ARM: Rise of the low-cost CPU

The other day I was looking at Samsung Chromebook laptops. It’s the latest fad in giving laptops something to do in the post-PC era. They’ve largely replaced netbooks for “surfing with something that’s not a tablet”.

I’m a fan of open source operating systems, and Parallels Desktop offers to install Chrome OS as VM too. Never having experienced what these puppies could do, I gave it a quick whirl. Here’s what it looks like:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 14.51.29There’s really nothing to do here, except for launch the web browser – which is precisely what a Chromebook is supposed to do: you don’t install anything, you don’t maintain anything. You can just about edit some super basic settings, such as the background picture and which Gmail account you’re using for all this, and even those settings are presented in a web browser.

It’s Chrome if you hadn’t guessed:

Screen_Shot_2015-02-27_at_14_51_08

What’s interesting about these types of devices is the price point: at anywhere between $200 and $300, the entire Chromebook costs as much as an Intel i5 CPU, without a keyboard, screen, battery or anything else.

The device has very limited storage: nothing like your 500GB hard disk. Instead it has 16GB of internal storage, sometimes a little more – much like an SD card. The RAM isn’t anything exciting either: while Windows and Mac really need 4GB minimum just to check your email, a Chromebook only has 2GB tops, sometimes even less.

I know this sounds ridiculous because we’re so used to large hard disks, huge amounts of memory and beefy graphics cards. But it’s the operating system that asks for those things in quantity – it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. We’ve been conned into thinking that such powerful hardware is necessary to accomplish basic day-to-day tasks.

 

The new era of laptopping

What Samsung have done here is very interesting, and it appears to be an emerging trend in the gadget industry: they’ve taken their own Exynos chip and attached some different peripherals. The Exynos is an ARM based system on a chip, commonly found in Samsung’s mobile devices such as the Galaxy phones and tables.

The Exynos is the equivalent of Apple’s A-series of chips found in iPhones and iPads: it provides not only the CPU, but also graphics and network capabilities, all with a very small footprint. Using this approach for laptops rather than small mobile gadgets is something we haven’t seen before. Up to now, everything in a laptop was Intel or AMD based to be anywhere near useful.

All these ARM based systems are less power hungry too, much cheaper to produce, and up to now less beefy in regards to performance. The Raspberry Pi uses one for example, as does the iPhone (that A-series is indeed based on an ARM chip too).

Over the last few years, two interesting things have been happening to the way we humans to stuff on the web, which makes Chromebooks and this philosophy such an interesting choice:

  • we do more powerful things “in the cloud” rather than locally
  • and we use more web interfaces to access such services

At the same time, these cheap ARM devices seem to be getting faster and faster and will very soon be an alternative for running more power hungry desktop applications. I hear for example that the Apple A8x chip in the iPad Air 2 is now as fast as the Intel i5 chip found in a 2013 MacBook Air.

So the question is: does the average user NEED a super fast device just to access email and web applications?

 

What’s next, Desktop?

It’s all up to the operating system to make use of these chips – and of course Windows and Mac OS X won’t be able to run on those devices at the moment. But Linux – that’s a different story.

There are distributions like Fedora and Ubuntu which are just as happy running on an x86_64 system as they are running on an ARMv7 and above. It’s a frightening thought, but I’m currently running Fedora 21 on my Nook Tablet from 3 years ago! Sure it’s super slow, but I can speak to it just as if it was a powerful server in a data centre.

What Samsung call Exynos, and what Apple call the Ax series, Intel call the Atom series. It’s the same idea, providing a system on a chip based on an Intel CPU. These first debuted in Netbooks in 2009 and have since been used in some Android phones too. Will these low-cost chips change the world? Will they soon overtake the power of the Xeons?

Will we one day go back in computing power and instead be happy with something slower than what we had before? Is that why the 2014 Mac Mini is already slower than its predecessor? Will we soon see a MacBook Air powered by an A9 chip? Or instead tablet devices that are faster than our desktops and laptops?

Who can tell. It’ll be exciting to watch what happens next. At least one of the big companies is preparing such an eventuality: Windows 10 will be available for ARMv7 processors.

 

How to install Carrara 8.5 in Mac OS X Yosemite

I’m configuring a new Mac Mini 2012 specifically for all my 3D ventures this year. As such I’m installing all my favourite (and annoying) 3D apps fresh from scratch. Being a futuristic kind of guy I’m using “the best operating system ever” (yeah, right!) OS X Yosemite.

Over the last 7 years I’ve installed Carrara more times than I can count and in every version of OS X and Windows that I can remember, and it’s never given me any trouble – neither when installed manually or via the DAZ Install Manager.

Until today, when I’ve received the following message in OS X Yosemite: “The application cannot get the administrator access right”. Thank you, Yosemite!

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.04.18 PM

What does that even mean? I thought my user account HAS admin privileges.

Turns out they’re just not administrative enough. The solution to this awkward puzzle is to login as root for the initial launch of Carrara. Which leads us to the next adventure:

 

How do we enable the root user in OS X?

Continue reading How to install Carrara 8.5 in Mac OS X Yosemite

Hey there, Television! How’s it going?

What’s wrong with this picture:

Some organisation decides to broadcast a movie or TV show, at a time that they deem “the best” to maximise their profits. The organisation has commissioned the programme at great expense, and they decide to chop it up into little pieces and place a plethora of annoying adverts in it to make money.

In order for me to watch the programme, I have to pay my Cable TV company to see it. In essence, I’m paying to watch advertising. I’m paying to get annoyed.

This is the traditional method of delivering private TV stations into the homes of many hundred million people around the world. The way this happens is slightly different from country to country, but the principle remains the same – or shall we say WAS the same – for the last several decades.

Because with the advent of services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, who is stupid enough to watch a mediocre programme live on air? Time Delay Technology (like DVRs, DVD and even VHS recorders) have really only delayed the inevitable. Even “we’ll send you DVDs by post” services didn’t quite make an impact and were quickly replaced by streaming services.

 

The Beginnings in 2000

I remember back in 2000, or around that time, there was a Chinese website – highly illegal of course – which for $99 per year offered anything from cracked software to movies and TV shows. Members could download as much as they liked, burn things to DVD and use such cracked warez.

Back then I thought, “imagine I had a legal alternative to this service – I’d sign up immediately”. The problem we had back then was not so much the devices at home, even though it wasn’t easy to connect them to big TV screens as it is today. It was the connection speed to the internet that held us up.

I remember I was with Homechoice at the time: for £40 per month I’d get a 512 kBps connection (another 512kBps was reserved for their abysmal TV on demand service). Nobody could offer anything faster at the time in the UK. But that wasn’t fast enough even to satisfy SD streaming really, and DVD and traditional television had the upper hand, at least in terms of quality.

Those however were the humble beginnings of a revolution which has only just begun.

 

Fast Forward 15 years

Today (2015) streaming media services are commonplace. Even though iTunes and their iTunes Store were the first to offer an integrated experience from an online store to a device, they no longer hold the monopoly. Paying for music that you already owned again and again was working for the record industry for many years. It no longer does.

The same holds true for TV services: Streaming videos, even streaming video games, can now be had for less than the price of a cable TV subscription. There’s really no need to buy physical media anymore unless you feel nostalgic.

Where does that leave the cable providers – and more importantly – the private TV stations who existed for the sole purpose of eliciting money from advertisers? How long will advertisers pour money into a medium that nobody is watching anymore?

Where will Sky & Co be in 10 years time, or ITV, or any of the major US networks?

 

Fast Forward another 10 years

Soon there will be the point at which the classic “on a schedule” TV programming will no longer be watched, purely because there are cheaper and better alternatives out there. Without advertising.

A large broadcaster will no longer be able to commission high budget TV shows in the future, and instead the equivalent of Amazon Originals will be in charge of new shows (and how we watch them).

Industry professionals probably know better how much trouble they are in than I do, but I don’t see them doing anything to prevent their own demise. I see things like “watch it again online if you’ve missed it” type approaches, along the lines of iTV Player. Or the idea that people are charged for single episodes directly by the broadcaster.

But even the “iTunes approach” (buy once – own it forever) isn’t going to hold up much longer either: because what’s the point in paying $40 for one season of a show, if for $7.99 a month you can see thousands of such shows? There is no need to “own” anything anymore, neither music nor a video file as long as we subscribe to a service that will make it available if and when we want it. How much more convenient is that?

In the audio world, Spotify has been leading the way for a while, but there are many other similar services available. It didn’t take long until this business model (pay per month, unlimited streaming) was available to videos too, which brings us up to date to 2015.

To me it feels like FINALLY a form of TV watching has arrived, or taken over, that I had dreamt of for many years. I embrace it and I haven’t watched “traditional TV” since 1998 (other than in hotels once a year).

 

Where does this leave traditional broadcasters?

That’s the $100.000 question, is it not? Where will the multi million dollar broadcasters around the globe be when nobody tunes in anymore? When that rerun from 20 years ago at 3am doesn’t cut the mustard anymore? When once loyal viewers switch off for good and invest their time elsewhere? And when advertisers aren’t prepared to pay thousands of dollars per second anymore?

Perhaps they should create several other channels with the same content, maybe even exactly the same, but delayed by an hour or two. Yeah, that’s a great idea. Dave Plus 1. Awesome!

Putting programming – including adverts – online for a limited time is a good start, but it doesn’t really solve the long term problem of how to make money. Maybe preroll and overlay ads are the solution… cast your mind back for a second and tell me: when was the last time you’ve clicked on an overlay ad on YouTube? How about NEVER?

I wonder how they will be able to tackle this dilemma. Or if they won’t be able to do this at all. Perhaps broadcasters will simply die a slow death, cutting personal costs and programming budgets further than they have already, until there’s really nothing left for them to do than sell the real estate they own for a quick buck.

How many years have they got left? Five? Maybe ten? Who will be around in 2025?

The clock is ticking, and I’ll be watching.

Steel-cut Oats

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I’ve always liked oats for breakfast, and I was intrigued to find something in the US that I hadn’t come across before in my life: steel-cut oats.

They’re marketed here along the lines of “the real Scottish oatmeal”, yet it’s not a term used by the Scottish as far as I know. So I went forth and did some research on oats in all forms, shapes and sizes.

 

Oatmeal Varieties

In the US we have three kinds of oats:

  • quick-cook oats (small rolled, much like the Oat-so-simple variety)
  • old-fashioned oats (rolled too, but much larger, these take longer to soak)
  • steel-cut oats (whole oats cut into pieces, obviously by steel blades)

According to one of those Wikipedia articles with “issues”, steel-cut oats are also known as pinhead oats in the UK – although I don’t recall this product in the oat isle at Sainsbury’s.

In the picture above you can see the difference between quick cook oats on the left and steel-cut oats on the right. The latter take a lot longer to soak up any liquid and are great if you don’t want your breakfast to get soggy because it takes you a long time to eat it (this happens rather quick with the rolled oats).

Steel-cut oats taste exactly the same as rolled oats but they have a much nuttier texture with more bite to it. I personally like to eat oats (steel-cut or otherwise) with cold milk and a bit of sugar, and perhaps with a selection of dried fruit and nuts – that’s what we do in Germany, where it’s not common to eat oats warmed up.

My wife on the other hand enjoys oats warmed up in the microwave, either cooked with milk or occasionally water (as porridge).

Steel-cut oats are offered at places like Panera Bread as part of the breakfast menu here in the US, also warmed up.

 

How to cook them

According to Bob’s Red Mill, all you need to cook steel-cut oats to perfection is

  • 3 cups of water (700 ml)
  • 1/4 tablespoon of salt (4g, or a couple of pinches)
  • 1 cup of steel-cut oats (240g)

Bring it all to a boil, simmer for 10-20 minutes and enjoy. Makes 2-3 filling portions.

Bob should know how to do this, because he travelled to Scotland and won first prize at an oat competition, as it says on the packet of steel-cut oats we bought from him last week.

Check out the full recipe here.

Keyboard Navigation in Photoshop

There are a number of super handy keyboard shortcuts for navigating the Photoshop interface. I keep forgetting them so I wrote them down here as a reference.

I’m using Photoshop CC 2014 on a Mac which means that magic trackpad gestures work well for the following:

  • zooming (pinch gesture)
  • panning (two finger drag)
  • rotating the canvas (two finger rotate)

To reset canvas rotation press ESCAPE. There’s even a menu item for this which can be accessed by holding down the hand icon (or pressing R). Hold it down again to switch back the hand tool (H).

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 19.06.22

 

Multi Picture Navigation

You can zoom/pan/rotate multiple images at the same time by using the following shortcuts:

  • zooming: CMD+SHIFT and drag left/right
  • panning: SPACE+SHIFT and drag
  • rotating: select the rotation tool (R), then select “rotate all windows” at the top. Drag to rotate all open images.

 

Screen Display Modes

Press F to toggle through 3 modes of presentation: standard with all menu bars, no title bar and full screen (total Zen).

When in full screen mode you can bring up any of the navigation bars on either side by moving the cursor to the edge of the screen. This will bring them up temporarily. They’ll disappear again if you move away from the edge.

In either mode, press TAB to hide all menu bars (except for the file name tabs). Press TAB again to bring them back.

 

Image Presentation

By default Photoshop opens one image in a single tab and shows this full screen. At times we may need to see more than one image side by side. Select Window – Arrange and choose one of the many options towards the top of the huge list (for example, 2-up Vertical will show two images side by side).

You can also float all open images in tabs (classic Mac annoyance mode from back in the day) and even choose to display the Application Frame (Mac only – if unticked it will show the desktop in the background).

To bring all images back into their own tabs, select Consolidate All to Tabs.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 18.58.34

What I’d like to see in a potential Apple iPad Pro

Rumours that Apple are working on a larger version of the iPad go back at least a couple of years. In fact I had secretly dreamt up something I felt they should call the iPad Air around 2013, before Apple had actually come out with the “real” iPad Air.

See, my idea was to make an Apple version of what Microsoft did successfully with the Surface Pro:

  • take a MacBook Air
  • take off the keyboard
  • and add a touch screen
  • give us a real Wacom stylus
  • keep the size of 12-13 inches
  • and voila!

That’s precisely what a Surface Pro is – and I love using mine. But there’s room for improvement, and although I’ve not used the latest Surface Pro 3, or a Wacom Intuos Companion, I’d still like to see something along those lines running Apple software.

Specifically for graphic intense tasks, a stylus is a must – Wacom or otherwise. Ultimately I want a portable Apple-powered Intuos Companion, for drawing as well as “real” handwriting. And with rumours of what the media now dub The iPad Pro, we may see such a gadget at some point in 2015.

But here’s the problem: Microsoft have one version of Windows on the Surface Pro. Therefore desktop apps run great out of the box. And Apple don’t have that. iOS and OS X are worlds apart, even if you can use similar code and turn it into two applications. Xcode supports that.

The iPad Pro as I envision it would seriously benefit from running OS X and make use of the full array of desktop applications such as Photoshop, SketchBook Pro and many others. By which I mean existing apps that we know which are ready to go. Not specced-down versions that don’t deliver.

If however Apple were to bring out an iPad Pro type device and instead have it run iOS, then all we’d really have is a large iPad. There would be no benefits to it whatsoever, other than yet another screen size. Granted, over the next few years apps will emerge that will find uses for it, but that’s in the future and not usable from the get go. And sure, we’ll be able to enjoy Procreate on a very large display, but squishy rubber-tip styluses are not the same as using an Intuos pen on a real tablet.

So if the iPad Pro is to come out, what will Apple put on it? Here are four options I’ve dreamt up.

Continue reading What I’d like to see in a potential Apple iPad Pro

How to define a Pattern (Material) in Manga Studio 5

Manga Studio has a great feature called Materials. These are akin to Photoshop’s Patterns, but I find they are implemented so much better in Manga Studio.

In the olden days, traditional Manga tone artists would cut out small pieces of a pattern out of a larger piece of paper, then stick it to the coat of a drawn figure. That way the coat looked like it had texture (without distortion mind you).

This is how Materials work in Manga Studio: create a selection (say around the coat in question), then simply drag in the material it should have. Once in place you can scale and rotate it. All this happens on dedicated Material Layers.

Let me show you define your own pattern images as Manag Studio Materials and where to find them on your hard disk.

 

Defining Materials

Open the image you’d like to materialise, then head over to Edit – Register Image as Material. This will bring up the following dialogue box:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 16.17.07

Now you can give your Material a name, define if you’d like it to be scalable and if it should be tiled when repeated (and if so how). For seamless tiles, choose vertical and horizontal. For larger images which are not meant to be tiled simply unstick the tiling box.

Manga Studio will display your Material alongside its default arsenal which is huge – therefore it’s important to pick a category for your Material from the list on the left. Click the disclosure triangles to see sub categories. You can also give your Material tags to aid searching (click the little icon at the bottom right to add a tag). It’s great to know you’ll be able to find your treasures again in various ways.

When you’re done click OK and your Material is now available for use. Huzzah!

 

Exporting and Importing Materials

As much as I love Manga Studio and its versatile interface, there’s one thing that the team have missed: adding an option to export such things as Materials and Brushes.

Hence there is no way to import or export Material Data to and from Manga Studio.

And believe me I’ve tried: First I figured out where your data is stored on the hard disk. On both Mac OS X and Windows, Materials are saved in /Users/you/Documents/Smith Micro/Manga StudioCommon/Material.

This folder has sub-folders consisting of random two digit numbers. Each folder can hold similar sub-folders (again made up of two digits). One folder down from there we find the actual database entry for your Material, in a folder named with what appears to be a 32 digit hex code, decided into groups of 10-4-4-4-10. Don’t ask…

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 13.23.23

In this ultra cryptic folder is a thumbnail in PNG format by which you can determine what Material you are looking at. So far so good.

It stands to reason that you could simply move materials using this folder, but remember this is just data on a hard disk, NOT a database entry to which it correlates. To make matters worse, one computer may save a Material in 42/27/xxxx, while another one may save it as 92/14/xxx. You get the picture.

After moving a folder the Material is ignored on the destination device. Even with the options “Install Material”, “Organize Materials” and “Reset Installed Materials” the new data is not imported. If you find a way to do this please let me know (all this has been tried and tested in Manga Studio 5.0.5 non-EX in Windows 8.1 and OS X 10.9.5).

I can only recommend to save your tiled patterns and re-create them on your other machine.

How to define a Pattern in Photoshop

Photoshop CC splashYou can define a pattern from any image in Photoshop and use it as Pattern Overlay later.

Simply head over to Edit – Define Pattern and give your new pattern a catchy title.

That’s it!

There are a few things to be aware of though: most patterns are used as tiles and will therefore repeat. Once a pattern is saved somewhere in the depth of Photoshop, you may want to export it along with other patterns, for sharing or safekeeping.

I’ll touch on those things briefly, but let’s start by how to use existing patterns.

 

Using Patterns in Photoshop

The easiest way to use patterns is with the Layer Blending Options. On a new layer, fill the area that is to be patterned with a solid colour of your choice. You can use a brush, flood fill a selection, use vector patterns, anything will do as long as it creates something on a new layer.

Double-click that layer (or right-click and select Blending Options). This will bring up a list in which you must find a setting called Pattern Overlay. Select it and click on it (you can tick the box without seeing the options otherwise, so tick the box, then click on the row – it highlights and will show you something like this):

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.11.23

You can change several things here, the most important options are Blend Mode, Opacity and Scale. Just know this is where they are, then click into the Pattern Field to bring up other patterns and select one you want to use. If you have defined a pattern yourself, it’ll be at the bottom of the Pattern Box.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.08.33

See that little gear icon in the Pattern Box? When you click it you’ll see another long scary list of options (such as Rename, Delete, Presets Manager and many others). You can add more patterns to the Pattern Box by selecting any of the items from the lower part of the list (Artist Surfaces, Rock Patterns, etc), or you can remove items from the Pattern Box if you don’t want to see them anymore (using delete).

Note that this is nothing final: deleted patterns can always be brought back, you’re not destroying files on your hard drive. You can choose to append patterns or replace what’s in the box. Try it out, you can’t break anything.

Using the Load option you can also add patterns you’ve previously made and saved – we’ll talk more about this later.

Back in the Pattern Overlay window, click OK and instead of your solid paint stroke you’ll see a pattern. Nice!

 

Defining your own Patterns

Most patterns are square, but Photoshop can accommodate other aspect ratios too. It depends what you’re creating. Perhaps a texture from a photo you took while you were out wandering the streets.

Load the image you’d like to create a pattern from as a new Photoshop document (via Open), crop it and correct it as you see fit, then simply head over to Edit – Define Pattern. Give it a catchy title and your pattern is added to the bottom of the Pattern Box we saw earlier.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.34.45

Tiling Patterns

Patterns repeat by default, much like a tiled background on a website. For this to look seamless we must make sure that the edges of our pattern image repeat – otherwise you’ll see a rather ugly effect. The smaller the tile, the more annoying this can be.

If you’re interested in learning more about tiling patterns, check out this good old yet still relevant tutorial by Collis Ta’eed. Some things just don’t change in Photoshop ;-)

 

Exporting and Sharing Patterns

To save your own patterns, or a collection of your favourite patterns to a tangible file we’ll need to use the Presets Manager. We’ve met him before as part of the long scary list under Blending Options, but we can also call upon him via Edit – Presets – Presets Manager:

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 12.26.22

The Presets Manager is in charge of many other things too, as seen from the Preset Type drop down menu. Brushes, Swatches, Gradients – you name it. Select Patterns to bring up the list of patterns we saw earlier, which will include patterns you have defined yourself.

From the list of patterns, select the ones you’d like to save. Hold down CRTL or CMD to select multiple, all of which will now be highlighted. Select Save Set to save a single file which includes all your patterns, including their catchy titles.

Files saved in this way can be loaded on another machine running Photoshop, or simply at a later date when you need those patterns again. It’s that simple.

Happy Patterning!

 

Just one more thing: How to rotate Patterns

One of the lamest things ever in Photoshop is that there is no way to rotate a pattern once it’s in place – as there is in Manga Studio.

If you ever need to do this, follow this tip by Deke McClelland:

12 Procreate Brushes: Stitches and Sequins

IMG_1169.PNGOver the last few days I’ve been exploring how to create custom brushes for the excellent Procreate on my iPad.

To make 3D clothing textures look more realistic we needed some stitch brushes. Plenty are available for Photoshop, but scouring the internet I couldn’t find any for Procreate. Here’s my first attempt at some custom brushes, as explained in the Procreate Manual (you can get it for free on the iBookstore).

I’ve made a total of 11 different stitches and a Sequin Brush, all based on some Photoshop freebies I obtained a while ago (the link is now dead, otherwise I’d add it here for credit). Here’s what they look like in Procreate:

Photo Jan 09, 11 08 23 AM

 

Installation and Usage

  • navigate to this page with your device running Procreate
  • click any of the links to each brush below
  • choose Open In Procreate
  • Procreate downloads the brush and adds it to a set called “Imported”
  • now select the paint brush, navigate to the Imported Set and start stitching

You can amend the brushes to your liking by tapping on them. Perhaps swipe left and duplicate them first, just in case.

if you like you can apply some randomness to the stitches by adding Jitter (under Stroke). None of these brushes are pressure sensitive as this would not be a desirable effect for what I’m doing, but if you need this feature then explore the Dynamics menu.

And don’t forget to read the Procreate Manual for more info! The brushes work on both Procreate for iPad, and Procreate Pocket for iPhone/iPod Touch. Huzzah!

 

Downloads

Enjoy ;-)

Italian Bucca Dress Textures – now available at DAZ 3D

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Before the year is out I have some great news: a texture set Julia and I made last year for DAZ 3D has finally been released after 18 months: the Italian Bucca Dress Textures. I can officially call myself a DAZ PA now – a great honour among 3D artists. This is a great incentive to make some more in 2015.

We created about 20 textures for a 3D mesh by Xena, 5 of which were picked up by DAZ and are now sold in their DAZ Originals range. One texture is included with the Italian Bucca Dress, and four are available as an add-on pack. The dress fits all Genesis 2 Female characters.

Our work is included in the following products:

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Promotional artwork courtesy of DAZ 3D.