Software & Utilities

Brief reviews of useful software (mostly free), tools and online utilities for students
I have a fetish for checking out new technologies. While most things I check out turn out to be useless for my purposes, a few are life-changing. The following articles are about some such technologies, websites, plugins, gadgets or utilities that caught my attention over the years. These will be of particular interest to students and are relevant to others as well.

Google scholar has started a facility for us to build libraries (see announcement) of articles that we are interested in.  I am not sure how useful this will be since I have to maintain a library in my citation manager in any case (I use zotero  now and have used Refworks in the past). The Library allows us to save articles while we are searching for them and it can also give us recommendations based on the library (which Zotero cannot do).  That could be a useful feature temporarily as we search. The coolest feature so far is that it can […]

Google Scholar adds a library feature

Zotero is a free-software to manage bibliographies and citations with advanced functions and an easy interface As a doctoral student a lot of my time goes into managing my references. Thankfully there are many tools around to help me manage my references and to speed up the process of inserting citations while I write my papers. After a lot of trial and error I settled on Refworks that I was really happy with. Unfortunately it is a paid software with a stiff fee that I may not be able to afford once I leave the university. Thankfully, a friend told […]

Zotero: The best citation tool around, and it’s free

An application to send custom auto responses in Gmail Gmail’s Canned responses feature allows you to send fairly sophisticated customised auto-responses based on incoming mails.  First we have to draft different kinds of responses we would like to send and label them.  For example, being the party animal I am becoming, I’d want a mail like, “This sounds great, I am on my way” for any e-mail inviting me for a party.  I will create it and label “Party mail”.  I can then create a filter in Gmail to scan all my incoming mails based on senders, keywords in text, […]

Custom auto-reply in Gmail for grad students and secret lovers

Creating neat bibliographies can be a pain, Word 2007 makes it easy Note: There is an easier way to cite in MS Word and it’s free.  Check out my note on Zotero citation tool. There are hundreds of formats for citations like Chicago, APA, etc.  The only thing in common between them is that each of them is a nightmare!  I cannot imagine how people did extensive citations before the coming of automated help.  I am a big fan of refworks, endnote and other bibliography managers.  Unfortunately, these are costly and cannot be afforded by everyone.  For those who did […]

Citations using Word 2007: Bibliographies made easy

Finally found the perfect voice recorder with great clarity, space, battery life and other great features I have tried my hands on four to five voice recorders so far. When I left to India for my fieldwork I was determined to get a good one that matches all my requirements. I will be doing long interviews and attending conferences – so I needed one that has a powerful mic and could record for long durations. When I read or when I work on some topic, I like to record my thoughts as they come. I needed a voice recorder that […]

Perfect voice recorder for fieldwork, interviews, conferences

The best task manager online now goes offline! I have been excited with the prospect of Google Gears that will allow many online applications to be used when we are offline.  After the announcement there was a little lull and I was waiting for the products to be rolled out – and the first of them that I have seen is my favourite Task Manager – Remember the milk.  With this the task manager can now be used when we are offline as well. Google gears is a product that allows developers to create applications for us to use online […]

Remember the milk available offline with Google Gears

Online news is more than just reading the same stuff online…it’s a great way of comparing how news is presented across different news papers Given that newspapers are our sole source of information on a variety of issues, news bias is a serious issue. In the days of reading on paper, I would subscribe to one, or at most two newspapers and read through them cursorily. But thanks to Google News (and other such news search engines), I now compare the presentation of news across newspapers. Google news puts together articles on a topic from newspapers across the world, and […]

Google News: Advantage of using news readers

Though I am an intensive user of various features of Google, I was surprised to find that it has an inbuilt calculator that I had not discovered till today.  Normally, I open MS Excel painfully or some other application to do simple calculations.  I found that one can do these by using the calculator function in Google by using standard methods that one would in Excel.  If one has the browser open, it’s a quicker and easier way to get answers than looking for an application.

Google calculator for quick calculations online

Map wy word creates a graphical output of various meanings of a word and enables us to find related words with a click Note: This feature has been disabled in Google Personalize, and visual thesaurus is not a free product anymore I often struggle for words when I am writing long pieces.  Beyond a point it becomes boring to use the same word again and again across pages and I desperately start looking for new words to express my ideas. I then started using Wordnet of Princeton University.  Wordnet lets me navigate to related words (going beyond synonmys).  Apart from […]

Map my word dictionary in Google Personalize

With some great new improvements Google Personalize is finally something to take seriously The last time I used Google Personalize, it was not a greatly attractive thing.  But in a span of few months some new features have been added that make Google Personalize a great online utility that one could use on a day to day basis.  To start with, instead of going to google for search, I can set it to go to Google personalize.  In that page, I can have snippets of news from selected sources, local weather, my custom search engines, and an assortment of other […]

News, weather, fun with Google Personalize

The finest online task manager can easily be integrated with Google personal home page Google personalize has improved by leaps and bounds in the last year. Apart from a sleek Ajax page where we can drag and drop (and rearrange) various items of our interest, they have now added a “tab system”. Most importantly, it now permits us to “add stuff” that includes an assortment of Google widgets including, remember the milk. To add your tasks from into my Google personalize home page all I have to do is to click on “add stuff” on the top right, and […]

Remember the milk task manager in Google personalize homepage

I was excited at the prospect of adding Google CSE to my website – but it does not fit my 3 column site I have always wanted to customise search engines and was thrilled when Google campe up wtih it’s CSE.  I quickly created a few.  Though they offer the codes to display the search in my site, I was not able to implement it in my wordpress site due to Javascripts.  This problem was solved by the an ingenuine idea at easywordpress.  Using the suggested method, I successfully got the CSE on my site and the results were displaying. […]

Google custom search engine: frame size problem

Add RSS content from delicious, etc. within your post.  Great possibilities to customise I had been looking for some way to add my links into my posts and this was proving to be impossible.  I finally found the perfect solution using a combination of Adsense Delux plugin and feed2js RSS reader. Using Feed2js to get RSS feeds Feed2js is a simple to use application through which we can publish rss feeds in our webpages.  Doing this is also very simple.  One just has to give feed2js the url of the rss feed.  It allows for many customisation including whether […]

RSS Feeds within post in wordpress – Horray!

Search debates, policies, laws, parliamentary questions, and other issues relating to policy, politics law and governance in India. Covers Indian Parliament and State Assemblies For those with an interest in policy issues, following what happens in the parliament and the legislative assemblies can be crucial. All state governments and the Government of India have reasonably information websites these days. But it is a little painful if we have to look for a new education initiative in over 50 websites one by one. On the other hand a generic search in Google or other search engines will give a lot of […]

Indian Parliament & Legislative Assemblies search engine

I was looking for a video cutter that could help me make suitable clips for presentations.  Finally, I found Virtual Dub, an AVI editor that delivered.  Virtual Deb is open source and totally free.  It enables me to read a variety of files, including dll files that I was struggling with and make small clips from a longer video file.  I can save the clips as avi or wav file, and both are readable by windows media player – which is crucial if we wish to use these clips in power point presentations. I had to struggle with the options […]

Open-source video cutter for presentations

A tool to generate conceptually related set of words for content analysis Wordnet is a lexical database maintained by Princeton university.  It is described as: “WordNet® is a large lexical database of English, developed under the direction of George A. Miller. Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are grouped into sets of cognitive synonyms (synsets), each expressing a distinct concept. Synsets are interlinked by means of conceptual-semantic and lexical relations. The resulting network of meaningfully related words and concepts can be navigated with the browser” When we with to do autocoding with NVivo or other qualitative research (or content analysis) software, […]

Using Wordnet lexical database with content analysis software

NVivo Rating: 4 out of 5 I started using NVivo – a qualitative research and content analysis software – last year when I worked on a content analysis project. NVivo’s purposes are simple – it allows us to assemble different documents (including pictures) and code them. The codes can be arranged in a hierarchy or individually. While most coding is manual, some of it can be automated (see below). The best part of NVivo is that it allows us to review contents carrying a particular code with ease. For example, I was looking at newspaper articles on contracting and wanted […]

NVivo: Useful content analysis tool

Visualising ones ideas is a great way to think through complex issues or arguments. Here are three free utilities to put our ideas into neat pictures Last year I used a mind-mapping software called FreeMind productively. Mind maps start with a simple core from which one can have multiple nodes that lead to multiple nodes and so on. Free mind allows the user to link different nodes, make comments on certain nodes, link them to files, insert a number of images, etc. Last year I did a course on Social Movement Theory. Towards the end of the semester a friend […]

Visualise ideas with Mind Maps, Concept Maps and Diagraming tools

I recently tried using an online utility to find a suitable date for all students in my programme to meet. Normally, this is a hugely time consuming affaire. This time around, I tried an online utility called and it turned out to be fantastic. It’s a simple utility that works like a poll. The organizer can choose an initial list of times and send invitations to chosen people. The invitees just have to click a link and choose merely click on the times that suit them. The site offers a lot of other useful features too. For example, apart […]

Online tool to schedule meetings among many participants