A subtle shift to organised bliss…

June 30, 2009 at 10:01 pm 2 comments

Recently a number of things happened that have resulted in me shifting the way I use technology every day. Up until recently I would’ve sworn that a laptop is the only way that its possible to work in my current job. Everything is with me wherever I go and I can access all my stuff (work stuff, personal stuff) easily all the time. However, some recent events have muddied the waters of my strong opinion and I now feel that I am more flexible as a result.

It’s no secret that I love technology.  I thoroughly enjoy reading about new technology, discovering new hardware and also exploring software pieces that let me integrate my life into the digital realm.  There’s plenty of people like me out and about that take a secret pleasure in tweaking their applications just right (Firefox add-ons anyone?) and discovering that extra hidden feature that makes things fit together just right.  It’s also no secret that I am a Mac user, for good reason.  Some might call me a fanboy given the way I avidly follow apple news and rumours, perhaps I am.  However for me what it boils down to is that my experience with Apple products, both hardware and software, have provided me with the best “digital life integration” results.

As mentioned, some factors recently changed my fairly rock-solid opinions about how I use technology.  These factors are:

  1. Apple released a new iPhone, the 3Gs.  I knew it was coming months ago and I fully intended on purchasing one.
  2. I became quite tired of having work thrown in my face whenever I wanted to check my email, so I decided to move my personal email to a dedicated email application rather than check it through the same application as my work email.  I now close my work email program when I leave work, and open it again when I get there in the morning.

These two factors combined got me thinking about how my information is organised on my laptop and how I could improve it. I ended up making a whole bunch of changes and configurations that have resulted in a really neat integrated system.  Here’s how:

To begin with, I had a 2G iPhone for two years so hadn’t really had any mobile Internet access available to me (aside from at hideous costs).  Whilst the 2G iPhone offered some great features I was really looking forward to taking advantage of those mobile internet based applications.  Specifically, email, web browsing and most importantly, Twitter (of course!).

The second factor meshed nicely  with the first.  Until recently I had loyally relied on Thunderbird as my email application.  Due to the volume of email I get through work, coupled with some very useful add-ons, Thunderbird is basically a must-have for my work-based email usage.  We manage all our support work through email presently however I’m currently working towards implementation of an Incident Management system and I was looking forward to drastically reducing my email volume.  Given my positive experience with Apple products I was thinking that once the work-based email volume had decreased I would switch away from Thunderbird to Apple Mail.  My desire to use Mail increased when I watched the 2009 World Wide Developer Conference Keynote.  In the end the decision seemed logical and I moved my personal email accounts out of Thunderbird and into Mail.  I now run two eMail applications when I’m at work, and one when I’m not.

The shift to Mail immediately highlighted a new problem – I’d lost my email contacts.  I had my iPhone synced with Address Book however this only included mobile numbers and was basically a mess of names hearkening back to the days when I used to store all my contact information a SIM card.  I immediately saw the advantage of populating Address Book fully.  Given that I was planning on getting into some 3G action and using the email feature it made perfect sense to get all my email information into Address Book so email addresses were available in Mail on both my laptop and on my phone.   I spent a good while populating all my Address Book contacts from my Thunderbird address book and also from checking people’s profile on Facebook.

Once that was completed I remembered that I had another little program installed that I could use to make things even better!  AddressBookSync is a nifty little application that matches contacts in your Address Book with your Facebook friends.  It grabs their profile pic, their birth date and their location and adds these to the relevant Address Book entries.  As it turns out, well over 90% of the people in my Address Book are on Facebook so the end result was great. This was keeping me quite entertained and there was more to discover.

Once I had birthdays recorded against everyone in my Address Book I remembered a nice feature of iCal, you can turn on a Birthdays calendar!  Right there in the General preferences there’s a little check box:

iCal Preferences

iCal Preferences

So now I was really getting somewhere.  In preparation for purchasing my shiny new 3G iPhone I decided I may as well go ahead and set up eMail on the iPhone, but it turns out I didn’t need to bother!  I have two personal email addresses, one I host and a gmail account.  iTunes let’s you synch any accounts you have set up in Mail straight to the iPhone.  Under the “Info” tab when viewing your iPhone you will see the following options:

iTunes Mail Preferences

iTunes Mail Preferences

Finally, whilst playing in Address Book I noticed an interesting little option titled “Synchronise with Google”.  I’ve never really used my Google account for mail much but have at times needed to rely on webmail and gmail was a great fall-back.  However, in the past I’ve never had any contact information stored in there.  It turns out there’s a little trick to getting this feature to work.  You also need to check an option in your iPhone Contact preferences in iTunes:

iTunes Contact Options

iTunes Contact Options

Once this is checked, the contacts from your Address Book will be sent to Google next time you sync your iPhone.  This was brilliant and had a nice added effect on Google Reader as I can now easily share articles with my contacts, if they too have Google Reader accounts.

So now I have a great little setup.  I can ignore work whilst I’m not there but have all my personal contact information readily available.  All my Address Book contacts have pictures associated with them which subsequently show up when I receive emails and phone calls from them.  I see people’s birthdays when in the past I would have been completed oblivious!  Furthermore, a large majority of information that used to only be available to me on my laptop is now available directly on my phone – and I don’t need to do anything to keep it up to date.  As an added bonus my gmail account is populated with users and my Google Reader sharing audience has much more potential.

Of an evening I now find myself leaving my laptop upstairs plugged into my desk (external keyboard, monitor, mouse).  I carry my phone downstairs and can basically keep on top of things from there.  I check my email regularly, update twitter and browse the internet easily.  Last nigth I wrote a few forum posts as well, including links to further information (which would have been a nightmare on the previous iPhone OS).

Overall this whole experience tickled all the right nerdy nerves for me.  I appreciate the seamless organisation I now experience, and also the idea that I have access to so much stuff on the go.  I’m probably about a year behind in this experience but I’m certainly appreciating it now.


Entry filed under: General Thoughts. Tags: , , .

Why do random people follow me on twitter? Busy in Brighton…

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