Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

This post is by guest blogger Matt Buck.

The fifth International Cartoon Festival is open now in Shrewsbury.

The main event when more than 40 of Britain's best cartoonists will be in town for a long weekend of cartoons and cartooning, runs from April 18-20.

But already six exhibitions of some great cartoon jokes and art are open to the public. You can find out more at http://www.shrewsburycartoonfestival.com or at the Bloghorn,

HDR Photos of Ironbridge

After reading about the 10 most beautiful bridges in the world at the weekend through Digg I went to take some photos of Ironbridge, #7 on the list which happens to be about 20mins drive from where I live.

The bridge itself.

The power station overlooks Ironbridge, giving an interesting contrast between old and new industry.

A view from the bridge looking up the river.

The bridge in the distance.

The bridge and the village which takes it name from the bridge.

On the drive up to Ironbridge I took this picture of the river Severn.

My Best HDR Photos

Here are some of my best HDR photos from my travels. HDR is a technique of taking a photo over multiple exposures (or extracting them from a RAW file) then recombining them in a program such as Photomatix. By doing this you can bring out the detail from the multiple exposures creating a powerful image.

My first is of St Chads Church in Shrewsbury.

St Chads Church Shrewsbury

I really like how the HDR technique has brough out the detail in the stone work.

This next one was taken in Betws Y Coed last summer.

Betws Y Coed

I like the brightness in the trees in comparison to the building and water in this one.

This one is of the B&B we stayed at in Betws Y Coed.

B&B Betws Y Coed

Again I love how the stone work is really brought out against the trees.

I took this next one in Egypt last summer.

Egyptian Sea

The rich blue in the sea and sky really shines through in this picture.

This one was taken in the Cotswolds on my Birthday last year.

Cotswolds

The contrast in the sky especially with the sun setting is very striking in this picture.

This is another of St Chads Church in Shrewsbury.

St Chads Church

The way the cloud almost circles around the spire is especially apparent in this picture as it almost implies the power the building or church has over people.

Train track in Betws Y Coed

This train track near Betws Y Coed almost has a rain forest feel about it with the luscious green.

This next one again is from Betws Y Coed.

Stream in Betws Y Coed

All of my HDR photos can be found on Flickr.

Justification for Moving to Drupal

I've been getting a lot of questions about the reasons I moved the site from a Wordpress/PHPBB combination to Drupal and changed the theme. Hopefully this will clear things up.

Advantages

1. Drupal allows us to integrate all the different sections of the site together giving us the advantage of a single sign on for the whole site. Before we had a different accounts for the blogs and the forum which could easily be confusing for people expecting to be able to use their account site wide. This can be extended soon with the Drupal integration of Open ID and when we come to upgrade to Drupal 6 in the coming months this will be even easier.

2. Templating and management - This is more an advantage for me but does help consistency throughout the site. Before I would have to write a number of different templates for Wordpress and PHPBB, as a result each would look slightly different and behave slightly differently. PHPBB was especially hard to template and the code on my part always ended up messy with various hacks. With Drupal we have one template and all sidebar widgets can be put in blocks meaning that once the basic template is made everything can be added into blocks within Drupal (rather than editing template files).

From a management point of view the advantages are that everything is centrally managed. I can monitor all content, comments, spam, security problems, 404 issues etc from one area. Before I used to have different logins for the different parts of the site and it was hard to see if people were getting errors.

So far in the last couple of days our 404 (page not found) page has been one of the most popular, with the new site I can see why people are getting to this page and setup redirects to fix problems and customise the 404 page to be more useful.

[adsense:468x60:1:2]

3. Spam has been an issue on the Forum for a long time and last year caused us to stop allowing new members. The Blog used a service called Akismet to remove spam very sucessfully however this was not available for PHPBB. Fortunately it is available for Drupal so that the whole site can hopefully become spam free.

4. PHPBB development is slow which in some ways is good as it means less upgrades for me. On the other hand it means it misses out on new features. In the past five years technologies such as RSS feeds have come along and left PHPBB in the dark. PHPBB 3 fixes a lot of these issues but after we trialed it there were missing features we were already use to (such as quick posting). The decision boiled down to upgrading to PHPBB3 or migrating to Drupal we opted for the latter.

5. Wordpress development is also slow but the software is feature rich. For anyone with a single blog I would highly recommend Wordpress as the best blogging platform in the world. Unfortunately for our multi blog layout and forum it was a necessary sacrafice.

6. Drupal's development goes at a quicker pace but because it has more general uses than Wordpress or PHPBB it needs to be. By moving to Drupal it opens up a lot of options for the future such as the integration of E-Commerce (for Switchweb), galleries, Wikis and many other modules that can expand on the current site and content.

7. By merging all the content in one place its a lot easier to categorise and produce custom views on data. For instance I can easily create pages with the most popular posts (such as the widget on the right) or most commented posts. This would be very difficult before.

8. The front page can reflect everything that is happening on the site from blog posts, to articles, to extra posts, to the forum and as such content will flow much quicker and easier through the site.

Disadvantages

1. People inheritantly do not like change, especially the sort of change we have experienced over the past week on ImAFish (new design and functionality). Fortunately 75% of our visitors are new so wouldn't notice the difference between old and new. Reoccuring visitors will notice a difference and will likely experience some usability problems (particulary on the forum) until they get use to the new system. I saw the same problem when we moved to ImAFish X however over time people will get used to it and hopefully find the new system easier to use.

2. Parts of the functionality are still being finished off and I will admit its going to take a couple of weeks to get everything perfect however I feel it will be worth the hassle and time.

Many of the things I've described here may be available elsewhere or within Wordpress/PHPBB however Drupal makes it easier, quicker and more efficient.

How To Make Presentations Better

This is slightly off beat for this bank holiday weekend however after reading a post on the 43 folders website about how Merlin Mann made his presentations better it got me thinking of how this technique could be used to improve presentations I have done.

Powerpoint makes it very easy to make presentations quickly, the problem is that they look all the same and do not necessarily use the best techniques for slide layouts.. From sitting through presentation after presentation at University you quickly see the good from the bad. Unfortunately the majority of presentations are bad, they are usually too long, have too much text and don't look nice.

One of my favourite points Merlin Mann makes in his blog post is about using stock images in his presentations. Merlin recommends using iStockPhoto for getting cheap stock images however there are a number of free stock image sites which have great libraries of professional photos. I use the Stock Xchng for almost all my images (like the bubbles at the top of this page) and have found it to be the best free site.

Other good free stock image sites include (from the forum):

http://www.adigitaldreamer.com/gallery/index.php
http://www.kavewall.com/stock/
http://www.stockvault.net/gallery/
http://pstutorialsblog.com/?p=44
http://www.morguefile.com/ (excellent)
http://yotophoto.com/ (excellent)
http://www.everystockphoto.com/ (excellent)
http://stock.deviantart.com/
http://www.imageafter.com/
http://www.photogen.com/
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/
http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/
http://www.burningwell.org/
http://backgroundsarchive.com/
http://pdphoto.org/
http://www.public-domain-photos.com/
http://www.wpclipart.com/working/index.html
http://www.unclesamsphotos.com/

In my final year of University we had a group project to discuss digital technology and the motorist. While we got a good mark for the presentation I always thought we could have improved the slides, here are a few improvements based of the techniques Merlin has described.

The original opening slide:

Redesigned slide, I think half the car works very well here:

Original objectives slide:

Redesigned slide, here I removed some unnecessary text:

Original Audi Quattro Slide

Redesigned slide, here I made better use of the graphic as it is the most interesting point:

Finally the destroyed Gatso slide:

Redesigned slide, the border around the image is not needed neither is the title:

When I have removed unnecessary text it is usually because it's either obvious or should be spoken. In Merlin's blog post he links to a couple of presentation methods that are a useful read, the Kawaski method and the Takahashi method.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas for your own slides layout and that well designed slides do not take much more work - just mainly common sense.

Picasa

Digital photography has become so easy and cheap that if you’re like me I have hundreds if not thousands of photos on my computer. While Windows offers some basic photo viewing and editing options it doesn’t really allow you to touch up your photos to make them even better. One option is Google’s free photo editing program – Picasa 2 (

). When first installed it scans either your documents folder or hard drive for pictures. This can be annoying if you have graphics in your documents folder as you then have to remove them from Picasa. Unfortunately as many pictures and photos share the same file types it is very hard to distinguish them. Picasa allows you to do all the basic photo editing fixes such as removing red eye, straightening the photo, cropping and altering the colour/contrast. 

 

As well as these there are more advanced options for tuning the light, highlights, shadows and temperatures as well as a range of effects including sepia, black & white and tint. Editing photos is simple in Picasa, I usually use Adobe Photoshop or Macromedia Fireworks but these can be complicated especially with the range of options available for advanced users. While Photoshop gives you more control over the photo Picasa is easier for the average user.

 

Apart from the editing functions in Picasa, it makes a good photo viewer allowing you to zoom in and out of photos as well as setting up slideshows and timelines. Picasa is similar to iPhoto on OS X while I prefer the interface in iPhoto, Picasa is more responsive when moving through a large library. Picasa provides easy ways to share your photos as well as print them. There are also options for setting pictures as desktop and screensaver.

 

 

I found the batch operations to be very useful. With my cheap Kodak camera being able to correct the colour and contrast makes such a difference to the quality of my photos. If you don’t like any of the changes made by Picasa you can revert back to the original. Picasa will work with the majority of digital cameras and is available for Windows 2000/XP and now Linux. Overall Picasa is a feature rich program that is free and will cover all the basic needs for managing photos.

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