Keeping Your Head in the Cloud

Clouds

I love the idea of cloud computing. Not having to constantly say, “Oh shoot! That’s on the other computer!” is worth every minute of finding the right cloud service.

But which is the right cloud service? There are a ton of them out there:

5. Amazon Cloud Drive

I cannot figure out what Amazon is hoping to accomplish with their cloud service. I really cannot. It seems almost like they just tagged it on because everyone else was doing it. While Amazon Cloud Player is a great service that allows you to stream or download digital copies of almost any song you have purchased on Amazon (and I have bought a lot of CD’s on Amazon over the years), the Cloud Drive is just plain vanilla. Upload times are awful, there are no mobile apps, and there are no real advantages to it.

4. Microsoft SkyDrive

So much potential, Microsoft; and that just leads to so much disappointment. In theory, SkyDrive should be fully integrated into Microsoft Office. It isn’t. On my Macs, I have to run an older version of Office (2011), and saving to SkyDrive is not just cumbersome – it is also unreliable. The interface is terrible. The process is confusing. It is a major frustration. Even using the downloadable client does not ensure success because there is no way to ensure it is syncing with the Cloud.

3. iCloud

I get called an Apple fanboy all the time, but a lot of Apple products don’t impress me. Take iCloud for example (or actually because I am writing about Cloud services). The concept is great. It is supposed to be fully integrated into the Apple productivity suite iWorks. The problem is that it isn’t. You can only use the integration if you are running Mountain Lion (OS 10.8). Still running Lion, like I am on my knockaround Macbook? Sorry, you have to use an incredibly cumbersome web interface and then upload your documents EVERY TIME you save them.

2. Google Drive

I love Google Drive, in principle. What kills Google Drive is not the convenience of the service but the mediocrity of the apps it uses. I would love to replace my current document editors with Google Drive’s integrated apps, but they lack some very crucial tools. The biggest oversight is the inability to zoom. That’s right. You cannot zoom in a Google Drive document. If you use standard browser zoom, then your toolbar zooms as well and your cursor goes off like a sailor on shore leave. The mobile apps are mediocrity personified. If Google fixes this, they will rule mobile document creation.

Where Google Drive shines is in sharing your files. Drive allows all kinds of file and folder specific sharing settings, and that means you can share a document publicly without worrying about someone using the link to see your personal information on the Drive.

1. Dropbox

The old reliable is just that – reliable. Dropbox was the first name in Cloud storage, and they just keep things working. You edit a document in any program, and you save it to the Dropbox folder on your computer. You can right click items on your computer to share them through links to the Cloud, although you have to go to the browser to get the links.

Dropbox has a business model focused on keeping things as effortless as possible. Everything is integrated into your local device (whether PC or mobile). The integration on iOS has continually been improved and if Apple ever opens the sharing API to developers, Dropbox will be the first to get it right.

Dropbox’s only limitation is the size of the drive you get. I was an early adopter, so I have a 9GB Dropbox drive,  and it is free to me. Most users will get stuck with 2GB unless they pay.

Services I haven’t tried.

I hear good things about Box.net and Barracuda’s newest entry into the fray, Copy. I haven’t used these services yet, so I can’t speak about them with any knowledge. I just downloaded Copy, so I will be playing with it for a couple of weeks; and I will update you when I have a better opinion.

iPhone’s Fifth Birthday

Kevin Roose has some things to say to iPhone and Apple. It is quite humorous, especially his graphics. Check it out.

http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/06/iphone-youre-ruining-everything.html

If you don’t know who Kevin Roose is, he wrote the book Unlikely Disciple, and as a result has something of a cult following in the Christian realm. To the rest of the world, he is a writer for New York Magazine.

My New Phone

Recently, I upgraded my phone. It was time. My LG enV Touch had run its course, and beside the battery giving me about 2 hours of use, it was dropping calls and not sending text messages. If you’re in the business of people, not connecting with them is a big no-no.

A lot of readers might think that buying an iPhone would be a no-brainer for me, but as suprising as it might seem I went for an Android phone. I made the foray into the world of Google devices for a couple of reasons:

1. At the church, we use Google Apps for everything: our email, our calendars, and many of our records.

2. I already have an iPad.

3. The iPhone is EXPENSIVE.

4. I like physical keyboards on my phones.

So, I got an LG Enlighten, which is an entry level phone running Android 2.3 “Gingerbread”. The phone itself has some quirks. It is not the fastest device you will ever use, but it is not my primary device. My iPad is. (I am writing this post on it.)

I just needed a phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard and the option to use it as a WI-FI hotspot. Since the Enlighten was also FREE with my upgrade, this was a no-brainer. The phone met all my criteria, so it made sense.

Google Apps Integration

Here is what I love so far about the Android phone – everything is integrated. I entered my Google email and password, and presto all my contacts, calendars, YouTube and Documents were available to me. A quick download of the Google+ app and all my pictures automatically go to Picasaweb.

Google does the cloud right. Say what you will, they are way ahead of Apple on the integration of services. (iCloud is an embarrassment thus far.) Need to add a contact? I just enter their info on the phone, and POOF! It is available everywhere – even my Address Books on my Mac at the office and my iPad. That does not happen with iOS without a lot of work.

Add a calendar event? Oh look, it is on my Google Calendar! My wife can see it. My iPad can see it.

The Google Docs integration is full, but editing a document on a 3″ screen is not my idea of productivity. It is convenient to be able to see the documents, but I’d do little work on the phone – even if it was an iPhone.

Social Media Integration

Once I downloaded the Facebook and Twitter apps, they integrated into the OS. It is the kind of “deep integration” that Apple claims to have with Twitter, but for everything. The phone merges all my Address books, so I not only see a person’s contact information but also have a link to their Facebook, Twitter and any other social apps I download.

What’s more, the OS can integrate with Evernote, my favorite app in the world. Just press the menu button and tell the phone to send it to Evernote. POOF! It is in Evernote.

If we’re honest, Evernote’s integration with iOS has lagged a bit. It took forever for them to get full rich text formatting, and just today I tried to use a shopping list on Evernote on a grocery trip. Nichole and I separated in the store, and the idea was to just keep updating the note as we picked up items. What happened was that everytime she edited the note on her iPhone, it would append an entire copy. By the time we were done, there were sixteen versions of the same list in the same note.

What’s Lacking?

1. Android really does not have a solid take on audio integration. The built in music player is bare-bones, and it does not allow convenient use of audiobooks – which are my primary listening. With iOS, I can build .m4b files that include bookmarks and section breaks. Try as I might, Android just does not play well with these files.

2. iOS’s approach to multi-tasking is both efficient and convenient. Android’s is bulky and does not lend itself to any sort of confidence that it is working. Battery life on my phone is about the same as my wife’s iPhone 4S, but I have to constantly be on the watch for apps running in the background. When apps are eating away at my resources (which are limited in this phone), I have to manually kill them or use an app killing software. Even then, I feel like the apps linger in the RAM.

3. The microSD dance gets annoying. My phone is an entry level device, so there is only 120MB of internal storage. That’s not a ton. I have a microSD card, and can move many apps to the card, but they have to leaves some of the app on the internal memory. So, even if I had a 32GB microSD card, I would still be limited to about 50-60 apps at an average of 1.5MB of storage on the internal memory.

But here’s the thing…

I Want My Phone to be a Phone

I have my iPad for mobile computing and note taking. I don’t want to use my phone for things I can do on the iPad. (And I certainly don’t want to pay $300 for a phone that does the exact same thing as my iPad.)

I want my phone to integrate that snapshot I took or to check my email really quickly. I want to be able to send everything everywhere – all at once. My phone isn’t for getting my news or for creating content.

My phone is for making calls, sending texts and quick updates. And when necessary, it is for letting my iPad get online. It does what I want, and it keeps contacts and such up to date.

I don’t expect Android to be as slick as iOS, anymore than I expect Windows to be Mac OS. Windows does different things, and does them very well. Each OS does something well, and we shouldn’t demand they do other things. I wouldn’t want Android on a tablet, and I am happy without using iOS on my phone.

Never Make Decisions Under Pressure

Yesterday, my computer completely freaked out. She has never been the same since “The Great Coffee Spill of 2011″ but after $400 of work, I thought we had everything all set.

Then she just went nuts. She started scrolling indiscriminately, and suddenly she reported that she did not have a battery installed. (All my tools are she – my computers, my guitars, etc.)

It was frustrating to no end. I love my Macbook Pro like a second child. In the year since my aunt and cousin gave her to me, I have been faithful to her and defended her from the naysaying haters who want me to switch back to Windows.

Last night, tired and hot from working outside in 100+ degree temperatures, I ordered an HP to replace her. I just did not think she could be rebuilt this time, and I certainly did not have the money. That was my rationale.

I know this sounds pretty weird, but all night I questioned my decision. Was it really right to abandon her just because of this? How would I pay for the replacement I had ordered. This might seem a little odd, but I even dreamed that my wife Nichole was very disappointed that I gave up on her (the Mac, not Nichole) so easily.

This morning, I was given the money to make her repairs or at least see if she could be repaired. While driving home from dropping her off at Brinestone – my favorite Mac repair shop – I called and canceled my order for the replacement PC.

If the techs at Brinestone can get her working properly, then I will stick with my Mac. She has been nothing but exceptional the entire time I have had her, and my user error (having a cup of coffee between her and a dancing six year old) is my own fault.

Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t not have moments when he has to make decisions about us under pressure? That he doesn’t just throw us under the bus when we start to malfunction? Instead, he patiently heals and restores. He graciously extends his hands when we recoil, and he is always at work upon us.

Do not fear the ‘tech’

Thanks be to God, we have here neither free schools nor printing presses, and I hope we will not have any for a hundred years, for education has sent into the world doubt, heresy and sectarianism, and the printing press has propagated, in addition to all these evils, attacks against governments! -Sir William Berkeley (1605-1677), Governor of Virginia

Technology takes time to get use to. There is a bit of a delay between the implementation of something that has tremendous potential and the realization of that potential. Then, there is another delay between the realization of that potential and the integration of it.

Think of how drastically the moveable type printing press changed the world. The Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment were direct results of the printing press. This change did not happen overnight, and even as the change was happening, there were a lot of people abusing and misusing the new technology.

The same can be said for virtually all technology that changes how we live: the automobile, the jet liner, the telephone, the personal computer, the internet, the mobile device. These technologies are still in their infancy.

When Sir William Berkeley condemned the printing press, it had not yet spurred on the Age of Revolution. It was a century before the American Revolution. Many of the most subversive books of our culture had not yet been written. The printing press had not even begun to open the doors for heresy and sectarianism.

But along with the dangers came the tremendous benefits. The printed book gave millions access to information that had been hidden from them. Knowledge, wisdom, and information flowed freely in a way that we take for granted today, and which is dwarfed by the speed in which we share information now.

People condemned the telephone as dangerous to the family unit. The Internet was immoral and dangerous (parts of it still are!). Translating the Bible into ‘vulgar languages’ was condemned by clergy and monarchs alike. Every invention that has changed the world has been condemned at some point.

Technology itself is not evil. They are tools, and tools are only as good or evil as the hands that wield them. What can be used for evil can also be use for good.

Adventures with Evernote

It took me awhile to grasp the power of Evernote. When our Alpha Geek, Doug, first recommended it to me, I tried it out but it did not do much for me. it was not until I started using my iPad as my primary mobile computing device that I truly discovered Evernote’s value. Thanks to Evernote enthusiast and former chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers Michael Hyatt, I have learned how to leverage this little piece of the cloud for maximum efficiency.

Here are just a few of the things about Evernote that make my life easier.

  • You can input as much or as little as you need to. This Sunday, I got caught entering a todo list item during the announcements. The elder giving the announcements finished while I was mid-item. It was embarrassing to have to finish entering my todo item as I went to the platform to preach. At the same time, Evernote is invaluable for entering even the smallest snippet of information.
  • This probably goes without saying, but Evernote keeps all of my notes in one place. They are organized by any number of different schemes so I can always find what I need when I need it. Best of all, I can mark the notes as a favorite, and it is available even if I am not online. (Well, it would be if I paid $5 per month.)
  • There are Evernote add-ins for most of my browsers. I use Firefox on my MacBook Pro and iCab Mobile on my iPad. Both have Evernote add-ins that allow me to clip a website to Evernote with just one tap. That means that rather than fitting with word processors or trying to jot down information with pen and paper, I can clip it to Evernote and it is done. The same goes goes anything people email me.

There really is no end to the possibilities with Evernote. I use it for almost everything from weddings to sermon preparation. Word and Pages have effectively become publishing tools for me, and all of my text goes into Evernote.

While there are a lot of apps I use on my iPad (it is the best tool I have invested in outside of my computer and car), Evernote is quickly become my constant companion. I will talk about my other favorite app, Dropbox, another time.