Tuesday, July 24, 2012

That's very Pinteresting!

One of my favorite websites/past times is Pinterest. If you are not already on Pinterest, you have to be invited - however, there is a back door. If you go to their website, you can enter in your email, and request an invite. It shouldn't take too long before you have your invite. In fact, if you have a Twitter or Facebook account, you can use one of those to get in. Once you are in, though, its like a disease, you are hooked! You can't escape it. You will find that whenever you are near a computer or other device with Internet, you want to go to Pinterest. (Trust me, I've gotten 2 of my 3 children hooked on it, and my 11 year old keeps asking me for an account, now as well. :)

If you have never heard of Pinterest, or keep wondering what the little red "P" is that you keep seeing on websites, Pinterest is awesome for visual people. Its like taking all of your bookmarks, taking a snapshot of something you find interesting on that page, and organizing them onto bulletin boards, so you can visually see all of your bookmarks. Think of it as digitally tearing a page from a magazine of something you like, then pinning it on your cork board. Now imagine a wall covered in different themed cork boards - one with recipes, another with dream home furniture, another with craft ideas, and so on. Then imagine that you are able to share you cork boards with others, so they can see your recipe ideas, craft ideas, and dreams. That's Pinterest!

Teachers LOVE Pinterest for sharing classroom ideas, and printables for their classroom. Busy Crafters find even more ideas to add to their crafty "to-do" list; and nothing makes you want to try a recipe more than seeing a succulent, mouth watering picture of the food dish! It's great for brides, as well, as it provides a wonderful place to store (and organize) pictures of all the things you like as you are doing your wedding planning. No more dog-earing pages of bridal magazines, then trying to remember which magazine that dress or hair-do was in. Just simply scroll through your boards, and its there!

Be sure to get the "Pin It" tool for your browser. Its a little button your drag to the book marks bar on your browser, then any website you visit, any page you see, any picture you like, you can click on the "Pin It" button in your browser and add it to your pins/boards. You can also copy the URL from the page you are on, and add it as a pin while on Pinterest, or upload a picture. There's even iOS and Android apps you can download, so you are never far from Pinterest. (Although, I don't recommend the Android app. It has security issues.)

A few things to note, when you are using Pinterest, be specific in your descriptions, check the resource, and always give credit where it is due. One of my pet peeves on Pinterest is to see a wonderful picture or great idea of something, then I click on it only to find that I cannot go to the website where the person found it, I get a 404 error, or I have to go to, yet, another website to find the original directions. It only takes a few minutes, but it is so helpful to your followers, to check out the resource and make sure it is a legit site, rather than blindly repin someone else's pin. Also, if the picture is from a blog, help those that follow you, find the picture quickly enough on the blog, by clicking on the title of the article and going directly to that page (rather than the general site root, and having to do a search through the whole blog site for that one "how-to"). This will save them a lot of extra time and frustration. If the page no longer exists (which happens a lot in re-pins), I check around on Google for something like it using keywords from the picture. If I can't find it, I don't post it. If I see a pin that takes me to blog, where I have to another blog to find the directions, I help my followers, by copying the link for the original blog article, repin the picture (so credit is given to the original person I got it from), but then go back and edit the link so the directions are easily found.

Some times there are cases where you are not able to grab a picture from the site you like, but you really want it, so you take a screen shot of it. Upload the screen shot, but then make sure you copy the URL so you can give credit to the site.

Another pet peeve of mine is to see key words repeated in the description over and over. Like, love, love, love - or dress, dress, dress. Really?! I can see it's a dress (or whatever the key word is). Be descriptive. What is it that you like about it? What is it made of? How would you use it, or where would you put it?

As a teacher, I'm bothered by the lack of capitalization or punctuation in the descriptions as well. I realize that a lot of the time, most pinners are pinning from a mobile device and capitalizing is an extra step. But, please, take a few minutes to capitalize! (That just makes me want to take out my red teacher pen, and correct their mistakes in the comments section under their picture.)

Okay, end of lecture. I should probably mention, since I talked about them above, that you can follow people, or rather their boards, on Pinterest. You can follow just one of their boards, or you can follow all of their boards. Then, when you open up Pinterest, you can see the ideas and pictures they have been pinning. You can search or go through tons of different categories, like Art, Photography, Crafts, Education, etc. If you find someone that has a lot of great ideas pinned in one board, you may want to follow just that one board. Or, if its a friend, you may want to follow all of their boards.

One last piece of caution advice, be careful you don't get yourself blocked from pinning. It can easily happen, especially if you are doing a lot of constant repinning or following boards. (And, by following, I mean, that you are actively searching for people or boards to follow, then clicking on the follow button.) If you do find you are blocked from pinning and are not able to pin any more, don't worry. Send them an email, let them know you are blocked, and that you are a real person, and not a bot, and they will remove the block.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Learning New Things in Familiar Applications

One of my favorite applications to use on the computer is Adobe Photoshop. In fact, its one of my favorite things to do, period. I love to fire up my computer and open up Photoshop for any reason, some times, just to take my mind off my troubles. (And with the new upgrades in my computer's hardware it it opens up faster than ever! No more waiting on fonts, filters, and plugins to load!) I've been a Photoshop enthusiast for the better part of 15 years, since Photoshop 5 and now I'm on Photoshop CS5. This is my primary design and graphics editor. Sure there are others I could use and have used, like Illustrator, Fireworks, and Flash (not to mention Corel Draw), but I feel so much at home on Photoshop, why go somewhere else?

However, after 15 years of using this program, there are still so many things for me to learn about it. In my last blog article I talked about the need to learn more about using paths and the pen tool. Always committed to life-long learning, I look for ways to learn more in any area that interests me. And, even after 15 years, Photoshop is no different. One of the best ways for me to learn about something on the computer, other than the obvious, dive right in and see what it can do, is through tutorials. Some times I search for specific tutorials and other times, especially in Photoshop, I rely on sight and go by a picture that looks cool to me. There are many free tutorial sites out there on Photoshop (Planet Photoshop, Photoshop Cafe, and Adobe Tutorialz to name a few.) with great mini-lessons that teach you about the tools while you create a work of art. I love these tutorials as compared to other lessons where you sit down open it up or play the video, and they start out by, today we are going to learn how to use the pen tool... (Snooze! Sorry, already lost me!) Show me some eye-candy first (follow these steps and you can make something that looks like this) and I go, oooh!

I came across a tutorial that helped me create the image at the top of the blog article while pinning around in Pinterest the other day. I almost passed it up but then noticed that it was a tutorial on creating a lace stroke effect on text. (I'm sorry I can't remember where/who I originally got it from on Pinterest.) The pin lead me to a site (Web Design Library) I wouldn't have thought of for a Photoshop tutorial (although, I now know to go there as they have MANY Photoshop tutorials and lots of other great tutorials!) I love tutorials like this one because they show you step by step with pictures of the interface you are using and what to click on and where. The screen captures allow you to work at your own pace without having to keep pausing a video at each step and then replay it. (Although video tutorials work well at times, too.)

The original image in the tutorial looked like this:

Through the course of the tutorial I learned about using the Polygon Tool (and adjusting options on it), defining a pattern, using Paths (which is what I was looking for), working with text, and much more. If you have never tried an online tutorial, I encourage you to try it - start simple, find an image you like, and start there. You will feel very good about yourself when you finish the tutorial and will have something really cool you can show. I altered mine slightly to fit in with my Moulin Rouge style kitchen (a project that I will hopefully get to this fall when the weather is cooler and more accommodating for painting cabinetry). If you would like to see the tutorial for the the Lace Stroke Text Effect shown in the picture above, click on the picture to go to the page.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Creating shape frames in Photoshop CS5

I'm always learning and on the look out for new things to learn. Today was no different. While working on a new layout for my school's website, I decided there had to be an easier way to make shaped outlines than the way I was doing it. Make a shape, adding a border and then deleting the shape just wasn't doing it for me. There had a be another way. So, I set out in a Google search for a tutorial. But could not find one that told me what I needed to know. Then, I started playing around with paths and discovered a way to get the outline I wanted at the thickness I needed.

I've used Photoshop for the better part of 15 years, but have never played much with the pen tool or paths. I've mostly used it as a graphic and photo editor rather than a drawing tool. (I know, some will tell me I should have used Illustrator or Corel Draw, but old habits die hard - I'm quite comfortable designing in Photoshop.) If you are like me and fairly inexperienced with using paths in Photoshop, this is for you:

Open a new document in Photoshop and add a new layer. (Or just add a new layer to what you are working on where you need the shape outline.) Select the Brush tool, making sure it is on the Hard Round setting rather than the Soft Round setting (otherwise you end up with blurred outlines), and set the Size to the size of thickness you want your outline to be. I set mine to 10 pixels.

Go to your color selector and select the desired color for the outline. (I chose red.)

Next go to your shape tool and select the desire shape you want your outline to be in. (For this example, I chose a heart.)

Make sure your Shape Tool is set to "Paths" rather than "Fill pixels", other wise you will end up with a solid shape.

And draw your shape:

Next, go to your Path palette and select your work path.

Right click (or control + click, on a Mac) so you have your Work Path edit menu, and select "Stroke Path"

You should have a color outline of your shape with a path sitting on top. It looks like a thin gray line.

You can get rid of your path now and style the outline as you like, by clicking back on the Path Palette, right clicking on the Work Path, and selecting "Delete Path":

Apply your desired Style from the Style Palette and create your own using the Blending Options in the Layer Palette. I made mine glassy looking with a rounded Bevel. This is the setting I used:

And ended up with a heart frame that looks like this:

Now you have an outline you can use to frame what ever you want inside. Its great for outlining headers, framing menu boxes, or adding an little extra to your photos. Whatever you do, just have fun with it!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Making my computer useful again!

Its summer time and my "to-do" list is a mile long, update the school's website, inventory and clean up the computers, switch some computers around, set up new computers, plan for next year, and so on. However, I gave myself something extra to work on this summer - revamping my old desktop computer and making it useful (to me) once again. It was getting time to clean it all out and do a fresh install of Windows on a wiped hard drive. This is something I try to do every year, but sadly the neglected computer was long over due for a good cleaning. The poor thing had become sluggish and cumbersome, so much so that most of the time, it was easier to pull out the Macbook Pro and sit at the dining room table whenever a computer was needed.

Something had to be done about this sad computer that sat quietly day after day unused in the corner of my desk. I could go through the trouble of backing everything up, cleaning the main drive off, and reinstalling Windows XP and ALL of my programs on it, once again, like I've been doing for years, follow the kids' route and go Linux (both of my two older kids have recently switched over to Ubuntu on their laptops, and love it!), or I could go the Mac way since I'm so used to working on Macs at school. My Geek Man talked me into rebuilding my computer with some of his old (but still new to me, and better than what I had been using) parts and a few new parts, and installing Snow Leopard, Mac OS 10.6 on it. (He just recently upgraded and rebuilt his computer, and thus had extra parts.) Essentially, I turned my desktop into a Hackintosh machine.

I would not recommend to everyone to go through this process - its not for the timid or weak! It took me about a good solid week to get it up and running (stable) with Snow Leopard on it, and another few more days to have Mac running on my SATA drive. I discovered I was not able to install Mac on my new terabyte SATA drive, but had to use an older IDE drive to set up Mac OS on. Once I had it running stable on the IDE drive, I was able to hook up the SATA drive, use Disk Utility to format the drive for Mac and partition it, then use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone my IDE drive with all my Mac applications loaded on it onto the SATA drive.

Along the way we ended up buying another mother board as the other one did not support AHCI. As it turns out, the new one, which was on the recommended list of mother boards, does not support AHCI. (Many of you are thinking, AHC-what?! I'm not sure I fully understand it either, but I know its a setting in BIOS that is essential for allowing Mac OS X to run smoothly on non-Apple parts.) We also bought a new video card for the computer, one that was also on a recommended list, but ended up going back to the original one I started with. And, with the new mother board, came new RAM (memory).

I also have been able to set up Windows XP 64-bit as a virtual machine (using Virtual Box). Although, I think I'm going to be getting Windows 7 64-bit and installing that on Virtual Box instead so that I can run Office 2010 on the Windows side.

It's still not 100% on par, yet, but its getting there. There are still a few kinks that I am currently working on, such as being able to boot directly into Mac with a bootloader disc (iBoot), running at 64-bit rather than 32-bit on the Mac side, and making use of all 8 GB of my RAM rather than half. Today I set up the speakers on the computer, something I haven't had on the desktop in years, and am happy to report that they do indeed work on this set up.

So, here's the specs for the new rig:
2.4 GHz Quad Core Intel Xeon processor
Asus P5G41T-M LX plus mother board
nVidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card
8 GB 1066MHz DDR3 RAM (can only get it to use 1 of the 2 sticks, so operating at 4 GB)
Logitech Z5500 THX 5.1 Speakers

And, with a new computer system, came a new desk and workspace! Haven't totally put the new system to the test yet, or even given it a good work out. But, I have been using Photoshop CS 5 on it the last couple of days, and I have to say, Photoshop has never loaded quite as fast as it does on here now.

One thing I would strongly advise for any rebuild, or reinstall of any operating system - back up EVERYTHING before you begin. I made the mistake of not backing up my main hard drive that had my working desktop and all of my programs
on it, and discovered afterwards the drive had gotten damaged in the process of switching drives. Minor set back - just had to redo a few graphic files I was working on that I had saved on the desktop on that drive. Fortunately, I always keep my data on other drives separate from my operating system and programs/applications drive, so was able to back up the majority of my data.

Some sites I highly recommend you read up on, if you are thinking of trying something like converting your old Windows machine to Mac:
Now that the rebuild and revamp is mostly done, and the new desk is put together, maybe I can work on some of that summer "to-do" list!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

SPAM in my mailbox? Ew, Yuck!

I opened my mailbox for my school email account this morning only to find spam. Ew, Yuck! Sadly, though, for most, its a familiar sight, especially for teachers. It seems like every educational vendor in the world finds out your a teacher and they love blasting your mailbox with emails about why you should buy from them. For most, we've learned to deal with this as a normal part of life, just quietly delete their emails (unopened) and add their email address to your email filters. However, in my positionas my school's tech one thing I have learned is to not assume that everyone knows what to do in these situations. I receive questions about spam and unwanted emails on weekly, if not daily basis. The following is what I posted in our Tech Info folder for my staff:

I received the following email message this morning when I checked my email. I'm passing this along to you with some tips about how to protect yourself from receiving unwanted spam or possibly being hacked.

The only reason I opened the following email was because I thought it might have been from some ed professional group I had subscribed to. Turns out it wasn't, and I should have known better.

1. You can tell that it is not something I subscribe to because they addressed me as "Edcuation Professional". If it had been something I subscribed to, they already would have had my full name, or screen name I use on their site.

2. A quick search in Google for "MDR" revealed this as the TOP reference:

Hm, YIKES! I should have done this first, then I would have known not to open the email.

3. As I read on in the email it said: "As a member of MDR's Education Professional Email Database, if you do not wish to receive these informative email messages, please follow this link:"

I know I have not subscribed to this place so I'm NOT a member. I'm NOT clicking on their link. They are phishing for valid email addresses. If I clicked on the link, that would be a sign to them that my email address is a working email address. It would have opened me up as fresh meat to all sorts of venders just waiting to fill my email box with spam.

4. What to do with the email now? Simply delete it. I'm also going to be adding their email address to my email filters.

----- Original Message -----

Dear Education Professional,

We respect your time and value your opinion as an Education Professional, which is why we would like an opportunity to keep you current on products and services from relevant advertising partners, such as leading publishers, education technology providers and education associations.

Each email message will be preceded by the name of the company offering the product or service, so that you know the source and purpose of the email before opening.

As a member of MDR's Education Professional Email Database, if you do not wish to receive these informative email messages, please follow this link:


Your option here will not affect any other services from us.


6 Armstrong Road

Shelton, CT 06484

Hopefully, this has helped some of you who already didn't know what to do when you receive and an unfamiliar email. In my next blog article I will be listing some tips on how to avoid unwanted mail in both your email box and your home (or school) mailbox. As always, I do so appreciate comments. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Epson - It's so easy!

I am in love with Epson products. I have been for years. However, this weekend, I have rekindled my passion for Epson products with the purchase of my family's third Epson printer, the Epson Artisan 837. This all-in-one printer comes power-packed with options and tools to send this geeky family into nerdvana.

Out of the box set up on our home network time was within 10 minutes, or if not quite 10 minutes, it seemed as though because it was so incredibly easy. We followed the easy to follow instructions on the Quick Set Up guide (We have, yet, to read the complete instruction manual that came with the printer.) and within minutes were hitting the Print Test Page button from our computers. The printer seemed to react instantaneously to our touch, or click of the mouse button. Seconds later we were viewing our first page printed on our new printer. The Artisan 837 all-in-one printer is different from our previous two Epson printers in that we were able to set the printer up to our home network via ethernet and not USB.

While Kinetic, our resident Geekman Guru, was installing the print drivers and tools on his computer through the included CD, I was effortlessly cruising Epson's website locating the drivers I needed to install the print software on my own desktop computer. The site was easy to navigate and find what I was looking for, without the need for using the site's search bar. Through my search through the site's menu system, I was able to spy enough to whet my appetite and make me want to linger on the site long after I downloaded and installed my desired software. In my opinion, that's the mark of a well-designed site - make it easy to find what they are looking for, and drop a few nuggets along the way to make them want to come back for more. (My ADD instantly kicked in as I found myself perusing and might I say drooling over their pro photography series. But we'll leave those details for another blog post.)

It wasn't long after my geeky man printed his test page that I was printing the test page from my own computer using the downloaded driver from the Epson site. The only difference we noticed between the two delivery methods was that the downloaded package did not include the ABBYY FinePrint Reader. (Hint, Epson, please include this in your print driver package online.) Mac users may recognize this name as OCR (Optical Character Reader) software. One of the things we did notice while installing the software was their Epson Connect services that allows us to print to our printer from anywhere via email. We were assigned a generic printer email address @epsonconnect.com, however, once logged into the Epson Connect site, had the ability to customize the email address to one that was more memorable to our family than a random combination of letters and numbers that seemed like it was a mile long.

Today the Epson fun continues after effortlessly installing the print software on my Macbook Pro. Not only was I able to wirelessly print pages within moments of installing the software and adding the printer (a school tech's dream, adding a printer was never easier), but I was also able to scan a picture off the printer from another room. (Look, Mom, no wires!) It only required me getting up and putting a picture on the printer. (Had my youngest been here, I would not have had to get up at all. :)

After adding the printer to my laptop, I had to see about the possibility of printing from my cell phone. A visit to the Android Marketplace and I was continuing my nerdgasm as I was printing from my phone via Epson iPrint, a free app, I might add. (Epson iPrint is also available in the Apple App Store for free for the iOS devices. My iPad was also able to print from two rooms away.)

One word of caution, though, when printing via email, be prepared to have your picture printed in full sheet size. I resized a picture I needed to print for school to 5x7 only to see it print out full sized on a standard 8 1/2 x 11 paper. Perhaps there is a setting to change this that I have yet to discover. (Maybe its in the manual I still need to read.) One nice feature about the email printing I love is that ability to set who can and cannot print to the printer in emails. (Be sure you enter the email addresses in carefully. One tiny little typo will have you receiving an email notification that your email is not on the Approved Printer list.) You will also receive email notification that your print job is complete.

Other features included in our new Epson Artisan 837 all-in-one printer are the card reader slots for Memory Stick, SD Cards, Compact Flash cards, and USB, making it easy to print directly from memory storage cards and flash drives without having a computer on, included tray for photo paper, and a fax machine. Our other Epson all-in-one printer will be finding a new home in the dining room attached to my kids' iMac. Although they could just as easily print wirelessly from their iMac to the new printer, it would be a shame to waste a perfectly good printer just because it is getting up there in years. (I, for one, would hate to be traded in for a younger model.) They will be able to enjoy being able to scan in their own pictures into Photoshop. (I hope we have taught them well in this area.) And thus, the Epson legacy lives on in our young.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

LiveBinders, a great way to organize & share links, and more!

I've become addicted to a great web 2.0 tool and resource site, LiveBinders. This FREE site is like a digital three-ring notebook binder where, instead of saving and organizing papers, you can save and organize websites by the tabs. I was first introduced to LiveBinders in some webinars I participated in when I noticed the facilitators had organized all of their notes and links to share in these handy LiveBinders. The binders kept all of their resources together in one place with neat tabs labeling each section of the webinar or site link.

As a teacher, and as the technology coordinator for my school, I have found LiveBinders to be an invaluable tool. In the past I have had tons of text windows open to hold and organize my web links to different subjects, objectives, and units as I did my planning. I would copy and paste the web address into the text file and include the name of the site. I might have even gone as far as jotting down a few notes about the site; but I'm a visual person. And, as such, I would often have to go back and revisit the site (copying and pasting the link into the browser) so that I knew which site was which. This was time consuming! I really love how I am able to see the site of the link inside my LiveBinder, and if I wanted to, even browse the site a little from right inside my LiveBinder.

The uses for a LiveBinder are unlimited. Techs can create and organize "how-to" manuals and tip guides for their staff (or district) by topic, even embedding images and videos into the binders. Upload and store documents (PDFs, Word Docs, even PowerPoint presentations) for staff members to easily find under the tabbed system. You can share these binders publicly, or mark them as Private and create a password secured login for you staff. (You control who sees the binders.) Teachers can organize supplemental material online for their units of study, set up activities and additional links for students to visit pertaining to a particular assignment or theme, use them to organize class presentations, set up study guides and test reviews online, keep helpful resources handy in the computer lab, and use them to organize resources for class or group projects.

Live Binder example with tabs and subtabs.

There is a text editor in LiveBinders that allows you to make notes or leave directions about particular sites. This is a great feature for including specific directions about the site being shared. The students will see it before they click on the site link. You can even copy and paste text directly from Word. There are different layouts in the Advanced menu for each tab that allows you to change the layout of where the text is along with the "preview" window for the site.

Text and Media split windows.

Text in title bar above Media window.

Upload and share Word docs, .pdf's, images, video, and more. Sharing bookmarks was never so easy or neat.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Skin

I'm starting out the new year (2012) with a new skin for my blog. I went with a free template I found online (from Templates Block). And after fiddling with it for a bit, I finally got it working and modified to fit my tastes and needs. I liked this skin because it is somewhat of a different layout than the last one, its clean, and it comes close to matching the new skin I have been designing for my website. Its different enough to show that its a blog, but has similar elements to the new design, mainly the wood headers and the golden-orangy text in the header.

I've been having fun today updating and adding more elements to my blog. The map on the right is new to show pins of areas where my visitors are from. I remember there being some discussion in my Twitter PLN this past week about adding maps to Blogger or Word Press blogs. The one on the right is from Whos.Amung.Us. They had a nice assortment of maps to choose from and easily adaptable for my blog. You can easily set the size you need by using the slider on the left side of the map (on their site), then they give you the script to copy and paste into a new widget in Blogger.

Another new feature to the blog is a list of some of my favorite blogs. There are more blogs (and links) that I like to frequent in my STEM Live Binder.

I hope you like it. This redesign has been a long time coming. I'll probably make a few more tweaks to the skin as the design for the site continues, but not enough to mess with the overall look and feel of the template. Let me know what you think. I welcome comments.