Silence Your Android Phone Automatically; And Tell Your Students To Do the Same

Let No Cell Phonesme start by saying that I’m not one of those people who flies into a blind rage when a cell phone goes off during a meal or a meeting or even during one of my classes. It annoys me at the movies, sure. But I’m not so foolish as to think that dinner with me or one of my lectures offers anything close to the experience of getting “lost in” or “sucked into” a great movie. In a theater, the ring of a cell phone jarringly returns to you the reality of being crammed in a room with dozens of other people, and maybe even some bedbugs.

These days, however, our phones are not just mobile. They are smart. And if you have a smart phone, then there’s no reason to allow it to do dumb things like ring, buzz, or chirp when you don’t want it to. Fortunately a variety of Android apps out there allow you to quiet your phone on a set schedule.

OSilence Schedulern my phone, I use a simple little app called Silence Scheduler (shown at left). I just tell the program the days and times that I have lectures, discussion sections, and meetings. And the phone switches automatically to silent mode during those times. When the time period ends, it switches the phone back to normal mode. No effort on my part required for the rest of the quarter. You can download it for free via the Android Market. And a quick search of the market also shows a number of other free apps that will do the very same thing for you.

If you have $6.23 to burn, you can also try out an Android app called Tasker. It can silence your phone on a schedule and much, much more. Tasker allows you to set conditional automation for nearly everything your phone can do. Want your phone to be silent and send calls directly to voicemail if it detects that you are driving based on your GPS signal? Tasker can do that. Want it to activate the GPS and network data whenever you open Google Maps? Tasker can do that too.  I’ve just started working with it so I won’t give a full review. But I’m already very impressed. I’ll let the folks over at Lifehacker fill you in with their review of Tasker and their subsequent post detailing some of the creative ways they were using it.

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Use Dropbox to Turn Microsoft’s Autorecover Feature into an Autosave Feature to Avoid Losing Work

old computer lab by flickr user Wesley FryerWay back in the 90s when I was an undergraduate, I worked as a lab assistant in a campus computer lab. Primarily my work there consisted of scanning lab users’ 3.5-inch floppy disks for viruses, assisting with file conversions between Mac and PC file types, showing users how to map their computer to the campus servers to retrieve their fancy new electronic mail, and a whole host of other, now entirely obsolete, tasks.

Unfortunately for all of us, one unpleasant duty of the lab assistant remains a part of all our lives today, dealing with lost work. Short of having to tell local vagrants that if they weren’t students they could not sleep in the 24-hour computer lab, consoling those who’d lost work due to viruses, file corruptions, computer shutdowns, or save errors was definitely the most difficult part of that job.

And somehow, despite all our technological advances over the last decade-and-a-half, we are still losing work. A colleague told me just the other day that he’d lost six hours of work in Powerpoint. His tale of woe prompted me to look into the advice I might give here at DiYiT beyond the old computer lab assistant standby of “save early and save often.”

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Use AutoHotkey, Microsoft Word, and doPDF to Grade Papers Electronically

Attendee lists by quinn.anyaA few weeks back I detailed the many benefits of using Autohotkey (AHK) to create custom hotkeys and automate keystrokes. As a follow-up, I wanted to spell out the method I use for marking up student papers electronically using a combination of AHK, Microsoft Word, and doPDF. For those of you who dislike Microsoft products or simply don’t own a copy of Word, any full-featured word processor should do. You’ll just want to make sure that it offers you the ability to add comments to existing text. Similarly, you can use your preferred PDF creation software. There are many that do exactly what doPDF does.

Unlike many aspects of life, grading papers is faster with a pencil than with a computer. It seems as if the added time required to grade papers electronically represents a significant obstacle to the adoption of a largely paperless classroom. When grading a paper, you need to be able to read and mark quickly, often leaving just a single word, phrase, or editor’s mark above a word or sentence. I find, often enough, that a simple question mark best illustrates my profound confusion with what’s being said in a paper. These marks are quick and easy to make with a pencil. Unfortunately, inserting comments and typing such notes into a word processor isn’t nearly as convenient. The number of keystrokes and mouse clicks required slows the process and keeps you computing when you need to be grading. Continue reading

Save Time by Saving Keystrokes with AutoHotkey

Autohotkey LogoAutohotkey (AHK) is very powerful software. And it is exactly the type of tool that we want to highlight here at DIY Ivory Tower. At the most basic level, AHK allows you to create your own keyboard shortcuts in Windows. [Mac users should check out this post from Profhacker describing Mac software called TextExpander. It also mentions a few other Mac and Windows text expanders that can accomplish at least some of what AHK can do.] I started using AHK for very simple tasks like having my computer type my phone number when I press a certain combination of keys. I’ve got other hotkeys set for my name, a complex part (but not all) of my email password, my address, and my email address. These shortcuts come in very handy when filling out forms online or sending simple emails. Once you start using the software and reading through its user guide, however, you’ll quickly see that it is capable of very much more. Continue reading