After my latest photobook review, in which I proclaimed Adoramapix my new favorite among the several services, the folks at Picaboo, which was my “winner” of an earlier review, got into action. I was contacted by a nice lady from Picaboo, who informed me of some of the new features of the Picaboo X product, including availability of lay-flat book style, which I so happily used at Adoramapix. After a brief email exchange, I elicited an offer of a free tryout book. Obviously, I then had to try and see how the two services compared.
It has been almost a year and a half since I performed my review of three photo-book services (MyPublisher, Picaboo and Blurb). Since then, I did not have much time to engage in projects that would either involve any of the aforementioned services or bring me in contact with something new. And then, several weeks ago, a representative from Adoramapix reached out to me with an offer that I could not pass up: A free book in exchange for the review of their service and product.
I played around with the Adoramapix photo-book builder, created a neat highlights album of our European travels, and in the process got myself a new favorite for future photo-book-making.
By the way, while working with Flash for my World Map, I ran into a slight inconvenience.
While locally Firefox properly picked up the latest version of the configuration xml file, I could not force it to pick up the updated server version of the configuration, short of rebooting my PC. It actually caused more than an inconvenience, since external URL clicks are not allowed from within locally run Flash applications; in order to test the integrity of all of those links in the map, I had to try it online; and whenever I corrected a broken link, I could not re-test it, because Firefox refused to acknowledge that it needed to refresh the cached configuration.
Conversely, Explorer seemed to understand my need to see the very latest version of the Flash map effortlessly. More bandwidth spent for a few dozen reloads? Undoubtedly so. Less aggravation for the tester? Immeasurably so.
On a flip side, Firefox seems to be perfectly comfortable with two-hundred-plus anchors within the World Map page, seemingly never trying to reload the page once it has been loaded, no matter how many times you jump around. Explorer, for reasons that I cannot understand, proceeds to reload the page every few jump link clicks.
So, yeah, Firefox still wins. I just thought someone working with Flash may want to be aware of the problem that caching causes for testing. Or, maybe, someone more familiar with Firefox than I am can suggest an approach to deal with this particular issue (“Clear Private Data”/”Clear Cache” is not acceptable – I do not want to get rid of everything in my cache for the sake of a single page).
[Update Apr 16, 2010] If you are here because you’re looking for comparisons of various photo-books software – and why else would you be on this page, anyway? – I also invite you to also read my most recent follow-up at this link
Having finished with Travelog, I spent some free time in the last couple of days test-driving two services for photo-book-making that I first mentioned in this article: MyPublisher and Picaboo. For those interested, the first-time user comparison is below the cut.
[Update Jan 2nd]: I also now played for a couple of hours with another similar service that only recently came to my attention, Blurb. The article has been updated to include that in the comparison.
We always go on holidays equipped with a camera – who doesn’t these days? – and quite often bring a camcorder as well. Coming back home with several hours of raw video footage and a few hundred photographs always seems like a good idea when you tape or shoot, but then the question of what to do with all those riches becomes key.
Realizing that this topic may not be of interest to all, I’m hiding the body of this post below the cut.
Unedited home videos, even those of kids doing cutest things, are rarely much fun to watch or to showcase to guests. I will politely commend this or that aspect of a home video shown to me at friends’ house, but I am frequently bored by the interminable wait for something exciting to happen on screen while nine and a half minutes of preceding boring footage roll on. My own attempts at video recording are hardly any better, especially when it comes to travel footage. Here is this monument from across the street. Here is the same monument from some weird angle and considerable distance (Natasha also took a picture from the same perspective – was there any point in putting that on tape as well?). Here is what the large square looks like (camera whips around in a circle). Here is the continuous view from the upper level of a tour-bus (camera shakes violently enough to induce dizziness in a viewer).
Recognizing that the boredom of watching such videos completely undermines their reminiscence value, I adopted one of my favorite hobbies several years ago: Converting raw footage into edited movies, with effects, narration and musical background. The modest results are quite watchable DVDs that contain only the highlights and the funnest bits, broken into manageable chapters so that we can show something to our guests without obliging them to stay glued to the TV for prolonged period of times.
It is not an easy endeavor to perform all functions in the movie-making process by oneself. I got progressively more efficient as I made more and more movies. The film about our trip to Italy in 2003 condensed 3+ hours of raw footage into a manageable 11-segment 50-minutes-long DVD. It took me 144 hours to accomplish that (not counting the rendering/transcoding/burning and all that other fine stuff that a PC can perform while I eat/sleep/rest/ignore it). A similar DVD about a trip to Germany a couple of years later took me “only” 80 hours. The investment of time and effort into a project of this kind is still quite considerable, but to me, it’s the only way to make sure that our recordings retain any usefulness in the future.
If anyone is interested, I started out using uLead VideoStudio software (my last version was 9, since then it apparently became Corel and is now versioned X2), which both is simple enough for use by the most artistically-challenged and offers a number of bells and whistles for creative types. After a while, I needed to move beyond the linear-editing approach and I migrated onto Adobe Premiere Pro (which, somewhat unfortunately, left me with considerably fewer ready-to-use effects for transition and title animation). I still occasionally use uLead for simpler tasks.
That’s videos. Still photography brings a different problem.
I’m not talking about our manic digital-age obsession with Photoshop-improving every single image that we plan to keep. That occasionally becomes a time-consuming chore, but we do not find it too taxing on balance.
The problem that I have is that we almost never go back to looking at the pictures we take anymore.
Yes, it is a wonderful way for us to share our pictures with the world by posting them online (heck, there are almost 1500 images in the Picture Gallery on this website!). But do we, as a family, ever huddle together in front of a computer screen to look at them? Only once, right after we upload them to the PC. Afterwards, we individually occasionally check out this or that image when fancy strikes, but it is always a solitary endeavor – a computer screen is not too conducive to group revelry.
Even worse, when guests come over, we are not going to sit them in front of a computer screen to look at out pictures. The function of the photo album as a party conversation starter is completely lost in the absence of photo albums.
Back in the States, we always ordered prints of all of our recent shots and put them in albums. (We stopped doing that in the UK because we frankly do not have space to store photo albums in this house, but that’s beside the point.) Then, one day, I had a brilliant idea: Why not make travel photo collections into coffee-table books!?
Ok, it was not truly a brilliant idea, otherwise I’d have had it years earlier and possibly even made money on it. But as it were, it was something fun to try.
I knew only about MyPublisher back then. My brother, incidentally, at around that time produced a photo book of his family on MyPublisher. It came out quite nice.
However, when I tried them myself, I found a couple of very annoying limitations. First, MyPublisher templates had low limits of characters for caption boxes, eliminating possibility of putting together extended narrations. I tend to think that a fun fact about the place or a curious occurrence that we were part of is something worth putting down next to the picture. Makes the album into a book, you know. With a low character limit, “This is us in front of the Eiffel Tower” was about as illuminating as I could get.
Second, MyPublisher did not recognize Unicode, robbing me of an ability to narrate in Russian. There is not an overwhelming reason to insist on that, but it is something that I fancy better than doing English narration.
Faced with those limitations, I decided to look into producing a photo book entirely on my own, and then just finding a service to print and bind it. Adobe has a pretty good product called InDesign, and I tried it out. The result was neither stellar nor horrid – I did not care much for concepts of slugs and bleeds and kerning, etc, at the time, and photo resizing had to be done in Photoshop prior to importing to retain picture quality. As a proof of concept, though, I found it reasonable, even though it took time and effort on par with making a movie. (And for binding, I only went as far as printing the pdf at Kinko’s.)
We were relocating to England around that time, and I put both my movie-making and my book-making endeavors on hold.
Now, a week or so ago, we were visiting with friends in central London, and Anya showed us her latest travel photo-books by MyPublisher. Unlike me, she feels that pictures provide enough narration all by themselves, and I am willing to concede the point when the book looks gorgeous. And the ones she showed us were.
That got me intrigued again about photo-books. I checked out MyPublisher anew, and found out that they now allow for plenty of story-telling in the books. But still no Unicode recognition. Bummer!
This time, I’m also checking out similar services elsewhere. Photobookstory.com suggests a few choices, of which the top, Picaboo, looks like an interesting possibility. At a quick glance, it offers as many or more page layouts as MyPublisher, but less space for narration, although I suppose I could make it work. And Unicode does not seem to present a problem. (It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Cyrillic alphabet is going to stick upon transferring their internal digital format to print.)
Other choices involve online photo-services, such as Shutterfly or Kodak, that provide simplified options for photo-books, perceptibly not sufficient for my needs. I’m vary of getting invested in a service where a photo-book is a “fringe” product.
One other choice that I came across on the web, Shared Ink, did not look too enticing. It offers an online-based process that appears way too simplistic to satisfy my requirements.
So, for now, I’ll be trying out Picaboo, with an eye towards other possibilities. Either that or MyPublisher looks to me like the way to go for converting our digital photo libraries into albums. If anyone has any experience with any of these – or a similar kind of service – I’d be much obliged if you gave me your impressions.
And if you have any other suggestions for dealing with your digital movies or photos, feel free to sound off. Thanks!
I’ve had Firefox installed on my home PC for quite some time, but I wasn’t using it much beyond occasionally checking how one site or another might look and behave differently from what it appeared on IE. Then, a couple of happenings with my online friends led me to try it more extensively, and a couple of weeks ago I pretty much switched over full time.
Let’s get this out of the way: I am comfortable in being a late adopter. I never ever buy the new gadgets when they first appear on the market, and practically never switch from one software to another unless there is a serious flaw in the former and a serious benefit in adopting the latter. Since I don’t use internet browsers much beyond their basic functions of browsing and reading, IE has always been an adequate tool for me. Some people I know, who do a much fancier development at their websites than I do at mine, swear – using very strong lexicon – that IE curtails their ability to do fun and elaborate stuff, but I personally haven’t reached a point where I found IE limiting.
In any case, now that I switched, I am happy that I did. Whether Firefox is truly faster than IE is imperceptible to me, but one clear improvement has been virtual disappearance of the “Cannot connect to server” errors, which I used to get occasionally for no reason at all. I blame that squarely on the browser.
Some of the Firefox add-ons – e.g., cooliris – are nothing short of awesome. I doubt I’ll find time to make use of it frequently, but it’s one of those things that is fun to have as an option.
The biggest problem I found so far is not so much a Firefox issue, as it is a built-in disadvantage of being the later comer to the market. I find quite a number of websites – including some of my own work – which are coded with HTML attributes that only IE recognizes (simplest example: “alt” vs “title” for embedded images). Some sites refuse to work properly because of that. Thankfully, those are few and relatively unimportant.
Of little annoyance is the fact that a popup login to a Windows server is not capable of remembering my credentials. I’ve gotten so used to not having to remember the strange account name that my hosting company issued me years ago that it requires a considerable mental exertion to recall every time I need to login into my CPanel via Firefox.
And that’s about it. A pretty painless transition.
I have to consider now whether I want to move to Thunderbird for my personal email. I use Outlook Express (and very simple webmail access when I want to check my inbox from the office) and the two features that I truly need in an email client – an ability to read and an ability to write – are adequately fulfilled by that. Decisions, decisions…
I have spent the good portion of the weekend moving our Travelog onto a different platform. The results can be found by clicking the link on the navigation bar, or here if you prefer. As of this moment, the content is almost exactly the same as what it was before the move, with just one important addition: I made public the overall Destinations Rating exercise that I have started putting together several weeks ago; it can be found by clicking “Destinations” link at the top of the new Travelog.
Please check it out and let me know what you think. I will also appreciate any bug reports – I don’t doubt that, in the true manner of a seasoned software developer, I have left bugs to be discovered during UAT
Anyone who is interested in an off-the-cuff comparison of two different blogging platforms, please read on.