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Oct 13 2013

2013 Coronation Dance

We had dinner at the Kigawa’s home before the Coronation (i.e., Homecoming) Dance.

Apr 21 2013

Recovering from a Bad Theme Installation

If you’ve read some of my earlier website-related posts, you know that I host several web sites on a GoDaddy Windows server account, and I use WordPress as the CMS for those sites. I use a Windows server because I have several ASP pages that I run which access Microsoft Access databases, and I haven’t had the opportunity to port them over to PHP/MySQL. When that happens, I will probably migrate over to a Linux account, just to reduce the amount of headaches associated with running WordPress on a Windows server.

One recent problem (which, in fact, happened last night) occurred when I attempted to install a responsive theme (Montezuma by Bytes for All, a fantastic theme, by the way) that I had been successfully running on one site to one of my older sites. What happened immediately after I clicked on the Install link for the theme was I got an Internal Server Error, and I couldn’t access the Dashboard nor would my site come up. The detailed message said in bold: HTTP Error 500.0 – Internal Server Error, and the detailed message (which was displayed since I had made the changes to my web.config file listed in this post) said “Module: FastCgiModule, Notification: ExecuteRequestHandler, Error Code: 0×00000000.

I tried a number of different things to restore the site back to it’s original configuration, but the one thing that finally got things to a state where I could at least get into the Dashboard was to modify a few rows in the database table wp_options to ‘default’. This article tells you how to do it, although you need to know how to get into MySQL using GoDaddy’s Control Panel. If you’ve forgotten your database name and password, look in your wp-config.php file, which should be at the root of your site. Warning: if you are not comfortable with mucking around in the database tables, find someone who is. You don’t want to accidentally screw up your WordPress database. GoDaddy has a nice backup tool that will backup any of your MySQL databases to the /_db_backups folder, so I would strongly recommend doing this before you go about making changes.

I did the SELECTs first, to see what the options were set to, and then I did the updates to ‘default’. One commentor said that you had to use ‘twentyten’ on WordPress sites greater than 3.0, but I found I was able to get to the Dashboard by using ‘default.’

Feb 2 2013

Dinner at Burgess’

We have dinner at the Burgess’ home. Ron made gumbo and we had fancy cupcakes for dessert. We also celebrated Stephanie’s 18th birthday.

Jan 29 2013

GIMP

I have been using a free software application, GIMP (the GNU Image Manipulation Program), for a number of years to touch up my pictures. I shoot with an inexpensive compact digital camera, the Panasonic Lumix 12.1 megapixels. Even though it’s a nice model as far as compact digitals go, my pictures suffer from a lot of problems inherent in these types of cameras, especially when taking indoor shots using a flash (and I almost always use a flash, even outdoors, to make sure my subject is well illuminated). Almost all of the pictures that I post have been edited in some way, either color correction, cropping, fixing flaws like lens flares, enhancing faces that are in the dark, red eye reduction, etc.

GIMP has a lot of features that make it competitive with Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard when it comes to image manipulation. Probably the best feature is the ability to use layers and create layer masks. There’s another free program, Paint.NET, which also has the ability to use layers, but does not have the ability to use layer masks. There are work-arounds to that shortcoming, but GIMP handles layer masks natively. GIMP can be downloaded for free from their website. There is online documentation here.

Here are some of the ways I commonly use GIMP. Note that some of the color descriptions below may not appear the same way to you, and it may be because of differences in our computer displays. For example, I have an external monitor connected to my laptop that tends to oversaturate the colors and show the pictures with more green than the same image on my laptop display.

Color Correction
Probably the one edit I do most often is color correction and contrast enhancement. That is, most of the times, my pictures (and a lot of digital pictures in general) will come out looking tinted, usually blue, sometimes red, sometimes yellowish. Sometimes the tinting is strong, sometimes light. And often there’s not enough contrast in the picture to make the subject stand out. This is probably the easiest fix in GIMP. The tool that I use most often for these situations is the Levels Tool (Colors -> Levels). It’s really easy to use, you just select the Channel you want to work with and then adjust the three triangular sliders left and right to either lighten or darken a specific frequency range. For instance, if the picture has an overall blue tint, you can select Blue from the Channel drop down and then slide the middle triangle to the right a little bit to reduce the blue in the mid-range tones. To enhance overall contrast, I’ll pick the Value as the channel and slide the right-most triangle (the high-range tones) a little to the left, and slide the left-most triangle (the low-range tones) a little to the right.

I have also used the Curves Tool for more complex color corrections, but 95% of the time, I’ll use the Levels Tool because it’s relatively fast.

Here are before and after pictures of Casey at a temple Halloween party. The original image was slightly blue, so I decreased the blue midtones and increased the red slightly on the high end, and then increased the overall contrast (click on either picture to see a larger image).

22792_126038277548346_248480694_n 22792_126038277548346_248480694_n

Here is another picture in the temple’s social hall, which also has an overall blue tint to it:

120930-Rev-John's-10th-Year-014 120930-Rev-John's-10th-Year-014a

Here is a picture of the temple’s preparation for mochi tsuki, taken in the early morning on an overcast day:

IMG_1743 IMG_1743a

Here is a picture that came out with a reddish tint:

DSC05286 DSC05286a

I’m sure once you go over your own pictures, you’ll begin to notice many with tinting that can be corrected.

Lightening or Darkening Areas

One of the most common problems I experience when taking group shots indoors with a flash is the people in the background coming out much darker than the people in the foreground:

130213-ESHS-Buca-di-Beppo-001

That’s because the light from the flash dissipates so rapidly the further away your subject is. GIMP has a Dodge/Burn Tool that you can use to dodge (lighten) or burn (lighten) spots on the picture, but it’s not very effective when you have a larger area that you want to affect, and the results often don’t look very smooth.

The way I do it is to use an overlay layer with a gradient mask:

  1. Select Layer > New Layer from the menu. Make sure Transparency is selected as the Layer Fill Type and click OK. This creates a new image layer above your original image layer. Because Transparency was selected as the fill type, the bottom layer shows through.
  2. Select the Gradient Tool. If you look at the Tool Options, the Gradient should be FG to BG (RGB) and the Shape should be Linear.
  3. Click and drag the mouse from the bottom of the image to the top. When you release the mouse button, a gradient image will appear that goes from dark at the bottom to light at the top:
    130213-ESHS-Buca-di-Beppo-001a-Gradient-Mask-1
  4. Display the Layers dialog (press Ctrl-L).
  5. The gradient layer should be the one that is highlighted. Under the Mode dropdown, select Overlay. The bottom image should now show through again.
  6. From the menu, select Colors > Brightness-Contrast. Adjust the Brightness and Contrast of the gradient image until the people in the image look about the same brightness.
  7. 130213-ESHS-Buca-di-Beppo-001a

In certain situations, you may want to select Radial as the Gradient Shape (e.g., when there’s a circular area of brightness in the middle of the picture).

When you’re done adjusting the contrast, select the bottom layer from the Layers dialog and make any color adjustments as described earlier.

There’s another technique you can try, the Contrast Mask, but I’ve never had much success getting the image to look the way I want; it always ends up looking too flat.

Removing Unwanted Material

This is the technique that became known as Photoshopping – the alteration of a photo to remove subject matter from an image, or to add subject matter to the image that wasn’t originally part of the picture. This can be useful when you want to remove material that is distracting or hides portions of the main subject.

Here is a “cleaned-up” image of the front of the Venice Honwanji Buddhist Temple taken from across the street.

110806-JYBA-Meeting-020b

Even if you have visited the temple many, many times, you may have missed what was removed from the picture. This is the original image:

110806-JYBA-Meeting-020
As you can see, I had rotated the image slightly, removed some of the blue tinting, but more importantly, I removed the parking sign, the power pole, and power lines to create a cleaner picture that was free of those distracting elements. I did this mainly by cloning other sections of the picture over the parts I wanted to remove.

Layer Masks

Probably the one feature that I make the most use of is layer masks. A layer mask allows you to isolate parts of an image by hiding (masking) parts of an upper layer so that the corresponding parts of a lower layer show through. This is best illustrated with an example.

Here is a picture of Kayla, who won a trophy for being named to the All Tournament Team of a basketball tournament:
1212226-Cantwell-Tournament-052

You can see that her teammates are yukking it up in the background, which can distract from the focus on Kayla’s accomplishment.

Kayla-All-Tournament-Mask

So what I did was to create a layer mask, which is basically a black and white image, where white represents parts of the image I want to show, and black masks the areas that I want to hide. I created the layer mask by taking a copy of the original image and using a path tool to select an area around Kayla, and doing a bucket fill of the selection with white, an “invert selection,” and a bucket fill of the rest of the area with black. I use the pen tool for any fine touch-ups. I will usually also apply a Gaussian Blur to the mask, it softens the effect of the mask around the edges so the effect isn’t so severe. There are other methods for creating the mask, but I prefer this one because it gives me the best results, and if the image you are trying to isolate has a lot of smooth lines or curves, the path tool is a great way of making the selection.

Kayla-All-Tournament

Then I go back to the original image and create a duplicate layer, so I have two, identical layers. I attach the layer mask to the top layer (you can read how to do it in the GIMP documentation; I don’t want to waste space in this post on specific details). I then desaturate (i.e., turn into grayscale) the bottom layer and, after doing some color corrections on the top layer, I end up with a composite image that looks like this.

So what happens is that the white part of the layer mask allows Kayla’s image to show, but the black portion hides the rest of the image, allowing the bottom layer (the grayscale image) to show through.

110115 Burgess Wedding 035a

There are all sorts of effects you can do using layer masks. Here is a picture of our friends, the Burgess’, at their wedding back in early 2011.

110115 Burgess Wedding 035b

Definitely needs some cropping so we can focus in on the couple, and seeing their reflection in the mirror adds an interesting element.

110115 Burgess Wedding 035c

Here’s the same image, but a layer mask has been applied to the top layer of a two-layer “sandwich.” The bottom layer had a Gaussian Blur applied to it, so we get a nice depth-of-field effect, where the focus is tight on the couple.

GIMP has all sorts of creative filters that can be applied to the bottom layer:

110115 Burgess Wedding 035j

You can even change the bottom layer to a completely different image to change the locale of the picture.

Ethan-Oval-Office

Here is a composite picture of my friend, Ethan, about to put the scare into President Obama in the Oval Office.

The original images were a picture of Ethan, mimicking a dinosaur at the Jurassic Park ride at Universal Studios Hollywood, and a picture of President Obama taken by UPI photographer Jim Lo Scalzo:

Jurassic-Park USA OBAMA

The composite image consists of four layers. The bottom layer is the intact picture of the oval office. The second layer is the image of Ethan’s entire body, cropped out of the Jurassic Park picture, rotated, and color-enhanced to match the lighting. The third layer is a duplicate of the oval office layer, but with a layer mask applied so that the desk appears in front of Ethan and hides the lower part of his body. The fourth, and top-most, layer creates the reflection of Ethan on the Oval Office desk (take a close look at the enlarged composite image). This reflection adds to the realism of the composite image. The layer was created by copying Ethan’s layer, flipping it vertically, and setting the opacity to about 40%, allowing most of the layer underneath to show through.

To be continued …

Oct 20 2012

Joomla 3.0

Objective: To get a web site up and running using Joomla 3.0 on a Windows IIS server hosted by GoDaddy.

Background: I’ve used GoDaddy as my web host for a number of years, choosing their Windows Deluxe package because I have a number of ASP applications that use Access databases. I have experience doing manual WordPress installations on a couple of domains, one of which resides in the root (this geefamily.net site) and another which resides in a subfolder.

I recently got the opportunity to create a web site for a high school sports team (the El Segundo High School girls basketball team), and as a web designer, this was a great opportunity to take a look at another of the major CMS’, if just to be able to compare the advantages/disadvantages between them on a first-hand basis. Unfortunately, my first choice, Drupal, won’t install on IIS, at least not the way that GoDaddy’s Windows accounts are configured. I happened across Joomla at about the right time, about a month after the 3.0 release became available. What was attractive to me, in deciding whether or not to install the 2.5 versus the 3.0 release, was 3.0′s support of mobile devices. Even though I access the internet exclusively with my laptop, a significant number of my users (players, parents, and coaches) were going to access this new site via their smart phones or tablets.

Procedure:

  • Downloaded release 3.0.1 zip file and unzipped to a separate folder.
  • Started up FileZilla and created the folder where I was going to perform the installation. Then used FileZilla to upload all files & folders to that folder.
  • Launched the Control Panel for my hosting account with GoDaddy (I’m not going to provide any step-by-step details regarding GoDaddy because their interface seems to constantly change; whatever detailed procedure I write will be obsolete in a month).
  • Click on the FTP File Manager under Tools.
  • Put a checkmark next to the folder I created and clicked the Permissions icon at the top.
  • Unchecked Inherit and checked Write and Reset all children to inherit. Then clicked OK
  • Went back to the Control Panel top level and clicked on the Hosted Domains icon under Settings.
  • Clicked on the Manage link in the Subdomains column.
  • Clicked on the Add Subdomain button
  • Added same subdomain name as recently created folder. Waited for a few minutes for the subdomain to complete processing.
  • When I tried to access the subdomain, I got the following error message: Your host needs to use PHP 5.3.1 or higher to run this version of Joomla!
  • Executed geefamily.net/phpinfo.php and found out I was using PHP 5.2.17.
  • Went back to the GoDaddy Control Panel and clicked on Programming Languages under Settings.
  • Selected PHP 5.3.
  • Got following warning: Languages Change Submitted. These changes usually take 7 minutes. However, it may take up to 10 minutes for these changes to take effect. These time frames are estimates and not guaranteed. Waited for 10 minutes.
  • While I was waiting for the new PHP version to take effect, I went and created a new MySql Database for this installation. From the GoDaddy Control Panel, I clicked on MySql under Databases and Added a new database. Note that all database names throughout all GoDaddy installations must be unique. That is, you can’t create a database called Joomla if someone else who is hosted with GoDaddy also has a database called Joomla. What you should do to create a unique name is prepend the name of your website (assuming that it’s fairly unique) to the Database name. After the database was set up, I clicked on Action > Details to find out the Host name. Note that for GoDaddy MySql Databases, the Database name and Username are the same.
  • Reran my phpinfo.php page and saw that my account was upgraded to PHP 5.3.6.
  • Retried the installation and it seems to be working.
  • Filled out the information in the Configuration and Database. Everything looks OK in the Overview tab. Selected Blog English for Sample Data since this is my first Joomla install.
  • Got congratulation message. Clicked button to remove Installation folder.
  • Pink box at the top that says Error with no other text.
  • Clicked on the site button and everything looks good, except that the URL had the domain name repeated: http://eshsgirlsbball.geefamily.net/eshsgirlsbball/ instead of http://eshsgirlsbball.geefamily.net.
  • To try and fix it, I renamed the web.config.txt file to web.config and then went to the Global Configuration page and set Use URL rewriting to Yes (I don’t know why this isn’t turned on by default). This did not seem to help.
  • Went into the IIS Management tool and noticed that the eshsgirlsbball subfolder wasn’t listed. Clicked Create and added eshsgirlsbball as Application Root.
  • Went to System Information > Directory Permissions and noticed that the only file that was unwritable was configuration.php, so I went back to the GoDaddy Control Panel > Tools > FTP File Manager to see if I could change the file permissions on it to Writeable, but I couldn’t. Apparently permissions are only set at the folder level.
  • I then thought that if the folder has Write permissions enabled, then I should be able to directly edit the configuration.php file. Alas, when I try to edit and save the file via the FTP File Manager, I get the error “Cannot save configuration.php”, which leads me to believe that somehow there’s a file permission property that I can’t access.

Overall, the installation was as easy, if not slightly easier, than a WordPress install. With WordPress, you have to manually edit a text file (wp-config.php) with the MySql settings, where in Joomla it’s input into fields as part of the installation procedure.

Sep 29 2012

Coronation Dance

Stephanie and Morgan, along with a few of their friends, prepare at the Kigawa’s home for the ESHS Coronation Dance.

Jun 22 2012

ESMS Promotion 2012

Morgan was promoted from middle school (8th grade) in a ceremony at El Segundo Middle School on June 22, 2012.

Jun 6 2012

ESHS Prom 2012

Stephanie and her friend, Leandra Ibrahim, prepare for the prom at our home, and then meet up with friends in Westchester to travel to the prom together.

Apr 25 2012

WordPress, Comments, and E-mail

Another problem specific to GoDaddy-hosted sites: when sending e-mail from your site, you must use a GoDaddy-hosted domain name as the from e-mail address. For example, if a user on your site, foobar.com, submits a form and you want to send a confirmation message back to them, the from address must be someusername@foobar.com. It can’t be someusername@gmail.com, someusername@yahoo.com, etc. Plus, you want to use relay-hosting.secureserver.net as the SMTP host and not smtpout.secureserver.net. There’s a WordPress plugin that helps fix this shortcoming: WP Mail SMTP, and its is detailed in this nice article.

The reason why I want to enable e-mail from my site is that I’d like commenters to receive a notification e-mail when someone has replied to their comment, a standard feature in many blogs. Unfortunately this is not a standard feature built-in to WordPress, but there’s another plug-in called Comment Reply Notification that seems to do the job.

Eventually, I’d like to enable Facebook comments on the site.

Update: I’ve enabled Facebook comments on the website, mostly to combat the increasing amount of spam comments I’ve been getting. I’m using the Facebook Comments Plugin by Alex Moss. Be sure to use this one; there are others with the words Facebook Comments in their name. This one is really easy to setup and configure. For the most part, you can accept the defaults. The only thing you need to input is the API ID that you need to get from Facebook at this link (make sure you’re logged into Facebook). Click on the +Create New App button in the upper right corner of that page to and fill in the blanks to get a new App ID/API Key, that you will then put into the plug-in’s setting.

If you want to close all of your existing posts to the traditional WordPress comments, see here.

If you see the message “URL is Unreachable” message in the Facebook comments section of your posts, then you want to do what it says here.

Apr 22 2012

Raclette Grilling

One of our favorite meals with our friends, the Buchers, is raclette grilling. Raclette is a soft Swiss cheese that is melted and poured on top of potatoes and vegetables. On this particular day, we grilled lamb chops, sausages, and onion slices.