A Chinese student and his mother have checked into 5 Woodside for the next few weeks while he prepares for his exams in math, physics, and chemistry. He finds my everyday technology, especially my MP3 player and TomTom, charmingly retro: he seeks ever tighter integration of all functions into a single platform.
Chagrined, I’ll try to regain some credibility with a few tech links to start the week…
Dutch Newspapers: A new reading platform, Blendle, has opened in beta to aggregate content from leading Dutch newspapers. Whole newspapers and curated articles are available, some with a micropayment.
I have long used Kranten en Tijdschriften on the Nexus to read Dutch news, but this is becoming a good alternative.
Cloud Backups: After losing a couple of months of pictures in the January disk crash, I decided that I needed to migrate from removable hard drive backups to a cloud solution. I turned the job over to Carbonite, and have been happy with the features.
It runs in the background and updates nightly, establishing a full mirror with 30 days of version histories. I can grant read-access to others for file sharing and access files remotely, somewhat duplicating Dropbox.
I haven’t been able to get it to recognize my removable USB drive and the System Mirror feature is not working, but otherwise it’s good peace of mind.
Full-Translation Skype: This is an exciting idea: imagine an online call with simultaneous voice translation / transcription of foreign languages, both ways, during a conversation? Google/Microsoft Translate apps, based on statistical rather than linguistic approaches to converting between languages, has become fast and accurate. Now, with faster servers, Microsoft will be hooking its translator into the voice stream as Skype Translate.
This has the potential to change a lot of expat life, from conversations and language learning to business and social interchanges. I can’t wait to try it.
Earpiece mike: I like having hands-free capability on my phones, and use the Bluetooth comm/media features of my Ford Fiesta to the maximum. Outside the car, though, I’m often forced to type with one hand while clutching the phone with my other.
The earbud/mike solution, Bourne’s solution in the Waterloo Station sequence, turns out to be both affordable (about £10) and effective. I am using it more and more even at my desk: the noise cancelling and the capability to free both hands for typing and note-taking is really liberating.
I have to be sure to keep the volume cranked down and a mute button would be nice, but it’s otherwise part of my standard kit now.
Find picture; Add text: I have a large Word document with the each individual line tagged by one of several different pictures. I wanted to do a Global Search and Replace, replacing the index pictures for text tags. It took a while to find, but Word does have a nifty solution.
Select one of the images and Copy it to the clipboard. Open Find and Replace, and the Special menu at the bottom. Select Graphic from the list of items and a ^g appears in the Find field: this tells the search to look for the graphic on the clipboard. Type the replacement text in the Replace field, and proceed as normal.
This likely works with all sorts of embedded objects or formatting, but is completely counterintuitive to set up until you’ve learned the trick.
Lists and Diaries: I organize my day around appointment calendars, receipt logs, and task lists. My philosophy is that a ‘note to self’ should not requiring more than one step: open one of my three diaries and jot a note.
Lifehacker and the Home Work podcast have made a case for using productivity apps, though, so I’ve given a few a (re)try. I may be retro, but, for me, these ‘aids’ still turn simple tasks into multi-step Projects.
Evernote, which I love for transcribing voice memos in the car, still requires too much formatting and hunt-peck typing to create bulleted lists at my desk.
Calendar requires opening, clicking, typing, tabbing, checking, and saving each time I want to schedule an entry.
Collaborative sites require a lot of work to organize and maintain files and messages.
I may be wedded to a particular style of work that leaves me at odds with electronic alternatives generally. But I have to get my work organized and done, and electronic alternatives just aren’t simple and accurate enough yet.
Online Courses: I’ve been auditing an online course in Analysis and Design of Algorithms through Coursera on occasional evenings this month. Taught by a Stanford CompSci professor, the content is clear and moves ahead briskly: it’s much different from the fuzzy filmed class lectures available through MIT Courseware.
I’m learning a lot in small bites, and it’s nice to keep a hand in (recreationally) on the technical side. I hope that there will be comparable courses in history and languages coming available soon to broaden the focus from business and technology.
Disclaimer: As always, I have neither been solicited nor compensated for any of these product references. The experiences and opinions are entirely my own.