Saturday, April 05, 2014

Why I've settled on Google Drive

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I was having "fun" with Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive (formally SkyDrive) trying to come up with something that would work on my mobile and desktop machines, and that wasn't going to kill me for cost.

In the interim I switched from my Moto X to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (and was surprised how much more useful I found the note) as well as the pricing changes Google made. The Note came with an offer that got me up to 50 gigs on Dropbox, I had 100 gigs on SkyDrive/OneDrive thanks to the Bing promotion and having purchased a year subscription to Office 365, and Google Drive lowered their price for 100 Gigs to something I could afford.

More to the point, I also found software for my Android (Autosync for Google Drive) that would let me choose Google Drive folders to sync automagically between the Note and the online Drive.

With all that, I finally have a mobile solution that works, that ensures I have things I need to have with me actually with me, doesn't try to sync things I don't need to have everywhere, and lets me control how often I sync to certain devices to make sure I don't blow my data plan out of the water.

The killer for Dropbox was that I knew that next year I probably couldn't afford their charges to renew, and their privacy policies make me nervous about storing anything long term there anyway. I really wanted OneDrive to work since I didn't have to have an additional app to sync it, and I know I will be renewing Office next year anyway. But their lack of ability to sort by directory or file name (I still can't figure out how that couldn't be HARDER to program that way) made it too difficult to use with any long directory of documents or files.

So I'm even more tightly coupled to the Google train these days. I'm not sure that's a great thing, but given my needs, it at least is a workable thing.

Monday, March 31, 2014

My MH370 Theory

OK, so we have a plane that changed direction, flew over several interesting areas, but as far as we can tell did not land in any of them.

So lets say I wanted to get a plane down, but put it somewhere no one would think to look That rules out anywhere that has a landing strip even close to long enough to land a 777. And if I try to land on too short a strip I might destroy the very thing I've gone to some trouble to obtain.

So how about I ditch it in the water, and then tow it to shore? Much easier to drag a plane by tug to a small deserted island for retro fitting, than to be limited to some place where I can put a landing strip long enough to land on the usual way. Probably a lot easier to disguise when bringing it in too.

And the total silence would then make sense. No reason to brag about part 1 of a two part plan on the hijackers side, no reason for any government to talk about it either if they don't know where the plane and passengers are. Or maybe they do and they are negotiating while trying to keep quiet that they are negotiating?

At least I think this stands up to a bit better scrutiny than the micro black hole theory I read elsewhere...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Dropbox, One Drive, and Google Drive - The M is for Mobile...

Alert readers will note that none of those services have an M. Hopefully that helps drive home that none of them are yet mobile friendly.

I can almost give Microsoft a pass given how recently they introduced the mobile version of their service, but Dropbox has been around forever and Google is the owner of Android for goodness sake.

In Dropbox you still (several years after the request was first made) can not favorite a directory - only individual files. Nice way to eat through a chunk of data having to call the file down again and again. Also I have not been able to figure a way to get Dropbox to let me use an external program to open the images short of exporting them (one by one) to my SD card.

Google Drive gives you more options for syncing, but does try to convert most files (yes you can override, but that is it's own pain), and I have yet to have a multi-Gig upload of subdirectories actually finish copying without the transfer choking around the 1 Gig mark even though I have close to 10 Gigs free.

One Drive can be setup to sync on a folder basis, but has no option to sort the directories. That seems like an even bigger miss as it means I have to search to find the real file one, then search for file two, then...

Seriously, with mobile taking the center stage, how can all these services that are supposed to augment the mobile experience suck so bad? How do you miss a feature as simple as allowing someone to sort by name?

Feel free to leave suggestions for any alternate services I might not be aware of in the comments.

Milk - The M is for Music

If you haven't already heard, Samsung has borrowed (copied) a page out of Nokia's playbook and started their own new music service - Milk. I wasn't surprised to see it worked on my Note 3, but was very pleasantly surprised to see it also works on my "burner" phone - an older Galaxy Exhibit 4G.

The Milk service runs on top of Slacker, and so the music catalog has the same breadth (and occasional omission) you will find there. However the service also has the lovely feature of having no ads. So it's like the best of Spotify without the premium charge.

Even better (in my not so humble opinion) you do have a DJ on every couple of songs to give you a bit of the backstory for the song. So it's like having the best of Alt Nation without the Sirius XM subscription. More importantly also without any chance of running into Madison.

So if you own a recent Samsung phone, you should definitely check the service out. A future upgrade is supposed to add the Slacker feature of letting you cache a station on your device for off-internet usage which will let my next West Texas road trip a much more pleasant journey.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Easy E-Rider - A Guide to Bicycle Commuting for an EBike Rider

Having been doing this for several months now, I thought it was about time to share some of my tips and tricks for folks who might be planning to commute to work or school on a daily basis. Much of this would also apply to folks who are not using a powered bike, but you should keep in mind that making that choice could affect the priority of some of these things.

Tip 1 - You want a "Walk Through" or "Step in" frame
Once upon a time bicycles were referred to as being "Male" or "Female" models based on whether there was the high bar crossing at the top of the frame or not. In an ebike (as well as a bike for anyone of a certain age) you are going to want one where you can slip forward and not land on a cross bar. This makes it easier to get on the bike if you are wearing a rain suit, carrying a backpack (hopefully not), and so on.

Tip 2 - Try to get a Commuter Bike, not a Racer
If you are going to be commuting, you want a bike with wide tires, a strong frame, and thorn resistant tubes. You don't want to have a bump in the road throw you off, and you don't want to have to try and change a tire in the middle of rush hour traffic. A Gatorskin tire from Continental or the like is probably what you want here.

Tip 3 - It's ALL about the battery
When you are looking at ebikes to buy, you want to find one where the battery can be easily removed. I am a big fan of the ones where it is mounted just below a rear rack, but anything where it can easily be brought inside with you is good. You will find the bike is a lot less appealing to thieves if the battery is out, and given that the DC motor and the battery are about 2/3 the price of the bike it also lessens the financial hit.

Obviously it's easier to recharge if you can bring the battery in as well. I have a charger at work and a charger at home. It's much simpler not having to carry a charger around with you, and it's also easier that I don't have to find somewhere to plugin in the parking lot at work.

Related to this tip, you need to plan with the battery in mind. IOW, you are going to want to make sure that the length of your ride and your battery specs align. An ebike is a lot of fun in part because you can be in less than the best shape, and still keep up with other cyclists. It also turns hills into a bit of work rather than a soul-stealing exercise grind. The minute you have to pedal the bike with NO assist from the battery, you will find that all the extra weight to make the bike more comfortable and help it carry a larger load becomes an anchor. You do not (!!!) want to hit the last hill near home and have the battery die halfway up the hill while it's dark and cars are speeding past you.

I personally suggest a system that uses at least a 36V Li-on battery, and would suggest looking at the newer 48V ones if your pocketbook can handle it.

Tip 4 - It's ALL about the battery - continued
I'm separating this one out because this is more about how you lengthen your ride and conserve battery power. On many bikes you have the option to use either a throttle control or a pedal assist. In Pedal assist the bike generally is providing 50% power along the whole ride. In Throttle assist you control how much power you are using. I am a fan of Throttle control because I've found that I can let off the throttle on even the slightest incline, and coast or pedal easily a good distance. This means that for every quarter mile or more that you can coast you are going to get at least a quarter mile more range. Now that DOES require you to actually let off the throttle completely. I have found little difference in mileage from my battery between holding the throttle at 50% and mashing it to 100%.

In the same vein, I always (!) pedal when I first start up as a good bit of battery often goes toward getting the bike up to speed. On some hills as the bike really gets bogged down, pedaling as well as using the throttle will get you both a little more speed and a fair bit more range.

Tip 5 - Your cycling gear
This is one that holds true for any commuter. I strongly recommend a light riding "suit" that is waterproof and that can go over your clothes as your outer shell. It should be bright and as much reflective material as you can get. I went with a Nelson-Rigg Stormrider suit for the "coat" and then substituted GloWear rain pants for the pants that came with the N-R suit. This makes me hard to miss in the early morning, and wearing the rain pants even if it isn't wet will protect your pants from any splashes off the road from other puddles. The wind breaking will also help you stay a little warmer.

To augment this in the winter months (wet or dry but no snow) I have a pair of Touchscreen gloves and a DeWalt Heated Jacket. The DeWalt uses the same battery as many of their powered tools, and the other power tool makers offer similar jackets. The point is that it keeps your core warm. In the DeWalt case it also offers the ability to recharge your USB devices.

On the front of the bike I bought a Bell Dawn Patrol LED headlight, and on the back I have a wireless turn signal (Buztronics). I also have a couple wrap on rear lights to help with early morning visibility.

My bike came with panniers, and I would recommend a good set as a way to carry stuff back and forth. Whatever you get, you want something that is at least water resistant and where you can buckle or tie down the flaps. I do NOT recommend using a backpack as it can throw off your balance, particularly if it shifts while you're leaning into a curve or having to make a quick maneuver.

Tip 6 - Planning your trip and the first two rides
Google Maps has a nice bicycling option I suggest you use to get ideas for what your route should be. Pick the one that looks like it will have the longest stretches on a bike path or quiet street. Once you've done that, try driving the route (if possible) looking for any sketchy intersections or other issues that might make you want to reroute. Try to keep an eye on the bike path (if there is one) to see if it's separated from the cars, if it appears to be in good shape, and if it is relatively clean.

I personally suggest that you then make your first ride on a weekend. This should let you get a feel for how the bike handles when there is less traffic, as well as help you make sure that your battery will get you all the way there on a single charge. Since most batteries need 2+ hours to charge, make sure there is somewhere to eat near where your office or school is, and then make the ride back. For many people the ride back will be on a different path due to different traffic patterns. So you really do want to make the ride and not just have someone pick you up.

Finally on your first "real" ride in, be sure to leave extra early. Even with all your prep you will find things you need to do differently with the real traffic patterns and possible changes in performance due to it likely being cooler in the morning. Similarly try to make sure that you leave a little early the first day on your return ride so you aren't getting flustered if it takes longer or you have to adjust your trail.

Tip 7 - Keeping things running smooth
If you've done all this, then the one more thing you want to do is to keep everything working smoothly. You won't be using your chain too much, so the usual tips for keeping it lubricated would probably be overkill. However I do recommend taking your bike into your local bike shop at least twice a year to make sure everything is tensioned properly, that the chain is in good shape, and especially to have them check out your tires. I can't stress enough that you really don't want a flat during a commute.

When it comes to the battery, if you are using a Li-on type (as you should be), the trick is to make sure you are at least discharging it 50% each day. On a short ride that might mean not recharging during the day. Most newer batteries have a lifecycle of 600 - 1000 charges. That translates to 2-3 years, and given the cost of a new battery you may well decide it's almost as cheap to buy a new bike when the time comes. That's a little easier if you're not replacing it every year due to the battery losing it's ability to charge early.

Hopefully this will encourage you to get out there and ride, or at least make sure you're safe if you do so!