App of the Week – Pixelmator

 

 

Better selective editing and a new Apple Photos extension, the improvements cement Pixelmator’s position as the top affordable alternative to Photoshop.

 

By Jeff Carlson of Macworld

 

As you start moving beyond the basics of editing images—past general exposure and color adjustments—you’ll discover a semi-secret truth: a lot of your time is spent selecting specific areas for editing. Making a foreground object brighter, for instance, can reveal a telltale halo if the selection doesn’t match well with the object.


Selections have traditionally been a strength of Adobe Photoshop, but the granddaddy editor is overkill for many people who don’t need its extensive feature set, or don’t want to pay a Creative Cloud subscription fee (which starts at $10 a month with an annual plan, and can cost up to $80 a month for the full CC suite).

Instead, Pixelmator 3.6 Cordillera (Mac App Store link) has been a popular and inexpensive ($30) Photoshop alternative. The main improvements in version 3.6 make it easier and less time-consuming to create good selections. This version also brings selective editing to Apple’s Photos app by introducing a new Photos Editing Extension, Pixelmator Retouch, that brings many of its retouching tools to images in your Photos library.

Selective service

The challenge when making selections is that there isn’t always a clean line you can follow by drawing with the Lasso tool—and even when there is, defining it by hand is painstaking. Let the software assist in a big way.


The Quick Selection tool (which replaces the Paint Selection tool) detects edges and shadows, and pays attention to the direction the mouse pointer is moving as you drag to figure out which areas to select. In general, the tool does a pretty good job of selecting only the areas I want, even when the tones are similar (like a metal barn roof against a gray cloud background) and when the tool’s brush size was larger than the item being selected. I also like how Pixelmator highlights the sections using a red swath of color, which is immediately identifiable as you work.

Don’t expect the Quick Selection tool to work miracles, though. It will do a good first pass in difficult situations, like hair, but you’ll need to refine the selection later.

 


For areas where you do have well-defined lines, the Magnet Selection tool helps you avoid a lot of work and frustration. Click a starting point and then drag (without holding the mouse button) along the edge of the item you wish to select. The selection automatically clings to edges.

As you might expect, the tool can be thrown off by similar tones, and sometimes it jumps away from where your eyes think it should go. That’s why you can refine the line as you go: click to set a point, press Delete to remove a previous point, and, when the line starts to stray like a puppy learning to walk, hold Option to temporarily switch to the Polygonal Lasso tool and define your own line; doing so doesn’t abandon the magnetic selection work you’ve done so far. Overall, the tool works well and provides plenty of flexibility to make a selection while the Magnetic Selection tool remains active.


Ultimately, making good selections doesn’t happen with just one or two tools. As you do more, you’ll combine the program’s other tools, such as painting in Quick Mask mode and using the Refine Selection command, for better selections. But the Quick Selection and Magnetic Selection tools in Canyon make the process much easier.

It’s worth mentioning that the company has also implemented the Quick Selection and Magnetic Selection tools into Pixelmator for iOS. One of Pixelmator’s strengths is the ability to synchronize editing projects between Mac and iOS, complete with layers and adjustments. Being able to make better selections, especially in a touch interface where you can immediately see what’s being selected, is a helpful addition.

Pixelmator Retouch extension

Most of the editing tools in Apple’s Photos application apply to an entire image, so if you keep your photo library there, you may feel like your options are limited. (Although to be fair, it’s a more powerful editor than most people realize; see “The hidden editing power of Photos for OS X.”)

 

That’s where Photos extensions come in. The new Pixelmator Retouch extension gives you several controls for editing selected portions of a photo, without having to export the image to edit it in the Pixelmator application. Lighten or darken areas, adjust color saturation, heal imperfections or remove unwanted items, clone sections, and sharpen or blur areas.

 

All of the features worked well, although it’s important to note that applying them is additive: If you lighten an area, and then go back over it again with the brush, it will become even lighter. That’s not always a negative, but don’t expect that you can adjust the tone as if it were on its own layer (that’s when you might consider exporting to Pixelmator itself). Also, as with all Photos extensions, when you click Save Changes, the edits are burned in; you can revert the image to its original state, but can’t walk back any recent edits.

General observations

Pixelmator represents that percentage of Photoshop’s features most people actually use on a regular basis. Though it’s not without its quibbles. At the top of my list is erratic application of adjustments.

For example, let’s say I use the Brightness and Contrast control to increase brightness by 10 percent, but then later decide that was too much. When I return to that control, the sliders are set back to zero, so I need to apply a –10 percent brightness adjustment to go back to where I was (assuming I remembered that 10 percent was the amount earlier). Worse, this isn’t consistent; some controls, like Black & White, do provide the last edit values. I look forward to the day when Pixelmator implements real adjustment layers that can be independently edited.

Bottom line

For a large amount of image editing tasks, Pixelmator is an excellent, affordable alternative to Photoshop. Its enhanced selection tools work well and add to its utility, while the Pixelmator Retouch Extension for Photos is a good way to add selective edits while remaining within your Photos library.

How to Hide an IP Address on a Mac

 

 

By Xugro Xiphius of Techwalla

There are times when you might want to hide your IP (Internet Protocol) address when using your Mac. Your IP address can reveal information about your location and ISP (Internet Service Provider) that could be used by advertisers, corporations or anyone who is curious. Hiding your IP address is a great way to protect your online privacy and remain anonymous. The Tor client is one way to make your Internet use anonymous. But it is impossible to completely hide your IP address.


Step 1
Visit the Tor website and download the version of Tor appropriate for your system. There are Mac, Windows and Linux versions available.

Step 2
Install Tor and restart your computer. Launch the Vidalia application, which is part of the installation, to start running Tor.

Step 3
Configure your browser (preferably Firefox) to work with Tor. The installer will automatically install Torbutton to Firefox, which allows the user to toggle Tor “on” and “off.”

Step 4
Disable browser plug-ins, such as Java and Flash, that might bypass Tor and reveal your IP address without your knowing it. View the plug-ins you have installed by typing “about:plugins” (without quotes) in your address bar. To disable a plug-in, open the “Add-ons” list under “Tools,” and then disable the plug-in of your choice.

Step 5
Use a Web-based proxy service instead of Tor if you’re only interested in Web-based anonymity. Eat Proxy maintains a list of popular and new proxy services to make Web browsing anonymous.

Hit us up in the comments below for any questions or requests for more information on Masking your IP address.

Tips & Tricks: 11 Roku tricks you should try right now

 

Ladies,

I love my Roku box! I mean I’ve developed an unhealthy attachment to it. It is so cool and I was a hard core AppleTV early Adopter. Aside from the Plex Server that I love, this article paints a great picture of all the bad ass things a Roku box can do. Enjoy!

by Rick Broida of CNET

Your Roku streamer can do a lot more than you might think. These are some of the coolest tips we’ve tried.

Is there a more widely beloved tech product than the Roku streamer? Whether yours is a stick or box, it delivers virtually unparalleled video goodness to your TV: Netflix, Hulu, HBO and so on.

And, yet, it could be better. That onscreen keyboard? Bleh. The default interface theme? Room for improvement. Below I’ve rounded up 11 ways to improve your Roku experience, from organizing channels to adding buttons (no, really) to your Roku remote.

USE YOUR PHONE AS YOUR ROKU KEYBOARD
Is there anything more aggravating than using a remote to operate an onscreen keyboard? Just signing in to, say, your Netflix account can be a slow, agonizing affair, to say nothing of searching for actors or movies.


Thankfully, there’s an easy fix: Use your phone instead. As you probably know, the Roku apps (Android|iOS) can take the place of your Roku remote, but they also provide a keyboard that makes data entry significantly faster and easier.

So anytime you land at your Roku’s onscreen keyboard on your TV, whether for a search or sign-in, just run the app, tap Remote and then tap the keyboard icon near the bottom of the screen. Now you can tap-type! Or, power tip, tap the keyboard’s microphone icon and “type” your entry using your voice. Speaking of which…

USE YOUR PHONE FOR VOICE SEARCH

You know what’s even faster than a keyboard? The spoken word. If you’re lucky enough to have a current-generation Roku 3 or 4, you may have discovered the joys of voice search, which you can operate via the Roku remote.

Don’t own one of those models? No problem: The Roku app now offers voice-search capabilities of its own. So instead of tapping out, say, “Leonardo DiCaprio” to find his available movies (and risk spelling it wrong), you can just tap the Search option, then Voice, and actually say, “Leonardo DiCaprio.”

STREAM MEDIA FROM YOUR PHONE OR TABLET
Want to show everyone the photos and videos you took at the recent wedding, graduation, soccer game or zombie escape room? Don’t gather them around your relatively tiny phone or tablet; gather them around the TV instead. The Roku app lets you cast photos, videos and music from your mobile device to your streamer.
Just fire up the app and tap Play On Roku. Choose the kind of media you want to stream, then the specific media. Presto! Big-screen viewing from your small(er)-screen device.

Want to take this a step further? You can also mirror your smartphone or tablet to your Roku device.

TURN YOUR ROKU REMOTE INTO A UNIVERSAL REMOTE


I really like the design of the Roku remote, especially those that have shortcut buttons to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. What I don’t like: You can’t program a Roku remote to control your TV.

But you can program a Sideclick. Available for a variety of streamers (including Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV), this clever add-on (with the best name ever) clips to the side of your Roku remote and adds a row of handy programmable buttons: power, volume up/down, channel up/down, input and A/B (these last available for whatever functions you want).

The Sideclick starter kit for Roku sells for $29.99 and comes with four adapter clips to accommodate the majority of Roku remotes. It’s a pretty nice option for anyone tired of juggling remotes.

ORGANIZE YOUR CHANNELS
The more channels you add to your Roku library, the bigger a jumbled mess they get. If you’re forever scrolling all over the place to find the handful of channels you visit most, you’ve probably wished for some way to reorganize them.


This is that way: Find a channel you want to relocate — let’s say HBO Now — and highlight it with your remote. (Don’t actually select it, just move the cursor over it so it’s highlighted.) Next, press the Option button on your remote (it looks like an asterisk), then choose Move Channel. Now use the direction pad to move the icon where you want it, noting how others move out of the way as you go.
Once you’ve found the perfect spot, press OK to complete the process. Repeat as necessary.

REORGANIZE CHANNELS IN THE ROKU APP
A recent update to the Roku app added a great feature: a Channels screen, similar to what you see on your TV. It makes for much faster access to your favorite channels.

However, it’s not immediately obvious how to organize those channels. That’s because you can’t actually do so within the app: You have to hit up your actual Roku on your TV. Then just follow the steps outlined in Organize your channels, above. Or, if you want more detail, check out How to organize your channels in the new Roku 4.0 app.

CHOOSE A NEW THEME
Not a fan of Roku’s default interface theme? That’s OK, not everyone loves purple. If you venture into the Settings menu and choose Themes, you’ll see a handful of other options.

Even better, select Get More Themes, which will bring you to the Roku Channel Store’s Themes collection. (You can also browse them online if you prefer.) Here you’ll find several dozen other options, everything from golf to Garfield to Star Trek. Alas, these add-ons aren’t free: <ost range from 99 cents to $2.99.

INSTALL A SCREENSAVER
Tired of that Roku logo bouncing around whenever your streamer sits idle for a while? Why not choose a screensaver that’s a little more interesting?
As with selecting a theme, you can head to the Settings menu and then choose Screensaver for a handful of other options. (If you’ve already chosen a different theme, you may see other screensaver options already. Nebula, for example, offers a digital clock in place of the bouncing Roku logo.)
And, again, you can head to the Channel Store to find lots of other screensavers: aquariums, animated fireplaces, headlines from “The Onion,” even a Nixie Clock. A handful are free; most will cost you a buck or two.

RENAME YOUR ROKUS
If you have more than one Roku device, it makes sense to assign each one a name — if only to simplify things when using the Roku app. It’s a lot easier to switch between, say, “Bedroom Roku” and “Living Room Roku” than it is “Roku 2” and “Roku 3.”

Curiously, however, you can’t do this from within the app. Instead, you need to sign into my.roku.com, then head to the My Account page. Scroll down a bit to see a list of your connected devices, then click Rename next to the one you want to change. Not sure which is which? You can actually refer to the app for this; tap Settings > Switch Device for a list of connected Rokus (and their convenient accompanying pictures), then look for the serial number. Match that to what you see on the Web portal.

INSTALL PRIVATE CHANNELS


Everyone knows about Roku’s Netflix, Hulu and other mainstream channels, but your streamers also support the addition of private channels.

Is that code for “adult”? Yes and no. Although adult channels do exist for Roku, you can find a variety of family-friendly options at sources like Roku-Channels.com, RokuGuide.com, StreamFree.tv and RokuChannels.tv.

One cool option: The Silent Movie Channel, which offers selections from the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Rudolph Valentino.

To add it, head to Roku’s My Account page in your browser (as described in the previous tip), click Add a Channel, then enter the code ROLLEM.

The channel should get automatically added to your Roku device within the next 24 hours, but you should be able to force it by going to the Channel Store on your Roku, then exiting back out to the main menu.

FIND A LOST ROKU REMOTE

Much as I like the design of the Roku remote, the size can be a problem: It goes missing that much more easily. The Bermuda Triangle has nothing on my couch cushions.

Fortunately, if you own a Roku 4 or Roku Ultra , there’s a fast way to find your remote. (Assuming, of course, you can still find the Roku itself. Gotta be somewhere near the TV.) Both models have a button on top; press it and your remote will make a sound.

Want to learn how to choose what sound it makes? Check out Quickly find a lost Roku remote with this trick.
And there you go! Eleven cool ways to improve your Roku experience.

Hit the comments and share your favorite tips! ■

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