Tagtools

Deckset: Build your presentations in Markdown

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For the last few days I’ve been beta testing Deckset, a Markdown-based presentation tool for Mac built by (among others) Chris Eidhof, one of my partners in UIKonf. (In fact, I believe I might have been user #1, but who knows.)

And boy, Deckset is delightful to work with. As someone who quite regularly, but not all-that-frequently gives presentations, I know my way around Keynote of course, but don’t have the kind of massive collection of slides (or even a cool customized template) that more frequent speakers do. So for me, being able to edit really quickly and to work with some design constraints is just perfect.

To give you an idea just how much of a breeze it is to work with Deckset: You write your text in very simple Markdown syntax into a text file, drop in the picture name, place the picture in the same folder as the markdown file. Done. Editing happens straight in the text file. Again, you save, and you’re done.

 

Deckset turns this…

 

Deckset syntax

 

…into this:

 

Deckset screenshot Image by mikebaird, CC by

 

There are constraints — lots of constraints — in what you can do in terms of layout. It’s Markdown, so it’s pretty basic: Headers, lists, bold and italic, that kind of thing. Deckset does the rest.

Deckset comes with a selection of templates, and you can tell that a team of (I say this as a compliment) total type nerds built it – the templates look gorgeous. The first preview (1.0) came with something like 4 templates of 3 color combinations each; this morning’s update (1.3) brought it up to 4 templates and 4-7 color combinations each. They range from very serious/timeless (“Classic”) to one alluding to the era and style of Mad Men (“Swiss”) to quite bold (“Poster”) to playful (“Superfun”).

It’s all about image + text, so the team had to come up with some solutions on how to handle images in very different ways: Where the Poster theme leaves the images more or less as vibrant as they are and just throws large, bold-ish typeface on top, the Swiss theme pushes the images more into the background, converted into grayscale and overlaid with a single color, so it’s more focused on the type. The Modern theme is somewhere in between: Images stay in color, but are blurred to serve as background more than as images. Switching between themes happens on the fly, no re-rendering necessary.

Oh yes, Deckset also supports clickers and does PDF exports of course.

So who is Deckset for?

Deckset is for… anyone who regularly does presentations and likes to edit them very simply on the fly. If you just occasionally do presentations and want them to look great without using the Keynote standard templates, Deckset is great too.

 

Deckset is not for… speakers who have their own custom-made templates and are very invested in their collection of Keynote slides, or who need to show videos as part of their presentations.

 

Why the long write up? For one, when friends build great tools it’s worth a shout out. More importantly, Deckset is a great tool to for me, and I’m going to test it in the field next week for a talk in Amsterdam (so it’d better work!). I’m not sure when Deckset will be out officially, but the moment it is I’ll be the first in line to pay for my copy.

 

You can sign up for the invitation list on decksetapp.com.

 

Full disclosure: I’m currently using the app for free as a beta tester.

Tools I use (Dec 2012 updates)

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That beautiful moment.

I’ve been posting the Tools I Use, ie my gadget and tech setup, a few times by now. It’s a simple way to help share recommendations, and just like The Setup, which I’m somewhat addicted to, it can help others figure out their own tech setup. So here goes another one, as I’ve recently updated a few things.

Galaxy S III

I was a bit miffed when I learned that Google would start selling the Nexus 4 (the pure Android flagship phone) just after I had bought my S III, but I realized I’ll be quite happy with it for awhile to come. The size takes some getting used to – the thing is huge! – but now I have a hard time imagining to go back to anything smaller. (It’s funny how fast we adapt to these things.)

There’s on drawback for the S III, and that’s the software it ships with. As it’s not straight from Google, it comes with Samsung’s flavor of Android, in other words an extra layer of software on top of the operation system. That has a number of advantages and drawbacks.

Pro: The software is customized to fit the hardware perfectly. For example, the photo software that it ships with is lightning fast.

Con: Anything else. It’s less well designed, it’s full of bloatware (although not as bad as expected). My biggest problem with not having the pure Android experience is that it takes much, much longer to get the most recent updates. So currently I’m running it on a Cyanogen mod nightly build, which is all good and fine for me personally, but if you just want to use your phone and not spend a few hours geeking out with your phone to take full control, it’s a bit of a turn-off.

That said, with the Samsung layer scraped off it’s a brilliant phone. (And if you’re not as obsessed with getting any bloatware of your phone as I am, the out-of-the-box version you’d buy might still be brilliant.)

I love how Android has been evolving more recently, and have less and less phantom pain for not having access to iOS by the day. This is a purely personal preference, of course, but I live inside the Google-verse, and hate a lot of the product decisions Apple has made over the last few years, like stronger iTunes and Facebook integration just to name a few. But I digress.

Long story short: I fully recommend the S III, but buying now I might go for the equally powerful and less pricey Google Nexus 4.

Nexus 7

Another member of the Android family, I just got a Nexus 7 tablet. (The 7 stands of the screen size of 7 inches.) It’s the larger model with built-in 3G support, so I can take it on the road. Relying on wifi too much isn’t my thing. The setup, thanks to the Google cloud, is extremely fast and comfortable, and moving all Android apps to the new device is a fast, painless, simple process. Never having owned an iPad, I can’t speak to how it compares directly. What I can tell, though, is that the Nexus tablet has instantly found a good place in my daily routines and workflows. The killer for me is the ability to read anywhere that’s not my laptop, where too many distractions (like work) will keep me from reading longer texts. So I send articles mostly via Pocket (formerly Read It Later) for comfortable consumption. That, and occasional surfing or watching a video while traveling, has been quite enjoyable and I can see that last for awhile.

Kindle

Still going strong: my old Kindle. For books, it’s not going anywhere.

Mac Air

Also just upgraded to a new Mac Air, but since I just set it up and there’s not that much difference over the old models except for the usual evolutionary performance upgrades, there’s not much to say except: While not a machine for developers or if you render a lot of videos, it’s more than powerful enough for your average power user like me. Just make sure to buy the top of the line model with the extra RAM and larger SSD drive and it won’t disappoint.

A service pack to take the pain out of event organizing

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the night before. setting up for Cognitive Cities Conference

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how to streamline event organizing. There are a lot of tools out there, some of them excellent. Some aspects of the org phase get a lot more love than others, it seems. For example, I’d consider ticketing to be a solved problem thanks to Eventbrite, Amiando and all the others.

Slightly less solved: The other parts, like programming (partly solved, but tougher), content aggregation and follow ups (partially solved by Lanyrd at least for the more web savvy conference crowds).

Largely unaddressed, it seems, is the handling of speakers. So far, as far as I’m aware, this is done these days by a mix of spreadsheets, a flurry of email, and frankly a mix of metaphorical love, spit and duct tape.

In terms of all-around solutions, there’s a quite decent-looking app package on Podio called Conference Management that uses Podio to screen, rate and (potentially?) sign up speakers, run sub events, manage venues and invite people. I’m a big fan of Podio’s flexibility, but never really got into using it on a regular basis.

One thing I think is missing, or maybe I’m just not aware of it, is this:

A software package (probably web plus a set of mobile apps) that

  • gives users a program overview, some hands-on info (like location maps) as well as notification of last-minute changes, and allows for simple spontaneous meetups (“ping – wanna meet now? i’ll be at XYZ.”)
  • gives speakers their most relevant data, like speaker contacts, their presentation time slot and location, their profiles (editable), as well as a channel to communicate with the organizers and contact other speakers
  • gives organizers a way to collect and re-distribute (to the website, etc) speaker profiles, push out last-minute notifications as well as updates to both speakers and audience, and ping speakers that way to update their speaker profiles

All of that, of course, can be synced to your phone for offline use in case you’re roaming or wifi doesn’t work.

Does something like that exist and I just haven’t found it?

Update: It seems like the app behind this mobile site might cover some aspects. Will investigate further!

A digital inventory

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image by johannes kleske

Every day, I post to a number of web services. Quite a few actually. So here’s a quick inventory of the services that are most important in my daily life – for easier navigation, and because – let’s face it! – we all use these things in very different ways. So we can all learn from each other’s tech setups.

thewavingcat.com

This blog you’re reading just now is run on WordPress, on a cluster of Mediatemple’s Grid Service. It’s a great, open source blogging platform on a solid hosting that’s easy to use and maintain. It’s where I post (too rarely) about the stuff I do, what I think about, event announcements and the like. It’s more a log than anything else, a place for me to put stuff that I need a URL for – so it’s easier to link and refer to from other places. It’s also my homebase online.

Twitter (@peterbihr)

My second home on the web is Twitter. This is where I’m certainly most active, where I share quick thoughts, comments and most importantly, questions. What my blog lacks in terms of posting frequency I certainly make more than up for on Twitter. If you want to know what I’m thinking about, and if you don’t mind mostly unstructured thoughts & info as well as eclectic links, follow me at @peterbihr.

Tumblr

I have quite a few tumblelogs, and enjoy starting them even just for a quick joke or so. The one I use most is thewavingcat.tumblr.com, where I (mostly re-)post things I find on the web. Photos, videos, the more fluffy kind of stuff.

Flickr

Most of my photos go on my Flickr page. It’s where I upload a lot of mobile photos as well as the occasional screenshot. I use this for all kinds of purposes: as documentation, to share photos or events, and as an image database for blog posts etc. I don’t use most of the social features on Flickr, except faveing photos to find them again later. Also, the Creative Commons photo search is great to find images for blog posts. It’s both a joy and a working tool, really.

Pinboard

When there were rumors of Yahoo shutting down their social bookmarking service Delicious, I quickly migrated my data to Pinboard, and couldn’t be happier. Via bookmarklet I save all relevant links with one click, and tag them for easier re-use. We also use Pinboard as a tool for our work at Third Wave – by collaboratively saving articles with one tag that we then use to generate our weekly reading lists and other posts.

Instapaper

Are you like me and tend to curiously open all kinds of articles “to read later” until your browser has so many tabs that it won’t display the little icons anymore? Then Instapaper is for you. Via a bookmarklet you mark articles to read later, and the service collects them for you, so you can read them on a different device when you like. I hear it’s super smooth with iPads. I use the Kindle, where it’s not quite as perfect, but still worth the transfer so I can read longer articles on my next train ride or in a café.

quote.fm

If I stumble over an interesting quote, I usually tweet it or throw it on my Tumblr. However, that is changing: Since quote.fm has launched (currently in semi-private beta, I think, so keep an eye out for invites), this has becoming more and more where I send my quotes, and where I go to get some fresh ideas during the day. The strength here is that they turn quotes into social objects that can be shared and commented on. Sounds somewhat boring? Yes it does, but give it a try. It’s really very, very good. Join the conversation!

So here you have it, that’s my digital setup. What’s yours?

Image by Johannes Kleske, some rights reserved.

Tools I Use: MediaTemple for Hosting

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MediaTempleFed up with your hosting service prodider’s lousy service, endless hotline calls and slow email response times? Been there, done that. After almost 10 years at 1&1, I’ve had enough. Lucky for me, I had a chat with Johannes Kleske who recommended MediaTemple. I switched, and I don’t regret it a bit.

To call MediaTemple (MT) a small indie host wouldn’t really do them justice, since they aren’t so small after all (MT’s about page). However, it feels just like you’re talking to your local corner hosting shop, so to speak. You drop them a line, you get your answer right away. You don’t get annoying marketing emails. The help section and FAQs work, and in fact contain solutions to most of your problems. (Take that, 1&1!)

What’s more important, though, is that everything just works a charme and is set up very smartly. Example? One-click installations for tools like WordPress or Drupal give you a fresh WordPress when you need, it hardly takes a minute. No more screwing around with FTP or your databases (unless you want to). I’m told MT’s hosting architecture scales very well in case your blog ends up on Digg or Slashdot, but haven’t tested that one yet. Oh, and if you have other users’ email accounts to manage, worry not: You just send them a link to their own admin panel and they can take care of it themselves, you won’t even be involved in their password retrieval process.

MT give you reasonable (bordering excessive) data limits. My hosting plan (MT’s smallest, the GridService) gives me 100GB of storage, 1TB of transfer, and what seems to be a very stable architecture for a mere $20/month.

I switched to MediaTemple, and I’m not planning to leave them anytime soon. If you’re unhappy with your host (or maybe just not overly happy), my recommendation goes to MediaTemple.

What is all this about? Quite often I get asked by friends and colleagues what tools I use for certain tasks. Just as often, I ask them the same question: Word of mouth recommendations top most other research when it comes to getting things done. That’s why I started collecting my recommendations in a loose series of posts titled “Tools I Use” (see more recommendations).

Tooltips for syncing slides and video

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VCASMO is a pretty neat tool to sync video and slides. Just sayin’. VCASMO syncs videos fromm youtube or similar sources, and slideshows from slideshow.com. It’s a great little mashup, the results can be embedded either 440 pixels wide (as seen above) or 850 pixels wide:


Then there’s the Adobe Air based service Parleys, which looks very slick indeed. I can’t seem to find the embed code, so I can’t really tell if it’s embeddable. Here’s a demo. (Here’s a quick run-through of Parleys.com’s publishing tool.)


Omnisio actually looked the most promising, judging by the user interface and overall smoothness. It seems, however, like Google has aqcuired the service and is integrating parts of it into YouTube, namely into YouTube annotations. Sadly, that means you cannot create new slideshows with Omnisio. Also, the annotations seemed to be the most annoying part in the demos I watched. (I turned off the annotations after a few moments each time.) Let’s see where we’ll see Omnisio again:

</p> <div><a href='https://www.omnisio.com'>Share and annotate your videos</a> with Omnisio!</div> <p>

Update: The latter two services were added after the initial publish.

Dopplr’s new public profiles: gorgeous stats

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Last week I noticed that some Dopplr users’ profiles looked somewhat different than others’ and wondered why. Well, now it’s public: Dopplr now offers trips with several stops (which is very useful), but also access to more travel stats, all neatly wrapped up in funky eye candy like Raumzeitgeist (seen below). My favorite improvement? I have a hard time deciding between the trip visualization above and the average speed calculator below Raumzeitgeist.

Dopplr Public Profile

Needless to say, in the last nine or so months I haven’t traveled enough to really make any of these two visualizations worthwhile. I have a fair bit of traveling coming up, so from a Raumzeitgeist perspective, I can promise some improvements there.