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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Head in the Cloud(s)

I haven’t lost my mind, it’s backed up on tape somewhere. — Unix fortune cookie

Tech-utopians believe that we’re approaching the point where the human mind could actually be uploaded into — and run on — computer hardware. I’m firmly in the skeptic camp on this one: perhaps some memories and sensory impressions could eventually be copied; after all, it’s already possible to stimulate certain memories or impressions by probing certain parts of the brain. If quantum computing offers insights into how our minds work, those copies could happen. BUT, can personality be both captured and then run on some kind of hardware? I doubt it.

On the other hand, some of my memory — and most likely some of yours as well — is already stored outside our heads. From the paper address book/calendar, to the lowliest PDA, to our calendar programs, to the fanciest cloud-based PIMs, we’ve offloaded a lot of the basic information we need to do our work (or not get whined at by a friend or family member whose birthday just went by), replacing it with a habit to “check the calendar” on occasion. A lot of this information is useful and even crucial — your mom’s birthday, your anniversary, that scheduled meeting with a potential customer. Some of it, like Amazon’s wish list, can be hazardous to your budget… instead of forgetting about that gadget you saw and thought was cool, add it to your wish list and come back for it later.

The tricks are, of course, to:

1) Make it so easy to add that information to your repository, wherever you are, whenever you need to, that you just do it without thinking much about it.

2) Extract that information — or better yet, have it automatically presented to you — at the right time.

As much as I like to slag on cellphones, they really do help with part 1 — even if you don’t have a signal at the crucial moment, you can often configure the phone to bring up an audio recorder without too much effort. I set up my old Samsung Sync to bring up the recorder by pressing one of the arrow keys, if I remember right. Of course, the smarter the phone, the easier it can be to find useful information entry apps. On the other hand, if you want to pay for Jott, you can use any phone capable of dialing a number (Jott converts a brief voice message to text and can return it to you in a large number of ways).

But the other side of the coin is getting that information back at the right time. Again, there are plenty of ways to make that happen. While Remember the Milk is popular, I kind of like Chandler for its open-source, cross-platform goodness. Unfortunately, the client is currently broke for Leopard and Snow Leopard; there’s supposed to be a workaround, but it didn’t work for me. Once they get the client working again, I’d love to see a full-function iPad client; right now, there’s a write-only “Chandler QE” (Quick Entry) iPhone app that’s okay for brief notes and events. Directly accessing notes at the Chandler Hub is a workaround on the laptop for now… I can’t enter text from the iPad for whatever reason though (grumble mumble) except by using the iPhone app (snarl hiss).

One thing I’ve started using Chandler for is to capture whatever random thoughts about White Pickups wander through my mind at any given moment. I thought I was going to start working on the last part of Book I today at lunch, and realized I needed to give the plot a little more thought… into the iPhone I went and added the information, now it’s on the hub whenever I’m ready for it.

So as always, you get your choice between free (or Free) and community-supported, or paid for and (maybe) reliability. The big problem I see with the latter is that going with a commercial cloud-based service is like giving your data to some corporation and then renting it back. Everything’s fine until you can’t make the next payment.


  1. For three days this week, I “had to” (**) drive the car to work instead of taking the bicycle. Thursday morning was the first time this week that it wasn't cold, windy, and rainy right at the time when I need to get to work, so I took an extra-long trip and incorporated some errands.

    Mostly I was glad to feel the wind in my hair and the sun and breeze on my face again. Not sure how the ersatz digital versions of those things would work, let alone the more pervy side that some folks have got.

    ** Sorry, I don't yet have the gear to ride in this kind of weather and still arrive at work dry. Dripping water all over the keyboard is unacceptable, as is hanging up clothing to dry in cubicle-land. That being said, getting soaked on the way home is not at all a problem. It's actually kind of nice in hot weather anyway.

  2. Hey Nudge!

    I guess you're getting the rain for us. It dried up here, just in time because I really did have to take the motorcycle to work (both cars needed repairs).

    I have a two-piece rain suit that keeps everything but my hands and feet dry, and (as I'll be blogging about shortly) have a waterproof pouch to stuff the iPad case in, so I can keep riding until it gets into the mid-30s or thereabouts. If you have a motorcycle shop nearby, see if they have one. Take whatever you'd wear in cool/cold weather and pick a size to fit over it.


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