Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#Storyappchat: a Twitter Chat for Story App Creators and Aficionados

Screen shot of #storyappchat's website
In the past half year, I've discovered a group of people who are passionate about children's story apps and ebooks: developers, publishers, authors, illustrators, reviewers, educators, and more. They meet every Sunday evening at 9 p.m. EST at the #storyappchat Twitter chat and share their expertise in this growing field. Storyappchat's website provides archives of past chats and its Facebook page continues the conversation during the week.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

What Font is That?

Have you ever wondered what font a website is using? Computer science student Chengyin Liu has developed the WhatFont Tool, by far the easiest way to figure out what font is being used. Simply download his tool and add it as a bookmark. Anytime you are on a website and want to know the font, just click the link and hover over the font in question with your mouse and the font name will show up. Check it out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year (Illustration Friday: Twirl)

©2012 Sylvia Liu & SJ* 
Baby Dragon twirls her lantern as she wishes you a Happy Chinese New Year of the Dragon!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mafalda: A Classic Comic Strip for any Age

Cover of Mafalda comic strips book (10 Años con Mafalda)
(10 Years with Mafalda)
A kid growing up in a Spanish speaking country in the 1970s and 80s was likely exposed to Mafalda, the comic creation of Argentinian Joaquín Salvador Lavado (also known as Quino). The comic ran in Argentinian papers between 1964 and 1973 and republished into little books that were widely read in Latin America. I loved reading it as a kid, but it wasn't until recently when I read, 10 Años con Mafalda (Tusquets Editores México, 2nd ed. 2009), that I truly appreciated its genius.

Mafalda is a precocious six-year old who worries about world peace and hates soup. She is surrounded by her quirky friends (Felipe, a smart kid who hates homework and tortures himself for his failings; Manolito, a capitalist kid always with a scheme; Susanita, a frivolous antifeminist; Miguelito, a dreamer and philosopher, and Libertad, a tiny kid named "Freedom") and family (her father who's bent on destroying the ants that eat his prized plants; Guille, her baby brother, fan of Bridgett Bardot; and her mother, a housewife).

The comic strip is a true original, but it has elements of early Peanuts (kids wise beyond their years contemplating existential conundrums), Calvin and Hobbes (smarty-pants kid with a huge imagination and skeptical of the world), and Doonesbury (biting social commentary). Quino managed to skewer politics and human nature in a funny and accessible way. 

Although the political references are dated (Argentina was under military junta and the Cold War was pretty hot), Mafalda's concerns about political freedom and social inequities are still relevant today and her relationship with her parents are timeless. 10 Años con Mafalda is a treat for anyone. If you are learning or know Spanish, get it in the original. Otherwise, some of the small Mafalda books are available in English.

Some sample strips:

Mafalda comic strip with English translation on youthful idealism
Man: Change the world! Ha! Things of the youth.
Man: When I was young, I also had those ideas, and now see...
Mafalda: Let's make some noise, kids! It turns out that if you don't hurry to change the world, it's the world that changes you!

Mafalda comic with English translation on democracy
Mafalda reading the dictionary: DEMOCRACY (from the Greek, demos, people, and kratos, authority): government in which the people exercise sovereignty

Mafalda comic with English translation
Mafalda: But...why do I have to do it?
Her mom: Because I order it. I'm your Mother!!
Mafalda: If it's a question of titles, I'm your Daughter!!
: And we graduated on the same day! Or not?
Mafalda comic with English translation
Mafalda: Mom, was your first boyfriend this one, or who?

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Monday, January 16, 2012

8 Ways to Make a Blogger Blog Look and Act Like a Website

Does your Blogger blog look too "blog-like" for your tastes? Here are some tips to make a Blogger blog look and feel more like a full-service website:

1. Buy a custom domain name and point your account to it. 

Instead of having your URL be www.yourwebsite.blogspot.com, you can have your URL be a more professional www.yourwebsite.com. You can buy a custom name either at a domain registration site or through Blogger (for $10 a year). Either way, set up the name by going to Settings --> Publishing ---> Publish on a custom domain. You can choose either to register with Blogger or you can use another registration site (if you do, follow the "Switch to advanced settings" instructions).

2. Play with the advance layout options to customize the look of your site.

Blogger has a fair variety of templates for your site. They aren't as snazzy as Wordpress templates, especially the premium (paid ones), but they are fully customizable. Here are three easy things to do:
  • Add a custom header.  At the "Layout" page, click on the Header box and add your own custom header image.
  • Add a custom background. Go to "Template," click "Customize," and pick a basic template to start. Click the "background" link to add a custom background. 
  • Add custom details. Go to "Template," click "Customize," and start playing with all the details of each element of your blog. Here's an example of changing the various colors of links:

3. Add page tabs (About, FAQ, Contact).

Blogger lets you add up to 20 standalone static pages that show up under your header as tabs. Go to the "Pages" section to add and edit pages. 

New: To make the pages show up as tabs under your header, go to "Layout" and drag the Pages box under the header. 

Good pages to have are: About, Portfolio (if you're an artist), Books (if you're published), Contact, and FAQ.

4. Add a contact form.  

Once you've set up your Contact page, you can create a form for it, using Google Docs. See my post on How to Make a Contact Page for Blogger for instructions.

5. Add social media icons.

Blogger includes social media sharing buttons for each post, but doesn't have a good gadget to allow people to follow you on your social sites. If you look to the top right of this blog, you'll see social media buttons that lead to my Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest accounts, and that allow people to subscribe to this blog through an RSS reader or email.

The way to add the icons is to use the "HTML/Javascript" gadget. Here are my instructions on how to add social media icons to your blog (I learned how to do this from Adventures as a Small Town Mom but have learned some added tips since then). The set of circular social icons I used can be found here. If you want to choose other images, google "free social media icons" or check out: 33 Beautiful Social Media Icon Sets for Designers and Bloggers and 50 Free Social Media Icon Sets.

6. Add a favicon.

A favicon is the little icon that shows up next to a website address in the browser bar. Mine looks like this:

See my post, How to Add a Favicon to your Blogger Blog, for easy instructions.

7. Use the Picture gadget to link to other sites.

If you have an Amazon sales or Etsy page or a dedicated portfolio site, you can use the Picture gadget to feature the link in your sidebar. This blog uses a picture gadget to link to my Etsy store.

8. Add E-commerce features.

If you want to sell something directly from your blog instead of through a separate service, you can add a Paypal button to your blog, either in the sidebar or in a page or post that describes your wares. Go to your Paypal account's "Merchant Services" section for instructions.

9. Switch off the Mobile Template (if you want)

After spending all this time making your site look like a website, you can make the web version the default view for mobile devices. Go to Template, and click on the gear icon under "Mobile" view. Then choose "Show desktop template on mobile devices." I like the mobile templates, so I don't do this step.

P.S. If you're really ambitious, custom design your entire site.

By the way, if you know HTML coding, the sky's the limit for changing your Blogger blog into a website, as you can edit every part of your site. Web designer David Kutcher has blogged about some amazing websites made on Blogger, and also provides useful tips on taking Blogger sites to the next level at Blogger Xpertise

(Update 2/28/13: Blogger Xpertise has some nice free templates to transform your blog. See my post on how I used the BoyBurnsBlog template to make an art portfolio).

Please let me know if this has been helpful, or if you have any questions.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Mediated Life: If You Don't Take a Picture and Share It, Did It Happen?

© 2012 Sylvia Liu

Yesterday morning, I had one of the most wonderful experiences since I moved to Virginia Beach. I went running with a good friend at the Boardwalk, a 3 mile stretch along a beautiful, sandy beach that is filled with tourists in the summer but is almost empty on a winter morning. It was about 8:30 a.m., well after sunrise, but the sky was still pink and soft. The water was completely calm, not a ripple to be seen. As we ran the 6 mile round trip, we were paced (or outpaced) by hundreds of dolphins swimming about 20 yards offshore in groups of 4 or 5. The whole hour, we kept seeing the dolphins swimming south. Some were playful and jumped out of the water. We couldn't get over how many dolphins we saw and we kept interrupting our run just to marvel at the sight (I've often seen dolphins in the water, but never this close to shore and so many).

But what did I think at least once while running? That I wish I had a camera and how I'd describe the scene on Facebook. Nick Bilton of the New York Times had a similar experience and blogged about it, resolving to enjoy life unplugged from his iPhone. Why do we feel a need to share every special moment online, even with relative strangers? Is it to validate the experience? To cement the memory? To share something excellent in our life?

Zen is about being in the present, in the moment, without the commentary running. I'm not sure I can do that, but it's one of my 2012 resolutions. 

Update 1/17/12: I just came across an article that says this but more eloquently. Social theorist Nathan Jurgensen writes about how social media sites are training people to view life through a "Facebook eye" lens.  

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Illustration Friday: Grounded (and Shipped)

© 2012 Sylvia Liu
OK, it may be a bit of a stretch to use this illustration for "grounded," when it's more about "shipped." But it's interesting to me to think of all the parts of the global shipping system that are grounded: the factories producing the products half-way around the world; the people working in those factories (this is on my mind because I just listened to this week's amazing podcast of This American Life, about a self-described "worshipper in the cult of Mac" who went to a Chinese factory that makes the Apple products and interviewed the workers);* the infrastructure that distributes the products (these cranes, the trains, and highways); the retail stores; the warehouses; and the consumer sitting in front of a computer ordering the product.

*Update 3/20/12: This American Life recently retracted the Apple story because Mike Daisey, the performer who told the story, lied about some key facts. This podcast is well worth listening to.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Future of Publishing: A Report from the Year 2026

Due to a temporary flux in the space-time continuum, I received this post from my future nostalgic self, 15 years from now:

Remember the early 2010s, around the end of 2011, when tablet readers took off? Let's review how far we have come in the past 15 years in publishing: