Monday, 01 September


Counterfeit money up close [Boing Boing]

Someone sent Brian Krebs an envelope of counterfeit $100 and $50 bills, apparently manufactured by Mrmouse, the counterfeiter whom Krebs outed for selling his notes openly on Reddit. Read the rest

Net Neutrality Campaign To Show What the Web Would Be Like With a "Slow Lane" [Slashdot]

blottsie writes In a move out of the anti-SOPA campaign playbook, Fight for the Future and other net neutrality activist groups have set up the Battle for the Net coalition, which plans to launch an "Internet slowdown day" later this month. No actual traffic will be slowed down. Instead, participating sites will display embeddable modules that include a spinning "loading" symbol and information about contacting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the White House, and members of Congress.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Education: Gear for Your Brain [Strobist]

Your brain is gear. Keep it in tune by providing it regular doses of education. A well-written and info-packed photo technique book is a screaming bargain in the long run. You're essentially renting someone's brain.

I have dedicated an entire bookshelf page to my very favorite lighting (and other photo) books for your consideration. All are well-considered and are, I believe, the very best examples in their genre.

But beyond that I would suggest you consider the occasional workshop. Nothing beats a hands-on, small class with a solid pro who knows things you would like to know. It is a super growth experience, and something you really owe yourself if you are passionate about learning to be a better photographer.

At this point severe time constraints limit my ability to teach. But in the past I have taught many workshops and worked with many organizations. Having worked as an instructor for Gulf Photo Plus (held late winter in Dubai) and Santa Fe Workshops (held year-round in New Mexico and elsewhere). I can strongly vouch for both of these organizations. I have seen first-hand how students grow in leaps and bounds in the span of a week, all while making great new friends and having the experience of a lifetime.

If you have ever toyed with the idea, you should definitely ask around, do your research and then take the plunge.

That's it, For Now

That's my two cents worth on gear. You may have other choices or priorities, but that is the best I can offer you with 25+ years' experience behind it.

If you want to chime in on your own, feel free to do so on Twitter via the hashtag #StrobistGear. If is it important that I see it, include an @Strobist in there somewhere and I will.

Choosing Cases and Carts [Strobist]

You can't exactly put this stuff in your pocket. And what you get to carry it around will be largely driven by, well, what you care carrying around.

Most of you will end up using two small lights with stands and mods and a modest bag of camera gear. Not that there's anything wrong with that. You can do a ton of cool stuff with two speedlights. I have gone far past that level of gear in the past, and often to my regret.

If that's you, grab the shoulder-slung camera bag of your choice. Then augment it with this:

The LumoPro Padded Lighting Case is cheap ($30), lightweight, protective and perfect for a two-speedlight lighting kit. It'll carry two compact stands, speedlights, mods and various doo-dads perfectly.

If you need to go beyond that, I'd take a serious look at ThinkTank bags for your fragile gear and whatever size sling bag you need for the stands/long mods.

ThinkTanks are fantastic: well-built and well-designed (and frequently updated by the thinking photographers who design them.) I absolutely love mine and I recommend them without reservation.

For a camera/laptop backpack (not a roller) I'd say go with the Airport Essentials case. It holds a good amount of stuff, very securely. It's also the perfect size to curl up with on a plane in coach. Just put it on your lap, wrap your arms around it and rest your head atop it on that Toys-R-Us pillow they give you. That's the best way I know to sleep on a plane.

If you need more capacity (or wheels) step up to any of ThinkTank's bigger rollers without hesitation. They are all solid choices. Capacity-wise, they go pretty much from "mirrorless cameras" to "I need to move a body."

I hesitate to even bring this up. But one day you may find yourself looking at a pile of bags and light stand slings and rollers and you may start thinking, "I need a cart to do all of this in one trip."

Let me first say that I do not envy you. And second, also say that I have been there myself. Not full-blown McNally-ladened, but too much to carry in one trip. By a long shot.

When that day comes, you'll start thinking about a folding cart. And rather than endure all of the mistakes (and wasted money) that I did, I am going to suggest you go straight to a Rock-n-Roller MultiCart.

Why? Solid build, folding, expand to a big size if needed, can be a dolly, can hold a board to double as a digital tech's desk on set—you name it. They rock. And roll.

They make several sizes, but I recommend either the R-8 (smaller) or the R-12 (bigger).

Designed for the music industry, they have been adopted by backache-plagued photographers everywhere. Either of these will likely be the last cart you ever buy.

As a bonus, you will likely (and hopefully) use them more around the house than you even do for work. At least I hope so. Because it kinda sucks to travel with that much gear in tow every day.

But if you are gonna, this is the cart.

NEXT: Gear for Your Brain

Choosing Hard and Specialty Modifiers [Strobist]

We tend to start out using soft light at a 45-degree angle because it is an easy fix, and it's hard to go seriously wrong doing that.

But there are all kinds of light mods, and often choices other than default soft ¾ light can be more interesting. My favorites are snoots, grids and ring adapters.

Snoots are like little tunnels you attach to your flash to block part of the light beam. Snoots are not rocket science -- we are just blocking some light. And cardboard works just fine to create tight zones of light that you can use to create something like the photo above.

For grid spots, which work like snoots but have a much more beautiful fall-off to the edge of the light, you can DIY them out of straws but it is a pain in the ass and not really worth the effort for many. My advice? Get a Honl eighth-inch grid and be done with it. They are indestructible, and they fit all speedlights.

I'd nix the velcro mounting system, however. Mod it with elastic for quick changes and you'll be good to go.

A less expensive (but flash-specific) alternative are the DIY-ish grids from SaxonPC. (Seen above, more info on those here.)

Also in the specialty mod category are speedlight ring flash adapters. They turn your small flash into a donut of light that can give you a beautiful, shadowless look for key or fill. My two favorites here are the Orbis. and the RoundFlash. Both have a very good quality of light. Both have advantages and disadvantages.

For the record, I have owned five different commercial ring flashes (and adapters): Profoto, ABR800, Ray Flash, RoundFlash and Orbis. I use the Orbis more than all of the others combined.

Whatever you do, avoid the Chinese knockoffs of the Ray Flash. They are light-sucking pieces of junk, and are rarely anywhere near color correct. But they are cheap!

If you are that broke, you'll be better off home-brewing a cardboard DIY ring flash adapter.

NEXT: Cases and Carts

Choosing Soft Modifiers [Strobist]

Editor's note: In 2011 I wrote a full post on my four favorite soft modifiers. No changes since then. These are still my go-to's, for reasons explained below. So I am reprinting this in the gear selection module. -DH

With the gazillion or so soft light mods out there, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices available. And while I have probably shot with more of them that I would care to admit, there are four soft mods that I go back to again and again.

As it happens, these four are reasonably priced, too. (Which may well be what attracted me to them in the first place, of course.)

Soft is Relative

So, which of the light sources above is the softest? The one in the back, right?

Not necessarily. The 60" source in back is not as soft at 10 feet away from your subject as the 8x9" source is at 10 inches away. A good rule of thumb to remember is that a light source is soft when it looks large to your subject. This nets out the two variables of size and distance.

Example: Even a bare speedlight looks soft to a subject only a couple inches away.

Long story short, if you want soft light you will have to consider the working distance at which you'll be using it. The further back your light source, the larger your light mod will have to be.

So front to back, here is the straight dope on the four mods pictured above.

1. The LumiQuest Soft Box III

At 8x9", the LumiQuest SB-III can be very soft -- as long as you are working the light literally right up next to the subject. Case in point, this headshot of Ben I did for an ad for the SB-III when it first came out.

With a flat front edge, the light is easy to feather. This means you can work in the edges of the beam for more interesting (i.e. uneven) illumination.

Pros: The SB-III is small, and folds flat. This means it travels great, hiding in the back flap of my Domke F3 or just about anywhere else. It is also pretty reasonable, at under $50. (Especially considering the SB-III has a lifetime guarantee, unique on this list.)

Cons: It's small size means it is literally soft in only in the knife-fight range. Back it up more than a couple of feet and it starts to get hard. Actually, I tend to use this to my advantage, making the light more versatile just by varying the distance. That is one of the reasons I use it so much.

And speaking of that, most of the time I use an SB-III, I will do so in combination with a fill light. (Example here.) This gives a combination of both shape and detail.

2. Beauty Dish

The next step up, size-wise, gets us to a beauty dish. A broad, shallow reflector, it throws a modestly soft light at portrait distances. There is nothing particularly "beautiful" about it. The dish just has good PR, I guess.

A light this size won't wrap as much as a giant octa or umbrella when used at the same distance, which can be a good thing. So while some people may think of it as a beauty dish, I tend to think of it as a character dish.

Again, I almost always use it with fill. The shot above (more here) is a good example.

When used when a giant, on-axis fill light, as in this Martin Prihoda cover shoot, the beauty dish really starts to live up to its name. The shadows from a dish are distinct, and controlling their depth with another light source gives you a wide range of possibllity.

Pros: A dish gives you soft(ish) light that can stand up to a breeze. Soft boxes and (especially) umbrellas can turn into a sail in even a light wind. The beauty dish will hold up in a moderate wind -- especially when sandbagged. Also, the fact that the dish is circular gives a signature shape on the face as compared to a rectangular soft box. Some people prefer this, but I find it kinda arbitrary.

Cons: Does not fold in any way, so travels like crap. Expect to have to buy a protective case for it. Which only adds to the next downside. Of the four sources listed here, the beauty dish is the most expensive.

I have a few dishes, including one that I got for free from Profoto in a promotion that would have cost me north of $300. I did not know which I wanted (silver or white) so I chose silver for more efficiency. In hindsight I should have chosen white, which I now use far more often.

But I was not gonna pony up for another full-price Profoto dish. So I ended up with the white FTX 22" Beauty Dish ($105.00 - $130.00) shown above.

Being an aftermarket universal fit dish (one dish, many mounts) it can be a little quirky in some ways. But overall I have been happy with it. They also do a grid for the dish ($85.00). So if you are into controlling the beam of the light, the price difference (OEM vs aftermarket) may be even bigger.

3. Westcott Double-Fold 43" Shoot-Through Umbrella

Usually recommended as the first soft light mod for a space-conscious photographer, the double-fold umbrella practically disappears in your bag. It collapses down to 15". (Best of all, they are just silly cheap.)

I started out using it in typical fashion, 45 degrees up and over, as do most photographers. These days I am much more likely to fly it over the top of a subject, as in the falconer shot seen above (more here) or literally on the floor, as in this portrait.

Pros: Hello … dirt cheap. Also, travels extremely well. If you are into guerilla lighting, this is your mod. Also can be very powerful, used right up next to your subject. This is something you cannot do with a reflected umbrella because the shaft can get in the way.

Cons: They are pretty fragile. Between the double folding arms and the telescoping hollow shaft, expect them not to last too long. (A little breeze can get them, too.) Also, the light is hard to control -- an umbrella spews out light like a frat boy puking at 2:30am after a party. Very little directional control. Raw light can spill past the edge, too.

But for under $20, who can complain? I usually grab a couple to be safe.

4. Photek 60" Softlighter II

Combining the best features of a shoot-through umbrella and a large soft box, I like to think of the large Softlighter II as a poor man's octa.

It is a convertible shoot-through umbrella that can double as a reflective one due to the removable black backing. And it comes with a very efficient diffuser screen, turning the umbrella into a wonderfully even light source. As a bonus, the umbrella shaft is segmented, so you can remove half of it after you open it. This makes it possible to use it in very close. It is large-octa light quality, for about $100.

Actually, I have a 47" octa, and it gets very little use compared to the Softlighter. Friends usually ask to borrow the octa, which is fine with me -- I'd rather have the Softlighter on hand. (If you are an Annie Leibovitz fan, she frequently uses them as her key light, as seen in this video.)

I own and use both the Softlighter II and the new Paul Buff 64" PLM (with diffuser). The PLM is more efficient than the Softlighter because of its parabolic design, but that is lessened if you do not use the Paul Buff or Elinchrom mount. (They take advantage of perfect positioning.) For speedlights, I prefer the Softlighter, as it does not require a bare-bulb-type light source to be located at the focal point of the parabola. Just slap an umbrella swivel and a speedlight in there and you are good to go. If you primarily shoot WL or Elinchrom, I would suggest the PLM.

Or if you use big and small lights, maybe get both at under $100 ea. That is what I did, and frequently use both together (PLM as a key and the less efficient Softlighter as a fill.)

Pros: Way cheap, compared to the octa it largely replaces. Versatile as an umbrella, as described above. Gorgeous light with the diffuser. Very lightweight -- easy to boom without expensive gear. Takes a speedlight well. (That's how we lit the photo above, as detailed here.)

Cons: They are not as heavy-duty as an octa -- but to be honest I have yet to kill one. Also, the front is not a clean light source like an octa. You can see the strobe unit. So if you are shooting reflective objects (glass, etc.) this may not be for you.

So those are my Four Horsemen of soft light. You could choose four completely different different mods, but those are the ones I keep going back to. I highly recommend each, for the reasons above.

The main thing is to look at your working distance and see which light source will create the light you want at that distance. Fortunately, as you can see above, you don't have to spend a ton of money to get versatile, soft light.

NEXT: Hard/Specialty Mods

Choosing Light Stands [Strobist]

Light stands are designed to oppose gravity. Pretty simple. And the designs are, for the most part, pretty similar. I think of light stands as being in three categories: normal stands, compact stands (seen just above) and specialty stands such as C-stands.

For light stands I like LumoPro for many of the same reasons I like the LumoPro LP180 speedlight. Their stands are well-built, reasonably priced and guaranteed out the wazoo. LumoPro has good service, too, should you need to replace a broken knob or bolt or whatever.

Honestly, it makes me wonder why other manufacturers don't warranty their grip gear like this. Seems like a no-brainer, if you are making good stuff.

For normal, full-sized stands, I like the 10-foot LumoPro LP608. It is air-cushioned, has a five-year warranty and costs $45. It is a solid value choice and you can certainly spend more but get less.

Want something fancy? For a "splurge" light stand I would consider Manfrotto stacker stands. They have a unique design that allows them to snap flat together for easy transport and space-saving storage. They are more expensive ($80 each for 8-foot version) so you'll have to make that call. They have a taller model, which of course costs a bit more.

Many speedlight folks who don't need too much stand height prefer to use compact, 5-section stands. For that, my recommendation is easy and clear-cut: get the LumoPro LP605, seen above. It is the best-built of the five-section stands, includes ground spikes for more stability in wind and has LumoPro's five-year warranty.

For $40, it is hard to go wrong here. There are more expensive versions of this, but they are not as well-built, have no ground spikes and you won't get a five-year warranty either. Done deal.

As far as C-stands go (more on what they are, here) they are pretty much all built like tanks. Which is part of their weighty charm. LumoPro C-stands are a good value choice as they back up the build quality with their five-year warranty. If you want to get fancy, Kupo C-stands offer a quick-release mechanism for faster setup.

While we are on the subject of stands, please do this: Take $20 and buy some sand bags. Get the bags from Amazon ($13 for 2, shipped). Get a few to start. And don't fill them with sand but rather "pea gravel," from your local home improvement store.

It's super cheap ($3.50 worth will fill three sets of sandbags) and way less messy than sand.

You won't need these cheap insurance policies until a stand comes down in the wind, breaking your flash or your mod or your subject's noggin. Then you will have needed them.

So, start with three or four. You'll end up getting more as you go. Cheapest insurance (and piece of mind) policy you'll ever buy.

NEXT: Soft Mods

Choosing Triggers [Strobist]

This is pretty simple and straightforward advice. First, start with a wire. Yep, a simple sync cable.

It is cheap and reliable, and a great backup to have for when your wireless triggers decide to go all hinky on you. Which they sometimes will. Because, radio.

If you chose your flash wisely, you'll not be locked into expensive, proprietary PC-based cords. I live in a one-eighth-inch sync ecosystem and could not be happier with it. As such, my current favorite universal camera-to-flash cord is this little 16-foot baby from I wish everything in my life was this simple.

Next, promise me this: that you will never again buy a flash without a good built-in slave. Every flash I have recommended to you has one. Don't be without it. That makes triggering multiple units much easier, whether you have wires or radios or whatever. Just makes too much sense. Friends don't let friends buy flashes without built-in slaves.

For wireless triggers, you can date or you can marry. If you just want to date, there is a new flavor-of-the-week appearing near constantly. They'll be cheap, but they'll likely not be long-term compatible with other triggers of the same brand.

I tend to look at remotes as a long-term investment that I can safely add to over time as needed. Seriously, I have been using the same brand of triggers since the early 1990s. And by choosing wisely then, all of my triggers can work well together even though they were purchased over a span of 20 years.

For those reasons I use PocketWizard. And because I am a manual shooter and am not chained to TTL, I can go with the simplest (but still rock-solid) PocketWizard triggers. So I recommend without reservation the ~$100 PocketWizard PlusX transceivers.

Why: They are super reliable, simple to operate, run on AAs (huge thing if you have ever been left scrounging for batts in the wild) have ten channels, are auto-sensing receiver/transmitters, have a hard-shell-enclosed antenna, and have wonderful range. (More detail, here.)

PocketWizard make a wide variety of increasingly complex and capable triggers. But if my son or daughter were starting out as a young pro photographer, the PlusX is what I'd buy them. I have owned nearly every model of PW trigger, and these are by far my favorite. For 90% of PW shooters, these will be the best choice.

NEXT: Light Stands

Choosing Lights [Strobist]

Because big lights and small lights each bring a different set of considerations to the party, I am splitting my recommendations into speedlights and "studio lights." (Although I hate that term.)

For speedlights, you have to decide if you wanna drive stick or automatic—AKA manual or TTL. I live in manual mode, which means I sacrifice some convenience for reliability and repeatability. It also means I can pay about a third as much for each of my flashes.

If you live by TTL, you will die by TTL. Or, at least your wallet will die a small, unnecessary death every time you need to purchase a flash.

For manual speedlights, I wholeheartedly recommend the LumoPro LP180, about which I go into far more detail here. It's built like a tank, syncs four different ways, has a fluid and intuitive user interface, a built-in light-stand socket, a built-in gel holder and has a two-year manufacturer's warranty. No other speedlight comes close to claiming all of those useful features.

That it costs about a third as much as you would pay for an OEM branded flagship TTL flash is icing on the cake. If you can commit to shooting manually, this is your flash.

If you need TTL (and remember, this is the gear acquisition equivalent of joining the TTL mafia) I would consider eschewing the OEM flagship TTL flashes. They can run north of $500USD, which is just nuts.

The Phottix Mitros comes in Nikon and Canon variants and sells for about $300USD—with twice the warranty length. It does pretty much all the fancy stuff most of the OEM flashes do including the optical TTL triggering of other TTL units, be they other Mitros units or OEM units.

I will say that for the lesser price you will give up some ease of user interface. But this may well be that I was used to the OEM flash user interface and that of the Mitros is pretty radically different.

Finally, for some people the flagship OEM flashes will be just fine. For instance, if your name is Bill Gates they are a perfect choice for you.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are a ton of flashes constantly hitting the market from the far east, from a variety of pop-up brands. Some of the brands are recognizable because they bought the rights to use familiar but now bankrupt brands that were formerly trustworthy. They have spotty track records for quality. Factory warranties are short to nonexistent.

Many who read this will be tempted to go that route because of prices that are almost too good to be true. If that's you, by all means knock yourself out. Some people need to be stung in the wallet to remember a lesson or bit of advice. I know I did when I was young. Good luck with that!

As far as big lights go, there is a completely different set of variables to consider. Big lights are system-oriented, and you would do well to choose wisely in what will likely be a long-term relationship.

I spent a lot of time and money auditioning big lights over the past 25 years. I am really happy where I am now, and would have loved to make this good of a choice from the get-go. I wrote about researching and choosing big lights a couple years ago and at the time settled on a Profoto/Paul Buff hybrid choice.

I loved Profoto's light mods and quality of light, but they were very expensive. And the battery options insanely so. So instead of battery versions of my Profotos, I went with Profoto plug-ins and a full Paul Buff Einstein setup for portable, battery-powered big lights. Sounds crazy, but for the price of just two AcuteB battery generators you can outfit yourself like an Einstein King.

So for the last couple of years I have had two full systems in my gear closet: Profoto plug-ins and Einstein 640s with portable battery packs. (But they also plug in.) And even though the Profotos are far more expensive, rugged and "professional" (whatever) I found myself again and agin choosing the Einsteins to use.

That's because inexpensive or not, they are simply amazing flashes. And they come with a 2-year warranty (sensing a trend here?) and legendary factory service. Further, Paul Buff has finally taken some time to develop the modifier system that a good flash deserves. The reflectors and accessories are well-designed—and wonderfully inexpensive.

The caveat here is, this is pretty much a US-based choice/suggestion. One of the main reasons Paul Buff lights are so inexpensive is that he only sells direct, and mostly in the US. There are a couple of dealers outside the US but that starts to erode the value proposition pretty quickly.

So, to beginners looking for a great light at an amazing price in the US, I would suggest you strongly consider Einsteins. Not the similarly shaped and even cheaper AlienBees, however. They look similar, but are not in the same league as the Einsteins. Save your money and go Einstein. It is not that much more.

If you are outside of the US, I am sorry that this choice will be either not available or not nearly as good a value to you. So I would suggest that you look at other reputable flash brands (Bowens, Elinchrom, Hensel, Profoto, etc.) and choose the brand that works best for your needs and your wallet. This advice also holds for people for whom the Einsteins aren't a good fit.

Again, I would suggest avoiding the temptation of the super-cheap mystery brands from the far east. Personal experience. But if you need some personal experience of your own to dissuade you in the future, by all means go right ahead.

Next: Triggers

Choosing Lenses [Strobist]

If you date your cameras, you marry your lenses. That's because, unlike digital cameras, a well-chosen lens can serve you for a very long time.

I still have one lens that I bought thirty two years ago. And I bought it used. I doubt that will be the case with any of my digital cameras, ever.

In the past, I was a lens speed freak and was willing to spend great sums of money to have very fast glass. I now realize that lust was misplaced. If I had it to do over again (and I do, and have) I would lean more on reasonably fast primes and here's why.

Moderately fast primes are (much) lighter, (much) cheaper and often just as sharp (or sharper) than their speedy siblings. For Nikon shooters, the Nikon 28, 50 and 85 f/1.8 trio of lenses are great examples of this. They weigh next to nothing in my bag and offer great performance. Also, I have moved away from primarily using fast zooms. Rather than a fast 24-70/2.8, I'd now opt for a trio of fast-ish primes and a decent, slower zoom to back them up.

This way, you get a stop (plus) faster at each focal length, backups throughout the 24-70mm range and you lose the most daunting aspect of the speed zoom: an expensive single point of failure.

In general, remember this when it comes to ultra-fast DSLR lenses: you pay through the nose for them when you buy them. And then you pay again, in weight, every time you lug them around. Remember that cameras have amazing high-ISO performance these days. And they are just going to get better as we go.

As for my Fuji lenses, it is pretty hard to go wrong with their primes (although I'm not a huge fan of the 60mm macro…) But the others are small, gorgeous and fast. I love the built-in 23mm (35 equiv.) of the X100s. It's sharp wide open and it has beautiful flare when you point it right into the sun as seen above. It's my most-used lens. Which is a good thing, given that it's welded to x100s.

Along with that, the 35/1.4 (50mm equiv., seen at top on left) and 14/2.8 (21mm equiv., on right) are my go-to lenses on the interchangeable lens Fuji bodies. If I am shooting tight headshots, maybe the 56/1.2 in the middle.

As a backup, I like the 18-55 kit zoom (not shown). Which, although not a speed lens at f/2.8->f/4, is great optically and has stabilization.

Good performance from a kit lens (the zoom that often comes packaged with a camera) is not a given, as many of them are crap. If you are using a kit zoom as your main lens, know that it will be be sharpest near the middle of the aperture scale—let's say around f/8. In fact, most lenses are great at f/8.

If you like to hang out close to wide open, grab a (used, if necessary) prime at your most-used focal length. You'll be a happy camper—and have a backup if needed.

What to buy? And when? That should be driven by what/how you shoot.

Here's my thinking on lens progression, driven by how I shoot. Most of the time I am going to go out with a single, prime lens. I like the size, the weight, the speed and sharpness. Actually, I also like the discipline of having a single focal length. It helps me to see better.

With a new system I'd build out my wide/normal/short-tele primes, then get a decent wide- to short-tele zoom as a backup or for times when I would want one-lens variability. Only then do I start going for more exotic lengths if needed.

The reason is simple: most of my work will be done with the bread-and-butter focal lengths of moderate wide to short tele. So I want good quality, speed and backup in those lengths before I start to get crazy with a superwide or whatever.

You can easily try out a lens for no risk. Buy a good example used, from someone with a good return policy. If the lens is a dog, return it immediately. If it is good enough to where you want to keep it and play, you can always resell the used lens for about what you paid for it within a year or two.

So, very little risk. (In fact, if I was going to need to rent a lens for more than a week I'd do it this way. Your rental would be practically free.

And obviously, if you love a lens and decide to marry it and keep it forever that's best possible case.

NEXT: Lights

18:00 Maintains Your Productivity Chain with a Daily Email [Lifehacker] Maintains Your Productivity Chain with a Daily Email

Web: You can maintain a good habit by charting a success streak. We've talked about this before, known more commonly as the "Don't Break the Chain" Method . helps you log this streak with nothing more than a daily email.


Don't Let Negative Feedback Accumulate, Dole It Out in Regular Doses [Lifehacker]

Don't Let Negative Feedback Accumulate, Dole It Out in Regular Doses

If someone is doing things wrong, don't hold on to them for one massive criticism dump. Regularly let them know about mistakes so feedback becomes part of routine, rather than making them feel like they're being hauled up.


The Luminosity of Free Software: A new series and .. Patreon! [Planet KDE]

It has been a while since I did a Luminosity of Free Software episode. Real life has consistently gotten in between me and the show. I like doing the show, however, and it seems a couple thousand people other do as well (at least enough to watch each episode), so I sat down a couple months ago to think about what I wanted to do with Luminosity: Leave it behind forever? Pick it up again where I left off? Reboot it?

I've long wanted a show to tune into that was done by a free software "insider" that gave me new insights, not just reviews and interviews and guffahs. I mean, I love that stuff too and there some epic shows out there ... but I wanted something a bit different. I also wanted a show that wasn't just "open source software" but also "free software philosophy". Earlier series of Luminosity were my stabs at that.

After quite a bit of considering and some planning I settled on ... a reboot of the show. Luminosity is going to change format slightly to come closer to my initial goals. Each episode will be 30 minutes long and there will be 3 segments per episode.: a software review, an editorial reflection and then a Q&A session as in the good ol' days. I'll still use Google+ Hangouts, at least for now, and post to Youtube as that seems to still have the greatest reach, and that is why I am doing the show.

The first episode of the new Luminosity will be on Friday the 12th of September .. but there's more!

I've started a Patreon campaign for the show. It's a new way for those who watch Luminosity to support it and, in turn, both motivation and means for me to continue to make episodes and improve the show. The way Patreon works is that you pledge an amount of your choosing to donate for each show. You can also set a maximum monthly budget so you don't overspend. You can pledge as little as $1 or as much you wish. It's like crowd funding but instead of paying for the completion of a specific project you are supporting the ongoing creative effort.

And Luminosity is an effort. I have to select worthy and interesting topics each week, research and experiment, compile notes, often set up a demo and then actually do the show. Don't get me wrong: it's an enjoyable process, but it does take time and effort.

One of the things I'm really looking forward to with having patrons is having you help shape the show. People who sign up as patrons will get a vote on the topics for next week's show, for instance, and that's just one of the perks available. There's even a perk where you get a personalized post card from me, in case you are into that sort of thing. I promise to make it a pretty one with something Zürich in the picture. That perk is limited, however, to the first 50 people who sign up for it. I'm not made of postcards, you know!

You can also help by spreading the word around about the Luminosity of Free Software Patreon campaign and the show itself. See you next Friday!

Transforming a Pink Floyd icon [ - Top Stories]

Ever since it appeared on the cover of Animals, Pink Floyd's 1977 album, Battersea Power Station in London has been famous around the world.

Plastic bags could be banned HERE [ - Top Stories]

A controversial bill banning plastic bags passes the California State Senate and is headed for approval by the governor.

Ill boy's parents plead for proton therapy [ - Top Stories]

The British couple arrested in Spain after pulling their cancer-stricken son out of a Southampton Hospital told a judge they will not return to the UK voluntarily, according to a Madrid court where they appeared on Monday.

Obama: 'I'd join a union' [ - Top Stories]

President Barack Obama told a large union audience in Wisconsin on Monday that while "Republicans in Congress love to say no," he is the one who "placed a bet on America's workers."

Why can cops seize their homes? [ - Top Stories]

A Philadelphia couple says police seized their home due to their son's first offense drug charges. Pamela Brown reports.

New Computer Model Predicts Impact of Yellowstone Volcano Eruption [Slashdot]

An anonymous reader writes Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have used a program named Ash 3D to predict the impact of a Yellowstone volcano eruption, and found that cities within 300 miles from Yellowstone National Park may get covered by up to three feet of ash. From the article: "Ash3D helped the researchers understand how the previous eruptions created a widespread distribution of ash in places in the park's periphery. Aside from probing ash-distribution patterns, the Ash3D can also be used to identify potential hazards that volcanoes in Alaska may bring."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Choosing a Camera [Strobist]

There is no perfect camera. So get that idea out of your head right now. Far better to think of any camera as a set of compromises. Size, speed, image quality, low-light performance, price, etc., can all be features—and they can all be liabilities.

You want image quality? Get an 11x14" film camera. Great for detail and tonal range. But sucks for action sequences / portability / low light performance.

Every camera is a compromise in at least one area. So to start, list your most important features on a sheet of paper and let that guide your choosing strategy.

• If you want best-possible image quality, you might sell your car/house/plasma and buy a digital medium format camera.

• If you need super long glass and/or FPS speed (sports, nature, etc.) maybe grab a fast Nikon (or Canon) and a super-telephoto lens.

• If you shoot people, speed and high ISO performance might not matter as much as gorgeous color.

• I you travel a lot you might put a premium on your cameras being small and lightweight, with good low-light performance.

• If you are following a toddler around the living room, continuous AF performance may trump price.

So think about what is important to you (and your budget, of course) and begin your search for cameras using that as a compass point.

If you are old like me, you might be tempted to only consider cameras built around the dated form factor of film cameras to be the only cameras worth serious consideration. That's an age bias. Have it if you like, but be aware of it. To a twenty-year-old that doesn't matter any more.

Speaking of age, if I were just dipping my toe into the water I'd strongly consider a late-model used digital camera and a used lens or two. If I was not happy, it would be a cheap marriage to unwind. Within a year I could probably sell the lot on eBay for a couple hundred less than I paid, max.

And if I was happy it would be a great platform to build on. Once committed, my next body might something current and the original body goes to a second/backup. Either way, I would not expect to be using the camera after five or six years.

Point is, you don't have to jump in the deep end. Buy one body and a lens or two. Maybe buy used from a shutterbug friend, knowing the camera implicitly comes with ad hoc tutoring. (And a good outlet to borrow/lend lenses, bodies, etc.)

I spent over 30 years with Nikon film and digital SLRs as my primary cameras. But the further I got away from shooting for newspapers (which at the time had included lots of sports photography) the more my priorities shifted. Here is what is important to me now: small, lightweight, good image quality, great in low-light and quiet/unobtrusive. That led me to move to mirrorless (Fuji) a couple years back.

Pictured at top are the cameras that currently get more use than anything else I have (save maybe my iPhone): a Fuji X-E2 and a Fuji X100s.

Whatever camera style/brand you are considering, you can use the 'net to easily scope out how other photographers are using it and what kind of image quality it has.

For instance, try this: click on the night photo just above, which will take you to its Flickr page (in a new window). Scroll down beneath the photo's page where it says "Fujifilm x100s" (or just click here) and you go to a page that will show you lots of different photos shot with exactly that model of camera.

And here's the thing: clicking on that link from just about any camera icon on a Flickr photo page will quickly show you that you can make amazing photos with just about any current camera. So don't sweat it or pixel peep too much.

Instead, focus on how you will be using the camera and what features are truly most important. Then let that drive your choices. And understand that the camera you use today probably won't be the camera you are using in five years.

NEXT: Choosing lenses


Disruptive Pattern Material: definitive work of all things camouflage [Boing Boing]

Disruptive Pattern Material: in plain words: camouflage. This massive tome features 5,000 images of all things camouflaged, from silly camouflage fashion (bikinis and handbags), to camouflage in contemporary ads, movies, and art, to natural camouflage among wild animals, to its historical uses in wars past, to the most recent scientific research in disruptive pattern materials.

Read the rest

What Jennifer Lawrence can teach you about cloud security [Ars Technica]

By now, you already have probably heard about the digital exposure, so to speak, of nude photos of as many as 100 celebrities, taken from their Apple iCloud backups and posted to the “b” forum on 4Chan. Over the last day, an alleged perpetrator has been exposed by redditors, although the man has declared his innocence  The main stream media have leapt on the story and gotten reactions from the affected celebrities, who include Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence, model Kate Upton, and a number of other young actresses.

Someone claiming to be the individual responsible for the breach has used 4Chan to offer explicit videos from Lawrence’s phone, as well as more than 60 more nude “selfies” of the actress. In fact, it seems multiple "b-tards" claimed access to the images, with one providing a Hotmail address associated with a PayPal account and another seeking contributions to a Bitcoin wallet. Word of the images launched a cascade of Google searches and set Twitter trending. As a result, 4Chan/b—the birthplace of Anonymous—has opened its characteristically hostile arms to a wave of curious onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite starlets’ naked bodies. Happy Labor Day!

This breach is different from other recent celebrity "hacks" in that it used a near-zero-day vulnerability in an Apple cloud interface. Instead of using social engineering or some low-tech research to gain control of the victims' cloud accounts, the attacker basically bashed in the front door—and Apple didn't find out until the attack was over. While an unusual, long, convoluted password may have prevented the attack from being successful, the only real defense against this assault was never to put photos in Apple's cloud in the first place. Even Apple's two factor authentication would not have helped.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA rover to get Martian memory wipe [Ars Technica]

An alien world, extraterrestrial exploration, and memory wipes on Mars sound like the makings of a Hollywood movie. Instead, it's a major IT project.

After a decade of exploring, the Opportunity rover's computer system will get a reboot to reformat its flash memory and eliminate its reliance on malfunctioning memory cells. In the last month alone, the rover has had to reset its systems a dozen times, a process that can take a day or two, according to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

"Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets," John Callas, project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project, said in a statement. "The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover."

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Move over Iceland: Tavurvur in Papua New Guinea is the volcano to watch [Ars Technica]

Tavurvur erupting in 2008.

Last week, the eyes of volcanologists—and presumably a few nervous pilots—were fixed on Iceland. But unexpectedly, the volcanic eruption that made headlines happened on the other side of the world, in Papua New Guinea.

Before dawn on August 29, Tavurvur—a stratovolcano on the island of New Britain, in Papua New Guinea’s eastern archipelago—awoke spectacularly after two decades of dormancy. The eruption shot lava hundreds of meters into the air, while the accompanying ash cloud reached 18km, almost double the cruising altitude of most commercial aircraft. As a precaution, several flights from Australia were rerouted around the volcano.

The explosions at Tavurvur have since died down somewhat, though as of Sunday the volcano was still ejecting material from its crater. The activity may still intensify. Regardless of how the eruption proceeds, this is a volcano worth remembering.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Kitchen counter bio hacking [Joi Ito's Web]

I first heard about Synbiota at SXSWi this year, when they won an Accelerator Award. According to the announcement, "Synbiota is a virtual collaboration site that connects scientists, researchers, universities and others from around the world to solve complex problems using genetic engineering." That week they announced the world's first Massive Open Online Science (MOOS) event. Called #ScienceHack, hundreds of researchers from around the globe (some as clueless as us!) would use a new "wetware" kit to produce prohibitively expensive medicine at a fraction of the price.

A month later I got this email:

From: Connor Dickie
To: Joi Ito
Cc: Kim de Mora
Date: Apr 17, 2014, at 11:12
Subject: ML alumni wins SXSW prize for SynBio startup & Invitation to #ScienceHack

"I'm writing to invite you to participate in #ScienceHack, our distributed science effort to make real medicine for just a fraction of current costs using Synthetic Biology and the Synbiota platform. O'Reilly Radar recently called #ScienceHack the most ambitious distributed science project, and knowing your interest in biotech, I thought I'd reach out to you with a cool opportunity to learn with us.

Participation is easy - I'll ship you one of our "Violacein Factory" wetware kits, and connect you with Kim de Mora at iGEM HQ (CC'd) who is not only interested to build one of the kits, but also has the required wet lab skills. It will take about an hour and a half for the in-silico design and build of the actual DNA part. Kim would handle the incubation etc. You would then come back to his lab in about 5 days to look at the results.

We recently built a Violacein Factory kit here in Canada, and more recently at Genspace in NYC, and everyone learned a bunch and helped us make significant advances towards our goal of an optimized violacein-producing organism.

I'll be in Boston/Cambridge on the 27th-through-30th as part of a Canadian trade delegation, and will have some time to meet you and chat about the opportunity in person if it interests you.

With regards,

Connor Dickie

I knew about iGEM. It was the spinout from MIT that brought high school and college students together to hack DNA much in the same way that robot competitions bring together kids interested in robots to hack and learn and compete. What's amazing is that iGEM, now bringing together over two thousand students at their Jamboree, takes the state of the art of synthetic biology and brings it to the masses.

Violacein is a natural purple compound made by Chromobacterium violaceum, a bacteria that is found in the soil in the tropics such as the Amazon. Violacein is created by the bacteria as a natural defense against amoebic creatures that try to eat it and is viewed as a potential anti-parasitic. It also appears to show promise as a treatment for cancer. The problem is that it currently costs $356,000 per gram because of the difficulty of harvesting it in the wild.

An opportunity to learn synthetic biology through doing it (my favorite way to learn) was too good to turn down so I immediately accepted the challenge. I started by taking the required safety courses for playing with recombinant DNA : General Biosafety for Researchers, check. Bloodborne Pathogens: Researchers, check. Hepatitis Information form, check. General Chemical Hygiene (web) and Managing Hazardous Waste (web). Check and check.

Then I started hunting for a place to do the actual work. That turned out to be a bit more of a challenge. Although the kit and process provided by Synbiota were basically safe and non-toxic, work with recombinant DNA and bacteria required a proper wet lab at MIT which are in short supply and used for more important things than the Media Lab director messing around with street bio.

After discussing with the team and looking at what we needed, we decided that my kitchen would be the least disruptive place to do the work.

On July 27, the Synbiota team and Kim from iGEM gathered at my house with a rag tag team of researchers from the Media Lab and elsewhere to work on the Violacein Factory #Sciencehack. We started with a briefing on what we were actually doing.

Our mission was to be one of the hundreds of teams participating in trying to innovate on developing the most effective method of synthesizing Violacein using synthetic biology.

Scientists have determined the metabolic pathway in Chromobacterium violaceum that converts tryptophan, a common amino acid, into violacein. This pathway involves five enzymes and various genetic sequences for their production. These "parts" of genetic code can be positioned differently in the DNA molecule and each combination has different attributes and tradeoffs - the optimal sequence and combination being currently unknown.

The #ScienceHack Violacein Factory Kit co-designed with Genomikon which develops synthetic biology kits, had vials of all of the various genetic "parts" and the other materials needed to assemble these parts into a plasmid. According to Synbiota:

This Kit includes everything you need except:

• pipettes, nitrile gloves, petri dishes, PCR tubes, lab coats (for the full biotech experience, but any ol' trench coat will do!)
• ice buckets and ice
• 42 C water bath with epi tube floaty blanket
• 37 C incubator

All the above can be found around the house, from online suppliers, at your local university lab store, or in a friendly scientist's stash.

Kim from iGEM brought everything from the iGEM lab. He walked us through the kitchen version of the protocol for using all of the equipment safely.

Synbiota, in addition to putting together this amazing #ScienceHack project has developed a suite of online tools to publish and share lab books online (I guess I don't need that fancy paper notebook I bought!), design DNA using a very nice graphical interface and provide researchers with a whole suite of tools to do synthetic biology as a community. Everything was very well designed and worked well.

First, I created an account on the Synbiota website and logged into our notebook. Justin explained the violacein pathway and explained how we can use the online gene editor, GENtle3, (video) to design the gene sequence online.

In GENtle3, we were able to drag and drop any of the genetic parts that came in the kit into our sequence and as long as we followed the basic rules of which parts could be connected to each other. The sequence I designed was Anc-ABEDDDC-Cap, where A, B, C, D, E represent the enzymes that make up the violacein metabolic pathway. (Visit the sequence tab in the Sciencehack project to view this and other designed sequences.)

The sequence had to start with the Anchor--Origin-X' part because that was the part that was attached to the magnetic bead. One of the keys to being able to do all of this amazing work in a kitchen had to do with this innovation.

In the kit were tiny sub-micron magnetic beads with the anchor part - a strand of DNA attached to it. What this meant is that we could use a small but very strong external magnet held to the side of the container - the epi tube - to pull all of the genetic material we were working with to the side of the epi tube allowing us to insert and extract liquids from the container using pipettes while leaving our working material secured to the container.

What we needed to do after designing our sequence was to assemble it. We did this putting the beads in a epi tube, adding a "wash", removing the wash, adding a genetic part from a color coded tube that corresponded with the next link in our design, adding the T4 DNA ligase, the "genetic glue" to attach that new part to the strand on the bead, removing the excess material, washing again, and then repeating until we had added each part in order to the bead. Theoretically, we should now have a long strands of DNA attached to each bead representing our version of the DNA sequence (plasmid) that we designed.

The last step was to use a buffer to remove the bead from the strands and we had a little drop of genetic material that when inserted into a living bacteria should create all of the enzymes necessary to produce violacein from tryptophan.

The next step was what was called "transformation" which is the process that takes our plasmid and inserts it into a bacteria, in our caseE. coli. The "competent" E. coli designed for easier transfection were created at iGEM. The process we used for transformation was called "heat shock" which involved adding our genetic material to a salt solution with the E. coli and then rapidly heating it which caused the genetic material to be absorbed into the E. coli. The device used for heating, I noticed, had a sticker from the "MIT Property Equipment Office" on it. Definitely a bit punk rock. After the "shock" we added liquid material with nutrients and minerals that "rebooted" the E. coli, waking it up and preparing it to be incubated for execution of the DNA code we just inserted.

The E. coli were then spread onto petri dishes with Jello-like "food" as well as an antibiotic, chloramphenicol. The chloramphenicol would kill all other bacteria on the dish except our own because we had cleverly included a chloramphenicol resistance building genetic part in our sequence.

We then sent the petri dishes back to iGEM for incubation. The results were not perfect, but none-the-less, it looks like violacein and other molecules from the pathway were created (some other got different colours). The images of my petri dish show a kind of blackish zig-zag smear which are billions of bacteria producing metabolites because the executed DNA I designed and created. At this point I don't know for sure whether violacein was created - I need to do more verification and experimentation, but for a first go at building a complex metabolic pathway, not too shabby. Something else that is cool, is that my intended DNA design was very long, 12,000 base pairs, the next #ScienceHack step is to verify that the entire code I designed was actually assembled properly. We shared our designs, protocols and procedures with the rest of the teams. The next step was to look at the work of the other teams and try to find out what we could improve and try again.

In two half days of work, we were able to do in our kitchen what would have been Nobel Prize winning work a decade ago. We designed a sequence of genes, actually assembled the genes and then injected them into a bacteria and rebooted the bacteria.

Also, unlike traditional labs where one team would do the work and publish a paper and then other teams would try to replicate the work, we worked as one large team of parallel labs sharing our work as we went along, iterating, innovating and discussing.

I think that there is a good chance that one of the hundreds of teams will discover an efficient way of synthesizing, extracting, and purifying violacein and that soon we will have something that will probably initially look something like a homebrew beer brewing contraption producing the extremely rare compound for researchers with instructions on how anyone can build one of these violacein factories.


Disclosure : After this experience, I was so excited that I donated to iGEM and decided to invest in Synbiota.

Shenzhen trip report - visiting the world's manufacturing ecosystem [Joi Ito's Web]

Last year, a group of Media Lab students visited Shenzhen with, bunnie, an old friend and my hardware guru. He's probably best known for hacking the Xbox, the chumby, an open source networked hardware appliance, and for helping so many people with their hardware, firmware and software designs. bunnie is "our man in Shenzhen" and understands the ecosystem of suppliers and factories in China better than anyone I know.

With his help, my students saw and experienced a ecosystem that we all benefit from, but mostly don't see or even realize exists. I have been living vicariously through the stories and reports of my students until last week, when I finally got my own tour of Shenzhen with bunnie.

bunnie insisted that we keep the group size very small because we would be going to places that couldn't fit many people and we wanted to be nimble. As chance would have it, Reid Hoffman, my old friend and founder of LinkedIn and the provost of MIT, Marty Schmidt, both were interested and available so this formed our odd little tour group.

The first stop on the tour was of a small factory run by AQS -- a manufacturer with operations in Fremont, California as well as Shenzhen. They mostly focus on putting chips on circuit boards. The factory was full of Surface-Mount Technology (SMT) machines which use computer programmed pneumatics to pick and place chips and other components onto circuit boards. In addition to the rows of SMT machines, there were lots of factory workers setting up the lines, programming the equipment, testing the results using x-rays, computers and eye balls and doing parts of the process that made more sense economically or technically to do by hand. AQS is the factory that is manufacturing thecircuit stickers designed by Media Lab student Jie Qi and Media Lab grad, Ayah Bdeir's, littleBits. What's great about AQS is that, with the help of bunnie, they have started working closely with startups and other projects that previously would have had a very hard time finding a partner in China because of the small volume, high risk and usually unconventional requests that go hand-in-hand with working with entrepreneurs and our creative students.

What was more impressive to me even than the technology were the people that bunnie introduced us to, such as the factory boss, John, and the project managers and engineers. They were clearly hard-working, very experienced, trustworthy and excited about working with bunnie and our friends. They were willing and able to design and try all kinds of new processes to produce things that have never been manufactured before. Their work ethic and their energy reminded me very much of what I imagined many of the founding entrepreneurs and engineers in Japan must have been like who built the Japanese manufacturing industry after the war.

In all of the small factories that we visited, including AQS, the factory workers lived in dorms surrounding the factory and ate together and lived together. All of their living expenses were supported by the factory and their salaries went entirely to savings or disposable income. Also, all of the managers and even the boss lived together with the workers. I'm sure we were picking good factories to visit, but everyone seemed happy, open and very close.

After AQS, we visited King Credie, which made the actual printed circuit boards (PCBs). The PCB manufacturing process is a sophisticated process involving adding layers while also etching and printing all kind of materials such as solder, gold, and various chemicals involving many steps and complex controls. They were working on some very sophisticated hybrid PCBs that included ceramic layers and flexible layers --  processes that are very difficult and considered exotic anywhere else in the world, but directly accessible to us thanks to a close working relationship with the factory.

We also visited an injection molding plant. bunnie has been helping me with a project that requires some relatively complicated injection molding. Most of the plastic parts for everything from cellphones to baby car seats are made using an injection molding process. The process involves creating "tools" which are the huge steel molds that the plastic is injected into. The process is difficult because if you want a mirror finish, the mold has to have a mirror finish. If you need 1/1000th of an inch tolerance in production, you have to cut the steel molds at that precision. Also, you have to understand how the plastic is going to flow into the mold through multiple holes in the mold and make sure that it enters evenly and cools properly without warping or breaking.

The factory we visited had a precision machine shop and the engineering expertise to design and machine our injection molding tools, but our initial production volume was too low for them to be interested in the business. They wanted orders of millions of units and we only needed thousands.

In an interesting twist, the factory boss suggested that we could build the precision molding tools in China and then send these tools to a US shop for running production. Due to our requirement for clean-room processing, he thought it would be cheaper to run production in the US -- but the US shops didn't have the expertise or capability that his shop in China had to produce the tools; and even if they did, they couldn't touch his cost for such value-added services.

This role reversal is an indicator of how the technology, trade, and know-how for injection molding has shifted to Shenzhen. Even if US has the manufacturing capacity, key parts of the knowledge ecosystem currently exist only in Shenzhen.

bunnie then took us to the market. We spent half of a day there and only saw a very small part of the huge network of buildings, stalls and marketplaces. The market was several large city blocks full of 5-10 story buildings with stalls packed into each floor. Each building had a theme or themes ranging from LEDs to cellphone hacking and repair. I realize it's cliché to say this, but it REALLY felt like blade runner in a way that even Akihabara never did. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that many of vendors were selling to factories so were focused on wholesale and not retail and the volumes were huge and the interfaces were rough.

We started in the section of the market where people were taking broken or trashed cellphones and stripping them down for all of the parts. Any phone part that conceivably retained functionality was stripped off and packaged for sale in big plastic bags. Another source of components seemed to be rejected parts from the factory lines that were then repaired, or sheets of PCBs in which only one of the components had failed a test. iPhone home buttons, wifi chipsets, Samsung screens, Nokia motherboards, everything. bunnie pointed to a bag of chips that he said would have a street value of $50,000 in the US selling for about $500. These chips were sold, not individually, but by the pound. Who buys chips by the pound? Small factories that make all of the cellphones that we all buy "new" will often be short on parts and they will run to the market to buy bags of that part so that they can keep the line running. It's very likely that the "new" phone that you just bought from ATT has "recycled" Shenzhen parts somewhere inside.

The other consumer of these parts are the people who repair phones. Phone repair starts with simple stuff like replacing the screen to full-on rebuilds. You can even buy whole phones built from scrap parts -- "I lost my phone, can you repair it for me?"

After this market where phones were "recycled" we saw equivalent markets for laptops, TVs, everything.

Next we went to another kind of market. When we walked in, bunnie whispered to me, "EVERYTHING here is fake." There were "SVMSMUG" phones and things that looked like all kinds of phones we know. However, the more interesting phones were the phones that weren't like anything that existed anywhere else. Keychains, boom boxes, little cars, shiny ones, blinky ones -- it was an explosion of every possible iteration on phones that you could imagine. Many were designed by the so-called Shanzhai pirates who started by mostly making knockoffs of existing phones, but had become agile innovation shops for all kind of new ideas because of the proximity to the manufacturing ecosystem. They had access to the factories, but more importantly, they had access to the trade skills (and secrets) of all of the big brand phone manufacturers whose schematics could be found for sale in shops. These schematics and the engineers in the factories knew the state of the art and could apply this know-how to their own scrappy designs that could be more experimental and crazy. In fact many new technologies had been invented by these "pirates" such as the dual sim card phone.

The other amazing thing was the cost. There is a very low cost chipset that bunnie talks about that seems to be driving these phones which is not available outside of China, but they appear to do quad-band GSM, bluetooth, SMS, etc. on a chip that costs about $2. The retail price of the cheapest full featured phone is about $9. Yes. $9. This could not be designed in the US -- this could only be designed by engineers with tooling grease under their fingernails who knew the manufacturing equipment inside and out, as well as the state of the art of high-end mobile phones.

While intellectual property seems to be mostly ignored, tradecraft and trade secrets seem to be shared selectively in a complex network of family, friends and trusted colleagues. This feels a lot like open source, but it's not. The pivot from piracy to staking out intellectual property rights isn't a new thing. The United States blatantly stole book copyright until it developed it's own publishing very early in US history. The Japanese copied US auto companies until it found itself in a leadership position. It feels like Shenzhen is also at this critical point where a country/ecosystem goes from follower to leader.

When we visited DJI which makes the Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter we saw a company that was ahead. They are a startup that is growing at 5X / year. They have one of the most popular drones ever designed for the consumer market. They are one of the top 10 patent holders in China. They were clearly benefiting from the tradecraft of the factories but also very aware of the importance of being clean (and aggressive) from an IP perspective. DJI had the feel of a Silicon Valley startup mashed together with the work ethic and tradecraft of the factories we had been visiting.

We also visited a very high-end, top-tier mobile phone factory that made millions of phones. All of the parts were delivered by robots from a warehouse that was completely automated. The processes and the equipment were the top of the line and probably as sophisticated any factory in the world.

We also visited a tiny shop that could assemble very sophisticated boards in single-unit volumes for a price comparable to a typical monthly cable TV bill, because they would make them by hand. They place barely visible chips onto boards by hand and had a soldering technique that Americans will tell you can only be done by a $50,000 machine. What amazed me was that they used no assisted vision. No microscopes, magnifying lenses, etc. - workers in the US can do some of what they do, but they need assisted vision. bunnie posits that they do it mostly by feel and muscle memory. It was amazing and beautiful to watch.

We visited PCH International where we saw supplies coming in just in time to be assembled, boxed, tagged and shipped. What used to take companies three months from factory to store, now only took three days -- to anywhere in the world.

We visited the HAXLR8R, a hardware incubator in the middle of the market district run by a pair of French entrepreneurs.

What we experienced was an entire ecosystem. From the bespoke little shop making 50 blinking computer controlled burning man badges to the guy rebuilding a phone while eating a Big Mac to the cleanroom with robots scurrying around delivering parts to rows and rows of SMTs -- the low cost of labor was the driving force to pull most of the world sophisticated manufacturing here, but it was the ecosystem that developed the network of factories and the tradecraft that allows this ecosystem to produce just about anything at any scale.

Just like it is impossible to make another Silicon Valley somewhere else, although everyone tries -- after spending four days in Shenzhen, I'm convinced that it's impossible to reproduce this ecosystem anywhere else. What Marty, Reid, bunnie and I talked a lot about was what could we learn from Shenzhen to help the Boston and Silicon Valley (and more broadly the US) ecosystems and how can we connect more deeply with Shenzhen.

Both Shenzhen and Silicon Valley have a "critical mass" that attracts more and more people, resources and knowledge, but also they are both living ecosystems full of diversity and a work ethic and experience base that any region will have difficulty bootstrapping.

I do believe that other regions have regional advantages - Boston might be able to compete with Silicon Valley on hardware and bioengineering. Latin America and regions of Africa may be able compete with Shenzhen on access to certain resources and markets. However, I believe that Shenzhen, like Silicon Valley, has become such a "complete" ecosystem that we're more likely to be successful building networks to connect with Shenzhen than to compete with it head on.


I recently did a TED Talk where I provide a higher level context for my trip to and observations about Shenzhen.

Akademy 2014 – Soon ;=) [Planet KDE]

Only some days until the yearly Akademy starts.

Its a real great thing to get known to other KDE/Qt contributors and meet old and new friends.

Already amazed, lets hope the airlines don’t go on strike during my travel :=)

See you all there, lets have fun & be productive! Already now thanks to all people that help to organize this cool event and all our sponsors!

Ukrainian troops demoralized [ - Top Stories]

CNN's Diana Magnay reports from the front lines in the Ukrainian conflict.

Opinion: What can West do about it? [ - Top Stories]

Russia's tactics in Ukraine are difficult to pin down: The Kremlin categorically denies Russian troops are fighting alongside rebels there, or that the sophisticated weaponry being used against Ukrainian government forces is supplied by Moscow.

J-Law's nude photos: Who's at fault? [ - Top Stories]

Peggy Drexler: How do you deal with the problem of very private photos being hacked and posted? Not by blaming the victims.

Israel lays claim to 1,000 acres [ - Top Stories]

Britain has urged Israel to reverse its move to claim almost 1,000 acres of land in the Palestinian West Bank, saying it deplores the "ill-judged decision."

Five must-follow midterm races [ - Top Stories]

While Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer, it's also the unofficial start to the campaign season. Here are five must-follow races for these midterms.

Ebola creating ghost towns [ - Top Stories]

A group of men dressed in space-suit-like outfits cautiously throw a body into a grave, pausing only to toss in anything else they are wearing that came into contact with the deceased.

Chris Tucker settles huge tax bill [ - Top Stories]

Comedian Chris Tucker's multimillion dollar tax bill isn't very funny, but he's reached a deal with the IRS to settle it, his representative said Monday.

Wozniacki thriving after McIlroy split [ - Top Stories]

Caroline Wozniacki has had her critics in the past. A defensive game and not landing a grand slam title while she was ranked No. 1 provided fodder for her detractors.

How it all started [ - Top Stories]

Monday marks 75 years since Germany invaded Poland in what would be the first battle of World War II. Michael Holmes more

World War II Fast Facts [ - Top Stories]

Here's what you need to know about World War II, which lasted from 1939 to 1945.

Beauty queen's shocking weight loss [ - Top Stories]

Keli Kryfko reveals how she transformed from an overweight middle school girl into Miss South Texas. KTVT reports.

Raspberry Pi Gets a Brand New Browser [Slashdot]

sfcrazy writes The Raspberry Pi team has announced a new browser for Raspberry Pi. They had worked with Collabora to create an HTML5-capable, modern browser for Pi users. While announcing the new browser, Eben Upton said, "Eight months and a lot of hard work later, we're finally ready. Epiphany on Pi is now a plausible alternative to a desktop browser for all but the most JavaScript-heavy sites."

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Analyst: Response To Russian Incursion Will Be 'Defining Moment' For NATO [News]

President Obama heads to Europe this week to take part in the NATO summit. The alliance is weighing how to respond to Russia's incursions into Ukraine.

» E-Mail This

Economic Impact Of Ebola Crisis Spreads Across Africa [News]

Ebola has exposed weaknesses in Africa's health networks and a failure to work together to arrest the spread of the virus. The "not our problem" response is taking an economic toll on the continent.

» E-Mail This

40 Years After 'Working,' A View From The Driver's Seat [News]

Four decades after Studs Terkel's famous collection of oral histories was published, Radio Diaries revives one of his interviews with Helen Moog, an Ohio taxi driver and grandmother of five.

» E-Mail This

Americans Detained In N. Korea Urge U.S. To Secure Their Release [News]

In interviews with CNN and The Associated Press, Kenneth Bae, Jeffrey Fowle and Matthew Miller appealed to the U.S. to send a senior representative to secure their release.

» E-Mail This

Apple 'actively investigating' alleged hack that revealed nude celebrity photos [The Verge - All Posts]

Apple says it is "actively investigating" an alleged exploit to its iCloud service that allowed hackers to post dozens of private celebrity photos to public message boards this weekend. "We take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report," said an Apple spokesperson to Recode. Among the pictures posted to the Reddit and 4chan message boards were nude photos of celebrities Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton, Kirsten Dunst, and numerous other models, actresses, and athletes.

"We take user privacy very seriously and are actively investigating this report."

Though it hasn't yet been confirmed that the pictures came from iCloud accounts, reports have speculated that the hackers used a recent tool called iBrute, which...

Continue reading…

W3C Advisory Committee Elects Mark Nottingham to Technical Architecture Group [W3C News]

The W3C Advisory Committee has elected Mark Nottingham (Akamai Technologies) to the W3C Technical Architecture Group (TAG). The mission of the TAG is to build consensus around principles of Web architecture and to interpret and clarify these principles when necessary, to resolve issues involving general Web architecture brought to the TAG, and to help coordinate cross-technology architecture developments inside and outside W3C.

Learn more about the TAG and check out the Extensible Web Summit – Berlin on 11 September.


Power Grids: The Huge Battery Market You Never Knew Existed [Slashdot]

ashshy writes Unlike the obvious battery needs for smartphones or electric cars, many consumers are unaware of the exploding need for enormous battery banks as modern power grids are bringing a whole new set of requirements. From the article: "'Our electricity grid was built a certain way, and that way is to have on-demand production,' Argonne National Laboratory battery researcher Jeff Chamberlain explained. 'So as I flip my light switch on at home, there's some little knob somewhere that turns the power up. There is no buffer. It's a very interesting production cycle compared to other consumer goods. It was built a certain way, and the grid is currently changing in two different ways. One is, first our demand is increasing. But another is, around the world human beings are trying to get off fossil fuels and that means using solar and wind. Well, we cannot turn up the sun or wind, or turn down the sun or wind according to our energy needs. So the more those technologies penetrate the grid, the more you need energy storage. You need a buffer. And that is a very difficult challenge that's similar to transportation because it's cost-driven,' Chamberlain said. 'But it's also different from transportation because we're not limited by volume or mass like we are in vehicles. We're working on energy storage systems that are stationary.'"

Read more of this story at Slashdot.


American Southwest has 80% chance of decade-long drought this century [Ars Technica]

Satellite view of Southern California and Nevada as of June.

In a good year, the management of water resources in the American West is contentious. When a drought hits, most everyone feels it, and this year is certainly no exception. The notion of sustainability in water-strapped places isn’t much more complicated than balancing a checking account. And the budget projections aren’t exactly encouraging.

The last thing this situation needs is a decrease on the supply side. Unfortunately, precipitation in the Southwestern US is projected to decline as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Double unfortunately, the last century isn’t even a very good baseline for the region’s climate without climate change. Records from things like tree rings show drier periods in the past. A recent study led by Cornell’s Toby Ault attempts to pull this all together to improve our understanding of future drought risk in the region.

The worst US droughts of the 20th century were the 1930s “Dust Bowl” in the central US and the 1950s in the Southwest. In the past, the Southwest has averaged one or two of these almost-decade-long droughts per century, but there have also been droughts longer than anything in the historical record—droughts lasting several decades.

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