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.

Your First Mac by Simon Abrams

As part of their 30th Anniversary of the Mac celebration, Apple has a cool year-by-year visualization of peoples' first Macs and what they used them for. Scrubbing through the timeline, it's interesting watching Internet & Email surge into popularity in the mid-90s - followed by the decline of Desktop Publishing shortly thereafter.

I've used Macs since college - in my freshman year, one of my friends had a Mac SE II, which was an amazing machine for playing Tetris (and writing papers, of course). Later, when I transferred to SCAD, the labs also had a bunch of Quadras and various other assorted Macs in the Desktop Publishing and Computer Art departments.

I've worked on nothing but Macs at the various advertising gigs I've had since I graduated, but the first Mac that I bought for myself was a 15" G4 PowerBook in 2001. The thing had 8MB of VRAM and a 500Mhz processor, and it cost me close to $4000, but it lasted a good 6 years before it started to feel old and sluggish. It shipped with OS 9, but I remember running at least up through OS 10.4 (maybe even 10.5) on it, which is kind of impressive, looking back on it. It's still one of my favorite Macs, in terms of its design, although it had its issues (the stress cracks near the hinges, the heat, etc.).

My setup, circa 2007. MacBook Pro and G5 Tower.

My setup, circa 2007. MacBook Pro and G5 Tower.

Around 2003, I had a brief part-time gig at the Soho Apple Store. That was a fun gig, and the employee discount helped me get a G5 tower and one of those giant plastic-bezeled 23" Cinema Displays.

Eventually, I upgraded from my old PowerBook to one of the Intel-based (and now aluminum rather than titanium) 15" MacBook Pros.

2009 - iMac 27" and MacBook Pro

2009 - iMac 27" and MacBook Pro

When the G5 got long in the tooth, I replaced that with a 27" iMac. This was about the time I was finally sold on the iMac as a high-end machine - by now there was no point in spending $2500 on a MacPro (tower only!) just because I considered myself a power user.

A couple of years later, I got my first (and only, so far) iPad (the 2nd-gen version), and ended up selling my MacBook Pro.

Current setup: unibody MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt Cinema Display

Current setup: unibody MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt Cinema Display

For a while there, I was rocking the iMac/iPad combination, and it was cool, but I missed the ability to go completely mobile and get work done. Don't misconstrue that as me validating the "iPads-are-for-content-consumption" trope - the fact is, my 9-to-5 requires me to work on desktop-only apps like Flash Professional and Photoshop. Plus, I use Aperture to manage my giant photo libraries (though I'm dabbling with Lightroom more and more lately, given the neglect Aperture has been suffering).

I've always held on to the philosophy that I should get the best computer I could afford, and that way I could extend its useful life for as long as possible, and then sell it for a pretty decent price. That's worked for me for the last 13 years and 5 Macs.

So that's my Mac history - what's yours?

iPad Art - Morgan Freeman Finger Painting by Simon Abrams

I'm genuinely surprised that there are still people who bring out the "iPads are for consuming content" trope.

On another note, this got me remembering something from my old art school days. The abstract expressionists, if I remember right, were all about boiling down a medium to the essence of that medium. The things unique to painting that make it essentially painting are paint and a canvas (and maybe a brush). They weren't keen on one medium emulating another, and as such, weren't into photorealistic painting. But here's Kyle Lambert taking it a step further, using a virtual canvas on a digital thing to emulate photography. Interesting stuff.

Pencil | FiftyThree by Simon Abrams

I've been quite pleased with my iPad 2 over the last two-and-a-half years, not feeling the familiar twinge of gadget envy when newer devices like the iPad 3, 4, or Mini came out.

That's started changing lately, particularly as the Apple cogniscenti have been pushing out their reviews of the iPad Air (and Mini), but I've been coping - even though I'm noticing more and more lagging here and there during day-to-day use of my aging precioussssss.

But just today I was reading about Wacom's Intuos Creative Stylus, and I was shocked to see that it was incompatible with the iPad 2. It's expensive, but I won't lie - I was bummed.

And now this: the Pencil, by FiftyThree, makers of one of my very favorite apps, Paper. Again, it's incompatible with my iPad, and the culprit is low-energy Bluetooth, which only made its appearance on Apple's tablets post-iPad 2.

If I'm being realistic about it, I don't think I can exactly afford to upgrade my iPad at the moment. But it's official: I'm definitely lusting after a new one.

A Serious Imaging Company by Simon Abrams

From Dave Caolo on TUAW:

Finally, the message delivered by the iPhone 5s camera is clear: Apple is becoming a serious imaging company. They spent a lot of time on that camera. You don't need a point-and-shoot camera anymore. There's no need to find a cable or a memory card reader. This is your camera.

This is why it's so frustrating to serious photographers that on the other side of the serious imaging equation -- ie. serious image processing -- all we're getting from Apple is crickets.

I remember being all excited and diving in to the Aperture 3.0 update just as my wife and I were leaving for a vacation in Paris. We took that vacation in February 2010. The current version of Aperture is 3.4.5. In contrast, Adobe Lightroom version 3.0 was released in June of 2010. Lightroom 5.2 release candidate is available now on Adobe Labs.

On the other hand, during the keynote, Phil Schiller did say that the new camera system is "for the rest of us", though - for the folks that just want to get take a picture, and let their cameraphone do the work.

Broken by Simon Abrams

First time in four years of owning an iPhone that this has happened to me. I guess I was due? I still don't really plan on getting a case. I might, at most, get one of the anti-glare screen protectors that I had on my iPhone 4, but I think that's it. I'll just have to not drop the replacement phone they (eventually) give me.

8 days later...

RetinaBook Pro by Simon Abrams

I stopped by the West 14th Street Apple Store, and having seen it in person, I can join in the chorus: Apple’s new MacBook Pro with Retinal Display definitely looks amazing. Thin, light, fast as hell. I’m in the camp that thinks it’s pricey, but will get cheaper in a generation or so (like the MacBook Air did). It’s the direction the notebook industry as a whole will invariably go in.

From the Archives: My Desk by Simon Abrams


Skimming through my Aperture library, I came across what I now think is a really nice image. I like the lighting, I like the perspective… the processing makes me wonder what kind of mood I was in that night.

Finds like these make me wonder what other forgotten gems are languishing in my 40k+ image library, waiting to be rediscovered.

Self-Portrait of the Artist as a Nerd by Simon Abrams

Was messing around with some new gear I got after being inspired by the wonderful and talented Syl Arena’s excellent Speedliter’s Intensive Workshop which I attended at Adorama a few weeks ago, and came up with this shot of me nerding out in my office. Aside from my super-shiny face (sorry, didn’t have a makeup artist or stylist available at the time), I really like this shot. The framing could stand to be a hair wider, but my 17-55mm lens is in the shop for repairs to the IS system.
Camera info: I’m using Canon’s EOS Utility to focus, change camera settings and shoot via Live View on my laptop (because even though Aperture 3 now finally supports tethered shooting with most modern Canon cameras, it only gives you a shutter button and no other control over the camera). You can sort of see my Live View display via Screen Sharing in the lower corner of the iMac in the background.
Aperture Hot Folder is feeding the images into Aperture on my laptop. Also visible on the iMac are some earlier tests I did in Aperture, while the camera was tethered to that computer.


Feel free to check out the photo in larger sizes and poke around in the metadata over on Flickr.

Aperture 3 Unsung Feature: Simultaneous Use on Multiple Machines by Simon Abrams

Courtesy of Apple

I don’t know if I’m pointing out something everyone already knows, but one of the features of Aperture 3 that I really like is the ability to run it on my two machines at the same time, using the same license, on the same network. In previous versions, when Aperture was launched, it would detect that the same serial number was already in use on another machine on the network, flash you a dialog box alerting you to this, and quit immediately.

Aperture 3 and Syncing Multiple Libraries by Simon Abrams

Joseph Linaschke over at has an excellent article that goes over in detail one of my favorite new features of Aperture 3: the ability to not only manage multiple libraries, but to synchronize them as well. If you work with Aperture on both a desktop and a laptop, it is now possible, for instance to have a pared down version of your library that goes on the road with you, and can be synced back to the main library once you’re back home. You can also export any project (or album or book, etc.) as a Library, move it to another machine, and open it up with no fuss. Changes made to the project — including metadata, adjustments, etc. — on either machine are applied when you sync, and Aperture does a great job handling conflicts between the two, allowing you to specify which library’s changes should take precedence. Head on over to the article for more details on how it all works.

Aperture Quick Tip: Update Your Metadata Presets by Simon Abrams

Aperture’s metadata is saved in an XML document and can be easily updated.

Aperture users: Are you using Metadata Presets? If not, you should consider it - they’re really handy for entering metadata on large numbers of images, particularly at the point of import. I have one fairly generic preset that just has my copyright info, country, and name, which I use for everyday shooting, and come up with others depending on the shoot (travel, events, etc). What I realized when the new year rolled around was that my copyright still said “©2009 Simon Abrams. All Rights Reserved.”, and that I had no easy way of changing it, due to Aperture’s woefully spartan interface for managing or editing metadata presets. In Aperture’s current incarnation, all you can do is add, rename or delete a preset; you can’t edit any of the text within it.

So what to do? Well, a little poking around in the Application Support folder (specifically ~/Library/Application Support/Aperture) reveals that Aperture’s metadata presets are (quasi-)conveniently contained in an XML document. Simply opening up the file in your text editor of choice enables you to make changes to the metadata content, save it, and voila, you’re in business. Of course, ideally, you’d be able to make these simple edits in Aperture itself - maybe we can add this to our wishlist for (the increasingly vaporware-ish) Aperture 3.