IMPRESSION: TOPAZ STUDIO V1.01

IMPRESSIONS – TOPAZ STUDIO V1.01

I’ve been a devoted user of Topaz filters for a few years, but now, they have come out with a more complete graphics processing application. I downloaded it yesterday, and I’ve been playing with it since.

I thought it would be a framework to hang their existing filters — which you can do — but that’s not even close to all of what it can do for you. You certainly can use Topaz filters from in the application much you use them through Photoshop or Lightroom, However, it includes its own filters, too. From groups of basic settings through a wide range of different artistic filters, you’ll find glowing, abstract, and line drawings and most things in between. Quite a substantial collection of highly usable filters to do everything from basic set up through art.

There are areas of the application I have not quite figured out. Yet. Resetting the size and pixel count of a photograph is one of those things. You can set the pixel count from 72 on up, but there does not (yet) seem to be a function to fix the perimeter of the photograph, something I do constantly as I move photographs from desktop to website. I may have missed it and I’m going to do another run through of the tutorial.

Nor have I found a way to knock out or paint (make disappear) pieces in the original photo. I’m pretty sure this function IS there, but I’m missing it. I’m not a real whiz kid with graphics, so every new application of this type is a big learning curve for me.



As far as working in larger groups of photos, they haven’t quite gotten there yet … and they use the same klutzy save process for this application as for early stand-alone applications. Missing, too, is a simple “flat line” to straighten a crooked picture. They have a very classy rotator — classier than my version of Photoshop — but not a straight line for setting up a flat horizon. They need it. It’s a basic tool which almost everyone uses.

The filters — new and old — are great. I have heard a lot of people complaining that a lot of the presets are not different enough from the others to make them worth using. I disagree. I love the subtle differences between filters. These small changes are often what takes a picture from “okay” to “special.” Not every filter is perfect top to bottom, but this application includes an excellent selection of filters and I can’t imagine not finding many of them very useful.

This is a fine set-up for anyone who enjoys using filters and at this early point in the project’s development, you can be sure that even better things will be coming soon.

So what is my impression of Topaz Studio V1.01?

I like it. I am sure I will like it even more in subsequent versions. It’s still a bit awkward, but they will fix that. It works the way you’d expect Topaz filters “in a boxed set” to work.

They need to come up with a better naming method, precision sizing, and moving smoothly in a multi-photo array. But even at this very young point in the application’s development, you can get a lot of work done using their impressive collection of filters. Even if they didn’t change anything — most unlikely since Topaz is always developing new products — the tones, textures, and other transformations you get using this set make it worth your while.

This probably won’t be a substitute for Photoshop … but then again … with a bit more development, it’s not impossible.

MY NOTORIOUSLY NEW PRINTER

I hate printers. I also hate copiers, scanners, and fax machines.

Nowadays, you get one, you get the batch, but I still hate all of them, whether in one package or many. I got my new printer a few days ago and finally got around to installing it yesterday. Maybe I should have waited.

When you are setting up a new printer, what can you do if your WiFi simply won’t “see” it?

It turns out, the most popular technique is highly technical denial. This means you turn everything off and go shopping. Really, any outside-the-house activity will do the job. We went to Garry’s hearing place to see if they have a significantly better hearing aid for him. Not quite. Yet. Maybe it would be a little better, but not $4000 better.

When we came back from the hearing place and having briefly stopped at the grocery store, I realized I had to confront the printer again. Another one of the small aggravations of modern times: new computers — like this one — don’t have DVD players. I bought an external one, but first I tried downloading the setup instructions from the website. This is supposed to work just like the disc, but surprisingly, didn’t.

Probably, because the WiFi did not find the printer. Or maybe there was some other inexplicable reason.

When your WiFi won’t find a device, there isn’t much you can do about it. You can wave your hands in the air like a fan. Maybe that will blow the WiFi in the right direction. You can shake your devices — but this may work to your disadvantage. Then, there’s cursing. For many people, that works well, but for me, it’s a distraction from getting on with the job.

Turning everything off, then turning every back on is one of the most effective ways of convincing something that should be working to really work, but this time, it didn’t. I should have figured if going shopping didn’t fix it, I needed a new approach.

So, after we came home and I quickly realized it hadn’t magically fixed itself (damn), I hauled my laptop and DVD player into the office. There are — as it turns out — alternate instructions which only appear when you click “NO, that didn’t work either”  for the third time. At which point alternate instructions pop into your browser. These are apparently dangerous weapons of mass destruction and can only be used if your WiFi absolutely can not find the printer, even after you wave your arms and plead with the manufacturer.

It turns out, you have to press the WiFi button until the ALERT button flashes twice. Not three times. If it flashes three times, you have to start over. Next, you have to push the start button again, at which time the WiFi button should start to flash very quickly (not slowly … slowly won’t do the job). They also don’t warn you there’s a pause before it starts rapidly flashing — but if you push it again, you have to start over from the top.

If all goes well, at this point, unless your WiFi is actually out, you should have a connection.

Then you push another button while pressing a third button. Which prints a sheet which you will attempt to scan. Which inevitably produces an error message. If you try to do it again, all it will do is keep printing the same page.

I said screw it and gave up. Then, I decided to register the printer. It turns out, I can’t. Because I am a Canon user — but have no idea what my password used to be. I’m exhausted from carrying the laptop around and having to follow all those instructions.

Since the printer was been found by the WiFi, it would surely print if asked. If the WiFi had found the printer all by itself like it should have, I wouldn’t have had to do any of this. Windows would have taken over and installed everything. Immediately.

Good news? The printer says it works. I’m trusting this to be true. I’m not at all sure about the scanner, but I’ll save that for another day.

Have I mentioned how much I really hate printers? I used to hate fax machines and copy machines too, but now they’re all one thing. So I have just one big thing to hate instead of three.

Is this a good or bad thing?

TELEPHONE PEOPLE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The world can be divided in many ways – Republicans V. Democrats, religious people V. non religious people, cat people V. dog people. Here’s another way – people who love the phone V. people who hate it.

I love talking on the phone. I have many close friends who live far away now and it’s the next best thing to spending time with them in person. You can have real conversations that drift from one topic to the next. You can even interrupt each other! You don’t get the subtleties of body language that you get in person, but you’re actually engaging with the real person. You can remember why you loved this person in the first place.

Another important advantage of phones is laughter. We can hear our friends laugh at our jokes and our friends can hear us laugh at theirs. We get to laugh TOGETHER, which is huge. Laughter is a powerful bond. Most women list a sense of humor as one of the things they most value in a man. Sharing laughter is one of the great joys in life. You can’t get it in a text. Typing LOL is not the same thing!

When I was dating online, I discovered that liking someone’s emails was NOT a good indicator that I would like them in person. But liking someone on the phone gave me a pretty good chance that I would like them in person. That’s when I fully realized that writing and talking are on two separate planes. Talking is personal. It reveals personality and connects people on an emotional, visceral level. You get most of what you get when you are physically with someone.

Emailing may tell you the writing style of the person but not their speaking style or their personal “je ne sais quoi”. In texting, people tend to write shortened sentences with abbreviations and even Emojis. So you don’t even get the “voice” or writing style of the person. The time lag with texts also annoys me. Write then wait. Read then write. Rinse and repeat.

Try watching a movie or TV show and hit pause for twenty seconds after each person speaks. Not very gratifying. In fact, it will probably drive you crazy.

To me, texting is great for short, immediate communications. Like: “In traffic. Running 15 minutes late.” OR “What time do you want us for dinner?” Otherwise, not really communications.

Nevertheless, I understand that some people are just not phone people. My daughter is a phonophobe. She would rather talk for an hour every few weeks and text in between to stay in touch. My mother hated the phone. When I was growing up, she would have me call people to change or cancel appointments for her so she would not get “stuck” talking on the phone.

My husband, Tom, is also not a phone person. When we were dating, it didn’t even occur to him to talk on the phone the nights we weren’t seeing each other. Once I started the pattern, he was fine with it. But he wouldn’t have done it on his own.

I think the younger generations are growing up totally immersed in texting and internet communications. They may never learn the pleasure you can get from a long phone conversation with a friend. They may not even have long conversations in person anymore either. From what I hear, kids spend time online even when they are physically with other people. The art of the conversation may be dying out altogether.

I guess I shouldn’t be worrying about fewer people talking on the phone. I should be worrying about fewer people talking to each other — at all!

HP – UNSELLING THEIR PRODUCTS AGAIN

Every time Windows 10 does an update, it knocks my printer out. Not just offline, but off. It stops working. Add to that the small matter that Charter/Spectrum has been down for hours a day for nearly a week which I’m sure doesn’t help.

We don’t use our printer much, but it’s not even two years old. Very little mileage.

Usually when it decides to stop working, I reboot it and it figures out what its supposed to do. This time, it wanted a password (which it has never had). The printer apparently got the message and spit one out, but when I entered it, I was the password was too old. They are only usable for 90 seconds and it takes me more time than that to run up and down the hallway. Since I kept getting messages from HP saying if I need help, I should call them, I called them.

Printer with paper

I should have known, when they first locked up my telephone line and I had to reboot it before we could have a conversation, that this wasn’t going well. When we finally connected, I shlepped my laptop to the room where the modem, router, and printer live. And awaited instructions.

She started explaining how to find the menu.

I told her I know how to find the menu. She explained she was merely trying to “educate me.” I said I was well-educated and could she please tell me what to do to get the printer working. She asked me to “please wait a minute” and came back to tell me that it would cost me $99.99 for their kind assistance. Including downloading a whole new set of drivers which I knew I could get for free from their website or Microsoft. If I needed them. Which I didn’t.

I pointed out the printer had cost twenty dollars less their “repair” price and that was when I bought it — brand new — slightly more than a year ago. She said I could go to some local guy for repairs. Except we both knew the printer wasn’t broken and this was a software glitch. I told her to advise the company for which she works to go screw itself and hung up.

I went back. Deleted the printer. Rebooted the computer. Added the printer as new. It found the printer and asked for a password. I gave it whatever the printer had spit out. It told me that hadn’t worked, to try something else. I had no idea what else to try, so I deleted the password file, clicked “Add A New Printer” again — and instead of asking for the password, it simply installed the printer. Then sent me a test page and began to work as it had before.

Either the password worked, or it had never needed one. It hadn’t needed one in the past … and their solicitations to call for help was a cheesy way to get a few extra bucks for a company whose computers are selling poorly.

With good reason. The only computer I ever threw away in disgust was an HP. This is the company which believes in bloatware to the max. It had so embedded this crap in their system, I couldn’t make the computer usable. I gave up. Bought a Dell. I’m still buying Dells.

The only thing I’ve bought from HP since then — during a full twenty years period — is this printer which I picked up at Wal-Mart. When I get the next printer? Back to Canon or maybe Epson. HP has permanently unsold me on HP for anything. Ever.

A hundred dollars? To tell me how to use their printer? I bet all they would have done is tell me to do exactly what I did, except they would have downloaded a bunch of new drivers I don’t need.

And, in the end, I ordered a printer that would work in Windows 10. It was not an HP. Twice ripped off? I’m done.


RIPOFF!


A top-notch job of convincing me to never use any of their products. Way to go HP!

VIDEO WARS AND VIDEO WORK – TOM CURLEY

I just got a new video game, Mass Effect: Andromeda.

masseffect.com

It is the latest in a series that has been out for years. It’s a great series. Literally millions of copies have been sold. It’s what is called an “open world” game. You can go pretty much anywhere you want. You pick up “missions”. They are things you have to do to advance the game’s story.

There are prime missions that take a long time and advance the plot of the game and then there are secondary missions. And then there are tasks. The secondary missions involve all sorts of different things that you have to do. Some to help a team-mate.

Some to acquire something that is needed to do something else. Tasks are something you can do quickly or you can do throughout the game as you travel from place to place.

In this game, you are the leader of an away team for a group of human and alien colonists who have spent the last 600 years traveling from the Milky Way Galaxy to the Andromeda Galaxy.

You have to find planets to live on while trying not to get killed by various hostile aliens and humans. You interact with hundreds of folks who all want you to do something. You can say no and refuse a mission, but you don’t. That’s why you bought the game. But after a while, it gets really confusing. You start off to do a certain mission that involves going to the planet Kadara to meet a spy of the Collective Alliance.

But you have to walk through the space port to meet him. On the way there you bump into an alien who has a problem only you can solve.

ME: What can I do to help?

ALIEN WHO NEEDS SOMETHING ONLY YOU CAN DO: Oh please. I don’t know what to do. I used the last of my credits at the “Uniform Replicating and Dry Cleaning Shop” to get this stain out of my uniform. In my culture, a stain brings us great shame.

“Only you can help me!”

ME: So what’s the problem?

AWNSOYCD: The stain didn’t come out and the owner will not refund my credits. Please help me.

So I walk over to the shop and tell the owner to give the lady her credits back.

ME: Hey! Give the lady her credits back!

“F$#K you!

OWNER: No. Fuck you!

(Yeah they swear a lot.) I have to walk over and punch him in the face.

OWNER: OWW! Hey, OK, fine. Here’s her credits.

I have to walk back to where the alien lady is to give her money back.

Here’s your roll of quarters. Next time try a little Club Soda.

Great. Now, why was I here to begin with? Oh yeah, meet with the spy from the collective. That’s when I realize he’s on the other side of the planet. I also see there are five different missions happening in this marketplace.

Crap. I’ve got over a half-dozen things to do here.

So I get sidetracked. Again. And again. And again. I finally get back to the original reason I came and realize I’m on the wrong goddamn planet!

I’m in the wrong damn solar system!

I am only — maybe 30 percent — done with this game and have over 50 missions to finish. Then, it hits me. What the hell am I doing? I’m supposed to be saving the galaxy and I just spent 10 minutes mugging a laundromat owner for basically a roll of quarters. And I’m on the wrong frigging planet!

And why am I the only person in this galaxy that can get anything done!!! Let’s all pitch in!  OK folks!

Also, I can go on-line and do these hundreds of chores with millions of other folks. What’s wrong with me?  I didn’t work this hard when I was working! I’d say more but I just got an email in my game.

The lost Turian Ark may have been found in an unknown system! Gotta go!

Turian Ark

I think there’s an Assari on that ark to whom I’m supposed to deliver a recipe to for Assari strudel that I got from her mother. I’ll do it on my way back.

I SHALL GO PEACEFULLY

I am in pursuit of nothing at all. I’m not working, so I’m not hunting down money. I’m not career-involved, so not going there. I suppose the only thing I am really pursuing is how to go from simply playing Civilization to winning the game, whatever that means. All I want to do is build handsome buildings. Collect Great People to improve my population’s learning skills.

I seem to lack a killer instinct.

I have encountered this problem before. With this same game. Years ago, when they had “Cheat Mode” as an option, whenever another nation got too aggressive, I made them disappear.

Note the Great Wall

Sadly for me, they have ditched “Cheat Mode.” I sorely regret the lapse. I don’t want to go to war with Peter the Great or anyone else. I merely want to build the Winter Palace and the Great Library. Develop medicine. Send spaceships to other planets. War is annoying. It is a distraction to the really important things in the world.

I have come to believe that no one makes games for people like me. Someone should. I can’t be the only person that would like to play without brigades and explosions.

That’s why I liked the old SIM games. Your battle was with building the right number of elevators to get annoyed people to the top of the building … and you could watch Santa Claus fly by in the Christmas sky. I always like that.

I want a game without wars. Where no one, real or simulated, will threaten to blow up my civilization up with nuclear (or other) weapons. Where I don’t need to spend most of my game building some version — old or new — of The Warrior.

It’s hard being a pacifist in a nuclear electronic era. No, really. It is.

WHEN THE WIFI CLOUD BECOMES TORRENTIAL RAIN

Last night, at just before midnight, the WiFi went down. Which meant the telephone also went out, though it was too late for much in the way of phone calls.

I went and rebooted the modem and router. Once, twice, … then three more times. At which point I figured it was Charter/Spectrum, not our router. I did all the getting ready for bed stuff  … fortunately, the cable was still working thus fending off a genuine crisis.

I fished out our cell phone. Which is when realized the entire point of our cell phone is so I can call Charter when their service goes out. I have a special wireless device so I can call the other wireless company to tell them something is broken.

Except I didn’t have to tell them. As soon as the call connected, they told me that there was a “problem in our area and their expert teams were working feverishly to fix it.”

I went to the kitchen and looked fondly at all the equipment that is not hooked up to WiFi and realized — again — how glad I am I don’t have all that stuff connected to our ISP. It’s bad enough losing the telephone and computers without also losing the kitchen stove and who knows what else.

Am I the only one that feels we are putting far too much faith in our ISPs? Do we really want absolutely everything in our lives to depend on one service provider? Is this a good idea? Talk about all the eggs in one basket!

At around 1:30, the signal came back. I turned off the cell, checked my email and felt a cozy sense of satisfaction that I have independent non-WiFi backup drives protecting my data.

The mobile phone can now rest until the next emergency. You guys can use all the clouds you want. Not me. I want my back ups accessible even if The Cloud turns to torrential rain — or a damned tornado.