Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Making fixed sized selections in Photoshop

When you need a series of same sized images, you can create an image using a fixed size selection in Photoshop. To do this, choose the Rectangular Marquee tool and selecting the Fixed Size option from the Style dropdown list. Set the width and height in pixels and then click on the image. A marquee of this size appears and you can drag it with your mouse to position it in the correct place and then crop the image. If you simply want to select with the same overall aspect ratio but resize the image later on, select the Fixed Aspect Ratio option and set the ratio of height to width for the selection.

If your selection is not a regular one, for example if you want to cut a piece from a series of images in the shape of Australian, make the selection and save it to a channel in the document by choosing Select, Save Selection. With the document still open, open the images to crop the shape from and load the selection using Select, Load Selection and select the image in which you saved the selection from the dropdown list. Now you can move the selection into position and crop the shape from the image.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

Stop the action

Much of the action in the snow in winter is of the skiing and snowboarding kind. These are fast paced sports and you’ll need to be ready to capture the action so your photos are crisp and sharp and not blurry. There are two handy techniques you can employ. One is to use the sports or action mode on your camera so the shutter speed will be very short and the shot will be taken very fast – sometimes in the order of 1/250 of a second or shorter. This is so quick that the action will be effectively frozen. Another method is to follow the subject with the camera as you take the shot. Stand still and brace the camera to your body as you follow the subject’s movement. Focus and take your shot while you are still moving and continue to move after the photo has been shot. This technique will result in the subject being sharply in focus against a deliciously blurry background.

Helen Bradley

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Smarter editing in Microsoft Publisher

When you’re working with large pieces of text in Microsoft Publisher, you may find it easier to work in Word rather than Publisher. This way you can concentrate on your text without having to deal with layout issues.

Then, when you have finished settling your text, import it into a Publisher text box by clicking in the text box and choose Insert, Text file and browse to locate and import your file.

On the other hand, you can edit a piece of text in Word from inside Publisher if you right click a text frame in Publisher and choose Change Text, Edit Story in Microsoft Word to export it to Word. When you’re done, choose File, Close & Return to return to Publisher.

Helen Bradley

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

GimpSHOP – all about layers, layer palettes and masks

GimpSHOP is Gimp with a great front end that makes it work much like Photoshop which you can find free for downloading here: GimpSHOP.

GimpSHOP, like any good photo editing program supports layers, and layer masks. These features aren’t always simple to get your head around but when you do, you’ll find they’re invaluable tools to use for photo editing tasks. Here, step by step, is how to work with them:

Step 1
To display the Layers palette press Shift F7 or choose Window, Layers. To add a new layer choose Layer, Duplicate Layer. There are no adjustment layers available in Gimp or GimpSHOP so this process keeps your original photo layer safe in case you need to use it later on.

Step 2
To adjust the levels in the image to improve its tonal range, choose Image, Adjustments, Levels and drag the sliders on the Input area of the dialog to adjust the contrast. The sliders under the chart should be moved inwards so they appear under the ends of the chart. The middle slider adjusts the midtones. Click Ok to apply this to the layer.

Step 3
To see how you can apply an effect or adjustment to this layer and blend it with the layer below, first create a duplicate of the top layer by choosing Layer, Duplicate Layer. Apply the edge detect filter by choosing Filter, Edge Detect, Edge and choose the Sobel Algorithm with the default value. This gives a new layer which is predominantly black and which displays the coloured edges in the image.

Step 4
Now, in the Layers palette, select the Divide blend mode from the dropdown list. Blend modes control how the top layer interacts with the layers below. Drag the opacity slider to the left to reduce the opacity of this layer so that some of the layers below show through thus mitigating some of the effect created by blending the layers together.

Step 5
To edit the effect the top layer gives to the image, use a Layer mask. Choose Layer, Mask, Add Layer Mask and choose White (full opacity) and click Ok. You should see no change in the image. Now select black or grey as the paint colour and paint the image to show part of the layers below through the image, thus effectively removing the effect of the blended edge filter. Paint with white to reapply the layer effect.

Step 6
The Layers menu offers tools for viewing a layer mask, applying it permanently to the layer, deleting it and making a selection based on it, etc.. You can also use the menu to configure the size of the thumbnail images by clicking by choosing Preview Size and then choose a view size from the list.

Helen Bradley

Saturday, February 24th, 2007

Microsoft Word – Working with

Whether you realise it or not, you use a template evert time you work in Word.

Normal .dot is a special Word template which is used as the basis of all new documents created when you click the New Blank Document button on the Word toolbar. Not only does contain the basic formatting for most of the documents, it also contains macros, toolbars, auto text, and styles. Macros which are stored in are accessible to all documents created using the template. Because so much information is stored in you should back it up regularly so that you do not lose the data in the file if it becomes corrupt.

For special documents which have settings that are peculiar to the document type and different to other documents, create your own custom templates. To do this, create a new blank document and place in it all the information and settings you typically use in this type of document. For example, for a memorandum insert the word memorandum, the To, From and Date lines, and perhaps even a signature. Set up the document with the printing setting for your printer (trays and paper etc), and set the font and font size for the Normal style, and page margins. Save the document as a template by choosing File, Save As and, from the Save As type list choose Word Template (*.dot), give the file a name and save it.

You can include styles in a template by clicking the Styles and Formatting button on the Formatting toolbar and create or alter the styles in the document to suit your needs. Resave the template so that the Styles are included in it. These styles will be available to all new documents based on that template.

When you have a template with Styles, Auto Text, Macros, or Toolbars that you want to use in another template, copy these from one template to the other. Choose Tools, Macro, Macros, Organize. Open one template in the left pane of the Organizer and the other template in the right hand pane and use the Copy button to copy elements from one template to the other. This is handy for sharing styles, macros, etc. amongst other users – you can copy the template to a disk and distribute it with the attached elements in it.

To attach a template with its styles and so on, to an existing document choose Tools, Templates and Add-ins, Templates tab and click Attach. Select the template to add, enable the Automatically update document styles checkbox if you wish to apply the styles in this template to the document in preference to the styles currently applied and click Ok.

Helen Bradley

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Excel – trapping invalid data

There’s a term that I love called GIGO – garbage in garbage out. When you’re designing an Excle worksheet to solve a business problem you need to make sure that your data is correct or your worksheets won’t give valid results.

Luckily, Excel’s Data Validation tool helps you prevent incorrect data being added into your worksheet.

To set up a validation rule and to configure what will happen if incorrect data is entered, start by selecting the cells to which the rule should apply. Choose Data, Validation, Settings tab. Now, for example, to limit the data being entered to a whole number less than 200, select whole number from the Allow drop down list. When the Data area appears, choose Less Than and then in the Maximum area type 200.

To configure a user message to tell the user what is required, click the Input Message tab and type a title and a piece of explanatory text telling the user the limits to the type of Data you’re expecting them to enter. This appears as a tooltip entry when any of the cells configured with the data validation rule is selected.

You can also specify what should happen if a user enters an incorrect value. To do this, click the Error Alert tab and select the type of indicator from the Style list. If the user enters incorrect data and if you have chosen the Stop style they will have two choices – Retry and Cancel and the invalid data cannot be entered into the cell. The Warning and Information styles both warn about the incorrect data but still allow it to be entered.

Once you’ve chosen the style, enter the Title and the Error Message which the user will see if the data in not correct. Click Ok and you can now test the rule.

Helen Bradley

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Music your way with Pandora

As a kid, when I visited the library, I’d tell the librarian the authors I liked and they’d suggest others who wrote similar books. Sometimes I didn’t like what they recommended, most of the time I’d find a new author and a swag of new books to consume. When it comes to music, these days my music librarian is Pandora the face of the Music Genome Project.

The concept of Pandora is simple, you tell it a musician or piece of music that is typical of the music you want to listen to and it creates an entire online radio station for you, based on information it knows about the music you’ve chosen. It finds, in its collection, songs that have similar characteristics to the music you like and it sereves them uup to you one at a time. Within minutes you’er sure to find new artists and bands you never knew existed. Pandora has a great feedback system too, you get to tell it if the choice it has made for you is music you like or that you don’t like – smply click the thumbs up or thumbs down button and it takes note of your opinion. If it’s thumbs up it continues to play the song, if you don’t like it, Pandora moves forward to the next song.

You’re not limited to one station either. If Monday mornings are Leonhard Cohen and Fridays party time, you can create different channels to match your mood by seeding the channel with a single type of music., In fact that’s an important feature of Pandora, it works best when you keep different moods separate in different ‘stations’.

While the music is playing you can get on with your day or, if you have the Pandora site still visible, you’ll see the album art for the current track and ask Pandora why that track was played. You can use the Menu option to move the track to another station or to buy the track from Amazon or iTunes. You can also select Backstage to learn more about the artist that you’re listening to.

Pandora is free and fun to use. You can create up to 100 stations so that should keep you entertained for some time. The music library there is not exhaustive but it is expanding and you don’t need anything special to listen to the music apart from a web browser and the flash player add-in which you probably have already. To enjoy the service you will need a broadband connection as it doesn’t support dial-up connections.

Find Pandora here and, if you like, listen to my stations here.

Helen Bradley

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Excel – finding duplicates

Excel’s conditional formatting option has lots of handy uses including highlighting cells that contain duplicate data.

To do this, highlight the range to investigate, for example, a series of entries in column C starting with cell C1. Now choose Format, Conditional Formatting, select Formula Is and enter this in the formula area:


Click Format and then select a pattern and color to use and click Ok.

Now duplicate entries in the column will be indicated with the shading you’ve provided. You can copy and paste this formatting down to other cells in column C to include them.

Helen Bradley

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Getting into PowerPoint Actions

When you create PowerPoint presentations that will be used or viewed by one person at a time, rather than by a group, you can customise movement using Action buttons.

Using an action button you can take a user to another place in the presentation or offer Yes and No as a choice to progress to the next slide and take the user to different places depending on their answer.

To add an action button, click on the slide to contain the action and chose Slide Show, Action Buttons and choose Action Button: Information and drag to place the button on the slide. When the Action Settings dialog appears, choose Hyperlink to and select the slide to link to. When a user clicks the button they will be taken to that slide.

If you want them to be able to return to where they came from you can add an Action: Return button to the slide you’re sending them to and they can click it to return to where they came from. This is handy for providing a slide with more information on the topic, for example.

You can use Actions without the buttons that PowerPoint provides. So, for example, you can use custom icons or AutoShapes and place them on the slide. Then right click the image and choose Action Settings from the menu. From here you can configure the same action options for the shape as you do for a PowerPoint Action button.

Action buttons can also be used to display an Excel worksheet or chart, a Word document, or even a web page, for example. When you’re creating an action button that should appear on all the slides in a presentation, you should create it on the Slide master by choosing View, Masters, Slide Master. Then the action button will be accessible to all slides in the presentation. If you need to block it from one slide, place an object over the top of it – action buttons under other objects are disabled and cannot be clicked.

Helen Bradley

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Outlook 2003 – out of office reply

If you’re not around to read your email you can configure Outlook to automatically reply to incoming messages to tell senders that you’re out of the office and when you’ll return.

There are two possible scenarios, either you’re using Microsoft Exchange Server at work or you’re using a standalone version – most likely at home.

If you’re using Outlook 2003 with Microsoft Exchange Server service you’ll find in your profile that you have an Out of Office Assistant you can use to manage replies to your emails when you’re out of the office. To do this, choose Tools, Out of Office Assistant and click the I am currently Out of the Office option. In the AutoReply only once to each sender with the following text area type the message. It is usual to indicate that you are out of the office and the time you anticipate returning.

You can also create a rule so that only certain types of messages receive this reply. To do this, choose Tools, Out of Office Assistant and click the Add Rule option to specify the types of messages to which the reply will be forwarded. For example, you may create one reply for external mail and one for internal mail.

If you don’t have the Out Of Office Assistant available (this will be the case if you’re using a standalone version of Outlook), you can mimic the solution using a template reply email and a rule. Ensure you are using Outlook as your email creating software – this won’t work if you’re using Word. To check this choose Tools, Options, Mail Format tab and ensure Word is not selected here and ensure Plain Text is selected. Now follow the instructions in the previous tip to create a reply template message.

Now choose Tools, Rules and Alerts and click the E-mail Rules tab and click New Rule to start the Rules Wizard. Click Start from a blank rule and select Check messages when they arrive, and click Next. When prompted with Which condition(s) do you want to check? select a box describing the type of message to apply it to – such as emails received through the specified account or Sent Only To Me. Click Next. When prompted with What do you want to do with the message?, click the Reply using a specific template option. In the second panel, click the specific template option and select your reply template and click Open. Click Next, add any exceptions and click Next. Name your rule and set it to run and click Finish.

Outlook tracks who has received the replies and won’t send multiple replies even when it receives multiple messages from the same person.

Helen Bradley

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