Tyke – The simplest note taker for your Mac

Tyke has been around for a year now and I’ve been using it for much of that time.  No updates to this little free utility yet, and even the original download location has been co-opted by a Twitter user.  Still, it’s worth finding and downloading.

So what is Tyke?  It’s a menu bar application for your Macintosh that holds a plain text note until you quit the app or restart.  Need to remove styles and formatting from text before you cut and paste something?  Drop it in Tyke. Want to do a quick edit of text without opening an app? Tyke to the rescue.  Simply want a scratch pad for some notes that you may or may not keep?  Tyke.

It’s simple, free, and likely something you need but didn’t know that you did.

The author is Andre Torrez from Slack — here’s his blog, which is also a good resource and fun to read:  http://torrez.org/

The download site for Tyke has moved to https://tyke.app/

WooCommerce – an EXCELLENT WordPress ecommerce solution

We’ve had a lot of experience with commerce solutions over the past 20 years.  We were early adopters of osCommerce, done many, many ZenCart installations, and have worked with may other platforms, both custom and SaaS based from Shopify, to Commerce Cloud.  Recently, we have come to find WooCommerce, a solution for use with WordPress, to be a truly outstanding offer.

As anyone who follows our blog knows, we’ve moved away from Joomla! and Drupal and embraced WordPress as our preferred CMS platform.  Both  Joomla! and Drupal have fine ecommerce solutions, but it wold be difficult to find something that is as complete and well developed as WooCommerce.  The free offering has provided us with everything we want in an online store and the professional offerings from WooCommerce of extensions and improvements are well worth considering, and very fairly priced.  WooCommerce understands open source, making their offering free, improving it with the user base feedback and developer input, but offering additional services and extensions at a reasonable rate.  This is in our opinion the best path to proceed with open source software.

Let’s take a look at all that one gets from WooCommerce’s free, open source offering:

  • A very clean and highly thought out UI for the store and cart experience.
  • Variable product offerings; virtual, physical, one of a kind or inventory controlled, and protected downloads with options for controlling access.
  • A very easy to understand and operate store administration area.
  • Product reviews that may be enabled or disabled, set to have verified owners, etc.
  • Upsell and cross-sell capabilities.
  • A large number of payment extensions — most of which can be added for free.
  • Template controlled and WordPress CMS managed pages.
  • Coupons, including the ability to provide customers with single use coupons as a follow up “thank you” for their purchase or review.
  • Category and subcategory capabilities in addition to tagging.
  • Multiple shipping rate options and integrations with major logistics providers.
  • Tax calculations and variations that should support just about anyone — or the ability to tie into a professional tax engine if needed.

This is all in the free offering!  It is installed in the usual WordPress simply click-and-activate fashion, too.  We’re quite happy with everything we have found with WooCommerce and give it our highest recommendation!

You can see it in action on our new internal project Inquiry-Teaching.com

Inquiry-Teaching.com

Inquiry-Teaching.comOur work is changing, as is really the entire nature of what many of us call work.  Thanks to the World Wide Web, our ability to create and share resources has never been greater.  The Design Mission is going to be getting back to its roots and has started a new project for inquiry based curriculum; Inquiry-Teaching.com

Look for new and returning lesson plans with an inquiry and active learning focus to be live in August of 2017.  We’ll continue to update the site with new lesson plans and resources.  In two years, we hope to be doing nothing but curriculum writing as our work focus.

 

 

 

Free Meet/Race/Regatta Management Software

events-1The United States is not known for its sprint canoe and kayak racing teams — far from it.  While we have had a handful of Olympic medals, these have been very few and far between.  The sport has only a small following here, despite there being SUP, marathon and outrigger paddling communities with incredible depth.  Despite that, we perhaps have some of the best race software around.  JRaceman written by Jim McBeath is an open source Java based tool that can be used with many different sporting events to provide reports, heats, race results and more.

Check out some of its features:

  • Standalone (single user) or client/server (multi user).
  • Checks data for errors and restrictions (such as max entries per person and age levels).
  • Choice of methods for initial lane draw, including random, seeded, and by category.
  • Automatic, Manual, and Custom Progressions (lane assignment).
  • Supports group events (such as relay races or team boats).
  • Calculates Individual and Team scores.
  • Supports multiple customized per-place point scoring systems.
  • Supports non-scoring competitors (such as Internationals in a National competition), including optional preferential progression for scoring competitors over non-scoring competitors.
  • Produces HTML reports: Schedule Reports, Entries Reports, Lane Reports, Results Reports, Progress Reports, Score Reports, Award Reports, Personal Results.
  • Supports alternate and custom style sheets for HTML reports.
  • Fast web reports to maintain a web site during a meet.
  • Prints labels for awards.
  • Export/Import capability to support distributed data entry.
  • Interfaces to FinishLynx and Omega automated finish-line systems.
  • Integrated on-line web registration.
  • On-line help with built-in browser.
  • Tutorial Wizard simplifies learning how to use JRaceman.

If you’re hosting an event or attending an event that needs help with management, JRaceman is something you should consider using.   It’s an excellent example of open source software and great for anyone putting on a regatta, track meet or other racing event!

Wikis – The Best Tools for Documentation and Specifications

Writing documentation and specifications for developers is a big part of my day job.  Writing clear, concise documents is very challenging.  It’s one thing to write notes for yourself, quite another to explain complex systems and the desired outcome to others.  Not only is determining a format or standard way of writing things important for clarity, but so too, are the tools one uses to communicate.  This post will focus on the tools for sharing  documentation and specifications.

The standard documentation and specification writing tool of most businesses is Microsoft Word, Visio for diagrams, and Excel for spreadsheets — or other similar tools such as Open Office, Apple’s Pages, Numbers and the Omni Group’s Omnigraffle.  I have used all of these, but found each lacking in one fundamental way; they make ongoing “knowledge transfer” difficult, if not down right impossible.

DokuWikiWhen I say “knowledge transfer”, I mean the ongoing care and feeding of systems, troubleshooting a problem or implementing an enhancement to an existing system, or set of systems.  Unless the developer, project manager or end user knows where to find the original documentation, be it a specification or write up of a process, it is much more likely that these individuals will seek out any human specialist thought to know about this program or system first and ask for a verbal “download” and knowledge transfer meeting.  Not really something that is efficient in the long run as it relies on the ongoing staffing of these so-called specialists.  I for one don’t want to be the first stop for questions about systems and programs I have documented in the past — I want my documentation to be the first thing end users turn to for help and guidance.  Document management tools such as SharePoint, LiveLink and others help by providing a search function, but I have yet to see anything beat a simple wiki for knowledge transfer.  (My favorite wiki being DokuWiki.)  Hands down, they win out.

Let’s compare using SharePoint and Word/Visio/Excel to using a wiki to better clarify this comparison.  When using SharePoint, an end user can search the contents of the SharePoint site and get a really excellent search results set showing screen previews of Office documents, filters for last updates and more.  (Truly, the search results in SharePoint are great.) However, if all of the information is stored in a file, the file must be downloaded, or at best viewed online and edited with browser plugins.   A large dataset of Office files also becomes something that must be indexed regularly and is processor intensive.  What’s more, there’s ample opportunity for the document to be shared with others outside of the document management tool which may be seen as beneficial to some people, but for me is tantamount to storing the same data in several places with things quickly getting out of sync.

If all of the documentation is done directly in an easy to read, highly searchable wiki page, then even the questions the end user may have can be added directly in the document with updates and improvements to the documentation being done by the community of users.  Every wiki I’ve ever seen tracks changes well and is extremely searchable – this is exactly what wikis were created to do.  There is no additional application needed, you just use a web browser.

So why not use a wiki for both your documentation, specifications and runbooks all in one fell swoop?  If even somewhat organized into separate namespaces, a single wiki can provide an organization with a very powerful knowledge transfer tool that doesn’t require any desktop application or special licenses.  Diagrams are really the only tool one needs an application for to create outside of the wiki.  (I would also argue for using a diagraming tool such as Open Office’s drawing tool, Visio or Omnigraffle – a future post on diagraming seems like a good idea.) A single reference point for all documentation helps prevent fragmentation of the process documents and helps facilitate a culture where knowledge transfer is done routinely, and information hoarding is no longer the norm.

[I’ll be updating this post shortly with some tips for how better to construct a wiki page, too.]

 

LastPass – Better than KeePass?

LastPassI’ve been giving LastPass a try for about a month now as a replacement for KeePass, and so far it’s a keeper.  It does more of what I need it to do, and does it better.  For those of you that may not know what either tool does, these are password safes that keep an encrypted version of all of your passwords.  You just need your master password to gain access to a file that holds all of your important passwords.  Keeping complex passwords that are unique to each site or usage is a vital way of protecting your finances and identity.  These tools make that difficult task manageable and simpler.

lastpassSo what does LastPass do that KeePass does not?  Let’s start by talking about that.  LastPass works as a browser plugin that interacts with an encrypted file that is stored on your computer, and syncs the encrypted file with the LastPass servers for use on all of your devices.  Only encrypted data is shared via the Internet.  In a sense, LastPass does what I do with KeePass using DropBox natively.

LastPass does more though.  With LastPass, you can save a profile for auto completion of forms, monitor your credit, hold secure notes, and share safely your data with other LastPass users (like your spouse or family).  Both tools will generate complex passwords for you, but LastPass does it within your browser and in a simpler fashion.

Using LastPass is easier for me.  With the credit monitoring feature, and with the very reasonable annual fee, I can also have an app on my iPhone and iPad that syncs all of my passwords, too.  But perhaps the most important thing that LastPass does that KeePass does not, is multi factor authentication.  With even the free version of LastPass, you can use Google’s free application for multi-factor authentication with your phone.  This vastly improves your security and it’s easy to use.

The bottom line, I’m sold on LastPass.  So much so, I bought  a three year subscription even though the free version really does all I need it to do.