Crossfire

Web links and tips for listeners to Crossfire with Len Black on Moray Firth and Nevis Radio, where Scottish Christian publisher Ian Ansdell appears each month (usually!). Please note that some older links may no longer be active. If you’ve any technical queries, or are interested in a new website for your church or Christian organisation, please email crossfire@scottishchristian.com.

Sunday 17 November 2013

• Advent Sunday is in a fortnight’s time, so here are some Christmas links:
- Christmas Starts With Christ (from ChurchAds);
- Real Advent Calendar;
- A reminder about Christmas in Scotland in the past;
- Traidcraft, PresentAid and many other organisations offer gift choices.
• The Mary’s Meals film Child 31 is now online. Why not embed it in your website?
• Does your congregation have an interest in science? If so, you could be in for a £10,000 grant from Scientists in Congregations.
• A cry for help: Scottish Christian runs on WordPress, as do about 20% of the world’s websites, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find shared web hosting which can deal with it. So I’m considering moving to a specialist (and expensive!) host such as WPEngine. Have any listeners come across a good web host?
• Gizmo of the Month: Treepad is a program I’ve used for years and rely on ever day. It’s great for filing articles, notes, reports, letters, speeches etc. A paid-for version offers more options such as formatting and storing photos.

Sunday 29 September 2013

• The excellent PC Pro magazine has produced a disturbing report about the effectiveness or otherwise of web filtering software. Only three of the 15 products tested achieved 100% blocking of pornography, and many of the others failed to tackle other types of undesirabe website. PC Pro’s report is exhaustively covered at the Daily Mail.
• Want to brighten up the identity of your church, organisation or website? Try LogoNerds. They do logo design for as little as $27. That’s £16.80 at today’s prices. (How they manage it is another matter …)
• Gizmo of the Month 1: An irritation of Microsoft Outlook is that attachments to messages aren’t stored separately. That can make them difficult to find, and also bloats the .pst file which you need to back up. Enter OutlookAttachView, which does what it says in its name. It won’t keep attachments in a separate folder, but you can call up a list of attachments and view or delete them.
• Gizmo of the Month 2: Sorry about the name, but My God Mode is really useful. It takes away the hassle of searching for more than 260 Windows system management tools from a single window. This ‘God Mode’ facility was originally intended to be available only to Microsoft developers.
• This might be useful: OpenDyslexic is a free font designed to increase readability for people with dyslexia. Reviews are mixed, but then dyslexia covers a broad spectrum. There’s also a paid-for competitor. Dyslexie has better quality and only costs €9.95 per year for private use.
• These could be great for those involved in churches and children’s organisations: mobile apps from the Red Cross covering general first aid and Baby and Child First Aid. You can also learn first aid online.

Sunday 18 August 2013

• Finding photos for church magazines and websites can be  real chore. Here are 10 places to find free stock images. (WordPress is mentioned, but they can be used anywhere. Some links are to paid-for images.)
• Word clouds are another way of lifting the appearance of a page. A piece of text is analysed, then a graphic produced using words in the text weighted according to their frequency of use. Try creating one at Wordle then customise it. Unfortunately, you can’t save the results as a jpg or png file. You’d need to take a screenshot and edit that with your graphics softward. Here’s how it can look in action.
• Need a timer for your computer? To use for countdown, alarm clock, or stopwatch? Try Cool Timer.
• Whenever you find a nice piece of software like Cool Timer, it’s worth checking what else the creators make. Here’s what Harmony Hollow have to offer.
• One of my cats died last weekend – boo! – which caused me in an idle moment to Google cats and Christianity. Extraordinary results!
• Gizmo of the Month. This one’s a real cracker. Soluto enables you to help people by monitoring the state of their computer, carrying out maintenance and updates remotely if necessary. Soluto will also let you know when a problem arises, and your friend can summon your help with the press of a button. With their permission, you can access their machine remotely and try to fix their problems. The pricing is *much* cheaper than that of competitor services: it’s free for up to three computers, including your own, and only USD9.99 for up to ten computers. The diagnostic summaries are so good that it’s even worth installing just to keep an eye on your own machine!

Sunday 21 July 2013

• A while ago we talked about using Google Alerts to find news of interest to you. Here’s a good story from Malta we’d never have come across without the service. Finding it allowed us to provide some useful links.
• You can publish your own ‘daily newspaper’ online for free at Paper.li. Here’s the Scottish Christian Daily as an example. News can be drawn from Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Youtube or RSS.
• OK, let’s go into gizmo mode …
• Unwanted email, or spam, is a plague on the world wide web. SPAMfighter has partnered with Microsoft to build what’s claimed to be the strongest, safest, and most effective anti spam filter on the market. There’s a free version, and a more fully featured version which costs £17. Alternatively, Mailwasher has been around for years: its great advantage is that enables you to stop spam before it reaches your computer. Again, there are two versions – one paid for at USD29.95, one free.
• If you’re fed up with your current email programme, try Opera Mail. It’s really fast, handles picture attachments nicely, gives easy access to emails with attachments, and has Gmail-style labelling.
• While we’re talking about change … never thought I’d say this, but I’m thinking about switching from Firefox to Internet Explorer. Very fast, though it doesn’t support some of the latest web standards.
• This could be the freebie of the decade: Scribus is a high-powered desktop publishing program which ‘competes with leading commercial applications such as Adobe PageMaker, PagePlus, QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign’. It can be used to produce newspapers, brochures, newsletters, posters and books. It’s also available for many operating systems.

Sunday 30 June 2013

• This year marks the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba on Iona, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Iona Community, and the 25th anniversary of the opening of the MacLeod Centre on Iona. You can find out more on the Community’s elegant website, built with WordPress.
• The Church of Scotland’s magazine, Life & Work, launched its new website earlier this year.
• Many websites have Portable Document Files – PDFs – as part of their content. These are usually only accessible through a simple text link. But Google Docs Viewer enables you to embed PDFs, PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and other files on a web page so that the visitor can see them. There’s also a handy plugin for WordPress users. You can see it in action on this page.
• Now for a slightly controversial Gizmo of the Month. Have you ever lost work when a program or website has crashed? One rather extreme preventive measure is to install a keystroke logger, which will record everything you type. Phrozen Keylogger Lite is a freebie. You can also use this type of software to monitor someone’s computer activity or, to put it another way, spy on them. Kidlogger is free. Web Watcher costs, but you don’t have to access the user’s device to see what they’ve been doing.
• Here’s a handy little chap: Character Count tallies up the characters in a piece of text. Handy for Tweets, SMS messages and other odd occasions.

Sunday 19 May 2013

• Scottish Christian has been re-designed (yet again!) since we last met.
• Gizmo of the Month: PC Pro magazine assessed the best free and paid-for anti-virus programs on the market. Best freebie was Avast Antivirus, but it nags you to upgrade. Best to go for the superior Bitdefender Total Security, which you can get for as little as £6 or £7 a year if you shop around.
• Freebie of the Month: Ever forgotten a password for a website you use regularly? Haven’t we all! You’ve a good chance of retrieving the missing link using WebBrowserPassView.
• Do you want Google to track your surfing and serve up tailored adverts? Is this intrusion, or a handy service? Find out more … and how to opt out.
• Fretting about a Powerpoint presentation? Buy a professional package for washers at PitchStock.
Catholics urged to spread the word on Facebook.

Sunday 24 February 2012

It’s a February Gizmo Bonanza!

• Let’s start simply with CloseAll. Click the big red X and it closes all your programs.

• Outrageous conditions appear to be attached to Microsoft Office 2013 – it can only be used once on one computer:
www.theregister.co.uk/2013/02/20/office_2013_license_no_transfers/
Maybe it’s time to consider switching to LibreOffice (brought to you by the folk who developed OpenOffice)

http://www.libreoffice.org/

It’s free and has equivalents of all the main Microsoft Office components except for Outlook. Documents produced by Libreoffice are compatible with Microsoft Office 2007 and 2010 – docx etc. And it doesn’t have the dreaded ribbon!
In place of Outlook, you can used Mozilla Thunderbird for email plus Lightning for Calendar (brought to you by the folk who make Firefox):
www.mozilla.org/en-GB/thunderbird
www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar

• Ubuntu Linux turns out to be very easy to install alongside Windows and well worth testing as an alternative to Windows. Don’t try unless you’re confident, though.

http://www.ubuntu.com/ubuntu

• Want Kindle books but don’t want to buy a Kindle machine? No probs … download Kindle free for your PC or phone or tablet, and synchronise between them:
PC – http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000423913
Android – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.amazon.kindle&hl=en
Mac – http://kindle-for-mac.en.softonic.com/mac

MightyText lets you send text messages from your PC or tablet via your Android mobile phone:
www.mightytext.net

Sunday 16 December 2012

Pope Benedict is on Twitter. Who will he follow?! Here’s an interview with the Pope’s ‘social media guru’.

Now for multiple Gizmos of the Month …

• You can spruce up your computer’s performance using CCleaner. Or use the holidays to reinstall your operating system. Be sure to back everything up first!

• Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8, is said to bring vast improvements in speed, reliability and startup times. But it also has a completely new interface – and the Start button’s been done away with. (Some of the needless changes can be overcome using third-party programs.) Fancy trying it out? You can download a full version for free and use it for three months – best to do it on a virtual drive or separate partition from your current operating system. If you’d like to upgrade permanently, the Pro version is available for just £25 until 31 January, 2013. It’s wise to do some research beforehand … ComputerActive magazine’s Windows 8 special edition is well worth the £5.99 cover price.

• Of course, if you’re fed up with Windows altogether, or would like to try an alternative, Linux is available for free. This could be a good option for Windows XP users when Microsoft ceases support in April 2014.

Sunday 11 November 2012

• Did you notice the great jam-jar stushie last month? Turns out that it was all a storm in a pressure-cooker. Turns out that the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service over-egged the pudding – but they offer some interesting advice on their website anyway.
• The Religious Education Movement in Scotland has a terrific new website with great resources.
• Last month saw the merger of three bodies concerned with Scottish church buildings. Sacred Scotland, Maintain Your Church and Scottish Churches Architectural Heritage Trust became Scotland’s Churches Trust, and it has a new website.
• Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert website is a treasure trove of sound financial advice. It has recently added a really useful page entitled Death happens – plan for it: 20+ crucial checks to minimise financial trauma.
• Gizmo of the Month: Is somebody hogging the family TV? Grab your laptop and visit TV Catchup to watch more than 50 channels … for free!

Sunday 23 September 2012

• What happens to your digital data when you’re gone? Keeping all your passwords etc in one accessible place can save your loved ones a lot of trouble and heart-ache. The same goes for details of church websites and online accounts.
• Checking updates on a website is usually easy nowadays thanks to RSS feeds. But if the site you’re tracking doesn’t have RSS, Watch That Page is just the job, sending you an email whenever the page changes.
• You’re sure to have heard about Martha Payne the Argyll food-blogging pupil who’s raised more than £100,000 for Mary’s Meals. But do you know just how easy it is to set up a fund-raising page at JustGiving?
• Still on fund-raising … you can raise money on unwanted CDs or DVDs through Music Magpie. Ideal for jumble sale left-overs, or perhaps a special appeal.
• Gizmo of the Month: Prey anti-theft software will help track down a stolen mobile phone, tablet or computer. It might even take a photo of the thief!

Sunday 22 July 2012

• I decline to use the ‘O’ word, but am delighted to recommend free Chariots of Fire resources!
• Website news: the Free Church has beefed up the news coverage on its site, and SCIAF has a new site.
• How do we find stories for the Scottish Christian News Monitor? Mostly through Google Alerts.
• Have you STILL not got to grips with Twitter?! Mashable has an excellent guide for beginners.
• While we’re in instructional mode, here’s a handy Beginner’s Guide to HTML and CSS.
• Gizmo of the Month: Last time I recommended Start Menu 7 for users of Windows Vista and 7. Silly me; Classic Shell does more, and it’s FREE.

Sunday 22 April 2012

• After Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest has rocketed from nowhere to become the third most popular social network. And up to 97 per cent of its users are women. Here are 11 ways your church could use Pinterest.
• Blockbuster movie The Hunger Games has potential for ‘engaging teens & twenties with spiritual parallels‘.
• April 29 is Internet Evangelism Day. Stacks of resources here.
• Gizmo of the Month: Replace the horrid start menu in Windows Vista/7 with an old-school flyout menu … Start Menu 7.
• MegaGizmo of the Month: Loads of free programs from Serif – but don’t use WebPlus!
• Tip of the Month: If you’re using drag’n'drop to copy a file from your computer to a memory stick, make sure the actual file has copied, and not just a shortcut!
• Oh well, here’s a bonus tip: If text on a website is too small to read, hold down the Ctrl button on your keyboard and either hit the +/- keys on the board or move the wheel on your mouse. Also handy for seeing small pictures in greater detail. To return to normal size, go to View then Zoom on your browser menu.

Sunday 11 March 2012

• Scottish Christian is back online following a four-month break!
• News coverage on the front page is now drawn automatically through RSS from major church and other websites.
• RSS – Really Simple Syndication – makes the output of news-based sites available for off-site use.
• Individuals can view the content without having to visit the original website, using online tools like Google Reader or (free!) desktop programs like Feedreader or RSSOwl
• … and other people’s news can be presented on your own website. This site for St Mungo’s Episcopal Church in Alexandria carries Daily Prayer plus diocesan and provincial news in its right-hand sidebar, all updated automatically by RSS.
• A similar system is used for our new Twitter Roundup.
• Phew! Now relax while we talk about the latest trend in websites … responsive web design. Increasing numbers of people don’t access websites on PCs or laptops. Instead, they use smartphones or tablets like the iPad. Many websites look awful or are unusable on these new gizmos. Hence responsive web design … a design which responds to the device the user views it on. See examples at DesignModo and TheNextWeb. See how they work by calling one up in your browser then making the browser window smaller. (Scottish Christian was in early … we used ElmaStudio’s Ari theme last year, but dropped it for other technical reasons.)
• Gizmo of the Month is Google Docs Embedding, which enables you to display any document, such as a PDF, in a web page. You can get the code from Google or use a plugin if your site’s built on WordPress.  There’s an example of it in action at the bottom of this page from St Ninian’s, Troon.