12.16.2009

iPhone: Saving Extensions

Have an iPhone? Need to save a phone number with an extension? There's an app for that...or actually, just a button.

Saving an extension on the iPhone
Saving an extension on the iPhone
When saving/adding a contact, there is a pause button on the symbol screen of the keypad, which can be used when needing to manipulate an automated message system. If you just save a phone number and extension together, the phone tries to dial all the numbers and the call fails; add in a pause to let the system connect, before an extension is dialed. This technique can also be used to automate password-protected voicemail systems (I lock my phone, so I figure I don't need my voicmail locked too). Here's the step-by-step:
  1. Go to the contact you wish to edit.
  2. Click 'Edit'
  3. Click 'add new phone' OR click on the number to which you wish to add an extension.
  4. After the 10 digit phone number has been entered, click the +*# key.
  5. Click 'Pause'
  6. Enter the extension/password.
  7. Click 'Save'

12.14.2009

iPod Touches in Education on Google Wave

I've started a Google Wave about using iPod Touches in education; my district is looking to buy a lab (or few, I hope) and would like some advice. If you are using iPod Touches in your school, please contribute input below (This wave can also be found within the wave interface by searching for with:public tag:edtech; it's the first of three results, as of this posting). Anyone - iPods or no iPods - is also welcome to ask questions. The Wave is open to the public, so anyone with Wave access can join. If you would like a Wave invite, send me the address of your Google account.

iPod Touches in Education

11.29.2009

Lingoes: Portable Dictionary & Translation

Lingoes
Lingoes is a free dictionary, text-to-speech, and translation tool that works with any selectable text found in any program, including web browsers and word-processing applications. While Lingoes is enabled, highlighting and/or double-clicking on text returns a pop-up with the definition (if a single word) or translation (if multiple words) of the text. Translation is provided in the default language that you select, but any of the other 80 available languages are accessible by clicking the book icon, located on the pop-up.

Pronunciation of selected text is also available by clicking on the speaker icon on the pop-up, or you can have Lingoes set to always pronounce selected text. Although the computer voice is not the greatest, the pitch and speed can be adjusted to one's liking. A better option is to install language packs, which are actual recordings of words; however, the language packs only apply to a limited range of single words. Lingoes can be disabled via the taskbar, so that is always available, but not always translating. You can also configure Lingoes features to be triggered by a hotkey. Watch the screencast for a demo.

[Post continues below screencast]



There is a portable version of Lingoes, which means students could use the program on any computer with a USB drive, making this tool available to them whether they are in a lab, at the library, or at home. Having his own copy of the program, also means that a student would not have mess with configuration settings,e.g. whereas a special education student may just need the english definition & pronunciation of words, a Russian-speaking ELL student could have her Lingoes set to translate into Russian.

While the customizability of Lingoes makes it a powerful tool, make sure you spend some time configuring it before letting student loose with it. It is only as useful, as it is usable. And, if you find Lingoes to be helpful, consider donating to the cause.

11.15.2009

5 Ways to Use Drop.io in the Classroom

Drop.io is a quick and easy way to share files, including pictures, video, audio, and documents, in real time. The ability to the restrict viewing of a drop, the uploading and/or deleting of files, combined with features like chat, make it a great classroom tool. The price is certainly right for education too: free up to 100 MB per drop, with no limit to the number of drops one can make. There is also no registration required, not for admins or users - just don't forget the name and/or password of your site(s)!

Here are some ideas for using drop.io in the classroom:
  1. Presentations

    Combined with a projector - or better yet, and interactive whiteboard - drop.io is a quick way to present student work when students are using computers. Students can upload their file to a drop created by the teacher either via the web, email, or by using the Drag & Dropio Firefox extension. All files uploaded to a drop can be viewed as soon as they are finished uploading.

    When I teach photography, I have students upload their favorite images to my drop, as they are working. Then when everyone has added at least one picture, I project the drop and have the students talk about their selected image. Students can give feedback during class or can leave a written comment on the drop.io site. An added benefit is that I then have a copy of the students' work. I've had students as young as 4th grade upload to drop.io with no problem.

  2. Homework Collection & Digital Portfolios

    Drops can be password protected so that only an admin can view files. The hidden access feature on drop.io can even enable students to upload to a drop, without knowing the name of the site.  Teachers can then view student work within the drop or download it to their computer.

    Since drops can be password protected on both the admin and guest level (e.g. allowing guests to upload and view, but not change settings), a teacher could create a private drop for each student and comment on student work within the drop. A great way to create a digital portfolio!

  3. Collaboration

    Drop.io allows multiple users to upload files simultaneous and shows changes in real time. Along with the chat and comment features (which can be disabled by an admin, if necessary), drop.io can be used as a collaboration tool for group projects. Watch this video for a demonstration:


  4. Digital Scavenger Hunt/Resource Sharing

    Given the real-time sharing capabilities and the ability to view contents and comments as a stream, drop.io can be used to collect responses to an online scavenger hunt. Students can watch to see what has been found already, in order to avoid duplicates. Students then have access to all the found resources.

  5. Dropbox for Students

    In the least, drop.io can be used by students to transfer/store files. Flash drives are easily lost or corrupted (and can be a haven for viruses, as our high school learned last year), but drop.io can never be forgotten at home.

Other cool drop.io features useful in education: dropcasting (podcasting the contents of your drop), voicemail (leave audio messages on your drop), and Facebook connect (share to a Facebook feed)

11.02.2009

Expiration Dates are Just Guidelines (Firefox Tip)

Mozilla is great about updating Firefox to integrate new features or to fix bugs, but with every new version, "incompatible" add-ons are disabled. Incompatibility, however, is based solely on whether the developer designated their add-on as compatible with the new version, relegating many unupdated, but completely functional add-ons to a greyed-out existence.

There is an easy fix though. If you find yourself with a new version of Firefox, but without some of your favorite add-ons, follow the steps below to stop Firefox from automatically disabling add-ons. (Note, this does not make the add-ons work with new versions, and some add-ons may turn out to be truly incompatible.)
  1. In the Awesome Bar (the address bar for the unindoctrinated), type about:config and press enter.
  2. If you've never wandered into this territory before, Firefox will warn you about the page; click'I’ll be careful, I promise' to continue.
  3. Right-click anywhere inside the window and select New > Boolean.
  4. For the preference name, enter extensions.checkCompatibility then click 'OK'.
  5. For the preference value, select False and then click 'OK'.

Voila! You can now use outdated add-ons in Firefox...whether or not they actually work.

10.11.2009

But Is It Cheating?


Blueprint

Blueprint Mural
by Joe Shlabotnik


One day in elementary school, my classmates and I were handed yard sticks and told to create a map of the school as to close to scale as possible. Standing in the longest hall of the school, looking at the comparatively tiny ruler, the whole thing screamed busy work. As my classmates went to work futilely measuring, I went to the media center instead; I figured that I shouldn’t waste my time measuring something that I was sure someone had not only measured already, but had probably with more accuracy than a gnawed-on piece of wood (hopefully by the class pet and not a student) could provide.

I asked the media specialist, Mrs. Williams, if there were any maps of the school available, preferably one with the building’s dimensions. Being that I was a regular in the library, one who often requested odd things like books about UFOs or sound clips of a mandolin, Mrs. Williams did not even blink at my request…it wasn’t until she was about to hand me the blueprints to the school that she curiously inquired as to why I needed a map of the school. Needless to say, I did not leave with the map that day, but instead left with a lecture about not taking shortcuts (a nice euphemism for cheating) and the importance of doing work as assigned.

When the Answers Can be Googled, You're Asking the Wrong Questions

The point of the exercise was not to test our measuring skills or to learn cartography; we were learning about scale and ratios*, a concept I could have learned without having to spend an hour actually measuring the hallways. Was it really wrong that I took the initiative to do research and cut my work in half? I think not. I often see students given the task to extract information from their text books, usually with the intent of their learning the material. Students who quickly locate the information using Google or their buddy in the desk next to them, are consider to be cheating. But are they really doing anything wrong? The students are simply copying information onto their paper; the source from which they copy is irrelevant, as long as the information is correct. I can hear all y’all teachers clamoring about the value of such assignments, but hear me out. If you want to teach students how to read a text, make that the point of the assignment (actually tell students the goal) AND give them questions that cannot be answered by Google, you know, the ones that require students to actually think and not just regurgitate. If you want students to learn the material, then it does not matter that Johnny the savvy geek studies the periodic table from an app on his ipod, rather than from the stagnant picture in his text book.

Too often people confuse difficulty with value, and tasks that have been made easy by technology are somehow less valuable. It is more difficult - or at least takes more time – to manually insert citations and write/type a bibliography, than it is to use a service such as EasyBib; however, there truly is no value in having to lookup citation formats every time one writes a paper. Rather than spend time teaching how to cite, let technology take care of that mundane tasks and spend that time teaching actual research skills, such as resource analysis.

Moral of the Story: If a student finds a quicker or easier way to complete an assignment, whether thanks to technology or otherwise, think of it as progress - you now have a new method of teaching, and the student now has time to learn more stuff!

*As a side note, the 6th grade teachers in my district have a neat way of teaching ratios that not even Google (or a visit to the Media Center) can solve. Working in groups, each student has his picture taken next to an immeasurable object, e.g. a flag pole. After measuring themselves (in both real life and the picture) and the height of the object in the picture, the students then extrapolate the real height of the object by cross multiplication. The teachers even include an Excel lesson, by having the students create graphs from their final tables.

9.24.2009

Learning to Fall

The other day I decided to enjoy one of the last days of summer-like weather by trying out my new rollerblades, but I forgot how fast new wheels spin. I soon found myself speeding down a hill that I had not traversed for almost two years, after my last journey ended with a cracked rib; it was quite the trip. After recovering my brain from the PTSD-induced flashbacks, I began to review the lessons I had learned about falling correctly*. Yes, there is a correct way to fall; it’s the way that doesn’t end with a broken body, or at least a less broken one. Most of the sports I have participated in over the years have included lessons on falling. In rugby, we spent a week learning how to fall before we learned how to make our opponents fall. Fortunately, I did not need to utilize these lessons that day, but it got me thinking about how those lessons can be applied to more metaphorical - albeit not necessary less painful - falls in life. With no further ado, here are the lessons and my attempts to tie them to everyday life:


    Falling

    Owen in Flight by ClickFlashPhotos


  • Fall correctly and you’ll survive to get up and try again.
    When you do screw up in life, try to do it with grace – don’t take others down with you; don’t be so reckless you can’t recover from your actions. The slight difference between falling and failing (besides the letter ‘i’) is that a fall only becomes a fail if you don’t get back up.
  • Don’t be afraid to fall…
    If you try to never fall, you’ll only hurt yourself worse when you do. It’s like slipping on ice and flailing your arms wildly, only to end up with both pulled arm muscles and a sore bum, because despite your efforts you fell anyway. Every fall is a learning opportunity.
  • …but don’t be taking nose dives and wonder why your face hurts.
    By accepting that a fall could happen, you can prepare for it and lessen your damage. Put salt on that ice patch to stop slippage in the first place…and don’t go rollerblading after it rains, or at least where protective gear - falling doesn’t have to hurt.
  • Laughter is the best medicine (I hear morphine is pretty good too).
    When you do fall, remember to laugh at yourself. Afterall, falls are funny; if they weren’t, America’s Funniest Home Videos would have tanked. Don’t waste your time dwelling on your mistakes.

*If you were wondering what literally falling correctly entails, it is progressively hitting the ground from your ankles to your knees to your hips to your shoulders. It works a lot better than hitting the ground at once, with a thud and the wind knocked out of you. Also, NEVER try to catch yourself with your hands, that only leads to broken wrists; tuck in your arms – and you head for that matter – if you feel yourself falling.

9.12.2009

Nerdiest Thing Ever 2.0 (Custom Charging Station)


Book Charging Station

Charging Station Made of Books


I finally finished my original book modification project, a stack of books transformed into a charging station. This project was the spring board for my USB/Card Reader combo mod, but took more time, so I guess it's actually the beta version of the Nerdiest Thing Ever.




Book Charging Station

Charging My iPhone


After I came up with the idea for this piece, it took several months and plenty of antique store/used book store/rummage sale visits to find the books I wanted to modify. Not only did the books have to be large enough to hold my various devices and chargers, but I was very picky about both the appearance of the books (I wanted a a variety of fun colors and interesting spines and cover designs) and their titles. I ended up using 5 books: National Geographic Magazine anthology from Jan-June of 1927, the Modern Library of Knowledge, Repented at Leisure by Berthat M. Clay, The Woman of Mystery by Leblanc, and Funk and Wagnals New Standard Encyclopedia.


Cords



Power Tools

Tools of the Trade


The hardest part was finding a book large enough to hold a power strip and the necessary power adapters and extensions, so I ended up making the bottom two books the bases, in order to fit everything. The top book charges my iPhone or any of my ipods (just not all at once), while in their cases; the second book holds my AA battery charger; and the third book hold the charger for my SLR battery. All of the components can be charging at once, and all of the books close completely even when in use. The books are also attached to each other with screws, so that each book can be opened without toppling the stack. For construction, I used pretty much the same method as for my USB/Card Reader combo, except with a few more "learning opportunities".



Book Charging Station


Book Charging Station


Book Charging Station


Book Charging Station


Book Charging Station

8.25.2009

5 Things every student needs to know about file management

With an increasing number of ways for students to create and transfer schoolwork, there is an increasing number of students experiencing issues with file management, whether it be file compatibility, organization, or even virus-eaten homework (the web 2.0 version of the classic canine-based excuse for latent homework). Here are five things that every student should know to make both their lives and the lives of their teacher easier:
  1. Choosing a File Location

    Too often I see students save a file in a program's default location, which varies from a user’s document folder on the network to a program folder on the local hard drive to even a temp folder that will soon be automatically emptied. Not knowing where a file was saved or having a file unintentionally deleted presents a problem when the file needs to be opened again. Therefore, when saving a file students should:


    • Be conscious of where a file is saved - choose a location, don't just click save.
    • Know the difference between saving to to a computer’s hard drive (files are only accessible at that computer) and saving to a network(usually accessible at any school computer) or online server (accessible at any computer with internet). Knowing how to use flash drives is also important.
    • Once in the Save dialog, students should know how to navigate to a specific drive, which can be done either via the drop-down menu up top or the sidebar shortcuts.

  2. Choose/Changing a File Type

    Choosing a file type is especially important when a student is working at home and may be using a software different from what is installed at school. Every word processing software has it's own native document type, which are usually not compatible with other softwares; different versions of the same software *cough* Microsoft Office *cough* may even have different file formats that are not compatible with other versions.

    It is therefore important for students to know the differences between different file types and how to choose/change a file's type. The easiest way to change a file type is via the 'Save As' dialog (File > Save As), which allows a student to save a copy of their document in a different format; simply change the file format from the 'Save As Type' drop-down menu located below the 'File Name' box.

    For more information about word document compatibility see Saving Word Documents.

  3. Renaming a File

    Files can be saved with a new name by using the 'Save As' dialog, however, this unnecessarily creates a second copy of the file. To rename a file without creating a copy of the file:

    1. Save and close the file
    2. Navigate to the file folder
    3. Right-click on a file and select 'Rename' OR click on the file and press F2
    4. Rename the file then press Enter

  4. Moving/Copying a File or Folder

    Files can easily be moved or copied to other locations from their current folder Just click on a file and then choose either 'Move to Folder' or 'Copy to Folder' from the Edit menu and choose a new location for the file.

    Tip: New folders can be created while moving/copying a file by right-clicking on the desired parent folder (where the new folder will be) and selecting 'New Folder'.

  5. Finding Files

    In a perfect world, files would always be where a student saved it (or thinks they did), but between faulty memories and accidental deletions/movings/renamings/alien abductions files sometimes go missing. The best method for locating a lost file is to use Window's search feature (or Google Desktop, if it is installed and indexing). Located on the Start Menu, the search feature can look for files on both local and network drives with just a partial file name. For a more comprehensive search, enable advanced options to search system folders, hidden files, and subfolders.

    Tip:A quick way to locate a file is to look at the recently opened file list located on many programs' file menus, which either show the locations of the most recently opened files or allow a user to open and then resave a file.

8.04.2009

Revenge of the StickyKeys

If you're ever present in a computer lab when a student discovers the StickyKey shortcut, you will soon be treated with a chorus of trill tweets - the sound that accompanies StickyKey activation - as the student shares this new trick with his classmates.The students rarely if ever know what that sound actually indicates (they just really like the noise), and will soon be raising their hands to tell you that something is wrong with their computers. Sometimes StickyKeys will be activated without your knowing, e.g. when audio is muted, and your only indication will be a seemingly possessed computer. How will you know? How do you fix it? Here is your guide to StickyKeys, including how to recognize when StickyKeys is the culprit of a computer gone awry and how to disable the StickyKey feature.

What is StickyKeys?


StickyKeys feature lets you press a modifier key, such as Shift, Ctrl, Alt, or the Windows Logo key, and have it remain active until another key is pressed. Pressing a modifier key twice will keep that key activated until two keys are press simultaneously, assuming the lock setting has not been changed...but we don't assume, do we.

What's the point?


StickyKeys is an accessibility feature, allowing enabling multi-key shortcuts or capitalized letters to be typed one key at a time.

What is that noise, a.k.a. what is the StickyKeys shortcut?


When enabled, pressing the shift key five times in a row will enable StickyKeys. The shortcut is accompanied by a very annoying noise...at least it's annoying when 30 middle school students discover it at the same time.

When the shortcut is enacted, a pop-up should appear describing StickyKeys and asking whether the user would like to keep StickyKeys on or not. Seeing as students (and lots of adults, let's be fair) don't actually read pop-ups, but simply hit OK, this leads us to the next part...

How do I know if StickyKeys is enabled?


If normal StickyKey mode is enabled one usually won't notice, except for the beep that accompanies the use of a modifier key; even with StickyKeys enabled, modifier keys can be used as they normally would.

The real problem occurs when a modifier key gets locked, which happens when it is pressed twice in StickyKey mode. If the Shift gets locked, the computer will act as though the caps key is engaged, even when it's not. If the Ctrl or Alt key gets locked, the computer will enact keyboard shortcuts as the user attempts to type - menus will open, windows will close, and one might consider grabbing for the holy water.

Or, as was the case that prompted me to write this post, shortcuts won't work at all. While working in Photoshop, all the keyboard shortcuts suddently ceased to function. Turns out I had StickyKeys enabled and the shift key locked, so any shortcuts with ctrl did not work.

Another indication of StickyKey lock-down is a repeatedly failed workstation login. If StickyKeys is enabled when workstation is logged out of, StickyKeys will remain enabled when the next student tries to log in, making his/her login seemingly defunct.

How do I disable StickyKeys?


Go to Control Panel > Accessibility Options and make sure that "Use StickyKeys" is unchecked. To help prevent StickyKeys from being re-enabled, click the Settings button (under the StickyKeys section) and uncheck both "Use Shortcut" and "Press modifier key twice to lock". For good measure, I've disabled ToggleKeys and FilterKeys too. Ha.

7.30.2009

Nerdiest Thing Ever (USB Hub/Card Reader Mod)


Modded USB Hub

Just a stack of old books...


When not messing around on my computer, I like to tinker and make things. My latest projects combine three of my favorite things: books, technology, and things that are not quite what them seem. Featured here is a USB hub & card reader hidden inside antique books; I’m also in the process of making a charging station composed of antique books, but the size (5 books!) and relative complexity of that project is taking a lot longer.


Modded USB Hub

...or not.


What’s the point? Well, I find a stack of old books to be much more aesthetically pleasing than a jumble of cables, and hiding the gadgets in books also keeps everything organized. Functionality aside, I also just like to play with power tools and sharp objects (making my power saw my new favorite toy).

I made this gadget specifically for work, since students are often coming to me with flash drives that need to be rescued, and they always come in groups, causing me to quickly run out of available USB ports on my computer. The card reader will help save batteries when downloading media from our cameras, as well as allow me to get pictures off of the various cards that staff and students sometimes bring in from home.

The project is pretty straight forward, but here is a short description of what I used and what I did to create this wonderfully nerdy toy tool.

Ingredients:


    Gel Mediums

    Gel Mediums



    Card Reader

    Card Reader


  • Antique Books
  • USB Hub
  • Card Reader
  • Gel Medium (Matte and Glossy)
  • Adhesive Caulk
  • 3/4 inch screws

Tools:

  • Utility Knife
  • Drill
  • Paint Brush
  • Clamps
  • One Nerdy Geek

What I did:

After sealing the pages of each book together (using the matte gel, to preserve the aged appearance of the books), I hollowed out each book using a utility knife. I’ve found that smaller books and/or older books with soft pages hollow easier when the pages are sealed first; however, larger books with stiffer pages are easier to hollow before the pages are sealed, allowing the book to be hollowed in sections. I also coated the inside of the hollowed books with a glossy gel, which tamed rough edges and further adhered the pages together.


USB Hub Mod

Finished Product


When the insides of the books were dry, I arranged the books in a nicely skewed stack then connected them by drilling a screw in each corner of the top book. The 3/4” screws were just long enough to drill into each cover, without going through the top cover of the bottom book. Since I wanted the USB hub in the top book and the card reader to be plugged into it, I drilled a hole into the bottom of the top book and through the top of the bottom book, to allow the cables to pass. I also drilled a small hole through the top edge of the bottom book, so that the usb cable - the one that will attach the hub to the computer - could exit (since the plug is bigger than the cable, I pulled the sealed pages apart slightly to pass the cable through, and then resealed the pages around the cable). Finally, I used adhesive caulk to glue the usb hub and card reader into their respective books.

7.19.2009

The Perpetual Sticky Note (Useful Tool)

StickyScreen

StickyScreen

Everyday I write three things I need to accomplish onto a post-it and stick it to my monitor. This helps me to prioritize and focus on the most important items on my seemingly infinite to-do list. The only problem is that the post-it has become easy to ignore or gets lost in the sea of other post-its that often infect my workspace. So, I was quite please to discover StickyScreen.

StickyScreen is a website with a single digital sticky note that displays whatever text you want - a mantra, fun quote, reminder, to-do list, wish list, WHATEVER. No signup, no bells and whistle; it's genius is it's simplicity.

7.14.2009

Syncing ALL Google Calendars with Your iPhone

When I first set my iPod to sync with my Google Calendar, only some of the events appeared. Turns out that Google will only sync your default calendar to your mobile device, unless you tell it otherwise. If you would like additional calendars to sync, go to http://m.google.com/sync (on your ipod, iphone, or other device) to change which calendars are synced to you device. Every time you create a new Google calendar, you will have to update these settings, if you want the new calendar to sync as well.

7.13.2009

If You’re Gonna Lead, Make Sure You’re Headed in the Right Direction

This post is a response to Scott McLeod's call for Leadership Day 2009 blog posts regarding school leaders and technology. I would like to preface this post with the fact that my personal experience with school leaders has been mostly positive (though given my short time working in education I may be a bit naive...or optimistic, depending on how your look at it). However, I know of many educators who have not been as lucky, like a friend of mine – a music teacher - whose district blocks NPR’s website. Yeah. This post is for school leaders like hers.

Distinguish between Format and Content

Many schools have technology policies dictating which technologies can (school-issued computers) or cannot (cell-phones) be used. But such policies are often based on assumption, ignorance, and fallacy. Some DVDs are pornographic, therefore should schools ban all DVDs from school? No, of course not; everyday teachers use educational DVDs for effective class instruction. So why do some schools ban all video-sharing websites, because some of the videos the internet are inappropriate? It is the same difference. Such association between format and content is illogical, and sadly too common among school leaders.

Stop banning technology based solely on how it might be used…

In a few short years, I have gone from viewing technology in education from the student perspective to viewing it from both the instructor and support staff perspectives. I know both how to do devious things things with technology and how to prevent/fix said mischief. I've used technology to both improve my education and to assist me in educating others. But, no matter which perspective I'm viewing, I've found that technology itself is neither good nor bad; technology is just a tool for both good and bad. Banning technologies outright makes as much sense as abstinence-only sex education – ask Bristol Palin how that worked out for her.

…instead, regulate (or better yet, TEACH) how it should be used.

A command prompt with a few lines of code causes many teachers to react with suspicion or outright discipline. Although a lot of harm could be done by a student who knows how to program, the student could also be the next Bill Gates if guided and encouraged. A younger me, for example, used free time to learn how to gain admin access to school and library computers to…do things…that definitely violated rules…maybe even laws; but, positive influences in my life both encouraged my technological curiosity and guided it toward gainful applications. I could be sitting in prison for cyber crimes, but am instead making a living with my skills; the tool never changed, only how I used it.

7.10.2009

Type Less – a LOT less – with Texter (Productivity)

Wouldn’t it be nice if memos could be written with the brevity of  LOL and LMAO?  While a business dialect of text-speak may never happen, you can cut down on the amount you type, while still writing in complete sentences. Using Lifehacker’s Texter, a simple text-replacement program, you can write long strings of text by only typing a few keys; Texter replaces abbreviations with commonly used phrases you define.

Lifehacker's Texter

Texter

For example, while I love my blog name, I don’t love having to type the URL.  So, using Texter, I assigned the hotstring nec to be replaced with the full URL of my blog (http://not-enough-coffee.blogspot.com).  I also gave it the space trigger, so that Texter will only replace nec with my blog url after I have pressed the space bar, that way I can still type words like necessary without having Texter rewrite it.

Hotstrings can be as short as an email address or as long as a paragraph.  The program works in any application, including office suites and internet browsers, and can be temporarily disabled at any time.  Use it to input logins, addresses, company mottos, and any other text you find yourself repeatedly typing.  Geeks will especially like Texter for writing code.

Download Texter

6.24.2009

What’s on your iPhone/iPod?

The first thing I did when I received my iPod Touch was begin to fill it with apps; I had actually bought it with specific apps in mind, such as Evernote and Tweetdeck, intending to use my iPod Touch as more of a mobile internet device than as an mp3 player. I consulted several blog articles and browsed the lists of free apps to get some ideas for which apps I should download, and even asked fellow iPhone/iPod users for suggestions. Turns out, the apps one chooses to install, particularly those worthy of the front page and/or the dock, can say a lot about a person (one friend had only games installed - what good is that?). So, what does my homescreen say? It screams information geek - I like to find it, read it, organize it, and share it. I’m like a human Google server.

Here’s what I got:


iPod Apps

My Favorite iPod Apps, Thus Far

The Dock (the four static apps at the bottom)

  • Mail – My Gmail is my lifeline; without a phone, email is all I got.
  • MiGhtyDocs – I keep all of my work, business, and even some personal writing in my Google Docs; includes technology tutorials, data spreadsheets, and creative musings. MiGhtyDocs allows me to access this information, even when offline.
  • Evernote – Any information that is not in my GoogleDocs is in my Evernote account. This includes smaller or more temporary snippets of info like flight reservation numbers, directions, notes, etc.
  • Facebook – I debated whether Tweetdeck or Facebook would get the final spot on the bottom dock, but as much as I love Twitter, I prefer to access twitter on my computer since I end up browsing a lot of links.

The Homescreen

  • Safari – It would not be a mobile computer device without a browser.
  • Google – Need I explain needing one-touch access to my Google tools?
  • Calendar – Sadly, I don’t know where I am supposed to be without my calendar.
  • Contacts – I’m not sure why this one is front page.
  • Google Reader – RSS lets me stay updated with what is going on in the world.
  • Read It Later – Whenever I have extra time (Ha!) I hit up my reading list to learn more stuff.
  • TweetDeck – Admittedly, one of the main reasons I got an iPod Touch was so that I could Tweet without a computer.
  • textPlus – The only thing I miss about having a cellphone is the ability to text; textPlus makes it easy to text from my iPod without having to know a persons carrier, and displays messages in a conversation format.
  • Maps – I always get lost the first time I go somewhere (but never the second time, I have great spatial/photographic memory), and I hoping this will help.
  • YouTube – Who doesn’t like wasting time on YouTube?
  • Photos – I’m a photographer. I would be remissed if I didn’t want to have quick access to show of my work.
  • Calculator – Makes comparison shopping and tipping easier.
  • iTranslate – I never get to use my language skills in the very vanilla western suburbs of Minneapolis, but I still like to be prepared.
  • NYTimes – More reading material and helps me stay current.
  • WiFi Finder – It was this or the Starbux Locator (and where there is Starbuck’s there is wifi), but I already have an uncanny ability to find the closest Starbucks so wifi it was.
  • Settings – Maybe it’s because I’m new to this mobile game, but I change/lookup settings quite often, so it needed to be front page.

So, what’s worthy of your homescreen?

6.23.2009

Thank You, Lowe's!

For several years now, Lowe's has been an amazing sponsor of SkillsUSA. This year they outdid themselves by donating $1.5 million to the National organization, in addition to the grants they provide to local chapters. Thank you to Lowes for continuing to believe in the mission of SkillsUSA and their support of students pursuing technical careers. I know where I'll be doing my hardware shopping.

Lowes Supports SkillsUSA

Lowes Donates $1.5 Million to SkillsUSA


SkillsUSA Opening Ceremony – LIVE!

Weren’t lucky enough to attend this years SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference? Watch the opening ceremony live on the web. The webcast will begin at 6pm CST and the ceremony is scheduled to begin at 7pm CST. There are always excellent keynote speakers at the opening ceremony. This year’s speakers are:

Wendy Venturini, the first female play-by-play announcer in auto racing history and reporter for the SPEED CHANNEL pre-race show, “NASCAR RaceDay.” Wendy was also a national gold medalist in the prepared speech contest at the 1996 SkillsUSA Championships – see, SkillsUSA takes you places :).

Stephen Paletta, philanthropist and winner of Oprah’s Big Give. Paletta created The International Education Exchange, a nonprofit organization that builds schools and libraries, and trains teachers in Africa, and since being awarded one million dollars for winning Oprah’s Big Give, he founded Stephen’s Journey Foundation, dedicated to shining a light on social entrepreneurs around the world to provide a portal for donors to find effective, accountable grassroots nonprofit groups.

Minnesotans should logon to see our very own Jennifer Leff, Region IV Advisor of the Year (and a great roomie too), receive her award. She may even win National Advisor of the Year – good luck, Jen!

Live from Kansas City – SkillsUSA NLSC 2009 Opening Ceremony

SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference

SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA:
Preparing for leadership in the world of work


This week I am attending the SkillsUSA National Leadership & Skills Conference, so expect my blog posts, tweets, and status updates to full of career & technical education goodness, along with general updates of conference happenings (for those tweeting about the conference, use the hashtag NLSC09). For those not familiar with SkillsUSA (formerly know as VICA), I hope you will take this opportunity to learn more about this wonderful organization that continues to positively impact thousands of students and to discover ways you can get involved. For more information about the organization visit the SkillsUSA website.

6.21.2009

Not a Phone (iPod Touch)

I haven’t had a cell phone for several months now and I don’t miss it one bit. When I did have a phone, I didn’t care enough to keep track of it (or would purposely leave it at home); when I did have it in my possession it was rarely charged. My closest friends and family knew the best way to get a hold of me was to send an email – if I didn’t answer within a few hours, I didn’t want to be found.

iPod Touch

iPod Touch

As much as I hate phones, particularly of the mobile variety, I began to envy those who could use their phones to do everything from jot notes to tweet to check email; I even missed being able to text. There are even a few situations when I need to be out and about but reachable (like this week, at the SkillsUSA National Conference, where texting is best way to track down missing students). So I decided I needed some sort of mobile device that was smaller than a laptop but could be used to send text messages. Enter the iPod Touch.

I have had my iPod Touch for less than 48 hours, but am completely enamored with it. Here’s what I love about Gnada (That’s my iPod’s name. More on my device naming later):

  1. Keeping Connected – I have my iPod set to sync with my Gmail, Google Calendar, and Contacts. I particularly like that new emails are pushed to my iPod as soon as I get an internet connection.
  2. Texting - I think that texting is one of the best communication methods. Texting is unobtrusive, short, and quiet.
  3. Evernote gone mobile - Evernote is one of my favorite productivity tools – it is the external hard drive to my brain. I use Evernote to remember code snippets & command, record titles of books to read or movies to see, collect recipes, take notes at seminars, and anything I will probably forget. Being able to do this on-the-go is even better. I even paid $9.95 for the software upgrade necessary for the new Evernote app.
  4. Offline Reading - Thanks to Read It Later, I always have a list of webpages to read, and now I can use my iPod to download pages to have reading material available regardless of wifi availability. Eventually I will learn how to use the iPod as an e-book reader too.
  5. Social Networking – Having access to Twitter and Facebook more often means I have less catching up when I do finally have a moment to sit at my computer.
  6. It’s not a phone – People still can’t call me.

As much as I love my iPod, there are already a few (okay, two) things I wish it had/could do. Granted, I could have these features with an iPhone, but I simply can’t afford a monthly plan right now, so instead I shall wish for a iPod that can:

  1. Access a 3G network (I’d even pay a monthly fee, just not $70/month!)
  2. Take pictures and video.

The funny thing is that I don’t have any music on Gnada yet, and I haven’t decided if I will even put music on it – I already have iPod that stores my entire music collection, so I may just save all 8GB for data.

Already have an iPod Touch? I’d love to hear any tips you may have, especially suggestions for apps to install.

6.20.2009

Cut to the Chase (Thing 47)

Despite the fact that I did explore most of the Things, I never got around to blogging about half of them. But since today is the (extended) deadline for More Things, I am skipping ahead to the evaluation.

I really enjoyed exploring the resources and tools in the More Things program, and when I found something really neat, I even enjoyed blogging about it. However, the blogging was the hardest part, as I didn't always have the time nor desire to post my thoughts. If there were another More Things program, I would definitely participate, but rather than have each participant blog, I think it would be more useful to use a discussion format, like a Ning, to share our thoughts (in fact, the Ning was one of my favorite Things).

My favorite Thing was definitely Twitter, which is ironic, since going into this I was dreading having to do not one, but two Twitter Things. I had been avoiding twitter for so long; turns out I just didn't understand how useful it could be. Here I thought it was just another social network - ha! I gain so much useful information from my Twitter network - and even got a job via Twitter - that I wish I had started earlier.

Twitter was really the only Thing that was completely new to me, but every Thing had at least one or two tools that I had never tried (even the Google Tools Thing!!). Reading what others thought about the tools or how they used also gave me ideas on new uses for familiar tools. I especially liked the plethora of articles that accompanied the tools - they added a lot of value.

So when does the Even More Things program start? Sign me up!

6.19.2009

Reference: a Beacon in the Darkness of Answer Sites (Thing 34)

I’ve been too busy exploring all of the Things to actually blog about them, so expect a slew of Things posts in the next couple of days. While I will not kid myself into thinking that I will finish them all by impending deadline, I will share what I have. So, I continue with Thing 34, Online Answer Sites.

Allow Me to Digress

Reference is not going away. If anything, good reference – both resources and recommendations – is more critical in today’s state of information-overload than it was in yesteryears. The format of reference, however, is transitioning to the digital realm in order to adapt to our increasingly wired (or wireless as it were) society. Being able to access more resources online means being able to access more information (the internet doesn’t require weeding to fit new information) more often (the internet never closes…unless you depend on your local coffee shop’s free wifi) by more people (digital information is more accessible to those with disabilities, such as those who are homebound or have visual impairments). Index and search technologies also make it possible to find needed information quicker, and perhaps with more precision.

In-person reference consultations and resources do still serve a purpose. In my job as a tech guru (not my official title, but more accurate) I prefer to help staff in person because not only do the interrogations conversations better clarify an issue (“my internet is not working” could mean anything from IE quits suddenly to the online gradebook is really slow, depending on the staff member), but I can also read people’s expressions and gather whether or not they really understand what I am saying. Based on the articles in Thing 34, I bet a lot of reference librarians would agree with this sentiment. As for the resources themselves, while I love having digital information available as quickly as my fingers can type a query, I will often reference books instead of online texts (especially when learning new programming languages, ironically) because they are often more comprehensive and don’t require electricity to operate (finding an open outlet at the beach is a bit difficult).

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

I never go to answers web sites when I have a question, though I do occasionally land on them via a search engine. On the rare occasion I have found useful information on an answer site, if only confirmation that others have experienced a similar issue.

Overall, I find answer sites to be too general and rather useless; replies are rarely accompanied by additional sources, if the answer the question at all. I have also never answered questions on such sites, as I have found most questions could be answered by Let Me Google That For You (or my favorite, Just Fucking Google It).

Would I recommend any answer websites to the staff or students at my school. Nope. I have yet to find an answer site I like.

(Please excuse the of exorbitant amount of parentheticalness [totally a word…according to the internet]; perhaps next time I will use footnotes instead.)

6.09.2009

Save Space on Your Bookmark Toolbar (Firefox or Chrome)

Placing your bookmarks in the bookmark toolbar is a great way to keep your favorite webpages just a click away. However, unless you have a REALLY wide screen, the toolbar fills up quickly. To increase your bookmark toolbar capacity, remove the bookmark title/name altogether*, leaving only the favicon. See how much space this saves:
Favicon Bookmark

To remove a bookmark's title/name, right-click on it and select Properties (Firefox) or Edit...(Chrome), then delete the name. This does not work well with every bookmark, since some pages do not have custom favicons; or, in a case like Google Apps, not every page on a website has a distinct favicon.


FavIcon Bookmarks

Favicon Bookmarks


*Internet Explorer requires a title for the bookmark - even if it's just one character - so instead, you should use Firefox or Chrome...anything but IE.

6.02.2009

Control Your Clicks

Holding down the Ctrl button* while clicking on a link will open a webpage in a new tab or window. For those stuck using Internet Explorer (if you're using it by choice, see: We Don't Support IE), the Ctrl + click method also bypasses the pop-up blocker, for when a poorly designed website is forcing content to open in a new Window, which IE often perceives as a pop-up. Opening links inside Microsoft Word and/or Outlook also require a user to hold down Ctrl while clicking.

Bonus: If you are a firefox user who likes to open everything in a new tab, check out the Tree Style Tabs add-on for organizing your tabs into collapsible hierachies; tabs can also be displayed vertically allowing more to be visible at once.

*Rumor has it that the CMD button does the same on a Mac.

Was it good for you too?

The Emotional Rollercoaster That Was My First Time Building a Computer

Last week I decided it was time. Running my digital imaging business from a 4-year-old, 15-inch Dell laptop was like editing photos on an Etch-A-Sketch, a broken one. Not to mention I was a bit of a poser, tooling around town with a Geek Squad* bumper sticker on the back of my plastic Honda Civic (but she’s a pretty red plastic) without ever having built my own computer. I had disassembled plenty of computers (even reassembled a few…minus a couple screws) to know that the inside of a computer is not nearly as complex as computer retailers make it seem. Still, looks – and internet forums full of geeks – are deceiving.

I tried to read the manual, but it had no words

Bad Instruction Manual

Arrows Tell Me Nothing

For a community likes to tell noobs to RTFM, most computer hardware manuals really suck. Some had only pictures, others only words, and even in 12 different languages they managed to say nothing. The companies must assume that if you knew enough to buy the product, you must know how to install it, which I thought I did.

The first step in building a computer is installing the CPU (processor) in the motherboard. Assuming you don’t kill the CPU with static electricity or by forcing it in the wrong way, step one is easy: place CPU in the motherboard. Step 2, attaching the CPU cooler to the motherboard, should be just as simple, but this is where the foot-stomping and whining began. They say (I know, I need to stop listening to Them), that motherboards are fragile. Don’t touch this; don’t bend that; be careful. Well, being careful was just not working. Despite my best firm-but-gentle pressing, I was only able to get one side of the cooler to hook onto the mobo. Giving in to my inner bully, which has previously served me well in rugby, sibling rivalry, and holiday shopping, I smacked the cooler down (note: smacking is not recommend protocol) and gave the hooks a good shove. The cooler finally snapped into placed and I locked it in before it could change it’s mind.

Don’t hold your breath; the lack of oxygen makes fixing harder

The Beast

The Beast

After the CPU cooler, everything else fell into place, or rather were shoved into place; as it turns out, a lot of computer hardware needs quite a bit of force to be install. Fragile, uh huh, like a tank. After all the cables were connected to something, I plugged in the Beast (the picture does not do the computer justice, if you saw this 30-lb hunk o’ steel in person, you would understand the name). I held my breath and pressed the power button…only to give an exasperated sigh as nothing happened. The cable from the power case had not been labeled with +/- sides, so I hoped I had just plugged it in backward, and that I had not actually busted my CPU and/or mobo while “installing” the cooler. Fortunately, it turned out to be the former. After I flipped the power cable, Beast began to growl.

The Fun, the Frustrating, and the Downright Confuzzling

The minor frustrations of ambiguous instructions, absent labels, and my lack of fine motor skills aside, building the Beast was definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Was it fun? Even as a girl who got excited at her first multi-tip screwdriver set, I can’t really say that I really had fun (destruction is more my style). However, I am ecstatic to finally have a powerful system worthy of a geek and her Adobe Creative Suite. Had I given a retailer as much money as I spent on parts, I would have a plastic toy instead. To me, the fun part is playing with the Beast; building was a means to an excellent end. Would I do it again? Most definitely, and you should too…just remember that first times are never as good as expected.

*I do not work for Best Buy. I don't even patronize their over-priced stores. I just like the bumper sticker.

5.19.2009

Keep a Library Book Longer, Without Fines

This a very local tip, for those of who partonize the Hennepin County Libraries in Minnesota. Though, if other systems have a similar policy on overdue fines, this tip may work elsewhere.


Got Fines?

Stack Books by dianeoz


I am no stranger to overdue fines from the library. Despite all the wonderful tools and reminders available, I still manage to forget to return books or sometimes just need to keep them for an extra day or two. When I do get fines, I suck it up and pay them without complaint - I do deserve them after all. That said, I've figured out a way to avoid some of my fines (without any begging or social-engineering), and I would like to share the wealth.

When a book is returned to a Hennepin County library after operating hours, the book is checked in as being returned the previous business day. For example, whether a book is returned at 11pm on Thursday or 5am on Friday, when it is checked in on Friday morning it is counted as being returned on Thursday. So, as long as the book is returned before the library opens (the day after it is due) the book is counted as being returned on time. While this may only get you an extra couple hours in most cases, not all branches are open every day, enabling a patron to have a book for a few extra days, if returned before the library opens again.

5.17.2009

Travel 2.0 (Thing 33)

These days, I rarely spend money on anything without reading reviews from previous purchasers first, and travel is no different. With the advent of Photoshop and stock photography, it is easy for a hotel or restaurant to publish nice pictures of their business, accompanied by flattering copy; personal reviews from actual customers are so much more telling. Without a specific trip in mind, however, it was difficult to truly test the different review sites, but I have definitely bookmarked them for later, i.e. when I finally give into my Id and empty my savings account for that backpacking trip through Asia…it’s going to happen, I’ve promised myself.

One site that I found inspiring to that end, was The Lost Girls blog. It was started by three twenty-something New Yorkers who “ditched their media jobs to embark on a yearlong, round-the-world journey in search of adventure and inspiration.” It was fun to live vicariously through there journaling. While the “girls” are no longer on there journey, they still use it to chronicle their various travels.


GreenRoutes

GreenRoutes Map


I like the concept of Green Routes, which is a map mashup showing unique places to eat, play, shop, or learn. The visual interface of finding places to visit was useful, since I am usually searching for attractions near specific locations. It was also nice being able to filter the places by type. It would be nice to see this expanded to include a lot more places.

This was really only one of the travel websites that I thought would be useful in education. As previously mentioned in Thing 32, MapVivo is an easy way to create and share a travel journal; it maps out your travels, corresponding to your journal entries. Teachers could have students map out historical journeys (Oregon Trail, Long March, Louis & Clark, etc.), along with fictional journals.

5.04.2009

Map Mashups (Thing 32)

I had a lot more fun exploring Google Maps than I thought I would. Thus far my experience with Google Maps has been to get driving directions or to record mileage for business travel; although I was aware of the mashup capabilities, I never really had a need to use it, or so I thought.

My favorite mashup was the Mailbox Map website, a tool that shows all USPS mailboxes and post offices in a given location. While I know of at least four post offices in my area, they are never “on the way” whenever I am out and about – I always seem to be making special trips to the post office. It is nice to be able to lookup where other mailboxes are located…now if only I had cell phone to be able to do this when I am already out running errands, I’d be set.

If I had said cell phone, I would also frequent the Starbucks locator and Hotspotr, a wifi hotspot map. I particularly liked that Hotspotr included reviews of the wireless, food, and outlet situation at wifi spots, and I even added my own review of a coffee shop I recently visited, warning others that the wifi was nice but the coffee was not.

Wikitude

Wikitude displays landmark information.

Reading about Wikitude, a mobile travel guide for Android based phones, almost made me give in and buy the G1 after all. Wikitude sounds good as an overall travel guide, but the coolest feature is the augmented reality cam view,

…users hold the phone’s camera against a spectacular mountain range and see the names and heights displayed as overlay mapped with the mountains in the camera. Users may look out of an airplane window to see what is down there. Users may walk through a city like Seville, Spain, holding the phone’s camera against a building and Wikitude tells what it is.

Other mashups I enjoyed were MapVivo, which I would like to use the next time I go on a journal-worthy trip, and If I Dig a Very Deep Hole, Where Will I End Up?, which taught me that the hole I started in my backyard would not actually take me to China, but to the middle of the Indian Ocean – poor planning on my part.

With all that can be done with Google Maps, it made me wonder if some of the teachers who use Google Earth in the classroom might be able to use Google Maps instead. Doing so would both save on bandwidth and also allow those teachers to use the mobile lab, which does not have Google Earth installed; this could help alleviate issues we’ve had with lab scheduling and our limited bandwidth. I bet students could even create some very cool mashups of their own. This is definitely one Thing I want to explore further.

4.25.2009

What a Novel Idea

Graphic Novels as Study Guides

Something was amiss in the 370s. Tucked among the SAT/ACT study guides were three graphic novels. They seemed so out of place – colorful, appealing, and reasonably-sized novels set amongst the encyclopedia-esque monstrosities that are most test prep guides. Were they misshelved or perhaps mislabeled? Alas, no, they were indeed SAT vocabulary-building books.


Warcraft Study Guide

Graphic Novels:
The New Test Prep


Kaplan has partnered with Manga publisher TOKYPOP to create a new kind of study guides: graphic novels filled with SAT vocabulary words, along with their definitions, pronunciation, and example sentences. The publishers modified existing graphic novels Warcraft: Dragon Hunt, Volume 1, Psy-Comm, Volume 1, and Van Von Hunter, Volume 1, enhancing their vocabulary and adding reference information for each vocab word to the margins.

The absurdity of preparing for standardized test aside, I think that graphic novels as study tools is a great idea. Besides being a proponent of graphic novels in general (anything that develops the desire to read is a good thing), as a visual learner myself, I know the importance of using imagery in education. I swear I only managed to pass history courses with the information I could recall from political cartoons, documentaries, and other visual sources; text-dense readings rarely held my attention beyond a few paragraphs, and even then, it was always easier for me to recall an image than a word.

The combination of visual stimuli and storytelling (a very useful recall device itself) makes graphic novels an effective tool for learning. I would love to see this concept of graphic study guides expanded to more general subject matters – I might even learn a thing or two!

4.23.2009

Drinking the Purple Kool-Aid, aka I ♥ Twitter (Thing 31)

To keep this post a decent length, I’m going with lists…my other option was Haikus, so be thankful.

Twitter is:

  • A search engine for hand-picked online resources
  • A way to network with people in my field.
  • A place to connect with others who share my interests.
  • A way to follow current events and breaking news.
  • A forum for my musings, ramblings, and tirades.
  • Fun.

How I Tweet:


    My Twitter

    My Twitter Timeline


  • Usually I tweet via my Firefox address bar using the InstantTweets add-on; if I am sharing a link, I shorten it first using ReplacURLr, my very own FF add-on.
  • When I want to update Twitter & FB simultaneously, I update via Ubiquity using the Pingfm command. I can do this from any webpage.
  • I often read tweets online, so most of my replies and DMs are made via the web interface.
  • When I want to publish at specific time, especially when I may not be at my computer, I tweet via FutureTweets, which allows me to schedule tweets.
  • I also occasionally tweet from my Twitter Desktop App of Choice, TweetDeck.

How I Follow:

  • I’ve started using the web interface more than TweetDeck, since I love how the Firefox add-on PowerTwitter embeds tweeted pics & videos right in the feed, as well as expands shortened links and replaces them with the title of the linked page.
  • I go to TwitterFall when following an event or popular trend; the live feed makes it possible to follow a hashtag or search in realtime.
  • For desktop apps, TweetDeck is definitely the front runner, though I’m following the development of Seesmic Desktop, mostly for it’s multiple account support.

Who I follow:


Tweeple

Who I Follow


  • Web developers
  • Programmers
  • Librarians
  • Teachers
  • Photographers
  • Designers
  • Friends & Family
  • All-around Geeks
  • People who follow me…usually

Etc:

  • I use the Greasemonkey script Twitter results in Google searches to search Twitter from Google.
  • I use Xpenser to track business purchases I make online by DMing @xpn the purchase amount and description; it is much easier than logging into Xpenser website. I can even DM without leaving the seller’s website, by using Ubiquity.
  • I add information to my Evernote account by tweeting @myEN.
  • I use TwitterKarma to declutter my timeline, by finding out who follows for the refollow, only to quickly unfollow – seriously, stop wasting my time.

Fun:

    TwitterVision

    TwtitterVision
    Watch the World Tweet

  • SecretTweet allows people to make anonymous tweets, creating a public confessional of sorts – how could that not be fun?
  • TwitterVision is a real-time geographic visualization of tweets, displaying recent tweets above the location of the tweet. The globe view even shows whether it is day or night at the location. It is people watching on an international scale.

Follow me (@CCahillMN) on Twitter!

4.21.2009

Save All Open Word Documents

Need to quickly close out of Microsoft Word, but multiple open documents are slowing you down? Holding down 'Shift' as you open the file menu changes the "Save" option to "Save All", enabling you to save all of your documents at once.

Shift + File > Save All Saves all open documents

4.14.2009

Two Clicks are Better Than One...Sometimes


Multiple Clicks to Select Text

Selecting Text with Multiple Clicks



Working in a middle school, I am usually scolding hyper-active students (and their oft as impatient teachers) to stop clicking, or at least to click once and wait for a result before clicking again. But, multiple clicks do have their place in productive computering; besides the obvious double-click used to open folders & files, clicking multiple times in a row can be used to quickly select text. Clicking twice selects the word on which you clicked, and clicking three times selects the element on which you clicked, e.g. an entire paragraph. I use the triple click most often when I want to enter a new URL into my browser - clicking three times inside the address bar highlights the current URL, which I can then replace with a different one.

4.11.2009

Feed Me (Thing 30)

RSS Reader: My Custom Newspaper

Aside from email, my RSS reader and online bookmarks are the most useful tools for retrieving, organizing, and sharing information. The mornings that I am fortunate enough to not have any technical issues requiring my immediate attention, I scroll through my reader while enjoying my first cup of coffee – it has become my morning (and afternoon and evening) newspaper, complete with comics. Almost everything on the Internet can be subscribed to via RSS; my subscriptions include not only blogs, but also photo streams, word-of-the-day feeds, and even Facebook status updates.

Google Reader

RSS Reader

While I cherish each of my 100-some subscriptions (when I cease to do so, I unsubscribe), I would like to cut out some of the irrelevant material that comes through, e.g. posts that purely list a website’s sponsors. I looked into filtering my feeds via websites such as FeedRinse and FilterMyRSS, but since each feed needs to be filtered individually, I quickly decided that it was much easier to just skip an item in my reader, than it would be to filter each feed and then subscribe to the filtered feed and unsubscribe from the old, unfiltered feed. However, these tools could be useful for teachers & media specialists needing to filter feeds for student consumption, hopefully avoiding the Beetle Sex incident.

Spreed, a website that enables you to speed-read an article a few words at a time, was an RSS tool I found to be interesting. I prefer to scan the items in my reader, before deciding whether to read the full article, so Spreed is not something I will be using with most feeds; however, I think it could be useful for reading longer material, such as an e-book. By combining Spreed with DailyLit, a website that provides books via RSS feeds, I may actually read War & Peace someday.

Delicious: Bookmarking Training Wheels

Diigo

Bookmarking on Diigo

I love social-bookmarking, but everything Delicious can do, Diigo can do better.

  • Example 1: Sharing - Rather than sharing bookmarks with individual users in my network, Diigo enables me to share bookmarks with groups of contacts, regardless of whether they use Diigo or not. One way I use this feature to send bookmarks to teachers by subject matter, e.g. I can send all the science teachers a link at once, without having to enter all their emails.
  • Example 2: Organizing – Like Delicious, Diigo allows users to sort bookmarks by tags or groups of tags, but Diigo also allows users to create lists of links, which can then be shared online…or even printed,for those who still kill trees. I like to create lists of select resources on a topic, i.e. rather than sending a someone all bookmarks I have pertaining to their question, I make a list of my favorites to share.
  • Example 3: Publishing – Diigo makes it possible to send links directly to your blog or social-networking services such as Twitter. Beyond dynamic linkrolls, Diigo users can also embed static lists of links on services such as Netvibes.
  • Example 4: Discussion – This is where Diigo truly trumps Delicious, as there really is no way to discuss websites on Delicious. Sure, you can add a short note to a bookmark, but no one can respond to the note. The hallmark feature of Diigo is its ability to highlight text on page and add annotations. Depending on the privacy levels of one’s notes (personal, shared with a group, or public), other users can view and respond to these comments.
  • Bonus for Educators - Diigo allows teachers to create classroom groups with accounts for each students. Students can then easily share & discuss webpages with each other and their teacher.

If you like Delicious, you will love Diigo – you just have to give it a chance. Check out my bookmarks on Diigo via my linkroll in the sidebar. I am also still feeding my bookmarks to Delicious, if you would prefer to scope out my bookmarks on that site.

4.07.2009

Spreadsheet Autofill

If you ever have to enter long series of numbers into a spreadsheet, don't waste your time typing all of the values. Instead, enter in the first few values and then let your spreadsheet application input the rest. Here's how:
  1. Enter in the first few values in your series (e.g. 1, 2, 3)
  2. Select all the values
  3. Click & Drag the lower-right corner across as many cells as you need to fill.
This technique works in most spreadsheet applications, including: Microsoft Office Excel, OpenOffice, Google Docs, and Zoho Sheet.

4.04.2009

Converting Your Desktop into a Digital Bulletin Board

One of my favorite productivity apps is Stixy, an online, personal bulletin board service. With a free Stixy account, you can create an unlimited amount of digital bulletin boards with sticky notes, to-do reminders, pictures, and even documents. Notes can be customized with different colors & fonts, and Todos can be set to send email reminders.

I love using Stixy as a visual way to organize my thoughts, but I hate having to open an internet browser every time I want to add something. To remedy this, I’ve set Stixy to be my desktop background, using the Windows features that enables users to embed webpages on the desktop. The webpage is fully interactive, and is even available offline, in case I want to make changes when I don’t have an internet connection. I do occasionally miss the visual stimulus of my ever-changing background, but since I can add pictures to my Stixy boards, not all is lost.

Want a digital bulletin board of your own? Here’s how to set it up:

Adding Stixy to your Desktop

  1. Login to Stixy
    • If you don’t already have a Stixy account, go to Stixy.com to signup.
    • If you have an account, go to Stixy and login.
  2. Go to your desktop, right-click on an empty space, and select ‘Properties’
  3. Go to the Desktop tab and click ‘Customize Desktop’
  4. Go to the Web tab and click ‘New…’
  5. Enter http://stixy.com into the Location box and click ‘Next’
  6. Windows will connect to Stixy and then ask you to confirm adding it to your desktop; to add a synchronization schedule (to update any changes you make while offline) click customize, otherwise, click ‘Okay’.
  7. Click ‘Okay’ on both the Desktop Items and Display Properties windows.

Configuring you Bulletin Board


Configuring Your Bulletin Board

Configuring Your Bulletin Board


To take full advantage of Stixy, it is best to make it as large as possible; there are two ways of doing this:

  1. Split – Have your bulletin board take up as much space as it can, without covering your desktop icons.
    1. Hover your mouse over the left-hand corner of the window and click on the black triangle that appears
    2. From the dropdown menu, select ‘Split Desktop with Icons’
  1. Maximize – Cover your Desktop with the bulletin board.
    1. Hover your mouse over the left-hand corner of the window and click on the black triangle that appears
    2. From the dropdown menu, select ‘Cover Desktop’


Desktop Bulletin Board

My Desktop Bulletin Board

In this mode, you can continue to have icons or other desktop objects float on top of your bulletin board.

Or, you can hide your desktop icons altogether (right-click on desktop > Arrange Icons By > Hide Desktop Icons), leaving just your bulletin board.

If bulletin boards are not your thing, this technique will work with almost any other webpage you could want to make your desktop background.

4.02.2009

Schools are Missing Out

This morning I received a newsletter with an article regarding US Government Agencies using social media websites, e.g. YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, and blip.tv, to publish information. While it is interesting in itself that the Government is using such services, what interested me most was WHY they are using these services,
"We need to get official information out to sites where people are already visiting and encourage them to interact with their government," said GSA Acting Administrator Paul Prouty. “The new agreements make it easier for the government to provide official information to citizens via their method of choice.”
(GSA signs agreements with Web 2.0 providers, Federal Computer Week, 3/25/09)
The government gets it: to be heard, you need to go to where your users already are and communicate they way they are communicating. Make it easy to get information and the information will be used.

So why don't our public schools get this? If schools want to truly reach students and give them an education that will be useful in the modern world, they should use the technology the students are using, but teach them to use it effectively and properly; schools need to stop restricting technology and information base solely on format, and focus on content.

Does this mean schools should have a Facebook page? Maybe. In the least, why not allow students to use social-networking websites in school, while teaching them how to use them as a communication tool (sharing documents, engaging in discussions, etc.) , as well as teaching them the how not to use these websites (cyber-bullying, posting illicit pictures, etc.). By banning technology outright, schools are limiting their own ability to effectively educated and communicate with students, and are hindering the student's abilities to become productive citizens of the 21st century.

3.31.2009

Increase Productivity with Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are one of the easiest ways to increase your productivity, and many can be used across applications. Below are a few of the shortcuts I use daily; although they may seem basic to some, it amazes me how many people don't know these shortcuts. See Wikipedia's Table of Keyboard Shortcuts for even more.

Shortcut Function Windows Mac
Show Desktop (min. all windows) Win()+ D F11
Select all text Ctrl + A Cmd + A
Copy selection Ctrl + C Cmd + C
Paste selection Ctrl + V Cmd + V
Undo Ctrl + Z Cmd + Z
Redo (undo the undo) Ctrl + Y Cmd + Y
Close file or window Ctrl + W Cmd + W

Shortcuts keys should be held down simultaneously. The Control (Ctrl), Windows () and Command (Cmd) keys are located on the bottom row of most keyboards.

3.26.2009

Quickest Way to Tweet a Link

During my early explorations of Twitter, I inquired as to the quickest way to tweet a link; I often found myself wanting to share, but had yet to find an efficient method of doing so. To my dismay, however, I received no responses (so much for crowd-sourcing). So, I began researching methods of tweeting links; I found that tweeting a link was easy, but the tricky part was shortening the URL before tweeting it.

While there is a plethora of ways to shorten a URL, I found existing methods to be inadequate: most required navigating to a new page/opening a separate application; text needed to be copied then pasted; or, a link was not shortened until after it was tweeted, thus making character counts inaccurate. So what’s a geek to do? Program a tool to her specifications, of course!

Introducing ReplacURLr

  • What: A Firefox add-on that replaces the URL in your location bar with a shortened URL of either the current page (via the toolbar button) or an in-page link (via the right-click context menu). The short URL is also automatically copied to the clipboard.
  • Why: To shorten a link without annoying confirmation/options dialogs or having to navigate to a different page. The short URL is input directly into the location bar so that the link can then be tweeted (via TwitterBar), without out any copying & pasting.
  • Who: Any Firefox user wanting a quick method for shortening URLs, particularly those using TwitterBar.
  • Where: ReplacURLr is currently available for download at the Mozilla Add-on Directory.
  • When: Now!

In summary, the quickest way to tweet link is to shorten it with ReplacURLr and then tweet it with TwitterBar – two clicks, it can’t get any easier.

If you give ReplacURLr a try, I would appreciate any and all constructive feedback (if you’re just mean, I will send my flying monkeys after you – consider yourself warned). Happy tweeting!

Links:
ReplacURLr
TwitterBar

3.24.2009

Beyond Boolean

Sure, you know how to use basic Boolean search operators, such as AND and OR, to limit your search to (hopefully) more relevant results; but, do you know how to limit your search to a specific website (i.e. without using the sites’ own search box…assuming there is one), to text located in the page title or URL, or even to a specific file type? To get better search results, try using advanced search operators. Below are a few of my favorites; check out The ultimate guide to advanced searching within Yahoo, Google and MSN for more.

  • site:

    Limits results to website(s) specified, e.g. the query site:lifehacker.com OR site:howtogeek.com shortcut will return pages from Lifehacker or How-to Geek containing the term “shortcut”.

  • filetype:

    Returns files of specified type, e.g. adding filetype:pdf to your search query will return only PDF documents containing your search terms.

  • intitle:

    Searches only webpage titles (not article/blog post titles, unless included in the webpage title…which it should be if the author knows any SEO).

Do you use any advanced search operators?

3.23.2009

All I Want for Easter is Google Apps at Work (Thing 29)

Google is so integrated into my personal life that if there were ever a Dark Angel-style apocalypse and Google went under, my life would probably collapse along with it…or rather, I would simply swear a lot, accept my loss, and begrudgingly move on with life (kinda like when I killed both my laptop hard drive and both external backup hard drive at once, yeah, that was a bad day). The point is, I am very dependent on Google tools; they increase my productivity immensely and make life easier to organize. I could write an entire blog just on Google, but no one needs to witness that lovefest. So when I came to Thing 29, I expected to be able to do a quick been-there-done-that post, but to my surprise, there was one unfamiliar face in the list of tools to explore: SearchWiki.

So that’s what those icons do…

Turns out that I had in fact heard about SearchWiki and had long ago noticed the icons next to my search results, but I had mistakenly though SearchWiki was a Digg-type social ranking of websites. I had not realized that rearranging and removing results only affected my own searches, and even then only the specific query that I reorganized (e.g. if I remove a website from one search, it will still show up in others). Now that I know what SearchWiki really does, I think it could be a very useful tool.

There are times when I need to collect web pages for a project, but have no need to reference those pages after the project is complete; and, I don’t want to bookmark said pages, only to have to clean out my bookmarks later. For example, when I want to buy new hardware, I often compare different brands and models, and then compare stores for the best price on my chosen item. After I make a purchase, however, I have no need to know which store had the best price on said item at the time I bought it. Likewise, when looking for a code snippet plugin, I end up with a list of resources, but often forget to note which ones were the best. Using SearchWiki will allow me to make a temporary ranking of useful sites, without having to clutter my bookmarks or notebooks (digital or otherwise).

Sites Revisited


From the other list of tools to explore, I choose to take another look at Google Sites; I had test-driven Sites when they first premiered, but quickly decided they were too simple and nothing special, having originally been simply a drag & drop creator of static web pages. Pleasantly, Sites has immensely improved since my original passing glance. Rather than just another WYSIWYG webpage editor, Sites enables users to embed videos, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photo slide shows, and calendars from their Google account. It is also possible to add Google Gadgets, essentially making it possible to have a public iGoogle page (although, I would go with Netvibes for public personalized startpages). And, if all else fails and you need more control than WYSIWYG can offer, you can edit the HTML of your site for optimum customization. Additionally, attachment/file hosting and sharing options also give Sites wiki-like collaboration, making it a good solution for groups, perhaps even more so than Google Groups. While I would not use Google Sites for the front-end presence of any company or organization, I think that the easy yet feature-rich Google Sites is an great solution for sharing information, especially for those already taking advantage of other Google services.