On Getting an iPad

IPad_Home

My iPad arrived the day before yesterday, making a UPS journey from mainland China to Hong Kong, to Alaska, Tennessee, and Ontario, where it was loaded onto a truck and driven to my door. Free shipping. Some day I must check out the itinerary of bananas from the plantation to my cereal bowl.

The problem is, there are no fresh words left to describe it. Awesome? Too 80’s. Brilliant? Too 90’s. Mind boggling? Too clich├ęd. Supercalifragilistic? Even the short form is too difficult to spell. The word that works best for me is the humble personal.

The term personal computer, in use since IBM launched the PC in 1982, may have at last found an exemplar in the iPad. When I hold it in my hands or on my lap, whether I’m reading an ebook or checking email, I feel it’s somehow part of me, like the clothes I wear or my hair style. Most computers, even netbooks, have a formality about them. Smartphones and iPods, no matter how cool or useful, feel like gadgets. Computers and gadgets. The iPad feels like neither.

Slightly more aloof than a dog, more friendly than a cat, cuter than a guinea pig, the iPad insinuates itself into your life before you’ve owned it 48 hours. I’ve never met another technology I’ve merged with so seamlessly. Even a new bicycle takes a week or so to become an extension of your legs and balance.

Let’s say the iPad was launched approximately five months ago and that Apple is selling, by most estimates, a million units a month. That would make me about the five millionth iPad owner. No wonder it’s hard to find anything fresh to say.

I already have some favourite apps. GoodReader is a better PDF reader than I have on my Macbook. The Kindle App allows me to move easily between my iPad and Kindle, on the same book. Elements gives me a text editor that syncs files with Dropbox. It includes a word-count function and a scratch pad for recording extraneous thoughts and ideas. The built-in Mail program is excellent. The Video program would rate an excellent if it supported AVI video files. With MP4’s it’s a great viewer. Safari is Safari. Relatively solid but unable to display the contents of certain sites.

Perhaps my most unusual app, to date, is a story. More than an ebook, even an enhanced ebook, it’s a multimedia presentation called Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, created by British Columbia company Moving Titles. A modern fairy tale, delightfully written, narrated, and animated. It’s a showcase app for where computing might be headed.

Forty-Eight hours and I’m nearly purring. It’s that good.

Experimental Photography

Sumac

When I was in university, taking photo courses, I enjoyed the “experimental” assignments that could range from anything from photo collages to shadowgrams. My classmates must have been equally inspired because they produced some excellent photographic art. All of us were influenced by Jerry Uelsmann.

Back then experimental photography was tough to produce because everything had to be constructed in a darkroom using an enlarger and photographic paper. With the advent of Photoshop, and other digital editors, things that used to take days can be done in minutes.

What’s even more remarkable is that several companies create Photoshop add-ins that supplement the art filters already in Photoshop. You can get psychedelic, oil painting, orton effect, and dozens of other artistic filters that can create photographic art with the click of a button.

The question is, if it’s this easy, is it art? It’s a disputable point. I’ve seen some “paint-by-numbers” photographic art that isn’t very pleasing, and I’ve seen photos enhanced with filters that look terrific.

So, the art question aside, what makes an effective presentation using art filters? I think it mainly depends on the original photo. Some photos, due to composition, subject, and innate colour, lend themselves to art-filter experiments. In all cases, these would also make good straight photographs. Experimenting with them can give them greater impact.

From my own work using filters, often multiple filters, I find I have to get just the right subject. That, however is no guarantee. You never know until you begin making the changes.

I’ve tried many experiments that never got to “Save As” in Photoshop. Although they might have been interesting, they didn’t ring true. Some products, like Topaz Adjust, can over-exaggerate effects creating works that don’t stand up well. These I simply abandon. Which is not to say Topaz Adjust isn’t useful — it simply needs to be used with a light touch.

I’ve been having fun lately with a somewhat over-the-top, free plugin for Photoshop CS5, available from the Adobe website. Called Pixel Bender, it can produce some mind-boggling effects. Also some beautiful ones. The Oil Paint module, in particular, does a magnificant job.

Both photos in this posting were done with Pixel Bender Oil Paint, plus some tweaks involving masking, levels adjustments, and a spot of sharpening here and there.

As always, I know I’ll be returning to straight photography, my favourite kind. But it never hurts to take an experimental side path to shake up the neurons a bit to fire off some creativity. Even if it’s highly augmented with click-a-pic filters.

View from my Window

Five by Five

How am I doing? “Five by five”

This was the strange, meaningful-sounding, but-no-one’s-quite-sure comment given by Faith, the other vampire slayer, whenever anyone asked. If it’s good enough for Faith, it’s good enough for me.

Actually, except for the way-too-warm summer, things have been fine. Photography has been in a slump during the warm weather, but reading’s gone way up. I just finished Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and enjoyed it hugely. It’s a page turner.

I read it on my Kindle, which I think attests to the Kindle’s readability. In print form I’m told it’s a 1000-page novel.

I’ve been writing like mad for the past 4-6 weeks. I had four magazine assignments due nearly all at the same time. Last night I filed three of them and I have a week to finish the fourth. My favourite was a feature article on e-books and e-publishing written for Here’s How! Once it’s in print, I’ll provide a link.

In other news, I’ve ordered an iPad and expect to take delivery around Aug 30. I’m curious to see how it compares to the Kindle as an e-book reader, but I got it as reading, writing, and entertainment gadget. A reward to myself for hitting my deadlines.

Summer viewing fare has been thin, although I did catch up on a couple of older movies: Dirty Harry and The Exorcist. It was my first time viewing for both. I also re-watched a couple of classics: My Fair Lady and Blowup. I watched the entire TV series Twin Peaks, and though it rather fell apart part way into season two, overall I enjoyed it. The music haunts me.

We’re into the part of summer I hate the most (I don’t like summers in general). The dead zone. The zombie zone. The period between when nothing happens and school begins. For me September has always been the start of the year.

Not that I’m taking any classes. I have enough learning on my plate in terms of new computer programs. I purchased the Adobe Design Standard PS5 suite and now have the make the transition from PageMaker 4 to InDesign PS5. I should pick up a little Illustrator while I’m at it. The core of the package, for me, is Photoshop CS5, and it has enough new features to keep me learning for quite awhile.

The only disappointment I have of late is my lack of any creative writing projects. I hope to fix that soon. I have a couple of creative nonfiction pieces I want to work on. Maybe when the iPad arrives …