This afternoon marked the first Tucson rainstorm of the summer. As is typical during monsoon season, the day started off sunny and hot—barely a cloud in the sky. At around 3pm, the sky turned gray and it rained. Boy did it rain. I went outside for a few minutes and watched it. Smelt it. There is nothing like the smell of desert rain.
Summer has been chaotic. The accommodations have been fine. Sleeping at John’s house has been really fun—a treat to be sure. Ironically, we haven’t spent as much time together in the past years that we have lived so close. The three nights a week in Gilbert with the Heidenreich’s are somehow like nights 15 years ago we spent in “the fort.” I’m glad to be back in the fort—but also like then, the fort’s not home.
The feeling is similar at the Bertoglio’s house. We love being near Grandma and Papa. They are so sweet. But alas, it’s not home. I’m anxious to get on. To be home—even though home is now miles and miles away.
That said, I have to mention the little revolution I am having in web-land. Slowly—very slowly-- but surely I am learning how to actually use computers and the Internet. I know that sounds silly, especially to those who know how much time I spend in front of the screen. But I imagine that it is like they say about our brain. Most of us only use a small percent of it. In the past few weeks, I discovered that Google is much more than just a search engine. It started a month or so ago when Nick showed me what an RSS feed was. I know, I know. Get with it. For those of you who, as I was, aren’t with it either, an RSS feed is basically a text broadcast that your blogs give. RSS feeds are also broadcast from popular websites that you might visit—especially ones that are updated regularly like daily news or entertainment sites.
Anyway, there are a lot of things you can do with an RSS feed. I played with them first as a part of my web browser’s tool bar. The idea is that you can see, for example, if a blog has been updated with out actually visiting the blog—your indicator announces the new blog title and you can click it as a link to read the blog in full.
So that’s an RSS feed. Then I started messing around with some of the Google tools that I had heard a little about. I downloaded Google Desktop for my work computer (a cool tool if you have a lot of RAM… my home computer couldn’t handle it). At it's core, Desktop is a search tool. If you install it, you can run "google" searches for stuff on your hard drive and on the web. Desktop includes “Gadgets”—basically “Widgets” , if you are familiar with Yahoo's fun desktop tools. One of the Gadgets is an RSS feed tool—but this one is more fancy. When you click the title, a window pops out and you can read the blog update right there—without visiting the webpage. Cool.
This is getting a bit long winded… basically it all led me to a cool tool that Google offers called Google Reader. Google Reader is pretty much the coolest thing I have seen on the web for a long time. Imagine that every blog you read is an email, and every time that someone posts something new, Google Reader collects it, indicates to you of its newness and then puts it on the screen for you. So if Nick, Michelle and Brandon all have a new post on the same day, all you have to do is be watching on Reader and you can read each of them in the same location, one right after the other. Oh--and I forgot to mention that Reader and all of the things I mention below are accessed with your gmail login (gmail is also, of course, made by Google).
This tool may be a bit impractical if you only read a few blogs—but wait, there’s more! As you surf the web, you will see the little RSS feed button all over the place. You can add page after page to your Reader and save yourself from having to click through all the links you have in your bookmarks. I have added feeds from all of the news sites that I read, all of the entertainment and art/design sites that I frequent, I have even gone looking for new blogs that I might just want to read. It’s so easy to read them—I am anxious to learn, see, discover.
You can tell I am pretty excited. Reader is pretty sweet. But it's not the only great tool. You can also individualize Google’s news site. See that "Individualize this page" button? Click it and go crazy. By using key word searches, I can search for any article being published on the web with the following (or any other) words: Champaign-Urbana, Street Art, University of Illinois. It’s really cool.
Picassa is another awesome tool by Google. This one is used both to organize the pictures you have on your computer and also publish them to the web. If you are tired of your computer’s picture organizing software (I am thinking of you Michelle), check it out.
Finally, you can use all of these tools on a personalized Google homepage called iGoogle.
So there’s a big commercial for you. Enjoy.