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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Mar 232015

I’m on the road, taking a bit of a mini-vacation during spring break. Looking at my electronics and electronic-related gear I packed for this road trip, I am reminded of a question I was recently asked. What mobile accessories do I recommend? (Shout-out to Lisa at Xavier University of Louisiana!)

Bluetooth keyboard, backup batteries, cord wrangler, and laptop lock.


Rechargeable back-up battery

If your mobile devices are aging, as mine are, the battery life just isn’t what it used to be. This isn’t a problem when stationary because you can plug into an outlet. This also isn’t a problem when traveling by car, train, or, increasingly, by plane because you can plug into the vehicle’s power source. But when traveling by foot as I have done for much of this trip, I have been very thankful for my back-up batteries.

IntoCircuit Power Mini (pictured) (currently $12.99 at Amazon) was the first one I bought. It will give me two or so full charges to my phone battery. Connect one end of a USB cable into the battery and the other end to your mobile device. When you want to charge your back-up battery, plug it into an outlet or your computer. Oh. And it also works as a flashlight.

After a recent trip, I couldn’t find my IntoCircuit battery thus thought I had lost it, so when I saw the RandomOrder Power Bank (pictured) on a recent Costco run, I picked it up; they were packaged in pairs. This battery and the IntoCircuit battery use identical cases, although the IntoCircuit battery carries a bit more oomph under the hood. Unfortunately I promptly dropped one of the two RandomOrder batteries rendering it inoperable. But then my IntoCircuit battery magically reappeared in my backpack. I just checked the Costco website, and I’m not seeing it in stock there. You can, however, purchase the 2-pack from Amazon for $19.99.

Cord wranglers

If you’re charging your mobile devices, you have USB cables. I use two different cord wranglers.

For my longer cables, I use the medium Bobino cord wrap (pictured). You can get a 3-pack for $7.95.

For my shorter cables, I use Nite Ize 3-inch gear ties, available in a 4-pack from Amazon for $2.98. (Not pictured because I was out Geocaching, and I lost the only one I had with me. I have more at home, though. Or if I go buy more, it will apparently reappear.) Your hardware store probably also carries them. Look wherever they display the bungee cords.

Laptop lock

When I have to hole up in a coffee shop or some other public space, I don’t want to have pack up all my stuff just to get a coffee refill or run to the restroom. (Which of these I do, of course, depends on where I am in the input/output cycle.) I use a Targus Defcon CL laptop cable, available for various prices at Amazon (pictured). Also check out this review of laptop locks. It’s a couple years old, but the information is still good.

The cables all work pretty much the same way. Put the cable around a table support or some other immovable or not-easily-movable structure. Thread the lock through the loop (and your backpack and anything else you don’t want to walk off) and attach the lock to the back of your laptop. I wouldn’t leave my stuff for hours this way, but it’s unlikely that someone will, while you’re in the restroom, run into the coffee shop with cable cutters.


On a trip a couple years ago, as I was walking to the departure gate of my hometown airport, it occurred to me that my backpack felt suspiciously light. Upon inspection I discovered that I had managed to pack my laptop charging cord but not the laptop itself. I did have my tablet (and phone) so I had ready access to all of my files (let’s pause a moment to appreciate how cloud storage has changed our lives), but I wasn’t looking forward to spending two days in meetings without a keyboard. I don’t mind swiping the on-screen keyboard for a quick email, text, or search. But for extensive document editing? No thank you. Typically I do extensive research on a product before I purchase it. In this case, my research consisted of finding an electronics store in my connection airport that had a Bluetooth keyboard. Fortunately it was Minneapolis, which is one big mall that happens to have airline service. My only option was Belkin; you can get it for under $50. I couldn’t, but you can. I like that the keyboard is free-standing so I can position it wherever I’d like in relation to my tablet. That’s especially nice in cramped spaces.


I had been using a cheap rubber-tipped stylus on my tablet (3 for a dollar, or some such thing) that worked well once it was nice and broken in. When it was just plain broken (the rubber tip developed a tear), I pulled out its sister stylus from the pack. I was surprised by its stiffness and how hard I had to work to get it to work. I was not prepared to put in the hours that were evidently necessary to break it in. Besides, it’s been a couple years, surely there is something better out there.

Musemee Notier stylus

This is the Musemee Notier stylus (pictured), available from Amazon for $16.99. My tablet is very responsive to the clear rubber disk. The stylus produces a harder sound when tapping the tablet surface than did my well-worn rubber-tipped stylus, but I suspect that has more to do with me than the stylus. I was accustomed to a firmer touch, so I’m still getting used to not having to tap so hard.

More suggestions

If you’re looking for more things you didn’t know that you absolutely needed, search LifeHacker for go bag. Start with this article.

What I wish I had but don’t

A Grid It organizer. It’s just a firm backing with interwoven elastic bands. Tuck your gear under the bands and toss it in your bag. It will keep things like back up batteries from getting lost and USB cables from getting tangled.

What’s in your go bag?

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Jan 272015

Mick MacLean (Buffalo State) emailed me with an interesting problem. When you’re teaching in a classroom without an easily visible clock or an easily visible but inaccurate clock, getting class started and ended on time is a challenge. He thought this might be a problem technology could fix. He wanted an alarm of some kind to sound at the beginning class, with five minutes left, and then at the end of class. Ideally this would happen all on its own without his having to remember to set alarms.

Here’s the solution for Android users.

We’re going to have your Android device read your Google Calendar. When your Google Calendar says that it is time for Psych 100 to start or end, the device will emit a sound and then turn off on its own.

From Google Play, download Automagic to your phone or tablet.

Try the free version first or just pony up the $4.  This website explains how Automagic works: http://automagic4android.com/en/

Here are instructions on how to set a “begin class” and a “2-minute warning” alarm.

When you run Automagic on your mobile device, tap the three-dot menu icon. Select “New Flow”. Flow is the term Automagic uses for these little programs that you can create to make your Android device do just about anything you want short of washing your underwear.

A box will appear. Tap the box, then tap the lined-paper icon that will appear above it.

Select “new” at the bottom of the screen. This will create a new trigger.

 Since we want our Android device to do something in response to a calendar event, scroll down, and choose “Calendar Event.”


 We can see that Automagic has already entered the Trigger Type as “Calendar Event.” Leave the Default Name the same. Once Automagic creates a particular trigger, it will save it so that you can use it in future flows if you’d like; you’ll be able to select it using that name. Under “Trigger at event start” choose, say, 0m (as in zero minutes) before. This will be when the “class is starting” alarm sounds. Under “Trigger at event end” select 2m before. This will be your two-minute warning to wrap it up. Since you don’t want this signal for every event you have in all of your calendars, check the Calendars box, and then tap the “…” to the right to select the calendar you want to use. Because you don’t want the alarm to sound with every event in that calendar, check the box under “Titles.”  Enter whatever you have named your class time in your calendar.  If each class entry in your calendar is different, such as “Psych 100: Chapter 1” and “Psych 100: Chapter 2,” use Psych 100*. The asterisk at the end is a wildcard. It says that this trigger will apply to any calendar entry that begins with Psych 100. If you scroll down this Automagic screen, you will see that you can use words in the description or the location you have listed in the calendar event. If you always teach in the same classroom, you can create an alarm based just on that location, provided you put that location in your calendar. If you always teach in the same two classrooms, you can enter them both on this line; just use a comma to separate them. (For more options, tap the question mark icon to the right of the “Trigger Type” line in Automagic.)

Let’s do a quick recap. I have created a trigger. When Automagic sees that it is zero minutes before an event called Psych 100 in my Sue Frantz Google Calendar or 2 minutes before the end of that event, Automagic will… do something. I haven’t told it what yet.

Tap “Save” at the top of the Automagic screen.

This takes you back to the flow screen. Tap and drag the plus sign icon down and release it. Select “Action”.


 Tap “New…”


 Scroll way down. And I mean way down. As you scroll take a look at some of the actions Automagic can do. Select “Sound”.


Under “Sound Type,” select “Built-in sound.”  Later you can change this to “File” if there is a specific file on your Android device you want it to play. (Are you thinking of a snippet from your favorite classic rock band?)  Directly under that, choose the sound you want by tapping the three dots to the right of “Sound.”  I selected “Alarm” and chose Platinum.  Tap “Save.”  (With “alarm” I know that the sound will play even if my phone is silenced.  I don’t know if that is true with other types of sounds. This is especially important for me because I have a flow that silences my phone ten minutes before events where my calendar is marked as “busy” and turns the ringer on again ten minutes after the event. Alternatively, I could create a flow that sends my phone into airplane mode while I’m in class. That way the sound could still be on since there would be no danger of phone calls or texts. Mick tried the alarm, but it just kept ringing, so he switched to a “Notification” sound. Try out different ones until you find one that works for you and your device.)


Tap “Save.”  You’re back on the main flow page.

 Let’s rename this something more descriptive. Tap the three-dot menu in the top right corner. Select “Rename Flow.”

 I chose “Begin and end class alarm.” If the on/off switch is set to off, slide it to on.


Try it out by setting a calendar event with the appropriate title just a few minutes from now. Leave at least two minutes between when you set the calendar event and when you expect the phone’s alarm to go off.

Of course this flow will sound the same alarm at the start of class and again with two minutes left. If you want a different sound for the beginning and the two-minute warning, or if you want another sound for the very end of class, create additional flows.

If your classroom is big and there is a setup for laptops, you can plug the audio cable designed for laptops into your phone’s headphone jack.  When your phone plays, the sound will go through the classroom’s speakers.  Just make sure the speakers are turned up.

Other favorite flows

I don’t even think about the flows I have any more. I mentioned above that when my calendar says I’m busy, my phone is set to silent. When the “busy” event it over, the ringer comes back on.

In that same vein, my phone is automatically silenced at 9pm and the ringer comes back on at 8am.

When I am at home or at work (by GPS location), my phone’s wifi is turned on. When I leave, my phone’s wifi is turned off.

Anything you ask your Android device to do on a routine basis can be automated.

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May 292014

My Android phone has been running slowly, but I haven’t thought much of it because it happened so gradually, I didn’t realize exactly how slow it was. Until my wife used my phone. She was ready to chuck it through a window. Instead, she suggested that I go through it and delete the apps I don’t use. Now that I’ve done a need/don’t need analysis for each of my apps, I thought I’d share my current set of essential Android apps. Many of these are cross-platform (they also work on iOS and Windows mobile devices), but I don’t know which are and which aren’t. If not you’re not on Android, you’re on your own.  (Update 5 hours after initial post: My wife was right. My phone is speedier after I culled the app herd.)

If you don’t see your favorite Android apps here, please add them in the comments!

Automagic lets me automate functions on my phone. When the clock strikes 9pm, my phone is set to silent. At 8am, the ringer comes back on. If my calendar says I’m busy, my phone goes back to silent. When the event is over, the ringer is enabled. When I’m at home, my phone’s wifi is enabled. When I leave home, wifi is turned off. When I get to campus, wifi is turned back on. Whatever information your phone can use and whatever functionality your phone has, Automagic can link them up. Very powerful app. While there are several apps in this genre available, I have found this interface to be the most intuitive while retaining it’s power.
CamScanner uses your phone’s (or tablet’s) camera as a scanner. I use it a lot for scanning receipts – and for scanning my Wipebook notes I want to keep.
Dropbox, but this is a no-brainer. Mark your favorite files in the app both to get to them easily and to tell Dropbox to let you have offline access to them.
FoxFi turns my Android phone into a wifi hotspot. When I want to have internet access on my laptop and the hotel wifi is too expensive, I can access the internet through my cell phone’s data connection.
Glympse tells my wife when I’m going to be home. I send a Glympse when I leave campus, set for 45 minutes. For the next 45 minutes she can see a map of where I am with a time estimate of when I will arrive. That means no more phone calls or text messages asking me where I am or when I’ll be home. About a week ago, she was at an all-day workshop in a hotel near the airport. I sent her a Glympse when I left to pick her up. She knew the exact moment I pulled into the hotel parking lot and came out to meet me. (Does anyone remember when you had to decide in advance where and when you were going to meet someone?)
Google Authenticator gives you two-step authentication. To get into sites/services where I have this enabled, I need to know something and I need to have something. What I need to know is my username and password. What I need to have is my phone. When I go into a site, like Dropbox, from a computer that is not my own, Dropbox asks for my username and password. After I get those correct, Dropbox asks for my authentication code. I go into the Google Authenticator app on my phone, and I see a 6-digit number and a timer. When the timer expires in 30-seconds, a new number will be generated. I enter the current number into the box on the Dropbox website, and Dropbox grants me access. That means that anyone who knows my username and password cannot get into my Dropbox account unless they also have my phone. If someone does steal my phone, Lookout (below) will protect my information.
Hootsuite is for managing all of my social networks – both reading and posting. Set up your Hootsuite account through a desktop/laptop browser first; it’s easier that way.
InoReader is my current RSS feed reader. It does everything I want an RSS feed reader to do. Like Hootsuite, set up your account through a desktop/laptop browser first. I really need to write it up in its own blog post.
Instant Heart Rate isn’t an essential app, but it is pretty nifty. Use your phone’s camera to measure your pulse. Measure your heart rate both before and after class. Or before and after your favorite caffeinated beverage. Or while on the exercise bike.
LastPass securely manages all of your passwords. With a 2014 update, LastPass became much more mobile friendly.
Lookout keeps my phone safe. If it disappears, I can ask Lookout to use my phone’s GPS to show me where it is. I can even lock it remotely and add information to the screen so the person who finds it can contact me. If it looks like recovery is impossible, Lookout will wipe my phone’s data.
Opera is my go-to mobile web browser, because it allows me to easily add my own search engines. Why is that so important? To use Shortmarks, I need to be able to add it as a search engine.
OurGroceries has been described as a marriage-saver. Create a grocery list for everywhere you visit, such as Safeway, Costco, and your local hardware store. Add stuff to the lists, and the lists are synched across all of your devices – and your spouse’s devices. Any item you enter is saved so you don’t have to re-enter it every time. In a hurry? You start at one end of the store and your spouse starts at the other, marking off items as you go.
TimePin creates a new phone unlock code every time the time changes. If it is 9:06am, 0906 is the unlock code. Before you get cocky thinking you can get into my phone any time you’d like, I may have chosen an offset number such as +7, so that if it’s 9:06am, the unlock code is 0913. If I have chosen an offset of -7, then the unlock code at 9:06am would be 0859. Or maybe I’m using a reverse pin. At 9:06am, my unlock code would be 6090. After 5 failed attempts, TimePin will lock you out for 30 seconds.
Trello is a task management/project management system. The web interface is wonderful, and the mobile interface is just as good. Install the mobile widget for quickly adding cards to your boards.
TripIt is an essential tool if you travel any amount. Set it up in your web browser first, and then use it to track your airline tickets, hotel, ground transportation, and any other plans you happen to have. When your air travel itinerary arrives in your email, TripIt will automatically cull the information from it, put it into their format, and drop it into the app.
ZipWhip gives me my phone’s text messages on my computer screen, and I can respond via my computer.


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May 102014

I am a big fan of Shortmarks. I type a few letters into my web browser’s search bar on my laptop, and the browser takes me where I want to go. When I type in, say, hr, my browser takes me to my college’s Human Resources website. It also makes it ridiculously easy to search a website. When I type in, say, bn brilliant brox, my browser will direct to me to the Barnes and Noble website where it has already done the search for the book Brilliant by Jane Brox. (You can read this post for more information about Shortmarks and how to create your bookmark shortcuts.)

Let’s do a quick overview of how Shortmarks works, why this has been a sticking point on mobile devices, and, finally, the solution.

How Shortmarks works

Shortmarks behaves like a search engine. On my laptop, I tell my web browser to use Shortmarks as its default search engine. When I enter text in the browser’s search bar, my browser uses Shortmarks to do the search. If the text I typed matches something I have entered in my Shortmarks account, like hr, my browser will return that page, like my college’s Human Resources page. If the text doesn’t match, Shortmarks will run the text through the search engine I told Shortmarks to use, in my case, DuckDuckGo.

The problem with Android mobile browsers (and iOS, too?)

In order to use Shortmarks on my Android devices, I need to be able to change the default search engine to Shortmarks. I had been using Chrome for Android, and while Chrome has a handful of search engines I can choose from, I can’t add my own. Firefox for Android does allow the addition of custom search engines, but there doesn’t appear to be any way to set a search engine as a default or even easily switch among them. (I haven’t explored this issue with iOS devices, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the same issue exists there.)

The mobile browser that solves the problem (Android, iOS)

On your mobile device, download the mobile web browser Opera if you don’t already have it installed. Using Opera on your mobile device, visit Shortmarks and log into your account. Long-press in the Shortmarks search bar. You will get a little pop-up that reads “Add search engine.” Tap it. Opera will ask you want you to call it. It defaults to “Shortmarks – Fast custom searches and keyword bookmarks.” For the sake of simplicity, delete all of that except for “Shortmarks.” Click “OK.”

Tap in the top search/address bar in your mobile device’s Opera web browser. On the far right you will see the Google ‘g’ logo. Tap it. You will see a row of search engine icons. Shortmarks will be on the far right; the icon is a generic magnifying glass. If you don’t see it, you may need to swipe left. Once you locate the icon, tap it. Shortmarks is now your default search engine.*

Ready for the magic?

Now when I type hr in that search/address bar and tap the enter button my on-screen keyboard, I am immediately taken to my college’s Human Resources page. How cool is that?

*Default doesn’t always mean default

Sometimes Opera reverts back to Google as the default search engine. I don’t know why. If this happens, just tap on the Google ‘g’ icon, select the Shortmarks magnifying glass, and continue on as if nothing was ever amiss.

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Dec 202013

Are you looking for a tool that works as a to-do list manager and a project manager? A tool that will work for your own use as well as being good for collaborative work? A tool that is as effective and easy to use as it easy pretty? A tool that works well on both your computer and on your mobile device? Trello has it all, for free. Trello Gold, $5/month or $45/year, gives you added functionality. Everything you see here is what’s available in the free version.

Do you remember the old school video games that came with a thick user’s manual that you had to read through before you could play? Then someone in the gaming world had the genius idea of building tutorials right into the game. You didn’t need to read the manual. The game taught you what you needed to know as you moved through it. Trello has taken a page out of the gaming programmer’s playbook. When you create an account in Trello, you are provided with a “Welcome Board” that shows you the ropes.

Now, if I were you, I’d take a glance at the image below, get the gist of it, and then go create a Trello account. Play around a bit, and then come back here for the specifics.

Boards and lists

The first column introduces you to the basics. In Trello, each task is placed on a card. To view the information attached to a card, click on it. You can write a simple description, attach pictures, files, or URLs. Or build a checklist

On the intermediate list you learn about adding team members to your board, assigning team members to cards, color-coding your cards, adding lists, dragging cards, and archiving cards you’re done with.

The advanced list reminds you that you can create multiple boards. Create one for your personal to-do list and a different one for that committee you’re chairing or your research assistants. Or share a board with your classroom students so you can monitor their group projects. (For each person you get to join Trello, you get a month free of Trello Gold – up to 12 months.)

Cards and lists

Clicking on a card generates a popup window. Think of this as being the flip side of the card. In this example, I clicked on the card aptly named “Click on a card to see what’s behind it.” At the top we see both the title of the card and the list that it’s in (Basics). The card’s description is below that. The “Activity” panel shows who has done what with the card

On the right side of this popup window, click “Edit Labels” to color code the card – add as many labels as you’d like. Click on the color bar to select them. Click “Change label titles” to add labels to your color coding. If you or one of the people sharing this board with you are color blind, click “Enable Color Blind Friendly Mode” to make patterns overlay the green, orange, and purple patterns.

If you are sharing a board with one or more other persons, and you want to identify who is working on what, click “Assign Members,” and then click on the person or persons you want to assign to the task. The “Welcome Board” Trello starts you with, you share a board with Trello. Here I have clicked on me to assign myself to this particular card.

In the “Actions” section, you can add a checklist, add a due date, attach a file, move the card, subscribe to get a notification when something about the card changes, vote on the card, or, if you’re done with this particular card, archive it. Archived cards can be searched later. Later in this post you’ll see where you can find those archives and learn how to permanently delete a card.

While you can attach a file using this menu, you can also just drag and drop a file onto either the front or back of a card. I’m going to drag and drop a photo of one of my dogs onto the card. After my changes, this is what the card looks like now. My image in the corner means that I’m assigned to do something with this card. The eye icon means I’m subscribed to receive change notifications, the pencil means that there is a description on the “back” of the card. The icon with the callout bubble tells me that one comment has been made on this card. The paperclip icon tells me that one attachment has been added – that would be the photo of Lucky.

To add a new card to a list, click “Add a card” at the bottom of the list. To move it to a different place in the list or even into a different list, click on it, drag it to where you want it to go, unclick. To add a new list, click “Add a list” on the far right of the board.

One more word about lists. Mouse over the right corner for any list title. Click on the arrow that appears. You can’t see it in this screenshot, but I circled where it would be. That gives you a popup menu for the list. This menu is all about manipulating the list: Copy it, move it, subscribe to get a notification when something on the list changes, move or archive all of the cards, or just archive the entire list.

Board menu

To the right of the board, click on “Menu.” If “Menu” isn’t there, the sidebar is hidden. Click “show sidebar.”

“Filter cards” lets you identify which labeled cards you’d like to see. If you only want to see the cards you’ve added red labels to, click the red label. Or maybe you want to see all the cards assigned to a particular person. Or maybe you want to see all the cards that are overdue. Or you can mix and match – you want to see all the red and green labeled cards assigned to a particular person that are either overdue or due in the next week. When done, click “Clear filter.”

Cards and lists are not automatically deleted. They are archived. You can always go into the archive. Scroll through them. Search for them. If you truly are done with them and are ready to delete, click “Delete.”

Add stickers to your cards to liven things up a bit. This is the default sticker set. Click and drag a sticker onto a card. If you go with Trello Gold ($5/month or $45/year) you will get additional sticker options.

The “Welcome Board” has the voting option. When you create your own board, voting won’t be there. To activate it, go into “Power-ups” and enable it; “click for details” to decide who gets to vote. “Card Aging” will take the cards that have nothing done with them in a while, and will make them transparent. If you’re going to use this feature, “click for details” and in settings, select “Pirate Mode” to go with a yellowed, cracked paper look rather than transparency. Lastly, the “Calendar” power-up lets you see your cards with due dates in a calendar format. You’ll see a new “calendar” link at the very top right of the board in the board’s title bar.

Lastly “Settings.” You can rename your board here (or you can do that by clicking the pencil icon next to your board’s title). “Change organization” to change which organization this board is connected to. (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that this is the first you’re hearing of organizations. Let me finish talking about settings, and then we’ll tackle organizations.) Use “Change Background” if you don’t like the default blue. In the free version, there are 5 other colors you can choose from. Upgrade to Trello Gold to get something spiffier like photos, patterns/textures, or create your own custom background. I can decide who gets to see this card through “Change Visibility.” By enabling “Card cover images,” you get to see my dog on the front of the card. If I uncheck this, she would only be visible by clicking on the card to see the backside – that would be the backside of the card, not the dog. If you’re sharing this board with others, you control who gets to comment on cards and who gets to invite others to the board. Use “Email settings” if you want to use email to add new cards to your board. This is a handy feature if you’re ready to stop using your email inbox as your to-do list. Forward those emails you want to do something with to your Trello board.

Back to the beginning

When you log into Trello, this is what you’ll see. If you’re in one of your boards, click the Trello logo in the top left corner to get back to this page. All of your boards are on the left. On the right, you can switch from the “Boards” screen to “Cards.” This will show all the cards on all of your boards to which you have been added. For boards that you are sharing, this is a quick and easy way to see what you should be working on.


Farther down on that right-side menu is “New Organization.” Let’s say that you want to share one board with your department, one board with your research assistants, and another board with a committee you’re chairing. You can invite them all to join their own specific boards, and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with doing it that way. Alternatively, you can create separate “organizations,” and then add members to each organization. Let’s take your research assistants. You’re working on two projects, and each project is complicated enough that they have their own boards. Rather than having your research assistants join each board separately, you can create a “research assistants organization,” and invite them to join that. Now create your two project boards, and just add your “research assistants organization” to the board, and they now all have access. Later, when you start project #3, you can create yet another new board and add your “research assistants organization” again. This is much easier than inviting board by board.

Mobile app

The Trello mobile app works well on both my Galaxy Nexus 10 tablet and my Galaxy Nexus phone. The interface is very similar to the web-based version of Trello.


If you’re a Gantt chart aficionado, you can turn your Trello boards into Gantt charts.

Try it out!

Dive in! Sign up for Trello, check out the welcome board, and then create your own boards. Happy organizing!

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Oct 062013

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.

Folder Lock ($39.95, free trial).

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.

Make wallets

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!


Up your security.  You’ll sleep better at night.

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Jul 082013

It’s July!

Remember how you said back in January that you wanted to try out some new things when you finally had the time for it?

Your challenge for the month of July: Pick two of these to try out. The first of your picks is #1; we’re not even going to debate that. Your second pick is your choice.

  1. Stop talking on your phone while driving. This one is the easiest since it’s about not doing something instead of doing something. Watch this 55-min video of David Strayer from the University of Utah discussing his researching on multitasking while driving. This was a talk he gave earlier this year at the Association for Psychological Science convention.
  2. LastPass. This is a password manager. Remember one password and have access to all of your passwords – even on your smartphone. LastPass will generate random passwords for you – and remember them for you. You can even share a password with someone else, say, the person you share a bank account with. If you are already using a password manager and are happy with it, by all means keep using it.
  3. Cel.ly. Text all of your students at once or just texts individuals without getting their phone numbers or revealing yours. Send out a multiple choice question, and Cel.ly will tally the results for you. Read more here.
  4. YouCanBook.Me. Let others schedule themselves into your Google Calendar – and automatically send them a reminder notice. Read more here.
  5. Feedly. Create your own personalized newspaper courtesy of the internet. When new information is posted to sources you’re interested in, that information will come to you. Ask your favorite librarian about how to get information from the library databases (search results, tables of contents) sent to your newspaper. Feedly is one of many tools in the RSS feed reader genre, but it’s a good one to start with. Read more here.
  6. OneNote. You have this on your computer now. Look in your Microsoft Office folder. In there you’ll find OneNote, an incredibly useful note-taking/organization/task management program. It’s even more useful now that they have a nice mobile app. Read more here.
  7. Akindi. Print test bubble sheets instead of purchasing them. Scan the answer sheet and the student exams into one big pdf, then upload to Akindi. The tests are graded automatically, and all of the data pulled into a spreadsheet. If you attach your student learning outcomes to each of your questions, you have yourself a very easy and very powerful assessment tool. Download the scored tests for printing or sending electronically to your students. Read more here.

  8. IFTTT. “Automatically have your gmail attachments saved to Dropbox. Tweet Feedly articles you’ve tagged. Text new appointments to Google calendar. Making these kinds of automated connections is the power of today’s internet. And you know what? It’s ridiculously easy to do.” Read more here.
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May 162013

In March 2012 I wrote about SendHub, a platform for texting a group of people all at once. Cel.ly is a similar service with a free space for educators. Unlike SendHub, with Cel.ly, students do not see my phone number and I do not see their phone numbers.

When I started texting students en masse – first with SendHub, now with Cel.ly – I wasn’t sure what to think of it. Should I insist that the only acceptable means for electronic communication between students and me be email? Well, why? There are certain communications where email is appropriate, but sometimes a quick question/answer is better handled via text. Last week after class, I emailed my students a questionnaire that I wanted them to fill out and bring with them to class. I texted my students to tell them to check their email. At the same time I scheduled another text to go out a few days later asking if they had completed the questionnaire yet, and I scheduled another one to go out the morning of class reminding them to bring the completed questionnaire with them to class. This is more hands-on than I generally am with my students, but it was really important to me that they bring the completed questionnaire to class because of what I wanted to do during class time – and I didn’t want to spend class time waiting for students to complete the questionnaire.

I have to tell you, it’s a pretty powerful feeling to know that when I hit send on a text message to my class all of my students will likely be reading that message within seconds. Granted, may be doing it during class with one of my colleagues. In that case, Me: 1, Colleague: 0.

You could make use of the testing effect by periodically texting students questions relevant to your course material. Attach points to it or not. All correct responses received within 60 minutes earn one point with five points going to the best answer. Schedule the questions to go out at different times of the day so that students aren’t disadvantaged because you’re sending out questions when they’re always in Chemistry or, worse yet, driving home.

Let’s take a look at Cel.ly

While I wish that the Cel.ly interface looked a little more like it was for grown-ups, it is possible to do everything you need to do via text message (or the smartphone app) and never visit the website. If you use the website or the app, it’s intuitive. If you want to manage it all from your phone, you’ll need this list of commands. Of course you can mix and match. Use Cel.ly when you’re at your computer, but use the Cel.ly app or your text messaging app when you’re on the go.

In Cel.ly, you create different “cells.” You may have a cell, for example, for each of your classes, a cell for the club you advise, and a cell for your department.

Creating a cell

After creating a Cel.ly account, click on “cells” at the top of the screen. Click “start cell.”

In step one, choose a cell name.

In step 2 decide who can join. If you choose “restricted,” you can decide what sort of information you want the person to provide, such as a username or short bio. Or you can enter a password, so that only those with the password can join. My class cells are open. Who wants to get announcements for my class if they’re not actually in the class? Of course as the cell administrator, I can kick out whomever I’d like.

In step three decide how you want to manage texts that are coming and going. If you are using this for your class, curated chat is the safest bet. This is the setting I use for my classes. When students reply, the messages come to me privately. I can choose to respond to just that student or to the entire class.

In step four provide some information about your newly created cell.

How others can join your cell

Now when you click the “cells” link at the top of the page, you will see a link to your cell. This is the page for my new cell. In the share box on the right, you can see there are a couple ways people can join this cell. You can just give people the public link, in this case http://cy.tl/13wbDkr. Or you can give them the texting instructions below that. For my class cells, I put the texting directions on my syllabus. (You are welcome to join this cell to see how it works from a student perspective. It is easy to leave the cell when you are ready. Just reply to a text from the cell with the word stop in the body of the message.)

Receiving messages

In the top right corner, you see two orange buttons: “email on” and “sms on.” Every time a text is sent to this cell, you will get both an email message and text message (sms) by default. If you don’t want text messages sent to your email, click the “email on” button, and it will turn to “email off.” If you choose to not get messages to either email or text message, you’ll need to use the smartphone app or the web interface.

Sending messages

Messages can be sent from the Cel.ly web interface just by entering your message in the message box. Or you can send them from either the Cel.ly app or from your text messaging app. In the latter case, I would send a text message to 23559 with @SueFrantz in the message, and that message will be sent out to everyone in the cell. If I just wanted to send to one person, I would enter there Cel.ly @username.

Sending a poll

Clicking “send poll” in the web interface gives you this screen. Here I have the question set to close in 30 minutes or “when all members vote”.

This is a question I sent out to my students.

This is what it looked like in the Cel.ly app on my phone after two answers arrived.

This is what the final poll results looked like on the web interface.

When the poll closed, the results were automatically texted to everyone in the cell. This is what they looked like in text form.


If you have separate cells for each of your courses, you might want to create a hashlink so you can communicate with both classes with one message. For example, if you have two sections of a course, and you have information you want to share with both sections, you can create a hashlink so any time you include that hashlink in the message, it will shared with students in both sections.

This “hashtag & links” box is on the right side of your cell’s page.

Click the “add hashlink” button to get this screen. Choose what other cell you want to link to your current cell. And then choose a hashtag. Let’s say that I had two cells, one for each section of a course. Let’s say that they are named @psycha and @psychb. I can create a hashtag, say #psy that will allow me to post to both cells with just one text message.


You can add an RSS or Twitter feed, so that new content from that feed is texted to everyone in your cell. Here I’ve add my twitter feed so that any tweet I send out will automatically sent as a text message to everyone in the cell. Instead of sending out all tweets, I can add a “search filter,” like a twitter hashtag, so that only tweets from me that contain that hashtag will be sent out to everyone in the cell. (If you decide to join this cell just to see what it’s like, know that I’ve deleted this “receptor” – you won’t get a text message every time I tweet!)


Try it out. Encourage your students to join your class cell. You may discover all kinds of uses for it. Just don’t get too carried away with your new-found power!


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Oct 282012

Last week I was at the Clickers 2012 Conference where there was much discussion about whether faculty are okay with students using web-enabled devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) during class.

I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, that many faculty ban their use outright. The emotion around this issue runs high. Ask your colleagues “what’s your policy regarding cellphones in class?” Watch how quickly they heat up. At this conference, one person noted that his colleague kicks students out of class if they are spotted using a smartphone.

I have never been a big fan of abstinence-only education; I believe in teaching safe tech.

The psychological literature is rife with studies demonstrating the general ineffectiveness of punishment. Punishment generally doesn’t stop the behavior. We just get better at avoiding punishment. Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? Did it stop you from speeding? Of course not. You just got better at not getting caught. You slow down through that section of highway since you know that’s where police are likely to hide, speeding up as soon as you’re past it. Perhaps you’re also more vigilant for police. There is an exception. Punishment can be effective if it is severe enough. If police could shoot you on the spot for speeding, it’s unlikely that you’d ever speed. But who wants to live in that society?

Yes, students have been chastised in the past for using smartphones in class or using laptops to do “unauthorized” things, like viewing Facebook. Have students stopped? Of course not. They have, however, gotten much better at not getting caught. Ask your students to anonymously report whether they have, in the last week, used their web-enabled devices to access content that is unrelated to your course during your course. The (high) numbers might surprise you.

At the same time, the research on multitasking is clear. Our attention can really only be in one place at a time. While we can switch back and forth quickly, we lose information during the switch. If you want to get some serious work done, close your email program. When you switch from that work to your email and then back to your work, it takes some time to regain your train of thought. An hour spent on task and an hour spent on email is much better than switching back and forth every few minutes. If you do the latter, it’s going to take you much longer than two hours to do the same work.

Students need to understand this, because our mobile technology is not going away. Even if an instructor implements harsh penalties for unauthorized tech use during class with classroom sentinels to monitor behavior, that will not impact what the students do in other courses or, after graduation, on the job.

Some of you remember when the internet was born. During its early childhood, we tried to help students manage the information they were accessing. Students were advised that .com websites should be viewed much more cautiously than .org websites. That advice seems quaint now. Over time we have morphed into teaching a more complex “information literacy.”

“Technological literacy” is in its infancy. The question should not be whether to allow students to use technology during class. Rather we should be asking, “What should we be doing to help students understand not only how to use technology, but also how to use it appropriately?”

I talk with my students about the multitasking literature. Most students know that when they are paying attention to something other than me, they’re not paying attention to me. I give the example of trying to talk on the phone while watching TV. You either lose track of what’s happening on the TV, or you lose track of what the person on the phone is saying. The classroom is no different.

To really drive the point home, I show this one-minute video (watch the video below). (If you want to read more about this concept, it’s called “inattentional blindness”; also see “change blindness”.)

We also need to help students learn how to stay focused, to resist being distracted. For example, explain the value of “deep processing”. When students take notes on a laptop, they are more likely to try to transcribe what the instructor is saying rather than “process” it into their own words. That’s akin to reading without thinking about what is being read. Suggest that students work to connect what they are learning to what they already know or what they are learning in their other courses.

It’s easy to blame technology for a student’s lack of attention. It’s hard for an instructor to compete with everything that’s on the internet, an internet that a student holds in the palm of their hand. And we can see that student holding that phone so it feels actionable. If I tell the student to put away the phone the student will then pay attention to me. Keep in mind that those of us who were students before the internet found plenty of ways to be distracted during class. While instructors want students to pay attention during class, we’ll settle for having students who look like they’re paying attention?

Or we could help students understand the impact of distraction on their learning, and help them learn what they need to do to maintain focus.

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