SERIES - TechBitz #1

Written By Dave on Thursday, January 16, 2014 | 4:24:00 PM

Every now and then, I come across some useful tools that I want to share. So, I've started an intermittent series called "Odds and Ends" that will feature several useful (and possibly tangential) things I've come across that may provide value to your classroom, your workflow, or your personal workflow.

The following, presented in no particular order, are tools I find particularly useful or interesting.

As an educator, I've had some opportunities to create productions or help students create movies. I have neither a background in film nor a familiarity with production. But I know a phenomenal YouTube tutorial when I see one, and the Frugal Filmmaker does it right. Watch a few of his videos - even if you don't play with movie production often, his videos may inspire you. I appreciate them for three reasons:

  1. He is creative. Insanely creative. Many of his rigs are made out of nothing more than PVC and roller skate wheels. I appreciate ingenuity, but when it is applied so many times in so many different ways, I appreciate it even more.

  2. From an instructional design perspective, these videos are amazing. The flow of the tutorials, his narrations, and even the pacing is spot on. I don't know if he has experience in education, but he certainly frames his tutorials through the lens of a production neophyte.

  3. In the very limited experience I have in video editing, I know that there are some very subtle, easy things you can do to dramatically increase the production value. Video isn't like photography. In photography, you can always fire up Photoshop and fix a bad picture. Video doesn't work that way. It really needs to be done right from the get-go. And acquainting yourself with these tutorials will give you ideas, inspiration, and instruction.
Check out his YouTube channel to gain some insight into film production. He also successfully launched a Kickstarter, and blogs about it on his blog (which also has some great information). I wish I had known about this when I was coaching, as I was responsible for many videos (video analysis, interviews, end of the year slide shows) or as the SADD advisor (mock car crash).

The Frugal Filmmaker (image from
Hollywood blockbusters made for the amount of change in your pocket.

There is an increasing trend in internet security, and as an educator, I know that sometimes it is difficult to keep on top of new trends if they aren't explicitly pushed out to you. This is something that is easy to setup, and the return is gigantic. Essentially, you set your Google account up so that if you try to log in to a Google product with the proper credentials, it will ask you to authenticate a second time by texting you a password. It's almost instantaneous, and you just enter in the number they text you. With two step verification established, if someone has your password, they still can't access your Google account. More companies than Google do this, and the second verification doesn't need to be a text message (you can pick your preferred method). But as more and more of your personal life and workflow depends on cloud services, you might want to check it out. Check out this link to the Google two step verification. And a nifty logo I snagged from their website.

This thief is thwarted (image from!
It will take more than a mask to get access to my Google stuff!

If you like Google products, and you like Chrome, then you must check out OMG! Chrome! It's a website that discusses bleeding edge Chrome technologies. From Chromebooks to browsers to hardware, OMG! Chrome! will offer breaking news and lots of tips. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. I don't follow an awful lot of people on Twitter, but the tweets from OMG! Chrome! are worthwhile.

OMG! Chrome! is a great resource (logo from
Er. Mah. Gerd. ERMAHGERD!

I'm not a huge fitness guy. I try to run a few times a week, and I try to eat relatively healthy. A few years ago, my twin brother developed some software for his masters in Computer Science, so I tested it out. Obviously borne from the twisted mind of a computer scientist, Oodalicious is the concatenation of "OODA" (an acronym that stands for observe, orient, decide, and act, and is intended to help guide decisions and future actions on previous observations) and a bastardization of the word "delicious".

It tracks caloric intake (food you ingest) and caloric outtake (based on your metabolism and any activity you do throughout the day). Three years later, I use it religiously. Now as I'm starting to train for a marathon, it's important for me to track what I eat and how I exercise so I can keep an eye on my overall fitness. Sure, there are plenty of meal tracking and fitness tracking websites out there, but I like this one. The best part is that there is both a Chrome app and a Chrome extension that work into my daily schedule. I prefer the extension, as I'm in front of a computer most of the time (I also have a shortcut on my smartphone that brings me directly to the mobile site).

As a teacher, I found that it was sometimes hard for me to find time to exercise. So it became more important to me that I eat right. Once I started using Oodalicious, I became acutely aware of just how awful I was eating. The collateral learning in Oodalicious is that you become intimately aware of the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrates, and protein) that you consume. In the beginning, I was manually entering all my macronutrients into Oodalicous, but now I only have to if the food I'm entering is not in the database already. But I liked that because I knew just how awful the convenient fast food I was eating was. I see where my nutrition stands at any time in the day (or the past seven days), and sometimes it's a wake up call to me.

I include Oodalicious in this installment of TechBitz for a few reasons:

  1. I think it is a quality piece of software, and it has helped me become more aware of my nutrition (and before I used it I thought I was in tune with my body... but I was wayyyyy off).

  2. It's a great example of levering Chrome (the extension makes it sooo easy to enter food, which is really the limiting factor of many online calorie trackers).

  3. My nerdy brother made it.

Screenshot of Oodalicous.
Sitting at my desk, craving some Dove Chocolate Squares.

Rocking my Chrome Extension of OODA!
Oodalicious on the go! So easy to enter food.

The most annoying thing to me at educational conferences are all the handouts. I don't like them because I typically file them away and hardly ever see them again. They are bulky. I have to carry them around and deconstruct all my handouts when I get home. I can't easily share them with my colleagues. 

So now I just scan everything on the fly. I leave those handouts for suckers that need paper! I scan them with my phone (if you have an Android, the Google Drive app natively lets you scan in a document with the photo app; if you have an iPhone, there are many apps you can purchase. I've had good luck with ABBYY FineScanner - $1.99). Scanning to PDF is easy - just take a picture of the page(s), trim them with the onscreen menu, and save directly to Google Drive (or your phone, or Dropbox, or wherever).

Just as a side note, whenever I go to a conference, I take all my notes right in Google Drive and share the folder with my colleagues back home. They instantly get all my information (including handouts), and I have them all aggregated in one spot. Try it. You'll like it.

ABBYY FineScanner Logo (
Paper handouts and brochures are so 2013.

That's all I have for today. As I encounter more little tidbits, I'll aggregate them for another installment of TechBitz. In the meantime, I'll be reviewing the Horizon Report in the next week, as well as starting the Microsoft Publisher tutorial.

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