Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How I digitized my life

As a follow up to the previous post explaining why it's a good idea to digitize your life I figured I would follow that up with how I've digitized my life.
  • Mail - I just use Google Mail. It's simply the best solution out there as far as I can tell. I now have over 100k emails archived and I can search all of it in the blink of an eye. You just can beat it. Also if you signed up for extra storage before they introduced Google Drive they provided you with 20GB of storage that is shared over all the Google services (Google Drive, Picasa, Google+, Mail, Docs etc...)for $5 a year. As long as you are grand fathered in it seems that you get to keep that price which is quite simply unbeatable.
  • Photos - I use Google+ and Picasa. These are basically just two different interfaces to the same underlying service. First of all since Google already knows everything about me already since they have all my mails I don't think them having my photos will reveal much more about me. It allows me to download full resolution versions of the photos and it also allows you easy access to download the entire blob of all your photos as an archive should I ever want to leave. Finally with the combination of the two online interfaces, the Android Google+ app and the desktop Picasa application any kind of administration of my thousands of photos are always a snap. Finally for the love of god get a phone with a decent camera if you use your phone camera a lot!
  • Computer Backups - As I mentioned in my preivous post I use Crashplan. They are very cheap, have a Linux, OSX & Windows clients and provides unlimited storage (I currently back up around 10TB of storage to them). They also provide backup sets with different priorities so that your important stuff is always up to date if somehow it gets a bit behind on the backup.
  • Password Management - I use Lastpass. It is a really nice solution that also integrates right into the browser even on Android. It is also completely "trust no one" where no unencrypted data ever leaves your system (Lastpass themselves are not able to look at your data at any point during them providing you their service). It's free except for when you want to use it on mobile devices and then I think they charge something like $12 per year. If you are interested in a technical deep dive into how Lastpass works check out this Security Now episode.
  • Books - This is a tricky one because no matter what you chose you will be locked into one vendor and switching to another one will most likely mean that you will no longer have access to your old books. I decided to go with the Amazon Kindle. The reason being that first of all they are really good at being available on any conceivable platform. Doesn't matter if it is PC, Android, iOS, Metro or whatever else you can think of. Chances are there is a Kindle application for it. Their app is also really good on any platform and Amazon seems unlikely to go away anytime soon. They also seem to have the largest catalog of books compared to any of their competitors from what I've seen. Finally their dedicated hardware is dirt cheap and really, really good!
  • International Calling - I use either Google Voice or Skype. Skype I use mainly for it's video calling which is really neat. Google Voice though is a really cool service that integrates seamlessly into your Android phone and provides you free texting to any US phone number and also ridiculously cheap international calling (Way cheaper than Skype when calling real numbers).
  • Address Book I use the one provided by Google. It integrates nicely with GMail, Android & Google Voice. It also works fine with iOS devices for those so inclined.
  • Cloud Storage I use Google Drive. They have all the features I need and with the $5/year for 25GB deal I have nobody will be able to touch them on price. Also this service haven't suffered any of the embarrassing security issues that Dropbox have been plagued with.
  • Blogging - I use Blogger for blogging. It's a nice platform that is still actively developed and since I use Google for my photos it integrates nicely with Blogger. I also find it a lot easier to use than for instance WordPress.
  • Online Presence - I use to catalog all the services that I use and which you can get hold of me on.
  • Music, TV & Movies - I've actually rolled my own. It is based on XBMC and Google Jukebox and has been an ongoing project that I first started working on all the way back in 1995. The one feature that this system has that no other service I have seen has is a unique listening history analysis that is used to generate random play lists based on music that I am currently in to. That is what is used to generate my monthly media charts. It all runs off of a server that I have that runs dual redundancy RAID-6 and for the really important stuff runs mirroring on top of that.
  • Mobile Music - Here I have also rolled my own. Currently I only support Android since that is what I use. It supports both streaming and offline playing with delayed syncing of listening history to my home system and also allows me to stream or play offline all my podcasts, lectures and audio books. I currently don't support streaming my TV & movies, but I am plan on adding that soon.
  • Music Recommendations - I use Last.FM. I have set up my own music system to "scrobble" to Last.FM so that it will give me recommendations on new music based on what I am currently listening to on my own music system. Every once in a while I also listen to Pandora, but it is getting less and less as I am moving over to Last.FM.
  • News Reading - I use Google Reader. This is just a basic RSS reader, but it has a ready nice interface and it's basically the only way I currently read stuff online. I hardly never just open a website and browse it's contents unless I am looking for something specific anymore.
  • Project Management - For my private projects I use Pivotal Tracker. It's an awesome service in general and as long as there is only one collaborator it is free.
  • Revision handling - For source code I use Git in combination with BitBucket. I recently upgraded to this from Subversion and it is so much better, even if in my case I don't have a distributed environment and only have one contributor to my projects.
  • Service Backups - I need these since I don't trust any of the cloud services that I use (Not because they are bad, just because I am paranoid). I have backups of all my important services using Backupify except for Lastpass and Google Drive. They had some problems when I got started with the sheer size of my GMail account, but the problems seem to have been worked out now. Depending on the size of what you want backed up they are either free or relatively cheap.
  • Health & Fitness - First off I have a WiFi enabled Withings Body Scale that automatically graphs your weight and body fat on a web page as you weigh yourself on it. It also has ton of apps to show it (My TV even has an app that can show it). I then use Endomondo to most of my exercise although I am evaluating possibly switching over to RunKeeper. Both services have really nice smart phone apps and they also both integrate with my scale so you can graph your weight and exercise in the same chart. I've also considered using a Bodybugg. It seems really cool but I don't want to sit down and start counting the calories in everything I eat (I also don't really care for having another monthly fee).
  • Personal Finances - I use Mint which is a really nice and easy to use service that allows you to see how much money you are spending and earning and even though I have quite complicated finances I haven't found a single US financial institution that I use that they don't support. It also allows you to set up a budget and has tons of other features that I am not using. Even better the service is completely free. Another nice site is Credit Karma that will give you your credit score as often as you like for free. Also the site Quizzle will give you your complete credit report twice a year for free with no credit card required. Finally I do my taxes using the online version of TurboTax.
  • Online Automation - Something that is becoming more important as there are more and more services you might want to have a presence on for instance Google+, Facebook and Twitter. In my case whenever I post something on my blog I want it to show up everywhere. For this I use the really cool site IFTTT which stands for If This Then That. It's just a simple way of setting up triggers and actions that should happen when they are triggered.

One common thread you might notice is how I have basically signed my life away to Google. This is true, but even if all of Google went down tomorrow due to my service backup I would still keep all of my data even if it would be a serious pain in the ass trying to set everything back up again. The key is that there should never be a single point of failure that can cause any loss of data except for the very recent stuff not yet duplicated.

Also you might notice that Facebook is not in the list for anything. I obviously use Facebook, but because of their tendency to try their best to lock you and your data in I don't really trust it with anything really important. I just don't trust that the data will be there in 20 years from now and they don't provide me with any easy functionality for getting the raw data out of it in case I would need to at some point. Photo's being a perfect example where as far as I know there is no way to get the photo back in the original resolution at all after being posted even for the person who posted the photo.

Also one thing that is important is that you actively use your services so that if something happens to a service you try to move to a new service as fast as possible. Usually there is some sort of migration solution available if a service is sunset, but the longer you wait the less likely it is that this is still available and working if you don't jump on it as soon as possible.

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