Archive for September, 2012

Playing the Smart Strings in GarageBand for iPad

Published by | Friday, September 28th, 2012

You may find the Apple iPad touchscreen useful for many things in your everyday life, but did you know that you could use it to play violin, viola, cello, and upright bass? Even if you use a different Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) for your music production, you might want to consider using Smart Strings in GarageBand for iPad if adding a string part to your songs is something that interests you.

In iPad Music Production: GarageBand, Garrick Chow shows how to play the Smart Strings, including how to play in chord mode and note mode. In chord mode, the chords are made by up to five instruments: 1st violin, 2nd violin, viola, cello, and bass, or any combination of the five. Choose the key of the song and eight chord strips appear, one for every chord in that key.

Boosting business with smart branding strategies

Published by | Friday, September 28th, 2012

You have a brand—but are you in control of it? Organizations large and small, non-profits, products, and even individuals can harness the power of branding to boost business and connect with customers.

Branding is more than your logo. A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that identifies your brand as distinct in the marketplace. It’s about marketplace perception—how clients and customers perceive the personality of your organization—so it’s key to plan and manage this perception. For example, the design, logo, tagline, and messaging of your organization have to be consistent across all media channels to boost credibility and familiarity with your customer.

I just released a third course, Brand Building Basics, that covers these topics and more. There are several free exercise files that you can use (great for web designers, marketing managers, business owners, students), plus, you can connect with me on Twitter or leave me questions in the comments area below.


Interested in more?
• All business courses on
• All courses by Lorrie Thomas Ross

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Social Media Marketing with Facebook and Twitter
• Google+ for Business

• LinkedIn Essential Training
 SEO Fundamentals

InDesign Secrets: Wrapping text around images and shapes

Published by | Thursday, September 27th, 2012

In this week’s free InDesign Secrets episode, Anne-Marie Concepción shows you how to wrap your text around the contours of an image object. In Anne-Marie’s example, she creates a custom text wrap by instructing Adobe InDesign to wrap around the object shape, which in her case is defined by a mask that’s part of a placed image. Once you’ve established the text wrap boundary, you can actually manipulate it as you would any vector shape: add anchor points with the Pen tool, move the control handles, and generally follow the lines of your graphic element as closely as you want.

The technique that Anne-Marie demonstrates can be used for any placed graphic. For instance, let’s say I had the text below placed next to this stylized lightbulb:


A block of text next to a lightbulb graphic in Adobe InDesign


As Anne-Marie demonstrates, using the Text Wrap option called Wrap Around Object Shape, I can create a boundary for the wrapping effect that’s independent from the graphic’s bounding box. Because my lightbulb is sitting on a transparent background, InDesign can see the contours and I can reshape the green text wrap boundary so the words wrap around the curves of the lightbulb exactly as I wish:


A demonstration of the Wrap Around Object Shape option in Adobe InDesign with labels

Here’s the final result:

The resulting wrapped text and lightbulb graphic

Check out the video above or on to learn more about the details and nuances of using the Wrap Around Object Shape feature.

Meanwhile, Anne-Marie’s partner in InDesign secrecy, David Blatner, has a member-exclusive tutorial this week called Inserting pages: Understanding the Pages panel, in which he reveals how to insert new pages into your InDesign document.

Anne-Marie and David will be back in two weeks with more InDesign Secrets.


Interested in more?
• The entire InDesign Secrets biweekly series
• Courses by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción on
• All InDesign courses

Suggested courses to watch next:
InDesign CS6 New Features
 InDesign CS6 Essential Training
InDesign Typography


Green computing starts with your code

Published by | Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Is a paperless society really an energy savior?

Manufacturing office paper consumes more energy than producing food, and at nearly 8 percent of US energy going to paper, even more than steel. With these statistics in mind, it’s easy to believe a paperless society would conserve massive amounts of energy. Consider: An electronic memo doesn’t consume paper, doesn’t use ink, doesn’t require a printer spinning motors, and doesn’t require a delivery truck. Some bright folks calculated the savings for sending an electronic memo over paper is about .36 kilowatt-hours (kWh), or an energy-spend equivalent to microwaving three potatoes.

The Internet has a carbon footprint

But hold on a minute—that savings assumes an electronic memo uses no electricity, which is false. According to one estimate, moving one megabyte across the Internet costs .006 kWh, or the energy contained in one very small bite of a chocolate chip cookie.

We move a lot of kilowatts across the Internet. Different groups will provide different estimates, but Cisco estimates [CA3] traffic will pass the zettabyte threshold by 2017. No matter how you run the numbers, all those .006 kWh chocolate chip cookie–sized bytes of data have an impact. Google alone used 2,259,998 megawatt-hours (mWh) in 2010. When you’re consuming this statistic, keep in mind 1 mWh can sustain 1,000 homes for one hour. Another interesting tidbit: Google estimates an Internet search consumes one-third of a watt-hour or .0003 kWh (if you’re keeping track in cookie similes, this is about a cookie crumb).

Moving data isn’t the only thing computers do; they also store data. As an example, services such as Amazon EC2 charge by demand based on processor time, and a majority of that payment goes for electricity. According to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, at this rate these server farms will account for about 10 percent of northwestern electricity by 2030. Code costs money to run. Inefficient code costs more money to run.

Your code is the solution

So why is the content manager for the Developer segment at bringing this up? What does this have to do with programmers? Other than turning off lights and computers, what can we do?

Plenty. Our code drives the microprocessors that use all this power. Our code makes calls to APIs that spin up central processing units (CPUs) that create thermal load that require cooling that devour electricity.

Mobile devices bring this issue into sharp focus. Unnecessary code chews up precious battery life, reducing the time between recharges. Apple banned Adobe Flash from the iPhone because of excessive battery usage. Interestingly, this battery drain seems to be related to code, not hardware. Imagine the difference if Adobe had been able to reduce the power consumed by Flash with more efficient programming.

Tips for writing efficient code

Your office has power-saving features: lights controlled by timers, setback thermostats, and paper recycling. Why not write code with the same intent? Cache data from the server and reduce the number of queries. Optimize SQL calls to produce only the results you need. Once we start looking for ways to reduce load on the Internet, we’ll see many more options.

• Profile your code to reduce unnecessary cycles. In Drew Falkman‘s PHP 5.4 New Features course, profiling is discussed and examples are provided on how to write more efficient code. Take a look at the third movie in chapter one titled Using the High Precision Timer.

• Write closer to the CPU. Instead of writing a mobile web app, consider creating a native app using Objective-C, C#, or Java. Your application will run faster, and require fewer conversations across the Internet. For more guidance, consider checking out Objective-C Essential Training, C# Essential Training, and Java Essential Training.

• Write efficient HTML. Optimizing HTML pages not only improves the performance of your website, but will also reduce the number of hits on the server and the associated load. Look at Google Webmaster Tools, or check out Bill Weinman’s HTML5: Local Storage and Offline Applications in Depth to learn more about ways to store data locally, instead of on servers.

In closing, consider this: Programmers used to fret about available memory when 16 kilobytes of ram was a big deal, and they learned to be efficient. Over time, memory has become cheap and programs have become larger, but now we face an energy shortage. Why not start considering energy conservation to be the next big programming challenge?

Your thoughts?


Deke’s Techniques: Creating a classic carved font by hand in Illustrator

Published by | Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

In this week’s free episode of Deke’s Techniques, Deke shows you how to take any font you like and give it a carved, sculpted, or engraved effect.

As Deke points out in the video, some fonts already have an engraved, or sculpted effect built in, like Imprint Shadow for instance:

The Imprint Shadow font

You don’t have to rely on a font to come with this effect though. You can create your own built-up, carved effect using any font you have available, Adobe Illustrator, and a host of Transform and Offset effects applied systematically to a collection of strokes and fills. Take this type from last week’s project, which is set in the classic 1910 typeface Hobo, for instance:

1910 typeface Hobo

In the video, you’ll see how Deke transforms flat letters into sculpted, almost molded, letters by duplicating the stroke and resizing, moving, and changing its colors to create shadows and the illusion of highlights. In the finished font below, you can also see he’s applied a similar treatment to the stars, which he demonstrates with another set of effects in this week’s video. Note the number of effects applied to the multiple strokes in the Appearance panel. These are all just mutated duplicates of the original stroke (in other words, no drawing involved):

Deke's embellished typeface with the Adobe Illustrator Appearance panel


The result, when combined with last week’s Spirograph-style embellishment, is this striking logo that—dare I say—really pops.

The finished type effect placed in the Spirograph-style logo

Deke will be back with another new technique next week!


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

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Fundamentals
• Illustrator CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals
• Illustrator Insider Training: Rethinking the Essentials More workers seeking training

Published by | Friday, September 21st, 2012

According to a print and online New York Times article this week, more and more workers—from mechanics to librarians to doctors—are turning to and other training sources to stay competitive in their careers.

“The need to constantly adapt is the new reality for many workers, well beyond the information technology business,” writes author Shaila Dewan in the Sept. 21 Business Day story To Stay Relevant in a Career, Workers Train Nonstop. “Going back to school for months or years is not realistic for many workers, who are often left to figure out for themselves what new skills will make them more valuable, or just keep them from obsolescence. In their quest to occupy a valuable niche, they are turning to bite-size instructional videos, peer-to-peer forums and virtual college courses.”

Exploring browser animation options: Part two, jQuery

Published by | Friday, September 21st, 2012

Animation can be accomplished in many ways with modern browsers. I’m currently working on a series of blog articles that explore some of the browser animation options available. In my last article, I looked at creating animations with CSS3 using keyframes and transitions. In this article, I’ll look at how to use jQuery to animate objects.

jQuery is a JavaScript library for building interactivity into web applications. One feature of jQuery is its ability to animate elements in HTML. This is quite powerful and useful because another feature of jQuery is its focus on remaining as backward compatible with older browsers as possible. This is significant because these two elements together make jQuery one of the most compatible of the animation options.

A good example of how to use jQuery animations can be found on my MexSantos MexSantos project, which is part of a creating Adaptive Website for Multiple Screens course I prepared for

The MexSantos website

If you click on one of the small thumbnails on the MexSantos website, you’ll see an overlay appear into view and then a copy of the photo in a larger view. The overlay animates subtly, but this is typical of the type of animation that jQuery is ideal for. Interface animations are its specialty and it handles them better than many other methods. jQuery uses JavaScript but one of its goals is to write JavaScript that is compatible with older browsers, so compatibility isn’t the problem with jQuery animations. The main issue is that jQuery animations require JavaScript, so unlike CSS they’re useless if the user has turned JavaScript off. This caveat can sometimes create usability concerns.

jQuery performs animations by modifying aspects of items on the page. For example, it can change the opacity of an image over time to make it look like it’s animated. Let’s take a look at the line of JavaScript code that adds the overlay in the MexSantos website:

#overlay {
    background: #000;
    position: fixed;
    width: 100%;
    height: 100%;
    top: 0;
    left: 0;

One of the great things about jQuery is how commands can be chained together to create a sequence of events. In the JavaScript code above, we’ve managed to quickly create a div then assign it an ID of ‘overlay’ and append it to our body tag. To write the code that actually performs the animation, first we hide the element (otherwise animations show up immediately), and then we add a fadein() command. The fadein() method takes whatever the object is normally supposed to look like (based on CSS style sheets) and performs an opacity fade-in.

The CSS for the overlay ID is pretty simple: A black background with a fixed position that takes on the width and height of the entire window.

#overlay { background: #000; position: fixed; width: 100%; height: 100%; top: 0; left: 0; } 

To really understand what jQuery is doing, you need to look at the code as it animates. If you’re using a browser like Google Chrome with a dynamic code view, you should be able to right click on the background of the page and choose inspect element. Once you have inspect element open, make sure you’re in the elements tab and click on one of the thumbnails. Quickly look at the line before the closing tag. It should show the div being added dynamically and an opacity attribute with rapidly changing values.

jQuery rapidly animates the opacity value of our overflow element

The animate() method

There are a lot of other animation methods that can be used in addition to fadeIn(). Of course, where there is a fadeIn(), there logically is a fadeOut() method, but there are also others like slideDown(), and slideToggle(). Once you learn how to use one, the rest are pretty easy to pick up. There is also a generic method called animate() that allows more granular control over how animations are performed. These animation methods usually take parameters and callbacks as well. I’ve created an example that extracts the overlay functionality of the MexSantos website and shows how the generic animate() method can be used to control the CSS in objects.

jQuery Overlay

Here, we start off with an image that has a click event bound to it:


When someone clicks on the image, the fun starts. First, animate this element out of view with the animate() method, which allows you to change any CSS properties you want. For example, rather than just changing the fade, you can change the opacity as well as the position of the object.

//default animation for element
opacity: 0,
top: '+=200'
}, 500);

As part of the process, the animate() method takes in a JSON object that lets you modify CSS settings like the opacity and position of the element. You can also set the amount of time (for example, 500) you’d like the animation to take. jQuery has some predefined constants for animations such as fast and slow. Just like with the MexSantos example, we can add the overlay:

$('<div></div>').attr('id', 'overlay').appendTo('body').delay(300).hide().fadeIn(500);

We’re adding some delays because we want the animation of the image moving out of view to play before our overlay starts showing up. Now we can load the large version of the image:

$('<img>').attr('src',largeimage).attr('id', 'overlayimg').appendTo('#overlay').load();

With the large version of the image added, we need to know what to do once someone has finished looking at the overlay and clicks to return to the menu. We need to bind a click event to the overlay just like we did with the image, use the fadeOut() method to hide the overlay, and remove it from the page:

    $('#overlay').fadeOut('slow', function() {
    }); //fadeOut
}); //overlayclick

Finally, we’ll animate the image back into its original position.

    opacity: 1,
    top: '0'
}, 500);


Animating with jQuery is like buying a car that is a “mechanic’s dream.” You really need to know your way around JavaScript, but there’s a real benefit in the backward compatibility with older browsers you gain. Using jQuery for browser animations is a strong route to take when working with complex interface interaction. Once you learn a few key concepts like binding methods and chaining commands, this type of animation actually becomes quite fun.

If you’re interested in writing code with jQuery, make sure you check out some of our offerings on jQuery animation in the training library.

InDesign FX: Achieving a chopped-edge look

Published by | Thursday, September 20th, 2012

In this week’s InDesign FX movie, I show how to make a composition that looks like rough paper cutouts that have been taped to a surface.

An Adobe InDesign composition with paper cutouts taped to a wooden board

This technique is a fun approach to take when you want to convey a brainstorming or scrapbooking theme. In the video I used a photo of wood for a background, but the effect would work just as well (or maybe even better) with a background photo of corkboard.

An Adobe InDesign composition with paper cutouts taped to a cork bulletin board

One of the things that makes this effect a lot of fun to create is the spontaneity it allows. In contrast to the careful precision shown in the last InDesign FX video, Simulating Notebook Paper, you can work fast and sloppy with the rough, chopped-edge effect, since that’s exactly the kind of look you’re trying to simulate.

The basic technique involves starting with a silhouetted photo placed in InDesign.

A silhouetted picture of a motorcycle gas tank placed in InDesign

Then you click with the Pen tool to create the rough, cutout shape.

The silhouetted art with a rough cutout around it made using the Pen Tool in Adobe InDesign

Next, apply a light gray fill and a subtle drop shadow to give the appearance of paper.

The silhouetted art with a light gray fill in the cutout

Finally, create the illusion of tape and dog-eared folds to attach your cutout images to your background.

Detail of the tape effect on the cutout artThe final composition with cutout and tape effects

If you like the rough-hewn effect, you might also enjoy the peeling stickers  and sticker and tape effects I’ve written about in the past.

A peeling sticker effect achieved using Adobe InDesign

A picture that looks to have been taped to a surface in Adobe InDesign

I also have another member-exclusive movie in the library this week called Creating Speech Bubbles where I show you how to create cartoon speech bubbles to place over photos in InDesign layouts. They’re fun, easy to create, and infinitely adjustable thanks to the way they’re constructed.

A picture of a kitten with a speech bubble

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

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

Suggested courses to watch next:
• InDesign Secrets
• InDesign CS6 Essential Training 
• InDesign CS6 New Features 
 Deke’s Techniques