Friday, September 14, 2007

Online and offline laptop usage

it's distressing to find how reliant I am on my laptop and the internet, and how readily I equate the two. I take ready access to online storage and apps for granted, and find myself crippled by not being able to yank something from flickr, or pull up a google doc, or look it up in wikipedia. I need to keep reminding myself that the kids who get the laptops will by and large be in the same situation, and that i've been spoiled by the last four years of being immersed in outlets and wifi and other people with lots of laptops around.

So as best I can through the finicky wireless I can only access at night in the hotel while my family sleeps, I've been trying to restructure my digital life to get around this. Rough steps:

  1. My laptop is a tool, not my life. All the same, it's an immensely powerful tool, and I love using it to keep lists, take notes, and so on... my usage of my laptop is limited by access to power; I ration my battery now. I wish I had a human-powered charging option for this thing.
  2. My laptop happens to have the ability to access the internet... sometimes. Offline caching, composing, etc. is handy. All my email is now downloaded for offline use. Think in batches of things to send, download, read, etc.
  3. My computer should do merging and syncing, not me. Set up scripts to automatically sync up online and offline versions of important things (I had merging working with my local and online dokuwiki install for one glorious day, then it mysteriously borked - still trying to track that one down) and to do things like automatically send/receive emails when it detects the siren song of wireless.
  4. Back up! While you're at it, make your computer sync to an external flash drive. Or at least the important bits - I've got a thumb to hold my email and wikipages-to-upload, and a 120gb flash to back up my entire laptop hard drive.
  5. There exists something called paper. It's useful. I usually go through notebooks pretty fast, but I'm discovering just how fast... I need to review that shorthand cheat sheet Boris gave me again, because my hand is cramping up in protest.
  6. There exists something called memory. The organic, brain-based kind. It's useful. It's harder to upload to the 'net automatically, though. Much of my backlog is "well great, I know exactly what I need to type for all these, but it takes a bloody long time to type them."
  7. There exists something called life. It is present away from the computer. It's pretty cool.

Yeah, it's often annoying, since I'm still getting used to the switch. The reason I liked webapps is because I didn't need to worry about keeping stuff on my hard drive, being conscientious about backups, and so on. I like outsourcing. I did it a ton for info/data storage. (I should do it more for work.) So trying to download everything I need late at night is a bit of a pain. Should have done this when I was swimming in internet.

One big missing piece is a sane way to read and contribute to wikis offline. I suppose I could nab the offline image of - for instance - the OLPC wiki daily for browsing, and store my edits in a text file, but that's a lot of bandwidth to download unless there's a clever way to do a diff - like through Recent Changes - and it's also a hassle to merge my changes back up into the proper pages. I really can't wait to see Mako's thesis on this.

Okay. I'm exhausted. Bed.

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