Monthly Archives: May 2012

Two Neat Google Tools – Street View and Art Project

For our last May post, let’s look at a pair of online tools that could be useful if you’re traveling over the summer: an online map that shows you not just the streets, but the view as you drive down them; and a series of guided tours to a variety of art museums and galleries from around the world.

What Is It?

Google Street ViewGoogle Street View is a feature of Google Maps that will let you see what would be around you as you drive a route you’ve plotted out on a map. Several years ago, Google began driving vans with 360-degree cameras on top through major cities and towns, recording the view from the street. Then, they connected these street views to Google Maps, so that travelers could see what was around them as they drove or walked from place to place. Now, all you have to do is visit Google Maps, type in an address or get directions, and then use Street View to see what the route will look like when you’re there.

Google Art Project menuGoogle Art Project takes the technology created for Street View and brings it inside a growing number of art museums and galleries. Using the Google Art Project, you can “visit” a gallery from the comfort of your computer screen, wherever you are.

How Is It Useful?

When you’re planning a trip, it’s easy enough to find out what roads you need to take, but what if there’s a hidden entrance or a missing sign? By using Google Maps, and then looking at the Street View for your route, you can see landmarks and other useful details that no road map would ever show you. It’s like taking a practice drive before you have to do it for real, and can help prevent frustrating mistakes.

In order to decide where to visit, get a preview of a museum’s collections at the Google Art Project site. Walk through the galleries and see what sorts of art and sculpture are on view, then decide if you want to visit. Students can use the art project’s views to find out more about different artists or specific pieces of art, to help with projects or to study techniques to try on their own.

Try It Out

Getting to Street ViewStreet View: Go to Google Maps and type in the address of a location near you that you know well. (Or, take a look at the Boston Public Library’s Copley Square location) Once you’ve found your location on the map, click on the icon of the little orange person on the left and drag it to a street on your map. That activates the Street View, and you’ll see what that section of street looks like.
 

Navigation circle in Street ViewClick on the white arrows at the bottom of the screen to move forward and backwards, right and left. Click and drag the image to “turn” the camera and see what’s around you. Use the small street map in the lower right corner to keep track of where you are. You can also use the circle at the top left of the map to look around – just click on the arrows or grab the N (for North) and drag it around the circle to change direction.
 

Google Art Project sidebarArt Project: Go to the Art Project website and just start exploring. You can click on Collections, Artists, or Artworks up at the top left to view all of the images, organized differently, or you can click on that little orange person in the top left to only see the museums that have Museum View available. Try out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City and walk around its galleries for a while. Again, click on the arrows to move forward and backwards, and click and drag on the image to see what’s around you.

Use the icons on the left side of the screen to discover more art similar to the piece you’ve found, to add an image to your own gallery, to share what you’ve found out to social media, and to view a slideshow of art in the collection you’re in. Click on the plus sign on any piece of art to find out more about it, or click on the word Details.

Help & Resources

Social Games – Playing together, wherever you are

Going from practical to fun, let’s look this week at social games – those games you see everyone playing on their smartphones, tablets and laptops.

What Are They?

Social games are exactly that: online games that you can play on a social network like Facebook, or games that require social activity to play. Some are just board games played online (like Scrabble or chess), while others feel more like video games with monsters and quests. However, the most uniquely social games don’t look anything like a real-world games; instead, you are part of an online world where you might be a farmer, or an aquarium owner, or a mafia don. You earn points for doing all the things that a farmer or don would normally do, and by working with other friends playing the game, you can earn more points and get to higher levels of play.

The big difference between social games and most other games is that the game never ends. You might win individual rounds, but there is no ‘finishing’ the game. Just like real life social interactions, you keep going until you choose not to play.

Why Are They So Popular?

First, these are games. They’re easy to learn, easy to play and – because they’re usually on a mobile device – easy to take anywhere. Just like any other video game, board game, or physical game, players enjoy figuring out how the game works and getting good at it. Then, there’s the social aspect. Even when you can’t physically be near your friends, you can still play games against them. Your best friend might just be at work or at home across town, or might have moved to the other side of the country or the world, but you can stay connected by playing a game ‘together’ whenever you want. Finally, not only do you get to play games wherever you are and with friends near and far, but you can use those networks of friends to help you play the game by sharing experience, game money, or by lending another sword to the fight. Have more friends, conquer bigger monsters or farm bigger farms, earn more prizes, then get more friends as you explore new places in the game. See the fun, yet?

Three Examples

Farmville is one of the oldest and most popular games on Facebook. Each player creates a farm, where they can virtually plow, plant and harvest crops and trees. Players also care for their farm animals: milking their cows and collecting eggs from their chickens. As you tend to your farm, the game posts updates to your Facebook timeline and your friends can see and share in everything you do, especially friends who also play Farmville. Zynga – creators of Farmville – have nearly a dozen Facebook games, all of which are social games.

Words with Friends is a word-building game based on Scrabble – play letters to create words and earn points for each letter you play. You create an account, and then you find other friends who are also using Words with Friends and challenge them to a game. Since it’s a smart device app (for iPhone, iPad and Android), you can play it anywhere!

Draw Something is also an app-based game, where you draw clues to help the other player guess the word you’ve been given. Draw Something also lets you send messages to friends within the game, save the drawings you make and send them to Facebook and Twitter. Available for iPhone, iPad and Android.

Help & Resources

Where’s My Bus? How’s the Traffic? – Transit Information Apps & Websites

As the weather gets warmer and we spend more time outside, more people are out on the roads and on public transit. There are many tools to help keep tabs on when the next bus or train is due, and on traffic conditions everywhere. Some are websites you can visit from any mobile device or a regular computer, and others are apps for iPhones, Android phones, iPads and more. Since Learning for Life Online is based in Boston, we’re going to look at Boston-are resources, but there are similar tools for most areas of the United States and around the world. See the Help & Resources section at the end for more information.

Public Transit Apps & Sites

If you’re in Boston, the main public transit system is the MBTA, known as the T. Here are some tools to help you track buses & trains, or to figure out the best way to get somewhere by T.

    MBTA app center

  • First, start out at the MBTA website from your computer or smart mobile device. They’ve got a good trip planner, alerts about problems on the different lines, and a list of apps you can use to see bus & train schedules or to track them in real time. We’ll list a few of the apps below, but there are many more at the site. (Website, free)
  • Where is the T? is a mobile-friendly website (not an app) that gives real-time information about the Red, Blue and Orange lines of the subway system. Just visit the site on your phone or tablet, choose your line, and you’ll see icons for each train and when it’s due into the next station. Tap on a station name to see all the trains due into that station in both directions. Simple and easy. (There’s no information for the Green line because it doesn’t use the same tracking system as the others. Boo.) (Website, free)
  • NextBus is a website that does the same for all the bus lines. Visit the site, then choose the MBTA from the list of transit systems. Pick your bus route number, direction and stop, and you’ll get predictions for when the next two buses will arrive. You can also see them on a map. Each prediction page can be bookmarked for easy access later. (Website, free)
  • TLeave is an extremely simple and mobile-friendly site for the Commuter Rail (services from Boston to other cities in eastern Massachusetts). Select your commuter rail line, a starting and ending stop, and what day of the week it is, and you’ll get a list of all the trains that will get you where you need to be. Note: this is not real-time information, just a schedule list. (Website, free)
  • Catch the Bus is an app for any smart mobile device. You can see a list of routes, a map view for any particular route, get predictions for stops, and save stops to a list of favorites. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Boston Bus Map is an Android app that you can download to your phone and customize for the buses you take most often. Choose the route, set your favorite stops, and then just tap on a stop to see the arrival time for the next bus. (App, free)
  • Pocket MBTA is an iOS (iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch) app that works the same way for Apple devices. Pick your route, pick your stop, and get predictions and real-time information with a tap of the screen. (App, free)

Traffic Apps & Sites

  • Mass511 is a website from the MA Department of Transportation (MADoT) that has real-time traffic information across the state. You can visit the website and see a color-coded traffic map, or use the Android app or mobile website on your smartphone. (Website & app, free)
  • SigAlert (formerly SmarTraveler) is a website that shows real-time traffic speeds for all major roads in Boston and many other cities around the country. Just visit the site on your computer or mobile web device and choose an area by city or by road/route number. If you go by road number, you need to know what exit ramp you’re nearby to find it on the list. Note: This site now has banner ads at the top. Don’t click on them. (Website, free)
  • Google Traffic

  • Google Maps has a traffic option that lets you see how fast or slowly traffic is moving on your route. When you use the site to get directions, just click on the Traffic menu on the right side of the map to see traffic speeds in red, yellow and green. (Website, free)
  • Bing Traffic

  • Bing Maps has the same feature, right on their main page. (Website, free)
  • Both CBS Boston and Fox Boston have apps for Android and Apple products that include traffic updates from these local news sources. (App, free)
  • Traffic Boston is an Apple app that uses the MA Department of Transportation traffic cameras to actually show you traffic conditions at locations around the city. It doesn’t give you speeds or additional information, but it does give you a live view for right now. (App, costs $0.99)
  • Once you’ve gotten where you’re going, PrimoSpot will help you find parking for your car or bike. Visit the site or download the app, then choose what kind of parking you’re looking for (on-street, garage or bike rack) and type in the address you want to be near. (For the app, you can just find what’s nearby.) See nearby places to park, and tap on a location for more information and useful photos. Highly recommended, and also good for New York City and Seattle. (Website & app, free)

Help & Resources

Five Search Engines You Haven’t Heard of…Yet

With all our coverage of privacy, security, and account settings, April was a pretty heavy month here at Learning for Life Online. Let’s celebrate spring by lightening things up a little bit in May. We’ll start by showcasing five search engines (similar to Google or Bing) that you might not have heard about.
 

Duck Duck Go logoDuck Duck Go is a nifty alternative to Google, Bing and the rest. To use this all-purpose, general search engine, just type in whatever you’re looking for into the search box and click. For tips, tricks and shortcuts to get very specific information quickly, check out their special “goodies” searches page.
 

Million Short logoWhat if you’re not looking for the most popular results? What if you want something obscure, or want to find the small stuff without having to skip past all the answers you already know? Try Million Short, a search engine that will let you cut off the top million, hundred thousand, thousand, or hundred results and get to websites and pages you may have never seen before. This isn’t a search engine you’d use all the time, but if you want to really research a topic online, it would help get to the weird stuff more quickly.
 

Spezify logoSpezify is an entirely different kind of search engine – rather than a list of results, you get a visual collection of images, video and text spread out in front of you. No, it’s not in a particular order, but you can quickly see whether something is useful to you by just looking. Lots of fun, especially if you’re looking for photos or images.
 

EcoFreek logoEcoFreek is a search engine that specifically looks for items that other people are giving away, willing to swap for, selling at a garage sale, or are otherwise free or really cheap. Type whatever you’re looking for into the search box, choose what part of the world you’re in, then click Search. You’ll get a list of results with a short description; if one of them sounds like what you want, click through to the original listing to see if it’s still available.
 

BookFinder logoTired of searching Amazon first to find books to buy? Try BookFinder, a search engine just for books. It’s great for out of print or hard-to-find items, and has an international focus for better non-English language materials.
 

I Like Using Google – Why Change?

If you were shopping for just the right shirt, you wouldn’t look in one store and then stop when you didn’t find it, would you? Same thing with search engines – the same one will tend to give you the same sorts of answers. To really know what’s out there, you need to try your search in different places, and compare the results you get from each one.

There are hundreds of search engines available, some more general and some for very specific topics. Don’t just trust results from the big three – take one step further and see what else is out there.

Help & Resources