Superior Alternatives to Crappy Windows Software

on Friday, December 30, 2011

Let's end the year on a fun note: Lifehacker recently listed their "Best of 2011"
posts of the year, and among them was "Superior Alternatives to Crappy Windows Software," available at

This post gives you free, fast, well-designed alternatives to bloated and frustrating Windows-based software such as Adobe Reader (use SumatraPDF), Windows Media Player (use VLC or Media Player Classic), Winzip (use 7-zip or J-zip) and much more.

It's a fun, and informative, article. Give it a read.

The entire year-end list of the "Best of 2011" Lifehacker posts is available at:

Happy 2012!


on Friday, December 9, 2011

Pando, at, is a large file sharing service that allows you to send packages of files and folders up to 1 GB. It's free, and simple to use; just drag and drop the files and folder you want to send (Pando gives you a running tally of the overall package size so you can stay under 1 GB).

A variety of ways can be used to send the files. You can directly send the files via email. You can post them on the web using the provided embed code. Or you can post the files on Facebook.

A few caveats: there is a small download involved (though it is quite small, about 5 MB). The person receiving your files needs to have Pando as well. And, most importantly, you need to choose "No thanks and continue" when it asks to install the insidious and incredibly annoying Weatherbug (ALWAYS say no to Weatherbug).

A screenshot of the easy-to-use interface is shown below.

Thanks, Angie Asmus, for the tip.

Windows 7 Logon Image Changer

on Thursday, November 10, 2011

Most, if not all, of you know how to change the background image on your monitors, but it's a little tougher to personalize the initial Windows 7 logon screen image (shown below).

There is a complex and somewhat hazardous way of doing it, involving going directly into the registry and modifying it (instructions available here). Don't try this unless you know what you are doing!

A much easier method is to use the free Logon Changer, available for download at It's easy to use, doesn't require installation, and will automatically resize and recompress your images while leaving the original file untouched. You can preview any number of images before making your decision, or revert back to the original image with the click of a button. A screenshot of the Logon Changer in action is below; notice the easy-to-use 4 button tool panel at the bottom of the image. The only limitation is that the background you select needs to be smaller than 256KB.

Exporting Dreamweaver Site Definitions

on Friday, October 14, 2011

I recently switched computers, and needed to move all my websites and site definitions from one machine to the other. There are over twenty sets of usernames and passwords, which I was not looking forward to finding and re-imputting. To complicate matters, my websites would not be in the same place on my new machine.

Luckily, Dreamweaver has well-designed import and export tools. First step: on the old machine, bring up Dreamweaver, go to the Site menu and choose Manage Sites. Choose the sites you want to export in the left column (see below), then choose Export. To select multiple sites, use the Ctrl button. Dreamweaver will create a .ste file for every site you selected.

Copy the .ste files over to your new machine. Move your actual website files over to the new machine. Open Dreamweaver, choose Import, and browse to the .ste files (again, Ctrl will allow you to select multiple files). Dreamweaver will begin importing all the site definition information - including usernames and passwords, if you choose that option - into Dreamweaver.

Here's the best part: if your website folders and files are in a different spot on the new machine, as was the case with me, Dreamweaver will prompt you to browse to the new location to find both the root folder and the default images folder. Show Dreamweaver where the files and folders are, and that's it! All your websites are now defined on your new computer.

Converting docx, pptx and xlsx Files

on Thursday, October 6, 2011

As most of you probably know, when Microsoft released Office 2007, the file formats of the documents it created changed: .doc (Word documents) became .docx, .ppt (PowerPoint documents) became .pptx, and .xls (Excel documents) became .xlsx. What this meant is that people with earlier versions of Microsoft Office were unable to open the new file formats.

There are many file format converters out there, but Microsoft probably created the easiest, most seamless one, with the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack, available for free download at:

I like this converter (and use it on my personal laptop) because it converts the document all by itself. All you need to do is open the document in whatever version of MS Office you have, and the converter automatically recognizes the format as incompatible and converts and displays the document in a read-only version. You don't have to do a thing. The converted document can then be saved in an older file format (e.g. - .doc)

Some caveats: the compatability pack only converts Word, PowerPoint and Excel documents. And formatting choices that are not available in the older version of Office will be discarded. Overall, though, it is the easiest and cheapest way to convert Microsoft Office 07 and 2010 documents.

Firefox Add-ons Causing Browser Crashes

on Thursday, September 8, 2011

When I recently updated my Firefox browser, it began to crash whenever I opened more than one tab. I tried all the usual suspects: reinstalled Firefox, ran a malware scan. It turned out the problem was not with Firefox itself but the compatability with certain add-ons.

If you are having problems with Firefox, go to the Tools menu, and choose Add-ons. The Add-ons Manager will appear (a screenshot is below). Disable everything (the Disable buttons are circled in the screenshot below). If Firefox starts working properly again, you can Enable them one at a time, until you find the one that was making Firefox crash. Problem solved!

Adobe Reader Icons

on Friday, September 2, 2011

Adobe Acrobat PDFs are the best way to distribute documents via a website, as, unlike Word documents, the Adobe Reader is free and already in wide distribution. It is important, though, to provide the end-user with a link to the free Adobe Reader (at

It is also nice to give the end-user the Adobe icon to help them identify the link to the Adobe Reader. Adobe has a page with three sizes of icons your can right-click and download at

Also on the page is a very useful list of Adobe's legal requirements for using the icon. They are all common sense requirements, such as not to alter the icon, or use it for the purposes of distributing obscene or pornographic images. Read the entire list by clicking on the link above. Then, download the icon and use it on your webpages!

Fall 2011 Connect Schedule

on Friday, August 26, 2011

The Fall 2011 series of Connect sessions will deal with two subjects: Working With Websites and Creating Video Podcasts.

On the first Wednesday of every month the Working With Websites sessions will explore the basics of managing a website, and is strongly recommended to those learning to work with the CSU Extension webpage template. Each session will end with a troubleshooting segment, where we open up the session to solving specific web problems and answering questions.

Webpage Template sessions:

  • Sept 7: Defining the site in Dreamweaver; Root folders; Making and uploading simple changes
  • Oct 5: Adding content (paragraphs, headers, lists, blockquotes); Adding new pages
  • Nov 2: SSIs (Server Side Includes): How SSIs work; Manipulating SSIs
  • Dec 7: Creating an engaging home page (tables and multimedia)
On the third Wednesday of every month Joane Littlefield and Jeff Wood will hold a series of Connect sessions on Creating Video Podcasts. They will take you through the entire process of creating your own video, from creating your storyboards and recording your narration to editing your video and distributing the final product.

Creating Video Podcasts
  • Sept 21: First steps, best practices / Working with titles
  • Oct 19: How to shoot / Working with sound
  • Nov 16: All about editing
  • Dec 14: Distributing your video
All sessions start at 9 a.m. and will last about an hour. Mark your calenders now!

OSSwin: Open Source for Windows

on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The OSSwin Project, at, is essentially a very long list of links to free, open-source tools available to Windows users.

All of the most popular open source tools are here: GIMP (image editing), Audacity (audio recording and editing), Filezilla (file transfer, or FTP), Firefox (browser), Thunderbird (email), and Open Office (a office tools suite, similar to Microsoft Office). But there are more esoteric tools here too, from CAD software and zip compression to firewalls and anti-virus tools. All free, all open source. Take a look!

Embedding YouTube Videos Into PowerPoint

on Thursday, August 11, 2011

You can embed a YouTube video directly into a PowerPoint presentation, so that it plays in a tidy little window on your presentation slide, rather than the YouTube site.

Go to the YouTube video you want to embed. Click the Share button just below the video.

Scroll down the page to the Embed button. Click it. Before you copy the code, make sure you check the "Use old embed code option" option (note: not all videos allow this option). Then click inside the embed code, right-click, and choose Copy.

Go into PowerPoint, and navigate to the slide you want to embed the video into. Choose Insert. Choose the little drop-down arrow just below the video icon (this will be in the upper right of your screen). Choose "Video From Web Site"

A dialogue box will appear. Paste your code into the box (right-click, choose Paste), then click the Insert button. A black box will appear on your slide, which you can resize by dragging one of the corner sizing circles (using the corners will keep the width-to-height ratio the same). When you go into Slideshow mode in PowerPoint, a screenshot of the the Youtube video will appear. Click the center of the screenshot to play the video.

Thanks to Gisele Jefferson for posing the question.

VideoLAN Media Player

on Friday, August 5, 2011

The VideoLAN media player ( a free, open-source, cross-platform video and audio player that I've been using for close to a year now. It will play most DVDs, virtually all audio CDs, as well as web-friendly formats like Flash and the Windows .wmv format (a complete list is available at It has, in fact, played almost every media file format I've thrown at it, without requiring me to go online and find the applicable codec.

It's fast, and simple. It plays on Windows, Mac and Linux systems. It's a great alternative to Windows Media player, and I've made it my default media player for video and audio on both my personal and work computers.

Give it a try! You can download it here:

Four New Extension Websites

on Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Four Extension County websites have recently been converted to the new CSU Extension template. Stop by and take a look!

Chaffee and Park counties have a site up at Note the multimedia zone in the right column, and Kurt Jones' ongoing video series on Solar Energy.

Prowers County features pages for local events such as The Sand and Sage Round-Up and the Holly Gateway Fair on their navigation pane at the upper left. Visit them at

Elbert County uses their 4-H page to keep all forms, newsletters, reports, etc. on one easy-to-find page. Their site is at

The Gilpin County page gathers information on Noxious Weeds, Small Acreage Management and Water Rights and much more, and references them on the navigation pane at the left so they can be easily found. Visit the site at

Does your website need a facelift? Drop me an email at and we'll make it happen.

Free, Painless Website Upgrades!

on Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Do you have an old CSU Extension website you'd like to upgrade to the new CSU Extension template, but just don't have the time?

We'll do it for you!

Do you have no website, but would like a place to post newsletters, fairbooks, registration forms, and more?

We'll create one for you!

I can take all of your existing content (documents, forms, links, text, contact info), place it onto webpages, and post the entire website onto the web. In addition, I'll be offering monthly Connect sessions on how to maintain your pages, and will walk you through the process until you feel comfortable doing it yourself.

But wait, that's not all!

A customized graphical header that is consistent with other county Extension websites can be created for you. Your own logos and images can be used, provided the quality and resolution are sufficient. Please contact Darrin Goodman for assistance with this:

So what are you waiting for? Contact me at and let's get started!

Downloading .EPS Graphic Files

on Thursday, June 23, 2011

The .EPS format is a type of graphic that can only be opened and manipulated by programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop. It's an excellent format to work with in that .EPS vector graphics can be resized without losing resolution or pixelating. Unfortunately, because it is a proprietary format that can only be opened and modified with certain programs (such as Illustrator and Photoshop), it can be a bit tricky to work with if you don't have the appropriate program.

The good news: if you don't have Illustrator or Photoshop, you can still download and use .EPS files. Here's how. Left-click on the link and choose the Save As command to save it to your desktop or an easy to access folder. Now, browse to the file and look at it. If no programs on your computer recognize the .EPS extension, your browser may change the file extension to .PS. If that happens, here's the key step to remember: change the file extension back to .EPS. How? Right-click the file, choose Rename, and change the file extension (the part after the dot) back to .EPS manually. You may get an error message warning you not to change file extensions - generally a good idea - but it can be safely ignored in this context.

Then, to use the graphic in a program such as Word, PowerPoint, or Publisher, use the Insert>Picture>From File commands to browse to the .EPS graphic and insert the image into your document.

Thanks to the CSU Graphic Standards page for this information.

ACE/NETC 2011 Recordings

on Friday, June 17, 2011

The CSU Extension Tech Unit was lucky enough to be able to attend the 2011 ACE/NETC conference in Denver last weekend. Lots of excellent presentation on communications and technology, and some very exciting keynote speakers.

The good news for you is that much of the conference is now online. ACE/NETC has set up a site - - linking to recordings of many of the speakers and presentations.

A small sampling (these link directly to the presentations):

It was also our great privilege to hear Dr. Temple Grandin speak. Her funny, moving and challenging presentation can be found here:
There are over 20 presentations available at the site. Please visit! I promise you'll learn something.

Sending Data From a Webpage Form Via Email

on Friday, June 10, 2011

Want to learn how to put a form onto a webpage so that the data is emailed to you after it is submitted by the end-user? Darrin Goodman ( has created a simple and easy to follow tutorial on how to do just that, at

Here are two screen shots from his tutorial. The first shows a sample form displayed on a webapge. The second shows an email sent to the webmaster, containing data from that form, as submitted by the end-user.

Thanks for the tutorial, Darrin!

Facebook Security Settings

on Friday, June 3, 2011

Angie Asmus and Steven Lovaas both sent out emails today about Facebook security settings that I thought I'd clarify with a few screenshots.

First, go to Account in the upper righthand corner. Click the pulldown arrow to the right and choose Account Settings (below).

Scroll down until you get to Account Security (below). Click Change.

Check the box that says "Browse Facebook on a secure connection (https) whenever possible." While you're at it, you might want to consider also checking the box "When an unrecognized computer or device tries to access my account, send me an email." That's it!

Windows Snipping Tool

on Friday, May 27, 2011

Windows Vista and Windows 7 have a neat little gizmo hidden in the Accessories menu: the Snipping Tool. This very handy little tool allows you to take quick screenshots of any area of your monitor. The New menu pulldown (screenshot at left) allows you to take screenshots of your entire screen or a specific window of your screen. Yyou can also define the screenshot area yourself, creating either a rectanglar screenshot or a "freeform" screenshot that allows you to draw an irregular shape and take a screenshot of whatever is inside it.

To use the tool, go to All Programs, choose Accessories, and then choose Snipping Tool. Click the pulldown menu and choose either Free-form, Rectangular, Window, or Full-screen, and then define your screenshot area. Use the File menu to save the result as a .png, a .gif, a .jpg, or even an .html file.

Thanks to Ruth Willson for the tip!


on Friday, May 20, 2011

Podbean ( a free podcast hosting service that does for audio what Youtube does for video: it hosts the sound file, so you don't need to store it on your own server; it gives you embed code so your sound file can easily be embedded on a blog or webpage, and it gives you a slick looking playing for the end-user to use to play the file.

The process is pretty simple.  Register for Podbean with an email and password.  Record your podcast, upload it to Podbean, and then use their embed code to put the podcast on your website.

The free version of Podbean limits sound files to 100 mb total.

Joanne Littlefield and I co-hosted a Connect session on organizing and creating podcasts and using Podbean, available at  In addition, there are several video tutorials on sound file formats, recording podcasts and using Podbean available at the video tutorial page, at   


on Wednesday, May 4, 2011

JotForm ( is a form builder that allows you to quickly create customized forms using a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) form editor so you can see the results visually as you create the form.  A screenshot of a form in progress is below.

You can use standard Form Tools section to access tools like radio buttons, checkboxes and text boxes, use the Quick Tools for preformatted phone number and address fields, use the Survey Tools for matrices, scales, and "sliders" (see screenshot at left).  You can even incorporate Payment Tools such as Paypal, Google Checkout, or Purchase orders.

The forms can also be configured to send both notification emails to you, and confirmation emails to the end-user.  You can also send them to a confirmation page (or any URL you wish) after they've submitted the form.

Once you've created your form, use the Embed and Source Code options (see screenshot at right) to embed your form into a webpage or blog.  The only limitation is that the free version allows 100 submissions a month, and 10 payments a month.  For $10/month, you can receive 1000 submissions and payments per month.

Much thanks to Joy Bauder for discovering this easy to use tool. 

10 Quick Solutions to Photoshop Problems

on Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Photoshop learning curve can be steep, and fraught with frustration. What happened to my cursor? Where did the History panel go? My paintbrush isn't working!

How To Geek recently ran the article 10 Common Photoshop Frustrations (and How to Fix Them in Five Minutes), which shows quick solutions to common problems.

The problems they address:

  • Your Cursor Disappears or Changes Shape
  • Your Panels Keep Disappearing
  • Your Brush Tool (Or Others) Have Stopped Working
  • Clipboard Export Error When Switching Programs
  • Documents and New Files Always Open In Tabs
  • Important Image Files Aren’t Associated With Photoshop
  • No Control Over Automatic “Smart Quotes”
  • You Are Constantly Resizing Your Windows After Zoom
  • The Scratch Disk Is Full
  • Photoshop Runs Slow on Underpowered Machines
The article is succinct and the solutions are easy to understand and follow.


on Friday, April 22, 2011

This Firefox Add-on, available at, allows you to customize the text zoom level for every site you visit, and it remembers those zoom levels the next time you visit the site.

I LOVE this Firefox Add-0n. My eyesight has declined to the point where I now wear reading glasses, and I was having to continually change the zoom level on pages I was reading using Ctrl and + or -.

NoSquint remembers the zoom settings for every web page you visit. Set the zoom level (using whatever method you like, the Ctrl and + or -, your mousewheel, or the NoSquint zoom in and out icons, seen at left), and from then on, whenever you visit the page, NoSquint remembers your previous zoom level. So, in essence, you have a customized zoom level for every site you visit. For someone like me, who is continually losing his reading glasses, this saves time and hassles.

It has other cool features as well, like allowing you to choose your own font, link and background colors that override existing webpage defaults. Try it!

Cleaning Your Computer

on Friday, April 15, 2011

Has your computer been sitting under your desk for a couple of years now, quietly humming away, doing its job while you do yours? If so, it probably has gathered a lot of dust.

Lifehacker has a great, easy-to-follow tutorial at!153409/geek-to-live--evacuate-pc-dust-bunnies on how to get rid of the dust bunnies inside your computer, and lube up your fan while you're at it. All you need is a Phillips screwdriver, some 3-in-1 mechanical oil, and a can of compressed air. Follow the link, and give your computer and fan a spring cleaning!

Thanks yet again, Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil, for the suggestion.

on Friday, April 8, 2011

Looking for a well-designed icon for your website or blog to help with navigation, links to social media, email, or applications? ( has an extensive collection (over 155,000) of icons for use by web developers and designers. You can search for individual icons, or matched icon sets that fit the design of your website. Most are free, though some are restricted to non-commercial use, and some ask that you credit the designer.

You don't even need to register. Just type what you are looking for into the site search engine, and once you find what you are looking for, download it. Again, be sure and respect the terms of the license.

Below is a screenshot of the results of the term "RSS feed." This shows only 6 of the over 700 RSS feed icons available at the site



on Thursday, March 17, 2011

With the demise of, many of us are looking around for a free file transfer service. WeTransfer, at, offers a free service where you can send up to 20 people a selection of files up to a maximum of 2 GB in size. They’ll host the files for up to two weeks. The 2 GB file size limit is per transfer, so after sending the first 2 GB, you could start over and send another 2 GB of files out.

To use it, you don't even need to register. Just upload the files, input the email address the files are going to, followed by your own email address. You also hav the option to add a personal message to the email.


on Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I do not have a fax machine. To sign documents, I've always needed to print them out, sign them, and mail them via snail mail.

No longer.

A great, free way to digitally add your signature to documents, and then fax or email them, is available at HelloFax ( You input the email or fax number you want to send to, upload the document, and add a signature by drawing one with your mouse, or uploading a .jpg of your signature (I actually drew it in Photoshop with my mouse, thn saved it as a .jpg). After you add the signature, you drag it to where it's supposed to go, and resize, if necessary.

If you register with the site, you can save your signature file there, and easily add it to any document you upload.

Only the first 20 faxes are free. However, if you are sending the document to an email address, which I generally do, you can use the srvice an unlimited number of times. For free!

Thanks to Slate's article Kill Your Fax Machine for the tip.


on Friday, March 4, 2011

The PrintFriendly website ( creates a print-friendly, text-only version of any web page URL you input into it, which can then be printed, emailed or turned into a PDF by the site. It does so by stripping out images, formatting, navigation and CSS styling, leaving only text and links.

My own computer applications page looks initially like this:

After entering my URL into the PrintFriendly site, it returned this page preview, which can then be printed, turned into a PDF by PrintFriendly, or emailed:

It also allows you to quickly delete large chunks of text by showing you a "click to Delete" link whenever you roll over a paragraph, allowing you to quickly edit the text from the web page and keep only what needs to be printed.

Save paper. Give PrintFriendly a try.

Thanks yet again to Loretta Lohman for the tip.

How to Get Rid of Windows Messenger in Windows 7

on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Windows 7 automatically pins Windows Messenger (Microsoft's Instant Messaging service) to your taskbar. It takes up system resources, runs on startup and uses system memory. Plus, there are better IM clients out there (Digsby, ICQ, etc.).

It can be a hard program to hunt down and uninstall. Here's how to get rid of Messenger in Windows 7.

Go to the Control Panel. Select Uninstall a program.

Scroll down the list of applications. Select Windows Live Essentials.

Chose Uninstall (don't worry, this won't uninstall all of your Windows Live components, just the ones you choose).

Check the Messenger checkbox and click Continue.

That's it!

Setting Up a System Backup in Windows 7

on Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To set up a backup in Windows 7, open up Computer, right-click on your local drive and select Properties. Then click on the Tools tab and click the Back up now button.

Click Set up backup.

Choose your backup location. An external backup location is recommended; a network location is an excellent option (you might need a password to do so).

Choose if you want Windows to decide what to backup, or if you want to do it yourself.

If you decide to do it yourself, choose what you want to back up.

Review your settings. The bottom of this dialogue box also allows you to set a scheduled backup day and time (circled).

Set your schedule. After the schedule is set, click Save Settings and Run Backup. Be aware this could take over an hour, particularly if this is your first backup.


on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wikispaces ( is a free and painless way to set up a Wiki.

First things first: a wiki is set of easily created and edited, interconnected webpages that can be built by an individual or a group. At its broadest, it can be edited by anyone who visits the page (e.g. - Wikipedia). More commonly, editing is allowed only to invited Wiki members. Thus, you can create a Wiki about a specific subject, and invite group members to add pages or edit existing ones. It's a good way to gather and share information.

Wikispaces allows to to easily create new pages (by clicking the New Page button) or edit existing ones (by clicking the Edit button). Tools are clearly labeled, and a navigation bar to the left automatically add links as new pages are added. In addition, you can embed images, multimedia, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, links and more.

A "cheat sheet" for often used commands is available at The screenshots are a little old, but the information is accurate.

Below is a screenshot of a hastily assembled demo Wiki gathering information on one of my favorite topics. Link to it here.

The Tableizer

on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

This free and fast little tool converts spreadsheet cells into HTML so they can be published on the web or embedded directly into a webpage as an HTML table. You copy-and-paste the Excel or Calc spreadsheet cells into the box, choose the font size, font style and header color, click the Tableize It! button, and it spits out the code and a preview of what the table will look like.

Try it at

Thanks to Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil for the tip.


on Friday, January 28, 2011

I've worked with a handful of anti-malware tools before, but the only one that consistently identifies and removes malicious software is Malwarebytes (

It's free, though there are paid versions available. You can choose a fast scan (takes about a half an hour) or a full scan (which takes well over an hour).

It has saved my laptop from malicious software several times now (including once this week), and caught malware that other anti-malware programs didn't.

So if your browser has recently began performing slowly, or your home page has mysteriously changed, or your computer has been crashing more often than usual, or you begin seeing excessive pop-up ads (my symptoms this week included pop-up messages NOT from my anti-virus program telling me I'd been infected by malware), give Malwarebytes a try.

A more complete list of symptoms that you've been infected by malware is available at and

Issuu Digital Publishing

on Thursday, January 20, 2011

Issuu ( is a free, fast and easy way to publish documents digitally. You sign up for Issuu, log in, add a few keywords and give it a category, upload the document, and Issue automatically converts the document to a Flash format that can easily be read online. You can then send out the link directly, or use the embed code to embed your publication in a blog or website (as I've done below with a .pdf about Adobe Connect). The end user uses the navigation arrows to read your document, and have the option of displaying it full-screen by clicking the View Full Screen option that appears on rollover (see below). The end user can also, if you allow it, download and print the document, or simply read it online.

Document formats Issuu accepts include PDF, DOC, PPT, RTF, WPD, and more. You can customize the layout, add audio, add an autoflip option (automatically turns the page every 6 seconds), which page you'd like to start on, and many more options. Finally, it plays well with many social networking sites, particularly Facebook.

5 Web-Based Alternatives to PowerPoint

on Friday, January 14, 2011

The site ReadWriteBiz has a great article this month on 5 web-based alternatives to PowerPoint.

Included is Prezi (we'll be having a Connect session on using Prezi next week on January 19), a free Flash-based alternative to PowerPoint that allows a much more non-linear approach to your presentation. A particularly creative example is embedded below. Click the forward arrow to move the presentation along.

Also mentioned in the article are Sliderocket (, a collaborative, Web-based application that allows users to comment and answer polls in real time, 280 Slides (, a web-based presentation tool that has the look and feel of Apple's Keynote, Google Docs (, which allows you to create, store and present presentations online, and Zoho Show (, which allows live audio chat with presentees.

All are free (or have free versions), all are web-based. Give them a try!

Thanks to Loretta Lohman and Erin Pheil for the tip.

Google Books Ngram Viewer

on Friday, January 7, 2011

The Google Books Ngram Viewer, which Google created with the Encyclopedia Britannica and scientists from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes 500 billion words from 5.2 million digitized books and allows you to track their usage over time. The result is a database that shows when certain phrases, people, ideas and trends faded in and out of fashion, and gives the results in an easy to interpret graph. Best of all, the database has been licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, meaning the results are free for you to use, as long as you include an attribution to Google. The datasets Google uses can also be downloaded and used under the same CC license.

The ngram viewer is here:

Here's how it works: you type in one or more words or phrases, separating them with commas, hit Enter, and the viewer returns a color-keyed graph of the number of mentions of those words or phrases from Google Books entire database of text.

Here's a screenshot of the number of occurrences of two words - "religion" in blue, and "television" in red - over the Google books database of all English text works between 1800 and 2010. The results are not scientific, in that you have little control over which books Google has or hasn't indexed. But they're pretty interesting.

More information about the ngram viewer is available at