Gotta Be An Easier Way

Using technology to make your life easier!

An Email Address That Converts Documents to PDF

For those who don’t have Adobe Distiller of PDF writer installed on their system a simple email to will convert most files to the PDF format.

It doesn’t get any easier than this.

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  • Filed under: Conversion
  • Readability

    This is one of those simple tools that can make all the difference in the world in one’s browsing experience. In a single click Readability removes all the clutter from a web page and simply leaves you with the text formatted in a way that makes reading online very comfortable. Rather than trying to explain what Readability does consider the following:

    The following is a screen capture of Tony Bates blog in its raw state. While it is not a busy as some blogs it does have some activity at the top and bottom.
    After clicking on the Readability button in the browser, Tony’s blog is now completely uncluttered and easy to read.
    The tool is so simple and easy to use that it doesn’t require any installation or usage instructions other than what are available on the Readability site.

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  • Filed under: Browsers
  • Dropox for iPhone

    Next to Evernote, Dropbox is one of my favorite web-based, cross platform tools. Now that they have added an iPhone app this productivity tool has gotten even better. Now in addition to accessing my files from my Windows, Linux, or OSX I can access my files on go on my iPhone.

    If you are not familiar with Dropbox Tyler Wall and I have written about it several times before:
    Another take on Dropbox: Syncing Apps
    My head is in the clouds but so are my files
    Top Free Software

    Syncing apps and a password database like Keepass or KeepassX has not gotten even more powerful. Thanks Dropbox!

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  • Filed under: File Download, Mobile, Synchronization
  • I found this article on Robin Goods blog and found it immensely interesting. I debated as to wether I should post it or not because it really isn’t a tool for learning but I couldn’t resist. The author is Andrew Churches and the blog is “Robin Good Be Smart, Be Independent, Be Good”. There are a few ads at the top of the page so keep scrolling down to get to the meat of the content.

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  • Filed under: Uncategorized
  • Hot Potatoes, E-Learning Games for Free!

    Where I work we often have to build more interactive learning experiences and we played around a few years ago with a demo version of Hot Potatoes. We really liked it and found it easy to use but very limited in the demo version so we put it on the shelf. Today as I was going through my RSS feeds I found out that Hot Potatoes is now a free application along with a web based maze builder Quandry.

    For a list of the types of things you can build in Hot Potatoes check out the site where I discovered that it is now free. Here is the site and below that is an exerp from it. E-Learning Curve Blog

    “There are five basic programs in the Hot Potatoes suite:
    1. JQuiz creates question-based quizzes.
Questions can be of four different types, including multiple-choice and short-answer. Specific feedback can be provided both for right answers and predicted wrong answers or distractors. In short-answer questions, the learner’s guess is intelligently parsed and helpful feedback to show what part of a guess is right and what part is wrong. The learner can ask for a hint in the form of a “free letter” from the answer.
    2. JCloze creates gap-fill exercises.
Unlimited correct answers can be specified for each gap, and the learner can ask for a hint and see a letter of the correct answer. A specific clue can also be included for each gap. Automatic scoring is also included. The program allows gapping of selected words, or the automatic gapping of every nth word in a text.
    3. JCross creates word jumble / crossword puzzles which can be completed online.
You can use a grid of virtually any size. As in JQuiz and JCloze, a hint button allows the learner to request a free letter if help is needed.
    4. JMix creates jumbled-sentence exercises.
You can specify as many different correct answers as you want, based on the words and punctuation in the base sentence, and a hint button prompts the learner with the next correct word or segment of the sentence if needed.
    5. JMatch creates matching or ordering exercises.
A list of fixed items appears on the left (these can be pictures or text), with jumbled items on the right. This can be used for matching vocabulary to pictures or translations, or for ordering sentences to form a sequence or a conversation.

    These tools are complemented by a program called the Masher, which facilitates the creation of complete units of material (such as multiple-question quizzes) in one simple operation. The utility supports a range of question types including:
    • True/False
    • Short Answer
    • Multiple Choice
    • Cloze Test
    • Word Jumble / Crossword
    • Drag and Drop
    • Mix and Match
    Hot Potatoes allows you to add:
    • Text
    • Images
    • Audio
    • Video
    • Question Timer
    • Web plug-in objects like Flash Player
    to your web server of LCMS-deployed question tests. The tool also adds interoperability in the shape of SCORM 1.2.”

    Hot Potatoes is not the most straight forward application to use but once you know how to build each of the games ( a minute or two of investment) they are easy to to do. When I was trying to figure out how to build a JMix I simply Googled “JMix Hot Potatoes” and the first result was a youtube video that was only 3 minutes long. Within another 2 minutes I had created a great instructional game.

    The process is very easy but there is that initial confusion as to how to interact with the program.

    Give Hot Potatoes a try and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by how much more dynamic you can make otherwise dry learning opportunities.

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  • Filed under: Peripherals, Tools
  • Screenr is a free screen recording application that requires no installation and works right through your browser.

    I generally do my fair share of screen recordings usually to show people how to use applications. I use the great free tool Jing to do this and have loved it but it does require a few simple steps to install it and get it working. Screenr takes an easy process and makes it even easier somehow.

    You literally only need a Twitter account and a browser to be recording short tutorials (5 min max) with Screenr that have a surprisingly great quality. Once you have recorded you are left with the option of Tweeting your recording, although you can elect not to tweet but you still need to sign into Twitter (hence needing the Twitter account). From there you can access the raw files for that you recorded or get the embed code to put it anywhere you like. All this is done platform independent because it is all browser powered.

    Screenr also has a bookmarklet that makes it easy to quickly and easily record wherever you are as long as your browser is open. This truly is such an easy tool to easily incorporate into your routine that could save tons of time in giving direction to students or other instructors. Screenr videos will also play on an iPhone and other mobile devices which is great for getting your tutorials to people wherever they are.

    I don’t see this tool replacing Jing or Camtasia (the granddaddy of all screen recorders and possibly the most expensive as well) but it does simplify and speed up the process of screen recording and sharing. If you don’t already have Jing or Camtasia then Screenr may be the right fit for you, heck I will probably be using it more often than I use the other tools because it fits so well into my workflow.

    Here is an example of a short screenrecording I created.

    How can this be used in Education?

    I would come up with my own reasons to use this in education but honestly early in the writing of this post I found another article that shows great ways of how to use Screenr for education so here it is.

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  • Filed under: Mobile, Podcast, Screen Recording, Tools, Video
  • The new school year is starting and more students are plugged in using iPhones than ever before so I bring you an article from Mashable called “Back to School: Top 10 iPhone Apps for Students”. Enjoy.

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  • Filed under: Mobile
  • Heap’n on the Search Results with Heapr

    Heapr is a great mashing of a couple big dog search engines: Google, Twitter, Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha, Flickr for images, and for video searching it searches Youtube, Vimeo and Hulu. When you complete a search your main results are from Google featured on the left. On the right side of the page one of the other three contestants is showcased and you can easily switch between these remaining three, which are set up like tabs, with the click of a button while never loosing the ever accurate Google results.

    Heapr of course does loose some of the great functionality of Google search like the promote, similar, and comment buttons that add extra value to the original Google engine but the search results are the same because Heapr is powered by Google primarily.

    Of course on of the most important aspects of any search engine for me is that it can be integrated into the my Firefox search bar and Heapr does that admirably giving me instant access to their search engine without ever having to go to their site.

    I really like all the search engines that Heapr has mashed together and find each of them useful in their own way as they are all very different. Google is a mainstay search engine that always produces results. Wikipedia is a great starting point in researching a topic. Twitter is the best way to get a feel for what the masses are saying about certain topics , Wolfram Alpha is just creepy in how it just answers questions, Flickr is one of the most popular photo sharing sites, Youtube is a huge video sharing site that many people use as a search engine in and of itself, Vimeo is a great video website as is Hulu. The problem with each of those search engines is I forget about them or just don’t want to perform multiple searches on one topic, so I fall back on old Google and it always delivers. That is a problem that is solved with Heapr allowing me to search it all quickly and easily in one page, giving me a better cross section of answers.

    Heapr is officially at the top of my search engine toolbar and is likely to stay for a while.

    How can this be used for education?

    It can save time and paint a more accurate and holistic picture of most internet searches than any one search engine can give because of the search engines it uses. Google gives the most popular results, Twitter is the pulse of the people and can give insight into what the popular belief about certain subjects. Wolfram Alpha is a fact engine that will do it’s best to answer you question as best it can (see my article on W.A.) and Wikipedia as we all know is a great resource used as a starting point for research.

    Give Heapr to your students as an alternative to the search engines they are using, perhaps the additional information will spark some extra interest in a particular research paper. Check out the other articles on Search.

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  • Filed under: Uncategorized
  • Ideas Abound with Mindmapping

    I found a great article on Robin Good’s blog that goes over several mindmapping tools in a guide format. Although not an extensive list and it doesn’t focus on user friendliness, it does highlight the major players and gives great unbiased overviews of the tools selected. I highly recommend reading the whole article as it is truly a great resource that I have already bookmarked and intend to go back to often.

    In the near future I will give a more in-depth review of the usability and functions of some of the tools that Robin Good outlines in his article.

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  • Filed under: Mind Mapping
  • Wordnik the Un-Dictionary

    On an initial viewing Wordnik appears to be a dictionary but upon further investigation it is not. In their own words

    “Wordnik is not a traditional dictionary (in fact, we’ve seriously considered not calling Wordnik a dictionary at all)”.

    The fact of the matter is that Wordnik is a dictionary on steroids that uses words and definitions that are in “traditional” dictionaries and ones that have not made it there yet. It also works much like Wikipedia allowing users to record pronunciation, add images, give their own definitions.
    So what good is it then? There are tons of dictionaries on the internet how does this help me? Well what Wordnik does have going for it is a great way of looking at words beyond their definition, synonyms and antonyms. It looks at word relationships and knows when words end up in the same sentence more often than not like for instance:

    “cheeseburger, milkshake, and doughnut are not synonyms, but they show up in the same kinds of sentences.”

    Now before you get all huffy and start saying “If it is not official dictionary words and definitions then I don’t want my students even harboring the idea of using it”. Oh on the contrary, here is a list of some of the features that Wordnik employs.

    • Dictionary definitions from multiple official sources like American Heritage and Webster.
    • Statistics and meaningful information on the frequency and use patters of a word over the past 200+ years
    • Real world examples in articles, books, quotes and other great resources to show how professional authors use the word
    • Real world examples for social media like Twitter to show how the everyday person uses the word
    • The etymology of the word
    • Related words such as synonyms
    • Words used in the same context, like the word fries is paired with burger
    • Audio Pronunciation
    • Chart of other forms of a word and their usage.

    As you can see Wordnik is a very useful un-dictionary that can easily be integrated into yours and your students every day search for knowledge because we don’t know all the words out there.

    How can I use this in education?

    Use it like any other dictionary but because of its nature it adds so much more information that can be grasped if you only want to have it. For instance I really enjoy knowing the etymology of words but rarely seek out any of it, now whenever I want a word definition I use Wordnik and get a plethora of value added information that fills that void. So you can use it for yourself and/or pass it along to your students and let them enjoy it, hey you never know maybe they will start using actual words instead of instant messaging lingo :)

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  • Filed under: dictionary