Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Graphics Software

If you're interested in digital photography software you might want to take a look at the free beta of Adobe Lightroom. I haven't spent a lot of time with it but I really like the simple consistent layout.

I've also been using Adobe Photoshop Elements. At less than $100 it's good value. I originally got a copy included with something else I bought. That version (2) wasn't all that powerful, but each new version (5 was just released) has been more capable. I also picked up a copy of Photoshop Elements 5 - The Missing Manual after listening to a podcast interview with the author, Barbara Brundage.

I'm also a long time user of Canvas. I think it's too bad this program hasn't been more successful. It combines both vector and bitmap editing along with desktop publishing type layout. You might think putting all that in one package would make a mess, but they fit it together remarkably well. I highly recommend it.

Of course, as an open source fan I should be using Gimp. One of these days I'll take time to learn it!

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I've been playing with LibraryThing a bit. It's a web app for cataloging your books. It seems pretty good.

I had written a small library application with Suneido but it was a lot of working entering books. So I decided I should be scanning the barcodes and looking them up. Buying a scanner was tough because there are too many kinds and I didn't know what would be best. I ended up buying an AS8155 from Custom Sensors Inc. It's a CCD scanner with a USB interface. I have no idea if this was the right choice but so far it's been working well.

I started to add barcode lookup to my Suneido application, using isbndb.com and got it more or less working. But then I thought it would be nice to have cover images from Amazon. So I started looking at Amazon's web services.

Then I realized that, interesting as it might be, this wasn't actually getting my books cataloged! So I thought I should look for an existing application, which led me to LibraryThing. There are quite a few choices in this area but it looked reasonable.

You can sign up for free and enter up to 200 books. I set up an account for work and scanned a bunch of books that happened to be handy (some recent, some not). You can see the results at: http://www.librarything.com/catalog.php?view=apmckinlay (at least I think you'll be able to see them since I made it public).

The barcode lookup works 95% of the time. I had a few older books with no barcode, a few books I bought in Asia it didn't find, and a few I had to use amazon.co.uk to find. And a few novels at home where the UPC code on the barcode instead of the ISBN (confused me for a bit since they print the ISBN number as well).

But even when the barcode lookup fails it's pretty good at finding books from title and/or author, even partial.

So far the only complaint is that I can't figure out how to search for C++. It keeps wanting to strip out the "++", even if I enter it in quotes (it seems to take the quotes literally).

I like the ability to "tag" the books (although I haven't used it yet). From del.icio.us and gmail I've gotten to like tagging stuff.

LibraryThing has other features that I may use - like recommendations - and some that I probably won't - like social stuff. But so far it looks good. If you're looking for this kind of thing, I'd recommend it.

For a discussion of alternatives see this discussion from Joel Spolsky's blog

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

iTunes + iPod Annoyances

I started up iTunes to copy some new music to my 30gb Video iPod. It told me an update to iTunes 7.0.1 was available. I downloaded and installed it. So far no problems. Then it told me an update to iPod 1.2 was available. I said OK and it displayed a message box saying it was updating. The problem is it never finished so I killed iTunes (the only way out, as far as I could tell). Maybe I didn't wait long enough but it didn't seem like it should take that long.

I restart iTunes but now it doesn't recognize my iPod at all!!! Now what? I google for relevant information. It looks like other people have had the problem but there doesn't seem to be a good solution. Finally Google points me to a post in an Apple RSS feed that says you have to have Terminal Services running in order for iTunes to recognize your iPod. (I had to subscribe to the feed and dig through old posts to find it.) Sure enough I had Terminal Services disabled via msconfig. (In a vain attempt to reduce the crap that's running all the time.)

When iTunes recognized my iPod it again offered to update. I said no and finally managed to achieve my original goal - to get some new music onto my iPod.

Why does iTunes need Terminal Services? And if if needs it, why doesn't it check for it and tell you what the problem is instead of silently ignoring your iPod? And why doesn't Apple have this information posted more prominently?

iPod + iTunes is supposed to be for everyone. You wonder how the non-techie is supposed to cope with these kinds of problems. Of course, a non-techie wouldn't have terminal services disabled. Unless their techie friend had done it for them...

I see the new version of iTunes will get cover images for you, finally. But you have to have an iTunes account! So if I don't want an iTunes account I still have to get covers manually!

PS. On the positive side, next time I tried the iPod update it worked.