iAlja's blog

Click. Learn. Share.

7 Things I Love About Evernote

In the Web 2.0 era I don’t really use a lot of desktop applications anymore - everything is on the web, right? But there is one application that I just can’t imagine living without (even though you can also use it on the web): Evernote.

You might have heard of Evernote before - after all, it now has over 4 million (very happy) users. At its hearth, Evernote is a simple note taking app that works on almost every computer, phone and mobile device out there, and can instantly sync your notes across all your devices. You can use it as a repository for all your ideas - not just in shape of simple text notes, but also as webpages, photos, audio recordings and various files. For a nice overview of the service, check out the intro video below:

How can you not love a service that includes hard working cloud elephants? ;) If the video hasn’t convinced you to give Evernote a try yet, here is my list of 7 things I love about Evernote:

1) Available anywhere

I love the fact that I always have access to Evernote, regardless of which computer or mobile device I’m using. And with the desktop version, I don’t even have to be online to work with Evernote (very useful on train trips!). Most of the time, I use the Mac OS X desktop version, but I sometimes check notes on my Android phone or iPod Touch. And yes, there’s also a Windows version, a web version and custom applications for major smartphone platforms (see the list of available downloads).

2) Free for basic use

Oh, did I mention it’s free? You don’t have to pay for basic use or any of the apps. But in case you need more space or want awesome features like Note history, you can go Premium for $5/month or $45/year. I’m still using the Free version, which has plenty of space for all my text notes, but I’m thinking of going Premium just because I find the service so useful.

3) Capture ideas, prepare them for publishing

With Evernote I finally have a single place to store all my ideas and little notes. No more sticky notes all over the desk, no more .txt files on the desktop, just one app. And I also find it great for transforming ideas I collect into drafts that I can move to blogs, text editing software etc. for final design and publishing. And yes, I also wrote the draft for this post in Evernote and only moved it to Blogger when it was nearly finished. I really prefer to write in the simple, clutter free Evernote window - I usually double click the note I’m working on and leave just that note window open.

4) Easy sync

I always use Evernote to take notes on my laptop during meetings. No more wasted paper and illegible hand written notes! And if you still need to draw something on paper or whiteboard, you can just take a picture of that and add it to your Evernote meeting note. The best part is getting home after meetings to find the latest notes already waiting for me on my desktop computer. In other words, no extra time needed to sort and read through notes, as I can start working right within Evernote.

5) Image recognition in the cloud

The cool part is that Evernote is not just a simple backup service for notes. In fact, the Evernote elephants in the cloud also do image recognition on any photos you add, so that it’s easier for you to find your stuff. You can for instance use Evernote to scan and save images of business cards and Evernote makes sure all the text becomes searchable.

6) Different ways to search and sort

There are many different ways to sort notes in Evernote. I like to create new notebooks for major projects or areas of interests, and you can use tags to sort your notes even further. I must admit I’m pretty sloppy when it comes to using tags, but that’s ok - Evernote doesn’t mind that, and helps me find what I’m looking for through Search.

7) The magic Evernote Trunk

And if you’re looking for ways to improve Evernote, look no further than into the Evernote Trunk! The Trunk, also accessible from the desktop applications, is basically a showcase of apps that work with Evernote and can enhance your Evernote experience. The Trunk has only been launched this summer, so I’m really looking forward to seeing more apps added in the future.

Nearly perfect for remembering everything

The only two feature requests I have for Evernote are better sharing/collaboration options within the desktop app and color coding for notes. But other than that, I really think Evernote is a great product that is simple, yet incredibly flexible and usable in all sorts of situations.

So, if you’re not using Evernote yet, I suggest you give it a try and see how it works for you. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to use it - be creative and start adding your ideas in any format into your digital notebooks. And if you’re looking for new ideas on how to use Evernote, check out the Tips and Stories section on the Evernote blog.

If you’ve got any good Evernote tips, let me know in the comments!

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/08/7-things-i-love-about-evernote.html

Imagining a Mobile Moodle

For this year’s 4th International Slovenian MoodleMoot I decided to explore the efforts being made to bring Moodle to mobile devices. I found several interesting projects in this field, although I think we’re just starting to explore all possibilities, and that more interesting developments will follow in the next few years, especially when teachers start experimenting with things like geolocation, augmented reality and resources that can interact with sensors on mobile devices.

The main goal of my paper and presentation was to invite teachers to think about possibilities that mobile devices can offer for education and the ways we could embed mobile learning in Moodle, a well established Learning Management System.

Here’s the abstract from my paper Taking Moodle Out of the Classroom: Making Learning Mobile, Context-Aware and Fun:

“Mobile devices are becoming increasingly more powerful, better connected and are able to provide better user experience and new services based around location and context of users, which opens new possibilities for learning. The paper presents an overview of mobile learning and the efforts being made to provide better support for mobile devices and learning activities/resources in Moodle. In conclusion we also present some future trends in mobile computing that could also provide new ways of learning on the go.”

You can see a video of my presentation at the conference on YouTube (total length 15 min):

And if you’d like to learn more about the topic, you can read my full paper on Scribd:

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/05/imagining-mobile-moodle.html

Having Fun and Getting Fit: An Overview of Exergames

With the arrival of Eye Toy for Playstation 2, the widely popular Nintendo Wii, and the upcoming release of Project Natal for Xbox, the term exergaming - the use of video games as a form of exercise - has started gaining popularity. But how effective are these games? Can you really get fit by playing, let’s say, Wii Sports?

It’s been a while since I’ve embarked on a quest to find the best exergame aka geek friendly exercise, and throughout the course of my journey I’ve tried out many different games (mainly on Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii), so I thought I’d do a little overview of what you can expect to gain from different types of exergames.

Casual Exergames: Lots of Fun with Friends

Examples: Wii Sports, Mario Cart Wii

Most Wii games fall into this category and I would also include games supposedly more focused on exercise, like Wii Sports. These games count on a limited amount of moves, and you don’t even have to invest a lot of effort into the right moves to make it through the game. The focus is on fun rather than burning calories and these games usually won’t hold your attention for long.

So, don’t be fooled by the Sports in the title; these games won’t really prepare you for any real sport, but the plus side is that they really are a lot of fun to play when you’re having friends over!

Medium Intensity Exergames: Balancing Fun and Exercise

Examples: Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Eye Toy Kinetic, We Cheer, Wii Fit

The games in this category can be quite demanding, especially if played on higher difficult levels, although they sometimes don’t get your whole body moving (for instance, We Cheer is mostly a good exercise for your arms). But be prepared to spend a lot of time navigating menus, choosing exercises, songs and what not. Also, be prepared to invest some time in making sure your moves are detected properly, which can be quite frustrating and can spoil your immersion in the game. However, if everything works fine, these games provide a lot of fun and some exercise, but a lot of time is lost on pointless tasks (and if you’re out of luck, a cumbersome navigation through menus).

The bottom line is: if you invest enough energy in these games, they can make you sweat, but you have to play these games a whole lot (read: at least an hour per session) before getting any real results.

High Intensity Exergames: Emphasizing Exercise

Examples: My Fitness Coach (Wii)

Interestingly enough, the highest intensity exergame I found for the Wii doesn’t even use the motion sensing abilities of the Wiimote or the Wii Balance Board. It’s just a continuos exercise routine that really gets you moving around. It’s up to you to make sure you’re doing the right thing, but if you’re interested in getting fit, you should have the motivation for that anyway. What I like about My Fitness Coach is that you only have to choose the duration and daily focus of your workout, and everything else is done for you. No wasting time on menus, you’re just asked to assess the difficulty of the workout after completing major sections, so that the next workouts can be adjusted accordingly. A great feature is also that you are asked to do a Physical Challenge every 10 workouts, so you can really track how your workout affects different parts of your body.

All in all, My Fitness Coach is a real exercise that will can have real effects on your fitness level if you decide to stick with it. And it’s a nice way to get prepared for more difficult forms of exercise if you’re starting from scratch.

Leaving the Game Consoles: Nothing Beats the Real Deal

Examples: Nike+

Not surprisingly, at the end of my exergame journey I came to the conclusion that nothing beats the real deal: going out and running. But as a true geek I wasn’t prepared to settle for a workout without gadgets, so I decided to give Nike+ iPod Sports Kit a try. While it’s not a true exergame, it’s a great gadget that can keep you motivated and provides real-time feedback during your runs. After every run, I love to see how the latest run compares to previous ones, compete in different online challenges with or against other runners and set personal goals to beat.

As you can see from my profile, I haven’t been using Nike+ for long, but I find it very easy to decide to go for a run after seeing how close I am to a goal or how other runners are beating my distance. Nike+ brings elements of games to real exercise and that I think is the winning combination.

Exergames: Easy Start and a Filler Activity

So, what exactly is the role of exergames then? Are they worth it?

If you’re looking for something that will help you to get up from the couch, I’d suggest starting with some of the Medium Intensity Exergames I listed and then progress to Higher Intensity or outdoor activities. Having fun can really make you appreciate exercise and I found less intensive games like Wii Fit to be a great way to get used to regular workouts, but you’ll probably soon feel the desire to progress to something more demanding (especially if you want visible results).

Apart from providing an easy start, exergames can also provide you with an exercise option on days when you feel like taking a little break, but still want to workout. For example, my current workout routine includes Nike+ running around 3 times a week and My Fitness Coach in between to strengthen specific body muscles. And when I just feel like having fun, a dose of We Cheer can also provide some light exercise.

To sum it up: exergames do have some positive effects, but don’t rely on exergames alone to get fit. I can certainly recommend using them as a fun way to encourage and maintain regular exercise - but don’t forget that there are also gadgets like Nike+ that can make serious outdoor activity more enjoyable.

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/05/having-fun-and-getting-fit-overview-of.html

Facebook News Feed and Social Games: How to Manage the Spam?

One of the most important things for a pleasant Facebook experience for you and your friends is knowing how to manage your Wall and News Feed, which I suspect is not something that a lot of Facebook users know how to do well. That’s why I decided to share some tips on how to deal with “spam” created by social applications and games like FarmVille and how to peacefully coexist with your friends whether you’re a social gamer or not.

How not to spam all your friends while enjoying social games

Let’s start with some tips for social gamers. Our favorite social games would like nothing more than let all of our friends know how much fun we’re having in the game. And while we appreciate the treasures our friends post to our News Feed, we also have friends who just don’t see the appeal of farm life and similar hobbies (yet!). So, what can you do if you want to keep sharing lost animals, eggs, fuel and what not with your game friends, but at the same time don’t want to spam your friends who hate the game?

The solution is pretty simple: use Friend Lists. Friend Lists can be created and managed by choosing Edit Friends from the Account menu (top right). Once you create your game list, you can add your game neighbors to that Friend List and whenever you’re prompted to publish something on your wall, make it visible only to your game friend list. For instance, I have a Friend List for all my active FarmVille neighbors and whenever I post something, I make sure only people on that list get to see it:

Step 1: Before Publishing a story, click on the privacy lock and select “Customize”

Step 2: Select “Specific People” in the “Make this visible to” drop-down menu and start typing the name of your game specific Friend List;
Save Settings and you’re ready to Publish your update

Yes, it does take some time to set up the list and manually manage all posts, but on the plus side you don’t have to bother your students, coworkers, clients or whoever with your FarmVille addiction (unless you want to) and you will avoid complaints about your FarmVille “spam” from friends, who haven’t yet discovered the magic Hide option in the News Feed (more about that in a minute). But don’t forget to check back on your game Friend List(s) once in a while to add your new game buddies or remove friends that have stopped playing the game.

Another helpful thing you can do if you don’t want to see your profile Wall cluttered with various game updates, is to prevent games from publishing short stories on your wall. You can do that by choosing “Application Settings” from the “Account” menu (top right). Find your application on the list, click on “Edit Settings” and check the “Additional Permissions” tab in the box that opens.

I love you FarmVille, but please don’t spam my wall:
I always uncheck the “Publish recent activity” option for games

Bonus tip: don’t spam all your friends with game invites. Send invites only when you really think a certain person is going to enjoy the game or application you are playing. And don’t send various in-game gifts to friends that are not playing your game!

How to hide or block unwanted apps your friends play

Ok, and what can you do if you just can’t stand the spam your friends publish through various Facebook applications? Don’t worry, there’s no need to remove all your friends or quit Facebook; just make good use of the “Hide” button in your News Feed.

Hiding apps (or people) you don’t want to see in your News Feed is easy: hover over one of the posts you don’t like, and click on the “Hide” button that appears in the top right corner of the post. You then have two options:
  • hide all News Feed posts from your friend that posted the update or
  • hide all News Feed posts from a certain app.
    You can unhide friends/pages/applications by clicking on “Edit Options” link at the right bottom of your News Feed.

    And if you have a very insistent friend, who keeps sending you requests for an application you’re just not interested in (or if you’re trying to recover from a game addiction), don’t forget that you also have the option to completely Block an application. Just visit the application page and click on the block link to never see or receive anything from that application again.

    “Block Application” option on an application page

    I hope these tips can help you enjoy Facebook more and prevent your game addictions get in the way of your friendships or even reputation :) If you have any other tips or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments. And make sure to enjoy your games without spamming your friends!

    Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/03/facebook-news-feed-and-social-games-how.html

    Second Life Isn’t Dead, but It’s a Niche

    Lately, some articles wondered about what had happened to Second Life, the virtual world that had a quite intensive hype period in 2007 and 2008. Usually, these articles follow a similar pattern: a journalists revisits the “lost” virtual world, isn’t really impressed by what he/she sees. The article is then followed by a few comments by average visitors, who tend to agree with the journalist, and then the Second Life community discovers the article and start defending their world with examples of great projects being done in Second Life and sooner or later accuse the journalist of not going to the right places and not taking enough time.

    Second Life is a niche

    Well, here’s the thing: I did spend a lot of time in Second Life, met many, many wonderful people in there, and I know what great things people are doing there. So I hope I can add my 2 cents into the debate from a fair perspective. If you ask me, SL certainly isn’t dead, and it is in fact doing quite well from a business perspective. But I also think it’s fair to say that it is a niche service. It’s great for content creators, artists, musicians, it’s great for people with enough patience and perseverance to put up with the lag and other technical issues. But it’s awful for the average internet user, and I must confess that I’m also having difficulties with finding reasons to log in other than to read and respond to the occasional message or notice.

    Yes, you can attend many wonderful events, see a lot of great art etc.. But only if you are prepared to spend a lot of time troubleshooting various technical problems. Have meetings? Yes, but only with people already using SL. In all these years I haven’t managed to convince a single friend to try out SL, and believe me, I tried!

    Doing one thing really, really well

    I think the main problem with Second Life is that it can do almost everything, but that it doesn’t do anything really, really well, but at the same time it has a huge learning curve. On the other hand, a more limited virtual world like World of Warcraft is really good at keeping its users engaged and entertained for hours and hours. No, you can’t have your own house or design your own clothes in there, but nonetheless you have a lot of fun! And I must confess that lately I prefer killing Murlocs in Azeroth (and paying for it!) to waiting for the newest Second Life wonder to load.

    My lil’ gnome mage (right) might not have custom hair or skin like my SL avatar (left), but she’s more fun to hang out with

    A lot of potential, but not there yet

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I still do believe that virtual worlds have a lot of potential, potential for education, potential for doing business. But I can’t teach if my students have to spend hours just to start feeling comfortable in a new environment, and I can’t do business meetings without having any of my business partners in-world. I would love to do all that, to save all of us the environmental and other costs of travels, but I can’t.

    So, while there is a lot of potential, there isn’t a virtual world that fully uses it - at least not for the average user, who isn’t willing to spend hours learning a new piece of software.

    Who is going to reinvent virtual worlds?

    And that is why I’m still waiting for someone that will be able to reinvent virtual worlds in such a way that it will be easy and nice to have classes in-world or business meetings. And at this point I’m not sure Linden Lab, the makers of Second Life, will be able to pull that off. M Linden is no Steve Jobs. And what we need is an iPhone of virtual worlds. Something that will be so intuitive, so sexy that everyone will want a piece of it.  Something with an awesome user interface that is able to provide a great user experience. That’s the one thing my ideal virtual world should do really, really well.

    And while I’m running out of patience for Second Life’s technical woes, I still believe that someday something that reinvents virtual worlds will come along. Perhaps it will be some sort of augmented reality application or something entirely new. I don’t know, but I can wait for the right thing.

    Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2010/01/second-life-isnt-dead-but-its-niche.html

    Google Wave: First Impressions

    I recently got my Google Wave invite* (thanks to Jure) and I wanted to share some of my initial impressions. As most of you probably know already, Google Wave is an online real-time collaboration and communication tool, which combines elements of e-mail, instant messaging, social networks and wikis (watch the overview video for more info).

    It was first announced in May, with a big promise of reinventing e-mail for the 21st century. It has been in private beta for some time now, and it’s been getting mixed reviews with many people marking it as overhyped. So I was really curious to try it out on my own and see if it can live up to its (big) expectations.

    I’ve now been using Google Wave for about a week with various existing and new contacts. Currently, one big limitation is that you don’t get any invites when you start using the service, so your pool of contacts is initially quite limited and therefore you probably won’t be able to immediately use the tools in that many real-life situations. Overall, I still believe this tool has a lot of potential to replace many collaboration tools (don’t think it will replace e-mail in the near future though), but it still needs some important features before if can go really public.

    The cool features

    These are the main things I like about Wave:
    • the basic functions are quite easy to use and understand (although I was already familiar with the basic philosophy and interface from watching the hour long developer preview),
    • easier to use than wikis because of a familiar e-mail like interface,
    • the ability to collaborate in different ways,
    • adding links with the Google Search function is really cool,
    • you can get a lot of additional functionality with Wave extensions like the Mind Map gadget shown below.

    Using the Mind Map Gadget in a wave: the initial mind map was created by me, other participants were able to add and vote on the elements

    The missing features

    And here are the main things that I don’t like:
    • you can’t add new Wave extensions with one simple click (here is how you do it - ouch!),
    • embedding waves on the web should be as easy as embedding YouTube videos,
    • as a wave creator, you should have more control over who can edit your waves and in what way (currently every wave participant can edit everything in a wave),
    • when using Wave you’re always shown as online to your contacts and there’s nothing you can do about it,
    • participants in the same wave can see what you’re typing in real-time and you can’t change that; real-time typing is useful in some cases, but not always (a good thing about e-mail is that you can rethink and rewrite your message before it gets sent out),
    • you should be able to organize contacts into groups,
    • the ability to edit blips in a wave and adding in-line comments isn’t very intuitive or easy to use, so most people just keep adding replies at the end of the wave, which easily turns waves into noisy chatrooms; as my friend Angela said in a wave conversation: “It’s the same as IRC but with rich content”,
    • you can’t delete waves.

    Bottom Line: Not there yet, but certainly useful in the real world

    So, Google Wave provides a lot of great functions, but it lacks many privacy/permissions settings, plus a lot of features are still too difficult to use. A lot of users also complain that it can also be quite slow (especially if you add a lot of extensions in a long wave). But let’s not forget that Wave is still in beta, so I hope that some of the main annoyances get fixed before it opens up to the public. I browsed through Product Ideas for Google Wave today, and I think most users agree on the basic improvements that Wave needs.

    Even though my list of missing features isn’t short, I’m still a Google Wave believer and can’t wait to try it out in the real world. For example, I really like the idea of using Google Wave at conferences and in classrooms or the ability to use Google Wave widgets in Moodle courses (I’m also looking forward to an activity module for embedding whole waves into Moodle).

    Links that can get you started

    If you’re just getting started with Google Wave and still feeling a bit lost, I suggest you check out the 5 minutes overview of 15 key Google Wave features and Mashable’s Google Wave Complete Guide. If you’re on a Mac, you can also try out Waveboard, a desktop app for Google Wave. Personally, I keep Waveboard always open, so I can see when new waves or changes are made. And there is also Waver, an Adobe AIR Wave client, which works on all operating systems.

    Let me know about your first impressions in the comments or let’s talk about it in Google Wave! (my username is alja.sulcic (at) googlewave [dot] com)

    * Sorry, don’t have any invites to send out yet, will tweet when I do.

    Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/11/google-wave-first-impressions.html

    The Power of the Unexpected

    We’re all naturally curious beings, but our day to day lives often get stuck in predictable routines that can dull our minds. And what’s a great way to wake up our curiosity? The unexpected. Something that makes us pause and wonder, something that requires us to reconsider what we know about the world.

    Like the company that added the ability to hear a duck quack when calling their toll-free number. Or The Fun Theory initiative, which among others included the world’s deepest bin to motivate people to throw garbage into the trash bin. Take a look below and pay attention to people’s reactions.

    I love this example because it shows a lot of people inspecting the bin, trying to figure out how it works.

    And that makes me wonder why is there so little of such wonder in our schools? The place, where such behavior should be expected; the people in the video above show a very clear desire to understand the bin, to learn why it behaves in an unexpected way. Do our students have such a desire to learn in our schools? And if not, what can we do to bring the unexpected and the wonder in our schools?

    Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2009/10/power-of-unexpected.html