How to use Google Forms to track anything


Ever had a need to track something? Ever had to ask you spouse to help you track something? Google Forms can be very helpful.

Summary

In this post I go over some quick steps to create a google form to track cat vomit (yes – I’m serious). I discuss the steps of form creation, and how to easily access this form from your smart phone (I use the iPhone as the example) so that both you and your spouse can track a common issue or thing.

Detail

I know…you’re thinking ‘cat vomit – couldn’t you pick something better?’ My answer is that I try to pick real life examples, and this is as realistic as it is going to get. My cat, Max, has started vomiting recently…at least I think it was recent. I can’t tell if it’s a pattern or if it’s been happening for a long time and I’m over-worrying about him. I don’t quite know the line of cat weirdness and health problem…so it’s time to get some data.

Putting my engineering hat on – I know that the first thing I need to do in characterizing any system is to collect data. Lots and lots of data. Granted I wont have a Hadoop cluster crunching this data, but I at least want a spreadsheet that I can show to my vet. It’s better than going in with the “I don’t know” response to everything that s/he will ask (like ‘when did it start’, ‘how long’, how often’, etc…).

Challenges:

  • Speed of entry: I need to enter this data quickly. The quicker, the better.
  • Ease of entry: While I can deal with most user interfaces, my wife is not so forgiving. She’s a pragmmatic ‘show me how to bring up the app/form and get out of my way’. She also doesn’t tolerate lots of extraneous UI crap because she has better things to do (and she really does have better things to do).

In considering my budget (i.e. $0) and the problem at hand, I chose to use Google Forms to enter Max’s data.

A word and warning about Google Forms

I have used Google’s services for years. I’m sure that they have a large data dossier about me due to my Gmail and Google docs usage (which includes forms). Putting aside the question of whether Google is evil, the key fact is that Google is a business and all of us users who use its ‘free’ services are its product. So if your data is sensitive, then you should NOT use Google Forms. Just think of yourself as a contestant in the TV show Big Brother, and Google is monitoring everything from the moment you use sites that utilize Google ads or enter their properties (Gmail, docs, Google search, etc…). If you’re in any way uncomfortable with this, then you should find a different way of recording your data.

In this case, I’ve made the soul-searching decision that Max is ok with being tracked. Granted, Google might attempt to monetize on his vomiting when he surfs the web. But it’s a compromise that I’m willing to make, and he’s fine with it though he negotiated some additional treats for this concession.

Lets go to the Google Form site

OMG – a picture of smores! Google Forms are like smores? Maybe the graham crackers are the forms and the marshmallow is the data. So in this case the chewy center is vomit related data…fantastic.

Click the “Go to Google Forms”.

Lets go to the Google Form site

Now you’re in a blank form

Most of the entry form is self explanatory. The key tools to use are:

  • Question editing tools (1)
  • Choosing the question type (2)
  • Add an additional question to your form (3)

Now you're in a blank form

Renaming my form

Renaming my form

Creating a question with a date/time

I put this as the first question because the date/time when I (or my wife) remember something about Max’s behavior may be different than the current time/date of this data’s entry. Notice that I made this an optional question (as most are on this form) because I don’t want my wife to not to use the form.

Creating a question with a date/time

Creating a question about the event

This is a dropdown for the type of event that happened. This ends up being somewhat of an extraneous question (see further down this article in the ‘fine tuning’ section).

Creating a question about the event

The meat of the form

This is the fundamental and most important question of the form. There should be at least one required question. In this case, the event detail should be the only required question. I didn’t check the ‘Required question’ box here but I will later (see ‘Fine Tuning’ section).

The meat of the form

My catchall question

I obviously wont remember all the possible Max issues and behaviors, so I have a catchall (the is the ‘else’ part of my if-elseif structure for my dev friends).

My catchall question

Now it’s time to view the life form

Steel yourself – this will be an exciting form.

Now it's time to view the life form

The form is beautiful

This is the screenshot from a browser. However, the mobile version should be pretty usable since there are few fields. So it should be ok in terms of my ‘speed of entry’ and ‘easy of use’ criteria.

The form is beautiful

Track Max the Cat – Google Forms

Track Max the Cat - Google Forms

The Google Form response spreadsheet

Google automatically creates a Google Sheet (i.e. spreadsheet) for the data that gets entered into the form. This is one of the key benefits. I can also print it and download it as an Excel file (so I can email it to my vet…s/he LOVES email attachments >:-) ).

The Google Form response spreadsheet

Time to test my form

I want to test my form as a non-logged in user. In this case, I use Chrome’s incognito mode. In this way I’m guaranteed to view the form as a non-logged-in user. If I wanted more privacy, I would use Firefox rather than Chrome since it guards privacy better, but since I’m using Google’s services – it doesn’t really matter since my data kimono is already open.

Time to test my form

I test my form and get this as the result

I test my form and get this as the result

I re-check the form response Google Sheet

Notice that the form response Google Sheet will always have a Timestamp column (the first one), which is why additional date/time is optional and only useful if the actual event’s time/date is significantly different from the time/date when the form is used.

I re-check the form response Google Sheet

Using the time/date question

I have some retroactive vomit events that happened and I enter them

Using the time/date question

The update to response form

The update to response form

Now it’s time to put this form on my iPhone (and my wife’s iPhone)

For this form to really be used by me and my wife, I need to place it on our iPhones. What I’m actually going to do is I’m going to place it as a link via the “Add to Home Screen” feature of the iPhone. This features allows you to create a an icon on the iPhone and when you tap it – your iPhone’s browser will go straight to the specified link. In our case, I want to go straight to the form.

Now the form that I just created is a huge long url. To save it on the phone I can do 2 things:

  • Email it to myself and my wife.
  • Use a URL shortner (such as bit.ly) to create a memorable link so I can easily put it in the phone. I’m a big fan of http://bit.ly and the company behind it.

In this article, I chose to go with the second option. This way I can add it to as many devices as I want to.

So – the first thing to do is to go to bit.ly and log-in. By-the-way – remember the warning that I gave about Google Forms at the top of this article? It applies to bit.ly too (heck – it applies to any web service that you use).

Now it's time to put this form on my iPhone (and my wife's iPhone)

Paste in your form’s URL

I paste in my form’s url here. What’s that? Why am I not showing my form’s url? Because Max wants privacy when it comes to his vomity activities…sheesh.

Paste in your form's URL

Bit.ly creates a link for me

Initially, bit.ly creates an ugly link that I would never remember. So I use the ‘customize’ field to put in something memorable (like ‘superkittyvomit’).

Bit.ly creates a link for me

iPhone – place your newly created bit.ly link in the address bar

I put the memorable bit.ly link that I just created in the the iPhone’s browser (i.e. Mobile Safari).

iPhone - place your newly created bit.ly link in the address bar

iPhone – browser loads my form

Now the iPhone’s browser (i.e. Mobile Safari) loads my form. It’s time to sit back and soak in the form’s beauty 🙂 . I scroll around to make sure it works as expected.

iPhone - browser loads my form

iPhone – more testing of Google Form

iPhone - more testing of Google Form

iPhone – more testing of Google Form

iPhone - more testing of Google Form

iPhone – time to make it easy to access the form

Pressing the small upwards arrow on the bottom of the iPhone’s browser brings up a bunch of options. I choose “Add to Home Screen”. This will save a link to my form as an icon.

iPhone - time to make it easy to access the form

iPhone – Changing the icon’s name

I can change the iocn name but I leave it alone since it makes sense to me.

iPhone - Changing the icon's name

iPhone – Icon is now accessible as another ‘app’

While it isn’t an app, it is easily accessible as one. When I touch the ‘Track Max…’, the iPhone’s browser will open and go straight to my form.

iPhone - Icon is now accessible as another 'app'

iPhone – rinse and repeat with your spouse’s device

I perform the same iPhone steps on my wife’s iPhone. Because of that bit.ly link – I can do this really fast and get back to watching Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Fine Tuning

After creating the form – I re-looked at it and realized that I wasn’t capturing the most important question (i.e. ‘Event Detail’). So I went back and cleaned up the form and placed the most critical question at the top. I also placed the optional date/time question at the bottom. This irks me a bit because I feel like it must be at the top. However, in considering my wife’s usage, I realized that the pragmatic choice is to put the date/time question at the bottom. I rather that the most important question be at the top and everything else come afterwards.

Note that I did not delete any columns (i.e. like the ‘Event’ column) in my Google Sheet. My reasoning is that I can always delete that column in Google Sheets or Excel and I rather make sure that the Google Form operates properly (besides the fact I have very little time to further mess with this thing).

Tada – the final form in all its glory

Well…the final form at this point in time. You may bask in its glory and enjoy.

What’s that? Why am I repeating myself with ‘skip this question’? Well – previous forms/experiences have shown me that my user (i.e. wife) tends to hesitate on whether to answer that question or not. In other words, she’s not sure if she really needs to answer this question (remember – she has better things to do). It creates a sort of cognitive dissonance which may not be worth it. Frankly, I’m tempted to remove this question all together and let my user put the date/time in the ‘Additional Information’ question if need be.

Tada - the final form in all its glory

Conclusion

I can now track my kitty’s behaviors. My wife will hopefully use my fantastic Google Form to help with this data collection. So that’s it – Google Forms at its best (or worst depending on your point of view). You can track anything – pets, kids, car problems, co-workers, etc… . Go forth and Google Form away.

If you like these instructions – put a comment on this article or let me know via twitter.


Updates to this post

  • 2015-09-01: I’ve changed the title and the URL link from “Cat Vomit and how to use Google Forms” to “How to use Google Forms to track anything”. The title just felt wrong and it’s bugged me over the past week. I’ve also modified the summary section to complement the title.
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PHP Specifics for “Where do I go from here?” Question

Since WordPress pages do not show on the RSS feed I am posting a reference to a new page through this post. I have placed a PHP Specific article for the “Where do I go from here?” question.

Fragmentation Based Customer Support

Note: This post is not about customer service representatives but rather the actual support processes put in place by companies. In the past I’ve worked in technical support and it is a difficult job where you get beaten up by both customers and management. Unlike retail where a customer will physically show up at the returns desk and see the human behind the desk in tech support customers have no problem ‘screaming’ – through the phone, email and Twitter.

Summary

Why is it so hard to have great customer support? I think that one big reason is fragmentation. Customer support representatives seem to have very little power to actually help, and it always seems to be another department that is the right one to help.

In this post I talk about my experience with OfficeMax and Adobe. There’s nothing unique about this experience. It happens across most companies. There are very few companies that have great customer support and there are even fewer that have representatives that can solve your problem on the spot. The only company that comes to mind where both great support and rapid resolution intersect is Hover.

Detail

About a month ago I ordered a 2 TB portable hard disk from OfficeMax for my workplace. I went through the work related shopping carts to order this drive. It was supposed to be shipped within a week of the order but nothing showed up. Two weeks later, I contacted my workplace finance person to check on the order (i.e. the PO) and she confirmed that everything was squared away on my employer’s side. She sent me an email with the PO number and it alsoincluded the UPS tracking number.

Going to UPS’s website I discovered that the package was not delivered due to an address issue. It was almost the right address, but almost is not good enough when UPS can’t deliver it. So I called the OfficeMax customer service number listed on their the website with PO in hand.

The representative that answered (lets call her Jane 1 aka J1) and politely asked me for the details of my order. Then after about 2 minutes of silence she said to me “I’m sorry sir but I don’t have access to the part of the system that would show me your order. I need to transfer you to the technology team and they’ll be able to answer your question”. Before I could anything in response, I was on hold with OfficeMax’s grating elevator music.

Forty five minutes later I was still on hold and no one from the ‘technology team’ graced me with a moment of their time. I hung up in disgust and went back to UPS’s website. I noticed an option to update the address if I had an account so I went ahead and created an account and updated the delivery address. Since I wasn’t sure if this would work I called OfficeMax again with the foolish hope that I would get someone that could do something about my order.

Jane 2 (J2) picked up the phone and I related my previous hold and call time. She apologized and told me that “the technology team has been merged with customer service, so I should have access to your PO”. She looked it up and finds it, then she tells me that it might not make sense to to alter the delivery through UPS since I already changed the address. I tell her that I want my address to be changed in their system in order to avoid this kind of mess-up can be avoided (after all I’ll be forced to order from OfficeMax again). She tells me that I have to go to my employer’s finance group to get that changed.

The drive arrives the next day due to my intervention through UPS’s website. But it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth about OfficeMax. Moving forward, I decide to find some other way to get equipment to avoid OfficeMax as much as possible.

Now was the representative ‘bad’ in any way? Not at all. Why couldn’t J1 find my order but J2 could? I can only figure that there’s tremendous compartmentalization in OfficeMax’s customer support.

Of course my experience with OfficeMax was a walk in the park when compared to Adobe. Adobe’s customer support fragmentation is breathtaking in its depth and breadth. About 2 years ago I had to move a license for Framemaker from a coworker that left the company. After about two weeks of phone calls and emails the license was finally moved. It was unbelievable exhausting ordeal.

Yesterday I had a flashback to my previous experience with Adobe. My current employer got me a Creative Cloud (CC) license and I got the CC email on Monday:

Hi Eli4d,

You have been assigned a Creative Cloud — Complete membership. This grants you access to the full collection of Creative Cloud desktop products — with team-level benefits.

Accept invitation

Some of your benefits include:

The latest release of Adobe Creative Cloud apps
Access additional tools and services.
Collaborate with colleagues, both inside and outside of your organization.
Use cloud-based storage and device syncing capabilities to access and share your work wherever you are, while the software remains installed on your computer.

Welcome to Adobe Creative Cloud.

I clicked on the ‘Accept invitation’ link and ended up on a Adobe’s login page. My work email address was pre-populated but I wasn’t logged in. I used the site’s forget-password mechanism to get in. After logging in – Adobe’s website informed that I ad no subscriptions and suggested that I really should joint Creative Cloud because it’s awesome. The moment I saw this I thought OMG – I have to deal with their customer support – sh*t.

The contact information page indicated that I could only contact them by email or chat. I kept looking for a phone number – but nothing. So I choose chat even though I had 10 minutes to talk to them (kid pickup deadline). I’m not sure why I did this even though I knew that nothing would happen.

The exact thing like OfficeMax happened here – I got a representative (T1) who got information from me and then transferred me to another representative (B1) who asked me for the same exact information as the first representative. Here’s my chat session with their representative(s).

Note: I should have been nicer to the human on the other side of the keyboard. I was tight on time but he/she certainly didn’t deserve my frustration.

T1: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.

T1: I have received your query.

T1: Please allow me a moment while I look into your account & verify the details.

Eli4d: I think I have multiple accounts and your system got confused.

Eli4d: Your file was successfully uploaded: Join your team email_showing_cc_membership.pdf.

T1: okay

T1: May I know the name of the product?

Eli4d: Attaching email that I just got.

Eli4d: Please read the email (attached pdf)

T1: okay

T1: May I know the name of the product?

Eli4d: Creative Cloud…have you read the email?

T1: I have checked your email and it is for creative cloud.

T1: For this query, I am not a right person to handle this issue and I need to transfer this chat to creative cloud support team.

T1: May I?

Eli4d: Why does your system say I’m not attached to any plan?

Eli4d: I have 8 more minutes that I can spend on this before I need to leave.

T1: I understand that but , I am not a right person to handle this issue and I need to transfer this chat to creative cloud support team.

T1: May I?

Eli4d: Is there an 800 number to talk to a human?

Eli4d: fine – transfer me

T1: Thank you

T1: Please stay online while I connect you

Eli4d: I just need someone to fix this already – I’ve been waiting for a while for corporate approval on this and now – I can’t get access.

T1: I apologize for the inconvenience.
info: Please wait while we connect you to a representative.
info: You are now chatting with B1.

B1: Hello! Welcome to Adobe Customer Service.

B1: Hi Eli4d.

B1: I understand that you are unable to use the subscription. I will be glad to check and help you with this.

Eli4d: Any status on this?

B1: I check and see that there is no subscription under eli4d@employer_email. May I know if you have an alternate email address under which you have the subscription?

Eli4d: Did the other representative send you the pdf document that I uploaded?

Eli4d: CC was purchased under eli4d@employer_email

Eli4d: Any other accounts that I have are irrelevant.

B1: May I confirm if you are referring to Adobe Creative Suite 5 Design Standard Student and Teacher Edition?

Eli4d: Your file was successfully uploaded: Join your team email_showing_cc_membership.pdf.

Eli4d: No – it’s creative cloud. Resending the pdf I already sent the other rep.

B1: May I know if you are referring to team subscription?

Eli4d: My time is up with this chat session. Kindly forward this to whoever deals with PO for your system. The attachment I sent you clearly shows you what company this is associated with – employer_name.

Eli4d: It’s unfortunate that your chat system is just a constant non stop frustrating thing.

Eli4d: Kindly give me a phone number to speak to a person.

I still haven’t resolved the CC licensing issue. No one followed up with me after the above chat.

With Adobe I feel like I’m always asking for help from the wrong person. It’s like running in circles on a track. You keep putting mileage on your shoes but you’re not going anywhere. Of course with a running track you’re at least getting some exercise, whereas with Adobe it a constant exercise in futility and frustration.

Conclusion

It’s easy to prescribe un-scalable solution. If you’re not a financial institution, then why must your support people have fragmented information about the customer? Why did Adobe’s T1 representative not have my customer information? Why did he have to send me to the “Creative Cloud team” for a subscription issue? Why did B1 not get the information that T1 already had? Is it a training issue? Is it a systemic problem with customer information?

I don’t know what the solution is for this issue. As a customer I can’t do much about monoliths like Adobe or Officemax. Perhaps someone on their side can do something about fragmentation based customer support. Perhaps and then again perhaps not.

As a customer I’m dreading my next attempt in contacting Adobe. My Creative Cloud subscription is nowhere in sight and I have so little time to deal the tortuous process of getting this resolved. I’m trying to figure out if this is worth resolving or is it better to ask my employer to get a refund and then go purchase something like Pixelmator. Sure it’s not Photoshop but is Photoshop worth all the stress and aggravation of Adobe’s customer support?


Updates to this post

  • 2015-07-29: Before going back to the dreaded Adobe chat channel on Adobe’s site I reached out to Adobe customer support via Twitter referencing this post. I got immediate response from their representative.
  • 2015-07-30: Through the above Twitter conversation I got an actual human from Adobe to call me and resolve the issue (thank you Kashish). I’ve reviewed the ‘Conclusion’ section of this post and I don’t see a reason to change it. I realize that my case was resolved more than anything due to my dogged persistance. Customer support continues to be quite fragmented both for Adobe and many other companies.

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.

Introduction

I had the opportunity to go to a Photoshop basics course. The class was taught by Robert Williams from http://rise-and-shine.com/rise-and-shine-marketing-design/.

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.

Conventions

  • !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

Tools

  • 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 http://www.teachucomp.com/lock-layers-in-photoshop-elements-tutorial/ 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 https://duckduckgo.com 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….

Who

Adobe Flash and you.

What

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.

Where

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

When

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.

Why

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

How

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:

Conclusion

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