Archive for September, 2006

The Little Tools I Love

Written by Nick B. Nicholaou on . Posted in Articles

© 2006 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Those of us who use technology a lot have a collection of little tools and utilities that we’ve come to rely on that help us get a lot done.  Those of our friends and colleagues who use technology very little are often amazed at what we can do!  Though many of these are simple, here are a few of my favorite tools that help me accomplish a lot and “Wow!” the masses.

Windows Movie Maker
My daughter had a great softball season.  In fact, we began referring to it as The Never-Ending Softball Season!  After her team won their local championship I took all of the parents’ pictures and made them into a movie with fun transitions set to energetic theme music.  Then her All-Star team went all the way to the national championship and they asked me if I’d make another movie “because you’re really great at it!”  How could I refuse!

There’s no magic to what I did.  I imported the pictures into Windows Movie Maker, imported songs I’ve ripped from CDs we own, and then played with the timing of the transitions so that they were fast and fun! 

Windows Movie Maker comes as a free applet with Windows XP and is very easy to use.  One warning, though, is that if you have a long movie with lots of transitions, it easily gets hung-up on itself, so save your work often.  Another tip is to not change any file or folder names or locations until you’ve made your movie project into a self-playing movie.  And there are lots of options for the format you create those movies in.

Picasa2
I read about a program from Google (http://picasa.google.com) that many were praising as the best and easiest-to-use tool for editing digital pictures.  In my younger days I was a professional photographer and thus always crop and edit my photos, so I was interested.  I downloaded it from Google and found it extremely easy to use and powerful for most of the editing I do.

Cellular Modem
WiFi is terrific, but finding a free hot spot can be challenging.  If your community is not heavily populated with them, or if you travel a bunch, you may like the solution I use.  It’s a cellular PCMCIA phone modem, and it keeps me connected in almost every location.  These are even starting to show up as additions for motherboards!  They’re very handy.

This is a solution worth doing some comparison shopping over.  Not all cards are created equal, and not all service providers offer wide coverage areas.  If you will be traveling very little, you may be able to go with an inexpensive carrier that offers limited coverage areas, such as T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com).  If you travel a lot, you may need to up the ante a bit and go with a carrier like Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com), where there are very few areas where they won’t connect.

Check with other users about the card options your carrier may offer too.  We use Verizon, and they always try to steer us to Sierra-Wireless cards.  Our experience is that those cards don’t connect nearly as well as the Kyocera cards which Verizon often sells for the same price!

DeLorme GPS and MS Streets & Trips
These two programs have changed the way our family vacations!  We use the DeLorme GPS receiver (www.delorme.com) and software installed on my notebook computer to navigate our way around the country.  Whether you want a wired or Bluetooth receiver, DeLorme has very good and inexpensive solutions ranging from about $120 to $180.  We never get lost, even when we’re in rented cars!

We do our trip planning using Microsoft’s Streets & Trips (www.microsoft.com/streets).  It has the best database of hotels, restaurants, and other points of interest and the easiest-to-use interface.  So we vacation now with more spontaneity and have more fun adventures as we explore what can be found in various communities.

For those with hard drive space limitations, Streets & Trips can interface with a GPS receiver.  However, it’s not as easy to see or navigate with as DeLorme, so we recommend using both.  They’re also both very inexpensive to update each year.

MindManager
MindManager from MindJet (www.mindjet.com) is a great tool for brainstorming and taking notes.  I use it in meetings and when I’m trying to make sense of a major project.  It’s easy to use, intuitive, and powerful.  It even interfaces with MS Project, MS Office, and my PDA!

eWallet
Like many, I have a PDA on which I like to carry a lot of credit card and other sensitive information.  eWallet from Ilium Software (www.iliumsoft.com) is a great solution.  It encrypts its contents, allows you to categorize and manage your data, and even has easy to recognize symbols to help you identify various categories.

MyBible
Speaking of PDAs, where would I be without MyBible from Laridian Software (www.laridian.com)!  On my smartphone (and on my previous PDAs) I carry two complete versions of The Bible.  These can be viewed separately or together for comparison, and come with a concordance for easy lookups.  Of course, I had to show it to my pastor so he wouldn’t think I was playing solitaire while he was preaching!