Learning Flash

Well, I’ve spent the last two days buried in my computer teaching myself Flash. I should’ve done it years ago, but I was dreading the experience I knew was in front of me. It’s not that the program is rocket science. Anybody with a lot of desire and a little bit of patience can learn the basics. The frustrating part is learning all the silly mistakes. This morning, one file I was creating had a border showing on the left. I spent an hour playing with the background layer, the layer I thought was the culprit, only to discover that another layer was the real villain. Whenever you are a new program there are inevitable situations like these where you aren’t learning what to do with the program, so much as what not to do.

At any rate, below are my first flash ads. They aren’t Rembrant, but they’ll do for now.

OnStage Theme for Actors

So I am finally ready to release “On Stage,” a theme designed specifically for actors. Aesthetically, I wanted a very simple, yet elegant design that would allow the actor’s headshots to take the focus. I owe Brian Gardner some credit for this theme because the code is based on his Photopress design. This is my first publically released theme, so be gentle. I’ve tried to cross-check this among all the relevant browsers, but haven’t exhaustively done so. Please report any compatibility issue below.

Download Theme | Demo Theme

The theme is free to download, but I am happy to set it up for you for $200. If you are interested, drop me an email at mike@www.mikevanwinkle.com or call 708.289.3136.


In order to achieve the functionality necessary for a top-notch actor website, it was necessary to incorporate several awesome, and freely available, plugins. Since I did not design these plugins I cannot provide support for them. Also, it would be a good idea to check for more recent versions of these plugins before installing this them. However, I have included all necessary plugins in the theme download. Beware, updated plugins may affect the functionality of the theme.

Step 1: Download the theme pack and unzip the file. The file contains two folders, the theme folder (“onstage”) and the plugins folder (“plugins”)

Step 2: Upload the theme folder to your themes directory (wp-content/themes/). Then upload the CONTENTS of the plugins folder to your plugins directory (note: do not upload the folder itself, only the contents).

Step 3: Activate theme by going to your Dashboard>Designs menu within the wordpress administration interface.

Step 4: Activate the included plugins by going to your Plugins menu within the wordpress administration interface. Activate the “NextGEN Gallery,” “NextGEN Gallery Widget,” “Contact Form,” and “Limit Posts” plugins.

Step 5: You should now see a “Gallery” tab on your Dashboard menu. Click this tab and then click “Add Gallery.” Name your new gallery “Frontpage” so that it will be clear which gallery controls the front page.

Step 6: Upload the images you want shown on the front page into this gallery. You should resize your images to 690 x 400 (width x height)

Step 7: Go to your widgets menu (Dashboard>Designs>Widgets). Make sure the menu in the right-hand column is set to “Sidebar 1.” Then drag and drop the NextGEN Gallery Widget from the left-hand column onto the right-hand column. Click “edit” on the widget bar. !Leave the gallery title blank! Select the “Frontpage” gallery from the drop down menu and set the dimensions to match those of the images you uploaded (690 x 400). Click save changes.


The steps above describe how to use the headshot gallery on the frontpage. The front page will also display the latest post from the “Featured” category.

If you would like to use the blog function, create a new page and under the option for “Page Template” select “Blog.”

One note on using the gallery. By default the NextGEN Gallery crops photos into uniform square thumbnails. This means profile shots turn out as cropped mid-riff photos. You will need to change the default thumbnail settings if you do not want the system to crop profile photos. You can do this by going to Gallery>Options>Thumbnails and unchecking the box that says “Ignore the aspect ratio, no portrait thumbnails.” Also on this options page, I recommend changing the max dimensions of the thumnails to 150 x 150

Optional: Included in the theme pack are plugins for a secure contact form and resume builder. These are optional. I recommend using the contact form plugin, but the resume plugin may not fit the requires of a typical performance resume and so therefore may not be advised.

Banner Designs

A banner graphic is a very small part of a web site, but a very important one, especially for a blog. A good banner uses aesthetics to tell readers what to expect from your site. Sometimes you want to tell them something very specific, “Vote for me!” for instance. Other times you want to be more abstract. You want to create a feel rather than a specific expectation. Here’s a banner I created for Prairie State 2.0 (a great blog by the way). It’s simple, but I’m very proud of it.

Coming soon: “OnStage” a Worpress Theme for Actors

So I’ve been busy all day working on my first ever WordPress Theme. At least the first one I’ve essentially designed from scratch. I’m calling it “OnStage” and it is specifically designed for use by actors. It isn’t ready for download yet because the setup instructions are going to be a little detailed. But you can preview the theme here. Feedback is definitely welcome.

Re-Launching “Yes” for Illinois

I know, I know. It’s only been a couple of weeks since we “launched” the site. But I was never happy with the design aspects of it. And since the original launch I discovered an even more powerful theme by Justin Tadlock, this one called “Options.” So I went back and revamped the www.yesforillinois.com using the new theme. While not perfect, it certainly is a dramatic improvement.

Get Your Data Online … EASY!

So I’ve been experimenting with this powerful web product called Caspio. It allows a novice user to create interactive databases without any programming knowledge. Some database familiarity is still required, but over all, this product tremendously simplifies the process of putting data online. I haven’t found their pricing info yet. Let’s hope it isn’t too expensive.

To show just what is possible, I created a database of 2007 Illinois School Spending Data. The data itself comes from iLearn and it took me just over 2 hours to set up my online database. Next time, it shouldn’t take nearly so long!