We interrupt this blog for a reminder from a veteran

As many of you know, I am a veteran. I wore the uniform of the United States Air Force for six years, and did so proudly. While I was not deployed to Iraq in the first Gulf War, I was active duty and I could have been. I joined up knowing we were headed for a conflict with Saddam and his, at the time, fourth largest army in the world. So every year on Memorial Day, I think about the oath I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, and how we’re all doing with that.

My dad and I agree on a lot of things, and we were equally vociferous in our opposition of Bush 43 and his administration’s reckless disregard of the Constitution. But while I think the anti-immigration sentiment that led to Arizona’s unconstitutional “papers, please” law is fundamentally unAmerican, he thinks we need to get rid of all these “illegals” who are wrecking his country. This morning, he sent me this.

This is very interesting and if Arizona can do it, why can’t the rest of America ?
Three cheers for Arizona
The shoe is on the other foot and the Mexicans from the State of Sonora,  Mexico doesn’t like it.   Can you believe the nerve of these people?  It’s almost funny.
The State of Sonora is angry at the influx of Mexicans into Mexico . Nine state legislators from the Mexican State of Sonora traveled to Tucson to complain about Arizona ‘s new employer crackdown on illegals from Mexico .
It seems that many Mexican illegals are returning to their hometowns and the officials in the Sonora state government are ticked off.
A delegation of nine state legislators from Sonora was in Tucson on Tuesday to state that Arizona ‘s new Employer Sanctions Law will have a devastating effect on the Mexican state.
At a news conference, the legislators said that Sonora, – Arizona’s southern neighbor, – made up of mostly small towns, – cannot handle the demand for housing, jobs and schools that it will face as Mexican workers return to their hometowns from the USA without jobs or money.
The Arizona law, which took effect Jan. 1, punishes Arizona employers who knowingly hire individuals without valid legal documents to work in the United States .
Penalties include suspension of, or loss of, their business license.
The Mexican legislators are angry because their own citizens are returning to their hometowns, placing a burden on THEIR state government. ‘How can Arizona pass a law like this?’ asked Mexican Rep Leticia Amparano-Gamez, who represents Nogales .
‘There is not one person living in Sonora who does not have a friend or relative working in Arizona ,’ she said, speaking in Spanish. ‘Mexico is not prepared for this, for the tremendous problems it will face as more and more Mexicans working in Arizona and who were sending money to their families return to their home-towns in Sonora without jobs,’ she said. ‘We are one family, socially and economically,’ she said of the people of Sonora and Arizona .
New Immigration Laws:
1 There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools.
2 All ballots will be in this nation’s language..
3 All government business will be conducted in our language.
4 Non-residents will NOT have the right to vote no matter how long they are here.
5 Non-citizens will NEVER be able to hold political office
6 Foreigners will not be a burden to the taxpayers. No welfare, no food stamps, no health care, or other government assistance programs. Any burden will be deported.
7 Foreigners can invest in this country, but it must be an amount at least equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage.
8 If foreigners come here and buy land… options will be restricted. Certain parcels including waterfront property are reserved for citizens naturally born into this country.
9 Foreigners may have no protests; no demonstrations, no waving of a foreign flag, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies. These will lead to deportation.
10 If you do come to this country illegally, you will be actively hunted and when caught, sent to jail until your deportation can be arranged. All assets will be taken from you.
Too strict ?
The above laws are current immigration laws of MEXICO!

My reaction was, “Yeah? So?” I think it kind of proves my point. America is supposed to be better than this. We were founded on the idea that this was THE place, the one place on Earth that anyone could come to for a better life. We were founded on immigration. Even the “native” Americans migrated here from Asia thousands of years ago. The United States of America is supposed to have open, welcoming borders, so that those “huddling masses yearning to breathe free” can get here and start anew. So telling me that Mexico’s immigration laws are far stricter than our own tells me that we’re getting it right. The people complaining that the country is being overrun by Latinos sound just like—and just as stupid and fundamentally unAmerican as—the people who complained we were being overrun by the Italians, or the Chinese, or the Irish.

Note the references to the “nation’s language” in the rules above. America doesn’t have an official language. We don’t. Never have. There was a fierce debate almost 200 years ago whether the official language of the United States should be English… or German, which was spoken in much of Pennsylvania, at the time the largest state. After a long drawn out fight, they agreed that America wouldn’t recognize an official language at all. English is by far the most common, but people who insist that it’s “the” language of the United States don’t know their history. We’re a melting pot. We’re supposed to be. The fact that the ratio of white people to everyone else in America is dropping is what is supposed to happen. (For the record, I’m white.) Now the same people in Arizona are trying to pass a law stating that people born in the United States aren’t citizens if they’re born to undocumented parents, a blatant violation of the 14th amendment.

I carry a copy of the United States Constitution on my iPhone, and refer to it from time to time as a reminder of what this nation is supposed to be about. That we’re supposed to be free from unreasonable search and seizure—which Arizona’s “papers, please” law contradicts—and we’re supposed to be dedicated to making sure the first amendment’s freedom of expression and assembly is sacred.

Phil Plait, of the popular blog Bad Astronomy, gets this.

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, where we take time to remember those who have died, and specifically those who have fought and died for the country. In my opinion, they didn’t fight to protect our country, they fought to protect the idea of our country. The principles for which it stands, the ideas and ideals that give people the chance to reach their full potential. That’s what America is supposed to be about, and the framework that provides that chance is the Constitution.

The issue Phil links to is about a Christian high school student objecting to an official school prayer at his graduation ceremony, because the kid knows his Constitution and knows that religion is supposed to be kept separate from government-sponsored organizations like schools. It’s galling how often we forget this, or choose to ignore it.

So today, in honor of the brave men and women who have given their lives to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, read over our Constitution, or at least refamiliarize yourself with the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments. These are the founding principles of our Republic, and they are not optional. This is what we fight for, and what so many have died to protect. Respect their sacrifice.

Torn between two ecosystems

Google impressed at last week’s I/O conference. They demoed Android 2.2, “Froyo”, which is already available for Google’s own Nexus One phone. (It’s coming “soon” for carrier-branded handsets like Verizon’s Droid Incredible and Sprint’s EVO.) They showed mSpot, a new service that does a lot of what LaLa.com did before Apple bought it and shut it down: allow people to upload their entire music libraries and then stream them to any Mac, Windows PC or Android handset. The bar, it is raised.

In particular, Froyo is over twice as fast as the previous version of Android (2.1, or “Eclair”), the webkit-based browser—basically Chrome-lite—is faster still, and it supports a fully functional implementation of Adobe’s Flash 10.1, meaning it can display all those web pages where Safari on the iPhone and iPad just show you that silly little blue Lego. Add to that the nearly standard specs for this generation of Android phones—480×800 AMOLED screens, removable batteries, 5MP or better cameras, with flashes, microSD card expansion—and the still expanding Android Marketplace—where you can find office suites like QuickOffice and Documents To Go, EPUB ebook readers, Skype, and well, a functional equivalent to just about anything in the iTunes App Store—and we got ourselves a ball game!

A lot of people compare the iPhone to a phone like the HTC Incredible and just look at the hardware. But the game is really much bigger than that. You’re not buying a phone. You’re buying into an ecosystem. It’s like marrying into a family, and bears just as much forethought and caution. You’re not just looking at an Android-based smartphone. To get the most out of it, you’re going to want to couple it with all the other parts of the Google ecosystem. Gmail for your email and contacts. Google Calendar for your scheduling. Amazon and MSpot for your media. Google bookmarks. Google Chrome as your desktop browser. Google Reader for your RSS feds. I won’t suggest your switch from Twitter to Google Buzz for social networking, but it’s there.

Right now I’m about halfway submerged in the shiny, multicolor Google lifestyle. I do use Gmail, Calendar, Reader. I’ve used Chrome as my default browser. I’ve kept my documents in Google Docs. It wouldn’t be hard at all for me to walk into a Verizon store, plop down a couple of Benjamins—and pay AT&T their Early Termination Fee, since I’ve only been with them just over a year—and walk out with an Incredible. (I’d have to wait to play with it until I got it home, though, since AMOLED screens are nearly useless in sunlight. Hell, even vampires do better these days.) The Android, it calls. Plus, just look at this list of five reasons to be afraid of Apple. Why wouldn’t I want to go all in with a company whose motto is “don’t be evil”?

But Apple. Ah, Apple. There’s a reason the apple features as the symbol of temptation in everything from Genesis to Snow White. Mister Jobs knows him some pretty when he sees it. iPhone owners have a more emotional, visceral connection to their phones than even other smartphone owners. My iPhone 3G is damn near grafted to me, and the iPhone HD due out just two weeks is even more gorgeous.

Where Google preaches open and flexible, do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, Apple tells us not to worry our pretty little heads, they’ll make everything all right. As long as you agree with His Steveness—and why wouldn’t you, he has impeccable taste—you’ll get everything you need.

And Apple, if they do as expected, is set to bring the ecosystem to play too. We—yes, that is a mouse in my pocket—expect Apple to announce more than just the new pretty iPhone HD at WWDC on June 7th. We expect them to announce that email, calendar and contacts syncing components of MobileMe will be free to any iPhone user. We expect them to announced iTunes 10 with the new “iTunes Live” feature to allow syncing your whole iTunes library to Apple’s new ginormous datacenter in North Carolina, from whence you can stream it all to your iPhone HD (and maybe 3GS, but probably not the older, RAM-challenged original iPhone and 3G). Basically, we expect them to at the very least match Google feature for feature. And maybe up the ante with Steve’s “one more thing.”

And it would just as easy for me to fall into the welcoming sleekness of the Apple ecosystem. I already buy my music and movies from iTunes, so why not my books as well? iBooks will be built into iPhone OS4. I could move my calendar, contacts and email into MobileMe. My email address, jeff@kirv.in, already redirects to Gmail, so I’d just have the redirect point to MobileMe instead. Same with iTunes Live. My media collection is in iTunes already, so this is a no-brainer. And from there, I could switch to Safari as my desktop browser so I can sync my bookmarks, and eventually just buy a shiny 27” iMac as my new media center. And hey, at least Apple is the devil I know. Look at this list of five reasons to be afraid of Google.

But wait a minute. I’m supposed to be a Buddhist, also known as “the middle way.” I’m bipolar. I’m a Gemini. I’m a gorram registered Independent. Why can’t I have both?

This is, after all, the true strength of the cloud. And the cloud is bigger than Google. It’s bigger than Apple. I can keep my bookmarks in Xmarks. I can buy my books from Google Editions, which will sell ebooks sans DRM so they can be read anywhere, on anything. I’ll keep buying media from iTunes, because Apple’s just made it so darn easy, and at least the music is DRM-free. I use Firefox as my desktop browser, Thunderbird and Lightning for email and scheduling. Seesmic for social networking, Evernote for random data, Instapaper for saved articles, Dropbox for my files and manuscripts, Bing as my default search engine. And of course, a jailbroken iPhone that has all the features of OS4 on OS 3.13, synced to Google for contacts, email and calendar.

This might not work forever. As the rivalry between Google and Apple heats up, they might not interoperate—a fancy word for “play nice”—as well as they do today. I might be forced into MobileMe if I want to keep push synchronization on my iPhone HD. But for as long as I can, I’m going to avoid going “all in” with any one company. Because really, I’m afraid of them all.

Microsoft out in the cold again

John Gruber has some interesting thoughts about the odd-man-out at Google’s I/O conference this week:

The big loser this week, though, was Microsoft. They’re simply not even part of the game. RIM looms large, as BlackBerrys continue to reign as the best-selling smartphones in the U.S. But Microsoft? They’ve got nothing. No interesting devices, weak sales, and a shrinking user base. Microsoft’s irrelevance is taken for granted.

Google’s competitive focus on the iPhone at I/O was intense and scathing. But it’s Microsoft’s lunch they’re eating. Apple’s and RIM’s game is selling the integrated whole — their own devices, running their own software. Google is playing Microsoft’s game — licensing a platform to many device makers.

Daring Fireball: Post-I/O Thoughts

This is the way I’ve seen the mobile market shaking out for quite some time now. Google’s Android fills precisely the same niche that used to be filled by Windows Mobile, but it does so with New Hawtness that Microsoft just can’t seem to match. The Kin will never be the hit the Sidekick was, because the market is different now and app-based smartphones are the norm, not the exception. Yes, the Kin line is supposed to merge with Windows Phone 7 eventually, but by the time it does, Android 2.2, with all its speed and Flashy goodness will be the norm, if not replaced by Android 2.3 or later. Microsoft is caught between a rock (okay, an Apple) and a hard place (a shiny, cheerfully multicolor hard place). They’ll never have the kind of market share needed to make their $8-15 mobile OS license business model pay off.

So the real question is this. Microsoft can see the writing on the wall. They know mobile is the Next Big Thing, as big a shift in personal computing as the advent of the GUI over command line interfaces. Not participating would be corporate suicide. But what they’re doing with Windows Phone 7 can’t possibly succeed. Google gives Android away for free. They can’t beat free. So what do they do?

Microsoft’s only hope is to merge the Kin, Zune, Xbox Live and Windows Phone 7 into a single platform, and do it now. Release a kick-ass smartphone with Zune and Xbox integration and a ready to go app store this year, before the holiday shopping season. And make it pretty. Oh, so pretty. They can’t compete with Google on price, so they have to compete with Apple on user experience and integration.

(Now might be a good time to sell those shares of MSFT you’re still hanging on to.)

Maybe you should try not lying, then

Republican Congressional hopeful Ari David is livid that Apple has rejected his iPhone app due to “defamatory statements” about his competition, Democrat Henry Waxman.

As you can see not only are none of the statements defamatory, they are all factual.

By denying me this application Apple is now making an in-kind contribution to Henry Waxman by denying his competitor a modern tool for political communication. They are stifling my right to free political speech and they are carrying water for the Obama administration.

Apple Denies Free Political Speech « Yes, But, However!

Let’s take a look at a few of these “factual” statements, though.


SUPPORTED Cap & Trade legislation that would have brought us $7 a gallon gas and as President Obama has stated would make electricity rates “necessarily sky rocket.” (This one is well known considering that Waxman sponsored the bill in the House and President Obama is famous for making the statement about the need under his plan for “skyrocketing” electricity rates).

Now, maybe I’m using a different definition of “fact” than Mister David, but where the hell did that “$7 a gallon gas” thing come from? Is that a fact? No, it’s a prediction, and an obviously cynical, worst-case prediction about one of the potential side effects should Cap&Trade pass.

VOTED AGAINST missile defense funding, which jeopardized the US and Israel (Waxman is famous for voting against missile defense program funding going all the way back to 1983 when Reagan first proposed the SDI system).

SDI was a boondoggle in the 1980s and it’s a boondoggle today. Missile defense has never been successfully tested. So if it doesn’t work, how does defunding it “jeopardize” anyone?

Apple was right to reject this app, and politicians—on either side—need to get used to the idea that the same lies and half-truths they get away with on TV won’t work in this market. Try telling the truth, Ari, and see how far you get.

What to expect from the next iPhone

What we’ll see in this year’s iPhone, why we won’t seen an iPhone on Verizon until next year, and when to expect all the new Apple hotness.

We’ve got three weeks to go until Apple’s 2010 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC). Starting June 7, we expect Apple to shift into a higher gear and… Well, that’s just the thing. There’s a lot of confusion out there about, what, exactly, we’re going to see. I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t have seekrit sources deep inside Apple (seeds, if you will). But I do have the Chewbacca Defense:

More importantly, I have the inverse of the Chewbacca Defense, Occam’s Razor. In short, given a number of possible explanations, the simplest is probably true. And Apple isn’t as secretive as they think. They can’t hide their own past. We can divine a lot from what they’ve already done, extrapolate future behavior based on previous trends. So here’s what I’m sure we’re going to see, and when. Steve and company might surprise me, but I doubt it.

First, the main event. In his opening keynote on June 7th, Steve is going to announce the next iPhone, the iPhone HD. It will feature a 2VGA, 640×960 screen, come in 16, 32 and 64GB capacities, sport the same A4 CPU as the iPad, run iPhone OS 4, have 256MB of RAM and look identical to the production test model Gizmodo “acquired.” It will most likely be available two weeks later, on June 21 or 22.

How do I know this? Because it’s simply the overwhelmingly most likely scenario. Look at the facts.

  • Apple has announced and released their new flagship iPhone in June every year, at WWDC.
  • They’ve stuck to an annual update/release schedule for their other products, particularly in the iPhone, iPod (and presumably iPad) family.
  • The Gizmodo test unit is obviously real, and John Gruber pointed out than the markings on the back identified it as a late-stage production test, unlikely to change much, if at all, before full production.
  • The iPad comes in 16, 32 and 64MB capacities, and the Vietnamese teardown of a test model nearly identical to the Gizmodo unit revealed an A4 and 256MB of RAM.
  • The iPad has 256MB of RAM, and was almost certainly designed with OS4 in mind.

I suspect it will be called the iPhone HD because of the 4x resolution screen. We’ve seen multiple sources revealing the pixel doubled 640×960 resolution, the Gizmodo unit was obviously of a much higher resolution than current iPhones. No, the screen isn’t 720 pixels tall in landscape, but I’m willing to bet it will be capable of 720p HD video out. The screen will be extended viewing angle LCD, the same as the iPad, as this is more likely than Apple switching display technology to AMOLED.

Why will the iPhone HD have only 256MB of RAM? Because Apple clearly believes this is sufficient for the managed, limited multitasking in OS4, or they would have put 512MB in the iPad. And in practice, I have every confidence 256MB will be “enough for anyone.” Why? Because that’s what’s in the 3GS, and Backgrounder/Proswitcher work pretty well on the 3GS. And Backgrounder uses “real,” Android/WinMob-style multitasking. Apple’s PalmOS Cobalt-style multitasking is far more resource-friendly, and I expect it to multitask as smoothly on 256MB as Android does on 512MB. And all things being equal, less RAM is cheaper to produce, meaning more profit per phone. Apple likes profit.

I’ve heard rumors that the iPhone HD will be available June 7, but I don’t buy it. Apple wouldn’t rush a delivery date, no matter what kind of press difficulties they’ve had, and OS4, at the time of this writing, simply isn’t ready to burn onto production devices and have them in stores in three weeks. It’s far more likely that they’ll announce on the 7th and release two weeks later, as they’ve done with other devices. I’m betting the iPhone HD will go on sale on the 22nd, as Apple seems to like Tuesday launches. OS4 itself might be available for previous iPhones on the 7th, if it’s ready.

I don’t think Steve’s keynote will be all about hardware, though. In conjunction with the release of OS4, I expect Apple to release iTunes 10, with some important new features. The biggest new feature will be the incorporation of LaLa’s technology into iTunes Live, the ability to stream your entire iTunes collection to your iPhone from Apple’s shiny new datacenter in North Carolina. And because they’ve got all that server capacity lying around, they’ll also throw in the basics of MobileMe–email, contacts and calendar sync, maybe iDrive for people who aren’t already using Dropbox–for free.

Why do I expect this? Again, it fits the profile of past behavior. Apple knows they need to step up their cloud efforts if they’re going to compete effectively with Google, and yes, Microsoft. A little over a year ago, I wrote about computing ecosystems, and that is crystallizing more than ever. Apple wants to keep its users locked into its ecosystem, and that means they need to provide the same services as their competition. Google and Microsoft both offer email, calendaring and contacts management for free. Apple can’t afford to keep charging for the same. They’ve made these kinds of competitive moves before. The most recent was the introduction of the iBookstore, a direct response to Amazon’s Kindle business. Jobs and company aren’t stupid. They know they need to deliver. That said, I expect them to hold off some of the features currently in MobileMe–Back To My Mac, Find My iPhone, etc.–for paying subscribers. After all, this is Apple.

This fall, as usual, Apple will update their iPod line. Rolled into this will be the OS4 update for the iPad. Why? Because they’re also going to be updating the iPod touch to OS4, and the iPad is more similar to the iPod touch than it is to the iPhone. Makes sense that these would be related development tracks. Rumors surfaced that the iPad might be due for a price drop similar to the original iPhone. I don’t buy this. I could see it if the iPad were a slow starter, a way to prime the market. But right now Apple is still having trouble making enough of them to meet demand. There’s absolutely no reason to drop the price. Shipping it with OS4 this fall will be all the extra shiny they need for an update.

Okay, you say, but what about the elephant in the room? The big red elephant, with the V on it? As we’ve recently discovered, Apple’s exclusivity agreement with AT&T was initially for an unheard of five years. That doesn’t end until 2012. Don’t wait for the end of the world though, because we’ll see a Verizon iPhone next summer. Why then? Why not now? Because now doesn’t make sense. Verizon’s CDMA network is completely different from the GSM networks every iPhone currently uses, both in the United States and abroad. Apple is still making so much money from AT&T’s iPhones that it’s simply not worth it financially for them to design, build, test and support a different model on a completely different cellular protocol.

So why does this change next year? Because by next summer, when the 2011 model iPhone is due to be announced, Verizon will have completed their rollout of their 4G network, based on the LTE protocol. And who else is using LTE? AT&T, T-Mobile and pretty much the rest of the world other than Sprint. So next summer, when the time is right, Apple will announce the iPhone 4G–see why they didn’t use that moniker this year?–available on AT&T, Verizon and other LTE networks worldwide.

So what do you think? Does the glove fit?

Living in the cloud, but not the browser

I have an iPhone, a netbook and a multi-monitor desktop. And for most tasks, it really doesn’t matter which one I use because can get to all the same data from all three.

I tried doing the web-app thing. I really did. Given that my netbook is a pre-Atom HP 2133 with a VIA CPU that I think is actually powered by hamsters, I tried living in the browser, turning Chrome into a poor man’s Google ChromeOS. I even went as far as to create “app” shortcuts for Google Calendar, Gmail, etc. so I could launch them directly from my taskbar. It just didn’t work. I didn’t fully grok why it didn’t work for me until I read Ben Ward’s treatise on what the “web” really means:

If you reach the point of building a browser-based application that you depend on so many proprietary enhancements that your users can only access it using Google Chrome, I think you’ve picked the wrong platform. If you want to built the most amazing user interface, you will need to use native platforms. A single vendor’s benevolent curation of their framework will always outpace the collaborative, interoperable developments of the web, whether it’s locked in a standards process or not. When they do a good job (like Apple have with CocoaTouch) their platform will succeed. But the web will always be the canonical source of information and relationships. That’s what it was built for. Blogging at length about how much the device APIs suck won’t ever undo that, nor change the fact that turning HTML in a rich application dialect is still a very new idea.

So how does a Windows user (in my case, but you’ll see that most of the tools I outline below are cross-platform and should work just as well for Mac/Linux people) use native desktop apps to get the superior user interface and still keep the “I’ll use whatever computer I happen to have on hand, thanks” freedom of web apps? It’s actually not all that hard. My programs may reside on my various computers, but my data, that lives in the cloud.

Files, you needs them

Dropbox The first key to the solution is Dropbox. This is where all my discrete files live. All of my documents, spreadsheets, images, and I’m thinking about even music. For free, you get 2GB of storage on the web. Any file or folder you put in your special "My Dropbox" folder gets synced automatically every time it is changed It’s password protected, and only stuff you deliberately put in the “Public” folder is visible to others unless you explicitly share it with someone, and then only they can see it.

What makes Dropbox better than Live Mesh, Box.net or any of the other cloud storage solutions out there? In short, it just works. You install the Dropbox client, it runs silently in the background and syncs files to and from the cloud quickly and reliably. It only syncs the parts of files that have changed, so even syncing big files is quick and painless.

But what really makes Dropbox shine is how it integrates with other services. I keep all my writing stuff in Dropbox in Word and Excel formats. Not only do I know these files will be there and up to date whether I’m on my desktop or my netbook, but I also have the ability to edit them in place with Documents To Go (or QuickOffice Connect) on my iPhone—and eventually, my iPad. I know any changes I make will be there and waiting for me the next time I access them in Microsoft Office on my Windows machines.

Bonus Advanced Geekery: Vista and Windows 7 support hardlinks and junctions. These are similar to shortcuts, but embedded deeper into the system. While a shortcut is a pointer to a file, to applications—like Dropbox—a hardlink is the file (junctions are to folders what hardlinks are to files). So you can create hardlinks and junctions to files and folders outside your Dropbox folder and still have them sync to the cloud. See the icons with the chainlink overlays in the screenshot? Those are junctions. You can create these manually from the command line or download this nifty freeware to create them in Windows Explorer like you manage all your other files. I have my documents and pictures folders linked this way, so most of the time I just interact with files in their "normal" locations and kind of forget my Dropbox folder exists. (There is another, simpler way to do this, but it only allows syncing folders to Dropbox, not individual files, so I prefer the first method.)

Dropbox is free if you need anything up to 2GB of storage. Upping that to 50GB is $9.99/month or $99.99/year, and 100GB is $19.99/month or $199.99/year.

As good as Dropbox is, it only protects what you put in it. For everything else on my hard drive, I use Carbonite. This is less cloud storage than cloud backup. Carbonite backs up whatever you tell it to, with no size limit, to a backup store in the cloud. Files are double AES encrypted, and even the admins at Carbonite can’t tell what is in the files you back up. While all my documents are safe in Dropbox if my home 1TB harddrive should fail, my entire iTunes libarary—music, TV shows and movies that Apple won’t let me redownload for free—are safe in Carbonite. $54.95 for a year, and well worth the peace of mind.

There’s more to life than files

A lot of your data doesn’t exist as discrete files. You have email, calendar events, contacts, bookmarks, passwords and all kinds of other “stuff” to keep track of. And in most cases, you can use desktop tools to access these while still keeping the data out on the internets where you can get to it from anywhere.

The first tool for this is Google Chrome. I know I said above that I didn’t use web apps much, but Chrome has some pretty useful features in an of itself. (I should note here that just about all the cool features in Chrome can be replicated on Firefox by using extensions, but I’ve found that Firefox has an “extension event horizon” beyond which the browser is too slow, bloated and crash-prone to use. Chrome does what I want out of the box, and even though it supports extensions too, I haven’t had to install any.) In particular for our purposes here, it can sync bookmarks and passwords between computers. Setting this up is as simple as clicking the Tools menu, then Sync and signing in with your Google account name. That takes care of bookmarks and web passwords.

Next up, email and all that other “Outlook” stuff. I use Mozilla Thunderbird with a couple of extensions. It’s slower than I’d like, but that could be a sign that I need to get a beefier CPU. (The single-core AMD CPU on my desktop dates back to 2005, and my netbook runs on a VIA processor that’s a LOT slower than an Intel Atom.) Thunderbird itself is pretty easy to set up to sync with Gmail’s IMAP protocol, which gives you two-way sync for messages and folders. Add an extension called Zindus, and you can sync your Google contacts as well.

Thunderbird w Lightning But where Thunderbird really shines is when you add an extension called Lightning. This Thunderbird extension is the official successor to Mozilla’s standalone calendar app Sunbird. It’s basically Sunbird integrated into Thunderbird. In addition to the tabs you already have in Thunderbird for mail, you now have calendar and task tabs well, and a calendar sidebar off to the right of your main message pane. Getting this to sync with Google calendar is a little tricky, especially if you have a lot of calendars to sync, but once it’s set up it works pretty well.

Given how much goes into getting Thunderbird/Lightning set up and working properly, you want to use the freeware MozBackup to back up your settings once you get it the way you like it. Put that back up file in your Dropbox, and then after you install Thunderbird on another PC, just “restore” and it will install all the extensions and configure everything for you.

The last piece you need for total desktop/cloud integration is Evernote. I’ve talked at length about Evernote before, so let’s just say it’s where everything that doesn’t fit anywhere else goes. Data lives in the cloud, excellent client apps for Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad.

Other… Stuff

Of course, there are other things you might need to do that are web-oriented, but you’d rather use desktop tools if you can.

For blogging, I use Windows Live Writer. Technically, I could just use Word 2007 on documents in my Dropbox for this, but Writer is designed for blogging and is a bit easier to work with, especially when it comes to tagging posts, delayed publication dates—this article will post at 8am Mountain on a Monday morning, at which time I will likely be out for a walk—and other metablogging stuff. I’ve only used it for WordPress, but it seems to work really well for just about any blog.

Seesmic Twitter. Ah, Twitter. The sad thing about Twitter is that I used to use their website for reading and writing tweets, but they’ve added so much JavaScript crap to it that I now prefer native Twitter clients to their web interface. There are several native Windows clients—not Adobe Air apps—for Twitter, and some of them, like Blu, are gorgeous examples of what the Windows user interface is really capable of. But for day to day twittering—both tweeting and reading tweets—I prefer Seesmic for Windows. Again, this isn’t the Seesmic Air version, it’s the native Windows client. Not only does this give me the fancy schmancy Aero glass effects, but it’s lighter and faster than anything running in a runtime.

For music, the options used to be a lot better than they are now. I used to use LaLa to upload my iTunes library and stream it from anywhere, but Apple bought them and is shutting LaLa down. I used to use Simplify Music 2 to stream music directly from my desktop over the net to anywhere, but that is shutting down too. For now, the best I can do is Pandora. I paid the $36 a year for Pandora One, which gives me higher bitrate music, unlimited listening—versus the 40 hours a month I probably wouldn’t hit anyway—and most importantly, no ads. I’ll probably also install iTunes eventually on my wee netbook for library sharing, but there’s no rush. I’m kinda holing that Apple will integrate LaLa’s streaming into the iTunes 10 they inevitably release along with the iPhone HD in June or the next generation iPods this fall.

When In Doubt, Remote

Sometimes, there is just no substitute for going back to the “mothership”—my desktop PC. While my data is as cloud-based as I can get it and individual computers have been somewhat abstracted out, some things, like managing ebooks in Calibre or my iTunes library, have to be done on the desktop. (Yes, I know I should be able to use Dropbox to manage my Calibre library from multiple locations, but I have not been able to get this to work.) For this, I use two different tools.

When I’m at home on my netbook, I just use Windows Remote Desktop. It’s fast and allows me to use my netbook as though it was my desktop. The experience is so fluid, in fact, that I use a different color for Aero glass on my desktop than I do on my netbook so I can tell at a glance which one I’m using.

When I’m on the go, I use LogMeIn. This gives me the ability to remote into my desktop from any web-enabled PC without paying a monthly fee. When I get my iPad, I’ll go ahead and spring for the $30 to buy LogMeIn Ignition, which will allow me to control my desktop via the XGA touchscreen of the iPad. When you consider how much of my data is automatically and instantly replicated on all of my computing devices, this also overcomes many of the objections to the iPad for not being a “real” computer. When I need a “real” PC, I can just remote into my desktop from the iPad and finish up whatever I need to do, then go back to the iPad.

Suddenly I see

I had just walked out into the sunlight after watching “Iron Man 2”, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was still thinking about the film, about heroes, about inspiration, when I got into my car and turned on the radio. And I heard KT Tunstall sing,

Suddenly I see,

Why the hell it means so much to me.

Since coming out of my depression, or at least breaking out of the deep and starting back to the surface, I haven’t written much. I intended to write. I wanted to write, or at least I told myself I wanted to write. But something was stopping me. I blamed it on my recent spate of injuries, which make it difficult to sit for extended periods—kids, pushups and crunches are your friends; you do not want to deal with pulled or strained core muscles—but that was just a convenient excuse. Something else was standing in the way.

When I decided to start writing again—even if I didn’t actually start writing—it was with the intention to forgo traditional publication. I would write my books for myself, and post them to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. only to mark them as “done” and quit fiddling with them so I’d be forced to move on to the next book. Anyone who has written I book will know what I mean. In theory, I didn’t intend anyone to actually read them.

And I think that intention is exactly why I’ve been—remained—stalled. Books aren’t paintings or sculpture. It’s not enough that they simply exist. Books must be read. The experience needs to be transmitted to readers. (I’m looking at you, Salinger.) Fundamentally, I knew all along that writing just to write was a pointless waste of time for me.

I write because I want to entertain on my worst days, and inspire on my best. In order to do that, I need readers. I don’t necessarily need to know who they are, or even how many of them there are, and I don’t need to make my living as an author. In some ways, I think intending to make my living as an author was one of the worst things I ever did, putting too much pressure on the writing and sucking all the joy out of it. But the books need to be read.

I don’t know what this means yet. Thankfully, I don’t need a plan right away. I still have a lot of writing—and rewriting—to do before I get to that point. But I know I’m not just writing for myself. I’m writing for you. And I want you to be impressed, entertained, and yes, inspired by the stories I create.