Duplicating events in Microsoft Outlook calendar

I wanted to create a single duplicate of an event in the Microsoft Outlook (for Mac) calendar and I couldn't find out how to do that. Copy and paste? Didn't work. Maybe there is a function in the menu bar? Yes, there is, but it's deactivated for calendar entries.

outlook_menu_bar.png

Maybe there is an entry in the context menu? Nope.

outlook_context_menu.png

Then I thought about how I usually duplicate objects in design applications: by dragging them while pressing the alt key.
And that's actually how you copy calendar events in Outlook!

outlook_duplicate_event.png

How to turn a quick and dirty Skype meeting recording into a decent video to be published online

Recently my colleagues gave an online end-to-end demo of a new software to some customers. They recorded the meeting and we noticed that this is valuable material which could be used for marketing and knowledge transfer as well, but the quality of the recording was quite bad. The audio had white noise, the presenters made slips of the tongue and used a lot of filler words, given the fact that this was a live recording.

So how do you turn a raw meeting recording into a decent video?
I am a UX designer and not a professional video editor, so I don't have the training or the tools, but I found some ways to improve the recording tremendously.

Tools I used

VLC media player
https://www.videolan.org/vlc/
Price: Free

Audacity
http://www.audacityteam.org/download/
Price: Free

Camtasia
https://www.techsmith.com/video-editor.html
Price: $ 199, free 30 days trial

Preparing the audio

To be able to improve the sound quality in an audio editing software you have to extract the audio track from the video. I found out that VLC media player can do this.
Start VLC and choose "Convert/Stream..." from the menu bar:

vlc_extract_audio_01.png

Open your video file and click on "Customize..." in the "Choose Profile" section:

vlc_extract_audio_02.png

Choose "WAV" as output file format and click on "Apply".

vlc_extract_audio_03.png

Set a destination for the audio track and click on "Save".

vlc_extract_audio_04.png

VLC will extract the audio from the video. You can see the progress in the seek bar.

vlc_extract_audio_05.png

Optimising the sound with Auphonic

The most convenient way to get the most out of your recording is using Auphonic. It's an "Automatic audio post production web service for podcasts, broadcasters, radio shows, movies, screencasts and more". The free account features the possibility to process two hours of audio material per month. You just have to upload your audio file, they optimize it, you get notified when it's done, you download the edited file and it will sound much better. I tried it out and it works perfectly.

Optimising the sound with Audacity

First thing you want to do is to remove the background noise.
Open the extracted audio track in Audacity. Now search for a part where nobody was talking but the microphone was still recording. You need 5 to 10 seconds of that background noise. Select that part. You can see the length of your selection at the bottom of the window:

audacity_optimize_sound_01.png

Click on "Effect" in the menu bar and choose "Noise Reduction...". Click on "Get Noise Profile". The dialog will close. Audacity will analyse the noise to find out which frequencies can be subtracted from the overall sound spectrum. (I hope my explanation is correct, I am not an audio expert...)
Select the whole recording (cmd/ctrl + A) and open the Noise Reduction dialog again. Click on "OK":

audacity_optimize_sound_02.png

Audacity will remove the background noise. This might take a while:

audacity_optimize_sound_03.png

If you listen to a part where nobody is talking you should barely hear anything now.

Another possibility to improve the sound quality is to normalise the volume levels. If the recording is too low, the volume will be increased, if the recording is too loud and you can hear clippings, the volume will be decreased.
 
Keep the whole track selected and click on "Effect" in the menu bar and choose "Normalize...". You can keep the default settings and apply the effect:

audacity_optimize_sound_04.png

Export the edited audio track as an uncompressed wave file (Microsoft WAV 16-bit PCM).

I just scratched the surface of what you can do to improve voice recordings in Audacity. You can check YouTube for dozens of video tutorials with much more tricks. For Example: Make Your Voice Sound Better In Audacity (EASY)

Setting up Camtasia

Create a new project in Camtasia and import the raw video and the separated audio track you created. Drag the video on one of the tracks on the timeline. The default size of the canvas in Camtasia is 1080p (1920×1080 pixels), but in this case the video was recorded in 720p resolution, that's why there is a black border around the video:

camtasia_setup_01.png

If you want to keep the original dimension of the recording you need to resize the canvas. Click on "Edit" in the menu bar and choose "Project Settings...", select the correct dimensions and click on "Apply" to do so:

camtasia_setup_03.png

In order to use the optimised audio track you created in Audacity you need to remove the original audio from the video.
Select the video, make a right mouse click on it and choose "Seperate Video and Audio" from the contextual menu:

camtasia_setup_04.png

Choose the seperated audio track and delete it:.

camtasia_setup_05.png

Drag the optimised audio track from the media bin on one of the tracks in the timeline. Make sure it's aligned with the video track:

camtasia_setup_06.png

For the further editing, you need to be careful not to create any offset between the audio and video track. Whenever you cut out a piece of the video, you need to cut out the same piece on the audio track to make sure that audio and video always keep in sync. In other video editing tools you may have the possibility to attach an audio track to a video track. I couldn't find that option in Camtasia.

Removing filler words

Make sure that the audio and video track are selected. Place the cursor where the filler word starts and click on the "Split" icon in the tool bar:

camtasia_cut_out_filler_words_01.png

Place the cursor where the filler word ends and make another cut:

camtasia_cut_out_filler_words_02.png

Keep the audio and video track selected and choose "Ripple Delete" from the contextual menu. This will remove the part without leaving a gap. You could just choose "Delete", but it would cut the video into two pieces and leave a blank space between the two clips, then you would have to select the second part and drag it to the end of the first part. The "Ripple Delete" feature can save a lot of time.

This how the result looks like. Notice the stitching that indicates that a part was removed:

If you do this rigorously, your video will look like this at the end:

camtasia_cut_out_filler_words_05.png

Giving the video the final touch

After all the cutting work, removing of unneeded parts, adding transitions between hard cuts, etc., you may want to add an intro and outro to the video. Camtasia has some rudimentary animation capabilities as well. 

camtasia_intro.png

Once you are done, you can export your video by using the share button on the upper right corner. Choose "Local File..." and set a destination for the file. Select MP4 as file format, Camtasia uses H.264, which is the most commonly used video compression standard. To get the best compromise between quality and file size you need to play with the data rate settings. Click on "Options..." to open the "Advanced Export Options":

camtasia_export.png

Try "Automatic" data rate for video and audio first. If the audio sounds bad, try 128 kbits/sec for audio:

camtasia_advanced_export.png

I hope this was helpful. If you have any remarks or other tips feel free to leave a comment.

Living without Adobe Creative Cloud on a Mac

I have been using Adobe programs like Photoshop, Fireworks, Illustrator and InDesign for quite a long time. But I got more and more unsatisfied by time. Adobe is bloating their applications with functions that most of the users don't need.

If you take Photoshop for instance: it has become a monster. You can do video editing and 3D modelling in Photoshop in the recent versions of it, it's much more than an image editing program now. But seriously who wants to do video editing in Photoshop? Photoshop is extremely slow compared to programs like Affinity Photo, about which I will talk later, the initial loading takes forever and it's not very responsive.

I liked to work with Fireworks, even if it was always a bit buggy, in my opinion it was always the better choice for doing screen designs. You were able to use symbols, like in Freehand that saved a lot of time and you had the ability to build simple HTML click dummies. But unfortunately Adobe discontinued the development of Fireworks.

I never liked Illustrator in contrast and I was disappointed when Adobe decided to let Freehand die after they bought Macromedia. Freehand was a very nice, fast and handy vector graphics tool and it worked perfectly together with Flash. Illustrator always felt way more complicated and slower than Freehand.

But what finally made me want to switch to other applications was the fact that you have to rent the Adobe Suite now. You have to pay 59,45 € per month to be able to use all Adobe programs, or 23,79 € if you want to rent just one application. So that's 713,40 € per year for the whole Adobe Suite! Of course you always get the latest versions, but still, it's a lot of money. And I use AfterEffects, Premiere and the other applications that are included very rarely, but it's still cheaper to rent the whole collection than renting just the programs I need.

So I have been searching for alternatives for a while now and for a long time there haven't been any real alternatives. But then programs like Sketch, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer and Hype were released and at this moment the only Adobe application that is still on my computer is an old version of InDesign, because there is no alternative to it (yet).

Adobe Photoshop Alternatives

GIMP

The open source image editing application GIMP is often called an alternative to Photoshop , but it's not. It has never been one and it doesn't look like it will be one in the near future. And I am not even talking about the important functionalities that are still missing, or about the lack the of performance, I am talking about the user interface. It's ugly, it's complicated, it's just horrible. It doesn't refer to any interaction patterns you learned from other programs.

Website:
http://www.gimp.org/

Preview

Most people don't know that a few of the very common daily image editing tasks can be done with the Preview application that is shipped with Mac OS X.

Preview offers a powerful image resizing function. You can find it under Tools > Adjust Size...

Preview offers a powerful image resizing function. You can find it under Tools > Adjust Size...

Simple Cropping can be done in Preview too. Click on View > Show Markup Toolbar, chose one of the selection tools, make a selection and click on Crop.

Simple Cropping can be done in Preview too. Click on View > Show Markup Toolbar, chose one of the selection tools, make a selection and click on Crop.

Click on Tools > Adjust Color... to edit some of the most important image parameters. You even get a basic level tool. But it doesn't allow to edit each channel separately or to pick colours for the brightest and darkest value of the image. Unfortunately Preview doesn't offer a curve tool either here.

Click on Tools > Adjust Color... to edit some of the most important image parameters. You even get a basic level tool. But it doesn't allow to edit each channel separately or to pick colours for the brightest and darkest value of the image. Unfortunately Preview doesn't offer a curve tool either here.

Website:
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201740

ImageMagick

ImageMagick is a command line image editing tool. Wait a minute, a command line image editing tool?!? Does it make sense to retouch a portrait with a command line program? Of course it doesn't, but that's not what ImageMagick is made for. ImageMagick reveals it's whole power when it comes to batch processing. Let's say you have a folder of 100 TIFF images and you want to resize them and convert them to JPEG, ImageMagick can do that in the time it takes to open Photoshop.

Convert all TIFF files in a folder to JPEG with the ImageMagick mogrify command and delete the original files

Convert all TIFF files in a folder to JPEG with the ImageMagick mogrify command and delete the original files

ImageMagick can read and write files in over 200 formats, even very large files and it's very fast. It can do all basic image editing tasks like crop, resize, rotate, blur, sharpen, color adjustments, etc.

Website:
http://www.imagemagick.org

Affinity Photo

I bought Affinity Photo the first day it was released. This is truly the first Mac application that can really compete with Adobe Photoshop. It's powerful, it's super fast and it has a beautiful user interface. Common workflows are separated in "personas", these are workspaces with tools that you usually need for a specific task. There is the "Photo Persona", that's the standard workspace, a "Liquify Persona" for manipulating pixels on a mesh, a "Develop Persona" for RAW editing, and an "Export Persona" for slicing images, that can  automatically export in 2x resolution for Retina displays.

Affinity Photo has excellent exporting options including Photoshop files with editable layers

Affinity Photo has excellent exporting options including Photoshop files with editable layers

Some important functionalities like percental resizing are still missing, but I am sure they will be delivered in one of the future versions.

Some important functionalities like percental resizing are still missing, but I am sure they will be delivered in one of the future versions.

The curve tool is even better than the one in Photoshop. 

The curve tool is even better than the one in Photoshop. 

Affinity Photo supports all Photoshop layer effects

Affinity Photo supports all Photoshop layer effects

Affinity Photo is available in the Mac App Store for 49,99 €.

Website:
https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/photo/

Adobe Fireworks Alternatives

Sketch

I think I don't have to say much about this brilliant software. It has become a sort of standard in interface design in a very short time. Sketch has a very intuitive user interface, all effects you need in your daily work, like drop shadows, inner shadows, background blur and multiple borders even with gradient fills are available. Style properties can be copied from one object to another, you can use symbols like in Flash and style definitions. The vector drawing capabilities are limited but you can easily import graphics from other programs. Last but not least the export and slicing features are outstanding.

Sketch is available in the Mac App Store for 99,99 €.

Website:
https://www.sketchapp.com/

Adobe Illustrator Alternatives

Affinity Designer

Affinity Designer feels like a vector graphics program in 2015 should feel like. It's extremely fast, it's powerful, it's beautiful, it has an infinite zoom, a very intuitive interface, PSD, PDF, SVG and EPS export options, pixel preview and built-in bitmap editing tools. Affinity Designer works perfectly together with Affinity Photo. Affinity Photo files can be opened and edited in Affinity Designer and vice versa. Have you ever struggled with Photoshops gradient tool? You will love how easy you can create gradients in Affinity Designer that just look the way you want them to. This program ist just fun to use. 

Affinity Designer comes with lots of adjustable "smart" forms and powerful effects

Affinity Designer comes with lots of adjustable "smart" forms and powerful effects

Affinity Designer is available in the Mac App Store for 49,99 €

Website:
https://affinity.serif.com/en-gb/designer/

Adobe Acrobat Alternatives

Preview

I have to mention Mac OSX's preview again here which has some basic PDF editing functionalities. You can highlight text, add annotations and basic shapes, rotate, flip, add or delete pages and export PDFs to JPEG, PNG and TIFF. Unfortunately it doesn't allow you to edit existing text.

Website:
https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201740

PDFpen and PDFpen Pro

PDFpen offers all main features that Acrobat has. You can edit existing text, insert images, perform OCR on images, export to DOC, DOCX, RTF, TXT and TIFF, highlight text, draw shapes and add annotations. In addition to the standard version PDFpen Pro allows you to export to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, to create and edit forms and tables of contents, to add end edit permissions and to create links from URLs.

PDFpen is available for 74,99 € and PDPpen Pro is available for 124,99 € in the Mac App Store.

Website:
https://smilesoftware.com/PDFpen

Adobe Flash Alternatives

Hype and Hype Professional

Flash is dead. Yes it is, but it was always useful to build interactive and animated software prototypes. When it comes to interactive prototypes Axure RP has become the weapon of choice, but it is still very limited when it comes to animations. Hype is like Flash with pure HTML5 output. It features a very powerful keyframe-based animation system with different predefined easings, multiple timelines, scenes and basic interactions like jumping to a scene, starting or pausing a timeline or play a sound on mouse, key press or swipe events. Hype Professional has some extra features like custom easings, a physics-based animation engine, support for responsive layouts, symbols and template documents.

Hype is available for 49,99 € and Hype Professional is available for 99,99 USD on Tumult's website.

Website:
http://tumult.com/

Adobe InDesign Alternatives

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no real InDesign alternative so far. I tried out Swift Publisher and Scribus, but you can't really compare them to InDesign. Of course there is still QuarkXPress, but I haven't used it for a long time and can't say if it is still an alternative to InDesign, besides that QuarkXPress 2015 Europe Edition costs the ridiculous amount of 999,00 €.

Affinity has announced to release Affinity Publisher in 2016 though and if they keep on doing what they did with Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, it will be an InDesign killer.

Classic Color Meter

As a designer you need to pick colors sometimes. In Mac OS X there is a free tool called "Digital Color meter" it's stored in  the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder. The problem with this tool is it's limited functionality, that's why I am using another tool called "Classic Color Meter" for a long time now. "Classic Color Meter" allows you to copy color values in many different formats and bit resolutions.

Here is a list of the built-in shortcuts. The function "Copy as HTML Hex Snippet" is very handy, because if your graphics software supports HEX values you don't need to copy and paste the three values for red, green and blue separately.

Function Keyboard Shortcut Result
Copy Color as Text
Shift + cmd + C 210 0 12 (in RGB, decimal, 8-bit)
Copy Color as Image
alt + cmd + C
Copy as NCColor Snippet
Shift + cmd + N [NSColor colorWithDeviceRed:(0xD2 / 255.0) green:(0x00 / 255.0) blue:(0x0C / 255.0) alpha:1.0]
Copy as UIColor Snippet
Shift + cmd + U [UIColor colorWithRed:(0xD2 / 255.0) green:(0x00 / 255.0) blue:(0x0C / 255.0) alpha:1.0]
Copy as HTML Hex Snippet
Shift + cmd + X #D2000C
Copy as CSS rgb() Snippet
Shift + cmd + R rgb(210, 0, 12)
Copy as CSS rgba() Snippet
Shift + cmd + A rgba(210, 0, 12, 1.0)

You can download Classic Color Meter in the Mac App Store for 3,49 €

Wallpaper with special characters for Macbooks with German keyboard layout

I use a Macbook Pro with a German keyboard. Some special characters like square brackets, curly brackets, pipe or tilde are not labeled on the keyboard. I am not a programmer, so I don't use these characters very often, but sometimes I do write a few lines of code and I am using the terminal regulary. It always drives me crazy when I have to try out all possible key combinations until I find the special character I am looking for.

So I created a wallpaper with the special characters I use the most often and their corresponding keyboard shortcuts. 

The wallpaper is optimized for the 15 inch Macbook Pro with retina display.
If you think this wallpaper is useful for you too, you can download it here:
wallpaper_special_characters.png (366 KB)

If you don't like the fonts, or the colors, you can download the Sketch source file and change it the way you want:
wallpaper_special_characters.sketch (82 KB)

Have fun!

Connecting an Android phone to Mac OS X with AirDroid

There is a new feature in iOS 8 called "Continuity" which connects an iPhone to an iPad or Mac. It allows the user to answer calls from their computer, to read and write SMS and more. With AirDroid you can have this features for your Android phone too.

Start screen of  AirDroid for Mac OSX

Start screen of  AirDroid for Mac OSX

Copying files is very simple. Just drag and drop a file on your AirDroid desktop client and it will be sent to all connected devices. I used to send emails to myself to do this.

You can copy files or text snippets from your computer to your smartphone and vice versa.

You can copy files or text snippets from your computer to your smartphone and vice versa.

You can read and send SMS. Deleting messages is unfortunately not supported by my Android version.

You can read and send SMS. Deleting messages is unfortunately not supported by my Android version.

If you don't want to install the desktop client or if you are using a public computer you can access your phone via the web interface web.airdroid.com. The web interface is even more powerful than the desktop client. You can install and delete apps on your device, change ringtones, take screenshots, manage your address book and much more. You can even take photos with your smartphone's front or rear camera with real time preview even if your phone is in standby mode!

The web interface offers full access to your phone's file system.

The web interface offers full access to your phone's file system.

To be able to use AirDroid you have to create an account first. Go on airdroid.com to register. You can download the Desktop client for Windows and Mac OSX there too. The Android app is available in Google Play.

AirDroid is for free, but file transfer is limited to 200 MB per month (I think). You can get an unlimited account with some extra features for 20 USD per month.

Compressing images "lossless" with JPEGmini

JPEGmini promises to reduce the file size of a JPEG image up to 5x, while keeping the source file's quality. I made a few tests with different JPEG compression levels to test if this is true. The source test file is a 16 Bit-TIFF in 3264x4928 px resolution with a file size of 96.5 MB.

The test image, resized to 1000x1510 px original quality 80, compressed with JPEGmini (344 KB)

The test image, resized to 1000x1510 px original quality 80, compressed with JPEGmini (344 KB)

I exported the test file from Adobe Lightroom 5.7 as a JPEG file with quality levels from 0 to 100:

lightroom_screenshot.png

I compressed the ten test JPEGs with JPEGmini:

Screenshot of JPEGmini for Mac

Screenshot of JPEGmini for Mac

Here is the result:

Source quality Source file size Compressed file size Reduced by Download test images
100 10.2 MB 2.5 MB 75% ZIP file (12.7 MB)
90 6.6 MB 2.4 MB 63% ZIP file (9 MB)
80 4.5 MB 2.4 MB 46% ZIP file (6.9 MB)
70 3.2 MB 2.1 MB 34% ZIP file (5.3MB)
60 1.8 MB 1.8 MB 0%
50 1.9 MB 1.7 MB 10% ZIP file (3.6 MB)
40 1.5 MB 1.5 MB 0%
30 1 MB 1 MB 0%
20 987 KB 987 KB 0%
10 735.8 KB 735.8 KB 0%
0 635.6 KB 635.6 KB 0%

Here is a comparison chart with a detail of the image in 1:1 resolution:

Click for image in original size (6.3 MB)

Click for image in original size (6.3 MB)

Conclusion

The test JPEG with quality level 100 was compressed by factor 4.1x in JPEGmini. Maybe it's possible to get even better results with different images. The quality is amazing, there is nearly no difference between the original file and the compressed file.

You can download JPEGmini Lite for free in the Mac App Store. The lite version is limited to 20 JPEGs per day. The full version costs 19,99 €.

You can also try JPEGmini online by uploading a picture to their website: http://www.jpegmini.com

Deleting apps residue-free with AppCleaner (OS X)

It's very easy to uninstall an app in Mac OS X: You just have to drag it from the Applications folder to the trash bin. But many applications also place hidden files in your home folder. These files can contain custom settings (preferences) or some other presets. AppCleaner makes sure that all these corresponding files of an application are deleted too.

You can drag and drop an app from the Applications folder and AppCleaner will search for all related files.

You can drag and drop an app from the Applications folder and AppCleaner will search for all related files.

AppCleaner can also show a list of all installed apps to chose from.

AppCleaner can also show a list of all installed apps to chose from.

AppCleaner has found some files in the Library folder that can be deleted too.

AppCleaner has found some files in the Library folder that can be deleted too.

You can download AppCleaner for Mac OS X by freemacsoft for free.

Enhanced "window management" on Mac OS X with BetterSnapTool

If you drag and drop a window in Windows 7 to the left or right edge of your screen it will resize automatically to 50% of your total screen width.

Resizing a window automatically

Resizing a window automatically

This can be very handy if you want to copy files from folder to another. Or if you are doing a research in your web browser and you need to take notes simultaneously.

Two Explorer windows side by side

Two Explorer windows side by side

BetterSnapTool brings this Windows functionality plus a lot more to your Mac. You can resize windows to 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4 of your screen, center them, send windows to another screen and much more.

bettersnaptool_general_settings

The most comfortable way to use BetterSnapTool is by using shortcuts. I defined these four custom keyboard shortcuts for myself:

  • Ctrl + Alt + Cmd + ← For left half
  • Ctrl + Alt + Cmd + → For right half
  • Ctrl + Alt + Cmd + ↑ For top half
  • Ctrl + Alt + Cmd + ↓ For bottom half
bettersnaptools_keyboard_shortcuts

BetterSnapTool is a very handy tool and I don't know how I could ever live without it. It is available in the Mac App Store for 3,49 €.

The first post in my new software blog

I will write here about interesting software for Mac OS X, Android, Windows or XBOX 360. My main focus is on applications that are useful for designers, photographers or any other "poweruser". I will try to keep it short, because nobody has time to read long blog entries.