I 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]:
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).
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.
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.
If 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.
I have been tracking my time for almost 9 years now and I have changed systems several times. I have also used various task management (or project management) tools in the past years and since about a year or so I have managed to integrate the two. In this post, I wan to share my experience and perhaps make your choice of tools a bit easier.
I will mention the tools I have used in the past only briefly and the suggest three scenarios which I think are the best solutions you can find these days, depending on your needs. If you can’t be bothered reading the whole story, here is the gist of it (or tl;dr):
Scenario 1: If comprehensive time tracking is not so important for you and you are mainly looking for an easy way to keep track of your task, KanbanFlow is for you. The free version is perfectly sufficient for scholars but when I used it I actually signed up for the paid plan (5 USD per month) because I liked the swimlane feature.
Scenario 2: If you want to track your time throughout your workday, get a visual idea of how you spent your day (or week) and integrate that with your task management tool, then your best solution is using Asana for your task management in combination with TimeCamp for time tracking. Asana is free for up to 15 people, so you can even use it to coordinate work in a team but you’ll need to pay 6 USD per month for TimeCamp if you want to integrate it with Asana.
Scenario 3: If you are just looking for a time tracking tool and keep your task management entirely independent from that, I suggest you go for Yast. As an academic (student/teacher) the developer will – upon request – give you a free premium account (which normally costs 6 9 USD per month) but you may not even need that if the free account works fine for you.
So much for the quick summary and recommendations. Now comes the whole story.
I started using TimePanic back in 2007 simply as a means of finding out where all my time was disappearing to. At the end of the workday I often found that although I was certainly busy the whole day, it felt like I hadn’t really achieved as much as I wanted and wondered what I had used my time for. TimePanic is an offline Windows program that allows you to define certain keyboard shortcuts for switching to a specific task,
(For example, I had one of the F-keys set to “Chat with colleague” because when a colleague walks into your office to ask you something, you don’t want to start clicking all over the place to set your time-tracker to “Chat with colleague” before you actually react to him or her. So a simple key press would achieve that. And if you want to track who you actually spoke to or about what, you can fill that in afterwards)
and which shows allows you to produce detailed reports about how much time you spent on which task or project or how you spent your day or week or whatever. You can also define a day as a holiday or sich-leave or vacation etc so that you don’t end up wondering why you worked so little in August 2009 or so. (This feature is actually something I miss on all other time tracking tools I have used and tried so far!) Timepanic’s price is not cheap at 39 EUR but I have never regretted spending that money, even on my tight PhD student budget at the time. The developer was very responsive when I had questions or suggestions and the software was very user-friendly.
The most interesting (and somewhat ironic) effect of starting to track my using TimePanic was that I became much more aware of what I was doing already while I was doing it, simply because I had to log it. And perhaps more importantly, I became very aware of distractions (self-distractions and distractions by others) as well as any change of task, again: because I had to log it. It’s a nice example of how the measurement changes what it measures. (They observed the so called Hawthorne effect already decades ago with industrial workers, but it’s something else to actually experience it in yourself!)
So for anyone wondering whether time tracking is really worth the effort when you can’t use it to bill anyone, consider this self-disciplining and consciousness raising effect. Indeed, I rarely actually run any big analysis on my time-tracking data (although I do intend to do a little longitudinal study over the years one day. When I have time 😉 I just look at the day and the week and 80 percent of the time I’m only interested in the total time worked. Not even the project, let alone the task break down. But I do look, for example, at how much time I spend to peer review a paper – 8 hours! And I can’t seem to be able to do it much faster 😦 – or on publishing a paper (170 hours), but checking these things remains the exception. It’s just too frustrating to see how much time stuff actually takes!
Another reason to track your time as a scholar is to get rid of that bad conscience of not working enough. Or you might even be able to use your figures in negotiations with colleagues about how much time should be allowed for what kind of task. This may not be relevant in many parts of the world, but at Swedish Universities, your employer actually keeps track of your workload (and hence how many more tasks you should take on in a certain time period) and they use certain standard rates to estimate your workload. For example, at my department, correcting an exam gives you 20 minutes (sic!) and for giving a 1 hour lecture, you get paid 4 hours etc. When such rates are negotiated, being able to say “I have been tracking my time over the past X years and based on that this kind of committee usually takes X hours or work” might actually have a certain weight.
I left TimePanic because I wanted a graphical representation of my daily timeline. I wanted something like this:
I asked the developer and since it wasn’t on his roadmap at all, I decided to go online, even though I would have preferred to be independent of the internet when it comes to time tracking (yeah, I know. But, hey, this was in 2011/12 when people still had a life outside the internet!).
Criteria for an online time tracking tool (choosing Yast)
I tried out a whole pile of online time tracking tools (and the number has multiplied since!) and thanks to Evernote, I still have my list of features that I used when comparing various options. Here it is (with some quick comments added):
many projects, tasks and sub-tasks (and sub-sub-tasks…)
All tools offer that, but the question is whether and how much you have to pay for it. Sometimes the free plan is limited to one or two projects (like Harvest or Freckle) or don’t allow sub-projects/ tasks (like Toggle).
logging of time of day (not just duration)
Many online tools (including KanbanFlow or Freckle) allow you to aggregate the time you have spent on a specific task, but they will not remember when you spent that time. Which implies: there is no time-line like the one shown above. At best, you get pie charts of how much of your time went to which project etc.
easy switching between tasks/activities
after all, I’m gonna do that multiple times a day and ideally it should take zero seconds to so it. With it’s shortcuts-feature, TimePanic is probably still best at that. Because it is running on your computer, you can use global shortcuts to control it even when it is running in the background. With web-based applications, you have to at least bring your browser to the foreground and click some button. But the point with this criterion is basically that there should be a list of recently used or favourite tasks that I can start by clicking on them and starting one will automatically end the previous one.
graphic display of projects over time (stacked)
I think what I meant by that was that I would like to be able to see, say, over the course of a year, which projects I was mainly working on each week or so. I don’t think I found this in any tool I looked at.
android app or at least good mobile browser interface
If I’m going online, I at least want the benefit of being able to log my time also when I’m not at my desk but, for example, doing field work. Also good when you leave the office in the evening and notice you didn’t turn off the timer…
note or comment field for each logged activity
This helps you to better understand afterwards what you were actually doing. I use it especially for big chunks of work (several hours), also to indicate that this record is correct on not a mistake of a forgotten timer. Having a comments field also prevents you from breaking down your tasks into too many small tasks. For example, if you have a task “write review for article XYZ” you might be inclined to have sub-tasks like “read the manuscript” and “write comments to authors” and “write comments to editor and submit”, but with comments, you can just write that into your comments field (unless you really want a formally exact break down of how much time you spent in each)
defining the activity before it ends
This may sound strange, but I have seen tools where you just start a timer and only when you stop it will you be asked to say what you actually did during the tracked time. I don’t like that, not only because it defeats the disciplining effect mentioned earlier, but also because when I move on to the next task, I don’t want to thinking and writing about what I did but about what I’m about to do.
offline use possible (cache or whatever)
I you’re tracking online, an internet or server outage just 30 minutes will interrupt your workflow and create extra work to fill on the gaps when the connection is back. Unfortunately, Yast had quite a few server outages and does not have an option for offline use.
Not too business oriented
The thing is, most time trackers are designed either for freelancers working for clients or companies tracking the time of their employees (or a combination thereof). Since this is not what we do as scholars, we need to adapt these systems for our purposes and I’m fine with that, especially as long as I’m on a free plan. But there are limits to what I’m willing to use. For example, it’s fine to have an option to track time not only against projects but also against clients, but if the user-interface is designed in such a way that I am constantly asked to enter the client details or I even have to make up mock clients so that it works, then that tool is not for me. And then there are many tools that are more focussed on facilitating billing rather than tracking and analyzing time use (e.g. MakeSomeTime)
Since I won’t make more money because I track my time, I don’t really want to pay a lot for this, perhaps I can even get it for free?
I will spare you all the details of my notes (which are four years old now). Suffice it to say that I eventually chose Yast because it fulfilled criteria 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10. I can still recommend it if you don’t want to integrate your time tracking with your task management too (scenario #3 above). So here it is. This is what it looks like:
Now, lets leave time-tracking aside for a moment and look at task-management. Until a couple of years ago, I was not using a particular task management system or tool but some combination of Outlook tasks, Outlook Calendar and some kind of lists (even on paper, yes!) But then I learned about the kanban method which apparently originated from lean manufacturing in the automobile industry, was then adopted in software development less than a decade ago. Although the original idea was to coordinate tasks and workflows in teams by visualizing them on a whiteboard, the Kanban was soon adopted to the personal level: the personal kanban. And while you can do this with paper notes on a pinboard, the digital version obviously bears a lot more potential.
So I looked around and tested quite a number of online kanban tools (such as: Kanbanery, Pivotal Tracker, Agile Zen, LeanKit Kanban, Kanban tool, kanbana, targetprocess, and, well, Kanbanflow). I will not go into any comparison here because I think for scholars the best choice is by far KanbanFlow and if you do a bit of comparing yourself, I am quite confident, that in the end, you will agree with me (please leave a comment below if you don’t – or if you do!)
The fact that KanbanFlow is the only Kanban tool with an integrated Pomodoro timer is already a fantastic advantage over other tools (find out more about the pomodoro method here). In addition, it allows you to track how much time you spent on each task, simply by clicking a button on the task-card (which you obviously are looking at anyway, when you are working on that task). I already mentioned the (paid) feature of Swimlanes which I used to separate teaching, administration, and various research projects from each other.
So I used KanbanFlow as a task-management tool for quite a while in combination with Yast as a time-tracker and it works fine. But at some point I noticed that I am not really using KanbanFlow for all my tasks. Sometimes I wouldn’t open it for days because I knew exactly what I had to do during those days anyway. But that also meant that I wouldn’t rely on it as my main task list, as the place to write that important thing that must not be forgotten, because I could not be sure that I would look at it when that thing needed looking at.
At first, I considered using the then new time-tracking feature in KanbanFlow instead of Yast so that I would open KanbanFlow first thing in the morning in order to start tracking my time. In order to do that, I would need to put all my tasks into KanbanFlow, and that’s where the problem started. The hierarchy of projects, sub-projects, tasks and sub-tasks that I had built in TimePanic and Yast over the years was quite complex and KanbanFlow wasn’t built to accommodate that kind of complexity in one Kanban board. The idea in KanbanFlow is to have one board per project. Technically, this is not a problem because you can easily create as many boards as you want. But I did not want to switch between boards, for example, when I finished preparing a lecture (in the “teaching” project) and start to prepare the interviews for a research project. And imagine the hassle when I student (teaching project!) comes in while I’m working on those interviews).
Besides, Kanbanflow’s time tracking is still rudimentary and since the developer said that this isn’t going to change in the near future, I decided to look for another solution. I still like Kanbanflow very much and may well change back to it once it’s time-tracking is a bit more sophisticated. So if time tracking is not a priority for you – perhaps you only want to know the time you spent on certain tasks but not on others? – then I suggest you should give KanbanFlow a try.
For me, abandoning KanbanFlow unfortunately meant that I would also leave Yast due to its lack of integration with any other online tools which made it impossible to find a task manager that would link to it.
The solution I came up with after some comprehensive testing and which I am still using today is Asana in combination with TimeCamp. I hope to write about this setup in more detail in a separate post (please comment below if you’re interested in reading it), so I will keep it short here.
Asana and TimeCamp
The beauty with this combination is that TimeCamp offers a browser plugin (Chrome only!) that puts a time tracking button on each and every Asana task and when you click it, it starts/stops tracking time against that task in TimeCamp. Like this:
This means that I don’t even need to open TimeCamp any more except for reporting purposes, i.e. if I want to know how much I worked on that day or whatever. Most of the time, I am only looking at Asana and tasks or projects I create there are automatically transferred to Timecamp and when I move them around in Asana they are also moved around in Timecamp so that my Time-Tracking and my task hierarchy are always in sync.
If you want to give it a try, please use this referral link to sign up. And let me know if you want to know more about this setup. It might encourage me to actually sit down and write it.
I just realize that with this referral link at the end, this looks like I wrote this whole thing only to get you to sign up for TimeCamp. But believe me, I have long planned to write about this and I only recently discovered that Timecamp have a referral program, so rest assured that my review here has not been biased in any way by the prospect of getting a reward for referrals. In fact, I still have some critical remarks to make about TimeCamp, but they won’t deter me from recommending them and I need to catch some sleep now. In the mean time, feel free to ask questions below, which can guide me when writing my next post.
This is a follow up to my previous review posts (1, 2) on the Xcanex document scanner from piQximaging. Just a quick one. As you know, I like to complain about everything that doesn’t work perfectly, so this is of course about some more complaining…
But before I start complaining, I also need to say that I have come to appreciate the scanner to make a few scans here and there: e.g. the when I was ripping some CDs the other day, whose covers I could not find online, I just flipped them under the scanner and it was just a matter of seconds until I had the cover image saved with my ripped audio files. Or some of those official letters that you don’t know whether you will ever need them – probably not – but you don’t want to have them pile up on your shelf: I now just scan them, save them in Evernote or wherever, and get rid of the paper copy. I’m starting to think, maybe I would actually spend those 300 USD for the device (mine is a review copy).
But I guess I’d do some comparison work, especially regarding scan quality. In my last update, I already showed illustrated the limits of the device compared to a professional photocopying-machine-scanner, but I’m not sure how the Xcanex would fare when compared to something in the same price range or even with the various smartphone scanning apps out there, which do pretty much the same. But I’ll leave that comparison to others to make (please do tell us in the comments below!).
So, here is what I want to complain about (of course hoping that the developers will fix this in the next software update): I just scanned about 100 business cards that I have collected over the years. The good part is that the scanner offers timed automatic capture (i.e. it does one scan ever x seconds) so you just flip those cards under it, one after the other and it captures them, no problem. But once I had them all scanned, I wanted to drag-and-drop some of the scanned cards from the perfecapture software directly into Evernote. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work.
OK, let’s do copy-and-paste then. I tried to select a couple of scans and paste them into an Evernote-note. Well, it doesn’t work either. It only works with single scans. And when selecting a single scan, you cannot copy it with your usual “Ctrl+C” shortcut. No. You have to click on the “copy” icon of the perfecapture software. I think that’s quite cumbersome!
Next problem: after I copied various cards into Evernote, I wanted to delete them from the perfecapture software. At first it worked (or did it?), but now I cannot delete any of the scans. I don’t understand why. Maybe I hit some shortcut that protects scans from deletion? To be honest, I haven’t bothered to check the manual on this (laziness, but also experience that manuals rarely help with these things). Anyway, if this is not a bug, I think it should be transparent to the user why deleting is not possible (instead of the “delete” key just having no effect at all).
So, how do I get this scanning job finished without losing any card by not saving it? My last resort is to save all scans in a temporary folder and then drag and drop them from there into Evernote. So I selected all scans and hit “save”. Well, unfortunately, perfecapture is now asking me for each and every scan to manually confirm the file name. And no possibility to select “apply to all” or something like that. And it takes about a second between the save-dialogues to come up, so here I sit, spending another two minute just to save those scans. Developer fail!
Bitcasa is definitely a game changer. It offers infinite (!) cloud storage mapped as a drive on your computer (just like SugarSync are now doing with Sugarsynch Drive) for 99 US$ per year. Accessible from anywhere with internet access. I mean: what more do I need to say…
The reason for this quick blog post is that Bitcasa currently have an opening special offer where you can get the whole thing for 69 US$. Apparently until the end of February. However: having tested Bitcasa for a couple of weeks now (when it was still free for beta testers), I have to say: nope. I’m not paying for this service just yet. There are too many problems. Little bugs, glitches and inconveniences that just don’t make it feel right yet. Don’t get me wrong: the support is fast and doing a good job, but I’ve spent too much time with this already and if I pay, I want it to save time for me.
I was thinking: okay, if this offer is about 69 US$ yearly subscription fee for ever, then I would actually consider signing up. But unfortunately, Bitcasa told me that the 69$ is only for the first year.
The thing is that Bitcasa is simply not out of beta stage. They seem to sense that themselves, as their blogpost announcing the end of the beta phase is entitled “The End of Beta as You Know It”. Haha. So now we’re in beta-v2, or what? A few weeks ago, I told Bitcasa support that I think they should be honest revert to alpha. But I guess investors are standing in the door, tapping their fingers. I hope they won’t ruin it.
Anyway, I will wait another year or so, until my harddrive is overflowing or so, and reconsider a paid account. For now, I signed up for a four year Crashplan+ Family Unlimited account. It’s not the same thing, but it also offers infinite storage and since I was mainly looking for online and automatic backup, it’s clearly the best option for me at the moment. The good thing is their risk-free cancellation policy, which means you can cancel anytime and get the money for the remaining months back. So unless you’re short of cash, there is no reason to sign up for any subscription shorter than 4 years, as that is the best value for money (around 9 US$) per month.
It’s the most expensive web-service that I have so far subscribed to, but when I almost lost years of work a couple of weeks ago, I decided: I need to start backing up properly and I want it to be easy and convenient, so I guess I will pay for it.
Just two three more things about why I currently prefer CrashPlan to Bitcasa:
Crashplan is not just for backing up and restoring to the same computer but you can selectively restore to any computer. So you can access all your files from anywhere too, just not as comfortably as in Bitcasa. In the longrun, this will be Bitcasa’s advantage, but for now I’m fine with Crashplan.
Finding older versions of a particular file is not well solved in Bitcasa (check out their forum, where many people are suggesting to change the system, which currently requires you to know the day when that file was last changed.) In Crashplan, you can just select the file and see the different versions that have been backed up in a list and select the one you want.
I managed to install Crashplan on on my ReadyNAS Ultra at home, which means that those 2 TB will also be backed up. Plus: I can also use my NAS as a secondary backup, in addition to CrashplanCentral. Since the idea of Bitcasa is not to backup the harddrive on my computer or my server, but to replace it, this feature is, and probably will not be available from them.
And what are your experiences with Bitcasa and/ or Crashplan?
During the last weeks, I’ve been testing a new program recently released by StandSS called EmailTags. It looked like a great little Outlook Addon for tagging your emails swiftly instead of moving them into folders. It’s actually amazing that no one else actually came up with this kind of solution long ago! But unfortunately I was quite disappointed by the product (just like with the other StandSS products that I’ve tested before, i.e. EmailNotes and QuickFile (Actually, I am still kindo of using EmailNotes but it’s very unreliable as it sometimes doesn’t display the note attached to an email in the reading pane, which means that it misses the whole idea of reminding you what you wanted to include in the reply to that email. – Quickfile just messed up my whole Outlook and didn’t work properly so that I uninstalled it shortly after installing it).
But let’s get back to EmailTags: This product really has the potential of giving you a Gmail like tagging system on Outlook, but the problem is: it doesn’t. At least I found that it’s not working for me. It is not good at guessing the tags that it suggests because it uses only the sender(s) rather than the subject line and even the guessing of tags based on the email-addresses is not working consistently for me. Sometimes I don’t get a suggested tag even though I just filed an email to or from the same person a minute ago.
And adding tags manually, which you inevitably will always have to do at least at the beginning of a conversation requires quite a lot of clicks and keyboard strokes so that I often found it easier to drag the mail into a designated folder as I did before.
I still have some hope that StandSS will gradually improve EmailTags and so I was going to by the subscription for 7 US$ per year (at least for a year) now that my trial version has expired, but when I went to the website, there was no more cheap subscription but only expensive (20 US$) purchase. Apparently they changed their business model during the trial period. While it is of course their right to decide that, I am pretty annoyed since there is no way I’m going to spend 20 bucks on that immature product. 7 would have been ok, but 20?? And they are even threatening of increasing the price to 30 US$ soon.
It’s a pity, because these guys are really trying hard to make live easier with f***ng Outlook and their support is very helpful, but unfortunately, all in all, they are not succeeding quite yet (see also this post). I’m uninstalling EmailTags and going back to my folder based system. 😦
Another reason to reconsider using email-Tags as opposed to folders is that the tags will not show up on your phone and this has also cost me some time recently. In the folder system, I have all emails related to a certain project in one folder and I can access that folder from anywhere, whereas EmailTags requires an email client that reads the outlook “categories” (and even that will only work if you are on an Exchange server as opposed to IMAP).
Just wanted to mention that Prezi now lets you easily import powerpoint slides .ppt or .pptx-files). Look here.
Are you wondering what on earth is Prezi??? Well, its a website tool that helps you create animated presentations. And the good thing about “animated” is that there is no flying words or bouncing letters distracting your audience from what you are trying to say. None of that junk that we still have to bear in various PowerPoint presentations! The only thing that’s animanted in Prezi is the ‘camera’ that smoothely glides over your desktop as you move from one topic to the next and zooming in when you go into details.
The point is that you can convey a visual image of how the different parts of your presentation are related to each other. So you don’t need to actually say it. Well, I won’t go on explaining it more. Look at their website and you will understand. There is a free plan for everyone, but it doesn’t allow you to make your prezi private. If you are a student or teacher, you can get and edu account which gives you that privacy (and some extra space).
Oh, so what do I think about it? Well, it’s great, but although they improved the interface over the years, there are still some bugs and glitches. Or maybe I should say: by improving the interface with new features, they have also introduced new problems.For example, there is this strange behaviour that an element that you have moved from position A to B will suddenly show up back at A. Or you changed the size of a frame and it suddenly jumps back. Or: there seems to be no way of duplicating a view in your path to reuse it at a later point. These little things are annoying but hey: maybe they are all gone by the time you read this? [UPDATE: The issue of elements flipping back into their original size/paosition seems to happen only with the ones that you have not created yourself, i.e. the ones you find in templates. So if you chose to use one of the pre-designed templates (can make life easier), be prepared to delete some elements and add them again manually in order to be able to change them.]
My other warning is: in all the excitement over this great new way of doing presentations, don’t overdo it. Otherwise you end up with the same effect as with the flying words and swirling pictures in PowerPoint, i.e. people will be distracted and annoyed. Believe me, the very fact that you are using Prezi will will catch people’s attention more than it should. That’s why I decided not to use it for my test presentation when I applied for my current job. Sometimes some conservatism in the form of the presentation helps you get across the inovativeness of your ideas.
Just a quick update on SugarSync: it sucks! I wrote a more ambivalent blog post about it earlier, then I wrote about some serious synching problems (that seem to be fixed by now), but I have been annoyed again and again by this service that I just want to air my discontent here once again and say that I just think that the only reason that I have still not uninstalled it is its ability to sync whichever folder you chose, rather having to move everything to a designated folder like in dropbox and google drive. There is really no other reason (perhaps some laziness to change stuff on various computers).
To be a bit more precise,here is what annoyed me today: firstly, there is the android app, which is rather buggy or at least it often does not react to me tapping on some button. But secondly, and more importantly, I just found out that I can see neither my mobile phone nor my iPad on my PC. I added both of those devices to Sugarsync some weeks or even months ago and they do show up on the sugarsync website, but for some reason I cannot see or access them through the SugarSync client on my PC. This thread in the SygarSync User forum indicates that there is some bug, but apparently they have not managed to find it since more than a month…
Well, as I said: if you are wondering if you should try SugarSync: don’t bother. Try out Google Drive instead and tell us your experiences below (I havn’t really used it yet).
I have been using Citavi for reference management since 2006 and I still believe that it is fantastic (although version 3 caused some serious drawbacks in my workflow and I sometimes even have thoughts about downgrading back to version 2.5, but this is not the subject of this post). Since 2011, I am also a huge fan of Evernote and I am trying to put as much of the information that I might be looking for at some point into Evernote so that I find it without even thinking about where I might have stored it. In addition, Evernote’s Google Search integration for Chrome even lets me find information I already have when I’m looking for it on the net. A logical consequence of this is that I would like to combine the strengths of managing my literature and quotations/excerpts with Citavi with Evernote, which is great but will never replace a proper reference management program.
I have asked the Citavi folks to integrate a feature that allows you to upload content from citavi directly into Evernote using the Evernote API or perhaps this ommand line interface (I’m not a programmer). Unfortunately, they say that they have to prioritize other features and they might be right from the perspective of developing their product.
So I figured out a way to get all my stuff from Citavi into Evernote anyway: the trick is to basically print your whole database into an HTML file, open it in a browser, and use Evernote clipper to copy that file as a note into Evernote. Here is how you could do this (see difficulties further below):
1. Select File | Save Project Bibliography | Annotated project bibliography (“Liste mit zusätzlichen Angaben” in German). The bibliography is created based on the current selection except if none is selected. So if you want all titles to be included, make sure you have no titles currently selected)
2. Select whatever information you want to be included from the list. Above all, you should select “Quotations”, because these are the most important bits of information that you want in Evernote, right?
3. Save your bibliography as Web Page (*.html)
If you have a large database, this can take a while. So be patient. Your Citavi hasn’t crashed. (To give you an idea, my ~3000 references took about 3 minutes to save.)
4. Open saved file in browser and clip to Evernote like you would do with any webpage.
Now this is what I have done so far. The problem is: it doesn’t work if you have a lot of records in Citavi. Or to be more precise: if the resulting HTML file contains more than 5242880 Unicode characters. This is an additional limit to Evernote notes which they have unfortunately not advertized because “because the vast majority of our users never hit this limit when creating a single note” (EN support). I discuss this issue in more detail in a separate post.
So I am currently trying to find a way around this. Simply speaking, I have to divide my huge database into several smaller bibliographies. I guess, what I will do is to select titles in Citavi depending on the date they were last updated and the create Bibliographies for each year or six months or so and upload them as separate notes into Evernote (Citavi always saves the bibliography for the current selection or – if there is no selection – for the whole project).
What about the free floating thoughts in Citavi?
The method describe above can only export information associated to titles. Free floating thoughts will not be saved in the HTML file(s). If you want to have also your Citavi thoughts in Evernote, you need to export them seperately by going to the Knowledge Module and select File | Print compilation | Print with options. You can also use “save compilation” instead, but going through “print” gives you a print preview where you can check if things are the way you want them. Once you see that preview, just go to File | Export to a new file and you can save as HTML file instead of actually printing.
Let me know if this is working for you or if you have any improvements to suggest.