Cloud Storage And You

The Cloud is For Everyone

If you have any files (photographs, documents, spreadsheets), you should seriously consider using a cloud storage service. The cloud is for everyone!

Clouds on a blue sky over Skerries

When people speak of “the cloud,” they mean networks consisting of a large number of connected computers that are normally located in computer warehouses. Rather than being stored on one specific computer, data is shared across these networks, with in-built redundancies: If one computer goes down, the data is still available on another computer.

If we’re using the internet, we’re in the cloud. We often don’t even think about it, just take for granted that we can see our email, log onto Facebook from any computer that is connected to the internet, and our posts, our photographs, everything will just be there for us – stored on some server somewhere in the internet. So there we are, using “the cloud” on a daily basis.

Cloud storage has real advantages for the individual. There are a number of ways that each of us can use it. The most common ones are Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud and Google Drive – you’ve probably heard of them, as most new laptops come with a certain amount of free storage space, such as OneCloud.

Once you have saved your files to the cloud, you can access them from any computer with internet access – a great advantage! No need to bring documents on USB sticks, or to lug your own laptop around with you. Your sister wants to see those videos you made at Mam’s 60th? No problem. Fellow u-12 coach is interested in your training plan? Just find a computer, go online and call it up. Bingo!

Cloud Mode 1: The cloud as your back-up

The Cloud is a useful place to back up your data and has taken the place of an external hard drive for many people. Maybe you worry about losing your files on your computer – hard-disk crash, theft, or just a failed upgrade to a new operating system can all endanger your things. In this case, using storage on the cloud is a safe and easy way to back them up. You may have to be selective, if you want to store videos or large amounts of photographs –  or you may wish to pay and increase your storage space. For many, it will be enough: The free space of 2 Gig, offered by Dropbox, for instance, can hold 480 songs (based on average song length), 1,200 typical photographs, or over 40,000 Word doc pages.

If you need more space in the cloud, you can pay for it. Typically, €2 per month already gets you a sizable increase.

Cloud Mode 2: The cloud is where your data lives – and your applications!

Let’s say you have very little, if any, space to store files on your device (e.g. you have a Chromebook, or a HP Steam netbook). Or you constantly use different computers, like in libraries or internet cafés (maybe you’re travelling a lot).

Google Drive and Microsoft’s OneDrive have online storage AND online applications. That means you can create documents (texts, presentations, spreadsheets…) online, without having to download or own any program. I’ve used Google Drive a lot in different contexts, and it’s very straightforward. While the Microsoft Office suite has a lot more powerful tools, you may only need those in rare circumstances.

And then there were three… Working together online

An additional bonus of cloud storage is the ease with which you can share documents. It’s very important, of course, to choose the right access level! You can let others view files (lowest level), or comment on them, or edit them (highest).

If you are preparing a presentation with others while using Google Drive, for instance, you can edit the same document at the same time. You’ll be able to see who else is working on it right now, and you’ll see their changes on your screen. There is even a chat function so you can discuss what you are doing.

Beware…

Having sung the praises of cloud storage, I must add a warning, too.

When your data is in the cloud, you don’t have 100% control over it. There are, of course, data protection procedures which especially the larger players like Apple, Google, Dropbox and Microsoft have to abide by. Still, it’s better to familiarise yourself with the situation by actually reading the terms and conditions, and not just checking that box. This includes the question whether third parties might get access, such as the state or the Gardaí.

A very good background article on Cloud Storage was written for Gizmodo by Adam Clark Estes. It’s called “What Is The Cloud – And Where Is It?” and tackles the origins and history of cloud computing as well as security and safety concerns. Overall, Adam too comes  down on the side of “life without a hard drive.”

If you’d like to get an idea how often governments ask for user data, you could start with the Google Transparency Report.

So what to choose?

New computers often come with free storage space on the cloud, and you may find it best to go with the package included with yours.

Personally, I started with Dropbox some four years ago, and I love it. Once installed, it looks like an additional drive on your computer, and all files are physically stored on your hard disk as well as synchronised to the internet. You can access your material online, but you can also work on them when there is NO internet. We are so used to having internet access all the time, but being able to do offline editing may still be necessary in a number of other circumstances (for instance, I’m writing this on the train where there is unreliable WiFi access), which is why I like having my files on my laptop. Dropbox automatically synchronises all files when I’m online; when I’m offline, I have a copy of everything on my laptop, the way it was when I last went online and the computer synchronised. You do need to check that your files are always up-to-date, though, because it can happen that you work on an older version.

I also use Google Drive a lot, because it makes collaboration so easy, and because I can use it with students who may not be using the same computer every time we work together. Also, it’s possible to search (Google) images and information straight from within your document – another bonus.

Outlook: Cloudy with a chance of more?

The cloud is here to stay, and it has serious advantages for the everyday user. For safety (backup), ease of access, and collaboration, it beats external hard drives and USB sticks hands-down. If you’re not using it yet, do give it a try!

This blog article is based on my monthly column on all things digital in the Feb 12, 2016 edition of Skerries News.

If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns, you can contact me at Sabine@cccSkerries.com

 

Useful links

drive.google.com

dropbox.com

onedrive.com

icloud.com

IT Pro: Google Drive vs Microsoft Skydrive head-to-head review

 

Google Search: I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

techie column beam

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a monthly column in Skerries News

Just Google it!” That’s what many of us do when we come across something we don’t know, or to settle a dispute. That actor in the movie everyone seems to be talking about. The difference between cappuccino and latte. Ray O’Shaughnessy. Ham Sandwich.  Population of Fingal.

Over the years, search has gotten a lot simpler, and a lot more sophisticated at the same time.

You can now just type in questions, and Google makes sense of them for you. Like:
How to draw a minion, how to eat a pomelo, how to bleed radiators. (All of these were among the top 10 “how to” searches in 2015!)

what is skerries like

Google even personalises search results, based on what it knows about you – some people find this useful, others creepy. I tend to be more on the “useful” side – as I teach coding to kids, for instance, the “Scratch” I’m interested in is the one to do with computer programming, not the one to do with DJs, nor the one dealing with the paint of cars; and when I type in “Doctor Who Episodes” I get results relating to a certain BBC television programme, not something about a doctor who deals with episodes of, say, influenza.
Google also knows where you are (if you allow it to see your location), so when I for example type in “weather,” it shows me the current temperature in Skerries. Handy!

weather

Beware, however, of advertisements that look like search results… A lot of the time, the top links have a small yellow rectangle on the left-hand side, with the word “Ad” in it. And these are not the actual results (also known as “organic search results”), but – you guessed it – ads! Especially when looking for flights or insurances, you might end up in the wrong (and more expensive) place…

ryanair not ryanair

By the way, if you see something on the internet that you’d like to search for, simply select the word(s) with your mouse, then right-click and click on “Search Google for”…””. Google will open up a new tab with the results for you.  No need to type!

right click to search

There are some other great search tricks – such as:

  • get information on a flight if you know the flight number – try “EI105” – very handy if picking up people from the airport, you can easily check if the plane is on time!
  • get the weather forecast for any place – try “forecast Vancouver”
  • set a timer (type in “set timer 10 min”)
  • type in “translate [foreign word]” and you’ll get the translation straight away, no need to click anywhere else, Google will even find the language for you – try “translate do rogha”
  • type in a maths problem – the answer will be in the search results, together with a calculator app! Try “56088 / 456”
  • find out when your favourite series is on again, or was on last: “ros na run episodes”
    This one is also great if you want to quickly get to a recap of an episode you may have missed.

Insider Tip: Seven search terms for those who like the (slightly) unexpected…

Type in (or of course select, right-click and select “search Google for…”) the following and see what happens!

  • Do a barrel roll
  • Google in 1998
  • Blink html
  • Fun facts
  • askew
  • zerg rush
  • Atari Breaktout [then click on image search]

And possibly my favourite:
– A long time ago in a galaxy far far away

a long time ago in a galaxy far far away

Did you try any of the suggestions here? What do you find Google most useful for? What would you like me to explore in one of my next monthly columns? Let me know!
This monthly column on all things digital from a Skerries perspective is written by Sabine McKenna, who has been using computers since the 1980s, and set up Creative Computing Classes Skerries in 2012. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for future columns, you can contact here at Sabine@cccSkerries.com

The above article appeared in the mid-January 2016 edition of Skerries News.

Jan mid 2016 Skerries News front page

Five reasons why you might join Facebook after all.

 

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a new monthly column in Skerries News, by Sabine McKenna

Digital Thoughts for Non Techies – a new monthly column in Skerries News

Want to keep up with what’s happening in Skerries? Be on Facebook!

Dec 2015 Skerries News front pageYou can, of course, enjoy Facebook for seeing what your friends and family share, and for sharing your own thoughts, pictures, and opinions with them. Many people enjoy this part of Facebook. Others prefer not to. Either way, Facebook has evolved into a platform that is about much more than that perfect cappuccino you just had, or your favourite holiday haunt. It’s become part of the fabric of our local community. And that can be a brilliant thing!

If you have been reluctant to join Facebook so far, I would advise you to think again, and here are five reasons why – all from a Skerries point of view.

Facebook search how

One. Fancy going to a play, a gig, a movie? See what’s on.

Skerries Theatre Group, Raff’s On The Corner, Blue Bar, Rockabill Film Society

Two. See what’s happening in the community.

Skerries Community Association. Skerries Tidy Towns. Skerries Town Twinning. Skerries Adopt A Beach. To name just the first five that come to mind. And of course Skerries News!

Three. Try a new hobby or activity? There are quite a few to be found on Facebook!

Millhill Ladies Badminton Club. Skerries Camera Club. Skerries Chess Club. Skerries frosties (swimming). Skerries Watersports Academy. Skerries Women’s Volleyball Club. Yoganamara. And many, many more.

Four. Shop local!

Wisteria Skerries. Aidan O’Brien Butchers. Chic Boutique. Greg Reddins. Skerries Bookshop, Red Island Wine Company. All hairdressers, as far as I can tell. Delis. Restaurants.
The shops in Skerries Mills Courtyard, like Karen Wilson Art and The Stash Cupboard. The list would go on and on!

And five: Know what’s on for kids, too.

Many schools have Facebook pages, many parents’ association have Facebook groups.
MSPA (Moore school of performing arts), Needles & Pins, Skerries ArtSchool, Skerries Cookie Club.

The beauty of Facebook is that you don’t HAVE to see all this – just what YOU are interested in.

SCA on FacebookAnd this is just the start, I haven’t even gone near information about local attractions like Skerries Mills or Ardgillan Castle, local artists & writers, or local services! There are loads more of voluntary / charitable / community organisations, certainly worth a full column in their own right. Fingal County Council, the local libraries, the met office… all of those have information available online – at times useful, at times colourful, and sometimes both.

Once you’ve joined Facebook, all you need to do is search for Skerries!


 

Insider TiFacebook snipp: – You will not automatically see everything posted by a page you follow. If you want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, you need to tell Facebook. You can do that by going into the page, and hovering over the “Liked” button. Then go to “Posts in News Feed” and “Notifications.”

 


 

This post first appeared in Skerries News, Dec 1-14, 2015, p. 33.