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Edelkrone FlexTILT Head 2 and QuickReleaseONE conspire to make you more creative and life easier

You know those hexagonal QR-plates from Manfrotto, the Arca-Swiss style ones and the ones with the pigeon tail? They all differ and you’re almost forced to always buy from the same vendor if you want to escape the trouble of constantly switching between models. And what about that pan-and-tilt head you saw at Amazon for a mere €20? Is that any good or are you better off with a full-fledged panoramic head costing somewhere north of €1,000 – or is there an alternative that’s good enough in most cases?

The FlexTILT Head 2 and QuickReleaseONE from Edelkrone are two products that make our lives easier and potentially more creative. The QuickReleaseONE is a mount that solves the problem of switching between different types of QR plates, while the FlexTILT Head 2 is a pan-and-tilt base that can be used on a tripod as well as by itself.

The QuickReleaseONE…

Let’s start with the QuickReleaseONE. If there ever was an idea that worked out well, it must be this mounting system. QR plates all differ in the way they attach to your tripod head and they usually have a differing design or size for connecting the plate to the head as well. If you own tripod heads from different brands, chances are you have different plates that you need to switch between. They do all come with a common feature, though: the ¼ inch mounting screw.

The QuickReleaseONE is an all-metal, aluminium-and-steel release system with three screws inside and one mounting screw for your camera. It’s a bit bulky, though, with a lever on the side to mount your camera onto any ¼ inch mounting screw.

A rubberised bottom lets you keep your camera firmly in place even when you handle it. The lever on the QuickReleaseONE serves to make the three screws inside rotate so they can grab the ¼ inch screw from your QR plate and fasten it. This effectively mounts the camera directly to the QR plate – which you can keep attached to the tripod head – with the same strength and security.

Now, there is one thing that you need to become used to: your camera sits higher on the tripod head compared to a common plate. I was a bit scared at first that the camera (mine is a bit heavy at 2kg) would be unstable and the QuickReleaseONE would loosen easily – neither of which happened. In fact, I found it even works quite well with a plate on which the ¼ inch screw can move from back to front, such as video camera plates.

…Combined with the FlexTILT Head 2

The FlexTILT Head 2 is a pan-and-tilt head with serious panoramic ambitions. It’s a precision CNC machined aluminium base with three double arms that are joined together using hex screws. It has a rotating base and a level spirit. In the box, the arms are folded to turn the head into a flat box. They can be fully unfolded to create a rigid upstanding mount of about 20cm high, or partly extended to place your camera in an endless number of positions with the lens kept horizontally, facing up or down.

It’s not a ball head, so the camera will always stay level laterally, which is an advantage when you’re shooting a panorama. Thanks to the rotating base with increment marks, you can rotate the camera 160 degrees in the horizontal plane.

Except for its excellent quality, the FlexTILT Head 2 is also extremely well built. Although there is no hydraulic system for keeping your camera in place, the arms and the connecting hex screws are made to such tight standards that you can adjust the friction endlessly without weakening the connection. To that purpose, the FlexTILT Head 2 comes with a set of spanners so you can adjust the joints for each individual job if you like.

During the test period, I used the head on a tripod and changed the friction at least a few dozen times on every joint and I didn’t have to tighten more as the number of adjustments increased – which is what I sort of expected to happen.

Out of the box, the joints are tightened to a high degree, probably to ensure that, if you load the FlexTILT Head 2 with the maximum camera weight of 2.5kg, they won’t sink suddenly. However, that does result in you having to exert quite a bit of force to unfold the arms the first time. Also, the tighter the joints, the harder it is to adjust the camera position accurately. And that’s where you may have to spend some time setting up the FlexTILT Head 2 for your specific camera and often on a per case scenario because it takes a bit of experimenting finding the right balance between tension and handling ease.

For example, I tried photographing objects from above, with the camera peeking over the tripod legs parallel to the ground floor where the object was put down. That required much friction as I wanted to ensure the lens would stay parallel to the floor, even with the arms fully stretched out horizontally.

But, in another experiment, I tried to use the FlexTILT Head 2 as a quick way of shooting birds flying past my window. I decreased the joint friction and that of the rotating base to a point that the system only helped me to keep the camera horizontal.

To sum up, I am especially charmed by the ease of use and the creative support you get with the FlexTILT Head 2. Another few examples: the system lets you easily adjust for parallax in a panorama setup – you can also use it by itself sitting on a flat surface and perfectly balanced if you keep the camera’s centre point over the head’s centre point.

Both the QuickReleaseONE and FlexTILT Head 2 are excellently made products. They’re also beautifully designed, but, most importantly, they both deliver advantages that you wouldn’t expect because of the technical and mechanical challenges that have to be overcome.

Edelkrone seems to have succeeded in that area and the resulting products make your life easier and open up creative opportunities that you couldn’t achieve before at the same cost. And, of course, the ability to wave bye-bye to the endless switching between QR plates is nothing short of a godsend – one frustration less to cope with.

Tracking your activities is a pain, Timing is the solution

Timing is one of those rare apps that have been made in Europe (Germany) to become a big hit. And it does so for a reason. Timing delivers on its promise to track your activities automatically. We – creators of videos, film, photos, graphics and text of all sorts – like to track how much time we spend on work we do so that we can analyse our productivity, invoice a client the right amount and get an insight into how efficient we are. So far, of the six time tracking apps I’ve tried over the years, the Timing app is the only one that fills in these needs.

Even if you don’t charge by the hour, it’s useful to know how much time you spend on a project and how scattered or organised your day is in order to determine how much you should charge on a per-project basis and what you can do to become more efficient. The Timing app lets you do that without requiring you to spend much time in the timing app itself. And that is quite unique.

It’s a promise that also evokes suspicions of high memory and CPU usage, a high risk of software conflicts and spying on your activities even. None of that, however, happens with this app, as I found out during my trial and I have several background applications running that capture a Mac’s hardware and network activity, while macOS’s Activity Monitor did not once report high CPU or memory usage.

Timing’s activity tracking service does its job with an absolute minimum of resource hogging and – I might add – without ever causing a hang or crash on my overloaded (including with unstable beta software) machine.

With that out of the way, the crucial question, of course, is whether the automation thing is true and accurate. The developer gave me a trial licence for the Expert version which includes every option on top of the automatic tracking and basic reporting – from manual time tracking to the ability to create Filters and having a whole slew of time report templates to choose from, as well as the ability to script the app with AppleScript.

Timing’s daily Dashboard where you get an instant overview of your activities

And yes, Timing delivers on all of its promises. It tracks activities automatically, doesn’t require you to remember pushing a start/end button, nor spend endless time with the app itself to get something useful out of it. On the contrary, it makes time tracking efficient, extremely effective – almost addictive.

Why is it effective? Well, Timing offers insight in what you do with your time, how you use that time and how much time you spend on each activity, including breaks. It helps you tackle procrastination, increase your productivity, charge your clients correctly, find out what you want to charge them when working on a project basis, and more.

How it works

First of all, the developer has gone out of his way to make sure you understand Timing. Although the interface is really straightforward and easy to use, there is a bunch of videos and written tutorials available online and if you do something that doesn’t make sense, a tooltip pops up. Even if you’re thick, you can use Timing to its full potential.

Timing does not require you to enter start timers manually unless you want to add a task with an estimated time explicitly. As soon as the estimate expires, Timing will ask you whether you want to end tracking, extend it – in which case you just keep ignoring it – or snooze and pick up later again.

The normal way to work with Timing and certainly the one you’ll want to start with is to just launch the app and let it track your activities on the Mac. When you’ve worked for a while, you can, at the end of the day or after a couple of hours or so, assign the activities Timing has tracked to a project and see how much time you spent on it.

Timing’s daily Review tab where you can drag activities to your projects

The beauty of the system is that it uses four different parameters to track: websites, keywords, file paths (in the broadest sense you can imagine – e.g. a mailbox) and apps. Timing automatically captures keywords from a tracked app. These could be tags, unique words, parts of an email address, etc. File paths are extracted to a level of detail that depends on the integration with the app.

For example, I’m typing this in the Ulysses editor that works without explicitly saving documents; instead, Ulysses uses “sheets” that live in a Container in macOS’s user library. Nevertheless, Timing integrates with Ulysses in such a way that the virtual file path of each text is made ready to use in rules that allow you to tie the timed app to a project.

There are many such integrations available ‘out-of-the-box’. This ensures that you can fine-tune your tracking to a granular level.

Another example… You’re writing a piece for a blog, creating text and images and using a browser to connect to the publishing website. Chances are that your post title contains a unique term and that the images you add also have unique names. To ensure the timing of your writing project is accurate, you will, at the end of the day, drag the unique term (keyword) in your title, the file path to your images and the URL from the website to the project name in Timing’s Review tab.

Magically, it will show you the time you’ve worked on exactly those things that relate to the blog writing project.

How it works with long-term and/or repeating activities

That workflow is fine for a single day, but what if you will be working on the same project for days on end? Or what if you want to know how much time you spend on writing for that blog over longer periods of time? In those cases, you can fully automate Timing by option-dragging the same parameters to the project. From then on the project in the Timing Review tab will be associated with these that have become rules in the Project editor.

The option-dragging method is only one of the ways to do this. You can also explicitly enter rules in the Project editor which allows you to create much more complex rules than by simply option-dragging.

Besides projects, Timing also supports tasks which are the smallest, least important time consumers of the day. You manually enter them, except when you’ve activated Timing’s ability to track the time you’re away from your Mac. If you turn on that feature, Timing will ask you to fill in what you’ve done when you return.

The New Task form

The form that pops up when you click the “New Task” button is the same as the one that pops up when you return to your Mac. It allows you to set a start and end date/time and a project to assign. You can also option-click a task bubble on the timeline. That will automatically assign the project’s name to the task.

Tasks are usually entered right before you start, but as you can edit them while running, you can also enter them while busy or even afterwards. As Timing automatically tracks your app-time and – when properly set up – assigns your activities to projects automatically, you might wonder why you should enter tasks at all. The reason is that it makes your timesheets and invoices more meaningful and gives you a deeper insight in your time usage by describing what exactly (e.g. which issue tracker ticket, todo item, etc) you have been working on.

Productivity and analysis

The focus on projects as containers of time slots could restrict your understanding of how you spend your day in the sense that – if this were all on offer – you would only get insights on a project basis and learn what each project has cost you, but not, for example, how much time you’ve spent on writing in a more general sense over the past week.

That’s where Filters come into play. They are available to allow you to analyse time usage across projects.

The Ultra-detailed report template

The insight Timing offers you is invaluable, but it does require you to have a good idea of the concept of productivity. How productive you are throughout the day depends on assigning the parameters to the right project and a correct assessment of the Productivity slider in the Project editor panel. The slider has a range from Unproductive to fully Productive. It’s your job to correctly evaluate how much an activity contributes to a goal you’ve set yourself. For example, going jogging can be very productive for losing weight but is totally unproductive when the goal is to earn money.

Conclusion

Timing is a dream app for tracking your time and analysing where your time went and/or invoicing a client for it.

While Timing automates most of the process, it does require some management after the facts, i.e. on a daily or weekly basis at least, you’ll have to analyse what happened with your time. When you start some new project, you’ll have to assign parameters through rules so that Timing knows what belongs to which.

Those rules can be simple or complicated and it’s not always obvious to create one that is going to be defined narrowly enough to avoid “contamination” from other tasks you perform and broadly enough to include everything you do while working on that project. The rule system is powerful enough, but you may need some help with setting it up. That’s why the online help pages are very useful, after all.

So, does Timing really automate your time tracking? It certainly does for 95% of the time, but there’s still some 5% that requires your input. Until we are able to develop a system that can read our mind, that’s not going to change.

Timing is available in three versions and only from the timingapp.com website. The Basic version retails for €39, the Pro version costs €69 and the Expert version is €99. For that money, you get an excellent app, 12 months of updates, free synchronisation (which can be used as a backup system as well) and – depending on your version – the ability to use the app on two, three or five Macs.

OmniFocus 3, the iOS version, tested

If you have OmniFocus 3 for the Mac, I’m sure you’ll have the iOS version as well. If you don’t, here are a couple of reasons why you should.

Of course, there are plenty of Mac task managers that have a mobile version as well. Synchronisation isn’t unique, either, but there aren’t many that synchronise through the company’s own dedicated server that also serves to enable email based task entries. The Omni Sync Server does require you to create a free account, but unlike other synchronisation services it is very fast and dependable, your data gets encrypted on the way and you have the ability to push synchronisation jobs to speed up the process.

And synchronisation truly means synchronisation; even your task preferences sync. For example, I changed the meaning of “Due Soon” meaning three days before the task has to be done at first. Then I changed my mind and changed the preference on the Mac to have it mean two days in advance.

In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to create one or more unique email addresses that will send your email – a task entry or an email from someone else you want to include in the task – to all your OmniFocus apps at once. That is very easy and efficient, and leaves you with a lot of options – and few excuses not — to enter tasks.

However, the major reason why the latest version of OmniFocus is way superior to most of the others I’ve tried is that the versions are actually identical in both feature set and the way you work with them on both platforms. The only thing that’s different is the platform’s UI and its associated human interface system. That results in OmniFocus 3 on the iPad feeling at home as soon as you start working your way through the interface.

The iPad interface, at least, gives you exactly the same functionality as the Mac version. The only difference is that the Forecast perspectives is now at the top of the screen, with your Inbox, Flagged, Projects, Nearby, Tags and Review beneath it (in that order). After those, you’ll see the Completed, Changed, Deferred and your own perspectives – even if you made them on the Mac.

Another difference is that you don’t need to press a Return ever. As soon as you’ve entered your data and switch to another panel or view, it’s entered and stored – and synced. And, in portrait mode, the Home panel where you view your perspectives slides out only when you need it.

In short, OmniFocus 3, as I tried it out on my iPad, lets me do the same things as in OmniFocus 3 on the Mac and it does so with a lovely interface and without having me learn a whole new UI.

On iOS, OmniFocus 3 is a free app with in-app purchases. The Pro features include custom perspectives, the Forecast tag, custom sidebar and custom home screen. A subscription costs around €100 a year, but you can also licence the app for $49.99 or the Pro version, which comes in at $74.99. Upgrade discounts are available. A two-week trial period is offered so you can decide whether you want the basic or pro version.

Exponential Audio Reverb bundle: first impressions

iZotope acquired Exponential Audio, a small company that develops plug-ins for most DAWs to create reverbs and other effects. That company was founded by Michael Carnes, a classical musician and recording engineer, who also created many of the preset effects. It was quickly recognised as a trendsetter in the industry.

Mr Carnes designed the reverb plug-ins around his own experience as a musician with recording rooms and environments. Audio engineers use the many preset reverbs of the plug-ins to quickly and easily bring character to musical performances, fit dialogue into scenes, mix in immersive audio formats, and create unique sound effects.

Exponential Audio’s reverb plug-ins are divided in two groups: post-production and music effects. In the two groups you’ll find several plug-ins, each with their own strengths. For example, in the post-production group you’ll find four surround sound plug-ins — PhoenixVerb Surround, Symphony 3D, R2 Surround and Stratus 3D — and three stereo plug-ins – PhoenixVerb, Symphony and Excalibur. In the music group, you’ll find PhoenixVerb, Nimbus, R2, R4 and Excalibur.

The latter is more of a special effects plug-in that creates up to four voices with echo, flanger, etc and which you can use to create truly unique sound effects. I took three days to play with it and I still haven’t but scratched the surface of what you can do with it.

All other plug-ins are focused on reverb only. There are two plug-ins of which I’m not sure how they relate to each other: R2 and R4. It seems that R4 is an evolved R2 with more presets, but I could be wrong.

All plug-ins have an interface that is completely different of what iZotope’s look like. The Exponential Audio plug-ins come with a lot of knobs and buttons with – usually – a graphic representation of the effect’s frequency and loudness range. Some also come with a spectrogram that shows how your audio is altered by the settings in real-time.

Some pure reverb plug-ins like PhoenixVerb and Nimbus offer early and tail EQ modulation. These allow you to change the way the reverb sounds through over time, effectively changing the “space” characteristics your ears perceive. That makes it possible to create completely different reverb effects for audio that should sound as if it’s been recorded in a large hall of a mansion or a small church – something that’s not so easy to do with, for example, Apple’s own powerful Space Designer, unless you have samples from both environments.

The EQ filters in all of Exponential Audio’s plug-ins can be dynamically controlled to create an effect or to avoid saturating a mix. Whatever you do with these controls, they allow you to create the most natural-sounding reverbs available in post-production. Another benefit is that you don’t need to get everyone out of a large space such as a cathedral in order to record sound with that particular cathedral reverb.

However, the tail is not based on a track’s harmonic content as it can be with some other developers’ plug-ins, but, to me at least, it doesn’t come across as an unfulfilled need; the huge amount of presets lets you choose the right one for any job you’ll come across and if you are wary of saturating a mix, you can use your DAW’s automation features to dynamically alter the reverb – which, I do realise, isn’t the same as controlling the reverb tail.

To sum up for now, I’ve been trying out Exponential Audio’s plug-ins for a month and still haven’t used all their capabilities to the fullest, so my conclusion for this first impression is going to be quite superficial: if you want to create audio with a reverb that sounds like it’s been recorded in the real thing, then one of these plug-ins will fit the bill as none other can.

Selecting one among the many will probably be harder. R2 and R4 are, for example and in my opinion, very close to each other – so close that I’d go for R4 as it offers some more presets and controls. Whatever you do, you’ll first need to decide whether you want to go for maximum reality versus creativity, though. If the former is what you need, the post-production plug-ins will offer more surround sound options.

It’ll be interesting to see how these plug-ins evolve over the months and years to come, now that iZotope has them in their portfolio, but one thing is certain: the company now has a considerable edge over others where it concerns spatial sound effects.

The plug-ins are available each by themselves or in bundles. You should really visit iZotope’s Exponential Audio page to find out what works best for you.

The superior VOVOX Sonorus direct S mic cable

They don’t come cheap, VOVOX cables, but then they can’t be, given their build quality and the sound you get out of them. But, as always with cables and audio equipment at large, the question is whether you hear a difference. I received a test unit of a VOVOX Sonorus direct S and compared it with an ordinary Cordial, an Inco X-Lead, a Mogami Gold Studio and Gold Stage, and a d’Addario Planet Waves ASMC cable.

VOVOX was founded in 2002. Prior to its foundation, the VOVOX founder, Jürg Vogt, developed new products over the course of five years. He and Kaspar Kramis, a music teacher at the Hochschule Luzern in Switzerland, created and tested a good many prototypes and concepts. A short while before the company was founded, Vogt forced a breakthrough and designed the now famous VOVOX cables.

The unusual design he came up with is the reason the VOVOX sound conductors are unique and directly responsible for their sound quality as well as their handling properties. As VOVOX cables are amongst the most expensive money can buy, I was particularly interested in trying one out myself. The review that follows reflects my personal experiences.

Before trying one out, however, I read a few comments on the web and they ranged from the “you-can’t-hear-a-difference-no-matter-what” type of feedback to a story that intrigued me. It’s a forum entry from a chap who witnessed Dirk Brauner and a group of senior engineers conduct a blind test of VOVOX mic cables tested against a common cable and using four identical high-end mics (Brauner VM1, Neumann U87, etc).

According to the writer, 15 experienced senior “Tonmeister” could hear the difference and Dirk Brauner explained that what they heard and what astounded them was the reason that he had chosen VOVOX to be the accompanying cable in his microphone sets for his highest-end range of mics.

So, how did that compare with my experiences? I am sceptical when it comes to hearing a difference between cables, except when you’re comparing junk to high-quality. The VOVOX Sonorus direct S is an extremely well-built cable and surprisingly lightweight. The Neutrik plugs with gold-plated contacts are the same as the ones on both Mogami’s, but they are tightened beyond manually unscrewing them.

The visible cable sheet is in a fabric, the internal wiring is made of the best conducting, highest quality materials, but there’s no shielding. The latter will make some people frown, but I’ve been told that shielding isn’t always needed, that it may even interfere with recording accuracy, and that it depends on how the cable has been wired internally.

The lack of shielding did not have a detrimental effect on the recordings I made in a room littered with bare and active hard disks, Thunderbolt cables, label printers and more. Only when I put a mobile phone on top of the VOVOX and had someone call me did the cable pick up the typical buzzing sound of the phone beside the ring tone. The only cable that didn’t pick up that buzz was the Mogami Gold Studio.

Lesson learned: shielding is important but some cable manufacturers seem to have found a way to do without and still have a quiet, noise-free recording in most recording environments.

Does it sound different?

In a normal environment, I could definitely hear an audible difference between the VOVOX and the Inco X-Lead and Cordial. The VOVOX delivered a much more open sound with better clarity and it was much quieter.

That difference became a bit less apparent when I started comparing with the Planet Waves, but – much to my surprise – this very thick shielded cable with custom-made Neutrik plugs generated more lows than there was in the real world. Here as well, the VOVOX won in clarity and accuracy.

Now all that was left to do was evaluate the VOVOX against the two Mogami’s. In the end, I decided that the Mogami Gold Studio and the VOVOX were the only ones that sounded very, very close and very, very natural.

Is that a reference? Well, I am not hearing impaired, but not blessed with perfect pitch, either (one in 10,000 people are, according to Wikipedia). The latter might hear bigger differences, but, to me, the choice between a VOVOX Sonorus direct S and a Mogami Gold Studio would be entirely based on taste. They both sound brilliant and gorgeous but somewhat different.

Of course, there is the quality of build. In that respect, the VOVOX Sonorus direct S has an edge when it comes to its weight and the tightness of the connections, as well as the comfort with which you can manipulate it – that fabric sheet may look oddly out of place, but it sure handles well.

The Mogami Gold Studio weighs a lot more, is slightly more rigid and if you buy it from a specific British music store that I won’t mention, they will sell you a cable made by Mogami England – and that finished cable has a worse quality of assembly than when you buy one at the American store. That’s the risk when you not only sell fully assembled mic cables but also cable on a spool for anyone to put together.

You won’t encounter such a problem with a VOVOX as these are always 100% made and assembled in Switzerland.

Conclusion

The VOVOX is a cable that has been found to be superior by the manufacturer of the best and most expensive microphones in the world, so it may seem arrogant and perhaps totally redundant that I would review a Sonorus direct S, but I am glad I was given the opportunity.

It taught me there can be a difference in sound that is due to a cable, after all.

It also showed that the premium price VOVOX asks is not without merit and while the difference with the runner-up seems to be very small, there is a difference all the same. Whether you need a perfect cable at a premium price is something that you need to decide for yourself, of course, but I for one would love to have one in my collection.

The VOVOX Sonorus direct S 350 XLR/XLR that I was allowed to try out is retailed for between €125 and €160 depending on the online store.

Test equipment

iMac 5K Retina with 40GB RAM (2017).

Apogee Digital Element Thunderbolt 3 audio interface.

Apple Logic Pro X, iZotope RX 7 Audio Editor.

Sennheiser MKH-416, Schoeps CMIT 5, sE Electronics sE2200A (the original).

Sennheiser HD 650, HD 820.

DEVONthink Pro 3, the most powerful data/document manager on the Mac

More or less out of the blue, DEVONtechnologies released its first beta of DEVONthink 3. DEVONthink is what we used to call a “freeform database manager”, which basically means its records can be anything from images to text snippets and complete documents.

DEVONthink allows for machine learning based data mining on a desktop scale and version 3 not only contains a much-needed interface update (the previous version was starting to show its age) but a lot of other power features as well.

The interface update is obviously what you’ll notice as soon as you launch the app. It’s now unified with support for dark mode on macOS Mojave and with a gorgeous overall design that makes working with databases, those freeform records, concordances and other content analysis tools, a lot easier and more fun. It also improves editing content a lot, including, for example, the support for markdown.

One of the things why DEVONthink was a scientist’s – and a lawyer, and a journalist, and… — delight was its powerful search functionality. Version 3 adds to that power by supporting prefixes such as “name=”, “tags:” and others. Another feature that appealed to researchers in the broadest sense of the word, was DEVONthink’s metadata support.

That’s been improved as well. Version 3 now supports custom metadata, including Boolean, numbers, sets, etc. For example, I am a big fan of managing paper documents using barcodes. You either print them or stick them on the front of the document and you can always scan it using your Mac or iOS device and an appropriate app. Only, there aren’t many “appropriate apps” out there for the Mac that support document management, let alone barcodes for this purpose. In DEVONthink 3, you just need to turn barcodes on in the Custom Metadata preferences and you’ll see a field, aptly called “Barcode”, appear. Using a keyboard-wedge scanner, you can now scan your paper document barcode and get an instant link between paper and digital. Any digital image or PDF with a barcode will be recognised upon import as well.

Of course, DEVONthink is a 64-bit app, including a new 64-bit OCR engine supporting multi-core processing, Asian language support and output to multiple formats. The new engine ensures faster and better integration with a huge range of scanners, including Fujitsu’s ScanSnap scanners and those that integrate via macOS’s Image Capture.

Continuity Camera is supported within an RTF, HTML or Formatted Note type of file. Other ways to get data into DEVONthink have been re-designed too. For example, the “Sorter” now supports searching open databases, multiple note-taking options, including audio, video and integrated screen capture. It includes the “Clip to DEVONthink” feature. That Safari extension is now a native extension.

DEVONthink 3 has also gained in-database file manipulation functionality through smart rules and batch processing to execute event-driven actions on files, on a schedule or on demand. For example, I tried to convert a markdown file to an HTML file as soon as its content would have reached four words. The Smart Rule was on demand, meaning I still had to select “Apply Rules” before anything happened, but you can trigger action based on events such as saving or moving the file, etc.

DEVONthink also supports data placeholders for use in templates, imprints, and smart rules as well as batch processing. One feature where you’ll be using placeholders a lot is with the imprints you can create – things like “PAID on xyz-DATE” or “CONFIDENTIAL”. You can create such imprints on images and in PDF documents and there are placeholders for things such as Bates numbering, page counts, etc.

In the department “Text analysis” you can highlight text that seems important to you, but as highlighting is sort of a skeuomorphism, it tends not to work all that well with digital documents because you can’t browse them the way you can with paper documents.

The DEVONtechnologies developers have found a way around that problem by summarising your highlights in a new RTF file containing only the highlighted text. This works with PDF and RTF files that contain them and you can have several of them summarised in one new document.

Sheets have been improved in that they now support specific data types (number, date, Boolean, etc.) and have a new form view.

Creating a Metadata Overview from selected files allows you to use DEVONthink as a complete document management tool. The results appear in a sheet that can be shared or exported.

DEVONthink has many more improvements and new features that I could cover, but that would take another 1,000 or so words. Some of the features that I found to be among the most useful are:

  • Database encryption
  • Converting metadata to tags, e.g. hashtags or geolocation data
  • Support for geolocation data, including the ability to enter it manually
  • Filter panes for filtering the displayed files by tags, dates and marks such as label colour, locked state, as well as geolocation data
  • Annotations and Reminders. DEVONthink 3 allows you to set reminders (yes, reminders), view Finder Comments and create, view, and edit Annotation files. Reminders can be once or scheduled and they support several alarm options, including executing scripts
  • A Content Inspector for some Markdown, EPUB and PDF files with an option to show the thumbnails of PDF files instead
  • The Concordance Inspector gives you access to a word frequency list and has a new Cloud view, showing a word cloud with sizes based on word weight
  • A See Also and Classify Inspector displays suggested filing locations for or documents related to the selected file
  • Automatic image tagging using machine learning technologies
  • A Reading List sidebar to gather items you want to read or return to at a later time, including specific points in video or audio
  • DEVONthink Pro and Server comes with integrated scanning and email archiving in the Import sidebar.

Conclusion

After having tried out the new features, I increasingly had the feeling that DEVONthink Pro is not only a database but also a writing environment more or less like Scrivener. Just like Scrivener you can create text files, have research files in the database and export your final document by merging several files you created yourself.

Unlike Scrivener, you can deep-analyse content and perform all kinds of actions onto files and content. The only thing DEVONthink lacks is a high-end publishing/printing module. And that got me thinking… Imagine you could use DEVONthink Pro 3 as your research management tool, while writing your end-result partly inside the app and finish off (or write entirely, of course) in Ulysses, MultiMarkdown, iA Writer, or Scrivener.

Well, the good news is you don’t have to imagine at all. You can do that already as DEVONthink Pro 3 is available now from DEVONtechnologies’ website. It retails for $99 for the basic version, $199 for the Pro and $499 for the Server edition.

My advice is to go for the Pro or Server edition.

EU flag with copyright symbol

The EU Copyright Directive and its impact

The EU Parliament has given its blessing to the new Copyright Directive which aims to strengthen the position of EU-based creators – filmmakers, actors, musicians, journalists and writers – when negotiating with publishers and producers. It should lead to a fairer system of exploitation of their works and performances, but a lot of people, including academics who have reported on this issue, seem to believe the Directive will actually lead to less available content, legal confusion that can be taken advantage of, and more censorship within Europe.

The “Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market” seeks to ensure that the online world and the internet are on par with the offline world when it comes to giving creatives, news publishers and journalists what they are entitled to. It applies to all for-profit online services, except marketplaces and cloud services like Dropbox. 

Google, Facebook and such platforms often imply that artists, news publishers and journalists should be happy their work is circulating freely and when they actually pay a fee, it’s usually a tiny fraction of what the platform or aggregator is making. In contrast to what platform lobbyists – this Directive has been one of the most lobbied of all times – seem to suggest, the new Copyright Directive does not create any new rights for creatives and journalists, nor does it in se create new obligations for online platforms and news aggregators. It does, however, represent the first decent attempt to create a level playing field. 

However, the Directive has serious flaws. It all starts with the Directive being a political instrument rather than a well-wrought attempt to create a legal framework for the future. The lobbying on the US-side was not terribly successful, but the lobbying on the EU-side from giant European publishers seems not to have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, MEPs like Julia Reda, a member of the German Pirate Party, part of The Greens–European Free Alliance, found the original draft submitted to the European Parliament lacking a fair balance between the rights of content consumers and publishers, while producers’ rights – creators – were nowhere to be seen (See: Reda, Julia. ‘EU Copyright Reform: Our Fight Was Not in Vain’. Julia Reda (blog). April 2019. https://juliareda.eu/2019/04/not-in-vain/).. 

Her group managed to restrict Article 17 (which used to be Article 13), which risks forcing platforms to implement so-called upload filters, to for-profit platforms. The restriction to services which “play an important role on the online content market by competing with other online content services, such as online audio and video streaming services, for the same audiences” can also be written on their account, although that made it into a recital, rather than the article itself. 

Reda’s group also took care to insert the fair remuneration clause. She adds that even though the text didn’t end up banning so-called “total buyout contracts”, Article 18 does establish fair remuneration of artists as a fundamental principle at the EU level for the first time.  In the Commission’s draft, creators were not mentioned as if they are not involved in content creation.

The group also ensured that digitisation of a work of which the copyright has already expired will not lead to having copyright applied to it again. The availability of out-of-commerce works, as well as the fact that the Directive represents the minimum standards rather than levelling down, were also the group’s doing.

Furthermore, the Directive is flawed in that it won’t unify national law across the 27 (or 28, depending on Brexit’s outcome) Member States. After publication in the Official Journal of the EU and contrary to, for example, GDPR, Member States will have to transpose the Directive into their national legislation within 24 months, creating uncertainty and non-uniform rules across the EU. As the Directive is a minimum standard, it allows countries with a more restrictive copyright regulation to keep theirs, while other countries with a less restrictive regulation than the Directive provides for will be forced to adjust their copyright laws so it at least matches the Directive’s rules.

Fair licensing agreement

One of the most important minimum rules states that producers to which creators have assigned their rights will have to share how and where a workpiece is used and which revenues are generated. The reasoning behind this obligation is that authors and performers tend to be in a weaker contractual position when they grant licences or transfer their rights, so they need the information to evaluate their value. They can then compare that value to the fees they receive for the licence or rights transfer. 

In the case of long-term contracts, a contract adjustment mechanism will need to be put in place that allows a creator to get a bigger share of their success if the originally agreed fee is clearly disproportionate to the generated revenues. This does not apply to marketplaces like eBay or stock image websites, for example, but it does to all creators, including, for example, screenwriters. It requires producers, publishers and platforms to negotiate contracts that are fair to the creator and allow them to revoke the work when it’s not exploited. What is fair is not regulated by the Directive.

Article 18 does establish fair remuneration of artists as a fundamental principle at the EU level for the first time

The main targets of the Directive are the producers, publishers, platforms and aggregators who benefit from your work and that is, of course, squarely in the face of the likes of YouTube, Facebook and Google News. It is hoped that the rules will force them to strike fair licensing agreements with artists and media houses who have identified themselves beforehand as the owners of a piece of work. This, the EU legislator claims, is not censorship as some will have it, but the introduction of legal liability applying to the platforms. In practice, it could well be that the platforms won’t bother and will block access to users across the entire EU.

Youtube beware

If you create a video and post it on Youtube, you’ll have to be paid a fee that can increase with the number of hits – advert views – your video receives. If there’s no agreement, the platform will be directly liable if they host a piece of work with an unpaid licence fee and you, the right-holder, has the ability to sue them.

But imagine you’ve created a movie that uses a scene containing a song performed by one of Europe’s performers at one of our festivals. You haven’t asked permission to the singer/songwriter and you upload the video to Youtube.

In that case — and without considering you were illegally capturing the performance in the first place — Youtube will need to make a best effort to obtain an authorisation (either by having the songwriter to agree to free usage or pay her a fee) and, when that’s impossible and the necessary and relevant information proves the content is unauthorised, remove your video and also make a best effort to prevent future uploads (the so-called ‘stay down’ provision). In this example, it would apply to videos uploaded by both EU- and non-EU nationals as there’s an EU-artist involved.

Because this becomes unwieldy when dealing with millions of uploads a day, quite a few people oppose this Directive as they fear it likely the platforms will block users from uploading content by installing so-called AI-based upload filters and we all know how accurate they are.

All of this becomes less stringent when you’re uploading to an online service provider which has been active less than three years in the EU and whose turnover is less than 10 million Euros with a visitor-base of less than 5 million monthly users. Those smaller players will avoid liability for unauthorised works by proving they have made their best efforts to obtain an authorisation and have acted expeditiously to remove the unauthorised works notified by right-holders from their platform. The ‘stay-down’ provision applies to them if they have over 5 million users a month.

How EU’s Big Publishing won a battle but not the war

When press publications went online, news aggregators and media monitoring services sprouted up as weed in a garden. These are built on a business model that has been frustrating Europe’s big publishing companies for some time now. That model is based on the free – free as in ‘gratis’ – reuse of at least part of a publication, a “snippet”. Sometimes those snippets are half the article, sometimes they are exactly that – small bits of a piece that summarise the entire article. 

Google’s defence – because we’re speaking of Google, of course, where the money is – has always been that publishers ought to be quite happy with the traffic the links generate as people click through on the links beneath those snippets.

Unfortunately, that’s not how EU publishers see the world. They have not been amused by seeing their advertising income water down due to Google and other platforms using their content and making a lot of advertising money off those snippet/link combinations because of their gargantuan traffic numbers. 

The “Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market” seeks to ensure that the online world and the internet are on par with the offline world when it comes to giving creatives, news publishers and journalists what they are entitled to.

To them, the EU Directive was meant to become a vehicle for forcing Google’s arm and either share some of the cake or stop using those pesky snippet/link combinations. Often, this reflex is seen as the last quiver of a dying breed of publishers who don’t know how to cope with the new business models the Googles and Facebooks of this world force upon the rest of us. That is what we have been led to believe in the past decade. However, even in the US, where these platforms have been founded, the tide is turning.

I scoured the Internet and found different views on the subject, with an article by Peter Thiel, the only one that clearly states Google is a monopoly. Other commentators were not so sure (See Baer, Drake. ‘Peter Thiel: Google Has Insane Perks Because It’s A Monopoly’. Business Insider. 16 Sep 2014. https://www.businessinsider.com/peter-thiel-google-monopoly-2014-9. But for contrasting views, see also ‘Is Google a Monopoly?’ s.d. https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/11/01/is-google-a-monopoly.html, Investopedia. ‘Is Google Becoming A Monopoly?’ Investopedia. 3 Jun 2015. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/060315/google-becoming-monopoly.asp).

The EU, on the other hand, is pretty sure it is and punishes the company with draconian fines (See ‘Google Fined Nearly $1.7 Billion for Ad Practices That E.U. Says Violated Antitrust Laws’. Washington Post. 20 Mar 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/03/20/google-fined-nearly-billion-ad-practices-that-violated-european-antitrust-laws/).

Publishing companies are finding it hard to attract advertisers as the business model Google and Facebook use, depend on visitor numbers. The higher these numbers, the more advertising money a website – potentially – collects, but the difficulty is to attract enough visitors – readers in this case – when the average attention span has been reduced to a few seconds. Charging high enough advertising fees to compensate for smaller numbers of readers who engage with an add is not working, either, due to a price erosion that – ironically – has been caused by Google’s very cheap per-click ads.

Earning money in this new world of publishing has got some publishers to embrace the concept of reader sponsorship – donations, actually – of which the Guardian newspaper is the most successful example (See ‘Support the Guardian | Make a Contribution’. s.d. https://support.theguardian.com/eu/contribute).

The Guardian pulls off this trick because of its worldwide appeal and high-quality content. However, most smaller, more locally oriented publishers cannot – even country-wide publications have too few readers willing to pay for content as most can read English – and what could be easier than lobbying with the EU to be recognised as right-holders who have enforcement rights regardless of the publishing platform or medium.

One of the problems with protecting publishers’ rights online, however, is that close to everyone can be considered a publisher these days, regardless of the content being “fake news” or well-thought-out information. The uprise of “fake news” – which my generation used to call the much less friendly and more correct “disinformation” – has allowed publishers to position themselves as the protectors of reliable content, even if that’s not always guaranteed (See Fichtner, Ullrich. ‘Manipulation Durch Reporter: SPIEGEL Legt Betrugsfall Im Eigenen Haus Offen’. Spiegel Online, 19 December 2018, sec. Kultur. https://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/fall-claas-relotius-spiegel-legt-betrug-im-eigenen-haus-offen-a-1244579.html).

Still, not to affect non-journalistic publications, it was necessary to define what a press publication actually is, so that it would only cover journalistic publications published in any media, in the context of an economic activity that constitutes a provision of services under EU law. It was decided that press publications contain mostly literary works, but increasingly include other types of works and other subject matter, in particular photographs and videos. 

Periodical scientific or academic publications, such as scientific journals – not science-based magazines the likes of National Geographic Magazine and EOS – are not covered by the protection granted to press publications under the Directive. The protection also doesn’t apply to websites, such as blogs. Blogs are defined by the EU lawmakers as: “websites that provide information as part of an activity that is not carried out under the initiative, editorial responsibility and control of a service provider, such as a news publisher.”

The rights granted to publishers of press publications also don’t extend to acts of hyperlinking or to mere facts reported in press publications. Quotations for purposes such as criticism or review are exempt as well.

Conclusion

When the Commission originally proposed the new Directive, it was far more detrimental to individual users’ rights and freedom than it is now. In this respect, the Parliament has done a good job. You and I can keep on linking, quoting, etc, as we did before. Scientific research won’t be hampered much by this Directive, either. But on the whole, the Directive does not reflect the transformation of the ways we look at intellectual property and how creators should be rewarded for their efforts.

The Directive risks worthwhile content to be harder to find from within the EU, while clever users will quickly find ways to break through the fence – essentially creating a two-speed Internet: that of users who know how to manipulate technology and exploit it to the fullest and those who only know how to browse and click a button.

Luckily, the Directive has few to no other consequences for individual users. Member states are required to also protect the free uploading and sharing of works for the purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody or pastiche. The right for individuals to link, to use snippets in links – linking to your video containing a still frame of the festival or even a 5-second clip should be OK – and share content with others has also been protected thanks to the work of MEPs like Julia Reda.

Review ProGrade Digital MicroSDXC V60 card

What do filmmakers, GoPro shooters and photographers have in common? They crave for speed. The ProGrade Digital MicroSDXC memory card is a UHS-2 card that offers just that and not only at the input side. It comes with a UHS-2 converter which has a double row of contacts.

ProGrade Digital is the company that offers an answer to the disappearance of Lexar products. While an iMac 2017 won’t be able to exploit the high throughput you can obtain with the card/converter combination, a CalDigit TS3+ is all you need to enjoy fast offloading of a full 32GB card which is the one I received for my review.

The MicroSDXC card has a write speed that will not drop below 60MB/s and a read speed of up to 200MB/s. It looks very familiar. It’s almost the same design and looks as the now no longer available highest-end Lexar memory cards. It’s designed to be used by professionals, so it won’t break easily and will perform fast. And in my tests, it sure did. I tested the card with a HERO 7 in 4K/60fps mode. The camera kept on recording until the card was completely full. The temperature of the camera body was nothing short of hot, the card pretty warm itself, but it didn’t falter. I think, if it’d been a 128GB card, the camera would have melted, but the card would have just gone on and on.

I offloaded with the ProGrade media reader connected to the iMac’s USB 3.1 Gen.1 port and that was blazingly fast, because both card and reader are fast. I also tried offloading it with a second, Lexar 1800x card in the reader’s slot and that card offloaded slightly slower than the ProGrade model — not by much, but still noticeable.

I repeated the whole setup some four times and the results were always the same.

On their site, ProGrade Digital claims they want to make cards for pros: robust, fast, state-of-the-art technology and consistent results. Based on what I experienced, you can take them at their word. The cards are available online only with 32GB, 64GB or 128GB capacity. The company sells through many different channels, but don’t be surprised if your favourite reseller runs out of stock on a regular basis. They’re very popular. My test card retails for $29.99 directly on the ProGrade Digital site.

HoudahSpot 5 Review

Spotlight searches and file management on steroids with HoudahSpot 5 for macOS 10.14

Mac users who thought the Spotlight search features that are readily available in the Finder are all there is to it, are wrong. HoudahSpot is a file search utility that builds upon the existing Spotlight engine but allows for vastly more options to search through your files. I used to search for files that are difficult to find – e.g. invisible ones – with Path Finder’s old-style search feature, but HoudahSpot 5 can make that a thing of the past. In addition, HoudahSpot 5 lets me do certain things with my files I can’t do quickly any other way.

Let me start with what you can do with files that you can’t easily do with the Finder from folders or a search. Using HoudahSpot, you can move – copying and creating an alias will work too – multiple files that live in different folders to another folder on your system. Only Path Finder lets you do that too, but it takes far more time for that app to come up with the search results.

Version 5 of HoudahSpot brings a lot of improvements. For example, you can personalise the default search setup or create custom templates, including the way windows are set up, the search criteria, locations, and the results display. New also is that you can make incremental adjustments to the default setup.

HoudahSpot 5 adds support for dark mode, Touch Bar, Finder extensions, and Quick Actions. My personal favourite is the Folding Text Preview. Once you’ve found files that contain your search text, the Fold button shows you only those parts of the file where the term appears.

You can arrange search results in groups by kind, date, file size, or application. Especially the latter is quite useful. I grouped my files by whether they have been written with the Ulysses editor or Apple’s Pages. Also, when you add a search criterion that is not a usual one, like ISO speed, the results list will automatically make a column available for ISO speed (although that won’t be visible until you right-click on the column headers and select it).

There’s a Compact mode that shrinks and slides the whole HoudahSpot window out of the way for when you want to drag a file from HoudahSpot into another app. In Grid view, you can have two extra lines of useful information below the icons. For Mail messages, for example, these show the email parties’ names, which I found both surprising and useful.

To tag files quickly, you can give them keyboard shortcuts. HoudahSpot’s list of favourite tags, however, is separate from the Finder’s. In HoudahSpot, you can set up as many favourite tags as you want. The first seven will be available as “colour dots” in the context menu on files. Once you input the name of a tag, HoudahSpot asks the Finder for the associated label colour. When these two – the name and the colour – don’t match in HoudahSpot, the colour dot stays grey.

The list of favourite tags is used to populate the sidebar and auto-completion menus where tags can be entered. With the option to “list favourite tags first”, these will appear at the top of the combo box for Tags in the Refine pane.

The best part of HoudahSpot, however, is that it allows you to save searches into templates and to have multiple searches open (in tabs), all running simultaneously.

So, if you find yourself searching for the same type of files over and over again, HoudahSpot 5 is much more efficient than any other search utility I know. It does general file search like no other and delivers a healthy dose of additional functionality by integrating some file management features like copying, moving and renaming.

In short, HoudahSpot 5 should be permanently running on your system, ready to work for you whenever you need it. It costs €38 for a single licence.

Visuals Producer Sound-FX logo

Sounds for video and FX

Foley is the name we give to sounds that are created and recorded for usage in movies and other motion picture projects such as TV series, etc. For example, when a scene demands the sound of a galloping horse off-screen, you can suggest it by adding the recorded sound of – you guessed it! – a horse galloping or by recording or creating something that resembles a horse galloping. Those sounds can be created by recording them or creating them with apps such as Logic Pro X, ProTools, etc.

Here on Visuals Producer, we offer a growing collection of such sounds as an alternative to a donation. “We write, therefore we are” may well be true, but it doesn’t pay for the bills. Selling a Sound FX collection that we target to become over 1000 files strong may contribute better that that lofty goal of not going bankrupt and ending up in the gutter.

Visuals Producer Sound-FX logo

So, if you can spare a fiver, I would be very grateful and show you my gratitude by offering you these sounds. As I am writing this, the counter is at 69 sounds of all kinds. I am constantly and continuously adding to the collection and, as I said, aim to go over the 1000 mark.

If you have specific requirements or wishes for sounds to be included, you can let me know and I will do my best to comply and add them to the collection. When you buy the set today, you’ll be downloading a folder with 69 24bits/96KHz files. I plan to send you – by email – a link to every folder that I upload which will be every time when I have 20 new files to add.

DONATE / GET THE LINK TO THE SOUND FX FOLDER