My Apps — Chapter 8
FastStone Image Viewer

fsvboxIn the May 2013 My Apps installment, I mentioned that I had stopped using Easy Thumbnails, the software it described, in 2012 but I did not identify what replaced it. Now, roughly eighteen months after that post and more than two years after I started using it, I’m finally getting around to talking about my “new” thumbnail maker, FastStone Image Viewer.

First some background. I use uniform dimensions for all thumbnail and full size photos on my site. For extremely well thought out and indisputable reasons, full size photos are currently 800 x 600 pixels and thumbnails are 100 x 100 pixels. Because I’ve chosen to use square thumbnails, a little extra editing is required to extract a sensible looking square from a rectangular shaped full size photo. I use PhotoPlus to produce both the full size 800 x 600 jpeg and the square jpeg for the thumbnail. There is no fixed size for the square as it will eventually be resized to standard dimensions. The full size photo gets a watermark style copyright notice applied.

Originally, both the thumbnail re-sizing and the addition of the copyright were done inside PhotoPlus. Sometime near the start of this century, I started doing the thumbnails with Fooke Software’s Easy Thumbnails but continued doing the copyright with PhotoPlus using the software’s macro facility to apply the customized text to a set of photos in a single operation.

Then one day it broke. It didn’t just break by itself, of course. It broke when I installed a new version of PhotoPlus. The recording of macros simply did not work in the new release. I contacted support who verified the problem and logged it. They also helped me move my previously recorded copyright macro to the new software which would take care of things until the end of the year, when the date would need changing, or the bug was fixed. I started using FastStone’s product long before year’s end and don’t know if the bug ever was fixed.

fsvsc1Like Easy Thumbnails, FastStone Viewer is a whiz at batch processing. The long list of supported functions includes the ability to add text or graphic watermarks. I use text which is really easy to change when a new year rolls around. I can even change it temporarily when I occasionally use a photo someone else has taken.

FastStone Viewer also supports re-sizing and it wasn’t long before I started using it to create thumbnails. As I said previously, I had no issues whatsoever with Easy Thumbnails. But Viewer also does a fine job of re-sizing and, since I was already using it for adding copyright notices, I decided to kill two birds with one FastStone. I now use PhotoPlus to create the individual files then fire up FastStone Viewer and, with two quick passes, have a set of properly sized thumbnails and watermarked full size images.

My Apps – Chapter 7 — FeedForAll

My Apps – Chapter 6
Easy Thumbnails

Easy ThumbnailsMy first attempt at writing this post got all bound up in explaining why I do thumbnails the way I do. As I rearranged the second paragraph for the third or fourth time, I heard my own echo from long ago, “If it’s this hard to write, it’s going to be a bitch to read.” That’s usually a pretty good signal that a basic rethink is in order. When I stepped back, I quickly realized two things. One, some of my reasons are truly arbitrary and naturally hard to explain, and two, nobody cares. There aren’t many who care if I do something, fewer care how, and the number who care why has to be near zero. If someone does want to know why, just ask and I’ll be happy to explain and ‘fess up to the arbitrary bits. For now, I’m just going to talk about how I do them and how Easy Thumbnails fits in.

In the very early days I experimented (i.e., thrashed around) but settled down by my fourth trip and subsequent trip journals have used 100 pixel square thumbnails. At first, I just used my graphics editor (PhotoWise or PhotoPlus) to re-size the image after I’d cropped it to the desired area. As my workflow developed, I started doing this as a batch after all the editing was done. When the full sized photo’s editing was complete, I would save it, carve out the thumbnail, save it, then move on to the next picture. Once a page’s photos were done, I would change some settings and scrunch all the thumbnails in a single pass. Then I came upon Fooke Software’s Easy Thumbnails. Batch processing in PhotoPlus (PhotoWise was long gone by this point) had always been rather awkward whereas it was Easy Thumbnail’s strong suit. The only settings I’ve ever used are size and quality but pictures can be renamed, rotated, and some other characteristics, such as brightness, altered. All pictures in a directory are processed with “Make All” or a selected subset processed with “Make”.

I stopped using Easy Thumbnails in the middle of 2012 but it was not because of any flaws or shortcomings. It is true freeware and has been rock solid. I started using a different program because it simplified workflow but Easy Thumbnails is still on my computer and I won’t hesitate to use it if the need ever arises. I also would not hesitate to take a serious look at other Fooke products if appropriate. I own and am happy with CSE HTML Validator but if I am ever in need of a replacement, Fooke Software’s NoteTab will be the first place I look.

My Apps – Chapter 5 — Life After Frontpage Express

My Apps – Chapter 4
Serif PhotoPlus

Serif PhotoPlus X5 packageI found Serif PhotoPlus when I was looking for free stuff in the summer of 2001. At that time, their practice was to make down level versions of some of their products available for free in hopes that you would eventually upgrade. That is precisely what happened to me. I believe that at the time I first started using PhotoPlus, Version 5.0 was the current product and version 4.0 was free. It looks like I may have continued using Agfa PhotoWise through early 2001, switched to the free PhotoPlus sometime in late spring, then parted with $22.90 for the current version after the big Florida trip in September.

To be completely accurate, I have to explain that one feature of the regular PhotoPlus was not exactly given away in those days. Compuserve’s patent on the GIF file format was still valid and royalties needed to be paid. If you wanted to read or write GIFs, you had to send Serif a dollar which they presumably passed on to Compuserve. That patent has since expired. Serif still offers free versions of their software except they are now reduced function Starter Editions rather than older versions of the full product.

Serif PhotoPlus X5 screen shotI’ve updated to most if not all PhotoPlus releases since 2001. It reached Version 12 before adding an ‘X’ and starting the numeric sequence over again. As the picture of the cover shows, it has now reached X5. As with many software products, some releases have been major advances and others have merely added a few bells and a couple of whistles. At this stage, I can’t think of any feature I’d like to see but I’m not really a power user. I’ll occasionally remove an overhead cable or deal with some red eye but mostly I’m just rotating, cropping, and re-sizing. I will play with brightness and contrast to improve a photo but even there I’ll likely use one of PhotoPlus’ automated adjustments. There are lots of features I rarely use and more that I never use.

I do admit to sometimes feeling like a Beta Max owner in a VHS world with just about everyone I know who edits photos using some version of Adode PhotoShop. That Beta Max comparison is a little weak in that the JPG, GIF, and PNG files I produce with PhotoPlus are the same format as everybody else’s and can be “played” anywhere. Plus, at some forgotten point, PhotoPlus added compatibility with PhotoShop PSD files. I have virtually no experience with full PhotoShop and only a little experience with a copy of PhotoShop Elements that came bundled with a scanner a few years ago. At that time I saw nothing in PhotoShop Elements that made me want to switch and there were a few features in PhotoPlus that I didn’t see in Elements. Familiarity with the PhotoPlus user interface is, of course, a huge reason for staying with the Serif product.

The reason I initially chose PhotoPlus, the big price difference between it and any similarly capable program, has lessened. Deals and discounts are always offered to existing users when a new release appears but the most recent update was still $49.95. That is a fraction of the $699 list price of the current Adobe PhotoShop Creative Suite but it’s not far off of the $60.99 price of PhotoShop Elements at Amazon.

I’m happy with PhotoPlus and I’m quite familiar with it. It does everything I need and a lot more. That talk about PhotoShop is mostly for others. I figured that, as a PhotoPlus user in a PhotoShop world, it was something I needed to include.

My Apps – Chapter 3 — Garmin MapSource


My Apps – Chapter 1
PhotoWise & FP Express

PhotoWise and FrontPage ExpressIn Chapter 1 of the My Gear series of articles, I mentioned the PhotoWise software that came with an Agfa camera. I didn’t offer much of a description and subsequent My Gear posts have rarely even mentioned software. But I’ve got it. I need it. It’s often more important than the hardware.

So I’m starting up a My Apps series. I’ve a feeling that it won’t be as well behaved, with nice edges, as My Gear and, as if to prove that, I’m starting off with an article on two different pieces of software. One reason for the lack of neat edges is that software isn’t always acquired intentionally but because it was bundled with something else. Another reason is that there is a high probability of overlap between the old and the new. You get something better or at least newer and it takes awhile to master it. You need to keep functioning until that happens and you do that with the old and familiar. Unlike hardware, I don’t always have good dates for when I acquired something and I rarely have a date for when I really started using it. The two are almost never the same.

These two applications were in my hands when I set off on the first documented trip on Route 66. Both were there because of bundling. As already stated, PhotoWise came with the camera I bought in July of 1999. FrontPage Express was a stripped down version of Microsoft’s FrontPage website builder that once came bundled with Internet Explorer. The practice seems to have stopped after IE 5 and the product vanished. Neither was “best of breed” but both were quite capable and rather easy to use. With my 1999 budget it would have taken some really shiny bells and some finely tuned whistles to compete with free.

FrontPage ExpressLike its big brother, FrontPage Express was a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that allowed you to lay out a web page and position various elements on it without knowing HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language). It differed from full blown FrontPage in the type and number of elements supported and some other capabilities which, for the most part, were beyond me anyway. As with most editors of this sort, it also allowed access to the HTML behind the page.

A popular method of learning what was behind a webpage you liked was simply looking. Virtually every web browser supports display of a page’s source code and I did plenty of that. My programming background allowed me to deal with the HTML to some degree but I’ve never approached the proficiency I once had with ancient languages like C and C++. Advances in tools and techniques have made calling up a single page of source code a lot less useful than it once was but I got some serious mileage from it a bit over a decade back. Most of the work and all of the playing occurred at home. On the road, what I had to do each day was flesh out a page that, in form and function, was pretty much like the one for the day before. I’ve improved on this over the years but, even in the beginning, I was really doing a form of “fill in the blanks” as I traveled.

Would I do it that way again? Probably not. Actually, if I was setting out on that first trip today, I might not do it at all. Today there is readily available blog software that has made doing daily trip reports fairly easy so maybe it wouldn’t even look like fun to me. On the other hand, if my first trip started today and doing a daily trip report did appeal to me, I’d almost certainly take advantage of the software-that-has-made-doing-daily-trip-reports-fairly-easy. I’m using it for this blog. But that software did not exist when I hit the road in August of 1999. It’s more or less accepted that the word “blog” first appeared on a website in April or May of 1999. I hadn’t yet heard the word when my first “practice” pages went on line in July of that year. Movable Type was first released in September 2001. Cafelog, the predecessor of WordPress, also appeared sometime in 2001. WordPress itself was launched in 2003.

PhotoWise screenshotPhotoWise seemed to be exactly the program I needed to prepare pictures for the web. I could crop, resize, and rotate and there were adjustments for many image attributes including color and hue and saturation. About the only things I ever played with were contrast and brightness. Apparently I decided to post 512×384 pixel pictures for that first trip. That was half the resolution of the Agfa camera which meant I could trim away a fair amount of garbage if necessary. Pictures could be saved in four different quality levels. I used Medium (which was probably better than the pictures deserved) rather than High for smaller files. Once the full size picture was ready, I did some more cropping and shrinking to make thumbnails.

Using thumbnails and keeping file sizes down had been preached to me by a real web designer who took the time to look at my early pre-trip efforts and make suggestions. The reason, of course, was to minimize page download time. At least that was my reason when I first started out. After a few nights on the road, it became quite obvious that page upload time was pretty danged important, too. I’m still concerned with file sizes and download speeds but sometimes think I’m the only one who is. That’s unfortunate. Broadband merely conceals bad practices; It doesn’t convert them.

I don’t really know when I stopped using these two programs. I do know that I continued to keep PhotoWise in place even after I switched to something else for the picture editing. PhotoWise had an “album” feature, seen in the screenshot above, that provided thumbnail views of all pictures in a directory. The new program eventually added a similar feature then Microsoft Windows finally provided it directly. Until that happened, PhotoWise was my photo browser.

Those “practice” pages I mentioned are still there but hidden. I first tried a page with scanned images taken earlier in the year with a film camera. Next was a page with images from the digital camera as a test run for the whole process. To reach them, head to the 1999 Route 66 trip, select day ‘0’, then click “prev”. That brings up day -33 with the digital pictures. Click “prev” again to reach the scanned pictures of Day -202.

The textured beige background that appears on the majority of pages in the trip report section of this site, was one of the built-in choices for FrontPage Express. Initially, when this was a one trip site, it was on every page. I liked it and have kept it for the trip cover pages and for most daily pages. I believe the only exceptions are for Christmas Day.