality we had before.

Where these companies would bloat up to try to command as much of your cable subscription from the cable companies, they are the cable companies now. They all need to be necessary to you. If they can’t make enough movies and TV shows to be necessary, they’re going to offer more discounts for yearly, or longer, subscriptions. They’re going to offer discounts between companies to pay for one and get the other half off. They’re going to push people to subscribe directly through them so they can put people through a more onerous, and painful cancellation process.

Sure, we’re more or less back where we started, but we were always going to be there. Even the people that want to choose what they watch don’t want to choose the subscription enrollments every month. They just want stuff.

But don’t worry about it too much. Let’s go grab a drink.

2023-05-24 09:00:00

Category: text

The Worst Underwater Camera I Own

In my post about the cameras I had in 2021 (which has since changed quite a bit) I talked about the one I hated the most, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25. It has horrendous shutter lag, the lens is too slow to use in anything but brightly-lit purified water, the display on the back is unusable in most lighting conditions, the menu system is designed to be “easy” in one of those ways where it makes things difficult, the battery life is atrocious, the amount of time it takes to startup and shoot - I could keep going on.

It is, however, the only underwater camera I own, and that classic axiom of “the best underwater camera is the only underwater camera you have with you” definitely applies.

I decided to reassess the camera and try to see the positives in it. There’s a YouTuber/Instagram photographer that I follow, Ali, and her whole deal is working with old cameras to see what someone can really get out of them. To look back at technology of yesteryear and see what you can really do with it. Some of it is about vibes that is unscientific — but rightfully so! Photography is an art, not a lab test pattern.

One of her mantras, and I have no idea if she’s the originator of this, is “no bad cameras” and as anyone that’s read this blog for more than one post might guess, that’s not exactly my deal, but I’m trying.

You see, when my boyfriend and I were planning our trip to Grand Cayman in March we wanted to buy a replacement underwater camera, but the budget for buying a replacement camera was $0 and not the hundreds it would cost for something well reviewed. That meant we would pack the dreaded Lumix. I went through the menus ahead of time trying to optimize the various “scene” settings it had, and doing things like turning off the digital zoom that kicks in after the optical zoom range, and adjusting ISO settings. It’s a very fiddly, and annoying thing. Like I said, Panasonic tried to make it easy for beginners, but in that way where stuff has a short, weird name and an icon and you have to consult the manual in order to figure out what the hell the thing is actually for.

For example, there’s an Advanced Underwater mode, and there are retouching tools for that, but it’s a post-process that tries to recover red. I don’t use this setting at all because Lightroom is much better at recovering information with adjustable controls and tools like dehaze.

The camera still disappointed when my boyfriend took it to the reef, where the water wasn’t murky, but there was still that heavy haze and dark blue or green cast that made the photos look murkier than what he was seeing with his own eyes. Fortunately, when we got back to the rental apartment I was able to plug that SD card into my iPhone, fire up Lightroom, and adjust the photo to his recollection of the color. The settings could be easily copied and applied to the others.

Underwater photo of a reef heavily edited to try and bring back color next to the unedited version of the image from the camera.

However one thing I couldn’t fix was the slow shutter speed the camera picked. To get around the slow lens, and poor low-ISO performance of the sensor, the camera favors lower shutter speeds to let more light in over a longer interval. 1/80th of a second is, in my opinion, far too slow to use in dynamic underwater conditions where everything is moving, especially the camera. Here’s a shot from Jason where I was able to recover the color information, but I couldn’t do anything to fix the smeariness of the low shutter. And if you’re curious this is the noise you get at ISO 100

Underwater photograph of a fish in the center of frame, and a fish entering the screen right side of frame. Another version of the photo is next to it without corrections and it's basically all teal.

Take Me Down to Stingray City

Where the water is cerulean and the rays are pretty.

Underwater photo of a stingray in the foreground with its wings bent upward kicking up sand from the shallow water. Side-by-side of the unedited photo.

This is really where the camera shined, but it should have, because it was a shallow sandbar with clear water so there’s minimal loss of light. The shutter lag was still pretty bad, and the I have a lot of shots where the stingrays are breaking the edge of frame because I was trying to guess where the moving ray would be as I was taking a shot and pRaying for the best. You need to skate to where the puck is going.

Two stingrays moving away from camera in shallow water. Side by side with unedited photo.

Jason and friend petting stingrays to the screen left side of them in shallow water. Unedited photo next to it with the busted horizon line and some rando I painted out in the edited one.

Just like the trip to Hawai’i where I first used it, the best place to use the camera is still above water, and because we were in shallow water where none of us were submerged I could bring the camera up and take a shot, and then plunge the camera back under to get a shot of the rays. The color reproduction above water is markedly better than below. It’s punchy, but not unnatural, and it exposes well in strong sunlight conditions with plenty of midrange, but still preserving some sky detail, like sun rays.

A photo of a boat with a puffy cloud above it backlit by the sun. Sun rays stream above frame. Unedited photo with bad horizon line.

Then the camera died right before we headed back in.


I’ve had a few, but I don’t take back anything I said about the camera. It’s still not an ideal camera in even the best circumstances, but it’s better than nothing. I wouldn’t have taken an iPhone out to a reef, that’s for sure, and it kept me from spending several hundred dollars on something else.

I did, however, use it as kind of a “joke” when I wrote a post for Six Colors last month. In it, I advocated for going outside with old cameras and taking some photos. I put the Lumix into the mix to see how it would perform because it is the worst camera that uses SD cards and has working batteries that I have. It was unsurprisingly pretty bad! It was the smallest of the cameras, but thicker than the iPhone. The lens struggled with flaring, glare, and lack of contrast. It does give that lo-fi look that digicam shooters like, but there are inarguably better digicams to use on dry land.

There will always be a time and a place for using this camera, at least until I get a better one, but without any aquatic adventures, it’s a real fish out of water.

2023-05-19 12:45:00

Category: text

What We Leave Behind

Photos are usually things we want to have a memory of. People, places, vibes. Artists in the field of photography will evoke emotions about subjects that might have very little to do with your own life. This is just a hobby for me though. I take photos to save something for later, or to show to friends and family, like almost everyone else does. However, on a trip I took in early February it was just as much about what I was photographing, as it was what I was photographing with - my stepfather’s cameras.

I mentioned it before, in my blog post about camera stuff, but my hobbyist interest in photography really has a lot to do with my stepfather, Ira. He passed away a little more than a year ago after many years of suffering from Alzheimers. A disease that robbed him of everything, including his love of photography. He used to go out every day with his Nikon D90 and shoot pictures at Ballast Point, or photos of a nesting osprey, until he couldn’t.

I went through his prolific, if disorganized, photo library. Copying them off of old laptops, looking through them for the ones to highlight his life, and his interests. There was just so much, and over such a long span of time.

There was also the task of sorting through his camera gear. He didn’t take great care of everything, but he held on to a lot of stuff. Through the photos, and the gear, I’d remember the conversations I’d have with him. He’d tell me about how Nikon was better than Canon, about how aperture priority was the only way to shoot, to never upload your photos to internet because anyone can steal them, and the patience to wait for a shot instead of just snapping and moving on, etc. He was very opinionated, and I’ve never uploaded his photos anywhere because he was so completely against that.

He was annoyed when the film lab in Tampa stopped processing and printing true black and white film in the early 2000s, and his prints all had a bluish or greenish tint to them. He loved black and white film photography, but he recognized it wasn’t practical in the mid 2000s. He didn’t get to experience film becoming trendy again and we couldn’t really have a conversation about it by then.

I still associate him with black and white film, even though he had far more color photos. Especially when he started shooting digitally and just could fire away without thinking about running out of a roll, or developing. No matter what he was shooting with, he was almost always shooting pictures of birds, squirrels, and any little critter he’d come across. Occasionally, when he travelled with my mom, he’d take photos of the places they were, but he was not really a portrait photographer. Much like I am not really a portrait photographer.

I have copies of all his photos on a drive, and so does my mom. When I was there in September she wanted to go through his equipment and we sorted and categorized what was there (and also put lens caps and cases on things that was loosely packed in a rattan basket).

The two film SLRs he had in his collection still were a Nikon N65, and a Nikon N80. In the retro-film-photography hobby neither of those are particularly desirable cameras compared to the other Nikons where people tend to prioritize the manual cameras of the late 70s and early 80s, or the very high-end F4, F5, F6. Even though I’ve been shooting with the Minolta X-700 that I added to my collection during the pandemic, I didn’t really have a need for two more film cameras, but they were Ira’s cameras.

They sat in some plastic bags for a few months at my home. They suffered from a common problem with that era of Nikon where the rubberized plastic starts to break down into glue so the whole thing needs to get wiped down with isopropyl alcohol and I just kept putting it off. They needed to be tested. I also wanted to have something kind of important to use them for. Then I had to find the right batteries and hope the electronics worked. I didn’t want to just take photos of my desk though, I wanted to go out and take some photos that were kind of an homage to him.

That meant seabirds.

Palm trees in silhouette with beach shoreline and sun behind.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

Beach shoreline with two seagulls in silhouette. Sun glares off the wet sand.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

Two long billed curlews walking on wet sand. One has it's beak in the sand looking for food.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

Seagull on the beach with waves crashing behind.
San Refuggio State Beach. Nikon N80. Kodak Tri-X 400.

I packed the Nikon N65 with two of Ira’s lenses: a Sigma 28-90mm F3.5-5.6 Macro and a Nikon 28-80mm F3.3-5.6. Loaded the N65 with Kodak T-Max 400, and the N80 with Tri-X 400. Then I packed my Sony a6400 with Sigma 18-55mm F2.8 DC DN (I bought that in November, so it wasn’t in my camera gear post) and Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS.

For some misguided reason, I only bought one roll of black and white film for each camera. I figured I wasn’t going to shoot through a lot on three cameras, right? Well, I had to stop shooting with the N65 immediately, because for some reason the Sigma lens wasn’t working. I didn’t realize this until I got home after the trip, but the Sigma lens has an aperture ring that needs to be on F22 to be used with the Nikons in aperture priority mode. So it just wouldn’t fire because I had bumped the aperture ring. I didn’t have a lot of time, or reception, to discover that during sunset, so I took photos with the N80 and Nikon lens. That was for the best, though, because when I did finish off that roll in the N65 I found out that there was something internally scratching all the film.

A photo of a flower, I think it's a tulip, fully bloomed with the stamen exposed. There is a white scratch line all along the top of the film.
Downtown Los Angeles. Nikon N65 showing scratched Kodak TMax 400 film.

Other than the (fortunate) lens snafu, the other regret was that I didn’t pack the Nikon 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 G VR that Ira gave me for my Nikon D60 (and later D3200) because I thought the lens was too new, but it totally works in that weirdly forward-and-backward compatible way that only Nikon can accomplish. It was a lens he got for his D90 but didn’t like because it was too heavy (it is too heavy). Since my favorite bird shots were all with my longer 70-350mm Sony lens it would have been great to have. Next time.

Silhouette of palm trees with rays of the sun poking through the leaves. Sun light catches on the rocks and sand in the foreground.
Sony a6400 with 70-350mm lens.

Long billed curlew strutting on the sand.
Sony a6400 with 70-350mm lens.

On my most recent trip to Tampa, I went through and created a spreadsheet of where everything was, and what the specs were. It was surprisingly difficult to round up everything until my mom remembered that there was “a box of film” which had a ton of point and shoot cameras in it. I wasn’t able to sort through it all, because it’s decades of film and digital all sitting in a cardboard box. I also cataloged where the DSLRs were because in the span of seven months one of them had been misplaced.

I haven’t shot with any of those DSLRs yet, and there wasn’t room in the luggage for them this time, but at some point I will. I’m interested in the D70 he had, even though it’s 6.2 megapixels, and uses CF cards. He took some great shots in Italy with it. Even though my old Nikon D60 was more advanced in some respects, even though it was a beginner camera. The real missing link I want to try is the Nikon D80, which Ira never had. He went straight from the D70 to the D90.

It’s funny that there’s a retro interest in CCD sensor cameras now that film prices are going up. People claim CCDs look like slide film, and are more film-like than CMOS sensors. As if being like film was the goal of all photography. Ira wouldn’t have really thought that, while he was slow to adopt to new technology he never really took out any of his old stuff, or said that the old cameras shot better than his new ones. What he cared about were the photos he took, regardless of the gear.

There’s some magical thinking when it comes to taking photos. There’s a camera out there that’s the best, or a focal length that’s the best. Some sensor, celluloid, glass that will finally unlock an artist’s true potential. As much as I enjoy reading about it, and watching YouTube videos from people that think that way, I really know that the answer is I just want to shoot with all of it, even if none of the cameras are a perfect one-size-fits-all solution. They don’t have to be. Ira had a lifetime of photos and the early ones or the later ones aren’t any worse or better than the other. Even old digital, or consumer grade film cameras. Taking photos with my a6400 and the N80 side by side just gave me two different kinds of good photos. A weird compression of technological advancement during one sunset. The N80 isn’t magical but I do use it in a different way. Even though the a6400 has nothing to do with Ira, the N80 was like a totem to remind me of him.

When I go I’ll leave these photos and cameras behind too, and maybe my niece will do some retro photography with my a6400 because it captures whatever ineffable quality is missing in future A.R. goggle cams.

I would have loved to talk to Ira about what he thinks about all this.

2023-04-11 9:00:00

Category: text

Take a Card, Any Card

A photo of a Sony a6400 camera, and an Apple SD card reader, on top of one of those ugly rippled-glass patio tables.

On last week’s Accidental Tech Podcast Marco brought up why he tried the Ricoh GRIIIx and Fujifilm X100V on the most recent ATP. The problem that he was looking to solve was to have a nice, small camera, with good out-of-camera JPEGs, and to be able to share photos quickly. Marco’s camera picks are both solid. Most of the conversation was about how awful it is to share the photos from the Ricoh GRIIIx and Fujifilm X100V using apps, which John and Casey also had things to say about because the Olympus and Sony apps are garbage too.

Getting stuff off of cameras is a big pain, it’s true. None of the proposed solutions are really viable — shoving cell radios in there, or putting the onus on Apple to design some special wireless syncing system. I absolutely would not trust any of the manufacturers to design a competent app system anyway.

The pragmatic solution is the Lighting to SD Card Camera Reader. Which, hopefully, will be made obsolete by a more flexible SD to USB-C adapter. The thing is small, merely a little larger than an SD card, and with an itty bitty flexible cable. It can be shoved in any pocket you have, or any camera case. It’s indispensable for using with my cameras. You can simply import to the Camera Roll, and it has a very easy to use import interface, or you can import directly into Lightroom CC if you’re like me. You can bring in everything or just one photo. Whatever you want. No WiFi or Bluetooth issue. No troubleshooting the NFC garbage that is supposed to make connections easier. The physical thing goes in the physical thing and that’s all there is to it.

No one will ever design a software solution to do this easier or faster. In fact it’s so easy, that if I’m on a trip (I am on a trip right now), I’ll still use the SD to Lightning adapter to upload the photos with my iPhone, rather than my laptop, because it’s ultimately easier to manage there if I want to send the file elsewhere (rather than uploading it to my Mac, then exporting to my Camera Roll and waiting for my Camera Roll to sync the photo in iCloud Photo Library on hotel WiFi.)

It’s also great if you want to use old cameras. One thing that Marco, John, and Casey didn’t touch on is that there is a trend to take photos with old digital cameras (affectionately digicams) among old people digging these out of closets, or Gen Z kids digging them out of their (gasp) parent’s closets. Much in the same way that millennials have glommed on to film photography. The technology of the past comes back into style as retro. Imperfections and flaws are embraced as appealing. Many of those old cameras have SD cards for media storage and they still pop into that adapter just fine.

In the grand scheme of things, the adapter is easy, and it deals with a ubiquitous media format. Nothing will ever be as instantaneous as sharing a photo you took with your smartphone, but that’s fine, you can always take a photo with that too. There are no laws about camera process purity. Mix and match to your heart’s content.

2023-03-27 14:30:00

Category: text

With or Without Wi-Fi and Ethernet

Apple announced two new Apple TV models today that are sourced from only the finest parts bins. Hewn from a list of things that can be removed from the previous models for a modest discount. Chiseled from a single block of text about there being no reason to buy the 128 GB version before. Only Apple could name one the Apple TV 4K (“Hey honey, don’t we have one of those? Wait, there are three of them?”) and the “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi and Ethernet” a product name befitting an Amazon retailer that uses only consonants.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number One

I, and many, many, many, many, many other people have written for years about how the Apple TV product line is too expensive. Long ago, the 3rd generation Apple TV, that didn’t run apps, and was super old, got marked down to $69. It stuck around way longer than it should have, but it let Apple say that Apple TV started at $69. A price they won’t get near again.

Competitors have been able to undercut Apple in standalone devices, and HDMI sticks/dongles for long time. All with comparable feature sets. TV manufacturers were eager to cut out the need for external equipment with apps.

Apple embraced those trends by making Apple TV apps for those other platforms rather than trying to engineer an approachable Apple hardware solution for price conscious consumers.

The justification seemed to be that Apple was offering a premium experience, with premium hardware, at a premium price. Unfortunately, the Apple TV is just a nice experience, not a premium one when it comes to using the device, so fancy materials, sensors, etc. don’t make a premium experience any more than silverware at your table instead of stainless steel flatware.

Fire TV and Roku junk up their interfaces with ads, but Apple also junks up their interface with ads for Apple TV+, Apple Music, and Apple Arcade. If you don’t subscribe to any of those Apple will periodically nudge you in a way that is not at all premium. Are the ads in an Amazon Fire Stick $75-$80 worse than the ads in the Apple TV? The TV app, the way Apple thinks it’s easiest for people to get to their shows, currently loads up on the TV+ tab (which I’m not subscribed to) and then when I go over to Watch Now I get a thin strip of “Up Next” items, three “What to Watch” titles that aren’t from Apple TV+, and then screen after screen of TV+. Tacky and it’s not like it’s knocking anything off the cost of the entry-level hardware.

The apps that serve your streaming content serve the same ads regardless of platform so there’s no luxury experience there either. You can cut that steak with silver or steel it’s not going to make it taste any different.

Much like the Apple TV 3rd generation, Apple discounted the Apple TV HD (4th generation) originally introduced in 2015 and fed it a steady diet of poorly designed but expensive remotes. The lowest it ever got was $149 before it was discontinued in 2022. Not a very enticing proposition! It never made it below $100. Even a refurbished Apple TV 4K 64 GB 2nd Generation is $109.

Our wish for a cheaper Apple TV 4K was granted by taking the previous one and de-contenting it (a term usually used in the car industry to describe removing stuff that was in a previous generation of a car) except for the processor. The way I had suggested going about that in previous posts was to pare down the remote and offer a model that had no hint of it being a potential gaming platform. Make a device truly focused on media steaming only. Instead it no longer has ethernet support, and it no longer has a Thread radio.

Well at least cutting those costs got the device below $100, right? Right?

padme meme

In my mind the removal of Thread works against what Apple should ultimately want to have happen in the home. If these devices are supposed to be components in our Matter-filled future, then why introduce an asterisk to the Apple TV 4K family by having one model that doesn’t work with Thread? Sure, it’ll work with Matter through WiFi and BlueTooth, but is that the experience that Apple wants people to have over the next two, three, four years? Wouldn’t it help Apple’s brand beyond TV boxes if they were the de facto backbone of the home? When I criticize a move like this it’s not because the market is flooded with Thread today, it’s because this product will last in homes for a long time. Even if it gets replaced by a new Apple TV in that particular living room in two years, it’ll be demoted to another TV in the home, one that is likely to be more on the periphery, and more likely to help with a robust mesh network.

Ethernet seems perfectly acceptable to remove from an entry level model. Many competing streaming devices don’t ship with ethernet ports, and offer ethernet adapters. High-end TV sets that ship with Ethernet will also ship with bad ethernet. John Siracusa recently got the highest end TV that Sony makes and it doesn’t have a gigabit ethernet port. As long as that is still on a high end model then I feel like it’s A-OK.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Two

The second wish was for Apple to articulate some reason why there was a 128 GB version of the Apple TV 4K — beyond the flimsy rationale that the 128 GB version was for people that play “a lot” of games.

Instead of doing something serious with games that would take advantage of that local storage, they’re shifting to relying on home networking being a distinguishing feature of the device, and as mentioned above, it’s not the addition of home networking features, or better networking hardware than the previous generation, it’s because it’s now the only one with those home networking features.

This, by default, makes the 128 GB version a better buy than the 64 GB model. Something that could never be said about the higher-tier of storage in previous models! Seems pretty weird that $20 gets you a Thread radio, a gigabit ethernet port, and twice the storage!

If Apple was still manufacturing a 64 GB model with identical features then the decision would be simple: You would get that one. How much would that even be, $139? How much does a radio and a port cost, if you don’t get the storage? $10?

This also means we get the ungainly name “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi and Ethernet” because that’s the difference, ethernet, and we still need to tell people it has Wi-Fi so they don’t get confused, even though we don’t call the 64 GB one, “Apple TV 4K with Wi-Fi” because that would be silly.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Three

When I used the Siri Remote for the Apple TV 4K second generation it was immediately apparent that it was better than the very, very bad glass remote, and that it was still not a good remote.

The directional pad was a huge improvement, as expected, but the jog-wheel scrubbing through the video still doesn’t work in most apps I use. Accidental swipes across the pad still happen, and play/pause gets pushed instead of mute, and vice versa, because we have to have perfect little circles for those. The button for Siri is still awkwardly positioned on the side. It’s still made of metal that is very easy to dent or scratch, something my boyfriend has done many times when he’s dropped it! So much room to iterate and refine.

Wish granted: They improved the remote!

The remote is exactly the same but with USB-C instead of a lightning port.

Take the next two or three years off. Good work.

It shouldn’t be surprising, because the last time they refreshed the remote, they just put a white circle around the edge of a button. Seems like the R&D budget of this enormous company can only afford to do design work on a remote once every five years.

Monkeys Paw Finger Number Four

A criticism that was leveled before was a lack of HDR10+ support, and that’s not really a major concern for most people. This was low on the list, but again, because of how Apple chose to price this device, it’s worth bringing up. If you’re marketing the most expensive media streaming box, then it should stream all the media the best it can. The quick summary of HDR10+ support is that it’s Samsung’s HDR standard so they don’t have to pay Dolby for DolbyVision. It’s HD-DVD vs. BluRay all over again, but there’s no “winner” here.

Samsung is really the only TV manufacturer that offers HDR10+ and no DolbyVision support. Most offer either just DolbyVision, or HDR10+ and DolbyVision. They all support HDR10, which is a more limited HDR format. HDR10+ and DolbyVision both work by sending dynamic metadata along to adjust the media file.

The thing is that Samsung sells a lot of TV sets all over the world. It’s not a niche player in this space.

People with a Samsung TV using an Apple TV 4K 2nd gen would still see HDR content in HDR10, and probably don’t know the difference because people are bad at judging that sort of thing. It’s not like it looks like SDR content.

HDR10+ support was allegedly confirmed, and supposed to pop-up in tvOS 16 this summer. It never happened. Mentions were scrubbed, some sites like 9to5 Mac still reported it shipped, etc. Then HDR10+ support shows up in the press release for the new generation of Apple TV 4K hardware.

This is extremely strange because it’s not like we need the horsepower of the A14 chip to handle metadata from HDR10+ in a way that’s unique compare to the A12 handling DolbyVision. This seems like a software difference masquerading as a hardware one, unless there’s some board component iFixIt discovers that does something very specific.

Apple’s storefront for TV and Movies still doesn’t tag any titles as being mastered with HDR10+ support, just DolbyVision. That makes me wonder when the device ships, with what is sure to be tvOS 16.1, that tvOS 16.1 might have HDR10+ support for older devices once the new Apple TV is on the market. It wouldn’t be the first time Apple withheld something from older models just to market something new.

Ultimately, without knowing how much content in Apple’s store is mastered for HDR10+, and without knowing which streaming services will adopt HDR10+, the value of the feature is debatable as anything other than finally checking that checkbox for device support.

All Out of Fingers

I wish the Apple TV was the product to recommend to anyone and everyone that wants a smart TV experience, or an easy-to-use smart home appliance. Hopefully that wish doesn’t make me Burgess Meredith.

While it might be the preferred TV hardware and software experience for some, and certainly something I use daily, it’s far from perfect, or even widely adopted. The changes that they’ve made are better than leaving things as-is, but now these are the changes that will be left as-is for a couple years.

Every time I write something critical like this five people show up in my mentions to tell me that they would rather use the Apple TV than anything else Amazon, Roku, Samsung, or LG makes, but those five people never seem to understand that their personal preference has never really been representative of the market. We may be lucky that Apple hasn’t decided to abandon Apple TV hardware and settle on making an Apple TV app to house their Apple TV+ wares on lesser platforms, but they’re still not setting the Apple TV up for success.

It’s not really of any consequence to Apple if it thrives or not so why put in the work? I’m sure that’s an argument that’s been made inside Apple’s offices more than once. I think it matters quite a bit, and I certainly don’t want it to die, so it needs more effort.

It isn’t inexpensive. It isn’t premium. It doesn’t have the best remote. These changes and prices will be this way for two more years.

I wish they could really put their best effort into it.

2022-10-21 12:30:00

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The Camera Bag Post

At some point a blog will inevitably have a post about why some stuff was purchased, and what stuff was purchased to hold that other stuff.

Recently, the podcast Reconcilable Differences (Merlin Mann and John Siracusa) had a few episodes about camera equipment for John’s vacation. Jason Kummerfeldt posted a YouTube video outlining what he’s lugging around in his camera bag, and the kind of bag it is. Way back in February, the inventor of the Aeropress, Alan Adler, wrote up all his camera gear for PetaPixel too.

I’ve broken down the stuff I generally carry into sections, and I ordered items in these sections based on their overall usefulness, or utility in a wide range of circumstances, from most generally useful to least. If I’m going somewhere for a while, then I take as much of this stuff as possible. If I’m doing something specific, then I’m just going to take what’s most appropriate to the situation regardless of how it’s ordered here. However, assuming I can travel somewhere with a “home base” I will bring everything and then take a smaller subset out with me for the day.

The Cameras


In 2019 I was shopping for a replacement for my Nikon D3200. We were going to go on a big trip, and my D3200 wasn’t what I wanted to bring. To say that the direction Nikon was heading in at the time was uninspiring would be putting it mildly. Anything I was going to buy would mean starting over again on all my lenses because the Nikon DX lenses were a dead end.

I rented a Fujifilm X-T30 from Lens Rentals to take to Hawaii for a week. I was underwhelmed by how slow, and inaccurate it’s autofocus was, as well as how buggy their iOS app was. It’s supposedly been improved through firmware updates since then, but I haven’t tried it.

This led me to the Sony a6400, partially on John Siracusa’s recommendation. The a6400 was new at the time, and boasted better features than the a6500, except it lacked in-body image stabilization (the a6600 would have stabilization but it was still several months away from coming out). The choice to bundle the camera body with the 18-135mm lens meant I would have all my bases covered for my trip. They’re a great combination, and I would say it’s also a good deal. While the X-T30 had poor autofocus performance, and a bad iOS app, the a6400 had great autofocus performance, and a bad iOS app. You can’t have it all.

I wanted a small setup, which means APS-C mirrorless. Not just because the camera body is smaller, but because APS-C lenses are smaller since they don’t have to cover a larger sensor. I happen to like the rangefinder-style electronic viewfinder that Sony uses on their a6xxx line, but I know people like the bulkier pseudo-prism style viewfinders. I might have gone for the Sony a7C, if that had been around in 2019, but it has some compromises that I’m not entirely sure I would be happy with.

I’m not going to get into the details of APS-C vs. full frame here. The only thing you really need to know is that if you’re familiar with full frame lenses, then multiply the APS-C focal length by 1.5 to get an idea of what kind of focal length you would use on a full frame camera for a similar image.

It’s possible to have a bigger, better camera, but there are trade-offs for that. I’m a hobbyist photographer that takes hobbyist photos mainly when I’m traveling, so I’d rather optimize for portability, and expense over maximum resolution or bokeh.

Minolta X-700

I watched too many YouTube videos on film photography during the pandemic and mistakenly decided to see what the fuss was about. I settled on something relatively inexpensive for both the camera body, and lenses, and that was the Minolta X-700. I had also wanted to have something without autofocus to try to train myself, or be one with the camera, or some shit, but it’s unlikely you’ll see me take this camera out of my camera bag first. If there’s a landscape, or just some street stuff, I’ll take this out for some shots, but the a6400 is still my preferred tool.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS25

This is a piece of shit. My boyfriend and I bought this waterproof camera to use when we were going to snorkel with the manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. Since we were not spending a lot of money, the bar was low. The camera still managed to come in under that bar. That is not to say that it is impossible to take a good photo with the camera, but you’re unlikely to do so in an underwater environment, which is the only reason we bought this. It can take short video clips underwater and you may have more success using a smeary still from that than anything where you were trying to artfully push the shutter button. This gets thrown in the backpack only if we’re expecting to go snorkeling somewhere, like we did recently. Otherwise this is an omit.


Sony E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6

This is a kit lens, but it’s my favorite all-purpose lens. It’s also a significantly different lens than the older 16-50mm bundled with the other Sony APS-C bodies for years. This lens is essential to pack in any configuration of camera gear, and I would never leave it behind for other primes, or my other zoom. You’ll never get beautiful bokeh and shallow depth of field with this, but because of the a6400’s incredible low-light sensitivity you can still use this lens in a dark setting without having to hold steady for long exposures.

There is significant barrel distortion at 18mm, which is the most disappointing part of the lens. When that distortion is corrected you lose some of the image. This makes me wish it was wider on the wide end, and maybe not as long. Another consequence of having a zoom that covers this range is that it’s not well-balanced with the a6400. If you let your camera hang from your neck on the strap, the lens will flop down like a flaccid… banana.

I very rarely use the lens at 135mm, with an almost exponential drop-off from 18mm to 135mm. The 135mm does come in handy though when something unexpected pops up while you’re shooting, like a bird, or other wildlife. It’s not as desirable as my longer zoom for wildlife, but life doesn’t usually wait around for you to change lenses.

135mm f/5.6 iso 4,000 1/250

29mm f/4.5 iso 1,000 1/2,000

23mm f/10 iso 200 1/60

18mm f/3.5 iso 6,400 1/25
41mm f/5 iso 640 1/30, 1/8 Black Pro-Mist filter

83mm f/5.6 iso 250 1/800

26mm f/5 iso 100 1/800

135mm f/5.6 iso 6,400 1/100

Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F2.0 ED AS IF NCS

I love this little lens for how wide it is, and how inexpensive it is. It’s also relatively easy to manually focus. The downsides are from the lack of electronic connections to the camera. There are no automatic lens corrections, to take care of vignetting or distortion, and there’s no recorded metadata for the aperture. It would be helpful when I’m reviewing photos later to have that information, but it’s not a dealbreaker. It costs nothing to shoot a lower aperture shot, and then quickly stop up and take the same shot again, just in case your focus was slightly off. There’s nothing wrong with having everything in focus in a landscape shot, and this is terrific for landscapes. Unlike the 18-135mm, this thing is itty-bitty.

12mm maybe f/8 iso 100 1/4,000

12mm maybe f/11 iso 320 1/160

12mm maybe f/11 iso 1,000 1/640

Sony E 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G OSS

This is an outstanding lens for its size. Because it’s for APS-C it’s smaller than a zoom lens that covered a comparable focal range on a full frame camera. Having said that … it’s still enormous. It’s not a walking-around lens. You put this lens on when you’re taking photos of something specific, like some birds, or the moon, and then you swap back to something else.

Another benefit of a APS-C sensor on a long lens, is that it’s actually even longer than you think it is. 350mm is equivalent to what you would get with a 525mm lens on a full frame camera.

The best use of this camera during the day time is when you see birds around. Switch to this lens and you’ll get sharp, crisp shots of birds, thanks to the autofocus performance of the lens and camera combination. No one wants to see an out-of-focus bird eyeball. It’s so sad.

350mm f/6.3 iso 100 1/1,000
350mm f/6.3 iso 100 1/500

350mm f/11 iso 100 0.6

Minolta 28mm F2.8 MD

This was not the first lens I paired with the Minolta X-700, but after I tried the 50mm F1.7, I realized that I really prefer to shoot wider, even though this is slower than the 50mm. Adapted for my a6400, this is approximately a 42mm lens, which is tighter than what I would prefer to shoot in most scenarios, but good for certain kinds of closeups. The trade-off of swapping this, and the adapter, and all that means it just stays on my X-700. Another consequence of film photography is that I don’t have any developed photos from this lens yet.

Minolta 50mm F1.7 MD

This was the first lens with the X-700 and it’s fallen out of favor. If I’m paring down lenses for a trip I will leave this one home. There’s nothing really wrong with it — from the perspective of a 30+ year-old consumer-grade photography lens — but I just always wish that I was able to shoot just a little bit wider.

50mm maybe f/2.8 Kodak Gold 200

50mm maybe f/5.6 Kodak Ektachrome 100

Sony E 35mm F1.8 OSS

When I got the a6400 with the 18-135mm, I also bought a Sony 35mm F1.8 prime to replace my Nikon 35mm F1.8 AF-S DX Nikkor. The Sony APS-C prime is one of Sony’s older lens designs, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone for its optical performance. This is lightweight, but the lens coatings are awful. If you’re shooting at night you’ll get ghosting, and flaring all over the place. I’m shopping for a replacement for this and I haven’t found anything satisfactory yet.

I was hoping to replace the 35mm with a Rokinon 24mm F2.8 AF lens, especially since I liked the Rokinon 12mm so much. Sadly, that lens has terrible autofocus performance, and the sound of the autofocus motor working is very distracting.

35mm f/2.5 iso 100 1/30

The Bags

Unknown Lowepro Shoulder Bag

It is … It is blue? I don’t know. It doesn’t have a model number on it, and Lowepro no longer makes exactly this one, but they do make 4,000 other nearly-identical, ugly bags.

I started my photography hobby with a Nikon D60, then a Nikon D3200. I use none of the stuff from that time period except for this unremarkable shoulder bag with two movable compartments inside. If I leave the 18-135mm attached to my camera, and drop that in the middle, I can put the 70-350mm in one side, and either the 35mm or 12mm lenses in the opposite side, sort of next to the camera, and underneath it’s grip. I wouldn’t want to throw the bag, or drop it on to anything other than a feather pillow, but the padding helps make sure the lenses aren’t hitting each other or bumping into anything while I’m walking, and being able to carry 3 lenses in a shoulder bag the size of my old school lunch box means that this provides me with a lot of flexibility in a small volume.

There’s also a zippered compartment for lens wipes, filters, adapters, and chargers which is sufficient for any essential accessories to come along with you.

I believe that no matter what other camera bags a person has, they need to have something minimal like this in order to hold all their stuff. Even when I’m bringing my camera backpack, I’ll likely pack this empty shoulder bag in my checked luggage so I can reconfigure for any quick trips during a vacation.

Lowepro Truckee BP 250 Camera Backpack

When I bought the a6400 in 2019, I was also looking to replace the backpack I had with something that wasn’t as bulky, or as “technical” looking as my existing one. The old one had real nerdy-prepper vibes. Unfortunately, I didn’t like any of the backpacks that looked like hipster schoolbags, because those need a separate foam, cube inside to store the gear. That cube makes the backpack bulky, and the foam cube would always be burried underneath everything else making getting the camera, or swapping lenses, disruptive.

A lot of the camera-gear backpacks were also very focused exclusively on the camera gear, and not so much on the backpack part. The only one I could find online that seemed to have the appropriate amount of bulk, access, and non-camera space was a backpack Lowepro makes exclusively for Best Buy. That this was a Best Buy exclusive was a huge red flag, but it also meant I could go into a Best Buy and actually check the thing out. I’m glad I did because it suits my needs perfectly.

As for the styling: It’s mostly dark gray with some black bits, and a crappy, orange Lowepro logo embroidered on it. It does have a few more buckles and straps than I would like, but I consider it aesthetically acceptable.

Everyone’s needs vary, but this has a compartment where I can fit my a6400, all of my lenses, and a top part where I can fit cables, chargers, a scrunched-up hat, and a laptop or iPad. I can also put my film camera (which I am far less precious about) in the top compartment, or take fewer lenses with me and put it in the purpose-made camera compartment. There’s a sliver of a zipper pouch on top that is lined with a soft material. I assume that’s intended for filters but I would never do that because there’s no padding there, just fabric lining. That means I leave the filters in their plastic cases, and put them in the top/main compartment instead of that skinny zippered pouch. I use that to store my Mophie battery pack.

The sides of the bag have two mesh bottle holders, which are great for hikes, or being a tourist in Europe. The camera compartment zipper has a little plastic bar that fits through a loop on the other zipper to prevent any unintentional unzips.

Of course, because I didn’t want a bulky backpack, it isn’t heavily armored. This isn’t something I’ve ever wanted to drop, but when I fell about 8 feet on a hiking trail at Yosemite and skidded down the icy trail all of my stuff was very protected. I’m scarred forever, but the replaceable items in my bag are unblemished.

I heartily endorse the backpack, despite it’s Best Buy exclusivity, if anyone is in the market for a not-too-big, little-bit-of-everything backpack.


Sony BC-TRW W Series Battery Charger

Manufacturers just don’t ship chargers with their cameras any longer. I don’t want to leave my camera, with it’s way-too-small cable, lightly tethered to a poorly positioned wall outlet in a hotel. I don’t even want to do it in my own home. The wall charger is absolutely required.

Zeiss Lens Wipes

You can buy a big box of these on Amazon. Each wipe is individually wrapped like a wet wipe. I always keep a few packs in my shoulder bag and in my backpack. They’re useful for everything from your lenses and filters, to the display on your camera, or iPhone — and your sunglasses too. It’s not a camera cleaning kit (which I also have) but this is good for when you’re out and about.

Peak Design SL-BK-3 Slide Camera Strap

I use this camera strap on my Minolta since it came without one (and who would want a used camera strap? Yuck!) Peak Design has this whole system of little circle tabs that attach to cameras and allow you to quickly swap the camera attached to the strap. The plan was to put those tabs on the a6400 and be able to do that, but I’m honestly too lazy so I just have the ugly Sony Alpha camera strap that came with the camera on it still.

Tiffen 55BPM18 55mm Black Pro-Mist 1/8 Filter

I originally bought the 1/4 filter, but that’s a little too much Black Pro-Mist for my taste. The effect that the filter provides is a soft diffusion. At 1/8 it’s not too Barbara-Walters. It’s just going to break up some of the crispness. I like to use this in high contrast situations like night time street photography. Particularly if there are neon lights. It’ll just give everything a little atmosphere.

Hoya 55mm Circular Polarizer

This is great for controlling the sky, and reflections. It does cut down on the light, and can be a little too fiddly to use for every shot, so I don’t always have it on.

Tiffen 49-55mm Step Up Ring

The 35mm Sony lens has a 49mm filter thread, as does the Minolta 28mm MD lens. This lets me adapt all my lens filters for those smaller lenses.

Tiffen 55mm 4 Point Star Filter

This is a cheeseball filter, and I have never used it to photograph anything in the real world, but some day I’ll need this and I’ll have it with me. I don’t know when that day will be, but at least this is pretty lightweight.

Assorted Film

I don’t have a particular film stock I shoot with, so I just rotate through whatever I have with me. It could be Kodak Portra 400, Kodak ColorPlus 200, Kodak Gold 200, Kodak Ultramax 400, or Lomography Color Negative 400. I used up my only roll of Kodak Ektachrome 100 and it taught me a valuable lesson about how much of a pain in the ass slide film is.

Lightning SD Card Adapter

I don’t like this little thing, but I use it on every trip. It’s better than trying to use Sony’s Imaging Edge Mobile app to try and import photos. Unfortunately, the best use case is to also have my iPad with me, because then I can upload the files directly to Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom for iOS doesn’t let you do that, so you have to take up space on your Camera Roll with unedited RAW photos — which is not something I like, because when you export from Lightroom to your camera roll you have several nearly identical pictures.

Mophie Powerstation (10,000mAh)

This is an older model that’s no longer for sale, but it works fine. USB-C or USB-A. I carry the required USB-A to Lightning cable for my phone and a USB-A to Micro USB for the Sony a6400. Even though it was 2019 when I bought that brand-new camera, Sony didn’t believe in USB-C. This is a charger of last resort, but it does make me feel more prepared.

Neweer MD-NEX Adapter

This is a piece of metal that adapts the Minolta MD lenses to the Sony E-Mount. I haven’t found a lot of scenarios in the wild where I want to shoot with the adapted lenses, but it’s just a little piece of metal so it’s fine to leave in the backpack. This never goes with me in the shoulder bag.

Energizer 357BPZ Batteries

At some unknowable point in the future the battery on the film camera will die, so I have these.


JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom

I like this lil’ scamp. It can’t take the weight of my 70-350mm without eventually drooping, but it’s the best tripod for when you don’t want to take a tripod with you. I usually leave it with my luggage, or in the car, unless I know I’m going to be shooting something at night where I need the camera to be steady. I don’t shoot video so this isn’t needed for anything else.

Quantaray Titan II QT II-550

This was a hand-me-down from my stepfather. He’s responsible for getting me into photography. Whenever he found a lighter-weight piece of camera gear I would get the heavier one he had before. There’s nothing wrong with the Titan II, and it’s really not all that heavy, but I only take it with me if there’s going to be road trip and there might be some night photography. I really have to have a plan for when I will use this instead of having it for just-in-case. It’s really useful for when I’m taking photos of the moon with the 70-350mm.

What I Want

The Sony 35mm F1.8 has to go, and I need to replace it with something fast, wide-to-normal, small, and with quiet autofocus. That’s not because I need to sneak up on people, but because I personally don’t like listening to an autofocus motor making wheezing cricket sounds, and I want to be able to have a lens that’s more compact than my 18-135mm. The Sigma 16mm F1.4 was briefly considered, and rejected, because it’s not all that small or quiet. Rokinon (Samyang) makes a 24mm F1.8 AF lens that’s supposed to be their new, “good” version of autofocus, but I’m a little hesitant after the 24mm F2.8 AF lens.

I’ve also been musing about the new Tamron 11-20mm F2.8 Di III-A RXD as an additional lens, or to replace the Rokinon (Samyang) 12mm F2 and Sony 35mm F1.8. It’s not as fast as either of the other lenses, but it would still have advantages over carrying the pair of those. The Sony E 16-55mm F2.8 G also interests me, but it’s prohibitively expensive, and not as wide as I would like it to be. Sure, either of these lenses would leave me with a set of zooms, but maybe what would really make me happy is a set of zooms?

Suggestions and recommendations are welcome if you have any first-hand experience with what you’re recommending to me, and it’s not just some theoretical preference based on your first-principles reckonings.

2021-08-11 15:00:00

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