Cloud computing may sound like an intimidating concept, but most of use it every day without realising it. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK embraced the cloud when he realised he could no longer rely on his own machines to keep his data safe. Here is his brief guide to the best places in the cloud for a range of services ranging from e-mail, file-sharing and live back-up to surveys, project management and online accounting.
I discovered the future when one laptop computer was stolen, and another crashed so badly, the hard drive got torn inside its casing and no data could be retrieved. The first time, I’d backed up everything online the night before, but it took a day to restore it to another laptop and almost a week to set up all my software the way I liked to work. The second time, the machine committed digicide late in the afternoon, and I lost all research and writing from that day ‚ including an entire chapter of my new book.
Everyone needs a catalyst for a major change in the direction of their lives and, for my digital life, that was mine.
It marked the beginning of my journey into the cloud. You may have heard of Cloud Computing: a complicated, expensive system of running software and services via the Internet and storing and accessing their data and files through this system. Many companies steer clear of it because they find the cloud metaphor a little disturbing: in serious heat, would it evaporate?
In reality, it should be called Vault Computing or Bunker Computing, because the applications and files all reside in something called a data centre. More secure you could hardly find: fortress-like facilities with massive generators for backup and access control that makes banks look like takeaway joints.
The cloud is not leak-proof. Online services have been known to be breached. And some users of these services become so complacent, they get careless with passwords and invite in the demons of data theft. But it’s still a sight and a site more secure then what most people use in the office.
There are many sites and services that promise you a new world in the twinkling of a hard drive, but the best truly stand out ‚ and many of them are free. These get my vote:
E-mail: Gmail.com, which gives you 8GB of mail storage at no cost.
Scheduling: Google Calendars, linked to a Gmail account.
Back-up: Windows Live SkyDrive, a Microsoft online service that gives you 25GB storage free.
File-sharing: DropBox, gives you 2GB free, 50GB for $10 a month.
Secure document storage: iSigned.com, SA-developed international service for high-security storage of important documents. $25 a month for 10GB
Notes: Evernote, an online equivalent of sticky notes.
Surveys: SurveyMonkey, free for small surveys, reasonable for the professional service.
Phone and chat: Skype, which can now be used on almost any device, including (some) digital TVs.
Customer management: Salesforce.com, comes at a modest fee, but does the work of a dozen personal assistants.
Project management: WhoDoes 2.0, a free online project management and collaboration tool.
Accounting: Saasu.com, an Australian service that is more flexible than most other online services, and free for less than 20 invoices a month.
Mailing lists: MyListManager.co.za, a reasonably-priced South African service for managing mailshots, subscribers and surveys.
There are many more, but these are the services that mean I am no longer emotionally attached to my laptop computer. As long as I have an Internet connection ‚ not always guaranteed, I confess ‚ and a device with a browser, I can access my entire business from any computer anywhere in the world.
* Do you have a favourite online service that has rescued you from hard drive disaster? Please tell us, briefly, where to find it and what it did for you.
* Arthur Goldstuck heads up the World Wide Worx market research organisation and is editor-in-chief of Gadget. You can follow him on Twitter on @art2gee
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I was wondering if you have compared Saasu to My Business Online (the locally developed solution from Pastel)? These accounting solutions hold great promise for small business.
Also, it seems obvious to my mind that any South African solution must inherently be better than its Australian counterparts, no so?”,”body-href”:””}]
TikTok takes on COVID-19
The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.
Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.
Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.
The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.
One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.
“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”
The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf
TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.
If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.
Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.
Old school is history
As South Africa goes into lockdown, the quest begins for new ways of teaching and learning, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK
It happened so suddenly. One week schools and universities were considering their options if a “worst case scenario” forced them to shut down campuses. The next they were scrambling to adapt to an utterly changed world.
Many universities had for some time used online lectures to augment teaching, but primarily in the form of recorded lectures that could then be viewed at any time. The concept of “Moocs”, for “massive open online courses”, brought free online university courses to the world, and is now dominated by commercial offerings like Udemy and Coursera. Many traditional universities launched online offshoots as they embraced Mooc thinking.
Some schools referred their students to the likes of Khan Academy to revise or learn ideas they couldn’t grasp in class. Many embraced Google Classroom for assignments or Apple Teacher for extending lessons.
But it is hard to find any physical university or school that was fully prepared for the scale and scope of the shutdown that occurred in a wave across the world over the past month. Most scrambled to adapt their courses to a combination of live and recorded lectures and teaching sessions, but were still left floundering when practical and physical participation was required.
In South Africa, the government provided a convenient escape clause, declaring an early school holiday. It meant that those schools with the means could start devising online teaching programmes that would, with luck and a great deal of expertise, be ready when the new term was due to start.
Sadly, the vast majority of South African schools do not have that luxury: the schools themselves are not equipped for digital teaching, both due to lack of training and lack of resources, and the students simply do not have the means to learn remotely. A decade-and-a-half of dithering over wireless spectrum allocation has made sure that data costs remain too high, coverage to spotty, and technology too inaccessible, to allow for a universal digital education culture.
We cannot underestimate the challenge, now or for the future: the crisis has revealed how utterly unprepared the schooling system has been all along for the future world of work. It has also revealed how utterly essential it is to prepare for that future.
However, we do not have to blunder blindly into fumbled new models and uncertain new techniques. Numerous case studies have evolved over the years, and a vast body of best practice is available.
Read more on the next page about how difficult online education is to implement in many parts of the work, and how curricula must change.