Category Archives: Software

You Should Learn How To Program

Whether you are a power user or only use a computer to check your email, you should learn the basics of programming a computer. This skill will not only help you understand what goes into making an application, but you may also find that you enjoy the technical problem solving that is required in programming. Computers and programming are becoming more and more pervasive in every day life, and have changed the workflow of many careers. Instead of giving you a lesson I want to provide you with multiple resources that both me, and students whom I taught how to program, have found useful.

Learning Resources

The Hour of Code

The Hour of Code was created by Code.org, a charity designed to expand computer science outreach. The Hour of Code was created to encourage everyone to learn and experience the thought process that goes into programming. As a simple introduction, this program will teach you the basics of a block based programming language that was inspired by MIT’s Scratch.

Codeacademy

Codeacademy specializes in teaching its students with actual programming languages such as JavaScript and Ruby. Unlike reading a guide or a book, Codeacademy steps it users through each assignment with automatic feedback to help guide learning.

Classes

There are also online classes on Coursera and EdX which will teach you various aspects of programming. Here at UMass Amherst you could alternatively take either CMPSCI 119 or 121 as an introductory course for programming.

Games

Code Combat

Intended for pre-college audiences, Code Combat is a puzzle game where you control a character around a game world. The game gives you the option of programming in Python or Javascript programming languages gradually teaching the user the basics of programming as new obstacles face your character.

Light Bot

Less childish then Code Combat,  Light Bot is a simple game where you control a robot to light up squares around. Light bot is more about solving a logic puzzle then teaching you how to program however these puzzles are designed around Core Concepts needed to program such as recursion (which Light Bot explains elegantly) and Debugging.

Steam Games

Along with those two free games their are also a couple paid steam games that involve or aim to teach programming listed below:

  • Hack N’ Slash – A Zelda inspired game created by Double Fine Productions where you can change attributes of certain objects in the game world to solve puzzles.
  • Else Heart.Break() – An Adventure game where you are tasked to program a solution to solve the games puzzles.
  • Human Resource Machine – A puzzle game that uses code blocks to build code that starts with simple programs  and gradually gets harder as new concepts are introduced.

Game Engines

Others find the best way to start programming is through gaming whether you mod an existing game or create your own. There are many game engines that allow new-comers to learn, while still being powerful enough to be used to create a commercial product.

  • Unity – A 3D Game engine created by Microsoft. Click here for a more in depth article from another blog on this site.
  • Gamemaker – Gamemaker is a mix between program either using scripts or a drag and drop interface, making it intuitive to newcomers.  Indie games such as Risk of Rain, and Hyper Light Drifter were made using Gamemaker.

Conclusion

I will conclude this article with two tips when programming. First, as with most problems in life, use google (or any other search engine) if you are having trouble with a concept. Secondly, programming doesn’t have to be a singular experience. Joining a team and working together can be often times be the most enjoyable moments you can experience while programming. There are also programming competitions, referred to as Hackathons, that encourage programmers to work with and meet new people to create a product. We have an article for about our schools hackathon, HackUMass here.

 

Formatting in Word – Not Frequently Asked Questions

You have a mysterious railing sentence. I bolded it for you.

I write a lot of papers. I am an undergraduate, I take gen-eds that require essays, and I typically have to follow MLA format. No matter how long I write in MLA I still have some questions regarding how to format it in Microsoft Word. Those annoying formatting issues that just pop up. I hope to solve a few of those not-frequently asked questions that come up when writing a paper.

Q: You know when you are writing a paragraph and one line falls over to the next page and Microsoft Word helpfully adds a line of text? How do I stop that?

A: These are called widows and orphans. When you are writing a paragraph and you get a one line spillover this is called a widow. An orphan is when you are writing a paragraph and one word makes up your last line of text. Both of these can be really annoying.

Quick and Dirty Fix: If you are not writing in MLA format and you don’t care about margin space then you can just change the margin size [page layout –> margins –> and change margins to your will]. Or, a quicker and dirtier fix is just changing your paragraph to eliminate a sentence or add some more. The issue with this fix is that when you go back and edit your entire paper and you may end up

Actual Fix: If you hope to actually fix this issue Word has a real fix for it too. It’s actually really easy too. The simple fix is [file –> paragraph –> line and page breaks tab –> uncheck the widow/orphan control box]

Q: Talk to me about strikethrough

A: I use strikethrough when making lists and I want to show that I have marked something off the list. This is what strikethrough looks like. There is no direct keyboard shortcut for strikethrough. Instead, you have to go through font every time. The steps are [highlight desired text to be stricken –> right click –> scroll down to font –> under the font tab –> check the strikethrough box]

Q: I do a lot of chemistry homework and I use a lot of super and subscripts. Please tell me there is a keyboard shortcut

A: I’m going to copy and paste Microsoft’s answer to this problem:

  • For superscript, select the text or number that you want, and then press Ctrl, Shift, and the Plus sign (+) at the same time.
  • For subscript, select the text or number that you want, and then press Ctrl and the Equal sign (=) at the same time.

Q: I accidentally wrote a paragraph in CapsLock and I don’t want to rewrite it. Is there a fix?

A: There is! And while researching this I audibly gasped because I thought it was impossible. The steps are to highlight the text you want to change the case of, and then press [shift+F3].

Hopefully these tips will help save you some time when you’re next writing a paper this semester. Additionally, check out the IT website for how UMass students, faculty, and staff can sign up for Office 365.

Office 2016: What it looks like so far.

office

The second half of 2015 is going to be a busy time in the tech world with the releases of OSX 10.11, iOS 9, Windows 10, and the newest iteration of the Microsoft Office Suite. With so much going on it can be hard to stay on top of the most recent developments, new features, and release date rumors, but for Office 2016 here’s what we know for sure is going to be included in this latest version.

Who is Office 2016 for?

Great question! The short answer is everyone. Office 2016 will be released for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and web-based platforms. Microsoft hopes that beginning with this release, Office will not require the user to actually be in the office to do their work. The Office apps will be available for installation on mobile devices like phones and tablets as well as computers so that users can get their work done wherever they happen to be.

What’s new in Office 2016?

There are a whole host of new features in the new office released. I’ll talk about a few of the most exciting changes here, but if you are interested in the full list of changes check out this article on office.com.

One of the most exciting features being implemented in the new iteration of office is real-time co-authoring. This is a feature that has been available for a while on web-based office suites like google docs and even office online. Real-time co-authoring allows users to work on the same document simultaneously with each user’s changes made visible immediately to all of the other users. Currently co-authoring is only available in word documents that are stored on either OneDrive (microsoft’s cloud) or Office 365 sharepoint sites; however, Microsoft has indicated that they hope to make this feature available in all office apps.

Another new feature in Office 2016 is the Tell Me feature. Reminiscent of the old office assistant Clippy (except less annoying and more useful), the Tell Me feature allows users to search for commands from within the office apps. The great thing about Tell Me is that it works with plain english meaning you don’t have to know the exact name of the feature you are looking for. Typing something like “draw arrows” will bring up the smart shape toolbar, or typing “change bullet points” brings up the list formatting menu to change bullet styles. The Tell Me feature will save a lot of time as users will no longer have to scour the internet for help finding the feature they need, and just tell office what they want to do.

Microsoft has also expressed that starting with Office 2016 they intend for Office to be a platform rather than just a suite of applications. At first this won’t have much of an effect on users, but Microsoft hopes that more third-party developers will build plugins to be used with office. For example, you might have an uber plugin installed that will allow you to schedule rides as you add events to your calendar in outlook.

With this exciting new range of features, Office 2016 is shaping up to be more than just a new version of the same software, but rather the next step in productive computing.

When is Office 2016 being released?

Mac users with an Office 365 subscription can already download an official release of Office 2016. For other operating systems, users with an Office 365 subscription can download a preview release of Office 2016 that will automatically update to the official release of Office 2016 on release date. For users not in these two groups the latest word is that Office 2016 will be available in late 2015, perhaps sometime around september.

How do I get my copy of Office 2016?

Fortunately, Office is available to most members of the university either for free or at extremely reduced cost. To check if you qualify go to this page. If you already have office, and you’re interested in the preview copy of 2016 take a look at this page.

PortableApps: Your workspace to go!

Description:
PortableApps is a platform software that allows you to practically bring your workspace almost anywhere. You can install it on any USB storage device, computer, or even a cloud service such as Dropbox. You then install portable versions of the some of the everyday applications you would normally see installed a computer such as LibreOffice and Firefox. What makes these applications portable is the fact that they don’t modify or leave any data and settings on the host computer but instead saves them only in the location where PortableApps is installed.

Usage:
PortableApps has over 300 portable applications to choose from ranging from office suites to games to antivirus softwares. Though not every application that we commonly use is available (for example, Microsoft Office).  However there are alternatives you could use in their place (such as LibreOffice). When you run PortableApps, you are greeted with a display much like the Windows start menu to the bottom right of the screen.
The Start Menu
From here, you can launch, install, and update your portable applications. You can even see how much space you have left if you install it on your USB storage device and explore the content of your USB storage device with a click of a button.

On a USB?:
With PortableApps installed on a USB drive, You can bring your personalized data to any computer. For example, you can browse the internet on a public computer, or on your friend’s computer without leaving your bookmark or history on the computer. All of it will be saved on your USB drive so you can take your bookmarks, extensions, and addons anywhere you go. If your browser saves your tabs before it closes then those are saved as well. For a computer tech, you can also load a bundle of tools to diagnose and fix a wide variety of computer problems, including virus infections, all organized and just a click away using PortableApps. Using PortableApps also mean being able to use programs you need that typically would not be installed on other computers since the program is installed on your USB drive. An example for computer science major is PuTTY. Most public computers typically don’t come with PuTTY installed but with PortableApps, you can load PuTTY along with its saved connections.

On the cloud?:
PortableApps can be useful even in cloud services that sync your data between your devices. Whenever a computer changes the settings for a program, the cloud will sync the settings to your other devices. For example with Firefox or Chrome, your bookmark, history, and extensions are saved and synced between all your devices. Or even when starting fresh after wiping your computer or buying a new computer, all you have to do is grab your files from the cloud service and you’ll have applications ready to use and already configured to your liking. PortableApps can easily update all your programs ensuring that your programs are up to date across all your devices and reduces the redundant task of updating each program for each of your devices.

More information can be found in their official website: http://portableapps.com/

How to Make an Animated Gif in Photoshop

Animated gifs have been used since basically the dawning of the internet. GIF(Graphical Interchange Format) are image files that move. The gif format is so widely used because it can be easily loaded on just about any device. They can be used for a wide variety of things from showing you how the gears in a clock function, to a funny clip from a television show.  Here I will be showing you how to make a simple animated gif with the use of Photoshop.

For the gif I am making today you will need 3 things; an image file, a video file and Photoshop. If you have access to Adobe Premiere Pro you may find this program to also be useful for cutting up your video clip into the exact segments you want. However it is not a necessary step so I won’t go into that any further.

My Goal is to animate the iris of an eye. To do this, import the original image of an eye.original image

Next use the background eraser tool and erase the iris so that it is transparent.

background eraser

Now you will need to import your video file, go to File > Import > Video frames to layers
This will allow you to edit every single frame of your video clip.

Video frames to layers

After you import your video frames to layers, change your workspace for animation. Go to Window > Workspace > Motion

Motion Workspace 1

Motion Workspace 2

Now go back to the eye we edited earlier, right click on the layer and “Duplicate Layer”, for the destination choose the name you have chosen for your video layers. For this demonstration my video layers are titled “Untitled-1”

Duplicate Layer 1

Duplicate Layer 2

Next take the image of the eye and stretch it to fit the size of the video layer. After you do this make sure you have every single frame/layer highlighted in your horizontal motion layer workspace. Then on your right take the layer for the eye and bring it to the very top so it is on top of every single frame and layer.

Eye Layer to the TOP

After you have done this it is time to save this as a gif. Go to file > Save for Web. If you have a large file this may take some time to load. My gif was quite large so I dropped my image size percentage down to 25%

Save for Web

Once you have done this you can click preview, to see how your gif will look in a browser. If you are pleased with the end result click save and now you have created your first animated gif!

CLICK ME

CLICK ME!

 

Quickly add a shaded border to an image in Adobe Photoshop

In this tutorial, we’ll see how to quickly add a shaded border to a photo in Adobe Photoshop like so:

slide 5

Begin by opening your photo of choice.

slide 1

Next, create a new layer, by going to “Layer > New Layer” (or, by using the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl + Shift + N” on Windows or “Cmd + Shift + N” on a Mac). Click on the new layer in the layers panel on the right to make sure it is selected, and then select the Paint Bucket tool in the tools panel on the left. Pick the foreground color you would like to use for your shaded border (in this example we use black, but you can use any color) and then fill the new layer with your color of choice.

slide 2

After filling the new layer, we will use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to create our border. Select the tool, and make sure its Feather attribute (located in the upper left) is greater than 0. Depending on the size of your image, and how much of a border you want visible, this will vary. My image is quite large so I have a feather of 80 pixels, however a small image may work best with only 12 pixels. After choosing a feather radius, drag and select the entire size of your canvas. You can begin outside the upper left corner and drag over the whole image to make sure you have it selected completely over each edge. When you release holding your mouse-click, the rectangle will now show a dotted line with curved edges. If the curve is too large or small for what you want to do, simply change the feather radius and try again.

slide 3

Now that we have our feathered selection, press the delete key or go to “Edit > Cut” to clear the middle of the full color layer. Your original photo will now show through underneath with the added border on top.

slide 4

Experiment with different colors and feather radii to see what you can create!

slide 6

 

Blue Glow of Information – Electronic Textbooks

The Spring semester is right around the corner, and yet again, it’s time to get textbooks for your classes. Before purchasing your textbooks, consider purchasing electronic textbooks instead due to their advantages over their physical counterparts. Since these ebooks hold the same content as physical textbooks along with a few extra features, there are advantages, but similarly, there are disadvantages.

textbooks

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Thankful For Google

I created my first Gmail account right before I started high school. I figured that my aim.com email, with my cheesy instant messaging screen name attached, would be unsuitable to send emails from in the future. It never crossed my mind that this one account would later link all facets of my life together in a neat, user-friendly package. With this one account, I am able to sync my email, calendar, documents, photos, notes, alarms, mobile apps, and music across my phone, tablet, and PC. Continue reading

Affective Computing and Nevermind

To borrow a definition from MIT, affective computing is computing that relates to, arises from, or deliberately influences emotion or other affective phenomena. Anything that recognizes, analyzes, simulates, or interacts with human emotion generally falls under this term. Does it sound a little far-fetched for your computer to understand your emotions? Well, it may not be. There is already software that can understand emotion based on facial expression or voice intonation. In fact, a quick search should give you many, many different programs that do this. Continue reading

Zotero Citation Software

Have you had trouble finding a good site to help you create a bibliography? Tired of hunting down pieces of information about your source? Or maybe you’re not sure if you have enough information in your citations. Now there is an answer to all of your questions and that answer is Zotero. Zotero creates citations for you at the click of a button! It allows you to store your citations in folders or libraries for organization and upon registering with an email and password(for free) you can access your citations across multiple devices! Continue reading

Website Design

Have you ever dreamed of designing your own website? By taking advantage of the free and discounted software offered by IT User Services your dream may be closer than you think. One of the best tools available for website design is Adobe Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver gives users the ability to design and edit webpages using HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP, etc. The software is available through the Adobe Campus Agreement for select faculty, staff, and students. You can see if you are eligible for the program by logging in at : http://www.oit.umass.edu/support/software/adobe-campus-agreement-no-cost-software-faculty-staff Continue reading

Listen to YouTube on iOS

YouTube has tons of uses – primarily video watching, but often podcasts and music can be found on the great video behemoth. While iOS 7 has plenty of music players, sometimes you want to listen to something you’ve found on YouTube without killing your battery by leaving the screen on. But when you want to listen (and not watch) a video on your iPhone, what do you do?
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Microsoft Office 2013

            For those of you upgrading from Microsoft Office 2007, you likely won’t find many major changes in Microsoft Office 2013.  If you are upgrading from a version of Microsoft Office prior to 2007, the concept of the ribbon, essentially a more visual-oriented version of your drop-down menus, and other cosmetic changes, may catch you off guard.  Rest assured, most of your favorite and essential functions are still there, alongside some new functionality tools to easily enhance your productivity.  Microsoft Office 2013 continues to provide users with maximum functionality while being more visual-based in the approach.  It is much easier to preview what things will look like before you commit to changes, and customize your files to be exactly what you want.  We’ll touch on some of the common changes among all of the Microsoft Office products, then do a program-specific breakdown for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint. Continue reading

OneDrive

What is OneDrive?

Microsoft’s OneDrive provides one place where users can keep and share photos, videos, notes, documents, and surveys and be able to access them on any machine by just logging in.  If you’re using the most recent Office 2013 suite, or have a Windows 8 device, you have likely seen the OneDrive icon/save option, as it is built into most of Microsoft’s latest applications, for the convenience of the user. You need a Microsoft account to get started, but if you are already using Windows 8 or Office, you should have one set up.
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Google Play Music: A Look at Music Lockers

We have written many times about a wondrous new technology called the “Cloud”: a collection of far away servers whose only purpose is to provide remote storage for anything you want. This is a pretty neat idea, as it allows you access all your data via Internet connection. If you ever need storage, but lack the space on a physical device, the “Cloud” is there for you. The same goes for regular backups of important work, although you should always be wary of backing up important personal or private information for security reasons. Be sure to always use a secure connection (like SFTP) or just store your data on secure servers (like the UDrive at UMass).
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TwitchPlay[Games]! Social Experiment With a Large Following — The Community

A continuation from the previous TwitchPlaysGames blog which can be found at http://blogs.umass.edu/Techbytes/?p=3746

 

Once the project was done the stream went live under the name TwitchPlaysPokemon, which was given the acronym TPP. Starting with a few players, the adventure began. A new game was created and the nostalgic adventure of Pokémon was underway. Starting with roughly 1,000 people, it was mind-boggling how this once single player game was being played by so many people, yet this was just the start. TPP began rising in popularity extremely quickly. Within hours, the viewer count rose to 5,000, then to 10,000. Within two days, the stream was averaging about 50,000 viewers.
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TwitchPlay[Games]! Social Experiment With a Large Following — The Creation

TwitchTV

Games have been a way to bring people together all across the world from those in nearby countries or across the globe. It is an undeniable fact that games are popular world-wide, but one game that was released about 20 years ago can still be mentioned today and many still remember it clearly – and that game is Pokémon. The game was originally single player, so only one person could play it at a time on one device and there was very limited play-ability in multiplayer without being physically next to someone with a cord connecting the two devices. Recently, this changed through the medium Twitch TV (http://twitch.tv).
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How Does the “Cloud” Really Work?

cloud

Cloud Computing is becoming increasingly popular among both businesses and consumers; but what is the “Cloud” and how does it work?

A Cloud Computing System can be divided into two parts: the Front End and the Back End.  The Front End consists of either a user’s computer or a network of computers connected to the Internet.  The Back End is comprised of many different servers, computers, and storage databases that are all interconnected; these components, functioning together as a whole, form a “Cloud”.  A central server exists to administer the entire system, constantly monitoring it to prevent failures.  All these different components interact and communicate with each other through the Internet, forming a web of inter-connected, redundant devices.

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