All the Functionality of MobileMe for Free

How to get (almost) all the functionality of MobileMe (previously known as .mac) without paying for MobileMe

Email – Use Gmail with IMAP turned on and you can sync mail between your iPhone and Macs. If you’ve got your own domain you can use Google Apps to use a personalized email address. I use Gmail without ever opening the browser based gmail but it’s nice to know that it’s available. IMAP keeps your computers in sync with each other and with your phone and works great.

Contact and calendar syncingPlaxo will sync your contacts and calendar surprisingly well across your Macs, Gmail and Yahoo. In order to sync with your iPhone you’ll have to plug the phone in and Sync over USB. You lose the push sync for iPhone that MobileMe offers so if that’s the killer feature for you, you might be stuck paying.

Remote File Storage – There’s a service called DropBox that gives you 2gb free and syncs really well between computers. It’s in beta but they’re giving out beta invitations and I imagine it will be generally available soon. There’s Box.net which also gives you 2gb for free and has a web interface. Finally–Windows Live Foldershare it isn’t online storage, but it will sync folders between computers with no limit on the number of files, they’ve just got to be smaller than 2gb each.

OmniFocus to iPhone SyncOmniFocus syncs over WebDav. It’s almost impossible (but not quite) to find free WebDav hosting. I found some offered by Tomben called OFWD. You can set it up in just a few minutes and it works fine. Box.net is an oft-suggested solution but in my experience, it doesn’t work.

BackToMyMac – BackToMyMac is just VNC. One way to get around this is to turn on screen sharing in your Mac’s system preferences under sharing then use the built in Screen Sharing.app (copy it from /System/Library/CoreServices to /Applications). You can set up a friendly name for your computer with DynDNS and then configure your router give your computer a static internal IP address and forward port 5900 to your computer and you’re done. There’s a great article explaining some of this on Macworld. If all that sounds like a pain LogMeIn works really well and it’s free and easy to set up.

GalleryFlickr is free for 200 pictures. You can upload to it for free from iPhoto with Connected Flow’s FlickrExport. FFXporter is also free. It’s not as pretty or easy as what you get with MobileMe, but it works for basic needs. The gallery is another area where MobileMe still beats free solutions.

It’s not perfect, especially if you want a push contacts/calendar sync and a gallery, but you can get most of the way there with free stuff. The reason I started looking is because MobileMe just wasn’t doing it for me. The last straw was when ALL my phone numbers randomly disappeared from contacts on my phone after syncing with MobileMe. I was able to recover them, but I decided MobileMe wasn’t worth it.

If I’m missing anything, or there’s a better way to do something than what I’ve listed, I’d love to know.

PersonalBrain vs. Mindmapping Part II

After writing yesterday about the differences between PersonalBrain and Mindmappers, I started thinking more about what the core difference between them are.

  • Is it a temporal difference? Mindmaps tend to expire whereas information in PersonalBrain tends to be valid over a longer period of time.
  • Is it a difference in the amount of data you can to see at once? Mindmaps allow you to see possibly hundreds of nodes at once where realistically in PersonalBrain you can only deal with maybe 10 or 20 on the screen at a time.
  • Is it a difference in the way you can connect the information? PersonalBrain is more organic and mindmaps are structured.

While these are all valid points, they don’t get at the heart of it which seems to be:

In PersonalBrain each node is first class data, whereas in a Mindmap, nodes have hierarchal importance. This means that in PersonalBrain any element in the “plex” can have infinitely detailed information associated with it. You can extend any node with unlimited sub-nodes that provide additional detail without consciously structuring the data to allow for specialization.

For example, I’ve created a Mindmap of my notes for the book Linked and one of the nodes in the map is “Power Laws”. The more I research power laws and get into the details, the more nodes I’ll need to add. Eventually, one of two things will happen – either the mindmap will become cluttered and unwieldy or I’ll have to start a new mindmap. If I do the latter, I’ll then have to remember it exists and open separately if I go back to my book notes. Neither is desirable.

In PersonalBrain if I have a power laws node I’ll never run out of space under it and everything associated with that node can be associated with any other node in the system.

On the other hand, it’s sometimes beneficial to have the concept of a leaf node and the structure a mindmap offers. In PersonalBrain it’s difficult to emphasize the importance of a node since there really isn’t the concept of the “center node” that a mindmap has.

So, the conclusion remains the same–different tools for different purposes.

PersonalBrain vs. Mindmapping

When I started using PersonalBrain sometimes I was unclear about when to use PersonalBrain or when to use a more traditional mindmapping tool like Freemind or MindJet. Now I think I can break it down pretty simply to this:

PersonalBrain is for research, learning and long-term planning. Mindmapping is for brainstorming.

The two tools overlap and can be used for either purpose, but I find that generalizing helps make the decision of which software to use quick and more intuitive.

An example where I prefer Mindmapping: If I’m starting a project such as building a website I use Freemind to quickly lay out the potential navigation, what content will go where and even the contact information for the involved parties. The information I need is limited in context and fairly isolated. It’s useful in the time that I’m building the website but it’s likely that I won’t need to revisit it in the future. It also helps to be able to see it all at a glance–Mindmaps are great for this.

Examples of where I prefer PersonalBrain: Pretty much everything else :). If I’m reading a book and taking notes, I use Personal Brain. If I’m taking notes on an article or planning out my future I use PersonalBrain. Philosophical or political information goes into PersonalBrain. All of this is information I’m likely to want to go back to and that is likely to connect to other bits of information and help with me be more creative, recognize patterns, and recall what I’ve learned.

That’s how I differentiate between what goes where. If you’ve got another way of doing it, I’m curious to learn about it!

An example of flow in Anna Karenina

In part Chapter Four of Part Three of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy I came across a great example of flow, written well before Mihály Csíkszentmihályi formally identified and defined flow in 1990 and it became popular in positive psychology.

In the example, Levin, a Russian land owner, decides to go out and work side by side with the peasants who work his land. The job at hand is mowing the long grass to make hay. Levin is an inexperienced mower, but wants to try it anyway.

Initially he struggles a bit with it:

The grass was short close to the road, and Levin, who had not done any mowing for a long while, and was disconcerted by the eyes fastened upon him, cut badly for the first moments, though he swung his scythe vigorously.

And alongside the strong peasants, he begins to feel that he won’t have the energy to finish:

Levin followed him, trying not to get left behind, and he found it harder and harder: the moment came when he felt he had no strength left, but at that very moment Tit stopped and whetted the scythes.

After finishing his first row he gets a taste of victory:

And this long row seemed particularly hard work to Levin; but when the end was reached … Levin walked back in the same way over the space he had cut, in spite of the sweat that ran in streams over his face and fell in drops down his nose, and drenched his back as though he had been soaked in water, he felt very happy. What delighted him particularly was that now he knew he would be able to hold out.

Still not quite perfect, “His pleasure was only disturbed by his row not being well cut.” but he’s intent on getting it:

He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible.

Then, the great description of his feeling of flow:

Another row, and yet another row, followed–long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came all easy to him, and at those same moments his row was almost as smooth and well cut as Tit’s. But so soon as he recollected what he was doing, and began trying to do better, he was at once conscious of all the difficulty of his task, and the row was badly mown.

It’s pretty cool how closely Tolstoy’s description fits with Csíkszentmihályi’s definition.

PS – Yes, it’s been 10 months since my last post. Despite being pretty busy, I just haven’t felt I’ve had much to write. Hopefully there will be a few good posts coming up in the near future.