​Data Bracelets

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In September 2016 I wrote the following about the state of physical media:

“It's crazy how much our reality has changed over the last few years: faster internet connections, higher or even unlimited data caps (at least in Canada) combined with most of our lives moving to the digital realm...all these factors have contributed to less and less reliance on physical media. In fact I have trouble remembering when I sent files to a client through anything other than WeTransfer, Mail Drop, Box or similar services.”

The paragraph was part of a post entitled Like Candy—and I was writing about personalized USB flash drives I’d received from a US-based company called USB Memory Direct. If anything the situation has intensified since then: last week I sent almost 30GB of raw images though WeTransfer Plus for the last job I shot. The idea of using a physical drive, wrapping it up, sending it to another country through postal or courrier services, waiting for the package to reach its destination on time, hoping nothing goes wrong along the way...none of it makes sense at this point. So while I still love those walnut flash drives from 2016, when the company reached out again a couple of months ago my first instinct was to thank them, but ultimately let them know I didn’t actually need anything. I’ll never feel right about accepting products I don’t intent to use.

But then I noticed the wrist drives...

I’ve always worn bracelets—leather, metal...leather AND metal...whatever. I also own an Apple Watch. All of this to say I’m basically used to wearing stuff on my wrists. So when I saw the USB Wristbands on the company’s website I thought huh...that might be fun. The drives come in either USB 2.0 or USB 3.0, with capacities ranging from 64MB to 128GB, depending on the speed you choose. The material is described as soft rubberized plastic, which feels pretty close to the fluoroelastomer Apple uses on its Apple Watch Sports band. There’s no clasp: the USB connector just slips into the opposite end of the wristband. Tough to do the first time around but you get the hang of it after awhile. And once they’re in they hold tight—I’ve had no issues at all with the wristband loosening up and coming apart.

I decided to keep things simple and go with white, but there’s a variety of colours to choose from. And of course, like all of the company’s products, these can be personalized with logo, text or whatever else strikes your fancy (I added a tag line to mine). The process is absolutely painless too: I downloaded the specs from the website, sent in a PNG and received a proof in less than an hour. Then right before shipping they sent me a picture of the actual product, just to confirm we were good to go. Class act.

I intend to keep one of these for myself and use the others for giveaways. With 8GB I’ll probably include the 1EYE series along with a PDF or ePub portfolio. Heck, maybe These Kings while I’m at it. Now, as to the question on everyone’s mind: yes, it IS a little weird to wear something with your name on it...but fortunately, it’s pretty discreet ;)

Many thanks to Taylor for making this possible. You can find more info about the product at USBMemoryDirect.com.

Other Tools: An Inspiration Journal...+1, +2

Boy, the week just flew by. I’m sitting at a table, surrounded by toys and colouring books. I’ve managed to dig myself a hole in the playroom, enough to drop my writing kit in: iPad and iPhone, notebook, a cup of black tea. It’s not my usual working spot but I get to gaze out into our backyard and feel the light streaming in. It’s sunny right now—a rare occurrence these past months. And I can look up at the trees. I like trees.

The blog is more journal than ressource these days, which might be turning some of you off...I don’t know. Maybe not. I’m beginning to believe this might be a transitional year—there are shifts occurring, some deliberate and some at the edge of what I can perceive. I can’t even articulate most of it yet. But this small personal corner of the web I still inhabit, where I’m free to gaze into the void and wax poetic about anything and everything...it can only reflect a world in flux.

I’ve often described photography as a way to make sense of my life but that’s not entirely accurate: it’s the camera at work and at home sure, but it’s also this blog; it’s music, writing, searching...the entire journey from top to bottom. God that sounds cliché. But you know what I mean.

This flux—or whatever it is—has resulted in a very strong compulsion to ingest. Ideas, knowledge, art...as if I suddenly need to feed much more than I need to express. I’m essentially ravenous for outside stimulation in any form. It’s almost vampiric. I briefly touched on this topic about a month ago:

diCorcia but also Crewdson...I’m on a rampage. It’s a new ritual, making a point of searching for images, seeing the work of others—photographers or painters or sculptors. Forcing it as an essential part of my day. Feeding, really. I keep a running screenshot scrapbook in Bear—I started this a long time ago but I’m now trying to add content to it daily. It’s a vicarious stratagem...to get behind someone else’s eyes and understand their impulse. A deconstruction of intent. Ultimately I’m creating a lookbook based on my own personal triggers, without direction or afterthought.

I think a lot of this stems from an impression that I’ve plateaued and must find a path to jump again. Further. Higher. But regardless: about that scrapbook/lookbook...I’ve doubled-down on the concept and thought I’d share the “technical” developments with you guys. It's geeky stuff...but that's always fun right? Or maybe that's just me? Oh well...here goes.

Before Bear I’d been using the Notes app, which had the advantage of providing a grid view of all images. But all images meant...everything in Notes. Not just the curation. So I rarely used it. I switched to Bear due to Notes instabilities in iOS 11 (which are apparently fixed in the latest beta) but mainly because it did a better job at exporting a book-like PDF of the work saved—something I found invaluable in order to actually browse the material and not just accumulate. Recently however, I had to split this curation across several notes: too many images in a single file would crash Bear on iOS during export. So I did. Not the end of the world but it made for more clutter than I would've liked.

And then I realized I’d gotten the metaphor completely wrong: it shouldn’t be notes at all—it should be a journal.

Inspiration Journal

I won’t dive into the benefits of journaling—I’ll leave that to self-help gurus. Let’s just say I do it, until I don’t; until I take it up again. These days it’s part of my daily workflow, in multiple forms. It informs the present but it’s also quite fascinating to read about past struggles or anxieties and realize just how unimportant most of these became. How we always overcome in the end, one way or another. But I digress. The idea of an inspiration journal isn’t at all about writing down “deep-thoughts” or reflecting on life, the universe and everything. It’s basically the same scrapbook I’d been keeping except the tool has changed: I’m using Day One, a bona fide journaling app. This means I get a timeline of the images I save, as opposed to either a flat container or a mess of hundreds and hundreds of notes. I can export to PDF without a hitch, according to date range or tags (if I choose to use them). And I also get the benefit of Day One’s image view—which is much more convenient than the one in Notes and a great way to browse through the collection.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s an evolution of the curation over time, periods that favour a certain style or colour. At the very least it’ll provide insight into what triggers a reaction, which might be a way to understand my own work. I think we can all benefit from this sort of awareness.

Day One is now subscription-based but the free tier—while limited—should work fine for this sort of scenario (unless you need syncing and more than one journal). Of course there are probably a host of other options out there, I’m just mentioning the tool I’ve chosen. Funny how I’ve owned and used the app for years but never even thought of it for this type of project until a couple of weeks ago. Now it just seems so obvious.

Ok, two additional tidbits for you on this Friday morning...

+1

I gave an interview to the very nice Stephanie Baxter of Fujilove and it’s available right here.

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+2

We managed to pull together and bring a new issue of KAGE Collective online. This time we focused on music, using song lyrics as a starting point for our essays. Check it out at our usual digs here.

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That’s it for now folks.
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend :)

End of Hegemony

For months now—one could even argue years—I've been unhappy with either Lightroom or Capture One. I've gone back and forth several times, thinking I had settled...until the next frustration came along: the Lightroom curves bug (which finally seems fixed as of this week), Capture One's glacial catalog browsing, Lightroom's historically soft raf rendering, Capture One's bulk re-linking failures...and on and on and on. Both applications have their pros and terrible cons, neither rival what Aperture could do in terms of asset management. Then the GFX 50S comes along and only Lightroom supports its files, taking Capture One completely out of the running—again (1). It all feels like one long, very annoying game of whack-a-mole.

Maybe it's the sun finally shining for a couple of hours, my brain thawing and neurones stirring...but last saturday—after injecting a bit of oxygen into my system—I simply asked myself: why? Why do I need one app to rule them all, one uber catalog always ready to serve and dig into my entire visual history, warts and all? And the answer came back, loud and clear: I don't. I need access—of course—but nine times out of ten I need final images, not my entire archive. The four or five stars files, processed and ready for output. Those unrated and one star images? I keep them around because I'm a pack rat, because I've been known to revisit shoots and find images I had missed initially...but that's it. It's not an ongoing necessity.

Sometimes we do things because we've always done things: I became a professional photographer with Aperture—its logic, its feature set and its rationale for a DAM becoming the only window into my image library. This week, I simply left all of that approach behind.

Shiny New Master Catalog

Instead of fighting it, I've embraced the back and forth and now edit my images in whatever app strikes my fancy—whatever works best for the job at hand. The addition to my workflow that makes all of this possible is a new Lightroom Master Catalog that contains only processed images. All final images are now exported to an EDITED (YEAR) folder on my hard drive and imported to this master catalog (by running the Synchronize function). Images edited in Capture One contain C1 in their file name, ditto for Lightroom (LR)—making it easy to spot their origin at a glance if I need to re-process or look at other files from the same session/date; I chose Lightroom for the cataloging task because it's still the fastest and better rounded of the two, overall.

Here's the system I've put in place:

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It's not as simple as a single app/catalog and yes, it's slightly more work. But the freedom it brings is like breathing again:

  • Choice of processing/editing application.
  • Fast catalog browsing (no adjustments or raw/DNG files to render).
  • Browsable archive of all processed images (Photos and Amazon).
  • Cloud backup of all processed images (Photos and Amazon).

Now, these are full resolution JPEGs I'm exporting, not huge 16bit TIFF files. They're meant for sharing and viewing, for this blog, for KAGE and any project that fits. I'm still backing up the master files and I'll still be exporting other formats from their original catalogs as needed.

As you can see in the diagram, all cloud operations are automatic: Amazon syncs the year folder and I use a Hazel rule to take care of the Photos side (2). This means I no longer have to think about it; anything in the master catalog is also viewable anywhere. Why Amazon on top of Photos? Because it's part of our Prime membership and it's unlimited—may as well use it as a fail-safe. And why not use LR Mobile synced to the master catalog instead? Because it's not an actual backup, because it's not full resolution and lately...yup, you guessed it: it's been buggy as hell. I'm getting randomly pixelated images that are completely unusable. Always amazing to see how easily Adobe breaks its own tools on a regular basis.

Is this the best workflow out there? Certainly not. But I'm finally liberated from the constant, nagging indecision surrounding my choice of image editor. If something should happen to me, the master catalog and Photos library will also provide the equivalent of a shoebox containing my best images, at full resolution and processed the way I wanted them to be processed. Legacy is an issue to think about in the digital age.

I'm feeling strangely light and future-proof.

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1. This is all the more frustrating because it's artificial: if you convert GFX files to DNG and change EXIF to PhaseOne IQ250, Capture One can magically edit the images without a hitch. EVEN from compressed raw files.

2. Hazel is an OS X automation app. The rule I've set up does three things: it scans the year folder once a day, adds a Cloud label/tag to any untagged images and sends them to Photos. The only problem with this setup is that it's an import, not a sync—any changes to the original images will force them to be imported again as duplicates.

Other tools: the long-winded case of the four keyboards


For the past year and a half I've been on a quest for the perfect iPad keyboard. I've written before on how iOS has essentially become my main platform, eclipsing macOS for almost all but photography-related tasks. But what should've been a fairly simple purchase turned out to be quite the adventure. A rather expensive adventure in fact. Welcome to The Long-Winded Case of the Four Keyboards.

Chapter One: Apple Wireless Keyboard

Lots of miles with this guy...

One fine day I thought to myself "hey, how much nicer would it be to write on the couch or the deck with my iPad, instead of sitting in front of an iMac ?". I remembered my Powerbook era and the freedom that came with it. So I did. Well, I tried. I love the power of an on-screen keyboard that can morph itself to the task at hand but the truth is, I was never able to type on any iPad reliably. Not long-form anyway. So to further test the waters, I paired it with the iMac's Bluetooth wireless keyboard and—after much fiddling and conflicts (always fun to play the Bluetooth whack-a-mole game)—I was hooked. But it quickly became very clear that 1) this combo needed a flat, steady surface to function properly and 2) it was a half-hearted solution: the keyboard was too wide, too heavy, it had no iPad-centric function keys. The setup was right but the gear was wrong. I needed a dedicated keyboard.

Chapter Two: Logitech Keys-To-Go

The Keys-To-Go is an extremely thin and light keyboard, made from what Logitech calls Fabric Skin—a sort of tissue-like material that (they claim) is durable and spill-resistant. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the typing experience despite keys that offered almost no travel at all. I immediately took to it and was even able to easily keep up my usual speed. The problem came with that aforementioned durability: within a few months the fabric began to warp. Not a huge deal...until keys stopped working. I was away on assignment when the R stopped registering, then the S. Within a few days it became a full-on cascading effect. To their credit Logitech eventually honoured their warranty and sent me a brand new unit. But it took a little too much time and when they finally came through I had already moved on. That replacement still works btw. But the fabric is now just as warped as the original unit, even though it's basically been sitting unused. Time bomb? I'll never know.

Chapter Three: Typo—what's in a name?

Ryan. Seacrest.
I almost passed just because of that. Petty? Sure. Except it turns out my instincts were spot on.

The original Typo keyboard was cast into the limelight when the eponymous Seacrest-backed company was sued by Blackberry (!) for copyright infringement. They were selling an accessory that added a physical Blackberry-ish keyboard to the iPhone. And they lost, big time. So they pivoted and re-invented their Typo, this time as a keyboard case for the iPad.

After my experience with the lower-priced Logitech I figured I needed to invest in something more serious. I did a lot of research and eventually settled on two possibilities: the Brydge and the Typo. Both had pros and cons, good and less good reviews, as most products do these days. The Typo was more expensive but it allowed the iPad to be used vertically (which I thought would be nice) and in the end, it came down to laziness: my local Apple store had it in stock.

The keyboard's standout feature when it was released was built-in auto-correct, at a time when external keyboards couldn't access the feature. A few short months later however, Apple released iOS 9—taking away the Typo's big advantage. But the keyboard was never updated and its built-in auto-correct remained, hardwired and impossible to turn off. This may just seem like a minor annoyance but here's where it got interesting: this American-made keyboard (sold internationally) would not type certain non-english letter combinations. And by combinations I mean what writers call W.O.R.D.S. I'm NOT kidding. The Typo would replace certain words with err...typos. For instance, the pronoun he is il in french. Anytime I would type il the Typo would "correct" it to ilfs. Which as far as I know isn't English OR French. I tried everything from disabling iOS auto-correct to trying text substitution...no go. The keyboard would override anything I tried. I emailed support who replied a month later (bra.vo) with a boilerplate non-answer. Again: this $200 keyboard refused to type words I needed to write. Points for originality I guess. When I did manage to type, I usually endedupwithsentencesthatlookedlikethis. Because you see, the space bar was also a very precious little beast that needed a lot of attention. Another "special feature" of the Typo were the two function buttons on the top row (replacing f2 and f3) dedicated to the company's contact and calendar apps. Never mind the design choice of forcing this on users ...those apps NEVER saw the light of day. Not a peep, not even a screenshot. Do we sense a pattern here?

Apps? Who said anything about apps?

Still, I toughed it out, hoping the company would eventually own up to their one and only product with a firmware update, perhaps even release those promised apps. Well, Typo's website is gone and Apple no longer sells the keyboard (they should never have sold it in the first place). A Google search yields very few results (most are about the Blackberry mess) but I've seen it on sale here and there, obviously old inventory certain stores are trying to get rid of. Do not buy this at ANY price. I can't believe no one has taken Seacrest to task on this disaster. If I lived in the US I'd look into suing their ass. Again.

Chapter four: Brydge or How I found Sanity at last

Which brings us to the here and now. I've typed this entire post on a Brydge 9.7—the model for the iPad Air 2 (or 1 or Pro). The same one I almost bought instead of the Typo, so many months ago. Lesson learned.

As soon as I opened the box I knew I was finally home: no fabric, no weird sticky plastic. the Brydge is made of aluminum and feels like an actual Macbook keyboard. The keys travel the way they should and I can finally type at full speed, comfortably. It isn't a case: the Brydge is simply a keyboard with two hinges into which you insert the iPad. The result is very slick and light—more so than I had expected. I'm also quite impressed by how closely the Brydge's Space Gray metal matches the iPad when they're snapped together. It genuinely feels like a single unit.

The screen is backlit—very useful for this night owl—and the iPad can easily be removed and inserted into the Brydge's hinges, for either notebook or tablet use. The weight distribution also makes sense: the keyboard is heavier than the screen (iPad) which makes laptop use —i.e on an actual lap—a perfectly comfortable option. I do have a few gripes: the lack of a Caps Lock light is hard to understand; the fact that Control Center becomes difficult if not impossible to activate (the iPad sits very low on the hinges*); and the dedicated Siri key that sits next to CTRL on the left side of the keyboard, that I keep hitting by mistake. But that I can train myself to avoid (it's happening less and less already) and none of the others are deal breakers—notes for a 2.0 version however.

I've been all in with the iPad and iOS for a while but this keyboard feels like the missing link I'd been hoping for all along. After such a long and painful road it does feel rather good. If I eventually add a bigger iPad model I'll probably even choose the corresponding Brydge keyboard over Apple's own solution, despite the lack of a Smart Connector.

The Brydge is not inexpensive: we're talking $149.99 US. But if you happen to be reading this in november 2016, they're having a pre-holidays sale that shaves off $20 on this particular model. I signed up for an account and got an additional $10 off on my first purchase.

I know it's geeky as hell but I'm actually giddy right now: I'm in Ulysses, using my preferred Dark Mode theme, typing on those backlit keys as the sun sets in the background. 1,487 words in and I can count the typos on a single hand.

Case closed.**

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* Making the hinges a little bit shallower would solve this entirely—without affecting the overall balance.
 ** Fingers crossed.
P.S All images shot with the X-T1, the XF 18-55mm and XF 60mm.

Other Tools: Todoist

We all know photography—especially the business of photography—is about much more than just cameras and images. With this in mind I've decided to post articles under a new category entitled Other Tools. Not necessarily in-depth reviews, just quick looks at bits and pieces that are part of my daily workflow. I've tagged a few previous posts but this is the first "official" one.

I've always struggled with organization. Actually no, scratch that: I've always struggled with procrastination. Ah yes, the dreaded I can get to this later syndrome that plagues so many of us. It's an emotional issue, apparently.

I've always tried to overcome this, experimenting with various systems, apps, whatever. And I honestly believed I'd finally found my Holy Grail with 2DO, an app available on both iOS and OS X (soon to be macOS) that had me willingly moving forward with a more throughtful approach to the problem. It's an incredibly powerful app that deserves all the praise it's been receiving this past year and I'm sure we haven't seen the best of it yet.

That said: I recently realized it was too much for me. The trap with task management is that we can end up spending more time organizing our tasks than....you know...doing them. Has to do with friction and flow: the system you use needs to become thoughtless, it needs to just disappear. As well-thought out as it is, after months of use I was still struggling to remember where certain functions were in 2DO—which means it simply wasn't the right fit for me.

Enter Todoist.

Before going all in with 2DO I'd given Todoist a try and dismissed it—mainly due to its SAS model. I'm not a big fan of Software As Service and the nasty surprises it can spring on users: that Premium Evernote account I switched out of last year? I paid $24.99/year CAD. Now, after two consecutive overhauls (in less than 12 months?) access to those exact same features—annoying nags et al—would cost me $89 CAD/year; we're talking a **260% **increase here. Needless to say I've been perfectly happy with Notes and I'm not looking back. But like it or not subscriptions are the new reality—all we can do is choose very, very carefully.

So I downloaded Todoist again, out of curiosity, and this time took a good hard look around. It was as if a light came on: an hour later I had upgraded to Premium; by the end of the day I had everything in my life laid out more clearly than ever before, everything from work to personal tasks. And for the first time ever, I'm actually Getting Things Done.

I think the cleanliness of the design plays a huge part because I don't deal well with visual clutter: my brain tires easily. When my studio is a mess I don't work as well and when an interface throws too much stuff at me, I blank out. Todoist—especially on iOS—pulls me in. I don't feel overwhelmed, even with multiple tasks thrown at me. I've kept my organization simple in order to prevent fiddling; I can switch from my iPhone to my iPad to my Apple Watch to my Mac without skipping a beat. Voice dictation and natural language parsing work very well so watchOS 3's quick launch feature will be a boon (no more waiting 45 seconds for the app to open).

The service also has this feature called Karma which—honestly—felt like a feel-good gimmick at first. It's 1) a reward system based on points that you accumulate when you check-off tasks, with levels from Novice to Enlightened (!) and 2) a way to visualize your productivity through various time-based graphs. As silly as it may seem, I've grown addicted to it. Like the activity rings on the Watch, it provides a strangely compelling incentive to accomplish my daily goals.

It's not perfect mind you: for one there's a bug on iOS that prevents uncompleting tasks that have been mistakenly checked off. I also wish search was easier to get to on that platform and there's no sort option to be found anywhere either (the app defaults to either date or priority depending on the view...I'm still not sure what triggers what). None of these are issues on the Mac or web versions so there should be fixes in the future.

But regardless, I'm having a crazy busy summer that was in desperate need of a system to keep me on track and I seem to have found it. Bottom line: Todoist is quick, it looks nice and it's keeping me highly motivated.

The end of procrastination? Well...fingers crossed.