Sunday, April 29, 2007

Xplorer2 file manager (Windows) - Lifehacker

Lifehacker posted my favorite file manager as their "download of the day" on Friday: Xplorer2

There are so many reasons why this little app is better than the built-in Windows Explorer

  1. Two panes - This makes it so much clearer to copy files from one directory to another.  Xplorer2 has handy buttons for "copy to" and "move to" which make file transfers a breeze.
  2. Easy bookmarks.  Windows Explorer does bookmarks (favorites) too, but they're much easier to use with Xplorer.  Xplorer gives you a number of ways to organize your bookmarks and, most importantly allows you to assign a keyboard shortcut to each of them.  It's so easy to run around one's file system this way, rather than trying to mouse all over the place.
  3. Easily rename files - If you've ever ripped a CD that didn't have any .mp3 tags, or wanted to batch rename a whole bunch of photos you won't find an easier way than with Xplorer2.  You can use special tokens to append a counter, a date or a number of other things to your bulk file rename.  In the above example I'm renaming a book-on-tape that I ripped.  The character $01 will add an auto-counter to the rename.

There is a lot of functionality built into this free file manager.  One of LifeHacker's reader's summarized all of the keyboard shortcuts in a great chart on the post. Check it out from Zabkat.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Google Maps adding more countries

 According to the Google Earth Blog you can now do street level navigation on several new countries:

Now I can zoom right in on the conference site where my colleagues will be in a couple of weeks:

A few weeks ago I wrote about a way to bring animated maps into your PowerPoint presentations.  It'll take a few months for the Google Maps information to percolate to Google earth.  Even so, a whole lot more of us can do mapping presentations with a lot greater detail.


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Microsoft to offer $3 version of Windows & Office... if only they'd make it easy for NGO's to buy and license the same things overseas (more on that in a minute).

In a bid to win back the developing world into the arms of Redmond, Microsoft announced today a special discount bundle of its core software:

According to Computerworld:

The initiative, an expansion of Microsoft's "Unlimited Potential" strategy, involves offering governments a $3 software package called the Student Innovation Suite. It includes Windows XP Starter Edition, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, Microsoft Math 3.0, Learning Essentials 2.0 for Microsoft Office, and Windows Live Mail desktop.

The suite will be available by the end of this year to qualifying governments that are working to supply PCs to students in order to promote technology skills. In 2008, Microsoft will extend its availability to all countries with economies defined as low- or middle-income by the The World Bank.

I hope that Kosovo will be a "qualifying governing" for this program given that it is not an official country.  Microsoft is seeing the developing world move more and more to Linux, which is free of charge.

In a world awash in boot-leg software, this is a smart move for Microsoft.  At the same time it has to work harder to make Microsoft products available through legitimate channels.

Last year I spent quite a while trying to buy legal copies of Windows XP and Office for our community center.  My parent organization refused to help through their volume licensing program.  So I spent a lot of time on the phone with Redmond, WA, Germany and Croatia.  No one believed that it was impossible buy legal software in Kosovo.

I'll always remember the German MS representative who snottily asked, "you've been in every store??" when I told him legal software didn't exist.

Despite my gripes, this seems like a good move for Microsoft and a  for developing countries.  I'll be fascinated to know how they'll keep all those pesky license keys straight though.

via DownloadSquad 


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Keep your kids safe online

For the most part, I feel like my kids are safer overseas than in the US.  I live in a culture that very highly values kids and where neighbors really are neighbors.

While the Internet has sure made it easier for my kids to talk to their grandparents, it also exposes them to threats they wouldn't ordinarily encounter as MKs.

CNET has written a pretty thorough, six-part article on "Keeping your kids safe online.  You'll find age-specific tips on keeping healthy boundaries around your PC.  You'll also find tips on how to configure you system, from the router down to the web browser to make your kids computer experience family friendly.

This series of articles is worth reading if you've got kids and know that living overseas isn't a bye when it comes to Internet safety.

via Lifehacker


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Presentation Collaboration: Google's new addition

 The Official Google Blog is reporting that Google is about to role out a collaborative presentation application. This application would complete a suite of applications (with Spreadsheets and Docs) that allow people to work on a project in real time.

I wrote about the value of Docs back in December as a collegue and I were working on a document together from several thousand miles away.  The new presentation product will presumably give us the same benefits.

From the Google post:

We've already freed those of you working in teams from the burdens of version control and email attachment overload when going back and forth on word processing and spreadsheets. It just made sense to add presentations to the mix; after all, when you create slides, you're almost always going to share them. Now students, writers, teachers, organizers, and, well, just about everyone who uses a computer can look forward to having real-time, web-based collaboration across even more common business document formats.

This certainly isn't a tool I'd use every day, but it's a handy one for the toolbox.  No word yet of an official release date.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Free Computer System Recovery Tools

Every once in a while the wheels fall of the wagon and you desperately need a hand.  LifeHacker published their Top Ten System Recovery Tools list a couple of days ago.

Whether you use a Mac or  PC you'll find some handy tools here.  You may not need them now, but this is a list worth bookmarking.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Collaboration: Box.Net Storage Widgets

Sometimes it would be great to have a place to keep all of your team documents, policy guides and templates in once place where everyone on your team could find them?

Yesterday, an online storage service company, released a new widget that essentially functions as a public folder for your website, blog page or wherever else you'd like to embed it.  Unlike services that just warehouse your files is trying to leverage the social networking space to make your data more usable to more people.  Check out the article and example in TechCrunch and this MySpace page for working copies. 

Embed the widget and you get a flash-based widget that provides easy access to shared files.  You can easily share audio, video or other documents.  Media is automatically played when clicked.

You can also password protect access and users can also upload their content with the pro and premium versions of the service.

This is another tool with great collaborative potential.  On your missions website you could easily add a box like this were important, and regularly edited, documents were kept.

In this example I've uploaded a policy document and copies of registration certificates our team might frequently use. 

There are obviously a hundred other ways to do the same thing (FTP, Wikis, etc) this one is very, very simple to implement.  As you can see in the drop-down box above, you can also subscribe to the "folder" through RSS if that works for you. gives 1GB accounts away for free, other services apply at different price points.



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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Blogging: Constructive Vs. Drive-by Anonymity

Yesterday I posted Tom Johnson's 20 Principles for usability.  In that post I mentioned my prejudice against anonymous commenting and posting.  Beth brought to my attention circumstances in which people need to maintain a level of anonymity.  Good point.

This discussion is also happening at much more exulted levels.  A couple of days ago (4/8/07) Tim O'Reilly lit up the blogosphere with a post on the need for a blogging "code of conduct."  In addition to being picked up by the NY Times, it stayed at the top of Techmeme all day as everyone mobbed O'Reilly.  Today O'Reilly posted a "Lessons learned so far" article outlining and clarifying the bulk of the feedback received thus far.  One of those "lessons" is about anonymity.  Their is a distinction to be made between "constructive anonymity" and "drive-by anonymity."  The former is used to protect while the later is used to assault.

Constructive Anonymity vs. Drive-by Anonymity

According to O'Reilly's post:

Another place where we clearly erred in the first draft is in the suggestion that anonymity should be forbidden, as there are most certainly contexts where anonymity is incredibly valuable. (Some that come to mind include whistleblowing, political dissent, or even general discussion where someone might not want to confuse their personal opinions of those of an organization to which they belong. As one commenter remarked, it might even be useful for a shy person to whom anonymity gives a bit of courage.)

This is only one small part of this larger discussion, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

20 Blog Usability Tips

Tom Johnson has scrounged the Internet for what makes the difference between a good and a bad blog.  He's culled a number of sources to come up with his top twenty principles for creating a good blog.

Most of Tom's suggestions are great advice for every blog.  A couple, like getting your own domain name and creating an index are probably beyond most of our needs.  Here are a couple of that caught my eye and stimulated me to comment.

Number Two is one where a lot of "ministry blogs" struggle: Encourage Comments.  This is really important as it's the core of communal interactivity.  It's not the blog post that generates value per se.  It's the interactions of tens or dozens of commenters adding their bit of wisdom from the hive mind.  Blogs that don't have comments have much, much less value to the community because no one can interact with the content.  My own practice is to allow anonymous commenters and to almost never delete a comment.  I don't like anonymous posters...I think it's lame to leave a comment without leaving your identity.  But I'd rather have even that stilted interaction than none at all.  I've never deleted a comment either.  I've had some pretty horrible things left on another blog I write about the ministry side of my life...but I've let the comment lie.  I think it communicates a great deal about the commenter and sometimes that's to my advantage.

Number Three: Make it easy to subscribe.  If you are still reading blogs one-at-a-time in your web browser you're wasting WAY too much time.  Use a "feed reader" and allow other readers to subscribe to your blog easily.

Number Twelve: Allow readers to contact you offline.  It's important to leave an email address somewhere on your blog.  People may want to get in touch with you about something completely unrelated to your your last post.  They may want to help you, or may be asking for help.  Make it easy for them to connect with you.

All twenty of these principles are worth reading.  Most of them are "doable" for a guy like me...a few are not.  I'm not interested (yet) in having my own URL for my blog (#17)...but I may in the future.  Since I use Blogger, I can't easily created indexes (#16) or include related posts beneath each post (#11).  There is something here for everyone and it's a read worth your time.

Your Presentations: Controversial PowerPoint Research

Over the last several months I've given a life-times worth of PowerPoint presentations!  Okay, that's not just seemed like it, both to me and, perhaps, to my audiences.

Bert Decker points out some interesting research about PowerPoint presentations; every missionary presenter should be aware of this.

Researchers at the University of NSW found that the brain cannot process written and spoken information well at the same time...The principle finding among some of the other controversial conclusions is "It is more difficult to process information if it is coming at you in the written and spoken form at the same time."

He goes on to explain that the researchers found that slides that contained the same text that was being spoken were not effectively processed by the audiences minds. 

So stop with using PowerPoints with so much text! Use graphics, charts, pictures, symbols and the like - because they also found in their research that "It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form."

This is a pretty significant finding since many presenters use their slides as talking points, if not as their complete set of notes.  While I don't use a lot of text on my slides, I confess that I've used bullet points as reminders of what to say during the presentation.  If I want to communicate effectively, I shouldn't do this.

Good luck, and remember to use more charts, pictures and symbols.


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Sunday, April 01, 2007

How-to: Add animated maps to your presentations

 I was looking at a colleague's website the other day when I noticed a promotional video he had added.  What caught my eye was the animated map that was imbedded into the video.  It started over the United States and then flew over to a position above the Balkan Peninsula before zooming in to Macedonia. 

I thought to myself, that's just what I need to help explain to people where Kosovo is!  It looked like it had been done with one of the web-based mapping apps, but I couldn't figure out how he'd done it.  So I shot a note to my colleague, who graciously forwarded it to Peter, the guy who'd done it.  Peter said he'd done it with Google Earth, HyperCam and some video editing software.  So I sat down and created a simple one for my purposes.  I uploaded it here to YouTube for simplicity sake. 

Since it's so easy, I thought I'd write up a basic tutorial. Neither my resolution nor my frame rate are all that great because of the laptop it was created on; your mileage my vary.


To create simple animated maps like these you need only three applications, all of which are free.

  1.  Google Earth - Google Earth is a desktop application, as opposed to Google's web-based one.  The download is about 14MB and the installed app requires Internet access to use.  It downloads and caches all the map information as you fly around the world.  It's easy to use, has phenomenal detail and is, best of all, free.
  2. HyperCam - this is just one screen capture tool but it works pretty well.  It simply records everything on your screen (or a selected region) and saves the output as and AVI (movie) file.  There are other, perhaps better, alternatives to this one.  Microsoft's free "Windows Media Player Encoder" does this and much more. 
  3. MovieMaker - No hyperlink to this one, because if you're running Windows XP it's already on your computer.  Of course, you can use any other video editor too.  <sarcasm> If you use a Mac, well, it will just do this step all by itself like magic but you'll end up with a QuickTime file. </sarcasm>
  4. Presentation software of your choice.  I've inserted this in a PowerPoint deck as part of presentation on Kosovo.  You could also use it in a website (see the YouTube footage above) or other application.

 Step One - Create your mapping sequence

  1. Chose your starting point.  In the clip above I just zoomed into a position above the United States.  Just left click and drag the earth to where you want it.  Use the compass, zooming and pitch tools in the top right hand corner to find the perspective you're looking for.
  2. Add a "Placemark".  When you have the position you're looking for, click "Add" and then on "Placemark". A window will appear asking you to name the Placemark and assign it other properties, if you're interested.  Don't worry about anything but the name of the placemark and the icon it will use.  Click on the icon to the right of the name and click "no icon" at the bottom of that dialogue box.  This will create a Placemark without an icon.  Icons are great for your personal reference, but doesn't look good on a video!  When you click 'okay' you'll notice that you now have a new Placemark in the Places section of your sidebar.  My first Placemark was called United States.  You'll create other Placemarks for transition in your video.
  3. Decide on your ending point and any intermediate points you may want to show along the way.  You can see that my video above contains only three Placemarks, the US, Europe and Kosovo.  I have other places marked under Places (like one called Gjilan).  I haven't used those Placemarks in this video.  You can create your Placemarks in any order and sort them later.
  4. Create a tour of your places!
    1. Under Places check all of the Placemarks you want to visit in your video.  In the tour for the above video I have selected the United States, Europe and Kosovo.  You can have as many or as few as you'd like.
    2. Order them correctly by dragging and dropping the Placemark titles in the Places sidebar.
    3. Play your tour!  Go to "Tools" on the menu bar and then select "Play Tour."  Google will now take you through a tour of your Placemarks.
    4. You can edit the speed at which your tour moves by changing the options under "Tools/Options" and then clicking on the "Touring" tab.  Fly speed, tour speed and tour pause are all changed here.  Does your tour pause too long on a Placemark?  Change "tour pause" from the default down to a 1 second or so.
  5. When you tour runs the way you want it to, you're ready for the next step.

Step Two - Create your screen capture

Now you're ready to create your video file.  Lets use HyperCam for our screen capture.  As I mentioned, there are other applications for this step out there, but this works pretty well.  It will leave an annoying "unregistered HyperCam" logo in your upper left hand corner.  For now, I've decided I can live with that.  So go ahead and install HyperCam and run it. 

  1. A dialogue box will appear that allows you to specify which part of the screen will be captured.  Make sure that Google Earth is the "window" right behind HyperCam when you do this.  Click on Select Region.  When the crosshairs appear drag the section of Google Earth you want to capture.  You may not want to include the title and menu bars, for instance.  Note:  You'll have to decide how large a window you want to capture.  If you're working on a new machine with a cranking graphics card, go for full screen and capture as large an image as you're able.  If you're computer is older, or doesn't have a dedicated video card, resize the Google Earth window so that it's about as large a map as you'll ultimately use in your presentation application.  If you try to make it bigger than your computer can smoothly draw, your resulting video will look very jerky and will probably be missing a lot of frames.
  2. Click on "Start" recording to begin the screen capture.  The HyperCam dialogue will disappear and you should be looking at your Google Earth screen. Press Ctrl-Alt-P to begin playing your tour.  Using the keyboard shortcut will keep your mouse from being seen in the video.
  3. When your Tour is over, press F2 to stop the screen capture.  That's it!  You've just made a video of your Google Earth Tour.

Step Three - Edit your video

You may have gotten some extra artifacts in your video when it was created.  It may not have begun smoothly or ended smoothly.  In this step you'll trim out the beginning and end of your map tour.

  1. Open MovieMaker - this is probably hidden under Start/Accessories or something like that. Again, this already ships with Windows XP.
  2. Click 'Import Video"  Navigate to where HyperCam saved your video (MyDocuments by default) and import your tour.  It's probably labeled something like "clip0001.avi"
  3. In the center of the screen you'll have a new clip.  Drag it down to the timeline to begin editing your video.
  4. Click the Zoom buttons above the timeline to make it easier to work on your video.  Clip off any extra junk you have may picked up during the capture.  In my example above, for instance, the HyperCam dialogue box was captured at the beginning of the screen capture.  That needs to be edited away.
  5. Once you've trimmed that junk away you can add transitions into and out of your map tour, add picture, titles or whatever might be helpful.
  6. Save the project and export the video.  You now have a WMV vile that can be used in PowerPoint, uploaded to YouTube or run in MediaPlayer.

This is my first tutorial but I hope it's helpful in explaining to you how to explain to people, where you live.