Monday, September 14, 2020

A Word about Wifi

This piece originally appeared on my @HeathcoteTech class blog


Mesh is the word. A mesh network is a more reliable, stronger home wifi network, and a key asset in 2020.

What is a mesh network?

A mesh network is multiple wifi access points for your home to ensure fewer dead zones, faster connection, and overall better reliability

You mean like a network extender?

No. An extender takes the signal from your modem and extends it out, but at a downgraded level. Think of a ball of dough, pinch a bit and stretch it out. The further you get away from the original mass, the thinner the dough becomes. Same with a wifi extender, yes it will stretch your network range, but as a progressively thinner level.

So how is a mesh network different?

Mesh networks set aside a channel of communication between the access points, that is only for the access points, so the satellite that is far away from the original modem is broadcasting the same strength signal as the original base. No loss of strength.

Are they hard to set up?

Nope. Just plug it in to your existing Verizon/Comcast/etc modem and it's a few steps and you're good to go. Most systems have an app and 3-5 steps to get going, plus you can manage the devices from the app.

But why? If I have crazy fast FIOS, why do I need this thing?

Because your crazy fast FIOS service is being managed by an average piece of hardware. The wifi routers that come for free with service are mediocre at best when it comes to managing traffic. And the further you get from them, physically, the weaker the signal.

But seriously, I have crazy fast FIOS, why do I need this?

Think of your FIOS connection like a smooth, open road, as far as the eye can see. Fast. Your devices are that race-tuned V8 car hungry to tear down the road. Your router is like the like the on-ramp. Specifically a Brooklyn-Queens Expressway type on-ramp. Sometimes closed, sometimes under construction. Pothole filled and a slog to get through. A mesh system is a smoother, more managed on-ramp. In fact, it's like having multiple on-ramps in a system that gets you on the highway fast and smooth.

A real-world example...

I've had a mesh network for years. I moved into a new apartment 1 week before the March 9th Covid lockdown. The apartment had Verizon FIOS. On the first day of remote learning our router got jammed. Only 1 person could be on a Zoom at a time. I dug my mesh system out of the moving box and plugged it in to the Verizon modem, and instantly all four of us could Zoom, watch Netflix, etc.

Why? Because mesh wifi systems do a much better job at managing the data traffic and balancing the signal

Home WiFi and Mesh WiFi filled house

So, if last Spring you experienced difficulty with Zoom, slow connections, inability to connect, and so forth, it wasn't Google, or the Chromebook, or Zoom. It was most likely the generic wifi router getting jammed with data.

What do I actually know about mesh systems?

I have the Netgear Orbi RBK 50. This summer I installed the Netgear RBK 753 system for an Inn in Maine. The Inn is in the western Maine mountains and only has a DSL connection. After installing the RBK 753 device connections speeds were faster, more people could be on the Inn's wifi without it jamming, and we didn't nee to reboot the router anymore. All we did was plug it in to the DSL modem and configure the Orbi name. That's it. Took us less than 1 hour to set up.

Mesh network options are:

Netgear Orbi

Linksys Velop

Google Nest Wifi

Points of note

First point of note, if you buy one of these, don't unplug your VerizonComcast/etc modem/router. Those power your tv's on-screen channel guide. Just plug the mesh system into your existing hardware, give the mesh system a new name, and then move your devices over to it. It takes about an hour to do it all from opening the box to adding the new network to your devices, but you'll be amazed at the difference.

Second point of note, the apps that you use to set these systems up are free ad awesome. With my Orbi I can see every device connected to my network and I can turn off an individual device's access with a single tap. So when my kids aren't listening to me, and wont get off YouTube, I just launch the app and turn off their wifi access... the subtle joys of parenting in 2020...


Mesh. It will change your hybrid, virtual, and e-learning experience. The expense is paid for in far fewer headaches. Not to mention it'll make your streaming services run better too.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Create Editable Worksheets out of PDF Files

This piece originally appeared on my @HeathcoteTech class blog

In this era of e-learning there is the difficulty of students using PDF worksheets. 

In the past we would print those out, Xerox them in bulk, and have the students write directly on them. That isn't possible right now. 

So, lately, the solution has been to give students the PDFs, have them print at home, work on them, then take a picture of the finished sheet, or scan it, and send it back to the teacher... 

... that is laborious and has many spots for failure along the way. 

So, how do we use PDF worksheets in a paperless environment? Make the PDFs into Google Slides files so the students can add annotations like arrow, lines and shapes, as well as type answers directly onto the pages. shapes, text boxes. By doing this you can turn your PDF inso a Slides file, share it with students, and they can fill it out directly in the Slides file which you already have access too! No downloading, no printing, no scanning, no sending back... 

Below are two versions of the same tutorial, one a step-by-step visual, the other is a video screencast of the steps. Take a look and give it a try... 

Step-by-step tutorial

Video screencast of the steps

Please remember that the original PDF files you are working with are most likely copyrighted, so you can not re-create an entire book, can can convert select pages. The 10% rule is good to remember, meaning you can print/share 10% of a total piece of copyrighted material. If the book has 100 pages, you can print/share 10.   

Let me know if you have any problems or questions.   


Thursday, March 26, 2020

iOS Document Camera

If you have a Mac and you have a iPad or iPhone you have a document camera!

Here is a quick tutorial on how to set it up...

And a 1-page poster with the same steps...

You can also download the Stage app to have some annotation features, but it is not necessary.

Happy document camera-ing!