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Welcome to Tools That Work

March 13, 2010

So many Web (2.0)  tools, so little time to examine them all. This blog intends to share tips, tricks, and stories of how (not) to use these tools for real-world collaboration purposes. If you work with these tools a lot, and are willing to post about your experiences at least once in a while, contact us to become a co-blogger.


Self Publishing and Manufacture

August 14, 2010

Click to enlarge

Sites like Moo and Moonpig have become ubiquitous even being advertised on mainstream TV. I like and have used both of these online print tools.

Recently I was researching online printing of leaflets and came with some other resources that I have not yet tried out – I have bookmarked them here.

I’m fascinated by this area. Someone recently gave me a Lulu produced and Amazon distributed, self published book. It’s lovely, indistinguishable from those on the mainstream book outlet bookshelves.

Just this week I wanted to produce a short run book for my grand-daughter and friends. I didn’t want to produce loads of copies and I didn’t want to sell online so we’re probably not looking at Lulu or other mainstream sites. I looked at Blurb which downloads a free application “Booksmart” and myphotobook which also has a down-loadable app. However both of these have minimum page runs of 20+ so I eventually hit upon Solentro which will do books with as few as 4 pages even though, in the end my page count actually came to 18. I’ve made my book in Solentro and ordered 3 copies. They’ll come from Sweden so I must wait 2/3 weeks to see how they’ve turned out. The interface is quite basic and simple, reminiscent  of the early days of desk top publishing.

Fingers crossed. I’d love to hear in the comments reviews of services you know of, links or opinions.

Keeping track with SlimTimer

May 26, 2010

“Where did time go?” is not just a fundamental question of human life, but also a very practical one when one has to send bills, reflect upon efficiency of work processes, or simply know that one has done enough as a freelancer to deserve a break in a workweek-with-little-structure.

Of course, one can keep track with pen and paper, but that takes too much time for doing the calculations necessary to analyze entries regularly enough and in sufficient depth. There is a large array of electronic tools to help out here, from simple spreadsheets on the laptop to advanced project management systems on the Web. However, many of these tools suffer from functionality overkill, and also make reporting for, for instance, billing purposes quite a pain.

For years, I have been using a free, nifty little tool, called SlimTimer, with which I have been fully satisfied from the beginning. It’s got only a few simple functions, but those are just the ones, elegantly shaped, that one needs to do down-to-earth time tracking. I therefore consider it one of those rare “Zen tools” that are functional, usable as well as a pleasure to work with. Have a look at the philosophy of its  maker, Richard Smith.

The Run Reports-screen gives a flavour of what SlimTimer has to offer:

  • Reports can be generated at different levels of detail, from the Pivot summary to the Timesheet full list of entries.
  • Entries can be organized by self-defined Tasks (e.g.  Travel, Projects, Conferences), Tags (e.g.  to allocate entries to customers or specific projects), or even Users, when using the tool to track time in collaborative projects.
  • Various date ranges can be easily selected. For me, the most useful ones are This Week, Last Week, Last Month (billing!) and Custom.
  • Reports can be generated in a print or CSV version (for further processing in a spreadsheet).

The interface is really intuitive, so create an account, and get started immediately with getting a much better grip on where all that time rushes to. SlimTimer can thus help you take another step on the way to better time management and ultimatelg getting more things done.

Tools That Disappear

April 19, 2010

Salutary lesson here. Be careful about the tools you become accustomed to or even dependent upon because, whilst a hammer or a screwdriver can always be replaced an online tool often can not be replaced so easily if it disappears or moves beyond your reach.

This is what seems to be happening with NING, a highly popular multi media social networking tool.

The social network NING is intending to go PREMIUM only. The announcement from the new CEO (whilst cutting the Ning workforce by 40%) seems quite stark, “pay for premium services or migrate off the network”, I’ve used NING quite a bit and I know other community informatics/community media projects do too. Of course no-one said Ning is going away and all you have to do is pay (not sure how much yet) to keep your network. However, I hear warning bells and I’m considering alternatives as are many people.

This seems a shame because the enclosed nature of Ning and it’s multi media capabilities seemed ideal for Community Media groups. Whilst I don’t think any provider HAS to give their services for free this has been the business model of NING for several years and they’ve built up a client base on the strength of it that they are now going to disenfranchise. I think they may see a damaging backlash.

I’m thinking of using BuddyPress with a WordPress installation and import my main Ning users there. I’ll write up the steps in a wiki and link from here.

Some links below of alternatives other folks are suggesting. Some of them look quite possible but I’m not sure I want to go down the route of committing my users to something that might disappear which is why I’m looking into self hosting.
There is a google doc here _ (warning this might clog up your browser)

Posting To Multiple Blogs

April 10, 2010

This is something of a Eureka moment for me!

Inspired by Rolfs post I decided to tackle a problem that’s been inhabiting a part of my subconscious for a while now. I have set up several blogs, most are WordPress self hosted, one or two are hosted’s and there’s even the odd Blogger or two. At any time I may write a post that needs to go into blog A,B and F. Another posting may be suited to blog B,C and G. I’ll not go into detail about why this is the case, suffice to say that it is. It could well also be the case for others.

Earlier today I believed I had found the answer. Indeed it is an answer and it is Social Oomph. However, it is an answer at a price. The free account does many useful things and I’ll write about this another time. The ability to write to several WordPresses is available only in the Premium account. I accidentally set my account on a free 7 day trial of the premium features so I can’t really evaluate the free account. I’m loathe to try multi posting that I know in 7 days time will cost me $29 per month. I couldn’t justify this to my employer much less explain it with any hope of understanding. The blogs I wish to address are professional as well as personal so I have no wish to enter into the monthly transaction. I will however, explore Social Oomph later.

I then went off to seek alternatives and many dead ends ensued. That is until now. This posting is not being written in WordPress at all but in a Firefox addon called ScribeFire. Early trials at present but it seems absolutely fantastic. I’ve set up a few accounts and for good measure I will post this to my installed experimental WordPress at as well as the hosted “Tools That Work” WordPress. I can’t post them both at once but one after the other is cool.

Not only can I publish this but I could use Scribe Fire to categorise the posting as well as a few other thingd. I can also see all my earlier postings for editing too (in all my blogs) The links in this post were created in Scribe Fire and I see I can do a bunch of other WYSIWYG stuff as well including images, fonts, colours and even add YouTubes. Download it and give it a go.

Now lemme hit PUBLISH ……….

OpenOffice as a blog writing tool

April 9, 2010

As my first contribution to the Tools That Work blog, why not present a tool to make the process of writing a blog post easier: the Sun Weblog Publisher for OpenOffice. I still prefer to write text in a word processor, with the best tools for spell-checking, the simplest ways to add links, and Zotero to manage references to sites and literature.

Uploading a post as draft to a blog

But then the text needs to go into the blog: copy-pasting creates endless battles with an online “WYSIWYG” (What You See Is What You Guess) editor, reformatting lists and headers, or losing carefully crafted sentences through browser hick-ups and poor form handling.

Editing the HTML itself isn’t fun either. OpenOffice produces poor HTML output, “Export as” even worse than “Save as”. An unappealing alternative: coding HTML in a text editor, adding things like by hand. I’ve looked at HTML editors that would let me focus on writing instead of coding. KompoZer (follow-up to Nvu) is nice for producing reasonable HTML, but yet another tool and not really supporting the writing process. And it then still is an effort to get the proper part of the HTML into the blog.

I also tried ScribeFire, which lets you write a blog post and interact with the blog software from within Firefox, but it offers no simple way for simple structural mark-up like a <H1> header. And, no support for references.

The Sun Weblog Publisher extension for OpenOffice seems to change the way I work: it adds a button to publish a document to a blog, using a variety of protocols to support different blog software, like WordPress. And another button lets you download existing posts from that blog, to edit them. The process of pushing a post into the blog has become a lot smoother.

Upload and download posts from a blog

There is still some online processing to do, like adding tags and minor HTML cleanup. And I’m not sure how well it will handle images or complex layouts. But writing a post and pushing it into the blog has become a lot easier!


April 6, 2010

A little while ago Aldo asked me to add screencasting tools here. This was because I had just made a quick “screencast” of a particular process to show an activity as it appeared on MY screen. Screencasting refers to the process of recording all on-screen activity including dragging and dropping and clicking and is often accompanied by a voice track either recorded at the same time as the screen grab or afterwards. Recording the voice as a post production process maybe along with a few video edits can produce a slicker result. Screencasting is often used to make tutorial videos but I also use it to make Machinima (Virtual Movies) and I use Camstudio in combination with Second Life for my Virtual Movie Making.

Camstudio (PC) is free and is a great tool. I know of other tools to do this which I’ve not really tried out to any degree yet and these include, Camstasia (PC), Fraps (PC)

I find Camstudio very easy to use which is probably why I’ve never really got into any of the others. I also have a version running on a USB drive but I’ll have to dig that out to come back here and report on it.

Just recently I’ve gone over to the Mac side so Camstudio is not available to me to make screencasts. Finally, I decided it’s time to take Screenr for a ride. Since this is an online tool it is platform independent. For some odd reason it’s called a “screen capture tool for Twitter”. For sure you can tweet your screencasts and logging in with Twitter makes setting up an account a snap, but why such an affiliation with Twitter? This worried me at first but I find that you don’t have to tweet your screencasts and you can download them (or sent to YouTube) making the service a whole lot more useful than just a twitter tool.

I made the screencast below with no prep and no post-production (oh so you can tell huh?) showing that this is a very easy tool to use. Thumbs up for Screenr!


oops tried to embed my first screenr here and it didn’t work. Must be some foible of the hosted WordPress. OK – here’s what we’ll do – I’ve just zapped it across to YouTube which was extremely painless. Next I’ll embed the YouTube and if you see it below, my mission has succeeded.


March 26, 2010

I really liked Etherpad so it was quite disappointing that Google (Wave) bought it. I guess the intention was to incorporate into Google Wave but since I have long since given up on Wave, having no idea what to make of it, I don’t know for certain the fate of Etherpad. That is until today when I saw it rise Phoenix like, and this time under the name of Typewith.Me –

I recall now that the producers “open sourced” Etherpad with Google’s agreement when the deal was done and it has been “Frozen in time” by Chris Pirillo and Jake Warner, thanks guys. It has slightly less bells and whistles than the original Etherpad but it’s a great tool for collaborative notes during an online meeting or brainstorming session. No passwords and no fuss but each participant can sign their name and use a colour code. So long as you realise that there is no security save for the fact a complex URL is generated. Anyone knowing that URL can edit the document too but if you save the document after your meeting who cares. You can export the document as PDF, Open Office, MS Word, txt etc. A great tool that’s so easy and used in the right circumstances, very useful. OLsnYT9v32