Saturday, September 19, 2020

Bookmarklet for Generating a Link to Copy a Google Doc, Sheet, Slides, or Drawing

If you want students to create a copy of a Google Doc, Sheet, Slides, or Drawing, you can replace the /edit at the end of the link with /copy.

To make that easier, I've created a bookmarklet. To set it up for yourself, drag the following link to your bookmark bar or menu:


Then when you have a Doc, Sheet, Slides, or Drawing open (and you've set the sharing permissions) you can click the bookmarklet and it will generate a link that you can copy and send to your students. When they click the link it will prompt them to make a copy.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Streaming OBS Recordings to YouTube

Currently OBS Studio can only stream to a single service, such as Facebook or YouTube, but we are going to set up a way to stream to another service at the same time. Assuming that you are already comfortable streaming to Facebook, YouTube will be our second service.
You'll need to install FFmpeg and Python 3.
The following Python code can be saved as something like and run from there.
Replace xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-xxxx with your stream key from YouTube Studio, and /home/username/Videos with the path to the folder where OBS records your videos. You may also need to include the ffmpeg_path.
This code finds the most recent file in your OBS recordings folder and streams that file to YouTube. You may want to enable the setting "Automatically record when streaming" in OBS, otherwise you'll need to click "Start Streaming" and "Start Recording" each time.
Start recording in OBS then run the code, and it should start streaming the recording to YouTube without interfering with your primary stream. You will, of course, need enough upload bandwidth for both streams.
Potentially you could have another copy of this Python script running to streams the recording to a third service, such as Twitch.

Hopefully that helps get you started with secondary streams from OBS Studio. Let me know if any of this doesn't work for you.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Authoring Open Educational Resources using only Open Source Software

Recently a leader in the Alberta OER community, Michael McNally, suggested that it is difficult or impossible to only use open source software (OSS) when creating open educational resources (OER). I agree with his point that using only OSS doesn't make OER more "pure", but perhaps it is still an interesting challenge.

Here are some of my suggestions, please comment if anything is missing. And I do understand the hypocrisy of posting this on a Google-hosted blog.

Writing Text

Text is still often the primary medium for OER, and there are a number of great open-source text-authoring tools. LibreOffice is a great office suite, and it is similar to traditional office suites so there shouldn't be much of a learning curve.

If you prefer collaborative writing, perhaps check out Nextcloud. You'll need to host it somewhere, if you are in Alberta consider Cybera's Rapid Access Cloud which uses OpenStack.

Diagrams and Graphics

Inkscape is a great vector editing and layout program. For image editing and creation, check out GIMP, Krita, or MyPaint.


One of the best simple audio recording and editing programs is also open source, Audacity. There are others, of course, but it should do everything you need.


My favorite open-source video editing program is Open Shot, but you may also want to check out Shotcut.

Hosting video is another issue, though. You can host videos in a learning management system such as Moodle, or check out alternatives such as MediaGoblin, Kaltura, or ClipBucket.

Operating System

Linux has gotten much easier to install and use if you'd like to replace Windows or MacOS. My current favorite distribution is Peppermint.


As previously mentioned, Albertans can avoid the big five cloud providers by running servers on RAC, but your institution may have self-hosted instances of Pressbooks or similar open-source hosting platforms.

Hopefully those cover anything you may need to use when creating OER with OSS. In some cases these tools are preferable to commercial products.

Of course if you are philosophically opposed to proprietary software then you are probably already familiar with most of these.

As always, please comment if you have any other suggestions.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Getting new copies of Jupyter notebooks with shutil and nbgitpuller

Getting a Fresh Set of Jupyter Notebooks

If you would like to update your copy of notebooks, for example on the Callysto Hub, you can delete the folder and pull the files from GitHub again. This is useful if something no longer works, or if the repository has been updated.

Unfortunately you can’t just select a directory in Jupyter hub and delete it if it contains files. One way to delete a folder, though, is to use the Python command shutil.rmtree() which is a shell utility command that will remove a whole directory tree.

To remove a folder, create a new Python 3 notebook in the same folder as the one you want to delete (but not inside the folder to be deleted).

In a code cell, type (or paste) the following two lines:

import shutil

Replace curriculum-notebooks with the name of the folder you would like to delete. Then run the cell, and you should see that the folder no longer exists.

Then you can click on an nbgitpuller link, for example from, that pulls down a new copy of the repository or notebook files that you are interested in.

You can also see the process in this video.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Using the Bitly API with Google Apps Script (JavaScript)

To get started with version 4 of the Bitly api in Google Apps Script, ensure that you have a Bitly account with a username and password (not using the Facebook, Twitter, or Google login options).

Assuming that you are developing applications or scripts that will be used for a single account you don't need to worry about OAuth authentication, you can get a generic access token from this link.

If you haven't already, create a Google Apps Script. Here are some functions you can use:

Hopefully that's enough to get you started. You can browse the rest of the Bitly API documentation for other functions.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Looking forward to technologies of the 2020s

Years ago I heard the phrase "In 2021, hindsight will be 20/20". I'm certainly not the prognosticator on the level of Ray Kurzeweil, but as we start turn over the year number in the tens place I'm thinking about technologies that I'm looking forward to in the next ten years. In no particular order I am anticipating:

Better digital assistants and smart devices
Smart speakers and phone-based digital assistants are useful for some things, but we still find ourselves repeating or rewording commands. There are also quite a few instances of "I can't help with that yet". I'm optimistic that we will get to the point of our digital assistants learning how to work for us, and our smart homes adjusting to our lifestyles and patterns without us having to continually yell at them and reconnect devices to the WiFi. These devices and services should make it less work for us to accomplish tasks.

More automation of uninteresting tasks (including driving)
I'm a big fan of freeing up humans to accomplish uniquely human achievements, or watch more streaming video if they prefer. To help achieve that, I'm looking forward to more automation of tedious or dangerous tasks. While this may lead to more unemployment, or less depending on who you listen to, maybe we can get to the point as a society of eliminating jobs that people dislike. And perhaps decrease our workload without decreasing our standard of living, so that we have more time for volunteering and leisure activities.

Better virtual reality and augmented reality
VR seems to be used primarily for leisure activities such as video games, and perhaps some basic virtual field trips, but there are many other interesting applications. It still feels like early days, especially with AR, but the technological capabilities and developer proficiencies are improving. I'm particularly excited about the potential for psychological treatments using VR and AR.

Advances in psychology and neuroscience
Technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging are giving us better insights into how brains work, and it feels like we are just at the beginning of our understanding. We may start to see useful mind-computer interfaces, and at some point even the ability to create backups...

Improved information literacy
As we understand more about how our minds work, perhaps we can devote more resources to helping people distinguish reality from fiction. There seems to be a growing recognition that disinformation and "face news" are issues, but no consensus about what is fake and how to deal with this issue. I'm optimistic, however, that it is a solvable problem. It may require a re-think of how we remunerate individuals and organizations, and our advertising-based economy.

We've seen a growing phenomenon of watching other people play video games, and "cyberathletes" making the kind of money that professional athletes can make. Not sure if this will supplant traditional sports, or if we would want them to, but the risk of concussions is lower. There is automated comment moderation in some streams, but the communities tend to be somewhat toxic, especially for female gamers. Although I don't usually recommend technological solutions to behavioral problems, internet filtering for example, maybe technology can help teach us to be better people.

Ubiquitous data access
I am in favor of better data access, and improved information for education and decision making (I believe Wikipedia is one of humanity's greatest achievements). We are seeing intriguing ideas about ways to provide internet access in remote areas, such as drones, balloons, or low Earth orbit satellites (which hopefully won't interfere with astronomy). This is particularly useful for underprivileged areas and people groups.

Beyond cryptocurrencies, which may help when government-backed currencies are subject to catastrophic inflation, there are other applications of blockchain ledgers for identity management and verification, supply chain tracking, contracts and asset transfer, and other financial services such as payments and escrow. We may even see blockchain-based voting.

These are some of the technologies and trends that I'm thinking about these days.  Of course we will likely see some unexpected dark horse technologies have significant impacts on our lives and society. But as they say, predictions are difficult. What are your thoughts?