Google Docs Templates

Google has released Templates for Google Docs inside Google Apps. Folks at Pepperdine using Google Apps can now share private templates for presentations, documents (like stationary or departmental memos) and spreadsheets.

Google Docs Templates

We now have our own private template gallery. Anything you make in Google Docs (or import into Docs from Word, etc) can be offered as a template, shared and rated by the Pepperdine community.

If you’ve never used Templates before in Google Docs, here’s a link to their help page:

Google Help: Google Docs Templates

In addition, Google has recently released support for .DOCX (Word 2007 format) documents!

Google Voice

Very soon a new service will be offered by Google to the public. It may happen today, they are being quite cagey about the details. For those of us who found the service a while ago–then called Grand Central–it’s been a novel experiment.

4232368305-voice_logo_sm

Google Voice

What is Google Voice? It’s a master, permanent, life-time phone number. You give out one phone number and then whenever you change phones, service providers, or jobs your number follows you. How do they do this?

While the technology behind it might be complicated, it’s easy for the users. You just tell Google Voice what phone numbers you want your master phone number to roll over to and it handles it. This is not so different than many people’s work environment where the PBX can forward one extension to another. But this is any number, anywhere.

This alone would be a nice service. I can think of our own students. It’s a time in your life where you are moving around. Your connectivity is in constant flux. You might have a brief internship or go overseas. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could contact you at any time without updating them on your new number?

But Grand Central turned Google Voice goes further. It takes advantage of this routing from one number to another to offer a set of innovative services.

  1. You can screen your calls. Not only can you get caller ID, but if you let the call go through to Voicemail you can listen while the caller leaves the message and break in, just like you can at home with your answering machine.
  2. You can select, based on caller ID to forward different calls to different phones. Since you probably have more than one physical phone in your life, you can have calls from business clients forwarded to your desk phone, calls from your mother go to your home phone and calls from your sweetheart to your cell phone.
    You can even have all calls with NO ID or no ID in your contacts like go directly to voicemail! Never be bothered with unsolicited calls again!
  3. The voicemail feature supports speach to text. While such technologies are at times skittish, you can get the gist of a voicemail via email, the web interface or SMS. Again, this puts you back in charge of your interruptions.
  4. SMS is also supported for generall messaging and routing!
  5. Something sure to bother some folks and make others very happy? You can record phone calls with a touch of a button even in the middle of a call. No more need to take down someone’s phone number, just record for a few seconds while they say it.
  6. Switch phones in the middle of a call. Your cell phone running out of battery? Pick up your home phone and join the call. You can put someone on hold on your home phone and then pick it up once your on the road!
  7. Nobody ever knows any of your real phone numbers. Only your Google Voice number. The home phone never rings again, except for who you want and when you want. You can select hours of operation.
  8. I’ll wrap up with an additional fun feature. Since this is all online you can put a web-widget on your site to allow people to call you via their computer. Instant Skype, no software to install, no fees to pay. Receive calls for free.

I think that’s plenty of material for the hype-machine.

Looks much like Gmail's Interface

Looks much like Gmail's Interface

Better Network Storage Debut, Part 2

Most departments scale down during summer, not so with Information Technology folks. This is the time to turn the world inside out and upside down. We have grand plans for better services in the coming year and unlike corn they don’t grow on their own.

This is a follow-up to my previous post about Pepperdine’s new electronic file storage offering.

Since last I posted on this new service Pepperdine IT has quietly been skipping lunch to make improvements. First, the web interface is now conveniently available through Wavenet‘s toolbar.

Capture

There between Personalize and Email, just click to get to your web access.

What if you’d rather not install the Xythos client software as we shared before? How about following these instructions for quick and reliable access in Windows:

To create a Web Folder in Windows XP:

  1. In Windows XP, click on “Start” and then click on “My Network Places”.
  2. Under Network Tasks, click Add Network Place.
  3. When prompted, “Where do you want to create this Network Place?”, choose “Choose Another Network Location” and click on “Next”.
  4. In the Add Network Place Wizard, follow the instructions to add a shortcut to a folder. The address of that folder will be “https://storage.pepperdine.edu/users/<user_name>”, replacing <user_name> with your university network id.
  5. When prompted for a user name and password, type in your user name and password. Click “OK”.
  6. Next, name your Network Place and select “Next”. When you have successfully added the shortcut, select “Finish”. An icon for your new shortcut will appear in the My Network Places folder.

(excerpted from the IT HELP Xythos page)

Anyway you prefer to access this new service is fine with us. Start using it today for good data protection and peace of mind.

VoIP

When I was in college I discovered something I thought was pretty cool. I could go to a website called DialPad, click out a phone number on their “keypad”, and call anyone I wanted from my computer. Back in the late 90’s this was a relatively new concept, and was certainly something pretty cool. The geeks out there know that people had been doing this with a modem for some time, but this was much easier and more reliable. I would use a basic PC mic and my stereo speakers that were doubling as computer speakers at the time, and I could talk to people on their phones. There was a small delay, but once one got the hang of it one could talk for quite a while this way.

As much as I liked DialPad, I was able to find another service I liked even better. I don’t recall the name of the website, but it took internet phone calls to a new level. I would type in my phone number, and the number I wished to call. I would then click the connect button in rapid succession until I got a success message. The site was so novel, and since it was free there was always a long line. Once I successfully connected, the website would call my phone, and once I answered would instantly connect me to the person I was calling. No more computer speakers, no more delay in the conversation. The only problem was the 15 minute time limit. All I had to do was click connect again, multiple times, and usually within a minute or two the conversation could resume. I talked for hours at a time with this feature.

By the time I graduated, calling people online was becoming mainstream. They even popularized a method to describe the service, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). As with many free services that suddenly get popular, the companies I was using decided they could make some money, and began charging for the service. That was when I moved on and gave up my hobby of calling from my computer.

skype_logo

A few years went by, and chat software such as Yahoo and MSN started offering chat to chat calls. I was certainly interested, and used the feature from time to time. Ultimately I discovered Skype. Skype had all the features of Yahoo and MSN, but had some extra features. I started using it as my chat service, to the exclusion of Yahoo. Somewhere around this time I also heard of a company called Vonage. Vonage offered VoIP services, but for a monthly subscription of around $20, I didn’t think it was worth my while.

skypecall

Skype would ultimately bring me back to the VoIP fold. By offering really cheap rates for per use service, and cheap rates for a subscription, I was able to resume calling people from my computer on their phones. No long distance charges, no waiting until 9pm to use my cell phone.

Skype has been useful for personal calls, including the weekly video call to my parents so they can visit with their grandsons. It has also been useful for business needs. I live in an area with spotty cell reception, so when I needed to call into a meeting while tending to my sick kids, I relied on Skype. The meeting lasted for over an hour, and I didn’t pay a thing for it. My monthly subscription is somewhere around $2. I can afford $2 a month. For the value I have already received, it is more than worth it.

The world of VoIP is constantly improving. Both Skype and Vonage can be capitalized on by purchasing a VoIP phone. Some of them look like traditional phones, and connect via Bluetooth instead of the standard USB connection. AT&T sells some pretty good models with these features. I am content with my built-in laptop mic and webcam, so I haven’t upgraded to the traditional phones yet.

VoIP is getting easier and easier to use. It offers reliable service and the price to get started is continually coming down. I recommend Skype, but I have no problem with Vonage other than the price. They do offer a number of features, but if I wanted a traditional phone, I would use a traditional service, not VoIP.

I am looking forward to seeing where the future of VoIP is going. I imagine that video phones will mainstream and then Skype will let you video call a landline. There are numerous possibilities, and each one seems pretty cool to me.

Google Apps at Pepperdine

 

Google Productivity Software

Google Productivity Software

If you aren’t familiar with Google’s offerings, this is a good time to get to know them. Gmail is considered by many to be the most useful email interface available, a good harmony of the functions you need with minimal clutter. Google Docs offers document sharing for teams, allowing for multiple authors to work on a document simultaneously.

Think about the educational opportunity to sit with students in real-time, perhaps collaboratively writing a textbook as part of the class experience or your staff collaboratively taking meeting notes.

Google Sites is a nice place to brainstorm and manage projects. Its an easy basic wiki with almost no ramp up time needed due to no real training being required. Just decide a name for your knowledge base and go.

Google Chat is a nice as well. With the large selection of instant message and video conferencing offerings. It can be challenging to locate and contact other members of such a large community as Pepperdine. With community integration, this is a gem. Even better, with no install or configuration like Skype you simply login and start talking.

My personal favorite is Google Calendar. This is nothing short of the most open and configurable calendaring offering available today. And while there is a wealth of things you might never do, it never feels like that power gets in the way. If you just want to login and check your appointments and type in new ones you can do that. If you want to go a step farther and have it email you a daily appointment list, that’s available. If you want your cell phone to alert you, that’s just another click away.

Let’s say you are ready for the big time and want to share your calendar with your committee, students, or perhaps family or friends each of those can be done. But you never need to touch the features you don’t need.

Soon you’ll be able to sign up for all these features and even opt-out of Outlook entirely if that’s what you’d like to do. Our WAVENET portal will even learn your preference and support your chosen email client.

Twitter – An Introduction

It seems that you can’t go anywhere without hearing about Twitter anymore. Thanks to Ashton Kutcher, CNN, and Oprah, Twitter is no longer something just for geeks and bloggers. So what exactly is Twitter? According to the Twitter website:

“Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

While it has expanded beyond this, the definition is still useful. You use Twitter to tell people what you are doing in 140 characters or less. Another way to describe Twitter and even its competitors is “Micro-Blogging”. Micro-Blogging is a great way to update interested people when you don’t have time to sit down and write a full blog. This could lead one to ask what a blog is, but if you are reading this, you probably already know.

What Can I Do With Twitter?

Twitter can be used for a variety of things. I use it to update my Facebook and other social networking status messages. I type the entry once, and each site I belong to gets the update. Some sites, especially Facebook required a bit of engineering to pull off, but nothing too difficult. Twitter can update people when you have entered a new blog post. Combined with an RSS feed, Twitter can share things for you automatically.

Where is Twitter Going?

One thing Twitter users can do is to join causes of various sorts. I recently participated in a Twitter campaign to save a television show I liked. By adding what is called a hash tag to the end of my posts, and in this case even changing my Twitter background, I joined the cause. A hash tag, simply, is a pound sign (#) with a brief topic following. People interested in the recent Sandra Day O’Connor lecture at the Pepperdine University School of Law could follow the event by searching Twitter for #peplaw. By using Twitter’s search feature, you can often assume that a topic will have already been discussed, and simply search for it with the # in front.

What Do I Call My Posts?

Twitter being an unusual name, one hears all kinds of versions of what a post is called. Some say it is twittering, some say tweeting. Some have even called them twits. The general consensus is to call a post a tweet. Multiple posts would be tweets.

Is Twitter the Only Choice?

While Twitter certainly has name recognition, there are a number of other products out there. One company is working on a business-centered Twitter tool. Others are more direct competitors. I use another site as a tool to combine my multiple Twitter accounts. As I find new products I will be posting about them.

While this has not been an exhaustive introduction, it should provide a general idea of what Twitter is about. Twitter’s website is found at www.twitter.com. The Pepperdine University School of Law hash tag is #peplaw. If you want to follow me on Twitter, search for jaredp_peplaw.

Until next time, happy tweeting.

Better Network Storage Debut

It’s summertime here at Pepperdine School of Law and a technology professional’s heart turns to major projects to improve education and infrastructure. This week we’re beginning to promote our new system for storing and sharing files. Xythos is the product, but you will come to know it as https://storage.pepperdine.edu. This is the web front door for a better way to store files.

The following is a quick tutorial on setting this up as a more familiar virtual disk drive on your local computer:

Your needs may be fully served by installing Xythos as a drive. This will look just like your current network drive. But now you can save files to it and access those files anywhere in the world, not just on campus! It’s what you already have, only better.

But next week, I’d like to share with you a couple of new ways to use your network storage that you hadn’t considered; helping you collaborate and keeping your data safe.

What’s Next?

There are some habitual failures in my chosen profession caused by the intermingling of idealistic futurism and pragmatic business models and well as often hostile interaction between visionaries and those fearing change. The failure I’m speaking of is the inability to clearly and meaningfully involve our clients in the release of new products into their lives.

The hype-machine coming from professionals glamored by a new innovative product or from businesses needing to answer to their shareholders on matter of profit are forced into an arms race of noise that influences our clients to retreat rather than engage.

The first of two announcements this week comes from Microsoft. Bing is their latest answer to Google’s dominance in the web search market. They’ve put a great deal of thought and considerable technical expertise into improving users’ search experience in a way that is evolutionary without being bound by other projects (like Wolfram Alpha or more pedestrian attempts like About.com.

The real genius will be Microsoft’s ability to shape the answers to questions users ask. I don’t mean this in any sort of malicious sense. I mean that like the Yellow Pages, they can enable and facilitate economic activity via their approach to user experience. I’m all for the local coffee shop being in Bing, so when I search in an unfamiliar place, I don’t have to settle for the ubiquitous Starbucks.

Google’s announcement of their new Wave platform came later in the week. Built on open, media-rich standard HTML5 and designed to put into the hands of users a synthesis of communication currently only available in a diverse set of competing closed-development products, Google Wave is a standard for developing products and a new communications protocol for those products.

Microsoft’s offering of Bing is inwardly focused. Google’s Wave is outwardly focused. Microsoft is launching a product that is superior to their current search product, but they do so to drive more traffic past their advertisers. This is an innovation in their advertising model; not so much an innovation in web search.

Information is only meaningful in context. That’s why most people I know these days when they come across a word or concept they don’t understand google “wiki” to see if wikipedia or other smaller wiki projects have articles that could uncover the mystery.

Google Wave is about enriching context. Bing is about channeling information into a specific context. This doesn’t make Bing bad, but it illustrates why Wave is to be evaluated on a completely different scale.

No doubt Google has already considered a number of ways to monetize Wave, but they are hoping to develop a new platform for interactivity, not the redirection of it. They are seeking to innovate what we do and how we do it, expanding user experience to occupy a greater share of what our computers are capable of, but not presently enabled for our use.

The hype-machines are troublesome because they create noise. To the average non-professional computer user not only do these two announcements drown each other out, but a dozen or more non-trivial announcements from other companies chattered away in the background as well. What’s my advice to you? Even with something with the potential of Google Wave, avoid the hype. Be patient and wait for the potential to be realized into something that actually affects your lives.

I believe Google Wave will have a significant impact on distance education, virtual office hours, academic social networking, scholarly collaboration and even administration and departmental management. Perhaps not as great as email itself, but then email is part of the evolution required to develop Wave. When real products with real applications arrive in the coming months, I’ll share them.

Until then, don’t worry about the hype, even mine.

Web Apps and Google Chrome

For the readers out there that aren’t aware of it, Web Applications (Web Apps) are entering the mainstream in a major way. One can find scores of apps that do a variety of different fun – or even useful things. Take, for instance, Google’s Chrome browser. Chrome allows you to make your own web app as simply as adding a bookmark. What would one do with a Chrome App? A number of things.

One way I use my Chrome Web App is with Dictionary.com. I am a frequent visitor of Dictionary.com. When I learned what Chrome could do, it was one of the first Apps I made. What Chrome does is create a modified browser window that sits on your desktop. You get to see the web content but the traditional menu bar and navigation buttons are missing. See the image as an example.

When I need to look up a word, I just click the icon I saved to my desktop, and am instantly on the Dictionary.com page. I look up my word and simply close the app, just as I would close Microsoft Word when I am done with it. This is extremely useful to me, and Dictionary.com isn’t my only Chrome App. The load speeds are superior to a similar desktop application, and I can take it with my wherever I go, without worrying about licensing and user privileges.

I use Chrome to make a variety of apps, from Dictionary.com to HootSuite (Twitter) and Facebook. Give it a shot and see how it suits you.

Get Chrome

Workplace Culture

In what way is workplace culture all that different from any other kinds of culture? For most of us, the workplace is the most structured environment we visit regularly. Certainly there is an assumed basis for making value judgments on the use of resources.

In business this is usually thought of as ROI (Return On Investment). We can judge whether purchasing a new delivery truck will result in more efficient deliveries and a greater capacity for sales, for example. Academia has to worry about the bottom-line and often has to accomplish similar business objectives as the private sector, but frequently with less money and a more qualitative mission statement.

For a place like Pepperdine you can’t put a price on culture.

Most people who come in contact with Pepperdine, even for a short visit for a conference or special event, recognize its unique pairing of the physical beauty of the campus with the inner beauty of its community. We’re no stranger to USN&WR or other systems of appraisal that can be used to evaluate our work, but some things like culture defy measurement. But make no mistake, culture is experienced by everyone.

I used to car pool. A former co-worker of mine rode with me early in the morning along the pleasant beaches of Malibu. We have very different musical tastes. Since we arrived early it was common to continue our musical debates across our desks. We’d try to find more and more unusual material that could fit our disparate musical tastes.

One fine Friday morning I happened upon Stevie Wonder’s, Superstition in my collection and it was an instant hit with him. Neither one of us is a particular fan of Funk, but we ended up finding a number of tracks we really enjoyed. A tradition was born, Friday Five Minutes of Funk. Though my friend no longer works here, the tradition has continued, encouraged by other employees. As schedules shift from time to time or someone arrives early, they encounter this tradition and get excited about it. It’s a fun way to get your energy up for the last push of the week. I’ve mentioned it on Facebook and other places and almost universally the idea is received well.

What does this have to do with technology (apart from the fact that technically I’m playing music over the internet on my PC and sharing the multimedia experience with the office)? Technology enables not just critical business functions but culture. It’s a tool, not just for managing accounting data, writing papers and scheduling classrooms, but for communities to relate to themselves. Phones may have been overshadowed by email, but both are specialized tools. There are other tools as well. I hope to post regularly about those other tools and how they can be used, for business processes (yes) and for pedagogy (certainly) but also for culture.

Pepperdine isn’t the only special place so I hope others can learn from what we do here to make their place special. But most of all I hope to share with and learn from other folks at Pepperdine about what makes this place great. It’s people.

I’d like to share a bit of our cultural value with you. Here’s your Friday Five Minutes of Funk.