Wednesday, February 21, 2007

No artistic ability required

This picture had no artist. No one drew or sketched it. It was captured with a digital camera and with little more than a menu click, changed to a very human-appealing line drawing. Click on it to see the source image.

Photoshop "filters and effects" can be applied to any photograph. No artistic ability required. Here's an article showing how to do these artistic transformations. The building photo and "drawing" are Figures 3-124 and 3-125.


These artistic effects do require some Photoshop skills, such as working with layers.

Often, the author begins an effect by duplicating the image on a layer above the original, applying a built-in effect to the duplicated image, then blending the top layer into the original (reducing the opacity or picking a "blending mode" from the "blending options" in the Layer palette combining the modified and original versions).

Expensive software

The cost of Photoshop may be too much for a hobby (half a thousand dollars?!), but if you have a digital camera and enjoy photography, you might consider buying and learning it.

Maybe you can pick up an academic version of Photoshop CS2 if you teach or have kids in school. Maybe with a new version (CS3) out this spring there will be deals on the current (CS2) version in the next few months. Maybe there's an extra unused copy (even if it's not the current version) floating around your company somewhere. If you might modify graphics for your blog or website and have self-employment income, it might well qualify as a deductible business expense.

Learning applications with dense UIs

So if you invest in the software, you might want a crash course in how to use it. I favor online video training like Lynda.com and VTC.com for learning software with as many dials and knobs and sliders as Photoshop or Expression Blend. Watching helps me ramp up quicker than just reading books and articles. Watching an expert in real-time conveys at a task-oriented level how to use the program--especially if you instantly see the results on screen.

I do buy lots of good computer books, and use them mostly for drilling down on a subject-of-interest, rather than reading them cover-to-cover when starting out. To me, a chapter in a well-crafted computer book has drama, tension, a bit of diversionary wit or commentary, then a thrilling finish showing the finished product. (Maybe I should get away on vacation more often.)

What are Photoshop Filters?

You can watch a free sample Quicktime movie from a subscription video training series:
[5 minutes to watch both movies]

Alas, these filters and effects aren't mentioned in the more wallet-friendly Photoshop Elements (under $100) described on the Adobe web site. Photoshop Elements does have spiffy features like adding frames and backgrounds and making slideshows. (I don't know what spiffy means. I think it's the opposite of klunky.)
Monday, February 19, 2007
Two items for your consideration.

Even in rainy Portland, I found an electric mower had many advantages over traditional gas burning models. First, I never had to buy or store gasoline to get the thing running. Also, starting it was easier and it ran much quieter than my neighbors' mowers.

Perhaps most importantly, I was not walking behind the emissions equivalent of an out-of-tune auto. That can't be good for you.

When Mount St. Helens erupted, Portland was covered with a fine gray ash. I went to a safety supply company and bought some air filter masks. While there, I bought some safety ear protection. I found them to be very useful over the years. I used them for ear protection when I would mow the lawn, grind coffee beans, or do any loud hammering or banging.

You know that politically-incorrect stereotype of an old man cupping one hand around his ear and saying "Eh?" I believe our hearing does not degenerate significantly over time, only if we are exposed to loud noises again and again will our hearing ability likely diminish.

Although it may look funny to others, I'd suggest you consider both an electric mower and ear protection for yourself and those you love.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Web Design Usability Problems

Authority Jakob Nielsen pointed out usability problems with Web sites in the early days of the Internet [1994]. His new book (Prioritizing Web Usability, 2006) reexamines current web conventions to see what things have improved and what's still a problem.

In this excerpt, people gave "negative" or "very negative" responses to these online ad features:

hear, hear.

[form of cheering in the House of Commons, according to Wikipedia]

I'd add a few more:

Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes, that way when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
- Jack Handey
Friday, February 02, 2007


I'm a real fan of TechSmith products Camtasia and SnagIt. To me there's nothing as effective to demonstrate some software as displaying screen activity with a voice narration.

A screencast is an ideal format for showing a sample application using a new technology or set of technologies (the term screencast was coined by Jon Udell to describe these animated demos). Jon did a screencast long ago of Dragon speech recognition, which I use for casual email and these blog posts.

His screencast shows how to correct what Dragon thinks it heard (although newer versions are better, and using Dragon's built-in scratchpad is slightly more accurate than speaking directly into a Windows application like Word, and I don't think it works yet with Vista).

DinnerNow Sample Application

If the technology being demonstrated is visual, the viewer gets a sense of the real experience. If there's something going on non-visually, the person creating the screencast can talk about what's happening behind-the-scenes. One example is www.dinnernow.net, a ficticious restaurant delivery service.

This screencast begins with a few introductory PowerPoint slides (which Camtasia captures along with a voice narration), then shows a fictitious Web customer finding a local restaurant and placing an order.

Some Microsoft evangelists created an application that updates a shopping cart with Ajax, uses Windows CardSpace for identification, and uses Windows Workflow to take the finished order from approved credit card payment to delivery to your door. After a customer places an order (from the famous Northwind Bar & Grill), they can view the status of the order from a Windows Vista sidebar gadget.

jamescon said:

While the scenario sounds simple, what is interesting is that we've used several Microsoft technologies to show the entire lifecycle of orders. For example, the sample uses all of the .NET Framework 3.0 technologies (WPF, WCF, WF, & Windows CardSpace), PowerShell, MMC, SideBar gadgets, Linq, Virtual Earth, and more.

They posted the downloadable code at Codeplex.com and a nicely designed script (with all the steps to do the demo).

One fellow said "the only thing we couldn't get into v1 of this thing is the ability for it to flush toilets remotely. Never fear though, we are working hard to get this into a future release :-)"

"Here's a list of the technologies that we have in this thing:"

Although I’m not working with .NET 3.0 until the tools are released, I try to stay knowledgeable on things that are as inevitable as next Tuesday.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Newman's cookies, on the right, have deep chocolate cookie wafers and a creamy filling. Surprisingly tasty. According to America's Test Kitchen TV show, Oreo filling is sweetened solid hydrogenated oil (i.e., Crisco and sugar).

And try the Fig Newmans. I think they are tastier (maybe healthier) than the standard Fig bar brand. If you try Fig Newmans, get the package labeled Low Fat (the Fat Free tastes dry and not tender and chewy).
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