MaxLauncher [Windows]

I’m a big fan of keyboard shortcuts – any shortcuts, really. I want to spend less time running my computer and more time doing what needs to get done.

For Windows users, hold down the Windows key and press S. Your cursor will jump down to the Windows search box. Type in what you’re looking for, and you’re in business.

MaxLauncher ups your search and launch game. Use a keyboard shortcut to run MaxLauncher (I use CTRL – ‘), and then press a key on your keyboard to run a program, open a folder, or open a file.

I have my programs on the first tab. To open Chrome, on my keyboard, I press CTRL – ‘ (to run MaxLauncher) then g.

I have my commonly used folders on the second tab. To open the Psych Dept folder, CTRL – ‘ (to run MaxLauncher), then 2 (switches to the second tab), then p.

I have my commonly used files on the third tab. To open my fall syllabus, CTRL – ‘ (yep, that still runs MaxLauncher), then 3 (switches to the third tab), then f.

How cool is that?

Running MaxLauncher

Download MaxLauncher and run the installer program.

Run MaxLauncher and let’s get you set up.

  1. Click “Settings” and select “Hotkey”. This will be the keyboard shortcut you use to run MaxLauncher. I like CTRL – ‘ because nothing else in Windows uses that keyboard shortcut. “Active tab” tells MaxLauncher which tab you want opened when it first runs. The first tab is a perfectly fine choice.

  2. Now let’s add some programs. Click “View” and select “Drag and Drop Mode”. This allows you to, well, drag and drop stuff onto the MaxLauncher keys.

    To add Chrome, we need to find it in your file and folder structure. Go to the Windows search box (mouse down or type CTRL – S) and search for Chrome. When the result pops up, right-click on it and select “open file location”.

    When the folder launches, Chrome will already be highlighted. Click and drag onto the key in MaxLauncher you want to use as the keyboard shortcut for launching Chrome. I chose g for Google, but any key will work. Just make sure the key makes sense to you so you’ll remember it.

    Change your mind and want to use a different key? Click and drag to a different key. Want to move it to a different tab? Click and drag over, say, the second tab. You’ll see the keys for that second tab, and drop onto one of those keys.

    It’s exactly the same procedure for folders and files. Find what you want and drag it onto a key.

  3. Rename your tabs by right-clicking on the tab and choosing “rename”.
  4. Click “View” and click “Drag and Drop Mode” to unselect it. This will allow MaxLauncher to “Auto Hide” – meaning after you use your keyboard shortcut to launch, say, a program – MaxLauncher will minimize itself so it’s not hanging out on your screen.

    IMPORTANT: When you want to go back to adding programs, folders, or files to MaxLauncher, switch back to “Drag and Drop Mode”.

A special note about Microsoft Office

When you do a Windows search for any of the Office products, like Word, your search will give you a shortcut to Word, not the program itself. MaxLauncher needs the program; it can’t do anything with shortcuts.

In the Windows search box, type winword.exe. Right-click on the search result, and choose “open file location”. All of the Office programs should be in this folder.

Drag and drop these exe files onto MaxLauncher:

WINWORD.EXE to open Word
EXCEL.EXE to open Excel
ONENOTE.EXE to open OneNote
OUTLOOK.EXE to open Outlook
POWERPNT.EXE to open PowerPoint

Go slowly

You’re going to be tempted to put absolutely everything into MaxLauncher. Don’t – at least not right away. Choose the content you use all the time first. Once you get the hang of it – and are remembering to use it – then expand your shortcuts.

Amaze your family and coworkers

You’ll be sitting at your computer when a coworker walks in. “Hey, do you have a copy of that file we were working on?” You’ll press CTRL-‘ then F, and up will pop the file. And your coworker will say, “Whoa! What did you just do there?” Magic – just a little magic.

Creating half-sheets in Word

I go through a lot of half-sheets of paper in my courses. On one side, students write what they found interesting in that day’s class and what questions they have about the course material. On the other side are instructions for small group discussion. I’ve been using some version of these forms for a couple years now, but they seem to be in a constant state of flux. That means frequent revisions. That’s fine. That means I type up what I want at the top of the page and then I copy and paste it underneath. Then I put my cursor between the two versions and repeatedly hit enter until it looks like it’s about half way. And I repeat the process on page two for the backside of the half-sheets.

Yesterday, as I was doing this, I thought, “It’s 2017. There has to be a better way than just eyeballing what looks like half way.”

And there is!

In Word, click on the “Layout” tab, click “Margins,” and select “Custom Margins.”

In the pop up window, in the “Pages” section, click the dropdown menu next to “Multiple pages” and select “2 pages per sheet.”

Word will now show you a half sheet. Type up what you want. Hit enter a few times to add a new page or go to the “Insert” tab and click on “Page Break.” Copy and paste what you have on your first half sheet onto the second page. Add another page and type up what you want on the back of your half sheet. Add one more page and copy/paste the backside to page four.

Now print! Half pages 1 and 2 will print on the front of the sheet; half pages 3 and 4 will print on the back of the sheet.

Isn’t that a whole lot easier?

Random Team Generator: Excel File

I’ve been doing a lot more small group work in my courses. When I let students choose their own groups, they tend to gravitate to the people they know best. That means that they frequently get the same perspective over and over again. I decided to assign students to groups, but counting off in class is a bit of a pain – students get all settled in their seats, they count off, and then they have to pick up all of their gear and move. And I suspect there’s the occasional (frequent) trading of groups since I don’t remember who said which number.

Sumit Bansal created an Excel spreadsheet that will randomize students into groups. Visit his website and download the Excel template file. You can find the download link at the end of the very first section of text.

The random team generator is in the first and only worksheet of the file.

Since I’m creating small groups twice a week for two different classes, I added two worksheets to this file, one for each of my classes. These worksheets only contain the names of my students. If I know a student will be absent, I move them into an out-of-the way column. For the students I expect to be in class, I copy and paste their names into the “random team generator.” If there are more names than rows in the generator page, the generator page automatically does what it needs to do to include them. If there are fewer names than rows assigned by the generator, just delete the excess rows; if you don’t, you’ll have blank spots in your groups.

Now that you have your student names in the generator, enter the number of teams you want, and click the bright orange button. If you don’t like the grouping, just click the button again.

I copy and paste the names – okay, I use the Snipping Tool in Windows – into a document I can show in class. This document is the first thing I pull up on the classroom computer so students know where they need to be as soon as they walk in the door.

TwitRSS.me: Convert a Twitter Feed to an RSS Feed – and Why

I use an RSS feed reader to manage all of my news. I promise that soon I will write about my favorite news reader (Inoreader – for those in the know, it’s what Google Reader could have been).

Really, everything newsworthy, I send through Inoreader, including Twitter accounts I want to keep an eye on and a Twitter search for my Twitter handle so I can keep track of what is being tweeted about me without having to do frequent check-ins with Twitter or Hootsuite (my preferred social media manager).

Inoreader used to have the ability to bring in Twitter feeds, but at some point in the recent past, that functionality broke. That, of course, meant searching for a work around.

[Side note: You can send RSS feeds to Outlook. You can use IFTTT to send RSS feeds to just about anything, including as an email message, as a file in Dropbox or Google Drive. But that’s another blog post!]

But how to get Twitter converted to an RSS feed? TwitRSS.me is the solution.

Creating an RSS feed to follow a Twitter account

Here I enter the Twitter handle I want to follow and click the “Fetch RSS” button…

… and TwitRSS.me converts what is being sent out by that Twitter account into this mess of code.

Then I copy the URL for that mess of code and save it in my news feed reader. And the tweets magically appear. Any new tweet from that account will pop in at the top of this list.

Creating an RSS feed to follow a Twitter search term

Since I want to keep track of any mention of me on Twitter, I entered my handle (minus the @) as a search term. You could enter any search term here, including hashtags.

That generates a different mess of code.

Then I copy the URL for that mess of code and save it in my news feed reader. And the tweets magically appear. Any new tweet that results from that search will pop in at the top of this list.

What I love about dropping Twitter into Inoreader is that each tweet can be tagged so I can find them more easily later. For instance, I can tag Inoreader content, including these tweets, with “SueFrantz.com” if I think the content might make a good blog post.

Now that I’ve shown you how to convert Twitter to an RSS feed, I may finally get around to writing a post on Inoreader.

Lazarus: Resurrect lost web form entries

Let me explain.

Have you ever entered information in a web form, like a long, well-crafted comment you’ve written for a student in your course management system? And then when you clicked “submit” you got a notice that your page had timed out, or that you lost your internet connection? Or maybe you didn’t get around to clicking submit before you accidentally closed or reloaded the webpage? In any case, your comment is gone. Irreparably gone. And you have to type it all over again. Or what you can remember of it. In case, you’re certain the words you are retyping are not nearly as good as what you wrote the first time.

Lazarus, a Chrome extension (and Firefox add-on), has become my new best friend.

To recover lost text from a form field, I click the ankh icon in the top right corner of the field, and Lazarus shows me what I typed in that field in a menu with a light purple background. I can also see a bunch of other content I’ve recently typed in other web form fields. I can select anything from the list. Mousing over an option gives me the entire text in white pop up box. Clicking that option enters it into the form field.

This has become very handy given how much time I spend entering comments and other text in boxes in my course management system. Just recently I entered comments into a rubric for a particular student and then moved on to the next student… without saving the comments for the previous student. Doh! When I went back to the previous student, all of my comments were gone. But then I clicked on the ankh icon, and there were all of my comments, ready to be resurrected.

Almost just as recently, I was completing an online conference registration form. One entry box asked for a 50-word statement about something. I wrote it. And then when I clicked submit, I learned that my internet had hiccupped. I got a page-timeout error. When I got reconnected to the internet, and reloaded the page… Yep. Everything was gone, including my concise, brilliant 50-word statement.

Unfortunately, that was before I had installed Lazarus.

But installing it was the very next thing I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expensify: Keep Track of Your Travel Receipts

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.)

 

 

 

 

It’s Time to Tighten Your Security

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.

longwindingyellowbrickroad

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

?longwindingyellowbrickroad

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

?Longwindingyellowbrickroad

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

?1Longwindingyellowbrickroad

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.

 

 

Windows 10: Connecting to VPN should be easier than this. And now it is.

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.

Dropbox Selective Sync

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.