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Digital Trends: Embrace the Cloud

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/27/12] The more we embrace technology and how it can improve our professional lives, the more information we begin to accumulate over time at our business. At some point, the use and sharing of this information can become cumbersome for a business to control, and, therefore, looking to a cloud solution becomes a viable option. The cloud concept comes from a metaphor for the Internet as a whole, but as private servers (or clouds) have become more readily accessible to the public, the cloud term has taken over in popularity. Cloud computing is based upon the idea that by using shared services and resources, information can be more centrally located and utilized. Typically, cloud solutions are more versatile in how they are executed or used by a business. There is usually no software to download, but rather a server to connect to and store your information. Furthermore, a friendly user interface provides easy ways to manage your server and the data within. “Cloud computing will continue to change the way we do business,” said Mark Seager, vice president of Technology EMEA at Informatica, in a recent interview with the Computer Business Review. “The year ahead will see an upturn in cloud adoption, driven by the need for organizations to be more agile, as well as the need to cut costs,” Seager said. “With existing IT frameworks often made up of data silos, cloud technology can help create a dynamic architecture to accommodate any data, in any location. Businesses who want to respond and act faster in today’s economic climate have to look to the cloud if they haven’t already. After all, the challenge for cloud adoption until now has been inertia, and many businesses have therefore not gained the benefits cloud computing can offer. Organizations need to be aggressive but smart as they make the move to the cloud.” The benefits of moving into a cloud system are immeasurable and are changing the way all types of businesses operate. In the coming weeks, I will be discussing some of the benefits of some of the newer cloud services and how it can benefit your business, too. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Let Database Help You Store All That Data

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/13/12] Living in the information age, the amount of data that can come your way in a single day can be overwhelming at times. With so many ways to digitally track your customers’ habits, your company’s finances and social interaction, an eventual need grows to analyze the data more thoroughly. Today, a database is a great way to store large amounts of data. It provides a lot of flexibility in the design and implementation. All databases break down to the table level where data is stored in fields in cells, with a declared data type for each value in the cell. A collection of fields makes up a record, or sometimes thought of as a row in the database table. The relationships between different tables create what’s referred to as a relational database and allows users to pull related information from smaller, manageable tables. These relationships are built on common fields, called primary and foreign keys, and are essential to the updating and cascade features of a database. This is in sharp contrast to many spreadsheets businesses use, which can become massive in size and hard to analyze at times. Spreadsheets are great for organizing data in columns and rows, performing calculations, and some charting and graphic features. However, databases are much more powerful for large amounts of related data because of the ability to easily query the stored data. A query is simply a stored question and allows a user to ask questions of the data, incorporate search criteria and produce a recordset that can then power additional queries. Queries are so powerful that they can add, delete, update or manipulate existing data. And the best part is they can be saved for later use, which eliminates the need to build the same query multiple times. Some common database programs in use today are Microsoft Access, MySQL or Oracle. They all have their advantages but it often comes down to the amount of data and number of users you will have using the database at one time. Lastly, most websites today are powered by some kind of database. That is how there can be so much information available on a website and accessed in such a short amount of time. The biggest sites in the world are backed by powerful databases, which allow for large online stores and easy navigation through different categories of the site. So, if you decide the current way you are organizing or storing your data is inefficient, then you are ready to make the move to a database and open a whole new world of data storage and mining. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@ fcdigitalworkshop.com. Want to learn more about database management? Register for one our Microsoft Access© classes...

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Microsoft Going All In With Windows 8

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 3/30/12] As Apple and Google continue to win over new customers with their sleek, modern products and services, Microsoft has been plotting its next move to keep up in the fast-paced technology world. After years of dominating the operating system market, Windows has recently seen its sales decline because of this tough competition. At the beginning of March, Microsoft unveiled the beta version of its newest competitor in the operating system market: Windows 8. After the failure of Windows Vista, Windows 7 returned some dignity back to the Microsoft operating system brand name. Now, the company is going all in with Windows 8 on its latest attempt to keep up with the newest trends. Windows 8 features a new “Metro” style, dropping the well known “Start” menu that has been in versions of Windows from XP to 7. Windows 8 will be available for both desktop and tablet platforms, and devices can easily connect via a cloud system. For different-sized devices and screens, Windows 8 will automatically scale the content. Apps are in your face in Windows 8 as a major feature as well. The ability to customize the apps you want is provided in a user-friendly experience. Plus, the entire operating system has been optimized for touch screens, tablets and mobile devices of all kinds. Now, you can flick in new apps to the focus of your screen with your finger. A new Forrestor Research report indicates that Apple and Google are still dominating the mobile operating system market. However, Microsoft believes Windows 8 will help bring back some of its faithful customers. No one knows if Microsoft will continue to dominate the operating system market as it has in the past, but Windows 8 is the latest attempt to satisfy hungry tech crowds. Let’s wait and see if Microsoft’s gamble pays off. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Vector Items Are Clean, Smooth

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 3/23/12] Last week, I began discussing the differences between raster and vector graphics in digital images. This week is part two of the discussion and focuses on vector graphics – what they are, and how they can benefit you and your business. Whereas raster graphics, discussed last week, are made up of a grid of pixel information, vector images are not. Rather, vector images are mathematically created images made up of lines, curves, anchor points and shapes. Vector graphics can be used for simple or complex logos, diagrams and more. If you look at the detail of most major label brands’ logos (i.e. Lay’s, Facebook, GE), there is not an exceptional amount of detail in the logo image itself. In a vector logo, there is typically some simple, smooth shapes and lines with an interesting typeface on the package. For example, examine Coca-Cola’s logo. It is not a highly detailed image of someone drinking the product in an interesting, colorful setting, requiring a raster graphic. It is simply a typeface, made from lines and curves with a simple two-color design. So, as with most logos and branding, it is not about the detail as much as using a simple vector graphic in a clean and professional manner. And if you understand that these vector graphics are mathematically created from lines and curves, then we can focus on the major advantage of a vector graphic: scalability. You can enlarge a vector graphic the size of your thumbnail into the size of a billboard without having to re-create the image. Because it does not use a grid of dots like a raster, the enlarge process is no problem for vector graphics. This keeps your vector images always looking clean and smooth. In terms of which software should be used to begin working on any type of graphic, industry-leading Adobe Photoshop is designed initially for raster image editing and creation. By contrast, Adobe Illustrator is intended to work for vector graphics. However, there is definitely some cross-over between the two programs. Most professional graphic designers need both programs in their tool belt. Photoshop can be used for complex raster projects, maybe involving lots of jpg or gif files. On the other hand, Illustrator would be used for more business-related documents such as logos, brochures and simple marketing materials. Both programs are powerful applications that can help you bring your digital graphic ideas to life like never before. I highly recommend diving into both and finding out how creative and fun it can be for yourself. Stu Crair is the owner and lead trainer at The Digital Workshop Center, providing digital arts and computer training instruction in Fort Collins. Call him at (970) 980-8091 or send email to stu@...

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Choose Graphics Program Based on Type of Images Handled

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 3/16/12] Many of my students ask me whether Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator is the correct program for their graphic design, print media or image editing needs. And it’s always a tough question to answer. To understand what choice makes sense for you or your business, you must first understand the definition of the two major types of digital images used in graphic design: raster and vector graphics. A raster graphic is a graphic made up of a grid of pixels, often referred to as a “bitmap” format. The word raster is really just a fancy word for “grid” in tech terminology. Each pixel, which is short for picture element, is the smallest unit of image information in a digital image. Each pixel can have a wealth of data in it. A larger raster image means you have more pixels in the image to create the high quality of detail. As your raster gets bigger in actual size, the bitmap format starts to create a huge file. So, we often use formats of digital images such as JPG or GIF to compress the data into manageable file sizes. And that compression allows us all to be able post high quality raster images, taken from our camera or phones, and share them via the web, email, social media and much more. Raster graphics often have highly detailed subjects, such as people or nature scenes, because of the ability to use more pixels per inch or ppi. However, the major problem with raster graphics is that although they can be scaled down easily, they cannot be enlarged because you will stretch the pixels and create a blocky look to your image. A good way to think of why this happens is because you are essentially taking the same number of pixels in its original size and just stretching them to fit the scaled, larger size. There are no more pixels added in that process, therefore you get the “pixelated” look we all dread. So, designers use Adobe Photoshop because it is intended for the creation and editing of raster graphics. We choose to use Photoshop to edit existing images taken from digital cameras or if we need exceptionally high detailed images in marketing materials for print or web. Next week, I will finish this topic and cover what are the differences between raster and vector graphics, as well as why it is so beneficial to you. Stay tuned. Stu Crair is owner of The Digital Workshop Center. Reach him at (970)...

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