Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The one computer to rule them all

No I am not talking about a super computer, at least not in the conventional sense.

I saw a blurb in this month's Technology Review magazine about the Padfone: a cellphone that slips inside a Pad device when you want a larger screen. Good idea as far as it goes but why not add instant connectivity to any compatible keyboard, monitor, and trackpad in the area.

I find a slight hassle switching between my MacBook Air Air, iPad, and Droid during the day. Having one tiny device with a copy of everything is a possible alternative to Apple's iCloud, Dropbox, and other distributed "store all of my stuff" ideas.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

I am adjusting to a mobile digital life: the acceleration of convenience

The first time I used a computer was in 1962 when I was 11 years old. It was not convenient: my Dad had to take me to his office to use one of the early timesharing systems using a local teletype machine with punched tape for saving and reloading stuff. A few years later I took an extension course at a local UC campus, FORTRAN with punched cards with nice keypunch facilities: definitely a large improvement!

In the 1980s life really got good: my own Xerox 1108 Lisp Machine and an Internet connection.

In the decades starting in 1990 and 2000 there were continual improvements but progress was gradual: better Internet connections, the development of the Web, improvements in software tools like code repositories, IDEs, etc.

Skipping ahead to the present time, I am trying to adjust my digital life, including my work and writing flows, to a more mobile lifestyle.

Probably the biggest change for me is that I used to keep just about everything that I worked with and touched in a repository (first cvs, then svn, and now git). I no longer need incremental backups of all of my work because for low priority stuff I can always dig back in time using simple Time Machine backups of my MacBook Air. I do still use a lot of git repositories for high value assets like:

  • Software development projects for customers
  • My open source projects at github
  • My own high value projects such as software and other assets for my web properties and commercial software products
This is a major change for me. I keep other assets that don't really need versioning on DropBox:
  • All assets for my writing projects: books I have written in the past, my current writing project, etc.
  • A million + 1 small code snippets and small bits or program code organized by all languages that I use (Common Lisp, Java, Ruby, Scheme, Haskell, Python, Prolog, etc. (whenever I figure out a new coding technique, how to do something generally useful, etc., I always like to save a little code snippet to refer to later)
  • Favorite pictures taken in my lifetime (old ones are now digitized)
  • Favorite videos taken in my lifetime (lots of digitally converted 8mm videos from my childhood through recent vacation videos: everything!)
  • All of my personal notes organized by travel logs, personal writing, etc.
  • A large fraction of the huge amount of music that I have purchased, organized by artist (and sometimes also by album)
  • Most of the eBooks that I have ever purchased if they are not in the Kindle format.
For Kindle books not purchased through Amazon, I email them to my Kindle/Amazon email address and let Amazon manage keeping everything in-sync on all of my devices. Kindle platform syncing the current reading location across devices is a huge convenience since I routinely read on my Kindle, iPad, and MacBook Air.

I am careful to not keep anything that is highly proprietary on DropBox (i.e., assets for customer projects). I used to also keep well organized directories of useful reading material found on the web (e.g., PDFs on AI, machine learning, NLP, server deployments, etc., etc.). I have very recently made the rather large step in throwing all of this material into Evernote, backing it up, and deleting it.

The really big win in relying on DropBox, Evernote, and the Kindle platforms is being able to switch between computers easily and also have most of my stuff available on my iPad and Droid cellphone. I use several computers and it is a slight nuisance doing a git pull every time I switch computers. I like to use mobile devices for reading and general thinking time and this is a lot easier now. I have been running Apple's beta OS X Mountain Lion that has iCloud integration. There is a chance that if iCloud is very well implemented that I may slowly transition away from DropBox to iCloud, and switch to using an iPhone. However, DropBox is very well implemented so Apple would need to make iCloud's implementation across all Apple devices very, very good for me to make the switch.

Saving the last big win for last: a mobile digital life promotes more of what Clojure creator (and general programming mentor) Rich Hickey calls "hammock time": the time you spend away from the computer thinking. I still use a pad or paper and a pen for away from a computer thinking time, but I find mobile devices augment this activity nicely.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Since Bing search and spelling APIs are no longer free, I did a quick survey of other services and signed up for Yahoo BOSS search.

I signed up for Google's APIs around 2002 and used it until they stopped the service. I later switched to Microsoft's Bing APIs: the cost was great, free! Bing's new entry level cost of $40/month for 20,000 queries does not match my use case. I wish they had a $5/month for 2000 queries.

I do a low volume of search for personal research projects and prototypes. Yahoo BOSS's service has an attractive price but I worry about the service being terminated with the deal with Microsoft. Google offers custom site search, but I didn't see any options for a general paid-for web search API.

So, I signed up with Yahoo BOSS for search and if the service is ever terminated, I will look elsewhere. The price is good, $0.80 per 1000 queries.

2012-05-19 edit: Bing search now has a free tier for up to 5000 search requests per month. Cool! For research purposes, this is good enough.