opinion

South Africa: Cape Town and Mabula Game Lodge by Simon Abrams

Hanging with Stephanie at the Company's Garden in Cape Town

Hanging with Stephanie at the Company's Garden in Cape Town

My wife Stephanie and I just got back from an incredible vacation to South Africa. We picked that destination the way we end up picking most of the destinations for our trips: Stephanie skims through travel deals that happen to correspond with the times that her school is closed for vacation, and if the price is decent, we pull the trigger.

Cape Town's Water Shortage

We booked the trip several months in advance, long before the critical water shortages that Cape Town has been experiencing started making international news. We were initially hesitant, and considered canceling the trip, because we had heard that there would likely be unrest as the water situation became more dire. Fortunately, Cape Town's water conservation intitatives have turned out to be quite effective, and "Day Zero"—the day that the reservoir will run dry—has been pushed back to 2019. This made us feel much more at ease about the trip.

In any case, we needn't have worried; other than being encouraged to take 2-minute showers, and finding hand sanitizer instead of working faucets in many public restrooms, we didn't really feel the effects of the water shortage at all. Probably a side-effect of visiting as a tourist; I'm sure the experience is still much different for residents.

Getting There

We flew Emirates, which resulted in a pretty circuitous route to Cape Town via Dubai. That added up to over 22 grueling hours of flying, despite the comforts of the very fancy Emirates service (yeah, even in Economy class). Sadly, we didn't get to see any of Dubai, other than a hazy glimpse of the Burj Khalifa tower off in the distance as we were bussed across the tarmac to our connecting flight.

Cape Town, as seen from Table Mountain

Cape Town, as seen from Table Mountain

We booked our trip through Gate 1 Travel, which meant we were part of a tour group of about 40 people. Our Cape Town itinerary took us through some of the city's major landmarks, including Table Mountain, the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, as well as a drive down around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. We stopped at a charming seaside town called Simon's Town, and visited with a penguin colony at Boulders Beach.

We had a little scare in Simon's Town as we headed back to the rendevous point for our tour bus, and realized that we, along with another family, had been left behind. I scrambled to call our tour guide's cellphone, and they came back and got us. Luckily, they hadn't gotten that far.

On our last day in the city, Stephanie and I opted out of the shark-cage diving and wine tasting activities that were offered as part of the tour, and decided to do our own thing instead. (Side note: we would have loved to go shark cage diving, but it would have entailed five hours of driving and no guaranteed sharks sightings.) We ended up visiting the Muslim Museum in Bo-Kaap, going paragliding from Signal Hill, taking a tour of Langa Township, and having a lovely dinner back at the Waterfront. I think we made the right choice.

Langa Township

The visit to the township was sobering. It would be easy to visit Cape Town and come away with only the most abstract awareness of the legacy of apartheid; going to the township was a way to come face-to-face—if only in a very superficial way—with the reality of many South Africans' daily existence.

I initially felt a little weird coming in as a spectator to peoples' hardship, but our guide assured us that they were grateful for our visits, because they understood that we were interested and came to learn; and that because we were there, some of them would earn an income. They encouraged us to take photos and say hi to the locals.

In a shabeen, or speakeasy, I got to sample umqombothi (pronounced with the !Xhosa click), which is a local beer made from fermented corn and sorghum. It is definitely an acquired taste, and I didn't acquire it from that one sip. Also, I wasn't a fan of the healer that we visited; his space was dark and impossibly claustrophobic, and filled with unidentifiable, unpleasant smells. And lots of animal parts: skins, hands, horns and the like. I definitely got a bad vibe in there—but it was still an interesting part of the experience.

Mabula Game Lodge

 Mabula Game Lodge

To start the second half of our trip, we took a flight to Johannesburg, followed by a 3-hour bus ride to Mabula Game Reserve, in Limpopo. After settling into our cabins, we were separated into groups of about 10, and then assigned to guides that would lead us on our safari drives for the duration of our time at the lodge. Our guide, Sharon, was incredibly knowledgeable, and was masterful at spotting animals for us.

Mabula is fairly small at only ten hectares (roughly 38 square miles), so we had good odds of impressive sightings. Of the "Big Five" animals (lion, rhino, elephant, Cape buffalo and leopard), we only missed one - the leopard.

On our very first game drive, the evening we arrived at the lodge, we had an incredible encounter with three male lions (two adults and one juvenile). They were so close to our vehicle, we could feel it in our chests when the alpha male began vocalizing and calling out to the females, who were out hunting.

We did several morning and afternoon/evening game drives, and since our planned hot air balloon ride had to be scrapped due to high wind speeds, we opted for a horse-back ride instead. This was cool, because we were able to go off-road and get really close proximity to some of the animals.

Since we were at a game reserve, I made a point to try some game dishes, like ostrich carpaccio and kudu casserole. I also tried "pap", which is a maize-based porrige, kind of like grits or cream of wheat.

Going Home

After just over a week, the trip was finally over. One nice touch was that as we were on the bus, on our way out of Mabula, we had one last sighting of a female lion casually watching traffic go by, at the game lodge across the street. We drove back to Joburg, and flew back to Dubai, and on again to New York.

We met lots of really wonderful people—both locals in South Africa, and fellow travelers that were in our group—and as usual, we can't wait for the next adventure to come along.

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2017 Year in Review by Simon Abrams

 New Yorkers march in protest of President Donald J. Trump's inauguration at the NYC Women's March.

2017 is almost over—what a year, huh? As a country we learned some hard truths about ourselves, but we also learned that we're more resilient than we thought. I think that might apply to me individually as well.

Over the years, at the suggestion of just about every self-help lifehack and prodicutvity blog in existence, I have made many half-hearted attempts at developing a daily journaling habit, but it never seems to stick. But when I look back at my photography, I realize that this has been my form of journaling all along—it's my one daily habit that happens virtually unconsciously, and that I have the itch to do almost no matter what. So ths collection of images is like a look back at my journal over the past year.

With that in mind, for this year's recap, I decided that rather than restrict myself to a specific number of images for the year, or picking a certain number of images per month, I thought I'd just go back and try to pick out the broader themes in my life that materialized through my photography.

Trump's America

Love him or hate him, Donald Trump and his ridiculous politics dominated this year. I'm not shy about saying I loathe the guy from the depths of my being. Because of that, and the renewed sense of civic duty that I know many of us felt as a result of his election, there was no question about whether I would attend the Women's March in January. The experience was  reassuring and helped me to realize that, after having felt let down by a good portion of this country, there were others that were not going to be apathetic, and would fight every day against the indecency of Donald Trump's presidency.

Prospect Park

I feel so fortunate to have Prospect Park as my front yard. When I'm stressed, or need a workout, or want to move slowly for a long time (as the Primal folks would say), the park is my go-to spot.

The Oculus

This didn't happen on purpose, but as I looked back over my photos from this year, I realized that I really spent a lot of time wandering around the Oculus at the World Trade Center. Some people really hate this building (and the fact that from the inside, it kind of feels like you got swallowed by a whale, and it cost billions of dollars), but I really love this space, and find myself compelled to try and take a unique photograph of it every time I'm there.

Everyday Surroundings

Although I try to shoot every day, I have my moments when I don't feel particularly motivated, especially when I'm caught in the day-to-day grind of going to work and coming back home for an extended, uninterrupted period.

I try to pull myself out of that by switching up my commute; by taking a longer route to or from work; by going out for a walk at lunch, even if I brown-bagged it. During those times, I make a point of consciously looking for the light, shapes, colors and designs that surround me. I guess this year, I had a thing for silhouettes and dramatic lighting.

Night

I've always loved night photography. It takes a little more effort, forces you to slow down, and is definitely helped by better gear (wider apertures, sensors that are more light-sensitive). But there results are always so worth it. I didn't do as much of it this year as I could have, but going over some of my night photos from this year made me remember how much I enjoy it.

Being Active

As far as being active and moving a lot, this was a good year. I lost around 14 pounds in April with my second round of the Whole 30 plan. I realized that I do really well with sticking to a workout when I sign up for something, like the Nike+ Run Club or Nike Training Club's coaching plans. Aside from that, for a good part of the spring, I developed a routine of going to karate twice a week, and had lots of fun getting beat up by Dante in sparring class. I also spent a lot of time on my bike, commuting to and from work a total of 38 times, (roughly 266 miles). My wife Stephanie and I even decided that we wanted to start doing more outdoors activities together, so we started with an easy hike at Franny Reese State Park this fall.

I'll admit that I got a bit lazy later in the year, and have been in full-on hibernation mode for the last few weeks, especially since it got dramatically colder here in New York. I even ended up gaining back some of the weight I had lost, but I'm ready to get back to it for 2018.

Wedding Photography

I went way outside my photography comfort zone this year. A friend approached me about shooting her wedding, and even though it gave me the jitters almost immediately, I decided to say yes. I was nervous for weeks leading up to the wedding, and had all sorts of doubts about my ability to do justice to Amanda and Alex's special day, but I had an amazing time doing it. I ended up feeling challenged, but also energized and creative in all sorts of new ways. The lesson for me was, it's true what they say: get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Music and Culture

Concert photography is one of my favorite things to do. Aside from my usual pilgrimage to the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, I managed to go to a couple of events this year, including the Afropunk Battle of the Bands in Williamsburg and 2 Chainz' performance closing Advertising Week in New York. I also decided to challenge myself to document the West Indian American Day Children's Parade, which is one of the more "low-key" events surrounding the main Parade on Labor Day. We also went up to the New York Botanical Garden's incredible Chilhuly Nights exhibit.

Friends and Family

Some of my favorite pictures this year (most years, for obvious reasons) were of the people close to me. Some of the highlights: we celebrated my father-in-law's 70th birthday at a gorgeous Airbnb rental up in Maine; I photographed my aunt Rose and cousin Claudia, along with her adorable new daughter Danai; I spent time with my cool, funny niece Alexandra; celebrated my sister Sarah's birthday; and I took advantage of a short trip to San Francisco for Afrotech, to reconnect with one of my life-long friends and his family. Finally, I capped off the year with a trip to Virginia to see my mom for her birthday.

2017 certainly had its moments. Politics and the moment we're having as a nation, as well as my own insecurities about myself and my professional growth were probably the most stressful things for me this year. But I think I learned a lot, and got to spend time with the people I care about the most. I don't really do the New Year's resolution thing, but I'm looking forward to continuing to work on myself as a person and as a photographer; and to nurture my relationships with my wife and friends and our families.

Here's to growth, health, and positivity for 2018.

I’m Friends With Some of My Favorite Photographers by Simon Abrams

Ask any photographer who they’re influenced by, or who their favorite photographers are, and chances are pretty good that they’ll list some of the titans of the genre: Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Eggleston, Ansel Adams, Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus. Makes total sense; there’s a reason these photographers are seen as the epitome of the form.

Typically, people lavish praise on their favorite artists when they’re dead (just to be clear, Bruce Davidson is not dead). I decided that I want to acknowledge some of my favorite photographers, who are not only living, but who I also have the good fortune to know personally, even if only as acquaintances. I’m not trying to be too effusive or fawning here; just stating out loud to some photographers I respect greatly that I’m a fan.

Also, I was thinking about the way we consume photography today. Because of the sheer volume of photography being created, it has inevitably become a really thoughtless exercise in swiping and double-tapping to show surface-level appreciation for an image, so I’m doing this as an exercise in forcing myself to slow down and articulate why I consider these photographers some of my favorites.

Clay Enos

@gal_gadot is THE #WonderWoman

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

A post shared by Clay Enos (@clayenos) on

Website | Twitter | IG

If you’ve seen a poster for a superhero movie in the last 5-10 years, there’s a strong possibility that Clay Enos shot it. But that’s not all he does. I met Clay when we both worked at AOL’s internal media group way back in the early 2000s. I first fell in love with his work through his Street Studio project: a brutally simple idea, consisting of a white backdrop on a street corner, and an invitation to passersby to pose for a photo. That’s it. This project is inspired by the work of Richard Avedon, one of Clay’s favorite photographers. The project initially started in the five boroughs of New York City, but Clay eventually brought it across the country and the world. Taken as a whole, it connects the viewer instantly, and intimately to a huge cross-section of humans. One of the reasons I love this project so much, is because of my own shyness and inability to approach strangers on the street, much less connect with them the way Clay does.

Other things you should know about Clay: he's one of the least gear-obsessed photographers I've ever met. He once rode a Vespa from New York City to Vancouver, and then to Central America, documenting the state of sustainable food production along the way. And When not working as a still photographer on the set of a major film, he spends much of his time photographing and sharing the stories of coffee farmers in places like Eastern Congo, Rwanda and Guatemala.

 

Scott Witt

@migos at @lollapalooza day 1 // #leica #concertphotography

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Kyan. Rocking. Everything. // #leica #makeportraits #kids

A post shared by Scott Witt (@scottwitt) on

Website | Twitter | IG

When I think of Scott’s work, I think of impeccable technical execution coexisting with a kind of loose, artistic spontaneity that shouldn’t be possible. Scott’s also a perfectionist, and has impossibly high standards (whether we’re talking about his mixologist tendencies, or his love of Spanish jamón, or his preference of camera gear), and it’s clear that this also applies to his photography. He works relentlessly towards honing his craft. Aside from the high profile stuff he shoots at events like the iTunes Festival (some of which you’ve seen without realizing it, if you’re an Apple Music user), some of my favorite of his work is the spontaneous moments he captures in the streets of various cities late at night, and, of course, the fantastic images he makes with his family.

 

Lev Kuperman

Website | Facebook | IG

I worked with Lev when he was still working a 9-to-5 in the world of advertising, and I’ll always remember the day he came over and announced that he was quitting to go and be a wedding photographer. The idea of doing something like that still strikes fear deep into my core (I have some issues I need to work out), but I was really happy for him, and it has certainly worked out in his favor. His work stands out in a crowded field of me-too wedding photographers, whose work all seems based on the same playbook (and the same batch of Photoshop filters). It’s clear from his work that he connects intimately with the people he photographs; that he’s genuinely invested in helping them make lasting memories of one of the most important days of their lives. I really hate the generic, watered-down meaning the word “curate” has taken on in our modern usage, but Lev really does curate everything that’s included in (and excluded from) each frame he shoots — the framing, the shadows, the light — everything there is totally intentional.

These are a few of my favorite contemporary photographers that I also call friends (I picked three, but there are many more.) Who are some of yours? Go beyond double-tapping or liking, and let them know you dig their work.

Buying Apps in the Age of Free by Simon Abrams

You know you wanna buy some apps...

You know you wanna buy some apps...

When I like stuff, I'm the worlds goofiest, most enthusiastic evangelist of said stuff. I'm always recommending an app, a restaurant, a piece of camera gear, etc.

Often, especially when I'm talking about a mobile app, I get stopped mid-spiel with the same question: "is it free?". If the answer is no, then the pitch usually fizzles shortly thereafter due to loss of interest.

So many people have a strict "I don't pay for apps" philosophy, which I really don't understand. I mean, yes, who among us couldn't stand to be a little more fiscally conservative, and even small sums add up. But on the other hand, our devices - specifically our mobile devices - are such an integral part of our daily lives now, so expecting to only ever pay once (outside of the monthly cost of whatever the carrier's charging for your plan) to effectively extend the value of those devices is perplexing to me.

Let's take a mobile app that costs $5 as an example. If you're going to balk at the cost of the app, ask yourself a few questions first:

  1. How will that $5 impact your quality of life in the forseeable future? If the answer is "dramatically", then forget it - discussion over, don't buy that app.
  2. In your day-to-day life, how many other goods or services can you name that would you spend $5 on, and expect to have support and upgrades for, continuing in perpetuity? If Chipotle changed the recipe for their carnitas burrito tomorrow, would you expect an upgrade to the one you had yesterday? Maybe a better comparison would be a Starbucks latte, since that is probably closer to $5 in value.
  3. Speaking of value, do you think you would get any value from the app in question if you bought it? How much value? Would you use it once? Daily? If you ammortize that value over the amount of uses you expect to get out of it, or over time, doesn't it seem like a better deal?
  4. Will using this app/software in any way help you to earn your income, and thereby keep the lights on and a roof over your head? Will it in any way contribute to your peace of mind? How much do you value peace of mind? How about entertainment? $5 seems a small price to pay to be entertained, even a little bit.
  5. The most obvious question to ask yourself is, if you made that app - if you had worked hard, stayed up late, researched new techniques, pulled your hair out and bashed your head against your keyboard squashing bugs and figuring out new API's and cross-platform compatibility issues, and sacrificed time spent with your spouse and kids and pets, and skipped out on going to current movies in the theater to create this app - would you not want to be compensated for your effort?

One of the reasons I don't mind paying for an app, is because part of what I'm paying for is an implicit agreement with the developer. If I'm not happy with the product, or if the quality or functionality (aka value) changes after an update, then I believe my payment for the app entitles me to voice my opinion at least a little bit. Well, maybe a little bit more than if I'm just some free user. I could be wrong though. Conversely, I feel that having paid for the app, I'm probably more invested in its continuing evolution and improvement, so I'm more likely to offer reasonable suggestions and feedback to the developer - and they will probably take me more seriously, because they realize that I'm invested. Again, I could be wrong.

I totally understand the impulse to get the free version of an app that's "just as good". If it really is just as good, then sure, why not. But a lot of the time it's not just as good. Or there are ads, or your giving up privacy in exchange for "free", or the developer might just abandon the app.

Incidentally, I guess my exception is that I will almost never pay for any of those god-awful in-app purchases for games like Clash of Clans, or even my beloved Real Racing 3, where they make the game suck and hold your fun hostage, but oh, look - if you just cough up some doough, you can play some more. Eff that. I'd rather pay for the game outright (eg. Super Mario Run).

Here's an incomplete list of apps and services that I happily pay/paid for, because when I ask myself some of the questions listed above, at bare minimum, the answer is that I would easily get value for my money, whether in the form of peace of mind (Backblaze, 1Password), or saved headaches (iCloud, or even pure entertainment (Netflix):

Of course, my financial situation is different from many people. I don't have kids, and my wife and I both work full-time jobs. Our rent is reasonable (by Brooklyn standards), and for the most part we live below our means. Being the more responsible of us, she doesn't have any credit card debt, but I'm almost there too. Her student loans are paid off, and I never had any (because, being an international student, I wasn't eligible for them - at least that's how it worked in the olden days, I'm not sure how it works now). We don't have a car either. I think the point I'm making is, the next time you come across an app or service, and your knee-jerk reaction is "It's not free? I ain't paying for that", ask yourself why.

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.

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

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.

image.jpg

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.

Why Website Speed is Important - SixRevisions by Simon Abrams

Let’s do some back-of-the-napkin calculations.

 

Last year alone, Amazon’s estimated revenue totaled $74.5 billion.

Based on Linden’s disclosure, increasing page loading times by just a fraction of a second would cost Amazon $745 million a year in lost revenue!

I'm no analytics guy, but it sounds like we in the business of building websites need to make them load faster.

Except for the AOL case study on the bottom of the page, the article doesn't really mention connection speed, though. I bring that up to say that this seems like a pretty strong argument for improving broadband speeds in America, like the telecoms are supposed to be doing anyway, but are dragging their feet on, because why should they; they already got their National  Broadband Plan money.


The Hardest Thing I Will Have Done by Simon Abrams

Brown belt (2nd kyu) test. March 2012

Brown belt (2nd kyu) test. March 2012

Just over six years of martial arts training will culminate one week from today, when I will be testing for my black belt (shodan) at Midwood Martial Arts and Family Fitness Center.

When I was a kid I wanted to take karate lessons, but I never bothered to ask my dad about it - I just assumed he'd say no (looking back, I honestly don't know why I assumed that). I happened to mention that childhood desire off-handedly to my boss one day, and in a case of pure coincidence (aka serendipity), her husband had just opened a karate school in Brooklyn. He gave me one free class (it was a slow day, so it was just me and him), and from then, I've been hooked.

You a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan I still whip your ass, you thirty-six in a karate class You Tae-bo ho, tryna work it out, you tryna get brolic Ask me if I'm tryna kick knowledge - Nas, Ether

There's a recurring joke in our culture about grown men taking karate classes - I don't really get it. It's such a good workout, no matter how old you are, and beats hanging around waiting for some gym rat to get finished with the dumbells. Plus, you learn some usable self-defence skills. I won't claim to be the toughest guy in the world, but at least I know I can get punched - hard - and it won't shock me into paralysis. I'll hit back.

Back to my black belt test: I'm terrified. I keep having little minor panic attacks about every possible aspect of the test. Will I get enough sleep? What should I eat beforehand? I hope I don't get a nervous stomach and have to run to the bathroom before the test. Will I be able to make it through the conditioning portion of the test? What about the fights (kumite)? There are black belts coming in from at least two other states to help with my test. I will have to fight all of them, multiple times, over the three-hour duration of the test.

Newly-minted Brown belt, March 2012

Newly-minted Brown belt, March 2012

The reality of it is I know my teacher, Shihan Alfred, wouldn't even have me test if he didn't think I was ready. The noise I'm hearing in my brain is just that - noise. And a big part of what we learn in karate is how to face our challenges, and to have faith in ourselves and our abilities. In fact, it's all right there in our dojo kun (mantra):

Shihan Alfred DiGrazia

Shihan Alfred DiGrazia

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

That quote comes from the great philosopher Winnie the Pooh.

I'll check in again in a week or so to record my post-test thoughts. By then, if all goes well, I'll be sporting the black belt, and will have completed the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life.

Don't Start a Company, Kid » Big Nerd Ranch Blog by Simon Abrams

I generally agree with this article about not starting a company. Or maybe I just like the article because it validates my fear of going out and starting my own company. It's scary shit. Failure is scary. I believe that bit about luck being a big part of succeeding.

This quote struck me, though:

(And don’t even talk to me about retiring early. There are few things sadder than a smart person who retires early and spends a few decades playing golf and waiting to die. If I am really lucky, I’ll push a clever chunk of code to Github in the morning and die at the dinner table that night.)

Okay, that would be a really satisfying way to go out, but what's wrong with spending a few decades playing golf, or doing whatever it is that makes you feel alive (whether you're smart or not)? I would love to retire early and just travel with my wife, shoot pictures, eat good food, play tennis, and work on making a better me-shaped dent in the couch. (Sadly, it ain't gonna happen - I'll be grinding in one way or another for a long time.)

(via daringfireball.net)

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.

If Politicians Had to Debug Laws Like Software, They'd Fix the Bugs | Wired Opinion | Wired.com by Simon Abrams

In the spring, members of Congress set off to fly home for a holiday—and ran into mammoth lines at the airports. Why were things so bad? Because of airport furloughs caused by the “sequester.”

Critics warned that the sequester would cause hardship throughout the country, but congress-folk didn’t care — until they had to share in the pain. When they discovered that the sequester was eating into their vacation time, they rushed back to the Capitol and passed a law restoring funding to airports, working so fast that part of the bill was handwritten.

In short, when congress has to eat their own dogfood, they get shit done.

I like the idea from the comments, that the laws should be commented, just as code is commented.

The New Family Time? by Simon Abrams

Family Time [85/365]

So, I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed this new cultural phenomenon lately where people seem to be spending an awful lot of time on their laptops and smart phones…

Okay, I’m being kind of tongue-in-cheek about it, but it is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My wife and I were talking about it last night, and we both realized that when we’re at home, we’re mostly doing stuff on our computers, and then we go to bed (usually pretty late), and then we go to work, and the cycle repeats itself.

I’m kind of conflicted about it, because I really like being on my computer. It’s one of the things I do to relax and entertain myself. The problem is, I also happen to sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day to keep the lights on, the upshot of which is aching hands and wrists, an aching neck, tingling forearms and other various afflictions that are so familiar to so many of us these days.

Besides the physical side effects, of course, there are the effects on our relationships, our concentration, our ability to learn and retain information. There are tons of books and articles exploring all of these questions, so I won’t delve too deeply into it here, except to say that at least we’ve started to talk about it in our house, which I think is a good first step. 

Anyway, for a while now, I’ve had the idea to start playing around and exploring how our online time is encroaching on our meatspace time via a series of photographs, so keep an eye on this space for more… I just need to check Facebook and Twitter first.