Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Life Organized - Part 2

In the previous post I mentioned a smartphone (Droid) and Google Apps.  Next I will introduce a "to do" App, note taker, password manager, and file synchronization.

Remember The Milk -free/$ if you want Droid App
This is a "to do" or task list.  There are other sites out there that are cheaper (RTM is $25 per year) but I really like this one.  If you are a GTD follower, this will be right up your alley.  When looking for tools one requirement I have is to be accessible anywhere and sync with all devices.  RTM is accessible with a Droid App, is web-based, and can be worked on off-line.  This is where I will keep track of things like make copies of...., call pediatrician, send mom birthday card, etc.  You can also share tasks.  So yes, my honey do list is electronic.  To help a little with the cost look for 3 months free gift promotions around the holidays.  I'll buy my wife a year and get 3 months free and then she does the same.

Evernote -free/$
Your online filing cabinet and note taker.  This is available as a desktop application, online, and smartphone.  Recently (well November-ish) Evernote updated their Droid App making this even better.  I promptly upgraded from free to a premium account ($45 per year).  You are able to upload more per month and you get some other perks.  Currently my wife and I are sharing the same account.  We may end up getting our own and share "notebooks" between us.  You can upload just about anything as well as use it as a note taker.  You can organize by notebooks (folders) as well as tagging.  If you are not familiar with tagging it is much more useful than folders.  Ever try to find something but you can't remember what folder you put it in?  Now you can tag all your items with a keyword or words.  When you search you do not have to worry about what notebook you might have put it in.  By using tags you can also see all items with that tag even if they are in different notebooks.  I have not even started to tap the power of Evernote.  On the wish list is a ScanSnap.  Then we can say goodbye to our filing cabinets.  I would like to start using it for the classroom as well.  Here is one example of how a teacher is using Evernote to document student learning.  I use it as my brain dump.  Any random ideas I have for a particular concept or if I come across a shared idea it goes here.  We have all had those great ideas but forget about it by the time we get to covering that particular concept.  Now I can easily find it.

RoboForm LastPass - free/$
So many passwords, how do you remember them all?  I don't.  I have three passwords I need to remember.  One of them is to LastPass.  You know how you are supposed to create passwords with a combination of random letters and numbers?  No, the name of your kid is not a strong password (just for fun).  LastPass will create them for you and remember them.  Now when I go to a website I have an account for, I just click on LastPass and it automatically fills in the user ID/name and password for me.  I did use RoboForm for about the last 3 years.  RoboForm was great.  There is not much to complain about.  There are three things which prompted me to switch.  First I did not want to drag my USB drive around anymore (USB had all my files plus RoboForm on it).  However if you do not use a USB drive RoboForm requires you to install software on whatever computer you are using.  This required a purchase.  The alternative was to use RoboForm online.  RoboForm online only allows access, it does not allow you to create new passwords to remember.  The second reason is RoboForm recently made a major revision to their software.  If I wanted to upgrade my current version of RoboForm I would have to pay for each computer or purchase what they now call RoboForm Everywhere.  The third and final reason for the switch is our district is contemplating going to dummy terminals.  In basic terms, you can not install any software on the computer in your classroom.  It really is not a computer.  It is just a way to access the server which contains all the software you need.  If you want to install something you would need to contact the tech department.  I was not looking forward to the possible hassle of having to go through the process of getting it approved or maybe even being denied.  I understand the need to not have teachers installing any random thing we please.  So the switch to LastPass.  It is free to use on as many computers as you want.  I pay ($12 per year) to have it on my Droid as well.  You can also use it on a PC without installing any software.  The online version will allow you to save new passwords.  You can import passwords into LastPass.  Please tell me you did not have IE or Firefox or Chrome remember your passwords for you though, right?

Dropbox SugarSync - free/$
Another service I recently switched.  If you recall from above, I do not want to lug my USB drive around anymore.  It just stinks when you forget it somewhere.  By using a synchronization service, all my files are accessible from any computer.  You have your files on your home computer.  The synchronization service watches your files for any changes or new ones and stores them on their computers.  When you log into another computer it then makes the necessary changes/additions to the files on that computer automatically.  I have about 6GB of files I want access to.  Out of that 6GB I really only use 3-4GB but I could not decide what to sync and what not to.  I started with Dropbox (2GB free, $ for more space) and paid for more space.  You download the Dropbox software to each computer you use or you can also access the files through the Dropbox website.  Ahh, but remember how our school district is thinking about dummy terminals?  It is much easier to use Dropbox if you install the Dropbox software on the computers you use.  To use it from the website you have to manually download the file, make your changes, then manually upload the file back.  Enter SugarSync.  It does the same as Dropbox.  The improvement is SugarSync has a great feature when accessing files through the SugarSync website.  You click on the file, it opens on your computer, when you are finished it closes and then automatically uploads back to SugarSync.  I now do not have to worry about installing SugarSync at school.  Another improvement I like about SugarSync is you tell it what folders to sync up.  With Dropbox you have to put all your files in a special Dropbox folder.  Dropbox is aiming for the ease of use crowd but that one extra click to open the Dropbox folder and then get to my files was a little annoying.  Both Dropbox and SugarSync let you share files using a public link.  With Dropbox you have to put the file you want to share into a special public folder.  Because I am lazy (aka efficient) I ended up putting all my files into the public folder.  I did not want to have to remember if I moved an updated file to the public folder.  I wanted all my files in their original folders.  So now I have two extra clicks to get to my files.  SugarSync allows you to share any file (or entire folder) no matter where it is as long as you have it synced.  Dropbox is supposedly working on making it so you don't have to use the public folder.  SugarSync is currently offering 5GB free (disclaimer: by using that link I get some extra space for referring you if you sign up but you get some extra space also).  I will probably end up paying for a 30GB plan.  The current promo gives you 10GB extra for upgrading to a paid plan and gives the person who referred you 10GB extra.  I had my wife sign up first then I used her referral link.  Now she will get 10GB free so between the two of us we only need to pay one yearly fee.  The only drawback to using a synchronization tool is if you lose internet connection.  You then lose access to your files (if using the web to access your files instead of a downloaded program) or your files do not sync until you regain your internet connection.  Not having to carry around a USB or email files back and forth is worth the risk.  At home we have lost internet connection twice in the past year and it was only for a couple of hours each time.  So far this school year we have only lost internet connection once and it was also for only an hour or two.

Note: As much as I love "in the cloud" storage and syncing I do not trust it completely.  I have my files backed up on an external hard drive.  I have it set to auto back up every week.  This way if SugarSync ever screws up or goes out of business I will not suddenly lose my files somehow.  I also have carbonite which backs up almost my entire computer.  Yes I am paranoid.

Next up: Bookmarking but better, Twitter and never reading the same book again.


  1. Interesting post. I've heard of Evernote, but I've been using Microsoft "One Note" for the past six months or so and have been able to organize my information into notebook folders in a similar fashion. It lacks the cloud portability, but it works for me.

    Re: Scansnap. Yeah, I think that's an awesome gadget but the $300 price tag had me think twice. I have a single page scanner that only saves to one page pdf files. I test drove PDF Merger and for thirty bucks I can consolidate those pdf files into one document.

  2. I finally upgraded Office to 2010. The version I bought came with OneNote. I peaked at it but I was already hooked by Evernote. I have yet to come across anything Evernote will not save for me.

    My birthday is soon after Christmas. I am thinking about putting that as my request for everyone to get me. :) For now our copiers at school will scan and email it to Evernote for me. Every once in a while I'll grab a file folder from our home filing cabinet and start scanning using the school copier. I can scan a double sided page or multi page document and it will be sent as one document to Evernote. Only drawback is our school copier only does black and white and of course finding free time during school year to do something besides getting work done.