Friday, December 07, 2007

How to create a thinking child, start with "Toy Book"

There is no lead paint in these toys (unless you add it yourself) and they are all 100% made in the USA (unless you live outside the USA). Steven Caney's Toy Book introduces your child to the world beyond prefabricated 'play modes'. If you don't like the idea of you child becoming a mindless automaton in a consumerist society, show him/her a world of his/her own making.

OK, so I'm being a little dramatic, but I like this book. I'm a designer so I am probably predisposed to the idea that your own imagination is better then the latest Spiderman toy. What is important about this book is that it not only gets some simple yet creative toys into your child's hands, but it also shows them that the world is not made up entirely of preconfigured blocks that have to be consumed as is. This book shows them they can deconstruct the world around them and remake it to suite their imagination.

This book has a series of simple instructions on how to make basic toys. One of the compelling things about these toys is that many are scientific or musical in nature, allowing you child to begin to 'play' with science or music. What a great way to get them interested in learning. The "Water scope" and "Water Lens" are two example of this, if you have a small bucket and some other household items, you can start to learn about optics and maybe demystify the pair of glasses your son or daughter just got.

I was quite excited when I saw this book, and bought it on the spot. I had Steven Caney as a design professor while I attended RISD. He had more impact on me then any other design teacher, he truly taught me to think outside the box. And yet, also how to deal with the practical side of business. After reviewing the book, I can safely say that a lot of Steven is in this book. He has a voracious appetite for invention and you can start to see the glimmer of that mind in this book. Two other great books by Steven Caney: Steven Caney's Invention Book and Steven Caney's Ultimate Building Book.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Free RAW Editor: Raw Therapee

Raw Therapee (THe Experimental RAw Photo Editor) is a treasure for digital photographers who shoot in RAW. It supports many RAW files types from the most popular Digital SLRs, details on supported cameras can be found on their site.

Raw Therapee opens and edits RAW files. Just point it to a directory of RAW files and it will generate thumbnails of RAW files (and JPEG files) from that directory. Double click on a thumbnail to bring it into the main editing window. Now you can make a wide range of modifications:

  • White Balance
  • Exposure
  • Highlight Recovery
  • Shadows/Highlights
  • Sharpening
  • Color Boost
  • Color Shift
  • Luminance Curve
  • Luminance Noise Reduction
  • Color Noise Reduction
These are the main options on the right hand side of the screen. On the left is a history panel listing each change you make. This is very handy, it allows you to simply click on an earlier action to see what the image looked like at that stage. And if you want to revert to that point, simply click on that action and continue working.

It is not a great way to manage your photo collection, Picassa does a much better job of that, but it is substantially better at making adjustments to an image. My work flow still starts in Picassa to quickly review my photos. I then delete the hopeless images and pick a few for further editing in Raw Therapee. Once editing is complete in Raw Therapee, I save the photo as a PNG. This is easily done with the "Save Image" in the lower right corner of the application and can be customized in the program options.

My initial response is that it is at least as capable as Photoshop (I have CS2), but probably better for 'developing' and image and certainly a lot faster. But it's not a fair comparison, Photoshop is designed to do more then develop a photo. Raw Therapee is really in the same league as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture. I can not speak to how it compares to Aperture because Aperture crashed the first time I used it and I decided I did not need that in a photo editor and ended my evaluation there. I did use Lightroom during a 30 trial and really fell in love with it. I would purchase that Lightroom if it were not so overpriced. It is especially annoying to know that Lightroom was based on a free application.

The million dollar question: how well does Raw Therapee compare to Lightroom? I would prefer to use Lightroom, it has a broader set of tools. But, I use Raw Therapee because of the price. It's free, but a program of so much value, I am glad to give the developers a 'donation'. It is still under development so it might well become a threat to Lightroom.

Raw Therapee is available for Windows and Linux.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Texas Furniture Makers Show - 2007

Last week was the eight annual Texas Furniture Makers Show in Kerrville Texas. Another successful show with strong work and great judges. This year the judges included Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas Moser. Rex White has had work in the show several times and had won numerous awards in the past. Thomas Moser founder of Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers is well respected and was really a great choice of a judge. I don’t know anything about Charles Kegley other then that he made for a good judge and was quite affable, yet direct when fielding questions about his decisions.

Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas MoserFrom left to right: Charles Kegley, Rex White, and Thomas Moser

As always, Jim Derby did a master job of running the show.
Jim DerbyJim Derby at the awards ceremony

I was asked again this year co-lead a continuing education seminar and this year I was with Alton Bowmen and Frank Stazza. It was a round table discussion this year and I think that worked out quite well. I had a number of photos I took at the ICFF this past spring and I had a little slide show of these. Frank did a great demo on handtools.
Frank Strazza - Woodworking DemoFrank Strazza’s handtool demo

I thought the judges first place choice for the show was a little odd, but generally I was in agreement with their decisions, including Frank winning second overall for his Jewelry Cabinet.
Frank Strazza - Jewelry CabinetFrank Strazza - Jewelry Cabinet

This has become a strong show and it is always remarkable how a show limited to state wide entrants can draw such strong work. But then, Texas is a large state.

Jim Derby will start working on the Ninth Annual Texas Furniture Makers Show in short order, I look forward to seeing it!

Monday, September 10, 2007

HTML - Definition List - My New Favorite Thing

It is sad when one gets so excited with such a trivial bit of obscure code. That is what has happened to me… again. This time I stumbled across the Definition List tag. It operates similar to other types of lists, you start with a containing tag <dl> and populate it with a list of items. But, where it differs from ordered and unordered lists is that there are two item types in the list; Definition Term <dt> and Definition Definition (or Data Definition) <dd>. Most all browsers will render the two lines differently, typically indenting the <dd>, like so:

a place to grow food


a place to grow knowledge

The code looks like this:

<dd>a place to grow food</dd>
<dd>a place to grow knowledge</dd>

But, what got me so excited was the prospect of being able to seamlessly style to different types of data in a list. It is when you add CSS to the mix that things get interesting. Rather then showing you what can be done by adding CSS, I encourage you to go give it a whirl.

You might ask how I got this far without having learned anything about this before. That is one of the pitfalls of being self taught, and rather haphazardly self taught at that. I tend to wonder around HTML learning little bits here and there, I took no structured course, just learned what I needed when I needed it. It is a process that works as everything I learn gets puts into action right away and the chaff gets dismissed. But, it also leads to holes in my knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Safari on Windows?

I need to have a Mac if for nothing else so I can test and debug the web sites I create. Every browser has its quirks and some of the sites I work on have a higher then average Safari user base. That’s one reason I bought the MacBook last year, even though I primarily run XP on it. But now, Apple has removed my need to have a Mac with their release of Safari for Windows.
I can only guess that they are using Safari as a tease to Windows users in an effort to wet their appetite for more Apple software that can only found on the Mac. But that seems a bit of a stretch to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it. As a grumpy user who is not willing to sacrifice an ounce of system performance, I run XP on my Mac with Boot Camp, not Parallels, I have to reboot into OS X to test web pages. Well, not anymore, now I can run Safari right there in XP next to Firefox and IE7.

The newest rev of the MacBook Pros really peaked my interest and I am seriously considering upgrading in the fall. But the release of Safari for Windows has given me pause, serious pause. Because now I don’t need a Mac anymore. I have to weigh if it is really worth dropping an extra $200 for Vista and Parallels if I get the MacBook Pro. Hmmm…

But, in one way this release is not out of keeping, it continues the intrusion into Windows space started with Quick Time and iTunes. And it is a nice alternative, except a great alternative already exists in Firefox.

My guess is that Safari usage (on windows) will settle down somewhere between Firefox and Opera, closer to Opera as anything past Firefox is really just for the fringe who simply want to be different, and let’s be frank, who want to be difficult. As much as I like competition in the software arena, the desktop version of Opera is pretty unattractive. I use it a few times a week, but only for testing. It’s just too buggy and I have not found that it does anything better then Firefox. Heck, I’d rather use IE7. Oh, actually, Opera (and IE7 for that matter) does do RSS better then Firefox. Firefox is poop when it comes to RSS.

Monday, June 04, 2007

XAMPP: The Easy and Simple Web Server

Are you an HTML and CSS jokey like me who needs to occasionally dabble in the magical art of PHP, or some other, server side environment? Are you deathly afraid of and confused by this stuff. Me too. But I found XAMPP a couple of years ago and it is a simple and easy web server you can install on your own computer to run a web server and test out some PHP. It runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Solaris. I run it on XP.

Still a little nervous about installing a web server on your computer, how about installing it on a USB flash drive? No problem! Download the ZIP archive (not the EXE, that’s for regular installs) from their site and extract it onto your flash drive. Then simply run the setup_xampp.bat file, let it run for a minute and presto! Instant web server!

Now XAMPP is like any other program in that you have to start it before you use it. In the folder on the flash drive there will be file called: xampp_start.exe, double click it and the server starts up. Windows may give you a warning, click through that. A terminal window will open up (small window with black background and white type), don’t close that, just minimize it.

Now you have a web server running! Great now what. Well, first check to see if it is working, open your browser and type in http://localhost. You should see something like, “Welcome to XAMPP for Windows Version 1.6.2 !”. Yea, it works!. If it does not, you are going to have to look elsewhere, I barely know how to run it.

OK, now you want to use it to render those PHP pages you created. Here is the thing you need to know, the files you are developing need to be in the Xampp folder. Not just any folder, the htdocs folder, like: E:\xampplite\htdocs\ (assuming your flash drive is letter E). So drop a folder (let’s call it ‘web-content’) with some PHP files (one of which should be named index.php) in there and type in “http://localhost/web-content”. If your PHP files are written correctly, you will now be looking at them all processed and looking like they will when uploaded to a server (assuming that server runs PHP).

To shut the web server down, look for the “xampp_stop.exe” file in the main XAMPP folder and click that.

I run XAMPP Lite by the way. It’s a smaller install and since I don’t know how to use any of the added stuff that comes with the full XAMPP, I figured it was a better choice.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Newsletter #4

Oops, looks like I missed an issue or two. No worries, I will refund all subscriptions fees for the past two months. I was too fat and bloated from the holidays to reach my keyboard, but I am back now.

This installment is designed to make you paranoid as I am discussing, once again, Scammers and Spammers.

Oh, and of some note, I have changed my name and web site. Crucible Design has been moth-balled, my new and improved business name is James Fryer Design Services. My new web site is And accordingly, I have a new email address:

This month’s Main Feature was prompted by yet another piece of spam I recievied:

There are many ways to make money, some less honest then others. One of these ‘less honest’ ways involves companies representing themselves as some ‘official’ Internet source and trying to scare people into paying several hundred dollars a year for flimsy (and unnecessary) services. Here is one of the more benign examples: I received a fax the other day from “Official Internet Registry & Optimization Bureau” warning me that, “Major search engines may not be able to prioritize content on your site…” And it starts off with, “Forward to Accounts Payable” in large text. Why this sounds like a scam:

  • The name, there is not government mandated Bureau of Internet Registry & Optimization
  • The company logo is made to look like and official government seal, but it is not
  • It came to me as fax spam, no legitimate company uses this ‘marketing’ technique

I call this one rather benign because the fax does state in a couple of places that the service is not mandatory. But there are far more aggressive scammers out there that might contact you by fax, email, or telephone trying to convince you that there is some critical service you are missing. They may try to scam you into paying exorbitant rates for anything from Domain Registration to SEO. But they may also be interested in steeling away your domain name. So hang up the phone, throw out the fax, or delete the email. If you are concerned about the renewal of some service, call me or call the company with whom you have registared your Domain Name. Go straight to the source.

Every month (or so) the Crucible Design Newsletter will endeavor to enlighten you on issues relevant to your web site, the Internet, and related issues. The goal of this newsletter is to offer new tools, or new ways to use tools, to increases your effectiveness in the way you use the Internet and the computer.

Scammers and Spammers

Identity thieves can some times get some of your personal data, but not enough to do anything with. But they will use it when the contact you to convince you that they are someone that they are not, like your bank or credit card agency. For instance, a thief may have gotten your name and the last four digits of your credit card from a discarded reciept and looked up your phone number online, or the phonebook. Then they will call you pretending to be your credit card company and ‘prove it’ by giving you this data to ‘confirm’ their legitimacy. Once you are on their hook, they will ask for another piece of information from you, like the rest of your card number or the expiration date to ‘confirm’ that they are speaking to ‘the real you’. If you proceed to give them this information, you have completed their objective and they can now use your card, or open a line of credit, or any number of nefarious things that you will not like.

To avoid this, don’t give any information to someone who is calling you claiming to be your bank or credit card agency. If it is a legitimate call, tell the person that you will call them back, then call the institution on their main number and either continue the business they had with you, or report that there is potential fraudulent activity on your account. The same principle applies to email correspondence. If you get an email that you are unsure of, go to that companies web site and see if there are any problems. But do not click on any links in that email, they may look OK, but they may take you to a fraudulent web site.

This is an old scam that predates the Internet. And it is not limited to financial institutions, a thief might pose as your cable, phone, utility, or some other vendor company to get more information about you to use for their own ends.

I am not trying to make you paranoid, but I probably did, sorry. If you think you might be the victim of fraud or identity theft, you can put either a three month, or seven year fraud alert on you credit profile with the three major Credit Bureaus. And here they are:

Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-525-6285
Fraud Division
P.O. Box 740250
Atlanta, GA 30374
800-685-1111 / 888-766-0008

Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 888-397-3742
Credit Fraud Center
P.O. Box 1017
Allen, TX 75013
888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)

Trans Union
Direct Line for reporting suspected fraud: 800-680-7289
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634
Phone: 800-916-8800 / 800-680-7289

The Google

Google Analytics is a free Google product that tracks detailed usage statistics of a web site. It lets you see information about who is looking at your site and how they are looking at it. It does not give you the name and address of a visitor, but it does tell you their city or town. It also offers details about their computer including the web browser, Operating System, screen size, etc… Two of the more valuable metrics are referral sources and key word usage. Referral sources tells you where your visitor is coming from, whether the be from Google, or a colleague’s web site. Key words are what your visitors are typing into a search engine that results in finding your web site.

It is also integrated with AdWords, Google’s paid advertising service, so you can closely track where your ad money is going.

It is an extremely powerful tool, but be warned, it is not terribly friendly to the uninitiated. It is a professional tool, and unless you are willing to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty, it will mostly just confound you. But that should not make you feel bad, I use it sporadically and it frequently confounds me.

Recommended Site

The Dilbert Blog: I thought you all might need some diversion after my little paranoia rift. Actually, the Dilbert Blog is often rather intelligent, but also rather funny, or disturbing, sometimes all three. Scott Adams is one of those people that is so smart it sometimes makes me wonder why I bother getting out of bed in the morning. I hate smart people, that is why I married one, to bring her down. Didn’t really work out that way though, she has me pretty much wrapped around her little figure. Which is a rather good trick as her little figure is really very little and I am not. Anyway, is also great, that is where the daily dilbert strip can be found, as well as old strips. If you have not read Dilbert before, it is not just for geeks, anyone who has worked (or visited) corporate America can appreciate Scott’s insights.

What is CSS anyway?

Casscading Style Sheets is a web technology that goes hand in hand with HTML. CSS is a method of applying style to a web page. That style can include many things including font, font size, font color, positioning of elements on the page, page color, element color, etc… In the old days of web site development, the ’style’ of an HTML page was limited and rather painstaking to declare. CSS adds many new formatting and styling options and makes is more simple to implement. It allows for the style of the web site to be controlled from a separate document. The advantage to this is that updating that separate CSS document effects all the pages in the site and saves the developer from having to update each HTML page individually.

Here are two examples of the same web page, This One has a CSS file attached to it, This One does not. See the difference? The page is the same, but with and without CSS applied.