Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to block a chatter from your Contacts list

Being invited to a chat can be like going on a blind date. Although you may know who invited you, you may not know the other personalities you are asked to socialize with in the chat window. And as with the majority of blind dates (we speak from experience), you may choose not to give out your phone number — or Skype Name, in this case. If you find a chatter who is objectionable, you can’t banish that person from the chat but you can block him or her from your Contacts list so that he or she can no longer have one-on-one chats with you. You can do this immediately in the Contacts window shown during your chat. Simply select the user’s name in the Chat Drawer, right-click to bring up the pop-up menu, and click Block This User.
When you block someone, Skype does your dirty work for you and turns away the unwanted skyper.

Using whisper chats

Whisper chats are one-on-one offshoots of group chats. If you are in a group chat and want to whisper to another participant for saying private matters like condolence sayings, you can easily open a new, private chat window. Simply follow these steps:
  1. Select a user’s name for your whisper chat. You can find a chat partner in the Chat Drawer, a window pane that lists all the users. If you don’t see other users, click the Show Users icon in your Skype Toolbar (Windows) or select Window➪Drawer from the Skype menu (Mac). You can have a whisper chat with anyone in your list, even if that person is not on your Contacts list. Several icons appear in the window of the person you want to contact.
  2. Click the Chat button. A new message window opens in addition to the group chat.
  3. Type your message Be sure to separate the windows or make them different sizes. If you type a message in the wrong window, well, we’re sure you can fill in the consequence

Setting a time to chat

Anyone who chats across time zones for business communication knows that coordinating international time zones in a group meeting can be tricky. How do you decide when to meet if one member is in New York, another is in Mexico at Aztec ruins, and another is in Australia? One way is to agree to set your Skype meeting time to one time zone so that there is never any confusion about when to meet if what you are doing is internationally based.
To set your time zone in Skype, choose File➪Edit My Profile. Select the Show My Time check box and choose a time from the drop-down menu. Of course, if you agree on a time zone that is different from your local zone, you’ll have to do a little calculating to figure out how to set your watch, but Skype will be right on time, and you will have eliminated miscommunication and, possibly, missed meetings. It’s worth the effort.

The “ten” codes

The “ten” codes are numeric abbreviations for simple sentences developed for use in the military, police, and emergency communications over specific radio frequencies. Citizen’s Band (CB) radio users, or hams, adopted the use of ten codes to help understand other CB hams. Problems such as too much static, voices cutting in and cutting out, and difficulty in identifying the speaker and when he or she was done talking resulted in the widespread use of the ten codes. Bringing order to a chat may lead to using some common signals. Why not the “ten” codes?
Useful codes include:
10-3 — Stop transmitting
10-4 — Message Received; Affirmative
10-6 — Busy
10-9 — Repeat your message
10-12 — Stop
10-16 — Reply to message
10-18 — Urgent

Thursday, June 12, 2008

How to Master the Chat Chaos?

Chatting with a friend is easy. When you have chats with three, four, or more people, the conversations quickly become lively, fun, and fast paced. Sometimes the words are whizzing by more quickly than you can type, and it feels more like a video game than a conversation. In a chat with three or more people, chatters talk past each other all the time.

Questions are asked, and before they are fully answered, more comments, inquiries, and observations pop up in the chat window. You wonder, Who is asking, what am I answering, how do we control this conversation? As with a new class of school kids, it’s hard to stop everyone from talking simultaneously. To help manage the chaos, consider designating a chat abbreviation (a word or emoticon) to indicate the end of each complete thought. As a nod to the past, we use the old CB radio ten codes (see the sidebar “The ‘ten’ codes”). If you are about to launch into a long story, don’t wait until the end to post what you’ve written in the message window. If you press Enter after each line, your chat buddies can read your story as you type it, and maybe they’ll be less inclined to interrupt. Just be warned that if you use too many breaks, you may confuse your chat buddies.

Why would you have 100 skypers chatting at one time?

As unbelievable as it sounds, you can invite up to 100 other friends or colleagues to a Skype chat. That’s a lot of people! Why so many people? Well, here are some things as many as 100 skypers may be gathered for:
  • Predicting election results from their own congressional districts
  • Celebrating the exact time the New Year starts in their own countries and time zones
  • Keeping their own minutes at a Board Meeting
  • Planning a reunion
  • Performing in a poetry slam

How to set Skype for Chat?

Starting a chat is easy. Pick someone you want to chat with (someone who is online), and follow these steps:
  1. Select a Skype contact from your Contacts list.
  2. Click the blue Chat button in the toolbar. If you don’t see the button, open the View menu to verify that a check mark appears next to the View Toolbar option. After you click the Chat button, you’re ready to chat! When your chat opens, it’s ready for you to chat with the Skype contact you selected. A confident chat organizer can invite more than one contact simultaneously. To do so, select several (or all) of your contacts in the main Skype window by pressing and holding the Shift key and clicking their names; then, click the Chat button.
  3. To chat with your contact, enter your text in the text box at the bottom of the chat window and press Enter to post the message in the chat room. A shaded separator bar that contains your name as well as the date and the time of your message appears in the chat window. The separator bars are color-coded so that you can easily spot your messages in the chat, which makes finding your text in the message window easier. Given the sometimes chaotic, free-for-all nature of chat rooms, you can easily forget your own conversational thread — especially when you’re chatting with more than one person at a time. Picking through the messages quickly to find your notes helps you remember the point you are making.
To invite others to join your chat, simply drag and drop a contact from your main window into your message window).
Buddies in a chat room are free to invite their own friends into the chat by dragging and dropping contacts from their own lists. When a new person is added, an alert appears in each chat participant’s window. This alert also identifies the user who invited the new participant as well as the time he or she was added. No secrets here!
Choosing a slew of contacts for a group chat can be useful. Maybe you want to be sneaky. Maybe you are planning a surprise party for your best friend, and you want to use Skype to make sure that all the people you plan to invite are in on the chat from the beginning so that you don’t spoil the surprise. In one chat, you can pick a time, place, gift, entertainment, and any other tidbits crucial to a good surprise while avoiding telephone and email tag. Then you can add your best friend to the chat, pretend that everyone is planning a group run in the park, and have the group enter the date in their calendars. Because your soon-to-be-surprised friend was added midway through the chat, he or she can’t see the prior conversation. The surprise is intact and your friend none the wiser. Isn’t that what best friends are for?

Skype Is a Communication Kaleidoscope

Aside from choosing a phone color or style, making a ring louder or softer, or changing a message, personalizing electronic communications has been rather limited until recently. Skype conversations, however, can take many forms at the same time: voice, image, text, and video. Within each of these forms, you have many opportunities to make a unique statement and project your personal style. If you are an artist, you might choose an avatar for yourself as an abstract painting. If you are a businessman, your image can be your company logo. Your choice of personalization can associate you with what you think is important, and you can change your image to reflect a mood, point of view, or occupation whenever you want. The best part is that the choice is yours.
Beyond actively projecting an image or avatar, you can also personalize your Skype environment in the background by adding, or omitting, information in your profile. If you are in business and want a high-profile presence on Skype, the more you put in a profile, the better. If you are the quiet type, you can skimp on the information you put in without taking yourself completely out of the search loop. Personalizing your mode of communication is more than decorating; it’s a powerful way to tell the world who you are.

How to build animated Skype avatars with CrazyTalk?

Are you ready to let your creative streak run free? Animated avatars that you can create with CrazyTalk Messenger take image interactivity to the next level. CrazyTalk comes in two versions: a free version called CrazyTalk for Skype (go to and a paid version called CrazyTalk Messenger (go to The free version comes with a fixed selection of avatars that you can use but can’t modify. CrazyTalk Messenger allows you to design and build avatars that you also can use in Skype. You can use photos of yourself. And by the way, having a photorealistic avatar of yourself on Skype may be the perfect solution for when you’re having a bad hair day!
What do you want to make your animated avatar do? Maybe you want your character’s mouth to lip-synch with yours as you speak on Skype, or perhaps you’d like it to capture a mood to suit the occasion. Building avatars with CrazyTalk Messenger is surprisingly easy. We don’t have the space here to step you through all the features of CrazyTalk, but we can tell you enough to whet your appetite. The first step is to import an image of the character you want to work with. The image can be a photo, a cartoon, or a scan of a portrait, for example. As long as it is a standard graphic such as a JPG file, that’s fine. You can find some free and mostly copyright-friendly images at the following sites:

The best topics to search for are animals, portraits, and cartoons. Although you can find a wealth of images to choose from, be aware that some images may have copyright notices and usage restrictions.
To import a picture into CrazyTalk, follow these steps:
  1. Click the top icon on the vertical toolbar on the left side of the Model Page. The Open File window opens, enabling you to browse for image files on your hard drive. (Incidentally, CrazyTalk supports directly importing an image of a printed photo from a scanner attached to your computer.)
  2. Navigate to the JPEG or BMP image file you want to import, click it, and then click the Open button.
There’s more to animating an avatar than just importing a picture. When the avatar’s jaws move in sync with your speech and its eyes blink, you want it to appear natural. You also need to draw some simple contour lines so that CrazyTalk knows how to smoothly morph the avatar’s face when it is speaking or moving its head slightly.
After you import the picture, you can rotate the image so that the avatar’s face is upright and vertical. If the face is slanted, the jaws can’t move naturally. To fix the image, identify the spindle points for the lips and eyes, as follows:
  1. Click the Auto-Fit Anchor Points toolbar icon (the fourth icon in the vertical toolbar at the left). The Auto-Fit Anchor Points window opens.
  2. Drag the points over your imported image to match the reference image on the right; then, click the OK button.
CrazyTalk processes the image and generates a set of contour lines. After the image is processed, you can adjust the main contour lines for the eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth, and face mask. CrazyTalk uses the position of these points to “morph” the picture to match your speech in Skype. You can test your avatar by having it speak. Click the triangular Play button to start a prerecorded audio announcement. There are also pause, stop, and volume controls.
As you hear the message played, the avatar’s mouth, eyes, and face move in sync with the audio message.
You can tweak the position of the spindle points and contour lines to get a fairly convincing animated avatar.
Click the Advanced Facial Settings button to access features that can help you deal with a variety of challenges. Say, for example, that you wanted to make the Mona Lisa into an avatar. Without some modification, you might find that making her image “speak” replaced that indelible smile with —gasp! — a need for dentures! Fortunately, CrazyTalk comes equipped with a set of virtual dentures and even a collection of eyes.
Some of the CrazyTalk facial settings include:
  • Adjustments to the eyes, teeth, and mouth: You can adjust the lighting levels inside the mouth, or even adjust ends of the lips to give the appearance of a smile or a frown.
  • Head motion: You can set the head motion to match the energy of your character.
  • Facial formatting: A nice finishing touch of this software is that you can have the mouth automatically close when the avatar stops speaking. CrazyTalk Messenger makes it easy to create, test, and customize your avatar. After the avatar is created with Messenger, you can run it in Skype using another software product, CrazyTalk for Skype Video Lite, which is available as a free download (go to directory/crazytalk_for_skype_video_lite/view and click the Download Now link).
The Video Lite program connects your CrazyTalk avatar to Skype. CrazyTalk uses the video channel in Skype to broadcast your avatar as though you had a webcam.
To enliven your avatar, you can use a behavior panel with special kinds of emotion smileys. Despite the term smiley, you can click these images to show your avatar laughing, crying, frowning, and looking surprised, among other expressions.

How to create WeeMees as Skype avatars?

A very simple and inexpensive type of avatar you can create is called a WeeMee.
When you click the Create My Avatar button, you are instantly whisked away to an avatar construction factory.
You can try your hand at building a WeeMee by following these steps:
  1. Click the Build Your WeeMee Now! button. You are presented with a WeeMee without features and holding a sign saying Male/Female.
  2. Click the gender you want. All the options for the WeeMee of that gender appear. Depending on the options you select, you may have some animations in your avatar. (It’s hard to make out in black and white here, but the boat is to the left, chugging down the waterway.)
You have a wide range of options for your WeeMee, including hair styles, fashions and interests. Keep exploring the offerings until you’re done creating your WeeMee; then, click Save and Buy My WeeMee.