Free browser productivity tools & Data storage/sharing

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Today, most people have multiple devices and being able to share information between them is sometimes useful. It can be a bit inconvenient when information you want is on another device.

I am a bit “old school” and want my data on my device, not in the cloud or on some storage unit that can be a bit temperamental in its connectivity.

My Broadband is OK, but I find there are times in the day when it under performs. Also, if your connection fails, your data is inaccessible. That can be frustrating. After working in some out of the way places like Cambodia and East Timor I do not take reliable internet as a given.

I prefer programmes and files on my PC as they run faster, especially if you have a “laggy” internet service. Its fine if you are in the CBD (Central Business District) with fast Broadband but even in the ‘burbs it slows down at peak periods. So if you are running large files over an online connection you do get some slowing, this messes up my workflow, as I’m generally working on large files in BIM programmes.

Storing data & Sharing Files

1. Western Digital My Cloud

“Reliable, centralized personal storage with automatic backup that plugs into your own home network. Share whatever you want, anywhere you have an Internet connection.”

I have a 4 Tb MyCloud storage device on which I initially stored a lot of my backup info and a few videos and photos that I had. I have it plugged into my TV so I can watch the videos and also go through the photos.

I had moved over to this from having large external hard drives that I would move to connect to different devices. I ended up with a few external hard drives so my information got scattered and I  used to spend a bit of time hunting for old files on different backup drives.

It was only recently I found out that you can map network drives on your PC to the MyCloud unit. You can also access it over the web, through a browser, although I find this a bit slow connecting. I also have an app on my phone that can connect to the cloud to this (again very slow) but the same app also connects to my OneDrive & Google Drive, which work well and its really handy.

As I use different devices at different ends of the house, I find this useful for accessing files on different devices. Especially in development. I can copy files onto the MyCloud then use them on the other device. Good for continuity.

I have found mapping the Network drives really really good, although sometimes the connections can be a bit “iffy” connecting. Still, easily accessible and good to share information. Also , in house so I can also plug a PC into it with an Ethernet cable to access the data.

Pros: Good for large storage and backup, also connects as extra drives on PC and accessed over cloud.Can also create shared folder for others to access (but I do not use this). Connects to TV too.

Cons: Connection can be a bit “laggy” and unreliable connection from mobile phone.

2. Google Drive & OneDrive

I use these for giving others access to large or lots of files. I can put them in a location so that others can download.

I understand that now Google Drive has a shared folder tool so that whoever you invite can now upload files to the shared folder. That is really handy. I have not made much use of it yet but intent to.

I did use Google Drive as a backup location for some of my websites, but they got bloated quickly and filled up all the free storage. So I’m trying to stop doing that at present.

I like Google Sheets but am so used to on-pc apps that I prefer Excel. So since I have an office license I get some OneDrive space. It is not as good as Google Drive, but I’ve paid for it so I may as well use it.

Pros: Good for uploading large files and lots of files for others to access.

Cons: Free space limited. Can fill up quickly.

3. Websites & VPS

Websites & VPS (virtual private server). I tend to use these as a bit of storage and also for sharing data with others on the web pages I’ve set up. I do have some backup material and programmes relevant to some of the data I am using that I store on the WebHost Sites & VPS. I generally have the info I want to share in a public way rather than controlling who can access it, apart form a couple of sites I’ve been exploring as  log-in  sites for intranet type access.

4. USB Flash drives, Micro SD’s & emails

All great for day to day file access, file transfer and accessing files from cameras, Mobile Phone & Taking to an office library files that I may use.

USB Flash Drives.  My common transfer method is USB Flash drives. I find they are useful to carry current information around with me. I also have a USB drive with a USB connection one end and a Micro USB connection the other end. This came in handy when I was testing Apps on my mobile phone that I was creating on my PC. I could quickly transfer the .APK file over and test it. So handy to transfer data to/from my phone. I also find it handy to download a few photos from my Mobile phone to my PC if I want to either store them or share lots of photos.

I now have the PortableApps loaded up to be able to use these if I’m using a different PC.

Micro SD drives. I use these as increased storage on my Tablets and Mobile phones. Handy for my audio books, also great for my Cameras, especially my Panorama Camera. The panorama camera does have WiFi connectability but I find it quirky to connect and its slow. I find the Micro SD cards fast for transferring lots of photos quickly.

Emails.My main method of sharing information with others, with attachments, or links to Google Drive or OneDrive.

I use these to send information about articles I am reading, especially using the “Email a link to this Page”  button in Firefox. I also have an email open of I am reading lots of articles, so I only have a few emails rather than one for every item that I read that I want to save.

Also attaching a few photos and small files, I find email is my common method. See below for PushBullet which I want to test out.

Other Tools

5. Gmail & Google Keep

I have been watching some YouTube videos on Gmail and I see that it has been updated and has some interesting integration features that I was not aware of.

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I usually use Mozilla Thunderbird to manage my emails as it can aggregate a lot of email addresses. Gmail now has this feature, and its online. So if traveling instead of opening lots of different accounts you can just go to one place. Handy.

I use Tasks pane in Mozilla Thunderbird as a reference and to-do list. Gmail now has this feature too, which is also handy.

I do use Google Calendars and so this integrates with Gmail and is in the sidebar.

The 4th feature that it has is it connects to Google Keep   I use a few note taking apps for my to-do lists and have tried a variety of them. I have used Google Keep in the past and found it handy, but now that its integrated with Gmail it makes it handy to share information between devices. You can also now share lists with others for collaboration and it updates if others tick a task as done. Great for shared shopping lists. So I’m moving back to this as my list tool. It also has some interesting OCR text capture from PDF’s and images.

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Gmail filters

I found this to be a really handy feature so that you can see the associated account in the Inbox. The video below shows an example of its use.

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Browser Tools

6. 5 Notes Firefox Extension (free)

5 Notes Firefox Extension is a tool I have been using for a couple of months now. It is exactly what I need to copy or create notes on the side of my browser while I’m browsing or suddenly have a thought.

I find it frustrating switching between programmes to copy/paste URLs or a bit of text. I used to use OneNote but I find its quite disruptive to my workflow. The 5 Notes is brilliant. You are browsing, you have a thought, you note it down and carry on. Later you either email it or act upon that note you’ve created. f there are useful links that you want elsewhere you just email them on or store them.

In my posts I am trying to fill in the SOE (Search Engine Optimisation) info as I go, and I have a little check list that I follow in 5 Notes to see that I’ve done the 4 items I need. Handy. I’d definitely recommend it.

6. pushbullet (free version)

pushbullet is a programme that lets you share files across your devices and also allows you to write text messages from your computer. It seems to work across the main devices (not iOS apart from iPhone). It works on all of my devices which are either Windows or Android.

The free version lets you do about 4 things but only 2 of them are of interest to me. 1. SMS text messages writing from my PC and File share.

The file share is a Pull, rather than a push. If you have 2 devices open you can go and look on the other device and find a file that you want then request for it to be copied across. In the settings you pre-define which directory you want the file downloaded to.

7. Kantu automation

Kantu automation. Modern Open-Source Web Macro Recorder and Selenium IDE. Use it for general web automation, web testing, form filling & web scraping.

Kantu is an open-source web macro recorder. If there’s an activity you have to do repeatedly, just create a web macro for it. The next time you need to do it, the entire macro will run at the click of a button and do the work for you.”

The video below demonstrates that the tool can work on images and mouse:

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I have not used this tool yet. I was watching a YouTube video on Pulover’s Macro Creator and it mentioned that it was not as good in Browsers. Kantu is based on Selenium IDE which is designed for Firefox and Chrome so should be a lot better. I look forward to trying it out.

My initial intentions is to create a macro that:

  • opens up my blogging  site for creating a new post, opening the site and logging in and opening in a new post view.
  • looks at my google analytics (although I see that they can email you a report, so I may explore that avenue first)

End comment

A few new tools to try to see if they add to my skillset, especially the Kantu macro.

Pushbullet only works if you have 2 devices open for accessing files, although I’ll be interested to see how this works with home/work access.

5 Notes is definitely a great add-in for Firefox. I believe I’ll be using this a lot more in the future, it is just so handy.

Gmail has caused a bit of confusion now I’ve linked my other emails to it. I now have two lots of the same emails in Thunderbird. I may have to remove some of the overlaps.

I wonder sometimes about productivity. I’m usually paid on an hourly rate so being more productive means I can potentially be paid less for the same job. On the other hand, you end up doing the interesting bits rather than the mindless boring bits, although sometimes they can be quite relaxing. A philosophical conundrum, paid less for being competent.

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