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Notes from a Gearhead

COW Blogs : Notes from a Gearhead
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The end is near

Very stressful news today of a possible merger of Adobe with Microsoft. Very stressful because I have a moral objection against MS and therefore this merger will cost me a high price. Nevertheless, if the merger will continue I will drop every bit of Adobe software. Photoshop and After Effects included. Call me radical or even stupid but at there is really no possible alternative.

I will continue using my copies of CS3 until they will become obsolete and incompatible but after that it will be time to find an alternative to those two pieces of remarkable software. The Gimp is not really an option for me, the Mac OS version is atrocious, the GUI, based on X, doesn't feel natural for a Macintosh user. So I'll start searching for an alternative.

I can swap Lightroom for Aperture. After Effects is going to be a tough one to replace. I never got into Motion and I rather learn a node-based system at this point. Suggestions are welcome.

For editing it will be FCP again, after a stint with Premiere. No biggie, I like the way Premiere handles native files but FCP is a darn good editor. I will gladly pay 10 times more for an alternative than give a single upgrade cent to Microdobe.

I invite you to do the same and send a strong message to Adobe: you merge and you die.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on Oct 8, 2010 at 7:57:11 amComments (5) adobe, microsoft
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Less is more and more is crap

By now some of you probably think that I am an Apple fanboy. That's actuslly not the case. I spent the largest part if my professional life with PCs and Linux machines. I did write quite a bit about Apple lately because they simply make excellent products that I enjoy greatly.

Apparently the Cupertinians have become a favorite target of blogger and technopress lately, probably because of the Gizmodo fiasco, even though Gizmodo acted in unethical ways, bordering on the criminal.

Anyway, i was reading a review of the iPhone 4 on the Wired magazine website and I noticed a glaring mistake in their comparison of the iPhone against the upcoming Droid X. I'm talking about the camera specifications. Apparently Wired is blindingly following the crowd of consumers who don't know any better and so they compare the quality of the cameras based on the number of megapixels. The classic "more is better" approach.

According to Wired, on a sensor as small as the one included in a phone, 8 megapixels, the camera in the Droid, are better than 5, what's included in the iPhone 4.

Besides the fact that only a unbiased test would give the right answer, by the numbers we all know that the iPhone camera has actually the best chance to provide better quality. When you squeeze so many megapixels inside a surface as small as the sensor in those phones, the quality of the photosites is going to suffer.
In fact I applauded the restrain of Apple in using "only" 5 megapixels exactly because I knew that the result would be crispier.
When it comes to small digital sensors,which are already pretty much compromised in quality, less is more and more is just crap. Wired, I'm disappointed, I was expecting more from a magazine that is supposed to be written by technology-savvy people.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on Jun 26, 2010 at 2:00:10 pmComments (2) Iphone, Apple, Wired
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The two killer features that we need on iOS

The iPad is a wonderful device. Day after day it's changing more radically my way of working.
Nevertheless it could use some improvement and there are two crucial missing features that I hope will be soon implemented and that don't need new hardware.

Number 1, the iPad has to become the master of its own domain. Today you need a computer and you need iTunes to activate the iPad. This is limiting the way this device can be applied. For example, my 70+ year old father is a brilliant photographer. He has been a photographer all his adult life, used to develop film in the family's bathroom etc. You probably have similar stories in your family. Now he just bought a digital DSLR but he doesn't own a computer. It would be perfect for him to get an iPad, together with the Camera adapter. Except that he can't because he doesn't have a way of activating it. When the iPad will lose the "leash" it will definitely explode as a true consumer's product.

Number 2, we need a better keyboard. I can use the built-insoft keyboard and I like it quite a lot. What I don't like is the amount of information that I lose when the keyboard is on screen. While the keys can be left unchanged I believe that the irritation factor would go way down if the background of the keyboard would be translucent instead of solid gray. In that way you could still see the underlying content.



Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on Jun 17, 2010 at 4:09:12 pmComments (2) iPad, Apple
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NLE on the iPhone!

This is going to be my shortest blog entry but it marks a new era for the COW crowd.

iMovie for iPhone!

Yep! iPhone 4.0 records 720p HD video at 30fps and you can edit the movies directly on it. From the makers of FCP!
Announced today at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on Jun 7, 2010 at 11:01:22 amComments (8) iPhone, Apple
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Windows tablets: a good alternative to the iPad?

With a slew of announcements from Asus and LG about Windows-based tablets, people might wonder if those products could be a better alternative to the iPad.
The funny thing is that all these manufacturers are applying the old trite "clone PCs" mentality to the tablet metaphor: take some form-factor designed by another company, slap together a bunch of ports, add a Microsoft OS, call it a product. These products show no design, no vision, no study on human interaction.

The touch interface and the mobility of the tablet make interacting with the device a completely different affair than using traditional computer GUI. Apple has the unique advantage of building the hardware and software in house. They could design any tablet they wanted, including one that runs Mac OS. The fact is, the user experience on a tablet is completely different than the one on a computer and Apple recognized this early on. So they decided to provide a product that targeted Touch Computing at its best.
To do that they were not afraid of breaking with their past and use a different OS. One that made sense.

Think about it. This is the company that invented the personal computer. When that was not enough they invented the GUI as we know it today. If you use a Windows PC you're actually using a Macintosh. If you use a mouse you're actually using an Apple mouse. This company has a tradition of breaking the rules and creating new approaches.

The iPad OS, with its streamlined approach to software management, is providing immediate on/off response, enough power to last most continental flights, great e-publishing interface and a very natural feel. That's why people like it. I'm not sure that running Mac OS would make it as enjoyable, and I know for sure than I would not like using the cluttered Windows desktop with a pointer the size of my finger.
You know all those little icons in the right side of the Windows task bar? They are hard enough to manage with a mouse, I can't imagine trying to right click with my two fingers on something that is about 16 pixels wide.

The problem with the iPad is that it's so convenient that you don't want to put it down. Not even to recharge it. That's why long battery life is fundamental. A Windows-based tablet will have a hard time keeping up with that.
As Microsoft killed its own project Courier we have to ask ourselves how much a Window-based tablet makes sense or if these announcements are nothing more than a quick attempt to cash-in on the world-wide excitement of the iPad.

Every new invention is expected to move us forward, to bring new ways of running our life that were not available before. False inventions, like these Windows tablets, simply re-package the past.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on Jun 1, 2010 at 9:45:39 am iPad, Apple, Microsoft
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What Conde-Nast should learn from Marvel

I've seen the future of publishing and, with the exception of Marvel Comics, nobody else is getting it.
I love fashion and I love magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue. You want to become a photographer? Just subscribe to VF and follow strobist.com and you'll learn more from these sources than from months of classes.
The last foray in electronic publishing arena, "Wired," confirms that traditional publishers don't really have a clue on how to address the iPad.

I was waiting for the Vanity Fair iPad app. I really wanted it. Now that it's out I'm disappointed. You can get a subscription to VF for a year for $1 per issue. It's a great deal. So why are they asking for $5 per issue for the electronic version?
Same for Wired.
Wired's download, about half a gigabyte, is absurdly huge and it lacks basic features like copy and paste and text search.

What publishers need to understand is that the iPad version has to be a step forward and not backward. The iPad UI has to bring more features than what we have presently with the Web. 
It makes absolutely no point to have an electronic magazine that is as inflexible as the printed version. I want to be able to copy and paste, to search, and possibly to annotate. I want to be able to select a page or portion of it and save it in Evernote.
Wired's huge collection of jpegs with embedded links is not the answer. That approach has no structure and no content. It's just a collection of image maps, a 1990s-era technology, if not earlier.

If they want to succeed in the App-space, electronic magazines have to respect two basic principles: 

     1) They have to look like the printed version, and 
     2) They have to be at least as interactive as the Web version  

To satisfy the first point you need to stay clear of PDF or page snapshots. JPEG snapshot are completely unusable, there is no text there, just pixels. PDFs are better but simple HTML text is even more flexible and doesn't require any additional plug-in past the standard HTML rendering engine included in the iPhone OS.
You can achieve the goal by using HTML, CSS and Web fonts. The fact that the magazine will be running on the iPad gives you a solid base because, unlike the PC world, you know precisely what HTML features are supported by the platform. Web fonts allow you to use the same typography that you used in the DTP version.  A few things might be different but the result will be similar enough. In addition you can use the new transitions and animation features of CSS 3 to create extensions that are not available in the printed version.
Using HTML also satisfies point number 2 because now you have real content, real text that can be searched, copied and pasted and indexed. 
It's the structure that is important, not the eye candy. The exception to this can be the ads, where snapshots can be the only thing that the advertiser will provide.

Lastly, you cannot ask for that outrageous price for one issue. Not when you don't print paper anymore. Not when you don't pay transport, distribution and reseller costs. The magazine is paid by the advertisement, we know that. When you move bits instead of atoms your cost is dramatically lowered. Past the initial investment for the creation of the App framework, the creation of each electronic issue requires a fraction of the cost of the physical version. New issues should be purchased in-App at 99 cents each. Even better, give me a subscription model so that new issues get uploaded automatically. And I want my back issues too.

Now download the free Marvel Comics app and download some of the free issues available. The scans are gorgeous. Double tap and you go in panel mode where each different panel is shown in full screen and with a transition from panel to panel. Close the issue and search for the "Amazing Spiderman" and see how you can download issue number 1 from 1963... for a couple of bucks. Inside the application. In background while reading other issues.
That is taking advantage of the device. Sure, you cannot copy and paste the text but that is not what comics are all about. Marvel provides an App that truly uses the iPad and goes beyond what was available on the Web.
That's the model that all publishers should follow.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 31, 2010 at 11:39:48 am iPad, E-magazines
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A word of advice to Time Warner: reconsider.

Funny thing how the news "clump" together in a short span of a few hours to bring you a fascinating picture of the world. It was just yesterday that Time Warner/NBC Universal announced that they will not support iPad and iPhone users. Time Warner apparently decided to stick to Flash for their content instead of providing a multi-platform version using the easy solution of converting the videos to h.264. Heck, here at the COW we have converted the site in about one hour to recognize the iPhone OS viewer and deliver video in the right format. Transcoding the content is next and it will happen. Surely TW has a programmer or two available for the task.

So, today is the date for the International launch of the iPad and reports are pouring in that the frenzy is on. Stores in Australia are struggling to contain the crowd, even after hiring security guards:



Reports from Japan confirm the trend with people camping overnight to get their spot. As it happened in the US, the stores are selling out in a matter of hours and Fedex has pledged to make an extra effort to deliver the pre-ordered units no later than Saturday.
The iPad is big news. It is literally with me all day long. It is my newspaper when I drink my first coffee in the morning, it's my email reader and web browser during the day and it's my book when I get to bed. For many people that is how life has changed in the past few weeks and we like it.

Time Warner and other companies that are "sitting on the fence" have to understand one thing. All those people camping out at the Apple stores have disposable income. Let me re-phrase it. These are people with disposable income during the worst economic crisis of the last few decades. These are people who have at least one other computer.
In Japan the iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the country and there is an estimated 56 million iPhone users in the world. All these people are potential iPad buyers. Estimates of the iPad sales report the number to 8 million units in the first 12 months. They might be conservative.
How does ignoring this market make sense to you?

Aren't we all sick and tired of hearing Ruppert Murdock and the likes whining about how they get ripped off by the Internet? The customers are there and they are asking for content and services. We dictate what kind of services and on what type of devices. You can chase us away but then don't complain when your balance sheet is in red.

There is a few millions of us iPad users and we will not buy another tablet to run videos that Time Warner doesn't want to convert to a more compatible format.
When the competitors will hit the market that market will be considerably smaller and there is no saying if a Dell tablet will be any good. So gfar all their attempts to provide an alternative to the iPod have accounted to nothing. I suggest that they stop trying and stick to selling cheap PCs to the DMV. That's their core business and they are good at it.
When the result will be in some people at Time Warner will lose their jobs because of poor decisions while other companies will reap the benefits of being customer-oriented.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 28, 2010 at 8:39:53 am iPad
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No copyright, no patent, no problem!

No, I'm not advocating the abolition of copyrights and patents, although I would gladly see all patents applied to algorithms to be declared void. I'm talking about a video, published by TED, that I watched today and that is very thought-provoking.

In the video Johanna Blakely explains how Valentino, Gucci, Chanel and the rest of the fashion industry cannot copyright their designs and their products and they still make more money than the IP-protected industry. Very, very, interesting. I'd love to start a conversation about this. Your comments are most welcome.


Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 26, 2010 at 9:50:16 pmComments (1) Fashion, IP
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Bladerunners

Sometimes I read stuff on the Web that drives me nuts. There is this "opinion" on CNN, I know, I know, I should know better than reading CNN, but what can I do? I have a knack for self punishment. Anyway, I read this opinion on CNN "Tech" by one Pete Cashmore titled "Has the iPhone lost its cool?"
As I'm reading this I'm thinking: "Finally, CNN has given up any pretense of journalism and let 8 year old kids write their articles!" Lost its cool? What are we, a bunch of drooling idiots buying a $200 phone because it's cool? The iPhone became the success that it is because Apple has applied to the cellphone their now legendary creative approach. Namely, they provided the first complete Web browsing experience on a portable device that is a masterpiece of design. There was no swiping before the iPhone. There was no pinch and zoom. All phones had a hardware keyboard, the iPhone got rid of it and now everybody is copying it.

And since that was not enough Apple made it as easy to use as it can be and provided a shopping experience for Apps that is damn near perfection. That is why we buy the iPhone. Is it cool? Yes, but that's not relevant.

So, after having lost any shred of credibility right at the title, Mr.Cashmore continues his "analysis" telling us how much cooler the Android OS is becoming and how this is spelling doom for Apple.

Well, excuse me but if I had to bet on the future, and I'm wiser than that, but anyway, if I had to take sides, I would stay with the company that had the original idea and that has a track record for innovation. I would not feel too secure betting on the copycat. Yes, let's call a spade a spade, the Android is, quite relevantly, a clone of the iPhone.
And we know that Apple has not accepted this calmly as they are sending the Bladerunners, aka "The Apple Legal Department."
And rightly so. There was no Android when the iPhone came out. Remember the articles at that time? "Apple reinvents the phone!" Everybody was skeptical and then BAMMMM! The iPhone arrived and everybody wanted one.
I don't remember seeing lines of people outside a Verizon store trying to buy the Droid. I don't remember Google stopping people from buying more than two Nexus1 because demand was too much. In fact I see commercials on TV every day that say: "buy one Droid... AND WE'LL THROW IN ANOTHER ONE FOR FREE!"

Seems to me like Apple is getting its money for each iPhone they make, while the Droids have to be given away. Is free hardware a good business model? Didn't think so either.

Apple invented the iPod. There were MP3 player before, they were ugly and pitiful. The iPod is what we use today. End of story. Microsoft tried the Zune; didn't go anywhere. People were downloading music illegally, Apple gave us a sweet deal for music and the artist and blood-sucking labels made a buck too. We had cellular phones for decades, Apple re-invents the whole damn thing and showed us how much better the mobile experience can be. And now they are doing it again with the iPad. Where others copy, Apple has a consistent record for innovation. That's what they are, that's how they function, that's the DNA of that company. You can bet on the fact that they will continue to give us creative new ways of doing what we do.

Apple is still selling out the iPad. About 75% of the stores have no units available, they sell in hours, and now the projected sales of iPad for the first 12 months are set at a staggering 8 million units. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this market is ripe for development. It doesn't take a genius to see that there are amazing possibilities there, because of the larger screen and the connectivity that the iPad offers. Ignoring that market would be a very costly mistake.

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 25, 2010 at 1:22:51 pm iPhone, Android, iPad
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The iPad is TSA-friendly.

As I follow-up to my story about bringing the iPad on the road, there is this article that details how the TSA allows you to keep the iPad in your carry-on when going through the security screening. One more reason to leave the laptop home and travel with more comfort.

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Apples-iPad-easier-on-airport-apf-2785893715....

Posted by: Paolo Ciccone on May 24, 2010 at 12:22:42 pm iPad
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