April 07, 2008

Growing into a ripe Apple

I bought my iMac on March 21, 2008. I took delivery on March 24, 2008. That means I have only had it for two weeks. Fourteen days, and that’s it! Already I have learned how to edit photos, upload them into a gallery, create a web site, and then add the gallery to the web site. I was getting pretty good at doing that very thing under Win95, but then Microsoft changed to WindowsXP, all my software had to be upgraded, and suddenly I was as powerless as a newborn baby. I spent six months trying to learn how to use all the new features of my WindowsXP system before finally giving up and devoting myself to playing Lineage II. Six months and I could not reacquire skills I had developed over half a decade of computer use. This is one of the main reasons I had no desire at all to buy a Vista system. The learning curve for Windows related products has become too steep for me. The conventions of Vista might be intuitive for some people, but they are not even close to being intuitive for me.

So I bought the iMac and look what I have achieved in only two weeks! I have not one, but six online galleries and the newest one, Venice 2007, has seventy-one beautiful photos in it! As you go through those photos (easily accessed from the My Albums page at my new website) keep in mind that when I took them I was using minimal quality settings on my Nikon D-80. The D-80 is an excellent system, but there is a great difference between a RAW format photo, a Large High Quality JPEG photo, and worst of all, a Small Basic Quality JPEG photo (which is the level I used for the Venice shots because I was desperate to conserve memory). Most of the original Venice shots were soft from JPEG compression (blurry) and the colors were badly washed out. I used iPhoto to clean them all up and in one case (I won’t tell you which one, try to guess!) I used iPhoto’s “Retouch” tool to transform a badly weathered brick wall into a seamless sheet of plaster top-coat!

I could have done a lot more with these photos if I had used Aperture 2. The new Dodge and Burn plug-in, for example, would have been a life saver on nearly all of them. Nonetheless, I am quite pleased with how they turned out and quite proud to have the gallery up and ready for visitors! Given only two weeks it would have been impossible for me to learn Vista, the Vista-compatible version of Adobe Photoshop, the Vista-compatible version of Dreamweaver, find an ISP, buy a domain, set up the domain, create this website, and then find some way to upload the whole thing!

In short, buying an iMac is proving to be the wisest computer decision I have ever made. Granted, there are a number of factors at work here that were not true when I bought my WindowsXP system. At that time Leopard was not available, iLife (which includes iPhoto and iWeb) was not available, and .Mac was an awkward, barely functional system that Macintosh cared little about and was not really happy about creating. I have made the jump from Windows to Apple at what is no doubt the perfect time in the history of personal computing. If there was ever a time to switch to Apple, that time is now.

I hope to high heaven this is also a good indication of the future of personal computing. For better or worse, I am tied into Apple now for the foreseeable future. As far as I can tell, this is the best place to be. I must point out, however, that predicting the future has never been my strong point.

My new website is here: Greyhawk Manor
And the freshly polished Venice 2007 Gallery is here: Venice 2007

Oh, and for the curious, the photo above was quickly and badly edited in Preview. Oh, for you Windows folks, "Preview" is the Macintosh file viewer that views nearly every possible file imaginable, and also allows you to edit, annotate, and print them. Once you master the free, included with the Leopard OS mini-program that is "Preview", you will of course point out that any number of third-party add-ons provides Windows Vista with the same level of functionality. Do I really need to point out how completely and totally "third-party add-on" differs from "included in the OS"?

April 01, 2008

Chain letters

I just stumbled across a very interesting article: http://www.newsweek.com/id/129976/page/1

In the past I have mentioned to several people, and will state here again, that I will not forward chain letters sent to me through e-mail or any other means. In the past decade or so online, I have made one exception to this personal eccentricity: a powerpoint presentation supposedly written by the Dali Lama. At the time I specifically pointed out that I could not confirm authorship, but felt the presentation was entertaining and meaningful enough to send anyway.

If you read the article above you will see a very good example of how deceptive and misleading chain letters are. People still send them to me from time to time. I recently received one with some lovely pictures of Butchart Gardens in British Columbia (http://www.butchartgardens.com). I added the pictures to my personal library but did not forward the mail to anyone.

Many apparently harmless chain e-mail that have achieved wide circulation over the past five years contained automatic forwarding macros embedded in them. For anyone who uses Windows, Microsoft Office, and Outlook, opening the e-mail caused it to read your address book and forward itself to every person listed. Using Hotmail as my personal e-mail is one method I've developed over the years to defeat these kind of chain letters. Only one person has been creative enough to come up with a macro that could access the Hotmail address book. Fortunately, I heard about that one before it arrived and within days, Microsoft had plugged the security gap the mail exploited.

Some of these chain letters you are receiving from your friends and family are being forwarded without your knowledge. Some of the automatically forwarded e-mails contain batch files and viruses that will modify your system in ways designed to benefit the original sender. One important example of this was circulated about three years ago with the seemingly innocent subject line, "My reCent Piktures". I received three copies of that one before it finally died. It used a macro to read Outlook and AOL address books, forward itself to everyone, and added a collection of pornographic links to Internet Explorer and AOL browsers. For those who enjoyed the links it was hilarious, for those who did not it created any number of problems both minor and major.

If you don't recognize the sender, don't open the e-mail. If the subject line contains errors the person sending it does not usually make, don't open the e-mail. If the e-mail contains facts and figures without substantiating them through genuine research links, don't believe what it says and don't forward it. If the e-mail contains some kind of sad story about a hurt child, handicapped mother, and so on, don't forward the e-mail without taking the time to confirm the story. Even if you can confirm the story, don't forward it just to assuage feelings of guilt over your own inability to do anything to help the person.

Every day somewhere around the world countless people are suffering. Instead of forwarding useless chain letters that accomplish nothing, donate some of your time and money to the Red Cross, Red Crescent, or Salvation Army. If none of the internationally recognized charities are available, contact UNESCO or even WHO.

Forwarding chain letters does not make our world a better place. People like you and me getting involved in their communities and supporting internationally recognized charitable organizations, on the other hand, can accomplish miracles.