I’ve come across a couple of things on the Internet lately that are, well, totally cool. Neither of these things is particularly new, but they are particularly awesome.
I found DropBox through my brother; we used it to share audio files for Moonlight Sonata across nine time zones. He would put updates in his folder, and they would appear in mine shortly thereafter. Not bad, but only the beginning.
All my writing is backed up on multiple machines, and on a server somewhere ‘out there’. No matter what computer I sit down to, the latest versions of all my stories are there. Effort required: none. I work on a story, save, and it automagically is updated everywhere else. The scenarios in which I lose work are extreme and hard to imagine. New files? No problem, as long as I save them in my DropBox folder.
For the security-minded, DropBox encrypts all the data they store, so you’re safe from hackers getting your stuff. The DropBox people have the key to the encryption, however, so you are not safe from subpoenas and warrantless government searches (which are common). Fortunately there is nothing stopping you from using your own encryption on the files first, and you will be the only one holding the key. I’m looking for the perfectly transparent, free, multiple-computer solution for this; when I find it I’ll let you know. Currently I manually encrypt sensitive files.
Edited to add: On the mac, it is quite simple to create a strongly-encrypted disk image. If you use Disk Utility to create a sparse image that’s less than 2GB and put that into your DropBox folder, then you can mount that image and save all your sensitive stuff in there. Works like a charm. I made my image 663 MB, and used AES-256 encryption (stronger is better, I figure).
DropBox is free for a limited amount of storage (2 GB), which is plenty for important text documents; for a small fee your limit can be increased to 50 GB. So far there are no products this simple and slick that you can install on your own server (so you can store as much as you want and control your own security), but that is only a matter of time, I suspect.
People have been telling me about Pandora for a long time (in Internet years), but I’ve only recently started using it. It’s sweet! For those even farther under the rock than I am, Pandora is an Internet radio service that decides which song to play for you based on how you’ve responded to the previous songs. You can maintain multiple “stations” that have different kinds of music, based on what you’re up to at the moment or what mood you’re in. Currently I’m listening to a station called “Nirvana”. I chose a band and Pandora took it from there. I rejected a couple of tunes, gave a hearty thumbs-up to others, and off I go.
I’m a little disappointed that there isn’t much music in this list that I’ve never heard before. It seems like this should be a service ideal for helping me discover new bands, but it’s not quite there yet. Pandora seems a little too hit-oriented for my taste, but I’m hoping that over time, if I take the time to give a thumbs-up to stronger but more obscure music, I can deepen the pool of tunes Pandora draws from.
Sure I have a big heapin’ pile of music on my hard drive, and I still use it regularly (in part because Pandora has such a popular leaning), but using Pandora is way easier than sorting all my music into thematic and stylistic playlists that provide variety without straying too far from the stuff I’m in the mood for.
Mac note: The Mac’s ability to turn any part of any Web page into a dashboard widget worked awesomely with Pandora’s player.
This article feels like it really should have a third item, but at the moment I can’t come up with one. Sure, there are the Internet game-changers like email and Google, but those are hardly news anymore. What would you put in this spot?