The Everything You Wanted To Know About Photoshop Book

It’s not often that I do book recommendations here. Quite frankly, I don’t get to spend much time reading books these days. So when I take the time to read one and review it, it must be pretty special. I also know how much work goes into writing a book. I’ve written a few myself. What I can’t imagine is how much work would have to go into a book called “Photoshop CS4: The Missing Manual“? In this book Ms. Lesa Snider King had to cover EVERYTHING! That’s a tall order when it comes to Photoshop. She had to explain every little facet of the program and Photoshop CS4 is a lot to cover.

This book is designed to be “the manual”, but not the typical manual written by an engineer. It’s written in plain english with plenty of useful examples and techniques. You can use this book in a couple of ways. You can use it to look up things (which is probably what I would use it for most) or you could use it to actually learn the app, step-by-step, chapter-by-chapter. I also appreciate the fact that this book is in color! I dread seeing Photoshop books in black and white.

Whether you’re new to Adobe Photoshop or you’re an experienced user, this book is worth a look see and weighing in at 796 pages, there is a lot to see. The book has a list price of $49.99. Amazon has it for only $29.39.

iPhone App of the Week – Arcade Bowling

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If you’re looking for a little distraction without having to put much thought into it, then you should check out Arcade Bowling. Arcade Bowling is just like the bowling games in the arcade. You roll the ball down the alley and up into cups to score. Just like the real game it takes a little finesse to get the balls into the cups with the higher scores. The first time I played this game I really sucked at it. The problem was that I was flicking the ball to fast/hard. Then I slowed it way down and started getting higher scores. 

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Arcade Bowling has two modes: Classic and Progressive. The Classic game is just like the one in the arcade. You get a set number of balls and ones you’ve bowled them all, the game is over. The  Progressive game is based on achieving a set score. If you achieve the score then you get more balls to continue playing.

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  • Classic Mode (9 Balls)
  • Progressive Mode – multiple levels of game play with increasingly challenging score plateaus and bonus targets
  • Choice of two background music tracks
  • Accelerometer control of the ball in flight
  • Sound and music volume controls
  • Local high score boards
  • Global High Score boards so you can compete with other players around the globe (pending Apple approval)

Arcade Bowling is a fun game and provides a nice distraction when you need a break in your day or your standing in a line somewhere.  If you like Skeeball, you’ll love Arcade Bowling. Arcade Bowling goes for $1.99 and works on the iPhone and iPod touch. Download it from the App Store here. There is a lite version that is FREE. The lite version only has the Classic game with 9 balls. Download Arcade Bowling Lite for FREE from the App Store here.

Landlines, Do we need ’em anymore?

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OK, I’m thinking about cutting my last cord. My main home line is still with AT&T. Each month I look at the bill I ask “why?” I switched my business/home office line over to Vonage years ago and haven’t looked back. I get unlimited voice for $24.99 a month. It has worked out very well for me. My old bill back then was over $100/month for both voice and fax lines and that didn’t even include the separate Sprint long distance bill. Now it’s under $50 for both. Plus no long distance charges.

The one feature AT&T offers that I can’t seem to find via the VoIP/Digital companies is “Privacy Manager”. I pay for this service each month (in my package of services) to cut down on solicitors. Rather than just block their calls if they don’t display their number to my callerID, it plays a recording something to the effect of “your name or number was not recognized, please state your name after the beep and you call will be put through.” At this point a solicitor or automated caller will hang up. A legitimate caller will say their name and all is good. I have no idea of how many calls this blocks as the phone never rings if they don’t state their names. But I would hate to be inundated by a rash of solicitors if I switch over to Vonage or Comcast.

 

Vonage or Comcast

Vonage is certainly cheaper! Their unlimited service is $24.99/month. Comcast digital voice has introductory offers, but once that period has past, the rate jumps up to $39.99/month. However, Comcast seems to offer a lot more call blocking features, although none of them seem to be as good as Privacy Manager. It seems that you can either block blocked calls or not. There is no compromise. Even though I’m a Comcast TV and Internet customer, their combined packages don’t seem to bring the price down far enough to be in-line with Vonage. There is one thing about the Comcast service that I do like and that is they will send someone out to wire the new Cable/Voice modem to your existing telephone jacks. So once my phone number is ported over, it would be no physical difference to how I use the phone now. My February AT&T bill came in at $46.21 (January was $67.97 and then I called them to cut some stuff out and move to a different plan.) and that’s with no long distance as I try to do all my long distance calling either on my Vonage line or my cellphone. The other thing that bugs me is Zone Calls! There are usually anywhere from $2-$10 of Zone Calls on my bill each month because we may dial a number that is in the same area code, but just far enough away to be charged as a Zone Call and then by the minute.

 

Do I really even need a landline anymore?

My buddy Bruce sent out an email to all of his friends announcing that his home number was being disconnected and he gave out his and his wife’s cell numbers. His reason was that now that his daughter had gone off to college and it was just the two them, they couldn’t really think of any reason to keep the landline.

Everyone here at my house has a cellphone (yes iPhones). We all have our own numbers and our friends and family members know our numbers and call us. Other than the landline being used by the alarm system and a couple of older TiVos (that are slated to be replaced this year), do I really need one? Cell reception is 5 bars here in the house. I even get great reception in the basement. If I kill the landline, what am I giving up other than another bill? I will still have my office Vonage line if I need that to feel like I’m on a real phone.

MobileMe – 6 months later…

No company is perfect and that includes Apple, Inc. Apple has been hitting some good home runs lately. No one can argue the success of the iPod, MacBook, iTunes Store, iPhone and Mac OS X. However, Apple’s MobileMe is still, well, um, let’s just say not quite there yet!

MobileMe was launched in July of 2008 on the same day as the iPhone 3g. It was the revamped replacement to .Mac. The main focus of MobileMe was to allow iPhone, iPod touch, Mac and PC users to sync their data wirelessly with the cloud (MobileMe). Of course on launch day there were nothing but problems. Apple’s servers were overwhelmed by all the simultaneous activations of iPhones and MobileMe accounts. 

So let’s fast forward 6 months later and take another look at MobileMe. MobileMe provides its subscribers with email, online storage, data syncing and web hosting. I’ve been a MobileMe user (and before that .Mac and before that iTools) user since day one. So I’ve got first hand experience on what works and what doesn’t. I’ll start by saying that I have no issues with email and data storage (other than the slowness of using the iDisk in the Finder). These services work quite well for me. My issues are pretty much all with the data syncing. 

I love the concept of no matter where you make the changes to your contacts, calendar or email, it will be updated on all your other devices. As an iPhone user this is a really nice thing to have. I was very happy to turn on MobileMe syncing on my iPhone 3g the day I got it. It was like magic to see my phone load up with all my contacts wirelessly. Life was good! 

 

Trouble in paradise

It didn’t take long for the problems to surface. My contacts are probably the most important thing to me on my iPhone. I’m constantly making calls, looking up addresses and looking at contact notes. So if there is the least little problem here it’s going to be magnified for me 10 fold. A couple of days later I went to make a call and my Contacts list was EMPTY! That’s right all gone. Poof! Oddly enough they were still on my Mac in Address Book and still on the www.me.com site. A few minutes later, they were all back on my iPhone. Now other than the obvious inconvenience of them not being there when I went to make a call, there was another issue. My custom ringtone settings were gone. I’m big on assigning ringtones to friends, family members and co-workers so that I have an idea of who’s calling before I even pickup the phone. Well when the Contacts came back, they came back without the ringtone assignments (Apple doesn’t sync your ringtone assignments with the cloud). I timed it and it takes me about 15-20 minutes to reassign them as it has to be done one-by-one. I figured OK, this is probably a one time thing. A hiccup with the cloud perhaps. So I did all my ringtone assignments over again and moved on. Unfortunately this was not a one time thing. It happened at least a dozen times from July to now. There are a few threads on Apple’s discussion boards of people having the same exact problem, so I’m not alone here. I finally gave up!!! That’s right, I just couldn’t take it anymore. One minute they’re there, the next minute they’re not. So I turned off MobileMe syncing of Contacts and went back to syncing them manually via iTunes and the USB cable. I haven’t had a problem since. Now my Contacts are always there and my ringtone assignments stay intact!

 

Calendars

Apple still doesn’t seem to get it when it comes to  calendars. There are several issues that I don’t have the time to go into here so I’ll stick to the big ones.

The biggest problem is that MobileMe still doesn’t handle subscribed iCals. This means that if you use the automatic Birthdays calendar from Address Book, you won’t have this important calendar on your iPhone. No birthdays! At least not without some workarounds. Also if you subscribe to anyone else’s iCal, you won’t have those calendars on your iPhone either. So much for checking your spouse’s calendar before making plans. Another odd problem is that you can’t even select which of your non-subscribed calendars get sync’d. It’s either all or nothing if you sync using MobileMe. So if you have some misc. calendars that you don’t care about on your iPhone, they will be there whether you need them or not. Now if you turn off MobileMe calendar syncing and sync manually via iTunes you’ll be able to have just the calendars you want including subscribed ones. Go figure! Unfortunately I can’t turn off MobileMe calendar syncing like I did for Contact syncing because I also use Exchange syncing for my work calendar. If you sync with Exchange, you can’t sync manually with iCal. It’s either all manual syncing or all cloud syncing for any given category (contacts, calendars, etc.). You can’t mix the two.

 

The Bottom Line

MobileMe is $99/year (or less if you find it on sale). If I wasn’t using the other services if offers, it would be really hard for me to justify renewing this! I keep hoping for a silver lining in the cloud, but after 6 months it’s still a storm cloud. If one of my friends walked up to me and asked me if they should use MobileMe, I would be very hard pressed to say yes at this point. Let’s hope that Apple is hard at work fixing these issues and maybe we’ll see a MobileMe that works by its one year anniversary in July 2009. With all the emphasis on software as a service that most companies are moving towards, Apple needs to get this one right in order to be taken seriously in the future.

iPhone App of the Week – Lose It!

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This app was recently featured in one of Apple iPhone commercials. I believe the line was "if you want to count calories, there’s an app for that." I was sitting there watching LOST and when I saw the ad, I picked up my iPhone and downloaded it. I was blown away by this app from the start. It’s so much more than just counting calories. This is a complete fitness, diet, nutrition tracking app. I was using Weight Tracker (another fine app) before this one, but Lose It! does everything Weight Tracker does and a lot more.

 

Getting Started

You start out by simply inputting your current weight and then your goal weight. Lose It! then prompts you with number pounds you would like to lose each week to meet your goal. In my case I could have either chosen 1 or 2 pounds a week. Then it tells you the date by which you should meet your goal. Next it figures out a per day Calorie Budget. Whatever this number is, if you stay under it, you should reach your goal. It even takes into account exercises that you do and adds those calories burned back in to your budget for that day. 

 

Figuring out how much you can eat

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I was also blown away by the extensive database of foods that are already in its database. You simply tell it what you have/had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and it will subtract those calories from your budget. Of course it can’t possibly know the calories for everything. So you can easily add your own custom foods or foods that aren’t in its database. Many restaurants now have their nutrition information on their websites. This has been very helpful for me. I was surprised to see how many calories there were in some of my favorite foods at like P.F. Chang’s vs. some of the other foods I eat at the same restaurant! It was really eye opening. 

 

Tracking your progress

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You enter in your weight each day (or as often as you like) and Lose It! will track your progress with a nice graph. It will also tell you how much you are under or over your calorie budget each day and for the week.

 

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It even has one of my favorite activities/exercises…… er, um Scuba Diving! 😉 

 

The Bottom Line

We are all trying to live a little healthier these days and having this app has really made a difference for me! I much more conscious of calories than I ever would have been without. I’ve already lost 7+ pounds since I’ve been using it. The most amazing thing to me is that this app is FREE! That’s right, there’s no charge. I’m stunned by how well this app is designed and that it doesn’t cost a dime. It works on both the iPhone and iPod touch. Download it today from the App Store.

 

 

The Tripod Police Strike Again!

Professional photographers are increasingly being harassed for, you guessed it – taking pictures. It amazes me that in most of these situations, if you pulled out a point and shoot camera or a cellphone camera and took a picture, no one would give you a second look. However, pull out a DSLR or gasp, a tripod and you will be tackled in a matter of minutes. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally get that there are certain locations that are off limits for photography such as government installations, etc. I also get that tripods do pose a safety (tripping) hazard. However, there seems to be an increase in the amount of harassment that goes on especially if you appear to have professional gear.

 

Here’s a humorous look at the situation where an Amtrak photographer gets NAILED!

Garmin Nüvi GPS Vent Mount

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If I rent a car while traveling, them I’m going to be using my Garmin Nüvi 765t GPS. I’ve never been a fan of suction cup mounts because they just simply don’t work well for me. I had moved to a bean bag style (friction) mount which works great. However, it’s not very small and when I’m traveling every bit of space counts as I hate checking my bags. When I bought my Nüvi 765t, I noticed a very small mount that actually clips right on to the AC vent of your car. I bought one of these on eBay and used it on a personal trip last month to Wisconsin. I don’t even remember what kind of car I had on that trip, but the mount worked PERFECTLY. 

 

It puts the GPS in the perfect spot

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Although it’s nice to have the GPS at eye level on the window or dashboard, it does mean that technically part of your view is being blocked. However, having the GPS mounted just below the dash on the vent, is ideal. I’ve seen cup holder mounts and while they seem to be out of the way, I think I would find that position just to low depending on where the cup holder is in the car.

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The size of this mount is also perfect. So small that it would easily fit in a jacket pocket. The price is also right at about $5. I don’t know what other GPS systems this will work with, but if you have a Garmin GPS, then you should really check out this mount.

Headphones/Earbuds in the “OMG!, they cost how much?” category

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been evaluating and re-evaluating the various headphone/earbud choices out there. I started with the new Apple In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. Then I took it up a notch by going to the V-Moda Vibe Duos vs. the Bose In-Ear Headphones. Now it’s time to move up to the next level that I affectionately call the “OMG!, they cost how much?” category. I have 3 sets of headphones in this category.

 

Let’s start with the Bang & Olufsen A8s

These have been a long time favorite of mine because of the their design. They are clearly the most adjustable and adaptable headphones I’ve ever tried. The over the ear arm really makes for a secure fit when you’re going to be active like jogging or working out. So these were the ones that were always in my gym bag. Although they sound great, the one problem with these is that the actual piece that goes in your ear is “one size fits all” and I’m here to tell you that one size definitely doesn’t fit all. These are slightly to big to fit down in my ear canal properly. I can get them in, but after about an hour my ears begin to hurt and I end up having to take them out. If they were to redesign the actual ear piece with different sized gels found in most modern day headphones, I would be completely sold and would look no further.

Bang & Olufsen prides themselves on selling high-end gear, but at out of this world prices. The average consumer would walk in their store, look around, see the prices and walk right back out. Although they sell uniquely styled gear, I really question if their stuff is worth the price? To date I’ve only experienced their headphones. 

The Bang & Olufsen A8’s go for $160 on their site. The interesting thing was that I couldn’t really find them by just browsing their site, I had to actually refer to an old link. Perhaps they are either phasing these out or coming out with something new. What’s funny is I used to think $160 was outrageous until I started looking at the next few options below 🙂

 

Moving on up to the Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones

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If you do any frequent air travel, I dare say you’ll see more Bose Headphones than any other brand. Bose Quiet Comfort Noise Cancelling Headphones are legendary amongst frequent travelers. It’s almost like a status symbol. I have tried all 3 models, the original QC’s, the QC2 and even the new smaller QC3’s. As a glasses wearer, the QC3‘s were the worst. These are “on-ear” headphones and I just couldn’t take the pressure against my ears pushing against my glasses. Also Bose went from a standard AAA battery that you could pick up in any airport, to a proprietary rechargeable battery. This decision was clearly made by someone who doesn’t actually travel on a regular basis. If the battery dies, you’re done. Not only does the battery power the noise cancelling feature, but it also is what allows sound to come through from your device. So dead battery means no sound whatsoever. I gave up on these and went back to the QC2’s. The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones offer the best blend in sound, comfort and noise cancelling that I’ve tried to date. There is one problem though and it’s their size. I find myself leaving these behind at home more and more these days because I just simply don’t have room for them in my bag anymore. When I have the room, hands down these are my favorites for the plane. 

Bose sells the Quiet Comfort 2 Headphones for $299 via their site. 

 

Next up are the Shure SE420 Earphones

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I’ve always looked at the Shure earphones as “there’s no freakin’ way I’m paying that much for some earbuds!” Their earphones start at $120 and go up to $499! Yes $499, more than you spent for iPod or other device that you’re going to plug them into. Had I not gotten a pair of their SE420’s ($399) as a gift, I probably would have never tried these. I used them on my last flight home from San Francisco. Where Shure is different from all the other ones I’ve tried and reviewed to date is that they are “noise isolating” instead of noise cancelling. They pay special attention to the way they fit down in your ear to block out all other sound. I gotta admit that these are amazing. The sound was fantastic and I couldn’t hear the screaming baby 3 rows back (no I’m not against babies). What does $399 get you. First off you get a very well designed set of headphones with a very nice hard carrying case. You get a 3′ detachable audio cable, airline adapter for those international flight entertainment systems, and a ton of different sleeves for just about any ear/ear size. If you’re concerned about comfort, they have gone out of their way to provide a variety of different sleeves to fit every ear. I swapped a couple of different sets until I found the ones that fit me best. The SE420’s feature Dual TruAcoustic MicroSpeakers, they use a dedicated tweeter and woofer to provide a detailed sound stage. Lows, mids, and highs are distinct and defined – for accurate reproduction of all the details of your music. Clearly Shure has put a lot not only into making these comfortable, but more importantly sound! Also because of their very compact size, they are much more likely to be in my travel bag than the Bose QC2’s.

Now the big question: are they worth $400 to me? Wow, I’m gonna still have to say no. I say no not because Shure didn’t build a phenomenal product that sounds great and fits great. I say no because I just personally think that $400 is too much to spend on earphones. I’m just not an audiophile. If you are looking for the perfect blend of size, sound and fit, these are the ones. If $400 makes you gag, you might want to investigate their other, less expensive models. I’m absolutely jazzed about owning these and they were the perfect gift because I would have never bought them for myself.

The Shure SE420 Headphones go for $399 from their site. Amazon has them for a lot less!

iPhone App of the Week – Air Mouse Pro

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I use a lot of different iPhone apps and some come and go from my phone. It’s not that often that I find an iPhone app that does EVERYTHING I’d want it to and works exactly the way I’d want it to. However, Air Mouse Pro is just such an app! I had a need for an app that would allow me to control my Mac mini. I would have been happy with a simple trackpad and keyboard. However, Air Mouse Pro does things I wouldn’t have even thought of. For one, you get access to more than one keyboard. There’s the basic keyboard that allows you type the alphabet.

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They were also smart enough to include a keyboard with all the function and special keys that we take for granted.

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The also included a media keyboard with play, rewind, forward, volume, etc. keys. This is great for control Front Row on the Mac or a Media Center PC.

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Lastly they included a web browser friendly keyboard that has nice big browser navigation buttons. 

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The trackpad is full featured too, completely configurable and tappable. Even when the keyboard is up you can still use the entire screen as the trackpad. There are onscreen left and right buttons for clicking and even a scroll wheel in the middle. These guys really thought of everything. 

The app works via Wi-Fi. So you have to install the desktop version of Air Mouse on your Mac or PC. You also use this app the set up the special media keys. For example, I set up a key to launch SlingPlayer, Front Row, iTunes and Safari.

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Air Mouse Pro also takes advantage of the built-in accelerometer. so when you rotate the iPhone on the side the trackpad/keyboard goes wide. Also if you shake the iPhone up the keyboard goes away or down to bring it back. 

Air Mouse Pro is $5.99, works on the iPhone or iPod touch and available from the App Store here.

 

Check out this GREAT video on how the app works:

[flv:http://www.mobileairmouse.com/newsite/Demo.flv 470 320]

Continuing the theme of low cost entertainment – 99¢ iTunes Movie Rentals

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Seems like you guys enjoy posts about ways of cutting costs on your entertainment bills and in this tough economy I can certainly understand why. Well there’s yet another way to save some $$ and that is to take advantage of the 99¢ iTunes movie rentals. Apple typically charges $2.99 and up for movie rentals via iTunes. However, each week they have 99¢ movie specials. If you weren’t paying close attention you would never know these bargains existed as they aren’t always prominently displayed on the iTunes store. However, there is a website (www.99rental.com) complete with an RSS feed that will alert you each week as to which movies are being showcased. Granted, these movies are not new releases and in many cases they are probably movies you’ve already seen, but hey they’re only 99¢ and if they were classics that you liked or movies you hadn’t seen yet it’s a win win situation. 

You can also go to the top secret 99¢ movie rental page on iTunes here.

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