Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sandisk Memory Zone: Bleah.

app logo of a squirrel
I'm a firm believer in backing things up. In my four decades of messing around with computers, I've lost things and had problems because of it often enough that when I finally caved in and got myself a smartphone, my first thought was to figure out a way to back it up with a minimum of fuss, preferably into "the cloud" instead of filling up my already bursting-at-the-seams hard drive. As a Google Voice fan, I knew that my contact information was safely stored in Google Contacts, but what about pictures? Videos? Ringtones? I wanted that stuff to be backed up in the cloud so that I wouldn't have to worry about it.

When I bought my spacious new Sandisk MicroSD card, I found a little piece of paper in the package that claimed it was going to solve this problem for me. It was a QR code with a link to an Android app made by Sandisk which can back up your stuff to any of a number of cloud providers. It could do it on a schedule, so I could set it and forget it. And copying things back to my phone is as easy as copying anything using a phone. Sounded great! (Here's the link.)

What I found was an app that does what the hype says... but does it slowly, awkwardly, and unreliably. I had so much trouble with it that I finally quit using it, but only after it apparently lost some of the information I was trying to back up!

First of all, loading up the app in the first place is excruciatingly SLOW. Apparently the app thinks that every single time it is loaded, it needs to fully index not only the contents of your MicroSD card, but the entire contents of your phone's internal storage, and also all of the files on any cloud storage you've configured (!) This takes an incredibly long time. A better strategy might be to cache the information scanned from the user's resources the last time the app was used and let the user get started poking on things, and re-scan everything in the background. That's more complex to program (I ought to know, I write software for a living), but it would be a much better user experience than "click to launch, go to lunch because it will take that long to start up."

I would be willing (but not happy) to tolerate the long startup time, however, for an app that performed well on what I wanted it to do, which was back up certain kinds of files at night when I'm asleep and not using the phone. I set up my backup schedule, and found that it backed things up to my cloud storage as expected... sometimes. I never figured out exactly what the reason was that it would back things up sometimes and not other times, but I did learn early on that if the app crashed, there was no easy way to get the darn squirrel out of my notifications tray. I rebooted the whole phone many times just to clear the icon so things I wanted to be notified about were more visible.

It worked often enough, though, that I would have been OK with even that, as long as it backed up the stuff I want to keep fairly often without screwing any of it up. Obviously, this was too much to ask. This app attempts to reduce backing up and restoring to very simple steps - there are categories for your photos, music, videos, documents, and so forth, without having to navigate your phone's folder structure (which is one reason for all of that initial scanning). So no matter where the app finds a picture, for example, it winds up in the "Photos" bucket. Picture of your children? Photo! Ad for beer from your browser cache? Photo! Image file used internally by an app you use once a month? Photo! MP3 of your favorite song? Oh wait, that's "Music". 10-second ringtone you bought three years ago and forgot you had? Music! Alarm sound that came preloaded on your phone? Music! "Ding" sound from your instant messaging app which you could recover by reinstalling the app? Music! There is no way I could find to select or unselect specific folders or files from being scanned, so every image on my phone was backed up to "Photos", and every sound on my phone was backed up to "Music" (I did un-select "Documents" and "Apps" because I keep documents in Dropbox and back up Apps with Titanium Backup, but those are two other stories).

I could have lived with this... after all, as long as the stuff I did want backed up was safe, having a few extra files is a fair price to pay, right? Well, I found out about that price the hard way when something - and I'm pretty sure it's this very app that's supposed to save me from disasters like this - deleted all of the photos and audio files from the phone. Eek!

The app is supposed to be able to copy files from your cloud storage back to your local phone storage with no trouble - Photos to Photos, Music to Music, etc. However, the app seemed to have forgotten where my backup on my account was (the default folder which the app itself had created), so I opened up the folders on my computer and took a look. When I realized that the app had backed up all sorts of superfluous information, my heart sank... this was going to be quite a job! But I set to work, and was able to find my ringtones and notification tones fairly easily and get them back on my phone where I wanted them. Getting my photos back, though, was another matter.

Ultimately, I restored less than 300 pictures that I had intended to back up. To get to them, though, I had to delete 2,476 superfluous images! These included hundreds and hundreds of album covers from Google Music, dozens of images of the covers of books from my Logos Bible software, images of the spaces and board layouts from Words With Friends, images from articles I had saved in Pocket to read later, pictures I've posted on Facebook, pictures I've saved in Evernote, and tons of stuff which appears to be from my browser cache, including a number of advertising banners. I literally had almost ten times the amount of garbage backed up as useful stuff. What a ridiculous thing to have to wade through!

One time doing that was enough for me. I actually had looked around for a different app to use, but hadn't found anything yet at the time, which is the only reason I put up with this stinker of an app in the first place. The concept is excellent, but the execution is lousy. The app is slow, buggy, and unreliable. It deleted the stuff I wanted it to preserve, and then gave me a hard time when I tried to restore it. I quit using it entirely months ago, and only yesterday did I look around for another replacement app - and I may have found one in FolderSync. I've installed the "Lite" version, and I'm trying it out. It takes a little more doing to get it configured (you actually have to tell it what you want backed up! It doesn't back up every file you ever touched!!), but if it actually does what it's supposed to, I'll plunk down a couple bucks for the full version. This free Sandisk thing is a mess. I love their memory media... maybe they should sort of stick to that.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The "Unlike" Project - First Month

Just over a month ago, I wrote this post explaining that I was beginning a campaign to "Unlike" things on Facebook. The idea was to start reversing one of my "Likes" on Facebook ever day, and then tweeting about it using the hashtag #UnlikeProject. The experience has been interesting in a lot of ways - I thought I'd give my "first 30 days" report (although it's actually been more than 30 days) and let you know what's been going on.

The first thing I noticed is that it is incredibly difficult to decide what to Unlike. Fact is, the things I've "Liked" are things that, in real life, I in fact do actually like! It feels a little bit like a betrayal, especially when you are Unliking things like The Bible or your favorite sports teams. It's also difficult to find the things that are less important to me so I can Unlike them first - I wound up making myself a list to make prioritizing easier. I don't intent to Unlike everything, so I need to make sure I find the things I want to free myself from first. (Pages set up by friends of mine, for example, or organizations that I genuinely do want to stay in touch with will probably stay in my "Likes".)

Some of the earliest casualties were Pages that post a lot. The reasons those got the axe first was that I was more likely to see their posts in my News Feed and remember "Oh yeah, it annoys me when I see them there!" or "Their posts are never interesting," and then I could wipe them out and be done with it. But even with the easy pickings of those frequent posters and with my "Unlike first" list, I still didn't Unlike something every day - once I Unliked two things in one day, and four or five days I forgot altogether.

Two different organizations actually saw my "Today I Unliked..." tweets and responded to them, apologizing for whatever they did that put me off. Fact is, they didn't do anything, and I told them so! This is all about cleaning things out and simplifying... and insulating myself and my friends from invasive advertising as much as possible. I do have a positive opinion of those organizations, thought... kudos for keeping an eye on your Twitter mentions (I didn't actually even mention them by @ handle, so they're watching keywords) and reaching out to people based on that! That's the way to DO social media!

During the month, I also discovered a few facts that back up my reasons for doing this:
I'm actually enjoying the project - there's a sense of freedom in it, like when you've cleaned out the junk from the garage or gotten all the bills paid for the month. Maybe you'll give it a try? If you do, make sure you remember to tweet your Unlikes with hashtag #UnlikeProject so I'll know you're in!

Is it nuts to just start Unliking things that you actually do like? Why will you be joining the project, or why not? Sound off below by clicking the "Comment" link!