When You Just Want To Write

I’ve got to admit right up front.  I’ve never been a fan of Microsoft Word, the feature rich wordprocessor.  Perhaps all of the features that it has are needed by some but surely not by me.  I’ve never had cause to use all the bells and whistles and probably never will.  It’s not that I’m against paying for productivity.  Years ago, I bought Sprint from Borland and it was my mainstay until the Ministry of Education licensed WordPerfect.  Both were very powerful and did the job.  Publishing to paper was never terribly exciting – publishing to the web and writing for it is.

I was thinking about writing habits and, these days, I use Evernote or Google Docs for my regular writing and notetaking.  I don’t suspect that I’m alone with this.  There is a real fascination of using Microsoft’s web offering, SkyDrive which certainly has a great deal of power to it.  I’m also cognizant of screen space and the ribbon just uses too much of it for my liking.

Even the layout kind of muddies things for me.  Easily distracted, when I’m using this, not only do I want to find what I want to do but I also want to find what else I can do!

A while back, @aforgrave introduced me to Ommwriter.  Advertised as minimalist, it’s just takes over your screen so that you can do your writing.  Nothing else.  To that end, it doesn’t compare with the functionality of a full blown wordprocessor but for my needs, it doesn’t need to.  It’s just a quiet place to writer.

Following up on the notion of doing things in a browser, I went looking to see if there was now a browser version.  Unfortunately, not.  But, I did find a very interesting application.  It’s called Writebox.  It pushes the concept of minimalist for me.  It installs as a Chrome application or you can use it through the web.

Of course, it has a title bar.  What would an application be if it didn’t?

There’s not much there to steal screen real estate or to distract you (or your students) when you open it in your browser.  But, start keyboarding and it gets better.  That titlebar just fades away and you have a blank page to do your writing.  No distractions whatsoever.  OK, I lied.  I’ve used computers long enough that NOT having a title bar was a distraction that I had to get used to.

There’s no Save button but there is a Sync button.  When you decide to Sync, you have two options.  Sync to your Dropbox account or to your Google Drive.  It’s very simple and straight forward.  I know that there are times when I want to take a few notes on one computer and access them on another.  Google Drive is perfect for that; and now so is Dropbox.

Just write (with no distractions) and sync and you’re done.  How’s that for minimalist?



An Essential Web Tool

Tagging on to my thoughts yesterday about life in a browser, there still is a nasty gotcha when working with files.  You’ve got this great file and you’re going to do something with it but it’s the wrong size or the wrong format or …

What to do?  What to do?  Actually, if you have enough tools installed on your computer, you might be OK.   But…

If that’s a problem you have to endure, then you need to check out CloudConvert.  I was drawn to explore by its tagline “convert anything to anything”.  Who wouldn’t want a service like that?  Off I went to check it out.

The site claims to support 123 formats and I was impressed immediately by a support for “ebook”!  The format page gives a complete listing.

How to use it?  It’s really easy.

Step 1:  Give CloudConvert your file.

I was impressed that I didn’t have to “drop the file here” like on so many other resources.  Just drop it on the page.  I slid my browser to the left, grabbed a file and dragged it to the page.  Step 1 done.

The file was a .jpg file.  I decided to give it an easy test.  Please make it a .gif file.

Step 2:

Step 3:

Give me the converted file.

What a great set of options!  I’ve used services like this in the past and mailing the converted file typically is the only option.  Since I would probably import the file into a document or a presentation, sending it to Google Drive makes a great deal of sense.

This utility is definitely a keeper.  Whether you’re using standalone applications or working in a browser, dealing with file formats is a common task.  They may well be your answer!

Biggest Takeaway from the Google Summit

I spent the weekend in Kitchener attending the Ontario Google Summit.  The neat thing about good professional learning events, in addition to the actual learning, is the chance to renew old friendships and to make some new ones.  Of course, when you head to Waterloo Region, there are plenty of people to meet again and to see what they’re currently doing.  It was also a wonderful opportunity to meet people that I interact with online.  Two notables are @sylviaduckworth and @cordym.

It was also an opportunity to meet new software developers.  I spent considerable time with @SrinivasSuraj.  He has a new educational startup called Planboard.  It’s a free online lesson planning tool for educators already populated with expectations from the Ontario Curriculum.  We kicked the tires on it for a while and it looks like it has definite possibilities.  The service is open, free, and waiting for people to sign up.  You might want to check it out…I feel a blog post coming on!

The biggest Google takeaway for me was actually a reminder that I could be working smarter with Google Drive.  After a while, I just seem to get used to certain routines and ignore others.

For me, it was the ability to connect to, and use effectively, Apps connected to Google Drive.

I’ve connected some in the past and used them but they’ve sort of fallen into neglect.  My big takeaway will be to remember and get back into the effective use of Apps.  There’s so much functionality that I’m missing.  Must remember.

I need to close with a big shoutout to Mark Carbone and the Waterloo Region IT team.  We held the summit at Eastwood Collegiate Institute and there were over 524 attendees plus exhibitors and presenters all connected wirelessly to the school network.  Of course, nobody ever just shows up with one device…  Way to go team.

The complete list of shared resources from the summit is located here.

Signing Off

There’s nothing like learning something new and I had it happen to me on the weekend.  My newest teacher, Sharon, needed me to sign off on something and forwarded me a PDF file to sign.

Sigh, I thought.  I was in the mobile office here at dougpete labs.  It has a relaxing chair and a television in it.

So, in the worst Web 1.0 thinking, I figured that I’d have to get up, go to dougpete labs on the other side of the house, send the PDF file to my printer (hope that I have ink in it), sign it, and then fax it in.

But, Sharon said that the easiest way would be to use HelloSign.


Well, she obviously knows what she’s talking about so off I go to download the HelloSign app for my iPad.  There also is an Android version.

This, my friends, opened a whole new world for me.  I launched the application and saw the option to import a document.  In fact, I could import from email or Google Drive.  Could it be this easy?  It turns out that it is.  Once the document is in HelloSign, you have these options for adding new content.

How sweet is this?

I have the option of writing (using my finger), typing, inserting a check mark, or inserting the date.

So, you doctor the document and a Send button at the top right of the screen attaches the document to an email message ready for sending.  The biggest time taker in the whole process was waiting for the application to download.

This is definitely a utility that I’ll hang on to.  Until now, when I stumbled upon a PDF file, it has always meant moving to a traditional computer with a traditional application.  Now, I can do it from mobile?  Again, sweet.

As it turns out, HelloSign also had a website offering even more functionality like team members, creating reusable documents, etc.

And I have my teacher Sharon, to thank for all of this.  Thank you so much, Sharon.

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