I wish I could say these were from when I was younger, but the closest I ever got to BMX was digging jumps and watching my friends careen off of them (I went off once with a road bike, crashed, and stayed grounded after that).
Anyway the above shots were taken by Cameron Muilenburg from Hidden Clothing. It looks like he and his friends were pretty good — not only at riding but also at capturing the experience with basic equipment (I assume Polaroid). I love the color and composition. The first one feels like a still from a film, paused at just the right moment to capture the most movement.
I’d heard of Genuine Fractals — onOne Software’s scaling plugin — from Tim at Blue Moon Printing but I had yet to try it out for myself. It’s basically a plugin for Photoshop which uses a proprietary algorithm (as opposed to Photshop’s built in resizing modes) to enlarge images. I was pretty skeptical but finally decided to try it out tonight when faced with some daunting upscaling projects.
I’m in the process of working through some older posters and sizing them up to the larger formats. For a long time I created all of my prints at 12×18″ (or thereabouts, depending on the format) as my computer just couldn’t handle anything bigger. For many I’ve been able to go back and recreate them, but some elements in the posters are scanned from smaller sources and just couldn’t be scaled up (e.g. the sky background in the above example. It’s made from a photo of a textile which is of a finite size and I don’t have access to anymore). So I figured now would be a good time to give Genuine Fractals a try. To my amazement it handled everything I threw at it beautifully. The interface and workflow are dead simple: you just initiate the Genuine Fractals dialog from the File > Automate menu, resize, click apply, and you’re done. It’s even fast, about the same speed as Photoshop’s resize command. There’s not much more to say as the results really speak for themselves. Simply put: Genuine Fractals can scale your images up to 1000% larger without any noticeable degradation. That’s what it says on their site and from my experience I’d say that’s absolutely true.
Genuine Fractals excels at photographic imagery, but that’s to be expected. With complex raster images it’s easy for imperfections to hide amongst all the shapes and colors. I thought the true test would be it’s ability to scale up flattened vector images. That is, vector shape and text layers flattened into raster images. I am doing this just to better illustrate how clean the scaling is but Genuine Fractals can actually handle multi-layered images (text, raster, and vector shape layers), scaling each layer individually and maintaining the original layer type. Meaning, if you feed it a document with a raster layer, a text layer, and a vector layer, it will use it’s algorithm to scale the raster data but will also scale the text and vector layers without rasterizing them. All the layers will be maintained as they were in the original document, they will just be scaled up. For my purposes, this is what makes Genuine Fractals truly powerful.
Here are some of my results. I know, none of this is very scientific but it’s a small glimpse of how well this program works. See the subtext under each image for a description.
Genuine Fractals Resized
Genuine Fractals Resized
As you can see, the lines are still crisp and defined with the Genuine Fractals enlargements. It’s not exactly perfect when compared to the original, but it’s a greatly improved alternative to Photoshop’s native scaling algorithms. My only question now is: At $700, why doesn’t Photoshop have this kind of power built in? New features like content aware scaling are nice and all, but I’d much rather they spent their R&D money on core functionality like this.
You can download a demo of Genuine Fractals from their site to try it out yourself. At $150, the software is a little too pricey for casual use, I’d say this is more for print shops and professional photographers looking to scale up their work for large format printing.
After last month’s foray into the wonderful world of SSD’s via my newly super-powered Macbook Pro, I decided it was time to take my main tower PC to the next level. It wasn’t an easy decision at first, but it soon became a lot easier when two of the four drives in my RAID0 Photoshop swap array went down (for more on RAID, see my earlier post on the subject). I also had a very large format project beginning the next day and was dreading slogging through it with plain old HDDs. So I had two choices:
1. Go the (much) cheaper route — around $300 — and replace the drives in the array with two new ones of the same, ye olden tymes HDD variety.
2. Take the plunge and buy SSD’s at around $400 a pop.
I’ve made the mistake in the past of skimping and then regretting it later and I am finally starting to learn my lesson on that one. After all, computers are the central element in my professional life and how I make my living. With that in mind it’s easier to justify the large expenditure, as long as the performance gain is substantial enough. And was it ever. I’ve fallen for performance gimmicks and hype here and there in the past and have been disappointed time and again. This wasn’t one of those times.
When I built this particular machine I decided to go big with the processor and got what was at the time a the state-of-the-art Intel Q9650 Core 2 Duo Extreme. I didn’t really skimp on the rest of the components either, it’s definitely a solid rig. Still, I always felt it wasn’t living up to it’s full potential, especially considering the coin I dropped on it originally. Lately, when things are moving slow or just not acting right, I’ve caught myself considering building a new machine. Considering how recently I built the thing and how much it cost, this is just ridiculous. This was supposed to last me a while and be — to a certain degree — future-proof (which, in the computer world, means about 3-4 years). So it sort of came down to spending the $2500 to build a new tower or spending $1200 to make the existing one faster. In light of my experiences with the SSD and my Macbook Pro, I came to the conclusion that the best course of action was to replace the old HDD’s with SSD’s.
I ended up settling on a three drive configuration: One dedicated drive for the OS (Windows 7 RTM 7600 — which has been working out amazingly well) and two drives for the RAID0 array. The Windows drive is clocking in at around 245MB/s (over six times as fast as the average I/O on my old HDD) with a .1ms seek time (which is off the charts fast). The RAID array with just two drives is running around 480MB/s which is significantly faster than the four HDDs I had in there before.
All the numbers are great but there’s a lot more to the story than just raw I/O performance. The drives have removed the one big bottleneck that was left in my system, allowing all of the other components to reach their full potential. The performance increases I’ve seen go far beyond what you might expect from just a faster disk drive. It’s like a whole new computing experience, I feel more able to experiment and a lot more confident about overall stability. I almost feel like the computer used to choke on big data read/writes and would just finally crash. With the new drives it just rips through anything and never really hits that tipping point where things lock up. This new found stability could also be due to the fact that I installed the final RTM version of Windows 7 when I put in the new drives. I had been using the beta, which although very stable in it’s own right, didn’t quite compare to what I am experiencing now.
The bottom line is that SSDs are the real deal. Yes, they’re still expensive, but if you work with computers and very large files, you owe it to yourself and your workflow to look into what they have to offer. If your rig is feeling sluggish, getting a SSD to perk it up might actually turn out be a bargain when compared to the price of a new machine. Of course, a more pragmatic person might wait another year or so until the numbers come down, but I didn’t really have that luxury this time around. I’ll be posting the detailed data next week once I get a chance to do some more tests. The next step is to split that Windows drive and install OS X. If only they made Sonar for Mac I’d make the switch.
If you follow the blog you’ll know that I’ve touched on the subject of SSDs before. A quick primer for the uninitiated: an SSD (solid state drive) is a storage device that uses solid state memory (As in no moving parts, other examples include RAM and flash memory) and so it can access data much faster than the mechanical head/platter drives most people use now and with no moving parts, data loss due to mechanical failure is a thing of the past. The promise of SSD is huge and as they become commonplace they will no doubt revolutionize the way we work (think Photoshop swap disks that read and write @ 1400MB/s or computers that boot in 5 seconds). Because I work with such large raster files, swap disk performance in particular is a very big issue for me so I keep a close eye on the SSD market, waiting for the moment when the price to performance ratio hits the sweet spot. Right now most SSD technology is still on the pricey side and there are a few technical issues that are still being sorted out (write endurance supposedly being one of them) so I haven’t jumped in just yet. But as things change I will continue to post updates on the SSD situation.
For the first installment I thought I’d post on the very interesting OCZ Z-Drive. It’s insanely expensive right now, but as we all know, those prices drop pretty fast as the tech matures (remember $800 DVD writers?). The Z-Drive is basically 4 SSD drives in a RAID 0 array on a PCI-Express card. This is a novel concept; by using the PCI-Express bus OCZ has sidestepped the bottleneck of the SATA controllers allowing huge throughput in both directions. Boasting 700MB/s write speeds, the Z-Drive is certainly no slouch, but considering the price (they start at $1500!!) I’m holding out for more. I think the magic number for me would be 1000MB/s for around $500. This would make a perfect solution for Photoshop swap disks and other applications that require massive read/write throughput (video render disks etc.) and while it doesn’t make sense for me right now, it’s great to see this emerging technology headed in the right direction.
A friend that I used to work at Adobe with sent me this Adobe UI Gripes site yesterday. I really can’t say why I find it so amusing but maybe it’s just nice to see someone going through the same frustration I feel sometimes with Adobe apps. I guess when you’ve essentially monopolized the creative software market like Adobe, you make a pretty easy target for stuff like this. Anyways, it’s a fun read and there are gems like this sprinkled around here and there. I’ve encountered a lot of these before and just asked why, but I’m not sure I ever got as worked up as this. Link
Realistically, I really only have a few problems with CS4. At the top of the list would be Bridge. Somewhere around CS3 Adobe decided to cripple Windows machines and remove the thumbnail icon viewing capability from the OS file explorer thereby forcing you to use Bridge (pretty clever). This wouldn’t be a big deal, I actually like Bridge a lot, only problem is it crashes nearly every time I use it for more than 10 minutes. There’s a fix for 32-bit windows installs but not for 64-bit so we’re left with the generic icon when trying to browse PSD’s in explorer. A couple others would be the permanent hand icon mode (you’ll know it if you’ve encountered it…thankfully there’s any easy fix: reset warning dialogs, but why?) and the delay in dragging content from one tabbed window in Photoshop to another tabbed document, you have to hold that thing up there for waaay too long. How about you, what Adobe bugs do you love to hate?
I’ve been seeing these 2 Periodic Tables floating around, the larger version of the typeface one is pretty fun to look over and I guess the Photoshop CS shortcuts one is a poster and there’s also ones for Illustrator and InDesign as well.
So it’s late 2008 (what happened?) and I’ve now entered a new chapter in my never ending quest for the ideal OS for design and music. If you read this blog with any regularity, you’ll know that I’m a lifelong Windows user who recently got a Macbook pro, my first official Apple computer. I still use Windows to create music and design, but I have my Macbook for all the other stuff: blogging, surfing, listening to music, traveling, etc., etc. I would love to switch to Mac for music and graphics as well, but the program I use for recording music, Cakewalk Sonar, is Windows only. So unless I want to start from scratch and learn a new DAW software like Logic, I’m pretty much stuck with PC for better or for worse. That being the case, I was pretty excited when Windows Vista first came out, I had read a lot about the enhancements they had made to the OS and at that point, XP was really showing it’s age. But as we all know, when Vista finally did come out it was a bitter disappointment for many, myself included. I plunked down $350(!!) for Vista Business 64-bit edition right when it came out only to find that it was a complete mess. Bad driver compatibility, unstable operation, security holes: you name it, Vista had it. So I reluctantly went back to XP, thought I’d wait it out and let the hardware manufacturers catch up and write new, more stable drivers for Vista. But that didn’t work out so well either, after about 6 months of waiting I installed Vista again with similar results. Add one more, XP-wait-reinstall cycle and that was it for me, I finally put it to rest and retiring the install CD to the storage closet with all the old dusty manuals, floppy disks, and other computer ephemera that I can’t seem to part with.
Fast forward a year: SP1 for Vista is out, a lot of hardware makers have more mature drivers available (MOTU being the most important to me), and 64-bit Photoshop has become a reality thanks to CS4. One day I was talking with my friend Dusty Brown and the subject of Windows came up. Like me, he uses a Mac laptop and a PC desktop. One for daily tasks, one for recording music and graphics. He said he had been using Vista for a while and that it had been working out great for him. This got me thinking, was the time right to finally put that 8GB of ram in my desktop to use? The allure of 64-bit Photoshopping was just too much to resist. So I bit the bullet and installed Vista on my main desktop for the fourth time. It has now been about a month since I did and I can honestly say I am very, very impressed. Perhaps I am only relatively impressed given my past history, but this time around Vista has been super stable (albeit very subjective, I’ve counted 0 lock-ups or crashes in Vista compared with around 8 on my brand new Macbook Pro). Photoshop has been tearing through files, I’ve noted a marked improvement in file opening speed, screen redraws, and overall performance. And perhaps most importantly, when I open the preferences in Photoshop and go to “performance”, the RAM slider goes all the way up to 7224 MB (see image above). It’s ridiculous to think how long it took for that to become a reality, but here we are. Some might argue that I am merely experiencing the benefits of using a 64-bit OS and that Vista itself isn’t really central to my overall satisfaction. Perhaps, but I used Windows XP 64 for about 6 months earlier this year and it was a buggy mess, nothing even approaching the stability and performance I am seeing in Vista. A quick note on configuration: I disabled a lot of non-essential services (as I always do with Windows) and turned off all visual effects and security services. Point being that fresh out of the box, your mileage may vary with Vista, it takes some tweaking.
But as with everything, it’s not all roses. DRM, for one, is not doing Vista any favors. Apparently Microsoft, being the paragon of freedom and privacy that they are, decided to embed DRM (digital rights management) at the core of Vista, to the extent that it scans each and every bit moving through the system to check for copyright information. This can slow certain operations down and cripple others completely. Fortunately, it’s most obvious effects are limited to file copy/transfer and are somewhat sporadic, so they don’t really impinge on my day to day workflow. Let me qualify that information though by stating that it is merely internet rumor at this point (well documented rumor, but rumor nonetheless), to date, MS has made no official on whether or not they have integrated DRM into the OS.
So yes, I bought the hype and listened to all the Vista haters for a long time. And maybe they were right, but the key word here is “were”. It’s almost 2009 and I am here to say that Vista is all growed up. So yeah, there it is, take it or leave it. Anyone else using Vista 64 with CS4? What has your experience been?
Some very exciting news about the new CS suite (dubbed "CS Next"). It is being reported that Photoshop CS Next (CS4) will have GPU acceleration, meaning that it would be able to leverage the extremely powerful processor that, for 2D work like Photoshop, usually sits dormant on that $400 gaming video card you have in your computer. This is really big news and could lead to very big performance gains for large computations like filters and screen rendering. No news on how the lack of a 64-bit flavor of Photoshop for the OS X platform will affect this development. Via TG Daily. There’s also some more info over at TUAW.