This article is brought to you by our new author, Jennifer. If you’d like to contribute articles to Revnews, let us know here.
I am a teacher that enjoys being as organised as possible. I have a laptop on my desk find the Teacher’s Personal Information Manager (TPIM) invaluable. It provides weekly and daily planning sheets for each class you enter. It will also let you keep class lists with attendance register and grades. You can also make private notes about each student which could be incidents that need recording or just noting something smashing they did that lesson. There is a calendar feature which could be great for entering exam dates, parent teacher meetings, report deadlines, staff meetings, the list goes on.
This will do pretty much everything you wish to do, if you enter your timetable and lesson timings then you can also choose to enable the feature that will pop up and remind you to issue the homework. Your students may not thank you but I’m sure the parents will.
I use the system to plan a term at a time but you can do it on a weekly or even daily basis as it suits. Then each morning I can print out a summary of my classes for each day. Your plans can either be a couple of sentences or detailed (starter, plenary, objectives, resources and all the timings involved). If you have to be out of school, either because of illness or on a training day, then this will produce a cover sheet, including class lists, seating plan, work to be done, homework etc. This can be done in a second rather than being at home ill and having to starting thinking what can be done. You can export your lesson plans for each class into a Word or Excel document very easily so you could print these or upload them to a class website. I know parents find them very good for making sure what has been set for homework or for a student to see what they’ve missed if they’ve been off school.
The product costs £40 (a one off fee) but the time saved and also the money saved on diaries etc more than makes up for this. However, a free trial which allows time for testing and making a decision about whether you will purchase the full version, is also available. I know all of us as teacher find time precious, and while this might take a little time to get used and set up to during the initial stages, future years are made simpler due to features software. I got it up and running in an afternoon but took longer to fully appreciate all it could do for me.
I really can’t recommend this product enough. The only limitation is the grade section which doesn’t really do as much as I’d like. If you are interested in a more comprehensive grades package then please read the upcoming review of Gradekeeper. TPIM is available from www.csfsoftware.co.uk/TPIM_info.htm.
I love organising things. Anything that involves putting bits of paper in different trays according to content or importance; putting work into folders; or planning my day, is bound to cause me to get slightly heady with excitement at the prospect. You may have already read about my love affair with Soshiku when it comes to organising educational work, but I’ve stumbled upon a piece of software which aims to organise my entire life, rather than just my work. I’ve been putting the smashing application through its paces to see if it’ll become part of my regular rotation of organisation. It goes by the name of Chandler. “Could it be any more organised?”
First impressions weren’t too good. It’s written in a programming language called Python, which, whilst being extendible and apparently smashing for cross-platform software, seems to be a bit clunky and slow loading. I have to wait for what feels like too long for an out of place looking ‘loading’ splash window to finish shoving a bar across itself to show me how close it is to finished shuffling about. This is a bit of a let down since you’re likely to want your to-do list to pop up quickly so you can view and edit it in a short amount of time.
Putting this aside, the first thing which stood out was the ability to separate tasks and events into categories. I therefore set about creating one for each school subject, followed by a few others such as ‘Wedding’ and a category called ‘Revnews’. Within these categories tasks you can create tasks by typing a name for it in the text box at the top of the window, and then pressing enter. You can then edit and add extra details about the task and set when it must be completed by. This seemed a bit limited since I would like to be able to set specific dates, or even times, for when something must be completed by. It is possible to create calendar events which specify an end time, but this isn’t implemented for tasks. Therefore there’s no page which sorts your tasks in the order that they need to be completed, but simply shows them by whether you’ve selected – ‘now’, ‘later’, or ‘done’ for each task. This also needs to be manually updated by clicking the ‘Clean up’ button which will sort the tasks into the aforementioned completion categories; it won’t do it automagically when you change a task’s status, another example of how the software felt a bit clunky at times.
I was, however, happy with the different categories for the tasks. Whilst I would place each task in its relevant category, I am also able to see all currently outstanding tasks on the ‘Dashboard’ page, which sorts them by their completion categories. This is good for organising a whole day (or longer) by seeing all tasks which need to be completed that day, rather than just those in one category. If particularly important tasks aren’t standing out enough, you can put a star by them, and then choose the option to show only the starred items. This might be helpful for prioritising a multitude of tasks.
Chandler also has email functions which allow you to send notes or events to others – they can either view them in Chandler if they have it or add it to other calendar applications. I haven’t tested this feature because I have no intention of emailing my to-do list to other people, but at least the feature is there, ready and waiting to be set up in case you can make use of it.
Despite the negatives it’s still a very good bit of software. I think it’s going to become my standard organiser, though Soshiku still has a much simpler interface and is generally better for the purpose of organising work for school, so I’m likely to stick with Soshiku as my primary organiser for school work. You can download Chandler from www.chandlerproject.org.
We do an ever-increasing amount online; there’s a good chance that your web-browser is one of your most used pieces of software. However, if something goes wrong you’re at risk of losing your bookmarks, settings, and extensions. It could take quite some time to get the browser back just the way you wanted it. The other option is to back-up your browser settings occasionally, so you’ll always be safe if something goes kaput. In addition, having a backup will allow you to transfer your settings and addons to another computer, allowing you to keep your user experience consistent.
FEBE – Firefox Environment Backup Extension – is an addon which will allows you to perform backups of your profile, history, settings, addons, and other such jazz. Once installed a new item will appear in Firefox’s tools menu which allows you to fiddle with FEBE settings, run backups, or restore files if something has imploded and gone wrong.
I thought setting the options seemed to be the best place to start, turned out it was. Doing so allowed me to choose what I wanted to be backed up; I selected just about everything. After creating a folder for the purpose of storing the backups, I also changed the location that FEBE saves them to. In addition, I was able to instruct it to create a time-labelled folder for each backup. This means that I can keep older backups, and have each new one in a separate folder. Therefore, if I decide to revert back to the settings earlier than the most recent backup, I can easily do so.
After I’d finished tweaking I ran the backup manually from the tools menu. The process was quite fast; it only took about 20 seconds or so, but this time will vary depending upon your computer and how much data FEBE is backing up. However, Firefox tends to feel a bit dejected during the backup, and will usually not let you browse whilst FEBE does its thing. You can also schedule backups to run automatically at specified times if you’d rather not have to remember to do it.
Restoring items is done through the same menu. The restore section lists the various areas which you can copy back into Firefox – you can choose as many or as few as you wish to depending on just how badly things have gone wrong. You could also use this feature to transfer your settings from one computer to another, making it simpler to use Firefox elsewhere.
Jolly good stuff. I suggest installing it, performing a backup, and then disabling it again until you want to run another backup or restore something. You can download it from www.addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/2109. If you get confuzzled, instructions are also available.
Part two, which focuses upon Internet Explorer, is still to come.
You’ve almost certainly already got Internet security and firewall software installed – these are obviously key to keeping safe when using the Internet. However, software which you use is also likely to contain weaknesses which are discovered and then patched by the company. These weaknesses could potentially put your computer at risk – so it’s best to avoid them. However, it’s not always easy to check whether your software needs updating. Much of it probably won’t alert you, or might only very occasionally run a check. That’s where Secunia Personal Software Inspector comes along to rescue you.
The name is a bit of a mouthful, and my weary hands and addled mind do not want to keep repeating it; so I’ll be likely to refer to it as PSI at times here. The file size is very small – the download coming it at about 530 kb. Once you’ve installed the software and opened it, a window will pop up, which, after loading, will allow you to run a scan of your computer. During the scan PSI is sifting through all your software and checking them against its database. This database contains the versions of software, and the security issues related to them. Be patient during this phase. After scanning, it’ll then let you know if it’s found anything that needs sorting out.
It will list the software name and version; the threat rating; a link to a patch or update download; and a link to a forum for the issue. Clicking on the threat rating, which appears as a bar with a number of coloured squares within, will take you to a Secunia webpage with more information about the issue and its severity. You can click the arrow underneath the ‘Solution’ column to download patches or updates to fix the issues which it found. If you’d rather not take this route, you could manually download a newer version of the software which it’s getting upset about. Once the issues have been fixed, PSI should automagically realise this and remove it from the list. If not, simply scanning again will give it the nudge which it needs to appreciate your efforts.
There’s also the option to view the advanced interface. This looks a little bit deeper, but makes things more confusing. For example, when changing to advanced mode PSI picks up around ten threats on my desktop; but these are all from software which is more hidden away in windows folders; or the remnants of updated software, rather than installed and used applications. The advanced mode also provides links to the folders containing the software with which it finds issues, which will allow you to have a wander around and decide whether you’re willing to tamper with it or not. For most users I’d suggest not changing to advanced, as simple mode seems to provide all the functionality needed.
Secunia PSI will continue to run in the system tray even when you’re not using it. It will keep an eye out for software updates and security patches. If you install a new application it’ll check it against its database to see if there are any known security issues, and will then advise you as to updates and patches. Similarly, if issues arise with software you are running, it will diligently alert you to this, too. You can also go back and run a full scan as often as you wish – just to make sure everything’s up-to-date and secure.
Overall, a rather spiffing bit of kit. Once the first scan and update is completed, you’ll have very little else to do other than follow the updates as and when PSI lets you know about newly discovered security issues. You can download it from www.secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal.