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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Landscape Pro 2 Review

Anthropics Technology Ltd.
https://www.landscapepro.pics

So you take a photo. Everything looks great. The arrangement of the sea, the mountains in the distance, the people in the foreground is just as you want it. The trouble is, it’s all a bit dull. The lighting is flat. The sky is dull. The water is as flat and boring as a mill pond.

That is where Landscape Pro can help out. This program can change the lighting, the colours and the atmosphere of an image. It does this by letting you select different image elements – sky, water, mountain, grass and so on – and then changing its visual properties such as the colour and brightness or by dropping in completely new images to, for example, substitute a dramatic cloudy sunset sky for a boring cloudless afternoon sky.

My boring holiday snap loaded into Landscape Pro 2. What can I do to add some drama to it?

I reviewed the previous version of Landscape Pro HERE. For a quick overview of its features, be sure to read that review.  This latest release is broadly similar in both look and operation to its predecessors. Some small improvements have been made to the user interface (including the addition of separate icons for the Save and Save As buttons which I criticised in my previous review).

However, the most significant changes include a large expansion of the number of ‘presets’. So, for example, there are now over 100 new skies – that is, images of a daytime and night-time skies, sunsets, storms and unusual skies including rainbows and auroras. The selection tools have been improved and there is a new 3D lighting brush that lets you ‘paint’ lighting effects onto selected surfaces of structural objects and scenes.  And one of my favourite improvements is the ability to make lakes and seas reflect the sky, producing more convincing results than hitherto.

First you need to select important photo elements such as water, buildings and sky. Landscape Pro does this automatically and you can extend regions if it fails to get the boundaries exactly right.
Then you can select presets from a panel on the left or use sliders to make fine adjustments to specific image elements, tones and colours.

You can switch instantly from one preset to another. Notice here I have chosen to reflect the new sky in the water of the lake.
And here I have selected a new sky to put my once quite dull scene into a dramatic sunset!
All in all, this is a great product for anyone who wants to fix faults or add dramatic effects to landscape photographs.  The regular price of £59.90 is quite reasonable but the current offer price of £29.95 makes it a really good buy.

There are also some higher end editions.  Landscape Pro Studio (£99.990 but on offer for £49.95) supports some additional camera and image output formats and also works as a PhotoShop or Lightroom plugin.  Landscape Pro StudioMax ($199.90, on offer for $99.95) has everything in Landscape Pro Studio plus batch mode for quickly processing multiple images and a histogram panel. See the feature lists for full details: http://www.landscapepro.pics/editions/

System requirements:
Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Vista or Mac OSX (10.7 or later)

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Golden Wombat Of Destiny (the game, the musical and me)

Little did I know when I wrote my first big computer program that it would end up as possibly the most enduring thing I’ve ever done. This was back in the early 1980s. Having decided to learn how to program, I bought myself a copy of Turbo Pascal and within weeks I’d embarked on writing a text-based adventure game of vast complexity (it’s more normal for a beginner programmer to begin by learning how to print “Hello world” but I obviously had ambitions well above my talents). Anyway, it took me a year to write that game, The Golden Wombat Of Destiny, and it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Also one of the most enjoyable. It taught me more about programming that I could ever have learnt if I’d followed a more traditional route.

You can still download a copy of the game from THIS PAGE should you be interested.

When it was finished, I sent it away to a distributor of public domain (free) software. And pretty soon it was being played by people all over the world. I know this for a fact, because in subsequent years many of them wrote to me…

I’ve kept a stack of old letters. Here are some extracts…

“I am writing from the padded cell into which I was flung after being driven completely loopy by your dreadfully devious game…”
(A Wombat Fan from Nottingham, UK)

“I’m stumped. I’ve been trying to crack (your game) for a few months now…”
 (A Wombat Fan from Ballajura, Australia)

“Have you thought of developing a visual version of ‘Wombat’? … Can’t imagine what a potto looks like.”
(A Wombat Fan from Honolulu, Hawaii)

“I was really frustrated when I played your game because I couldn’t get into the Forbidden City…. Then my dad found the trapdoor. Your game gave me a great many laughs.”
(A Wombat Fan from a town whose name includes letters that don’t even appear on my keyboard, Finland)

I also occasionally get letters saying something like “I really enjoyed playing your game when I was little. Now I’m playing it with my grand-daughter” (which makes my heart sink somewhat – it doesn’t really seem so long ago).

Over the years I’ve also been approached by several people who wanted to turn The Wombat into a play or a film. None of these ventures has ever come to fruition. So I was, to say the least, surprised when Peter Theophilus-Bevis not only asked me if he could create a film musical about the Wombat but then went ahead and actually did it!

Um, but before you watch it, here is the obligatory “author’s introduction” which will no doubt feature among the Extras on the DVD when the Director’s Cut is eventually released….



And here is The Golden Wombat Of Destiny epic musical movie itself….

Thursday, 22 June 2017

MAGIX Video Pro X (2017 edition) review

http://www.magix.com/gb/video-pro-x/
£349 (399.99 Euros)
[Currently (June 2017) on offer at: £299]
Upgrade from previous version: £149 (199.99 Euros)

If you need a good video-editing package for Windows, the latest release of Video Pro X from MAGIX software is something that you may want to consider. It’s a nice-looking, easy-to-use package that lets you import video and audio clips, edit them on a multi-track time-line, apply transitions and video effects and export the final movie in various common formats. For a broad overview see my review of the previous release, Video Pro X 8. Contrary to expectations, this new release is not called Video Pro X 9. The number has now been silently omitted. This is now just plain Video Pro X. More on that later…



The main new feature in this version is something called ‘deep colour grading’. Colour grading is a post-production process for altering the overall appearance of your video by changing the colours. This may involve ‘colour correction’ (adding warmth to the colour of a video made using cold-looking studio lighting, for example) as well as effects to  make the videos look more vibrant or subdued or to give them the look of certain types of traditional film stock. This is what MAGIX has to say: “Colour-true processing of material is carried out by precise measuring instruments: vectorscope, waveform monitor, histogram and RGB parade. The software supports all formats from the professional and consumer sector such as ProRes, HEVC 10-Bit, AVC and MPEG-2. Thanks to new support for lookup tables (LUT) in Video Pro X, it can sync flat recordings with LUTs from the camera manufacturer or upload cinematic effect LUTs to create unique film styles. Lookup tables save colour grading information and can easily be imported and applied, or custom created and saved.”

Here I’ve applied one of the (admittedly fairly extreme) Lookup Table colour effects to a clip. The original clip is on the right. The one with the colour effects applied is on the left.
Colour grading can be a fairly specialised area of video processing and high-end professional users may use a combination of expensive software and hardware (editing and mixing panels) for this job. By integrating a useful range of colour correction tools, Video Pro X seems to be trying to appeal to the ‘mid range’ professional video-maker. However, you need to be aware that, in spite of heavy promotion of this feature, Video Pro X does not provide a completely new ‘Colour Grading’ toolset (as I was expecting). Instead, the existing colour manipulation effects such as brightness/contrast, Colour, Colour Correction and Shot Match (the ability to automate make two video adopt the same range of colours and tonal values) have all been updated to provide greater (16-bit) colour accuracy. There are also sets of predefined colour schemes called ‘lookup tables’ which let you quickly apply to a clip a set of colour values with names such as ‘Cinematic’, ‘Neo’ and ‘Vintage’.

The other principal changes to this release of Video Pro X are support for more video formats such as H.264 and HEVC/H.265; more control over audio processing for sound mixing and audio restoration; and various new effects including some new blurs and masks that can be ‘attached’ to moving images. It also does 360 degree ‘video stitching’ and exporting, assuming you have a camera capable of recording 360 degree videos.

As I mentioned earlier, Video Pro X no longer uses version numbers. The idea is that rather than release a mass of updates all at once, when a new version is released, updates will be made incrementally as the software continues to be developed. The purchaser gets all new updates at no additional cost for one year. After that, you can carry on using your existing version but you will only get updates if you extend your ‘Update Service subscription’ at an additional cost.  That cost is, in my view, rather high at £149 (199.99 Euros). I can’t say I’m terribly keen on this subscription model. When software is upgraded with a numbered release you should usually expect to see a definitive list of fairly substantial changes and you can then make an informed decision on whether or not the upgrade cost is worth it. By signing up to a ‘trickle through’ system of updates you have no real idea whether you are paying for major new features or just minor changes and bug fixes.

The other thing I dislike about this ‘non-numbered’ update system is that new versions of the software overwrite older versions. If you have an older version that works and that you are happy with, that means that you cannot keep that installation while you evaluate a new release. I experienced a problem with this myself. When I installed the latest version, it failed to activate successfully online. I had to consult MAGIX technical support to find out how to remove an initialisation file in order to uninstall and reinstall the software and activate it as required. If a user had a similar – or even more catastrophic – problem with installation, there would be no way to revert back to the older release while that problem was solved because the new installation automatically removes any previous release. I think that’s essentially undesirable.

MAGIX often has special deals and added extras on offer. At the time of writing, a bundle is offered including 3rd part effects such as the HitFilm Toolkit pack which I am using here to enhance skin tones.
So, in short, how does this latest release compare with the previous one? Is it worth upgrading? The only ‘big’ new feature in this release is the integrated colour grading. Now, I don’t mean to underestimate the importance of this. If you want more control over colour temperature, saturation and so on, well, this will give it to you. And for artistic video-making – for example, if you want to convey mood and drama in your videos – that’s a good thing to have. But if that is not of compelling interest to you, then it seems to me that this new release is a bit thin on exciting new features.

Summary


Video Pro X is a good general-purpose video editing application that (depending on your perspective) sits at the high end of the ‘serious amateur’ or low end of the ‘professional’ calibre products. MAGIX also markets the VEGAS video-editing suites, which it acquired from Sony (see my reviews of VEGAS Pro Edit 14 and VEGAS Movie Studio). As I’ve said previously, this large range of competing editions is confusing. It’s confusing to me and I can only assume it must be equally confusing to most potential customers. The various editions of VEGAS range from beginner to advanced level. It appears that the high-end VEGAS editions are now considered to be the more professional-level of the offerings from MAGIX since ‘upgrade’ deals are offered from Video Pro X to VEGAS Pro Edit ($199) or VEGAS Pro ($299).

Video Pro X is pretty easy to use and has a decent range of features. Personally, I’d be happy to use it for most video-editing projects. As for the value of the new additions, though, that all depends on how much you need ‘deep colour grading’. If you don’t feel any compelling need for this feature, then this new release may seem somewhat underwhelming.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

C Programming for Beginners: Variables and Types

This is part 3 of my series on C programming for beginners.

See also: part 2.

When you want to store values in your programs you need to declare variables. A variable is simply a name (more formally, we’ll call it an ‘identifier’) to which some value can be assigned. A variable is like the programming equivalent of a labelled box. You might have a box labelled ‘Petty Cash’ or a variable named pettycash. Just as the contents of the box might vary (as money is put into it and taken out again), so the contents of a variable might change as new values are assigned to it. You assign a value using the equals sign (=).

In C a variable is declared by stating its data-type (such as int for an integer variable or double for a floating-point variable) followed by the variable name. You can invent names for your variables and, as a general rule, it is best to make those names descriptive.

This is how to declare a floating-point variable named mydouble with the double data-type:

double mydouble;

You can now assign a floating-point value to that variable:

mydouble = 100.75;

Alternatively, you can assign a value at the same time you declare the variable:

double mydouble = 100.75;

FLOATING-POINT NUMBERS


There are several data types which can be used when declaring floating point variables in C. The float type represents single-precision numbers; double represents double-precision numbers and long double represents higher precision numbers. In this course, I shall normally use double for floating-point variables.

INTEGERS AND FLOATS


Now let’s look at a program that uses integer and floating point variables to do a calculation. My intention is to calculate the grand total of an item by starting with its subtotal (minus tax) and then calculating the amount of tax due on it by multiplying that subtotal by the current tax rate. Here I’m assuming that tax rate to be 17.5% or, expressed as a floating point number, 0.175. Then I calculate the final price – the grand total – by adding the tax onto the subtotal. This is my program:

#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
int subtotal;
int tax;
int grandtotal;
double taxrate;

taxrate = 0.175;
subtotal = 200;
tax = subtotal * taxrate;
grandtotal = subtotal + tax;

printf( "The tax on %d is %d, so the grand total is %d.\n",
subtotal, tax, grandtotal );
return 0;
}

Once again, I use printf to display the results. Remember that the three place--markers, %d, are replaced by the values of the three matching variables: subtotal, tax and grandtotal.

When you run the program, this is what you will see:

The tax on 200 is 34, so the grand total is 234.

But there is a problem here. If you can’t see what it is, try doing the same calculation using a calculator. If you calculate the tax, 200 * 0.175, the result you get should be 35. But my program shows the result to be 34.

This is due to the fact that I have calculated using a floating-point number (the double variable, taxrate) but I have assigned the result to an integer number (the int variable, tax). An integer variable can only represent numbers with no fractional part so any values after the floating point are ignored. That has introduced an error into the code.

The error is easy to fix. I just need to use floating-point variables instead of integer variables. Here is my rewritten code:

#include <stdio.h>

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
double subtotal;
double tax;
double grandtotal;
double taxrate;

taxrate = 0.175;
subtotal = 200;
tax = subtotal * taxrate;
grandtotal = subtotal + tax;

printf( "The tax on %.2f is %.2f, so the grand total is %.2f.\n",
  subtotal, tax, grandtotal );
return 0;
}

This time all the variables are doubles so none of the values is truncated. I have also used the float %f specifiers to display the float values in the string which I have passed to the printf function. In fact, you will see that the format specifiers in the string also include a dot and a number numbers like this: %.2f. This tells printf to display at least two digits to the right of the decimal point.

You can also format a number by specifying its width – that is, the minimum number of characters it should occupy in the string. So if I were to write %3.2 that would tell printf to format the number in a space that takes up at least 3 characters with at least two digits to the right of the decimal point. Try entering different numbers in the format specifiers (e.g. %10.4f) to see the effects these numbers have. Here are examples of numeric formatting specifiers that can be used with printf:

NUMERIC FORMAT SPECIFIERS


%d   print as decimal integer
%4d   print as decimal integer, at least 4 characters wide
%f   print as floating point
%4f   print as floating point, at least 4 characters wide
%.2f   print as floating point, 2 characters after decimal point
%4.2f   print as floating point, at least 4 wide and 2 after decimal point


This series of C programming lessons is based on my book, The Little Book Of C, which is the course text for my online video-based course, C Programming For Beginners, which teaches C programming interactively in over 70 lessons including a source code archive, eBook and quizzes. For information on this courses see HERE.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Advanced C Programming – Pointers. NEW COURSE!

Get this $95 course for just $15.

Pointers. In C, there is just no getting away from them. Understanding and being able to use pointers correctly (and safely) – well, it’s the difference between a professional programmer and an amateur. But pointers are really difficult to use. Aren’t they?

The fact of the matter is, they needn’t be. If you understand them. And that’s what my new course is all about. “Advanced C Programming: Pointers” explains pointers from the ground up. What exactly is a pointer variable and how does it work with addresses in memory? What is indirection? How can you avoid common pointer problems such as memory leaks and program crashes?

Topics covered include:

  • Pointers and addresses
  • Indirection and multiple indirection
  • Pointers and arrays
  • Pointers to structs
  • Data-type alignment
  • Generic pointers and casts
  • Null pointers
  • Memory allocation and reallocation
  • Freeing memory safely
  • Pointer arithmetic
  • Singly and doubly linked lists
  • Queues and stacks
  • Pushing and popping
  • Function pointers
  • Deep and shallow copying
  • Common pointer errors

…and much more

NOTE: This is not a course for beginners. It is aimed at programmers who already have a good working knowledge of C programming and who need to take the next step in mastering C by gaining a deep understanding of pointers. (If you are a beginner, you should sign up to my C Beginners Course first).

Course contents:

  • 58 Lectures
  • Over 3.5 hours of video instruction
  • Downloadable source code of all examples
  • Quizzes and course notes
  • Lifetime access

----------------------------------------------------
Advanced C Programming: Pointers
Regular Price: $95
Sign up today for just $15
https://www.udemy.com/advanced-c-programming-pointers/?couponCode=BWCPOINTERS
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(Offer runs until end of May, 2017)


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

NetBeans Day - in London!

If you are a fan (as I am) of the cross-platform, multi-language programmer's editor/IDE, NetBeans, then you may be interested in the forthcoming NetBeans Day event at The University of Greenwich on Tuesday, 25th April 2017.The free day will include a wide range of talks related to cutting edge Java and JavaScript technologies and tools, both for beginners and experts alike.

This is the line-up:

10:00 - 10:30: News from the NetBeans Community (Geertjan Wielenga)
10:30 - 11:00: 
Graal: A Polyglot VM for a Polyglot IDE (Chris Seaton)
11:00 - 12:00: NetBeans 101 (Zain Arshad & Mark Stephens)
12:00 - 13:00: Lunch & Networking
13:00 - 14:30: Workshops (The two below will run in parallel, you'll need to choose!)
 - Baking a Java EE 8 Micro Pi (Andrew Pielage & Mike Croft)
 - Diving into the Newest Jigsaw and Java 9 Features (John Kostaras, Geertjan Wielenga)
14:30 - 15:00:
 Tea & Networking
15:00 - 16:30: Workshops (The two below will run in parallel, you'll need to choose!)
- Rapid JavaScript Development with Enterprise Technologies (Geertjan Wielenga)
- Extending NetBeans IDE (Zain Arshad, Mark Stephens, Neil Smith) 
16:30: Wrap Up and Prizes


There are very few spaces left so if you want to go be sure to register NOW!
https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/netbeans-day-2017-registration-32048704538

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Media 100 - Mac video editor, now free!

Media 100 Suite, a well-established video editing suite for the Mac is now available free. This news was just announced by MacVideo Promo, a company that specializes in deals on Mac software, in partnership with Media 100's developers, Boris FX.

According to the press release, key features include: "4K/2K/HD Video Editing with Professional Video I/O Support Media 100 supports dozens of video standards in 4K, 2K, HD, and SD resolutions at frame rates from 23.98 to 60 frames per second. Acquisition interfaces for AVCHD, AVC-Intra, FireWire, Panasonic P2, and Sony XDCAM are provided as well as support for AJA and Blackmagic Design video I/O interfaces.


"Boris RED: Professional Transitions and Titling The Boris RED plug-in for Media 100 is included free with each Media 100 download. Boris RED is integrated 3D titling and visual effects software that launches a user-friendly custom interface directly from the Media 100 timeline for advanced title animation and effects.

"Eye Scream Factory’s 100 Essential Transitions Each free Media 100 Suite download includes Eye Scream Factory’s “100 Essential Transitions” package, a $49.95 value. 100 Essential Transitions features a variety of designer transition effects ranging from the familiar to the inspired, including Artistic Dissolves, Glow Dissolves, Luma Dissolves, PullSwaps, Rays Dissolves, and Wipes. Editors can tap into a variety of looks featuring glints, lens flares, waves, ripples, and DVE effects. The customizable transitions can be applied at any duration."

Download the software from: https://www.media100.com/