A Singer, A Song

October 12, 2009

My digital life

Filed under: Geek,Philanthropy — galewis @ 12:51 pm

Most people know I’m a pretty big geek. One of the things I appreciate most about technology is how it helps me to keep the minutiae of my life in order. I use technology in a lot of different ways, but there are some especially useful tools in my arsenal. As I look at how often I interface with these particular offerings, I realize how valuable they are to me and how valuable they might be to others, too. So I’d like to do a run-down of my “Top Ten” (okay, top six or seven), giving a few details of how I use it, and perhaps inspiring you to try a few out for yourself.

The devices involved are these:

  • Windows XP desktop upstairs
  • iMac in the kitchen
  • Home network with wireless
  • Network-attached storage device (NAS)
  • Macbook with VMWare Fusion (OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu)
  • iPhone 3G

Macbook

  • My trusty little Macbook gets special attention. While all of the devices in the above list are very important to the equation, my go-anywhere, do-anything Macbook is the most amazing gadget in the bunch (with my iPhone running a very close second). NGU purchased my Macbook for me when I started teaching there, and if it ever had to leave my hands, I think I’d probably stroke out.
  • I’ve had it dual-booting Windows XP for better than a year thanks to VMWare Fusion. There’s a database that Camille and I designed to track all of the record-keeping I encounter teaching voice, and it runs only in Windows. When hooked up to the extra flat-screen LCD monitor NGU placed on my desk, I can run OS X on one screen and WinXP on the other without a hitch. At the end of the day I pack up my trusty friend and take him home, knowing that anything I might need that evening is within easy reach.
  • A side-note: I don’t know why it took me so long to realize I could do it, but just today I hooked my Macbook up to our Samsung LCD TV using the Mac’s Mini DisplayPort and a single 1/8″ stereo audio cable. Coupled with R. P. A. Tech’s Air Mouse Pro on my iPhone, catching up with those few missing minutes of The Amazing Race that TiVo didn’t catch (getting instead Andy Rooney‘s grizzled mug… bah!) will be a much more pleasant experience.

Gmail/Gcal

  • By far the two most important tools I use day-to-day are Gmail and its trusty sidekick Google Calendar (Gcal for short). Because these two web applications interface directly interface with my iPhone, what appears in one place immediately appears in another. If I add a calendar appointment on a desktop computer, it immediately shows up on my mobile device. If I mark or file an email on my iPhone, I find that action mirrored the next time I open Gmail in my browser. It’s seamless, convergent bliss.
  • Gmail’s labels and filters are nothing short of amazing. Automatically labeling emails as they arrive and performing other automated tasks is a sure-fire method for keeping my Inbox tidy and manageable (which works out to be, let me tell you, directly related to my mental health).

Dropbox

  • What was my life like before Dropbox came along? I have no recollection. I’m sure it was some awful hair-pulling mess of confusion and teeth-gnashing. Dropbox has fundamentally changed the way I work with files. Knowing that the essentials of my life and work are immediately synchronized across all the computers I use — both Mac and PC — removes a huge amount of worrying over what’s where. Create or open a file, make a change or two, save, and fuhgedaboutit.
  • Dropbox even keeps track of your files’ revisions so in case you royally louse something up, you can always fall back to a prior version.
  • There’s a new iPhone app for Dropbox, too. Don’t have much experience with it yet, but I’m sure it’ll save my neck before too long.

Online Banking/e-bills

  • No small amount of joy springs up in my heart when I am, with just a few mouse clicks, able to pay an e-bill and then sock its corresponding PDF into my Dropbox. Bills are nasty. The less time I can spend futzing with them, the happier I am.
  • My bank supports iPhone Mobile Banking app, and so do both of my credit card companies. I can pay bills on my iPhone, check my account balances, transfer funds, and more.

Evernote

  • Evernote is one of the ways I keep the clutter of life out of my head. I put just about everything in there: shopping lists, hard-to-remember home maintenance items (types of light bulbs, appliance model numbers, the kind of O-rings the kitchen faucet takes), revisions I intend to make to courses I teach, health insurance policy numbers, my Wii friend code… even a running list of items I have at one time or another forgotten to pack for vacation. If it doesn’t “fit” in some other area of my life, it winds up in Evernote. And everything I put into Evernote is synced to my iPhone, available on the computers where I have the Evernote desktop client installed, and, in fact, on any web-enabled computer. Pictures of business cards and PDFs of Mac shortcut keys all become as easily searchable as text notes I’ve typed in.

Simplify Media / Orb

  • Both of these applications serve media from my upstairs computer to any location where I have Internet access — traditional browser or through my iPhone. An MP3 player holds only so many songs, right? Not a problem with these applications. Just fire either one up, browse the media that’s on your home computer, and it starts streaming to you, sounding just as good as if you had the file stored on your local device.
  • Both applications allow you to safely share your music with friends; Simplify Media allows your friends to immediately share their music with you.
  • Both applications allow you to share pictures.
  • Orb even allows you to view documents stored on your home machine (or in Dropbox!).
  • Orb also allows you to view movies. So all of my boys’ DVDs that I’ve ripped with Handbrake and stored on my NAS are ready at a moment’s notice if we’re in a situation where “anesthesia by media” is an immediate necessity.

There are some other technologies that loom large in my life that just didn’t seem appropriate for the above list (TiVo, Firefox, Xmarks, Drop.io to name a few). So how about you? What applications do you use on a daily basis that you’re not sure you’d be sane without?

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