Tag Archives: google

Try One New Thing – Our 1st Anniversary Post

As we finish out June, we are also finishing up the first year of Learning for Life Online. For anyone who’s been reading along since the beginning: thank you. I’m going to work hard to make the second year of LLO as fun and fascinating as the first.

For our 50th post, I’d like to challenge you to choose one of the tools or services we’ve looked this past year and sign up for it or try it out. Pick something that intrigued you but you never got around to it, or something that looked ridiculous and you want to see if you were just missing something. Doesn’t matter how big or small a thing it is – just do it. Review the basics of playing with a new online tool or playing with a new gadget and remember to have fun!

Try One New Thing and play around with it for the month of July. As you try it, comment on this post with your experience or thoughts, and any suggestions you have for using it.

Rather than make you go back through the past year to look for your one new thing, here’s a quick reference list:

It takes time to make a social tool a part of your life, including your life online. Whatever you choose to do, give it to the end of July and then see what you think of it. Let us know here if your opinion has changed, and how.

Thank you all again for following along, and enjoy your One New Thing! See you in July…

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

Stay on Schedule with Google Calendar

Continuing our theme of going deeper with online accounts, this week we’ll take a brief look at Google Calendar.

What Is It?

For starters, it’s a calendar that is easy to check and edit from anywhere you can log in to your Google Account. You can see a day, a week or a month at at time, or view upcoming events as an agenda list. To add an event, you just click on the day, type in a start time and a couple of words about what you’re doing, and click Create Event. If you want more details, click Edit Event and add a location, a description or more.

If you want to keep separate calendars for different things in your life – family events, volunteering jobs, consulting clients, house repair schedules – you just Add a new calendar and then choose whether to make it public, share with only invited people, or keep it private. This lets you share out calendars with the people who need to see them. Other people with Google Calendar can share theirs with you, or you can request that they share with you by typing their email address in the Add a friend’s calendar box on the left.

Google Calendar lets you invite people to the events you create. If you’re hosting a New Year’s Eve party, set up the event in Google Calendar and then email invitations to everyone on your list. Guests click Yes, No, or Maybe (and the event will be added to their calendar if they have one) and you can easily keep track of the RSVP list. You can send emails to all invitees to remind them of the party, or last-minute changes to the menu.

You can keep a to-do list in Google Calendar using the Tasks feature. Click on a date that you need to run an errand, and click on the word Task at the top of the box that pops up. Add the information about the errand and click on Create Task. The errand appears on your calendar and on a list of tasks off to one side of the screen.

Set reminders for any event or task to pop up on your screen a few minutes or hours before the event starts or the task is due. Never miss a meeting or an appointment again.

Finally, you can add a Google Calendar app to your mobile device and get all these features wherever you are. Those reminders will pop up on your phone, or you can set a ringtone to go off whenever an event is coming up.

How Is It Useful?

Imagine how you can combine all the features mentioned above: You’re hosting that New Year’s Eve party for friends and family. Start by setting up the event and inviting all the guests via email. Check the RSVP list to see who’s coming, and send out reminders to those last-minute folks. Add Tasks to your calendar for party preparations (buying supplies, shopping for a new outfit, meeting with your friends who are helping with set-up) and have that list on your mobile while you’re out running errands. Share the Party calendar with your partner so he or she can keep track of what’s going on without having to ask, and maybe even add a few tasks to their calendar. As the day gets closer, send out a note to everyone attending about how to get to your place by public transit and where the good parking choices are. That morning, check the RSVPs one final time and you’ll know who to expect. Then, get a reminder 15 minutes before the first guest arrives. Success!

You can also use shared calendars to coordinate care between family members for an elderly relative, to find a good meeting date for a volunteer organization, or to stay aware of your closest family and friends’ schedules. Have all that information at your fingertips wherever you are.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account already, just click on Calendar at the top of the page and start pushing some buttons. Add a few events, click on Edit Event and see what your options are. Send an invitation to someone you know well and see how that works. Add a Task or two, or add a few public calendars like holidays or Phases of the Moon. Share your calendar with others, or ask that they share theirs with you (if you know them well enough).

If you don’t have a Google Account, click through the links below to see if it’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Google Documents – Working together far apart

First, an apology – there was no lesson from LLO last Monday due to circumstances beyond our control. Sorry for the missed week, but we’re back today!

As you may remember, we posted early on in Learning for Life Online about online accounts being more than just email nowadays. During December, we’ll take a closer look at some of the things you get along with your Google, Yahoo and Hotmail accounts. This week, we’ll start with Google Documents (better known as Google Docs).

What Is It?

Google Docs is a service provided by Google to let users create and save documents entirely online. Just like the Microsoft Office programs (Word, Powerpoint, Excel), these Google Docs will let you write papers, draft resumes and cover letters, create presentations, put together spreadsheets and write and distribute online forms and survey – all completely online. You can switch from computer to computer to mobile device and always be able to work on your files. Best of all, you can share these documents with others and let them work collaboratively with you on the document. Think about all the party and project planning that would be so much easier without emailing lists back and forth.

Google Docs is made up of five different features:

  • Google Documents is like Microsoft Word. You create a document and type, just like with any other word processing program. Use it for resumes, letters, papers, flyers and so much more.
  • Google Spreadsheets is similar to Microsoft Excel. These spreadsheet programs are good for creating budgets, developing project plans, putting together party to do lists and similar tasks. The basic formulas you can apply do some of the math for you.
  • Google Presentations is their version of Microsoft Powerpoint. Create slideshows for school reports, conference talks, book discussion groups or any other place where you need to present visual ideas to a group of people. Best of all, you can embed the slideshows in a blog or website to make them available to everyone!
  • Google Drawings is a newer service. Use the shapes and drawing tools to add diagrams and flowcharts to reports, to sketch out a process for making household decisions or create an organizational chart.
  • Google Forms is a neat tool to help you create, distribute, and collect responses from online forms and surveys. Simple to set up and share, you can quickly put together a survey to choose an event date, get ideas for a potluck, figure out the best choices for paint colors and learn more about what people are thinking about anything.

For all of these, you can choose to share each document with specific people (invited by email) or publish the document publicly using a web link. You can also download most of the documents to your local computer in a variety of formats including PDF, which is useful for sending out documents that you don’t want changed.

If you’ve started a document on your own computer, you can upload that document to Google Docs to start a file there – you don’t need to do the whole thing over again.

How Is It Useful?

In addition to all the suggestions above, here’s a few ways you can use all of the Google Docs together. Let’s say you’re working with your friends or coworkers to put on a holiday craft fair. By using Google Docs, you can all share the documents, edit them from wherever you are, and save them or print them out as needed. So, create a flyer for the fair in Google Documents, put the price lists and the fair supply budget into a Google Spreadsheet, figure out the map of the artists’ booths in Google Drawings, add an online registration form to your website or Facebook page using Google Forms, and when it’s all over, give a presentation on how it all went using Google Presentations.

Try It Out

If you have a Google account, just click on the word “Documents” up at the top and try a few of them out. Start with things you know already – Google Documents would be a good one – and then try some of the others. If you don’t have a Google account, follow the links to each feature above and play with their demonstration documents. Watch a few videos on how each service works, then maybe sign up for an account and try it for real.

Help & Resources

Introducing….the Cloud

First, a note: Last week, I said that we would talk about buying music online and introduce “the cloud” in this post. As I wrote, I realized that it was too much information and should be split in two. So, this week we’ll introduce the cloud and next week we’ll talk about buying any kind of downloadable media – ebooks, audiobooks, music, videos and more. Thanks, and on into the cloud!

Cloud Computing Explained

What Is It?

The short answer is that “the cloud” is just a group of computers that store information and run software and applications for you, without you having to own or take care of those computers. You can access the information or use the applications from any device with an internet connection, and can upload and download your stuff from wherever you are.

This is what makes the cloud so useful – suddenly, you don’t need a powerful, expensive computer to do some really neat things. If you buy music, videos or books, you can keep them online and have them wherever you need them, but not require a lot of storage space on your own device. If you use multiple computers for work, you can put your files somewhere where you can get to them and not have to keep saving or emailing different versions back and forth. If you’re a small business, you can even rent a part of someone else’s powerful computers just for the space and time it takes you to do what you want, saving on business costs.

How Is It Useful?

Over our lessons, we’ve seen several tools that involve the cloud. All of them are made more useful because you can access them from anywhere. For a few examples, look at:

All of Amazon’s digital services now offer the option of saving either direct to a computer or to their Cloud Drive, so you can access your music and videos from any device you own. (More on this next week when we talk about buying downloadable media.) This fall, Apple introduces its iCloud service: if you use Apple devices, you can move files off of your computer and up to the cloud, where they are stored and easily shared between your Mac computer, your iPad and your iPhone. Everything you need, all in one place, accessible with whatever device you have in hand. Useful, eh?

In our previous post on music libraries, we mentioned that new tools are out there to let you see your home music library remotely. Yup, you guessed it – this is part of the cloud, too, but a private part that you can control.

Services like Subsonic and Spotify can be used like other music library programs, and also let you securely access your home music collection from remote internet-connected locations. (Spotify is also a source for streaming music, as we mentioned in our online radio post.) As long as the computer that stores your music is on and connected to the internet, you can log in to the service you use and play your tunes wherever you are. You can also choose to share your collections with friends and family by inviting them in. Note: You are not making your music collections public, unless you change the privacy settings to make that so.

Try It Out

You’re probably already using part of the cloud and didn’t realize it. Do you have Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or another web-based email service? That’s the cloud – you’re not storing those messages on your computer, someone else is storing them for you. Use Flickr or Picasa for your photos? Same thing. Has someone shared a Google Document with you, a spreadsheet, document or presentation? Also the cloud.

If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you’re using the cloud all the time. The cloud is what makes it possible for the iPad to be so small and lightweight and yet be so powerful. And, in the fall of 2011, Apple is going to officially launch its iCloud service to bring the cloud to all Apple devices.

The next time you use a mobile or web-based service, think about what parts of it might be in the cloud and what parts live on your computer or phone. The answer will certainly surprise you.

Help & Resources

Email – Some Definitions

Email is exactly what it sounds like: electronic mail. Emailed messages are sent from one address to other specific addresses directly, and may have documents, photos or other files attached.

Email Providers

Web-based email is email that is entirely online: you visit a website to log in to your account, your email is stored on your email service’s computers, and nothing is ever stored on your computer unless you choose to download it and save it. You can log in to web-based email from any internet browser in the world and from that service’s app on your smartphone or tablet.

Provider-based email is email that your internet service provider offers you as part of your service. Comcast, Verizon, RCN, or any other service provider may offer email that they store on their servers, like web-based email. You access this email using a web browser or from a web-ready television.

Institution-based email is email you get through work, school, or another organization. You usually access this email using a web browser or directly through a client (see below) on your work computer.

Self-hosted email is email you or a friend/acquaintance hosts for you. If you run your own website, you may also get email with that website address provided as part of your web hosting service.

Email Access

All of the above terms refer to who provides and manages your email address for you, in the same way that the US postal service is in charge of managing postal addresses for physical buildings. You can get to, view and store your email using either web-based email or client-based email.

Just as before, web-based email means that your email lives somewhere else out on the internet, not on your home computer. You use a web browser to go to your email provider’s page, log in, and view your email there.

Client-based email means that there is a piece of software on your home computer that you use to access your email. Microsoft Outlook and Mac Mail are two of the most common clients; Thunderbird, Opera and others are also available. Many of these clients also have apps for your iPhone or Android to let you receive your mail on your mobile device.

Help & Resources

Online Accounts: Email and more

Creating an online email account used to mean just that: you signed up for an email address. Now, all of the major web-based email services – Google, Hotmail/Windows Live, AOL and Yahoo! – also offer other tools like photo sharing, instant messaging/chat, blogging sites and more.

For example, your Yahoo account is also good over at Flickr and your Google account works with YouTube. Even your Facebook account can be used to sign in to and comment on hundreds of sites around the web. As this post was written, Google had just launched Google+, offering even more features with your single Google account.

What Is It?

How did this happen? As the email companies grew, they purchased smaller companies that had developed other interesting tools and added these new tools to the services they provided. Google bought Picasa, Blogger, YouTube, Picnik (a photo editing tool) and Orkut (a social network). Yahoo! bought Flickr, Match.com (a dating site) and Monster.com (job searches). AOL owns Patch.com (local community news & events), Going.com (event organization), Mapquest and many more.

How Is It Useful?

Having a single account to log in to many services means not having to remember (or write down) dozens of account name and password combinations. Many of the tools you’d want to create an account for are already bundled together. In fact, when you’re choosing an email service, take a look at everything else you can get with that one account and make your choices based on what might want or need to use.

How are all those individual tools useful? That’s a question we’ll be answering throughout this program.

Try It Out

If you already have an account with one of the big four (Google, Yahoo!, AOL and Windows Live/Hotmail), look around on the home page or menu bar to see what other services you have access to. Choose one tool you might find useful and log in with your existing account. Change a few settings and get started using the tool.

If you don’t already have an account with one of the above, take a look at each of them and see what services they offer. Choose one big provider and create an account, then start trying out tools to see what’s useful to you.

Help & Resources

Search and Maps

Now that we’ve covered the main tools used by the Learning for Life Online program, let’s get to some of the other basic tools of the web.

What Is It?

Search: A search engine is any site that helps you search for other websites based on words you choose. Google, Bing and Yahoo! are the three most popular search engines (right now), but there are many others.

Maps & Directions: One of the most useful resources online, searchable maps provide current information and step-by-step directions from wherever you are to wherever you’d like to get to. They’ll even help you get from the Boston Public Library to Tokyo, Japan, provided you can “kayak across the Pacific Ocean” (steps #26 and #42). Google Maps, Mapquest, Bing Maps, Yahoo! Maps and others are part of the major search engines. Rand McNally and National Geographic are two print publishers who also provide searchable online maps.

How Is It Useful?

Search engines are the only way to find anything on the internet. That might be a slight exaggeration, but it’s mostly true. There are millions upon millions of websites out there, and there is no comprehensive “directory to the internet.” What’s interesting is that each search engine uses a slightly different way to find sites and show results, so if you want to make sure you’ve found everything about a subject that’s online, use as many search engines as you can to go looking.

A paper map is great, but online maps have a few advantages. First, they can be updated much more quickly than published paper maps or even map software on your computer. Second, they can provide street maps, aerial views of buildings and landmarks and street-level views for the same location, to help make finding a place in real life extremely easy. Better still, type in the address (or general location) you’re coming from and where you want to go and you can get turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. You can add multiple locations and create a personalized road trip itinerary.

Try It Out

Using a search engine or a map is as easy as typing into the search bar and clicking Search. Try any of the ones below, and remember to click on buttons to see what happens next, especially on the maps. Search for different combinations of words about the same topic or location and see how the results change. We’ll cover some advanced and specific search techniques in a future Learning for Life Online post.

Google | Google Maps
Bing | Bing Maps
Yahoo! | Yahoo! Maps
AOL | Mapquest