Category Archives: techtips

Tech Tuesday – Feed Readers 102

Almost a year ago I wrote a post on Feed Readers 101, so it’s about time I posted a follow up.

I found that once I started using a feed reader, the number of blogs I subscribed to grew fast.  (over 300 and counting…) Using a reader definitely helps you keep up on many more blogs than you ever could by visiting them one at a time, and I’ve figured out a couple things along the way to keep myself organized.

First – Instead of keeping all my feeds in one big list, I use Folders.  I have a folder for Pottery blogs, one for general Art, one for Business oriented blogs, etc. This gives me the ability if I’m in a hurry to just click on the particular folder I’m interested in, instead of All Items, which is the whole gigantic list of unread posts. This also gives me the ability to selectively ‘clear the slate’ by just clicking on a single folder and hitting ‘Mark as Read’.

I also make extensive use of Tags. Over time I’ve defined a set of tags that help me find posts I may have read months ago, or if I’m researching a particular topic, like glazes, clay, or studio tools. Google Reader makes it easy to tag posts as you read them, then you can search by tag later.

At the bottom of a post, just click on the Edit Tags, and type in a tag or keyword. If you want several tags on a post, just seperate them by commas. Once a tag is entered, Reader will remember it, so next time you won’t have to type in the entire tag.

After some time, you may notice that some blogs either don’t interest you anymore, or may have gone dormant, or been abandoned altogether. I have a special folder I move these in to called Inactive. I can then seperate them from the other large folders and keep track of them, evaluating whether I want to stay subscribed or not. I only very rarly ever unsubscribe to a feed. For one thing, if I’ve tagged or marked any posts in that feed, if I unsubscribe, they’re gone. So I think carefully about whether I think I’ll need any info in that feed before unsubscribing.  Another reason is that sometime you just don’t know why a blog has lapsed, but the author may return some day. I know I’ve been guilty of this a lot the last couple years myself!

That said, a good way to find inactive blogs is to change your reader from [Unread Items] to  [All Items] in the top left of the reading panel. This will show both Read and Unread posts, which is what we want here. Then go to the left column under Subscriptions, open a folder, and start clicking on the individual blog feeds. Now, look at the post at the top and see what the post date is.

I usually look for a blog that hasn’t been updated in about a year.  When you find one, move it into your ‘Inactive’ folder and keep going. You can do this by either clicking the little down arrow next to the bolg name in the left column, or click Feed Settings at the top of the reading pane. I sugest for the time being, just -add- the blog to the Inactive folder or whatever you’ve named it. A blog can be in more than one folder at once, and for the time being , that’s fine. The reason I say this is that if you remove it from the folder it’s in, Google Reader will jump to the new location, and you’ll loose your place! Once you’re through all your blog feeds, then you can go to the Inactive folder, click through each one, remove it from it’s original folder, and decide what you want to do with each one.

Sometimes you’ll find a blog that moved to another place that you somehow missed the first time. Or a blog you don’t remember why you subscribed to, that’s just taking up space. I’f you’re sure you don’t need them anymore, you can just unsubscribe and clean up your feed list a little.

Tech Tuesday – Using GIMP to prep a photo for CaFE entries

Today I’m going to look at how to get your images ready for electronic submission. I’ll be using a free, open source graphics program called GIMP. I find it to be capable of doing just about anything you could want do in Photoshop. You can find the website and download it at:

http://www.gimp.org/downloads/

For the purposes of this post, I’ll assume we’re posting to Call for Entry aka CaFE.  CaFE wants images that are square, and 1920×1920 pixels.  The other major electronic entry site, Zapplication, also requires at minimum an image that is 1920 on the longest side. If it’s not square, they will square it and add the black bars during projection. Personally, I’d rather just do it once and know that I can send the image to either place without worrying about it.

Click on the ‘Show all downloads’ to see additional download links for Windows and Mac.

After downloading and installing GIMP, launch the program and open the photo you want to prepare.

There are two possibilities here. If you’re lucky, and your work is fairly symmetrical, you might get away with simply cropping your image to 1920×1920.  If your file is less than 1920×1920 to begin with, I wouldn’t recommend enlarging it, because that can degrade the detail.
The other technique is adding black bars to fill out the image to the square format, since most cameras shoot rectangular frames. It’s a bit trickier, but GIMP can handle it.

First, the crop method:
I load my image, and the top bar on the image window tells me it’s 2592×3872, so I’m good to go for a crop.
The top-leftmost tool in the toolbox panel is the rectangular select tool. Choose that, then scroll down to the section that says Fixed [Aspect ratio], check the Fixed box, and click the dropdown next to Aspect ratio and select [Size].  Enter 1920×1920.

Now, when you click and hold the right mouse button over your image, a 1920×1920 crop box will appear that you can drag around until the image is properly framed.  If you accidentally release the mouse, or don’t like your selection, undo by either clicking outside the image, or pressing [Ctrl][Z].

Now go up to the Image menu, and select Crop to Selection

Done!

This is a nice, close up image, ready for the jury. But if I decide maybe a 1920×1920 crop is a bit too tight and I want more breathing room around my vase, or maybe I have a tall skinny piece, or a low wide bowl, using the black bars might be a better way to go.

For the black bar method, we need a little more effort. This is for rectangular images that have either been shot that way straight out of the camera, or cropped to get a nice close shot.

First, we want to scale the image to 1920 on whatever is the longest side.  After opening the image in GIMP, go to the Image menu and select [Scale Image] and enter 1920 in whatever is the largest dimension. Press [Enter] and you’ll see the other dimension change to keep the same aspect ratio. Then click [Scale].

(After scaling, you might need to zoom in a little. Go to View > Zoom to do this if necessary.)
Now we need to enlarge the actual image size, called the ‘canvas’, to 1920×1920.

Select [Image]  [Canvas size], and click on the chain icon to the right to break the aspect ratio lock.

Then, make the size 1920×1920, click [Center], then [Resize].  You’ll now have your image with a checkerboard pattern indicating the actual canvas size.
Now we need to add the black bars by putting a black layer under this one.

Add new layer by clicking the new layer button on the Layers panel.

Make sure it’s set to 1920×1920, foreground color (which is black).

GIMP will create the layer on top of the image layer. Just click and drag the new black layer down under the image layer in the Layers panel.

And we’re done!

When we’re ready to save our new image, just click [File] [Save], [Export] — this flattens the image into a single .jpg file.

I hope this tutorial gives you all
a feel for some of the capabilities of GIMP.

Tech Tuesday – Going International

This week I’m going to talk about the non-English speaking parts of the world. Do you have any foreign readers? For example, this blog as seen visitors from 67 countries since beginning in August 2008. The top 10 languages being English, Portuguese, Italian, French, Czech, German, Dutch, Spanish, Polish, and Turkish. Among the most pages viewed per visit, then top languages are (surprisingly), Norwegian, Korean, Danish, Portuguese, Turkish, French, Japanese, and Finnish. English makes it’s appearance down at #20.

Or maybe there’s a blog that you want to read that’s written in French? I’ll show you how to do that also.

It didn’t occur to me right away that people in other countries might find this blog worth it to read. I didn’t even know how many English speaker would. But soon after starting out, I began to see an occasional visitor from a far off country. I began to wonder if they knew English, or were translating me somehow. I thought that if they were finding my blog, the least I could do was make it easier for them to read.  Maybe you’ve noticed I have a Google Translate button prominently at the top of the right column. This will translate all the text on the page into whatever language you’d like to see it in. Go ahead, play with it for a minute, I’ll wait….

Pretty cool, right?
To add a Google Translate widget to your blog, go to your Blogger [Layout] tab, and click on Add Gadget.
Select the HTML/JavaScript gadget. Then paste this script into the code section:

Then click [Save] and you're all set. 
Now anyone who doesn't speak English (or actually whatever language you write your blog in) can translate your blog when they land on it.
So what if there's a really cool pottery blog in French that you'd like to read?  Well, if you're using Google Reader, it's a snap. (If you're not, see my post on using Google Reader here) Remember in that previous Tech Tuesday how I showed you how to subscribe to blogs? Just a simple extra step will have you reading foreign blogs.
With the feed selected, go to the [Feed Settings] button, and just click on [Translate to my language]

and, as the French say, Voila'

English!
One big way I find other pottery blogs is by checking out the blogrolls of blogs I already read. So once you find a few non-English blogs, a whole other world opens up. The world of pottery (and other) blogs just got a lot bigger!
And for everyone in other countries reading in your native language, welcome! and thank you for reading! If you have or know of a pottery blog in your language, I'd love to hear about it. 

Tech Tuesday – Feed readers 101

Last week I talked about FeedBurner, a way to track how many people are subscribed to your blog feed. Along the way, I realized I was following over 200 blogs (I hadn’t really checked in a while).

Clearly, trying to visit that many blogs individually via blogrolls or bookmarks would take forever, and seriously impact my mental health.  I figured out early on that if I wanted to keep track of all the pottery blogs I was finding, I’d have to use a feed reader.

Feed readers can be separate programs you install on your PC, or web applications you access through your web browser. I’ve experimented with feed reader plugins for Firefox, and a social media browser called Flock that has very nice feed reading and management. Ultimately, I’ve settled on using Google’s Reader app.
Since it’s a web app, it’s available wherever there’s access to a web browser – it doesn’t have to be installed on every computer I want to use it on, and that also means that all the history of read posts is there and searchable as well.

Using it is pretty self explanatory, just head over to https://www.google.com/reader/view/ and log in with your google/gmail account.
There are a couple ways to add feed to your Reader. One is to click on the [Add Subscription] button in the upper-left, and type in the URL of the blog you want to add. In most cases, Reader will find the feed and add it.  Or, while visiting a blog, you can click the Subscribe link if one is provided.

Now you have one place to go to find all your blog subscriptions.  You can quickly go through the unread posts using the [Previous] and [Next] buttons. I starting at the ‘bottom’ of the list and using [Previous], which keeps me in chronological order.

You might notice that a blog here or there doesn’t show the entire post, only a few sentences, or sometimes just the post title.  This is because the blog is set to only show a limited feed, presumably to get you to click through to the actual blog. If you’re not putting ads or affiliate links or otherwise monetizing your blog, there really isn’t a reason to do this. Here’s how to turn on ‘full’ feeds and be more ‘feed reader friendly’:

In Blogger:

Look under the Settings tab, and set ‘Allow blog feeds’ to ‘Full’
In WordPress:
Look under the Settings > Reading menu. In the Reading settings, select ‘For each article in a feed, show Full Text’

Other platforms will generally have a similar setting somewhere in the control panel. Take a look around.

Tech Tip Tuesday – FeedBurner

I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while now. My time in the actual clay studio is still so intermittent that I just can’t seem to get a lot accomplished. I’ll get there, but it’s slow going for now.

I also thought I’d share some of the knowledge from my ‘other’ life in IT. I read a lot of pottery/art blogs (200?!, jeez, how did -that- happen?? Look for a future tech tip on how I do this without spending all day, or losing my mind.), and occasionally see a tech question or issue pop up. When I can, I try to suggest an answer, or point them in the right direction to a solution.

Yesterday, the question came up about how many subscribers my wife had on her blog. Not an easy question, but there are ways to at least get an idea.  The tool we’re going to look at today is FeedBurner. Yes, it’s by Google, and you’ll need a Google account to use it. Since a lot of the blogs I see are Blogger blogs, shouldn’t be a big deal for most of you. Let’s head on over to feedburner.google.com and get started. Don’t worry, I’m starting out with an easy one here. It’s not hard, and Google actually has pretty good help docs to get you set up.  Here’s my ‘Quick Start’

Step 1- Get your google account and sign in at feedburner.google.com  Done? good.

Step 2 – ‘Burn’ your feed.  (hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t come up with this lingo..)  Just type your blog URL or your feed URL if you happen to know what it is, in the box ‘Burn a feed this instant’  and click [Next]. More than likely, FeedBurner will say that it has found multiple feeds, which one do you want to use?  For Blogger users, the default Atom feed is fine. It should look something like  /feeds/post/default. Make your selection and press [Next]

Now finish up by giving your feed a name. It defaults to your blog title, so you’ll probably just want to leave it as-is. Below that, you’ll see your blogs ‘new’ feed address. You could write this down for later, but theres an easier way. Press [Next].
Now just [right-click] on your feed URL and [Copy link address] or [Copy link location] -depends on your web browser.
You can continue on and set up some additional tracking features, but hey, we’re just getting started with this whole thing, so let’s keep it simple. You can always go back and play with the advanced settings later…
Press the [Skip directly to feed management] link. You should now see your feed listed in your control panel.

Step 3 – Redirect your Blogger feed.
So now, go log into your Blogger account, and go to your Dashboard.  Click the [Settings] tab, and [right-click] [Paste] your feedburner URL into the ‘Post Feed Redirect URL’ box.  While you’re here Make sure the ‘Allow Blog Feeds’ is set to ‘Full’, or at least NOT set to ‘None’ (again, look for more about this in a future TechTip) then click [Save Settings]

You’re done!
You now can check your feed stats by logging in to  feedburner.goggle.com and selecting your feed. If you have multiple sites or blogs, you can set up a feed for each of them and manage them here.
It usually take about a day for things to sync up and data to start coming in, but soon you should start seeing subscription info and other stats in your FeedBurner reports. Poke around a bit, there’s some neat stuff you can find out, some things might surprise you.