User login


You are here

Productivity tools associated with the Internet

Zhigang Suo's picture

One of the mission statements of iMechanica is to use the Internet to enhance communications among mechanicians. It seems that the top three uses of the Internet among many of us are

  • Emails
  • PDF
  • Google search 

It might be useful, and fun, for us to share the experience with these and other tools associated with the Internet.  I'll start a list of tools that I have found exceptionally useful.  All these tools are free of charge.

Emails.   We all hate emails, but cannot work without them.    Email is perhaps the oldest and most ubiquitous application of the Internet.  Many of us have been using the same email software for many years.  Many young people, however, have chosen not to use the email services of their own institutions, and have migrated to Gmail.  Gmail has a much better interface than anything I have used before.  It searches very rapidly, so that I don't need to waste time to file emails into folders.  Gmail is web based, so that I'll only have a single contact list, and access my emails from any computer connected to the Internet.

Recently Xuanhe Zhao helped me to set up my emails as follows.  All incoming emails are automatically forwarded to my Gmail account.  But when you receive an email from me, it looks like it is sent from   In effect, I'm using Gmail as an interface to handle all my emails. 

PDF (Portable Document Format).  My own use of PDF is limited to downloading PDF files and converting files of other formats into PDF.  Occasionally I receive PDF files from other people with comments and highlights.  Since PDF files are so ubiquitous, perhaps it's a good idea to learn to go beyond converting and downloading.  Anybody has tips to share?

Google search.  As a recent post has reminded us, there is much more to Google search than just typing in a few keywords.

Firefox.  Michael Suo and I have written before on why we like this web browser.  Many people, however, have been using older versions of Internet Explorer.  Update is long over due.  A few more buttons will go a long way to enhance your experience with the Internet.

Google Scholar.  Teng Li has written on how to localize Google Scholar to your own institution.  For example, when I find a paper using Google Scholar, a button appears on the side of the paper called "Find it at Harvard".  This is a bookmark manager.  Because each individual journal paper has a website, I also use to file papers.  Here are 8 tips for better bookmarking

Skype.  I have written elsewhere on this service that allows you to make long-distance phone calls for free.  You can also make conference calls for free.

iGoogle.  I now use this page as my start page when I launch a web browser.  iGoogle allow me to put many things on the page.  But to avoid confusing myself, I only put three items on this page:  my Gmail, my calendar, and my to-do list.

Google calendar.  It is very easy to use.  I share my calendar with my students, so that whenever we need to change an appointment, all I need to do is to drag the appointment on the screen, and the new appointment will be automatically synchronized on their calendars.  My secretary can also make appointments for me using her computer.

Google to-do list.  I used to keep a to-do list on a piece of paper, and then often lost it.  The Google to-do list is very easy to use.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets.  The documents live on the Internet, so that multiple people can work on the same document simultaneously.  You can keep the documents private, and can also publish it as a web page.  Here is an example of the published page.  I have also written proposals and papers with collaborators using Google Docs.  Here is a description of Docs & Spreadsheets given by Google.

Google Reader.  Elsewhere I have written about RSS feeds, and am now using Google Reader as my feed reader.  Surprisingly few mechanicians know about this innovation in web publishing.  Here is a 5 minute video explaining how to use Google Reader.   


Dan Cojocaru's picture

In addition to what Dr. Suo listed, I want to mention Google Groups . Besides many existent groups, one can easily set his/her own discussion group. For example, if you participate in an acedemic research group, Google Groups can help you building an online discussion group where people from your group can share information.

Ying Li's picture

I am  a BBS manager at mechanics@newsmth. The people in this field like talk about the mechanics in our lives, such as the bridges, rains and other intresting things. We also talk about the academic problems. The people here come from the students from Tsinghua Unv., Peking Unv., Stanford Unv, and other places. We help each others  solving their mechanics problems and find some useflu data for others. It is a good place to exchang the experence in learing and researching.

Zhijun Zheng's picture

Thanks for the useful list. During my study and research, I found that my maths is always not enough so I frequently connected to the MathWorld that is a free resource from Wolfram Research built with Mathematica technology. I strongly recommend this site to you.

zhan-sheng guo's picture

Google book is also very useful.

ezamir's picture

You are missing one of the best sites of the metaweb (or web 2.0, as some like to say): Digg. Whenever I come across an article or blog post I really like, I post it on digg ("digg it"). Unfortunately, or fortunately for everyone else, it is not geared towards engineering. There are other similar sites (Reddit comes to mind), but none that I have seen really focus on engineering or science in general. Slashdot sort of has this function, but it's typically used more for computer-related subjects, and it's moderated pretty heavily, so not everyone can post stories very easily. It would be nice to have a Digg-like website for engineering/physical sciences. The closest thing I can think of would be Faculty of 1000, but that's mainly for biology.

One thing,I recently switched from Firefox to Opera. Why? Because Firefox leaks memory, or at least, uses too much. And second, I found that Opera handles pdf documents much better.

Subscribe to Comments for "Productivity tools associated with the Internet"

Recent comments

More comments


Subscribe to Syndicate