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Being in the IT field, I use a lot of computers and also end up wiping my computers frequently so this tip is one I could not do without now. It combines the power of Dropbox with the automation of Autohotkey. It ensures that whatever I do in Autohotkey (which I use a lot for text expansion..and a few other things) is sync’d across all computers I use. Steps are below to get this solution running for you (assumes you have a dropbox account):

Step 1: Install Dropbox and Autohotkey. Might I suggest another timesaver, to do so.

Step 2: Create a folder called AHK in your Dropbox

Step 3: Use Notepad to create a blank script file called myscripts.ahk in your new AHK folder

Step 4: Run Autohotkey, right click on the H in your task tray and select “Edit this Script”

Step 5: Add this line into your default Autohotkey Script, it will “include” your dropbox script in the default script (Check the path for the correct name and location..yours may be different depending on where you keep your Dropbox folder):

#INCLUDE C:\Users\YOURNAME\Desktop\Dropbox\AHK\myscripts.ahk

Repeat Step 4 and 5 on any computer on which you are using AutoHotkey and your “MyScripts” file will be loaded for you…text expansion goodness anywhere.

Advanced note: My work computer has a user name of sheuchert and my home computer has a username of sean so to keep the script the same across all computers you can use the SYMLINK command to create virtual folders with the right name but which point to the right location depending on my computer.

Here is another reason I love Autohotkey:

Keyboard Shortcut to display file extensions:

And of course, typing this “Peterborough, Victoria, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board” by only typing this: “#pvnc” is golden.

Categories Funny tech tricks

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Almost 20 years ago I had the great pleasure of serving as the Training Officer of Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps “Rainbow” based at CFB Esquimalt in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia. Having been an Air Cadet and in the Air element for most of my career with the Cadet Instructor’s Cadre, my Commanding Officer at the time thought it best if I learned first hand how the Navy does things and at her first opportunity sent me on a weekend sail aboard Yard Auxiliary General (YAG) 319 commanded by good friend of the Corps, Lieutenant (Navy) Peter Lawless, aka “the Captain.”

Photo: Public Domain via Wikimedia

Upon hearing that I was a pilot I was quickly put to work as navigator. The Captain knew our route with eyes closed but had me taking bearings every few minutes. This involved shooting a bearing using a gyro compass similar to the one shown below.

Gyro compass on the bridge of a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer – picture credit: Ken Walker

I would line up the compass with a known feature identified on our map and draw a line on that angle from that feature. I would repeat the process twice more with different landmarks. The three bearings had to be taken quickly as there was no way the Captain was going to slow down for an airplane pilot to take a bearing on board his ship. After this process I would end up with three intersecting lines on the map:

Triangulation – image credit: Bryan Hansel

If I had taken the bearings quickly and accurately the lines would intersect in a tiny triangle and we could be confident the ship was located within that triangle. Sometimes I was taking a bearing on a land mass that was close beside us and the bearing changed quickly as we steamed by, sometimes I was just too slow and the Captain would look at my huge triangulation, shrug and say “Do it again.”

I had not thought about this experience for a long time but was reminded a few years ago when our Ministry of Education in Ontario rolled out a new Assessment policy.

There are three keys to making a triangulation successfully, good landmarks, taking accurate bearings and taking the bearings quickly.

Good landmarks in this context are your own observations as a teacher, conversations between student and teacher and student product. As in navigation, “Using multiple sources of evidence increases the reliability and validity of the evaluation of student learning.” (Ontario, 2010)

Taking accurate bearings speaks for itself in one way, you want to make sure that you are fairly and accurately assessing student work. I would take this metaphor a step further and come back to one of the fundamental principles of the Ministry’s assessment policy, teachers are to use practices that are carefully planned and as much as possible relate to the interests, learning styles, needs and experiences of all students (Ontario, 2010). We can be accurate if we remember our “landmarks” of conversations, observations and product.

The final point is taking a quick bearing. In the numerous student and parent surveys we have completed over the last three years we often heard that timeliness of feedback needs to be improved. This is another of the principles in our province’s assessment policy, “provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement.” The key to remember here is that when you are on board a moving ship, the bearing you take is only valuable for a moment….it is used to make a slight course correction and then you must take another. If you are not doing it quickly and often, you could get lost or run aground. That is the last thing we want for our students.

Government of Ontario. (2010). Growing Success: Assessment, Evaluation, and Reporting in Ontario Schools. Ministry of Education. Retrieved from

Categories School, Work

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When I first started in my position as IT Manager we were deploying IBM Pentium computers at $1600 a machine. We were also paying $340 per machine to extend the parts and labour warranty on the machine from 3 years to 5. I did not realise it at the time but this was my first experience with the cost of risk. When I asked the supplier of the warranty why it was so much I got two reasons: we have to stock enough parts to fix all the machines of that specific type for the length of the warranty for all our customers and we don’t know how much we will need. The other reason given was they did not know how many times they would have to repair the machines in the time period contemplated. We started to push back on this as we had data on repairs from a previous model from the same manufacturer and I was able to get the price down to $170.

From 2009 to 2015 we tried a different way to manage our extended warranties on computer hardware. Instead of a parts and labour warranty, we contracted for a labour only warranty. We forecast the hardware we would purchase over a six year period and worked with our service provider to come up with a per machine price that would cover the cost of a dedicated technician. We continued to purchase parts on an as needed basis from the supplier but would price check regularly and order from other suppliers when necessary. This model took all the risk of our warranty from the supplier and moved it to the school board. It was the least amount we had ever paid for warranty and when all the repair costs were accounted for, was most economical. On the downside, this model took all the advantage of working with a service provider out of the equation. The supplier was not incentivised to add more staff to our work during busy times, nor could they take our dedicated support person for other work during slow times. We also did not benefit from the overlap with dozens of their other customers. While we were paying much less, service and support suffered and my staff were tiring of having to manage the ordering and inventory of parts.

We have gone back to a more traditional model for extended warranties now but we have the experience of the last fifteen years to guide us. We now look at managing risk as a shared responsibility and have open and honest discussions about factors that are affecting costs and how we might address them. Some people on the purchasing end of this arrangement might question this approach. However, I have learned from experience with our computer warranties that I need a partner to help my organisation with the service and repair of over 5000 computers; it doesn’t benefit either organisation if that company loses money on our agreement. If they trust me on that basic premise, that alone brings their cost of risk down and they can price more aggressively. I also have mechanisms at my disposal to, as Ronald Reagan would say: trust…but verify.

A final thought on risk. I recently had a vendor provide a quote for software licenses. These are licenses I buy regularly throughout the year, usually 10-12 at a time and typically 600-700 a year. The quote I received was the list price in Canadian dollars. I said, “Frank…come on!” Frank explained that if they were going to honor the price for the year they had to protect themselves from the rise and fall of the US dollar against the Canadian dollar. Here is another example of where working closely with a supplier (and having a trusting relationship) can help. For large orders I call them up and we calculate the price on the spot, full transparency. For small orders we leave it at list so they do not get burned. Some of our Canadian suppliers deal in US dollars for this reason. We have also worked with our close vendors in the past to “time” deals according to the dollar. Some school boards are timing their fuel purchases to correspond with market pricing, it makes me wonder if school boards could hold some of their cash in US currency to allow our suppliers to remove currency fluctuation from their list of risks.

Most people might assume that suppliers are about maximising profit, and some are. However, through experience, I have learned that by partnering and building trust with key suppliers we can guarantee them a modest profit, which, in the long term, is better for them and better for us. If I can help them reduce their risk, they pass this along in reduced cost.

Categories Work, School

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