Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography: Perfect Photos Every Time

The Blue Pixel Guide to Travel Photography: Perfect Photos Every Time

Have you ever bought something that says "one size fits all" and it fits? Yeah, me too. Something that attempts to appear to everyone in reality appeals to no one. This book was designated by Peachpit as "beginner/intermediate" but I found most of it too difficult for me as a budding photographer and those things I did learn from the book probably would have frustrated an intermediate user. When I think "beginner", I want to be walked through the very basics. Schloss started the book expecting that you had a small arsenal of photography equipment. This book isn't for someone who has a $300 digital camera, but someone who has a much more advanced digital camera, light meters, multiple lenses and a bunch of other stuff I didn't understand.

This book is geared towards someone who already has a photography kit and wants to learn tips and tricks on how to travel with their equipment. For example, Schloss mentions you should ship your clothes to your destination and then carry your camera equipment on the plane. Clothes can easily be replaced, camera equipment can't. This advice is not for someone that is bringing the family digital camera on a trip to Grand Canyon.

My major concern with the book is that if someone owns several thousand dollars of camera equipment, they probably wouldn't be considered a beginning user. Maybe it's just me, but I would not spend $2000 in equipment and then pick up a beginner's book. I'd first learn how to use professional equipment and then buy an advanced book.

In spite of my complaints about the book, I found parts of it helpful. There were a few pages about composing a photo using a "grid" which I had read in "iPhoto: The Missing Manual." Other tips regarding photographing individuals or sports events required you to have a quiver of lenses to choose from to get the right shot.

A nice feature of the book is that it was visually stunning. Every few pages had amazing pictures taken from around the world. These photographers clearly are masters of their craft and a advanced digital photographer will probably be reminded of how to set an f-stop or how much light to let in for a particular photograph. We beginners just like looking at pretty pictures!

This is not a beginner book and intermediate users will only benefit if they have a set of professional or at least "prosumer" camera equipment and lenses. That person isn't me, so I found the book of very little help.

Pros: Pretty pictures
Cons: The pretty pictures require several thousand dollars worth of equipment.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Windows Vista for Starters: The Missing Manual

Did you know that "Mork and Mindy" was a spinoff from the hit TV show "Happy Days". While Mork only appeared in one episode, that was enough to make it a hit. Sometimes spinoffs are great. "Mork and Mindy" was hilarious. Then you have other spinoffs that are pale imitations of the original. Does anyone remember Joanie Loves Chachi? Probably not. Windows Vista for Starters is a spin-off from the highly respected "Missing Manual" series. Unfortunately, it's more of a "Joanie Loves Chachi" of the computer book world. Skip this spinoff book and head straight for the original : "Windows Vista, The Missing Manual.

First off, there was an extremely funny error that hopefully will be corrected later on. On page 11 in the book, under "Mouse and Keyboard Essentials" you find the opening statement of "This book gives you three kinds of instructions that require you to use the Mac's Mouse." Unfortunately, this was an early warning sign about the quality of the book (though "Windows Vista the Missing Manua"l has another funny Mac reference).

The most annoying problem with the book is the spacing of screen shots and their explanations. Most of the time, I found the screen shot a page before an explanation which made it extremely difficult to read the explanation and see what is being talked about because I had to flip pages back and forth. While it was a welcome breeze to have that page flipping, it was a waste of time and a example of poor editing.

In addition, while the Missing Manual clearly states which version of Vista has which features, this book gave no such indication as to whether the feature being explained would work in a particular version of Vista. While the book appears to assume you have Vista Premium, it mentions features that only the business versions include such as faxing. A novice user would be quite frustrated reading this book and wondering why they can't find a feature. I can't fathom why O'Reilly would include the version designations in the Missing Manual, but pull them from this version.

Another confusing aspect of the book were the "sidebar" type tips. While these tips were sometimes interesting, the placement often had no clear connection to the text being discussed. For example, while discussing the "Start Menu and Recent items" in Chapter 2 there is a "side bar" about the User Folder file structure. The side bars uses specifications and references explanations found in chapters 15-17. I think a novice user would quickly put the book down after being introduced to a concept that won't be further explained for another 300 pages.

If one ignores the layout and flow of the book, the actual text of the book is helpful. The explanations that don't reference screen shots are easy to understand and straightforward. Someone new to using Vista would have a firm grasp of the concepts and new features after reading the book (and figuring out on their own which version of Vista has those features). However, having read the Missing Manual version of the book, For Starters usually copies the explanation from the Missing Manual version.

O'Reilly really missed the mark in creating Windows Vista For Starters. My Business 101 class skills tell me they were trying to create a smaller and less expensive Windows Vista book to compete with the "Dummy" series. Unfortunately, they "dummied" the book to much and Windows Vista for Starters needs to repeat a grade or two before it deserves space on your bookshelf. Spend the extra $15 and get the Missing Manual version of the book.

Pros: Gives the reader a base level understanding of Vista

Cons: Extremely confusing for novice readers. Poor layout adds to the confusion. Could this be a subtle attempt to increase Mac sales by frustrating new Vista users?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Review: SeeThru Hard Case for Macbook by Speck

Having recently upgraded from a Pismo G3 Powerbook to a black MacBook, one of the annoying things about my new laptop was its ability to look dirty. The matte finish of the MacBook tends to pick up the oils and debris from your hands easily. I found myself constantly cleaning the exterior and started to fear of taking it from my home, which kinda defeats the purpose of a laptop, don’t you think?

Then along comes Speck products, with a great solution I first saw at MacWorld. Unlike other cases that require you to remove the protection to use it, the SeeThru is designed to protect your Mac 24/7. This case is not designed to protect your Mac from impact but rather to protect the look of your MacBook and allow for easy cleaning.

Installation was a snap both figurative and literally. Snap one part on the top and another on the bottom and away you go. Here’s a tip I had to learn the hard way. Clean the exterior of your Mac before you put on the SeeThru, otherwise that fingerprint on your case will be trapped for all to see.

When I first viewed the SeeThru, I was concerned about heat dissipation. Speck assures it’s customers that cooling was not a problem due to 74 ventilation slots. After 3 months of using the SeeThru, my Macbook has never indicated a heat problem. In addition, the Apple Retail Stores were selling the SeeThru and I’m sure that if Apple was concerned about the cooling issues, they wouldn’t have put the SeeThru in the stores.

The SeeThru is currently made for both the MacBook and MacBook pro and comes in clear, blue, and red. Personally I got the clear because the red and blue looked funky with my black MacBook.

The product works just as advertised. I had no problem keeping my MacBook protected from the crud that usually accumulates from body oils and sticky cafe tables. I also found it easier to grip my MacBook when I pulled it out of my case. The case was generally unintrusive and I had access to almost every function and port. The SeeThru retails for $50, though User Group members can get significant discounts.

I only saw two flaws in the design of the product. Every port was accessible on the unit except the battery power button. Not a major problem, but annoying when your want to check the power of your Mac without the hassle of waking it from sleep. In addition, the mini-VGA adapter had a slight bit of trouble fully locking into the side of my Mac. Representatives of Speck indicated the mini-VGA adapter port would be modified to better accommodate external monitor use.

Pros: Works as advertised and protects your MacBook. Best used as soon as you get your MacBook
Cons: Battery button not accessible. Some problems using external video adapters.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

PowerSlides by MacXware

Personally, I am a Keynote junkie. I think I’m going to put in my will that my eulogy be done in Keynote. While I’ve used PowerPoint in the past, once Keynote was released I’ve never gone back.

Unfortunately, because I use the program so much, I (and my audience) get quite bored with the standard backgrounds included by Apple. I’ve gotten so bored that I’ll occasionally import backgrounds from PowerPoint, but that’s so PC! Sure I could design my backgrounds, however I have absolutely no design skills. If I was a good designer, I probably wouldn’t be using Keynote so much in the first place.

When I read about PowerSlides I knew I found the product that would save people from seeing the standard chalkboard background I used for practically every presentation. The product can be used for either Keynote or PowerPoint and retails for $39.99.

PowerSlides includes a series of 500 backgrounds, fonts and 50 template sets designed for primarily for presentations. However, because the backgrounds are jpg files, I’ve used them for everything from desktop backgrounds on my Mac to matting for my iPhotos. I’ve even put many of the jpegs in rotation on my screen saver because they are so visually stunning.

The template sets are the key reason to buy PowerSlides. Template sets combine the backgrounds, fonts and visual elements in create a complete package for your presentations . After field testing many of these templates, viewers were impressed with something different for a change! Exit surveys from my presentation indicated a higher level of satisfaction. Not only were the templates different but some include design elements that help move the presentation along. For example, one template called “Apple-Progessive” uses a picture of an apple being munched upon as a visual cue of where you are in your presentation. You start with a full apple and each slide shows more bites out of the apple, until you get to the end where there is but a core left. Other visual clues include a running man moving along towards a finish line or a seedling growing into a full flower.

PowerSlides is an ideal investment for anyone that uses PowerPoint or Keynote to make presentations on a regular basis (user groups especially). Not only will your presentations appear fresh and unique, but PowerSlides unique visual elements can be used to keep your audience engaged and involved.

Just imagine if Al Gore had used PowerSlides during “An Inconvienent Truth”?

Pros: Does exactly what it says and more
Cons: None

Five out of Five Dog Cows
5 out of 5 dog cows