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How I Use Dropbox

I know Dropbox has been around for ages, but many people like myself are only just discovering it, so I hope this post will help some other readers out there.

Dropbox is great for people like me who work in multiple locations, collaborate with others who work in multiple locations and use multiple computers and other devices like iPad and iPhone. It enables you to access your files easily from each location and keeps them in sync.

Basically, it syncs your files off site in some realm that is apparently known as “The Cloud”.

Here is how I’m using it:

As of this year, when working from home, I’m saving all my work related documents into dropbox, which appears as just another folder on my computer. Its easy – instead of going to My Documents, then my Work folder, I just go to Dropbox then to a folder I have created called Work.

When I get to work and need to access those files, I just go to my dropbox folder and open them up. It looks just the same at work as it does at home. Any changes I make to them at work automatically sync, so when I get back to my computer at home the changes are there.

Its so much better than emailing files back and forth, or carrying them on a data stick. That was an extra step that would take some time and sometimes the size of the file was too big for email. Other times our work email system would do weird things – like mail disappearing into the ether for a few days before appearing again in the account.

I’ve also found data sticks problematic – I forget to take them with me, I’ll lose them, and one of them became corrupted which meant all the data on it was useless. I often end up with multiple copies of files saved under the same name, and it becomes difficult to keep track of what is the most relevant and up to date version.

As well as enabling me to sync files smoothly between home, work and my ipad and iphone, Dropbox enables me to collaborate with colleagues more easily.

As teachers, we all work in separate locations – from our various homes and when at school, from our various classrooms. I’ve created some folders in my dropbox which I share with colleagues. They can accesss the documents I’ve created, add their own documents and make modifications to anything in the folder.

Right now from our separate homes my colleagues and I are collaborating on a book for our parent information evening this Thursday. I am writing the section for literacy, and my colleagues are writing about numeracy and sport. Instead of having to bring our separate parts in to work and merge them together, we can create it all at the same time.

The other great thing about it is that it is free – well the first 2 gigabites are anyway, and as you invite more people to join dropbox, your free storage space increases to a maximum of 8 gigabites.

I might not be able to use that free storage space to back up everything on my computer, but its more than enough for my work based needs.

If you want more information about Dropbox you can visit their website here.

Tilt Shift Photography App for iPhone and iPad

During the holidays I’ve been having fun experimenting with photography apps. One of my favourites is Tilt Shift which allows you to manipulate wide angle photos to make them appear as if they are miniature models rather than real scenes.

The app is easy to use and gives you control of blurring, colour intensity, contrast and light. Blurring the background can make the photo appear more like a macro, and raising the colour intensity seems to mimic the bright colours that model makers use to paint their models. Adjusting contrast and light increase the toy like effect.

I like the fact that unlike other photography apps, this one gives you complete control over the effects rather than just applying a predesigned filter. You can be more creative and have a real sense of satisfaction if your picture turns out well.

I’ve tilt shifted three photos so far.

I think I turned the brightness up too far on my first two attempts, but I’m happier with my Tobermory effort.

There are some fantastic examples of tilt shift online. This site has some of the best.

I’ve really been enjoying playing around with photography apps this summer. If you are reading this and know of a good one, I’d love to know your recommendations.

A Photo A Day

My photography skills are poor. I  point and shoot without much planning , I often find there is a finger over the lens, the horizon is all crooked, or the composition is just lousy. The only way to improve is to practise – which is why I’ve resolved to take a picture a day this year.

I’ve been taking all my shots on my  iPhone 3g. It’s convenient and I usually have it with me.  The camera isn’t very good, but inspite of its limitations – or perhaps because of them, clever and creative people seem to be able to use it to take some amazing and memorable images. Filters and editing tools help, and there are numerous available on the app store, many for free. Recently I’ve been having a lot of fun with Camera Bag and Instagram.

I’ve started a daily photoblog which you can visit by clicking on the image below.

 water lillies

New Years Resolutions

I do love making New Year Resolutions. I take my time with them and often spend much of January figuring them out.It’s possibly not really the best time for that, as I’m on holiday and therefore have all this time on my hands – once I return towork many of the resolutions seem a little difficult to maintain.

This is my list so far:

1. Bake my own bread. This came in part as a result of our trip to Ireland last year. The bread was so delicious that it reminded me of how good home baked bread is. Its easy too, though you do have to commit to being home for half a day to keep an eye on rising dough, etc. The recipe I’ve had most success with so far is here:

2. Do a little Yoga every day. I really hate most forms of exercise, but I find yoga calming and like the strength and flexibility it brings. As soon as the school term recommences I plan to take up classes. In the meantime I’ve downloaded Yoga HD, an iPad app which is actually really good. You can put together your own routines out of a bank of around 200 asanas. It also has preprogrammed routines. I’ve been doing one of the 30 minute beginner workouts – and it’s hard work, but definitely effective for building up core strength. I’ve also been feeling it building up strength in my arms.

3. Take a photo every day. Well, I thought it could be fun to try and keep up with this – kind of like a visual diary. At the end of the year I want to put them together into some sort of presentation.

4. Take control of my finances. When I was younger and earning less, I needed a very restrictive budget just to make sure I had food in the cupboard – and sometimes I didn’t even have that. But in the past few years, I’ve moved into a much more comfortable position, and rebelling against the suffocating restrictions of earlier budgets, have been spending money like it’s air. I want something – I buy it. Its time to reign it all in and start taking control again. After all I’m not getting any younger – in my old age I don’t want to be living in poverty because I blew all my salary on cofffee, apps and other fluff. To do this,  I downloaded an app that syncs with my iPad and iPhone called Home Budget. There are a number of similar apps, but this had good reviews, and so far I’m very happy with it.

5. A late addition to my list: WordPress is running a ‘postaday’ and ‘postaweek’ challenge for 2011. I’ll be attempting to fulfil the post a week one.  So I guess, for the time being at least, you’ll be hearing a little more from me.

My iPad love affair continues

My iPad and I are celebrating our 2 month anniversary. Just after I purchased it, I blogged about my initial delight with it, and after 2 months, I am happy to say, the love affair is continuing. I’m starting to integrate it into my life more and more.

Work
Sadly, I have not found it to be of much assistance at work. If I could find a good database app that could somehow sync with Access, however, I would have a few more possibilities. As one of the few touch typists in my organization, I frequently take the minutes at our meetings and distribute them to staff. Our staffroom set up means I have my back to the meeting when I type at the computer. lately I’ve been enjoying sitting facing the meeting, rather than off in the corner while recording minutes using Pages. The iPad is light and doesn’t heat up like a laptop, so it’s easy to keep on my lap. I then email the minutes to work.

Occasionally I use Safari to check work emails, and of course I continue to use productivity apps like Evernote and Todo to help keep me organised, but apart from that, I haven’t found any uses for the iPad at work that couldn’t be achieved more easily using our desktop pcs.

Home

I’ve been keeping a journal for years, but my hand gets sore if I write too much, so I prefer typing. Journalling is not an activity I like to do on the computer. Its a reflective process which I like to do at a cafe, on the couch or in bed. I’ve been using Chapters, which allows me to keep more than one journal and is password protected.

The Stream To Me app, combined with RDesktop have made my recent sick days much more enjoyable. Using Stream To Me, I was able to watch several episodes of Mad Men, and then the movie “Dead Man” which I blogged about recently. When I ran out of things to watch, I could remotely contact my pc using RDesktop and download more video to its hard drive. I was quite pleased by Stream To Me’s ability to play .avi files. I’d heard it was unreliable, but they played very smoothly for me.

Borders continues to be my favourite e-reading app, mainly due to the greater variety of books accessible to Australian readers.

Finally, Movies by Flixter. This app requires wireless or 3G but it really is excellent. It provides a list of all the movies showing in your local area, the different cinemas and session times, as well as reviews from Rotten Tomatoes.

I was nearly a victim of a battle.net email phishing scam.

Yesterday I very nearly became the victim of an email phishing scam that attempted to steal my battle.net account. If it had succeeded, the fraudsters would not only have gained control of my account, but they would have had access to personal details such as my date of birth and home address, and possibly even my credit card payment details.

The thing is, I never expected to be one of those people who get taken in by these things. I’ve received fraudulent emails before, but they were always obvious, full of errors in spelling and grammar, and just sounding, well, dodgy. So it alarmed me how easily I was nearly fooled this time.

Here is how it worked:

I received an email, appearing to come from from Blizzard, informing me that they had ‘strong evidence’ my account was being illegally traded. It went on, using legalistic terms, to explain that my account was being investigated and might be closed. I would have to take action by logging into my account to verify that I am, indeed, the owner.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have been taken in by this if I hadn’t recently had difficulty accessing my account. I had tried to log in the day before using an iPad app but could only access limited areas. As a result I already had concerns which leant credibility to the scam.

I followed the link and was just about to log in to battle.net when I (thankfully) became suspicious. First I decided to log into battle.net through my favorites rather than the site I was directed to by the link. The site looked almost exactly the same. There were some additional links and icons on the genuine one. The URLs were also subtly different – battrd.net rather than battle.net – but you would only spot this if you were looking carefully.

At this point I examined the email more closely. Now that my suspicions were raised, I could see obvious flaws. For a start, the subject line was”battle.net survey”. This clearly had nothing to do with the serious nature of the contents. While it appeared to have been sent  from noreply@blizzard.com, a quick check at the top of the message, where the source is displayed in Outlook Express, showed that it was in fact sent from a a hotmail account behalf of   noreply@blizzard.com. Unfortunately, when I originally opened the message, I was using my iPad – which doesn’t appear to have an option for displaying the source information.

How to avoid being scammed.

A quick check at of the blizzard website revealed that this is a common scam. They recommend a number of measures to take to avoid becoming a victim. A useful article about how to identify a phishing scam is here.

Blizzard also recommend a few security measures. The most basic is to ensure that the phishing filter in your internet browser is switched on. I assumed mine would be by default; however when I checked, it turned out it was switched off.

To activate the filter in IE8 go to Tools. Select Smart Screen Filter then Turn on Smart Screen Filter. After doing this, I returned to the site the email directed me to, and the filter immediately popped up a bright red warning.

The second measure they recommend is to protect battle.net accounts by using an authenticator. This adds an extra layer of security as you have to enter a code, randomly generated by the authenticator, every time you log in. You can mail order an authenticator from Blizzard or download a free app from ITunes.

Further advice from Blizzard around account security can be found here.

However, the main reason I nearly fell for this scam was complacency. I’ve become so comfortable in the environment that I don’t take nearly as much care around security as I did when I started functioning in this online world. Once I started looking carefully, it became obvious the email was a fraud. For me this experience has been a useful wake-up call.

Loving the iPad

Yesterday I bought an iPad. The security guard who checked my bags as I left JB HiFi commented that it was an ” extravagant” purchase, and he was right. I really cannot justify spending money on this, except for the fact that I earned it and therefore can spend it how I please. And so, for the last 24 hours, I’ve been making the most of it.

The main application I thought I would use it for was as an ereader, but since I’ve had the iPad at home, I’ve been impressed by it’s potential in other areas. I DO use my phone to browse the net a lot at home. The computer is great, but I don’t always want to be sitting in front of it. The last two evenings I’ve enjoyed being able to just sit in front of the television, while following twitter feeds or checking imdb to find out what some of the actors who I recognize but cannot name may have done previously.

The case (purchased separately) enables the iPad to sit comfortably on my knees or the coffee table at a comfortable angle for browsing or typing.

Today I downloaded Pages and was so impressed by the interface that the iPad may well become my primary device for creating documents. The touch screen made the experience feel much more immediate, like writing on paper. There is no intermediary between me a the written product. I loved it’s tactile nature and the ease with which images and tables can be dragged around, resized or rotated using just one or two fingers. It was very Tom Cruise in Minority Report.

Some commentators complain about the onscreen keyboard. To be honest, for most applications I don’t think it is problematic; however, inputing a lot of text, as I am doing now, is certainly clumsier. I may be tempted to buy a wireless keyboard if I continue to write a lot.

I’ve also enjoyed it’s media applications. We don’t have a radio in our kitchen or bedroom. Today I enjoyed streaming digital radio via Pocket Tunes. I could do this with my iPhone as well, but it’s good to be able to listen without headphones.

I downloaded the iPad version of Words with Friends. It was so much easier to play scrabble on the larger screen, and once again i could do this while lounging on the couch.

Finally, I acquired the ‘WordPress’ app. And here I am in bed, updating my blog.

So, my initial verdict is that it was money well spent. I love to be able to work on the couch or in bed as I am now. I prefer it to a laptop as it is less bulky and more comfortable to engage with.