Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Daniel's Software Musings (Part 3)

Once again I return, with more reviews of programs that may or may not knock your socks off and/or change your life. The ones I'm reviewing today, probably not. But they're still nice programs.

You may not be aware of the fact, but there are actually two different ways to store graphical data digitally. One way is called raster graphics, which is probably what you are most familiar with since that's the kind of graphics that digital cameras put out and programs like the GIMP work with. It consists of storing an array of numbers that translate to colors to make a picture. It works great for photos, but has a few disadvantages such as the fact that you can only expand photos so much before the underlying graininess becomes apparent. The other way is known as Scalable Vector Graphics, or SVG for short. This involves storing a picture as an actual collection of shapes that are drawn at whatever resolution is required. If you draw a line in an SVG image, you can zoom into that line as much as you want and it will never appear blocky or pixelated. This makes SVG an obvious choice for  pictures that may need to be drawn or printed at many different sizes, such as logos. However, you can use SVG for much more than simple logos. You can create some fairly complicated pictures with a bit of work, and there are even comic strips on the Web drawn entirely in SVG. That's where Inkscape comes in. It offers a powerful interface for creating and editing SVG images. If you need to, you can even export your image as a PNG file (a raster graphic format). It also is capable of importing PDF files and creating SVG images from them, since they use a similar technology. All in all it's an excellent program for dashing off a simple logo, or laboring over a complicated masterpiece. I don't really have that much more to say about it, but I do have a picture I created using it that I'll be showing in an upcoming post.

VLC Player
VLC Media Player is a simple little program that will play pretty much any video (or audio) format out there. It comes with its own codec pack so you never need to worry about having to download additional codecs. This is another program about which I have little to say, as it does its job and does it well. I don't actually watch videos much (and use Quod Libet for music) so I don't use it very frequently, but I've found it to be a very simple and workable program. It also has another function I just found out about recently: you can use it to convert audio/video files from one format to another. Very handy in an emergency situation when you need a file converted. It comes with a bunch of presets for the most common formats, but you can pick your own as well. This simple little tool makes a great addition to your digital workbench.

If you, like me, use your computer after the sun sets (perhaps much later), you may want to check out f.lux. This interesting little program adjusts the color temperature of your screen according to the time of day. The idea behind it is that the light given off by computer screens mimics the light given off by the sun, which is fine during the day, but probably not something you really want at night. In fact, there's a growing body of research that indicates that too much light at night is detrimental to human health for a variety of reasons, such as interfering with normal melatonin production. Anyway, what f.lux does is adjust the color balance of your screen to be more red after the sun goes down. Since red light is less energetic than blue light, this should in theory help prevent some of the circadian rhythm disruption produced by being exposed to light late at night. How well does it work? Well, that's a good question. I didn't notice any dramatic changes in my sleep or sleep patterns after installing it, but then again, the changes it makes are rather subtle. I believe the principle behind it is sound, and I feel that the slightly redder screen at night is somewhat easier on the eyes, so I'm willing to continue using it. My advice? You may not see dramatic changes, but it can't hurt you, and may quite possibly be of benefit. It's easy to uninstall if you don't like it, at any rate.


  1. Hey, I actually have VLC! The nice thing about it for me is that it plays in all regions, so something from, say, Japan doesn't have any problems.

  2. Well there's another plus! :)


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