Friday, August 14, 2009

Massively Useful Software: nLite and ntfsclone

I recently reinstalled Windows onto my computer, a ritual that I have done for years to keep my operating system running nicely thanks to Windows bit rot. I usually do it about once a year, in this case it's been two so it really needed a fresh install. The problems with regularly reinstalling Windows are downloading and installing all of the updates, which takes forever since my original Windows XP Pro disc is Service Pack 1. Luckily there's software that makes the process easier.

nLite
I wish I knew about this program earlier. nLite is an easy to use application that allows you to make a backup copy of your Windows install disc, slipstream the service pack and updates into the Windows install (google for the Windows XP Service Pack 3 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers; it's an EXE file that nLite will ask for to do that), install drivers such as my SATA drivers that I needed to install Windows on something other than my old soon-to-fail IDE hard drive, and then finally burn the new customized Windows install disc as a bootable CD or DVD.

ntfsclone
Another useful program is ntfsclone. It's a command-line Linux program that can clone an NTFS partition to a single file as a backup. This is useful because now I have a disk image of a fresh Windows install, so I don't have to reinstall Windows if I want a fresh system. It's also a nice way to make save-states for full system recoveries just in case something bad happens, or if I decide to—um, experiment, and want a way to recover my system if I screw something up.

Speaking of fresh installs, I'm adding a new series to the blog.

Massively ANNOYING Software: Adobe Product Activation

For the love of all that is holy, BE SURE TO DEACTIVATE YOUR ADOBE SOFTWARE BEFORE YOU WIPE YOUR HARD DRIVE!

This is the second time I've reinstalled Windows while having CS3 installed on it. Remember how the Adobe license only lets you install the Adobe Suite onto two different computers? Yeah. This was the third time I tried to install CS3, and both times prior I forgot to deactivate the Adobe software before completely wiping my hard drive. It never crossed my mind.

So, add that to your reinstall ritual. When you are making sure that all of your files are backed up, load up any Adobe program, then go to Help > Deactivate before you reinstall Windows. Otherwise be prepared to be on the line with Adobe Customer Support with a good excuse. Luckily I was able to activate over the phone, but boy was that a pain; having to call and ask permission to use my software.

Sadly this is not limited to Adobe. Other software/media that requires online activation to keep track of how many computers you've installed it on may also require you to deactivate it as well. So keep that in mind and tell the folks at Adobe to read this article because seriously, activating and deactivating software is a pain.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lumaglyph Project: Hackberry Hollow

You know that top secret Lumaglyph project I've been mentioning recently? Well, it's not a secret anymore. Here's the announcement.



Hackberry Hollow is our first internal project at Lumaglyph, and we've recently launched the site at HackberryHollow.com. We set up a blog so we can post new concept art and other cool stuff as the project develops. The blog is updated every Tuesday afternoon.

We've been writing the story for about a year now. Both Adam and I are really excited with how the story has developed, and so far everyone we've shared it with loves it. Now that we have a solid outline for the story we are going into high gear working on the concept art. So be sure to subscribe to the Hackberry Hollow RSS feed for updates on my new work.

Here's some of the artwork I've posted so far.







So that's what we've been working on: Hackberry Hollow.

Visit the site, post comments on the artwork, and soon we'll have an epic webcomic for you to read.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Massively Useful Software: Gobby

Celtx is a great and all for writing stories, but when it comes to online collaborative writing our team uses Gobby. Gobby allows multiple people to work on the same text file at the same time. You don't have to designate one person as the scribe. You don't have to take turns. You can type where ever you want when ever you want, and any text you insert will be highlighted with your user color, so you always know who wrote what.

Gobby was created with programmers in mind, so it features line numbering, auto indenting, and syntax highlighting. As writers we ignore those features except for the line numbering. Our text documents can get quite long and it's easy to say "look at line 2053," because they can press Ctrl-I and enter that line number in to zip them to the same line you're looking at.

The user highlighting has also been useful for us to tag sections that need attention with bright red or some other obnoxious color that you can't possibly miss. We just open up a new instance of Gobby, log in as another user, change the highlight color for that user to something obnoxious, and off you go. One of the text documents we are working on with Gobby is the outline for our previously top secret Lumaglyph project (I'll make the announcement for that in a week or two) that is currently over 2000 lines long. To give you an idea about how long that is, a paragraph still counts as one line, and our outline would be 72 pages long if we printed it out. So needless to say that the line numbering and creating multiple users with loud highlighting colors has been a godsend in helping us work with gigantic text documents.

Even though Gobby has no rich text support or undo (be sure to save often!), it has still been a great tool in helping us collaborate in real time on the same document even though we are all in different states. And even if we were in the same room we'd still use Gobby; it's simply that useful.

For those that are curious, there are alternatives to Gobby out there that we have looked at. EtherPad is a web app that works a lot like Gobby, but if you are concerned about having your work unencrypted on their server you may want to use something else, but EtherPad does have undo! SubEthaEdit has some nice features like showing what area of the document a user is currently looking at on the scroll bar, but unfortunately it's OSX only and costs money too. Mozilla Labs is working on a new web based editor called Bespin that has a really slick and promising interface, and a lot of neat features that are definitely geared for programmers. That might be a project to keep an eye on as it's still very experimental at the moment. MoonEdit is also worth a mention (Windows and Linux only, free for non-commercial use).

But out of all the alternatives out there, Gobby has worked the best for us. It works on Windows, Linux and OSX (however getting it to work in OSX is a huge pain), Gobby is encrypted over the internet, password authentication is supported, and it's free and open source.

The Triad of Collaborative Writing
As with all real-time text editors, voice chat and secure online storage for your work is still a necessity. We use Skype for voice chat and our own MediaWiki server for storing and organizing information about all our projects. The wiki has been, and still is, the keystone of our collaborative work. The best way to explain how we use the wiki for this particular project is that it's a series bible, filled full of backstory, character profiles, a milieu encyclopedia, and of course the outline and scripts, all cross linked to each other and full of reference and original images, just like Wikipedia (in fact Wikipedia runs on MediaWiki). Our Gobby documents are done in wiki code so that we can copy and paste them right into the wiki so these documents are easy to find and read.

We originally used Gobby for taking meeting notes during our brainstorming sessions, which we would then copy and paste into a new meeting notes page in the wiki to be sorted sometime later (usually weeks later). When we did finally get around to that, we'd go through all our meeting notes and sort them into the wiki, making new wiki pages as necessary. It was pretty tedious. Now, this happened during the initial brainstorming phase of the project, so everything was kind of a mess in terms of categorization anyway. But when we came to the point where our main focus was the outline, we were working in Gobby pretty much most of the time, and usually with just 2 documents in the Gobby session: one document for our outline and then the other for our random notes, which we could then sort directly into the outline or into the various pages on the wiki. With those smaller non-outline related notes we'd often make those changes directly in the wiki. Once we started doing that process our lives became easier and we spent more and more of our time just writing and coming up with ideas. We save the Gobby session locally on our computers so we can keep all the user highlighting until we are ready to clean the slate again. And we've made an aggreement to not edit the outline on the wiki because of all this.

Conclusion
Until Celtx—or even better MediaWiki, once they've added a few more dream features of ours—ever gets around to implementing real-time collaboration, Gobby is the best solution we've found as writers working together online.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

What I've Been Playing: Braid



A couple of days ago Braid was finally released on Steam. I bought it, played it and enjoyed everything about it: the puzzles, the art, and especially the story telling mechanic in the last level.

I had already decided to buy the game long before because Jonathan Blow always gives such good talks on game design, so I was more than happy to send money his way as soon as a PC version was available. Anyway, check the game out. A free demo is already out in the wild so you can it a whirl.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

News Flash: Celtx 2.0 Released

Celtx 2.0 was released this past week. For going from 1.0 to 2.0, Celtx doesn't have a whole lot of new features. The two big changes are Celtx Studio, which is their $50 yearly subscription version of Project Central with a free beta until March 24, and the ability to add Extensions/Add-Ons to Celtx, which I'm really excited about.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Photoshop Brush and Tool Presets 2009.03

You'll be hearing a lot more about illustration from me in the future as our project develops, and to kick it off here's the brushes I use for most of my illustration work. I didn't include any of my special brushes for things like trees and water; most of those brushes are created on a per-project basis and I only ever used them once, although I did go ahead and include my fur brush. Anyway, these are the brushes I use all the time.

Glen Moyes 2009.03 Brush Presets – 85MB
Glen Moyes 2009.03 Tool Presets – 85MB

Here they are in action.



Many of these brushes have a narrow tip like a calligraphy brush, and they use the pen tilt of the stylus to rotate the brush tip, so you really need an Wacom Intuos tablet or better to take advantage of these brushes. I'll get into the advantages of a narrow brush tip when I start doing video tutorials on painting with Photoshop.

I've provided a Tool Preset and Brush Preset file for these brushes. You should download both so you can use the Brushes Presets for all the Photoshop tools that use brushes (like the eraser and stamp tool), and the Tool Presets so certain brushes will already have the correct flow amount set so they work properly, and so you can have the Tool Presets window up easily access brushes and the special smear brush Water Color Blender brush which has become my favorite next to the Nupastel brush.

Speaking of the Nupastel brush, that brush is the one largely responsible for the 85MB file size. The nupastel texture is huge, scanned at 1200ppi so you can increase the texture size of that brush to fill the canvas with big chunky texture without blurring. I thought about decreasing the texture size for public release but that would be doing the nupastel brush a disservice. Many of the other brushes have overscanned textures as well, like the graphite textures which are 600ppi, so you can scale them up for different effects. The texture scale for each brush is set so that if your document is set to 300ppi the texture will be to scale, so adjust the texture size accordingly.

Another unusual thing you'll see about this set are the symbols I used for the brush names. I had a really hard time trying to find brushes with names like "Acrylic - Round - Sketchpaper" among similarly named brushes with no dividers and all sorted alphabetically. So I numbered them, found some high-bit characters to use as shapes to replace words like big, round, light, hard, rough, and put a big divider between each section (which if you do happen to click on brings up a generic caligraphy brush). The symbols are pretty self explanatory—to me anyway. They do help finding the brush you want.

I'll be updating the brushes as I create more in the future.

Note to Windows XP Users
I recently did a reinstall of my computer and I noticed a potential problem for Windows XP users (not sure if this problem applies to Vista).

If you load the brushes into Photoshop, the high-bit characters may not display properly; they'll appear as boxes instead. To fix this, you need to go to your Control Panel > Regional and Language Options > Languages (tab) > and check the two check boxes for "Install files for complex script and right-to-left languages (including Thai)" and "Install files for East Asian languages." You may only need one of those installed, so if you want to experiment go for it. For some reason that fixes the problem, and upon reboot (or for me two reboots because Windows Explorer crashed out of the gate the first time) the high-bit characters will show up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Massively Useful (Life Changing) Software: Klok

EDIT: This article has a follow up post about the beta program that was written a year later.

And yes, I do mean life changing.

Ever wonder how much time you actually spend on a project? If you bid a 40 hour project are you really sure it's going to take that long? How much time does each stage of the project take? How many hours do you spend emailing the client? What about other activities during the day like visiting websites, recreation, and cooking food? Where is your time going?

I've wanted to know the answers to those questions for a very long time. I thought I had a pretty good idea, but I could never know for sure without an easy to use timeclock program. In the past I've searched for a free one that does not require a web server and is adequate for single person use, but I couldn't find one.

Luckily a week and a half ago I found a very promising candidate thanks to an article on Webdesigner Debot. It's called Klok, an Adobe AIR app and therefore multiplatform application.

A Week with Klok
I would have blogged about Klok sooner but I wanted to show what a full week of using Klok looks like. I've replaced the names of some of these projects so I could show you a screenshot of my schedule. So here it is: what I actually did throughout the week. No guess work, no calculating, just dragging and dropping a task into the "Currently working on" area every time I switched tasks.



By looking at the Week View I can see when I woke up, when I went to bed, how much work I got done that day, and so on. Every project is color coded so I can get a good idea about what I did that day at a glance.



The Reports are also very informative. I can see a percentage of how much time I put into each activity throughout the week. And if I wanted to get into more detail I can click on the piece of the pie chart to bring up the subtasks for that project.

And lastly, another important function of Klok is knowing how much time you've put into a project compared to how much your estimate was. You can give the project an overall hourly rate, as well as rates for each subtask, so things like emailing the client can have a lower hourly rate than actual design work if you want. If no hourly rate is set for a subproject it'll just assume the hourly rate you set for the top-level project. Klok can then calculate how much the project was actually worth based on the combined hourly rates to help you better bid projects in the future.

Accountability
Another thing that's great about using Klok is the accountability of having to record everything you do throughout the day. In the same way that people who keep a food journal are much more likely to loose weight than those who don't, you'll become more likely to be productive when you can see how much time you spent goofing off instead of working. If there's too much turquoise or neon green in my Week View—turquoise representing my non-essential daily tasks and green representing recreation (i.e. video games)—I'll be compelled to start working more because I'll have irrefutable proof that I've wasted too much time.

Learning and Trying New Things to be More Productive
Based on the information I got from the Week View and the Reports I was able to make some observations about my work and non-working habits.

For one, I spend a lot of time visiting websites, which includes reading news, insightful articles, and comics. To give you an idea I spent about 23 hours this past week working on freelance stuff and 11 hours visiting websites. Last year I realized that I spent a ton of time visiting websites, so I started using Google Reader which has saved me a lot of time, but even with Google Reader I've found that I still need to come up with a way to make that part of my life more efficient or reduce the number of sites I visit because it's a non-essential part of my life, even though I do find treasures of information on those sites occasionally (like Klok for example). So this coming week as an experiment I'll check the same RSS feeds, but instead of logging into Google Reader as a break-time activity I'll log in only once throughout the day to see if that reduces the time I spend reading articles. And after the week is done I can pull up the report and make a comparison. [Update: It worked. I spent a few less hours visiting websites when I did that.] Klok makes it really easy to use the scientific method in your time management.

The other thing I was also surprised about was how much of my time was spent writing emails to clients (about 10%). Depending on the length of the email it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour to write each one. The reason for this is I'll proofread each one and make sure I word everything just right and have no spelling or gramatical errors. I'm convinced that it's time well spent to sound intelligent to your clients, and I know they've appreciated it because I've gotten comments saying how informative and thorough my emails are. I'm not sure how I could speed that up except by becoming a better writer and proofreader, but it's still nice to know how much time is spent doing that when I make bids for future projects

Conclusion
If you are a freelancer use this program. The ability to keep track of your daily activities to the to the minute, and do it easily, is extremely valuable. I was able to use this program to keep track of everything I did throughout the day, which was easy for me because I'm at my computer all the time. So even if your life doesn't evolve around the computer you can still use it record what you do when you are at your computer working.

Be sure you download (and read the information for) the beta version because it has a lot of really nice features that the "stable" version doesn't. And the beta is not that buggy.

And while we are still on the topic, Randy Pausch gave a great lecture on Time Management which I'd strongly recommend you watch if you haven't already.

Oh, one last thing. Observant readers may have noticed from the screenshot that I've been spending a ton of time on a Super Top Secret Lumaglyph Project. I'll be sharing information on that—eventually.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Massively Useful Software: FontForge and YourFonts.com

[EDIT] Scruss provide some information on how to do this under Cygwin (and Linux I'm sure) at http://scruss.com/blog/2010/05/09/creating-a-truetype-font-from-your-handwriting-with-your-scanner-your-printer-and-fontforge/ I haven't tried it out yet, (when I do I'll post it here) but this could very well come in handy. Thanks for the tip!

Many of the designers I know are typophiles. We live and breath type and will search for hours trying to find the right typeface, and when we are not doing that we'll spend weeks trying to create one. Here's a couple of font tools that I've used in the past: YourFonts.com automatically creates a TrueType font from a scan of your handwriting, and FontForge allows you to create fonts from scratch and of course edit existing ones.

YourFonts.com
[EDIT] YourFoints is not free anymore. It now costs $12.50 + $6.00 if you upload both template pages.

For years I've wanted to create a font of my own handwriting. Originally my motivation for this was out of novelty because having your handwriting as a TrueType font is just plain cool. But now that I'm doing more concept art I wanted my handwriting font because using a font like Myriad Pro for notes just doesn't fit well with the loose sketches and paintings. Even though it takes some time to set up the gridlines and write my notes on screen using my tablet, I do it anyway because it just looks right as opposed to using a refined font.

For a while I've put off making that font because of how long it would take for me to make one, but now there's YourFonts.com. After about 20 minutes of writing my font into the template they provided (which I did in Photoshop so it would look like I wrote it with a tablet) I was able to create a TrueType font of my handwriting!

The raster to vector conversion was good, and aside from some kerning issues (which I'll get into in a second) the font was perfect. So it was a good thing I waited because this site saved me a lot of time.

FontForge
So about those kerning issues. YourFonts.com creates a TrueType font with the left and right bearings at a fixed distance away from the glyph. And as any type designer would know this isn't always desirable, and I definitely wanted to change the width of the space character, so to fix all of that I used a powerful open source program called FontForge.

FontForge isn't always a super easy program to install. It's originally a Linux program, and if you are using Ubuntu you simply go to Add New Programs, search for FontForge, and it'll download and install it for you automatically. Mac users will have a harder time installing it, but for those of you using Windows you could have a frustrating experience; you'll need to install Cygwin.

Now, I've installed FontForge on Windows before so I knew what I was getting into. I do have it installed on my Fedora partition but having to reboot just to edit a font is troublesome. I thought that I could sidestep the Cygwin nightmare by installing andLinux which is basically Ubuntu running on something that is kind of like a virtual machine (in that it needs dedicated RAM) just so I could install FontForge without problems. Unfortunately, it crashed a lot and FontForge ran slowly too, so I decided to go ahead and install Cygwin anyway which I do still recommend if you are going to be running FontForge in Windows.

Here's some tips about installing it because the documentation on the FontForge site on how to install Cygwin properly is lacking.

From the server list select mirror.kernel.org. It's a fast and reliable server. When you go to select the packages that need to be installed, first make sure that the checkbox on the bottom that says "hide obsolete packages" is unchecked, as FontForge needs some obsolete packages. And I found clicking on the view button so it's set to "full" helped my find everything too.

The good news is that making sure that all of the packages are selected is the hard part. The rest of the steps on how to install it are pretty straight forward.

I will add though that FontForge, even though it's probably the best font editing software out there, the program is pretty ugly. But hey, once you install it and go through the tutorials they have on the FontForge site it's a pretty nice program.

After I installed FontForge I started to adjust the kerning between each pair of characters. Yes, you can set the kern for any pair of characters that you want and have the kern amount stored in the font so it's kerned automatically as you type it; it's just a matter of typing the letters into the Metric Window and drag and drop the lines between them.

But first you need to create a lookup subtable for the kern amount. And again, I do suggest you read the manual because I'm not going to write a huge tutorial on how to do this, but here's some hints: If you try to adjust the kerning it'll bring the New Lookup Subtable dialog for you. The subtable type should already be set to "pair position (kerning)", click on the "" button, change the feature to "horizontal kerning", and maybe change the lookup name to "kern" just so it's shorter. When you click OK it'll ask you for a name. Just use what it put in already. After that's set up, anytime you change the spacing between any two characters that you type out on the Metrics Window it'll save the kern amount, so you'll want to try every combination of letters if you have time to.

And again, FontForge is a serious program so please read the manual before you use it. You'll be glad you did because FontForge is a great program for blooming type designers.

Massively Useful Typography Books?

Sure, while we are on the topic. "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst. A must book for typographers and type designers.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Quick Design Test

If you have 15 seconds I'd like you to participate in a quick test for one of our graphic design projects. The test is at http://toastbusters.net/?p=16&v=11. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Color Wheel Swatches: Shades

NOTE TO CS5 USERS: I've gotten reports that in CS5 (and maybe CS4 but I haven't heard anything yet) that the minimum width of the Swatches panel in the default workspace is 17 instead of 16. The Swatches panel must be 16 swatches wide, otherwise the circular swatch pattern becomes slanted.

The culprit is the Layers panel which can't be as small as the Swatches panel, so if the Swatches panel and the Layers panel are put on the same column the Swatches panel will be wider to fit. The fix is to undock the swatches panel, at which point you can dock other panels below it that aren't wide.

Three months ago I released a set of RGB and CMYK color wheels. After some user feedback I fixed the CMYK wheel so it has richer colors and pure CMYK data for the Adobe formats that supported it. The files are updated there so go ahead and get them.

In addition, also at the request of a user, I made a color wheel with shades instead of tints. The special thing about this palette is that it uses Don Jusko's Real Color Wheel theory of pigment overloading. If you've used yellow food coloring or watercolor before you'll know the color shifts to orange with the more yellow pigment you use. I included that effect of pigment overloading in these swatches. The nice thing about this is that dark yellow will not be that ugly olive color, and dark cyan will have some blue as it goes darker.





Here's the links to the files. For the CMYK palette only the ACO and ASE palettes have pure CMYK color information, the rest are CMYK safe RGB colors.

ACO Files (Adobe Photoshop Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: ACO
CMYK Color Wheel: ACO

ASE Files (Adobe Swatch Exchange)
RGB Color Wheel: ASE
CMYK Color Wheel: ASE

ACT Files
RGB Color Wheel: ACT
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: ACT

PAL Files (Jasc Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: PAL
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: PAL

TXT Files (Corel Painter Swatches)
RGB Color Wheel: TXT
CMYK Safe RGB Color Wheel: TXT