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

Image result for duplicacy logo

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]:

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.

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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”.

Speed-reading pdfs using the “Spritz” technique

sprint reader logoA couple of days ago, I came across Spritz, a company that is popularizing a speed reading technology whose name I’ve forgotten called Rapid Serial Visual Presentation.  You get the idea once you look at the Spritz website. I immediately thought that this could be a way for me to read all those texts that I have to read as an academic a lot faster.

I am a very slow reader for three reasons: the first is that I look up every other reference and almost all footnotes. Sometimes I get so distracted that I even look up some of the references and start reading those instead (and so on).

Another reason is that when I read an interesting paragraph of sentence, that often triggers my own thoughts and associations and I start wandering off, thinking about how I might integrate that idea into my own text or whatever.

Finally, the third problem is that I simply read slowly, I guess because I really want to understand and thing through everything, rather than focusing on the essentials.

Now, I don’t want to philosphize too much about the pros and cons of speed reading here. Suffice it to say that if the aim is to get through a text reasonably fast at 350 words per minute with at least superficial understanding of the content (or even ridiculously fast at 800 wpm with probably minimal understanding but a rough idea), then this Spritz technique seems adequate to me, and I have indeed read two articles that way yesterday.

My point here is to show you how to read pdfs using this technique (not the original Spritz itself, cause their app is not released yet) because the reading apps that are out there at the moment seem to work only with plain text, while most academic articles come as pdf files.

It’s not a big deal, actually, but it took me a while to figure it out nevertheless. All you need is the Chrome bowser with the Sprint Reader extension installed. You also need to make sure that you have the native Chrome PDF Viewer enabled. This is the case by default, but if you are using Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat, you might have disabled it. In order to enable Chrome PDF Viewer, type “chrome://plugins/” into Chrome’s address bar and scroll down to find Chrome PDF Viewer and, well, enable it. The following will not work with pdf-files that are not displayed using Chrome’s PDF viewer.

You can now use Sprint Reader to speed read not only text on websites but also your locally stored pdf files (just drag them into the browser). Select the text you want to read, right click and select “Sprint read selected text”. There you go. (Needless to say that your pdf file needs to have actual text in it, not just a scanned image of text. If you have an image of text, you need to run some OCR on it.)

The Sprint Reader extension in action
The Sprint Reader extension in action

I recommend setting the “pause after period” higher than the default 450 milliseconds. I’m currently using 900. I also set the “pause after paragraph” to 2000, but that basically has no effect when reading a pdf, because there seem to be no paragraphs in there that the Sprint Reader would recognize as such, unfortunately.

There are also a couple of other drawbacks that we currently will have to live with, especially that the reader will – not surprisingly – read all the text in the pdf, which means it will also read the header on each page, the page numbers, and – most annoyingly, the text inserted on every page by various publishers, such as:

This content downloaded from xxx.xxx.16.16 on Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:49:43 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

You will also encounter problems when there are tables and figures in the text, but hey, otherwise it works okay.

Why did I chose Sprint Reader and not any of the many other similar services and extensions such as Spreed – speed read the web, Spread Speed Reading Extension, Spreeder, or OpenSpritz, to name but a few? Well, it’s the best of them all. It’s not perfect (I did encounter a couple of crashes or whatever it was when it simply did not work until I restarted the browser), but it is very customizable and it works with pdfs, which not all of the others do.

Having said that, here are some suggestions for improvement in Sprint Reader, especially for people like me reading scientific texts:

  1. Add an option to exclude (i.e. hopp over) brackets containing a four digit number. Why? Because that would exclude all references provided using an Author-Year citation style and make reading academic texts a lot easier.
  2. Recognize abbreviations such as e.g. and treat the dots in these differently (i.e. don’t apply the “pause after period” rule). One quick way of minimizing this problem could be by checking whether the dot is followed by a capital letter. If not, it’s not a period.
  3. It would be nice to be able to exclude customized strings, such as “This content downloaded from xxx.xxx.16.16 on Thu, 17 Apr 2014 06:49:43 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions” (see above)
  4. Ignore hyphens at line breaks and join the words to one. The few cases where the hyphen should not be eliminated because it is a hyphened word, are negligible.
  5. Recognize paragraphs in pdfs (see above). I’m not sure whether this is possible, but I might as well add it to my wish list.
  6. Add a keyboard shortcut for quick rewind as, for example Spreed has it (I think it was spreed anyway). In addition, it would be nice to have the replay at a lower speed and then back to normal speed when passing the point where the rewind was initiated.
  7. The extension should not be dependent on the text selection in chrome, once it has started. This is feels almost like a bug to me, although it is not, but it is a bit of a pain in the *** that you cannot unselect the text you are currently reading without the reader losing track of it. It would be better if the reader would load the whole text into its own memory, once you press play, making it independent from what happens in the browser.

UPDATE: I just realized that the Sprint Reader sometimes seems to have problems rendering text in pdfs. I have a pdf in which it reads some of the text without problem but when I select and right click other parts, there is not even a possibility to select “Sprint read selected text”. In fact, this may be a problem of chrome (or the pdf?) and not the extension. Either way, be prepared to encounter this problem with your favourite pdf file…

IRIScan Book 3: pretty much useless

Image I just got an IRIScan Book 3, a portable scanner that looks promising when you check it out online. And I’m sending it back. The problem is that you can never rely on it actually scanning the whole page that you intend to scan. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to make a video of this but I hope I will manage to do one before the 30 days trial period is over.

The device is a nice idea, but it simply doesn’t work. If you get one, you can expect to have problems with it all the time. No, my device is not defect. The product is simply badly designed. There are two main problems:

  1. As far as I can see, the scanner measures its movement through the rolling thingy on  the bottom, i.e. it does not use the actual optical sensor to register movement. As a result, it will stop scanning once the rolling thingy has rolled over the edge of the book so that it is suspended in the air. In other words: while the scanning sensor is still gliding over your text, the “wheels” tell the device that it is no longer moving and it will therefore stop recording the signal coming from the sensor. This may not be a problem if your book has a margin of at least 1.5 cm, but if your margin is narrower (or if you want to scan the notes scribbled on the margin) then the Iriscan Book 3 just wont work for you.
  2. The frame of the device is too thick so that it wont scan what is towards both ends of the sensor, i.e. the width of the scanned image is smaller than the sensor window on the bottom of the device suggests. Again, you could work around that making a mark where the sensor really starts and use the device accordingly, but the problem is that you may not always be able to do so because the fold of the book is preventing you from shifting the device far enough. Similar to point 1 mentioned above, this will not be a problem if your book has large margins, but I have one here that has just under 1.5 cm margin at the centre fold and the leads to the first letter or so of each row to be cut off.

I could also complain about the wifi functionality (on the Irisscan book 3 executive), but that has become a minor quibble compared to these problems. The problem with the wifi functionality is that the Iriscan Book 3 does not conntect to your existing wifi but it sets up its own wifi hotspot and if you want to connect your computer or ipad with it, you need to disconnect from your wifi (and hence the internet), connect to the Irisbook wifi, scan, connect back to your original wifi and only then can you upload the scanned documents.

Honestly: this could have been solved better. Why did they call it IRIScan Book, when it can scan single pieces of paper just fine, but not books? Anyway: I’m sending it back. Luckily they I.R.I.S. is giving a 30 day money back guarantee, so that should not be a problem. Despite this, I recommend anyone to think twice before ordering this. If you think you might want to use it for scanning pages out of books, don’t buy it.

Instead, I will try a fascinating software called booksorber. I had considered it before I bought the Iriscan Book, but I thought it would be nice to have a dedicated device for scanning, rather than setting up my camera everytime I want to scan a couple of pages, but now I’ll give booksober a chance. I’ll post my exoerience here as soon as I had time to test it.

UPDATE [31-10-2013]: If you are looking for an alternative portable scanner, you might want to have a look at the Xcanex document scanner by piQx which I reviewed in another post.