Synergyse for Google Apps

Google announced this week that they had acquired a Canada based company called Synergyse.  They specialize in google apps training within your chrome browser.  It is an extension called “Synergyse Training for Google Apps” and is a free download in the Chrome Web Store.  I have been playing with it and while a bit basic, it is a really good concept.  If you are new to Google or still not sure about how some features work, this might be just what you need.  The extension will load and ask for permission to access your information and from that point it will load every time you are logged into Chrome.  It creates an extra icon next to your name icon in the upper right.  If you click on it, you will get a list of help topics for the app you are using.  Help topics are available in Drive, Calendar, Email, Docs, Sheets, etc.  They are generally either slide shows with audio or sometimes just audio.  Very helpful and a good tool for anyone that wants to learn something new – like how to do Google Forms.  Give it a try.

Calendar Within Gmail

Did you know that you can view your gmail calendar right inside your gmail window without having to open / close any additional tabs or sites.  It is done with a “google calendar” gadget.  I came across this a couple of weeks ago and have been piloting it on both my google accounts.  I certainly give it a thumbs up as something that I think is useful and a good fit.  Then I read about it in today’s Google Guru posting, so I thought I would blog about it and point you toward their “how to” video.

It is very easy to setup. Simply click on the little gear icon in the upper right of your gmail page and then down to settings.  Click on the tab labeled “labs” and search for one called google calendar.  Click “enable” and save the changes.  Then go back out to the gmail page.   At the bottom of the left hand column beneath all your folders are 3 small dots.  Click on the dots.  They represent your gadgets that are active.  You can grab the calendar at the bottom and resize it up and down.  As nearly as I can tell, it will only show events for your primary calendar but it still serves its purpose.

 

Fitness Wearables

Like many of you, I have followed the “Internet of Things” evolution over the last few years.  One of the big categories that has emerged from this is the explosion of wearable technology.  As a frequent walker / jogger, I like to track my steps and activities.  I have worn a fitbit device for a few years.  I first wore the fitbit one and then moved on to the fitbit flex.  I was wearing the fitbit flex and a pebble watch last year when Apple released the apple watch.  I wanted to combine the function of the two into a single device.  The apple watch seemed like a good option (although not crazy about the price).  So I swallowed hard and forked out the $350 for the device.  I have been wearing it now for just over 6 months.  I use it for notifications thus replacing the need for the pebble.  I use it for activity tracking so it replaces my fitbit flex.  I am just not “wowed” by the device – for $350 I was hoping for Wow!  It is an impressive device but I think it is still a work in progress.  I am sure many users think it is great.  I am also certain there are features that I have yet to tap.  I am a bit disappointed in the 1 day battery life so therefore no sleep tracking.  The interface to upload any of your data to track activity is just not very good.  I was a bit spoiled by the fitbit tracking and convergence features

Of course, since that time, there have been other devices on the market that do many of the same things.  One that has recently caught my attention is a competitor to the apple watch called the fitbit blaze.  It is set to be released later this year, but appears to do many of things that I want my apple watch to do – tracking, heart rate, messaging – but also has a battery that will last 5 days so it can track sleeping and will sync with your phone GPS for longer runs or rides.  It does not do phone calls, which that apple watch does.  I am sure there are several other differences.  The price point on this device will be around $200 and that will attract some buyers.  I look forward to hearing more about it in the coming weeks as well as other new “wearable” technology that might be coming out.

If you would like to read more about some of the new wearables – many just announced last week at the CES in Las Vegas – follow this link to a PC Magazine article by Timothy Torres.   Hopefully you will find that device that meets your particular habits and needs.

Shameless Google Classroom Plug

The October issue of the Google for Education Newsletter mentioned that Google Apps is now used by 50 million students and teachers around the world.  Even more impressive, in just over a year since it was introduced, Google Classroom is now used by 10 million of those students and teachers.  It is constantly evolving and being improved.  Just recently, they announced that you can attach a google form to your assignments directly in google classroom.  Google will grade the form / test and mark the assignment as completed when it is submitted.  Still not sold?  Take a look here to see some ways that teachers are using google classroom to help them connect with kids.  Oh, and yes, it is free for educators.

Google Status Check

I have to admit that we are all becoming more and more dependent on google in our work here at school and in our daily lives.  Like all technology, we just expect it to always work.  I will give google credit for being a very solid and dependable suite of applications.  But they are not perfect and once in a great while there is a problem.  Such was the case last Wednesday and last Friday.  The timing of Friday’s outage was terrible for us as we were having a professional development day and staff collaboration was going on all around the district when the majority of the problems occurred.  It needs to serve as a wake-up call.  We live in an amazing time but there can still be problems.  Obviously, the first step is to identify the problem.  There is an Apps Status Dashboard that anyone can check to determine if Google is having any known issues.  If they are having issues then it is on to “Plan B”.  You can pre-configure your machine to be able to work offline during an outage.  Here is a short tutorial from PC magazine about how to do that.  It has to be done ahead of time, so it can be your “Plan B” for those outages.  It is not a perfect solution and obviously there is no real-time collaboration, but maybe it will help make the time productive.

Become a Gmail Power User

I have used a personal gmail account for several years and a gmail work account for about 3-4 years.  I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about gmail.  But today I read a PC Magazine article by Eric Griffith called 33 Gmail Tips That Will Help You Conquer Email.  It turns out there are quite a few things I did not know or maybe just didn’t bother to learn.  I got some great tips and I am anxious to work them into my routine.  He lists some keyboard shortcuts you may like.  He does a good job of explaining dragging / labeling in gmail, a skill that I struggle to get a grip on.  Here is a new one – dots in your email address mean nothing.  Who knew?  I have been using a private gmail account for years with a dot in my name because I thought it had to be there.  Nope.  They do not matter.  Another area of google where I have struggled is when adding items to the tasks list or to the calendar.  I generally open the calendar and then copy and paste in order to create the event.  You can simply highlight something in an email (meeting tomorrow at 10) and then click on the “more” drop down arrow at the top of the email and create an event or add to tasks.  These are just a few of the tips from the article.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it to any gmail user to try to pick up some shortcuts and tips to help them conquer email.

Windows 10 is Here!

After several months of hype, Windows 10 arrives tomorrow.  It is a free download for anyone currently using windows 7 or 8.  All of the reviews look positive, although early adoption does come with a risk, since there are such limited track records.  I have seen it in beta and it does look promising.  They have restored some things from previous versions and have moved away from the tiled look.  It is supposed to be more “Siri” like with its intuitive interface (Cortana).  Internet Explorer is gone, replaced by a new browser called Edge.  While windows 10 does seem geared more for a touch-screen laptop.  I am planning on downloading and installing it on my desktop at the office.  Unfortunately, it is a busy time with the start of school looming, and I will probably have to wait a few days / weeks.  Here is a link to an article from “MakeUseOf” detailing steps in the process.  Here is another good review from David Pierce at Wired magazine, saying YES! to the question of “should you download windows 10?”

Quick disclaimer – don’t look for windows 10 happening anytime soon around the school district.  We are generally not early adopters.  We want the program to have a strong track record, run smoothly, have all the needed drivers and clients available for all of our products, etc.  Time will tell, but many think this is a strong showing from Microsoft and has been a long time coming.