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Announcing Buzz-in Google Sheets Add-on

Buzz In is a buzzer / clicker to use in the classroom.  Great for classroom games, the free version will allow you to see who clicked first.  The paid version adds a Text Box, Select or Check Box question that can be completed when they Buzz In.

After launching the Flippity Add-on, I was asked by a teacher if I knew of any buzzer tools that could be used with it.  After some research I didn't find anything that I really felt worked well, so the Buzz In add-on was born.

I decided to release this as a free/paid add-on.   The free version is just a buzzer to find out who chose first.  The paid version adds assessment to the buzzer so that teachers can get feedback from the students.  I can see this being used for impromptu tests, lunch counts, topic selection, and more.

Here is a quick tutorial video I created:

How to properly insert google documents from Gmail

Attaching a Google Doc to an email is surprisingly easy, provided you use the correct button.  When you compose an email click the drive triangle instead of the paperclip to insert a Google Doc.

Once you send the document if the recipient doesn't already have permission to view the file it will ask you to set the permissions.   The default is "Anyone with a link can view" but that can be changed in the same window to get more granular share settings. 

or if you click More options

Announcing the Flippity.net Add-on

Flippity.net is a series of web apps that can easily turn a google spreadsheet into a set of online Flashcards or Quiz Show.   There are cards for helping a teacher create random groups, or mix and match activities.   Students accomplishments can be tracked using the Badge Tracker and the Certificate Quiz.   There is even a Spelling Words that can read the word to you.

These great tools from Flippity.net were created and are maintained by Steve Fortna, and now available as an add-on thanks to a partnership with Bjorn Behrendt of Edlisten.com.

Google Cast for Education

Google Cast for Education allows students to share their Chromebook screens with the teacher's computer that is connected to a projector.

App:  https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/google-cast-for-education/bnmgbcehmiinmmlmepibeeflglhbhlea/related

Stop motion Animations on a Chromebook

Stop Motion Animation is a great educational tool.  Here is a way you can have students do this on a Chromebook.

1. I suggest one of the IPEVO document camera's. 

2. Go to http://www.gifpal-edu.com to get started creating your stop motion animation.  You have the ability to do onion skinning, or annotate over the frame, but there is a limit of 48 frames per gif.

3. The gif file can be imported into Wevideo if you want to add audio or combine several gifs together to make a longer video than 48 frames. 

Here is the end result:

How to Globally Manage Whitelists and Settings with uBlock Origin

Ads can be very distracting to students, or any user for that matter, and one way to prevent this distraction is to use an add-blocker extensions like AdBlock Plus or uBlock Origin.  While these tools do work well, they can sometimes cause legitimate websites not to load properly.   So while it may seem like a simple plan to just distribute an add-blocker out to the students, without the ability to globally manage a white-list of sites for them it could cause some real issues.

After doing some research we figured out that uBlock Origin has the ability to do just that; manage settings globally.   The process is a bit clunky but it is possible.   

The below research and instructions were created by a co-worker of mine, and I cannot take any credit for them.


Easiest way to begin making a change you want distributed to a group is to export the general settings currently setup in uBlock here (Backup to file):
You will get a text file containing all the parameters that can be changed within the extension. Once you’ve decided what it is you’d like to push out as a group policy setting, remove all entries from the exported settings file that do not pertain to the change(s) you have in mind. Once you’ve edited the settings as you find necessary, run the contents through a JSON validator to make sure the syntax is correct. I’ve found it is incredibly touchy: the difference between my initial whitelist setting working and not working was properly placed double forward slashes, instead of single ones.
In our case we initially looked to see how easy it would be to edit the whitelist remotely, making us able to easily add sites that uBlock may block crucial content on (this doesn’t appear to happen very often but being able to adapt as such is necessary). Here is a short example of an edited whitelist:
{"adminSettings": {"Value": "{ \"netWhitelist\": \"about-scheme\\nbehind-the-scene\\nchrome-extension-scheme\\nchrome-scheme\\nloopconversation.about-scheme\\nopera-scheme\\nforbes.com\\nespn.go.com\\nfhuhs.org\" }"}}
As you can see, only the \”netWhitelist\” value remains from the exported settings, and it is nested within adminSettings and Value parameters, which were added afterward, based on guidance found from a github thread (hopefully this is still hosted if we need it again). The \\n separates each page/domain from one another within the whitelist (forbes/espn/fhuhs added, all the others are default chromeOS settings pages)
Once you’ve readied your JSON text file for distribution, you can navigate to uBlock’s app management within the google admin console as such:
Head to device management
Click Chrome Management in the left-hand pane
Click on app management
Search for uBlock and click on the proper extension (there are different versions of uBlock)
Click on User settings (to open up what you see below) and navigate to the user OU to which you’d like to distribute the policy
If you’ve already pushed the extension out to that OU, or to a higher one from which it inherits that setting, force installation will already be turned on, but if it isn’t do that now. Under the second arrow is where the configuration file goes. If there isn’t one applied there will be a large Upload Configuration File button here; if there already is, there will be, as pictured, a view button to get a basic look at the JSON text file you’ve already uploaded for distribution, an X to remove that file, and save/cancel settings below to finalize your decision.
Here is working JSON text for a policy to disable the block element context menu option as well as push out four domains to the whitelist (fhuhs, forbes, espn, abc):
        "adminSettings": {
                "Value": "{ \"userSettings\": {\"contextMenuEnabled\": false }, \"netWhitelist\": \"about-scheme\\nbehind-the-scene\\nchrome-extension-scheme\\nchrome-scheme\\nloopconversation.about-scheme\\nopera-scheme\\nforbes.com\\nespn.go.com\\nfhuhs.org\\nabc.com\" }"

HP Chromebook 11 g4 tear-down and eval for 1:1

I want to thank The Top Floor for providing me a demo HP Chromebook 11 g4 that I was able to tear down and evaluate for our 1:1 program.  Being from VT, they are one of my favorite vendors to work with.

You can also check out my tear-down of the Asus C202.  

First Impressions:

My first impression of the G4 is that it looks and feels very well built.  The rubberized rounded edges and 180 degree fold back screen do make it a nicely designed device.   I didn’t even turn it on before my partner in crime and myself took it apart, so I don’t have any information about its performance, or how the keyboard and mouse feel.

All-in-all, I think this is a rugged, well built device and should hold up to many bumps and bruises, however if you are looking to do in-house repairs this may not be the ideal choice for the sole reason is that the changing the screen is the most cumbersome of any Chromebook I have worked on.  On the flip side, at least in VT, these were priced less than the Asus c202’s we are also looking at, and the build quality for the price is amazing.

So if you are doing in-house repairs I might suggest leaning toward the Asus c202, whereas if you are sending away for support, then I would definitely consider the HP 11 G4.


How a device is packaged has been a pet peeve of mine since I had to unbox 500 Acer 720’s two years ago.  The HP 11 G4 was boxed about the same as the original Acer 720’s were   There was not any little pieces of tape to peel off which was nice, but there was foam and papers that would immediately go to the trash.    What I found out 2 years ago was that unboxing each device could take as long if not longer than enrolling it, so less waste and easier removal is something we were looking for.


Replacing the monitor:

I don’t care how durable you make the device, students will break the screen and this is the #1 repair that IT departments will be making on Chromebooks.   If you plan to send away the device, then it really doesn’t matter, and you might not even be looking at this blog post.  However in-house repairs can greatly decrease turnaround time, which is why it is so important to our school.   That said I was very surprised at HP’s decision to make changing the monitor so hard, to the point where I am wondering if they did it purposely to discourage in-house repairs.

P.s. I have seen some video’s from earlier models where they were able to remove the screws behind the hinges without removing the bottom, but it is certainly not designed to work that way.

Pulling apart the bottom

If you want to replace the keyboard, power adapter, (or monitor), you need to disassemble the bottom of the device.  I got fooled the first time I tried this and attempted to remove the feet.  Well, those feet do not come off, and if you do manage to pry them up a bit, they don’t go back.     What HP did do was hide all of the 9 screws holding the back on, behind some rubber stoppers.  Each of these stoppers are different sizes and shapes so if you do take them apart, make sure to note where they go.


The Battery, keyboard & Internal components

Replacing the keyboard is very similar to the ASUS c202 and the Lenovo N21, where it comes off and as an easily replaceable item, it is also very beefy which I felt was a positive toward durability.    

The battery is held on by two screws and some snaps.  I had to lift up the speakers to be able to remove the battery.   After my experience with plastic mounts breaking on the 720’s, I think this is the weakest point of HP’s design.  I bet that after 2 years of use, people will see this batter has broken loose and hopefully will not cause any damage.   The Acer 720’s also have a 2 screw design and we have seen a high failure rate due to mouts breaking and the battery being able to shift.

The ram and hard-drive is soldered in so there is no repairing or upgrading this device without replacing the entire motherboard.


Power adapter

This is a definite plus for the HP.  The plug itself that goes into the device is large and sturdy, and once inside the plug is not soldered to anything, so it can jiggle around and it will not affect the operation.  Even if the port fails, it is a simple matter of replacing a plug.

How to add a jpg extension to an image posted to googleusercontent.com or direct link from photos.google.com

When an image is inserted into a google doc, or blogger site, or even google photos, it gets automatically hosted at googleusercontent.com.  If you right-click and get the image address you will find the url is that domain followed by a very long id string.   While most browsers do read this properly as an image, some gadgets and tools, require inserting images that have a .jpg, or .png extension.

This is actually surprisingly easy, but not all that intuitive.   Basically just add a "?.jpg" to the end of the url from googleusercontent.com and it will work.

Here is an image from my photos.google.com.   I just opened the image, and then right-clicked and got the image address.


I can paste that url directly into the browser and it will show just the image, but if I want to embed that image into a gadget, then I might run into an issue if the gadget requires a .jpg extension at the end.   All that needs to be done is add a "?.jpg" to the end of the url, and you now have a url that you can use in your gadget.


Asus c202 teardown evaluation for school 1:1 program

Our school is getting ready to replace our fleet of 1:1 Chromebooks.   After running the program for 2 years we came to realize the importance of being able to do in-house repairs.  90% of the issues we had with our current devices (Acer 720's) was screen breakage.  We tried the send away method to start, but quickly stopped because having a 2 week turnaround for something we could fix in 3 minutes just did not make any sense. This is why the ASUS c202 really caught our eye when it was debuted at CES 2016.
A big thank you goes out to ASUS and CDWg for getting us a one that we were able to disassemble and see if really lived up to what we were hoping for.  And so far it does.



 I actually never thought about packaging until I had to unbox 500 Cromebooks 2 years ago, and now I can't stress enough "Bulk packaging from the manufacturer please!!!".    That said Asus did a good job with the packaging.  Unlike other boxes I have opened, the Asus box flipped open and I was able to take the device out of the box very quickly, and there is no plastic that needed to peel off.

First impression:  

"The keys are blue!!",  It is just one of those things that stands out.  It looks cool, but now that I am trying to type this blog post at night when the lights are off, the lesser contrast of blue keys are actually kind of annoying.  If I can't get backlit, can I at least get glow in the dark indigo keys.  
Keys, aside, I love the construction of this.  The edges are rubberized, and the plastic is matted, so it really gives the feeling it can take a beating.  The bottom has two very long rubberized feet.  As long as they stay on they are very nice.  They keep the Chromebook securely on a desk and make it easy to pick up.
It is a bulky Chromebook and very far from it's cousin the Flip, but for a 1:1 device in a high-school I think it's the right size.

Replacing the monitor:

Being our most common repair we wanted to know how this was done.  I would put this about even with the 720's  in terms of replacing the screen.  The c202 has 2 screws to remove which the 720's don't, but the flat bevel of the c202 was a very smart choice, and well worth the added 2 screws.
  1. First peel of the little sticker covers to reveal 2 screws at the top.IMG_20160316_091538710.jpg
  2. Then it was a matter of peeling back the plastic bevel, which was snapped on.  Unlike other bevels we have removed, it didn't feel like we were breaking the plastic clips as it was coming off.   The best part was that the bevel was flat.  The 720's which we are all too familiar with removing had an extra bend in molding that covered the hinges.  This bend was always the hardest part to pull out.
  3.   IMG_20160316_091612422_HDR.jpg
  4. The screen itself, was held on by a standard 4 screws and it was a pretty standard removal of the screen.   The screws were on the top and bottom, vs the sides like they are on the ACER, which actually means the bottom screws are adding an extra mount point for the hinges, which is nice.

    Another thing we have come across in the past is the cable loosening out of the back of the screen, causing it to go dark or black, but not break.  This was understandable considering the lightweight piece of tape the Acers used.  That was not the case with the Asus c202, the tape on the back holding the ribbon cable on, uses some type of industrial strength glue.   IMG_20160316_091806617.jpgIMG_20160316_091624872.jpg

Pulling the bottom apart.

The bottom is attached by several screws around the outside, and 2 that are hidden in one of the rubber foot bars.    Once the screws were out, it actually took me a few minutes to figure out how to separate the device.  I found that if I grabbed in the front, I could pull back the plastic enough to get the process started.

The bottom is also a solid design, so if liquid did spill on the desk with this sitting on it, I don't see any entry point where it could get inside the device.   


Keyboard and mouse:

With the 720's if the keyboard was bad, we just turn it into parts.  That was because to replace the keyboard, meant removing the motherboard and everything form the device.  It was not a fun process.   The c202  was the opposite.  They keyboard and mouse of the c202 came out very easily, and they did a good job of making it a user replaceable item.
When you pull up the keyboard, you will see that it is attached by 2 ribbon cables.  The first time I put it back together I did not have seat the ribbon cable back properly, because the keyboard didn't work.  I can see this ribbon cable possibly being an item we will have to reseat after some wear and tear.
When replacing the keyboard it will be the entire top section of the c202, including the plastic that surrounds the mouse pad.
The mouse detached from the keyboard by 3 screws, again making it a very easy to replace item.
Here is the wide view if the back of the keyboard.   It is spill resistant, so I am thinking that even if something gets spilt on it, only the keyboard would be affected and not the rest of the device.

The Power Adapter

The Acer 720 and the Lenovo n21's both have this dinky power plug.  I am very surprised that we didn't have more broken ones than we did.  The c202's plug was larger, and even place where the cables mount to the power brick seems beefed up.  

The Battery & Internal components

Every Chromebook, I have opened up, has all had a rectangular battery with 2 mount points.    This year with the 720's we have seen a large number for battery failures, because one of the mounts breaks, and then the battery pulls itself apart.   The c202 battery is an L shape, and has 9 screws holding it down.
Another common fail point for any laptops, has been plug that the power adapter plugs into.  If the power cord gets jilted, then the plug can pull off the motherboard.    To fix this takes some steady-handed soldering, or a new motherboard.   What Asus did was put that item on a very small breadboard, that could easily and inexpensively get replaced.   The ribbon cable going over the battery, seems like an odd choice, but only time will tell if it becomes an issue.
Upgrading the ram, or harddrive is not possible with this Chromebook.  Both items are soldered into the larger section of the motherboard.  

The USB key

The packaging came with a 4gb usb key.  The key included the below files, which highlights there on-site repair program, which if we do go with these I will be looking into.  I am also hoping that the 4 gig keep can also be used to make a recovery image for the device.

Here are the files from the USB key (C202 Seeding Kit):


Final Review

Whey they first debuted this device and touted its fix in-house design, I was excited.  Now that I got my hands on the device itself, I have to say they really lived up to the sales pitch.    There is a few places that I can see a potential for common failure, but overall I think the Asus c202 is going to be a very solid Chromebook for schools.

Important!!! Choice Eliminator Upgrade March 2nd 2016

On March 2nd 2016, I will be upgrading Choice Eliminator to Choice Eliminator 2.  
After the update all active forms will need to be reconfigured before they will work again.

Choice Eliminator 2 is a complete rewrite from the ground up.  It now uses the results sheet to calculate the items to be eliminated.   This makes calculating the eliminated choices more reliable, allows you to set the order of the choices, set limits, and restore eliminated choices.