MacSparky on Apple AirPods by Simon Abrams

A reasoned first take on Apple's AirPods from David Sparks, aka MacSparky. His take confirms my expectation that they won't work for me, as the current EarPods that Apple ships with every iPhone fall out of my ear with the slightest movement of my head, so I never use 'em. Plus, I like something that has a little noise reduction, if not noise cancellation, so I can block out the annoying chatter on the subway.

I'm still bullish on the tech, though, specifically Apple's W1 chip, which improves pairing and wireless sound quality. I have personally tried the new BeatsX wireless headphones, which also feature the W1 chip, and will probably get a pair of those when they're available.

Phife 4 Pres by Simon Abrams


I ran into Phife on a flight to Savannah 20 years ago. I guess I hadn't mastered the indifferent-New-Yorker-that-doesn't-get-star-struck thing, because I asked him for an autograph, and he was gracious enough to sign my sketchbook.

RIP Phife.

2015 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

Who the hell does a Year-in-Review post in March? I do, that's who. 2015 was a hell of a year, with some big changes - both good and bad - for me and my family. I've referenced some of those changes here, but some of it... well, I've chosen to keep that stuff to the close friends and family.

Anyway, good or bad, my wife and I can once again look back and be thankful for the life we have, and appreciate how fortunate we are compared to so many in this world.

Happy Easter/St. Patrick's Day/whatever you celebrate in March.

Thoughts on Flash* by Simon Abrams

David Evans in an article on AdAge, once again heralding the demise of Flash:

In short, the "Flashpocalypse" is coming, and it's up to you to decide what your agency is going to do about it.

Sound familiar? This time, though, there might be something to it. Starting in September, Chrome will be the third of the Big Three browsers to idle Flash content by default on load, meaning Flash ads will be paused until the user voluntarily clicks to play them (hah!).

As one who (mostly) still keeps the lights on by creating new things with Flash, I have a couple of thoughts.

Firstly, this was only a matter of time - nobody's really shocked by this, although I think we in the advertising industry have become, as the article says, very comfortable with Flash. People have been proclaiming that Flash is "sunsetting" for years. Fine, we've all accepted that premise, and yet – during those intervening years, I’ve been an interactive/Flash developer at two premiere New York ad agencies with scores of blue-chip clients on their rosters, and I've only worked on one HTML5 banner campaign. I guess media teams just aren't buying it for desktop campaigns? Maybe that's where the education needs to be happening. Even for mobile, the default has been to deliver static images, rather than even the most basic HTML5 animation.

Say what you will about Flash, it does have the advantage of being well-known by a pretty solid number of devs, and we’ve learned to accomplish an awful lot within those absurdly archaic 40k file size specs. On the other hand, the author is right: to this day, I still can't get a straight answer as to what the file size spec is for an HTML5 banner, and you simply can’t replicate the kind of rich animation and interactivity that Flash is capable of in HTML5 in less than 100k (the latest version of jQuery alone is almost 30k, and that’s minified and gzipped).

And then there's QA. There’s no question that we have been spoiled with the ubiquity and predictability of the Flash plugin. Usually, the QA process for most standard banners is to check file size, check that it doesn't exceed the :15s animation limit, and make sure it clicks through to something. HTML5 ads bring with them all the complexity of cross-browser/cross-platform compatibility testing. Also, most of the exacting creatives I know aren't going to be satisfied with what you can get out of the existing ad building platforms (fade in, fade out, slide in, slide out...), so roll-your-own is pretty much the only real option, which means extensive QA time.

It might not sound like it, but having said all that, I'm glad this is happening. It'll force me to get deeper into the vagaries of HTML/JS/CSS, which is a good thing. And, there's really no need to shed a tear for Adobe and the Flash platform either - after all, the Flash plugin might be on its way out, but Flash Professional is still a perfectly viable prototyping tool, able to publish JavaScript animations using CreateJS, export animations as sprite sheets, produce WebGL content, and much, much more.

In short... Flash is dead. Long live Flash.

*With respect to Steve Jobs

Pepperpot by Simon Abrams

I was scrolling through some of my recent pictures on Flickr and came across this:

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If you ever find yourself at a Guyanese restaurant and you see pepperpot on the menu, don't hesitate - do yourself a favor and get it. Rich, savory, spicy - this dish defines Christmas Morning to most Guyanese people (although it can be consumed any time throughout the year).

Preparation often begins several days in advance, and the dish slowly simmers until it is ladled out into bowls to be sopped up with fresh, crusty, warm, home-made bread.

There are cloves, cinnamon, and big, bony hunks of mostly unglamorous cuts of meat -- the ones with lots of fat and cartilage, like cow-heel. Of course, as you'd expect, given the name, there's also plenty of hot pepper. But the signature ingredient, which gives pepperpot its rich color and savory flavor is called casareep (we pronounce it "CAHS-rip"), an extract of the cassava (or yucca) root.

It's not uncommon, as the pot begins to dwindle, that it is freshened up with more meat and casareep to extend its enjoyment over the course of several days during the holiday season. It is one of my absolute favorite foods on the planet.

Note: This post would have been best shared around Christmas time, but I think I was too preoccupied with eating this than writing about it at the time.

Flash Photography techniques explained with slow-mo by Simon Abrams

This video from The Slow Mo Guys is cool and informative on its own merit, but it's also one of the best illustrations of how and why some crucial flash photography principles work.

Sync Speed

Have you ever seen a dark strip across the lower portion of your photograph when shooting with an external flash? (There's a great example on this page.) Well, that dark strip is a result of shooting above your camera's sync speed - ie, the maximum shutter speed the camera is capable of syncing up an external flash at. The sync speed varies, and and for most SLRs, is usually somewhere between 1/160th and 1/250th of a second (check your manual, or Google your camera model). Some SLRs won't even let you shoot at a shutter speed that exceeds your max sync speed, but if you inadvertently manage to make it happen, you'll know it from the nasty black bar you'll see towards the bottom of the resulting photo. That black bar is actually that same rolling shutter that's clearly visible in the video, casting a shadow as it passes over the sensor.

So what do you do if you want to shoot some high-speed action, using a flash, at a higher shutter speed than your camera can technically work with? Or if you want to shoot with a wide open aperture to get really shallow depth-of-field in lots of bright daylight? Well, many external flashes have high-speed sync mode, which lets you do just that. This flash mode doesn't actually fire a single burst of light; rather, it fires many low-powered bursts of light as the shutter passes over the sensor, thus avoiding casting that shadow. Cool, right?

That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

That third button puts your flash in high-speed sync mode, and also toggles and 2nd-curtain sync

The down side of high-speed sync is that it's not as powerful as your regular flash output, so you'll just have to move your flash closer to your subject, or use multiple flashes.

1st-Curtain and 2nd-Curtain Sync

Setting the shutter sync settings

Setting the shutter sync settings

If you've spent any time shooting with an external flash with your SLR, you might have seen these settings on your flash and not fully understood what they do. But if you take another look at that video, from the way the rolling shutter works, you can probably guess that the "1st curtain" refers to that first cluster of blades that passes in front of the sensor, and the second cluster is the 2nd curtain.

What does that mean, with respect to your flash? Well, imagine that you're shooting a moving subject: 1st-Curtain sync (the default mode of the flash) means the flash will fire freezing your subject at the beginning of the shutter's movement, leaving motion trails moving away from the subject as it keeps moving. Conversely, 2nd-curtain sync will freeze the subject at the end of the shutter's movement, with motion trails following behind your subject.

2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

2nd-curtain sync leaves trails behind your subject, creating dynamic images

I often use 2nd-curtain sync at parties and events where people are dancing. I'll slow the shutter speed and actually move or turn the camera while the shutter is open to create light trails and blurs in the scene. No joke - it makes parties and wedding receptions look epic.

One thing I should note: all my photos, and some of my terminology might be Canon-specific, but the same principles apply no matter what camera brand you prefer.

There are plenty of articles on the internet that explain these topics in far greater detail, but this video is such a great illustration of what's actually happening in the camera, that I think it should really help to solidify your understanding of these highly useful concepts in flash photography.

Thoughts on 1Password and MacID by Simon Abrams

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

MacID unlock's your Mac using your fingerprint via a connected iOS device

Now that I have two TouchID-enabled devices, entering passwords by typing them feels like what I imagine it would be like having to write prose with a chisel and tablet after getting used to using a pen - especially now that iOS 8 allows for 1Password integration throughout your i-device. Quick recap: 1Password is a password manager that securely stores all your passwords to everything, obviating the need for you to remember - or even come up with - any passwords except for the one that protects its database. It's cross-platform and works with all your favorite browsers. Amazing.

Anyway, before extensions allowed for 1Password's iOS integration, if you're like me, and don't know any of your passwords to anything, logging in to a website or app on an iPhone or iPad went something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Grit teeth and sigh resignedly
  3. Go back to Home screen and tap 1Password
  4. Enter your long and secure 1Password Master Password
  5. Find password to app in question (or create a new entry in 1Password for said app, and let it generate a suitably secure password for you)
  6. Copy password
  7. Hop back over to the app in question (yay, multitasking!)
  8. Type in your username, paste the password, and try to remember that despite your current state of annoyance, we're still living in an age of technological miracles and wonders. Everything is amazing.

Now that iOS 8 Extensions are a thing, the process goes something like this:

  1. Open site/app that asks for a password
  2. Tap Share button and swipe right to 1Password extension
  3. Tap the icon, then use your finger to unlock 1Password
  4. Oh look - 1Password knows your credentials for the site/app you're trying to access. Tap to fill in your credentials, and be on your merry way.
Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.

Treehouse's app has 1Password support built-in. Amazing. More like this, please.


It is a downright joyous experience compared to the old way, and it's no exaggeration to say that simplifies my life a lot, especially since I am doing more and more with my iPhone and iPad. I tweeted the good folks at AgileBits a few months ago, wondering if something like this was possible on the Mac - ie. could I use my iPhone/iPad's TouchID to unlock an app on the desktop. It turns out, it is at least partially possible: MacID lets you designate an iOS device as a touch-enabled "key" for your desktop machine, and unlock a password-protected lock screen when you return to your computer. Sweet!

I've only just tried it a couple of times, but from my first impressions it seems really promising. I'm not quite paranoid enough to be able to thoroughly think through any negative security implications of this. MacID never connects to the internet, so the chances of your login password getting hijacked that way are zilch. I can't wait for this to grow into a fully-supported technology that becomes something baked into iOS 9/OS X Big Sur (or whatever the next OS X ends up being called).

The current state of computing and devices still forces us to choose between security and convenience, but apps like 1Password and MacID, and technologies like TouchID are at least getting us part of the way towards the convergence of those two ideals.

Year in Review by Simon Abrams

I decided to do my own Year in Review - one that I think is a little more personal than the one that the Facebook algorithm generated for me - by selecting 24 images (two for each month) that represent my 2014.

I started off the year with a teaching gig at Miami Ad School's Brooklyn outpost, which gave me a good excuse to roam around DUMBO with my then-new Fuji X100S. In February, I went on an absolutely fantastic trip to Morocco with my wife. This trip was one of the highlights of the year for me (another great opportunity to road-test my new camera), and I can't believe it's already been almost a year.

I spent Memorial Day with my family at my sister's place in Virgina. It was right around that time that I noticed a funny, squishy bump on my elbow that turned out to be bursitis. It eventually led to me needing surgery, and being stuck in a pretty gnarly brace for a total of five weeks this summer.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, which, to my chagrin, moved to Williamsburg this year. It was co-headlined by Jay Electronica and Raekwon, and featured a very special guest named Jay-Z.

In the fall, a group of us rented a place upstate via Airbnb, and went ziplining at Hunter Mountain to celebrate my good friend's 40th birthday. I was also lucky enough to take not one, but two trips to California -- one for the ADCOLOR conference, and one to reunite with my two closest friends from high school.

Overall it's been a good year, and it has ended with some promising developments (more on those later) which should start 2015 off on a strong note.

With that said, here are 24 images that recap my 2014.

Photo Notes: Wiz Khalifa and Nitti Scott at Webster Hall by Simon Abrams

Wiz Khalifa performs at New York City's Webster Hall - October, 2014

Wiz Khalifa performs at New York City's Webster Hall - October, 2014

I've always loved shooting concerts. It's really satisfying capturing the energy of the crowd and the showmanship and stage presence of great performers. One of these days, I'm going to make good on one of my long-time goals, and get press credentials, or find a way to shoot a concert in an official capacity.

Wiz Khalifa

Wiz Khalifa

Opening act Nitti Scott performs at Webster Hall

Opening act Nitti Scott performs at Webster Hall

These were shot at this year's Advertising Week Wrap-up party at Webster Hall. I love the Advertising Week shows, because it's always a great opportunity to get access to incredible performances by some top-notch acts, including N.E.R.D, John Legend and The Roots, Big Boi, Wyclef Jean, and B.o.B. The performances are usually held in a relatively intimate setting, and it doesn't hurt that it's free for us industry types. I've made some of my favorite photographs at these events over the years.

Incidentally, for you photo nerds that like to pixel-peep, here's a 100% crop of one of the above images from the show, which are almost straight-out-of-camera (I think I tweaked the brightness/contrast ever so slightly in the Photos app on my iPhone). If you must nit-pick, yes, you can see a little softness, and yes, the pixels are a slightly chunky, but damn - I was standing at least 40-50 feet away from the stage!

 1/200s, f2.8, ISO6400.

 1/200s, f2.8, ISO6400.

I still can't get over the incredible low-light performance of the Fuji X100S, especially as it doesn't seem that long ago that I was still shooting with my Canon Rebel XT, and never dared go above ISO 800. That's a difference of four full stops of light, which means I would never have been able to make this image on that camera without using a flash or some additional light source.

One other note: in previous years, I would have been fully locked and loaded with my Canon 7D and L-series 70-200mm f/4 lens at these Advertising Week concerts, and as I said, I've made some images that really made me happy as a result of using that setup. Lately, though, I've been scaling back and am happy to take a more minimal approach to shooting - particularly when I'm on vacation, or shooting for myself and not for a paid gig. Not that I wouldn't shoot paid work with the Fuji; it's just that if I'm not being paid, I'm realizing that there's really no good reason to put in the extra effort of carrying all that extra gear. Simpler, most of the time, is better.

Anyhow, I had a great time at the show, despite not being a huge Wiz Khalifa fan. It happened to be my birthday, and there was open bar, so I'd say that worked out quite well.

Wallpaper Wednesday: Midnight Taxi by Simon Abrams

On the way home late one night after working on presentation materials for a pitch. (I don't remember who we were pitching, or if we won.)

The city becomes serene and peaceful, and there's something about observing it through the scratched, streaked glass of a taxi windows that is romantic, mysterious, ethereal. Or maybe I've just watched too many movies.

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