Outstreched arm

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Do iPhoto developers know what saturation is?

I use iPhoto for most of my day-to-day photo organizing and tweaking. Its image adjustment features keep getting better - now that it does three-point levels tweaking and shadow/highlight adjustment, it has kicked Photoshop off my "keep running at all times" list.

Except when I need to tweak saturation, which in iPhoto people's dictionary obviously means something other than "intensity of hue". Here are some examples. Let's say I have a "weak" photo which could benefit from having its colors kicked up a notch. Here's what happens when I do this in Photoshop (left) and iPhoto '08 (right, and '07 does the same) with the original provided in the middle for comparison. In both apps, I'm pushing the saturation slider about a quarter of the way to the right.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
(Click for full size)

Photoshop does exactly what I wanted. iPhoto boosts the color some, but what it does more than anything else is darken the photo. I never asked for this. Sure, hue and saturation changes will change the perceived lightness and darkness of an image, but not like this.

To illustrate this better, let's push saturation all the way. Again, Photoshop on the left, original in the middle, iPhoto on the right.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us
(Click for full size)

Oversaturated, normal, DARK. What's going on?

P.S. Sorry about the ImageShacking.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Apple.com revisited

About a year ago I took a look at Apple.com on this blog, pointing out the areas that underwhelmed in both their marketing and design. Since then, the website has been redesigned to welcome iPhone and Leopard, and also to follow web standards (what inspired that is anyone's guess - that mythical Apple excellence?)

Did they address the complaints I had? Or, rather, did I diagnose the weak spots well? In a phrase, by God, what archery! Here's my original list of needed improvements with notes on what's been fixed: (you can see a (slow) archive of the old website at archive.org)

  • make your Hardware and Software pages lickable.

    The new Mac section certainly does that. Pretty pictures, a simple overview of all their products, an invitation to spend, spend, spend.

  • Compress that scattered footer found on most of your pages; I appreciate the white space, but I cringe at the lack of grid, balance, and composition in it. Also, those default blue links have to go. The .Mac page is on the right track.

    The new footer is small and beautiful. Two lines, neatly organized, with a pleasant Newport blue. Ahhh.

  • Widen the Store page; it's still in 640 x 480 land, while most of your site has expanded way beyond it.

    Yes sir!

  • Lose the menu pinstripe. I know, I know. They grow up so fast.

    We'll do one better - we'll make it match Leopard.

  • RSS is orange - that's been decided. Drop the blue and ride with it. This applies to Safari and the rest of the desktop as well.

    This probably isn't happening. The "Tiger blue" is Apple's current "this is new" marker.

  • Spice up the Retail pages; they're not bad, but they just don't make me want to visit and shop as much as pretty much everything else on the website does.

    There have been some improvements here, but individual stores' pages still serve as reference material, not drool inducers. Oh well.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Google invents email, it seems

Goodness gracious. If you're going to write a technology article for a fairly large publication, it's good to be familiar with some basic 21st century technology. This is from Michael Agger's piece on privacy issues some Google users are concerned about:

A few months ago, a friend told me that he had stopped using Gmail. This seemed crazy. Gmail is free, it looks good, and you never have to delete anything. He thought it was a bad idea to entrust your personal communication to one company: "You don't know what they do with your e-mail. Even if you delete it, it still exists on their servers." Another friend, a lawyer, told me how Gmail exists in a murky privacy area. Because the Google servers "read" your e-mail to place the ads that appear next to it, a note sent via Gmail may not be a protected communication in the same way that a letter sent through the postal service is.

That's absolutely true. Firing off an email through Google's email servers is not the same as mailing a letter. But it's exactly like sending an email using any other company's email server - AOL, Yahoo!, your ISP, or the hosting you bought for your domain. Your message makes its way through somebody else's computer and a copy of it also finds a permanent home there (unless your email provider doesn't do regular backups, in which case you're probably using your nephew's gaming computer as your email server).

Yes, Gmail also "reads" your email to provide targeted ads. They, and every other provider, also "read" it in order to send it to the recipient. None of this is done by humans and all of it encompasses ALL the information you emailed. Of course, your local ISP may not run that extra content scan to decide which ads to show you. But again, how is this automated, brainless extra step a privacy problem?

Email servers don't "read" "just" the recipient's address. If "to read" means "to parse", they "read" all of it; if it means "to understand and possibly misuse", they don't "read" it at all. We humans tend to see any attempt at targeted parsing as a Skynet-like AI that understands.

For instance, many email clients (programs or websites you use, not email providers) will warn you if you're sending a message without a subject line. Is this problematic? Should the application be going through my communication instead of just sending it? Here's a more interesting example: there are plug-ins for email programs that will flag you if your message contains the word "attachment" (or something similar) but you haven't attached anything to the email. This solves a common problem - typing "I'm attaching a picture of my dog" and sending the email without attaching the file. Is this invasive?

Of course, one can (and will) argue that this is different. These are limited features, and we don't have to use them. And there are certainly ways that Google could misuse the contents of your email; I'm not arguing that privacy isn't a problem on the Internet. But one thing it's definitely not is a Google problem. Every ISP transmits, stores, and "reads" your email. They all have similar access to it, should they wish to misuse it.

P.S. Worrying about Gmail's targeted ads is like saying that the USPS is threatening your privacy because they offer Media Mail rates, which apply to packages containing books, music, computer media, and such. That's the sort of vague idea that Google (or rather, Google's computer programs) have about the contents of your email.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Name your price - no, really, any price

By now you may have already heard that Radiohead decided to sell their new album, In Rainbows, in a pretty novel way: you can pre-order a downloadable version from their website. Cost? Whatever. The price field is a simple text box where you're free to enter any amount between 0 and... well, $100,000, if you feel like it. (There's also a special "discbox" which includes vinyl and other goodies; a collector's item through and through.)

Quite shocking, isn't it? Today, the BBC ran this rather ironic comment from the band's spokesperson:

Most people are deciding on a normal retail price with very few trying to buy it for a penny.

Why do I call it ironic? Because if most people agree on the price, the choice of naming your own price becomes less important.

This sales experiment may turn out to be an example of the sort of illusion of choice that similar honor systems have long embodied. When given the option to pay nothing (or next to nothing) or "whatever they feel it's worth", people tend to estimate the worth of the item pretty close to its retail price. Paying $3 for the album would seem wrong somehow, even if you did it in the privacy and secrecy of your computer room. And you wouldn't want those nice Radiohead people to look at the orders and go, "hey, who's the tosser in Ohio who paid so little? Screw this - next album's going straight to Walmart." That's a caricature, of course, but the point is that most of us probably aren't "deciding" this too close to the conscious part of our brain. The social pressures at work do what they do.

Still, this does give the option of paying only $1 to the person who can't afford to pay more, or who expects to like only one or two songs on the album. This option wasn't available before... unless they downloaded the album illegally from a file-sharing network. That, of course, would have been against the band's wishes, but I'm betting that Radiohead wouldn't be thrilled if it turned out that most people were paying $1 either.

I'm not saying it's six of one, a half dozen of the other whether you pay $1 or download In Rainbows from, say, Soulseek. But it's pretty darn close, especially if everyone else did it. The reason they don't is that they see how five and a half is rather close to a half a dozen.

I'm, of course, assuming that the quote is correct and that most people indeed paid the retail price. For my part, I threw in $10 before hearing what others were paying.
This is from AppleInsider's look at Preview 4.0, coming in Leopard:

As is commonly the case with Apple products, as it gets closer to perfection it becomes easier to criticize for not fulfilling every imaginable desire.

Tru dat.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Let it rain

Problem: finding waterproof shoes for Portland's increasingly rainy weather.
Complication: I do a lot of walking, and dressy shoes or boots hurt my feet after a while.
Target: waterproof, durable shoes with the comfort and agility of sneakers.
Bonus: a reasonable price and simple styling. Also, a shoelace-free lacing system comes in handy (footy?) in the rain.



Dear Benton

Christa has been training a dictation app tonight (I won't name it.) She's been patiently talking to it for quite a while and finally used it to dictate this email to me:

dear Benton,

I'm trying this patient software for the first time. And when sending the result in without any corrections it's when you very funny and the. I hope that you will be paintings they also will then surely a master this "occasion" they. I had a failing barely notice to say.
Chris tough

I know, right?