Computers

Dropbox: A new way to sync, store, and share your files online


Dropbox is a free online facility that allows you to share files across a number of computers. This is useful where a number of people need to be able to access the files. It also creates a form of backup which when combined with something such as Apple’s Time Machine is quite robust.

The free facility is quite useful although you are able to upgrade if you run out of space.

I’ve just had a great example of why I think Dropbox is so great. I needed the logo that sits beside this text but it was on my laptop rather than the iMac that I am working on so, I dropped the file into my Dropbox and hey presto the file is available to this Mac and all the other computers that I have Dropbox synced to.
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Michael Bierut and ‘Helvetica’ Period

Michael Bierut

Michael Bierut studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, graduating summa cum laude in 1980. Prior to joining Pentagram in 1990 as a partner in the firm’s New York office, he worked for ten years at Vignelli Associates, ultimately as vice president of graphic design.

Did you backup? Don’t Learn the Hard Drive Way

backup

Some years ago I learnt the hard way (so many comments, so little time). I was trying to rationalise my flakey backup routine which was based around two external hard drives. Well that’s not sounding too bad is it? Yes, but the problem was that there was no real structure to the backup. Some files were duplicated on both, some weren’t. All a bit messy, so I decided to tidy it up by making one good backup with everything that I needed which I would then copy onto the second drive. Still not sounding too bad, but the problem was I securely wiped the second drive. No not with baby-wipes silly, I erased and reformatted the drive, and then we had a thunderstorm. I lived in a cottage where the electricity came into the house through overhead lines. One storm took out my modem and the other hard-drive, yep that’s right the one that I had just got neat and tidy, the one with everything on it. Abso-bloody-lutely everything that I had ever done on a computer was now inaccessible.
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Welcome to The Ever Expanding Pit of Possibilities

OK, in the early days of search engines an understanding of Boolean searches was useful. Nowadays things have moved on greatly and search engines provide increasingly complex ways of refining searches. How useful these are is debatable if people are unaware of them or don’t understand how to use them?

Are We Human?

It constantly amazes me when I am working with people the amount of apparently technologically adept people who use the Google entry field as the browser address bar. Doh…

Some basics,

  • Website names such as www.designcredo.com are called URLs. These are like pointers to the website that you are looking for.
  • Search engines are tools to help you find suitable URLs
  • Search engines are generally used if you don’t know the URL
  • If you do know the URL you may as well type it into the address bar at the top of the browser window.
  • Most of the time you won’t need to type in the ‘www’ bit or even the ‘http://’ for that matter

Very occasionally you may be trying to access a page that Google (or another search engine) doesn’t actually know about. If you type this page’s address into Google you won’t find it although it actually exists.

But the bottom line is that we are human, we use things in a way that wasn’t intended and being human lots of people do fundamentally similar human things. This then leads me to the advanced search capabilities of search engines.

“UOK” “Yeah GR8″

Most schools use a Proxy Server to protect our little sweethearts from the evils of the interweb and most of the evil little sweethearts know how to get round the Proxy Servers mainly to access mind-numbingly dull games or to engage in fascinatingly tedious little conversations across a classroom.

I have walked into a class full of angels searching in Russian, and why is this you may ask. Well in Somerset the darlings were protected from the evils of Google Image searches but only the UK Google site was blocked, so the students would “Поиск в Google” by entering the search into Google.ru.

However few of these treasures would really know how to do an advanced search in spite of my interventions and to that extent I failed to engage them further.

The Ever Expanding Pit of Possibilities

Recently both Yahoo and Google have added tools to aid searches. Yahoo has a Search Assist box that appears in near-real-time giving you alternative search suggestions to that which you have entered. You may be forgiven for thinking that far from refining your ability to find something you may be tempted into the ever expanding Pit of Possibilities, who am I to comment?

Google on the other hand offer a range of tools that help you to refine your search. This appears on the left hand of the browser window.

Perhaps the first of these options that we should examine in the UK at least is the UK option. If we are looking for a UK based product or service it may worth filtering out the rest of the world.

What about if I had managed to miss Wimbledon altogether and wanted to find out who won the Men’s finals yesterday. Maybe looking for search results in the last 24hrs would help and that is exactly what Google offers here.

You get the idea I am sure.

What Worries Me Is…

Many years ago as a psychology student a friend designed a blindingly simple memory experiment, asking people to say what was on the back of a 50p piece (the side not represented by royalty). Remarkably few people could say what was there, the theory was that (being human) they had habituated to it and filtered it out.

So for me there is an awkward question to be answered. Are these search tools made for run of the mill humans? Are they understood, are they even seen (or do we habituate to them).

I ride motorbikes, my leathers have knee sliders to help me go round corners better. In my dreams the only time I will ‘get me knee down’ is just before ‘getting knicked but the police.

The reality is that the only time I ‘get me knee down’ is just before I ‘fall off me bike’.

Apple, leaving the past behind?

As a professional user, Adobe products clearly have great strengths but anyone who uses a product on a day-to-day basis will know their weaknesses. Adobe and Apple were very strong partners in the early days of DTP, the PDF format has grown hugely since that time. Recently though, even the PDF print option, once a great strength of Macs has become fragile and unpredictable.

I remember with sadness the demise of Macromedia, there were strong products in the collection: Fireworks (always cranky), Dreamweaver, Freehand and of course Flash.

I have been appalled at the behaviour of Dreamweaver CS4 on a Mac but continue to use it. InDesign is a powerful tool, it has been good to give Quark some competition. However I can’t honestly say that CS4 has impressed.

Below are Steve Jobs’ conclusions about Flash from an extensive letter on the Apple site.

Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice. Flash is a successful business for Adobe, and we can understand why they want to push it beyond PCs. But the mobile era is about low power devices, touch interfaces and open web standards – all areas where Flash falls short.

The avalanche of media outlets offering their content for Apple’s mobile devices demonstrates that Flash is no longer necessary to watch video or consume any kind of web content. And the 200,000 apps on Apple’s App Store proves that Flash isn’t necessary for tens of thousands of developers to create graphically rich applications, including games.

New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.

Steve Jobs
April, 2010

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