This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 18, 2010 - learning to live in the cloud

I started using a Palm Pilot (as it was known back then) in July of 2000. It took another year to pick up a mobile phone. It wasn't until 2008 that I finally combined both into one device: a "smart phone" called the Palm Centro.

When you carry a gizmo around for 10 years, particularly one that uses the same basic software, you accumulate a lot of "data." In my case, beyond calendar and contact information, that meant newspaper columns, talks, essays, poetry, and journal entries. I used my Palm not only to organize my schedule, but also to think: to outline ideas, to record significant events that challenged or confirmed my beliefs.

But as my life and job have grown more complex, I find that my schedule doesn't really belong to me anymore. Having to "sync" my device with a variety of other computers got to be a tangle of cords, broken connectors, and mismatched calendars. Although the Palm Centro was great in many ways, it had a very poor web browser.

It was time to go to the cloud: syncing my data to the wireless Web.

It turned out that I was due for a new phone anyhow, so I just decided to take the plunge. I now possess (or am possessed by) the latest Palm Pre. (I almost went with an Android phone, and that would have been a good choice, too.)

The Pre is gorgeous, sleek and elegant. Years ago, I was a software reviewer, and have always paid close attention to the clarity and consistency of the user interface. The Pre is far more like the iPhone than the Palm Centro. That's not surprising, as former Apple executive, Jon Rubinstein, is said to have worked on the Pre.

I worked through the key issues in just a few days.

Step one: conversion. I needed to capture my over 1,000 contacts and many thousands of calendar entries. Palm provided a utility that did it in about half an hour. I also had to figure out how much of all that extra data really mattered. Answer: not much. But some of it did, and that was a little trickier.

Step two: learning curve. I poked around on the Pre itself, and watched some online videos. Finally, I checked out a "Complete Idiot's Guide" from the library, and paged through it a couple of nights. That was the right sequence for me: play, visuals, text. Bottom line: it took about four days to get remarkably comfortable with how the Pre operated.

Step three: rethinking my work flow. The Pre is Web-centric. I've had a Google account for a long time but didn't really use it much. So I had to spend some time understanding how Google Docs works, and getting more familiar with the calendar and contacts applications.

Step four: rethinking security. If I was going to be linking my life across various websites and services, I needed to be more thoughtful about passwords. I locked down the Pre itself, then adopted a new password scheme, based on a dynamic pattern rather than either a common password, or one so unique to each site that I had to write it down.

Step five: a moment of nostalgia. Really, would it be so bad to go back to the simple moleskin notepad? I fingered them avidly at Tattered Cover. Notebooks are cool. They never have to be recharged.

Step six: adjusting to life in a new world. I downloaded a few new apps (ebook reader, a more robust notes database, sudoku, an outliner). I'm finding that I like the Pre a lot. It's fun to learn new things.

For many, the smart phone is becoming both indispensable tool and window to the world. I'm looking forward to finding better ways to deliver library services in that environment.

LaRue's Views are his own.

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