As a natural followup to Post 0, I created a guide showing how to fully harness the power of Google, as well as a list of resources that help you quickly and effectively gather information from the internet. You might be thinking “Well I already know how to do that, everyone knows how to Google something” – which is correct, after all, when a group of people can’t come up with the answer to a question, somebody eventually says “Just Google it!” That is the beauty of having two elegant pieces of technology: computers and highly optimized search algorithms.
But the internet is still a big place, even for our powerful machines, and can sometimes be dangerous or privacy violating. So I made a list of current, actively maintained resources that can help you find your answer. This includes software, add-ons, interactive web databases, free online university-grade classes, and active, knowledgeable communities.
Googling things, the right way – Most people know how to do a basic Google search, and can get a fairly accurate answer right away. However, there are a few tools and tricks that can streamline this everyday process. I’ll assume most people can tell the difference between a reputable and genuine site, and a junk site which only wants to sell you something or attract clicks. Even if that is the case, there are still far too many ads, potentially harmful scripts, and personal information logging practices that are now commonplace across the web. There are two small, free and open source add-ons you can install to protect yourself with these things:
NoScript – Blocks “scripts” that exist within web pages. Intuitive and easy to use, it blocks potentially unwanted or harmful scripts from loading into your browser. You can disable it temporarily or permanently for certain webpages.
Alternatively, you can install Sandboxie and just run your browser with that. It offers some protection by separating your main PC files from anything that might find its way in through your browser. Good if you don’t want to bother with manually allowing things.
Finally, documentation on refining Google searches. Side note: Google also assigns you an id number when you search things. Over time, it learns your interests/preferences and tries to return websites based on that information. You can disable this “feature” in your Google account.
Free Education – Now that you can safely and quickly navigate the web, the first thing I would like to mention is Coursera. It has hundreds of courses spanning most subjects, sometimes even taught by experts and giants in their respective fields. There are online courses complete with video lectures, assignments, a help forum, and a progress tracker. It is free, and there is always the option to complete a specialized “certification” for a relatively small fee. The lectures sometimes vary in quality, but the instructors are generally very good and extremely knowledgeable. For high school level review, see Khan Academy. There is also Udacity, a software development oriented website backed by Google and Facebook – so it may lean a little more toward “corporate training”. I just learned of Udacity upon making this post, so I cannot say anything about the quality. Google has quality programming documentation and lectures freely available somewhere, though.
/r/lifeprotips – This one is becoming quite popular. Remember those “life hack” tricks that quickly conveyed how to do or build something cheaply and quickly? Well this is kind of like that, but (generally) from everyday posters on reddit.com and sometimes subtly insightful. Here is a popular one from the date of this posting. I read this post and can appreciate the logic immediately: I sometimes listen to music while working, though songs with lots of lyrics and “attention grabbers” can be distracting. This idea is a natural extension of something I already do, and might even work out better – listening to video game soundtracks. They are deliberately made not to be distracting, and some games have deceivingly good soundtracks. You don’t even need to like games. See the Hotline Miami soundtrack, it practically got more praise than the game itself. Be careful though, like any “upvote” or “like” driven social media, posts are prone to being the voice of a collective hivemind. The highest net upvote posts rise to the top and become more visible, while more obscure or specific posts filter to the bottom of the page. My example submission is fairly innocuous, but be on guard when the posts are largely about opinions or controversial topics.
WolframAlpha – You can type in any question, and the engine will try to infer exactly what it is you seek. It is somewhat syntax sensitive (you have to learn how to type things in), or you can just scroll down and browse by subject. For example, it computed the nutritional information of a cubic light year of ice cream. It also has an API, if you are a developer.
/r/personalfinance – Yes, another subreddit. This one is quickly rising in popularity, and for a good reason. You can ask people what to do in a given financial situation, and get good advice. The page is well maintained and organized, and the community is generally helpful, just make sure you’re not asking simple or frequently asked questions; you can quickly search for existing answers. Make sure you check “limit my search to /r/personalfinance”. I advocate this sub because finance is a topic that many people are strangely in the dark about. How interest accumulates, credit card debt, student loan questions, etc. Whether you’re young or just never had the opportunity or time to learn, changing a few of your financial behaviors can save you formidable chunks of change here and there – it adds up. So cast off your economic shackles and become fiscally responsible! By doing this you open more doors for yourself, and having more options is rarely a bad thing.
That’s all for now, I might increase this list to 10 (I’m sure there are other great, free resources) but I imagine most people will realistically only need to use/learn about several of these things. Better yet, I could split the post into 2-3 that are more specific to the task at hand, for example, “How to conduct effective [qualitative/quantitative] research.”