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.

THE FAR ARENA – AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND AUDIBLE.COM

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I had first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

I wanted to let you know this great book is finally available on Kindle and as an Audiobook from Audible.com. It’s about time!

FarArena

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from most other books I’ve read. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the past to the modern world. And it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books used to be challenging, but this one is now available both as Kindle and \from Audible.com — and you can both at a much reduced price if you buy them together from Amazon.

I’m delighted it is finally available and hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to read or listen to this gem!

This story would make a wonderful movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. It’s exceptionally well written, highly literate and well-researched, Convincing. All those things and a great, gripping story too.

THE FINAL WHAT?

When I saw “final” as the word of the day, I got a chill. In the past two weeks, I have lost at least three friends with more on the way. Not to mention that my email is full of warnings of: “This is the final hour! Send $3 now!”

I fondly hope this isn’t the final hour for all of us, but it has recently been the final hour for more than a few friends and loved ones.  I don’t know how many more are on the special waiting line. I’m hoping that Death is like the guy in Terry Pratchett’s books. Pragmatic, friendly and most of the time, there to give you a hand to find your right place.

It is a strange feeling watching your group of friends grow smaller day by day. My mother told me a long time ago that “You know you are old when you start to lose your friends.”

I thought it was the creepiest thing she ever said. Later, I read a version of the same idea in various books. Mostly memoirs by “famous people.” I thought “There is nothing to prevent this final loss. No money, power, or fame can change it in any way.” It’s not that I thought money, power, or fame would stop the progression of life toward its ending, but I hadn’t given it deep thought.

To a degree, that hasn’t changed. I am pragmatic. I care, but I’m not sticky about it. I’ve come close enough to that line to realize it is never as far away as we might think. Final is. Like life is.  So I don’t brood about it, accept it when news arrives, feel the absence of another person I loved. I get notes from friends about their husbands. From the family of friends. A few really good friends. Others are sick and getting sicker. There won’t be an end to this. Someday, I suppose I’ll be the note in someone’s inbox. I hope it will be a generous and kindly note that skips over my failures and all those times I’ve been an asshole. Try to remember the laughter and humor. It’s the part I worked hardest at.

After all these years, I still don’t know how I feel about this ongoing march from birth to that final hour. When I was in my twenties and we — our group — lost someone, usually to a car accident or another unexpected thing, it shook us badly. We were too young. It wasn’t supposed to happen … was it?

Now it is the way the world rolls.

Final.

Final days of the earth? Final years of democracy? Final end to everything in which I believed? Or just the inevitable shearing off of living people whose time was finished?

If this is final, what does that mean? The final what?

EVERYTHING IS TEMPORARY

Bad things happen. People die. War happens. Careers end. What can you say?

“This too shall pass.”

Life is temporary. Our world is temporary. It was my mother’s favorite expression. She said it to comfort me when I was unhappy, if something had gone badly. It never occurred to me the expression was more than common words a mother says to console a child.

It turns out the expression has a long, ancient history. It has been used to comfort a nation at war, a country consumed by unrest. Families, individuals, kingdoms. These are words to use when other words fail you.

king-solomon-cc

This too shall pass” (Persian: این نیز بگذرد‎, Arabic: لا شيء يدوم‎, Hebrew: גם זה יעבור‎) is an adage indicating that all conditions, positive or negative, are temporary.

The phrase seems to have originated in the writings of the medieval Persian Sufi poets. The phrase is often attached to a fable of a great king who is humbled by these simple words. Some versions of the fable, beginning with that of Attar of Nishapur, add the detail that the phrase is inscribed on a ring, which has the ability to make the happy man sad — and the sad man happy.

The legend of the quote finds its roots in the court of a powerful eastern Persian ruler who called his sages (wise men) to him, including the Sufi poet Attar of Nishapur, and asked them for one quote that would be accurate at all times and in all situations. The wise men consulted with one another, and threw themselves into deep contemplation, and finally came up with the answer … “This too, shall pass.”

The ruler was so impressed by the quote that he had it inscribed in a ring.

Jewish folklore often describes Solomon as giving or receiving the phrase. The adage and associated fable were popular in the first half of the 19th century, appearing in a collection of tales by the English poet Edward Fitzgerald and also used by Abraham Lincoln in a speech before he became President.

And when words fail me, my mother’s voice echoes in my head.

This too, shall pass. Because everything is temporary. 

THE BETTER WAY?

I spend lots of time trying to figure out a better way to keep doing what I am doing. I want  time off. Play a few video games. Hang loose. Part of the problem is the intensity of these past few months of politics. The nightmare of finding myself living in a world that goes against everything I imagined my world could be. But also, I’m tired. Mentally and physically. It’s not just my brain that needs time off. My body wants one, too.

I love writing and photography. I don’t have this site because someone shoved a gun in my back. Writing for me is more than fun. It’s how I express myself to a wider world. It’s healthier for me to write than brood and obsess. Healthier for me, healthier for the people around me.

Pictures — a whole other story — are wonderful — and they eat time. Taking the pictures, then spending hours editing graphics is all visual. Mental yoga. Colors. Textures. Not unlike a video game, it’s mind-fully mindless — and there’s a lot of it. Garry and I together often shoot three or four hundred pictures in a couple of hours on a sunny afternoon. Following a shoot, there are many hours of processing to come. It takes time.

How I can fit all this stuff into my life? I don’t want to give up anything, but I’m getting pounded by time. There are only so many hours in a day. Last night, for the first time in years, I had a “work anxiety” dream. I was supposed to be covering a story in (I think) Ireland. I had the address and a car. I remember saying “No problem, I’ve got this covered.”

Except I never got to the story. I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road with traffic coming towards me. I couldn’t see an exit and wasn’t sure how I got there. Ah, the perils of wrong-side-of-the-road driving for an American! Later, with the help of a friendly stranger, I made my way back to the hotel where I was staying, but couldn’t find stairs. Finally, I did, but everyone was furious with me with not covering the story — and apparently, failing to call home. Which, if I had a cell phone, I might have done. The dream omitted cell phones.

I have always said the fate of nations would be greatly changed if, in the past, everyone had a cell phone.

I woke up realizing I had to find a better way to do my life. What I really want is more time. At least 28 hours per day. That would fix everything. Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to slow time. If I did, I would also have a machine to save the world and make me a billionaire. Lacking the “Time-Slow-Craftmatic” device, I will have to stop trying to read everyone else’s posts daily.

This is the latest version of an old problem — trying to do everything. This always involves people YELLING AT ME to slow down. I get it. I do. I’m solid with the idea. It’s the implementation that is so baffling.

Meanwhile, If I’m not at your site everyday, forgive me. I’m not forgetting you, just trying to find my way to retirement. Because retirement is beginning to feel too much like work — without a check.

If you are building that machine? I’d like to Beta test it for you.

PICTURES & WORDS – THURSDAY’S SPECIAL

THURSDAY’S SPECIAL: WORDS OF THE WEEK


FROM PAULA:

Here comes another month with a new set of words to choose from. I hope you like the selection and that you will find at least one word to work on.

Here it goes: confined, jazzy, patulous, momentous, serene.


Confined

Jazzy

Patulous

Momentous

Serene


jupiter najnajnoviji

SOPHISTICATED SKEWERING

One of my pieces was posted on a highly political board elsewhere. You can look it up at INTELLIGENCE FOR THE UNINTELLIGENT – AND BANNON.

I gave permission and up it went. Before its time in the sun was complete, it had gotten dozens of responses. Being me, I tried to keep up with all the comments, but by the third day it was obvious the commenters had abandoned me and were arguing with each other. I drifted home to Serendipity.

Exhausting! While overall it was a better experience than (for example) Facebook, with fewer people ranting mindlessly, there were still more than a few of them. As an American, I’m proud to say the craziness was reasonably well-distributed between left and right-wing crazies, although in my opinion, right-wingers spew more bad language than left-wingers. This may be due to a weakness in their vocabulary. I encourage them to work on their language skills so when they spew hate, they can do it with more class and fewer references to fecal matter.

What it did remind me of, in full measure, was how hard it is to have a conversation about anything that matters. It isn’t just politics. It’s everything. The entire population of these fifty United States has hit some kind of edge. We’re all ready to pop. Whether it’s the slow driver blocking the left lane, someone stealing a parking space, or putting down too many items in the “quick” lane at the supermarket, we’re ready to blow up. That is unhealthy and sometimes, dangerous.

Personally, I need to take a breath, step back, and rethink how I deal with this.

I’m terribly unhappy with the political situation at home and almost equally upset at the way the rest of the world is drifting. We seem to be collectively heading for another world war, whether we do it nuclear or just kill each other in more traditional ways. Given what’s on the table here and abroad, it will get worse. Can I live in a state of fraught, hysterical insanity long-term? I don’t think I can. I know I don’t want to.

I’ve disliked a fair number of presidents and other heads of state in multiple countries. Locally, from Nixon, and Reagan (who I mostly missed by being overseas), and then through three terms of two Bushes, that’s a fair number of American presidents I would have happily lived without. Trump is the last and hopefully, the worst. He has raised our national temperature to such a point we are going to need a collective ice bath to just calm the fuck down.

There are people with whom I will never have a civil conversation. The things they say are so far removed from anything in which I believe, there’s no way to have a conversation. People who won’t believe in facts, science, or history, or even English spoken as a language, are not people with whom I’m going to chat pleasantly. Men who think they know what women should do with their bodies? Never going to be a pal of mine. The remainder of people who hold to something resembling rationality, with them, perhaps I can talk. If they don’t directly insult me, maybe I can avoid ranting at them.

Then, there’s the more cultured approach, which I strongly favor. Before we blow up, rage, rant, and foam at the mouth, think about British comedy. That’s where everyone skewers and guts one another without murmuring a single foul word. If they can do it, surely we can too. It’s time we upped the ante on insults. Time to get out of the gutter and move into the parlor. More wit, less raving.

There are so many delicious, witty, and sometimes charming ways to insult each other. Let’s see if we can find some.

You think?