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Monday, November 26, 2012

Documenting work to ensure consistency & sustainability

Technology personnel tend to love new projects, challenges, and the fun of learning and implementing new technologies, but much like any profession, there are necessary duties that tend to get put off for a less busy day or because there is other work that is more interesting. Documenting tasks, processes, and systems tends to fall into the less interesting work category, but it is vital that it be done well, as the number and complexity of IT systems is growing.
There are few employees that can remember every step taken and every configuration option selected when setting up a new system, so documenting as the work is being done has to become a part of a culture of a technology department. The other part of this equation is that IT staff tend to be highly mobile, and school IT staff are no different. Most can work equally well in or out of education, which means that school IT departments will have periodic staff changes. But what happens when the new staff member needs to upgrade a system or fix one that has failed? If the staff member that setup the system is no longer around and there is no documentation as to what was initially done, this can lead to extended down time, funds spent on consultants, and so on.
As technology leaders, we need to look closely at our internal processes and documentation and decide if we are doing the best job at documenting what is being done by our IT personnel. If it is not being done, or not being done well, then it is time for us to start planning a new year’s resolution and make documentation a year long push for our staff. It will take this long and, truthfully, longer. Once basic documentation is done it will still need updates, changes, etc. And new systems will be added. So once started, the impetus to keep documenting must be sustained.
Find a standardized place to house the documentation for your staff. At our district, we chose a private wiki that is housed on our corporate intranet. It is quick and easy to search for and to add information, which makes our staff more likely to use it. Do not ignore this factor, since if it is a pain to use the documentation system put in place, people will most likely not use it.

This blog posting is cross-posted at SchoolCIO at

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Non Tech Alert: My Thanksgiving Texas Twice-Baked Potatoes in Pictures

I know this is supposed to be a techie blog, but I have to eat too.  So what is becoming a Thanksgiving tradition for me is the preparation of Texas Twice-Baked potatoes.  They are delicious, with lots of flavor and spice, which I think adds a little flair to what I think can be a bit bland holiday meal.

The ingredients I use are as follows.  I will not give amounts, but you can see how much I used and make yours based on your taste preferences.

  • Russet potatoes
  • Grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • Chopped pickled jalapenos
  • Cooked and chopped Bacon
  • Minced fresh garlic cloves
  • Cream or milk
  • Butter
  • Salt & Pepper
Add what you want - green onions are good in these, but I did not have any.

So - bake potatoes as normally done.  Cut in half.  Scoop out potato, place in bowl and mash a bit and add butter, cream/milk and mix.  Then add ingredients (use 1/2 the cheese), stuff potatoes, and top with the remaining cheese.  Bake until golden brown.

Here is the process in pictures:

Monday, November 12, 2012

What? My iPad can do more than email and Web? iPad productivity apps (cross post with SchoolCIO)

There is one device that follows me around all the time at work, when going to meetings, while traveling—and it also goes home with me each night. It is my iPad. It is my ultimate productivity tool. I see many tech directors, CIOs, principals, and superintendents carrying theirs around as well. But what often surprises me is how many leaders just use their iPad for email and Web browsing, not exploring many of the fantastic iPad productivity apps that really can make this device shine. Many great iPad productivity apps can help leaders become more organized and effective.
So I want to share many of the apps that I find very useful below in my productivity app list. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it ought to really help you get a great start on using your iPad for more than email and Web browsing.
Note: All prices are accurate as of 10/28/2012.
Stock iPad Apps
Web Browser
Included with iPad
Syncs with Exchange (Outlook) and Google
Included with iPad
Syncs with Exchange (Outlook) and Google
Included with iPad
Syncs with Exchange (Outlook) and Google
Included with iPad
Takes pictures and video.
Included with iPad
Access, email, and share your photos.
Included with iPad
Real time video conference with other iOS users.
Included with iPad

Notetaking Apps
The e-filing note cabinet of choice – use as your memory.  Stores emails, text notes & audio.  Syncs across many devices and web.  You can easily share notes.  Includes a great search feature!
Any easy to use simple text, written, audio and photo note app – email or PDF notes.
PDF annotation and reader software – a bit complex but very powerful, with Google Drive and Box support amongst many others.
PDF Expert
Simple PDF annotation with WiFi transfer and Box support.
Audio Memos Free
Voice recorder, email up to 3mb files, WiFi download.
Dragon Dictation
Voice to text transcriptions.

Office Apps
Pages, Numbers, and Keynote
Apple’s GREAT office apps for Word Processing, spreadsheet, and presentations.  These are the apps to use if using iPad for content creation.
$9.99 each
QuickOffice Pro HD
All in one office suite – edits Microsoft Office docs and syncs with and WiFi file transfer. This more affordable suite is geared towards just editing.

Cloud-Based MS Office with Box synchronization
Digits Calculator
Great desktop calc with editable, comment-able eTape that can be emailed.
Great dictionary and thesaurus.

Book  Apps
iBooks, Nook & Kindle
eBooks from the big three.

News Apps
Incredible customizable news aggregator.
Another great customizable news aggregator.
Great news aggregator with excellent social media integration.

Other Useful Apps
Box is a great secure corporate level file sharing service. Use this app to synchronize files to the cloud and web browser.  Can sync files between computer and iPad.
Great social networking tool to expand your PLN.
Easy mind mapping with Image & PDF export, Box, and WiFi sync.
Simple annotation app – take a photo and mark up ideas and notes (syncs to Evernote).
Explain Everything
Annotate and narrate on screen then export video – great way to narrate presentations then share.
VDI and Remote Desktop Clients (I use Citrix)
There are many virtual desktop clients that you can often use to access work from remote locations or which you can use at work to get a full Windows desktop on your iPad.