Additive Manufacturing & Its Reach

Additive Manufacturing refers to many technologies, usually falling in the spectrum of three-dimensional printing. It is becoming more widespread in several industries, e.g., the automotive, medical, and aerospace fields, mainly because of it’s potential to reduce costs, time efforts, and waste.

This is because additive manufacturing uses computer software and 3D printing to create a 3D object or part. Instead, old-fashioned manufacturing takes bulks of materials and then uses only some of those to create a part.

Furthermore, this technology is being integrated into companies’ production process even today. What is even more exciting, though, is additive manufacturing’s potential. From creating unmanned robots, to printing a product on the spot, this technology’s possibilities are endless.

Note: This is a synopsis of a white paper, which you can find here.

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Learning Another Language Is As Easy As P-H-P

Learning another language, a coding language that is, can become increasingly easier. The more coding languages you have learned or come into contact with, the easier it is to learn a new one. PHP is an example of a quick learned programming language. In a matter of four hours, you can get the gist of this language by going through the tutorials on Code Academy, pictured below.

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A screen shot of the finished four-hour PHP web tutorial offered on Code Academy.

Christian Heilmann described PHP in Smashing Magazine as “a very easy and forgiving language. Variables can be anything, and you can create them anytime you want,” in his article “PHP: What You Need To Know To Play With The Web“.

It is almost as if HTML 5, JavaScript, CSS, and PHP are romance languages, comparable because of the way they build off each other and the similarities they share. Although PHP is similar in structure to all these languages, using tags and variable names to tell the code how to process certain information, it is most similar to JavaScript. In fact, both these languages use functions, declare variables that can save and recall information, and create a more user-friendly experience for someone visiting a site.

Unlike JavaScript, though, PHP is typically inserted in the HTML file rather than in a separate document. Although it can be featured in a .php file format as well. Furthermore, PHP can perform some of the same actions as JavaScript as well as ones that are out of JavaScript’s league. PHP is mostly used for social media websites or other highly interactive sites that rely on user input and tailor the site to each and every user.

Angela Bradley’s article “Why Use PHP,” featured in about tech, gives optimal examples of when one should implement the PHP coding language in their web design and why it can be a great option. She expounds that you can tailor a website using a myriad of variables to create, for example, interactive forums and private messaging systems. Bradley also features PHP tutorials that showcase the breadth of use PHP has to offer. These tutorials range from “how to change your website color based on the day of the week,” to how to feature a “Dynamic PHP banner with your latest Twitter post”.

It is not only necessary to keep up with the various updates in the coding world, but to cut your teeth on as many programming languages as possible. This will allow for the creation of a highly functional and responsive website. It is no longer acceptable to have a static site, users are demanding customized, tailored, and responsive websites that make their online experience interactive and easy. In order to provide a competitive edge, it becomes necessary to learn languages that can implement a user-friendly experience. These include, but are not limited to, JavaScript and PHP.

As a beginner in PHP, a blogger, and writer, I am excited to see how I can manipulate (coding) language to produce something creative and smart.

You Need a Vision to Plan a Site

Just like anything you create, publishing a site to the world wide web requires one to have patience, creativity, and vision. Alas, having a vision alone won’t get a site on the web, although, it will help in the planning process. So how do you start? The answer is wireframes.

Wireframes are simple outlines for a website to be. They are the first step in creating a well planned, well envisioned site. Without them, it would be quite difficult to translate your vision to the page (webpage, that is). I created three wireframes for a fictional site titled totally poetry. This site sells prints of poetry and gives customers the option of ordering customizable poems.

The wireframes, created on balsamiq.com, feature a clean and user-friendly feel. In order to capture the shareability and customizability of creative writing, the site uses elements that make the website easily accessible. These elements include, minimalistic design, various levels of navigation, and dynamic ways of showcasing information, as seen below. For further explanation of the creative rationale behind the wireframes, and for more images of the wireframes created, read “A Strategic Analysis of totally poetry Website“.

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One of the wireframes created for the fictional website “totally poetry”.

Domain Hosting: Gaining Your Independence Online

Right now, you may have a website, it may get some traffic, and it’s it’s growing, but, it is not completely yours. What this means is that your website is under an umbrella site, such as WordPress.com or Tumblr, which makes your website as much theirs as it is yours. For example, on a WordPress.com site you could include your name in the domain, but it would still remain “yourname.wordpress.com,” for example. If this describes you, it might be time to do some shopping for a domain hosting service.

Staying with a comfortable site that does domain hosting for you, such as WordPress.com, has many advantages. It is free, there are less things you have to deal with, and it is overall a thoughtless process: make up a domain name and pay for it. The downside, of course, being that you don’t have a domain name that is simply your name (or whatever you may want it to be). Having a domain name that includes “wordpress” in it isn’t a bad thing necessarily. But, if you are serious about your site and your audience, you are strongly encouraged to switch over to a self-hosted site where you can build your brand and/or blog, as was done for the blog, bysaraalice.com, pictured below.

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This site was originally on wordpress.com and was transferred over to wordpress.org and now sports a professional domain name, i.e., “bysaraalice.com”.

It can be intimidating to start looking for domain hosting services. It shouldn’t be. There are countless online resources that outline what a great domain host should provide to its customers. If you are new to the world of domain hosting, check out the article “How to Choose the Right Web Hosting,” featured on Web Hosting Secret Revealed. This article delineates what you should be shopping for in a domain hosting service. Another great resource is “Web Hosting Consumer Guide: 9 Tips You Should Know,” found in Hongkiat. This article debunks the advertisements that the web hosting services promote themselves with, e.g., claiming free domain name, unlimited storage, etc.

Now, after considering the research and rankings of each domain hosting service, it is crucial to assess your own website needs. For example, having a WordPress.com blog is a hassle to transfer to a self-hosted site (often done by registering with WordPress.org which and then registering with a domain hosting service of your choosing). There are countless things to  keep in mind for selecting a functional and appropriate domain hosting service in this situation.

In this particular situation, transferring of a WordPress.com blog to a self hosted WordPress.org blog, there are a different set of criteria that one should be looking for in a domain hosting service. First, you want a self hosting service that is compatible with WordPress. BlueHost is often recommended for WordPress blogs. However, for the intents and purposes of this particular blog, the domain hosting service SiteGround was chosen. This is because Site Ground was the same price as BlueHost but it offered easier upgrades, countless help with transferring a WordPress blog to a self hosted site, was compatible with WordPress and offered tutorials on WordPress blogs specifically, and, most importantly, had less occurrences of sites crashing and quicker recoveries from these mishaps when they did take place (compared to BlueHost and other recommended WordPress compatible sites). Even better, SiteGround will transfer your WordPress.com site over to the new domain name on WordPress.org for a small fee. This option, although a commodity, was not used simply because it is a great experience to learn how to do it on your own (frustrating but worth it).

In conclusion, there are many factors you should consider when looking at a domain hosting service. Make sure you are shopping for your specific website needs and are looking past elements such as “free domain name,” or “unlimited storage space,” which should not be the selling points you focus on. Instead, take the time to look at their customer support- it is suggested to look for a service like SiteGround that offers phone, email, and messaging options. Note that these services are advertised to be 24/7- what that means is that you can contact them 24/7 not, necessarily, that they will answer you 24/7. Finally, if you are transferring a site over, make sure your domain hosting provider offers options, tutorials, and support in any way that is necessary to make the transition easier for your specific blog (or website) needs.

Google Analytics: What Kind of Audience Do You Have?

Google Analytics can be great for making sure you are reaching the target market for your product. But, what if your product is a creative writing blog (or any blog really)? Thankfully, you can still use Google Analytics to not only make sure you are reaching the intended target market, but to ensure that you are doing everything within your power to make sure you reach that intended audience.

So what if you are reaching an audience, but it isn’t necessarily the right audience. Google Analytics can help you discover this too.  It becomes imperative for bloggers, just as any other website owner, to know which audience is your audience. Why is this important, you may ask. It’s very simple- if you are not reaching the intended audience, you most likely aren’t reaching an interested one. Here is where Google Analytics comes in. Unlike WordPress or Blogger statistics, Google Analytics provides owners with a wide array of in-depth data. This data can be powerful if, first of all, it is used, and secondly, if it is used correctly.

Using the data correctly relies heavily on being able to interpret the data in the first place. It also depends on one’s openness to admit that one’s site may not be doing as well as it could be. If one can admit that there may be issues, then it will be easier to find appropriate solutions. Let’s take the creative writing blog discussed earlier into consideration. This specific blog was not connected to Google Analytics until recently. WordPress analytics allowed the blog’s author to note basics such as: how many page views there were, how many visitors there were, what country these visitors came from, and how many of these views came from social media. Google Analytics can still provide these basics, along with so much more.

Looking at the same blog’s data on Google Analytics opens an entirely different view of what audience this blog is attracting. By analyzing the data provided by Google Analytics it becomes easy to see that many of the users are coming in from many different locations such as Ukraine, Russia, China, Germany and Australia. In some of these places, especially Germany, China, and Australia, users could speak English. The analytics, shown below, demonstrate that 80% of users did not have a language preference set in their browsers, at least not one that was detectable, and therefore this data is not available. However, because the United States had the highest numbers for number of total sessions, new sessions, and new users, it is safe to say that the appropriate audience is an english speaking audience- presumably in the States.

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This data shows that although users are coming from various locales, users in the U.S. are engaging with the blog more.

To further understand the audience, take a look at the overall statistics for the week. This is a good amount of time to analyze, especially if your website doesn’t have a lot of traffic yet. From the overall weekly statistics collected from the blog, Google Analytics reports: there were 193 users who collectively amounted to 544 total page-views. The average session duration is dragged down by many of the users who are from countries outside the United States. Google Analytics reported those outside the U.S. to all have a session last less than a minute (presumably because of a language barrier). However, in the States, the average session duration was marked at three minutes and six seconds. Therefore, even though the average session duration is reported at  57 seconds, as shown below, it is important to put this into context. The intended audience is staying on the page for an average of three minutes. Which isn’t bad, considering it takes 8 seconds or less for a user to lose interest.

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This data can seem underwhelming- where 193 viewers collectively viewed 540 pages, but only stayed on the blog for an average of 57 seconds. But, if you take into consideration that many of these people may have a language barrier or an interest barrier it becomes easy to see why they aren’t engaging with the blog. You are attracting people, but not necessarily the intended audience.

Finally, It is also interesting to look at new versus returning users. From analyzing the data shown below, it becomes clear that the blog is currently not reaching many new users that are also the intended audience (which has now been modified to English speakers in the U.S who are interested in reading creative writing blogs). This claim is supported by the numbers which show that while new visitors are accountable for starting 85% of the sessions, they are only viewing 1.37 pages per session and staying on the page for an average of 27 seconds. Instead, thankfully, returning viewers are responsible for only about 15% of new sessions, but they are viewing an average of seven pages per session for an average session duration of three minutes and 50 seconds.

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The data above demonstrates that new users are coming to the blog, but not engaging with the material. This means that the blog is probably not attracting users who are part of the intended audience. Instead, the retained users who are the followers of the blog are invested in the blog and the material.

From this data alone (and Google Analytics provides much more data than can be communicated in one blog posting), it can be concluded that the blog is reaching some of its intended audience: English speakers in the States who are interested in reading creative writing. Mainly, these seem to be the returning visitors, e.g., those who are following the blog. In fact, these users seem to be the most engaged because first, they are returning, and secondly, they are engaging with more material for longer periods of time. The data also demonstrates that many new users are being directed to the site, which is great, but they aren’t engaging with the material- often times leaving the site after less than a minute. From this data it then becomes possible to come up with solutions to find the target market.

Ask yourself, “What kind of audience do I have,” and use Google Analytics to figure out both what you are doing right and wrong in attracting those viewers to your site.

Photoshop: Not Everything Is As It First Appears

Photoshop Masks are complicated in theory but practical and simple in use. It takes a while to learn photoshop’s “language,” which is no doubt an ongoing process, but once one spends time with the program it becomes easier to understand how to use each tool and get creative with their functions.

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Ballerina photoshopped into a painting of a street.

There are two mask types on Photoshop: the layer mask and the clipping mask. Both of these mask options give users the flexibility to make layers and selections on layers transparent, giving them the freedom to create believable images. For example, this photo in which a ballerina was photoshopped into a painting by Leonid Afremov was achieved creating a layer mask of the ballerina. In order to do so, the ballerina was selected with the pen tool and then, once the layer mask was created through the layer mask button, she was inserted into the painting. In order to make her look more natural in the new environment, the ballerina is placed to the side of the painting instead of the middle so she doesn’t appear to be floating. Furthermore, the painting was converted to grayscale since the ballerina was also black and white.

Parrots photoshopped into a background with lights
Parrots photoshopped into a background with lights.

Similarly, the next photo which shows parrots on a branch with a background of soft lights was also created using a layer mask. The parrots were selected and a layer mask was created. Then the soft lights background was added. Unlike the ballerina photo, this image isn’t as successful because there is still a slight outline around one of the parrots from its previous background. It was more difficult to outline the parrots because the original background was a bright green which didn’t contrast enough against their bright bodies. Instead, the ballerina was on a bright white background and she was more opaque, making the selection more precise. To avoid this, change the opacity of the image you are working on as you select.

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Text reading “You are my sunshine” filled in with a background image of poppy flowers.

Conversely, this image shows text filled in with a background image of poppies. In order to pull this off a clipping layer was used to make the text transparent and the background layer transparent except for the overlap with the text. Unlike the previous two images this is the least time consuming and produced the most believable result. Probably because using a clipping mask in this instance only involved text rather than inserting part of an image into another.

Although Photoshop masks may seem hard to tackle at first, once you begin to understand the terminology, the tools, and the overall organization of Photoshop, it becomes a simpler process. Photoshop is an important skill to have, a definite resume booster, and a amazing program that allows you to create and design. There are multiple uses for Photoshop masks, including creating creative typeface for a website or blog, editing an image for art purposes, and even transforming images so that they are transparent ready to use for print or web design. Photoshop shouldn’t be as intimidating as it may first appear.