A Tecumseh Trip

Last weekend, we returned from up north and a class reunion.  We’ve made this trip so many times and it doesn’t make any difference what route we take; it always seems to take the same length of time.  Usually, it’s a race to get home but this Sunday was different.  The dog was boarded and we couldn’t pick him up from the Hound Dog Hilton until Monday so there was no real rush.

As we entered Kent County, we saw the familiar signage for the Tecumseh Parkway.  It didn’t take long to say forget the 401; let’s run the Parkway and see the sights.  We’ve stopped at the Tecumseh Monument and the Fairfield Museum in the past but it was a quick stop en route to our destination.

The Parkway follows the Thames River which is absolutely not a straight river.  Throughout the drive, there were “pull offs” where you could stop and read information about the history that happened at/near the spot.  It was fascinating.

When I got home, I decided to do some research and found the wonderful site linked above. 

But there was another incredible resource.  I think that we’ve all seen the use of Google Maps on websites to document locations.  But, I’ll bet that you’ve never seen anything this detailed and inclusive.

Notice all the pin drops.  What a monumental task!

I could kick myself for not having this preloaded on my phone to help with our drive.  This really is a great example of history meeting modern technology.

I’m also thinking that his is a perfect exemplar in the classroom.  Certainly, it’s a great resource for the War of 1812.  But I know that many people use Google maps to document their community or to show historical events. 

Why not use this as a model and an inspiration for inclusion and detail?

Jaimie Was Here

Numerous times a day, Jaimie and I go for walks.  I swear that he can tell time and knows when his next walk is due.  At least twice a day, we do a walk through the King’s Navy Yard.  There are lots of flowers to look at and we mark the trail on our travels.  Actually, he marks while I pause for a bit.

It was with great interest that I read that Google Maps now allows for multiple points as it maps out a total distance on a map.  I thought – why not mark out our walk?

Off we went to find that our usual walk would be shorter than usual.  It was Sidewalk Sale Days in the downtown and the last thing that we would want to do is take our normal jaunts through the displays.  If you get my drift…

When I got home, I marked out our route on Google Maps.  It was easy to add multiple points – just right click where you want the point and the resulting menu …

… has the option to mark a “Distance to Here”.  I took a shot at mapping out our walk.

It was actually kind of difficult at first since the brick pathways weren’t on the map.  Then, I clued in … switch to Earth View and zoom in!  The path was very clear.

A little back and forth between map displays and I was able to come up with the route and the distances.

But, how accurate was my drawing?

Fortunately, I also had my smartphone with me and the app My Tracks installed.  I asked it to map things for me from beginning to end of our walk.

I had to smile.  According to this, we didn’t walk in straight lines!  It could be an error or more likely could be our little dodges to the bushes and interesting distractions on the way!

When I look back, I was quite impressed with the functionality of Google Maps and the abilities to add markers along the way.  This is a definite keeper.  Imagine drawing maps for walkathons or marathon races or just anything that needs multiple points!

I’d be remiss not to point out a favourite spot along the way…the signature Hostas Garden.  Of respect, we walk by it and not through it!

Have you checked out this new functionality in Google Maps?  How would you use it?

Google’s Smarty Pins

OK, so if you have all the information in the world and all the maps in the world, what more could you do it with beyond driving instructions and all the things that we’ve come to expect from Google Maps?

Why make a trivia game from it.

That’s what’s Google has done with the latest release – Smarty Pins.


Start with a pot pourri of topics or choose from a category…


… and you’re good to know, er, go.

You know how much I enjoy mapping so you can only imagine how much time I wasted, er, invested with this thing.


You’re given a clue and about 1,600 km allowance for being close.  Decode the clue and drop the pin on the spot you’ve understood from the clue.  Seems simple enough, right?  Did I mention that there’s a countdown timer, just to make it interesting?

As with any trivia game, some clues are easy and some are a bit of a challenge.  If you’re ready to forgo your bonus, you can ask for another clue.

I found it taxing my levels of trivia understanding.  As I mentioned above, some were easy and some, well, I just didn’t have a clue.  Even after getting the extra clue.

Through brutal force and a need to find out what happens when you actually win a game, I eventually succeeded.


I am under no illusion that I’ve mastered this.  It’s well bookmarked and sure to be a source of entertainment for a long time to come.

Looking Good

Out of the box, most browsers look the same.  Kind of silvery with tabs and it’s only when you start to poke around under the hood that you realize that there’s a big difference.  I’ve always customized my computer – it’s just pleasing rather than having to deal with a boring interface.  Since I spend most of my time in a browser these days, it seems only logical to customize the look of the browser.

There are many themes available for you already created and waiting for you to download and apply them.

One of the things that intrigued me about Opera Next was the menu option right in the browser to create your own theme. 

I’ve always been impressed with this image that was part of a Ubuntu release and have maintained it as my desktop on my computer.  With Opera’s built in “build a theme”, I was able to make it part of my desktop of my browser.

But what about the other browsers?

Well, you could poke around the theme repositories and see if you could find one – or you could roll your own.  Here are a couple that I played around with. 

The applications are essentially extensions to the browser.  Just install them and away you go.  There are others so if you don’t like it, try another.  The goal here is customization.

Canvas for Firefox

Theme Creator for Google Chrome

They both function similarly.  You personalize with images that you upload from your computer and you can adjust the colours for the application.

As I was looking around the already created themes, I notice that there are a great deal of options if you’re a soccer fan and want to show your loyalty via a browser customization.  Editorial Note – lots of Brazil!  If you’re in a school setting, how about a custom school theme with school pictures and colours?  Themes can be shared amongst friends or the whole world, if you’re interested.

I’ll confess – I’m no artist.  Despite my efforts, I couldn’t do better than the themes that I’m currently using.

There’s definitely an element of green there.  It sure beats silver.

A Secret Door to Writing Ideas

How many times have your students written a blog post about their dog or their cat?  Looking for something new and completely different? 

Then, you need to check out “The Secret Door“.

Open the door (by pushing it with your mouse) and you’re immediately transported somewhere interesting in the world, viewing your location with Google’s Streetview.

If you’re not interested in where you land, as the Secret Door to take you somewhere else.

And, like Rod Stewart says, “Every picture tells a story”…what a great inspiration for writing. 

Have your students put themselves into the picture, or make themselves a fly on the wall watching what’s happening, or what happened just before (or after) the picture was taken?  Depending upon the picture, some research about the area may be necessary.  But, in the language or second language classroom, this just inspires.  Displayed on a data projector, it could be the start of great conversations and inquiry.  The potential is limitless!

The use in blogging is so apparent.  Capture the image to the post and then write about it!

After all, think of the stories that would be inspired by this image!

What a wonderful rabbit hole for your students to fall into for writing inspiration!


My wife is very good about staying out of the room when I’m in a Google Hangout planning for the #BIT14 Conference.  She hears either me or Cyndie and knows that it’s going to be a long one and enjoys the peace and quiet of not having me around.

This morning, she heard me talking and stayed away.  When the conversation kept going and going, she decided to drop in and see what was up.  Imagine her surprise when it was just me talking to my computer!

I was playing around with a recent Google Experiment for Chrome called “Spell Up“.  This is very cool and I’ll confess to losing all track of time.

Think of it as the ultimate Spelling Bee but not in a Scripps way with young kids showing off.  It’s you and your computer running Google Chrome and the application.

At varying levels and difficulties, you’re presented with various word challenges.  It might be spelling a word, unscrambling a word or filling in the missing letters.  (And maybe more that I haven’t found yet!)

The intriguing part is that you’re not working at the keyboard in the traditional sense of computer word games.  It’s you, your speakers and your microphone.

Instructions for the current puzzle are given to you via audio clue and you speak the answer.

This has hooks that just reached into me and I’m now addicted.

You can play it anonymously or login to keep your place.

It was a great deal of fun.  I know that my voice can be nasal at time and did find that the program had trouble distinguishing between Fs and Ss.  Other than that, it performed so nicely for me.  The concept is to keep adding words to the pile and see how big you can make it.  Levels of difficulty mean that I was never bored.

Who doesn’t like a good word game?  I’m sure that you will.  And, in the classroom, where language activities are always welcome, this will make for a nice addition.

Screencasting in Chrome

I can recall having a discussion with my superintendent years ago.  YouTube was blocked to student and teacher desktops within the district and yet access was very desirable by some.  Teachers knew exactly what they wanted to do – things like watching Super Bowl videos and creating instructional videos on their own.  The argument against access could be seen daily as students would find ingenious ways to get around the content filter to be able to watch music videos.  I smile when I think back about the issue being watching music videos instead of circumventing a filter…

Ironically, at the time, I was creating videos for myself and my colleagues including superintendents, and making them available through our intranet.  I was then, and still am now, a big fan of Camtasia.  Techsmith does great work coding utilities to give us all kinds of power.  Under Ubuntu, there is no Techsmith product but RecordMyDesktop does the job for me.  The video can be such a powerful tool in education.

Now, I think you would have to look far and very hard to find someone who hasn’t used an online video for any of a number purposes.  It’s just so prevalent.

I’ve been following the development of a Google Chrome extension called Screencastify.  It fills a niche quite nicely.  It allows the user to create a screencast right within the Google Chrome browser.

Screencastify is still under development so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t have a complete suite of editing tools.  But, for free, it installs in Google Chrome (not Opera Next, by the way), you click the filmstrip icon and begin to interact with the currently open tab. Your actions are recorded, along with the option of having your voice recorded and your beautiful image appear in the window.

As you’re recording, you can even monitor what’s being captured in a separate window.

When you stop recording, a copy of your efforts is stored, ready for you to take the next step – including uploading your efforts to YouTube (provided you have access…)  Locally, it’s a *.webm file which plays quite nicely back in Google Chrome or VLC.  Uploading to YouTube though takes all the compatibility issues away.

Screencastify runs very smoothly as I test it.  It’s not the full-featured product that others offer, but it doesn’t pretend to be at this point in its development.  It offers the same options to Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Chromebook users.  As long as you have it installed in your instance of Google Chrome, you should be all set.  As you’ll notice above, capturing the “Desktop” is experimental.  That opens the door to even more options for those who use this extension.

And now, for something I found extremely interesting.  As you know, when you install an extension into your browser, a dialogue appears to give you complete details about what you’re actually allowing the extension to do with your computer.  When you go to the Google Chrome store to install this extension, take the time to read the overview.  The developers have taken the time to explain exactly what the implications of the warning messages are.  I found that to be an excellent education in itself.

If you’re into screencasting, looking at flipping a classroom, or wanting to provide a recording environment for your students and you’re using Google Chrome, you’ve got to check it out.  It doesn’t take long to install and your first experience recording will be very quick.  You’ll be that multi-media developer you’ve always wanted to be in a short period of time.

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.