Your hard drive crashed – I don’t care

Your hard drive crashed – I don’t care

Yeah, I’m trying to get your attention and yes I do care – just not personal data. This post is about how schools should (and hopefully do) handle data. As a school and being in IT, I do care about data. I care a lot about it. I find it essential, but I don’t care about all data equally – that is just stupid. So read on if and let me know if you agree or disagree with what I have to say.

What is important

Here is what is happening at our school. We have issued 13″ MacBook Pros to our staff. We use a student information system, we use Atlas Rubicon for curriculum needs and we are a Google Apps for Education school.

That data is important to me. That is what we need for transitioning old staff to new staff. To keeping accurate attendance, grades, running transcripts and reports. Making sure that our curriculum is aligned vertically and horizontally. Yep – that stuff is important that is what we need. That info is backed up locally and in the cloud and with the exception of Google, we pay good money for this to happen and to protect this data. This is what is important to me and the school I work for.

What isn’t important

Now to the other side. As a school, I don’t care what’s on your hard drive. I just don’t because if that data is lost, then it isn’t going to hurt the school one bit. It will inconvenience the teacher – for sure – but classes will not be canceled, the curriculum will still be taught, students will still be assessed in a timely and professional manner and reports will be sent out on time. Here is quick excerpt from our user agreement that makes our stance quite clear.

I am empathetic to the teacher who loses data because I’ve been there and it isn’t fun. Honestly though – as a professional – I don’t care. Your music, photos, personal files and movies don’t interest me or the school for that matter, nor should they because they have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations. It really doesn’t. You should be backing up your data anyway – which is something Tony and I have written about. You can read about it here and here.

It’s not your computer

We issue laptops to people at our school but the staff treat it as their own personal laptop. I’ve seen teachers torrent media, fill up the hard drive with music and photos and install their own personal programs that have nothing to do with school. I’m not saying all people do it, but many have and when the computer dies, their data dies with it and they are frustrated, upset and generally unhappy but you see the school doesn’t care about that data. The school’s important data is already protected and backed up. The school cares about the computer being repaired and getting it back into the hands of a staff member so they can do their work and that teachers can do their job at a high level and that’s it. So if you’ve lost 75 GB of music – sorry for that, but you have classes and students who need your attention.

Issuing external hard drives?

Man this is such a bad idea. I know some schools do this, but they would be better off giving their money to charity. At least it will be going to a good cause. These hard drives are a money pit. Teachers will lose them, have them stolen or the hard drives will simply just fail. Let me tell you good reader, hard drives fail – it is not a matter of if but a matter of when.

If schools issue external hard drives to teachers, then when they fail, they need to go out and purchase new hard drives for those people. While they are not terribly expensive, when you expand that cost to include a staff of 100 or more, it gets pretty pricey.

Then when they leave what do you do? Does the school reclaim an old hard drive that will fail – only to give it to a new staff member? No, they usually just give it to the staff member leaving. Terrible – it’s just money down the drain.

The only reason a school would do this is to appease the staff and make them happy. That is it. It doesn’t truly benefit any aspect of the teaching and learning process. It also has a bad side effect of reinforcing that the school computer they are using is, in fact, for their personal use. I can see the though bubbles now Well, they gave me this computer and a hard drive, I might as well add all my media to it. I mean they’re letting me do it right? It is just a bad practice and needs to go away.

The cloud

Ahh the cloud. If your school has Google Apps, Office 365 or Zoho, then your staff most likely has some sort of cloud storage ability. As I mentioned earlier – we have Google Apps and they give us 30GB of storage which is a lot!

For teachers, this is where they should be storing important documents such as quizzes, units, etc. It should also be on Atlas, but certainly here too. That way if there computer fizzles out all they need is another computer with Internet and they can go right on working. I’ve seen this in practice and man it makes me happy. Another bonus feature is that you can transfer data from one account to another as well! That is much easier than doing it from one computer to another.

If your school doesn’t have this, then get your own. Google Drive – free – 25GB. Microsoft One Drive – Free – 30GB and there are plenty more out there. This is where those important personal files need to go – online not just your hard drive.

If you keep everything on your computer’s hard drive and you don’t back up, then make sure you have a mirror handy. When it fails, then you know who to look in the eye and blame – not the school you work for or the company that made the hard drive.

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Google Drive issues – it may be Adware!


So recently, I’ve had a number of students and a few teachers stop by complaining that their Google Drive wasn’t working properly. After exploring a short time with these people I discovered a common thread – they were getting pop ups for advertisements. Otherwise known as Adware. Now, I’m not sure why, but these crap is severely interfering with Google Drive. They could not create files and some had difficulties editing anything!

Being a Google Apps for Education school, this was problematic. Lucky for us, we devised a way to get them back on their feet. The main culprit was people streaming TV shows on their computer from untrustworthy sites. Below is the guide I made for our staff to help them out. The moral here is be careful.

You can download the guide in PDF form here.

If you get repeated error messages with Google Drive and Google Docs it is most likely due to Adware.

Adware is unwanted software that uses sneaky and dishonest methods to get installed on your computer, and then changes the behavior of your web browser. Once installed, it does things like injecting advertisements into web pages, causing pop-up windows or tabs to open to advertising sites, and changing your home page and/or search engine.” AdwareMedic website

Adware comes from sites where you may have download software like or Softonic. It can also come from streaming “free” TV shows or movies on your computer from less than reputable sites or services.

Now that you know let’s get started.

Step 1 – Clean up your Chrome extensions

Open Chrome and go to your settings or preferences.

On the left hand side click on Extensions.

A list of all installed extensions will show up. You may have a lot. Delete them all.

A lot of Adware extensions will “hide” their true nature by naming themselves something familiar or different.

For extensions you want to keep, you can re-install them after you’ve cleaned all the Adware of your computer, so delete them now.

Step 2 – Search Engines

Now on the left hand side click on Settings.

Now click on Manage search engines…

Now make Google the default and delete everything else.

Like the extensions – using some of these search engines can install Adware so we have to get rid of them.

Step 3 – Clear Browsing Data…

Now click on Chrome at the top and select Clear Browsing Data…

This window will pop up. Tick every box and make sure the beginning of time is selected.

Then click Clear browsing data.

Step 4 – Download a program to clean your computer

Quit Chrome.

If you have a Mac use Adware Medic

If you have a Windows machine use Ad-Aware

Both are free and both work. Download, install and run them.

Step 5 – Restart your computer

For the changes to take place you may have to restart your computer.

Once it comes back up, run these programs again until it reports that the Adware is gone.

Congratulations – hopefully

While this may not remove everything, it will remove most of your Adware and should fix the Google Drive problems you’ve been having.

Remember to only visit reputable websites and that when you are seemingly getting “something for free” you are most likely exposing yourself to harmful websites. Be responsible it is your responsibility to keep your computer running and in good condition.

What if this doesn’t work?

If this doesn’t work you may want to explore wiping your computer, and starting from scratch.

Best of luck!

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Great programs at a great price

If you have a computer, whether it be a Mac or PC software bundles are a great way to get great software at great prices. Yeah, I may need a thesaurus but this doesn’t take anything away form the Ultra-Premium Mac Bundle at StackSocial right now.

All of these programs together will only cost you $44.99 US dollars. Let’s take a look at what you get.

ScreenFlow 5 alone is worth the price. While some of the other software you may not want, what they are offering is inanely cheap. While I’m not a huge Civilization fan, I am a fan of Data Rescue, Things, ScreenFlow (of course) ExpanDrive and Typed (which I’m using right now) look pretty interesting.

Go over and check it out yourself. The bundle is only good for a few more days, so get yours while you can.

stacksocial – Ultra Premium Mac Bundle

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Spaceprobes are cool

Space is pretty cool. There so much out there we don’t know but it’s not because we’re not looking. give you great information of probes that NASA has sent out. Check out info about the Juno probe that I didn’t know much about.

Now I know its mission, latest news and even videos or photos it has sent back to us. Pretty darn cool. The site was created by Ariel Waldman and Lisa Ballard who are both space enthusiast.

Check it out for yourself and if you have a space unit coming up, it’s certainly worth a look.

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Study smarter – not longer

Three posts in two weeks my lord! What will happen next? Will Omar actively use Facebook or even post an article – only time will tell :) Now onto the topic at hand. I saw this post in LifeHacker titled “Study Less, Study Smart”: The Best Ways to Retain More in Less Time by Patrick Allan.

The article has a great video from Dr. Marty Lobdell from Pierce College where he gives compelling evidence to back up these tips, so this is not just a this worked for me scenario. Then I’ll talk about some tech tools to help you follow through with these tips.

  • Study in chunked sessions
  • Have a dedicated space
  • Recognition vs Recollection
  • Take good notes
  • Can you teach it?
  • Read effectively – not quickly

Now let me go into these in a little more detail.

Study in chunked sessions

Dr. Lobdell tells us to study but when you feel your mind starting to wander or slide, then take a break. His recommended time is 25 minutes study, 5 minute break. Now, during the break do something you enjoy for about 5 minutes, it can be anything but it should be something you enjoy.

Now here is the problem I’ve run into. Sometimes, I’ll be working on something and lose track of time so how can you keep track of that? Simple download a pomodoro timer program. You can find some free ones or very inexpensive ones for your computer or smart phone. I use Tomighty on my Mac. It’s free and works very well. There are plenty of others out there for all platforms including Android, iOS and Windows phone so you shouldn’t have trouble finding one.

Dr. Lobdell further says that this technique is a type of training that will eventually allow you to study for even longer sessions between breaks. As our students get older – the material gets more difficult and the volume of material certainly increases. This technique will greatly help you no matter what you’re studying.

It also goes without saying that those 25 minutes should be uninterrupted, so silence your phone or even switch it off. Make sure that distraction is kept in check for those dedicated times of study.

Have a dedicated space to study

Dr. Lobdell says that we unconsciously associate function to certain areas. For example the bedroom is to sleep or relax. That is its function and if you have a crap ton of studying to do that is probably where you don’t want to be. Too many distractions and comforts.

Of course, as a middle or high school student you may not have as many choices as a university student, so here is his suggestion. Get a lamp. I know it sounds a little silly but hear me out. Get a small lamp and a desk (which hopefully most students have). The lamp is used only to study – nothing else. So when the light is on, you’re studying. When the light is off, you’re just hanging out. Then apply the chunking technique mentioned above. This is essentially you carving a dedicated study session

The more you do this technique, the better trained you will become and the faster you can get “in the groove.”

Whatever your space is, make it more appropriate for studying. If you study at the kitchen table, clear it off. Take away all the food or any food cues. Are you studying in the living room – take the batteries out of the remote. If you are studying in a place that gets a lot of people coming by maybe think about changing locations to give yourself a place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted.

Recognition vs Recollection

There is a lot in this section here. Dr. Lobdell starts talking about facts vs. concepts. He said a lot of teachers value concepts more than the facts (especially as you get older). That’s not to say facts are not important but facts that aren’t attached to a concept are basically useless. For example, Dr Lobdell splits the class into two. One half is instructed to count the number of vowels in a list of words. The other half is said to rank the words on a scale of one to five of their importance if you were stranded on a desert island. Then he asks the groups of people to write down all the words they remember.

The group counting the vowels on average could remember only five words. The other group was able to do about ten. – nearly double. Cool huh? The words by themselves have no meaning, but by associating the words with a scenario gives it meaning, therefore it is easier for people to remember them.

Now let’s get knee deep into recognition or recollection. For example, re-read a magazine that you haven’t read in a while. Everything feels familiar as if you remember it. Not true, can you predict what is on the next page? Can you predict the pictures or advertisement? Probably not. That is the difference between remembering and recognition.

What you need to be able to do is restate in your own words what you’ve just studied. Then you know. Another thing that helps in a big way is to get proper sleep.

The last thing he mentions is to have a study group. Yep, strength in numbers or misery loves company. Whatever the catch phrase, more people studying together tend to have better success on tests and assessments.

Taking proper notes

Taking notes is vital for success. I don’t think I need to talk to you about this, but the real important part of the process is to revisit those notes. What I like to do is to take notes by hand in a class or meeting and then revisit them and type them in Evernote.

One of the best professors I ever had told me this technique as a freshmen in university. I blew it off at the time thinking I could do just fine on my own. Then one day, while working on a big presentation that needed to accompany a research project I was having difficulties distilling the info. So I gathered up all my note and research and then started retyping it. Sure enough within an hour I had a good idea of how to compress all this information into a coherent presentation. It didn’t just work, it worked great.

Can you teach it

Being able to take a concept and to then explain it to another person helps you internalize it and better understand it. This goes back to recognizing vs recognition. This also links back to study groups.

If you don’t have someone to “teach” – that’s cool. Just do it in the mirror or to an empty chair. If you’re alone who is going to catch you? A lot of people I know do this and it works. It helps them visualize and internalize what it is they are working on.

Effective reading

S – survey – Go through each chapter and get a feel for it
Q – question – As you survey you should ask some basic questions
R – read – Read the sections you need to review
R – recite – Recite it to better internalize it
R – review – This should be done before the assessment, project or presentation. Think back to the advice of good note taking.

Otherwise know as SQ3R.

Dr. Lobdell’s last advice is to use mnemonics to remember straight up facts.

So be sure to use these tips yourself but at the very least pass them onto your students so they can have the tools to better prepare themselves for their academic and post academic careers.

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Happy Safer Internet Day – from Google

This Safer Internet day (yes this is a thing) is being celebrated by the good people at Google too. They are encouraging all their users to go and do a security check up for your Google account, which is a pretty good idea to do from time to time. If you do this before February 17th Google will add 2GB of storage to your Drive account – permanently!

This is only applicable to your personal Google account so people with Google Apps accounts should still do it, but there is no reward outside of knowing that your account is secure.

Read more about it here and be sure to be safe out there. :)

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Google Drive + mail merge = formMule

Mail merge can be done with Google Drive and I’m going to show you how. Some of you out there might be thinking Patrick – what the hell is a mail merge? Well my friendly readers, a mail merge allows you to send out a form letter to a large number of people, but the letter is personalized using a database or spreadsheet populated with info. Don’t worry – it will make sense soon.

For this post, I will start from scratch and take you through each step. So why would you want to mail merge? In this example we have an overnight trip and this will tell the parents what teacher is responsible for their child, what activities their child has signed up for and who their roommate is. This is definitely info that parents and students will want, so instead of writing a bunch of individual emails – I will mail merge it!

Step 1 – Set up that spreadsheet

The first thing we need to do is create a Google Spreadsheet and fill it full of information. A good way to do this is to use a Google Form but for this instance, I’ve already got it populated. Check it out below.

Get that Add-on

OK, now let’s get to the magic. We are going to activate an Add-on and this will do all the heavy lifting for us. To do this click on the Add-on menu option at the top – then select Get add-ons…

Now we need to search for formMule and then install it. As you can see from my image I already have it. When you install it (you only need to do this once), it will ask for all sorts of permissions. Go ahead and give it what it wants.

Step 3 – Set up the mail merge

Now we are ready for the magic. Let’s set up the email. Take a look at the image below to access the formMule settings.

Ahh-I love technology. This add-on can let you set up automatic triggers that work with new submissions (like a Google Form would produce), but for this example we will be doing everything manually, so leave the triggers off and then make sure that proper worksheet is selected. I’ve renamed my worksheet as Trip Data. Then click on Next: Templates and send conditions.

Now we have to determine how many different templates we will use with this data. Since, I’m only sending out one email I will do only one template and then I’ll click Save template settings this will update that window and then I will click on Next: Edit templates.

Step 4 – Editing the template

This step is pretty important which is why I’ve made it a separate step, but don’t worry it’s not all that hard. Check out the image below and let me make some sense of it for you.

As you can see it looks like an email and that’s how we will treat it but the merge tags on the right hand side is where the cool stuff comes into play. For the To: area I want it to put in the parent email. So I click in that field and then select the parent email from the Add merge tags section. Check out the GIF below.

That will tell formMule to send an email to every email address in the parent email field. Now give it a subject and then type the email and add merge fields where necessary. This service is pretty good, but for some reason, when you add a merge tag it will add some unnecessary text in front of it. Check out the GIF below to see what I mean.

So here is what my final email looks like. Notice, that I removed all extra info from the merge tags (like seen above). So that is really the hardest part.

Now all we need to do is preview it and then send them out. To preview them, click on the Preview this button. It will show each email and you can cycle through to make sure the information matches up correctly. If it looks good, go ahead and click on Preview and send all.

It will give you a quick preview, let you know how much of your daily quote you’ve got left. According to this screenshot it looks like you get 1500 per DAY. Yep – if you as an educator are sending out more than 1500 emails per day you are certainly in the wrong line of work.

Now click Send now. It will send out all of the emails at once. In this case it will send out six emails. On your spreadsheet, formMule will add a column and give you a quick status.

Pretty simple! Now imagine you are in charge of a field trip with 100 or more students. This is definitely a huge time saver. I like to use Google Forms to collect this data. That way, it is the parents (or students) filling out the information and if they do it incorrectly, it is on them which helps take some pressure off your shoulders. Here is what the email looks like for me.

Some issues

Now formMule is pretty sweet, but there are some issues here. One, it will tell you it sent out but there is no follow up report. If it fails, it will email you about that, but unlike the MailChimp add-on it won’t tell you if it was ever opened or not or how many times it was opened.

Another issue I have is that if I want to resend this out. I have to delete the Template 1-Send Status column. Not erase, but remove the column completely. I may want to send a final confirmation out before the day of the trip. It’s not a bad idea, but I first have to delete that column and then send it out again. It’s not hard but just an extra step.

Finally, adding the merge tags adds that extra text in front of the tag. That is very annoying.

It’s not perfect but it works and it works well and it’s free and it’s reliable, so overall there isn’t all that much to complain about. If you want to read more about it check out their website.

New Visions Cloud Lab – formMule – Email Merge Utility

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Let there be MERGE!

Finally! I mean it has been a long f$&^ing time coming but the good people at Google have finally gotten around to adding one of the most sought after features to their Google Doc service. Maybe it was all the prayers I’ve made but regardless it is here now.

People can now merge cells in Google Docs. Yep! Check out the GIF below to see it in action!

Oh yeah! Trying to convert people from Word to Google Docs is like trying to pick up a greased watermelon after you’ve been swimming. In short, it is difficult but not impossible. One of the biggest gripes I heard over and over again was the inability to merge cells on tables.

Let’s retire that old excuse – now what have you got?

Read all about other changes from the Google Drive Blog here

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Clarify – Write better instructions

If you are an IT teacher, coordinator, director or just the techy teacher in your school, you’ve had to make instructions for people. Any technical instructions worth their salt have nice screenshots, are organized and are clearly written. Believe me, I’ve seen some terrible instructions where pictures are improperly resized, the pictures are not annotated and difficult to see how it fits in with the steps and/or there are no pictures at all.

At any rate, if you’ve ever had to make such instructions, you know how time consuming it is because you usually are using some word processing program (Word, Pages, Google Docs) then a screen shot program (Skitch, Voila, etc) then you are copying and pasting those images into the document. Argghhhh – it even takes a long time to write about it!

There is a solution. It is a program called Clarify. It works on Mac and Windows (no iOS, Android or Linux) and it lets you take screen shots, annotate (you know draw circles, arrows, etc) and then write instructions for that screenshot. Then once your instructions are done, you can then publish them on the web through their server, WordPress, Dropbox or Evernote. You can also export it as HTML, PDF or Word document. Pretty snazzy no?

You can find this program through their website or through the Mac App store but I recommend buying it through their website. You will get the updates faster and all of the money goes to the developer which is a good thing people.

FYI – I am using Skitch to take the screenshots. While Clarify can do it – I find it much easier to get certain aspects of Clarify in action using a third party software.

Getting Started
I’ll assume you’ve downloaded the program, opened it up and are ready to make your first set of instructions. Great! Before you take your first screenshot go ahead and give your project a title and description.

Now let’s take that first screen shot. When you do this, it automatically creates a step. To do this, you have lots of options. One, you can use the keyboard shortcut (for me on my Mac it is ⌘ + Shift + 2 if you have a Windows machine it will be different), you can click on the camera button in Clarify itself.

You can also use the menu bar option (located at the top of your screen).

These all do the same thing. When you take the screenshot you have a number of options. You can resize (right click the image), you can annotate (check out the toolbar below).

You have these options to annotate an image
* Draw boxes, circles and arrows
* Highlight text
* Write text on an image
* Add numbered circles (good for sequential steps on one image)
* Blurring an image
* You can also resize or crop an image

That’s a nice feature set if I dare say so myself. Now once you have your image, go ahead and write your instructions. Rinse and repeat until you have all your steps

Keep this in mind!
A few notes to consider. You can only add one image per step, but the good people at Clarify have thought about that. Go ahead and make a new step but instead of giving it a title, leave that blank. What Clarify will do is keep those steps formatted very closely to one another making it appear they are all part of the same step. Nifty huh?

Also, spell check is not on by default. After you’ve typed your instructions, run spell check through the program (you can find it under the Edit menu option). I am supremely confident this is done on purpose as they want you to re-read your instructions before publishing or sending them out to people. Come on – that’s a good idea.

One of the best features of Clarify is the fact that it can be published straight online. You can publish it to Evernote, Dropbox, a WordPress blog but the best option in my opinion is being able to publish it straight to Clarify’s servers. The end product looks great, they give you a link, it gives you basic stats of how many times it was viewed. Check out one of mine by following this link.

You might be saying to yourself Damn-this is great! but wait there is more. If you want to make changes to your document, just open it back up, make the changes and re-publish it. It will take down the old content, replace it with the updated content and keep the URL (or web address) the same, so people who have booked marked it will get the latest and greatest guide you’ve made!

The cherry on top!
Yep, more good news coming your way dear reader. Clarify has fantastic support. Let me tell you of my experience. I upgraded Clarify a few months ago but it kept crashing on my computer. I contacted Clarify about it and they got back to me within 12 hours (that’s fast people). I sent them my crash report and they have said that the problem was with my computer and not their program (which it was) and leave it at that, but NO! Off and on for about a month we worked the problem together and finally pinpointed exactly what it was. I had an obscure program running in the background which was conflicting with Clairfy. I removed the program and have never had an issue since. AWESOME!

Wrapping it up
I’ve said wuite a bit about Clarify and now here is my personal testimony. I’ve made over 100 guides using this product. I wouldn’t think of using anything else really. It is easy, effective, it allows you to easily disseminate your info to your audience. I am sure that there are others of you out there who would benefit from it. Don’t balk at the $30 price – it has easily saved me more than that in time over the past three years.


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The Punctuation Guide

Punctuation – love it or hate it, you need to know it if you want to be taken seriously. I’m not the best but upon finding this (via LifeHacker) I feel like I can get quite a bit better.

It is an interactive site that gives you explanations and examples of the punctuation so you can better decide whether to use it or not. For example the dreaded semicolon.

There are no ads, it is appropriate for grade 5 and up I would guess and it is dead simple to navigate. Even, if you don’t know the name of the punctuation, they have images that you can click on from the homepage. Very clever.

Check it out for yourself.
The Punction Guide

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