Posts in Category: Technology

eBird Express Version 1.0.5

Posted Sep 18th, 2011 at 5:53 pm in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page.

Important Note about Taxonomy and Templates

Due to the new taxonomy changes in eBird, old templates may no longer validate in eBird Express. (As one example, if you have a template with “Common Moorhen” included, the new name is now “Common Gallinule.”) If you previously created your own templates, such as a state or county template, you will need to recreate them to use the newest taxonomy. Refer to the instructions on the downloads page for information about creating templates. It’s not hard! Remember that you can use the Verify Taxonomy function to find species with outdated English or scientific names.

New Features

  • The verify taxonomy function has been updated to use the latest global taxonomy from eBird.
  • A new preference (turned off by default) has been added that allows users to reset the formatting of checklist automatically before processing. This can be helpful if you regularly paste information that has different formatting from another program into an eBird Express checklist.

Bug Fixes

  • Comments longer than 4,000 characters no longer cause eBird Express to crash when validation is run.

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eBird Express Version 1.0.4

Posted May 5th, 2010 at 8:54 am in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page.

New Features

  • You can now provide only one name for a species — either the English name or scientific name — and the verify taxonomy function will fill in the missing names for you.

Bug Fixes

  • The Reset Formatting function is now more robust and thorough.
  • Fixed a rare problem related to referencing cells in A1 vs. R1C1 row/column format. (If you don’t know what A1 or R1C1 is, don’t worry. This is a user preference in Excel and either setting should work now.)

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eBird Express Version 1.0.3

Posted Jan 31st, 2010 at 6:59 pm in Birding, Technology | 1 Comment

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page. For those who really pay attention, I’ve made the version numbers a little simpler going forward by using 1.0.3 instead of (I don’t think I’ll run out of numbers with three digits anytime soon.)

New Features

  • Support for eBird’s new random protocol.
  • Added a user preference (turned off by default) to delete the original data file after processing for eBird. (You can always recover this file from the recycle bin if you see that you need it again.)

Bug Fixes

  • White space characters like tabs and carriage returns in the checklist notes and comments for an individual bird could cause a .csv file to fail when uploading to eBird.
  • Number of observers and duration are now required for all but casual checklists.

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Taskbar Overlord Hilarity

Posted Jun 9th, 2009 at 9:30 am in Technology | 3 Comments

Since Taskbar Overlord, the small program I wrote to improve the Windows 7 taskbar has been linked to by LifeHacker, I’ve seen quite a bit of traffic to download the program.

A number of websites and forums on the internets have linked to the Taskbar Overlord post, and while some links are legitimate, many websites use an automated technology like an RSS feed to copy LifeHacker’s post verbatim. This is basically content theft, done in an attempt to increase their pagerank in search engines. People like this are disgusting parasites.

So when I’ve seen a link coming in, I’ve been checking them to see if they were real articles written by someone or stolen content. If the latter, they get deleted.

With this context in mind, another site linked to the Taskbar Overlord post this morning. Seeing that the page was in a different language, I was expecting the worst. It was however legitimate, and though I can’t read it, turned out to be one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while.

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Taskbar Overlord

Posted Jun 4th, 2009 at 7:04 pm in Technology | 109 Comments

I’ve been using the Windows 7 release candidate (still available from Microsoft) as my main and only operating system on both a desktop and laptop for the last month. I like it a lot.

One of the biggest differences is the new taskbar, where you can pin the programs you use most for easy access. In effect, the taskbar now handles application switching and launching. It also groups multiple windows of a program together under one icon, as seen in the screenshot below where two explorer windows are open. If you’re not an uber-nerd like myself and are hearing about this for the first time, you can read this brief overview of the taskbar’s new features.

Windows 7 Taskbar

My Two Issues

While the new taskbar is almost perfect, it’s inflexibility in a couple of areas really frustrated me.

First, I hate, and I mean hate the fact that when multiple windows of an application are open, clicking on the program icon pops up the thumbnail previews instead of restoring the last active window. I’m such an OCD multi-tasker that I could not get used to having to decide which window it was that I was working with. I also hate that it now takes two clicks to restore a minimized window instead of one. The inability to change this is all the more insulting since you can just hover over an icon and see the thumbnails when you need them. So why must clicking on the icon also show the thumbnails if I don’t want it to?

The second issue is simple enough. If you middle click on an icon, it opens a new window of that program. But you can already open new instances by holding down shift and left clicking. I wanted to middle click on an icon and close all of its windows, similar to how Firefox closes tabs if you middle click on them.

Taskbar Overlord – an AutoHotkey Solution

So I’ve written a little AutoHotkey script that takes care of this problem. Clicking on an icon restores the last used window and middle clicking an icon closes all windows. I’ve dubbed this program Taskbar Overlord.

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eBird Express Goes “Live”

Posted Jun 3rd, 2009 at 10:30 pm in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

eBird itself has now published a lengthy writeup on eBird Express, with a number of kind words directed my way.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a number of conversations with the good folks at eBird about eBird Express and how it should work. I want to give a big thank you to them as well, for I certainly couldn’t have made the tool as good as it (hopefully) is without their feedback.

One of the helpful tidbits they’ve provided in their post is another way to quickly download a list of species suitable for making your own template.

One quick and easy way to build a template species list for your area is to download the bar chart. Did you know that any bar chart you generate can be downloaded to a spreadsheet with a single click? Simply look for the “Download Historgram Data” at the bottom right portion of any eBird bar chart. By clicking this link you download the species list from the bar chart with weekly frequency values. If you are a wiz at excel, you can use the frequency values to pare the list down to the more frequent species in your area (try summing the frequencies and then sorting by that value). But regardless, it provides a quick way to generate a species list for your area with species names that correspond perfectly to eBird!

While I had suggested using Avibase in my tutorials as a source for bird checklists, eBird’s method is another great alternative.

New Template Repository

And speaking of templates, I’ve now added a page to download templates from. The nice thing is that I’m using an installer for these templates, so that when you download them, they will get put in the right directory automatically so that Excel can see them.

I also need your help. If you have additional templates which aren’t on this page, I’ve made a form for submitting them. All templates should be for national or state / province level checklists. Please do not send regional templates such as county checklists or park checklists.

I hope everyone enjoys using eBird Express, and if you have any questions or problems, let me know.

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eBird Express Version

Posted May 19th, 2009 at 11:24 pm in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

A new version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page.

Bug Fixes

  • A bug was fixed that caused errors when trying to process a spreadsheet where data was entered into the 50th column.

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eBird Express Version

Posted Apr 12th, 2009 at 10:25 pm in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

The next version of eBird Express is now available on the downloads page. I’ve setup a whole section on the site for eBird Express. You can find it in the navigation.

If You Downloaded Version 1.0

If you’re using the version 1.0 of eBird Express, please read carefully.

I offer a thousand apologies, but this first version cannot be updated properly. You’ll need to first process any remaining checklists for uploading into eBird. Then the installer will remove any existing templates before installing the new version. (It’ll ask you first and won’t proceed without your permission.) You’ll need to view the install instructions again as they have changed.

I assure you that with the new version, updates to eBird Express will be painless. You’ll just download the new version, double click, and that’s it. All of your templates and checklists will now be separate from the eBird Express code so that updates can be delivered as often as needed. Again, I apologize for any inconvenience.

New Features

  • eBird Express is now visible on the ribbon in Excel 2007 or as a custom menu in Excel 2003 and older, but only if you’re working with an eBird Express template or unprocessed checklist.
  • Setting user preferences can now be done through a screen in Excel.
  • You can validate the taxonomy of a checklist against the taxonomy that eBird uses.
  • Supplemental eBird documents are installed into a sub folder inside your Bird Notes directory as handy reference. These include a copy of the current eBird taxonomy, the protocol descriptions, and the state and country codes. These will be replaced as newer versions are released by eBird.

Changes / Improvements

  • The eBird Express code is now totally separated from user templates and documents. This allows for a much easier installation on the part of the user and means that the code can be updated as needed without having to modify or remove user files.
  • Duration can now be manually entered on any checklists where you do not want to calculate the duration from the start and end time.
  • Start time is now required if protocol is anything but casual.
  • Text fields are now checked to ensure they are not too long.
  • The second column of scientific names is no longer hidden to make it clear to users that it exists. It’s given a narrow width to not be obtrusive. You may hide the column yourself in your templates if you prefer.
  • Scientific names are now deleted from the CSV file that you upload into eBird. (They’re still preserved in the local archive file.) The reason is that eBird uses the scientific name regardless of the common name if you upload a CSV file with both. Thus if you added or changed species and accidently left an old scientific name, eBird would ignore the English name and your records would be entered incorrectly.

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Introducing eBird Express – the Ultimate eBird Data Input Tool

Posted Mar 26th, 2009 at 1:14 am in Birding, Technology | Comments Off

Unless you’re a birder who’s been living under a rock, you’ve no doubt heard about eBird. It’s an amazing service that allows birders to enter their notes online and then query their records by species, date, or location. It’s also a great tool to learn about bird distributions, since you can explore the entire database. Scientists hope to benefit from the massive dataset as well.

While one can enter notes into eBird directly through any web browser, one of its better features is the ability to upload sightings straight from an Excel like file called CSV format1. I’ve found this method to be much faster when entering data, especially multiple checklists at a time.

My eBird Annoyances

As good as this is however, there were several things about eBird that bugged me. In the true festivus tradition2, here’s my airing of grievances.

  • Location names and GPS coordinates. Once you have a named location in the system, all future use of that location will inherit the original GPS coordinates, even if you add new coordinates. So “The Park” that’s given the coordinates 30.1234, -99.1234 will always have those coordinates, even if you try to upload another location called “The Park” with different coordinates.
  • When you look at locations on the eBird website, you can’t see their GPS coordinates.
  • eBird wants a start time and the duration, but I’m lazy and quickly became frustrated when trying to calculate the number of minutes between 7:37 am and 12:23 pm.

I further wanted an easy way to fill out a checklist in Excel without having to enter in the full names of the birds every time. And while eBird lets you download a file with your sightings, if I’m already entering them on my computer, it would be nice to create my backup locally so I’d never have to download anything and still have backups of all my checklists.

The Solution

To solve all these problems, I’ve created a little tool that I call eBird Express. I use an Excel template to get me a blank checklist with all the birds already on it. I just have to fill it out.

I’ve set up a section of the site just for eBird Express, where you can see more of it’s features and screenshots, download it, view video tutorials that explain how to use it, and send feedback.

1 comma separated value

2 If you don’t know what festivus is, you should. It’s hilarious.

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Pimping Microsoft Outlook

Posted Mar 18th, 2009 at 11:57 am in Technology | 26 Comments

Outlook Pimp Chain

I’m one of the odd people that actually like Outlook. It’s kind of a love hate relationship though. I like it for precisely the reason that many people hate it. It integrates email, calendar, and tasks all into one program. It can also be a beast, especially when you have to go into its settings to tweak things.

One thing I’ve wanted for a long time is the ability to do things with single keystrokes in Outlook. I wanted to hit the letter ‘a’ and have my currently selected email(s) get moved automatically into an archive folder. I wanted to hit ‘r’ to reply to the current email. Things like that.

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