Rough Notes: Photoshop Basics Class

Note: I don’t have photoshop on my machine (yet) so I couldn’t verify all of my notes. As usual the typical disclaimers apply to this information.


I had the opportunity to go to a Photoshop basics course. The class was taught by Robert Williams from

Photoshop is one of the few programs which I’ve struggled in getting the ‘mental model’ of the program. This is yet another attempt to focus on the some core principles of usage.


  • !bp = best practice
  • !pt = pro-tip in terms of photography
  • Mac keyboard control keys:
    • OPT = the alt/option key
    • CMD = command key (aka the clover key)
    • CTRL = control key

The Notes

Book for class (not used during class but given as a reference)

“Photoshop CS 6” – Visual Quickstart Guide
by Elaine Weinmann and Peter Lourekas

I flipped through it and it has lots of visuals (which I suppose is not surprising considering it’s a visual quickstart). I can’t tell whether it would help with the mental model understanding of the software.

Mental model

  • Related tool buttons are purposefully next to each other
  • Your best friends that make you play Photoshop like a piano:
    • Zoom tool via OPT key and mouse scroll-wheel
    • Hand tool via spacebar and mouse movement

Crucial Tools and Techniques

  • Zoom in/out shortcuts:
    • allows you to zoom in/out wherever mouse pointer is at
    • You should use OPT key and scroll wheel of mouse (for touch pad it will be swipe)
    • Keyboard shortcut: CMD +/- to zoom in/out
  • Hand tool shortcut
    • allows you to move around any part of your image
    • use space bar and mouse to quickly switch to move around the
  • Use the square brackets ( [ or ] ) to increase/decrease brush head on whatever tool that has such a head

  • Saving content

    • Get in habit of using CMD-s all of the time because there’s no auto-save (unlike In-Design for example)
    • File names and SEO:
      • Files with dashes are better because search engines will read content in terms file names and remove dashes and use the words for SEO (good name example: Monarch-Butterfly-ADJ.psd)
      • Underscores are not good word separators because they are removed and all words are squashed together into one word by search spiders
  • work in layers: save original; helps preserve stages – otherwise you’re dealing with permanent changes
    • !bp: Always look to the right and check what layer you are on before doing any work
    • Each layer is its own thing (not an additive mask though you could choose to do that); think of layers as panes of glass so you could scrape the top piece of glass so you could see the layers underneath it
    • Drag background layer to post-it note icon at bottom to create a new layer (???todo: check on photoshop???)
    • !bp habit: make sure you’re in the correct layer; layer you want to adjust is highlighted
    • !bp: Name your layers. Once you start having lots of layers it gets very confusing very quickly. To rename a layer just slowly click twice with left mouse button on the name of the layer. Lots of layers will get out of hand without naming
    • To make all other layers disappear so you can focus on one:
      • Get ready to click on the eyeball of layer you want
      • Press OPT key and then click on eyeball with mouse
    • Another way to figure out a particular layer is to use the move tool to distinguish (so you can name it)
  • History:
    • Records 15 steps
    • New timeline begins when you select at a particular point and start working on a layer


  • Marquee
    • Can only affect stuff inside
    • Selection menu has to do with marquee tools
    • Quick-selection tool
      • OPT key: de-select (so you’re highlighting areas you want to de-select)
      • Dynamic menu at the top: can increase/decrease of brush (i.e. circle); shortcut: [ or ]
    • When you do a complex selection make sure to save it via:
      Selection > Save Selection (to save all that effort); this is stored in the PSD file
    • Getting the non-selected space: Select > Inverse (now the background of the butterfly is used); so as a !bp select the smaller/easier thing and then use inverse to get the thing that you want (if applicable)
  • Color play with selection:
    • Image > Adjustments >
      • hue/saturation: allows you to play with colors of the selection
      • Levels: histogram (right arrow – what’s considered white; leftmost arrow what’s considered black; mid-arrow: mid-range)
      • The Histogram can help with FAST adjustment of photos in terms of light color, medium colors and darks; this helps sharpen things
      • Always work on the leftmost arrow first, then the right most, and then adjust the center arrow by eye (typically making the picture more high contrast for print)
    • Filter > play with these
      • !pt: Recommended blur that pro photographers use: Filter > Blur > Gaussian (0-3)
      • less is more with adjustments
  • Rulers:
    • Very useful for creating guidelines
    • CMD-R to access, or View > Rulers
    • To change default ruler type (i.e. inches versus pixels):
      Photoshop > Preferences > Rulers

    • Guidelines / guides:

      • left click inside ruler and drag out to create a guide
      • Another way: View > New guide: you can specify exact pixels
      • Hide guides via menu or CMD-;
  • Edit menu >
    • Transform > Scale (hold shift from corners to scale rather than distort)
      • When you’re in bounding box you need to hit return key to come out of it (otherwise – everything is grayed out)
      • For web you can scale without pixelation but not good for print
  • Image menu >
    • Canvas Size: to change size of image
  • Move tool: allows you to move layer around (very common use – shortcut is letter v)

  • Rectangle tool

    • Click on the layer to get selection of colors and eye dropper (!pt: select another color from image rather than some color from swatch in order to make it cohesive); this is in reference to putting a rectangle to put lettering on
  • Type tool:
    • the ‘T’ icon on toolbar
    • notice dynamic menu at the top
  • Masking an Image (!pt)
    • Great technique to show-through a particular shape
    • Make a box that will hold the image; anything outside of it will be invisible
    • Place your intended image above image mask
    • Use: Layer > Clipping mask
    • You can move image separately from object underneath (this allows you to easily re-crop)
    • This is nice non-permenanet change for the image you are dealing with

Odds and Ends

  • Note that for an image like logo instead of loading the jpeg/png and copy/paste you could do: File > Place but this creates a smart object which is very different than an image; see book for more info

  • If you see a “maximize compatibility”, then hit OK.

  • !pt: the more subtle the transition; the bigger the brush head that you want

  • actions: helps you process photos (aka batch processing in bridge); see book

  • !bp: separate photos into their own layers so you can have finer control for things like lightning; also makes it easier to manipulate the elements of a composite

  • Not photoshop related (besides the huge psd files that it creates) but to transfer big files the instructor recommended:

  • For web images – use the File > Save for web: you can control size of file for jpeg/png via quality option

  • Suggested resources: instructor heartily recommended courses

  • Use the / key to lock a layer (though it seems to do a ‘partial’ lock and there is no obvious way to do a readonly type of lock; the instructor indicated that has a great explanation of layer locks)

Updates to this post


Tidbit: Disable Adobe Flash on your browser

This is some quick security information related to Adobe Flash browser’s security. The usual disclaimers apply. If you’re worried that this page has links that may lead you to some malware sites then please just go to DuckDuckGo (just type in in your browser) or Google and search on the items that I’m referring to.

The Analogy

You’re camping in the woods with your family and some friends and your prankster friend John gives you a bottle of suntan lotion telling you that it’s the best stuff he’s ever used (he hasn’t pulled a prank in a long time, so you’re lulled into a sense of trust). Unbeknownst to you – John substituted %75 of the sun tan lotion with pure honey.

You slather the stuff and lie back on the camping chair to absorb the sunshine. You fall asleep in a nice midday nap. An hour later, you wake up with a stinging sort of pain all over your arms and legs – the very places where you put that honey infested suntan lotion. Bees are stinging you, and all kinds of bugs are chewing on you and that wonderful smelling lotion. You run screaming into the questionably clean camp showers as you vow to give John some payback.

As you scrub off the lotion you discover….


Adobe Flash and you.


Adobe Flash is that honey from the analogy and the stinging bees/bugs are all those hackers that want to get your data (personal information, log-in access to your online bank account, and anything else that might be of value). Adobe Flash is an old technology that at one point provided the ability to receive rich media when browsers didn’t good native capabilities to do so (whether web games, videos like YouTube or those graphical billboard like ads).

Technology has marched forward while Adobe Flash has become a sweet target for malicious entities on the Internet. All of the rich media that Adobe Flash provided at one point can now be done through standard non-proprietary technologies: HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS (in other words – the stuff that already comes built in with the browser).

Steve Jobs wrote a very scathing and clear letter about Flash’s problems. His criticisms of Adobe Flash are as relevant today as they were in 2010. Although he focused on its use on mobile devices, the problems he outlined apply to Adobe Flash and its ilk across the board.


Your browser. Any browser that you are using regardless of operating system (whether it is on Mac, Windows or Linux).


Now. You are vulnerable right now.

While Adobe Flash has had a continuous string of security issue, recently it has had several zero day vulnerabilities that have come to light through the hacking of an Italian company called Hacking Team.


You need to to deal with Adobe Flash because it is a HUGE attack vector in order to reduce your attack surface.


You need to learn to practice computer hygiene (just like flossing):

  1. Update your operating system with the latest patches
  2. Update your browser to the latest version (this page also seems to good procedures to update but be careful and wary of reading anything you read on this page including the page that you are currently reading 🙂 )
  3. Enable ‘click to play’ on Flash. This will prevent Flash from running automatically and it will give you the ability to play if you have to though most times you won’t have to.
    • Note that the latest version of FireFox does this for you, but to be safe you should still make sure that Adobe is not enabled by default.
    • You can tell that Adobe Flash is running by going to Adobe’s site (). If you see a spinning cube that keeps bouncing around at the top of your screen, then Flash is enabled by default.
  4. Look at the plug-ins in your browsers and remove anything that isn’t necessary. Spring cleaning time on the web is every day. Adobe Flash is the current poster child for browser plug-in security problems but there are plenty of other browser plug-in parasites. To remove browser plug-ins check:


If you want perfect safety, then you need to shut off your wifi and disconnect any Ethernet cables from your computer (if applicable). Do what you can and let’s be careful out there

Book Review: “Rendezvous with Rama” by Arthur C. Clarke

Warning: Spoiler Alert: If you intend to read the book, please do not read this review.


  • Harlequin level: n/a
  • Plot/action/story: 5
  • Solid conclusion: 5
  • SciFi thrill: 5
  • Fantasy thrill: n/a
  • Part of a series but doesn’t skimp: n/a (I consider this book to be a standalone; later books based on Rama seem to have been an attempt to cash-in on its success)

Overall thoughts about the book

Rendezvous with Rama (RWR) is my first Clarke book and I choose it from the Kindle owner’s library based on the highest rating for his books. I know that he is quite famous for “2001 a Space Odyssey”. I vaguely remember the movie and I’m not sure if the novel interests me since it was written to complement the movie and not before it.

Anyway, back to RWR – where to begin? The build up of the book is really slow, and I initially thought it would be one of those “and a weird alien ship showed up, and it left…the end”. It’s hard to describe the book and maybe that’s the charm of it. The whole book is about aliens that you never meet. The closest description is towards the end of the book, where a holographic library displays the clothing of a typical Raman (and no – it has nothing to do with noodles). You really only see the effects of the Ramans but not the Ramans themselves.

I suppose that another way of looking at this book is that it is like a description of negative space, describing what’s not there by describing what’s there (I know – that this sounds like a crazy way of describing the book…but that’s what it feels like to me). The description of the environment and the ship is extremely rich. I had a hard time in fully comprehend the Cylindrical Sea and how everything was positioned in terms of magnitude and size. There was one part of the book that made me feel some nausea, and I’ve never had that happen to me. Roller coasters equal nausea for me but never a book. That was an unexpected and delicious surprise.

There have been some interesting attempts to model Rama. I wish I was a physics teacher so I could assign a full modeling of Rama as a project to my students. It would be an interesting study in celestial mechanics and a great investigation into the accuracy of Clarke’s physics and description. Besides, I would LOVE to explore a 3D model of Rama with accompanying passages from the book so I could fully appreciate the work. On the other hand, maybe I just need to go back to the book and re-read it more carefully because at the end of the day my imagination will never match someone else’s rendered view of Rama.

The use and description of technology is interesting in that it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. The novel was written in 1972 but the tech talk doesn’t jar you as a reader. I suppose that this is another aspect of its brilliance.

Rama’s use of the sun to refuel reminds me of Stargate Universe and how Destiny refueled. There’s also the Tin Man episode from STTNG where where the bioship uses spin to generate an energy pulse. Rama’s spin and the associated cocoon reminds me of Tin Man.

The book parallels Rama’s arrival – a slow build up of suspense, the wonder of exploration, a bomb that’s ready to destroy everything (those crazy Hermians), and a conclusion that leaves one slightly unsettled. If you’re into any sort of science fiction, RWR might be extremely fulfilling. It’s one of the few books that is a worthwhile read and a re-read.

Favorite quotes:

“In every earlier landing, he had known what to expect; there was always the possibility of accident, but never of surprise. With Rama, surprise was the only certainty.”

“Things were not what they seemed; there was something very odd indeed about a place that was simultaneously brand new and a million years old.”

“He had learned a lesson, though it was not one that he could readily impart to others. At all costs, he must not let Rama overwhelm him. That way lay failure, perhaps even madness.”

“To most people, Mercury was a fairly good approximation of Hell; at least, it would do until something worse came along.”

“He would hate to engage in a dogfight with anything larger than a pigeon.”

“He looked back upon the towers and ramparts of New York and the dark cliff of the continent beyond. They were safe now from inquisitive man.”

“It was a good plan—and it failed completely.”

To act or not act—that was the question. Never before had Norton felt such a close kinship with the Prince of Denmark.”

“Whatever honors and achievements the future brought him, for the rest of his life he would be haunted by a sense of anticlimax and the knowledge of opportunities missed.”

Tips for Parents of Toddlers on Disneyland and California Adventure

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and impressions. Please verify all height and child size requirements with the operator of the attraction. Ultimately you know your child best and you know what will and will not work for him/her.


I’m not a Disneyland lover, nor am I hater of Disneyland. These tips are based on a recent trip to Disneyland. Take them with a grain of salt and lots and lots of water 🙂


My childhood was more about Legos than Mickey Mouse, so I have no attachment to Disneyland. I don’t hate Disneyland, but I don’t love it either. These tips are based on my observations and experiences in going to Disneyland and California Adventure with a toddler.

Warning to those whose kids are less than 40 inches tall

If your kid is less than 40 inches tall, then we have to talk. Actually, we should talk if your child is under 4 too. I’m talking to you in a parent-to-parent way. It’s your choice to take it or leave it.

We went to Disneyland a while back when our son was around 3. It was a miserable experience. He couldn’t stand by himself in line, so we ended up having to carry him in all the lines. Then when he got to see Micky (at one point), he freaked out. We spent lots of money on a very miserable experience.

If your child is too small, you would be better served by going to a place like Gilroy Gardens.

Additionally, 40 inches is the bare minimum for lots of fun rides. If your child is too small, you’re setting yourself for misery and lots of expense. Now if this is a trip down memory lane for you, then that’s fine. Admit to it, accept the misery and enjoy the happiest place on earth.

General Tips

  • Never leave home without a stroller. Regardless of his view of being a ‘big boy’, our son was in the stroller for most of the trip. This is not surprising considering the amount of walking we did (my Pedometer++ showed me that I logged over 20,000 steps on our day in Disneyland). I was thankful that for the most part he stood in the lines by himself.

  • Never leave home without your refillable water cup. I’m referring to the ones that give you unlimited soda for the day. They’re made of hard plastic and have a convenient handle that can strap right on a stroller handle. We have such a cup from Gilroy Gardens and it helped us on the trip in 2 ways:

  1. Everywhere we went we could get free ice and water (and this cup can hold LOTS of ice and water). This was extremely helpful for all that Southern California heat, and our son drank cold water from it all of the time.
  2. We saved lots of money by not getting any soda (besides the health benefits of drinking water).
  • It is very difficult to find discounts for Disney tickets beyond the expensive Disney packages. We found a $3 per ticket discount at the Cleaver Brothers’ Discount shop. I’m not sure how the Cleavers managed this, but my resourceful wife could not find any other place for daily ticket discounts. The shop (off Katella Ave) was very non-pressure and the staff were very knowledgeable. In fact, this is the place where I got the FastPass strategy of using the MouseWait app (see below).

FastPass Tips and Tricks

I would love to see the queueing theory behind Disney’s implementation of FastPass. Regardless – it is very useful for popular rides that have long lines.

Basics of FastPass:

  • It is free (yes I know…it is shocking to get something free from Disney)
  • You can get a FastPass for each of your entry tickets only once per hour (except for nightly show…see below).
  • The FastPass machines for a particular rides will be geographically close to those rides. So you may be walking back-and-forth between the attraction that you want to go to right now, and the one that you want a FastPass for. So a parental divide-and-conquer approach might be useful.
  • Use your phone’s timer to countdown the hour until the availability of the next FastPass.
  • The night shows (like Disneyland’s Fantasmic) require a FastPass but they do not count in terms of the hourly limit of FastPass. So if you’re interested in any of the night shows, you should immediately get a FastPass when you arrive at Disneyland or California Adventure.
  • Sometimes waiting for FastPass is not worth it. We had this experience in Carsland where we rode the Radiator Spring Racer ride twice while a family using the FastPass did only once. Of course this depends on time of day, etc…
  • Disney has a FastPass app for Disney World but not for Disneyland (who knows why). So the next alternative is to use the MouseWait app. It is a bit cheesy (yes – pun intended) but useful for determining the attractions with the longest wait times. By knowing this, you can determine your FastPass strategy.
  • FastPass recommendations:
  • Space Mountain
  • Runaway Railway
  • Hollywood Tower of Terror
  • Star Tours
  • Roger Rabbit was definitely not worth it for a FastPass (in fact, most of Toon Town is questionable as an attraction)

Additional Impressions while running around with a 40″ tall child

California Adventure


  • The attractions mentioned in the FastPass section above detail the Disneyland rides that will work for a 40″ child.
  • Not much shade: Disneyland is ridiculously hot. To me it felt like California Adventure had more shade than Disneyland, but this might have had more to do with the larger crowds in Disneyland.
  • Constantly get ice water and drink lots and lots of water.


Have fun and enjoy and make sure to wear really good shoes…and drink lots and lots of water (I may have mentioned that already).