Lightning Review: Optical Character Recognition: An Illustrated Guide to the Frontier

Lightning Review: Optical Character Recognition: An Illustrated Guide to the Frontier

Picture of OCR Book

Stephen V. Rice, George Nagy, and Thomas A. Nartaker’s work on OCR, though written in 1999, is still a remarkably valuable bedrock text for diving into the technology. Though OCR systems have, and continue to, evolve with each passing day, the study presented within their book still highlights some of the major issues one faces when performing optical character recognition. Text is in an unusual typeface or contains stray marks, print is too heavy or too light. This text gives those interested in learning the general problems that arise in OCR a great guide to what they and their patrons might encounter.

The book opens with a quote from C-3PO, and a discussion of how our collective sci-fi imagination believe technology will have “cognitive and linguistic abilities” that match and perhaps even exceed our own (Rice et al., 1999, p. 1).

C3PO Gif

 

The human eye is the most powerful character identifier to exist. As the authors note “A seven year old child can identify characters with far greater accuracy than the leading OCR systems” (Rice et al., 1999, 165). I found this simple explanation so helpful for when I get questions here in the Scholarly Commons from patron who are confused as to why their document, even after been run through and  OCR software, is not perfectly recognized. It is very easy, with our human eyes, to discern when a mark on a page is nothing of importance, and when it is a letter. Ninety-nine percent character accuracy doesn’t mean ninety-nine percent page accuracy.

Look with your special eyes Gif

In summary, this work presents a great starting point for those with an interest in understanding OCR technology, even at almost two decades old.

Give it, and the many other fabulous books in our reference collection, a read!

Scholarly Smackdown: PowerPoint vs. Google Slides vs. Prezi

Everyone, at some point in their life, will be asked to give some kind of presentation to go along with a talk. For many of us, projecting a slide show along with a class report or talk has been something we’ve done since childhood. That being said, the nature of the presentation game is changing. While the PowerPoint remains the standard, new challengers are making a splash in the presentation world. In this article, I’ll go through the pros and cons of each of these platforms.

The PowerPoint logo.

PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint is so ingrained in our idea of modern presentations that giving any sort of slide show is often called “giving a PowerPoint”. But at the same time, does PowerPoint hold up to its new competitors? Let’s take a closer look.

Price:

Microsoft has shifted towards yearly subscriptions for various packages. UIUC affiliates can download the suite on their home computer for free. Otherwise, packages range between $70-$100 per year, or a one-time purchase of $150, which does not include applications such as OneDrive. For more information on options, go to the UIUC Webstore or Microsoft’s website.

Usability:

Though it’s gotten better with time and my own familiarity with Microsoft Office, PowerPoint is not the most usable option of these. Part of that has to do with the sheer amount of options available in PowerPoint. That being said, the more you can customize your project, the greater the potential to misuse tools or make mistakes. Real problems arise when you want to do things that aren’t included in their preset slide layouts, and formatting images — while it has become simpler than in older versions of the software — remains, at times, an issue.

Web Capability:

Microsoft PowerPoint is first and foremost downloadable computer software. However, PowerPoint has recently come out with a competitor to online platforms called PowerPoint Online, which has most of the capabilities of PowerPoint software, but allows for you to collaborate in real-time with others. To log into PowerPoint Online one needs a Microsoft ID (UIUC affiliates can log in with their email). One cannot access or purchase access to PowerPoint Online without a Microsoft ID. PowerPoint Online is useful if you like the look of PowerPoint and want an easy-to-open and portable version, but I find that the interface is a little clunky, but it does integrate slideshows made on the desktop version easily. I think PowerPoint Online is an important addition to the Microsoft Suite because, with time, it will eliminate that awkward 15 minutes that happens during any and every presentation session where someone can’t get their jump drive to work.

Aesthetics:

When done well, a PowerPoint can look good. It isn’t going to be a beauty queen, but it will look good. However, people have a tendency to over-embellish a PowerPoint, or leave it so bare that it looks sad. There’s a happy medium when it comes to PowerPoint. Just make sure you include some images to spice up your PowerPoint and stay away from templates that include gradients — this isn’t a business convention in 2002.

The Google Slides logo.

Google Slides

Google Slides is Google’s online PowerPoint equivalent. Most notable for the ability to collaborate on presentations, it’s a simplified PowerPoint that you can access from anywhere (with Wifi).

Price:

Google Slides is free with your Google account. Your limiting factor here is memory. While the automatic Drive memory is typically more than enough for most people, you can add on extra memory or $2-$300 a month, depending on your needs.

Usability:

Google Slides is the most bare bones of these three programs and the easiest to use. This is a trade-off, of course, because it also means that it has the least options of these choices. Google Slides’ controls are generally pretty similar to Google Docs and easy to learn. Even for those who aren’t familiar with other Google Drive programs, the tools are pretty intuitive — more so than PowerPoint’s.

Web Capability:

Google Slides was built for the Web. It’s the easiest to access of these programs, and the most widely-recognized Web application. That being said, it lacks a good offline mode, which can be frustrating when you need to work on a presentation without Wifi. However, its connectivity with the other online components of Google Drive are worth it.

Aesthetics:

I give Google Slides a one-up on PowerPoint for aesthetics, because while they have fewer templates, they tend to be a little more modern and aesthetically pleasing than PowerPoint’s. Further, while there are fewer overall customization options for Google Slides, the result can end up more attractive because your time and energy is focused on getting the job done, as opposed to playing around.

The Prezi logo.

Prezi

Prezi is the newest presentation platform on the scene. Created as a more dynamic alternative to slideshow presentations, this web-based app uses zoomable canvases for presentations.

Price:

A basic account is free, and a basic student account (which includes privacy controls) is also free. Other individual packages range from $7 to $59.

Usability:

Honestly, I find Prezi difficult to use. Part of that can be attributed to my years of experience with PowerPoint and similar platforms and my comparative inexperience with Prezi, but I do think that there’s an element that isn’t entirely my fault here. Moving through your presentation can be cumbersome, even in the edit mode. Customization options are more limited, and can easily ruin the flow of your presentation if you’re not careful. I do think that the more closely you stick to Prezi’s pre-made options, the easier it is to use. Also, the shorter your presentation is, the less cumbersome Prezi is both as a creator and consumer.

Web Capability:

Prezi is a web-based application, and offline access must be paid for.

Aesthetics:

Prezi is, undoubtedly, pretty. I find it a little ironic that animation — which PowerPoint has been criticized for — is one of the major selling points of Prezi. When I watch a Prezi, I do have the tendency to feel a little seasick, especially if it’s a presentation with a lot of points that zoom in and out. But overall, the aesthetics are the most modern of any of the platforms, the most visually-striking, and the most impressive if you are able to handle them correctly and create a good presentation.

Overall:

Each of these have their merits and flaws, but I will be, personally, sticking with PowerPoint. Especially given the new online component of PowerPoint, it is a tried and true partner that may not produce the most striking results, but can accompany my work just fine. That being said, I’ll also look further into Prezi, maybe sign up for our Savvy Researcher workshop on it, and see if it does live up to its incredible reputation.

Bad Web Design with e-Portfolio Software

E-portfolios (sometimes spelled ePortfolio) and digital portfolios are websites where you can display your academic achievements and works for the world to see. These professional websites are often created with a specific career goal in mind and display examples that demonstrate how you meet the competencies of your career goal. Digital portfolios can be used to supplement a LinkedIn profile, and some graduate programs even require the creation of an e-portfolio in lieu of writing a master’s thesis or even as a graduation requirement.

Should I make an e-portfolio with e-portfolio software?

A lot of online portfolio software creation tools aimed at educators make sites that tend to look very formatted. Essentially, what you end up working with is close in appearance to a Google Sites page. Oftentimes, individuals pay for their own site, if funds are not provided by your university. The University of Illinois supports use of the ePortfolio site Digication, which is free to faculty, students, and staff. That being said, default templates for e-portfolios tend to be… ugly. You may consider using these if your school subscribes to them, or if you want a free portfolio site for your fifth graders. Otherwise, probably not.

Issues to consider when choosing an e-portfolio software: digital preservation, usability, aesthetics, and cost. You also want to consider the most important question here: Am I better off using Google Sites?

Mahara

Mahara is a New Zealand-based open source e-portfolio software. You need your own server to use Mahara, but you can customize the software to your liking if you know how or have a very supportive IT department. For all of my server-free readers, FolioSpaces is a web application based on Mahara, but feels a lot more like a social network for third graders. Users are unable to customize the background of their sites unless you pay up to $9.95 a year. On FolioSpaces you create “portfolios” that are actually sections where you can store different aspects of your work. FolioSpaces is an odd public space where you are likely to see posts from high school students from Michigan who really could benefit from spell check. Still, this could be a good free option for folks looking for a portfolio creation tool for their students’ classwork. However, you will probably save a lot of time and trouble, as well as have more control over privacy settings, by just using Google Sites, especially if you have Google for Education (and if you are a student at Illinois, you do).

Digication

Digication is an e-portfolio alternative. U of I students, faculty, and staff can easily create, share, and access ePotfolios for free, and continue to access them after graduation. Digication has pretty intuitive steps for creating an ePortfolio. One great aspect is the easily editable custom URLs you can create for your portfolio. With Digication, you can either use a pre-made template (some more aesthetically pleasing than others), or customize your own theme. Because we have access to Digication through the University of Illinois, it has some themes that are better suited to our needs than some of the other ePortfolio options on this list, because they are geared to a UIUC audience.

One of the best parts of Digication are the options to allow comments and “conversations” on your ePortfolio, which are a great social aspect that encourage interaction between yourself and your audience.

Like all of these options, there are pros and cons to using Digication, but it’s definitely a path to explore. For more information on Digication at the U of I, head to the ePortfolio Resources at Illinois page.

Portfolio Gen

Portfolio Gen provides free pages, as well as paid options that have more space and no “Powered by Portfolio Gen” widget on the page. Frankly, most of the themes on Portfolio Gen seem very childish, and seem to cater to an audience of younger students creating (tacky) portfolios. They are, however, the easiest to use e-portfolio software, and it would be nice if they could expand their theme options to have some better-suited for adults.

My default portfolio and landing page took about five minutes to make and looked like this:

Portfolio homepage with default settings

Pathbrite

In my opinion, this is probably the most promising e-portfolio builder that is specifically built for this purpose. Pathbrite is free for individual users but costs money for institutions. You can create a free, simple site with a Google account and incorporate documents like a resume/CV and a writing sample directly from your Google Drive from the side bar “Add Work” tab and/or by dragging and dropping the icon of the type of work you want to add to your portfolio site. Although this looks similar to the Weebly drag and drop, it will give you options to upload from all sorts of places. You can arrange uploaded items by dragging and dropping them around on your page. A particularly nice feature is that you can also incorporate screenshots and links to websites you have created by simply clicking “Web link” and including the link to the website you want to share so you don’t have to screenshot it yourself.

add items mode in pathbrite

That being said, on the “Style and Settings” tab on the side bar you have a very limited amount of control over the way that the different items are arranged on your site. You can choose between light and dark and resume views and a couple of different ways to arrange the layout of how your work will appear, but that’s about it.

Pathbrite Style and Setting Editor

My default portfolio and page took about 15 minutes to make and this is how it turned out:

demo pathbrite portfolio

Overall, I am not a big fan of any of these options. At the end of the day, I still think you’re probably better off working with a regular CMS like WordPress, Weebly, or even the most basic of site creation tools, Google Sites. If you are an artist, photographer, or some other kind of all around creative genius there are web site builders and e-portfolio designs that specifically cater to you that look nice; however, this post is focusing on researcher/educator e-portfolios that aren’t as image heavy.

And if you’re a UIUC faculty member you’re in luck, because soon you will be able to create an e-portfolio through an Illinois Experts where you can showcase your research and accomplishments.

UPDATE 11/14/2017: Those post initially and incorrectly stated that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign does not provide free access to any ePortfolio site. However, we just learned that we do! University of Illinois students, faculty, and staff can create a free ePortfolio on Digication, which they can continue to access even after they have left the school. We apologize for our mistake, and hope that this news comes as a pleasant surprise for our readers!

More resources:

And make sure to check out our two fabulous LibGuides on online scholarly presence:

Adventures at the Spring 2017 Library Hackathon

This year I participated in an event called HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities, which was organized by the University Library. This interdisciplinary hackathon brought together participants and judges from a variety of fields.

This event is different than your average campus hackathon. For one, it’s about expanding humanities knowledge. In this event, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — typically affiliated with the iSchool in some way — spend a few weeks working on data-driven projects related to humanities research topics. This year, in celebration of the sesquicentennial of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we looked at data about a variety of facets of university life provided by the University Archives.

This was a good experience. We got firsthand experience working with data; though my teammates and I struggled with OpenRefine and so we ended up coding data by hand. I now way too much about the majors that are available at UIUC and how many majors have only come into existence in the last thirty years. It is always cool to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.

The other big challenge we had was not everyone on the team had experience with design, and trying to convince folks not to fall into certain traps was tricky.

For an idea of how our group functioned, I outlined how we were feeling during the various checkpoints across the process.

Opening:

We had grand plans and great dreams and all kinds of data to work with. How young and naive we were.

Midpoint Check:

Laura was working on the Python script and sent a well-timed email about what was and wasn’t possible to get done in the time we were given. I find public speaking challenging so that was not my favorite workshop. I would say it went alright.

Final:

We prevailed and presented something that worked in public. Laura wrote a great Python script and cleaned up a lot of the data. You can even find it here. One day in the near future it will be in IDEALS as well where you can already check out projects from our fellow humanities hackers.

Key takeaways:

  • Choose your teammates wisely; try to pick a team of folks you’ve worked with in advance. Working with a mix of new and not-so-new people in a short time frame is hard.
  • Talk to your potential client base! This was definitely something we should have done more of.
  • Go to workshops and ask for help. I wish we had asked for more help.
  • Practicing your presentation in advance as well as usability testing is key. Yes, using the actual Usability Lab at Scholarly Commons is ideal but at the very least take time to make sure the instructions for using what you created are accurate. It’s amazing what steps you will leave off when you have used an app more than twice. Similarly make sure that you can run your program and another program at the same time because if you can’t chances are it means you might crash someone’s browser when they use it.

Overall, if you get a chance to participate in a library hackathon, go for it, it’s a great way to do a cool project and get more experience working with data!

Pinterest Pages for Researchers

The Pinterest logo.

When one thinks of Pinterest, they tend to associate it with work night crock pot recipes and lifehacks that may or may not always work. But Pinterest can also be a great place to store and share links and information relating to your academic discipline that is widely accessible and free. In this post, we’ll look at how threegroups use Pinterest in different ways to help their mission, then go through some pros and cons of using Pinterest for academic endeavors

Examples of Groups Using Pinterest

A Digital Tool Box for Historians

A Digital Tool Box for Historians is exactly what it says on the tin. On the date this post was written, A Digital tool Box for Historians boasts 124 pins, each a link to a digital resource that can help historians. Resources range from free-to-use websites to pay-to-use software and everything in-between. It is an easy to follow board that is made for easy browsing.

Europeana

Europeana is a website dedicated to collecting and sharing cultural artifacts and art from around the world. Their Pinterest page serves as a virtual museum with pins grouped into thematic boards, as if they were galleries. With over a hundred and fifty boards, their subject matter ranges from broad themes (such as their Birds and Symbolism board), artistic medium (such as their Posters board, or specific artistic movements or artists (such as their Henri Verstijnen – Satirical Drawings board). Pinterest users can then subscribe to favorite boards and share pieces that they find moving, thus increasing the dissemination of pieces that could remain static if only kept on the Europeana website.

Love Your Data Week

Sponsored by — you guessed it — Love Your Data Week, the Love Your Data Week Pinterest board serves as a community place to help institutions prepare for Love Your Data Week. Resources shared on the Love Your Data Week board can either be saved to an institution’s own Love Your Data board, or used on their other social media channels to spark discussion.

Pros and Cons of Pinterest

  • Pros
    • Can spread your work to a non-academic audience
    • Free
    • Easily accessible
    • Easy to use
    • Brings content from other platforms you may use together
    • Visually appealing
    • Well-known
  • Cons
    • Poor tagging and search systems
    • Interface can be difficult to use, especially for users with disabilities
    • Content gets “buried” very quickly
    • Poor for long-format content
    • Non-academic reputation

Whether it’s a gallery, tool kit, or resource aggregation, Pinterest shows potential for growth in academic and research circles. Have you used Pinterest for academics before? How’d it go? Any tips you’d like to give? Let us know in the comments!

 

Using Microsoft Publisher for Easy and Attractive Documents

The ability to create quick and attractive layouts for posters, research presentations, and other published materials. While many will head to Photoshop, if you need something on-the-go, Microsoft Publisher is a great option for basic, yet impressive, layouts that will make you stand out. The best part is that you can make these with tools you probably already know from using other products in the Microsoft Suite.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how to make a professional-looking poster for “My Digital Humanities Project” in less than fifteen minutes.

The first thing I’ll do after opening Publisher is select a new blank document. While there are great choices for templates on Publisher, I want to design my poster by myself. From there, I’ll go to the “Page Design” tab on the top ribbon. From there, I’ll choose my color scheme and background color.

Tutorial 1

What the “Page Design” layout looks like.

The color scheme option on Publisher is great. It saves you the hassle of having to find complementary colors or and allows you to make more than boring black and white poster. Of course, you can create your own scheme, as well, but for now I’ll pick “Solstice” to use for my colors. You also have the option to choose a scheme for your fonts, but I stuck with the default.

The color scheme option saves time and energy by giving you eye-catching colors without having to find them yourself.

The color scheme option saves time and energy by giving you eye-catching colors without having to find them yourself.

Now, there are two ways to go about using Publisher. The first is to create your own layout and design using Publisher’s tools, which is what I’m doing in this tutorial. Creating your own layout and design allows you more control over what is and is not included in your final product. That being said, Publisher has a number of editable built-in templates that you can use for your project, if they fit your needs.

Tutorial 7

You can find the “Change Template” option on the left side of the the “Page Design” ribbon. From there you can choose from a number of editable designs, as well as color and font schemes.

After picking my scheme, I decide to do a plain fill for my background with the yellow from my color scheme. You also have choices to do a gradient background, a pattern background, or to upload your own image to use as your background.

The background button on the ribbon gives a drop-down menu with background options.

The background button on the ribbon gives a drop-down menu with background options.

My project's background.

My project’s background.

Following that I moved to the “Insert” tab on the top ribbon to create the content of my poster. Most of what I did came from the “Page Parts” or “Borders & Accents” options in the “Building Blocks” section of that top ribbon. I began by selecting the diamond pattern from borders and accents, and copy pasting it until it went across the page. Next, I chose the title from the “Headings” section of “Page Parts,” and the border around my title from “Borders and Accents.”

Tutorial 8

The layout of the “Insert” tab. Many of the best aspects of Publisher are found in the “Building Blocks” section of this ribbon, including “Page Parts” and “Borders & Accents.”

The bottom part of my poster came from the “Page Parts” tabs. There you can choose the shapes you want your text in. One nice option that my shape on the lower left has is the option to include three pictures within the shape. I also created the rectangle on the bottom right using the “Illustrations” tab on the top ribbon. I filled it with blue on the “Page Design” tab so that the date would really stand out.

My finished product!

My finished product!

One of the best parts of Publisher is that it takes the difficult aspects of design and simplifies them. While you may not have as much personal control over the final project as you may in Photoshop, Publisher saves time and energy while still giving you a noticeable and vivacious end product. Publisher is useful not only for posters, but to create presentations, booklets, cards, and even eye-catching resumes!

If you want to give Publisher a try, head to the Scholarly Commons!

Review: Don’t Make Me Think Revisited

Don’t Make Me Think Revisited by Steve Krug  is yet another updated classic available at Scholarly Commons and online as an e-book. Steve Krug of Advanced Common Sense talks about usability, which he defines as when “A person of average (or even below average) ability and experience can figure out how to use the thing to accomplish something without it being more trouble than it’s worth” (Krug 2014). Clearly inspired by The Design of Everyday Thingsthis short book is funny, full of examples, and easy to read. Throughout this book, Krug hopes to convince you that usability is an important aspect of web design and that doing usability testing can help you create better websites and apps.

Despite the title, this book made me re-think about websites, both with practical advice such as:

His “Facts of Life”:

  1. “We don’t read pages. We scan them.
  2. We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice.
  3. We don’t figure out how things work. We muddle through.

(Krug 2014)

As well as his Three Laws of Usability:

  1. “Don’t make me think!”
  2. “It doesn’t matter how many times I have to click, as long as each click is a mindless, unambiguous choice.”
  3. “Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.”

(Krug 2014)

And after insisting that what will work for a website really depends on the context throughout the book,  he did provide a few usability definitive answers such as:

“Don’t use small, low-contrast type.”

“Preserve the distinction between visited and unvisited text links.” (Krug, 2014)

What’s more, in this book about website development, he emphasizes empathy and being a decent human being. He describes people who create poorly designed webpages with: “There’s almost always a plausible rationale – and a good, if misguided, intention -behind every usability flaw” (Krug, 2014) He also says that web developers should work harder to make websites more accessible and that  “ …the one argument for accessibility that doesn’t get made often enough is how extraordinarily better it makes some people’s lives…How many opportunities do we have to dramatically improve people’s lives just by doing our job a little better? And for those of you who don’t find this argument compelling, be aware that even if you haven’t already encountered it, there will be a legislative stick coming sooner or later. Count on it” (Krug, 2014).

Convinced you need to start doing usability studies? Scholarly Commons can help! Check out more information about conducting usability studies at our Usability Studies page, and feel free to email us to learn more about getting started.

This is definitely a quick introductory read on the topic of usability but throughout Krug recommends a lot of further reading available online through the library! Don’t forget to take a look at some of these other titles:

Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works  by Ginny Redish.

Forms that Work: Designing Web Forms for Usability by Caroline Jarrett.

“Attention Web Designers: You Have 50 Milliseconds to Make a Good First Impression!” by Gitte Lindgaard, Gary Fernandes, Cathy Dudek, and J. Brown.

Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug.

Guidelines for Accessible and Usable Web Sites: Observing Users Who Work With Screen Readers  by Mary Frances Theofanos and Janice (Ginny) Redish.

A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences by Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbery.

Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance by Jim Thatcher et. al.

It’s Our Research: Getting Stakeholder Buy-In for User Experience Research Projects by Tomer Sharon.

The User Experience Team of One: A Research and Design Survival Guide by Leah Buley.

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Campus Colors Day Photoshop Tutorial

Today is September 2nd, otherwise known as National College Colors Day! We at the Scholarly Commons have a lot of Illini spirit, and thought we would show it by showing you a quick way to Photoshop a little Illini spirit onto anybody.   If you’re interested in learning more about Photoshop or using it, head to the Scholarly Commons. Our computers all have the full set of Adobe products on them, and there are resources here to help you. If you want to try learning on your own, you can use your Illinois NetID and password to log into Lynda.com, which has fantastic tutorials on Photoshop and other useful software.

The photo I chose was a Library of Congress photograph of William Howard Taft, my favorite president.

Bain News Service, Publisher. [Taft, Beatrice Nebraska]. 10/1/08 date created or published later by Bain. Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ggb2004002180/. (Accessed September 01, 2016.)

I started by opening Photoshop and creating a new project. In order to get my Photo into the project, I created a new layer [Layer -> New -> Layer] and copy pasting my photo of Taft into it. When you’re done, it should look something like this:

Taft 1

The layers panel is on the right hand side of the screen. Notice that I have separate layers for my background and for my photo.

 

Now, if you’re finding your photo is a little small compared to the background, you can transform your photo by pressing Control T. If you decide to use the transform option, make sure that you lock the proportions of your photo, buy clicking the lock icon on the upper toolbar.

Tutorial 5 Updated

The lock command ensures your photo will maintain its original proportions.

When your photo is sized to your liking, you can start with the fun stuff. First, we’re going to create a new layer to draw on our orange with.

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer "Orange."

You can name your layer whatever you like, or keep the automatic layer name. I like to keep things simple, so I named my layer “Orange.”

Next, you’re going to choose the brush tool, by pressing its icon on the left hand toolbar (it will be the eighth icon down) or simply pressing the letter B on your keyboard. Before we do anything else, make sure that you have the “Orange” layer selected on your layers list — it’s important to keep things separate to keep editing easy! In order to edit how your brush works, you’re going to need to see the brush controls. To do that, go to Window -> Brush on the upper bar of your screen. When you click brush, a menu of options will appear near your left tool bar.

Taft 4

There are almost limitless brush options in Photoshop — play around and see what you like!

 

Choose the settings you’d like for your brush strokes. For the purposes of this edit, I want a brushstroke that’s got straight edges and hardness to it, so I chose the second brush option and moved the hardness rate over to 100%. I also chose my color on the upper right corner of my screen. Now, I chose the “Swatches” tab to easily grab my colors, but if you’re comfortable using the gradient, go ahead! Then, I began to draw over Taft’s face.

 

 

Taft 5

What an opaque brushstroke looks like.

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you'd like to have!

I chose 40% opacity for this specific project, but choose what looks best with your picture, and what kind of effect you’d like to have!

Now, the brushstroke is in the right place, and has the right feel to it, but it’s also opaque. When I draw, Taft is completely covered up, which is not what I want. So I go to the top of my layers panel on the right side of my screen to the Opacity percentage. Changing this will make this brushstroke, and anything else I create in this layer, more transparent, so that you can see Taft beneath it.

Once you change the opacity of your layer, you’ll see that you can see your photo underneath the layer you’re currently drawing on, like this:

 

Taft 6

Because who would ever want to cover up that charming smile?

Continue to cover one side of your subject’s face with orange. You can always zoom in (Ctrl + Z) to get a better view of your subject, and change the size of your brush, by pressing the left bracket ” [ ” to make the brushstroke smaller, and the right bracket ” ] ” to make it larger. If you want to make a straight line but have a shaky hand, don’t fear! Just click the place you want to start the line, press the shift key, then click where you want it to end. Photoshop fills in that straight line for you. When I was done with these steps, President Taft looked like this:

I opted not to color in his mustache because I'm going to do something else with it later.

I opted not to color in his mustache because I’m going to do something else with it later.

Next up? Create a new layer and follow the same steps with the brush set to blue.

Taft 9

Almost done! Hang on!

Now you have a face that’s got some Illinois pride. But, I wanted to go a step further with President Taft. So I created a new layer, named it “Facial Hair,” and started in by using the straight line shortcut (click + shift + click) to stripe Taft’s mustache with blue, then orange.

Taft 10

Not exactly the fashion in 1913.

Taft 11

Hail to the orange and blue!

And voila! We have a photograph with some real Illini spirit. But before you do anything else, make sure you’re saving correctly. Saving in Photoshop can be a bit confusing, so I’ll take you through the simple steps to saving your Photoshopped image as a JPEG, a more universal kind of file than the Photoshop PSD file.

First, click File -> Save As on the upper bar. You’ll reach a pretty normal save screen on PC or Mac. But it’s very important that you change the save format from PSD to JPEG in the “Save as type” bar. Don’t click or unclick on any of the options below — in order to save as a JPEG, the program will automatically click the “As a Copy” button.

Tutorial 15 Updated

When you click save, there will another pop-up asking about JPEG options. The qualities you can choose range from 1-12, and Photoshop will almost always automatically choose 8. You’ll probably want to move that number up to 12 to get the best quality file as you can. Since JPEGs are much smaller files than PSDs, you don’t really need to worry about the file size unless your computer is running out of space. When you change the quality option, click “OK” and you’re done!

Tutorial 16

Congratulations! You now have an image that’s full of Illinois pride. Photoshop is an incredible tool, and is fun to use, but also looks great on a resume.

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My finished product!

Looks Do Matter: Data.Gov’s User Friendly Information Portal

Why would it matter to a serious researcher whether an information portal has a well-designed interface? In most research circles, interfaces to collections of databases don’t need to be pretty. In fact, pretty might raise suspicions that the data is sub-standard: “What are they trying to cover up?” It’s all about the data, right? Yes, it’s about the data. But a pleasing and useful interface is no small matter. Researchers, app designers, and concerned citizens all know that the government is a source of important information, but I imagine more than a few have had unpleasant experiences trying to find and apply particular data.

As a portal to the U.S. government’s open data, Data.Gov is noteworthy. There, you’ll find “data, tools, and resources to conduct research, develop web and mobile applications, design data visualizations, and more.”

CaptureWhat is the scope of the data? You can search 192,917 data sets of U.S. government data related to agriculture, business, climate, consumer, ecosystems, education, energy, finance, health, local government, manufacturing, ocean, public safety, and science & research. Data.Gov includes databases from 77 agencies and sub-agencies as well as 492 non-governmental publishers.

How easy is it to navigate the site? The design is simple, clean, and intuitive. If you click a tab, expecting something like “X,” you’ll probably get something like “X” and more beside.

Perhaps the most helpful features are the search functions which are front and center on the home page. If you know what you’re looking for (sort of), just use the search box. Otherwise, you can use their browse topic feature which uses clear, picturesque icons. These topics are helpful to non-researchers exploring public affairs related issues, and they will also help seasoned researchers explore general topics of interest.

In the top right corner of every subsequent page, you’ll find the same search functionality as on the home page: a search text box and links to each of the major subareas below it. The browse topics feature (with its attractive icons) is readily accessible from the same area, using a drop down menu.

Browse TopicsNow, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find exactly what you want. But it’s a good place to start. If you’re a data geek you’ll enjoy the exploration and perhaps discover something you didn’t know. Browse. Give it a try. You don’t need a blog to find your way.

 

[Scholarly Commons has two services that might be of use to those interested in government related data and/or usability.  Data Services provides assistance with finding and formatting digital numeric and spatial data. The Usability Lab provides a space with two workstations for conducting usability studies.]

 

Learning with Lynda.com

Finally, you’ve located the software you need. Now, how to use it.

The ever broadening world of software, programs, applications, coding languages, and technical services can be hard to keep up with. Youtube can be a great option when you want a quick fix of how to convert file formats, install things, and the like. However, if you’re looking for a well-made tutorial that will walk you through learning a piece of software, look no further. Lynda.com is a subscription service available through the library with your netID.

What can it teach me? Lynda offers courses on much of the software available in the Scholarly Commons in categories of Animation, Music, Business, CAD, Design, Developer, Education, Marketing, Photography, Video, and Web.  Although there are hundreds of tutorials on specific software, they also feature tutorials on learning discipline specific fundamentals and principles. Lynda also remembers which tutorials you watched and displays an eye-icon next to them so that next time you’ll know where you left off. No need to watch a whole series though if you just want to learn a particular feature. Tutorials are often broken down into specific items or features that you might want to use (e.g. how to sort tables in Excel).

Where can you find it? Lynda is available through all three campuses and the different links are listed below. Once you’re logged in though, finding the software you need is a simple search in the search box or navigating their tutorial catalog.

Whether you’re looking to update your software skills, want to explore an application before deciding to purchase it, or need to learn some programming for your research project, Lynda.com is a great place to start.