The Power of Zero

A few weeks ago I was training new staff on various pieces of technology we use in our organization. Being a huge supporter of GSuite tools, one of the first things I show them is how to navigate the GMail web interface. Using my own account during the demo, someone in the room piped up, “You really don’t have any messages in your inbox?”

This sent me down a path explaining the theory (or to some, myth), of the magical land known as Inbox Zero. A quick Google search of the term defines Inbox Zero as the following:

Inbox Zero is a rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty — at all times.

The same article attributes this technique to Merlin Mann. If you have the time I highly suggest watching Merlin’s Google Tech Talk on the subject. It’s a powerful technique, that keeps your psyche free for higher level thinking. Not to mention, it’s far more efficient than reading, then re-reading an email multiple times while you try to figure out what to do.

I once heard someone make the analogy comparing your email inbox to your physical mailbox. They noted how unusual it would be to go out to the curbside, open your mailbox, start sifting through letters, opening some, shoving others back in the box, and then returning to the house with only a few. Yet many of us do exactly that with regards to our email. For our postal mail, most of us typically process that in some fashion or another. I start by bringing it all into the house, then I might quickly discard some things into the trash, open others and sort into things that need action, like paying a bill, or others I may read immediately, or possibly sort it into another pile to be read later.

The same processing could, and should, be applied to our digital mail as well. When a message comes in we need to decide what to do with it. A popular method for this process is called the Four D’s – Delete it, Do it, Delegate it, or Defer it. This is a simple way to quickly plow through that bloated inbox and get it down to something more manageable.

Keeping your inbox clean is a liberating feeling. I admit that there are days when this is just not possible. Life happens and we have to respond. But the sooner we can wade through our email (pun fully intended), the sooner we can get back to being productive.

Radar Love

I am a big fan of digital signage, and my hardware and software of choice to deliver this is a Chromebit and Rise Vision, respectively. These are a powerful combination to bring displays to life in your organization.

One of the components most people want to incorporate into their signage is some basic weather information. There are scads of widgets for current conditions and forecasts. However, finding a customizable radar loop is a little more challenging.

For years my go-to choice for this was Weather Underground’s Full Screen Weather. It was great! Was…great…until they changed it. After a seemingly minor update it would no longer remember your location, zoom level, or other preferences if you embedded the map’s URL. I struggled for a long time to find a viable alternative, until today when I discovered a different way to embed weather radar!

This method still utilizes Weather Underground to deliver our content, but it leverages Nexrad radar images. These are not as elegant as the ones I had previously used, but they are still very functional and allow a number of customizations.

Here’s how to get started:

  1. Go to www.wunderground.com
  2. Type in your City & State in the search bar
  3. Then find the link for Nexrad radar
  4. Choose your options, zoom level, and animated frame rate (I found that 18 frames is close to a 1-hour loop)
  5. Click on Save Image (this opens a new tab)
  6. Copy that URL and use it to embed a real-time radar loop!

For example, the image you see below is embedded using this code:

<img src="https://radblast.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/radar/WUNIDS_map?station=UEX&amp;brand=wui&amp;num=18&amp;delay=15&amp;type=N0R&amp;frame=0&amp;scale=0.3130434782608696&amp;noclutter=1&amp;showstorms=0&amp;mapx=400&amp;mapy=240&amp;centerx=652.3611111111111&amp;centery=319.8611111111111&amp;transx=252.3611111111111&amp;transy=79.86111111111109&amp;showlabels=1&amp;severe=0&amp;rainsnow=1&amp;lightning=Hide&amp;smooth=1&amp;rand=24970480&amp;lat=40.43999863&amp;lon=-99.37000275&amp;label=Holdrege%2C NE" />

Georgia On My Mind

Earlier this December a group of us from ESU 11 had the privilege to present at the AESA (Association of Educational Service Agencies) annual conference in Savannah, Georgia. This was the second time I’ve presented at AESA so it was nice to make a return at the national level.

Our team presented on ESU 11’s implementation of Professional Learning Communities which began in the fall of 2015. Our presentation went great and I’m proud of my colleagues for the outstanding job they did.

One of the most enjoyable parts of preparing for this presentation was drafting the title and description for our session proposal. I’m a huge fan of coming up with something creative and clever to intrigue conference attendees and lure them into our session. Plus, if you can get a chuckle out of the folks who review session proposals it drastically increases your odds of being accepted to present!

The theme of this year’s AESA conference was “The Future Depends on Their Future”. Naturally, our first inclination was “How can we incorporate Back to the Future into this?” Ergo the title of our session ended up being “Roads…Where Our PLCs Are Going We Don’t Need Roads”. Then we sprinkled in a handful of other quotes and movie references in the description to bring it all together. Of course our presentation was filled with loads of useful content, but we like to have fun too!

All in all it was a great conference. We had a chance to meet and visit with folks from other service agencies across the country. It’s great to hear the work others are doing and learn how we can improve our own organization. The southern cuisine was pretty good too!

The Crazy Switch

Every year there is a magical time toward the end of July or beginning of August during which the phenomenon occurs I like to call, “The Crazy Switch” day. While not an officially recognized holiday due to its inherent fluctuation from year to year, it’s one most of us in educational technology experience. It’s that one particular day when enough teachers and staff are back in the district(s) and it seems like a tidal wave of emails, phone calls, and other random requests come flooding in.

No matter how valiant the effort or advanced preparations taken, we all become engulfed by this wave and feel overcome with angst and sometimes frustration. For ESU technology staff our crazy switch is usually flipped a week or two earlier than our school-based counterparts. At ESU 11 I called it as being July 19 this year, which always seems to creep up by a few days each year.

But we work in education, so we have summers off, right? I have often said that we spend nine months planning so we can cram an entire year’s worth of projects in over the summer!

Learning the Phonetic Alphabet

One of my goals for this year was to commit the phonetic alphabet to memory. You know, when you’re spelling out a word and you say stuff like “C as in Charlie”. Yeah, that’s the phonetic alphabet. However, I found myself increasingly having difficulty coming up with names, and awkward pauses would ensue while my brain was churning to come up with a word.

Alas, I have learned the true NATO version of the phonetic alphabet. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I would say if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right! Not only is this an incredibly effective way to rattle off serial numbers to some unknown tech support person, but it really seems to command authority, as if you were authenticating a nuclear missile launch. I find that this technique will often get you past the first level support asking if you’ve tried rebooting the device. They know you’re not messing around when you’re calling in a level three strike on that failed hard drive.

Within a matter of a couple days reciting I had it down pat. Thanks to my wife for putting up with me that first night while she verified my accuracy. I quizzed her as well to see if she was retaining any of this high-quality intel.

Here’s a quiz for you. I once had a colleague refer to a malfunctioning router as “Tango Uniform”. Now the phrase is a common part of my equipment diagnosis vocabulary. I’ll let you think that one over. Until next time, this is Whiskey Golf, over and out.