Categories
Parallel Desktops

A new Mac Mini rounds out the house

Well, it finally happened. Late last week my 16 year old son came to me and said "Dad, my HP Laptop won’t boot up". Wonderful. I went to his room to check it out and sure enough the machine was just continually cycling on startup. It would get to the Windows logo and display the progress bar, suddenly show the briefest flashes of a blue screen (so fast it was unreadable), then the reboot and start the process over. I tried doing a safe boot with each of the types available in the Windows boot menu but no luck. I suspect that the hard drive on the machine had started to go and that a key driver file had become corrupted.

I played with it for a while but my efforts were half hearted. This machine was a hand me down from my wife, one that had been a bit flaky in the past. His was the last operational Windows machine still in use in our house. As I looked down on the HP endlessly flailing through the startup sequence a small smile formed in the corners of my mouth. I could finally be done with supporting aging Windows machines, at least the ones parked in my house. I would get him a Mac of his own.

Since he’s a Junior in High School any machine we got him would likely be carted off to college in a year and a half. There may be another generation of MacBooks before that happens (or at least a minor refresh) so I decided to go another way. I bought him the entry level Mac Mini, rationalizing that it would be plenty powerful for his basic needs. I figured that in a year and a half I’ll buy him a new MacBook and claim the Mac Mini as a media center machine.

Besides, I already had plenty of accessories around the house.


With a strategy in mind I headed off to the local Apple store and bought the machine, a 2.0 GHz system with 2GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. I brought it home and hooked it up to a 22" Samsung widescreen display I had from one of my previous PCs (now deceased) and let him use the full size Apple keyboard and Mighty Mouse I got with my Mac Pro.

I had a spare 120GB hard drive sitting around from my original MacBook after I upgraded it to a 320GB drive. A while back I picked up a small USB enclosure for it so that I could use it as an external drive; that became his Time Machine device. He’s had an older Logitech subwoofer 2.1 speaker system that generates some really decent sound so he’s got everything he needs to listen to his music. The last piece of the setup puzzle was installing iWork ’09, for which we have a family license.

I turned the machine over to him with a couple of quick pointers: don’t just click the close button on an application’s window, click App Name / Quit. I also explained the Dock bar and the basic concepts around the Finder and how to use Spotlight. While my son can touch type incredibly fast he’s really not all of that into his computer; it’s mainly a tool for accessing his music, the web and writing up papers for school.

Mac Mini Performance
When he first started using it he immediately set about doing multiple things at once: updating the music library in GarageBand (adding in the 1GB worth of stock music from Software Update), adding his music collection into iTunes from it’s temporary home on my internal server and actually listening to music at the same time. These little tasks seemed to bring the Mac Mini to its knees, making it slow to respond. I introduced Davey to spinning beach balls.

I told my son to slow down a bit and not spend too much time exploring the machine to form an opinion while it was doing such intensive tasks. Once GarageBand had finished updating the Mini started to perform at an acceptable level.

iTunes and the Disappearing Disk Space
A couple of hours after he started playing with it he called me over to tell me that it was reporting he was out of disk space. Huh? How could he be out of disk space so quickly? Sure, it’s only a 120GB hard drive but sheesh, he had over 75GB free when I gave it to him.

It turns out that he not only wanted to add his 10GB music collection to his machine but also wanted access to my rather large music collection as well. The problem is the default setting for iTunes. It copies all of the music into the local storage when adding it to a collection:

My collection—which is over 100GB in size—was being added to his local hard drive and he was blowing out his remaining disk space. In addition Time Machine had started a cycle and he nearly blew that drive’s space out as well.

Since my Mac Pro holds my music collection and it’s always on he didn’t need to have local copies of the music in order to listen to it. We changed the above setting, deleted the local copy of the music then re-added everything and it worked great. I also ended up erasing the Time Machine drive and starting that over. After another couple of hours everything was back to normal and running very nicely.

My son is completely into GarageBand. He is by far the most musically inclined of our house and is a pretty decent guitar player. At some point in the near future I want to get his electric guitar hooked up to his Mac Mini so that he can incorporate his own music into his GarageBand work. I have no experience at all with that so if someone has suggestions on the best way to proceed please drop a note in the comments.

Of course Macs have personality and I’m fond of coming up with Star Wars themed names for our computers. In this case I decided to break from my standards and use a name that also acknowledges my son is named after me. His new Mac is named Mini Me.

 

Visit DavidAlison.com

Categories
Books Digital Lifestyles Photography Reviews Software

Complete Guide To The Nikon D300 By Thom Hogan

On User Manuals, Digital Books, Travel, The Importance of eBooks and The Foresight of Thom Hogan

I like physical books.  By that I mean I like a book I can hold in my hand, feel the texture, and maybe even revel in the smell of the paper and the ink.  I like to consume well-done images that inspire or instruct.  I like books that open themselves flat and allow me to look at them without having to hold down both sides of the tight binding of a signature in the book without being afraid that the book would snap closed if I turned lose with one or both hands.

But then I have to say that there is a “but” that goes with all of that.  The bigger a book gets the less likely I am to have it along when I want it.  Big books in heavy bindings don’t fit easily into the weight requirements of modern-day air travel.  They’re, well, “big” and “big” and “ease of travel” are oxymorons.  They just don’t work interchangeably.

Categories
Books Graphics Photography Software

LAYERS: The Complete Guide To Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature

When I pick up a book to read it I have an almost overwhelming desire to know something about the person writing the book before I even flip the pages of that book.  I want a connection between that person and myself in order to justify committing myself to their momentary care. I look first at book forwards or introductions or at least the author’s brief inside the front cover.  This is true whether the book is a work of fiction or a technical manual.  Without this beginning I have a hard time relating myself to the author; I have this need to know something about them.

Some almost 50 years ago when I was a beginning college student I always avoided classes taught by "staff" or "to be announced" if there was an option, and when there was a name listed for a course I got out my college catalogue and looked up the faculty member teaching the course and tried to find out as much about them as possible before I committed myself and my hard-earned tuition money to their care.

Now it’s easy; just crank up your laptop and Google the author’s name, and since bookstores so often have a wireless connection, now you can do it right from the bookshelf while holding the book in your hands.  But to save your having to break off and Google Matt Kloskowski’s name right now, I’ll go ahead and fill you in on his background.  I’ll give you a brief quote off the middle of the page from the first Google entry:

"Matt Kloskowski is the Education and Curriculum Developer for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals. He has authored and co-authored 3 books on Photoshop or Illustrator and teaches an advanced Photoshop course for Sessions.edu. In addition to being an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop, Matt is a regular contributor to Photoshop User Magazine and writes weekly columns for several digital imaging websites".

He is one of the co-hosts for Photoshop User TV where with Scott Kelby and Dave Cross  he teaches Photoshop and Photoshop Lightroom.  Their easy-going, informative, and sometimes humorous teaching methods makes learning easy.

That ought to tell you enough to take him seriously, especially if you are a reader of PHOTOSHOP USER magazine because then you will already be familiar with his name and teaching methods, and you will be ready to commit yourself to his care for a couple of days while you do some serious learning.  While the book is written primarily for Photoshop CS3 a number of the techniques and steps work equally well in Photoshop CS2.

First of all, here’s where to locate the images to follow along with the lessons; I put them in just in case you’re the type not to read the introduction where Matt tells you about them, and without them you’re lost.

Now let’s look at the chapters and the material each contains.  This list will take you through a thorough understanding of layers from the beginning to the powerful professional image correcting steps of the Photoshop user professional.
 

Chapter 1.    Layer Basics; Using Multiple Layers; Everything Else About Layers; Summary.

Chapter 2.    Blending Layers; The Three Blend Modes You Need Most; (Multiply Blend Mode; Screen Blend Mode; Soft Light Blend Mode); A Closer Look At Blend Mode; Layer Blend Modes for Photographers; Advanced Layer Blending; Summary.

Chapter 3.    Adjustment Layers; Adjustment Layer Basics; Making Selective Adjustments; Super Flexible Adjustments; Some More Adjustment Layer Ideas; Fix One Photo-Fix ‘Em All; The Adjustment Layer Blend Mode Trick; Summary.

Chapter 4.    Layer Masks; (read this intro Matt says, even if you don’t read any other-  I’ve warned you); Layer Mask Basics; Automatically Creating Layer Masks; The Only Layer Mask "Gotcha"; Combining Multiple Images; A Deeper Look Into Layer Masks; Making One Layer Fit Into Another; Summary.

Chapter 5.    Type and Shape Layers; All About Shape Layers; Summary.

Chapter 6.    Enhancing Photos With Layers; Combining Multiple Exposures; Painting With Light; Selective Sharpening; Dodging and Burning Done Right; Boosting Specific Colors; Enhancing Depth of Field; Creating Soft Focus; Summary

Chapter 7.    Retouching With Layers; Removing Blemishes and Wrinkles; Smoothing and Enhancing Skin; Making Eyes and Teeth Whiter; Removing Distractions; How Do I…

Chapter 8.    Layer Styles; Designing With Layer Styles; Creating a Watermark; Creating Reusable Photo Effects; Some More Layer Style Ideas; How Do I…

Chapter 9.
    Smart Layers; Four Reasons Why Smart Objects Rock!; Designing Templates With Smart Objects; Layers and the Creative Suite; How Do I Learn More From Matt?; How Do I…

There you have nine chapters in 248 pages of well written and easy to follow tutorials.  Matt tells you in the beginning that you can open the book and start anywhere.  If you discover you are in over your head you can back up a chapter or two and start again and see if you are up to speed.

As a photographer, Chapters 6, 7, and 8 were of particular interest to me and either confirmed my own working procedures or suggested an alternate method that I’ll have to experiment with a bit to see if that method might replace what I have been doing.  I’m never too old to learn; that’s why I bought the book.

One of the things I particularly liked about the book was that each chapter ended with either a summary or a page answering specific questions related to the procedures that had been covered in that chapter.  I like this approach very much because it provides a review when I come back to the book after a period of time and need to review to get up to speed again.  Let’s face it, seldom does an individual sit down a go through a book from the front to the back in one sitting; dealing with chapters is more like it where in our busy lives we manage to fit in one or two chapters at a time.  We all need review and summary pages.

A couple of the chapters covered subjects that I have never previously had the need to work with, but were nonetheless interesting.  I tend to put small, colored, plastic tags on pages in any book I intend to keep so that I can return to the pertinent pages at a later time.  I’ve tagged up a number of pages in Matt Kloskowski’s book so that it will be easy to return to the specific tutorials if the need arises.  Knowing the state of the photography business and the part post-production plays in the field today, I suspect I will have to update my techniques and work-flow to later accommodate some subjects or techniques that I have previously not needed to know.

When that time comes, my well stocked, and well-marked bookshelf will be there to provide the refresher I need.

I recommend  Matt Kloskowski’s Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature to the beginner and intermediate Photoshop user with a nod to a couple of chapters that might be useful to the very advanced Photoshop user.  It explains in plain and simple language and in specific step-by-step illustrations a thorough feeling for the use of layers as an extremely powerful tool in Photoshop CS3.