Saturday, June 17, 2006

Thumb Drives Rule! (Sleepless Again)

Once again I'm losing sleep. Not out of a deep interest in the surfing or game playing I'm doing at this Internet cafe (PC Bang), but out of a desire to save money.

My old standby has been the Seoul Hotel which is just before the McDonald's in Itaewon. Facing the Hamilton hotel, go left and walk about 700 metres. Cross the street just before McDonald's and stick your head in the alley immediately before the McDonald's.

If I'm not very much mistaken this is the place, thanks to my trusty cameraphone:


You can just follow the signs upto the 3rd floor. The cost per night is about W40,000 -- a touch more on weekend nights and holidays. It is not the best hotel I've ever stayed in but it is a handy place nearby the action in Itaewon.

I could not stay there this evening as they were full. Rather than waste huge piles of money on the Hamilton Hotel I decided to hang out and surf on the net. But as 4am rolls past I begin to wish I had made a different decision.

Wait! Here is my opportunity to mention the great time saver and handy dandy gadget that I've been treasuring above all other gadgets but put off mentioning because I was being lazy, or busy, or something like that.

The catholic man's inventory has been; spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch. I used to perform this ritual but now-a-days I do a much different one. I pretty much take it for granted that my testicles are attached, perhaps because of all the tighty-whitey undies I picked up in the Philippines, perhaps other reasons that are hard to go into.

Instead my inventory is now; thumb drive, wallet, cellphone. We have a combination code on the apartment door so I do not need to mess with keys.

The indispensible features of the thumb drive (for everybody that can use a computer, but especially for foreigners in Korea):

  • All of my software and web surfing is in English not Korean (being an expat can be unavoidably painful and draining, but now, not so much).
  • My bookmarks and less important passwords are all right here with me -- wherever I go.
  • Everything that I need to keep secure and private is now doubly so. I barely leave a trace on the public computers I use, no cookies, browser history, passwords -- even the photos and files I download go straight onto my thumb drive!
  • I can listen to my favourite songs whenever and wherever I want. No downloading. No annoying wires, no ridiculous licensing software.

My 2GB thumb drive has a few extremely handy applications on it that are stored with my personal preferences intact including my bookmarks and even some of my passwords (by the way, it is a good deal smaller than my thumb but larger than my thumbnail, for the curious).

I bring this with me to work and into internet cafes so that I can surf, IM (instant message), and skype to my heart's content -- at a moments notice.

Current contents of my thumb drive:

Lest I need to repeat my great love for everything free -- all of these itmes are completely free. However, many of them do provide you a way to help out with development if you so desire to shed some of your hard earned dollars.

Cryptainer LE was really the key to making things truly portable. I wanted to bring my bookmarks, cookies --and everything else that makes surfing from my own computer at home so much better than surfing elsewhere-- with me on my thumb drive, but I did not want to be worried that somebody might find my thumbdrive and subsequently get access to all of my stuff!

This application gives you an encrypted virtual drive upon which you can put upto 25MB of files and data. I put my Portable Firefox and all of its bookmarks, cookies, settings and other profile junk on one virtual drive which I designated the X: drive. I also put all of my Portable Gaim settings and files on a second virtual drive which I designated Y:.

This sounds very complex and alien to the uninitiated but it is really extremely easy to do as this application has excellent help files.

The thing that makes these applications useful to me is the very fact that I don't have to keep on re-entering user names and passwords each time I want to meet my msn, yahoo, and gmail talk buddies during my 5 minute break between classes or I can zip into my firefox webbrowser and look up that teacher resource I bookmarked just as quickly and conveniently.

Foxit reader is a single, tiny (compared to Adobe Reader) file that you can use to read, and print all of those PDF files you need to access from government sites and so forth. The thing about Adobe Reader is that it is bogged down with all sorts of crap such as licensing drivers, and bells and whistles that you cannot access with paying Adobe the big bucks. Its full of errors and I find tends to mess up almost as much as it works. Foxit however is very fast, very good, clean and tidy. I am on the verge of uninstalling Adobe altogether cause it keeps on getting messed up on my computer. For some god-awful reason I have Adobe Reader version 4, 5 and 7 all installed on my comp and it keeps on bugging out and making me reset my browser.

fusion media player is green, small, fast and sweet -- but a little bit buggy. It does not hog your system resources like Windows Media Player and the portable version is quite easy to find on the developer's website.

portable clamwin is a fast, tiny antivirus program that does not interfere with your other applications while you are scanning. So, you can scan and do all those other neat things you want to do all at the same time.

Portable Firefox is a much better web browser than internet explorer. The non-portable version is much more versatile and customizable, but hopefully somebody will fix this lack in the portable version soon. Nonetheless, I simply cannot do without the RSS feed feature in my bookmarks which allows me to browse through my favourite websites without having to load the main page. Honestly, I do not understand why people make their home pages so darn difficult to navigate. It is not pretty but I definitely prefer a list of headlines to all of those ads, confusing pics and graphics.

Portable Gaim lets you access all of your messenger identities at the same time in one easy to use interface. This application does away with the need for bulky and buggy MSN Messenger not to mention Yahoo messenger as well as several other ones.

Portable GIMP lets you edit photos and create sophisticated graphics (not that I have a clue how to use graphic editing software yet).

Portable Open Office is probably the most useful application overall for mobility in Korea. First of all, it is all in ENGLISH or the language of your choice (most major languages will probably become portable soon) allowing you to quickly figure out what you want to do and easily remember how to do it without having to puzzle out the Korean writing. Also, most public computers in Korea do not have any sort of office software installed. Ever try to make a resume look nice in notepad? It ain't pretty! You can export all of your documents to PDF and virtually any other office format. OpenOffice does not have exactly the same features as Microsoft Office but the various applications are extremely similar, making it a cake-walk to move over from the expensive and bulky non-free microsoft version (yes it is buggy too but I don't like to be too repetitive).

Portable Suite is a whole range of software wrapped up together, making it very easy to install and go. There are a couple of versions available but most of them include firefox, gaim, openoffice, email software that is just like outlook (but better), ftp software, web-editing . . . and so on.

I have no idea how I managed to get stuff done over the last 25 years of my computing history without my trusty thumb drive. I did manage it somehow, but now I can get stuff done very quickly and I have heaps more time to play around on all of those illegitimate (perhaps I should try to make a case for all things illegitimate being fun and indespensible especially since even my daughter fits into this category) things that are so much fun!

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