Jul 302016

Do you need to keep track of receipts for reimbursement or for your taxes? Danae Hudson and Brooke Whisenhunt of Missouri State University recommend Expensify. Expensify is free. If you need more power, you can pay a small monthly fee.

In the past I’ve used CamScanner to turn my phone’s camera into a scanner, scanning my receipts to pdf and then uploading the pdf to Dropbox for safekeeping. Expensify uses the same technology, but to a very specific end. I should also add that those of you with flip phones are not left out. The web interface for Expensify works just fine. Use whatever scanner you have to scan your receipts, and then upload them to the Expensify website.

For those with phones with cameras, install the mobile app. This is what Expensify looks like on my phone right now. You can see that I have a number of items for a trip I named InstructureCon 2016. To the left of each item is a thumbnail of my receipt. Because I don’t have receipts for per diem because, well, it’s per diem, there is no thumbnail.

To add a new receipt, just tap the green camera icon in the bottom right corner of your phone’s screen. You can also tap “NEW” in the top, right corner and select “receipt”. In either case, your phone’s camera turns on, and you can take a photo of your receipt. You can do that sitting right at your restaurant table. If it’s one of those ridiculously dark restaurants – one where you need your phone’s flashlight app to read the menu – you can turn on the flash. The photo of the receipt will automatically appear at the top of your receipts list. Expensify guesses that your most recent trip is the trip you want the receipt attached to. If that’s not right, it’s easily changeable.

Tap on that newly-added item to add important information, like merchant name and how much you paid. Expensify enters today’s date by default, but you can change it. Include a comment – I note the reason for the expense. Tap on “Category” to assign the receipt to lodging, meals, transportation, etc. You can create your own tags to mean whatever you’d like. Since I use Expensify to keep track of all of my travel expenses, both reimbursable and, for those that aren’t reimbursable, tax deductible, I have tags called “Reimbursable” and “Tax deductible”. I also have a tag named “Non-reimbursable/non-tax deductible” that I use when, for example, my wife is traveling with me on a work trip and my portion of the meal is reimbursable (or tax deductible), but hers is not. (Expensify allows the splitting of receipts that makes this easy to track.) Be sure the receipt goes with the correct report. Tapping on “Report” will show you your active reports and allow you to create a new one. Finally, toggle the switches for “Billable” and “Reimbursable” as needed. [“Hey, Sue, if there’s a ‘Reimbursable’ toggle, why do you need a ‘reimbursable’ tag?” Good question. In the report Expensify generates, tags are prominently displayed, so it’s just easier to see.]

Expensify has an easy-to-navigate web interface. On the “Expenses” tab, you can sort by date, merchant name, amount paid, category (e.g., transportation, lodging), tag (which you’ve created), or comment. On the left side of the screen, you can search and filter as you’d like. Click on an expense to edit it. If you click on the paper (or +) icons between the total column and the category column, you can edit the details for the item, and do things like split the expense and upload pdfs. Uploading pdfs is very helpful for emailed receipts, for example. Save the emailed receipt as a pdf, and then upload to Expensify. [Want to add/remove categories and tags? Click on your icon in the top, right corner of any Expensify webpage, and click the “Personal settings” button.]

When you’re done with your trip, click on “Reports” in the top navigation menu. Click on the report you want.

Use the right navigation menu to edit expenses, share with others, print, download a pdf, add an attachment to the report.

Since my college doesn’t officially use Expensify, I don’t use the “Submit” button. Instead I download the pdf report. The pdf includes a summary of all expenses, thumbnails of each receipt, plus a full image of each receipt. Because my college accepts photocopies of receipts, I just fill out my college’s travel reimbursement form and then attach this report as the record of my receipts. Even if my college didn’t accept copies of receipts, I’d probably still submit the report along with the original receipts. When the report includes tax deductible items, I also print out a copy for my records. (Ok. My wife’s records – she handles our finances.)





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May 302016

The greatest threat to your online security is the strength of your password.

No more excuses. The academic year is over for most of you. Set aside an hour to devote to your online security.

You know all those websites you log into? They should each have their own password. Seriously. If hackers break into one site, they use those usernames and passwords to try logging into other sites. If your passwords are unique, they will fail. Also, those passwords should be long and contain different kinds of characters.

Use a password manager

If you don’t already have a password management system, get one. No, the post-it notes on your computer monitor and your password-laden Rolodex does not count.

I use LastPass, but there are other good ones out there. With LastPass, you only need to remember one password. And you do need to remember it. LastPass doesn’t even know what it is. With LastPass, your passwords are encrypted locally before being sent to LastPass. That means that if anyone breaks into LastPass, all they will get is a bunch of encrypted gobbledygook.

LastPass will generate random passwords for you, autofill your username and password into websites, and allow you to share passwords to designated sites with trusted family and friends. That means I have no idea what the password is to my bank account – and I don’t have to. It’s a random string of letters, numbers, and special characters of some length, probably more than 16 characters. And because I have shared this password with my wife, she could have changed it this morning for all I know. In any case, LastPass has saved the change. The next time I log in, LastPass will use the most recent username and password.

Also, LastPass is free. Pay $12 a year for added features. Totally worth every dime.

When you run LastPass, give it permission to pull any usernames and passwords you have saved in all of your computer’s web browsers. Then let it delete that information from your web browsers – you don’t need it there; it’s in LastPass. Install the LastPass extension in the web browsers you use most often. And install the LastPass app on your phone.

Log into the LastPass website and run the “security challenge”. LastPass identifies sites that have had security breaches and, for the sites it can, LastPass offers to change your passwords to those sites. That’s right. You don’t have to log into those sites and change your passwords. LastPass will do it for you. LastPass also looks for weak passwords, reused passwords, and old passwords.

Also, you can store credit card information and other “form fill” information like email address, home address, phone number. And you can store anything information you want in a “secure note”.

Create a strong password

While I use the LastPass password manager to automatically log me into websites, I still need a password I can easily remember to get me into my computer in the first place.

Step 1. Think passphrase, not password. Longer is stronger. Never use a word that can be found in a dictionary. Hackers, once they have your username – most commonly, your email address – they will try the most common passwords first, like 12345 or password. Then they’ll run through the dictionary trying each word as a password. Then in a brute force attack they’ll use an algorithm to try every lowercase letter/uppercase letter/number/special character combination. The more characters you use, the longer it will take for their algorithm to generate your password.


26 characters, lower case alphabet only
Search space size: 6.4 x 1036

Time to search that space: 20 trillion centuries

Search space size is the “count of all possible passwords with this alphabet size and up to this password’s length.” Time to search that space assumes that if the computer program is making one hundred trillion guesses per second, this is how long it would take the computer program to search all possible passwords given these parameters. Explore how changing password length and including different kinds of characters changes your password strength.

Step 2. Add a special character


27 characters, lower case alphabet, special character.
Search space size: 6.61 x 1047
Time to search that space: 2 trillion trillion centuries

Step 3. Make one letter upper case


27 characters, upper & lower case alphabet, special character.
Search space size: 1.26 x 1052
Time to search that space: 40 thousand trillion trillion centuries

Step 4. Add a number


28 characters, upper & lower case alphabet, special character, number.
Search space size: 2.4 x 1055
Time to search that space: 76 million trillion trillion centuries

Last thing to do

Sleep better tonight.



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May 192016

I made the jump from Windows 7 to Windows 10. I generally like this upgrade, although connecting to my college’s VPN has gotten much harder. Well, not harder, just more tedious. In Windows 7, I could click on my internet connection icon in the system tray, and then click on “HighlineVPN,” and I was connected. I didn’t think it such a miraculous thing until that functionality disappeared in Windows 10. I can still do those same steps, it’s just that now when I click on “HighlineVPN” a new window opens where I can click on “HighlineVPN” again (?) which then gives me the option to connect by clicking the connect button(?!). I guess the programmers wanted to make sure that I really, really, REALLY wanted to connect to this VPN.

With a little effort, I now have a keyboard shortcut that will connect/disconnect me from my college’s VPN. Sweet!

[Why do I want to connect to my college’s VPN? The VPN provides extra security when I’m connected to, say, my local coffee shop’s wifi – hackers monitoring that wifi wouldn’t be able to gain access to my computer without weaseling their way through my college’s IT security measures as well. And when I’m connected, I can do things just as if I were sitting in my campus office, like print to my building’s copier.)

Ready? First, make sure you have already set up a connection to a VPN. If you’re not sure how to do that, contact your institution’s helpdesk.

Creating the code to connect/disconnect your VPN

Open up Notepad on your computer, then copy and paste this code, replacing myvpn with the name of your VPN. (Shout out to the good folks at StackOverflow for this solution!)

@ echo off
Ipconfig|find/I “myvpn” && rasdial myvpn /disconnect || rasdial myvpn

Do File -> Save as. Type a descriptive filename, and end it with .bat. Put the file somewhere on your hard drive where you can find it. Not on your desktop. You have too much stuff on your desktop already. Choose someplace like your C: drive. Mine is here — C:\Users\sfrantz

This is what my HighlineVPN.bat file looks like in Notepad.

You have just created a little computer program. Good job! When you open this file, those lines of code will run. The first line just tells the computer not to show you the second line of code. The second line of code handles the VPN connection. If you’re not connected to your VPN, it will connect you. If you are connected, it will disconnect you.

A black window will briefly appear showing you what the computer is doing. It will show this when connecting.

Note: If you want to edit your .bat file, right-click on it in the folder, and select edit. Double-clicking on it will run the program, and your VPN will connect/disconnect.

Creating the shortcut

Desktop shortcut. Navigate your folders until you find your .bat file. Right-click on it, and select “Create Shortcut”. Then drag that shortcut to your desktop. If you want to connect/disconnect from your VPN, double-click on your shortcut. Frankly, if you’re going to do this, you might as well just put the file itself on your desktop rather than bother with the shortcut. But as I wrote earlier, you already have enough stuff on your desktop.

You can create keyboard shortcuts to these kind of Windows shortcuts, although it didn’t work for me with this shortcut. Maybe because of the nature of this kind of file, I don’t know.

Instead, I used Phrase Express. Phrase Express lets Windows users create a keyboard shortcut for just about anything. I mostly use it to expand something short into something much longer. For example, when I type !STP it expands to Society for the Teaching of Psychology. In this case, I’m going to use Phrase Express to create a keyboard shortcut that will open my HighlineVPN.bat file – and opening it is what causes my computer to run the code that connects/disconnects my VPN.

Within Phrase Express, I created a “new phrase” by clicking the button at the bottom of the Phrase Express screen. I typed a useful description so I could find this later if I needed to – like when writing a blog post about how to do this. I selected Macro -> Automation -> Open a file. Phrase Express asked me to navigate my folder structure until I located my HighlineVPN.bat file. After selecting it, Phrase Express entered #open in the “Phrase content” box. Below that box, I clicked the Ctrl and Win buttons, and selected V from the dropdown menu, and clicked ok. That was it!

All I do now is press CTRL + Windows + V, and I connect to/disconnect from my college’s VPN.

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Jan 302016

Years ago you created a Dropbox account and installed Dropbox on your home computer, your work computer, your personal laptop, and maybe even a work laptop. It was, and is, a great way to access all of your files wherever you may be. Do you remember when you used to email files to yourself? Or tried to remember whether the newest version of a file was on your home computer, your work computer, or a flashdrive – wherever you might have left that flashdrive, whichever flashdrive it was? Dropbox has even more powerful functionality with Microsoft integration. You can now edit documents with others, live, via Dropbox.com. But that’s not what this post is about.

Not only did you find Dropbox useful for storing your work files, you found it useful for storing your personal files. But do you really want your vacation photos on your work computer? One issue I’ve seen with those non-work photos on a work computer is that many work computers are backed up to an institutional or company server. Even if the photos are Rated G, they are taking up tons of space on servers that don’t have a ton of space. It’s one thing if those photos are work-related. It’s another thing if they are not. Or, less ethically troublesome, maybe you just have some folders that contain files that you don’t really need anymore. You’d like to keep them as an archive, but they don’t need to take up space on your computer’s hard drive.

Let’s separate the Dropbox folders you don’t need on your work computer from the folders you do need using “selective sync”.

Selective sync lets you tell Dropbox which folders you want to sync with a particular computer. To choose which Dropbox folders you want synced on your work computer, from your work computer click on the Dropbox icon in your system tray. Click on the gear icon, & select “Preferences”.

In the Dropbox Preferences window, select “Account”. Click on “Selective Sync…” The popup will show you all of your Dropbox folders. Leave checked the ones you want to sync to this computer; uncheck the ones you want removed. Click “Update” and “OK”.

Dropbox will delete the unchecked folders from your work computer, but they will still exist at Dropbox.com. I promise. Those unchecked folders will also still sync with any other computers you have. If you want to remove, say, 2009 committee minutes from your home computer, repeat this process from your home computer.

You can always resync those folders by going back into preferences, and checking the folders you want to sync to that computer.

You’re not doing anything else this evening. Take the opportunity to free up some space on your computer disk drives.


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Jan 282016

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you may be a long-time user of Doodle for helping you and others find a good meeting time. But did you know that you can also use Doodle to help make a choice? Yesterday a friend, who is one of my college’s awesome librarians, wrote to say that she works with an instructor who has her students read books related to the course content and then report on what they learned from the book later in the course. The instructor has worked with our librarians to identify a lengthy list of titles, and she doesn’t want more than one student to read each title, for the purpose of the course, of course – if students want to read all of the books on the list on their own, then great! The current approach, where students write their name and book choice in a notebook, is not working. Students have to scan the sign-up list to make sure their book is still available, and sometimes they miss it, and the instructor ends up with two or more students reading a particular book.

If you don’t have assigned books, you may have assigned paper topics or assigned topics for group projects.

How it works

On Doodle’s main page, where you create a new poll, select “Make a choice”.

On the next page, name your poll and add a short description if you’d like. After clicking through to the next page, you can add your book titles (or paper/project topics). If you need more than 10, click “Add further text slots” at the bottom of the list.

On the “Settings” page, decide how you’d like your poll to work. I have selected “Hidden poll” so that students can’t see who chose which book, “Participant can only choose one option” so that a student can’t click on three books now and decide later which one to read, and “Limit the number of participants per option” (set to 1) so that I’m assured that only one person will indeed be assigned to a book. If this poll was for assigned group project topics, I would change the number to match the largest group size I would allow.

Doodle Settings











After the poll is created, Doodle gives me the link that I can make available to students, say via email or on a page in my course management system. When students click on the link, this is what they see. Students just enter their name and click on the button that corresponds to the book they are interested in.

When I completed the poll myself, I selected, for example, Book 1. Since this is a hidden poll, the next person who went to the Doodle poll would see this; notice that Book 1, the one I chose, is greyed out. If names weren’t hidden this person would actually see my name.

Doodle Participant 1




Let’s say Snoopy chose Book 3. This is what I’d then see as the administrator of the poll.

Doodle Snoopy





What makes this approach especially attractive is that when the quarter is over, the poll can be reset by deleting all participants or the poll can be copied – both features of your poll’s “Administration” tab. If you want a more permanent record of who chose what book (or topic), perhaps just to keep track of which books are chosen first, which books are chosen last, or which books are most often not chosen, you can export the poll results as a spreadsheet or pdf – also features of your poll’s “Administration” tab.

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Jan 212016

It’s official. Our faculty contract permits us to hold some of our office hours virtually. This quarter I decided to do one office hour online (Tuesdays, 10am to 11:30am PT through March 22, 2016, if you want to stop by. Click here to go there). But what platform should I use?

Our campus has Blackboard Collaborate (formerly Elluminate). It’s a powerful program that’s great for full-on web conferencing. But for online office hours, I wanted something lighter weight. I considered both Skype and Google Hangouts. Both have an-easy-to-use interface and screensharing, but both require the other party to have an account. And in Skype’s case, it just bugs me that you can’t close the program by doing things like clicking the x in the top right corner of the window or even selecting “close.” Close should mean close, not minimize. Join.me was closer to what I wanted. If others have the room address, they can come visit without needing a login themselves. But the free version of Join.me generates a new url each time. If I want a dedicated address, and I do, I’d have to sign up for their pro version at $20/month. There’s no way I can justify that when I have free access to something like Bb Collaborate.

I had been hearing chatter through my technology news feeds about the newest kid on the video conferencing block: appear.in. It was time to take them for a spin.

They advertise themselves as “one-click video conversations,” and that’s absolutely accurate.

Go to appear.in, create a room, and follow the signup instructions. I named mine sfrantz, so my appear.in address is http://appear.in/sfrantz.

When I enter my room, this is what I see.

In “Settings” I changed the background picture to a photo of my campus. Since I don’t like to be surprised, I keep my room “Locked.” Any visitors who arrive have to knock to be granted permission to come in – a feature activated in “Settings”. In the bottom right is a chat icon. Not something I need when meeting with one on one, but if I had a group of people (me and up to 7 others), chat would be handy. Mousing over my video display gives me a mic (mute/unmute), camera (on/off), computer (share screen or specific windows/not share), and “send a sticker” (not for me) icons.

Appear.inwill use your most-recently used mic and camera. If you want to use something different, click the camera icon in your browser’s address bar to select the mic and camera you would prefer to use.

In this screenshot, top right corner, you can see that I installed the appear.in Chrome extension. From what I can tell it’s essentially a bookmark that takes you to the appear.in homepage. They may have bigger plans for it, but for now I’ve uninstalled it.

Visiting my appear.in room

Let’s say you start by visiting my college’s faculty and staff directory. When you search my name and go to my entry, you will see this – or something like this.

If my dogs, Murray and Tanner, clicked on the link provided in my Tuesday office hours, they would see this. They are visiting my room through my smartphone – they have an easier time manipulating a touchscreen than a keyboard, and it’s my smartphone because we’ve decided they’re too young to have their own smartphones. Here they’re using a web browser, but appear.in also has an easy-to-use app.







When they tap “Let me in,” they get a “waiting” message, and I get a popup notification on my computer letting me know that someone is knocking along with a live view from their camera. I can choose to open the virtual door or not. If you wait too long to say “let them in!” it will time out and they’ll automatically be rejected.

I’ve chosen to let them in, although Tanner is the only one who has stuck around – frankly, only because we’re coming up on dinner time.

In both of our windows below, you can see I muted my mic and Tanner muted hers. The white crown on a blue background on my image denotes me as the room owner. The icons at the bottom of Tanner’s camera image are controls that I have as room owner. I can mute/unmute her, share my power with her by giving her permission to lock/unlock the room, kick her out, or just ban her altogether. Her view is pretty much like mine, but without the power. Notice that the room is still locked. The next person to come along would also have to knock to be let in. Unfortunately the only option I have is to reject them. I don’t have a way to communicate to them that I’m currently with someone. I’m hoping that comes with a future update.


Appear.in makes it easy to create a room and makes it even easier for visitors to stop by. Exactly what I needed for hosting online office hours.

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Jan 082016

Did you know that when you crop images in MS Word, PowerPoint, etc., the full image is still there? Anyone who has a copy of your file can restore the image back to the original.

This is especially problematic if you frequently crop after doing a print-screen. Do you remember what was in the background that you just cropped? A sensitive email? Student grades? Your credit card information?

Fortunately, you can ask MS Office to delete the cropped areas of your images, but you do have to ask. For each image. In, for example, a Word file, click on the image, select the Format tab, click the “Compress Pictures” icon. In the pop-up window, make sure the “Delete cropped areas of pictures” box is checked. Click Ok.

Why doesn’t MS Office automatically do this? I guess because they want to make it easy for you to restore the image back to the original in case you didn’t like your cropping job. Fair enough. But a warning somewhere that says that the part of your image that you can’t see is really still there in the background would be nice.

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Nov 172015

We want students to understand our course content, obviously. The better students know something, the better they can explain it using simple language.

Send your students to the Up-Goer Five Text Editor, and ask students to type in their explanation of that particular concept, such as poverty, classical conditioning, or Hamlet’s motivation.

Here I’ve pasted in the classical conditioning definition from Wikipedia. The words with a red underline are not included in the 1,000 most used words. Students need to edit their explanation so that all red-lined words are removed. If you’d like to grade it, have students send you a screenshot of their non-red-lined explanation.

Special thank you to Lynn Davey of DaveyStrategies.com for introducing me to this tool

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