1 July 2009

Forget nothing and work anywhere

Imagine a world where everything you read is searchable so you can re-view any page containing a word or reference; where your computer is accessible from any other computer; and where you can instantly find any file you want. You can do all this now, with your present computer, for free.

Picture from Tyndale House
This posting will show you how, at zero cost, you can:
  • have an electronic photographic memory which is searchable
  • have automatic backups, ready for the day your computer dies
  • access your work and software from any web-connected computer
  • and you do NOT have to be continuously online.

1) Dropbox: Access your files on any computer - even with a poor connection

2) DjVu: Search everything you've read - with intact Greek & Hebrew

3) Zotero 2: Your automated librarian and bibliography/footnote creator

4) LogMeIn: View and control your computer from any other computer

5) GoogleDesktop: Index your whole life and find it again on any computer

1) Dropbox: Access your files on any computer - even with a poor connection:

Where should you keep shared files? - on your computer or online?
  • Files on your computer are fast and available even when the internet fails,
  • Files online are backed up and can be accessed on any computer
Now you can have BOTH, automatically updated, by using Dropbox.
  • files in your Dropbox folder live on your computer, and online
  • they are automatically kept in sync with identical folders on your other computers
  • or, on a public computer, you can go online and load the file from your storage
  • and if you accidentally delete it, the last three revisions are safely online
Get a free 2.25 Gb Dropbox here (enough space for about 2000 PhD theses!) Nearest rivala: SugarSync - 2 Gb free, on only one extra computer or PDA and LiveMesh - 5Gb online free, and syncs more. In Beta, but looks good.

2) DjVu: Searchable text which is an exact image, with intact Greek & Hebrew:

How should you store things you've read? - as scanned images or typed text?
  • Scans show the exact page, including page numbers, Greek & Hebrew
  • Text is searchable, but typing is tedious and automatic OCR is often garbled
Now you can have BOTH without correcting any text, by using DjVu
  • scan what you read even at only 200dpi, eg on your office photocopier
  • upload it to a free DjVu converter then save the file on your computer (the conversion site automatically deletes them after 6 days)
  • install the DjVu plugin which is much faster than viewing PDFs
  • they look just like a scan or photocopy, but they contain the typed text (like all OCR, it is not perfect, but this is OK because you see the original)
  • Hebrew & Greek remains legible, because you can see the original image
  • you can search and find a word, or copy and paste text into a summary
  • DjVu files are only about 1/6 the size of PDF files, so they're easy to store.
Does scanning take you too long? Flatbed scanners are cheap but scans take 20-30 secs. Look at your office photocopier - it may have a scanning function as fast as copying. At Tyndale House the photcopier scans to a public server accessible on all computers. Its quick!

3) Zotero: Your automated librarian and bibliography/footnote creator

How should you record your bibliography? - as a strict database or free-form records?
  • Databases like Endnote create searchable records automatically from some catalogues and create references in different styles in your documents, but data of ten need tidying
  • Free-form records can be written quickly, but the format needs retyping for publication
Now you can have BOTH created automatically from most sources, by using Zotero
  • collects bibliographic fields automatically from web catalogues (including Tyncat)
  • can be organised by both tags and folders, and the content searched by words
  • can attach whole documents to the records, including articles from JSTOR etc
  • can store whole web pages or highlighted clippings and redisplay them
  • can index and search PDFs and web pages (but not DOC or DjVu files)
  • can create bibliography records and footnotes in hundreds of standard styles
Zotero 2 can now share collections on different computers. To do this:
  • if you already have a Zotero folder, make a backup. (To find it, click on the cog symbol, then 'Preferences' then 'Advanced' then 'Storage Location' then 'Show Data Directory')
  • install Firefox 3 from here and Zotero 2 from here then create a Zotero ID here
  • in Firefox, click on Zotero (bottom right), then on Actions (the 'cog' icon) then 'Preferences'
  • to add SBL style etc for formatting citations, click on 'Styles' then 'Additional Styles'
You can access your Zotero files on two or more computers and update them all automatically:
  • in 'Preferences', click on 'Sync', enter your Zotero ID for the Sync Server and tick Sync automatically
  • the 'Storage Server' needs WebDAV but no free online storage service provides this, so instead:
  • use 1) Dropbox (see above): create a folder 'Zotero' in your Dropbox folder, then click on 'Preferences' 'Advanced' and 'Choose'
  • or 2) Live Sync duplicates folders on two computers without keeping an online copy: download, find and run it on both computers and tell it to sync the Zotero folder

4) LogMeIn: View and control your computer from any other computer :

How do you work at the office and at home? Carry a laptop or data stick with you, or work online?
  • Carrying hardware around feels safe, though editing copied files can lead to several versions.
  • Zoho's online office suite is powerful and fast, but you need dependable internet access.
Now you can have BOTH by controlling your office computer from home using LogMeIn
  • you can use your office computer from any other computer, which 'becomes' that computer
  • in 'full screen' mode, it is easy to forget that you are actually controlling another computer
  • you can switch between computers and copy and paste from one computer to the other
  • create a free account at LogMeIn and install the software on your computers
  • you can then access them even on public computers (without installing) by web browsing
Zoho is worth considering for true 'cloud computing' - ie doing all your work online. Their Notebook is almost as good as Google's notebook (sadly discontinued), and their word processor is better than Google Docs. They also have spreadsheet, database etc. But until we have reliable internet access everywhere, true cloud computing will have to wait.

5) GoogleDesktop: Index your whole life and find it again on any computer:

How do you search for your files? Keep them strictly organised or index them? Do BOTH of course, but now you can index your whole life with GoogleDesktop
Google Desktop indexes and searches documents, emails, calendar, viewed webpages etc
  • you can choose to include external drives or restrict the indexing categories
  • results are ordered in an intelligent way, like Google web searches
  • you can share indexes to be visible on any other computer you log into
  • it share files between computers, but not reliably. Use DropBox instead (see above)
  • it stores deleted files and previous versions, ready to be resurrected
  • there are lots of other gadgets to watch email, calendar, news stations etc
  • it even indexes words inside scans, if they are in DjVu format (see above)
  • to turn DjVu on: click on the down arrow, 'Options', 'Desktop Search', then at 'Indexing plugins' click on 'Download Page' and search for 'DjVu Plug-in'. Download and Run.

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