Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 1

My favorite web tool for 2006 is actually a suite of tools. I am a big fan of Zoho, the group of developers in India who are working hard to develop web-based office applications along with a whole flotilla of other tools. Here is a brief interview with company CEO Vembu about the company and their plans. Extreme Tech also gives an overview of Zoho. Gizbuzz posted a podcast interview with the Chief Architect of Zoho, Raju Vegesna.

Here is a screenshot showing most of the tools they offer. I haven't used all of these yet, but I have used many of them and the amount of progress being made on the development of these tools is amazing.


They have released several new things at the end of 2006, some of which I haven't even had the time to play with yet. Read their announcement about the Office plug-in, the Zoho API, and the Zoho Desktopize widget. TechCruch also reviewed this.


I use Zoho Writer quite often. PC World Magazine ranked it number one of the online word processing tools. It is great for collaboration with others without passing around Word documents ad nauseum, and it renders very well as a webpage, which is not something that anyone can honestly say about MS Word. I especially like using Writer for presentation materials for workshops and seminars. Not only can anyone access your materials after the workshop, but you can make heavy use of links to other sources and it is very easy to increase font size on the presentation screen by toggling the +/- keys. The Zoho Writer Blog has lots of good info.

Here are three of the presentations that I've made using Zoho Writer during the past few months:
  1. Web 2.0 Whirlwind at League CIT in Charlotte
  2. Web 2.0 for Administrators at MnSCU Deans/CAO meetings
  3. Faculty Peer Review of Course Design at WCET in Portland
Zoho Sheet is similar to MS Excel, but not as full featured or powerful. However, it works great for the more common spreadsheet tasks and formulas. I especially like the fact that you can easily embed an active spreadsheet, chart, or both into a webpage. Here is the chart showing how nearly 3,000 students in Minnesota Online answered the question about what their plans were for taking online courses. I made the following chart using Zoho Sheet (check out the Sheet Blog). Here is one man's opinion preferring Zoho Sheet over Google Spreadsheets. FWIW, I agree with him.

MnOnline Student Survey Question about Current Plans -

Zoho Wiki is brand new just being released on December 20, 2006. I use wikis quite a bit but have never settled on a preferred one, using pbwiki, Jot, WikiSpaces, and others. I'm guessing that I will start using the Zoho Wiki more extensively since it:
  • uses the WYSIWYG editor from Zoho Writer that includes spell check
  • it uses the Zoho Single Sign-on, so you can use your existing Zoho ID
  • you can embed many different kinds of objects into your Wiki pages like a Zoho Sheet, a Zoho Show, a Zoho Creator application/form or a YouTube video.
I have also used Zoho Show several times (here's the Show Blog). It is one of several useful ways to put presentation slides on the web. However, I am doing that less and less these days, preferring to find other ways of making presentations if at all possible. Here is an embedded show that I have used previously on one of my blogs.

I've also used Zoho Polls and Zoho Planner, and plan to check out Zoho Chat, Zoho Projects, and Zoho Challenge.

BTW, their number one ranking in my list has nothing to do with being picked as the first Zoho Featured User back in September. Pure coincidence I tell ya, pure coincidence.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 2

Barry D Flickr Badge(2)

Flickr is a photo sharing website and an online community platform. It has become one of the most popular websites for anyone who uses digital photos and the service is widely used by bloggers as a photo repository. A major reason for its popularity has been the tagging features that allow you to search for photos from various users who have used similar tags.

With a free Flickr account you can upload 100MB of photos each month. This sounds as though they are providing you with that amount of server space, but it is actually a bandwidth limit. Each month you can upload that amount regardless of whether you used all of the bandwidth in a previous month or whether you have deleted any pictures.

I started with a free account, but upgraded to a Pro account after a few months. This is one of the very few web services that I have ever paid for. I could have survived with the free account, but for less than $25 per year I now get the following:
  • Unlimited storage
  • Unlimited uploads
  • Unlimited bandwidth
  • Unlimited sets (for organizing similar pictures)
  • Permanent archiving of high resolution images
  • Ad-free browsing and sharing
You can order prints (in the U.S.) and get them in the mail or at your local Target, and you can control whether others are able to print your photos or not. You can also control whether your photos are available for viewing by the public or just your invited guests.

You can now choose to license the photos you upload to Flickr under a Creative Commons license. One of the best parts of Flickr is the open API. This allows any interested (and skilled) user to develop tools that can be used with Flickr.

One thing that has great potential for academic use is the embedded notes feature. I have seen it used very effectively for describing parts of a painting in an Art History class, and have no doubts that it can be used in many creative ways. Click on the photo below to open it in Flickr to see the notes fields.

The Dahls 2006_05

Other goodies:
The rest of the stuff shown below was created using fd’s Flickr toys (good stuff). Click on any picture to view larger version.

ice fishing kids

Quinny Warholized

Motivator - Mentor

Calendar 01 January 2007

Pilot Mountain Stamp

Slideshow of Asian restaurant animals/food (click below):
View slideshow

You can see these photos and other effects from fd’s Flickr toys by viewing my flickr set.

Friday, December 29, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 3

In the previous post about Meebo I mentioned that I hate talking on the phone. That includes regular land-line phones and cell phones. It does not however include talking over the computer using Skype.

I like Skype for some of the same reasons that I like Meebo. It is similar to an unlisted phone number that I only give to people who I want to hear from. I can easily block undesirables (sales people, etc.) from calling me on Skype. With Skype you can make completely free computer-to-computer calls to other Skype users.

On both trips to Asia during 2006, Skype was the main way that I communicated with both family and co-workers who were back in the States. As the picture can attest, it is great being able to see your kids when you talk to them from several thousand miles away.

You don’t need to use video while using Skype, but it does add to the enjoyment, especially for those of us old enough to remember the video phones from the Jetsons. Any kind of basic PC microphone, even the built-in kind on a notebook will do the trick for audio-only calls. I like to use the Logitech QuickCam for Notebooks for video calls. It is very portable and the tiny integrated microphone works great.

Another good thing about Skype is the instant messaging capabilities. You can text chat even if voice chat is not possible or advisable. The screenshot below was captured when I was in a coffee shop with free wireless access but didn’t want to talk out loud with a bunch of strangers around me.

Other good things:

  • I’ve used Skype to record podcasts while interviewing people at a distance.
  • It is multi-platform and works on Windows, Linux, and Mac.
  • Using Skype Out you can call landlines or cell phones. It has been free during 2006 but there will be a small charge starting in 2007.
  • You can send SMS messages for a small fee as well.
  • You can have a real phone number assigned to your Skype account (I haven’t yet).
  • While in a Skype call (or chat) you can easily share files from PC-to-PC.
There are a few downfalls:
  • A computer on an open network might be used as a SuperNode, consuming lots of bandwidth and opening security risks (in theory)
    1. See recent report of a Skype worm as an example of what might happen as it becomes more of a target for ill-doers
    2. University of Minnesota discourages its use
    3. Inside Higher Ed: Skype Skirmishes
  • Others have to have Skype for you to communicate with them (or you pay for SkypeOut to their regular phone)
  • Skype is now owned by eBay which makes me somewhat worried about whether it will be turned into a profit center that makes it more costly to use and less enjoyable as it becomes more “corporatized”
  • Skype is built with closed protocols on a closed network (not an open standard, so it is proprietary, which is never a good thing)
Last thing, I also really like the potential of the Skypecasts. I have hosted a couple of them myself, and have also joined a couple of others as a participant. Up to 100 people can participate in a Skypecast where the host control the action by muting participants or handing over the microphone, and can even eject people from the Skypecast if they are being noisy or disruptive or just plain icky. Skypecasts are free to host and free to join for the participants. Currently the Skypecasts do not allow video to be used, but that is probably not too far away, at least for the host webcam to project out to others.

Considering all things, I’m still very much pro-Skype. (BTW, Skype does require a download and install on your computer. I errored earlier in stating that two things on my top 12 list required downloads, make that three.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 4

I hate (yes, hate) talking on the telephone. The number of salespeople who think that I should spend my time talking to them is utterly ridiculous. Email isn’t any better. I get so many meaningless emails a day that I shudder every time my GroupWise Notify chimes in to tell me that I have mail.

Those are two of the reasons why I am using instant messaging more and more. So far, (fingers and toes crossed) I have not been subjected to IM-spam and I only hear from people who I really want to hear from (buddies, as it were).

I was never really attracted to IM in the past because of the fractured nature of it all. Some people were on AOL, others on MSN, others on Yahoo, etc. etc. I started using Trillian as a way of bringing all of those together and it works well. However, I would prefer to be able to access my IM services from any computer anywhere and so a web-based service was needed. When I stumbled across Meebo earlier this year I felt that my problems had been solved. For the most part, that has proven to be true.

From the About meebo page:
“ is a website for instant messaging from absolutely anywhere. Whether you’re at home, on campus, at work, or traveling foreign lands, hop over to on any computer to access all of your buddies (on AIM, Yahoo!, MSN, Google Talk, ICQ and Jabber) and chat with them, no downloads or installs required, for free!”

It no longer matters which service your buddies use, you can aggregate all messages in one place from Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AIM, ICQ, and Google Talk.

Some of the enhancements this year include a feature allowing users to use a single login for sending and receiving messages from the various multiple services. Additionally, Meebo now has the ability to store chat logs for your user account. Not being able to archive a chat session has been a criticism (an old one) against the use of I.M., but now you can store the ones you want without storing them all. Also this year Meebo added receive and send notification sounds and you can now send messages to people who are not on your contact list.

Just before Christmas they also released some new features:
• display pictures
pink, green, and purple skins (traditional blue is still there)
• faster login
• saved away messages

In August of this year, Meebo launched the "meebo me" widget, which allows users to embed a a chat or IM widget on any webpage, including blogs and wikis on their personal website. I added one to each of my blogs and we also created a widget to use at Lake Superior College for helping online students who need some sort of technical support.

One of the beauties about the MeeboMe widget is that the other user does not have to have any kind of instant messaging account. Basically this is just an open window for them to type in their question. Another advantage is the ability to see if the receiving party (me, or the LSC Help Desk for example) is online and available to respond. This is better than sending the email that you have no idea when the other person will receive, read, and reply. Still one more sweet deal is that you can manage all of your widgets, and your regular I.M. messages all from the same webpage, as shown in the first screenshot of my account.

Another great thing is that you can tell how many people are viewing your webpage at any time. Look at the first screen shot and on my Buddy List you'll see that there are two people who were currently viewing Desire2Blog and are listed on the Desire2Chat widget as guests (anonymous) and there were three people on the Send Me an I.M. widget which is located on this blog. Two are anonymous and one is Krystal who was logged into Meebo so that her screen name showed up.

Odds and ends:

Friday, December 22, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 5

From their website:
"What is is a collection of favorites - yours and everyone else's. You can use to:

  • Keep links to your favorite articles, blogs, music, reviews, recipes, and more, and access them from any computer on the web.
  • Share favorites with friends, family, coworkers, and the community.
  • Discover new things. Everything on is someone's favorite -- they've already done the work of finding it. So is full of bookmarks about technology, entertainment, useful information, and more. Explore and enjoy."
" is a social bookmarking website -- the primary use of is to store your bookmarks online, which allows you to access the same bookmarks from any computer and add bookmarks from anywhere, too. On, you can use tags to organize and remember your bookmarks, which is a much more flexible system than folders.
You can also use to see the interesting links that your friends and other people bookmark, and share links with them in return. You can even browse and search to discover the cool and useful bookmarks that everyone else has saved -- which is made easy with tags."

Rather than link to a bunch of useful sites as I normally would in one of these posts, I'll do it the way by pointing to my bookmarks about

You can view all my boolmarks at:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 6

For delivering audio files and/or podcasts over the web, I prefer to use Odeo. This is another of those areas where there is a multitude of choices. Odeo allows you to record simple audio files, or to upload files that are created locally. I usually choose the latter option since I prefer to record using Audacity and then upload using Odeo and embed the file into a blog post or other webpage using the Odeo players.

powered by ODEO

The audio file above is just a short example of delivering audio with an embedded Odeo player. The recording is a bunch of sound bites from the old Andy Griffith Show. Just some stuff that puts a smile on my face when I listen to it.

There are actually two different Odeo websites (at least). is where you would find audio to listen to. Odeo Studio is where you would record, upload, or otherwise manage your own audio files and podcasts.

One thing that you cannot currently do in Odeo is edit your audio file. Again, I use Audacity for that function. The Odeo help and FAQ sections are not terrific. Here is a fairly useful item from their Support area: Using the Odeo Studio

Odeo can be used in combination with iTunes. I don’t do this because I am becoming increasingly anti-Apple. Here is how.

Step-by-step tutorial at the betterdays blog by Preetam Rai.

13 minute screencast of creating a podcast in Odeo by Kathryn Dirkin.

You can easliy add an audio file to a blog post with one click from inside Odeo. You could literally make a recording and have it posted within 30 seconds of completing the recording. They are trying to make this dead-on simple. Now if they would only figure out the two website deal-ee-o, then it would be really simple.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 7

Okay, okay, technically this program is not a web tool. Sorry about that. But you download it for free off the net, so that's gotta count for something.

Audacity is the other item on my top 12 list that requires a download and install. Google Earth (# 8, see below) was the first. It is open source, free, and relatively light-weight. There are many other audio editing programs out there, but this is my choice. Years ago I started using Goldwave which is a very good editor. Goldwave is shareware, so I prefer Audacity since it is FOSS (free and open source software), or FLOSS, as some are trying to call it.

From the Audacity Book by Matt Brubeck:
“What is Audacity? Audacity is a free software program for recording and editing audio. Audacity runs on several operating systems, including GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows."

"You can use Audacity to record sounds onto your computer, either live (with a microphone) or pre-recorded (from tapes or records). Audacity can also open and edit audio files, including tracks downloaded from the internet or copied from CDs. Audacity can open and save Ogg Vorbis, MP3, WAV, AIFF, and several other types of audio files."

"You can edit recordings with Audacity the same way you edit text with a word processor. Audacity can cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together. Filters are included for altering speed and pitch, adding echo or reverb, removing noise from recordings, and more.”

There’s lots of resources out there. However, I still think the best way to learn it is to get in there and kick the tires a bit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 8

Google Earth (their homepage) is one of only two things on my top 12 list that requires a download and install. Still it is free and relatively light-weight. There are also paid premium versions of GE, but the free version is just fine for normal use.

The Google Earth Blog is a useful resource. Here is a page with links to info about the basics, such as how to move your view with zoom, pan, tilt and what the different settings will do.

Just to demonstrate how it can work, I’ll make a screencast of Google Earth showing a few of the destinations in and around Duluth, MN. This will be practice for a better one that I will post later on Desire2Blog for the D2L User Conference in July 2007.

You should have an Internet connection when using Google Earth as the download itself does not give you full functionality. It is possible to use it for offline viewing (no Internet connection), but it is somewhat limited.

You can even follow Santa’s trip around the globe on Christmas Eve. There are games you can play with GE such as Google Earth War, Google Earth Game, and GE Chess.

Check out the Google Earth Education Community. For a whole bunch of other links and more info, check out the Wikipedia page about Google Earth.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 9

I started using Bloglines in February 2006. I now use it to track the 92 different blog feeds that I follow on a regular basis. A couple of months ago I was just about ready to find a new aggregator when Bloglines upgraded their service. The improved functionality was enough to keep me around. Some people think that there are better aggregators out there, but I’m very comfortable with Bloglines and am no longer feeling any pressing need to switch.

Many people are switching to newer web RSS readers like Rojo, Google Reader, Attensa, and Netvibes.

The public listing of the feeds I read:

From their website: What is Bloglines?
“Bloglines is a FREE online service that helps you subscribe to and manage lots of web information, such as news feeds, weblogs and audio. Bloglines tracks the information you're interested in, retrieves new stuff as it happens, and organizes everything for you on your own personal web news page.”

How Does Bloglines Work?
“Bloglines is a "news aggregator." Many online information sources, including web sites, weblogs and news services, now broadcast their content to the web in so-called "syndicated feeds" or "news feeds" with new technologies like Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and ATOM. News aggregator software and services collect those syndicated feeds and present them to end users in a variety of ways. (snip) After you join Bloglines you simply search for the content you are interested in and identify the feeds you want to track. Once you "subscribe" to those feeds (a single-click maneuver in most cases), Bloglines will constantly check those feeds for changes or additions and direct new information onto your Bloglines personal page.”

Here's some useful stuff:

Sunday, December 17, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 10

I started using Google IG about 6 months ago. It’s a personalized start page (or portal) that I use as the home page on all my browsers on all my computers, both home and work. It gives me quick access to the things I use most, and also gives access to those things that the rest of the family uses most, such as the games that the kids play (constantly).

You get a basic set of widgets to start with, but it is incredibly easy to delete them, add more, rearrange them, add more pages with tabs, etc. There are hundreds of widgets to choose from with more being created by users all the time. Some of the basic widgets available include:

  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Reader (RSS feeds)
  • Google Map Search
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets
  • Local Weather
  • Local Movie Times
  • Bookmarked websites
  • Instant messaging
  • World Clocks
  • CNN or other news
  • Word of the Day
  • How-to of the Day
  • Stock Quotes
  • ESPN Sports or other
  • Date & Time
One of my favorite widgets is a Creative Commons search box for Flickr photos.

Popular alternatives include Pageflakes and Netvibes. I’ll stick with Google unless they get to the point where they totally tick me off with their corporate tactics.

Friday, December 15, 2006

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 11

I have been using SlideShare for a while now and I rather like it. Some people have called it the YouTube for PowerPoint.

Currently, you cannot embed audio in SlideShare for a narrated presentation, but I'll bet they're working on it. I have used it a couple of times where it is paired with a separate audio file for the narration.

From their website: "What is SlideShare? SlideShare is a free service for sharing presentations and slideshows. You can upload your PowerPoint and OpenOffice presentations, tag them, embed them into your blog or website, browse others' presentations, and comment on individual slides. It's a great way to share your ideas with others, or to learn from other people. And it's free."

Also: "What is the maximum size of the presentation file that can be uploaded? SlideShare supports a maximum file size of 20MB at present."

Right now you create all of your presentation materials outside of SlideShare and then upload the finished product to the system. Basically they store your stuff and make it easy to embed the presentation into any webpage.

One of the nice features is the ability to link to a particular slide within a presentation. For example, this link will show our online course enrollments over the years, one slide out of 41 slides in that presentation. Another nice feature is the price: free! The embedded show below is somewhat text-heavy, which I believe means that the narration file is less needed.

Update (9/11/07): I added an mp3 narration file to my slideshow at Slideshare and synched them. This feature was not available at the time of the original post. Sorry for the tin-cup sound of the audio.

My Top 12 Web Tools of 2006 - Number 12

Somewhat in the spirit of the twelve days of Christmas, I am going to give an end-of-the-year rundown of my twelve favorite (mostly) free web tools. What you'll find is that most of these twelve are NOT off the beaten path; they are fairly successful, widely-used applications. I play around with plenty of new, more obscure, web tools as well; but these twelve are those that I use regularly and recommend to others.

Number 12: Pandora

Based on the Music Genome Project, Pandora allows you to customize your own music channels so that you can listen to your favorite songs or artists, and other tunes similar to those. From the website: "Together we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like. Over the past 6 years, we've carefully listened to the songs of over 10,000 different artists - ranging from popular to obscure - and analyzed the musical qualities of each song one attribute at a time. This work continues each and every day as we endeavor to include all the great new stuff coming out of studios, clubs and garages around the world."

"Over 400 different musical aspects are considered when selecting the next song. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies and displayed instrumental proficiency." (from Wikipedia)

In the screenshot you can see that for my Natalie Merchant channel, it firt played My Skin from her Ophelia recording, then played a song by Sarah McLachlan, then one by Jessica Stone, then the Guilded Cage, and then another song by Natalie Merchant, This House is on Fire.

This is great to have open in a browser while you're working for a little background music. You can even train it to provide more of the music that you like and less of those that you don't like. Overall, it is very cool. No download, all web-based, access your channels from any Internet connection, and totally free. Number 12 on the countdown (countup?), but could have placed higher.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sign Language 7

This was one of the better signs in the Education Building at the 2006 Minnesota State Fair.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Using CamStudio

This was just an experiment using CamStudio to record a Skype call. The video wasn't working on the other end, but otherwise CamStudio is a good way to capture both the audio and the video of the call. Granted, talking head webcam shots are not intriguing video, but I was just fooling around anyway. CamStudio is a free clone of Camtasia, used more for recording PowerPoint presentations and screencasts of computer apps.

The purpose of the Skype call was just to demonstrate the technology for some K-12 teachers in Nevada who were attending a professional development session with Brian Crosby, 4th grade teacher in Sparks. The call isn't terribly interesting, but I posted it to see how well it works to record the call, upload to You Tube, then embed in blog. Worked pretty well.

Sign Language 6

This was taken in Xi’an China when I visited there in June, 2006. I am not trying to make fun of the Chinese attempts to speak and write English (seriously, I’m NOT!), but some of the signs there are just too funny to ignore.

Unfortunately we were unable to return later that day at half past eight in order to change friends … but our minds sure were swimming with ideas of what that might mean.

In case you can't read it easily, the top sign says "Friend-making Clubhouse at Half Past Eight." The bottom sign says "Sunny Half Past 8 Friend Changing Club." We need a club like that around here!!