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The iPad, a lifestyle device. January 27, 2010

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Mobility.
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Ok, to recap:

  • No camera
  • No notifications
  • No multitasking
  • No phone calls
  • No Adobe Flash
  • The keyboard was nice and can make a difference (i.e. tempt people to replace their desktop with the iPad + keyboard)

Nice for couch surfing, maybe reading books if that’s your thing on a computer screen and you’re not longing for e-Ink. In general I’m not impressed, and assume it is mostly Apple loyals who will buy it, people to say “I have an iPad”, and gamers. It has potential to be a great gaming device.

Personally speaking, I use a Macbook Pro and would like to get an iPhone, but I can’t see the iPad filling in any gaps for me.

Photography books October 17, 2009

Posted by CK in Design.
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After buying a digital SLR, I thought I’d make an honest effort and do some reading about photography. So following my instinct and Amazon user reviews, I bought and read a few relevant books. In what follows, I’ll provide some short review of each one of them, in the sequence that I read them.

  1. The Digital Photography Book, vol. 1 and 2. This is the most famous digital photography book in Amazon (Volume 1, basically; the link here is a boxed set of the first two volumes). With probably millions of sales, countless positive reviews, etc. I don’t know how on earth that’s possible. I read the book and kept thinking “there must be more to this later on”. I won’t discuss about the irritating humor of the author, which is, at the end of the day, a matter of personal taste. My main problem was the book itself, lacking any kind of focus whatsoever. As I also wrote in my Amazon review of the book, what’s the rational behind writing a “quick friendly tips” book such as this, and have complete chapters on wedding photography? I gave away the books to my sister and she was very happy with them, but I would never recommend to anyone to buy them.
  2. Understanding Exposure. Bryan Peterson, the author of the book, is a true master. He has an amazing talent of explaining the essential concept of Exposure, in simple and intuitive ways. His overall discussion of the topic was very complete, and it left me with no complaints whatsoever. A reference book that everyone dealing with photography needs to read. It’s no wonder that this book is one of the most highly recommended by authors of other photography books.
  3. The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Photography. This is a very decent book, with good flow and easy to read. Although the examples were laid out very nicely, I must admit I didn’t like the author’s pictures themselves. But one could say that’s irrelevant, as they were meant to illustrate concepts (plus the author explains, even at the very beginning, that there has been no processing whatsoever in most of them). Although the book was nice and complete, having read “Understanding Exposure” already, reduced its value (to me!) quite a lot. Nevertheless, it touches on additional topics (e.g. composition) so it was still interesting to read certain parts of it. Overall it’s fairly complete, and if you’re a beginner I would certainly recommend that you start with it.
  4. Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography. Another masterpiece by Bryan Peterson, this book discusses composition; that is, choosing photography subjects, framing, etc. This is a book to read after you have understood the technique, i.e. how to use Aperture, Shutter speed, and the like. The book offers plenty of advice, discussing design principles first. It provides insight that I found to be both interesting and useful. The book is additionally fun to read, and the examples are very nice (also the pictures themselves). So no complaint here, either.
  5. The Photographer’s Eye. This is heavyweight. It is very impressive when one sees how many more things there are to photography, than one can tell before studying it in depth. The author, Michael Freeman, is taking the reader through the theory of photography, discussing things such as how the eye moves searching for things in a picture, the science of perception, etc. The style is slightly dull, and often feels like a textbook, but the artwork included is amazing, and the book itself has a very good feeling with its heavy, illustrated paper. It takes some time to read the whole thing, mostly because digesting the information in there is somewhat demanding — for a novice like me, at least. If you are serious about photography, you may want to try it. One note: No technical details are discussed in there (e.g. exposure etc). The book is strictly and exclusively about composition.

One last thing: I recently found out that Bryan Peterson has now published a book, where he distills most of the stuff in his previous books and provides it as a one-suits-all field photography guide. I haven’t read it but reviews are raving, so you may want to check it out too: Understanding Photography Field Guide.

Art that looks back at you September 14, 2009

Posted by CK in Design, IT.
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An interesting talk over at TED, given back in July. Golan Levin is making art with technology; I find the results to be very interesting.

By the way, if you ever happen to be in Karlsruhe, don’t miss out on the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe (ZKM). It’s a museum/gallery/exhibition/whatever that deals pretty much with the same topic, and I was very excited when I had the chance to visit it a year ago.

Digital photography development software April 29, 2009

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With the new dSLR already at home, it was time that I look for some decent software to manage the photographs. I had already decided that, having a 8Gb SDHC in it, provided for shooting in RAW only (it can do approx. 450 photos like that). I found the software provided by the manufacturer to be quite simplistic (albeit necessary to download the images to my computer, unless I use a memory card reader). So I was in search of something more powerful.

The search criteria was:

  1. Mac OS X Intel binaries;
  2. Can do RAW;
  3. Provides reasonable DAM capabilities.

The usability criteria was:

  1. Does not require reading the manual from first to last page in order to use it for the simple tasks;
  2. If possible, is not a resource hog;
  3. Does not cost an arm and a leg to buy it (and of course, if it’s free, so much the better.

So I searched around in digital photography sites, forums, etc and found the following candidates (in no particular order):

The whole exercise took some time but eventually I’m glad I did it. I’ll now briefly discuss about them; please keep in mind that, intuitiveness and being able to use it for the absolute basics without consulting with the manual, was a must for me. Also, this is my own personal opinion, and it does not come from a professional. So it’s a good idea to try for yourself and not rely on my limited perspective, when you are choosing where your money will go.

  1. Aperture: I had very mixed feelings about Aperture. The interface is plain superb, its library functionality is great, and it could read my iPhoto library — which was probably to be expected. On the other hand, I found myself completely stuck twice, without knowing how to get back to processing. I found it confusing (and I *did* give it a second chance). Additionally, it was very resource demanding. So that’s out.
  2. Lightroom: I liked Lightroom immediately. Although it lacks the impressive presets of other candidates (e.g LightZone), its interface was extremely sensible, and I could find my way around it immediately. I imported a few photos in a collection, processed them, applied a lot of corrections, got the result I wished for, exported them. Voila. The controls were intuitive, there were many options –and all the things you would expect to find anyway–, also area-specific corrections and non-destructive editing. So I was very happy with it, except for its price tag. At a $US 300 (list price), this was the most expensive of all.
  3. LightZone: LightZone was love at first sight. Its mechanisms for adjusting exposure selectively, the re-light (IIRC) action, the presets (esp. for B/W but also the “Wow” ones, if you’re into heavily modified photography) are simply amazing. No real DAM capabilities, but it doesn’t claim to do so anyway. Overall, a non-destructive photo-editing super-hero. BUT (there’s always one): Looking around many forums, it appears that its users are much annoyed by the lack of updates to support more recent cameras (just look at the LightCrafts forums). The company was developing and released a few days ago a low-end, consumer-oriented image management software (Aurora) and apparently all resources were committed to it. LightZone users are now in hope that it will get updates soon.
  4. Bibble 4 / 5: Bibble 4 is quite simplistic (e.g. does not offer adjustment for specific part of the picture). It has been out for a long time now, and while Bibble 5 is in development (which is a long time now), support for it has been dropped. Looking at the Bibble forums, the complaints are far too many for this reason, and people are jumping from the bandwagon. Bibble 5 was initially scheduled for end of 2008; then end of Jan 2009; it’s now April 2009 and there are no news, no announcement from the company, other than that they are working hard on it. There are preview versions available, but they are too unstable. I was very sad to find out things are like that, because the interface of Bibble 5 is very nice indeed, it appears that its functionality eventually will be great (see the screencasts on the web site), the price is very competitive, but it’s not here now. So that’s out too.
  5. SilkyPix: I liked SilkyPix quite a lot. You can immediately tell that this is well thought-out software, the editing capabilities are easy and produce very nice results. Apparently it remains actively developed and it’s the software that Panasonic provides with its cameras so you can expect good support. The only thing that let me down is that there is no area-specific editing. But overall I was quite pleased with it.
  6. Elements: The little brother of Photoshop is targeting the consumer market, those who wish to do some image processing but do not wish to spend much money. Elements offers a lot of effects, inherited from Photoshop, and it’s a very complete piece of software for generic use. However, I wanted something which has digital photography at its core and as a primary target, to increase chances that it remains as such in the future. So I ruled Elements out.
  7. iPhoto: Pros: I am very familiar with its image library functionality. Cons: I don’t really like its image library functionality 😉 Plus, its editing capabilities are quite simplistic.
  8. The GIMP: The GIMP is open source software with which I am somewhat familiar, from my Linux/BSD days. I have it installed anyway, but never used it too much. I found out now that it does RAW, so it can definitely be used as an editor (it has no DAM functionality, as this is completely out of scope). GIMP is a powerhouse but, a) it is destructive, and b) the version ported to Mac OS is a pain to work with, due to its strange behaviour regarding window focus. Basically you have to click twice on windows to select editing tools etc. This is due to the X11 layer, I believe. So although GIMP will stay in my disk, I think I’ll only use it when I need something very strange/fancy.

So after all this, I had to chose between SilkyPix, LightZone and Lightroom. The first was nice and the least inexpensive, with very nice results but no area-specific editing. LightZone was somewhat more expensive, with all the basic features I was looking for (I can do without specialised DAM if needed), good results, but the complaints about development being stalled are a bit scary when you’re an amateur and make such a time investment to learn how to use some specialised software (not to mention the financial investment). So eventually, I went with Lightroom. It’s feature-complete, it is supported by a big organisation so chances are it will continue being actively developed (especially since it’s so successful with photographers) and there are books about it. It is, unfortunately, the most expensive as well, but I find it to be a good investment.

Again, this shallow analysis is just according to my personal taste and level of expertise (which is really too low in the image editing space), and therefore there are no suitability claims. Make sure you see for yourself, if you’re also in search of something like this!

Palm Pre March 15, 2009

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Mobility, Software.
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Since I got started, and also since I mentioned the new sweetness from Palm, the Pre, I’d like to write a few more words about it.

The first thing to say, is that I can’t wait until it’s here. By “here”, I mean Europe. I recently switched from my long-beloved Treo to a Nokia E71 and the switch left me with a very bitter taste. So when the Pre was announced (only 2 weeks after I bought the E71 :(), hope resurrected. Palm is back!

Now here’s my wish list for this phone, and I can only hope that some of them will be there out of the box:

  • Support for Greek. Hopefully, it will just be there. After all, they designed the OS from scratch, so they should have taken into account i18n needs of their candidate users.
  • Offline GPS maps with turn-by-turn voice navigation. Some of us don’t have flat-rate data contracts.
  • Possibility to buy it unlocked, without a contract. I hate how this US thing of operator bundling is starting to be applied in Europe.
  • Message delivery notifications. PalmOS did not have that!

Then there is the issue of applications. A phone which does not have enough 3rd-party apps is pretty much useless, no matter how good the original software is. So I hope that the loyal Palm community will catch up soon. I also hope that Cultured Code will consider a port of Things 🙂

Oblong Industries’ g-Speak November 17, 2008

Posted by CK in Design, IT, Research.
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You remember Minority Report and the fancy HCI methods? Well, it’s here (and it’s no coincidence, as you’ll see if you read the text). Did someone scream “technical computing use case”?

We live in interesting times. I just can’t wait until these things become commodity.

(via)

In love with Corbel November 4, 2008

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I ran a small readability experiment on a 1-page document, including text only. From all the fonts I tried, Microsoft’s Corbel was the best. Of course it’s a matter of preference, but judging only by how easy it was to read quickly through the text, this font was the least painful to my eyes.

I’m not using Windows and I don’t like Microsoft, but this is the best font I have ever used for plain text in word processors.

Safari sweetness September 20, 2008

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One more reason to salute MacOS UI designers: Today I found out, accidentally, the very useful menu that popups when cmd-clicking (“right-clicking”, if you prefer) on Safari windows’ title. For example, let’s assume the following URL and window title bar:

When cmd-clicking anywhere on “TU Dortmund – International”, the following popup menu appears:

It is simple things like that, which set apart (at least for me) the MacOS interface from anything else I have seen so far.

My workflow July 16, 2008

Posted by CK in Design, Productivity, Software.
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As I’m playing around with Concept Maps, I thought I’d build one to illustrate the workflow I have adopted over the last months/year or so. I don’t know if this would fit everyone’s habits, but for me it’s working very well.

Clicking on the image will take you to the concept map page, created with CMapTools and hosted by the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, the software’s creators. Publishing there and creating this web page is as easy as “Save as” (literally).

My workflow

Location != Language July 16, 2008

Posted by CK in Design, Miscellaneous.
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Ok, so I admit: I’m living in Germany and don’t speak any German whatsoever. Now that this is out of the way, can we please sit down and re-think web site localization?

This last month I have been in the same situation time and again: I’m visiting the site of some big company which took the time to provide its content in many different languages, it asks me where I’m located, and then changes the language to German. Even worse, some don’t even ask you where you are located, but rather use geo-location services based on your IP and simply present the content in German, often without allowing you to change the language to something else. I have seldom found sites which ask where you are located AND what is your preferred language — typically it’s airline companies, which makes sense I guess.

The problem is that although I could, in principle, choose an English-speaking country such as US or UK, this usually means that I am automatically losing some of the site functionality, as many details are customized to the visitor’s country of origination (for example, local news).