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Entries in Computing (15)

Wednesday
Sep132006

Blogging Demystified: Simply Digital Podcast Episode 5

simplydigital.jpgIf you enjoy reading blogs but aren't sure you have the skills to create, write or manage one? Think again!

Michael Ashby and Analog Dave of the Simply Digital Podcast focus on Weblogs in episode 5 of their podcast on technology for regular people.

Mike and Dave describe what blogs are, why you might want to start one and some of the easiest and cheapest places to get into blogging.

Check it out: Simply Digital Episode 5: Weblogs (28:57)

Monday
May172004

The Great Email Separation

Today, as a wrapped up the morning's work and was contemplating a topic for the blog, I had the idea to talk about the separation of my work and personal email accounts. I thought this might be helpful for others contemplating a similar separation.

First off, I work from my home office, which means the basement of my house (affectionately called The Dungeon). I use an Apple Powerbook G4 Titanium for my work, and to deal with work email. I also use the same Powerbook for my personal stuff and email. For email I use Microsoft Entourage X (the spiritual descendant of both Claris Em@ler and Outlook Express 5 — the same team built all three of them).

About two years ago I had no separation whatsoever between my personal and work email accounts. They all dropped into the same inbox, though they were color coded. Once and a while I would accidentally send emails from my personal account to work clients and vice versa, and in general there was alot of email residing in that one inbox.

As you might imagine, this was a complex situation.

Not sure where the idea to separate email accounts came from — I believe it was due to the email complexity I dealt with daily. Whatever the case, I decided to completely separate my work and personal accounts.

Now, because I use Entourage, I had the option of multiple "Identities' available to me. Identities are great, because I can create separate work and personal identities, and switch between them relatively quickly. Each Identity takes over Entourage completely when activated, so there is no mixing of accounts, emails, folders, rules or preferences. Each identity is a virtual space unto itself.

So now, I start in the morning in my personal 'Mike Rohde' identity, check email and reply to whomever I like, etc. When I begin work, I switch to my 'MakaluMedia' identity, where manage my daily work emails.

The biggest advantages of this split personality system are:

1. Work and personal emails stay separate from each other. There is no mixing of emails at the inbox, therefore, I can't accidentally send work emails via my personal account, or vice-versa.

2. My focus on either work or personal emails is better, because they reside in their own "space" rather than a common inbox. This not only assures that the appropriate work/personal emails get my attention, but also eliminates the temptation to deal with or be distracted by personal emails at work (a BIG advantage).

3. My email client is faster, because emails are separated into their own files and folders. Searches also are more targeted, because, for instance, there is no wading through personal emails in a work-specific email search.

4. Each identity can have its own retrieval schedule, which is especially useful for work. Because I work with many European colleagues and clients (7 hours ahead), I need my schedule to check frequently in the mornings, but like to check less frequently in the afternoons when I've set aside "focus" time. Meanwhile. my personal identity can check frequently when it is active, without regard to European time.

Now, there are a few drawbacks, but they're minor. Checking work emails in the evening or on the weekend (which I must do now and then, to make sure things are running smoothly) is more of a hassle, as a manual identity switch is required. Often I'll use web-based email to solve this.

However, in one way this is an advantage, as it discourages checking of work email on personal time, just as separate identities discourage checking of personal email on work time. Of course this is really a discipline issue, but keeping separate identities does help make it clearer mentally for me.

Some email clients may not offer an 'identity' feature, though for instance Apple Mail uses separate inboxes for accounts and there is even a shareware app called MailSwitch, which pretty closely mimics the Entourage Identity feature.

Overall, I'm very pleased with my separated email and with Entourage, though now and then I'll think back to the days when my mail was all mooshed together, and shudder. :-)

Thursday
Jan152004

WorkPod Modular Computing Concept

It's funny how ideas can be floating around in your brain, yet with a single conversation, come to life. The other evening, my friend Andy and I were talking via iChat audio about the "perfect" device. Andy was a bit bummed because he felt that no one device suited all of his needs and wondered if ever such a device would exist. He wants something to carry, like a PDA, yet would love that PDA to be a full Macintosh which he could also do 3D work on and all of the other general work in between.

Clearly there's no device like this, but our discussion reminded me of an idea I had years ago about a very modular device that could work like this. The sketch below is the solidification of the ideas Andy and I discussed on Monday.

WorkPod

At the center of this modular system is the WorkPod, a small device very similar in size to the OQO which has been in the tech news of late. However, unlike the OQO, which is a very compact but stand-alone PC with full ports, the WorkPod is designed to plug into other "Shells" for other functionality. The WorkPod could work very much like the OQO, but the modular shell options would make it even more capable.

For instance, you could carry a WorkPod and use it as a PDA, but you could also read and edit documents, surf the web and do your email without the need for syncing, since everything is with you. Rather than a built in keyboard, I'd like to see the Newton's handwriting recognition software used, though maybe an integrated thumbboard similar to the OQOs might be alright.

I think the WorkPod unit would have a decently powerful low-power processor that would allow basic functions to be performed on the go. Email, web surfing reading and editing documents, etc. The WorkPod could also be used for presentations, either by plugging in a VGA projector or using the native 800 x 600 touch screen. It would have integrated WiFi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0 and Firewire, IR, dual SD card slots, 80-120 GB hard drive, 1GB RAM, stylus-pen, and PDA-like buttons (programmable) and a central D-pad or O-pad.

Now, if you happen to need a notebook form factor for traveling or more intense work, you could buy the WorkPod Notebook Shell and just slide the WorkPod into the slot. Connectors on the top edge would let the Notebook Shell make full use of the WorkPod device and could add more RAM, better video card, and even a secondary processor for more intense work. This shell would also offer DVD capabilities and maybe more ports than the WorkPod, so for some instances, this might be more useful than the WorkPod itself.

Another option might be a foldable Bluetooth keyboard, Bluetooth mouse and folding easel, so that the WorkPod could be used when you needed to travel light, but required a full keyboard and mouse. This could be useful for field work, where you want a full PC but not the weight or bulk.

A third option would be the Desktop Shell, which could provide the WorkPod with mucho power, if someone would need that. A secondary processor (or multiples, added as plug in boards), good video card and lots of video RAM, several PCI slots for customization, bigger hard drives for backup, swap and storage, DVD burner and a full port compliment. This would allow the WorkPod to still remain the central device, yet with enough power for 3D work and rendering, Photoshop work, video editing, scientific processing and of course gaming.

The nicest aspect of the WorkPod idea is, your core data and processor are always present. There's no syncing needed since the WorkPod component carries the hard drive and would offer basic functionality for viewing and editing documents. For those who want or need more, they just buy a Shell and their computing system is extended into the features they need most.

I admit I was very much inspired by Apple's PowerBook Duo concept from 1993, especially since I own one of these systems. The Duo was a very nice concept, but at the time, technology was quite basic. I would still love to see a Duo system now, with a nice color screen and multiple port options, but I fear that Apple won't go down that road again. But who knows. I never imagined Steve Jobs returning either.

Anyway, that's my idea -- I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this concept and suggestions you might have. Who knows, there is always the potential that a device like this could be built someday. Maybe this is a little raindrop needed to get the wave started. :-)

Friday
Apr182003

One-Hundred-and-Twenty-GIGABYTES!

Firewire DriveToday, I received a nice box from the UPS man. Inside was an external FireWire drive with a 120GB hard drive inside. One-Hundred-and-Twenty Gig-a-Bytes! Think about how much space that is! How much? $236. That's incredibly cheap!

If you're a technology old-timer like me, then 120GB really is a massive amount for a portable drive at that price. I come from the days of 500k and 1.4MB floppies, days when 8MB of RAM was alot of space and where a 10MB hard drive once cost thousands of dollars! Some of the earliest computers didn't even have hard drives. If you're a young tech whippersnapper, well, you probably won't understand my perspective. :-)

What's cool about this new Other World Computing Mercury Drive is how quick it is due to FireWire (or 1394 to be precise). This afternoon I copied 5.9GB of imported DV camera movies from my iMovies folder and it took 5 minutes. That's 2GB more than the entire contents of my old Powerbook G3's hard drive in 5 minutes!

While it's wonderful that these huge hard drives are now commonplace, it also creates some problems -- like backing up all those Gigs. Getting a 120GB FireWire drive was a real necessity in order to backup all the work I save on my Powerbook G4's 45GB internal hard drive. My old 4GB DAT drive I had used for backup just couldn't cut the mustard -- it would take 11 tapes (and me there changing them) to fully backup that 45GB drive. Let's not even talk about how long a tape backup would take.

And at what point will we have enough? Right now Gigabyte drives can handle hours of digital video, thousands of MP3 encoded tunes, goodness knows how many plain text documents. It runs along with the idea about processor speeds -- exactly how fast does your computer need to be to type an email or surf the web?

But I'm not complaining... having all this space is wonderful, especially since I have peace of mind knowing my Powerbook is backed up and I've got the space to store raw DV video, iMovie projects and final movies of my son Nathan.

Maybe at some point Megahertz and Gigabytes will be so incredibly cheap nobody will even stop to think how much space or speed they have. You'll have a 3000Mhz computer with 120 Terabytes of storage and you know what -- it will still take just as long to type that email or for that webpage to load. :-)

Wishing you a great Easter weekend!

Monday
Apr142003

Boot Linux from a CD?

KnoppixYes, that's right -- a distribution of Linux (Debian to be precise) which can boot from any Windows PC's bootable CD-ROM drive. It's called Knoppix, as it was packaged up by a German gent named Knopper, who worked out the CD-booting feature.

As a Mac OS X user (OS X runs on top of BSD, a variant of Unix something like Linux), I was surprised at how well it worked on my Dad's ThinkPad -- recognizing his hardware and even his ethernet network card with no configuration. In fact, Dad stopped by my house today today, so we plugged in a WaveLAN Silver Wi-Fi card from my old PowerBook and it worked flawlessly! It was almost like using a Macintosh. :-)

As I understand it, Knoppix specializes in the CD booting feature, which is great if you want to check out Linux without committing to a full installation. A CD bootable version Linux can also be a handy administrative tool, since all an administrator needs is a Knoppix CD to turn any Windows PC into a Linux box. If you're a Linux guru, you can even mess around with the bootable CD itself, saving your prefs on it and adding whatever apps you might want to have on the CD. Pretty slick, eh?

Knoppix is a full-featured distribution of Debian Linux, including KDE 3.1.1, the desktop windowing application (equivalent to the pretty part of Windows XP) that sits on top of the Linux base, or "kernel", Konqueror, a Linux web browser and OpenOffice, which can open and save Microsoft Office documents. There seemed to be many other apps installed that I didn't check out, however I can report that the windows-like KDE application looks pretty nice!

Knoppix is released as open source software, so once you buy a master install CD you can make as many copies as you like and install Knoppix on as many computers as you like. The CD is only $6 and Knoppix can even be had for free, if you fancy doing a download over your cable modem connection.

So, if you've ever been curious about what the heck this Linux thingee is like, check out Knoppix. Linux couldn't be any easier or more painless! :-)