Beyond DropBox and into the Cloud 

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Far from simplifying my life, technology has actually made it more complex. I have three email addresses, three contact lists, computers at work and at home with all kinds of files, five different types of music and movie players and probably five different browsers on the go with bookmarks and history scattered between a tablet, my wife's phone and two computers. I have a hard drive full of information from an old home Apple that won't sync with my PC laptop at home. I have Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, etc. I have thousands of articles and pieces of writing to archive. Thousands of photographs and songs, and hundreds of videos. I also have hundreds of other files on Google Docs, which I occasionally download to my laptop to back them up.

This is where the cloud makes things incredibly useful.

I have the free DropBox account, which has proved hugely valuable. But unfortunately it's limited to 2GB of space, unless I go and recruit all my friends to DropBox and get a few incremental increases as my reward.

I've been toying with the idea of going pro, which is $99 per year for 50GB of space. I could store most, if not all of my stuff that way and even share with my wife to make it more economical. Or I could get an account at SugarSync and get 60GB for the same $99.

The other brilliant idea I heard recently through a friend was to sign up for all the free cloud services out there — DropBox (2GB free), SugarSync (5GB free), iCloud (Mac only and most features are free), Box (5GB free), SkyDrive (up to 25GB free), etc. — and use them for different things. For example, DropBox could be used for work files as it currently has the largest user base and if you're sharing files with people chances are they've already got it. SugarSync could be for videos, Box for music and SkyDrive could be for personal documents, photos and scans, backups, etc.

The only drawback to this plan is that not all cloud services work the same. Some sync with files on your desktop and can be accessed through computers and devices, while others have to be accessed through the web. They all share differently. You'd also have to download several different apps for every computer and device, including devices with limited storage, and spend a lot of time archiving your data so it's exactly the way you want.

And if those free storage options ever close down or start charging then it's going to be a pain in the ass to move all your stuff.

Of course the simplest solution should be to get a thumb drive for all your really important files and manually sync your data between computers. You can get 16GB for $20 these days, and because they're so small you can keep two or three on a keychain for pretty much all of your files with no bandwidth hogging uploads or downloads required. However, most devices — tablets, phones, etc. — don't have USB ports, which pretty much kills that idea. CloudFTP, when it's released, solves that problem with a wireless solution but it means carrying the CloudFTP device and a hard drive with you to get your files.

Maybe, given the alternatives, $99 a year isn't so bad...

Book Warehouse closes its doors

These days my relationship with the Internet is love-hate. I use it. I love it. But it's quickly destroying a lot of once viable industries, putting tens of thousands — and maybe hundreds of thousands — of people out of work.

The Vancouver Book Warehouse chain is only the latest casualty of the digital age, announcing last week that it would be closing stores after 32 years in business. That news comes on the heels of closures at Blockbuster, Rogers Video, Borders in the U.S., Virgin Music and a lot of great music stores both independent and chain-owned. For every job it creates the Internet seems to destroy 10.

All kinds of small and independent retailers that deal in hard goods are also victims, as any customer with a phone can walk in and scan a barcode, then price the item at a dozen different other stores in a matter of seconds — including chain stores and online stores that brick and mortar stores just can't compete with. People still do care about service, and smart retailers are the ones that take steps to hide bar codes, but it's a bleak time in a lot of ways for a lot of industries — including my own.

Goodbye Book Warehouse. I think I still have a gift card somewhere with $25 on it — that I hope they spend on beer for their last staff party.

The most useful program ever?

My mouse stopped working recently, which means that I've been condemned to using the trackpad on my laptop. One minute I'll be typing in one place, then look up and realize that I'm typing wherever I last happened to leave the cursor.

Enter my new favourite program, Trackpad Blocker (trackspad-blocker.com) which freezes the trackpad while you're typing for any length of time that you set, like half a second. Accidental palm clicks are a thing of the past.

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