Prezi now imports your old PowerPoint slides

Just wanted to mention that Prezi now lets you easily import powerpoint slides .ppt or .pptx-files). Look here.

Are you wondering what on earth is Prezi??? Well, its a website tool that helps you create animated presentations. And the good thing about “animated” is that there is no flying words or bouncing letters distracting your audience from what you are trying to say. None of that junk that we still have to bear in various PowerPoint presentations! The only thing that’s animanted in Prezi is the ‘camera’ that smoothely glides over your desktop as you move from one topic to the next and zooming in when you go into details.

The point is that you can convey a visual image of how the different parts of your presentation are related to each other. So you don’t need to actually say it. Well, I won’t go on explaining it more. Look at their website and you will understand. There is a free plan for everyone, but it doesn’t allow you to make your prezi private. If you are a student or teacher, you can get and edu account which gives you that privacy (and some extra space).

Oh, so what do I think about it? Well, it’s great, but although they improved the interface over the years, there are still some bugs and glitches. Or maybe I should say: by improving the interface with new features, they have also introduced new problems.For example, there is this strange behaviour that an element that you have moved from position A to B will suddenly show up back at A. Or you changed the size of a frame and it suddenly jumps back. Or: there seems to be no way of duplicating a view in your path to reuse it at a later point. These little things are annoying but hey: maybe they are all gone by the time you read this? [UPDATE: The issue of elements flipping back into their original size/paosition seems to happen only with the ones that you have not created yourself, i.e. the ones you find in templates. So if you chose to use one of the pre-designed templates (can make life easier), be prepared to delete some elements and add them again manually in order to be able to change them.]

My other warning is: in all the excitement over this great new way of doing presentations, don’t overdo it. Otherwise you end up with the same effect as with the flying words and swirling pictures in PowerPoint, i.e. people will be distracted and annoyed. Believe me, the very fact that you are using Prezi will will catch people’s attention more than it should. That’s why I decided not to use it for my test presentation when I applied for my current job. Sometimes some conservatism in the form of the presentation helps you get across the inovativeness of your ideas.

SugarSync sucks

Just a quick update on SugarSync: it sucks! I wrote a more ambivalent blog post about it earlier, then I wrote about some serious synching problems (that seem to be fixed by now), but I have been annoyed again and again by this service that I just want to air my discontent here once again and say that I just think that the only reason that I have still not uninstalled it is its ability to sync whichever folder you chose, rather having to move everything to a designated folder like in dropbox and google drive. There is really no other reason (perhaps some laziness to change stuff on various computers).

To be a bit more precise,here is what annoyed me today: firstly, there is the android app, which is rather buggy or at least it often does not react to me tapping on some button. But secondly, and more importantly, I just found out that I can see neither my mobile phone nor my iPad on my PC. I added both of those devices to Sugarsync some weeks or even months ago and they do show up on the sugarsync website, but for some reason I cannot see or access them through the SugarSync client on my PC. This thread in the SygarSync User forum indicates that there is some bug, but apparently they have not managed to find it since more than a month…

Well, as I said: if you are wondering if you should try SugarSync: don’t bother. Try out Google Drive instead and tell us your experiences below (I havn’t really used it yet).

How to Combine Citavi and Evernote

 I have been using Citavi for reference management since 2006 and I still believe that it is fantastic (although version 3 caused some serious drawbacks in my workflow and I sometimes even have thoughts about downgrading back to version 2.5, but this is  not the subject of this post). Since 2011, I am also a huge fan of Evernote and I am trying to put as much of the information that I might be looking for at some point into Evernote so that I find it without even thinking about where I might have stored it. In addition, Evernote’s Google Search integration for Chrome even lets me find information I already have when I’m looking for it on the net. A logical consequence of this is that I would like to combine the strengths of managing my literature and quotations/excerpts with Citavi with Evernote, which is great but will never replace a proper reference management program.

I have asked the Citavi folks to integrate a feature that allows you to upload content from citavi directly into Evernote using the Evernote API or perhaps this ommand line interface (I’m not a programmer). Unfortunately, they say that they have to prioritize other features and they might be right from the perspective of developing their product.

So I figured out a way to get all my stuff from Citavi into Evernote anyway: the trick is to basically print your whole database into an HTML file, open it in a browser, and use Evernote clipper to copy that file as a note into Evernote. Here is how you could do this (see difficulties further below):

1. Select  File | Save Project Bibliography | Annotated project bibliography (“Liste mit zusätzlichen Angaben” in German). The bibliography is created based on the current selection except if none is selected. So if you want all titles to be included, make sure you have no titles currently selected)

2. Select whatever information you want to be included from the list. Above all, you should select “Quotations”, because these are the most important bits of information that you want in Evernote, right?

3. Save your bibliography as Web Page (*.html)

If you have a large database, this can take a while. So be patient. Your Citavi hasn’t crashed. (To give you an idea, my ~3000 references took about 3 minutes to save.)

4. Open saved file in browser and clip to Evernote like you would do with any webpage.

Now this is what I have done so far. The problem is: it doesn’t work if you have a lot of records in Citavi. Or to be more precise: if  the resulting HTML file contains more than 5242880 Unicode characters. This is an additional limit to Evernote notes which they have unfortunately not advertized because “because the vast majority of our users never hit this limit when creating a single note” (EN support). I discuss this issue in more detail in a separate post.

So I am currently trying to find a way around this. Simply speaking, I have to divide my huge database into several smaller bibliographies. I guess, what I will do is to select titles in Citavi depending on the date they were last updated and the create Bibliographies for each year or six months or so and upload them as separate notes into Evernote (Citavi always saves the bibliography for the current selection or – if there is no selection – for the whole project).

What about the free floating thoughts in Citavi?

The method describe above can  only export information associated to titles. Free floating thoughts will not be saved in the HTML file(s). If you want to have also your Citavi thoughts in Evernote, you need to export them seperately by going to the Knowledge Module and select File | Print compilation | Print with options. You can also use “save compilation” instead, but going through “print” gives you a print preview where you can check if things are the way you want them. Once you see that preview, just go to File | Export to a new file and you can save as HTML file instead of actually printing.

Let me know if this is working for you or if you have any improvements to suggest.


Evernote’s “secret” character limit to notes

I have a 14 MB HTML file that I want to upload to Evernote. Shouldn’t be a problem with my Premium Account which allows a maximum note size of 50 Mb. Even with the free Account, notes may be 25 Mb. So why am I writing this? – Because it doesn’t work. This is the error message that I kept getting even though my file was far from the Limit that Evernote advertizes in terms of megabytes:

Evernote error: Note … content is too long xxxxxxxx, max is 5242880

I would like to share this with you because this has caused me so much headache cause I could not find any info on this on the web. It even took the Evernote support a couple of days to come up with a clear statement about this issue:

For various technical backend and integration reasons, there is a character limit on our notes, which happens to be 5242880 Unicode characters.

So the explanation basically is that there are more limitations to your EN account that Evernote chooses to mention on pages where they pretend to inform customers about the limitations. Why are you not informing users (or at least offering some comprehensible error messages), I asked the Evernote support:

We do not advertise our character limit openly because the vast majority of our users never hit this limit when creating a single note.

Although there is apparently nothing anyone can do about this character limit, this experience seriously cracked my good image of the Evernote folks and their information policy (also their support turned out to be much less competent than I had expected. Kept asking questions that I had just answered).

They see the character limit issue as a “misunderstanding”, which means that they are still blaming it on me, since it is me who misunderstood. Maybe they are right. I should just have looked up the specifications of ENML and it would have immediately become clear:


Maximum length of a Note.content field Note.content fields must comply with the ENML DTD.

How to attach Post-it notes to your email in Outlook

Have  you ever wished to have some kind of virtual Post-it note that you could attach to emails in Outlook? For example to scribble down what you need to mention when you reply? Well, I have. And I was once more annoyed with Outlook when I found that although Outlook (2010) has a notes function, you cannot attach these notes to an email. It’s ridiculous! Well, let’s not discuss this further. It’s just too frustrating.

I found a little program that adds precisely this kind of sticky note functionality to outlook. Actually, I found two, but one of them did not work so well for me, so the one I recommend here is EmailNotes For Outlook. The one that didn’t work was Notes4Outlook (that was the version current in September 2011). So although the design of Notes4Outlook is somewhat more spiffy and it has way more options for customization, I cannot recommend it. I uninstalled it after some timeconsuming and annoying crashes. I even tried a second time a couple of weeks later but it still didn’t work. I guess, I should briefly mention what it was that made chose EmailNotes rather than Notes4Outlook (apart from the bad reviews it got from other users): Well, some pictures say more than a thousand words, they say, so here they are:

This occurred when I wanted to have the Notes displayed below the email in the reading pane rather than on the right hand side. Now the fact that this explanation comes up is nice (as opposed to nothing happening), but the problem is that this kept coming up even when I disabled the Outlook social connector.

This error message occurred when I tried to open a note:

Notes4Outlook also had a tendency to block my whole outlook. Even when I was in Calendar View, it seemed to prevent Outlook from updating the current folder. No idea how and why, but this problem disappeared after I unindstalled Notes4Outlook.

Okay, but lets forget about Notes4Outlook until someone posts a comment telling us that it is running fine now.

Lets talk about EmailNotes for Outlook instead. Its sold for US$ 29.95 by a little company called Standss on the Fijis. I think that’s quite a bit for the basic functionality, I guess they can do that with a near monopoly on that product. And at least it works. Their customer service is quite nice. I wrote to them complaining about a bug and they fixed it, and when I made some suggestions, they listened and replied, though they did not agree to implement all changes. Here is what I suggested (in Brackets is the response from Standss whether they are going to implement it):

I really like the idea of EmailNotes for Outlook but I also think that the price tag is a bit hefty at this point, considering the few features the program has. For 30 USD, I would expect some basic improvements such as the following:

– allow for customization of date/time format for the add date/time button (especially the option to switch to 24h clock!) [YES]
– allow for customizing the font, not only of the note but also the note header that is inserted automatically. The “Comic” font just looks too ridiculous. [YES]
– very important: allow editing the note directly in the note field below the email rather than in an extra window. Strangely enough, this is already possible for the email I’m currently editing, but not for the ones in my inbox) [NO – This is not possible due to a bug in how Microsoft has implemented this feature when using the Reading Pane. We spent many hours working around the bug but there was no solution]
– use the up to date windows buttons in the dialogues [MAYBE – We also support lower versions of Outlook so are limited in the style of button that we can use on the screens]
– add a “cancel” button and the corresponding “X” in the top right hand corner of the email note [YES]
– provide option “reply to email with note as text” rather than putting the note in the attachment.[MAYBE]

Here is an illustration of what I’m talking about:

Apart from that, I can just say, it works fine. Try it.

SugarSync has serious crashing problems

It looks like the competition between dropbox and SugarSync is pretty much decided. At least from my perspective. As I have commented elsewhere, there are serious problems with synching in sugarsync. I was hoping that this would be resolved soon, but it looks like SugarSync does not even intend to solve the problem (at least not generally), as these instructions from the sugarsync FAQ indicate:

Files can get stuck in the upload or download queue if there is any sort of confusion between data in your account and data on the SugarSync servers.

The easiest possible solution is to exit from SugarSync Manager (choose File > Exit) and then restart it.

Hello? That might be a pragmatic thing to do, but why does it happen in the first place?

If that doesn’t work, open a “stuck” file, make a trivial edit, and then save it to trigger a new upload.

Oh, so what kind of “trivial edit” would you suggest I make to my favourite mp3 song or journal-article in pdf format??

If that doesn’t work, you can reset the local database:

  1. Open SugarSync Manager.
  2. For Windows computers, press and hold Ctrl + Shift + R. For Mac computers, press and hold Cmd + Shift + R.
  3. Select Yes when asked “You are about to reset SugarSync Manager on this computer. Your local configuration information will be erased and the client will restart as a fresh install. Your files will not be affected. Are you sure you want to continue?”
  4. Launch SugarSync Manager.
  5. Enter your SugarSync email and password when prompted to login. Important: When asked if you want to restore your sync folders that were selected in the previous installation, select Yes. (This option is checked by default.)

So, in a nutshell: we have no clue what is causing this serious failure of the central function of our service, so we recommend you just spend some of your time fiddling around a bit, maybe you can get it to work on your computer, but we can’t fix it for everyone. Oh, and of course we can assist you if you send us your logfiles which conatains the file names of all the files you are trying to sync:

If none of these steps resolved the problem, please send us log files from the affected computers(s).

Yes, thank you. I did that and I am very curious about what kind of resply I will be getting…

To conclude: I am starting to understand why people are willing to pay so much more for a dropbox account. It’s because it works…
Edit: To be fair, I should mention that dropbox has a serious security issue: although your files are encrypted, dropbox employees have – in principle – access to them, even without your password (and contrary to what dropbox stated on their website until 13 April 2011). In brief: dropbox was lying to its customers. – Well, so where do we go now? Maybe Spideroak?

Which cloud? Dropbox vs. SugarSync

I think I should add dropbox to my list of good applications. Obviously, the qualities of dropbox are not a secret, but I have been using it now for a couple of months and I have no reason to complain about it (and I like to complain!). If you’d like to try dropbox for free and get an extra 250 MB on top of the 2GB free storage space, use this link (it will also give me 250 MB extra).

But now to the main point of this post: I just spent some time reading about other cloud storage services, and found that SugarSync is actually a serious alternative to dropbox. Check out this really excellent review by Jack Busch (see also the recent comparison by Matt Smollinger)! And note that the SugarSync bonus program has been extended until the end of March 2011 31 May 2011, so if you use this link to try it out, we’ll both get 500 MB extra free.

Personally, I have yet to try out SugarSync in practice, but it looks like I will be using both: Dropbox to sync my daily work and frequently used files (because of dropbox’s speed and 30 days undo history) and SugarSync for my large pdf library (because of the larger free space and cheaper upgrade option) and other files that are rarely changed but that I still want to be accessible anywhere (Sugarsync’s fee plan only gives you access to the last two versions of a file).

P.S. If you are  also annoyed by dropbox only syncing what’s in the dropbox folder, check out the option to sync any folder – as it were – by using symlinks. One big advantage of Sugarsync is that you can choose any folder to be synced (no need to put them into the dropbox folder).