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Deskwarming 2011: 19+ Things to Do

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Heiwa elementary school by ajari

If you’re deskwarming in Korea or Japan, and you’re all caught up on lesson-planning, here are some ways to make the most of your time. (Of course, some sites might be banned at your school, but you never know.) I’ve never been in this position myself, but many teachers wind up spending time at their desks for a couple weeks (or more!)–no classes, no students, and few responsibilities (at least, if they’re experienced lesson-planners). It’s a little hard to imagine, but I’ve heard about it from several friends, and who knows, maybe I’ll experience it someday.

Anyway, I dug through my links. I decided to mix the links together, just as I might want to mix the use of my time–professional development, taking a break, and so on.

  1. Play the beautiful, dreamlike games at Orisinal.
  2. Find lesson plans, activity ideas, current research, and lots more at Free Online Journals.
  3. Learn how to use Skype, Ning, wikis, and more for you or your classroom via short videos at Learn it in 5.
  4. Create an account and edit/contribute to Wikipedia, Wikitravel, and Simple English Wikipedia. Don’t know where to start? Try fixing up the page for your hometown or current neighborhood, translating an article that only exists in the local language, or editing a TESOL-related topic.
  5. Set up Anki according to the vocabulary-teaching principles that you know, and study.
  6. Try the novel-like, grown-up versions of “choose your own ending” games at Choice of Games.
  7. Finally get around to joining that professional organization in your area or seeing what they actually do.
  8. Watch those TED Talks that you’ve been meaning to (with subtitles, even).
  9. Read about fascinating things on Metafilter and the endless international help column of AskMetafilter (see orientation if you get distracted by in-jokes sometimes used on the site).
  10. Improve your CV and your chances of getting that next job/getting into that PhD program by submitting an article/activity/etc. for publication at an online journal (yes, it’s the same link as above, but it’s worth saying!).
  11. Play the devilishly cute, misleadingly simple games at Eyezmaze Games.
  12. Start a Facebook fan page for your English program (get permission!), blog, etc.
  13. Get started on Twitter, which can be a great source of support for English teachers, and join me (my multi-post Twitter guide for English learners mostly applies; find people to follow via my lists).
  14. Finally start that blog about your adventures overseas, or the local restaurants, or your hobbies.
  15. Find a site like Just Hungry, Maangchi, or Cooking with (the) Dog (Youtube channel; video starts automatically) to learn to cook like a local.
  16. Get pulled into the underlying threads of fiction at TV Tropes–if you’re not sure where to go, look up a favorite TV show and wander around from there.
  17. Watch streaming media in Korean and Japanese to improve your language skills will entertaining yourself: Crunchyroll, MySoju, Drama Fever, Viki, and relevant searches on Youtube and Veoh (e.g., for example.) Whether the content is legal or ethical depends on the site and content, plus your location and perspective.
  18. Set up Google Reader and add the blogs you want to keep up with (check my sidebar for great ones like The Grand Narrative and English Raven), web comics, etc.
  19. Read fiction–from classics to cutting-edge sf, there’s plenty online. Try my list of free fiction bookmarks for more. (And if you skip the one fanfiction link, you’ll miss “No Reservations: Narnia.”)

Lots more things to do at my timewasters tag on Delicious.

If you like any of these or know of some better ones, pass them along…

(Not responsible for your boss walking in on you while playing Grow!)

Post-Holiday Link Roundup

I wasn’t able to post here during the holidays, but I was somewhat active on Twitter. Here are a few links that I shared that may be of interest to you, rewritten a bit for context and easier clicking.

Quick Firefox Fixes

foxkeh, the Japanese Firefox mascot by Mozilla

Here are a few things that make my life a little easier. I hope they help you, too. All of these tips are very easy to follow. You don’t need any particular tech skill level to implement them.

  • Install Adblock Plus. Sorry, as long as legitimate websites use pop-unders, flashing banners, expanding ads, and animations, I’ll use an adblocker. Unfair? Well, they can use unintrusive ads like Google’s text ads, and I’ll leave them alone. If you’re using it and a website that should work looks really strange, click the red ABP stop sign and disable it, then reload. You can also use it to right-click and block individual images, which is sometimes useful.
  • Block the Delete Goes Back Action: Annoyed by accidentally hitting “delete” and Firefox going back a page and losing everything you’d typed into a blog comment form, etc.? It’s simple to turn off. (If you want a keystroke to go back and forward, use command/ctrl left and right.)
  • How to tab into pull-down menus and more (OS X): I was used to being able to do this, but it’s not on by default. Using keyboard shortcuts instead of clicking around makes you a more efficient tech user, you know (more on that in the future).
  • Delete useless search engines in the search window ( honestly!), and change the order so the ones you like to use are at the top. Add ones you use often (I often use, and add some that can’t be found through the Add Search Engines option at the bottom (click the little magnifying glass)–Mycroft Project has things like ALC’s Eijiro on the Web, a powerful Japanese/English dictionary.
  • Click on View at the top; make sure Status Bar is turned on (putting your over links will usually show where they take you in the status bar at the bottom), and check, uncheck, and customize the Toolbars and Sidebar until they’re the way you like in terms of functions and screen “real estate.” You can also right-click on the toolbar and drag things around to access some of these features.
  • If you’ve never explored the main preferences (look at the top under Firefox -> Preferences) or your add-ons’ preferences (Tools -> Add-ons, then highlight each one to see if it has preferences), it’s worth doing so.
  • Forget This Site: If you’re going to use Firefox in front of other people, such as in a conference presentation, and you recently read an article at the New York Times called “Sex Trafficking on the Rise in Asia,” or one of Zen Kimchi’s great “Food Porn” articles, you might not want it to flash across the address bar if you type in something else that has a few letters in common. Short of deleting your entire history, if you know there’s a specific site that should be removed, go to History at the top, then Show All History. Search for the site you need to remove. Right-click on the entry, and choose the last option, Forget About This Site. It won’t come up when you start typing in the address bar (so make sure you’ve bookmarked it if you need to go back!).

I am baffled as to why my post on Delicious isn’t coming up as a related post, but since it isn’t, I’ll link it here. I wrote a whole post on it, and it’s so worth using. It’s like a faithfully-following online filing cabinet, butler, secretary, genie, and Library of Alexandria. I love it.

Twelve Days of Christmas: Portable Apps

Hello, and welcome to Day Two! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

USB memorystick from

I think this one of the best things I have for you; even if it’s not something you need right now, you may make a friend’s day if you know someone who needs it. lets you install small, “light” versions of free programs for everything from word processors to web browsers, audio editors to IM programs, utilities to games. It can solve four big problems for ESL and EFL teachers:
  1. Using an office computer that won’t let you install applications? No problem–these apps can run from the Documents folder, which you usually have access to, or from a USB stick.
  2. Using an office computer running non-English Windows, but not comfortable in the other language? Just snag some English apps from the site.
  3. Using a lot of different adjunct office computers or internet cafes? Stay safe and comfortable by keeping your personal information and preferred settings in portable apps on a USB stick and running them from there, especially a web browser and a word processor.
  4. Deskwarming for hours, days, or weeks on end? Create amazing materials for class, write a textbook or a novel, chat, play games, watch video files, and more with a variety of apps to help you pass time productively and/or pleasantly. (EDIT: Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest anything doing non-work-related unless part of your job simply entails being at your desk, and you’ve already done all you can do to be prepared–which is unfortunately all too true for many teachers.)

Just to repeat the main point: these programs are small and “light” so that they don’t have to fully install themselves on the computer. Although the touts the idea of running them from a USB stick, you generally don’t have to–if you use the same work computer every day, you can usually install them wherever you like inside the Documents folder, if that’s the only folder you can change on your work computer.

EDIT 7 July 2010: Flash Drive Reminder is a small, freeware program that will alert you if you start to shut down or log out of a Windows computer without removing your USB stick (flash drive) first. Great idea! Here’s an explanation with a screenshot on Lifehacker.’s applications are meant for Windows environments since few people find themselves in a Mac-only work situation (particularly one where they can’t install their own software), but if you are in that situation…uh, do tell us about it! Especially as a teacher–that’d be a new one on me. But if that’s you, there’s an option for you too: FreeSMUG Portable Applications. (Yes, as a Mac user I agree that “SMUG” is not a good choice of acronym!)

You can still nominate a great free resource for the Twelve Days of Christmas, and I’d really love to get feedback if you find any of these useful!

(I previously mentioned in An Alternative Software Sampler, but I didn’t address its full potential nor mention its Mac counterpart.)

An Alternative Software Sampler

Even with educational discounts, software can be expensive. However, a lot of people aren’t even using name-brand software anymore. I don’t think I run any Microsoft products on my computer these days, and you don’t have to, either. While there isn’t a satisfactory substitute for everything, there are for a lot of things. (By the way, make sure to read to the end of this post for a really useful link if you travel and use internet cafes and library computers, or shared school computers.)

Here are just a few (I’ve tried to only list cross-platform ones so that most people will be able to use them). Most are free; some ask for a small fee or donation.

  • Office applications, including word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets: (cross-platform, including Windows) and NeoOffice (OS X) do pretty much everything we want them to. They can open .docx and .xls files, export as .pdf, save so that Word users can open files, edit Powerpoint documents, etc. In fact, both are so much like Word that you still have to go turn off all the annoying autocorrect features. Ugh! But at least there’s no paperclip … I have no more compatibility issues than I had when I used Word itself. Support for multiple languages, including Asian languages (some features built in). Very familiar interface. Free to use; optional donation.
  • Web browsing: Firefox (cross-platform) is safer than Internet Explorer. It’s less prone to viruses, etc., and less prone to crashing. It also has a lot of great features that, admittedly, IE eventually gets around to copying (like tabs). It has more useful add-ons, like Rikai-chan, which lets me read Japanese more easily. More about Firefox sometime in the future.
  • Sound editing: Audacity (cross-platform) is a free sound editing and recording application. It’s particularly popular with TESOLers doing podcasts (here’s a tutorial). It’s fairly easy to use.
  • Statistics: The R Project (crossplatform) was mentioned on Metafilter as a free substitute for expensive stat-crunching licenses, and may be useful for researchers. I haven’t used it myself.
  • Course management: Sakai (online) is a free alternative to Blackboard and its ilk. Designed by actual educators and researchers at Stanford, Michigan, Indiana, MIT and Berkeley, I really recommend giving it a try (Blackboard is such a mess).
  • Instant messaging: Pidgin (cross-platform) and Adium (OS X) are wonderful if you’re trying to stay in touch with friends, family, clients, and students around the world. Both applications put EVERYTHING in one wonderful chat interface. You don’t have to worry about whether different people are using Yahoo, MSN, AIM, or whatever anymore. I use Adium, which even lets me have both my Yahoo! Japan and my Yahoo! chat names signed on at once, and multiple accounts (for my teacher and real-person identities) with the same service. Additionally, it’s free of ads, which most of the proprietary free services aren’t.

These are just a few of the free and open-source programs out there. As for graphics, no one seems to be able to agree on a decent all-around package that’s also cross-platform. Your best bet is probably to search Lifehacker for your specific need (vector graphics, font creation, photo editing, 3D graphics, etc.) and see if they have a recommendation for your operating system. In general, Lifehacker and Ask Metafilter (may have adult content, textually speaking) are good places to find safe recommendations.

Another bonus of using these applications is that many of them are smaller than their commercial counterparts, so they take up less room on your hard drive. Many of them are available in even more stripped-down forms at Portable Apps, so that you can put them on a USB stick and use them on, for example, a school computer running Korean Windows and all Korean applications, or in an internet cafe where you really shouldn’t trust their software. (Internet cafes, library computers, etc., are favorite places for hackers to install keyloggers and grab your passwords…) Great for travel!

P. S. I was thinking of doing a conference presentation on this topic one of these days, but I’m not sure how interested people would be. What do you think?