MonthJune 2012

How I use Dropbox

Gone are the days of ferrying files back and forth using a CD-RW disc. Gone are the days of ZIP disks and the potential to have your data devoured by the ZIP drive. Gone are the days of toting USB keys around with files saved to them like 21st Century floppies.

This is the age of the Cloud and of Dropbox. I would be lost without it. I use it to keep my files in sync across my home and work computers. I use it to keep back ups of my writing, photos and other important things.

I use Dropbox to keep my digital life in order. The biggest benefit to the service it its flexibility. You can keep your home folder in sync, start torrents downloading remotely or any of the other Tips and Tricks the Dropbox Wiki has to offer.

In short, it will keep your files in sync between devices, both computers and phones. It will keep multiple versions of files so if you overwrite or delete something then change your mind, you can recover it.

It is simple to use because it’s just a folder on your computer. However, this folder has super powers. As long as you have Dropbox installed it will work in the background to keep everything in order.

I use it for a couple of specific things that I find makes my life a bit easier.

Evernote Watched Folder

First, I use Evernote. I love Evernote. It is my digital filing cabinet. If Dropbox is for everyday things, Evernote is for everything I want to keep for months, or years.

Evernote has a fantastic feature that will monitor a folder and automatically import anything saved to it into Evernote.

I keep my folder called, Add to Evernote in Dropbox so when I’m at work I can drop files into it and my home PC will pickup those files and add them to Evernote.

Add to iTunes

Like many people I have an iPhone and I use iTunes to manage my music. I’m not a fan of the cloud music services since I like to own my music. This presents a problem that eventually everything I want to listen to needs to end up in iTunes eventually.

This is easy enough when I am at home. However, when I’m at work and I buy an album on Amazon or I find a talk or podcast I want to listen to a single episode of I don’t have a good way to get it into iTunes.

Until now…

Ever since version 9, iTunes has had a folder called Automatically Add to iTunes. This folder can be found in your Music folder under your profile.

Remember to replace USERNAME with your own username.

  • If you’re on a Mac: /Users/USERNAME/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media
  • If you’re on a Windows 7 PC: \USERNAME\My Music\iTunes
  • If you’re on a Windows XP PC: \Documents and Settings\USERNAME\My Documents\My Music\iTunes

I use a system very similar to my Evernote setup. I have a folder called Add to iTunes in my Dropbox folder. Then, on the Mac at home, I have Automator run a simple folder action to copy any files found in the Dropbox folder to the Automatically Add to iTunes folder.

This way, no matter where I am, as long as I have internet access and Dropbox, I can be sure new music is added to my iTunes library and synced to my phone when I get home.

Camera Uploads

I love to take photos with my iPhone. I’ve taken so many I quickly outgrew the 5GB iCloud free account. I want to make sure my photos are safe and live somewhere outside my phone. Dropbox Camera Upload provides the perfect place to keep them safe.

First, when I plug my iPhone into any computer I have with Dropbox running, it will detect the phone and automatically save all photos to a folder called Camera Uploads. This also works with Android phones.

In addition to this, Dropbox released an update to the iPhone app yesterday, bringing it into parity with the Android app, which allows for uploading photos to the same Camera Uploads folder when the phone is connected to wi-fi. There is also an option to upload over the cellular network and those of you with unlimited data plans can take advantage of that.

eBooks for iPad

The last thing I use Dropbox for is keeping a collection of eBooks I’ve come across on the web for free. There are many people who will give away free ebooks I’ve downloaded. I also have friends who are writers and I’ve gotten copies of their books in Kindle, PDF, or epub formats.

I save all of these in a Dropbox folder called eBooks. Then, when I am on my iPad or iPhone I can browse to the folder, select the file and open the book in the Kindle app or iBooks. This keeps all of my books in a safe place and makes it easy to load them on the mobile devices without needing a computer.

Marriage Overturned

The United States of America held a vote last night and all heterosexual marriages and no longer valid in the country. As of this morning, no marriage is legally recognized.

What does this mean? It means you’ve lost all these rights.

  • No more health benefits for your spouse. They better get on their own insurance at work? Oh, they stay at home? Well, better go out and buy insurance.

  • No more visitation or decision-making rights if they are hospitalized, you’re not really family after all.

  • No more tax benefits. Time to start filing separately.

  • No adoptions. It’s not right for a child to grow up in a home like that.

  • Prepare for more harassment at school and the workplace (if you got a job) because it’s not a hate crime to harass and bully you for being you.

This is your new reality. This is the world you’ve awaken to. This is everyday.

This is not the world heterosexual couples live in. This is not reality for many people. But it is reality for same-sex couples. This is the life they life in and the unjust system they live under.

Just as African-Americans won the right to vote, the right to marry and even to be considered people many years ago, the same battle is taking place across the country and in the world now.

For homosexual couples, they face the same legal and moral battles African-Americans faced and still face in parts of the world (and our country) today.

I look forward to the time when we look back on the ridiculousness of same-sex marriage (and even using that term) that we do on interracial marriage.

It’s not right to deny people the rights and joys of marriage because of an arbitrary reason such as skin color of sexual orientation.

Habits can be habit forming

I’ve been talking about walking to work for months. It was a little too cold this winter and the motivation to get up and walk to work.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel about walking. I didn’t know how the walks would go. I didn’t know if I would be able to keep up the walking when I did start.

I was excited about the opportunity to walk home after a long day. Being outside and enjoying the evening after being cooped up all day was a welcome change. However, the morning walk to get me to work was daunting. I am not a morning person and getting up and out the door earlier than I had been was holding me back.

Just as I struggled with going to the gym, I was missing the point. It didn’t matter how far I walked or how often I did, I needed to get up and go. The hardest part of exercising is sitting on the couch, tying my shoes and looking at the front door. Everything after the front door is easy by comparison.

When things break

I am enjoy fixing things myself. I love to dive into repair projects and nurse ailing devices back to health. I am a tinkerer and a believer in the Self-Repair Manifesto.

I love the feeling that comes from completing a repair project. I love making something once broken into something useful again. I love that I don’t have to replace, but that I can repair. I love turning the screws to expose the secrets locked within a computer or game console or even tightening down a loose handle on a pan.

It alarms me as we move into more of a disposable culture. Less and less often are we as consumers able to repair what we own. Now I am not advocating everyone become experts in all things and repair their belongings. However, I do think there is room for repair that is being slowly taken away and knowledge which is being lost.

Take the cobbler who can repair and make a study pair of shoes that can last many years. My shoes wear out in a matter of months and I am forced to buy new ones.

With every update, Apple is making their computers less serviceable and turning them into black boxes that only the anointed Geniuses can repair. This is alarming not only because I work in tech support but also in the increasing reliance on the company’s that make what we use and their whims and in some cases, ability to stay in business.

J.D. Bentley got to the heart of my concern with a piece today.

“I’m too stu­pid to live,” I thought.
If we depend on oth­ers to make every­thing for us, we’re at their mercy. We’re not really alive in cer­tain ways. Of course, our econ­omy ven­er­ates per­pet­ual growth and per­pet­ual growth requires spend­ing and con­sump­tion, so my predica­ment, I’m sure, is not so uncommon.

But that’s no excuse. I should be self-sufficient enough that I don’t have to friv­o­lously spend money to replace a per­fectly good and use­ful device.

He is talking about his trusty bathroom scale that had journeyed with him through his weight loss and health enlightenment. It had a seemingly small failure, a faulty foot, but nonetheless needed to be replaced.

We have all been through the feelings of a trusted possession failing us. It can almost feel as if an old friend has betrayed your trust and abandoned you before its time. There is a feeling of helplessness that comes with being unable to repair the damage done by years of use.

Even when we have the time to repair something, we can be our own worst enemies as Patrick Rhone writes in When Friction is Fiction.

All that angst. All of that procrastination. Moot! Did not need to happen. Instead of digging in right away when I got the grill and spending twenty minutes to discover this fix, I spent five to write it off for a month to still spend the twenty I would have anyway. I felt kinda stupid actually. Probably deservedly so.

He had received a broken grill with the necessary parts to repair it and put it off for months because of the perceived time and effort it would take to repair. And in the end, the time spent worrying was a mental block as the repair was even easier than originally thought.

This has got me thinking about the nature of what I rely on and who I am really relying on. What happens when it breaks? Can it be fixed? Do I have to buy a new one? What if the one I like is no longer made?

Life has taught me things will break. It’s not if they will break but when. Everything breaks down eventually. Even when cared for, everything eventually wears out. It is only a matter of time.

When that time comes, what happens next?

Tech Support Triumvirate: Keeping Windows Updated

I work as a computer technician and half of my battle is keeping computers running happily. The other half is keeping them updated and secure against potential threats. There is a triumvirate of software I’ve found and employed throughout the years to make keeping Windows installations up to date painless.

Ninite

The first is Ninite. This fantastic little site is perfect for fresh computer builds. It saves time having to download and install the latest versions of browsers, media players and plugins.

The idea could not be easier. Go to the web site on your Windows or Linux computer and select the applications you want to install. Download the single, small installer.

The installer is small because when it runs, it goes out to the web sites of the application’s you’ve selected and downloads the newest versions. This assure you always get the newest version of the software every time.

Ninite will install software that’s not already present or update existing software to the newest version. If it detects the software is already updated, it will skip the application and move to the next one on the list.

The installer is small and perfect for thumb drives or network shares if you’re using a standard computer build. It saves me from having to remember exactly which applications I need to install and which I haven’t. I run Ninite and when it finishes, I know I am up to date and ready to move on.

If you have a large organization, then Ninite Pro is your go-to tool. It offers the same trouble-free updates along with silent installs, no nag screens, centralized management and a pile of other great features.

FileHippo

I was introduced to FileHippo by a friend and my life has never been the same. FileHippo is a repository of nearly any free application you could ever need.

I used it recently to retrieve an older version of Safari when I encountered a bug in Windows XP with the Safari 5.1.x versions. It’s been an invaluable resource for rolling back software updates to combat bugs, incompatibilities or if a customer simply upgraded and didn’t mean or want to.

In addition to hosting older versions of thousands of applications, they have a free Update Checker that can be installed or run standalone from a USB key. The Update Checker will scan the computer and present a list of all the software out of date that FileHippo support and provides links to the latest versions.

FileHippo will not automatically download the applications like Ninite will, but it supports a larger number of applications.

PatchMyPC

PatchMyPC is a new tool in my kit I recently found via the excellent Technibble. This application can be installed or run off a USB key and will scan the computer for the updates to the most vulnerable and often updated applications and install their updates silently in the background with a single click. This means keeping Flash, Acrobat Reader, Skype, Java and around 50 other applications up to date with little effort.

Along with keeping vulnerable software up to date, it can also install other applications and keep them up to date in the future. It is possible to always ignore a certain application and it will never be checked nor updated. This is particularly useful if an important application uses a specific version of Java or another application that can’t be updated or changed.

PatchMyPC combines the auto-checking of FileHippo with Ninite’s auto-installation for the best of both worlds. It will even check Windows Updates for available updates and include those in the update making it nearly perfect. The trade-off being a smaller list of applications supported but the developers are adding applications as they go so it will get even better as time goes on.

Customer Service

I spend a lot of my time updating software, patching vulnerabilities and making sure my customers are running the most up to date software and this can be very tedious and time-consuming. These three applications make my job easier and allow me to dig through error logs or perform other research or maintenance while the applications are updating.

Anything I can do to save time is a benefit to myself and my customers because it’s my job to get them up and running again as quickly as possible so they can get the work done they need to do.

I am constantly in the pursuit of better tools to get my job done faster, and correctly every time so I can offer better service to my customers. These three applications allow me to do that and they are indispensable parts of my toolkit.