Getting Loopy with PowerPoint 2013


If your classes go anything like my workshops do, then you seldom start right on time. I always hate “wasting time” out of my scheduled class time, and wish I could do something to make that time more useful.

I’d really like to have something like the pre-previews content that movie theaters run; you know, the stuff with trivia games, ads, and the like that play before the house lights dim. There’s always an array of things to tell my learners about, and having that showing on the classroom projector while I do other things until class starts seems ideal.

PowerPoint to the rescue!

If you prepare a series of informational slides (when the next exam is, when the drop deadline is, what sort of cookies you prefer, etc.) it is possible to configure your slides to automatically advance, and when the end of the presentation hits, to loop around and play them all again. The two key elements are “Transitions” and “Loop Continuously.”

  1. First, make sure you don’t have any animations that are set to run “On Click.” If you do, those animations will not trigger.
  2. Next, for each slide, decide how long you want it to display on the screen.
  3. Move to the first slide, and click the Transitions tab.
    Transitions AdvanceSlide
  4. At the right side of the ribbon, in the “Advance Slide” area, uncheck “On Mouse Click”, check “After:” and set the time. That is minutes, seconds, and fractions of a second, so if you want the slide there for 15 seconds it must be set to 00:15.00.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on each slide of your presentation. Each may have a completely different time set.
  6. Next, go to the Slideshow tab, and click the “Set Up Slide Show” button near the left of the ribbon.
    Set Up Slideshow
  7. On the “Set Up Show” dialog, check the box for “Loop continuously until ‘Esc'”, and be sure the “Advance slides” control is set to “Using timings, if present.” That way, all those times you set will actually be used.
    Set Up Show Dialog
  8. Now you can save your show, as you normally would, in the PPTX format.

Technically you’re all done now (although you’ll want to test things BEFORE going into the classroom). But to trigger your presentation, all you need to do is right-click the PPTX file, and choose “Show” on the context menu. That should cause your presentation to open immediately into the slideshow mode, so all you would need to do then is sit back, and watch your presentation run itself.

PPTX Menu ShowNow, if you’re the type who wants to use animations, even in these slides, that can be done. The trick is to make sure all your animations are set to “With previous” or “After previous,” and that none use “On Click.” Of course, the more complex your animations, the more you’ll want to test and be sure everything works as expected.

So there you have it: Self presenting slides. My plan is to start such a presentation Showing a few minutes prior to my next in-person session, and see if anyone pays attention. When you give it a try, let me know how your experience goes!


Sine qua non Software


Having just experienced a computer collapse and rebuild, and at the same time configured a new home laptop, it got me thinking about the software that I need that I could not do without.  I decided to construct a list.   An essential ingredient is interoperability with mobile devices, something that didn’t enter into serious consideration only a couple of years ago.  The desktop is now just one in a triad of equally important devices (the tablet and smart phone being the others) that any digitally literate person depends on, so my list has to embrace these platforms as well.

First, and foremost, is Dropbox.  It is the number one app I need on each platform.  It acts as a digital lingua franca.  If you can get a file into Dropbox you can get it anywhere on any of your devices.  It features unparalleled usefulness and simplicity.

Since most of the things we do these days is web-based, the second most important piece of software anyone needs is a browser.  I like, and recommend, Firefox.  Not because it works better than Chrome, my second choice, but because Mozilla’s approach seems so noble.  Look no further than Firefox or Chrome, however.  The competent browser list ends there for me.

After selecting a browser, selecting the essential extensions and plugins is also critical.  Both Firefox and Chrome support Clearly and Web Clipper, from Evernote, which is itself in the same category as Dropbox, being essential note taking and systems integration software.  Clearly takes those web pages that are heavily laden with ads and other trash and cleans them up for easy reading.  Web Clipper lets you easily clip any URL, page, or article to your Evernote notebook.  And Evernote itself is indispensable for doing research on the web.  Many people also think that “read later” software is indispensible, like Instapaper or Pocket, but when I run across something I intend to follow up on I simply make an Evernote note out of it.  I dispensed with Instapaper when I realized that I had so many “read later” entries that I would never look at them all, and that if I truly intended to follow up making a note in Evernote seems to cement the intention for me.

Even though the web is moving away from Flash, the Adobe Flash player is still essential as a browser plugin in order to play non-HTML 5 video or other animations.  Ditto for the Adobe Reader.  Like them or not, you still need to download and install them.  Chrome users have alternatives, but others do not.

As far as “productivity” software is concerned, a word that is synonymous with Word/Excel/PowerPoint, there is no substitute for Microsoft Office.  It is the best productivity software in the world, by far, and is now available to individuals (but not yet at our institution) on a subscription basis that allows for document saves to the cloud, settings tracking, and instant updates.  I personally subscribe to Office 365, which allows me five simultaneous installations, either Mac or PC, at the cost of $10 per month.  The best deal of which I am aware is Office 365 University which allows for only 2 simultaneous installations, but costs $79.99 FOR FOUR YEARS, renewable for another four years.  This works out to about $1.67 per month for the best product of its kind on the globe.  You must be a student, faculty or staff member to qualify.  But wow.  Enough said.

After Office, I would say the next most essential program for me for content creation/manipulation would be SnagIt, and I would think this would be true for most people.  With Office and SnagIt we have strayed into for-pay territory, but if you want the best you sometimes have to pay for it even in the software age of give to get.  While we license SnagIt for full-time faculty at our institution, it is definitely worth the educational price of $29.95 for others.

Since I still edit a lot of web pages outside of WordPress—though the number is getting smaller—I need an html editor too.  My motto is ‘why pay when you can get a great one for free’ so I use Microsoft’s Expression Web 4.  Maybe by the time it is deprecated by Microsoft I won’t have to work on raw web pages any longer.  That is definitely the trend.

For Geolocation, and a million other reasons, everyone needs Google Earth, especially since it has a Google maps tie in.  Feel the earth rumble, find the epicenter in seconds; need to find a mexican restaurant near you, bingo; what does the meeting site look like from street view; like that.

That’s the end of my essentials list, believe it or not.  The rest falls into the realm of personal taste: media player, music service (Spotify gets my vote); movie apps; books; audio books; newspaper and magazine apps; twitter client; video editor; messaging client; and so on.  Many of us would call these apps essential, and others would regard them as frivolous, and I haven’t even mentioned games, which I too regard as frivolous.

For what it is worth, the software mentioned above is what the adequately equipped digital literati owns.

Blackboard Adventure Time

Blackboard logo

Hi, this is David the human, and today I’ll be telling you a bit about my adventure last week in Las Vegas, at the BbWorld 2013 convention. (Okay, technically I attended both Blackboard’s Developer’s Conference, DevCon, and the main BbWorld conference, but the content from DevCon is uniformly tech in nature so likely nobody here cares.) Some of the BbWorld sessions were about esoteric topics, such as how to optimize the integration of data from the Palomar eServices system into Blackboard, or how to crawl around in the databases looking for diagnostic information to help make the system perform better. (If you’re interested in what all was available, you can revel in the official BbWorld 2013 documentation here.) But some sessions, as well as the conference keynotes, may be of interest to the faculty here, so I figured I should report in.

During the BbWorld conference many of the attendees tweeted, using the hashtag #BbWorld13. I also tweeted. I tweeted a lot. (Incidentally, if you’re interested in seeing those, feel free to find me on Twitter as @DavidTheGray.) So I’ll use some of those to describe what I found as the high points of the conference:

The opening keynote featured Clay Shirkey, who had some interesting stories about technology. One specific example given was the “Red Balloon Challenge” done by DARPA back in 2009. Perhaps I took the incorrect moral away from that story.

Red Balloon Challenge Tweet

Needless to say, Mr. Shirkey was able to get his story through to even MY brain.

"I can't do this on my own" Tweet

So the conference was off to a fairly powerful start. My first session, rather than being one of a technical nature, was actually more focused on pedagogy, and how to structure course content using “Predictable Design” to best support student success.

Tall order Tweet

don't read the syllabus Tweet

Predictable Design Tweet

GPS Tweet

With these admonitions still ringing in my ears, I’ll put out this challenge to y’all: If you’d like to sit down with me and discuss the workflow and layout of your Blackboard course materials, I’d love to work with you on that. Just let me know!

The following day, I sat through the Blackboard corporate keynote, and on the final day the Blackboard product roadmap. Here’s the best of show from those sessions:

Work together Tweet

Right out of the new CEO’s mouth, the company will be putting much focus on how the various Blackboard tools work together. The most immediate benefit from that for us will be having the Blackboard Collaborate tool finally integrate well with course sites.

UX Design Tweet

The company is recognizing that user experience (shortened to UX) is key; it really doesn’t matter how great the tools may be, if they can’t be used then… they are useless.

New Improvements Tweet

My personal choice for the best improvement over the last twelve months… difficult choice, as Blackboard has released many improvements. Calendar, Discussion Board, Video Everywhere, and the Inline Assignment Grading are all new. But after some thought my choice for “best” goes to the Test Deployment Exceptions. Incidentally, ALL of those are currently available on our production system; hopefully that doesn’t come as a shock.

SafeAssign Tweet

The “coming soon” modification that made me happiest is that Blackboard plans to consolidate the SafeAssign tool with their regular Assignment tool. So sometime soon it should be… you know, the way it always ought to have been… create an Assignment, then simply check a box to have an originality report generated. (Okay, there’s more tech work than just that, but from the user’s point of view it should be just that simple.)

Test Activity Logs Tweet

Not really a “coming soon” but instead a new function already released that we will have on our production system come Fall 2013: There will be faculty-readable logs of how a student progresses during their test attempts. (So you can tell if “Joe Student” spent the whole time without ever answering a question, or if they ran through the first fifty in ten minutes and then spend thirty minutes on the next question. Stuff like that.) Naturally there will be a whole post dedicated to this new function… I just haven’t written it yet!

The closing keynote speaker was Sugata Mitra, who shared some amazing stories of his Hole in the Wall work, and the implications he sees.

Pedagogy Tweet

Naturally I can’t do the man justice in my paltry blog post; I would advise you to examine what he offers in the way of TED talks.

Finally, lest I come off as insightful or some such, let me leave you with a tweet from one of the technical presentations I attended:

Feel dumb Tweet

It made for a fantastic conference, but a bit overwhelming. So if you’re worried about your students getting overwhelmed in your course, take my plea: Give them some pictures, instead of more text or talking.

Student Technology Profile


During the first two weeks of this semester we hosted an open, anyone-is-invited poll for students using our computer labs, asking them to tell us about their technology use.  Only 63 students participated, which is not too surprising during the opening of classes, where most students have many other things to worry about.  Nevertheless, the results closely parallel national polls and studies, which is a bit surprising for a survey so unscientific as ours.  The survey asked 20 questions, ten of which are reported below.  I will post at a later time on the others.  These results, along with their national counterparts, should be useful to Palomar planners as they decide what hardware and software products to purchase for our students into the future.

Here are our results:

Questions 1:  Do you have access to a computer at home that you can use for school work?


The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2010, out of 292,065 households, 81.4% live in a household with a computer.  Our results match almost exactly those of the Census Bureau.

Question 2:  Do you own a laptop computer?


We seem to be above the national, randomly selected average on laptop ownership (see this Pew study which reports a 61% national average), but this may reflect the differences between college students and the general public.  Note that ownership of desktops continues its precipitous decline in favor of laptops and mobile devices.

Question 3:  Do you own a tablet computing device?


While Pew reported 31% tablet ownership (NOT including e-reader devices), our own results was 28.6%, a good match.  iPads were the dominant tablet, but instances of Kindle Fires and Nexus tablets also existed.

Question 4:  Do you own a cell phone?


As you might expect, cell phone ownership is nearly universal, and exists here at a higher rate than Pew reports nationally.  Remember, the Pew results are for a randomly selected group of people in the US, our survey is of Palomar College students.

Compare, however question 4 to question 5:  Is your cell phone a smartphone?


The national average of smartphone ownership, across all age groups, is 45%, but the national average in the 18-29 year old group is 66%, closer to our own results of 71.4%.  Of smartphone users in our survey, 37% owned iPhones, 60% owned some species of Android phone, no one owned a Windows phone, and < 1% reported some other type of smartphone.  These results also closely match the national averages, as reported by Nielsen.

Question 6:  How many email accounts do you have?


According to a Microsoft survey, the average person has 3 email accounts, though it is often hard to remember, or even know, how many you actually have or even what an email account is anymore, with the advent of so many social networks.

Each of the students who responded to the survey have a Palomar email account, because each registered student has one, but when asked if they use it regularly, the overwhelming number said no.  Students receiving financial aid are required to do so (though why is not clear), but others clearly do not need it.

Question 7:  Do you use your Palomar email account regularly?


Question 9:  Have you ever used Google Docs?


The high percentage of Google Docs use goes a long way to explain why Microsoft is now offer a subscription-based version of Office Pro to students, faculty and staff members for $80 for 4 yours, renewable for another 4 years.  They see their market share slipping and many institutions “going Google.”

Question 10:  Which of these cloud storage services have you used?


This is the one that surprised me the most.  Everyone responding to the survey said that they use some cloud service.  There are so many of them that “Other Cloud Service” led the way, with strong results from iCloud and Google Drive.  This one should give Palomar planners pause, in combination with question 9 above maybe it means that we can rely on the Internet, rather than custom purchased programs, to provide word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs and discontinue purchasing storage for student email and student and maybe even professor document storage, where that exists.

There were other questions in the survey, but these were the most interesting from the technology planning perspective.  I will post separately on what the survey reveals about textbooks vs. e-textbooks, and student study practices.

Finding on a Web Page

Yesterday I posted on the most useful tips & tricks about using Google Search.  Today I would like to post on what to do once you use Google to go to a web page that may (or may not) contain the specific information you are looking for.

For a simple example, let’s say I am examining a transcript of the original 1787 constitution of the  United States, looking for what it had to say about slavery.  I find a transcript from a reliable source ( and I press Ctrl-F on my keyboard (Command-F if you are using a Mac) and the find box appears.  Let me hasten to say that this is NOT a feature Google, but rather a feature of the browser I am using.  The find box will appear and behave slightly differently depending on WHICH browser I am using, but all four major browsers have one.  Let me also hasten to say that this is NOT a search box, but rather a find box.  It will find the presence of whater “string” you type in the box.  A string is any collection of characters that can be entered from the keyboard, whether they are parts of words or words in themselves (or numbers, or special characters, or whatever).  Bear that in mind because search functionality is far more complex than find technology.  Find is simply a brute force location of a specific character or set of characters, with none of the interpretive sophistication of search engines.

Back to our example.  I enter the find- term “slave” (without the quotes) but immediately discover that the word does not appear in the constitution.  This is strange, since I have been told that the constitution contains a 3/5 provision that originally counted slaves as 3/5 of a person for purposes of enumeration, giving the South an advantage over the northern states.  I have also been told that there was a “fugitive slave” provision in the original constitution, but how could there be if the word slave or (I try again with “slavery”) slavery does not appear.

This illustrates one of the under appreciated aspects of the find function.  In enormous lists, it immediately is able to prove the negative.  That is, it proves the words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear in the constitution, and I know this even without having to read the document.  In life it is all too rare when you are able to prove the negative of anything.

But how to proceed?  Will I be forced to read the entire document.  Heaven forbid!  A clever search strategy might be to employ a related term to what I know I am looking for.  Since I was told that slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person I try 3/5 in the find box.  No soap.  I try “three-fifths.”  No soap.  I try “three fifths” without the hyphen and bingo, Article I section 2:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.

This gives me a clue about finding the “fugitive slave” part too.  The euphemism employed here for slavery is “bound to Service.”  When I find the term “Service” I find what I am looking for: Article IV, section 2:

No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

Clearly, Ctrl-F is very useful when faced with long, densely textual web pages, or lists of anything.

As noted above, the find feature in each of the major browsers appears a bit differently.  In Firefox, my browser of choice, the find box appears in the status bar at the lower left of the browser.

Firefox Find Bar

The box will turn red if I enter a term that the find function cannot find.  The Highlight all feature highlights each instance of the term, and the Match case option is especially useful when distinguishing between two identical terms, one of which is capitalized.

In Chrome the find bar will appear at the upper right of the browser as a sort of inverted tab.

Chrome Find Bar

If the term does not exist on the page the number indicator turns red and says 0 of 0, otherwise it tells you the number of instances, which is nice, but does not have a Match case feature.

In Safari the find bar will appear at the upper right also, with a Not Found indicator if the term is not found, and indications of how many finds otherwise.

Safari Find Bar

I know that dimming web pages to highlight a portion of them is all the rage these days, but Safari’s behavior in this respect with found terms is annoying and distracting.

Finally, in IE9, the find bar appears at the upper left of the screen, with an Options drop-down that contains the match case option.

IE Find Bar

So with only minor variations, all four major browsers provide a find function that will powerfully enhance your search capabilities.

The Orchestra


The most creative publisher of apps for iPad today is Touch Press, responsible for such works as The Waste Land, X is for X-Ray, Barefoot World Atlas, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomy, and Theodore Gray’s remarkable The Elements.  Their latest triumph is The Orchestra, a rich, expansive exposition on symphonic classical music featuring the principal conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra Esa-Pekka Salonen and the musicians of the orchestra.  The work features the performance by the orchestra of 8 great works of symphonic music, not entire compositions, which would make it expansive indeed, but restricted movements from symphonic works in some cases: the first movement from Haydn’s Symphony 6 (play time 4:11—written in 1761); the final  movement from Beethoven’s Symphony 5 (4:14—1808); the fourth movement of Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique (4:37—1830); Debussy’s Prélude À L’Après Midi D’Un Faune (10:28—1894); a selection from the exposition in the first movement of Mahler’s massive “Tragic” Symphony 6 (5:03—1906); a selection from Stravinsky’s The Firebird, beginning with the Aparition de l’Oiseau de feu and featuring the famous Danse infernale (6:00—1910); the second (vivace) movement from Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra (6:38—1954); and the Pulse I and Pulse II (movements 2 and 3) of Salonen’s own Violin Concerto (8:49—2009).  This brief trailer will give a peek at what the app is all about…

but it doesn’t nearly do justice to just how good it is.

The app’s home screen is a menu to the featured works, a video of the orchestra playing parts of the works, and a link to a unique feature called “Sections & Instruments,” and an “About” bar with links to a shop and the various parties who cooperated in the production of the app.

Home Screen

Tapping on any of the featured works across the menu, or tapping the video while playing one of the works, will load a screen featuring multiple video views of the work being played, with options to turn on audio, wirtten, or both comments from the director (Salonen) or many of the musicians performing on the piece.  It also shows a score of the piece being played, either in a full or “curated” version showing only the principal instruments currently performing (a wonderful achievement, in my view).  For the Haydn piece viewing the full score onscreen in reduced size is easy, with the Stravinsky piece, impossible because of it’s size.  That’s where the curated score shines.  A stationary red “playhead” appears on screen as the score moves beneath it in sync with the music, and in sync with the videos in the top portion of the screen.

Orchestra Works Screen

The orchestral sound is outstanding, as should be expected.  The commentary by Salonen (long time director of the L.A. Philharmonic) is erudite and comprehensive, while the commentary by the musicians is more personable and downright fun.  The ability to turn on synchronized captioning of the commentary is wonderful.  A unique aspect of the video is an animated set of dots (see the upper right video illustrated above) representing the instruments in the orchestra that glow and enlarge as the instrument plays, a sort of intensity visualization of the work being played, if you will.  Note also the ability to turn on musical patterns (the control to the right above the score) rather than notation.  For those who do not read music this might be preferable.  There is also written text that accompanies each piece by Mark Swed, chief classic music critic of the Los Angeles Times.  What is best about the written text is that when it is discussing the works being played by the orchestra, links in the text referring to the music actually jump to the part of the music being discussed, so you can hear exactly what the author means.  Also accompanying each written description is a video by Salonen on conducting the works of the particular composer being considered.

On Conducting Haydn

Salonen’s own composition is also accompanied by a video by the virtuoso Leila Josefowicz titled “On playing Salonen” which gives insight into how a dedicated, inspired musician approaches a piece of new music.

The section on Instruments & Sections is where you will want to go if you are new to orchestral instruments, are working with a young person who does not know them well, or just want to have the fun of watching the videos of great performers discussing their instruments.

Instruments & Sections

Tap the bassoon and you come to a page that has a video of principal bassoonist Amy Harman demonstrating the range of the bassoon, can examine a 3D model of a bassoon, which you can spin about and enlarge to see in detail, read about the instrument, and see its range on a keyboard, which plays as you touch it.  Because this app is so media rich it takes a staggering 2GB of storage on your iPad, but it is worth it.  Delete something to fit it on.

The Bassoon

I cannot recommend an app more highly than this one for pure entertainment, as a learning tool, and as an example of the interactive elegance that can be achieved in an iPad app.  I give it six stars out of five possible.  It contains hours of edutainment, and could only be improved by including entire symphonic works, rather than single movements (the Debussy piece is the only one presented in its entirety).  One hopes that symphony directors will take note.  Wouldn’t it be great if this were the beginning of a trend where with the (very) high price of a ticket to the symphony one could also receive the right to download an app like this one with the works being performed being discussed by the director and musicians?  The cost of this app is $13.99, which is high by app standards, but in line with the other very high quality apps being sold by Touch Press, but well worth it in every way, and only a small portion of what you would have to pay for a concert, a lecture, or a glossy book illustrating musical instruments.  It’s a steal at the price.  I can see an app like this fitting perfectly into the curriculum of a music appreciation or music history class, and hope it finds a home on every music lover’s iPad.