Daily Archives: May 12, 2008

Gadgets part 2: Bamboo Fun

Bamboo Fun Until recently I’d hankered after one of the higher-end Intuous graphics tablets from Wacom, but a few friends have bought Bamboo models lately so I began to think that this might be a good option for me[1]. So far, it seems that way. What’s this all about? Well I’ve wanted a tablet for a while to help with photo / graphics work, and to try out sketchcasting (see below).

The product

The Bamboo Fun is a bundle which includes the tablet and stylus, plus a mouse (slightly redundant given I have a Mighty Mouse already) and Photoshop Elements – only version 4 for the Mac, annoyingly, but I guess I could always upgrade. To be honest, I’ve not even installed it yet.

The Bamboo comes in very stylish packaging reminiscent of something Apple would make… the box unfolds neatly, each item is wrapped in that thin foam bag packaging, and the driver CD is in a square box exactly like the ones that Apple uses for OS X CDs! So, first impressions are good. After that, basically it’s just plug-and-play… there’s a driver to install which provides some System Preferences to customise the tablet sensitivity and behaviour of the shortcut buttons, but that’s it.

Negative marks go to Wacom for having their registration page (and most of the website, it seems) “temporarily unavailable” for over a week. Not cool, and they are ignoring my emails too.

Usage – OS X and a tablet

In use, it’s been something of a mixed experience so far. The tablet itself is great, but it takes a lot of getting used to over a mouse (which is something I fully expected). The issues have been around the software support, and specifically in my case Lightroom. Two major annoyances – one that the zoom wheel at the top of the tablet doesn’t work in Lightroom, and secondly that although a single tap/click will zoom in, it is then really hard to get Lightroom to zoom back out with the stylus (should just be a simple tap/click again, that’s how it works with the mouse anyway).

On the plus side, it works beautifully well in Pixelmator.

Although OS X has handwriting recognition built in (the “Ink” system), actually I’ve not found this entirely reliable so far. [For √©ampe ltd to intSome word Son tbeTABLET] For example, I tried to write some words on the tablet just then, and you can see what happened. There doesn’t seem to be a way for the system to learn handwriting styles either. There is some software called inkBook that looks promising and somewhat more functional than the in-built software in OS X, but I don’t think I need it just yet (here’s a review). Handwriting was never going to be the primary focus of this purchase.

Oh, and it turns out that there are some issues with Ink and 64-bit apps in 10.5.x … I found that iScrobbler started to crash, and it looks like Ink is responsible. Weird.

Sketchcasting / sketchblogging

One of my main interests with the Bamboo was trying out Sketchcasting. Dave Briggs blogged about this a couple of months ago, and I’ve been fascinated since then. My first effort, though, was not the best… it’s way over-long (mainly as I fumbled around to work out how to get the thing to work) and not as well-planned as it might have been. Actually I think the Sketchcast site is somewhat limited… there’s no way of making things private, no friending, few social features at all. So instead, I picked up ArtRage and will try using that and Screenflow to create sketchcasts, and probably share them via my Viddler account, which will at least enable things to be embedded on WordPress.com.

More recently I’ve also noticed that Sacha Chua has been sketchblogging… using her Nintendo DS. Sacha is very creative and this seems like a really cool way of using a DS, although it looks like you need a bunch of homebrew software to make it work. Worth a look if you are interested, though.

[1] and, evidently, the only way I’m going to get a custom header image is to MAKE ONE MYSELF. This comment is aimed at no-one in particular. That is all.

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Gadgets part 1: SATA/USB enclosure

It’s a three-part miniseries on gadgets now that I’m back from Las Vegas. If you’ve followed my Flickr then you’ll know what I’m about to talk about. Techie geekery starts here. Yes, I probably shouldn’t get quite so worked up about technology, but here I am.

One thing that I’ve not found that easy to get hold of is an external enclosure for SATA disks. IDE/USB caddies have been pretty widely-available for a while now, but most disks now use the SATA interface so I needed something that would let me backup my Thinkpad onto a spare 200Gb 2.5″ disk I’d been given.

I had a look through a bunch of enclosures in Frys and I have to say I just pretty much went with what seemed simplest (a NexStar SX from Vantec), without really spending too much time on the features… the decision was mainly based on cost ($20) and size. So when I finally (!) got around to opening the box today, I was completely astounded at the quality of the product, given the cost.

The NexStar SX packageThe box itself was solid cardboard (not the flimsy sort of stuff I’d expected). Inside was a soft carry case, and inside that was the metal enclosure itself. The product also ships with a USB cable with a “pass through” socket which seems to enable more devices to be attached, a driver disk, some screws and a screwdriver – very complete.

Once I took the enclosure out of the carry case I had another pleasant surprise. It’s metal and very compact. There are two small squeeze clips at the back… press them in and the top and bottom are released to slide off. The other USB enclosure I’ve previously purchased was really poor compared to this, with ugly screw lugs on the top and a very loose lid… this thing is really elegant. Case open

The only small issue I had was that the Hitachi drive I’d been supplied for my Thinkpad initially would not fit into the actual case, because it is so compact. The side screws made the drive just a little too wide to fit. I had to remove the top cover of the drive (see photo), but since Vantec provided a screwdriver this was no big deal.

That’s really all I have to say, but I just wanted to point out that this seems to be a really good quality bit of kit at a decent price. I probably ought to look for a 3.5″ version and then I can whip out the drives from my old Linux tower before decommissioning it!

An example of the value of Twittering

Tara Hunt has posted a great piece recently on Twitter for companies (by the way, if you don’t follow Tara’s blog, you really should take a look). Here’s a a small illustrative anecdote from WSTC last week.

I gave a presentation at our internal WebSphere conference that talked about Twitter, among other things (ordinarily I’d Slideshare the presentation, but it did contain some stuff I can’t post externally, sorry about that… maybe I’ll write an external version sometime).

One slight technical hitch. The conference organisers were set up to record presentations from a Windows laptop and Powerpoint using Camtasia. I was presenting using Keynote on the Mac, so I chose to use ScreenFlow to record the session (I noticed that Jason McGee did the same thing for his WebSphere sMash pitch earlier in the week). I tested beforehand and everything seemed good, but just at the end I switched virtual desktops to do an unscripted demo of something, and found a stack dump from ScreenFlow on the screen. I’d spoken for an hour, taken 15 minutes of questions… and lost the lot.

I twittered my frustration and headed out into the corridor, thinking about re-recording.
Within minutes, I checked my email and found an email offering support from one of the guys at Vara Software, who produce ScreenFlow.

Well there’s yet another illustration of the power of Twitter. Let’s be clear, they haven’t in fact been able to recover the data for me, but that doesn’t matter… this level of responsiveness and support just makes the relationship I have to that particular piece of software much more positive and sticky. I’m pretty impressed. I assume that they were using Tweetscan or Summize (Twitter mashups / “search engines”) to watch for references to their software and decide whether to respond. This was just great.

Oh, and this worked brilliantly to illustrate my point about why folks should take a look (or second look) at Twitter in the talk itself. This is increasingly becoming an important channel of communication.