[Update 7/1/2015: Super.cc appears to be no more.]
In academia, email continues to be our primary means of communication. Since this is where we spend most of our working hours, it makes sense that we use email to keep our lives sorted. For email messages I want to follow up on, I forward them to followup.cc. For email messages I need to do something with, I forward them to Trello, my preferred task management system. And this is why I’m excited about the newest addition to my email arsenal: Super.cc. Now I can use email to add appointments to my Google calendar.
Go to Super.cc, and enter your email address (you can add more email addresses later), and give Super.cc permission to add stuff to your Google calendar. Now you’re ready to go.
Adding an appointment.
Send your email message to email@example.com. In this example I have written the day of the week (I could have said March 3rd), the time (I could have included the time zone), and the location (expressed as “@ location”; if it’s a notable landmark, Super.cc will look up the address. Or you can enter a phone number for location as @ 800-555-1234). Here I’m setting up a time to get together with myself. If I were reading an email someone had sent me, I could forward it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Super.cc does a pretty good job digging the time and date out of the body of the email.
Within seconds, I got an email confirmation from Super.cc with the appointment information in it, which is nice to see, but the magic is my calendar. In Google calendar, I can see that the appointment has been added to the next available Monday, March 3rd at 8am with a default meeting length of one hour. The subject line of the email message becomes the subject line of the appointment.
This is what the appointment itself looks like. The location was automatically added to the “Where” field. The description contains what was written in my email.
This is one of those tools that’s going to slip right into your workflow. You’re going to wonder why it ever seemed normal to open up your calendar to add an appointment.
Super.cc is a new product, so keep an eye out for added functionality. They’ll email you with new features, but you can always check in on their FAQ page.
Your computer files. Are they locked away from prying eyes? Are they backed up? Are they backed up offsite, away from fire and flood danger?
For the most part, I don’t have super-secret data on my computer. I teach psychology.
My work computer is a laptop that I tote around with me. I have never had my laptop stolen, but that was true for everyone who had their laptop stolen for the first time.
Security I already have in place
If I left my computer sitting on the roof of my car, it blew off on the 405 and rendered junk by a passing Kenworth, I would still have access to my files through Dropbox.com. I used to have an external hard drive at home I would use for backup, but it occurred to me that this would not help in case of, say, a fire at home. I’m a big fan of offsite backup.
In the case of mischievous riffraff, the thief needs to get into my laptop by guessing or bypassing my computer login. Once in, if they go into my web browser, they won’t be able to automatically log in to sites like Barnes and Noble or, more problematic, Wells Fargo. None of that username/password information is stored in my browser. All of that is stored in LastPass (see this blog post). When I travel with my laptop, I tell LastPass to log me out every time I close my browser. Even so, if I discovered my laptop stolen, I would immediately hop on my smartphone, tablet, or someone else’s computer and change my LastPass password. Just in case.
But all of my files and folders are theirs to see. Granted, I don’t much care if they want to read my syllabus, in fact, that would be kind of nice. I can’t imagine anyone being interested in committee meeting minutes. Reading those might be punishment enough for stealing my laptop. Student grades and assignments are more problematic. Realistically, does the average computer thief really care what Jane or John Doe got on their first psych exam? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I’m not nervous about it.
With Folder Lock, I can lock or encrypt files or folders. There is a lot of encryption software out there. Folder Lock gets high marks for both security and usability.
After downloading and installing Folder Lock, you’ll be asked to create a master password. Make it good. And do NOT forget it. Repeat: Do NOT forget it. And do NOT write it on a sticky note you put on your monitor. Nothing kills security faster than handing the keys to the thief. I have my password saved as a “secure note” in LastPass.
Locking a file or folder
Folder Lock is ridiculously easy to use. To lock a file or folder, navigate to the file or folder location, then drag and drop into Folder Lock.
Here I have added a folder. With the folder “locked,” it no longer appears in the original folder. It’s there, but it’s hidden. In fact, since this is a Dropbox folder, I still have access to it everywhere I have Dropbox installed. [That means that I had better have good security on my mobile devices – at minimum a lock screen. Save yourself the worry and install Lookout Mobile Security ($30/year and worth every dime) – locate your mobile device or wipe it clean.] If I want to access this folder from this computer, I have to go into Folder Lock and double-click on the folder. If I click on it once, I can unlock it (it will be visible again) or remove it (it will also be visible again). Which option I choose depends on whether I’m going to want to lock it again or not.
Encrypting a file or folder
This is upping the security significantly. Encryption scrambles the file data so that it’s unreadable to everyone except the person who holds the key. In this case, your key is your Folder Lock master password. If you are going to be storing sensitive data in the cloud, say in Dropbox or any other web-based storage service, encrypt it before storing it.
In Folder Lock, encrypted files or folders are stored in “lockers.” Click “Encrypt Files” and then “Create Locker.”
Name your locker and identify where you’d like that locker to be stored.
Next you’re asked to create a password for the locker. Don’t forget this one, either. (Create another secure note in LastPass!). Now choose “type” – the default is fine. Choose the maximum size for this locker – how much crap are you going to want to store in here?
After the very satisfying congratulatory message at having set up your locker, let’s go back to the main Folder Lock program. We see the locker we just created.
In fact, Folder Lock has created a whole new drive on my computer. It acts just like any other drive. Copy or move stuff into it like you would any other folder.
When you exit Folder Lock, you will be asked if you want to close this locker. Say yes. With Folder Lock closed, the drive will disappear. To access it, you need to run Folder Lock again. Here you can see my locker status shows that it’s closed. To open it, double-click on the locker and enter your locker password.
The folder with the locker contents will open, and the new drive will appear again.
If you don’t want to save your encrypted files or folders in Dropbox or some other cloud-based storage service, you can use Folder Lock’s secure backup. Folder Lock will not be able to access your files. They were encrypted (scrambled) on your computer. The only way to unscramble them is to have your password, which Folder Lock doesn’t have. That’s why you can’t ever forget your master password! There’s a storage fee depending on how much space you want. The smallest amount, 10 GB, is $5/month.
Backups are done automatically. All you have to do is save your files like you normally do, and Folder Lock will drop them in the queue for uploading.
Protect USB/CD and encrypt email attachments
Need to take your encrypted files with you on a flash drive? Use this option to copy your existing lockers or create new lockers on a flash drive or other portable media. If you lose your flash drive, no worries. No one can get into your files without your master password.
When you encrypt email attachments, Folder Lock compresses them into a password-protected zip file. The recipient will need to extract the files using a zip program like the free 7-Zip. The recipient will be prompted to enter a password – give them the password you attached to the file when you created it. For obvious reasons, it’s best not to do this in the same email message as the password-protected file.
A quick note on email. Email is the least secure method of sending information. In fact, at many institutions, email is considered public communication. Your IT staff – and the IT staff of your recipient(s) – can easily read your email. They probably aren’t as a matter of course because, frankly, your email is as exciting as your committee meeting minutes. That and they have plenty of their own email to read.
Folder Lock isn’t the only tool that can password-protect attachments. The aforementioned 7-Zip can password-protect zip files. But if you’re already in Folder Lock, you can do it with a couple clicks of the mouse. This feature alone, however, is not a reason to purchase Folder Lock.
Keep all kinds of stuff in this password-protected space – like your credit card information. This isn’t a feature I use; anything I would store in here I already have stored in LastPass.
Xtras and settings
With these buttons at the very top of the Folder Lock screen, you can do things like shred files, or go into “stealth mode” where it’s not obvious that you even have Folder Lock installed. When you go stealth, you’ll be asked to set a hotkey combination. That’s the keyboard combination you’ll use to run Folder Lock. Don’t forget that, either!
For those not familiar with the service, you send an email to, say, Tuesday@followup.cc, and Tuesday morning, you will receive that email. Jan12@followup.cc would return that email to you on January 12th. This is my “tickler” file. Anything I want to follow up on later gets sent to FollowUp.cc. I use this, for example, to remind me of conference registration deadlines. If early bird registration ends on October 30th, I’ll send a FollowUp email to Oct20@followup.cc with the body of the email containing the link to the conference registration page and any other information that I’d like to have later. If someone says that they need two weeks to get back to me, I’ll forward that email to email@example.com. In 2 weeks, that email will appear in my inbox. You can create recurring reminders, and there is Google calendar integration.
FollowUp.cc is one of the tools I use to achieve Inbox Zero.
After installing the extension and reloading the Gmail webpage, when you compose a new message, you will see the FollowUp.cc toolbar.
Here I clicked “Days” and selected 2, then clicked the “@” symbol, and then clicked on “Time,” selecting 6pm. The extension rendered that as firstname.lastname@example.org and helpfully added that to the bcc line. Yes, I could have just typed that in myself, but I’m happy to let this extension do it for me. Since this message will be bcc’ed to FollowUp.cc, I can email whomever I’d like. That person gets the message, and in 2 days at 6pm, I will get that same message back as a reminder to do whatever I need to with it.
If you have a specific date you want the reminder for, click the calendar icon and select the date.
Replying to a message
Clicking “Reply +FollowUp” will add email@example.com to the bcc field. If you want a different day/time, click on an address in the To, cc, or bcc line to get the full toolbar. No need to delete the firstname.lastname@example.org address; clicking on the toolbar icons will change the address.
If you don’t want the default address to be email@example.com, you can change it by going to the FollowUp.cc menu at the very top of Gmail’s screen.
If FollowUp.cc is not at the top of screen…?
This was the problem I ran into. FollowUp.cc technical support (firstname.lastname@example.org; very quick to respond and helpful!) suspects a conflict with another Chrome extension. Here was their excellent suggestion:
Go into Chrome settings, click on Extensions. Scroll to the FollowUp.cc extension, and check the box that says “Allow in incognito.” Since most extensions don’t operate in incognito mode, this move effectively blocks all other extensions.
Open an incognito window. Click on Settings and select “New incognito window” or use the keyboard shortcut: CTRL+Shift+N.
Open Gmail in the incognito window. The FollowUp.cc option should now appear at the top of your Gmail window. Click on it to change the default address.
Now you can close the incognito window and go back to normal browsing, happy with your default bcc FollowUp.cc address.
There is something very cool about getting emails from your past self at the very moment you need them. The Chrome Gmail extension makes this even easier to pull off.
Did you know that if you type mailto: in your browser’s address bar and press enter, your default email program will give you a compose screen? [Thanks to a LifeHacker reader for this tip!]
Want to do it even faster?
With your browser screen open, CTRL-L will take your cursor to the address line, and highlight it. Just type mailto: and press enter.
Using Shortmarks.com (see this blog post), create a new Shortmark with ‘m’ (or whatever you’ll remember as the keyword. For the direct link, type ‘mailto:’. Then save.
Now, just typing m in the address bar and pressing enter is enough to launch a new compose message.
Or if you use a text expander like PhraseExpress (for Windows – see this blog post; Mac users try TextExpander or TypeIt4Me), you can create a keyboard shortcut. You could, for example, make ‘m’ be the hotkey for ‘mailto:’.
CTRL-L highlights the URL in my browser’s address bar. I type m, then hit enter, and Outlook (my default email client) opens a new compose message.
When the blank message opens, the cursor will be in the To: line. I’ll TAB to navigate from field to field. When I’m ready to send, in Outlook, CTRL-ENTER will do it. In Gmail, if I’m writing the body of the message, tabbing one more time takes me to the send button, then I hit enter to send.
Autofill ‘To:’ field
If you know the person’s email address, you can enter it directly in your browser’s address bar this way to automatically put the address in the email’s ‘To:’ field.
Or create a Shortmark for that person specifically. In this case, typing ms would open a new compose message with email@example.com automatically entered in the ‘To:’ line.
Or create a keyboard shortcut using a text expander program.
Want to add more people? Separate multiple email addresses using whatever punctuation your email program uses. Outlook uses semicolons. I created a Shortmark with mpsych as the keyword, and the direct link box included everyone’s email address separated by semicolons. Now I just need to type mpsych in my browser’s address bar to start an email message to everyone in my department. How slick is that?
Autofill ‘Subject:’ field
Want to enter the subject line from your browser’s address bar?
mailto:?subject=Your Subject Line Content Here
If you use it frequently, you can create a Shortmark for it or a text expander keyboard shortcut.
Try it out
Practice using CTRL-L to highlight the URL in the address bar, typing mailto:, and pressing enter to create a new email message. If you’re really liking it, consider using Shortmarks or a text expander program to make you even more efficient.
Did you know that you can ‘import’ a gmail message into a new Google calendar event? Did you know that what most of us call appointments, Google calls events? “I have an event scheduled with my dentist.” That makes it sound way more serious than an annual checkup should sound.
I don’t really know what ProjectX is, but it certainly sounds worthy of the “event” designation, however.
Here I’ve received a message about needing to meet to discuss ProjectX in my gmail account. When I click on the “More” button, I get a dropdown menu where I can select “Create event.”
This generates a new Google calendar appointment, where the subject line of the email becomes the subject line of the new event and the body of the message becomes the event description. The time and date default to just minutes from now so I need to manually change those. Google also includes me, the person who sent me the message, and anyone who was also included in the message as guests to the event. If you don’t want them as guests, click the “x” to the right of each person’s name to delete them.
Click save. Now you have the meeting agenda in your calendar.
I use Phrase Express for all of my canned response needs (see this post, for example), but for those of you who just want canned responses in Gmail, check out this Google Labs option.
Enabling Canned Responses
In Gmail, go to settings by clicking on the cog icon on the far right, and select “Settings”.
Click on the “Labs” tab.
Scroll down to “Canned Responses” and check “Enable”.
Creating a Canned Response
Compose a new email. Type up whatever you’d like to save as a response.
Click on “Canned responses”.
Add a “New canned response…”. Selecting it generates a popup that asks you to name it. I’ll call it “rude email”
Using Canned Responses
Now when you compose a new message and want to use that canned response, click on “Canned responses” to see the menu. The headings (Insert, Save, and Delete) are light, too light, in my opinion; I thought they were disabled options. Under the “insert” heading, click “Rude email” and watch the magic as your canned response appears.
Want to change your canned response? Edit it, then click “Canned responses”, and under the “Save” heading, click “Rude email”.
I’ve written before about the utility of PhraseExpress. PhraseExpress (Windows; Mac users try TextExpander) allows you to create text shortcuts. For example, when I type #IV it automatically expands to independent variable; #slo will expand to student learning outcome; #entry generates a paragraph of text explaining why I won’t give an entry code to a student who doesn’t meet the prerequisite for my course. These programs work anywhere you can type, such as your email, your word processing program, your browser.
LifeHacker has a nice use for it. Create a shortcut, say #rude, that generates a canned response to rude or hostile email messages. The author of the article suggests this:
“I’m open to hearing what you have to say and having a discussion about it, but I have a policy of ignoring people who take a malicious approach to conversation. I felt something that you said fell under this heading, and if you’d like to try again with a kinder approach, I’d be happy to have a conversation with you.”
When you get that nasty email, hit reply, type #rude, and watch this paragraph appear. Hit send. And file the originating email safely out of your sight.
In June I wrote about a new tool, KeyRocket, designed to help you learn keyboard shortcuts for MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. KeyRocket now has a version available for those who use Chrome to access Gmail. Did you know that Gmail has keyboard shortcuts? KeyRocket tells you what they are as you use Gmail. Keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.
Get KeyRocket for Gmail from the Chrome Web Store; it’s called “Shortcuts for Gmail.”
After it is installed, you will be directed to the settings screen in Gmail. In the “keyboard shortcuts” section of the page, make sure keyboard shortcuts are turned on.
If you manage to exit this screen before making the change, you can get back to it by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of your gmail screen.
What KeyRocket does.
Clicking on the “inbox” link in Gmail now produces this popup message in the bottom right corner of the browser window.
The next time you want to go to your inbox, press ‘g’ followed by ‘i’. The ‘>>’ means sequentially, not simultaneously.
Deleting a message produces this popup.
Next time you want to delete a message after reading it, just press the ‘#’ key. The email message will disappear, having been moved to the trash bin, and you will be taken back to where you were before you opened the message.
Clicking the “compose” button to write a new message produces this popup.
Next time you want to write a new message you now know to just press ‘c’.
Send an email message in gmail without using the mouse.
Press ‘c’ to compose a new message. Or press ‘r’ to reply to a message.
Press ‘Tab’ to move from ‘to:’ to ‘subject:’ to body of message.
When you’re ready to send, press ‘Tab’ again. That moves the cursor up to the ‘send’ button. Now press ‘enter,’ and your email is sent. Important: If you press ‘tab’ and ‘enter’ simultaneously, your email will be discarded.
With Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts turned on, you can use all of these shortcuts without KeyRocket. KeyRocket just tells you what they are when you engage in actions that have keyboard shortcuts. KeyRocket is your Gmail shortcut tutor.