Virtualizing Your Brain

I just finished listening to an extended Marketplace Tech Report interview with Ray Kurzewil, inventor, futurist, and author. The topic of conversation is what Kurzweil calls “technological singularity,” the convergence of humans and technology.

Ray Kurzweil

Kurzweil promoting his book, How to Create A Mind

During the 7 & 10 minute mark of the interview, Kurzweil describes a concept that is essentially virtualization of the brain (virtualization as in what VMWare does with IT infrastructure). I got really excited when I heard this. ūüôā ¬†Why? ¬†Because I’d never thought to combine the concepts of virtualization and apply them to technological singularity and it’s not that big of a leap to imagine a future where this is a reality. ¬†More processing power, more redundancy, better performance, and even leveraging brain power in the cloud.

Mr. Kurzweil is currently Director of Engineering at Google. I’ve followed Kurzweil long before his Google days though, first reading his “Age of Spiritual Machines” when I was in high school. While mileage may vary with the specific dates for predictions he makes, the core ideas of the book are fascinating and describe a more and more realistic picture of the convergence of technology that improves humans. I highly recommend the book (and I’m reminded that I should read his new book published in 2012 which delves deeper into everything I’m excited about above).


Evernote: The first cloud app I’m “buying” into

I’ve been wondering for a while now which freemium cloud app would be the first one to nudge me from the free to premium version. ¬†I’m pleased to say that Evernote has earned that honor. ¬†Why?
Evernote Menu

The free version wasn’t crippled

In fact, far from it.  I got to see and play with every key Evernote feature in the free version of the client application.

They Offer a Free iPhone App that is Well Integrated with the Service

The iPhone app they have makes total sense, is lightweight, and makes the most common features easy to use.  The main screen prompts me with four different options to collect notes and four tabs across the bottom that give access to existing notes and options.

I Care About and Will Use their Premium Features

One of the greatest features in the application is the ability to do a text search of picture-notes. ¬†Within a couple of minutes of capturing a photo in Evernote, I can do a search for text that was in the photo (and it comes back highlighted too). ¬†That’s in the free version. ¬†The premium service adds the same text searching in PDF files I attach to notes, as well as priority recognition of my images.

The free version caps the monthly upload bandwidth at 40MB, which I’ve seen as a very reasonable (even lofty) quota. ¬†However, as I’ve used the iPhone app more and more, I’ve been running awfully low on available space. ¬†The premium version bumps that over 12X to 500MB per month.

The Pricing Model Makes Sense

Not a whole lot to say here, it’s a reasonable $5/month for the service. ¬†Tell you what though, it’s an easy decision to sign up for the annual service since it nets a generous 25% discount. ¬†I debated trying the month-to-month for a while first…but that wasn’t necessary with that kind of an incentive available.

Where can Evernote Improve?

Things aren’t perfect yet. ¬†It’s definitely a growing venture, which can be seen in the large improvements in each new release of the client software. ¬† Things have been rocky at times, especially during synchronization, when trying to capture or recall notes.

All that said, I’m quite pleased so far. ¬†Next, I should detail how I’m using the app, but that’ll ¬†have to wait for a while ūüôā

Dropbox: My Online Hub

I have a computer at work and a computer at home.¬† Both are laptops, but both serve their own purposes.¬† I’ve tried a good handfull of methods to have a consistent experience from one to the other.¬† My solution to this problem is Dropbox, a free (or fee-based, for larger accounts) tool that synchs files between computers through the cloud and also gives me the peace of mind that I’m not only working with the most recent version of the file, but that I’ll have access to it whether I’m online or offline.

For years I carried around a simple USB drive (okay…”pen drive”) with a handfull of key applications and documents.¬† This was a slick solution for quite some time, but I found I was going through them pretty quickly (they’re not all that durable and the hardcore ones are clunky).¬† This evolved into my iPod because of the 80GB hard drive (and I had it with me anyway, which offset the clunky factor).¬† While I loved having easy access to my files, applications and music, it ended up being a hassle to have an outside device tethered to my computer. The extra device I carried around drew lame questions and made my system a bigger hassle to take places.

There was also extra work I made for myself trying to deal with file versioning. Inevitably, I’d take a local version of a file, then have to remember to copy the finished product back out.¬† As this became more and more frequent, it got tough to keep track of which instance was the right one.

In the back of my mind, there was always this fear that I’d lose my data with a hard drive crash.¬† This meant making extra copies…locally and on other external drives.¬† It got tough keeping straight which computer or which drive had the most recent backup, too.

There were online hacks to use Gmail as a file repository (GmailDrive is one example) but it only took one lock of my Google account to put a quick stop on that.¬† I used Carbonite for a year, which was great for backup and recovery, but not a real solution for synch.¬† As an aside, I stopped using it when my hard drive crashed and I wasn’t able to recover my files because of a technicality…

Dropbox has been my hero.¬† A simple installation application creates the “My Dropbox” folder that sits under My Documents.¬† These files get synchronized out to the server (2GB starting capacity for a free account, larger available).¬† Next step (in this multiple computer scenario) is to set up Dropbox on each of the other systems, providing the same account information.¬† Dropbox kicks right in and starts populating the second computer’s My Dropbox with all of the same files that were on the original system.dropbox

The software runs in the background, waiting for changes, and once an updated file has been saved and closed, the new data is uploaded (and almost immediately) updated on the other computer (if it’s on and connected to the internet).

Pseudo Techie Stuff:

  • Dropbox is monitored by a host agent that looks for file changes.
  • The synch only uploads the part of a file that’s changed, not the whole file.¬† (So if I wrote a novel and saved the 50MB file to Dropbox, then later realized I forgot to include “The End”, it’s smart enough to only upload a few bytes of data instead of all 50 meg.
  • Both a local copy of the most recent file and a cloud copy are retained.
  • Version history is tracked and older versions of a file can be restored through the web interface.
  • Files on are encrypted, but user-defined keys are not an option (yet).

I’ve been going strong for several months now and it’s been a fantastic experience.¬† Dropbox almost exclusively handles my synchronization requirements.¬† I say almost because large video files (multi GB .VOB files of my band’s shows) are much more quickly transfered over USB or the local network. I’ve been able to silence the fears that the file I want to be using lived on my other computer.

Some of my favorite other features of Drobpox include:

  • “Public” folder which allows me to send links to people who can download the files I put in there
    • Great alternative to sending a file in email, just send the link (like a great video of a co-worker losing it during a fire drill)
    • Image hosting for online content, I trust it will be there more than tinypic (Photo of my band hosted on Drobox)
  • Sharing Folders with other Dropbox users: Far better way to transfer files than over IM…and it gives a little notification balloon saying that a new file has arrived.

These are only the basics, and believe me, I have a lot more to say about the service.¬† If you’d like to try it out yourself, you can download it yourself at or (if you’d be so kind) you could click through this link, which will give me referral credit and increase my dropbox size by 300MB when you sign up.

More to come on how I use Dropbox to make digital life a heck of a lot easier.