Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned


I was wondering what software and equipment a friend was using on a regular basis and thought that I would share my personal learning environment (PLE) here. I don’t require much stuff but feel I have everything covered with my use of the below.

The hardware

At the office we do not have a say about the computer at our desk – it is a Windows XP box and Samsung 2243 WM monitor which is currently turned on it’s side so that I can read lengthy webpages.

Being a digital media team we do have shared access to a range of kit to enable full digital media creation and support including macs, video, camera and audio kit. Most of which I never use so I won’t go into any detail save the fact I sometimes use the Nikon D50.

Personally, I own a Apple Macbook which my other half detests for its trackpad and my use of ‘spaces’ which moves things around on-screen depending on which corner the cursor is placed. I have a magic mouse which is terribly suited to my hand so never gets used and a Apple remote. The laptop is plugged into a pair of unforgiving Mackie MR5 speakers, which have made me realise that 192kbps MP3 recordings are too low quality!

I use my Xbox 360 mainly for watching DVDs and occasional spurts of online gaming.

I have a borrowed Apple iphone first generation which has hardly any apps on it and none of which are worth mentioning.


I use quite a bit of software but only on rare occasions.  I pretty much live in Mozilla Firefox,  thanks to cloud based services and extensions for web development such as firebug and the web developer toolbar. When coding I use Coda (or 1% of its functionality anyway). I use Tweetdeck for twitter and skype for synchronous chat. For client work I use Google Documents and ExpressionEngine for content management.

Web services

Dropbox sits in the background and is used for all of my file management so I use it pretty much solidly – though it is banned at work so I pretty much curse about this fact at least once  a day when I cannot find files or have to duplicate them. I find so many useful items via Google reader that I need delicious to keep track of it all and it works seamlessly across my work and personal computers too.

5 Websites that I always check for

  1. I am a fan of f1 fanatic which doe’s a great job at making me love the detail of the sport more and more
  2. Subtraction, an inspiration in many ways
  3. Techcrunch for tech news, though really I only check for Paul Carr
  4. 5by5 podcasts, the site that got me listening to podcasts – great while cooking
  5. Alistapart for people who make websites BUT many of the topics resonate with e-learning

Then about 100+ daily RSS updates covering web design and e-learning

Impressive home networking

Ethan Kaplan shares his upcoming home networking plans with us. I merely thought about this stuff when we purchased our house a year ago. Ethan has actually planned the infrastructure and will soon execute it. Very impressive.

My Mobile Bristol project

My favourite JISC project of late and one that I use regularly is moving to the next phase and is called ‘MyMobileBristol‘. The initial project allowed me to see PC availability and bus departures amongst other things in and around the campus and impressed everybody that I have ever shown.

I love this project because it is looking at real problems (when is that bus going to get there?!) and using our existing devices to meet the challenges that although not huge on themselves are a constant pain and these solutions make our everyday tasks just that little bit easier. Well done to the team.

Sing: “SEGA”

I have just got the xbox SEGA Mega Drive collection which has transformed me back to the late 1980’s, sore thumbs and brotherly butt-kicking for hogging the controls.

I can see how this pans out. I now spend all of my time, energy and money on recollecting all of our old games. Who needs a VLE or iphone with the music and gameplay of these beautiful works of art.

How I backup my stuff

Like most people, I rely heavily on my computer, yet I had a flagrant disregard for backups.  I didn’t care much for backing up any of my stuff that I had on the computer, telling myself that it would be fine and to pay those bad thoughts no mind. Then I lost a piece of work that I really couldn’t afford to lose during my a-levels and lost a lot of sleep as a result re-writing it.

Ever since that fateful time I have been plagued with spreading the message to others that backups are essential in preparation for the inevitable. Its like that voiceover in a scene from the film ‘Goodfellas‘ where Ray Liotta is talking about getting whacked;

“If you’re part  of a crew, nobody ever tells you that they’re going to kill  you, doesn’t happen that way. There  weren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies. See, your murders come with smiles, they come as your friends, the people who’ve cared for you all of your life. And they always seem to come at a time  that you’re at your weakest and most in need of their help.”

(except the crew are your devices).

It used to be that I backed up to multiple floppy disks, then CD-RW and later USB sticks and external hard-drive. None of which was painless, fool-proof or seamless.

However these days this need not be the case and I’d like to share my current and hopefully robust methods. If you have a better solution I am willing to give that a whirl.

Before we start, a ‘top tip’  regarding what a backup actually is:-

“Simply put, unless you know that you can reliably do a restoration of your data, you don’t have backups”
bulletproof-backups-for-mysql, Chris Lea

Say it with me, “a backup is only a backup if it can be later retrieved”.

I have a need to backup all of my computer data that I use on my computer, I am not so concerned with losing the operating system and have it restored to the exact state it was in pre-pop so i’ll be ignoring that. Also I will keep my advice on backing up the stuff I create on external web services another time (my websites, delicious and others).

My secret is to use ‘dropbox‘ and use the dropbox folder as my primary working folder and save everything to this location. It is also possible to re-direct other folders such as itunes to capture that data too. Dropbox will immediately backup my data to my account online and “hey presto” all is saved and I can relax. The secondary benefit of using dropbox is that all of my files are available online anywhere  and this feature has saved me on a number of occasions as I have a resources folder with all sorts of useful bits. I used the free 2GB dropbox for quite some time but due to my freelance work I make many versions of the same project (don’t ask) and needed a tad more – to date I have used 7GB of my 50GB $99 per year limit.

Next, although trusting dropbox, I backup all of my computer data onto an external hard drive using a hard drive dock I nicknamed “the toaster” and keeping this offsite. This Apple macbook has some free software called ‘time machine’ that automatically backups everything when the toaster is connected. Most hard drives from seagate come with software to do the backing up – manually copying folders is a bit risky and normally involves you having to think about what stuff you need. Plus the software only sync’s new changes, making the backup much quicker.

So there you have it: dropbox, my hard drive dock and one or more hard-drives lets me sleep well with both online and offsite backups that I have tested.

Reasonable Doubt

I keep meaning to put my thoughts down. However my boggle has always been that I saw my main interests (Designing for the web, motorbiking and music to name the core) as conflicting together too much. But having used my twitter account for some time now I have decided to shrug off any such concerns. People can follow this or not – its that simple – i need this blog for me first.

Lots of the blog advice is to keep it super focused on “your brand” but I don’t see myself in that box so here is to throwing caution to the wind.