Read my review of Blurb Book Creator in InDesign Magazine

InDesign Magazine, Issue 70: Inspired Designs

The Blurb book publishing service provides several tools for you to design your own self-published book, but you may feel that those tools are limited. If you’d rather create a Blurb book using the full range of professional design and production capabilities in Adobe InDesign, the Blurb Book Creator plug-in may be for you. I reviewed Blurb Book Creator for InDesign Magazine (February 2015). I think it’s a great tool that simplifies Blurb book creation, and can help spot and resolve problems before they turn into costly printing mistakes.

Click the link below to read the article at InDesign Magazine:
InDesign Magazine, Issue 70: Inspired Designs

It’s a pretty strong issue overall, with lots of well-researched and informative content like Justin Seeley’s article on using Adobe Muse, Sandee Cohen’s article on the many ways to place graphics in InDesign layout, and David Blatner’s article on using RGB images for prepress.

The article is part of an issue of InDesign Magazine that you can buy as a single issue or as part of a subscription. InDesign Magazine is a bimonthly periodical devoted entirely to Adobe InDesign and to the thriving community of InDesign professionals. With editorial direction by page-layout guru and author David Blatner and CreativePro.com editor in chief Mike Rankin, InDesign Magazine brings you the in-depth features, reviews, and tutorials you need to master Adobe InDesign. You can download a free trial issue.

Lightroom Map Module bug fixed in OS X 10.10.2

If you use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 on OS X Yosemite (10.10 through 10.10.1), you might have noticed that the Map module may load slowly or fail to load at all. According to an Adobe statement at Photoshop.com (Lightroom: Issue with Map module in OS X 10.10 (Yosemite)), the problem was in OS X network code Adobe was using to get map data from Google Maps; Apple has confirmed to Adobe that this bug is fixed in OS X 10.10.2 which is now available.

After you install the OS X 10.10.2 update, the Lightroom Maps module should work properly. You can update using the Mac App Store (click Updates) or download an installer from Apple (OS X Yosemite 10.10.2 Update tech note; or use this direct download link: (OS X Yosemite 10.10.2 Installer).

Lightroom Maps module with missing map sections in Yosemite

Got a glitchy photo? Don’t give up!

You’ve got a photo that looks great on the camera display, but when you open it on your computer the image looks ruined, as if someone applied a glitch effect to it. Don’t panic! You might be able to save the picture. When I photographed the ruins of an 1950s air raid siren on a tower, I returned to my computer and one of the images I liked the most appeared like this in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: First corrupted image import This is not good. When you see a pattern of strangely colored rectangles over part or all of a digital photograph, sometimes with rough stripes running through them, that’s a sign that the image data is corrupted. It’s messed up and unusable. I didn’t panic, because after thinking it through I realized that there was a chance that the file corruption happened while reading the card or transferring the image to the computer. If that was true, the original image data on the card might be OK, and the photo might transfer properly if I try again. And that’s what I did. I copied the photo from the card to the computer again and got this: Second corrupted image import At first, that looks like bad news. This one’s also corrupted. But wait a minute: It isn’t corrupted in the same way. That could mean that the corruption really isn’t in the original, because if it was, I’d expect the result to look exactly the same. This encouraged me to give it another try: Third image import is good Aha! As they say, the third time’s the charm. The image was perfect. The hope I had clung to was correct: The original image was good after all, I just needed to complete a successful transfer of it. What went wrong? I’m still not sure. If it had continued to fail I might have tried my other card reader to see if it did any better. As it is, I don’t know if it was the card reader, the cable, or what. There are a few lessons to take away from this.

  • Verify your images after the shoot by looking through them on a computer or other device. If they are camera raw images, look at the previews generated by your raw processor. For the images above, the JPEG preview image attached to the raw file by the camera looked fine; it wasn’t until Lightroom read through all the raw data and produced its own preview that the problem was evident.
  • If it looks like you might have a corrupted image, it might be worth it to keep trying to copy it off the card until it works.
  • To preserve the option to copy the image again, you must not erase or format the camera media until you verify the images on your computer. If I had formatted the camera card immediately after import and before I discovered the problem, I would not have been able to go back and try again.

The card I used is relatively new, so there is still a chance that there’s something wrong with it. My next step with the card will be to format it in the camera. Hopefully that’ll help fix whatever went wrong. If it starts happening again, I’ll have to troubleshoot using process of elimination to find out whether the problem is in the card, the card reader, or the USB cable.

Update: I’ve isolated the problem to a defective USB card reader. I switched card readers after the errors became more frequent, and the new card reader produces no problems reading the same cards while connected to the same USB cable.

Discovering a time lapse video in long exposure stills

One of the most important tools for creativity is keeping an open mind. While reviewing a photo shoot of long exposure still photography, I uncovered an even more fun project hiding among the images.

Finding an unexpected animation

I got together with some friends at night to experiment with long exposure light painting. I played with a flash with a blue gel on it, glow sticks, and with a headlamp set to its red LED. The exposures were 30 seconds long, which was long enough to experiment with both multiple flashes per frame and colored trails from moving light sources.

When I got back I did what any other photographer would do: dump the photos into the computer and look through them. For me, this means finding the best version of a picture by opening Adobe Lightroom and pressing arrow keys in the Library module to flip through picture after picture. As I did this, I noticed that the images formed a kind of animation. I didn’t expect this.

The shoot was supposed to be about creating multiple versions of an idea for a single still image. But when I shot multiple takes of a 30-second exposure, each take just happened to be about the same interval of time after the previous one. Although the even time spacing between frames was not intentional, that’s why the long exposure frames made visual sense as an animation when viewed one after the other.

Creating the video

Having discovered a potential animation in my images, the next step was to be more intentional about it and make it into an animation. I turned to Adobe Premiere Pro video editing software because I can edit quickly in it.

Premiere Pro doesn’t import raw files so I exported JPEG versions from Lightroom. I dragged the JPEG versions from the Lightroom Grid view and dropped them directly into the Project view in Premiere Pro, and Premiere imported the stills into the project. In the Project view you can arrange media before you create a sequence out of them. And when you use the Automate to Sequence feature, whatever’s selected in the Project window becomes a sequence and you can set the interval between still frames. Or you can just create a sequence and drag the stills into it manually.

Creating a sequence from still images using Automate to Sequence in Premiere Pro

In the timeline I adjusted the timing of the stills, and inserted cross dissolves between the frames to visually merge them together more effectively.

Sequence of still images with cross dissolves transitions

I liked how the stills looked when I played them forward and backward back in Lightroom, so after creating a sequence out of the stills in Premiere Pro I created another sequence, dragged the first sequence into it twice, and reversed the direction of the second instance. You see this in the final video where each short series of frames is played forward and backward, first slowly and then quickly. To achieve this I played with speed, forward/reverse direction, and repetition until I liked how the visual rhythm felt.

Creating the master time lapse sequence in Premiere Pro

My digital SLR camera is like most in that it shoots frames with an aspect ratio of 3:2, but I wanted to create a 16:9 HD video. While the building block sequences were made at the native 3:2 aspect ratio of the stills, the master sequence is set to 16:9 at 1920 x 1080 pixels for TVs and phones, with the 3:2 aspect ratio still sequences composed within it. By doing this I always had total flexibility to adjust the composition by scaling and cropping. If I had cropped to 16:9 from the beginning it would be much more difficult to refine the composition later.

I composed the music in Ableton Live and imported the track into Premiere Pro. I then exported the final video using a YouTube preset and uploaded that to YouTube.

Creating the animated GIF version

I thought this video would work well as an animated GIF image. But unlike a video, an animated GIF image has no sound and is often most effective if it loops. That means it’s usually best to edit the video for animated GIF viewing instead of simply exporting a video as an animated GIF. This was easy to do in Premiere Pro.

First I duplicated the master video sequence and renamed it as a master for the animated GIF image. I deleted the audio and edited down the sequence to be shorter and to optimize it for looping.

Creating an animated GIF sequence in Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro doesn’t export animated GIF images in OS X, so I exported an H.264 version and opened it in Photoshop, where the video appeared in the Timeline. From there I used the File > Save for Web command to tune the GIF color table, turn on looping, optimize for file size, and to save the final animated GIF image.

Exporting an animated GIF image from Photoshop

I posted the final animation to the Google+ social network, where many visual artists like to post animated GIF images. Animated GIF images don’t play on Facebook.

Animated GIF image derived from video

Because I set the animated GIF to loop it didn’t seem appropriate to interrupt the loop with conventional titles. While I was still in Premiere Pro I removed the opening title and end credits that were in the original video, and replaced them with a constant faint watermark in one corner. The constant watermark helps ensure that attribution is present even if the animated GIF was hosted or shared far from its original site.

It was fun to discover the possibilities for video and animation in a project that was originally intended to produce still images, and this was a great exercise in efficiently re-sequencing stills for multiple types of motion media.

Using the Samsung 840 EVO SSD Performance Restoration Software on a Mac

A few months ago Amazon had a great deal on the Samsung 840 EVO SSD, and I took the opportunity to upgrade my aging MacBook Pro with it. Replacing the original hard drive was quick and easy, and the improvement in performance was obvious and profound. Anything involving disk access now seemed instantaneous.Samsung 840 EVO SSD in MacBook Pro Soon after, I read on Anandtech that Samsung acknowledged a serious performance bug with the 840 EVO SSD that would dramatically slow down read performance for data that had not been rewritten in a while. The bug fix came out in October 2014, first as a Windows application, and with a Mac/Linux version promised by the end of October. As a Mac user I naturally waited until the Mac version came out and fortunately it became available for download a few days before the end of October.

You can download the Samsung Performance Restoration software from the Samsung SSD US Solid State Drive Downloads web page. Note that to fix the performance bug, you must download the updater from the “Samsung SSD 840 EVO Performance Restoration Software” section, not the “Samsung SSD Firmware Updates for Mac Users” section.Samsung 840 EVO Performance Restoration Software on Samsung SSD downloads page

But the Mac updater came in a form I didn’t expect. While the Windows version is a point-and-click Windows application that lets you use the computer while it works in the background, the “Mac/Linux version” is actually a command line utility and has to be installed on a CD or USB drive that you can boot the Mac from. But the Mac version does not run under OS X, so you can’t use any solution that involves a drive that boots into OS X. That means you have to come up with a bootable non-OS X USB flash drive or CD, something that can be challenging for a computer user who has limited or no experience with a command line.

(Almost) creating a bootable USB flash drive with the fix

I first thought I could just download the “Bootable USB disk” version of the software (Samsung_Performance_Restoration_USB_Bootable.zip) and image it onto a USB flash drive. But the Samsung “Bootable USB disk” version isn’t actually bootable on a Mac from a USB flash drive. It contains only the Samsung utility, no bootable operating system of any kind. After looking up various instructions on the Web I was able to use Terminal to copy the image to a USB flash drive I formatted as MS-DOS FAT, but the drive was not visible in the list of volumes you get when you hold down Option while starting up a Mac, even after I found FreeDOS and added that to the disk image. A little more research revealed that you can’t boot a Mac from a USB flash drive unless it has the right EFI boot loader on it, and that isn’t included with either the Samsung updater or FreeDOS. You have to find the bootable USB flash drive software and figure out how to put it together on your own. Samsung actually warns you about this in the accompanying Installation Guide (PDF):

If you use a USB device 1) Please set your USB drive into a “bootable” state before starting the Performance Restoration software. 2) For assistance on completing this step, please refer to USB boot utilities from a trusted internet site.

Thanks a lot, Samsung. Basically this means if you don’t have the technical expertise to set up your own bootable USB flash drive, which usually requires Terminal commands, you’re out of luck with the USB flash drive option. (A couple months ago I successfully used the Terminal to copy another company’s DOS software onto a USB flash drive that did boot my Mac, but that’s because that company first made sure their disk image had everything necessary to boot a Mac. Samsung didn’t.)

While I’ve been using computers long enough to be the guy that my friends turn to for troubleshooting OS X and Windows and installing hardware upgrades, my Terminal skills are limited. I had already spent some time trying to figure out the bootable flash drive question and I probably could eventually, but after trying a few things that didn’t work I decided my time is better spent on other things. And I was thinking of all those other users who never even go near the Terminal: What should they do?

This is where I’ll ask for your help. If you know how to easily use OS X-based tools to create a bootable USB flash drive that can load a DOS-based (not OS X-based!) updater, or at least how to modify the Samsung or FreeDOS disk images so that the Mac can boot off it and the Samsung software will run, please post your instructions or links in the comments at the end of this article. Bonus points if it can be done with point-and-click (not Terminal) steps!

Update: Here is a possible solution. I haven’t tried it yet. Tutorial USB bootable SSD Firmware SAMSUNG 840 EVO (French, link is Google Translate for English). Also, readers are starting to add ideas to the comments, so check there too.

Creating a bootable optical disc with the fix on it

My MacBook Pro is old enough that it still has an optical drive, so I decided it was time to try the bootable optical disc option instead. I grabbed an old CD-RW (others have successfully used a writable DVD) and used the Quick Erase feature of Apple Disk Utility so that I could reuse it. Then I got ready to burn the Samsung ISO image to the disc. If you haven’t done this before you might find steps on the Web that tell you what Terminal commands to type, but I decided to see if I could simplify those steps far enough to avoid using the Terminal, and I was able to. The only software you need is Disk Utility, which is already on your Mac. These were my steps:

  1. At the Samsung downloads page, download the “Samsung_Performance_Restoration.iso” disk image.
  2. Rename the disk image filename extension so that the filename reads:
    “Samsung_Performance_Restoration.dmg”
    If you don’t rename the disk image, Disk Utility will just burn the single unopened ISO file onto the disk, and that’s not bootable. But when the disk image has a .dmg extension, Disk Utility will make the optical disc identical to the contents of the disk image, which is what you do want.
  3. In Disk Utility, choose Images > Burn, select “Samsung_Performance_Restoration.dmg” and click Burn.
  4. Put the blank optical disc in the optical drive and finish burning the disc. When you’re done it should look like this:
    Samsung Performance Restoration software successfully burned to a CD

You can then continue below.

Running the update

Depending on the size of your SSD the update process may take an hour or two, and once you start it you must not interrupt the process. It shouldn’t erase data, but with an operation like this you never know. So before you get started:

  • Back up the entire drive. If you are using Time Machine and its last backup was a few minutes ago, you should be set. Also, make sure you understand how to restore the entire drive from the backup.
  • Run the fix only when you won’t need to use the computer for a few hours.
  • If it’s a portable Mac, be sure it’s plugged into AC power since the process could take a long time to complete.
  • If FileVault is turned on, turn it off. The tool won’t work if the drive is password protected. (An OS X user account password is OK, you don’t have to remove that.)
  • Read the section “General Limitations” in the software’s Installation Guide for additional cautions.

To use the bootable media, insert it and then restart the Mac while holding down the Option key. This displays the list of connected bootable volumes. Select the volume with the update on it (in my case the CD) and press Return. (You should also be able to boot directly into a CD or DVD by holding down the C key as the Mac starts up.)

From this point on, the Samsung Performance Restoration utility takes over and works pretty much as it says in the Installation Guide. If you haven’t used DOS-based software, be aware that it’s all keyboard-based so forget about the trackpad or mouse, and pay attention for times when it asks you to do things like press the “y” (for Yes) key or press the Enter key.

The tool first installs a firmware update on the drive itself. When the tool says “Downloading Firmware…” I assume it means it’s downloading the firmware from the bootable media into the drive and not actually downloading over an Internet connection, but I’m not sure.Samsung Performance Restoration utility progress after firmware updateWhen the firmware update is done, the software goes through a two-step process which includes recalibrating all the data on the drive. This can take a while and it depends on how big your SSD is. For my 1TB SSD, it took about two hours total. Do not interrupt the process. One odd thing is that the Start Date and Start Time on the screen were three hours ahead of the actual computer clock, I don’t know why.Samsung Performance Restoration utility with all steps fully completedWhen it says “Samsung SSD 840 EVO Performance Restoration completed,” it’s safe to restart the Mac. At this point you can just hold down the Power button on your Mac until it turns off, then press the Power button again to start back up. If you want to eject the optical disc, hold down the mouse or trackpad button during restart and the Mac will pop out the disc before it even gets to the desktop.

If you want to read a more technical yet reasonably simple explanation of the bug, read the AnandTech article Samsung Releases Firmware Update to Fix the SSD 840 EVO Read Performance Bug. For even more detail about the bug, the solution, and the update process, I recommend the article Samsung 840 EVO Performance Restoration Tool preview – Getting EVOs back up to speed at pcper.com.

After the update

I was very relieved to find that the Mac rebooted right back into the regular OS X login screen and everything seemed to work just fine. Running the Samsung utility did not erase data, so I didn’t have to restore from a backup. I still took the precaution of running DiskWarrior on the SSD just to make sure the disk directory was OK (you can also use the Repair Disk feature of the First Aid tab in Disk Utility). Also, if you turned off File Vault as I did, remember to turn it back on.

Once you run the Samsung Performance Restoration software the fix is permanent, and you can’t run the updater a second time on the same drive, so you can go ahead and reformat and reuse the optical disc or USB flash drive you used to apply the Samsung Restoration software.

I know that optical drives are almost nonexistent in the currently available new Macs, so while the CD option worked for me I hope someone can shed light on how to create that bootable USB flash drive so that this article can be useful to more people.