bookmark_borderPiping Frosting Lace and Other Patterns

Practice piping on the rim of a glass.
Practice piping on the rim of a glass to simulate the side of a glass. Photo from Craftsy.

Piping frosting in lace patterns is one of the ways to create an elegant cake. It also takes much more practice than cutting out fondant flowers.

From and Craftsy: Everything You Need to Know About Piping Techniques

Since piping is most often done on vertical surfaces, practicing on a glass or jar gives the best learning experience. I’m not about to try this but it’s nice to know how if I ever have a few days to practice.

bookmark_borderLearn WordPress

Chalkboard with a Lesson
Learning WordPress has just become easier. WordPress has launched a new site, Learn WordPress, directed at WordPress.com users, those whose site is hosted by WordPress. WordPress.com sites are free and have limited but often adequate features. You then pay WordPress people to fix and refine your site if it needs it, or to add more features.
I host sites on my server independently of the WordPress.com site, using the same software but with higher capability and more options. But understanding those options can be confusing. That is exactly why Learn WordPress is helpful. It explains the basics without confusing you with all the possibilities and pitfalls and things you may never want or need to know.

Learn WordPress Concepts

The first key to learning anything is understanding the concept, the idea. What does this do? What is it? And how does it work?  The Learn WordPress website gives you the essentials in Plain English — a rare commodity as soon  as anyone says, “software.”
In addition to help when you are starting from basics, some pages will always be useful. The Glossary explains blogs, carousels, categories, pages and posts, responsive themes, etc.  Get Flashy explains widgets, the little boxes that can be added to sidebar to add images, slide shows, search boxes, subscription forms, etc.
The Get Configured page lists resources to find images. Images are very important on websites and the perfect images takes time to find. It can be useful to find the images you want to use without paying  by the hour for a designer to look for them.

Testing WordPress

It might also be helpful to set up a WordPress.com site for yourself as a test, even if you are going to hire me to design and host your site. It’s a good way to learn so you can update your contact information and text  information quickly and less expensively after I set up the site.  Then I can manage the software upgrades, add capabilities, do monthly maintenance, and trouble shoot.
Logo from WP Beginner
If you intend to take over your site completely this is a good site for leaning how to manage it: WPBeginner: A Beginner’s Guide for WordPress.
 

bookmark_borderPerfect Profile Pictures

Not Just for Dating Anymore

Cartoon-Style Drawing of an AngelWith the growth of social media for networking, the profile picture has become a major decision for anyone who participates. Which picture will people click on in LInkedIn? Who will follow me in Twitter? Am I turning people off with my stern look on Facebook? Is my smiley smile too smiley? What do I do with my eyes? What should I wear.
On OKCupid, “the Google of Online Dating,” the profile picture had 90% greater influence than the profile text. Even if you aren’t looking for a date, they are still very important. I’ve never, for example, followed person without a profile picture unless I already knew them (and wanted to connect).
There is a solution on BufferSocial, Thoughts on sharing, creating, analyzing and converting with social media. Kevan Lee reports on the research into the science and psychology of profile pictures in “The Research & Science Behind Finding Your Best Profile Picture.” People actually study this!

The Highlights

Definitely read this article if you want to understand why but these are the top recommendations:

  1. Smile with teeth
  2. Dark-colored suits, light colored buttondowns
  3. Jawline with a shadow
  4. Head-and-shoulders, or head-to-waist photo
  5. Squinch
  6. Asymmetrical composition
  7. Unobstructed eyes

And things to avoid:

  • Hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Hair, glare, and shadows over the eyes
  • Laughing smile
  • Sexiness

So now you know. If you doubt these recommendations, Lee explains how the research was done including all the statistics, graphs, and test pictures. Interesting results: Women get more attention making eye contact with the camera; men receive more avoiding eye contact. Women can be more flirty and men definitely not.  Men don’t even do well smiling!

Guy Kawasaki’s four keys:

  1. Faces only. No family, friends, dogs, logos, etc.
  2. Asymmetrical. Use the Rule of Thirds to create your profile picture
  3. Face the light. The source of light should come in front of you.
  4. At least 600 pixels wide. There are varying shapes and sizes of profile pictures on social media. A 600-pixel image will look great no matter where it’s viewed.

The Rule of Thirds

Draw a Tic Tac Toe grid on the picture. Put key elements on the intersections and avoid putting a key element, like your eyes, in the center square. More info at 3.7 Designs.
The OKCupid page with profile pictures of the staff is an excellent example of profile pictures that meet these recommendations — although not all of them. Those that don’t stand out.
There is more but I found this enough to build high anxiety over why people aren’t clicking on my posts.

bookmark_borderMajestic: Analyzing Links

Majestic describes themselves as “The planet’s largest Link Index database.” What they know is a lot more than I know, for sure. What they can tell you for only one of their services is how many links there are to your site and how many of them are “good links.” Good links come from sites with real content. Bad link come from link mills that only link to a lot of sites to drive traffic to their own site — where they sell various, probably worthless services or stuff.

Improve Your SEO

The reason you want good links is because they help you in search engines — Bing, Google, Yahoo, etc. There are many general search engines and some specialized ones.
Majestic also provides pie charts and data on the kind of links — text, images, etc. — and which pages are linked most often. This can be important information. Some of the pages that are linked most often are ones I had forgotten I had posted. I had to go look them up to see what was most important to my readers!

bookmark_borderSearch Engine Optimization, SEO Tools

What is SEO, Search Engine Optimization?

“Search engine optimization” is a fancy way to describe methods that help search engines find your site. This site, SharonVillines.com, is the place where I put things I don’t want to forget—and probably will unless I write them down. I’m not concerned about the world’s ability to find this site, but more concerned about my ability to find the stuff I store on it. And for whatever reason, your ability to find it.
Thus the assortment here appears to a search engine to have a lack of focus. That means it is highly unlikely to find its way to the top of any search except my name. Thus this site is probably the worst example of best practices SEO you could find.
I do care about SEO on my other sites, however, and on the sites I design. I try to keep up with best practices. Solid SEO with no tricks. Tricks like keyword stuffing will get you Banned in Boston. Deep-sixed in search engine land. Think page three where no one goes.

SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans

All that to say I found an excellent article today on SEO on the TNW site,  “SEO Simplified for Short Attention Spans.” It is a short (by website design standards) explanation of SEO. It’s written by Barry Feldman (on Twitter) of FeldmanCreative, a content marketing consultant, copywriter, social media advisor.
It includes very clear explanations and good illustrative examples. Check out the article for understanding SEO. What I wanted to remember here are the tools Feldman lists for checking the SEO of my sites and yours.

Three Must-Have SEO Tools

To practice, study, and check search engine optimization, Feldman recommends three free must-have SEO tools for beginners and experts alike:

  • Google AdWords Keyword Planner—Supplies keyword search data and ideas.
  • Open Site Explorer by Moz—Tracks your website’s link profile against competitors, identifies top pages, shows social activity data, and more.
  • MozBar—On Chrome and Firefox browsers, helps determine how difficult it is to rank for specific keywords. (I haven’t used this so I can’t explain how you use it. But it sounds like a good thing.)

So that’s the daily don’t-forget-this update. Not quite as exciting as popcorn but you can’t have everything.

bookmark_borderPerfect Popcorn

Gene and LynnFor too long had I been popping the perfect popcorn in a hot air popper. Fluffy clouds. No fat! No cholesterol! No taste.
Until I re-discovered the real stuff.
After years and years of this, a friend brought real popcorn to a movie screening: Popped in a pan over a fire with oil. And buttered. Now the hot air popper is reserved for Christmas when we make strings of popcorn and cranberries for the birds.

Tiny But Mighty Popcorn

A few days ago I started hearing about perfect popcorn popping. After reading many news articles and websites, I found this memorable gem: Farmer Gene’s Tiny But Mighty Popcorn. You will want to read the whole page including “way-too-much-detail” section, but here are the basic do’s, the one’s my grandmother fed me:

Recommended oils: sunflower, safflower, coconut, canola, grape seed and vegetable
Note: “expeller pressed” oils are the healthiest and best quality.

  • Heavy pot with lid + 2 to 3 tbsp oil + 3 test kernels + Med/High heat
  • When you hear a test kernel pop, remove the pot from heat
  • Add 2/3 cup kernels, shake to distribute evenly in the pot, and return to heat
  • Leave untouched until popping vigorously (approx 2-3 min), then shake pot occasionally (every minute or so)
  • When there are 2-3 seconds between pops, remove from heat and immediately pour into a bowl. Season with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

And Tiny But Mighty even has a good story:

While no one in his family knows exactly where the seed came from, they believe it came from Indian neighbors. When Richard Kelty returned home from the army in the mid-1970s, he found the last remaining seeds in a fruit jar. He popped some and planted the rest—and a new business was born.
What makes Tiny But Mighty popcorn unique, besides its tiny kernels and disintegrating hulls, is that it is open pollinated. A 128-day corn, TBM is also difficult to raise, process, and keep its integrity. Gene consulted with a popcorn breeder from Idaho, who said TBM was a rare variety. Because it is hard to breed, most people in the popcorn industry wanted nothing to do with it.

The current growers are Gene and Lynn Mealhow and the sons. Gene is a farmer and soil consultant to farmers interested in sustainable practices.

bookmark_borderBrand Colors

BrandColors.net Screen ShootA lovely online source of brand colors complete with color numbers—no guessing. Includes colors from Adobe, Airbnb, Amazon, AOL, Basecamp, Behance, Better Business Bureau (they have colors?), Bing, bitly, Boeing, Digg, Dribbble, Drupal, Ebay,  Firefox (a big palette), Freshbooks (very fresh), Google, HootSuite, Kickstarter, Klout, Microsoft, and many more. Memorable address BrandColors.net.
Has a search function to find one quickly.
Click on the colors to see the color number.
You can download the whole set in several file formats including swatches to import into Photoshop, and I suspect other programs as well but I probably haven’t ever heard of them.
My favorite for color storage is still Color Schemer. It amazing. I couldn’t do without it.

bookmark_borderImage sources

IM Free provides a curated overview of freely available photos, all available for commercial use. All photos are thoroughly grouped and tagged, and usually released under a Creative Commons license. Overall, there are literally thousands of available items which you can use right away. And if you need even more pictures, GratisographyUnsplash andPicjumbo are further resources worth looking into, with a growing collection of free high-resolution pictures that you can use for commercial and private projects. Alternatively, you could use Google CC Image Search as well, of course.

bookmark_borderNew York Times Chronicle

Counting Names and Phrases in the Times

Chronicle LogoLogo for New York Times R & DThe New York Times Chronicle is a new resource for “visualizing language usage in New York Times news coverage throughout its history,” which began in 1851. Enter a word or phrase and it will appear as a colored line on a graph showing the percentage of articles it appeared in from 1851 to the present. You can search several words or phrases sequentially and each one will appear in a different color so you can compare them.
Or you can ask for the number of articles. “Obama” first appeared in 2004 in .1% of the articles. In 2009, it peaked at 6.63%. In 2012 he appeared in the highest number of articles: 19,675. The peak percentage in 2009 and the peak number in 2012 probably indicates that they published more articles in 2009. Numbers are not always as clear as we are led to believe they are.

What Are They Measuring?

Jackson Pollack appeared in 1 article in 1944, 2 in 1957, 6 in 1964, and peaked at 8 in 1980. He died in August 1956 and did not appear at all. I think there is a problem with this data. His market soared in 1961 but there were only 3 articles. He continued to be mentioned 1-5 times until 1985 when he dropped off the graph again. He appears a few times more but not as often as I would have expected. Low percentages, yes. Low numbers, no.
Not sure what they are measuring. If someone quotes this data, are they quoting the actual number of appearances or the number that the NYT Labs counted? Either way, it is still interesting and I’m sure it will be quoted often.

Export the Data

You can also export the data.
[Need a new example]

And Produces a List of the Articles

To see the actual numbers and dates, you put the cursor over the line on the graph. If you click on the line, you are taken to a list of the articles with an excerpt. That is really fine.
A very nice resource. One to remember.