Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for May, 2013

The Idiocy of Eliminating a Photo Staff

Yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off every single one of their photographers:

The company is also preparing to supplement its freelance staff with reporters to shoot more video and photos, according to sources.

Bullshit. Chicago media critic Robert Feder elaborated on Facebook:

Sun-Times reporters begin mandatory training today on “iPhone photography basics” following elimination of the paper’s entire photography staff.

Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia explains why this is bullshit:

An iPhone is just an iPhone. It doesn’t have a telephoto to see way past police lines or across a field, ballroom or four-lane highway. It doesn’t have a lot of manual controls to deal with the countless situations that automatic exposure will fail to capture. How many situations are 18% gray, anyway?

That’s just part of the story on a technical level. Reporters are not photographers, and an iPhone cannot capture the detail that a digital SLR can. No matter how much I love my iPhone’s camera, it is no replacement for a dedicated camera when the shot matters.

The Sun-Times is also replacing their permanent photo staff with freelancers, to whom they do not have to provide a benefits package or pay a salary. It’s rough for old media, but laying off a photo division is an atrocity.

The Cord-Cutting Fantasy

Ben Thompson, in a two-part article about the ways in which television might progress into this century. In part one, he discusses how cable television is made better overall by having tonnes of channels that barely anyone watches:

Cable TV is socialism that works; subscribers pay equally for everything, and watch only what they want, to the benefit of everyone. Any “grand vision” Apple, or any other tech company, has for television is likely to sustain the current model, not disrupt it.

In part two, he explains that a “disruption” of the current model will be more like an extension of it. See also my piece on television from May of last year.

Jenson Button, Canada 2011

In preparation for the Canadian Grand Prix next week, you should watch this short video of what made the 2011 race one of the greatest in Formula 1 history.

Snake Oil and Audio Woo

Trent Wolbe is at the High End tradeshow in Munich, which is apparently an audiophile show:

These crystals, available in a range of formats from 30mm nugget (€200) to 110mm sphere (€700, optional illuminating pedestal €280), are to be placed at strategic locations throughout a listening environment to cancel out harmful electromagnetic “whirls” that result from the interaction between speaker drivers and the earth’s own magnetic poles. Much like the TMA-1 obelisk from 2001, the crystals are electromechanically “programmed” with specific crystalline data for three whole months to counteract the “elektrosmog” that apparently poisons most listening atmospheres.

The term “audiophile” has been so destroyed by those who swindle things like these.

Coincidentally, I stumbled across Peter Aczel’s “The Ten Biggest Lies in Audio” today (PDF, page 4). Aczel is the editor of The Audio Critic, a publication for people who care about the quality of their stereo gear without any audio woo nonsense. In “Ten”, he discusses the ten most grievous claims of the audio woo industry:

At the dark end of that spectrum, however, a new age of ignorance, superstition, and dishonesty holds sway. Why and how that came about has been amply covered in past issues of this publication; here I shall focus on the rogues’ gallery of currently proffered mendacities to snare the credulous.

A truly great list. If there were an eleventh item on that list, I’d suggest any of the bullshit crystals, “vibration controllers”, or “vinyl stabilizers” — none of which do a damn thing. Of course, what you do with your own money is your business. But maybe you should reconsider spending $400 on some pegs.

What’s the Most Convoluted Way to Say “Start Button”?

Microsoft’s Antoine Leblond introduces the world to Windows 8.1:

We’ve improved the way you navigate to Start with the mouse by changing the Start “tip” to be the familiar Windows logo. The new tip appears anytime you move the mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen, and is always visible on the taskbar when on the desktop.

Why does that sound familiar?

Oh, yeah — because it has been the single most iconic feature of Windows since 1995. The thing that was inexplicably removed in Windows 8.

Apple Shuffles iPod Touch

Ha ha, get it? Ahh boy — I’m still working on my first coffee of the day. Mike Beasley, 9to5Mac:

The updated music player features a 4-inch Retina display like that found on the current model as well as a dual-core A5 processor, but lacks the rear-facing iSight and loop attachment.  Aside from those changes, the new model is identical to the fifth-generation. Unlike the larger models, the 16 GB iPod touch is only available in one color option: black and silver, as seen above.

Basically, Apple gave the fourth generation iPod Touch the body, screen, and processor of the fifth generation one while dropping the fourth generation’s (shitty) camera for $30 more than the discontinued model. Sounds like a reasonable compromise to me.

Meanwhile, Apple let The Loop know that they’ve shipped a metric assload of the things:

In addition to launching a new model of its iPod touch on Thursday, Apple told me this morning that it has sold more than 100 million units of the iPod touch since its introduction.

That’s like, uh, that many (makes vague gesture with arms).

D-Nied

Rolfe Winkler, Wall Street Journal:

Interviewed at the All Things D tech conference on Tuesday night, Mr. Cook revealed little about Apple’s plans.

Error: permission denied. Did anyone seriously think that the ultra-secretive CEO of one of the most successful companies in the world would announce new stuff at D11?

Companies from Google to Skype to WhatsApp to Facebook offer superior mobile apps for a range of services. Yet there appeared to be no sense of urgency from Mr. Cook that Apple needs significant upgrades to its own offerings.

The cool confidence of Cook’s voice during his D11 interview should not be construed to mean that he thinks Apple has no issues, or that it is doing everything perfectly and has nothing to worry about. What I’ve learned from watching reactions to calmer, more collected leaders like Cook or President Obama is that the media would prefer them to shout and rage.

Managing Expectations

Judging by the number of prediction posts that have sprung up in my feed reader over the past few days, it must be just a couple of weeks until WWDC.

Noah Kravitz of ReadWrite thinks you need to lower your expectations:

CEO Tim Cook also dropped a veiled hint that this WWDC might not be momentous during Apple’s second quarter earnings call. When asked to clarify some comments he’d made about the company’s short-term product roadmap, Cook responded, “I’m just saying we’ve got some really great stuff coming in the fall. And across all of 2014.”

Cook didn’t rule out a hardware launch at WWDC, but he certainly didn’t set expectations very high with the “And across all of 2014” part of the comment.

Jim Dalrymple thinks that iOS 7 is full of subtle tweaks:

Personally, I don’t think that Apple will take it as far as what some might think. The way I envision iOS 7 is more of a modernization of the look and feel of the operating system. Kind of like what Apple did with OS X over the years.

Jeff Gamet of the Mac Observer thinks that some people are expecting far too much:

My money is on exciting announcements for iOS and OS X, but it may take a while for analysts and some Apple fans to realize just how important those are.

If you think iOS 7 is just getting a lick of paint here and there, your expectations are far too low and need to be adjusted.

If you think iOS 7 is going to be a complete reconsideration of what can be done on a touch screen, your expectations are far too high and need to be adjusted.

The critical thing to keep in mind is that WWDC is a developer-centric event. While Apple did announce the iPhone 3G, 3GS, and 4 during WWDC, the product has clearly shown its ability to withstand its own product introduction event. Therefore, any story that purports that iPhone updates are coming at WWDC are nonsense, and you should disregard them.

As for my own predictions, I feel they’re modest. Given Intel’s introduction of the Haswell architecture, I wouldn’t be surprised to see bumps to the MacBook lines. It’s likely that they will merely be spec bumps; I don’t anticipate a Retina display making its way into the MacBook Air this year. A new Mac Pro seems likely as well, but keep in mind what Marco Arment wrote earlier this year.

According to the rumours, iOS 7 will certainly see redesigned default applications, and integration with Flickr and Vimeo. I wouldn’t be surprised if some features from OS X made their way into iOS — the quick entry field in Calendar, and Gatekeeper are two that come to mind.

As for OS X, we haven’t heard many rumours. That’s probably why it’s the update I’m most excited for. The tenth of June is just a few days away, and I can’t wait for Apple’s surprises.

Internet Trends 2013

Mary Meeker’s annual trends report has been released. Slide nine gives me shivers and makes me cry. And it never fails to surprise me how many of these companies I haven’t heard of — Dropcam, Glam Media, and WeChat, just to name a few. Fascinating stuff.

Under Old Management

Glenn Fleishman:

The Magazine’s founder Marco Arment has had a complicated few weeks. On April 25, he sold a majority interest in Instapaper to Betaworks and gave them all the operational responsibility. This came five years after he launched Instapaper as a service to the general public. On May 19, Yahoo voted to spend $1.1 billion to acquire Tumblr, a blogging platform and social network that Marco had helped to create as David Karp’s first (and, for years, sole) employee. […]

And in mid-May, Aperiodical LLC, a sprawling colossus of a single-member limited liability company in Washington State, secretly voted 1-0 to acquire The Magazine from Marco, effective on June 1. There were no abstentions.

Marco Arment:

On June 1, Glenn Fleishman will take ownership of The Magazine. I’ll be stepping back to an advisory role.

At this rate, Marco will soon be auctioning off his internal organs.

This Just In

Sam Byford, The Verge:

Apple CEO Tim Cook has confirmed what many have long assumed — that Jony Ive is working on a new version of iOS, and that it will be revealed at WWDC next month.

This just in: software company to release new version of software at software-oriented event with elements influenced by software design head.

Nine Inch Nails to Release New Album This Year

Trent Reznor, quoted by Amy Phillips of Pitchfork:

I’ve been less than honest about what I’ve really been up to lately. For the last year I’ve been secretly working non-stop with Atticus Ross and Alan Moulder on a new, full-length Nine Inch Nails record, which I am happy to say is finished and frankly fucking great. This is the real impetus and motivation behind the decision to assemble a new band and tour again.

Fuck yeah.

If Foxconn Sneezes, Does That Mean Apple Caught a Cold?

Lorraine Luk, the Wall Street Journal:

As Apple Feels Bite, Hon Hai Looks to Diversify

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. has made a fortune over the years assembling iPhones and iPads for Apple Inc. But now that competition is biting into Apple’s market share, the Taiwanese contract manufacturer is feeling the pain too.

Unoriginal pun in the headline? Check. Burying the context later in the sixth paragraph?

Hon Hai also assembles PCs for Hewlett-Packard Co., PlayStations for Sony Corp. and mobile phones for Nokia Corp.

Check.

Debunking by Philip Elmer-Dewitt? Check:

To be sure, one can legitimately write that Apple has had an unusually long stretch without a product launch. Or that its profit margins have pulled back quite a bit from their historic highs. Or that its earnings fell year over year last quarter for the first time since 2003, and are likely to do it again this quarter.

But Apple’s all-important iOS shipments, as the chart above shows, are still growing nicely.

The Sweethome

Brian Lam:

If you think choosing a laptop or a phone is hard, just try choosing a bath towel. That’s why we’ve spun out the Home section on The Wirecutter into its own site: welcome to The Sweethome.

Another necessary reviews site. No fussing around with meaningless ratings — I just want to know what the best products in a particular category are. The Wirecutter does it for electronics, and now the Sweethome does it for home stuff.

Olloclip Releases Lens Distortion Correcting App

Own an Olloclip? Sure you do — you’re serious about having a beautiful Instagram feed, right?

An Olloclip is great for getting beautiful macro shots, but its lens distortion means that you have to carefully crop your photo to avoid it showing. Happily, the great folks at Olloclip have released a companion app which corrects some of this distortion. It doesn’t correct the fringing or chromatic aberration, but it’s quite good for basic barrel distortion issues, and it’s free.

Monaco Grand Prix Was Rubbish

David Coulthard:

Normally, I’m the first person to defend F1. It is the fastest motorsport, with the best cars and the best drivers. It is a sport that attracts elite people in all areas, whether it’s the media, the catering or anything else.

But when you have drivers clearly racing way below the pace they are capable of, that’s not right.

The cars have clearly outgrown Monaco in terms of speed, creating a high speed train. It’s still the most glamorous win, but it’s one of the worst to watch — right up there with the Valencia circuit. Happily, it’s followed by the always-excellent Canadian Grand Prix.

iDiot

Charlie White1, Mashable:

Hey wait a minute, is that the Apple iWatch we caught a glimpse of in the company’s latest soft-sell image spot, released on Thursday?

No.


  1. It’s gotta be rough in certain neighbourhoods when your entire name is slang for cocaine. ↩︎

Free

Dr. Drang:

Why was Apple’s mapping data inferior? Part of it, certainly, was because they got a late start. But the main reason Google’s maps are better is that Google spent a lot of time and money on its maps, and it did that because it knew that spending would pay off in the collection and selling of your information. In effect, the creepiness of Google is what makes Google Maps so good.

Great article. Compare and contrast this with “Saving Private”, a seminar paper I wrote earlier this year:

But while Google is by no means the only company with a concerning attitude towards individual user privacy, it is one of the most engrained in consumers’ Internet usage. The search engine itself represents 67.5% marketshare according to ComScore, while YouTube receives nearly three times the viewers as its nearest competitor. The ostensibly simple response to these privacy concerns is to stop using Google services, but that’s extremely difficult. Given that the products are reliable and are offered at the unbeatable price point of “free”, it becomes both expensive and risky to migrate to other services. The alternatives to Google’s services tend to be of either dubious reliability or poorer quality, and most are not free. This places Google in a special position of power, and therefore, responsibility.

My paper is nearly 3,000 words long, not including citations. Much of that is necessitated by explaining background information that can be taken for granted on a weblog of this nature. But Dr. Drang’s post is just a few hundred words, and it says as much as my giant paper. It’s a great piece of writing.

21 Ways for Jim Edwards to Complain About Meaningless Bullshit for Ad Money

Why am I linking to a Business Insider slideshow that’s clearly linkbait? Because it’s amazing linkbait. And, naturally, such an impeccable piece of punditry comes via the Macalope.

First of all, you’ve gotta give me credit for linking to the single-page version. The actual slideshow is 21 pages long, and why would you want to give Business Insider those page views?

I’m not going to go through the whole list; I’m sure your forehead will prefer it that way. There are a couple of moderately valid points on this list — a dialog box asking for my Apple ID password when downloading free apps seems silly most of the time. But allow me to share some more flavourful favourites from Jim Edwards’ list:

I recently switched from using a Windows PC and Android phones to all-Apple products, all the time.

I see. This is going to be a “different products sometimes behave differently” adaptation crisis, isn’t it? Buckle up; it’s time for a ride through first world hell:

In iPhone, if you want to phone someone you’re texting with, you have to scroll all the way up to the top of the message chain to hit the call button. In Android, you just tap the person’s name anywhere and a call option pops up.

That damn fruity company only gives me one way to call someone from inside Messages. Sure, the iPhone has a super convenient gesture whereby you can tap the status bar and jump to the top, for two total taps to call someone.

Apple’s desktop navigation is designed to be confusing. Do we really need the desktop and “Launchpad” and “Finder” and “Mission Control” and the “Dock” just to get from A to B?

That damn fruity company gives me more that one way to switch between applications. Sure, all of these things are different — Launchpad is an application launching layer, the Dock shows your frequent apps and currently-opened ones, Mission Control is a way to see the windows of all apps and virtual desktops, and Finder is the file system. But Mr. Edwards would prefer just one way. Or two. Not four.

There’s no Advanced Task Killer on iPhone!

Exclamation point! Oh no!

On iPhone, you have to switch off every single app individually, by hand. It. Takes. A. Really. Long. Time.

(Of course, there’s no need to kill iPhone apps unless they’re stalled, but still … some of us just want them off.)

Of course. Way to cover your ass with facts there, Jim.

iTunes only lets you play your music on five different machines.

It’s easy to log in on five different machines — your iPhone, your iPod, a work Mac, a home Mac, perhaps an iPad — and then you’re out of machines.

Except iPods, iPhones, and iPads don’t count against the five-computer authorization limit.

However, Apple does give you the option to pay a bit more for some songs and let you put them on as many computers as you’d like.

Do any iTunes tracks still have a DRM wrapper these days?

iTunes banned me from listening to any mp3 it wasn’t familiar with.

That sounds harsh.

The most infuriating part of iTunes was when it declined to play any files it couldn’t find rights-management codes for.

Oh, so it’s a DRM issue. Presumably Edwards purchased these tracks from another store which does still use a DRM wrapper.

I had to ghost these onto a CD, and then re-ghost them back into iTunes — so Apple thinks they’re from a CD I bought — just to hear them again.

“Ghost”?

This is my music, that I own, and I paid for, and yet Apple controls where I can listen to it.

Ridiculous.

I’m pretty sure it isn’t Apple that’s controlling another company’s DRM-ed music.

The App Store doesn’t have IrfanView.

What the hell is IrfanView?

There are some really great apps that have been available for years on PCs that can’t be used on Macs. I really miss IrfanView, the super-simple, super-fast photo-editing software for people who can’t be bothered with Photoshop.

This guy sounds like Ric Romero: “some Windows applications aren’t available on a Mac. More at 11.”

Apple’s function keys are designed to screw you.

“Designed to screw you”?

PDF files are a crazy lottery!

On PCs, PDF files just open into your browser like web pages. Everyone uses Adobe Acrobat to open them.

But because Apple has its own PDF viewer, Preview, you never know what’s going to happen when you hit a PDF link on the web. Will it open like a web page? Will it download directly into your download folder? Will you need to change the filename suffix? Will it do nothing?

Who knows! It’s Preview!

If you wish to subject yourself to the sadomasochistic hellscape that is Acrobat, it’s available for the Mac. The rest of us will be comfortable with Preview which does, in fact, render PDFs in Safari.

Caps Lock has a mind of its own.

Are you kidding me?