Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tips for Creating a Life Scrapbook Digitally

In an earlier posting (Documenting Your Memoirs with a Life Scrapbook) I introduced the concept of the life scrapbook, listed reasons to create one, provided example pages to give you an idea of the content, and gave some tips and steps to take in creating one for yourself.

There are two components of life scrapbooking: the content and the presentation.  The content refers to your life story and the memorabilia available to visually support your life story.  The presentation refers to the look and feel of the scrapbook, the layout, and the way the life story is conveyed visually.  Once you have performed the steps related to the content (discussed in the previous posting), you are ready to focus on the presentation.

This posting:
  • Describes the differences between doing a scrapbook in a traditional manner versus creating one digitally
  • Discusses the tools needed for digital scrapbooking
  • Provides tips and techniques for digital scrapbooking, including design aspects, software considerations, and printing
  • Wraps up this topic with some final thoughts on creating a life scrapbook.

My hope is these two postings give you the enthusiasm and the path to create your own life scrapbook.


Traditional scrapbooking refers to physically creating a scrapbook through traditional methods, including physically cutting, pasting, marking, and folding materials.  This is a time-honored approach and has had a renaissance over the past two decades in the United States.  Scrapbooking stores cater to people using this approach.

Digital scrapbooking refers to an approach of imaging all memorabilia through digital photos and scanning and then laying out the pages on the computer digitally.  This is a relatively new approach brought about by technological advances and affordability of digital cameras, scanners, and software.  There are advantages and constraints associated with both of these approaches.

Advantages of traditional scrapbooking include:
  • The result is made by your own hands (truly handmade), physically touching and putting together a one-of-a-kind book
  • There are scrapbooking stores and clubs to help you, energize you, and provide support and comraderie
  • The tools to assist in the creation process are easy to learn.
Constraints of traditional scrapbooking include:
  • It is hard to make changes after you have created a page, cut something up, or glued something down
  • The size of the memorabilia, like a diploma or ribbon award, may constrain how you can layout a page.
Advantages of digital scrapbooking include:
  • Memorabilia can be scaled, for example, you may be able to fit two award certificates on the same page by shrinking the images of the certificates
  • Many of the traditional techniques, such as cropping, overlaying, and placing of decorative items can be mimicked and even extended
  • Errors can be corrected and pages redone without damaging the original memorabilia
  • It is not as messy a process to create
  • The original memorabilia can be safely stored away since a digital copy is used in the scrapbook
  • It is easy to make copies of the scrapbook.
 Constraints of digital scrapbooking include:
  • The result is not 3D with true richness of texture
  • This approach requires a computer as well as some computer and technical savvy to use software and the other electronic tools.

Only you can decide which approach is right for you.  There is no right or wrong answer.  I decided to create my scrapbook digitally.  I am comfortable with technology.  I wanted to keep my memorabilia and photos intact in case I needed them for something else.  And going digital allowed me to print multiple copies of my life scrapbook and share them with others.


There are six tools typically used in digital scrapbooking.

The computer is the central tool.  It runs the software and interfaces with the other tools.  You can use almost any type of computer and operating system, such as Windows or Mac OSX.  Faster machines speed up the time to load in and manipulate images, but it is not critical to have an expensive machine.  It is more important to have a large enough hard drive to store the files you will be creating.  Images and the digital pages you will be creating can take up a lot of space.

A scanner is the best tool to copy flat objects.  You want a flatbed scanner and not a scanner that feeds in paper as it could damage the item you are scanning.  Make sure the scanner can scan in a high resolution (the number of dots per square inch).  The scanner should also be able to scan the image in color.  High resolution and color allow you to have an image that looks very close to the original.

A camera is used to take photos for the scrapbook.  A digital camera is recommended as it is easy to transfer the image to the computer.  If you have a film camera, the film can be developed at a store that gives you the images digitally (on a CD or stored on the internet) or you can scan in the print using the scanner.  A camera can also be used to take photos of your memorabilia that cannot be scanned in, such as a non-flat object like a trophy.

A printer is used to print a physical copy of the scrapbook.  A personal printer is only required if you are printing the pages of the scrapbook yourself.  You can also have the scrapbook printed on a professional printer with binding.

An internet connection is required if you are using one of the websites to lay out your scrapbook or if you having the printing done by an external service.  You can also use the internet connection to get ideas for your scrapbook and to download images and decorative items for your scrapbook.

Software refers to the programs used on your computer to design and create your scrapbook.  The software can be a graphics program, presentation software, or scrapbooking software.  You may also need a web browser if you want to use websites specifically geared for scrapbooking or creating photo books.


For your flat memorabilia, scan all of your documents and physical photos.  Remember to use a color, flatbed scanner and scan at a high resolution (300 dots per inch).  You can also scan thin objects on a flatbed scanner, such as buttons.

For you other memorabilia that cannot be scanned, photograph these objects that you want in your scrapbook.  You can make the photos of the objects less “flat” by performing some software manipulation.  See the example below of an origami flower.
This origami flower was photographed with a solid, distinct color behind it.  Then an “alpha” tool in a software program was used to remove the background.  Shadows were also added to give it a more 3D look.

Select the background “paper” you want to use for your scrapbook paper.  You can scan in the background or you can use digital background “paper” available from scrapbooking e-kits.  You can use the same background throughout the scrapbook or you can use several backgrounds.

For text, you can scan in your own handwriting for captions and notes.  You can also use a font that gives the intended feeling for the scrapbook.  In the example above, Handwriting - Dakota is an electronic font.  "I love you" is real handwriting.

Decorations (embellishments) are very popular in modern scrapbooking.  Scan in decorative items or gather electronic embellishments from clipart or scrapbooking e-kits.


There are several software options.  The table below lists different categories of software that may be used to create a digital scrapbook, along with examples of software programs for each category.

Category Example Software Programs
Presentation PowerPoint, Keynote
Layout Publisher
Photo Photoshop
Offline photobook MyPublisher, iPhoto
Scrapbooking Memory Mixer, Memory Suite
Online photobook sites Kodakgallery, Snapfish
Online scrapbooking sites Scrapblog

Each software program has its own advantages and disadvantages.  You can select based on what functionality you need, what computer the software runs on, how much you are willing to spend, what software you already have, and what software you feel most comfortable using.

I used a combination of software programs.  I used Photoshop Elements to scan in and crop images.  I used Keynote to create and layout the individual pages.  And I used iPhoto and MyPublisher to externally publish copies of the scrapbook.


The techniques to designing a page digitally are similar to designing a page for traditional scrapbooking.  Look at the memorabilia you have.  Organize them on the page or pages.  Add titles, captions, and other text.  Add decorative items.  And complete the layout.

If you will be printing on the front and back of a page, remember that odd number pages are on the right side of an open-faced book.  In addition, consider the page content and design based on facing pages.

With digital scrapbooking, you can take advantage of the functionality provided by the software to approximate a traditional scrapbook look or even do things you cannot do easily with traditional techniques.  Some simple examples:
  • Add shadows to some of your scanned in items to give it more of a 3D look
  • Give jagged edges to cropped documents
  • Scale the memorabilia to fit nicely on the page and the layout
  • Apply picture frames or mats for photos.
 Consider creating additional pages to round out your scrapbook.  You may want to have a preface or introduction, a table of contents, a conclusion/wrap-up/post-script, and front and back covers.


As you create the pages, you will be saving the pages in the native format of the software program.  These files should be kept so you can edit the page in the software program if changes need to be made in the future.

Once you have completed all of the pages or your life scrapbook digitally, you may need to save the pages in another file format to load into another software program for printing.  For example, iPhoto and MyPublisher can be used to create and print photo books.  If you save each scrapbook page as one image, you can import each image as a single “photo” where the photo takes the entire photo book page and bleeds to the edge (no borders).

Typical image formats are TIFF (high resolution, large file sizes), PNG, and JPG.  Make sure the resolution is high enough for the page desired.  Do a test print of a page early on before you get far in to the scanning, design, and build process.  Otherwise, if the image scans are not high enough resolution, you may have to rescan all the items again.  Include the background graphics in the resolution test.

Before you print, proofread each page and correct any errors or omissions.  And then proofread it one more time (or two).  It is helpful to enlist a second pair of eyes; there will always be something you missed.

Options for printing include:
  • Printing on your own printer and binding it yourself
  • Printing at a printer shop that lets you bring in your own files
  • Using a photobook printing service, such as Apple, Kodakgallery, MyPublisher, or Snapfish.


Your life scrapbook will evolve as you go through the journey of creating it.

It takes time to create a life scrapbook.  Enjoy the experience and the journey.  Do not give up.

Take the opportunity during the journey to learn about yourself.

And be creative throughout the process.  Have fun.

Happy scrapbooking!

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Must Have" Apps for your iPhone and other iOS devices

Last updated: March 1, 2011

I am frequently asked to list my favorite iPhone applications (apps).  I am an avid iPhone app user and have downloaded slightly more than 580 of them in the last two years.  While I have not seen statistics on the number of apps the average user accesses in a given month, my conversations with other iPhone users suggest I actively use a larger number of non-game apps than the typical user.  Most of my apps focus on information, productivity, photography, or music.

This posting:
  • Presents a list of apps I recommend as “must have” apps because they add tremendous value...if you are a new iPhone user, get these now to round out your device and make it more powerful
  • Recommends a few additional apps to get because they are interesting, although you may not access them that often
  • Provides tips on acquiring and maintaining your apps.

This list is geared to the iPhone, but most of these applications are also of benefit to iPod Touch and iPad users.  Some functionality in the apps may not be available with these other devices as the hardware capability may not exist (for example, the magnetic compass is required for some features to work).  Please refer to my posting on hardware capabilities of the iOS devices for more information.


I begin with some limitations of my list.   These points do not invalidate the list; this list definitely contains my recommendations and is based on actual usage.   I spend some time each month scanning lists, downloading apps, and reading reviews of new apps to keep current.

First, I have clearly downloaded just a fraction of the apps that are available—actually less than 0.2% of the 350,000 iPhone apps available in the App Store as of March 1, 2011.  I am sure there are some excellent apps I have not heard about.

Second, I have downloaded very few apps that cost money.  This means I have limited exposure to the large number of excellent paid apps.  My focus has been on apps that are free or were free at the time I downloaded it.

Last, some of my “must have” apps may not be beneficial in some places outside of the United States because the content in those locales may be sparse or not available.  For example, applications that provide information about restaurants or traffic conditions are not meaningful unless there is up-to-date content available in that location.

With that said, here is my summary list of “must have” iPhone apps.  Below the list more detail is provided about each app, including a link to the webpage for the app (click on the app name so you can quickly bring it up in iTunes), a brief description, the price (as of September 10, 2010; prices can change at any time), and one or more nifty features that help make it a good app to have.

Search the web...
View files and share them...
Know the weather...
Stay informed...
Track your path...
Look it up and learn...
Talk, not type...
Find your recipe...
Draw and sketch...
Find free hotspots...
Listen to music...
Participate in social media...
Get directions while driving...  
Communicate for free/less...
"Text" by voice...
Know your speed...
Dragon Search
The Weather Channel
NPR News, New York Times, USA Today
MotionX GPS
Wikipanion,, IMDb Movies & TV
Dragon Dictation
Epicurious, BigOven
SketchBook MobileX
Wi-Fi Finder
Accuradio, Pandora
Facebook, Twitterific
MotionX GPS Drive or MapQuest 4 Mobile
Skype, Google Voice, TextFree with Voice

Dragon Search (free) – Search the web by speaking or typing
Nifty features: It provides search results for Google (or Yahoo!), YouTube, Twitter, iTunes, and Wikipedia at the same time. You scroll a horizontal listing of these sites to switch among the search results.  It includes a good built-in browser to view results.

Dropbox (free) – Access and view files "in the cloud" (Dropbox's servers on the web) or files you have downloaded for offline viewing.  Think of it as a "file system" where you can store documents online or offline and access them on your iPhone.

BONUS:  If you click this link here to get your free Dropbox account, both you and I will get extra space as a bonus.
Nifty features:  There are many reasons to get Dropbox for your Windows or Mac OS computers even if you do not own an iPhone.  From an iPhone standpoint, you can view many types of files.  You can download files for offline viewing.  You can share links to files from within the app.  You can take photos and videos on your iPhone and then upload it to the cloud.

The Weather Channel (free) – display current weather conditions and forecasts
Nifty features: It provides extended forecasts (hourly, 36 hour, and 10 day) and maps with animation of past cloud movement. It will display snapshots from nearby road cameras if available.

NPR News (free) – listen to news and programs from NPR (National Public Radio in the United States), read NPR stories, and listen to live broadcasts from any of the NPR radio stations
Nifty features: You can create a playlist of stories you want to hear and just listen to those stories.

NYTimes (free) – read and search The New York Times
Nifty features: The latest articles and photos download when you sync so you can view offline.  Perfect for airplane flights and other locations where you do not have WiFi and cell connections.

USA TODAY (free) – read the latest news
Nifty features: You can download all stores to read offline.

MotionX GPS ($2.99) – track your position and your path whatever you are doing outside (hiking, running, cycling)
Note:  There is a "lite" version for free (MotionX GPS Lite) that would suffice for a majority of users.
Nifty features:  It contains lots of different types of maps (for example, contour maps, street maps) and you can "cache" (store) some of these maps on your device so you can use them wherever you are and when you are offline.  You can store many tracks and e-mail them.  It records several statistics in realtime, including time, distance, speed (average and max), altitude, and altitude changes.  You can mark spots on your track (waypoints) and attach photos along the way.

Wikipanion (free) – search and view Wikipedia entries
Nifty features:  It contains several features to make Wikipedia easier to view on small screen, including table of contents, expand/collapse, word-wrapping, and font resizing. (free) – look up words using a professional and reliable dictionary and thesaurus, with pronunciation, comprehensive definitions, origins, sample sentences, synonyms, and antonyms.
Nifty features: It downloads the information to your iPhone so you can use it anytime, whether you have an internet connection or not. It will pronounce the word for you if you are connected to the internet.

IMDb Movies & TV (free) – search for information on just about any movie or TV show ever made
Nifty features:  It simply has a wealth of content.  It is only a "must have" because you will eventually find yourself asked the question "Who was in that movie?"

Dragon Dictation (free) – speak and it will transcribe it to text that can be texted, mailed, or placed on the clipboard.
Nifty features:  It works very well.

Epicurious (free) – search and view recipes.
Nifty features:  Reviews of recipes are included; always read the reviews first to get ideas on how to improve it or to gauge whether you want to make it or not.  You can e-mail recipes and create shopping lists from recipes.

BigOven (free) – search and view recipes.
Nifty features:  Over 170,000 recipes are available with ratings and reviews.  You can view ingredients in metric equivalents.

SketchBook MobileX (free) – sketch ideas or draw
Nifty features:  Gives you the full screen as the drawing area (that is, it hides menus and toolbars).  You can upload your drawings easily to Flickr.
Tip:  Hold down the on/off and home button screen at the same time to take a snapshot of the screen and put it in your camera roll.  This tip applies everywhere in every app on the iPhone.

Wi-Fi Finder (free) – find Wi-Fi hotspots (both free and paid)
Nifty features: This is a database of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the world (they claim over 320,000 locations in 140 countries).  You can download the database for offline use, which is critical when you do not have online access.

AccuRadio (free) – listen to internet radio with hundreds of channels
Nifty features:  You can skip as many songs as you would like.  You can view the history of songs you have heard.  No audio ads.

Pandora (free) – listen to music from your own personalized radio station
Nifty features:  You create your own "radio station" by selecting an artist, song, or classical composer, and it will play songs by the artist and similar music from other artists.

Facebook (free) – access Facebook from your iPhone
Nifty features: A lot easier to quickly view, read, and update status than booting up a computer.

Twitterific (free) – read and post tweets
Nifty features: Easy to use.  Shows keywords trending on Twitter.

MotionX GPS Drive ($0.99 plus $24.99 for real-time routing and voice guidance) – give a destination and it will set the route and give you directions while driving
Nifty features: Works well when walking, too.  Because it is an online app, everything is updated with access to the latest information, including traffic conditions, maps, and location of newer commercial sites.  You can view the map navigation in landscape or portrait mode.
Suggestion:  Get a car charger with enough amps (reviews suggest 2.1 amps) so that the iPhone battery will last on a long trip.  Use of GPS and real-time checks drain the battery.

MapQuest 4 Mobile (free) – give a destination and it will set the route and give you directions while driving
Nifty features:  Voice guidance with turn-by-turn directions is free!  You can quickly display nearby traffic conditions, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses.  It automatically reroutes if you miss your turn or decide to take a different direction.
Suggestion:  Get a car charger with enough amps (reviews suggest 2.1 amps) so that the iPhone battery will last on a long trip.  Use of GPS and real-time checks drain the battery.

Skype (free) – use Skype on your iPhone...this means you can text and call other Skype users for free over Wi-Fi anywhere in the world
Nifty features: You can call over Wi-Fi or over 3G (although this will use part of your data plan.)  You can display who of your Skype contacts are online.  On the iOS devices that support multitasking, you can keep it running in the background so Skype contacts can contact you anytime.

Google Voice (free) – call and text (only available in the United States)
Nifty features: Call for free any U.S. number and call internationally at low rates.  Send free texts to any United States number.  Get all of the benefits of Google Voice, including voice mail and transcriptions of voice mail.  Your Google Voice number is displayed on caller id.

TextFree with Voice (free) - send and receive texts and pics for free, make and receive calls
Nifty features: TextFree provides you a personal phone number for texting.  There is no limit on how many text messages you can send or receive.  Free texting to several countries.

HeyTell (free) – communicate by leaving voice messages
Nifty features:  A wonderfully strange cross between voice messaging (you leave a voice message), texting (message delivered right after sending), and walkie-talkie (one person talks at a time).  History of voice messages are kept.  If you are in the app, you hear the voice message in near realtime.  If you are not in the app, it will push a notification that you have a message (just like a text message).  Good tool if voice or sound is better than texting (or if you dislike texting) or want someone to hear a little bit of a speech or concert.  If desired, you can have it show the location of where you recorded the message on a map. (free) – measure the speed your network
Nifty features:  It tests ping, download, and upload times.  It will store your history so you can compare over time.


All of my "must have" apps are favorite apps.  But not all of my favorite apps are "must have".  I can get along fine without them.  But they are a joy to use, even if I use them infrequently.  Here is a list of some of these favorites, followed by the link and a nifty feature which makes it a favorite.

Star Walk ($2.99) - view the sky in real-time or for any date on any location of the earth
Nifty features:  This is an app to impress your friends and show the power of the capabilities of the hardware.  It takes advantage of the magnetic compass and GPS to show you the sky in front of you in moves with you as you turn and face other directions.  The touch screen makes it easy to navigate, zoom in, and view information.  The star information is stored in the app so you can use this app offline in the remotest areas.

SoundHound with the infinity symbol ($4.99) - can recognize the name of the music you are listening to, singing, or humming
Note:  There is a free version of SoundHound which limits you to 5 free music recognition IDs each month, as well as unlimited voice and text searches.
Nifty features:  Another app that feels like magic.  When a song is recognized, it will show all information it has available for it, including lyrics, YouTube videos with that song in it, artist biographies, albums with that song in it, other songs by the artist, and additional information.  If your iPhone multitasks, it can recognize what music is playing in another music app.

Google Earth (free) - view the earth from satellite imagery
Nifty features:  Ok, yes another app that feels like magic, this one because of the seamless way you can circle the earth and zoom in to any location.  It is a desktop version of Google Earth in the palm of your hand.  You can search for any city or place (type in "Washington Monument" and it virtually flies you there).  You can tilt the view to see mountainous terrain.  It also has links to Wikipedia entries.  I find the standard Maps app to be faster, but this app is more magical.


Sync up your iPhone regularly with your computer.  Synching backs up apps you may have acquired from the App Store on your iPhone.  You also get a back-up of your iPhone in case you lose it or if you ever have to have to reset it.

Download and update apps on your computer and then sync (download) to your iPhone whenever possible.  I have read many app reviewer comments where users complain they updated the app and then it did not work anymore.  Some people mention they had to delete the app on the iPhone and reinstall to get it to work again.  I have never had that problem with the apps they refer to.  I do not know if it is because I always do my updates on my computer and then sync, but it would not hurt to try it this way.

Read the reviews first before updating apps.  You can learn from others if the upgrade has a major bug, if the vendor took away functionality, if the vendor knows of an issue and encourages you to wait for the next release, or if the vendor added advertisements or sign-ups that you do not want to bother with.  Manually select the apps you want to upgrade after reading the reviews.  This is an advantage of not being an early bird.

Download free apps if you think they could eventually be useful to you.  Tomorrow (or even an hour later) that app may no longer be free.  I have several apps I acquired for free although they are no longer available for free.

Use AppShopper ( to look for price drops.  This wonderful website keeps you informed of apps that have lowered their price.  It also shows the history of price changes for each app featured.  If you notice an app has had a history of temporary price changes, get it when it is at its lowest historical price.  Here is an example of an app that has changed prices many times.

Do not forget iPhone web apps (web applications).  iPhone web apps are applications designed for the size of the iPhone screen and the iPhone capabilities.  These web apps require you have an online connection because it uses the internet.  You can create an icon for a web app on your home screen.  Open the web app in Safari on your iPhone, tap the plus sign, and then tap “Add to Home screen".  This link to the Apple site on web apps gives you more information.

Here is a link to one example web app on how to write Chinese characters.  Notice how it takes advantage of the iPhone touch screen.

Do not forget you can go to websites with the Safari browser.  The world is at your fingertips.  You may be able to access either a website designed for mobile devices or the original website and access all of the functionality.  Two examples:
  • is an excellent site for drug information.  They do not have an iPhone app.  But you can access the website.
  • Wolfram Alpha has a paid iPhone app.  But you can access their mobile website for free ( and have similar capabilities.

I will update this list as I find new "must have" and favorite apps.

Happy apping!
Tips for Creating a Life Scrapbook Digitally"Must Have" Apps for your iPhone and other iOS devices ~ DANIEL SKLAR