Understanding Compressed Files and Apple’s Archive Utility

Compressed files and archives are very common. You certainly see these files often—they bear the .zip extension, and contain one or more files that have been shrunk to save space. Archives also allow you to store a number of files in a single file, making them easier to move around or send to others. (For instance, if you sent a hundred text files to someone by email without compressing them, it would be very annoying to receive that many attachments.)

Apple’s macOS uses Archive Utility, a small app hidden away in an obscure folder and used to create and decompress .zip files. The Archive Utility app has some options that may make working with archives easier. In this article, you’ll learn about compressed files and Archive Utility, and we’ll show you some options you can adjust that will make working with compressed files easier.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Amazon Finally Announces Numbers: 100 Million Prime Members

In a rare event, Amazon announced, in its latest letter to shareholders, that there are more than 100 million members of Amazon Prime around the world.

13 years post-launch, we have exceeded 100 million paid Prime members globally.

Amazon has always been shy about released numbers, such as sales figures; no one outside the company knows how many Kindles they have sold, for example. Some numbers are available, of course, in its financial statements, but these are aggregates; it’s rare that Amazon gives figures for specific products or services.

To be honest, I’d have thought they had more than that. That suggests – with some quick, back-of-the-envelope calculations – that there are, say, 60 million members in the US, 10 million in the UK, 10 million in France, 10 million in Germany, and a few million in each of the other countries where Prime exists. The service is available in the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Japan, Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Austria, India, Mexico, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, which isn’t a lot of countries. Which means the company still has a lot of growth possible around that service. I can’t find a list of all the countries where Amazon has its full Prime service; they offer some Prime features, such as video, in nearly every country in the world (the only countries that cannot access Prime Video are Mainland China, Iran, North Korea, and Syria).

Amazon finally made its e-commerce service usable for international customers – TechCrunch

Amazon is making a push to globalize its e-commerce service after it added a new international shipping feature to reach more than 100 countries.

The core Amazon service itself is still limited to a handful of countries — primarily the U.S., Western Europe, the Middle East, Australia and Singapore — but the new feature at least makes its mobile apps usable for those who live in other countries and want to buy items.

Now, by switching to this new international shipping mode, customers in markets where Amazon doesn’t have a local presence, can see products that can be shipped to their location. The app will also calculate additions such as shipping and handling costs and import fees.

This isn’t entirely new. I’ve been buying from Amazon.com since the company launched, first when I lived in France, then, in the past five years, from the UK. I often buy books, which can be a lot cheaper, even with shipping charges, and CDs (though generally only big box sets).

What is new is the ability to pay customs duties in advance; the company has been doing this for a few years, though you can’t ship everything overseas. It can be cheaper to buy from Amazon.com, and pay duties, than to buy certain products in countries where competition isn’t very strong.

Source: Amazon finally made its e-commerce service usable for international customers | TechCrunch

The Apple Watch and Third-Party Watch Faces

There has been some suggestion that Apple might allow third-party watch faces for the Apple Watch soon. Apparently, some code in the latest watchOS beta suggests this possibility.

Early on, I wondered why Apple didn’t offer the ability for third-party watch faces to be installed on the Apple Watch, but then I thought back to a very brief experience I had using the Pebble smartwatch. The thousands of watch faces available for free download were mostly horrid. They made the Pebble look like an early Linux interface. If Apple opened up the Apple Watch to third-party watch faces, the store would most likely be flooded with crap.

Of course, Apple’s approach is a bit different than Pebble’s. You would still need an Apple developer account to distribute a watch face, and this would limit many of the crappiest looking faces. However, that might also limit some nice faces by people who can’t or don’t want to pay the $99 per year for a developer account.

I had expected some branded watch faces, similar to the Nike and Hermès faces that are only available with specific watch models. (And the Explorer face, only available on the cellular Apple Watch 3.) Perhaps that’s what Apple will allow: a limited selection of watch faces from certain brands.

It is a tough call; it dilutes the image of the Apple Watch, but it does allow for more customization. If Apple does allow custom watch faces, it will be interesting to so what users choose.

Luminar 2018 First Impressions from a Non-Power User

I enjoy taking photos, and write about photos and cameras a bit (see some of my photos and my articles about cameras, photo tools, etc., here). I don’t do too much post-production of my photos, beyond minimal adjustments and edits, so I do most of my work in Apple Photos, which is also very practical to manage my photo library. But occasionally there are things that I want to do that Apple Photos cannot do. For a while, I’ve been using Affinity Photo, but this program is like a very big library with no lights. It’s hard to find how to do anything if you’re not an expert in Photoshop, and anytime I do want to use it for any advanced features, I have to seek out the company’s (very good) video tutorials in order to have an idea what is possible. Just today, I had to go to the Affinity Photo forum to find out how to rotate a photo slightly, something that should be extremely obvious, but was not.

But it is a frustrating tool to use. It makes ample use of layers, which is both confusing, and size-hungry. A 50 MB raw file processed a bit in Affinity Photo becomes a 200 MB file, if I want to save it with all its edits. (A similar Luminar file is 52 MB.)

About six months ago, I bought Skylum’s (then MacPhun) Luminar, and the other day the company released a new version, Luminar 2018. (Also available from the Mac App Store.) As much as I dislike being forced to pay for annual upgrades – Luminar costs $70 (compared to $50 for Affinity Photo), and the company is parsimonious about discounts for current users; you have to email them to ask – playing around with this software a bit this weekend has shown me that it is much more user friendly than Affinity Photo, and seems, to my eyes, to offer more or less the same features.

Yes, I’m sure power users will find all sorts of things that Affinity Photo can do that Luminar cannot, but the advantage to Luminar is that all its features are accessible.

Luminar calls its feature sets filters – a term that is used differently by different apps – and they are all available from the Add Filters menu. When you hover over the name of a filter, there is a concise explanation of what that filter does, something you’d be hard pressed to find in Affinity Photo.

Luminar

Each filter opens a set of sliders and checkboxes in the right-hand section of the window, which is a workspace. Luminar comes with a number of workspaces, offering different sets of filters, such as Professional, Quick & Awesome, Essentials, and Black & White, and allows you to save your own. By contrast – and this is one very frustrating element of Affinity Photo – you cannot save workspaces, meaning that when you want to work on photos, you need to manually change the display from the default that displays when you launch the app.

I’m also confused by Affinity Photo’s use of “Personas,” an odd term for different modules in the app, such as Develop, Edit, and Photo. In Luminar, each feature is just a filter (though, again, that’s not the best term, since it is generally used these days for a collection of presets) making them easier to use.

Raw developOne new feature in Luminar is the Raw Develop tool (see why using the term “filter” isn’t a good idea?). This offers the standard options you use with raw files, allowing you to change exposure, highlights and shadows, contrast, and more. It also has an option to correct lens distortion (I’m not sure how many lenses it knows about), chromatic aberration, and fringing, and provides sliders for devignetting.

What I like about this is that the Raw Develop tool is available all the time; with Affinity Photo, you need to perform the “development” process, then you move on to other editing. With Luminar – as with Apple Photos – these options are always available, so if you want to tweak shadows, highlights, or exposure later, these changes apply to the original raw file, not the JPEG that you convert.

Luminar includes a number of presets, which allow you to alter photos with one click (and perhaps some adjustment of a slider). This is the norm for photo editing software, and some of these presets can be good for quick edits, but you can also save your own.

Luminar also offers layers, but I’m not sure when I would need to use these. If I plan to use an overlay, for example, then I would need these, but most of my editing I don’t. This said, Luminar doesn’t seem to be designed for advanced printing; there is no soft proof feature, which uses a layer in Affinity Photo, and since I recently got a good A3 printer, this is something I need.

But with that exception, Luminar is a lot more user-friendly than Affinity Photo (and many of the other tools I’ve tried out). I find the high price of annual updates a bit annoying, especially since one of the company’s selling points is that “Luminar comes with NO subscription payments.” This obviously refers to Adobe’s photo editing software, which is for the most part sold on a subscription basis.

If you’re an advanced photo editor, you’ll probably sniff at my review, but I don’t need, and don’t really want, to do too much to my photos. I make minor adjustments, convert to black and white, and sometimes want to try out some more advanced features (such as lens blur, which Luminar does not offer). It’s worth pointing out that it’s a bit slow – I’m using a brand new 21.5″ iMac – and it has crashed several times.

For most of my editing, Apple Photos is sufficient, but Luminar gives me access to a lot more features, and it can be used as an extension within Photos. Many photographers who don’t want to edit much will like Luminar’s ability to make one-click improvements, and others will find the more advanced features to be useful. It can’t do everything, but it can do most of what most people need.