Why Offline is the new luxury

Fear of the dinosaur
I am really scared of a T-Rex. And when I say that i’m not talking about the 30 foot giant dino that scared the living crap out of those poor kids in the original Jurassic park film, but the little grey one that pops up in Chrome, when you don’t have an internet connection. Because that means that I am “Offline”. And these days “Offline” equals being lost at sea, or stuck in a cave, or stranded on one of the moons of Uranus. Or worse: Being stuck in a cave at the bottom of the sea on one of the moons of Uranus. You catch my drift: Being offline is bad.

Beyond the Blackberry: Offline is bad
Why is this? I vividly remember a time where 95% of my day was spent “offline”. Only when I would need to get “on the internet” would I use a little box that made screechy noises to temporarily connect my wonky PC to the world wide web. These days a computer without an internet connection is about as useful as can of window defroster in the Sahara.

It all changed when we got the first smartphones with a permanent connection. Those “Blackberry’s” in the hands of avidly tapping CEO’s would give them the infinite power to be connected all the time, everywhere. It was cool! That meant you could spam them 24/7 with useless questions like “When do I get a raise” knowing that would help to get a rise of of them (Hah).

But somewhere along the line this all changed and we needed to be connected all the time, first so we could be pinged and dinged 24/7, then because we had a massive case of FOMO (fear of missing out) and next because all of our data and our applications were in the could. No pipe? No Party.

The cloud is a blessing in disguise. Sure: our data was safe from failing hard drives and homework devouring K9’s, but we need a permanent pipe to get to them. That’s ok, bandwidth is cheap and connections are ubiquitous, but not omnipresent. Commuting by Train from Brussels does mean that at times the 4g connectivity on my phone is spotty and at some points cuts out altogether. Very annoying when you are in the middle of a cloud based session and not reliable at all. But instead of fearing those moments I’ve begun to embrace them.

I’ve found out “Offline” is great time to blog, to tinker with video’s. To edit down Audio file or to meticulously murder and decimate any mails that are hanging around in my inbox.

The luxury of begin without a connection
There is an incredible luxury about being offline because all the distractions you might encounter go away. No more pings, dings and doodah’s from Facebook or Whatsapp. No more side-quests to hunt down a life-sized My little pony on amazon. No silly youtube cat video’s that eat hours of your time. No more emails that drop into your inbox right when you are in the middle writing up a killer reply to the previous mails. Just … you, your keyboard and your computer. The virtual doors to your man (or woman) cave a closed, the doorbell is unplugged and you get to soak in the digital bubblebath of your own creativity (or focus) without being disturbed.

I’ve found out “Offline” is great time to blog, to tinker with video’s. To edit down Audio file or to meticulously murder and decimate any mails that are hanging around in my inbox. The sweet 90 minutes of Downtime I get as I zoom through the Belgian spotty cellphone-covered countryside are actually the most productive ones of my day.

Make the tech work
Sure I have to make sure the tech works. That means most of my services and clients need to able to ‘handle’ offline. Syncing to your local drive is a great option. Apps like Onedrive, Onenote, Outlook, Dropbox all have the ability to ‘work offline’ and push/pull incremental changes once the packets from the inter-webs return. Not every app or service support that. But think about it. If you NEED constant connectivity to do that one key thing you need to do, you are very vulnerable should the handy workmen decide to accidentally rip up your internet connection while doing some digging.

Are you a constantly connected cloud-crackwhore that cannot live without a public IP or a 4bar wireless signal ?

Enjoy the silence
So here is my question: How much CAN you still DO offline? Are you a constantly connected cloud-crackwhore that cannot live without a public IP or a 4bar wireless signal ? Are your workflows so tied into the cloud that without them the only think you are good at is grunting like a gorilla as you wave your useless smartphone around ? I’m dying to know. You can tell me all about it, when I get back online.

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KW1002 Storytime


This week’s edition of the Knightwise.com podcast brings another installment of Storytime. Sit back and relax to some tunes selected by the Cyberpunk Librarian, Daniel Messer, and two stories from the archives: “Offline” and “When Wanting is More Pleasing than Having”.




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Productivity week : Let somebody read you the web with Pocket.

There are certain things in the universe that are constant. Toast always falls with the Marmelade coated side DOWN, cats land on their feet and Will Smith’s son Jayden will never be able to utter an intelligent sentence on social media.

And the same goes for interesting articles on the web. Their will be a constant relation between the moment you find an interesting article you want to read and the lack of time you have to do so. So how about fixing that problem. What if you could store those interesting articles and .. have them read TO you when YOU have the time.finished-tablet

No time right now ? It’s in the pocket.

Enter “pocket” : A notebook service that lets you store articles in the cloud to read them later (either on or offline). Pocket consists of a free cloud based account that lets you store articles and webpages and an application that allows you to read those articles when you have the time.

Adding articles to the “library” can be done with a Chrome or Firefox extension. You can access your collection of stored articles via Pocket’s website or use the application.

The application “syncs” your pocket articles so you can read them offline on your mobile device (Smartphone or Tablet) and is available on IOS and Android.

The one excellent feature you can use in the Pocket app is that you can have it READ the article out loud via text to speech.

Its a bit like listening to a podcast of articles you have collected on the web. The voices are fairly natural to listen to and you can adjust the speed AND the language so your Dutch article doesn’t get read by an English voice. (You should try it though , its hilarious).

The pocket service, the extension AND the pocket apps are free and available on all the major operating systems. Don’t read the web.. have somebody read it to you !

Links :

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Productivity week : The best chrome extensions to increase your productivity.

We continue our Cross platform productivity week posts this week and focus on that one little application we use the most on our computers these days … The browser. (or the World of Warcraft Executable, depending on your taste). Chrome is a little bit of a cross platform blessing since it not only straddles most of the Operating systems we talk about, it also has access to a wide range of extensions. We listed a couple that help you to be more productive.


Writebox for Chrome.

When I write blogposts I hate to be distracted. No matter how advanced my laptop is, or how multitask-friendly my operating system tries to be … when it comes down to doing some writing I want something plain and simple. Writebox is just that : A text editor in a window that gives you text on a plain background. You can tune the colors to your liking (amber letters on a black background for me) and start typing. Writebox syncs with Dropbox and your Google drive so you can ‘pick up’ where you left on on another computer or on another OS altogether.

Dictate with Dictation.io

All the cool bosses of the 70’s had secretaries. These girls would sit behind giant typewriters while their bosses dictated all kinds of important letters to their management (or mistresses) So why don’t WE do that ? Forget the typewriter and the mistress part, how about you start talking to your computer right now. Dictation.io is a great website/extention that lets you dictate whatever you want to write and spits it out in plain text. Copy – Paste – Done. No matter what OS you are on.. as long as you are running chrome. https://dictation.io/


Whenever I need to prepare a podcast or do a presentation I use a mindmap to organize my thoughts. Some people type stuff out, but I have found out that my brain just doesn’t work that way. After a little looking around for a great (free) chrome friendly Mindmap tool, I stumbled across Mindmup. It lets you create as many mindmaps as you like and store them on your Google Drive or in Dropbox. Unlike Mindmeister we mentioned a while ago, Mindmup does not have a restriction on the number of mindmaps you can create using the free service.

File system for chrome os.

This is actually a collection of several applications/extensions for those of you using a Chromebook. With this extension you can connect your Chrome file structure with either Dropbox, Onedrive or a webdav service; tying the different locations where you store your data together. Gone are the days of having to upload files and open websites/services to get to your teletubby wallpaper collection.. Enjoy !


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Server week : Trust no-one with Owncloud.

Dropbox changed its terms of service so they can give you data to the Feds if they just ask for it, Ubuntu shuts down the online fileservice “Ubuntu One” : Who can you  trust these days ? The great thing with cloud solutions is that they are on a server far far away, most of them are free and you never have to maintain them. The downside is that they are on a server far far away, they are free and you cannot maintain them. We give up a certain level of control for the convenience of the cloud. It would be of course far nicer if you had a service that offered you all the luxury of the products mentioned above .. but gave you full control, absolute privacy and a completely controlled solution. (and free ! It has to be free).


Do not fear : Owncloud is here.

Owncloud is a self hosted cloud solution that gives you the luxury of the cloud in the privacy of your own home (or on your own hosted environment). Its a cross platform webservice that gives you the ability to store files in the “cloud” and access them from anywhere, Sync those files with your desktop (like Dropbox) You can share your files with friends and access them using mobile clients on Android and IOS devices or a simple browser window.

Don’t trust the cloud with your Calendar and contacts ? Owncloud takes care of that too. Manage your contacts and calendars straight from Owncloud or sync them up with your mobile devices using open standards like .vcard and caldav. 

Tired of the tracks on Groovebox or spotify ? Would you like to stream your music (and movies) from your own hard drive at home ? Owncloud even has an answer for that. The built in media player lets you access your library from anywhere as long as you sport at least a browser (AND some underwear .. Owncloud is classy like that).

Want to tie all of your different cloud services together ? Owncloud supports connecting external storage to the service (like network and usb drives) but can also connect to Dropbox and Google Docs, offering ALL those files up in one simple interface.

So what does it take ? 

Installing Owncloud is pretty simple. All you need is a linux server and you can choose to install Owncloud either from the repositories (if you are using Ubuntu or Debian) or you can go and download version 6 straight from their website. 

Owncloud is based on a web based server so you can access everything from port 80 and add some security by choosing to go for https to do your authentication (highly recommended).  You can run it on your server at home OR on a webspace you rented somewhere (or if you are really lucking on your own hosted server in some datacenter). You don’t need a lot of power, but Owncloud does need some ram and some cpu power if it is going to manage and index thousands of files for you.

So how do I do it.

Find out more.

In all , Owncloud is a very powerful solution when it comes to hosting stuff yourself. It has come a long way since version 6 and I have been a big fan of the convenience, the cross platform compatible-ness (is that a word ?) and the sheer power of integrating multiple storage locations (usb drives, network drives, cloud storage) to ONE single web interface. Try it .. you’ll be on cloud 9.

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Docuwiki : Take notes everywhere … seriously … every-where !

Greetings blog readers!  It is I, Matt, the stay-at-home g33kdad in Northern California.  I am writing today to discuss a topic that has been much on my mind lately and that is “note taking”.  I know, Y A W N, right?  Who cares?  You open a google doc, you jot some stuff down… or maybe I used a MS word doc for that… where did I save that again… is it in Evernote… oh, here’s some paper, i’ll just write it down… but, then I’ll just have to type it up later… and what if I want to work on it at my mom’s house…and if it’s stored on some company’s server somewhere, what kind of privacy is there… nevermind, I’ll just play xbox.

So, in the spirit of T. S. Eliot who wrote that immature poets copy while mature poets steal, I steal this from Allison Sheridan of the Nosillacast Podcast, “What is the problem to be solved?”

The problem, as I see it, is keeping track of information digitally (whether or not the information started out digital).  Now, unless you have been living under a rock for the recent past, you probably have an opinion on “cloud” services and computing. There are many different services available.  The ubiquitous choice seems to be Evernote. Evernote is a service that allows you to store your notes on an internet accessible server.  This gives you access to them from anywhere you have an internet connection.  There are apps for all the major mobile platforms and for most desktop operating systems. This is a very full-featured service and very powerful, as well.

Another option is to use Google Docs or another hosted word processor. This is a great option because the interface is similar to MS Word or other word processing programs and most of the formatting options you would have on the desktop are available in your web browser.

While these are good options, they have some flaws. They require a third-party to host your notes.  Having someone else handle the server maintenance and software is great, but you have to deal with privacy concerns.  You also have to deal with connectivity to that service. What if you have an internet outage or you find yourself somewhere without wifi. (Do you go places without wifi?) How do you add, edit, or read notes? Also, some services may not be designed for robust note-taking.

When it comes to third-party, cloud services, my personal feelings are these: 1. Any technology can be used to make my life better. 2. Any technology I don’t own or control can be used to make my life worse.  So I have to make a choice. Do I want the convenience of a service designed to meet the need? Do I want to keep all my notes in plain text on my personal computer? Is there another choice?

I have decided that a wiki is a very flexible platform for what I want to do.  In case you don’t know, a wiki (see: http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/wiki) is a web-based platform for colabrative documents. Anybody who has a user account on a wiki can edit the content, their edits are tracked, and they are available to the public or to other users of the wiki, depending on the configuration.  Wikis have a simple formatting syntax that is easy to learn and use.  Wikis are also designed to store digital information. Links and rich-text and even multimedia can be stored and accessed through a wiki.


There are some caveats to this.  Wiki software is a web app that runs (in most cases) on a webserver. So you need to have access to a webserver to utilize a wiki. This can be a shared hosting account, a vps, or a small server in your home. The requirements are minimal. In some cases, wikis can be complicated to set up.

So, what do I do? I use a package called DokuWiki. DokuWiki is related to MediaWiki which is the software that powers one of the most famous wikis in the world, wikipedia.org.  It is a powerful package and works great for note-taking. There are many plugins available to change the syntax, provide for different content types and many other extensions. I have installed it on my home server and use it most every day for my needs. But there was a slight hiccup.  I still needed internet access to make notes.  Not a big deal when I’m on my home network, but even with dynamic DNS, I won’t have access if I can’t get to the internet.  Then, I discovered the “killer app”. There is a plugin called sync (http://www.dokuwiki.org/plugin:sync). This plugin uses XMLRPC to sync content between two dokuwiki installs. It can sync individual pages, whole namespaces (like folders or sub-directories), or even entire wiki instances.  Now, I run linux on my laptop and it was a 5 minute process to start a full LAMP stack on my daily driver. (a full LAMP stack is not necessary, lighttpd with php and SQLight is sufficient) I simply installed a local instance of DokuWiki and set up the sync profile to sync with my home server instance.  Now, if I’m out somewhere with no internet access, I can still access my wiki via “localhost”.  Then, when I get home or to a location with wifi, I run the sync and I have a backup of my notes! Excellent.

I have just scratched the surface of the possibilities of using DokuWiki for online note-taking. There are so many other uses for a wiki and I know that DokuWiki is so easy to deploy, I will be using it again.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.  More to come! 

You can find more of Matt online at  @sahgeekdad on twitter or via  g33kdad.thestrangeland.net

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Herd your ideas with Mindmeister.

A creative mind can be a blessing in disguise. As most ADD-prone geeks can confirm, it is often harder to herd your ideas then it is to have them at all. How do you keep track of it all ? Sure there are tons of “to-do” and “GTD” apps to be found out there, but the question is : “Do you have them with you when you need them ? ” That was one of the showstoppers when it came to my use of “Ithoughts HD” on the iPad. A truly wonderful mind-map application with plenty of features and dingdongs, but also very “local”. Not only was it only available on IOS, The mind-maps it produced were also stored locally on the device .. This would not do .. It would not do at all.


What you really need is a Cross platform mindmapping application that is available anywhere. On your tablet when you are in a meeting, On your desktop, when you want ‘the big picture’ and on your phone when you are on the road and get that million dollar idea. You want it everywhere, anytime and all in sync. And we have your answer.

Enter Mindmeister. Available via a web interface and via the Google play store and the Ios App store the app gives you online and offline access to your mind maps. If you sign up for a free account you will have a maximum of 3 maps. A payed account at 5,10 or 15 dollars a month gives you loads of extra features and collaboration. But even the free version allows you to share your maps with others.

Using mindmeister is very easy. It might not come with a ton of bells and whistles, but its about working on your idea, not about fancy colored bubbles. As an added bonus they have cross platform widgets and browser extensions to quickly dump your bright light bulbs into Mindmeister.

Mindmeister gets two thumbs up when it comes to “anywhere anytime” and is very slider friendly. Available at www.mindmeister.com , the Google Play store and the Apple App store.

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DOTW : Jdownloader : The ultimate Youtube Downloader.

Download of the week : Until a while ago I used an app on my Mac (I have even forgotten the name) to download any Youtube video’s I needed for the podcast or for some of my presentations. When upgrading to Lion, it decided (or rather Lion decided) it wouldn’t work anymore. Tough 🙁 I had found some alternative online sites to do it but searching for solutions like this is one of those internet ratholes like looking for free mp3 ringtones.) When twiddling around with it I had one of my favorite cross-platform download apps open in the background : Jdownloader. I use Jdownloader for multi-url links and long running downloads. Its free, its cross platform and it has this handy “url catcher” where it notices when you copy a url to your clipboard and then offers to download it. When the activity window for Jdownloader started blinking I checked out the “link grabber” window and was amazed to find that not only it had “caught” the url of the Youtube video I copied, but it offered to do something more. Jdownloader will offer to download AND CONVERT your Youtube video into several sizes like : MP3, FLV, MP4, Webm and more (depends on the video) So this tool is something that should not be missing in your application folder on ANY of your systems.

Download Jdownloader ( mac – lin – win ) here.


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