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Archive for June, 2009

Using Twitter Effectively


“One could change the world with one hundred and forty characters.”


This article is intended to give people new to Twitter or people who don’t have a good understanding of the application’s capabilities a brief overview of why Twitter is powerful and how they might start using it themselves. It’s focused on companies/departments/groups for an Indiana University audience, but the information is applicable for everyone.

What is Twitter?

This might seem like a simple question to answer, but in reality, if you look at each of the following definitions, you will see that they’re all different.

  • Twitter’s Definition: “Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?”
  • Wikipedia’s Definition: “Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets.”
  • My Definition: Twitter is a technology that facilitates synaptic, asynchronous, and individualized communication between its users.

They’re all similar in one respect, communication. The truth is that Twitter is whatever you make of it. The service’s architecture is open-ended and loose allowing users to use Twitter for whatever purpose they desire. Whatever you put into the service by way of interaction will be returned.

Check out the rest of the post after the jump!
Read the rest of “Using Twitter Effectively” »

Renaming Clip Art Images When Creating Triggers in PowerPoint 2007 (Or… Using the Selection Pane)

In the IT Training & Education workshop at IU called PowerPoint: Customizing a Presentation, we show participants how to create a trigger from a clip art image. A trigger allows you to “set off” or start another animation by clicking on an element on a slide.

For example, you might have a question on a slide and then have several potential answers. You might set things up so that when your audience clicks on an answer, they get additional feedback. Perhaps a textbox appears that says, “Great job. This is the correct answer!” or maybe they hear a sound that tells them whether their answer is correct or incorrect. In this case, each of the text boxes that contains an answer is a trigger that starts another animation when clicked.

A trigger allows you to activate an animation whenever you want to see it. This means that you don’t have to use the trigger at all, if you find that you don’t need it during your presentation. The example used in our workshop is a practice problem. If a presenter is using the same slide show over and over again with different audiences, he may want to be able to access additional practice problems or examples for some groups but not others.

Creating triggers is not difficult and there are many good online tutorials that will walk you through the process. There is one step in the process, however, that workshop participants always have questions about. After you have added the supplemental information and the animation that brings it to the screen, you must set up the trigger. If you decide to use a clip art image for your trigger and you have more than one image on the slide, it is very difficult to pick out the image that you need from the list on the drop-down menu. Read the rest of “Renaming Clip Art Images When Creating Triggers in PowerPoint 2007 (Or… Using the Selection Pane)” »

Using the Ruler Tool to Straighten in Photoshop

It’s difficult to create a perfectly straight photo when taking a picture.  Most of the time a small rotation isn’t that noticeable, but it’s possible that a rotation could cause problems for other corrections, especially if the tool you’re using requires things to be lined up properly, like the rectangular marquee.  We can also easily introduce an unintended angle when scanning images as well.

Straightening an image is fairly straightforward in Photoshop. This is where the Ruler tool comes in. With the Ruler tool, we can map out the angle that the image is currently at, and then we can rotate the image using that method.

Let’s see how to do this now.

Read the rest of “Using the Ruler Tool to Straighten in Photoshop” »

How To Retrieve Top (n) Rows from a Database

In SQL:Data Retrieval, one of the topics we cover is how to write a database query to answer questions like, “How many students were enrolled each term in Biology 101 from 1997-2008″ or “What is the average salary for the employees who work in the Marketing department?” These types of questions can be answered by using SQL functions. A function is a small bit of code that can accept a value, do something with it (like a calculation), and then return a new result.  In SQL, there are functions like AVG (to average) and COUNT (for, um, counting.  I bet you guessed that, though, right? :-)

Some functions, like AVG and COUNT, are available in almost every database product. Other functions are database-specific, made available by the database vendor to make your life easier (and make the competitors’ products less enticing as well). An example of one of these functions is the TOP function in Microsoft SQL Server.  Here’s a faux query, written for Microsoft SQL Server, to find the top 5 students in a class by their course grade:

SELECT TOP 5 (studentID), grade
FROM students

Theoretically, this query would return a list of 5 student IDs and their grades from the table named Students. The ORDER BY clause at the end of the statement ensures that, before the database picks the 5 at the top of the list, the list is sorted according to grade, with the best grades on top. (In other words, the DESC keyword tells the database to sort records in descending order.)

Unfortunately for people working in other databases, like Oracle or MySQL, the TOP function is specific to Microsoft SQL Server.  So, how can we find the top 5 students in other databases?

In MySQL, an equivalent statement would be:

SELECT studentID, grade
FROM students

Here, the LIMIT command tells the database to display 5 records starting from the 1st record (0), after sorting the records in the table according to the grades.  To display 15 records starting with the 5th record, the last line of the previous statement would be LIMIT 4,15.

Unfortunately, the solution for Oracle is not nearly as simple:

SELECT studentID, grade
SELECT studentID, grade, RANK() OVER (ORDER BY grade DESC) rankByGrade
FROM students
rankByGrade <= 5

Whoa!  What's going on here?  This is a demonstration of a subquery. A subquery is simply a SELECT statement nested inside another SQL statement.  In the above example, the interior SELECT statement (the one that starts on the 3rd line) will be executed first. Any results from the subquery will essentially be treated as a temporary table, existing for the duration of the statement's execution only. This temporary table is used by the exterior query (the SELECT studentID, grade part) as its source of data.

This particular subquery  is using an Oracle function called RANK in association with (ORDER BY grade DESC) to create a column that provides a ranking based on the grade value, from highest to lowest. The highest grade gets a rank of 1, the next highest grade gets a rank of 2, and so on.  In other words, if we were to run just the subquery by itself, the results might look something like:

studentID  grade    rankByGrade
---------  -----    ------
373478     100       1
938937     98.6      2
671037     98.2      3
565422     96.8      4

These results, including the derived rankByGrade number, are then used by the exterior query, which essentially is:
SELECT studentID, grade
FROM [the results of the subquery]
WHERE rankByGrade <= 5

Thus, the exterior query returns only 5 records, which correspond to the records that have a rankByGrade of 5 or less, or, in our case, the top 5 students.

Thanks to Mike Halla, database guru, for providing a sample Oracle query to address this issue.

My Most Common Photoshop Shortcuts

Learning how to use the tools and panels in Photoshop is really only the first step to mastery of the program.  Knowing the order to click things is a good start, but knowing how to replace some of those mouse clicks with keyboard shortcuts and modifiers will enhance your productivity with the program, and make you more confident going forward.

The best habit for a budding Photoshop artist to get into is to keep one hand on the keyboard at all times.  For an expert, Photoshop is a program that requires coordination between both hands.

Open up Photoshop while you read this post, and try out these shortcuts as you read.  Getting the tactile sense of these shortcuts will help you remember them. Also, many of these shortcuts and modifiers will work in other Adobe programs.

Read the rest of “My Most Common Photoshop Shortcuts” »

Matching Fields in Mail Merge

When using the Address Block or Greeting Line features of Mail Merge, the fields have to be specific.
• For the Name fields, you may use either “First Name,” “FName,” or even simply “First” to cause Word to recognize that the data in the field is associated with a first name.  The same varieties apply to the Last Name field.
• Use the full words “Address,” “City,” and “State.”  Abbreviations of these words are not recognized by Word.  However, “Zip” is recognized for “Zip Code.”

In a perfect world, everyone would be aware of, and follow, these naming conventions.  However, you may have a data source which uses different field names.  In these cases, the Address Block and Greeting Line features may not work as expected.  If this happens, you can tell Word exactly which fields should be used and where they should be placed.
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Web Accessibility Made Easy: Let’s Not Table This… Guidelines for Tables

This entry in the “Web Accessibility Made Easy” series discusses two guidelines that are essential to well-formatted layout and design of data tables.

Tables on the web have been around since the early days of the web. Okay…not the early, early days of the web, but tables were first discussed in 1996 (IETF RFC 1942) and then later included in the HTML 3.2 specification. This specification ensured that tables were the formalized way to display data from a spreadsheet or database.
Read the rest of “Web Accessibility Made Easy: Let’s Not Table This… Guidelines for Tables” »

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