29 June 2007

Review of Google Calendar

Dear Folks,
I hope this Post is not too long. Please bear with me. There are several issues to be covered in a review, step by step.
There are four stages of critical thinking for learning. The first stage involves one's own brainstorming or mind-mapping, before considering the theory and ideas of others. So I would first like to reflect on what a Calendar should do for me, or for others in my experience and knowledge.

I have a tiny calendar on my blog, which is pretty and fairly useless since it is not at all interactive apart from showing the date in the USA. What I want and will build into my new website and blog within the website is an interactive calendar which has each day hypertext linked to notes or webpages. That I would have to update it at midnight each day if I wanted the day’s date to be highlighted is hardly necessary since my computer has the date on the desktop screen anyway (so does my office wall). With the hypertext linked days, and my own html, the calendar is easily uploadable to any website, is safely on a flash-memory stick in my pocket, and highly flexible and adaptable – I can add the local holidays and changes in schedule. And .Mac can synchronize my different Macs to the latest schedule. If an outsider could update events on it automatically, I would still need to okay any new schedule, but if my college administration could move beyond a whiteboard nailed on their office wall to using a keyboard then it would be nice to get updates and warnings of forthcoming or re-scheduled meetings - or even meeting agendas in advance.

Next I would like to mention how online calendars are currently being used by other college faculty and students in my experience. My own college does not have any calendar online whatsoever. I do, of course, plus the Mac iCal, and a Mac Dashboard widget calendar. A new hospital down the road with a new computer system and its own systems software has a hospital-wide calendar on its homepage, giving only the most general information such as holidays, but not departmental information such as out-patient clinic schedule or any doctor’s own meetings. My local university is aware of Google Calendar and is trying to get each department – at least each faculty – to use it, without noticeable success yet. It is still early days : Google Calendar was announced in early April 2007 (I believe). A major university in mid-Japan have their own calendar, and all students can enter their own password to access their own lesson schedule, homework assignments and due dates, and submit files by email - all seamlessly - provided the student is awake and studies. The students use it 24/7 and even access it from home as a personal organizer.

I must include Arizona State University in my experience too since it was required pre-set reading. I don’t want to waste ink on that Reading 5 , which is a magazine article with the print-out text compressed to within a 43mm column crowded out by advertisements. It is an old article from October 2006 talking about Arizona State University partnering with Google (it doesn’t say who paid whom here, but Arizona State gets promotion by being the only featured university on Google's Apps page 3 and the writer was enthusing about getting gmail for its students. Wow. He writes that the university will become defined by who it includes rather than by who it excludes. Very noble words considering the Google Apps it installed has Google Talk that generally excludes all their 2006 current students who had Mac (before Intel) or Linux computers. G Apps is however touted as cross-platform - for Windows, Mac and Linux, but the G Pack (including Google Talk) is only for Windows, Firefox and Explorer, so I am confused. The G Pack for Mac includes only G Notifier (gmail), G Picasa (upload photos instead of using iPhoto), G Desktop (search your screen, instead of using Spotlight), G Earth, G Sketch Up (for drawing pictures in 3D) and the G Toolbar.

Google Apps is free for educational institutions .

Several universities have adopted G Apps - including Northwestern U Chicago, U Tempe Arizona, Lakehead U Ontario, Hofstra U Long Island, a few business colleges, Victoria Junior College Singapore, a school in Thailand, a U in Colombia, another U in Macedonia (not sure where Macedonia is ? somewhere near Greece ??) and a faculty at Delhi U India. Delhi University reported that the point they were most pleased with was the reduced spam in their email inbox - so kudos here for the gmail spam blocker. Gmail does of course come with paid advertisements on the right-hand side, so this could be called blocking free spam and only paying spam allowed in ? I guess we can include WestGa in users of Google Apps in as much as it invites us to review Google Apps. I am still very cautious about becoming overly dependent on any one system.

And so now on to Google Calendar. Nothing but praise here. I have read ten or twenty pages with no bad criticism at all. It seems to be the keystone of the Google Apps applications package and works beautifully, detecting dates and events in gmail for instant request to be pasted into Calendar and even gmailing you reminders for upcoming events (let's just hope they don't start charging for gmail or for including in even more advertisements into each gmail message - they say these are still "optional for students" ... ). They also say they will call me on my mobile phone to remind me of upcoming Calendar events - but I cannot imagine this is a free service (ringing me each morning to wake me up, and before each lesson, and before each meeting surely will cost someone - perhaps other mobile phone users will have their fixed contract rates increased to cover tthe free services to others - or perhaps the advertising will increase. I have heard some free telephone forwarding service adds in some advertisement at the beginning of each call. I am sceptical, but I am seriously considering installing this on my new Mac, to test it out. I can live with the increasing number of sponsored ads in Google Search since their search engine is quite successful for my purposes and life. Will they give me the free Education Edition with the option to exclude advertisements ? - I don't think so. Maybe they will say I must get the individual Standard Edition with fixed advertisements included inside each gmail. Well, one way to find out is to try ! My current email and internet service provision costs me $20/month with no advertisements whatsoever. I feel like maybe I am in utopia missing out on the real world ?

All Best Wishes

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