Thursday, March 29, 2012

Back after two busy weeks and a short break

Heading into the weekend, my head was ready to explode. I’d had two weeks of lots of Adobe software training — four daylong sessions each week, plus a fair amount of work from my various freelance jobs.

But freelance work tends to come in spurts and, generally, not according to an prearranged schedule. Consequently, I was operating on three, sometimes four hours of sleep a night for much of the past two weeks. Friday night was the first night I got eight hours in bed.

Still, I wanted — actually I felt I needed — some kind of outlet.

Don’t get me wrong — the classroom work was incredible. I’d had three classes on Dreamweaver, a program for creating websites, which is a large part of the reason I’m pursuing the coursework I’m taking. Another day was devoted to Fireworks, another tool in the arsenal of Webmasters and Web designers, and one day was devoted to Internet marking. Three full days were devoted to Flash, an exciting program that can be used to create animations, among other things, and offered great opportunity for creativity. Abi, the instructor encouraged that within the framework of the class time. There was, after all, a lot of material to cover.

But I was breaking new ground, so when everybody broke for lunch, I stayed behind to polish the projects we had been working on during the morning. Abi appreciated my efforts. She made it easy, however — her teaching was exceptional.

Still, I am an amateur at it (I always want my new skills to be perfect, like yesterday), and demand too much of myself. As much fun as I have learning — we used Flash to create and animate a bug (I turned mine into a firefly during lunch) — but my work was far from polished.

So over the weekend, I needed to catch up on some rest, but I also wanted to work on something creative, something I could finish and feel proud of. It need not be a Picasso, but it needed to be something with polish.

Since I do not yet have the Adobe software I aim to become an expert at, I was somewhat handicapped. But there are alternatives. Instead of Photoshop, there is a free photo-editing software called GIMP. I already knew what I wanted to do, and it would require some of the techniques I’d learned in other programs that share some characteristics with Photoshop.

So I poured myself into designing a fairly simple logo (keep it simple stupid is the layman’s rule for the design standards, “Less is more” and “Form follows function”). The logo was to top a project for BocaJump, one of my several freelance gigs, and was to accompany an interactive map of road construction in Elgin this summer. The map I would take care of later.

Probably the greatest time spent on any project like this is in preparation. First, I had to search to find the parameters, measurement-wise, that I could work within — that actually had me poking around inside the website until I found what I needed to know. The area I had to work within was 600 pixels wide.

Then I had to go searching for the elements I wanted to use in the logo — elements that are within the public domain and not restricted by copyright. After I found what I needed, I went to work. The actual work took just a couple of hours — largely because I was learning new things as I did this, but they were not entirely out of my grasp. Once I was nearly done, I shared it with the folks in charge, tweaked it a couple of times and was ready for Phase 2.

Google Maps is a wonderful tool, and I’ve used it many times before. It comes with its own tools so that you can draw colored lines, colored shapes, add colored pins and add all kinds of information to each so that when someone moves the cursor over one of those markers, information will pop up telling them the information you’ve put in about the marker.

I’ve written several stories already about the construction work planned in Elgin this year, so that was my starting point on the more tedious leg of this phase. I essentially pulled together tidbits of info on each project and saved it on a Word document from which I later would be able to copy and paste as needed into Google Maps.

Then, I had to tackle the websites of the city, Kane County and the Illinois Department of Transportation to make sure I had all (or nearly all) the road projects in the area.

Once I had my list, it was time to get to work within Google Maps, which can be tedious, sometimes annoying, but whose results are functional. Actually, one of the things I realized from this project is that some of the things I’d learned in Dreamweaver and Flash likely would have worked even better than Google Maps. But there’s a learning curve there I have yet to achieve, although perhaps in the coming months …

Regardless, I had most of that done in a matter of hours. For the most part, I had the whole project ready to go Monday, although I would end up not launching the project until Wednesday. I had waited just to go back, after letting the map sit awhile, to be sure I had not missed something or messed something up.

Then, I took a break — several days, in fact. I took care of a couple of things — clogged gutters, caught up on some reading and such — just to clear my head.

Sometimes, you just need to do that. In the process, I realized I had not filed a post to this blog since March 18. So here I am, explaining. My mind is clearer now, and I’ve not got quite such a busy schedule ahead of me for a couple of weeks.

So it’s back to work, back to school, back to blogging. In the end, I hope and pray, it all leads to something, preferably in news, that can support my family and me. But that’s in God’s hands.
For my part, right now, I need to get back on task.