Category Archives: Tools

Quick and Easy Signs

Do you need a sign or placard to announce an upcoming event? You don’t need to hire a graphics designer or spend a lot of money on fancy software. Put your presentation graphics software (PowerPoint for Windows or Keynote for Mac) to work instead.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Creating a sign in Keynote.

Here you see a graphic call for articles sign that was created using Keynote. The photograph was sized to cover then entire slide, then the text was layered on top. Anyone familiar with digital scrapbooking apps will be right at home using either Keynote or PowerPoint to combine text, photos and embellishments to build the sign. You also have the ability to “draw” boxes and other shapes, add shadows, frames and other design elements.

Once your sign is ready, use the program’s export feature to export it as a photo file. Both Keynote and PowerPoint support exporting a single slide from a presentation file. If you look at the sidebar on the left, you’ll see it contains several other slides. These are signs created for other purposes. This one file can also serve as an archive of graphic elements.

The signs you see in this example were all created for use on my society’s web site. I created each sign at a print-level resolution but reduced it to web resolution as part of the export process. If I should later need to print a sign or placard, I can go back to my original and print directly from the presentation file. I’ve also had success sending a presentation file to a print service (our local office supply store) to print my signs in larger sizes. The text scaled up beautifully and the photo quality was quite acceptable.

Look for affordable royalty-free or commercial use graphics and fonts to support your efforts. For example, there’s a Premium Fonts package of more than 1,500 commercial use fonts available in the Mac App Store for $30. Another great font resource is MyFonts.com.

Test drive your presentations software to see how you can combine photos, text and graphic elements to build your own signs. Dig around in the formatting and image-editing commands to discover how versatile these apps can be. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Manage Projects with Wunderlist

Wunderlist is a deceptively simple and easy-to-use task management platform for both personal and collaborative use. You can create any number of lists – grocery list, to-do list, packing list, project list, etc. – which can be private or shared with other Wunderlist users. Lists contain tasks and sub-tasks, each of which can be assigned a deadline date and even assigned to a specific individual. There’s also a notification system which will remind you that a task is due.

When you share a list with other Wunderlist users, it’s then easy to assign individual tasks and sub-tasks to others with access to this list. There’s even a commenting system to keep all members of the team updated on issues related to the list. A just-announced feature allows you to attach files stored in Dropbox to a task, making it possible to perform document reviews and other collaborative tasks. Since the document physically resides at Dropbox, each time a user updates that file, the Wunderlist link is synched with the latest revision.

Wunderlist workspace

Share specific lists with team members so all can see/update tasks, post files and add comments.

Here you see the list for managing an upcoming seminar. Tasks and sub-tasks have been added to the list and now other project team members are being invited to share the list. Once they accept the invitation, their copy of Wunderlist will include this list and automatically update whenever any team member makes changes, adds files or comments. Each team member controls how they receive notifications when the list is updated, plus the members can use the “More” option in the command bar (at bottom of center panel) to email the entire list or just specific items to others.

Use the comments area to ask questions, discuss options or request changes. By keeping everything within the list, you make it easy for each team member to stay up-to-date on all project activity.

How can a society put Wunderlist to work? In addition to planning society events, the publications staff can manage all the tasks and deadlines for newsletters, quarterlies and special publications. It can make keeping up with all the details involved with fund-raising campaigns, membership drives and even special projects much easier by keeping everything in one place. Use a task in the Board list to post the agenda for each board meeting then add subtasks and assign them to the appropriate individual during the meeting. Board members can then set their notifications to send status updates as they are posted. Reminders can be sent if necessary.

Wunderlist offers free, pro and business accounts. The free account limits the number of assigned tasks (25 per list), subtasks (25 per to-do) and background designs (20). Although you attach any number of Dropbox files to your lists, you are limited on the number and size of files attached directly in Wunderlist. In my opinion, using Dropbox is a better option – especially if the attached files will be edited by multiple people. A pro account costs $4.99/month or $49.99/year. Business accounts are also $4.99/month or $49.99/year per user but Wunderlist provides centralized billing along with team management options. Users can access Wunderlist via the Web, desktop apps (Mac, Windows 8 and Chromebook) and mobile apps (iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Windows Phone). All apps are free.

It’s quite possible that free accounts would work well for most societies although having at least one pro account would be even better. You can begin with just free accounts to see how well the tools support your society’s need. I recommend setting the accounts up using the email addresses for each of your society’s positions rather than using personal email accounts. This will make it easier to pass on an account when officers and staff changes take place.

Archival Quality Writing

Software developers are constantly improving the apps we use to manage our documents and publications. These advances have given us many useful tools to make our efforts easier. However, there is still one major area of concern – how to manage our digital document archives. As word processing applications have come and gone, we are often left with documents we can no longer view. How many of us are stuck with old WordStar, WordPerfect and even Word documents? There is one format, however, that has survived since the very beginnings of the digital age – plain text. Unfortunately, plain text is exactly that – plain. There are no font choices and you can’t include even the simplest formatting functions like bold or italic text. Who wants to be stuck with that?

Fortunately, software developers have come up with an option that will allow us to have archival quality text files – and have them with style! It’s called Markdown.

Markdown is actually two things. First, it’s a standard that uses certain plain text characters – like asterisks, hashtags and hyphens – to represent format settings. Second, it’s a collection of conversion programs which read the plain text file with these formatting “codes” and convert them into other document formats like rich text, HTML, PDF or even Word.

Here is a sample plain text file with Markdown codes:

Plain text with Markdown code.

Plain text with Markdown code.

 

As you can see in this example, plain text with Markdown coding is still quite readable. It’s much easier to read than the same text with equivalent HTML tags. It’s the simplicity and readability of Markdown that make it so interesting. Forty years from now, even if Markdown gets forgotten over the decades, someone can open and read a plain text document that includes Markdown code much easier than we can read this WordPerfect document that’s less than 20 years old.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

An old WordPerfect document viewed in a text editor.

No, you don’t have to dump your current apps, but now that you know what Markdown is you can start looking for apps that support it. One good example would be a journaling app and Mac/iOS users will find Day One [Mac – $9.99 & iOS – $4.99] saves your journal entries – and all your formatting – as Markdown text. Also for Mac/iOS users is Byword [Mac – $9.99 and iOS – $4.99], an elegantly simple text editor that supports both Markdown and rich text. The LightPaper [Android – $1.99] app is one of a number of text editors for Android tablets and phones providing Markdown support.

A number of note-taking apps for Mac are also getting updates to include Markdown support. VoodooPad 5 [Mac – $39.99 and iOS – $9.99] is a good example. And, because its native document format is Markdown, the app can easily convert your notes to rich text, Word, PDF, HTML and ePub formats. I found a free Windows app – MarkdownPad – which supports Markdown, and hopefully we’ll soon see more.

You may have noticed that many of the apps mentioned here are for mobile devices – phones and tablets. Mobile devices have limited memory and storage so the apps are more streamlined than their desktop cousins. Markdown editing screens takes a lot less code than traditional editors, making it a good choice for mobile apps. In addition, the screen-based keyboards can be a challenge for serious writing and formatting. Anything that can simplify the formatting process improves its usability.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This article in the Byword editor for Mac.

This example shows what Markdown looks like while editing. As you can see the text is quite readable. Once the document is ready to publish, the program includes functions to save it in the format of your choice (rich text, HTML, PDF, etc.) – with the Markdown codes converted to the appropriate formatting. As technology moves forward, all that’s needed to update this app – or any of the older documents created using it – are new publishing functions to support converting to whatever new format has been developed.

Thanks to Markdown, the future of plain text looks quite bright. And, by supporting the efforts of developers who incorporate Markdown in their applications, we can help influence its acceptance and continued growth. Helping them will help us build an archival standard for digital documents that will insure the future of our research and publishing efforts doesn’t get left behind in the trash bin of old technology.

Working Smart: The Board Meeting

How often do your board meetings get highjacked by minutiae? Put Evernote to work and get most of those discussions out of the way before the meeting begins.

Why Evernote? First of all, it is an amazing tool for collecting and organizing information. It is so amazing that it has become one of the most popular support tools for genealogy research. As a result, many in the genealogy community are already using Evernote.

To get started, you will need a premium Evernote account set up for your society. A premium account will cost $45.00 a year, but will save everyone time, effort and grief. The account should be created using the society email address of the board member who will manage the account (webmaster@mysociety.org or groupmaster@mysociety.org, for example). Board members can then use their own personal Evernote account (basic or premium) to interact with the society account.

Using the society Evernote account, set up a notebook for board business and share it with each board member. Although any Evernote user can create shared notebooks, only a premium account can create a shared notebook where each invited user can create and edit notes.

Here are some ideas for using that board business notebook to streamline your meetings:

  • Post meeting minutes from the previous meeting in the notebook several days prior to the upcoming meeting for review and comments. Set a deadline for comments so that the final minutes can be posted prior to the meeting. Now, it will just take a few seconds during the meeting for the board to accept the minutes.
  • A smart phone with Evernote installed can even be used to record the meeting as an audio note. This could help the secretary compile the meeting minutes later. The premium account supports longer recording time than standard accounts.
  • Post a note requesting agenda items for the upcoming meeting – with a deadline. Use it to create and post the actual agenda several days before the meeting.
  • For complex items, have the responsible member post a report providing details, options, costs and concerns so the board members can come to the meeting already informed.
  • Use your society’s Evernote premium account to maintain a library of your important documents. Not only will this give your board members instant access to that information from just about anywhere, it also provides an off-site backup for those documents in case of a disaster.

These few ideas can make a big difference in how your society functions. But this is just the beginning. There’s a lot more Evernote can do to support your society’s operations.

Bylaws Workbook

From the book’s description:
Bylaws Workbook cover
This workbook is designed to help societies create successful bylaws that prevent confusion, dissension, and disagreement. Whether large or small, new or established, societies can use this guide in planning, drafting, and implementing bylaws that guarantee a smooth-running organization. Whether a society realizes it or not, the most important document for its members is the bylaws. It is the only document that tells the members how the society is supposed to function. The authors draw from their extensive experience in bylaws reviews and revisions to provide step-by-step guidance on all aspects of bylaws development, including detailed examples.

You’ll find a copy of Bylaws Workbook available at Amazon for $4.60 with free shipping for Prime customers.