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.

The Magic of Google Slides

Google Slides is one of my favourite G Suite tools. Its versatility and ease of use offers lots of amazing visual possibilities for students to present their learning in creative and interesting ways. 

Here are 10 tips for becoming a Google Slides wizard…

10. Master your design with Master Slides

Did you know that you can make a single change in one place that then changes on every slide?  Whether you want to add a graphic to every slide, reposition a textbox on every page, or change the font through your entire presentation, you can do it on the master and it will update on every slide. Click on Slide >Edit Master, then make your change to whatever type of slide you want changed. It’s like magic!

9. Voice Type your speaker notes

Typing is so 2019! So instead of typing all your speaker notes why not just talk to your computer and have the words magically appear in the notes section below the slide?  No special microphone or training required, just select Tools > Voice Type Speaker Notes, allow your microphone, then click and start speaking. And if you like this idea, you can find Voice Typing in Google Docs as well! Boom!

8. Stay focused when you need to insert an image

There’s no need to leave Google Slides just to find a great image to add to your presentation. Just go to Insert > Image and you’ll find options to add an image from your computer, from the Web, from your Google Photos, from a URL, or even directly from your webcam! All without leaving your slides so you can stay focused on making a great presentation! As a bonus, if you insert an image from the web this way, it’s also copyright free! 

What if you want an even bigger choice of images? There are several Add-ons for Google Slides that offer some stunningly beautiful high-res image collections, and many of them are free! Go to Add-ons > Get Add-ons and search for Unsplash Images. Or Pixabay Free Images. Or Adobe Stock images. There are lots to choose from, and having just the right image can really enhance your next presentation.

7. Add almost anything to a slide

Tucked away under the Insert menu is a treasure trove of options for objects you can add to your slides. As well as images, you can also add text boxes, audio, video, shapes, lines, charts, tables, diagrams and wordart. So get creative and add whatever you need to build a compelling presentation for your audience. Don’t overdo it though!  Remember, when it comes to slide design, less is usually more!

And yes, you read that right! You can now insert an audio file directly into a Google Slide! So students can now add voice notes, annotations, music, sound effects, pronunciations, and more.

6. Explore better design

Want some creative ideas for the design of your presentation? Check out the Explore feature built into Slides! It uses the power of artificial intelligence to magically suggest ways to improve the look of your slides. After you add your words and images to a slide, go to Tools > Explore to open the side panel and browse the suggested designs! When you see one you like, just click to apply it to your slide, and you’re done.  It’s that easy.

5. Publish to the Web

You can easily share your beautiful presentation by publishing it to the web. After you share your slides simply go to File > Publish to the Web and choose the settings you want for the published product. Share the URL and your slides will be visible through any web browser. What a great way to share your presentation with colleagues, parents or conference attendees. If you continue to make changes, the web version will automatically update so your published Slides always have the right content. And if you no longer need to share your slides, you can unpublish to remove them from view. You have complete control! It’s the cloud, baby!

4. Slides as Pages

Google Slides is a great presentation tool, but did you know it’s also an impressive desktop publishing tool! All you need to do is go to File > Page Setup and change the standard 16:9 slide format to whatever shape and size you’d like. Just choose Custom and enter your desired dimensions, such as 21cm x 29.7cm (aka A4). Then you can use all of the design tricks of Slides to create published documents like newsletters, posters, flyers, business cards, etc! In fact, you could even resize to the size of a mobile phone screen and create prototypes for app designs. So many possibilities! Using the File > Download As menu you can export directly to PDF if you’d like to print your finished product.  This little trick of changing the page size probably makes Slides the most versatile tool in the whole Suite!

3. Questions and Answers

When the time finally comes to stand in front of an audience and present your slides, why not give the Q&A feature a go? After you hit the Present button to begin your presentation, click the Q&A button in the floating black toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Depending on how the projection is set up, you may need to rearrange the windows on the screens a bit, but once you turn on the feature, the audience will see a URL at the top of the presentation screen, which they can go to to ask questions or make comments as you present. Audience questions will appear on your screen so you can monitor their feedback, or even present one of their great questions to the whole group. What kind of sorcery is this!?

2. Closed captions while presenting

There’s a ton of research that supports the positive impact that closed captioning has on literacy simply by having the words appear on the screen as you speak.  The same magic that allows Voice Typing can also add closed captions to your presentation, automatically as you present! Just click the CC button from the black toolbar when presenting and your words will flow along the bottom of the screen as you speak. You can even move the words to the top of the screen or change their size if you wish.

1. Collaboration is the real magic

Like all G Suite tools, the real magic happens when people can work together to share and build their ideas. Using Google Slides people can work together, on the same document at the same time, so work gets done faster, more easily and more collaboratively. Just click the yellow Share button, add your collaborators and then get busy together! Whether it’s a group project for a small group of students, a class project where everyone is able to contribute, or a staff presentation that requires input from multiple people, the collaboration feature of Google Slides will forever change the way you think about building presentations.

To learn more about Google Slides, check out the First Day of Slides series in the Google Teacher Centre. Or if you already feel pretty good about your ability to conjure up an impressive Slides presentation, why not show what you know and take the Google Educator Level 1 or 2 Certification.