Sep 062012
 

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.

Aug 282012
 

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.

Aug 222012
 



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

 

 

Aug 052012
 

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.

Jul 312012
 

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.

Jun 242012
 

Have a tablet (Android or iPad)? If not, are you looking for a reason to get one? What if I told you that a tablet can be a mobile smartboard?

I’m using Splashtop’s Whiteboard. In my classroom, I hook up my laptop to the projector like I usually do, and then I open Whiteboard on my Motorola Xoom tablet. What is on my computer screen I see on my tablet. This is the remote desktop mode. I can now control my computer with my tablet or with my computer keyboard and mouse. Whatever I do on one, happens on the other. In annotation mode, I can draw on the screen.

Connecting

On my computer I installed Splashtop Streamer (free). When Streamer launches for the first time, you’re asked to create a security code. You’ll need that in order to connect your tablet to that particular computer. Streamer runs in the background. You can find its icon in the system tray (lower right corner of your computer screen). On my Motorola Xoom tablet I have installed Splashtop Whiteboard ($9.99). When I run the Whiteboard app, it automatically detects my computer. To connect I enter my computer’s security code.

There are two ways you can connect your tablet to your computer. One is if both computers are on the same wifi network. This will be the fastest connection. If that doesn’t work, the app will look for the computer on the internet. In that case, Splashtop uses your gmail username and password to connect. (In my classroom, my computer is on the LAN and my Xoom is on wifi; the network is configured in such a way that Splashtop is able to connect them without any trouble.)

Using Splashtop Whiteboard

Once connected, Splashtop presents you with a handy set of instructions on your tablet. If I remember correctly, the very first time you connect, Splashtop runs you quickly through a tutorial on how to use some of these gestures. Every subsequent connection produces this reminder screen. Once you’ve internalized these gestures, uncheck “Show hints every time” at the bottom of the screen.

In the images below, I show what is both on my computer screen and my tablet screen. To show how this works in class, in my screenshots I’m running PowerPoint.

Look in the lower right corner of the tablet (right image below). The bottom icon is a keyboard that allows me to enter text, like in a web browser or in a Word document. Wherever I can type with my computer, that keyboard icon allows me to type with my tablet. The thin, vertical icon in the bottom right is a pen. Clicking that icon allows me to write on the screen – annotation mode.

These images show me in remote desktop mode.

Computer

Tablet

   

Clicking the pen icon, moving me to annotation mode, produces the toolbar at the top of the screen. The toolbar shows on the computer screen as well as the tablet, but the toolbar can only be controlled by the tablet. As you can see, I’ve used the pen tool to add ink to the screen.

Computer

Tablet

Let’s take a closer look at the toolbar.

Starting with the icon highlighted in yellow:

Pen (change color or thickness). While you can draw on the screen with your finger, a stylus gives you a little more control. Probably any stylus designed for “capacitive touch” will work, although some work better than others (I like this stylus a lot). With the highlighter, circle, and square, you can also change color and thickness. With the line tool, add a solid line, a line with an arrow, a line with an arrow on both ends, or a dotted line. Again, you can change color and thickness. Add a stamp (arrow, star, heart, smiley, checkmark, or X). The text tool (“A“) permits typing on the screen with the tablet’s keyboard. The eraser erases whatever it touches; erase all erases everything (lines, stamps, circles, etc.) that has been added to the screen.

The first icon is a little flipchart. Click it to get a blank screen. If you don’t want just a white screen, you can choose backgrounds like an xy graph or graph paper. Whichever you choose, scribble all over it to your heart’s content, and then, just like a paper flipchart, flip the page – in this case by use the toolbar’s right arrow. You will get a fresh screen. Want to go back to the screen with your scribbles? Tap the left arrow. Ready to go back to your slide presentation? Tap on the flipchart icon and select the first option in the row, the one with the X on it.

The camera icon takes a screenshot to save your brilliant explanation. The image gallery lets you call up those screenshots later to share your brilliant explanation with future classes. Or to return to it in a later class session.

If you are running PowerPoint (and this is also probably true for any presentation slide software), the arrows to the right and left of the toolbar allow you to move forward/backward through your slides. Or if you want to feel more powerful, put two fingers on the screen and slide left to advance, slide right to go back.

Don’t want the toolbar cluttering up the screen? Put two fingers on the screen, and slide up. To get the toolbar back, put two fingers on the screen, and slide down.

To exit annotation mode altogether, tap the pen icon in the bottom right corner.

And of course there’s nothing special about PowerPoint. Anything that shows on your computer screen can be annotated. Here I’ve opened a webpage, and marked it up with the pen, highlighter, and added a couple stamps (star, arrow).

Other nifty features

Pinch to zoom. Your computer screen is going to look smaller on your tablet. Pinch to zoom in (two fingers on the screen then move them together); unpinch to zoom out (two fingers on the screen then move them apart).

Menu items. While in remote desktop mode (pen icon is white), tap the tablet screen with three fingers to get this menu at the bottom of the screen. The question mark gives you the gesture hint screen. If you are using dual monitors the next icon allows you to switch monitors. (If you use dual monitors and are using PowerPoint’s presentation view, switching monitors allows you to see your notes and jump around in your slides. Just like in class, no one will be able to see what you’re doing. Just remember to switch back when you’re ready to write on the screen again.) The scroll icon adds a scroll tool (circled in blue); if you’re on a webpage, for example, it’s really easy to use this to scroll up and down. Just put your finger on it and slide up/down. If you use it in PowerPoint, it will cycle through your slides very quickly. It has essentially the same functionality as a scroll wheel on a mouse. The last icon toggles between sharp mode and smooth rendering video mode. If you wanted to watch a computer video from your tablet, the smooth rendering mode may make the video run more smoothly.

Conclusion

Since I record my lectures, I like having all of my writing on the screen instead of on the whiteboard.

I like the mobility – of not being stuck behind a computer monitor – or needing to frequently go behind the monitor. I’m now free to wander the classroom.

Jun 192012
 

Quick Tech Tip. Did you know that you can draw on PowerPoint slides during your presentation? You can use your mouse if you don’t have a touchscreen.

When you run your PowerPoint slides, in the bottom left corner of the screen are four hard-to-see transparent icons: Left arrow, pen, menu, right arrow. When you mouse over one of them, you can see it. In the image below is the pen.

Clicking the pen icon calls up this menu. Click the pen to draw; click the highlighter to highlight. Change the ink color if you’d like. When you want to go back to the arrow, for use when clicking on the slide, return to this menu and select the arrow.

Alternatively, right click on any slide to get this menu. Mouse over “Pointer Options” to get the pen/highlighter menu.

Or better yet, use the keyboard shortcuts.

CTRL+P: Switches to the pen
CTRL+A: Switches to the arrow
CTRL+E: Switches to the eraser
E: Erases all ink on the slide
CTRL+M: Toggles between showing/not showing ink on the slide

If you forget the keyboard shortcuts, run your slideshow, then press F1 to generate this information box. Choose the tab you want to see the shortcuts for that tab.

Jun 072012
 

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.

Jun 062012
 

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.

May 232012
 

Quick Tech Tip. For goo.gl shortened URLS, did you know that you can get analytics by adding .info at the end of the goo.gl URL? It doesn’t even need to be the URL you shortened.

Try it. Go to http://goo.gl/UGtpp.info (page will open in new window). You will see how many people have visited that link, when they visited, how they got there, which browser they used, which country they’re in, and which platform they used.

It’s handy if, for example, you want to see how many of your students might be reading, or at least viewing/downloading what you’ve assigned. Remember, you can get URLs for any file or folder in Dropbox (see this blog post). Shorten the URL at goo.gl, then watch what’s happening by adding .info to the end of the shortened URL.

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