Widgets on Pages Plugin

Normally, WordPress confines the use of widgets to the sidebars or footer area of your design template. The Widgets on Pages plugin lets you put any of your WordPress widgets into a page or post. How can you put this to work on your site? Take a look at the Personal Publishing page here on the Gazette. I have used a custom menu to point readers to specific content within the Gazette site. A custom menu can only be displayed as a widget so Widgets on Pages makes it possible to include that menu on this page. This plugin is also handy if you want to put a tag cloud or a collection of links from your blogroll or an number of other widgets into your page or post.

Once the plugin has been installed and activated, you’ll see a Widgets on Pages item in the Settings menu. Here’s where you will define your widget areas.

There will be one sidebar item already set up for you. If you want more, you’ll first need to update the Number of additional sidebars item at the top of the screen and save your changes. Those additional sidebars will appear under the Optional Sidebar Names area. Now you have to give each sidebar a unique name, then save those changes.

Next stop is the Widgets screen in the Appearance section. You’ll notice your custom widget areas have been added below the standard widget areas included in your theme. You can drag one or more widgets into these areas just like you do with any other widget area. In this example, you see I’ve dragged the standard WordPress Custom Menu widget into the PubMenu widget area and pointed it to the Personal Publishing menu. Notice the shortcode displayed at the top of this widget area. Each of the widget areas I created with this plugin has its own shortcode. You’ll need to use that shortcode to insert this widget on your page.

In this example, you’re looking at my Personal Publishing page in the WordPress editor. At the point where I want the custom menu to appear, I’ve inserted the shortcode. That’s it!

Here’s what the menu looks like on the published page.

Whenever I update this custom menu, those changes will also appear here on this page. On a family history blog, this combination of custom menus and Widgets on Pages can organize your archives into family groups or story collections making it easy for your readers to find and enjoy your growing collection.

Oh, and if you’d like to learn more about custom menus, stay tuned . . . that’s next week’s WordPress topic.

Organize a Scrivener writing project

Scrivener [Mac -$45 & Windows – $40] is an incredible writing tool. It is not a word processing application although it does support writing, editing and formatting a document. It’s purpose is to provide writing support (planning, organizing, keeping your research and notes handy and managing the entire writing project). You can keep all of these things right in your Scrivener project file for easy reference at any point. Once you’ve completed writing your manuscript, Scrivener will compile it into any number of formats but you may then need to use an appropriate layout application to make those words, tables, graphs and images look great too. Yes, a family history project can be a massive effort, but Scrivener does a tremendous job of keeping everything organized and on track.

As you can imagine, with all these capabilities, you aren’t going to become a Scrivener expert in a weekend. That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert before you start using it. One of the toughest parts of a writing project is getting started. I’m going to look at Scrivener’s organizational tools and how to use them to plan and organize a writing project.

Here you see the Scrivener workspace showing the Corkboard. The left column is called the Binder and it has three sections: Draft, Research and Notes. My manuscript is built in the Draft section. The Research and Notes sections are where I stash the information I’ll be referencing during my writing. More on that in upcoming articles. The column on the right is the Information pane and shows details about the item selected in the Binder – in this case The Toolbox item. Front and center is the Corkboard displaying the digital equivalent of a note card. In this example I’ve created a folder called The Toolbox and populated it with a dozen topics. Right now those topics just have titles, but each could have additional notes describing what I plan to do with it.

These “note cards” may become chapters, sections or sub-sections within the manuscript but right now they are just topics I want to include in my manuscript as part of The Toolbox. They are in no particular order and I don’t yet have any plans on how I will tackle them. As I flesh out this section, I can start by adding notes to each card listing the things I want to discuss. I can also drag the cards around to re-order how they will appear in the manuscript. I can add new topics and delete unnecessary ones at any time.

When cards are rearranged on the Corkboard, the related topics are also rearranged in the Binder to the left.

While the Corkboard is quite nice, not everyone works well with that format. No problem! Scrivener also offers an Outline view to those who find it more useful. Here’s the same folder – The Toolbox – as it appears in the Outliner view. The Binder’s still there as is the Information panel. It’s just the center area that has changed.

In this view, I’ve added some notes to a couple of the topic items and they appear just under the topic’s title. The same would be true in the Corkboard view. The Outline view also includes a couple other bits of information – the Label and Status fields from the Information pane. The Label field has two default options: Concept and Chapter, but I can add my own labels if I wish. The Status field makes it easy to track which topics need work and which are ready to go.

Like the Corkboard, I can drag topics around, add and remove them. And, when I do, the topics in the Binder panel also adjust.

There’s a third view – the document view – where I see the content of the selected topic. Switching between these views is easy. Just click on the appropriate view button in the Scrivener toolbar. I can quickly bounce between views whenever I want.

As you can see Scrivener offers some easy to use tools for organizing a writing project. It’s really quite easy to get started with Scrivener and learn as you go. In the next article, I’ll dig into the Binder and show what an amazing feature it can be.

Scribd Collections

You may or may not know that the National Archives’ Prologue Magazine has a significant presence on Scribd, the document storage and management platform. They use Scribd in some very creative ways – ones that we as family historians can also use. In Prologue’s profile you’ll find reprints of articles from the magazine along with any number of historical documents and photos. One very effective tool in Prologue’s presentation toolkit is the Scribd Collection. You can see how they put this feature to work in their recent celebration of the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that put the first man on the moon. The image you see here is just one of the interesting things you’ll find in the collection.

The collection is one of Scribd’s organizational features. It’s both quite useful and very easy to use. The really nice thing about a collection is that it isn’t confined to just your own documents. You can include public documents from across the Scribd universe.

Creating a collection is easy. Start by clicking the Add to Collections link on the document you want to include in a collection.

The collections pane appears showing any collections you’ve already created along with a field for creating a new collection. Just click in that field and it expands to the pane you see below.

You’ll need to enter a name and choose a collection type from the drop-down box at the bottom of the form, but adding a description of the collection and its purpose is always a good idea. It will give Scribd’s search engine more help in finding your collection. The collection types are explained just below the drop-down box. Once you’re ready, save your new collection.

It will be added to your list of available collections so now all you need to do is check the box to include your document in the collection and you’re all set. One caveat . . . you cannot put private documents into public collections.

In my Scribd library, I’ve used collections to organize both my how-to documents and family ones. For example, my Digital Storytelling collection has the Scribd articles embedded here at the Gazette along with some of my actual storytelling projects.

When you visit user’s profile page on Scribd, you’ll find links to their documents and collections located in the profile’s sidebar. Click the link and the collections will be displayed much like the individual documents you see here. Find the one you want, click on it and it will display your collection page.

Not only do the Prologue folks know history, they have found all kinds of fascinating ways to share what they know. Take advantage of their examples and Scribd’s collections to present your family stories along with related photos, ephemera and digitized documents. You’ll be creating a very rich history in the process.

Tech Notes – 27 June 2012

The big news on the tech scene this week is the release of Mac’s OSX 10.8 – also known as Mountain Lion. This version of Mac’s operating system brings a lot of popular iOS features to the desktop – Messages, Reminders, Notes and Notifications for example. One of the more interesting features is Dictation which puts the voice-recognition capabilities of Siri to use on the desktop. Is this a replacement for apps like Mac Speech or Scribe? No, but it is a great way to generate “text” in messages,  notes, reminders and emails. Mac|Life has published a very nice article on how to use Dictation and the commands available in the app.

A game called Dragon Box [iOS & Android – $5.99] has been getting rave reviews. It seems this game teaches children math – including algebra – as they enjoy a fun game. I’ve sent a copy to our grandkids.

The Kindle Touch got a security update. Andrys Basten has details.

Facebook’s not doing to well in the financial world as this article from ReadWriteWeb details.

Mountain Lion also brings iCloud to the desktop. You’ll notice Apple also released updates to Pages, Numbers and Keynote this week. These apps now connect with iCloud allowing you to easily work from your desktop or your iPad. Lifehacker has a great article discussing how to put iCloud to work.

IMPORTANT NOTE FOR iWork USERS: You have until Tuesday to download your files. iWork.com shuts down on July 31st.

Diigo is listed as on of the 100 best tools for teachers. Don’t know why I’m surprised to hear this.

I’ll be spending the weekend under the A/C vent working on some family history projects. At least July is almost over, but there’s still August yet to go. Hope you find an interesting way to stay cool.


Apple releases Mountain Lion today

Today’s the day Apple’s latest operating system, OSX 10.8 – also known as Mountain Lion, will be available for download. The cost is $19.99. While there are more than 200 new features in this version of OSX, a couple of them are especially interesting.

First of those is Dictation. The voice-recognition efforts behind Siri for the iThings are paying off here. With Dictation, wherever I would normally type, I can just tap the function key twice then dictate my entry instead. Dictation works in the text field of any OSX app and uses my system’s built-in microphone. Does this mean I can “text” in Messages without touching the keyboard or dictate blog content in Safari? Of course, if I’m working in a noisy environment (like two dogs and a mouthy bird), a headset may be a better option. And, the more I use Dictation, the better it works because it gets to know my verbal mannerisms. Like any good dictation app, it understands commands like “comma”, “period”, “new paragraph” and “all caps”. This feature alone could be worth the $20 price tag.

Speaking of Messages, in addition to text messages with Macs and iThings, the app also supports AOL, Yahoo!, Google Talk and Jabber services. It sounds like most of the very cool functions – like read receipts, group chats and large attachments – will only work within the Apple environment.

Of course I’m looking forward to having iCloud connecting my iWork apps as well as the iLife ones. Does this mean Pages, Numbers and Keynote are getting updates too? I hope so since iWork.com is shutting down July 31st. The one thing I really liked about it was the Keynote presentation sharing capability. The preview doesn’t mention any similar feature so I’m expecting it will be a while – if ever – before there’s a replacement.

Notes sounds quite interesting. It supports rich text formatting, hyperlinks, images and attachments and can be pinned to the desktop. Notes can be organized into folders, searched and shared via Mail or Messages. Even before I see it in action, it just sounds like it fits my style for jotting things down. And, if I can email them, they can easily be sent to Evernote too.

I’m not sure why Notes and Reminders are two separate things, but I do like the idea of a shopping or to-do list that can be easily pushed to my iPhone as I head out the door.

With Mountain Lion, my Mac gets lots of social goodness too. After signing into Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Vimeo once, I’ll be able to share directly from the apps that support it. And, Twitter supports multiple accounts.

These are just a few of the features included in the upgrade. Some of them – like the security upgrades are just as impressive even if they aren’t as exciting.

I’m looking forward to spending some time getting acquainted with this big cat.

Yet Another Related Posts Plugin

One of the downsides of any blog platform is that it doesn’t take long for articles to get lost in the archives. WordPress does provide both categories and tags to help your readers find archived posts, but wouldn’t it be nice if each post included links to other related articles in your archives? Yes, there’s a plugin for that – several actually. The one I’ve found quite useful is Yet Another Related Posts Plugin (YARPP). This is one of those set it and forget it plugins that does its job beautifully.

In this example from Moultrie Journal you see a list of four related articles at the bottom of this post. I have them arranged in order of relevance ant the number you see in parentheses is YARPP’s relevance calculation.

Set up is quite simple. Once the plugin is installed and activated, you’ll find a Related Posts (YARPP) page has been added in the Settings section. It will look something like this. In this example I’ve made a couple of simple changes to the standard settings. First, I’ve changed the displayed text in the “Before/after related entries” and “Default display if no results” section to use the word “articles” instead of “posts”. I’ve also made a simple HTML change in the “Before/after related entries” section. The default HTML creates a numbered list (using the <ol> tag) and I prefer a bulleted text (using the <ul> tag). You see the closing tag displayed in its on text box on this screen, but the text for the beginning tag is not immediately visible in its text box. Click in the box showing <p>Related articles: and scroll to the right to find the additional HTML. Once your changes are made and saved, you’ll see your changes in the HTML code example in the upper right corner of the settings pane.

That’s all there is to the setup. Once you’ve saved the changes, your posts will immediately show the articles related to them. YARPP uses the title, contents, categories and tags to find repeated key words. You may want to experiment with the tags you include in each post to see how they affect which related posts are included in the list. The list is dynamic and will automatically adjust as new content is added. The related articles you see at the bottom of this post today could be entirely different when you look at it again a month from now. As the content on your blog changes, so will the related posts listed on all your posts. It really is an amazing plugin.

Calculating Dates

Windows 7 users will find the built-in calculator app has received a very nice overhaul which includes some new – and useful – date calculation features. In the standard calculator, click on the View menu and choose the Date Calculation option to display the worksheet you see here.

You now have several different date calculation options to choose from using the drop-down option in the worksheet. Here I’m calculating the difference between two dates.  You can also add/subtract days to a specific date which can be an easy way to get an approximate birth date.

Conversational Twitter

Yes, I’ll admit I’m a devoted Twitter fan. Just when I think I’ve seen everything Twitter can do, someone comes up with yet another use for it. Actually, this isn’t a new use, but it is an effective one. I’m talking about the Twitter Chat. A Twitter chat is a conversation about a specific topic held at a specific time using Twitter as the chat platform. We in the genea-community have been doing a rough sort of Twitter chat during live conferences where the attendees share their experiences with those of us who can’t attend. Why not put it to work on a day-to-day basis to organize regularly-scheduled chats?

How do you create a Twitter chat? You simply set a date, a topic and a hashtag then invite everyone interested to attend. At the appointed time, kick off the chat with a tweet that gets the conversation started. Participants need to set up a saved search for the chat’s hashtag and include that hashtag in each of their tweets. That insures everyone can follow the chat. The conversation can include comments and opinions, replies to other’s tweet, links to related sources and even photos.

To kick things off, I invite you to join me tomorrow (Sunday, July 22nd) beginning at 3:00 pm EDT. The hashtag for the chat is #gnotes and this week’s topic is Twitter – how you use it, your favorite client and any tips you have. It should be an interesting conversation and I hope to see you then!

Tech Notes – 20 July 2012

Early morning at Chickamauga battlefield in northwest Georgia.

I have all but abandoned Google Reader for keeping up with the news. Twitter, Flipboard and a couple of Twitter apps have made my reading experience more enjoyable, provided a way to efficiently keep up with the news and even enjoy a quick conversation with friends. If you don’t already, I highly recommend that bloggers add Twitter along with their RSS feeds as distribution paths for your blog posts.

Barnes & Noble has introduced a web-based book reader. Now you can access all your B&N ebooks from any web browser. I was pleasantly surprised with the interface and the ability to quickly follow links within the text makes it a very useful reader for research.

Are you a Susan Branch fan? If you don’t have a clue, Susan is an artist well known in the scrapbooking community. She has just returned from several weeks in England (which were well documented on her blog) and yesterday gave away a limited edition of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that she brought home with her. In the post announcing the winner, there is a photograph of a page-in-progress from her trip diary. It is gorgeous! My first thought was how well this format and style could translate into a family history project. Maybe it’s time to pick up a pen again . . .

Over at The Signal, a delightful story about one family’s efforts in building a personal digital archive.

Taneya’s got her WordPress webinar slides posted on her site. If you missed the webinars, go check them out.

Evernote for the Mac has been updated. It includes support for the new retina displays (nothing I’m going to see any time soon) but it also has an activity stream. My first thought was “huh?” but when I realized that it was mostly for use with shared notebooks, it all made sense. If you’re using a shared notebook to work with others, this activity stream will keep each of the shared users informed about additions to the notebook. This can be an awesome collaborative research tool! The update is available now to Mac users who downloaded their app from Evernote. If you installed from the App Store, you’ll have to wait for it to complete the review process. Ever since that nasty bug from a couple of weeks ago that caused all those crashing apps, the reviews are taking a lot longer to complete.

If you’re a Mac user and an Instagram fan, you may want to take a look at the InstaBackup app [Mac – $1.00]. It’s an easy way to back up your Instagram photos to your Mac.

This week’s spotlight book at Moultrie Creek Books. Combine these writing tips with your version of Susan Branch’s creativity and you’ve got a family treasure in the making.

WordPress Tip: Preview post in the same tab

When I’m working on a blog post I can easily have half a dozen tabs open in my browser displaying sites supporting the topic of the article. Having WordPress open up yet another tab just so I can see what the article is going to look like can be quite irritating. Thanks to the WordPress ribbon, I can now easily move between the editing window and preview window all in the same tab.

Both preview options on the actual editing screen will open your preview in a new tab, but if you choose the View Post option from the ribbon, it will open the preview in the current tab.

You’ll notice that the View Post option changes to Edit Post when you are looking at the preview. Click it to return to editing this post. You can also click on the New button from either screen to start a new post – again in this same browser tab.

It may take a bit of effort to get used to using the ribbon instead of the original links, but it won’t take long before it becomes second nature.