Education

Fall Roundup

Can You Relate?

    True to form, and much to their credit, the writers of the Simpsons have squared off against one of today’s prevailing social crises, education in our public schools. In this episode, Marg, desperately in need of a restroom, uses one at the local school. By chance, and to her chagrin, she observes overcrowded classrooms, apathetic teachers, and deteriorating facilities. However, another Simpson adventure ensues when Marg and Homer discover that to ameliorate their situation, they must acquire the “proper” address for Bart and Lisa to attend a better school in the district.

    Many of the situations depicted in this episode ring true with me. Albeit exaggerated, they are for the most part accurate. For example, random visitations, called “bed check,” do take place in some districts.  At the beginning of every school year, a school official, not quite like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, makes random house visits to confirm that your child lives in the district. I know this to be true because we had such a visit one evening four years ago. My family moved to South Pasadena, CA six years ago to have access to good public schools. We didn’t rent a 10’ x 10’ apartment as Homer did, but moved from a home we loved, to be in a town that takes pride in its schools, and where our children could grow up, be well, and thrive. So, the satirical representation of public schools in “Waverly Hills 9021-D’oh” isn’t a stretch for many middle and lower middle income families for whom private schools is not an option.

    Parents with school-aged children, or anyone who values the importance of a quality public school system, will appreciate this snapshot of our present-day culture. Enjoy!

p.s., comments from my reader(s) is (are) appreciated.


Typography Primer

You need a cornerstone to build a cathedral.

    My lecture titled the Basics of Typography is now available on Google Video and can be download to your iPod or Sony PSP. Adobe software (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.), as well as a host of other software packages for print, the Web, and motion graphics, provide us with a variety of robust typographic tools. However, to be able to take full advantage of them, a rudimentary knowledge of typography and design principles is essential.   

    In additon, please view the YouTube video on using type as a design element. It beautifully illustrates how type can be a powerful graphic element that both enhances the aesthetic of a design and facilitates the communication of an idea.


H20 Goes With The Flow.

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Building a Global Community of Learning

    This past weekend my wife stumbled upon an incredible website, H2O Playlist. H2O is a web-based home for educational collaboration, in beta, and founded by The Berkman Center For Internet & Society at Harvard University. Educators and students alike can benefit by using this tool, which should be familiar to anyone who has used Playlists in iTunes. The concept is very similar. 

H2O playlists are more than just a cool, sleek technology -- they represent a new way of thinking about education online. An H2O Playlist is a series of links to books, articles, and other materials that collectively explore an idea or set the stage for a course, discussion, or current event.

"H2O Playlists make it easy to:

  • transform traditional syllabi into interactive, global learning tools
  • share the reading lists of world-renowned scholars, organizations, and cultural leaders
  • let interested people subscribe to playlist updates and stay current on their fields
  • promote an exchange of ideas and expertise among professors, students, and researchers
  • communicate and aggregate knowledge -- online and offline."

    You can learn about the philosophy of H2O in their video Go With the Flow, and you can also read about their philosophy.


Painted Yourself Into A Corner Lately?

Paintincorner02    Long before computers, I worked for many years as an airbrush illustrator.  As a commercial artist, I discovered the importance of making rapid, seamless (i.e.-undetectable) changes to my artwork.  Mistakes will happen, but when there’s a deadline looming, a plan for making clean repairs is essential.  Additionally, it is important to note that changes are part-and-parcel of the business; clients nearly always want to make “improvements” to the artwork you create.

    With some forethought, you can develop techniques to render your artwork non-destructive.  This will make the modifications quick, easy, and more enjoyable, while demonstrating your value as an effective and knowledgeable professional.

    For users of draw programs like Adobe Illustrator, making nondestructive artwork is a slam dunk provided you don't go to the dark side and Rasterize objects. Draw programs create Vector Images, and by default, offer the user the luxury of multiple undos. Command + Z (Macintosh) or Control + Z is your friend. The default setting for many programs is 10 undos, and depending on which program your using, can be increased to as many as 200 undos.

    On the other hand, Bitmap/Raster Images created in programs like Photoshop are less forgiving and require more planning. Photoshop is a 'memory hog' and technically has only one undo. The introduction of the history panel now permits you to go back 20 steps, but it is important to note that each click of the mouse constitutes a step, and the history panel is cleared as soon as you close the file. Therefore, don't rely on the undo command, or History Panel. It's advisable to take a different tack in order to avert a serious disaster.

    Everyone needs to devise their own system, but until you develop yours, my recommendation is to do the following:

  • Save your files often, and name them in sequential order (i.e., file.01, file.02, etc.). This will give you access to earlier versions of your project should you desire to pursue another direction later or realize you have made a serious mistake.
  • Separate elements of your project on layers whenever possible. This applies to all computer graphics applications (e.g., Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign, Lightwave, etc.) but especially Photoshop.
  • Duplicate layers and place them in Layer Groups in Photoshop. Turn the duplicate layers' visibility off and use them as "spare parts."
  • In Photoshop use Layer Masks whenever possible.
  • Photoshop CS3 users now have the luxury of applying filters that are nondestructive by turning layers into Smart Objects.
  • Illustrator users should use Effects instead of Filters because Filters are permanent, and Effects are editable and nondestructive.
  • In Photoshop, create a New Snapshot of  your document using the History Panel. This feature enables you to save alternate versions of your project while your working on it, but as I mentioned before, disappears when you close the file.

    To discover you've painted yourself into a corner with a project can be exasperating. Having to start your project over from scratch is disheartening. This often leads students to throw up their hands in despair and  give up.  Sadly, I see this happen all too often.

    Accept the fact that it's not possible to avoid disaster in every situation. Technology isn't perfect, and we're not perfect, but if you follow some of the suggestions outlined above, I believe you'll have a much more enjoyable, and less stressful, journey on your way to learning computer graphics.

    If any of my readers have something to add, I would love to hear from you.


Tips For Creating a New Photoshop Document

    To effectively create a document in Photoshop requires some planning. After teaching Photoshop for many years, I have had the opportunity to observe many of my students, who even at the end of the semester, create files that print poorly or take forever to download on their website.

    My suggestion to new users, as well as experienced users, is to ask yourself two simple questions before you begin working on a document: 1) Is this file going to be used for print or the internet? and 2) What do the physical dimensions of my project need to be (i.e., pixels, inches, etc.)?  After you have answers to these questions do the following:

  1. Create a new document in Photoshop. Select New under the File menu, or click Command + N (Mac) or Control + N (Windows).
  2. Insert the desired physical dimensions in the dialog box.  When designing for print, I find it easier to work in inches, and when I'm designing for the Web I work in pixels.
  3. Next you'll need to insert the resolution for your document.  A simple rule to follow is to use 300 ppi for print and 72 ppi for the Web.
  4. Use the default settings for Color Mode and Background contents (RGB, 8 bit, White).
  5. Click OK.

Newfilewindow    
    After following these 5 steps, you should have a clean white canvas/paper on which you can work.  Don't change the resolution, image size, or canvas size at any time.  This will be the document into which you will paste or drag the image, or images, you wish to create, edit, etc. and then print or publish on the Web.