Jan 27

I thought I knew Word… or at least everything I needed to know. But still little surprises come along and you just wonder how you’ve missed them in the past.

I wrote a post about the new search in Word 2010 and Karen left a comment on that post offering this awesome tip. If you’ve used Word you’ll know that one annoyance of search in earlier versions of Word was the way the search box would jump around all over the document when you clicked the Find Next button often obscuring the document and the search results. That’s been improved in Word 2010 as I mentioned in the earlier post, but Karen pointed out that once you hit Ctrl-F and enter your search term in the navigation panel if you then close the dialog box in the left margin and then hit Ctrl-PgDn, it repeats the search without calling the dialog box! Awesome. You can search down through all the occurrences of your search phrase just by using this keyboard combination and without the annoyance of the search box obscuring your document and results. And, wait for it, Ctrl-PgUp runs back up through the search occurrences. And this tip also works in the so-called Advanced Find in Word 2010 – that’s the old style search pre-Word 2010. I mentioned how to access that in the earlier post. In addition, you can even resume the search after doing some typing by just pressing Ctrl-PgDn or Ctrl-PgUp again. I’ve found that this tip also works in Word 2007 and Word 2002 and probably other versions too.

No doubt if I’d taken the time to carefully read through one of the Word cheat sheets I’ve downloaded in the past I would have known this tip already. So I’ll just past it on here in the hope that someone else out there will benefit from it.

Got any good Word tips? Drop a comment below.


Jan 26

Search Computer

How do you search for information online? Do you go straight to Google or do you go back to your archived bookmarks which you’ve carefully tagged for future reference? It’s the usefulness of this bookmark archive as a go-to source I want to look at here.

Bookmarking is just a form of content curation based on human indexing. I have all my bookmarks in the free version of Diigo (with copies sent to Delicious). A point to bear in mind is that usually bookmarking sites don’t archive full web pages, just the title and any tags you attach to the bookmark. Caching or archiving full web pages is usually a premium paid feature, not surprisingly. Delicious doesn’t support page caching. The free version of Diigo only allows caching of up to 5 web pages per month while the basic package allowing unlimited caching costs $20/year.  You can compare all the features of the free and paid versions of Diigo here. Another bookmarking service is Pinboard.in, but they have a sign up fee and then charge $25/year if you want archived copies of bookmarks with full text search.

Advantages of bookmark archive

I’ll need this page again: Bookmarking and caching a web page can be really worthwhile if you’re afraid that at some point in the future it may no longer be present online or it may get ‘buried’ with time and you won’t easily be able to retrieve it again. So it’s used for safekeeping. With a Google search, findability is often not repeatable for specific pieces of content over time, ultimately resulting in more time to retrieve stuff previously found. The paid packages at Diigo and Pinboard allow caching of web pages so that, even when the original page is not available or no longer online, you can still see what the original looked like.

Combine bookmarks with Google search: You can set up Diigo so that from the Diigo search bar, a Google search will show any relevant Diigo bookmarks.  But you’ll really only see the real benefit with the paid web page caching bookmarking service when Google can search your archived pages and not just the titles.

Disadvantages of bookmark archive

Free service is limited in terms of search: Searching the bookmark archive will generally only cover the tag name and the article title, unless you’ve cached or archived the whole page. And of course if you haven’t cached the page your archive search may lead you to a bookmark of a page which is no longer online. On the other hand, a Google search is free and will reach the page contents, not just the page titles.

Can you remember the tag you used? If you’ve forgotten the name of the tag or tag phrase you used to archive the webpage it can be hard to track it down again. For example, I use the tag ‘humorous’ for anything funny I archive. I have to remember this is the tag. If in future I forget I used that tag and start to look for tags ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ in my archive I won’t find the article. Similarly, if I start to tag new items with the ‘comedy’ or ‘funny’ tag, I’ll end up with my humorous stuff spread over three tags.

I try to use two-word tag phrases. For me, tagging everything say WordPress related under the single-word tag ‘Wordpress’ would be inefficient and it would be really hard to track stuff down in there. But even a web page with a two-word tag can be difficult to track down. For example, I’m thinking of changing the theme for this website and I remember that a couple of years ago, I bookmarked a post on a WordPress plugin which allows you to try out new themes on your site privately but still leaves the original theme in place for visitors. I couldn’t decide if I’d tagged the page as ‘Wordpress-tips’ or ‘Wordpress-themes’.  In fact, I’d used ‘Wordpress-themes’ but I only found the post by trawling back through the posts with this tag and I eventually found it – Theme Test Drive. So it’s still difficult to search for posts in a bookmark archive unless you’ve cached the pages.

Here’s another problem related to two-word tags – tag inversion. For example, did I use ‘wordpress-backup‘ or ‘backup-wordpress’ when tagging a page last time? So I end up with stuff spread over two different tag phrases. The important part is identifying a tagging system that allows me to put things into categories where I can find them again quickly and that’s not easy. One way to partly get round this problem is to adopt a convention for two-word phrases by using the sequence verb-noun (or in this case ‘backup-wordpress’). That way you can be consistent with tagging and hopefully find articles in your archive more quickly.

Archiving of content ‘just to have it’: I’ve taken this as a disadvantage as it’s all too easy to archive stuff you think you might need at some point but never actually get round to using again. In fact it’s just cluttering your archive of more important useful stuff.

Limited choice: Bookmarking can only cover a very small portion of web pages on a subject. You hope you’ve bookmarked a useful representative page from many available, but you might not have and given time, the information on your bookmarked page may be superseded by up-to-date info on newer pages which you would find with Google search.

So is archiving worth it?

This post Has Search Replaced Bookmarking on Six Pixels of Separation comes down in favour of Google search together with asking friends on Facebook and Twitter. However,  a read through the comments on that post suggests that, for many people, bookmarking still has an important part to play in archiving and sharing content.

All in all, when looking for content, you may be better just to stick to a Google search or ask on Twitter or Facebook. Having said that, I think the utility of the bookmark archive is not in searching it, particularly where the pages aren’t cached, rather having a set of definitive useful posts with no clutter and carefully tagged for future reference.

How do you retrieve online information? Do you use a bookmark archive and if so do you have any tips on quickly retrieving information there? Drop a comment below.


Jan 19

So you’ve backed up your data and photos from your PC to an external drive, NAS, or DVDs. That’s great but problem is the files mightn’t last intact there long term. Five years perhaps… 10 years, perhaps not. Point is you don’t want to go back to a dusty old DVD of cherished photos to find that the files have become corrupt through bit-rot or degradation of the storage media. ‘Bit rot?’ I hear you say. I hadn’t heard of the term either till I read a great post on it by Rich Menga of PCMech yesterday. Rich suggests putting your photos in file archives and testing these regularly for errors. He says that if the archive file is damaged due to age, it can be repaired without the need for any special utilities. Usually, all it takes to test an archive is a right-click/Test Archive.

In a follow-up post today, he has a further great article looking at how long media – hard drives, optical media and USB drives – will last. He comes to the conclusion that storage on flash drives might well outlast hard drives and optical media.

I think the message from all this is to keep more than one copy of your data and photos in backups locally, backup to the cloud, and refresh the files on new media every 2 or 3 years.

Here’s links to Rich’s two posts:

How to Avoid Bit Rot – PCMech

How Long will that Media Last? – PCMech

Head over there and read the posts. If you value your data and photos, they’re must-read articles.


Jan 10

Boxnet1

I was disappointed when Drop.io was recently taken over by Facebook and shut down. It was a great secure (password protected) file sharing service which I was only just starting to really appreciate when, for example, files are too large to send as email attachments.  So I had a look around for an alternative on, where else, but AlternativeTo. The awesome Dropbox comes out well in front of course, as does SugarSync, but 8th down the list was Box.net. Wait a minute – I have an account with them already. Another of those services I signed up for a couple of years ago, used it and it was fine, but more free alternatives like Drop.io appeared and I moved to them and forgot Box.net.

Thankfully, LastPass still had my log in details safely stored away so I signed in and lo and behold, the files I shared a couple of years ago were all still there. That’s nice. So I deleted them and decided to start using the service again. Here’s a graphic comparison of SugarSync, Dropbox and Box.net among others.

Boxnet

There’s 5GB of free storage so that’s nice too and the maximum file size you can share with the free option is 25MB, which is large enough for me. You can upgrade to $9.99/month to upload and share files up to 1GB in size with 25GB of storage. What I liked about Drop.io was that the free version provided password protected shared links. To get this in Box.net you have to upgrade despite what the graphic above shows.

Sharing your files and folders is easy. Once you have a folder with files uploaded, just change its status to shared and a dropdown box gives you the link to share. You can also add collaborators who can access files in this folder.

Boxnet2

Box.net also has iPhone, iPad and Android apps so you can view and share files on-the-go and upload files on your phone to Box.

You can also integrate Box.net into Microsoft Office through DocsInOffice.com. Once you’ve created a free account at DocsinOffice, you can view the contents of your Box account within the Open and Save As dialogues in MS Office, so you can load and save files as though they were on your hard drive.

If you are a Dropbox user, don’t discount Box.net. I found a good comparison of Dropbox and Box.net here which you might look at. What do you use for online file sharing? Is password protected sharing important to you? Drop a comment below.


Jan 3

Perhaps you don’t fancy putting a photo of yourself online on an website or as an avatar but would prefer something a little different – perhaps a cartoonized version of yourself. I’ve always admired the quality of the cartoon portraits on TWiT. All the podcasters there have what must be professionally produced cartoons. Not really caricatures, but cartoons which are still recognizable as the people they portray yet endearing and professional. For me, a cartoon portrait should remove much of the facial detail leaving just the recognisable key features. It shouldn’t look like a photo but should be a good step away from one, yet still recognisable as the person it portrays. Leo Laporte’s cartoon is a very good example, show below along with a photo – just in case you don’t know who he is:

Leo Laporte2

Leo Laporte cartoon

Using cartoon portraits like this online is a pretty nice idea so I set about comparing a number of free sites online which offer to cartoonize photos which you upload. I ran Leo’s photo through the various online sites to see how they compared with the professional cartoon shown above. The photo I used is web ready so not high resolution. Perhaps I would have achieved better results with a higher quality image but anyway this is what I found.

Photo to Cartoon Online

Leo Laporte2_Photo-to-cartoon-online2

This site does allow some interaction in the form of a slider allowing more or less detail. More detail makes the image more like the original photo. I found that less detail worked best and this image is one step away from ‘Least Detail’.

BeFunky

Leo Laporte2_BeFunky

Two free cartoon effects are provided. I found the left option gave the  best cartoon effect even though a little blurry. But it’s not a particularly good likeness. There are six sliders to play around with till you get the effect you want.

AnyMaking

Leo Laporte2_AnyMaking

Three sliders to play around with here, but I found the result was too much like the original photo. You’ll also have to use a larger portrait so you can crop out the URL after you finish.

KusoCartoon

Leo Laporte2_kusoCartoon

I chose the option ‘Cartoon – General’. You have to include a tag name when uploading your photo otherwise nothing happens. Just choose any name like, for example, the subject of your portrait. Lots of options to change here in terms of line style and image colour, but after each change you have to wait 15 seconds to view the result which is a bit of a nuisance. Again, in my opinion, the finished cartoon is too much like the original photo.

Cartoon.pho.to

Leo Laporte2_Cartoon photo

You can resize the photo as you are uploading it to this site. There are no sliders this time but you can morph the face to make it smile, sad, wink, flirt, etc and produce interesting caricatures. Quite impressive, in fact this is probably the pick of the online cartoon sites.

Cartoonize

This site was down for maintenance when I tried. When it comes back up, I’ll add this cartoon.

I’m just starting to come to grips with Photoshop at the moment and I’m running the trial version of Photoshop CS5. I found a cartoonize tutorial here which was quick and straightforward and here’s the result:

Leo Laporte2_cartoon_photoshop

Final word

I liked Cartoon.pho.to, and BeFunky was also pretty good but, perhaps predictably, none of the free online services gave a very ‘professional’ result. Either the cartoon was too similar to the original photo or just too far removed to be recognisable as the person it portrayed. I think at the end of the day if you want a professional looking result you’ll have to pay for it. I found this site which creates cartoons for a fee. Anyone tried it or can you recommend a professional cartoon service at a reasonable price? Or have you found another free site or software which does a nice job? Drop a comment below.


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