How to "Green" a Holiday

Holiday decorating is one of the favorite traditions of families the world over. Some families begin their holiday decorating as soon as the summer nights cool off, while others may wait until just a few days before their particular holiday festival begins. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate or when you begin to decorate, “green” holiday decorating is a fun and creative way to involve your entire family, or even neighborhood, in the holiday decorating spirit with less impact on the environment.

Holiday lighting has improved drastically in the past few years in terms of the energy required to display those blinking, rotating or simply elegant lights on your porch, outdoor foliage or inside decorations. Standard strings of lights that require copious amounts of electricity to run are quickly being replaced by the much more energy-efficient strings of LED lights. Plus, LED lights produce better colors than standard, incandescent lights, giving your holiday décor a smashing boost to its delightful display. LED lights use only about 1 to 3 kilowatt hours of energy, compared with 12 to 105 kWh for the incandescent lights, saving energy and money. Since LED lights are made from plastic instead of glass, they are also more durable than incandescent lighting and can last twice as long.

Some holiday decorations may be recycled from the years prior, swapped with neighbors or found at thrift, resale of second-hand stores, helping to eliminate the “need” for more holiday decorations to be produced in the years to come. Other holiday decorations, including artificial trees or other winter foliage, are produced with large amounts of petroleum. Interior designers rarely, if ever, use the artificial decorations found in many homes, opting instead for a natural look that has the added benefit of seasonal pine scents and a classic image. “Greening” up these decorations takes a natural, outdoor approach and since there is little to no environmental impact in the use of natural trees or greenery, you can rest assured that your naturally decorated home is not harming the earth. Plus, the natural decorations can be turned into mulch for your yard or garden.

When it comes to the presents for family, friends, teachers or other gift recipients, the last thing a “green” holiday needs is pre-printed paper coated in plastic and tied with petroleum-based ribbons or tape. An alternative to the standard gift wrap is a reusable grocery bag tied with a natural string and cinnamon sticks. You can also use items like buckets, planters or baskets as gift-wrap alternatives, giving a “gift in a gift” to the people on your list. For a low-budget alternative, or for those who enjoy the “paper tearing” portion of the holidays, it is perfectly acceptable to wrap presents in old newspaper decorated by you (or your kids).

Going “green” for the holidays does not mean that the fun and festivities of the season are taken out of the occasions. The end-of-year holidays are a time to relax and reconnect with family and friends, and by choosing to decorate your home in a more eco-friendly manner, you can celebrate the days and know that you are helping keep the earth healthy for many celebrations to come.

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Web Design for Senior Citizens

In a study provided by the Neilson Norman Group, it is estimated that this year, American seniors will spend about $25 billion per year on e-commerce purchases if current trends continue. Since the majority of websites are built for a younger demographic, it is that that by tailoring a website’s look and functionality to the needs of elders, there could be an increase sales up to $77 billion per year.

Senior citizens are not only shopping online, but they are also using the various social networks available in order to keep connected to family and friends, as well as reconnect with people from their past. There is evidence that seniors benefit from the social aspect of Internet usage, as it can help reduce their feelings of isolation and can even lower the rate of depression among senior citizens. As many senior citizens will attest to, their age does not eliminate their ability to be part of a community, even online, nor does age preclude the ability to enjoy the benefits of current technologies and trends.

The design of many websites, including social networking websites like Facebook, dating websites or even the smaller community forums found on military or other service-related websites are beginning to take the online interests of seniors seriously, providing alternative sizing of text and using better navigational tools or other tutorials to help guide a senior citizen through a website. The size of “clickable” web icons is also a concern for seniors, who may be experiencing mobility issues due to arthritis or other physical issues. With many seniors having sight or hearing impairments, an effective web designer will take into account the accommodations needed to assist these special needs situations, as well. Also, by providing clear information and possibly the ability for the end-user to engage in customer service online through chats, the senior is better able to get the information needed, leading to greater customer satisfaction and benefiting any website, whether retail, social or informational.

With the growing rate of those that fall into the “senior citizen” demographic due to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, it is important for web designers and web developers to keep in mind the special needs of these generations of people. While many of the seniors and Boomers did not grow up using web technologies, their ability to adapt to the culture and technology does not leave them behind in terms of tailoring online experiences to their needs. Smart web design takes into account a broad range of age, needs and other considerations in order to properly present the website to the largest population possible.

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Location-based Advertising

Location-based advertising has become a popular way for businesses to suggest products, services, special discounts or offers to people based on their location. Through mobile technology and applications like Foursquare or Facebook Places, people are able to “check-in” to various businesses and retail establishments as well as opt-in to receive sale and discount information via SMS text messages or small mobile-sized ads from their favorite stores when they are in the vicinity. It is predicted that mobile advertising could generate over $7 by the end of 2014, and as this new form of advertising grows, that number may be just the beginning.

Advertising via mobile devices takes a lot of the fuss out of typical advertising campaigns. Since most location-based advertising requires the recipient to own a smart phone or other mobile device with Internet access, it has become more of a challenge to convert high-dollar ad campaigns into ads that are delivered on screens typically smaller than the palm of the hand. Still, advertisers are jumping on location-based advertising because of its potential to reach the growing market of smart phone and mobile device users.

One of the big benefits of location-based advertising is the impact it can have on small businesses with small advertising budgets. By advertising customer incentives through Foursquare, Yelp or Facebook Pages, businesses not only gain new customers and encourage repeat customers, but they can also engage customers in a way that standard advertising methods cannot by tailoring messages to a person’s interest and location. This benefits the small business because of the ability to target local customers, potentially drawing their business away from national chains that are able to spend a large amount of money on print, tv, radio or Internet advertising.

This new area of advertising also opens up different opportunities for those seeking a degree in advertising, since the market is newly emerging. Advertising students have the best chance of assimilating the newest technologies and push for location-based advertising over the more established methods of print, television and radio and even Internet advertising.

Location-based advertising is a concept that is still in its infancy, and depends greatly on the continual purchase and usage of smart phones or other Internet-enabled mobile devices. Many industries will benefit from the custom advertising potential that the technology supports, and in the future, more and more advertisers will likely be turning to ways to reach customers directly, with the information they want.

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Bathroom Interior Design Concepts

A bathroom is one of the most used and visually neglected rooms in a house. Its purpose is mostly practical, taking away much of the delight of interior design that may be felt in other rooms. A bathroom does not have to be just functional; it can also be a relaxing haven or place to show off decorating ideas that may not fit with the rest of a home’s décor.

Bathroom design can be challenging due to space issues, plumbing, and ventilation and storage concerns. Bathroom interior design should start with the basics to keep the room itself in good shape. Bathrooms are humid, and the proper ventilation is necessary to prevent dampness, mold and mildew. Flooring is also important in a bathroom because of safety concerns over its visual impact. Marble, carpet and wood floors are not recommended for bathrooms because of the hazards they present when in contact with water. Linoleum, vinyl and slip-proof tile are recommended for bathrooms because they do not absorb water or lead to damage beneath their surfaces.

Walls should be painted with a latex paint that helps prevent moisture from seeping into the walls, so they do not become too damp and begin to deteriorate. Wallpaper in a bathroom is generally not recommended by interior designers and experienced decorators since the humidity of the bathroom will often cause wallpaper to peel. Keep the dampness in mind, as well, for any wall art or other decorations that are used in a bathroom. Storage options in bathrooms should reflect the needs of the bathroom and surrounding area. There are many options for storage in a bathroom, from items that are attached to walls to furniture and storage cabinets. Keeping unused items out of sight helps a bathroom look bigger, and helps to set off your decorative accents.

The placement of the bathroom within a home can actually define its décor and design more than anything else. A master bathroom is private, and typically larger than the other bathrooms in the house. Its purpose is to help instill a feeling of relaxation, and its interior design elements should reflect that. Large bathtubs, privacy walls and windows are great features in master bathrooms. Guest bathrooms are more for artistic appeal than function or relaxation. In a guest bathroom, the décor may be more neutral in style and color, but with more decorative accents on the walls or counters. Family bathrooms are the most functional (and therefore less decorative) of the bathrooms, and may need extra storage space for the extra supplies.

Bathroom design may be the lowest priority when decorating, renovating or constructing a house, but its size does not diminish its importance. Many homes are sold based on the attention to detail in a bathroom or its overall feel. Designing a bathroom, from its construction to its accessories, can not only enhance the value of a home, but can also help create a creative outlet for decoration ideas that may not fit in any other room.

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The Evolution of Animated Fonts

Animated images, letters and words are nothing new in the world of web and graphic design. Using GIF files or Flash have been standard in combining the static information displayed on a website with visual effects to help emphasize an important point or draw attention to a website’s message. As a rule, animation and animated fonts are embedded files on a website, rather than elements that have been standardized for cross-browser compatibility. However, there are changes coming to the world of web and graphic design that may be able to incorporate actual fonts that move, flash or otherwise highlight their own message as easily as using standard fonts like Arial or Georgia.

A font is a specialized image typeface that conforms to certain sizing and style requirements. It is these requirements of size, shape, serif or design that require special attributes and rendering assigned to its design. While an image can be stylized prior to embedding it on a web site, a font must be able to change “on the fly,” thus limiting its ability to be animated as an actual font. With recent advances in graphic design education, technology and programs, however, creating animated fonts is now within the reach of any dedicated graphic designer.

There are those, however, who find that too much animation, flashy things, banners, ads sounds and movement may take away from the credibility of a website. Since web design has come a long way from falling snowflakes and MIDI files, a return to “retro” design is not always in a web site’s best interest. This includes incorporating animated fonts, logos or images into a web site's static content. Some even believe that there is a “banner blindness” factor in websites that prohibits people from processing anything that my resemble an ad, including animated graphics and animated fonts. If that is the case, then animating anything on a website is a costly exercise in futility.

Beyond the practical application of animated fonts in web design, for those who are professional graphic designers, the idea of animated fonts may seem appealing as a way to combine their animation skills with a new twist on typography. The newest animated font, Moshun, is a perfect example of a graphic designer using current technology in order to bridge the gap between animation and typography in a functional way. Only time will tell if animated fonts will become a standard in web design.

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Adobe 10th Annual Design Achievement Awards

In an effort to encourage the creativity and innovation of students, as well as discover new ways to create and implement digital art, animation and other computer- and web-based design tools, Adobe held its 10th Annual Design Achievement Awards in October, 2010 in Los Angeles, California to recognize the efforts of students and their use of Adobe products in both online and offline efforts. Over 2,000 students from top-level colleges and universities from across the globe submitted their designs, animations, applications, illustrations, photographs and more to the competition. Categories that were judged included interactive and traditional media as well as video and motion.

Since 2001, close to 20,000 students across 52 countries have participated in the ADAA competition. Some of the projects this year included “The List List,” a one-page website application that encourages community involvement in the creation of user-generated lists (think “best tasting coffee in Atlanta”), “Teeniz” helps children learn English, specifically oral expression and comprehension, through a web-based game, and the “Heart Lift,” which helps monitor the vital statistics of heart patients in high-altitude environments by measuring their heart rate and other statistics through the use of a telehealth glove device.

The winners of each category received $3,000 and software from Adobe, including the Creative Suite 5 (for individual winners) or a choice of Creative Suite 5 Design Premium, Creative Suite 5 Web Premium or Creative Suite 5 Production Premium education version plus individual winners and team captains also received a one-year design internship with a mentor from Icograda, International Council of Graphic Design Associations, who partnered with Adobe for this event.

With these awards and recognition of the abilities of graphic design artists, web developers, digital animation students and those who excel in visual communications, the fields included in the digital arts will continue to grow both in scope and range of jobs available. Innovation and artistry, along with the education needed to develop and enhance those skills will help drive the digital arts fields, helping to create visually inspiring, technology-based advancements that help enhance people’s lives.

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Virtual Reality Helps Stop Smoking Addiction

Some say that quitting cigarette smoking is harder than quitting drugs like heroin or cocaine.  More and more restaurants, bars and public places are becoming “smoke free” and while tobacco companies shrug off health concerns from smoking, lung cancer remains one of the top killers in the U.S. today. Smoking is a choice, but it is also extremely addictive, and for those who want to quit, but cannot, it can be frustrating when the patches, gums and other interventions do not work.

The anatomy of a cigarette smoker is multi-faceted. There are physical, mental and even emotional ties to nicotine as well as the actual act of smoking, from bringing a cigarette to the mouth to the time of day in which a cigarette is smoked. The physical component of cigarette smoking is easier to break than the other habits that are formed during smoking, and with the advances in virtual reality animation and game design, a solution to curbing these extraneous habits may be near.

Virtual reality has been used for entertainment, for helping with PTSD and other emotional trauma and the benefits of processing these personality aspects in a safe environment, under the care of a specialist, can be life-changing and long-lasting. The virtual reality environment differs from a standard therapeutic environment because the additional stimulus that is encountered through virtual reality equipment is harder to subconsciously deny as “unrealistic” than solely basing interactions on the imagination of the patient led by a counselor or hypnotherapist. It is this reality that can stimulate the same responses of addicts, whether nicotine, alcohol or other addictions, and can, in turn, be a way to isolate those responses and practice healthier coping strategies. For smokers, a study showed that the virtual act of crushing out a cigarette versus virtually crushing a ball, showed a reduction in nicotine cravings, helping those who were crushing the virtual cigarettes quit their habit.

Virtual reality therapy continues to evolve as a way for animators and video game designers to do more than just create games for entertainment. There are countless ways in which virtual reality therapy can benefit people psychologically, as well as help change unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use and even how to make healthier food choices. Virtual reality therapy gives the patient the ability to experience, and react to, stimulus that can trigger unhealthy behaviors in people and give them the opportunity to change those behaviors without compromising their real-world progress. For smokers, this new treatment may truly mean the difference between life and death, and is a glimpse into the world of addiction and addiction treatment.

Are Video Games Art?

When people think of art, its usually the great, classical artist who come to mind. Rembrandt, da Vinci, Dali or Gauguin are all famous men who are known around the world for their artistic triumphs in the visual arts – in their cases, with canvas and paint. With all of the details that go into the design of video games, including backgrounds, character design, animation, storylines and even the flow of the game itself, some would say that video game design is art, especially those who design the games. Would the great artists consider the design of video games a modern form of artist expression? Are video games less artistic merely because they are on a digital canvas, rather than the expected framed product?

The process of designing a video game takes on many forms. After a video game concept is pitched or developed by a team of designers, they begin to “sketch” out the game itself, much like a movie, with storyboards that are hand-illustrated but they also contain technical details. Unlike a movie, which has only one storyline, a video game may have many different outcomes, each of which has to be designed and produced from start to end. Characters are then created, usually by hand, and eventually scanned into computers with which video game designers take the sketches and apply skeletons (for animation purposes) as well as details such as skin or other visual elements.

Texture mapping comes next, with the attention focused on backgrounds and the environment in which the characters will interact, shoot the bad guys and claim their virtual victories. This art is a step above two-dimensional art because it can contain 3-D elements, plus sounds, moving shadows and many other realistic enhancements. The final phase of video game development is the coding and programming involved. Video game programming gives the characters (and environment) the ability to interact with each other, as well as manage the challenges and obstacles of the game. This artificial intelligence, so to speak, is what can make or break a video game because without engaging game play, no amount of character or environmental design will actually keep a gamer’s attention.

Video games are artistic representations of fantasy worlds in which characters, either realistic human or otherwise, interact within virtual environments. They are the “artistic medium of the new century.” Each time a character turns its head, or the clouds move across the top of the gaming screen, a video game designer had to use her or his artistic expertise in order to create the visual designs needed for the game. While perhaps video games are looked at as lesser forms of art when compared to oil paintings, sculptures or musical compositions, they still stand as representations of truly modern, technology-enhanced art, which use not only visual elements to inspire emotion, but also interpersonal (or inter-monster-al) connections, as well as elements of surprise, fear, love and courage. They are still art, in their own right, as any video game designer will attest.

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