Open Font Library – free, high quality fonts, without a hassle

open font library logoThere is no quicker way to get a virus than to click on a “1000s of Free Fonts!”link in Google.  Even if no virus, they often require registration, installing spyware or some other nuisance.

Instead, go to:   Open Font Library.    This is part of larger Libre Graphics Initiative which also supports the very useful program, Inkscape.

open font library ScreenshotFree Font Library offers only a few hundred fonts which may seem weak compared to the other sites which brag about thousands of fonts but good graphic artists know that a few high quality fonts are much more valuable than lots of shoddy fonts.  A high quality font offers separately-designed italics, bold and small caps as well as support for symbols and non-English characters.

Very importantly, Free Font Library provides a very nice font specimen which allows the user to see the font in all its formats. And, downloading is just a click.

If you need a wild decorative font then you will probably still need to risk a virus and go to one of the “1000s of Free Fonts!” websites but for your everyday needs, Open Font Library is the place.

Tool: Open Font Library
Description: free (virus free!) fonts
License: various, but all open
Alternatives: many others
Rating: very useful


Open Definition – alternative licensing to Creative Commons

jjffjj OpenDocument logoOpen Knowledge is a non-profit organization in Cambridge, England founded not long after the Creative Commons organization.   While it seems to have a (somewhat) broader scope than Creative Commons, it also runs a licensing service called Open Definition.

While I have found the Creative Commons license perfectly useful for what I create,  the Open Definition tools apply more broadly to things like funding and services.

Open Definition buttonsIf you find that the Creative Commons license doesn’t fit your effort, you may take at look at the Open Definition licenses.   Like Creative Commons, they have a license guide to assist you.  Unfortunately it gets into the legal language fairly quickly but that may be unavoidable considering the broader nature of this project.

Tool: Open Definition (dot org)
Description: open licensing system
License: open (obviously!)
Alternative: Creative Commons
Rating: potentially useful

Storage Made Easy – one program to manage multiple “cloud” services

SME_logo Storage Made Easy (SME) makes having multiple “cloud” storage accounts a lot more easy. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux – I’m reviewing he Linux version.

Lots of free storage but too hard to use
DropBox, Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive and Microsoft’s SkyDrive are some of the big names in remote storage but there are many others, typically offering 2-5 gigabytes of free space with a paid option for more.

You probably understand the advantages of storing files remotely, especially back-ups of files you can’t easily re-create after a crash (passwords, photos and original documents) or stolen computer. There is the advantage of having access to files from your phone or work computer.

Free storage is great but it is a hassle to run the software for each service. SME solves tis by allowing you to run one program for multiple services. While SME is proprietary. The free version limits you to only three services but is otherwise open-ethos.

Runs almost transparently
SME_mapped_driveAfter an initial set-up on the SME website it runs as a desktop application. In Linux, all your “cloud” files mount as sub-folders at any place you designate. You can also access your files from SME’s website.

It has run flawlessly on my Linux laptop. SME is built around the open-source FUSE program which may explain why it works so well I set SME to run on start-up and I can almost forget that some of my folders are on other services. Of course, one needs to be connected to the Internet.  I love having access to my files without all the multiple sign-ins and ads.

SME and the individual storage providers all claim to be highly secure but I would still be cautious. Of course, use a long and unique passphrase. You may consider first encrypting your highly sensitive files (passwords, credit card numbers, student records) with PGP or similar.

You can also include your school’s FTP server in SME which may be convenient. (I didn’t test this feature since I’m happy with Filezilla.)

Bottom line: SME actually does makes remote file storage easy.

Tool: Storage Made Easy
Description: a web and software combination that brings multiple remote file servers to your desktop.
License: proprietary, based on open source software.
Alternatives: Filezilla
Rating: very useful


Since I made this entry — I received this email from Storage Made Easy:

PRISM and Data Snooping
Since our last newsletter the PRISM storm has erupted with companies and individuals becoming worried about who has access to their cloud stored data.

For SaaS users The SME public / private key encryption for remote files is an ideal way to protect and secure sensitive data. You keep the private key to encrypted data. It is not stored on SME Servers. You need to remember it to access the data. Without it the file cannot be accessed. This means SME or anyone else cannot access the data.

While I am glad they are taking privacy seriously, I’m not sure this really addresses the issue.    As I understand it, if you have your data on a commercial hosting service, then your documents and communication can be secretly copied and stored by the NSA.  Not just can be  but probably is.

So,  secure data transfer doesn’t really protect you from the NSA.   It would, however, help you with hackers, identity thieves, etc.

Probably, a better privacy strategy is hosting your own private server – where the computer is actually in your building.  Then use encrypted data transfer like a Virtual Private Network and/or  FTP over SSL.    I have to say — it’s a shame we have to go to this effort and expense to protect our own privacy when we’ve done nothing wrong.

Digital Dewey — organize your digital collection like your physical library

The Digital Dewey Project 1.0

DigitalDeweyLogoThis project is a “zipped” collection of folders which mirrors the Dewey Decimal System as listed by Wikipedia. It has approximately 2500 folders and nested sub-folders, one for every major Dewey subject. Version 1.0 doesn’t go down to the decimal level but may in the future.

Users can unzip these folders on to their hard drive and organize their digital collection by dropping the documents in the appropriate folder.

The inspiration for this project happened when I was digitizing documents for a speciality library where scans of documents were simply dumped into one gigantic file folder. While this works fine if the documents are hyper-linked to an OPAC entry, it is almost useless for browsing. If a library were to use the Digital Dewey system, a user could browse through the digital collection similar to how they browse in a physical library. Be sure to set the file permissions to read-only.

Get the Zip File

Web-based file conversion

Web Converter logos







I had a bunch of *.lit files (discontinued by Microsoft in  2012) but my Sony eBook reader works best with *.epub.   You’ve had a similar problem, right?

I found two free web-based file converter services that converted these files fine.

Both sites convert an impressive number of file formats including text-word processor documents, ebooks, presentations, audio and visual.   I didn’t try nearly all the features but the few tests I did worked well.   Results tyically have to do with the complexity of the document and similarity of the two file formats.

These sites seem especially useful if you are doing the occasional conversion and don’t want to install and learn dedicated software.   If you are converting a lot of files, you may want to install dedicated software.

These sites are also useful because they can grab files off the internet and convert them to work on your phone (for example).   Convert.Files has a very useful list of mobile devices and their file formats.



ConvertFiles dot com

Online Converter


Description: converts between a wide variety of file types, including files posted on the Internet

License: Proprietary, free

Alternatives: Any Video Converter (free version, Windows, Mac); Calibre (for ebooks); Google Docs;, your existing word processor

Rating: very useful

PortableApps (dot com)

Portable Apps As a Linux user in a Windows and Mac world, I have become very dependent on PortableApps (.com).

I have a 16gb thumb drive loaded with Mac and Windows versions of all my favorite Linux programs — most importantly Firefox and LibreOffice. There is plenty of room left for my personal documents.

Of course the computers at my university are loaded with software but using portable programs from my flash drive saves a lot of time since they have all my bookmarks and favorite plug-ins. It’s as if my home computer is available wherever I go even if have to use a Mac or Windows machine.

Running a presentation from a flashdrive using a portable application is much more reliable than running your presentation on a host machine. While my fellow classmates struggle to get their presentation running, mine runs flawlessly, just like I practiced it at home.

PortableApps could be helpful for our homeless “couch surfing” kids who have to work on borrowed computers. There is no need to install software wherever they are crashing few days.

Similarly, PortableApps can be “installed” on school computers which normally deny this privilege for users. Since PortableApps don’t change the computer’s registry, your IT department needn’t know they are there. If students are allocated a personal “Y Drive” (aka cloud drive) on a central server, the programs can be installed there as well.


PortableApps (.com)

Description: versions of popular software, tweaked to run from a flashdrive or a network folder

License: free and GPL (mostly)

Alternatives: PenDriveApps (.com)

Rating: very useful