Archive for Category ‘Use‘

About Good Vendors

We recently switched to a new CRM at SuperAgent, and with so many players in that space, the comparison shopping is a daunting process. Paul Greenberg’s exhaustive 2011 CRM Watchlist is a great place to start.

Long story short: we chose Batchbook for a number of reasons (in order): UI simplicity, met required feature set, and price.

What I want to talk about is what happened next:

A week after opening our account I received the industry-standard automated follow-up email “How is everything working out?”, but the signature was of the President of the company, Pamela O’Hara.

I replied directly with a couple of workflow suggestions and within a couple days received:

“Thanks so much for the message and for taking the time to give such detailed feedback…This is great stuff – [I'll] make sure we put it to good use. We’re working on a major update of Batchbook right now.”
signed, Pamela O’Hara.

I forwarded that to our sales manager which put him at ease with the product because he understands that we found a responsive vendor.

A elegant formula for service: send automated emails out from a real person, let your customers reply, then respond. So simple. So right.

Four Color Reporter Pen

Oh, four-color reporter pen, you lend my thoughts such clarity with your red, green, and blue ball points. My graph paper pad has found a soulmate. With four colors and a durable plastic pocket clip, you are a least 2.5 times better than a normal ink pen.

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My Fontbook Font Viewer

During these last few months I created and published an online font viewer that lets you browse through your catalog of installed fonts using only your web browser. The tool is called My Fontbook, and though it is primarily of use to designers, it is probably pretty handy for anyone trying to find an alternative to Times New Roman or Arial when drafting documents.

A brief anecdotal background…

I often do a fair bit of web design and layout as part of my duties as a freelance web developer. The aesthetic aspects of my work are a joy, but I feel like they can drag on for hours – days even – with no end in sight. The seemingly endless adjustments of a pixel here and a rounded edge there do not possess the finite nature of software programming. With software, it is complete when it works. Visual art does not have such a clear boundary.

Typography

At some point in the design process, usually early on, I go through the steps of settling on a combination of fonts to use. Usually this requires a heading font and then another typeface for the body content, and possibly a third or fourth font for sub-headings or navigational elements. I have a short list of my favorite fonts, but that does not stop me from opening Vector Designer, creating several text examples and then engaging in the meticulous process of applying nearly every font in my catalog to the example text.

After thirty minutes of this, I am typically left with a dozen or so typefaces from which to experiment with further. In January, I set out to find some font viewer software which would display my entire font catalog with samples and save me some time in the design cycle. There are many font management tools available on the market (some quite good), but I had to both pay a licensing fee and then install yet another program on my computer. If you have not heard before, the more crap that you install on your computer, the crappier it runs.

Font Viewer

I tried to find a font viewer online, that works from the “cloud” (in my browser), but there were not any suitable options. So in a effort to save myself fifity bucks, I spent considerable time making My Fontbook, and now you can use it for free.

If you use it, and you like it, leave me a comment on this blog.

link: My Fontbook font viewer

Speed Dial for Firefox

I recently tried the Opera web browser for the first time primarily because I read about the touted Dragonfly tool for web developers. Well in general I was underwhelmed. Despite the fact that Firefox has been unstable on my machine recently, I think it does a better job at rendering web pages than the Opera browser. No surprises there. What’s the point?

Opera does have a very cool feature called Speed Dial which displays a preview and quick link to your favorite nine sites anytime you open a new window or tab. I probably spend 30% of my time online on the same nine sites, so it becomes very useful to have them displayed prominently when I open new tab.

Luckily for us Firefox users, Josep del Rio has created a Speed Dial plugin for Firefox. It is essentially the same as Opera’s version, maybe a bit better because you can scroll through the preview to see the entire cached web page.

speed-dial.jpg

As for Dragonfly, Opera’s web development toolkit, I have found that Firebug for Firefox is a much richer solution for debugging javascript and CSS. Though that is really an entirely separate long and involved story.

link: Speed Dial for Firefox

Mac OSX: Why You Need ImageWell

imagewell.jpgI frequently edit images for the web and presentations. Often I am using a screen grab or modifying a photo from a website and I need to make some quick adjustments. Using Photoshop to make simple changes such as cropping, resizing, saving for web, or adding shadows and rounded edges is very time consuming and the same tasks came be done in ImageWell in under 60 seconds.

ImageWell is a very lightweight image application that allows you to drag and drog images to make adjustments and then drag and drop the edited image onto your desktop or into another application for use. For example I can drag an iPhoto image directly into ImageWell, add borders, resize for web, and then drag the finished image into my blog software for publication. Scaling the image and setting the file quality are a snap and ImageWell will even generate a random file name to shave seconds off your workflow.

You can save an image as a template to easily apply the same process to a batch of images. Most of my photos that I publish on this site with borders and shadows are done using this technique.

Here is a screen grab of the ImageWell interface that I have summarized using ImageWell.

ImageWell.jpg

And here is the Edit Screen.

ImageWell-1.jpg

ImageWell does not do everything and will not replace Pixelmator, VectorDesigner, or Photoshop, but it does a few things very well. For $20 it will quickly pay for itself in time saved.

[UPDATE] I recently checked the memory usage for ImageWell using the Activity Monitor, and this program is a beast for memory usage. Upon launch, the ImageWell consumes 129 MB of system memory, compared to 150 for Adobe Illustrator, and a paltry 22 MB for Vector Designer.

Link: ImageWell

Remake your Face

Signonsandiego.com today showcases a professor at UCSD who used his secret face formula to create a website which allows users to give themselves a makeover online. I could not resist giving it a try – I could use a new look.


Taaz - Editor-1.jpg

click photo for detail (if you dare)

Remake your own face at Taaz.com.

Digital media as a prototyping tool for fine art

My latest portrait was created using Corel Painter. I used Flickr to find a reference photo for this piece; the subject is a homeless man living on the streets of San Francisco. Using the computer to paint has been a learning experience for me and I have been considering the virtues and shortcomings of this approach. Many detractors will point out that digital media is inferior to classic mediums in a number of ways, the foremost being that the resulting art in not tangible and therefore not “real”. I can identify with this sentiment and I think there is validity in this definition of fine art.

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On the other hand, I believe such a rigid approach to fine art can limit the artist from exploring an approach that serves to benefit their painting techniques. Using digital mediums to create a portrait, for example, is significantly quicker than a portrait rendered using traditional methods. Applying color digitally is a simple matter of selecting the hue from the spectrum without the time intensive process of mixing pigments. There is no delay spent waiting for paint to dry before applying a fresh layer. As a result, a portrait that may take twenty hours to render in oil can be rendered in around two or three hours using a program such as Painter or Illustrator. The digital product becomes a worthwhile undertaking in the context of fine art when one considers its virtue as a prototyping tool in the process of creating a traditional painted portrait.

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For example, if I were to paint a portrait using oil and brush, I would certainly create a number of pencil or charcoal studies of my subject before even selecting a canvas. In doing so I am both planning my layout and training my hand and eye to recognize the regions of my subject. The use of pencil allows the same flexibility for revision as the digital method, though generally it provides a monochromatic tonal study without provision for exploring color. By incorporating digital tools into the planning process of a painting, an artist can render a full color study with attention to brush strokes and size in the amount of time it would take to generate a series of monochromatic studies using pencil. The advantage of exploring a suitable color palette in the planning stage of a painting is tremendous. The final palette can be evaluated and revised again and again without the temporal costs associated with such trial and error in a wet medium.

To proceed by replicating the digital study in paint would be a tedious undertaking, and the spirit of this approach is not to create a rigid plan for the oil painting, but a prototype that is open to revision and interpretation. While it may be counterintuitive to consider the process of art in terms of time efficiency, time management is as much of a reality for professional artists as in many other professional pursuits.

Painting with Bits

After years of debating with myself, I finally broke down and bought a Wacom Intuous 3 graphics tablet. At one point in the past I decided to buy a cheaper off-brand graphics tablet and ended up greatly disappointed with the results. It was never used and served to discourage me from using a tablet. The Intuos 3, on the other hand, provides a tremendous level of control and a very natural pen feel. I bought the 6×8 inch pad, and in hindsight, the 4×6 would have provided ample space in a more portable size to suit my Macbook.

On one hand I am thrilled with my new tool, but on the other I am a little concerned that it might serve to distract me from more pressing matters. Here is the first portrait that I created using the tablet and Photoshop.

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Color Palette Generation Tool

February has been a busy month and has kept me away from my blog. Between client work and personal projects, I have had little opportunity to keep up with my reading and writing.

A bit of exciting news is that I have just launched a new color tool that creates palettes from photos. I have been working on this idea for some time, and the initial version was a Windows application that I created almost two years ago. After switching to Mac in 2007, I shelved the project to focus on open-source technologies.

A couple of weeks ago I got a wild hair to port the code to the web and the result is Palette FX. I have several useful additions that are in the queue currently, but as it stands, the application will generate a beautiful color palette and return color values in hex, rgb, and named color formats.

Belkin’s Podcast Studio

From Engadget:

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[Belkin's] Podcast Studio is a self-contained, iPod-interfacing podcast production device… and not much else. The unit features dual XLR and 1/4″ inputs, a built-in microphone up top, an embedded speaker, and the styling of some 1950′s-space-opera transmogrifier.

link