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  • March 2019
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Invite a Monkey to your Picnik

Many faithful Picnik users were sad to learn that Google will be shutting down the photo editing site in April, 2012. I use Picnik all the time and it was one of the few Web 2.0 sites that I was willing to pay for over the past few years. I gladly paid the $25 annual fee for a Premium membership so that I could access all the tools and also do my part to help them be sustainable. Then it was purchased by Google, and things to started to change. My Picnik account was created five years ago, on March 10, 2007. This screenshot below of the Picnik website was edited using Picnik to add the mirror frame, the text on top of two geometric shapes, and the highlighting of their closure date.

New post 5/2/712: Collage feature added by Picmonkey

Picnik website before closing in April 2012

Google keeps saying that the Picnik tools will be rolled into Google Plus and that we shouldn’t be worried about the future of our photo editing. Maybe they’ll end up with something really great, but so far it is extremely disappointing. Some (not many) of the Picnik editing features have been rolled out in the G+ Creative Kit. This is a seriously crippled version of Picnik, and not even close to what Picnik users are used to having at their disposal. Maybe they’re not done with the Creative Kit, but they don’t seem to be offering much information about what the future of Creative Kit will look like.

Additionally – I really don’t want all my photos accessible from G+, which I assume would mean they’ll be viewable by people in my circles – unless I tightly lock them down – or whatever my privacy options (that’s not intended to be funny) might be for photos on G+.

On Friday, March 9, I received an email from a photo service that I had previously signed up for. Their email said that they were ready for us to start using PicMonkey. It turns out that PicMonkey was developed by some former Picnik employees and they claim it to be “faster, more powerful, and easier to use” (plus “78% more monkey” which I assume is sort of like more cowbell). I don’t think that I would agree with the “more powerful” statement just yet, because not all of the Picnik tools are available, but many of them are. Although the UI is different, many of the tools appear to be direct clones of the similar Picnik tools. Anyone can use PicMonkey and you don’t even need to create an account to get full access to the service. Just upload a photo, edit it, then save it back to your computer. The screenshot below was edited in Picmonkey by adding the matte frame and the text along the top of the frame.

Screenshot of Picmoney from March 2012

Probably because it’s new, PicMonkey doesn’t yet have all the tools that were available at Picnik. These are some of the Picnik features that I liked and used, and that I’m hoping become available at PicMonkey:

  • Integration with my Flickr account (edit Flickr photos then save them back to Flickr)
  • The “History” allows you to open any photo you’ve previously used in Picnik
  • The “Photo Basket” makes it simple to combine photos via drag-and-drop
  • Build a collage of photos (PicMonkey says this is coming soon)
  • “Make a Show” will help you create embeddable slide shows and widgets
  • Getting a photo from a website. Just enter the site URL and choose the photo (keep it legal)
  • Currently, you can’t make an account at all at PicMonkey, which would be necessary for many of the things to work such as integration with other sites, photo basket, and history.

Some of the areas where PicMonkey is a match for Picnik include:

  • All the basic edits (crop, rotate/straighten, colors, resize, etc) are there.
  • Many “Effects” are there: B&W, Sepia, Boost, Tint, Soft Focal, 25 in all (Picnik has 37).
  • Almost all “Touch Up” effects (15 out of 17), including: teeth whiten, blemish fix, red-eye removal, eye tint, cloning.
  • Text tools include 27 different fonts, compared to the Picnik array of 16 basic fonts and 15 premium ($) fonts, and dozens of mostly useless goofy fonts.
  • Overlays include things that I use such as speech bubbles, geometric shapes, arrows, and symbols; but don’t include the multitude of seasonal stickers and other clip artsy sorts of stuff at Picnik (NBD).
  • The selection of digital picture frames is not nearly as extensive at PicMonkey, but all the basic ones are there.

Overall, I’m impressed with the roll out of PicMonkey. I’m guessing that they’ll be busy working to add new features and to make it an even better replacement for Picnik. This is photo editing for the 99% (where the 1% are those Photoshop users who need it and actually know how to use all the powerful tools in it). Now, please give me more monkey.

My Top 10 Tools for 2011

I have contributed to Jane Hart’s Lists of Top Tools for Learning each year since she started doing this five years ago. Her 2011 list will be finalized soon with contributions from people all over the world.  Listed below is my newest Top 10 list of tools, with short descriptions of why they made the list.

  1. Twitter. Stays at #1. Still the most valuable online tool I’ve ever used because it’s the place where I able to build the most valuable network of educators. Connect that same network of incredibly smart people into a different tool, then that tool will be #1 on my list.
  2. WordPress. I use WordPress.com for my main blog at http://barrydahl.com and during the past year I also created a new business site that is run on WordPress as well (see Excellence in e-Education). The themes, plug-ins, and other extras that are available make it a highly customizable tool.
  3. Google Plus (G+). This is a new entry on the list (obviously, since it didn’t exist last year). I’ve been surprised at how functional this young tool is – and how I’ve been connected to a whole new batch of educators through it. I find that I’m spending more and more time there and learning about things that I’m not always seeing in my other educator networks.
  4. YouTube. For both me and my kids, YouTube tends to be one of our first stops when we want to learn something. I post many of my own videos here, but I primarily find it to be a fabulous resource for all kinds of content, including educational videos.
  5. Picnik. I keep coming back to this super easy-to-use photo editor that integrates so nicely with my Flickr account. This is one of the few tools that I pay a fee ($25 a year) to get the premium service. Now my daughter is also hooked on using Picnik – in ways that only a 15-y-o would find fascinating.
  6. Zoho Notebook. I keep waiting for another tool to come along that has the functionality of this one – but that just hasn’t happened. Find another tool where you can make a series of webpages, with any kind of web-based content on any page in any location. It’s really amazing.
  7. Flickr. I continue to pay for the pro version ($25 a year) of Flickr because it is my main and almost only repository for digital pics and other graphics. As of 11/3/11, I have 4,520 items stored there. Almost all the graphics used on my websites are served from Flickr.
  8. Screencast-o-Matic. I’ve tried just about every screencast tool that is out there. There are lots of good ones andScreencast-o-matic logo some that are not so good. We also lose a couple of them every year to the dead pool. Screencast-O-Matic has hung in there over several years and just keeps getting better. This year I decided to support them by paying for a pro account (only $12 a year) which gives me access to editing tools, scripting, and offline use. They’ve recently added a feature that allows you to make animated GIFs as well as the standard screencast movies that can be stored on their servers, downloaded locally in various formats, or uploaded to YouTube.
  9. Toondoo. I make comic strips fairly often and encourage educators to include more of them in their teaching and learning. This is still one of the most popular tools in the Web 2.0 workshops that I provide at different colleges and universities. Toonbooks are very fun and can be used to deliver educational content that is certain to get the attention of students.
  10. Facebook. This stays on the list as I still have quite a few educators in my “friends” list. I also use it with my new business (please “Like” Excellence in e-Education!). I’ve also enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and college buddies, but that’s not why it’s on the list.
The main thing that fell off my list this year would be the following (this is what I said about it last year).
  • Android OS & Apps. This could have been higher on my list. I love my Droid, but mainly for all the things that Android and the plethora of useful (& mostly free) apps can do for me. First time I’ve felt like I have a computer in my pocket.
Soon I’ll post an update about how my relationship with Android has changed over the past year. Let’s just say it’s not pretty.

Animated GIFs with Screencast-O-Matic

New feature released today at Screencast-O-Matic. Make an animated GIF. Here’s just a goofy little thing I recorded to try it out. BTW, the window cleaner overlay is mine, not from their site.

Just playing around

Here’s a little video they made about animated GIFs.  Here’s some info about the rest of their new features.

They also have a new service called Quick ScreenShare. This is what they say about it.

QuickScreenShare.com is the simplest way to share screens with anybody:

  • No registration required and completely free.
  • Nothing to install for sharer or sharee (assuming you have Java).
  • Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Even lets you remotely control mouse and keyboard!

This free service is a side project from the creators of Screencast-O-Matic.com and is still in BETA. We use it extensively for remote user support and collaboration. The current version creates a direct peer-to-peer connection, so if you’re on a super duper secure school or company network it may or may not be able to connect, but in most cases you’ll find it works quite well so give it a shot!

Barry: yep, I’ll have it to give it a shot.

Embedded Videos with Different Start Time

Sometimes you find that shareable video that includes some stuff at the beginning or the end that you really aren’t all that interested in. No problemo. Just append a little bit of code and you’ll be able to have the video start at whatever point you like.

In this example below of a great CCR song, they have about 12 seconds of crap at the beginning. If you want the video to start right when the song starts, use this code:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqZhM75aGMg#t=0m13s

It’s the “#t=0m13s”  (o minutes, 13 seconds from the beginning) at the end of the video ID that makes that work. Here’s the embedded version of that video.

NOTE: for a WordPress embed, use this version: (&start=number-of-seconds)
[ youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqZhM75aGMg&start=13 ]

Why would you do this? Well, that’s pretty simple: you get to edit the length of the video without really editing the video. I have used this technique several times, especially during presentations where you only want to show a snippet of a video and you don’t want to fool around during the presentation with starting the video right where you need it.

At the time of this post (May 2011), you cannot also have a video stop playing at a certain point just by altering the YouTube code. There appears to be many requests for this feature, but for now you need to use a service such as splicd.com or something similar.

My Top 10 Tools for 2010

I have contributed to Jane Hart’s Lists of Top Tools for Learning for several years now. Her 2010 list was finalizedJane Hart on October 17 with contributions from me and 544 other people.  Listed below is my newest Top 10 list of tools, with short descriptions of why they made the list.

  1. Twitter. Simply the most valuable online tool I’ve ever used. But it’s not about the tool, it’s about the network of educators that I was able to build with the tool. Connect that same network into a different tool, then that tool will be #1 on my list.
  2. Flickr. I get so much value out of storing and sharing my photos here. 4,131, items as of Oct. 2010. This is one of the few tools that I pay for the pro version ($25 a year) because it is so valuable to me.
  3. WordPress. I use WordPress.com for my main blog at http://barrydahl.com and we also run the open source WPMU at my campus for all students and employees to use.
  4. YouTube. Not only do I post more and more of my own videos here, but I continue to find an amazingly rich resource for all kinds of content, including educational videos.  I also use a few other video tools, but YouTube stays on the list.
  5. Zoho Notebook. There still is no rival for this tool when it comes to easily mashing together all kinds of multimedia content into a website of pages, all custom designed by you.
  6. DimDim. After using the free version for a couple of years, we licensed the Enterprise version for use at the college. It works very well and allows for starting webcasts on the fly without downloads or installs.
  7. Toondoo. I make comic strips fairly often and encourage educators to include more of them in their teaching and learning. Jaws usually drop when people see the creation interface for the first time, and Toonbooks are very cool.
  8. Facebook. My main value here is reconnecting with old friends and college buddies. Find the events tools and similar apps to be very useful. Right now it’s less of a tool for learning than the others, but it still has potential to become more of a learning tool if I was to decide to use it in that manner.
  9. Picnik. I keep coming back to this super easy-to-use photo editor that integrates so nicely with my Flickr account. Another one of the few tools that I pay to get the premium service.
  10. Android OS & Apps. This could have been higher on my list. I love my Droid, but mainly for all the things that Android and the plethora of useful (& mostly free) apps can do for me. First time I’ve felt like I have a computer in my pocket.

    Without giving the descriptions, here’s the rest of the top 25:
  11. TweetDeck
  12. SlideShare
  13. Mindomo
  14. Delicious
  15. Google Reader
  16. Zoho Creator
  17. Skype
  18. Poll Everywhere
  19. Meebo instant messenger
  20. Google Voice
  21. Zoho Writer
  22. Netvibes
  23. PBworks
  24. Prezi
  25. Livestream

Check out my PLE page for more of the tools that I have used often enough to at least have formed an opinion about them. To finish this off for another year, below is Jane’s SlideShare embed of the Top 100 tools.

In analyzing how the Top 100 has changed over the past four years, Jane came up with this summary of four key trends:

  1. The increasing consumerization of IT
  2. Learning, working and personal tools are merging
  3. Social tools predominate
  4. Personal (informal) learning is under the control of the learner

She describes these trends in a recent post. Read that post here.

New Version of DimDim Released

At Lake Superior College, we have our own licensed rooms (tech plan update) for using the DimDim webcast service. This is the first semester we’ve made it available to the college community and quite a few faculty and some staff members have expressed an interest in using it, and a few have already started using it during the first week of the semester.

DimDim released a new version over the past weekend with lots of changes and several additions to the features and functions. The four minute screencast below (click it to open in a new window) shows some of these new features.

Some of the new features include:

  • Application and/or region screen sharing – which means that you can share your entire desktop, or a portion of the desktop, or a single application running on your desktop.
  • They did away with the rather lame feature of “Share a URL” which could be used to share a webpage, but only one at a time. I much preferred screen sharing where I could easily click through different tabs on the browser, which is still the recommended way for using websites in your webcast.
  • Document library – finally the ability to upload documents into a library where they will be available the next time you hold a webcast without uploading again. You can upload up to 2GBs of docs before, during, and after your meetings.
  • Document file types: the “Share Presentation” app (should be called Share Documents) previously was limited to only PowerPoint (PPT and PPTX) and PDF files. The new version adds to that list with the following: .doc,  .docx,  .docm,  .dotx,  .dotm,  .xls,  .xlsx,  .xlsm,  .xltw,  .xlsb  (or virtually all versions of Word docs and Excel spreadsheets).
  • Instant polls. Although limited to a single type of poll question (multiple choice with single select), this could still be useful in a pinch.
  • Web mashups – you can paste any YouTube URL, and Picasa URL (really? Picasa? Huh?). or any embed code for any web app that you might like – such as SlideShare, Vimeo, Blip.tv, a Twitter widget, a music player, photo slideshow, screencast video, Google map, or whatever as long as it has an embed code.
  • Four-way video chat – allowing you to see more people with webcams with a  new fullscreen mode for video.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no improvement in the recording functionality of DimDim after the update. Most of the sessions that I have recorded for future playback result in corrupted or empty files. This has been an ongoing problem. Sometimes you get lucky, but overall I have found that you CANNOT rely on the recording function to work properly.

Other than the recording issue, our experience thus far with DimDim has been positive. More to come.

A Week of Workshops in the UAE

Barry Dahl in Fujairah workshop

Photo courtesy of Alan Nambiar - Fujairah Colleges

I’m trying to wrap my brain around the week I’ve just concluded with the fine people of the Fujairah Colleges in the United Arab Emirates. The workshops were held at the Fujairah Women’s College but also included faculty from the Fujairah Men’s College as they immersed themselves into a week of professional development activities during Independent Learning Week (sort of like Spring Break, except that the students work on individual projects and the faculty are not on leave – so really not like Spring Break at all).

In the computer lab

Photo courtesy of Alan Nambiar - Fujairah Colleges

Much of the time was used looking at how Web 2.0 tools can be used by faculty to create engaging content for their courses as well as possible uses for student assignments or group projects that are facilitated through the use of web-based technologies. I spent much of the time with the same cohort of faculty who are working on the development of a laptop program at the college. A few other sessions were open to various other interested parties at the colleges.

Fujairah is located on the Gulf of Oman and is about a 90-minute drive from Dubai which is located to the east on the Persian Gulf. Fujairah is mostly mountainous, and quite beautiful. One of the most amazing experiences for me was finding that the city is an incredible melting pot of people from all over the world. At the Fujairah Colleges alone, the faculty come from more than 30 different countries. I spent quite a bit of time getting to know Andrew Scholtz who is from South Africa and Peter Hatherley-Greene who hails from New Zealand. Talk about global education – here you live it!

Entrance to Fujairah Women's College

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mark Johnson, Director (aka President) of the Fujairah Colleges. He contacted me several months ago about the possibility of coming to the UAE to provide this professional development for his faculty and staff. Mark and I got to know each other when we were colleagues in Minnesota. He was the CIO at MSU Mankato

At Fujairah Colleges. Andrew, Barry, and Mark

L-R: Andrew, Barry, and Mark

and decided to leave Minnesota back in 2006 and move his family to the Emirates (story here). The accomplishments that Mark and his staff have achieved at these colleges are very impressive and he will undoubtedly be missed here in Fujairah when he returns to Minnesota at the end of the academic year.

This trip far exceeded my wildest dreams. The workshops were fun, seeing a new culture and country was fun, but by far the best part was all the great people I met here during the week. Really outstanding.