Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD on Youtube) is one of my favorite techies. His insightful and honest reviews of diverse technologies keep me subscribed and buying items that he’s reviewed. As a photography fan myself, I was naturally attracted to his latest video on smartphone cameras. Though the title was ever so slightly click-baity, the content never lowered the bar.
The key message in the video is that the software in smartphone cameras is increasingly making decisions that produce images that are inconsistent with reality. From smoothing tones to filling-in shadows, the software produces images that defy visual reality. As the primary upgrades in newer smart phones tout batter or camera improvements, naturally it leads one to think about what, really, is improving with each version.
Though there is much technical analysis within the video with side-by-side comparisons with other cameras to prove the points, I am left with questions:
WHO, ULTIMATELY, IS THE PHOTOGRAPHER IN SMARTPHONE PHOTOS?
WHAT STORY IS THE SOFTWARE PHOTOGRAPHER CONCOTING THROUGH THE IMAGE?
WHAT ROLE DOES THE SOFTWARE PHOTOGRAPHER PLAY IN CREATING THE ‘ACCEPTABLE’ SKIN TONE?
I admit the last question is a heavy one and Marques only brushes past the race/equity impact. But I’d encourage you to watch for yourself and make your own judgement on who really took that last photo on your smartphone.
A friend appeared perplexed at why I had chosen to read his book by waiting for it at the library instead of simply purchasing it. He knew I could afford the book, so he pushed me as we enjoyed a dram. He agreed with my response that I prefer to buy many books for the library by donating to the library instead of simply adding more to my bookshelves. Though that moment passed, I continued to think if I was being a poor friend by not supporting a friend author.
Until recently …
I’d just completed reading an ebook, “The Reading List” by Sara Nisha Adams and, highlighted sections for retrieval later. One of the highlighted sections stood out:
Mukesh turned to the front page of To Kill a Mockingbird and noticed the Brent Council Libraries sheet, full of black, splotchy dates. So many! It was strange, the idea that this book wasn’t just for him, it was for everyone. All these people who had taken it out before him, people who would take it out after him. They might have read it on a beach, on the train, on the bus, in the park, in their living room. On the toilet? He hoped not! Every reader, unknowingly connected in some small way. He was about to be a part of this too. “Yes, please.”
The reading list by sara nisha adams
This book, about a recent widower who finds his step out of loneliness and isolation via books is a debut novel by a London based writer. She explores how the sudden introduction to a book (The Time Traveler’s Wife in this story) can offer a step away from where you are. The widower, Mukesh, begins his path out of loneliness via a neighborhood library, finding connections beyond his wildest imagination.
I finally realized what I liked about the library checkouts – it isn’t the cost savings or the vast selection or the ease of checkouts via the drive up window. It is a connection to the wider community that forms a collective around the book’s message. Watching the size of the waiting list tells me about the hunger for a particular title within my community.
While you’re thinking of your local library, checkout “The Reading List”. And if they don’t have it, donate the money to the library so they can buy it for everyone! If you’re lucky enough (like me) to have multiple libraries near you, checkout www.worldcat.org to find your next book at your nearest library.
The American immigration council’s newsletter recently introduced me to a book, a product of research previously impossible due to the quantity and type of data involved. It unravels the myth of the model European immigrants of 1860-1920 compared to those who immigrated after the 1960s. It finds that the two sets are remarkably similar in upward mobility, children’s successes and a becoming ‘from many, one’.
Immigration carries a unique stature in America. On one side is the country’s badge of honor as a country that was built by immigrants despite the devastation and destruction of Native American culture and people. On another is the unfortunate history where previously (immigrated) citizens do much to shun the new wave. Jon Stewart, once opining on a historical context of immigration stated it well
America has always been a nation of immigrants who hate the newest immigrants
It was a sentiment I saw in the textile museum in Fall River, MA. The museum clearly showed how the British who’d set up the mills, hired and (mis)treated the Germans, the Irish and others who came after. Each new wave was relegated to their own enclaves, children as young as 7 and 8 deployed to unravel stuck threads even if it exposed them to losing precious little fingers.
The book first draws comparison between those Western Europeans (Britain, Germany, Norway) and the subsequent southeastern (Italians) who came in late 19th. Then it compares the past set to late 20th century immigrants from Asia and Latin America. The similarities in why and how they came, what they brought in pain and talent, how they adopted the new homeland, and the exclusions they suffered are uncanny.
Equally uncanny is how both sets toiled for decades in their roles but their children were the ones to propel beyond expectations. The myth of ‘pulling up by the bootstraps in no time’ isn’t borne out by the data collected, aligned, and presented. In fact, the book undoes a few representative stories through presentation of lineage and research. Of course, reading as an immigrant myself married to a genealogist who traces her history to the Mayflower and various (proven) soldiers in America’s earliest wars gave me a great set of reasons to devour the book quickly.
The authors utilized technological innovations and inventions to unearth the stories embedded in generations of immigrants. The early unofficial and subsequent authorized searches across Ancestry.com databases, 8 million speeches across the political spectrum since the 1800s, Ellis island voice recordings of immigrants, the many programs written to scrape, curate, analyze, learn via ML and AI, todays tech made this book possible and repeatable to stand scrutiny.
Our country’s structure under the constitution also created natural control groups that helped evaluate the affects of immigration laws between California and Pennsylvania, Florida vs Texas, Cleveland and Cincinnati, and much more. This provided a way to turn back history’s clock and view the effects through comparison and data.
Immigrants are synonymous with America. They arrived in various roles and exhibited an ability and willingness to adopt, adapt, honor, change, assimilate and impact a culture that was once called a melting pot and is now, thankfully, a mosaic. The mosaic makes it possible for a Japanese family in a multiethnic cafe to enjoy a Mexican meal served by a Caucasian. Where a mixed race couple name their children through lenses of pop culture, ancestry, and more.
A fun book worth reading as a traveler on international flight (me reading and writing this), in a genealogical expedition, or better yet, to prepare a speech to Congress or the country.
I came to America because I heard the streets were paved with gold. When I got here, I found out three things: First, the streets weren’t paved with gold; second, they weren’t paved at all; and third, I was expected to pave them.
Unknown Italian immigrant, painted on the wall of the Ellis Island Museum
A collection of humans with a shared purposes is a powerful force. Liftoff tells the story of one such collection of people known as SpaceX. People who ran a space race after the original, a story of heartbreaking losses and a win worthy of celebration.
Elon Musk challenged status quo by creating SpaceX. His short-term goal of earth orbit and the long-term dream to transport humans to and from Mars is remarkable. The book tells the story of that early vision, drive, money, and passion that created the Falcon one hardware. It also describes the Falcon 1’s four major iterations, Falcon 9’s and Falcon Heavy’s parallel developments, and their various component computers and parts.
What make the book real, however, isn’t the hardware but the humans. We meet these humans at various chronological junctures throughout the book. We learn of their passion through the creation of the launch site in the Marshall Islands. Their tenacity as they repeatedly transport themselves between Los Angeles and the middle of the South Pacific. And their love for the profession, marvel of space, and professional loyalty to the discipline.
One of my favorite sections of this book is the Epilogue where the author talks about the humans once again. This discussion isn’t about the chronological work at hand rather the trajectories of their lives at publication. I recommend this crucial section and implore the book’s readers to look up the Falcon 1 and Falcon Heavy videos to feel the emotional roller coasters.
We know SpaceX and Tesla’s successes today. What we don’t know as well is how close the two companies came to death. Tesla EVs, solar panels, batteries, the relatively inexpensive satellite deployment, Starlink, and the ability to reach and replenish the International Space Station continue to impact our world positively today. I am glad to have read this book and am grateful to the tenacity and resolve of the team so clearly and respectfully presented.
The Sunday newsletter from Farnum Street included a thoughtful (as usual!) post from Jason Fried. Jason is one of those sages who continues to shift the software development industry through philosophy, writing, and creating enduring products. Seeing his name referenced by Shane, though no surprise, led me down the path of reading Jason’s current and many recent posts!
Jason’s company has returned to its roots. The company’s articulation of their manifesto of 37 (of course!) statements of purpose is a delight to read. I have many favorites with #14 as my favorite:
Meetings are the last resort, not the first option. Five people in a room for an hour isn’t a one hour meeting, it’s a five hour meeting. How often was it worth that? Could you have just written it up instead? Be mindful of the costs and tradeoffs.
I received an advance review copy of Eliot‘s tenth novel in February and, as prior books, began to read it nearly instantly. As I read through the first few chapters, however, I found myself needing to know the characters more. So, I began again, and again, and again. Each read exposed a strength or flaw in the human characters and I chose to slow down my reading pace to get to know them better.
There is no doubt this work is a work of fiction. The quote above reminded me what I was reading may be fiction yet is very likely to be real. In the near future likely to occur within our lifetimes. And that simultaneously makes this story frighteningly believable.
Eliot’s characters often carry a social conscience, and this book is no different. It isn’t hard to distinguish right from wrong, or to empathize with their struggle. The classic struggle of power over community, money over integrity, and self over sentient collectiveness are threaded throughout.
The tale spun deftly through this extremely fast-moving book is composed of numerous complex characters, who revealed themselves to the author in a different intimacy that the reader discovers in layers. I found the memory remembered by one of the characters in the quote below quite apt for the relationship between the characters, Eliot and the reader:
You face one way – towards the source-when you are learning what you want to say, he’d advised, and the other way-towards the reader-when you are saying it
Reap3r, chapter 35
I’d looked forward to the story Eliot would tell during and after his trek he and his wife began in 2019. He credits the experiences, the journey, and the stories that unraveled through this journey in the epilogue, and reading them at the end of the book jumped me back to Twitter where he chronicled parts of the journey
Reading his #CaminoThoughts thread at the end of the book gave me a new insight into the book I’d just finished. Incredible. I have read and bought all of Eliot’s ten books, and this one is, by far, the deepest exploration of characters.
His travels influence the book. Food, clothing, jewelry, locations, and names all allude to a character’s face behind the mask. You can choose to look at the mask and discover what happens as Eliot reveals what’s within. Or you can learn more about the attributes and find the pleasant surprises as you self-discover the character early. (I knew you, O’ petite woman at the end of chapter 58).
Grab the book if you haven’t already. I couldn’t wait to buy my signed copy despite the author’s review copy.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite opening sentiments from the book
Movies used music to build tension before major twists, but real life didn’t have a soundtrack to clue you in to the fact that everything was about to change
I was reminded recently of technology obsolescence when jumping behind the wheel of a maximalist (is that the opposite of minimalist?) dash on a rental car. I spent a good part of 15 minutes clearing previous settings and saved items, re-learning the basic navigation (and built-in GPS) settings, audio, seat controls and more before putting the car in gear and driving away.
Although I gave up on and decided not to use many of the car’s controls within a dozen or so miles, I remain amazed how the built-in GPS has become utterly useless. My mobile phone’s apps and maps were eminently usable and current. The recent model year car’s built-in GPS couldn’t locate my hotel built-in 2019 in a major urban city!
The space the screen consumed on the dashboard, the car’s numerous buttons on the touchscreen, dashboard AND by the gearshift were an exercise in ridiculously poor customer experience and wasted opportunity. The center console, stuffed with buttons, some duplicated on the steering with others labeled in confusing and non-standard ways confounded me further.
The sad part is that this late model year crossover from a ‘luxury’ carmaker was as much (or more) confusing than our 2015 Acura MDX, itself a victim of poor dash design, TWO 6-inch monitors, and a GPS UI that’s reminiscent of the early 2000s.
The following have outlived their useful life on car dashboards and are beyond need of retirement. They just need euthanized:
1. Built-in GPS (and the $149 fee for the dealership to ‘load’ the map updates! 2. Dare I say, car dealership cartels! 3. Custom voice interfaces – Siri, Alexa, and Google won. 4. Radio station presets. The rental’s largest and most prominent buttons were the six radio presets. 5. Steering control for anything but voice command, volume, and possibly cruise control. 6. OBD port. Why not show the output directly to the screen(s)? 7. Single device Bluetooth. We know cars frequently have two or more passengers. Do we really need to be connected to only a single device? 8. Low wattage USB ports. Drivers and passengers routinely carry multiple devices with larger, hungrier batteries that demand charge. Why, then are built-in chargers still delivering barely 0.5-1 amps?
Legacy carmakers – Are you innovating or sleeping at the wheel?
We celebrate failure in modern life and use it as a means of self-improvement. My introduction to this conversation comes from the field of startups and entrepreneurship where this badge of honor is well-known as a path toward and predictor of eventual success.
My memory of recognizing failure is rooted in elementary school where incorrect answers to math problems led to a low score. Being the son of a math-loving mother, the failure at school invariably led to additional punishments at home, thereby cementing the memory. The high school punishment of 12 canes on the behind for scoring 36/100 on a math exam further created an expectation to score at least high enough to not be caned again. An expectation that stayed with me long past high school, the teacher, and even into environments that no longer permitted corporal punishment.
Oyoram had earlier shared his process of scripting, modeling, creating, and installing his immersive experiences. He explained how the experiences came alive at scale.
But if he couldn’t feel what he had imagined and documented during the visioning process, he had experienced failure!
I’ll have to try this technique. Rather than await validation or criticism, I’ll try to be the golfer who knows almost immediately upon hitting the ball or the composer who can hear discordance even when the listener cannot.
So , why not evaluate failure as an unfulfilled expectation. After all, isn’t the expectation tied to the original vision? And if we decouple the two, aren’t we lying in a way that renders success elusive forever?
I’d gotten bumped and rebooked twice for flights yet was going to miraculously end up flying cross country AND make it to my destination 5 hours earlier than scheduled. The gate agents had still put me in advanced boarding so I boarded with wheelchair bound fellow passengers. Two ladies above 70s settled in next to me for the short puddle jump. And I began to wonder how I’d get out of my window seat at the destination ahead of them.
As the mother and daughter talked, I stared out the window, marveling at how close the Vegas strip was to the runway. It was then the daughter pointed out one of the tugs to the mother.
“Ma, it’s been 20 years since I made one of those “
Made?? I eavesdropped further; my eyes no longer focused on the strip.
Yes, the last one was for the 777s and boy those are heavy. The trailer bringing the weights for the first one twisted and broke apart when taking its first turn.
Now, I was really listening. I’m a sucker for all things airplane.
Yes, the tugs ordered for the 777s are 5 times heavier than those pushing our “little” 737. Each weigh about 150,000lbs to push the plane.
Without thinking first principles, why? I wondered aloud, betraying my silent eavesdropping.
The nose of the aircraft carries nearly a sixth of the plane’s weight being pulled down by gravity. To counter those forces, the tug has to apply at least that much force. At a 90-degree angle to gravity, even more.
By now, I’d forgotten my reason to rush out of the aircraft upon landing. I’d even stopped wondering when our tug would arrive at the plane to push it back from the jetbridge. I was now simply mesmerized by the stories told by this retiree, my seatmate, who loved driving from Ogden UT to Las Vegas to see her sister regularly. On a plane this time because car rental and fuel were more expensive than the plane ticket.
Luckily for me, I was seated next to her due to my own set of circumstances and learned something new about airplanes, airports, and even the tugs.
I had no idea a chance meeting with Mike on the Mercy Hospital skywalk would lead to a decade of collaboration and friendship. I mentioned that I wanted to help tech companies get started in Des Moines. He, in turn, asked if I had time to go to lunch with another colleague who wanted the same. Mike and I ended up at Proof and talked until Christian arrived. Of the many serendipitous moments in Des Moines startup community’s history, I know and am glad I got to be part of this one.
As Mike transitions to a retirement from *this* job as the entrepreneur-whisperer in Des Moines, his friends know he can’t really retire. Have you ever not seen him working? He’s retired more than once before, and this retirement will prove to be but a transition again.
I am grateful for having been a part of Mike’s circle of friends, where we were able to conjure up, make real, or grow ideas such as StartupCity Des Moines, Plains Angels, Global Insurance Accelerator, Accelerate, Iowa Agtech Accelerator and so much more. So, when I first learned of a new love affair with Colorado, I knew his time in Des Moines was limited. With his imminent departure from Des Moines, I know he’ll be missed by this circle of friends and colleagues, fellow angel investors, entrepreneurs, corporate partners and his colleagues at the Partnership.
I’ll miss our regular (vegetarian – his style) lunches at Centro – made rare by the pandemic, and sadly rarer now in the future by the distance.
Bon voyage, Mike and Beth. You are wonderful friends and I am glad we had lunch at Proof on November 17, 2010.