Tag Archives: review

BOOK REVIEW: Scott Berkun’s Mindfire

I’m a fan of Scott Berkun’s books—you can read my reviews of both Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Myths of Innovation—but Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first that I discovered by word of mouth rather than a press release from O’Reilly, Scott’s regular publisher. This is because Mindfire is Scott’s first self-published book, which he did because “I want to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release” and so he is learning to do it himself. I can only imagine what kind of topics Scott plans to write about!

Mindfire is a compilation of short essays from Scott’s previous online work, including his blog at ScottBerkun.com. Avid readers of Scott’s website will recognize a lot of the material. The book itself looks good: I like the cover design and the interior is clean though maybe a little large on the type size. The content is also well-written, engaging and thought-provoking. Scott covers a wide range of topics, from motivation and time management (“The Cult of Busy” is a great opening chapter) to workplace dynamics and evolving your thinking and your products in the face of change. Scott structures Mindfire around his three ultimate takeaways: motivation (“gasoline”), leveraging catalysts (“sparks”) and building long-term success (“fire”).

I enjoyed Mindfire a lot and would recommend it for many readers, but the book falls a little short when compared to his other books I’ve read. Here’s my reasons:

  • No matter how much structure Scott wraps around the book, Mindfire is still a collection of self-contained essays and they don’t share a central theme. Some artforms can get away with this (“Greatest Hits” albums are often popular) but others don’t. The television “clip show” is a prime example. Scott does the best he can but Mindfire just isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
  • One thing I enjoyed in Confessions and Myths of Innovation was Scott’s knack with using anecdotes to illustrate his points. Those anecdotes were always fun to read and enlightening. Mindfire needs the same anecdotal evidence but it’s usually nowhere to be found. I think this is because these essays were designed to be short bursts of insight perfect for blog posts.
  • The “short burst” format is sometimes too short for me. I thought the best entries in Mindfire were the long ones because they had the most detail and fully-formed concepts. In contrast, a chapter like “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” is not much longer than a page and concludes well before it should. I’m not against short segments in books, but only if everything is said that needs to be said. Mindfire left me wanting more sometimes.
  • Books composed of online material always have to compete against their online counterpart—in this case, Scott’s blog. I always ask if the book brings something unique to the reader besides a cover and pages, and I don’t think Mindfire does that. Scott planned to include new essays in Mindfire but eventually gave up on the idea.

Mindfire is a very fine book and would be very useful for anyone working in a creative industry—designers and developers would be ideal—or anyone in business who wants to light a fire underneath themselves. The book isn’t perfect but it’s very good and the price can’t be beat.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Scott Berkun
US $14.95
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

HP’s EliteBook 8460w Still Durable and Tough, Inside and Out

Last year I reviewed the HP EliteBook 8540w, which for me really showed how technology design could go in a different direction than Apple’s spare, minimalist approach. I’ve been a Mac user for years and the EliteBook showed me how some users need tough, sturdy hardware—which designers seem to avoid sometimes in favor of the elegant.

Many changes have happened this year in the computer hardware industry as tablets continue to affect the form factor of our computers. Laptops are becoming smaller and sleeker, and Apple is rumored to be applying the slim MacBook Air form to the MacBook Pro line. Other PC manufacturers like Dell and Asus have responded with similarly thin laptops. HP might do the same, but for now their current EliteBook 8460w remains a thick and durable piece of hardware.

The system configuration is powerful enough: 4GB of RAM, a 300GB hard drive and a 14-inch 1600×900 display all make the EliteBook 8460w a capable machine even for Photoshop work, though an extensive video project probably needs more screen area and more memory. As with the previous iteration, the EliteBook 8460w has plenty of ports and inputs including a fingerprint reader and four USB ports. I’ve never needed more than three USB ports when traveling so I tend to think all of the EliteBook’s ports are overkill, but other users may have several devices to connect and no USB hub to make things easier.

HP touts the EliteBook’s durable design, which still meets the MIL-STD 810G military standards for resisting various environmental effects such as drops, dust, temperatures and shocks. Not a lot of changed from last year’s EliteBook design but I am glad to see the difficult touch buttons at the top of the keyboard have been replaced by physical buttons. The brushed gunmetal case looks striking and stands out among Apple’s silver laptops and the plain plastic cases I see on other PC laptops. The EliteBook 8460w just looks like a machine that’s ready for work.

According to HP, the standard battery in the EliteBook 8460w lasts up to six hours and 30 minutes. I get different readings on the actual machine: at one point it said it was at 60% but had over six hours of life remaining. That makes it sound like the battery can hold 10 hours of power, which would be excellent, and it is corroborated by this user. However, I’ve only put this EliteBook through light to moderate testing, and haven’t tried to tax the system. Working with graphics or video will use more battery life. But it looks like the EliteBook 8460w’s battery performs very well—better than my MacBook Pro’s.

The EliteBook’s chunky design and moderate weight (almost five pounds) make me wonder how it will stand up next to the crop of sleek laptops hitting the market. I mentioned how the industry is moving toward smaller and thinner laptops and also tablets. I rarely see blocky laptops like the EliteBook 8460w at developer conferences and in designers’ cubicles, so where does the EliteBook belong? Since it’s military-grade hardware and even dubbed a “mobile workstation,” I think the EliteBook line belongs in physically demanding locations including military installations, construction sites and jobs requiring lots of travel. The EliteBook 8460w would excel in all these situations. Designers who worship at Apple’s altar may find the EliteBook form factor practically barbaric, with its extraneous ports and blocky exterior, but the computer itself is strong enough for most design jobs and it could serve designers pretty well.

I think the EliteBook 8460w can be a designer’s workstation, but the laptop’s design might not be everyone’s favorite. I personally need a laptop that’s lightweight and thin because I’m often carrying other devices with me, and can’t carry a bulging laptop bag everywhere I go. But if I was in a line of work where durability was more important, the EliteBook line would be a strong contender.

HP EliteBook 8460w
HP
US $1,329
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Ruby

Book of Ruby cover

The Book of Ruby by Huw Collingbourne covers the Ruby programming language, which is popular as part of the Ruby on Rails framework for building websites and web applications. I thought it was a good primer on Ruby for the average beginner but there are some things that keep it from really standing out against all the other Ruby books on the market.

My first difficulty with the book is the explanation on installing Ruby at the very beginning. I had a hard time understanding what to download and how to install Ruby on my Mac, and I ended up having to do a lot of digging on the Ruby website to figure it out. I think Huw should have covered this a lot more thoroughly, particularly for Ruby beginners.

Once I installed Ruby, I found the rest of The Book of Ruby to be interesting and educational. Huw’s writing style and tone is clear and to the point, which actually sets it apart from other No Starch books like Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!, which has a humorous tone and goofy cartoons in it. In contrast, The Book of Ruby is concise and even a little dry sometimes. I don’t mind this style, and I particularly appreciate Huw’s clean explanation of his code. I did notice that the coding style used through The Book of Ruby isn’t particularly consistent, and it does make some code hard to understand sometimes. That doesn’t bother me, but I know other Ruby developers find a consistent style to be very important for reading Ruby code.

One thing I really find to be missing from The Book of Ruby is hands-on coding projects. I learn more from complex examples and project tutorials, and this book doesn’t really have those. The Book of Ruby‘s strength is in explaining concepts and being a good reference but there aren’t really any projects to work on and I wish there were more ways to tinker with Ruby code. I also think there should be much more devoted to Ruby on Rails than just one chapter, even though technically Ruby is a separate language. Ruby on Rails is a major driving force in Ruby development and I think the book would be more complete with more pages devoted to it.

Programmers who don’t know Ruby might find The Book of Ruby useful as a resource for learning concepts and the scope of the Ruby language. I think there are better resources in print and online for actual hands-on Ruby experience, but The Book of Ruby can help build a good foundation for Ruby development.

The Book of Ruby
Huw Collingbourne
No Starch Press
US $39.95
Rating: 7/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!

Learn You A Haskell cover

Learn You A Haskell For Great Good! might be the only programming book with a title in Engrish, and it definitely has a unique tone among all the other programming books out there. Learn You A Haskell was written by a 23-year-old Slovenian and covers the Haskell programming language, which is somewhat different from other web programming languages due to its status as a purely functional and a “lazy” functional language. I’ve not worked with language like this before so I started reading Learn You A Haskell as a true beginner.

Author Miran Lipovaca did an excellent job explaining Haskell’s concepts clearly and logically. The chapters and concepts explored built upon one another—what I learned in the previous chapter helped me understand material in the next chapter. Miran’s writing style is witty and peppered with jokes and funny turns of phrase, which I liked at first but got a little tired of as the book progressed. Miran also likes to doodle and Learn You A Haskell has a bunch of random cartoons throughout the book. I do like having more illustrations in programming books such as these, but they are pretty rough and you’ll like them or you won’t.

Fortunately, the quality of Miran’s cartoons doesn’t affect the quality of the book’s programming materials. The code in Learn You A Haskell is solid and functional, and it explains many Haskell concepts very clearly. I am really pleased to see some advanced elements of Haskell explored here, including type classes, input/output (I/O), functors and monads. They are usually hard to comprehend, but Learn You A Haskell dissects them and explains them in good detail. I think Miran could have expanded these advanced sections, but this is a book for beginners.

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of is tutorials and demos. There’s a lot of code in Learn You A Haskell, but they don’t always coalesce into a larger project or tutorial. Some chapters in particular, such as Chapter 9 on I/O, would have really shined if it dug deep into a large project, but Miran didn’t really push it far enough. I’m not too disappointed by this, but it is an opportunity for improvement.

Programmers of any language who want to try something interesting might want to pick up Learn You A Haskell For Great Good! It makes for a quick read even though it’s almost 400 pages, and the Haskell language itself is interesting. I give kudos to Miran for making what could have been an opaque and difficult subject actually quite interesting and fun.

Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!
Miran Lipovaca
No Starch Press
US $44.95
Rating: 9/10
Buy on Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Digital Alchemy

Most technical photography books—the ones that are more about producing images than about creative expression—deal with pixels and the digital photography medium. These books discuss Photoshop techniques, speedlight setup, working with lenses or any number of other hardware or software topics. It’s pretty rare to read one that discusses denatured alcohol, emulsions and other hands-on techniques that bring back memories of the darkroom.

Digital Alchemy by Bonny Pierce Lhotka is just such a book, and I really enjoyed reviewing it. Digital Alchemy is more about digital printmaking than digital photography, but producing the initial transfer images involves photography, Photoshop and whatever digital tools are needed to realize the artist’s vision. Bonny produces her own print transfer products (such as the SuperSauce medium that is used often in the book) and has done extensive testing and experimentation to formulate the techniques in this book. Her pedigree is a strong foundation for the book.

A lot of the book is made of printmaking tutorials. Most require creating an inkjet print on transfer film, applying a transfer medium and then the actual transferring of the image to one of a variety of surfaces—including metal, wood, stone and even metal leaf (including aluminum foil!). Bonny has created techniques for all of these projects and Digital Alchemy really feels like a cookbook—follow the instructions, play with the techniques, and in the end you’ll have a finished product in your hands. This combination of printmaking craftsmanship and digital creation is very satisfying and fun.

I don’t always view DVDs that come with books because they usually contain images and photos from the book’s tutorials. In Digital Alchemy‘s case, however, the DVD contains an hour of well-produced video tutorials showing Bonny in action on a few different projects. I thought they were clear and well-done, and nicely complemented the book. I have seen worse video tutorials being sold by themselves for a lot more money. Here, you get the video and a book for a fair price.

Digital Alchemy is not for everyone: if working in a darkroom sounds messy and unappealing, then you probably aren’t one to apply smelly solutions to film and materials you get out of the home improvement store. However, photographers who started in film photography or even started out as painters and printmakers will absolutely love it. I highly recommend it.

Digital Alchemy
Bonny Pierce Lhotka
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley

Revolutions cover

Not long before Steve Jobs died in October, O’Reilly published a second printing of Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How The Mac Was Made. This book was first published back in 2004, and before that most of the material was (and still is) available at folklore.org, which Andy still maintains. I’ve always loved the stories at folklore.org and this book continues to be an engrossing and very vivid retelling of the events that made many of us computer users.

For those who don’t know, Andy Hertzfeld was a member of the original Macintosh team and designed the Mac’s system software. Users like me who really got to know the Mac in the early 1990s with System 7 will remember the Control Panel, Scrapbook and other built-in applications. Hertzfeld wrote many of those. In Revolution, Andy’s writing style seems effortless: descriptions are vivid, dialogue and the “storyline” seems intense all of the time, and there’s a real plot throughout the book as the initial Mac team is brought together, hangs together as they build this “insanely great” new personal computer, and eventually moves on one by one. It’s a moving story and Andy tells it very well. (I should also note several other Mac team members like Steve Capps and Bruce Horn contribute some great stories.)

I couldn’t put Revolution down for a couple weeks: the stories and characters are so engrossing that I was reading through the book even though I’ve read many of the stories already on folklore.org. I think the story of the Macintosh’s development is so rare—when a great group of characters and geniuses come together to build such an important device for our generation, the stories that come out are bound to be phenomenal. Of course, one of the greatest characters in the book is Steve Jobs himself, who comes across as a driven, egocentric genius but without the business acumen he gained after being booted out of Apple.

Unfortunately, there’s not much new material in the book that isn’t already on folklore.org. The best new takeaways are Andy’s written notes, which really illustrate the day-to-day work behind the Mac, but I wanted even more images. I’m also not a big fan of the book’s cover, which looked dated even in 2004 and even more so now in 2011.

Fans of the Macintosh, Apple, or the PC industry in general should have a copy of this book, even if they have folklore.org bookmarked on their browser. The stories have an inescapable, timeless quality that both geeks and regular people can enjoy. If you ever used a Mac from the mid-1990s or earlier, Revolution might mean even more to you.

Revolution in the Valley
Andy Hertzfeld
Published by O’Reilly
US $24.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon

BOOK REVIEW: The Manga Guide to Relativity

For a change of pace, No Starch Press sent one of their Manga Guide books, which explain high-level fields like physics and molecular biology but in a manga comic-book format. I read The Manga Guide to Relativity by Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others.

The book is unique in that it combines a university-level topic like relativity with a storytelling format like manga, which should not be considered juvenile just because it’s telling the story with pictures and word balloons. The artwork is typical manga style and it’s well-done, though I’m not a manga reader and others who are might think other artists are better.

I was really impressed how the concepts of relativity are explained with clarity. You really can learn more about a topic like relativity with a comic book like this. Not only that, but each section is followed by a few textbook-style pages that explain the section’s content in a more traditional American style. Unfortunately, I’m not a relativity theorist either so I can’t point out any flaws in the book’s teachings. But the content did align with what I know about relativity and I learned some new things about the field.

Non-Japanese readers and manga newbies might find some of the artwork and manga style off-putting. For example, the lessons on relativity are set up by a subplot (shown above) where the student body president is learning relativity in summer school so the rest of the students don’t have to. The weird part is the school’s headmaster will make the boy his personal “secretary” love-slave (my interpretation) if he doesn’t learn relativity. Re-read that sentence again to make sure you read it right. And in another wild plot twist (spoilers ahead!), the school’s superintendent turns out to be a young woman who transforms into various forms including a purse doggy and a Power Ranger-looking robot warrior. I don’t know if all this is typical in manga, but I know it’s not typical in American books.

The Manga Guide to Relativity is fun in any case, so pick it up if you enjoy learning about science and also enjoy manga (or don’t mind jumping into a totally new writing and reading style). It’s only twenty dollars so it’s not priced like most books I review here on Designorati and a good buy for anyone who enjoys learning about the sciences.

The Manga Guide to Relativity
Hideo Nitta, Masafumi Yamamoto and others
Published by No Starch Press
US $19.95
Rating: 8/10
Click to buy at Amazon.com

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
Artistry
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

Adobe Announces Carousel For Cross-Device Photo Management

Last month at Photoshop World, Adobe announced the release of Adobe Carousel™ for iOS and Mac OS X devices. Carousel is a cross-device application for browsing, adjusting and sharing photography with synchronization in the cloud for multiple devices. It’s definitely a consumer product, and I’ll explain its severe limitations on working with professional photography, but the notable aspect is its focus on the iPad, iOS and (eventually) other mobile and tablet devices.

“With Adobe Carousel we are extending the power of Adobe’s imaging expertise beyond the desktop and onto tablets and smartphones, delivering instant access to your complete photo library and the freedom to edit and share photos anywhere, any time,” said Winston Hendrickson, vice president of Digital Imaging Products, Adobe. “Thanks to Adobe Carousel, users never need to worry about wasting time syncing, remembering if a photo was saved to a particular device, or worrying about maxing out storage on their iPhone or iPad.”

Adobe has a really slick way to marry the cloud and device storage with Carousel. Images are hosted on the main computer but they’re copied to the cloud’s servers immediately and Adobe’s system distributes the copies on demand to other devices. The press demo showed images being uploaded to Carousel and available on other devices almost immediately. Chris Quek, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Carousel, called it a “content-aware mesh.” This system also allows users to edit images at the same time and merge their changes, though I think doing so can lead to wild results.

Carousel is currently available for Apple iOS devices only, which is intriguing to me since Adobe has a colder relationship with Apple compared to other device manufacturers such as Google (Android) and BlackBerry. Adobe’s efforts have shifted around as the tablet and mobile device landscape fluctuates, and they are protecting their Flash Platform product as well as investing in technology like iOS and HTML5, with projects like Project ROME (now defunct) and Edge, which generates HTML5 animations.

Carousel seems like a product that was developed only for iOS to go after the iPad market, and it was decided later to embrace the “create once, publish anywhere” mantra and extend it to Android and Windows Phone. Carousel is expected to reach those platforms in 2012, and in the future I expect there might be a web application to complement these device-specific apps—an internal prototype does exist within Adobe.

Carousel is a subscription-based service and 30 days are complimentary. After that, it will be $59.99/year or $5.99/month. You can import unlimited photos, with no cap on file sizes, and manage them on unlimited devices, but you can only have five carousels and they can be shared with only five people each. Another limitation is Carousel only handles JPEG images. This was asked about quite a bit by my press colleagues during the demo, but the press attendees were generally pro or prosumer photographers shooting RAW images. Adobe has squarely targeted the consumer market with Carousel, and it doesn’t surprise me that JPEGs from point-and-shoot and mobile device camera are the main focus. For the same reason, professional color management and detailed ratings/flags are not really a part of Carousel, though you can “favorite” an image.

Carousel looks like a fun product to me but the photo management market already has a lot of solutions—from Picasa and Flickr to social media tools like Facebook, which I’ve read has more of the public’s photos than any other service. Carousel’s strengths is in its integration with Apple products—you can import from Aperture and iPhoto, and iPhone pics can go to Carousel automatically—and its smooth synchronization capabilities. It also has decent cropping and adjustment tools, which not every service offers. However, the other services have a strong head start and Adobe didn’t do itself any favors by delaying the release to Android. It’s hard to tell where Carousel will be in five years, but Adobe is at least on the right path.