Installing Parallels Tools (v4) in Ubuntu 8.10

I had a hard time sorting this out, so I figured I’d post it in case anyone else needs to know.

Assumptions: You have Parallels v4 for Mac, and have already created an Ubuntu 8.10 image.

Instructions:

  1. Launch your Ubuntu image (in window mode).
  2. Go to Virtual Machine > Install Parallels Tools

    Virtual Machine - Install Parallels Tools
  3. A dialog box appears. It contains vague instructions that aren’t very helpful for Linux newbies (hence this blog post). Ignore the instructions and click “continue”.

    Installer dialog
  4. A CD icon appears on the desktop, and the window opens displaying the CD contents. You won’t be clicking anything in this window, so go ahead and close it.

    CD icon appears on desktop
  5. Launch the Terminal by going to Applications > Accessories > Terminal

    Launch Terminal
  6. Next run the installer by typing sudo sh /cdrom/install and pressing the return button on the keyboard. You will be prompted to enter your system administrator password.
  7. The Parallels Tools installer appears. Follow the instructions.

    Parallels Tools Installer Screen

That’s it! You’ll need to reboot the virtual machine, and then you’re good to go.

FlashCamp and Flash CS4

I attended FlashCamp this weekend (except Sunday) at Adobe’s San Francisco offices. It was really cool of Adobe to create a free event filled with tons of goodies, great food (including free beer), free massages(!) and even free licenses for Flash CS4! I admit I think I ate too many cookies and rice krispie treats… I couldn’t resist. (FYI Gordon Biersch’s Marzen lager doesn’t go very well with rice krispie treats.)

Everyone seemed to have a great time. It was a nice mix of people; I thought I’d feel very out-of-my-league, but there were all kinds of people there, including regular Joes like me, many designer/developer industry-types, and lots of Adobe peeps, including key members of the Flash authoring and Flash Player product teams. Even ran into Geoff from SWFObject/YouTube. Kudos to Dom Sagolla for putting it all together; apparently they whipped the whole thing together in about 2 weeks, which is pretty amazing considering the turnout and number of goodies provided.

As for Flash CS4 (aka Flash Professional 10), it definitely has some major enhancements worth checking out. Most of the advancements are designer-oriented (as opposed to coder/developer-oriented), but they touch on AS3, too. I didn’t take notes and can’t tell you about every new feature (I doubt I heard about all of them), but here are my favorites based on what I saw in the live demos: the Bones tool (WAY cool), the changes to working with tweening in the timeline (also WAY cool and a huge improvement), and most importantly (and probably most controversial or overlooked): the CS4 interface itself. It takes a while to get used to, but I really like it, especially on a Mac. I wasn’t enjoying all those floating windows in earlier versions of Flash Professional… I prefer docked panels like those available in CS4. (I believe docking can be toggled off if you don’t like it.)

Flash Player 10 was also demoed, and it looks good, except for a few security changes that make great sense but may also break sites (again).

We were told Flash CS4 would be shipping very soon (a week maybe?); I assume they’ll have demo versions online around that time. I strongly suggest downloading it and trying it out, it’s pretty cool.

Oh, one thing that hasn’t changed: the ActionScript editor. Still bare-bones with no new features that I know of.

Most telling part of the experience? Dom was trying to partner up people for the hackathon projects. One particular guy was interested in working with Flash Lite (used for mobile devices) and was looking for people to work with. Dom asked the crowd — probably over 100 people — if anyone in the house had experience with Flash Lite. Not a single person raised their hands. Mind you, people raised their hands for all kinds of other stuff, ranging from writing AS3 classes to PixelBender to Subversion to graphic design, but no Flash Lite. Hmm…

In closing I think it’s safe to say this event raised my opinion on Flash and the direction(s) Adobe is heading with it. When you read blog entries or news articles about Flash, it really doesn’t give you a great sense of what’s going on, but when you hear from the employees themselves, things are much more exciting than I realized, and it sounds like some pretty interesting (and still undisclosed) features are in the works for Flash 11 (or CS5, whatever they choose to call it).

Just say no to corporate drone

I don’t often link to other blogs, but I think Cathy Moore has written a very good overview of a common issue: corporate-speak killing readability.

Quick ways to increase your score and sound like a human being

  • Say "you" and "we."
  • Cut 98% of adjectives and adverbs.
  • Write active sentences that make clear who does what.
  • Use strong verbs instead of wimpy "is."
  • Look for tacked-on clauses ("blah blah, which", " "blah blah, because"). Turn them into standalone sentences.

This is important not just for courses, but for documentation and specifications, too; no one likes to read what Cathy calls “corporate drone.”

Read Cathy’s blog entry “How to get everyone to write like Ernest Hemingway

Just the Macs, ma’am

The transition is almost complete: I have ditched my Windows-based PC for a MacBook Pro.

My reasons?  Well, I could write a whole bunch of fluff about how as a developer I need to be able to test my work on multiple operating systems, and a Mac (with BootCamp and/or Parallels) allows me to do that.  

Or maybe I can tell you that when I attended the Google I/O conference a week or two ago, I felt completely un-cool because I wasn’t slinging around a MacBook Pro, unlike (at quick glance) half of the attendees at the conference.

(Side note: second most popular laptop?  IBM/Lenovo ThinkPads.  They were all over the place, too.)

Maybe I can say it’s because I finally watched An Inconvenient Truth the other day, which — unintentionally — pointed out yet another inconvenient truth: Keynote is way better than PowerPoint.  (Al Gore’s famous slide presentation was done in Keynote.)

I could say that using a Mac will make me more creative, or that a Mac’s built-in accessibility tools can help me design web sites and courseware that work for people with disabilities.

Perhaps I could tell you that I simply wanted to return to my roots: I was a die-hard Mac user for a solid decade before turning to the Dark Side.

In reality, I had no single reason to switch from Windows to a Mac, but have felt the urge bubbling for quite some time, for all of the reasons above and more.  One of the best reasons was: I wanted a lightweight but powerful laptop.  Simple enough, eh?  But the tipping point was something even simpler (and IMHO) funnier: Apple has a back-to-school sale going, which meant a free iPod Touch if I bought the MacBook Pro.  Sweet.

So now I have a MacBook Pro AND an iPod Touch.  I feel like such a hipster, only without the cool hair, cool clothes and bad attitude. I suppose a real hipster would scoff at the iPod Touch and say I should have gotten an iPhone. I’m not ready for that commitment yet… Apple needs to ditch AT&T before I get that particular toy.  😉

Anyway, now that I’ve been playing with my new Apple goodies for a few days, I’m really appreciating (rediscovering?) the excellent user interface design, where it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into every aspect of the the UI.  And, of course, the MacBook Pro “just worked” from the start.

(Side note #2: Ubuntu also runs great out-of-the-box if you ever want to give Linux a shot.)

I’m also really enjoying the software that comes with a Mac. I don’t know if it’s a fair knock against Windows, but the software that comes with OS X feels more useful, and is certainly easier to look at! Apple’s iWork suite is cool, too; I already mentioned Keynote, and “Pages” is much slicker and easier to use than Word. Too bad I can’t use iWork applications at the office since none of my coworkers have Macs.

The iPod Touch has been a lot of fun, especially using Safari with the built-in WiFi.  I’m definitely going to start paying closer attention to how my websites and courseware fare in small-screen mobile environments.

Are YOU a Mac user?

Are you a Mac user?  Have any tips or recommendations?  I’m using Parallels to run Windows XP, so I still have access to my Windows-only stuff.  However, when it comes to Mac software, I’m starting over and need to figure out what’s hot and what’s not. I have iWork 08 and Adobe CS3, but not much else.

Anything else I should be using?  🙂

Bollyboard?

Funny stuff. 🙂

The Adventures of Bollywood Blackboardwala
Here’s a small series of humorous episodes related to recent Blackboard and Open Source Learning Management Systems.

The mashups are made with snippets of classic Hindi Bollywood films, overlaid with user created subtitles, from a fun online tool called BombayTV from Grapheine.

The role of Blackboardwala is played by none other than Amitabh Bacchan, of course.

http://metamedia.typepad.com/metamedia/2008/04/the-adventures.html [link no longer available]

[from e-Literate]

SCORM files relocated… again.

Sorry to give everyone the runaround, but after trying Google Code for a month, I found it seriously lacking and not very fun to use. Therefore as of tonight, all of my SCORM files (and other goodies) are back at pipwerks.com on a dedicated downloads page.

Blackboard: Spoke too soon?

Alfred Essa posted this tidbit today:

An Important Correction to the Blackboard Patent Story
A number of us, including this blog, have gotten this story wrong. It’s time for a correction.

The USPTO has NOT invalidated the Blackboard patent. Instead the USPTO is proposing to invalidate the patent and has issued some preliminary documents for review and comment. At the end of the day the USPTO still might uphold the patent as valid.

Let’s hope this is just a matter of semantics, and that the USPTO will continue along their current path towards invalidating Blackboard’s patents. *fingers crossed*!

Things to consider when working on a project

I read not one, but three great blog posts today regarding what kinds of questions you should asking yourself when working on a project. Two of the blogs were not specific to the e-learning industry, but they apply nonetheless.

Why?

The first blog, by Jason at 37signals.com, suggests that you should always Question your work. He lists the questions he feels we should always be asking ourselves when working on projects:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What problem are we solving?
  • Is this actually useful?
  • Are we adding value?
  • Will this change behavior?
  • Is there an easier way?
  • What’s the opportunity cost?
  • Is it really worth it?

As instructional designers, we’re trained to perform high-level impartial needs assessments, but we’re only human and get tripped up in the details as easily as anyone else. One of the easiest things to do is to forget to ask yourself “is the training I’m about to create really going to solve the root problem?” Taking a moment to step back and ask yourself Jason’s questions (especially if you’re a freelancer trying to decide if a project is worth your time) is a good idea.

Taking care of business

Speaking of freelancers, Joeflash had a great blog post today titled Business tips for freelancers. Again, not specific to e-learning development, but still directly applicable to contracting work in almost any field. His sixteen tips are very practical, and the list is a quick but very worthwhile read.

Looks matter

Lastly, Tom Kuhlmann at Articulate wrote a nice blog entry about Why Looks Matter in E-Learning Courses (And What You Can Do About It).

This particular blog entry gives great tips about the visual design of your e-learning course. He advises readers to:

  • Understand How to Use Colors
  • Create a Fresh and Contemporary Design
  • Maintain a Consistent Look and Feel

These are the kinds of things I would expect most course developers to already know, yet it isn’t very hard to find examples of courses that don’t adhere to these basic design principles.

Side note: I’m generally not a fan of Articulate’s products, but I think Tom’s blog is a must-read for e-learning developers. He usually has great tips and practical advice, in easy-to-understand language, without trying to do any hard-sells of Articulate products. We should all strive to write so clearly, especially in our courses!

Bye-bye 2007

For 2008, I resolve to be more resolute when working on my resolutions.

And for once I don’t mean screen or print resolution! I mean actively working towards achieving one of my MANY professional and hobbyist goals.

2007 was a great year… I had quite a few happy moments, including getting married and building my own video game arcade cabinet from scratch (my brother has visited our house more in the last two months than he did all of last year!). Good times.

I enjoyed 2007 in a professional sense, too: I renovated my website, contributed to a bunch of small and large projects at work (2007 was the year of ‘putting out fires’ in our office), presented at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2007 event, attended a few great web design conferences (esp. @media2007 in San Francisco, where I got to have a beer with some world-renowned web development experts and all-round nice people), and helped hundreds of people with code problems in the SWFObject forum. Helping people makes me happy.

Most importantly, I feel as if I’ve grown by leaps and bounds as a coder/programmer, especially with JavaScript, ActionScript, PHP, ASP.Net (C#) and SQL. I value personal growth more than just about anything, so this means a lot to me. 2007 was a good year.

But, like everyone else, there are a few things I wish I had taken care of in 2007. Yes, I’m among the millions of middle-aged men (is 34 middle-aged?) who regret not sculpting abs of steel over the past summer. I have a great job but still don’t make $1,000,000/year salary with a Google-esque working environment. And don’t even get me started my guitar downtime — I played guitar steadily for about 18 years before getting sucked into a lifestyle of long hours of sitting in front of the computer, coding web development and/or e-learning projects. Now my fingertips are soft… I lost my callouses on my fretting hand! That’s downright embarrassing. But I digress.

What I really wish I had done in 2007 was get started on some of my personal ‘professional’ projects. I have about 3 or 4 professional-grade personal projects that need fleshing out, and will continue to drape the floor of my closet until I give them the respect — i.e. time and energy — that they deserve.

I won’t list them here. Not for fear of being called out if I don’t finish them, but because I’m not quite ready to reveal my plans for world domination just yet. Rest assured some charitable work (perhaps in the form of open-source, Creative Commons or MIT-style licensing) should rear its pretty head before I write my next eulogy for unaccomplished tasks, scheduled for December 2008.

In the meantime, here are some things that made me happy in 2007 (in no particular order, and forgive me if I repeat myself):

  • My wife, stepkids, family, and friends (aww, shucks)
  • Google (esp. GMail and Google Reader, my new best friend)
  • Mozilla FIREFOX!!!! (esp. the extensions, most notably the Web Developer Toolbar and Firebug)
  • Adobe CS3 (esp. Photoshop, Dreamweaver and Flash)
  • The support of my boss and coworkers for all of the crazy projects I work on
  • Good books
  • TiVo!
  • My stepkids’ Wii
  • My new iMac
  • My arcade cabinet! (FYI even after buying all the tools and materials — including expensive power tools — it was still cheaper to build it myself than buy a pre-built kit)
  • Web 2.0 goodies like Meebo.com, Flickr.com & picasaweb.google.com, RSS feeds, etc. These things made web life interesting again.
  • ESPN.com and si.com (I hate to admit ESPN made me happy, but I’m a baseball news junkie).
  • My 1TB external hard drive. Backups have never been so easy!

I’m sure I forgot something… I always do. 🙂

(Heroes, you’d have made the list if the first season’s finale didn’t suck so bad.)

Happy new year to all of you! Haoli Makahiki Hou!

– philip

Tip: Quick and efficient screenshots without special software

I’ve noticed many people use programs like TechSmith SnagIt to get screenshots. While SnagIt is a fine program, I think in many cases it’s overkill. Here’s a really simple way to get screenshots without needing any special software.

  1. Grab screenshot using Print Screen.
  2. Paste screenshot into Paint.
  3. Save in your preferred format (TIF, BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, etc.).
Note: Apple Macintoshes come with the utility “Grab”, which is pretty nice and easy to use.

Print Screen

In the old days, pressing the keyboard key “Print Screen” literally meant “make a printout of screen.” Nowadays, it means “take a snapshot of the screen and place the snapshot on the clipboard.” Once it’s on the clipboard, you can paste it into any program that accepts images, such as Microsoft Word, an email program like Outlook, image editors like Photoshop, and even specialized production software such as Flash or Illustrator.

The biggest headache people usually face is editing the screenshot once they’ve pasted it into their program of choice; many times you only want a portion of the screen, not the contents of the entire monitor. Tip: Holding “Alt” on your keyboard while pressing “Print Screen” will only capture the active window. See the illustration below. This can save you a ton of time if you’re taking a lot of screenshots.

Illustration of the difference between using Print Screen and ALT + Print Screen
Use the ALT key to limit the screenshot to the active window instead of the entire monitor.

Pasting into Microsoft Office Documents — Beware!

Microsoft Office’s default document resolution is 96 pixels per inch (ppi). However, all major operating systems (Windows 200/XP/Vista, Mac OS X, Linux) and all major web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera) use a default of 72ppi. When pasting a 72ppi screenshot into a 96ppi Microsoft Office document, MS Office automatically scales/stretches your image to match the document’s resolution, often rendering the image blurry or distorted.

Sample image illustrating how Word makes screenshots look blurryScreenshot pasted directly into Word. Notice how blurry it is.

What does this mean for you? It means you should never paste your image into Word or PowerPoint unless that’s the image’s final destination.

If you need to send someone a screenshot for them to use in whatever program they use (InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, etc.), you should send it as an image file, such as a TIFF, JPG or PNG. DO NOT paste the image into Word or any other MS Office application.

How Do I Make the Screenshot Look Crisp in Word?

If you intend to use your screenshot in Word, you should prep the screenshot by changing its resolution to 96ppi without resampling the image, then import the image into Word (don’t use ‘paste’).

Changing the image’s resolution will require an image editing application such as Photoshop or Fireworks. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds. Here are the steps:

  1. Paste the screenshot into the image editor (in this example, Photoshop)
  2. Go to the image’s properties and change the resolution from 72 to 96. (In Photoshop, go to Image > Image Size, and be sure to UNcheck “Resample image”)

    Photoshop's Image Size settings

  3. Save the image in a Word-friendly format. I find BMPs work the best.
  4. Go to Word, and select Insert > Picture > From File
  5. Choose the image you just created and click OK.

Your result will look something like this:

Comparing the two different images in WordTwo screenshots: one edited to be 96ppi then ‘inserted’ into Word (left), and one pasted directly into Word (right).

Big difference, eh?