A Peek Into My Freelancing Toolbox

As a freelancer, I sometimes find myself in need of office tools I don’t have. As a freelancer on a budget, I’ve had to find workarounds to get things done. Here’s a peek at a few of the tools I’ve found especially helpful:

GotFreeFax.com

One company with which I works requires work orders to be faxed to a fax machine. Not email, a gen-u-ine fax machine. While my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier has fax capabilities, I don’t have a separate line for faxing and it was too cost prohibitive to put one in for only one client. Also costly was ($2/page) using a nearby copy/shipping-type company’s fax service. Fortunately, I found gotfreefax.com, which allows me to fax scanned pdf or doc files to a fax machine at the low cost of zero dollars for up to two faxes (3 pages or less) per day. And if I need to send a larger packet, I can send 10 pages for about a dollar. Sweet!

PDFSplit!

This week I had a situation in which I needed to split a 5-page PDF file into two separate files in order to meet gotfreefax’s 3-page-per-fax criteria. With PDFSplit!, I was able to do that in about half a minute. And it’s free!

DropBox

I travel a lot and need to have easy access to all my client files wherever I am. Dropbox is an easy-to-use file/photo cloud-based storage service that provides 4G of storage for free, with other packages available for a fee. I’ve been using it for a while now, and I’m still not at 50% of the limit. (One of my goals is to become so wildly successful that I have to buy storage! :) ) I have it set to sync with both my desktop and my laptop computers, so I can access my files from both…or even from a client’s computer.

Google Docs Drive

While I use Microsoft’s Office suite for most of my work, I do use Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) when I’m working collaboratively with others. Drive offers word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation applications (and more besides), with the ability to give access to others for viewing or editing the files. Real life example: when planning a conference, the main organizer and I were able to manage the registrations, calendars, and communications by using the same set of documents. No sending files back and forth, no uploading to a server–we used the same set of documents, and it was perfect!

Those are just a few of the tools I’ve found helpful for my freelancing work. Most have also come in handy in everyday life as well. And the best part of all is that they’re all FREE!

Proper Use of Images in Blog Posts, Pt 3, Flickr

Continuing the series on choosing copyright-appropriate images for blog posts, my focus today is Flickr. If you need to play catch up on this series, read Part 1 for a discussion of copyright (and a horror story) and read Part 2 for information on using Google Images.

Flickr is a huge repository of online images and videos, with over 6 billion images on site. Not all of those images are available for public viewing and among those that are public, many are labeled “All Rights Reserved.” We admire those images but don’t use them. Right? Right!

Flickr Basics

Searching for images is easy in Flickr. Say I wanted to find an image representing copyright for this post. I’d just type copyright in the the Flickr search box in the upper right corner of the main page and wait for Flickr to return a grid of images that match my search.

moreinfoEach image in Flickr has data stored with it, including license and usage information. For any image I consider using, I should check that information by hovering over the image and then clicking on the little i icon in the lower right corner of the image. You should see a pop-up box like the one shown below:

Flickr image info some rights reserved

I’ve underlined the license information, which is reserving some rights for the image owner. Just to the left of that is a small icon. If you hover over that, you’ll see a pop-up box that indicates this image is available for use with proper attribution. Or you can click on the part I underlined to see the license with explanations of what you’re allowed to do and how you need to do it. So handy!

The search results for the word copyright returned 6.5 million results, and a good many of those were licensed as “All Rights Reserved”, meaning I can’t use them. Going through each image searching for one I can use is going to get tiresome. Quickly.

To help with sorting out the usable from the ‘hands off’, I’ll use Flickr’s Advanced Search feature. I can not only search for keywords but also limit the search to only those images that have Creative Commons licenses. Ready? Let’s get started.

Finding the Advanced Search Feature in Flickr

There are a couple of ways to do this, the short way and the even shorter way.

Short way: Near the top of your search results page, you’ll see a link for Advanced Search:

advanced search link

Click on it to go to the Advanced Search Page.

Or you can just bookmark the link to the Advanced Search page and start your search there.

Make sure your search term is in the search box and then scroll allll the way to the bottom of the screen for the Creative Commons section:

Flickr Creative Commons filter

Check the box for the filters you want. Usually, I check all of them to ensure that I get an image that I can use in the way I want. (When I applied this filter in my search on the term copyright, my results page went from 6.6 million to 640,000, which shows how many of the original images were NOT available to use.)

Using a Flickr Image

So I’ve decided to use an image. Now what? I left-click on the image and then the Share at the top of the screen:

Flickr share dialog box

Left click in the code box to highlight the text and then either Ctrl+C or right-click/copy, toggle over to blog post and paste it in (Ctrl+V or right-click/paste). And this is what I get:

Copyright Symbols

Ta-da! If you hover over the image, you see the attribution.

From what I understand, that’s enough to meet the license requirement, but I like to take it a step further and include an in-post mention as well. I’ve tried this beneath the image but not being particularly adept at coding, the results aren’t visually pleasing. I’ve also included an attribution at the bottom of the post, but that feels a bit like a footnote and the image owner deserves more than that, in my opinion. Fortunately, there’s an app for that!

Using ImageCodr for Flickr Images

ImageCodr works with Flickr images, checking the licenses for appropriateness and then generating html to display the image, the attribution, the license, and a link to the image owner’s Flickr page. Even better, it’s super easy to use.

Instead of grabbing the html code for the image, grab the link instead. Copy it from the Flickr page, toggle over to ImageCodr Get Code page and paste in the link.

imagecodr get code

Here’s what you get:

image codr html

ImageCodr has checked the license, given me the green light (or green checkmark, in this case) and generated the html. I just need to copy it (I have to either Ctrl+A or right-click/select all first) and paste it in my blog entry. Check this out:

Same image as before, but now I get a clickable link to the Creative Commons license, a clickable link to MikeBlogs Flickr page, and a visual credit for MikeBlogs. No hovering required, and anyone who has thoughts of using the image knows that there’s a Creative Commons license covering it.

An even easier way to use ImageCodr is to drag the bookmark to your bookmarks toolbar. When you’re viewing a Flickr image you want to use, click the bookmark and it takes you straight to the ImageCodr page with the html to use for your blog post. It saves the cut/paste step.

But what if the Flickr image doesn’t have a CC license? Using one of my images, I gave ImageCodr a test:

ImageCodr restriction

You have no idea how happy this makes me! :)

Was this all as clear as mud? Feel free to ask any questions. I’m no expert, but I can usually find an answer.

Finding appropriately-licensed images to use is not that difficult at all. Just a few extra steps is all it takes. I hope you’ll join me in taking those steps and encouraging others to do the same!

Proper Use of Images in Blog Posts, Pt. 2 Google Images

For important information about copyright and fair use, along with a bit of a horror story of improper use of someone else’s images, see Part 1 of this two-part series.

So now that I’ve scared you half to death with copyright concerns, let’s explore a couple of ways to reduce the likelihood that we’ll need to seek legal advice after posting images. Specifically, we’ll look at two of the most popular photo repositories: Google Images and Flickr. Today’s post features Google Images.

Finding Copyright-Appropriate Images in Google Images

In the past, I didn’t use Google Images as a blog image source, because I found it tiresome to click on image after image until I found one that had copyright terms compatible with my need. One day, I got to wondering why Google Images didn’t have a function to narrow down the search, and so I Googled the question. Lo and behold, there is a very simple way to filter Google Images by usage needs, and it’s located in the Settings area of the Google Images results page.

On the Google Images search page, type in your search term and click the blue magnifying glass. I chose “copyright” as my search term, just to follow the week’s theme.

google images search box

You should have a page of image results displayed. At the top of the screen, waaaay over on the right, is the Settings Button. It looks like a little wheel. Or a techno-daisy.

google image results settings menu Click on the wheel to display a drop down menu, and then choose Advanced Search.

This is where it gets fun!

As you see, you can set all sorts of criteria for narrowing your image search (by color even!), but for today we’re most interested in the usage rights filter at the very bottom of the list (naturally):

google image advanced search usage rights menu

Click to enlarge

If you enlarged the image, you’ll see that clicking usage rights filter box displays a menu for selecting the appropriate type of image, based on your needs. If you don’t intend to modify an image in any way, “Free to use or share” is probably enough. Since I have ads on my blogs, which to my mind makes them commercial, I usually choose “Free to use, share or modify–even commercially. (I never know when I might want to plop a quote on an image, so I like to include the modify option.)

When you’ve made your selection, click the Advanced Search button to see only those images that fit your needs. Not so fast, though. You’ll want to take one more step to be sure.

When you find an image that interests you, click on it to display more information, and then visit the page (there’s a button for it) to read with your own eyes the specific statement of appropriate usage. Here’s an example, using one of the results I liked a lot:

wobbling blob of copyright by Abi ParamaguruThis image, titled “Congealed Wobbling Blob of Copyright”, was created by Abi Paramaguru and is used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License. (I include the link to the license so that anyone who comes along and wants to use it can check the license to see if it’s permissible and under what terms.)

I know all of this because it was clearly stated at the bottom of the article in which it was used, a report on issues with Australian copyright law.

That wasn’t so difficult, was it? Plus, it feels good to share the love by bringing recognition to the image creator.

Play around with it, explore, investigate and have fun. And then come back for my next post, which will address the wonderful world of Flickr. Teaser: It includes a handy, online tool for coding your image with all the proper citations!

Next Up: Part 3: Flickr

Proper Use of Images in Blog Posts, Part 1

Since I started using Pinterest, I’ve been exposed to a lot more blogs. It’s interesting to see the commonalities and differences in how blogs in different interest areas are developed. A weight loss blog is likely to have before-and-after photos. A home decor blog will usually have a ‘home tour’ page with photos of the blogger’s home. A writing blog will feature images of…well, usually images of the writer’s self-published book cover. :)

One common habit I’ve noticed across all the various blogging niches is that we generally do a lousy job of attributing images not our own but used in our posts. There seems to be a misconception that if it’s on the internet, it’s free for the using, but that’s just not so. Or we stick an “Image Credit” at the bottom of the post or behind a link and call it attribution. It’s not. In fact, you could find yourself in a whole heap of trouble. If you don’t believe me, read Roni Loren’s story of the nightmare she endured when she unknowingly used an image under copyright by the photographer. She thought what she was doing was okay, and it was anything but. Her situation is not something I want to go through, that’s for sure!

So how do we find and use images properly?

The first step, in my opinion, is to gain a greater understanding of copyright and fair use. I’m no expert (I’m still in learning mode), but I can point you in the direction of some folks who know a whole lot more and have the information to prove it: Smashing Magazine’s “Copyright Explained: I May Copy It, Right?” is a comprehensive, informative, plain English discussion of many aspects of copyright and fair use. Read it. (Hat tip to Lorelle on WordPress for pointing me to that valuable resource and saving me from a potentially costly and/or embarrassing situation.)

Okay, we read it. Can we go find images now?

Not quite. Many images and creative works have copyrights under Creative Commons licenses,so we need to learn more about those. For that, why not go to the Creative Commons website, specifically, the license page. In addition to an explanation of the license process, there’s a good summary of the various types of licenses. Some works can be modified, some can’t. Some can be used commercially, some can’t. And so on. It’s a good resource to bookmark.

One way to avoid issues with copyright is to use works in the public domain. Wikipedia has an excellent list of resources for finding public domain images. Please note their cautionary warning at the top of the article: “The presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain.” It’s still our responsibility to research the copyright.

And one last thing to consider. We can always contact the image source and ask permission to use the image, politely thanking them no matter what their response. :)

Copyright might seem like a dry subject, but it’s important to understand what it’s about. It’s both an issue of respect to our fellow creative types, and an issue of protecting ourselves from legal repercussions.

This series continues…
Part 2: Google Images
Part 3: Flickr

Tech Tip: Keyboard Shortcut

KeyboardBack with another simple browser tip.

If you want to go back a page when browsing, you don’t need to use your mouse. Just press the Backspace key.

Of, if you don’t want to reach allll the way up there–like if it’s been a long day and you’re sitting on the sofa watching TV while randomly surfing– you can use the Alt+left-arrow key for Back and Alt+right-arrow for Forward.

I assumed most people knew these functions until last week when a friend saw me go back a page without using the mouse and asked, in amazement, “How’d you do that?” I showed her and you’d think she had discovered sliced bread.

Moments like that make me wonder how many shortcuts are out there that I don’t know about.

Keyboard Shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+T

keyboard shenanigansAt least once a day I accidentally close a browser tab before I’m finished with it. Arrgh! This has been especially problematic with the advent of Pinterest, which has me visiting tons of sites with which I’m unfamiliar and unlikely to recall the URL. Well, I recently discovered that there’s a keyboard shortcut for just this situation.

If you want to reopen the most recently closed tab, press Ctrl+Shift+T on your keyboard.

Hooray! I’ll never lose another recipe important news article again! (I’m using ‘T’ for ‘thankyou‘ to remember it.)

Photo credit: cc511 on flickr

Blog Maintenance: Broken Links, Broken Hearts

Poor little blog, sitting here lonely and ignored.

So sorry for absence. In my attempts to get my life more organized, I’ve allotted a certain amount of time to blogs and blogging, and over the past week, most of that time has been attending to some long overdue maintenance issues on my other blog.

I’m not sure what your blog maintenance routine is like, but mine has mainly focused on making sure the backups run (weekly) and updating plug-ins every month or so. My casual ways have been working well, so far, but I attribute that to dumb luck rather than an efficient/effective process.

While cleaning up a client’s long-neglected website (a new to me arena), I found a few broken links–all websites that are no longer functional. Of course, that got me to thinking that in 4+ years of blogging, I had never checked for broken links. I’d stumbled across a few accidentally, but I’d never made a complete review.

Why is this important? Or, why is it important to me? Well, I like to think the links I provide are useful or entertaining. If you’re reading back through my history, clicking a bunch of links that don’t work might give you the impression I’m sloppy or that I don’t care about my content. Also, a multitude of broken links can slow down the page load time, which directly impacts the reader experience.

After some research, I opted to install Broken Link Checker WordPress Plug-in. This plug-in finds links that don’t work, missing images, deleted YouTube videos and other problems. Installation and execution were easy; my site check took about 15 minutes.

Oh.My.Word.

I had almost 200 broken links! Fortunately the plug-in provides a method for cleaning up links from results list.

Most of the dead links were comments of bloggers who either deleted their blogs or changed their blog URL, and bloggers who mistyped their own blog URL! All of those were relatively easy to fix (I just clicked Unlink), but the remainder of the breaks required research to find a correct link or a replacement for the original. In a few cases, I just deleted that part of the entry. Several hours later, I re-ran the check and received an all-clear. Hooray! Now to spread the word!

In researching a broken link solution for non-WordPress users, I stumbled upon an article that said the WordPress plug-in didn’t check CommentLuv comments! Blogger Stacy at Grow with Stacy advised using a free online tool, Free Broken Link Checker, which I did.

::whimper::

broken links

They’re kidding, right? Nope, over 300 more errors to clear. Unfortunately, the only way I found to do it was to locate the comments on the WP dashboard and use the RemoveLuv option available there. And so I did that. Over 300 times. (We need another plug-in!)

Needless to say, the whole experience taught me a few lessons. I’ll definitely keep up with blog maintenance regularly now. I even made myself an Official Schedule:

blog maintenance checklist

Red-letter items are my Must Do As Scheduled Unless Dead tasks. The others must be done, but if I’m a day (or three) late, so be it.

Another lesson learned in this ordeal was the importance of doing a quick proofread when entering my URL on other blogs.

And to never, EVER change my blog name or file structure. :)

Do you search for and clear your broken links regularly? What tool(s) do you use?

Where Do I Go After Netflix?

Like many subscribers, I ran for the hills when Netflix launched into that whole Qwickster nonsense earlier this year. I couldn’t cancel my monthly subscription “qwickly” enough. Not having the best internet service in the world, I don’t do streaming video, and I wasn’t using the DVD service that much at the time anyway. Easy decision. buh-bye, Netflix!

Only now I’m kind of in the mood for some movie-watching (yes, even I can get tired of HGTV, especially around the holidays). My cable provider’s On Demand offerings aren’t my cuppa, so I’ve been exploring other movie-watching options. Here’s who made my short list:

The local library. At the Memphis-Shelby County Public Library, DVD rentals are a measly $2 per disk with rental periods from 3 to 21 days, depending on the subject matter. No, they won’t mail it to my house in a cute little red envelope but they will arrange to have any video in their system sent to my local branch for pick-up. Since I’m going to be there anyway, picking up or returning books, this makes my local library a very viable option.

Amazon. You can stream videos for anywhere from $1 – $4, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but if you have Amazon Prime, you have free access to ~10,000 movies and TV shows. Amazon Prime costs about $80 a year (cheaper than Netflix), and the combination of free shipping for even small orders and access to all those movies intrigues me. Then again, there is my less than stellar ISP performance to consider. Amazon offers a free one-month trial. which I might try after the holidays.

Blockbuster. Honestly? I thought Blockbuster had gone under. As it turns out, they just closed a bunch of stores, including all the ones near me. But they do still have stores, as well as DVD-by-mail service that starts at $10 per month. That’s more than Netflix costs; however, with BB you can return your mail rental to a store and exchange it for a new movie. That’s if you happen to have a store nearby.

Redbox. If you’re not familiar with Redbox, think of it as a vending machine for movies. Memphis seems to have a Redbox kiosk every 100 yards or so, including one a couple blocks from my house. I’ve stopped a couple of times to view the offerings, but there’s never been anything there I wanted to see. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.

Hulu.
There are free and paid versions of Hulu, and their offerings seem to be more oriented to TV-shows. Given my short attention span, TV shows are right up my alley. The free version of Hulu limits the viewer to watching on a computer, while the paid version supports viewing on almost every device out there. Another difference between the free and paid versions are the number of ads. I’d expect ads in the free version, but in the paid version? Not so much. According to Hulu’s FAQ, the ads in the paid version keep the subscription cost down. At $8/month, that doesn’t seem so “down” to me.

iTunes. Available for relatively few dollars for viewing on a relatively expensive Apple device. Not for me, even though I have an iPhone.

For now, I think I’m going to stick with the library, and as I said earlier, I may try the trial version of Amazon Prime after the first of the year. Or maybe I’ll just wait for The Next Great Thing to come along.

Do you have a favorite video service? Tried any of the above?

Google Search: Shortcuts & Fun Stuff

I use Google a lot. A whole lot. For directions, for recipes, for calorie lookups on the go, etc. As long as I have Google, I can find almost any answer I need, and with a few handy shortcuts, I can find them fairly quickly.

You probably already know these shortcuts, but just in case you don’t, I’ll share them here, along with a couple of fun, if useless, things Google will do.

Basic Math – Say you’re doing some online shopping and you want to figure out the sales tax on a $25 item but someone ran off with your calculator. Google to the rescue. Simply type your math problem in the search box, and Google will return the answer at the top of the results list.

google math

Or another way of looking at it:

math on google

The basic math operators supported by Google: + (plus), – (minus), * (multiply), and / (divide).

Convert measurements – I find this especially helpful for cooking. If I type “cups in tablespoons” into the Google search box, I learn that:

cups to tablespoons

You can also convert metrics and currencies as well.

Track flights – To find out if your flight is on time, enter your airline and flight number.

Locate packages – I recently began listing books on Amazon and this feature is coming in quite handy for tracking shipments. Enter “track” plus the tracking number to get a direct link to the status page of the shipper.

Find movie showtimes – Enter “movies” along with your zip code or city to see what’s showing and where.

Find restaurants and shops near you – Type your search term and ZIP code into the search box for a listing of related venues near you. For example, if I type “books 38119″, I get a listing of nearby booksellers and a handy map:

books google

Find the weather – Enter “weather” along with your area code to get a forecast and current readings.

Find local time around the world – I used to work for a multinational and this shortcut helped enormously in determining whether co-workers in Brussels or Hong Kong were still in the office before I dialed the 50 numbers needed to make an international phone call. I could type “time” and the city in the search box to find the local time.

Find out who’s linking to you – Type in “link: yoururl” to see pages that point to your url.

Search within a site – Type “site: url” followed by your search term.

Look up definitions – Type “define” followed by the word you’d like to look up and Google will return a dictionary definition at the top of the search results.

And a couple of fun and silly things:

Type “do a barrel roll” into the search box, and see what happens.

One more: type “tilt” or “askew” in the search box.

Those Google programmers are a laugh-a-minute.

For each of these shortcuts, there are probably dozens more, but this is a good start, don’t you think? Feel free to shout out if you have any shortcuts not listed here.

Simple Tool for Cleaning Up Your Google Reader Subscriptions

The time change has my sleeping schedule all wonky, so at 4:00 a.m. yesterday, I was parked in my computer chair cleaning up my Google Reader subscriptions–a somewhat melancholy process, since most of the un-subscriptions were for bloggers who just disappeared one day. In my primary niche, weight loss and fitness, that often means the blogger has gone off-track and is too embarrassed or ashamed to blog her way through it. Sometimes they come back, but not very often. :(

So I was a little sad as I sat there click-click-clicking through my rather cumbersome process of unsubscribing. First, I highlighted the blog name to see when the blogger last updated, maybe read a few posts, then clicked the ‘Feed Settings’ button, and finally, clicked Unsubscribe. And then repeated for the next one. Over and over and over again in each and every category. (I have my feeds organized into groups or categories, by general topic.)

I think I was within two or three blogs of finishing the last category when I somehow clicked the Trends option in the Google Reader sidebar:

Google Reader Trends

Click to Enlarge

You’re not going to believe what popped up!

Google Reader Trends

~ Click to Enlarge ~

After I picked myself up off the floor over Google’s assertion that I’ve read 30,000 articles (one assumes they count ‘Marked as Read’ in with that), I started poking around and discovered the tool that will make my next Reader clean-up much, much easier.

In the Subscription trends section, there’s a handy tab labeled ‘Inactive’. Clicking it reveals subscriptions that haven’t been updated in a while…with the oldest listed first! All in one handy list!

But wait, there’s more!

Next to each subscription is an itsy-bitsy trash can that requires a single click to complete the unsubscribe process. No clicking from category to category, checking each blog to see when it was last updated, then clicking through the unsubscribe process. With the Subscription trends feature, I can do a quick review on one screen and easily unsubscribe from abandoned blogs.

There’s no telling how long this feature has been available, but I’m glad I finally found it. Perhaps now, I won’t procrastinate nearly so much in tidying up my Reader. :)

How do you manage your reader subscriptions? Do you use Google Reader or something else? Do tell!