Five Arduino Gadgets for Home Automation

Home Automation photo

According to it’s main website, Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s been used extensively for geek projects, with several thousands of designs out there. The Arduino designs below relate specifically to home automation devices or devices that automate household chores.

#1 Basic Home Automation

Adjusting the temperature, lighting and other settings in your home is now not only possible, but affordable, and can be done all from a computer. Don’t settle for having to get up to change the thermostat when you could just tap out a few keys on your laptop. This project is actually 3 in 1, but interfacing it together makes it very easy to use once it’s up and running.

#2 Automatic Pet Feeder

Feeding and caring for a pet can be almost as involved as raising a child. Why not automate at least the feeding part, leaving your time for the fun pet stuff? This device is made for a cat, and once you fill it up, it’s good to go for days, so it’s a big time-saver. Especially worth it for those that go out of town a lot or have forgetful kids!

#3 RSS Robot

A key feature in information management today is Twittering. Imagine if you had a robot assistant that could read those feeds and then speak them aloud to you! This project is a little on the tricky side, but what a conversation piece. Surprise your friends by a robot reading all your favorite awesome, pretentious or just darn interesting Twitter posts.

#4 Garduino

With nature’s large array of toxic flora, potent medicinal herbs, carnivorous plants and delicious fruit and vegetables, it’s hard not to be envious of those with a green thumb. No longer! This device will ensure your plants get exactly the right amount of water and sunlight, scheduling water from a small tank and using photoreceptors and a flashbulb to supplement sunlight when it doesn’t get enough naturally.

#5 R/C Lawnmower

Let’s face it, mowing the lawn is a job that is pretty much considered the lowest occupation in society, alongside washing dishes. While everyone has an automatic dishwasher, who has an automatic lawnmower? You can get one step closer with this fun-to-use R/C interface. Mowing the lawn can be as easy as playing Mario Kart, and you know you want to go over those anthills from afar.

Stop Wasting Your Money on Ridiculous Tech Gadgets

Tech Gadgets photo

With the new age of constant communication and faster everything, it’s no wonder the market is flooded with ridiculous tech products. The following list is not exhaustive by far, but rather just a tip of the iceberg in the new information age that really serves less purpose than it provides.

LED Water Faucet. This offers a variety of colorful cascading water right into your glass. It serves absolutely no other purpose. Give it up; no one needs colorful cascading water going down the drain with this one.

Led T-shirts. The neon bar lights and taps aren’t enough to attract attention as belt out your karaoke skills. I think I would vote to stick with the beer, much better results.

Virtual Pets. The purpose of a pet is to bring joy and companionship to the family. There is no joy in pushing buttons to make your “pet” pee and eat on command. One good point is that even virtual pets can die without attention. At least the makers offered the users some degree of responsibility.

Point and Speak Programs. You talk and it does all the work for you. It even learns what you mean by the way you vocalize your words. Proofread well, because auto-correct can wreak havoc on your board reports.

Digital Children’s Potty’s. Seriously, someone wants me to teach my child how to use the potty with their tablet attached to the potty. Is it going to wipe them for me too?

Moov. A fitness tracker that gives tips on improving your results with one device attached to your arm or leg. It will even say the tips out loud.

Gamer Hand Exercisers. Designed to exercise the hands and fingers of gamers. Sure, our kids already don’t spend enough time outdoors, now they can exercise one hand and play with the other.

Segways. Big, bulky stand-on vehicles designed to lessen the need to walk. These are basically overpriced skateboards with the same results.

3D Televisions. These only work with certain movies and gawky glasses. Nothing like having friends over and everyone is eating popcorn while looking like a nerd convention has convened at your house.

Retro Phones that connect to Cell Phones. What was the purpose of creating cell phone if we go home and connect them to a home phone? Stylish, redundant and completely useless when not at home.

While everyone enjoys a good laugh once in a while, let’s make sure it’s not at the expense of our wallets with ridiculous tech gadgets that offer nothing but space.

Prepping for Your First Marathon

Running your first marathon is something to be celebrated… after you finish training. One step at a time will get you across the finish line.

Marathon photo

While training, you should have the right clothing, shoes, fuel and music. Trial and error is the best way to see what works best for you. To be safe, allow yourself at least 6 months when training for your first marathon. It may be slow building up the mileage at first, but as time goes on and your body gets used to the movement and structure, it will become easier. For instance, running 2 miles the first week, 3 miles the second week and so forth will help break the 26.2 miles into manageable pieces.

Measure your performance. Since this is your first marathon, remember to have patience with yourself. Small victories add up to larger ones. Try training with a pedometer to get a good sense of your time and gait. There are many out there — some even fit right into your shoe. For example, the Nike+ features a small pedometer that will also let you listen to Lance Armstrong encourage you as you run past your farthest distance. Some prefer to wear a watch with a heart rate monitor. Do what feels comfortable to you.

Shoes make the difference. There is a long distance between mile one and mile 26.2. You better make sure you’re wearing the right shoes! The best way to find your perfect fit is to try on as many pairs of shoes as possible. When the shoe fits correctly, it will not be too tight or too loose, but will spread out evenly to help ensure that there is no cramping or slipping. Running shoes usually last about 300 miles, which means you may need to get a new pair before the race. It is a good idea to get fitted into new running shoes at least 2 weeks before your big event.

Careful with the clothes. As your body releases salt and water through sweat, wearing the right clothing can be the difference between feeling tired and cold, or excited and warmed up. Dri-Fit clothing is highly recommended because it has the ability to wick away moisture and keep you comfortable. Stay away from cotton. It does not wick away moisture and can cause chafing and discomfort. Remember, having the right clothing, along with lots of fluids, will make for a positive experience.

Stock up on tunes. Music is a great way to stay focused and on top of your game. Load your iPod with inspirational and uplifting music so that it can push you when you’re feeling tired and out of energy. Create a playlist with your favorite songs and try it out before the race to see how it works for you.

As always, trust your gut. If your body is telling you to slow down, listen to it. No one knows your body better than you do. Keeping active and alert during your training and on race day will ensure that you have a memorable, life-altering experience. Now, go get your medal!


Step by Step to Your First Marathon: Helpful Hints to Get from 0 to 26.2!

Marathon photo

Around mile twenty of my most recent marathon my runner’s high was interrupted by that elusive inner voice complaining “This is hard!” What immediately followed and ultimately drove me to a strong finish was the reminder that “Of course it’s hard! That’s what makes it a marathon and such an accomplishment.” For many, the magnitude of this challenge may be daunting enough to keep their sneakers – and dream of completing a marathon – packed away in the closet. While there’s no magic formula to becoming a marathon runner overnight, a bit of determination and an appropriate training plan can put the rewards of marathon running well within reach. The following outline is intended to provide a general understanding of the marathon process, from the earliest aspirations to the finish line and beyond.

Set a goal
Choose a marathon at least four months away (to allow ample training time) and sign up. If nothing else, the money invested in the registration fee might keep you motivated. As do runners, marathons come in many shapes and sizes, so do some research and ask other runners for recommendations before deciding on a race. Do you prefer the convenience of a local course or the novelty of an exotic destination run? Are you inspired by smaller, intimate races or the crowds and stimulation of larger marathons? is an excellent resource to search for races by location, size, date and runners’ ratings.

Devise a training plan
Approaches to marathon training vary widely and include designing an individualized schedule, joining a training team or even hiring a personal coach. For the do-it-yourself runner, the links section lists three recommended training plans. Most programs assume some previous running experience and that you are able to comfortably run three to five miles at a time. If you are a novice allow sufficient time to first build up to this level.

Certain features are common to most programs. Most require at least four months of dedicated training, logging anywhere from 20 to 50 or more miles per week, but few include completing the full 26-mile run prior to the marathon. The first few months are generally spent building up to maximal mileage, followed by a three to four week “taper” period before race day. Many plans demand five or six weekly runs, with one or two days for rest or cross-training. One run is designated the critical “weekly long run” which often increases in distance by one to three miles per week. The remaining runs tend to be considerably shorter than the long run and serve to maintain endurance or refine a particular skill, such as speed work or hill strength. Keep in mind that training plans are not one-size-fits-all, so there is nothing wrong with tailoring a program to your individual goals, strengths or schedule.

Stay motivated and stick to it
In many respects, training for a marathon is a far greater challenge than actually running one. During training you will likely need to make significant adjustments to your lifestyle and schedule. It is extremely helpful to make a calendar clearly indicating your precise workout for each day. Check this calendar daily and try not to stray! As the runs grow in mileage and intensity you will undoubtedly find yourself increasingly sensitive to factors like sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption and dehydration. It is vital that you listen to your body’s demands for proper nutrition and rest to remain strong and healthy. Further, the time commitment will likely require running at some inconvenient times to squeeze in a run early before or late after work or school.

Although many runners fear that under-training will leave them weak and unprepared, over-training can be equally detrimental. Rest days are included in training plans for good reason. Regardless of how strong or motivated you may feel, frequent breaks are crucial to rebuild muscle, restore energy and heal injuries. Avoid the common pitfall of runner burnout by taking all planned rests and allowing yourself occasional additional breaks if you are injured, ill or just worn out.

By marathon day there is little you can do to improve your strength or endurance, so your primary concern should be remaining healthy, rested and hydrated. In the days preceding the race, get adequate and regular sleep, eat a balanced diet and drink lots of water. Running should be kept to a minimum, according to your training schedule. On marathon morning the most important rule to follow is never alter your routine. If you normally eat toast and tea an hour before running, this is not the time to experiment with bacon, pancakes and a triple espresso. Those adorable new running shorts can wait to be broken in, unless hours of chafing are included in your race goals. Expect some pre-race jitters to wreak minor havoc on your usual biological rhythms. You probably will not get much quality sleep the night before and may find yourself making frequent visits to the bathroom in the hours leading up to the gun. Therefore, plan to rise early on marathon morning to allow sufficient time to prepare, relax and reach the start.

Rest and recover
The period after the marathon may introduce some unanticipated physical and emotional responses. Following initial feelings of pride and exhilaration from completing the race, it is possible to come down with a case of the “post-race blues”. This is common and likely related to disappointment that the grand event is passed, combined with a sense of aimlessness associated with no longer training. To further exacerbate such feelings, you may also feel lethargic for several weeks as your body labors to restore sore, injured muscles and combat fatigue. Although you may experience the urge to immediately return to high intensity running and may even be considering which marathon to conquer next, an adequate recovery period is essential for a smooth and prompt return to optimal running condition.

Over the course of your training, the marathon and post-race recuperation you will inevitably experience moments of discouragement. But these fleeting feelings are far outweighed by the physical and mental benefits reaped from training and the satisfaction of crossing the finish line after 26.2 glorious miles.

Spin a Web Page that Really Grabs Attention!

Basic Principals of Web Design

Designing web pages must be done with some basic principals in mind.

People don’t read, they scan!

The majority of internet users today simply scan pages. They are always looking for the most relevant and interesting things on the page. Web pages have to be designed with this fact in mind so that the user stays engaged and interested. Shorter columns broken up by interesting links, pictures, and videos on your web page’s topic will help the user to scan the page more effectively.

Spin a Web Page photo
Photo by SMU Libraries Digital Collections

Usability is key!

People that will be viewing your web page don’t want to have to take the time to try and figure out how it works or how to navigate it. If your web page is not user friendly then you will lose your audience. Make headings bold and links obvious! Provide visuals or tutorials for difficult tasks on your web page to take the guess work out of how to use it for your visitors.

Focus your audiences attention!

To help focus people’s attention, try to bold face certain things that you want them to focus on or remember. If you are advertising that your site is free try making your website name smaller and highlight the word free. The more you help to focus attention, the less users have to guess at what they are looking at or what they should explore on your website next.

Keep it simple!

Your primary task as a web designer is to keep your website simple and to the point. That’s not to say that you can’t have a little fun with color and graphics but people rarely go to sites to enjoy the design. Usually, people are trying to find out information and they want it fast. So while bold face print and text size make a difference in how easy it can be to navigate your web page, you also don’t want to overdo it.

Use the right tools!

While many websites offer free web design tools, their options are rarely customizable and your page ends up fairly generic which isn’t the best approach if you’re looking to attract a broader audience. Some great web designing tools to check out are: Adobe Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop. These tools will give your web page a more personalized and professional feel that will make the user feel more comfortable and confident in your service.

Healthy Almond Berry Smoothie

¼ cup blueberries
¼ cup strawberries
¼ raspberries
¼-½ cup ice
¼ cup almond milk

Almond Berry Smoothie photo
Photo by AmazingAlmonds

Blend ingredients together in a blender until desired consistency and enjoy.

Facts about:

Blueberries: Contain antioxidants and known for slowing the aging process

Strawberries: Contains a lot of vitamin C, which aids in the promotion of a strong immune system

Raspberries: Contain lutein, which may be responsible for healthy vision, along with vitamin C and antioxidants which are known for offering protection against some types of cancers and heart disease.

Almond Milk: A tasty alternative to milk, almond milk contains Vitamin E, protein, and omega fatty acids.

These are just a few brief facts and are not by any way a comprehensive list of the benefits and properties of each individual ingredient.

Prepping for Your First Marathon or Triathalon

Triathalon photo

Once you have decided to compete in your first marathon or triathlon, you have already changed your life for the better. Unlike so many other sports, marathons and triathlons do not revolve around winning to determine success. Since the sport offers such a profound test of your physical abilities, mental toughness and personal determination, finishing a race provides you with a feeling that can only be understood through experience. No baseball or football player has ever walked off a field feeling good for simply finishing a game, yet triathletes who train for months cross the finish line overwhelmed by accomplishment, and return home stronger and more confident than ever before.

Preparing for your first marathon or triathlon not only requires you to get your body ready for an extreme test of physical endurance and strength, but also requires you to train your mind to help your body hurdle the obstacles it will encounter in both your daily workouts and on race day. The sheer beauty of these events is that they push you to your very limits. Having a clear vision at the beginning, one that is realistic and exciting, will encourage you to stay motivated, feel good, and squeeze every ounce of fun and enjoyment out of your first race.

Once You Have Committed Yourself

Do not allow yourself a way to back out. Plenty of people have great intentions, but most leave the door open to escape when it gets tough. Lock yourself into the commitment by finding a race, registering and paying for it, and generating a training plan. Realize that you should probably take part in a sprint triathlon, which is the shortest version and involves a 500-700-meter swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 5k run. These races are generally more local and attract all types of people. Therefore you should not feel intimidated. Most triathlons have a broad range of people, from the experienced athlete who trains incessantly to the couch potato who is up to try something new.

Set a realistic goal. Goal setting, which is more of a positive life skill than just an athletic concept, gives you something for which to strive. It also serves as a reminder for you to keep working hard. For your first marathon or triathlon, do not become obsessed with times or splits. The clock is never important; in fact, leave your watch at home. The real battle happens within your mind, so set your goals to reflect the mental challenges you will face. Rather than hoping to finish the race or a certain leg of the race in a given time, focus your mental goals on pushing through the moments where you want to quit, where your arms hurt too much to take another stroke or your legs refuse to run one more step. Sharpen your mind to reject that desire to give in. Remember that your body will always want to quit, but you must condition your mind to rule your body. This is what will make you become a stronger athlete and a better person.

Get Your Equipment

Do not break the bank on your first marathon or triathlon, running out to buy the best road bike, the coolest aerodynamic helmet and the priciest running shoes on the market. Instead, be logical and comfortable. For the swim portion, you will need a good, slim-fitting swimsuit and quality goggles that you have already worn and know do not leak. If you anticipate cold water, for example an ocean swim, you may want to invest in or rent a wetsuit. Not only will the wetsuit keep you warm, but also it will add buoyancy to your swim and permit you to be more “slippery” in the water. As part of your race packet, you will receive a swim cap, which is mandatory to enter the water. The colors, normally very bright to increase the lifeguard’s ability to spot you, signify your wave-the group of people, normally broken down by age and gender, with whom you enter the water.

For the cycling section, you can use any type of bike. While the most common and advantageous is a road bike, many first-timers use mountain bikes, hybrids or touring bikes. Whichever you choose, before you begin training, take it to your local bike shop for a tune-up. You will want to have everything working smoothly, both during your weekly rides and on race day. Also, you will need to wear a certified helmet. Not only is this a USA Triathlon rule, but also it’s just common sense. Cycling in a large group of people, with competitors racing at varying speeds, can be challenging, so placing safety first is a good idea. At the race you will see people with bikes that look like rocket ships. Do not get intimidated by equipment. You are there to prove something to yourself, not to show off your latest purchase. Finally, a pair of sunglasses is a good idea to reduce sun glare and to block the wind.

On the final portion, the run, your equipment is simple: a good pair of Nike running shoes. Treat your feet well and they will return the favor. Have a comfortable pair of thin, moisture-wicking socks underneath your shoes that fit your feet well. You will do best to go to a local shoe store that has knowledgeable people who can find the sneaker that works best for your body and running style. Take the time to do this right and you will feel much more productive in training and during the competition.

Aside from the major pieces of equipment, you should also get a stick or two of body glide, a lubricant put on like deodorant that will keep parts of your body from chaffing. Apply it to any parts that will rub together or have tighter clothing rub against it during the race. Have several bottles of water, a few on your bike, and another with your equipment bag, as hydration is a critical element in keeping your body prepared. You might also want to have an additional pair of goggles in case your first pair fails. Overall, you want to have used all of your equipment during training. Try never to use something new and untested on race day.

Devise a Training Plan

Begin training nine weeks prior to your sprint distance race, and plan on completing a total of six to nine sessions a week: two or three each for swimming, cycling and running. You must dedicate one session for each discipline to technique development while the other one or two sessions should have an endurance base. To draw your plan out, print three months of blank calendars. Start by giving one day to complete rest, as your body needs rest to properly recover and grow. Then begin to plot out which days you will run, bike and swim. Make these decisions considering the demands in your life, and try to establish a logical approach that will offer you little reason to skip a training session. A sample week could look like this:

  • Monday: Off
  • Tuesday: Swim (technique)
  • Wednesday: Short run
  • Thursday: Bike
  • Friday: Swim (endurance)
  • Saturday: Long run (a.m.); long bike (p.m.)
  • Sunday: Swim and bike (brick)

This sample week has three swims, three bikes and two runs. Saturday splits the workout into morning and evening sessions, and Sunday’s training is in the form of a brick, which is the term for performing a race-like simulation of events back to back. You should feel free to manipulate the week to fit your schedule and strengths. For example, if you are a strong runner and a weak swimmer, spend more time developing your swim abilities.

Whatever setup you devise, stick to it and you will see results in a short period of time. Considering that the increase in your training load from week to week should be small to avoid injury and fatigue, only raise your volume by approximately 10 percent each week. Do not try to do it all at once. Your body needs to recuperate following stressful training sessions, so plan and use the nine weeks wisely. See the sample plans below for moderate first sessions. Add to them on an individual basis as needed or modify them to fit your current ability level.

Swim session (400 meters)

  • Warm-up: 4 x 25 (one length of the pool)
  • Technique drills: 2 x 25 (select one to focus on each day)
  • Ladder set: 25, 25, 50, 50, 25, 25
  • Cool down: 2 x 25 at a slow, even pace

Bike session

  • 10-minute warm-up of moderate pedaling
  • 20-minute ride, working for consistent pedal strokes and body position
  • 5-minute easy pedal cool down followed by a post stretch

Run session

  • 5-minute walk or jog
  • 5 minutes of active stretching
  • 20-30 minutes of running or walking/running

The Swim

No rules exist in a triathlon as to what stroke to use while swimming. You can freestyle, which is the most efficient and common, or you may elect to backstroke, side-stroke, breaststroke, or do any number of these together. During your training sessions, work on a few different strokes to get comfortable and confident. This will let you make adjustments during the race without panicking.

Regardless of the strokes you use, the key to swimming successfully is to breathe well. When you stress your body, you will have the natural tendency to breathe fast to compensate and keep up with the demands your body is experiencing. However, the right decision is to breathe slower and deeper. If you can keep your breath slow and consistent, you will ease your mind and swim smoother.

Also, realize that while most of your training will take place in a pool, try to get in ocean or lake swims if you can; you will have to make adjustments to competing in open water. Practice picking your head up every 10 strokes to spot your target. Since most people tend to stray left or right when they swim-a problem worsened in open water that does not have lane lines to guide you-picking a spot in the distance and sighting it every 10 seconds or so will let you readjust and keep a straight line to the finish.

Having a training partner with the same goals as you can certainly help with your motivation, but it can also become increasingly more important if you want to train in the open water. Without the safety on a pool’s bottom only a few feet away, the open water can be a challenge, as currents, chop and poor vision can not only hinder you physically but can also scare you mentally. Practice in the open water so that race day is not a brand new experience, but have a person with you to insure safety.

The Bike

While not as technical as the swim, the bike leg has a few elements that you should practice before heading into competition. First, when you train, work on maintaining a consistent cadence or pedal stroke. Pushing your legs to the brink and then resting is an illogical way to ride, and it will create early fatigue. Instead, pedal cleanly and steadily, making sure you understand the various gears your bike offers and when to use them correctly. Second, knowing that you will be traveling in a group, keep a straight line as you ride. Weaving back and forth becomes dangerous for both you and the other riders. Get your body into an aero position-a lower, more compact alignment-avoiding the desire to sit completely upright, which increases wind resistance and will make you work twice as hard for the same result. Finally, sit in the seat as much as possible, even on small up-hills, as getting up off the saddle to pedal too often taxes your legs and steals critical energy that you will need later in the run. If trained well, the bike can actually serve as a place for your body to recover from the swim and prepare for the run.

The Run

Use caution when starting your run training, especially if you are not a big runner now. Trying to do too much too soon will result in injuries, most likely shin splints or runner’s knee. Begin modestly, even if that means briskly walking and mixing in some short jogging intervals.Gradually make the jogging portions longer, and eventually you will have full running sessions.

As you grow stronger, you can begin to focus on your form. Work to create a comfortable stride that is not too short, allows you to have minimal contact with the ground, and permits a high kick at the back of the stride. Relax your upper body as much as possible; too much tension makes the muscles contract and actually steals the energy that should be reserved for your legs. Also, seek balance in your form. Do the same fluid motion with your left leg as you do with your right.

Many runners choose to train on sidewalks and streets, but too much road running can cause problems. Instead, do the bulk of your training off-road on trails, grassy areas or even a rubberized track. The softer landing will decrease the stress on your feet, ankles and legs, which will let you train more consistently and enjoyably. If your particular race will be run on pavement, make the transition to road running as the race gets closer, but do the bulk of your work on more forgiving surfaces.

Keep a Training Journal

Throughout the process, take the time each day to record what you did, what you ate, how you felt, what worked, what did not work and any other relevant thoughts to your experience. It helps to organize yourself mentally and express what you have done. Putting your training reflections on paper can serve as an additional source of motivation, a place to recognize mistakes or patterns, and an area to literally see your development.

In the end, training for your first marathon or triathlon has less to do with bodily endurance and more to do with mental fortitude. While the process will make you a physically stronger person capable of doing much more than you could only a few short months before, you will find the true growth within your character and will. Completing training sessions, as grueling as they may be, and eventually crossing that finish line, will inject you with a lifelong sense of confidence, and you will emerge from the journey a person who believes that anything is possible.

Guide to Finding the Best Fonts on the Web and How to Use Them

Best Fonts photo

First off, let me interject that I am not writing “the” definitive guide on typefaces, just my collected thoughts and tips. There are books written just about typeface use but since I love fonts, I’m going to indulge myself a bit here. Actually, I could ramble on about fonts forever. Over the years, I have collected thousands of fonts. I actually can’t resist having over a thousand installed on my PC at any given time, even knowing that it can slow you computer down. I am constantly tooling around the internet looking for good fonts. In my opinion, one cannot have access to too many fonts. You can instantly change the “flavor” of a document just by changing the typeface. You can combine (tastefully) typefaces within a document to add emphasis or direct the reader. There are endless possibilities! Whew! Take a deep breath….ok, I’m good. Seriously, nothing says more about a project with text in it, then the text itself. You can change a project from serious to whimsical just by changing the font. All that said one does have to know a few things about good font use. There are so many different types of fonts that it boggles the mind. They range from the graphical “themed” type such as the graffiti, horror, techno, retro, swirly-girly styles to the more traditional serif or sans serif types. With so many choices available and so many various project types it doesn’t make sense not to have a lot of fonts in your arsenal but as I mentioned before about my own PC, having too many fonts can, in fact, slow your system down, particularly when loading a large program that in turn has to load your fonts, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Every computer is different and so is every operating system. A thousand fonts or less is the general rule of thumb but some will argue that even half that is too much. I live by the “thousand font rule” but often find myself exceeding it. If your computer is healthy, it’s tempting to download fonts of all different types and shapes and that’s fine. Keeping your fonts organized is a must. I highly recommend the use of a third-party font manager that is capable of creating sets of fonts, swapping sets into and out of the installed fonts directory in your operating system, and can print out a font samples catalog to make it easy to pick and choose fonts without having to have them all installed and slowing your computer down. Another issue with heavy font use is that you are bound to run across corrupted fonts after awhile and these will need to be repaired or removed. Good font managers are also capable of font repair as well. Here is a small list of my recommendations for font managers:

FontFrenzy – Free – 
Highly recommended, totally free font manager. Has the neat ability to clean your system by taking a snapshot of your installed fonts and then removing all fonts except the original system fonts.

Font Doctor – Pay – 
This great utility, which I use often, can repair damaged fonts and font sets. Set it to work analyzing your temporary font folders for problematic fonts before you install them into your OS. This is particularly handy if you download tons of free fonts.

Typograf – Pay – 
A good, solid, all-around font manager. Very good at spotting and removing duplicate fonts, even across CDs or DVDs.

Another thing about having so many font choices is that you have to know when to use a particular type of font and when not to in a project. It’s tempting to want to use all these cool fonts you’ve collected. What could have more impact on a business card then your bosses name spelled out in a font of dripping blood? Well, that would be a prime example of what not to do with a typeface, but if your company is having a Halloween party and you’re printing up the flyer, then by all means use that bloody font. If you know the intended purpose and audience for your design project and you should as the designer, keep that in mind when selecting fonts. If the tone is serious, stick to serious fonts, if the tone is hard and gritty, stick to fonts that reflect that. Sounds like a no-brainer but I see tons of projects from other designers, this goes for websites too by the way, that use the wrong fonts in the wrong places and as a result the message that needed to be conveyed to the audience, took a backseat to the typeface. If you’re working closely with clients as a designer, or if your boss or a coworker is on the creative side, then often they will pick typefaces or rely on you to guide them. Steer them right and you can’t go wrong. Listen to what they have to say. Get a feel for the project. Read the copy. Use the force. Whatever, but just make sure you don’t go overboard with the typefaces. It is always a good point of design to pick a typeface or two and stick with those throughout the entire project for the sake of consistency. If the font changes every other line, people are going to blow out their corneas and stop reading. I think you’re getting the idea.

Now on to the free versus pay fonts discussion. Fonts is a rare category of design asset where many of the best font designers have been more than generous and have allowed some of their best fonts to be distributed for free. There are literally thousands of high quality free fonts available on the internet from many reputable sources. Most of these allow for use in commercial projects. There’s hope for mankind yet. In fact, there are so many high quality free fonts available, that one would wonder why anyone would have to pay for fonts? Well, you don’t have to per se but some of the very best fonts, especially as far as business related commercial projects are concerned, are available only as pay fonts. In the business world, you’re dealing with less gimmicky, graphical fonts and working mostly with traditional types or perhaps a few cursive or handwritten script types but traditional types for the most part. These could be serif or sans serif (with or with out those little tiny extensions at the ends of each stroke within each letter). The choice of which depends on the use but my quick rule of thumb there is if you are writing a lot of traditional themed body text, such as this book, use a serif font, they tend to be easier to read. If you’re writing less formal copy, with fewer or smaller paragraphs and especially if the theme is a bit more modern or technical, use a sans serif font. I would make sure you had a good selection of several of each. A lot of the best business type fonts and graphical “themed” fonts for that matter are in fact pay fonts. Check around, use my sources below, and check prices. Make sure you double check their licensing and don’t overlook keeping a copy of the license for each font you use. This goes for free fonts to by the way. Resist the temptation of buying a huge collection of typefaces unless you plan on doing many projects requiring a massive assortment of fonts. These tend to be expensive, the fonts all quite similar, and you’re only likely to use a handful of them. I would recommend going back over your initial project materials, getting a feel for the project, and then checking your existing font collection to make sure you can’t get by with what you have in stock. If not, then start looking at the free sources. While most of the free fonts do tend to be lighter in theme and more graphical in nature, many were designed with traditional use in mind but the choice will depend on your project. If you’re designing a flyer for a band of musician skater boys, then a grungy graphical font will work well. If it’s the handouts for the next board meeting, stick to the traditional stuff. If a free font is available, make sure the license will allow for commercial use. If nothing in the free font world strikes your fancy, hit the pay sites. A lot of free font sites don’t have their own license but default to the individual font designer’s license. When downloading free fonts, watch to see if a license file is included with the download and make sure to review it and keep a copy. If the free font file itself does not have an included license and the website where you got the font does not, I would recommend trying to do some research online about the font to make sure it’s ok to use in commercial fonts. In most of these types of cases, it is ok but I do not recommend making that assumption without at least attempting to find out. In the end, if no trace of a license can be found in the universe, the decision to use it is now up to you. If you want to use it for Granny’s 80th birthday invitations, go ahead but I wouldn’t use it for a client’s company logo. In fact, that brings up a good last point; Watch out for font licensing terms that preclude the fonts use in logos. This is common even in pay font licenses since adding it to a logo which could then be trademarked might give you a legal footing in snatching the font’s ownership away from the designer. They don’t want to take the chance so they don’t allow it. That’s not the case every time but make sure to check. Be extremely wary of the “copycat” fonts out there. These are fonts that have been designed by someone to mimic an already existing, well known commercial typeface. A good example of this would be movie logos, TV show logos, famous restaurant chain logos, famous movie studio logos, etc… I wouldn’t use these logos for anything even remotely resembling a commercial project to avoid having your pants sued off. I am totally unsure about the legality of creating such copycat fonts but even if you are allowed to do so, I am quite sure, trying to use one in your own logo or your company advertising is just begging for a lawsuit.

Let me sum that all up real quick: Have a balance of graphical “themed” fonts versus the traditional typefaces with a handful of the latter divided between serif and sans serif fonts. Make sure to keep copies of the licenses and read them to make sure you understand the terms (like not being able to use them in logos), stay away from copycat fonts designed to look like other famous and likely copy protected typefaces, and finally make sure to use a good third-party font manager to stay on top of your fonts and to help repair any broken ones.

Whew! My fingers hurt from typing. Here is my list of font resources:

My Fonts – pay (prices vary) and several free fonts 
This is one of the slickest resources for fonts around. They may not have the largest collection of fonts available but the experience of using their website more than makes up for it. Their search tools are fantastic. If you cannot figure out what typeface was used in a document, say an old flyer, you can scan it into your computer and upload it to their “What the Font” finder and it will automatically take a stab at identifying the font or the closest font in My Font’s library for you. How cool is that?!?! Like most font websites, you can adjust what the sample text is so that every font displayed reflects what you wrote. Pretty standard but they also have, for most fonts, sample images of how each font would look in a typical design project. Pretty snazzy! You can create an account, setup font albums that you can organize your favorites into and then purchase and download entire or partial albums. You do have to go through the checkout process even for free fonts but even the checkout process is really slick. You can choose to change the font format from OpenType to TrueType, to Mac formats for each font, review the license for each font (most important!), and pick and choose how to get the fonts. You can either download each font individually, download all the fonts you just purchased (free fonts included here as well) in one zip file, or run their “Easy Installer” which will automatically download and install the fonts into your Windows operating system (do this if your not using a font manager or already have a zillion fonts). Awesome! Even from the download page and all of its download options, you can still change the font format for each font and get a great PDF printable receipt. Nice! Add to all this their reasonably priced CD’s, their discounted specials and the very neat specials browser that gives you large real-world type samples, and the large array of top font designers and you have a terrific resource for acquiring fonts that’s a real pleasure to browse. Kudos!


Font Bros. – pay (prices vary) and some free fonts 
Font Bros. is a great and great looking website for a diverse collection of very high quality pay fonts from some of the bigger name font designers around. They do have a few free fonts available as teasers for the pay fonts. They pay fonts available are all highly unique and most come with alternative styles for you to mix and match. The website itself looks like a “vend-o-matic” type of retro-futuristic machine straight out of a cartoon and is very original and really slick. The fonts themselves are well organized into aptly named categories that are quite accessible as a cool looking sidebar menu. An animated retro type of rotating dial facilitates alphabetical searching. Once you find a favorite font designer, you can filter the font collection to just that designer’s stuff. Samples for each font are nice looking and quite large. A few fonts include slick PDF guides to give you some tips on using that particular typeface. Font Bros. also has several pre-packaged font sets available as well. Overall, Font Bros. is a very slick looking site with many highly original fonts available with a few freebies thrown into the mix as well. Worth a look.


1001 Free Fonts – free fonts 
1001 Free Fonts is one of the oldest and most popular free font websites on the internet with a large collection of fonts of varying theme. The name is a bit understated since they have 3,338 free fonts listed (not including Mac fonts) at the time of this writing. I have used fonts from their site numerous times over the years and they are a tremendous resource. Their website is fairly no-nonsense with the fonts being divided alphabetically. Once you have clicked on a letter, like the letter “A” for instance, you will be taken to an alphabetical list of all the sites “A” named fonts like “Abode” for example. You are given large samples of each font and may choose to download Windows or Mac versions. You can navigate to different alphabetical listings or you may use a search by name feature. Licenses are packaged individually with each font, provided there is a license at all. If a license file is not available, that does not mean it’s free to use. Make sure to check the terms if there is a license file since some may not allow commercial use. Finally, you can even purchase a zip file of all their fonts, over 6000 of them, in one shot for about $15.00 (make sure you check out the license files). If you pay attention to the license files or lack thereof and do some research, 1001 Free Fonts is a very worthwhile website with tons of good quality free fonts to choose from. Stop on by, you may never have to pay for another font again!


Da Font – free fonts 
Another large, well laid out collection of free fonts. At the time of this writing, Da Font had over 7000 fonts available. The site is very clean and easy to navigate. Samples are large and may include sample artwork from the font designer using that particular font. Fonts can be divided into a large collection of very aptly named categories and sub-categories and you may also search by keyword. You can also filter fonts by designer. Links to commercial fonts and commercial font websites are around. Like most free font websites, Da Font does not maintain any rights to the fonts and therefore are not responsible for their use or misuse. Some of the fonts are free, some are shareware, and some are demos for larger pay font families. License files are included with the individual font downloads if available. As I mentioned before, if a license file is not available for a font on Da Font’s website, that does not mean it’s free to use, merely the information was unavailable to Da Font. As always, make sure to do your homework. A great site, loaded with great fonts!


Blambot Comic Fonts & Lettering – pay (prices vary) and several free fonts 
Blambot is another of my favored font websites, this time with the fonts having a comic book flare to them. In fact, the designer is a comic artist and the fonts were therefore designed specifically for use in comic books and as such are perfect for use in any project requiring a cool, handwritten look to it. Blambot has 103 free fonts available and 73 pay fonts. The fonts are all very original, high quality fonts and are available in Mac and Windows formats. Licensing for free fonts, unfortunately, only allows for use within your own “non-profit” projects unless you’re publishing your own comic book. If you intend to use the free fonts in your commercial project that isn’t an independent comic book, you’re going to have to pay a fee, which is a reasonable request for high quality original fonts, so don’t be put off. Pay fonts may be used in commercial projects. The site is quite nice to look at, it has a comic theme of course, and navigation of the fonts is very easy. They are all contained in a scrolling sidebar menu that is further divided up into font categories named for a font’s primary use with a comic book such as dialog, titles, sound effects, and symbols. In addition to the great fonts, there are many comic book related extras within the site so if you’re into comic books and especially if you’re looking for a resource to help you with your own comic book, Blambot is a great place to look.


The Marine Corps Marathon

Marathon photo

Each year, thousands of people run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.. In 2006, there were 20,879 finishers, making it the fourth largest marathon in the United States. The largest three in 2006 (based on the number of finishers) were Chicago, New York and Honolulu. The Marine Corps Marathon is extremely popular, and registration fills up within a matter of days.

I thoroughly enjoyed running the Marine Corps Marathon last October. The weather was perfect, the crowd support was unmatched by anything I’d ever seen at a race, and I felt strong throughout the entire run. This race was very well organized and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to run a marathon.

The morning of the race, my friend and I took the metro, checked our bags, and walked to the start line.

Miles 1-7 
I started off wearing two pairs of gloves and a hooded warm-up jacket over my top. I quickly shed the gloves and jacket at mile 1. I ran the first mile in about 11 minutes, but I didn’t worry because I knew I could make up the time later. Unlike a 5K or a 10K, if you go really slow at the beginning, you have plenty of miles at the end to compensate. The 2-mile hill at the beginning was not as steep or as bad as I expected, and the downhill was a nice reward. I saw a shirt that said “I have been Carb loading for 25 years”.

By Mile 5, the crowd thinned out and I was able to go at my own pace without having to worry so much about the crowd. I ran the first 5 miles in 52 minutes, and then decided to step up the speed a notch.

Miles 8-15 
These were very strong miles and they went by very quickly. I passed one of my friends at mile 11, and she surprised me with a HUGE sign that said “GO ELIZABETH” in big bold colors. It reminded me of when we were in high school and she hand-made me cards for things.

I had been predicting a pace of 4:28, so I was really excited to pass the halfway mark at exactly 2:14. I knew that I was running strong, and I told myself “Okay, just repeat exactly what you just did, and you will be fine!”

Miles 16-23 
Someone who had run the Marine Corps Marathon before said “running around Hanes point at miles 17-20 is where most people hit the wall. If you can make it through there, you’ll be fine.” So, I kept telling myself that I would NOT hit a wall running around Hanes point, and that I would enjoy being close to the water with the cool breeze. I actually zoned out and even forgot which mile I was on. I asked someone else and she said we were coming up on mile 19. Funny that I hadn’t even recalled passing mile 18.

I became re-energized at mile 20 when there was a timing mat and I realized I was going faster than a 10-minute mile. Every time I passed a mile marker, I looked at my watch, and I held a pace of approximately 10:00 for most of the race. The crowd at this point was extreme and everyone was handing out food and candy. I crossed over the 14th street bridge and into Crystal City, where I knew my mother was standing at mile 23. She later told me that I looked like I was at mile 1 because I was so strong and energized, whereas almost everyone else looked like they were actually at mile 23. I was happy to hear that. She said I made her proud, and that made me so happy. When I passed her, she handed me a bag of skittles, which tasted extremely good.

Miles 24-26.2 
My legs really started to hurt at mile 24 and suddenly, I really wanted the race to end. For the first time, I felt like running 2.2 more miles would be impossible. But I told myself that I had come this far, and if I kept running at my pace, I only had to survive 22 more minutes. But if I stopped, the wait would be much longer and I wouldn’t be happy with my time. So, I pushed my way through these last few miles. Mile 25 was probably the hardest mile of the whole race because the wind was going about 5-10 mph right in my face. I felt like it was making me run in slow motion. I was really, really tempted to stop, but I refused to let myself stop. I reminded myself of the Philadelphia Distance run where those last two miles were so painful, but I just focused on the music, zoned out and went for it.

When I saw the finish line, I got so extremely excited and I made a sprint for it. I looked at my watched and realized that if I sprinted, I could get in under 4:25. So I powered past everyone, all the way to the right hand side of the course, and came in at 4:24:39. It felt awesome to have such a strong finish.

After the Race 
I thought that the race had been well-organized until the end. Immediately after a marathon, you’re supposed to keep walking. But this was impossible because everyone was crowded into such a small space and you couldn’t even move. I made it through the food line, and then made my way toward the baggage check to get my things.

I found myself on a bridge, packed in like a sardine. People weren’t even moving, I was just stuck there. I met a really nice woman and we started chatting. I didn’t like the crowd at all. I felt like I was suffocating and I didn’t have my own space to breathe. I don’t consider myself to be claustrophobic, and I tolerated this crowd for about 10 minutes. But the longer we stood there without moving, the worse and worse my anxiety got. I calmly told the woman I just met that I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I asked her to please calm me down and re-assure me that there was no reason to panic. But I did anyway. Before I knew it, I was hyperventilating, crying hysterically and having a full-fledged panic attack. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t even speak. Two EMTs came and got me and pushed me through the crowd to an open area. I was still hyperventilating and breathing heavily. It was weird. I just felt like I really, really, needed some of my own space- especially after just having run 26.2 miles.

The EMT took my pulse. “You have a runner’s pulse”. He said. “Well, yeah,” I replied. I calmed down and the EMTs walked me to the baggage claim area. That was much less crowded and I was fine.

Eventually, my friend and I made it home, and got massages at a spa near me. We treated ourselves to Carvel ice cream, too. What an incredible high and an amazing day.

Mental Challenge 
I strongly believe that a marathon is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. All throughout the race, I kept thinking of all the people that were tracking me remotely. I knew that they were rooting for me, and that helped push me through.

During the run, I refused to let negative thinking get me down. I simply did not allow myself to feel weak, tired, or un-supported by friends. If I could do that all the time and not let negative thinking get the better of me, I would be a much happier person. I now realize that I do have the power to control my thoughts (and therefore my feelings) so I can prevent myself from having thoughts that are only going to make me feel bad. Running never ceases to teach me things about myself and my life. That’s why I do it.

Motivated by Music 
My iPod, more than anything else, was what pushed me forward in this race. I am extremely passionate about music, and I lip synced a lot of the songs, and occasionally even “danced” to them with my arms. I made sure to put the slower songs at the beginning, the upbeat, rhythmic songs in the middle, and the inspirational ones at the end. I created the play list about three weeks before the race so I would be “surprised” by it. There were four songs that I wanted to finish to, but since I came in earlier than I expected, I had to fast forward through a few songs to get to a “finishing song” at mile marker 26. Here is a sampling from my list, in order, with yellow highlights for the ones that were especially great to run to:

– Steady as She Goes (Raconteurs) 
– Perfect Time of Day (Howie Day) 
– Hazy Shade of Winter (The Bangels) 
– Especially in Michigan (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) 
– Get Another Boyfriend (Backstreet Boys) 
– Rockstar (Nickleback) 
– So Long Jimmy (James Blunt) 
– Nos De Caraid (David Gray) 
– Square One (Coldplay) 
– Had Enough (Breaking Benjamin) 
– Headstrong (Trapt) 
– Common Pleasure (Jason Mraz) Played this one TWICE 
– Square One (Coldplay) 
– Headstrong (Trapt) 
– The Distance (Live) 
– Through Glass (Stone Sour) 
– It’s Raining Men (Weather Girls)

If you are considering running this marathon, I highly recommend it. The crowd support is incredible and if you’ve never been to Washington, D.C., then you get a nice view of all the major monuments and the White House.