March 2007 Archives

How Long Does it Take to Blog?

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It depends on the person and the entry type, but for me it breaks down like this:

  • 10 minutes to post a recommended URL: This includes time for edits and posting
  • 30 minutes to post an average "rant": This includes a lot of fine-tuning of the words, checking external sources (when I need a citation) and adding fancy HTML tags in the code editor
  • 2 hours to post a REALLY controversial rant: This is followed by a strong drink and a prayer to the career gods

MTO Projects Accepted in TLT Symposium

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One of the great ways to "close" a project is to see a faculty member talk about the impact of your tool in a presentation.

So, I'm pleased that two former MTO Projects were accepted in this year's TLT Symposium. The two presentations are by Rose L. Martin and Nancy Funk.

Next year...it may be all about the blog!

Accessibility Tips for Gray Text

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The emergence of Web 2.0 has seen the emergence of dark gray text as a new standard in graphic design. I like it myself, but it's not with out controversy as can be seen in the classic blog article Has Your Designer Ever Heard of Contrast?

The contrast issue is simply just that you want to be ensure that the majority of your audience can distinguish text from background. And generally, the fuzzier your vision gets, the more important contrast becomes, so it's an accessibility issue (for low vision users, older viewers and migraine sufferers).

Contrast Analyzer

How do you determine if your contrast sufficient? My favorite tool has been the Juicy Studios Color Contrast analyzer.

You plug in hexadecimal values for a background color and foreground (text) color and it calculates a contrast differential. If the number is higher than 125, then you have sufficient contrast. They give you the formula (based on a W3C recommendation), so you can use it elsewhere.

Some examples.

  • Black (#000000) on white = 255 (pass, but harsh)
  • #333333 on white = 204 (pass)
  • #666666 on white = 153 (pass)
  • #828282 on white = 125 (pass, barely)
  • #999999 on white = 102 (fail)

Why Gray Text Anyway?

One theory is that it's due to the rise of the LED backlit monitor. If you have one of these beauties, everything seems much brighter and the traditional black and white can be too much contrast.

The problem of gray text arises when a designer makes the contrast a little "too subtle". The color contrast analyzer is a good way to check yourself.

I've been finding that most color contrast issues can be fixed with very minor shifts...so just play around with the numbers until you find that subtle contrast that passes the test.

Database Wonkery

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Database can be a slightly scary word for many people, but I have to admit I've a big fan of them ever since they helped me figure out some weird pattern in Celtic historical phonology.

Since then I've had to futz with databases at a variety of jobs including the bank, my freelance writing job, the comic book distribution company and Penn State University.

With the right training and tools, you can actually get your database tools to automate some truly tedious procedures and simplify your life somewhat. I'm pretty sure the deployment of a clever formula has saved me from throwing my computer out the window more than once.

The problem, unfortunately, is that most databases aren't so user friendly (and too many assume you understand SQL). But that's another topic.

I'm not sure what the solution is to database phobia, but I know I'll always be a fan...except when *&*$!! field has been miscoded.

Manipulating Names in Excel

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Some days, I spend a surprising amount of time massaging data in Excel in order to move them from database to another.

On this round, I was working with names (sometimes all capitals, sometimes not), plus the original source had the name in one field while my new database had them split between two fields. These little tips helped me clean up my data:

I. Splitting Names into Two Columns
Originally from Laura J's Blog

1. Add two blank columns AFTER the full name. Add three columns if middle names/initials are included.
2. Go to the Data » Text to Columns
3.Check the Delimited Option, then check your name seperator


a. Check the space option if the order is "FirstName LastName"
b. Check the comma option if the order is "LastName, First Name". If you still have middle names in the second column, you might have to do another split based on space.


II. Changing Cases
These three formulas will let you fix inconsistent capitalization.

·=Proper(A1) - Capitalizes just the first letter of whatever is in Cell A1
·=Upper (A1) - Capitalizes all letters in whatever is in Cell A1
·=Lower(A1) - Changes all letters to lower case (this is great for cleaning up e-mail addresses)

To use the formulas
1. Insert blank columns and use appropriate formulas to convert the names
2. After you finish your conversions, you have to convert the formulas to values if you want to delete the original messy columns. To do that:
a.Copy contents in new column (the formulas)
b. Go to Edit » Paste Special. Select the Values option. This converts formulas to their values.

Now you can delete original messy columns and keep pristine newly formatted columns. This was definitely faster and less error-prone than retyping names from scratch. Thanks Laura J and Microsoft.

Callege Saga: Live vs. Games

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This video from You Tube effectively demonstrates some of the differences between the "real" world and the "virtual" world of narrative games. Enjoy