Thursday, January 3, 2008

My current setup for the digital life

What? Another long post so short after the last? Well, to tell the truth they were one VERY large one I cut into 2...

So here's some info on my current setup between the iPhone and computers.

Personal email - Google Apps, a free service hosting my own domain name and providing free IMAP with SSL support. So I get full desktop, iPhone and Web client support fully in sync all the time. Cant beat the price, reliability, storage space etc. Since I normally use IMAP, I have no idea how Google can sustain this free, no-ads environment that they've given me with my own domain name.

Work email - A mentioned in previous posts I'm in a tight company standards controlled Exchange environment that i've worked around using a combination of OWA and Synchronica. Short of shutting off OWA, its hard for companies to kill this approach. As mentioned before, Synchronica isn't a great solution yet but it has potential. At some point I may win the war for iPhone VPN access so I can do normal IMAP over VPN to Exchange for work email but i'm not holding my breath. For desktop mail while at work I have full IMAP access on my Mac within the company network (that took some doing). Until I got that going I was using Outlook under Parallels since the current version of Entourage on the Mac stinks bad (I may revisit all this when Entourage 2008 finally comes out). 

Calendar - Since the geniuses at Snerdware have chosen to drag their feet in making Groupcal Leopard compatible and that it wasn't most reliable product in Tiger anyway I started looking for other solutions. At first I tried using the Apple iCal app to maintain home and work calendars in appropriate locations and do bidirectional synchronization of both. I found this to be totally unreliable (even on Leopard) and lost my calendar data (thank goodness for backups) several times. I think resorted to unidirectional synchronization and had inconsistencies that Apples iSync just couldn't get over even with complete resets of the sync system. My current stage is using Google Calendar and then just subscribing to the calendars (one for work, one for home) on the various macs so I can look at my calendar using the Apple iCal tool (view only, no edits :( ). Calendar invites to home or work are a little work to add, I have to save the .ics file and then "import calendar" to the appropriate calendar in Google. But my sync issues are gone. Then the path to the iPhone is the same as the local iCal solution, just pick which calendars to sync to the iPhone (fortunately you can sync subscribed calendars). In case I need to create an event while on the road I have a "iPhone" calendar thats just a temporary holder until I move it back to one of the others.

Contacts - For some (nice) reason the iSync bidirectional sync between 2 macs and my iPhone works flawlessly. There's no clean way of keeping the same contacts on Google in sync with the macs/phone and the Google contacts app/section is still pretty weak. 

Notes - currently my solution is to email myself stuff. Someday Apple will fix that in the iPhone.

To Do's - My current approach is emails sitting in various folders. My "inbox" in email is always near empty on all accounts with things properly filed/sorted. The iCal/Google/iPhone to-do stuff isnt well baked and my usage is light so that suits me for now. 

RSS feeds - I can't get Googles reader to save my login info, and its interface is weak next to NewsGator Mobile and NewsGator also has a nice desktop client (the free/lite version works fine for me but I may pay for it just to support their work)

TV/Movies - I use an EyeTV Hybrid as my digital VCR and have it export its recordings to iTunes in iPhone format and have setup iTunes to sync unwatched episodes of my (and my daughter's..) favorite shows automatically. There's no maintenance/work and its all automatic. For Movies, I use a low cost NetFlix subscription and then rip movies using Handbrake into iPhone format. I watch the movies once and then delete them. In theory this isn't fully by the license terms but I feel this is within the intent of the law. I don't really watch any TV or movies at home (yes, I spend my free time doing crazy things like this post) so only when I travel do I get to do that sort of thing and then my all-in-one iPhone device keeps me well entertained (I do wish they had more than 8GB on it).

Filing System - I looked at personal databases, including Bento and couldn't find a good reason to use something other than the normal file system with good folder/file names etc. I did get the idea from some products that instead of printing receipts from online transactions, to save them as PDF to my file system. On the more physical side I try to keep as little paper as possible and shred everything. I'm currently searching for a cost-effective scanner for important docs I want to keep but not physically. So far for the Mac, decent ones are $500...

Password management - With the number of sites at work and home and the need for good security (different, complex passwords at the various places) I opted for a password manager. I never liked the ones I ran into on the PC like Roboform which seemed to install all sorts of extra stuff but i've been very happy with 1Password on the Mac and the developer is very responsive. It syncs bidrectionally to both macs via iSync (this works well) and does a secure HTML page on the iPhone (I havent used this since i'm still nervous about its security) and provides access (for a fee) to your passwords online (which I wont use since I dont want my passwords on a web site owned by anybody). Having access at both my main Macs is sufficient.

And of course the Mac/iPhone only things like iPod/iTunes for Music and iPhoto for Pictures work wonderfully. And yes, i've paid for all the music in my iTunes library, same for my software. Thats a moral integrity challenge I put myself through years ago (with quite a bit of expense) that I think I passed (although the grading is a very grey area and a topic for another long post). Since Apple has a poor concept of centralized iTunes/iPhoto libraries within the home I use rsync over ssh to get copies of the music/pictures to my wife and kid's machines. 

Backups - With Leopard I use time machine on all computers. In addition I have off-site backup schemes around the same rsync/ssh stuff mentioned above. Of course its all no-login/password, SSL cert required, not a well known port etc.

Machine Security - As mentioned previously the Filevault stuff (especially with Spotlight and Time machine) is flawed so I use various encrypted disk images with some of the passwords saved in my login keychain and some in my head. This makes my data secure from theft (secure virtual memory is enabled) and it also makes my backups secure onsite or not. I have several images to keep them small so that the Time Machine incremental backups don't blow out my backup space quickly. And then the usuals (screen saver locks the machine, password required, no automatic logins) and not so usuals (all my machines are tethered to large pieces of furniture including my external backup drives, some of which are sequestered in odd places in my house and connected over a WPA network).

Video Games - I got into computers, and my career with my love for computer games. I've owned most computer game systems (and currently have a PS3Wii, and a XBox 360). My favorite gaming device for games other than driving games is the desktop. For many years that was the Wintel platform. Now with OSX and Bootcamp its my MacPro running WindowsXP (Vista is a failure) (I just finished Crysis before the holidays). I like the First Person Shooter (FPS) types, but have been spending time with World of Warcraft over the last few years. Its hard to beat the cost for the amount of play time that you get from the MMORPGs. I dont like the FPS genre much against the online community since I dont have the time to become proficient against human opponents.


Sean said...

Are you having any problems with updating email on SyncYourMail? I am using the free trial at Synchronica and I am regular in situations where emails are not deleted or filed correctly. How has your experience been?

Rob said...

SyncYourMail hasn't worked for me and they have no claims about how they'll support the users. For now Synchronica still works for free in demo mode for me.

Also with Apple possibly announcing some Exchange support next week all this may just go away (lets hope so)

Sean said...

Rob -

Thank you for your feedback. I was actually using an iPod Touch to do this as my existing cell contract had not expired. If Apple extends the exchange software much longer, I will probably end up giving up waiting and go with something else. I am shocked that a company would introduce a smartphone without access to exchange.