Community Media – free, cloud publishing

Archive dot is now a great way to publish your eBooks.

You probably know as a repository for live music or their Wayback Machine. also has a community media section where you can upload your eBook. It is an easy, open way to publish your students’ ‘zines, eBooks or student newspaper. One of the best features is that it allows you to embed your document in your website without advertisements.

For most people, the simplest way is to upload a PDF/Acrobat file of their ebook. I prefer the Comic Book Archive format and that works as well.

The only downside I can think of is that has NSFW (or school) content. But, if your ebook is embedded on your own site, your students needn’t visit or even be aware that it exists.


Tool: Community Media

Description: repository for self-published eBook

License: Creative Commons

Alternatives: Google Drive, Scribd, others

Usefulness: very

Pixabay – free graphics and photos with no restrictions

Pixabay-logo.svgNothing beats free and Pixabay offers pictures and graphics with the CC0 license which is the least restrictive license possible. Simply put: take the image and forget about it.

Pixabay_screenshotBest yet, these are good quality images.   Pixabay has almost 300,000 images which can be found with Google.

Pixabay does not require attribution although I always require my students to credit their sources even when they are public domain. Pixabay does not require sign-in although they limit your downloads to medium size.  The site comes in Spanish as well as number of other languages.

colored-pencils-168392_1280This is a fantastic site.   My only minor quibble is that they also include Shutterstock photos which are not free. This might be confusing for some students.

If your students need pictures for their projects, Pixabay is a fantastic resource.


Resource: Pixabay

Description:  Thousands of high quality pictures and graphics with no licensing restrictions.

License CC0/no restrictions

Alternatives: Wikimedia Commons

Rating: highly useful

WPS Office – the best free office suite you probably haven’t heard of

I hadn’t heard of the freeware WPS Office but it has millions of users worldwide. It was started over 25 years ago as a DOS program by Kingsoft. This long history shows in its polished interface.
WPS Office looks vaguely like Microsoft Office but is more comparable to Libre/OpenOffice in its features. Power users will keep using MS Office but, for many users, WPS Office has more than enough features.

“WPS” stands for Writer, Presentation and Spreadsheet. It doesn’t have a database, desktop publishing, note-taking or other modules included in MS Office or even OpenOffice. This is not necessarily a bad thing if you only use the main three modules in MS Office.

WPS Office is highly cross-platform with implementations for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android. The Linux version worked flawlessly for me but was less impressive on the iPad.  It claims to have collaborative and cloud features which I didn’t test.  There is also a pro-version but the free version is not crippled.

WPS Office offers templates and product support within a document window of WPS Office. You don’t need to web browse to separate page to find templates. Some people may find this intrusive but I expect more products to start doing this.
I like how WPS Office handles style sheets. Styles can be modified directly from the side panel without having to burrow down through menus. It is also very easy to switch between print view mode and web view mode which is useful if you are writing for both.

I was disappointed that WPS Office doesn’t support the Open Document standard but many people will be glad that it can use Microsoft formats by default.
WPS Office’s native format uses a *.wps extension (confusingly, the same as MS Works.) If you want to test compatibility I’ve exported an original .wps document to:  PDF  .doc and .docx  (right click to download)

I probably won’t switch from OpenOffice/LibreOffice since I use the draw module more than anything else and WPS Office has only the three modules. That being said, the Writer module of WPS Office handled frames well which is the core feature of desktop publishing. Also, as a matter of principle, I favor open source tools rather than just freeware.

Bottom line: good free suite if you often work with MS Office documents.

Tool: WPS Office
Description: three-component freeware office suite
License: open ethos (freeware)
Alternatives: LibreOffice, OpenOffice, Abiword, Google Docs
Usefulness: very

Laverna – encrypted note taking with no registration.

Laverna_logoLaverna is another encrypted note taking program, similar to ProtectedtText which I reviewed in September.    While not a feature powerhouse, Laverna has more formatting options than ProtectedText.   It also has the security advantage of storing your files on your own computer, if you are worried about your files being stored on the ProtectedText servers.
Laverna files can also be stored in DropBox which is convenient but a concern if you are worried about the NSA or other high-level snoops who collect this kind of data.  However, it’s good if you are worried about privacy at work, since your files are stored off-site.  In any case, your files are powerfully encrypted and (supposedly!) not accessible even by the NSA.
Laverna_Screenshot   Laverna requires no registration and is very easy to set-up if you store your files locally on your computer.   Storing your files on DropBox involves a somewhat complex set-up.  You need to create a DropBox “app” for Laverna which is a little geeky but worked flawlessly for me.
I’m not sure which program is more secure but Laverna is much better for formatted text since it supports basic word processor features  (bold, italic, images, etc).   ProtectedText is simply text.
Even if you don’t use Laverna or ProtectedText, you should use something like it.  Hackers and snoops are a real problem and “cloud” office suites give you no protection from them.  Both programs automatically encrypt your notes while remaining easy to use.
Bottom line:  While a little difficult to set-up, Laverna is worth the effort if you want a secure note-taking program.  (and you should want it!)

Tool: Laverna
Description: free encrypted note taking, with no registration
License: OpenSource (GNU GPL v.3)
Alternatives:  ProtectedText
Rating: useful

Protected Text – free, secure note taking in the cloud.

ProtectedText_logoProtectedText does one thing:  encrypted text.  

If you need to share or collaborate securely with parents or co-workers, it doesn’t come easier than ProtectedText.

Recent news stories reveal that our “cloud” data is not secure and, best I can tell, this would include Google Docs.  ProtextedText does not require any sign-in our accounts — and no advertising — solving all kinds of other issues.

Creating a new document could not be more simple: just create a URL and start typing.  As in:[AnyFileNameGoesHere]

Be aware that ProtectedText has two levels of security, both important.  The first is the name of your URL.  The longer and more obscure your file name, the more secure.
will be much more secure than:

The second level of security, of course, is the length of your password.

If you are worried about serious hackers, make both very long.  But, if you are just worried about snoopy students or other amateurs, something memorable is fine.

ProtectedText has the age-old problem of single-key encryption: you must somehow give your collaborator the file name and password.   Obviously, if you do this on the Internet, you compromise your security.    The best strategy is to hand it personally to them on a piece of paper.

A deal breaker for some will be that ProtectedText is just text.  Nothing more — not even font formatting or links.

Geeky tech stuff:   Best I can tell, ProtectedText is genuinely secure.  (It’s not NSA-proof, however.  For that, you’ll want something like PGP.)   It is secure because the encryption is done with JavaScript  locally on your own computer before it is sent to ProtectedText‘s servers.  When it is sent, it’s done with HTTPS, giving you another layer of security. So, if you create a long file name and password, it should be quite secure.  I use LastPass for storing my passwords but I would consider PotectedText if I had a short list of passwords since it seems to use the same technology. You might have noticed my “should be” language.  These days, I am never feel totally safe on-line but it is worth trying to stay ahead of the snoops and thieves.

In summary:  If you need to send a secure message or collaborative document. it doesn’t get easier than ProtectedText.

Tool: ProtectedText
Description: free, online, encrypted note taking, with no registration
License: OpenEthos
Rating: useful

TheTor Browser Bundle — Anonymous Web Browsing

JJFFJJ_tor_logoEncryption isn’t just for hackers and Edward Snowden — it’s for anyone who values their privacy. A threat to your privacy could come from almost anywhere — a snoopy roommate, an angry student, an ex-spouse, not to mention the standard rogue gallery of identity thieves, spammers, aggressive marketers, and NSA data vacuumers.

tbb-screenshot3 At work, the single most effective privacy strategy is to use your own laptop for personal activity. If it is Linux with an encrypted disk, even better because it is not likely that your boss will be able to install spying software on it. Your IT department can (and probably does!) still track your Internet activity even with your own computer… unless you use TOR.

The TOR web browser bundle is untraceable by either your Internet service provider (or work) or by the web site you visit.

TOR stands for “The Onion Router” (as in multiple layers) but is usually just called Tor. The Tor browser bundle is a combination of the anonymity networking software (aka Tor) and the Firefox browser.

htw2Simply put, Tor adds some extra “jumps” between you and the website you are viewing. The guys in the IT department can know the first place you are connected to but not the site you are actually viewing.

Tor works flawlessly, for me, but is a limited Internet experience. Plug-ins like Flash, RealPlayer and Quicktime reveal your identity and are not installed. This includes YouTube which may be a deal-breaker for many people.

When you go to Facebook or Amazon, it has no idea who you are and requires sign-in every time. When you exit TOR, all cookies and browsing history is erased. So, when you log-on again, it’s like your first time connection to the Internet, again. (This is the point of anonymity!) Some sites may think you are from another country which may cause problems (like country-specific shopping sites)

If you sign-in somewhere, you reveal your identity to that site but your IT department is still blind to your activity.

So, yes, there is some hassle using Tor but is your privacy worth it? Only you can make that call.

Tool: Tor Browser bundle
Description: tools for anonymous web browsing.
License: various but free.
Alternatives: Freenet, Personal VPNProxy Service
Rating: very useful

Add to Search Bar – steer your students to the right sources

jjffjj_addtosearchbar_logoAdd To Search Bar allows you to create customized search engines for the Firefox browser.

Like every school librarian, I am constantly steering my students to reliable sources and they are constantly finding their way back to Google.  Add To Search Bar is a powerful tool to steer them back to good sources.

Add To Search Bar is a Firefox plug-in that allows you to move a website’s search feature to the Firefox’s search bar.

jjffjj_addtosearchbar_screenFor example, I am a big fan of so I created a search bar for searching only  I also read the bible a lot, so I added one for

In my library, I have a couple of dedicated library catalog computers and Add To Search Bar allows me to set the search bar for our library catalog. I also have a research computer and I have set that search bar to WorldBook online (which we subscribe to).  This is extremely useful for steering students to the appropriate resource.

jjffjj_addtosearchbar_manageOnce you have created a customized search bar engine, you’ll want to make it the default search engine.  This is easily done through the “manage search engine” menu.

Tool: Add to Search Bar
Description: Firefox plug-in that creates custom search engines
License: open ethos
Alternative: none that I know of
Rating: very useful

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


Shutterborg – free, easy web-based word processor

logoShutterborg works so well I just needed to review it  even though I’m not sure how to use it.
It is simple a “cloud” word processor that requires no sign-in or account.   It creates a PDF, Word Doc or HTML file all which are useful for printing.
Unfortunately, Shutterborg does not save your document in the cloud so it is mostly just useful for single-session writing.
jjffjj_shutterborg_screenshotShutterborg‘s  most intriguing feature is that it allows you load a file from a web page.  For example, you can load a Wikipedia article and edit it as a word processor document.   Again — it works very well but I’m not sure of how this might be used.
Shutterborg does have some advertising on the initial screen but, otherwise, it is distraction-free writing.

Tool:  Shutterborg
Description:  Free “cloud” word processor
License: Open Ethos
Alternatives: many
Rating: potentially useful