Chromebook and Home Computer Advice for Parents (Dec 2018)

As a school director of technology as well as a known “tech geek” at other places we frequent like our church, I’m often asked for advice about purchasing computers for kids at holiday time. I’m also frequently asked about Internet filtering, Internet safety, and topics falling under the general topic of “digital citizenship.” (Last spring I shared a few presentations about these topics at both school and church.) Whether we’re talking about technology purchases, parenting, or just about anything else, it’s VERY important to be cautious giving advice to others. If your recommendation is taken and it doesn’t work out well, you’ve set yourself up to be blamed. While I’ve included the word “advice” in the title of this post, please take these ideas as more as GUIDELINES rather than advice. Of course computer models and other technology items are going to change quickly, so it’s more important to think about “guidelines to follow” when making technology purchases rather than strictly following someone else’s recommendation list.

Blocked Domain - OpenDNS by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Blocked Domain – OpenDNS” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

Guideline #1: Install a Home Content Filtering Solution

Whatever type of computer you purchase for kids living in your house, it’s vital to put in place a content filtering solution. “Parental controls” on computers, tablets and smartphones can be helpful, but when it comes to computers at home it can be more effective as well as flexible to put web filtering tools in place at the Internet modem / router level. This means ALL devices which access the Internet at your house via WiFi are subject to at least a basic level of web filtering.

Remember no web filtering solution is perfect, and like anything involving security, you want to adopt a “layered” approach which includes multiple strategies. Here are some of my favorite home web filtering tools, which I have either used in the past, am using currently, or am considering next:

  1. Circle With Disney: When we bought our Circle it cost $100, now you get can them for $55. When you setup the Circle at your house, all devices connecting to your network via WiFi or wired ethernet can be filtered depending on settings you specify. Younger kids can have more filtering, bedtimes when devices stop being able to access the Internet can be set, and time limits for different kinds of apps and websites can be created for different kids. Circle is GREAT, and they also offer a $5 per month service (Circle Go) which allows smartphones to be filtered even when they are off-wifi and using cellular data. This uses a VPN connection along with MDM (mobile device management) setup. It sounds complicated, but the Circle folks make the setup pretty straightforward. Circle is my top recommendation for most families needing a web filtering solution at home.
  2. OpenDNS: I first used OpenDNS at home ten years ago, after I learned about it during a visit to our local Apple Store. Since then, I used it at home until we installed our Circle for content filtering. They offer a free option as well as a $20/year “Home VIP” tier of service which includes some data logging. Back in 2011 I shared a post about how to configure OpenDNS on an Apple home router, but their documentation is excellent and can help you get setup with whatever networking gear you’re using. Basically, you change the network DNS settings on your home router to those managed by OpenDNS instead of the default ones, likely provided by your Internet Service Provider from whom you purchase Internet access each month. While it’s not rocket science for a determined kid (or adult) to bypass these DNS settings on a particular device, it does require a bit more tech-savvy and for a free price tag, OpenDNS is a good solution… especially when your kids are younger / pre-teens.
  3. Eero Plus: For many months now, I’ve been wanting to upgrade our home WiFi to a next-generation mesh solution. One of the best is Eero, and they offer a $99 per year subscription called Eero Plus which includes content filtering for all network devices. If I had an extra $400 to drop on an Eero paired with two Eero Beacons, I’d upgrade tomorrow and also pay $99 per year for Eero Plus. I’ve visited with some parents at our school who migrated to Eero Plus from Circle and they have been pleased with the service. I don’t think it offers the off-network filtering of Circle Go, but it still looks like a good solution to address many home content filtering concerns.
  4. iOS 12 Parental Controls: If your kids are using iPhones or iPads, definitely consider setting up and using the free / included parental control settings. These are better than ever with iOS 12, and depending on the age of your kids may make a good addition to a network filtering solution like Circle. This CNET article includes good tips for monitoring and managing screentime as well as apps on iOS 12.

Guideline #2: Consider Chromebooks or Chromeboxes as Home Computers

As a school technology director, I’m directly responsible for providing support for over 300 Chromebooks, over 100 iPads, and around 200 MacOS and WindowsOS laptop and desktop computers. Since I support a diverse array of computing platforms, I have a lot of current, direct experience about the big differences in supporting these different kinds of devices. I love Apple devices, including iOS as well as MacOS computers, but as a technology director I positively LOVE Chrome devices. Since they were designed by Google to “use the cloud” and be managed via the cloud, Chromebooks and Chromeboxes (which require an external monitor, mouse and keyboard) are super-simple to use, maintain, and support.

If you haven’t used a Chromebook or Chromebox before, let me share some quick facts before I get into details. Chrome devices generally startup, fully, in 8 seconds or less. It’s still possible to install a bad browser extension or fall prey to a phishing scam on a Chromebook, but Chromebooks are INCREDIBLY SECURE relative to WindowsOS or even MacOS computers… They don’t get malware viruses / worms / trojan software programs the way “traditional” (older) operating system computers can and do. If you’re the person in your family providing tech support (as I am) you know how important this is. ChromeOS is a game changer. Put the power and simplicity of ChromeOS to work in your house by purchasing ChromeOS devices, if they meet your needs as described below.

Google Chromebook: You Had Me at 8 Secon by Wesley Fryer, on Flickr
Google Chromebook: You Had Me at 8 Seconds” (CC BY 2.0) by Wesley Fryer

I would definitely recommend going with a Chromebook or Chromebox as a home computer if your family members don’t need to run specific software (like Minecraft) that requires MacOS or WindowsOS. You can use an existing monitor, keyboard and mouse if you order a Chromebox. We use Chromeboxes in one of our school libraries and they have been great the past 3 years. We have ordered ASUS Chromeboxes and had good luck with them. I would definitely order one with 4 GB rather than 2 GB. You will see Chromeboxes cheaper that have 2 GB of RAM but they are much slower and won’t last as long. This one is $205 and would work well.

If you or your family members want portability, consider purchasing a Chromebook, again if you don’t need to run MacOS or WindowsOS software. Again I would stick with 4 GB rather than 2 GB models. I would look at reviews and the number of ratings/recommendations on Amazon when ordering. This one from ASUS looks good and rugged. Amazon has a good collection of Chromebooks, and you can view ratings, prices, and reviews to make a decision. You can likely go into a local Best Buy, Target or WalMart and get “hands on” with different Chromebook models. Before purchasing, however, I would check prices against Amazon. Tech journalist Kevin Tofel (@kevinctofel) maintains a great website titled, “About Chromebooks” which is filled with current reviews and helpful tips.

Instead of a Chromebox or Chromebook, if you are a little more on the techy / geeky side, you could  alternatively install Neverware’s free home edition on an existing, older WindowsPC you already have. Neverware software requires some tweaking but it is free and depending on the hardware you’re working with, it can be plenty fast and reliable. If Neverware works great for you, reach out and thank Jason Neiffer, he’s my friend who is a huge Neverware fan and mentions it periodically on our weekly podcast and webshow.

Guideline #3: Consider an Apple Laptop

ROI (return on investment) is not only important to schools and other organizations, it’s also important to families. Computers are expensive, and most folks want to get as many years of use as possible out of an investment like a laptop or desktop computer. Google provides Chrome updates for 6.5 years after a specific chipset is released, so it’s reasonable to expect five years of useful life if you purchase a Chrome device. My experiences in schools and at home with Apple / MacOS laptops, however, tell me that I can expect an even longer useful life from them. Of course Apple devices are comparatively more expensive than Chrome devices, so this is both reasonable and expected.

Generally, WindowsOS devices don’t have as long a useful working life as MacOS computers. Neverware can extend that useful life, but if you need to run WindowsOS that’s not a helpful solution.

When it comes to computer platforms, many people fall prey to baby duck syndrome:

the tendency for computer users to “imprint” on the first system they learn, then judge other systems by their similarity to that first system

While baby duck syndrome is a natural and predictable psychological condition for many people, in today’s rapidly changing technological environment, it can be both lamentable and avoidable. I encourage you to open your mind to other computing platforms and possibilities, beyond those you grew up with or are most familiar. Chrome devices are amazing and fantastic, and make every other computing platform today pale in comparison from a technical support standpoint. Although they are more expensive, MacOS and iOS devices generally “just work” and are worth the price you pay, if you need the functionality they provide.

If the ideas I’ve shared in this post are helpful to you, please let me know by either writing a comment below, reaching out to me on Twitter @wfryer, or sending me a note via my electronic contact form. Good luck in your upcoming technology purchases!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Help Students Use Icons and Photos in Narrated Slideshows

My wife (@sfryer) is starting a narrated slideshow media project tomorrow with her third graders. About a week ago, all the third graders at our school went on a field trip to a local kitchen where they prepared soup for the homeless in our community. This was part of a service learning project, and launched their new novel study in language arts on “Granny Torrelli Makes Soup” by Maine author Sharon Creech (@ciaobellacreech). One of Shelly’s parents created a short slideshow of photos from the field trip, which Shelly made into a video last week that captured the event well in 70 seconds.

As my wife’s unofficial technology learning coach, I’ve been helping her (this weekend) plan how she’ll help her third graders plan scripts for their narrated slideshows, select photos to accompany each frame of their slideshow / video, and then record their narration with the iPad app Shadow Puppet EDU. This afternoon during lunch, I suggested she not only provide students with access to a Google Drive-shared folder of photos from the field trip to use (accessed via QR Code and the i-nigma iPad app), but also a folder of ICONS. I’m a big advocate for visual storytelling, and icons from The Noun Project are one of my favorites when creating presentation slideshows. Shout out to Tony Vincent (@tonyvincent) for sharing The Noun Project several years ago during a conference presentation!  You’ll see a lot of Noun Project icons in the recent and upcoming slideshows I’ve presented and helped co-present at our school on “digital citizenship” themes this year.

Shelly created a Google Drive “parent” folder for this entire narrated slideshow media project, and shared it with me. Inside that folder, we created a folder for “Photos” and also for “Icons.” Shelly copied many of the best parent photos from the field trip into the photos folder. I just uploaded 83 icons into the Icons folder, based on a brainstormed list she gave me of words, terms, and vocabulary which described / was relevant to their field trip.

If Shelly had more class time for this project, it might be great for students to help brainstorm this list of icon keywords, and also help select the icons from The Noun Project‘s huge library which could be included in their shared folder. As it is, however, time is limited… so she’ll reduce the amount of time students will need to spend selecting images to use in their projects. There are plenty to choose from, so students will still have the opportunity to make substantive choices in the media they’ll include in their narrated slideshows. Hopefully by pre-selecting images, most or all students will have time to complete this project in the allotted / available classtime.

Using a folder of pre-selected images for a media project, but providing more choices than students will be able to use so they can still “choose,” is a great technology integration strategy I first learned about from Hall Davison (@HallDavidson) 12 years ago in a keynote. Unfortunately the website Hall referenced (Kitzu) is offline, but you can still read my post about this, titled “Multimedia Project Kits.”

The basic steps of this narrated slideshow project in Shelly’s classroom this week will be:

  1. Students write bullet points / speaking points for five different project slides, using the project template Shelly is creating tonight
  2. Students take a photo of their completed planning sheet / storyboard, and upload it to their Seesaw learning journal.
  3. Students select an image to use for each slide, using the project photo and icon galleries Shelly and I co-created (saving each desired image to their shared iPad camera roll). Ideally, each selected image will directly relate to / amplify the ideas they are sharing on each slide.
  4. Students build their slideshow with images, using Shadow Puppet EDU, and record their narration for each slide.
  5. Students export their video to their iPad camera roll, and then share their final project to Seesaw.

I may also help Shelly create a project rubric, which she’ll share with students at the start of the project and she’ll use to assess student work throughout the project… not just at the end. Emphasizing the value of the PROCESS, and not just the ‘final project,’ is one of the reasons I’ve suggested she have students share a photo of their completed planning sheets / storyboards to Seesaw.

I’m sure Shelly will be posting about this project after it’s finished to her professional blog, shellyfryer.com, in upcoming weeks.

If you’re interested in more resources related to this narrated slideshow project, check out:

  1. The Badgelist badge for “Narrated Slideshow” which I created a couple summers ago for iPad Media Camp
  2. The “Narrated Slideshows” page of ShowWithMedia.com
  3. My $3 eBook on Narrated Slideshows / Screencasts

Have you used a “multimedia project kit” with your own students, or in projects you’ve completed during professional development? It’s a great strategy which can help jumpstart the media creation process and workflow. If so or if you have questions, please reach out to me on Twitter @wfryer.

Go forth and empower your students to develop their digital literacy and communication skills with narrated slideshow videos!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Using ffWorks and FFmpeg for Video Compression

Almost every week on Wednesday nights I co-host “The EdTech Situation Room” (@edtechSR) webshow and podcast with my friend and fellow educator, Jason Neiffer (@techsavvyteach). My Thursday evening routine, therefore, usually includes post-production of the show so it’s shared on edtechSR.com, with both audio and video archive versions linked from Amazon S3. In this post I’ll share how I’m now using the shareware software program ffWorks paired with the open source video compression software FFmpeg, along with iTunes, to create our compressed 16 kbps audio and 360P video archives.

We livestream our EdTechSR webshows each week on YouTube via a Hangout on Air. This allows us to automate the creation of an updated YouTube playlist of all our episodes, and also provides a video archive of the show each week which I can download. Even though YouTube automatically encodes episodes at varying bitrates / quality settings / screen dimensions to accommodate viewers with slower Internet connections, it’s not always easy to download those lower quality versions. Even though the cost of hosting our audio and video archives on Amazon S3 is very small at this point (related to our small but highly devoted fanbase!) it’s beneficial to archive a lower bitrate video than the 720P version YouTube lets creators download directly from their “YouTube Creator Studio” dashboard.

I’ve used a variety of different third party websites over the past couple years to download smaller (360P) video versions of our shows. Those sites have included en.savefrom.nety2mate.com, and some others which are now offline or have changed to the point where I’m questioning if they are still reputable / safe sites that are malware free. This is a cat and mouse game: Google/YouTube has historically tried to prevent the downloading of videos other than those you personally upload. Now it’s possible to download offline versions of videos if you subscribe to YouTube Premium (formerly YouTube Red,) but that isn’t something I’ve paid for or at this point am interested in paying for. So here’s the challenge: What’s a free and relatively fast way to compress video when the only source video format you have is 720P from YouTube?

My new answer is the shareware software program ffWorks paired with the open source video compression software FFmpeg. I use a MacOS laptop, and ffWorks is Apple-only. FFmpeg works on other platforms (it’s Linux-based) but it’s a command line tool. ffWorks isn’t free, but permits 10 free trial uses, and provides a more user-friendly GUI (graphical user interface) for accessing and using the powerful options in FFmpeg.

The image I embedded above shows my video compression settings. I used the H.264 video compression codec, changing the 1280 x 720 size of my source video to 320 x 240. I lowered the audio quality to 64 kbps. The image below shows file sizes for the different source and target files I used and created in post-production tonight. This also shows (dramatically) why you do NOT want to just export as 480P from QuickTime player:

My final two files have green dots by them in the above image. This was a 66 minute webshow. The 360P video version is 111.6 MB in size, and the audio version (32 kbps exported from iTunes) is a 16 MB mp3. Those are relatively lightweight yet good quality podcast files. This matters because folks around the world can and do download these files, and everyone isn’t on a blazingly fast Internet connection. Some people pay more (over mobile connections, generally in the U.S.) by kilobyte for downloads. So keeping file sizes small matters when you’re a considerate podcast publisher.

The middle file in the screenshot above is the originally downloaded YouTube 720P version of our show video, and it’s 440.2 MB in size. For comparison sake, in Quicktime Player for Mac (running MacOS 10.13 High Sierra) I exported as a 480P video. You’d think that file would be smaller, but you’ll see it as the second file in the above screenshot: It’s 1.16 GB in size! This demonstrates how much better YouTube’s video compression algorithms are than the default algorithms in QuickTime player. Of course this is by design: YouTube is optimizing for streaming online, while Apple’s QuickTime Player default settings are optimized for localized playback.

The first file in the screenshot above is the exported, audio-only version of the downloaded original YouTube 720P video using Quicktime for MacOS and default settings. It’s a .m4a file with a file size of 64.5 MB. When you share audio podcasts, it’s still best to use mp3 format, and I prefer 32 kbps versions exported via iTunes. See my August 2016 post, “Audio Podcasting Workflows,” for more about audio podcast post-producation options.

Have you tried using FFmpeg with or without ffWorks for video or audio file compression? I’m pleased with the results so far. I may continue to try and use third-party websites for YouTube video downloading, but it’s good to have a viable, efficient, and affordable local software option for video compression. I want and need my post-production workflow for the EdTechSR podcast to be as simple and fast as possible!

See this Google Doc I created in April 2017 to view all the post-production steps which I’ve used in the past for the EdTechSR podcast. At some point I may modify/update that to include these new steps using ffWorks with FFmpeg, but for now I’ve just linked this blog post on it.

See the “Radio Shows” page of ShowWithMedia.com for more tools, tutorials, and resources releated to creating and sharing podcasts. Please reach out to me on Twitter @wfryer if you have feedback or questions about the ideas I’ve shared in this post.

Happy podcasting!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

How I’m Voting and Prepared to Vote in Oklahoma City November 6, 2018

I’m thankful to share that this year as a voter and citizen in Oklahoma City, USA, I’ll be headed to the polls more prepared than ever to cast my ballot. For this important mid-term election, I used the Online Voter Tool from the Oklahoma State Election Board (@OKelections) to generate a PDF sample ballot.

Then, I used DocHub to fill out the PDF, which I’ve linked and embedded as images below. I used many of the articles from NonDoc.com (@nondocmedia), Oklahoma Watch (@OklahomaWatch), The Oklahoma Policy Institute (@okpolicy) as well as candidate websites and other news sites to vet candidates, particularly ones with whom I was not previously familiar. This included all the judge races. I sheepishly admit that every other time I’ve voted as an adult in a U.S. election, there has been at least one ballot question or position for which I was unprepared to vote. If political parties were specified, that could be a fallback to help me make a decision, but in the case of judges a political affiliation is not specified in our state. So I’m VERY happy to feel more prepared than ever before to cast an informed ballot tomorrow. This preparation is also important since we have several important ballot initiatives to vote on.

If you are reading this post before you head to the polls in Oklahoma on November 6, 2018, I encourage you to download and view this PDF of my completed sample ballot, in case this can help you make some decisions prior to voting. As you’ll see if you look at my choices, I’m NOT a straight party voter. In many cases I’m voting for the person, their record and their professed agenda rather than just the political party they represent.

I was also thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this past Sunday evening #OklaEd Twitter chat, which focused on our upcoming elections and was led by Oklahoma school superintendent Rick Cobb (@grendelrick). The discussion and shared ideas from this Twitter chat especially helped me become more informed about our proposed state questions, and decide how am choosing to vote on them tomorrow. Woo hoo for democracy and voting! Our system is not perfect but it’s better than what folks have in many parts of the world… and it only works when citizens take civic responsibility seriously and participate in the process! Whatever your political persuasion, get out tomorrow / Tuesday and VOTE!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Friends Don’t Let Friends Use the Edge Web Browser (or Bing for Search)

This past week at school, I accidentally clicked a bad link while setting up a fresh installation of Windows10. This dramatically highlighted how easy it is for someone today to accidentally install malware or adware on a computer, and why friends shouldn’t let friends use the Edge Web Browser or the Bing search engine by Microsoft. By comparison, the Chrome web browser and Google’s search engine are MUCH more secure and safe. In this post, I’ll share more details from last week’s browser malware story to highlight why this exhortation is valid and important from a security perspective.

In the summer we typically re-image our school computer lab computers, and for the past two years have used the open source program Clonezilla for re-imaging our PC labs. We’re in the process of migrating to a mobile device manager (MDM) for all our faculty/staff Windows as well as MacOS computers (FileWave), but at this point legacy imaging is still working for us in our PC labs and is a more cost-effective solution than using a MDM.

After recent Windows updates, unfortunately, four of our all-in-one Dell computers in one of our labs have refused to startup, so the task fell to me last week to get some replacement computers in place for that lab. If there were more computers to setup, we might have re-imaged, but in this case it seemed more expeditious to just re-install Windows from a flash drive and then install the seven software applications which are needed in that lab. (Chrome, FireFox, Audacity, Minecraft Education Edition + Code Connection, Algodoo, and Deep Freeze.)

Once I’d finished installing Windows10 from the flash drive and setting up the initial offline admin account, I launched the Edge web browser to download and install Google Chrome. I was briefly distracted by questions from someone else in the room, and had searched for the Chrome download link in Edge using the default WindowsOS search engine, Bing. I didn’t click the top link (which is usually a paid advertisement) and thought I had clicked the correct download link from Google, but in my haste I clicked the wrong link and also clicked an acknowledgement to let the installation proceed. When I realized my error and clicked to stop the installation, the program would not cancel until it had completed and also installed an unwanted “driver restore” program. You can see that error message as well as the malware web address and error message in the screen photo above. After the installation completed, I just reinstalled Windows10 from scratch again, since it’s better in cases like these to just “blow the OS completely away” and start fresh, rather than try to remove malware manually.

While I was re-installing Windows10 again on that PC, I opened the same website on my Mac (which I had accidentally clicked on the PC) in my Google Chrome browser, and was shown a RED security warning page that declared, “Deceptive site ahead.”

Not only did the Bing web browser present this malware website near the top of its search results for Google Chrome, but it also did NOT identify the site as hosting malware. Bing (by Microsoft) provided zero warning that was a malicious site. Other websites, like “Norton Safe Web,” which are supposed to test for malicious websites, also failed to identify the site as bad. Google, however, did not fail me.

We install both the Chrome and FireFox web browsers on all our WindowsOS and MacOS computers at school, and recommend that our faculty/staff primarily use Chrome. The experience I’ve shared in this post is a specific and recent example highlighting why we recommend Chrome and do NOT encourage anyone to use the Edge browser. Security threats and malicious vulnerabilities for our computers and mobile devices continue to proliferate, and we all need to be continually vigilant. By using more secure web browsers and search engines, like the Chrome web browser and Google’s search engine, we can hopefully avoid situations like this one I had last week and stay safe online.

In addition to using a more safe and secure web browser, you also should always use the most current version of your web browser’s software. WhatBrowser.org will tell if you if you’re running the latest version, and also offer some other safe browser options. Thankfully (and predictably, since the site is owned by Google) the Microsoft Edge web browser is NOT on the list of recommended browser alternatives.

Since early 2017, Microsoft has claimed its Edge web browser is safer than Google Chrome.

Sorry Microsoft, I’m not falling for your marketing claims. Recent personal experiences are a persuasive teacher.

Friends don’t let friends use Edge.

Oh my, it’s deja vu from March 2011!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Beware of Phishing Cell Phone Calls: Don’t Share Personal Info with Strangers

Here’s an important cautionary tale for anyone with a cell phone: Beware of phishing calls. Don’t share personal information with strangers over the phone, if you can’t verify their identity and authority with absolute certainty.

Like many others, I’ve noticed a significant uptick in the past few months of spam phone calls to my cell phone. I’m not sure how folks are getting my cell phone number, but I suspect as cell phone numbers have become a de-facto identifier in recent years for data collection agencies and marketers, there are more opportunities than ever for unscrupulous folks to obtain our cell phone numbers through “officially legitimate” means. Of course hacks are on the rise too, so there are tons of data files floating around now with our “private” cell phone numbers. This is unfortunate, since cell phone numbers were never designed or intended to become identity markers, and this places us all at risk for bad things, as this excellent August 2018 article in Wired magazine highlighted.

Cell phone spam calls have become such a problem that I now rarely answer a cell phone call if it’s from someone not in my address book. For some reason this afternoon, however, I decided to answer a phone call from an unknown caller.

The woman on the line initially tried to read a script that she was calling on a recorded line, like an official credit collection agency, but stumbled around initial greetings and never read it fully. She said she was calling for payment for a local university, and needed information from me to verify my identity. She first asked for my address, and when I would not provide it asked for the last four digits of my social security number.

I asked her to explain what this charge was for, and all she could say was it was a “miscellaneous charge” from a local university. She did name the university, and since it’s in our local area we do have some connection to it, so it was slightly plausible we had an open bill with them. However, we haven’t received anything in snail mail from the university, and haven’t seen any emails. One of our daughters took a concurrent class from this university last Spring, so I asked her to check her online Bursar’s account tonight, and we don’t owe a balance. So this was, in my estimation, a confirmed instance of cell phone call phishing.

When I asked the caller today what university office I could call to verify this bill or debt, she insisted she could not provide me with any additional information until I verified my identity. I stated several times that I was not going to provide any personal information to a stranger who had made an unsolicited phone call to me. This is the most important message I’d like to share in this post. We need to not only encourage our children and students who have cell phones, but also our aging parents and friends of ANY age to be VERY wary about giving out any information over the phone to strangers.

This reminds me of one of the basic digital citizenship lessons we’ve created for our elementary students at school, which uses a short video from NetSafe about “Personal Information.” The video depicts a face-to-face stranger asking for personal information, but in my situation today, it was a stranger calling on the phone who ALMOST sounded like a legitimate debt collector, making an illegitimate request for personal information which I REFUSED. This response was both appropriate and very important for my own safety and potentially the financial safety of our family.

Online scams are on the rise and, unfortunately, are only projected to multiply in the months and years ahead as more criminals ramp up their Internet-based activities.

Conversations about “not talking to strangers” are important today not just for kids, but also for adults. “Verifying information” about you can be used to unlock a bank account, port a cell phone number, or take control of an online account like an email address or AppleID.

Stay safe and stay savvy, folks.

For more resources on these topics, check out my weekly podcast with Jason Neiffer, “The EdTech Situation Room,” and also visit our school’s Digital Citizenship resource website: DigCit.us. There are good resources there for parents and teachers, and we’ll be continuing to add to those resources in the days ahead.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Screenshot Keyboard Shortcuts

In our visual culture, communicating with images and media is an important element of literacy. Whether you are composing an email, a document to print, an image to share online, or something else, the ability to capture a SCREENSHOT from your computer or mobile device can come in handy. Here are techniques to use built-in screenshot “keyboard shortcuts” on different kinds of computer operating systems and mobile devices.

On a Mac, hold down the COMMAND, CONTROL, and SHIFT keys simultaneously and press 4. This will bring up “cross-hairs” you can use to click and drag over the region of your screen you want to capture. The screenshot will be saved as a PNG image file on your desktop. This article describes more screenshot options on MacOS.

On a Windows10 computer, hold down the WINDOWS key, SHIFT key, and press the “S” key to capture a region of your screen. The captured image is saved to your computer’s clipboard, however, so you need to paste it into the PAINT application or another image application program to save it as an image. If you’re using it with another program, however, like Google Docs or Word, you should be able to simply PASTE the image into your document. This article has more options for using keyboard shortcut combinations on Windows 10, 8 and 7 computers. Alternatively, you can use the built-in “Snipping Tool” application in WindowsOS to capture screenshots. This article explains those steps. The Snipping Tool is my preferred way to capture screenshots on Windows computers.

On a Chromebook, hold down the CONTROL and SHIFT keys while pressing the SWITCH WINDOW key at the top of the keyboard to capture a region of your screen as a screenshot. The file will save to your local downloads folder. This article provide more details and options for Chromebook screenshots.

On an iOS device (iPad / iPhone), press the POWER and HOME buttons at the same time to take a screenshot. Starting in iOS 11, the screenshot is temporarily shown as a small icon in the lower left corner of the screen, and if you tap it you can crop it and directly add annotations. Save the screenshot when finished to your Photo Roll. This support article from Apple provides more details.

Screenshots can be taken on many Android phones by holding down the POWER button and the VOLUME DOWN button, but handset manufacturers have customized this in some cases. This article provides specific steps for taking screenshots on different Android models.

Screenshot by Krisada from the Noun Project

Screenshot by Krisada from the Noun Project

Image attribution: Krisada, TH on The Noun Project

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Lessons Learned with Website eBook eCommerce Continue (August 2018)

About 4 years ago, inspired by a local writer’s conference, I created a WordPress-powered website to independently sell digital copies of my books as well as offer a subscription-based video library of instructional how-to videos. I haven’t given that project much attention or “care and feeding” in awhile, since I transitioned to a new job role at a new school and have (overall) focused less on my secondary consulting work. Clearly I need to do a better job checking my personal email…

This evening I discovered that last summer, my eCommerce plugin (iThemes Exchange) was being rebooted as ExchangeWP. That transition didn’t work out, however, so now the plugin is now being developed as an open source project by Ninja Shop. There are not too many folks running this, as the official plugin repository on WordPress.org shows it has less than 10 current installations.

I’ve contacted Ninja Shop to see what my migration options are.

AJ, who was a co-founder of the now defunct ExchangeWP, recommended the following alternatives for WordPress-based eCommerce in a May 2018 email:

  1. WooCommerce is the biggest and best eCommerce solution when keeping it within WordPress.
  2. Easy Digital Downloads is another.
  3. If you are looking at doing something small, you could always look at WP Simple Pay, or even Gumroad.

I do like the idea of continuing to run and build my own subscription-based video library, and hope to do this with WordPress since it’s the content management and website publication platform with which I’m most familiar. This is a cautionary tale, however, of how important it is to regularly monitor and manage any eCommerce-related websites you operate, as well as consider the risks of having to migrate your website and eStore in the event a plug-in developer (or more than one, in this case) decide to go other directions.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to migrate an online eStore for eBooks and digital content, however. My first foray into this arena was in 2011, following the publication of my first book, “Playing with Media: Simple Ideas for Powerful Sharing.”  After doing my research, I setup eCommerce digital sales on my website(s) using E-junkie, and it worked really well. I don’t have those statistics in front of me now, but as I recall I had over $10,000 of gross eBook sales in the 2-3 years I used the site. Those were the “early days” of enhanced eBooks for the iPad, and it was tricky (i.e. a multi-step process) to help a customer download an eBook outside of the official iBooks Store or the Kindle eStore and open it on their iPad. I eventually stopped using E-Junkie because my sales volume went down, and it didn’t seem worth it to pay a monthly subscription. I saw the iThemes Exchange plugin as a WordPress resource I could license along with other helpful plug-ins on an annual basis, and avoid monthly eCommerce subscription fees.

If you’d like to read more posts about these past experiences, search my blog for “E-Junkie.” Some of the posts worth perusing on this subject include:

  1. 5 Advantages and 5 Disadvantages to Consider Selling an eBook on Your Own Website (Jan 2013)
  2. Options for Distributing a FREE eBook: Amazon, Apple, Smashwords and More (Nov 2013)
  3. Lessons Learned Publishing to Lulu, Amazon and the Apple iBookStore (July 2014)
  4. Introducing the PlayingWithMedia.com Video Library (Nov 2014)
  5. Add Kindle MOBI eBook to WordPress Online Store (Nov 2014)

The October 2015 conference presentation which further inspired me to continue a subscription-based video library, “Selling Well for Non-Fiction Writers by Chris Maselli,” is also worth reading. You can follow Chris on Twitter @cpnm and online at WritingMomentum.com.

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Glimpse the Future with Amy Webb @amywebb (Thanks @TWiT)

The last couple days I’ve been listening to the latest TWiT podcast, hosted by Leo LaPorte (@leolaporte) and featuring guests Amy Webb (@amywebb) and Greg Ferro (@etherealmind). Wow have I ever loved their conversation and the insights they shared on a variety of topics including AI, the ascendency of China, Amazon, EU anti-trust law, and more! I highly recommend this show to you. In this post, I’ll share a few of those insights to (hopefully) clarify my own thinking and encourage you to delve more into these issues and referenced resources.

First, if you are not already, follow Amy Webb (@amywebb) on Twitter. I’ve just purchased her book, “The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream,” and can’t wait to immerse myself in more of her thinking and informed vision of the future. Her next book, which she briefly mentioned on this TWiT podcast episode, is about AI and the 9 companies which are vying to control it globally. That book (which has not even been released yet) is already banned in China (via the rights purchaser who is blocking its sale and distribution) and that fact alone ought to get everyone’s attention. Amy has the pulse of a great deal that matters in our society and with technology, and is a voice anyone with an eye to our collective future should listen to.

Dean Shareski (@shareski) posted a thought-provoking article recently (“Flogging the Dead Horse of RSS”) which brings to mind a question related to the ideas in this TWiT podcast: How did I serendipitously come to find and listen to this show?

The answer is I’m subscribed to the TWiT podcast, along with about 100 other podcasts, using my favorite podcatcher app on my smartphone, PocketCasts (@pocketcasts). I also now love being able to ask one of the Google Home Minis in our house, “Hey Google, play the latest episode of the This Week in Tech podcast,” and have it immediately start playing. Virtually “discovering” or encountering Amy Webb isn’t an act of random serendipity for me, it’s rather the result of intentional and deliberately plotted serendipity. I love to highlight this strategy and others in a conference breakout session I usually title simply, “Discovering Useful Ideas.”

In this podcast, Amy Webb is unequivocal that China is the ascendent nation on our planet, and will be the dominant force economically, politically and culturally in the 21st century. This is a prediction I’ve glimpsed myself in four visits to mainland China dating back to 2007, and as I consider the academic choices of our youngest daughter in high school (whether to continue studying French or to switch over to Chinese) as well as our future / prospective schools to work in as professional educators, this gives me pause. If your school is not offering Chinese as a language choice today in 2018, it should be and that needs to change. If you or your child has an opportunity to study Chinese and potentially become fluent in the Chinese language, definitely give it a try. If you or those you counsel / advise have the opportunity to live, study, and/or work, or at least travel in China, DO IT. Of course ours is a big world, and there are many of pathways to a satisfying and “successful” life which do not involve the Chinese language or China, but increasingly our lives as a globalized society will intersect more. This also makes me consider the importance of translating the books “I have inside me” and want to write and publish in the years ahead into Chinese.

I also found Amy’s points in this TWiT podcast about the short-term thinking (generally) of U.S. society, businesses and government leaders relative to other nations and regions of our planet very provocative and important. I think it is common today for many in the United States to take our global position as economic and hegemonic leader for granted, and assume our status quo will be maintained into the future. This isn’t a safe assumption and warrants reconsideration on multiple levels.

One of the blog posts which I’ve been thinking about writing for several months now would address things I’ll likely term, “Our Grand Challenges.” As a society in the United States and more broadly on our planet, we’ve got some important things to figure out and change.

  1. How are we going to provide for the health and medical needs of ALL our citizens? (Hint: It’s not by continuing to let insurance and pharmaceutical companies write the legislation which becomes our laws.)
  2. How are we going to fundamentally change our political culture, so elected officials in Washington D.C. don’t have to spend most of their time fundraising and pandering to wealthy donors, and instead can learn about issues, listen to each other, and seek political compromises on a wide variety of important issues?
  3. How are we going to change our behavior to sustainably care for and “serve as stewards” of our planet, rather promote the short-term interests of corporations and investors?
  4. How are we going to manage our information and media landscape, so the voices of extremists and actions of “bad actors” do not dominate our collective attention and exercise such out-of-balance influence over our shared political agendas?

I could go on (and likely will when I finally write that post), but I’ll stop and note that Amy’s analysis in this TWiT podcast got me thinking even more about the importance of LONG TERM thinking and strategies for our society and institutions. We need more long term and “long game” thinkers and leaders. This can and should start and be fueled by conversations in our classrooms tomorrow.

Finally, Amy’s commentary in this TWiT podcast got me thinking (as I often do) about the importance of understanding technology, understanding code, and embracing rather than fearing the challenges as well as opportunities which are presented to us today in 2018. I’m reminded of Virginia Postrel’s (@vpostrel) outstanding 2011 book, “The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress.”

We need more “dynamists” (rather than “statists”) in our communities and households, as well as more informed optimists like Amy Webb. I won’t pretend to have a picture perfect view of the future through my own metaphorical palantir, but I definitely feel like I’m seeing further than I could before after listening to Amy. I’ve added her to my Twitter list of “yodas” I follow via Flipboard. You should too!

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?

Understanding the Weaponization of News Media with danah boyd

We live in dynamic times, and it can be extremely valuable as well as thought provoking to have an opportunity to listen to an insightful scholar share analysis about our evolving information landscape. This evening, thanks to a tweet from Jackie Gerstein, I watched an hour long lecture presented by danah boyd (@zephoria) recently in Detroit focusing on “The Future of Information.” To understand our present and future, danah related (among other things) stories of how troll culture has emerged and become a significant part of our media environment which confuses many and leaves people wondering who to trust.

Among her many provocative points and stories, I found danah’s exhortation for us to consider how we can “re-network our society” timely and important. We seem, often, to feel “distanced and distracted,” and mainstream media feeds into these emotions as they emphasize spectacle and stories which tend to divide rather than unite us as human beings. We need to find more ways to connect, both face-to-face and online, with others and (in danah’s words) “hold them.”

I also found danah’s assertion that “trust comes from experience” important. She said if people do not know someone personally involved in the production of the news today, they are much less likely to trust the news. The same thing goes for politics in government: If you do not personally know someone in government, you’re unlikely to trust government. She cited a quotation from George Washington, when he said democracy can’t survive if elected officials represent more than 30,000 people. Today, of of course, many represent far more.

I compare the informed and fast paced analysis of danah, along with her storytelling and anecdote sharing style, with Clay Shirky, author of one of my favorite books from 2008, “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.” His presentation at Harvard from March 2008 on key ideas from that book remains one of my favorites of all time.

danah’s recent talk in Detroit is helpful because it stitches together names and events which demonstrate how fringe Internet society (4chan, for example) has been amplified by conspiracy theorists, who have gamified SEO (search engine optimization) on Google and other search engines, and also hijacked mainstream media coverage in multiple circumstances through social media. She talked about how many people (including many youth today) are “destabilized,” and the ways in which extremist groups are using the Internet and social media to “take these destabilized people down rabbit holes” and radicalize them. Yes we have state actors like Russia acting to sow discord, division, and mistrust in our U.S. society, but we also have other groups who have seized the digital reins of the keyboard to powerfully alter and shift individual as well as public perception of events and “truth” writ large.

danah also highlighted the important ethical choices of media agencies in covering the news and events, like the suicides of famous people. Somehow (and I’m not sure if this is possible) we need our news media to embrace again ethical standards on this issue and others. See ReportingOnSuicide.org for more.

I highly commend this lecture by danah boyd to you. I look forward to reading and learning more from her in the weeks and months ahead, as I seek to better understand our information landscape and the roles we can play as educators, parents, community leaders, and netizens to constructively shape it.

danah boyd by Joi, on Flickr
danah boyd” (CC BY 2.0) by Joi

If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, consider subscribing to Wes’ free, weekly newsletter. Generally Wes shares a new edition on Monday mornings, and it includes a TIP, a TOOL, a TEXT (article to read) and a TUTORIAL video. You can also check out past editions of Wes’ newsletter online free!


Did you know Wes has published several eBooks and “eBook singles?” 1 of them is available free! Check them out! Also visit Wes’ subscription-based tutorial VIDEO library supporting technology integrating teachers worldwide!

MORE WAYS TO LEARN WITH WES: Do you use a smartphone or tablet? Subscribe to Wes’ free magazine “iReading” on Flipboard! Follow Dr. Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also “like” Wes’ Facebook page for “Speed of Creativity Learning“. Don’t miss Wesley’s latest technology integration project, “Show With Media: What Do You Want to CREATE Today?