GKTechies’ Tech Vacation

DISCLAIMER: This is more of a travel and photography blogpost than our usual educational tech post, though that is included, too! See the end for travel apps we recommend.

Based on the title, you might think we took a vacation from tech. It was quite the opposite. For our vacation, we decided to take a road trip from California to Washington, visiting friends along the way, because K received an invitation to tour the Inclusive Tech Lab at Microsoft.

K is the planner and relied on her new favorite web tool Wakelet as a vacation idea repository for the first time. Any time she saw a website with a hotel or a place to visit, she clicked the extension to save it to the collection. Groupon links? Saved. Places to stop? Saved. Hotel confirmations? SAVED! (If you aren’t familiar with Wakelet, it’s similar to Pinterest, but BETTER! Check out our blogpost about Wakelet.)

First stop? Silicon Valley! We stayed at the Zen Hotel. Quiet, good breakfast, free snacks in the room, great location, though we got a queen room and should have spent the extra for a king. The queen bed seemed small (felt like a double) and we’re both tall. The staff was friendly and K loved the veggie/fruit smoothies at breakfast.

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So if you are in Silicon Valley, what do you do? VISIT TECH COMPANIES! In the evening, we parked at Google and walked around for a bit, finding one of the Android statues to pose with and the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Sadly, they don’t offer a tour. TripSavvy’s blogpost about the campus grounds was helpful.

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Day 2 of our Tech Road Trip took us to the Computer History Museum. WOW! Being a bit budget savvy, we found a Groupon for a 2 for 1 deal.  It took us a few hours to see everything. No surprise since it said it covers “The First 2000 Years of Computing”. K loved that the opening movie included captioning. We both felt a little old when recognizing devices on displays that we used. Our stuff could be in a museum?! The napkins were great and we found them for sale online! Finished off with a game of Pong.

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Off to Cupertino! K has used Apple products for years and wanted to visit, maybe pick up some items that aren’t available in most stores. There were cool t-shirts, but $40 felt a little expensive for a shirt so we left with pictures and memories. The Apple Infinite Loop is MASSIVE!

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Time to hit the road and de-tech for a bit. Walked in the beautiful California Redwoods, stopped for a quick bite at Fat Irish Kitchen & Pub in Brookings, Oregon, (G loved their clam chowder!) then drove on to Port Orford, Oregon, to stay at Castaway by the Sea. Not too expensive and it’s on a cliff overlooking the water. The first time we stayed, they were dredging the harbor, which was fascinating! (Did we mention we are kind of geeky?) No dredge this time, but while outside our room enjoying the view, a deer walked by just a few feet away. Before driving too far, G needed coffee so we stopped at Bandon Coffee. We highly recommend it and left with a bag of road trip snacks (AKA cookies!). K said their hot chocolate was the best she had ever tasted. High praise since she orders hot chocolate a lot. The downtown area had some incredible sculptures from items washed ashore.

In Portland, we stayed with friends for a few days so time to dial back the geek, except K did show them Wakelet because she knew they’d love it. For fun, we went to see the movie Yesterday and had Beatles’ songs stuck in our heads for days. One of the restaurants we’d recommend in the area is La Provence. Their Beaverton location was next to a park so you could walk off all the calories (or at least, some of them).

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Leaving Portland, we headed north towards Seattle to visit a friend K met during Microsoft’s E2 conference in Paris. After a great lunch with Tara and her husband at Northwest Sausage and Deli, we went to the Lemay Collections at Marymount, not to be confused with the Lemay Museum-America’s Car Museum which is also in Tacoma.  We HIGHLY recommend this museum, even if you are only mildly interested in cars. The cars are GORGEOUS! Between the guided tour and our own walking around, we spent about 2 hours there, but some of the specialty tours sounded interesting for a future visit. Again, we found a deal on Groupon.

On towards Seattle! The first night, we stayed along Lake Washington at Hyatt in Renton, Washington. Normally, this would be a little pricey for us, but we have a policy of staying in cheap hotels (as long as they are clean!) when just stopping to rest and then spoiling ourselves a bit when exploring. The location was beautiful and we walked along the lake which also included a view of the Boeing factory for plane aficionados. Side note: Our room had a GIGANTIC television, handy since we were watching the nail-biting men’s Wimbledon final while packing.  We aren’t huge sports fans, but this final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer grabbed our attention.

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Our next stop was one of our favorites – meeting Bryce Johnson for a tour of Microsoft’s Inclusive Tech Lab.  As a former special education teacher, K knows the importance of assistive tech and accessibility is a passion project so seeing the lab was like a Cubs’ fan getting to walk onto Wrigley Field. Bryce was so kind to answer many questions since K is helping a local university design an assistive tech/instructional tech lab. K also told G she “needs” the jellyfish fiber optic setup that Bryce built.

With Navy, Air Force, and Marine veterans in the family, we appreciated the work spent to help injured veterans enjoy gaming again and followed up our visit with a donation to Warfighter Engaged. We also have AbleGamers set as our Amazon Smile charity. If you use Amazon, choose a charity and use smile.amazon.com when ordering,

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When in the Pacific Northwest, we have enjoyed visiting McMenamins, but have never stayed at one. FINALLY we got to change that! Years ago, friends took us to Kennedy School. What? People are ordering drinks in a CLASSROOM?! McMenamins often are vintage locations that have been re-purposed. This trip, we spent a few days at Anderson School in Bothell, Washington. The school was built in 1931 and was used as a school until 2007. Anderson School has numerous places to eat and we were happy to host old friends and new. K got to meet up with Veronica, currently an intern at Excel, a Twitter buddy and fellow blogger.

The adventures at Microsoft continued when K met up with Will Lewis and some of the Microsoft Translator team. She appreciated they wanted to know her thoughts on a recent announcement and expressly asked for her honest opinion. #MicrosoftListens Microsoft announced that PowerPoint now has the ability to display live captions in English or one of 12 other languages. This is great, but K has been using the Microsoft Garage PowerPoint add-in that also allows attendees to pick their individual language and can translate the slide deck so while she was happy for others who may not have the PowerPoint software, she’s hoping that tool will eventually transfer over to the online version. 🧡 What also impressed K was that Will remembered the thank you letters she shared over a year ago written by students after she taught them Office 365 using Microsoft Translator. The students spoke at least 5 different languages.

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After, K met up with G in the Microsoft Visitor Center. We both tried out the Hololens with augmented reality and then K found a shirt in the store.  She loved that the T-Rex is using assistive tech and our nephew loves dinosaurs!

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Our last day at Microsoft was a Microsoft Innovative Expert Educator’s dream! #MIEExpert K mentioned to Mike Tholfsen (product manager on the Microsoft Education team and #OneNoteAvenger) that she’d be around since they’ve met a few times. He invited her to sit in on not one, but THREE online events so G enjoyed the hotel pool and amenities while K enjoyed a Microsoft Tech Community AMA session (Ask Me Anything) followed by the monthly #MSFTEduChat on Twitter which was hosted by a friend of hers, and then a live Q&A on some of the incredible updates coming to Microsoft Education. After, Mike introduced her to some of the engineering team working on OneNoteEdu and Immersive Reader where she got to thank them personally for all that they do.

Time to start on the long drive home, but we still had a few stops along with way. In Cottage Grove, Oregon, we stayed at a Quality Inn that we would recommend. The town was quaint and we had a filling dinner nearby at the Vintage Inn Restaurant where one of the locals stopped by our table to say hello. This was a town we’d like to visit again.


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Years ago, K took her brother to Wildlife Safaria 600 acre drive through animal park in Winston, Oregon, and was ready to go again. They have a free area so it was a good spot to stretch our legs. Those of you in California may find this similar to the old attraction Lion Country Safari, remembered by Yesterland

a small golden puppy and an adult brindle boxer with their mouths on a chew toy on a green grass backgroundAfter that, we focused on driving home to greet our dogs and face unpacking and laundry, though, no road trip is complete without a stop at Yak’s on the 5 in Dunsmuir, CA, for a sticky bun! It may not be the prettiest, but, trust us, it is worth the stop. Though we didn’t stay there this time, in the past, we’ve had fun sleeping in a train car at Railroad Park Resort.

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Glad to be home, but looking forward to future adventures!

Roadside America iOS app logo of a black car and a yellow road signWhile traveling, we use a number of apps. One of our favorites (iOS) is RoadsideAmerica. It is a paid app and a free website. Just ask G about K yelling, “It’s the shoe tree!” in the middle of nowhere in Utah around 10pm. You can spot places coming up on your drive and it is our go-to for stretch breaks.

red Yelp logoYelp is wonderful! K has found amazing hotel deals and though we also use TripAdvisor, we found the Yelp reviews to be a little more critical and often more accurate. It has definitely come in handy in rural areas and led us to some gems! TripAdvisor is useful for things to do.

Waze logo "Outsmarting traffic, together"Waze is a must, we feel, and K’s favorite, though G prefers Google Maps. K is the navigator most of the time so Waze it is! If we see traffic ahead, we’ll look at RoadsideAmerica to see if there is a fun attraction nearby or check Yelp for a good restaurant.  For fun, K changed the voice to Cookie Monster, but you can also record your own voice! Leslie Fisher tweeted about it and don’t tell G, but K recorded some of the Waze commands on his phone. 💕

GasBuddy logo with a circle and a road swirl inside itGasBuddy is our buddy! It tells you gas prices along your route so you can decide when it is best to stop. One piece of advice if you have never gotten gas in Oregon – you are NOT allowed to pump it yourself. There are people at the pumps to do it for you, which sometimes is nice, but when you are in a hurry to get back on the road, it can be frustrating.

Groupon in greenOur last travel app suggestion is Groupon. As teachers, budgeting is important, but it also helps with decision making. For example, there were 2 auto museums in the Tacoma area, both had Lemay in their title, which was confusing. What helped make the decision? Besides the beautiful building, the Lemay Marymount location had a 2 for 1 deal.

Feel free to comment with your own suggestions for attractions, apps, hotels, anything to assist others with their own west coast road trip!

URL Shorteners – Why? Which? How?

Today’s post is all about URL shorteners. While there are many out there, my focus is on ones I have used personally. At the end, I’ve created a chart giving you a quick overview of all 4 and their pros and cons.

Why use URL shorteners? They make life easier when sharing a link verbally or when creating a QR code. Below is an example of 2 QR codes. On the left, the original link. On the right, the link using a URL shortener. Which one could be easier for attendees to capture on their phones, especially if far from the screen?


In July 2017, I did a presentation on Microsoft’s accessibility tools for my local Microsoft Store. I created a OneNote resource to share with attendees using a Tinyurl link.  For example, this takes you to our YouTube channel: https://tinyurl.com/gktechiesyt

Tinyurl is VERY easy to use. Simple paste your link and click Make TinyURL! You can also personalize your link by entering a custom alias in the 2nd field before clicking the Make TinyURL! button. Links are NOT case sensitive. https://tinyurl.com/GKTechiesyt works the same as https://tinyurl.com/gktechiesyt.

screenshot of Tinyurl.com homepage "Welcome to TinyURL"

Easy, quick, and free! However, there was no data, nothing to tell me if anyone was using the resource I created. I kept updating the OneNote for me, but had no idea if others were viewing it.


Shortly after that presentation, a colleague told me about Bitly. You can personalize the link, change the link title, AND have data. Example: for internet search tips, see http://bit.ly/InternetSearchTips.  Plus, there is a free version! You can see specific clicks in the last 30 days and the top 3 locations.

Now for the cons: What I found frustrating is that I can see the link for my accessibility resource has been clicked 15,368 times in 55 countries (as of 8/26/18), but cannot see the full list of countries. (UPDATE 5/21/19 – more countries are now listed in the free version! UPDATE 7/1/19 – those countries are gone again) Also, Bitly links ARE CASE SENSITIVE. bit.ly/internetsearchtips will not work, but bit.ly/InternetSearchTips will go to the correct resource.

Bitly analytics with a list of countries and a blue circle graph with 15,582 total clicks in the center



Then along came Leslie Fisher‘s webinar and I discovered Delivr. WOW! Now I can see a LOT of data so I started sharing my accessibility notebook with this link: https://delivr.com/27zf2. With Delivr, you can pull a report for the last 90 days to view the traffic to your link. As long as I check it within those days, I can keep track of the countries specifically and even states and provinces.

Also, Delivr links are NOT case sensitive. https://delivr.com/27zf2 goes to the same resource as https://delivr.com/27ZF2.

Delivr data as of 8-26-18

So what are the downsides to the free version? Unlike TinyURL and Bitly, you cannot personalize the end of link so it isn’t as easy to share out verbally. You are also limited to only 5 links at a time. HOWEVER, you can change where the link points to at any time.

For example, I created a handout of internet search tips (Boolean tools) in Word (Bitly link). Then, a colleague imported it into Sway (Bitly link), inspiring me to use that medium instead. The Word link had already been tweeted out and I couldn’t change where it pointed so I had to create a new Bitly. With Delivr, I could have changed it, Internet Search Tips (Delivr link), so people who had the original link would get the newer format.


If you are sharing a link verbally, Leslie Fisher also introduced me to an incredible tool called Yellkey. What is Yellkey? Basically, when you need to share a link easily and quickly, drop it into Yellkey and a URL is created using yellkey.com/ and a common word is added to the end. For example, yellkey.com/star.

Yellkey - enter URL and length of time for key to exist. Next field for selecting time for link to be live. blue button "generate yellkey" made with love by delta lab

Upside/downside? That link only works for up to 24 hours. You set the time, however.

Be aware that links ARE CASE SENSITIVE. The add on word must be lowercase, according to my tests.

Yellkey enter url and length of time for key to exist. 5 minutes, 10, 15, 30, 1 hour, 3 hours, 6, 12, 24 hours

There are numerous other URL shorteners online, some with dubious reviews like AdFly, which sounds great to monetize your resource, but I found posts talking about viruses and scam questions.

Goo.gl has been used by many, but is no longer an option.



Bitly: free, but can upgrade to enterprise version for $6-7k a year, overall statistics and the last 30 days available, can customize link. Delivr: free for 5 links, subscription plans available - cheapest is $270/yr for 100 links, detailed overall statistics for the last 90 days available, cannot customize link. TinyURL: cost is free, data is none, can customize link. Yellkey: free, no data, cannot customize link.

They are difficult to rank, but I would put Delivr as my favorite due to the INCREDIBLY DETAILED statistics, though you cannot customize the link and you only get 5 links in the free account version. (If sharing a link verbally, you could paste your Delivr link in Yellkey and then have the user bookmark it.)

Bitly also offers free accounts AND you can customize the links and see overall statistics and 30 days worth of data. There doesn’t seem to be a limit to the number of links you can create. The free version doesn’t let you change the site the link is pointing to, but you could create a fresh Bitly.

Tinyurl is free, lets you customize, but does not give you data. No sign in.

Yellkey is free, does not let you customize, does not give you data, and has a time limit. Sometimes, I did not like the word it created. One example was Yellkey.com/fear which sounded negative, but you can just create another one. No sign in.