Archive for category lifehacks + cooltools

Teachers scrambling to put their classes online

As schools close or prolong their spring vacations, they are also gearing up for online classes and requiring their teachers to get up to speed on online teaching which means learning various “platforms” and software programs in a hurry.

I work at three different institutions of higher learning, and they each use different platforms for delivering digital content and managing learners. Great!

Although my main employer finally (i.e. April 10th) got around to giving teachers an orientation into how to use the Moodle-based system (all in Japanese, of course), I had to find my own English resources to fill in the gaps. This tutorial was the best, I found: Moodle 3.8 Complete Tutorial for Teachers and Creating Online Courses

Russell Stannerd is an excellent and prolific resource for just every educational platform and software under the sun. I found his YT vid on Zoom security settings particularly helpful.

Much has been said and written and blogged about Zoom’s “security issues”, but this video by Keep Productive and this article about Oxford  Professor Dutton, who is also a fellow of the Global Cyber Security Capacity Centre (GCSCC) of Oxford’s Department of Computer Science, suggest there is no big problem: the “problems” happened because people were setting up Zoom meetings without properly educating themselves about the various security settings.

But, many of the issues are actually related to the users moderating the conference, rather than the software, says Professor Dutton. … He maintains, there are numerous ways in which meetings and events can be safeguarded from malicious intent. He says: ‘There has been exaggerated coverage of the problems. It’s not usually a problem with the software. Many of these issues can be addressed by the moderator.’ … Professor Dutton maintains: ‘Part of the problem is that Covid-19 moved so many people online so quickly. Teachers and people with no background are using [this technology] because it is so simple. But it made them vulnerable to malicious intent [because they did not take the security measures that were available].’

FBI follows Oxford academic’s guide to beat the Zoom-bombers

Here’s Prof. Dutton’s original blog post: Zoom-bombing the future of education

However! This article suggests there are other, more serious issues: ZOOM’S ENCRYPTION IS “NOT SUITED FOR SECRETS” AND HAS SURPRISING LINKS TO CHINA, RESEARCHERS DISCOVER Is there truth in this, or is this part of a broader China-bashing fashion? You be the judge.

According to the above Intercept article, Zoom’s user-base has increased 20x (including the US and UK governments) since the corona virus started causing many people to work from home: “Since the coronavirus outbreak started, Zoom’s customer base has surged from 10 million users to 200 million, including “over 90,000 schools across 20 countries,” according to a blog post by Zoom CEO Eric Yuan.”

There are a number of free courses teaching people how to teach online and many more have sprung up in the last few weeks, for obvious reasons. Here’s one I joined: Take Your Teaching Online run by NILE (no idea what that stands for and they’re not telling you! I think the N stands for Norwich in the UK, but not sure). Russell Stannerd is one of the instructors.

This LinkedIn Learning course on using Camtasia is also very good. And it’s free (for a while): How to Create Instructional Videos in Camtasia by Corbin Anderson.


Learning Notion

Hi! In this blog post I talk about some new discoveries I’ve made in the world of productivity apps: Notion, (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking.

  1. Notion as an alternative to Evernote,  (Here’s my Notion tutorial playlist on YT.)
  2. PARA (only in passing, no details in this blog post as I’m still figuring out what it is – here’ s my PARA YT playlist)
  3. Active Recall and the Cornell Note System as a more effective way to learn new material than highlighting (here’s my Active Recall YT playlist), and
  4. timeblocking – a truly awesome yet simple way to make sure that those things you’d like to do actually get done (all those “Important but not Urgent” items). Link to my yt playlist

After watching a video by a veteran Evernote user on why he was thinking of moving over to Notion, I decided to check it out.

Particularly useful and helpful I found were the videos by Keep Productive (Francesco D’Alessio), Rebecca Ford and Marie Poulin (tho Marie is a power user and sometimes goes a little fast and sophisticated).

The key thing about Notion is, as Marie, Rebecca and Everyday Apple say, that it allows important info to re-surface and come to your attention more easily and effectively than Evernote. Evernote, of course, has its reminders, but in Notion you can created a calendar and put all your to-dos in there, and then created a daily calendar that filters only the tasks you have for that day. This is a huge advantage and though the learning curve for Notion is a little steep, the tutorial videos I found are very helpful.

“Unlike other apps that force me to silo different parts of my planning and task management system between different apps, Notion allows me to keep all of the parts of my system.”  (Rebecca Ford, “Task Management in Notion“, 23 Oct 2018)

Notion basically uses blocks, like the new WordPress interface (the artist formerly known as Gutenberg), but in a much more powerful way than you can in WordPress.

Keep Productive and Marie Poulin also offer Notion mastery courses which I plan to sign up for later this year.

Marie, Keep Productive, Rebecca Ford, GroovyWinks’ Maria Aldrey and super-productive Cambridge (UK) doctor Ali Abdaal have all mentioned another organizing principle which I am currently learning about: PARA (part of a larger concept called Second Brain). Marie Poulin and Maria Aldrey have both done videos on this. It’s different from GTD which I’m a little familiar with, so I’m finding it a little hard to get my head around these concepts, particularly Areas (is that like GTD’s “areas of responsibility”? And,“A resource is “a topic or theme of ongoing interest.” Say… wha???)

Dr. Abdaal also did a video on a study and review method he has used very successfully called Active Recall (video 1 and video 2). Shu Omi also did a neat and brief video on this.

Shu Omi’s video on timeblocking also helped me get over a major stumbling block: saving videos and websites and articles to watch or read later then never getting to that “later”. The simple solution: schedule a time or date to do just that. Well, duh!

So, today, I went through my “Read-Review” notes (because I’m dividing them into “ToReview” and “ToRead”), then I realized what’s going to happen: I’m going to re-tag these and then… probably never read them because I don’t have a way for those to pop up again right under my nose so I can’t miss them. They’ll be out of sight, out of mind. When am I going to review them? As I was already in Evernote, I decided, as well as re-tagging these, to use Evernote’s reminder function to fix a date and time to actually do these. I fixed a day for –

  • doing my weekly review (which will now include reading articles and notes on this topic)
  • working on my business (which will include reading my Evernotes related to business, marketing, etc)
  • working on a new website I’m building, which will include reading my Evernotes tagged with marketing or website
  • learning Notion, which mainly means watching Notion tutorial videos and reproducing that in my Notion sandbox
  • learning more about Active Recall which I’m using to study assignment design.
  • learning more about other memory techniques such as the mind palace (yup! I recently watched again BBC’s Sherlock.)

Each of the above now has a time slot and a day allocated to them, and that will pop up in both an Evernote reminder, and a calendar item in my Notion Master To-Do list.

I also watched Timeboxing: Elon Musk’s Time Management Method. Shu Omi said timeblocking is also used by Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. Here’s a blog post Cal Newport did on it: Deep Habits: the importance of planning every minute of your workday.

“Atomic Habits” author James Clear makes a similar point about the importance of intention (which timeblocking facilitates) in this clip.

Cal Newport’s new book is called Digital Minimalism.

On Newport’s blog, I found this article about learning and how these days, the hard work of developing good study habits seems to have gone by the wayside.

To Olser, it was clear that training a new generation of thinkers required teaching students how to actually put their mind to productive use, which is hard, and requires “bull-dog tenacity” before it becomes a “good habit.”

We don’t teach this any more.

Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.

He repeats this in this interview here: Don’t follow your passion (Do this instead.) |Cal Newport | Top 10 Rules. And at the end of that same video, rule #10, is timeblocking.

Dr Ali Abdaal in his video on Active Recall and particularly the part where he talks about why it works, why it’s effective, says it is the hard work, the difficulty of the task (trying to remember the answers to your own questions) that makes it valuable and helps the information to stick.

As it happens, Notion has an active recall template: Cornell Notes System. Active recall is very similar to a system of note-taking developed by a Cornell University professor in the 1940s.

There are 3 parts to the active-recall/Cornell Notes system:

  1. Read or watch or listen to the original, taking notes as you go. E.g. I’m now learning about how to design effective assignment sheets to teach academic writing to college students. As I read, I make the following notes:
    1. Your assignment sheet should:
      1. Link the writing task with specific learning goals
      2. Describe rhetorical aspects of the task, i.e., audience, purpose, genre
      3. Make explicit any constraints such as word count minimums and maximums
      4. Specify formatting requirements
  2. Create your own recall questions. E.g., for the above notes, my recall question is “What 4 things should an effective assignment sheet do?”
  3. Recalling, which involves looking at the questions only and trying to recall the original notes or answers.
    1. In his video “My favourite note-taking app for students – Notion”, Ali shows how to use Notion’s toggle-list function to hide your notes or answers to your recall questions. 
    2. It also involves, if you’re really trying to master a body of knowledge, repeating the recall step again after some interval of time. Here’s how Ali Abdaal used this technique to revise for his medical exams at Cambridge University.

This blog post briefly introduced the following productivity apps or ideas: Notion, PARA (a way to organize digital information, part of “Building a Second Brain“), Active Recall and Timeblocking. Thanks for reading!

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Scanning and organizing your files

This is a kind of product review and includes Amazon affiliate links (I’m not an affiliate of FileCenter.) You have been warned!

Below the fold, I describe how I use Lucion’s FileCenter program to automatically name my scans and sort them into separate files by name.

I’m a satisfied user of Lucion’s FileCenter software and have been for several years now. One of the things I like about it and the main reason I use it, I guess, is the ability to automatically name files that I’ve scanned, based on whatever criteria you choose. I have FileCenter name my file based on the location of the file. Read the rest of this entry »

Password tips from LastPass

I’m a premium user of LastPass to manage my passwords across my devices. Today, I was alerted to a new LastPass feature – the username generator. I’d felt the need for random anonymous usernames since several years ago and had been using LastPass’s password generator to create usernames but it was a bit clunky, so i’m delighted to hear of this new function and will be using it from now on.

The latest blog post also alerted me to some other useful tips: use LastPass to fill-in credit card information and stop leaving my credit card information on shopping websites. This is not a new last pass function but the blog post has prompted me to take steps to remove my credit card information from my various shopping sites. I have no confidence that shopping sites are using hashes to properly secure my credit card information. They don’t need my entire credit card number; all they need for identification purposes are the last four digits. However I doubt that most of them do this.

Here’s another recent LastPass blog post:

Looking to protect your bank accounts? One of the most common security options is to send one-time codes to your phone. Every time you log in, a new code is texted to you. But what if someone steals your phone number, so they receive your codes instead? Today we’re going to chat about this threat and the steps you can take to protect yourself from these so-called “port-out scams.”

Read more here.

Passwords and passphrases – upgrade your password security

I recently upgraded my password security after reading an Intercept article about passphrases vs passwords.

The skinny: passphrases are better when it comes to something like a master password, or for locking or encrypting a local folder or drive, but for individual websites, random passwords generated by a password generator (such as LastPass) are quite good enough. The article I read said that a 5-word passphrase should be good enough, but apparently no longer. Now 6 is the minimum.

A more complete article can be found here:

Diceware, the solution offered in many articles, including the ones above, seems like an easy-to-implement, analog way to create secure passphrases. Don’t delay, upgrade your master password today. Use a passphrase.

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How to get your Kindle book notes into Evernote

Some 11 months ago, I wrote a long, involved post about how to get your Kindle notes and highlights into Evernote automatically, which was not automatic and very involved.

Here’s a better way. It’s also not automatic, but contains relatively few steps.

  1. Read your book on Kindle or a Kindle app.
  2. Highlight parts and (optionally) write notes about those highlighted sections.
    1. You can share your notes if you wish (on my iPad, the only options are Twitter or Facebook), but it’s not necessary for this procedure to work.
  3. Finish the book (I don’t mean it’s essential to read the whole book, but you’ll see why later).
  4. Head on to your Kindle page on Amazon (you may have to sign in):
  5. You’ll see all your books listed in some kind of order (I think it’s alphabetical), and probably your most recently read book is not visible (unless it begins with A).

    Amazon Kindle page

    Click on image to see a larger one.

  6. From here, there are 2 ways to get the highlights and/or notes of your most recently read book. One is the long, pretty way, two is the shortcut:
    1. Find your book in the list and click on the title. This will take you to this page where you (again) have 2 choices.


      Click on image for a clearer version

      1. (Refers to the circle 1 in the image above). This will take you to your highlights.
      2. This will open your highlights in a pop-up window

        Click on image for a clearer version

        Click on image for a clearer version

  7. From your Amazon Kindle page (see first screenshot above), click on “Your Highlights”. This will take you to your highlights page, with the most recent ones at the top.
    1. I read books and make notes one book at a time, so all my highlights for any book are all in one uninterrupted list. If you are no so orderly and organized as I am, your highlights will be in chronological order you made them in, but may not be sorted by book title.
    2. Tough luck. In that case, follow the step in 6-1-1 above.
  8. If you’ve been obeying instructions, you should now have in front of you a page with all the highlighted passages from a single book that you read, and whose highlights you want to share or transfer to another medium or app.
  9. Assuming you want to copy all your highlights and notes from here to Evernote, just select all the ones you want then right-click and select “Evernote webclipper” and “clip selection” (mine’s in Japanese but trust me, that’s what it says).Rightclickhttpv://

How to disallow comments for old blog posts – in bulk

WordPress has a single ON/OFF switch to enable and disable comments on all posts in a blog. But what if you want to turn off comments on just a few blogs, or all blogs older than 1 year old, for instance? Is there no alternative to editing each blog one at a time and turning off the comments? Yes, there is. Here is how.

In your WordPress administration, click on “All Posts”.  If you have 20 or fewer posts, they will be listed on one page. If you have more than 20 posts, they will be spread over several pages. I have 3o pages, and I wanted to switch off comments on all posts older than 6 months. So I clicked to the last page with the oldest blog posts. Then,

2014-04-20 19-38-18Click on the downward-pointing triangle next to the words “Bulk Action” and choose “Edit”.

2014-04-20 19-39-29Next, underneath the word “Edit” you’ll see the word “Title” with a checkbox next to it. Click the checkbox and all the checkboxes to the left of the title of all the posts listed on that page will also be checked. If you don’t want to edit all the posts, just unclick the ones you don’t want edited.












2014-04-20 19-40-09Now click the word “Apply”, next to the “Edit” window. You will see a new small window appear at the top of all the blog posts which will list them all in miniature, together with a bunch of options (see the next graphic below).



2014-04-20 19-43-29(Click the image to see a larger, clearer version.)

You can make bulk edits to several different elements. I wanted to just edit the comments options, so I clicked on the downward-pointing triangle next to “Comments” and chose “Do not allow”, like this:

2014-04-20 19-43-29Then click the big red button named “Update” and hey presto! All the blog posts listed on that page should now have had their comments disabled. If there were any comments on any of those pages, they won’t be affected. They should still all be there. It’s just that from now on nobody can write a new comment on those posts.

As I had about 25 pages of old posts I wanted to disable the comments on, this took me quite a while, but it was still a damn sight quicker than fixing each post one by one!


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The Beginner’s Guide to Writing With MultiMarkdown | Michael Hyatt

I’ve heard about Markdown, a simple way of marking up simple text so that it appears as formatted, and have started exploring it (well, I downloaded an app, and saved an article on it to read later). Then recently this article by Michael Hyatt convinced me to get going with it.

I started using Drafts app recently, but have not explored its Markdown function yet, mainly because I use Drafts solely to get notes quickly into Evernote on my mobile devices, and Evernote doesn’t recognize Markdown (I think).

But if you want to know more about Markdown, especially how simple it is to use, and/or how a busy blogger and writer uses it, read Hyatt’s article. It’s not a comprehensive overview, just a brief introduction.

I have used a number of “blog processors,” including BlogJet and then MarsEdit. But in the last few years, I have completely converted over to MultiMarkdown.

It’s a way of writing that turns minimally marked up plain text into well formatted documents, including rich text and HTML. You can even use it directly with WordPress. If you are a writer, you owe it to yourself to explore MultiMarkdown.

And, before your eyes glaze over, it is honestly the easiest way to write anything. The syntax is so simple, you already know it. If you can use an emoticon, you can write in MultiMarkdown.

via The Beginner’s Guide to Writing With MultiMarkdown | Michael Hyatt.

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Revamping my Evernote

Revamping my Evernote. Why?

  • I had too many tags (over 1,000)
  • Too many notebooks (around 60)
  • Too many “todo’s” scattered across 1 ToDo notebook and 1 ToDo tag (what the…?)
  • Notes piling up unattended to in my inbox and ToDo tag and notebook
  • Not doing regular daily, weekly and monthly reviews.
  1. Mission creep was affecting my original purpose for using Evernote.
    1. My original purpose was to use EN as
      1. an archive of ideas for the future, as well as reference materials for present and possible future projects, and
      2. my GTD system.
  2. BUT I was spending too much time collecting notes and clippings, and not enough time reviewing them and/or using them for live projects.
  3. Too many ToDos and ToReads and Someday/Maybes piling up.
    1. Why? Probably because these items do not pop up on my radar screen when they should, or as often as they should.
    2. Why not?
      1. Probably partly because I’m not conducting regular Daily and Weekly Reviews.
  4. Too many clippings.
  5. Too many notebooks, meaning too much time spent deciding which notebook to file a note under.
  6. Too many occasions when I was unable to locate the note I wanted because I could not search across multiple notebooks (but you can search across multiple tags).
  7. Storing too much and not trashing enough, i.e. not reviewing old clippings or other notes and discarding things I no longer need. Being too much of a packrat, in short.
  8. Lost track of my projects: too many items labelled as “projects” which weren’t.
    1. Solution: review David Allen’s definition of “project”, and re-label my “projects” which aren’t really projects (actions that require more than 2 steps).
  9. Lost track of my long-term goals, visions, etc.; my 30-, 40- and 50,000-feet perspectives.
    1. Possible solution: regular reviews (Daily, Weekly, Monthly)
    2. This means that my long-term goals and visions, etc., need to come up on my radar on a regular basis, in one or more of my reviews.
    3. That means organizing my saved searches.

I decided to re-read Ruud Hein’s article on using Evernote to GTD, where he describes in detail his extensive use of saved searches to make sure what needs to come up does actually come up. That is (for me) the biggest lesson of GTD: something important you must take to work the next day, you put it on your shoes or right in front of the front door, so next morning when you’re still bleary and fuzzy despite your coffee, you stumble over this and think, “What the heck? … Oh yeah, I gotta take this to work” and you pick it up and take it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Getting your Kindle book notes into Evernote

Do you read books on Kindle or a Kindle app on an iPad or similar device? Do you want to make notes or highlight passages in your ebooks but don’t know how? Would you like to have access to all your notes and highlighted passages even when you don’t have your Kindle or iPad with you? Would you like to do this but don’t have an account, or you buy your ebooks from some other store than Would you like to share your notes and highlights with others? Would you like to transport all your notes and highlights into Evernote? If your answer to any or all of the above is ‘yes’ then read on.

In this post, I show you how I, a Japan resident who purchases most of his Kindle books on Amazon Japan (not, I don’t have an account there)  get my book notes and highlights made on my iPad’s Kindle app into Evernote. It’s a non-geeky (no coding required), unoriginal solution that makes use of free automation services and apps: Evernote, Kindle app for iPad, Twitter, IFTTT.

(This is for Kindles or Kindle apps only; I’m still figuring out how to do the same thing for notes/hightlights created in iBooks. Here’s a video on how to share notes and highlights in the iBooks app.)

Why bother?

Why would you want your Kindle notes in Evernote? As you’ll see below, notes and highlights made on a Kindle or Kindle app are automatically stored on your Amazon Kindle page. So why bother transferring them? You can edit them, sort them by book or by date, delete them, all on your Amazon Kindle page. Well, I like to have as much of my work- and research-related info as possible under one roof, not scattered across different programs or devices. Also, with Evernote’s offline notebooks capacity, I can access and edit my book notes in Evernote even without Internet access. If those considerations are not important to you, then you can stop reading right here. If you’d like to know more about your Amazon Kindle page, read Michael Hyatt’s post: How to Get Your Kindle Highlights into Evernote.

Evernote ambassador and SF writer Jamie Rubin has a geeky and long-assed post on how he gets his Kindle book notes and highlights into Evernote AUTOMATICALLY, but it requires knowledge of snakes and anyway it only works for notes taken on a Kindle device. If you take notes on, say, the Kindle App on your iPad, you’re out of luck. There is an app called Snippefy, which seems to do exactly what Rubin and I want, but unfortunately it’s not available for Apple Japan.

Michael Hyatt’s post: How to Get Your Kindle Highlights into Evernote, is good, but it involves manually transferring each highlight/note from your Amazon Kindle page to Evernote. This article gives a very good overview of Amazon’s Kindle page. I recommend it. For best results, and if you don’t mind not sharing your notes on Twitter, the simplest solution may be to wait until you finish reading your book and making all your notes and highlights, then going to your Amazon Kindle page, selecting all the notes for that book and copying and pasting those suckers into an Evernote. You have to do this manually, tho. Or perhaps Snippefy will do the job. Unfortunately, I cannot test it out.

Once set up (explained below), and assuming I’m reading a book on my iPad’s Kindle app, theree are just 4  manual steps, all done within the Kindle app (see below for details). Read the rest of this entry »

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