Author Archive

iPad 2 Competition Winners

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in News

Congratulations to the three lucky winners of “In Easy Steps Win an iPad 2 Competition”!

 

The three In Easy Steps users and winners are:

 

Sarah Frith – USA

Graham Foxy – UK

Chris Downing – UK

 

A big thank you to everyone who entered this competition to celebrate 20 years of successful learning approach: In Easy Steps – for smart learning!

 

Regular competitions, updates and offers are featured on this website – do visit us again!

Fighting Spam

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in Article

By Stuart Yarnold

Some interesting statistics on spam:

  • Currently, some 80 % of email traffic is estimated to be spam
  • 30 billion spam emails are sent every day
  • 78 % of PC users receive spam on a daily basis
  • 4 % of recipients make a purchase as a result of a received spam email
  • Worldwide, the cost of dealing with spam is estimated to be 50 billion dollars annually

If the spammers have you in their sights, what can you do about it? The first and most obvious step is to simply delete your account and open a new one with a different address. This will stop any spammers who are currently jamming your inbox. However, for many users this will not be an option for various reasons. If so, do the following:

  1. In the case of spam from specific websites, add the website’s address to your email program’s Blocked Senders list.
  2. In the case of spam from unidentifiable sources, use your email program’s message filters. These can be set up and configured to cut out the majority of spam. Typical examples are:
    • Emails containing specific words commonly found in spam, such as sex, porn, money, free, etc.
    • Emails over a specified size.
    • Emails that contain attachments

    However, while the filters provided with programs such as Outlook and Outlook Express are useful, they will never stop it completely; the spammers know how to circumvent the most common rules set up by users. One such method is to deliberately misspell a keyword. For example, Viaggra instead of Viagra. The recipient knows what is meant but the filter doesn’t, and thus will let the message through. Another problem is that because these filters are literal in the sense that they allow no exceptions, sometimes legitimate emails are blocked.

    A much more efficient type of filter is the Bayesian filter. This is available as a third-party product (meaning you must buy it) and integrates with your email program. Its effectiveness is due to the fact that it is “intelligent”, and thus can be trained, much in the same way as Voice Recognition software. The Bayesian filter examines all aspects of a message, as opposed to keyword checking that classifies a message as spam on the basis of a single word or phrase. Once set up and trained, it will eliminate 99 % of spam.

  3. Add your contacts to your email program’s Safe Senders list. You can then block all other senders with the filters.
  4. Having stopped the flood of spam, make sure it stays stopped. This means never giving your email address to anyone who can’t be trusted. Never do either of the following:
    • Give your address to a website; many sites sell lists of email addresses to the spammers. Furthermore, spammers use automated software that trawl the Internet looking for the @ symbol used in all email addresses. If a particular site requires you to enter your address in order to gain access, give a false one.
      Alternatively, set up an account specifically for this purpose.
    • Click the “Unsubscribe from this mailing list” link in a spam email. This confirms to the spammer that a real address has been reached and could open the floodgates.
  5. Sell the PC and take up residence on a deserted island. It’s probably the only way guaranteed to avoid spam.

About the author

Stuart Yarnold is an electronics engineer who has been working in the industry since leaving college. Originally a marine radio & radar troubleshooter, he now devotes much of his time to playing poker professionally and can usually be found lurking in one of the online poker rooms.

Stuart lives near Cambridge with his wife Pauline and his two staffordshire bull terriers – Jim and George. His hobbies include woodworking and marathon running.

Online Poker – An Overview

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in Article

By Stuart Yarnold

Quite apart from being an invaluable information resource, the Internet provides many means of recreation, one of the most popular of which is gambling. This comes in various forms: spread betting, casino games such as blackjack and roulette, stocks and shares, etc. The one we are going to look at here is poker.

Currently, there are four to five hundred poker sites and the first step is to choose one, download and install the software, and then open an account. Making sure you use a reputable poker room is important as some do not play by the rules, i.e. they are not to be trusted. Slow pay-outs, and refusal to answer queries, are typical examples of this. Also, the software provided by some sites is buggy and prone to frequent crashing. As a recommendation, we suggest the following sites:

  • PartyPoker
  • PokerStars
  • Ladbrokes
  • UltimateBet

These are all well established, use efficient and reliable software, and offer good customer support and fast pay-outs. Those of you who want to play purely for fun with little financial risk are advised to use sites like UltimateBet and Ladbrokes, which offer micro-limit tables where you can play for a few cents.

Online poker rooms offer three main games – Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Seven-Card Stud. Texas Hold’em is the one most commonly played as it is the most straightforward, and thus the easiest to learn. This is the one featured on the TV channels.

Probably the most popular form of online poker is the tournaments. With these, you buy-in for a fixed amount, get a stack of chips, and play until you are either eliminated or win the tournament. Multi-table tournaments offer the chance to win serious sums of money but can take many hours of your time. Plus, you may have several thousand players to beat. Single-table tournaments are quick (usually an hour or less) and are always available (as soon as you’ve finished one, you can start another). To be in the money, you need to finish in the top two or three depending on the initial number of players. Single-tables are the most popular as you ‘know where you are’ in terms of outlay and time. You also have a much higher chance of finishing in the money as you only have a few players to beat.

Be aware that there is a lot more to poker than might be apparent. To play this game successfully demands a good grasp of strategy, experience, plus human qualities such as patience and common sense. If you jump in before you are ready, you will lose.

Tips

Observance of the following will get you off to as good a start as possible:

  • Learn the rules and strategies thoroughly by buying a good reference book, such as Online Poker in easy steps
  • Get a feel for the mechanics of both the game itself, and the software, by playing at the free money tables initially
  • Begin at the low-limit tables and don’t be tempted to move up until you can beat them consistently
  • Avoid the no-limit form of the game initially. Unlike fixed-limit poker where the sizes of the bets are restricted, in no-limit games, bets can be huge and the inexperienced player can come unstuck very quickly
  • Don’t chase your losses – on some days the cards will be completely against you and no matter how well you play, you will lose. Put the cards down and try again another day

About the author

Stuart Yarnold is an electronics engineer who has been working in the industry since leaving college. Originally a marine radio & radar troubleshooter, he now devotes much of his time to playing poker professionally and can usually be found lurking in one of the online poker rooms.

Stuart lives near Cambridge with his wife Pauline and his two staffordshire bull terriers – Jim and George. His hobbies include woodworking and marathon running.

Understanding Camera Raw

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in Article

By Robert Shufflebotham

With the relentless advance of digital camera technology, many pro-level and some mid-range digital cameras now allow you to record images as “raw” files. But, do you need camera raw, and what are the advantages and implications if you decide to use it?

Most digital cameras use either CCD (charge-coupled device) or CMOS (complimentary metal oxide semiconductor) sensor technology to capture image data. Raw image files record the precise data captured by the photosensitive sensors of the camera without applying any of the processing that would be required to convert it into JPEG or TIFF file format.

Early digital cameras and most entry level digital cameras convert raw data into a format such as JPEG. This is done by the camera at time of capture by an in-built converter. Typically, this on-board camera processing calculates settings for white balance, gamma correction, noise reduction, anti aliasing and sharpening together with colorimetric rendering. The image is also compressed using the JPEG algorithm.

JPEG compression has a significant disadvantage particularly where high quality, high resolution images are required. To compress image data, the JPEG compression algorithm averages out some of the color information with the potential loss of color values and detail. High JPEG compression settings can also introduce noticeable compression artifacts. These can be particularly visible along hard edges and in high contrast areas. Skin tones and gradients can also prove difficult for JPEG compression.

What is Raw ?
A raw file records the precise data captured by the sensors of the camera without any processing. Raw files consist of data recording color and luminosity values captured by the sensors and image metadata. Metadata is data about data. For example, raw files, as well as JPEG files, contain ExIF (Exchangeable Image Format) metadata which includes information such as camera model, shutter speed, aperture and focal length.

When you capture an image using your camera’s raw format it is only ISO speed, shutter speed and aperture that have an effect on the captured pixels. When you open the raw file using the Adobe Photoshop CS2 Camera Raw dialog box you can control settings for white point, colorimetric rendering, noise reduction sharpening and so on.

In Photoshop CS2, use Adobe Bridge to locate raw image files downloaded to your computer. (See Chapter 3, Opening and Saving Files in Photoshop CS2 in easy steps, for further information on using Adobe Bridge.) Double-click a raw file thumbnail to open the image in the Camera Raw dialog box. Create the settings you require, then click the Open button to convert the image to an RGB image for use in Photoshop.

For professional photographers a significant advantage of raw files is that the sensors on cameras capable of saving raw files can typically record data at at least 12 bits per channel (providing a possible 4096 shades per pixel). JPEG compression reduces color data it records to 8 bits per color channel.

This can become a significant disadvantage for many amateur users in that raw image files are considerably larger than files saved in other file formats – up to 5 or 6 six times greater than the equivalent JPEG. Capturing raw image data can dramatically reduce the number of images you can record to the camera’s storage card.

Camera Raw is a general term which encompasses a range of proprietary files formats from different camera manufacturers, such as Nikon’s .NEF, Olympus’ .ORF or Canon’s .CRW. The Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop CS, which allows you to open and process raw image files, was released in February 2003. An upgraded version supporting more cameras and with added functionality became available in Photoshop CS2.

Visit: www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/cameraraw.html for a complete list of supported cameras.
Digital Negative (DNG) Format
One of the issues surrounding raw file formats is that they are typically proprietary formats; belonging to the camera manufacturers and not publicly available. Understandably, camera manufacturers that spend large amounts of money on research and development are reluctant to divulge the exact technical details of their own raw file formats as this could prove costly and result in loss of competitive advantage.

The intention of Digital Negative (DNG), developed by Adobe as a file format for raw files, is to establish an open industry standard so that all camera manufactures can work to a common set of specifications which will ultimately benefit the entire industry and especially the end user.

Crucially, DNG has the potential to provide photographers with a format they can use to archive images, safe in the knowledge that they will be able to access these images in the future. This removes the reliance on a proprietary format that may, or may not, be supported in the future.

The success of DNG as an open standard would also make it much easier to transfer and share raw images in complex workflows and between photographers and agencies.
Conclusion
The core consideration, when deciding whether or not to capture images using raw data, is whether or not you want ultimate control over settings such as white balance, brightness and contrast, noise reduction, sharpening and color rendition and are prepared to take the time to make these decisions. The Camera Raw functionality in Adobe Photoshop CS2 gives you access to the set of tools you need if you decide to follow this route.

About the author

Robert Shufflebotham is a software training consultant with over 21 years experience of delivering software training. He trains on a regular basis for some of the largest and most prestigious magazine, book and newspaper publishers in the world. He also has a MA in Electronic Media.

Understanding Regular Expressions By Mike McGrath

Written by In Easy Steps Team on . Posted in Article

A “Regular Expression” is simply a pattern describing a particular string of characters. Regular Expressions are often referred to as “regex” or “regexp” and are supported by most programming languages, such as C++, and scripting languages such as JavaScript. Regular Expressions are useful for text validation and for search-and-replace operations within text by matching their specified pattern to a section of the text.

A Regular Expression pattern may consist entirely of “literal characters” describing a particular character string to match within some text. For example, the Regular Expression ind finds a match in windows – the pattern literally matches the string within the text.

More typically a Regular Expresssion pattern consists of a combination of literal characters and “metacharacters” to describe a particular character string. Metacharacters have special meaning within the pattern rather than any literal meaning. For instance, the character ^ (circumflex or caret) is a metacharacter that has special meaning – it DOES NOT literally represent the actual caret character. It can control at which position in the text the match will be considered valid.

Most languages also support Regular Expression “Abbreviations” for frequently used Character Classes and Position expressions.

Here are 10 frequently used Regular Expressions:

1. Leading whitespace: ^\s+
2. Trailing whitespace: \s+$
3. Numbers from 0 to 999999: ^\d$
4. Valid HTML hexadecimal color values: ^#([a-fA-F0-9])(([a-fA-F0-9]))?$
5. U.S. Zip Code: ^\d(-\d)?$
6. U.S. Currency: ^\$(\d(\,\d)*|\d+)(\.\d)?$
7. U.S. Social Security Number: ^\d-\d-\d$
8. Date as MM/DD/YYYY HH:MM:SS: ^\d\d\/\d\d\/\d\d\d\d \d\d:\d\d:\d\d$
9. Email Address: ^[0-9a-zA-Z]([-.\w]*[0-9a-zA-Z_+])*@([0-9a-zA-Z][-\w]*[0-9a-zA-Z]\.)+[a-zA-Z]$
10. HTTP URL: (https?):\/\/([0-9a-zA-Z][-\w]*[0-9a-zA-Z]\.)+([a-zA-Z])(:\d)?([-\w\/#~:.?+=&%@~]*)

About the author

Mike McGrath now lives in South-east Europe, on the sun-kissed shores of the Aegean Sea. Mike gained his extensive knowledge of computer languages while working as a developer contracting to companies around the world. His interests include coins of ancient Greece, dining-out with friends, and the ongoing evolution of the world wide web.