Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tools I use

DSC02535 (1216x1400)Windows 10 releases this week, I have high hopes  that it will make the whole PC experience easier and faster again.  I’ve really struggled with Windows 8.1.  The touch interface gets in the way, inconsistent and oversensitive: I prefer to command the computer when I have work to do, rather than stroke and poke at it. 

I pine, still, for my BSD Unix command window.

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OffSite Storage: Someone asked me about my cloud storage preferences the other day.  I am, frankly, ambivalent about the cloud, where the only copies of my data and applications are kept at the other end of a network connection.  With travel and paranoia, I keep a copy close by on a USB drive. 

Worse, and too often, a remote photo archive or data server has closed down without warning when the vendor’s business model failed, costing me China pictures and web sites.  I’ll acknowledge that PC disasters, a dropped computer or a spilled drink, have also cost me dearly, so this isn’t unique to the cloud.

In any case, I run a three-pronged cloud strategy:

  • My computer continuously backs up to Carbonite, highly recommended, it just works.
  • My photos back up to Google Photos.  The storage seems bottomless and the indexing gets better and better.  I do wish the creepy Story Generator would stop aggregating unrelated photos into fables, though.
  • My shared files go to to Dropbox.  It’s quick, clean, multi-platform, with excellent sharing and privacy tools for collaborative work.

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Utilities: While looking for solutions to a few specialized tasks, I found some good apps worth a try:

  • Memrise:  For years, I’ve been looking for a good Dutch flashcards program to practice my vocabulary.  Memrise is great: itofferss lots of courses (I am doing the MRT Dutch 2, with over 3300 intermediate-level words) and syncs progress across multiple platforms.  A $10/mo subscription unlocks additional practice games, but the basic learn and review is free and effective.  They continue to make improvements, introducing voice output last week.
  • Malwarebytes:  I use Windows Defender, but caught a nasty virus anyway that sent spam emails, disrupted Skype, and slowed my PC.  I got it out in a day’s work, but then bought Malwarebytes as an added layer of protection.  It’s worked well: my only complaint is that it freezes the touch interface briefly when it does a scan.  For extra care, I run Spybot S&D monthly.
  • Supertintin:  I occasionally need to record business conference calls, and this background utility does a very nice job: it’s efficient and unobtrusive.  Purchasing the app removes the time limit, and it’s worked very smoothly.  My only issue has been one crash during an incoming call, losing 5 minutes of cached data.
  • Koredoko:  I am posting daily photos to the Dorset Landscapes group and to Instagram.  I don’t want to run down my camera battery with GPS, though, so need to geotag my photos after the fact.  Koredoko has a good map-based interface that lets me update my tags quickly. Some of the interface is counterintuitive, but works well once I found the right buttons.

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Desk Tools: Finally, I am still looking for a good solution to Contacts and Calendars.  These are the most basic of office tools, but the existing tools from Microsoft, Mozilla, and Android are still awful.

Letting Google index appointments and travel from my email has not brought any predictive order or useful notifications from G+Now.  So I stay with my paper diary and ignore the jeers (sending Lucy Kellaway’s article when people press the point: Users of electronic calendars can take six times longer to scribble something down.).

I had hoped that LinkedIn would be the basis for a self-updating business contacts system, and spent hours linking and pruning my Contacts in Android.  Unfortunately, people don’t keep their profiles complete or current, and Android doesn’t back up or maintain records properly.  Paper alternatives are not good either, so I just struggle along.

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Disclaimer:  I was neither asked nor compensated to write any of these reviews.  As always, I select and purchase all of my own tools, and the opinions are mine alone based on daily use.

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