Archive for the ‘organization’ Category

travel-2Anyone who follows my Twitter feed, or on Facebook or Instagram, knows I travel a fair bit.  Well, if flying from work-site and back in the same day usually really only seeing the city from a taxi or rented car on the way can be called traveling that is.  Seems like I’ve seen all the big airports but rarely any of the sights while there.  Sigh.

listIt used to be you went thru your written list (even those checklists are electronic now) of stuff to bring with you traveling and packed it all, now I find I go thru making sure everything being brought is updated and backed up so I have access to everything should something happen and I lose a device (it gives me the willies thinking about losing my beloved iPhone or iPad but it does happen).  And of course, chargers and cables to make sure all my electronics can be used (having forgotten a charging cable once when on a long trip was enough thanks) and have cloud access to the important stuff I may need while away.  Thankfully there are apps for just about everything now and it’s almost possible to bring it all along digitally instead of having to lug along a ton of paper with notes & info about the project in question.  Personal faves are AutoCAD WS for drawings, and Quickoffice Pro as well as Pages for all the documents I may need to view or create.  Dropbox is a great place to store the important stuff too, as is Evernote, because no matter how prepared you may think you are, there is always a missing file or document in your local copy you brought with you.  The trick is to remember to make them accessible prior to leaving the office.  Thankfully in our always connected society, even if you do forget something it is usually only an email away if you have willing cohorts in the office, or if not, remote access capability into your office server or workstation.

Even the very act of booking, checking in and boarding the plane has become very digital in nature.  With the Air Canada app for instance, I can check on flights, book them, do my check-in, and get/save my electronic boarding pass.  I add my flights into the app and get updated info on delays/cancellations and gate changes too, making the entire traveling process a tad easier as well as no more wasted paper.  Gotta like that, being green, and I don’t mean the kind from too much turbulence while in flight.

i feel this way many many times...

I feel this way many many times… sans the briefcase

There is no toothbrush app tho, and I do still need to pack a change of clothes, but with my WeatherNetwork app, at least I will know what to expect when I get there and can pack accordingly.

To anyone wondering, yes those are the mountains in BC visible from YVR – Vancouver international airport, and yes, that is my nose print on the glass as I look longingly at them while awaiting my plane.

Yep, it is the life of Riley at times, but thankfully with the help of a few electronic travel companions, the time flies as I do.  Or more accurately of late, helps to pass the time while waiting to fly.



With the latest news about the not-so-secure or private status of your Dropbox information, I decided to check around for alternates that offered similar functionality without the gaping security hole.  One that comes to mind and is getting a bit of notice is SpiderOak.

At first I wasn’t sure about the name, but it made sense after a little thought.  It may not be as obvious as Dropbox, but when you think of the web and strength, spider and oak create a good image.  I quickly perused the site and set up an account. (Minimum 4 character limitations for account names really annoy me, since I prefer to just use “tcg” wherever possible but it wouldn’t let me)  Free accounts get 2GB of storage to start.  I say to start because that can change easily, but more on that later.

First impressions:  It’s a painfully slow download, but that may be in part due to server strain since I’m sure many people besides me are exploring replacements for Dropbox right now.
If you haven’t already heard about the big issue with DropBox, in a nutshell, the info they said was private and encrypted is not much of either.  Employees do have access to your info and can and will turn over your info if required to by law, or to anyone that Dropbox feels it needs to in order to protect its property rights as per its latest Terms of Service Agreement.  Gee thanks Dropbox.

Often throughout this post I will be referring to and comparing features of Dropbox, since it had become a widely known way to store, access and sync info in “the cloud”.
Getting back to SpiderOak, the EULA mentions “SpiderOak cannot guarantee uninterrupted service” in various forms a couple of times which sends up a bit of a red-flag to me.  I’m sure its just a cover-your-ass statement, but still, sounds to me like they are expecting problems with their service.  Lets hope not too often.

the brief overview of features

a short wait while it makes your info secure

As per most installs, on a Mac at least, its a simple drag and drop into your applications folder to get you started on you way to safe and secure offsite storage.  The windows version is pretty much the same as far as the install goes as well as the GUI once installed.

One of the first things I noticed was that it does not create a folder to copy or move your info into unlike Dropbox.  It just shares the info from where it already is on your computer to the SpiderOak server.  I’m of two minds regarding this.  First, it seems like a good way to ensure you are not duplicating files on your computers unlike the way Dropbox does it, but on the other hand, it is easy to see what is shared when using Dropbox since it all ends up in the same folder.  Syncing or uploading the data to the SpideOak servers was also brutally slow.  I decided to just upload approx. 400 meg of info at first to see how it works.  That process took a lot longer than using Dropbox to upload the same info – approximately twice as long to be more precise.  Thankfully none of it is confidential info so I wasn’t worried about the Dropbox security thing. My assumption is that the encryption process that SpiderOak uses slows down the transfer, which is why Dropbox is able to transfer the files that much quicker.

While I waited for the backing up, it seemed like a good time to read thru some of the Preferences options.  In there I noticed the option for saving a copy of your info, much the way Dropbox does it, but with Dropbox it is not an option.  Score one for SpiderOak there. Another thing I noticed from the website was SpiderOak’s claim about privacy (see screenshot below)…

Score another one for SpiderOak there.  I have to wonder if they updated that recently after all the hullabaloo about Dropbox and its lack of exactly those two items.

Another similarity is the way you store and access your info.  You can add devices to your account and give them each names to make it easy to see what info is shared from what device.  You can also create additional accounts and get referrals to increase your storage space much the same way as with Dropbox.

GUI on a Mac

The refer-a-friend option on the website allows you to post on Facebook, email a link, or post on Twitter.  I’m thinking the posting on FB and Twitter option seems a bit too desperate since its just an open tweet or wall post to anyone.  Almost like a “please be my friend and share stuff with me” plead.  Instead I sent a link to myself via email and created an account, and without installing the program since I already had installed it on that windows PC using the first account I set up was given the extra 1 gb for referring a friend.  Strange but i’m not complaining.  Selecting what you want to share is basically as easy (click the preset Categories) or precise as you want.  You can use the simple method or click advanced to get a file browser which you can drill down through and select the files you want.  You can see at the bottom your total available space and the amount used.

and just like that i’ve got 3GB available

I couldn’t find a way to logout of the service and change to a different account though.  It seems once you connect a device it remembers it is associated with that account.  No problem, a simple uninstall and reinstall took care of that.  I was then able to setup a different account on that PC.  There is a difference between how you access your info.  With Dropbox you could share files a little easier and sync folders on different machines, which is why I had a different account on each device, but with SpiderOak you may want to just add the devices to your account.  Again, the program is very similar to Dropbox in most aspects.  There is a bit of a learning curve, since the interface is a bit different and at first glance seems a bit confusing, but i’m getting the hang of it.  Read the readme files – don’t just jump in and expect to know how it works.

One thing that will need to change is SpiderOak’s integration with other apps.  This is where Dropbox currently has them beat, but not by much.  QuickOffice for instance has Dropbox integration, as does the PlainText app.  Both of these will allow you to access your stored files from within the app giving you even better access and editing powers of those files. Another program with built-in integration with Dropbox is AutoCadWS, which as you may know is one of the Apps I see a huge future for when it comes to making your AutoCad files easily accessible on mobile devices.  The nice thing is that when trying to view a document that isn’t natively supported in the SpiderOak App (which is also free and works on iPods, iPhones & iPads) you can click the little blue arrow next to the file name and be presented with other options to open the file in, such as AutoCadWS, or open a word doc in QuickOffice.  Sweet.

a listing of your registered devices

opening a non-supported file downloads the file

opening options by clicking the blue arrow

IMO SpiderOak offers a secure alternative to storing files on Dropbox and once they become more well known, hopefully the much needed native integration into other apps will arrive for them too and allow me to add SpiderOak as a service into QuickOffice for instance, so instead of opening the file by browsing to it in SpiderOak and then opening QuickOffice from within it.  I know its only one extra step to do it the SpiderOak way, but hey I have to find something to complain about, and time is money.

I’m not one that likes being misled or lied to by my software and Dropbox has left a bad taste in my mouth as well as many others it seems if the blogs and news stories are any indication.  Who knows, maybe Dropbox will fix their problems, but I for one am happy to move my files to a service that is actually secure and won’t be sending my files to anyone who in their opinion makes a legal request.  Its not that I am storing anything illegal but some info could be sensitive or confidential and the thought of some Dropbox employee being able to view that info if they deem it necessary is not right.  Bu-bye Dropbox.  Hello SpiderOak.


Some things are free.  Some things are good.   Rarely do you get both combined in one.  Evernote is one exception to this rule, and now its even better.

If you don’t know about Evernote you may want to wander over here and take a look at what it is and what it does.  To sum it up, its a great place to store info and notes that remain accessible across your devices for easy access.

I use the program on my Mac almost daily – many times just as a temporary way to keep info on hand while I write blog posts or research things, but what really makes this app so helpful is the way it shares info with my iPhone.  It’s not limited to just the iPhone and Mac OS X though.  This program works on Windows PCs, Blackberries, Windows phone, Android phones, Palms, etc.   ( In fact the Blackberry app was just updated about 2 weeks ago)  All you need is an account, which is free to set up, and then you use that account on whatever devices you want to keep all your info synced and accessible anywhere.

old home screen

new version

The iPhone app was good before, but the latest changes (version 4.0 is the current one at time of writing) have tweaked the interface and its now much easier to see what it is you have stored as well as create new items or organize the ones you have in different ways to make it easier for you to find what it is you are looking for.

The way it creates new notes and allows many types of attachments to be added to them so you can keep all the associated info in one note is extremely helpful.

You can even add audio recordings and location tags to your notes right alongside your photos and text notes.  Perfect for when you are in a meeting or at an event and want to keep all the pertinent stuff in one place.

old notes listing

new notes w/ snippets

The new snippet view is stunning and shows so much more info about the notes you have stored that it will undoubtedly save you time when looking for a particular note, or you can use the improved search function and get lightning fast results.

I’ve been a fan of this program for a while, and even more so now since everything about the user interface just screams polished and refined and improved.

This is one of those apps that makes you wonder what you ever did before you had it in your arsenal.  Did I mention its Free?

Useful and free.  Two words that you don’t hear together often enough, but describe Evernote very very well.


Technology.  You can either go along with its changes willingly or be dragged along kicking and screaming.   Either way, it is changing and you are going to have to deal with it.

One of the big changes is the way we handle our personal information, especially how we handle it electronically.   Mobio, or Mobio id, is a simple solution that enables you to store your personal info such as phone numbers and addresses as well as more important and easier to forget info such as credit card numbers and expiry dates etc.   So often I am in need of my credit card info for online purchases and not anywhere near my wallet, but seem to always have my iPhone nearby.  Or I forget that silly little PIN for my credit card while i’m standing in the checkout line trying to pay.
You can check out Mobio here.
Right now it is a free iPhone/iPad Touch app or free Android app only, but the Blackberry app is supposedly on its way, so don’t despair you poor BB users are not completely left out, just a little behind.
Mobio is a way to store personal data such as credit card info, store card numbers, collector numbers, frequent flyer cards, etc.,  in the hopes of making your life easier, but my fear is that what happens when you leave your phone laying around by accident.  Not only does the person who finds it have your phone but now full access to your credit cards as well? As we become more and more reliant on our smartphones, they become more ingrained in our lives and filled with info that is vital to our day to day use.  So how do you keep all that info safe and easily accessible without worrying about it being misused or exposed accidentally?
Apps like Mobio or any of the Password/Info storage apps out there are typically password protected, most commonly they are the same as Mobio and use a 4 digit code, which if assuming the numbers 0 to 9 are used with repeat numbers allowed that is 10 to the 4th, or 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 (or for the math challenged 10,000) possible combinations.  Not exactly Fort Knox but hopefully enough of a deterrent for most people who may try and get your stored info.
But Mobio is more than just a password wallet, that is not really its main purpose at all.
Mobio is a way for you to scan QR codes and use them in new and wonderful ways such as paying for lunch at a restaurant, buying products online or in stores, scanning items you want more info about, basically anywhere that uses or anything that has a bar code/ QR code on it and supports electronic payments.  The hospital in London had a few advertisements up in the corridors that have QR codes in them that link you to their websites for more information.  (I did a short blog post about them a little while back that explains QR codes a bit better – link is here)
They are out there and once you start looking for them, you’ll notice how prevalent they are becoming.
Right now the places that allow you to use Mobio as a form of payment are few and far between, especially up here in the frozen north, but like anything electronic that can be done with smartphones nowadays, it will catch on fast.
People that use smartphones jump at the chance to use them in any new way possible, almost as a way of justifying the monthly expense it seems.  I fully admit that I will seemingly go out of my way to use my iPhone for things that could have been done other ways (iHandy Level app for instance – I mean really, how often do you think “if only I had a small level with me?“)
What it all boils down to is this.  Put only the personal information on your smartphone you are comfortable with and try it out for a while.
I’ve been using Mobio for a month or so and add more info to it all the time, but everyone needs to make up their own minds as to where that comfort level lies.
I’m an old cynical dog when it come to trusting people or things, but i’m becoming more and more comfortable with letting Mobio store my personal info every day.

Rogers released an app for the iphone a while ago and I recently downloaded it for the purpose of keeping better track of my data and phone usage.  I have often wondered how much airtime i’ve been using in a month and more to the point how much data i’m using since its the one that will cost you a small fortune if you go over your plan limit.


The app displays quite a bit of useful info about your iPhone usage once you get into it, but one of the annoying things is the fact you don’t input your account info.  Instead it grabs the info from your iPhone.  Sounds like a good thing right? Well, the trouble is, you have to be disconnected from your WiFi network to use it.  What they should have done is build the ability within the app to turn off your WiFi.  Rather than closing the app, going into settings, turning off WiFi and then reopening the app.  Not sure if it’s possible having never developed an iPhone app myself, but it seems to me if you know it’s a problem then instead of just telling us about it (see screen capture above), do something to fix the problem as well.


As i mentioned, the app pulls the info from your Rogers wireless account and presents it to you in a format that is easy to understand.  You can easily see whats owing on your account, your voice or data or text messaging usage including what your plan allows for.  It doesn’t show roaming usage that i could see, which i think would be a nice thing to be able to check while on the road.

Another little annoying thing is the fact that you can’t go back to a previous billing cycle.   You get to see the current one and thats it.  So if you happen to check your account on the first day of a billing cycle (see screen captures above) you will have very little info available to you.  I’m not sure why they didn’t give you the option to go back a month of two, but i’m assuming it was in an effort to keep it simple.  They can tell you when you last made a payment and the amount, but not the actual usage information.

It’s a free app, which is expected since when you think of it you are already forking over enough money to them every month, the least they can do is give you an app to see in a nice pretty little GUI exactly how much you are going to have to shell out for the pleasure of being so connected.