Category Archives: TechTips

MyScratchNotes: Screencasting Linux on #Chromebook

Next week, we’ll be giving out laptops–considered obsolete in school settings, but that work fine with a copy of LubuntuLinux running on them–to students. After giving a quick tour of Lubuntu on the laptops, I suddenly had 6 “how to” videos to create. Of course, I could have made the videos on a Lubuntu laptop but I wondered, What if you installed Lubuntu on your Chromebook, then made the videos there? Could I use something like Screencastify (which has “picture in a picture,” BTW) to get the job done?

Naturally, the question going around in my head required some fun experimentation. As you might guess from the picture below, yes, it worked.

Running LXDE on an Acer C720 Chromebook

Although I’ve loaded GNU/Linux on a Chromebook twice before, I have to admit that this was the easiest and most pain-free. That is due in large part to the instructions provided online here, and which I’ve customized below (these are my scratch notes)…the customization involves LXDE in lieu of KDE or XFCE (neither of which I like much) AND loading the right audio drivers to ensure I can record.

Read the OriginalHow to Easily Install Ubuntu on Chromebook with Crouton | Linux.com

As mentioned in the article above, one of the main benefits:

Some of the advantages of Crouton are that unlike other methods, you don’t have to reboot your machine to switch operating systems; you can switch between them using keyboard shortcuts as if you are switching between two apps.

Here are the relevant excerpts that I followed…again, you may want to read the whole thing. These are just my notes should I have to go through this again.

Part 1 – Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI interface on Chromebook with Crouton

1. “Install Chromebook recovery utility from the Chrome web store. Open the app and follow the instructions to create a recovery drive.” This is an important step in case you mess it all up.

2. Enable the developer mode by holding Esc + Refresh keys and then push the ‘power’ button. The recovery screen will show a scary warning. Just ignore it and let Chrome OS wipe your data. The process can take up to 15 minutes, so don’t turn off your Chromebook.

3. Log into your Chromebook and open the GitHub page of Crouton and download the latest script.

Check the download folder to see if crouton is downloaded.

4- Open the terminal in Chromebook  by hitting Alt+Ctrl+t

5 -Type this command to open shell: shell

6 – Install Ubuntu with LXDE GUI (the -e option will encrypt your drive, which is good)

sudo sh -e ~/Downloads/crouton -t lxde

This process will take about 15-20 minutes depending on the speed of your Internet connection.

7 – Type sudo startlxde
This will start LXDE GUI interface to Linux.

8 – Update Your Linux installation. At the command line (Go to the START button in the bottom left-hand corner, then Accessories, then LXTerminal), type the following, pressing ENTER after each command:

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get update

Then…

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get upgrade

9 – Install your favorite apps…here are a few of my favorites:

(precise)mg@localhost:~$ sudo apt-get install shutter firefox keepassx mc 

Of course, you don’t have to install these programs at all. I usually also install Google Chrome browser, and Dropbox.

Part 2 – Setup Audio
One of the things I noticed when I installed Screencastify in GoogleChrome on Linux on Chromebook was that the microphone wasn’t detected. To get it working, I followed these steps at the Terminal (LXTerminal):

1 – Install pulseaudio

sudo apt-get install pulseaudio

2 – Install pavucontrol and pavumeter

sudo apt-get install pavucontrol pavumeter

Restart to get pulseaudio running

3 – Start pavucontrol, setting input/output is set to Audio Stereo Duplex

That’s pretty much it! Now I have a Chromebook that can switch to LXDE (LubuntuLinux) for audio editing when I need it using Audacity, as well as access my Keepass password file. And, I can record the video tutorials for getting around in LXDE! The video quality–and sound–is actually better than doing the recording on my Macbook Air…still haven’t figured that one out!


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#Chromebook WebCam Recording – App Roundup (Updated 12/10/14)

Welcome! Want to do some screencasting for flipped classroom or video tutorials on your Chromebook? Then you’ve come to the right place. The following are screencasting/webcam recording apps worth checking out.

Here’s a quick list of the rest in order of preference:

  1. My Pick: Screencastify 
  2. TechSmith’s Snagit app and extension combo
  3. ClipChamp
  4. MediaCore Capture

You can read the rest of this blog entry for more details….

It was only yesterday that a colleague asked, “How do you record video on the Chromebook?” While I have always tested video recording with WeVideo, I found myself looking for an app that would record video locally. . .I just hadn’t made the time to search.

Thank goodness for my Twitter PLN! Where else can you ask a question and get responses back in a short time period?

Fortunately, since Chromebooks are smashing the Education Market in the U.S.A., LOTS of folks are asking great questions, sharing them via Twitter.

As of the third quarter of 2014, Chromebooks have displaced iPads as the most popular new devices shipping to U.S. schools. This is a huge win for Google in a market historically dominated by Apple and Microsoft. According to the Financial Times and IDC, “Google shipped 715,500 of the low-cost laptops into US schools in the third quarter, compared with 702,000 iPads.” Even more striking, the $199 and up Chromebooks have gone from zero to a quarter of the educational market in only two years…While Apple has been pumping iPads into schools, Google has gotten many of the same schools hooked on its free Google Apps for Education Suite. 

Source: Forbes.com Article

TIP – Quick Chrome App Management: Before we get started adding a whole bunch of extensions/apps to your Chromebook, you might want to first install Simple Extension Manager…that way, you can easily manage/disable extensions or apps you don’t want instead of digging around the innards of Chrome browser tools.

Some solutions for the webcam recording app question that involves saving directly to your Chromebook:

  1. My Pick: Screencastify – This remains an easy choice to depend on and I keep coming back to it, even after having tried all the rest. It features picture in a picture as well.
  2. ClipChamp – This was an easy to use webcam capture tool.  Read this great blog entry that walks you through the whole process of using ClipChamp…at the end of the process, you end up with these options shown right. As you can see, the video you get is an MP4 that is viewable and sharable on most devices and web sites.
  3. MediaCore Capture – I really liked MediaCore Capture…it recorded not only my screen, but also included a video feed of me in the bottom right hand-corner! The only fly in the ointment is that the video format it creates is webm (a.k.a. HTML5 video), which you would have to convert–maybe use Zamzar.com WebM to MP4–before uploading to a video sharing site. I can really see using MediaCore Capture as a screencasting alternative to Screencastify and TechSmith’s Snagit app and extension combo, which (as far I know) only offers screencasting.
  4. Zamzar Video Conversion needed for MediaCore Capture
  5. TechSmith’s Snagit app and extension combo

If you are looking for quick captures using the WebCam, consider these apps as well:
  • WebCam – Relies on a web site to “turn on your webcam” on your Chromebook.
  • WebCamToy – This app will work while offline to capture pictures. Features 80 special effects for pictures taken.
WebM to MP4 Video Converters
Here are a few tools you can use to convert from WebM to MP4, but if you’re putting the WebM videos in YouTube, it won’t be a problem…YouTube can handle WebM/HTML5 videos!


Final Selection: What’s my recommendation? Of these tools, I’d have to go with Screencastify. I know how to convert WebM to MP4, so that wouldn’t be an impediment for me. I also like the fact I can record the presenter in the bottom right-hand corner. That’s not to say I would cast away other tools like ClipChamp and TechSmith (since it offers image capture and other features) but for quick recommendations, Screencastify is my favorite.
And, while I have used WeVideo to “test out” webcam recording, it’s probably “too much” since I have little interest in video editing for most projects…my work is often done in “1-take.”
What are your thoughts?

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File Commander for Mac – FastCommander

Earlier today I saw something quite frightening–a messy desktop on a Mac. The thought of clicking and dragging a few hundred documents and folders to their appropriate location gave me chills. But what to do? I immediately looked to my gold standard solution–some kind of File Commander for Mac.

Midnight Commander

I’ve grown accustomed to using Midnight Commander on GNU/Linux machines when handling more than 10 files/folders, that I can’t imagine having to click-n-drag. Unfortunately, I needed something a bit more GUI for my end user’s machine.

While I looked for various solutions, including revisiting an old favorite–muCommander, which works on Windows and Linux but not Mac OS 10 Yosemite anymore apparently–I ended up investing in Fast Commander, which cost less than $6 (I’ll forego a donut and coffee later this week).

Works like a charm!


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Sharing WebLinks with Pocket, IFTTT.com, and GoogleDrive (Updated 11/19/14)

As I was reading about Google updating the Chrome browser on Mac to 64-bit, reading about other stuff that would be great for my team at work to have access to, I wondered how I could get the information to them. There are lots of ways to “tag” work or save it for others and I’ve played around with those (e.g. RSS).

For fun, though, I wondered what would happen if I had IFTTT.com save anything tagged “2ecto” to a GoogleSheet saved in GoogleDrive. I went that route because I already had my personal Gmail set up as a channel; IFTTT only allows you to have one email per Gmail channel. I didn’t want to have to change that since I use it for other recipes.

By creating an IFTTT channel based on GoogleDrive, I could use my GoogleApps account to save stuff then auto-share it on a web site.

What Success Looks Like
So, here’s what success looks like: http://tinyurl.com/ectoplan (scroll down to see the list of articles)

As you can see from the image, I have a spreadsheet embedded into my GoogleSites page. A brief excerpt from the page appears, as does a link in case folks want to click through to the main page.

A cleaned up version featuring a snapshot of embedded HTML version of the spreadsheet:

Here’s the flow:

1) I happen to see a web site I want my team to see. So, I tag it in ReadItLater’s Pocket with the tag, “2ecto”

What’s neat is that I can tag items from anywhere–phone, tablet, computer–and they immediately show up in Pocket, and then get pushed out to my web page.

2) My IFTTT.com recipe takes anything tagged with “2ecto” and saves it to a spreadsheet in my work GoogleApps/Drive account.

Get Recipe: Publish Pocket Tagged Items to Drive Spreadsheet 

3) In the GoogleSheet itself, I have played around with formatting a bit and set up two sheets…one where the raw data comes in, and the other where the data is auto-sorted in descending order (Z to A). This is the equivalent of reverse chronological order.

This is accomplished using this formula (thanks to this web site for the solution!)…put TRUE for Ascending, FALSE for Descending order on the sort:

=sort(Shared!A:D, 1, FALSE)

This means that this sheet (“Shared”):

Gets auto-sorted and shows up like this:

Note: You may have noticed that my example has the first row with an incorrect date…sorry about that. I actually re-tagged that item and Nov 15th was the original tag date, but chronologically, it’s the most recent to be put in the spreadsheet. 🙂

4) The final step, I suppose, would be to get folks to actually visit the web page or email them anytime there is a change. This could be done several ways but I will leave those for another blog post.

What fun!


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Half-Awake Disaster: Windows Users Beware! #Schannel

Have you ever done the half-awake, disaster dance? You know, that lousy moment when you drop a jar on the floor and it explodes, leaving you stranded barefoot on your kitchen floor? Or, that moment when a coke explodes because you forgot to open it gradually (come on, Coke, there has to be a better way!) and stains the ceiling and walls?

The dance, unless you’ve been immobilized by glass shards and liquid shrapnel combined with a dose of shock, involves waving your arms around, and yelling, “Why me? Why now?!?”

Image Source: http://goo.gl/HYkYC1

“What’s this bouncy window in the background?” The question from my wife prompted my latest hop-a-about this morning, as I struggled to work the lagañas (in English, “sleepy dust?”) out of my eyes, knocking my glasses to the floor. Thank goodness, they bounced.  “I clicked on the zip file attachment to my email.”
“Why did you do that?” My panic center sends out an alert, bypassing my normal, cool relaxed approach.
“I needed to see what my friend had sent me.”

Let’s review the facts:

  1. Spouse clicked on zipped file.
  2. Bouncy windows in the background.
  3. Major Windows Beware announcements everywhere.
  4. Local news stations saying, “Don’t click that link or attachment in your email!”

The thought of re-imaging a hard drive that I’d just setup this weekend–What horror!

Running Windows? You should probably run your updates about now. A serious new vulnerability has been confirmed as present in all versions of Windows from Vista onwards which has the potential to let hackers execute their own arbitrary code.
The issue (CVE number CVE-2014-6321) is rated critical by Microsoft, and affected users are being strongly encouraged to update their systems. 

Vulnerable versions of Windows include Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 (both RT and non-RT). Also at risk is Microsoft’s server family of operating systems, including Windows 2003, 2008 and 2012. Source: MakeUseOf

“Dad,” asked my son miserably, “does this mean you’re going to put linux on that computer now?”
“Yes, sir! LubuntuLinux!” I replied as I sipped my hazelnut capuchino. “At least, one one side of it” referring to the dual-boot process possible.

Some Windows-centric backup solutions:

  1. EaseUs ToDo Backup
  2. Data File Backup
  3. Windows 8.1 System Image Backup
  4. AOMEI Backupper (free edition)
  5. Paragon Backup and Recovery
Of course, my preference is to use something like PartImage, PINGFSArchiver, or, sigh, DD. Whatever is most exciting.
😉

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Automating FTP Transfers

If you are a school district, there are times when you have to transfer files securely–often, encrypted–from one location to another. It’s tempting to want to use built-in utilities in popular server operating systems, but you can also take advantage of for-cost solutions like the ones below (in no particular order and no preference/endorsement implied):

MOVEIt – Provides FTP and PGP support

AutoMate

SFTP Plus

GoAnywhere Secure FTP

Some of the features most need include:
  • Automating the transfer of files from one server to another
  • Securing the files with encryption (e.g. GPG/PGP)
  • Verification that files were sent and received
  • Encrypted transfer of files
If this has been a need in your organization, how have you resolved it? While setting up regular FTP on a FOSS server is pretty easy, I have been unsuccessful with SFTP setup. Any tips or advice?
By the way, I have to give a shout-out to GoAnywhere’s Free Open PGP Studio software!


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5 Tips for Managing Your #Email #principalpln @CurtRees @principalj @drspikecook

While waiting for a movie to start, I noticed an ongoing Twitter conversation–check out PrincipalPLN Blog— that should intrigue any administrator: how to stay on top of your email, or how to achieve the mythical Inbox Zero

Watch/listen this discussion


If you’re not familiar with InboxZero concept, you may want to read this:

Inbox Zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times.
Inbox Zero was developed by productivity expert Merlin Mann. According to Mann, the zero is not a reference to the number of messages in an inbox; it is “the amount of time an employee’s brain is in his inbox.” Mann’s point is that time and attention are finite and when an inbox is confused with a “to do” list, productivity suffers.

Source: What is InBox Zero? 


Some of the tips shared in the video included:

  1. For incoming emails, take action on it right away. 
  2. If an email results in a task, Curt Rees sends it to OmniFocus (e.g. Mac, iOS only) with a deadline/due date in the form of a task.
  3. Adhere to the Five Sentences:
  4. Use Google Sites to send updates out rather than send out emails. This helps staff just go to the web site for updates rather than email. So, you send out an email with a link to the page.
  5. Use IFTTT.com to send a text message (SMS) if you receive an email/gmail from the Superintendent or someone important.
  6. A clean desk is a sign of mental clarity.
  7. Top 5 tips from @CurtRees:
  1. David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done
  2. Have a system for what you’re going to do.
  3. Don’t let email dictate how you are going to spend your time. Don’t worry about email at home…make yourself available in other ways. 
  4. Don’t let your inbox be your do list.
  5. Don’t clutter anyone else’s inbox…recognize when email is not appropriate and needs to be F2F. Don’t try to justify everything in writing because you lose the emotional impact.

After listening to the PrincipalPLN podcast, I was inspired to share my top 5 tips:

  1. Create ToDo outside of your email. Since I rely on Evernote (and you can do this with the free version), I forward work-related tasks to “WorkToDo” and personal tasks to “iDo” list. Anything that goes into my “ToDo” notebook is something I check on. I can also assign it as a “Reminder” in Evernote.
    • For power users, consider the following search terms for long checkbox lists of To Do Items or project management:
    • If you type todo:false in the Evernote search box, this means you are looking for unchecked items in all your notes in all Evernote notebooks (or you could just open a notebook and search in that one).
    • If you type todo:true in the Evernote search box, this means you are looking for checked items.
    • If you type todo:* in the Evernote search box, this will show you all items with a checkbox.
  2. Archive to Evernote using CloudMagic, not Gmail. My email client on Android and iOS devices is CloudMagic, and it features easy integration with Evernote through its CloudMagic‘s cards icon. That means I can quick save to a generic Evernote or select a notebook to save to if I need to.
  3. Use one word tags/descriptors. Add tags to “archive” emails that are saved to Evernote. This allows for one word descriptors. I tend to embed the tags in the text of my Evernote note rather than use Evernote‘s tag feature.
  4. Scan to Evernote. I scan (Fujitsu ScanSnap ($250)) all paper items to PDF and save it in my EvernoteYou can also attach documents (e.g. Word files or PDF files less than 100 pages long or 25 megs). Everything is searchable, especially if you have an Evernote Premium account (e.g. scanned images inside of PDFs are searchable in Premium, but not Freemium version).
  5. Link out to other documents. I post content online and then link to it. It’s much easier to put everything on the web or GoogleDoc, then refer people to that.
Those 5 tips aside, I still have a problem with wordiness. I love to write and some of my best work goes into long emails. Some take-aways from The Five Sentences article include:

  • Your email should answer 5 questions: Who are you? What do you want? Why are you asking me? Why should I do what you’re asking? What is the next step?
  • Cut out excessive details.
  • Short emails help you stay focused.
  • Limit all your emails unless they are praising; be lavish in your praise.

Tip to Grow On: My “action item” for the future is to write short emails a la Five Sentences approach. I’ll try to report back and let you know how that goes!


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