Launched Software 4 Scholars Discussion Forum

Communities from Below ForumI’m enjoying the small conversations that are going on in the comments to the various blog posts (thank you all for contributing!!) and I want to take these kinds of interactions one step further, so I created a proper discussion forum (or rather, a sub-section of a larger forum) and I invite you all to not only comment on the blog posts but also initiate your own discussions on the forum (and I will probably comment on them).

I think there is much need for communication and mutual help around software in academia, but since we academics are usually quite specialized (and everyone has their own quirks and preferences), it’s not always easy to find peers facing the same kind of software related challenge. So let’s see if that forum (which also has a section about Academic life more broadly) can facilitate that kind of dialogue. Don’t be afraid to be pioneer and make the first step. If there is something on your mind, please create a new topic and we’ll see where it takes us.

Click here to take a look at the S4S forum

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Noggle: search the content of all your files

Noggle

I previously wrote about how two Desktop Search programs, Lookeen and X1 Search) miserably failed me and recommended a little free program called “Everything” to quickly find any file on your computer. I use it everyday and rarely use the Windows Explorer anymore to locate a file.

But there is one limitation with Everything: Setting it up so that it also searches the contents of your files is not easy and when you have it set up and it finds a file based on a search term it contains, it still won’t tell you where in the file you can find the term. You will have to open the file and do another search within the file.

Not a big deal, you may say, but a couple of weeks ago, I discovered Noggle and I’d like to encourage you to try it out (and report back here, if you like). I have not yet used it enough to give a final verdict, but I looks like it pretty much beats any other desktop search program I’ve tried. And: it’s free for non-commercial use.

Unfortunately, the UI diverges a lot from the standard Windows experience so that you’ll have to experiment amd try stuff out a bit. I suppose you get used to it after a while.

Duplicacy is my new backup solution (after CrashPlan shut down)

Image result for duplicacy logoI have been using Crashplan as my backup tool since February 2015. At the time, I bought into their four year family plan (=multiple computers) for 429.99 USD. But Crashplan  turned out to be a memory hog (especially if you have a multi-terrabyte harddrive) and it was clear that I want a better solution so I started looking for an alternative in 2016, one year before the subscription was supposed to end. I focused on software solutions that would allow me to back up to whichever storage I want so that I would be in better control of my data (Crashplan at some point deleted an entire backup of mine because the computer it was associated with hadn’t backed up anything for more than six months. Apparently it was in line with their Terms of Service, but deleting backups is not a goof thing to do for a backup company).

I spend a lot of time testing various solutions, including Arq, Goodsync, Cloudberry, SyncBackPro and Syncovery. Goodsync, Cloudberry and SyncBackPro were out pretty quickly [Note that the notes about those three are from 2016 and things may have changed]:

Cloudberry cannot handle backups larger than 1TB unless you buy the enterprise version for 300 USD. It’s crazy!

Goodsync had crap customer service  (reasonably fast response, but useless and not answering my question) and it was designed more for syncing than for backing up (although backing up is possible).

With SyncbackPro, the restore process seemed rather complicated and once a folder is selected as the source, you cannot add other folders to that backup job. (Well actually you can change the source folder and the original stuff in the backup will remain but will no longer be backed up.)

Syncovery was very promising but I kept bumping into bugs and errors and I spend a hell of a lot of time helping the developer debug these problems and he actually ended up compensating me for some of that work. So while my experience with the software was not so good in the end, I can only say good things about the support by the developer. He listened patiently to my problems and although he insisted that he has lots and lots of customers where the software works fine, I did manage to convince him to look at the issues I had (this is how it should be but not all developers/companies do that) and we managed to track down a couple of bugs but it seemed a neverending story and so I eventually decided to scrap syncovery and start looking anew, even though this entailed that I would probably have to pro-long my Crashplan subscription another year.

This is when I discovered duplicati 2 and although it was still in beta, it looked very promising. In particular, I liked that it is open source and future proof in the sense that I would always be able to access my encrypted data, even in decades when duplicati may no longer be maintained. Because I did not like the existing support channels (gitter, google groups),  I helped the developer set up a discourse-based support forum which has attracted a lot of users since its launch in August 2017, partly, I suppose, due to Crashplan announcing the end of its service for home users, many of whom explored duplicati as a possible crashplan alternative.

Unfortunately, I kept running into issues with duplicati (mostly having to do with the local database being corrupted and repair not working) and bug fixing went slow, as it is a hobby project for the developer. With my crashplan subscription drawing closer to its definite end in April 2018, I decided to try yet another alternative: duplicacy.

Duplicacy worked more or less flawlessly from the beginning (though less technophile users may find it to complicated to use) plus it has a killer feature that I have not seen anywhere else so far: cross-source deduplication. In plain english, this means that when I sync my files to different computers via dropbox or similar services, they will be uploaded only once: The program notices that these files are already backed up and will not upload them again, thus saving a pile of space.

So if you don’t have a backup solution yet (or are unhappy with the one you have), I highly recommend you look at duplicacy (I use the command line version, but there is also a GUI version).

If you find it too “technical”, you should give duplicati a try: the development seems to have made significant steps forward in the past couple of months and many people are already using it without any of the issues that I had. I still think it is an excellent solution and the thriving community is very helpful if you encounter problems (I am still trying to convince the duplicacy developer to setup a similar forum…). If you are interested in how I’m running scheduled backups using the Windows Scheduler, let me know.

I am currently using duplicacy with pCloud, which, unfortunately, I cannot recommend at all as a cloud storage provider, but that’s a different story.

Oh, I should mention that another advantage of duplicacy over duplicati for me was that duplicacy even runs out of the box on my rather old Netgear ReadyNAS Ultra (which runs on Debian Etch), while duplicati doesn’t because it needs a newer version of Mono.

UPDATE: Duplicacy now has a very user friendly support and discussion forum at forum.duplicacy.com.

TimeCamp introduced edu discount

I recently noticed that TimeCamp, the time tracking tool that I’ve been using for almost two years now has introduced a discount of 50 percent for non-profits, universities, students and schools. And that is 50 percent on top of the 25 percent that you get if you pay yearly. So that means, you currently pay 3.50 USD per month if you pay monthly or 31.50 USD for a yearly payment, which is 2.63 USD per month.

If you want to know why I prefer TimeCamp over other time tracking services, check out this blog post, where I go into details. I want to emphasize, though, that TimeCamp is not perfect. For example, they do have server outages every now and then and although their integration with Asana is better than any other time tracking service, there are still problems like the occasional orphaned timeentry (although the task is under a project in Asana the time entry in TimeCamp has no parent), which messes up your entire stats. Indeed, for anyone whose income depends on correct time entries and correct calculations of durations, I cannot recommend Timecamp because it has repeatedly produced faulty reports so that you really need to double and triple check your data before you can really believe it.

Lookeen and X1 Search suck! – Everything just works

Haha, what a weird title! So let’s get this straight first: with “Everything”, I mean this little freeware program called Everything, which allows you to find any file on your computer within one second. Literally. I’ve been using it for years and it’s about time I mention it here. You just press a shortcut of your choice (In my case: Ctrl + Shift + J), a search window opens:

everything1

You start typing whatever you remember about the file, say, you know it’s in your dropbox and it’s a png file, so you type “dropbox png” (without the quotation marks) and it will immediately show you all png files in your dropbox (make sure you have “Match Path” activated in the Search Menu):

everything2

As you can see in the screenshot, you may not even have to type the whole word dropbox. – Of course, if you know the file name (or parts thereof) you would type that. Doubleclick the file to open it or drag and drop it into your email to send it off or whatever you want to do with it.

Now, everything has its limitations, and so does Everything: it only indexes file names and paths (i.e. the folders and sub-folders where the file is stored). So when I found out about two desktop search engines, Lookeen and X1 Search, which will even index the contents of your files, I was enthusiastic about the possibilities that would open up, for example to search all my pdf journal articles for a particular word or phrase.

So I tried both. And both were a nightmare. Both of them kept using a significant proportion of my CPU for several days, allegedly still indexing all the files, but eventually I figured out that since X1 was not accessing the disk at all, it must have crashed. I went back and forth with their support for a while, but to no avail. The user experience was crap, even when I finally did manage to get it to finish indexing and could run som searches. One problem was that some pdf files were not displayed properly, it was just a mess of letters and symbols (though I think that was eventually fixed, if I remember correctly). Like this:

But the main problem is that if the pdf is a scanned document, it will only bring you to the page where your search term is, but it won’t highlight the term (the pdf viewer they use can’t  do that kind of overlay over an image, as explained here).

Lookeen wasn’t any better. It never stopped using CPU and I’m not sure if it ever managed to finish the indexing job, but I did conduct some searches and here the problem is that it doesn’t even take you to the page in the document where your search term is. The email search in Outlook didn’t work properly (worse than Outlook’s own, if you know what that means).

Sorry, this is not a proper review but I just couldn’t be bothered to write it up, because the verdict is just so clear: don’t bother. Or if you do want to try either of them and you encounter problems, just uninstall. Otherwise you’ll just waste your time. If, however, you do not encounter issues, please comment below and let us know.

The main point of this post was, however, not to bash X1 search and Lookeen, but to praise Everything, which just works (and it just takes seconds until a newly created file is available in the search).

A commercial alternative to Everything, btw, is Quickjump. It does exactly the same as Everything and it works fine (I used it for quite some time before I found Everything) but it’s not as flexible as Everything (which lets you customize a lot!), so I don’t see why you’d want to spend 30 USD on something you can get for free. Thank you to David Carpenter and the other contributors for giving us that nice piece of software!

A fascinatingly simple method for getting focussed (and the science behind it)

focusatwillIf you are urgently looking for a way get focussed right now, just head over to focus@will and everything will fall in place. If you want to read my quick story, read on.

I am almost a bit embarassed to admit that I only found out now just how much it helps to listen to music while working. More specifically, it helps me to get (and stay) focussed. Until last week, I tended to frown at all those hipsters with their headphones on while working on their laptops MacBooks. Like: “Yeah, as if listening to your favourite music is going to help you focus…”

Turns out, I was so wrong (but also a little bit right). Wrong, because I’m now listening to music while I work and it is incredible how much it helps me to focus. Right, because I’m not listening to my favourite music.

As an academic, I always have an open ear for scientific arguments and when I learned the mechanism behind why listening to music helps you focus, I got curious: Basically, the theory goes like this: when our brain is focussed on a specific task or goal, it eventually gets used to that goal and it becomes increasingly boring. It’s called “goal habituation”. So what happens is that your brain is starting to “look for” something new and more exciting than that task that it’s been looking at for half an eternity (read: 10 minutes?). So that’s when you start checking your phone or remember that you really need to add something to your shopping list.

And this is where the background music comes in: listening to (the right) music apparently keeps your brain just busy enough to not get bored but not too busy so that you are distracted. In other words, it prevents (or perhaps: mitigates the effects of?) goal habituation.

The trick is that the music has to be such that you neither particularly like it nor dislike it.

It sounds plausible, doesn’t it. So I got curious and tried out focus@will  last Friday and was baffled how well it worked. I got so much done! I had achieved similar states of flow before and without music, but those were special moments, when something really cought my attention and no other important things were on my mind.

But I decided not to believe this until it worked multiple times. So I turned it on on Monday too and it worked just as well. And so it did on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and right now (Friday again). So I am confident now to say: this really works for me.

In fact, I’ve almost become addicted (in the good sense): I now sometimes find myself craving to get back to my desk, turn on the music, and get flowing again.

I combine focus@will with the PomodoroTechnique, which means that I now consider any 30 minute slot between two scheduled things a slot in which I can get something done, instead of thinking: “oh well, I only have 30 minutes, it’s not worth working on that article because by the time I get started, I have to stop again.” Now I say: “Yippieh, 30 minutes, that’s perfect to do one flow-pomodoro session” and off I go.

Another advantage with the focus music might be that colleagues will learn: when s/he is listening to music, s/he is working working hard and doesn’t like to be interrupted.

Okay, enough for today. I’ll update this post if my opinion about flow@will changes. In the mean time, please let me know if I’m the only one who is so fascinated with this tool or if you have similar experiences. More importantly: if you feel it’s not working for you, please leave a comment so that this review get’s some necessary balance.

Also, I’m wondering if anyone manages to achieve a similar effect with a Spotify playlist (or their 1980s mixtape, for that matter). If you are already paying for Spotify (I don’t), it might be worth trying one of their ambient or chill playslists first…

 

UPDATE1: After two months, I am still using focus@will, but not as often anymore. I’m not sure whether this is because I’m getting tired of it or because I have just had so much to do in the past couple of weeks, that I was constantly focused anyway. I guess it also depends on my mood, some days background music is just the right thing while on others, I just want quietness.

UPDATE2: About 7 months later, I am still using focus@will occasionally but the past months I have been pretty busy with teaching and administrative tasks where I don’t need the kind of deep focus, or rather: it doesn’t help me when I have a lot of smaller tasks to do. I do have one gripe with focus@will though, and it somewhat upsets me that they don’t seem to care about fixing this: when you listen to the same channel for several hours (the other day I was on it for more than four hours in the morning and then another four hours in the afternoon) you get to hear the same stuff multiple times. I told them months ago and considering the price tag, I would expect something better. But they haven’t fixed it.

Weava: best tool for online research (and offline pdfs)?

I just discovered this tool called Weava that helps you annotate websites and pdfs and collect the snippets that you highlighted on various pages. I have hardly tried it yet but thought I’d briefly mention it here because what I have seen so far looks really exciting. It’s pretty much what I’ve been looking for since years.

As you know, it is easy to discover ever new things or snippets of information on the web (including on the websites of academic journals where you went for one article but end up finding three others). What happens is that I end up having about 356 open tabs in my browser because I don’t want to loose whatever I just found but I don’t have time to look at it more closely now. Yes, that’s what bookmarks are for. But bookmarks only save the link to the whole page. With Weava, you save the snippet of information that is relevant on that page.

Anyway, I don’t want to convince anyone. That bookmarking use case is not even the primary use case for which the app was designed. They started off wanting to help students do research online as well as – perhaps more importantly – systematically read and annotate pdfs, perhaps even collaboratively. And then they noticed that not only students are using it…

To really answer the question in the title, some more research needs to be done, because, of course, Weava is not alone. Here is a list of Weava alternatives that probably should be part of a comparison:

I’ll stop here because the list could be continued almost indefinitely. So what do you do when there is such a large number of similar services to compare? I don’t have time to look at them all (but see here for a previous little review I did). So in those situations I try to find open source or at least non-profit projects that seem to be active and promising. And in this case, these would be Zotero with Zotfile and hypothes.is.

If you have some experience with any of these, please share it, even if it’s only a brief “why I like it” or “why I don’t like it”.