2011 Connect Session Schedule

on Thursday, December 30, 2010

Learn how to create a podcast, edit a video, hold an online meeting, and work with Prezi, a zooming presentation software that will thrill your PowerPoint-jaded audiences!

Here is the Winter-Spring 2011 Connect session schedule. All sessions start at 9, and will last less than an hour. Get them on your calender today!

Jan 5 – New features in Adobe Connect 8
Jan 19 – Creative Commons and online image databases (w/Joanne Littlefield)
Feb 2 – Working with Prezi
Feb 16 – CSU social media policies (w/Joanne Littlefield)
March 2 – Skype and Innerpass File sharing
March 16 – CSU Graphic standards and best practices (w/Joanne Littlefield).
April 6 – Working with Adobe Premeire video editing software
April 20 – Working with blogs
May 4 – Working with Audacity recording software
May 18 – Creating podcasts


on Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Markup.io, at http://markup.io/, is a free tool that allows you to draw and add text to any webpage, then publish the result to share with others. Best of all, there are no downloads necessary, no registration required.

Go to http://markup.io/ and drag the markup icon to your bookmarks menu. Then whenever you want to mark up a webpage, choose the bookmark. A toolbox will appear in the upper lefthand corner (screenshot at upper left), allowing you to add shapes and text to a page. In the example below, I've circled a link and added text saying the link doesn't work.

When your markup is done, you click Publish. You'll be prompted to move a slider from left to right. When you do, a URL will appear. Copy the URL, send it to whoever you'd like to share your markup with (see below). Fast and easy. v To see the markup page used in this example, go to http://markup.io/v/akcccc06gwe3

Thanks to Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil for the tip!

Archiving Facebook Data

on Thursday, December 9, 2010

Facebook has now made it possible to download and archive all of your Facebook data: status updates, messages, photos and profile information. It's yours after all, and provides you with a day-to-day history of your own life.

Here's how:

In Facebook, click Account, then click Account Settings.

Click on Learn more to the right of Download Your Information.

Click the Download button at the bottom of the page (you'll then get a second Download button; click that one too).

It will take awhile. Facebook will send you an email when the download is complete. It will be a .zip file (here are instructions on using j-Zip to open a zip file). The extracted files will include an html folder, an images folder, and a file called index.html, which you use to access the rest of the information. Open the index.html in your browser, and you will be able to access profile, wall, photos, friends, notes, events and messages from here.

Thanks to Darrin Goodman for the tip!


on Thursday, December 2, 2010

Just in time to replace Drop.io, which is being shut down this month, is Zendit. Zendit, located at http://live.zendit.com/ allows you to store up to 1 GB of data online, for free. There are no restrictions on file format.

The interface is drag and drop, which can be a little cumbersome, as a "browse for files" option would be nice. Still, it's 1 GB of storage for free, it uploads and downloads very quickly, so I won't complain. Zendit also has many social media features integrated into it, to allow you to easily share files and communicate with others. Personally, I use it for music and as a backup for Word documents.

Zendit is still in beta testing, so you need to request an account at http://www.zendit.com/. They will follow up with an email allowing you to join within a few days. The URL is somewhat customizable as well, in that it is based on your username. So, for example, if your username was ninja, the URL for your Zendit account would be www.zendit.com/ninja.

Give it a try. Did I mention it's free?

Uploading Files in Dreamweaver

on Friday, November 19, 2010

This is a question that comes up a couple of times a month for me (including this morning), so I thought it'd be useful to cover it again.

While you can publish a webpage using Dreamweaver's file pane (see illustration at left) it only shows you a limited view of your files, and you don't see a full picture of what is going on.

When you publish a webpage in Dreamweaver, it is best to first go into expanded view. You do that by clicking the icon at the very right of the file pane toolbar (it's circled in black in the illustration at left).

What this does is brings up your own local files on the right, and the published remote server files on the left (see the illustration below). At first, the remote server files area on the left will be blank. Connect to the server using the connect button (labeled 1), and the remote files will show.

Now, select the webpage file you want to publish on the right local pane. Click the Up arrow (labeled 2), and the file will be transferred from you own computer to the remote server. That's it!

If you want to download something from the remote server, reverse the process. Select the file(s) you want to download on the left pane, click the down arrow (labeled 3), and it will be downloaded into the root folder of your own local computer.

Adding a Facebook "Like" Button

on Thursday, November 11, 2010

Want to dip your toes into the social media scene, and increase traffic to your website at the same time? You can add a Facebook "Like" button to your webpages, so that when the end-user clicks the "Like" button on your site, a story appears in the user's News Feed with a link back to your website. You don't even need a Facebook account! The "Like" button uses the end-user's account.

Here's how: go to the Facebook Developers page at http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/plugins/like. Choose the layout, the font, whether you want to use the verb "like" or "recommend." A preview appears to the right of the dialogue box (see illustration below). When you have it tweaked to your liking. click the "Get Code" button, and cut and paste the code onto your webpages. If you like this feature, add the code to the template page you use to create new pages. Then, by default, ALL your pages will have a "Like" button on them.

The Demise of Drop.io

on Thursday, November 4, 2010

Back in 2009 I posted about drop.io, a free file drop and file sharing service that allowed access via email, conference calls, etc. I used it almost daily as a way to work on projects from multiple computers.

Alas, drop.io is no more. Facebook has bought the service, and as of December 15 all files hosted there will be deleted. No new accounts can be created, but if you already have a drop.io account you may continue to use it until mid-December.

So, if you have important documents stored on drop.io, I suggest you download them and store them somewhere else. Other options for file storage include Google Docs, Box.net, MediaFire, and Windows Live Skydrive. All are free, though the Windows requires a Windows Live account to use.

eXtension National Conference 2010: Social Media

on Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The 2010 eXtension National Conference: Symposium On Workjng Differently was held October 18-21. Video recordings of the presentations are now available at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/broadcasts/nevc/.

The overwhelming majority of these presentations concern the use of social media and networking sites to engage communities, and are being moderated by Extension professionals who are successfully using these tools for outreach.

If you are interested in using social media for the dissemination of Extension programming, I highly recommend these recordings.

Among the many topics discussed:

  • Becoming Visible in the New Media Ecology
  • Educating Others about Social Networking
  • Engaging Learners Through Social Media Outreach: Working Smarter, Not Harder
  • Assessing Impact of eXtension or Social Media Programming
  • Using a Blog to Reach Master Gardeners
  • 3D Immersive Educational Opportunities in Second Life


on Thursday, October 14, 2010

Their tagline is "Your computer, without the computer."

PortableApps (http://portableapps.com/) is a free open source platform that allows you to carry multiple applications around on a flash drive. The basic Portable Apps suite comes loaded with a web browser (Firefox), email client (Thunderbird), and office suite (Open Office), as well as calendar/scheduler, antivirus, audio player and more, all preconfigured to work portably. Just drop it on your portable device and you're ready to go.

A large number of optional applications are available as well - ALL free and open source - from digital Bibles to Audacity audio editing software and the GIMP Image editing program.

It allows you to carry around the files and documents you are working with too, so that, for instance, images you are editing using GIMP, or music you are listening to using Coolplayer, are stored on the same Flash drive as the PortableApps platform.

PortableApps takes mere minutes to set up, loads quickly, and is easy to use and personalize. A full list of apps it supports is available at: http://portableapps.com/apps.

Flash Drive Viruses

on Friday, October 8, 2010

The recent Stuxnet virus, which infiltrated large industrial control systems in China, India, Pakistan, and India, likely found its way into government computer via a Flash drive. Similarly, last year's Conficker worm got into the computers of the French navy and the city of Manchester, England, through infected USB disks.

Flash drives are becoming the latest gateway computer viruses and worms are using to infect computers. A recent Trend Micro survey found that 53.7 percent of newly detected computer viruses are being programmed to spread via USB devices.

Fortunately, there are several precautions to prevent your Flash drive from infection.

1. Keep work and personal Flash drives separate.

2. Always scan a Flash drive before retrieving files from it. Your anti-virus software should have the ability to scan a specific drive for viruses. Simply plug in your flash drive, set up a custom scan, and scan that drive. In Symantec, choose Scan for Threats, then Create a New Scan (see screenshot below), and checkmark the removable drive that represents your Flash drive.

3. Just like email, don't ever open a file with unknown origins, unless you are sure it is safe. Be particularly careful with Flash drives that are not your own.

4. Don’t allow the USB Drive to Auto Play after plug in. Choose cancel it (see screenshot below). Then browse to the Flash drive to retrieve the files yourself.


on Thursday, September 9, 2010

WinZip is, frankly, annoying. It costs $29.95, and the free trial ends after 45 days. The interface is clumsy, the wizard is confusing.

jZip is a Winzip alternative that I've been using for the last year. It's free - no free trail period, simply free. It's small, fast, easy to use, and can create and open Winzip .zip files. It can also open and extract (but not create) .rar, .tar and .iso files.

The only downside is that it will install the dreaded Yahoo toolbar if you don't specifically uncheck the Yahoo toolbar option. Otherwise, it has performed flawlessly for me.

You can download jZip at http://www.jzip.com/.

Gmail Priority Inbox

on Friday, September 3, 2010

Google is rolling out a new feature in its Gmail accounts this week: Priority Inbox. If you choose the option (available in the upper right corner of the screen; see the screenshot at upper left), Gmail will create a "Priority Inbox" for you that will pull out what it sees as your most important email messages, based on keywords, who the email is from, and whether it is sent directly to you or to a group. Think of it as the opposite of a spam filter. This feature attempts to figure out what emails are most important to you.

Your other emails aren't disposed of, simply placed into two other folders: "Starred" and "Everything Else." In addition, you can train the Inbox to regard a specific email sender or subject as important or unimportant by clicking plus or minus buttons at the top of the inbox (below). Or go to Settings>Filters>Create a Filter to give Gmail specific rules (e.g. an email has an attachment) to decide whether an email gets priority.

To give it a try, click the Priority Inbox link in the upper right of the Gmail dashboard to get started. To see a short video explaining the feature, view Google's short video tutorial at http://mail.google.com/mail/help/priority-inbox.html

Fall 2010 Connect Training Schedule

on Wednesday, August 25, 2010

This Fall's Connect sessions on web development and computer applications begin next Wednesday, on Sept. 1st. All sessions start at 9 a.m. and are roughly 1 hour long. Look for an email explaining how to sign in, or email me directly at Jeffrey.Wood@Colostate.edu.

Sept 1 – What's New In Dreamweaver CS5.
Sept 15 – Working With Pixlr.
Oct 6 – Dreamweaver CS5: Widgets and Behaviors.
Oct 20 – CSU Graphic standards and best practices (w/Joanne Littlefield).
Nov 3 – Internet Safety (w/Darrin Goodman).
Nov 10 - Creative Commons and images (w/Joanne Littlefield)
Dec 1 - Using Connect, Improving Webinars,
Dec 8 - Working With Posters (w/Joanne Littlefield)
Jan 5 – Using Skype, Innerpass File sharing
Jan 12 – CSU Social media policies (w/Joanne Littlefield)

If you miss a session, they will be recorded and archived on the Computer Applications Training Page, approximately 2 days after the session.

Online Privacy

on Thursday, August 19, 2010

A series of recent articles by Julia Angwin and others in the Wall Street Journal about online privacy revealed some disturbing practices. They used a clean computer to visit the 50 most popular websites in the US, accounting for roughly 40% of web traffic.

The 50 site visits installed a total of 3,180 tracking files.

About a third of these were rather innocuous "cookies," text files that might store a username or account details. Fully two-thirds, however, came from 131 companies that follow Internet users to create databases of consumer profiles that can then be sold. The companies that placed the most such tools were Google, Microsoft, and Quantcast Corp, all of which are in the business of targeting ads at people online.

The worst offender? Dictionary.com, which installed a stunning 168 tracking tools that didn't let users decline to be tracked.

The only site to install no tracking files? Wikipedia.

The series of four articles are linked below.

What They Know

Sites Feed Personal Details To New Tracking Industry

On the Web's Cutting Edge, Anonymity in Name Only

The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets

Sharing Google Docs

on Thursday, August 12, 2010

There are two strategies you can use to share Google Docs you have uploaded.

The first is to allow access to specific people, via email address, and then invite them to view or edit.

The second way is to choose the "Anyone with the link" option, which allows anyone you email the link to to view/edit the document without the confusion of having to sign in. This is the easiest method, and relatively secure, as you have some control over who is sent the link (you can also reset the link at any time, if you are worried about security).

Both methods start out the same. Upload the document, then click the Share button on the upper right, and choose Sharing Settings.

A new dialogue box will appear (below). If you choose Anyone With the Link you will see the option of allowing them to edit the document at the bottom of the box. Leaving this box unchecked will only give them permission to view the document.

A final dialogue box will appear (shown below) with the link. Cut and paste it into an email and you are good to go. Note the Reset Link option just below and to the right of the link. If you do reset the link, make sure you alert everyone involved of the new link.

To keep the document private, choose Private.

This will bring up a new dialogue box. You allow access to the document with an email address. To the right of the email text box you can choose whether they can edit or merely view the document.

Checking the Send Email Notifications box will automatically send emails to all those who have been allowed access.

If you would like to learn more about Google Docs, my own video tutorials are available on the Video Tutorials page, and Lynda.com tutorials available at lynda.colostate.edu. Sign in and choose Google on the Vendor drop-down menu.

Google Maps Widget

on Thursday, August 5, 2010

Google Code has an easy to use Google Maps Widget wizard to allow you to embed a Google map of your workplace location (or any other location) into a webpage. The result can be searched and the end user can zoom and pan the embedded map.

Go to the Google Maps Widget site (www.google.com/uds/solutions/wizards/mapsearch.html). Choose a size, a zoom level, and the name, location and URL where you want the map to center on.

Give Google the URL associated with your Google account, and they will generate the code. Cut and paste it into your webpage, and that's it! A screenshot of the result is below.


on Thursday, July 29, 2010

The University Technology Fee Advisory Board (UTFAB) and CSU Libraries have licensed the entire library of the lynda.com online training materials. Just go to http://lynda.colostate.edu and log in using your CSU eName and ePassword. All CSU students, faculty and staff have access.

There are over 42,000 video-based tutorials, and you can sort them by subject, by software, or by vendor. Also included are the associated training files, so you can practice what you've learned.

These tutorials are available 24/7 and cover Adobe (Acrobat, Dreamweaver, Photoshop) Apple (Studio Pro, Final Cut) and Microsoft (Access, Excel, PowerPoint, Word) product suites. Also included: Google Apps, Drupal, audio and video editing, operating systems and much more. Tutorials contain up to 8 hours of instruction per subject area, split into 5-15 minute segments. They are well designed and easy to follow, and the short length of the individual tutorials allows you to learn at your own pace.

Google Voice

on Wednesday, July 21, 2010

eXtension has a great occasional series called 30 Minute sessions, usually at noon MST, that quickly provide an overview of various Tech topics. And it's during lunch, so you can watch and listen while you eat! If you aren't on their mailing list, go to https://www.extension.org/people/lists/learn to sign up. You'll need an account with eXtension. I strongly suggest you do so. It's a great asset.

This week's topic was Google Voice, yet another very cool (and free!) new gadget from Google. You can sign up, or simply learn more about it, at http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html.

Google Voice lets you consolidate and manage all your various phone services from one online service: cell, home, and work numbers. Google Voice provides a powerful suite of communications tools, including the ability to:

  • Forward calls from one or more phones, or directly to voicemail. Based on who's calling, you can select which of your phones will ring.
  • Consolidate all voicemail messages from various phones into one place, and allow you to listen to those messages online.
  • Receive text/email alerts when you get a call.
  • Transcribe voicemails, which Google Voice will send as email and/or text messages to your cell phone.
  • Share voicemails or transcriptions of voicemails via email.
  • Screen callers by asking for and recording their names.
  • Block annoying callers.
  • Vary personalized greetings by caller.
  • Record phone conversations and listen to them in your Google Voice inbox.
This really is a great tool, and my fast synopsis does not do it justice. Give it a look.

Recovering Deleted CSU Emails

on Thursday, July 15, 2010

On CSU’s email system, emails are automatically removed from the Deleted Items folder 7 days after you delete them. During these seven days you can go to the Deleted Items folder near your inbox and restore them to the system (see the screenshot on the right).

After those first seven days they are removed from the Deleted Items folder, but not to worry (not for 7 days, anyway). In Outlook, they can be accessed under Tools -> Recover Deleted Items (see the screenshot on the left). On CSU’s system they are there for another 7 days.

So all in all, with CSU’s email you have 14 days to recover an email after you have deleted it; the first seven look in the Deleted Items folder, the next 7 in Tools -> Recover Deleted Items .

Thanks to Angie Asmus for the tip.


on Thursday, July 8, 2010

You have likely seen shortened URLs with "tinyurl" in the address, such as http://tinyurl.com/28j5aoo. Mostly they are used in Twitter messages {tweets), since they have a 140 character maximum, and so space is at a premium. But short URLs are useful to anyone with a website, particularly if you are advertising a website on print media where a link can't be clicked.

They are very easy to create. Go to TinyURL (http://tinyurl.com/). You don't need to even register. Just copy-and-paste the URL you want to shorten, the site will instantly spit a shortened one back out. It also has a custom URL feature, where you can customize the name of the shortened URL (assuming it isn't taken). For instance, I just created an easy to remember tiny URL for the Computer Applications Training page using this feature: http://tinyurl.com/comappstrain

There are a few security concerns associated with them, such as clicking on unsafe links, or fears the company won't be around to redirect the link in the future. These concerns are addressed more completely in this Popular Mechanics article: http://www.popularmechanics.co.za/content/print_pop.asp?fid=2034.


on Friday, July 2, 2010

If your computer is behaving oddly and you call the IT help desk to get some assistance, they'll likely want to know some basic information about your system. If you go to the site www.thismachine.info you can quickly find out:

1. your browser
2. your browser version
3. your operating system
4. your IP address
5. your user agent string

Bookmark it. That way, next time you call the help desk, you can have this basic information at your fingertips.

Thanks to Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil for the tip!

New Template Header

on Thursday, June 24, 2010

Darrin Goodman has designed an elegant new graphical header that can be easily incorporated into the CSU Extension Webpage Template.

More importantly, the header can easily be modified to incorporate both your county logo and/or local photos to give your website a personalized flair.

Three examples are at the top of this post, for Boulder County, Arapahoe County, and Jackson County.

Please don't try to customize the header yourself; there are graphic standards that need to be followed. We'll be happy to do it for you (and when I say we, I mean Darrin). Just contact Darrin Goodman at darrin.goodman@colostate.edu (970-491-2734), and let him know the graphics you'd be interested in including.

Windows 7 Expanded "Send To" Command

on Thursday, June 10, 2010

Many of you may use a right-click and the "Send To" command to quickly send a file or folder to your desktop, a flash drive, a zip folder, or an email recipient. This option is available in all recent versions of Windows (XP, Vista, 7). A screenshot is below.

In Windows 7, however, if you hold down the Shift key while right-clicking on the icon, and then try the Send To menu, you'll see all sorts of extra options, allowing you to send documents to Contacts, Favorites, My Documents, etc. A screenshot is below.

Finally, if you want any of those to show up normally without holding down the Shift key, you can create shortcuts in the Send To folder. Just type the following into the location bar - shell:sendto - and then drag shortcuts to your preferred folders into this folder. In the example below I've dragged "Snagit 10" into the Send To folder.

Clearing a Printer's Document Queue

You're trying to print a document. It's not printing. You check all the usual suspects. The printer has paper and toner, it's plugged in and on, there's no paper jam, etc. No dice.

You can first go to the printer icon in your taskbar (or alternately, go to Devices and Printers, go to the File menu) and cancel the job. Or right click it and delete it. If it deletes successfully, try printing the document again. You've probably already tried that too.

Here's what to do if the document stubbornly refuses to leave the Document Queue.

1 - Turn off your printer.

2 - Right click Computer (in the Windows 7 Start Menu) or My Computer (on your desktop), and click Manage.

3 - In the resulting dialog, expand Services and Applications, then click on Services. Scroll down the resulting list to find Print Spooler.

4 - Right click on Print Spooler and click on Properties

5 - Click on Stop to stop the print spooler. (You should leave this dialog box open.)

6 - Now, navigate to the folder c:\Windows\System32\spool\PRINTERS. A quick way to do this is to click on Start then Run and then enter "c:\Windows\System32\spool\PRINTERS" as the item to run.

7 - Delete the contents of this folder.

8 - Back at the Printer Spooler Properties dialog (you left this open in step 5), click on Start.

9 - Turn your printer back on.

10 - Print!

Find Large Files and Folders

on Friday, June 4, 2010

There is a fast and handy download available at Treesize that allows you to see at a glance how your hard drive space is allocated. If you sort the results by size, you can see which files and folders are unnecessarily eating up your storage space.

I recently used this tool after installing Windows 7 and discovering I only had 3 gigabytes of space left. This tool allowed me to find a folder called windows.old that was taking up an extraordinary 40 gigabytes of space. I deleted it, and presto, 40 more gigabytes of space were freed up.

Thanks to Angie Asmus for suggesting the tool to me.

CSU Extension Webpage Template lessons

on Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Connect recordings for the entire 10 session class on working with the CSU Extension Webpage Template are now archived and available at http://www.coopext.colostate.edu/comptrain/co.shtml#temp. Each session is about an hour long, and the sessions lead you through the entire process of building and publishing a website using the template. If you don't have 10 hours to spare, note that Session 8 is a "Putting It All Together" session where you are led through the entire process in about an hour and a half. Included in each session is a link to a .pdf that documents the session.

Here are the topics:

Session 1: Basic concepts, downloading the files, tour of template components, tour of Dreamweaver CS4 workspace.

Session 2: Defining the Site, Directory Structure, Metatags.

Session 3: Content. Adding text, headers and images; creating webpage, document and email links; working with lists and bullet points; working with tables.

Session 4: SSIs. Working with the Server Side Includes (SSIs) for the top navigation bar, left navigaton bar, and footer.

Session 5: Creating an Engaging home page. Working with tables and linked lists, embedding slideshows, YouTube, Flash and Quicktime videos, and audio podcasts.

Session 6: Second level pages. Differences between a first level and a second level page; creating new second level pages; posting content from PDF documents, Word documents, Excel documents, PowerPoint presentations.

Session 7: Named Anchors. Used to create links to different parts of the same page. Thus you can allow end-users to easily navigate a long webpage of content.

Session 8: Putting it all together. Setting up a website, start to finish.

Session 9: Writing your own CSS. How to add your own CSS sheet to the existing CSS, how to build your own header style, paragraph style, a box to add visual emphasis, and a photo with a caption underneath.

Session 10: Google Analytics. How to register for the code, how to add the code to your website, and how to use Find and Replace to add it to every page on your site.

Facebook Privacy Settings

on Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Facebook is notorious about relaxing your privacy settings to allow more people to visit your comments, photos, and personal information.

You can, of course, go into your privacy settings and manually change them. And you should. But there is a new, free tool called SaveFace (http://www3.untangle.com/saveface), by Untangle, that allows you to set all your privacy setting to "Friends Only" with a few clicks (for those unfamiliar with Facebook, a "friend" is essentially someone on your Facebook contact list).

Go to the SaveFace website and drag the icon provided into your Bookmarks. Go to Facebook. Go to your bookmarks and click the SaveFace Bookmark. It will automatically change all your settings to only let people to whom you've allowed access (i.e. "friends") to see your information. It takes less than a minute, and they keep no personal information about you.

Another open source app that does essentially the same thing is available at: http://www.reclaimprivacy.org/

Office 2010 Beta

on Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Late yesterday Windows unveiled the beta version of Office 2010. It's free, and it's available here: http://www.microsoft.com/office/2010/en/default.aspx. The beta version will expire in October 2010.

Overall, it doesn't look too much different than Office 07. The ribbon is still there (though the Office button has been replaced with a File tab). There are some enhanced image editing features, such as color saturation and artistic effects. You can edit videos embedded in PowerPoint directly from the program.

The big difference is that you can save documents to the Web and share them with others on Microsoft's "Skydrive." Clearly, this is an attempt to compete with Google Docs and other Web 2.0 cloud computing options available out there. It allows you to save your documents to the web directly from the File tab, and you can invite others to view or collaborate with you on documents, as well as access them from any computer.

Yes, you can already do all of that on Google Docs. And yes, this free version expires in October, after which you have to buy it. But it's worth a look, if only to see how Microsoft will compete in the Web 2.0 arena in the future.

More information is available at the the Microsoft Office 2010 FAQ page.

Center for Plain Language Awards

on Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Center for Plain Language has given out two awards this week for public websites that clearly and cleanly present information to the public. They are the US Department of Health and Human Services' Quick Guide to Healthy Living and the website for the City of Gresham, Oregon.

Both websites are worth a look as good examples of how to present content. They identify their audience and are written clearly for those readers. They make information easy to find, understand, and use. They omit unnecessary information and avoid dense, cluttered text.

Equally valuable are the criteria the Center for Plain Language uses to bestow these awards. You can also find Guidelines for creating plain language materials at their site. These are excellent resources for making sure your audience can quickly and easily find and understand the information you are presenting.

Load Time Analyzer

on Thursday, April 29, 2010

Most of you are probably aware of the 25 second rule: your web pages should load within 25 seconds, using a 56k modem. The 1 Hit Load Time Analyzer (http://www.1-hit.com/all-in-one/tool.loading-time-checker.htm) will check your load time, and rate your site with a color coded report. The report breaks down the page by giving you file sized of each image, and the file size of your HTML. So, if your site comes in over 25 seconds, you'll have a list of files (usually images) that are taking the longest to load, and know where to start in improving your load time.

Two examples are below. The first is the CSU Extension Webpage template, clocking in at a respectable 14.7 seconds. The second is an Extension website, which will remain anonymous, that clocks in at a rather sluggish 32.3 seconds. One image on this site takes up 86% of the load time. Compressing this image alone could take the image down to under 25 seconds.

Fast site:

Slow site:

Website Readability

on Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Readability is an often overlooked aspect of website accessibility. In fact, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines require that documents are clear and simple. Ideally, your site should be easy for the end-user to scan for information.

Juicy Studios has three readability tests available at http://juicystudio.com/services/readability.php: Gunning Fog, Flesch Reading Ease, and Flesch-Kincaid. These are reading level algorithms that can give you a good sense of how easy your text is to read.

The Gunning-Fog index returns a number between 6 and 30, with 6 being the level of TV Guide, and 15-20 the level of most academic papers (the website gives a more complete explanation of results).

The Flesch Reading Ease scale rates the text on a 100 point scale. Shoot for 40-70.

Flesch-Kincaid grade level attempts to measure how many years of schooling it would take someone to understand the content.

In addition, the readability test will return the average number of words per sentence, syllables per word, and more. The results of my own Computer Applications website are shown below.

Internet 2009, By the Numbers

on Friday, April 16, 2010

Fascinating article at the Royal Pingdom, running down the shape of the Internet, 2009, by the numbers. I had no idea Ashton Kutcher was so popular.


* 90 trillion – The number of emails sent on the Internet in 2009.
* 247 billion – Average number of email messages per day.
* 81% – The percentage of emails that were spam.
* 92% – Peak spam levels late in the year.
* 24% – Increase in spam since last year.

Social Media
* 126 million – The number of blogs on the Internet (as tracked by BlogPulse).
* 84% – Percent of social network sites with more women than men.
* 27.3 million – Number of tweets on Twitter per day (November, 2009)
* 57% – Percentage of Twitter’s user base located in the United States.
* 4.25 million – People following @aplusk (Ashton Kutcher, Twitter’s most followed user).
* 350 million – People on Facebook.
* 50% – Percentage of Facebook users that log in every day.

* 1 billion – The total number of videos YouTube serves in one day.
* 182 – The number of online videos the average Internet user watches in a month (USA).
* 81.9% – Percentage of embedded videos on blogs that are YouTube videos.

Malicious software
* 148,000 – New zombie computers created per day (used in botnets for sending spam, etc.)
* 2.6 million – Amount of malicious code threats at the start of 2009 (viruses, trojans, etc.)
* 921,143 – The number of new malicious code signatures added by Symantec in Q4 2009.

Thanks to Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil for the tip.

Aviary: Online Design Tools

on Thursday, April 8, 2010

Aviary (http://aviary.com/)is a suite of seven free browser-based design tools: Phoenix (a Photoshop-like image editor), Toucan (a color picker and color palette generator), Peacock (a very fun visual effects editor), Raven (a vector graphics editor), Talon (a screen capture tool), Falcon (an image markup tool) and Myna (a multi-track audio editor).

While the bird related names for the various tolls might be a little overly cute, the tools are for the most part easy to use and well designed (my seven year old daughter figured out how to use the image editor in minutes). Each tool has an introductory video and many video tutorials. Talon, the screen capture tool, can be incorporated into Firefox with an add-on. You can store your work either on the Aviary "cloud" or save it back to your own computer when you are done (recommended; see the last paragraph).

While all the tools are free, registration is required for some features (username, password, email address). There used to be a $25/yr pro version, but now everything is free.

Two drawbacks that I found: any work you do can be used for display by Aviary, although you will be listed as the creator. For example, your art could be used as an image for a third-party news article about Aviary. Also, if you store your work online with Aviary, they will place a watermark in the lower left hand corner. This watermark can be avoided, however, if you download your work directly to your desktop, rather than storing it with Aviary.

Other than those drawbacks, it's a wonderful design suite. Aviary does most of the chores performed by the costly Adobe Creative Suite, does them online, and for free!

Thanks to Darrin Goodman for the tip.

New CSU Extension Logos

on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Revisions have been made to the CSU Extension wordmark and other associated artwork. The new graphics are located online at www.ext.colostate.edu/logos/. The revisions include a decreased space between the CSU logo and the Extension "swoosh" underneath it, and the availability of an alternate shade of green. Contact Joanne Littlefield if you have any questions. You do not need to replace any graphics currently in use, but are expected to use the new graphics as you create new outreach materials.


on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We have posted on this tool before, back in February of last year, but with so many people cropping, resizing and compressing photos for websites, I thought it deserved mentioning again.

Pixlr (http://www.pixlr.com/editor/) is a free on-line picture editor that allows you to crop, resize, compress, add filters, work with layers, and do pretty much anything you are able to do in Photoshop or GIMP. You go to the site, import the picture from your computer or a URL, and then use the toolbox and the menus to manipulate the picture. Cropping is done using the cropping tool in the toolbox (shown at left, cropping tool is circled in red). Resizing is done by choosing Image Size in the Image menu and changing the number of pixels. Compressing is done by choosing Save As in the File menu, where you can choose the format of your final image (e.g. .gif, .jpg, .png) and the quality of the compression.

If you are familiar with Photoshop, you may recognize these commands, as they are the exact ones you'd use to accomplish these tasks in Photoshop. You'll also recognize the workspace below, as it is quite similar to the Photoshop workspace. The difference? It's on-line...and it's free!

Importing Tabular Data Into Dreamweaver

on Wednesday, March 10, 2010

You can quickly import data from Excel directly into a web page in Dreamweaver using the Import Tabular Data command.

The first step is to save the Excel file as a tab delimited .txt file using the Save As Type pulldown menu(a screenshot is below).

Next, bring up your webpage in Dreamweaver. Go to the Insert menu, choose Table Objects, and then Import Tabular Data (shown below).

Browse to the file in the Dialogue box (shown below), define the size, in pixels, of your cell padding (space between cell wall and content), cell spacing (space between cells), and borders. That's it! Easy, huh?

CSU Social Media Policies

on Wednesday, March 3, 2010

CSU is currently in the process of finalizing their official Social Media policies (expected to be approved by the end of the semester), but there is plenty of information already available at the CSU Social Media Policy page, at http://socialmedia.colostate.edu/page/Social-Media-Policy.aspx.

Overviews and best practices while working with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube are available there. Also listed are links to sites discussing graphic standards, copyright information, website requirements and guidelines, and other applicable CSU policies.

In addition, you can find Twitter backgrounds, tips for creating profile images, a communicators toolbox, and all sorts of social media resources.

Also, a VOLUNTARY social media account application is available, so you can apply to have your social media accounts recognized by CSU.

Finally, if you'd like to weigh in on CSU Social Media policies before they become finalized, there is a link at the bottom of of the Social Media Policy page that allows you to contact them.

Using Google Analytics

on Thursday, February 25, 2010

Google Analytics can tell you how many people come to your website, where they are coming from, where they go once they get there, how long they stay, and much more. You can chart these numbers over any given time period. It is an incredibly useful tool.

Here's how to set it up for your own website.

You need a Google account to start (you just need to provide them with an email address and a password). Then go to Google Analytics (https://www.google.com/analytics/). Click "Add An Account" (shown below, the link is circled).

Next, copy-and-paste in the URL of your site, give it a name, and provide your time zone (below).

You'll go through a couple more screens, asking for your name, and agreeing to their terms of service. Google will then give you a snippet of code (shown below) in a box. Click inside the box, and hit Ctrl+C to copy the code.

Open the code of your index page using Dreamweaver or Notepad. Go to the very bottom of the code and paste (Ctrl+V) the Google code just above the closing body tag. Save the page. Do this to EVERY Page page on your website.

And that's it! In 24 hours you'll have a snapshot of web activity on your site. It'll update every 24 hours. Go to the same analytics page (https://www.google.com/analytics/) to see it. The graph and numbers below it will give you a basic overview. The lefthand navigation allows you to look at specific metrics: traffic sources, browser capabilities, etc. A screenshot is provided below; click to enlarge it.

Free Image Databases

on Friday, February 19, 2010

Need images for your website or brochure?

There are many resources out there that provide free images for websites and print publications. Low resolution images are best for the web, as they greatly reduce file size and thus download time, and are typically 72 dpi (dots per inch). Print publications need much higher resolution, and require a minimum of 300 dpi.

Here is a quick rundown of five excellent free image databases. Please observe copyright notices and requests for credit lines.

The Bugwood Network (http://www.bugwood.org/)has lots of free pictures of, well, bugs and wood, but lots of other nature, agriculture, and whole ecosystem photos as well. Various Creative Commons licenses apply to different images, so be sure and check on the CC license of a specific image. You must register as member to get high resolution images, but membership is free.

Communications and Creative Services (CCS) Photo Resources (http://www.ext.colostate.edu/staffres/photos.html). Over 2000 images. Login is CoopExt, password will be provided by Help desk. The Asset>Information menu will provide you with the applicable credit line to use.

CREES (http://www.csrees.umd.edu/) has photos in all topic areas from Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service. Free and comprehensive.

Natural Resources Conservation Service (http://photogallery.nrcs.usda.gov/) has a very nice searchable database. Requires a credit line in publication or webpage. Images may not be distorted or altered.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (http://www.nrel.gov/data/pix/) has a collection of photographs related to renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Low resolution images - useful for the web - for free. High resolution images cost $42. Acknowledge DOE/NREL for all images used, and give appropriate credit.

W3C's HTML Validator and Link Checker

on Wednesday, February 10, 2010

W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, the guardians of webpage standards, has two tools worth noting to help you validate your HTML and check your links.

The first is a Mark-up Validation service (http://validator.w3.org/) that checks the validity your HTML against current web standards. It gives you the line number and a brief explanation of any errors it finds. If you pass the validator, you get a nifty icon to put on your website!

The second is a link checker (http://validator.w3.org/checklink) that looks for issues in links, anchors and referenced objects in a webpage, or on an entire website.

Also available on the site are HTML tutorials, HTML cheat sheets, and much more. Check them out!

Text Link Checker Tool

on Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is your website in a bad neighborhood?

The Bad Neighborhood text link checker (http://www.bad-neighborhood.com/text-link-tool.htm) automatically scans the links on your website, and on the pages that your website is linking to, and flags possible problem areas. Cut-and-paste your URL into the box, and the site will examine the anchor text linking to the various pages, and check for parts of certain words within them, such as “adult”, “sex”, and “pharma” (among others). Obviously, not every site with those words is a suspect site, but the tool does help you ferret out potential problem areas.

Clarification of what the tool actually does is available at http://bad-neighborhood.blogsblogsblogs.com/2007/08/26/a-quick-clarification-on-the-bad-neighborhood-detector/

A partial screenshot of the results of my own site is shown below. Click to enlarge.

WAVE: Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool

on Thursday, January 28, 2010

At http://wave.webaim.org/ you will find the easy-to-use WAVE (Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool). There are several ways to use it: put in your URL, upload your HTML files, or cut and paste your code directly into a provided window.

What WAVE returns is your page with an overlay that tags both good accessibility practices and accessibility errors. Errors are noted with a big headline above the page. A screenshot is below, with various tags circled. Click it to see a larger version.

In addition, there is a button in the upper right corner that alows you to disable your CSS styles and see the basic structure of your site, sans CSS. Remember, An accessible document should be well-structured, meaningful, and readable without CSS.

Screen Reader Emulator

on Friday, January 22, 2010

A key issue in website accessibility is how well your site converts to a text-to-speech reader, used by end-users with visual impairments. Essentially, a screen reader "reads" a website to the end-user, noting links, headers, tables and frames.

There is a very cool add-on to Firefox called the Fangs Screen Reader Emulator. It strips away graphics and layout and allows you to read your site as it will be read by a text-to-speech screen reader. You can download it at https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/402.

Then, to test your website's screen reader friendliness, go to the Tools menu and choose Fangs. It will bring up your page in a screen reader emulator that translate your site to text only, listing exactly what will be read by the screen reader.

Here is a site as it appears in Firefox:

And as it appears in the Fangs Screen Reader Emulator (click to enlarge):

Things to watch out for (taken from the Fangs tutorial on writing for text-to-speech screen readers):
-Are there many consecutive table announcements?
-Are there long sections of uninterrupted text?
-Are the navigation links well labeled?
-Are the heading texts understandable? Is it clear for the user under which heading to look for specific content?

To learn more about writing for screen readers, go to the Fangs help site at http://www.standards-schmandards.com/fangs/help/index.php?l=en-US&v=1.0.7#about