Nov 222010
 

One of the cool features of MS Office 2007/2010 is the quick access toolbar. I have a sneaking suspicion it is underutilized. It allows you to quickly access any function, thus the name: Quick access toolbar.

This toolbar is at the very top of the screen in all of the MS Office programs. For example, this is what mine looks like in MS Word.

A click on the appropriate icon lets me quickly do that icon’s function. Or pressing ALT on my keyboard will assign numbers to each of the icons.

Then I just press a number that corresponds to the icon I want. For example, if I wanted print preview, I would press ALT followed by 2. That’s it.

Word comes with some default icons in the quick access toolbar, such as save (the little blue floppy disk). Its real power is that it lets you add and remove whatever functions you’d like. Since I grade papers electronically, I’m frequently accessing ‘track changes’ and ‘save as PDF.’ So, I added those functions to my quick access toolbar. ALT then 4 turns on track changes. ALT then 5 saves the file as a PDF.

I’ll walk you through how to add ‘track changes’ to your quick access toolbar.

Click the down arrow on the far right side of the quick access toolbar. It will give you this menu.

If the option you’d like is there, great! (The checkmarks show the commands that are already on my quick access toolbar.) Since we’re looking for ‘track changes,’ select ‘More Commands.’ That will generate this pop-up window.

On the left side of the screen, Word gives you popular commands. Scroll to the bottom, and track changes is there. Alternatively, use the dropdown menu (where it reads ‘Popular Commands’ highlighted in blue) to select from the various tabs. Track changes is on the Review tab.

 

Once you find the command you’re looking for, click the ‘Add’ button in the middle of the screen. The command is now available in your quick access toolbar. Use the arrow buttons on the right to change the order of the commands.

That’s it! If you want to remove a command, select it so it’s highlighted, then click the ‘Remove’ button.

Note the commands you frequently use. Consider adding them to your quick access toolbar for easy access.

Nov 212010
 

Yesterday I wrote about a way others can upload a file to your Dropbox. (If you’re not familiar with Dropbox, see this post.) Today I want to tell you how others can download files from your Dropbox without them having to have a Dropbox account.

When Dropbox is loaded on your computer, it automatically gives you a folder named ‘Public.’ Any file you put in this folder can be shared with others simply by getting the file’s hyperlink.

To get the hyperlink, open the Public folder in Dropbox. Right click on the file you’d like others to download. Mouse over ‘Dropbox,’ then select ‘Copy Public Link.’

It will seem like nothing has happened, but your link has actually been copied to your computer’s clipboard. Let’s say you wanted to send the link in an email message. Open your email message and paste it into the body of the message. The hyperlink will appear.

I did a few tech presentations in November 2010, and here is the 4-page handout I gave the participants. You’re welcome to download it from my Dropbox: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/261051/Tech%20Presentations%20-%20Nov%202010.docx. Just follow the link, and your browser will ask you what you’d like to do with the downloaded file.

If you download the file, you’ll recognize several tech tools from this blog. You’ll also see some you may not have heard of. All of them are slated to appear in this blog at some future point. Enjoy!

Nov 202010
 

As you know from previous posts, I’m a fan of Dropbox. If you’ve never heard of Dropbox, check out my blog post from a year ago.

DROPitTOme is a web-based service that allows others, to whom you’ve given a password, to upload files to a DROPitTOme folder located inside your Dropbox folder. If you don’t want the hassle of students emailing you their assignments, you can have them upload their assignments directly to Dropbox where they will automatically be downloaded to your computer. Actually, they will be downloaded to all of your computers where you have Dropbox installed and to your smartphone if you’d like, since the folder works just like any other Dropbox folder in that regard.

To set up DROPitTOme you first need to have a Dropbox account. If you don’t have Dropbox yet, go to my earlier blog post, read about Dropbox, then get it set up. Once you have Dropbox up and running, come back here. If you already have Dropbox, keep reading.

Go to DROPitTOme. Click ‘register.’ You will be asked to give Dropbox permission to allow DROPitTOme to access your Dropbox account.

After clicking ‘Allow,’ you’ll be redirected to this page where you’ll create a DROPitTOme account. The username will be your DROPitTOme URL. For example, my username is sfrantz. To upload files to my Dropbox, you would go to http://dropittome.com/sfrantz. The email address is where DROPitTOme will send notification that files have been added to your DROPitTOme folder. The password here is NOT your Dropbox password. The password you create here allows you to access your DROPitTOme account and change things later, such as your email address. The upload password is the password you will give to people, say, students, who will be uploading files to your DROPitTOme folder.

After this quick registration process, you’re ready to go. Give your upload address and upload password to whoever has files that need to be uploaded to your Dropbox folder.

My students would navigate to my upload page: http://dropittome.com/sfrantz.

After entering my upload password, they can now browse their computer to find the file they want to send me (file maximum is currently 75MB):

After clicking ‘UPLOAD,’ they’re assured the file is loading.

Once uploaded, DROPitTOme says that the file has been successfully uploaded.

After the first file has been added using DROPitTOme, a folder by that name will be added to your Dropbox folder. Every time a file has been uploaded, DROPitTOme will send you an email message that looks like this:

The time on the email tells you whether or not the student submitted their assignment before the deadline.

Managing student assignment files

If you’re going to go this route for having students submit assignments, give students very clear instructions on naming their files. For example for each assignment, tell students how to name the file. “For this assignment name your file: YourLastName YourFirstName Psych100 ApplicationPaper1.”

After papers have been submitted, use the emails DROPitTOme sent you to identify the ones that were sent late, and rename the file with “—LATE” at the end. Save all of the DROPitTOme emails in case a student disputes the lateness of their assignment.

Consider setting up ‘rules’ in your email so that all emails from DROPitTOme go directly into a subfolder in your inbox. If you have 100 students submitting assignments at once, you don’t need 100 emails from DROPitTOme cluttering your inbox. (Creating rules in Outlook is worthy of a blog post of its own. Look for that one coming soon!)

Nov 052010
 

When you stay at a hotel, do you remember how you used to request a wake-up call? Actually, maybe you still do that. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get a wake-up call for stuff you need to do?

And that’s why I’m excited about NudgeMail, a company that just launched this fall. NudgeMail lets you send reminders to yourself at whatever future date or time you choose. No registration. No login. No software to download. No complicated commands to remember. They really couldn’t have made this any easier.

Let’s say that I have an email exchange with you where we discuss working on a proposal for a joint presentation at an upcoming conference. The deadline for submissions is in two months. We decide to spend some time thinking about the proposal and then check back in with each other in a month. While I could put that on my calendar, if I did that for everything of this nature, my calendar would be cluttered in a hurry. I could add it to my to-do list, but then I would have 40 things on my to-do list. At some point, I stop looking at it. I know because that’s happened.

Or I could use NudgeMail. I just send an email (new email, forwarded email, or cc’ed email) to nextmonth@nudgemail.com (for the first of next month), or december5@nudgemail.com (for December 5th), or dec@nudgemail.com (for December 1st), or 1mo@nudgemail.com (for exactly one month from today). They’ve designed the system to be very flexible.

If I want a reminder later today, 5h@nudgemail.com will give me a reminder five hours from now. Or if I want a specific time, 5pm@nudgemail.com will give me a reminder at 5pm today. If I want a reminder tomorrow, tomorrow@nudgemail.com (delivered at 6:30am tomorrow; this default time setting can be changed) or 2d@nudgemail.com (two days from now) will do it.

Try it! Send an email to 5m@nudgemail.com. You’ll get a welcome email from NudgeMail, and then you will get a confirmation email telling you that you have a nudge set for today’s date at a time 5 minutes from now. In 5 minutes, you’ll get your reminder nudge.

Alternatively, you can just send your emails to nudge@nudgemail.com with your time commands in the subject line. For a reminder at 10am tomorrow you can either send a message to 10amtomorrow@nudgemail.com or you can send a message to nudge@nudgemail.com with 10am tomorrow in the subject line. Either works just fine.

Now, if that’s not cool enough, when your nudge arrives, this is what appears at the top of the body of the message:

Not quite ready to deal with this message yet? Snooze it. Clicking a given snooze time will generate an email to snooze@nudgemail.com with your chosen time in the subject line and the reference number for the email (in this case, Ref#: 2244) in the body of the message. At the time you chose, you’ll get your original nudge message sent to you again.

Want a list of your currently pending nudges? Send an email to status@nudgemail.com. Want that list every day? Send an email to daily@nudgemail.com. (Check NudgeMail’s FAQ for more information on the available commands.)

NudgeMail is currently in beta, so it is completely free. In the future, they anticipate having a free version and a subscription version. It looks like pricing may be dependent on number of nudges per month, but that is subject to change.

Bonus Tip

Have you started using Subtextual (formerly bccThis)? If not, see this earlier blog post. I can send an email to you, put 1w@nudgemail.com in the bcc field, and then add a note to myself using Subtextual.

Try it!

Seriously, try it. It has the potential to be one of those tools you can’t live without. I’m going to start cleaning out my inbox right now.

Oct 202010
 

UPDATE 9/5/2011 : Be sure to read an even more recent post on this tool.

UPDATE  12/2/2010: Be sure to read my more recent post on this tool.

It’s surprising how much of my email has to do with scheduling. Students or off-campus colleagues ask when they can meet with me in person or via a phone call. I ask when they’re available; they ask when I’m available. Five or six emails later we have a time. For my colleagues at my institution, they can just look at my Outlook calendar and suggest a time. Anyone else is stuck in the email spiral.

If you use Google Calendar, YouCanBook.Me solves this back and forth email exchange. (Since my work life exists inside of Outlook, I sync my Outlook calendar with my Google calendar so any changes made to one are reflected in the other. Click here to learn how to sync Outlook with Google Calendar.)

I have granted YouCanBook.Me access to my Google Calendar. They generated a fully-customizable webpage (http://sfrantz.youcanbook.me/) for me that looks like this.

Everything in green is an available time slot. Everything greyed out is already a booked time in Google Calendar (and, by extension, Outlook). When I add an appointment to my Outlook calendar, Outlook syncs with Google Calendar, and Google Calendar syncs with YouCanBook.Me. YouCanBook.Me then greys out the time covered by that new appointment.

Clicking on Monday, October 25th, 9:00am brings up this page. The person requesting an appointment just fills in their email address, name, the reason for the meeting, and the code that appears.

Clicking ‘confirm appointment’ seals the deal. YouCanBook.Me makes the change on my Google Calendar which syncs with my Outlook calendar, and I’m sent an email informing me of the appointment. The person requesting the appointment also gets a confirmation email with a link to use in case of the need to cancel. Clicking the link causes the appointment to disappear from my calendar. The requester also gets an appointment reminder 4 hours before the appointment complete with that same cancellation link.

The Dashboard

Let’s take a look at the dashboard for YouCanBook.Me. This is where you can customize YouCanBook.Me to look and act like you want it to look and act. Directly below the dashboard is a preview of what the page will look like. Any saved change to the settings generates a new preview. To save space in this blog, I’m not including the preview image in my screen captures.

On the ‘basic’ tab, I can change which of my Google Calendars are accessed, the title that appears at the top of the page, what URL I want to use (‘sfrantz.youcanbook.me’), a URL for a logo (notice my college’s logo in the top right corner of the schedule page), instructions for visitors, and how many people I want to be able to sign up for a given time slot (one is fine for me). On the right I can set the first time available, the last time available, the time slot length, days per page, and which days I’m available. Of course if I’m traveling or doing something else that makes me unavailable for an entire day, I would block out that day using Google Calendar or Outlook, and that day would show as unavailable in YouCanBook.Me.

See the little blue question marks in each of the dashboard screen shots? At YouCanBook.Me, click those to learn more about each area of the dashboard.


On the ‘advanced’ tab, I’ve set the minimum notice to 12 hours. That means that the earliest available appointment is 12 hours from now. (A visitor at 8am cannot schedule an appointment at 9am.) I set the time zone to Pacific Time since I’m on the west coast, but visitors can change the time zone to their location. For instance, if an east coast colleague would like to schedule a time to call me, s/he could change the time zone to Eastern Time and avoid doing the math.


The ‘booking form’ tab contains one of the most powerful features of YouCanBook.Me. Each line is a separate field on the booking form. Want more fields? Just add a line. Want the field to be required? Put an asterisk in front of it. You can even add checkboxes if you’d like. (In the dashboard, click the little blue question mark at the bottom right of the field to learn how.)


The ‘afterwards’ tab lets you determine what is displayed on the screen after someone has made their appointment, the email address where you want to be notified of new appointments, whether you want to send a confirmation email, and what it should say.

The ‘reminders’ tab lets me set an appointment reminder for me (none), and lets me send an appointment reminder for those who set appointments and determine when I’d like it sent (4 hours before the appointment time).

Finally, on the ‘appearance’ tab, customize the colors of your calendar. If you want to use your own cascading style sheets, you’re welcome to do so using the ‘css’ field.

Try it out, then leave a comment on how it works for you!

[UPDATE 11/24/2010 : Check out a newer post that offers some ways to customize YouCanBook.Me.]

Nov 192009
 

A few days ago I was visiting with a colleague in his office.  He was trying to find the most recent version of a particular file.  He had one copy on his computer and one copy on his flashdrive, but he wasn’t sure which was the most recent.  And he didn’t seem convinced that those were the only two copies.  Did he have another copy on a different flashdrive?  Did he have yet another copy on his laptop?

Dropbox lets you get rid of your flashdrive and keep all of your files synched.  Make a change to a Word document, and it’s changed everywhere else you have installed Dropbox.

Dropbox adds a folder to your ‘My Documents’ folder called ‘My Dropbox’.  Install it on your work computer, your home computer, your laptop.  Anything you put in that folder (documents, spreadsheets, slide presentations, video, images, etc.) will be copied to the Dropbox server, and then copied and downloaded to your other Dropbox-installed computers.

As well as being stored locally, your files are stored (think ‘backed-up’) on the Dropbox servers.  Visit the Dropbox website from any computer and log in to access your files.  This means you can access your slide presentation from your classroom’s internet-connected computer.  No more worrying about whether you’ve moved your most recent slide presentation to your flashdrive.  No more worrying about losing your flashdrive.

Want to go back to an earlier version of a document?  Visit your files on the Dropbox website.  Previous versions are kept for 28 days.

If you’re not sold yet, this next feature should do it.  You can share your folders with other people.  Add or change a file in that folder, and it changes for everyone else.  It acts like a shared drive, except the files are stored locally as well.

To share a folder, navigate to your ‘My Dropbox’ folder. Right click on the folder you want to share, mouse over ‘Dropbox’, then select ‘Share This Folder’.

Your browser will open a page on the Dropbox website. Just type in the email addresses of the people with whom you would like to share the folder (comma separated), and click ‘Share folder’. Your recipients will receive an invitation to install Dropbox, which they’ll need to do to share your folder. Once done, any files they add to the folder or any changes they make to an existing file will be uploaded to the Dropbox server and pushed out to everyone who’s sharing the folder, updating on all of their Dropbox-installed computers as well.

Want to know what’s been happening inside of your ‘My Dropbox’ folder? Visit the Dropbox website. Click on ‘Recent Events.’ You get to see what files you edited or added or deleted. You get to see what files others you share folders with have edited or added or deleted. Don’t want to keep visiting this ‘Recent Events’ page to see what’s new? At the bottom of the page, click ‘Subscribe to this feed’ to get new events sent to your RSS feed reader. (Don’t have an RSS feed reader? See this earlier blog post.)

Cost? You can store up to 2GB in your ‘My Dropbox’ folder for free. You can store up to 50GB for $9.99/month and up to 100GB for $19.99/month.

Installation? You can install it in less than 2 minutes.

What are you waiting for? Dropbox.

Sep 162009
 

As another academic year gets off the ground I’m shuttling more files around than I did all summer. I have folders, subfolders, and sub-subfolders on my C:\ drive and my college’s M:\ drive. I used to use the M:\ drive both as backup and to hold files not currently in use, like PowerPoints and handouts for courses I hadn’t taught in awhile. About a year ago I copied onto my new laptop my flash drive files that I carried around with me. I put them all in a folder called ‘flash drive files’ with the anticipation that I would sort it out later. I’ve found myself using the electronic equivalent of the ‘archeological dig’ filing system. You know the one I mean. Papers pile up on your desk, and you can find what you’re looking for, roughly, by date. “That was a long time ago, so that paper’s near the bottom.” My electronic files have begun to take on some of those same characteristics.

Managing folder trees to find the right folder to either locate a document or to save a new document has become an adventure. Sometimes even when I know exactly where something is, it may take several mouse clicks to get there.

Enter QuickJump, the latest product from TechHit, the company that brought us SimplyFile, the email filer I blogged about last month. (QuickJump only works with Windows products, sorry Mac users.)

QuickJump allows you fast and easy navigation of your folders. When you first run it, it only indexes the folders in “My Documents.” If you’d like it to index additional folders or folders on other drives, like network drives, just let it know. In my case, I added the network M:\ drive.

With a keyboard shortcut (CTRL-SHIFT-J is the default, but you can make it whatever you’d like) you get this pop-up:

An alphabetical listing of the first 100 of my 1134 folders is nice, but QuickJump’s power is in its searching ability.

When I type ‘assessment’ into the search box, I get the 85 folders that contain the word assessment. (I have 85 folders that contain the word assessment?!)

If I keep typing I can narrow it down even further. When I add “psych” I get it down to 7 folders. Much better! Partial words are fine. In fact, QuickJump revises the list of results as you type. After I had typed “assessment ps” I had already identified the folder I needed. Word order doesn’t matter, either. If the words or partial words you type appear in the folder tree anywhere, QuickJump returns the folder.

QuickJump works any time you want to find a folder. No programs open and you’re looking for a folder? CTRL-SHIFT-J. You’re in MS Word, and you’re ready to save your document? Hit save, then CTRL-SHIFT-J. You’re in your email program and are saving a file, like all of those emailed student assignments? As soon as the “save as” box appears, CTRL-SHIFT-J.

I did a little test. I timed how long it took me to get to a given subfolder buried 4 layers deep. With QuickJump, it took me 6 seconds to get there. Using standard navigation, by double-clicking on My Documents and double-clicking through layers of folders, it took me 9 seconds. QuickJump was 1/3 faster even when I knew exactly where to find the folder using standard navigation. That makes it exponentially faster when I’m not sure where a particular folder is!

QuickJump made my life run just a little more smoothly. Now if I can just find a similar product to help me manage all of those papers on my desk.

This product is $29.95 and comes with a 30-day free trial. Readers of this blog can purchase QuickJump for $23.95 (20% off). Just use this link before September 22nd, 2009.

Jun 272009
 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone to read to you? Like, that article you’ve been meaning to get to? Or student papers? What if you not only had someone to read it to you, but you could take the recording with you to listen to while you work out or on your daily commute?

Check out Read The Words.

Give it any text, either by typing it in, uploading a file, giving it a URL or the address of an RSS feed. The file will be converted to audio. There are several different avatars (voices) you can choose from including a British accent and an Indian accent. You can adjust the reading speed of the avatar to match your listening speed.

For students who are learning English, they can have the written English text in front of them while they listen to the audio for practice with pronunciation. For students who are learning Spanish or French, they can have Spanish or French text read by a Spanish or French speaking avatar.

Once the file has been created, you can download it as an MP3, send it as part of an email, or embed the file in a webpage like I have done here.

The free version of the service allows you to have 3 recordings saved on their server with up to 30 seconds of speaking time per file. For $19.99 a year you get 25 recordings saved on their server of up to an hour of reading time per recording. For $34.99 per year, you get 100 recordings saved and the recording time is upped to 8 hours per file.  If you download the file, you can delete it from your library on their server to free up more space for more files.

If you try it out, let me know how it works for you!

Jun 192009
 

One of the things I like about Outlook is the ability to flip through everyone’s schedule to find a likely meeting time. But when everyone isn’t in the same Outlook system, we end up having to find a time via email. You write, “When can you meet?” And the 7 people you’re trying to get together send you an email back some with when they’re available and some when they’re not available. You then have the fun and excitement of creating a matrix that will show the best time for everybody.

Or perhaps you have students schedule time to meet with you one on one? Want to find an easier option than a sheet of paper circulated around the room or taped to your office door? Or maybe you want to schedule time with your online students and that sheet of paper just doesn’t work at all?

Or maybe you have students writing research papers and you want to limit what the paper topics are and how many students can write about each topic?

Enter Doodle.com.

The instructions are simple. “Create a poll.” “Forward the link to the poll to the participants.” “Follow online what the participants vote for.” “Free. No registration required.” Even though you don’t have to register I recommend that you do. Registering allows you easy access to all of your polls in one place, both the ones you’ve created and the ones you’ve participated in, through the ‘MyDoodle’ link.

First let’s walk through the process of setting up a poll to schedule a conference call. At the end of this blog I’ll discuss using Doodle to set up student conference schedules and how to use Doodle to manage students and their research paper topics.

At Doodle.com clicking ‘schedule an event’ produces this screen. Type in a title, an optional description, your name, and your email address. If you registered and are logged in, your name and email address are automatically entered.

Clicking the ‘next’ button at the bottom of the page (not pictured) produces this date selection page. Since this is a conference call for July 13th, I only selected July 13th. You may choose as many dates as you’d like. Just click on each date to select it. To deselect a date, you may either click the date in the calendar again or click the red X next to the date in the ‘selected dates’ area. The arrows next to ‘July 2009’ allow you to change months.

Click ‘next’ at the bottom of the page (again, not shown). Now we can choose our times. Doodle is quite flexible in terms of how you can enter times.

Here I’ve clicked the links to ‘enable time-zone support’ and ‘add further time slots.’ I’ve chosen my time zone, and I’ve entered some times. Notice that if I had more than one day available for the conference call, there would be an additional row for that day. Once I had selected the times for the first day I could copy and paste those times into each subsequent row using the ‘copy and paste first row’ option.

When I click ‘Finish,’ Doodle will send me two emails. The first contains a participant link that I will send out to my conference call participants. The second contains an administrative link that will allow me to edit or delete the poll. If I’m registered, I can also access the administrative features by logging into Doodle.com and clicking on ‘MyDoodle.’

This is what the poll looks like after I’ve entered the times that I’m available. If you’re not in the Pacific time zone, you can choose your time zone, and click ‘update.’ Doodle will change the time to match your time zone. Just type your name in the empty box, check the times that you’re available, and click ‘save.’ That’s it!

You can go back into your poll and edit it whenever you’d like by using the administrator link. If you change the time options after someone has already participated, little question marks will appear in those time slots for each participant. This means that you don’t know whether the participants who have already participated would have chosen those new options over the ones they did choose. Email your participants to let them know that you changed the options and that they can re-vote.

You may have noticed that on the last screen, before we hit ‘finished’ there was an ‘options’ button.

‘Yes-No-Ifneedbe Poll’ allows your participants to choose ‘if need be’ instead of just yes or no. Very handy!

‘Hidden poll’ is self-explanatory.

‘Only you can modify/delete votes and comments’ disallows your participants from modifying or deleting their own votes and comments. Note that the only participants who can modify or delete their own votes and comments are those who have registered with Doodle.com.

‘Limit number of OKs per participants (row) to 1.’ We wouldn’t want to do this for our scheduling poll since the goal is to find times that work for everyone. But there may be a poll where you’d want everyone to choose only one option.

‘Limit number of OKs per option (column).’ If you were organizing an event where you needed two volunteers for each time slot, this feature would be handy. Click that option then in the ‘limit’ box, type 2.

Student conferences

Do you hold individual conferences with students? Create a scheduling poll with your available time divided into 15-minute time slots. Under ‘options,’ select ‘limit number of OKs per option (column)’ and ‘limit number of OKs per participant (row) to 1’ so that students can only sign up for one time slot.

Here is what such a poll might look like.

Notice that once a participant has selected a time slot, that time slot is not available for anyone else. The scroll bar on the bottom allows participants to scroll to the right to see more days.

Student research papers

Not only can Doodle manage scheduling, but it can manage any kind of straight-forward poll.

To create this poll on the Doodle.com main page, I selected “make a choice.” I put in the topics choices and using ‘options’ I limited students to only one topic, but up to 4 students can choose each topic.

In conclusion

If you’ve used Doodle or if you decide to try it, let me know how you’re using it and how it works for you!

Apr 242009
 

I feel like I spend a lot of time typing the same phrases over and over again. For instance, when students send me an assignment via email, I send them back a ‘got it’ message. When I send them their graded assignment, I write a ‘your assignment is attached’ message. Isn’t there a keyboard shortcut that will do that for me?

With PhraseExpress, there is.

My preference in this blog goes to free programs and services, and this one technically is. However, if the program thinks you’re a business (by identifying certain business-like words) it will start to give you an annoying little popup prompting you to purchase it. The popups bugged me so much that I uninstalled it, but I missed the features so much, I re-installed it and sent the company the money. A decision I have not regretted.

PhraseExpress works wherever you type text – in email, in Word, in Excel, in your browser’s search box.

What it does.

  1. It automatically enters text. When I type #g followed by a space, it automatically replaces ‘#g’ with ‘Got it!,’ the message I send to my students when I receive their emailed assignments. When I send back their graded assignments, I just type #gr followed by a space and it replaces it with ‘Your graded assignment is attached! – Sue.’This is fully customizable. You can decide what keystroke combination will generate the phrase you want. For instance, I could choose $student followed by a ‘Tab’ to generate a phrase. There doesn’t appear to be a limit on the phrase size. You can use it to produce several lines with just a few keystrokes.
  2. It automatically runs programs. For me, #word automatically runs MS Word, #xl opens Excel, and #calc opens the calculator. Again, you choose the keystroke combination that you want. Perhaps you have your browser open and you want to open PowerPoint, and you designated #ppt as the magic keystroke combination. In your browser’s address bar, type #ppt and PowerPoint will automatically run.
  3. It automatically opens folders and files. With #md I open my “my documents” folder from anywhere I can type. I can also ask it to open a particular file — #grades opens my grade spreadsheet in Excel.
  4. It automatically does web searches. Highlighting any text anywhere and hitting CTRL-F8 generates this ‘search’ popup. If I select ‘Google.com’ then the highlighted text (buried under the popup) will be run in a Google search. The search services listed are customized; you pick what websites you want as options.

5. It automatically keeps a clipboard cache. Usually when you copy and paste, you can only paste the most recent copy. With the PhraseExpress clipboard cache, CTRL-ALT-v gives you a list of your 20 most recent copies. Just click the one you want. If 20 is too many for you, you can change the PhraseExpress settings to give you less.

6. It automatically opens a calendar. Select a date, and the date is entered as text. For instance, typing #cal gives me this popup. When I click on a date, the date is entered where I was typing. In the PhraseExpress settings, you determine the format for the date. I have mine set so that if I selected the date highlighted below, “5/7/2009” would be entered where I had typed #cal and the popup calendar would disappear. If I just wanted today’s date entered, #date would do that. For that matter, if I wanted to enter the current time, #time or #now would paste the current time.

7. It automatically opens websites. Let’s say I’m typing along in Word, like I’m doing now, and I wonder, “What’s new?” I can type cnn, and PhraseExpress will open the CNN website in my default web browser.

8. This is not a comprehensive list. Visit their website for more.

One application

With all of the examples above, you get a sense of what PhraseExpress can do. I want to give you one more example that’s a little fancier that really shows its power.

Let’s say I wanted to send reminders out to my students about due dates for upcoming assignments. [Actually, this isn’t something I would do, but I can see where someone would.]  By typing !due PhraseExpress asks me to pick a date, and then it generates an email in Outlook with my students’ email addresses entered, with “Psych 100: Next assignment due” in the subject line, and some appropriate text and due date in the body of the message. All I have to do is hit ‘send.’ The next time I type !due, I can send the same message to the same students but have a different date.

To do this, inside PhraseExpress, I click “New Phrase” then “Add Macro” then “Automation” and finally “Create an email.”

That generates this popup:

In the To: box I’d put my student email addresses, of course. (Actually, I’d put my email address in the “to” box and put my students’ email addresses in the “bcc” box.)

When I click “OK,” in the “phrase content” space, I get this scary looking bit of code:

{#mail -to Sfrantz@highline.edu, sfrantz@highline.edu -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is due…

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

I want to replace the ‘…’ after ‘due’ with a date I pick. So I delete the ‘…’ and then click “Add Macro” then “Phrase manipulation” then “Insert a phrase within another Phrase.”

Since I already have #cal opening a calendar for me, on the next screen I type ‘#cal’ and that is entered right after ‘due’ giving me this code:

{#mail -to Sfrantz@highline.edu, sfrantz@highline.edu -subject Psych 100: Next assignment due -body Hi all,

Just a quick reminder that your next Psych 100 assignment is

due {#insert #cal}

Please contact me if you have any questions!}

After clicking “OK” my shortcut has been saved and is ready for use!

Since I’ve designated !due as my shortcut, when I type that, the calendar pops up, and I choose a date. In this example I chose May 7, 2009. And then Outlook opens this new message:

To recap, to send a due date reminder to my students, I type “!due” wherever I can type, click a date, and hit “send.” Done.

Next term, all I have to do is delete my student email addresses and enter the new ones.

Not perfect

As powerful as this program is, it’s not perfect. For instance, it works as a spellchecker, but its spellchecking isn’t as powerful as MS Word’s. It will tell me that I’ve misspelled ‘the’ when I type ‘teh,’ but I can misspell all sorts of words, and it doesn’t blink: spull, blunk, wirk.

It has an ‘autotext’ feature that I turned off because it got on my nerves. When PhraseExpress detects that you’ve typed the same phrase repeatedly, it will offer you that phrase when you type the first few words of it. The problem for me was the few words it was picking up on were the first few words I used in a lot of phrases (so I discovered). What it would offer wasn’t usually what I wanted.

When you type in your keyboard shortcut, like #cal, the PhraseExpress default is to ask you to hit “tab to execute.” I found always going to ‘tab’ bothersome, so I changed the default to “spacebar to execute.” That has worked better for me, except it’s tougher to get around if I don’t want to ‘execute.’ Under most circumstances, I do want the calendar to popup when I type “#cal” otherwise why would I type such a combination? But writing this blog was cumbersome since every time I would type a particular combination followed by the spacebar, PhraseExpress would execute the command. How dare it do what it’s supposed to do. (To get a command phrase like #cal to not run the calendar, I typed #cals in my sentence, then went back and deleted the ‘s.’)

For reasons I haven’t been able to discern, sometimes PhraseExpress just executes the command without asking if you that’s what you want to do. Generally, I’d prefer that it did it without asking, but I’d at least like to know why it sometimes asks and sometimes doesn’t. It may be that the program is just a little buggy. I don’t know.

Having said that, what PhraseExpress gives me makes these issues very minor ones.

In summary…

Anything you do repeatedly on your computer (type phrases, open programs, open files or folders, do web searches), you can ask PhraseExpress to do for you.

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