Playing with iOS5, Lion and iCloud

Upgraded both my iPhone and my iPad2 to iOS5 yesterday, and my MacBook Pro to Lion. Aside from the infuriating reverse-direction scrolling in Lion (push up to go down and vice-versa — I’m too hardwired), I have to admit that I like the whole experience. I’m assuming that I’ll have to await more iOS apps’ use of the notification system –the only thing appearing there so far with mine is Apple Mail– but it’s a far cry better than the pop-up alerts from before. (Tap tap tap tap –what was that? Oh, dammit — tap tap tap….)

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Syncing Bookmarks (& Calendars)

Once upon a time, like many dutiful Mac users, I subscribed to Apple’s .Mac service. It gave me an webmail-enabled email address, a place to host a webpage with the option of Apple-designed templates, a feeling of belonging to the Mac community, a free virus checker, the occasional freebie app or game, a way to synchronise iCal calendars and Safari bookmarks among multiple computers, and a tediously slow, buggy and so-small-it’s-useless backup solution.

Although I’m sure this is still a great service for many people, I no longer need it. I have Gmail for my mail, a webserver completely under my control (with PHP, Perl, MySQL and tonnes of other goodies), my own templates and webpages (Apple’s were pretty limiting, IMHO), no Mac viruses that I’ve ever seen or even heard of, and a much better back-up solution involving both server syncs and physical backup to CDs.

Now, the sharp-eyed will notice a few holes still remaining. Freebie apps and games aren’t really an issue for me, as I have all the software I need, chiefly from the Open Source community. The “sense of belonging” is also no longer a big deal, as I’ve gotten over my Mac fetish (although I still use my Macs for most of my work). The SpyMac community is great, if you’re into that sort of thing. They also provide 1 Gb of webmail (with POP3 access for regular email clients), homepage hosting, blogs, forum tools, an “iDisk” (WebDAV storage), a gallery, an online calendar/todo system, and more. Great stuff, even if it’s a little slow and graphics-intensive sometimes. (By the way, there’s nothing saying these tools are designed only for Macs: they work just as well on Windows or Linux.)

It’s the bookmark and calendar synchronisation that’s often the killer for people with multiple machines.

The calendar issue is easily solved. Many clients allow sharing calendar info through FTP or WebDAV on a server somewhere (such as on SpyMac, if you don’t have access to another server). Mozilla Calendar –and its up-and-coming standalone application, Sunbird— is perfect for this sort of thing. The extension will install in Mozilla, Firefox or Thunderbird, and you can tell it to “publish”, i.e., synchronise, with the server by setting your URL, login and password in its preferences. You can do this over multiple machines and operating systems, and never be out of sync with your calendar.

The bookmarks problem is another issue entirely, however. There have been a number of kludges. For example, you can use del.icio.us and Foxylicious to share bookmarks, but the whole tag-as-folder thing is rather messy. SiteBar with the Firefox extension is not bad, but it requires a web-based sidebar, and it’s not easy to easily re-arrange or manage your marks. And there are a few other similar projects, but none of them are as easy as simply setting your native bookmarks to share among multiple computers, locations and OSes. I hear tell that roaming bookmarks, as it’s sometimes called, is something slated for Mozilla & Co. again (it has been included in past versions, albeit incomplete and buggy), but now there’s finally an easy-to-use Firefox extension that “just works”.

Bookmarks Synchronizer, by Torisugari, will sync with an XML file it creates on a server. Go into your preferences, fill in your server info, set your options (such as automatically syncing upon starting and exiting your browser), and you’re good to go.

Now, if only I’d get off my behind and implement a way of sharing contacts among my Thunderbird clients, I’ll be all set. Hmm… and then there’s the Palm Pilot synchronisation thing with Mozilla I’ve yet to try. And then there’s groupware to set up. And the wiki for….

Argh. Too many toys, not enough time. Well, at least that’s my bookmarks taken care of.

New PalmOS built atop Linux

Well, if this isn’t every Linux geek’s mobile fantasy: NewsForge | PalmSource announces Linux support

We look forward to contributing code to the Linux platform under its existing licenses. We believe that PalmSource’s expertise in building great mobile solutions can help make Linux even more compelling than it is now. The Palm OS layer written for use on Linux will be designed to be portable to any suitable mobile Linux distribution, and we’ll expose Linux APIs under the Palm OS layer. We look forward to partnering and cooperating with Linux companies and developers to contribute to the on-going development and adoption of mobile Linux.

It sounds like they will be building the new PalmOS to work as a layer atop Linux, the same way that the Mac OS X “Aqua” layer is built atop BSD-flavoured UNIX. With Wi-Fi built into the device, you’ll be able to wardrive with a Linux server in your pocket. Slot in Apache, Perl/Python/PHP, MySQL, wikis, Emacs, FTP… ah, the geek in me is just drooling….

More info at The Reg.

(No, I don’t have a Zaurus or a Yopy, but I really wish I did….)

Welcome to a New Brain

I’ve been the proud owner of a Palm since the original Pilot days, and have rarely been without one for nearly six years. In that time, I’ve logged thousands of meetings, appointments, contacts, memos and tasks. I’ve read my daily news using AvantGo or Plucker rather than read a newspaper. I’ve even written thousands of pages, either using an add-on keyboard or plain Graffiti hand-writing recognition (which I can now do as fast as regular hand-writing). In short, these handy little devices have been my back-up brain for years.

A couple of years ago, a household incident in my absence involving my wife’s cooking and a smoke detector caused a nasty crack to develop on my Palm IIIc. Well, more than a crack… crazy glue and gaffer’s tape have barely managed to hold it together ever since. But a month or so ago, my beloved handheld finally stopped syncing with the computer, and the keyboard, modem and camera would no longer attach correctly. This was the beginning of the end. Without syncing, I had no way of keeping my data safe, no way of transferring information, no way of getting my news… I had so come to rely on this seemingly simple daily act of information interchange that without it, I was reduced to complete chaos.

After hyperventilating for a day or so, and then after I regained consciousness, I decided that this was not a problem. I would revert to … *gasp* … paper! I used to tote around a business-style DayRunner, and in my more prosperous days I would stock it to the brim with every dollar-a-sheet add-in there was. Now faced with empty pockets and no Staples in sight, I spent a couple of nights of developing templates in Illustrator, and I printed some beautiful double-sided sheets that would give any DayRunner/DayTimer designers a run for their money.

The “classic-size” DayRunner was dutifully stocked with my masterful little creations, and sections were added for each of my current projects, as well as for notes, ideas, diagrams and more. A nice calendar was inserted , to-do lists created, and I broke out my nicest pen and pencil to accompany my leatherette friend. I threw in my patented DayRunner calculator, hole punch, Today ™ bookmark/ruler, zip-lock accessories, business card holders, receipt/expense envelopes, and all the little DayRunner trinkets I thought might prove useful.

And then I didn’t carry it anywhere.

It was too unwieldy, too bulky, too heavy. Sure, it looked nice. And sure, if I carried it with me everywhere, it would probably prove useful. But after carrying around something not much bigger than a stack of playing cards for years (which could store *much* more information), the DayRunner became a bit of an albatross. Although it was a rather sensuous experience to write with a real pen on real paper again, that was the only thing going for it. In terms of convenience or immediacy or helpfulness, it couldn’t measure up to the Palm IIIc. Soon, I rarely had it handy for contact information or notes or project files. And soon, the inevitable decline into chaos once more.

Tungsten EThat changed recently, when a friend who was upgrading to a pricier model sent me his six-month-old Palm Tungsten E (thanks, Scott!). Within a day or two, all my important personal infomation was installed on it, and I discovered where my efficiency had gone. Also, on this model, a few notable “upgrades” from my old model: a much faster processor (capable of playing music and video); much better colour and screen resolution; a built-in MP3 player; compability with my lonely 512Mb SD card (and therefore 70 times as much space); scores of new applications; and a much slimmer and attractive design. I can now use a good word processor (WordSmith) and outliner (Progect) on the Palm at the same time as I can listen to music. What’s not to like? (Well, compability with my previous keyboard, modem and camera would be nice….)

I beamed some useful applications and good books to my old handheld, packed it up with all its peripherals, and gave to my wife’s sister Renate for her organisational needs. I shed nary a tear for that old combat veteran, still bandaged and triaged with tape and glue. (The Palm, not the sister.)

So, the poor old DayRunner is once more being relegated to the closet, a symbol of all those times that I have retreated away from technology and back to traditional ways of doing things, yet ever to return to the modern world with which I feel constantly at odds.

Hmm. Maybe a paper journal again? Something I can stick in my little gadget bag and use a real pen with…? Perhaps a Hemingway-esque moleskine…?