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Google for the Anthropology Student (Part II)

Google Desktop running on Red Hat Linux.
Image via Wikipedia

Over a year ago, I wrote part one of this two-part (so far) series! I truly intended to write part II long before now, and I actually started it when Google first announced the ill-fated Google Wave. I was trying it out and working with a colleague to test the capabilities and usefulness of it for the student (and even professor) of anthropology when Google pulled the plug on it.

In part I, you’ll remember (if not, click the link, silly!) I talked about some of Google’s key apps: Gmail, Google Docs, Google Scholar, and Google Books. My most used is, without a doubt, Gmail. But my favorite is Google Books. I’m still amazed at the sheer utility of this part of Google. If you think I’m kidding, read the three paragraphs I wrote in Google for the Anthropology Student (Part I?) and then check out my Google Books Library. Browse a couple of the titles there. Some of these I actually own, but I turn to Google Books first to search their pages. Then I crack open the actual text and read from there. Sometimes I just read online.

Here are some other ways Google can enrich and streamline your academic experiences from the perspective of a graduate student of anthropology who is focusing on archaeology.

Google Desktop

About a year or so ago, I downloaded and installed Google Desktop on my main computer, which is a Linux box currently running Ubuntu 11.04. What’s cool about Google Desktop is that it indexes all my files. And I have a lot. If you’re like me, you’re a pack-rat for journal articles and PDF files gathered while researching papers and the like. I have them largely sorted in a subject oriented directory tree, but it can still be a challenge to search a thousand articles and ebooks in PDF for just the right keyword, author, or topic. That’s where Google Desktop comes in.

I tap both CTRL keys on my keyboard at the same time and up pops a little search bar. From there, I type in my search terms -inside quotes if I really want to be specific- and watch the top 6 or so results float to the surface and display in a drop-down box that I can click on. Or, I can click “Show results in a browser window” to see all the results in that familiar Google results format.

Google Desktop indexes web history, emails, media files, Open Office files, MS Office files, PDFs and HTML files. And you can choose to exclude any of these. You can set up the directories/folders you want searched and you can set it to automatically remove deleted files from the search results. Clicking on a result takes you straight to the file (or email, or whatever). Or you can click and use the same search terms on the web just like you normally would with Google.

Oh, and it works with Windows and Mac as well as Linux.
Google Calendar

I used to use Thunderbird and Evolution, and I still use Outlook at my job. But, if I could, I’d even ditch Outlook for Google Calendar and Gmail. Unfortunately, when I’m not a graduate student, I work for a major world bank and they have some strict rules about what applications get used how.

But, for all my non-work needs, definitely all of my academic needs, I use Google’s Calendar. I can save appointments, meetings, input my recurring class schedules, and sync it all with my desktop and many other devices. I still occasionally use Thunderbird to monitor a couple of non-Gmail pop addresses I have (like cfeagans AT ahotcupofjoe DOT net) and I can sync all my Google Calendar entries back and forth. I can also sync my Google Calendar with my Nokia e71, my Nokia tablet, my netbook, my wife’s laptop, and I can access it from just about any computer with internet access (except my work machine, which is hobbled by a very careful IT department).

Google Voice

Every student needs their digits. For voice calls to that special someone, SMS text messaging to that special someone else, ordering pizza, ringing up a parent for more textbook money (you bought the pizza, remember?), and so on.

But with all the new trends in cool cell phone tech that keeps coming out, who wants to be trapped to a single carrier? AT&T is the only place to get that iPhone but T-Mobile and Verizon do a better job with the Blackberry… Then there will be those times when the pizza and textbook money get stretched thin and you’re forced to go with a prepaid phone (but you tell yourself it’s still cool ’cause Jason Bourne used it). So how do you manage all the phone numbers?

With Google Voice, that’s how. I have a single phone number that I give out. That phone forwards to any and all of my other phones (work, home, whatever cell phone I happen to be on) either at the same time or at times I specify. I have an outgoing message on Google Voice and if I don’t pick up at one of the three phones that ring simultaneously, the caller can leave a message. Google Voice then transcodes the message from voice into text and emails it to me. I can then surreptitiously read the message on the Blackberry or Nokia that quietly vibrated in my pocket while in class and know right away that my wife wants me to pick up Chinese on the way home. Pei Wei here I come.

And you can send SMS messages from Google Voice as well. And dial the phone from your desktop or laptop. Who needs a land line? Give me DSL and WiFi and unplug it. Oh, and when you forgot to pay that silly student loan one month (or put it off to get the car fixed), you can put their automated calls on the blocked caller list. You can do the same with that ex-boyfriend who keeps bugging you for a second chance. Another cool feature is “Add a Note” to any call in your history. Very handy for making personal notes about the message or SMS conversation so you can go back and read some of the details or important information.

This is a phone number that you can keep forever (or so it seems so far).

Google Reader

One of my favorite Google Apps. I’ve tried other RSS readers out there, but this is hands-down the best, most useful. You can get to your Reader app just about where ever you can get Google. Even my work’s IT hasn’t restricted it yet (shhh…).

If you’ve never used an RSS Reader here’s what it does: nearly every blog and most other sites have RSS feeds. These are typically XML files that change over time as the content is updated. My blog has a feed, which you can click on in the sidebar. Unless you have a browser configured with a feed-reader, it’ll usually come up as a continuous block of very hard to read text, links and images. But, with a feed-reader, you can sort and manage these feeds in a very orderly, library like fashion. You can get news feeds like CNN and Google’s Top Headlines. You can get feeds for your favorite blogs (like mine, hopefully) and keep up with many blogs in a single, easy to manage space. And with Google Reader, you won’t have to worry about whether or not you’re on a particular machine or laptop. You can get it from any internet capable computer.

There are a lot of cool features in Google Reader, but the three that stand out for me are

  1. Starred Items – reader has the ability to star items as you browse (I like to do this when I see something I want to revisit or perhaps blog about) -you can click on “Starred Items” and see all of them in one spot;
  2. Shared Items: these are items you “share” among others who can see your Google profile; and
  3. Notes -here you can read notes you made about a particular feed entry. These notes are shareable as well and collected in one spot the way starred entries are.

There are a lot of other features that make Reader a useful and powerful tool too: tags, “like this,” nesting feeds in collapsible folders, sorting options for feeds, etc.

That’s it for part II of the (so far) two part series on Google for the Anthropology Student!

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