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1. Gary King: an update on Dataverse

At the American Political Science Association meetings earlier this year, Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard University, gave a presentation on Dataverse. Dataverse is an important tool that many researchers use to archive and share their research materials. As many readers of this blog may already know, the journal that I co-edit, Political Analysis, uses Dataverse to archive and disseminate the replication materials for the articles we publish in our journal. I asked Gary to write some remarks about Dataverse, based on his APSA presentation. His remarks are below.

*   *   *   *   *

An update on Dataverse

By Gary King

If you’re an academic researcher, odds are you’re not a professional archivist and so you probably have more interesting things to do when making data available than following the detailed protocols and procedures established over many years by the archiving community. That of course might be OK for any one of us but it is a terrible loss for all of us. The Dataverse Network Project offers a solution to this problem by eliminating transaction costs and changing the incentives to make data available by giving you substantial web visibility and academic citation credit for your data and scholarship (King, 2007). Dataverse Networks are installed at universities and other institutions around the world (e.g., here is the Dataverse network at Harvard’s IQSS), and represent the world’s largest collection of social science research data. In recent years, Dataverse has also been adopted by an increasingly diverse array of other fields and protocols and procedures are being built out to enable numerous fields of science, social science, and the humanities to work together.

With a few minutes of set-up time, you can add your own Dataverse to your homepage with a list of data sets or replication data sets you make available, with whatever levels of permission you want for the broader community, and a vast array of professional services (e.g., here’s my Dataverse on my homepage). People will be able to more easily find your data and homepage, explore your data and scholarship, find connections to other resources, download data in any format, and learn proper ways of citing your work. They will even be able to analyze your data while still on your web site with a vast array of statistical methods through the transparent and automated connection Dataverse has built to Zelig: Everyone’s Statistical Software, and through Zelig to R. The result is that your data will be professionally preserved and easier to access — effectively automating the tasks of professional archiving, including citing, sharing, analyzing, archiving, preserving, distributing, cataloging, translating, disseminating, naming, verifying, and replicating data.

Dataverse Network Diagram, by Institute for Quantitative Social Science. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Dataverse is an active project with new developments in software, protocols, and community connections coming rapidly. A brand new version of the code, written from scratch, will be available in a few months. Through generous grants from the Sloan Foundation, we have been working hard on eliminating other types of transaction costs for capturing data for the research community. These include deep integration with scholarly journals so that it can be trivially easy for an editor to encourage or require data associated with publications to be made available. We presently offer journals three options:

  • Do it yourself. Authors publish data to their own dataverse, put the citation to their data in their final submitted paper. Journals verify compliance by having the copyeditor check for the existence of the citation.
  • Journal verification. Authors submit draft of replication data to Journal Dataverse. Journal reviews it, and approves it for release. Finally, the dataset is published with a formal data citation and back to the article. (See, for example, the Political Analysis Dataverse, with replication data back to 1999.)
  • Full automation: Seamless integration between journal submission system and Dataverse; Automatic Link created between article and data. The result is that it is easy for the journal and author and many errors are eliminated.

Full automation in our third option is where we are heading. Already today, in 400 scholarly journals in the Open Journal System, the author enters their data as part of submission of the final draft of the accepted paper for publication, and the citation, permanent links between the data and the article, and formal preservation is taken care of, all automatically. We are working on expanding this as an option for all of OJS’s 5,000+ journals, and to a wide array of other scholarly journal publishers. The result will be that we capture data with the least effort on anyone’s part, at exactly the point where it is easiest and most important to capture.

We are also working on extending Dataverse to cover new higher levels of security that are more prevalent in big data collections and those in public health, medicine, and other areas with informative data on human subjects. Yes, you can preserve data and make it available under appropriate protections, even if you have highly confidential, proprietary, or otherwise sensitive data. We are working on other privacy tools as well. We already have an extensive versioning system in Dataverse, but are planning to add support for continuously updated data such as streamed from sensors, tools for online fast data access, queries, visualization, analysis methods for when data cannot be moved because of size or privacy concerns, and ways to use the huge volume of web analytics to improve Dataverse and Zelig.

This post comes from the talk I gave at the American Political Association Meetings August 2014, using these slides. Many thanks to Mike Alvarez for inviting this post.

Featured image: Matrix code computer by Comfreak. CC0 via Pixabay.

The post Gary King: an update on Dataverse appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Productivity tool: Coffee shop sounds, creative productivity and Coffitivity - and a poll

Survey: Do you like background noise while you're working?

Don't know about the rest of you, but I find my background noise preference depends heavily on what I'm working on. When I'm illustrating and am past the early sketch stages, I listen to audiobooks or have episodes of a previously-watched tv shows playing on my second monitor; the key for me is to have something interesting enough for variety but not TOO interesting to distract me from work.

For early creative stages and for writing, I used to prefer silence. These days, however,  I like to have something going on in the background, especially if my work day has been especially long. Music with English lyrics is too distracting, so I listen to Italian progrock but even that can start driving me crazy after a while.

One of my favorite background sounds for intense creative work? Coffee shop noise: murmured conversations, movement, muted clatter of cups and cutlery. I also find having people around who are DOING things stimulating, and I'm less likely to start daydreaming or slack off. I used to go to real-life coffee shops to do my writing, but this has downsides. The expense, for one thing, plus sometimes the conversations taking place around me are a tad TOO interesting.

Looks as if I'm not the only one who finds coffee shops and coffee shop sounds motivating:

How The Hum Of A Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity - by Anahad O'Connor in The New York Times

Why Some Of Us Get More Done At Coffee Shops - by Kevin Purdy on Lifehacker

Coffitivity Plays Ambient Coffee Shop Noise To Boost Your Productivity - by Melanie Pinola on Lifehacker

For others who like coffee shop sounds in the background while they work, here's one solution:

Coffitivity: Just opening up the website page will start up the sounds of a coffee shop, and you can also get free apps for iOS, Droid and Mac desktop. I prefer the latter because I don't like having my browser open while working because it's too tempting to "just check one more website."

There are choices of other sounds as well, like a campus cafe and lunchtime lounge. Coffitivity has also invited the community to submit sounds to share, so I expect we'll get more choices soon.

How about the rest of you? Do you prefer silence? If not, what do you like to listen to while you work? I'd appreciate you taking a few minutes to answer my 1-2 multiple question poll: Do you prefer background noise while you work?

I'll post results in an upcoming Inkygirl post.

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3. I love Scrivener and I think you might, too

she wishes she had ScrivenerWriters, if you haven't tried Scrivener yet, do. It's so worth the learning curve and (really quite affordable) expense.

Give up the MS Word addiction. Imagine: no more keeping each chapter in a separate file, then having to open fifteen different files when you can't remember quite where That Very Important Thing happened. No more keeping your story outlines on dozens of sticky notes... and then always wondering whether maybe you lost a few that time you worked at the cafe table outside. No more endless bookmark lists and devastation when you can't find that one perfect link you looked at five months ago. 

No, the people who make Scrivener aren't giving me a dime. I just like their product very, very much. 

It's hard to boil down all of the outstanding features of Scrivener, so I'm going to give you my top five:


  • Being able to have an electronic "corkboard". I plot, and re-plot, my stories out using this. Gone are the days of having a wire stretched across my study with index cards hanging from it. Now I can take my outline anywhere, so long as I have my laptop. And it's super easy to shift elements around, and see how they fit. 
  • Storing all of my internet research and references in one place, with subfolders. When I find a website I want to keep, I drag its address into my Scrivener research folders. If I want, I can easily rename it. It's so simple to go back months later and find things. 
  • Keeping snapshots of chapters that I'm afraid I'll complete bungle in revision. When I'm about to slash a chapter into ribbons and rebuild it, I often take a "snapshot" that saves all of its text in a nice, neat area. If I have to go back to that snapshot, it's as easy as a push of a button. or I can just copy-and-paste pieces out of my old version. 
  • Keywording chapters. I add customer keywords for each of my characters so I can track, at a glance, where they end up in the story (and where I've forgotten them for too long). 
  • The support. You can watch great introductory videos, and the developer is super responsive if you contact him through Twitter, too.


I use the Mac version, but I know there's now a robust PC version too. There's a free trial available, so why not try it?

I'll bet you a latte you'll never go back to writing your novels in Word.

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4. Kleki


A nice free online drawing app. It works without Flash and even works on the iPad.

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5. Using MS Word to Auto-Outline and Keep Track of Revelations

Figure 1

I'm not a pantser. Much. I have my complications worksheet which gives me a basic outline, and my character worksheets which give me a good idea of my characters' quirks and attributes. I usually fill these out after I write the first three chapters. BUT (and it's a great, big, hairy but) I am a closet pantser. I HATE doing the worksheets. Also, inevitably, once I've got them done, the story evolves organically. In technical terms, sh** happens.

It's not so much that the plot changes. The story can take left turns while staying within the plot. The revelations change, and what I reveal (backstory, subplot, worldbuilding, character, stakes, etc.), and when I reveal it, will alter my readers' perceptions of the story. I hate to stop writing to change all those worksheets, outlines, synopses or whatever. Ditto on revision.

Figure 2
I've tried Scrivener, yWriter, and various writing

18 Comments on Using MS Word to Auto-Outline and Keep Track of Revelations, last added: 5/19/2011
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6. Must-Have Free Software for Writers: Evernote

by Scott Rhoades

I get the feeling when I write about software that many of your eyes (and just how many eyes do you have, anyway?) glaze over, while a small percentage of you feel the nerd node in your brain perk up and you get excited.

This week, though, I'm writing about something that you eye-glazers might really want to pay attention to, and most of you geek freaks already know about: I'm talking about Evernote, one of the most useful apps a writer can have in his toolbox this side of a comfortable word processor.

Imagine this: you're driving down the road and you see an old house or a bit of scenery that is exactly what you pictured for your work-in-progress. You hit the brakes, screech to a halt, and jump out of the car, smart phone in hand. You snap a few photos, then create a voice note explaining why the pictures are important. Because your phone has GPS, your pictures and note are tagged with the location where you took the pictures.

Or, you're sitting in some waiting room somewhere, perusing a four-month-old magazine, when a story sparks a story idea. You don't have your laptop, and you know how well you can trust your memory. But you do have your phone. So you open up Evernote, jot down a few notes, maybe even take a picture of the item in the magazine that set off the idea. By the time you get home, the note is already on your computer, waiting for you.

All of this good material is almost instantly available on every computer you own, plus your iPad and your phone, because you created all of them in Evernote.

Evernote is the Swiss army knife of electronic notebooks. You can create as many notebooks you need, each with as many notes as you need. You can attach sound files, photos, and several other kinds of files. (With the paid version, you can attach any file you want to attach.) You can use add-ons for most popular browsers to clip bits of Web pages that you want to remember. You can even synch up with some popular email and calendaring apps, like Outlook.

Everything you put in Evernote is automatically synchronized with your Windows and Mac computers (at home and at work), with your iPhone or Droid or Blackberry or Palm, and with your iPad, and is accessible on the Web. In other words, your notes are available everywhere, any time. You can even share notes with friends, even if they don't use Evernote.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

You can use Evernote to store to-do lists, notes and ideas for stories, even your manuscript draft. Need a good, convenient place to track your submissions, always a tricky thing now that most queries are sent in email so you might send them from both work and home, while your old query tracker was only on your home computer. And you can use Evernote's "ink note" feature on your computer to sketch a map or an idea for an illustration. I only wish ink notes were available on touch screen devices. That would be really cool. (OK, it kind of is, with a for-pay iPad app called Inkiness, but the reviews aren't that great and it's not native to Evernote.)

Oh, and Evernote is free. You can get additional space--although the free version provides 60MB per month, more than enough for most people, unless you want to attach a lot of high-res pictures--and a few other features by paying for a premium account, but everything most writers really need is available in the free version. You can get Evernote for your Mac or Windows computers at www.evernote.com, and for your mobile devices at whichever app store or market you use. You'll want it on everything so it's always there for you. The Web site also has documentation, videos, and other information that will help you get up to speed quickly, although Evernote is easy enough to use that the docs aren't really necessary. They might help you discover a use you hadn't thought of, though.

So what are you waiting for? We writers often have our heads in clouds, so we might as well keep our no

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7. Writing Tools

I work in software technology by day so that part of my geeky life tends to bleed over into my creative life. While I do loves me a green pen and legal pad, I also use other writing tools for my novel project.

Here are the three that I use the most:


I first started using this spiffy tool about a year ago. I’m a big fan of spreadsheets and this software has a great outlining feature that is very helpful — especially if you write in scenes like me. You can switch things around, create writing schedules and goals — this is what I used for my Operation 50/50 project. What I like most about is that in addition to typing prose text, you can assign setting, characters, and even objects and track them for each scene. Best of all, it isn’t based on any operating system, so you can put this program on a thumb-drive and plug it to use on a laptop or computer. Even better, it’s free! But I’m seriously thinking about giving a donation to this fellow software geek for making it easier for me. Yeah, I know all about Scrivener but I don’t have a Mac and I’ve tried the Windows version for awhile but came back to this. I loves it!


Speaking of thumb-drives…it can sometimes be a pain carrying them around and if you’re paranoid like me then you’re always afraid that you’ll lose them. And then it’s sort of a pain to download the newest changes to your main computer or laptop. This is when I came across this cool sync tool. Basically, you can download data to one central location (what us software geeks call “The Cloud”) and then it automatically syncs to every linked computer. I have uploaded my yWriter software and my current writing project to Dropbox. No matter which computer I use, every time I make a change to any file, it gets synchronized everywhere. Your data is encrypted and the first 2 MB is free. So that’s more than enough space for a novel-in-progress. Plus a good way to backup work.


Ah, this cool e-book gadget isn’t just for reading books. It can read your own work-in-progress too! I’ve learned the beauty of having someone else read my work so I can hear what’s wrong right away. The Kindle has a “text-to-speech” feature that can read your WIP aloud to you. It’s not a sexy voice but it’s great for proofreading and catching errors or issues. My writer friend Medeia Sharif also uses this feature. You can use the Mobipocket eBook Creator free download to convert WORD or text documents for use on the Kindle.

So these are my top tools that I use to help me with my writing. What about you guys? Use any cool writing tools? Or are you strictly a paper and pen writer?

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8. New Releases of OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice

by Scott Rhoades

As writers, our choice of writing tools are extensions of our minds and hands. What we use to write is very important to us. There've been a couple of releases in the past week or so that are worth mentioning. The first is the release of OpenOffice.org 3.3, and the second is the release of the new kid on the block, LibreOffice 3.3.

I'm not going to get into all the new features of the new OpenOffice.org. Most are likely to have little noticeable impact on our daily writing activities, although the more deeply you use the program, the more you're likely to notice.

But I will rave over one new feature.

I have an Internet acquaintance who writes extensions for Writer, the word processing part of the OpenOffice.org suite. A couple years ago, I suggested an extension for the one thing that's missing from the major word processors: a Find toolbar. When I'm revising, especially when I'm making changes from marked-up hard copy, it annoys me to have to open a dialog box to search for a particular place in my text. That always means opening a little window that covers part of the text, so you always have to open and close it as you go through your documents. So many apps have a Find toolbar. Why do all the word processors lack such an obvious user interface improvement. My friend loved the idea, but he never wrote the extension. Probably because this toolbar was in the spec for 3.3.

Microsoft Office 2010 lets you open a Navigation pane with a Find toolbar. This pane sits to the side of the document, where it's out of the way. That's not bad. But you still have to open something separate. That's a minor quibble, though. The new Navigation features are pretty nice.

OpenOffice.org 3.3 puts the Find toolbar right where I want it, on the toolbar at the top of the document window. Because OpenOffice.org allows you to customize your toolbars in ways that Word users can only dream of (I admit it--I love to customize my workspace so it works the way I like, and the tools I use are handy while those I don't use are out of the way or are out of sight completely), I can (theoretically--I haven't actually done it yet, since I just installed 3.3 today) move the new Find toolbar to a convenient location.

I've been using MS Office 2010 more lately, although I really prefer OpenOffice.org. I was able to buy Office through a program at work for a staggering $10, which pretty much negates OpenOffice.org's most obvious benefit: it's free. (Maybe I'll write about why I prefer OpenOffice.org to Word in a future post. Hint: It has nothing--OK, little--to do with the price and everything to do with functionality.) I think Office 2010's new collaboration and online features are interesting and compelling, although I haven't actually needed to use them yet. But this Find toolbar, even if it seems to be a little thing, is a huge deal to me. It's something I cry for every time I make changes from my crit group. This alone will encourage me to use OpenOffice.org more.

Or it would, if not for the new kid on the block.

LibreOffice 3.3 is a new fork of OpenOffice.org, released this week. Its reason for existence is a long story, probably of little interest to most readers of this blog. In short, it was started when Oracle bought Sun, who "owned" and was the main supporter of the open-source OpenOffice.org project. Based on Oracle's history of not supporting open-source projects all that well, a whole mess o' key OpenOffice.org developers jumped ship and started a new project based on the older program. You can do that with open source.

You won't notice a lot of difference between OpenOffice.org 3.3 and LibreOffice 3.3. They are built on the same code base, although LibreOffice has supposedly cleaned up the source code considerably to improve efficiency, added a handful of unique features, and made some slight differences in the interface. Howeve

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9. Amiga - Disney Animation Studio (1990)  I spent countless hours...

Amiga - Disney Animation Studio (1990) 

I spent countless hours using this software as a kid. It breaks my heart I have none of the animation I created using it, or the work I created with Autodesk Animator, the other piece of software that kept me out of daylight on weekends.

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10. Paint Tool Sai

Paint Tool Sai:

A (new?) raster drawing program that the fantastic Steve Lambe filled me in on tonight. It is for PCs only right now, but MAC users should check this out (though I haven’t tried it yet).

From Steve:

It’s like someone took Flash’s awesome drawing tools, merged it together with Sketchbook’s natural feel for drawing. I’m digging it big time.

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11. Photoshop Splash Screen Evolution Those were the days.

Photoshop Splash Screen Evolution

Those were the days.

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12. Yes. Another Backup Lecture. | 43 Folders

Yes. Another Backup Lecture. | 43 Folders:

Merlin Mann walks through his redundant, automated back-up solution. If you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you’re a working illustrator, which means you have plenty of files that are important to you — and important to your clients.

I use a combination of Apple’s Time Machine and Dropbox, but I know even that’s not enough to cover my butt in the long run. Are you backing up your work? And are you confident in your backup solution? From the linked article:

  1. If it’s not automated, it’s not a real backup.
  2. If it’s not redundant, it’s not a real backup.
  3. If it’s not regularly rotated off-site, it’s not a real backup.

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13. WPSHOWER - Free wordpress themes

WPSHOWER - Free wordpress themes:

Some nice free WordPress themes for artist portfolios.

(via @n8w)

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14. Post It!

sticky-noteWant a super easy way to organize and remember things? Then discover the dozens of uses of sticky notes.

Their key advantage is in their ability to stick cleanly to files, papers, banners, phones, walls, doors, chairs, and books.

They come in all shapes and sizes–even smells! My personal favorites are Post-It notes in the shape of orange stars and my pink ones imprinted with a Louisa May Alcott quote: “She is too fond of books, and it has addled her brain.”

Uses for Sticky Notes

There are all kinds of paper sticky notes and free computerized sticky notes. [See the end of the blog post for unusual uses for computer sticky notes.] You can order paper notes online or buy them at WalMart or any office supply store. Some uses are obvious–but many will be new ideas to help you as a writer.

  • Leave yourself message reminders (about writing and non-writing chores to do, when you have to leave for an appointment, when you have a phone call scheduled)
  • Bookmark pages to find research, places to call in the phone book, and directions and names on your map.
  • Make business tools. You can order sticky notes with pre-printed messages, your personal logo, or your business card info. Use them if you’re out to lunch (post on your front door or computer screen). Give these business tools as gifts.
  • Map your day. Put sticky notes on a wall map showing where each errand or meeting  is located. Group them. After running that errand, remove the sticky note.

There is also a free sticky note software download for Windows.  With it, according to their website, you can do more than customize their look and then stick the note on your computer screen. You can also:

  • send sticky notes over a local network
  • send sticky notes over the Internet
  • customize sticky notes any way you need
  • edit and format sticky notes
  • print sticky notes

Time Management Books

Using sticky notes is just one time management idea. For hundreds of other ideas, see my time management book list.

What is your most unusual use for a sticky note–either writing or non-writing-related?

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15. Digital 3D Lighting Studio

lighting 3d model test

3d model lighting test 2

Fairy head 3d model

I had a go modelling a fairy head in Sculptris and then lighting it using Kerkythea.

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16. Product Review: Freeway Pro 5

Let me start by explaining how big of a geek I am.

I was one of the first of my friends to jump on that internet thing (will certainly fail), rely on e-mail as main source of communication (never last), and build myself a little thing called a web page (won’t be around for long). I’m what you call an “early adopter.” In twenty years I’ll be like Todd Rundgren or David Byrne, exploiting new technologies before my fans know they’re available.

Oh, and I’ll have fans.

I digress.

I learned HTML and a tiny bit of Java early on because I’m an impatient guy. I want a web page up NOW, not next Tuesday. So I searched Yahoo (pre-Google days) and taught myself how to code. It was fun, because I’m a geek and I do other insane things like make films one frame at a time. I even laughed at WYSIWIG editors because they were “the easy way out.”

Then I grew up.

Nowadays I love tech like Wordpress, Freshbooks, and AWeber. I’ve learned that “automated” and “template” are not curse words. I’ve now embraced the world of WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get, for the uninitiated). There was a tipping point when I decided that enough was enough, I wanted to spend more time being visually creative with my site and less time learning how to code things correctly. About the same time, my mother saw a copy of Freeway at the Apple store (I know, I know, my mother… shut up). She was itching to buy me something so I let her. I already had Dreamweaver with the Adobe Creative Suite, but I hadn’t even cracked it open. So I gave Freeway a whirl and created a new version of my web site.

Like any new app, I was at first befuddled by the menus, toolbars, key commands, windows, etc. Once I got into it and started seeing results, I was blown away. I’ve upgraded twice since then and I’m still loving it. However, I decided to combine my thoughts on Freeway itself and my review of Softpress’s latest version, Freeway 5 Pro (I’m using v 5.3.1 for this review).

Crack it Open

Installing Freeway on the Mac is pretty simple, as I would expect. By the way, I’m impressed by nice graphics on a software install because it usually means they don’t believe in afterthoughts on a product release. It reeks of careful planning and strategic branding, which I appreciate as a visually-oriented person. There’s also a very nicely formatted PDF help guide and I recommend doing the tutorials. I did it backwards (skipping them) but I probably would have learned more quickly that way.

Build Something

It’s pretty easy to get started building a site, even if you’ve never done it before. You can select templates for different themed sites if you prefer. I can see how it makes it easier to start, but the templates don’t appeal to me personally. If I wanted to get my 10-year old daughter building her web site, I would probably guide her towards a template. Savvy site builders will probably enjoy tinkering with a blank page to start.

I am the Master

If you’re familiar with master pages in PowerPoint or Keynote, then you already understand Freeway’s master page feature. The best use of Freeway is by choosing the CSS layout and using master pages. For example, I have a client who uses Freeway. I create his graphics (headers, icons, and such) and set up his pages for him based on a master. Then I just shoot him the necessary folders and Freeway source file so he can add his text, photos, or tweak things at will. If he gets stuck, I can guide him as long as he hasn’t messed with the master page.

Previewing and Uploading

Freeway has a nice preview feature. You can either preview your pages directly in the Freeway window (see also Improvements), or you can choose a browser and see it “live.” You can also upload the necessary files directly from within Freeway using the built-in FTP feature. Personally, I publish the site and upload my files using an FTP app, but I usually have other things I need to mess with on my site (client proofs, downloads, Wordpress stuff). I figure as long as I’ve got the hood open, I may as well clean the spark plugs.

Drag n Drop and Site Tweaks

Here we go. This is the number one, top-of-the-charts-with-a-bullet reason I love Freeway. Like I said, I’ve become more of a visual designer in recent years. One thing I like to do is create my site layouts in Adobe Illustrator. I can try things out visually and then figure out how to engineer them later.

When I found out that I could take the header I created in Illustrator and just drag the file right into Freeway, I was blown away. Seriously, astounded. This means that later, when my ever-changing creative mind goes wacky and I want to put a robot image in there instead of a pixie, all I have to do is tweak my Illustrator file and it automatically updates in Freeway. Then I just republish my site and it’s done.

As an artist with a gallery, I often go back in and update images on my site. This tool is just awesome for me.

I was also able to drag both the Quicktime movie of my demo reel and some Flash movies onto my animation page. A few control and quality settings and Bob’s yer uncle.

As an example of how quickly I can change something on my site, I recently decided to add a members club. In about four hours, I created a plan, set up the new pages, found some Actions (more on this later), inserted images, and had everything uploaded to my site.

In my world, I need to act quickly on these kinds of ideas and get back to illustrating and animating stuff. If I had to hand-code these updates, I would never do it. However, I should mention that because I have some hand-coding skills, I can look at the source file and at least understand where a trouble spot might be.

Meta and SEO

The buzz these days is SEO. It used to be that you would throw some keywords, a description, and a summary using META tags and you’d call it done. That’s still something you want to do and Freeway gives you an easy way to do it. However, that’s not the end. For a site to be truly searchable, you have to get key words and phrases integrated as part of your content.

As a visual designer, this is my main frustration. Without standards between browsers, my HTML text is going to look different on a Windows machine using IE than it will on a Mac using Safari, or an Ubuntu machine using Firefox. Using graphical text (users can’t select it in their browser), you have a lot more control over how your text will look across platforms. The rub is that search engines won’t find you with all graphical text, and HTML text is a crap shoot, unless you have several different machines to test on. There’s a section in the Freeway User Guide that states it succinctly: “…that’s the way life is with web design.”

Freeway gives you great options for choosing graphical or HTML text. I try to strike a balance between the two. One thing Freeway lets you do is go back and switch between graphical and HTML text in a block without changing any code. I can choose which text I think is important for search engines to pick up and which text I just want to control more closely.

Forms and Scripts

The time finally came when my site grew beyond the static brochure-type and I needed to make it more interactive (hence my new membership thingy).

The forms and actions included in Freeway 5 Pro are pretty handy. For example, I placed a Google map directly on my page with just a few settings to show where in the world Sparky HQ is. I figured it out in about five minutes after scrolling through the Actions panel for cool things I might want.

I also created PayPal Add to Cart buttons for the image licenses I sell on the site. Once I got the code from PayPal it was fairly easy to create the buttons. No graphic design necessary.


There’s a site called Actions Forge that’s specifically for creating and distributing Freeway Action scripts. At the time of this writing, there are 126 actions available, from rollover functions to password protection.

There are also options to insert markup language in your page. If you find a bit of code somewhere that you want to use, there are options for placing it (see also Tech Support). If you have no idea what I mean by markup language, then you probably won’t even use that feature. However, as your skills grow, you’ll discover it and love it.



I’m sure that Softpress has an improved feature list on their web site and marketing materials. However, I specifically avoided looking for it because I thought it would be more fun to showcase the improvements that I noticed in my own work. Wasn’t that nice?

iPhone Support: The iPhone and Blackberry aren’t going anywhere. Handheld devices are just going to get better. Freeway has a new iPhone panel that helps you optimize your site for the mobile web.

Shape Menu: It’s small details like this that make my visual designer eyes perk up. My site has lots of rounded-corner boxes. When I want to make a shape in Freeway, I want it to be easy to manipulate. The updated shape menu makes this easier.

View Menu: I got used to the old way of previewing my pages in Freeway 4, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. Now the preview menu is right up top and easy to click. I preview my pages often, so this is a nice change for me. I can also access my master pages and link maps in the same bar, as if I were in a browser. For my efficiency, this small change is huge. Besides, it looks nicer.

Google Actions Suite: I mentioned Actions before, but this is new. I use Google Analytics and this integration is just awesome.

Blogger and MobileMe capability: I don’t use either of these services anymore, but I noticed they are available. Gives me hope for WordPress.

Stability: I used to get at least one crash per session in Freeway 4, but I put Freeway 5 through it’s paces and it seemed to hold up. 

User Guide: This just gets better with every version, as it should. If you’re new to creating web pages, the User Guide even has a section called, “The World Wide Web and Freeway.”

Tech Support

The Softpress web site has pretty good support options. The usual Knowledge Base, Manuals, contact stuff… simple. If I had to research something, it’s all there. The real test of support for me is the people.

If you recall my new member area project, I had chosen a password protect URL action from Actions Forge. It was easy enough to install and set up and when I tested it on my local machine, it looked like I was in business. However, when I uploaded the new pages to my domain server, I got… bupkis. Zero functionality. Oxford, we have a problem.

After doing some research and attempting to alter the code (geek), I decided to put in a support case. Joe from Softpress Support contacted me the next day and gave me some suggestions. Later I heard from Keith in Support who gave me more suggestions. He also gave me an option of sending him the Freeway file itself so they could take a look at it, which I did. As of this writing, they haven’t found the issue yet. Of course I need my issue resolved, but during the process it’s all about the people and their communication; Softpress Support does an excellent job.

Since I’ve seen the Action working on other web sites, I’m certain it’s an issue with my server or something I’m doing (or not doing) on my end. In the meantime, I found a similar javascript that I was able to implement quickly. I had members signing up and the password they were getting was useless, so I had to take care of those people before playing with the Freeway Action.

Did I mention I’m a geek?

Freeway is simply an excellent web-building tool. At different times I’ve thought about trying out Dreamweaver just to see how the other half lives, but then I move onto other projects that are more important. The thing is, Freeway lets me do everything I need to for my web site. As I’ve grown the site I’ve found new features that I hadn’t touched before. I tend to use things as I need them rather than explore every feature just because it’s there. So I’m confident that I know where to look for an action or feature when I want to do something totally new.

I’ll be using Freeway to maintain my site and build others, as well as recommend it to my clients for the foreseeable future.

Below are some screen caps from my recent site update:


I created the button illustrations in Adobe Illustrator and later just dragged the files into Freeway.

I created the button illustrations in Adobe Illustrator and later just dragged the files into Freeway.


The updated shape menu rocks. Also note the t-shirt button illustration.

Freeway 5 Pro's updated shape menu rocks. Also note the t-shirt button illustration.


The updated navigation menu is much more efficient.

The updated navigation menu is much more efficient.

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17. Cheap and free vector software to get you started!

So you want to get started creating your art digitally, but somehow that humongous software price tag is holding you back?

Here are two THREE vector app solutions I found just for you:

NeoOffice Draw (FREE): This is part of a family of open-source office apps that work on Windows, Mac, and Linux machines. The drawing application is basic, but it does everything I need to. It’s free to download, but if you like it I highly recommend donating so they can keep developing new versions.

VectorDesigner ($70): This is an excellent value. From a company called Tweakersoft, this app does everything I need to create simple vector graphics. It has some nice effects, too.

InkScape (FREE): I did not have this in the post when I first published it, so I’m correcting the error! InkScape is another open-source app that runs on Mac, Windows, Linux, and there’s even an “unofficial” Fedora version out there.

I work in the Adobe Design Suites on a Mac. I started years ago using CorelDraw on a Windows machine. I sometimes dip my virtual pen into the well of an Ubuntu machine (because I’m geeky like that).

One of the things I’ve learned over the years since is that the tool is not the most important thing in creating artwork.

It’s your imagination. That’s free.

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18. Andy Warhol paints Debbie Harry on an Amiga

From the Commodore Amiga product launch press conference in 1985.

3 Comments on Andy Warhol paints Debbie Harry on an Amiga, last added: 5/18/2009
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19. Laying out comics in Adobe InDesign

I have certainly used InDesign to package finished comics projects, but since it’s primarily a page layout tool, I have never seen it used for any sort of drawing. In this video Gareth Hinds shows how he uses InDesign’s vector pencil tool to do the rough sketching and layouts for his comic book adaptation of The Odyssey.

This is the first in a series of videos for which he plans to share the other steps in his comic-making process.

2 Comments on Laying out comics in Adobe InDesign, last added: 8/15/2009
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20. Free unplugging USB devices software until Aug 25

I don’t know about you, but I have a heck of a lot of USB devices on my computer (mouse, pen drives, mini drives, keyboard, etc.). And I’m, ahem, not very patient with computer stuff; I want things to be instant and easy and just…fast. I don’t always go through the whole right-click-turn-off-usb-drive before I unplug stuff I use every day. (Do you havev to go through the whole rigamarole with an ebook reader? I’m assuming you do.)

Well, Gizmo pointed out a solution–USB Safely Remove 4.1–software that makes unplugging USB devices easy. And what’s even better is that this software is free until Aug 25 (it normally costs $20). So, if you have lots of USB devices like me, check it out!

I’ve found a lot of very useful, free software over the years via Gizmo; I trust him.

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21. Augmented Reality

Have you ever heard of Augmented Reality?  If not, Augmented Reality is a computer based software that uses 3-D tracking.   To simplfy that even more, by using a sheet of paper with a desired icon, the camera can spot the icon, and replace it with a 3-D computer made icon.  Some people even animate the icon, so that when you move the paper to it’s side, the icon will respond with some sort of action.

You may still be confused about what Augmented Reality is, so I will continue to explain what it is through out this article.  Currently, there is a museum that uses Augmented Reality to show everything.  Augmented Reality is currently being geared towards kids, so throughout the tour, kids can put on the special glasses and see the books come to life.  How?  Just like the computer, the glasses spot the icon, and then replay what is in it’s memory.  Say for instance a child is reading a fairy tale, once they turn the page, that page’s story begins to play out before the child. 

If you do a search on the internet and type in ‘Augmented Reality’ you can find many downloads where you can try it out.  Many car dealerships have started using Augmented Reality as a marketing tool.  They definetly got me hooked.  If you are into 3-D modeling and animation, you can download the free trial of Augmented Reality to test it out. 

Over all, Augmented Reality will be part of your future.  This is not something you will want to miss out on.  Check it out today!

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22. Augmented Reality

Have you ever heard of Augmented Reality?  If not, Augmented Reality is a computer based software that uses 3-D tracking.   To simplfy that even more, by using a sheet of paper with a desired icon, the camera can spot the icon, and replace it with a 3-D computer made icon.  Some people even animate the icon, so that when you move the paper to it’s side, the icon will respond with some sort of action.

You may still be confused about what Augmented Reality is, so I will continue to explain what it is through out this article.  Currently, there is a museum that uses Augmented Reality to show everything.  Augmented Reality is currently being geared towards kids, so throughout the tour, kids can put on the special glasses and see the books come to life.  How?  Just like the computer, the glasses spot the icon, and then replay what is in it’s memory.  Say for instance a child is reading a fairy tale, once they turn the page, that page’s story begins to play out before the child. 

If you do a search on the internet and type in ‘Augmented Reality’ you can find many downloads where you can try it out.  Many car dealerships have started using Augmented Reality as a marketing tool.  They definetly got me hooked.  If you are into 3-D modeling and animation, you can download the free trial of Augmented Reality to test it out. 

Over all, Augmented Reality will be part of your future.  This is not something you will want to miss out on.  Check it out today!

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23. Odosketch online sketching app


I just doodled this little fellow over at Odosketch, an online sketching application that attempts to replicate the experience of drawing with natural media. Obviously, the effect works best with a stylus instead of a mouse, but it’s certainly one of the more stylish online sketching apps I’ve used.

You can save your creations and, what’s probably the coolest feature, watch them get redrawn before yours eyes.

Posted by John Martz on Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog | Permalink | No comments
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24. Photoshop on your mobile device


I know this isn’t a tech blog, but I thought this was interesting enough to share here: Photoshop is now available as an iPhone/iPod Touch app from Photoshop.com, plus you can access Photoshop Mobile on several other devices too. Sadly, the app is really just for barebones photo-editing, and not one you can use to draw with. It’s Adobe’s version of PicNik I guess.

Oh, and in other news: Photoshop Express dot-com, has turned into just plain old Photoshop.com. I’ve been living under a rock, so I had no idea either existed. I know Adobe had a few web-based tools—like Kuler and BrowserLab—but I can’t find a page on their site that lists all of them. Anyone?

Posted by Luc Latulippe on Drawn! The Illustration and Cartooning Blog | Permalink | No comments
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25. 27 Tools for Writers

Writers use many tools! Here are some I use online, offline, and by hand.

Essential Writing Tools:

Preferred Writing Tools

  • WordPerfect

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/fdecomite/2916728372/

  • Ywriter
  • Printer, pen or pencil, highlighter pen
  • Unabridged Dictionary
  • Rhyming dictionary
  • Thesaurus
  • Internet Access – prefer Foxfire browser, though I use Google’s Chrome on my netbook
  • Flash Drive – my current one holds 4g and actually holds the Ywriter program on it, so I can use it from any computer
  • Writing Friends

Online Tools I use daily

  • Check up-to-date sales rank on Amazon: Sales Rank Express
  • To keep track of real time statistics of visitors on my blog, I use Statcounter.
  • To keep track of the blogs I want to read, I use Google Reader.
  • Facebook.com – Reluctantly, I’m pulled into this time drain simply because everyone is doing it, therefore, if I want to know what’s happening, I gotta check it, too.

Online Tools I use monthly

  • However, for long-term statistics, I use Google Analytics.
  • To keep long term tracking of sales on Amazon, use TitleZ.

Fun to Have Writing Tools

43 Resources for Writers

Best Software for Writers

  • 2010 Creative Writing Software Review – great chart comparing features of software for writers.
  • Need basic grammar help? Check out Writing Software Solutions or the White Smoke folks, who even have software to help dyslexic writers.
  • Amazon has lots of software on writing fiction:
  • Writing picture books or illustrating picture books? Look at how the Celtx software integrates text and pictures. FREE
  • Mac users can use Scrivener to keep ANY writing project organized.
  • Write Room (Mac) and Dark Room (PC) present writers with just a screen and text, no toolbars – which are perceived by some as distractions. If you constantly jump onto the internet, this writing software might help keep you on track.

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