Posts filed under ‘Technology’

Is GMail letting more spam through?

Is it just me or did the GMail filters slip a notch.  I’ve gotten 14 spam emails in my inbox in the last 2 days which is 14 more than I received in the previous 2 years.  Don’t get me wrong, they are still far better than any other provider I’ve ever used but I hope this isn’t the start of a trend…

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February 22, 2008 at 9:39 am 3 comments

Best CSS Reference

Sitepoint has always been a decent online community and publishing company for web developers. They have articles written by top designers and coders and a number of really great reference books available for purchase. Recently, however, they added a new free reference section to their site that is incredibly useful. Currently only a CSS Reference is available but they are working on an HTML and Javascript section as well. There are many CSS references out there but this is by far the easiest to use. It is not written as a tutorial but rather a simple lookup and explanation (with samples) of every CSS property, rule, workaround, filter and hack. I few clicks and I found modifiers to properties that I had no idea existed.

Sitepoint CSS Reference

February 6, 2008 at 8:47 am Leave a comment

Blogging made easy with Word 2007

I really love blogging but one of the biggest headaches is dealing with the online text editors. I’ve found that the editor built into WordPress is one of the best out there but even it is a bit quirky. Spell Check works in Firefox but not Internet Explorer. Keyboard shortcuts for formatting are hit and miss. Adding a picture is a major hassle…First you have to compress the image, and then you have to upload the picture and add it to the text of the blog. Resizing the image and laying it out in line with the text is next to impossible without switching to the raw code and editing the HTML by hand. I love coding web sites but when I want to blog I just want to blog. I want a true what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) editor.

Enter Microsoft Word 2007. Imagine using all the document creation tools you’re familiar with in Word as the editor for your blog. Word 2007 can directly upload to most blog servers. I don’t mean typing in Word and then cutting and pasting into a new blog post on your server. I mean typing in Word, formatting in Word, adding pictures in Word and then clicking Publish in Word and having it show up on your server. Word 2007 can upload directly to the following blogs; Windows Live Spaces, Blogger (blogspot), SharePoint blog, Community Server, TypePad, WordPress, and most others if you have an API for your blog. You can even define an alternate location for images if you don’t want them hosted on the same server as your blog.

To begin, open Word 2007 and click on the new “Office Button” located in the top left corner of Word and choose publish>blog and bang out a post. Insert any images and format everything the way you want it (there are lots of online tutorials for using Word). You could type your post and then click publish>blog but switching to blog mode first will eliminate the page breaks and margins. It will also limit your image and page formatting to things that can be recreated in HTML.

The first time you enter blogging mode you will be prompted for your account information. If you have more than one blog don’t worry, Word can handle this.

Simply select your blog provider and click next

Enter the URL for your blog in the space provided (mine is eventhorizons.wordpress.com), enter your username and password, check “Remember Password” if you want to be able to publish without entering this information next time. Click “Picture Options” if you want to define another web server to host you images on.

As soon as you switch to blog mode you can access to the blog toolbar.

This has some great features.

Publish

Clicking this button will post your entry to your blog and upload all your images. You can choose to Publish or Publish as Draft. I always select draft so that I can check it one last time online before I make it public.


Home Page

This simply opens your default browser to your blogs home page

Insert Category

Clicking this button adds a category dropdown to your post. You can select from any of the categories that you’ve previously defined on your server or enter a new one. Click it again to add a second or third category to the posting.

Open Existing

This is really cool. Clicking here will give you a list of all of your posts. Even post that you did not create with Word show up. Using this tool you can open previous post in Word and edit them.

Manage Accounts

This menu lets you edit your account settings or setup additional blogs to manage. If multiple blogs are configured you can select one to be the default.

When you create a post there is a dropdown to select your account (if it is different from the default).

You can also title your post

Double clicking a picture pulls up the picture toolbar which has a number of great features including cropping, borders, edge effects (soft edges, glow, drop shadows, bevels, reflections, and 3-D rotations), brightness, contrast and compression. Compression is one of the most useful…By default Word will upload compressed JPEGS of all your images…no more need to edit your pictures before blogging and no more 3MB pictures on your blog!

Picture with shadow and reflection

Picture with 3-D rotation, soft edges, and bevel.

There are about 40 presents as well as full control over all the options for an almost infinite amount of combinations.

Hope this saves you some time on future blog posts (course now you need to buy Office 2007!)

 

January 31, 2008 at 8:00 pm 3 comments

Make your own 360 degree panoramic picture

I often get asked for advice on setting up a home shop so I started writing a series of posts on selecting tools and arranging your work space when I realized I wanted to include one of those cool interactive 360º scrollable & zoomable panoramic pictures you often see on web sites advertising vacation spots. These images offer users a virtual tour of the environment and just look really cool. I begin the process of learning how to create these images with one goal in mind. It had to be free! I wasn’t going to buy some panoramic lens for my camera, I wasn’t going to pay some company to produce it, and I wasn’t going to shell out any money for software. After 2 weeks of research and failed experiments I finally put all the pieces together. Below you can see the results of the experiment and a step by step how-to guide if you would like to make your own virtual tour (for free).

Click here to take a virtual tour of my shop
(4 Mb file)

launch.jpg

To begin, you simply need a camera and a tripod. Take a series of pictures (15-20) rotating the camera a few degrees each time. When finished, you should have a set of pictures covering the entire 360º view. Try to make sure your pictures have some overlap as this helps the software when it stitches together the final panorama. I also found it usefull to put the camera in manual mode. In auto mode the camera adjusts the picture based on lighting. As the lighting may change for different angles, your pictures may not all look the same. This will make your final panorama have obvious seams. Manual mode fixes that. Here are the images I took of the shop. As you can see, each picture shows a slightly different area of the shop (and you can see the jatoba table waiting to be completed on the floor…).

thumbnails.jpg

Now you need to download the software that will create the single panoramic image from your photos. The best free tool I found was AutoStitch. After downloading and launching AutoStitch you can play with a few settings (although I used most of the defaults). I did change the scale value (edit>options) to 50% to increase the detail of the final product.

auto1.jpg

Now click file>open and select all the images from earlier. As soon as you click OK, AutoStitch will begin to create your panoramic image and save it as pano.jpg in the same directory as the original files. Be sure to move or rename the file if you want to try again as AutoStitch will overwrite without warning. Mine looked like this when it was complete.

panoramasmall.jpg

The next tool you need is some software to take your panoramic image and turn it into an interactive movie. I found that the free version of Pano2QVTR worked great. It can even add clickable hotspots to your movie but I choose not to use that feature. After installing and launching Pano2QVTR you’ll need to change one setting. The default setting for image type is equirectangular but you need to choose cylindrical.

2q1.jpg

Next you need to tell it where to find your panoramic image (pano.jpg) from AutoStitch. Click the … button next to the “Cylindrical image” field and locate your panoramic image file

2q2.jpg

Under the “QuickTime Output filename” you can choose the location for your completed movie. Under the settings tab you can also change the size and quality of the final movie. When you are ready click “Create” and Pano2QVTR will take care of the rest. It’s surprisingly fast (about 30 seconds) and upon completion it will show you a preview of your movie. After that you can email or post it to the web if you choose. If you are posting to a web site, here is the minimum code for embeding a quicktime movie.

<object CLASSID=”clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B” width=”600″ height=”420″>
<param name=”src” value=”garage.mov”>
<param name=”controller” value=”true”>
</object>

 

There are other options you can choose to include such as an auto download of the QuickTime plugin. A excellent explanation for all the embedding options can be found here.

Have fun making your own panoramic movies!

PS the shop setup posts are coming soon…

 

December 20, 2007 at 10:01 pm 39 comments

Create Virtual CD-Rom Drives

Warning – Boring technology content ahead…

This one was pretty interesting. My sister-in-law works at a preschool that has a small computer lab (8-10 computers) and 10 or so educational games that the kids play. Here’s the issue…

  1. The games are all on CD-Roms
  2. Every game requires the CD to be in the drive to play.
  3. The kids are not allowed (nor are they old enough) to switch discs.
  4. The school owns one copy of each game per computer for a total of close to 100 discs.
  5. The kids may play 3-4 different games during their time in the lab.
  6. One teacher (my sister-in-law) has to switch out the discs each time they switch games.
  7. Copying the files to the hard drive (even installing the game that way) does not fix the problem…they still get an error telling them to “Insert CD to continue”.

The solution is to create virtual CD-Rom drives and mount (copy) an image of each game disc to it’s own virtual drive. There are a number of products to help you do this but one of the easiest (and free) versions is MagicDisc (download here). This software allows for the creation and management of up to 15 virtual drives. To get started you first need to uninstall any games that you wish to run this way. If it was originally installed from the real CD-Rom drive it will continue to look for that. After creating a virtual drive you will reinstall from there. This technique can be used for any CD or DVD (assuming you have a DVD drive) not just games…you could keep “Weekend at Bernie’s” loaded up all the time without carrying the DVD around. That’s probably a bad example cause who doesn’t keep “Weekend at Bernie’s” around all the time. Once everything is uninstalled you need to download the software from the link above (they have both 32 and 64 bit versions) and install the software. Once installed you will see the MagicDisc icon in the system tray.

1-system-tray.jpg

Right click on the icon to access the MagicDisc menu. By default one virtual drive will have been created. If you need more click on “Set Number of Drives” and choose the number you need – up to 15.

2-increase-drive-number.jpg

As soon as you select the new number your computer will detect and install new hardware…one for each virtual drive.

3-new-hardware-found.jpg

In fact if you look under “My Computer” you will see all of the additional drives…the computer in this picture only has one physical optical drive.

4-virtual-drives.jpg

Next we need to create our image files…think of these as copies of the discs although you won’t see each individual file. Do this by right clicking on the system tray icon and choosing “Make CD/DVD Image”

5-make-image-menu.jpg

You’ll be prompted for the source of the image (make sure you have the disc in the CD-Rom drive at this point). You’ll need to choose a location on your hard drive (or network) where you want to store the image (I made a directory on the root of c:\ called Games and stored all the images in there. You will also need to name the image file…pick something that makes sense like the actual name of the game or movie…

6-save-as.jpg

After you’ve created the image remove the disc from the drive. Now we are ready to mount the image. This is the term for loading an image onto one of your virtual cd drives. Right click on the system tray icon and choose
“Virtual CD/DVD-ROM>Pick a drive letter>Mount”

7-mount-menu.jpg

You will now be asked to choose an image file to mount…navigate to where you stored the image you created earlier and select it.

8-select-uif.jpg

After you select the image you will see a verifying image progress bar and when that completes it will autorun the disc (if the disc supports that). At this point you can install the game or watch the movie or any other functions just as you would with the actual disc in the computer…in fact it will show up under “My Computer” just as it would if it were a physical disc.

11-my-computer-mounted.jpg

This will persist if the computer is rebooted or even if MagicDisc is closed. To remove an image select the drive from the system tray icon and choose “Unmount” or you can select “Unmount All Drives”. You can alway remove virtual drives by changing the drive number.

Hope this helps someone else out there!

November 28, 2007 at 7:37 pm 1 comment


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