Tag Archives: Dropbox

What is Cloud Computing?

iStock_000019342228XSmallThe ‘Cloud’ is simply The Internet – but it is taking on special meaning as Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are offering accounts where you can have your own slice of the sky.  They also offer device independence.  If you can start a document with your computer, finish it on your tablet, and view it on your smartphone, you’re using Cloud Computing.  With names like DropBox, Google Drive, iCloud, or SkyDrive, it no longer matters what device you have in your hand because the application, and the content is in the Cloud.

The Cloud is the Internet

So, where is this cloud?  And who owns it?  Remember … the ‘Cloud’ is simply a synonym for the Internet.  The Internet is made up of thousands, maybe millions of Server computers, connected by millions of miles of cables, and thousands of routers.  It’s all linked together with an agreed upon system, an Internet Protocol.  Nobody owns the whole thing, although Google, Microsoft, and Apple do own some pretty large chunks.  It is the mother network of networks, it is vast and it is complex, so we need a simple analogy to describe it.  Pretend that the Internet is in the sky rather than in computers here on earth, and the term ‘Cloud’ fits nicely.  It also helps with terms like UPload and DOWNload.  UPload means taking something on your computer and sending it UP to the Internet … to the Cloud.  DOWNload means taking something that is on the Internet (in the Cloud) and bringing it DOWN to your computer.

Cloud Computing is using Computer Services from the Cloud Instead of your Computer

‘Cloud Computing’ means using Cloud-based services to store your stuff, rather than your own computer or hard drives.  For example, you can store all your spreadsheets in the Cloud and access them from wherever you are.  Cloud Computing also means using Cloud-based services for your software instead of buying boxed software.  For example, you can use Word, Excel, and Powerpoint on Microsoft SkyDrive rather than buying Microsoft Office for your computer.  Most travelers we know don’t have a whole lot of need for Excel anymore, but occasionally, you need to make a spreadsheet, or read one that someone else sends you.  Using SkyDrive, you can do that without paying for any software.

I could argue that I’ve been using Cloud Computing since the early 90s when I used CompuServe for communicating with friends on the Internet, or definitely since 2003 when I started using Blogger.com to post to my website – my blog.  But we didn’t call it Cloud Computing then, we called it Web-Based software.  The term Cloud Computing is taking hold because of services like Microsoft’s SkyDrive.  Using SkyDrive, you can create and store Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.  All you need is some device (computer, tablet, or smartphone) to access your SkyDrive account.  It’s like having a virtual computer in the sky with your name on it.  Some people think that the Cloud has something to do with Apple because they call their service iCloud, but no, Cloud Computing is a generic term.

What if you Don’t Have an Internet Connection? Synchronize!

imagesHaving a good, high-speed Internet connection is taken for granted in modern American households, but for those of us who live in an RV – we don’t take anything for granted!  That’s why we love the synchronizing (sync) feature.  Using Dropbox as an example, it not only stores your stuff in the cloud, but it synchronizes with a folder on your computer whenever your computer is connected to the Internet.

For example, we plan our travels using Microsoft Streets and Trips, we create a file called geektravels.est.  Let’s say that I created the travel plan and Jim says he wants to make some changes.  Before Dropbox, we had 2 choices:

  1. Jim could use my computer to make his changes, or,
  2. I would copy the geektravels.est file to a USB drive and give to him for his computer.  Now we have two files, one with my version of our travels and one with his – what a mess.

Now, we each have a Travels folder that has been set up with Dropbox and shared.  Whenever I make a change to our travel plans, I save it to my local copy.  Dropbox automatically notices the change and synchronizes it with the Cloud copy, AND, it also synchronizes the Cloud copy with the copy on Jim’s computer.  The next time either of us looks at the geektravels.est files, we will be looking at the current version even without a current Internet connection.  We are working with a local file, Dropbox takes care of making sure that both my local file and Jim’s local file are the same.  This has made our lives so much easier.

Comparison of Major Cloud-Computing Services

Cloud

Cloud-002

Cloud-001

Cloud-003

Free Space

7 GB

5 GB

2 GB

5 GB

$ for more $10/yr for 20 GB 2.49/mo for 25 GB 9.99/mo for 100 GB, but you can earn more free space $20/yr for 10 GB
Sync Method Download SkyDrive desktop app for Windows or Mac Download Google Drive for your PC or Mac Download Dropbox for Windows, Mac, or Linux Download iCloud for Macintosh, Windows, or AppleTV
Web Apps Included Word, Excel, Powerpoint, One Note, Excel Survey Google Docs: Docs,  Sheets, Slides, Form, Drawing None (3d Party apps available) iOffice: Pages, Numbers, Keynote
Mobile platforms Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android Android, iPhone, iPad, Android, iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, Kindle Fire iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch,
Sharing with others Easy, including sharing with groups Easy Easy, you can even just right click a file and share via a URL Not so easy, iCloud is designed to synchronize all of your Apple devices
More Info SkyDrive Support Overview of Google Drive Dropbox Help iCloud Features

This article is meant to introduce you to the concept of Cloud Computing, any specifics about how these programs work is likely to change on a daily basis!  Jim and I, at Geeks on Tour, use Dropbox constantly to keep all our shared files synchronized.  We would be lost without it now.  We’ve also used Google Docs (which is now Google Drive) for a few years as a way to create and share online documents and spreadsheets.

If we were to start today and pick just one service, it would likely be SkyDrive … it has the most complete set of capabilities, the most free storage space, and it’s integrated with Windows 8.  We also like the Group sharing feature.  If you use any of these Cloud Computing services, we welcome your comments below.

My On the Road Data Diet

How I Exceed My 5 Gigabyte Limit with Verizon

verizonThis is not a good thing!  The point is to stay within your contract limits.  When you go over, there are extra charges.

Our contract allows 5 Gigabytes of data usage per month.  Check the image at right and you’ll see that we’ve used over 4 Gigabytes and we’re only on day 8 of 31!  Looks like I’ll have to go on a data diet for the rest of the month.

What’s a Gigabyte?

Data usage is simply Internet use as opposed to voice.  Voice plan usage from your cellular provider is measured in minutes, Internet/Data usage is measured in Megabytes/Gigabytes.  Data usage is also referred to as Downloading, Uploading, or Bandwidth.  Think of it like a stream of water going thru a hose, email and other text is just a trickle, video is a firehose.  You’re measured by how much data is going thru the connection – what you’re looking at, not the time you’re online.

Each Gigabyte is roughly 1,000 Megabytes.  We teach people that 5 Gigabytes is usually plenty for a month of one person doing normal browsing, email reading and maybe some Youtube watching.  But, if you share that connection with multiple computers, or you watch a lot of video, then 5 Gigabytes won’t be nearly enough.

Just to give you an idea, a large, high resolution picture that you view on the web may consume about 1 Megabyte.  You’d have to view 1,000 of those pictures to hit one Gigabyte of usage.  Over the period of one month, you might view 1,000 pictures on the web.  Watching a typical, standard quality, 3-4 minute Youtube video will use roughly 10 Megabytes. So you could watch 100 of those for 1 Gigabyte of data usage.  See this article from the folks at evdoinfo.com for a chart: What does 5GB (Gigabytes) Get Me?  Here’s another article for more detailed info on data usage for videos.  The only thing we tell people they cannot do is to watch full length movies.  Watching one Netflix movie online can easily use up to 2 Gigabytes of your allotment right there.

How Did We Go Over Our Limit?

We had not watched any online movies, so how did we rack up so much data usage so fast?  First of all, for the whole winter season, we were in one RV park where we contracted with Bell South for a DSL line.  DSL is nice and fast and has no limits.  So, we got spoiled.  We didn’t have to pay attention to data usage all winter.  Now that we’re back on the road, we need to be paying attention.  Both Jim and I are sharing our mobile hotspot Internet connection from Verizon.

Once I got a notice from Verizon, I did some checking.  One culprit is my Windows Updates.  I had automatically received Windows 7 Service Pack 1.  I checked Microsoft’s site and learned that it was over 1 Gigabyte in size!  We are also preparing to deliver a seminar remotely using Skype and screen-sharing.  Our practice session probably cost us us a 1/4 Gigabyte.  A couple days ago, I purchased the latest Microsoft Streets and Trips program and downloaded it.  That was 1.3 Gigabytes!  Pretty stupid on my part since I already had the trial version installed on my computer.  We now have a 4G mobile hotspot from Verizon and we were so excited to be in a 4G area around Nashville …  I may have watched a couple episodes of Glee on Hulu because it worked so well … hey, I call that research!

What Can You Do to Limit Your Data Usage?

We need to go on a data diet!  Here are the things that we are going to do:

  1. Always check for good Wi-Fi and use it when possible.
  2. Stay aware of our current data usage by checking our account stats online at verizonwireless.com/myverizon and logging into our account.  If you don’t know how to do that for your provider, give them a call and ask.
  3. Turn off automatic Windows Updates (Control PanelSystem and SecurityWindows Update)  note: if you do this, make sure to do your updates manually whenever you’re in a good Wi-Fi area.  Getting updates *is* very important.
  4. Turn off Carbonite online backup.  I love Carbonite, but it *does* use bandwidth to backup all new files I create to the backup website.  Since we’ll be on the road for quite some time, I’ll probably turn off the service completely and just use our ClickFree for backup.
  5. Turn off DropBox.  DropBox is a great utility that synchronizes a folder of data across multiple computers.  It does this by uploading them to a website and then downloading them to the other computers, so it uses double bandwidth (data transfer usage) going up and down!  If I remember, I’ll turn it back on when I’m connected to a good Wi-Fi signal.
  6. Stay away from Netflix and Hulu
  7. Limit our Video Skype calls.

How Much Does it Cost When you go Over Your Allotment?

Verizon used to charge 25 cents per Megabyte of overage.  That adds up quick!  If you went over by a Gigabyte, that would cost $250!  The fees today are much more reasonable – each Gigabyte of excess will be charged at $10/Gigabyte.  Check with your provider and your contract to see what your overage charges are.  If you’ve had your contract for a long time, you may even have an unlimited usage contract.  If that’s the case … don’t lose it!  Any change in your contract may get you started with a whole new contract – with new limitations.  The unlimited usage contracts are highly desirable.

Can I Increase My Limits?

This depends on your provider and the plans they offer.  Verizon does currently offer a 10Gigabyte contract for $80/month.  We might just have to do that.

Kind of like those real diets … so often I give up and go buy some clothes in a larger size!  Smile

2014 Update: We now use our Android smartphones as hotspots rather than the MiFi device. Our smartphones have a grandfathered UNlimited data plan, so we don’t have to worry.

by Chris Guld, Geeks on Tour

Geeks on Tour is a membership website with hundreds of Tutorial Videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, Route-Planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels with a website using Blogger.  Members can view all of the videos in the Learning Library.