Blog Archives

Fagan Finder Gets a Stack of Updates

Michael Fagan’s Fagan Finder (http://www.faganfinder.com), a search tool which has been around for ages and ages, has gotten several updates recently. You can read all about it at the Fagan Finder blog. Some highlights:

The video and movie search engine now has specialized categories. You can search large sites like YouTube, but also an array of sites with educational video, how-to, and news. Hey, how about the content from the Internet Archive?

The news search engine also includes some options for blog search, and unfortunately just brings home how limited the options for blog search are to start with. There are a couple of video and semantic search engines too.

The academic search is really nice. Categories of resources to search here include scholarly papers, online courses and video, flashcards and quizzes, and books. I was a little surprised to not see the Haithi Trust as one of the book search options — did I miss it?

Finally, the search engine page includes several choices for real-time as well as alternative search engines like Wolfram|Alpha and DuckDuckGo.

I was surprised to not see a social search category or a code search category, but what’s here is extensive. Fagan Finder has a basic design that’s not AJAXy and slick, but I’ll take useful and informative over AJAXy any time.

Create and Launch Advanced Search to Several Places at One Time

My main complaint about metasearches is that advanced searching with them isn’t easy — you tend to end up doing basic keyword searches, which is fine sometimes. But sometimes you want to do something a little more complex. I was very happy to get an e-mail about a site called Searchzooka ( http://searchzooka.com/ ) which allows you to create a complex search and then run it on several different sites.

The front page looks like a cutdown advanced search page. You can include keywords, exclude keywords, sort results by date, limit your search to certain date spans, limit search results to domains or top-level domains, etc. Once you’ve entered a search, you’ll get a second screen that summaries your search and gives you links to launch your search on several different engines, including Google, Bing, Digg, Technorati, and Ask. (There’s also a “Recovery key” so you can restore a search without having to be registered with the site.)

Click on a search engine name and you’ll get the search results open in a new window. Not all search engines can encompass all the search parameters you want to do, though, so sometimes your results will not be quite what you want.

You can organize your searchings into folders, clone your search as the basis for a new search, and add notations (the recovery key makes it possible to do this kind of customizing without registration — the string in the recovery key that I saw was nine characters long but bear in mind that you are using a key to save this data, and not a password-protected account.)

If you’re looking for a quick way to create and launch searches across a variety of resources this fits the bill. My only concern is the choice of search engines — it seems a little basic. How about Twitter, or Facebook’s public search? Worth a look.

New Tool for Diagrams and That

Around two weeks ago, nulab Inc. announced the launch of Cacoo, a new service for making wireframes, sitemaps, and other diagrammish things. It’s available at http://cacoo.com/. It’s in beta and is currently free, though a premium plan is expected in the “middle of 2010″. For making diagrams and charts online I like Lovely Charts, but I decided to review Cacoo because it allows multiple people to edit charts together in real time. I’m glad I did; this is a great tool!

You have to register, of course. Once you’ve done that, you get a Flash application that allows you to build charts/diagrams using drag and drop images from a variety of libraries, including people, flowcharts, networks, office equipment, etc. Dotted blue lines appear and disappear as Cacoo shows you how your new images line up with other images that you already have in your chart area.

Once you have an image in the chart window, you can resize it, rotate it, add text, etc. There are also tools for rotation, arranging, layers, etc. A line tool makes connecting images very quick and easy. Once the Flash was loaded I experienced very little lag in using it. Here’s a screenshot of some different elements from the libraries connected together randomly.

Cacoo in Action

Once you’ve created your masterpiece, you can save it to the service (a simple checkbox allows you to indicate whether you want your item to be public and gives you the public URL) or you can export it to the PNG format. There’s also a Share window that lets you invite other people to use and work on your diagram; you can either search Cacoo IDs or send invites to specified e-mail addresses.

Between the easy-to-use text and connection tools, and the lines show you how your new elements are lining up with everything else, I am extremely impressed with Cacoo. I am not at my best with these kinds of tools but Cacoo was intuitive and when I got stuck, a right-click or closer look at the menu usually set me on the right track. The only tiny little thing is that sometimes the English on the menu isn’t quite perfect (nulab is based in Japan) but who cares? It was never enough to make using the service confusing. Highly recommended.

Aviary Adds Audio, Is Officially on My Radar

In my job I’ve been spending a lot of time looking up this or that application, figuring out if it would be best to do something with a Web-based or a desktop app, trying to balance out functionality and convenience. And periodically I’ve come across a site called Aviary, at http://aviary.com/.

Aviary had lots of mentions in a variety of places because it offers several different image editors. The tools available include an image editor (also a vector editor) as well as a color editor and even a screen capture tool.

I didn’t look deeply into Aviary because for my image editing needs, I use GIMP. And I love GIMP. But my attention was taken back to Aviary today when I read on its blog that it had released an audio editor. So I looked a little closer, and — helloooooo, Aviary.

All of the Aviary tools have bird names, so the audio editor’s called Myna. The audio editor allows you to import music in a variety of formats, or record your own music. If you’re creating music for noncommercial purposes, you can also use materials from APM’s Quantum Tracks library in your music creations.

Aviary's New Tool, Myna

Here’s a screenshot of what it looks like. If you’re using clips from Quantum Tracks (these clips covered a lot of ground, though I missed world fusion and international beats) you can just drag them and drop them in to place. Importing audio is slightly more complicated but not much. Myna’s home page has a demo but this app is not very complicated and I found I could figure out a lot just by playing with it.

Want to see what other people are using Myna for? You can take a listen at this Myna gallery. Here you’ll find lots of tunes by your fellow Aviary creators.

Aviary is free but of course there’s a paid option available if you want more stuff. Features for premium accounts include more tutorial options, private collaborating, and more private files. The premium accounts run you an extremely-reasonable $24.99 a year.

I have never found a audio app I really like — it seems like they’re either way too complicated or don’t have enough features. I am surprised to see that one I DO like might be Web-based. And discovering that, I’m going to have to take a closer look at the rest of Aviary.

Flickr Now Has Galleries

Flickr announced on its blog last week that the site now has a feature called “Galleries.” This new tool allows you to bring together up to 18 publicly-available Flickr images into a single spot, along with a title, introductions, and descriptions of each photograph.

You can get an overview of how it works at http://www.flickr.com/help/galleries/ but after looking at that I decided it’d be easier to jump right in. In honor of the upcoming North Carolina State Fair, I decided to do a “Fried Fair Food” gallery, because it’s always — ALWAYS — weirder than I remember.

Accumulating the images was easy. I just started doing searches. As I found items I liked, I just clicked on the Add to Button gallery above each photo. The first time I was prompted to add a gallery because I didn’t have any yet, but after that it was just a matter of adding them to each gallery.

After I had a reasonable number of photos, I clicked on the “You” at the top of my nav section and got a link to Your Galleries. I was presented with the page of pictures I’d saved. Reordering them was as easy as dragging and dropping, and at the same time I also had the option to write a short caption by each image. You can see the resulting small gallery at http://www.flickr.com/photos/researchbuzz/galleries/72157622287057199/. (Want to see lots of galleries? Check out http://www.flickr.com/galleries/.

On the one hand I really like this, on the other hand I’m worried that I’m going to spend a lot of free time now going through the Commons and organizing photos into galleries. Nice feature, and very easy to use.

A Couple of Online Chart Applications

This is less of a news item and more of a “I better stash this somewhere so I remember it later” — information about a couple of flowchart/all kinda chart applications.

I love flowcharts. I make formal ones and informal ones. I find it helps me think. I also find it helps me get called a total nerd. But oh well. I used to use SmartDraw, and more recently have been trying an open source program called Dia, but at the moment I’m trying an online tool with another one in the queue for review.

The first tool, which I’ve been watching for a while, is called Lovely Charts, and it is. Available at http://www.lovelycharts.com/, it not only lets you create regular flow charts but also site maps, network diagrams, people charts, BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) and more. The site is nicely designed but the building tool is basic; symbols on the left and then a large area of the screen to play with. A couple of times I had to look at the help but for the most part it was pretty intuitive. To get a sense of what Lovely Charts can do, check out the Gallery. There’s also a blog.

Lovely Charts is free but there is a pro version available; you can see the premium options at http://www.lovelycharts.com/index.php?page=faq. (Among the premium options: collaboration, export to JPG or PNG, and import your own symbols.) The premium version is 29 Euros a year, which is a little over $42 USD. Not bad at all!

The other tool I found out about earlier this week via PRNewswire. It’s called Creately, and it’s available at http://creately.com/. It’s similar to Lovely Charts but it appears to be more template-oriented; when you first log in Creately will offer you literally dozens of templates to get started; from flowcharts to SWOT diagrams to Venn diagrams to UML diagrams to electronics templates. Creately starts with a selection of more generic symbols but you can choose to add more symbols to your toolbox; those you can specify as narrowly as “Miscellaneous Cisco Objects.”

Creately has lots and lots of examples of what it can do, divided into categories with some commentary. There’s also a blog.

Creately has a free version but it has some pretty strict limits. You can create three private diagrams but the rest of them are published publicly. The pro version, which offers additional perks like unlimited private diagrams, collaboration, and backup, is “name your own price” until September 17th. I’m a little uncomfortable about that. They give NO guidelines at all for subscription costs except payment must be at least a dollar. If you’re better at that kind of thing than I am, check it out. You could get a year’s worth of charting tool for a bargain…

Microsoft Launches Cool Picture Zoomer

Microsoft recently launched a new picture tool called Seadragon. Available at http://seadragon.com/, you can point Seadragon to any image on the Web, and get a zoomable viewer.

It works very simply: give Seadragon the URL to an image file, and it’ll be fetched. It’ll then process the file and give you a nice page containing your image along with tools to zoom in on it to get fine detail. You can also pan the image, pop out to a full-page view, look at the original image, etc.

I was a little leery of this at first because it didn’t seem to work. I had a nifty giraffe photo I took at the zoo that I thought would make a good image for this tool. Seadragon happily took the URL of the image and processed it — but the thumbnail and the zooms showed blurry sections toward the middle of the photograph. I tried again, this time with a larger version of the same image — and the same thing happened, only this time the blurry part was on the side. Even when I zoomed in on the image that part was blurry.

Putting that to one side I took the result I got and tried to embed it in Facebook, which worked fine. I then noticed that when I clicked the link to get to the Seadragon image from Facebook, the image looked fine with no blurs. I zoomed in on it and it still looked great. So all I can guess is that when I originally used Seadragon I didn’t wait long enough for the photos to render.

Anyway, despite what I initially thought this tool worked great. If you have some photos that you want to easily make zoomable — genealogy documents, or building images, or scans of newspaper pages — this is a very quick and handy way to add such functionality. I’m embedding my nifty giraffe photo at the end of this post so you can see how it turned out.

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