Monday, August 17, 2009
Friday, August 14, 2009
My daughter and I went to see what's said to be the final Japan tour of Blast!. The brass, percussion and visual performers are young, but are among the best in the world on their instruments. The music and visual performance skills were out in force this afternoon.
If you're not familiar with Drum and Bugle Corps, it's mostly a summer activity governed by the non-profit organization "Drum Corps International", with corps members moving in around May to begin hard 12-hour "all days" rehearsals, and competing throughout the summer across the USA, until finals in August. Each corps has 150 members, which consist of brass, percussion and "color guard" members who do equipment work with rifles and flags while dancing. There are 12 corps competing for the top spot at finals, but many more corps at various skill levels competing all summer. These shows are performed on football fields in stadiums, but the similarity to college marching band ends there, since they exist to compete and perform like it too!
Blast! was born from the Star of Indiana Drum and Bugle Corps, which exited the DCI circuit to form Blast!, a kind of indoor, theatre-based "Brass Theatre" troupe taking the high skills of the best drum corps performers, and performing a kind of greatest hits of drum corps, to thrill audiences everywhere. (Not to mention winning Tony and Emmy awards as well.)
The Japan Blast! tour features snare drummer Naoki Ishikawa, who was a champion "individuals" competitive snare player when he marched in DCI, and who is now a featured performer in the Japan Blast! show. He's got incredible chops, and they feature him well during the Battery Battle portion of the show. The video is the percussionists performing during the break between sets, on kitchen stools and a garbage pail. Humorous. :-)
The Blast! performers did all the hot drum corps favorites like "Everybody Loves the Blues", "Appalachian Spring", "Medea", and "Malaguena" as well as a number of great numbers that were new to me. Overall, the show was about 2 hours of exciting music and visual performance, which had the audience on their feet by the end.
Kudos to Blast! for a great show!
Monday, August 10, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
If you pay any attention at all to typography, layout, type faces, fonts, leading, kerning, tracking and the like, and have ended up amassing a collection of type faces from the famous designers and font foundries, you'll end up needing some method of organization. The type face or font organizers that come with operating systems are basic, so vendors have channeled some Gutenberg and come up with replacements.
Linotype's FontExplorer X Pro 2.0 for Apple's OS X is one such program. I started out using their free, unsupported FontExplorer X and have recently trialled and purchased the pro, commercial version, called LinoType FontExplorer X Pro 2.0 available here for EUR 79 (as of 3 Aug 2009). As far as I'm concerned, it's worth every penny.
FontExplorer X Pro is a powerful professional font management tool providing you with a clear overview and complete control over the fonts on your computer. FontExplorer X Pro helps you to organize your fonts according to your personal preferences, you can activate and deactivate fonts as you please, while functions such as font detection in documents make it easy for you to identify the fonts required for your projects. A recurring problem is that documents are frequently displayed incorrectly when the necessary fonts are not available on a computer. With FontExplorer X Pro you can now easily buy the fonts you need for a job via the FontExplorer X Pro Store.
FontExplorer X Pro ("FEX Pro" for short) gives you a complete type face or font management solution on OS X, and you can even have it manage a consolidated font library in a specific folder, a la the iTunes or iPhoto libraries. There are plenty of built-in fields that you can sort on and some built-in sets, but you can also tag, label or comment your fonts and create "smart sets" which are like iTunes smart playlists. You could create a set per project, for example, to indicate what fonts were used for a client job, or, you might create sets of pleasing combinations of fonts.
Aside from the customizable main-screen preview you can see in the screenshot at the top of this post, FEX Pro can show you all the details about a font file including version and format (OpenType or TrueType etc.), the complete character set and even missing characters as well as Unicode or HTML character codes, sample text in "running text" or "waterfall" formats, the legal information such as embedding rights, and kerning pairs.
Sounds Great, but What's the Point
But what's the point? Why manage your fonts? Every font file you load on your system requires resources to deploy. If you have 1000s of fonts, that's going to require a large amount of memory to load every time, and will certainly slow down application loading and system performance.
A major benefit of a font manager like FEX Pro, is that it lets you activate fonts when you need them, freeing system resources for other purposes. FEX Pro even lets you auto-activate fonts, deciding which apps can or cannot request fonts, and even associate a font set with a specific application so that that set gets loaded when, say, Photoshop loads.
The gripes I have with FEX Pro are minor. I really love the application. However:
- It should give advice on what combinations of fonts "work together" especially for non-designer types like me.
- The consolidation method is opaque, and it should be easy.
- Backup of font metadata you add, like labels, should be automatic.
What I had to do to consolidate my library into ~/Documents/Fonts was the following:
- Set the library to my desired folder and tell FEX Pro to move the fonts there. This is done in Preferences, Advanced.
- Backup all font files manually.
- Run Tools menu, "Clean System Fonts Folders..." which moves any non-system font files from three system font folder locations to a backup folder on your desktop.
- Re-import the backup folder on the desktop, letting FEX Pro organize into its folder.
- Check for duplicates and prune.
That's too many steps when it could be a single step that does things in a non-invasive way, to get you ready to use a single folder, if you're a user wanting a simple solution.
My recommendation is, if you're on OS X and care about type aesthetics, buy FontExplorer X Pro. It's worth it and is a welcome addition to any OS X user's toolkit.
Monday, August 03, 2009
Despite its once-poor reputation, I have been using Plaxo to keep my iCal and Exchange calendar sync'ed as well as a way to keep in touch with business contacts. I've been syncing using the Plaxo Outlook client on an old clunker of a Windows box at work, to go Outlook to Plaxo, and also using the Plaxo iCal client on Mac OS X, to go iCal to Plaxo. It also works to sync Address Book entries. My goal in using it was to be able to use the Mail and iCal software in OS X, and not MS Entourage. I dislike Entourage because it puts your mail, calendar and address items in a single large monolithic database. Hard to back that up, and, it gets really, really large after a while.
At any rate, that setup working around Plaxo has worked well for me, but last week as of 30 July 2009, Plaxo changed tacks and will start charging for the Outlook sync services. This is part of the announcement email they sent me:
Act now: keep your Outlook Contacts in sync
Outlook sync will become part of Plaxo Premium effective July 30, 2009. This change will allow us to continue to invest in the development and support of this valuable (but high-cost) feature. In order to continue syncing your Outlook address book and calendar via Plaxo, you'll need to upgrade to Plaxo Premium.
If you act before July 30, you can lock in a 20% lifetime discount on Plaxo Premium. You'll get Plaxo Premium for $47.95/year, a $12.00/year savings off the regular $59.95 annual subscription price. In addition, you can try Premium, risk-free, for 30 days.
Of course, I appreciate that Plaxo might quite reasonably want to charge for sync, since it's got to be one of the most difficult things to do, programmatically. Lots of variables and expensive to maintain. Not being interested in yet another subscription service however, I decided to re-visit the topic and see if I could find a way to sync for less coin than that. I assume that since iPhone OS 3.0 supports connectivity to Exchange, that native Exchange connectivity for OS X iCal cannot be far behind.
Meanwhile, however, to have this iCal:Exchange sync while we wait for Snow Leopard, one can make use of the excellent open source project "DavMail." This is a simple app you start at login and keep running, that brokers connections between IMAP, CalDav and LDAP clients, and an Exchange server. You set it up for your platform, which in my case was Mac OS X, and then set up your Calendar, Mail and Directory so they access ports on localhost, your local machine.
DavMail sits there listening for the connections you set up, and it then talks to your Exchange server as though it were an Outlook Web Access server. Pretty slick, and it uses only about 70MB of memory and hardly any CPU on my system.
If it crashes and burns, I'll let you know in an update. Enjoy!