Bitcasa? – Not yet!

bitcasa-logoCrashPlan 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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Track your mouse and keyboard usage

This is a bit off topic, but why shouldn’t scholars be interested in tracking how they use their mouse and keyboard? I found this little program called Application usage statistics (or UsageStats) which does exactly that. Its called application usage statistics because it not only tracks your overall usage but also by application and how much you spent in each application. Its opensource and quite new, so it’s not perfect yet, but it works quite well and it’s fascinating how many indicators it tracks (it even tells you your average typing speed and your Mouse/Keyboard ratio as well which keys you used how often and much, much more.

Some of these statistics are more fun than useful for anything in particular, but most of them can become meaningful when you start comparing, either your own data over time, or with others.

Given that statistics are available on a per application basis, you could, for example, compare, say, your mouse to keyboard ratio for a particular program with those of your colleagues and identify the person who is most efficient in using keyboard shortcuts for that program perhaps that person will then share those shortcuts. Or if that person is not even aware of why their ratio is different to that of other users, you can dig more deeply into the usage stats and see how they are using the program differently. Well, maybe my ad hoc example is not so appealing, but you get the idea.

For intra-personal comparison over time, it would be great if someone could come up with a visualization tool similar to Gapminder. But hardcore quantified self apologists will love even the numbers as as they are. 😉

One of the major caveats with Application usage statistics is that it currently only records one monitor. So if you are using two monitors with extended desktop, you will not get the graphical mapping of your mouse movements for the second monitor (clicks and keyboard strokes are being counted, though). If you want to encourage developers to implement multi-monitor support, please vote for the respective issue on CodePlex, where the project is hosted.

Another little quibble is that the program doesn’t install itself into the windows start menu by itself so that you have to navigate to the program files folder, right-click “UsageStats.exe” and select “Pin to Start Menu”.

Also, the program does not open from the tray icon by left-click. You need to right-click and select “Open”.

By the way: there are a couple of similar programs, but none of them comes close to what Application Usage Statistics does. You can trust me on that. But if you have time to waste, then go ahead and check out Mousetron and IOGraphica. Especially the latter is actually quite nice, but in the end UsageStats just combines the functions of the two and goes much much further.

 

How to add a folder to the open or save dialogue (customize places bar)

 
Are you also annoyed that it is quite cumbersome to access your dropbox folder when opening or saving files in Windows? – Well I’ve been for a while now and I finally took the time to solve this problem. Here’s how (there are other ways, like editing the registry directly, but this is how I did it):

  1. Download PlacesBar Editor from http://melloware.com/placesbar/
    Unfortunately, PlaceBar Editor was originally written for an older Windows version so that it doesn’t directly support the Windows 7 Libraries but I’ll show you how to had Libraries to the Places Bar anyway below.
  2. Install PlacesBar Editor (Duh!)
  3. Run PlacesBar Editor (Don’t wanna miss that one!)
  4. Well, and the rest is pretty self-explanatory. Except that you need to know that (i) you need to “save” before you can “test”, (ii) you cannot just add a folder to the default folders. Once you start changing the places bar, you got to tell Windows every single folder you want displayed as it will forget about the defaults immediately.
  5. And that is where you might start wondering: but how can I add “Libraries” to the places bar (as that was the item that you perhaps liked best of all the default items)? The answer is: Libraries don’t have a regular path but they are accessed through shell commands like these:
    – shell:documentsLibrary
    – shell:MusicLibrary
    – shell:PicturesLibrary
    – shell:VideosLibrary
    or indeed (if you don’t want any specific library):
    – shell:Libraries

I used the latter, shell:Libraries, like this:

How to add Dropbox and Libraries to the Places Bar in Windows 7

And it gives you this:

Places Bar with Dropbox and Libraries

 

There you go!

 

I would like to mention that if you have Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise, you don’t even need to download the Places Bar Editor from Melloware. You can just use the Group Policy Editor that is included in these versions of Windows. Just type gpedit.msc in the Search line of the Start Menu and press Enter. Then go to User Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Explorer -> Common Open File Dialog. Then Right click on “Items displayed in Places Bar” and take it from there, similarly to the Places Bar Editor.

 

 

Turn a double-page pdf into single pages using briss

Wow! I just discovered a little tool that does exactly what I’ve been looking for since ages. I’m sure you’ve also wondered about this after having scanned a book or book chapter: how can I cut those scanned double pages down the middle and make two pages out of it (because it is two pages in the book)? And, of course, you want to do it automatically. If you’re using Adobe Acrobat, you might expect that this rather expensive software has that function built in, but you will find: it hasn’t.

But thanks to Gerhard Aigner, you wont have to worry about this any more because he created Briss, a  cross-platform (Linux, Windows, Mac) java-application for cropping .pdf-files. Oh, and did I mention that it is freeware? You just open your pdf file, position the rectangles according to the position of the pages in the book and select “crop pdf”.

My only criticism (or suggestion for improvement) would be the following: while the program allows you to copy cropping frames across different sections of the document, it does apparently not allow you to copy the frame for the odd pages and use it for the even pages. So if you want to have odd and even pages in the same size and format, you need to draw your even-pages-frame on top of your odd-pages-frame to make sure they are the same size (only visual judgement!) and then drag it over to the even page. It’s feasible but a bit cumbersome. Or well, actually, it can be almost infeasible at times, namely when your frame as exactly the height of the page, because the the size of a frame changes if you move it across the edges of the page and since you will hardly be able to move your mouse 100 percent horizontally, the frame will get smaller as you drag it.

Oh, and drag’n’drop would be nice: i.e. the possibility to drag your pdf into briss directly from Windows Explorer. And an option “First page last”. The latter would facilitate scanning of brochures and booklets because in those the first scanned page will contain the front cover and the back cover.

Another think to be aware of is that the briss (just like Adobe Acrobat) apparently does not delete the parts of the pdf that are “cut off” but just makes them invisible. At least that’s what I gather from a comment by user “Viking2ev” on sourceforge. But that’s only a problem if you want to get rid of confidential information.

Oh, and irrespective of briss, during scanning, you need to watch that your book in the same position on the scanner for every double page. Otherwise you might have to do several runs with briss and then merge the files back into one with Acrobat or so.

Having said all that, I still think that briss is an excellent tool for scholars to use. Just go and try it out.

[UPDATE: I just found a very similar program that seems to be more flexible to use: It’s called Scan Tailor, it’s also Freeware and it seems to be maintained better as the last update is from May 2012 while Briss hasn’t been updated since July 2011). The only (big!) problem is that it is apparently unable to read .pdf-files. So your scans have to be in supported files types are .tif, .tiff, .png, .jpg, .jpeg … So if that is okay for you, try both and tell us what you think about them in the comments below!]

Prezi now imports your old PowerPoint slides

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.

How to Combine Citavi and Evernote

 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.

 

Evernote’s “secret” character limit to notes

I have a 14 MB HTML file that I want to upload to Evernote. Shouldn’t be a problem with my Premium Account which allows a maximum note size of 50 Mb. Even with the free Account, notes may be 25 Mb. So why am I writing this? – Because it doesn’t work. This is the error message that I kept getting even though my file was far from the Limit that Evernote advertizes in terms of megabytes:

Evernote error: Note … content is too long xxxxxxxx, max is 5242880

I would like to share this with you because this has caused me so much headache cause I could not find any info on this on the web. It even took the Evernote support a couple of days to come up with a clear statement about this issue:

For various technical backend and integration reasons, there is a character limit on our notes, which happens to be 5242880 Unicode characters.

So the explanation basically is that there are more limitations to your EN account that Evernote chooses to mention on pages where they pretend to inform customers about the limitations. Why are you not informing users (or at least offering some comprehensible error messages), I asked the Evernote support:

We do not advertise our character limit openly because the vast majority of our users never hit this limit when creating a single note.

Although there is apparently nothing anyone can do about this character limit, this experience seriously cracked my good image of the Evernote folks and their information policy (also their support turned out to be much less competent than I had expected. Kept asking questions that I had just answered).

They see the character limit issue as a “misunderstanding”, which means that they are still blaming it on me, since it is me who misunderstood. Maybe they are right. I should just have looked up the specifications of ENML and it would have immediately become clear:

EDAM_NOTE_CONTENT_LEN_MAX i32 5242880

Maximum length of a Note.content field Note.content fields must comply with the ENML DTD.