30 April 2010

Big trouble with pictures still

Despite all the amazing advances in the speed of our computers and the brilliant new applications we can run on them, our phones and before long on our car dashboards too, there still seems to be a blank expression on so many faces when problems with using images arise. Pictures are, at last, being used by tutors and staff a lot more but the old problems still remain.

The main ones I encounter, almost on a daily basis, are these:

E-mails that either don't go, seem to go but don't arrive or just take ages to send or open
You have exceeded your system storage limit messages
Classroom printers that just seem to give up or take a session to print just one person's file

It's all about pictures. Technology today makes taking great photos easy but even mobiles are now producing image files of 5MB or more. Now that's lovely and I'm the first to appreciate the detail and ever-increasing quality that all this brings. But if you're sharing a picture or using them to illustrate a report or presentation it's highly unlikely that you need to use the original gigantic file.

I seem to return to this theme every couple of years or so. Back in 2003 I wrote some simple notes for colleagues to follow to resize their images. In 2005 I was wailing about senior staff at a government funded organisation set up to help teachers and staff at educational institutions setting terribly bad examples themselves with massive e-mail attachments everywhere. In 2007 I was helping colleagues struggling to upload files to moodle or use illustrations on their course pages that didn't explode on the screen when opened. More recently I've been trying to get senior staff in colleges to practise what they preach.

Over and again few people seem to have much idea about how to make their lovely pictures more manageable and even if they wanted to do something about it they couldn't quickly access a simple program to do it, either because they didn't know what to use or did but couldn't have it available on their computers at work or in the classroom.

I thought I'd cracked it at one FE college when they finally got a licence for Serif PhotoPlus but over-estimated their abilities or, perhaps, willingness actually to open the application and edit their images before getting on with the job in hand. No, people open Word, PowerPoint or start typing their message, decide to stuff an image in and just browse, drop it in and continue as ever was the case.

Those few minutes that it would take for Serif or whatever to open and then figure out what size they might need and the slightly unnatural business of having to save it with a different name were simply not part of the process the brain was running to get the job in mind done.

You need a simple, very simple way to do the resizing. Thanks to a colleague at an E-learning Forum I think I've found something. It's not new, but like many tools in Windows, it's not well-publicised and does require an installation which may still prove the death of yet another idea. Microsoft have for years had a set of extra tools which I guess their geeks play around with and some make it through to us to use. They call them Power Toys. One of these is their Image Resizer. I love the way it works. You locate your image in a normal folder view:

Right click and there's a Resize Pictures option now in the menu.

A helpfully worded set of options appears. Take your pick.

Click OK and you have the smaller image saved! 

The filename is automatically changed so the original is still safe. In this example my original 2200+ pixel wide shot, which, at full size would have been twice the size of a typical monitor was cut down to something that would fit nicely into a Word document or e-mail. More importantly, at 45KB it's less than 1/20th of the file size! Much better for e-mail and even ancient printers shouldn't struggle to print a document with it in.

Yes, you may need to get IT staff to install the PowerToy at work but they might then realise how useful it is and how much trouble it might save them too and even roll it out to lots of people.

I have also raved before about Irfanview which is just so quick for making screenprints. Hit the PrScr button. Fire up Irfanview. It opens faster than anything else I know. Hit Paste or Ctr+V. File, Save and give it a name. You can also crop it before saving by just dragging the mouse to select the area needed, often just a much smaller part of the display. 

You can also use Irfanview to resize other images and this is a solution if you can't get the XP PowerToy installed. Just download Irfanview and save it on a USB drive or even in your own files area. It's a standalone freeware application, licensed for personal, non-commercial use and, as long as you don't put it on a network drive you shouldn't get into trouble. I would, though, recommend that IT staff buy the licence and make it available across the network.

Scary apps on facebook

I was going to use the word malicious but you probably reckon you wouldn't possibly fall for something malicious. I damn nearly did though and, as PC Advisor's Eric Larkin nearly did too, the word scary somehow seems more appropriate!

Read what he says and, if you do see a new app that you'd like to play with, resist the urge to be the first amongst your friends to feature it on your page. Check it out. Leave it it for a week and think again. It may look cool but it's not so cool if you have to spend hours a few weeks later wondering why you're getting a load of SMS spam or strange deductions from your phone or even bank account!

I make no apologies for the big text:

be especially wary of any app that claims to let you do something that you can't normally do - such as permitting you to see who's viewing your profile.

18 April 2010

All in a dad's day

Disaster appeared to have struck - as you'll gather from my daughter's breathless message:

"Hi Daddy!Hope you're doing well. Just thought I'd let you know that my computer has a pretty big problem. I think I must have downloaded something by accident because I have some sort of virus (I'm assuming) and what happens is:- Constantly freezes - Constantly doing something (egg timer on cursor ALL the time) - When I open the interent sometimes it opens about 21 windows. - My msn was hacked (not sure this has anything to do with it though but some weirdo added me and I blocked and deleted him then after I got message boxes saying 'Hmm are you sure you want to do that' and 'Let's have a look through your files' though I'm pretty sure that is just a joke which really isn't funny because i scared me a lot at the time)- I can't do anything properly because 'Avira Anti Virus 9.1' or something like that (which I have never heard of before) keeps popping up with the SAME 'encountered a problem and needs to close' window and despite how many times I click 'do not send' or whatever it keeps coming up - sometimes I have 50 windows up within a minute.- Other weird message boxes which don't go away- Just a generally slow and scratchy computer."

I really did think it was going to have to be an all day job, reinstalling Windows and so on. But I thought I'd have a go at removing the pesky trojan first. Easier said than done!

At one point there must have been 100 so-called 'Avira' windows open but by closing them as fast as they opened I was able to get at a Scotty WinPatrol window and disable 'Avira' and another programme from starting up while the free PC Tools Spyware Doctor (from Google Pack) found the nasty trojan and zapped it. It also found the hack tool that someone had thrown into the mix and zapped that. I was prepared to have to reinstall Windows but impressed at these two applications' success. The full scan did take several hours, though, with over 300,000 files dealt with in the end.
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