See ya Slack

All good things must come to an end as they say and that seems especially true to free online services that work pretty well.

The Tech Department at my school has been using Slack to communicate internally, but to really keep commonly used files, IP addresses and other important information. We liked it because the search was so fast, it was so good and since it could keep 10,000 messages we really had kind of a working repository of important information that we could access on any device with an Internet connection. Ahhh-the good old days.

Changes

Slack has decided to change their free plan from 10,000 messages and 5GB of storage to unlimited messages and storage. What?! Why is that sooo bad? You may ask yourself.

Well the catch here is that it will only keep that data for 90 days and then it is deleted hidden. So our important PDF’s that we want quick access to will be gone (or as good as gone since we cannot search for them anymore) as well as all other notes, files and doohickeys that we deemed important at the moment.

It’s OK

I am not mad at Slack. They are a company and this will undoubtedly drive some users from the free version to the paid version which is really the point here. I knew it couldn’t last and when I saw the news break in mid July I wasn’t angry or disappointed but just a feeling something like this was inevitable.

Since we are a Google school we are switching over to Google Spaces. It seems to provide a similar service but it is not as fast or easy to get to. Everything just seems to take an extra click or two where Slack was much more streamlined.

It’s fine – we need to move our information out of Slack and into Google Spaces. We considered some other options, but this will do. While it may be a bit laborious getting specific files and information out of Slack we should be fine.

Slack was more of a convenience to help streamline our work. It was not an essential part of storing vital information, but a quick way to access it and to help keep us on the same page. Losing it stinks (a little) but we will survive – we’re strong that way.

Google Calendar – Tips & tricks

Google Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ahhh – Google Calendar – I do enjoy using you. I know that are a lot of different online calendars out there to chose from and many are free, but this has been my mainstay for well over a decade. It is simple to use, you can cram a lot of info into an event, but what I like most about it, is how easy it is to navigate and that’s what this post is all about.

Enable shortcut keys

The first thing you need to do is make sure that you can use shortcut keys. To do this head over to your settings by clicking on the gear near the top right hand corner of your screen.

Then you should see Keyboard shortcuts as an option on the left hand side. Click that and then tick the box to enable shortcuts.

Now when you head back to your calendar, if you type the ? you will see a whole list of them. There’s not a ton, which is good, it makes it a lot easier to memorize. Here are all of them.

My favorites

My personal favorite keys are the navigation keys. You can switch between day, week, month and even year view just by pressing the right key. Check out the video below to see it in action.

Creating a new event

If you’re in Google Calendar go ahead and hit “C” to create a new event. Of course you can just click on the day (and time if you’re on Day view) to create one as well, but what if you’re not in Google Calendar. There is a URL you can type to create an event.

You must be signed into your Google account for this to work and I’ve tested it on Chrome and Firefox and both worked. You just type “cal.new

That’s it and it will create a a new calendar event for you.

I know it is a short post, but I figured it would be a good one to write since we are getting pretty close to back-to-school time 🙂

Google Docs New Features – Markdown support!

Markdown was pretty popular a few years ago. So what is Markdown? It is a lightweight markup language that allows you to add formatting (bold, italics, lists, hyperlinks, images, etc.) to plaintext documents. You can read more about it here.

Basically it lets you to format your text and document without the need of a toolbar or special mouse clicks. This may sound a little confusing and it is at first but it is a good way to write as it removes lots of distractions and lets you focus on your words. I’ve used it a lot in the past, especially with blog posts. I switched away from it when I switched over to Windows – I couldn’t find a text editor I liked that supported it.

At any rate – that may be changing as Google Docs now supports Markdown! You have to enable it but it works! To get started create or open a Google Doc. From the menu select Tools and then select Preferences (I believe this was previously named Tools).

From your Preferences window, check the box that says Automatically detect Markdown. That’s it – now you’re ready to format using Markdown. The Google Doc itself will not remove its keyboard or anything. It will still look the same, but now when you use Markdown syntax as you type, it will automatically format it according. Check out the GIF below.
Looks like I recorded too much space 🙂

Not all Markdown syntax is supported in Google Docs though. I tried to add an image and it just would delete. I also tried to make lists and to no avail, so I guess it’s not perfect but this is a pretty new feature and hopefully Google will continue to add more and more support to it.

Sometimes I like to write on a blank screen while creating. It’s also nice to try different markup languages too to stretch one’s brain from time to time. Heck even WordPress supports it now!

Google Docs new features “@”

Google Docs has recently (maybe a month or so ago) released some new features and I think they are genuinely useful. When you open a new Google Doc it prompts you right from the start to type the “@” symbol. Check out the gallery below to see what it looks like, because it is pretty extensive.

That is a lot of different features all from a little @ symbol. I won’t go into all of them as many are self explanatory but I do want to touch on a few of them.

Nice features

I like how you can mention people in a doc. When you do this they do NOT get a handy little email notification that links back to the Google Doc itself. You might be thinking why? Well think of a large project and you are mentioniong people left and right, you don’t want to blow up their email with all of these mentions. The Google Doc does give you this handy little reminder though.

Another cool thing is the ability to work on an email draft. I know you can do this in Gmail itself, but sometimes the email may need a second set of eyes. Here you and a colleague can craft the greatest email ever and when you’re ready to send, you can ship right over to Gmail by hitting the Gmail button you see below.

Another really cool thing is Meeting Notes. Let’s say you have a meeting schedule (like I do). Let’s say i have a meeting with Omar about Coffee (he really does know a lot about that stuff) on June 17th and it is on my Google Calendar (it has to be on your Google Calendar). If I select Meeting notes this is what shows up on my Google Doc. you can even attach this Google Doc to the meeting event on your calendar so everyone invited can see it!

Project Roadmap is also another nice little addition Google has added. Here it will make a table with some drop down menus to boot.

Now you can create your own customizable drop down menus but from what I can tell is that you need to add them to each cell individually by typing the @ symbol inside it.

That’s pretty much it. I think these additions are more than just window dressing or alternative ways to format your text. This is something that adds some much needed functionality into an already solid word processing program. Well done Google!

Episode 215 – Baby, baby, baby ohhhh!

Tony and Patrick are back after a month off. It was the end of the year, things were busy and oh yeah, Tony and his wife had a baby, so I guess there were some legitimate excuses for being away 🙂

As always, you can check out the agenda below and be sure to subscribe to us with your favorite podcasting app.

  1. New Baby!!
  2. What are you drinking?
    1. Water
    2. Andy Gator – Abita – https://abita.com/brews/andygator# 
  3. Gray/Grey Box Testing – Tony’s going to smoke Patrick’s network
    1. https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/topic/what-are-black-box-grey-box-and-white-box-penetration-testing/ 
  4. 2-Factor / MultiFactor – time to annoy people, Blackbaud is requiring this for RE and insurance for other things
  5. Summer plans
    1. Rodecaster Pro 2 and podcasting equipment – https://rode.com/en/interfaces-and-mixers/rodecaster-series/rodecaster-pro-ii 
    2. Starlink – https://www.starlink.com/ – Possible backup

Episode 214 – Where are the teachers?

Tony and Patrick are back and talking about beer, Tony’s mischief and the “teacher shortage.” As always, you can find us on your favorite podcasting app and check out the talking points below.

  1. Final month of school
  2. What are you drinking?
    1. Founders All Day Vacay – https://foundersbrewing.com/our-beer/all-day-vacay/ 
    2. Coors Banquet – https://www.coors.com/ 
  3. Teacher shortage or something else?
    1. Shortage is a bad label – teachers haven’t gone anywhere
    2. Transitioning to other careers
    3. Poor working conditions
    4. Tony and Patrick’s ideas
  4. Atlas Rubicon – Everyone hates this, and it ruined the world and we let it.
    1. https://www.onatlas.com/ 
    2. https://eduplanet21.com/ 
    3. Tony being devious

Episode 213 – Feel the Flex

Tony and Patrick are back to talk about their great weather, some delicious drinks and much more. Check out the talking points below and be sure to subscribe to us with your favorite podcasting app.

  1. How’s the weather?
  2. What am I drinking?
    1. Bell’s Oberon Ale – https://bellsbeer.com/beers/oberon-ale/
    2. Samuel Adams Summer Ale – https://www.samueladams.com/our-beers/limited-release/american-wheat-ale/summer-ale 
  3. Chrome OS Flex
    1. https://chromeenterprise.google/os/chromeosflex/
    2. https://itbabble.com/2022/04/20/chrome-os-flex/ 
  4. Samsung Chromebooks – rant by Patrick
  5. Holograms. Only $50,000.00
    1. Like Iron Man – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ddk9ci6geSs 
  6. Build a STEM Lab in a normal room; don’t sweat the big stuff
  • 4 – 3D printers , Sindoh, Dremel, MakerBot
  • 1 – GlowForge Pro Laser Cutter with Air Cleaner
  • 2- Dremel hand saws
  • 1 – large general tool box with common tools
  • Shelves for storing models, materials, etc
  • Robotic Kits – 2 per table 
  • Tables –
  • Art Room Style Tables; more square the better; you need depth
  • 4- self healing large sized mats per table
  • 2- Dremel sets per table (get the most comprehensive kit you can afford)
  •  safety gear per table
  •  2- professional quality glue guns per table
  • 1- heat gun per table
  • Sets of sand paper per table
  • 1- metal meter stick per table
  • 4- small vices per table
  • 5- 8 strong magnets per table

Chrome OS Flex

Chrome OS on a MacBook? You better believe it!

Here is how this happened.

It is the end of the year and a teacher wanted an extra Chromebook on hand for her student to do some work in Google Docs. Since it is the end of the year, our supply of Chromebook loaners is really dwindling, so the Tech Department didn’t have any to spare.

The solution was Chrome OS Flex. It allows you to put a Chrome OS installer on a USB and then to use that installer on older Mac or Window laptops, which is the case we have here. This MacBook is around 8 years old, has a battery that only lasts around 90 minutes (more than enough for this situation), so we thought we would give Chrome OS Flex a try.

One thing to note – this is not intended for widespread deployment yet (according to Google).

Getting started

Google wants you to head over to this website and give them your name, organization name, size, etc. Then you can head over to this website and start deciding if this is right for your device. On the support page it has a list of Mac and Windows laptops that are “compatible.”

One thing to know is that “compatible” does not mean stable.

Most of the laptops we had fell in the “Mino issues expected” category. There were some (such as the 11.6″ MacBook Airs) that were not listed at all. I think we’ll play around with those this summer.

At any rate, you will need a USB with at least 8GB of space on it. This USB will be wiped and reformatted so make sure you backup whatever information is on it. This USB will be the installer.

As you work your way through the support pages you will find yourself here where they ask you to plug in said USB and get going.

You need to make sure you are using the Chrome browser and you will need to install a Google Extension that acutally creates the installer USB.

This process took around 15 minutes to make the installer. Once it is done go to the laptop you wish to convert to a Chromebook. Power it down, plug in the USB installer and then power up to boot to the USB instead of its hard drive.

From there it is very straight forward. One thing you need to know is that this is wiping the computer and replacing its original operating system with Google Chrome. There is no undoing this (at least that is my understanding). This is not installing Chrome OS to run side by side with the original or putting Chrome OS in a virtual machine. This replaces the current operating system with Chrome OS. Just so you know.

The installation was . . . fast. I think it only took 2-3 minutes for the installer to do what it needed to be done. At the end of the process, we removed the USB and it rebooted into Chrome OS – wow!

Super easy!

Here are some questions that we had (have):

  • Can we enroll it into our Google Admin Control Panel to manage it remotely? – YES! You obviously need a license, but you definitely can do that
  • Will it run all extensions? – We are not sure. The student using this is using it very sparingly and for a specific purpose. We need to test more thoroughly.
  • Will it run Android apps? – I have no idea whatsoever. I guess it probably matters what kind of laptop you are using. My gut reaction wants to say yes – but I’d be very cautious
  • Can multiple people log into it like a Chromebook? – You betcha! When it boots up there is the option to add another user, just like a Chromebook
  • How is the performance? – It’s fast. It boots up very fast and it has no issues loading basic websites and getting to Google Docs/Gmail/Drive.
  • Will there be future updates? – I would be shocked if there were not! This is in its early days and it is already created a bit of buzz throughout the educational community. Then again, it’s Google and they are known for killing off services rather suddenly and with little explanation.

So there you have it – we have always wondered what to do with our aging computers and now we have a path going forward. We will be cautious and won’t start converting MacBook carts entirely but the odd MacBook may find itself becoming a Chromebook and I hope Google continues to develop this program.

Episode 212 – Ed Tech Lives

Ah yes, Tony and Patrick are back after a week off. It is now time to talk about ed tech again. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast with your favorite podcasting app and check out or show notes below.

  1. The Masters golf tournament
  2. CISSP Pin – https://isc2education.org/media/catalog/product/cache/6/image/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/c/i/cissp_lapel_pin.jpg 
  3. What am I drinking?
    1. https://www.newbelgium.com/beer/1554/
    2. Iced tea
  4. Tony’s BYOD requirements and laptop purchasing plan for 2022-2023
  5. Is ed-tech really dead? Is Tony wrong?
    1. Digital Fetus – https://itbabble.com/2013/02/05/podcast-episode-54-the-digital-fetus-has-arrived-january-31-2013/ 
    2. ISTE Standards for Students – https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students
      https://cdn.iste.org/www-root/ISTEU/ISTE%20Standards%20for%20Students%20-%20Syllabus.pdf?_ga=2.64610543.1783297188.1649637689-927817944.1649637689
  6. Elon – https://slashdot.org/story/22/04/09/2058201/is-twitter-dying-tweets-elon-musk