Results tagged “software” from kwc blog

Release!

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ROS 0.4x500.jpg

One of the reasons this blog has been quieter this past year is that I've been working hard to help build our communications framework and toolchain for our robots at work. At long last we have our first real release: ROS 0.4. It's a stable release, but we weren't quite ready for a 1.0 designation as there's a little more we want to add before we're ready to put a bow on it. Our code has been out in the open on SourceForge from the start, but we're ready to finally commit to an API now that we've got some real robots doing real tasks on a day-to-day basis.

It's crazy to think that about a year ago it was just Morgan, Eric and I coming up with a next generation version of his Switchyard framework. Then Brian from Player came aboard and now there's open source repositories of ROS-enabled code at Stanford, CMU, and TUM. There's a lot in between, including the contributions of many more people, but it happens so fast.

ClusterSSH

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I was just introduced to ClusterSSH for mass orchestration of SSH sessions -- type once, run many.

Movabletype 4.2 upgrade soon

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movabletypeSixapart has released MovableType 4.2 with its promised performance improvements (100x faster search, 33-45% faster publishing). I'll probably be upgrading kwc.org tonight, so if you see any outages, you'll know why. I should be re-enabling search/tags now that this update is available.

MovableTypo users: this may be the release that I finally do an upgrade with. Certain things got a bit more complicated (e.g. templates) with MT 4.x, but they claim to have improved those as well.

Also as promised, the reasons for the delayed release have become clear: Typepad Antispam was also announced and is included in the new release. Antispam is Sixapart's dropin replacement for the popular Akismet service. Both a centralized services that snarf in comments and can the spam.

Vector Magic

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Vector Magic is one of the coolest online tools I've seen come along in awhile (seam carving is a close second). Simply put: you give it an image and it outputs a vector version. Why am I so excited? Both of the uses I see are by themselves compelling:

  1. Put in a photograph and you get a cool artsy version.
  2. Put in a logo and get a vector version of that logo

Heck, you could probably do Waking Life or A Scanner Darkly automatically.

There have been plenty of times that I have been stuck with a crummy low-res, jaggy, anti-aliased version of a logo that I needed in higher res. Retracing logos sucks. I could even see doing a logo in Photoshop or in Sharpie first and then running it through VectorMagic to get the resolution-independent version (this will depend on what their vector shapes look like, though).

Corel PowerTRACE and Adobe Live Trace have the same feature, but neither is as simple to use as pointing your browser to a Web page and converting. Vector Magic also has some compelling comparisons. My only knock is that their online editor/tweaker needs a bit of work, but for many things you may be happy with the first-pass result.

I'm at heart a photo person -- I don't really do vector -- so having a tool that handles shapes and lines for me is a beautiful tool.

Ninja.spin_vectorized.png

cPanel cretin-ness

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cpanel.password.png

Transferring my Web service for kwc.org has certainly improved life, but one thing I have not liked from Day 1 is the cPanel software you have to use in order to manage everything. It's as if a panel of cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics had a pow-wow. Here's a partial list of their idiocy:

  • The button to 'check' your database is pixels away from the button to 'delete'
  • The menu lists both 'chatroom' and 'phpMyChat', and both use the Photoshop icon
  • The 'MySQL Databases' menu doesn't let you backup your mysql database -- you have to go to 'Backups' instead
  • Four icons use the MS Access logo; none of them have anything to do with MS Access.
  • The text fields on the redirect manager are too small for any actual URL

I could go on and on and on, but Daily WTF/Worse Than Failure has caught one even more beautiful (except for the 'delete'/'check' one, that really gets me). Click on the screenshot to see what the cPanel folks came up with for the password change screen.

DELETED!

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Norton Internet Security now takes my prize for worst software product, ever. I wasn't going to take the energy to write about this, but #3 below pushed me over the edge.

  1. Annoying renewal messages: This one is very annoying but is sadly par for the course. Presumably, you should be able to decide not to upgrade but continue using the old virus protection, right? But Norton penalizes you by popping up a renewal warning in the middle of the screen. You can choose to not see it again 15 days, but you can't say "never show this to me again." I could be misremembering, but I think for the first 30 days you could only choose to ignore it for 1 day.

  2. annoying.norton.jpgFlashing toolbar icon: Sometime after deciding that popup renewal messages weren't enough, Norton gave me the flashing toolbar icon of death. It's literally a flashing exclamation point on my toolbar tray. I thought I had a clever workaround -- I opened up my Windows preferences and set the icon to 'Always Hide'. But when I rebooted, it came back, it always comes back. I couldn't stand it always there flashing, and I couldn't give such an annoying software maker money, so I decided to uninstall.

  3. When you go to uninstall Norton Internet Security, it tells you that you have to login using the 'Supervisor' account, otherwise it won't let you uninstall. The login screen mocks you with an implicit message of, "You will never, ever get rid of my annoying messages unless you can guess the secret password." Let's be clear: I've never seen this 'Supervisor' account login before and it's not the same thing as your Windows administrator account. This is something that Norton cooks up as a final perverse twist. But I finally emerged victorious: I just had to leave the password blank.

Honestly, who says to themselves, "Gee, I really want to renew this annoying piece of software?" It is only through abject surrender I could imagine handing these idiots my money.

CS3 makes a difference

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Omotesando Hills - Ando

The Photoshop CS3 black & white conversion feature is everything I hoped it would be. As a test, I did my normal B&W conversion routine for my Omotesando Hills photos using Photoshop 7 and the Channel Mixer. The lighting was fairly funky so each conversion took minutes.

Then I tried doing one photo using CS3's B&W tool -- it only took seconds and I had better control over the result. I had enough time left over that I played around with the Refine Edges tool to produce the cutout above. I still haven't really figured out the Refine tool -- its a bit complicated for all its power -- but there is some promise if I can master it.

Best Blogging Tool: iClip

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iClipWhenever I needed to do a post with more than text I usually fired up Windows Live Writer, which I thought I was slick... up until I discovered that it was capable of producing some pretty ghastly broken HTML. Since then I've been taking my risks editing in ye ole' browser.

I am still doing that, but I've stumbled across a clever tool that has made some of the more repetitive tasks of blogging easier: iClip, which I picked up as part of the MacHeist promotion. iClip is very simple: it stores the last few things you've copied to your clipboard and lets you copy them back out. It comes with a sidebar that you can pop in and out as you need. This isn't novel -- Microsoft Office has had this feature for awhile -- but its the first time I've been able to use it system-wide, which is where it becomes much more useful.

How does it save me time? As you can see from my previous posts, I like to put a lot of photos in (usually from Flickr). Without iClip, I have to go to the page for one photo, copy the HTML, switch back to the blog entry compose tab, paste in the HTML for the photo, and repeat again for every photo in the post. With iClip, I can copy the HTML for several photos, then go to the blog compose page and paste them all in. This is a huge time saver. iClip can also save me time when I need to copy multiple links or copy a link and text for that link.

There are many other ways it can save time, but blogging ranks high among my most repetitive copy-and-paste tasks, so I'm glad to have a tool like iClip now. This has led to some OS juggling as I do all my photo-processing on my Windows desktop and then crack open my MacBook Pro to start the Flickr HTML copying. Someday this whole Flickr-blogging integration will work right (Vox is close, but not quite).

FYI: of the software I got with MacHeist, iClip is the only one seeing regular use, though I do occasionally fire up TextMate and hope to figure it out soon.

B&W Photoshop CS3 tutorial

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I've done some very basic playing around with B&W conversions using Photoshop (since then, I've taken to using the Channel Mixer when lazy). All of those techniques seem to pale in comparison to the potential of CS3, as demonstrated by this Russell Brown CS3 B&W tutorial. The tutorial starts off basic enough, but wait until he shows off the click and drag adjustments.

Photoshop CS3! (Beta)

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Photoshop cs3The Photoshop CS3 Beta site is live now. You can take the new Mac/PC betas for a spin and, yes, there is a Mac version Universal. Anyone is free to try, though to go beyond a 2-day trial you need a CS2 serial number.

So what's cool about CS3? The best roundup of links I've run across so far is at John Nack on Adobe. I'm personally excited by smart/live filters, which lets you add filters as layers -- I've loved using adjustment layers and smart/live filters is a necessary addition for that style of workflow (lossless compositing, rather than sequential modifications). You can even add a mask to these filters.

I'm also excited by the new black and white conversion tool (implemented as an adjustment layer). I've used the Channel Mixer to do conversions when lazy, but this looks like a much more precise tool. You get more channels to mix across and tinting (hue/saturation) tools.

Here's PhotoshopUser's top ten list of new features. There seem to be a lot of great features targeted at making compositing easier: auto align, auto blend, quick select/refine edges, cloning/healing updates.

One thing really stunned me about CS3: they didn't change any keyboard shortcuts! Maybe Adobe forgot who it was after it acquired Macromedia, but regardless, I'm happy to not have to print out a list of keyboard shortcuts to refamiliarize myself. You can find the very short list of new shortcuts here.

CS3 does overhaul the user interface, which I will refrain commenting on until I actually try it. At the very least, you can revert the behaviors to CS2-style without much trouble.

Getting closer to awesomeness

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Every geek wants a lightsaber. When I was playing m's Wii we discussed updating the Lego Star Wars series to use the Wii controls... because it would be awesome. If you can selling a half a dozen different 'remastered'/'special edition'/'classic' versions of the movie, why not have a remastered version of the game as well with cleaned-up graphics and new Wii controls?

Perhaps its best to call it a proof-of-concept of awesomeness, but checkout WiiSaber. WiiSaber lets you connect your WiiMote to your Mac and wave it around with appropriate lightsaber noises. It's an update to MacSaber, which lets you swing around your MacBook and make lightsaber noices. Engadget has videos.

Things I Like: Democracy

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Democracy: Internet TVI was going to include the Democracy video player on the list of things I really liked about moving to OS X, and then I found out that it's actually been available for Windows as well. It looks and acts like an OS X application, so I guess I can continue to lump it into that category.

I've complained about video podcast playback in iTunes before, but I haven't been able to be that constructive about it. I know that it wasn't working for me, but I couldn't describe what would be better. Democracy is what is better.

Everything about the application made sense to me. It was really easy to subscribe to vodcasts, and it was really easy to download videos I had uploaded to Youtube and Google -- double bonus. Simple to discover, find, download, and watch -- that's pretty darn good.

Adobe Soundbooth Beta

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Adobe Labs has put up Adobe Soundbooth Beta for people to try out. In the increasing trend towards pro A/V tools for novices, Soundbooth is an audio-editing application targeted for whom Audition has a bit too many levers.

Soundbooth is billed as a brand new application, but it has its roots in past business actions by Adobe. Adobe acquired Syntrillium in 2003 and turned Cool Edit Pro into Adobe Audition. Adobe then acquired Macromedia in April of 2005, several months after Macromedia discontinued its SoundEdit 16. Soundbooth claims to be "built in the spirit of Sound Edit 16 and Cool Edit", which is a bit funny given that Adobe Audition is built on Cool Edit.

iTunes 7.0.1: There goes the library

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iTunes 7.0.1 just nuked my entire library. And to think I was so happy that they might have fixed some of the bugs I mentioned in my iTunes 7.0 review. Way to go Apple!

Update: When iTunes nuked my library, it move my "iTunes Library.itl" file to "iTunes Library (Damaged).itl". I copied the "iTunes Library (Damaged).itl" back over to "iTunes Library.itl" and my library was back again. Hell if I know what made iTunes 7 go crazy.

New Lightroom and Aperture

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Photokina brings two good software announcements for digital photographers: Lightroom Beta 4 and Aperture 1.5. My Windows workflow means that it will be Lightroom B4 that I'll be giving a go -- my previous experience didn't wow me, but I'm willing to see if this latest rev is gentler on my CPU. Apple claims that Aperture will even run on Intel Mac minis, so my expectations are higher for Lightroom now.

Day of the Video: Apple

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Overall, I'm disappointed, maybe because I expected a major new device like a Video iPod or video-streaming airport, though the latter is very difficult to get right. Pretty much every site I read overpredicted for this event, which perhaps relates to the fact that it has been a long time since Apple has pulled a 'wow.'

Instead of going for one big wow, today's announcement was mostly a parade of updates. For something approximately a wow, they had to do continue their more recent trend of pre-announcing (is this Apple we're talking about?). The 640x480 video upgrade was major to me as it took the video from being iPod-only to something I might watch on a big screen, and the revamped iTunes 7.0 is nice but overdue (did anyone think that the video browser was laid out well?). The inclusion of Disney movies in the movie store is minor given Amazon's Unbox, which offers many more movies with just as many silly encumberances (I'll use neither), and the updates to the iPods were mostly minor (brighter screens, bigger storage, better battery life, new cases) with the exception of the new Shuffle -- it got a lot more attractive. The biggest item, the iTV, is months out and isn't even capable of recording TV -- it's just another box through which you can buy more stuff from Apple. It's one thing when an Apple device induces you to buy more stuff from Apple, but this really just looks like a dedicated box to fill Steve Jobs with money.

  • iTunes 7.0: The UI got a minor major revamp, which was necessary: the left pane was getting very overloaded with each successive Apple media event. There is a new album/DVD cover art flipper that looks similar to the freeware app CoverFlow (update: CoverFlow licensed their tech to Apple), which necessitated Apple finally offering free cover art (Musicmatch did this for me 6 years ago!), and there are some other needed tweaks like making the controls for iPod sync a first-class citizen.

  • iTV: Perhaps the biggest announcement was the pre-announcment of a set-top box, the iTV (side note: what is it with Apple and pre-announcements nowadays?). As far as I can tell, it's a Mac mini that just runs iTunes/Front Row. There are no input jacks for it to record TV, so most of the video will have to be purchased from Apple unless you really, really like vodcasts. I'm patient enough to wait for any show to hit DVD, so I've only purchased a TV show once when my TiVo couldn't record two programs that were on at the same time. This might be attractive for the person who likes TV but doesn't want cable.

  • aluminum Nanos: what do you do when everyone complains about scratches on their black Nanos? Make it out of metal and give people colors. As far as I can tell, that's the only big change to the line; no mention of video support though the screen and battery life have been improved.

  • Shuffle 2.0: Jobs now claims it is the World's Smallest MP3 player. I actually think is it a tad bit larger than the quarter-sized ones I've seen, but it doesn't matter too much -- it's tiny. At this form-factor, the absense of a screen finally makes more sense to me.

  • 640x480 video: at long last, the video on the iTunes store is now 640x480. I've previously whined about how 320x240 is far too small to pay money for -- it's only good enough for the iPod and looks like crap on TV -- so I'm very happy to see a more respectable encoding used.

  • Movie store: leaked awhile ago, there are now 75 Disney-related films on iTunes for purchase. yawn. I'm not a person who cares about this sort of stuff. I'd rather buy CDs because I can play them on non-Apple devices without having to reburn a playlist, and I'd rather buy a DVD because even if that is a more locked format than a CD, I actually own the DVD and I'm free from Apple deciding what devices I get to play my movies on.

  • updated iPods: gapless playback is nice -- though I had a plugin for Winamp that did this 7 years ago -- but I could care less about playing video games or inputting search text on a scrollwheel.

Firefox 2 Beta 2

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I'm testing out the new Firefox 2 Beta 2. Back in the Phoenix/Firebird days, I used to download nearly every update to test out, but I've been so darn happy with the 1.x series of Firefox builds that I haven't had much reason to (except for a crashy Firefox 1.5.0 release). I find the updated look a little cramped looking, even though everything is about the same size as before, but otherwise I'm very happy with the release. I wrote the most of this review a week and a half ago, but I wanted to sit on it until I had some time to judge the stability of the release: I'm used their their betas crashing daily, but I've only had a crash or two out of this one.

There's nothing in Firefox 2 that's really ground breaking, but it does bring the best of the plugins out there and makes them part of the default browser. Although I think this may anger a plugin developer or two, overall I think it's a great model for a software application: don't bloat your releases with new features; instead, have a good plugin model that makes it possible to test new features out in the wild and select the best to become part of your next major release. Firefox 2 represents the best of Firefox 1.x plus the best Firefox 1.x plugin features, which makes for a great browser.

  • Phishing detection: I love the fact that they are making this built in. I haven't had any trouble with phishing, but I know other members of my family do, and I'm always excited to be able to give them software that eliminates a hassle. The phishing detection puts a big 'ole warning sign on top of the page and should save many people from having to cancel their credit cards.

  • Built in session saver: My browsing habits changed the day I got the first SessionSaver plugin. I could keep a lot more tabs open without having to spend part of everyday bookmarking or clearing them off because I was worried that my browser was going to crash. Or I would have to do the same because some stupid Windows Update was requiring that I reboot my computer, so I would have to close Firefox. Firefox recognized that session saving was just too darn good to not be part of the standard browser.

  • RSS/Atom feed enhancements: Firefox 2 has a new built in viewer for RSS and atom feeds that makes the feed more human-readable and also makes it very easy to subscribe using Firefox's Live Bookmarks, Bloglines, My Yahoo, or Google Reader. One possible complaint is that it overrides Feedburner's fancy feed display which does effectively the same thing. There is a case to be made for uniformity, but with this version of the Firefox implementation I think that Feedburner's still looks nicer -- Firefox's is better for actually subscribing, as it can remember which feed reader you prefer.

  • Spell checking as you type: I've always found the Firefox SpellChecker plugin a bit annoying to use. It was always a more difficult plugin to install and it didn't survive Firefox upgrades very well. It also didn't do spell checking as you typed; you had to select it from a right-click menu. I hope to have many less spelling errors in my blog entries now that Firefox 2 adds the familiar squiggly red underlines to its text fields.

  • Autocomplete from the search box: Firefox will pop down some suggested search queries as you type into the upper-right search box. This only works when you have the answers.com, Yahoo, or Google search engines selected; there are no suggestions for Amazon, eBay, or Creative Commons. Previously I had only seen this as a plugin from Google for Google searches.

  • Opens new windows in tabs by default: I hate it when a link pops open a new window on my screen and disrupts my carefully organized tabs and now Firefox embraces tabs fully with this new default functionality.

With the exception of the fact that most of your plugins won't work with the release -- though you won't need many of them with the new builtin features -- I give the 2.0 beta a thumbs up. It doesn't seem the future of Web browsing -- Flock is much more of a preview in that area -- but it does represent a selection of the best current Web browsing trends.

LightroomI was excited by the announcement that the Adobe Lightroom Beta had been released for Windows. I had been jealous of the Mac platform, which saw the arrival of both Aperture and Adobe Lightroom in fairly quick succession, whereas the Windows platform strangely had no product really targeted at the SLR-amateur-to-pro category. I was also excited because I am currently sitting under a mountain of photos -- 2000+ to be exact -- as I've been one of the 'official' photographers for two weddings this month, and I also have two cycling races and my photos from my Japan trip (in May!) to process.

Aperture and Lightroom are both photo workflow apps and, as far as I know, they are the first of their kind. After watching the positive results of anthropological studies of workflow at PARC, I have been really excited to try out these apps that claim to be the result of workflow studies on digital photographers. Granted, they targetted pros, but I hoped to reap the benefit, and perhaps even learn a thing or two about my process.

There is quite a lot to optimize in a digital photography workflow: if I only spent 1 second processing each of the 730 photos I took at the wedding last weekend, it would still take me over 10 minutes to go through them all. More realistically, it takes 1-5 seconds to decide whether or not to process a photo -- even longer if you have to decide which shot is the best out of several takes -- and another three minutes (my average) to process the selected photos. Anything software can do to either be faster, batch process, or get out of the way can provide huge time savings, which can either be used to enjoy life, or process even more photos.

What follows is a review, but with the caveat that as this really is a beta product, so perhaps a better call this 'feedback'.

Sharpcast Beta review

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sharpcast.gifI've spent several hours checking out Sharpcast Photos and thought I'd post my initial thoughts. Sharpcast has a great syncing technology, which they've chosen to showcase by deploying a photo-sharing solution with both Web and Windows clients. You can install Sharpcast on multiple machines in order to easily share your photos between them, and you can also share albums with specific people.

This isn't quite a review because I believe that utility of Sharpcast will largely depend on business model decisions that haven't been made yet: Sharpcast is more alpha than beta, as you are limited to 2GB of storage and the future pricing and limits are unclear. Case in point, Flickr offers me 2GB/month of photo upload (at a price), which guarantees its long-term usefulness for me; Sharpcast's 2GB total is nothing more than a toy to play with for a couple of months. I understand the need to not have to build up a massive storage farm just yet, but I take over 2GB of photos at a single wedding.

"Sharpcast Photos is optimized for accessing, sharing, and backing up photos." I kept this in mind when checking it out so that my comments would be contexted to the intended product. I also kept in mind my dad and my sister, because if I'm going to share, I should be able to share with my family (Flickr is not so strong in this regard).

So, going on the three activities that Sharpcast does list -- accessing, sharing, and backing up -- I've recorded my thoughts, followed up with a list of some peeves I had with the UI along the way.

Testing out Windows Live Writer

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Despite the terrible "Windows Live" branding, I'm giving the new Windows Live Writer beta a test shot with my blog. So far, it's very slickly done.

Although I've learned a lot of personal workflow habits to try and streamline the process of blogging, any blog entry involving an image takes me far too much time. I have to download the image I want to the computer I'm posting from. Then I have to upload it to my Web server, then I have to copy in the HTML for the image to where I want it in the post. Then I usually have to go back and re-edit the entry because the image isn't aligned or sized how I want it.

I immediately had to try Writer out When I saw that it allows you to easily insert, align, and resize photos from your computer and automatically upload them using the newMediaObject API (supported by MovableType). I used it to place the little Window Live icon above and then had a happy suprise when I inserted a photo you see to the right: Writer automatically rotated the image into portrait layout. That's a subtle touch, but an important one.

There are other subtle touches that give me confidence that this is a good product:

  • The image manipulation controls get the job done well: there are image sizing presets you can click on for quick resizing, or you can manually drag the image to the size you want; you can easily select photopaper or drop shadow borders; you can easily align and rotate an image; and there are basic image effects you can apply, like sepia tone, sharpening, and brightness;
  • Writer still managed to figure out the CSS styles from MovableType 2.x template and use them in the compose window.
  • Writer breezed through the setup process with my blog. It seems simple enough to use the RSD data embedded in MovableType blogs, but after trying out Performancing and ecto, I can say Microsoft did a better job.
  • You can hit F12 to switch to HTML entry mode, which reveals that Writer is using relatively clean HTML markup.
  • If you cut and paste text with HTML links it it (e.g. from a Web browser), those links are preserved.
  • You can easily apply the 'tag' or 'nofollow' attributes to a link.

There are a probably couple of bugs, which is expected for a beta. The category selector can't handle a large number of categories, so I can't put this entry in the 'Web stuff' category, text focus doesn't return to the composition window like it should after you click on an action in the right pane like 'Insert link,'   tags are used unnecessarily, and Writer confusing refers to previous published entries as 'drafts' if you go back and edit them.

Right now I rate Writer as a 'good' blogging client rather than 'great' blogging client, though I don't think it's far from that higher rating. If it came out in 2005, it would have probably knocked my socks off, but a 2006 blogging client needs to do more than just type text and insert photos from your computer -- it needs to be able to tie in all your media into one blogging platform. It should be integrated with your photo blog (e.g. Flickr), video blog (e.g. Youtube, Google Video) and your links (e.g. del.icio.us), and it needs to be able to easily insert product thumbnails from Amazon; in other words, it needs to be more like Vox and Flock. I like Writer enough, though, that I think I'm going to use it for my next few entries.

Adobe Lightroom beta, now for Windows

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A Windows version of Adobe Lightroom beta is at last available. Lightroom is a photo-editing and organizing software package aimed at the SLR crowd: this Apple Aperture, but free (at least until January 2007). I look forward to trying it out when I get back from Comic-Con. I've got a lot of photos to process in my backlog.

Adobe Lightroom Beta

TiVo Desktop 2.3

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TiVo Desktop 2.3 is out with the long promised features of being able to transfer video to your PSP and iPod. This is a cool upgrade to have, but for me, the coolest thing has been the ability to auto-transfer and auto-convert videos in general. It's nice that I can then stick the converted videos on an iPod, but one of the major features of TiVo Desktop that has been missing for me is the ability to reasonably archive footage that I am interested in. I would like to keep around videos of cycling races that I know will never be put on DVD or available via BitTorrent, but with previous versions of TiVo Desktop the size of the .tivo files are often over 2GB. With TiVo Desktop 2.3, I've been able to autotransfer all my favorite cycling races and have them compressed down to about 400MB/hour. Even better: the conversion removes the .tivo DRM, so you can actually play the video in something other than Windows Media Player, like QuickTime on a Mac. Before anyone cries, "Piracy!" let me note that pirates already offer much higher quality video at the same file size than TiVo Desktop produces. TiVo Desktop 2.3 is a tool that lets you watch your video on your devices much more than ever before.

The iPod integration is a bit better than the PSP integration, which is more the fault of Sony than the fault of TiVo. I've converted many videos, but transfer very few of them to my PSP because I don't want to spend the time plugging in my PSP, navigating to the MP_ROOT directory, and then copying in videos manually -- which includes having to manually rename the files to MPxxxxx.mp4 (unless something has changed). iTunes made me realize that I've become far too lazy for that. The PSP has no iTunes equivalent to make it easy for third-parties to deliver content, unless you count the software that Sony expects you to shell out an extra $20 for, and why would any company ever spend money to support that? The fact is, no one can save the PSP from Sony.

TiVo Desktop still lacks the polish of TV TiVo, but TiVo is relinquishing a bit of control over your video and that's a very good thing. Is it worth $24.95? I would say a qualified yes: $24.95 is cheap for video, but I expect more polish out of something I pay for.

TiVo Desktop 2.3

Switching to Tab Mix Plus

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tabmixplus.jpgI've replaced my Firefox SessionSaver plugin with TabMixPlus. SessionSaver was a lifesaver many a time, especially when I have about 20 tabs open with articles I haven't read, blogged, or bookmarked yet. The main problem with SessionSaver that it apparently has a memory leak. That's a sin I can forgive as long as it's the only game in town, but now TabMixPlus has come along with all of SessionSaver's tab-saving functionality plus:

  • tab reordering
  • a close button on every tab
  • the option to change ctrl-tab to cycle through most recently used tabs instead
  • reopen that tab you didn't mean to close
  • fiddle around with link opening, tab closing, and other tab behaviors
  • claims to not have the same memory leak as SessionSaver
  • loading bars on individual tabs
  • unread tabs marked in read

TabMixPlus is essentially a variety of tab-related plugins (SessionSaver, UndoCloseTab, etc...) all rolled into one. I've used it for several days and have liked what it has to offer, though the huge set of functionality does make it more complicated and you'll probably have to fiddle around with some configuration menus that are almost as long as all of Firefox's.

Free Web library = Hot

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Yahoo has released several ui libraries. Open APIs are pretty cool, but free (Creative Commons) code gives you more options. I've been considering a redesign of this site for quite some time; the ajax, animation, and dom libraries might be of some use. They've also released a series of user interface guidelines that they call 'design patterns,' which I found interesting in that such things are now considered important enough to share.

Link roundup

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My dorky quote for the day

I had two teachers for algorithms class. One spoke as if conversation were a non-returning recursive function

I'm clearing out the Firefox tabs. BoingBoing appears to have beaten me to posting some of these, oh well

Latest software updates

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With three separate computers, it takes a lot for a piece of software to make it onto all three. Software that makes it easier to install on all three or keep all three in sync definitely get bonus points. Here are the ones that have recently passed the grade:

  • Google Pack: I burned a DVD every year to install a bunch of software on my dad's computer while I'm there for Christmas. It turns out that nearly everything I usually include is on the Google Pack: Google Earth, Picasa, Google Desktop, Acrobat Reader, Ad-Aware, and Firefox. It can even install Trillian. Best feature: one program to install them all, one program to find them, one program to bring them all and in oldness to update them. Worst feature: Norton Antivirus only comes with a six-month subscription.
  • Folder Size: Adds a column to show you how large a folder is in Windows Explorer. It's a simple program to win that game of, "Why Am I Out of Diskspace?"
  • Foxmarks: it's a buggy beta, but it's something I need. del.icio.us holds on to most of my bookmarks, but I still have quite a few bookmarks I need to keep inside my browser. The 'synchronization' feature ends up putting a lot of empty separators in my bookmark folders, but these can easily be deleted.
  • Foldershare: It lets me keep a folders synchronized between multiple computers. I find placing files in a folder the simplest metaphor for sharing between two computers and it requires the least effort to maintain.

Adobe Lightroom

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It's exciting to see Adobe announced their Aperture competitor, Lightroom, though it might be awhile before I can evaluate it seeing as the Windows version is lagging. But with those tasty Intel Macs coming out, who knows?

Glancing at the first looks, my hunch is that Lightroom has the advantage. Although it's clear that both products have had a long germination, Lightroom will be able to learn from the lessons of Aperture before a final product is released. Even with the beta release it's clear that Lightroom will be less of a resource hog than Aperture, allowing it to run on laptops (ln m says it even runs on his old TiBook). Adobe also has far more experience with image processing, especially with RAW conversion. The poor RAW conversion was one of the biggest complaints about Aperture, and certainly an Achilles' Heel for a professional product.

According to postings on their discussion board, it sounds like the Mac version came out first because they were able to leverage some OS X capabilities that won't exist in Windows until Vista, but who knows. Releasing a free Adobe Lightroom beta to compete against a $499 Aperture, which has enough bugs to be a beta product, and it sounds like a great strategy to me. I hope that the final pricing for Lightroom ends up being low. There's really not that much difference in overall functionality from a product like Photoshop Elements or Bridge. A lot of the difference is which audience the UI is being targetted at. UI is worth paying for, but I'd rather buy a new lens for my camera.

Review: Picasa - good stuff

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picasaI installed Picasa on my dad's computer to help him manage all the digital photos that he's been taking and I am impressed. I'm not impressed because Picasa has better features that Adobe Photoshop Elements, Aperture, or any other photo management software out there. In fact, the features of Picasa are fairly streamlined to include only the most basic photo retouching capabilities.

The reason I am impressed is that it's one of the few pieces of software that my dad was comfortable and competent with almost immediately. My dad is a complete computer novice who doesn't use his computer for much more than writing letters, surfing the Internet, and balancing his checkbook. To see him immediately latch onto the red eye tool, retouch several photos, and then print them with only minimal assistance is a great accomplishment in user interface design. Importing photos from the camera was also a snap because Picasa doesn't really care how you import the photos -- it finds them automatically -- so it doesn't really matter which of the numerous import options Windows pops up he chooses, it will probably work, i.e. Picasa gets around Windows' lack of usability.

There are still some features that my dad had trouble with. The selection tools for cropping and red-eye correction gave him some fuss, it's hard to tell which options you have selected on some menus (the highlight around a selected button is too faint), and the button layout is a bit inconsistent, including the placement of the OK/Cancel options. However, Picasa doesn't edit the photos directly, so it's hard to do permanent damage.

Picasa most directly compares to iPhoto. Photoshop Elements 4.0 and Aperture have more features but require more computer-savvy users. Picasa is much faster than iPhoto and I believe it's UI is a better design for photo-editing and browsing, but you'd never really have to choose because Picasa is only for PCs. So, if your parents have a PC and you want to get them good, free, photo-management software, or you love iPhoto and are stuck on a PC, you may want to give it a shot. It will be better than the crap that comes with your digital camera.

I'm testing out my installation of the Performancing for Firefox
extension. It's a Firefox 1.5 plugin that lets you write blog entries directly in your browser. I'm not entirely sure on the advantage of this as my personal #1 reason for wanting to use a blog editor is so I don't lose my edits when Firefox crashes. I'm not sure Performancing handles this, but at the very least it is better than using the QuickPost button.

It was a bit of a hassle to install, so for all of you out there that are trying out Performancing with MovableType 3.2 and getting 'login error', here's what you might need to do:

1) Login to MovableType and go to your author profile page (the one that lets you set your password. you can get to it by clicking on Authors->yourloginname).
2) Set the API password
3) When Performancing asks you for the AppKey, leave it blank. When it asks for your username and password, use the API password you just set instead of your normal password.

If you don't know what your API URL is, go to http://yourblog/rsd.xml. The URL will be listed there as 'apiLink' next to "MetaWeblog."

Old links to clear out 2005

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Upgraded to Photoshop Elements 4.0

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photoshop.elements.jpgI've been a devout user of Photoshop Album for organizing my photos, but my copy was getting a bit old and I've been looking to ditch it for something faster and with improved organizational features. I took advantage of the Black Friday discounts to get a copy of Photoshop Elements 4.0 packaged with Premiere Elements 2.0 for $50. I skipped Photoshop Elements 3.0 because, even with the 'stacks' feature, it wasn't worth $100 to upgrade from Album.

I only care about the organizational features of Elements -- I do all my edits in Photoshop -- and so far the upgrade has been worthwhile. Several things stood out immediately (NOTE: the Mac version is very different from the Windows version): * Most important 'feature': faster browsing performance. It's hard to organize your photos if you can't quickly scan through them. * Stacks and version sets let you group similar shots and different edits, respectively. Very nice. * Tags are now stored within the image so that it is easier to share that metadata with others. * The biggest timesaver will probably be "Find Faces for Tagging." The name says it all -- it scans your selected photos, finds faces, and then lets you tag them. The tagging interface for faces is much improved over the generic tagging interface. It keeps tracks of your most recently used tags so that you don't have to keep scanning over all your tags to find the ones you need. I used it on some wedding photos and it almost did too good of a job picking out everyone in the dance photos. * The documentation notes that there is a Photomerge utility, which has to be better than the one that Canon gives you, but I have not tried it out yet.

The only disappointment so far is that it is less well-integrated with Photoshop than Album is. Album doesn't have a builtin editor so they made it very easy to do your advanced processing with other applications. Although Elements allows you to do external editing as well, it appears to be much less smart than before. It doesn't notice when you've finished external edits and it tries to import the edits as new photos instead of new versions of the original.

Elements is not a bad photo-editing tool, so I don't know how much I'll hate upon it. I'm planning to move to Photoshop CS2, which includes it's own photo workflow features, so it may not matter too much in the long run. I may just end up using Elements to organize and CS2 to edit, but this will take some time and money (to buy CS2) to sort out.

I'll end this quick impressions review noting that the Amazon reviewers don't seem happy with the new version, with several complaining that they prefer Photoshop Elements 3.0. I've never really used the previous versions of Elements, so my ignorance in this case appears to be bliss.

CS2: Smart Object and Layer Comps

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I just got a copy of Photoshop CS2 at work so that I could do some software UI mockups. I've already discovered two features they've added since Photoshop 7 that are huge timesavers for this type of work.

Layer Comps: With mockups I often have to toggle different layers on and off to show different steps or variations. "Here is a mockup with the button to the left and here is one with the button below," or "Here is the first step where the user types in, 'I want a pony,' and here is the next step where the results for ponies are returned." Layer comps let you save the current state of your layers so you can easily switch between the different variations all within one Photoshop file. These presets let you save the visibility, position, and styles of each layer.

You can access Layer Comps by going to Window -> Layer Comps. Here is a tutorial on using Layer Comps.

Smart Objects: In UI mockups you often have a lot of repeating elements. You may have the same set of buttons appear four times on a screen and if you want to change the appearance of one of the buttons you used to have to edit all four copies. With Smart Objects you can edit the original and have all the copies update. Smart Objects also keep all the original data, so you could paste in a photo, shrink it down to 10x10 and then later decide to resize it to 100x100. I'm told that this is the same as the 'Place' feature that other Adobe products have had for some time now, which makes me wonder what took them so long to put such a useful feature into Photoshop.

There are a lot of different ways to create Smart Objects. You can use File->Place to create a Smart Object from another file. You can also select a bunch of layers and group them together into a Smart Object.

Lost in Translation

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The same person responsible for distracting me with various puzzles is also working on a portable English-Arabic translator for US troops: Wired article on the project. Such a technology is clearly important and could save lives, but I find the goal of translating troops amusing. I spent several of my formative years living next to Marine barracks. Are there really enough phrases in Arabic to cover the various ways that you can insult someone's mother? Perhaps, but you do you translate the insult literally or do you choose a comparable Arabic phrase with an equivalent level of insult?

Quick thoughts

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No time, no time, some rapid fire rants and praise:

The good

Zimbra: I just check out their demo of their Web-based e-mail/calendar suite and it has some great stuff that makes me think, "why haven't more companies done that?" If there's an address in an e-mail you can mouse over and it pulls up a Google Map and if you mouse over a date reference ('tomorrow', 'Aug 20') it shows your schedule for that day. It's all about saving that extra step. The rest of the UI is pretty fancy and desktop-like, but I'm no longer sure why desktop-like is a plus.

Microsoft Max: A Microsoft product that I actually had fun with, though I have no idea why I would use it on a regular basis and the UI is confusing in all its modalities. I can't think of any other Microsoft product that I thought of as fun -- most just cause me to break DVDs (others agree). The feature I most enjoyed was the mantle, which arranges your photos in 3D space. (Examples: my nephew, Pinnacles, Red Bull). It looks great and it also lets you view more photos in less space. You can rearrange the clusters that it creates, but the ones it chose seemed intereresting. Side note: are the clusters in the mantle view randomly assigned? Some of their clusters are great, some make little sense, but overall it's a nice new spin on things.

iPod nano: strap one of those to the back of my cellphone and another to the back of my PSP. Slide another into my Elph case and ... oh, now I'm getting greedy.

Lost: is there anyone in the 18-35 demographic not watching this show? Everyone at the wedding was either watching the new episodes or catching up with the DVDs.

The maybe good

PSP + TV: The head of Sony says that soon you'll be able to watch video using the wireless capabilities of the PSP and sync with your DVR. Sounds pretty cool but I won't jump for joy unless I hear "TiVo."

The almost good

Google Desktop ate my CPU: I had to uninstall because the new Google Desktop decided that 99% of my CPU was quite nice to utilize, even when instructed to pause indexing. Rather unfortunate as there were some aspects of the sidebar I liked, even if it was ugly. You can tell that it's paying attention to what you're doing and trying to help and with a couple iterations I could imagine it becoming a great product, but not quite yet.

The probably ugly

Google Reader: davextreme pulled me aside during the wedding reception to let me know that Google had released a feed reader, news that I have been waiting to hear for a long time. Less than 24 hours is not enough to evaluate a feed reader properly -- for now I'll say that it's slick, but who wants to read through your feeds one entry at a time. BoingBoing alone has 20-40 entries a day -- even with keyboard shortcuts that means I have to hit 'j' 20-40 times to read just one site, at which point I want to rent a helper monkey to break up the monotony.

The ugly

iTunes 5.0 (Windows): can't seem to play a song without skipping and the 'streamlined' UI makes me wish for ole' big and bulky.

Flickr + Yahoo: the extra year of service plus two free giveaway accounts were nice presents, but Flickr still goes out for massages all the time and I don't want my Flickr ID linked to my Yahoo! ID.

TiVo: what the hell are they up to? I love my three TiVos, but their current directions have been entirely pro-broadcasters and anti-consumer. It's a very capable platform that they try to do less and less with every day. Why can't I play shows on my PSP? Why can't I share episodes with friends? Why is TiVo Desktop so buggy? Why why why?

Ooo, pretty new toys...

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Today was a good day in software and hardware:

Firebird is now Firefox, and version 0.8 is now available for download. Haven't noticed that much that's different, other than the new download manager. 0.7 was already really solid for me.
- Mozilla Firefox - The Browser, Reloaded

At last - something I've been waiting for ever since I saw the first demonstration images. There is finally an affordable consumer camera using the Foveon chip, which makes digital photos look a lot more like real film photos. This page explains the differences between Foveon's X3 technology and other digital cameras.
- A Gamble on a $399 Digital Camera

Keyword search is back on Technorati, which is better than Google when it comes to finding fresh blog entries.
- Sifry's Alerts: New and Improved! Technorati Keyword Search...

Finally, Thunderbird 0.5 (Mozilla Mail Client) is out. They haven't renamed it to Thunderfox yet I guess:
- Mozilla Thunderbird