Five to Keep

It’s hard to think but there was a time when a web browser didn’t have tabs.  You could browse a single website and that was about it.  It made using a lot of the up and coming Web 2.0 activities a bit of a challenge since you could only do one thing at a time.  Fortunately, browsers evolved to the point where you could have multiple websites open.  It was possible at that point to open one tab with one website and another with another website and move content from one to the other.  Copy/paste or export/import were valuable skills. And if your basic browser didn’t have the desired function, you could extend its functionality with add-ons or extensions.  That single feature moved me years ago to make Firefox my default browser.  Of course, all of this is ancient history in the digital timeline given the modern browsers that we all enjoy.

In particular, working with a document in Google Docs was a big example of this for me.  I would often start with something in one tab, develop it, and then bring it into my document in another tab.  Doing so made you feel so cutting edge!

Now things have changed.  Recently Google upped the game by adding add-ons for use right in your open document.  This is an incredibly valuable feature.  With the right add-on, there’s no need to even move to another tab – you stay right in your document, create your content and then use the add-on as needed.

As you might expect, people were right out of the blocks writing posts about the “Top 10 Add-ons” for Google Docs and essentially picked some of the best for a post.  (Go ahead – Google it)  I started poking around adding, removing, based upon what I could see myself using and/or recommending to others.  At the end of the testing, I settled with five that I feel really comfortable with now.

To install, it’s as simple as selecting Add-ons menu and then “Get add-ons”.

The option to “Manage add-ons” as you would expect lets you have control over what’s installed and to delete the ones that you don’t want anymore.

Adding opens a menu of what’s available.  

My first visit was overwhelming.  I need this; I need this; I need that….

So many options.  As you add one, you have to give permissions for the add-on to access your Google information.  It’s worth noting every time you give any application access to your account.  Check to see if you’re comfortable with the permissions that you’re granting.

As I explored, I just knew that I had to keep things under control.  Which ones to keep?

From my perspective, here are my keepers.  I know that I’ll use them often.  Each of the add-ons make a “call home” and then opens on the right side of the screen.  No more tabs or windows browsing.  I’m really liking the functionality at my fingertips.  Just like extensions for the browser itself, extensions to the documents just extend the functionality and increase my productivity.

Here’s the calculator.  So often, I end up doing calculations when working in a document.  This tool now makes one instantly available.

At this point, here are the five that I have decided to keep.

  • Calculator
  • EasyBib Bibliography Creator
  • Lucidchart Diagrams
  • openclipart
  • Thesaurus

Other add-ons can be added on a whim.

I’m excited about this addition to Google Docs functionality.  These five definitely are keepers from my perspective.  I’ll keep checking the menu and looking for more exciting tools.  First to write an RPN Calculator wins my heart!

I’m interested in hearing from you.  What add-ons have you found to be keepers?

A Better Streetview

I love the Streetview feature in Google Maps and Google Earth.  I use it all the time when I’m watching the news and want to get a sense about where the event is happening.  Or, I’ll use it to check out a Formula 1 racetrack – you can even tour the track at Monaco and I’ve done that a number of times.  Or, I will reminisce about places I’ve lived or gone to school.  Or, if I’m about to go to a new place, I’ll use it to get an idea as to what the place looks like so that I know when I get there.

Here’s the workflow that I typically use.

  • Open Google Maps;
  • Zoom in to the location; (or type the address in the search box)
  • Grab the Pegman and drop him close to where the placemark is;
  • Wait as we switch from map mode to streetview mode;
  • Orientate by looking around to find the location.

Now, it’s not nearly as onerous a task as it is to write it out but I just wanted to enumerate the steps.

There is a quicker way.  It’s called “Instant Google Street View” and located here.

When the site opens, just type your desired address and voilà!  You’re automatically placed in Streetview and automatically looking at the right side of the street!  To even speed up the process, pattern matches to your search appear as you type with imagery filling in as you go. It’s pretty amazing to watch.

In terms of reminiscing, here’s where I lived for the first year at university.

Quick and easy.

Give it a shot yourself and see if isn’t a bit quicker than the way you search for location using Streetview the conventional way.  You may just want to bookmark this!

And, if you want to reverse the process, there’s a button that will switch you to Mapview.  Heck, you can even look at random locations on the current map.

It might even change the way you think about finding or exploring locations.


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Screen Capture on Chromebook

I was inspired to do some investigation based on a story I read yesterday about screen capture software.  The original article was called “Collection Of Free Screen Capture Tools And Techniques“.  After my post, @pbeens noted that his favourite app, Greenshot, wasn’t listed.  I hadn’t heard of it so decided to check it out.  Interesting.

I know, myself, I use a variety of tools depending upon the computer I’m using.  It’s a funny thing, you get used to a particular utility and it just becomes part of your routine.  Without screen captures, this blogger would be in trouble.  I’m not an artist so making something online and then capturing it is a pretty common activity around here.  Consider the image I included yesterday, created by CloudArt, as exhibit A!

If it wasn’t for Jing, I don’t know how I would have done!

So, as you poke around, there are all kinds of ways to do the deed in Windows, Macintosh, and Linux but then I started to wonder about those who use Chromebooks.

After all, you’re using a different sort of tool.

I’ve read of people installing Ubuntu  on a Chromebook but that’s for the uber geeky.  There are many districts that are experimenting or planning on an implementation of Chromebooks.  What will they do?

After all, there’s no better way to demonstrate understanding of something than to take an image and use it or take an image, write on it, and then share.  Since the last tool I had used was Jing, I wonder if there was a Chromebook version.  Nope.  Just Macintosh and Windows.

Maybe this will be a checkmark for the nay sayers.

I actually had forgotten about it and moved on to doing something else.  As it would happen, I ended up in the Google Chrome store looking for an extension and thought I would poke around.

Then I found it.

Techsmith has released a solution!  It’s called Snagit for Google Chrome.  They understand where the target audience is too.  The Techsmith page is specifically targeted for Chromebooks and Education.  But that didn’t stop me from downloading and testing it in my Google Chrome browser.

You need to download both the Chrome Application and the Chrome Extension, and when you’re done, a new button becomes immediately available for you.

If you’re a Jing user, clicking the button launches a familiar environment.

Define the area that’s going to be part of your work with the extension and then the application kick in.

Your captured area pops into the Snagit editor and you’re ready to start documenting.

As you can see, you’ve got your arrows, your text, your circles and boxes and the option to change colour as you do your work.

Where did it go?

Don’t forget, you’re using a Chromebook!  It should come as no surprise that Techsmith has a folder for you in your Google Drive.

All of your screen captures end up there.  Once there, it’s just like any other document for editing, inclusion in other projects, Dropboxing, etc.

If you’re using Chromebooks, you’ve got to check this out.  It may be the answer to a question that’s been puzzling you!  You’ll also be an early adopter … according to the stats from the Google Chrome Webstore, there were less than 10,000 users as I write this.


And the Answer Is …

Yesterday, I shared the bottom of a device that I had setting on a shelf here in dougpete labs.  I took a picture of the bottom where all of the instructions and codes to operate my old US Robotics modem.   I was pleasantly surprised that the company was still doing well and was really interested in how they’ve grown with change in their product line.

Right next to the modem on the museum shelf, I still have this beauty.

2013-09-17 08.56.48

If Stephen Downes thinks I’m a sentimentalist with keeping that modem, he’ll love this.  Given that I now had two phone lines in the house, I could call from this Radio Shack Model 100 to the Bulletin Board on the other line and connect at a whopping 300 baud using its internal modem.  That sure doesn’t sound like much but in a day when everything was text anyway, it wasn’t bad.  After all, there were only eight lines of display on the screen anyway.  The biggest problem was now tying up BOTH phone lines so that one computer could talk to the other.  But the Model 100 was my original portable laptop and, without all this fancy USB stuff which makes life easy today, that was the only way I could transfer files from one computer to the other.

Back to the modem picture.  It was interesting – my cell phone was the first one to identify it!

That’s because my Smartphone has Google Goggles installed on it.

Goggles is an incredible utility.  Take a picture of something and send the picture to Goggles and it searches for the answer to the question “What’s in this picture?”

It’s a great utility for me.  My two biggest uses?

  • I use it to recognize QR Codes;
  • I use it to identify flowers and trees while out walking.  It makes me seem like I know what I’m talking about.

2013-09-16 20.27.02

It’s a utility that needs to be installed on everyone’s smartphone.

From Web to the Desktop

Just when I thought I had things mastered…moving much of what I do to the web, my world just might get turned around.  The latest news from Google is the ability to run Google Chrome apps from your desktop.  At least on Windows and on Chromebooks (which run the Chrome OS) at this point in time.  So, of course, I had to check it out.

It’s not like I need to do things local – I’m connected everywhere I want to be connected.  But I did start thinking about education and there are a number of scenarios that spring to mind where having a fully offline working application makes a great deal of sense.

  • your classroom isn’t wired yet;
  • you’re out in a portable and it’s just not workable;
  • you’d like to take some portable technology outside or on a field trip;
  • you need a computer to take to a professional learning event without wifi;
  • make up your own.  Think of any opportunity lost because you didn’t have a computer with you.

In the long run, I think that the real advantage is that any application developer can just develop for Chrome regardless of the base operating system.  You just need to have Google Chrome or Chrome OS installed and you’re off to the races.

When you visit the Chrome applications store on the web on a device that’s ready, you’ll see an additional menu item.


I chose this item to poke around.  I was curious to see what was available.  Of interest would be a desktop blogging application.  Pickings are kind of slim at this early point but I did grab a couple of applications.  The first thing that it did was install a Google launcher.


I actually have three pages of things that the launcher can access.  Many of them on the previous two pages are extensions that are installed in the Chrome browser already.  Of importance to me here are the last two.  I downloaded WeatherBug and Google Keep as desktop applications. 

I ran them once to make sure that they were functional.  In this case, both of them actually needed web access to get going.  WeatherBug to get a location and to download the weather information, and Google Keep to get access to my Google account. 

Then, for the acid test, I closed off the browser and disconnected my computer from the home network.  Now, I started each application.



Both applications open nicely as standalone applications.   (I left a bit of my desktop in the image to show that they’re no visible evidence of Chrome anywhere.)

Both work as expected.  They were just as functional as if I was actually in a web browser.

It’s an interesting concept, this moving back to the desktop.  I think the key is that it adds much additional functionality and purpose to the Chromebook and it levels the playing field for developers who want to write for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Chrome OS.  It used to be that the web was the common thread that made this possible.  Now, it’s a browser that’s not connected to the web that makes it happen.

Don’t get dizzy!

Can I Have a Second of Your Time

If I’d only had a dollar for every time I heard that.  Or, maybe an app that I could set to say “OK, time’s up”.

This was a computer science problem that I gave my students.  It was one that easily scaffolded to a number of things like accessing the internal clock of the computer or writing code to do an eight segment digital display.

Here are a couple of answers that can help you with than dilemma if you’re not ready to spend the time to code your own.

Suppose someone just wanted 5 seconds of your time …


Online Stopwatch does a great job.  watch1

It’s as simple as setting the time and clicking Start.  In the classroom, if you have your computer connected to a data projector and time is of the essence, go to full screen and away you go.  There’s a ringer at the end of the countdown so you may not want to test this out in the middle of the night when your wife is asleep.  Just saying.

Look at the URL and you can edit it for any time that you want.  Or, there are some preset times at the bottom of the screen.  Or, back off to the root of the site and use the buttons to set things from there.  Links at the bottom will take you to a bunch of other displays.


If you’re caught without your bookmarks and you can’t remember the URL, use your old friend Google.

Just search for – “set timer to 5 seconds”



What can be simpler!

I’m sure that you can find all kinds of ways to incorporate a timer into your time management routine.  I’m thinking of those groupwork times when you’re circulating and engaging with students.  It will help you with time awareness.

Code Like a Googler

Well, not really.  But, you can fool around with some of the hooks into Google products using the Google Code Playground.

The web application gives you access to numerous Google APIs  (Application Program Interface).  So often we, and our students, see just the best products as an end user.  It’s the curiosity of a programmer that wants to lift the hood and see what’s inside.  The Code Playground is the perfect place to do this.

You can look at Language, Blogger, Blog Search, Maps, Earth, Web Search, YouTube, … and take a look at the code designed to generate a particular output.

So, if you want to play around with Google Search, you would expand the options for an application and choose your poison!

The API Choice appears in the top left window, code to tinker with/modify in the top right, and the actual output at the bottom of the screen.

As I was poking around, I got interested in Maps.  In particular, map markers.  So I dug in and looked at the screen.

It might make a great deal of sense if you lived in Palo Alto but I don’t.  Now, I always work better when I have a particular project and my inspiration on this date was Bubbypalooza.  It’s my daughter’s birthday and we decided to take the dog on a daughter/daddy outing to Arby’s and then the lake at Seacliffe Park in Leamington.  During the course of the outing, we made a number of stops so that was my inspiration to take the original example and rework it for my purposes.

Now, if you’re a regular Maps user, you know that the front end is very easy and intuitive to use.  (At least the old Google Maps was…)

My starting point was to look at their map and tie my logic into the code that they supplied.

It looks like they had to choose the base map for their canvas and then they just picked 10 random spots and dropped markers in place.

My learning started – how do I determine the base map and then scale to the size I need?  Then, how are points created and plotted – I certainly don’t want random points?  As an aside, my original project was going to be to plot the path that we took getting in and around Leamington due to the construction but I decided to do something easier!  Just figuring out the Oak, Fraser, Talbot Intersection is enough!

The clues were all stored in the car’s GPS.  I revisited our trip and used the latitude/longitude information to get me close to where we were.  Had I known I was going to do this yesterday, I would have kept a log of our trip.  Choosing the starting map was relatively simple since the town of Essex is almost dead centre in Essex County.  I experimented with the third argument and decided a zoom level of 9 gave me the view of the map that I wanted.  My “got it” moment was displaying Google’s 10 random points over a map of Essex County.  I removed their code and added my own – brute force style.

function initialize() {

 if (GBrowserIsCompatible()) {

    var map = new GMap2(document.getElementById(“map_canvas”));

    map.setCenter(new GLatLng(42.156787,-82.777519), 9);

    // The Great Bubbypalooza Road Trip


      var point = new GLatLng(42.036544, -82.739518);

      map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));

      //Seacliffe Park

      var point = new GLatLng(42.032464, -82.605622);

      map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));


      var point = new GLatLng(42.171546, -82.815735);

      map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));


      var point = new GLatLng(42.135022,-82.87917);

      map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));


      var point = new GLatLng(42.140241, -82.970322);

      map.addOverlay(new GMarker(point));



The result?  This beautiful map!

Like every successful coding project, I’m happy and also thinking of next steps.

  • How would I label the markers?
  • Could I draw the roads and path that we took?  (except for the Leamington detours)
  • Could I measure the distance between waypoints?

For the classroom, it’s a wonderful example of tinkering and playing to get results.  It’s just another example that helps answer the question “Where will we ever use this stuff?”  It certainly does gives you a look under the hood of Google Maps.

And, most of all, it’s a great deal of fun.  With all that can be accessed in the Code Playground, you’ll never get your fill!

Watching the World Search

There’s a whole world of interest when you combine psychology, technology, current events, and just boredome.  What am I talking about?  Searching on Google.  I just find it fascinating to think that there are millions of people in search of something that has caught their interest and yet they all converge on a limited number of topics.  To watch this happen, head over to Google Trends.

Along the right, you’ll find some navigation options to let you dig into the content.  The default is Hot Searches.  

So, what is hot in Canada on this Sunday afternoon as I put the finishing touches on this post?

That should be enough to get you started.  Dig further.

Top charts categorize the searches by topic.  Scroll up and down to see the various topics.  Can you predict what people would be searching for in each?  Could students?  This could be the catalyst for digging into the current events of the day.

Everyone likes a good visualization, don’t they?  This could be the ultimate screen saver!  Drag out a grid from the top left corner for the number of searches that your mind can handle a visual representation of at any time.  Warning – this is really addictive!

Actually, grabbing a screenshot with most of the terms on display is the difficult part!

Finally, explore the searching.  Where in the world are people searching for various topics?  I think this would be a fascinating discussion and display for researching current events.  Now, given the exciting football game last night between the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders, the whole world must be a buzz with discussion.

Well, maybe there is room for growth for the CFL.  

Could we use this to track down displaced Alouette fans?

Trends is interesting.  Play around with it, exploring terms and features.  I’ll bet that you can find all kinds of uses – entertainment and educational – to analyze just what’s going on in the world!

An Interesting Business Case

I can’t remember the last time that someone sent me a document as an attachment to an email.  Well, except for the social phishers who indicate that I can claim my winning lottery prize by opening the attachment.  But, I’m no dummy – I know that you have to at least buy a ticket to have a chance of winning…

So, back to the document bit.  I’m a real fan of OpenOffice as an office productivity suite.  It’s compatible with the major “pay for play” products in virtually every feature of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  And it’s free, unlike other products that can run hundreds of dollars.  Sadly, in so much that I’m a fan, I can’t remember the last time I even opened it.  It’s not like I don’t work and share documents daily – nothing could be further from the truth – what I’m working with is shared and online in my Google Drive account.  In a fit of housekeeping, I might even save some local hard drive space by deleting them.  But I don’t need the storage space and so just don’t.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’ve been on a mission to see if I could live in a browser.  And I think I could do so very nicely.  From power on to sleep, everything I do seems to be done within Google Chrome (or Mozilla Firefox just to shake things up.)  For all intents and purposes though, it’s in Google Chrome and I’m connected to the web.  Ever when the computer isn’t able to connect via wifi, I can tether to a cell phone.  And yet, I’m doing so on fairly expensive computers.  I don’t think my logic is any different from anyone else – when you buy a new computer, you want to get the most powerful one that you can, with as big a hard drive as you can afford, and the best of specs.  Is it overkill in this day and age?  Could everything be done in a browser?

Google thinks so.

I’ve been intrigued with Chromebooks since I worked with one at the ECOO Conference last year.  Very light, compact, extremely quick to boot, and the operating system is essentially the Google Chrome browser.  All for the fraction of the cost of my traditional laptop.  My technology stor in the city offers three models.  None of the computers exceeds $300.  The interesting concept is that, unlike my traditional laptop, which I feel like I have to own for 4-5 years to get my money’s worth and become increasingly frustrated with specs that take the inevitable technology slide, I could easily justify a 3 year ownership.  Google makes a good argument here.

They even include an online calculator comparing the cost of ownership between a regular PC and a Chromebook.  The comparison is quite interesting.  For yucks, I looked at the relative costs of 1000 computers.

Now, I’m not naive enough to overlook the fact that it came from a Google site and the goal was to persuade the visitor.  But, throw in whatever delta for error that you want and it’s something that school districts should be paying attention to.  Could you purchase more technology and move towards that magic 1:1?  Could you finally equip every teacher in the district with a legitimate device to meet needs?  It’s an interesting series of questions and I know many boards are going to give it a shot this fall.

Imagine how you can take the traditional roadblocks out of deployment.  No need to determine a suite of software titles for deployment; no need to develop and test/re-test an image and then deploy it.  No need to worry about an end of life for your operating system or applications that obsolete themselves because of incompatibilities.  No need for anti-virus software.  You set a good start page for the browser and your connection to the web takes care of the rest.

As much as I seem to be a fan of the concept, I can already see some areas where the traditional PC is still needed.  There will be co-operative education placements where students need familiarity with standard Office software before placement.  Computer Science classes that still require development software like Microsoft’s Visual Studio will require a different setup.

But consider the general use machine whose needs can be completely met with connectivity to the internet and the use of appropriate websites or by outfitting the browser with the right plugins?  Does the business case convince you of the value of a change? 

A lot of people think so.  I know that if I was making a personal purchase today, I’d take a long hard look.

Starting New

I never really thought about this for the longest time.  A new tab was just a new tab and a place to start browsing anew while not losing the original focus on the previous tab.  I really bought into the concept of multiple tabs so that I could do and work on a couple of things at once.

Time moves on and I do my best to become efficient.  Because I always check into Twitter, Facebook, my Gmail account, it made sense to save these tabs and load them automatically when I load my browser.  Then, I got hooked on Alltop.  It was a great way to have the commonly read web resources load every time I got started.  For me, I got the sense that I was working smarter and that really made a great deal of sense.  Just the menial task of manually opening tabs seemed to rob me of productivity time.

I think my philosophy changed the first time I loaded the Opera browser and saw Speed Dial for the first time.

You could turn the new tab experience into an ever greater launch point for productivity.  I started looking around and ended up with the Incredible Start Page and I shared it on this blog here.  It just because like a pair of comfortable shoes.  It was there when I started a new tab – had a notepage for quick notes to myself, access to my bookmarks, the apps I had installed, and a list of the most visited sites for me.  For my Google Chrome browsing experience, it was great!  Oddly, I didn’t make the same effort to change the new tab page in the other browser of choice – Firefox, the default always did the job for me.

Then, about a week ago, I read a couple of articles about applications and extensions to bring more functionality to the browser.  The nice thing about blogging was that I could go back to the original post and realize that I hadn’t changed the new tab function for two years.  That’s an eternity to changes made on this computer!  So, I devoured these two articles.

…and then started to explore.

I had really bought into the Rockmelt philosophy that there should be something new every time you load a browser.  I was motivated to look for something with the concept that Rockmelt will stop functioning on August 31.  I really hope that Yahoo! finds some way to keeping it alive but that’s fodder for another post.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was just something new when I opened a new tab?

I’ve been curious about active tiles and how it works within Windows 8.  Not enough to buy it but the whole metro interface thing seems to be a new model for getting to the latest and greatest and having it right on your Windows desktop.  Could it not happen in a new tab instead?

To that end, I downloaded and installed the new metroTab.  It had that new metro experience but after poking around I realized that I could do some great customization to suit my needs – including the philosophy that everything looks better in green.  I had access to recently closed tabs but am really drawn to the active content on the desktop.  I liked what I saw and kept it.  It did seem a little wrong to have it running on Ubuntu so I changed the background colour to orange and it does seem to fit nicely there.

I continue to poke around and see what I can do on a regular basis.  The only think that’s seemingly a void in the upgrade was a missing notepad.  But having a tile to Evernote was a no-brainer – I really had gravitated there for the most part anyway.

What to do to refresh Firefox?  There wasn’t a metro interface in the second article but New Tab Tools gives a very nice customization ability to getting started.

In both cases, access to recently closed tabs helps out with those “D’oh” moments.

I’m liking the current new tab modifications.  I haven’t forgotten the past and they may well return but such is the life of an ever evolving search for the ultimate productivity tools.  In the classroom, what a great way to make it easy for students to get to web resources for those computers progressive enough to be using web applications.

Speaking of ever changing, you can’t be complacent.  I read this today.  Changes to Chrome’s New Tab Page.

Who can’t handle a little change?