Friday, February 29, 2008

Easy piano improvisation for anyone

I'm sure you heard this one before! But this is different from anything else I've seen. Really!! I can teach you (free) to play in under five minutes, and you'll be learning to improvise, read music and understand music theory at the same time. And you can keep playing, WITHOUT FURTHER LESSONS, and have a great time! It's incredible, and I wouldn't have believed it if I, a non-piano player hadn't stumbled into it myself. I play all the time now, and have a great time!

Here's an example of me just playing around after I had been improvising for a few weeks: Night Sky Over Water. You can easily do as well! It will sound a lot better than you can imagine, but remember, I've taught this method to a four-year-old successfully! (On this recording, I was just playing around and hit the "Record" button on my electric piano. Frustratingly, everytime I press "Record" I play worse!)

If you want to get an idea of why it's easy to improvise melodies (harmonies are even easier), try this cool music composition tool, or this free online music tool (press "C" on your keyboard once it loads): click on different dots to create melodies. And if you really want to play around with easy music online, don't miss the barbershop quartet site. (Hint: click on the horses.)

I used to buy or try to learn more about all the "Easy Piano" methods out there. None of it worked for me. The enjoyment wasn't there. I even tried (gasp!) practicing. But since I don't know how to play the piano or read music, "practice" wasn't too successful. I learned to play three pieces by rote with a LOT of effort. Yes, I can hear you saying it: take lessons! But somehow I knew there was something else for me.

I've taught this to kids UNDER the age of five (and over the age of seventy) with great success. And I'll teach it to you for free! I want to get some more experience with how different people learn, and this is such a great addition to anyone's life I love sharing it with people.

Click the big blue Call Me button down to the right (it won't show me your number so your privacy is safe, you can read about the Call Me button here) and let's set something up! If you want to wait for some written instruction with tips and tools, I'll be putting it up at Really Easy Piano.

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Deleting or editing Autocomplete (drop-down) entries in Outlook or Explorer

This is my favorite reason emails are not receivedan autocompleted typo!

Ever begin typing an email address or web site name and find the wrong address showing up in the drop down (Autocomplete) list? Probably from a previous typo, but how do you get rid of (delete, edit, remove or erase!) the darn thing?

So easy! Just one step:

Keep typing until the only item in the drop down list is the WRONG onethe one you want to delete. Press the Delete key on your KEYBOARD. It's gone! (Some have reported that you also need to hover over itdon't click!with your mouse.)

If you don' t have the correct item showing now is a good time to type it in, so the next time you need it it's there! If it's an email address, you'll need to send a test email; it won't be added to the drop-down/autocomplete list until you have actually typed in something that was used in a sent email.

Not the tip you needed?

There are a variety of ways to delete history and favorites/bookmarks depending on your browser and the outcome you really want.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Protecting copyrighted images on the web

You can put any notice on an image you wish with this system, but it's designed primarily to discourage copying when you don' t want it. If you prefer fair use, via a Creative Commons license, for example, you can just name the photo that way.

Putting a transparent .gif in front of images you are trying to protect with a copyright reminder as the file name has a number of advantages:

The system first educates and encourages people to respect the copyright of your image, which stops many people:

1. When you right-click and save the image, the name it tries to save under is "Please no copying, copyrighted image.gif"
2. You can include the copyright symbol also, and make all this the hover text as well. (Though for hover you would probably want something descriptive of the visible image.)

If the user ignores copyright and tries to save anyway:

1. All they get is a one pixel clear gif -- although they won't know it! It seems to save normally. This is the main method of prevention -- it subtly discourages trying a screenshot, making you think you can right-click successfully.
2. If they leave and go to look at the image later, they may just give up rather than trying to figure out which website the image came from.
3. If the user figures it out while still at the website or returns, they will likely assume a mistake occurred they try again, again seeing the reminder "Please no copying, copyrighted image.gif"
4. If someone is dedicated and savvy, they will view source or cache, or use a screenshot -- and no website technology can block screenshots (other than defacing your image, such as with a watermark).
5. Regardless of scenario, they will be very clear that they are violating copyright!

It works normally in every way:

1. The image can include a hyperlink
2. It can be moved around by the designer just like a standard block element
3. It adds very minimal extra server or code load on the website.

The technology itself is simple:

1. Make the visible image the backround of a div or table,
2. Make the foreground image a 1px transparent gif sized to exactly cover the the visible image.
3. Place most properties (hyperlink, image name/title, etc.) onto the 1px gif

I use a spreadsheet with the words "real image here" when I am creating a number of these so I don't have to do any coding. If it would be helpful I would be glad to provide an example of this also.

Of course, images can always be copied as screenshots, but most folks simply try to save the picture first. If that seems to work, they go away---and only discover later *using my method) that they didn't get the correct pic!

However, always good to at least put copyright text under the image (if not actually over it as a watermark). That way people have been notified clearly of copyright.

Here's the method in a nutshell:

First, give a 1 pixel transparent gif a name that makes the person copying it think they are getting the actual image---and to give them one more notice that they shouldn't be doing so. I name the image "please_no_copying_copyrighted_image.gif" --- so when they try to save it, that's what they see it will be named.

Here is a very old sample example. (This will only work in Firefox or Opera or older versions of Internet Explorer.) Click on any image and a window will open, try to save the picture from the open window to see the effect at work.

Improvement for screen readers:

Simply add a description of the image before the copyright notice. Thanks, GeekGal!

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Stand-up comedy by Sarah Jones-Larson! No one is safe!!

After watching our good friend Tina Nagy appear on Conan O'Brien a few nights ago, Sarah started putting a "full steam ahead" effort into doing stand-up comedy.

Her first performance of stand-up comedy was this weekend, and she was terrific! I predict great things to come!! Take a look:

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Voice Dictation problem/error in Office XP Speech recognition: "Dictation paused" or "Dictating" balloons block normal operation.

Microsoft Speech/Voice Recognition really makes life easier for bloggers and anyone who will take the few minutes to start using it. You might already have it free on your computer and not know it: Microsoft Office XP and 2003 have it. Office 2007 does NOT have it, but it is built into the Windows Vista operating system, which many Office 2007 users have.

If you don't have it, I recommend getting it with Word 2002/XP. But don't buy Word 2002 alone: the Works 2002 Suite often costs less and includes Word 2002 and voice recognition in the suite of products. Here are three high-rated online vendors you can buy Works Suite 2002 from: $36.95 · $46.55 · $47.23. (The Works Suite 2002 includes tools for scheduling, finance management, picture editing and organizing, the Encarta encyclopedia and a mapping application.)

For Microsoft Office XP and 2003 users there are small annoyances to using voice recognition efficiently. As of early 2008, amazingly, there are no solutions to these issues anywhere on the web, other than the workarounds I'm going to share here.

First, make sure the program you want to dictate into has focus. Just click anywhere in it's window to give it focus. That solves some problems.

Have you ever noticed the bar sometimes gets stuck showing "Dictating" (or even "Listening") but nothing works? See Workaround #3 below to fix this one.


But the problem that bothers me the most mainly occurs when using keyboard shortcuts such as the Start+v (windows start button held down while pressing the "v" key) shortcut to toggle voice recognition off. I like to turn off the microphone from the keyboard so I can keep my hands where they're the most productive. The voice bar then sets to "Dictation Paused" before turning off the microphone. This can also happen if you use the "Alt+th" keyboard shortcut.

The least problems seem to occur for users that turn the microphone off and on using a switch on your hardware, or by using the mouse to click the language bar. However, Workaround #3 will fix the "Dictating" but nothing works problem that seems to crop up sometimes for almost everyone.

And if you at least turn dictation off without using a keyboard shortcut (Start+v or Alt+th) you'll have less problems. You can then turn the microphone on however you prefer.


Workaround #1: Use Start+vtt to turn on the microphone for dictation. (Hold down the Windows Start button and press the letters v, t, t) This turns the microphone on, and toggles to voice command mode and then back to dictation mode. Don't type the letters too fast or you might end up in voice command mode. Just type Start+t once if you accidentally ended up in voice command mode to get back into dictation mode.

You might sometimes still get stuck with the bar saying "Dictating," but nothing is happening. Use workaround #3 in this case: leave the microphone on, switch to (open if you need to) another document, switch back, and you should be working normally.

Workaround #2: Use the mouse to turn off the microphone for dictation. Then you CAN turn it on with the Start+v shortcut.

Workaround #3: AFTER turning the microphone on, switch to another document of the same type (such as Microsoft Word), and switch back. You'll need to always have another document open to switch to after opening your primary document if you want to use this workaround.

Using this method also stops the frustrating "Dictating" balloons from blocking normal operation.


Finally, let me point out that the existence of keyboard shortcuts means you (or your cat) can accidentally activate dictation or voice command mode. If typing ever appears on your screen "out of nowhere" check the language bar first! Even if you're not wearing your microphone it may be picking up and trying to interpret whatever sounds it picks up.

And if you've got a better workaround or a solution for these annoyances, let me know! Read this if you'd like more info on getting started with voice recognition.

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