Archive for December, 2009

December 28, 2009

Print Screen – PDF from Clipboard – Instant Web Content using Adobe Acrobat Pro

One of my good friends from Adobe showed me this cool little trick using Adobe Acrobat Pro. Basically, anyone can create instant web based content by pressing “Print Screen” on a keyboard using a PC; I am not sure what the same function is on a Mac. Next, go to the “Create” menu item inside Adobe Acrobat Pro and select “PDF from Clipboard” and Voila! Your screen capture will appear inside Adobe Acrobat Pro as magic. Once the screen capture is inside Adobe Acrobat Pro, there are several cooler operations one can perform by using “Add Sticky Note” found within the “Comments” menu item and “Comments & Markup” under the “Tools” menu inside Acrobat Pro. The sticky notes can be helpful when adding comments to a particular section of an article or web page for review. The mark-up tools can be used to highlight or point to a section of content that should be emphasized. At the same time, one can published these screen captured PDFs to an Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional account or upload these PDF files inside a “File Sharing Pod” inside a “ConnectNow” Meeting Room at to be viewed or shared by others during an online session. So, go ahead and try this cool, tech trick and let me know what you think?
My Connect Card

9:34 PM Permalink
December 11, 2009

The more I know, the more I realise I don’t know.

learning.jpgI remember the first time I saw Photoshop. I think it must have been about 1993 or so, when I got a free copy that came with a scanner purchased by my school. It must have been a “lite” version of Photoshop because I seem to recall that it didn’t support layers. Even so, I really enjoyed playing with it, and I ended up installing it on all the computers in the school computer lab (license? what license?) and I started teaching the kids how to create stuff with it. They just blew me away with what they could do with it, even without layers!
It was around the same time that I stumbled across an unused copy of Aldus Pagemaker in an out-of-the-way cupboard, and I convinced the school principal that we should use it to do the school yearbook; his agreement to my suggestion saw me suddenly escalated to head of the yearbook committee, a job that rolled on for many years and many issues beyond that. Of course, once you start working in Pagemaker (and now InDesign) there is a fairly fundamental expectation that Photoshop is a key part of that workflow.
From these accidental beginnings, I developed a long standing relationship with Photoshop. In the late 90s I was working with students to build collaborative websites, and of course all the graphics were done with Photoshop. We discovered all sorts of interesting features like batch processing, we learned to do decent colour corrections, to crop and manipulate images so that they fitted our needs. We discovered, often the hard way, about important concepts like pixel depth, image resolution, colour gamut, and of course the one that catches every self-taught Photoshop user out at some stage, RGB vs CMYK. We made images for the web and for print, we built graphics from scratch and we did weird things to existing photos. I’m just a teacher, not a graphic designer, but I’ve lost track of the hours and hours and hours I’ve spent inside Photoshop over the last 15+ years.
And here’s the thing about Photoshop. Heck, here’s the thing about pretty much all of Adobe’s products… the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know. Every time I learn some new technique or skill, the self-satisfied smug feeling of cleverness lasts about five seconds before I realise that there is just so much more I could know about it, that I could do with it. Whenever I taught kids a unit of work on Photoshop I used to conclude it with an in-class practical test, where I’d give them some images and a problem to solve – it might be to produce some CD cover artwork or a magazine cover, usually with a few constraints or requirements to make them have to think about it a little – and they’d just astound me at what they’d come up with. “Creative Suite” is a good name for these products, because they really do force you into creativity mode. Most of the time after one of these class tests, I’d spend the next few lessons getting the kids to deconstruct what they’d done, to teach me how they got certain effects. In my Photoshop classes I may have been the teacher, but we were all learners.
When I was offered a place in the Adobe Education Leaders program, I was thrilled to be part of it, and felt relatively well qualified to be part of it given that I’d spent over 15 years teaching Photoshop, Indesign, Dreamweaver and Flash to students. Of course, mixing with other AELs and seeing the fantastic things they do is a great way to reinforce just how little I do actually know, but it’s still been an incredibly valuable association for me.
I got thinking about this lately because I’ve been checking out the tutorials on the newly redesigned Adobe TV. It’s an awesome resource, with every application now having a Learn series, a set of basic tutorials that teach the essential skills required to get up to speed quickly… I wish this had been around when i started playing with Photoshop! As well as the Learn tutorials, there are a bunch of more advanced tutorials that delve into some of the trickier and more esoteric concepts.
And Adobe TV is not the only resource I turn to when I want to know more. There seems to be plenty of other places to learn the how-to stuff for Adobe’s products. Some of my favourites are the Layers TV podcast with Corey Barker and RC, the Creative Suite Podcast with Terry White, Creative Sweet TV with Mike McHugh, Instant Indesign with Gabriel Powell, The Russell Brown Show… the list goes on. I subscribe to all of these through iTunes and they just drop onto my iPhone for later watching. It’s a great way to learn. I’m sure there are many other fantastic resources for learning this stuff… perhaps you could leave a note in the comments about some of the resources you have found useful for learning.
Finally, I just wanted to mention a book I bought recently about Photoshop that is quite simply one of the most amazing Photoshop guides I’ve ever seen. It’s simply called Creative Photoshop CS4 by Derek Lea, and I’m just stunned at how incredible this guy is when it comes to Photoshop. I’ve been working my way through some of his exercises and have been discovering something new on almost every page. When you can use a product for over 15 years, and still constantly discover new things, it says a lot about the depth of the product and the open-ended nature of what it lets you do with it.
I realise more than ever that there is so much I don’t know about Photoshop (and most of the other Adobe products!) But I love that feeling of learning, of discovering, of digging deeper and just discovering that there really is no “bottom” to hit.
Image Attribution: ‘04.28.09 [#118] Feet Week – On the+Backs+of+Others’

5:56 PM Permalink
December 10, 2009

What’s Your Mobile Strategy?

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to speak to a media distribution vendor who posed the question “Does your University have a mobile strategy?” Absolutely we do- at least my group of developers does. We’ve had the same strategy for a number of years now and that strategy is to hold and observe. This strategy will be modified slightly with the advent of Flash Player 10.1 for mobile devices next year to one of active, holistic, cross-platform development.
The vendor in question was visiting to inform us of their specialized video capture and delivery solution. This solution is heavily tied to the iPhone and Apple’s set of hardware and software tools. While this may be appealing to those students and faculty with iPhones and iPod Touches, the emergence of a number of Android-powered mobile devices deserves some real consideration, and the Windows Mobile, RIM, and Palm devices are nothing to dismiss either. If you target the iPhone today, you are greatly restricting the use of your application to one device out of many (which may be perfectly okay for some apps). I’d prefer to write my applications for the widest number of platforms and devices available since this expands the userbase and does not exclude anyone from using the tools I’ve worked hard to create. In a university setting which encourages open exploration of platforms, you need to remain as open and accessible as possible. The Adobe Flash Platform fulfills all of these needs in a platform-agnostic manner.
All major mobile platforms have their own version of an “app store” or “market” in which applications are developed and targeted for that specific platform. But what of current browser-based applications in use by students and faculty? If they are built upon the Flash Platform (as many are) then they have been effectively cut off from use on almost all mobile devices since, as of today, Flash Player is not widely available for mobile. HTML-based mobile apps may be one solution, but their capabilities are restrictive, and you must deal with a great number of cross-browser issues. Today- there is no good solution for this range of applications but to design them with mobile in mind… and wait cautiously for something better to come along.
At the University of Denver, we have a mature media delivery ecosystem (CourseMedia™) that absolutely requires Flash and AIR for even the most simple usage. Modern web browsers on mobile devices do a great job at rendering HTML-based web apps exactly as they appear on desktop and laptop computers… almost. The most sought-after missing piece of the puzzle is the Flash Player. With no Flash on these devices, web content delivery is severely restricted. There are platform-specific apps for audio and video delivery alternatives through popular services such as YouTube, but what of the plethora of applications that go beyond the simple viewing of video content? As things currently stand- there is no solution!
We are very excited about the upcoming Flash Player 10.1 release as this means that users will effectively be able to use the full toolset we’ve created to manage, explore, and display rich media objects on a wide array of mobile devices. If we do find the need to target Apple iPhone down the road, we can use the same Adobe toolset to compile apps specifically for that set of devices. While this is not ideal in the case of Apple (everyone I talk to desperately wants true Flash on iPhone), the fact that we will soon be able to “write once, deploy anywhere” is simply an awesome thought to ponder.
So what would be a likely scenario as Flash Player is released for mobile in terms of university usage? I envision faculty preparing media arrangements on their mobile devices while riding public transit with full video editing and annotation capabilities over their provider network. I can see students, later that day accessing this same content in a park or coffee house while studying for an exam that will utilize the same ecosystem through an AIR-based hardware projection system in an upcoming lecture. At first, we developers will not necessarily need to make many changes to the tools that currently exist, users will simply be interacting with mobile devices to do their work instead of sitting at a workstation. As time passes and needs arise, we will be able to modify our tools to better suit this approaching reality and create new tools specifically for these devices. As the hardware becomes more powerful and the Flash Platform itself evolves in the coming years, there will exist truly great opportunities that forward-thinking universities and corporations would be foolish not to embrace.
Our mobile strategy at the University of Denver CTL is strongly tied with the Adobe Flash Platform and the future of Flash on such devices is especially bright as 2009 draws to a close. Welcome, 2010 and Flash Player 10.1!
Open Screen Project
Flash Player 10.1
Adobe Flash Professional CS5
Mobile Framework ‘Slider’

9:00 PM Permalink
December 3, 2009

CS4 Project with Heart

At AEL Summer Institute this past year Dusty Parrish and I began talking about doing a joint service project with our students. Afterall, statistics show that students are 60% less likely to get into serious trouble if they are involved in meaningful service projects. We didn’t know exactly what, but his students could use their skill to document while mine could design and create. We both agreed we wanted something that would enhance another student’s education.
While we were mulling this around I remembered seeing a documentary that Diane Sawyer did on the children from the Appalachian Mountain areas and their dire circumstances. She talked about schools that literally had no books or supplies….so the idea of a alphabet coloring book was born.
It was a great match since I was just beginning to teach my first year students Adobe Illustrator – a perfect tool for creating coloring pages. With a little trial and error, and some help from previous students, we developed a template for the booklets. Acrobat Pro 9 was perfect for compiling and printing.
For older kids, my upper level students created a journal/sketch book using Illustrator, each one coming up with prompts for either writing or drawing something. EVERYONE got involved in designing covers using Photoshop and Illustrator.
During the process, we started to learn a lot about the kids who would be receiving the books. We selected an elementary school with great need. Of its 400 students, roughly 90% are at or below poverty level. Our school is just the opposite, about 10% at poverty level or below.
In addition, we started trying to gather colored pencils to send with the alphabet books. Target totally stepped up to help make affordable 400 boxes, one for each child. A friend knew a printer who would be reasonable – it turns out he had ties back to the Appalachian Mountains and donated his services. Several of my peers just donated money. A student’s father worked for a company that is shipping them for us….. and the list goes on and on.
Dusty and his students came over and documented the process. His students interviewed mine, as well as me, asking insightful, intelligent questions about the project. Now they are in the process of compiling and editing the video using Premiere, Aftereffects, Sound booth, Encore, etc . All great teaching opportunities for skill as well as teamwork/compassion. It was incredible to have the students work together, the excitement was contagious.
We really started out with a vision and a passion coupled with almost no idea what to do or how to do it. Funny, though, when you are going about doing good works – things seem to take on a life of their own simply falling into place. For me, that’s called heart.

4:24 PM Permalink

e-Portfolio Makes the Difference in Getting into College!

Recently one of my previous graphics students, Eric, stopped by to visit. He had wanted to go to the same college as his dad, hoping to get into its visual communications program. Unfortunately his SAT and ACT scores were not good enough to qualify him for immediate admittance. Determined, Eric began sending the head of the visual communications program an e-portfolio he had created in my class with Acrobat Pro 9 incorporating all his Illustrator and Photoshop work. As Eric put it, he “finally wore him down!” The professor accepted him into the program based on his demonstrated work in his e-portfolio. He is working extra hard – thriving actually! Hip Hip Hooray for Acrobat Pro 9 and the ease of creating electronic portfolios!!!

11:49 AM Permalink
December 1, 2009

Educational Sites Worth a Peek

Dr. Larry Sanger, co-founder of Wikipedia, has created a website that sifts through the fluff and delivers only educational videos. Dr. Sanger says, ” think of it as YouTube meets Wikipedia, filtering out everything but quality educational videos.”
All the videos on WatchKnow are hosted by external websites (National Geographic, YouTube, etc.) which may cause issues with filtering software, but so far, I’ve found it easy to use and loaded with lots of great content.
WolframAlpha is a “computational knowledge engine.” A normal search engine returns links based on search parameters. WolframAlpha returns answers.
For example, I typed in “December 25” and Wolfram returned:

  • Christmas Day
  • Birth of Hal Scardino (actor)
  • Gorbachev resigns as president of Soviet Union
  • Cyclone hits Australia (1974)
  • Coronation Stone is stolen (1950)
  • Daylight information
  • …etc.

12:35 PM Permalink