How to Open .ODT OpenOffice Files in Word

Google Docs Upload

OpenOffice is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace as a cost-cutting measure for IT departments that want to eliminate the expense of maintaining Microsoft OFfice licenses. This financial savings doesn’t come without a few potential quirks. For instance, if you use Microsoft Office on your home computer, the default file format used by OpenOffice, .ODT, is not compatible with Microsoft Word prior to Word 2007. This goes the other way too, if you happen to use OpenOffice when you bring your work home and Microsoft Office in a corporate setting.

One solution to opening .ODT files in Word is to upgrade your older version of the app to Word 2007 or Word 2010. I realize this isn’t cost effective and may not be in the budget, but it’s the solution that automatically makes .ODT files accessible in Word natively.

Unless your work prohibits changing the file format, one easy long term solution is to configure OpenOffice to save Microsoft Word compatible files. To make this a permanent change in OpenOffice, go to Tools > Options, then choose Load/Save > General. In the lower right corner of the screen you should see a dropdown menu that allows you to Always Save As. For maximum compatibility, choose Microsoft Word 97/2000/XP, which will save files with the .DOC extension.

Obviously changing the way OpenOffice saves files in the future won’t solve your problem if you have a .ODT file you need to edit in Word right now.

There are three ways you can open a .ODT file in Word with relative ease. Two involve downloading some additional software and one requires a free Google account.

Open the ODT File in Google Docs

Google Docs UploadIf you prefer to avoid installing any additional software on your computer, the best solution for opening an .ODT file in Word is to convert the .ODT file to .DOC using Google Docs. After you sign in to Google Docs, click the upload button, browse to the .ODT file on your computer and import it to Google Docs.

You will want to convert the OpenOffice ODT to the Google Docs format as you upload with settings similar to the screenshot below.

Convert OpenOffice ODT to Google Docs

After you import the file to Google Docs, you can download a Microsoft Word compatible file by going to File > Download as > Word in the Google Docs editing interface. Once you download a Word file from Google Docs, open the file in Word and edit it just like you would any other .DOC file.

Intalling the ODF Add-in for Microsoft Office

The Open Document Format (ODF) is what OpenOffice uses when it creates files. Typically these files are either .ODT, .ODS, or .ODP extensions, depending on whether they are a document, spreadsheet, or presentation. The ODF Add-in for Microsoft Office allows these files to be recognized by Microsoft Office applications. In the case of .ODT files, this plug-in makes it easy for you to open a .ODT file in Microsoft Word. The ODF Add-in can be downloaded from SourceForge, where it is available for free. Look for the file named OdfAddInForOfficeSetup-en_4.0.5309.exe on the page if you are looking for the English language version. After you install the Add-in, you should be able to open .ODT files in Word.

Installing OpenOffice

Another free option is to install OpenOffice on the computer where you currently have Microsoft Office installed. OpenOffice is free, so this is another affordable option. After installing OpenOffice, you can either opt to edit the .ODT file directly in OpenOffice or save the file as a Microsoft Word .DOC file so you can edit it in Word. If you’d prefer to work in Microsoft Word, first open the .ODT file in OpenOffice, save it as a .DOC file, then open the new .DOC file in Word. I know that sounds a little convoluted, but installing OpenOffice is one of the more obvious ways to work with OpenOffice files on your computer.

There are probably additional ways you can convert .ODT files to make them work with Microsoft Office, but keep in mind that other than installing the ODF Add-in, there is no way to natively open .ODT files in Microsoft Word.

Enhance Any Video Project with Adorage Effects Package 13

Adorage 13

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of proDAD. All opinions are 100% mine.

At LockerGnome we take a fairly punk rock approach to videos. We largely avoid title effects in video. We rarely use effects and transitions; if you’re lucky we might perform some jump-cut edits. That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate video editing and effects. There are many videos that benefit greatly when effects are applied or image enhancement technologies are used.

On the occasions when I add effects to my videos, I frequently turn to the proDAD Adorage effects for Windows video editing applications. Sony Vegas and Avid Studio, two apps I frequently use for editing, include a handful of effects, but they never seem to have exactly what I need. Adorage offers a significantly largely library that works with most of the major video editing applications, including Premiere, Grass Valley, Corel, and of course the apps I already mentioned.

Adorage 13Adorage Effects Package 13 builds on the past success of proDAD effects. By using HD-quality animations, effects, and transparent overlays, Adorage allows you to enhance the story you are telling with video by adding creative transitions. It’s also handy if you want to create a Web TV show with higher level of production, because you can easily do many of the things major studio productions do for a fraction of the price.

As an example, imagine you are creating a narrative about your recent trip to the mountains. You shot a bunch of scenery, you got some close-ups of nature, and you were even lucky enough to get footage of a bear catching a fish in a nearby stream without being eaten. Back at home, you want to put together a video that tells the story of your adventure.

You could take the LockerGnome approach and simply combine the hours of footage you have into one long stream of video, complete with the time your camera slipped from your hand and the moment the camera pointed skyward as you slipped down a hill. You could do some minor edits and simply include each segment one-after-the-other. Or you could add a light effect when you transition from a wide shot to that amazing visual of the sun rising over the mountain. You could add a book frame transition when you move between the wide shot of the foothills to a close-up of the deer you saw off the trail. And you apply yet another effect to illustrate the significance of your close encounter with the bear. Tight editing will also help make this great, but adding those effects is like apply proper punctuation to your sentences; people will notice that you care about telling a great story.

Adorage effects aren’t just for sharing travel narratives. The package includes romantic clips for sharing weddings and special occasions. Holiday images are included for most of the festive seasons throughout the year. Family-fun effects are included for making creative videos with kids. Birthdays are another occasion that benefit from Adorage effects. And there are dozens of general purpose clips that could apply to virtually any occasion when they help advance your story.

Adorage 13 effects collage

Adorage Effects Package 13 is available for immediate purchase and download from proDAD. You can request a free trial to test out some of the effects before you buy. For a limited time, you can get the package at a special introductory price of $79.

Going Paperless with the Canon DR-C125 Desktop Scanner

Canon DR-C125

This is a sponsored post written on behalf of Canon; the opinions represented are 100% my own.

Almost two years ago, I began my first sustained effort to go paperless. Since then, I’ve scanned thousands of pages of receipts, documents, and other details that no longer need to exist in paper form. Along the way I’ve tested at least ten different scanners, in part to share the best ones with readers.

There are two important components to going paperless. You need a digital repository you can trust and you need reliable scanning equipment. My personal digital repository is Evernote, which I’ve talked about in the past. For scanning, you need a sheetfed scanner capable of scanning both sides of a page simultaneously, while automatically feeding in a stack of paper. OCR software is also nice to have if you use the free version of Evernote or simply want to be able to search the contents of the PDF files created from your paper documents.

Canon DR-C125The most recent scanner to visit my desk is the Canon DR-C125, which is a workhorse sheetfed scanner, with the added bonus of being compatible with both Evernote and Google Docs. Canon includes a number of pre-configured profiles to simplify scanning. OCR software is also included, which makes your PDF files fully searchable.

Configuring Evernote support for the Canon DR-C125 was a snap. The install disk included an Evernote plugin for the CaptureOn Touch utility, which allowed me to automatically choose Evernote as a destination for the scanned documents. Google Docs support wasn’t included on the install disk in the particular unit I tested, but the download is readily available on the Canon support site. Integration with both Evernote and Google Docs worked seamlessly.

Canon DR-C125 and Evernote

When you work with as many scanned pages as I have, you start to notice the quirks in the process where you can get slowed down. Paper jams are the most likely frustration, particularly if you feed in several very thin sheets like store receipts. The Canon DR-C125 handled receipts better than any other sheetfed scanner I’ve tried; not a single receipt caused a paper jam. Standard 8.5×11 pages also flowed through with ease.

Another area where scanning can be tricky is in properly orienting the scanned image. While you can always go back and correct the scanned PDF later, it’s far faster to have the scanning software automatically detect which direction a page should face for reading. The Canon DR-C125 combined with the ImageFormula CaptureOn Touch software had a 98% success rate in the 100 pages I tested. 98 of them were oriented correctly, 2 were not. One of the two pages I scanned had lots of graphics, so it’s possible the software couldn’t identify the orientation in that case.

The only place I ran into trouble with the Canon DR-C125 was in scanning in some printed awards I received. They were printed on paper that’s probably at least 65lb stock, rather than the standard 20lb paper I normally print to. These thick pages wouldn’t feed through the scanner. Other slightly thicker paper materials, like Ticketmaster tickets fed through just fine.

While this is a sponsored post, the Canon DR-C125 is one of two scanners I’m willing to recommend as being viable for any quest to achieve a paperless office. Even if you don’t use Evernote, you can easily scan files to a cloud shared folder like Dropbox or Box.net, making it easy to have a cloud backup of your PDFs. Canon further allows you to scan to any application that supports scanning. The ease in handling receipts was refreshing, as the DR-C125 seems to jam less frequently than the Fujitsu ScanSnap I’ve used for the past two years.

I also tested the Canon P-215, which is a portable scanner. I’m reasonably impressed with the P-215 as well. Google Docs support was included on the Canon P-215 software disk, which saved me a trip to the Canon website during testing. Here again, Evernote support is included as a default. While the P-215 doesn’t scan pages as quickly as the DR-C125 it also takes up far less space, so for business travel it’s a clear winner.

Recent initiatives to eliminate paper statements at major billers like power companies, banks, and telecommunications firms are making a significant dent in my personal quest to reduce paper. Even with digital billing, a scanner is still vital in my office. On average, I still acquire about 200 new pages per month. Having a scanner like the Canon DR-C125 or the Canon P-215 on my desk will likely remain an important component of my office for years to come.

New Cloud Solutions and ExpertOne Certifications Announced at HP Discover

Day two of HP Discover in Vienna features a number of new features around HP CloudSystem, including build related enhancements in the form of integrated bursting, integration of data center infrastructure technology and high-performance communications networks, security reference architecture, and three CloudSystem certifications in the ExpertOne program.

I had a chance to speak with Steve Dietch, HP Vice President of Marketing, Cloud Solutions & Infrastructure about the company’s take on how these changes impact HP customers and partners. You can see that interview below.

While these announcements are largely incremental enhancements to HP’s cloud strategy, they represent an important maturation of the cloud market.

The majority of my deployment experience lies in using public cloud architectures like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace Cloud, where you provision services and scale up and down easily based on needs. It’s been hard for me to get my head around why I’d ever want to be limited by owning physical hardware like HP CloudSystem Matrix, simply because I want the elasticity of a public cloud solution like AWS. I realize there are plenty of scenarios where regulations or specific company needs make public cloud infrastructure as a service an important option; I just haven’t found a need for them in any of the use cases I deploy.

New Cloud Solutions and ExpertOne Certifications Announced at HP DiscoverToday, HP is taking some of that argument off the table by providing direct integration with Savvis for a burstable configuration right out of the gate. CloudSystem now offers bursting out of the box, so that you can configure resources on CloudSystem in your private cloud environment, with a tie-in to Savvis that makes it easy to quickly scale up when you need additional resources on demand. For Web applications, this means you could deploy locally and burst to Savvis when you suddenly find your app featured in every major tech publication on the planet. Or if you write political news and get featured by Drudge, your server won’t melt if you deployed in your own cloud configuration.

Just don’t plan on using the CloudSystem resources on Savvis permanently. There’s no way to deploy an application on Savvis CloudSystem and then bring it back in house when you increase permanent resources in your own facility. The Savvis resources are purely intended for temporary increases in traffic that will then be destroyed later.

On the security front, HP Cloud Protection Program, which provides a foundation reference architecture, strategy, roadmap, design, and implementation services, is a necessary step in helping define security best practices in hybrid cloud environments across people, processes, policies, and technologies. We’re still in somewhat uncharted territory here. Nobody has really solved the security challenges presented by most end-users maintaining multiple profiles across a variety of cloud services and the potential for data to leak between those services. We’re also still in the early stages of identifying how to make sure various cloud technologies maintain the same levels of security we’ve come to expect in more traditional networking environments. By providing a reference architecture, HP is sharing knowledge with the community at large in order to simplify the process of identifying appropriate security procedures for organizations.

The new CloudSystem certifications, HP ASE Cloud Architect, HP ASE Cloud Integrator, and HP ASE Master Cloud Integrator are a step toward validating the qualifications required to fully understand cloud solution deployment. While it’s too early to know if these certifications will become hiring requirements at potential employers, they certainly help set expectations around the skill sets people will be expected to maintain when working with a potential cloud solution provider.

Mission-Critical Innovation Award Winners

Pink Roccade Healthcare

Outside the Imperial Hotel in Vienna, an Austrian police escort lined the sidewalks waiting for a foreign dignitary to be whisked away by car. Inside, just past the lobby, finalists for the 2011 Mission-Critical Innovation Awards, presented by HP and Intel, enjoyed Austrian wine and appetizers while listening to a string quartet. While the police were busy protecting against a world changing event, the technologists inside were being recognized for attempting to change the technology world.

As food and drink continued to flow in the room, Martin Fink, Hewlett-Packard SVP and GM of Business Critical Systems, presided over the presentation of awards. Companies were recognized in the four categories of Mission Critical Data, Converged Data Centre, Humanitarian/Environmental Impact, and Best New Application.

Mission-Critical Data was the first award category presented, recognizing database, data warehousing, or line-of-business solutions that takes advantage Itanium-based platforms. The finalists included CMC Limited, Flughafen Wien, and Gravic. CMC Limited was nominated for development of BOLT, a new online trading infrastructure for the Bombay Stock Exchange. Flughafen Wien, the airport operator for the Vienna International Airport, developed a new infrastructure around SAP and database application performance for 24×7 system availability. Gravic, the category winner, provided a major overhaul of the data center architecture for a major Canadian bank.

Gravic - Winner Mission-Critical Data

Converged Data Centre was next up in the awards recognizing efforts at modernizing mission-critical computing environments with Itanium-based systems, Xeon-based servers, or utilizing blade servers for mission-critical computing. Finalists for the Converged Data Centre category included Steelcase, RI-Solution, and PinkRoccade Healthcare. Steelcase was a finalist for utilizing Converged Infrastructure to boost performance to applications, optimize utilization of resources, and reduce the number of Oracle licenses required for applications. RI-Solutions received a nomination for overhauling one of the most complex SAP/DB2 installations in the world at BayWa Group. Category winner PinkRoccade Healthcare uses HP Converged Infrastructure to provide application hosting out of its data center that allows it to handle end-to-end solutions for hospitals, HMOs, clinics, and other healthcare service providers in the Netherlands.

Pink Roccade Healthcare

Humanitarian / Environmental Impact looked at organizations using Itanium-based systems to make a positive impact on society or the environment. Category finalists included Enagas, Purvis Systems, and University Hospitals. Enagas, Spain’s gas management company, was recognized for its Green Datacenter project. Purvis Systems was recognized for migrating the Fire Department of New York City’s computer assisted emergency dispatch to a newer Itanium-based server infrastructure and OpenVMS. Cleveland-based University Hospitals was the winner in this category with an online storage and disaster recovery site of redundant systems to eliminate downtime and improve patient care in the radiology department.

University Hospitals

Best New Application recognized new applications that use Itanium-based systems to fulfill industry needs. Finalist in the Best New Application category included EnterpriseDB, Lusis, and Secure64. EnterpriseDB, which I featured in a video, was recognized for providing an enterprise alternative database solution using Itanium and HP-UX, while also offering a migration path from Oracle to PostgreSQL. Lusis delivered a solution to replace BASE24 Classic for BankservAfrica of South Africa. Category winner Secure64 was selected as the winner in this category for providing a DNS caching solution with a high level of security, availability, and performance.

Secure64

One of the things I found most interesting about this award program was the opportunity to hear about the projects being recognized. When a company has a problem, its dirty laundry is frequently aired in the news, but we virtually never hear about the successes they have in solving challenging IT problems. While the projects featured in the Mission-Critical Innovation Awards all focused around the fact that Itanium-based servers were at the core of the project, there’s a certain amount of inspiration that comes from knowing companies are solving real problems, rather than hearing from the hardware manufacturers about hypothetical use cases.

Black Friday Starts Today with Software Deals from Wondershare

Every year I make it my personal mission to scour the Internet for the best Black Friday deals on software. I’m sure I don’t find every deal, but I generally surface the Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers with the most significant savings. In some cases I find a deal significantly better than anything else, but this year I think I have what may be the best bargain I’ve ever encountered.

Black Friday is coming early this year thanks to the folks at Wondershare. Starting today you can get 12 different Wondershare titles for $9.99 each, which in some cases translates to 75% off. As a bonus, two Wondershare titles are completely free. If you see a product you like, but don’t see it discounted below, you can still save 40% on all Wondershare Products with coupon code: WOND-CHW4-QFCD.

After Microsoft effectively killed its Photo Story app with the various iterations of the Windows Live products, nothing really filled in the gap. Some of the features are baked into Windows Live Movie Maker, but it’s just not the same. Wondershare DVD Slideshow Builder fills in that gap, offering a great way to combine photos, custom effects and transitions, and your favorite music into an excellent slide presentation.

The freebie for Mac users is Wondershare iCollage for Mac. Using the app you can combine multiple photos, template designs, and photographic effects to create artistic works from your iPhoto library. Share your creations by printing them or you can upload to Flickr and Facebook to digitally scrapbook with your social networks.

The $9.99 software deals are available for both Windows and Mac users, solving a broad range of computing challenges. iTunBack, the iTunes backup utility is one of many handy solutions included at the discounted pricing. If you have a DVD collection, DVD to iPad Converter will come in handy for making your movies playable wherever you may be. If you’ve ever lost a photo due to accidental deletion or a mistakenly wiped memory card, Photo Recovery is a good tool to keep on hand. If you want to reformat your PDF files to work with EPUB-compatible readers, the PDF to EPUB converter is a must have.

Video Converter Platinum, which converts virtually any video format to any other format, is the final bonus in the package. If you download videos from the Web and own an iPhone or iPad, you really shouldn’t be without a comprehensive video converter. From AVCHD to RMVB, if you’ve got a video file, you can convert it to the format you need. With NVIDIA CUDA technology, conversion happens even faster.

Wondershare is also doing something interesting with the rest of its product catalog. Although it didn’t discount everything down to $9.99, many titles are available at substantial discounts when you pick your own price on the apps. While you aren’t guaranteed to get the price you suggest, you will definitely get a better deal than full retail on every other app in the product catalog. Give it a shot; I know I was able to reduce some of the prices by close to 50% when I was testing before I wrote this.

Wondershare is giving us a full two weeks to celebrate Black Friday. The $9.99 pricing on each of these apps starts today, November 22, along with being able to name your price on other apps. The party continues through December 7. Grab the free software today and bundle it with one of these holiday bargains before the weeks slip away.

Free Decide.com App Helps You Know when to Buy Electronics

When I’m shopping for consumer electronics, I usually have one of two motivations. I’m either looking for the best solution to an immediate problem or I’ve done some careful research to determine my next long term purchase. In the first case, I’m typically in a hurry and just need good information about the gadget I’m about to purchase. In the second scenario, I like knowing whether or not I’m getting the best possible deal. The new Decide.com app for iPhone and iPod touch helps make better choices for both of these types of purchases.

Here’s a recent example where I needed to make a smart choice in a hurry. About a month ago, I was traveling and forgot to pack an external hard drive. I recorded about 250 GB of video and ran out of room on my computer’s hard drive to back it all up, in part because I already had too much video stored on my drive. This is an easy enough problem to solve; hard drives are available at stores like Office Depot, Staples, and Best Buy in every major US city.

Free Decide.com App Helps You Know when to Buy ElectronicsAt the store, things become more confusing. Even though I’m in a hurry, I still want to buy a hard drive that solves my immediate problem and also provides a viable solution for the future. The row of hard drives routinely leaves me confused, because pricing for storage is all over the map. The next time I need to make a similar rushed purchase decision, the new Decide.com app will make my life easier. Instead of walking into the store and facing a sea of confusing choices, I can launch the app, scan an item or two, and arrive at the one or two options that offer me the best bang for my buck. The app helps guarantee you are getting the best product with a comparable feature set at the best price by providing both pricing comparison data and version information.

Those longer term purchase decisions are where using the Decide.com app can make a bigger difference. I buy new camcorders almost every year. When you log as many recording hours as I do, it becomes a necessity. I tend to plan my purchase around a combination of new product releases and the cyclical sales that happen in the camcorder market, but keeping track of all that becomes complicated. Most of the time, I try and check Amazon and Best Buy periodically to see if the camcorder I’ve been eyeballing had a recent price drop, which is a fairly unscientific approach. With the Decide.com app, I can scan the price at at the store to see if the model is a good deal, if someone else has a better deal, if there’s a newer model, or if I’d be better off waiting for another day.

As much as I love the instant gratification of taking home a new gadget, getting a great price on that gadget is more important. After you download and install the app, Decide.com becomes your one-click gadget purchasing conscience. When you’re at Best Buy (or wherever you shop for gadgets), on the verge of purchasing that new HDTV, cellphone, or virtually anything else in the store, open the app. Scan the Best Buy QR code or scan the bar code on the item. The app will instantly tell you whether the item you scanned is a smart purchase by pointing out recent pricing trends and whether or not there is a better model at a cheaper price. At the moment, the Decide.com app is iOS only, but you can still get a similar benefit on Android or Windows Phone 7 by going to Decide.com and typing in the bar code number in your smart phone’s browser.

To further entice you to try out the free Decide.com app, the company is currently giving away a $5,000 American Express gift card. All you need to do to is install the Decide.com app on your iPhone or iPod touch, then take a screenshot of any part of the Decide.com app and email it to the company. Full details on how to qualify for the giveaway are available on the Decide blog.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, this is the perfect time of year to validate whether or not those advertised prices are actually better than the price you could get any other day. As we all know, going to the store for the marked-down item doesn’t always mean that’s the item you will take home. Using the Decide.com app can help you make sure the item you buy is really the best deal for the features you want. Download the Decide.com app and arm yourself with money-saving holiday shopping information.

Pre-Ordering Gadgets of the Future on Kickstarter

CableKeeps for iPad and iPhone

Would you buy a product before it actually exists? That’s essentially what Amazon asks us to do each time a new Kindle is announced. We see a prototype with a list of features paired with the promise of an amazing e-Reader. Apple does the same thing with the iPad, soliciting pre-orders before you can see one in the Apple Store. But Amazon and Apple are public companies. We know who they are. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs (and now Tim Cook) receive the kind of media coverage normally reserved for elite athletes.

What if the product is a passion project envisioned by a guy who already works 60 hours a week for someone else? Or maybe it’s a gadget created by a high school kid. Maybe the creator is the genius behind products by an Apple or Microsoft, who now wants to birth something of his own. Would you pre-order products made by a veritable unknown before Best Buy works out a distribution deal?

Kickstarter allows you pre-order exactly this type of product. Many great inventions never make it past a working prototype because the creator can’t find a market. Kickstarter provides the market while the product is still being refined. You get the opportunity to pre-order the dream of a creative genius.

Granted, not every Kickstarter project is genius. There are some that probably shouldn’t ever get funding. Much like venture capitalists who invest in startups, buying into a product concept prior to launch is a leap of faith. But just like venture capital, if you identify the passion someone has for their project with the aid of videos and product descriptions available on Kickstarter, you have a fair degree of confidence the people you are funding will deliver. One big difference between Kickstarter and investing is that the creator retains 100% of the idea on Kickstarter while an investor typically gets a percentage of the company. If the project doesn’t meet the funding goal, you aren’t out any money, so your risk is lower.

On Wednesday night, Chris and I helped put together what I think was the first live event celebrating Seattle-based Kickstarter projects. It was a small gathering of about 25 people who came to meet the makers of four gadgets focused around the iPad and iPhone. Steve Isaac, co-creator of the TouchFire, which I will talk more about below, deserves most of the credit for pulling the event together. We showcased four local gadget makers exemplifying the best of what Kickstarter has to offer in terms of quality ideas seeking funding.

TouchFire iPad Keyboard First up was the TouchFire keyboard for iPad, created by Steve Isaac and Brad Melmon. The genius of the TouchFire is its simplicity. Unlike the dozens of mushy-keyed add-on cases that bulk up the iPad and turn it into an underpowered notebook, TouchFire is a small overlay that adds tactile feel to the iOS onscreen keyboard. You get bigger keys as a result, because the onscreen keys tend to be larger than external counterparts, which translates to faster typing. Most important, TouchFire can be stored with your iPad case or iPad 2 Smart Cover, without increasing the bulk. I was admittedly skeptical about TouchFire before seeing it in person, but the design is truly genius. Apple should ship TouchFire with every Smart Cover. You can find out more about TouchFire at Kickstarter.

Romo iPhone Robot The second project we looked at on Wednesday was Romo, a robot body with brains provided by an iPhone. Romo interfaces with the iPhone to utilize the camera, to move, and can even be extended if you are capable of programming. Romo is definitely a geeky toy in its current stage, but I see potential for it to further extend the usefulness of the iPhone as the creators iterate. There’s opportunity for software updates through the iTunes App Store and I’m sure the creators have some additional features in the works. Romo still has a few days of funding left, so you should definitely take a look on Kickstarter.

CableKeeps for iPad and iPhoneFinally we heard from the guy behind PadPivot, which is one of the most versatile iPad stands I’ve ever seen. It fits the curve of your leg, swivels for comfort, can rest on a desktop with your iPad in portrait or landscape mode, and fold down and fit in a pants pocket. Describing the PadPivot doesn’t do it justice. Jim Young, creator of PadPivot, was the only person in the room to have successfully launched two projects on Kickstarter. His second project, CableKeeps, is a unique way to store and transport your iPhone or iPad charging cable. Both projects are now in production and available for purchase outside of Kickstarter.

What all four inventors who presented have in common is passion. They love their work and it shows. They all had that same kind of proud parent excitement you see when someone describes their baby taking her first steps. In other words, when you fund projects made by these folks, you’re genuinely helping them realize their dreams.

Have you ever funded a Kickstarter project? Would you pre-order a product to help the creator make the project happen or do you stick to products you can see on the shelf?

Google+ Wants You to Get More Spam

It’s long been known that using a scraper to look for [username]@[domain] on Web pages is a known harvesting technique for spammers. Phishing attacks have taken to using valid email addresses for more targeted attacks as well. That’s why you see people doing clever tricks like displaying their email address as an image, embedding mailto links as Flash actions, or writing out addresses long form like ‘jake at jakeludington dot com’. Spam is an annoyance that is only made worse when you publicly share your address. Phishing attacks are often looking for a way to more easily compromise the network. Spammers and phishers who want to reach valid email addresses must be licking their chops at the latest Google+ author validation technique.

On Thursday, Google offered to simplify the process for proving you are the author of content on your site. In the past, you needed to add some custom HTML code to your site and follow some steps that tie your Google+ profile to your writing. All you need to do is add your work email address (which must be the same domain name as the site where your content is authored) to your Google+ profile page and change the visibility of your email address from “Only you” to “Everyone on the Web.” Make sure your email address also displays on the page where your content is authored. Click a Verify link and you can confirm that you are who you say you are.

I like the simplicity of the idea here. It’s the execution that is a mess. By forcing authors to make their email address public on their Google Profile, it makes it easy for spammers to harvest those valid email addresses.

Granted, if the author already made their email address public on the site where they publish, they have exposed themselves to spam. But making the email address public allows email harvesters to draw relationships between email addresses they previously captured and real people. Many companies are looking for solutions to lock down their email exposure, not give the bad guys a better attack vector.

Google definitely needs to make it easier for authors to verify content relationships. I’m not entirely sure why there can’t be a tie-in to existing domain verification processes in Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. Allowing the Webmaster Tools account holder to add a list of valid authors seems like a no-brainer to me. If email is the best solution they can come up with, at the very least, Google should allow authors to keep those email addresses private in their profile. In the meantime, it looks like Google+ wants you to get more spam.

Go Hands-Free on Your Mac with Dragon Dictate 2.5

Dragon Dictate

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Nuance. All opinions are 100% mine.

I use the Dragon Dictation feature on my myTouch 4G phone almost daily and I’ve used Dragon NaturallySpeaking on Windows for years. Speaking to my computer gives my hands a break from typing the 10,000-20,000 words I normally tap out over the course of a day. Until recently, I hadn’t tried Dragon Dictate on my Mac, but like the other Dragon products I’ve come to rely on, Dragon Dictate 2.5 works great too.

Dragon DictateAfter going through the introductory process of training Dragon Dictate to my voice, which took about five or six minutes, I was converting speech to text on my Mac in a matter of minutes. One key addition to Dragon Dictate 2.5 is the ability to both talk and type in Microsoft Word 2011. There are also a bunch of Word specific voice commands.

The ability to navigate Mac OS X with voice commands gives the operating system a very Star Trek-like feel. I can almost imagine myself as Captain Picard saying, “Computer, open GarageBand.” Maybe Picard never said that, but if the Enterprise had been designed by Steve Jobs, I’m sure he would have.

For those of us who use social media daily, Dragon Dictate 2.5 added Facebook and Twitter voice commands. You can post to Facebook or post to Twitter by selecting dictated text and simply saying ‘Post to Facebook’ or ‘Post to Twitter’ which can definitely save time over switching windows and typing or copying and pasting.

One of the coolest features of Dragon Dictate 2.5 (and Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5) is the Dragon Remote Microphone app for iPhone users. With a Wi-Fi connection and the Dragon software installed on your desktop computer, you can talk to your iPhone and have the voice transmission sent directly to your Mac. As I indicated earlier, I’m an Android user, so I’m out of luck for right now, but for the millions who do have an iPhone, this feature seems invaluable. Talking to my phone definitely feels more natural than using a microphone connected to my computer.

If you are looking for a way to type less and still be productive, Dragon Dictate will definitely get the job done on your Mac.

Remote IT Monitoring Can Reduce Support Costs

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of GoToManage. All opinions are 100% mine.

Many of us who work in IT start out with the goal of solving interesting technology problems only to wind up mired in operations sustainability. Sometimes this is because there simply aren’t enough people to do all the work. More often it’s because IT becomes increasingly complex over time making support the full time IT function.

Think about that perfect configuration where everything works smoothly. I can remember times in my past where IT operations felt like they were fully optimized. Next thing you know, the CEO wants to launch a new project, which is a brilliant idea, aside from the fact that it requires a completely different infrastructure.

A single one-off project turns into twenty or one hundred and suddenly you’ve got a complex maintenance schedule on top of what was initially a neatly crafted infrastructure. As time slips away, the emergency issues become the only ones getting attention. The people in the company who scream the loudest or are most likely to get you fired get their problem fixed. Your IT team starts living for days off instead of recommending solutions.

One of the big challenges in IT is moving from this reactive approach to support to being proactive. Identifying problems before they become a crisis helps recapture some of that lost time, because maintenance becomes more predictable. If you can achieve predictability, some of that time spent on maintenance can be shifted back to being innovative, which both helps with employee retention and makes IT more than just a cost center the COO would like to eliminate.

Effective monitoring tools are one solution that helps IT teams be more proactive. By analyzing workstations, servers, and peripherals on the network, it becomes easier to see problems when they are still small, instead of waiting until a major catastrophe forces you to leap into action. Finding the right monitoring tools can be an expensive proposition, because very few solutions have visibility into every aspect of your network, so you start piling on multiple monitoring solutions and end up with too much noise to track.

GoToManage from Citrix is one of the more interesting remote monitoring solutions I’ve encountered. It’s priced so that small business can manage a fairly large infrastructure without going broke. If you’re an enterprise operation, they offer custom solutions specific to your needs. To start monitoring, you simply install a network monitor on a single computer, which then scans all the parameters you set and reports back with information about servers, workstations, and peripherals on your network. Almost anything with an IP address canbe monitored.

You can see when workstations start running low on disk space. Network printers can report a paper jam and out-of-paper conditions. You can more easily see why that guy who always calls in with a computer crash is having the problem. Instead of trying to fix things once they are broken, GoToManage allows you to gather information and prevent problems.

By operating in a preventative mode, you don’t get the interruptions to the IT team that come when everything is on fire all the time. This lowers task switching costs for IT team members, which makes them more productive and allows things to happen on a more predictable schedule. I’m not suggesting GoToManage is a panacea, but the monitoring features certainly make tracking resource performance viable. It also includes remote assistance and unattended support features, so you can quickly access the resources that need support, without making a trip to someone’s desk to solve the problem, which can further reduce the time required to provide support.

I know one of the best things I’ve found about providing proactive support is the improved relationship with other people in the company. Instead of having people curse the IT department on a regular basis, they start appreciating the fact that they aren’t having problems. For most people in your company, the best IT is the kind they don’t have to think about. By monitoring information and preventing problems before they happen, you can achieve this kind of invisibility.

You can give the resource monitoring in GoToManage a try free for 45 days by entering the promo code: PIRILLO45 when you sign up for the trial.

A Response to “A Magazine is an iPad That Does Not Work”

There’s a video making the rounds of a baby unsuccessfully attempting to make paper magazines react to her touch the way the iPad reacts (embedded at the end of this article). The premise, as laid out by Jean-Louis Constanza, the baby’s father, is that “The video shows how magazines are now useless and impossible to understand, for digital natives. It shows real life clip of a 1-year old, growing among touch screens and print. And how the latter becomes irrelevant.” Unfortunately dad is doing his baby a disservice in suggesting a magazine is impossible to understand.

Jean-Louis Constanza, is correct in saying, “Technology codes our minds, changes our OS.” But he’s mistaken in thinking we are rewired to the point of rendering older technologies useless. If anything, new technology expands our options, not limits them. If advancement of technology truly made older gadgets obsolete, no one would be able to pound a nail with a hammer anymore. We’d all require a nail gun instead. Cooking wouldn’t happen over an open flame, or even on a stove top; we’d only heat our food with microwaves.

I learned to heat food in a microwave before I ever cooked food over the open flame of a campfire. As a superior technology, the microwave should have precluded my ability to learn to cook over flames, if new technologies make older ones impossible to understand. I submit we learn how to apply the right technology to the situation at hand, not fail to comprehend the technology because it is a fundamentally different way to accomplish something. Babies magnify this innate ability to adapt because they have fewer life experiences for reference points.

Babies learn by trying things. When a baby identifies something that works in one context, she will try to apply that same action to other contexts to see what the result is. This isn’t a failing in design of one thing over another; it’s how we start to process the world around us and identify which actions work with which objects. Eventually the baby will have a category of actions that work in specific situations. As she encounters new things, she will evaluate them, contextualized by those earlier experiences.

My daughter turned one the same week the iPad started shipping. We didn’t get an iPad right away, so she was about 14 months old when she first used an iPad. She already had experience with both iPhone and Android phones by then, but nothing in a tablet form factor. She took to the interactivity of the iPad quite quickly.

With the iPad in her world, my daughter tested every other screen in the house in a search of touch capability. Our HDTV screen and computer screens were disappointing at first, because they didn’t react to touch. She quickly discovered that stuff happened on the computer screen when she pushed keyboard buttons and moved the mouse. It wasn’t long before we’d find her changing songs in iTunes, without needing the ability to touch the screen. The computer wasn’t irrelevant because it lacked a touch screen; it just functioned differently.

She also had books, toys, and other physical objects that are theoretically inferior to the interactivity of the iPad. At about two-and-a-half years old now, my daughter generally prefers drawing on paper with crayons to drawing on a virtual sketchpad app. Print books get plenty of attention, despite having interactive alternatives on the iPad. She hasn’t lost interest in the iPad; it still gets daily attention. But it’s important to keep in mind that advancement of technology doesn’t necessarily render the previous version obsolete.

Early SourceForge Developer Tim Perdue Passes Away

When Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple a few weeks ago, story after story read like the obituary of a life-changing visionary. There is no question the leadership of Steve Jobs changed personal computing and consumer electronics forever. Still, he remains with us – so we may not have seen Steve Jobs’ last creation.

Many lesser-known technologists have made important contributions to this world while operating in relative obscurity. One of those people, Tim Perdue, succumbed to cancer on 16 September 2011. Unless you were actively reading Slashdot in the early 2000s, or participating in software version control discussions, you’ve likely never heard of Tim. That said, there’s a stellar chance you’ve benefitted from one of his coded contributions.

Tim Perdue was part of the team of four developers who originally created SourceForge. You have probably downloaded software from SourceForge’s vast repository without realizing; VLC Player, Audacity, and VirtualDub are just three examples of applications available for download from SourceForge that made my computing experience better. The master stroke of SourceForge, however, wasn’t the ability to download software (lots of places made that easy). SourceForge was a place that made creating, sharing, and distributing open source software and code easier.

For those who develop open source software as part of a collaborative team, SourceForge was a paradigm shift. SourceForge made it possible to integrate version control, track bugs, collaborate with people remotely, get access to database resources, and increase the probability of attracting other developers to your project. The 300,000 projects on SourceForge today certainly have Tim to thank on some significant level for helping create a collaborative community which continues to foster software development.

Tim was also one of the first people to make a good real world performance comparison between MySQL and Postgres. I’m not sure the specifics of his comparison are still relevant, but it was certainly controversial at the time (because SourceForge was operating at a much higher transaction volume than most web database projects running on the LAMP stack).

As the goals of SourceForge changed over time, Tim Perdue created a fork of the original code to continue empowering developers to create great software. This new effort, dubbed GForge, powers developer communities like RubyForge and CakeForge. It integrates with version control solutions (like git) and provides enterprise features (like integration with Microsoft Visual Studio).

Tim Perdue is an Iowan (like Chris Pirillo and myself). Tim also happened to attend the University of Northen Iowa at the same time Chris was there, and their brief encounters always centered around the discussion of technology.

I believe it’s fair to say that at 37 years old – a year younger than I am as I write this – Tim left our world at too young of an age.

How to Add Handwritten Notes to Evernote from Android

Evernote has an awesome ability to recognize handwritten text. Sometimes it takes a while for it to convert handwritten notes, but unless you write something completely illegible, it will eventually convert your text. A number of iPhone and iPad apps take advantage of this feature and make it easy to get notes written with your finger into Evernote. For those of us who use Android devices, the number of Evernote compatible handwriting apps is fairly lacking. The Android handwriting apps that actually work well make up an even smaller list.
I tried EverPaint, which natively adds handwritten notes to Evernote, but it suffers from being a paint application just like many of the other so-called handwriting apps. What I mean by that is, EverPaint offers a free form space where you can create any shape with your finger and some of those shapes might happen to look like letters. The next best app I found was PenSupremacy, which is another open pen application with the ability to share your drawing images with other applications, like Evernote. In both cases, the text you write takes up most of the screen quickly and it’s hard to create useful notes of more than a few words as a result. Both are functional solutions, but don’t quite cut it. A bunch of other apps also allow you to create and save images with a pen, which could then be emailed to Evernote, but I wasn’t impressed by those either.
evernote handwriting androidSo far, the best app I have tried in the Android handwritten note space is Handrite. The big difference is in implementation. When you write a word in Handrite, it takes the image of that word and shrinks the size and moves it to the top left corner of your screen. When you write a second word, that second word gets moved next to the first word, followed by a third and fourth word, and so on. You can use a built in return key to move to a new line. If you have a hard time writing words with letters in a straight line, Handrite offers a guide to make them easier, much like the lined paper used by grade school classes to teach kids to write.
When you’re all done creating your note, you can share the image to Evernote, which allows you to create a note in Evernote, add a title, include some additional text, add tags, and do all the things you’d normally do in creating a new note in Evernote. Handrite is available in both a free advertising-supported version (which is the version I’m currently using) or for $2.95 without ads. Whichever version you choose, Handrite is by far the best handwriting solution I’ve found for Android, after trying at least 12 different apps. You can see it in action in the video below.

How 10gen’s NoSQL MongoDB is Different Than SQL

I’m part of several different discussion groups where people talk about the tools they use for various projects. One of the questions that’s cropping up more frequently among several of the groups is when using a NoSQL solution makes sense as an alternative to a traditional SQL database like MySQL or Postgres. Like many technology solutions, there’s plenty of disagreement, with relational database fans arguing that you should almost never use a NoSQL solution unless you are planning to store as much data as Facebook.

The group discussions in my world are only the tip of this debatable iceberg. Jeremy Zawodny, who happens to be the author of the original author of High Performance MySQL from O’Reilly, recently wrote a well reasoned post in defense of NoSQL. Jeremy cites built-in features of MongoDB like sharding and replica sets as attractive tools even if you aren’t working with massive amounts of data. His post was responding to Bob Warfield’s claim that NoSQL is a premature optimization.

Who is right? It’s hard to draw a line in the sand and say that anyone with less than N terabytes or Y petabytes should use relational databases. As Zawodny points out in his piece, sometimes there are features that make a compelling solution to your particular problem, even if other factors don’t immediately point to one database over another.

At OSCON 2011, I’ve been talking to a number of people about NoSQL to see if we can get closer to helping people make a more informed choice that isn’t rooted in a holy war. In the video that follows, I talk to Nosh Petigara, 10gen’s Director of Product Strategy, about features of MongoDB, how scaling MongoDB is different than scaling a relational database, and why you might want to use MongoDB at the beginning of your project instead of porting your data after you’ve achieved scale.

LockerGnome coverage of OSCON is sponsored by HP