Jul 102012

First off, I am a math teacher, so I think it goes without saying I am incredibly … detail oriented … anal … and, possibly, a pain in the butt (depending on when you ask my wife.)

I absolutely have to save every single receipt from vacation, reconcile with Quicken within 10 hours of arriving home on vacation, and that reconciliation must be to the penny. Driving to Montana? Great, that means 7 gas receipts, organized by location, along with the mileage at every gas stop.

Hotels? They give a full page receipt, not a little strip like gas stations. Dining out? Who was there? Where was the restaurant? What city?

Okay, you get my drift. I like to keep good records of our vacations. This used to be a major chore. My wife said this was not necessary, but to me, those little details hid some nice surprises. For instance, in our 11 year old car, that now has over 100000 miles 2012-05-20 18.33.18 we are still getting over 33 miles per gallon on the freeway. If I didn’t take good records, how would I know that! See, it is important!

Enter Evernote. When I first heard of Evernote, I was not that interested. A note taking software for my phone. Whatever. On the computer too! Yawn. I use OneNote.

But, I had a recently thought to myself, “What if I took a picture of the receipts as I traveled?” That would mean I don’t have to keep them. [After all, these are vacation receipts, not store receipts. I won’t need them to return merchandise, so this won’t apply.]

So I did that on our most recent trip to MT. Here is what it looks like.

evernote [Click the pic to embiggen]

Notice that if I don’t put in a title when I click “New Note” it GeoTags my picture! Now I have a running record of my location by date! Love it. At each stop, I also put in the milage in the car. Now I can easily calculate the mpg.

This also solves some additional problems. In Missoula the machine was out of paper. I did not need to go in and ask for a receipt. All I needed to do is take a pic of the gas pump. It automatically captured the location, and all I really needed was purchase price and gallons anyway.

evernote2[Click the pic to embiggen]

By clicking the “Show Details” or “Hide Details” in the upper right you can see additional info, and by clicking the Map Icon or city name above the pic, you can view a Google map of exactly where you were.

evernote3[Click the pic to embiggen]

Now I am thinking of much better uses for this information. I used it only for receipts this time, but what if I also included neat locations along the way? Now I am kicking myself for not having my phone out and Evernote open when we had the herd of 6 bighorn sheep in the road with us. (And no, I don’t have ANY photos of that. Dang.)

The only drawback I saw was it was slow. Evernote was communicating with the camera and the GPS all at once. I don’t think I would record a whole vacation in there yet. My phone needs to be faster, and the cell connection needs to be much faster (still only on 3G) before it would get fast enough and error proof enough to make me trust it completely.

But, I came home from vacation with no receipts bulging in my wallet and stuffed in my suitcase. I didn’t need to spread them all out on the desk and examine them for dates to put them in order. All I did was fire up the computer, log into Evernote, and go down the list.

It saved me about an hour in my data entry, and actually made my life much easier. Now, how can I leverage this in my classroom? Hmmmm.

Something to think about on my next trip. Which is tomorrow. Must go pack.

Jun 212012

I have said to many teachers that the best professional development I have engaged in is on Twitter. (I am @gwaddellnvhs by the way.)  One of the difficulties I have had using twitter, however is the storing of great ideas, great tweets, great links, and threads of conversations that I have had.

For instance, the bookclub I engage in regularly (current hashtag is #lit4math, focused on the book “Literacy strategies for improving mathematics instruction”) we have great discussions and sharing of ideas. And they are gone in the twitter stream almost instantly! ARG. That is the problem I have had other teachers tell me they run into, and therefore they don’t use twitter.

Or, I am at school, and see a great post that has a link from a person I generally want to follow up on, but although twitter is unblocked at school, the link shortener t.co is blocked. Or I am on my phone, and want to quickly save a tweet, so I favorite it, and then have to go through and find the favorite tweets under my account, which is a hassle.

The Solution

Well, all these problems go away with a very easy to use service called If This, Then That or ifttt.com. This service does exactly what the name sounds like (well, if you have taken a computer programming class you understand what it does.) It monitors your account, and when it sees a pre-programmed trigger, the “IF”, “THEN” it does “THAT”.

How I use it, IF it sees that I favorite a tweet in twitter, it then appends the tweet into my Evernote account.  It takes a minute or two to show up, but it has not failed yet.

I also have it searching twitter for the hashtag #lit4math, and it appends all tweets with that hashtag into a note in Evernote.  Sweet! I don’t have to try to copy manually the conversations any more. The only drawback to this method is twitter will not allow locked users tweets to show up in a search stream. Therefore, users who are part of the conversation who are locked won’t show up. That is unfortunate, but true of all methods of archiving tweets I have used.

I also have a recipe (what ifttt.com calls their programs) running that appends any tweet made to me into an Evernote note. It makes sure I don’t miss something that was sent directly to me.

I am very pleased with this set up. It has truly streamlined and made my use of Twitter easier and more efficient. Check out ifttt.com. It is free, and very worth your time.