CatBird

My daughter and I spent a half hour or so together working on a photo manipulation this past Saturday. I did most of the work – not because I had to, but because I’m trying to learn how to make better use of Photoshop.

She wanted to make a Frogator, but we couldn’t find the instructions for that. So we made the CatBird instead.

Catbird

Of course, it didn’t turn out as well as the original, but it was my first try at this sort of thing, and I had a lot of fun. (I wish I’d made the head a little smaller and done less warping, but eh.)

Having so much fun with that, I decided to make a Frogiraptor too. I still didn’t have the instructions, but I sort of reviewed other tutorials and winged it a bit. Turned out okay, I thought.

Frogiraptor

The software is very powerful. You still have to have an artist’s eye for light and shadow, but aside from that, you can get pretty good results pretty simply by just using some standard filtering and layer blending options.

I’ve recently acquired Photoshop CS6, and while it’s newer and shinier, I don’t know what it offers that CS5 didn’t have yet. I guess time will show. And before I figure all that out anyway, CS7 or whatever will be available. So I guess I’ll just knuckle down and try to learn this one thoroughly. Plenty of people are still turning out great product with Photoshop 9 (which goes back to something like 2004).

Anyway, we had fun. I’m still experimenting, but it’s been a lot of fun. And I updated the cover for A Fine Cast of Characters on Amazon, too, trying to look at other covers and see what they did and whether I could imitate it somehow. I like how it turned out, though it still falls short of my vision.

AFCC Cover 3

The addition of the texture helped a lot, but I’m wondering if a stroke (which is an outline) around the the author name would’ve helped. The beveling effect on the title certainly helped, and the addition of the stage curtains was my loving wife’s idea…and darned brilliant, I thought.

So, we’re getting some mileage out of it. The Photoshop learning, I mean. And I’ve had some fun with it along the way.

Now, if I can just get my friend Elizabeth to show me where she gets her wonderful graphics so I can do some of the stuff she does…

-jdt-

So Long, Old Friend

This weekend, I had to finally say goodbye forever to my old cloud backup software, Microsoft Mesh.

Mesh was brilliant. You install a little agent. You tell it which folders you want to back up. You forget Mesh is running and whenever you sign into your computer, it looks in your cloud location, sees if the folders are out of sync with your computer and saves if necessary. Just like that. Nothing to it. Your files are backed up and you can forget it.

It also had the capability of connecting one PC to another, but I wasn’t interested in that. Most firewalls in places of employment are going to block that sort of thing anyway. Like GoToMyPC…remember that service? You can access your home system from work and remote systems from home, right through a browser.

Microsoft, as is there wont, however, has seen fit to terminate Mesh and dedicate themselves to the less useful, infinitely less flexible SkyDrive instead.

It’s still doing the same thing. Any folder in your SkyDrive folder is monitored for changes and synced to the cloud (up to 7GB free) automatically. The problem is, SkyDrive doesn’t let you tell it which folders to sync. SkyDrive works more like DropBox now, wherein you must locate your backups in the SkyDrive folder or they aren’t backed up.

That’s a huge difference. Mesh let you leave your file structure alone and it would still back up for you. SkyDrive makes you conform to its structure. Recently, MS did improve the utility of the software by allowing you to decide where to put the SkyDrive folder. Initially, it just installed wherever and you moved your stuff into that folder.

It’s useful, and I’m grateful for my free 25GB (I had a SkyDrive account prior to a particular date, so when MS first began pushing this, they offered us long-timers more storage if we claimed it before a certain date in, I think, 2011), and I am glad at least my stuff’s being backed up. That’s a big step up from where I was a couple of years back when I lost everything…twice.

But Mesh was a trusted friend and reliable companion. Without it I feel a little naked. SkyDrive isn’t quite the same. It’s the new friend who’s not quite as cool as the one I had to leave behind.

How do you backup your data? are you backing up your data?

-JDT-

Photoshopping All Weekend

All weekend, I sat glued to the chair in front of my computer, and no, I wasn’t doing my technical training OR writing.

I was learning how to work with Photoshop.

Photoshop is a full, rich, difficult program to use. It can do anything. You can paint with it, for Pete’s sake. It can do some really incredible things in the hands of a capable artist, and I am not he.

I’m always looking for new ways to dress up my book covers. I felt my first efforts were disasters. I don’t have the resources to pay for them. What can I do? Well, one thing I can do is try making the visions I have for them come alive myself, but that requires a better handle on the tools to make it happen. Photoshop is the tool. Now…what do I do with it?

I’ve been learning a great deal about text effects. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you likely know I used to make new headers for my site every couple of weeks. I had quite the bevy of them until my computer crashed finally and completely, and I lost them all. I haven’t had the time to make new ones since I’ve had the new computer, but Sunday, I decided I wanted to create a new cover for an upcoming story I’m working on. I wanted my cover to be as high quality as I could make it. So I sat in front of YouTube and a lot of other PS tutorial sites and just…learned.

I’ve done this before. I come away feeling anything is possible, and I have a headful of ideas swimming around. Then I get busy or distracted and don’t get to it until the next weekend. When I do, I’ve forgotten what I learned and can’t get the things I do remember to work right. It’s been that way for years.

I really liked some of what I did this time, though, and I think my designs hold their own against “professional” ones, for the most part. I still have a lot to learn, and can’t always get it right, but I’m a lot happier with what I’ve done recently than I have been in a long time.

With that in mind, I found a new theme on WordPress I put up on my fiction blog. And I like it so much, I’m thinking about using it here, too. And if I do, I’ll have nice, big banners I can make. (The one I did over there is a quick-‘n’-dirty one so I didn’t have to use the default pic WP provides, but there will be better ones soon.)

It’s going to give me a lot of practice doing something I love, and have a purpose for doing. I never even realized how they dovetailed until just now. The blog banners have been practice for making the book covers.

Ain’t God awesome?

So anyway, I’m going to put together something called a photomanipulation with my daughter next weekend. And when it’s finished – it might take more time than I have to spare – I’ll post it here and get your feedback. Should be fun!

Anyone out there have good Photoshop experience? good design principles for making eBook covers? suggestions? Bryce, you do some good ones with GIMP – what about you?

Sound off and let me know.

-jdt-

Weekend Gazette

Last week, I didn’t blog. Don’t know if you noticed. I really didn’t have time. I had a lot of things happening at work, and all of ‘em were tough.

Monday, I was notified by our ATR coordinator about yet another problem with the ATR search pages. I implemented, with a great smug grin of the Vaudeville hero, the fix I got from the programmer who’s the IT manager of the division with which we share the building. He did a bit of troubleshooting for us on one page a couple of weeks back because he owed our Quality Coordinator a favor. So, he solves a problem I bang away at for a week in about 10 minutes, and managed to make me feel inadequate and destroy the teensy bit of confidence I’d managed to build up all in one fell swoop. At least the bug was squashed.

So I put his fix in place, and you know what? Sure you do. It didn’t work.

So off to the debugger (I use Visual Studio because my free tool broke and my boss was kind enough to buy Visual Studio Professional for me when it did) I went. I spent hours poring over the code and still can’t fix the issue. (Now, it does what it should, but it repeats the results of the search so when there are a lot of records, the page gets long.)

I worked on that most of Monday and Tuesday, into Wednesday. Then I turned my attention back to Appmageddon, and tested an idea I had for solving my DAL (data access layer) separation problem. I found I could program dynamic link libraries, or dll files, once I learned what they were and how to create and deploy them in Visual Studio. And when those items came together, I tested with great success. I referenced my custom dll, and imported my custom dll, and my program was able to use the code in that dll just like it existed on my page. Awesome. I thought it was a very viable solution to my issue, since I can’t figure out how to reference and import an entire DAL program.

(Bryce, my buddy and programmer, doesn’t like the idea too much; he has good reasons for it and a ton of experience as a programmer I don’t have, so I give what he says credence. I’m not committed, but until a better solution comes along, I either have to put my data access code in every single page or I’m going to use my dll idea.)

Thursday, my boss called from North Carolina, where he’s visiting one of our manufacturing divisions for political reasons. He informed me the shipment report page I created (and deployed). He pointed out a couple of things on the open order report I created (and deployed) the day following the shipment report page. (I think I blogged about those major victories when they happened). After six months, I thought I’d slain those dragons, but here they are, rearing their ugly heads again.

One of the things he pointed out was easy to fix, so I took care of it. The other wasn’t easy to do, but wasn’t too time consuming either. I did those things on Thursday. Friday I decided to tackle the really hard one – getting a column from a different database table into the shipments table.

Now, I’d already done that in another way. So I just took what I did and enhanced it. Then, I realized I’d have to populate the column differently because not all the information sat in a single table. It goes like this:

I needed the part number and the manufacturing division from the shipment report.

Those both have to match a table in a different database so I can pull the division’s location zip code.

Then, I need the customer’s ship-to location zip code, so I have to also get the customer ship-to location from the shipment table.

I have a listing of the customer’s ship-to addresses in a different table in the second (non-shipment) database and so I have to pull the customer ship-to zip from there.

With the division’s zip and the customer’s zip, I can search a table in the second database (this is the third table now) which cross-references the customer and division zip code and produces the number of estimated days of transit based on standard UPS ground (said cross-reference having been built by hand using the UPS web site and some generic data about average shipment cargo weights, sizes, yada yada yada…)

Phew! So, it wasn’t a *poof!I operation, at all. But… I did it. I came home Friday night feeling like a million bucks and exhausted. I’d given my boss his wish list, not just the requirements. The only thing left to do is figure out how to format some dates when they’re exported to a spreadsheet (or before) so it saves a couple of steps in Excel. But that’s not a requirement, it’s another nice-to-have.

So Monday, I have to cover the ATR desk for the Quality Coordinator who’s using up the balance of her vacation before the end of the calendar year. And I’m going to have one day I have to burn in the next two weeks or I’ll lose it, too. And there’s my regular reporting to deal with, and the metrics report is coming up, and oh yeah, I almost forgot…

Appmageddon is due on the fifteenth. I haven’t started it yet. I’ve learned a ton of stuff (and I’m 71% of the way through my third video course, from which I’ve learned sooo much) and I’ve done a heckuva lot of research, but no results just yet.

Appmageddon. *Shivers*

How was your weekend? Sound off, y’all; I wanna know.

The Verdict on Scrivener

11-8-2011 9-02-28 PMI’ve been using Scrivener for a while now, to outline my newest novel, to write something which is under wraps for a while with my buddy Bryce, and just to piddle. I imported some of my old stuff just to see what it could do. And better still, what it can’t do.

The list of cans outstretches the can’ts by a long way, but I’m completely sold on this software for a few reasons.

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