Friday, December 19, 2008

Open Office on the go

Open Office is one of my favorite open source desktop applications. Not only is it competitive with Microsoft Office, it is portable. Schools that use thumb drives for student files may find it interesting to put a portable version of Open Office on the thumb drive. It means that a student can have all the Open Office settings and customizations on the same drive as the files. It also means that when the student goes home, the same application will there on the home computer. This is one of the more significant issues with good, but not commonly used, software. This portable version runs from the thumb drive and thus does not require any installation on the host computer.

Unfortunately, this system does not work on Macs. Of course, you could always take a copy of Open Office as an install file, but installation on every computer is not a good solution.


Clone2go for video madness

One of the main problems with working with video is the large number of incompatible standards. I'm always looking for ways to convert video from one format to another. Clone2go is a well-reviewed application that has an impressive number of formats. Plus, it's free to use.

Oh, it also allows you to download YouTube videos. A nice feature given that YouTube videos are increasingly becoming a source for other videos. As Google continues to increase the quality of the videos on its site, I expect YouTube to become a great source of video content as well as a great hosting site for produced content.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Take your wiki with you

Wikis are great for storing all types of information. Usually they are used in a collaborative environment, but not always. TiddyBackpack is an amazingly small wiki server. The zipped install package is only 20k. I've seen many application notes files that large.

This is a great application to take notes and play around with wikis. As a means to practice, it makes a lot of sense.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Ecofont: A font of printer savings

A Dutch firm, SPRANQ, has developed a free font called "ecofont" which saves ink at the printer. Ecofont is a simple idea: cut holes in letters so that printer does not have to print every area. For those of you who are serious cyclists, the idea is much like drilling holes in various parts of one's bicycle for weight savings.

I've tried using draft mode every so often to see if looks acceptable. It rarely does. Ecofont uses standard mode printing yet reportedly saves 20% on ink. Ink costs are high and it's especially high if you have a color inkjet cartridge that requires all the ink to be replaced when any color is depleted. Your school could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

How does it look? What you see above is pretty much what it looks like on the screen, but when it prints, the type looks pretty close to normal. Much better than draft mode. There are two downsides: there is only one font of this type and if you send a document to someone who does not use this font, I'm not sure what would happen. The font this is based on is Vera Sans, but the recipient might have to know this. However, if you are keeping all your documents within the school and one font is just as good as another, this font should be an automatic choice for your school.

Try it out -- it's free -- and please post a comment of your experiences.


Monday, December 08, 2008

WatchKnow -- a kinder version of YouTube

WatchKnow is open and collaborative project to collect and organize educational videos related to educational purposes. I use YouTube a great deal but then my students are graduate level. K-12 teachers have a real concern turning their students lose on YouTube or on the world-wild-web. I like what I've seen browsing WatchKnow and I like even better the idea that solution to the side-effects of the Internet is to use the "wisdom of the crowds" to organize content into sites that serve a specific function.

WatchKnow is in beta and is well worth watching. I wish them luck.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

SoftMaker when Open Office will not do

Many people are looking for alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite -- few find one. MS Office is a powerful tool and meets most user needs. The primary limitation is its price. Because any program that wants to compete has to be compatible with Office, this forces alternatives to be different while still being totally compatible. This is not easy to do and one wonders what interesting new office suites might have been possible if coders did not have to maintain document format and visual interface standards. Anyone who remembers the days before Microsoft dominated the office suite area will remember that there were many office applications and some of them, such as Framemaker, had very different ways to produce documents. The dominance of Microsoft has limited what can be done.

SoftMaker is a commercial entity located in Europe that strives for quickness and MS Office computability. The reviews of their new 2008 version make it sound very promising. They apparently have a great mobile version that can turn your Windows smart phone into a little desktop substitute. The price of $99 for an entire school is close enough to free.

Of course, there is Open Office/Star Office and a number of other alternatives that should be considered. While I like Open Office/Star Office, I know that some people believe it to be slow -- which was true in the past -- and others will not look at it because it based on an open source process. Personally, I don't find these to be problems, but I know that more than a few risk-adverse bosses would. At the very least, SoftMaker Office should be on your list of office suite alternatives.


DBAN before you recycle

Recycling is a long overdue process for old computer hardware. Computers are full of heavy metals and poisonous elements -- they are also full of vital data. Data are difficult to get rid of. Modern computers often hide supposedly deleted information rather than remove it. The problem is that a hard drives always has something on the surface. When you "delete" information, the system only removes the information's location from the operating system's file index. This is much like ripping up a telephone book and thinking all the people are gone.

DBAN is a tool that writes over every part of the surface. It does not care what the operating system says is there or is not there. If you want to make sure your are not giving away your data and/or licensed software applications, then use DBAN or one of the other secure erasing applications.

If your drive is not working, that does not mean someone cannot extract personal information. In such cases, take the drive our of the computer case and smash it with a hammer.


Monday, November 17, 2008


VideoInspector is a utility designed to analyze your video files. I don't know about you, but I've frequently been left wondering if a video file has been damaged, is an incompatible format, or is damaged in some other way. This software tool appears to address all those concerns. I've not used this program -- but will. Please let me know what your experiences have been.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

What the new wireless ruling may mean to your school

Wired reported on the new FCC ruling that allows for unused TV spectrum to be used for any wireless device. This ruling allows unregulated devices, such as wireless access points and cordless phones, to greatly improve their range and signal power. It also means that signals might have been stopped by a wall or building may well go pass through.

WiMax is/was supposed to do these things, but has yet to show up in the market. On the surface, the TV spectrum that was sold off to Verizon for 4 billion is much better bandwidth. But, what the Internet has consistently demonstrated is that an open platform is more desirable than a closed platform even when the closed platform is technically better.

What this means for your school is that making your school wireless will be even easier than it is now. Currently, you have to play a game of how many access points are needed to cover the entire space yet not interfere with one another. The new systems may be powerful enough to have one unit cover the entire building.

Another thing it means is that a school might be able to provide a connection to the school for all the students living in the community. That's a service that schools are well position to offer given that students are either in the building or at home. The total bandwidth for the school needs not increase because the work is only transferred from the school to the home.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Small Pico LCD projector opens big opportunities

The Pico Pocket LCD projector is one of new class of small LCD projectors to reach the market. While I've been hearing about these units for years, this is the first one that I've seen for sale -- approx $450.

The ability to project from a iPod or other small device means that you can share the output from devices that were exclusively "personal" products. I cannot wait to see what happens when cell phones are able to connect to these devices. Better yet, it may not be long before LCD projectors are incorporated into all laptops and cell phones.

This is a great tool if you have a to give a lecture to a small group and the full-size projector does not work. It's also great for sharing the screens of devices that are otherwise too small for a group to see. Will these replace full-size LCD projectors? Probably not for a long time. Producing the needed amount of light would require a more substantial unit. At least it does at this point in history.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Screentoaster shares your desktop for no $$$

One of the reasons for using Adobe Connect is to share one's desktop. Adobe Connect is a great tool, but it is synchronous and expensive. Screentoaster is a screen capture program. While it does not help when someone asks you to show something specific, it is a great solution for situations where you are showing a canned set of tasks. Let's face it, if you are showing how to do something in a software application, the steps involved are fixed. You gain nothing from doing it live.

When you use real-time tools, the costs and difficulty factor go up. Many times the things we want to teacher are just as well done beforehand.


Recorded with

Monday, November 03, 2008

The future of the "netbook"

LifeHacker raises an interesting question of how popular a small laptop might be if it were to reach the $200 price point. Netbooks, such as the MSI Wind and the Eee PC, have small screens and limited horse power. But they do a lot, boot quickly, and are easy to carry in a book bag.

I've recently helped purchase an hundred of the MSI Winds for use by first graders. The small size and light weight make them ideal for small hands. If the price does reach $200 or less, I think many schools will ask the question: why not?

If you have not considered this new class of laptops, you probably should. What will be interesting to see is how the current low-end of full size laptops respond to the dropping of the prices on the netbooks. I think for first and second grade, I would prefer the netbook because of its form factor. But, if a full size laptop was $350, I would be very tempted to get it.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Open Office 3.0

Open Office is one of my favorite open source programs. For those who do not know it, it's a full office suite not unlike Microsoft Office. While it is open source, it also receives substantial support from Sun Microcomputer. Sun puts out their own version called "Star Office". For educators, Star Office is free.

In terms of which version to get, I would go with Open Office unless you have requirements only addressed by Star Office. There are a few things that Star Office does that Open Office cannot do. However, Open Office tends to be ahead of Star Office with new features. While that may not be so important for Windows users, the last jump for Mac users was a big one. Star Office will not be incorporating these new features until its next release -- version 9.

But Open Office is a great tool and does not cost a thing. It can read and write MS Office documents and anyone who knows one office suite will be comfortable on the other suite. With version 3, there is more reason than ever to try it out.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Version of Audacity

Audacity is one of my favorite audio tools. They have just come out with a new version that includes support new audio formats. Some of the bothersome audio formats I've been dealing with are addressed in this version. If you have tried it, you must give it a spin. It's free and open sourced.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Back Again

Sorry for the delay in posting. I've been lecturing for the past month in China on the topic of educational technology. There is a real spirit in China to experiment. Below is a link to the photos I took.

Jincheng, China 2008


Beijing - 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Jincheng Institute of Technology

Dwight Allen and I gave a series of lectures on educational technology and new teaching methods. Here are a few videos of Dwight. The below play list on YouTube is just a small part. It's on the teaching method called "2+2".


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jincheng Institute Lecture Series

These are talks given by myself and Dr. Dwight W. Allen at the Jincheng Institute. They cover a variety of topics concerned with the effective use of educational technology. The talks are translated into Chinese.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swype: Making quick work of typing on small screens

Swype is introducing a way to type using a touch screen by dragging a finger over a keyboard. This is faster than lifting and pressing each finger. I'm not sure how one does double letters. This is one more indication that small devices, such as smart phones, will become PC replacements. Easy typing combined with a link to a large monitor via wireless will essentially make for a low-end PC.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Beijing Computer Shopping Mall

Yesterday I visited the largest computer shopping mall in Beijing. The place is massive with ten floors of wall-to-wall computer booths. Lots of deals but I ended up not buying anything. The number of items that could be a fake is huge. As I was looking at all the products that claimed to being SanDisk or Kingston, I had no way to know if it were real or not. One of my friends purchased what he thought was a SanDisk only to find out when he sent ti to SanDisk for repair that it was a fake. He purchased it in this store. I guess the motto of the story is that one has to be extra careful when looking for a deal.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Getting past all that "helpful" technology

As people involved with technology, we should love technology in all its forms -- well, not always. Some technology has not been invented for our convenience or for better customer service -- it's there to reduce the cost to the firm that just screwed up our invoice or sold us a defective product.

Dial A Human is a simple service that provides instructions on who to cut through automation hell to reach a real person. I have not tested these techniques, but I know I have used them with success on other sites. Hitting zero or yelling "agent" does often work. Some of Dial A Human's techniques are not obvious and I'm certainly going to use this site the next time I come to a Christmas tree full of automated prompts.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Poor Man's Amazon S3 Storage

Amazon has a very useful online storage system called S3. Cucku allows you to turn your home computer or the computer of someone you know into a personal version of Amazon's S3. While I may not use this for high-value content, it certainly is an effective means for creating an off-site backup.

Cucku is not the first application to allow this type of work to be done. What I like about Cucku is that it's easy to use, secured, and includes built-in backups. There are plenty of secure connections -- VPNs -- and plenty of backup systems, but not many easy-to-use combinations of the two. With hard drive space being plentiful and home Internet access fast, Cucku makes a lot of sense for the cash-strapped school. Just make sure there is no policy about staff taking school data off-site before starting a backup routine.

Cucku is also a great solution for backing up laptops. One interesting point is that Cucku uses Skype for transferring files. That's a creative way to utilizes a dependable peer-to-peer network. It does mean, however, that you will need to have Skype installed. Unfortunately, Cucku only works on XP and Vista.


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

FlyPaper turns Power Points into Flash Videos

Power Point presentations are key tools in the instructor's tool kit. But, as multimedia becomes more the norm, the inability to produce a video from the Power Point has been a short-coming.

Flypaper is a product that allows for Power Points to be converted into Flash video files. For one, this allows for presentations to be placed on YouTube. Currently, to put up a Power Point on YouTube one would have to turn Power Point into a series of images, pull them into Movie Maker, and then create a video. Flypaper looks like a very good solution for obtaining a superior result in far less time.

Let's face it, Power Points have been abused so frequently that having a bit of an edge is something worth having.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How a proxy server can help you

If you work in a large school system, you probably know proxy servers as something the school district runs to block web sites. If you're a technical person, you probably have sworn more than a few times when the proxy server has prevented you from reaching a tech support site or from downloading A/V updates.

While proxy servers can be useful for protecting students from bad content, they can also prevent you from reaching useful sites. Proxify is a proxy server intended for the purpose of hiding one's use of the Internet. Sites one visit via Proxify will have no idea who the real user is. It can also prevent ISPs from spying on your Internet habits.

So how could another proxy server help you? Well, the trick is that it is possible that Proxify is not blocked by your school's proxy server. If that is the case, you can send traffic to Proxify and the blocked sites would be sent by Proxify and not by you. Your school proxy sees you linked to Proxify but not to anything that it would have blocked. So, the solution to an invasive proxy server is another proxy server.

Proxify is not without problems. If you don't pay for their service, the connection speed and use of advertisements can be bothersome. This is an emergency solution and not a routine service. If you require regular service, you may wan to consider their $80/yr price.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Technology can make you a better person

NPR Technology podcast (April 30, 2008) covers the work on Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab. The segment starts 18 minutes into the podcast. While I have long heard that athletes can improves skills, such a free throws, by seeing it in their minds, VHIL has shown that watching an avatar that looks very much like use can impact our real world reality.

One of the more interesting findings they observed was that when a person picks a better looking avatar from a set of possible avatars, the student will take on some of the attributes of the avatar. For example, subjects were asked to fill out an online dating form in which they picked people they thought they could reasonably date. The subjects who had selected a good looking avatar filled out an online dating form where they projected better possible matches. I should mention that the dating service form was filled out an hour later and that the avatar was not used or associated with the dating system.

What does all this mean? Behavior modification and building self-esteem are two obvious areas for students. Perhaps new teachers could practice in front of a virtual class room. This feels like an area rich with possibilities.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Could this be your next video conferencing system?

TechCrunch has a very nice review of live streaming systems. YouTube and its videos of last night are history. How YouTube has kept from offering live services is something I don't get. They allow real-time uploading from a web cam, why not let people watch in real time?

I'm currently trying out one of the reviewed system, Kyte. While it has not been perfect, I like it a lot. Not only can I broadcast live but I don't have annoying ten minute limits. Kyte allows for 60 minutes. For most teachers, that is more than enough for a class. Not so great for my 3 hour plus classes, but I can work around that problem.

Technically, these live streaming services are not replacements for video conferencing systems. While the viewers can upload video feedback in real-time, the model is more of a broadcast model than it is a face-to-face model. For distance learning situations, I believe real-time streaming is best. If you really need to do video conferencing, you could broadcast to each other.

The fact that you can broadcast from a cell phone -- has to be the right model -- is fantastic. You could take it on field trips, broadcast sporting events, and take it around the school without much concern if it would work. Of course, you can also broadcast from a web cam.

I think the potential for these technologies is huge and that you should start to play around with them now so that you'll be ready. BTW, they are all free to use.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Will ISPs be the future pot holes of the Internet?

I was reading an interesting post on one person's experience with an ISP cutting service in ways that may be a harbinger of what will happen to many of us in the future. In short, his ISP, ComCast, cut off his wife's ability to send out email because they thought she was using email too much for a typical home user.

As gas prices continue to go up, many more of us will be working from home. Will our home ISP now expect us to buy a much more expensive business account? That was the "solution" that ComCast suggested.

So, you thought the $60/month your paying for Internet access was unlimited? Well, it is in that you don't pay by the byte. The contract you never read probably says you cannot have a server running from your home, etc. The ISPs have basically made this restriction a moot point by making the speed of going out from your house far lower than the speed coming in. In other words, the ISPs made it impractical to operate a server even if you wanted to break the rules of the contract you never saw.

The ISPs have two problems that they probably didn't anticipate. The first is that the competition between the cable and telcos have resulted in dramatically greater bandwidth. The second problem is that there are now services that can eat up all that bandwidth. Most people would not notice the difference between two and ten megs per second. Web pages don't speed up much after a certain point. But, download hi-def movies and the difference is large. Also, ISPs planned on the Internet being used when a person was home and on the computer. Soon, your computer may be an Internet-based Tivo downloading huge files all day long.

The result is that ISPs have run into a wall that is partly of their causing and partly a result of circumstances. They cannot cut back speeds and keep the same prices. I don't think they can raise the prices -- of course, they have been all too good at increasing cable TV prices. I think they will do one of two things. They will fight even harder in Congress to get bills passed that will allow for tiered performance on the Internet. This will allow them to charge you more if you want the ability to download a movie or to use Skype without it voice breaking up. The second game they can play is to screw up the applications they don't like and hope users will think it's the application's fault and thus stop using it. This has been tried by ComCast and by Rogers (in Canada). We'll see what will happen in the courts.

What does this all mean for you? Most likely, applications your are using now will be okay most of the time, but you may find that advanced features, such as Voice over IP, multimedia downloads, and remote control of computers at work will either be more error-prone or will be a "premium" service.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Amazon Connect

Amazon is one of the most creative companies on the Internet today. Every time I turn around they are releasing a new product -- and frequently a new product area. Not long ago I did a review of Jungle Disk, a software application that makes it possible to store data to Amazon's online storage center. Amazon just isn't books and the zillions of other products people buy; it has become a true service company. If people need it, they supply it.

Amazon Connect is a new offering that allows authors of books to either create a blog for their books or to connect blogs that they may have to their related books. This is exactly what I've done. This posting should show up as the first posting that shows up here ( and on Amazon. A blog is not required to take part. One can post directly from Amazon.

What I like most about Amazon Connect is that it offers a means by which the author can continue the topics covered in the book. That was the original purpose of this blog, BTW. That is why the URL for the blog was put at the end of the book.

I think the next stage for books, such as mine, will be an even greater integration between the formal text and the more interactive environment of a blog. I'm sure Amazon will be there leading the way.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

QIK bring video streaming to the cell phone

Almost every cell phone is coming with a camera and video mode. Up to now, I've mostly seen videos taken by cell phone on the cell phone that took it. Sometimes one sees video taken on cell phones place on YouTube and the like. Today I came across QIK, a site that allows for live streaming of cell phone video. It's important to say that this happens over the cell phone network. You need not figure out how to connect to a computer. Of course, if you don't have an unlimited data plan on your cell phone, don't use this feature. It could cost you a fortune.

The quality is pretty poor. It could be used on field trips and for streaming of PTA meetings, lectures, and other activities that don't require great video or audio quality. Combine this will instant messaging and this could be a simple way to broadcast a live event with user feedback. You can make your video private. I also noted that videos can be longer than YouTube's ten minutes. I don't know if there is a limit, but at least it isn't ten minutes. QIK keeps the videos on your user account for later viewing.

This is still the cutting edge, but why not give it a try?


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Frontline SMS

Frontline SMS is one of those great communication tools that I wish were more common. I especially admire the social mission values that they strive for.

Frontline SMS is a PC-based server that can send and receive SMS messages. Doesn't sound impressive given that any cell phone in the world can make the same claim. What makes their system different is that it can serve as a communications hub for very large number of SMS-enabled users. In locations such as South Asia and Africa, SMS messaging is really the only viable electronic communication system other voice. The Internet is still missing in many parts of the world and where it can be found, it's too expensive and/or unreliable.

If you are living in South Asia or Africa, you should certainly look at this software. It may be the best -- if not only -- means to communicate with students, parents and staff. In locations lucky enough to have cheap and reliable Internet access, this server can still be used with great effect. It could be used as an alert system for school staff and parents. The system also collects data. Teachers could use it to report absent students from home room. They would just send the student's code to the SMS address of the server. The possible list of uses is a long one. Give it a whirl. It's free.


Saturday, May 24, 2008

Windows NT Reborn

As the debate goes on whether Microsoft should continue to offer XP or force everyone to Vista, a group of programmers have been reverse engineering Windows NT. The resulting operating system is called ReactOS and the idea is not as crazy as it may seem. BTW, I used NT for many years -- and still do on a few older computers -- and my only real complaints were that it did not support USB drives, did not have a built-in firewall, and that defragmentation was not in as a disk tool.

Why is ReactOS cloning XP and not NT, you may ask? As I understand it, they are not trying to copy a specific version of NT, but are attempting to create the architecture of the NT family of OSes. That includes everything from NT to Vista. Their point is that NT is the best possible platform for a graphical desktop. Linux and Unix were created for the command line and even Mac OS is built on the very old BSD Unix -- true, but what Apple has done with it kind of proves the reverse point. Anyway, I'm willing to see them make their point with a finished product.

Anyway, ReactOS is well worth following. Visit has a number of problems. If you buy HP -- the lowest priced units these days -- Vista comes with all types of add-ons and gadgets. It's amazing and disgusting what HP has done with Vista. Dells are better in this regard, but Vista is still something I'm trying to get used to. But, if you have an older unit, Vista is probably not going to be a solution. You cannot buy the OSes from Microsoft that were created for the older units you may have. Whle Umbutu Linux may be a great desktop solution for many, it may still be a hard sell to the administration. Mac OS isn't going on your old Dell Optiplex, so you may find that ReactOS is your only option.

It's too early to know how ReactOS will pan out, but I'm happy to see this option being developed. The man behind the architecture of NT, David Cutler, created one of the all time best OSes: VMS. You probably never heard of it, but it may be running your banking account. VMS was a revolutionary OS and I always wondered how Microsoft could hire such a genius and get NT out of the process. But, after reading the ReactOS introduction pages, I'm now thinking that perhaps Cutler did a better job than I had thought.

I wish ReactOS well. The option of having a free Windows-based OS that can be used on older computers or as an alternative to Vista is one that I am happy to see. I will certainly follow the progress of this project. They have a bootable CD that you may wanto to try out. I will.


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Word Docs to the Web

Wired "How-to Wiki has a nice write-up on a problem that anyone managing web sites knows all too well: How to get a Word doc onto the web without all the extra junk save-to-html creates? I've spent countless hours over the years taking Word documents that others have sent to me and done my best to clean them up so that the resulting HTML documents follow Web standards.

For people using Dreamweaver -- my HTML editor of choice -- it has a clean Word feature that works pretty well. The How-to article explores a few simpler ideas, such as using Google Docs, and recommends a few ways to handle large numbers of Word documents. This last feature is something I knew about a few months back when I had to use a batch search-and-replace utility to clean up a few hundred HTML files created by Word. Talk about mind numbing!


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TurboDemo brings screen capture to education

I've long used screen captures to illustrate manuals and Power Point presentations. TurboDemo, while costing money, looks to be a good solution for computer lab instructors who need to introduce new applications and then test the students to how well they understand what they have seen. TurboDemo has the ability to capture the screen in a continuous mode and then have to provide a voice over and ending quiz.

I could see this application saving a tremendous amount of time at the beginning of each semester. It would also work well for helping distance-learning students learn the distance-learning platform. I find that it can take a week or more for a new student to learn the ropes of a new online learning system.


Thursday, April 17, 2008


Online storage is something I've been interested in for quite some time. It combines the pluses of off-site storage with a backup system that can be performed routinely. The old way I did off-site storage was to make an extra set of tapes and take those tapes home. That worked, but had many potential weaknesses.

I've played -- and blogged -- on a number of online storage providers. Some were too expensive and others went out business. And yet others had complicated menu structures that left me wondering what, if anything, had taken place.

In comes Amazon. In addition to books and garden supplies, Amazon now offers various computer resources. Unlike their consumer business, Amazon doesn't make their services easy for the common person to use. A number of providers have come into build in user friendliness into Amazon's offerings. One such provider is JungleDisk. They have one of the nice packages of services built on Amazon. One of the things I appreciate is that even if JungleDisk goes out of business, your organization's data continues to reside on Amazon.

I'm planning on using JungleDisk for my organization. Where I see it as being very useful is with staff with laptops. With online storage, it does not matter where the devices are as long as there is an Internet connection.

One of the things I like most about what I've seen with JungleDisk is their understandable pricing plan. This has not been my experience with other online providers. I hope to be back to post more.

Stay tuned...


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

How strong is your password?

Passwords have always been important to get right but with more and more information being put online in publicly accessible locations, such as Google docs, are potential security problems. It's likely someone will know your Google email address if you use Gmail. They are left with just getting the password. That effort could be easy to virtually impossible based on the strength of the password being used.

Password Meter is a free tool that will analyze a password for how strong it is as a password. Finding such a service is not that difficult, but Password Meter goes further to explain what aspects of the password it liked and didn't like.


Tuesday, April 01, 2008

WorldAgInfo Final Report

I've been away from this blog for quite some time. While I'm not going back to every day rain-or-shine, I will be posting things with more regularity. The reason I've been away is because of my work on agricultural information systems for the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. As always, I was specifically looking for innovative low-cost solutions to communications and educational objectives.

It was an amazing adventure to be on this project and I hope you'll take some time to read the results. The final report has just been release and can be found here.


Monday, March 31, 2008

civiCRM for Schools

A few years ago I was at an educational conference in Montreal where the presenter asked the auditorium of 500 or so educators who the customer was in an higher ed environment. After a long pause, people started listing professors and researchers. I was shocked that no one listed students.

"CRM" stands for Customer Relation Management. Typically, this type of software is either used by hard-selling vendors or it's an expensive option for the corporate environment. Finding a CRM system that is inexpensive and oriented more towards "relationships" than it is "sales" had not been an easy task.

civiCRM appears to fit both bills. It's open source and thus low cost. I say "low cost" and not "free" is because even free software requires hardware to run and some level of installation and customization. While I'm not an expert in CRM software, civiCRM's list of features is certainly impressive for the needs of a single organization. The problems I see with it are when one wants to use this for multiple organizations or with an organization with many sub-organizations. Their site discusses installing these features, but until they are in the code, there is no telling what will happen.

While civiCRM can be used as a stand-alone system, it has been designed to work closely with Drupal.

I'm seriously considering using civiCRM for an sophisticated events management system. If anyone has had direct experience with civiCRM, please leave me a comment.