Bootstrap – a template for mobile-friendly websites

jjffjj_bootstrap_logo80% of Internet users have a smart phone, so your web sites simply must be mobile-compatible. Thanks to Twitter’s free Bootstrap template, this is now easy. Bootstrap has quickly become the most used template for mobile websites.jjffjj_bootstrap_screenshot

With Bootstrap the same web page adjusts itself to look good on full-size computers screens, laptops, tablets, phones, etc. Think of it as a “one size fits all” web page.

Bootstrap comes in all levels of complexity but it does require some basic HTML skills. There are many variants, so you can start with a simple blank page or a fully designed one. Bootstrap is also well-documented and has good tutorials.

Additionally: Google provides a very useful Mobile-Friendly Test site to see how your page looks on a phone and will give suggestions for improving. While Bootstrap is pretty amazing, it still may take some adjusting. Another good test site is here.

Bottom line: a great template if you are comfortable with a little coding.


Tool: Bootstrap
Description: Mobile-friendly template for websites.
License: MIT
Alternatives: WordPress, others.
Usefulness: very

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

imgur — image hosting, no account needed

imjur - logoI use Flicker and Photobucket for most of my picture hosting but, sometimes, you just want to quickly upload a photo and link to it.   imgur is perfect for this.

imgur lets you upload photos from your computer or cross-load an image from another web site.  Best of all, there is no sign-in or cost.  I was delighted to see that imgur clearly keeps the copyright with the originator of the photo. Too many sites claim copyright to all their users’ data which is a deal-breaker for me.

imjur - screenshotimgur conveniently provides links to your file for many situations, including all the main social media sites, but I like that I can link directly to the photo, no hassles involved.

The only downside I’m aware of is that photos may be deleted if they go unviewed for more than six months.  For many of my uses, like email newsletters, this is no problem since the document is meant for a single use.

If you need to quickly upload a picture with no hassles or cost, imgur could be a highly useful service.

Tool: imgur
Description: free picture hosting site with no registration
License: open-ethos
Alternatives: Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, other
Rating: very useful

Dinky page – free web pages, no account required

  SAD TO SAY, Dinky page is no longer running.

Dinky page proDinkypage - logovides you with a place to create web pages without registration or any personal information. The pages don’t expire and have very few restrictions.  And, Dinky page is completely free.

What’s the catch?  Ads, both on the top and the bottom of your page.  Worse, their is no guarantee that your will be suitable for a younger audience.

But, if your audience can tolerate ads, Dinky page is an excellent resource.

Dinkypage - main screenDinky page is very basic —  I could not get any plug-ins or “gadgets” to work properly even though the website says it can handle Javascript/Flash. But Dinky page provides most of the “Web 1.0” features you’ll need and probably more if you had the patience to get it to work.  You can create and link multiple pages to create a whole web site.  Graphics and photos will need to be hosted on Flikr, imjur or similar.

It has a “paste Word” button which seems like a very useful feature for Word users who understand that not everybody owns Word.

I can think of a couple of uses for Dinky page, the first being a place to host any anonymous web page.  If there are times where you don’t want to associate a site with either your personal or professional life, Dinky page provides that place. In this era where students constantly Google your name, that is a valuable service.

The second is as an HTML sandbox.  If you are teaching a course in basic web page authoring, it’s a time saver to have a site where the students don’t need to register or sign-in.

So, if you can tolerate advertisements, Dinky page could be very useful for you.

Tool: Dinky page
Description: a free (but ad-driven) web site hosting service that requires on account
License: open ethos
Alternative: Google sites, many others
Rating: very useful

WriteType – kids’ word processor with spelling assist

WriteType_logoWriteType is a simple word processor for younger children which scaffolds students in spelling.

It is available for Linux and Windows. The Windows program can be installed on flash drive or a LAN location. It comes in Spanish and other languages.

The best part of the program is what it does not have — feature bloat. It has just fifteen icon options but they are the ones young writers need — bold, italic, center, print, save, etc. Younger students should find it visually appealing.

WriteType_screenshotSpelling assist
Rather than distracting auto-complete it guesses a list of possible words on the right side of the screen. Students can insert the word with a function key. Although spelling assist is now common in word processors, there is debate on whether this hurts or helps spelling ability.  This feature can not be turned-off.

Text-to-speach
You may want to turn-off the text-to-speech buttons (which can easily be done) since it would be distracting in a classroom and I’m not sure how it assists typing. The voice is artificial-sounding (on my computer, anyway), so it probably isn’t very helpful for English learners. However it might be very useful for sight-impaired students.

Unusual file format
Rather than use the standard ODF file format, WriteType creates an HTTP document but with a .wtd extension. I’m normally critical of non-standard file formats but using a unique file extension allows young children to click on a file icon and automatically load WriteType rather than a web browser . The files can be easily exported (or renamed) as an HTML file which then makes this a rare child-friendly web authoring program.

Bottom line: this is the best (younger) kids word processor I’ve seen so far.


Tool: WriteType 1.3
Description: a children’s word processor with spelling assist.
License: GNU (free and open source)
Alternative: ooo4kids
Rating: very useful

 

 

Educational Technology Clearing House – art and photos for schools

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Educational Technology Clearing House provides clip art, stock photos, presentation art and maps, all organized around educational themes. The organization is especially useful, allowing teachers to browse according to subject.

Most of the clip-art (“ClipArt ETC“) is similar to what you find in the famous Dover books/CDs.  In my youth, during the Golden Age of Photocopying, I had great fun with Dover but I don’t see kids using it much these days. Even so, ClipArt ETC attractive and potentially useful.

 

 

 

 

 

The “ClipPix ETC” section  is organized into twenty different categories and is very high quality although, I suspect, most students would have better luck finding exactly what they want on Wikimedia.

Presentations ETC is potentially the most useful, providing 20,000 different items for themes/backgrounds/buttons/letters/etc. The themes I looked at were very attractive and imported nicely into LibreOffice Impress. I didn’t test them but they also have themes for the Mac-based Keynote program.

If, like me, you prefer to build your own themes, the site also provides some very nice backgrounds and buttons.

Unfortunately, most of the designed are very corporate-looking, perhaps better for teachers than students. One would have hoped that an educational site would have lots of youthful designs.

The least useful is probably the map collection (“Maps ETC“)  since most are old but they are organized nicely, should you need an old map.

This service is provided by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, part of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. The license for students and teachers is clearly stated on the front page, typically limited 25 or 50 items per project.


Tool: Educational Technology Clearing House
Description: Well-organized photos, clip art, presentation graphics and maps
License: free with quantity limitations
Alternatives: Wikimedia, Flickr
Rating: useful

FileZilla – move files on the Internet

Recommending FileZilla is like recommending the best best laundry detergent. It’s nothing to get excited about.

There are several other options but almost everybody I know uses FileZilla because it’s free and it works.

More importantly, you should learn how to use FTP. (File Transfer Protocol)

There are sites and programs that shield you from FTP but most are not open-source. FTP is how you move files on the Internet and it’s just a basic skill you should know.*

Knowing FTP opens up all kinds of open-source options. For example, knowing FTP let’s you use the very popular WordPress, which is what I’m using for this blog.

As for FileZilla — there is not much to say. It has two panes (your local computer and remote folder) and you drag files from one place to the other. The hardest part is getting the original address/password correct but once that is done, it can be stored in Filezilla and you won’t have to do it again.

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Tool:

FileZilla

Portable Windows

Description: allows you to move files between your local computer to somewhere on the Internet. Multi-platform.

License: GNU/GPL (open-source)

Alternatives: use your web-browser or the “remote folder” feature in your OS.

Rating: very useful

 

* This is a pet peeve of mine. I have friends and relatives who have spent years avoiding learning how to manage files on their computer. A couple hours of learning twenty years ago would have saved them endless frustration and lost files since then.