A Square Deal

For those who haven't heard, there is a new credit card transaction processing company called Square. They provide a free card reader that plugs into the microphone jack of your cell phone/iPhone/iPad/Android device and the software to go along with it. You can see screenshots on their web site and in the App Store, so I won't belabor that point here. What I will do, however, is relate my experience and give my opinion about the device, software, and service.

It's been widely publicized that this service launched before it was quite ready. For example, I signed up in May but didn't receive my card reader until Friday (5 days ago, almost 5 months after I signed up). There was also a lot of talk about transaction limits that were too low and the amount of personal information they asked for. The software was originally announced for the iPhone, but then Square decided to detour and release the iPad version first. That put a lot of people off, myself included. The iPad version has features that the iPhone version doesn't, like the ability to enter an inventory of items for sale. On the one hand, that is understandable because of the iPad's much larger screen. On the other hand, there is really no reason (especially with the iPhone 4's and new iPod touch's Retina Displays) that these features can't be implemented on the iPhone as well. I'm sure that Square will indeed incorporate these features into the iPhone/iPod touch version at some point, but that's functionality that should have been available from the start as it was with the iPad version.

Enough griping — now that I have my reader, I've had a chance to actually try the service out. It's not perfect by any means, but wow… it's slick! If you want to use the reader with an iPhone 4 then be aware that the metal antenna band causes interference with the reader. Check Square's support site for information about ways to mitigate or even fix this problem. Once I put a piece of paper between the band and the reader to electrically insulate the two, the reader worked perfectly. I found the software straightforward and easy to use. Authorization and transaction commitment on Square's servers was fast and the transaction showed on my credit union's website within about half an hour. Controversy has arisen on Square's forums about their practice of showing their phone number, not the merchant's, in the transaction description. They claim they do this to reduce the time it takes to resolve transaction disputes, but I have a feeling Square will update their back-end software to give the merchant the choice of which phone number appears.

Overall, I'm impressed so far. I think the independent photographer now has the means to accept credit card payments that would have been cost-prohibitive to accept until Square came along. I hear rumors that Square will soon have some competition, which is good for us!

Revisiting a forgotten friend

My wonderful wife bought me the Nik Complete Collection for Lightroom for my birthday last month. I decided to use Silver Efex Pro to re-process a particular photo that I though was lacking a bit in emotional impact. The photo, called Forgotten, shows a stuffed toy rabbit that someone left on a child's grave. The toy had subsequently been knocked/blown over and rained on. In larger versions of the photo you can see dirt, grass clippings, and other traces of exposure trapped in the rabbit's fur. I originally used Photoshop's Black and White adjustment layer with a sepia tint. My intent with the sepia was to convey the passage of time but I think it ended up being too "warm and fuzzy."

I thought the image needed more bite to convey the real sadness of the scene, so I used Silver Efex to make a rougher, more contrasty rendering and gave it a very subtle cool tint. I had to use a Lightroom gradient adjustment to bring back a little of the background detail so the image wouldn't lose its sense of place.

I'm curious to get feedback on this new version. Better? Worse? Why? Any suggestions for additional improvements?