Dropbox – share and collaborate

Funky monkeys

Talking earlier on Twitter, I was asked how I use Dropbox for work.  This is how I do it, and although it may not answer the questions, it certainly works for me!

  • I have Dropbox set up on my home and work laptops.
  • I have a few folders at work set up with SyncToy (thanks to @iteachyear4 for the tip)
  • I have shared a number of folders with staff – meaning every file that I save into those shared folders, automatically gets shared with them.

Put this into a school context, if you have a folder on your school server that has your school planning in, it can be synced with a shared folder within Dropbox that is shared with every teacher in the school/team. As long as every teacher has Dropbox installed on their laptops, they can open, amend and save those files.

This way, you won’t need a separate Dropbox account for work and personal, you can use the same one.

Grrr… How to use bitly.pro step-by-step

bitly.pro home page

So there I was, shrinking another URL in bit.ly and I saw a mention of bitly.pro.  I had seen it a while back, but then it disappeared, and there it was again.  It wasn’t an easy process as I am not yet a fully certified web geek, but with some help and that dreaded word ‘patience’ I made it through.  Before I go into a step-by-step guide, you may be wondering why on earth I need a short URL.  Well in short (sorry!) I don’t really, but I do like a challenge.  The official reasons behind having one are:

  • Every time you copy a URL, it will be shortened, but instead of bit.ly/xxx appearing it will be (in my case) chrisr.at/xxx
  • You get a real-time view of how your links are being spread across twitter/facebook etc.

Here is the step-by-step guide…

1. Go to bitly.pro and sign up to get an account.  If it is still there, it is by invitation, so you may require some patience (if you are holding a ‘patience’ sweep stake, this is number 2!).

2. In the mean time, there is nothing stopping you getting your own vanity, sorry I mean short URL.  I used the extremely easy-to-use domainr. Head over, type in a keyword such as your web address and it will suggest available short URLs and even better, the places where you can go and register them with. My preferred web host is GoDaddy they are very reliable, and you can get 10% off with this link!

Head to domainr for bitly pro

3. Once you have done that, and you have got our invite from Bitly.pro, you are ready to go.  And here is where you need to have some patience.  I didn’t do the above in the order I recommended.  I got the invite, then registered, and one thing I have found is that online, nothing is quick!  Next step is to head back into Bitly.pro.  In there, you will be given instructions on how to verify your accounts. It looks a bit like this:

Bitlypro A record info

Now, here to the first of the warnings.  Ensure you change the record of the short URL, not your own website URL – it is almost as if I don’t need to mention it(!).

Head into your short URL domain records and amend the A Record to 168.143.174.97.  When you have finished, it should look something like this:

Setting up A Record for bitly.proThe important thing is that you need to make sure that you set the A Record to @ and then put the IP address in. Otherwise it just doesn’t work.

4. Next you will be asked to verify your tracking domain.  For me that was chrisrat.com.  To do this, you have three options.  To put a chunk of html into  your home page (difficult with a blog), download an html file and upload it so that it is available in your public directory, and the third was to do with the CNAME (although I can’t remember the last one as I did the html file…

So, download the html file to your hard drive.  And this next bit is important.  The file is in a zip…unpack the zip before you upload it again. Inside the zip file is the html that you need plus the readme.  Once  you have unpacked it, then upload it into your website/blog as part of the public_html section. It can’t be within a folder, it must be the html file on it’s own.

5. Go back into bitly.pro and click on ‘verify’. If you have done everything you need to (and have had the patience to wait between actions so that the interwebs catch up), it should verify pretty quickly.

6. Sorry, but you have to wait again. Once it has been verified, it looks as if  you will be able to shorten the URL’s with your shortened URL at the beginning, but for the first 24 hours, the link will work for some, and not for others.

7. You should now be done. I have to say I got a tad frustrated, and it showed really how impatient I am (plus I have to say thank you to Rex at bitly.pro for his unerring patience with me – but we got there in the end!

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My top lovely desktop apps

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago, called My top lovely web apps which has been the most read of all of my posts since I switched to WordPress. Looking at that, I checked back and looked at Posterous, and the most read posts there were all the how-to’s for Google Wave, Google Alerts and other web apps I was trying out (actually the most read was this one, but we shall forgive it for bucking the trend!)

I then wrote a post yesterday on Evernote, which in a day became the second most read post I have written, and got a stack of feedback on twitter with people saying they were off to download it.  Thinking about it then, and I guess it is pretty obvious, it isn’t the tools you use, it is what you do with them (!) and how exactly they fit into your workflow.  There are some pretty amazing things out there, but if you can’t work out when you will use them, or you don’t force them to become part of your daily working life, they will never really catch on (take Google Wave as an example – an excellent free app, but it hasn’t changed the world overnight).

So, take the Evernote post yesterday as a preview of the next set of posts – I will take a look at a few things that I use on a day-to-day basis, most of which are contained in my shortcut bar:

As you can see – nearly half of the programmes I use most are Microsoft – I do use a PC, so there is no shock there.  There is little point talking about them (in short, they are great for what they are intended for, all have their bugs and foibles, but we live with them). I will talk in more detail though about Mappoint, as I have a rant up my sleeve. The rest do, to a greater or lesser degree, require some thought… Most likely, starting with Dropbox.

Grrr… How I use Evernote

I have been threatening for a while to write a post about Evernote, which is an incredible tool – and free too!  A couple of people recently have also mentioned why they don’t use it and I guess it would be easiest to go through those objections/thoughts to show I use it…

So, first up, when I saw Ian Addison at #TMHants said he didn’t use it because it doesn’t work on his mobile…

Well, the first answer to that is, it doesn’t work on mine either!  I use Evernote pretty much all the time on my laptop.  As far as I know, there are apps for the iPhone/iPad/iPodTouch some Android and a Nokia.

Then, when talking about it on Twitter, Stuart Ridout said:

@chrisrat I can’t seem to get Evernote into my workflow. I’m looking to upgrade @dropbox to hold my iTunes library on all computers.Sat May 22 11:54:53 via Twitter for iPhone

So, it is workflow that is the key, and actually as Evernote can be used from pretty much anywhere, I think that it fits into my workflow pretty well. This is how:

Desktop version

A lot of the problem with free web2 apps is that you aren’t sure how long they will be around for, but as Evernote has a desktop programme, it means that you always have a copy on your machine at all times.  The other great thing about the desktop version is that you can create notes on the fly, in meetings, on the train etc. and then when you do go online it synchronises everything.

Online version

I use this a lot, for many things.  Probably, in fact, more than the desktop version.  Here are the ways I get stuff into Evernote, and then I will end with what is the most useful collaborative function…

Evernote Web clipper

One of the best features of the web clipper is that you can save any web page into evernote with one click.  I use Chrome as my browser, and there is an extension  you can install to capture the site you are on, complete with links, url, date saved etc.

Evernote through Twitter

Slightly underused by me, but could be really quite powerful.  If set up, you can add @myen to any tweet, and that tweet will end up in your evernote account.  When I do use it, it is mainly when I have taken a photo of something that has been sent to twitter that I want to keep somewhere else.

Evernote through email

By far, this is where I get the most use out of Evernote (in terms of getting stuff in) – you have your own email address, that can be shared with colleagues, that you can then send notes into Evernote.  I use it for everything that I need to remember – which seems to be quite a bit at the moment!

Evernote through RSS

How many times do you think, I have seen something, but can’t remember where?  Since I have been using Google Reader, it has happened to me a lot!  I have been using Feed My Inbox to take RSS feeds and turn them into an email that then gets sent into Evernote.

Searching within Evernote

The searching within Evernote is amazing. It can pick up pretty much anything, from text within PDFs to text within photographs. If you take a photo, and import it, you can then search the text on that image.  That could be anything from a recipe, to business card etc.  And, while doing a small amount of research for this, I see that it can be used with eye-fi – which I have just invested in, so I may well be using it more very soon!

What can Evernote hold?

Everything.  I have everything from excel files, to pdfs, to videos and pictures.  I back-up my WordPress to Evernote, and have all of the settings (font/colours) saved to save me thinking about them when I want to play.

Want to know more?

Obviously I have told you everything you need to know and more, but the tutorial videos the Evernote website are some of the best I have seen. Short, punchy, humorous and to the point, they get the message across.

So, I trailed collaboration and sharing. Well, here it is.  I think the share function is incredibly powerful. For example, if we have done a press release, and are getting lots of coverage, I keep the original release, plus the clippings together in Evernote and share that folder. That means that without thinking, people can go to that folder and look at the vast amount of amazing coverage we have had.  At the same time, if I have told people about the email address, then they can be posting new clippings into Evernote.  I have created a shared folder to show you what I mean! It has examples of the RSS, myen, web clippings etc.

My top lovely web apps

Days past, the first thing I would do when I turned the laptop on was to turn on Outlook. Not any more. The first things I do are open Google Chrome, TweetDeck, then Outlook.

Then… before I used Chrome, I would have had iGoogle as my homepage. I spent aged putting all the widgets together, and found it incredibly useful.

Now I use Chrome, iGoogle doesn’t get a look-in.  iGoogle has been replaced by the extension gallery in the top right hand side of my screen – why go to a place where the web is brought to you, when you can carry it around with you wherever you go?!

I have only highlighted a few of them, but they are all lovely in their own special way.

Google Dictionary – amazing. Highlight any word and a definition pops up!

Google Reader – gives a count of the number of unread items in Reader (I’m doing quite well at the moment!).

Remember the Milk – brilliant for telling me what to do!

Delicious – takes you to the site, adds new bookmarks, very regularly used

Bit.ly sidebar – very useful, shortens and tweets automatically. Also, hover over a shortened link and you get the final destination.

Feedly – turns Google Reader into a magazine style view. Really nice UI, and some nice recommendations as well!

Cooliris – allows you to look at images in a different way, especially good for an image search in Google or Flickr

Evernote – my new best-friend. I use it pretty much all the time to permanently save web pages, links, pictures, anything.

Google Wave – Well, I live in hope that it will be used!

There are a couple of other greats that are not shown:

Google Quick Scroll – never click on page 2 ever again!

FastestChrome – highlight any word and it will give you four different search options. Google, Twitter, OneRiot and Wikipedia

Now, all I need is an extension to do my work, and make the tea, and I will be a happy man!

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Grrr…how to get Feedburner working with email subscriptions

I was asked last night how to get people to sign up to RSS feeds by email.  In my view, depending on your audience, this can be a quite powerful feature.  I use Feedburner convert my RSS into an email that is automatically sent out to my subscribers.  The screen-shots below come from an old feed I have, which wasn’t set to email subscriptions.  This isn’t intended to be a guided tour of Feedburner, that would take a very very long time!

Step 1 – I have assumed that you have already set up your feedburner account – if you need to know how to do this, leave a comment and I will come back and do that post later!

Click on the blog you want to add an email option to

It will default to Analyse, so click on Publicize

On the left-hand side, click on Email Subscriptions

Click on Activate

Pretty much there, you are then given code to embed in the website, or a link so people can click to add their emails in

OK – so that is it. As soon as you have embedded the code in your site it should work. On the left hand side you are given plenty of options as to when you want the emails to go out, how you want them to look etc.

Have fun!

Grrr… Look Up Tables

I helped @chris_1974 out recently adding look up tables into an excel document.  I did promise then to do a How-To on it, and here it is.

I have put together a google spreadsheet that goes through it in step-by-step, but here are the instructions!
Step 1 – add names.
Step 2 – Set up the sheet.  In the example I have put in, there are two assessments and one homework. It is always much easier if you know what the sheet needs to look like before you start.  The look-up tables at the bottom are the grades. At this stage we haven’t done any formulae.
Step 3 – Add the data. Once you have your student’s scores in the table, you can add percentages (not important for vlookup, just FYI). Note, I the formula I have put in =C2/$C$9 has two dollar signs.  If you put the dollar signs around the letter of the cell that is going to stay constant, you can drag the formula down to the rest of the cells.
Step 4 – Once the percentages are in, start on the grades.  In the same way as I added dollar signs earlier, they become crucial here.  The formula for the first cell is: =VLOOKUP(C2,$C$12:$D$18,2).  What does this mean?  C2 – is Adam’s score. C12:D18 is the data range we want to look up, and the 2 is the column you want to return in your cell.  Once you have the first cell done, you can copy the formula down to the rest of the cells.  Remember, when you are copying it to the ‘homework’ column, you will need to reset where you want the formula to calculate or it will give you duff results!
That is it!
If there are any other areas that I can help with, shout – more than happy to expand on the above!






How To: Look Up Tables

I helped @chris_1974 out recently adding look up tables into an excel document.  I did promise then to do a How-To on it, and here it is.

I have put together a google spreadsheet that goes through it in step-by-step, but here are the instructions!
Step 1 – add names.
Step 2 – Set up the sheet.  In the example I have put in, there are two assessments and one homework. It is always much easier if you know what the sheet needs to look like before you start.  The look-up tables at the bottom are the grades. At this stage we haven’t done any formulae.
Step 3 – Add the data. Once you have your student’s scores in the table, you can add percentages (not important for vlookup, just FYI). Note, I the formula I have put in =C2/$C$9 has two dollar signs.  If you put the dollar signs around the letter of the cell that is going to stay constant, you can drag the formula down to the rest of the cells.
Step 4 – Once the percentages are in, start on the grades.  In the same way as I added dollar signs earlier, they become crucial here.  The formula for the first cell is: =VLOOKUP(C2,$C$12:$D$18,2).  What does this mean?  C2 – is Adam’s score. C12:D18 is the data range we want to look up, and the 2 is the column you want to return in your cell.  Once you have the first cell done, you can copy the formula down to the rest of the cells.  Remember, when you are copying it to the ‘homework’ column, you will need to reset where you want the formula to calculate or it will give you duff results!
That is it!
If there are any other areas that I can help with, shout – more than happy to expand on the above!






Grrr: Look Up Tables

I helped @chris_1974 out recently adding look up tables into an excel document.  I did promise then to do a How-To on it, and here it is.

I have put together a google spreadsheet that goes through it in step-by-step, but here are the instructions!
Step 1 – add names.
Step 2 – Set up the sheet.  In the example I have put in, there are two assessments and one homework. It is always much easier if you know what the sheet needs to look like before you start.  The look-up tables at the bottom are the grades. At this stage we haven’t done any formulae.
Step 3 – Add the data. Once you have your student’s scores in the table, you can add percentages (not important for vlookup, just FYI). Note, I the formula I have put in =C2/$C$9 has two dollar signs.  If you put the dollar signs around the letter of the cell that is going to stay constant, you can drag the formula down to the rest of the cells.
Step 4 – Once the percentages are in, start on the grades.  In the same way as I added dollar signs earlier, they become crucial here.  The formula for the first cell is: =VLOOKUP(C2,$C$12:$D$18,2).  What does this mean?  C2 – is Adam’s score. C12:D18 is the data range we want to look up, and the 2 is the column you want to return in your cell.  Once you have the first cell done, you can copy the formula down to the rest of the cells.  Remember, when you are copying it to the ‘homework’ column, you will need to reset where you want the formula to calculate or it will give you duff results!
That is it!
If there are any other areas that I can help with, shout – more than happy to expand on the above!