Category: Productivity

Fences: Folders for Your Windows Desktop

I visit a lot of faculty offices and view a lot of computer desktops. If you pretty much only see your computer screen(s), check out this NPR story on a photographer whose chosen subject is the computer desktop. Do you use your desktop as a dumping ground for anything and everything new? Or do you only use if for what you are currently working on? Do you store files and folders there, or just program icons? Do you wish you had multiple screens, like your smartphone does?

I recently started using Fences (30-day free trial; $9.99) [for Windows; Mac users try Desktop Groups] . I should have moved to it when it first came out a couple years ago. Fences creates folders for your desktop.

When it first runs, Fences defaults to corralling your icons into 3 fences: Folders, programs, and files & documents. In the screenshot above, you can see I have the original 3 fence types and 2 new ones I created.

Create a new fence by clicking on an empty space and dragging the cursor. You’re given the option to “Create Fence here” or “Create Folder Portal here.” In this case I created new fences. One holds the program icons for 3 clicker programs; I don’t use them all, but I will be demonstrating them soon for a conference presentation, so I wanted the icons where I could easily get at them. The other one I created for my Psych 100 course. I put in shortcuts to the PowerPoint files I’ll be using in my upcoming class sessions.

If you want to move icons to a different fence or out of a fence, just click and drag.

A folder portal is a quick method for displaying an existing folder on your desktop. It is just a series of shortcuts to the documents in that folder. This is a very handy feature if you’re working on a project that has you frequently dipping into one particular folder.

Multiple screens.

All of your fences don’t fit on one screen, or perhaps you just don’t want to see certain fences all the time. Click the very right edge of your desktop and drag left (or click left and drag right) to get a clean screen. Just like your smartphone. To move an existing fence to the new screen, click the top of the fence and drag it to the edge, and just like your phone, the fence moves to the new screen.

Now that you’re organized.

Don’t let your desktop fall back into chaos. Create a new fence, and click the settings menu in the top left corner. Mouse over “Organize.” Decide if you want to send all new desktop stuff into this fence, or only certain content.


For the completely clutter-free desktop.

If you want an ultraclean workspace, double-click any empty space on the screen, and the fences and their icons will disappear. Double-click again to make them reappear. You can exclude any fence from “quick-hide” by going to that fence’s settings menu, and under “View,” selecting “Exclude this Fence from quick-hide.”

While we’re here on the view tab, notice that you can change how visible the fences are. Anything less than 100% makes them appear ghosty on the screen. Mousing over them makes them completely visible. In the screenshot below, the top fence is 100% visible. The bottom fence is set to 40%.

Further customization.

Fences adds itself to your control panel. Access it there or from your Start menu to make Fences work exactly as you would like. For example, change the color of the fences and fence titles. Change their degree of transparency. You can even see snapshots of your screen (taken daily) and restore to that earlier layout.

Ready to organize your desktop?

We really should also have a conversation about your email…

KeyRocket: 50% off Coupon Codes

I’ve blogged about KeyRocket before (see this post). They’ve just updated their pricing scheme.

I have 3 half-off coupon codes to give away, courtesy of Veodin, the makers of KeyRocket. Codes will be given to the first three people to email me at sfrantz32@gmail.com. Codes expire in 10 days.

Rude Emails: PhraseExpress Can Help You Cope

I’ve written before about the utility of PhraseExpress. PhraseExpress (Windows; Mac users try TextExpander) allows you to create text shortcuts. For example, when I type #IV it automatically expands to independent variable; #slo will expand to student learning outcome; #entry generates a paragraph of text explaining why I won’t give an entry code to a student who doesn’t meet the prerequisite for my course. These programs work anywhere you can type, such as your email, your word processing program, your browser.

LifeHacker has a nice use for it. Create a shortcut, say #rude, that generates a canned response to rude or hostile email messages. The author of the article suggests this:

“I’m open to hearing what you have to say and having a discussion about it, but I have a policy of ignoring people who take a malicious approach to conversation. I felt something that you said fell under this heading, and if you’d like to try again with a kinder approach, I’d be happy to have a conversation with you.”

When you get that nasty email, hit reply, type #rude, and watch this paragraph appear. Hit send. And file the originating email safely out of your sight.

Dropbox: Two-Step Verification

Dropbox recently enabled two-step verification. With two-step verification, when you log on using a new device, you need both your password and a code from your phone. (Use it for your Google account, too.) If someone does get hold of your password, they won’t be able to get into your account without this second code.

How it works.

When I log into my Dropbox account from a new computer or mobile device, I first enter my Dropbox password, and then I am asked for a verification code. I run the Google Authenticator app (Android/iOS/Blackberry) on my phone. (Download the app from wherever you get your apps.) Every 30 seconds a new code will appear. I enter the current code to log into Dropbox. That’s it.

Enabling two-step verification.

First, download the Google Authenicator app for your smartphone and a QR code scanner. I use one for Android called Scan. If you have a phone that’s just a phone, you can have codes sent to you via text message; see instructions below.

Go to Dropbox.com and log in to your account. Click on your name in the top right corner of the screen. Select “Settings”.

Select the “Security” tab.

Scroll down to “Two-step verification” and click “change”.

Decide how you’d like to get the codes. If you have a smartphone, Google Authenicator is the easiest route, but there’s nothing wrong with text message. Click next.

Open your QR code reader (Scan, for me; “bar code scanner” does not seem to work with Google Authenticator.) Scan the code.

After scanning, your phone will ask you if you’d like to save it. Say yes. On your phone, you will see Dropbox: your@email.address with a number below it. Every 30 seconds that number will change. On your computer, Dropbox will ask you to enter the code.

After entering the code, this message will give you an “emergency backup code.” Put it someplace safe. If you use LastPass, create a “secure note” and save it there.

Creating a secure note in LastPass.

Log in to LastPass, and from the menu on the left, select “Add Secure Note”.

Name your note something useful; in this case, “Dropbox authenticator code.” Paste the code in the big box. Click the save button.

Conclusion.

The number one threat to your online life is password security. With two-step verification, even if your password is compromised, your account cannot be accessed unless the person has your phone, too.

Searching Google Land with Shortmarks



Late last year I wrote about Shortmarks (see blog post), a web-based service that provides a faster way to visit the web. For example, when I type the letter h in my browser’s address box, I’m whisked to my college’s website; the h is short for Highline Community College. The letters bn take me to Barnes and Noble. If in my browser’s address bar, I type bn Bird Sense, the Barnes and Noble site is automatically searched for books titled Bird Sense. (Side note: I just finished this book by Tim Birkhead. I highly recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in birds.)

How Shortmarks works.

I tell my browser to make Shortmarks my default search engine. Any search I do in my browser gets filtered through my Shortmarks account first. If Shortmarks doesn’t have a match, Shortmarks will redirect to the search engine of my choosing.

When I edit my Shortmarks bookmarks, this is what I see. The keyword is what I type in my browser’s address bar. See bn? The name is the name of the website. The direct link is the URL for the website. If I just type bn, I am sent to this page. The next column, search link, is what is triggered when I type something after the keyword. In the example above, bn Bird Sense, launched the search link URL where Bird Sense was the search term.

Those search link URLs are incredibly useful, but they can be a bit of a hassle to find. Dwight Stegall in the Google forums kindly provided a bunch specifically for Google. Here are some search links for your reference.

Google calendar: https://www.google.com/calendar/render?tab=oc&q=%s

Google images: http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&source=hp&q=%s&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2

Google video: http://video.google.com/videosearch?q=%s&hl=en&emb=0&aq=f#

Google maps: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=%s&hl=en&emb=0&sa=N&tab=vl

Google news: http://news.google.com/news?q=%s&hl=en&emb=0&sa=N&tab=ln

Gmail: https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&shva=1#search/%s

Google books: http://books.google.com/books?q=%s&hl=en&sa=N&tab=fp

Google scholar: http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=%s&hl=en&sa=N&tab=Ts

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?q=%s&hl=en&sa=N&tab=b1

Google docs: https://docs.google.com/?hl=en&tab=bo#search/%s

Google reader: https://www.google.com/reader/view/?hl=en&tab=by#search/%s/

Google I’m Feeling Lucky: http://www.google.com/search?btnI=3564&q=%s

Google web search: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%s

 

 

Spellchecking Gmail

As more and more people are moving to Gmail, some are missing the spellcheck feature of their former email program. Gmail does have spellcheck, but it’s not check-as-you-type.

When you are done composing a message, click the “Check Spelling” link on the new message’s toolbar.

For the curious, “Suggest Times to Meet” is a feature of the Boomerang add-on for Gmail. See this blog post for more information on Boomerang.

Spellchecking in browsers.

In most browsers, however, you already have a spellchecker built in.

Spellchecking in Firefox is on by default. It will only work in text boxes that allow you to enter 2 or more lines of text, however.


For Chrome, spellcheck may also already be on. If it is not, go to settings (wrench icon in the top right corner of your browser screen).

Scroll down to the bottom of the page and select “Show advanced settings…”.

Scroll down to “Languages” and click the “Languages and spell-checker settings…”.

And then check the box next to “Enable spell checking.”

Now when you type in any browser screen, including Gmail, the words not in the browser’s dictionary will be underlined in red.

Spellcheck for Internet Explorer (IE).

Unlike Firefox and Chrome, IE does not have a built-in spellchecker. There are free add-ins made by others though that you can try, such as ieSpell and Speckie.

KeyRocket for Gmail

In June I wrote about a new tool, KeyRocket, designed to help you learn keyboard shortcuts for MS Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. KeyRocket now has a version available for those who use Chrome to access Gmail. Did you know that Gmail has keyboard shortcuts? KeyRocket tells you what they are as you use Gmail. Keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.

Installing KeyRocket.

Get KeyRocket for Gmail from the Chrome Web Store; it’s called “Shortcuts for Gmail.”

After it is installed, you will be directed to the settings screen in Gmail. In the “keyboard shortcuts” section of the page, make sure keyboard shortcuts are turned on.

If you manage to exit this screen before making the change, you can get back to it by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of your gmail screen.

What KeyRocket does.

Clicking on the “inbox” link in Gmail now produces this popup message in the bottom right corner of the browser window.

The next time you want to go to your inbox, press ‘g’ followed by ‘i’. The ‘>>’ means sequentially, not simultaneously.

Deleting a message produces this popup.

Next time you want to delete a message after reading it, just press the ‘#’ key. The email message will disappear, having been moved to the trash bin, and you will be taken back to where you were before you opened the message.

Clicking the “compose” button to write a new message produces this popup.

Next time you want to write a new message you now know to just press ‘c’.

Send an email message in gmail without using the mouse.

Press ‘c’ to compose a new message. Or press ‘r’ to reply to a message.

Press ‘Tab’ to move from ‘to:’ to ‘subject:’ to body of message.

When you’re ready to send, press ‘Tab’ again. That moves the cursor up to the ‘send’ button. Now press ‘enter,’ and your email is sent. Important: If you press ‘tab’ and ‘enter’ simultaneously, your email will be discarded.

Conclusion.

With Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts turned on, you can use all of these shortcuts without KeyRocket. KeyRocket just tells you what they are when you engage in actions that have keyboard shortcuts. KeyRocket is your Gmail shortcut tutor.

Boomerang Calendar: Gmail/Calendar Integration

Boomerang Calendar, a gmail addin, looks for date/time information in your incoming gmail messages, compares them against your Google Calendar entries, and lets you know if you’re free or not, and then lets you schedule a time. It also allows you to easily propose meeting times to individuals or groups.

I sent this message to my gmail account.

This is what it looked like when I opened it in gmail.

Boomerang Calendar identified date/time information, and looked at those time slots in my Google Calendar. Green means I’m free, yellow means that the time is bumping up against another appointment, and red means I’m already booked at that time.

If I mouse over those times, Boomerang Calendar gives me a little popup showing the proposed time in the context of whatever else my Google Calendar says I have going on that day. From here I can open Boomerang Calendar by clicking the “Show Calendar” button or add the appointment directly to my Google Calendar by clicking “Add This Event”. (The “Cancel” button seems unnecessary because the popup disappears when you move the mouse off the popup.)

When I click on “at 10am” Boomerang Calendar generates this popup, the same that’s generated if I were to click on “Show Calendar” in the mouse-over popup above. In the bottom left corner are the times it extracted from the email message. The 10am time, the time I clicked, shows up in orange and purple. The other proposed times are in orange and yellow.


Since the email I received suggested a time when I’m available, I’ll go ahead and schedule that by clicking on that orange and purple appointment time. Boomerang Calendar gives me another popup. It automatically enters “Meeting with Sue Frantz” by pulling the name off the email message of the sender, in this case, me. It defaults to an hour-long appointment, but I can change the length. The note field is prepopulated with the email message contents of the sender leaving space for me at the top to add any additional notes. Using the checkboxes, I can remind myself or others of the meeting, and I can use Google Calendar Invite if I’d like. At the very top of the popup Boomerang Calendar selected my Google Calendar named “Sue Frantz” because that’s what I told it to use by default. Using the dropdown menu, I can select from my other Google Calendars. Finally, I click “Add event” to add the appointment to my calendar.

I still have to email the sender back to confirm the time when we’re meeting, however. Just because it’s on my calendar doesn’t mean that they know it’s on my calendar.

Note: Boomerang Calendar does a very good job at guessing the dates/times meant in the email, but it’s not perfect. Double check Boomerang Calendar’s dates/times against what was written in the email.

Propose alternate times.

But let’s say that I don’t like any of the proposed times. I can click anywhere in my calendar, in this case 11am on Tuesday and 10am on Wednesday. Boomerang Calendar defaults to half-hour appointments but I expanded these by grabbing the white equals sign at the bottom of the appointment times and dragging them down so that each appointment is an hour long. In the bottom right corner, I can see the proposed times, and now I’m going to generate an email message with the “Generate email response” button.

And here is the automatically-generated gmail response that I am, of course, free to edit before hitting send.

But what if I want to be the first to propose times to meet?

Compose a new email message, and click “Suggest Times to Meet.”

Now I can click on any times in my calendar I’d like (shown in dark green).


If I click “location” and start typing, Google Maps helps me out.


When I click “Generate Email Template” Boomerang Calendar drafts this gmail message for me.

And, yes, if the recipient of the email clicks on “Starbucks” Google Maps will load showing the meeting location.

Group events.

Boomerang Calendar sits in the top right corner of the gmail window. Clicking its icon allows you to change settings, which, at this writing, are limited to which of your Google Calendars you want Boomerang Calendar to reference when identifying when you’re free/busy and which calendar you want Boomerang Calendar to add appointments to. Also in this menu is “Plan a Group Event.”


Enter the information requested…


And your invitees will get a message.

Unfortunately Boomerang Calendar doesn’t note those time slots in Google Calendar. You’ll have to enter them yourself as tentative appointments if you want to be sure not to schedule anything else at those times.

Each recipient notes when they are available, and they can do it directly from the email message or go to the Boomerang Calendar website by following the “click here” link in the email. If a recipient wants to change their responses, they can just open this email again, and re-enter their availability.

After each response I get an email that updates me on who is available when.

When I’m ready to schedule it, I click the appropriate “Choose Time and Notify Recipients” button. This email reply is generated in gmail. Edit it and hit send. Done.

Conclusion.

If you use gmail and Google Calendar, this is a powerful and easy-to-use scheduling tool worth having in your toolbox.

Boomerang Calendar as of this writing is only available by invitation code. Go to their website, scroll down to where the invitation code box is, and try iuseboomerang. If that doesn’t work, tweet or email per the instructions on that page.

KeyRocket: Updated

A couple months ago I wrote about a new tool that just launched. KeyRocket has grown up in that short time. Time for an update.

Ready to learn some keyboard shortcuts for Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook? Download KeyRocket, and you’ll have your own tutorial. As you work, KeyRocket recognizes when you use the toolbar and will suggest a keyboard shortcut to accomplish the same task. (Free for personal and non-commercial use; subscribe for $5/month for tech support and advanced setup with your business.)

[Note: When KeyRocket first launched in beta, free users could only choose one of the four commonly used Microsoft Office tools. Now you don’t have to choose; use it with all 4.]

How it works.

After downloading and installing KeyRocket, I just open up my Office program, in this case word, and work like I usually do. If KeyRocket spots a keyboard shortcut it thinks I’m ready for, it will suggest it.

In this case, I clicked on the “start a bulleted list” on the toolbar.

KeyRocket produced this little popup in response, telling me that if I simultaneously press the CTRL key, the SHIFT key, and L, I can start a bulleted list.

If I use that keyboard shortcut, KeyRocket gives me a wonderful little celebratory message. I can even share it on Twitter if I’d like.

Notice the meter at the bottom of both of those messages. Every time I use the shortcut, the meter advances. After a few uses, all I get is the meter.

 

After several uses, I earn a gold star!

 

Now when I use the shortcut, I get no more popups. If I forget and use the toolbar, KeyRocket’s there to remind me.

 

While there are 1,600+ keyboard shortcuts possible with Office, KeyRocket doesn’t inundate you with all of them at once.

 

Right click on the KeyRocket icon in the system tray. Select “Shortcut Browser” – or use the keyboard shortcut: WINDOWS + K.

 

 

Here I’m looking at the list of some of the shortcuts in Word that KeyRocket thinks would be useful to me. If the “Notify” is set to “On”, then KeyRocket will tell me about that keyboard shortcut every time I use the toolbar. If it’s set to “Auto” it may or may not tell me about it. I don’t know what algorithm it uses to make that decision. Officially KeyRocket says that “Auto” will tell me about the shortcut “only if the shortcut appears to be unknown.” If “Notify” is set to “Off”, then KeyRocket won’t tell me about it.

 

If there is a particular keyboard shortcut I’m looking for, I can search for it, and then change the “Notify” to “On” if I’m ready to learn it by having KeyRocket remind me when I use the toolbar instead.

 

I have frequently used keyboard shortcuts with Word, but I have discovered that I haven’t used that many with Outlook – until now. If you like keyboard shortcuts, try it out.

Dropquest II

[Update 5/21/2012: Dropquest deadline is June 2, 2012.  Check out Dropbox’s new “get space” page.]

Last year Dropbox hosted a scavenger hunt of sorts that awarded players extra Dropbox space. They’re ready to launch the second incarnation. As you solve the puzzles, space is added to your Dropbox account. If you finish the hunt, you’re guaranteed at least 1GB of extra space.

The first batch to finish get some additional prizes.

1st place (1) Dropbox employee hoodie, LIMITED EDITION Dropbox Hack Week t-shirt, Dropbox drawing signed by the entire Dropbox team, invitation to help write the next Dropquest, 100 GB for life
2nd place (10) Dropbox employee hoodie, Dropbox t-shirt, 20 GB for life
3rd place (15) Dropbox t-shirt, 5 GB for life
4th place (50) 2 GB for life
5th place (100) 1 GB for life

It starts at 10am PT on Saturday, May 12th, 2012.

To play, go here, and click on the link at the bottom of the page.