Tag Archives: cloud computing

280 Slides: Free slideshow production and sharing

Maybe this is more common amongst us students than in “the adult world”, where Microsoft Office is the standard, but I’ve noticed that a lot of my classmates at high school don’t own the programs they need to have in order to do certain projects as effectively as possible. And that’s odd, as my school is part of a pretty high-end suburb. While the majority of us have our own computers, not many have the office suites that teachers expect. Some kids have turned in 12-page papers they typed on Notepad and printed in the school library. A classmate of mine had a 15-page report marked late because even though he did it, he tried to print it in school. The problem was that he put it together and saved in the Microsoft Works format, but our school uses Office. The file was completely unreadable. This same problem has applied itself to all kinds of digital assignments. Videos, art projects, and slideshows have all been plagued by the issue of file compatibility. The tool  I’ll be talking about tries to fix that problem for slideshows by putting everything in the cloud.

Still in beta, 280 Slides (280slides.com) is essentially a stripped-down, simple version of PowerPoint. While that may sound negative, it’s actually one of the site’s greatest features. It means that you don’t have to navigate through complex drop-down menus to insert an element. Using the app is incredibly simple. The makers essentially took a look at the features included in PowerPoint and Keynote, analyzed them, and decided to scrap the ones you don’t use in order to make a program your grandmother can use. You can add all sorts of stuff in less than 3 clicks.

I’ve made a sample slideshow I created in a few minutes for this post. It goes over a few of the biggest features and benefits, sometime through examples. Check it out here. Keep in mind that I made this slideshow in a few minutes about a month ago, so I may have missed some features. In fact, a few may have changed since that time. Regardless, I hope it gives you a decent look at what can be done with this easy-to-use program.

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BONUS: Though I’ve mentioned some of these before, the services here are all based on the same idea of being able to do complex work online and offline with free tools.

Aviary is more or less an online version of the Adobe Creative Suite line of products, including Photoshop and Illustrator.

Evernote, which I talked about in the previous post (the link is 2 paragraphs up), allows you to create text documents, upload pictures, and so on.

OpenOffice.org is an open-source (think Wikipedia applied to software), downloadable office suite with products similar to the ones you’ll find in Microsoft Office. All of the programs work very well and can be saved in a format that is easily read by Microsoft’s programs

If you’re feeling in a stick-it-to-the-man mood and want to find more free programs that let you do things you’d usually pay hundreds for, check out Kompozer, Jahshaka, Blender, The GIMP, InkScape, Renoise, and Audacity. They’re all for website, video, image, and audio production and editing, and they all work pretty well. There are paid versions of a few of them, and a few are open-source, too.

As always, if you have any feedback or suggestions, let me know in the comments.

How to save everything off of your computer

To start, I’d like to give a short history of my current laptop. You can skip ahead to the bolded headline if you want, but I thought I might throw some of this out there to illustrate how I came to use these tools in the first place. I’ve had my Acer for a little over 2 years now, and I’ve usually been pretty pleased with its performance. It’s been through a lot of travel, intensive media editing and creation, and, unfortunately, a few repairs. Once, I had to send in my laptop when it crashed before I ever backed up my hard drive. By that time, quite a bit was gone. Videos and pictures from school, parties, and vacations were lost, as were my other files.

Recently, I had a Blue Screen of Death error that somehow rendered Safari (my browser of choice) inoperable. Before I discovered the resources below, I had no backup of my favorites. In case that ever happened again, I decided to get rid of my save-it-on-my-computer practices. I moved my bookmarking, RSS reading, and note-taking (I used to just use Microsoft Word) to the web, where I have less to worry about in case my computer crashes, but I can also access my favorites from any computer I choose. This post goes over some of the tools I use.

By the way, I have omitted a few tools that, while useful, are not practical for everybody. For example, some of you may know about StumbleUpon. It’s a useful tool for finding random (literally) content on the web and for bookmarking pages quickly. Back when I used nothing but Internet Explorer and Firefox, SU was fine for me. I loved using it when I got bored, and it was a quick way to keep tabs on the content that I liked. The problem was that after I switched to using Google Chrome, it became useless to me.  StumbleUpon, like the other omissions,must be used with a toolbar. The ones I recommend are almost all available in a bookmarks-bar mode.

The tools

Because the crash occurred before I shut down my previous blogs, and I used my bookmarks to store ideas for my future posts, Evernote (which recently reached 1 million users), Fleck, and LaterThis became indispensible tools for me. I use each one for a different purpose, but they’re all very good when it comes to bookmarking websites. On top of that, they’re very easy to use. To set them up, you just have to create a bookmark for them (each one has a simple how-to guide on its website). When you want to save the page you’re on, just click that button and a screen will appear asking you to fill in whatever details and tags you’d like. Evernote has some other cool features, including the ability to take actual notes and to highlight certain parts of a webpage to bookmark.

Bloglines has helped me replace the use Safari’s built-in RSS reader. It’s been a great tool to use when I find a blog I like.  The reader’s format is easy on the eyes, yet simple. Most media (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) can play back to you right from the page you’re on, and it’s easy to subscribe to blogs from their feeds or main pages. Besides being in most “subscribe with” lists, Bloglines also has a bookmark available that works the same way as the ones available for Fleck and LaterThis.

Though it’s not related to the computer problems I discussed, I’ve also had issues with online shopping. When browsing, I find a lot of products and services that I think are worth looking at again later. The thing is, I don’t want to save them with the other bookmarks, and I don’t want to sign up for their store’s membership just to be able to add it to my wishlist. For this, Amazon.com’s “Add To Wishlist” button is a great tool and addition to my Amazon account. It is, like the others, a clickable bookmark that you drag to your Bookmarks/Links bar. When you find an item, regardless of which website it’s on, click this button and enter the price and any comments you may have about the item. Click “Add To List,” and you’re done. The next time you visit amazon.com, the item will be on your list along with the information you entered.

Like I said, the repair that I had to get for this computer meant that I no longer had some of my most valuable assignments, pictures, or videos. To prevent that from happening, I bought an external hard drive. I also backed up some files online. Box.net, Mozy, and other storage solutions allow you to upload your files of any type to a drive that’s independent from your computer. This practice can come in handy in case your data gets deleted from your hard drive or if you want to share with a large group of people (of course, you can make data private as well). If you want unlimited storage for free, Yahoo! Mail, though inconvenient to use for large amounts of data, allows you to email content to yourself. There is, however, a size limit on files.

For almost any purposes, whether they’re writing notes, saving websites, or storing media, a private blog is a sort of Swiss army knife. With WordPress, there’s Press This, a feature similar to Evernote that lets you publish your thoughts and bookmarks. If you want to keep it private, just change your blog settings. I’ve used this method for a journal of small ideas related to upcoming events, but the way you choose to work with it is up to you.

If you’re absolutely paranoid that the Internet Illuminati will steal all of the bookmarks and files from your online accounts or do something even more sinister, an index card and/or a camera can be enough to save your thoughts and reminders. I’ve taken pictures of interesting websites after seeing them at a friend’s house or while I’m away from my computer. Along with simply writing URLs down, it’s an easy way to keep track of your mental to-do list.

All of these tools are indispensible backups for your media, memories, and personal information. In case an emergency like mine ever happens to you, I want you to be ready. Please try out the ones that you can make use of and share what you think or any suggestions in the comments section.

The problem with these tools (and the solution)

While I hope that this list has helped, I should warn you that a few of these services are terrible for productivity and efficiency if you use them incorrectly. You may have heard of the term “everything dump,” which is basically  used to express that something is literally a place where you put absolutely everything into. There’s no organization, no order, no nothing. While everything dumps can be good for keeping your mind clear of tasks by putting them into an outside space, cramming all sorts of garbage into one place can make it easy to procrastinate when you’re looking for a task you left in said dump. You can go in looking for info on that project due in two hours and get sidetracked by that video your friend sent you and you bookmarked. To help minimize this, I suggest coming up with a system of categories and tags to keep work separate from play. You can just search for a tag that has to do with work (mine is “thisisforatask”) and keep your mind off of whatever else you may have in the dump. I took it one step farther and use Evernote for work-related  bookmarks, LaterThis for interesting things to read or look at, and Fleck for play-related topics. I also made tags for all sorts of things. Thisisabusiness, thisisafunnyvideo, thisisaseriousvideo, thishascooleffects, thiscouldgoinapost, and so on are all parts of my tag cloud.