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HOWTO: Create radically smaller images for your minimalist blog

Inspired by Low-tech magazine’s solar powered website, I searched the web to find out how to create a ‘stippled’ effect for images. This reduced the size of an 2.2MB image to a mere 30.6KB, which if I’m not mistaken, is a reduction in filesize of over 95%! Here’s how to do it, using free and open source software.

Tree

0. Download and install GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

1. Open the image you want to convert in GIMP

2. Resize the image to the maximum width of your blog (~600px in my case) by going to the Image menu and then to ‘Scale Image…’

3. Convert the image to greyscale by going back to the Image menu then Mode and selecting ‘Greyscale’

(optional step: wash out the image by going to the Colours menu then Levels and change the number in the box under ‘Output levels’ to 180)

4. Convert the image to indexed colours by again going to the Image menu then Mode and this time selecting ‘Indexed…’

In the box that appears:

  • Under Colourmap choose ‘Use black and white (1-bit) palette’
  • Ensure box ‘Remove unused and duplicate colours from colourmap’ is checked
  • From the drop-down Colour dithering option choose ‘Floyd-Steinberg (normal)’
  • Press the Convert button

5. Export the image by going to the File menu and selecting ‘Export As…’ In the box that appears, type in a filename that ends in ‘png’ (e.g. image.png)


This post is Day 16 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com

How to write a blog post

Last month, one of my clients got in touch to ask if I could send them some guidance around writing blog posts. They asked me to include the usual things such as:

  • Structuring a post
  • Making things clear for the reader
  • How to grammar/spell check

They asked me to put together something, which effectively is a couple of sides of A4 paper, for the start of the school term for a team they’ll be working with this academic year.

One of the reasons for my delay in getting started (other than the busiest summer, work-wise that I’ve ever had!) is that, rattling around at the back of my mind, is a series  on how to write blog posts. While it’s important to cover the bullet points above, I think there’s things to say about in situating blog posts within a wider discourse.

Here’s what I’ve written so far:

  1. Sitting down to write a blog post
  2. Putting your blog post into the world
  3. Deciding what to write about in your blog post
  4. Tools to help you with your blog post

I hope it will be of use.


Photo by WOCinTech Chat used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

Claim your Advanced Kanban badge!

Advanced KanbanThe Kanban 101 badge proved so popular I’ve decided to follow it up with an Advanced Kanban badge! This posts explains how to earn it. I’m using Trello mainly because it’s awesome.

Criteria

  • Add a ‘Work In Progress’ (WIP) limit to the ‘Doing’ list
  • Define and use labels effectively
  • Add attachments and due dates to cards
  • Collaborate with others

Here’s how to achieve these criteria.

Add WIP limit

Work in Progress (WIP)

Simple. Just edit the title of your list to indicate the maximum number of cards that is allowed in it at any given time. The default is three, but you might experiment to see if this is the right number.

Use labels

Labels

It’s up to you how you use labels. The benefit of using them is that they give an at-a-glance indication on the kind of work you’re doing. The above list is what I’ve settled on for individual projects. These are different when I’m working with others; it’s a negotiation and they may change over time.

Add attachments / due dates

Attachment

Within each card there’s an option to add an attachment. You can upload direct from your computer, paste a link, or transfer from cloud services. If you upload an image it will by default become the ‘cover’ of your card. You can disable/change this if necessary.

Due date

Due dates are important to ensure cards keep moving from left to right on your Kanban board. If you can no longer assign a date you might want a list entitled ‘Stalled’. Assign a due date by going into the card.

Collaborate

Collaborators

Unless you’ve set up an organisation, you need to manually add collaborators to a board via the ‘Menu’. Once they’ve been given access you can add them to cards by clicking on ‘Members’. Their icon will then show up in the bottom-right of the card.

Conclusion

This is a fun exercise that leads to a badge. It also, hopefully, nudges you to use Kanban more effectively. If there’s enough interest I may even create a Kanban Ninja badge!

HOWTO: Create a podcast

Background

A couple of months ago, Dai Barnes and I decided to start podcasting again. We’d previously been regular hosts of EdTechRoundUp and wanted to get back into the routine. We decided to meet each weekend with a loose agenda, talk for between 45 minutes and an hour, edit the recording, and put it out each Tuesday. We’re calling this Today In Digital Education (TIDE).

Quick note: technology
A podcast is an audio file plus an RSS feed. Just sticking an MP3 on a web server doesn’t make it a podcast – there has to be an enclosure generated that allows users to have each episode delivered to them.

Recording the audio

Perhaps the easiest way to record a conversation is to use Skype and a plugin that records both sides of the audio. I’ve actually detailed this process before, and haven’t deviated much from it, so check out this post.

Quick note: naming
You should double-check that there’s no-one else using the name you came up with. We had to change the title of our podcast slightly as there was already a student-run podcast out of the University of Alabama! It’s also a good idea to grab as many URLs for the podcast as possible. This means you can switch platforms but keep the URL consistent.

Publishing your audio

In the first instance we decided to try Tumblr to make the podcast available to listeners. I wanted something that was super-straightforward, and Dai was keen to show to his colleagues that it isn’t just filled with dodgy stuff. As it happens, although this made it easy to listen to recordings via Tumblr itself, it wasn’t such a great idea for creating a compatible RSS feed.

Thankfully, the wonderful SoundCloud has a beta program called SoundCloud for Podcasters which we were quickly accepted into. This gives you an RSS feed people can use to subscribe to. It’s worth pointing out that people can also subscribe to you via the SoundCloud app itself.

We’ve retained the Tumblr blog as SoundCloud doesn’t seem to allow hyperlinks in the show description.

Quick note: costs
It’s pretty inevitable you’re going to spend some money creating your podcast. It can be done for free, but it’s more difficult than using awesome tools that make the job easier. Other than both owning Macs (which are great for multimedia!), here’s the things we’ve paid for:

Sorting out your RSS feed

It’s a good idea to take the RSS feed generated by whatever platform you use and pipe it through FeedBurner. There’s lots of options here, but ensure you pay attention to the Optimize tab and the BrowserFriendly, SmartCast, and SmartFeed settings. Note that you’ll need an image for your logo that’s larger than 1400px x 1400px to be compatible with iTunes.

Piping the RSS feed through FeedBurner means that if you change to a different platform (with a different RSS feed) this won’t affect your listeners. In the same way that you can have a URL that redirects to Tumblr, WordPress, or whatever, so your FeedBurner-powered feed is a front end for whatever RSS feed you point it towards.

Quick note: learning from others
One of the best ways to know what works with podcasts – in terms of content, structure, and how to describe yours, is to listen to some good ones. Here are three of my favourites (not including BBC Radio 4 radio shows released as podcasts):

Submitting your podcast to directories

If you’ve got an iPhone or iPod Touch then you’d be forgiven for thinking that everyone uses iTunes to subscribe to podcasts. But, of course, they don’t. Currently, the best places to submit your podcast are:

  1. iTunes (looks complex, but FeedBurner should have you covered)
  2. Stitcher SmartRadio
  3. Miro
  4. iPodder
  5. Blubrry
  6. DoubleTwist
  7. Libsyn

You only have to do this once for each service. There’s also a list here.

Conclusion

Setting up a podcast can seem quite technical but, follow the above advice and that which you search for, and you’ll be OK. Be comforted in the knowledge that once the flow is all set up correctly, all you’ll have to do is record your podcast, edit it, upload it, and write something about it each time. Everything else will happen automatically!

Have you got any remaining questions? I’ll try my best to answer them if doing so is of benefit to other readers, too! Ask away in the comments below. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC-SA Oliver Hartmann

HOWTO: use GitHub Pages to host a bootstrap-themed website

Last week I mentioned in a blog post and my weekly newsletter the pre-launch website of my new (part-time) consultancy Dynamic Skillset. I had an enquiry as to how the site put together, so I put together this screencast:

The great thing about being shown how to do something via video is that, if you get stuck, you can pause, rewind and watch parts again. In this one, I go through the process of downloading a responsive website theme and hosting it for free using GitHub Pages.

Remember, the way to increase your digital and web literacies is to tinker about and try new things. You can’t break anything here and all you have to lose is your GitHub virginity. 😉

PS If you’re interested in using GitHub to ‘fork’ (i.e. remix) someone else’s repository, you may find this video playlist helpful.

Videos for #openbadges workshops [RESOURCES]

A couple of months ago I wrote a popular post entitled How to make #openbadges work for you and your organisation. Given that I get requests every week to run workshops on Open Badges and can’t do them all, I thought I’d turn the points I made in that post into a couple of videos:

(not showing? click here and here respectively)

I’d very much appreciate some feedback. How can I improve these?

HOWTO: Issue #openbadges in 5 steps using WordPress + WPBadger

Image slideshow not showing? Click here!

Good news! Dave Lester has created a plugin for WordPress that makes issuing Open Badges fairly straightforward.
Follow the instructions below to get started.


1. Install WordPress*

Install WordPress

2. Install the WPBadger plugin

Install the WPBadger plugin

3. Follow the instructions at the plugin’s Installation page, specifically:

Configure the plugin by navigating to Settings -> WPBadger Config in the WordPress admin. On this form, fill out some basic information including Agent Name, organization, and contact email address. The award email text is optional.

Note the following:

  • After you install the WPBadger plugin you get two new menu items – Badges and Awards
  • Badges is to do with the creation of badges and Awards is to do with the awarding of badges (either individually or en masse)

Configure WPBadger

4. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to create your badge.

Things that may help:

  • Click on Badges in the left-hand menu then Add New
  • Fill in the Enter title here box (this is the name of the badge as it will show up in Badge Backpacks)
  • Enter some text in the main field about the badge itself and what it’s awarded for (this is what will show up at the badge’s Criteria URL)
  • Under Badge version on the right-hand side enter a number such as 1.0
  • Under Badge image on the right-hand side click on Set featured image
  • Once you’ve uploaded the badge image (a PNG file) you need to scroll down in the pop-up box to click the option to Use as featured image and then close the pop-up (you don’t need to insert it into the post)

Create your badge

5. Follow the instructions on the Other Notes page to award your badge.

Things that may help:

  • Click on Awards then Add New to award a badge to a single individual
  • Use the drop-down menu under Choose Badge on the right-hand side to select the badge to award
  • Enter the individual’s Email Address in the box on the right-hand side (try your own email address first if testing!)
  • In the main box fill out the reason why the individual has been awarded the badge (this is what will show up at the badge’s Evidence URL)
  • Press Publish

Award badge

The individual you entered in Step 5 should now receive an email telling them they’ve received a badge. When they click on the URL they can accept or reject that badge. If they accept it then it will be pushed to their Badge Backpack.

Badge in Open Badges Backpack

*How to do this is outside of the scope of this tutorial, I’m afraid.

HOWTO: Roll your own #twebay

Having sold individual things sporadically via Twitter (usually after mentioning I was about to put them on eBay) and finding myself needing to raise funds for a rather magnificent Sony Vaio P series,  I thought it was about time I developed a system. Enter #twebay.

(I hate the elision of ‘Twitter’ and ‘eBay’ as much as you, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy…)

Here’s what I did:

1. Set up and published a Google Doc and passed it through Bit.ly Pro to get http://dajb.eu/twebay. This includes my details (including avatar and photo), a rationale for selling, and details of the items.

2. Configured and tested a Google Form (via Google Docs) to collect information from those interested. I figured the important information was the person’s name, email address, bid amount and a box for any other details they wanted to give me.

3. Publicised it and asked for retweets.

4. Checked the spreadsheet attached to the Google Form at regular intervals and replied to those making bids.

I managed to sell 3 items within an hour with an additional one that I’d forgotten later in the week. These were all to people who I’ve known a while on Twitter but I’ve never met in person.

The advantages of this method?

  • No eBay/Paypal fees
  • Buyer knows it’s going to a good home, seller knows where it’s come from
  • Time spent listing items for sale is massively reduced

Possible drawbacks?

  • You need a fair number of followers to gain traction/interest
  • There’s no formal feedback system
  • There’s potential to damage existing relationships when money becomes involved

HOWTO: Use Evernote to take notes on books.

Something I’ve started doing recently has revolutionised my ability to synthesise my reading of stuff in paper books. Here’s what I currently do – although there’s probably ways I can improve it (and no doubt something similar is possible using other devices):

You’ll need:

  • An iPhone
  • Evernote app (iPhone and desktop/laptop versions)
  • An internet connection (at some point)

What we’re going to do is to take a picture of a section of text, tag it and add contextual (bibliographic) information, and then send it off to be synced by Evernote.

0. Set up a notebook for your quotations/notes. I use ‘Ed.D. thesis’.

1. Take picture of text

Click on the ‘Snapshot’ option in Evernote. Take your photo of the text you want to capture – make sure you focus correctly!

2. Fill in note details

The title should be something that summarises what you’ve taken a picture of. Tag it appropriately. Click on ‘Append note’ and fill in citation details. Make sure you ‘Select All’ and then ‘Copy’ so that the next time you do this you can use ‘Paste’ and just change the page number!

3. Sync

Once you’ve synced it will appear in Evernote on your desktop/laptop.

4. Synthesise

With all the notes in front of you, it’s easy to synthesise your thinking. It’s fully possible to just to this on the iPhone, but it’s easier given the features and screen real-estate on desktop or laptop.

I use a Moleskine notebook and a good old-fashioned pen for synthesising (or XMind depending on how I’m feeling). It works wonderfully! 🙂

Embedding a live Twitter search in Keynote 09

Sometimes a simple idea strikes you whilst planning a presentation. This time it was:

Why can’t I embed a live Twitter search in my slides?

Although I never used the functionality, it turns out it was entirely possible to do this in versions of Keynote before Keynote 09 using ‘Web View’.

Gah.

Typical.

Undeterred, I came across this post which provides a Keynote 08 file consisting of a single Web View-enabled slide which, happily, works in Keynote 09.

This means that during my ALT-C 2010 presentation for JISC Advance I can show tweets using the hashtags #altc10 #ja in order to get some live feedback. Note that you if you embed a search from the Twitter homepage you’ll have to replace the %23 with # and %20 with a space in the URL that’s pasted into the Keynote Inspector box.

Here’s the result:

Questions? Ask away in the comments below! 😀

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