Freebie: Photoshop hits the Web
The Internet lets you touch up your digital photos with several free programs. But no Web tool offers you the power and speed of the desktop software Adobe Photoshop—used by professional graphic designers. Thankfully, Adobe debuted online last week a scaled-down version of its software: Photoshop Express, which is great for everyday touch-ups. Signing up is fast, uploading photos is painless, and instructions are easy to find. Store up to two gigabytes of photos for free. (That works out to about 500 to 1,000 photos, depending on the size of your images.)
But Photoshop Express stands out with features like "White Balance," which fixes the light setting your camera used. "Tuning" tools allow you to fix what your camera might have missed, thus making the picture sharper and more balanced.
Things get really fun with the "Effects" tools, which allow you to brighten up certain colors (among other tricks). For example, compare my original photo and my touched up version here:
Whenever you choose a tool, a thumbnail bar appears at the top of your screen, so you can pick how far you want to go with each change. And it's easy to revert back to what you had before (should you make some unsightly mistakes).
The site still has a few quirks to work out. It runs slowly, first of all. It also needs to improve its save system. The "save" button saves and then immediately takes you back to your library, when really I only wanted it to save my work so far and stay on the current screen. I'm an obsessive saver, so this was annoying for me.
Yet, overall, Adobe gets a thumbs up. Try it at photoshop.com/express.
Hotels: W offers free car service
Want a lift? Guests at all 18 W Hotels in the United States now have access to a luxury SUV that can take them to restaurants, the theater, and the airport. The car service offers begins today and lasts through Jan. 31, 2009. At most of the W properties, Acura’s seven-passenger 2008 MDX comes with a driver and is stocked with free bottled water. Gas and tolls are included, and drivers are instructed not to accept tips. Mercifully, there's no time or mileage limit. (When I stayed at the W in the French Quarter, New Orleans, this would've saved me a $29 cab ride to the airport.) There are a few catches, of course: The car service only offers a one-way ride from the hotel to your destination. The car can't be called for a pickup, but you can use it as many times as you want during your stay. Two W properties aren't playing ball. The W Silicon Valley in Newark, Calif., and W Honolulu-Diamond Head in Hawaii don't offer on-call chauffeurs. But they do allow guests to take the car out for drives with a full tank of gas. Guests don't even have to refill the tank before they return a loaner car. I recommend you reserve the car at the time of your reservation. Each property only has two SUVs, and the vehicles will probably be booked up quickly. That said, if you went to the lobby in the morning on the day of your arrival, you should theoretically be able to reserve the car for 6 p.m. or later that night. Find more info at whotels.com/acuraexperience.
"What exactly is that down there?"
Ever look out an airplane window and see an extraordinary landscape? Well, here's a guide to what you probably saw. Astonishing aerial images taken from commercial and NASA-operated aircraft form the heart of the new book, America from the Air: A Guide to Landscape Along Your Route. When seen from the air, Lake Powell, Boston Harbor, the Caprock Escarpment in Texas, and other sights may inspire you to hum "Oh Beautiful for Spacious Skies." In a clever move, the book provides maps of 15 popular flight corridors, making it easy for you to find aerial photographs that correspond to about 40 popular routes you are likely to fly. Authors Daniel Mathews and James S. Jackson have helpfully annotated each image with captions that identify important features of the landscape. We've put together a slide show of 10 images from the book to give you a taste. Enjoy. —Liz Webber MORE ON THE WEB A pilot is blogging photos and stories from his travels, including photographs of the aurora borealis ("northern lights") and unique cloud formations as seen from 35,000 feet. The blog is Flight Level 390.
Affordable Europe: High culture on a low budget
In 2008, there are several ways for culture hunters to sample Europe's fine arts without spending a eurocent. Austria: Mostly Mozart Amadeus aficionados should head to Salzburg for the free Mozart Sound and Film Museum, featuring set designs, costume samples, and a film loop of scenes from Amadeus. It's the free part of the International Mozarteum Foundation. mozarteum.at Brussels, Riga, Rome, Madrid, and Paris: White Nights These capitals have become famous for their annual White Nights festivals. Between the end of August and early September, each city hosts an all-nighter with free admission to museums, theaters, and various concerts. Berlin, Prague, and Zürich host similar Museum Nights. Info available from each city's tourist office and tourism websites. Denmark: Strokes of Genius A brilliant intersection of old and new, the Statens Museum for Kunst is the best source for free art in Copenhagen. Through August, you can watch restorers touch up a masterpiece by Jacob Jordaens, if you beeline for Room 272. smk.dk England: The Royal Treatment London's Royal Academy of Music offers free concerts by its students nearly every day. You may earn bragging rights years from now when you can say that you saw the next Yo Yo Ma or Callas when he or she was still in school. ram.ac.uk/events France: Très Chic! Paris has many free museums, such as the Museum of the Romantic Life and the Paris Fashion Museum. Recently, the Museum of the Middle Ages (musee-moyenage.fr) and Museum of Arts and Sciences (arts-et-metiers.net) also became free—through at least June 2008. Germany: Support the Opera—Have a Beer In Munich, beer was taxed to fund the Bavarian State Opera, and now the opera company is giving back to the community with outdoor "Opera For All" concerts. On July 12, the company will perform works by Charles Ives and Franz Schubert on the Marstallplatz, which is a secluded square behind the opera house. The next day, you can watch a live simulcast of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin on the house's façade. bayerische.staatsoper.de The Netherlands: Going Dutch In Amsterdam, take a lunch break with the national orchestra, which plays free Wednesday concerts of (primarily) classical music September through June, from 12:30 to 1:00, at the concert hall Het Concertgebouw. concertgebouw.nl Portugal: Dollar Power Lisbon is one of the cheapest capitals of Western Europe, relatively speaking. While most of Lisbon's museums are free on Sundays, the Berardo Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is free seven days a week through 2008. museuberardo.com —Olivia Giovetti, who runs the fabulous blog, High Culture on a Low Budget. MORE TIPS Read Budget Travel's April article "10 Tricks to Beat the High Cost of Europe", which goes beyond common sense advice for truly creative solutions. The article's by Tim Leffel, who runs the blog Cheapest Destinations. PHOTO Courtesy of SantaRosa Old Skool's via Flickr and Creative Commons
London: A guidebook with a new gimmick
Debuting this month, Ideo Eyes Open dispenses with the trappings of the standard city guidebook. Its New York City edition, for instance, doesn't have a subway map or info on the city's most famous museums. Similarly, its London edition points you to the city's hottest cupcake shop rather than Big Ben. What the guidebooks do offer is plenty of captioned photos of spots where you rub shoulders with locals, not tourists—as this slide show illustrates. In a surprise move, the photos are cross-indexed by theme and activity, somewhat like a children's Choose Your Own Adventure book. You're encouraged to flip back and forth through different pages, discovering boutique shops, foodie havens, and similar venues. The Wapping Project is a "former hydraulic power plant turned gallery/restaurant/bar hybrid." thewappingproject.com. Another tip from the book: Instead of taking high tea at a hotel lounge, go to Coffee@157. The light fixtures in this coffeehouse, as you can see, are made of to-go cups. Outside, a yellow vending machine dispenses artworks for less than 5 pounds each. (011-44/20-7729-2666). The Ideo guidebooks will amuse some travelers and irritate others. The only way to find out how you'll react is to take a peek for yourself. We've collected a bunch of images and tips from the London edition in our slide show. Images courtesy of Ideo Eyes Open: London by Fred Dust and Ideo (Chronicle Books), recently $16 at Amazon. EARLIER Paris through a photographer's eyes.