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Wacom: What Size?

Posted by Scott

products_wacom_tablet_6x8[1].jpeg So it’s finally time to go legit and get a Wacom tablet but I’m having trouble deciding which size to get. I’m afraid if I get one to get one too big I’ll have to be making broad strokes just to get the cursor from one side of the screen to the other, and of course too small might be imprecise. Wacom offers the following sizes in it’s “Intuos” line:

4×6″
6×8″
6×11″
9×12″
12×12″
12×19″

So this is to all of you who have experience with these tablets: What size would you recommend? Is bigger really better in this case? If you have any good advice please sound off in the comments.
Thanks!

Design Mouse Roundup

Posted by Scott

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One of the greatest failures of modern computers is the lack of options we have when choosing a way to interact with them. Whether it’s a mouse, keyboard, or pen pad, the medium through which we manipulate our computers is the most important link in our workflow. An 8-core Mac Pro can’t read your mind (yet), so unfortunately we still must rely on rather archaic modes of interaction to get machines to do our bidding. Whether by choice or necessity, most designers use the good old mouse, a device which dates back to 1963 and remains largely unchanged since its inception. Sure, they’ve added lasers, buttons, and scroll wheels, but these aren’t exactly conceptual quantum leaps; the humble mouse still adheres to a fundamentally flawed model for human-machine interaction. I don’t know what’s next, but I can bet it isn’t multi-touch, at least not for us designers.

Pointing devices have always been an important issue for me, when I was in my early 20′s and getting started in design I had to wear a brace for nearly a year and learn to work with my left hand to overcome the repetitive stress syndrome brought on by mousing. This prompted me to get a pen pad, but of course I skimped and got a low end off-brand and really never took to it. I have tried the Wacom tablets, which are admittedly more precise and ergonomic, but after so many years with a mouse it’s hard to make the switch to such a foreign system. That said, I am planning to finally get a good Wacom this week and start the long road to learning it and from what I have heard from other people, I would recommend any young designer not yet set in their ways to strongly consider making the investment and learning Photoshop / Illustrator with a good tablet. Your wrist will thank you and so will your productivity. But the truth remains: most of us still use mice. Go to even the biggest design firms and you’ll see row after row of desks with mice sitting on them. This article is for everyone like me who either doesn’t want to fork out $400 for a decent tablet system or just can’t make the switch from the mouse.

Let me start by saying that I believe Logitech is about the only real player in the mouse game at this point. There are a lot of other competitors, but none offer such a wide variety of options and features in their products. And specs aside, none in my experience come close to the real-world functionality I have found in my Logitech mice. I have looked into many of the specialty companies that offer so-called “ergonomic” mice but have never gone for one since it seems I always have to sacrifice so much in the way of functionality and features to get to the improved ergonomics. I have owned about 10 Logitech mice and all have served me well in different capacities but none have really excelled across the board. I judge my mice on three criteria and in this order: precision (and I don’t mean the quoted DPI of the device, I mean how precise it really handles), ergonomics, features (wheels, buttons etc). What follows is a list of my favorite mice from over the years, why I bought them, and what I liked and didn’t like about them.

Logitech MX518
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This was the first “gaming grade” mouse I bought. The proliferation of gaming mice has been great for us as designers. Apparently we aren’t a large enough group to warrant many purpose made mice but there are a whole lot of gamers out there and they’re driving the market for high precision pointing devices, forcing the manufacturers into a game of one-upmanship in regards to resolution and features, both of which benefit us as designers. The MX518 also marks the first time I went back to a corded mouse after the thrill of cordless had faded. I have never been a fan of cordless mice, they run out of batteries, lose reception due to interference, and are generally less precise than their corded brethren. But many of the best mice are only available in the cordless variety (more on that below) so at times I’ve had to compromise. But that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to Logitech, they always have a very good selection of corded mice while most other manufacturers are obsessed with cordless (as if a small cord on your desk is so cumbersome, it reminds me a lot of the glossy screen craze that has killed off the matte screen.) The MX518 is, to this day, my favorite mouse. I still have it around and plug it in for large projects. It’s extremely precise, has a good tactile feel when moving it across surfaces, and has enough extra features to be pretty competitive. It has a rudimentary DPI toggle with 3 level settings which is a big plus when moving back and forth from Mac to PC on a KVM switch as the two OS’s have very different mouse behaviors. It also helps to be able to adjust the sensitivity on the fly as the situation dictates. The MX518 is also one of the last corded optical mice you can buy as most new mice are laser-based. Unfortunately, this mouse does not have the MicroGear wheel which I love (more on that below).

Logitech G5
200811302056.jpgI got this mouse because it boasted higher DPI, a laser, braided cord (less tangling) and a custom weighting system. I love heavy mice, I took my MX518 apart and filled it with quarters to make it more solid and precise so the G5 seemed great because it had a built in weighting system out of the box, no quarters required. The only issue I had with it was the lack of a “forward” thumb button, something which the MX518 had. The image below is off the new (and ugly as sin) version of the G5, the old grey one that I had only had one thumb button. It’s still missing the MicroGear scroll wheel, but with the added thumb button this new version would probably be my favorite if I owned it now. Alas, I left mine on stage at a show (San Diego I think) and it was never seen again. R.I.P.

Logitech G9
200811302055.jpgI bought the G9 when I lost my G5 thinking it would be a logical progression in features and ergonomics to its predecessor. It also sports a MicroGear scroll wheel so I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I did. I never liked this mouse, it feels weird in my hand, is too flat, and only has 2 extra buttons. For $100 I want a little more. But this is all beside the point, I left this mouse on stage at a show (detroit?) and never saw it again. Two G-series mice down.

Logitech MX Revolution
200811302054.jpgThis is without a doubt the most advanced mouse you can get. It has a thumb wheel, MicroGear Scroll wheel, and three extra buttons. The only things lacking are a DPI toggle and a cord. I really wish the revolution came in a corded version, the battery life is pretty bad and the battery itself is prone to failure (a fact well-documented in forums all over the web). Mine is sort of in half-failure mode. Sometimes it charges and sometimes it doesn’t, but it always says the battery is dead which is annoying. It’s also not quite as precise as the corded mice above. Regardless of all that, it now serves as my primary mouse for everyday use. The thumbwheel is amazing for OS X (expose etc.) and if Logitech either worked out the battery issue or offered a corded version, this would be the only mouse I’d ever use.

Logitech MX1100
200811302053.jpgI bought this for two reasons: It seemed to have all of the features of the MX Revolution but with replaceable batteries (thereby fixing my main gripe with the Revolution), and it sported a DPI toggle. I also has a new feature which allows you to lock out the MicroGear scroll wheel which is very nice depending on the situation. It takes AA batteries, has an on/off switch, and boasts an extremely long battery life. I put Eneloop rechargeables in it and it worked out great. I love the ergonomics of this mouse and I love the features, but it’s just not very precise. When I got it I noticed something was off and kept trying to tweak settings to get it right to no avail. I run Steermouse on OS X and the Logitech software on Windows and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get this mouse to act right. All in all this thing was a huge disappointment if only for the fact that I had such high hopes for it. I now use it when I travel since it has the on/off switch and doesn’t require a charging station. It works great in this role but I certainly don’t use it to design at home. For some reason, when trying to make very small circular motions with its resolution breaks up and you end up drawing little squares instead. Not a huge deal for browsing the web, but a deal-killer for graphic design tasks.

So there you have it, my admittedly biased mini-reviews of the Logitech lineup. In the end it’s all about your preference so I encourage you to try out as many as you can to find what suits you best. Hopefully I’ll have a tablet review in a month or so once I get up to speed with the Wacom. If you have any experience with these mice or recommendations of others that I haven’t mentioned here please speak up in the comments.

Macbook Pro MKII: Future Artifact

Posted by Scott

DSC_2472.jpgDSC_2513.jpg DSC_2485.jpg As you may have already guessed, I caved in and got a new Macbook Pro (MKII, Unibody….whatever it’s called) last weekend. Since there’s no sense in beating around the bush with this one, I’ll come right out and say it: This is possibly the most beautiful, functional, and elegant piece of hardware I have ever owned (or been in the same room with for that matter). Obviously it’s a looker, there’s no denying the aesthetic appeal; it feels as if you’re in the presence of some artifact transported back from the future. It’s almost impossibly thin and the weight is perfectly balanced, it feels almost like a solid brick of aluminum. The most incredible part is the power hiding beneath that sleek skin, it’s hard to believe Apple crammed it all into this svelte form factor. I think the real key to the success of this design is the fact that it feels and looks like one solid object. All laptops I have used until this point sort of felt like a loose collection of disparate components shoehorned into a flimsy shell. The new Macbook feels like a single unit; a rugged, seamless, integrated tool. As it should, the body is carved from a single piece of aluminum.

The battery life is also great, I have been squeezing around 4 hours out of a single charge which blows away my previous HP laptops. I Would have to say my favorite part though is the new trackpad. It’s huge, lacking a button (actually, it’s just one big button), and very responsive. The gestures are genius: four finger gestures activate expose functions, three fingers handles navigation (fwd, back, etc..) and the old two finger scrolling is intact. This is the first laptop I’ve used where I wasn’t constantly wishing for a mouse. The keyboard is great too, very nice tactility with a solid feel. A great improvement over previous versions in my opinion. Bottom line: Believe the hype, this thing is a winner.

Ok, so enough gushing, everyone knew the new Macbook Pro was going to be an amazing machine before it even came out. It does have two potentially major weaknesses, and while they pale in comparison to the upshots, I feel compelled to list them here in case any are deal breakers for those of you considering buying one. First up: the infamous glossy screen. A lot of people have lamented the death of the matte screen option which was available on the previous incarnation of the MBP. But to tell you the truth, it really doesn’t bother me like I thought it would (and kind of gives me a nostalgic feeling for my old CRTs). The glossy screen was originally a deal breaker for me, I was planning to wait until they released a matte version (which is supposedly in the works) as my previous HP gloss screens were absolutely terrible. But after comparing the new MBP with an old matte MBP, I definitely prefer the new screen. Given, it is an LED so the brightness and contrast are better than the old LCDs to begin with, so perhaps a matte version of the new LED would win out in the end. But honestly, this has turned out to be a non-issue for me; I have yet to encounter a lighting situation in which I had a big problem with glare. I took a shot of the MBP doing it’s best mirror impression (below). Keep in mind that the screen was turned off for this picture and I was running some very bright photo flood lights, so it really amplifies the effect a bit more than a normal usage scenario. That shiny screen is a fingerprint / scratch magnet though, I can’t imagine it still looking very pretty in a year or so.

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Next up is Apple’s new Mini Display Port format. It’s a very, very small port that handles all of the video output duties on the new Macbook. I’m all for innovation and moving forward, but this seems like too much too soon. It also seems like Apple is just trying force it’s customers to adopt it’s own, proprietary format. My issue with the Mini Display Port isn’t that I had to buy $100 in adapters just to make it work with my existing equipment (although that wasn’t exactly a plus), my problem is that, for the time being at least, there is no TV out for the Macbook Pro. The old full-sized DVI ports had four analog pins that allowed for an S-Video or Composite adapter to be used. Even the mini-DVI ports, which would have fit fine in this new form factor, supported analog output. You might say that S-Video and Composite are old formats and worthy of deprecation in this day and age, but a lot of video professionals still rely on these formats for live performance. For most VJs, DVI or VGA just isn’t an option as a lot of venues don’t supply them on stage and most video mixers still run off S-Video/Composite only. I know this isn’t an issue that will effect the masses (clearly who Apple are shooting for), but the word “Pro” does appear at the end of this laptop’s name and I’d expect it to have all the “pro” features included. And even if you aren’t a pro, it’s always nice to be able to hook up to an older (sans-HDMI/DVI) TV in a pinch. I was really caught off guard by this issue since at the time of purchase I was told that TV out was possible and the nice salesman even sold me a TV-out adapter (which of course didn’t work considering It’s only compatible with the old MBP. Something I didn’t learn until I got home). There is hope though, I read somewhere that the new Nvidia chip does support analog out, it’s just a matter of Apple taking advantage of this ability and offering an adapter. But since they don’t currently offer such an option, I’ll have to go plunk down another $100 for a TV scan-converter which will further degrade the already poor S-Video/Composite signal I’m trying to output. (See Peter Kirn’s Create Digital Motion article for more info on alternatives to TV-out on the Macbook.) And if all that’s not enough, those who invested in Apple’s flagship 30″ Cinema display have to purchase yet another $100 adapter just to make Mini Display Port work with their monitor. So to sum up, that’s a potential $300 extra just to get your shiny new Macbook to play nice with all your existing gear/formats. (And that’s not counting a Firewire 400 adapter.)

Obviously, neither of these relatively minor issues were enough to turn me off to this otherwise incredible machine. But I guess when I see something so near perfection and the only things holding it back are such simple fixes, I tend to fixate on those problems. The bottom line is that this is a huge leap forward in mobile computing and would serve any creative well. $2000 gets the base model and $2500 will get you the beefed up version (4GB ram / larger HD / 512MB vram). The student discount will knock off around $200.

So what say you? Anyone else scored one yet? Any thoughts / issues? Sound off in the comments.

Nikon D3x: December?

Posted by Scott

nikon-d3_1.jpgTrue to form for the Megapixel Wars, Nikon is said to be upping the ante with the follow up to it’s flagship D3 12MP shooter. The new D3x will apparently sport a 24MP sensor along with various other upgrades. I had the chance to try a D3 out earlier this year in Bangkok; it really was an incredible machine and I can only imagine what this more powerful version might be like. While the price on the D3x puts it well outside the range of my shortlist for new DSLRs, it’s still nice to lust over something so truly state of the art. Via Gizmodo via Gadgetlab

Sheath Your Precious Macbook In Wood

Posted by Scott

836261223751922.jpg 836261223752023.jpg836261223752086.jpgAs you may have realized by now, I love wood grain. The only thing I love more than woodgrain is when there’s stainless steel or brushed aluminum involved. This molded plywood laptop case by Brian Kelly doesn’t appear to be the most functional thing in the world (and it will certainly add some girth to your MBP) but sometimes form must come before function. More details on Brian’s Behance page.

Intel Core i7

Posted by Scott

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Tech Radar has a good article about Intel’s upcoming Core i7 processor, the first truly integrated quad core from intel (apparently the previous quad cores were actually just two dual cores cobbled together). Judging from the specs and the multi-threading performance this looks to be a very good thing for us in the multimedia world. Couple that with OS X Snow Leopard’s supposed focus on improving multi-core support and it’s looking like things could get very powerful coming up here. That is of course, if the developers hold up their end of the bargain by creating software that efficiently takes advantage of new hardware. But judging from past experience, it’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen (Case in point: Photoshop is still 32-bit on the Macintosh. WTF?). Either way, it’s exciting to see that processor technology is still moving along at a steady clip. Long live Moore’s Law!

Article Link

Handshoemouse

Posted by Scott

big_hres_handshoemouse-002.jpg big_hres_handshoemouse-001.jpgThe “Handshoemouse” was developed by scientists at the medical universities of Rotterdam and Maastricht. It’s meant to be ergonomic and it sure looks the part. I have used Logitech for many years now without much trouble. I had a bout of Repetitive Stress Syndrome years and years ago but I think that was more about the desk height than anything. This looks pretty nice, but it’s sad that you have to compromise all the special features (extra buttons, hyperscroll, etc.) to get the truly ergonomic designs. Still meaning to pick up a MX1100 to replace my old revolution. Via Hot Hardware

Behold The New Macbook Pro

Posted by Scott

VT78.jpg You know you’d buy one if it ran OS X. The real thing is still a looker though.

All aesthetic concerns aside, the news that the new Macbooks will sport dual GPUs, taking advantage of Snow Leopard’s new-found process offloading abilities, is more than welcome. This is the first time that I’ve seen the whole “GPU as processor” revolution that’s been gaining steam lately actually start to become a reality. It’s no surprise that Apple brought it to the table first. As John Gruber put it: “What we’re seeing may be the beginning of the end of CPU hertz as the rule-of-thumb metric for system performance.” As you may know, Photoshop CS4 already leverages the power of the GPU and it’s great to see that other apps, and even the OS itself will be following in it’s footsteps.