Bet Ya Can’t Download Just One!

The tri-annual board meetings of my employer-association, the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) are often intense, exhausting affairs with elaborate preparation – reports, charts, graphs – and all-day meetings with working lunches, and so forth. But there can be times when they are actually quite enjoyable, too.

One of those times happened during a recent weekend when I mentioned Picasa, a new, free, software from Google. SCUP has academic planners, budget planners, IT planners, and campus planners–all sorts of folks who aren’t even ‘planners’ per se but who do planning as part of their work—in its membership. When I off-handedly mentioned how Picasa was on its way to solving my problems with storing, accessing, and using images, pens were whipped out of purses and pockets and everyone was writing down as I spoke.

They were all paying attention to me and excited about what I was saying. What a feeling of power!

So, this week I am urging you, if you already haven’t, to try out one of three nifty pieces of software that have been making my life easier/more productive. They are Mozilla Firefox, Picasa, and Skype.

Mozilla Firefox

You’ve all read about Firefox, I am sure. It’s “The Little Browser that Could” and is indeed taking some market share away from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

It’s a powerful browser with lots of features such as tabbed windows and the like, but I have particularly enjoyed being free from pop-ups since I started using it. And, it is apparently free of many of the security issues that plaque MSIE, so much so that some institutions have recommended their students, faculty, and staff switch–to save IT staff time in the long run coping with as many security issues.


Ryhmes with hype–but it’s worth the hype. We have one former SCUP board member who lives in Lithuania and I frequently hear from him early on a weekday morning, asking how things are back here in the states since he retired to Eastern Europe. I don’t think I’d get those calls without Skype.

Skype is a free download that turns any computer that has speakers and a microphone into a VOIP telephone–which can call any other Skype user in the world, for free, and with truly excellent sound quality. Skype also has the ability, for a small fee, to call land lines and cell phones, but so far I am only using it with people I know have Skype; and I am actively engaged in persuading my more remote friends and colleagues to get it. The widespread international, state, and local leadership of the Professional Disc Golf Association (PDGA), of which I am a board member, is beginning to put it to use and promote it for cost-savings.

If my laptop were a bit smaller I’d be tempted to try using it as my only telephone. (I’ve already cut the land line at my home and all of my phones, no matter where or for what, currently come in to my Treo – which I also highly recommend.)


If you have a lot of digital images, you want to get Picasa. This is the software my board of directors was getting excited about.

I have saved the best for last. I haven’t purchased film or paid for film development in nearly a decade, it might actually be over a decade now. One consequence of that is that at last count I had more than 25,000 jpg files on my laptop. (As you know, one of the things you can do with digital is take a lot of photographs.) I love using images of people in newsletters and on websites, but it had gotten to the point where I felt constant frustration at my inability to effectively find and use the appropriate images.

Then I downloaded Picasa and it did everything for me that previous iterations of this type of software promised but did not deliver on. For one thing, it went through my laptop’s hard drive very quickly and within an hour or so had identified and tagged every image on it.

The best thing about Picasa is that is offers so many ways to visually display and browse all your images. There are the typical--and in this case fast-moving--thumbnails in rows, but the feature for this I like best is called timeline.

In the timeline feature (see image) every folder on your hard drive that has images in it is displayed along a curving, aesthetically-pleasing curve of time. You can click on the timeline and move your cursor and it basically spins along, either in the direction of your most recent photos or in the direct of your oldest images. When it stops, or when you select a folder, the entire background image of the software g'es into a slow-moving, faded-back, black and white display of the images inside the folder. (While you can also see the first image in thumbnail.)

A few months ago I spent a lot of time trying to find five-year-old images of the SCUP journal’s executive editor and managing editor holding up office clocks to symbolize the fact that they would be working virtually with each other every day from locations three time zones apart. I never found it. Using the timeline feature of Picasa I had it within five minutes!

Picasa also has a very easy-to-use feature that allows you to quickly tag images with identifiers, key terms, and the like, as well as to rename them. It also has the easiest-to-use system of permitting you to print out standard-sized images, one or many to a sheet that I have ever seen. That’s a feature that my 67-year-old grandmother is going to love. She’s been complaining for years that PageMaker is too difficult to use for that purpose.

I hope you enjoy one of more of these new software tools. They are certainly making my life better, and that’s what software’s for.

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