Exposure 4 from Alien Skin

April 8th, 2012

I’m not a photographer by trade, but I have done photography and darkroom work, and worked in a 1 hour photo lab or two in my time. I’ve also been taking Polaroid photos since I was a kid. Which is probably why, at least in part, I can appreciate what Alien Skin’s Exposure 4 has to offer. In this age of digital photography, being able to add old school film effects to photographs has great appeal. Alien Skin has paid great attention to detail in recreating film stocks and effects in their newly updated plug-in. First released in 2005, Exposure is now in its fourth iteration. I haven’t used previous versions, but I can appreciate the real-time previews and other refinements they’ve made to the interface. Even on my aging 2006 Mac Pro, things are quick to update.

I was impressed with the plethora of film types and effects offered in Exposure, and the fast visual feedback makes it fun to experiment. I really like the product’s tagline, “Taking the digital out of digital photography.” It’s the perfect way to describe what Exposure does – which is a lot, from adding vignettes and wet plate effects to simulating different films and grains, age effects and even simulating infrared film.

I only have two real issues with the software, and one is quite minor. It’s not immediately obvious where to go to set up your preferences. I had to watch the demo videos to find out where the preference settings were, so I could make sure the “Output to New Layer” setting was checked. My second issue is a bit more serious, though it’s more about convenience than an actual deal-breaker. And that’s the fact – unless I’m completely missing something obvious – that you can’t easily layer multiple effects without applying the filter twice. For example, let’s say you wanted to apply a brushed paper effect along with a wet plate effect or some dust and scratches. You’d have to run Exposure and apply the first effect, then run it again to apply each additional effect. It’s not a big deal to run an image through Exposure more than once, but you have to make sure all the settings you don’t want to reapply are turned off or set to neutral. I do like the way Exposure names layers when applying an effect, making it obvious which effects you used.

unfiltered photo

A sample image before applying Exposure effects

Exposure applied

An aged photo effect

After

A colour effect

If you want to try a demo of Exposure 4, you can download it from Alien Skin’s site at https://app.alienskin.com/downloads/ There are lots of videos to help get you started here http://www.alienskin.com/exposure/videos.aspx

Exposure 4 costs $249 and an upgrade from a previous version is $99. It’s compatible with Photoshop CS4 or later, Elements 9 or later, or Lightroom 2 or later, and works on both Windows and Mac platforms.

Blow Up 2

April 6th, 2010

If you’ve ever had to work with an undersized image file – either in print or on the web – you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes clients have only one image that was taken on a 1 megapixel camera that they think they just can’t live without, and suddenly it’s up to you to figure out how to make it look like something other than a bad joke. Enter Blow Up 2, from Alien Skin. I’ve been a fan of Alien Skin since I first got their Black Box plug-in for Photoshop in the latter half of the 90s. Suddenly I was able to do all these effects in a single click, that would otherwise have taken me many steps and a lot more time.

Blow Up 2 comes with many presets for creating the best enlargement possible, and allows you to tweak settings and come up with your own. It also supports the CMYK color space, since you’re probably going to want to print your results. In addition to print, it comes in very handy when you need to make more legible versions of those awful thumbnail images your client sent you and swears are the only copies.

I used to use Genuine Fractals when I needed to enlarge images, but the pro version of Genuine Fractals (with CMYK support) is $299.95 while Blow Up 2 is $249.00. I did some tests with the example materials Alien Skin provides, including an image of a ladybug. I blew it up and printed it out, along with the original sized image for comparison. The results were quite impressive. I’d say for image quality the two plug-ins tied, but Genuine Fractals’ file size was smaller, so it took the edge. On the other hand, the Blow Up 2 file had better contrast, while the Genuine Fractals version had richer colors in the ladybug’s wings. Unfortunately, those images are huge, so you’re going to have to try this for yourself.

However, Blow Up 2 seems better optimized for enlarging graphics destined for the web. The examples below show the results achieved by both plug-ins

eye   lollipop

Some things like the eyelashes look a little odd, like a stylized illustration. But that’s the case with both plug-ins. From my experience, both seem better for print than web or digital display. Blow Up 2 has more control over settings, enabling you to fine tune and tweak the most from your images. It also comes preset with many options for resizing images for the web. So if you’re a web designer with that requirement, choosing Blow Up 2 is a no-brainer. And if you’re looking to enlarge images for print, the $50 savings on Blow Up 2 also gives it an edge over Genuine Fractals. Download the trials and see for yourself.

Alien Skin Software Announces 20% Sale in February to Benefit Haiti

February 16th, 2010

Everything in the Alien Skin web store is 20% off through February 28th.  On top of previous donations, 10% of all profit in February will be donated to Haiti relief funds. Check out the details here.

How To "Break" Your 4G iPod and Get it Replaced with a 5G

March 11th, 2006

Fourth generation iPods have a flaw – either in hardware or software – that causes them to act strangely when playing enhanced podcasts. Fifth generation iPods also appear to suffer from this problem to some degree, but if you want video playback capability and you just ponied up the money for a 4G iPod only to have Apple announce the new models, then read on.

First some disclaimers. I don’t promise that this will work for you, and if Apple refuses to honour their replacement policy due to an influx of requests, don’t blame me. If Apple asks me to remove this post, I will do so. I discovered this “flaw” (or is it a feature?) with my 4th generation iPod and was issued a replacement iPod by Apple, but I will not be held responsible for any damages incurred by your attempts to “crash” or “lock–up” you iPod. So let’s get on with how this all works.

Notice that the word “Break” in the title is in quotes. That’s because you’re not really breaking anything. iPods merely have an issue with either hardware or software (I’m not sure which, and Apple doesn’t seem to know either, since they haven’t fixed the problem or acknowledged that it is a problem, and did issue a replacement unit when I discovered and reported the problem with my 4th generation iPod), that causes them to freeze or lock up during playback of enhanced podcasts. The problem is simple to replicate. Here’s how:

  1. Launch iTunes, enter the iTunes Music Store and subscribe to an enhanced podcast (enhanced podcasts feature chapter markers, rotating images, links and so on) like the iTunes New Music Tuesday podcast.
  2. Sync your iPod to iTunes so the enhanced podcast is loaded.
  3. Play the enhanced podcast on your iPod, pausing it after it’s moved to a new chapter marker or the image has changed.
  4. Leave your iPod paused until it shuts itself off.
  5. Try to turn your iPod back on. Chances are it won’t turn back on unless you reset it by holding down the Select and Menu buttons together.
  6. Call Apple Support and report the problem to them. If your iPod is still under warranty, Apple should issue you a replacement – and since they no longer manufacture 4th generation iPods, you should be given a 5th gen.
  7. If the iPod turns back on, download more enhanced podcasts and repeat steps 2 to 5.

That’s it. I have no idea whether this works with iPod Nanos, but from what I understand, it only works with color iPods (such as the 4G) that support enhanced podcasts. I’m not trying to “screw” Apple. I love my iPod and even my original Mac mini, and I fully intend to purchase a new Intel-based Mac workstation when they’re announced, but I thought I’d share my discovery with you, in the hope that you get your 4th generation iPod upgraded for free.

Update

Someone pointed out to me that there are comments on Digg about this How-To, implying that I’m lying about my results. I assure you, this is based on personal experience, and I have the documentation to prove it. I live in Canada and purchased my iPod 4G in July, so perhaps your experience will differ from mine, but suggesting I’m a liar based on your own feelings and opinions is just silly. I went through software update, reinstalling, etc. and after all the diagnostics were performed, I was issued a new iPod.

The Anti-spam Freeware Guide

February 26th, 2006

Introduction

Every day, literally millions of unsolicited email messages are sent by unscrupulous businesses trying to make a buck. They play a numbers game, blanketing the Internet with their spam in the hope that even a tiny percentage of recipients will open their messages and purchase their products and services.
If you’ve had your email address for awhile, and especially if you’ve made your address public on a web site, news group or even in a chat room, chances are you’re receiving spam regularly. Spammers buy and sell lists of valid email addresses, which is why you may be receiving more and more spam as time goes by. Spammers don’t care who they hurt. Children receive pornographic content and unsuspecting people are duped out of their money by email scams.

Ugly Truth

Spam comprises as much as 68% of all emails received throughout the world! It costs end users, businesses and ISPs money, time and bandwidth. Spam clogs mail servers and wastes recipient’s time. Corporations lose money as productivity is decreased by employees sifting through spam to find legitimate messages. Important emails easily get lost and precious time is wasted trying to re-establish missed communications. In 2005, spam cost U.S. businesses $17 billion in lost productivity (Information Week).

So what can you do to reduce the amount of spam you receive? Don’t use your main email address to sign up for anything online – instead, use a Hotmail or Yahoo account for that. Or better yet, use a disposable email address from a service like the ones listed on TipMonkies.com. Don’t post your real email address online, in newsgroups, or in chat rooms. Make sure you pay attention to the options when signing up for informational email on a site – it may ask your permission to send you “email from related 3rd parties”. This is what’s known as “opt-in email” – not spam strictly speaking, but often unwelcome nonetheless. Sometimes spammers try every possible name combination at a particular domain in the hope that they’ll hit a valid email address. They send out millions of messages or use address lists, hoping that even a tiny percentage of recipients take them up on their dubious offers. One way to beat the spammers is to never buy what they’re selling and to never even visit the URLs they send. Unfortunately many people fall into the trap and end up clicking those links. Spammers see this as an invitation to keep hawking their wares.
Luckily for us end users, there are special weapons available to fight the war against spam in the form of spam filters. Spam filters do just what their name implies: they filter out spam messages from the rest of your legitimate incoming email. Some filters use whitelists and blacklists (or blackhole lists), which contain the names of friendly emailers and spammers, respectively. You can add the addresses of friends, family and coworkers to your whitelist. Blacklists are databases of known spam addresses and servers compiled by anti-spam groups like SpamCop. Bayesian filters use a mathematical algorithm called na

Cool Mac Freeware

February 19th, 2006

Since purchasing an original Mac mini about a year ago, I’ve come to realize and appreciate how elegant OS X is, to the point where I’m planning on switching over fully once the Intel-based Mac workstations are released. The following is a collection of free applications that make OS X even more pleasurable to use. I’ve tried each one out and added it to my virtual toolbox. This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list of software, just an easy, one-stop-shop for software suggestions. I hope you find them useful.

Many of these sites accept PayPal donations so if you find an app particularly useful, why not donate a couple of bucks to the author?


Anti-Virus

Benchmarking

  • Xbench is a useful system benchmarking utility.

Chat Clients

  • Adium X is my favourite Mac chat client and allows you to connect to AIM, ICQ, MSN and others.
  • Fire is also pretty good, but tends to be updated less than Adium X
  • Gizmo allows free Internet telephone calls.
  • Skype provides voice and video chat.

Email Client

In case you don’t want to use Apple’s excellent Mail.app, you may want to give Thunderbird a whirl. It also includes news and RSS readers.

FTP Clients

  • Cyberduck supports OS X’s Keychain and Rendezvous.
  • Fugu is a front-end for OS X’s built-in Secure FTP.

Games and Emulators

  • MacMAME is the “Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, for those times when you want to play Pac Man or Donkey Kong.
  • Mugrat is a Colecovision emulator.
  • Solitaire XL gives you Solitaire on your Mac, in case you miss the PC version…

Image Viewers and Editors

Launch Bars

Launch bars are kind of like Windows’ Start menu. All of these work well and provide slightly different functionality, so choose the one that suits your needs.

  • Butler is one of my favourites as it gives you quick access to your bookmarks.
  • Quicksilver is a favourite among Mac users due to its power and extensibility.
  • TigerLaunch is the first launch bar I tried. Simple and no frills.
  • XMenu is similar to TigerLaunch.

Note-Taking and Text Editing

  • TextWrangler is a free text editor from Bare Bones Software. You even get a discount on the BBEdit if you download it!
  • VoodooPad Lite is a cool wiki-like note taking application.

Office Software and Word Processing

  • NeoOffice/J is an office suite based on OpenOffice.org and doesn’t require X11.
  • OpenOffice.org is an office suite that requires X11.
  • Abiword is a standalone word processor.

RSS Viewers

  • NetNewsWire Lite is a stripped down but still very functional version of NetNewsWire.
  • Vienna is another RSS reader with many features.

System Monitoring and Tweaking

  • AppleJack is a more advanced tool for troubleshooting problems with your Mac.
  • MenuMeters provides all sorts of information on network, hard drive, CPU and memory status.
  • OnyX allows to you to perform cleanup and maintenance on your Mac, and gives you access to some of OS X’s hidden features and settings.
  • SMARTReporter is a great utility for checking drive status and will warn you of impending drive failure.
  • TinkerTool provides access to additional settings in OS X.
  • Tweak Freak lets you tweak lots of OS X’s settings
  • Yasu automatically runs scripts to keep your Mac in tip top shape.
  • Preferential Treatment ensures your preferences are properly set.

TV Schedule

  • Fat Cat Zap2It client gives you TV listings on your desktop.

Utilities

  • Handbrake Lite copies your DVDs to your 5th generation iPod so you can watch your movies on the go!
  • iBackup is a nice application for backing up files from your Mac. It’s a little buggy, but when it works it does a great job.
  • Paparazzi! is a handy application for capturing screen shots of web pages. It’s very useful when you want a shot of a page that scrolls off the screen.
  • Senuti lets you copy files off your iPod and back onto your Mac.

Weather

You might not want to switch back to the Dashboard every time you want to check the weather. In that case, check out these free weather apps.

  • Meteorologist sits in your menu bar and displays current weather and extended forecasts.
  • WeatherDock is similar in functionality to Meteorologist.
  • WeatherMenu is similar to the others but doesn’t provide weather for my exact city.

Web Browsers

Not surprisingly, most of these browsers are based on Mozilla…

  • Camino is a Mac-only browser based on Mozilla.
  • Firefox is the favourite browser of many Internet users, also based on Mozilla
  • Flock is a “social” browser based on Mozilla.
  • Mozilla is the granddaddy of them all, and my browser of choice under Windows. It’s actually a suite that includes email and an HTML editor, if you want to get technical.
  • Opera is one of two browsers listed here that isn’t based on Mozilla.
  • SeaMonkey is the next generation of Mozilla.
  • Shiira is based on Web Kit, the open source framework behind OS X’s Safari browser.


Geekviews

February 2nd, 2006

Welcome to Geekviews! This site is intended to be a source of product reviews, from hardware and software, to office furniture and even the occasional musing on food and drink. Stay tuned as I work out the kinks. I should have a review of some spam filtering software and a list of my favourite OS X freeware up shortly.

Bryan