Become a Noun

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Robert Krulwich and Adam Cole explain the perils of having "your entire life reduced to a single definition":

Wanna Live Forever? Become A Noun from NPR on Vimeo.

The Statistics Behind The Red Sox' Historic Collapse

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Love when Nate Silver brings the power of statistical analysis to something like this:

[Y]ou get a combined probability of about one chance in 278 million of all these events coming together in quite this way. When confronted with numbers like these, you have to start to ask a few questions, statistical and existential.

Amazon's Bold Tablet Play

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Amazon announced FOUR new Kindles today, including the first-ever plausible iPad competitor. Pretty awesome stuff. Enough to get me excited, even though I probably won't be springing for one given that I already own an iPad and a recent-generation Kindle. At $200 though, the Kindle Fire tablet is dangerously close to impulse buy territory.

In addition to the new hardware, Amazon also announced Amazon Silk, a cloud browser that has the ability to deliver blazing fast speeds. But the technology behind Silk gives Amazon a major advantage in the consumer retail and media space. Chris Espinosa breaks it down:

[W]hat this means is that Amazon will capture and control every Web transaction performed by Fire users. Every page they see, every link they follow, every click they make, every ad they see is going to be intermediated by one of the largest server farms on the planet. People who cringe at the privacy and data-mining implications of the Facebook Timeline ought to be just floored by the magnitude of Amazon’s opportunity here. Amazon now has what every storefront lusts for: the knowledge of what other stores your customers are shopping in and what prices they’re being offered there.

College Graduation Rates Are Still Terrible

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Some sobering statistics via the NYTimes:

Currently, federal education statistics generally focus on first-time full-time students. But according to the [Complete College] report, about 4 of every 10 public college students attend part time — and no more than a quarter of part-time students ever graduate.

As a part-time student myself, I'm determined to be one of the few that makes it to the finish line.

Why did 'Drive' Fail to Connect with Audiences?

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I loved Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, and so did the rest of the film critic community. But the film has thus far failed to connect with audiences. Writers at Salon try to break down why:

People show up expecting a glossy sexy movie about a man driving a car, when in reality it's basically a hyper-violent European art-house movie that offers little in the way of car chases or romance. That's one way of thinking about it, but I honestly think the bigger problem is that this movie is too gut-churningly violent.

Facebook Removes Choice From Your Sharing Options

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Farhad Manjoo, on the money as usual about Facebook's new changes and, in particular, the "ticker" feature:

Zuckerberg calls this "frictionless" sharing. What he means is that I don't have to bother with the "friction" of choosing to tell you that I like something. On Facebook, now, merely experiencing something is enough to trigger sharing. Once I sign up for Spotify's Facebook app, my consent is assumed: When I listen, I share. The same goes for the many other apps that Facebook's partners are launching. When I watch something on Netflix or Hulu, when I read something on the Daily, or when I play a game like Words With Friends, Facebook will tell my friends. Everyone I know on Facebook will now have a running log of my life.

This is a nightmare, but not for the reasons you might suspect. I don't hate this new model because of its lack of "privacy," or due to Facebook's clear financial interest in collecting my personal information...My problem with "frictionless sharing" is much more basic: Facebook is killing taste.

Laura June also has a smart take on the matter.

The Economics of Business Insider

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Felix Salmon reveals the stark truths about Henry Blodget's online news machine:

[T]here’s reason to be concerned about what Blodget’s team has sacrificed along the way. It’s worth noting that venture-backed media companies can very much be in a race against time for growth. Investors want a return on their money and, given the economics of web news, that almost always requires exponential growth in uniques and pageviews.

See also Marco Arment's analysis of Business Insider's copy-and-pasting of his material.

Update: And Business Insider responds to Arment (with aplomb)!

Unnecessary

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A new Tumblr of unnecessary journalism phrases. I'd like to see even some cursory explanation of WHY each one is unnecessary, but I suppose if you have to ask, you don't deserve to know?

How to Survive Falling Out of a Plane

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Thank you, internet:

Admit it: You want to be the sole survivor of an airline disaster. You aren't looking for a disaster to happen, but if it does, you see yourself coming through it. I'm here to tell you that you're not out of touch with reality—you can do it. Sure, you'll take a few hits, and I'm not saying there won't be some sweaty flashbacks later on, but you'll make it. You'll sit up in your hospital bed and meet the press. Refreshingly, you will keep God out of your public comments, knowing that it's unfair to sing His praises when all of your dead fellow-passengers have no platform from which to offer an alternative view.

Let's say your jet blows apart at 35,000 feet. You exit the aircraft, and you begin to descend independently. Now what?

Getting Pregnant

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Paul Ford wrote one of the most powerful things I've read all week: a gut-wrenching account of how he and his wife struggled to get pregnant. Highly recommended.

How HP Self-Destructed

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Sad to see one of the greats go down in flames like this.

The Execution of Troy Davis

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Andrew Cohen, writing about what Troy Davis' execution this evening represents (via Heather):

Georgia says that it has given Davis more due process than any single man would have a right to expect. Up the state appellate ladder and down again. Up to the Supreme Court and back. Hearing upon hearing. Brief upon brief. At some point, Georgia says, there has to be finality in capital cases. At some point, the justice system has to accept the work of judges and juries and impose the sentence that was initially given. There is truth to all of this. And there is both rhyme and reason to many of the rules which govern appellate law and practice in capital cases. But those rules almost always place the state's interest in finality ahead of the condemned's interest in accuracy. "Enough is enough" is a great campaign slogan -- but it's hardly a worthy motto for a civilized nation's death penalty scheme.

Don't Be Evil Towards Yelp

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Yelp's CEO pens some fascinating, damning testimony against Google's antitrust tendencies when it comes to the local game:

Because Google competes against Yelp to provide consumers with the best information about local businesses, these government groups have asked Yelp to discuss our experiences with Google’s conduct.

We have responded to these requests and told officials that we believe Google has acted anti-competitively in at least two key ways: by misusing Yelp review content in their competing Places product and by favoring their own competing Places product in search results.

How the Internet is Destroying Small-Town America

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Anonymous online forums have always had the ability to hurt people's feelings. Turns out they are also tearing apart communities:

[O]f late, more people in this hardscrabble town of 5,000 have shifted from sharing the latest news and rumors over eggs and coffee to the Mountain Grove Forum on a social media Web site called Topix, where they write and read startlingly negative posts, all cloaked in anonymity, about one another.

And in Dee’s Place, people are not happy. A waitress, Pheobe Best, said that the site had provoked fights and caused divorces. The diner’s owner, Jim Deverell, called Topix a “cesspool of character assassination.” And hearing the conversation, Shane James, the cook, wandered out of the kitchen tense with anger.

Sit, Don't Stand

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It used to be that standing desks were thought of as the solution to that age old problem of not allowing our sedentary lifestyles to kill us slowly. But now, new research from Cornell reveals that the best solution is somewhere in between (via Gruber):

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

The Anton Chighur of Tabloid Media

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Matt Zoller Seitz, on the myth of Charlie Sheen:

[N]o matter what idiocy he gets involved with, and no matter how many lives he damages or destroys, people just continue hiring him, and talking about him, and writing about him (see also this article), and otherwise supporting and enabling him. He truly seems invulnerable. He is the Anton Chighur of tabloid media, capable of withstanding (or so it seems) any amount of controlled substances as well as public shaming. Sheen's last flameout was covered more extensively than most foreign wars. His obligatory period of wandering seemed to last about two-and-a-half minutes.

Does Michelle Bachmann Have Blood on Her Hands?

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A saddening story from the NYTimes about the projected damage that Bachmann's vaccine statements may cause:

[T]he harm to public health may have already been done. When politicians or celebrities raise alarms about vaccines, even false alarms, vaccination rates drop.

“These things always set you back about three years, which is exactly what we can’t afford,” said Dr. Rodney E. Willoughby, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a member of the committee on infectious diseases of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The Body of Your Enemy

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TechCrunch's continuing disaster spilled over onto the site again this weekend, as columnist Paul Carr decided to engage in some scorched earth tactics on his way out the door (see TechCrunch editor Schonfield's response).

Rex Hammock pointed me to this post by David Winer, which tells a story that really resonates with me:

When competitors make public and personal accusations, how are you going to respond, when customers are watching? It's a very low-road way to compete. Not much you can but weather the storm, keep offering the best service you can, figuring the smart customers will ignore the personal stuff.

Anyway, there's an ancient Chinese proverb that goes something like this. "If you sit by the river long enough, you will see the body of your enemy float by." It works! As your competitors rise, eventually they have done to them what they did to you, and if you sit there a while, you don't have to do a thing -- nature takes care of it.

'Run Lola Run'

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I really enjoyed Tom Whalen's Film Quarterly essay on Run Lola Run. Yes, it's 10 years old (and the film is even older) but the film's subtle message about fate and determinism has been sticking with me recently as I sense big changes coming in my life quite soon:

Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run (Lola rennt, 1998) blasts open doors for viewers in the late 90s the way Godard's Breathless (1959) did for viewers in the late 50s. In few other ways would I compare these two films. Godard's exercise is tinted cool, hip, his characters posturing cartoons; whereas Tykwer's is hot, kinetic, and his (at times animated) characters bristling realities. Though a profoundly philosophical and German film, Run Lola Run leaps lightly over the typical Teutonic metaphysical mountains. Tykwer's work doesn't have the Romantic receptive gaze of a Wenders or entertain the grapple with the gods of a Herzog, but instead possesses a ludic spirit willing to see life and art as a game. Nor, though as excited by the techniques of cinema as the film of a first-time director (Run Lola Run is Tykwer's eighth movie), is it the loose, dehumanized display of, say, Pulp Fiction (1994) or Trainspotting (1996). Run Lola Run is fast, but never loose. It's as tightly wound and playful as a Tinguely machine and constructed with care.

For TechCrunch, This Is How It Ends

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The Guardian chronicles the latest chapter in the Crunchgate fiasco, in which a startup that Arrington invested in won TechCrunch Disrupt:

The whole episode marks a giant loss in credibility for TechCrunch, a mangled, undignified departure, unprofessional personal scraps between colleagues and a decidedly fetid atmosphere around what has generally been a vibrant, inspiring and powerful brand. Ultimately, whatever the future of the writers and investors involved, this is a real shame for the entrepreneurs who've worked extremely hard to get this far.

Journalist Johann Hari Apologizes for Misrepresenting Interviews

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I was actually an admirer of the works of Johann Hari before I read his mea culpa today in the Independent:

When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead. At the time, I justified this to myself by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought, in their most considered and clear words.But I was wrong.

I didn't have much background into the situation, but Jeff Bercovici provides it, along with some stinging commentary:

No, Johann, it’s arrogant and stupid of you to think anyone you’re not related to by blood is going to buy this. Journalism is filled with people who rose fast and/or received not formal training. Most of us (I’m in the latter category) never had to be told you can’t steal quotes. You’re smarter than most. You knew this. Until you admit it, you’ll never have a chance of regaining your credibility.

Hating on 'H8r'

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Dan Fienberg has a spectacular yet thoughtful takedown of the new morally reprehensible show H8r, hosted by Mario Lopez:

Mario Lopez doesn't care how little money you make or what you do or even if anybody out there on the Internet cares about whatever mean thing you might say, because he's got a point to make, one that he believes in strongly: Even the lowest-level celebrity -- ESPECIALLY the lowest-level celebrity -- should be exempt from criticism. But feel free to love them and write about that.

My Grandfather's Watch

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While Stephen Tobolowsky was in town recently, I shot this video with him using my Canon 5D Mark 2 on a tripod, my Rode Videomic, and natural lighting in Stephen's hotel room.



I realize there are problems with this video. Specifically, Stephen's face is overexposed, he is ever-so-slightly out of focus, the other half of his face needs a little bit more illumination, the sound suffers from some bad automatic gain control, etc. etc. etc. But above all that, Stephen's storytelling is still able to shine through.

Teachers Are Quitting Because Parents Are a Huge Pain

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Ron Clark breaks down why it's so difficult to get teachers to enter the profession these days:

Today, new teachers remain in our profession an average of just 4.5 years, and many of them list "issues with parents" as one of their reasons for throwing in the towel. Word is spreading, and the more negativity teachers receive from parents, the harder it becomes to recruit the best and the brightest out of colleges.

Less Money, Mo' Problems

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The past few weeks have been incredibly hectic for me, so I'm only now catching up on news items that were relevant weeks ago. I was struck by Paul Carr's recent piece about Jack Schafer's firing from Slate. I've previously written at length about the economics of online publishing. The TL;DR version of that article is that making money online is extraordinarily difficult. Paul Carr agrees:

The blunt truth is, online advertising is a numbers game. And, even on niche sites, the number of salable page impressions required to even break even is huge. There are just too many pages of content being produced for advertising to remain a viable long-term business model. The New York Times can’t make money online, the Guardian can’t, Slate can’t and Salon barely can.

If the people at Slate can't make the numbers work, what chance do the online film/entertainment blogs have?

My 10 Favorite Films of 2011 Thus Far

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As usual, I reserve the right to modify this list for my end-of-year rankings. Here they are, in no particular order:


  • Attack the Block
  • 50/50
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • The Guard
  • Drive
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Submarine
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Bridesmaids
  • X-Men: First Class

Yelp Reviews Written by Cormac McCarthy

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It's incredible that this exists. To understand and enjoy it you need both an appreciation of social networking sites like Yelp AND an understanding of the stylistic flourishes (or lack thereof) of Cormac McCarthy. Ahhh, internet. When will you ever stop amazing me? (via alexander)

NPR's Write-Up of The Tobolowsky Files

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A nice job as usual by Linda Holmes. And with that, another dream comes true. The final frontier? Getting Stephen onto "This American Life."

The Perimeter of Knowledge

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I found this talk by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (given at Beyond Belief in 2006) to be fascinating and insightful:



Forty minutes long, but so worth it. Tyson deconstructs intelligent design while also acknowledging its place in our scientific history.

The Challenges of Live TV

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The Guardian has as an interesting piece on the challenges of live TV and the firing of Ortis Deley, who tried valiantly to cover the World Athletics Championships this year for the BBC. As the following video shows, it did not go very well:



As someone who weekly tries to put on a live show in front of about a hundred people, I can relate.

The Decline in African-American Unions

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Over at Salon, there's a fascinating interview with Ralph Richard Banks, who has studied the state of marriage in the African-American community in his new book Is Marriage for White People? Worth reading, but also troubling for many reasons.

A Love Letter to 'Die Hard'

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Much love to Linda Holmes' discussion of Die Hard, and how Die Hard 5 can never live up to the insanely high standards put forth by the original:

[In Die Hard], just about every frame in the film is either (1) setting up or (2) paying off a specific piece of the story. Even everything that happens at the beginning that would normally be window dressing and character development and throat-clearing has a specific reason for being there. "Fists with your toes." Holly slamming down the family photo in her office. Her Rolex.

This essay made me appreciate Die Hard more. That is a difficult thing to accomplish. Kudos.

Thoughts on the Droid Charge

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Samsung has been handing out Droid Charges to a bunch of bloggers recently, so I was grateful that they came knocking on my door to give me one to try out as well. Some of my favorite gadget sites already do a pretty good job of giving an in-depth rundown of this thing (see Engadget's review here and PC World's review here), so I'll spare you the technical details and instead just offer a few of my personal thoughts on it. In particular, I'll be comparing this device to the smartphone that I currently use: the iPhone 4, which I love. First, some positives and negatives on the Droid Charge. Then, general impressions. Let's begin:

Positives:

  • Gorgeous and huge AMOLED screen
  • Supports 4G LTE, which can be screamingly fast when it's working correctly
  • Excellent Gmail/Google Apps integration
  • Supports Mobile Hotspots right out of the box
  • Excellent maps/navigation

Negatives:

  • Phone is so big that it is difficult to operate with one hand
  • Severe lack of apps and a generally crappier app store (Android Market) than iOS
  • Seemingly worse or inconsistent battery life than the iPhone 4 and other smartphones
  • Phone's build feels light, plasticky, and cheap
  • Comes loaded with a bunch of horrible apps that I neither want nor need
  • Apps crash often or need to be reset in some way
Let me get this out of the way immediately: If the Droid Charge were the only smartphone I'd ever used, I'd be as pleased as punch. It sports a gorgeous screen and it adeptly does all the things that most people could possibly ever need (i.e. e-mail, internet browsing, etc.) But when compared with the latest consumer smartphones like the iPhone 4, its flaws immediately become apparent.

A few months ago, I gave my mother my old iPhone 3Gs. I only showed her how to use the FourTrack app (she likes to record music and notes for herself, as she's a choir director), but on a recent visit home i noticed that she was using the email and internet browser with ease. She had grown to love the phone with no guidance whatsoever, a remarkable feat when you consider that English is her second language and she is not anywhere close to being a digital native.

I can't imagine her having the same experience with this phone. Unlike the iPhone, the Droid Charge comes loaded with endless pages of apps, none of which I asked for nor needed. It's not a user friendly experience and I don't understand why Verizon continues to do this (I guess the money makes it worth it?). Several of the apps appeared to duplicate the functions of other apps, while some of them served no obvious function at all.

That being said, the Google-designed apps are excellent. Gmail syncs up beautifully and the Google Voice integration is phenomenal. Google's voice search and navigation features also just feel easier to use on the Droid Charge than on the iPhone 4. I don't think that will ever change.

I didn't feel like I expected too much of the Droid Charge's system resources during my time with it. I only installed a few apps from the Android Market, including Twitter, Stitcher, and Reddit. But running several apps at once seemed to really tax this thing. The official Twitter app crashed many times, forcing a reboot through the Task Manager. Speaking of which: unlike iOS, Android "lets" you manage the phone's CPU usage yourself. Some may appreciate this level of control, but I couldn't care less about how to optimize my phone's CPU usage and I imagine it's the same way with many users. Quite the opposite in fact; I was constantly worried that I had accidentally failed to close an app, thus draining my phone's battery life unnecessarily. This is not a problem on iOS, which automatically shuts down background apps after a certain limit on resources has been reached (Update: apparently Android does this as well, although it's questionable whether it does so as efficiently).

The Android Market ecosystem is lacking compared with the iOS App Store. Many of my favorite apps were unavailable. That being said, because it's so customizable, there are some pretty neat apps for Android that will never appear on iOS (e.g. Swype). But none of these apps could be described as "killer apps."

So, in general, I found this phone (and by extension probably many Android phones) to be more difficult to use than my iPhone. If I had no choice but to use a Droid Charge, I'd definitely be able to make it work, and would even enjoy it from time to time.

But why settle for a Droid Charge when you can just pick up an iPhone, especially now that both are available for Verizon? It's possible that if the Gmail integration and GPS navigation in the Charge are that important to you, you'll prefer them over their analogues on the iPhone. But the iPhone offers so many other benefits (i.e. solid design, great app ecosystem, general ease-of-use, automatic task management) that I can't imagine that being the case.

The Droid Charge is currently available on Verizon. It retails for $569.99, or $299.99 with a 2-year contract.

Making Videos with the Canon 7D

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I was recently approached by a band to record a musical performance using my dSLRs. I acquired a Rode Videomic and a 32 GB CF card to prepare for the opportunity.


While that gig ended up falling through, I couldn't resist the opportunity to try out the mic anyway. The  5D Mark 2 is a capable video recorder, but I preferred my 7D simply because it seemed to be conceived and built with the possibility of video in mind (e.g. it has a dedicated video/photo switch and a dedicated video record button).

Local musician Grace Van't Hof was gracious enough to allow me to sit in on one of her rehearsals. I used my 24-70mm L lens and the Videomic to make the following recording - her rousing rendition of a bluegrass version of "House of the Rising Sun":



Overall, I think this video looks great (recorded at f/7.1 and ISO 640) and the sound is of an acceptable quality, albeit not quite professional. You might see in the video that I also used a Zoom H4n to record sound separately. The sound quality was indeed superior on the Zoom, but I was too lazy to sync them, so the sound on this video represents only what was recorded directly onto the 7D.

A few other thoughts:

  • I used a camera tripod for this video, but I'd recommend a video tripod. It is difficult to perform the movements required for such a video using only a camera tripod.
  • Speaking of movements, zooming in and out by turning the focal length ring on the Canon 7D was extremely challenging. Not only is it awkward to have my hand positioned there, but my L lens also didn't have much "give." I'm considering getting a Redrock Micro rig (which allows neat things like follow focus), but that is prohibitively expensive at this stage for me.
  • The sound controls on the Canon 7D are pretty lacking/nonexistent. More irritatingly, the Canon 7D employs automatic gain control (and a crappy one at that) which is impossible to turn off. Nonetheless, hacks have emerged to resolve this.
For those looking for more resources on this subject, I quite enjoyed Engadget's EOS 7D impressions for filmmaker wannabees.

The Design of Pruney Fingers

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Turns out those pruney fingers you get when you've showered for too long aren't just some by-product of water-absorption. From Forbes:

[W]hy would water absorption lead to wrinkles with that signature shape? And why would water absorption lead to wrinkles on the finger tips but not all the other spots on the body? And why would water absorption lead to wrinkles at all, given that water absorption should generally lead to swelling and consequently taut skin? No, water absorption can’t explain it. [...]

[I]n fact, it has been known since the 1930s that nerve damage to a finger abolishes the pruney response. Pruney fingers are neuronally modulated. That’s even further reason to suspect that our prunes are adaptive.