Chris Bigelow

Disparate thoughts and musings…

Tutorial: WordPress.com Text Widgets

My last post was about how to add social media buttons to your VisualCV.  I got positive feedback on it so I thought I would follow it up with a tutorial on the “text” widget in WordPress.com.  This widget may be the least understood and underrated widget available to WordPress.com bloggers.  I’m no expert but am happy to share what I have learned.

I’m going to assume you know something about widgets.  If not, go to “Appearance”, “Widgets” and poke around.  There are lots of useful widgets and my dashboard reports that, as of this moment, I am using 20 on this blog.  But today we will talk specifically about the text widget.  Eleven of the 20 widgets I am using are text widgets.

What some people may not realize is that, in addition to plain vanilla text, this widget also supports a limited amount of HTML code which makes it extremely useful.  To illustrate, when I was first setting up my blog I added a blogroll with links to various blogs I feel are worth reading.  I categorized them too.  Imagine my dismay when I realized that both the categories and blog names were automatically alphabetized and there seemd to be nothing I could do about it (short of playing games with the names themselves).

Enter the text widget.  First, I looked at the source code for my blog to see what the HTML code was for the blogroll.  Mind you, I knew no HTML prior to this.  I then copied and pasted this code into a new text widget.  By keeping the format calls intact the rendered widget looked just like a normal blogroll.  Except that now I could manually rearrange the code to list the blogs in any order I wished.  A small triumph, perhaps, but it made my day.  As an example, the HTML code for my “Career Blogs” widget is as follows:

[sourcecode language=’html’]
<ul class=’snap_preview xoxo blogroll’>
<li><a href=”http://corcodilos.com/blog/&#8221; title=”Nick Corcodilos: The insider’s edge on job search &amp; hiring™” target=”_blank”>Ask The Headhunter®</a></li>
<li><a href=”http://www.hannahmorgan.typepad.com/&#8221; title=”Career Sherpa: Guide for lifetime career navigation” target=”_blank”>Hannah Morgan</a></li>
<li><a href=”http://personalbrandingblog.com/&#8221; title=”Navigating YOU to future success!” target=”_blank”>Personal Branding Blog</a></li>
<li><a href=”http://sirlinkedalot.com/&#8221; title=”Insights on job search, hiring, networking and all things LinkedIn” target=”_blank”>Sir LinkedAlot – a recruiter’s insights</a></li>
<li><a href=”http://blog.spinstrategy.com/&#8221; title=”Tools for Intelligent Job Search” target=”_blank”>Spin Strategy™</a></li></ul>
[/sourcecode]

So far so good.  Each section of my blogroll is a separate text widget so I can order the sections any way I wish.  I then used the text widget to create my social media links, complete with custom buttons.  The code for that widget is as follows:

[sourcecode language=’html’]
<br><a href=”http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisbigelow&#8221; title=”Click here for LinkedIn profile”><img src=”http://www.linkedin.com/img/webpromo/btn_viewmy_160x25.gif&#8221; width=”170″ height=”27″ border=”0″ alt=”View Chris Bigelow’s profile on LinkedIn”></a>
<a href=”http://twitter.com/cbbigelow&#8221; title=”Click here for Twitter profile”><img src=”http://twitbuttons.com/buttons/siahdesign/twit1.gif&#8221; alt=”Twitter Button from twitbuttons.com” width=”170″></a>
<a href=”http://www.visualcv.com/chrisbigelow&#8221; title=”Christopher Bigelow’s VisualCV”>
<img src=”http://buttons.visualcv.com/visualcv_buttons/visualcv_button_without_head.jpg&#8221; width=”170″ border=”0″ alt=”Christopher Bigelow’s VisualCV”>
</a>
<a href=”http://www.google.com/profiles/C.B.Bigelow&#8221; title=”Click here for Google profile”><img src=”https://cbbigelow.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/google-chris-bigelow.gif&#8221; alt=”My Google Profile” width=”170″></a>
<a href=”http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Bigelow/734471596&#8243; title=”Click here for Facebook public profile”><img src=”https://cbbigelow.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/facebookwithlogo.jpg&#8221; alt=”My Facebook Profile” width=”170″></a>
<br><br>
[/sourcecode]

Everything in the fourth column of my blog and 60% of the third column is done with text widgets.  Poke around.  Play.  Discover.  And have some fun.

Clarification: To use my code you must remove the first and last lines of each example (the lines with the “sourcecode” tag in them).  These are required by WordPress.com for me to show you the code in my blog post – they have nothing to do with running it (actually, they are there specifically so it does not try to “run” in the body of the blog post).

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Tutorial: VisualCV Social Media Buttons

VisualCV Social Media LinksLast week a friend of mine (we’ll call him David) asked me how I did the social media buttons on my VisualCV (click the VisualCV button to the right and look in the top, right corner), so I thought I’d put together a little tutorial.  I’m assuming you already have a VisualCV.  If not, go to http://www.visualcv.com, sign up for a free account, and follow the prompts to import your LinkedIn profile.  This is the fastest way to get up and running with all of your basic data.  From here you can tweak to your hearts content.  Don’t have a LinkedIn profile yet?  Shame on you.  My recommendation would be to create that first.

Once you have a VisualCV go into edit mode.  Your VisualCV consists of a “Main Column” and a “Sidebar”.  The edit menu area is split into two parts – one for each of these areas.  There are various sections you can add to the main column and sidebar.  We’re interested in adding a section to the sidebar called a “Portfolio”.  I put mine at the top of the sidebar where it is visible and convenient for folks to click through, but it can be located anywhere in either area (main or side).  Once you’ve added this section and positioned it (drag and drop to rearrange) we can start adding buttons.

Let me give a brief background note here: the portfolio section is intended to showcase things in your portfolio (duh!).  If you’re a graphic artist this makes sense.  But the area can be put to other uses.  I know a guy who has a photo of one of his patents shown in the portfolio area of his VisualCV.  The key feature of the images you place in your portfolio is that they are clickable hot links.   Typically, they link to a larger copy of the image so that folks can see it in more detail.  But they can just as easily link to external web sites, which is how the social media buttons work.

So now you have an empty portfolio section.  First things first: you need images to use for your buttons.  The easy way would be to right-click and “save image as” on mine.  The “My Website” button was created by my son, the Photoshop wizard, and then edited by me.  Buried deep in the LinkedIn site is a place to get buttons; you can find it at https://www.linkedin.com/profile?promoteProfile=.   My Twitter button came from http://www.twitbuttons.com/ where they have quite a collection so, if you don’t like mine, pick another.   I created my Google button by typing my name in the Google search box and then doing a rectangular screen grab in a roughly button shape (I may have had to do a little cropping afterwards to get it the way I wanted it).  I found the Facebook button by searching around via Google.

Once you have your buttons you need to upload them to VisualCV.  It may be easiest to do this one by one as you add each portfolio item to your new section.  Click the “Add a Portfolio Item” button at the bottom of the section.  I did not title each button as I think it looks cleaner, but that’s a personal taste thing (all I have is a single title for the section, and this you add by clicking on the title area of the overall portfolio section).  Add an individual item title or not as you see fit.

Next, click on the “Choose Portfolio Item” box with the “X” through it.VisualCV Choose Portfolio Item This will open a window with two tabs: “Upload” and “Portfolio”.  Your portfolio will most likely be empty save for the photo headshot you may have uploaded for the main column.  Click on the “Upload” tab, browse to your button image location and select it, add a descriptive title in the box, and hit the “Upload” button.  Only certain image formats, such as JPG, are supported – if you get an error your image is either too large or in an incompatible format.

Now that you’ve uploaded your button image you must select it in the “Portfolio” tab.  When you do, you are presented with some choices for the image’s “Click-Through Behavior.”  Click on “Link Image to a Website”, enter the URL address of your matching social media page, and click the “Add to Section” button.  If everything looks okay, click the “Save” button below your new portfolio item.

That’s it.  Repeat for any other buttons that you wish to add.

The Dream of Higher Education: Has It Become Just That – A Dream?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  Perhaps because I have a child starting post secondary education in another year.  Perhaps because I am, as the popular euphemism goes, “in transition.”  College has gotten ridiculously expensive.

Let me back up for a minute.  I attended college at Clarkson University (then known as “Clarkson College of Technology”, or “CCT”).  It was a kinder, gentler time.  And cheaper.  Not that we realized it then.  At the time it seemed like a lot of money to go to college.  My how one’s perspective changes.

Clarkson projected that my freshman year of school would cost something on the order of $5,400.  To a 17 year old that is one mighty large figure.  This number included tuition, room, board, books, and some altogether too meager allowance for laundry and other expenses.  But as numbers go, probably not a bad approximation.  I don’t think their figure included any allowance for travel to and from school.  My freshman year I accomplished that carpooling with an older Clarkson student from my home town in a VW Beetle. And NOT one with a bud vase.   But I digress.

So, back in the day, four years at Clarkson pursuing a “lofty” engineering degree would set you back somewhere between $23,000 and $25,000 (and, no, we did not use slide rules).  I changed majors mid-stream and required one extra semester to line up credits, so my cost was probably another $3,000 higher.  Upon graduation I was fortunate enough to receive two job offers.  Having been dirt poor (trust me – starving artists have nothing on college students) for 4-1/2 years, I accepted the higher offer.

No doubt breaking some social taboo, I will confess that my starting salary out of college was $407 per week.  <tap tap tap>.  That’s $21,164 per year.  So, in rough numbers, a four year (we’ll ignore my extra semester for a moment) engineering degree from a well respected, private institution cost roughly 15% more than my starting salary.  Are you with me so far?

Fast forward to 2009.  I don’t have exact figures but, prior to the nasty recession we are in, starting salaries for graduating engineers were running around $50,000-$55,000 for a manufacturing or mechanical engineer.  Let’s split the difference and call it $52,500 (and before I get inundated with emails let me note that, yes, I realize that there is a difference in starting salaries between, say, a civil engineer and a chemical engineer).

As I mentioned earlier, I have a college bound child.  One more year to go.  Naturally, we are doing the college and major research thing (automotive engineering no less!).   So off I go to various private, engineering school web sites to check their estimated first year total costs.  Ouch! My findings are summarized below:

College cost BMP3

Even if we take the least expensive school (in this example Kettering, and by no means a reflection of it’s reputation), first year expenses have increased 640% ($34,572/$5,400).  Meanwhile, starting salaries have increased roughly 248% ($52,500/$21,164).  What’s wrong with this picture?  A four year engineering degree now costs at least $150,000, or almost three times the first year’s starting salary.  Is it any wonder that students today are graduating with a staggering amount of college loan debt?

And is it any wonder that people are beginning to question the value and payback of a college degree?  Factoid: From 2000 to 2006, there was a 10 percent growth in overall enrollment at two-year institutions, according to the most recent figures from the Department of Education (data from http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/08/22/growth).  And I read a fascinating analysis a couple of months ago arguing that there was a strong economic case for becoming a plumber instead of going to college.  Hey – we’ll always need plumbers.  Food for thought…

Project Lead The Way® and the “Indestructible” Bridge

Last Thursday night I had planned on attending my first meetup of the Social Media Club of Rochester.  Until I found out that Avon High was presenting their first annual Project Lead the Way® Technology Fair.  Since my son had several projects that would be on display, the choice was easy – Tech Fair.

First, a little history is in order.  Project Lead The Way® (“PLTW”) is a national program with heavy participation in NY and IN.  Avon High was one of the charter schools first involved in the program, which began with 12 schools in New York State in 1997,  and they have developed a great program.  While there are some different flavors nationally, including biomedical sciences, Avon only offers the engineering option.  During their four years of high school the students take five engineering classes.  Classes include:

  • Introduction to Engineering Design™
  • Principles of Engineering™
  • Digital Electronics™
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing™
  • Engineering Design and Development™

Avon’s classes were created in conjunction with RIT (every school’s PLTW program is affiliated with a local university or college).  Part of the student’s final exam is created by RIT.  If the student gets a sufficiently good grade, they can receive credit from RIT by paying a $200 fee.  So upon successful completion of the program (and payment of a cumulative $1000 fee) they already have credit for five classes at RIT.  I believe the credits go towards technical electives, but don’t quote me on that.  Credits aside, it is a wonderful introduction to engineering for students who are inclined to go that way.  Long before they leave high school they know if that is the right path for them or not.

Thursday night’s demo was, among the many other displays, supposed to include the destruction of Avon’s second place winning bridge from the Tech Wars competition held earlier in the year at GCC in Batavia.  Many schoolsAvon bridge3-cropped & blurred & re-cropped competed, but only Avon’s bridge survived a maximum 400 pound load (all the weight plates they had available) without collapsing.  The bridge of the team that won held the load for the required minimum time before it, too, became so much kindling .  That team was awarded first because of design efficiency – – their bridge weighed 1 to 1-1/2 pounds less than Avon’s bridge.  But on to the exciting part.

Avon’s PLTW students set the bridge up on the test rig and started loading plates.  400 pounds came and went – no surprise there based upon the Tech Wars performance.  At 505 pounds they ran out of plates and had to go to the weight room for more.  They kept adding plates until running out again at something like 940 pounds.  Two kids went for yet more plates.  They wanted to see if they could reach 1/2 ton.  Ultimately, they stopped adding plates at 1090 pounds due to safety concerns.  That and they had run out of room to load any more onto the guide pipe.  Simply amazing for a wooden bridge with glued joints that itself weighs maybe 9 pounds.

Think this is something that would interest your child?  To learn more about PLTW, please vist http://www.pltw.org/.  The web site has a section where you can look up which schools offer the program – it’s an easy way to see if your school district does.

Virtual Vinyl

IMG_2909-retouchedI have a confession to make.  I love music.  A lot.  I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but I love to listen to music.  Lots of different genres but especially 60’s and 70’s rock.  Back when the guitar work was the focus and so amazingly expressive.  Some folks might argue with me, but in my opinion there are very few people today who can play as well as some of the lead axemen (and axewomen!) from this time period.  Legends like Mark Knopfler and Nancy Wilson quickly come to mind, but there are so many others.  I know, I know – I’m generalizing and there are certainly exceptions.  But not that many.

So it’s no wonder that over the last few years I have been really pining to listen to my vinyl album collection, which has sat unplayed and unloved for, well, far too long now.

Fortunately, I had the good sense to hang onto my old Technics turntable and Lafayette receiver (with a built-in phono preamp), keeping them safely stored away in their original shipping cartons in a dry basement. So more than a year ago now I carefully unpacked them, wiped them down, and hooked them up.  With some trepidation I turned on the power and, lo and behold, everything still worked!  Mostly.  The ravages of time had exacted a toll on the turntable drive belt, drying it out to the point of brittleness and impending failure.  And dirt and oxidation had accumulated on the various receiver audio pots and turntable speed pots, creating some dead spots.  But a replacement belt was easily purchased off the internet and [AllCDCovers]_the_who_the_kids_are_alright_1999_retail_cd-frontinstalled, and a liberal application of spray tuner cleaner resolved the dirty pot issue.  Time for the acid test: “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who.  Very nice!   Lots of memories.  I saw The Who in Buffalo in 1978.

Funny thing about memories, though.  We idealize them.  Remember the good and forget the bad.  That’s why people refer to “the good ol’ days.”  Don’t get me wrong – listening to The Who was still great.  Tommy Smothers asks Pete Townshend, “Where’d you learn to play guitar like that?”  Without missing a beat he responds, “Bowling”.  Great stuff.  But playing albums requires work.  Almost a ceremony:

  • Pick which album you want to listen to (NOT which song or songs)
  • Carefully remove the album from it’s jacket and sleeve
  • Put it on the platter
  • Start the turntable and clean the album surface
  • Cue and drop the tonearm
  • Sit back and enjoy
  • Oh – and flip and repeat in 18-21 minutes when Side A is done

CDs, on the other hand, are incredibly convenient.  And pretty skip resistant.  MP3 players are even more so.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have all that classic music in digital form?  You bet it would.  But replacing my 150+ album collection with CDs, assuming they are even available, would cost between $1,000 and $1,500.  Ouch!

Luckily, our good friends in the tech industry have provided some alternative solutions.  If you have a turntable and receiver with preamp as I do, all you need is an A-to-D converter to plug in between the receiver tape output and your PC.  I purchased just such a device called the Xitel INport (see http://www.xitel.com/USA/prod_inportdl.htm).  $80 got me the little hardware unit, a USB cable, recording and editing software (for a PC), and a 30′ long stereo RCA cable with gold plated connectors.  Everything you need in one box.  There are other similar devices out there, but I can only personally vouch for the quality of this one.  If you no longer have a turntable, some other companies now offer USB turntables with a built in A-to-D converter (see http://www.knowzy.com/usb-turntable-comparison.htm#LP2CDSoftware).

While time consuming, the process of recording an LP to your PC is pretty straightforward.  Each side is recorded as a single WAV file, which you can later split into individual tracks using the provided software.  Xitel does not provide any software for audio cleanup (Remember scratches, ticks and pops?  Yep – the little rascals are still there), though a quick search will yield many available packages designed specifically for this purpose.  For the moment I am happy converting my analog vinyl recording to digital ones, complete with all the associated vinyl noise imperfections, and burning the resulting files to audio CDs.   I am thrilled to be able to enjoy my album collection in my car.  Maybe some day I will buy a declicking package and take it to the next step.

Now I have my eye on that old tube amp sitting on a shelf in the garage.  They say nothing beats the warmth of the sound from a tube amp.  I wonder if it still works…

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(There is insufficient space to go into a lot of detail on vinyl ripping in this post.  Besides, others have done a far better job at covering the details than I ever could.  Two thorough resources I recommend are http://www.delback.co.uk/lp-cdr.htm and http://www.a-reny.com/iexplorer/restauration.html.  Another terrific place for all things audio is http://www.hydrogenaudio.org.  Give it a go – – you might be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to rediscover some terrific music)

Hybrid Blog (Frankenblog?)

(Disclaimer: if you are a serious webhead the following post will bore you to tears – instead I recommend you go to Hulu and watch a re-run of Lost.  Or, better yet, Big Bang Theory.  If blog is still a four-letter word to you then please read on)

I’m new to blogging.  Can you tell? (clue: this is post #2)  Lots of decisions to make besides whether or not to change the background color value of my Boxnet widget to 63b4cd so it is an exact match for the heading text (really).  Oops!  I just lost three quarters of my audience…sorry about that!

One decision that anyone starting a blog is forced to make is this: do I use a hosted service (like WordPress, Typepad, Blogger, etc.) or do I self-host?  Using a hosted service is quick and easy.   And free.  Did I mention that?  I am presently unemployed and quite fond of  the word “free”.  Self-hosting involves picking a company (think 1&1, GoDaddy, etc.) to host your web site, paying them a (quite reasonable) monthly hosting fee, and installing/configuring your blog software.  It offers you a LOT more control over how your blog looks and behaves.  I might find that fun but most folks couldn’t care less.

What if there was another option?  What if you could have what appears to be a self-hosted site but is, in reality, a site hosted and maintained by one of the hosted services?  For free (I do really like that word).  Well, almost free.  That is what I’ve done and here is how I did it.

Over the past two weeks I created this blog on WordPress.com.  Today I took the plunge and splurged on my own domain name: http://www.chris-bigelow.com.  Pretty fancy, huh?  Here’s the best part: it cost me $6.99.  Really.  There is a catch, though: next year it will cost me $8.99.  Once my domain name was registered (2-3 hours processing time) I then logged into a domain control panel and “redirected” my new domain to my blog here on WordPress.com.  For my domain registrar the control panel looks like the image below (click it for a larger version that is readable by humans).

Domain destination control panel

Domain destination control panel

Now bear with me as we get briefly technical: the key step is to choose “Frame redirect” as your forwarding type and to type in a “Title” for your new web site.  Why?  Because when someone goes to your newly minted domain and it redirects them to your blog site, the URL and title bars will not change to those of the site you redirect to – they will remain from your domain.  An example is in order: my direct blog address is cbbigelow.wordpress.com and the indirect address is http://www.chris-bigelow.com – access the blog both ways and note the difference.

So now, for the princely sum of $8.99 per year, I have a personal web presence. Not free, but almost <grin>.

Career Transition

Sometimes we orchestrate our own career transitions and sometimes they are orchestrated for us.  My current transition is of the latter type, my position (along with many others) having been eliminated in mid-February as a result of the current economic recession.  No doubt these are tough times – certainly this worst economically in my lifetime – but opportunities are still available if you know how and where to look.

When I graduated college I believe they told us to expect something like four to five transitions during our careers; I believe they now say you should expect something closer to ten.  That’s a change every three to four years on average.  I read somewhere this morning that 5-30 jobs in one’s lifetime is “normal”.  Wow! The moral of the story is: nothing lasts forever and we all need to develop and maintain the knowledge and skills to find our next position or career.

Gone are the days when you could work an entire career with a single employer.  There is still job security, but it has morphed.  Today, your job security is no longer your employer’s responsibility but yours: it is your personal blend of skills, experience, problem solving ability and attitude that provides your security.  The key is delivering a value proposition that an employer wants to buy from you because you can solve their problems and improve their profitability.  After all – in the end, isn’t that what business is all about?