Cloudup – free, cloud-based file sharing

Cloudup is a free, web-based media sharing platform. Users are allowed to upload a maximum of 1000 items, 200 MB each. Yes! That’s 200 gigabytes of free storage. There are desktop applications for Macs and Windows but the web interface is meant to be the main way to use the service.

Cloudup allows for synchronizing, sharing, password protection, downloading and streaming of files. Files are simply shared with a unique web address like cloudup.com/c6n9XSN2kTH Any type of file can be uploaded.

Cloudup is provided by the amazing people at Automattic (WordPress, Simplenote, Long Reads, more). I have not extensively used this service but can recommend it based on Automattic’s reputation.

I have previously recommended Archive.org for hosting media (and still do) but Cloudup has the advantage of not giving-up copyrights. Archive.org has no private or password options. This could be very helpful for media made by students which you don’t want on the open web.

I could not find any way to embed media from Cloudup, so only the link can be shared. This might be a problem for some.


Tool: Cloudup

Description: Free, cloud-based media hosting.

Usefulness: very

Simplenote — free, cross-platform note taking

Simplenote is a free note-taking tool that can be used on the web or natively on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android or iOS. (what else is there?)

Simplenote is one of the best, least-known free tools I’ve ever used. It is a mature product having been around since 2008. It was acquired by the good folks at Automattic who made the full version available to all without ads or cost. I don’t like exposing students to advertising, so this makes Simplenote great in education. Users do need an email address.

Remarkably, Automattic puts no limits on how many notes you can take. None!

Automattic has developed Simplenote for more platforms but has not succumbed to “bloatware.” For me, a note taking program must be fast and simple like a real notebook. (I’m not a fan of Evernote for that reason.)

Simplenote supports Markdown of which I’m a huge fan. Backup is beyond easy — just download a .zip file and read your notes with any text editor. Simplenote also has tagging, sorting, revision history, collaboration, publishing but not many more features.

Publishing is so easy! A couple of clicks and you get a shortened URL like simp.ly/p/8LTSXK to share with students or colleagues. It’s one of the easiest ways I know of to publish a simple web page. All for free!

I haven’t tried it but collaboration seems equally simple — just use their email address as a tag and it shows up on their account.

Too Simple?

Text Only

Simplenote is strictly text-based, so you can’t easily embed graphics or pictures from your phone. This is one of the useful features of “Keep” by Google, also a simple program. With Markdown, you can link to graphics but those have to be stored elsewhere online. A service like TinyPic makes this fairly easy but it is another step.

No Spell Check

This is probably another deal-breaker for some people, especially if you are using this as a tool to publish directly to the web.


Tool:  Simplenote
Description: A free, text-based note-taking program which synchronizes across all your computers and phones.
Usefulness: very

The Book Patch — affordable, honest self-publishing

book_patch_logoThe “vanity publishing” industry has a reputation right down there with Nigerian emails but there are some good ones and TheBookPatch really stands out.

The biggest scams seem to be minimum quantities, set-up fees and hidden costs. The Book Patch has none of these. Disclaimer: I have not personally used this service but I found almost no complaints about TheBookPatch,which is unusual.

TheBookPatch is truly self-publishing which means they will publish anything but leave all the editing, design and marketing to you. They provide templates and writing tools but your book is your responsibility alone. While they sell books on their own site, promotion and sales are also up to you. Most teachers and schools don’t need these services, anyway.

For a class book project or a school memory book, TheBookPatch is an excellent choice. A teacher can print a 60 page, B&W, 6” x 9” class book for less than $3 a copy. A full-color book would be less than $10. This is considerably less expensive than other self-publishing services I have used. Very helpfully, you can order a single copy (at a reasonable price) of your book for proof reading. In my experience, typos are much easier to find in an “advance copy” of a book and well-worth the cost.

To publish with TheBookPatch, you need to create a PDF for the body of the book and a separate color JPG file for the cover. TheBookPatch offers templates and clear, specific instructions for creating these. They can also create an ISBN number, also at a reasonable price. ISBN numbers are not required unless you want to sell your books through retailers.

Write_onlineTheBookPatch is also a cloud site for writers. They offer an on-line word processor that integrates with their print publishing service. I would probably use OpenOffice or Google Docs (if you need collaboration tools). Any application that creates a PDF file should work.

Bottom line: An affordable source for class or school self-published books.


Tool: TheBookPatch
Description: Affordable self-publishing
License: Open Ethos
Alternatives: Lulu, Kinkos, local quick print, others
Usefulness: very

tinypic — quick and easy photo and video hosting.

This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.
This photo was uploaded July 8, 2015.

tinypic.com-logoThere several good free photo hosting sites but it’s a real time-waster for your students to create accounts. tinypic will host your students’ photos and videos with no registration or hassle.  tinypic is the free version of PhotoBucket which is a flagship photo hosting site.

A convenient feature of tinypic is that it provides the linking code for HTML and other common formats. And, it lets you link directly without advertisements. tinypic allows you to upload a photo directly from your phone via email (a feature I didn’t test).

There are better choices if you need your image to last for years since tinypic keeps your students’ images for only 90 days.  Even so, this should be fine for class assignments.


Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

 

Another potential downside is that all images are public but the odds of anyone stumbling across your photo are probably minimal. Photos are limited to 1600 pixels on the longest side and videos are limited to five minutes. If you submit larger items, they are automatically reduced.

The bottom line: tinypic is a super-easy way to post photos and videos for sort-term projects.


Tool: tinypic.com

Description: photo and video hosting with no registration

License: Open Ethos

Alternatives: Flickr, Imgur, many others

Usefulness: very

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

 

openclipart – free clip art (yes, really free)

Open Clipart LogoThere are a lot of sites that offer “free clip art” but they are, in fact, a hassle to download. Some have viruses or spyware.

Openclipart ScreenshotOpenclipart is truly free… find a piece of clipart and download it. No registration, no watermarks, no royalties.

Openclipart has 50,000 images which may seem like a lot but you can not have enough clip art! As I browsed around this site, I sometimes didn’t always find what I wanted.

Even so, I suggest you bookmark openclipart and make it your first source for clipart.


Tools: openclipart
Description: free clip art
License: public domain
Alternatives: many others
Rating: very useful

Desktop Publishing with LibreOffice Draw – a school “newspaper” template

 I frequently use LibreOffice Draw for desktop publishing as I previously blogged about here.  I think this makes me unusual  since Scribus is the more-powerful, better-known open-source DTP tool.   But,  for one- or two-page items printed on a school/home printer, I find Scribus a little bit of over-kill.   (I’m not bashing Scribus!  I plan on leaning it better and reviewing it later.)

Anyway, I decided to contribute to the commons with a “newspaper” template for newsletters.  As an exercise in open-source discipline, I strictly used only open or free fonts and graphics.

iconAlthough I used LibreOffice Draw to create the template, it should work flawlessly in OpenOffice Draw (but I have not tested it.)

Although I’m pretty good with LO Draw, it still was a learning experience.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was that if one uses the “Styles” feature, every element (headline, subhead, body text) must to be in its own frame.  (frames can be joined)  I tend to do this, anyway, so it’s no big deal but this could be a deal-breaker for some.

You can preview the Newspaper Template with this PDF file.

I am keeping the file at Archive dot org since they get a lot more traffic than my site.

Here is the Newsletter Template page.   Here is a direct link to the zip file (will all fonts).

 

 

 

 

RSS & Atom – the little engines that could

rss - logo RSS and Atom are ways to distribute your information into the digital world.  They are a file format (rather than software program) and are something like a simple word processing document.

You’ve probably noticed the little orange logo which sprung up all over the Internet without much fanfare.  You’ve probably never clicked on it, either. (RSS and Atom are almost the same thing and I will just call them both RSS.)

But don’t be fooled – this little tool works very well and can greatly simplify your professional communication.

The beauty of RSS is its simplicity –  it is basically a list of your documents, ready to be used by RSS readers, web browsers, embedded in web sites, read on phone apps, etc.

Just a little technical background:

RSS is commonly called “Real Simple Syndication”  and is yet another use of XML which has become the standard for most of the documents you use these days. (including what you are reading right now.) Atom is so similar to RSS that it usually makes no difference to the user.

You can think of XML as  the core content of a document to which specific styles are added later.  Because it’s the information without all the fonts, margins, colors, etc.   An XML file can be used on a wide variety of readers – from your big screen TV all the way down to your phone.

Using XML,  RSS takes your blog, podcasts, news releases, text messages, or similar and collects them into a simple list that can be used lots of different ways.

This solves the problem of everybody having a different kind of device.  RSS allows you to write in one place while allowing your audience to read it on the device of their choice.

RSS files can be inserted into many web sites and applications.

You need two tools to use RSS:  one to create the RSS fed and another to read it.   There are almost endless choices for both.    Many programs automatically create RSS feeds including WordPress, the software this blog uses.

I’ll review the two that I use most.

Blogger.com  – easy way to create an RSS feed rss - bloggerlogo

Blogger is a Google blogging site which automatically generates an Atom feed from  your blog entry.   Conveniently,  Blogger lets you create blog entries from the web,  email, your phone and dedicated programs like Windows Live Writer.

My school district makes it hassle to update the library web site, so I  inserted  an RSS feed on the main pages and now I can update the library web site from Blogger.com.   It is so much easier for me now!

rss - feed windFeedwind – add an RSS feed to your web site

Feedwind allows you to make a RSS “widget” to insert into you web page or blog.   You can customize the size and colors to match your blog.   You only need to be comfortable with pasting HTML code into your blog or web site.

Here is an RSS feed of this blog:



The above feed will update even as this page stays the same.

This is only the tip of the iceberg for what you can do with with this under-appreciated technology.

Tool: RSS and Atom
Description: a strategy for distributing information
License: effectively open source
Alternative: email, social networking
Rating: very useful

Make Beliefs Comix – easy digital story telling

mbc - logoDigital storytelling is harder than it seems but Make Beliefs Comix  makes it about as easy as possible.

The site provides you with a bunch of “clip art” characters and backgrounds and lets you add your own dialogue. It requires no sign-in and allows you to print your comic or email it to yourself.

mbc - comixThe site is oriented towards classroom use and provide teacher’s guides, lesson plans and ESL tools.

The best part is the instant gratification.  The students can quickly assemble a well-draw comic strip with an easy learning curve.  I could imagine this being the first stop in a longer lesson plan on visual story telling.

As a bonus, the site also offers a number of classroom printables by the same artist.

While the pre-defined tools may not allow for highly personal storytelling, it could be a very mbc - screen shotuseful tool for teaching the concept of storytelling through comics.

Tool: Make Beliefs Comix
Description: easy to use digital story telling tool
License: open-ethos
Alternative: many others
Rating: very useful