Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Visualize Your Thoughts

It's been awhile since my last tool post.  There are some reasons for that. First, it's been conference season. It starts for me in September as I plan out my accepted sessions for IETC in November.  In September, I was a part of RSCON for the first time.  The past few years I was the Chair for the SET Connections "SPUn" Conference in early November, then come the holidays and more conferences.  In fact this year, three in the span of six weeks.  Starting with the NICE Mini Conference at the end of January, the new and hopefully annual Google mini conference in February and of course ICE which was just last week.  It's a busy time.  And I'm not done yet. I'll be at WEMTA in a few weeks and I believe Tech Forum in May.  And that busy schedule doesn't even start to touch what some of my colleagues put on their plates.

However, I open every session talking about this blog and how I write about tools.  I will say that I have started getting away from the tools in favor of focusing on learning outcome.  But anyone in my "Taking the Tech Out of Technology Integration" sessions this past year knows that to successfully infuse tech you need to have a knowledge and foundation of what is available.

Enough blathering?  Get to the tool already?  Alright, here's are two.  I am a big fan of diagramming thoughts and of visualizing processes.  Whether that means mind mapping an idea or creating a flowchart.  Two great tools for this include Lucidchart and one I just discovered today  Both of these tools integrate with Google Drive - which is a major plus in my book because it makes it easy to share and collaborate.  And each offers a drag and drop interface.

If I'm being honest, Lucidchart seems a bit more robust.  It has a huge number of starter templates to create a number of different charts, graphs, maps and diagrams.  It also has a very professional interface.  I feel like I'm working in Visio or a more expensive application as I lay out my thoughts and ideas.  I LOVE the fact that it allows you to search for additional images to add to your charts and graphs through Iconfinder and Google Images.

On the other hand there is,  This tool just feels intuitive.  It has very similar features to Lucidchart with the exception of image search.  But it feels like you are working inside Google Docs.  It may not be as feature rich, but that can sometimes be overwhelming. just seems to work.  Big bonus - You don't need to sign up or in to use it or to save your work!

Both have offline modes available.  Lucidchart has a number of subscription levels beyond the free version as well.

If you are a visual person like me.  I highly recommend trying either of these online applications to get your thoughts and ideas organized.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Waukegan Google Mini Conference

Something tells me today is going to be anything but mini!  Epic is more like it.  I'll be presenting at the Waukegan Google Mini Conference this afternoon and am looking forward to a day of learning!  The list of presenters, headlined by the amazing Jennie Magiera as the keynot, is incredible. And for a first time event it looks like they are expecting a great turnout.  Maybe I'll see you there?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

NICE Mini Conference

I'll be presenting at the NICE Mini Conference this morning and live blogging at

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Capture the flag

So, just before the holiday break, I received a help desk request concerning a certain website freezing the entire PC and only within the Chrome browser.  Odd, indeed.  And during my research I was introduced to the power of chrome flags!  These handy dandy resources can be accessed typing chrome://flags into the Omnibox where you would normally type other website addresses. Depending on how geeky you are, what you see next may seem overwhelming. It's a list of a hundred or so "experiments" that can affect your Chrome browsing experience. But be warned they are experimental:

See I told you!  But in all seriousness, after playing around a bit and enabling or should I saw disabling GPU compositing on all pages  and Threaded compositing seemed to take care of the freezing issue when that special site was visited.

Now many of these "experiments" are for programmers and coders to test the tools of their trade.  But some can even enhance or even change you browsing experience for the better.  One in particular could revolutionize education forever!  Now that's a phrase I don't use lightly.  By turning on Enable Offline Cache Mode you are now able to browse the Internet when you have connectivity as always, but here's where it gets interesting.  If you encounter a blip in your Internet access or worse an outage you can continue to read the pages you visited - even if you shut down and restart Chrome!

So, how is this revolutionary you ask?  It doesn't seem to matter how long the outage or how long chrome or even your computer are shut down.  Those pages remain accessible.  That flight to your next conference doesn't offer wi-fi - but you spent the whole night on your laptop, doing research for an upcoming article or paper? Power up your device (once the stewardess gives the ok) and there's all your research!  As long as you remembered to take the document you were authoring offline - your good to go!

Take this a step further to today's students.  There is still a major socio-economic digital divide, even in this great country of ours.  Perhaps your school has gone 1-to-1 or BYOD?  Suddenly students without connectivity at home are left in the digital darkness.  Not so with this handy flag!  As long as it is enabled, any research they do when they are connected at school or the local library remains in their cache and can be accessed even when they have no Internet!

Now granted, I have not fully tested this!  I have no idea how big the cache is and how much data can be stored there. Although, there is probably another flag that can tell me! Also, I have noticed anything behind a login screen is not accessible (since typically you get logged out when you loose connectivity).  It also does not work for embedded content.  Those are the caveats.  But anything with a full url seems to work.  Dig deep into a blog and those pages will be there.  Research at CNN and Techcrunch.  Yup, still available!

It's not perfect and you're free to harp on the drawbacks.  Hey, I didn't write the code you won't hurt my feelings.  But thanks to Google Chrome and Enable Offline Cache Mode - Ubiquitous Universal Access for All just made one giant leap forward.

Hmmm, wonder what some of those other nifty flags do!  Only one way to find out!  I'll keep you posted .

Got a comment, suggestion or favorite flag of your own? Leave me a note below!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Making the Simple Complicatedly Simple

Confused yet? Me too! I had a colleague ask me today about an "easy" way to share photos that students were taking at an event that could be filtered by administration in some some way.  Well, off the bat that eliminates the use of hashtags on Twitter or Instagram.  That would be the truly easy way to handle it, but just isn't a viable solution in this instance.  So what is the "easy" solution?  I think I figured it out some few hours later using a convoluted mashup of Google VoiceDropboxFlickr and IFTTT.

  1. Create a Google Voice account for a Gmail Account.  A little known fact, you can actual text message these accounts and they will arrive just like emails.  Also create an alias for the email account itself in case people can't text they can email the alias.
  2. Create a Dropbox account and download the Dropbox application to your desktop.
  3. Create a public folder within the Dropbox folder on your desktop
  4. Set this public folder as the default location for your browser to download files.
  5. Create an IFTTT account
  6. Create a Flickr account (yes this requires a Yahoo account)
  7. If you haven't already, activate the Dropbox and Flickr services in IFTTT
  8. Create an IFTTT recipe where the If trigger is Dropbox "New Photo in Your Public Photo" Add hashtags, if you like, otherwise leave the rest set to default.  And set the Action for Flickr to "Upload Public Folder from URL"  
  9. Instruct the person monitoring the incoming photos to simply download the attached photos that have been approved from within the email.  The mere presence of the file in the Dropbox folder will trigger the IFTTT recipe and upload the image to Flickr.
  10. Create QR codes for the Google Voice and or the Email address to which you want people to send photos.  Make sure the number and address is available for people without QR Code scanners.
  11. Provide information about where people can view the photostream.
Simple right!?  For the person taking the photos, yes.  For the person monitoring the incoming photos, sort of.  For the technical staff who have to set this monstrosity up, not so much!  But hey, that's why no one ever looks behind the curtain right?!  I hope this helps someone with a similar request.

Incidentally, I could have avoided the download step entirely by setting up a forwarding of email including a specified hashtag to and then create a recipe that would trigger moving the document into the Dropbox folder which would then be automagically uploaded to Flickr.  The problem?  First it eliminates the approval process and second names the attachment with the phone number the message was sent from as it drops it into the Dropbox folder.  Probably, not the best idea.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A New Game from Sploder

So, after returning from #IETC13, which I promise I'll be writing a reflection post for about soon, I had to fulfill a promise help someone very special to me fulfill their wish to create a video game of their own.  I had no idea where to start.  But with a little searching I came across a site called: that basically has a drag and drop interface for game creation.  Four hours later, here is that special someone's first level of a game called "New World." Give it a try and let us know what you think!  Please - leave a constructive comment or some encouragement!
New World
Play Game
Make a Free Flash Game

Saturday, October 26, 2013

YouTube RSS Beta - Query Explained

Did you know adding a YouTube Channel to an RSS Feed Reader is as simple as adding the YouTube Channel address to your feed reader?  It will auto discover the feed and anytime your favorite channel receives a new upload it will be delivered right to your reader application!  Pretty cool in and of itself right?

But what about searches?  Well that's a little trickier but possible thanks to YouTube's API Beta Demo tool.  When opening that link you will be greeted by a page that looks like this:
Follow the YouTube API Demo link and it will take you to a very powerful search engine that will allow you to add keyword searches to your feed reader as well.  Let's walk through this step by step.
First locate the video feeds Query link and select it.
Then scroll down and in the categories and keywords section choose the Atom/RSS readers radio button and type in a keyword you would like to search for in this case "edtech" and use the AND button to add it to the search.
Next scroll down to the Request Parameters segment of the form.  There are many options but the two most important are checking the RSS 2.0 Output Format radio button and selecting Published as the option for Ordering (this will give you the most recent videos uploaded).
Scroll down to the Resulting URI section and click submit.  This is where the magic starts to happen.  It will create an XML document specific to your search.  But, you don't have to worry about that.
Instead copy out the first part of the link in the Resulting URI section (typically and append what appears following the GET command in the Request section.  So our link that we would paste into our feed reader would look something

Now any uploaded videos tagged with the keyword you choose will be sent directly to your RSS Feed Reader!  You no longer have to search that keyword at YouTube - instead it will come to you!  Gotta love RSS!

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