Monday, October 06, 2014
The main knock against Chromebooks (or Google’s Chrome OS more specifically) is that they’re limited to running web apps. There’s no ability to run heavy-duty native software like you would expect on a Mac or Windows laptop. Software like, say, Photoshop.
Well, looks like Adobe will be testing a way to work around that limitation by streaming Photoshop, essentially turning the Chromebook into a thin client for an app that actually resides on another machine. I’m skeptical as to how well this will work in practice, but it’s interesting to see experiments like this.
Friday, October 03, 2014
I’ve had the Affinity Designer release candidate running in the background for a few days. I heard this version would expire tomorrow so I decided this evening to sit down and put the app through its paces. Alas, no such luck, as I was only able to use the app for less than three minutes before it crashed:
- I created a single text object,
- I rotated the text slightly,
- I started adjusting the Skew property by using the slider,
- While dragging the Skew slider from one end to the other a few times, I thought to myself: Doing something like this is a good example of what would destabilize a bloated program like Photoshop and make it crash,
- Affinity Designer froze and crashed
Unfortunately the release candidate expiration date appears to be set to UK time (where the developers are based), as relaunching the program tells me the app is expired. Now that the app has officially launched, Affinity doesn’t offer a trial, only purchase through the App Store.
I’m sure the crash I experienced was just a fluke, or something that the developers could easily fix (I’ve reported the crash), but now there’s a dilemma. Should I buy a $40 app without properly testing it, an app that has rave reviews but also an app that I managed to crash in less than three minutes by using the most basic functionality? The fact that the developers of this Mac-centric app are foregoing the sophisticated OS X text framework and opting to create their own custom text engine instead also gives me pause (though I’ve seen this in a number of vector apps so maybe it just comes with the territory).
At any rate, to me this situation seems like an unnecessary dilemma, created only because Apple refuses to allow trials. Alternatively, with a subscription model, I could stick around for a few months at minimal cost to assess the app’s stability over time.
Friday, October 03, 2014
Until recently, progress in the desktop monitor segment over the past few years was glacial at best. To get a sense of the stagnation, Apple announced a 30" flagship monitor in 2004 with a resolution of 2560 x 1600. Today, Apple’s current flagship is only 27" and has a lower screen resolution. While you can still buy 30" monitors from a number of manufacturers (and prices have fallen over the years), 2560 x 1600 has been the maximum practical resolution for the better part of a decade. For a desktop user, this has been rather frustrating, especially while tiny cell phone displays get ever more pixels.
Now, at last, it looks like there are some substantial improvements to monitor technology and specs in the pipeline. Here is a sampling of what’s in store:
- 4K monitors — with resolutions of 3840 x 2160, four times the pixels as traditional ‘full HD’ 1080p — are dropping in price much faster than I would have predicted, with Intel now promising they will get down to the $400 range.
- Dell announced a 27" UltraSharp monitor with a ‘5K’ resolution of 5120 x 2880. This monitor represents what many Mac professionals have been waiting for: A monitor with a traditional 27" form factor, but four times the pixels of a standard 27" display (2560 x 1440). These specs will for the first time enable Mac users to run a monitor as a retina display while maintaining the logical desktop space of a non-retina 27" monitor. Unfortunately, since neither the monitor nor current GPUs support the newly-announced DisplayPort 1.3 spec, this monitor will require hooking up two separate DisplayPort cables to run at full resolution. It will also be rather expensive at $2500.
- There is even some innovation going on in the non-retina display space. AU Optronics recently announced a panel in the traditional 27" size with 1440p resolution, but pairs an IPS-quality panel with a 144Hz refresh rate, a combination not seen before. Previously, people who needed a high refresh rate could only achieve 144Hz (or 120Hz for that matter) by using lower-quality TN panels, so this new panel should eliminate the need for having to choose between refresh rate and monitor quality.
- Also on the non-retina front, Acer announced the H257HU, an IPS monitor with the resolution of a traditional 27" monitor, but in a slightly smaller 25" size. Acer is touting a veritable laundry list of features for this monitor, such as a slim bezel, a custom anti-reflective coating, no use of pulse-width modulation (PWM) for adjusting brightness (helps reduce flickering/eye fatigue), blue-light filtering (again to reduce eye fatigue), and the ability to dim the backlight at lower levels than traditional monitors.
If money were no object, I would be most excited about the Dell UltraSharp, as it offers the holy grail of retina quality and the logical workspace of a normal 27" monitor. Being more budget-minded though, I think the Acer H257HU is the one worth keeping an eye on. The Acer’s feature list mentions pretty much everything I want in a monitor (IPS panel, anti-reflective coating, no PWM, low backlight support), so if it manages to deliver those promises at a reasonable price point, it may very well be my next monitor.
Friday, October 03, 2014
There is no shortage of vector drawing apps for the Mac, but Affinity Designer — just released this week — seems to be a significant entrant into the market at first glance:
- It’s developed as a Mac-exclusive app by a previously Windows-only company with experience in the graphics/design field
- As opposed to other Mac vector apps that are run by individuals or a small team, the Affinity team appears to be at least somewhat larger and wants to position the brand as a full-featured alternative to Adobe. In addition to Designer (which is meant to compete with Adobe Illustrator), Affinity’s product roadmap includes Photoshop and InDesign replacements.
- Although I haven’t experimented with Designer much, the user interface seems fresh (several more-established vector apps have interfaces that are either too spartan or are starting to show their age)
- It’s already garnered a substantial number of glowing reviews on the App Store and appears to have a solid fan base in the forums already
- Several of the reviewers claim it is the spiritual successor to Macromedia FreeHand. When an app makes die-hard users of an app not updated since 2003 want to migrate, it’s worth taking notice.
If nothing else, Affinity Designer seems to have good deal of ambition and support behind it, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.
Friday, October 03, 2014
If you ever wanted your Mac to behave like your iPhone whenever you select text (i.e. automatically show a pop-over menu to cut/copy/paste the selected text), then PopClip has you covered. There seems to be a large library of extensions that let you shuffle off the selected text to other apps and services.
Normally I would be excited by an app like this, but in my mind it subverts the standard way of doing this type of thing on the Mac, namely the Services menu. The Services menu is a long-standing part of OS X, and you can access it just by right-clicking on selected text, so it’s always there and the options it presents you are automatically narrowed-down based on what you have selected (e.g. text, an MP3, an image file). Replacing the standard Services architecture with a third-party one just to save a right-click seems like a bad tradeoff to me. Now, if PopClip hooked into the Services menu API itself, I’d be all for it.
Monday, September 22, 2014
With low-energy/sustainable buildings becoming ever more in-demand and necessary for reducing emissions, what exactly goes into making a building ‘green’? By reading Sustainability, Energy, and Architecture (edited by Ali Sayigh), it’s possible to get a sense as to the many ways one can achieve a sustainable structure.
The primary format of this anthology is the case study, and there are many of them. What’s most impressive about this volume is the wide diversity of structures, geographies, climates, and cultures covered by the case studies. Europe (northern and Mediterranean), Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and North America are all represented. While the chapter introductions tended to repeat a good deal of material (e.g. general facts about the built environment’s energy and climate impacts, the need to reduce energy consumption/emissions, etc.), the case studies do a good job of explaining the circumstances specific to each project, and how both traditional and novel approaches can be brought to bear in making buildings more sustainable.
What’s also interesting about this title is that amongst the copious case studies, it mixes in a few chapters covering the basics of sustainable building components, such as daylighting, LEDs, and construction materials. While these chapters will be useful to readers unfamiliar with these components and techniques, I found myself wishing for a bit more detail.
Unfortunately, as with the previous Elsevier anthology I reviewed, some chapters have more substance than others, and some chapters have better writing than others. Chapter 4 came the closest to what felt like filler, consisting mostly of philosophical posturing about the role of architects in sustainable design. While I am sympathetic to that chapter author’s argument, the cited examples seemed to be only tangentially supportive of the overall thesis. In short, once again I found myself reading an Elsevier anthology that didn’t really show the editing fit and finish one normally sees in a title published by O'Reilly itself.
Regardless, if you’re looking for a survey of green building case studies, this volume certainly has a great variety of them. As mentioned above, I’m not sure if it goes into enough detail for it to be of use to experienced practitioners, but for someone looking to get a quick sense of how sustainable structures are built and the techniques behind them, this title certainly serves that purpose.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Within a span of 5 days, I came across two projects named Mjolnir. One is an automation/configuration tool for OS X, while the other is an implementation of Clojure on top of LLVM.
I was initially confused as to why such a specific name would be used twice, but Wikipedia tells me it’s the name of Thor’s hammer in Norse mythology, so in retrospect I suppose it’s not too surprising.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Looks like there will be some more competition in the mobile SoC space thanks to a company whose name is likely only familiar to older geeks. MIPS — previously acquired by Imagination Technologies — is launching an CPU family to compete with ARM. Since Imagination Technologies is well known for its PowerVR mobile GPUs (used by Apple and many others), they are promising aggressive pricing on CPU/GPU combos.
Three immediate thoughts on this:
The largest challenge they’ll have is convincing software vendors to write software for the MIPS architecture. Android itself is already there, but many apps for it are not built for MIPS.
Assuming they can make these CPU/GPU SoCs affordably and at scale, MIPS should get in touch with Nintendo about working together about powering a future portable or console (hey, it’s happened before). For a company like Nintendo that controls the entire stack, the compatibility-with-ARM issue goes away.
The standoffish attitude of the MIPS PR rep in that article’s comment thread strikes me as very unprofessional. If the company want to be taken seriously, it’s representatives shouldn’t be getting in arguments about benchmarks on a popular technology website.
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