Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Skydeck and Google Voice

Techcrunch today went with a post "Skydeck Mashed Up With Google Voice Could Be The Perfect Combination".

I'd not heard of Skydeck, so I checked this out with interest tonight.

They are similar to GV but instead of managing all your phones, they manage only your cell phone. They do transcribed voice mails like GV, you can send SMS text from your PC that looks like it came from your cell, you can backup your addresses etc. all like GV.

Their main talking point is that you don't have to hand out a new phone number, but that it works with your existing cell phone number.

As I mentioned in a post in April, how you implement GV can take some thought. I finally decided to use it as a manager for my cell phone calls, not unlike Skydeck.

With GV, I have to hand out a new phone number, but that is advantageous. The phone number I give to customers is independent of my the phone. If my cell phone is lost or stolen or breaks, incoming calls can be routed to another phone easily.

If I ever regret giving anyone my cell phone number, I can easily screen them with GV. Not sure I can do that based on what I read about Skydeck.

Skydeck does make the point that with them, you'll still get calls to your cell if the internet is down. With GV, if Google is down, you won't get your calls. Google does have outages.

There are some people who may want Skydeck's functionality. Personally, it does not fit into my process. Apparently it relies on having access to your cell phone providers online account information for your phone. With Verizon, I would have had to buy that for $3 a month on top of Skydeck's cost. Seems sort of kludgey to me.

Best of luck to them. For a startup to be going up against Google who is offering their product for virtually free, is daunting.

Google does tasks

There are a million task manager programs out there. Everyone manages tasks differently so each seem to have their followers.

Google recently came out with a basic task capability added to Gmail through Google Labs. Today they announced tasks can be shown in Google Calendar too.

Looks pretty nifty. If you give a task a due date, it appears in the entry for that date. If no due date, then it is in a list that can be re-arranged.

They just might have me.

One piece I thought was missing at first was a mobile element. But a little research tonight discovered http://mail.google.com/tasks. Android and Iphone users have some things they can do over what is able to be done with the regular web page. For example I cannot edit tasks, or set (or even view) due dates in the mobile version. Language in the help page makes me hopeful that will soon change for the better.

I'll play with it and also Remember the Milk in the near future. Task managemnt is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have a self-written program that does task management and Google Notes/Evernote-lite-type data storage. To give up something designed and built for my specific way of doing things will take some adjustment. Evernote has made much of my program obsolete, so now I just need something for task management.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tweetdeck could be my Control Panel of life

For the past week, I've used Tweetdeck to catch up on Twitter feeds at the end of the day. I follow only a handful of people so I get more quality then quantity out of Twitter, which is okay by me.

Tweetdeck lets me quickly scan my Friends twits, but also quickly see if I have replies or Direct Messages. More useful is the panels I can have for search. I can easily see new Twits from everyone, not just friends on topics of interest.

Yesterday, Google Voice stopped working with Gizmo5. Since I use Chad Smith's Google Voice Firefox Add to easily dial numbers from my work's CRM, that was a hassle. I spent the days channeling outgoing work calls to another phone, but I missed being able to use my headphones with Gizmo.

There was an active thread on the Google Voice Help Forum, but as the day wore on, no responses suggested Google Employees may not have seen the post and knew of the problem.

Finally, I had the bright idea of twitting @googlevoice and also the Twitter addresses of two Google employees I thought might be connected with Google Voice.

I fired up Tweetdeck, and hid all columns to avoid work distraction except for a search column I set up to monitor tweets to/from those accounts.

Emails were coming in all day from the thread on the help forum too. So it occurred to me, why couldn't I have the RSS feed from the help discussion come into a panel on Tweetdeck? That way I could have an entire alert panel for the ongoing issue.

Taking it further, why not, as Alex Chriss on the Tech Spheres blog suggests, have the ability to have your OPLM file of all your RSS subscriptions coming to a column in Tweetdeck? Genius.

But why stop there?

Many of us use web based email today. Have Tweetdeck have a column listing emails that are waiting in your inbox.

Or a way to have incoming IM's, missed VoIP calls, text messages, new items in my Evernote Inbox, my Delicious box, all show up?

Tweetdesk supports Twitter by letting you create twits and reply to them. It can add these other alerts without feeling the need to support the support functions to go along with them. If I see an email has come in, I can still go to my browser to reply to it.

And it would be nice if you could have everything in one combined column in chronological order, tweets, emails, rss items etc, maybe color coded. Or in multicolumn mode, select the kind of items in each column.

And maybe sound cues for incoming items with customizable sounds. Say silent for most, but a click or beep for an email or IM. And a siren for an email from an important client.

Tweetdeck is a good start. I want it to be the Control Panel for my life.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A dirty , but necessary word: backup

In a BBC Blog today, Rory Cellan-Jones questions applications on the cloud's reliability while writing mostly good things about Evernote :

"But will Evernote - and the memories it stores in the cloud - still be around in five years' time?"

"We are putting more and more of our lives into the internet "cloud" - and that raises all sorts of issues about security and trust. Companies offering these cloud services will need to provide plenty of reassurance to their users over the coming years."

His concerns dovetails nicely with concerns I have about data on the web. I learned in the last great Internet Boom that when the bubble bursts, data can be lost. I am very careful now to choose online providers that allow me to back up my online data.

You may assume they backup their data--and they might--but the free services do not offer any real Quality of Service guarantees, so I assume the data is vulnerable.

When I recently began using Evernote, I was pleased to see it had a database it saved locally. It has everything (I believe) that is stored online, plus my local folders. That database I can back up.

In fact, all my online cloud data is factored into my backup strategy.

I have a constantly evolving backup strategy. The newest one is two months old.

I've learned the hard way, its not IF a drive will fail, but WHEN a drive fails.

I wish there was a magical CD that was always bigger then all my drives put together. I could set it to burn a backup of all my data to a CD and then file it away.

Alas, a DVD gets just over 4 gig of storage. My online drives total a Terabyte and I have two more off line drives equaling 500 gig.

So it isn't valid to make a full backup of my system. And even My Documents is too big (91 gig today). A lot of that is video projects I'm working on.

You have to ask yourself, what could I not do without? Then figure out a way to back those files backed up.

It's easy to backup my wife and son's computers. They use their laptops for school mostly, and their My Documents folders fit on a DVD. I hope you are that lucky, but if not, you probably have given up backing up. Or...many people have never, ever backed up. I know from horrible experience, you are doomed!

I have a spreadsheet of personal finances, another a list of file folders and CDs/DVDs I've created, and a couple more files that have important often changed data in it. I wrote a Autoit script to back those up nightly to a new folder; kind of a poor man's version control. Each month I copy the most recent set, and a set from the middle and start of the month, to a CD.

I spoke in a previous post about how I am scanning documents using my Neat Scanner. It has an automated backup, so that backup file goes to the CD too.

My folder of work related documents goes on the CD too.

And I export my bookmarks from Firefox and Chrome.

After those local files, I backup my data from the cloud.

I backup my Google Voice Contacts, my contacts from my cell phone (synchronized by Sprint online), this blog, and my Delicious bookmarks. I forgot this month to get my Opera Mini bookmarks. They are synchronized with Opera and show up in my PC's Opera.

My paid Yahoo email account lets me archive emails, and for Gmail, there is a free backup utility, Gmail Backup. I tested it once for a few of my emails. It downloaded the emails as .eml files that can be loaded into standard email clients like Outlook or Thunderbird.

With the inclusion this month of the Evernote database, all this no longer fits on a CD, but it fit on only 33% of a DVD. I have room to grow. I'm suspect by year's end I'll need a second DVD each month. But 30 or 60 cents a month for backup is a real bargain.

Backup programs all seem to assume you're either got some magical media as big as the media you are backing up, or are willing to sit and feed in DVD's all night. I have this fear then most people are not backing up effectively. What I've tried to show here is that you can design a backup procedure that can protect your major files WHEN the worst finally occurs.

We're not all about high tech

Not everything in my life is high tech.

My family includes a furry member. We have a six year old Great Dane. He is our second Great Dane. While they don't live long, they give a lot of love in their shortened lives.

As such, we especially appreciate Marmaduke, the comic strip by Brad Anderson. I heard somewhere that while Mr. Anderson once owned Dane's now he gets his inspiration from his daughter's two Danes that visit him often.

About one in six comics hits Dane ownership squarely on the head. Today's is one.

Click Here to see the Comic.

I had the image embedded here, but unfortunately it did not size well.

They are sweet dogs, but a bit messy. I introduced ours to a family of all girls on our street. Afterward, one of the toddlers told her mother, "I don't like him. He drools."

I know how she feels.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Google and Evernote

Evernote is so much about search of your own information, and Google is so much about search, period, it is a wonder Google hasn't acquired Evernote.

Evernote and Google Voice

I have figured out a way to call from my cell phone, and have a transcription of my verbal message centrally stored with my entire collection of documents and easily searchable by me. And it is all free using Evernote and Google Voice.

I initially setup my Evernote account in July of 2008, but didn't spend enough time with it to understand its value. I revisited it lately and learned the enormous power it has. I've integrated it into my life in a big way.

Evernote describes their service:

Evernote allows you to easily capture information in any environment using whatever device or platform you find most convenient, and makes this information accessible and searchable at any time, from anywhere.

Last night I finally figured out to force Google voice to send me to voice mail when I call my own GV number from my cell phone. I documented the process on the Google Voice Help Forum.

Remember, Google voice transcribes voice mails and sends the transcription to me. I can scan the written words and get a gist of the voice mail, learning enough to know when I want to return the call.

Google Voice can be set to email me the transcription or text it to me. I have it do both.

The text alerts me quicker to the existence of the voice mail.

I setup a filter in my Gmail account so that any transcription emails from GV are automatically forwarded to my Evernote acccount.

Think about that for a minute. All transcriptions of my voice mails and dictated notes from myself are now stored in one location and readily searchable by me from my desktop or via the web from my phone or anywhere I can connect to the web.

Of course, I can search the transcripts at the GV site too, but by sending them into Evernote, they become part of my overall collection with my other documents and notes. And in Evernote, I then have a backup copy of the transcripts should anything happen to them while they reside only on Google (unlikely I know).

Google Voice is still not widely available. Watch for its public release, and sign-up. It's mostly free (except for international calls).