Sunday, July 21, 2013

Converting a File From One Type to Another

This past week I had to help somebody upload a photo to a blog post they wrote. They wanted an image--one advocating for racial tolerance--to supplement the article they had written about the roots of racism in America and elsewhere. This particular person had the photo as a .pdf file, but when the image uploader couldn't accept it, she was ready to give up. I tried to convert the pdf to a JPEG within the confines of Adobe. After that didn't work I copied the image in the pdf document but couldn't find a way to paste it to the clipboard to generate an image. That's when I was reminded of my days trying to convert YouTube videos into MP3 files that I could play on my iPod. As it turns out there are a bunch of free online converters for all kinds of things (doc, HTML, RTF, VLC) but what we were looking for was a converter from PDF to JPEG. So, I searched "PDF JPEG Converter" and lo and behold we came across a site that did the trick for absolutely free.

Now, this route would seem obvious for someone like me who has grown up around computers, and has become savvy enough to do atypical things convert one file to another through a web browser. To those less familiar with the internet, or computers in general, it would seem like something that you couldn't do. Although the person didn't express this verbally, I'm sure she thought to herself in her own way "How can I turn this PDF file into a picture I can upload?" The answer sometimes is not so clear, but my only piece of advice from this is to go and ask someone for help, and try to best explain what it is you're trying to do, whether it's conversion or compression. Odds are there is someone out there with a little more experience that can help you out.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Home Music Production

With the proliferation of professional or near professional quality audio software and hardware among the masses, now it seems that anybody, with a little bit of spare time and elbow grease, can learn to master the basics of music production.

You might be asking why I'm talking about music production, and I'll tell you why. Music production and the Internet go hand in hand. What used to be nearly impossible, organizing a bunch of people together, writing songs and rehearsing them, finding someone to produce and record that material, finding someone or some entity to distribute and promote that material, and then finding people to consume that material, can now be done by a single person, or a handful of people who can now be scattered across the globe.

Take a look at the rise of pop star Justin Bieber, he was able to use the Internet and more specifically YouTube, after teaching himself a variety of instruments including guitar, drums and piano, to express himself and bring his material to a wider audience. He was able to generate a devoted online audience, all before catching the eyes of some high-powered agents and executives. And as we say in cases like these, the rest is history.

Now, I'm not saying that with a little initiative and talent we can all become Justin Bieber, people like him are one in a million (even billion), but the Internet certainly makes the world a more collaborative and creative environment, there's almost nothing to lose in going out on a limb and learning something new.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Media and the Internet

This may seem like a frivolous thing to talk about, but I think it has great implications for the future of how we interact with others, consume, and create media. Recent advancements in technology, especially in personal computing, allow for all kinds of things that even 15 years ago would have seemed improbable. Now, you can start and maintain a veritable media empire from your laptop, using computers to make films, music, graphic art, and then share in for the entire web. The difference between a large film studio from 40 years ago and an ambitious teenager from today with a video camera, is that the teenager has the potential to present their work to the entire world, through almost no extraordinary effort (all that is really required is an internet connection and something that resembles a YouTube account).

Consequently, this makes it harder for the entertainment industry to continue traditional methods of media production, distribution and marketing to prevail, and easier for individuals to support themselves in their creative endeavours. The question that is often asked in situations like this is how are people going to make money in a landscape where more and more people either expect--or download illegally--music, film, and even hard to get software for free or extremely cheap. That is a question that is, for better or worse, larger than this post. And while I can't be sure of what form that will take, I can be sure that with time the consumer, the individual, You, will be the greatest force in determining what gets made, how and why.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Why Wikipedia Is A Great Source

My father and I go back and forth on this one. Years ago, I would come to him with an interesting fact, he'd similarly find it interesting, and then when asked where I found it, I would invariably go back to the reliable source that it is, Wikipedia. By this point dad would look at me skeptically, ask me to confirm it from some other source, and somewhat discount it in his mind. Obviously for more formal academic situations, using Wikipedia as anything more than an introductory source is frowned upon. Although in many cases Wikipedia is rigorously updated and fact checked by experts, its democratic nature can often give it the sense that its the People's Republic of Wikipedia as opposed to an online encyclopedia.

But that shouldn't stop you from taking full advantage of a tremendous resource. If anything the fact that it can be edited by anyone, equipped with the proper knowledge, is a huge plus. Instead of having to go through the rigamarole of an official biographer or a family member, one can, again equipped with the facts, edit the article themselves, ensuring accuracy in their mind before it's reviewed by an article review board. For biographical information, they even have a note for relatives where they can confirm or deny the information more or less in person.

Nevertheless, this is a roundabout way of saying that Wikipedia is a great resource. There's no surprise that it is widely used, and yes, trusted.

Using the Clipboard: Copying from Word

I recently ran into somebody who was having a little trouble copying from Microsoft Word into a blog post. Whether it was Blogger, Wordpress, or Tumblr is irrelevant. The point is someone was trying to copy something from a Word document into a blog post. Now, the reason I chose to talk about this subject is not to single someone out who needed a little help. As it turns out the person was able to successfully copy and paste their information, albeit losing an illustrative photograph in the process. This person had a question and I, hopefully, answered it. She was just uncertain as to whether copying a whole document from word and pasting it into a blog format was possible. It seemed unusual, and if I were in her situation, I probably would have asked a similar question.

You might be asking, why didn't her photo carry through to the blog post? That is unfortunately something I couldn't and still cannot answer. Perhaps it would have worked if she copied it from the Internet, and then pasted it into the blog. Maybe it would have worked if she put in a different photo. Maybe it was the type of photo that was incompatible with the blog format--a PNG where a JPEG would have sufficed. Who knows? The point is she had a problem, that was thankfully for the most part resolved.

She should review the help section of the blogging system she was using. That is where you can usually find the answers to common questions like how to import a photo.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tips for Using Twitter

At this point, most if not all of you reading are familiar with Twitter. It's an extremely effective mode of communication that has become a cornerstone of social media. Millions of people have signed up as users, including celebrities, companies, and even world leaders.

That being said, you would be surprised how many people are still not familiar with the rules and regulations of Twitter, the limitations that make it liberating and expressive for so many, and well, limiting for others. Most notable of these restrictions is the 140-character word limit. Another, fairly basic restriction is that you need a Twitter account in order to send and reply to tweets.

Recently, I worked with somebody that didn't seem to have a grasp on either of those ideas. He took a list of e-mail addresses and tried to compose a tweet reaching all of them, essentially sending a massive e-mail but through Twitter. There are a couple things wrong about this.

One, if you are trying to reach a group of people whose e-mail addresses you already have, why not just e-mail them? Two, you can't magically tweet at your friends' e-mail addresses and expect them to receive something. Realistically, only your followers will see your tweets. And three, you only have space for 140 characters—it's helpful to think of them as letters.

So in sum, here are some ways we can use Twitter to connect with others:

  • Exchange in real time with followers or mutual friends
  • Notify followers, or people in your network, of things your doing
  • Reply to other people's tweets who aren't your friends, unless their profile is private

Here are some ways we can't use Twitter to connect with others

  • Expect replies from people who don't have an account
  • Compose a tweet with people's e-mail addresses and expect them to respond
  • Send messages that have more than 140 characters

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Google Chrome getting more like Firefox and Internet Explorer

When Parenting and the Internet was published in 2007, my assumption was that most people were were online used either the Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers. Since then, Chrome has become the third most popular browser. According to the latest browser use statistics from Statcounter, as of March 2010, Internet Explorer had about 55% of the world market, Firefox about 31%, and Chrome about 7%. While Firefox use has been steady in the last year, IE use dropped from 65%, and Chrome rose up from less than 2%.

What is Chrome and why should I care?
Chrome is a browser that was created by Google that provides a different kind of browsing experience. The two most notable things are its speed, and its integration with other Google services. For example, you can use the address bar to type in URLs, or to search the Internet. To search with Google, simply type the search terms in the Chrome address bar.

Why should I bother with another browser?
Having more than one kind of browser on your machine is a good idea because sometimes a site will either run badly or not run at all in your browser. If you don't have the time to fix the problem, it is usually easier to just switch browsers. Both Firefox and Chrome can run on either a Windows or Mac computer, so no matter which type you have, add both browsers to your machine.

How many people are using Chrome?
Internet Explorer's biggest advantage is that it is the standard browser for over 90% of all PCs, and most web sites are designed to work well with it. Firefox closes the gap by having a tremendous number of options that allow users to customize their browser to fit their needs. Chrome is following the same route by offering more features through Chrome extensions.

What should you do with this news?
If you have not tried Chrome, download it at and check it out. If you already have it, got to the Chrome extensions page and add an extension or two. My favorite extension from Firefox, AdBlock, is also available in Chrome. As the name implies, AdBlock blocks most visual ads from displaying, making it much easier to view ad-heavy sites like CNN or Yahoo! Sports.

How much does all this cost?
Like so much from Google, using Chrome or any of its extensions will not cost you anything.

Check out this Chrome Extensions Video