Adobe Spark

Adobe recently announced Spark. This is more than a “re-branding” of the iOS only apps Voice, Slate, and Post. The links in the previous sentence take you to my initial reviews of those iOS apps. The significance of Spark is that these apps are also now available via the web. You don’t need an iPad or iPhone – you can just use a modern browser. You merely visit and login with your  Adobe ID (which you can create for free). You have the ability to share your work with others (and can download a copy to your computer). These are some of the options available. You should select a category and indicate whether your work can be discovered by the Spark community.

Sharing your work

In my view of the world, this represents a significant improvement. Many students simply can’t afford an iPad or iPhone and these apps have tremendous possibilities to “jump start” student’s creative work. I suspect this is also true of many teachers. I see a significant potential in Spark for teaching and learning. Let’s investigate the web version of Spark in a bit more detail. Read more »


I recently provided an overview of the “design in browser” approach to working with a web site. Since that post, I have become aware of the Labcoat browser plugin. It only works for Chrome that being said, it has some powerful capabilities. Before you can work with this tool, you first have to download the Chrome extension (and you have to create an account at Once the extension is active, you can then modify your site (or any site you choose). This is the part that excites me as a teacher. I can visit a specific site and mark it up with CSS changes to show students the effect. And those effects are available to me (so I don’t need to immediately save anything outside of the Labcoat environment).

Labcoat extension for Chrome browser

Let’s learn a bit more about this tool. Read more »

Adobe XD and Material Design

Google announced Material Design in June, 2014. The main goals are discussed in the Material Design specification. Essentially, there are two goals (below copied directly from above link).

“Create a visual language that synthesizes classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science.”

“Develop a single underlying system that allows for a unified experience across platforms and device sizes. Mobile precepts are fundamental, but touch, voice, mouse, and keyboard are all ?rst-class input methods.”

The key is the idea of a “unified experience across platforms and device sizes.” This has been implemented in a large part on Android applications, Google Drive, Google Docs (and related), and gMail. There are a number of tutorials on working with the basics of Material Design. There are sites where you can download icons (like Material Design Icons) and themes (such as Material Design Themes) and widgets (such as Material Design Widgets). There are free and paid versions of many of these objects.

With the release of Adobe Experience Design (and the associated Material Design UI Kit), I have found it much easier to understand (and get started working with Material Design). I thought it would be appropriate for students to better understand what comes with this UI Kit (and how it can be utilized in your designs). Read more »

LIX 3D Printing Pen

On Monday, May 2, 2016, my LIX 3D printing pen arrived. At long last. I ordered this on August 24, 2015.  I was notified it was ready to ship on March 25, 2016. It shipped on April 25, 2016. Overall cost was $154.95 (including $15 shipping). Now that I have it, here are my initial thoughts.

  1. It is definitely not a toy (the tip heats to over 200°C in roughly 1 minute).
  2. Since it shipped with only the ABS (high temperature filaments), there is a noticeable petroleum smell while using.
  3. It requires a very steady hand (mine is less steady than I thought).
  4. I wish the included power cord was a bit longer (yes, I am presently using an extension cord).
  5. It requires the proper surface to place/ hold a starting point (or the resulting materials will move and curl).

Let’s examine this device in a bit more detail. Read more »

Design in Browser

There have been a number of discussions at various meetings about the concept of “design in browser.” As the spring semester starts to draw to a close, I thought it might be an appropriate time to review this concept as it helps bring a number of aspects of web design into focus. It is also a good way to confirm you really understand working with HTML, CSS and related technologies.

The two main tools I recommend using when designing using a browser are the Chrome browser and Brackets as an editor. In the most simple form, one modifies the CSS on a given page directly in the browser and then copies the modified code and pastes it into the associated document. This is enabled because of two capabilities in Chrome:

  1. the inspection tool (this will also open the Developer tools) (Ctrl[or CMD]+Shift+i)
  2. device mode (Ctrl[or CMD]+Shift+M)

I suspect many students reading this article have not worked extensively in this manner. Let’s get started. Read more »

Web Design MOOC 2016

I recently completed teaching another MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). This one was on web design using the Adobe MUSE application and was done as part of the Adobe Education Exchange. This course ran from January 25 to March 11, 2016. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you may recall some of my earlier observations:

I thought it might be helpful to focus on additional insights rather than rehash the technologies and results. For those who are curious, the technologies remained similar to what I used in 2014 and the results were also similar. Read more »

Critical Error – Start Menu Not Working

For the past month (March 8 to April 6, 2016), my sole Windows 10 laptop has been experiencing a strange problem. Every time I clicked on the Windows logo “new start menu,” I received the following error message.

Critical error - start menu not working

Of course, you can’t close this message. Clicking “Sign out now” is pointless as the problem remains when you sign back in. So, I just moved the message out of the way and continued using the computer.

One of the reasons to upgrade to Windows 10 from the disaster known as Windows 8.1 was the return of the start menu; so I found this a bit frustrating. I do know enough about computers that I can function just fine without the start menu. That being said, I thought I would share my experiences as I debugged the problem. Read more »

Natchez Trace

During spring break this year, my wife and I spent a fair amount of time in the state of Mississippi. Last week, I reviewed the Mississippi petrified forest. After leaving the petrified forest, we decided to drive on the Natchez Trace Parkway (from Jackson, MS to Tupelo, MS). Yes, Tupelo is the birthplace of Elvis (in case you didn’t know). We only drove a part of the Parkway – it is a total of 444 miles in length (and passes through 3 states). If you are interested in history, President Thomas Jefferson (in 1801) designated the Natchez Trace a national post road for mail delivery between Nashville and Natchez. Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) died on the Trace in 1809. Let’s learn a little more about the Trace. Read more »

Mississippi Petrified Forest

During the week of spring break (March 21 – 25, 2016), my wife and I visited various areas in Mississippi and Missouri. I thought it might be interesting to review some of the places we visited instead of focusing on technology for the next couple of entries. Since the main purpose of our trip was to visit the petrified forest in Mississippi, I wanted to focus on that first. Until last year, I always thought of Arizona when someone mentioned a petrified forest. It turns out there is also one located near the town of Flora, MS. Although this was formed in a similar manner to the one in Arizona (petrified log jam in a large river), the petrified forest in Mississippi is much younger (only 36 million years old). Read more »

Chrome Browser Extensions

Those who know me realize that I am always interested in web technologies and how they relate to business. I thought it might be helpful to identify some of the Chrome browser extensions I use on a regular basis (and my rationale for using them). Although I use a fair number, I thought I would cover the following ones today:

I like to know a little about the web sites I visit and these specific extensions provide me with a wealth of knowledge. Let’s examine each in a bit more detail (including why I use these). Read more »

Adobe XD

A new preview product was released by Adobe on Monday, March 14. It was first demonstrated at AdobeMAX and looks to be very useful from a UX/ UI design workflow. Previously, one could develop simple mock-ups of web pages or mobile apps using tools like Photoshop or Illustrator. However, it was difficult to actually show the proposed screen flow to a client. This is where the new Experience Design product can prove useful. This is a preview (which means there may be additional enhancements coming in the future). Let’s take a brief look at the product. Spoiler alert – it presently only works on Macs.

Read more »

Adobe Portfolio

Adobe recently released an interesting tool – Portfolio. If you have a Creative Cloud account and a Behance portfolio, you can easily use this tool to create a portfolio of your work. For those who are interested in quickly promoting examples of their work (with customization options), this is a quick way to create a web page. If you are curious how quickly one can create something – this example was done in under 15 minutes. Ok, I know, but my point is that you can quickly have something available and can modify as you desire.I thought I would provide a quick overview of some of the options and capabilities for those who are not aware of this tool. Read more »

Productivity tips – AHK

How often do we start our computer, open a handful of applications, visit various websites, and then begin our work. Same routine almost every day. This is where a tool which has been around for a long time comes in very handy. Instead of manually starting all these applications and then navigating to various web pages, just use a keyboard shortcut to launch all at once.

  • Auto Hot Key (AHK) [Windows] and somewhat similar Keyboard Maestro [Mac] allow us to automate many mundane tasks (and save a fair amount of time in the process).

This tool was also mentioned by the webinar from Pariah Burke, but I already knew about this gem (and have used it for quite a while). A colleague, Scott Rhine, introduced me to this tool many years ago. Without going into too much detail, someone mentioned that they had a survey and specifically said we could only vote once. Their challenge was accepted. I think there were 60 people in attendance (and there were over 37,000 votes cast). Yes AHK can be used for fun as well.

Let’s examine the core functionality (and why I use this to improve my productivity).

Read more »

Productivity tips – Hygeia and Hazel

This is the second in a series of productivity tip articles inspired by a recent conducted by Pariah Burke. Last week, I examined PhraseExpress [Win] and TextExpander [Mac] which allow you to insert snippets of text which are then expanded (saving me a bunch of typing). This is one of the tools which allows me to “work smarter, not harder.”

Another tool mentioned by Pariah is one I find very helpful for certain tasks. I take a lot of photos and like to organize them in appropriate folders. I also want to resize the image before posting these to social media.

  • Hygeia [Win] and Hazel [Mac] are very useful for repetitive tasks such as organizing files into folders and modifying the contents of the files (such as re-sizing the image).

Since many readers use Windows as their primary operating system, I plan to focus on Hygeia [Hazel is the Mac equivalent].  Let’s investigate this tool a bit. Read more »

Productivity tips

I had the privilege of participating in a webinar conducted by Pariah Burke recently. He focused on a number of applications he uses to increase his productivity. This inspired me to develop a series of short articles on various tools one can use to be more productive. I plan to focus on these tools individually over the coming weeks.

  • PhraseExpress [Win] and TextExpander [Mac] allow you to insert snippets of text which are then expanded (saving me a bunch of typing). Pariah focused on this one first. I like that it can be used across a number of applications. Yes, I can even create snippets of HTML to include in a file.

Since many students work mostly with Windows computers, this is where I plan to focus. Let’s learn a little more about PhraseExpress.

Read more »

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