OETC In-person Returns!

The Ohio Educational Technology Conference has returned to a face-to-face format for the first time since 2020. This has been one of my favorite experiences of the year for a long time, so returning to some of the familiar format and experiences was something I was quietly looking forward to.

For those who remember the heyday of OETC, 2023 was significantly smaller in many ways: fewer attendees, fewer vendors, fewer decorations, fewer sessions. But the heart of an impactful experience is still there, despite the changes. The Ohio Department of Education is now in charge of organizing and managing the conference, after many years of oversight by Ohio Board of Regents (Thanks, Kathy and Betsy for so many years of hard work on OETC). Some logistical challenges always come with changes like this, but I have nothing but respect and admiration for Jamie and his team at the ODE office of ed tech for what they were able to do in such a short time.

Let’s get to the highlights….

Slide from Dr. Jane McGonigal's presentation, showing increased brain activity with active participation over passively receiving content.This year’s keynote speakers were Jane McGonigal, Justin Shaifer and (Ohio’s own!) Eric Curts. These were excellent choices for the “rebirth” of OETC. From different perspectives, they carried forth the theme of starting with excellence in education and then applying judicious use of innovative technology to support it. Dr. McGonigal’s presentation was conducted remote, but haven’t the last two years taught us how to more effectively execute such situations, and how to more effectively engage with such situations.

One unmentioned shift I noticed… I didn’t see anyone use PowerPoint for their presentation slides in any workshop I was in. For the sessions where I could tell what they used, I’d say it was about half and half between Google Slides and Canva. (Always the rebel, my solo presentation was done using a system called “Remark” – thanks again to my longtime friend Duane at indeed for introducing me to it).

Social media presence seemed light, even with the smaller attendance for this conference. Check out the #OETC23 tweets for some of the best of what happened.

The company I work for, Forward Edge, sponsored a presentation room this year. We were in a line of rooms next to Apple and Lego… so… wow! Especially since my solo presentation contained an early reference to Lego’s impact in schools since the mid 80’s. I turned that bit up a little extra loud hoping they would hear me next door!

Two students playing Makey Makey instruments.I was fortunate enough to get to present a Playground presentation as well. This is probably my favorite format at conferences – both as a presenter and as an attendee. At a Playground, there are several displays set up, and participants get to choose which ones they would like to learn more about. My playground presentation was pieces from a high school music class using Makey Makeys to invent their own musical instruments! Educators and students alike spent some time with my cardboard guitar, pencil-drawn drums, and the classic banana piano!

Finally, I have to say that I was not at all prepared for how nice it felt to be face-to-face with some old friends from around the state of Ohio who are doing the good work in education and educational technology. I’m sure I’ll miss some, but BJ, Simon, Toby, Ryan, Ryan (yes, two Ryans), Jeremy, Deb, Deb (yes, two Debs), Matt, Kara, Caryn, Roger, Judy, Sarah, Heather, John…. At one time, I felt like the networking opportunities and informal discussions that happened with these thought leaders was the catalyst for deeply implementing the great things I was learning about. I had forgotten how meaningful those interactions are.

My presentations from OETC:

I already cannot wait for OETC 2024!

Embeddable Images in Google Drive

Issue: “I am using a third-party web tool that allows me to add images, if I provide a URL for the image. If I grab a URL from another website, it works fine. But, I have some of my own images. I want to upload them to Google Drive and use them. But, when I set them to “Anyone with the link” and get the URL, they still don’t work. The third-party tool tells me it can’t use that URL. Can I use Google Drive to store those images?”

Yes, you can.

This post does a great job of explaining a manual process you can use for making this work.

But, I thought it might be fun to try to use the power of Google Sheets to do some of this work automatically.

I have created a Google Sheet (make your own copy) that speeds up that conversion time. Open the Sheet, paste in the URL you get from “Copy link” in Drive, and the next two columns will give you the URL to use in your third-party application, and a thumbnail version of the image! If you don’t get the thumbnail image, then the modified URL is not working.

The technical side:

The URL for a copied link will look something like this:

The URL for the “embeddable” version of the same image will look something like this:

The same “file id” string appears in both, so it was just a matter of extracting that text and inserting it in the proper place of the embeddable format. The power of Google Sheets does it for you!

So if you are using a web tool that offers the ability to embed content from a public URL, and you want to use your own Google Drive folder to store that content, make a copy of this Sheet and give this a shot!

International “Play Music on the Porch” Day

International Play Music on the Porch Day is the last Saturday in August!

Not really sure what time I will be playing, but my plan is to either livestream or record my set. I’m even thinking a set in the morning and then another little set in the evening.

To follow along, check out my “Mike Buford and the Bulldogs” Facebook page, or check back here for a link to the livestream or recordings.

My morning set is very likely to be my praise and worship set. Not a lot of actual church worship service choruses in there. Here’s the list I’ll be pulling from, in no particular order.

  • “Insult Like the Truth” – Charlie Peacock
  • “Is the Brightness Still in Me?” – Charlie Peacock
  • “One Thing” – Charlie Peacock
  • “If I Stand” – Rich Mullins
  • “Screen Door” – Rich Mullins
  • “Sometimes By Step” – Rich Mullins
  • “I Belong to You” – Scott Anderson
  • “Somebody Loves You” – Scott Anderson
  • “Listen to Our Hearts” – Geoff Moore
  • “Motivation” – Wes King
  • “One of Two” – Gary Chapman
  • “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” – traditional hymn
  • “Where Could I Go” – traditional hymn
  • “Big House” – Audio Adrenaline

The evening set will be more of my bag of tricks for open mics and jams. I lean heavy on things like Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison Blues,” Kenny Wayne Shepherd “Blue on Black,” Michael Franti “Sound of Sunshine,” Jason Mraz “I’m Yours,” John Denver “Grandma’s Feather Bed,” Blues Brothers “She Caught the Katy,” and more! If Amelia comes out to join me, you can bet we will do the theme from “Kipper” as well.

Play Music on the Porch Day - last Thursday in August, worldwide.

What the Guitar Taught Me about Learning

Earlier this year, I took up the challenge of “FREd Talks” – an Ignite-style presentation. Twenty slides, auto-advanced every 15 seconds. Five minutes to deliver a message.

I love this format because it forces me to answer the tough question, “What is my central message here?”

This one is titled “What the Guitar Taught Me about Learning,” and it tells the story of me trying to learn something and quitting.

[Link to video.]

Hope you enjoy it!

And, if you want to see how I’m doing with it, check out MikeBuford.com! Thanks!

“Prospects for Success”

My son, Quenton, and I are long-time fans of Prospect League baseball. The Prospect League is a summer collegiate wood-bat league. Their season lasts ten weeks.

Quenton loves sports, and talking about sports. So, for a summer project this year, we decided to launch “Prospects for Success,” a podcast about our experiences with Prospect League baseball.

We are especially proud of episode 9, our interview with Lafayette Aviators’ player Jack Lang! Check it out! The podcast is available on many popular podcast services and YouTube!

Prospects for Success podcast.

The Green Dragon Classroom

Planning is important, but imagination is what makes the extraordinary possible.

I’ve quoted that snippet many times, but I had a remarkable opportunity to experience it during my recent trip to Florida for FETC (the Future of Education Technology Conference).

As I was planning for the trip, I was trying to think of a way I might still get in some guitar practice while I was away from home. If I don’t practice a little every day or two, I feel like I start losing some of what little skill I have, and this was going to have me away for a week. I put out a request on Twitter… anyone at/near FETC have a guitar I can use?

Someone replied and tagged another Twitter friend of mine, fellow educator and Maker-enthusiast, Mr. Dennis Dill.

Mr. Dill teaches at the Jewett School of the Arts in Winter Haven, Florida. I don’t have the foggiest idea what his class is called. I didn’t even think to ask. I just know his space is filled with equipment and supplies for students to make a lot of cool things.

Part of his classroom space is set aside for some musical instruments – drums, keyboard, and… …guitars!

I was heading to Florida early before FETC, because I had a couple of “I’m going to be in the area, so this may be the best chance I ever have to…” items on my list. So, what would adding one more hurt? I found the nerve to ask Mr. Dill if I could visit his classroom.

He was more than gracious in allowing me to visit, and I took away a wealth of ideas for the makerspace I work with in Felicity, Ohio!

There were no “assignments” being handed out, just “design challenges.” Some of them would require a pretty significant use of technology. Some would not. Some students worked independently on their chosen challenge. Some worked in groups. Nothing that was aimed at meeting a challenge was off-limits.

As students worked, I just sorta wandered around and observed what they were doing. At one table, a group of students had a special clay and hardware for making custom earrings. I asked where the idea for the project came from, and one student replied, “I saw these on Etsy, but they were pretty expensive. So, I thought, I can probably make them myself.”

First time in my life I ever wished I had pierced ears.

“Well, we got these clips, so we can make keychains, too,” another student offered, to help me avoid squeezing in a jewelry store trip to my Florida travels.

Students were choosing and working on the whole range of different projects. They were learning what they needed to learn in the moment about the software or equipment or devices that would get them further in their challenge.

If a student wanted their “My Word For 2022” image to be poster-sized, that was a great time to learn some new skills in Photoshop. If a student wanted to design a “flying machine” in Minecraft, that was a great time to learn some new blocks and tools.

And, if a student really just wasn’t feelin’ it that day, there were plenty of books and cozy places to sit… and I don’t really see anything wrong with affording students the same grace I sometimes wish I could find for myself.

I still want to know whether the special roll of hydrodip film really wasn’t any better than spray paint, as several of the students strongly contended.

It wasn’t part of any of their challenges for the week, but I did get to work in a few licks with the in-house electric guitar. Big thanks to “G” for adding the percussion for me on the electronic drums!

An old golf cart that was being stripped down to turn it into a flight simulator. A homemade pool table doubling as a group workstation. And a RetroPi video game emulator set into a hand-built arcade game cabinet – which I didn’t see one student touch the entire time I was there. They were too busy doing other things.

“What’s wrong with students today? Why are they so lazy? Why do they always say they’re bored? Why are they just staring at their phones all the time?” I dare say none of those questions have ever been asked in Mr. Dill’s classroom. His is the kind of classroom that provides the sort of experiences for kids that helps them be better students in all of their classes, and will result in people who have the kind of mindset and approach to problem-solving and trying new things that we desperately need for a brighter future.

Before I ever stepped foot in the Orange County Convention Center for the “Future of Education Technology Conference,” I saw what is possible in the present with educational technology.

And it’s pretty freakin’ awesome.


The campus radio station was a cool place to hang out. In my undergrad years at KCC (now KCU), there was a radio station. The 10-watt (maybe?) antenna was just about enough to reach the edges of campus and a little into the town of Grayson. The student DJ’s were paid from work-study funds, and were given some latitude on what they played and when from the station’s library. This was at the very beginning of the 90s, and “streaming music” hadn’t been experienced yet.

I wanted to like “contemporary Christian music.” But, I just didn’t. Too much of it sounded like the pop music of the day, which I didn’t really listen to much anyway. However, there were a few whose work I found to be particularly interesting. I really enjoyed the work of artists like Rich Mullins, Charlie Peacock, Steve Taylor, and Scott Anderson.

Scott’s debut album, “Somebody Loves You” was a real thoughtfully-assembled album in a dearth of attempts at commercial success by other artists. Eleven songs that told a story. I played it a lot.

That album came out 30 years ago. I still play it. So, one day I started wondering whatever might have become of Scott Anderson. Some internet searching revealed a lead that he was still performing, living in the Tampa/St. Pete area. You can find him at his website, twitch.us. I highly recommend the thoughtful “On My Way.”

As fortunes would have it, I am typing this from the state of Florida, where I will be attending a work conference this week. Two hours away from where Scott regularly provides some entertainment at an outdoor cafe. Two measly hours. Life had presented me the option of a side-quest, and I clicked “accept.”

It was unusually cool on Saturday, January 22, 2022, in Treasure Island, Florida. But, Twitch was there, at Coffee Grounds, playing and singing. I got there before a crowd would straggle in from the street – with the chilly weather, there wasn’t going to be much of a crowd anyway. Scott indulged me by playing a few of my old favorites of his. He also played some excellent covers of popular singer-songwriter tunes. I love playing… well, trying to play… Somebody Loves You and I Belong to You… and having Scott’s personal “go for it!” means an awful lot to me.

I tried not to be too much of a “fanboy,” but I did bring along the CD liner notes from “Somebody Loves You” and Scott graciously signed it for me. He also posed with me for a selfie. Twitch and me

Is there a lesson or a moral in all this? Maybe just this…. If there is someone who has been a positive influence on your life… someone who (whether they knew it or not) motivated you to do something special, no matter how small it may seem… reach out and let them know. You might not get a response, but that doesn’t lessen the value of the positive you are putting in the world.

And, if by chance they do respond? You might end up sitting at an outdoor coffee shop in Florida listening to some of your favorites performed live.

Florida in January

I am going to the “Future of Education Technology Conference” in Orlando, FL. The conference is 1/24-1/28.

Now, Orlando in January is typically a very nice place to spend time, but I will be tied up most of the time with the conference. Plus, my family will be back in Ohio, so trying to go to a bunch of the usual Orlando touristy places just wouldn’t be any fun without them.

I do have two or three stops I want to make in the region. Stay tuned for more updates on my adventures. Will I meet a CCM singer-songwriter from the 90s who I loved listening to? Will I find any of my biological father’s old belongings? Will I eat a sauerkraut pizza? Will I visit a classroom with a music studio?

Kid Creole and the Coconuts – “Doppelgänger”

It’s November 15, 1980. Ronald Reagan has just won the presidential election, so the Carter administration is coming to an end. Elliott Gould is hosting his 5th episode of Saturday Night Live… the first of season 6. Big changes are starting with new writers and cast members… and a wider variety of musical acts. Tonight’s musical guest is “Kid Creole and the Coconuts”.

Did I see this episode in its first run? I honestly can’t remember. Elliott Gould was a popular host, so it may have been a rerun in later years when I first saw this episode. Whatever the case, I instantly became a fan of KC&tC. “Mister Softee” and “Grace of God” were never to be found on my radio, but I wanted more than the memory of seeing them live from New York late one Saturday night.

Enter “Doppelgänger”.

Kid Creole and the Coconuts was not built for the era before music videos. I’ll link you to some concert footage in the comments and you’ll see what I mean. Hot Latin rhythms, sharp threads, and the simply-yet-effectively-choreographed (but way more than just visually stunning) backup singing Coconuts. A party band experience a la The New York Dolls, with the stage-filling energy of a Miami Sound Machine. Imagine Lou Bega and The Spice Girls had a bunch of children. And those kids started a band. That’s Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

Musically, this isn’t even Kid’s best work, but the opening track, “The Lifeboat Party,” is a banger! And Island Records didn’t put out discs in the early 80s just to fill slots in record stores. If you dig Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, and Celia Cruz, there is plenty here to enjoy, while waiting for the torch to be passed to Gloria Estefan and the soundtrack from Jim Carrey’s “The Mask”.

Side one has fun, and invites you along. The Coconuts get their turn on the lead mic on “Distractions”, and prove they have the skills to do more than shake in triplicate. August “Kid Creole” Darnell has plenty of vocal power to front the other tracks’ fully-orchestrated brass and percussion licks.

Side two turns up the heat like you might expect in a South Beach nightclub. The Cuban influences are more focused here, and the “feel good” lyrics from side one (which border on silly in “If You Wanna Be Happy”) give way to some more socially observant fare in side two’s “There’s Something Wrong in Paradise” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Daryl Hall lends a hand on “Bongo Eddie’s Lament,” and we’re all left playing Six Degrees of Separation to figure out how THAT collaboration came about. By the time you get to the closing track, “Seven Year Itch,” you might just believe it’s 3AM and you have to walk the palm-tree-lined streets back to your hotel on the beach… after one more dance under the lights.

This isn’t a set to spin when you have no intention of getting out of your recliner. Expect the kids to bounce around with a stuffed animal dance partner. This one is from an era when an album was an opportunity to tell a story, and Doppelgänger tells a cogent story – both in the tracks and on the liner notes!

Kid Creole and the Coconuts album, "Doppelgänger"

Barry Manilow – 2:00 AM Paradise CaFé

If you were a cool jazz fan, and I told you that I had a recording of a combo including Gerry Mulligan on sax, George Duvivier on bass, and Bill Mays on keys, and guest vocal performances by Sarah Vaughn and Mel Torme, you might say “Hey, that sounds pretty good.”

Now imagine the front man for that combo is Barry Manilow.

Yes, that Barry Manilow.

The two sides of the record are called “Set 1” and “Set 2,” and that’s how they play, like cocktail lounge sets. There are instrumental segues between the tracks that smell like cigarettes and cheap liquor, so that each side is about 20 minutes of continuous performance. The accomplished jazz musicians take turns with improv licks around Barry’s vocals. In Set 1, Sarah Vaughn steps in to duet on “Blue”. On the flipside, Mel Torme shines on the beautifully simple “Big City Blues”. Those two performances are worth the purchase, but “What Am I Doin’ Here” stands as a powerful opener for the second set to go beyond the “Is that really Manilow?” mystique.


Some of the chords seem unnecessarily forced to sound so jazzy they force you to consider the “anti-Manilow” depth of the performance, but there is nothing experimental about this jazz offering. It’s exactly what you’d expect from that hot little club just far enough from the tourist spots and the airport to remain a locals’ secret, where pros still show up occasionally to remember what it was like before they were packing serious concert halls.

Not to diminish Manilow’s performance at all. He’s got the chops to stay in these careful selections. And the result is a nice way to spend 45 minutes in your easy chair, late at night, and have another scotch-on-the-rocks to wash away the hassles of the daytime.

Barry Manilow's album, "2:00 AM Paradise Café”