Sunday, March 27, 2011

Best App Store Review Ever

I found this originally in image form. It was begging to be transcribed so here it is with many props to Ghostmoth.
Join the adventure!
★★★★★ by Ghostmoth on Mar 26, 2011

Color is a ground-breaking new entry in the new genre of MMPRLMG (Massive Multi-Player Real-Life Marketing Games).

Imagine yourself emerging from the dense forest of the App Store™. In a clearing ahead you see a shiny new icon, a multicolor wheel. Its name is Color. In the distance you hear marketing dogs yelping buzz. "Social!" "Find Someone." "Party!" You press Install, and your adventure begins!

You tap the app and you're presented with your first challenge. The gatekeeper. You must enter your name and have your picture taken before you can continue. "What will my name be used for?" you ask. No response. "Who will see my picture?" Silence. "You must give us your name and image or you cannot proceed" the interface insists. You acquiesce, wondering if you haven't made your first mistake. But there's no going on until you do, and you WANT to go on.

You are whisked through a portal into a chamber. Along the border are strange icons. In the middle a large, jaunty, mural in the seat-pocket-emergency-evacuation-instructions drawing style. It shows intent people in pants all taking pictures with their phones. The caption reads "Take photos together."

You decide to explore the icons. One's sort of an infinity/yin/yang. You wonder what that's supposed to mean. You tap the icon and find yourself on a blank screen. The icon changes to overlapping ovals. What does this new icon mean? You tap that one. You return to the mural room.

You examine the third icon, clearly a clock. You tap it. You see your face, name and the date. Nothing else. The clock icon is now lit up. You wonder what that means. You notice that questions are starting to accumulate. Should you be writing them down? You tap the clock icon again. It turns into a white screen with the words "No messages." The icon has turned into a sound-wave. You wonder what that means.

You continue to poke around the interface. There are no settings. No info button. No hints. You start to sweat a little. No tutorial. No about screen. No credits. No link to a website.

Then you remember the warning. The one written next to the install button: "Do not use Color alone!" You call up a friend. You both look at the interface together. There's no change.

Now things are getting spooky. Is this all there is? Is there no one to explain what these things are or how they work? Is this interface really so simple and obvious that it doesn't need any kind of guide? The thought suddenly crosses your mind that you might not be technically savvy enough to understand an interface that's so simple it doesn't need a manual!

But this is a Real-Life Adventure game, and you have assists! You cast the Google spell. You discover that the developers spent months developing advanced analysis and data-mining technology. It analyzes location, and position, and light, and ambient noise, and Bluetooth signal strength so it can… so it can… "What?" you ask out loud! "What on earth is it going to do with all this informa…" and you shut your mouth. Is it listening now? Is it analyzing your level of frustration, the shaking in your hand, the defeated angle of the device? Is somewhere a database recording your inability to solve this twenty-first century enigma that you hold in your hand?

You find the company website. It has no instructions. No "About us!" link. No tutorial, or feature lists, or forums, or support, or contacts, or FAQs. You can almost hear the developers laughing at you! "Silly user, sniffing around our website looking for information! We gather information, we don't give it out!"

You conquered Myst. You understood the end of Lost. You can do this! You're not going to let this new adventure game genre get the best of you! You will master this if it takes all weekend. You discover a button to create a group! You wonder what a group is. Progress, of sorts.

But at least you know it's just a game, and not actually an app to share photos. And now you also know that you are alone. And you're uncool. And not very clever. Because Color told you so.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Hawaii Day 3¾

it's the spookiest thing when the sea just seems to drain away. in maui, nothing too bad as a result so far. +/- 6ft swells, 15 mins apart.11 Mar 2011 via Twitter for iPhone

At the end of Day 3½ we had a decision to make. Stay on the 5th floor of the hotel, 30 yards from the shore, or grab the car and head for higher ground (to where many on Maui had already been evacuated). We had about five hours before the tsunami was to arrive.

We decided to stay put. The hotel building was a 1970s concrete affair, built apparently without subtlety or delicateness as a concern. For whatever it was worth, to my untrained eye it looked sturdy enough to survive a watery onslaught—although with lines at convenience stores getting longer and longer, and cell service already gone, thoughts of an "aftermath" started to enter my head. From our balcony I surveyed the ground below and tried to picture it being overwhelmed by a tidal wave.

We stayed glued to the TV and to Twitter. Lux still sleeping, Wendy and I exchanged messages with friends and family and read on-the-ground updates from Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan. On TV, the local Hawaii stations were solidly informative and helpful; national ones (I'm looking at you, CNN), barely so.

Twitter in the aggregate was incredibly useful although individual Tweets were on occasion off-base. Salim Ismail scared the crap out of me when he tweeted that a second, M8.8, earthquake had hit Japan after the M8.9 one (I asked him about it a couple of days later and he deleted that Tweet and said he'd gotten mixed up).

And then 3am arrived, the time when the tsunami was scheduled to first hit the westernmost point of Hawaii. Local TV stations, cameras pointed at beaches, showed nothing—a dark eerie absence of drama. But then gradually, over the next ten minutes, we saw on TV the ocean recede 100ft back from the beach exposing a bare sea-bed. It left silence and coral and an enormous anticipation.

Not long after that, the first wave hit Maui (it would later turn out that Maui was the worst-affected of all the Hawaiian islands). From the balcony, through the darkness we could make out the receded water and then 15 minutes later a swell coming up to the vegetation line.

It did that about six times over the course of the next hour and a half. The water level would go down 6ft—the waterline receding perhaps 50ft horizontally, like a very low tide—and then up 12ft—like a very high tide. In the darkness it was actually easier to hear than it was to see.

And just like that, by 5am or so it was pretty much over and we went to bed. Lux, of course, hadn't even woken up.

Dr Fryer of the #hawaii Pacific Tsunami Warning Center just said that he thinks the worst is over for most islands. and @wendyverse sleeps.11 Mar 2011 via Twitter for iPhone

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hawaii Day 3½

there's a fucking tsunami in hawaii right now #hawaiifacts2.44am, 11 Mar 2011 via Twitter for iPhone

We didn't really finish the day with pineapple. The evening was beautiful and I wandered around the Hyatt taking a few photos. The pagoda where, I guess, folks hang out or something?

some loungers by the beach:
a coastline cabana:
a wedding shoot:
Photo Shoot
and a (different) happy couple eating pizza:
S & L

After that we headed out for dinner in Lahaina (Lux joined us for a date in a fancy restaurant and was actually exceptionally well-behaved). And after that was when the fun began.

We were just walking after dinner in Lahaina when a man on the sidewalk told us that there'd been a huge earthquake in Japan and we should start preparing for a tsunami. We weren't sure how seriously to take him but certainly he fully freaked out the elderly couple behind us, whom he told to get gas and head for high ground. For all I know they're still up there, cowering in the hills.

For us, Twitter confirmed the news about the earthquake and by the time we got back to the hotel there was definitely a heightened level of activity as people tried to work out what was going on. At about 9.30pm the sirens went off across the island, and local media alerts confirmed that we should expect the arrival of a tsunami. By 9.35pm we were being moved to a hotel room on a higher floor.

This is the sound which roadblocks local broadcast, by the way, when a tsunami is coming:

Wendy grew up in Colorado with this sound as a tornado warning, and it still makes her instinctively fearful.

By just past 10pm, with more than five hours to go until the swell was supposed to first arrive, we were settled into our new room on the 5th floor. It was surreally calm; Wendy and I kind of looked at each other wondering what now.

We'd seen the first footage on TV of what the tsunami did in Japan (or at least what was available by then) and we'd heard that this is a phenomenally powerful earthquake. Wikipedia already said that it was the seventh greatest ever recorded (today the USGS has it as the fourth largest since 1900). We're in a beachfront hotel on the western shore of Maui and the rental car is valeted in the basement.

We knew that they were evacuating people near the coast who didn't have the option of moving to a high floor, and that there were already long lines at convenience stores and gas stations for water and gas and other provisions. They said the tsunami would arrive at 3.19am (and 3.03am in Honolulu, a little further west than us). With a running start we could be safely at 300ft elevation within about 15 minutes.

We have a seven-month-old baby, still asleep through all of this...

to be continued

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hawaii Day 3

every other US state has a higher record high temperature than Hawaii. every other US state also has a lower record low #hawaiifactsless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

The third morning in Hawaii we were checking out of our apartment and moving down the road into a hotel. We started with a little breakfast

Day 222
and after a dip in the pool decided to drive around the west coast of Maui to see what's up. The drive was spectacular (not to overly foreshadow a later post, but I'd say better than the Hana Highway)
West Coast
although rather alarming at times. For many miles the road was as wide as just a single car, and it clung improbably to the side of precipitous cliffs. You can get used to that easily enough—but meeting a car coming in the opposite direction, and having to reverse a few hundred yards down the curvy lane, added a whole new dimension of adventure. Tiny villages like Kahakuloa were dotted along the way, and we even found cattle in the hills.
Cows and Cross

We finished the day with a dip in the pool at our new hotel, and (for Lux at least) a chunk of pineapple at the bar:

Eating Pineapple

There are a few more photos of the day on Flickr.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hawaii Day 2

every US state has at least one straight line as part of its boundary, except for hawaii #hawaiifactsless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone

On our second morning in Hawaii we headed into Lahaina, a few miles south of where we were staying. This coastal town was the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii back in the day, but today it's a compact tourist town of about 10,000 locals and probably twice as many visitors. Here's Wendy and Lux leaving breakfast:

Wendy and Lux

Like most of Hawaii, the place is insanely verdant and lush. Every plant you see is having the best day of its life, including the 140-year-old Banyan tree in the courthouse square. This tree too is having an awesome time:

Tree by the Sea
and so is this garden:

I put a few more pictures of Lahaina on Flickr.

In the afternoon we headed down to Wailea, which turned out to be (as far as I could tell) Beverly Hills crossed with Pebble Beach. Nonetheless we found a public area and Wendy helped Lux cover herself in sand while I had a swim in the ocean.

Wailea Beach

We finished the day with a dip in the pool back at our hotel. Here's Lux post-swim in her swimsuit:

Day 221

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hawaii Day 1

also: east to west, hawaii is the widest state in the union #surprising#hawaiifactsTue Mar 08 via Twitter for iPhone

For the first time ever, we woke up in Hawaii. The previous night we'd had snacktime at the resort bar, and Wendy had managed to rip the nail off her big toe. The former was a delight

Snack Time
and the latter less so.

First morning in Maui, though, and we decided to go to the much-renowned Gazebo for breakfast. It took us 50–60 minutes to get through the line, but eventually we were seated with an ocean view:

Breakfast View
Yes, the food was great and worth the wait. We met people in line who did the wait daily. Incredible.

After breakfast we explored the grounds and beach where we were staying. What a pretty area; it's incredible what a place becomes in such a blessed climate. Maui's the most lush and verdant place I've ever been.

Water Plant
Bird of Paradise

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Day 0 in Hawaii

I didn't invent the #hawaiifacts hashtag, but I adopted it when we touched down last Monday.

and here we are in Hawaii. land of the 13-letter alphabet, and the only US state with a coffee crop. #hawaiifacts#maui2011 Mon Mar 07 via Twitter for iPhone

The coffee crop fact is beyond doubt but the alphabet is less clear-cut. There are those that will tell you that there are only 12 letters—A, E, I, O, U and H, K, L, M, N, P, W—but of course the venerable Wikipedia makes clear that in 1864

the ʻokina [apostrophe] became a recognized letter of the Hawaiian alphabet
...making 13 in all, so there you go.

Lux, Wendy and I were going to be on the island of Maui for a week. We'd picked a few different locations to stay and were kicking off with the relatively snazzy Honua Kai resort outside of Lahaina. It was beautiful

Beach Access
and Lux got settled in quickly.
Day 219

We spent the first day scoping out the place (in general: gorgeous, lush, 83°F). By the evening I'd learned another fact.

every US state has at least one straight line as part of its boundary, except for hawaii #hawaiifactsMon Mar 07 via Twitter for iPhone

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back from Hawaii

We arrived back from Maui last night. Here's a cheeky couple of photos while I work through the others and figure out some longer blog posts.

This one I took at lunchtime in the place we stayed in Ka'anapali:


This one a day later I nominate as the signature photo of the trip. Taken at sunset on the shore of Lahaina, two or three hours before the earthquake in Japan and Maui's tsunami sirens going off:

Maui 2011

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Holiday Lenses


I've been renting camera lenses from for a couple of years now. I can't speak highly enough of them. The range of available equipment is incredible (by now way beyond just lenses), the price is right and the people are friendly and happy and helpful. When I worked at Google they were perfectly on the way between Mountain View and San Francisco, ideal for mid-commute pickups. Now I work at Twitter they have a pickup location in SOMA two blocks away. Sweet!

For the Hawaii trip I rented:

  • EF 100mm f/2; I thought I'd give this a whirl based on how much I love my own "nifty fifty" EF 50mm f/1.4. This basic range of affordable primes from Canon (35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm) is widely lauded and fantastic value: each one sharp, lightweight, fast, and with great autofocus. I rented the EF 50mm f/1.2L ($1,500 to buy) back in the day and the autofocus is every bit as sluggish as all the reviews say (a great studio lens, no doubt, but out and about it's a pain—and heavy too). Afterwards I bought the nifty fifty ($399) and never looked back. Almost all of the bean shots are with the 50mm.
  • EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II; such a fun lens on a full-frame camera. I rented the first version a couple of years ago, again a little later, and I've pined for it since. For whatever reason, I rarely feel a need for anything longer than 100mm or so (although I had fun at Carnaval one time with the EF 300mm f/2.8L), but I'm a sucker for super wide angles. If I ever have budget for an L lens again, this'll be the one I buy.

Since I'm on it, I'm also taking (of my own)

  • the "nifty fifty" EF 50mm f/1.4. Sure it's made of plastic and doesn't have a red ring on it, but it's a fabulous sharp prime with fast autofocus and it weighs next to nothing. Such a super lens, I couldn't be happier with it. Great for bean shots.
  • TS-E 24mm f/3.5L; I bought mine second-hand from after renting it a couple of times. Tilt-shift lenses are a lot of fun and (almost literally) add a new dimension to photography. This one's a tad wide for executing the infamous "miniatures" (though you can just about pull it off) but I love it for striking portraits, moody stuff, unusual perspective or just interesting opportunistic snaps. I've used shift (rather than tilt) about twice.
  • EF 24-105mm f/4L; no denying it, this is a fine walkabout lens on a full-frame camera. Constant aperture across the zoom range, sharp similarly, solidly built (like all L lenses), and autofocus plenty fast enough. It doesn't really excel at anything, though (apart from being general purpose) so it's the lens I use the very least.

If I had to leave one behind, it'd be the 24-105. If I could take only one... gosh it'd be a struggle but it'd probably be the 16-35. This is Hawaii, after all, and I'm expecting some fantastic vistas.

We're setting off tomorrow morning. With luck I'll post some photos soon.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


I'm going to Hawaii in a couple of days with Wendy and the bean. We spent this afternoon picking up a few items downtown (Wendy got a bathing suit, I got some shorts, the bean got a sunhat) and tomorrow we'll probably spend most of the day packing an infinity of baby things into our suitcases.

Our first proper family vacation, this trip feels historic—I mentioned to Wendy this evening that we'll be getting out the holiday photos in 20 years when the bean brings friends home from college. And then it dawned on me that in two decades we'll not be fetching dusty albums from the attic like our parents did but instead doing some unimaginably futuristic things involving holograms and brain implants. Suddenly I felt personally like an historical artifact.

Talking of photos, though, the other thing we picked up downtown was a couple of rented camera lenses. I've heard Hawaii's picturesque and I can't wait to photograph what we see while we're there.

In the meantime, here's the bean on her 217th day:

Day 217