What’s in your Extension List, Part 2

It seems that yesterday’s post where I listed some of my favourite extensions was quite well received, as I had a number of people contact me to say they found it useful. So I thought I’d add a Part 2 list with a few more. Remember, there are literally thousands of amazing extensions available in the Chrome Webstore, so do take the time to have a browse.

In the meantime, here are a few more, again in no particular order…

PixelBlock – Sending an email which includes a graphic is a technique that some companies use to track whether you open their email or not. Sometimes they do this sneaky thing where they hide an invisible single pixel in an email – you can’t see it, but it helps them track you. PixelBlock does exactly what it says, and blocks that invisible pixel.

Google Calendar – Gives you a nice glanceable preview of your Google Calendar, from any webpage, without needing to open your actual Google Calendar. But if you do want to open your actual Google Calendar, then here’s a pro tip, just click on the words “Google Calendar” at the top and it will open – you guessed it – your Google Calendar.

Google Calendar Scroll Disabler – Just in case I didn’t say “Google Calendar” enough in that last tip, here is a neat little extension that fixes one of Google Calendar’s most annoying traits – accidentally scrolling back and forward from month to month. This extension stops that behaviour and lets you scroll using the forward and back buttons in Google Calendar, making your Google Calendar behave the way normal people would expect it to.

Draftback – Takes the revision history of a Google Doc and turns it into a replayable “movie” of the document being created so you can watch how the Doc was written. Draftback adds a button to the top of every Google Doc and makes your students’ thinking more visible be letting you see their writing process unfold in front of your eyes.

1-Click Timer – For all those times when you need to give your students 5 minutes to complete a task, or get a reminder about something in 30 minutes, or cook the perfect three-minute egg. Whatever it is you’re timing, 1-Click Timer is a neat way to do it, right from the comfort of your Chrome Browser.

ColorZilla – There are a ton of colour picker extensions out there, but I have always kind of liked this one. Like most of these other extensions, this one lets you select any colour on your screen and sample it to find its RGB or hex code value. Especially useful for web design work, or anywhere you need to match exact colours.

Undo Closed Tabs Button – We all do it. You accidentally close a tab you didn’t mean to close. Damn it! You probably know you can just use CRTL+SHIFT+T to reopen a closed tab (What? You didn’t know that? You do now.) But what if you want to reopen a tab that you closed 12 tabs ago? You could just use CTRL+SHIFT+T another 12 times I suppose and go back through them all. Or, better yet, you could just use the Undo Closed Tabs Button extension and reopen the exact tab you want.

Share with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Email – Despite the somewhat unwieldy title for this extension, (and the fact that Google+ is basically dead) it does exactly what is says and lets you share your current browser page to Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or email (or your Kindle too). Great for sharing that hilarious thing you just found on the internet with your friends, simply and easily.

Mercury Reader – Remove the clutter on a webpage and improve accessibility and readability so you can focus on the actual content. It’s particularly great for reading articles on cluttered news pages. You know the ones, surrounded with ads, links to other stories, promotions and so on. Mercury Reader removes all of that crap and just leaves you with the actual page content. You can also adjust text size, font and colour contrast for readability.

Authy – If you don’t use 2FA, or 2 Factor Authentication, then you need to go back and read this or this, and then stop being so bloody obstinate and go turn it on. Now. I’ll wait… OK, now you’ve got it turned on*, you’ll need something to generate the 2FA codes. You could use something like Google Authenticator but that only works on one device at a time and is a pain if you need to move it to another device. So check out Authy, it does the same thing but syncs across multiple devices, including your Chrome Browser using this handy extension.

Kami – If you need to work on PDFs, especially if you want to comment on them, annotate them with pen or voice notes, then check out Kami. It has a lot of features for working with PDF files, although there are limits on what you can do with the free version. Still, it’s worth looking into if PDFs are your thing. It also has some nice direct integrations with Google Classroom.

Noisli – Some people like a little background noise when they work. Not necessarily music, as that can be distracting to some people, but just some ambient noise, like the sound of a coffee shop, or the sound of a crackling campfire, or wind in the trees, or a rainy thunderstorm. Noisli allows you to generate a gentle soundscape of your choice so you can immerse yourself in ambient sounds that help you focus. It also has a customisable timer that, by default, conforms to the timings of the Pomodoro Technique.

Session Buddy – I mentioned OneTab before as a way to manage your tabs in Chrome, but you might also like to check out Session Buddy. It doesn’t gather your tabs together in the same way that OneTab does, but I do like the way it gathers sets of tabs into collections for later retrieval. Check it out and and see what you think.

Asyou can see, there are a ton of great extenstions for Chrome and I hope you find some of these useful. What other extensions do you like? Please share them in the comments below.

*You did turn 2FA on right?

What’s in your Extension list? Part 1

One of the nice things about Chrome is how easily it can be enhanced with powerful and useful extensions. Extensions give the Chrome browser additional “superpowers” that it doesn’t have by default, giving you the ability to add some really useful extra features to Chrome to suit the way you use your computer.

Here are some of my favourite extensions, in no particular order…

Extensity – The one extension to rule them all, Extensity is an extension manager that gives you the ability to easily enable or disable your extensions. I find myself installing far more extensions than I really need to use at any one time, so I like to turn off any that I don’t need to use right now. It’s as easy as clicking on their name. Extensity also has a “master switch” to turn them all off, which is handy for those few times when you might need to troubleshoot some rogue extension that could be causing trouble.

Text Blaze – A amazingly useful text expander that can take a few keystrokes and expand them out to a full word, phrase, sentence or more. You decide on your shortcut and it magically expands it in full whenever you type it. Great for emails, or any documents where you find yourself typing the same things over and over.

Clipboard History Pro – You know those times when you’re doing a lot of cutting and pasting, and wish you could go back and retrieve the second last, third last (or more) thing that was on your clipboard? With Clipboard History Pro you can. It remembers everything you cut (or copy) and you can easily retrieve it from the list. You can even create a favourites list of things you commonly need to paste.

Screencastify – A really handy and easy to use screen recorder for Chrome. It’s great because it integrates so well with Google Drive, and because it works directly in Chrome it is perfect for Chromebooks. The premium version is affordable and even has a built in video editor tool.

Be Awake – A simple utility that prevents your Chromebook from going to sleep. Just toggle it off or on as needed. Really basic but very useful.

OneTab – It’s too easy to accumulate lots and lots of open tabs in Chrome. OneTab can help reduce tab clutter by gathering all open tabs into a handy list, which can then be saved, shared or restored. I also like to save my open tabs at the end of a busy day so I can revisit anything important later.

The Great Suspender – Another neat tab mangement tool that puts unused tabs to sleep after a predetermined time to help save memory and system resources. As soon as you return to the tab it instantly wakes again. There are lots of these kinds of extensions in the WebStore, but this was one of the first to do this.

Full Page Screen Capture – Most operating systems have built in keyboard shortcuts for taking screenshots, and most give you the option of grabbing the full screen or just a specific region. But things get trickier when I want to capture a long page that goes “below the fold” such as a long scrolling webpage.  This extension solves that.

Marinara – If you use the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused on tasks, this Chrome based Pomodoro timer is very nice. It has the standard Pomodoro timings by default, but you can customise it if you want to.  I like the way it keeps a full history of completed units.  If you don’t know about the Pomodoro Technique, check it out.

Mote – Mote lets you add voice recordings to comments in Google Docs. It adds simple one-click recording to add a voice comment.  There are other ways to do this, but Mote is by far the simplest.

Bitly – Google Docs typically have very long URLs so I find myself making them into short URLs quite. I like using bit.ly for that.  This extension makes it really simple to create a bitly address (which can be fully customised) in just a few clicks.

AdBlockPlus – Because ads can be really annoying! However, many websites also rely on ads for revenue so I whitelist a lot of sites where the ads are not too intrusive, but it’s good to be able to block the really annoying ones.  Also blocks ads on Facebook and YouTube too.

Emoji Keyboard – Sometimes you want to add an emoji to your text and this extension makes it really easy. Just search, choose and paste. Super fun and easy! 

QR Code Generator –  A really quick and simple no-frills way to generate a QR code from the current webpage as a PNG file. Just click and save to your Chromebook

Share to Classroom – If you are a Google Classroom user you should definitely have this one installed on all school machines. You can push webpages to all classroom computers in just a couple of clicks, and turn any webpage into an assignment, question or material, simply and immediately.

Speedtest – Because sometimes I just need to know how fast the network is.

That’s just a few of my favourites but there are, literally, thousands to choose from. As you can see, many of the ones I like are focused on improving productivity and efficiency, but take some time to browse or search through the Chrome Webstore and you are sure to find extensions ideally suited to the way you work or to meet your specific needs.

What extensions do you llike? Let me know in the comments!

Do you want me to write a part 2 list?

Something you know, Something you have

I read an article today in an educational newsletter about keeping your accounts safe with a strong password.  It suggested a range of sensible things like having at least 8 characters, using a mix of uppercase, lowercase, numbers and special characters, and not reusing old passwords.  All pretty good advice.

I hear a lot of people expressing concern about the security of “the cloud”.  They worry that their data could be compromised if kept on a server they don’t own themselves, or a server that is located somewhere else, possibly even in another country.  They express concerns about data breaches from hackers, security breaches of data centres, or even data being accessed by foreign powers during a government uprising. Is any of this possible?  I suppose so. Anything is possible. Unlikely perhaps, but possible.

If it’s true that anything is possible, and we want our data to have zero risk, then we need to not keep data anywhere. The only sure way to have no risk with our data is to have no data, but that’s obviously not possible, because we live in the real world where having data is important and useful. To live in a world without data is not an option. So when it comes to the security of your data, we need to decide what level of risk is acceptable to us.

Putting aside the likelihood of secret hacking attempts or tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories, can we all just acknowledge that the single most likely way your data will be accessed by someone else is if they get hold of your password.  Either you didn’t pick a very secure password to start with, or they guess it because they know your pet’s name, or you do what so many people do and write it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor at work. Or maybe you are away from your desk without locking your computer. Or maybe you’ve shared it with someone you know.  Whatever the reason, that password, those eight or so little characters, are all that stands between you and potentially disastrous consequences.

So why, oh why, do more people not use Two Factor Authentication (or 2FA)?  I have had literally hundreds of conversations with people who will argue about the alleged insecurity of the cloud, and who get all freaked out because they don’t know where or how their data is physically stored, and who claim that they can’t possibly rely on a cloud service to store their precious data, but who don’t use 2FA on their account!  It’s insane.

Look, I get that some people might be mistrustful of the idea of putting their data somewhere other than a server that they own themselves. But unless they at least use 2FA to secure their account I cannot take anything they say about security seriously.  They are not even taking the most basic of steps to secure their own data, while they bleat about highly unlikely potential worst case scenarios.

So what exactly is two factor authentication?

Many people have two locks on their front door – a top lock and a bottom lock, each with it’s own key. Unlocking either one of the locks is not enough to open the door – you need to unlock both locks at the same time. That’s two factor authentication. You need both factors – in this case, both keys – to open the door.

When it comes to data, you also want to have two keys, or ‘factors’. And ideally you want to have two different kinds of factors – something you know and something you have. 

The something you know is the password, and yes it’s still a good idea to have a strong password, something with enough length and complexity that is hard to guess but easy to remember.  But it’s not enough. It’s just one factor.

The second factor is something you have, or something you physically carry with you, such as a phone or touch key. Unless the hacker or foreign power actually has your phone, they can’t access your data, even if they know your password.  Just like the two keys for the front door, they need both your password AND your phone at the same time. If they have both those things, you may just have bigger problems to deal with.

Some people think that using two factor authentication can be a pain, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy and absolutely worth whatever very minor inconvenience it might cause.  You probably have your phone with you all the time anyway, so it’s really not a big deal. Once you set it up, when you log into your account on a new device you simply enter your username and password as usual, then tap a button or enter a code on your phone to complete the login.  No phone, no login. Take that, hacker!

There are a number of ways to get that second factor, from receiving a text message, to entering a secret number that gets generated every 30 seconds, to tapping a ‘Yes’ button on your phone, to having a dedicated Yubikey in your computer. It’s an extra step, sure, but it makes your account very, very difficult to hack.

So please, if you don’t already use 2FA (on every account you own!) then set it up now. Your online life will be exponentially more secure. And if you don’t, then please do not ever express an opinion about the security of the cloud or anything else. If you can’t take even the most basic steps to protect your own online data then you have no business expressing your opinions about whether a cloud system is secure enough or not.  You just sound silly.