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Can Google apps help you to cook, travel, blog or live better?

June 8, 2014

Chef Osama demonstrates how Google apps can help in the kitchen - on mycustardpie.comMy feeling towards Google veers from awe and amazement, to fear it’s starting to take over the everything. Perhaps one day we’ll be locked in our houses by Google-controlled entry keys and our only interface with the world will be via Google!* However…

…as my job and this blog requires me to be knowledgeable about latest developments (and I have a strong inner geek streak), last month I said ‘yes’ to an invite and shot up in the lift to the penthouse suite on the 69th floor of the JW Marriot Marquis for Google House highly intrigued, but not sure what to expect.

After a heart-warming video about a farmer in Africa (see below), and a few more Google apps downloaded on my phone, we were led from room to room to see how Google could enhance our everyday lives.

Google House - My Custard Pie-7

In the kitchen

We were greeted by popular Dubai One TV Chef Osama Atyab who demonstrated how various features could help out in the heart of the home. If you’ve got a smart phone, tablet or computer and an internet connection in the kitchen you can:

  • Watch video content from advice, tips, tutorials to cooking channels on YouTube.
  • Join a live video conversation with one or more (up to 10) of your friends or foodies through Google+ Hangouts. You could invite anyone into your kitchen from asking your Mum how to boil an egg, having a virtual cooking lesson, or enjoying a joint meal with a group anywhere in the world.
  • Reading a recipe on your tablet or phone is nothing new but if your hands are coated in dough, or you need to ask something about the recipe then Voice Search on Google allows you to find nutritional info, recipes, and measurements hands free.  For instance, I just asked ‘how many ounces in a kilogram?’ and a very nice lady answered ‘35.273 ounces in a kilogram’. Try it and see.
  • Getting low on ingredients? You can add a reminder in Google Now to buy something and add a local supermarket to trigger the reminder e.g.  say “Remind me to buy milk when I’m near Waitrose”

A few of my favourite links

If this has got you interested here are a few places to start:

  • Sorted Food – Set up and run by a bunch of (young, male, good-looking) mates this is now Europe’s largest cooking community on YouTube. Very clear instructive videos that aren’t boring.
  • Caroline Mili Artiss – who I’ve met a couple of times and she’s absolutely lovely as well as a great cook. She was one of the first TV chef’s to be discovered on YouTube in the UK and so popular she’s found success on TV in the USA, Asia and UK.
  • River Cottage Food Tube – Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall and the River Cottage cookery school crew take you into the Dorset countryside and into their kitchen.
  • Chef Dennis Littley offers advice to food bloggers on using Google + and holds regular Hangouts from discussions to cooking demos.
  • …and you can hang out with me on Google + here.

Going somewhere?

Many functions have been added to Google maps so you can plan your journey by car, public transport or on foot, including time, distance and current areas of traffic congestion. Street view is expanding to include the inside of some major landmarks – soon to include the Burj Khalifa (although whether street view will extend throughout Dubai is debatable).

It does mean that in most areas of the world you can check out your location in detail before you travel (for instance, find out if the place you booked is close to the sea), plan your journey there and even experience some of the major sights if you can’t get there in person. You could set up a travel blog without leaving your armchair (joke….sort of).

Google Now organises your information so you can plan your route, check the weather and currency conversion rates, find restaurants in the local area and monitor your flight schedules.

Google Translate is getting really interesting; currently with 80 languages and 5112 language pairs, the app for Android (ios coming soon) is the linguistically challenged gourmet traveler’s friend. You can take a picture of an item on the menu and it will translate for you. On the up side, you’ll never order sheep’s head by accident ever again; on the down this takes the fun out of adventurous travel and the potential for funny stories.   The voice activation on the app (on all platforms) means you can translate on the go – and listen to the pronunciation in some languages.

Tools for bloggers (and fashionistas)

This section was demonstrated in the bedroom with a girl trying on outfits, asking a friend’s opinion via Google Hangouts then looking at Google Trends to make sure the eye-make up style she was wearing was the very latest fashion.  Google Trends is something I’m going to be paying much more attention to in the future. Type in key words to see their ranking worldwide or in a Geographic area. Great for SEO and generating blog topics or headlines for your blog articles.

The Auto Awesome feature on Google + could be very handy for making beautiful images for your blog or to share on your social channels (generated on your computer or Android device).  It’s a bit like magic;  Google automatically detects images that are likely to look good as a GIF (short moving image animation). Here’s a video to explain how it’s done.  Wide-screen panoramas and mini-movies are also possible.

Look Mum, no hands

An image is doing the rounds of three teenagers walking around completely absorbed in their smart phones. I venture that it’s not just teenagers who are guilty; definitely a culprit myself and have even seen Mums with toddlers standing at the side of busy roads staring at their mini-screens.  Google Glass is the solution and I got the chance to try it out.

Connected by Bluetooth to your phone, it enables you to perform a wide variety of functions through voice commands and swiping the side (arm) of the glasses. Not quite as exciting as I’d expected (not ‘augmented reality’ …yet) however surprisingly easy to use. The text hovers slightly above your sight-line so you can take a video, get directions to a destination, dictate and send a text etc. etc. The sunglasses style was really unobtrusive. “You should get a Chanel version for Dubai” I suggested, which went down a storm.  My polite commands (please and thank you Glass) caused much amusement. Is there a British English version?

It’s easy to see these catching on very quickly as we all strive to multi-multi-task. Dubai Police are adopting them (very easy to film an offender quickly and unobtrusively) – but wouldn’t they be incredibly distracting while driving (and how would you detect that someone was wearing them?).

Information exchange?

Google cultural institute -

Omar studies via Google Cultural Institute

In the teen’s bedroom of the Google house, the very useful collaborative tool Google Docs was highlighted.  To quote Google “Allows to create rich documents with images, tables, equations, drawings, links and more. Share lists, track projects, analyse data and track results. You can also create beautiful presentations with our presentation editor which supports embedded videos, animations and dynamic slide transitions.” I’ve used it successfully on many joint projects but with this description I’m sure that I’m not using it to maximum potential.

Google Cultural Institute allows you to visit museums, artefacts, arts and galleries from various parts of the globe. Google is busy compiling curricula, on YouTube, from around the world via teachers and education institutions to provide an extensive, accessible bank of knowledge.

A step away from reality?

I’ll admit that these last two initiatives had me in a quandary.  The obvious benefits are to give access to this wealth of information to people who would otherwise not be able to experience or view it. While laudable, will students who see a virtual version of a place, e.g. The Louvre, still have the same compulsion to visit it reality? Having been recently moved to tears in a Museum (in Georgia) through an exhibition which was more than the sum of its parts, and marveled at the precision and beauty of a gold cup fashioned before they invented the wheel, we must never allow virtual reality to take over the real-life experience.  Education should be for all, and while these education initiatives could potentially reach children excluded by politics, gender or economics, it also places the control of information within a central powerful entity.

The future according to Google

These Google products are truly innovative – Google is committed to providing the best, relevant information to users, in most cases. However, Google doesn’t share everything; it is difficult to share on Google + through other apps or channels; my WordPress dashboard used to be full of search terms people used to find my blog, but Google, while giving access to this plethora of amazing free tools (plus others like Google Analytics), now limits that information.

As I came back down to ground level in the elevator, Google House left me with many thoughts. The extraordinary pace of innovation, the central role it now plays in our lives and a fairly mind-boggling future.

Do these Google apps fill you with excitement of the wonderful possibilities? Or fear that civil liberties are in danger and this is all sounding like ‘Big Brother’? Or (like me) a bit of both?

* This is not as mad as it sounds as  Google acquired Nest Labs earlier this year and its appliance that controlled the temperature of a home based on user habits – such as when they get up or arrive home from work – or how hot or cold it was outside. While it is the first foray into people’s homes,  a spokesperson for Google said that could increase in the near future. Source: The National. AlsoApple announced Home Automation this week which turns of lights, sets thermostats and locks doors.

Get more out of Google apps for cooking, blogging, travel & life -

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  1. June 8, 2014 8:50 am

    Definitely a bit of both. I’am thankful for technology as it has helped me learn and achieve so many goals (big and small). That said, I’am also worried about how ‘digitalized’ we are becoming day by day.

    • June 8, 2014 10:12 am

      Yes. It gets a bit worrying … as I Snapchatted with my teens about their lunch requirements from another room in the same house this weekend!

  2. June 8, 2014 9:09 am

    Interesting and thoughtful post Sally. I would also say a bit of both. Some things are very useful others over-controlled, praise the Lord that it still takes a human to eecide how to balance them out ;D

    • June 8, 2014 10:13 am

      …for now Karin! Bet Google have an algorithm for it 🙂

  3. June 8, 2014 10:08 am

    I’m going to come back and read this on my laptop as some apps sound interesting. We use street view a lot before we travel 🙂

    • June 8, 2014 10:11 am

      Thanks Tandy. It opened my eyes to many useful features that I wasn’t aware of.

  4. sarahhedonista permalink
    June 8, 2014 10:40 am

    I can just imagine you teaching google glasses manners! This post is a very interesting deviation, glad you did it.

    • June 8, 2014 11:09 am

      Glad you liked it. I’ve thrown content plans to the wind these days….

  5. suesharpe04 permalink
    June 8, 2014 1:39 pm

    Great post, Sally! You’re preaching to the converted, here, We use Google for just about everything these days. Google Drive & Docs are invaluable tools for creating and storing educational and business information. (The OH even writes tutorials for using Drive – I’d love to hve a ‘play’ with Google Glass sometime!

  6. June 8, 2014 5:38 pm

    I too am going to look at this closer on my laptop. We had trouble I’m parts of Italy getting WiFi so translate wouldn’t have helped there.

    • June 9, 2014 7:58 am

      And this is the key – without a connection this is all pretty useless. In one of my favourite books by Margaret Atwood – Oryx and Crake – there is a scene after everything has pretty much collapsed, when a character looks at the computer sitting on the desk. He wonders at how much time he spent on it and how useless it is now!

  7. June 9, 2014 12:36 am

    Google search is my ‘go to’ for absolutely any question that floats in my head, but I’m not a big fan of google+ or hangouts — though after reading this, I might have to check out Auto Awesome. While I have all popular devices — a laptop, a iPhone, ipad, appleTV etc., I find I have a reasonable and limited # of apps since my laptop is my primary device; iphone for texts, occasional photos and editing, checking emails etc. and I mostly use my ipad as a reader and for travel.

    • June 9, 2014 7:56 am

      Thanks Joan. Now you can type your questions into the search bar, Google is even more useful. It will tell you nutritional information, weight conversions etc – all very useful in cooking. We’re i everything – KP is obsessed 🙂

  8. June 9, 2014 1:51 am

    Thought provoking post. I do use applications to learn about cuisines and styles I am less accustomed to but honestly, there is no replacement for just going on a class, or asking a friend or travelling is there. I think technology has seeped far too deeply into my real life and I’ve been pulling back. X

    • June 9, 2014 7:54 am

      I was discussing Translate with my teens last night. They thought the new innovations were great but I can’t help thinking this is another death knell in learning another language.

      • June 9, 2014 11:23 am

        It does worry me that these applications replace more natural, real or pleasurable modes of learning. In think they’re great when supplementing or reinforcing learning.

  9. June 9, 2014 5:27 am

    Both, for sure. Cool you got to use Glass!

    • June 9, 2014 7:53 am

      Yes – that was the highlight for me 🙂

  10. June 9, 2014 10:55 am

    Really great post, Sally, you’ve answered some of my questions about Google glasses. As we get more digitized and virtual, I personally find myself wanting to have a digital detox, I think all these tools are fantastic, but we have to monitor ourselves to make sure they don’t run our lives and we are still in control.
    I am still afraid Google Glasses would give me a migraine-Sarah May

    • June 10, 2014 10:37 am

      The glass is clear so not sure it would…. could do with a digital detox right now actually.

  11. June 9, 2014 10:56 am

    Also, they don’t have Georgian language on Good Translate. 😉

    • June 10, 2014 10:36 am

      They do – but not the spoken version. I wanted to hear the app say ‘Gaumarjos’!

  12. June 9, 2014 7:18 pm

    What a great visit to Google House! I am so jealous that you got to try out Google Glass! And I’m checking out the extra apps. Don’t worry that Google Translate will replace learning a language. When I’ve used it to double-check spelling in a language I already know, often the translation is badly wrong to the point of being humorous. It does its best, I’m sure, but many phrases are hard to translate directly. I expect the menu translation is going to have the same issues so the funny stories might be even funnier when the sheep’s head arrives, baleful eyeballs intact, when you thought you had avoided ordering it.

    • June 10, 2014 10:36 am

      Agree Stacy – I think that Translate is improving though…. let’s see. Yes – very cool to try glass ….I’ll give you a shout if I get anymore Google invites 🙂

  13. Lauren Hairston permalink
    June 9, 2014 8:50 pm

    I use google maps all the time; so much better than SatNav. The last time we got SatNav in a rental car, I had nightmares for days that were filled with a woman’s voice saying, “At roundabout, take second exit…” I was developing a twitch so we just bought the AA road atlas. Thankfully, my husband just got a smart phone that will work in the UK too. Yay!

    I’m also of two minds about google (and other internet companies). I worry about my privacy (and just how much time I spend “plugged in”) but I also have a hard time NOT using their products.

    • June 10, 2014 10:35 am

      I refuse to use Sat Nav much to KP’s annoyance. I’m great most of the time – except for the odd mistake and then the consequences can be dire!

  14. June 11, 2014 9:25 pm

    I have a love/hate relationship with technology. It is a huge part of my life and my job, but sometimes I worry that it is too much of a big part of our lives

    • June 13, 2014 9:29 am

      Me too – I’m almost addicted….but love walking over Dartmoor….nothing man made in sight, no light pollution, sound of the wind and birds…. escape

  15. June 11, 2014 9:43 pm

    OMG, I am competely lost. I feel like I’ve just come out of a jungle. I don’t even own a smartphone….:( Is it really necessary, you think? It’s just a rhetorical quesrion. Wow.

    • June 13, 2014 9:27 am

      Ha ha – you can’t believe how panicked I get when I can’t find my iphone….for a minute!

  16. June 12, 2014 2:11 pm

    I’ve been enjoying the Sorted Food videos via Food Tube, too. All looks very exciting – would love to try the Google glass. What an exciting day out!

    • June 13, 2014 9:26 am

      This city is still compact so not a day out, just a hop down the road for a couple of hours…..very spoiled to have lots of exciting things on our doorstep.

  17. June 12, 2014 6:46 pm

    It’s all getting a bit bonkers isn’t it. I love all the new apps and especially maps because I am hopeless at reading them so the little dot that is me on the map is a god send! BUT sometimes I just want to be a bit old fashioned and write on a piece of paper of get my Nikon FM2 out!

    • June 13, 2014 9:25 am

      I confess to liking real maps – and resist sat nav because you don’t learn directions….so if they go wrong you are stumped.

      • June 13, 2014 9:29 am

        That’s so true! My sat nav is useless. We really only use it abroad where we have no sense of direction. The funniest was in Naples in the narrow backstreets. We were actually using a map and get hopelessly lost and frustrated and then Amy said ‘why don’t you just ask Georgie” – (the sat nav) . It was so obvious and so funny we all burst out laughing just as a bunch of chickens flew into the road!

      • June 13, 2014 9:30 am


  18. June 13, 2014 1:04 am

    Dying to try Google glasses! Thanks for the post – lots to think about. Glad you had such a good day!

    • June 13, 2014 9:23 am

      Thanks Stuart – food blogging leads to so many interesting things 🙂

  19. June 13, 2014 1:15 am

    Very jealous of you trying Google Glass! Would love to record my cooking whilst liveblogging.

  20. June 13, 2014 1:23 am

    I am fascinated y Google and was lucky enough to get t see the London headquarters for a photography workshop recently. I find their innovations amazing and am really loving the sound of Google trends. I think we can only embrace this technology as I fear being left behind so I want to use it to my advantage. Although, I would love someone to show me how as opposed to reading it on Google!

    • June 13, 2014 9:22 am

      The photography workshop sounds intriguing and I agree the innovations are amazing. I’ve learned so many things by Googling!

  21. June 13, 2014 5:36 pm

    Wow what a brilliant opportunity Sally, and great post. I really need to spend more time getting my head around how to get more out of Google+ and Google Hangouts… I really want to do more video on my blog but in a way that’s not too much of a faff…

  22. June 15, 2014 9:50 pm

    YES! – a shout-out to those fabulous boys at Sorted Food. You know I’m a big fan! I’ve always considered myself reasonably tech-savvy, but I’ll admit that some of the apps/programs/devices these days really do baffle me. I wouldn’t have a blog without technology, but sometimes I feel the need to disconnect completely, make a large cup of Earl Grey, and read a really good book in the garden. Back to reality!

  23. June 17, 2014 12:48 pm

    OK 🙂 On my way

  24. June 18, 2014 6:33 pm

    I missed out on a similar event in London late last year – my son is dying to get his hands on Google glass!

  25. Roslyn permalink
    July 21, 2014 8:14 am

    Google is amazing however specialist tools still give you a better result. e.g. Looking up Italian food and the veal shank dish ‘osso buco’ Google translate will tell you ‘bone hole’. But something like the iOS app, “Translate Italian Dishes” will give a more helpful result so you know what you’re ordering.

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