First Impressions of the iPhone 6 Camera: Callahan State Park

I’ve had my iPhone 6 for almost a month now, but hadn’t really tested out the camera in a meaningful way until today. With all the warm weather we’ve had this week, Laura and I decided to head out to Framingham to meet up with my Mom and take Bella for a walk in Callahan State Park. In rained for the first part of the walk, but the sun broke out right around the time we got to Eagle Pond. The light was perfect.

I’d read the camera was a big step up from my previous iPhone 5, and after looking at a handful of shots on a big screen, I’m very impressed. The hardware is great, but I also love the auto HDR feature much more than I expected. I took a bunch of similar shots with and without it on, and found that it was extremely effective at capturing cloud contrast. When I had it off, I’d often be stuck with white washed skies. Taking the same picture with it on completely solved the problem.

All of these were taken on my phone, and edited right in Apple’s Camera app:

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I also played with slo-mo. More on that soon.

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Uhhhh. Who gave this to you? The King of Sweden.

I found this to be very funny. Via Chris Blattman, 2011 Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt shares his experience taking a Nobel Prize through airport security in Fargo:

“When I won this, my grandma, who lives in Fargo, North Dakota, wanted to see it. I was coming around so I decided I’d bring my Nobel Prize. You would think that carrying around a Nobel Prize would be uneventful, and it was uneventful, until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the X-ray machine. I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the X-rays—it’s completely black. And they had never seen anything completely black.

“They’re like, ‘Sir, there’s something in your bag.’
I said, ‘Yes, I think it’s this box.’
They said, ‘What’s in the box?’
I said, ‘a large gold medal,’ as one does.
So they opened it up and they said, ‘What’s it made out of?’
I said, ‘gold.’
And they’re like, ‘Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?’
‘The King of Sweden.’
‘Why did he give this to you?’
‘Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.’
At which point, they were beginning to lose their sense of humor. I explained to them it was a Nobel Prize, and their main question was, ‘Why were you in Fargo?’”

Original source here.

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World Away

Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer, who plays the drums, recently released a 20 song album, Sukierae. I just gave it a full listen last week. First reaction: much of it is awesome. I didn’t expect to enjoy it for the drumming, but I found myself extremely impressed with Spencer. Particularly World Away and Diamond Light Pt. 1:

Some of that is reminiscent of Bonham. Great rhythms. By about two thirds of the way through though, it seemed as though a handful of songs didn’t need to make the cut. They’re all good, but they simply reminded me of older Wilco or solo Tweedy, or even Mermaid Avenue without the Guthrie lyrics. And while I welcome new material, I’d enjoy the “whole album” experience a bit more if it were a bit more concise, focused only on what makes this new family collaboration different from Jeff’s prior work. That said, I definitely recommend checking the whole thing out.

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A Few Thoughts on Rhinos

I just learned that yesterday was World Rhino Day, an annual initiative to raise awareness about Africa’s big poaching problem. National Geographic has a nice series of pictures and history, including a picture that’s clearly from a very different time of a zookeeper feeding peas to a rhino while it’s carrying a woman on its back.

Having just been to South Africa last month, where over 80% of the 26,000 rhinos in Africa live, I thought I’d share some of what we saw and learned. Previous posts on South Africa are here and here.

While I had known that poaching has historically been and continues to be a huge issue, I hadn’t appreciated the extent of it. Over 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa 2013, the largest number in recent history, and this year it looks like the number might be even higher. That’s almost 5% of the population poached, every year, and doesn’t include rhinos that die of old age and other natural causes.

I had also always assumed that poaching was most prevalent in less populated areas with few tourists and little infrastructure — somewhere deep in the bush away from conservation areas and managed parks/reserves. That couldn’t be more wrong. Most of the poaching happens in Kruger National Park, the largest and arguably most well-known and visited park in South Africa. Despite the fact that it’s only open from 6am-6pm, has a team of dedicated anti-poaching police, and that the entry/exit points appear regulated with only a handful of well guarded gates and frequent car searches, rhinos in Kruger aren’t well protected at all. About one per day is poached.

In some ways it seems the parks and reserves just need to do more of what they are doing — searches and dedicated anti-poaching patrol — and maybe be a bit more tactical about it. The first very small private reserve we visited had four rhinos as recently as a year ago. Now there are three — poachers cut through the fence in the middle of the night, killed one, and cut off his horns. We saw the bones, which the reserve kept in place to raise awareness.

Apparently at the time it was well-known that the anti-poaching police weren’t on duty from about midnight to the early morning, which in many ways defeats the purpose of having them for the other ~20 hours per day. Obviously more resources are needed. But making the hours and routes less predicable would seem to help. However, my understanding of the context is limited to a few conversations, so I’m hesitant to assume too much about which aspects of protection failed.

In the parks, our car was searched a few times, but not every time, despite the fact that we were stopped for five minutes or so at each entry or exit point. There didn’t seem to be any reason why the guards couldn’t have quickly looked in our trunk each time. Maybe they were profiling us as tourists, but they seemed more interested in finding out whether we had alcohol than guns. And given the recent arrest of some park employees for walking around with a hunting rifle, it sounds as though guns coming in and out of the park should be a focus.

At many of the parks, we did notice a culture of secrecy around the rhinos. We often asked rangers and guides how many rhinos were in parks we were visiting, and the most common answer was that they don’t disclose the information. Also, many of the parks had boards at the visitor areas where people can mark recent sightings of elusive animals such as lions, leopards, elephants, hyenas, wild dogs, etc. Rhinos would have been an obvious addition to that list, but we never saw their locations marked.

Maybe this already happens on a limited scale, or is more challenging than I appreciate, but it would seem to me that anti-poaching efforts could be improved with a bit of technology. I’ve read about parks using motion sensors. But what about adding some cameras along key roads, maybe even streaming them to the web, and crowd sourcing the monitoring. People from all over the world could check out various parts of the parks, and report anything that appears suspicious. There’s clearly a large global network of people who care. When we visited the Tembe Elephant Reserve, we learned that they have a very popular 24/7 webcam covering one of the watering holes, and there’s something similar in popular spots in Kruger. Why not take this exact model and replicate it a few hundred times over using satellite internet in different parks? I suppose there’s risk of poachers using the cameras to locate rhinos, but I think the added monitoring of the areas would more than compensate.

We also learned of some innovative approaches to reducing demand for rhino horns that have been tested on a limited basis and sound promising. One example is to inject poison and pink dye into the horns — a practice that doesn’t harm the rhinos, but would be apparent to poachers and would make anyone consuming the horn fairly sick. This sounds like a promising approach, but it would likely have to be expanded on a much larger basis before it could really reduce demand rather than shift poaching to different areas. Time will tell — hopefully it helps.

I’ve included some shots of some of the rhinos we saw below.

The first two are from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, where we saw about 15-20 different rhinos throughout our day-long self-drive. I didn’t notice at the time, but after reviewing the pictures closely, it’s clear this rhino has large wounds on both sides. It’s difficult to be sure, but they look like gunshot wounds (especially the one on its left in the first picture) suggesting he or she may have escaped an attempted poaching:
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A couple others from the same park:
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And here are a couple more from a reserve near Hluhluwe:
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If you’re interested in donating to anti-poaching efforts, I found that has a bunch of great programs across Africa, including one at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park.


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African Cat Rehabilitation Center

Continued from my previous post here. On our second day in South Africa, we took a ride about 10 miles up the road from our lodge to the Emdoneni Lodge Cat Rehabilitation Center. The center takes in injured and orphaned cheetahs, servals, African wild cats, and caracals, and provides care for them, generally with the hope of releasing them back into the wild. In some cases the cats become too tame and comfortable around humans and can not be safely released, so these guys live out their days at the center.

Somewhat surprisingly, after speaking with one of the center’s staff members, we learned much of the funding for these centers comes from hunting organizations. My understanding was that they typically want to help support sustainable population levels, across many species, such that “responsible hunting” does not pose a risk. These are obviously longer term objectives for currently threatened animals, and the dynamic seems nuanced and complex, but it felt a bit odd knowing a lot of the support for a great animal protection program had these underlying motivations.

Fascinating all around. With that, I’ve included a few highlights below.

Here’s an African wild cat:

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Shots of well-timed yawns always look viscous. They resemble house cats, and apparently house cats were bred from domesticated African wild cat ancestors beginning about 10,000 years ago, but these guys are just a bit more dangerous.

Here’s a caracal, named Bar One:

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A cheetah:
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And finally a serval:
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We were able to go into the fenced enclosures and walk right up to the all of animals. The cheetahs actually weren’t the most dangerous — apparently the caracals are most unpredictable and prone attacking if threatened. The guide wouldn’t let any children into the caracal area, and said that if Bar One started running around everyone’s legs, we should just remain still and let him do his thing as we wouldn’t want to see his reaction to fast movements.

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First Few Days in South Africa

Laura and I recently returned from a visit in South Africa, planned around a package we “accidentally” won in a charity auction. The Auction was for Girls’ Leap, an amazing organization Laura volunteers with that provides self defense and empowerment training to girls and young women in the Boston area. By “accidentally,” I mean that we weren’t the high bidders and didn’t necessarily intend to win, as it was clear the other bidders were more enthusiastic. But once the highest bidder won, the auctioneer had a “surprise” for us. She happened to have more than one package on hand and conveniently offered it to us — in front of 200 or so other people — for our bid. It’s obviously a great cause, was a great deal, was the price we bid, (and was a great auctioneer technique), so quite unexpectedly and without much thought, we were going to South Africa.

We planned the trip around the package, but took the opportunity to rent a car and explore the country a bit. Our first few days were in KwaZulu-Natal and Zululand, near Hluhluwe (pronounced shlushluwee) at a private reserve and lodge that were part of the package. We then traveled in and around St. Lucia and iSimangaliso Wetland Park, spent a day in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, then drove through Swaziland up to Kruger National Park.

The entire trip was incredible, especially for shooting, and it’s taken me over a month to sort through and edit my photos. Below I’ve included the first batch from the first few days. I’ll likely have some new presets to post as well, as I definitely came up with a few good combinations editing these.

Here was a sunset on the first night from our room:
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The private reserve at our lodge was small compared with the national parks, but still had some incredible wildlife and landscapes:
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On the second day we “spotted” one of the cheetahs in the reserve, along with her cub:
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Apparently elephants keep cool in the afternoon by filling their trunks with dirt and spaying it over their backs:
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More to come soon.

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iOS8 Dominating the Internet

Via Dan Rayburn, just a few hours after its release, iOS8 is representing a sizable portion of global internet traffic:one 1024x446 iOS8 Dominating the Internet

two 1024x626 iOS8 Dominating the Internet


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Robot Cheetah!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but just came across a fascinating MIT robotics project in Popular Science worth sharing. In short, this beast is now out of the lab, running around Killian Court:

 Robot Cheetah!

Here’s the video:

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Andrew Combs’ Rainy Day Song

I discovered Andrew Combs about a year and a half ago when he opened for Shovels and Rope at the Sinclair in Cambridge. He’s got a really nice country/folk/americana thing going on, and if you like that sort of sound, I recommend checking out his album Worried Man on Spotify, and his earlier EP Tennessee Time.

I recently saw him a second time at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge, and he opened the set with a folk song off his upcoming second album which brought the noisy bar room to silence. I just found a recording of it, and thought I’d share. Doesn’t quite compare to how it sounded live, but beautiful nonetheless:

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What’s the Matter with Small Biz?

The following is a guest post from Robin Bose.

There’s a truism that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. I happen to think it’s true that small businesses make local economics more resilient to shocks and changes in the overall mix of market forces. If we accept that, then we should all be a little worried. A mildly alarming study The Brookings Institution published shows a 30 year decline in what the US census calls “new firm formation” (i.e., baby businesses getting formed) accompanied by no real change in “firm exits” (small business owners closing up shop). Some surprising highlights:

  • Troubling 30 year secular decline across multiple business cycles and political administrations
  • Trend is prevalent across all 50 states and all but a few of 360+ metros
  • No industry (not even high tech) has withstood the decline except financial services

I made a little slideshow pointing out some of the data the Brookings Institution used to make the case, as well as some of the reactions in the media trying to explain why this is happening. Will try to follow up with a post on my thoughts — feel free to leave thoughtful ramblings on why you think it’s happening.

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