Do you iGoogle?

I’ve been a Google fan since before my husband and I were married. In fact, I still like to tease him about the fact that if it weren’t for me, he wouldn’t have even known about Google – he was still using Yahoo’s search engine when we met 8 years ago.

But, I must say — Google has come a long way in the last eight years. Shopping, books, blogs, youtube, readers…they have a little bit of something for everyone.

My favorite application at the moment is iGoogle. If you’ve never heard of it – check out the screenshot below of my desktop: (click for a larger view)

This is my favorite desktop application. I leave it running throughout the day and it has really helped me keep on top of my FaceBook account, client to-do’s, Twitters, email, and my calendar.

As the user, you have many options as to how you want to set it up. Not only are there tons of really cute themes (such as the one I am using), there are also a lot of plugins available – you can choose from your favorite games, news, youtube, etc. As for me? I like having a clean front page.

Lest you think this is a paid post, I assure you, it is not. I just love this application and thought I’d pass it on to all of you. Let me know if you decide to use it – and if you’re currently a user, what are some of your favorite apps?

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Photoshop Fun – Karen Finds a new Plug-in

I am a die-hard Adobe Photoshop fan, and anyone that knows me knows that I love anything that makes my photoshopping experience more fun. In the upcoming months, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite tools that I use when editing photos.

I recently discovered a Photoshop plug in called “Topaz Adjust” – and I’ve downloaded the 30 day free trial to see how I like it. So far, so good. While I haven’t done anything quite as spectacular as the examples on their site (you should check them out) I have had a lot of fun playing around with some of my photos.

Remember Myron? Here he is SOOC:

And here he is with one of Topaz’s filters applied (pretty artsy, huh?):

Here’s a lone cow from our farm SOOC shot:

Here he? she? is again, but with some major color boost and Pioneer Woman’s Vignette Action:

Just for fun, I thought I’d try it on some people I know. I started off with my friend’s son, Mavrick. Her husband cut his hair in a mohawk (she said she’s never felt more trailer-trash, and I laughed so hard) because, as her husband put it, he always wanted a mohawk as a kid and his dad would never let him have one and did she really want her sons growing up without the benefit of having experience, just one, what it felt like to sport a mohawk? (My friend SWEARS she’s cutting it soon…it’s growing on me…especially when she spiked it for Church last week.)

Here’s M SOOC(on an old broken down piano at church:

And here’s M looking like he just stepped off the pages of Baby Gap:

And before I show you the last photo…I must say that she is not my favorite. At all. And this photo is not my favorite. At all.

So here’s my baby when she was still a baby…but not my favorite, SOOC:

And here she is with a very soft filter (I am sorry, I didn’t record the name of it) applied – she looks positively ethereal, doesn’t she?

The actual program is moderately priced at only $99 and is downloadable from their site. If you own Photoshop, you should try the download and see if you like it enough to pay for it. I can already tell you, I’m sold.

Which is your favorite? And why?

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WFMW – Having Your Say

One of the things that I have always loved about blogging is the interaction between writer and reader. There’s more than one way to communicate in this age of digital media – and blogging is by far one of the easiest to master. You can have your say every day, but we all know that the most immediate reward that comes from blogging is readership and comments – would you like to know how to get more? I thought so.

I have teamed up with Melanie (Chilihead) from Don’t Try This at Home, Blogging Basics 101 and Bloggy Giveaways to produce a weekly radio show called “Behind the Blog: You’ve got Questions, We’ve got Answers” that will take you, the listener, behind the scenes of some of your favorite bloggers who have seen some measure of success.

We will be covering every aspect of blogging and featuring a variety of bloggers from every genre to teach you some of the secrets to having a successful blog, as well as giving access for you to call in or chat live with your peers and our guests.

We had our test show today, and despite a few technical glitches, it was a blast and we can’t wait until our show next week when we “go live”. We’d love for you to join us and have your say and learn a thing or two along the way – because in the world of blogging, I think that is what really works for most of us!

Subscribe to my feed reader if you’re interested in joining us – more details will be forthcoming this week, along with who our surprise guest is! Trust me, the feedback that we received from the bloggers who were with us today tells me that this is something you do NOT want to miss out on!

So have your say and learn something new – that’s what works for me!

For more works for me Wednesday tips, head on over to Shannon’s @ Rocks in My Dryer.

Oh, and feel free to grab our button off the sidebar and help us promote the new show – we’d really appreciate it!


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Working from a Calendar to Keep my Sanity Intact

The bright side of insomnia is that while you’re awake, you can plan your next three weeks blog posts. The dull side of insomnia is that once you go to sleep, you’re likely to forget everything you were thinking about just before you drifted off to sleep.

So this week I have some actual goals, y’all. I’ve actually started working on my editorial/design calendar as suggested by Melanie of Blogging Basics 101. I’m not one of those bloggers that can juggle five or six different blogs/online magazines and I’m constantly in awe of women that can do that and still find time to care for their children, cook and do things like…laundry. They’re all that and a bag of chips.

I started by writing down the due dates for each header/template design and then I promptly commenced to hyperventilating because I realized that this week alone I have four projects due. (And yes, I know I haven’t been posting my new work – some of it has personal information and a couple of the blogs I’ve done aren’t ready for their “new reveal” yet – but it’s coming.) This, of course, means my writing time will be severely limited and I’m going to have to make use of my time wisely, because I can’t just ignore my family to get it all done. The natives get restless when I spend too much time on the computer,e ven thought it’s summer.

After writing down my due dates, I decided what my posting schedules would be for each blog. You didn’t know I had more than one, did you? Well, I actually have a blog for Simply Amusing Designs, but up until this point, I haven’t been faithful to post on it, because it plays second fiddle to this blog. I am still working on topics for that blog, because I’d like to use it to share tips for beginning bloggers on design resources and how-to’s. If there’s something you’d like to see, shoot me your ideas in the comments or email me.

Today, I will be assigning my topics to the days, which I have already loosely done…(ie. Wednesday is Wordless and Works for Me, Thursday is 13, Saturday is Mystery Photo, etc.) and then at some point, I’m going to sit down and actually write. It’s easy to find the time, if you are looking for it. Sometimes I use pen and paper, but my thoughts generally flow much faster than my pen can follow, so I usually try to type my ideas and blog posts out. I find the best time for me to write is early morning before the kids are up, with a cup of coffee by my side. Like Melanie suggested, I placed a small notebook in my dayplanner that I carry inside my purse and I’ve written down several topics I can blog about as I think of them.

This week is shaping up to be crazy hectic, but I know that going in and I am able to mentally prepare myself through prayer and study, so I’ll be equipped to handle whatever comes my way.

How’s your week look? What do you have going on and are you doing anything special?


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It’s Like Photoshop, but Free…

Several people have asked me what program I use in my design business and I always answer with the same thing – Photoshop. Then they openly weep because Photoshop is so stinkin’ expensive and very few people are willing to drop anywhere from $500-750 on an item they want for hobbies. If it makes you feel any better, I have the older version of 5.5 and I haven’t made the plunge yet to CS3 because of the cost. UPDATED: I did it! I made the plunge and haven’t looked back. I’m now the proud owner of CS3…just in time for the new, improved version to come out. Oh well…
I made the mistake of downloading the trial and I used it for 30 days. Those were the best 30 days of my entire life. I didn’t realize I was driving a Pinto station wagon with Adobe 5.5, when I could have been driving a Cadillac Escalade in CS3. Do you know how depressing it is to turn in the keys for the Escalade you’ve been borrowing and go back to your old, broken down Ford Pinto station wagon? Gah. Let’s not even speak of it.

So the next few designs I do will stay in my paypal account so that I can save up for my beloved CS3. What is amazing to me is the fact that I’m willing to spend so much money on a software program! Originally, I said I was saving up for a new Nikon digital SLR (I have no idea which one, but I love the photos that everyone else takes with theirs – I have photo envy), but after the whole Photoshop debacle…well, the choice is obvious.

I mentioned there was something like Photoshop, but free, remember? I’m getting there…hang with me. I kept looking at some of these really cool websites and seeing the words “created in GIMP” at the bottoms…so I did what any red-blooded American girl would do and I googled “GIMP”.

What I discovered was a nifty little photo manipulation program that is really fun to use. Of course, if you’ve never used Photoshop, you might be a little confused the first 27 times you open it up, but if you play around enough, you’ll get the hang of it. There are online tutorials – use your google, people! Here are but a couple of the many ways it will allow you to manipulate a photo:



It will allow you to create and edit in layers mode, which is similar to Adobe – you can add text, etc. etc. etc. Go to their website and download it here. Be sure to download and install the Windows installers by Jernej Simončič, along with the program.

Have fun! And see you on the web!


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13 Ways to Avoid Spam & Hackers

The recent Photobucket hack has left many of us feeling somewhat helpless while the problem was being resolved. While there is nothing that can be done if a remote site is hacked, there are plenty of precautions you can take to avoid both spam and hackers right here at home.

I’ve compiled a short list of what I think are 13 of the most important things you should know. Most of these are common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people I know that STILL open spam “just to see what it is”.

Avoiding Spam:

1. One of the easiest things you can do to avoid spam is to never give out your real email address. Your real email address should only be used with trusted friends and coworkers. For all other types of email, and for situations that require an email address from you, you should setup and use a junk email account. A junk email account is usually obtained from a free web based email provider like Hotmail or Google’s free email.

2. Don’t open junk email. The safest thing to do with junk email is to delete it. Bad things can happen by opening junk email such as; the impossible to close window scam, resetting of your homepage to the spam site, and loading of unwanted or hostile programs. You should not even consider opening junk email unless your computer is thoroughly protected and you want to take action against the sender of the spam.

3. Never open email attachments unless you trust the sender and you expected an attachment. Computer viruses and other hacker software is mainly transmitted through email attachments – (look for .exe, .cmd, .bat, or .scr extension file extensions – NEVER open those). Opening email attachments is dangerous. When you open attachments you are putting your computer at risk. Unless you are absolutely sure an email attachment is safe, you should delete the entire email. If it was something important, it can always be resent.

4. Don’t click on “remove” from mailing lists. If its a mailing list you subscribed to, or a store you trust, then you should use the email’s unsubscribe feature. For any other type of spam, you shouldn’t unsubscribe from it as this just invites more spam, nor should you be reading it in the first place.

5. Use your email program’s spam blocking features. All email programs have spam blocking features. Take some time to figure out how to block email from spammers. With many email programs it is possible to specify exactly who is allowed to send you email.

6. Change your email settings to “plain text”. Reading email in plain text offers important security benefits that more than offset the loss of pretty colored fonts.

Avoiding Hackers:

7. Never post your IP address in a public place. This is like inviting a hacker to your door. Once they know your Internet Protocol address (four numbers divided by periods e.g. 168.320.001.01) they can begin hacking you.

8. Always run your Firewall and Antivirus programs first. A firewall, when combined with a good anti-virus program, helps stop unauthorized access on your computer, prevents virus infection, and “cloaks” your data ports against a hacker scanning for openings. Your firewall and antivirus programs should always be running before your computer connects to the Internet. If for some reason you want to turn these programs off, make sure you have first disconnected from the Internet. It is also a very good idea to enable automatic software updates in these programs so they stay up-to-date. Here are a couple that I use:

~ Spybot Search and Destroy is a great program to find and ‘destroy’ all those pesky programs, from browser hijackers to spyware and Trojans. It is a free utility, but you can offer up a few dollars for their trouble right on the site. I prefer it over McAfee or any of the others.

~Avast Antivirus Software for the Home provides continuous protection of your valuable data and programs by updating itself automatically. Simply install and forget. It also comes with anti-spyware & anti-rootkit protection for Windows, which are typically available only in the paid versions of many antivirus products.

9. When you are not using your computer, disconnect it from the Internet. One of the worst things that can happen is when a hacker breaks into your computer and you don’t even know it. To prevent unknown attacks, your computer should be disconnected from the Internet when not in use.

There are various ways to disconnect from the Internet, you could: turn off the computer, put your computer in Windows’ Standby mode (Start/Shutdown/Standby), break the Windows’ Internet connection, or power down your modem.

10. Change your password every two to three months. It’s better to write them down instead of saving them on a hard disk with insufficient firewall protection. Make your passwords unique – and include letters as well as numbers, but mix them up a bit.

11. Never let the system “remember” any of your passwords. While systems provide this as a matter of convenience, this is the most common “hack”. A password does nothing for you at all if itnever has to be entered.

12. Don’t use the same password in any two locations. Sure, it makes it easy to have the same password everywhere. Easy for you. Easy for hackers.

13. Secure your wireless networks. At home, enable WPA (Wi-Fi protected access) with a password of at least 20 characters. Configure your laptop to connect in Infrastructure mode only, and don’t add networks unless they use WPA.

I know the list could go on, but that’s 13. If you have additional feedback, shoot it down into the comments for me. I’d love to know how you are protecting your computer!


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