Simplify your email


I don’t normally do a lot of work with social media in the evenings. That’s family time and normally we’re out doing something. But, with the rain last night, we were home and I had my laptop open on the table next to me.

This message from Peter Beens flew by…

If you’re a Gmail user you need this extension. It took me all of 10 seconds to decide I’m keeping it. The only thing I miss is the Apps icon but it’s not a big deal. Thank you @leggett!
“The former lead designer of Gmail just fixed Gmail on his own”https://t.co/BZiCNpVkWB— Peter Beens (@pbeens) April 25, 2019

Now, Peter is one of my go-to people for sharing information about Google so I grabbed the laptop and read the article.

Interesting.

As I’ve lamented on this blog before, I miss the Inbox program from Google. Like many, I hoped that its impact would have changed Gmail. Sadly, some of the features have but the overall look is much the same. I’ve looked for replacements and haven’t had much luck but the story above looked interesting.

A quick download later and I was in business. My first reaction was the Gmail didn’t fully load! I’d been used to so much cruft. I clicked through and read the documentation from the developer. Click through and see the screen captures to get a sense of how he did Simplify Gmail.

He explained that the extension was mostly CSS and gave the obligatory promise about not stealing your information. So, I’m playing around with it and I really like it.

So, kudos to Peter for staying ahead of the curve and sharing his learning. After all, that’s why we create and maintain learning networks, isn’t it? I do agree with Peter that the Application Launcher would be nice. I also use the right sidebar quite a bit and was pleased to see that it was reduced to a popup button in the bottom right corner of the screen.

As it would happen, a story talking about this extension appeared in my morning reading. But, thanks to Peter, I had scooped the information 12 hours in advance.

You can download the extension and try it out for yourself here. If you’re a longtime Gmail user, it make a bit of getting used to it. Your screen is just so clean!

Password awareness


Wow, my selections on topics about Google was on fire this morning with stories about the new extension designed to keep your access to accounts safe.

Password Checkup is an extension for Google Chrome designed to:

Wherever you sign-in, if you enter a username and password that is no longer safe due to appearing in a data breach known to Google, you’ll receive an alert. Please reset your password. If you use the same username and password for any other accounts, please reset your password there as well.

Like many people, I have supposedly had my credentials taken in a breach somewhere along the line. This, determined from this website.

It was a wakeup call to me that all these warnings about not using the same password all the time actually made sense. I’m now far more cautious and use very unique passwords everywhere along with two factor authentication wherever possible. I’ve switched to a password manager on my computer to make difficult and unique passwords possible. I’m still not necessarily feeling 100% secure and, until something that comes along to make things more secure, will probably never feel that way. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad idea either.

I do a spring cleaning periodically and close down accounts that I created at the spur of the moment and then kind of forgot about them. Having had an employer who had a payroll data breach makes the possibilities of problems very real. I think I’ve become a better user as a result.

The irony of using a plugin and browser from a company that relies on personal information isn’t lost on me either.

When was the last time you did a personal security checkup? Would you use a utility like this one? According to the extension site, 568 people are currently using it. Will you be 569?

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.

 

Building the Perfect Browser


Baby, we’ve come a long way.  I remember working with Internet Explorer or Netscape, browsing the web when it was just a matter of “looking for stuff”.  Being connected to the internet today means so much more.

Recently, I shared my browser with another person who looked at the layout and said “What’s this stuff?” – pointing to the various icons that adorn the top of the browser.

As I started to explain, it really occured to me.  I couldn’t get along with a vanilla web browser in this day and age.  I’ve taken the browser and made it mine.

Depending upon the day, I might be working in Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera Next but there’s a common thread.  I’ve added extensions or add-ons to make the browser mine.  As I scroll through the extensions page, I may have 20 or 30 installed.  From this big list, I figure that there’s at least five goodies that get me through the day.

ScribeFire – I use this daily.  It’s my in browser blog editor.  It’s got all the features that I could possibly need when composing posts like this one.  Fully featured, and it does a great job with all that I need.

LastPass – Every service that I access on the web seems to have a customized spot that requires logging in to access.  Confession time – there was a time years ago when I used the same password on every service.  “cat”.  OK, just kidding.  Now, I let LastPass create a very secure password every time I create an accound and store it for me.  It’s so nice to have the software remember passwords for me and let me keep my grey matter for other things.

Shareaholic – I’ll admit to being a sharer and I like to tuck away things that I find to my own services.  Shareaholic lets me configure the services that I want to use and I’m just a right click away from assigning it appropriately whenever I visit a web page.  It also serves as a launchpad to a bunch of other services like Diigo, Pinterest, Instapaper, Bit.ly, …

Adblock Plus – Like most people, I like to think I can have a bit of control over what I see when I visit a website.  My use was really initiated by a slow internet connection.  It’s bad enough to have to wait forever for content to appear; but it’s even worse when you’re slowed down by advertising.

Ghostery – I don’t know if there’s any way of perfectly protecting your privacy when connected, but there’s a sense of satisfaction when Ghostery indicates it’s blocking all of 1746 trackers.

There are a number of extensions that are installed but these are visibly active on a regular basis.  I can’t imagine browsing without them.  In fact, if I ever do, I just feel so handicapped and exposed.

What extensions make your good browsing experience great?

Investigating Opera Coast


I’ve always been a sucker for trying out new things.  One of my curiosities has always been the web browser.  I have a good collection on my desktop computer.  I seem to always be looking for the perfect solution.  Even on my iPad, I have a collection of browsers.  In fact, I have a folder full of browsers that I’ve accumulated.  There’s also Google Chrome which sits on my main screen.

It’s not necessarily a negative but there’s one thing that all of these browsers have in common.  They’re modelled after desktop browsers.  Think of your favourite desktop browser.  Traditionally, you’d find a tool bar with navigation arrows, tabs, addresses, etc.  In keeping with tradition, you might be moving your cursor around to click here and there.  Advanced skills make this easier if you program your mouse to do some of the common tasks.  Or, learn the short cut keys on your keyboard.  A similar sort of navigation is common for all of these tablet browsers, except Coast.

Coast is a new browser for the iPad from Opera.  I’ve been experimenting with it lately and I’ll admit…it’s not going terribly well.  My mind seems to be programmed to think of the traditional browser and how it works.  I keep wanting to reach for things that aren’t there.

Coast advertises itself as “the browser that should have come with the iPad” and it just does things differently.

Take a look at the screen capture of this insightful blog.

You’ll notice that there are no navigation arrows.  No address bar.  No tabs.  It’s just the web.

Coast is built for gestures.  No more reaching to the top corner for an arrow, just swipe to go forward or backward.  Need to go to a different tab?  Just tap on the icon in the bottom right corner and you swipe your way through what’s open until you get what you want.

Your bookmarks?  Just tap the grid icon in the bottom middle and you’re “home” to your pages of bookmarks.  Need to go to one, just tap on the appropriate icon and away you go.

Do you want to go somewhere new?  You’ll notice that Coast has its own version of an unified search/URL bar.  Type an address or a search term and you’re all set.  Visited websites get stored in a holding tank at the bottom of the screen.  You may then just drag them up to bookmark them for the future or drag to the top of  the screen to erase them.  It most certainly is a different way to use a browser but then a tablet is a different computing device than a desktop.  I’ve seen references made to Coast as a “stripped down” or “minimalist” browser but perhaps its feature set is all that is needed.

There a minimal number of settings available to configure Coast if you want.

Rather than a browser that is a tablet version of a desktop browser, this is a completely different animal.  Forget you what think you know about using a browser.  This will get you thinking differently; I’m still learning but I can see this becoming a favourite.  I’m not too proud to admit though; I’ve got to unlearn a great deal of old browsing habits!

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.

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-chromes-ne-982659508

http://lifehacker.com/the-best-apps-and-extensions-to-supercharge-firefoxs-n-995238717

…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?

A TouchDevelop Tip


Lately, Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo) has been sharing a great deal about his experiences with TouchDevelop.  His latest post is actually a story around a video showing how to use Turtle Graphic in TouchDevelop.  That did it.  If anyone can program and create a video at the same time, I’ve got to give it a shot.

Of course, you need an idea.  So, in tribute to Alfred’s Tip Calculator presentation at the CSTA Conference last summer, I thought I’d write a little tip program, all the while learning the language and user interface.

I head on over to the TouchDevelop site where you log in with your Microsoft, Facebook, or Google account.  I log in with my live.ca account and I’m ready to explore.  I took a look at one other program and decided to just forage ahead.  Kids, don’t do this at home.  I had no planning, no layout, (quite frankly no idea of what the syntax of the language was going to be…).

When you create your first script, you actually don’t get plopped into a blank workspace unless you want…

scripts

There’s going to be lots to explore in the future.  For my simple program, I have no need for any bells or whistles…

blank

Hopefully, I can change that!

Within a few minutes, I had learned enough of the environment and the language to create a first program.

touchdevelop

And run it, I did…

Photo 2013-06-11 7 58 13 AM

Wait a minute.  Careful observers will note that I created the program in Windows but ran it on my iPad!

Therein lies the excitement of this application.  It’s not just a development tool for the desktop.  Because it’s all online and carefully crafted, it will run on many devices!

Photo 2013-06-11 10 28 52 AM

Whoops.  OK, just about anything.  Looks like Google Chrome for the iPad isn’t on the list!

But it certainly worked well on my Android Phone.

Screenshot_2013-06-11-08-12-51

In fact, the nice clean interface seems to play well just about anywhere.

But, writing and running on your device is only part of the story.  There is an option to compile and share your work.

export

I don’t have a Windows Phone or Windows 8 but I certainly do have devices that could run the HTML 5 WebApplication.  Even running it locally is interesting when you view the source and see all that’s going on to make it work.

If I’m a Computer Science teacher, I would be very excited to see this land in my classroom.  It’s web based so you’re already accessing the latest, greatest version.  It works on a variety of devices so BYOD is a real possibility.  Students don’t need the school computers; they could be coding on their own device both at home and at school.  What’s not to like?

I would encourage anyone who is interested in coding at any level to take a look at TouchDevelop to see if it has a home in your classroom.  I’m betting that it well.

In addition to your own work, make sure that you explore the home page for TouchDevelop to see the showcase applications that are being development.  There’s some amazing things and if the author allows you, you can grab a copy of her/his code and make it uniquely yours.

A printed manual and free to download manuals are available here.  Finally, stay in touch on Facebook!