Monday, March 31, 2008

Photoshop Express - A First Look!

Well, Adobe Photoshop Express, the much-hyped online version of the mighty Adobe Photoshop has finally made it to the beta stage. My initial response is that I'm a bit disappointed in the lack of functionality but all the basics are there. You can rotate, crop, straighten, auto-correct, remove red-eye, adjust exposure and saturation values and do a bit of basic touching-up. Every action is non-destructive and you can step forward or back through your actions or reset to the original at any time.

Photoshop Express
As well as the usual slider bars for adjusting settings, what you also get for most tools is an array of six adjusted previews to choose from. It's a nice idea as it lets you see how an adjustment will progress a bit. An image can also be fine-tuned by allowing you to adjust white balance, sharpness, softness focus, shadows and highlights and, if you want to add effects, you can change hue, add a tint, convert to black and white, distort the image, change a specific colour in the image or even make it look like a sketch.

You can upload photographs to your own library space and you can also add them into albums. On top of that, you can choose to make an album publicly accessible for sharing your images out or hosting them on blogs, websites, etc.. On the integration with other photo services front, then it'll talk to Facebook, Photobucket and Picasa.

Unfortunately, that's all there is so far, There's no multi-layer functionality, which is Photoshop's killer tool, and no fancy stuff like exposure blending, panorama building or HDR processing, which would really set it above the other services.

As for limitations - it'll work with Windows XP, Windows Vista or Mac OS X 10.4 or above. It runs under Internet Explorer 6 or 7 on a Windows machine, Safari 3.0.4 or later on a Mac, or Firefox 2 or later on either platform. You also need Flash Player 9 (version or later). Also, you can only upload JPEG photos. Other formats such as raw, TIFF and PSD files are too large to comfortably upload. On top of that photos larger than 10M and 4000 pixels in height and width cannot be uploaded and photos larger than 2880 x 2880 pixels will be shrunk after editing.

Adobe have got the basics done and got the service out for testing, which is good but they'll really need to add more powerful features to attract people away from some of the free services, some of which offer as much or more than this already. Frankly, whatever Photoshop can do, then Photoshop Express should be able to do it as well or I can't see the point. They'll also need to add integration with more photo services like Flickr or Windows Live as well but I expect those will come eventually.

Not bad for a first outing! I know testing was supposed to be restricted to the US but I couldn't resist a quick look around so, if you're outside the US and are thinking of using it seriously, then bear in kind that all the data has to flow between you and a US based server for the moment.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Walk Score - Find Services In Your Area!

Walk Score, while not the kind of site I'd usually post about here, seems useful enough to warrant a mention. It was designed to help homebuyers, renters and estate agents find properties in great neighbourhoods but it's also really useful to anyone searching for shops and services in a particular area, especially if you're mobile or just visiting an unfamiliar spot. The site name is also related to the fact that they score properties based on the number of services nearby that you can walk to.

Walk Score
All you do is enter an address and Walk Score shows you a map of what's nearby and calculates a Walk Score for any property. The hook being that buying or renting a house in a walkable neighbourhood is good for your health and also good for the environment. They currently only support addresses in the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada but are working on adding more.

It uses the Google Maps API to display a map of the area, superimposed with icons representing shops, restaurants, cinemas, parks, etc. On the left of that is a list of these services with the relative distance to them. Those distances are measured "as the crow flies" rather than actual walking directions so don't take into account impassible objects like lakes and rivers but they are investigating using Google Driving Directions to calculate the distances.

They freely admit that their walkability scoring system takes no account of factors like topography, public transport, crime figures, traffic safety, etc. It's also dependent on the data available via the Google Maps API so there's always a chance an entry is incorrect or out of date, which is probably why it listed Glasgow as being in England :-(

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

FairUse Wizard - Convert DVDs to DivX

The full version of FairUse Wizard 2, a useful utility for converting DVDs to DivX or Xvid format files, is currently being offered as a free download. DivX compression will allow you to store more than one DVD on a single disc and Fairuse Wizard provides a viable means of backing up your expensive DVD collection.

Fairuse Wizard 2
FairUse Wizard allows you to easily create movies that will play on your standalone player or computer with the DivX and XviD codecs as well as using H264 (iPod video) or the ffVFW codec suites. You can also encode up to two audio tracks so you can choose between original and dubbed versions at playback and you can preview subtitles on the preview screen during the encoding setup.

The full edition is optimised to fully exploit Dual-Core, SMP, and Hyper-Threading CPU architectures, resulting in much faster encoding and has an auto-update feature not available in the light edition. Not sure why version 2 is being offered for free but I wouldn't be surprised to see version 3 pop its head up sometime soon so grab this one while you can.

Monday, March 17, 2008

If You Like Stickies - Try Metanotes

If you're a fan of Post-It notes or Stickies, then take a look at Metanotes. Metanotes gives you a (very large) sheet of online graph paper, to which you can attach an endless list of text notes, images, video clips, audio clips, etc.

You use it like a visual mapping/think-tank of ideas, a place to drop notes or useful chunks of data as you work. Grab a YouTube video, an MP3, a web-page clipping or just leave yourself a reminder. It's basically an online scrapbook but one where others can participate in your mind's maeanderings as all spaces are public (for now).

If you need another space, then that's not a problem as you can add more spaces to your metaspace and to make it fit into your online lifestyle, it'll integrate with Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, Photobucket and Pownce and there’s also a Time Log feature that acts as a personal and private Twitter stream.

So, if you like to work in a free-form, mind-mappy kind of environment and you've run out of screen real estate for those little yellow notes, then Metanotes might be for you.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Evernote - Remember Everything!

I've just been trying out the beta of Evernote, a note-taking service that allows you to capture and find anything from your real and digital lives using a PC, Mac, mobile phone and the web. That could be typed notes, to-dos, brainstorms, reminders, photos, web pages or parts of web pages, handwritten notes, audio clips and memos and e-mails or MMS notes.

Evernote online
It's based around an online service for storing and searching your notes along with browser bookmarklets for Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox and stand-alone applications for Windows, Windows Mobile and Mac OS X (Leopard). You can also e-mail notes directly into your account and they're working on iPhone and SmartPhone versions.

Evernote mobileEvery note added to Evernote goes through powerful recognition and indexing servers, which make it possible to find everything. For example, you can search and filter on tags, titles, text, dates and even text in images or attributes like does the note contain a web clipping, an image, audio, handwriting, etc.

Evernote is in private beta at the moment but I've got a few invites to dish out if anyone wants one and you can request one from their home page. There will be free accounts available once the service is launched but online storage will be limited at 1Gb for these. Not a serious limitation for most small or personal research projects so it's definitely worth checking out.

There are alternative note-taking systems out there such as SpringNote, Google Notebook, notesake, Jjot, Scrapbook and Clipmarks but Evernote seems to cover a wider range of functionality and devices and the search and text recognition facilities seriously gives it the edge over anything else.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Polaroid Effect!

With Polaroid recently announcing that it would no longer be producing its trademark photographic film, the days of the instant snap have finally gone fully digital. However, for anyone that fell in love with the Polaroid format, there's, a free web service that allows you to create a "Polaroid effect" with any image in just seconds.

Simply select an original image, write a short description, rotate to add a specific camera angle, and then hit "Upload Picture". It's that simple, no sign-up or registration required.

There are a few other online services that can do this, such as Wiredness and the excellent Picnik, so it isn't unique but if you want a quick and simple, one-stop shop, then it'll do the job.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

FolderShare Updated

Microsoft have updated FolderShare, their online, file synchronization service and look to be making it a part of the Windows Live service.

FolderShare allows you to register one or more computers with the service and you can then set up personal and/or shared file libraries and also remotely access your computer's hard drive(s). I tried it out some time ago and it did seem to work okay to a point. I could access my work computer drive from home and vice versa but it did tend to time out quite a bit and lose connection. Hopefully this update may have improved the system although I noticed that they've updated the Windows version but there been no change in the Mac OS X client.

The improvemenets listed are a new website for easier library and computer management, improved performance on Windows Vista, better setup and improved system tray integration as well as backend improvements to keep FolderShare running more reliably. There are other ways to synchronize files over a network but FolderShare is free so it's definitely worth checking out.

Microsoft Password Checker

So you think your password's secure? Now you can check that with with the Microsoft Password Checker, a free web tool to help you to gauge the strength of your password.

Microsoft recommends that passwords should be at least eight or more characters in length with 14 or longer being much better. They also recommend using a pass phrase, if the systems support spaces, and/or a mix of letter, numbers and symbols.

It's a useful little web page and it comes with a lot of advice on creating secure passwords.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

AnyClient - FTP On The Move

If you ever find yourself in the need of an FTP client and simply don't have one installed, then AnyClient might be a site you'll want to bookmark for future use…

AnyClient is a free, platform-independent, file transfer application that supports all major file transfer protocols including FTPS, SFTP and WebDAV/S. AnyClient is available both as a Java web-based service requiring no software installation and as a downloadable application for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows that you can install locally. The Java-based version looks very similar to most stand-alone FTP clients and can even save your FTP server settings via cookies if you wish.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Extracting Text from PDF Files

Ever had the need to extract the text from a PDF file?

At the simplest end, it's often possible to extract text and graphics just by using the standard copy and paste functions in Adobe Reader and it may allow you to save the file as Text but if you want to do something more, then you have another couple of options…

Adobe Online Conversion Tools

This conversion service will convert Adobe PDF files that are in English and most West European languages to text. If the PDF file(s) you need converted are on your local disk, then you can simply mail your files as attachments to them and they'll send them back converted for you. For plain text, mail the attached PDF to and for HTML, mail the attached PDF to Alternatively, if you can access the PDF document via URL, then use the form on the main Online Conversion Tools page.

NB: The conversion technology was developed to allow blind and visually impaired users to read Adobe PDF documents with speech synthesis software. For this reason, graphic elements are stripped from the file and text is reformatted during conversion.

PDFTextOnlinePDFTextOnline is another online conversion service. Basically, you upload a PDF document and they pass it over to their PDFTextStream service, which extracts the first 10 pages and passes it back to you in your browser. If your PDF is larger than 10 pages, then you can browse to the next 10 pages for conversion and so on.

Their selling point, even if it is free, is the fact that they claim that PDFTextStream is the only PDF text extraction API that uses its own OCR-like process to properly order text extracts. The result is that PDFTextStream produces the most accurate PDF text extracts available today. Of course, if you have a need to do some serious or long-term PDF conversions, then you can buy PDFTextStream.

Other free, online conversion services include PDFConverter, which can convert PDF documents to Word, Excel or Rich Text format and you'll find Zamzar and Media-Convert can convert PDFs to text and lots of other formats too.

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