Something Completely Different For Your Slide Decks

Ubiquitous Microsoft’s PowerPoint software has become synonymous with “slide deck”, much like Coke and Kleenex have become synonymous with cola and tissue.  But maybe you aren’t fond of PowerPoint, or are simply interested in trying something new for creating your visual aids. Check out some of the web alternatives highlighted  by ReadWriteWeb here. I am familiar with Prezi and Zoho Show and have used Google Docs Presentations with much success, but SlideRocket and 280 Slides are new to me. One ore more of these tools may better address the way you work. Some, such as Google Docs Presentations, allow for easy collaboration. Zoho Show incorporates live chat with your presentation audience. Check these out – many of them allow importing into PowerPoint so that you can bail and return to more familiar territory.

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Track Your Time With Toggl

Need to track how you spend your time? Check out Toggl (link here), a cool, simple application that allows you to do just that. Features single-click tracking, easy task-switching and report creation.

Use it to assist your billing efforts with its  very simple interface, or use it to help you refocus your efforts on the most important activities within your day or across weeks. Download Toggl desktop, or use as a website or small browser pop-up. Works on your desktop in Windows, Mac and Linux environments or on the go with iPhone and Android systems. Toggl has gadgets to add timers to your desktop and web browsing, as well as tools for iGoogle and Gmail.

Toggl is free for five users, but adds a few features (earnings tracking, plan-ahead tasks, branded reports, and Basecamp, iCal and RSS integration) and users if you choose, with different plans and costs depending on how many users.

If you like them simple, and I do like them simple, Toggl is hard to beat.

Watch Your Career Branch Out

If you need a visual reminder of the gnarled limbs of your career, head over to Newsweek.com (link here) and check out their “Build Your Own Career Tree” tool. Using only your LinkedIn profile for both seedling and fertilizer, you can “leaf” the work to Branching Businesses and grow your own virtual “tree” built from the boughs of your job history. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you can use a form to fill out the relevant data to graft your tree. You can also explore the career trees of other famous people. Check out the roots of your professional career with this fun visualization tool.

GumNotes: Virtual Post-Its That Really Work

In the ever-present effort to get my digital life in order, I am always glancing at note-taking applications, hoping that they somehow can guide me through the process of organizing the vast quantities of content that I produce or that I am in the process of producing. Simple systems generally are good for me, but the problem I have is that most simple note editors require me to affirmatively go back, open and re-read the notes to get the reminder. I could really use a system that reminds me in an unobtrusive and timely fashion, of note content so that I can act when I am supposed to act on one of the brainy gems of wisdom that I jot down.

GumNotes might be the answer to this virtual problem. MakeUseOf author Ryan Dube outlines the nuts and bolts of this desktop application in his great article here.  GumNotes is a free download (link here). Install it and you can then pretty much annotate anything you need. Take a look at the supported apps:

Word, Excel, email, images, etc. Lots of places to gum your notes.

Once installed, the GumNotes icon sits in your system tray. Open a document, and if an idea comes to you (say, you want to conduct further research on a point or you have an idea for a future, related piece of content you may wish to explore), click the little icon. A window opens and you can write your note within. When you come back to that document (or even related documents, such as an email that attaches the document), GumNotes will pop open the window with your note, reminding you of your brilliance. Visit a web page and get some inspiration? Open GumNotes, jot down your idea and when you next visit the webpage, up comes your little GumNote to remind you. Add a GumNote to your desktop and it will show on your desktop, but only if you ask them to show, allowing you the ability to control whether your desk top looks pristine, or looks more like mine. Right click on the icon and see all your GumNotes in a window. Right click the pushpin at the bottom of a note and you can set a timer for it to pop back up. Create an unattached GumNote, add a tag or text that will act as a filter and any doc, email, or web page containing that filter or text will trigger the GumNote to open.

If you are working on a project with others, you can send your GumNotes to them so you can all bask in the benefits of your briliance. And, you can sync your notes with my top running note taking app SimpleNote. With the SimpleNote sync, you can now view your GumNotes on your iPhone, if you have SimpleNote running on it (*raises hand*). Sharing and syncing and reminders when you need them. Pretty sweet.

Check out the GumNotes vid below for the SimpleNote sync and a quick view of what GumNotes look like. And check it out – if you really love it (or really hate it) come on back and let me know.

Wylio Takes Aggravation Out Of Blog Images

Have you ever found yourself stumped trying to find a blog image that is freely available to use? How about getting an image to look just right on your blog? New service Wylio (link here) has got your back on this one. You can search their massive database for free Creative Commons images – a search for bacon got me 10,412 images. Then use Wylio’s editor to size and position the image. Once that is done, copy the code from Wylio and paste it into your blog. Wylio automatically sizes the image, hosts the image, and builds the photo credit into the code.

strummer guitar..photo © 2007 Haydn | more info (via: Wylio)
Wylio gets its photos from the millions of Flickr images that have been designated as Creative Commons works by the uploader. While this isn’t fool proof (let’s face it, there are lots of caddish people out there), your chances are pretty good the picture may be used free and clear.

It’s a free service that definitely fills a useful niche, and fills it well. If you struggle with blog images, Wylio may just be your answer. For a fun read, check out developer Dan’s story here. Gotta love a sense of humor.Mesa/Boogie Maverick Short Headphoto © 2008 Art Bromage | more info (via: Wylio)

New Way To Show Off Your Giant Brain: Bit.ly Collected Links

Anyone who likes to shorten their shared link URLs (pretty much anyone who uses Twitter and needs to constrain their characters), has their favorite URL shortening service. Mine has been bit.ly (link here) from the get go. Bit.ly is great because it is easy to copy and share your link right from their main page. Then you can track your click throughs and get all sorts of great stats about how others have used your share, as well as shares by others of the same source material. You can even get a QR code for your short link. Geeky cool stuff for those who want to know what’s happening with their social sharing.

Now bit.ly has rolled out a new feature: you can collect and share up to 100 separate URLs with a single bit.ly short link. The landing page for your collecting link is more than just a list of the individual links. You get rich media previews of pictures and videos, powered by related company embed.ly (link here), a service that converts your links into embeddable content. The end result is a far more useful collection of resources than a stream of unconnected tweets on your Twitter profile.

Collect your favorite news stories for the day. Or maybe collect your favorite legal resources. How about your favorite intellectual property blogs? Then share them with a single URL and bit.ly and embed.ly do the rest to make your work shine in the way only a nicely executed web tool can do.

Check it out. And if you do, please share your collected links in the comments – I love a good resource!

Guest Post: Tech Tools & A Trip To The World Of Solo

Thanks again to my good friend Christopher Hill at Construction Law Musings for this awesome guest post! Check out all his great posts at his blog Construction Law Musings (link here). You can find him on Twitter at @constructionlaw.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to post yet again here at the Advocate’s Studio.  The last time I posted here, it was about my journey into the world of social media.  This time, Martha asked me to discuss my adventure into solo practice that began on July 1, 2010.  As is traditional here at the Studio, I of course will be discussing the tech tools that I use on a regular basis in my practice and how they help out.  Well, here it goes:

I really started my law practice 13 years ago without a whole lot of knowledge of computers aside from the fact that e-mail was a big deal and Microsoft Word was good for typing.  Now, in my solo practice, I don’t know that I could survive without certain tools that I have at my disposal.  When I think about my dad, a solo dentist, I wonder how he was able to just head off for a week and relax knowing no one was “minding the store.”  These days almost constant communication is expected by my clients and has become a necessary (if occasionally unwanted) part of legal practice.

While I am still learning the tricks of the cloud based trade, I do find Clio to be a great cloud based billing and storage solution.  I can keep my time, produce invoices (a feature that gets better with each new update) and use a drop box type e-mail feature to keep track of documents and e-mails to clients by matter (check out Martha’s Guest Post about Dropbox).  Clio is consistently updated and seems to get better with each upgrade.  One major advantage for me is that I don’t have to keep up with the software and don’t use the precious space on my trusty Toshiba laptop for this software.  Couple that with almost universal access from anywhere with an internet connection, and I was sold.

I of course could not get by without my trusty Blackberry (I know, the IPhone is great, but the Blackberry is what I am used to).  The use of Google Apps and Google Sync keeps my tasks, contacts and calendar at my fingertips.  While I don’t get as many apps for my smart phone (though Blackberry seems to be catching up), I don’t use the phone for a lot more than e-mails and Twitter/web surfing.

On the non-cloud side, I love my Brother MFC all in one Fax/Scan/Printer and my CardScan business card scanner.  Both of these pieces of hardware make my life as the sole member and entire staff of the Law Office of Christopher G. Hill a lot easier.  The three-in-one allows me to scan and keep documents in .pdf format for easy hard drive storage and easy filing by matter in Clio.  The card scanner keeps me from having to input contact information from the cards manually and is a real time saver.  Throw in my web-based backup through Backblaze (though Carbonite and Mozy have great reputations for this) and my trusty Passport external hard drive and even the most paranoid of us (including me) is backed up and ready to roll.

Of course, without WordPress, Host Gator and Headway, I couldn’t run either Construction Law Musings or my firm web site.

In short (if it’s not too late), my trip into solo practice has been a great adventure.  However, the adventure is made more fun and easier through the use of these tech tools and, yes, my pen and legal pad.

I would love to hear about some of the tools others use in their practices.  Please comment here or contact me with your thoughts.

Christopher G. Hill is lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP.  Chris has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  Mr. Hill authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals. You can reach him on twitter (@constructionlaw) or through his blog or firm website.

New! feedly Mini Toolbar Improves feedly Experience

Do you love feedly as much as I love feedly? If you have no idea what I am talking about, feedly (link here) is a browser extension that works with your Google Reader RSS subscriptions to filter and promote the material you are most interested in, all in a gorgeous magazine layout. I have come to rely heavily on feedly when I don’t have enough time to examine my entire formidable subscription list. I am regularly impressed with how feedly seems to promote the best information in my feeds and how easy it is to sail through my subscriptions.

I noticed a little text at the top of my feedly window today telling me about the new Feedly Mini. I followed the link (here) and learned that the mini toolbar has been updated and is available on Firefox and Chrome browsers. Of course I reinstalled my Chrome extension.

The mini bar does two things as you surf the Web (away from the feedly home page): makes sharing easy and it offers suggestions for similar pages so that you can subscribe to new sources with a single click. Access the popup box by clicking the grey feedly logo on the bottom right of your screen. Both the button and the pop up box are unobtrusive:

Take feedly with you wherever your web surfing takes you!

Court Listener – Real Time Alerts

Legal decisions are public records, no matter what West and Lexis/Nexis try to sell you. So, why should you care about a court reporting service like Court Listener (link here)? Court Listener’s angle is that it will provide you with “real time” alerts on decisions reported in the 13 federal courts of appeal and Supreme Court. Get a daily report on the decisions that contain your search queries by registering on the site and entering your alert query using boolean connectors in the search box.

Court Listener is a graduate student’s thesis project. From the site:

This site was created by Michael Lissner as part of a masters thesis at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information. Michael was advised by Assistant Professor, Brian Carver. The goal of the site is to create a free and competitive real time alert tool for the U.S. judicial system.
At present, the site has daily information regarding all precedential opinions issued by the 13 federal circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. Each day, we also have the non-precedential opinions from all of the Circuit courts except the D.C. Circuit. This means that by 5:10pm PST, the database will be updated with the opinions of the day, with custom alerts going out shortly thereafter.
The coverage of our corpus for a given court varies, but it is growing on a daily basis. We are working to integrate the documents from other online sites that provide free public access to court documents.

As of today’s date, Court Listener as 166,144 documents in its database. You can also browse recent opinions to see generally what the federal courts have been up to. Not bad for a student project.

Lazyscope Your Twitter

Big thanks to Louis Gray (link here) for breaking this one: the team behind my personal fav real-time discovery tool for blogs is putting its considerable creative force into a desktop client for Twitter. I have praised Lazyfeed in the Studio on prior occasions (link here and here). Now the Lazyfeed team has brought its hypnotic scrolling relevance goodness to your Twitter stream with Lazyscope (link here).

Lazyscope is an Adobe Air application and offers some of the same look and functionality as a traditional Twitter client in the left hand column. Tweets with links show a long URL and a quick synopsis of the subject / content. But, you can get the full content with media if click a tweet – it will show in the right hand pane of the interface. The bottom right corner shows new tweets of interest. All in that fun, scrolling Lazyfeed-like way.

What makes Lazyscope extra cool is the integration of your Twitter stream with RSS reader capabilities. You can enhance the Twitter stream with your favorite RSS feeds and really turn Lazyscope into a one-stop-shopping center. You can subscribe in the right pane or enter a URL in the appropriate box at the tope. RSS updates will then show in your stream, right along with your Tweets. In essence, you are getting the best of both worlds in the debate over whether RSS or Twitter is the preeminent news consumption tool.

Another very cool feature is the ability to subscribe to and filter out a Twitter user’s particular content. You can subscribe to one users pictures and skip the Tweets by subscribing only to their photo service, bringing viewing into Lazyscope. Or simply subscribe to a user’s YouTube channel or blog posts. Pick your poison and filter out the rest.

Seems Lazyscope is all about fine-grained news consumption on the desktop. If you use Twitter primarily as a news reader and would like a better mousetrap for doing so, check out Lazyscope, sit back and watch the fun roll in.