15 May 2009

Essential computing: Google

The quality time I have spent with my computer lately has led me to investigate some areas that I have previously under-utilized. Some of this you might already know, as I admit I can be a bit slow at times. I have lots of fun, mostly free little findings that I'm going to share over the next few days. First up is an oldie but goodie, Google.

I am constantly amazed by the capabilities Google offers for advancement of scientific enterprise, organization, and keeping my life sane. That link goes to the list of Google products that is updated at an amazing rate. Here are some of my current favorites.

1. Gmail saved my e-mail a few years ago when I started regularly receiving e-mails from my boss with 10 Mb attachments. I no longer use the e-mail interface offered through my school, because everything gets funneled through Gmail. 

2. iGoogle (i.e., having a Google account and customizing your main Google page) is an awesome way to keep my life together. I have widgets for just about everything else in Google I regularly access. I am a big fan of consolidation of information, and iGoogle lets me consolidate to my heart's content. Here's a screenshot of the top part of my iGoogle page. *sigh* All the organization!!! A calendar, to-do list (that I can share with Bill! Thanks, Katy), dictionary, Spanish word of the day, Google maps, and so much more! I am a dork, I know.

3.  Google Scholar trolls so many different portions of the intertubes, it is awesome. Lit cited counts, and multiple sources to access the same article. Awesome.

4. Google bookmarks offers a portable way to keep track of websites, complete with searchability and tagging. (this is a widget I added to my iGoogle page).

5. Google Earth, which has great potential for keeping track of plant collection information for work, contact locations for friends and family, and a huge time suck for looking for weird things around the world.

6. Google Reader keeps track of the blogs I read (science-related and blogs for fun), reminds me about sales at places I shop, and can even include updates about when my scientific publications are cited.

7. Google Groups,  while a close cousin to other less desirable networking sites, has a nice interface with decent capabilities. I've joined help and discussion groups for some of the tricky software I'm using for my research.

There are so many other resources I don't use yet but am excited to try. Anybody have experience with these?

Google code, for computer developers and programmers.

Google sites, for creating webpages and personal wikis. 

Google SketchUp, for creating 3D models (I am SUPER interested in this one).

Wow, I didn't know I liked Google so much. This isn't to say I like everything Google offers, and there are some things I really hate (Google docs). We also won't talk about the political, economic and sociological implications of Google. However, I can't help but be enthusiastic for the ability to improve the efficiency of my workflow with FREE resources, and these tools give me lots of ideas for improving my career development in the future. First, the accessibility of these tools lets me easily accomplish tasks that I might otherwise avoid due to a steep learning curve (like with modeling in Google SketchUp). Second, this accessibility could allow for the incorporation of these tools into the classroom (after all, I'm trying to get this PhD to teach at a university someday). 

Thanks, intertubes. Thanks, Google.

ETA: Right after I published this post, I realized I'd been using another Google-affiliate all along: Blogger!

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