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Waking Up With Google

Travis DeCastro
Management Commission

I find myself once again starting a Sightlines article with a disclaimer. I am about to tout my experiences with a product that has done much to ease the load and organizational challenges of my life. Indeed, it has become part of the fabric of my everyday work and home environment.

I am not, however, making an endorsement. Rather, shall we say, I am sharing with you something I have found useful, insightful, remarkable in many ways, and easily adaptable. The latter being the most important.

As I march through life convinced that I am the modern computer equivalent of Everyman, I hold fast to the tenet that if I can do it then, by gosh, anyone can!

Everyone knows Google (there, I have said it!). It is the popular search engine that most recently purchased YouTube. It is the search engine that brought us Googlesmack, a popular drinking and parlor game. I have even heard tell there was a theatre piece centered around the game. It is the familiar white web page with the title Google, a search box, and not much else.

Well, that has all changed. Google still remains a very popular search engine, perhapsthe most popular. But no longer are you limited to the simple white page and no longer do you have to remain chained to a desktop when Google can bring the world to you and you to your friends and colleagues. And, my friends, I have only scratched the surface.

Let's start with the Google home page. Move away from the familiar Google logo and search box (for some of us it is igoogle now). Instead, view a personalized home page. Set up a Google account and have hundreds of widgets to choose from to personalize the opening space.

A widget is a small applet that performs a specific task right there on your computer screen so you don't have to go anywhere to be updated. My home page has (in large blue letters for my aging eyes) the DATE and TIME, lest I forget. It has the latest NCAA football news (what else would you expect from a Penn State professor?). It has the latest CNN breaking news, the weather around my house, art of the day, and -- my favorite -- a ratable To Do list that allows me to prioritize my tasks.

To make it even homier, Google has added a theme option so that now my search engine box is surrounded by none other than a bunch of folk waiting at the bus stop to take them all to work. And best of all, the weather at the bus stop matches the weather outside my office. Would you believe it? When it rains outside my office, they use umbrellas and wear galoshes on my computer screen! Now, when I log on to my internet browser, it loads in my personalized home page. I open it before I open my e-mail accounts.

The calendar is next. Firefox is my browser choice and, in my tools menu on my browser, I have selected (Options->Open in tabs) the tabs option so that while I have my home page open, I can open my calendar in a new tab and not navigate away from my home page. Shared calendars should become all the rage. As general manager of the School of Theatre and head of the stage management program, I navigate through upwards of eight to nine calendars a day on a regular basis. I manage the overall school calendar. I monitor the scene shop (paints and props), lighting, and sound calendars; all the show calendars (up to three at a time); my calendar; and the new USITT Google calendar.

This allows me each morning to have a snapshot of the work taking place that day and fend off any impending train wrecks on the horizon. In total, I am in reach of about 25 calendars that I can toggle on and off at will. This allows me to spend some time looking around the entire school and my associations. I even use the shared calendar function in class when working with my students on the calendar process. I can also monitor which calendars are not being kept current and e-mail those individuals responsible to update their calendars. You can also export your calendars to a web page that continually updates on the schedule you assign so that, when you need to make a change in one of your calendars, the web page will automatically update the calendar information minutes later.

There is much, much more that can be done with the calendars as well. You can choose to invite collaborators or just viewers. You can make them private or public. Penn State keeps a public Google calendar which I subscribe to so I can avoid conflicting with a University function or football game!

Once my personalized home page and calendar are loaded, I open G-mail in another next tab. G-mail is the most popular e-mail choice of my students, and most forward their Penn State accounts to their G-mail account. Not wanting to be left behind, I have followed suit. There are several attractive features of G-mail but, unquestionably the best is the function of grouping e-mails by conversation.

All my conversations with a specific individual or group are kept as continuous conversations so I don't have to sort through all my e-mails to follow them. The group function acts just like mailboxes in other functions. There is a chat function to talk to individuals while online rather than send e-mails. G-mail has become so popular with the students, Penn State has begun conversations with Google about making it the university's e-mail provider.

Google Documents and Spreadsheets is next and is my favorite. If you can imagine how giddy I got when I discovered shared calendars, you can only imagine the rings I leaped through when I discovered shared documents. Now, not only can I put documents easily on the web, I can share the responsibility of updating the information. With shared documents, I am able to remove the excuse of, "I didn't know," and replace it with, "The information is there; what are you going to do with it and when are you going to update your portion?"

For example, we are in the gathering of information stage for the renovation of our primary theatre and office space. I can place documents online and invite the various parties to update their requirements and needs. Indeed, we can meet informed as opposed to meeting to become informed. Each update is archived so that, when needed, we can look back to previous revisions.

I extrapolated this concept to class papers this semester. Rather than students turning in hard copies of the paper work, they now share the documents with me. I can make notes on their documents, and they can update their paper projects. This can go back and forth until both are satisfied they have completed the project. You can share documents with anyone anywhere in the world. So that renovation project can be worked on this summer no matter where the faculty may be.

So Google is with me in the morning when I wake up and log on. It is there throughout the day. It has proved the perfect launching point for me to attack the day as informed as I possibly can be and forward thinking enough to prescribe the course of the school in a positive management method.

It is what Microsoft Works was supposed to be but never lived up to. And the concept of "shared space- shared responsibility" is the subject of another article but essential in understanding the value of this suite. Of this I am certain, it is no longer the information age. Information is cheap. It is how you use and profit from it that is the new king, and sharing (or not sharing) will become an integral part of future life.

Here are a few more interesting Google applications:

  • Google Notebooks allows the user to attach a notebook with particular functions.While working on a project, I can keep a notebook of thoughts, guidelines, issues, etc.
  • Google Groups allows me to archive and chronicle information.  In my case, the BFA stage managers have a google group where I can archive class and pedagogical information.
  • Google Sketchup allows you design shapes and images and then "push them" into three dimensions. Penn State will begin introductory courses in Sketchup this year.
  • Goggle World not only allows me to tour the earth, most recently it gave me directions to a gathering on Long Island complete with pictures of the intersections I would be facing along the route. The pictures were essential to finding my way to a residential gathering in a neighborhood apparently designed to replicate a mouse maze.
  • Google Earth most recently added a Darfur patch. Intended for high school students, it is a sobering look at the world of genocide on earth. How sad it is, and don't we have the responsibility to look at what's going on in the world and try to become better citizens?

Picasa for pictures, my page as a personal website, google finance, etc. all are there at your fingertips to make your computing experience and the web as seamless as possible. All can be opened in tabs that allow you to freely navigate through the various applications as quickly and easily as your mind floats through the issues that continually crop up.

With my dual monitor set up, I can work on the projects that are assigned to me and ones that I take on my self. As one project sparks a creative idea, solution, set of issues, etc. in another project, I can as easily navigate to that project or idea. An email here, an update there, a meeting scheduled, a document shared -- all at my fingertips. And for those not always tied to the desk in the corner I can shut down my computer at the office and turn on my computer at home and have the same environment facing me.

Lest you be concerned that you never leave work, log on when the spirit strikes you, and wake up knowing that all your efforts are being rewarded and stored according to your schedule and not those ofyour colleagues, acquaintances, and friends. Wake up with Google, plan your day, eat breakfast, play squash, go to work, have lunch, take a nap, fix dinner, still be aware, be online, and keep all your files up to date. The office follows me rather than I follow the office.

I call it waking up with Google, and I am hooked!

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