Friday, August 14, 2020

Mark Reviews Chromebook Piano & Drum Apps for Music Teachers

I try to share some of the most comprehensive tips and recommendations I write up for teachers here. This is one of the most recent. When asked what is out there for music teachers to use with students on Chromebooks, particularly if those students are learning at home, I had to start from scratch. Knowing very little about what was available, I just started with the Piano apps available for Chromebooks, extended it to Android, and then added Web apps that work in the browser, as well. 

The music teacher who contacted me about this also wanted to know what was available in the way of drums and drum kits. So I added that as well. Below, you will find a section for each. If you know of additional web tools or apps that may be good for elementary music teachers (with an emphasis on free), please add your comments and recommendations below.

Piano Apps Reviewed:

Notes: Installs as a Google Chrome extension and (by default) becomes your Default New Tab page in Chrome, although there is a large Default Chrome Tab button in the top right that can then be tapped to restore the default New Tab page. 
  • This is about as basic as it gets, but Chrome Piano does have what students need: Key Assist, Record, Stop, Play, a Music Sheet button with a lengthy drop-down list of songs that can be played (and the keys highlight when the songs are played), and there is a Tips button to get students started. 
Pros: Its best Pro is also its primary Con: this is very basic. It runs in the web browser as a Chrome Extension (the only one on this list), but it has all of the basic features without any ads
  • Students will be playing the piano in minutes, and recording themselves playing. The basic features all all here, without any ads, and that is extremely rare for any free piano.  
  • Key Assist (labeled keys) can be toggled on or off. 
  • The Music Sheet button at the right is a huge plus, as it gives students a lengthy list of songs to play (anywhere from Beethoven to Beyonce, and Franz Schubert to Forrest Gump. It not only plays these songs on the keyboard, but it also includes the notes in a large text box, so students can follow along with the notes or with the highlighted keys. There is a Play Song and Stop Song button.
Cons: A few minor drawbacks include:
  • It takes a bit of getting used to when first recording. First, you need to tap Record to engage the Recording feature, and then tap Record again to stop recording. Then, the Play and Stop buttons become engaged - for playback and stopping. Once that is mastered, the rest is pretty easy. 
  • Make sure students remember that the piano cannot be played manually by them unless the purple button says Turn Off. If nothing happens, students will need to tap Turn On. This makes sure the piano knows whether it is playing a song from the Music Selections, or being played (and recorded) by students. 
Overall: Simpler is better - in this case. This Chrome Extension piano is usable and easy to learn how to use. Best of all, it has no ads to distract students. Every button does something useful, and it is a full-sized piano keyboard. Recommended. Replacing your New Tab button in Chrome can be turned off with the click of a button. Its default setup also has a Google Search field built-in, so you can use this new tab to search Google as well as play the piano. 

Notes: Installs as a Google Drive add-on, so you can get it to by opening Google Drive and then clicking New>>More and scroll way down to Virtual Piano Black. 
  • You can also open the Virtual Piano Keyboard by bookmarking this site: virtualkeyboard.nsspot.net
  • Notes are saved as Input Codes to the text box below the keyboard. 
  • Notes can also be copied, pasted and erased, and spaces can be added. 
  • There is also an Old Flash version which transforms the piano into an electronic keyboard with various virtual buttons for organ, saxophone, flute, pan pipes, strings, guitar, steel drums, and double bass. The Flash version worked on the Chromebooks when tested, and you can revert back to the Virtual Piano by changing flash=yes to flash=no in the Address Bar above. 
Pros: This piano sounds great and has the option for students to record what they play, and then play it back - using the Record and Play buttons below the keyboard. 
  • Key Assist can be turned On, which gives the keys numerical values.
  • The recording feature is turned on by toggling Recorder/Input Sample On. Toggling it Off makes the recording feature below disappear. 
  • This piano can be played by tapping the keys with the touch-pad, by using the individual Chromebook keys which correspond with the piano key numbers (when Key assist is On), and also by using the Chromebook's touchscreen feature. 
  • There are hundreds of songs in the list.  All you have to do is type the letters from the song and students can be playing piano right away.
Cons: There is a large banner ad and some smaller button ads just above the keyboard which might be accidentally clicked by students. 
  • Additional ads are also found below the keyboard.
  • The keys are somewhat small on the screen and may need to be zoomed-in by students when using the touchscreen feature. 
Overall: It's nice that this is a Google Drive add-on (the only one on the list) and works well and sounds great on Chromebooks. The large banner ad at the top and some smaller ads at the bottom could be a potential problem for some students. 

Songtive Web Piano (aka: Piano for Chrome):  
Notes: This is a Chrome app, which means it is a website. So it works by simply bookmarking the website and returning each day. A few songs are featured at the right. Anything played on the colorfully-labeled keys can be recorded, saved, and played back. When students click on the Save button, they will need to click the Join with Google button to sign in. This creates an account for them on songtive.com where their saved music can be stored. This web app has been around since 2016 and still works. 
Pros: 
  • This is a simple, realistic Web Piano that works on Chromebooks and doesn't require any plugins to be installed. 
  • Keys are labeled - to help students practice piano chords and scales using their keyboard.
  • Songs can be saved into the Songtive web project site (songtive.com) to share with the world. The developer can be contacted by email.
  • Upon further look, there is also a small menu in the top left with +New and Tools buttons. These buttons add advanced features such as a programmable Drumset with programmable, editable sections and sounds (just click the Edit button when Drumset is launched). Additional "tools" include Virtual Piano, Web Tuner, Piano Chord Chart, and Guitar Chords. 
  • Keys can be displayed in 1 Row, 2 Rows, and labels shown or hidden. The Instrument sound can also be switched between Piano, Xylophone, Acoustic Guitar, Cello, and Flute. 
Cons:
  • Not as pretty or deeply customizable as the other apps, and the colorfully-labeled keys could be distracting or confusing for some students, but these labels can be Hidden by tapping the Hide button at the top.  
  • Social media buttons and a printer button at the left could be distracting, along with the large green "Download Now" button at the right. Students will need to avoid these.
Overall: Deceivingly simple but quite useful for Chromebooks, particularly if you don't want the fuss of installing an Android app. This is strictly web-based, which is a big positive. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • The only ad is found along the very bottom, so that is a plus. And this is one of the most realistic-sound pianos in this list.
  • The top of the interface is rather cluttered (for some users) yet it gives a ton of features and settings all in one place, without having to search through multiple menus. Because of this, it makes the buttons/controls rather small to the touch. 
Pros: Only one ad, and it runs along the very bottom. 
  • There are tiny buttons to control the Key Size (important with 88 keys!).
  • The keyboard can be heightened/extended with a tiny up-arrow to virtually eliminate either of the two toolbars on top. 
  • There are also buttons for Piano, Flute, Organ, and Guitar sound modes. 
  • A Music Control drop-down menu has about seven songs that can be listened to, but the keys are not highlighted when the song plays. Tap the Play or Pause button to start and stop these songs.
  • There is also a Record List which flies out and shows what has been recorded. Tap the Record List button again to make this disappear. 
Cons: Clutter is the biggest problem with this app. So many tiny buttons! But if you like your controls all in one place - instead of hidden in multiple menus - this is the best alternative option. 
  • Tapping some of the options, such as playing songs from the Music Control or bringing up the Record List brings up a full-screen advertisement the first time, and that can be annoying. 
Overall: One of the better free Android pianos overall. It is a beautiful-sounding piano with a pretty intimidating and cluttered interface (at first), but once you get used to having all of the controls in one place, it is a pretty nice, powerful piano app. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This is an extremely powerful piano app for Android. When it first opens, there are the following choices: Multiplayer Game, Multiplayer Connect, Records Manager, Piano Circle, Learn to Play, and, finally, Keyboard. If students just go directly to Keyboard, it is quite powerful and easy to use. However, choosing any of the other options will yield far too many distractions, connecting to game servers, enabling video ads, and other unwanted potential messes. 
Pros: The Keyboard does allow recording, with a red Record button at the top. You can also choose to show the labels on the keys or not. 
  • There is a menu at the right for Reverb, Sustain Control; and there is a button at the top that will transform the piano into an Organ, MusicBox, Synth, Rhodes, Bright, and other piano types. 
  • There is also a Metronome button in the top left (next to the Record button). 
  • Record mode can choose between recording in MIDI or from the MIC, and then save the file to your Chromebook or Google Drive. 
  • Students can also use the little arrow buttons to scroll back and forth, focusing on different parts of the piano's keyboard. 
  • When choosing the Learn to Play option, it brings up various pre-loaded songs that can be played with varying choices in difficulty, and saved as Favorites.
Cons: 
  • As long as students stay in Keyboard mode only, this could be a useful app. But if they choose other options than Keyboard, that is where the annoying advertisement trouble lies. 
  • Choosing Multiplayer Game or Multiplayer Connect requires the user to choose from one of two Game Servers. Exiting out of this mode often loads at least one video ad which is not kid-friendly. 
Overall: It is difficult to avoid the full-screen ads in this app; however, the Keyboard mode is quite good and useful. Just avoid using any of the game or multiplayer features - and stay out of trouble. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This app also has ads, but the ad is found only at the very top middle, and it doesn't disrupt the use of the piano. It is probably the easiest piano app to figure out right away, and quite powerful, too. 
Pros: This keyboard lets you record by touching or clicking on the circle button in the top left, and stop recording by pressing the same button again.  
  • When recording (using either the circle or the microphone), there is a timer that runs at the right, telling you how long you've been recording. 
  • Recorded files can be saved as Sample, Track or MIDI. 
  • There is also a mode button which emulates a Grand, Organ, Violin, Synth, Sax, Electric keyboard, Bass, Guitar, Harp, Rhodes, and Harp. 
Cons: 
  • Very few cons with this piano, due to only having one smallish ad in the top middle, above the keyboard itself. 
  • Once switching sound modes, choose Home to return to the default piano mode. 
Overall: This piano doesn't sound as good as some of the others, and you can easily end up with weird-sounding choices, like Synth and Bass, but it's easy to figure out. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • For a 6-minute video tutorial showing all of the features, click here
Pros: The menu at the left allows users to change the keyboard size in both length and width. The Settings cog has various Piano modes: Practice, Perform, Double Classic, Double Mirror and Sheet Music.
  • Also in the Settings is a Magic Piano setting where any key pressed shows the correct note. You can also listen to the song when you select it in the song list. 
  • The Vibration of the keys is turned On by default (and pressure can be increased/decreased), but can also be turned off with a slider in the Settings. 
  • Song Book is a featured revealed by tapping the hidden toolbar arrow at the top.
Cons: 
  • Students should be discouraged not to tap any buttons other than the Menu and the Record/Play/Stop/Settings buttons in the top right corner, and leave the toolbar open. Otherwise, closing the toolbar brings up a floating ad in the top right corner. 
  • The biggest complaint about this app is that it is overly feature-packed and actually overly customizable.
Overall: Kids could spend more time playing with the settings of this app than actually using it, but as a teaching tool, it would definitely serve the purpose. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • A big drawback right away is that it asks the student to log in (an I'm New Here button) with an Email address or Log in with Facebook. This is probably a deal-breaker right away. Then, when/if you get past that point, it asks What kind of things can you play? Nothing yet, some basics, lots of songs, or almost anything... It then asks if you have a piano to practice with: Yes or No. Then there is a free trial. 
Pros: Lots of great reviews, but the trouble of getting past the initial prompts make it too much trouble to use in class. 
  • As a teaching tool, this would be wonderful, and maybe even your best bet overall. But at the recommended 12-month plan at $11.99-13.99/mo. price, No. Move on. 
Cons: Skip this one for in-class learning. It is a great teaching tool but meant for more of a long-term piano class scenario. 
  • Initial prompts require students to sign in with Facebook or an email. Then it is very much like a piano tutor and works as a pay service. 
Overall: Not recommended, due to the multiple prompts just getting started, and the fact that it is basically a pay service. 


 
Drum Apps Reviewed:

Notes: This might be the best option for Chromebooks. It has links to Drum Games, Drum Lessons, Advanced Lessons, and Drum Sheet Music. 
  • Just avoid the ads at the top of the page. 9 Exercise buttons are found below the drum kit which take students through various drumming routines.  
Pros: What makes this stand out is its many free drum games for kids and virtual drummers to play with a real-life-looking live drum set.
  • The Drum Games, Drum Lessons, and Advanced Lessons are pretty good, but the Drum Sheet Music must be downloaded individually, which is not recommended on Chromebooks. 
Cons: If students can avoid the multitude of ad buttons at the top and middle of the page (both above and below the drum kit), this is a worthwhile web tool. 
Overall: The ability to play drums online on any device is simply great. Just make sure that students avoid the sponsored searches, which look like they are part of the app. For example, there are small buttons directly under the drum kit which say "play drums," "heavy metal," "drums music," "drum keyboard," and more. These are deceiving and should be avoided at all costs. 

REAL DRUM: Electronic Drum Set 
Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • This app is all about learning how to drum. There are quick YouTube videos which load (ads included) and show how to use a drum kit. Lessons are also included which highlight the correct drum to tap at the right time. The drums sound very realistic, and the kit can be re-arranged with the tap of a Refresh button at the top. Everything can also be recorded and played back. 
Pros: 
  • Tapping on the various Drumset button on the toolbar brings up various Kits to choose from, depending on music genre interest. Each is followed by an ad. 
  • Tapping the blue Play button brings up various Loops which play in the background while the student drums along. 
  • Other tabs in addition to Loops are Recordings, Lessons, Songs, and Metronome. Recordings are anything the student has recorded with the red Record button.
  • Lessons are where the drums are highlighted, the student watches first, and then taps the highlighted drum or cymbal from the lesson, so it is Watch and Play format. 
Cons: The problem is the ads. Ads (mostly full-screen) pop up after almost every button is selected. 
  • After a student taps the red Record button to stop recording, a full-screen advertisement loads. Then, the student has to locate the X button in the top right corner to close it, and remember where he/she left off. 
  • There is also a rather large ad in the top right corner of the toolbar, but most students will probably ignore it because they're too busy drumming. 
Overall: The ads that load wouldn't be such a problem, except that they load at the most inopportune times. Mostly when ever an important button is tapped, such as "Stop Recording," playing a lesson or loop, and when loading a different drum kit. Impatient students will find this annoying and frustrating. Just imagine how great the pay version of this app would be (without the ads). 

Notes: This is a Chrome app found at the link above - with very few ads at all, and that is a huge plus. But no more new features will be added to this edition. The Web App, which is also free and compatible with Chromebooks, is found at drumbit.app and it does have some fairly large apps on its left and right sides. 
  • What makes this app different from the rest is that it does not emulate a drum kit at all, but is more of a programming interface, allowing students to plug in cells or squares into a large waffle-looking interface.
  • No actual drums are seen. But students can create their own drumming routines and then save them, play them back, and add to them later. Files are saved in the JSON File Format, which can be read outside of a Chromebook and played back within this web app. 
Pros: Features include 6 demos, 7 room effects, the ability to save as a WAV file, copy/paste between patterns, volume control for each track, and the ability to change the pitch of the sample. 
Cons: Some students simply will not enjoy using a drumming app where you cannot actually see the drums. 
  • Those who like to learn programming and who are creative types will appreciate it and its ability save what they create, but there will be a learning curve to deal with otherwise. 
Overall: This is a tough one to call. It doesn't have the ads which plague most of the Drum apps, but having to manually choose which tom, crash, Hihat, snare and kick does what, and at what time, will be daunting for many students. The various Demos (from the drop-down menu) are helpful though. and quickly show how this works. The various room changes and effects are also pretty cool. 

Notes: Installs as an Android app from the Google Play Store. 
  • The default drum kit that loads is only the "Classic" version. Then, each additional set of drums (Hip-Hop, Electro, and Metal) require separate apps to be installed. It is nice to be able to move the drums around (with the tap of a toolbar button), but full-page ads load at various times and have to be closed manually to return. 
Pros: The drums are movable, so students can configure their own kit in various ways. 
  • There is an MP3 button that allows students to record, save and play, so it is also an MP3 player that can play external music files stored on Google Drive or on the Chromebook's hard drive. 
  • The app is optimized for screens of any size, so it can also be used on Android tablets and phones. 
  • Has the ability to not only play, but also to save, play, and loop the playback of your tracks. This would allow a user to play other instruments along with the drum kit.
  • Menus are hidden and so are the ads when doing the drumming. The app has a very realistic look to it. 
Cons: 
  • Another nice app that is bogged down with annoying full-page ads at inopportune times when tapping essential buttons. 
  • Many users have reported a delay, which might make it difficult to play with others.  
Overall: See comment above. Without the ads, this would be a great app. Menus are hidden, which is a plus, but after tapping buttons, they come up full-screen and must be manually closed. It looks and sounds good though.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Combining Multiple Google Forms Results into a Single Spreadsheet with Separate Tabs

It is possible to create multiple Google Forms and have them all feed into the same spreadsheet. What makes this technique useful is that you can have different groups of users filling out different forms in different locations, and all of these results can go into the same spreadsheet, but the results will be automatically filtered into the correct tab at the bottom. I say "automatically," but first you will need to set up the form(s) to know where to go. 

I created the video tutorial below because I know I will be referring to it for various scenarios, which include:
  • Teachers who want to give out a copy of the same Quiz in Google Forms to multiple classes but have the results feed into the same Google Sheet.
  • Technology trainers (or any trainers) who provide classes during the year and want to keep a record of all class lists in the same spreadsheet. Using a Google Form for each class session, all of the class lists can feed into the same master spreadsheet.
  • Band directors who send out a form to multiple schools and want the results to be sorted by tab according to which school the students are coming from.
  • High schools receiving students from multiple feeder schools. Each Google Form they fill out can be sent to a specific tab in a Google Sheet.
  • Middle schools receiving students from multiple feeder elementary schools. Each Google Form that students (or parents) fill out can be sent to a specific tab in a Google Form. 
  • Any other groups in which you want to receive data from Google Forms and have that data sorted by specific groups into separate tabs at the bottom of a Google Sheet.
Any time you have multiple groups of people filling out essentially the same Google Form and you want to centralize that data into one spreadsheet, this technique is very helpful in keeping that data in one place. This video shows the process in which to set up the forms and have them feed into specific tabs within the same spreadsheet:  

How to Place Text on Top of a Picture or a Picture Behind Text in Google Docs: The Workarounds

Here is a common question from a Google Docs user: So here's the deal...I would like to insert a picture into a Google Doc. I would like the picture to be behind the text. I looked up online for an answer, and found that I must:

Insert the picture as a drawing.

Add a text box to the drawing and insert the text.

This seems very cumbersome...Any thoughts?


Great question. Unfortunately, you have hit on one of Google Docs' biggest flaws/limitations. It has no "Behind Text" text wrapping feature. Microsoft Word does have this feature though (see my screenshot below). I'm not sure what you are creating, so I'm not sure if it is something you could do in Microsoft Word instead. Also, many peple out there simply don't have a full-blown licensed version of Microsoft Word.

What I did below was to insert a photo and then type some text, click on the Text Wrapping button, and then chose Behind text. Then, I used the Windows Snipping Tool (found in nearly every version of Microsoft Windows), and I "snipped" the image below, chose Copy and then Pasted it into the Google Doc. So, you'd be bringing it from Word into the Google Doc. This would work also. Again, it's a bit cumbersome.  I have a few other ways, also (see below). 

You mentioned using Google Drawings to Insert a Drawing and adding a Text Box within Google Drawings. This would also work, and it would be easy to add the drawing to your Google Doc. Just click Insert>>Drawing, add the photo and text box in Drawings, and pop it into your Doc. So that's another method, because Google Docs does not have the ability to add a text box itself, it must use Drawings for this feature. 

Maybe the best way overall would be to use Google Slides because it does have an Insert>>Text Box option. Just one more way in which Google Slides is far more versatile and powerful than Google Docs. If you used Slides, you could position the text box on top of the image and then position the image within the slide. The slide could also be re-sized similar to a typical Doc layout by going to File>>Page Setup and choosing Standard 4x3 from the drop-down menu. It would be easier to drag the photo so that it fills the entire slide this way. When done, you could go to File>>Download as>>PNG Image and it becomes a saved photo you can insert into your Google Doc if you wish. This is the method that I use when I make my fancy print tutorials with all of the screenshots, arrows, and text boxes. 

All of these methods are cumbersome to a point, only because Google Docs does not have the Insesrt>>Text Box or the Text wrapping>>Behind text option.  But the methods explained above are all good workarounds which only take a few more seconds each.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Adding Multiple Accounts or People in Google Chrome

I have wanted to clarify this process for some time now. While people are using their home computers more and more often now, with each family member doing different, specific work, and each family member often using the Chrome browser, I think this video should help a lot of people who want to create their own workspace within Chrome. 

Did you know that each person who uses Chrome can create his or her own profile? This is also known as Adding New People, so you can easily add a new person within Chrome, which will allow each of you to have your own set of bookmarks, open tabs, extensions, and settings specialized to meet your own needs. The video below should help to demonstrate and clarify how to this up. Please leave a comment if this video helps you make some sense out of your Chrome browsing experience. Just remember: Everything is tied to your own individual Google/Gmail username and password.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Using Zoom.us for Online Class Connections and Video Conferencing

With teachers needing to work from home at this time, any type of course content pretty much needs to be done online. With that in mind, I created this presentation on how to use Zoom as a tool to make those meetings and online connections happen. 

The slides below are provided free of charge. My thanks go out to everyone who helped me put together these great resources, including the Zoom trainers themselves. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me by email. My contact information is on the last slide, and feel free to share these slides with anyone else who made find them useful. 

Using Zoom.us for Online Class Connections and Video Conferencing

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Clear Explanation of Your Various Microsoft Office Options



Image result for microsoft office logo
Image result for microsoft office logo





I am occasionally asked about whether I recommend buying Microsoft Office or not. To go a step further, I am also asked about which version of Microsoft Office to buy. Then, there is the matter of how many licenses you get when you buy it, and which applications come with each version, and is it worth using the free online version? I also get asked what the difference is between Office 365 and the plain Office 2016, the product which used to come on a disc that you would install onto your desktop or laptop computer. In short (too late for that), people have a lot of questions about Microsoft Office and thank God for How-To Geek, which wrote this excellent and thoroughly helpful post about the ins and outs of Microsoft Office, version 2016, for example. Also included is a bit about the differences between 2016, Office 365, and whether the free online version of Office is even worth using. Thanks, How-To Geek!

I might add that Office 365 is also free for students and educators at eligible institutions. Teachers at my school district get it for free, for example (we have a .us domain), as do students with an .edu domain in his or her email address. When you go to this site, you can enter your school email address to get started. If you have questions, a Chat pop-up will appear in the lower right corner of your screen, where you can find out if you are eligible.

If you are not eligible for the free version of Office, this link will provide you with pricing for the various options of Office for both Home and Business users.

One more thing. If you scroll quite a bit further down the same page, you can get to the apps for the free online version of Microsoft Office. For example, the link for the online version of Word is https://office.live.com/start/Word.aspx. The free version, for my money, is definitely worth trying, as is Google's free G-Suite. I just wanted to provide equal opportunity so that no one thinks I work for either company. I don't. Just don't forget to create a free Microsoft account (or a Gmail account if you ever plan to use the Google suite) before even trying anything mentioned in this article.


Monday, June 17, 2019

4 Free and Easy Audio Recording Tools for Google Slides

I just wanted to promote a great tutorial on a topic that really needed a great tutorial: Audio Tools for Google Slides. Eric Curtis over at Control Alt Achieve did another beautiful job of explaining something (audio recording tools) that could be considered complicated by many. This tutorial is clear and complete with many screenshots included, as is his standard. So, I will save you all the trouble and just include a link to it here

Friday, April 26, 2019

Transferring Google Drive Data from a School Account to a Home Account (2 Methods)


This year, I have created a couple of tutorial videos and a set of print directions on how to transfer student (and staff) Google data from a district account to a home Google account. This transfer can include only specific selected folders (shown in the Method #1 video below) or your entire Google Drive (shown in the Method #2 video and the print directions below). If you are a student, staff member or teacher who would like to see the different processes, in order to pick the one that best fits your individual needs, please scroll down and check them out. If any senior student asks about this process, please direct them here also.

All 12th-grade student accounts in our school district will be deactivated shortly after their last day of school. It is highly recommended that this process be completed before then. 

Video Playlist (includes both methods in separate videos)

Print Directions (shows method #2 where you can move everything to a different Google account). 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

We Dumped DirecTV for fuboTV. Here Is Why


When we took a good hard look at our monthly entertainment bill, it became increasingly apparent that something would have to go. We had already cancelled Hulu and our phone land line, but that was still not enough. We still had a huge DirecTV bill that was largely going unused from month to month. Something had to be done. Of course my wife and I were hearing from friends and reading more and more articles about "cutting the cable" and going strictly streaming, instead of using satellite or cable TV. This scared me in particular, because I didn't want to lose the local channels, and in the area where we live, a TV antenna is not a good option. For one, our neighborhood has a lack of broadcast reception from a TV antenna. We tried to buy a digital antenna from Best Buy, and they told us that everyone who has ended up returning it due to lack of channels in our area. 

I finally did some targeted research. After finally deciding that the cost savings would be worth it in the long run, I gathered up all of my DirecTV equipment and drove it to the nearest UPS store, which was about two miles away.  Interestingly, UPS will box up your equipment and ship it for you free of charge. Nice! The first replacement product we are trying already seems very good. It is called FUBO TV. The price is $44.99 for the first month and $54.99/month thereafter. What I like about it is that we can use it on any TV in the house, as long as we have the app installed. For instance, we now have an Amazon Fire TV Stick plugged into each of our TVs. The app is on the Fire TV Stick, so we just install the app and we're good to go. It runs off of the Fire TV Stick. Your fuboTV subscription allows you to stream from two devices at a time, so I'm assuming that means two TVs at once, or one TV and a mobile device at the same time. Here is more about fubo TV: https://www.fubo.tv/welcome

What drove up the price of our DirecTV the most was that we had a Wireless Video Bridge (an expensive accessory which resembles a tiny DirecTV satellite), four small DVR/receivers (one for each room) and the big Master Genie DVR from which all of smaller ones connected. So we had five different pieces of hardware plus a satellite dish outside the house. And we paid for each of these accessories a la cart. So the total amount we were paying was around $150/month just for DirecTV. By returning all DirecTV hardware and removing the service completely, keeping our Internet service and then getting fuboTV instead, we are saving about $95/month or $1,000+/year. fuboTV is about the same price as YouTubeTV. Other options include Sling TV (which is cheaper but not as many features or channels), Hulu TV and others, too. But here are the features I like best about fuboTV:
  1. About 85 Live Channels + some on-demand channels. Over 100 channels total.
  2. You can watch local channels, such as your local news channels. I was afraid of missing our local news, but that is not a problem;
  3. All major networks, including TNT, TBS, IFC, History, the Food Network, the Golf channel, HGTV, the Weather Channel, AMC, Lifetime, etc.;
  4. Here is a list of the channels that we get in the Detroit area: https://www.fubo.tv/welcome/channels;
  5. Free Cloud DVR;
  6. A very nicely organized TV Guide grid. This is far better than the one that DirecTV provided us. I mean you can actually search and it brings up accurate results, unlike DirecTV which was so badly organized and all they really seemed to care about was that you saw their scrolling On Demand shows, which you could NOT hide. You had to scroll through those every time you used the Guide. This has nothing irritating like that;
  7. You get Fox Sports 1 and 2, which is where our local baseball, basketball games, etc. come from. And the Tigers and Pistons games are not blacked out even when at home. You also get the BTN. With DirecTV, local sporting events were often blacked out. I'm not sure if that was part of DirecTV's policy or if we were having a technical problem with our zip code;
  8. No hidden costs, and you can cancel anytime. And no additional hardware to purchase. If you have a smart TV, it may already have the app, but I like the Fire Stick and consider it essential for every TV. 
The emphasis of fubo TV seems to be sports, but you get the major networks, shows, many streaming movies, etc. At least as many as you would get from your cable company, and probably much more. Again, it is a combination of both On-Demand and Live channels. 

Of course we are big-time streamers, so we also have subscriptions to MLB TV (so that I can watch my beloved Washington Nationals games and any other MLB games I want to see), Netflix, the Criterion Channel and Amazon Prime Video. All of these live on the Fire TV Stick too, so they are also available on every TV that has a Fire Stick plugged in. 

I really like the combination of local sports, good video quality, local news channels, all major networks, cloud DVR and a user-friendly guide. We may try Sling TV and YouTube TV, but so far we're pretty happy with fubo

Monday, April 22, 2019

Gmail Contacts: Creating Labels, Moving Contacts, and Sharing a Group (2019)

Here is the newly-updated version of one of my most popular videos on YouTube. The old way of sharing contact groups in Gmail is now obsolete. Here is the new way, along with how to create a new label/group, move a contact to one or more labels, and how to get Chrome to ask where to save your downloads. I hope it is even better than the previous video on this topic and that it will clear up the many questions of "Where did everything go?" in trying to complete this import/export process. 





Friday, December 7, 2018

How to Download YouTube Videos (from PCMag)

I was looking for a way to download videos from YouTube in various sizes and formats. Hats off to PCMag's Eric Griffith for this great article titled "How to Download YouTube Videos." The one I ended up using was WinX YouTube Downloader and it works very well (plus, it's free).

How to Download YouTube Videos

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Screenshots on a Chromebook, Part 2: The Awesome Screenshot Extension

In part 2 of my look at screenshots on a Chromebook, the focus is on the Awesome Screenshot Chrome extension, which takes screenshots to a whole new level, with many great features demonstrated here. The final step of this tutorial shows how to turn in your annotated screenshot to Google Classroom.

Screenshots on a Chromebook, Part 1: How to Create Them and Turn in to Google Classroom

This video takes a look at capturing basic screenshots on a Chromebook from the student perspective. It also gives a good example of how to turn in these screenshots to Google Classroom and even rename them on a Chromebook.

Chromebook Tips & Tricks for Students and Teachers: Bookmarks & the Launcher

In Part 3 of my continuing series on Chromebook Tips & Tricks, I will take a look at creating and editing Bookmarks in Google Chrome using the Bookmarks Bar and how to search these bookmarks from the Chromebook Launcher.


Chromebook Tips & Tricks for Students and Teachers, Part 2: Moving Photos from Camera App to Drive

In my continuing series on Chromebook Tips & Tricks, Part 2 takes a look at pinning and unpinning apps to the Shelf, using the App Launcher, taking photos with the built-in Camera app, and moving photos and other files from the Files app to Google Drive.


Chromebook Tips & Tricks for Students and Teachers, Part 1: Pin a Tab in Chrome and Google Drive Tips

In Part 1 of my series on Chromebook Tips & Tricks, I will look at how to shuffle the Google Apps list, how to pin a tab to Google Chrome, different ways to right-clicking and scrolling, how to sync Docs for offline viewing, and other Google Drive tips. All of this, and it's only the first part of the series.

Live Streaming Broadcasts via YouTube

Learn how to quickly Go Live to YouTube and produce videos that are recorded and sharable for both live use and future reference. Teachers can use this method to record their teaching, and anyone wanting to do online webinars and training will also find this very useful.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Canva: Graphics without Work (2018 Video Tutorial)

Image result for canva
If you create any kind of online graphics professionally, you probably already know about Canva. But for those out there who don't, I have created a video tutorial which will get you up to speed pretty quickly. It is what I like to call a 15-minute mini-class

Canva is used quite a bit by social media people who need a quick design template for their posts. It takes very little time to whip up something professional-looking with its helpful built-in design tools, such as frames placeholders and grids. Most of the included images and text designs are free, and you can save the designs that you create - to be used later or just upload your own graphics to re-use in future design projects. 


Canva is extremely easy to use and will save you a great deal of time. Not that it is a replacement for Adobe Photoshop, but who has the time to use Photoshop for each and every graphic project we do? Canva even has some quick and dirty photo editing tools...and once you've created your design, you can save it online, share it with your team members, share through Social Media or download it to your computer to be used elsewhere. Sound interesting? Check out my video below to see a pretty in-depth overview of what you can do with Canva. Then, try it out yourself and save to your own account at canva.com.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Using Screencastify with Google Slides and Google Classroom 2018

This video tutorial shows the complete student workflow of recording a Google Slides Presentation using Screencastify and then turning in the video through Google Classroom two different ways. Many of the newest features of Screencastify's Tab recording toolbar are shown, including the timer, spotlight, pen, pause button, start and stop keyboard shortcut and the eraser.

Using Vocaroo to Record Student Audio Projects

This tutorial shows the workflow of how students can record class audio projects using Vocaroo and then turn them in through Google Classroom.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

How to Extract Audio from Your Videos


While I was working on a video editing project, I started picturing the final product in my head. I recorded an interview with my client. Then, I recorded him running (because he is an avid marathon and competitive runner). I then decided to play the audio of his voice from the interview underneath the clip of him running. Unfortunately, I have not yet installed any decent video editing software on my new laptop. 

Being pressed for time, I only had a free video editor at my disposal which only allows for one video track and one audio track. So, the question was how to take the audio from one clip and add it to a different clip. This brought up a need for an audio extractor which could take the audio from one clip and allow me to export it as an MP3 file, for instance. I did a search and found 5 awesome online audio extractors to extract audio from video

The article also explains how to extract audio from video with Filmora Video Editor. If you are looking for other software along these lines, such as video editors, audio editors, password managers, photo editors, malware removal tools, music managers, etc., I recommend visiting Giveaway of the Day where they feature at least one good free software download every day of the week. I have found so many great tools this way. Just remember that any future upgrades of the programs you download are not included for free.