Things on the Internet that are Totally Cool

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.

Something Else
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?


8 thoughts on “Things on the Internet that are Totally Cool

  1. So how does Pandora compare to the Genius function on iTunes? Other than the obvious fact iTunes is limited to your music and not an ‘unlimited’ selection.

    • Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll have to experiment with that.

      I started with a more obscure group in Pandora and now I’m getting a lot of things I’ve never heard before.

      • Genius is a bit newer than Pandora, and to me seems to be a bit hit-or-miss. I really liked Pandora, but then they rolled out advertising. That ate into our bandwidth just enough more that it became unusable on the old dial-up. Later, they rolled out subscription service, added more ads at the non-subscription level and limited how much one can use the non-subscription level. They had to implement these measures to support increasing legal bills (rhymes with RIAA initially wanting $10,000 per song per use).

        Just a year after that, Genius came to iTunes, letting me stay offline and get good mixes. The thing is, my music collection isn’t that large, so I’ve already pretty much grouped what I like into playlists and smart playlists. Also, with a smaller collection, Genius doesn’t have very much to work with, leaving (true story) Frank Sinatra and Apocolyptica in the same mix. Genius also send all of your library info to Apple. That data is supposed to be anonymous, but it’s still something to think about if you are paranoid about that kind of thing.

        Overall, I love Pandora’s selection and variety, but the necessary evil of the now copious volume of ads turns me off sometimes. Genius is great for times without internet or with limited bandwidth, but the smaller the collection, the more iffy the results may be.

  2. Gerald used to use Pandora all the time. It’s where he found out about several more obscure groups. I think it learns pretty quickly what your tastes are. I haven’t gotten into Pandora, mainly because up until recently I had a high-speed connection only when I was not at home.

    Ironically, Gerald doesn’t use Pandora as much anymore — he really likes the Genius feature on iTunes, and thanks to DropBox, he and his buddies can share music files, so what’s on his computer is limited only by the size of his hard drive. (Although I hope he saves some disk space for school work!)

  3. My boss reminded me of our internet usage policy at work. I was a little over thanks to the World Cup, so I can’t stream anymore. I can dig into Pandora here at home. I borrowed my housemates CD’s to put on iTunes and have way too much music. His tastes lean toward Industrial and I have a new appreciation for music.

  4. Oh, yes, where I work the official policy is “no streaming” — unless it’s directly related to the mission of the college. In practice, what this means is that faculty can watch quite a lot of streamed content, such as Faculty Senate meetings, interviews with prospective new deans, and training videos. Students, on the other hand, aren’t allowed to watch much of anything, unless an instructor specifically assigns it as classwork.

    Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I found something on YouTube that related to each weekly homework assignment?

  5. all the things i check are basically time wasters. but one of my favorite time wasters, if you like just looking at endless pictures, is:

    it gives you a random assortment of photos from flickr. you click on the one you like, and it loads a new set based on the favorites of the owner of the original picture. like i said, basically a waste of time, but there’s some nice stuff on there.

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