Thursday, September 26, 2013

Adventures with Google Forms

I've recently been introduced to some of the apps that are available with Google and so far I like them.  They're pretty easy to learn and they have some nice features.

To get started, you'll need a Google account.  Once you're logged into your account, you'll have menu options across the top left.  The option you'll use to get into forms is the one called "Drive" (located right next to Gmail).  It essentially gives you an area to store documents, forms, etc. that can be shared (all stored on Google).  There's also the option to download a program which allows you to sync files from your computer to your Google drive.

The Drive function gives you the ability to create a variety of documents, spreadsheets, presentations and forms.  All of them are stored at Google but can be synced to your local PC.  All of them can also be shared with anyone you want, with or without giving them the ability to edit them.

For my first attempt, I'm going to use Google forms to replace a form on a web page for a client.  The current web form is an application to request a scholarship to a camp for kids each summer.  The form allows a prospective camper to fill in their personal details, and then when they click the submit button it sends an email to me with a delimited file.  I copy and paste that delimited data into a spreadsheet, save it and email it to the client so that they can review and approve the applicants.

With the new Google form that I'm creating, the applicant will click on a link to go to the Google form.  They'll fill in all of their details as normal.  Then when they're done, it is automatically saved into a Google spreadsheet.  I can share the link to that spreadsheet with anyone who needs to see it.  I can give them the ability to edit it, or just to view it.  I won't have to receive the application record via email anymore, and I won't have to copy/paste it into a spreadsheet or email it anywhere.  They'll be able to look at the responses spreadsheet any time to see the latest applicants.

See the link below for an example of a simple Google form that could be used to track RSVPs to a party, as well as what dish that person will bring for a potluck meal.  Feel free to click around on the form and make entries if you'd like to test it.  Then click on the link to see the responses and you'll see the spreadsheet where they are stored.

Sample Form

To see the responses spreadsheet, use this link (view only):

To see instructions on how to get started with Google forms, use this link:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I'm a Google Convert - Mail and Calendar

As a long time Outlook user, I always liked to keep my calendar on both my work and personal laptops. Lately, I've had to use Google calendar sync to copy items from one calendar to the other.  It was a strange set up and it seemed to be more complicated that it should need to be.

I've also been a long time user of SpamArrest to block most of the dozens of spam messages that I get every day.  I was happy with the SpamArrest service, however I'd heard good things about the Google spam blocking ability, and thought I'd try it.  Since I was paying about $50 per year for SpamArrest, it saves me a little money.  It's also nice to not have that extra email address embedded in everything any more - a lot of people had started sending me everything at both my main email address (Comcast) and SpamArrest, which made me get duplicates.

Outlook served me well but I was ready for a change.  I'd had enough of the confusion of having an extra email (, and the cost, so I decided to try Gmail for mail and calendar.

So this summer I made the big change - I dropped SpamArrest and started using Gmail's email program rather than Outlook.  I no longer have to sync my google calendar into Outlook to keep my two laptops in sync.  I'm finding that I get very little spam anymore, and Google is really good at catching them.

The nice thing is that Gmail is able to pick up ALL of my email addresses - from Comcast and my website both.  So I can use it just like I used Outlook, to read all of my email in one place.  I'm getting used to the user interface and I like the flags for "important" and "starred" to help me stay organized.

My son is actually going to learn how to use some of the Google apps in school this semester, so I'm curious to see how those look, as well.  I really haven't used much other than mail and calendar (and instant message with Google Talk).

Stay tuned as I learn other Google programs or other useful things to make my digital life smoother.

My Favorite Freebies


Need a PDF writer that can create a PDF from just about any program (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.)?  Try and download their PDF print driver.  It works just like a normal printer on your printers list - select it and you'll need to choose a location to save the PDF file it will create.  It also has a professional version for $50.

Most PCs have a built in PDF reader now, but just in case, you can download a free one from Adobe.

File Backup
SyncToy is a free tool that can be downloaded from Microsoft.  It's easy to set up and it helps you to do a quick backup.  You select the files/folders you want to backup, and it compares the versions and only copies the ones that have changed.  It won't save your whole system if your PC crashes (that requires keeping an image of your whole setup), but it will save your data if you use it regularly.

Performance Improvement Utilities
CCleaner is as PC optimization tool will clean your registry, remove old drivers, etc. to improve performance.  It has a free version and a professional version for $25.

File Sharing
Dropbox is a free file sharing site that is web based.  You get a minimal amount of free space to start, and are given additional space as you add friends, take tutorials and other actions on the site.  You can share a link with anyone who needs your file, or you can give them access to a shared folder to exchange files.

Google Talk works just like most other instant message programs.  I like it because I use Google mail and calendar so it's integrated nicely.

Not Free, But Worth It

Password Manager
To save passwords for your most frequent website use, try Roboform.  It has a free version for limited use, or you can buy a subscription for $10 per year for the web-based version.

Screen Captures
To capture screen shots of your PC, use SnagIt.  You have the option to capture just a region of the full screen, or the whole scrolling window, among others.  You can also do some editing on it within SnagIt before you use it elsewhere.  It can also capture video and it's only $50.