MrCeri, Platform Geek

15-Jul-2010

Pylon Head
In the life of a geek, a change of platform is an exciting time. It doesn't matter what the platform is - a new car, a new operating system, or even something as simple as a new text editor - a change of platform is an opportunity for the geek to immerse themselves in the new system, learn its rules, its intricate details, find out how to fine tune its performance and bend and shape the system to their specific needs.
Most people find this stuff annoying and tiresome. Non-geeks don't tend to get too excited about learning how to program their VCR (remember those?), or configure their new wireless router - whereas geeks break out in a cold sweat of nervous anticipation at the mere thought of such fun!


When changing platform, a geek tends to focus on 3 questions:

1) What cool stuff can my new platform do (that my old platform couldn't)?
2) How can I do the same things I used to do with my old platform?
3) What things that I used to be able to do, can I no longer do?

Finding answers to the first question is the most fun and rewarding, and this exciting honeymoon period can keep a geek busy for ages. But there was presumably a reason they were using the old platform in the first place, so it soon becomes time to start answering question 2 - how can I keep doing all the boring old stuff I used to do before? Sometimes the answer is, "you can't", and then you start learning the answers to question 3. This is inevitably a low point in a geek's life, but don't worry, there's always a new platform around the corner :)

I heart ASCII


So why the preamble about geeks and their platforms? Well I recently moved platform, from Windows Mobile to Android, and even though answering question 1 has been fun, I'm now very much working on question 2.

One thing my old WinMo platform did so well was handle text file synchronisation. I use text notes A LOT, and really want to be able to:

- view/edit notes on my phone
- view/edit notes on my desktop
- view/edit notes when offline
- organise notes into folders
- keep my notes private
- keep phone and desktop notes in sync
- not have to sync my notes with some 3rd party web app

I assumed there would be heaps of apps on the Android platform that provided these features, but not so. There are lots of apps that sync with an online web service, or backup to the SD card, but none (that I found) that provide a true two-way sync between the app and the desktop that doesn't involve the internet. I guess Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg were right - privacy is dead.

Don't forget old friends


Sometimes, in the midst of the excitement of a new platform, it's important to remember the tried and tested platforms that have served us so well in the past, and continue to serve us now. One such platform for me is Subversion, my tool of choice when it comes to source control. And also, it turns out, a great tool for implementing text note synchronisation between my desktop and phone.

Not that it needs further explanation, but what I did was:

1) Set up a new Subversion repository on my portable USB drive.
2) Created a check out folder on the same portable drive.
3) Created a check out folder on my phone's SD card (while the phone was connected via USB).

This approach satisfies almost all of my requirements, with the exception that it's not that secure - notes are stored in plain text on the phone's SD card, so if my phone was stolen my notes would be compromised. Enter trusty old platform number two: Password Safe.

I've been using Password Safe to manage my personal password collection (290 and counting) for ages, and now there's an Android app for viewing Password Safe files on my phone. So any notes that qualify as "sensitive" can be transferred to Password Safe - non-sensitive notes can be synced as plain text.

This isn't a perfect solution, but it'll do for now. And more importantly, it keeps question 3 at bay that little bit longer :)