Tag Archives: surprisingly useful tools

I’ll Tumblr For Ya…

This week, we’ll finish this month’s ‘social finding and sharing’ theme with a look at Tumblr, a social sharing site that mixes blogging and image linking with great results.

What Is It?

Tumblr‘s tagline is Follow the world’s creators, and this visual feast lets you do just that. Tumblr is somewhere between a blog and a microblog (like Twitter): each tumblr site lets you share text, photos, videos, links, or whatever else you’d like smoothly and easily. It’s not meant for long, thoughtful posts (though there are some of those); it’s to help you quickly and easily share neat ideas and the inspirations you find online.

Each Tumblr has a different theme or subject, and all of the posts are about that theme. One stunning example is Things Organized Neatly, full of images of items and parts of things organized into groups or rows. There’s no “point” except to show off some beautiful photography and look at very ordinary things in a whole new way. Check out Dark Silence in Suburbia for an showcase of new and exciting artists, or Revolt Factory – “a collection of ideas that inspire change in culture, commerce and community.” The New York Times is even using Tumblr to repost older images from their archives.

Tumblr also has a simple “reblog” button that lets users quickly share things they find on other people’s tumblrs on their own. “The average Tumblr user creates 14 original posts each month, and reblogs 3.” says Tumblr’s About page.

How Is It Useful?

For people creating Tumblr blogs, it’s a simple way to share your own ideas or reblog other people’s posts. Artists can show new work, race car enthusiasts can share photos, photographers showcase their images, fashionistas offer makeup tips and reviews, and restaurant management students can show off the simple ingredients and meals they prepare. Anything you can imagine, you can put together a Tumblr about.

For groups, Tumblr has an easy submission feature to let the audience submit links for future posts. The submission page for the blog Eat Sleep Draw shows how easy it is. If you’ve got artwork made by you, you just upload the file, give it a caption, enter your contact information and click Submit. Now, you get more visibility for your art and images, and they get content for their site. Check out Designers of Tumblr for another gorgeous example.

If you don’t have an account, you can still search Tumblr for interesting ideas and beautiful images. Just visit Tumblr.com, type a word or phrase into the search box on the right and see what happens. You might find posts about libraries, recipes, football (or soccer in the US), trees, interior design or anything else that strikes your fancy.

Help & Resources

Just a little Pinterest

One of the hottest new tools for sharing online is Pinterest. It takes everything we’ve seen about sharing so far and makes it all visual.

What Is It?

Pinterest describes itself better than I could: “Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”

Pinterest is based on an old-fashioned pinboard, used by designers and artists and anyone who works with images. You ‘pin’ images you like to your Pinterest page and organize them into whatever groups you like. Then, the images are always available for you to see and for others to discover.

How Is It Useful?

Since it focuses on images, Pinterest is good for any project or subject that is visual. Redecorating the house, planning a wedding or party, improving your wardrobe, planning travel, organizing recipes – if it’s got a picture, Pinterest is a good way to compare and keep track of it.

Imagine you’re decorating a room. As you visit websites and choose paint, pick furniture and find snazzy storage, you can pin pictures of what you like to your Pinterest board. Then, take a look at your board and see what you think of it all together.

Or, you’re a student writing a term paper on the history of another country. You need to create a visual presentation to go along with your paper, and you can use Pinterest to keep track of all the images you find while you’re doing your research. Then, when you’re ready to make your presentation, visit your pinboard and pick the pictures that work best together. Remember to give credit to the websites or photographers you got your images from!

This is what it can mean to live life online – everything is at your fingertips, ready to discover and compare. Fun, yes?

Try It Out

The best way to understand Pinterest is to browse through other people’s pinboards. Visit Pinterest.com and start looking around for things that interest you. See how other users have chosen and organized their pins, and what sorts of things work best for pinning.

Then, if you want to, sign up to get an invite to Pinterest. It’s still a new tool, and you need an invite to set up an account. Don’t worry, they’ll give you one – they want people to use it! When you get the invitation, follow the link they give you to create your account.

Once you’ve got your account, you can either add the Pin It! button to your browser’s toolbar (scroll up on the page for the button) or, if you have an iPhone, get the Pinterest app from the App Store. Then, whenever you find an image you want to add to your pinboard, you just click Pin It! and you’re done – move on to the next one.

Help & Resources

Playing With a New Gadget

Welcome back to Learning for Life Online, the Boston Public Library’s self-directed learning program about online life. We’re starting up again after a brief hiatus by getting back to basics.

Courtesy of Imamon on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed
When you’re trying to live life online, it’s important to know how to play with a new online tool. It’s also important to know how to start using and playing with the gadgets that connect us to those online tools. Some gadgets are so easy to use that it’s no problem, and others require a little more work.

Here are some suggestions for getting started with a brand new gadget:

  1. Read the manual, but don’t try to read it all at once. Start with the list of What’s in the Box and the Getting Started or Quick Start sections. Go slowly, and look up any words that aren’t familiar. Read as much of the manual as you can before you turn your gadget on.
  2. Push the buttons Follow along with the manual, step by step. Learn what each button and setting does when you press it, one by one.
  3. Do the ‘driving’ yourself. If you let another family member or friend ‘set up’ your gadget for you, you won’t understand how it works. Try to at least get the basics, so you can troubleshoot any problems yourself. Do ask someone to go through it with you, if that helps, but push your own buttons.
  4. Be patient with yourself. You’re learning a new skill and a new tool. Don’t rush, and take breaks when you need to. The more time you take now, the more you’ll know from now on.
  5. Have fun! This isn’t school, and you aren’t getting graded. Learning how a new gadget works gives you the freedom to play, and gives you the power to make it do what you want it to (rather than the other way around).

Remember, like online tools, similar gadgets often work in similar ways. The Power button always turns it on and off. The volume controls will be the same everywhere, as will Play and Stop. Menu button will almost always get you back to your main menu of choices. Yes, some of these gadgets have a lot of buttons, but the basics tend to look and work the same way on all of them. If you knew how to operate a cassette Walkman, an iPod or other mp3 player will feel very similar.

Help & Resources

There are too many kinds of gadgets out there to list, so here’s a few good ideas for finding help about your gadget online:

  • Go straight to the company’s website. Type the full website address in at the top of your browser and hit Enter. Then, look for a link on that says Product Information, Support, Help, or Troubleshooting. Click on it, read the screen, and click the appropriate link.
  • Use a search engine to find information. Type in the full name of the gadget and the word ‘support’ or ‘help,’ then click Search. Lots of results will come up – look for ones from the company that made your gadget first, then try others. The first page of results will have the most popular links, which might be most helpful (if they’ve helped other people).
  • Ask someone else who owns one. A friend, a family member, someone you know from work or school. Even if they don’t know the answer to your question, the two of you might be able to sit down together and figure it out. That answer might be useful to them one day, too.
  • Use a search engine to find discussion forums about your gadget; search for the name of your gadget the word ‘forum’ or ‘discussion.’ This is a little more advanced, usually, because the conversations on these forums are often technical.

Stay on Schedule with Google Calendar

Continuing our theme of going deeper with online accounts, this week we’ll take a brief look at Google Calendar.

What Is It?

For starters, it’s a calendar that is easy to check and edit from anywhere you can log in to your Google Account. You can see a day, a week or a month at at time, or view upcoming events as an agenda list. To add an event, you just click on the day, type in a start time and a couple of words about what you’re doing, and click Create Event. If you want more details, click Edit Event and add a location, a description or more.

If you want to keep separate calendars for different things in your life – family events, volunteering jobs, consulting clients, house repair schedules – you just Add a new calendar and then choose whether to make it public, share with only invited people, or keep it private. This lets you share out calendars with the people who need to see them. Other people with Google Calendar can share theirs with you, or you can request that they share with you by typing their email address in the Add a friend’s calendar box on the left.

Google Calendar lets you invite people to the events you create. If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, set up the event in Google Calendar and then email invitations to everyone on your list. Guests click Yes, No, or Maybe (and the event will be added to their calendar if they have one) and you can easily keep track of the RSVP list. You can send emails to all invitees to remind them of the party, or last-minute changes to the menu.

You can keep a to-do list in Google Calendar using the Tasks feature. Click on a date that you need to run an errand, and click on the word Task at the top of the box that pops up. Add the information about the errand and click on Create Task. The errand appears on your calendar and on a list of tasks off to one side of the screen.

Set reminders for any event or task to pop up on your screen a few minutes or hours before the event starts or the task is due. Never miss a meeting or an appointment again.

Finally, you can add a Google Calendar app to your mobile device and get all these features wherever you are. Those reminders will pop up on your phone, or you can set a ringtone to go off whenever an event is coming up.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine how you can combine all the features mentioned above: You’re hosting that New Year’s Eve party for friends and family. Start by setting up the event and inviting all the guests via email. Check the RSVP list to see who’s coming, and send out reminders to those last-minute folks. Add Tasks to your calendar for party preparations (buying supplies, shopping for a new outfit, meeting with your friends who are helping with set-up) and have that list on your mobile while you’re out running errands. Share the Party calendar with your partner so he or she can keep track of what’s going on without having to ask, and maybe even add a few tasks to their calendar. As the day gets closer, send out a note to everyone attending about how to get to your place by public transit and where the good parking choices are. That morning, check the RSVPs one final time and you’ll know who to expect. Then, get a reminder 15 minutes before the first guest arrives. Success!

You can also use shared calendars to coordinate care between family members for an elderly relative, to find a good meeting date for a volunteer organization, or to stay aware of your closest family and friends’ schedules. Have all that information at your fingertips wherever you are.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account already, just click on Calendar at the top of the page and start pushing some buttons. Add a few events, click on Edit Event and see what your options are. Send an invitation to someone you know well and see how that works. Add a Task or two, or add a few public calendars like holidays or Phases of the Moon. Share your calendar with others, or ask that they share theirs with you (if you know them well enough).

If you don’t have a Google Account, click through the links below to see if it’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Google Documents – Working together far apart

First, an apology – there was no lesson from LLO last Monday due to circumstances beyond our control. Sorry for the missed week, but we’re back today!

As you may remember, we posted early on in Learning for Life Online about online accounts being more than just email nowadays. During December, we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you get along with your Google, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. This week, we’ll start with Google Documents (better known as Google Docs).

What Is It?

Google Docs is a service provided by Google to let users create and save documents entirely online. Just like the Microsoft Office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), these Google Docs will let you write papers, draft resumes and cover letters, create presentations, put together spreadsheets and write and distribute online forms and survey – all completely online. You can switch from computer to computer to mobile device and always be able to work on your files. Best of all, you can share these documents with others and let them work collaboratively with you on the document. Think about all the party and project planning that would be so much easier without emailing lists back and forth.

Google Docs is made up of five different features:

  • Google Documents is like Microsoft Word. You create a document and type, just like with any other word processing program. Use it for resumes, letters, papers, flyers and so much more.
  • Google Spreadsheets is similar to Microsoft Excel. These spreadsheet programs are good for creating budgets, developing project plans, putting together party to do lists and similar tasks. The basic formulas you can apply do some of the math for you.
  • Google Presentations is their version of Microsoft Powerpoint. Create slideshows for school reports, conference talks, book discussion groups or any other place where you need to present visual ideas to a group of people. Best of all, you can embed the slideshows in a blog or website to make them available to everyone!
  • Google Drawings is a newer service. Use the shapes and drawing tools to add diagrams and flowcharts to reports, to sketch out a process for making household decisions or create an organizational chart.
  • Google Forms is a neat tool to help you create, distribute, and collect responses from online forms and surveys. Simple to set up and share, you can quickly put together a survey to choose an event date, get ideas for a potluck, figure out the best choices for paint colors and learn more about what people are thinking about anything.

For all of these, you can choose to share each document with specific people (invited by email) or publish the document publicly using a web link. You can also download most of the documents to your local computer in a variety of formats including PDF, which is useful for sending out documents that you don’t want changed.

If you’ve started a document on your own computer, you can upload that document to Google Docs to start a file there – you don’t need to do the whole thing over again.

How Is It Useful?

In addition to all the suggestions above, here’s a few ways you can use all of the Google Docs together. Let’s say you’re working with your friends or coworkers to put on a holiday craft fair. By using Google Docs, you can all share the documents, edit them from wherever you are, and save them or print them out as needed. So, create a flyer for the fair in Google Documents, put the price lists and the fair supply budget into a Google Spreadsheet, figure out the map of the artists’ booths in Google Drawings, add an online registration form to your website or Facebook page using Google Forms, and when it’s all over, give a presentation on how it all went using Google Presentations.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account, just click on the word “Documents” up at the top and try a few of them out. Start with things you know already – Google Documents would be a good one – and then try some of the others. If you don’t have a Google account, follow the links to each feature above and play with their demonstration documents. Watch a few videos on how each service works, then maybe sign up for an account and try it for real.

Help & Resources

Supporting Small Businesses, Online

This fall, we’ve seen a lot in the news about the need to support smaller local businesses and stop buying from large, impersonal corporations. Not everyone can occupy a downtown area, but there are things anyone can do, even online.

What Is It?

It’s easy for small, independent businesses to create a website and sell their productions online (like bunny slippers), but there are services that bring together hundreds of sellers and makes it simple for us to buy from them. Rather with struggling with their own sites or giant multipurpose clearinghouses, sellers can just set up an online shop and go. The service handles the website maintenance, the purchase transaction and possibly even the printing, and the sellers can focus on creating neat stuff.

Etsy is a “marketplace for buying & selling all things handmade,” and it gives artisans a place of their own on the internet. Creators put up their wares for sale, Etsy handles the money transactions, and then the crafters ship the products. Check out a few examples to see what’s available: Fancy Tiger craft supply, Grandma Flies a Broom vintage & antiques, Tiny Warbler children’s toys, Rocky Top Studio photography prints & cards, Have It Sweet confections, and many more.

Lulu.com is a self-publishing business and marketplace for creatives of all sorts. They use Lulu’s tools to format their content and turn it from electronic files into print, CD, DVD, calendars and reports, then sell their items directly through Lulu. The old “vanity press” is a thing of the past, and self-publishing is a way of the future.

CafePress and Zazzle offer a similar service for folks who want to sell merchandise to promote a band, company, event, online comic strip or anything they can think of. T-shirts, mugs, calendars, CD covers and gifts of all sorts are available.

Threadless takes a slightly different twist. Artists and designers upload their submissions and Threadless members take a week to vote on the designs. When an idea wins, it’s printed onto a T-shirt, bag, iPhone case, and more. Often edgy, Threadless t-shirts are perfect for the eclectic freethinker in your life. A related site is Society 6, showcasing artists from around the world and offering their art as prints, device cases and shirts.

New to the scene, Spoonflower makes quilters and fabric crafters around the country swoon. You can upload an image or design to their site and they will custom-print fabric for you. They also sell fabric designed by others, for whatever project suits your fancy.

Try It Out

Take a look at a few of the sites above and find a few things that interest you. You can use your favorite search engine to go looking for things you might want to buy. When you find a site, read the “About Us” section to learn more about the business you’re buying from. You’ll be surprised how many small, mom & pop type stores are now online and doing well.

Next week, we’ll look at some personalizable gift resources, and share some tips and tricks for safely purchasing items online. Stay tuned…

Food…Glorious Food!

Last week’s post on copyright & Creative Commons was a little heavy, so let’s lighten it up this week on Learning for Life Online! It’s fall in New England, the time of year when the scent of wood smoke, crisp leaves…and soups, stews, pies and casseroles is in the air. Are you looking for Thanksgiving recipes, tips or tricks, or even looking to get ahead on the winter holidays? Harvest a few ideas from the online bounty of food-related tools!

Web Sites & Resources

Epicurious, Food Network, Rodale’s Healthy Recipe Finder, Allrecipes.com and Recipe Source all feature searchable databases of recipes. Type in something you have in your fridge and see what you can do with it! Recipes can receive ratings, garner user comments, and be shared and printed with ease. Recipe Source is currently featuring its collection of Halloween recipes if you still need a spooky salad or two. From any recipe on the Rodale site, click on “Add to Shopping List” and you can easily figure out what you need to get before you can cook.

The Joy Kitchen is the online home of the Joy of Cooking. They don’t have the complete contents of the books online, but the site is full of tips & techniques and featured foods. America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated has multiple sites, depending on what you’re looking for. You can start by reading updates to the America’s Test Kitchen feed (there’s a great post about making salted caramels) or watch episodes of the show online, then register for free to read the recipes. If you like what you see and read, you can try a free 14-day trial to the Cook’s Illustrated site, with all the product reviews and advanced recipes.

Cookstr.com is a “collection of cookbook recipes online.” You can browse and search their collection of recipes, or sign up with an email address and have a recipe mailed to you each week. It’s an interesting combination of blog and recipe database, and worth checking out.

Blogs

There are thousands and thousands of cooking blogs out there, but let’s feature just a few:

A Year of Slow Cooking chronicles daily experiments with crockpotting. From crockpot hot chocolate to turkey cutlets in mango salsa, there’s something for every palate and taste. For an added bonus, many of them are gluten-free!

Simply Recipes has a worldwide directory of food blogs, including Habeus Brulee, written by a New York cook and “occasional restauranteur.” Not only does she cook and post mouth-watering recipes, Habeus Brulee also also has an oustanding blog roll of food blogs; skim down the right-hand column to your stomach’s content.

Cooking for someone with an allergy or special dietary need? Here’s just a few to get you started.

Mobile Apps

The most useful place to have a food app is on your mobile device, for checking recipes in the store and on the go. Most of them will both search recipes and help create a shopping list; choose your favorite and give it a whirl!