My Top 4 Chrome extensions

August 10, 2015

Google Chrome is awesome a browser.   There are those who prefer it to other browsers and I can see why.  For an individual, it’s very customisable and while this can cause issues for schools, it’s an up-to-date, easy to use browser.

Let's face it, if you're reading this post, you probably already have a certain viewpoint

Let’s face it, if you’re reading this post, you probably already have a certain viewpoint

Added this one for balance

Whatever your opinion on Chrome, it’s extensions are really powerful, so much so that I keep a list of them to be able to reinstall them when Chrome decides to clean them out or I accidentally hit reset all (that happened this morning and it was like losing a family album 🙂 ). I thought I’d share this list with you – which also has the happy side effect of making it easy for me to find them again 🙂

Open in IE

open_ie_icon

Link to Chrome Store

Google Chrome considers it a security issue to be able to open a link in Windows Explorer.  The trouble is that this is a really handy thing to be able to do if you’re managing an intranet server. Annoying, Google does allow you to open the Chrome downloads folder on its own downloads page, but I can’t find the code to duplicate this.  If anyone does know how, please tell the world (and me).

This extension offers the chance to open a link in Internet Explorer when you right-click on a link.   So, if you’ve got a page with a link beginning file:// the extension opens IE, which then opens Windows Explorer (and closes IE as a bonus).

There is a problem with the current extension though, it uses NPAPI which Google have announced they are shutting down by version 45.   On that day, I will be wearing a black armband.

These instructions on the Chrome help page will allow you to use this really useful plugin until then (note the slightly smug “if you must use…”  – yes Google, we must use it – make your browser better and we won’t have to!):

How to temporarily enable NPAPI plug-ins
If you must use a NPAPI plug-in, there’s a temporary workaround that will work until Chrome version 45 is released later in 2015:

  1. Open Chrome.
  2. In the address bar at the top of the screen, type chrome://flags/#enable-npapi
  3. In the window that opens, click the link that says Enable under the Enable NPAPI flag.
  4. In the bottom-left corner of the page, click the Relaunch Now button.

Window Resizer

window_resizer_icon

Link to Chrome Store

I’ve got a HUGE desktop monitor.  I know, size isn’t everything, but sometimes inches do count.   It’s really handy for me to have multiple windows all visible at the same time.  Honest.

As any web designer worth their salt will tell you, it’s very important to design pages that fit on your target audiences screen.   It’s so easy to make a page too wide without realising it, or to have an important message below the “fold” (the bit not visible until you scroll down).

Window Resizer is a brilliant way of quickly resizing your browser to the size of the user’s screen.   We have multiple devices in school now; desktops running at 1024×768, others running 1440×900, mobile phones and Chromebooks.

Being able to quickly check what a page looks like, gives me a chance to catch mistakes and produce a better looking product.  You can customise the screens and shortcuts too, which just adds to my love for it.


User-Agent Switcher

ua_switcher

Link to Chrome Store

Speaking of designing for multiple devices, User-Agent switcher allows you to quickly check how your page looks on a range of devices and browsers. There’s not much more to say about it really.

It’s helped design our mobile VLE site and is really handy when identifying problems when users complain their phone doesn’t see something.


Clear Cache

clear_cache

Link to Chrome Store

For some bizarre reason, CTRL + F5 works in Chrome, but doesn’t completely clear the cache.   Isn’t that the point of CTRL + F5, to clear the cache and refresh the page?

Apparently not. This handy extension takes care of the problem at least.

It’s the Ronseal of Chrome Extensions.


YouTube Royalty-Free Music bank

May 1, 2014

When adding music to a video, there is always the point when you want to reach for your audio collection, be it iTunes, Amazon or that pile of dusty CDs and import your favourite song and use that.

Yeah, that’s called copyright infringement.  It’s so easy to do, but ethically and legally it’s a big NO.

Copyright infringement joke

The irony is not lost on me

The big problem is what do you do if you don’t (or know someone who does) have the talent  to create music for your video.  And let’s face it, even if you do, that’s a whole extra level of work.

There are royalty-free music websites out there, but whenever I’ve tried to use them, I’ve found it near impossible to find the right type of music for the mood I’m trying to convey.

The closest I’d found was Video Copilot, which sells a CD of audio effects and includes some music ambience tracks.   These tracks aren’t bad, but they are limited.

The Solution!

Last time I uploaded a video to YouTube* I noticed a new feature, Creation Tools.  And in there, is an Audio Library link.

YouTube's audio libraryThe mp3 files are catalogued by genre, mood, instrument, duration and sub-categorized as well.

And just like that, problem solved.  A decent, well organised collection of royalty-free music.

Thank you, YouTube*!

 

* It’s a video hosting website, some of you may have heard of it


Converting videos so they can be edited

April 18, 2014

At Cramlington, we don’t currently have a third-party video service.

Not that sort of video service!

Not that sort of video service!

Instead, having an entirely Windows server environment, we’ve used Windows Media Encoder and WMV files to stream all our videos.

Together with Graeme Porter (since moved to be Walbottle Campus’ VLE Coordinator), I put together our own video database system (CramTube – yeah, our naming’s not got better either).  We also methodically went through all of the encoding settings in Adobe Premiere to determine best compression – size ratio.  Using WMV we achieve around 4 Mbs per minute.

  • Bit rate encoding: CBR, 1 pass
  • Maximum bit rate: 550 kbps
  • Width: 640, height: 480

At this setting, you see a little artefacting (it’s not yet a word, but I’m holding out hope), but the file size has to double before the quality noticeably improves.  And so far, we’ve only rolled out Android devices to students which can play WMVs fine.

 

The problem

Of course, there’s a problem.  In this case, it’s our students, who use their Android tablets and phones (only in 6th form supposedly) to record video.

I'm currently pushing for month long detentions for filming the wrong way.

I’m currently pushing for month-long detentions for filming the wrong way.

Shockingly, they also to want to be able to edit it.  Trouble is, there’s no app in existence (I’ve looked) that allows the user to record video as WMV.  And if the student wishes to edit the video, generally it involves a trip to the IT support office with a memory stick.

Our Solution

Please note, that this bit is entitled Our Solution.  I’m sure there are many other ways to achieve this, but this is our solution using products we had to hand.  The solution required:

  1. Some way of students uploading video (large files).
  2. Have it convert automatically.
  3. Be able to download the new file.

1 – PL Upload
To solve the first point, a Google search (sorry Bing – I never even considered you) discovered PL Upload.  This system is a lovely bit of code which allows large files to be automatically uploaded by users.  This gets round the problem of standard file upload forms timing out.  The documentation is a little off-putting, but the example file provided works just fine.  From there, it’s easy enough to adapt to suit your own design.

2 – Adobe Media Encoder
The next part involves converting the video from whatever format into the editable WMV.  We’re lucky enough to have Adobe CC for our department.  It’s meant we have the latest versions of all the Adobe products, though I think AME has had watch folders for some time.

Hang on….sorry, got ahead of myself.  In AME, you can set up the program to “watch” for new files on a network drive.  So every time a user uploads a video file using PL Upload, it drops into one of these ‘watch folders’.  AME, running on a spare PC detects the new file, converts it and saves it into another folder.

3 – Auto menu – PHP
On upload, we used a bit of our own code to rename the video file with the user’s username, time and date.  Using a variation on the auto menu code I shared last time on this blog, the user sees a list of all the videos containing their username.

And that’s it.   Obviously AME can be set to convert to formats other than WMV, but seeing as our students use Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 (site licence years ago) and Windows Movie Maker (free), we find it’s the easiest format.

So far, only our sixth form students have used the uploader, but our Year 7 students are using a stop motion app which only saves in MOV or MP4 formats.  PL Upload being a web-based tool should allow them to upload and convert.


How to take screenshots on a Samsung Galaxy Tab P1010

April 1, 2012

In previous entries about the Samsung Galaxy Tab, I’ve included screenshots from the device.  Getting these screenshots has always been a little tricky.  Until Ice Cream Sandwich, there wasn’t a standard way on Android to achieve this.

Android Screen Capture

I had been preparing a post about a piece of development software called Android Screen Capture but then the download link seemed to disappear and there were other issues regarding its use. I think you have to install the Android SDK for example. I’ll just say that while I like ASC it can be a little tricky to set up.  You can also display your device fullscreen which is very handy for presentations and demonstrations.

Android Screen Capture

A screen capture of a screen capture program. That's practically Inception.

Screengrab all the things!

Screengrab all the things

Yes, even I use memes

It turns out there is a simple method to take a screen shot just using the Galaxy Tabs themselves.

  • Hold the back button
  • Press the power button

The picture taken is saved into a ScreenCapture folder accessible using the gallery.

A screenshot from my Samsung Galaxy Tab P1010

The emptiest of my home screens. It's filling up fast though


FileMonkey

October 15, 2011

I can’t believe I haven’t posted about this product before. I’m sure there are lots of similar products, but I found FileMonkey have been blown away with how useful it is every time I use it.

 

FileMonkey's interface

It costs $29.

FileMonkey does two things and does them very well.  It renames batches of files for you. 

Frequently, I’ll have a huge number of files that need for one reason or another to be renamed.   Say, for instance, we have a bunch of student made mp3 files that we want to play through a flash player.   Ideally, they’d all be uniformly named so I don’t have to program in each individual student name and Flash doesn’t like spaces in filenames either.   Before I found FileMonkey, I would have to sit and rename each file.  The opposite is true with FileMonkey, instead I just go into the file rename option, set up the parameters and press OK.   Job done.

The second thing it does is rewrite file contents.   I know, scary.   But you can limit its parameters to just search out web pages, (it automatically filters out some file types).  It’s proven really handy lately.   In about 20 minutes it added a small security code to close to 100,000 web pages.  I just did a find and replace on the </head> tag to be </head><plus some stuff> and job done.

It might not be the prettiest bit of software ever, but it gets the done job and saves me a huge amount of time.

 


TinyURL

December 12, 2010

What can be really, really long, but is best when really, really short?

What were some of you thinking?    I’m shocked  🙂

The trouble with internet addresses is how long they’ve become.  Especially if you try to stay organised.   Now, if you’re sending an email then it doesn’t really matter if the internet address takes up 5 lines, but if you’re in conversation with people, saying:

“grahamquince (all one word) dot wordpress dot com”

is a lot longer than:

“tinyurl slash gqblog”

OK, granted, https://grahamquince.wordpress.com/ does not take up much more room than http://tinyurl.com/gqblog 

but  this:

http://tinyurl.com/clvblogs 

is a lot shorter than

http://intranet.clvonline.co.uk/php/general_resources/blog/blog.php 

“How is this trickery performed?”  You gasp in amazement.  “Why”, I declare, “through the website, tinyURL.com!”

TinyURL's logo 

 There are other shortening services, but I’ve found Tiny and really like it.  It’s quick and easy and if your chosen shortcut is already taken, then if generates another (albeit fairly useless) alternative.   And it doesn’t stop you from trying another shortcut for the same address. 

Useful, free and easy to use.   Three adjectives everybody likes.


Gizmodo

December 3, 2010

A great website for staying in touch with the latest IT developments is the news site, Gizmodo.

Gizmodo's website

There are constant updates about new products and innovations.   Often the stories have no direct relevance to education, but they’re always interesting.

If you own an iPhone, iPad or Android device or Windows Phone 7  their best apps of the week is a really useful feature helping you keep up to date with the latest apps on the market.