How to create a thinking child, start with “Toy Book”

Steven Caney’s Toy BookThere is no lead paint in these toys (unless you add it yourself) and they are all 100% made in the USA (unless you live outside the USA). Steven Caney’s Toy Book introduces your child to the world beyond prefabricated ‘play modes’. If you don’t like the idea of you child becoming a mindless automaton in a consumerist society, show him/her a world of his/her own making.

OK, so I’m being a little dramatic, but I like this book. I’m a designer so I am probably predisposed to the idea that your own imagination is better then the latest Spiderman toy. What is important about this book is that it not only gets some simple yet creative toys into your child’s hands, but it also shows them that the world is not made up entirely of preconfigured blocks that have to be consumed as is. This book shows them they can deconstruct the world around them and remake it to suite their imagination.

This book has a series of simple instructions on how to make basic toys. One of the compelling things about these toys is that many are scientific or musical in nature, allowing you child to begin to ‘play’ with science or music. What a great way to get them interested in learning. The “Water scope” and “Water Lens” are two example of this, if you have a small bucket and some other household items, you can start to learn about optics and maybe demystify the pair of glasses your son or daughter just got.

I was quite excited when I saw this book, and bought it on the spot. I had Steven Caney as a design professor while I attended RISD. He had more impact on me then any other design teacher, he truly taught me to think outside the box. And yet, also how to deal with the practical side of business. After reviewing the book, I can safely say that a lot of Steven is in this book. He has a voracious appetite for invention and you can start to see the glimmer of that mind in this book. two other great books by Steven Caney: Steven Caney’s Invention Book and Steven Caney’s Ultimate Building Book.

Free RAW Editor: Raw Therapee

Raw Therapee (THe Experimental RAw Photo Editor) is a treasure for digital photographers who shoot in RAW. It supports many RAW files types from the most popular Digital SLRs, details on supported cameras can be found on their site.

Raw Therapee opens and edits RAW files. Just point it to a directory of RAW files and it will generate thumbnails of RAW files (and JPEG files) from that directory. Double click on a thumbnail to bring it into the main editing window. Now you can make a wide range of modifications:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure
  • Highlight Recovery
  • Shadows/Highlights
  • Sharpening
  • Color Boost
  • Color Shift
  • Luminance Curve
  • Luminance Noise Reduction
  • Color Noise Reduction

These are the main options on the right hand side of the screen. On the left is a history panel listing each change you make. This is very handy, it allows you to simply click on an earlier action to see what the image looked like at that stage. And if you want to revert to that point, simply click on that action and continue working.

Raw Therapee Screen Shot

It is not a great way to manage your photo collection, Picassa does a much better job of that, but it is substantially better at making adjustments to an image. My work flow still starts in Picassa to quickly review my photos. I then delete the hopeless images and pick a few for further editing in Raw Therapee. Once editing is complete in Raw Therapee, I save the photo as a PNG. This is easily done with the “Save Image” in the lower right corner of the application and can be customized in the program options.

My initial response is that it is at least as capable as Photoshop (I have CS2), but probably better for ‘developing’ and image and certainly a lot faster. But it’s not a fair comparison, Photoshop is designed to do more then develop a photo. Raw Therapee is really in the same league as Lightroom and Aperture. I can not speak to how it compares to Aperture because Aperture crashed the first time I used it and I decided I did not need that in a photo editor and ended my evaluation there. I did use Lightroom during a 30 trial and really fell in love with it. I would purchase that Lightroom if it were not so overpriced. It is especially annoying to know that Lightroom was based on a free application.

The million dollar question: how well does Raw Therapee compare to Lightroom? I would prefer to use Lightroom, it has a broader set of tools. But, I use Raw Therapee because of the price. It’s free, but a program of so much value, I am glad to give the developers a ‘donation’. It is still under development so it might well become a threat to Lightroom.

Raw Therapee is available for Windows and Linux.

P.S. I’ve moved my blog over to Blogger. And I have a section for Photography News and Reviews. WordPress and Blogger are both great and I can’t really say one is better than the other.

Texas Furniture Makers Show – 2007

Last week was the eight annual Texas Furniture Makers Show in Kerrville Texas. Another successful show with strong work and great judges. This year the judges included Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas Moser. Rex White has had work in the show several times and had won numerous awards in the past. Thomas Moser founder of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers is well respected and was really a great choice of a judge. I don’t know anything about Charles Kegley other then that he made for a good judge and was quite affable, yet direct when fielding questions about his decisions.


Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas Moser
From left to right: Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas Moser

As always, Jim Derby did a master job of running the show.

Jim Derby
Jim Derby at the awards ceremony

I was asked again this year co-lead a continuing education seminar and this year I was with Alton Bowmen and Frank Stazza. It was a round table discussion this year and I think that worked out quite well. I had a number of photos I took at the ICFF this past spring and I had a little slide show of these. Frank did a great demo on handtools.

Frank Strazza - Woodworking Demo
Frank Strazza’s handtool demo

I thought the judges first place choice for the show was a little odd, but generally I was in agreement with their decisions, including Frank winning second overall for his Jewelry Cabinet.

Frank Strazza - Jewelry Cabinet
Frank Strazza – Jewelry Cabinet

This has become a strong show and it is always remarkable how a show limited to state wide entrants can draw such strong work. But then, Texas is a large state.

Jim Derby will start working on the Ninth Annual Texas Furniture Makers Show in short order, I look forward to seeing it!

HTML – Definition List – My New Favorite Thing

It is sad when one gets so excited with such a trivial bit of obscure code. That is what has happened to me… again. This time I stumbled across the Definition List tag. It operates similar to other types of lists, you start with a containing tag <dl> and populate it with a list of items. But, where it differs from ordered and unordered lists is that there are two item types in the list; Definition Term <dt> and Definition Definition (or Data Definition) <dd>. Most all browsers will render the two lines differently, typically indenting the <dd>, like so:

a place to grow food
a place to grow knowledge

The code looks like this:

<dd>a place to grow food</dd>
<dd>a place to grow knowledge</dd>

But, what got me so excited was the prospect of being able to seamlessly style to different types of data in a list. It is when you add CSS to the mix that things get interesting. Rather then showing you what can be done by adding CSS, I encourage you to go give it a whirl.

You might ask how I got this far without having learned anything about this before. That is one of the pitfalls of being self taught, and rather haphazardly self taught at that. I tend to wonder around HTML learning little bits here and there, I took no structured course, just learned what I needed when I needed it. It is a process that works as everything I learn gets puts into action right away and the chaff gets dismissed. But, it also leads to holes in my knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Safari on Windows?

I need to have a Mac if for nothing else so I can test and debug the web sites I create. Every browser has its quirks and some of the sites I work on have a higher then average Safari user base. That’s one reason I bought the MacBook last year, even though I primarily run XP on it. But now, Apple has removed my need to have a Mac with their release of Safari for Windows.

I can only guess that they are using Safari as a tease to Windows users in an effort to wet their appetite for more Apple software that can only found on the Mac. But that seems a bit of a stretch to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it. As a grumpy user who is not willing to sacrifice an ounce of system performance, I run XP on my Mac with Boot Camp, not Parallels, I have to reboot into OS X to test web pages. Well, not anymore, now I can run Safari right there in XP next to Firefox and IE7.

The newest rev of the MacBook Pros really peaked my interest and I am seriously considering upgrading in the fall. But the release of Safari for Windows has given me pause, serious pause. Because now I don’t need a Mac anymore. I have to weigh if it is really worth dropping an extra $200 for Vista and Parallels if I get the MacBook Pro. Hmmm…

But, in one way this release is not out of keeping, it continues the intrusion into Windows space started with Quick Time and iTunes. And it is a nice alternative, except a great alternative already exists in Firefox.

My guess is that Safari usage (on windows) will settle down somewhere between Firefox and Opera, closer to Opera as anything past Firefox is really just for the fringe who simply want to be different, and let’s be frank, who want to be difficult. As much as I like competition in the software arena, the desktop version of Opera is pretty unattractive. I use it a few times a week, but only for testing. It’s just too buggy and I have not found that it does anything better then Firefox. Heck, I’d rather use IE7. Oh, actually, Opera (and IE7 for that matter) does do RSS better then Firefox. Firefox is poop when it comes to RSS.

Portable WordPress

OK, so now you have XAMPP on your flash drive and you’re showing it off to all your friends. One of them (the wise-guy) will ask, “uhhhh… so, what’s that good for?” DOH! Well, here is an idea to avoid this moment of embarrassment and shame, “Well.” you say, “I use it as a development environment for customizing WordPress.” Smack-down! You win.

That’s right, if need a sandbox for developing WordPress and you don’t want the whole world to see your mistakes, you can install a local copy of WordPress and mess about with it to your heart’s content. This works if you install it on your local hard drive, or on your flash drive. It goes where ever you have XAMPP installed. And here are step by step instructions on how to do it. These directions start with installing XAMPP on your local hard-drive, but to install it on a flash drive, follow my instructions, then pick-up again after that’s done. Also, when creating the database, I found my options did not exactly match what is in the tutorial, but is was nearly the same: utt8_unicode_ci.