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What’s New at Google Laboratory?

What’s New at Google Laboratory?

by Gregory West

Editor’s Note: This article will appear in the October Issue of First Monday magazine

Google has a secret place: Google Labs. It is not well known to most humans. This is the place some insiders refer to as the “playground” for Google engineers. For those of you who have never explored Google in the past, other than using Google Search, you are now in for a real treat inside Google’s Labs. Come on and check out the programs.

Let’s head to and see what Google is currently testing. Here you will find twenty five software programs you can try and use for free.

FAST FLIP: ( This program is one of my favourites. When you click open this program you are before a magazine stand displaying various newspapers and magazines with current content. You just click on one and begin your reading experience.

Newspapers and magazines are beginning to suffer due to their content being displayed on the Internet, Google feels this service can help. Tony Bradley of PCWorld reiterates that “Google feels that recreating the print media experience online will attract more readers and help its partner publishers transition more smoothly to delivering information over the Internet”. Time will tell, but for now, give this program a go and enjoy the FREE newspapers and magazines on your very own news stand.

GOOGLE NEWS TIMELINE: ( This is another collection of news media presentations wherein you find the major stories of the day. Timeline is also a news “time machine” where you drag the dates and go back in time. A calendar allows you to change dates from DAY, WEEK, and YEAR to see how a subject changes over a certain period of time. According to this “project is the baby of Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original designers of the Apple Macintosh software and something of a Silicon Valley icon”. It is a definite program to keep an eye on.

SIMILAR IMAGES: ( Is a fun program where you type in a name, place, or whatever you choose to retrieve “similar” images. I typed in “sarnia, ontario” and was amazed at the tons of photos that people have uploaded to the Internet. In fact, there are “about 467,000” Sarnia related pictures found in that search. Type in your own name and include sarnia, ontario and see the many times your related photo has been uploaded to the Internet. To check your name type it like this: “gregory west” sarnia, ontario (include the quotation marks). This is a good time waster and it is an interesting program, to say the least.

There are twenty two more programs to check out. Some of my other favourites are: Google Mars, Google Trends, and Google Dashboard Widgets for Mac to go nicely with my Macbook. Remember, this is Google’s “playground” and the programs are in the beta or test mode and are not ready for prime time just yet.

Gregory West is a basic home computer consultant for MAC and PC and software
reviewer for major computer companies. Also come and join in on his free Basic
Computer Training sessions, held weekly at Central United Church this Fall. For info:
Gregory can be reached at
Also, check out his Blog: Computer & Internet Tips:


At the end of October and November I am giving a Keynote presentation in both Sarnia, Ontario and Port Huron, Michigan for the two Computer User Groups:

Sarnia Computer Users Group

Computer Operators of Marysville and Port Huron


Here is a demo of the beginning slide:

HELP for Computer HELP

Note: This was originally published in First Monday magazine.

HELP for Computer HELP

by Gregory West

Does your computer have a mind of its own? Do you find that it is becoming increasing difficult going it alone, or are you relatively new to computers and completely lost?

We know that all-too-many computer software HELP buttons do not really help, they tend to make things much more confusing than before you clicked on that button. You are not alone.

Stats Canada reports that in 2006 “More than three-quarters of all households reported owning a computer”.  According to there are 237,168,545 North Americans used the Internet as of November 30, 2007 and that figure is increasingly on the rise. Out of those numbers, today Seniors make up a good majority of the computer purchases and are looking for ways to learn about how to use the computer. However, not just Seniors are seeking help. There are many people who have missed out on learning computers for a variety of reasons and there is a growing need for computer help.

As a computer instructor, I show a group of Seniors at Central United Church how to perform various functions on the computer, as well as use the Internet in a safe and secure manner. Part of the session is a popular Q & A where you can bring your computer questions and resolve issues live, on a large screen, so everyone can see how “it” is done.

Not all people are ready for a group such as this; they are new to computers and need some basic training at a computer “boot camp”. Here in Sarnia Lambton we are very fortunate to have a Board of Education who recognizes that people need a place where they can go and learn basic computer skills. They have opened the doors at Norm Perry School with the “Adult Learning Centre” (ALC). Here there is help for anyone from ages 18 to 80+ to learn computers at their own speed.

Sean Pynaert is the computer instructor who has been teaching computer skills at the ALC for the past nine years. Sean says that about 1/4 of the students are in their early 20’s and most are Seniors. “I had a 68 year woman in my class, a retired teacher who wanted some extra income and wanted to go to a call centre to work part time and they wanted computers [experience]. These courses are excellent for those who have never touched a keyboard and can “work at their own pace”. Those who want to brush up their computer skills can pick out what they want to learn. “Some people come in and say they just want to learn how to type,” said Sean. There are three levels: basic, intermediate, and advanced. You can even earn credits towards a high school diploma with these courses.

Anyone who I have spoken with that has attended Sean’s computer sessions have had nothing but high praise for Sean and his courses and how easy he makes it to learn about computers and the Internet. To get your name on the list for the next sessions you can go to Norm Perry School at 660 Oakdale Avenue and ask to see Sean. Do it now; see how easy it is to learn computer skills, you will not regret it.

In Sarnia Lambton there are other ways you can improve your computer skills. For example, the Sarnia Computer Users’ Group has been around for over a quarter century where people are helping people learn more about computers and technology. Members’ skills range from basic to advanced and most are in between. For more information go to The Sarnia Public Library also offers computer help, as does the Strangway Centre.

FORUMS and WHAT ARE THEY? Absolutely millions upon millions of computer users are now members of online/Internet forums. If you need help in almost any topic answers are only a few keyboard clicks away. For instance, we bought a travel trailer and needed to know how to winterize it. Well not only did we easily find that out, we were given additional information, from other travelers, regarding trailers and campground reviews by people who had “been-there-done-that”. is another way to get computer help. There are thousands of videos there on “how to”. Just enter your topic in YouTube search box to retrieve a training video.

The same goes for computer help of any sort. Just go to Google’s search box and use the word “forum” or “training video” with the search topic. For example, if you are looking for computer help and it is for a specific operating system such as Vista, type that into the search along with the word: forum. i.e. Windows Vista forums. If it  is a program problem you insert the program’s name along with the word: forum. Make sure you check out the forums before you join to see if they are the ones that you find most helpful.


The Adult Learning Centre: Sean 519-383-8787 ($20. per 6 week session)
Lambton Libraries: 519 845-3324 (call to see when free courses available)
The Strangway Community Centre: 519-332-0656 (call for fees)
The Sarnia Computer Users’ Group: (attend 3 meetings for free)
Computer Tutor: (free online advice within 24 hours)
Central United Church: (free computer sessions)
Lambton College: For more experienced computer users:


Gregory West can be reached at Gregory is the Editor for the Sarnia Computer Users’ Group [SCUG], a non-profit computer help group that is open to the public for Newbies and Geeks. For more information:

Googling in 2008

Google Docs is GreatI DARE YOU TO GOOGLE more…

Anyone who has yet to discover the indepth world of Google is just not grounded in Cyberspace.

Did you know that you do not have to fork out HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS  for Microsoft Office? Google is offering it free.

Just log on to your google where you would type in a search item in the box, but don’t do that. Instead look above the Google search box and look for the word: more. Click on it. Then click on: even more.

Now you are looking at all the FREE Google programs. The one you want is: Google Docs. This is your new and free Office programs that include: Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. But for obvious reasons Goolge had to rename the programs to: Document – Spreadsheet – Presentation. And really, those names for the programs make more sense than MS Office program names.


More to Life Than WORK

I remember all too well, the naysayers telling me, about ten years ago, that I would be bored after the first few months of retirement. In all honesty, consensus dictates that most retirees do get bored and many go back to work for that reason.

That is so sad.

I can see getting some work to get some extra cash to buy that little something you’ve always wanted, or to work to help pay off something you forgot to pay off before you retired…BUT, not work for the sake of having something “to do”.

I must admit, it has been 2 1/2 years since I left the workforce and I have not looked back, well once or twice, just to be so thankful that I got out while the getting was good.

As for time, I don’t have much left over from each day. Most of my time is now taken up with things I like to do. Reading, writing, computering, cycling, volunteering, walking Sam, watching Grandkids grow, and of course traveling in the RV…My computer work keeps me really busy until the end of June…after it is sun & fun.

In fact, I have just started writing another TECH column for a magazine, something I tried while working and just did not have the time. Today, I make the time as it is something I like to do and WORK does not get in my way.

As you can see in the pic above, my paddlin buddy likes the retired life much better LOL

Computers “USER FRIENDLY”?

Far from it!

    Back in the “day”, when DOS was alive and well, computers were scary creatures and only a few could operated those vehicles without accident or incident. Then along came the 90’s when the PCs and Macs were made available and workable for the so-called “average” human, with projected promises of making these machines: “USER FRIENDLY”. Remember that term? Although, as many companies do, some lied. Or rather, they did not tell “the whole truth and nothing but”.

    Computer User Groups began to pop up faster that dandelions all across North America…”Why” you ask? The answer is simply that the “user friendly” computer did not come about. In fact, to this very day, computers are more and more complex machines.

    Oh yes, computers can be user friendly until you do something you are not aware of, or click on something within a website that set your machine either on fire or sent it to a shallow grave, wherein you cannot, no matter how hard you try, start it back up. Or in computer terms you are now SOL lol.

    Today, while sitting in Coffee Lodge, having my afternoon coffee and serving of free WiFi, there was an elderly couple sitting next to me. The elderly woman was watching me book a campsite at the Pinery Provincial Park for May 2008 online, but of course she had no real idea what I was doing.

    “I like the look of your white computer,” said the woman. “It’s a Mac,” I replied to a blank look.

    I explained to the woman and her silent husband that I was online and had just booked a campsite for May 2008. She was stunned. “I know nothing of computers,” she pointed out. I suggested she come out to the Sarnia Computer Users’ Group and she just smiled. I informed her and her husband that they could come out for free, at least the first three meetings, just to check it out. I further tried my sales pitch that our club has beginners and that they would not feel out of place. They both said nothing, with a look that said they seemed to miss a boat a while back.

    For many, computers are scary machines, very complex machines, and instruments that command a good deal of knowledge. More than ever before the average person needs to belong to a Computer User Group to wrestle that “USER FRIENDLY” BEAST.

    Anyone in the Sarnia area can come to our meetings FREE for 3 meetings: