Monday, December 12, 2016

Hate the formatting in Google Groups?

One thing in desperate need of an update is the user interface in Google Groups for composing messages. However, a great solution is using Google Docs! Just draft your message and then copy/paste to Google Groups. Just be sure to use a standard font supported by Google Groups.

You can do the same with Gmail or use this handy Chrome extension:

Friday, June 3, 2016

No Projector in Your Meeting Room? Use Google Hangouts Screenshare!

Recently our Web Services department met to review web pages and some of the development work that was going on. This usually involves one of our designers sharing their screen on the large monitor or project. Unfortunately, this meeting room didn't have anything and people started spinning their laptop screens back and forth to show their work.

As I was on the other side of the table and didn't want to be walking back and forth, I realized we could do this just as easy with a Hangout Video Call! I quickly got everyone setup (Tip: Use Google Chrome to avoid needing to downloading a plugin), gave them the name of the Hangout "room" (feature only available to Google Apps for Education/Work) and had everyone start screen sharing. Be sure to mute microphones and cameras.

Although everyone is screen sharing, it won't necessarily show up on everyone's screen until someone selects "Present to Everyone".

Here's the trick: once you're done, just stop presenting (but not screen sharing)! It does 2 important things

  • allows the next person to present to the group
  • still keeps you screen sharing. This means you don't have to go back in and choose which screen/window to share, and you can quickly start presenting again

A couple of caveats:

  • if someone pins a user (i.e. clicks on the icon of a user in the filmstrip) that will override the presenter window
  • when you're still sharing, someone can pin your screen and still see what you're doing
Remember, with Hangouts you can have up to 25 people participating - and don't forget to take advantage of the built-in chat in your Hangout to pass URLs back and forth.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Fort McMurray Wildfire Evacuees Housing - using Google Apps.

As one of the many universities in Edmonton, MacEwan University was tasked with using available space in our student residence to house displaced families from Fort McMurray (at one point it was estimated that 60,000 would be making their way to/through Edmonton). To help organize some of our efforts, we developed 3 forms and a spreadsheet. Although we are not the largest institution, our staff took in over 1000 people in a single night. The staff was more concerned with getting families who had been on the road for over 48 hours into rooms as fast as possible, so the process of collecting information was not as exact as normal. 

Census Forms

The next day it was important to get an accurate number of the people and age groups in the building. Many people who initially registered with us had either invited others in or had given up our rooms. Rooms intended for a maximum of 6 people were housing 8 or 10. The plan was to go door to door to collect numbers and names of people. Understanding the evacuees were still tired and stressed, we decided to create 2 Google Forms to keep our interactions at a minimum.

The Short Census form would allow us to get an idea of the number of adults and kids. This information could be passed on to the different support services (e.g., food and clothing). The Long Census form gave us more detailed information about names and contact information which could be entered into a residence management system. Because typing on an iPad is rarely fast, and spelling of names/emails would be a challenge, we decided to let the evacuees fill this out themselves (most people had a smart phone). After collecting the Short Census information, volunteers gave evacuees a piece of paper with a link to the Long Census along with Red Cross information. 

Short Census Data

  • Room number (text field)
  • Name on file confirmed (Yes/No)
  • Name if not person on file (text field)
  • Number of Adults (1 - 10 Multiple choice with Other)
  • Number of kids 11 years and older (1 - 10 Multiple choice with Other)
  • Number of kids 10 years and under (1 - 10 Multiple choice with Other)
  • Registred at Red Cross (Yes/No) 

Long Census Data

  • Room Number (text field)
  • Names of all guests (paragraph)
  • Email address (text field with validation)
  • Cell phone (text field with validation)

Volunteer Form

I saw a lot of emails messages asking for volunteers before I was invited in on the project. Once we got the Google Form up and running, it was a lot easier to collect the information. As people indicated the shifts they would be available, the coordinator review and assign them to shifts in the spreadsheet, and use formMule to send our confirmation messages. Restaurant Lists

Edmonton has been known as the City of Champions for a number of years and one of the big reasons is the support that comes out during times of crises. Restaurants throughout the city are providing free meals for displaced families. To assist us in keeping our board up to date, we created a spreadsheet of the local (i.e. walking distance) restaurants. This provides us with a single list that we can use everyday to call and confirm the offers are still available and ensure we only call them once (multiple people were using the list). 

Take Aways/Tips

In web design there’s a saying: “Don’t make them think.” Although we could create all sorts of beautifully designed forms and spreadsheets, it’s important to remember that “Done is better than perfect or pretty” and everyone is already under enough stress.. So here are a few things you should consider: 

  • With Google Forms, use Multiple Choice fields instead of Lists. Yes, all the choices are displayed on the page and take up a lot of room, but when filling out on a mobile device the user just has to move down the page (i.e., push up) to see the choices. 
  • Use a larger font. Not pretty, but easier to read on the screen and easier to choose items from lists
  • Don’t expect add-ons for Google Apps to always work properly. Your users should be prepared to process things manually should something go wrong. This is extremely important with non-technical users.
  • Don’t force Google Apps solutions on people. Yes, organizing spreadsheets is much easier than using paper and pen for managing lists, but these people are under enough pressure. If it’s working and getting the job done, let it go. You can always circle back to it during the debriefing sessions. 

Last Note

Many of these people have not only lost their homes, but potentially their source of employment. If you’d like to help out, please donate to the Red Cross by visiting

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Using Google Forms to Populate Users in a Domain

Quickly bulk load users to for created Google accounts on your domain, this tutorial show you how to use Google Forms to collect the names and automatically create emails and passwords.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Google Photo Spheres in your Google Photos

Google Photo Spheres are a great way to get a 360 view of a location. Armed with my iPhone and the Street View app, I've been collecting different locations for a few years ( When I make them public and assign a location to them, they'll show up in Google Maps for that location as well as that location's Google Business Page.

On my last trip to Panama I noticed  my photos spheres were showing along with the photos automatically uploaded from my phone through the Google Photos app. However, when you're looking at the sphere's in an album view, they show up warped and weird (i.e. flattened). Then I discovered the trick - click on the image. Photos appear in a large format and *photo spheres load up*! Now I can see the 360 effect from within my photo album.

Here's an album that contains some photos as well as spheres. Remember, click on the spheres to get the full effect!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Similar to the SPLIT function, you can quickly split your data into different columns right after you paste in your text or do it to existing data by going Data > Split text to columns.

Read more about it:

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reminder Messages with Google Calendars

One question that's often asked is about sending calendar event reminders to participants. While Google Calendar doesn't actually do this, you can use the event's notifications to help you out.

When setting up notifications (which only applies to me - they're MY notifications), I create three notifications for important meetings:

  1. Notification meeting's starting in 15 minutes
  2. Notification meeting's starting 5 hours
  3. Notification meeting's starting in two days

The 15 minute notification is for me to get to the meeting; the other two are notices to send reminder messages to the attendees. You can do that in a couple of ways. Using Gmail from your browser, just open the event and right above the guest list you'll see a link to email guests:

The link is also available in Google Calendar:

Once you've clicked on the link, you can quickly send a reminder out:

Monday, January 25, 2016

Why PDFs suck

For the longest time, PDFs (Portable Document Format) were the best way to reproduce your art/design in a way that was consistent across all computer platforms. It allowed users to take the work invested in the design for printing posters, magazines, etc. and turn them into a digital format that could be downloaded. However, viewing PDFs on a mobile device just plain sucks. Using tools like Google Apps to replace PDFs has a number of advantages:
  • Documents created in Google Apps are not downloaded but available online.
  • Documents can be viewed on and sized for any device (i.e. desktop/mobile).
  • Changes are immediately visible. 

To view a PDF, it must first be downloaded to your device, and then displayed on your screen. Your mobile device treats a PDF like an image — displaying the whole page on the screen.

Here’s an example of a PDF on a mobile device:

A PDF - can you read this?

Because your mobile device displays the whole page, you have to zoom in and then swipe left to read the text that’s off-screen. By the time you get to the second line, you’ve lost interested in trying to read the document.

Now let’s look at a Google Doc:

Notice where the first line ends on each view. The text automatically wraps to the width of the device. Google Docs (part of the Google Apps suite of Docs, Sheets and Slides) are basically fancy web pages; the user only needs to swipe up in order to read the page (just like a web page).

Updating Files

Ever received a PDF in your mail only to have a second one sent a few minutes later with a correction? As soon as you send a PDF, you now have 2 copies — the original and the one on your device. When a change is made to the original, the file on your device becomes out of date.

With Google Apps, updates are instantaneous. When a user needs that information, they just visit that page (i.e. the Google document). And like a web page, it’s easy to update the information without having to send out an email with a second attachment. Users never have to wonder which version on their computer is the most recent. Instead, they visit the link to display the most up to date information. And by taking advantage of Google’s collaboration tools, it’s easy for a number of users to make changes.

Not Just for Text
Google Docs is a great tool for creating online newsletters or assignments, but Google Apps also includes Sheets and Slides. Now your spreadsheets and presentations can be made available online and any changes you make are automatically updated. Just remember to ensure your viewers have View Only access.

So, the next time you go to launch Microsoft Office to start creating a PDF, use Google Apps instead.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Google Docs Voice Typing is Your Personal Dictation Assistant

I hate doing other people's typing so when I send out a PDF for review, I ask users to type in their comments so I can just copy/paste text to update. So, when I get someone who prints, writes out their comments, scans and sends me the document, I'm a bit annoyed. 

Then I remembered Voice Typing in Google Docs! Just fire it up, read the paragraphs out-loud and typing done! Saves time, money and stress.

Note: mobile users can use the built-in dictation tools of their operating system.

#dictation   #ttips   #voicedictation