Ew, Nerds Are Gross!

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The other day, Alyssa Bereznak wrote a piece for Gizmodo (the piece has been altered to soften its language. You can find the original here), describing her date with a nerd she met on OKCupid. Bereznak was fairly dismissive of her date, Jon Finkel, who is the world champion at the card game Magic: The Gathering. What's worse, she appeared to dismiss him simply because he was good at such a game. Bereznak refers to the date as a "horror story" but if that's her version of a horror story, she really needs to meet a few of my friends who have had much worse luck in the online dating world. Also, a Gizmodo writer calling out a Magic player for being a nerd? Pot, meet the kettle with no sense of privacy or boundaries.

Bereznak's piece is fascinating for a number of reasons. On the one hand, the piece itself is as bizarre as its venue of publication, so much so that I can't imagine the people over at Gawker Media/Gizmodo did not know what they were doing by running it. They understood that they'd be pissing people off, and racking up a ton of links and attention in the process. As of this writing, it's accumulated over 800,000 views, making Bereznak a rich intern and probably making Gawker owner Nick Denton pretty pleased with himself.

Over at Forbes, Paul Tassi asks the question that I also had when reading the piece:

So as a freelancer, and as a publisher, you have to ask yourself how much you want to sell your soul in order to bring in page views. I’m sure that was Gizmodo’s highest trafficked day in a long while, but at the cost of most people visiting saying “Wow, how could they have actually published this?” Alyssa might be getting a fat bonus check at the end of the month, but at the cost of having her name permanently etched into the internet as a shallow, mean human being. Was it worth it? 

I do wonder if Bereznak knew that she'd be forever associating her (previously relatively little known) name with a self-affirmation of her shallowness and a categorical denunciation of geeks. It's a fact that when you Google Bereznak's name, the firestorm surrounding this piece will probably be on the first page of results for a long time to come. I can't imagine that will be good for her future dating life, but who knows? Maybe that kind of thing appeals to some guys.

I spoke with friend and writer Natasha Vargas-Cooper regarding the piece. You can find audio of our conversation here. Apologies for the terrible sound quality:


Me & @natashavc discuss @alyssabereznak"s @gizmodo piece a/b online dating & MAGIC: The Gathering (Sorry for the bad audio) (mp3)

Moving

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Sorry for the sparse updates recently. I've spent the last few days moving. It's not a process I recommend; moving is incredibly disruptive, not just because it requires exceptional amounts of exertion, but because it upsets one's routine. In a literal way, the world I woke up in yesterday is no longer the one I'll wake up in today. It'll take some getting used to. To commemorate the occasion, I tried my hand at some street photography last night in Harvard Square. (Again, I used my Canon 5D Mark 2 on ISO 3200.)

It's a place that's full of character. These photos are my brief love letter to it:

How To Destroy HP In One Year

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Al Lewis runs down all the bone-headed moves that HP has taken in the past year alone:

It has been a year since H-P fired Mr. Hurd. Jack Kevorkian couldn't have devised a better plan for euthanizing a company. But like the good doctor used to say: "Dying is not a crime."

Richard Dawkins Destroys Rick Perry (Rhetorically)

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Richard Dawkins recently penned a scathing piece for the Washington Post, in which he responded to Rick Perry's pronouncements that the theory of evolution had "gaps." It's worth reading in its entirety, but here's a slice:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Hurricane Irene Could Negatively Impact U.S. GDP

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Nate Silver has the sobering math:

Time to think about the unthinkable. What if a major hurricane were to pass close to New York City, as several forecasting models now suggest that Hurricane Irene might?

Apart from the inevitable loss of life in the most densely populated part of the country, history suggests that the economic damage could run into the tens of billions of dollars, depending on the severity of the storm and how close it came to the city. Unlikely but theoretically plausible scenarios could have the damage entering the realm of the costliest natural disasters of all time, and perhaps being large enough to have a materially negative effect on the United States’ gross domestic product.

If you're around New York/New England (as I am), do stay safe this weekend. Hopefully this forecast is making a mountain out of a molehill...

Tips from the Works of Cartier-Bresson

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Eric Kim (via Vanessa) has some pretty good tips, drawn from the work of master street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Perhaps my favorite one is "stick to one lens":

Although Henri Cartier-Bresson shot with several different lenses while on-assignment working for Magnum, he would only shoot with a 50mm if he was shooting for himself. By being faithful to that lens for decades, the camera truly became “an extension of his eye”.

Apply the same mentality to when you go out and shoot. I encourage people to use different focal lengths to see the world differently and experiment—but ultimately sticking with one focal length will help you solidify your artistic vision. You will be able to see natural framelines in your everyday life, and know exactly how your photos will appear when shooting from certain angles and distances.

The Culture of Apple

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In the wake of Steve Jobs' resignation as CEO of Apple, the best reflection that I've read on this topic comes not from a tech pundit, but from Linda Holmes at NPR:

The relationship between Apple and its aficionados has always borne little resemblance to the relationships consumers have with most other giant companies, tech companies, or even brilliantly marketed companies. To see congruence, for instance, between Apple fans and Microsoft users based on the constant back-and-forth that makes fights between them so pointless and eternal is to misunderstand how those discussions work. People love Apple; at best, they appreciate Microsoft (and, more to the point, grow weary of those people who love Apple). What you see is not "Apple is brilliant," "No, Microsoft is brilliant." What you see is, "Apple is brilliant." "Oh, would you shut up already." These discussions, for those who choose to spend time on them, are often about a binary sense of Apple: Apple Yes, and Apple No. That's the definition of the argument, and that's the definition of dominating the part of the culture in which you exist.

Through Different Eyes

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Odie Henderson deconstructs The Help, amusingly:

As I read the EW article [about the film], I thought to myself “they’re trying pretty damn hard to head off any backlash! This must be off-the-chart offensive! Now I have to go see it!” You know I just love a good movie Negro stereotype. Until I read that article, I was content to leave The Help out of my viewfinder, as it seemed like a run-of-the-mill extension of the White character tells Black story feel-good genre that includes Cry Freedom and Mississippi Burning. In truth, having the story told through a White device is actually more insulting to White people than to us. It’s as if Hollywood is saying “you can’t put yourselves in the shoes of an ethnic character, so here’s Kevin Kline! He’s JUST…LIKE…YOU!!!” At least Hollywood thinks minorities are smart enough to relate to the White characters.

Mind-Blowing

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Photo subjects made to look like paintings. Need I say more? (via AdFreak)

Why eBooks Cost More Than Their Print Counterparts

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Fascinating, straightforward analysis by Nathan Bransford.

Student Loan Debt Has Grown Beyond Our Control

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According to The Atlantic, student loans have grown 511% since 1999. That is a staggering amount (well above inflation, obviously, as well as the growth in number of students), but it's also striking because it outpaces the growth in household debt by a longshot: 

This chart looks like a mistake, but it's correct. Student loan debt has grown by 511% over this period. In the first quarter of 1999, just $90 billion in student loans were outstanding. As of the second quarter of 2011, that balance had ballooned to $550 billion.

The chart above is striking for another reason. See that blue line for all other debt but student loans? This wasn't just any average period in history for household debt. This period included the inflation of a housing bubble so gigantic that it caused the financial sector to collapse and led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. But that other debt growth? It's dwarfed by student loan growth.

There Is No Tomorrow

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Some inspiring words by photography Martin Prihoda (via David Hobby):

What I realized is that putting your visions of success and happiness into the future tense really is a negation of your success and happiness right here and now. We are unhappy with how things are so we fantasize about the future and how happy we'll be when we have our new car, house, salary, job, relationship.

But its all bullshit. You're lying to yourself. If you can't feel your success right here in the present moment, then you never will. It will never ever come.

Testing Botero Background #023

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After viewing the Strobist Lighting Seminar DVD Box Set, I was particularly intrigued by what photographer David Hobby was able to achieve using a cheap, simple collapsible muslin background created by Botero. I decided to buy Botero Background #023 (the same one in the DVD, apparently) and try to replicate the effects that Hobby created. So, I did a quick-and-dirty setup in my living room, got my roommate Matt to pose for 10 minutes, cranked up my f-stop to minimize ambient light, and fired away. Here are the photos that resulted.



In general, I'm extremely impressed that I was able to achieve this look in my living room, which, trust me, does not resemble a photo studio in the slightest. Here are a few of my notes:

  • I used two flashes: one flash aimed at Matt at a 45 degree angle to his left and above, fired through a Westcott 43" umbrella on top of a light stand. The second flash is directly behind Matt, pointing at the wall, and was triggered via infared sensor.
  • The different colors were achieved by putting different colored gels on top of the background flash. It is amazing what a difference a $.50 piece of see-through plastic can create!
  • Unfortunately, the Botero background wrinkles extremely easily, exacerbated by the fact that it is collapsible. These wrinkles are also very, very obvious in photos where the background can clearly be seen. As a result, I had to shoot at high focal lengths (using my 70-200mm) in order to make depth-of-field more shallow to achieve the kind of bokeh that minimized these wrinkles. Unfortunately, I think I overshot it a little bit; there's some image softness in a few of these photos and I think f4 would probably have been sufficient, given how close I was to Matt
  • On a related note, I bought the 5x7 Botero background for $65. Apparently they sell other, much larger sizes (a 10x12 and a collapsible 8x16). I think the 5x7 is a good combination of portability and big size, but I did find myself struggling on numerous occasions to crop out the edge of the background. In other words, this background is a bit small and will constrain your options, so if you are going to shoot with the 5x7 background, you need to use a 70-200mm lens (or higher).
  • It was surprisingly difficult to lean the background against anything that wasn't a wall. Anything smaller would create an uneven shape, so just keep that in mind if you're hoping to lean this thing on a chair or something.
Overall, I'm pleased with the purchase and am glad that with just a $65 item, I have another major asset I can add to my portfolio.

Single People Die Earlier

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MSNBC reports on a new study assessing the longevity of single people vs. married people (via Rosa):

Although many studies point to the fact that singles just don’t fare as well in terms of health and longevity compared to the married, this new research shows “just how poorly the singles do,” explains lead author David Roelfs, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Louisville, Ky.

The researchers analyzed the data from some 90 previous studies, which included about 500 million people, and compared the risk of mortality for singles from those studies — defined as those who never married — to that of a married group, excluding those who are divorced or widowed. The researchers found the risk of death was 32 percent higher across a lifetime for single men compared to married men. Single women face a 23 percent higher mortality risk, compared to married women.


Testing the Canon 5D Mark II's Low Light Capabilities

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When the White House puts out a photo of President Obama, it's frequently taken using a Canon 5D Mark II (Example: this iconic image). It's the same camera that Jerry Ghionis uses. It's one of the gold standards of DSLR cameras these days, in terms of image quality.

I recently acquired a Canon 5D Mark II after the unit went on sale at Best Buy. There are many reasons to own one, but the two primary ones for me were the fact that it sports a full-frame sensor (allowing me to take full advantage of my EF lenses), and the fact that it gets amazing low light performance.

Last night, I decided to put the latter to the test. I spent some time with my friend Rachell, during which I shot a few photos at ISOs 2500 and 3200:



On the way home, I shot a local band, Cradle to the Grave, who were performing at the Plough & Stars bar in Central Square. All of these photos were shot using ISO 3200 or ISO 4000:



My thoughts? The low light performance is spectacular. It is, in fact, so good that I'm pretty irritated I have not been using this camera all along. With my Canon 7D, I top out at ISO 1600 before the images become unusable, noise-wise, for any professional context. Yet with the 5D Mark II, even the ISO 4000 images are theoretically possible to use (realistically I probably wouldn't go higher than 3200, but it depends on the situation. We don't always get to choose our optimal ISO levels). And as you hopefully can see above, this makes possible images that I could only dream of prior to this point.

How many images have I missed out on because I did not have this camera before now? I shudder to think on it. But I'm glad this camera and I are finally together.

[Thanks to Alex Billington for hooking me up with the 50mm f/1.4 lens used in all these images. Extremely handy for producing sharp images in very dark situations!]

The Camera Equipment I Use

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In the past few months, I've gotten many questions about what camera bodies and lenses I use. I thought it would be useful to make a post about it, so I can just refer people to this post rather than answering the same question dozens of times. As of today (8/16/2011), here is what I own. Typically, I'll use some combination of these bodies and lenses for any given shoot:

Camera bodies:
Canon 50D
Canon 7D
Canon 5D Mark II
Fuji X100 (fixed 23mm lens on cropped sensor)
iPhone 4 (favorite apps: OldCamera, Pano, Hipstamatic)

Camera lenses:
50mm f/1.8
50mm f/1.4
70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM II
24-70mm f/2.8

***

I'll try to update this post as my needs and interests changes.

Shooting San Francisco

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I visited San Francisco this past weekend to see some old friends and see about a job opportunity. I was able to bring my Canon 7D with me, along with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. In addition, I brought along my trusty Fuji X100 as well. The Fuji is a phenomenal travel camera -- small, unassuming, attractive, and likely to spark conversation with those who see you using it:



In addition, I did a brief photo shoot with my friend Sara. We took these photos after viewing the Picasso exhibit at the de Young museum, which, btw, was breathtaking:



Sara is one of those natural beauties, a person whose posing and expressions are so sublime that they rarely needs any direction from me. I hope these photos were able to bring out that beauty.

Shooting New Zealand

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This is long overdue, but I thought I'd make a brief post about some of my experiences in New Zealand recently. I had the opportunity to visit Weta studios to see footage from Steven Spielberg's latest film, The Adventures of Tintin. You can find my full write-up by clicking here, as well as a partial transcript of a conversation I participated in with Spielberg and Peter Jackson (part 1 and part 2).

After the set visit, I took the opportunity to drive along the South Island of New Zealand. The rental car cost me about $450 for three days (including gas, which costs about $8/gallon in New Zealand), and I had to drive all by myself for about 1,000 miles, but I saw sights that are so beautiful that they simply can't be matched anywhere else on earth. For this trip, I used a combination of my Canon 50D with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, my Fuji X100, and my iPhone mostly using the Pano app:



I've done nature photography in the past, but in general, I find it to be a challenging enterprise. On a very basic level, the technology is limiting. The human eye's dynamic range is vastly higher than that of even the most advanced dSLR on the market. Therefore, when you're photographing images like this one...

Creek

...it can be challenging to determine the correct exposure level. And even if I got something usable, some post work would be required (as it was in this image). Fortunately, as I've pointed out in the past, the Fuji X100's dynamic range is spectacular. Obviously HDR is a solution for some of these problems, but I'm still not sure I want my images to look so obviously manipulated.

New Zealand Day 5 7

When you're photographing a human being, it's pretty easy to figure out how to compose an image; maybe stick to the rule of thirds, and if you have interesting background elements, use them to frame your subject in a unique way. But with nature photography, you have to be more conscious of how different elements fill the frame, how the eye is drawn to them, and how the eye moves through the image. You also have a lot less flexibility in terms of which angle you are shooting from.

Sunrise in Christchurch

Despite the challenges, I'd like to think I was able to capture a small fraction of the beauty that's present in New Zealand. Hopefully, you feel the same way.

[A special thanks to Sam and to Sid from New Zealand for their help in allowing me to capture these images!]

The Offensiveness of 'The Help'

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Martha Southgate has a pretty articulate takedown detailing what's wrong with The Help, whether in movie or book form (via Alexander):

[T]hese stories are more likely to get the green light and have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That's a shame. The continued impulse to reduce the black women and men of the civil rights movement to bit players in the most extraordinary step towards justice that this nation has ever known is infuriating, to say the least.

That Ridiculous Michele Bachmann Newsweek Cover

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Michelle Bachmann appeared on the cover of Newsweek recently, with an extremely unflattering photograph and headline. Adam Clark Estes has a nice rundown of reactions, most of which I agree with. In particular, I appreciate Jessica Grose's begrudging defense of Bachmann:

The Newsweek cover was unnecessarily unflattering. I doubt Newsweek would portray a male candidate with such a lunatic expression on his face. As much as it pains me to admit it Bachmann is a legitimate candidate and major magazines should treat her like one.

The Narrative Failure of Barack Obama

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Drew Westen, explaining how Barack Obama has failed to write or take part of a story that made sense to the American people:

The president is fond of referring to “the arc of history,” paraphrasing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” But with his deep-seated aversion to conflict and his profound failure to understand bully dynamics — in which conciliation is always the wrong course of action, because bullies perceive it as weakness and just punch harder the next time — he has broken that arc and has likely bent it backward for at least a generation.

A Plague On Both Your Houses

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William Galston explains how both sides could have prevented the recent debt ceiling debacle. As Kyle Baxter puts it, "This isn’t a case of one party attempting to do the right thing for the country and the other playing chicken with default. It’s a story of two parties behaving like spoiled children."

Real Identity

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Alexis Madrigal makes the case that Google+ and Facebook are asking us, as members of society, to do something we've never done before:

Every statement you make on Google Plus or Facebook is persistent and strongly attached to your real identity through your name. Both services allow you to change settings to make your statements more or less public, which solves some problems. However, participating in public life on the services requires attaching your name to your statements. On the boulevards and town squares of Facebook, you can't just say, "Down with the government," with the knowledge that only a small percentage of the people who hear you could connect your statement to you. But the information is still being recorded, presumably in perpetuity. That means that if a government or human resources researcher or plain old enemy wants to get a hold of it, it is possible.

The pseudonym advocates note that being allowed to pick and choose a different name solves some of these problems. One can choose to tightly couple one's real-world identity and online identity... or not. One can choose to have multiple identities for separate networks. In the language we were using earlier, pseudonyms allow statements to be public and persistent, but not attached to one's real identity.

The Ethics of Using a 10-Year Old for Fashion Photography

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Jenna Sauers, on point writing about French fashion sensation Thylane Loubry Blondeau:

Even posing questions like these about the sexualization of children is discomfiting. To ask is this child too sexy is to put a child's body under a kind of scrutiny that is (and should be) strange and unnatural, and that's not a thing that should be taken lightly. But it's one thing for a parent to take a photo of his or her little girl while she's running around a beach in a pair of swimsuit bottoms. It's another for a fashion magazine to take a photo of a 10-year-old sitting topless on a bed and publish it for a global audience.

The Power of a Photograph

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The above photograph was published on a front page story in The New York Times on August 2nd, 2011. It is shocking, and it stirs the soul in ways that words most likely could not. Salon breaks down why the newspaper decided to run it, and whether it will have any impact on the debate (or lack thereof) over the situation in Somalia:

The graphic quality of Hicks' photo certainly matches the stark portrait painted by Gettleman's reporting. And executive editor Bill Keller told Salon that the choice to feature the image so prominently was uncontroversial in the Times newsroom: "We'd already decided to front Jeffrey's powerful story, and it would have felt like journalistic malfeasance not to include Tyler's powerful photography," he said. "I know many readers found the picture disturbing. That's good. The deaths of thousands of Somali children ought to disturb us, at least."

Is Being a Playboy Bunny Empowering?

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Linda Holmes, with a devastating critique on NBC's really far-fetched pitch for its new show, The Playboy Club:

[Executive producer] Hodge argued, in the end, that the interaction between a Bunny and a customer at a table was all about "buoying women up and giving them the power," because the men weren't allowed to touch the Bunnies. Now, remember — these women are waitresses. They're not prostitutes. They're strangers, unknown to the men, who are serving drinks. And he is arguing, in effect, that they have been buoyed up and given the power because they are granted the right, while tottering around in painful costumes and high heels for the gratification of their customers, not to be physically touched. They have all the power because the club tells patrons that they're not supposed to touch them. They don't really have the power of doing anything; just the power of withholding. Essentially, the argument is that for these women, the highest power they can possibly hold, and what truly elevates them, is the power to deny men the opportunity to touch them.

The Facebook Birthday Experiment

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David Plotz gave himself multiple birthdays on Facebook to see if people would mindlessly send him great birthday wishes each time. The results are depressingly unsurprising:

[T]he Facebook fake birthday experiment did end up confirming my worst fears about the network. All too many birthday wishes are autonomic, sent without thought or personal feeling. It's one thing to remember your friend's birthday because you took him out a decade ago for his drunken 21st birthday debauch. It's much lamer to "remember" your friend's birthday because Facebook told you to.