Nearly Lost…Thank God for Google Latitude!

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Was feeling under the weather yesterday. Had a sore throat and the nose was drooling all the way. As I was leaving the office building, SBS service number 63 (SBS 2606 R) pulled up at the bus stop just outside the building. I decided to hop onto the bus rather than hoof all the way to RedHill MRT for my usual commute home by train. Since it was only the first stop from the terminal, the bus was pretty empty, so I plonked myself in the 3rd right seat from the back.

Feeling sleepy, I placed my phone in my right pocket with my portable harddisk. Fell asleep halfway through the ride back to Kallang. When I woke up, I was just one stop away. In my haste to alight, I didn’t realize my phone fell out of my pocket.

It was only when I wanted to check mobileiris for the next bus for my transfer that I notice it was missing. I panicked and ran after the bus for a few hundred metres. In retrospect, it was a really silly thing to do given the chaotic traffic in the Geylang area. When I realized it was futile to continue the chase, I stopped at a payphone and frantically called the wife. As I was ranting and panicking, she calmly ask me where I was and asked me to walk to Aljunied MRT where she could pick me up in the car and continue the chase.

After she picked me up, while I was still ranting on how careless I was, she asked me to check the bus route via mobileiris. It was then when I realized that I had Latitude turned on in Google Maps on my N97. The wife and I keep Latitude turned on for convenience. With it,  we need not update each other on our whereabouts. I started Google Maps on the wife’s N97 and viola! I was able to track the location on the bus.

Based on the current location of the bus at Macpherson, we decided that the best place to intercept the bus was at Eunos. We drove to a bus stop along Jalan Eunos and ahead of the bus and waited for it. Thanks to the positional accuracy of Latitude, we didn’t have to wait too long for the bus.

As luck would have it, two buses of service number 63 approached the bus stop one after another. Thankfully, the models of the buses were different, and I remembered that the bus that I rode on was the older Volvo model. It was the 2nd bus and I boarded it. As the services were bunched up, the 2nd bus had only 3 passengers.

I immediately dashed to the seat and found my phone in the crevice between the seat and window of the bus. All this while, the guy opposite the aisle was staring at me. Come to think of it, I must have looked pretty weird, dashing to the seat and searching high and low for something. Anyway, I was simply overjoyed and relieved to have recovered my phone.

So thanks to Google Latitude, the wife’s levelheadedness, and a bit of luck, this episode has a happy ending.

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Do Away With Installations. Go Portable!

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Last week, I saw a friend’s post on FaceBook announcing her switch to Chrome because it can be installed without admin privileges.

I suggested that she used portable apps which doesn’t even require installation. I also provided her with some instructions on how to get Adobe Flash working on portable Firefox and Chrome and she had the fully functional browser that she was looking for.

I’m quite surprised that portable applications remain fairly unknown despite their ease of use and portability. Perhaps it’s because Microsoft have us all trained with the mindset that installation is the only way to get applications working on Windows. That coupled with the fact that default Windows installation is with full admin rights make application installations seem like the natural thing to do.

Portable applications (or portable apps, as they are more commonly known) are applications that have been modified to run separately from the underlying Windows OS and store application settings and data in files rather than in Windows registry. This takes away the reliance on Windows and makes the applications self-sufficient and portable between various Windows machines. PortableApps.com is the goto place to find all apps portable. It has a full online community dedicated to make applications portable.

I started using portable apps more than a year ago when I had problems with Windows on my laptop which was running rather slowly, probably due to the clutter from the installed applications. I searched online for standalone applications that does not require installation and found PortableApps.com.

Now, I carry my apps, such as Firefox (with all my favourite plugins and extensions), gVim, 7-zip and OpenOffice around with me on my portable harddisk and USB flash drive. On my office laptop, I have Firefox, putty, Chrome and Thunderbird running off the harddisk for better performance. Because they are portable versions, I can archive and backup my emails easily by simply copying the data directories. At home, apps like XnView and mplayer are run off my network drive on my home machines for viewing photos and videos.

Another thing I like about portable apps is the ability to maintain multiple versions of a particular app on a single device. Currently, I have 3 versions of FireFox on my flash drive. I normally use Firefox 3 for normal browsing, but I use Firefox 2 occasionally at work to access legacy webpages. And I’m testing out the new Firefox 4 beta, and loving it! It also makes upgrading a breeze, all you need to do is download the new version, click on the .exe, and select your present application folder to unpack and upgrade. All this done with your data intact! Do make sure that the application is not running when you are upgrading though.

The freedom of being able to carry the applications I prefer around and using them on any USB-enabled Windows machine is great. Although being portable does mean that the applications have slightly bigger footprints and might run a bit slower than their Windows-integrated counterparts, I think it’s a fair compromise for the convenience they provide.

Pros:

  • No installation required
  • Convenient to use
  • Portable on removable media like flash drives and USB harddisks
  • Maintain different applications versions in separate directories
  • Upgrading is a breeze

Cons:

  • Slightly slower
  • Not all applications are portable
  • Bigger footprint

Instructions to get Flash working on Firefox Portable and Chrome Portable:

  1. Download Firefox Portable or Chrome Portable
  2. Extract the browser application to a directory
  3. Download Flash installer from http://fpdownload.macromedia.com/get/flashplayer/xpi/current/flashplayer-win.xpi
  4. Use an archival software like 7-zip Portable to open the package
  5. Copy the files, flashplayer.xpt and NPSWF32.dll,
    • For Firefox: into the Data\plugins directory
    • For Chrome: into the App\Chrome-bin\Plugins directory (might need to create the Plugins folder)