Lepton Image Compression: Saving 22% Losslessly from Images at 15MB/s ¬

2016-07-28

Two weeks ago Dropbox made a fascinating announcement of a new “streaming image format”:

Lepton achieves a 22% savings reduction for existing JPEG images, by predicting coefficients in JPEG blocks and feeding those predictions as context into an arithmetic coder. Lepton preserves the original file bit-for-bit perfectly. It compresses JPEG files at a rate of 5 megabytes per second and decodes them back to the original bits at 15 megabytes per second, securely, deterministically, and in under 24 megabytes of memory.

We have used Lepton to encode 16 billion images saved to Dropbox, and are rapidly recoding our older images. Lepton has already saved Dropbox multiple petabytes of space.

I’m not a fan of the JPEG image format, but since it’s so pervasive and everyone is taking and storing so many photos at this point, this is important and very impressive. Read the full post on the Dropbox Technical Blog for all the technical details. Lepton is open source under the Apache license and available on GitHub, so we all benefit.

[Via TechCrunch]

The iPad Paradox ¬

2016-07-21

Michael Gartenberg writing for iMore:

I know many smart folks, folks who aren’t remotely Apple fanboys like Steven Sinofsky, who barely use their Macs (or Surface) but do use an iPad Pro.

I’m using my iPad Pro as my primary computer as well, and almost everyone I’ve shown it to has bought one. Yep, bought one … or tried to steal mine. Clearly, there are a lot of people who would buy an iPad.

So why aren’t the sales higher? I think iPad is suffering from the “TiVo paradox.”

Having switched to just an iPad mini for my personal computer, I’ve been wondering the same. Before departing Small Dog Electronics I began wondering why companies are not switching most desktops and laptops out for iPads in droves.

I agree with Michael’s conclusion.

An Affiliate Link Tagging Textpattern Plug-in ¬

2016-07-20

Now that I’m independent and posting more frequently, I’ve joined the iTunes Affiliate Program to help the site earn its own keep. I host this site on Textattern, an excellent, light weight, and very flexible CMS (Content Management System) and—wanting to work smarter, not harder—decided to write a plug-in that could automatically rewrite any iTunes/iBooks/App Store affiliate URL I post in an articles using my iTunes Affiliate Program ID. This will make it easier to just copy links to music, books, or apps from the appropriate store and not have to run them through a different tool to appropriately tag them to hopefully earn a little commission.

Let me introduce the new mta_affiliate Textpattern plug-in. It’s a simple plug-in which, once installed, gives you a pair of preferences to enable URL rewriting and enter your iTunes Affiliate Program affiliate ID. It provides a <txp:mta_affiliate></txp:mta_affiliate> container tag which you can then use in your pages/forms to automatically rewrite any iTunes Affiliate Program URL (“clean” or “legacy”, see Advanced Affiliate Linking) contained within (including those produced by other Textpattern tags). In my case, I wrapped my article bodies with this tag, as well as a some custom fields which I generally store URLs in and output from.

I had previously developed similar functionality for Small Dog Electronics, though not in the same way, so this is far from my first time working with iTunes Affiliate Program URLs or the concept of parsing & rewriting URLs within content. I intend to support further affiliate programs in the future.

Download the latest version from the development page, the GitHub project, or Textpattern.org. You can get usage assistance, report any issues, and request additional affiliate programs support in the Textpattern Plugin support forums.

Neon Drive and Demoscene Roots ¬

2016-07-16

Neon Drive is a fun, retro-futuristic game for iOS which I reviewed for the 959th issue of Small Dog Electronics’ Kibbles & Bytes newsletter back in November:

It’s not a traditional racing game, but, to quote the web site, it’s a “slick retro-futuristic obstacle-dodging game”. The graphics have a neon retro-futuristic theme (think the Tron movies) with some fun visual effects and the music has an 80’s techno/tracker feel to it. One of the best parts of the game to me is the fact that the game is timed to the music, or the music to the game, and so it becomes very immersive if you put on headphones and get into the flow. You can really build your muscle & auditory memory to get through it. That’s not to say it’s too easy as it switches up the gameplay styles for an effective challenge.

Neon Drive screenshot

The combination of the visual effects and music style hearkens back to the demoscene, for me anyway.

They’ve since expanded the levels and now have Mac (Mac App Store or Steam) & Windows (Steam) versions. Check out the Neon Drive website for more extras like the soundtrack and desktop pictures.

Oh, and don’t forget to read my original, full review in Kibbles & Bytes for a bit of demoscene history.

Compass 2 Stand for iPad, iPad mini, iPad Air, and Newton MessagePad ¬

2016-07-15

A few months ago I reviewed the Twelve South Compass 2 iPad stand for the 973rd issue of Small Dog Electronics’ Kibbles & Bytes newsletter:

Being an active Apple Newton user and—more recently—an iPad mini user (see my review , I’ve had my eye on Twelve South’s Compass product for years. With their Compass 2 product line, they brought full support for the iPad mini and I finally got around to picking one up for my iPad & Newton use.

[…]

The previous Compass was just a little too wide for the iPad mini, so while you could make it work by not adjusting it out all the way, it was far more unsteady, so the Compass 2 fixes that. With any iPad, I’d be careful about tapping too hard in the top left and right corners when the Compass 2 is in the easel configuration and your iPad is in portrait mode, but it’s still quite stable. It’s too small for the iPad Pro, so we’ll have to wait for a different solution there.

[…]

I have the MessagePad 2100 which was the last, best model and the most expandable with an optional wired keyboard (via the serial port) and two PCMCIA slots (I have ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth, and GPS cards I use in mine). It also functions in portrait and landscape orientations, just like the iPad. In fact, while thicker, it’s dimensions are pretty close to that of the iPad mini, so it works just as well on the Compass 2. The Compass 2 makes typing with the external Newton keyboard extremely comfortable and is still stable enough to use the stylus for navigation & selections!

The Compass 2 has been getting even more use since my departure from Small Dog Electronics and I still highly suggest it, for both the iPad mini and the Newton MessagePad 2×00 models. They now come in new hues to match the silver, gold, and rose gold iPads, but they still make my favorite: black.

Use Your USB Peripherals with Your iPad ¬

2016-07-13

Just before my departure from Small Dog Electronics, I extolled the usefulness of the new iPad Lightning to USB 3 Adapter in their 985th issue of the Kibbles & Bytes newsletter:


If you’ve owned a Mac for quite some time and invested in various peripherals over the years, but also own an iPad, I have a tip for you!

[…]

Often upgrading to a newer WiFi or Bluetooth peripheral is still the best decision and will be more compatible in the long run, but what if you have invested in USB peripherals? If you have a trusted USB keyboard (for some of us, they become an old friend), USB memory card readers, expensive USB audio equipment like microphones, mixers, or MIDI devices, there is a way! Additionally, if you need to connect your iPad to a wired ethernet network, what I’m about to reveal will do the trick too. Let me introduce you to Apple’s Lightning to USB adapters:

While originally designed for importing photos and videos from digital cameras via USB, they do support other standard types of USB peripherals, including keyboards, barcode scanners, memory card readers, and various audio devices.

This little adapter enabled me to not have to invest in a new Mac for home use and just use my iPad mini instead. More details to come.

Independence ¬

2016-07-06

After nearly thirteen years, many months of agonizing personal deliberation, and three further months of attempting to wrap up projects as cleanly as possible, June 1st marked my departure from Small Dog Electronics. Finding myself in utter burnout was not an easy reality to come to grips with, and deciding to make such a large change was downright scary, but everyone stood by me and I believe we’re all going to better off for it.

I am grateful to have spent many formative years at such a great Apple Specialist, helping keep Macs—and more recently iOS products—in use on users’ desks and in their bags, as well as helping customers better use them. I am glad to have to helped Small Dog Electronics transition from an ecommerce retailer by opening up several brick and mortar stores, plus celebrate their 20th anniversary. I am very thankful for the many opportunities presented me which allowed my climb from a lowly Sales Associate, through various IT & software development roles, to my final couple of years as Director of IT, Development and Security.

Working at a small company, especially one run by a father and son team, for such a long period of time really made it feel like family. As with any business—or family, for that matter—there were ups and downs, and I saw a lot of people come and go, but have many great memories and was deeply conflicted in leaving them behind. That said, while no longer working alongside of them, I’m still a happy customer and will continue to see them on occasion, both in their stores and around town. I hope to see them continue to shine in the coming years. Being a small retail company working with Apple and against big competition the likes of Amazon is no small task.

I have been a long-time fan of Apple products, especially Macs, and have worked hard to help keep them in-use. In high school and college I did so through my website, the Classic Mac Workshop, later with Brown Computer Solutions, and most recently through all my roles at Small Dog Electronics. Apple had some rough years there, but they rebounded and have clearly absolutely flourished. Apple is now a massive, wealthy company with an amazing and diverse line of products and services. Apple doesn’t need my help anymore, at least not in terms of selling their products.

While I wanted desperately to continue helping Small Dog Electronics grow and change—and I do think I played my part in that—I firmly believe that they need some fresh blood and perspectives, especially in my former role. So, with my health at risk due to prolonged burnout, the time had come to let go and allow both myself and the company find new directions.

I took all of June off to decompress, vacation, and try to realize that—for the first time in a decade—I’m no-longer on call 24/7. That has been an experience in itself. So, with July upon me, and our nation celebrating its independence, I too am celebrating my own.

I don’t have a firm direction yet, but have funds and projects planned for July. Beyond that is pretty wide open and I will always have plenty to learn, so expect to hear more from me as I explore this newfound freedom.