Ag Communication Web Services

Tech info, tips & tricks

Microsoft Lync - Great for a Quick Chat vs. Email

If you’re not already using Microsoft Lync you’re missing out on some great functionality offered when NDSU migrated over to Microsoft Office 365 in September. When you migrated back then (remember you had to choose a new password to log in to Microsoft Office, including the email portion of Outlook), you had the opportunity to install Lync.

To see if it’s on your machine, click on the Start menu (the round button with the Microsoft quad-color flag in the lower left of your screen) and type in Lync. If it was downloaded, you’ll see it. If not, you can download it here.

Once downloaded, you can start using it right away. Send a quick chat to one of your co-workers – just search on them in the Contacts search bar and click on their name. If their status is “available” send a quick chat to see how it works.

There are some great reasons to reach someone via Chat vs. email:

1. Instant Messaging/real time chat and video. Some people have their email set up to only get notifications a few times a day. But if they are listed as “available” on Lync, that means you can get your message to them right away without having to go through the server and any email notification limitations. Bonus is that you if you have a webcam, you can do a video chat, similar to Skype.

2. More visibility and audio. Let’s face it, many of us have an inbox full of messages. How can you make sure your message gets seen? With Lync, if you send a chat, the default setting of audio not only sounds an alert, but a new window will pop up to the recipient, notifying them of your request to chat. With email, we can only hope the message gets seen right away after we press send.

3. Quick messages not worthy of email. Maybe you just need to ask a quick question and don’t need to type up an email, send it and wait for a response.

(Me): Do we need to bring a laptop to the meeting?

(Bob):  No

4. In sickness and in health. Recently, a co-worker of mine came down with laryngitis and it was very difficult for her to speak. We were able to chat on Lync so that she didn’t need to struggle in speaking to me.

5. Save a trip up the stairs. OK, I know we all need more exercise, but if you’re like me, I have co-workers spread throughout Morrill Hall. If I wanted to visit with one them, I could check their Lync status first to see if they are available instead of me going all the way up to 3rd floor just to find out the person I want to speak to is away from his desk.

6. Status can be insightful. Lync allows you to choose your status so that people know if you’re available to chat. One nice feature is that it will sync with your Outlook calendar so if you’re in a meeting (and it’s on your Outlook calendar), your status shows “busy” and so people should not interrupt you. You can also manually set your status. I often change mine to “available” even though I’m listening to a webinar because I don’t mind answering questions while listening to a webinar. Likewise, if I have someone stop by I would set my status to “Busy” so that our impromptu meeting isn’t interrupted.

7. Group Chat. With Lync you’re able to chat with more than one person at a time. I might be chatting with someone and can easily invite others to the conversation.
(Me): Where are we holding the event?
(Becky): Bob was checking on that
(invite Bob to the chat)
(Bob): at the Holiday Inn

8. Share your screen. To be honest, I haven’t used this feature yet. But being that I often do technical support, I can see this come in handy when I need to “see” what someone else sees on their screen so that I can help resolve the problem.

If you can think of more scenarios of how Lync works for you, please say so in the Comments section.

If you need assistance setting it up or have any questions, please let me know.

Sonja Fuchs
Web Technology Specialist/Agriculture Communication


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Mail Merge in MS Word

I consider this an oldie, but a goodie, but I also know that many of you have never tried the Mail Merge feature in Microsoft Word. It’s a real time saver and can be used in so many ways.

Mail Merge is when you take data (most often contact information) from a source (such as an Excel spreadsheet) and place it within a Word document. It can be used to create personalized letters, emails, or labels as well as other things. You can add any bit of information that you’ve got in Excel.


  • Recently, the Fall Conference was held. Mail Merge could take the registration information from the Excel spreadsheet and print out an invoice or a registration confirmation.
  • Mail Merge can be used to set up label that includes name, title, organization, address and sort those label by zip code.
  • Mail Merge can be used to just personalize email messages. Rather than a generic "Hello" you could use Mail Merge to have it say "Hello Julie" as a greeting. Small difference perhaps, but important.

The Microsoft website has information on how to use Mail Merge that you can follow. NDSU ITS also had information on how to use Outlook with Mail Merge. If you have any questions, you can contact the ITS Help Desk. Or Ag Comm Web Services can help steer you to additional online resources.

-- Julie Kuehl


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Deferred Reading

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Why a CMS?

With the big push on to get websites moved into Ag CMS, I was asked a simple question the other day: why a CMS? Darn good question.

A Content Management System (CMS) is web-based system that allows you to create and maintain web pages and entire web sites. In fact, it allows multiple people to do that. Therein lies one of its advantages. With a login and proper authorization, several people can have access to a site to help post new information or make corrections. And because it’s web-based, there’s no software to purchase, license, download, install, or update. You are also not tied to one machine for access to the software required to update the website. You can do that from any machine with Internet access and a web browser.

A CMS also helps when you want to redesign a site. Instead of having to change hundreds or thousands of websites and individual pages, the redesign is done in only one place and the changes then appear instantly and everywhere. Everything looks consistent. And it frees up the individual site managers from having to wrestle with design concerns. We may soon see this in action as NDSU is in the middle of making design changes campus-wide.

There are other, more technical, reasons for using a CMS too. Coding best practices, Internet standards, and accessibility are all handled by the CMS. Security is also offloaded from the individual site managers. Basically, technical stuff is left to the technical people who have a better chance of keeping it up to date.

The whole point of a CMS is to help contributors focus on CONTENT without worrying about software or design. What information are you trying to share? What’s the best way to organize it? How would users find it? How would they use it? These are the types of things that should be your focus rather than fussing with the technical aspects of the software and design.

While getting a website setup initially may seem like a daunting task, a CMS will make your efforts worthwhile when all you have to worry about is keeping the information fresh and well organized. With everything else going on, that’s a big enough job.

-- Julie Kuehl

The Value of Play

We don’t play enough.

That’s true on so many levels. Laughter is good for you. The mind needs to be relaxed to solve problems. Play creates social connections.

But I’m talking about a different kind of play. Playing with/on your computer. While I actually do know of a game where you physically spin your iPhone to play a game, I’m referring to sitting down and pushing buttons just to see what they do. Or reading ALL the available items on a drop down menu and seeing if you know what they do. Or opening that program you installed but never got around to. It could even include checking out some of the options on your Facebook account or exploring new folks to follow on Twitter.

What makes this play is that there’s no job to be done. You don’t have to figure it out because you need it to work for the project that’s due. It doesn’t include sitting down for a couple of hours because you need to learn something. It’s play because you’re curious. It’s play because it’s fun to discover things. It’s play because unless you get called home for dinner, you could do it until you drop.

I know, I know. You don’t have time to play. But all work and no play makes Ole a dull boy. And it impacts your efficiency, skills, and capabilities. I can also impact your attitude.

Find a moment here or there. Block out 30 minutes and guard it as if it were a meeting with someone important (it is - it’s a meeting with yourself). Even just slow down a bit and poke around the corners as you do your work.

Play around a little.

-- Julie Kuehl


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Ag CMS Help

I’ve been at three district support staff meetings so far to help folks with Ag CMS. It’s become clear to me the type of help that is most needed is the “just-enough, just-in-time” type. My instructional design background wants to call them job aids, but it’s simply documents, web pages, or perhaps videos that show how to make specific decisions or do specific things. This is something that had been started and that I’ve already begun working on again.

These are some of the topics I’ve got in mind:
  • How to get into Ag CMS
    • Account setup
    • Lost passwords
  • How to create lists (bulleted and numbered)
  • How to insert an image
    • Upload to image folder
    • Upload directly to page
  • How to choose between page, news article, and ??
  • What is a collection?
  • How to create a collection
    • Categorize pages
    • Create collection item
  • How to create an event
  • Tables and what they should be used for
  • Big picture decisions
    • navigation
    • pages vs. folders
  • How to upload and link to PDF files
  • How to get to the Training Sandbox area

What other tasks do you do that you have questions about? When you sit down to do some work in Ag CMS, what overwhelms you? If you’ve got any comments or additional ideas, please let me know.

It will take a bit to get these out, so the information will grow over time. My hope is that they will become a valuable resource for you that makes Ag CMS less confusing and scary.

-- Julie Kuehl

Microsoft Outlook - Add Holidays to Your Calendar

Would you like to automatically add holidays to your Outlook calendar? You can add the U.S. holidays (and other countries, if you’re interested) to your calendar by clicking on the File tab in the upper left corner of Outlook, click on Options,  then select Calendar from the list on the left, and in the Calendar Options section, about halfway down is a button to Add Holidays, click OK and you’re done. The U.S. holidays are already selected and you can choose other countries if they are relevant to you.

That’s it. The holidays are automatically in Outlook forevermore. It’s a lot easier than entering them by hand, and for some holidays it is MUCH easier than trying to figure out when they actually are.

Author: Julie

Copyright 2009, North Dakota State University