Archive for April, 2012

Building applications for Microsoft operating systems

Published by | Wednesday, April 11th, 2012

We recently released Silverlight 5 Essential Training, with Walt Ritscher. If you’re new to Silverlight, check out this overview of the plug-in from chapter one of the course:

If you’re a developer who’s interested in working with Microsoft operating systems such as Windows 7, Windows Phone, or the upcoming Windows 8, you might wonder why this course might be important. After all, Silverlight, like Adobe’s Flash Player, is a web browser plug-in. You should be interested because many mobile devices, such as the iPhone or iPad, can’t display content built for these technologies, and Microsoft has made it clear that Silverlight apps won’t  be able to run across all modes of Internet Explorer when Windows 8 is delivered.

Fortunately, the skills you have acquired to build Silverlight applications are directly transferable to some new and important application platforms. Silverlight applications are created with a combination of XAML (eXtensible Application Markup Language) and your choice of either C#, or Visual Basic. (In his Silverlight 5 Essential Training course, Walt Ritscher focuses exclusively on C#, since it’s the more popular of the two languages.) Wondering how it all ties together? The same languages—XAML, C#, and Visual Basic—are all at the core of Microsoft’s developer platforms of the future: Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Consider the following XAML code snippet that declares a page control in a Silverlight application:

<UserControl x:Class=”SilverlightApp.MainPage”
…more XML namespaces…
mc:Ignorable=”d” d:DesignHeight=”300″ d:DesignWidth=”400″>
<Grid x:Name=”LayoutRoot” Background=”White” Width=”300″ Height=”200″>
   <TextBlock Height=”23″ HorizontalAlignment=”Left” Margin=”10,10,0,0″
     Text=”Hello World” VerticalAlignment=”Top” />

The code in bold font defines the layout and presentation of a single line of text: “Hello World.” Now here’s a page control for a Windows 8 Metro app; notice that the bolded code looks almost exactly the same:

<Page x:Class=”Win8App.MainPage”
…more XML namespaces…
 <Grid Background=”{StaticResource ApplicationPageBackgroundBrush}”>
   <TextBlock HorizontalAlignment=”Left” Margin=”10,10,0,0″ TextWrapping=”Wrap”
     Text=”Hello World!” VerticalAlignment=”Top” FontSize=”36″/>

And here’s a page control for Windows Phone:

<phone:PhoneApplicationPage x:Class=”PhoneApp.MainPage”
…more XML namespaces and properties…>
 <Grid x:Name=”ContentPanel” Grid.Row=”1″ Margin=”12,0,12,0″>
   <TextBlock Height=”30″ HorizontalAlignment=”Left” Margin=”10,10,0,0″
     Text=”Hello World” VerticalAlignment=”Top” />

These component definitions are all built with XAML, and use pretty much the same syntax to display text on the screen. They have different root elements: UserControl for Silverlight, Page for Windows 8, and PhoneApplicationPage for Windows Phone. But they all support the same basic set of visual controls such as Grid and TextBlock, and they all use “code-behind” architecture to bind logic written in C# or Visual Basic to visual presentation defined in XAML.

The bottom line is, you can’t just move an existing Silverlight or Windows Phone application to Windows 8 and expect it to work. The underlying technologies are different, and there are differences between the application programming interfaces (APIs) for the different operating systems. You’ll have to “port your application,” a process that involves creating new code files and copying selected portions of code to the new version of the application. You’ll probably also have to re-imagine the user interface for the new target OS, since applications written for a browser have different layout guidelines from those on a phone or tablet, or those designed to run full-screen in high resolution as they might on a Windows 8 desktop. If you already know how to use XAML and other .NET programming languages, learning how to build Windows 8 apps will be much faster and easier.

In this video from chapter three of the Silverlight 5 course, Walt explores the programming side of Silverlight 5 and discusses the relationship between XAML and .NET:

In the near future, we’ll be releasing courses on both Windows Phone and Windows 8 application development. If you want to learn some of the skills you’ll need right now, Walt Ritscher’s Silverlight 5 Essential Training course is a good place to start, along with his Visual Studio 2010 Essential Training, and Joe Marini’s C# Essential Training. You can use Microsoft’s free express versions of Visual Studio or a full copy of Visual Studio as your development environment. When you’re ready to get started with Windows 8, which is currently available as a free Consumer Preview, you can use a Beta version of Visual Studio that lets you build your first Metro apps right away.

Microsoft has put a lot of effort into making development skills and programming languages transferable across their multiple operating systems and application platforms; these efforts make it easier to learn, and easier to build applications for, their current and future technologies.


Interested in more?
• All developer courses on
• All courses from David Gassner on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Silverlight 5 Essential Training
Windows 8 Consumer Preview First Look
Visual Studio 2010 Essential Training
C# Essential Training
ASP.NET Essential Training

This week’s Featured Five: Using Styles for creative efficiency

Published by | Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Styles is a catch-all term that refers to a set of particulars like font size, color, effects, etc. that can be saved and applied over and over again. With no need to re-set your style preferences every time, you can save your sanity, your wrists, and perhaps most importantly, your time. Variations on the styles feature exist in many different applications, from word processors, to graphic design applications, to web-page authoring programs. For this week’s Featured Five, I’ve selected five free movies that reveal how styles can help you work more efficiently in five different creative applications.


1. Creating your first style with Microsoft Word

It’s quite possible that the first time most of us encounter the concept of a style is in Microsoft Word, where it can be very handy to establish font type, color, and size styles for various repeating elements of a document. In Word 2010: Styles in Depth, Mariann Siegert covers the whole gamut of style tools that Word provides. Here’s an unlocked excerpt from chapter one of the course that demonstrates how to create your first style:


2. Applying styles to objects with Adobe InDesign

InDesign, Adobe’s layout program, allows you to create five different kinds of styles, depending on what kind of elements need to have repeat formatting, and you aren’t just limited to creating text styles. In this excerpt from chapter five of InDesign Styles in Depth, Michael Murphy introduces object styles, which allow you to repeat the created attributes of your specially designed frames:


3. The nuances of style creation in Adobe Illustrator

Of course, InDesign isn’t the only place you may be working with text elements that would benefit from style creation. In this video from chapter six of Illustrator Insider Training: Type and Text, Mordy Golding takes a look at the particulars of working with text styles in Illustrator:


4. New styles features in Adobe Photoshop CS6 beta

For those of you who have struggled with managing your text settings and effects within Photoshop, your day has finally come. In the latest latest beta version of Photoshop, character and paragraph styles have finally arrived. As with any new feature, there’s a little bit of a learning curve. In this movie from Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview, Deke McClelland gives an overview of the new Photoshop text and style enhancements feature. (Note: For a limited time this course is completely unlocked, so consider checking it out as my featured five-plus bonus of the week.)


5. Creating styles for an entire website in Dreamweaver

You can efficiently establish a consistent look for every similar element in your entire web site by using Creative Style Sheets (CSS) in Dreamweaver. In this excerpt from chapter six of Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training, James Williamson takes you on a tour of the CSS Styles panel and reveals how much time can be saved by establishing consistent styles for your site.

Feeling inspired to explore some of the uncharted learning paths on your own to-do list? Remember, 10 percent of all content is free to try. Just click on any of the blue links on any course table of contents page in our library.

Free Movies

I’ll be back next week with five more free selections. In the mean time, have you recently seen any free movies from you’d like to share?


Suggested courses to watch next:
Word 2010: Styles in Depth
InDesign Styles in Depth
Illustrator Insider Training: Type and Text
Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview
Dreamweaver CS5 Essential Training


Deke’s Techniques: Creating a grass text effect in Photoshop

Published by | Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

This week’s Deke’s Techniques continues the celebration of Spring that began last week with an exercise in creating type out of freshly cut turf. In last week’s episode, Deke showed you how to create leafy letters by using a Photoshop type layer as a mask. In this week’s free video, you’ll see how Deke renders type in freshly cut grass. Like last week’s leafy letters, this technique begins by using a Photoshop text layer as a mask for a grassy green photograph, and leverages the power of Refine Mask to ensure that the letters have appropriately rendered edges that do justice to the grass hedges of our masked image.

This week Deke also goes a little further to show you the nuances of working with grass on dirt, which requires anticipating how to lift the appropriate shadow color from the dirt that underlies the turf. A grass effect is particularly sensitive to the Refine Edge command, meaning that the letters tend to run together in an unfortunate way. To avoid this, Deke shows you how to split the layer mask into two parts in order to make sure the letters retain their separation. As a final step, if you are working with turf, you naturally need to embed a perfectly landed golf ball into your image. With careful application of the shadow, you can really sell this effect, as seen here:

Words with grass effect created in Photoshop.

See you back next week with another fresh technique from Deke!


Interested in more?
• The entire Deke’s Techniques weekly series on
• Courses by Deke McClelland on
• All Photoshop courses on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
• Photoshop for Designers: Layer Effects
• Photoshop Masking & Compositing: Fundamentals
 Photoshop CS6 Beta Preview

Tips for getting rid of hums, rumbles, and buzzes on audio tracks

Published by | Monday, April 9th, 2012

Noisy audio tracks are one of the most common problems encountered when producing video. Voiceover tracks, dialog tracks, background noise for a scene, and any other type of audio source may include unwanted hum, rumbles, or buzzes. Having high-quality audio is a major factor in producing excellent video content. So, what do you do if the audio for your video project is subpar and includes a lot of noise? Here are some tips on how to reduce the noise on your audio tracks.

First, it’s important to know that these unwanted noises are actually made up of harmonic tones, and to start reducing these noises, knowing what to listen for can help.

Three tips to help you get started on a new web development project

Published by | Saturday, April 7th, 2012

View Source series table of contents as seen on

Recently I received a message from a member inquiring about how I choose the topics I cover in my weekly View Source series. If you were to look at the index for View Source, it may look like unrelated topics, but all the tutorials do have a common thread—they were all made to focus on 10-minute tips that are useful to self-starters. For many years I designed websites, graphics, icons, and multimedia projects for a large newspaper and felt somewhat like a small cog in a really big engine. It was at that job that I learned how to code with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but ultimately I knew there was a lot more to making a site successful than coding. It’s those ‘other’ skills you need to be a success that I try to touch on as often as possible in my View Source entries.

Today’s blog entry stems from a post-newspaper job I was offered making a network of radio station websites from scratch. Since I have a natural love for learning, the thought of putting something brand new together was irresistible, but with knowledge of only the core trifecta (HTML, CSS, and JavaScript), I really needed to focus on what real-world techniques and skills I needed to accomplish this job.

What comes next? What skills do I have to develop ? What techniques do I have to learn? These are some of the questions I regularly asked myself when I was facing the radio station build, and questions I often ask myself now when I am coming up with View Source topics, so I wanted to share three things I learned in my early transition that helped me to move on and start a new project.


1. Analytics

One of the first things that caught my eye even while working as a small cog in the newspaper industry was analytics, and in particular, traffic patterns on web sites. My first experience with analytics was learning how to use a program called Urchin, which was the precursor to Google Analytics. Working in Urchin I learned that web sites, like most things, obey certain patterns. For example, web sites tend to have more traffic on weekdays than weekends, and traffic goes down dramatically on holidays. I learned that it’s important to track your web apps as soon as you launch them, and then to make your future plans are based on how people are interacting with your product.

One of my tasks I preformed on the radio station web site was to build a small 1-10 rating system feature that I didn’t think much about. The rating system worked by letting you give Kudos and ratings to your friends directly on your friend’s pages. It didn’t take me that long to program, and I had no real plans for doing much else with it, but people went nuts over the feature. Soon rating wars and a reciprocal rating requests (‘I’ll give you a 10 if you give me a 10′) starting breaking out as people wanted to make sure to always have a lot of votes and a perfect 10 rating. I didn’t see it coming, but using analytics to study the usage of the network allowed me to adjust my programming accordingly.

Learning how people use your products is even more important than your road map. Your users are the most important thing, so it’s very important to make sure you know how they’re using your product, and using analytics allows you to really track what is working (and what isn’t).

In this video from chapter two of the Google Analytics Essential Training course, author Corey Koberg discusses the concept of web analytics as not only a tool, but also a process.

2. Jumping into back-end technologies

On the web, developers talk about front-end versus back-end technologies. Front-end refers to technologies that execute on a user’s browser—the aforementioned HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are all front-end technologies. To build web sites that serve up different information to different users, you have to learn back-end languages, which tend to be more complicated. When I left my first job I already knew that no site gets built with only front-end technologies, so I started right away with PHP, which is still a great way to learn back-end development. PHP is a great language for solving problems. Do you need to submit a form? Talk to a database? Upload a File? These are all things PHP can make easy.

In the coming weeks, there’s going to be more discussion of back-end technologies on View Source. In this week’s episode, seen below, I focus on showing you how to parse XML from a YouTube channel.

Why YouTube? Building a YouTube Channel lets you tap into YouTube’s huge audience which views about three billion videos per day, and sees about 800 million unique visitors per month. Creating a YouTube channel is easy, free, and allows you to incorporate video into your site without any bandwidth costs.

3. Using jQuery and AJAX

One of the other technologies I committed myself to learning after leaving my newspaper job was jQuery. I wasn’t particularly interested in jQuery, but I was interested in what jQuery could do for sites through AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). You see, there is a problem with JavaScript, and it’s the same problem that many web languages encounter—the way the language works on different platforms is inconsistent. This is really evident when you start working with AJAX as a way to have sites update content without reloads. jQuery takes care of the cross-platform issues and allows you to build things that would be really hard to do using only JavaScript. jQuery also helps your site feel modern and, because it handles cross-platform issues, it will make your life easier.

If you’ve got seven minutes, take a look at this View Source tutorial that shows you how to build a photo rotator using jQuery:


Every week, I plan on expanding the list of technologies featured in the View Source series, including a focus on mobile, CSS, CMS, and others. I will also continue to focus on tricks I’ve learned along the way, and emerging technologies like jQuery mobile. As always, if you have an idea for something you’d like covered, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below!


Interested in more?
• The entire View Source weekly series
• All developer courses on
• All web + interactive courses on
• All courses from Ray Villalobos on

Suggested courses to watch next:
Mobile Web Design & Development Fundamentals
Google Analytics Essential Training
Web Site Planning and Wireframing: Hands-On Training
Web Form Design Best Practices Learning Path: Learning to make sense of data with Microsoft Excel

Published by | Friday, April 6th, 2012

Microsoft Excel is well-known as the industry-standard spreadsheet program, and it is really a veritable Swiss Army knife of an application. It can be used for anything from making a quick structured chart to a reasonably powerful database. The fact that it’s hard to pin down just how people want to use Excel—anything from managing finances to data presentation—is the precise reason our library is full of specialized Excel courses. So how do you find the courses that will suit your particular Excel needs best?

What if you’re not a math wiz and you just want to learn how to manage the deluge of data that’s coming your way? You could be trying to makes sense of painstaking measurements you’ve documented for your own personal goals, or you could be trying to wrangle a collection of raw numbers from your latest auto-generated sales report. Which of the Excel courses are going to help you analyze those numbers so that you can communicate trends, build strategies, and create the justification for a call to action? In this learning path, I’ll take you through some key Excel courses designed specifically to help you manage your data so that it is accessible and useful to you in your life, your work, and your community.


1. Starting from square one: I just need to learn the core Excel features and where they live in my version of the program.
First things first, you need to know what Excel can do and how to access the tools that might help your project. Whether you’ve never used Excel before or you’ve only touched it when you absolutely had to, the best place to get started is with Excel portion of our Essential Training series. If you’re using the most current version of Excel, start with Excel 2010 Essential Training, or Excel for Mac 2011 Essential Training, depending on your platform. If you haven’t updated to the latest version of Excel, we also have Excel 2007 Essential Training and Excel 2003 Essential Training available. Regardless of which course you choose, you’ll find everything you need to know to get started efficiently creating your first spreadsheet.

2. Sorting basics: I know how to create a spreadsheet, but I haven’t ever explored the key sorting features.
If you’ve only performed the most basic of A>Z sorts, then our course on Managing and Analyzing Data in Excel will help you understand Excel’s quick and sophisticated options for sorting your numbers. For instance, you can teach Excel to recognize non-numerical information like months, days, or other human-centered data. Here’s a movie from the course on sorting based on the order of data in custom lists:

3. Investigating new perspectives: I know how to perform basic ranking and sorting functions, but I need to quickly see the data from different angles.
When you have data that needs to be quickly analyzed from different perspectives, by year, by company, or against some other variable, a pivot table helps you dynamically rearrange your table data to find the answer you need. Our Excel 2010 course on Pivot Tables In Depth shows you how this powerful feature works. Even if you’ve never created a pivot table before, this course will walk you through the process. Check out this movie to see how they work and why they are so powerful for data analysis:

4. Preparing data for efficient and accurate analysis: I know how to use the tools, but the raw data I’m getting is inconsistent and in multiple formats.
Sometimes you get handed automatically generated, or humanly created information that comes in formats that Excel doesn’t quite know how to read efficiently, if at all. To get some important tips and workarounds for making sure this data is consistent enough to sort, check out Cleaning up Your Excel Data. Here’s a great example on how to create Excel-readable dates from an inefficient mixture of raw date formats:

5. Ensuring valid results: I can perform all the key analysis functions, but my file is huge and I don’t have a way to check my results.
Our Excel: Data Validation in Depth course is designed to reveal the various ways you can command Excel to double-check your results for accuracy. In this course, you’ll see how to use features within the program to perform validation on your outcomes. Check out this introductory video from the course to see what Excel tricks you can learn from Dennis Taylor:

Of course, beyond these five jumping-off points, there’s still an incredible amount to be learned about Excel, and we have a wide variety of courses to help you take your next steps. In the library, you’ll find that courses also have alternate options that coincide with earlier versions of Excel, so there’s a little bit of something for everyone. Speaking from personal experience, even as a Mac user, I know that sections of these courses have come to my own number-crunching rescue many times.

What sorts of tasks do you want to do in Excel? How can we help clear a path for you to get to that knowledge?


Interested in more?
• See all the Microsoft Excel courses available on

New interview format: Insights from a Business Coach

Published by | Friday, April 6th, 2012

We just launched Insights from a Business Coach and are eager to hear how you like its interview format. In the course, veteran business coach and author Dave Crenshaw answers common questions about starting and growing a business, including the basics of entrepreneurship, ways to foster great customer relationships, social media marketing tips, pitching to investors, and planning ahead.

Which tips did you find most helpful? What kinds of questions would you ask a business coach? We look forward to your comments and feedback!

InDesign FX: Creating cast shadows

Published by | Thursday, April 5th, 2012

When it comes to judging graphic effects, sometimes I think shadows have an unfairly bad reputation. Sure, the quick and dirty, default InDesign drop shadow is almost always ineffective, sloppy, and easily spotted. It’s too big, too dark, and always protrudes equally from the bottom and right sides of an object. Pick up any magazine, and I bet you’ll find five of them within a minute. But beware, once you start noticing them, it’s impossible to stop.

When you take the time to think about what shadows really look like, and then apply that knowledge to your effects, your shadows can enhance your work in a way that no other effect can. Shadows can add dramatic depth or subtle realism. Plus, for my money, they’re the fastest and easiest effect to use. When a deadline looms and you need to enhance a design as quickly as possible, a well-placed shadow is your best bet.

One of the biggest obstacles to making great shadows in InDesign is the seeming lack of cast shadow controls. InDesign makes two kinds of shadows: drop shadows and inner shadows—and that’s it. There’s seems to be no way to make a shadow that doesn’t match the original size and shape of the object. Or is there?

Sure there is! You just have to think outside the (shadow) box. Up in the Control panel, you have tools for scaling and shearing objects. These kind of controls are perfect for creating cast shadows, you just need to make an object that looks like a shadow first. To do this, you employ a simple blend mode trick that involves filling an object (or text) with the [Paper] swatch and setting it to the Multiply blend mode. This makes the fill of the object disappear, but you can still apply a visible drop-shadow to this invisible object.

InDesign cast shadown example.

That drop shadow’s connection to its invisible-object owner will also allow it to mimic any scaling and skewing you apply to the invisible object. Add a little gradient feather to add some realism and voila! A cast shadow that you can position and tweak to your heart’s delight.

InDesign cast shadow with slant

Put it behind a copy of the original object and you have the cast shadow effect.

inDesign cast shadow finished

For members, I also have another new video this week in the online training library called Exploring Outer Glow Settings. In that video I show the basics of Outer Glow, as well as some of the more advanced techniques you can use. As an example, here’s a sample of an eerie alien effect you can create by combining two outer glows.

InDesign alien effect created with outer glow effects
Another advanced trick is to combine outer glow with bevel and emboss in a way that makes the glow actually color the embossing. Usually you can only add color to the shadows and highlights in embossing, not the entire thing. In this instance, the glow yields softer edges than you could get with a simple stroke.

Combining outerglow effects with emboss in InDesign

See you here again in two weeks with another InDesign effect!


Interested in more?
• The complete InDesign FX course
• All InDesign courses on
• All courses by Mike Rankin on

 Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign CS5 Essential Training
• Creating Long Documents with InDesign
• InDesign Styles in Depth