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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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Update Your Technical Skills With Government Funding

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/20/12] No matter what side of the political spectrum you sit on, when you become unemployed in today’s economy, you may need to start leaning on the federal and state government for more help. Specifically, if your technical skills are out of date with the modern trends, you may need to look for programs that will help you get up to speed. The Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, is a federally funded plan that grants money to help those who are collecting unemployment or have been displaced from their gainful careers for specific economic reasons. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the WIA was created “to consolidate, coordinate and improve employment, training, literacy and vocational rehabilitation programs in the United States.” The WIA has many eligibility guidelines, and some of them might change depending on the state and county in which you live. Information for Colorado and Wyoming residents can be found online. Once approved through the appropriate WIA program, you will have access to funding for technical education and training. In addition, there are numerous WIA workshops, seminars and partnerships that will help you get back into the workforce. Through the WIA funding, you can add to those computer skills that you either missed the first time around in school or were never introduced to in the first place. If you want to move into a new, modern career field such as web design or graphic design, you might be eligible for training funding for these new career moves, as well. Every county and state handles their appropriation of the funding dollars differently, so it is best to check with your county’s workforce center to get started. From there, you might be able to add digital skills to your resume and get on your way to a new job today. 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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A Simple Mail Merge Can Save You Time

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 4/6/12] If you have a list of contacts on your computer and are ready to start mailing to a large group of them, then you can put down your pen and let your computer do all the dirty work. With two of the most popular Microsoft programs, Word and Excel, you can quickly and easily create a mail merge system for your contacts. A mail merge is the combination of a data source and a word processing document to produce mailing labels, envelopes, form letters and more. It is an extremely powerful tool that most administrative professionals use to save tons of manual labor time. The way a mail merge works is that you must begin with some kind of data source. This can come in many forms including a table from a database, a list of your Outlook contacts, a CSV file or even a simple Excel spreadsheet. Since most contact applications can export to a spreadsheet format, Excel can be used in a variety of scenarios for your business. Once you have a data source prepared properly, you can open Microsoft Word and begin the mail merge process. This begins with either a blank document or you can even use a pre-existing document. Envelopes and mailing labels come in standard sizes, and Microsoft has these already built into the program, too. By inserting placeholder fields into the mail merge document, you are allowing the program to replace the placeholders with actual values from your data source. This will repeat for every record in your data source. In a form letter example, you also have the option to customize individual letters, just in case you want to send a more personalized message to an individual client. When it is time to print the mail merge document, you simply finalize your merge and advance to print the entire batch. A mail merge is an amazing tool for simple administrative tasks, and the reach of how it might save you time is limitless. So, the next time you need to send those holiday cards to a huge list, check out a mail merge and save yourself some precious time. 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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