Posts Tagged ‘Adobe’

Reading List :: Thursday 20th October 2011

Well it looks like Google can’t win. Yesterday’s (still ridiculously named) Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich announcement brought with it the revelation that the folks in Mountain View were finally ready to shed the By Engineers, For Engineers vibe their mobile OS has been bugged / credited with (depending on your geek-factor). Yes, Ice Cream Sandwich is full of design changes and the general consensus is that it brings the OS’ level of polish up a great many levels, an area it’s never been able to draw parity with iOS or WP7 in no matter what speeds and feeds get crammed into handsets.

Of particular note was the switch of system font from Droid Sans to Roboto. Personally I think it’s okay, but Typographica and ‘The Understatement‘ seemed pretty pissed this morning, with the former calling it a ‘four headed Frankenfont’ and the latter feigning impartiality in a piece headlined ‘Roboto vs. Helvetica’.

Anyway, I like Roboto, or at least am indifferent to it. The idiot anti-Apple / anti-Android camps are basically using this one as a battleground: Gruber makes a number of good points to counter some guy’s stupid anti-Apple beef piece, and on the other side of the coin ‘The Understatement’ linked above is an equally stupid and thinly veiled, pro-Apple prime slice, probably exactly the sort of thing that the Android guy was railing against in the first place.

Dream Theater continue to bug the hell out of me. I cannot stand about 90% of their music, but there are so many things I adore about John Petrucci. The best way I’ve found to enjoy his playing is through the many promo videos he does for my favourite company in the universe and the builders of the greatest amplifiers on the planet ever, Mesa/Boogie. This morning, Mesa blogged a couple of sweet videos of John’s touring rig, one from his tech and the other from the man himself. I’ve gotta get myself a Mark V, man. Seriously.

Adobe have cleared up a few mysteries behind that awesome video of the ‘Deblur’ Photoshop preview from the MAX Sneak Peek a couple of weeks ago in a post to the Photoshop blog. If you’ve watched the video then you can pretty much just skim through, the meat in the sandwich is the before/after JPEGs. It’s amazing. Like fantasy, TV magic. Very exciting.

Finally, I got way too distracted by the Sony Design History page. One of my (very) early tech favourites were Sony’s catalogs, which I basically read from cover to cover ever year until I was about 10. Looking back at the company’s design history is very nostalgic for me on that level, but also illustrates just how many classic products Sony has built over the last 60 years, and how few of the real revolutionary ones came in the last 15.

Privacy & Security Should Be Optional

Having recently upgraded to Mac OS X Lion, I’ve spent a good deal of time in the past couple of weeks reinstalling software on and as-needed basis. One package I’ve been reluctant to reload is Adobe’s Flash player, the de facto media delivery mechanism for the desktop web and a program which knows how to eat CPU and burn up your machine like no other.

While I’ve railed against Flash for its processor greed and propensity for cooking chips in the past (mainly with workarounds and avoidance techniques), I’ve grown so used to these shortcomings and working around them that they are no longer my primary concern when loading my machine with Adobe’s player.

With the release of version 10.3 back in May 2011, Flash gained for the first time a pane in the Mac OS’ System Preferences application. It seems almost incredible that it wasn’t until earlier this year that a piece of software present on 99% of all internet connected computers, 8.1% of which are Macs, didn’t have an OS-conventional approach to settings alteration. Finally setting Flash preferences falls in line with convention. But the addition of the Flash Player preference pane has actually drawn my attention to what I view as an industry-wide problem with ensuring user privacy and security.

You see, with 2.1 billion people connected to the web and more than 1 in 3 using Facebook, privacy and security have become quite the hot topic of late. More people are sharing more information and are, rightly, more concerned about where it’s going and what it’s being used for; as the network becomes the computer (many buy a laptop ‘just to get on Facebook’ and have little interest in how they get there), makers of local and remote software platforms need to have a clear focus on keeping that data safe.

My concern was raised while browsing through the new preference pane that installs with Flash, and the default settings chosen by Adobe. There are four key areas where the user is given the option to dictate the behaviour of the Flash player: offline storage, camera, media playback and updating. Automatic updates for a software platform with as dubious a security history as Flash is an absolutely welcome and necessarily enabled by default. Similarly, the player will request access to the camera and microphone on a case-by-case basis, a good choice given the proliferation of webcam-equipped laptops.

Offline storage and peer-assisted networking, however, are enabled by default. Given the zeal with which Flash consumes my CPU cycles, I’m not sure I would want it to have free reign over my network connection, and given its chequered security record I’m not convinced that allowing it offline storage by default is such a bright idea either.

The main problem I have with these default settings, though, is that they will probably never be changed, which is why companies like Adobe need to take steps further than just chucking in a preference pane with their app – my mother hasn’t ever and likely will never open System Preferences, and I’m sure she’s not alone. There are necessary changes which need to be made by any company responsible for data handling, even if they are merely providing the conduit (as Adobe does with Flash player).

Firstly, the default security and privacy setting must be ‘lockdown’. Flash shouldn’t be assuming control of a user’s bandwidth or storing files on their machine by default any more than it should be automatically serving up a webcam feed without prompting. The effect of a default feature lockout is that user is introduced to the preference pane and forced to actively make decisions about their privacy and security rather than relying on the stock settings. They needn’t feel bothered – after all, they only have to set it up once and forget about it – but they can now browse with confidence in the knowledge that their information is protected to their very own specifications, and just like everybody has different data, everybody values that data differently.

Microsoft actually has tried something akin this approach twice in the past, first with the variable ‘privacy level’ control in the Internet Options control panel, and more recently with the UAC layer introduced with Windows Vista. Between these two approaches, the company has actually got all of the right ideas. The user needs to be jolted into taking a more active role in their security through dialogs such as UAC, and the variable security level controls provide a useful abstract for casual users with the option for fine control for those who require it. Unfortunately, these concepts have both failed in their execution. UAC is widely derided and often disabled because of its irritating frequency, and the user security variables, like most good ideas from Microsoft, are buried under layers of dialogs and menus, effectively rendering them invisible to the casual user.

By switching the defaults to ‘off’ and gently, but firmly, prompting the user to engage with their online security and privacy, responsible companies can educate their (massive) user base and improve the quality of their experience by placing the decision making process in the hands of the user. While the industry aspires to give an experience which ‘just works’, this is one area where the user should definitely be involved – these are choices which people make every day when they shield their PIN at the ATM, don’t give out their phone number to strangers and ask to see ID from the guy at the door claiming he’s from the gas company. When the data involved is personal, it should be the person, not Adobe or Apple or Google or Microsoft, making the call on how it is protected.





RAM Disk vs SSD vs Hard Disk – The Photoshop Test

A few weeks ago I posted the Macintosh version of ‘rdmanage’, my super-simple Unix RAM disk creation tool, as well as stacking the volatile disks up against fixed hard drives in a Linux I/O benchmark shootout. One thing which has always bothered me about synthetic benchmarking, however, is how far removed it is from most real-life computing contexts.

In order to realistically demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of the three main types of disk – RAM drive, hard drive and solid state – I’ve prepared a short video of a basic Photoshop loading test, embedded after the break.

I’m a huge fan of solid state disks (the X25-M is one of my all time favourite pieces of computer hardware), but due to their high price and limited capacity they aren’t a complete no-brainer just yet. Using something like ‘rdmanage’ to easily create RAM disks, users of machines with hard disk drives can get a serious boost in application load time (as demonstrated in this Photoshop loading test) without having to spend a dime extra on hardware. The SSD is still the winner in my book, but if you can spare a couple of hundred meg of RAM you can get some of the perks with zero additional cost.


Street League 2011 – Glendale

Street League 2011 is back, this time in Glendale, AZ. ESPN has moved the video feed back to the same content distribution server they used for the first stop of this year – the one with a 300 page indexing all the raw MP4 files.

There are four parts to the broadcast, and you can find the download links and embedded video after the break, ready for enjoyment completely unshackled from Flash Player (here is the 300 page for this stop).

Big thanks + credit to @SherdogUser for tweeting this one at me.


Download Flash Video in Safari

Another handy way to avoid Flash Player (and thus the reduced battery life, a superheated computer, maxed-out CPU and vastly decreased browser stability it brings) is to download the multimedia content it’s being used to play for viewing offline with a more power-efficient and stable media player like VLC.

Using Safari, it’s easily possible to download movies from YouTube, Google Video etc… and watch them offline with a very simple hack. Here’s how:


Preview Tips & Tricks on Mac OS X

Preview is one of the most useful parts of Mac OS X: having a lightweight, fast and broadly compatible tool for displaying visual media is one of the main reasons that the Mac OS offers the best user experience of any desktop OS. For most people, displaying pictures and documents is all Preview does, however if you scratch beneath the surface it has some great features which can save you a bunch of time.

Preview as an eReader

I find myself being sent long PDF formatted eBooks with increasing frequency these days. Trouble is, reading on a computer screen can often be distracting (it’s amazing how interesting your clock and battery percentage become when you’re trying to read something challenging). Preview has a built in ‘presentation mode’, which allows you to read in full screen without any distractions.

To activate presentation mode, hit ‘CMD-Shift-F’ in Preview and read away.