Thursday, April 28, 2011

Grab a flight – go on holiday

With the holidays coming up, it’s not too late for a ‘last-minute’ vacation.  A holiday is the perfect time to recharge the batteries; maybe with a cruise to the Caribbean, a beach resort, or one of the popular all inclusive vacation rentals. For your 2011 holidays, I’ve compiled a short list of places you might not have considered vacationing. Clevelanders, if you can’t get away far this year, the last two are just for you.

Take a quick glance, click on the ones you’re interested in (to read more about it) and then hot-foot-it off to your local travel agent or your local search engine. For your holiday flights from reality, may I suggest the following vacation destinations? 

QUEBEC:  Beautiful all year round, this historic city offers sights and attractions both in its city center and for miles around. Relive history in town or go zip lining over waterfalls. It’s the perfect destination for a cruise up the east coast.

GRAND BAHAMA  ISLAND: If you  want the world’s best value cruise, you can’t beat the prices on the Celebration Cruise Line  to Freeport. Top notch entertainment and food for a pauper’s price.  It’s the cheapest way to do the Caribbean you are likely to find; and it’s not a mega-yacht so you won’t be treated like a number.

LONGBOAT KEY: Want to go to Florida without the hassle of the amusement parks?  How about having white sandy Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico beaches within a quarter mile of each other? Want some of the best seafood around. Check in – you’ll want to stay.

SAIL THE CARIBBEAN: For the greatest thrill ever, try sailing the Caribbean on the world’s largest clipper ship – The Royal Clipper. If you want luxury AND you want casual, you need to check out this ship. It’s a trip you’ll never forget. Imagine seven days = seven islands: Barbados, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, 
Dominica, Iles de Saintes and Martinique.  That will add to your ‘country counter’ quicker than any other trip.

SAVANNAH: Wrap yourself in the luxury of the south and take a trip back through the centuries in this historic city. Southern cooking never tasted better than right here in Savannah. 

SPORTSMANS PARADISE: Just outside Denver you’ll find some of the finest fishing spots in Colorado. Whether you like lake, pond or stream fishing, there are fish and guides just waiting to please. They don’t call them the Gold Medal Waters for nothing.

HELICOPTER INTO THE GRAND CANYON:  Don’t stand on the rim, dive all the way to the bottom in a helicopter, get out and ride the Colorado on a pontoon boat, then fly back up and walk the Skywalk, 3,000 feet above the river. 

ROCKY MOUNTAINS: If you’ve never been to the Rockies, be prepared to spend some time. The scenery and the wildlife are amazing. Think about staying at the less crowded West entrance in the town of Grand Lake.  It’s the proverbial western town with amenities like none other.

WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA:  Looking for a nice drive in the country? Butler County, Pennsylvania has just the thing for you. Get their brochure and head out on the’ Barn Trail’. A leisurely one or two day drive through the hills of western Pennsylvania will bring you up close to some of the finest agritourism available. Ever pet an alpaca?  There are two alpaca ranches on the tour. 

LAKE ERIE: One of Lake Erie’s best kept secrets is the town of Lakeside, Ohio. Right across the bay from Cedar Point is one of the last Chatauqua communities in the United States. For the price of a daily admission you’ll find some of most laid back vacationers in all of the Midwest. Free shuffleboard, tennis, name entertainment and more are just a few reasons people in Ohio love coming here each year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Exploring North American Landscapes – a book review

While I don’t think the author Marc Muench was thinking of Cleveland when he wrote this book, never-the-less, most of his principles of good photography do apply. Whether you are shooting the shores of Lake Erie, the trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park or the hills of Hinckley, there are some great tips and techniques in this book.

If you recognize the name Muench, it’s because Marc is the third generation in a family of outdoor landscape photographers extraordinaire. His grandfather was Josef and his dad was David. Just like his predecessors, Marc is making a name for himself in landscape photography.

An accomplished skier and hiker, some of his most beautiful work is done in the mountains, showing skiers cutting fresh tracks in the snow. His mountain top sunrises are equally amazing. 

The front of the book is about chasing the light and how persistence pays off. Recounts of various trips reinforce the idea that it takes time to make something extraordinary. 

Part II of the book is entitled ‘The Lessons” and here Marc reveals his thoughts on exposure, workflow, working with Aperture and Lightroom and his methods of HDR.  Regarding HDR, be ready for some different techniques – it’s not load Photomatix and press “start.”

Just looking at his prints, you’ll be a believer in his methods. Even more so, you’ll gain a number of new ways to realize your vision, the holy grail of photography.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Create Great iPhone Photos – a book review

Allan Hoffman is riding the wave of popularity with his book about the camera you always have with you – your iPhone. As a matter of fact, that’s one of three reasons he thinks the iPhone camera is so popular – the other two being that you can customize this camera and you get to use Photoshop effects without leaving your phone.

I just recently went to my local AT&T store here in Cleveland and upgraded my iPhone from the 3 to the 4. There are just so many more compelling apps available for the iPhone 4 that it made it an obvious choice once my contract had expired. 

I had already started reading Create Great iPhone Photos before I upgraded, and it was one of main reasons I decided to upgrade now instead of waiting it out for the iPhone 5.

Since the original iPhone, Apple has continually upped the ante with each model, increasing resolution and features. With iPhone 4 they even finally added a flash. Now, more people are leaving their cameras at home and doing quite well with just their iPhone. 

This book is a wealth of information for all those packing the iPhone, from accessories to apps. Some of the best apps add functionality that just doesn’t exist with the native Camera app from Apple. Things like a self-timer and burst mode shooting are available in various apps.

Better than half the book is dedicated to post processing your photos with all those different apps available on-line. Each description offers color photos that make it easy to understand what you are getting before you pay for a certain app.
Whether it’s Comic Strips (pg 139) or Geotagging (pg 158) or ToonPaint (pg 143)  or SodaSnap Postcards (pg 166), there are lots of apps I’d never seen before while cruising the AppStore. In addition, Hoffman gives suggestions with using iPhone photos on your blog or Facebook. 

There’s lots to like in this book if you are getting started with iPhone photography. I can just about guarantee you’ll find many things you never knew.    

This book should be on the shelves in Cleveland at Borders or you can order it online at Amazon or O’Reilly Books.

You might also like to read my review of other O’Reilly Books:

Secrets of Corel Painter Experts – a book review

Corel Painter has been around for over 20 years, yet I still remember getting the original version, literally packed in a paint can. Digital imaging was a little more magical back in the day, but today the output is remarkable and anyone with a desire can learn enough to turn out marketable work in short order.

While I instantly gravitated to Photoshop, I always found Painter to be a little more elusive. Those with actual art experience seemed to ‘get it’ and were producing enviable art in no time. Well, now with this book by Daryl Wise and Linda Hellfritsch, you get to virtually sit in the studio of 17 different digital artists and glean from their experience and workflow.

A whole range of interests and talents are evident in the lineup of artists portrayed in this book. Topics covered include:
  • Illustration
  • fine art photography
  • concept art
  • comic book illustration
  • manga illustration
  • concept design
  • fine art
I was particularly drawn to the landscape photography of John Derry, one of Painter’s founders as well as the portraiture of Jane Conner-Ziser, a Canon Explorer of Light and expert retoucher.  

If you’ve never used Corel Painter before, this is not a beginner’s guide.  Tools and techniques are not explained for the novice. However, if you’ve used Painter before, and are interested in taking your work to the next level, there are some dynamite ideas included. 

In addition to the discussion of ideas and techniques by each artist, there are step-by-step lessons and samplings of their other work.  A DVD accompanies the book with even more resources. 

If you are serious about advancing with Painter, this ought to be on your shelf.  

The Why Café – a book review

When I travel solo, I love “little books.”  You know the kind – 100 to 200 pages and small enough to stick in a jacket pocket.  I like knowing that by the end of the trip, for sure I’ll have been able to finish the book. When I traveled from Cleveland to Columbus this week for the Ohio State Spring Football Game, the book I took was The Why Café.

“The Inspiring #1 Bestseller” was written across the top of the book jacket. Already it was pulling me in. I regularly look for inspirational books – just to keep me from getting too comfortable in my routines.

This story is about John and his trip to relax and unwind. Things are anything but relaxing as he finds his way to the Why Café. Entering with a sense of relief as well as one of disbelief, things just start to get more interesting.

Rod Serling would be fond of this story, as John finds himself in the proverbial “Twilight Zone” at the Why Café. From the waitress to the chef, John is given more questions than answers. As you’ll read, that’s not a bad thing – as a matter of fact – that’s the whole point. 

If you are looking for a quick read with some questions to ponder, you can’t go wrong with The Why Café. Author John Strelecky has links to all the places that sell both the physical book and the e-book on his website. I think you’ll enjoy the trip to the Why Café, no matter where your travels lead you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Verbatim Tuff-‘N’-Tiny USB Drive product review

Okay, now there’s no more excuse why you can’t take it with you. Whether it’s your data, your recipes, your photos, whatever! This Tuff-‘N’-Tiny USB Drive is so small, lightweight, durable, secure ,and inexpensive, that there’s nothing to hold you back. 

I couldn’t believe how tiny this thing was the first time I saw it. Actually my thumb can cover the entire device. Thank goodness it comes with a handy lanyard to put it on your keying or to attach it to your bag of choice. The lanyard and ring, while quite small, seem very durable.

While Verbatim has been turning out amazing products for 40 years now, they have incorporated what they call SIP (system in package) technology to pack more data into the smallest possible form factor. Drives are available in 2GB, 4GB, 8GB,16GB and 32GB sizes. They come in five colors: Red, Orange, Green, Purple and Black, depending on capacity.

Not only are they super small, they are never-the-less ultra-rugged as well; resistant to water, dust and static discharge. I’ve been carrying it on my key ring and even though I know it’s getting occasionally scratched in my pocket, it’s never failed to work perfectly. It’s even gotten a soaking once during an unexpected downpour, with no ill effects. They claim it’s impermeable to moisture and it looks like they are right. The instructions merely suggest making sure it’s dry before using it again. 

Included on the device (for Windows users) is special software to encrypt part of the drive with your secure files. Before you start loading the drive, decide how much space you wish to devote to secured storage and the software will partition it for you. 

By using the security software, the drive is renamed to ‘Public Zone’ and your private partition is totally hidden. What you do see is a special executable file, which when clicked, prompts you for your password, and opens a new window displaying your ‘PrivacyZone’.  This system works well with Windows Explorer, but I did encounter some issues trying to use it with alternate file managers like Xplorer2. 

So now, no more excuses for not carrying all those precious digital files and photos when you traipse off to Grandma’s house. It takes up less space than one more key on your key ring, and it can be the key to your digital life. You can purchase it online at their web store.

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