Vista Casualties – Software

May 30th, 2007

Software – Just like hardware manufacturers, software houses love a new OS because it’s a good opportunity to introduce a whole new version of their software.  And unlike more minor upgrades it’s also a good excuse to take a fresh look at their products.  This often means that functions will be altered or moved around and some features may even be removed completely (an increasingly familiar trend).  This isn’t always a good thing, because it puts the existing user’s nose out of joint especially if it’s software that you use regularly and are familiar with.  Never is this felt so deeply as when you’re upgrading because of a new OS.  Ordinarily, if you don’t like a new version of a program  you just don’t bother and stick with the old one, but a new OS means you’re forced to accept change and let’s face it, that can be hard to do. 

Here’s my main list of software changes (so far) from the upgrade. 

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Vista Casualties – Hardware

May 30th, 2007

Hardware is a big issue for me.  I like my hardware to last and I don’t like to let it go when I’m used to it, so throwing out good kit just because I’ve moved to Vista really goes against the grain! It’s environmentally unfriendly and expensive.  Of course the manufacturers love nothing better than a new OS for just this reason. They want everyone to go out and get all new kit, so they’re not too keen to produce drivers for [tag]hardware[/tag] over a certain age and let’s face it they have the advantage.  They know you’ll probably get a new PC in the next couple of years and it will most likely have Vista on it. 

Still, brand loyalty counts for a lot, so asking about drivers for older products is always a good idea because it lets them know you like their products … and it’s hard to guage the demand for a driver if they haven’t heard from the consumers who want it.

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Vista Yo-yo Part 2

May 30th, 2007

Well I think I’m finally done yo-yoing between Vista and XP.  I’ve finally upgraded permanently after three (or was it four?) previous attempts.  It has been incredibly frustrating and not without its casualties (eg software and hardware that will have to be replaced because there are never likely to be any drivers/upgrades that work on Vista).

As an aside I feel compelled to add that at several points in the overall upgrade process I felt so frustrated with Vista that I got dangerously close to switching to Linux, that is at least before I read some of the comments, blogs and emails after Adrian’s comments on ZDNet about the Linux community’s lack of understanding about what Joe (and Jane) Public want from their computer.  They’re a scary bunch and although I have a Ubuntu setup I won’t be switching to Linux for my main rig anytime soon largely because every time I look for a little support, I don’t want to have to deal with such angry zealots.

So I am back on Vista and the balance of the love/hate relationship is gradually turning to love.  I’m still waiting for the Wow though …

Audible in Vista

May 24th, 2007

Question: I have a question. I’m using Audible in Windows Vista and I’m tryig to get the icon out of my system tray but it just won’t go.  I get a message telling me to use administrator rights but it doesn’t work.  Am I stuck with this program running all the time when I don’t need it?  Thanks

No you’re not stuck with it.  In Vista you’ll find that you need to elevate your rights to do certain things, one of which is stopping many programs from running at startup.  The Audible Manager gives this message. 

audible - run as administrator

AudibleBefore you can run the program as an administrator however you need to close it first.  To do that right click on the icon in the system tray and choose Exit.

Then locate the Audible shortcut in your Start Menu and right click on it and choose Run as Administrator.  That will enable you to set the option not to launch Audible at startup.






Question: Task Manager buttons are gone!

May 14th, 2007

Question:  “All my buttons and tabs have disappeared in Task Manager! I can’t change tabs and there is no red X to close it. Is there any way I can fix this without reinstalling Windows?”

Vexentricity - Windows Task Manager in Tiny Footprint Mode

Vexentricity - Task Manager Tiny Performance monitor"First off don’t panic! You're just in Tiny Footprint Mode! " There is nothing wrong with your install of Windows to cause this - you have just accidentally put Task Manager into ‘Tiny Footprint Mode’ which hides all the buttons and tabs.

This one foxes a lot of people who think they’ve done something disastrous to their computer!    It’s actually a handy built-in monitor put there for anyone who wants to be able to track their computer’s performance eg. while playing a game, without the buttons and tabs.  However, for anyone who does this accidentally it can be very disturbing and because it's Task Manager they automatically think something must be wrong with [tag]Windows[/tag]!

The way to switch to Tiny Footprint Mode is to double click anywhere below the Menu bar eg. on the plain background.  This is  probably what you did to accidentally get into this mode!

Vexentricity - put Windows Task Manager into Tiny Footprint Mode
 (click for larger image)

To get out of Tiny Footprint Mode double-click anywhere on the plain background and your buttons and tabs will reappear.

Vexentricity Task Manager getting buttons back in tiny footprint mode

(FYI - Tiny Footprint Mode is the same in Vista too.)

Demon Webhosting? Stay Away!

April 20th, 2007

Connectivity supplied by Demon InternetI’ve worked with a lot of web hosting companies, large and small, over the years, but I’ve got to say my worst ever experiences have been with Demon Internet.  And the very worst part is that it’s still ongoing!

Last year Demon’s hosting platform went down for a couple of weeks.  Now there’s not a webhost out there whose servers don’t go down at some point – but for two weeks?!  Then it came back up briefly and it looked promising – well that and the promise of the compensation for not meeting their uptime guarantee.  But the compensation was never forthcoming and what’s more the platform went down again almost straight away, this time with the added ‘bonus’ that all the data was gone.  No websites. 

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Using Wacom Intuos 3 with Photoshop (ExpressKeys and Touchstrip)

April 4th, 2007

Expresskeys setup for PhotoshopI said in an earlier post that I was experimenting with speeding up my workflow in Photoshop by making more use of the keyboard shortcuts and that I would write more as well about using the Wacom tablet’s built in buttons (called ExpressKeys).  These are a group of buttons on either side of the active area of the graphics tablet and the idea is that you use your dominant hand with the Intuos pen (or mouse) and your other hand on these buttons (hence there is a set either side, but that’s not to say that you can’t use both sets if you prefer).

After experimenting for a while the way that I've found most useful with the Express Key buttons so far is in the following configuration (shown in the photo above):

  • Two buttons set to [ and ] keystrokes in order to increase/decrease brushsize – this works quite well and is much quicker than the right click (on the pen) provided that I do not need to change the pen hardness at the same time
  • One button set to the keystroke Control D – this allows me to quickly deselect any previous selections that I’ve made using for example the magic wand tool or the lasso.
  • One button set to the ALT modifier – this is most handy when selecting a source, such as when clicking to choose the area you wish to clone stamp from or when setting the source point for the healing brush.

These settings can all be programmed through the [tag]Wacom[/tag] Tablet Properties which you will find in Control Panel. 

Expresskeys Setup in control panel - click for larger image (click for larger image)

Also on the Intuos are the touch strips (again one either side), which by default are set up to enable you to very quickly zoom in and zoom out in [tag]Photoshop[/tag].  This is somewhat useful but it zooms in on the center of the screen which means that you still have to do a lot of panning to locate the part you really want to zoom in on. 

Touchstrip Setup in control panel - click for larger image (click for larger image)

Again this is setup in Wacom Tablet Properties which you will find in Control Panel. Click on the Advanced Options to set the action for press and hold at the ends of the touch strip and also to set the touchstrip on the dominant hand side to only work off the pen touching the strip (rather than your finger, as most often you will have the pen in this hand).

Intuos Touchstrip Advanced setup in Control Panel | Wacom Tablet Properties

Buy a [tag]Wacom Graphics Tablet[/tag]Wacom Intuos 3 A4
Buy from | Buy from

Speeding up workflow with Photoshop Shortcut keys

March 12th, 2007

I’m working on speeding up my workflow in Photoshop CS2. 

There are two aspects that I think will help me most – mastering the shortcut keys and making more use of the functions on my Wacom graphics tablet (more on this here).

Shortcut Keys

There are literally hundreds of keyboard shortcut keys in Photoshop – far too many to list on a single page or any kind of handy reference.  It can seem pretty daunting then to begin investigating the keyboard shortcuts let alone remembering them!  One trip into the Photoshop shortcut keys help is enough to make you want to throw your keyboard through your screen!  The best way I’ve found is to start small and work up. These are some of the most common Photoshop shortcut keysand some of the most effective for speeding up workflow that I’ve found. 

The first ones to learn are the keys for the tools palette (and luckily these are easy to keep as a visual aid - to print out a copy simply right click on the image on the left and choose print image).  These have enabled me to speed up primarily because I can keep my left hand on the keyboard while I’m drawing with the right so I don’t need to lift the pen off the tablet in order to change tools or functions. So to go to the erase tool from the brush tool I just need to hit the E key.  To go back to the brush hit B

The shortcut key is the shortcut for the whole flyout, so hitting B would bring out whichever tool you currently have selected for the brushes flyout  which could be the pencil tool or the color replacement tool.
brushes flyout

[tag]Keyboard[/tag] [tag]Shortcuts[/tag] – Brushes
Photoshop toggle between foreground and background color

X toggles between the foreground and background colors. This one has speeded me up immensely!

Hitting D resets the foreground and background colors to black and white. Not one that I use often but still a lot quicker than using the eyedropper or the color swatches.

Photoshop CS2 Shortcut keys - precise cursor brush size cursorCaps lock is a quick way to toggle between the standard brush size pointer and the precise cursor.

Using the [ and ] keys to increase/decrease brush size are new to me and I’m finding them very quick indeed. Much quicker than right clicking to bring up the brush size/hardness menu in fact!  To change the hardness of the brush hold down the shift key while hitting [ or ] (this goes up/down in 24% jumps so for more precise hardness control you’ll still need to use the right click.)

Layer shortcuts

If you look in the help for keyboard shortcuts you’ll find a LOT listed for the layers pallette, these are the ones that I use most often.

Photoshop create a group

To quickly select the top layer hit Alt and . (period) and to quickly select the bottom (or background) layer hit Alt and , (comma)

Holding down Alt with the  [ and ] keys will cycle up/down through the layers.

Holding down Control with the  [ and ] keys moves the selected layer up or down through the layers stack.

An easy way to quickly group layers (see image at left) is by selecting several layers (by holding down shift and clicking) and hitting Control G. This is much faster than creating a group and then dragging the layers into it.  (If you want to group layers that aren’t sequential in the layers palette hold down control while selecting them. But remember once they’re grouped their layer order will change.) 

To select all layers hold down control and alt and hit A.

More useful [tag]Keys[/tag]

Other keys that I use regularly include Control D for deselect, for use after, for example, selecting with the lasso tool (these are shortcuts for the PC not the Mac! sorry!)  and contol Z to undo

The tab key is a handy [tag]shortcut[/tag] to get rid of all the pallettes to view the artwork with nothing in the way (press tab again to get them back).

Enter is useful for confirming operations such as cropping or transforming. (Escape is a quick way to cancel.)


There are hundreds more shortcut [tag]tips[/tag] that I could include here. I’ve only tried to include ones that I personally remember to use and that I’ve found have speeded me up.  If you have useful ones that have helped you please comment below!

I can also say that switching to using [tag]Photoshop[/tag] keyboard shortcuts has health benefits too.  If I’ve nothing to do with my left hand I usually find myself sitting on it or it’s tucked in behind my back – not good for posture OR for circulation.  Using keyboard shortcuts keeps my left hand engaged and active, and that means that I sit up straighter.  I think it keeps my brain working too which is useful when I sometimes need to spend hours at a time drawing, designing or editing photos. 

DST starts early!

March 8th, 2007

Remember that DST (Daylight Saving Time) is early this year in the US and some provinces of Canada thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  This means that we spring forward on the second Sunday in March and fall back the first Sunday in November instead of the usual slots of the first Sunday in April and and the last Sunday of October.   

Now, remember Y2K?  Well, this change is being called Y2K6 and there are a lot of people who are seriously concerned that this is going to cause computers, software and other hardware that relies on storing accurate time a lot of grief. 

Windows users need to make sure that they have applied patches.  If you run Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 then last month's Patch Tuesday downloads should have bought the updates to your PC (if you have Windows Updates disabled then you need to make sure that you download these before Sunday).  Same goes for apps like Microsoft Outlook (the best place to download these is from Microsoft Update). 

Remember though that it's not just Microsoft software that's affected.  Any other software that relies on having an accurate time should be checked or needs updating.  Things that don't update automatically will need to be adjusted manually and things that can't cope with the early DST change, well, hopefully you can disable automatic DST detection and change the time manually.

If you are worried about problems or downsides come Monday 12th, I suggest that you spend the next couple of days checking and testing and that you have some contingency plans in place for Monday morning!

Remember, if an F-22 Raptor crossing the International Date Line can have computer troubles, so can your PC!!!!

MSN Music: Find Album Info – Lose License!

March 3rd, 2007

MSN music Paste Art HereThis morning sitting in my PJs listening to some tunes, when I noticed a track in [TAG]Windows Media Player 11[/TAG] wasn’t showing a picture of the album cover.  So I idly clicked ‘Update Album Info’ thinking that it would go off and find the Art.  Was I wrong!

In fact what it did was change the details of the track entirely.  It's the same file but the Album Name/Artist Name/Track Name are all completely different.   What the?

What's more the original album information no longer seems to be in the Windows Media Guide database (from so I can’t select the correct album, even though I originally downloaded the tracks from [TAG]MSN Music[/TAG] - they seem to be two separate databases. 

So I will need to type in the name details manually – but what were they? I can't remember. No problem, thinks I, playing a track will remind me what it was and I can go search for the details on the web.

MSN Music - you don't have the rights to play this file

The problem comes when Windows Media Player tells me that I don’t have the rights to play this file now.  So I plug in my password and it goes off in search of a license key …

MSN Music - The media player cannot find a valid license to play this song

And here’s the kicker, despite having the right logon on and password for the site, I now don’t have a valid license for this song.  Well of course I don’t have a license for this song – I’d never heard of it until a few minutes ago!  It isn't my song! My song hasn’t got the name it’s supposed to have!!!

So allow Windows Media Player to update you info at your peril – you may lose your license key in the process!

I’ve warned you, if no one else has!! 

I am surprised by this - I wouldn't have thought even manually editing the extended track info (ID tag) would affect the license.(More testing needed!) So perhaps the more automatic 'Update Album Info' works deeper than that... I will do some more research to try and find out.  It's hard to test because it's hard to find tracks that don't appear in the Media Guide Database (or appear incorrectly) and also I don't want to completely trash my music library! But if it does turn out that this can happen across the board, I'm much more concerned about the possible effects on my non-MSN Music downloads because they are much harder to recover/download again.

So in the meantime I won't be allowing Windows Media Player to update album info because I have a few CDs with no burn rights that can't be recovered because the download Company has gone bust. 

DRM stinks - and once again I wish I'd bought the album from Amazon rather than downloading music. 

Buying music online is like getting a tattoo - you don't just regret it once, you keep on regretting it - forever!


At this point the only solution I have is to download that album again.  Which, true to form, is refusing to download right now. 
MSN Music - there was a problem with the download - would you like to retry or cancel the download

I’ll try again later but I don’t hold out much hope.  I’ve got a few tracks that permanently suffer problems downloading and once it has happened, despite a lot of searching and emails back and forth, I haven’t found a method to get it to successfully download that track.  The only solution I’ve found is to download the file on a different PC, burn it to a CD and then rip it, which is sailing close to piracy particularly with the [TAG]DRM[/TAG] rights conferred on some tracks (always check the rights before you buy!)

Anyway I’ll keep searching on this one too.  (If anyone has any ideas let me know!)



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