Review of

Things I don’t like.

First, while I was filling out the registration form, I wasn’t told whether I’d be able to change this information later if I wanted to.

I wanted to see information about whether I’d be able to edit the information later. I am sometimes a little bit suspicious of forms and websites because I know that many of them harvest your information so that they can market to you in the future.

One really appealing feature of MyGradeBook is the ability to link to its QuizLab site.

Emails sent to support:

How do I add a student to my school? I can’t seem to find a way from the Students tab.



Log into your account and choose a class from the drop down screen. Once you have selected the class you would like to add the student to, click on the “Students” tab. Next, click on the “add” button. Fill the student’s information into the blank fields. Make sure you click “save” in order to record your changes. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Have a nice day!
Colleen Slyne
Family Education Network

My response:

Yes, that’s what I was afraid of.

But I want to be able to enter the students into a master student list. From that list, I’d like to add them to classes.

The point is this–I want to reduce the number of errors that could occur by entering students’ names manually each time we add them to a class.

Problems and things I don’t like

The help section

The help section isn’t very helpful. The first problem is that the help topics aren’t searchable; the topics are organized by category. For example, if you want to , you need to use the following click sequence: Teachers > Class > Students > Student Names and Passwords

  • Passwords seem to be limited to 10 characters, although I can’t find this stated anywhere.
  • Students’ passwords and email addresses are entered on two different screens.


It would be nice if the attendance page showed the total number of students present in a class. I like to do a head count to double check the accuracy of the roll.

When you print the weekly attendance sheet, the sheet displays five days (Monday to Friday), even if the class doesn’t meet all five days. For example, I have a class that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays (i.e., only two days per week), but Monday through Friday are shown (i.e., five days). This is easy enough to fix, but a lot of teachers may get confused and may write the Wednesday attendance in the Tuesday slot, since it is the slot right after Monday. And yes, I can get the admin staff to manually cross out the days that class doesn’t meet, but again, this is an extra step that could easily be overlooked.

Dates are not displayed in the weekly attendance sheet; it would be extremely helpful to have dates displayed.

Student passwords: Students’ passwords aren’t true passwords. They are actually more akin to usernames. Let me explain. When students log in to see their grades online, they are asked to enter what MyGradeBook calls a “classword”. The classword is really just an identifier of the class; it’s like the name of the class. This classword has to be unique to the class; the name cannot be shared with any other classes. The student then needs to enter her password and click login. Using these credentials, MyGradeBook shows you your information. If you’d entered another password, e.g., the password of another student for example, you’d be shown different information.

This is problematic because I’m starting to see people who are entering similar passwords–password, imcool, testmagic, etc. The system won’t accept duplicate passwords, and the chances that two people in one class share a password are pretty low. I am therefore checking passwords when students give them to me; if they are too easy to guess or are not unique enough, I’m asking them to choose another password.

Also, students aren’t able to change their passwords; of course a student can always ask his teacher to change his password for him, but I believe it’s important for people to have control over their own login information.


  • If you can’t find something in the help section, check out the knowledge base that you can access when you click the contact link.
  • It took me a while to find out how to set the Meeting Days for classes. After a while of hunting and clicking, I found the link: Meeting Days

(Link: Navigation: Attendance > Meeting Days)

How to create a Master Student List

Wow, this is turning out to be quite a challenge.
Log in as a Group Manager:
Click to enable District Integration:

1st attempt to create a workaround

  1. Go to Add students’ contact information
  2. Problem: If I copy a student from the ALL CLASSES class, the two students aren’t ‘linked’; in other words, the information doesn’t appear to be pulled from the same field in the database. So if I need to update the student’s information, I need to do it manually in all places the student appears. Also, the student will get a new Student ID when her or his account is copied to the new class. Worse: I tried the District Integration feature, and I have the same problem. I can create a new student with the Group Manager tool, and a teacher can import that student. However, when the teacher imports the student, MyGradeBook appears to do the same thing, i.e., create a new database field for that student. I tested this by entering new information for the students as a Group Manager (specifically, I added hyphens to his phone number, and I shortened his first name so that only the initial of his first name would show). I then logged off, and logged in again as a teacher. The information was not updated.
  3. Problem: I cannot enter the passwords and email addresses on the same screen.

Questions sent to support

Question: Is there a limit to the number of students I can have in one class? I want to enroll several hundred people in one class and use this as my Master Student List.

Answer: The program allows a teacher to have up to 30 classes with up to 150 students in each class. We apologize for the inconvenience, but if you’d like to have more than 150 students, you will have to set up multiple classes. Have a greta day!

Quick review of TutorPanel

TL;DR: TutorPanel is nicely laid out, and has a ton of features for the right company or person. It looks to be better-suited for tutoring centers that specialize in live, one-to-one tutoring rather than live group classes. There’s no demo, but registration is fast and free, so you don’t have much to lose to check it out.

I run a “learning center” in San Francisco. (What do you call these places? Tutoring center? Test-prep center? Juku? School? Cram school?) My latest software research has me hunting for scheduling software so that we can efficiently and accurately get our schedules online.

I’d come across several times in the past (they seem to spend a bit of money on advertising). But I’d never taken the time to evaluate them simply because they require a sign-up and account creation, which is kind of a hassle when you’re not even sure whether the product offered even comes close to fulfilling the functions you need.

I have not done a comprehensive review of TutorPanel, but I did find out enough information to know what it’s not for me, and maybe this information will help others. So here it goes.

First, my goal is to find software that can generate schedules for on-site, live SAT prep classes, after-school tutoring, enrichment courses, and the like. Ideally, I’d like to be able to input information (start day, end day, start time, end time, holidays, etc.) and have an entire list of classes output in easily exportable format. In other words, I want to be able to embed my information on,, and other places as well, if necessary.

I created an account, which was fairly quick and painless, although the registration system did not accept my email address; i.e., I was not able to use; instead, I had to use (Many websites reject email addresses with + in them, even though it’s a perfectly valid character for an email address.) I then had to validate my email, after which I was ready to play with their dashboard.

First impressions: Nice, clean, intuitive layout. Lots of helpful tips and links to articles. For example, there was a link to an article about setting prices for classes on the pricing page.

My goal was to set up class simply to see what my scheduling options were. It was easy enough to do this, except the option to select “group” didn’t work—I got an error on the next screen with the “Group” option selected.

So I just created a summer-long class with one student in it, Pookie Riby (the offspring of the mother Eleanor Rigby). On the calendar-view page, I saw the option to export the information to a spreadsheet, so I tried that, too. For the sake of convenience, I created an online spreadsheet to display the data (to save you a step if you just want to see how it looks).

I played around with the system a bit, and realized that there was no option to take attendance, either. Nor did I even see a link to see all the classes that I could offer (e.g., Calculus, SAT Prep, Essay Writing, etc.).

So, I’ll be submitting a report to myself to pass on TutorPanel for our learning center and keep evaluating other options.

Summary of TutorPanel

Obviously, one of the first considerations anyone will make is whether they want to install and host software themselves or use a “cloud-based” service. Both have their pros and cons, but software-as-a-service is extremely helpful and convenient when it works and when it’s priced affordably. TutorPanel is relatively inexpensive. They have clear, simple pricing (Jan 2013 cost: $20 per month, plus $0.50 per active student).

The TutorPanel interface is clean and nicely designed.

If you’re a small-ish shop and do mostly private tutoring and you want to get something up and running quickly and inexpensively, take a look. But I’m going to be researching a few other tools, including Mimosa, the mighty, open-source Moodle (which we already use), the somewhat-clunky OpenSIS, SchoolTool (designed to run on Ubuntu), and the beautiful Fedena.


Here are some screenshots of the TutorPanel account pages:


Isla de las Muñecas photos

So there is this place in Mexico called Isla de las Muñecas, or “Island of the Dolls.” It is outside of Mexico City, and it is a bit difficult to get to, but it is well worth the trip–I guarantee you will not see anything like it anywhere else on Earth.

How to get there? First, you need to drive an hour so to Xochimilco, a small town with a system of canals that tourists and locals alike enjoy. You basically rent a gondola for a few hours and float around the canals with the other vistors. If you pay extra, the boat dude will take you to “Isla de las Muñecas,” small island that w

as inhabited by a guy who somehow became obsessed with a girl and dolls. (It was hard to understand the whole speech–something about a girl who died, a guy who became obsessed with her, yadda yadda. Hard to know what was true and what was embellishment.) He collected these dolls for many years and attached them by various means to the structures on the island.

The island is a bit creepy, so if you are into that sort of thing, put it on your list of things to do one day.

Anyway, an assortment of photos to enjoy.

ie9 review

Wow. I actually like Internet Explorer 9. It’s still in beta, but it feels finished. Mind you, I don’t think I’ll give up Google’s Chrome or Mozilla’s Firefox anytime soon, but IE9 is worlds apart from the earlier versions of Internet Explorer, which I found effectively unusable (way too slow and ridiculously, even comically obtrusive).

What’s to like? Well, it’s pretty. It’s fast. It’s got way less bloat and clutter than the horrible IE8. In a word, it’s now a lot more like Chrome and Firefox. It’s almost as if Microsoft were listening to customers’ complaints. 😛

And speaking of beta versions of browsers, the beta version of Firefox 4.0 is available, too. Maybe I’ll take that for a test drive as well.

Review of the Disc-Go-Pod PLUS

Problem: A lot of my CDs are scratched and therefore skip when I try to play them.

Solution: Buy a machine to remove those CD scratches. I bought a Disc-Go-Pod PLUS for about $500.

My review:

First impressions

  • Wow, this is small! It’s bigger than a roll of toilet paper, but smaller than a bowling ball.
  • And what, no anodized aluminum casing? No brushed steel anywhere? What’s all this gray plastic?
  • Hmmm… This is just a motor in a plastic case. The motor spins the CD against some pads. $500 for that??

So I take it out of the box. The instructions seems pretty short, and I see that I have everything I need to get started–the liquid polishes and a few other things. I follow the instructions carefully, and put in a scratched CD. Sure enough, after one cycle, I’ve got a mirror-shiny disc.

Following the instructions, I spray it with the finishing spray, and hand wipe it clean with the soft white cloth that the machine ships with. I take it over to my computer to test it with Exact Audio Copy (the standard freeware software to test the readability of the data on audio CDs) to check it, and sure enough, the CD has no errors.

So I run a few more CDs through it, and I receive mostly the same results, with a couple of exceptions, which I’ll talk about in a bit.


The first pair of pads stopped working for some reason, perhaps because they got gummed up with ink or other material from the CD I put in upside down! What do I mean by saying the pads didn’t work? Well, they were effectively too ‘sticky’; i.e., they were holding onto the CDs with too much force, which kept the CD from spinning at the high RPM necessary for a good clean. I took them out and cleaned them with warm water and a toothbrush, the cleaning method I saw mentioned in the manual, but they still didn’t work. Fortunately the Disc-Go-Pod comes with a spare set of pads, and these worked fine. On Monday I’m going to contact the company to ask for advice. Continue reading

Review of

If you’ve never heard of, here’s the quick run-down: a bunch of really smart people, with lots of seed money, have set up a system whereby you can trade CDs with other people for a dollar or so. It’s basically an intermediary for CD trading.

To simplify further, to trade CDs that you have, here’s what you do:

  • You have an original CD that you are willing to part with.
  • You list it on their system. This is pretty easy to do, and their search function employs the latest trendy AJAX technology, so various search results appear as you type.
  • If another lala member wants your CD, you get a message tellling you that somebody wants your CD. Continue reading

Nikon F100

I dabbled in photography in college and even took a few classes as electives. I enjoyed them, but my teacher (Dr. Mary Hammond) was very old-school, and never let us use any of the various technologies available to us. She said all you needed was a Pentax K1000, a good lens, and lots of film (she liked Ilford for black and white). We were required to take a semester of manual pinhole photography before we could even pick up an SLR. As I’m sure all of you are aware, a manual pinhole camera requires the use of a very slow film because the shutter is very slow or at the very least, imprecise (since a human hand has to open and close the shutter). We had to shoot all of our pictures using paper negatives (which are grainy compared to film), but that’s what Dr. Hammond wanted. Continue reading

vBulletin vs Invision

Edit: 2011 June 16: This post is rather old and some of the information no longer applies. I’ve been getting a lot of bots hitting this post, so I’m closing it to comments.

I have been using vBulletin and Invision Power Board on different sites for several years now. I know that many people will want to know only my final decision, and to cut to the chase, I will say now that I much prefer vBulletin. But please keep in mind that what works for me may not work for you. As they say on forums sometimes, YMMV (your mileage may vary, which means that it might be different for you).

For those of you who want to know why, please read on.

I will try to describe my thoughts as i felt them (i.e., as I installed the two software packages on my sites and learned how to use them):

What I liked about vBulletin: Continue reading

Google Toolbar for Firefox Bug

Situation: I’m typing in an input field and want to enter a special character, for example to type in “café”. I hit Alt + 130 to enter the “é” character.

For some reason, the “é” character shows up in the Firefox Google search box, not in the text box, then the page directs to a new page.

Data isn’t always saved (I guess that depends on the application.).

Response from Google: Known bug.