New version of Pixatool, great app for turning images into pixel art

Pixatool (previously), an excellent app that turns any image into perfectly-tuned pixel art, is already on its second edition: a complete rewrite that adds a much better user interface, can batch-process images, and can load restrictive palettes for all your peculiar 8-bit nostalgia needs (I'll be making use of this to conform work to the Amstrad CPC pallette, one of the 1980s' more masochistic examples). Best of all, the new version's on sale at $9.95.

The creator, Davit Masia, also created a simple online toy that turns pixel art into bead art or lego. Read the rest

Die With Me: a chat app that only works when you have 5% battery life remaining or less

Dries Depoorter & David Surprenant's Die With Me is a chat app available for iOS and Android, but only if your device is on its last legs: "The chat app you can only use when you have less than 5% battery. Die together in a chatroom on your way to offline peace." Read the rest

lossy-compress GIF animations

Who needs mp4 and the mystery meat data within? Kornel Lesiński's lossygif compresses GIF images, including animations, at the cost of noise. Though GIF does not offer true lossy compression, superimposing long horizontal lines of identical pixels gets the job done before encoding. Photoshop already does this, but this is better at it and it's free. See also Gifski, the author's high-definition GIF movie encoder. It does the exact opposite thing, manipulating the GIF format into showing thousands of colors per frame at the cost of massive file sizes. Read the rest

Apps to help free you from addiction to apps

You can't game your way out of the ludic loop any more than you can smoke your way out of a crack habit, but Katie Bloom's found some interesting apps that aim to help us take back control.

My favorite tool for doing this is Forest, an app that costs $1.99 and looks like it was designed for children, which is sort of pleasantly degrading. It’s been the #1 productivity app in the App Store for over a year; its only purpose is to help you stop touching your phone. Tap a button, sprout a little digital plant, and leave your phone alone until the allotted time is up. I use Forest every day, which has made me realize how often I pick up my phone for no reason, a feeling like walking into a room only to forget what I was planning to do there. It is depressing but instructive. As the stakes are technically nonexistent, I imagine this app is only truly useful for Catholics and others with a highly refined guilt palate.
Read the rest

Environments: a pioneering 1970s ambient soundscape series now in app form

In 1969, Irv Teibel(1938-2010) released a record that would have a profound impact on ambient and New Age music that's continues to this day. "Environments 1: Psychologically Ultimate Seashore" was the first in a catalog of albums that melded pop psychology with environmental sound recording to sooth the mind. Over the years, Treibel's company Syntonic Ressearch Inc. produced 11 albums with 22 soundscapes ranging from "Optimum Aviary" to "Wood-Masted Sailboat" to "Ultimate Heartbeat."

"The music of the future isn't music," Teibel said.

Now, audio archaeologist Douglas Mcgowan, curator of the sublime I Am The Center New Age compilation that I raved about here, Syntonic Research Inc, and the fine folks at Numero Group have brought the Environments catalog to iOS. Environments is now a fantastic $2.99 app with all 22 remastered long-form soundscapes in easily swipeable form. It's intuitive, beautifully minimalist, and a perfect evolution of the original work. Turn on, tune in, chill out.

Environments for iOS (iTunes)

For the whole Environments story, read: Natural Selection (Pitchfork)

Read the rest

Apple says no to app that detects net neutrality violations

Motherboard reports that a university professor created an app that detects net neutrality violations -- that is, when service providers block, throttle, prioritize or otherwise interfere with legal internet use. It's like a speed-test app, same as all the others, but with more detail and a serious research goal in mind. Apple, sadly, finds it contains "objectionable content" that lacks "direct benefits" to its users, unlike utilitarian AppStore mainstays such as iFart: The Original Fart Sounds App and Thump Trump.

An Apple App Store reviewer told Choffnes that “your app has no direct benefits to the user,” according to screenshots reviewed by Motherboard. According to Apple’s reviewer, the app contained “Objectionable Content,” a catch-all for apps that Apple doesn’t want to let into its App Store. Apple is blocking the app and no one is quite sure why, including Choffnes; neither Apple nor Verizon responded to requests for comment for this article.

Wehe is is designed to be part of Choffnes’s research work to determine geographic and carrier-related differences in video throttling. When you open the app, you are presented with a consent form that “invites you to take part in a research project.”

Can't imagine why deep academic research, performed by the general public at the app layer when the Senate is one vote from enshrining Net Neutrality in law and permanently undermining the federal regulator that ISPs spent years capturing, might set off alarm bells in the walled garden at the world's most profitable phone company Read the rest

Pixatool turns images into pallette-perfect pixel art

You could load an image up in Photoshop, reduce the color depth and fiddle with the pixel diffusion slider a bit. Or you could get Pixatool, a brilliant app completely dedicated to tuning pixelated images to the finest and most authentic details. Line and contrasts are rendered so well there's often an uncanny suggestion of hand-drawing, and the dithering smokes what mainstream painting apps offer.

It's $30, with a free-of-charge demo version. There's more examples. Artists are sharing their work with the #pixatool hashtag.

Update: check out the new version. Read the rest

This "book-lined" Beijing subway car is an audiobook library

Beijing's subway system now includes some experimental cars decorated to look like fanciful, book-lined rooms; scan the QR codes and you get free audiobook downloads for popular Chinese novels. Read the rest

Free privacy tools

Privacytools.io showcases web platforms, utilities and services that center on maintaining online user privacy. Anonymous browsing, decentralized social media, note-taking applications, even router firmware. There's a downloadable tool to help secure Windows 10, the "privacy nightmare" of operating systems.

"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say." – Edward Snowden

Read the rest

Toilets that you have to use an app to get into

Silicon Valley has reinvented the pay toilet. But this time, you have to use an app to get in, yielding metadata (foeterdata?) to the powers that be. Yield the who, what, when and where of your bowel movements with Good2Go, the shittiest valley startup yet. Their turd-key solution is free now, but you'll have to spend a penny later.

As photographed above by Christopher Kennedy (website), a developer from San Francisco: "Welcome to app hell. You need an app or a printed QR code to use the bathroom here. The app is “free for a limited time” so after that, I imagine they plan to disrupt pay toilets. Silicon Valley is a parody unto itself. You cannot democratize access to utilities by making a gated community of smartphone and subscriber users."

Find and securely access modern restrooms – all through your smartphone ...

Q: Do I have to pay for Good2Go if I’ve made a purchase at the café? A: No. Café patrons can ask the barista for a QR code or download the app for free. Q: How much does it cost to use the app? A: All subscriptions to Good2Go are free for a limited time! Q: Is Good2Go only available in San Francisco? A: San Francisco is now live and we will be launching in other major cities soon. Want Good2Go in your city?

The only civilized thing to do, if you encounter one of these, is to play Louis Armstrong's We Have All The Time In The World at maximum volume while taking a dump on the floor in front of it. Read the rest

Protanopia is a cool parallax 3D comic proof of concept

André Bergs created this short digital comic titled Protanopia. This short video hints at the possibilities of storytelling in electronic comics. Read the rest

qutebrowser: a keyboard-based web browser for the no-clicks clique

It's almost impossible to use most modern apps without using a pointing device or sausage, but a new browser out today is focused entirely on surfing the web with keyboard only. Named qutebrowser, it doesn't just provide a full suite of keyboard shortcuts for the user interface, but generates them on the fly for every link on the page.

qutebrowser is a keyboard-focused browser with a minimal GUI. It’s based on Python and PyQt5 and free software, licensed under the GPL. It was inspired by other browsers/addons like dwb and Vimperator/Pentadactyl.

Read the rest

App automatically responds "yes" to boring installation dialogs

A version of Yes, an app that says "y" at maximum speed, is built-in to unix-based operating systems. You can test it by firing up a terminal, typing "yes", and then watching it fill your window; you'd usually pipe it to another app or script. But there's a problem: it can only generate 51 megabits per second worth of yes, and something must be done about it.

Lessons learned

The trivial program yes turns out not to be so trivial after all. It uses output buffering and memory alignment to improve performance. Re-implementing Unix tools is fun and makes me appreciate the nifty tricks, which make our computers fast.

As benchmarked by the author's computer, 3GB/s of yes is now possible! Read the rest

Tyke, a minimal notepad app for the MacOS menu bar

If you're one of those people who constantly dips into a text editor to work with snippets of text -- notes, lists, quotes, URLs, and so on -- you'll love Tyke. A free app by Andre Torrez, it lives in the MacOS menu bar and replaces those barely-used editor windows cluttering desktop and dock. The Susan Kare-esque icon is maybe my favorite thing about it, suggesting a missing feature of Macs going back decades. Read the rest

The skeuomorphic hell of music-making apps

Audio plugins are renowned for their insane efforts to mimic real-life hardware UI, right down to 70s'-style dials and warped burl paneling. If they could smell of sweaty pleather, they would. John Lagomarsino takes us through his favorite ones and tries to figure out why on Earth all this is so.

Alone, each plugin is hideous in its own unique way. A panel of 3D knobs here, a pixelated oscilloscope there. But when a project really gets cooking, one can amass eight or ten of these interfaces overlapping each other on the screen at once, and that's when skeuomorph hell really comes into focus. I don't know why audio software has looked like this for the better part of two decades, but I'd like to honor these sins of UI with a tour of some of the most egregious examples.
Read the rest

AccuWeather app caught "red-handed" tracking location of users against their wishes

AccuWeather's been exposed sending user location data to a third party, even when the app is told not to access it. If you have the app installed, your exact location was shared with a company promising to turn that data into "mobile revenue."
Popular weather app AccuWeather has been caught sending geolocation data to a third-party data monetization firm, even when the user has switched off location sharing. AccuWeather is one of the most popular weather apps in Apple's app store, with a near perfect four-star rating and millions of downloads to its name. But what the app doesn't say is that it sends sensitive data to a firm designed to monetize user locations without users' explicit permission. Security researcher Will Strafach intercepted the traffic from an iPhone running the latest version of AccuWeather and its servers and found that even when the app didn't have permission to access the device's precise location, the app would send the Wi-Fi router name and its unique MAC address to the servers of data monetization firm Reveal Mobile every few hours. That data can be correlated with public data to reveal an approximate location of a user's device.
Worse, the company issued a bad press release described by John Gruber as "a veritable mountain of horseshit." If the infraction was inadvertent as they claim, they made themselves look guilty as all hell by denying things they weren't accused of and pretending the information they sold was meaningless.
Despite stories to the contrary from sources not connected to the actual information, if a user opts out of location tracking on AccuWeather, no GPS coordinates are collected or passed without further opt-in permission from the user.
Read the rest

A Twitch subsidiary has created an official D&D digital toolset

Dungeons and Dragons Beyond is an official digital companion to D&D, with a free character-generator and a bunch of paid additions, from access to hyperlinked editions of the rulebooks ($30/each), and a $3/player, $6/DM subscription service that lets DMs share their books with players. Read the rest

More posts