Category: Productivity

Using Shortmarks on Your Mobile Device

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.

Dry Erase Notebooks: Do You Have Yours, Yet?

You know you have an awesome product when you launch a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $4,000 and, instead, you raise $424,314. Wipebook is a dry erase notebook ($29.99-$34.99). Using Staedtler Lumocolor correctable pens, write on the notebook page (available in blank, lined, grid, and music – or some mix thereof). After a few seconds, the ink will dry enough so as not to smudge. To erase, use the eraser on the correctable pens.  If it’s been sitting for a while, I use a lightly dampened towel or tissue. With more elbow grease, a dry towel/tissue works. For ink that’s been sitting there for a few weeks, use isopropyl alcohol.

Any notes I want to keep in perpetuity, I scan using the CamScanner app (Android/iPhone/iPad/Windows Phone) which converts the image from my phone or tablet’s camera to PDF, and I save the file to, say, Dropbox for easy access.

Wipebook isn’t the only player in the dry erase notebook game. Letterforms launched their own Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise $8,000. They raised $107,777. In addition to 8×10 notebooks, it looks like they plan to offer 8×5 and 6×4 versions, too. While not quite ready for production, you can pre-order the 8X10 notebook ($19.99) for an anticipated June delivery. And then there’s Writerase who raised over $32,000 in their Kickstarter campaign. They offer 4 sizes ($15-$48): 3×5, 5×8, 8×11, and 11×17. You can order them from the Writerase website.

FolderClone: Well… Clone a Folder

Here’s the problem I ran into. What seems like years ago, I gave up carrying my files on a flash drive from my home laptop to my work laptop to my classroom computer. Dropbox has been my go-to service for synching files across computers. Dropbox works beautifully for making sure my files are up to date on my home and work computers and for accessing those files on my mobile devices. My classroom, however, has continued to be a bit of a thorn. Yes, on my classroom computer, I can open the web browser, navigate to Dropbox.com, and download the files I want for that day’s class. But with only 7 minutes between the end of the previous class and the start of my class. With the previous occupant needing time to pack up and log off after his class I really only have about 3.5 minutes.

My college gives faculty a universal storage location accessible from anywhere on campus. If I can log into a computer on campus, including when my work laptop is connected to the campus network, I can access this space. On our campus, our IT people have named it the M drive. I don’t want to put my work laptop Dropbox folder in there; I would only have access to those Dropbox files on my work laptop while on campus. I could manually copy my course files to my space on the M drive, but then I’m pretty much back to the flash drive problem where I have to remember to copy over newly revised files. So then I thought, “There must be software that will let me automatically clone a folder, where any changes to one folder would automatically be synched to another folder.”

FolderClone (30 day free trial; $29.95 one-time fee for the standard edition; Windows7 and earlier) will do a one-way synchronization. Any changes made to the source folder will automatically be made to the target folder on whatever schedule you choose, or/and you can sync them manually.

When you install FolderClone, a short tutorial appears. Feel free to go through it, but FolderClone is pretty intuitive. FolderClone calls each act of folder cloning a “task.” When you create a new task, the new task wizard will ask for a task name and description. I’ve named my task “Psych 100 folder,” and I’ve added a description.

After clicking “Next” I’m asked for the location of the source folder. Just “browse” for it like you normally do. My source folder was my Psych 100 folder in Dropbox.

Then FolderClone asks for the location of the target folder. I decided I wanted a folder on my M drive called “Psych 100 FILES” to be the target. If there are files in the target folder, they will be erased and replaced with just the source folder content. You can note that you don’t want the target folder’s content replaced, but if I were you, I’d either remove the files from the source folder or create a new source folder. Since I’m cloning a folder, I want the content to be identical; I don’t need extra files floating around in there. See the little folder icon on the right side of the screen shot? I can add more target folders if I want, say to an external hard drive as well. For my purposes, just one copy on the M drive is good enough.

Now I get to pick which files I want to copy. Since the point is for me to have all my files at the ready, I’ve chosen “All Files in Source Folder.”

In step 6, FolderClone asks me how often I want it to compare the source and target folders. (If you’ve been paying close attention, you will have noticed that there is no step 5. I looked for it. It’s just not there. Beats me.) The default for how the sync is done is “Manual Clone.” That means files will only be copied when I tell it to. Since I want this to be automated, I chose “Run Only on Selected Days of the Week” (Monday through Friday) at noon since I’m likely to make changes to course files in the morning before my afternoon classes. In the summer, when I’m not teaching, I’ll turn FolderClone off altogether (and schedule a followup.cc reminder for the week before fall classes to tell me to turn it back on again).

In the last step, I get a summary of what I created. Clicking “Run Now” immediately copies my Psych 100 folder in my work laptop’s Dropbox folder to my space on my college’s M drive. And it did it quickly – 822 MB of data (415 files in 30 folders) were copied in under a minute.

FolderClone will run in the background. You can find its sheep icon in your system tray.

Even though I have scheduled a time for automatic synching, I can always run FolderClone manually. Right click on the sheep icon in the system tray, and then click “Run Task.” If I have more than one task, I can pick the one that I want or I can “Run All Tasks.”

If you select “Show Main Window” you can see the tasks you have created, when those tasks last ran and when they are schedule to run again, create a new task, delete a task, manually run a task, etc.

To recap, all of my Intro Psych course files are synched across my devices using Dropbox. And now, using FolderClone, they are also synched to my college’s M drive. When I log into my classroom computer, I can open the M drive and find all of my (current!) Intro Psych course files.

Problem solved!

 

Trello

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.

Organizations

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.

Bonus

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!

EasyBib: Bibliography Made Easy

While EasyBib isn’t the only citation service out there, it is the easiest to use. Enter the title of a journal article, URL, book title, book ISBN and EasyBib will kick out the reference – in MLA, APA, or Chicago style. Compile all of the references for a particular writing project in one place, and then when you’re ready ask EasyBib to produce the reference list. EasyBib is free to try, but if you want APA Style, and I do, EasyBib Pro is $19.99 a year. It’s a completely reasonable price for the time it saves me.

The similar services of CitationMachine, Mendeley, and Zotero are all worth a look. With CitationMachine, you manually enter the citation information yourself, and CitationMachine will format it for you. Mendeley is more of a PDF storage service. Drag and drop your PDF into Mendeley, and it will both store it and gather the file’s metadata into a citation for you. Strangely, Mendeley is awful with books; you need to enter the book information manually. Mendeley does fine creating citations for webpages, but it doesn’t save the page itself as a file in Mendeley. Zotero does. In fact, Zotero’s strength is in saving websites. I’ll let Zotero tell you about itself; take the video tour at the top of their quick start guide. Because Mendeley and Zotero are both saving sources, they have a steeper learning curve than EasyBib, whose primary function is citations.

EasyBib organizes your stuff by project; think of it like a folder. Here I’m working on my “Psych 100” project.

Let’s start in EasyBib’s wheelhouse: The bibliography tab. Click on the kind of resource you’d like to cite: Website, book, newspaper, journal, database, or one of 54 other options.

Web address

After selecting “APA” style as my preferred formatting choice, I pasted the URL of a recent blog post. EasyBib enters what it can, and then tells me what’s missing or might be incorrect in bright red. In this case, the article title capitalization is probably incorrect according to APA style, I’m missing the article’s author, and the date the article was published. I’m going to fix those entries and include the “date accessed” since I do periodically make minor revisions to old blog posts. Since I accessed that article today, I’ll just click “Today” to the right of that field. Near the bottom of the page are two buttons. Click “Annotation” to add, well, an annotation to this reference. “Website evaluation” is a handy tool for students. Clicking it produces a popup of helpful tips in evaluating the credibility of a website. When I’m satisfied with the content for this particular reference, I click the “Create Citation” button at the bottom of the page.

EasyBib gives me the citation at the top of the bibliography page and also adds it in the correct alphabetical spot in the bibliography. If you have dozens of references, click “see in list” to go directly to the reference in the bibliography. If you’re not happy with the citation, you can “edit citation” here. In the bibliography, you can add “Comments,” go directly to the website via “Link,” “Tag” the reference with keywords so you can see all the references you have related to a particular keyword, get the “parenthetical” citation, “edit,” or “delete” the citation.

Books

For a book I can enter the title or, in this case, an ISBN.

When I click the green “Cite this” button, I see the book and click “Select.” That brings up the citation page.

I’m fine with the information that EasyBib has already entered, so I’ll click “Create Citation.” Here you can see that the citation has been added.

Journal

I can cite journal articles by entering the article title, the article’s DOI, or I can even search by keywords, and EasyBib will return whatever matches from their database. For this search I entered the article’s title.

EasyBib returns the citation I’m looking for, so I click “Select.” Here I see that the article title is not formatted correctly, so I need to fix that before click “Create Citation.”

Once I fixed the title capitalization, I clicked “Create Citation.”

Caution #1

You still need to know the basic citation rules for the style you’re working in. Just like you shouldn’t blindly follow your GPS, you can’t turn off your brain when using citation services. EasyBib does a pretty good job at sending up flares in the form of red text and red-lined boxes to let you know that you need to proceed cautiously, but it’s not perfect. Your brain still needs to be engaged.

Sharing

If this is a project I’m working on with others, I can share it by one of three methods. I can email the completed bibliography to others (or myself).

I can invite others into my project by selecting “Invite others.”

With the invitation, I can decide what permissions level I want my invitees to have. They can just view my bibliography, they can edit it, or they can comment on it. If you want to use this with students, you can have your students create EasyBib accounts, create a “project” for your course, and then ask your students to grant you permission to comment on their sources. You can keep an eye on what they’re doing before they get themselves in too deep with inappropriate sources.

If you want to make your bibliography publicly available, select “Share public link” from the “Sharing” button menu. You will get a URL you can use however you’d like. If you use a learning management system, you can add the link there or embed the page, for example. Create a bibliography of optional or required readings. Every time you update the list in EasyBib, it will automatically update where your students are seeing it.

Export or print

When you’re done creating your bibliography, you have a number of options for getting it to your paper. These all work as you would expect. “Print as Word Doc,” for instance, automatically downloads an RTF file to your computer – and if it doesn’t download automatically, there’s a link that you can click to initiate the download.

This is what the download file looks like for “Print as Word Doc.” How cool is that?

Analyze

Want to know where your sources are coming from? Click “Analyze.”


This data is from a larger project I’m working on. For each graph, you can mouse over each slice to see the key and percentages. If you’re students are using EasyBib, you can require that the students save this page as a pdf and submit it as part of the assignment.


Mobile

The EasyBib mobile app scans book barcodes (or searches by book title) and creates the citation. Unfortunately the app doesn’t connect to my EasyBib account. To get the book citations to me in a usable form, I need to email them to myself. My guess (and hope) is that they’re working on some sort of app/account integration. On the plus side, the mobile app book barcode scanner is ridiculously fast.

Research tab

The citations you create in EasyBib can (and will) be used by EasyBib; the terms of service spell that out. That’s where the information in the “Research” tab comes from. Enter a search term and get the related citations.

Notebook

Click on the “Notebook” tab to create an outline of your paper, including notes and their accompanying citations.

Double-click on the gray-ish workspace to create a new note. Enter a title of the note (in the screenshot above, the title is “Case Study 1”), use the source dropdown menu to select a source from your bibliography, add a direct quote or a paraphrase or a comment. Add a page number or some other more specific location for the citation.

Double-click in the outline window to add new levels to the outline. Drag and drop notes from the main workspace into the outline. Drag and drop outline elements or use the arrow keys to move the outline elements.

While EasyBib’s terms of service are clear on how they’ll use your citations, they’re not clear on how they’ll use your “Notebooks.” If you have concerns about that, I encourage you to contact EasyBib directly.

Caution #2

A web-based service is only as good as its up time. I was in the middle of working on this blog post when the service went down. In a disappointing move, in the 19 hours users couldn’t access their bibliographies, there was no communication via EasyBib’s Twitter feed or their blog about what was happening. Unlike college students I’m not going into finals week with a paper due, so accessing my references isn’t quite so pressing, but a cursory look at student comments on Twitter, the desperation was palpable. As of this writing, EasyBib has not, on Twitter or on their blog, offered an explanation as to what happened, so there’s no way to judge the likelihood of it happening again. If you have a time sensitive project, I recommend downloading your bibliography periodically as you get closer to your due date.

[Update 12/10/2013: EasyBib posted a message to their blog regarding the outage.]

EasyBib/IFTTT integration would be especially awesome. Every evening, EasyBib would automatically add my bibliographies to Dropbox. Cool, right?

Conclusion

Try it out. It’s an easy service to use. Even if it’s not for you, suggest it to your students.

 

Are You Safe and Secure?

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.

Backup

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!

Conclusion

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

Tweet2Cite: Twitter Citation Generator

With evolving modes of communication comes evolving means of citation. Tweet2Cite is a handy tool. Enter the URL for a tweet, and get the citation, in MLA or APA style.

Getting a URL for a tweet

This took a little effort to figure out. It’s not obvious.

In Twitter, under the tweet you would like to cite, click “Expand.”

Directly under the blue-fonted options, the time and date the tweet was sent will appear. To the right of that, click on “Details.”

This will open the tweet on its own webpage.

Copy the URL from the browser’s address bar. [Keyboard shortcut: CTRL+L will move your cursor to the address bar, highlighting the entire URL. CTRL+C to copy the selected text.]

Creating the citation

Paste the tweet’s URL in the box. [Keyboard shortcut: CTRL+V to paste.] Click “Go!”

Within seconds you will see the original tweet, and then the MLA and APA citations. Copy and paste to wherever you’d like to save the citation. [Keyboard shortcut: In Windows, place the cursor over a word. Double-clicking the mouse will select the word. Triple-clicking will select the paragraph. In this case, triple-click over a word in one of the citations to select the entire citation.]

Conclusion

This is indeed the citation format recommended by APAStyle.org and MLA.org. For APA style, the parenthetical citation would be (Twitter handle, year), in this case (Sue_Frantz, 2013). Remember, if you are citing multiple tweets from the same person in the same year, in your parenthetical citations letter the year as in (Sue_Frantz, 2013a), (Sue_Frantz, 2013b), etc.

Happy citing!

CloudConvert: File Conversion Service

CloudConvert “supports the conversion between more than 100 different audio, video, document, ebook, archive, image, spreadsheet and presentation formats.”

Navigate through your folder system to the file you want to covert. Click once on the file’s icon and drag it onto the CloudConvert webpage. Or if your file lives in Dropbox or Google Drive, click the “Select files” button to find the file you want to convert.

When you click “Select format” CloudConvert detects what kind of file it is to determine your options for what kind of file you can convert it to. Here I uploaded a docx file, so CloudConvert has given me two main choices: Document and ebook. When I mouse over ebook, I get a dropdown menu of the 8 file types that can work with ebook software.

I chose epub. In the last step, “convert it,” I can choose to have CloudConvert email when the conversion is complete, or I can have the file saved directly to Dropbox or Google Drive. If you choose the email option, CloudConvert will ask for your email address. If you choose Dropbox or Google Drive, a popup window will ask for your permission to use your chosen service and to add a folder inside of that service called CloudConvert.

Finally click the big red “Start Conversion” button.

If you chose email as your notification option, you will get an email with a download link.

If you chose Dropbox as your file save location, the CloudConvert folder will be inside of your Apps folder. If you don’t already have an Apps folder, one will automatically be created. Dropbox folder -> Apps folder -> CloudConvert folder -> YourConvertedFile.

If you choose Google Drive as your file save location, the converted file will be saved in your root folder. Google Drive -> YourConvertedFile.

After the file has been converted, CloudConvert marks the file with a green “Finished” icon with a message about what they did with the file (“Sent file into your Dropbox). To the far right is a green “Download” button. You can manually download the converted file here, or more interestingly, you can convert either the input file (Pocket.docx in this example) or the output file (Pocket.epub) into another file format without having to upload the file again. You can even get a QR code for quick downloading to your smartphone or tablet.

Limitations

You are welcome to use CloudConvert as a guest. If you register for a free account, you are allowed more conversions per day and a bigger maximum file size. CloudConvert is currently in beta, so perhaps there will be a pay-for version that will give you even more power. You can see the difference between what guests and registered users can do in the chart below.

The “storage time of converted files” only matters if you choose the “email me” notification option. If you asked that the converted file be saved to Dropbox or Google Drive, it will be saved in that location as soon as CloudConvert does the conversion; it doesn’t matter how long CloudConvert keeps a copy.


Compare to Zamzar

My go-to file conversion service has been Zamzar, but CloudConvert is a compelling alternative. The ability to have files automatically saved to Dropbox or Google Drive is reason enough to try CloudConvert.

Better

“So find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going.”

This is the final paragraph in Atul Gawande’s 2007 book, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. While his advice is directed at newly-minted physicians, it’s more broadly applicable. In our case, let’s talk higher education.

1. “Find something new to try, something to change.”

You’re reading this blog. That puts you solidly in the camp of people who are interested in trying new things. Not all new things are better, of course. What works for me may not work for you. But if you don’t try new things, how will you know?

2. “Count how often you succeed and how often you fail.”

Gawande writes about Virginia Apgar, a physician (anesthesiologist) who created a scoring system (rubric) for evaluating the health of newborns, now known as the Apgar score. “Published in 1953 to revolutionary effect, the score turned an intangible and impressionistic clinical concept – the condition of new babies – into numbers that people could collect and compare. Using it required more careful observations and documentation of the true condition of every baby. Moreover, even if only because doctors are competitive, it drove them to want to produce better scores – and therefore better outcomes – for the newborns they delivered.”

The Apgar score improved neonatal care. The act of measuring was enough to prompt changes that resulted in better outcomes. The behavioral change research tells us that’s exactly what we should expect to happen. If you want to change a behavior, the first thing you need to do is track how often you do/don’t do it. Want to exercise more? Track how often you exercise. Want to eat better? Track what you eat.

This is what the push for assessment in higher education is about. What outcomes are important to us? Let’s measure those outcomes; think of these as Apgar scores for each of our students. If we’re not happy with those scores, we can see which parts of the rubric are bringing our scores down, and then refer back to #1, “Find something new to try, something to change.” And this is why I strongly advocate for classroom level assessments as opposed to something at the college level. I can change something I’m doing with my students. If the college learns that our students are scoring in the 60th percentile on a standardized test, say on critical thinking, I don’t know what to do with that information. My students might be improving over the course of a term on critical thinking, but when assessed at the college level I can’t see that.

3. “Write about it.”

We need to share what we learn, where you share doesn’t much matter. Present at a conference. Write for a newsletter. Create your own blog. Send what you learn to your professional listservs. Sharing gives others something to try. I’ve also found that writing helps me sort through my thoughts and disentangle the mess that they often create.

There’s a movement afoot to get more people involved in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL – pronounced sew-toll). A lot of us are doing #1 (find something to change) and #2 (counting how often we succeed/fail), but we need to do more #3, sharing what we’re learning.

4. “Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going.”

Gawande brings this up in the context of making a connection with others, e.g., patients, nurses, other hospital employees by asking “unscripted” questions – “Where did you grow up?”, “What made you move to Boston?” Anything, really. While we all have our roles, it’s nice to remember that we’re all people first and foremost. Chat with your students before class. I know you’re busy. I know you’re rushed. But is it time to rethink priorities? That email you want to get sent off before you go to class will still be there when you get back. It’s not life and death. It’s just higher education. Email can wait. In fact, that’s what email was designed for – something that can wait until you have time to get to it.

The value of unscripted conversations also applies to our colleagues. I work in a very collegial department, but our collegiality is not an accident. Like any relationship, collegiality needs to be tended to. We meet, on average, every couple weeks – on Fridays, and our meetings typically last 2 to 3 hours. It’s not because we have that much official business to cover – generally we don’t get through our modest agenda as it is – but because we all value the camaraderie. We talk about our week’s trials and tribulations both in and out of the classroom. We seek and share advice on dealing with particularly difficult students. We discuss how we approach different topics in our courses. We discuss new assignments we’re trying and how those seem to be going. Yes, of course, we’re not working in utopia. Sometimes we get irritated with each other, but our frequent meetings let us work through those rough spots quickly.

Finally, #5. This is my suggestion, not Gawande’s. Read widely.

You never know where you’ll find inspiration.

As we begin a new academic year, what are you going to do to get better?