Andrew Revitt

Serial

23 June 2015

Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Unlike the majority of podcasts I've listened to, Serial tells one true story over the course of an entire 12 episode series.

Serial is the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, an American student and the arrest and conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Initially I was reluctant to download the podcast not being a fan of true crime and the general poor production qualities of podcasts, but after previewing a few minutes of one of the episodes, this was obviously very different.

Serial

I had listened to an episode of This American Life some time ago but generally most of the podcasts I occasionally listen to are weekly design or tech related and generally not that great. Serial is magnitudes better than most podcasts. High production values, its own soundtrack, and no ad interruptions. Sarah Koenig is a great narrator for her own investigations and I think this is it's main selling point. In an age of celebrity glamour and ad soaked content, designed for people with short attention spans, Serial avoids all the pitfalls.

The episodes range between 30 and 60 mins breaking down the varies stages of the case and Koenig skillfully looks at all sides without playing one over the other. In this day and age, this type of journalism seems very rare. It's an enthralling story, well paced and well made and never too long. Leaves you wanting more like all good series. It's never distasteful or overblown like most crime reporting seems to be.

This podcast brings the quality of audio books to the podcast medium and with further series planned, let's hope more of the same follows.

Serial Podcast site.

Escapes by Stefan Bogner

16 June 2015

An unusual photography book from Curves magazines' Stefan Bogner, it features a visual record of many road passes of the European Alps. These ribbons of tarmac traverse some of the most beautiful scenery in the Alps and have themselves become part of that landscape. Taken from a drivers perspective in many cases, these are fascinating looks at the alps when not covered in snow.

Escapes

Featuring many classics alpine passes such as as the Gotthard Pass connecting north and south Switzerland, the Stelvio in Italy and Col du Galibier in France. A beautiful hardcover coffee table book with 224 pages containing 152 color photos, 3 black and white and a few paragraphs of text, in German.

Available on Amazon.

Review: Ex Machina

09 June 2015

I have been looking forward to this movie from Alex Garland for a while. It's billed as a 'chilling vision of the not-too-distant future of artificial intelligence' and the basic storyline is of a genius billionaire bringing a programmer to his mountain retreat to test a robot for AI.

AVA and Kyoko
Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) and AVA (Alicia Vikander) in Ex Machina

On the surface it's a well paced, stylish visual piece, but ultimately let down by a poor script and less than believable characters. It's one of those movies which isn't that far into the future that you can suspend your disbelief and most of the story was obvious to me before it happened. Man builds girlfriends, man treats girlfriends badly, girlfriends team up on man. Throw is some vague science/tech, mention Alan Turing a lot, and some obvious hints at Google and privacy.

It starts without dialogue when Bluebook programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is selected to visit the CEO's residence in the mountains. Bluebook is seemingly now the world's number one search engine going by CEO Nathan's (Oscar Issac) estate. Nathan is a genius who wrote Bluebook at 13 and has now managed, on his own, to assemble a perfect robot, with AI in a mountain retreat, with only a helicopter, which takes 2 hours just fly over his estate, occasionally visiting him.

He does have enough fibre-optic cabling in the walls "to reach the moon and lasso it", though. Not sure how this helps though. Seems to impress Caleb which tells you enough about his skill set. Nathan and Caleb have an uneasy relationship and this is where the main tension of the film hangs and where it mostly fails. Caleb weak, Nathan strong.

It's not until we meet AVA (Alicia Vikander) and Caleb's interactions with her (it?) that the movie gets interesting. Nathan and Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the 'maid', are also interesting and when they break into dance it looks like the movie is finally getting some drama. Obvious plot direction ruins the rest of the movie though.

There was a lack of tension caused by knowing what was going to happen and even the attempt at a plot twist at the end was poorly executed. I found both Caleb and particularly Nathan's characters unbelievable or possibly obvious. AVA and Kyoko, albeit the robots came over as much more interesting characters.

Obvious parallels to Blade Runner with the Turing test (Voight Kampff) and AVA/Rachel, even to point that AVA looks a lot like Rachel at the end, leaving across the mountains to city as opposed to the other way around. At one point Kyoko looks exactly like one of the aliens in 'They Live'.

There were some nice ideas, Nathan's use of the Bluebooks data to build the AI and use of Caleb's porn searches to model AVA's face but these were lost amongst the bigger ideas from other places (2001, Blade Runner, Logans Run, I Robot etc). A shame really as the movie avoided a lot of Hollywood's gloss and over use of action and CGI but felt very flat by the end.

The problem with Unsplash

02 June 2015

Stock photography has had it's day. You can spot it a mile away, templates, corporate sites and material thrived on it. Working in an agency I often found myself downloading pokey little jpgs and filling holes in the content with them. Often coming back later to spend large amounts of money on full size copies. Strangely it's not even that easy to get your work into these stock libraries. Anything with 'out of focus' areas, bokeh, will often get your photo rejected. Many creative shots are not great stock shots sellers.

Cable car on unsplash
Glacier 3000 cable car Switzerland on Unsplash

So when Unsplash arrived a couple of years ago, a fresh look at stock photos was born. Unsplash avoids the stock photo library problems by accepting pretty much anything but only featuring their curated shots. And of course it's all free. The licence is Creative Commons Zero which means you can do whatever you want with them. Great for users, lousy for photographers. It is pretty much a hipster fest of photography, so that does limit its appeal to the corporates but they have started to get onboard, its free after all.

So why would anyone put a photo on Unsplash? What's to gain? I asked myself the same question when I uploaded a photo back in February of 2014. My reason was simple, I had used a couple of photos in projects (my current header is from Charles Forerunner) and as there is nothing you can really do to pay back, I put a photo of my own up. I thought if it takes off something might come of it. Currently it's ranked 703rd and has had 21,375 downloads (from Unsplash). You can imagine how many the top ranked images are getting.

So what's the problem?

As I see it there are a few. Unsplash has been a big success for Crew, the company who put it together. Even getting the likes of Zeldman to pick a few NY shots recently. Great for them but what have they given back to the community that made them successful?

I have no problem with the licence to give your work away free, I have problems with the distribution part. In practice it sounds fine but the reality is Russian spam and malware sites are as free to distribute them as Unsplash. Backlinks from these sites you don't want.

The amount of sites that have ripped, scrapped and plain hacked the Unsplash photos to make them their own is depressing, if not surprising.

Now that it's so popular wouldn't it be nice to have a option to donate to the photographer or some other method of recompense? We did get a thank you email.

So what have I gotten from this exercise? You could count the backlinks on your body parts, so web traffic isn't worth it. Nobody has contacted me to say thanks or ask a questions or anything. And nothing at all has come from it. The sites using the photo are mostly spammers, seo building companies, WordPress templates and the odd blog. I've seen a couple with credits. The only people to have gained from Unsplash are Crew.

Ultimately there are no killer images on Unsplash. Mine is far from mainstream and never going to be that popular. It's b roll photography, I imagine most people did the same, put something up see what happens. Apple isn't coming calling anytime soon people.

I thought about taking it down and closing the account, but once it's out there it's gone for good. Imagine if I had a pound for every download though - how many Leicas is that?

Geneva

27 May 2015

Geneva is a city with many faces. The lake side full of leisure and tourists, the shopping district, the old town, the expo and airport district and the multi faceted residential areas.

Geneva streetlife
Geneva streetlife on flickr

Review: Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

19 May 2015

| arcteryx.com

My Alpha SL jacket has just had it's 2nd anniversary. The day it arrived I went out for a walk and was treated to a heavy spring shower. This is why I bought it I thought when I arrived back soaked and took this photo.

The Alpha SL is a lightweight, waterproof GORE-TEX® PacLite® jacket, with a helmet compatible Speed Hood® designed as an easily packable emergency storm jacket in an alpine environment. There are many other jackets in this category with a similar specification for less money. I've owned a fair few waterproof jackets and eventually they all leak. Some can be saved with water proof treatment.

Arc'teryx have a handy video on cleaning and waterproofing your (GORE-TEX) jacket. This is one of the reasons I purchased the jacket, that and Arc'teryx reputation for outdoor equipment. There are many, many brands selling clothing for the 'outdoors' but when you look at their core business, not many are as 'hardcore' as Arc'teryx.

Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

Two years in and used outside of winter, the jacket has no problems with heavy rain and still looks as good as the day I bought it. It's spent a lot of time hiking and biking in the Chamonix valley and beyond. A fair amount of time packed in a backpack. I haven't used the hood with a helmet as it's designed for climbing helmets so no idea what it's like with a bike helmet. The hood has a decent peak and a rear adjuster to fit to your head size. I find this key to any activity in the rain, a badly fitting hood with no peak makes for a very unpleasant outing.

I have the carbon colour with blue ascents. Generally speaking Arc'teryx make one colour products which can make for some rather unimaginative clothing designs. Buying one of the very bright colours may not be a great choice considering how long it will last. Orange is popular this year across outdoor products, but next year maybe not so much. This gray colour makes a change from black and looks smart enough when used in the city. It's not a feature jacket. It has two chest pockets, later versions only have one, pit zips, hood and waist adjusters. That's it. If you are looking for features look elsewhere.

Even though it's packable it has decent thickness required for a truly waterproof jacket. Many packable jackets I've have had been lighter and thinner but unless you are running the UTMB I don't see them as comparable. This is packable for a proper alpine jacket. It doesn't feel packable when you wear it, which I prefer. As mentioned previously I don't like owning multiple products in the same category. I had a very packable Oakley jacket for biking that you could squeeze into a large pocket but 10 mins into a storm at Val d'Isere and it was useless. I had a thicker packable North Face jacket that was fine for a couple of hours of rain but you got cold in it. The Alpha SL has lasted all day rain and is you don't feel the cold as much.

Arc'teryx Alpha SL Jacket

Downsides? Well I think you have to be really picky to find any. For my body size another couple of cm of length at the front would be good. The back is fine, although perhaps a little short for biking but this isn't what it was primarily designed for. I find the short front means you really channel the water to your lower half. Fine if you have waterproof trousers but not so good with jeans. The arms are a good length for me which is unusual as I have long arms. So I suggest sizing is important.

It's a simple product with a simple mission. It isn't trying to be anything else which is why I bought it and will continue to enjoy it's protection, if not the weather I wear it in.

Aiguille du Midi

12 May 2015

If you only do one thing on a visit to Chamonix France, the Aiguille du Midi trip is the best choice. It's weather dependant of course, there is little point going up if the valley is shrouded in cloud. You can sometimes get an inversion where the Aiguille is above the cloud but more often than not it will also be in the cloud.

So on a clear or partly cloudy day the cable car to the summit, the Téléphérique de l'Aiguille du Midi, previously the world's highest cable car and current holder of the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world, will take you from Chamonix town at 1035m to 3842m with excellent views of Mt Blanc 4810m, the Chamonix valley and into France, Italy and Switzerland.

Panorama from the Aiguille du Midi

The first cable car is from Chamonix to Plan de l'Aiguille, 2317m and then another to the top. The building also contains an elevator to the summit, viewing platforms, a restaurant, a shop and a glass skywalk called 'Step into the Void', which is a bit of a gimmick and quite often closed.

The viewing platforms are where it's at. That and the Aiguille du Midi Arête where you can exit to the Vallée Blanche at your own risk. Moving from platform to platform gives you unrestricted views of the Mt Blanc range and across the Vallée Blanche. You can admire the skiers and climbers at work in the various couloirs and pitches. An appreciation for climbing and skiing isn't required to enjoy the skill on display.

You may also enjoy some shortness of breath of your own as you climb the various stairs and the extremes of temperature and conditions this high mountain environment offers. Warm clothes and sunglasses are recommended. During the summer season (June-August) and holidays expect lengthy queues. Early mornings are obviously popular and if you have a weather window booking ahead is a good idea. Sometimes you can luck into going straight up but usually a wait of an hour or more can be expected. Expect a trip to last up 2 hours.

Review: Oakley Halifax Backpack

28 April 2015

| oakley.com

The choice of backpacks these days is bewildering. Backpacks for all occassions and activities. Personally I'm not a fan of owning multiple products in the same category and I already own a backpack but as it's been used for outdoor activites, it's not something I want to use for work or travel.

So I needed a smart, laptop compatible backpack with enough storage for a weekend away. This doesn't narrow the field down much unfortunatley so I scoured brands I am familiar with and a few others. As I was also looking to upgrade my main luggage I wanted something matching. Eastpak have a wide range of matching luggage as do Dakine but neither really had a look I was after. Douchebags is new to the market and has a great new look and some nice features but their large luggage was too big.

oakley Halifax Backpack

So I fell back to an old favourite of Oakley. The Halifax Backpack is classy looking and while there isn't an exact match in large luggage, a roller in the right size was available.

The Halifax is 25L and fits carry on at 48cm x 30cm x 20cm (19" x 12" x 8") and features a heathered herringbone 600D nailhead polyester covering (looks a little like black denim), with a top and base made of a 420D ripstop nylon and tarpaulin panels. The main compartment is 200D polyester-lined with a draw string and buckle closure.

A zip compartment on the side loads a laptop/tablet behind the main bag and there are two zip pockets on the top flap, one soft lined, the other ideal for passports etc. Another zip pocket on the front can also take documents.

Inside the main compartment is just one thin and wide mesh zip pocket on the back. I'm not a fan of pockets in the main compartment for this size of backpack. Some backpacks are seemingly just lots of small or medium pockets or compartments.

In use I found it ideal for weekend or long weekends. The main compartment takes enough clothes for 4 or 5 days, depending on your attire of course. I packed trousers in the laptop sleeve, keeping them flatter. I stowed keys in the top flap pockets and passports and documents in the others. Money inside the main compartments mesh pocket.

I wasn't keen on the off center buckle closure. The main compartment has a drawstring so security is average and the stiff top flap has to be fitted carefully for the buckle fastening to do it's job. Unless the bag is pretty much full, the top flap can tuck around the edges and not sit over the top of the bag correctly. The off center strap doesn't assist in this.

When just doing day trips without a full load the bag doesn't hold its' shape very well and looks less smart. Unless you carried a large load I wouldn't recommend it as a daily carry.

The good points are it looks very smart and functions ideally for travel with a decent load. The top and base panels are hard wearing and you can wash them down should the bag sit in something. It was comfy to wear on a long day from car to bus to plane to train and fitted in the overhead much better than those hard wheeled bags so popular on planes these days.

It's an attractive modern looking backpack that doesn't look out of place in either economy or business class. Plenty of space for a weekend travel, without being compromised by too many compartments or features. Laptop carry works as expected, 15" Macbook Pro fits but with a large load in the main compartment it's a struggle to get in out. 13" Macbook Pro is fine and the extra pocket takes an iPad. The back padding and straps were comfy for all day use in my testing. No compression straps or sternum strap though as this isn't design for active use and I wouldn't recommend it for that.

Ideal for short trips where a wheeled bag doesn't work so well or like me you just prefer a backpack.

Monaco: More than a tax haven

21 April 2015

Monaco
Monaco on Exposure by Julia Revitt

We recently had the pleasure of spending sometime in Monaco, closing our principality bucket list. Rather than attempting to tell the Monaco story here, my partner has a rather fine photo story on Exposure, a site designed to create beautiful photo narratives and worth a look for any photographer.

Monaco has many facets and is not just a tax haven for the rich... I was thinking we’d see a La Ferrari or a Bugatti and perhaps David Coulthard or Roger Moore but I wasn’t expecting wonderful parks, friendly people and affordable lunch spots...

See the full photo story on Exposure.