Adobe Illustrator – a great way to produce your own art

Creating computer wallpaper takes a special touch and a trained hand.  However, even the trained need a helping hand. This is one of the reasons whyI really like tooks like Adobe Illustrator CS5. It’s a multiplatform graphics editing tool, and its totally awesome.

With Adobe Illustrator, you can design vector graphics with precision and power. You can draw accurately in perspective, create variable-width strokes, paint with lifelike brushes, and let your creative juices flow.  You can create distinctive designs with precise shape-building tools, fluid and painterly brushes, and advanced path controls. You’ll have full control of variable-width strokes, arrowheads, dashes, and art brush scaling along a path.

You can use perspective grids to draw shapes and scenes in accurate 1-, 2-, or 3-point linear perspective, creating the look of realistic depth and distance.  You can paint with vectors that resemble real-world brush strokes; and can achieve the expressiveness of natural media with the scalability of a vector graphic tool.

You can also interact with gradients directly on your objects and control the transparency of individual colors in them as well as in gradient meshes. Adobe Illustrator lets you blend and morph one shape into another to create smooth shading, complex contours, and basic animations. Its Blob Brush allows you to sketch with a brush that generates a single clean vector shape, even when strokes overlap. You can draw naturally, using this unique tool together with the Eraser and Smooth tools.

Read full Review | Download Adobe Illustrator

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Remember things big and small from your everyday life with Evernote

One of the most important things that you can do with your mobile device, your computer or laptop is take notes. If you’re a student, educator, or business professional, then you know what I’m talking about. Keeping track of action items, assignments, lesson plans, etc., is something that everyone has an interest in. That’s one of the reasons why I like Evernote. This multifunction tool has specialized functionality in order to keep you organized.

Evernote makes it easy to remember big and small things from your everyday life, using your computer, phone, tablet and the web. With Evernote, all of your notes, web clips, files and images are made available on every device and computer you use, anytime, anywhere. All you need is a connected device and available bandwidth. Evernote does the rest.

With Evernote, you can remember the things that YOU like. You can instantly save everything cool and exciting you see online. You can snap a photo, record some audio and save it to a note and have that note, with that cool content sync to every one of your connected endpoints. As such, you can take notes anywhere. If you’re always on the move, your notes and important information should be too. With Evernote, those important items are on every computer, phone and device you use.

Since notebooks sync instantly, Evernote makes it easy to work with remote friends and colleagues. You can share your notes and collaborate on projects with friends, colleagues and classmates regardless of their location, time zone, etc.  Evernote can be used to bring project information and teams together regardless of who is working on which parts, and can centralize all your information.

Read full Review | Download Evernote for WindowsDownload Evernote for Mac

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iPad 3 Rumors & Thoughts – Part 3: Release and Model Designation

Over that past couple blog entries, we’ve been looking at iPad 3 rumors. There’s been a lot of chatter, and we’ve looked at both hardware and software related gossip.  In this last iPad 3 hub-bub blog, let’s take a look at when, what, and which tablets will be available when.

 

Release Date
Last year, Apple’s iPad 2 was announced on 02, March.  Since Steve passed away, rumors have been mounting that the upgraded iPad 3 will be released on his birthday, or somewhere close.

It seems that this year’s announcement will be made at around the same timeframe as last year’s announcement.  Apple currently has an event scheduled for the first week of March. While the company hasn’t come out and either confirmed it or set the ACTUAL date, clearly point to an event in San Francisco at the beginning of next month. AllThingsD isn’t always correct, but they do seem to have the inside track on many things.  This rumor also seems to be accurate, as no one has come out to shoot it down.  Look for one or two more developments in this area – an actual event scheduling, or a “mea culpa” from ATD.

Device Designation – iPad 3, HD, or 2S
This and the last rumor I’ve heard and give credibility to are closely tied together.  The actual product name for the next generation iPad hasn’t been announced yet, and a credible, “it’s definitely gonna be called…” rumor has yet to hit the airwaves.

As far as my thoughts on this..? Again, that depends on one or two major marketing decisions. I’ve heard additional rumors that due to space considerations the A6 processor that is rumored to be used in the iPad 3 won’t be quad-core. A quad-core processor would be too big to fit in the body shapes that we’ve seen hitting rumors sites. As such, the A6 will be dual-core.

If the A6 is just a revamped or upgraded A5 dual-core processor, look for the next generation iPad to be called the iPad 2S. If iPad 3 gets the upgraded screen we’ve been talking about, even with the dual-core A6, look for the next generation iPad to be called the iPad HD or again, the 2S.

Apple seems in love with its “S” identifier for hardware models that offer differentiation, but not enough to warrant a new model designation. While the iPad HD designation really sounds sexy and may be favorably received, they’ve not used this type of designation on any other devices that sport HD screens (like their MacBook Pro’s that offer HD screens).  So, I really don’t see them using it for iPad. However, you can look for the iPad 3 designation to be used on a chassis/ device form factor redesign, like the one between the iPad and the iPad 2.

Available Models
Here’s where things get interesting… if the A6 dual-core rumors are true, I really do think that the iPad 3 will be released as the iPad 2S.  I also think at that point, that we’ll see a similar marketing move with it as we saw with the iPhone 4/4S – the older model will be reduced in price, will be made available in a single connectivity (Wi-Fi only) and storage size option (likely 16GB); and be sold alongside its newly introduced sibling.

The iPad 2 is a strong seller, and more importantly is a very capable tablet.  It seems logical that Apple would greatly reduce the price and capture even more of the tablet market with an iPad 2, priced at say, $299-$349.  If that happens, you’ll definitely see me pick up an iPad 2. If not, then I probably won’t, as my iPad 1 works just fine for what I do with it (eBooks and movies on the commute to and from work).

Wrapping it all up
Any way you slice it, Apple Watching is an interesting sport. It’s very difficult to channel their marketing people, and their intended direction.  The one thing that I can say with 100% certainty, however, is that 2012 plans to be a banner year for the most valuable company in the world. With the release of both the iPad 3/HD/2S and the iPhone 5 almost a certainty, Apple stock will continue its upward climb.  The company will capture more tablet, smartphone and enterprise market share, as consumers continue to fall in love with its products.

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iPad 3 Rumors & Thoughts – Part 2: iOS 6

With Steve Jobs gone and his legacy not completely publically known or understood, the iPad 3 is almost a complete unknown as well. Let’s take a look at some of the rumors and see what’s what.

I’ve been reading the authorized Steve Jobs biography, and quite honestly, I’ve been learning a great deal. Apple very much *IS* Steve Jobs, and vice-versa. It’s been an interesting read. Much of the design and thoughts for the iPad itself came before the iPhone. It was put on hold to address and release the need for the iPhone. However, the magic that is the iPhone will forever be beholden to the iPad. This was probably one of the most interesting revelations I’ve encountered in the book so far. But the iPad… that was Steve’s baby. He really wanted to do a tablet to counter the netbook surge and push, which is pretty much OVER at this point.

Apple has the tablet market pretty much sewn up. At this point, Android can try all it wants, but without the walled garden that Apple has cultivated and nurtured, it’s going to be hard for Google, any of their hardware partners, or ANYONE really, to catch up to them any time soon.

So, with all that, let’s take a quick gander at what is likely to come to iPad and iPhone fans alike with the next major release of iOS.

Siri Matures
I’ve been using my iPhone 4S for a couple of months, and I really like Siri; though at times, I think she thinks I have a speech impediment. I keep on asking her, “what’s my day like;” and she keeps telling me that she doesn’t understand, “what’s my daylight.” Awesome. Love that. I’ve also noticed that Siri on EDGE isn’t as accurate as Siri on 3G/4G (HSPA+); but that’s another matter entirely.

With the next MAJOR release of iOS, meaning iOS 6, we’re going to see a major bump in Siri’s maturity level. You’re going to be able to ask her to do a lot more and she’s going to be more integrated in how the device works. While she won’t be a complete consumer AI, she’s going to be the closest thing that John Q. Public will likely see for a while

Siri’s biggest problem, however, is not what she can’t do, or even that she may not listen very well. It’s that people don’t really know all of what she can and cannot do. My biggest problem with Siri is that I really don’t know what she’s capable of; and depending on what kind of cellular coverage you may have, if your inside or outside the Wi-Fi zone or perhaps having a bad hair day, Siri’s success in understanding what you want/need/mean when you speak may vary.

Apple needs to improve her listening skills and needs to insure that the local device does as much of the heavy lifting as it can. Voice recognition shouldn’t depend on your network connection speed. For example, when I ask Siri to call so and so, Siri seems to do a lot of thinking on my end. I know I have 1600+ contacts, but the response back from her should be almost instantaneous if I have so and so in my Contact List.

Support for Siri over LTE is also pretty much a no-brainer, given the inclusion of the mobile technology at a hardware level.

Improved Google Maps and Navigation Integration
There are two issues here – an improved Google Maps (just called Maps in iOS, but it’s the same thing) and integration with a navigation app. Its separate for a couple of reasons.

  • Google Maps for iOS is a mapping only app. There have been improvements made to Maps over the past few full revisions of iOS, but it’s not done anything more than provide map information and directions from A to B since its introduction.
  • Google has kept turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps for its own Android OS.

In the next major version of iOS, Apple needs to give you support for the following use case:

  • 1. User – Siri, where’s the nearest ?
  • 2. Siri – I have found the following near your location.
  • 3. Siri – Would you like to navigate/go to any of them.
  • 4. User – Yes
  • 5. Siri – Which ?
  • 6. User –
  • 7. Siri – Would you like to walk or drive there from your current location? (if walking is a reasonable option)
  • 8. User –
  • 9. Siri – Which navigation application would you like to use? You have the following navigation applications installed.

or,

  • You don’t have any navigation applications installed. Would you like to search for and purchase one from the App Store?

or,

  • You don’t have any navigation applications installed. Would you like to me to generate directions with Maps?
  • 10. User – Makes appropriate choice
  • 11. Siri – Provides directions or launches purchased navigation app, passing the appropriate origin and destination variables to the app.

This will require modification on the part of the navigation app so it can accept these variables from Siri, but that should be doable, especially if Apple provides the appropriate API’s. Apple also needs to grow Siri so that she can control hardware iPhone components (volume, screen brightness, Bluetooth radio (Siri, turn on Bluetooth and pair/connect with/to.)

At the end of the day, though, you can see that Apple needs to do something with the current version of Maps, because it’s just not cutting it. Maps is nice, but giving me directions and not turn by turn navigation is not what users want. Apple doesn’t control the version of Maps in iOS, and while they can augment it some with Siri, and perhaps provide an API so other navigation apps can fit in, there are rumors that a recent acquisition may be a more likely result than an API for other navigation apps or than expecting Google to bring its Navigation to the party.

Come back next time, and I’ll dive into when and how the iPad 3 will be released.

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NW Docx Converter the magic files reader

With so many different file formats available, it is great to have a utility that lets you open, read, and print PDF, Html, RTF, Docx, Sxw, Odt, pdb and prc files. These files can be opened independently of the Office or OpenOffice applications and the results can be saved in PDF format. Users can preview the extracted data, page by page, and choose to send it to print or save it in another format.

The program runs on both Windows and Linux (under WINE). It is a very small file and runs straight from an executable, so it does not require installation or changes to your registry. Conversions are very fast with minimal impact on memory and CPU. Works even if you have an outdated system or document program.

Microsoft´s Docx format has caused a lot of problems for users who can not open this type of file with their applications. Users are now able to access multi-format documents, with the use of one simple app, that does not require installation, or a drag on computer resources. The NW Docx Converter does much more than the name implies, and at only 2MB packs great functionality into such a small download.

Unfortunately conversions are not always perfect.

read full review | download NW Docx Converter

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iPad 3 Rumors & Thoughts – Part 1: Hardware

With Steve Jobs gone and his legacy not completely publically known or understood, the iPad 3 is almost a complete unknown as well, though the rumor mill has been churning lately. Let’s take a look at some of the rumors and see what’s what.

I’ve been reading the authorized Steve Jobs biography, and quite honestly, I’ve been learning a great deal. Apple very much *IS* Steve Jobs, and vice-versa. It’s been an interesting read. Much of the design and thoughts for the iPad itself came before the iPhone. It was put on hold to address and release the need for the iPhone. However, the magic that is the iPhone will forever be beholden to the iPad. This was probably one of the most interesting revelations I’ve encountered in the book so far. But the iPad… that was Steve’s baby. He really wanted to do a tablet to counter the netbook surge and push, which is pretty much OVER at this point.

Apple has the tablet market pretty much sewn up. At this point, Android can try all it wants, but without the walled garden that Apple has cultivated and nurtured, it’s going to be hard for Google, any of their hardware partners, or ANYONE really, to catch up to them any time soon.

That being the case, rumors of an updated iPad have been circulating for quite some time. Many sites have been saying that the next generation iPad is already in production, and is readying for a March or April release. While I won’t say too much about that just yet, I do want to touch on some of the other rumors related to specific hardware feature sets that many are speculating will differentiate it from the iPad 2.

Better Screen – HD Resolution?
There’s been a great deal of speculation about this particular, potential feature upgrade. A Retina Display from Samsung, a Sharp IGZO display… No one really knows for certain what is going to happen here. However, I think it’s safe to say that Apple’s next generation iPad will have a much better screen than both the iPad 1 and iPad 2. Regardless of what type or which manufacturer really got the contract, Digitimes is reporting some (also unconfirmed) specifics on the screen:

  • A QXGA (1,536×2,048 pixels) display
  • Longer battery life
  • Although its other hardware specs may not be as exciting

The A6 Processor
Apple’s next system on a chip should have nearly twice as much punch as its previous iOS devices. The A5 chip is dual core. The A6 is rumored to be a quad core powerhouse. The tablet should be able to crunch through some major data at that point. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard how fast the chip is rumored to be, though I would assume 1.2-1.5gHz would not be unreasonable.

The Graphics Processor
Given that mobile gaming is on an uptick, and that iOS gaming is in no small part responsible for most of that uptick, it’s almost a certainty that an enhanced graphics processor will be part of Apple’s new iPad. There’s been very little about which processor…but with gaming becoming more important, and iLife apps like GarageBand and iMovie likely to be improved as well, the next edition iPad will need the additional punch of an improved graphics processor. This is probably more important than the implementation of the A6 processor.

HD Camera
The implementation of an HD quality screen begs the implementation of an HD camera. The implementation of a front and rear facing camera in the iPad 2, and the introduction of iMovie for the iPad really kicked this off. I would say that a 720p/8MP rear and 2-3MP front cameras are a safe bet as well.

4G-LTE
Apple clearly stated that it wouldn’t support LTE in the iPhone 4S. While speculation is ripe, no one is willing to make a FIRM say-so on the implementation of LTE. However, it is widely anticipated that Apple will support LTE in both the iPad 3 as well as iPhone 5. So as long as you’re in an LTE equipped market, you should be good to go.

Thunderbolt
This is probably my most favorite and most underused feature in my Early 2011 MacBook Pro. With the implementation of this high speed connectivity solution in its desktops, it seems logical that Apple will move to Thunderbolt and improve the throughput of local synchronization for all its iDevices. However, that would retether the devices it unleashed with the implementation of iCloud in iOS 5.

It would also totally hose about a gazillion iDevice accessories currently on the market today. Apple has been using their 30 pin dock connector forever, and while there have been a few changes to it, generally speaking they’ve stuck with it since the iPod was introduced many years ago.

This would be an interesting development; and one that I actually hope doesn’t come about. However, we’ll have to wait and see.

Come back next time, and I’ll dive into this a bit more with some speculation about iOS 6 and what it’s going to bring to the table.

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One year of Windows 7 Service Pack 1

It’s a long established practice that Microsoft have continued – releasing critical updates, security add-ons and new features to their operating systems through a series of additional ‘packs’. The latest operating system is no exception, with Windows 7 Service Pack 1 being released in February 2011.

Twelve months since the launch, Service Pack 1 (SP1) has met with mixed reception. The pack includes the standard security coding patches and improvements, which affect very little of the user end experience – in contrast to, say, the Windows XP Service Pack 2, which introduced a series of new facilities and functions that dramatically changed how you interacted with your computer.

While most users found that there were no issues installing this latest SP1, some running ‘mature’ copies of the system found initial difficulties with compatibility of third-party software. This is nothing new and tends to affect all service pack roll-outs. As a result, many experienced users decided to sit tight and hold off, allowing other PC consumers to be the guinea pigs.

The biggest criticism to be leveled at SP1 is that it does little to improve the experience of using your PC. Yes, there may be a host of back-end coding adaptations that further bolster the security of your machine, but these aren’t particularly exciting for day-to-day users.

read full review | download Windows 7 SP1

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Gimp – a free alternative to high priced, professional programs such as Photoshop

In today’s graphic intensive world, having a decent, full featured editor is a must.  Many top of the line packages come with the features everyone wants, and unfortunately, with the price tag to go with it.  This is one of the reasons why I like GIMP. It’s a full featured, multi-platform graphics editor; and its totally awesome.

GIMP is the image editing tool of choice for many users, in large part due to its many editing tools.  It’s more common tools include a paint brush, pencil, airbrush, eraser and ink tools. You can use them to create new or blended pixels. Tools such as the bucket fill and blend tools are used to change large regions of space in an image and can be used to help blend images.

GIMP also has a selection of smart tools.  These use a more complex algorithm to enable a user to complete time consuming or difficult tasks, and include the clone tool that copies pixels using a brush, and the healing brush which copies pixels from an area and corrects the tone and color where it is being used. The perspective clone tool works in a similar way to the clone tool, but also allows a user to alter and correct distance changes. The blur and sharpen tool is a brush that blurs and sharpens sections of an image; and the dodge and burn tool is a brush that makes target pixels lighter (dodges) or darker (burns).

An image being edited in GIMP can consist of many layers. Each layer in an image is made up of several channels. In an RGB image there are normally 3 or 4 channels, consisting of a red, green and blue channel. Color sub-layers look like slightly different gray images, but when put together they make a complete image. The fourth channel that may be part of a layer is the alpha channel (or layer mask), this channel measures opacity where a whole or part of an image can be completely visible, partially visible or invisible.

Read full review | Download GIMP

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