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!