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Hardware

Tonight I bought a 160gb hard drive from CompUSA (80 bucks after rebates for the next couple days) and attempted to install it. Isn’t it funny how if you know how to use a computer for anything, ignorant people automatically assume you know how to do everything on computers? Well, I feel sorry for the ignorant person who asks me to help them with a hardware issue… especially if for some strange reason I agree to help them.

Let’s just say tomorrow I’ll be visiting a computer store buying a new wire–you know, the wide fat one, and not the wide flat one with 40 wires, it has to have 80. Soon, I’ll also be reviewing Upgrading and Repairing PC’s, a book whose content many have helped me avoid my present dilemna.

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Software

Book Review: Photoshop Compositing with John Lund

By John Lund and Pamela Pfiffner. Photoshop compositing starts off giving some interesting perspectives and ideas on how to build (including tips on taking the photos) maintain a library of photographs that could turn out invaluable in future compositing projects. The book talks about John Lund’s work style, technique and computer setup, and has some interesting insight on what works for him and even on what he could do better if he was so inclined.

Once the book gets into the actual details of retouching, the real fun (and work) begins. Lund’s attention to detail is spectacular. He notices everything, and in turn points out how to fix it. Don’t expect to jump in and have a great composited image in an hour or two, his techniques are very precise, professional and more often than not, time consuming.

The final chapter goes through several images he created in the past and gives some useful insight on how they were created and what inspired them.

Most of the book is written in 3rd person, I’m guessing Pamela Pfiffner sat down and had some detailed interviews with Lund and wrote it from what she gathered. While this doesn’t really detract from the content of the book, in my opinion, it doesn’t flow as well as it might if it had been written in first person.

This book is geared toward the professional Photoshop user who has a decent amount experience and would like to avoid some trial and error and get straight to results in the area of compositing.

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Software

Book Review: The Photoshop CS Book for Digital Photographers

By Scott Kelby. The Photoshop CS Book for digital photographers is a great book. As a long-time user of Photoshop, I wasn’t sure if there would be a whole lot of new material here, but I was happy to find the book is replete with techniques and tips that I would have never come up with on my own, as well as better ways of doing things that I had already been doing the “hard way.”

Among the chapters I found useful were the chapters on color correction; which go into great detail on how to use and understand curves, including providing default settings that will get you started on the right foot. Towards the end of the book there are some great techniques on helping your photographs have that “stock photography look” — depth of field effects, layer masking for collages and replicating photography filters.

The writing style is enjoyable, the steps are clearly laid out with screenshots and the full-color, intuitive layout of the book leaves little to be desired.

Not only will this book help you improve your Photoshop skills, it will help you have a better eye for what can be improved in your photographs. I often found that the techniques to correct photos were things I had never considered, not because they were difficult or obscure but, simply because I hadn?t noticed that my photos had the problems in the first place.

One thing to note is that if you own the previous version of this book, The Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers, the majority of the content is the same. There is a new section on the improved file browser and a few other new pieces, but it’s not really worth it to get a new copy since a large portion of it is the same.

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Software

Book Review: Macromedia Flash MX 2004 Actionscript Training from the Source

By Derek Franklin/Jobe Makar. I’ve spent the last month and a half developing the interface and structure for a new, fairly large CD based training piece that is to be done in Flash. Flash MX 2004 Actionscript training from the Source, though not necessarily intended to be a reference guide, has been a great resource.

Each time I came upon an obstacle in my project and consulted the book, I was pleased to find that there was example code and an explanation that helped me solve the problem I faced. I was repeatedly surprised at the scope of the book–for every problem I encountered there was at least some coverage or direction in the book. I should note that I consider myself to be an expert Flash user, but only a beginner to intermediate Actionscript programmer.

The book is set up in several lessons (21) that are supposed to take about an hour each to complete. While I did not progress through the book lesson by lesson, I found that using the source files on the CD as well as the text of the book, I was able to extract the information I needed fairly easily.

I recommend this book to anyone with a basic knowledge of Flash who would like to become proficient in ActionScript and is willing to take some time to progress through the lessons.

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etc.

A Few Good Lists

Every once in awhile, a few good lists are called for.
Tunes I’ve bought on iTunes Recently:
The Chimbley Sweep – The Decemberists
You Raise Me Up – Josh Groban
Fallen – Sarah McLachlan
A Sorta Fairytale – Tori Amos
Upward Over the Mountain – Iron & Wine
Pop Stars – Rooney
Float On – Modest Mouse

Reasons I’m thankful for our Election Process here in the US: (a.k.a. Countries I’m not up for Visiting Right Now)
1. Venezuela
2. Haiti
3. Iran

Most Clicked Program Icons (as of recent)
1. Firefox
2. Flash
3. Photoshop
4. jEdit
5. Dreamweaver

Things I feel like Buying
iPod Mini
External 120gb Firewire Hard drive
Nissan Murano
Alienware Desktop Compter (to replace my dinosaur)

Words/Phrases I’m Tired of Hearing
Vietnam (thank you John Kerry)
Homosexual ‘Marriage’ (thank you California)
Macromedia Central (thank you every-single-flash-blog on the Internet)
SCO (thank you SCO)

And… that’s about all I have to say about that.

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Software

Designing Today

Looking back on my day today, I realize that my design process has changed a lot over the past few years. In the past, I spent about 75% of my time working with graphics in Photoshop, Illustrator or with animations in Flash and the other 25% of my time in Dreamweaver or Flash writing the HTML or ActionScript to get them to look decent in a browser.

Lately, things have changed. Today I spent pretty much the entire day at work in jEdit trying to hack out ActionScript to basically dynamically create the graphics in Flash that before I would have just drawn. At home I spent the evening learning (finally) some of the more advanced CSS techniques so my HTML could move towards being standards compliant. By the looks of it, being standards compliant is going to mean spending a lot more time in the code view of Dreamweaver.

Ahhh well, I can’t say I don’t enjoy writing code, but I do miss the simpler times of doing most of my work with the pen tool or photographs. In the end I think the change is worth it.

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Software

Windows Movie Maker 2

Windows Movie Maker 2 (which comes in an update to Windows XP) is really not a bad movie making program. I have heard surprisingly little about it, so for a long time, I didn’t even try clicking the icon to see what it did. Once I finally decided to give it a whirl, I was surprised at its usefulness.

The project I wanted to do was just to take a folder of still images and create a video slideshow with music in the background. It turns out there’s a Wizard built in to do just that. Basically I just had to open the wizard, select the folder, select the song, select a style and click “create movie.” That’s it… it was done. Windows Movie Maker automatically creates the slideshow to the length of the song and throws in some nice default transitions.

Once it’s done, you can either save it and have a decent movie done in about 15 minutes, or go in and add from the impressive selection of transitions and titling effects to customize the movie.

There are however, as with most Microsoft programs, some caveats. Windows Movie Maker won’t even run on my Dell laptop. I tried some troubleshooting (updating my video card drivers etc) but it just keeps crashing. It runs perfectly on my MUCH older P II 450 Gateway desktop–even with such an antiquated processor, it is able to render the transitions in realtime.

Creating a similar movie in Premier or another, more advanced video editing application such as Final Cut would have taken much longer to get the desired effect. Between tweaking the length of transitions and the time pictures are shown on the stage, creating a simple slideshow (even using the storyboarding features) can become a much more involved process. I haven’t compared it to iMovie yet, but I imagine it has similar features.

If you have Windows XP and want to make simple videos, I suggest checking out Windows Movie Maker. If it doesn’t crash on your machine, you might just find you really like it.

For an example of the type and quality of slideshow it produces, check out this movie I created today (11.6mb wmv format).

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Software

Best Tool for Font Management

If you enjoy layout and design of any type, you’re bound to have wished for a quick way to preview text in several different fonts. Most graphics programs allow you to view only one at a time. Changing fonts over and over can be very tedious and often by the time you’ve gone through the list you can’t remember the ones you liked. Enter FontLister.

I’ve searched high and low and among both free and non-free software, FontLister is the best I’ve found. Even better is the fact that there’s an older version for free and the new version is non-limited shareware with a $5 registration fee.

Features include viewing both installed and non-installed fonts, installing fonts, viewing custom text and best of all, you can view many fonts as you want at a time. The user interface is great and it runs very, very fast. I highly recommend it. (Windows only).

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Software

OS X: Don’t hold down the Mouse

For some reason, when you hold the mouse button down in OS X Panther (and Jaguar), the processor usage goes up to 100%. It doesn’t matter if you’re clicking nothing on the desktop or the most complex of widgets, holding down the mouse takes up all your processor power.

So what? Well, here’s one example of when it might affect you. If you’re listening to online radio (or an mp3 in iTunes) and reading a website or document that requires scrolling and you decide to hold the mouse button down on your scroll bar, often your internet radio will cut out or your mp3 will skip. Especially using Safari for whatever reason. I’m sure there are other instances where this could be problematic, especially when rendering video or 3d.

I’m on a 1.6gh G5, so it’s not that I’m using antiquated hardware. This is, as far as I can tell, a fault in OS X.

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Arts

Fitzgerald

I had the chance to read a couple short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald — “The Rich Boy” and “Head and Shoulders.” Of the two, I enjoyed Head and Shoulders the most. It’s a rather humorous story of a child raised to be a prodigy and how he’s pulled out of prodigy-hood by a beautiful (but not-so-smart) blonde girl. Fitzgerald does a a really good job of developing real characters quickly and effectively.

“The Rich Boy” was also enjoyable, but it’s look at a young man and the effect of being rich with ‘old money’ was slightly depressing; it was one of those stories where you really feel bad for the protagonist most of the time through. Again, however, the characters in the story are very well developed and easy to sympathize with. I recommend both of the stories.