Why the delay?

The time to renew my .Net magazine came around and I decided to go for the digital option this time. The main attraction is that new issues come along without their cluttering up my house afterwards. After all, I do get to wondering how much space would be taken up by photos and music if those respective fields hadn’t gone down the digital route. Some may decry the non-printing of photos that reside on hard disks or equivalent electronic storage media but they certainly take up less physical space like that. Of course, ensuring that they are backed up in case of a calamity then becomes an important concern.

As well as the cost of a weekly magazine that I didn’t read as much as I should, it was concerns about space that drove me to go the electronic route with New Scientist a few years back. They were early days for digital magazine publishing and felt like it too. Eventually, I weened myself from NS and the move to digital helped. Maybe trying to view magazine articles on a 17″ screen wasn’t as good an experience as seeing them on the 24″ one that I possess these days.

That bigger screen has come in very handy for Zinio‘s Adobe AIR application for viewing issues of .Net and any other magazine that I happen to get from them. There’s quite a selection on there and it’s not limited to periodicals from Future Media either. Other titles include The Economist, Amateur Photographer, Countryfile, What Car and the aforementioned New Scientist also. That’s just a sample of eclectic selection that is on offer.

For some reason, Future seem to wait a few days for the paper versions of their magazines to arrive in shops before the digital ones become available. To me, this seems odd given that you’d expect the magazines to exist on computer systems before they come off the presses. Not only that but subscribers to the print editions get them before they reach the shops at all anyway. This is the sort of behaviour that makes you wonder if someone somewhere is attempting to preserve print media.

In contrast, Scientific American get this right by making PDF’s of their magazines available earlier than print editions. Given that it takes time for an American magazine to reach the U.K. and Eire, this is a very good thing. There was a time when I was a subscriber to this magazine and I found it infuriating to see the latest issues on newsagent shelves and I still waiting for mine to arrive in the post. It was enough to make me vow not to become a subscriber to anything that left me in this situation every month.

Some won’t pass on any savings with their digital editions. Haymarket Publishing come to mind here for What Car but they aren’t alone. Cicerone, Cumbrian publishers of excellent guidebooks for those seeking to enjoy the outdoors, do exactly the same with their wares so you really want to save on space and gain extra convenience when going digital with either of these. In this respect, the publishers of Amateur Photographer have got it right with a great deal for a year’s digital subscription. New Scientist did the same in those early days when I dabbled in digital magazines.

Of course, there are some who dislike reading things on a screen and digital publishing will need to lure those too if it is to succeed. Nevertheless, we now have tablet computers and eBook readers such as Amazon’s Kindle are taking hold too. Reading things on these should feel more natural than on a vertical desktop monitor or even a laptop screen.

Nevertheless, there are some magazines that even I would like to enjoy in print as opposed to on a screen. These also are the ones that I like to retain for future consultation too. Examples include Outdoor Photography and TGO and it is the content that drives  my thinking here. The photographic reproduction in the former probably is best reserved for print while the latter is more interesting. TGO does do its own digital edition but the recounting of enjoyment of the outdoors surpassed presentation until a few months ago. It is the quality of the writing that makes me want to have them on a shelf as opposed to being stored on a computer disk.

The above thought makes me wonder why I’d go for digital magazines in preference to their print counterparts. Thinking about it now, I am so sure that there is a clear cut answer. Saving money and not having clutter does a have a lot to to with it but there is a sense that keeping copies .Net is less essential to me though I do enjoy seeing what is happening in the world of web design and am open to any new ideas too. Maybe the digital magazine scene is still an experiment for me.

Deauthorising Adobe Digital Editions software

My being partial to the occasional eBook has meant my encountering Adobe’s Digital Editions. While I wonder why the functionality cannot be be included in the already quite bulky Adobe Reader, it does exist and some publishers used it to ensure that their books are not as easily pirated. In my case, it is a certain publisher of walking guidebooks that uses it and I must admit to being a sometime fan of their wares. At first, I was left wondering how they thought that Digital Editions was the delivery means that would ensure that they do not lose out from sharing of copies of eBooks but a recent episode has me seeing what they see.

One of the nice things that it allows is the sharing of eBooks between different computers using your Adobe account. Due to my own disorganisation, I admit to having more than one though I am not entirely sure why I ended up doing that. The result was that I ended entering the wrong credentials intro the Digital Editions instance on my Toshiba laptop and I needed to get rid of them in order to enter the correct ones. It is when you try doing things like this that you come to realise how basic and slimmed down this software is. After a Google search, I encountered the very keyboard shortcut about which even the help didn’t seem to want to tell me: Control+Shift+D. That did the required deauthorisation for me to be able to read eBooks bought and downloaded onto another computer. Maybe Digital Editions does its job to lessen the chances after all. Of course, I cannot see the system being perfect or unbreakable but a lot of our security is there to deter the opportunists rather than the more determined.

An avalanche of innovation?

It seems that, almost in spite of the uncertain times or maybe because of them, it feels like an era of change on the technology front. Computing is the domain of many of the postings on this blog and a hell of a lot seems to be going mobile at the moment. For a good while, I managed to stay clear of the attractions of smartphones until a change of job convinced me that having a BlackBerry was a good idea. Though the small size of the thing really places limitations on the sort of web surfing experience that you can have with it, you can keep an eye on the weather, news, traffic, bus and train times so long as the website in question is built for mobile browsing. Otherwise, it’s more of a nuisance than a patchy phone network (in the U.K., T-Mobile could do better on this score as I have discovered for myself; thankfully, a merger with the Orange network is coming next month).

Speaking of mobile websites, it almost feels as if a free for all has recurred for web designers. Just when the desktop or laptop computing situation had more or less stabilised, along come a whole pile of mobile phone platforms to make things interesting again. Familiar names like Opera, Safari, Firefox and even Internet Explorer are to be found popping up on handheld devices these days along with less familiar ones like Web ‘n’ Walk or BOLT. The operating system choices vary too with iOS, Android, Symbian, Windows and others all competing for attention. It is the sort of flowering of innovation that makes one wonder if a time will come when things begin to consolidate but it doesn’t look like that at the moment.

The transformation of mobile phones into handheld computers isn’t the only big change in computing with the traditional formats of desktop and laptop PC’s being flexed in all sorts of ways. First, there’s the appearance of netbooks and I have succumbed to the idea of owning an Asus Eee. Though you realise that these are not full size laptops, it still didn’t hit me how small these were until I owned one.  They are undeniably portable and tablets look even more interesting in the aftermath of Apple’s iPad. You may call them over-sized mobile photos but the idea of making a touchscreen do the work for you has made the concept fly for many. Even so, I cannot say that I’m overly tempted though I have said that before about other things.

Another area of interest for me is photography and it is around this time of year that all sorts of innovations are revealed to the public. It’s a long way from what we thought was the digital photography revolution when digital imaging sensors started to take the place of camera film in otherwise conventional compact and SLR cameras, making the former far more versatile than they used to be. Now, we have SLD cameras from Olympus, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony that eschew the reflex mirror and prism arrangement of an SLR using digital sensor and electronic viewfinders while offering the possibility of lens interchangeability and better quality than might be expected from such small cameras. In recent months, Sony has offered SLR-style cameras with translucent mirror technology instead of the conventional mirror that is flipped out of the way when a photographic image is captured.  Change doesn’t end there with movie making capabilities being part of the toolset of many a newly launch  compact, SLD and SLR camera. The pixel race also seems to have ended though increases still happen as with the Pentax K-5 and Canon EOS 60D (both otherwise conventional offerings that have caught my eye though so much comes on the market at this time of year that waiting is better for the bank balance).

The mention of digital photography brings to mind the subject of digital image processing and Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is just announced after Photoshop CS5 appeared earlier this year. It almost feels as if a new version of Photoshop or its consumer cousin are released every year, causing me to skip releases when I don’t see the point. Elements 6 and 8 were such versions for me and I’ll be in no hurry to upgrade to 9 yet either though the prospect of using content aware filling to eradicate unwanted objects from images is tempting. Nevertheless, that shouldn’t stop anyone trying to exclude them in the first place. In fact, I may need to reduce the overall number of images that I collect in favour of bringing away only good ones. The outstanding question on this is can I slow down and calm my eagerness to bring at least one good image away from an outing by capturing anything that seems promising at the time. Some experimentation but being a little more choosy can  save work later on.

While back on the subject of software, I’ll voyage in to the world of the web before bringing these meanderings to a close. It almost feels as if there is web-based application following web-based application these days when Twitter and Facebook nearly have become household names and cloud computing is a phrase that turns up all over the place.  In fact, the former seems to have encouraged a whole swathe of applications all of itself. Applications written using technologies well used on the web must stuff many a mobile phone app store too and that brings me full circle for it is these that put so much functionality on our handsets with Java seemingly powering those I use on my BlackBerry. Them there’s spat between Apple and Adobe regarding the former’s support for Flash.

To close this mental amble, there may be technologies that didn’t come to mind while I was pondering this piece but they doubtless enliven the technological landscape too. However, what I have described is enough to take me back more than ten years ago when desktop computing and the world of the web were a lot more nascent than is the case today. Then, the changes that were ongoing felt a little exciting now that I look back on them and it does feel as if the same sort of thing is recurring though with things like phones creating the interest in place of new developments in desktop computing such as a new version of Window (though 7 was anticipated after Vista). Web designers may complain about a lack of standardisation and they’re not wrong but this may be an ear of technological change that in time may be remembered with its own fondness too.

Why the manual step?

One of the consequences of buying a new camera is that your current photo processing software may not be fully equipped for the job of handling the images that it creates. This is a particular issue with raw image files and Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 was unable to completely handle DNG files made with my Pentax K10D until I upgraded to version 7. Yes, I do realise that upgrading camera should been in order but I only lost the white balance adjustments so I could with things as they until upgrading gained a more compelling case.

As things stood, Elements 7 was unable to import CR2 files from my Canon PowerShot G11 into the Organiser so it was off to the appropriate page on the Adobe website for a Camera Raw updater. I picked up the latest release of Camera Raw (5.6 at the time of writing) even though it was found in the Elements 8 category (don’t be put by this because release notes address the version compatibility question more extensively). Strangely, the updater doesn’t complete everything because you still need to copy Camera Raw.8bi from the zip archive and backup the original. Quite why this couldn’t have been more automated, even with user prompts for file names and locations, is beyond me but that is how it is. However, once all was in place, CR2 files were handled by Elements without missing a beat.

You always can install things yourself…

With Linux distributions offering you everything on a plate, there is a temptation to stick with what they offer rather than taking things into your own hands. For example, Debian’s infrequent stable releases and the fact that they don’t seem to change software versions throughout the lifetime of such a release means that things such as browser versions are fixed for the purposes of stability; Lenny has stuck with Firefox 3.06 and called it Iceweasel for some unknown reason. However, I soon got to grabbing a tarball for 3.5 and popped its contents into /opt where the self-contained package worked without a hitch. The same modus operandii was used to get in Eclipse PDT and that applied to Ubuntu too until buttons stopped working, forcing a jumping of ship to Netbeans. Of course, you could make a mess when veering away from what is in a distribution but that should be good enough reason not to get carried away with software additions. With the availability of DEB packages for things like Adobe Reader, RealPlayer, VirtualBox, Google Chrome and Opera, keeping things clean isn’t so hard. Your mileage may vary when it comes to how well things work out for you but I have only ever had the occasional problem anyway.

What reminded me of this was a recent irritation with the OpenOffice package included in Ubuntu 9.10 whereby spell checking wasn’t working. While there were thoughts about is situ fixes like additional dictionary installations, I ended up plumping for what could be called the lazy option: grabbing a tarball full of DEB packages from the OpenOffice website and extracting its contents into /tmp and, once the URE package was in place, installing from there using the command:

dpkg -i o*

To get application shortcuts added to the main menu, it was a matter of diving into the appropriate subfolder and installing from the GNOME desktop extension package. Of course, Ubuntu’s OpenOffice variant was removed as part of all this but, if you wanted to live a little more dangerously, the external installation goes into /opt so there shouldn’t be too much of a conflict anyway. In any case, the DIY route got me the spell checking in OpenOffice Writer that I needed so all was well and another Ubuntu rough edge eradicated from my life, for now anyway.