Tag: software

Browser-based tools for busy writers

Focusing on productive creativity

“I sit down at the computer with the intention of getting that next article/chapter/story done. The next thing I know, two hours have passed and I haven’t written a word!”

Sound familiar? If your social media accounts and web-surfing habits are costing you hours of writing time, why not restore some desktop discipline. Try some of the following browser-based tools for writers. We’ve compiled some of the best tools on the net to help you get the most out of your creative time.

Get Organised

If you’ve got a million ideas but can’t figure out how to get them onto paper, it might be time to try a different approach. The following tools can help organise your thoughts and ideas into words and sentences.

  • Wridea – a site dedicated to managing ideas. It offers a “collection of brainstorming tools” and the ability to share your ideas with friends. Many writers find this site appealing because it is very user-friendly and sign-up is free. Use it when inspiration strikes – it’s a fast, easy place to jot down ideas for future use.
  • TiddlyWiki – a note-taking app that is free to download and store. It is non-linear, giving you the freedom to store and retrieve notes according to your personal thought structure, and one of my favourites for brainstorming ideas and making those connections in a busy plot. You can take notes, add hyperlinks, images and freehand sketches, use tabs, tables and tags, and bookmark websites for research. You can also share ideas as files or links.

Get Productive

Procrastination is a major problem for writers – I used to spend an unhealthy amount of time worrying about the paradox of time travel and cataloguing the contents of my bathroom cupboard when I should have been writing. Then the net came along and I had every reason in the world to waste even more writing time. If you find it hard to escape the entanglements of the web, try using the following tools to cut down distractions and keep your mind on the plot.

  • Pomodoro Technique – this simple technique advocates taking regular breaks that include physical activity to increase productivity and avoid burnout. There are plenty of browser-based ‘tomato timers’ available – it’s just a matter of deciding which one you like best.
  • Cold Turkey – This site blocker for Windows is an absolute ‘must have’ for web junkies like me. You can block nominated social media sites and web pages, and the free version has some great features including the ability to group pages into lists, and a timer for blocking lists at particular times. A paid upgrade includes a scheduler and the ability to block game apps as well.

Get Utilities

These fantastic tools are easy to use and will appeal to (and slightly distract) devoted wordsmiths. Used correctly, they free up more time for writing and help you avoid poorly written, cliché riddled prose.

  • Cliché Finder – sometimes you simply have to let every dog have its day, but don’t fall into the habit of overusing cliché. If you’re unsure about a phrase, copy and paste your text into the box on the site, click on ‘find cliché’ and let this handy tool do the rest. The only down side to this tool is its time-wasting potential –I couldn’t help testing Cliché Finder’s ability…over and over again! NB: this tool only supports English.
  • Grammarly – if you’ve spent hours worrying about dangling participles or agonising over colons versus semi-colons, get ready for the joy of Grammarly. With an online thesaurus, a detailed online Handbook, a Q&A section and a blog included, there’s plenty to learn on the site. Grammarly makes it easy to check your grammar and make sure you haven’t inadvertently stolen someone else’s magnum opus. The annual subscription fee of less than $AUD20 is well worth paying for the benefits of an online grammar coach and plagiarism checker.
  • BibMe – this bibliography tool will probably only interest students, academics and the odd pedant or two. If you fall into any of those categories, you’ll know how time-consuming and frustrating bibliographies and footnotes can be, especially for large publications. BibMe is a fantastic resource that cuts the time spent building your bibliography in half, rates your essay if required, and generates a bibliography in your choice of style (e.g., MLA, Chicago, etc.).

So there you have it – for every time-wasting, brain-draining site on the web there is an equal and opposite site designed to block the siren song of procrastination and release the grip of writer’s block. All you have to do is pick the tools that work best for you and get on with the business of writing.

 

HTML5 v Flash

The Great Debate

html5_logo

Which is the superior medium – HTML5 or Flash? There seems no end to the debate. Some developers believe Flash is already dying in a PC-bound backwater, while others believe it has far too much traction online to simply go under and drown. As yet there had been no definitive answer, but we believe the future is HTML5.

Weighing up the Advantages

The developers and supporters of Flash insist they have the numbers to prove the worth of the technology they prefer. 70% of web-based games are built on Flash, over 70% of web-based video content are viewed via Flash, and over 90% of enterprises rely on Flash. Numbers like that deserve confidence and no doubt are music to Adobe’s economic ear, but numbers alone cannot protect the future viability of a technology that is driven by consumer demand for accessibility.

HTML5 offers mobile capability, which means content can be downloaded on any device; a capability that the PC-bound Flash medium does not enjoy. Most modern browsers and many mobile devices that are incapable of running Flash readily support HTML5. The ability to run content across a variety of platforms is incredibly important when you consider that in all probability, one in five views will occur on a mobile device. HTML5 also has semantic markup. When it is properly formatted it allows for easy reading by a spider and can provide a huge boost to a site’s SEO. Flash, on the other hand, is compiled code so the content cannot be spidered to increase the SEO rating of a site.

HTML5 v Flash…and the Winner is…

The open standards development of HTML5 means it is not controlled by one company vision. Feedback is encouraged and has helped developers keep up with the demands of a growing world of users, making HTML5 a clear winner for on-the-move gamers who demand the latest technology.

 

 

The Five Main Types of Software Licenses

Software Licenses

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What they are and how you can use them:

Traditionally Software Licenses were commercial in use – you paid a set price and you were allowed to use that software whether it be an Office Program, an Accounting Package or an Anti-Virus Program on one or more computers.

And there is big money in software licenses.

So big in fact, companies were licensing not just software but the actual tools of the trade for businesses, designers, and education departments. Somewhere along the way prices started becoming prohibitively expensive for companies and universities and began effecting productivity on a massive scale (that’s a whole other topic!).

All of a sudden the font that your company was using on your letterhead free of charge for 10 years now needed to be licensed for $140 US. The graphic program that you bought for $1,200 US all of a sudden had a requirement to be upgraded every 2 years at an additional $500. Your company grew from 3 employees to 6, well that’s a whole different category of software license so now you owe twice the amount you did the year before.

One of the main reasons I believe Western Productivity has stagnated is prohibitively expensive software licenses.

But need drives demand and with so many smart cookies out there people started taking matters into their own hands.

Organisations such as GNU began creating free software that could do what their commercial rivals did. Others followed suit and now we have some amazing products, many that are superior to commercial rivals. I am slowly adding a resources page of software that is either free or affordable. Some are open source, some are free, most are commercial and some are shareware.

Like with anything on the internet there is an oversupply of conflicting information regarding software licenses. When can you use them? How can you use them? Can you adapt them? Can you use them commercially?

Software Licenses: A Brief Overview-

  • Free Software GNU License: You are able to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software without hindrance. The easiest way to describe this is ‘Free’ as in liberty, so you are able to adapt them to your needs, they are also ‘Free’ as in price. The GNU Organisation has more in depth information.
  • Open Source: Open source means that you can use a font, program, or browser for free of charge generally without any conditions. Open Source as its name suggests means that its code is available in a free manner so others may distribute it under the condition that further developments and applications are put under the same licence GNU General Public License (GPL), is the most common license.
  •  Freeware: is commonly used for commercial products that are proprietary software. A company is allowing people to use their product without payment but you cannot adapt and modify the program as a company owns it. Free as in Free price, not Freedom to modify it. This is often tricky for artists and designers to understand as it is free for personal use, but if you use it for commercial reasons (even if its for your child’s local primary school fete you need to pay a fee).
  • Creative Commons (CC): Is a non-profit organisation that has allowed creative people to release their works whether it be art, fonts, code, manuals, video work, graphic design, photographs, with a license that suits the person creating the work. A creative person may be happy to give their work away for free no strings attached, give their work away for no payment but with recognition that they are the author of the product, or that it can be adapted only for non-commercial use etc. The Creative Commons is an amazing resource to share, learn and use works without payment and as a designer I find absolutely invaluable. It is often misunderstood, but if you want to understand it properly Jonathan Bailey at Plagarism Today has written the easiest to understand article on the topic I’ve seen so far- How to Correctly use Creative Commons.
  • Shareware: Really should be called Trialware. A company allows you to download their program for a set amount of time with the aim being that if you like their product you buy the software license.

Please keep in mind that this is really only a very brief overview of software licenses. Last time I checked there were well over 20 different types, all slightly different. There is a whole field of Intellectual Property dedicated to licensing software and I certainly don’t have the budget to pay for a lawyer to go into further details, besides you probably would have nodded off by now.

Below are a few organisations that have revolutionised the web through use of various software licenses.

wordpress-logo-web

WordPress has democratised the web by making it cost effective to create beautiful, effective websites. WordPress uses an Open Source GNU General Public License (GPL)


 

The Mozilla Organisation have created such great software as Firefox, Thunderbird and Firebug. They have been on the cutting edge of the internet for a long time now and have always created great software. Mozilla has created their own Open Source license called the Mozilla Public License (MPL)


The GNU Organisation began in 1983 and are best known for their Linux Operating system. They have never stopped creating amazing programs much of which has been adapted and copied by commercial rivals.

If you believe in a free internet then they are an organisation well worth supporting. They are always seeking assistance whether it be financial or actual coding through the Free Software Foundation.


Creative Commons began in San Francisco in 2001 and has the lofty aim of creating universal access to research and education to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity. They have a yearly fund raising drive. If you are a creative type then a donation should be right up your alley. Helping spread good design, freely.

Creative Commons Copyrighted Work Licenses:

We love Creative Commons and how you can license your original work such as images, text & code with different licenses so you can share with other people.

Attribution:

Other people can copy, use, display and distribute your licensed work provided they give you credit. They can also modify the work provided there is credit given. I have seen this used with great effect by photographers that have done a photo shoot and been paid for the best 20% of the photographs and they release another 20% with a Attribution License so other people can enjoy their work and they gain further exposure.

Non-Commercial:

You allow other people to use your work only in a non-commercial way. Other people can copy, use, display and distribute your licensed work provided they give you credit but can’t make money from your work.

No Derivative Works. You allow others to distribute, display and copy your work  but they cannot modify or build upon your work.

Share Alike:

Others can share and distribute your work only if it is under a license identical to the license you’ve set.

The four Creative Commons licenses above all have various permutations relating the exact nature of how you would like to license your copyrighted product. For more information Creative Commons please see their website here…

Benefits of Cloud Computing

australian-cloud-servers

Cloud computing for your business

Cloud computing is one of the latest IT technology marketing buzzwords. Is it something you can take advantage of in your business or is it just the latest in a long line of ‘next big’ things that just don’t cut it. Before we look at the benefits Cloud computing could have for your business, just what is this mysterious piece of jargon?

 

What is the Cloud?

Imagine instead of having all your files installed on your own computer, you simply log into the internet and find all your programs directly in your browser. That’s basically what Cloud computing is all about. All you need is a computer, an internet connection and you can work from anywhere – even in transit with your tablet or iPhone.

If you use a web based email program like Hotmail or Gmail then you already use the cloud without realising it. All your emails are stored on the email service’s web servers and you can log in from anywhere around the world. Cloud computing takes this to the ultimate limit – a virtual computer office accessible anywhere with an internet connection.

The accessibility that Cloud Computing offers means the information must be stored off-site. This means data needs to be hosted on a cloud company’s own server. Issues with trust have been well-documented and certainly worth investigating further – especially find out where the servers are located. Different countries have different levels of legislation regarding access to this information, certainly the general advice is to make sure you choose a company with servers in your own country. Rob wrote an article last year on the issues with The Cloud here…

Dedicated companies can provide ‘limitless’ storage – limitless being of course the anticipated demand for storage space. But the power to buy in bulk allows, in practice, no limit to the size your system needs, without the need to purchase the storage hardware yourself. No more backing up on to DVDs or portable memory drives. Guaranteed continuous backup of your data is the catch cry.

The freedom from the need to buy big powerful computers and manage your own IT department is a real attraction to cloud computing. A computer that has an internet connection and a browser is all you need – the software run through Firefox or your browser of choice. The management of an IT department isn’t something that most people will really have to do. But larger companies can relieve themselves of the cost of this by outsourcing to a cloud provider. Sorry guys but it’s true. Large companies requiring security of their information can utilise the technology to run their own cloud-based system and network.

 

The two burning questions I hear you asking about The Cloud:

  1. How much does it cost?
  2. Can I trust it?

The cost depends on what sort of computer you want to mimic. You can choose levels of:

  • RAM
    • Basically storage space. Just like the RAM in your computer, but it runs in a virtual environment RAM runs faster than hard-drives so your system can potentially run faster in a cloud environment. This is what your software runs in.
  • CPU
    • The speed of the processor the environment mimics. The reason they have a choice is to lessen the burden on their server loads – ‘slower’ performance is really less requests to the server per second.
  • Cores
    • The number of processors the environment mimics – the more people accessing the server at anyone time – sort of like the bandwidth in a way.
  • Storage space
    • This is where your documents, files and media are stored. Just like your hard-drive.

Some companies offer fixed plans like mobile contracts (Software as a Service SaaS), some have a yearly fee, many such as Gmail are ‘free’ and some you pay a rate based on the amount you use. Also remember the overall speed is also affected by the speed of your own web host plan or wireless connection.

One consideration is if the data storage company goes bust and turns off the servers – or withhold your data if you get behind in paying your bill. Sometimes the security of a large, popular company is worth the additional fees – whatever you do, make sure the host has a policy for the ownership and access to your data in case of catastrophy!

I see the use of cloud technology becoming a mixture of smaller business utilising web-based hosts and larger businesses incorporating cloud-based technologies into their own IT departments. With a healthy sprinkling of work from home and jet-setters running their businesses from their laptops in all the most beautiful places in the world. On a gondola down a venice canal perhaps…  It sounds far-fetched and science fiction but this technology has the potential to transform the idea of the internet, as not so much a place you visit but a place you operate in. And who doesn’t want more control over their own lives anyway?

 

Let’s recap the Benefits of Cloud Computing

  • Limitless storage
  • Easily accessible
  • A wide range of options for your budget
  • Less hardware and software to purchase and upgrade
  • Better quality of life for everybody

 

I don’t often see as much potential in new technologies as I do in cloud computing.

Will the internet finally keep it’s promise to mankind to free our lifestyles.

 

Open Source Software for Self-Publishers

The Benefits of Open Source Software for Self-Publishers

Having a publisher prepare one’s manuscript is often fraught with difficulties and frustrations. This is no truer than with the esoteric art of poetry, my own brave conviction, where the gist of the art and its subtle nuance is often lost on but the very best publishers. The result being, having one’s life work poorly represented and poorly marketed. Beholden to the publisher’s whim, indifference and empty promises, self-publishing became an attractive and viable option – provided one can find a practical and inexpensive desk-top-publishing software program.

After dismissing my own publisher on the very same grounds, previously mentioned, I had engaged an old university colleague to redo my manuscript using proprietary desktop publishing software. Unfortunately the software, in the past, was not frequently updated and when difficulties arose over program use, help could not be had. People could not assist us because of compatibility issues that developed when transferring and integrating our document files, created from old software, with more updated software programs of those who were rendering assistance. An example of such a problem is the resurfacing of old editing, despite saving new changes and deleting the old. Frequent updates of proprietary software, to avoid these issues, can be prohibitively expensive especially for the infrequent user and hobbyist self-publishers.

With my life’s work on hold, the option of using open-source desktop publishing software promised to breach my publishing impasse. While Googling, I chanced upon an experimental version of an open-source desktop publishing software called Scribus©, suitable for both PCs and Macs. Googling for online information, I sought instruction on how to use this particular program and was thus able to lean its idiosyncrasies.

In less than a week I was able to re-do my manuscript, from scratch, to print ready stage. The same equivalent process took my former publisher more than two years, using proprietary software, to no avail.

Like self-publishing, learning new software requires a steep learning curve but is worthwhile with open-source software if one can overcome the initial trepidation.

 

Open Source Software

Open Source Software for Small Business

Computers offer the small business owner such amazing tools to create, publish and promote one’s business that marketing your business, art studio or next book has never been easier. And with such a vibrant Open Source Software community, today’s business owner can build a great computer that does almost everything required by a small business or artist.

Here’s some of our favourite Open Source Software:

Web browser: Firefox

All the top browser makers will let you have a browser for free. They’re mostly not open-source but all basically do a similar thing. Mozilla Firefox is my choice for an Open Source browser, it is hugely popular, stable and comes with some great add-ons.

 

Open-Source Email:

Google’s Gmail and MSN Hotmail are the two most popular webmail services. Most people have at least one of these even as a secondary email account. They are simple to use, easy and accessible anywhere. But they do have their issues: Some people don’t like the idea of cloud based software whilst others don’t trust what large companies do with your information.

But there is an open-source alternative:

Mozilla Thunderbird is an open-source email management program, very similar to Outlook. You download your mail from the mail server to your own computer’s hard drive so you have access to your messages even when offline. The great thing about storing your information is you control the information, there’s no advertisements distracting you and you can access your emails when an internet connection isn’t there. Read our full review of Thunderbird here
These are things like sending emails, writing letters, designing simple flyers. Also you might need to calculate monthly budgets, income and outlay statements, more business type administration.

 

Open-Source Documents: Word

Most new PCs come with a trial version of Microsoft Office or are included in the (premium) price. Yet it does cost a reasonable amount of money to purchase the software. This is especially apparent when looking at schools and education departments that are still running Microsoft Word 2000. If it wasn’t so expensive the schools would have upgraded by now. The most common name in open-source office software is Open Office & LibreOffice. It might take a bit longer to relearn some things but mostly works the same way as Word. You can even open and save Word files.

 

You might need a spreadsheet for doing basic accounting, budgeting or timetabling. Open Office has an excel equivalent in the suite. It also has presentation (slideshow) software, a database package and a drawing package (more on this below). If you can use Excel then you can pick up Open Office’s version very quickly and easily. There’s some subtle differences but for most purposes it’s basically the same.

Open-Source Image software:

If you’ve ever played around with Windows you might have found the Paint program. I haven’t met anyone who has been able to use it for much more than child-like drawings with the mouse… So you’ll need better image software to scan your work, create digital artwork, professional posters and invitations, that sort of thing. Open Office has a drawing program that seems like a set above Paint but in my opinion, real artists need real software.

For many years the industry standard has been Photoshop. Only problem with Photoshop is it’s expensive and the learning curve is steep. If all you want to do is resize your family photos or add a watermark to your work then its hard to justify the price tag of Photoshop.

Enter: GIMP

is an image manipulation program similar to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. It has an equivalent function for most of the functions the other software has, and is available under what is called a GNU Public Licence. This means that you are free to use and distribute this software.

We’ve done a more complete review of GIMP here….

Audio software

It really depends on what you want to do with audio. If you want to record podcasts then you might only need something like Audacity, which is a multitrack audio recorder and processor. You can record your voice on one track, put some music on other tracks and then mix together your podcast, ready to post on your blog.

If you are a musician looking to produce music then you will want a multi-track digital audio workstation that you can record and use synthesizers with. DarkWave Studio is such a package. VST-compatible, which means you can plug in other synthesizers and effects to create and produce professional-quality audio.

Video

VideoLAN Movie Creator is a video editor you can use to make films or video blogs. The VideoLAN organisation (creators of VLC player which you may have heard of) states on their website that it is ‘A project and a non-profit organization, composed of volunteers, developing and promoting free, open-source multimedia solutions’. Perfect for video blogs, projections for gigs, or video art.

Beyond the scope of this article is Ubuntu Studio, an Ubuntu total package developed specifically for artists of every medium, as well as multimedia artists. A brief glance seems promising, especially if you’re happy to embrace the open-source philosophy whole-heartedly and spend the time learning a completely new system. Look out for an article soon about this awesome product.

Conclusion:

The open-source philosophy isn’t just about free stuff. It’s about freedom from restriction and freedom to share. The community that develops and maintains this software does so because of their beliefs. If you use open-source software commercially it would be nice to consider donating some of your profits to the continued development of whatever you find useful.

Donate to the Gnome Open Source Software Community

What is a Creative Commons License?

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Which Creative Commons License is right for you?

creative-commons-license-logo

Creative Commons is a licensing scheme which encourages the sharing of intellectual property whilst allowing the creator to retain ownership of the copyright. A Creative Commons licence is a simple, legal means for creators to grant copyright permissions to their creative work.

The aim of the Creative Commons project is to collate a pool of digital content that can be used a resource by anyone in their own creative processes that operates within copyright law. Creators of content can distribute their work for others to enhance, modify, edit or sample in their new creations, ensuring that the original creator is credited for their original work.

A Creative Commons license come in seven varieties that creators (or licensors, as referred to legally) can choose from to distribute their work under (version 2.5):

  • Attribution
  • Attribution / Share-Alike
  • Attribution / NoDerivs
  • Attribution / NonCommercial
  • Attribution / NonCommercial / Share-Alike
  • Attribution / NonCommercial / NoDerivs
  • Public Domain

Creative Commons Licenses explained:

Most of the combinations are of the following:

  • Creative Commons: Attribution means that use your work must be credited to you.
  • Creative Commons: ShareAlike means that the resulting use of your work must also be licensed as a ShareAlike license.
  • Creative Commons: NoDerivs means that your work must not be edited or altered, but can be freely distributed.
  • Creative Commons: NonCommercial means use of your work must not be used for commercial purposes.
  • Creative Commons: A Public Domain license waives all rights to the copyright, allowing others to use your work freely without crediting you.

Creative Commons also makes its licenses available in three formats, reflecting the digital nature of the work and the non-legal background of the majority of creative workers:

Creative Commons Licenses come in three formats:

  • Legal Code
    • The license in traditional legal language
  • Human Readable
    • The license in standard language that most people will be able to understand
  • Machine Readable
    • The license in a computer language that software can recognise, embedding the license into the digital format of the work

This approach to license format is designed to ensure that creators are protected legally, that creators can understand the terms of the licenses, and that prospective licenses can use Web technology to source Creative Commons licensed creations.

The Creative Commons website has an easy-to-use tool for licensing your work the way you want it, and for finding Creative Commons licensed work online.

Why use a Creative Commons license?

  • It encourages distribution of your work and your name
  • It adds to the pool of digital media available for others to use
  • It inspires new creations
  • It enriches the record of human creative achievement stored by the World Wide Web

Anyway you look at it Creative Commons is a great resource for Artists & Small Business owners. Creative Commons items can images, worksheets, budgets, code, photos and anything else that comes under the umbrella of Intellectual Property. For more information see:

www.creativecommons.org.au or www.creativecommons.org

 

How to use Excel in your art business

Using Excel in your arts administration:

Arts Administration – for many artists it’s the side of their practice they’d rather not think about, but in our economic culture it’s an integral aspect of any successful Art Business. Luckily with the advent of technology, we have tools at our disposal that can help us manage this side quickly and easily.

Spreadsheet applications like Excel are my favourite way to manage the administration of art – in fact I consider it an artform in itself. The beauty of Excel for me is the simplicity of its function, and its ability to be manipulated to perform various tasks.

How to use Excel: The Basic Theory

Quite simply, Excel is a sheet of rectangles, or cells, into which information can be entered. This information can be two types:

  • Data
    • Words
    • Numbers
  • Instructions involving other cells
    • Total the list above
    • Calculate the total price times the number of items
    • Add up the total hours worked for each day

So it can be used either as a database or a spreadsheet. What do these terms mean?

A database is a record of information that can be maintained and sorted through easily. Some examples of how artists could use a database are:

  • Using Excel as a Contact list
    • A mailing list of people to invite to exhibitions or performances
    • A list of contact people in the industry
    • A list of possible venues to stage events in
    • A list of galleries that can be sorted by the area they are in or the styles they show
    • A list of annual competitions that can be sorted by area or genre
  • Catalogues of works
  • Timetables for events

For example, here’s a database for galleries you may approach for exhibitions:

 

Galleries in Melbourne

name

suburb

painting

sculpture

photography

contact

email

Star Gallery Sunshine

x

x

Bill a@b.com
Moon Gallery Blackburn

x

x

Sam c@d.com
Ocean Gallery Fitzroy

x

x

Judy e@f.com

Using this database we can then use Excel to sort a list of all the galleries in a certain suburb, or which medium they exhibit. And you have the contact details recorded for easy retrieval. And as you discover new galleries, you can add them to the list as you go and have a comprehensive list to draw from.

A spreadsheet like a blackboard with rows and columns marked to create rectangles where they intersect. You choose what the rows and columns mean, whether they are some data or an instruction. Some examples of how artists could use a spreadsheet are:

Using Excel to keep track of costs of a project:

  • the budget for a project
  • time slot calculations for events
  • ticket pricing for events

For example, you may want to work out the budget for an art project. You would make the columns represent the cost of an item and the rows represent each item:

Arts project budget

projected cost

actual cost

materials

paint

cost

cost

brushes

cost

cost

spray compressor hire

cost

cost

total materials

total above

total above

admin

wages

cost

cost

contractors

cost

cost

studio rent

cost

cost

transport costs

cost

cost

total admin

total above

total above

total budget

materials plus admin

materials plus admin

 

We can use this for the projected budget and then the actual budget on the same page, so we can compare how accurate the projections are. You can see that we also have two sections, materials and admin. This could be any number of sections, depending on how complicated your project is – an arts festival might have sections on venue hire, technical services, equipment hire, admin, volunteer expenses, commissions…

The purple boxes are where you would enter the data, as mentioned at the start. The green squares are where you would enter instructions, in this case the sum of all the costs in the list above. The orange squares would also contain an instruction, but this time it would be the sum of the two green squares above, to add up the cost of the materials plus the cost of the admin.

 

 

Arts project budget

projected cost

actual cost

materials

paint

10

20

brushes

20

15

spray compressor hire

180

180

total materials

210

215

admin

wages

180

270

contractors

400

400

studio rent

360

360

transport costs

40

75

total admin

980

1105

total budget

1190

1320

 

The beauty of using a spreadsheet to calculate budgets is that once you have all the cells programmed, any changes you make to the cost of an item will automatically alter the total figures. The project can be planned with a budget limit in mind, making the job of projecting a budget quicker and easier – you can see the effect of the changes in the total immediately.

These are just a couple of simple examples of how to use Excel to make the process of managing your art quicker and easier. I’ve also used it in events to create colour-coded timetables, in corporate administration to extract accounting information from reports and even in classical music composition to calculate musical pitches from manipulations of formulas.

It can be a really useful tool and well worth a small effort to familiarise yourself with it.

If you don’t want to go to the extent of purchasing Excel there is a wonderful Open Source Program called Calc that is part of the Libre Office Suite.

Clicking on the logos below will take  you to their respective official websites so you can download the program.

 

 

For more great resources on running a successful Art Business see our resources page here….

GIMP Review- Open Source Software

GIMP Review

Image Manipulation Program

GIMP is a GNU image manipulation program similar to Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. GNU means that the software is not owned by anyone, and can be freely distributed. Free in this sense means freedom, not necessarily free-of-charge, but it is available to be downloaded and used at no cost. This would seem to be the perfect solution for artists living on low-income who just need some cheap way to get their images online.

I have a client who wants to save images of his work so they can be ready to sell on Red Bubble. I’ve been using Photoshop for a few years but he doesn’t have it, or any other commercial image software, so I went looking for a free alternative for him.

And I found GIMP, a free program that does pretty much everything that Photoshop does – and can even work with the same file formats!

My client is a visual artist working in ink and paint. His images are either photographed or scanned and then he wants them to be post them to his own website or sell his work through websites such as Red Bubble. Whilst this offers his work a unique ‘lo-fi’ character, this technique creates some issues when the colours don’t appear as they would on the original work, or when smudges and blemishes appear on the original artwork. Many of his pieces are also black-and-white prints he would then hand-colour.

He asked me to make him a step-by-step tutorial in simple image touching-up, resizing and exporting various file formats (JPG and PNG specifically). What a great way to learn a new program! I had to try and find all the corresponding GIMP functions to match how I would do the job in Photoshop. Overall GIMP 2.6 functions work pretty much the same way as in Photoshop – though sometimes they’re under a different menu.

My tutorial focused on:

  • removing speckles and blemishes
    • ie from dusty scans, random smudges etc
  • selecting and altering specific sections
    • straightening hand-lettering, rotating images
  • touching up colours
    • making colours more vivid or more solid
  • removing backgrounds
    • a must for printing T-shirts
  • resizing and exporting images
    • Red Bubble needs different products in different sizes and formats

 The basic GIMP 2.6 tools I used were:

  • Square and Round select
    • it’s nice to have a round select tool as standard!
  • Lasso and Fuzzy Wand
    • The Photoshop Magic Wand is called the Fuzzy Wand in GIMP.
  • Eraser
    • It wasn’t clear to me how to select a specific brush size for the eraser, something I use in Photoshop. Though it’s not a necessity.
  • Move and Rotate
    • It wasn’t clear how to select a section to move it – it seems that you need to cut the section, paste it, move it and then anchor it back on to its layer. OK once I worked that out.
  • Colour Balance
    • Useful for scans that lose some colour integrity!
  • Hue saturation
    • My favourite so far! Control the hue/lightness/saturation of the six primary/secondary colours. Individually, or click Master to loop through the hue palette for quick colour variations!
  • Brightness/Contrast
    • Just like you would expect.

There were only a few times I suffered severe culture shock in trying to find equivalent functions in GIMP 2.6 that I has previously used to in Photoshop. The way that GIMP makes you paste into a temporary layer when you want to move a selection was the least-intuitive difference. In fact I still fear that I may have got it completely wrong and am doing this a very long way around…

Also be warned! When saving PNG files, it asks for the Compression level [0 = full quality] – when saving JPG files it asks for the Quality level [100 = full quality]. I’m sure this makes sense in context to the file formats but it’s opposite for artists.

Overall I was very pleased with the interface and general functionality of GIMP. Though when I tried to save a large file [5000 x 7100, 300dpi] it warned me that it had increased my virtual memory size (working on my ancient P4 – XP) and it seemed to take much too long to work on this large file. I’m sure this wouldn’t occur with up-to-date machines, and for most web applications it works fine on my little machine.

If you’re looking for a free program with professional image editing functions then seriously look no further.

Especially recommended for artists on low-incomes and old computers!

Advantages Of GIMP:

  • Open source (and free!)
  • Runs on PC (win 2000 and above), Mac (OS X) Linux and many others
  • Does most things Photoshop does

Disadvantages of GIMP:

  • Online manual very wordy
  • Some non-intuitive inconsistencies between similar functions

Conclusion:

Photoshop users will be able to adapt easily to GIMP. Artists who have older computers and/or lower incomes can create professional results cheaply and relatively easily – especially with the help of the vast number of online image processing tutorials (that’s how I learned, basically). Don’t be put off by some inconsistencies, rather revel in the fact that lots of people collaborate separately to create this amazing free software!

You can download GIMP 2.6 here

You can find other GNU programs here

Windows users can find some great alternative programs here

Please consider making a donation to the developers if you use this software. Gnome Foundation (not the garden variety)

Thunderbird Email Review

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Thunderbird Email Review

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While much of the world is transfixed by the Cloud, life as a desktop based email is still hugely popular with much of the community (including myself). There’s something that is reassuring about having access to all your emails on your personal computers without an internet connection.

For the most part if you had a PC, you ran Microsoft Office, but at around $200 Australian it isn’t cheap and really is not necessarily the ultimate email client anymore. It’s a great product but there is another Open Source program from the Mozilla organisation called Thunderbird. It’s a free program that really does everything a start-up, artist or small business might need.

Thunderbird Email Review:

Thunderbird’s awesome features:

  • The program is exceptionally responsive and seems to use less system resources (perfect if you’re a cash strapped artist using an old PC or a Netbook).
  • The Search Function is far superior to Outlook. You can separate your searches a lot easier so if you have a regular client where you’ve sent 300 emails back and forth over the previous 6 months it is quicker finding it in Thunderbird.
  • Calendar integration is a free add-on. Lightning is on par with Outlooks great Calendar. Download Lightning here. As you would expect the Calendar does everything you might require in a small business. You can tag events according to significance, whether its work, family, community and the length of the event.
  • Security is a big feature of Thunderbird
  • You can easy synch your email across your PCs and laptops by using Firefoxes in-built Synch Key
  • Can be used in parallel to Outlook (ie. another of your PCs is running Outlook)
  • It files things into Archive 2011, Archive 2010 which makes things realy easy to go through your emails. I find most people have far too many folders on their email clients with only a fraction being used properly. By having something as simple as:
    • INBOX
    • DRAFTS
    • SENT
    • TO DO
    • ARCHIVE 2011
    • ARCHIVE 2010

It is easy to keep on top of your ever expanding inbox.

  • Thunderbird has thousands of different ‘personas’ or skins so you can personalize your email easily.
  • Huge choice of add-ons from Mozilla.
  • Drag and Drop open emails. Much like modern browsers you can have 5 different windows open with tabs at the top so you can move between emails.
  • Can import contacts from other email clients such as Gmail or Outlook.
  • Tagging, colourising, and separating emails is easy as pie.
  • You can use multiple email addresses from the one screen.
  • The vast majority of SPAM won’t even make your inbox

Some Small Issues with Thunderbird:

  • Due to its security settings it is still often a little tricky to set up (though it is getting better)
  • Some of the formatting of text takes some getting used to. As an example it auto corrects some typing due to your history. This is not inherently a bad thing but it is very different from what most of us are use to.
  • Web addresses don’t natively turn into hyperlinks you need to highlight the text and then override it to link to a website.
  • It has a habit of auto-saving into drafts. So if you’re sending a long email that takes half an hour, you might end up with 3 drafts of the same email which can get confusing. If your computer crashes during this long email then at least you’ve got some recent back-ups though.

The Thunderbird Email Wrap-Up:

Overall Thunderbird is an amazing bit of software that will save you money, increase your productivity, and due to its customisation make your inbox look prettier. There is still a place for emails to be stored on your PC and Thunderbird is my pick of the bunch. If you are already using Outlook then the benefits maybe less discernible but if you have just bought a new PC then Thunderbirds for you.

Download Thunderbird from Mozilla’s Homepage

What is Malware?

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Why is Malware so bad?

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It seems every second day another big company gets struck down by Malware yet it is not often understood by the general population. A few days ago SBS a government run television station in Australia suffered a Malware attack as did the Herald-Sun from the week before- read the article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

 Everyone knows what a Virus is but how does Malware vary?

 Malware includes:

  • Viruses
  • Worms
  • Trojans– I’m pretty sure they aren’t Greeks from Troy anymore
  • Spyware- It’s kind of like your boss spying on your internet habits with even worse results
  • Root Kits – A modern day Safe Cracker that steals passwords

How does Malware get on your computer?  You might innocently visit a website that is infected with Malware and unbeknownst to you, your computer becomes infected. Once it has been infected your keystrokes, passwords, credit card information and logins from your favourite websites become available to the nasty person that created the program.

As more and more of us are using Internet Banking, Smart Phones, and Cloud Computing we are more and more susceptible to Malware.

Years ago people created Viruses to test themselves against government and big business. Now its big business to steal your information.

You wouldn’t give your PIN number to just anyone why would you potentially expose your bank details to a criminal?

There are a variety of different programs out there that you can use. The program I have been using for years is Malwarebytes. It is exceptionally easy to use and (cross-fingers) I haven’t had any issues with Malware or the program so far. There is a new update everyday which takes less than a minute to download and a scan takes between 3-6 minutes for a standard PC.

Make it part of your weekly household clean!

Finally the old adage of “Don’t Download anything from a source you don’t trust”

As part of our website maintenance and hosting arrangements we  run Malware scanners over all our client websites every 6 hours ensuring the security of your website.

 

What is Cloud Computing?

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Cartoon Courtesy: Rob Cottingham

What is Cloud Computing?

The term Cloud Computing is everywhere these days. Trains, buses, TV advertisements and newspapers.

But what is Cloud Computing?

Basically cloud computing is when you upload information to a central computer hosted by a software company via the internet and is password protected. This means you can access the information from anywhere with an internet connection. All you need is your username and password.

The most common forms of cloud computing have been Hotmail and Gmail– free email addresses that aren’t reliant on a local ISP.

Why is cloud computing more prevalent today?

Now that computer processing power and more importantly computer storage has grown exponentially it has become viable for smaller players to get involved in the cloud.

8 Benefits of Cloud Computing:

  • You or your staff can access vital information from anywhere with an internet connection
  • Design Studios can work on projects together in real time.
  • You and your accountant can view your business accounts any time.
  • You can view invoices to and from clients anywhere.
  • It enables you to cut down on meetings, emails and phone calls
  • Everyone in the sales team knows conversations that have been had with clients.
  • Note taking and calendars can be shared between computers.
  • Generally speaking they are a subscription based model with many offering a free subscription for small accounts that begin to charge once you use the software more and more.

What are the issues with Cloud Computing?

  • Security; Like with most things internet related computer passwords need to be carefully stored so people can’t access your private information.
  • They are subscription based so you have to continue the subscription in order to keep the data.
  • Ensuring continuality of service is vital especially if another company buys out your provider.
  • There maybe issues of ownership and copyright as you are sending your information to a third party- read the terms & conditions if possible.
  • Hacking attacks; we’ve seen it with Sony, Nintendo, Google and countless others.
  • Make sure you upload information through a secure connection- not the airport terminal’s wireless.
  • Do your homework first; you wouldn’t trust your sensitive data with just anyone- make sure the company has a good reputation. This might not be so important if you’re using a program like a note taker so you remember your shopping list, however if you are storing sensitive data ensure its a reputable company.
  • Make sure the companies store your information on servers that are in countries that abide by copyright rules and regulations.
  • If the internet is down so is your business.

Some of the Cloud computing products we use at We Push Buttons:

  • Drop Box- File Sharing Software for large projects like web design
  •  Highrise- Customer Relationship Manager
  •  myOws- Online Copyright Protection
  •  Evernote Note Taking Software
  •  Gmail Email account, Web Analytics, Books

Personally I use the cloud for all my non-critical information. I take the attitude, if someone hacked into any of these accounts will it expose my clients vital information or my businesses’ in anyway.

At this stage I’m still not convinced that the cloud is the solution for your mission critical information. There are simply too many issues arising from third-parties storing your information on THEIR computers and not yours.

There are massive benefits for collaboration and data storage costs but you really need to think about the ramifications of trusting a Third-Party all your companies files, intellectual property and emails.

What Cloud Computing Products do you Use?

 

 

Productivity Software

5 Awesome Free Productivity Software

Once you have organised your studio in the way you like there are many tools that will aid productivity. Some of my favourites are listed below.  These tools are all free for small usage and generally speaking will be enough for a small organization, however as you grow there are paid upgrades that are very affordable.

Productivity Software #1 – Drop Box

Overview: Drop Box is a great way to share and store information in the cloud.  It runs on the same principals as Hotmail or Gmail. You set up an account with a password and upload the information into this account. You are then able to view those items on another computer with a password.

It is perfect for designers to share large files. Collaborating on projects, especially design oriented ones means HUGE files and that means clogged up email addresses. That’s one of the great things about Dropbox.  Instead of emailing back and forth just upload the latest images or documents to your Dropbox account and invite your collaborator to share that particular folder. They will have access only to the folder you want them to, not the rest of your DropBox account.

http://www.dropbox.com/

Productivity Software #2 – KeePass

Overview: KeePass is a free password manager. These days most people must have at least 2 dozen passwords. It’s little wonder that people use really obvious passwords  like  abc1967. Either that or they write them down in places they shouldn’t.

With a password manager you keep all your passwords in a central database, encrypt this with one master key file and then you can access all passwords with only having to remember the one.

KeePass is not the most pretty program to use but works tremendously at keeping prying eyes away.

Download it at Cnet-  KeePass:

Productivity Software #3 – MyLockBox

My LockBox is a similar password protector that is easier to use for non-technical users. The advantage of My LockBox is that it password protects any folder you wish on your computer with one universal key. You can ensure your kids, work mates or partners can’t access the folder.

Their website can be found at   http://www.fspro.net/

Or download it at Cnet- MyLockBox

How is this efficient- being able to find your passwords within seconds when you ring the telephone company saves you time and headaches.

Productivity Software #4 – Glary Utilities

Glary is a great program that helps keep your computer running smoothly. It improves your system performance by cleaning unwanted junk files, redundant (empty) folders, finds duplicate files, fully uninstalls programs and defrags (reduces data access time). This will free up valuable disk space speedy up your computer so you can be more productive.

http://www.glaryutilities.com/

Or download it at Cnet- GlaryUtilities

Productivity Software #5 – Gmail

Most people would have either a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo account as well as their main one through their internet provider. Now that i’m on an ever increasing list of email blasts from so many different companies I was finding it difficult to get to my normal work emails instead of the emails i have signed up for.

Simple solution- use a Gmail account for your subscriptions and an ISP based email account for your important work/ private emails. In that way you’re not wasting half a day finding out the latest deals, beautiful photos, and all the rest that seem to be flowing into your inbox every ten minutes.

 

A Great Safe Browsing Tool

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WOT- Web of Trust

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A User Generated Safe Browsing Tool

It is a user generated add-on to your browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer etc.) that uses the simpliest of systems to warn about problem websites and websites that are deemed safe. A little green traffic light appears to the left of your URL when a website is registered safe, orange if it has mixed reviews and red if it’s a site to avoid. A question mark means there is not enough reviews to rate the site (suggesting the site is fairly new).

There are a few Ant-Virus scanners that rate websites based on security and potential virus threats. Why Web of Trust is different is that members rate each site (and leave comments) based on content and issues they might have had with a particular website.

As someone who has signed up to more mailing lists than I wish to remember, being warned about a particular website before you sign up to a mailing list is worth its weight in gold. Prior to using myWOT I signed up to a few seemingly reputable companies only to receive emails three times a day with no way on unsubscribing. Since using this tool on both Firefox and Internet Explorer I haven’t been in the same position.

There is some talk that WOT reviews can be manipulated as it is mainly based on user generated ratings and comments however I don’t really see this being any different from ways that anyone can leave comments on directory listings, eBay user ratings, and Blog like/ don’t like.

All can be manipulated if someone really wants to, yet overall I find most

User generated reviews over time sort the wheat from the chaff.

myWOT also rates sites on whether or not they contain adult content or are child friendly.

The system is so simple my grandfather and his mates now swear by it.

Download it from their website below (it’s free too!)

 

 

Say No to a Messy Office

Organising your office

Making sure your studio space is organised will not only save time wasted looking for that piece of paper but you will be able to think clearer as well. admin-ajax

As someone who isn’t naturally a neat, it became essential that I kept a tidy studio/office. The number one thing I needed in order to do this was to get a filing cabinet. Even if you are just a startup and feel you don’t need one, having everything organised from the start will save you time once business picks up. Besides, if you’re like most start-ups you’re probably doing everything yourself so wasting 30 minutes per day chasing your tail is 30 minutes of lost productivity.

  • Do your filing at least once a week. Much like cleaning your house – if you leave it a week its manageable – leave it a month and its a nightmare.
  • The next step that is just as vital, is to organise your computer files in some sort of order. Only you know who your clients are, whether you use word documents mostly, just email, or images; whatever the files- keep everything where they are easy to find. Regularly clean up redundant files, move old files to an archive so you don’t confused them with current files. Separate all your business files from your personal ones.
  • When downloading a file, save it under its relevant file position not just the last place you downloaded a file to. This saves plenty of time when a client rings you requesting a copy of the pdf you were discussing earlier. For documents that get referred to constantly, save them as a desktop icon or in two different folders so you can find them quickly.
  • This is going to be a little naff but do as the yellow pages do. Your local plumber calls himself AAAPlumbing, so she is the first plumber in the Yellow Pages. Do the same with the file you use the most. The file I use the most – I call AAAExplainafide, that way its always at the top of the folder.

Who said the yellow pages was redundant?

This is just the bare basics of keeping an organised office, and where I consistently see clients still suffering office disorganisation.