Dropbox

The final piece of the puzzle for me is file synchronisation. Now, by that I don’t meant that I want all of the files on one machine to be available on every other. I have hundreds of gigabytes of data – most of it music. But I do have two issues I’d like solved:

1) Being able to work on a single document from anywhere on native software
(ie: not Google Docs, which are a tolerable workaround, but not a solution to all my needs);

2) Reliable, heavy-duty, low-maintenance backup.

And it occurred to me that if I solved number 1, I may be able to solve the Things synchronisation problem I was having. Because after all – Things has a local database. If that database was ‘in the cloud’ and shared, then everything about it would sync.

Synchronising files
Dropbox is new, it’s free, and it works. You download it, and it sits on your desktop like a folder or an external drive. Put things in it, and it mirrors it to the internet. Have it running on two machines, and it’s always the same.

Dropbox

Go and watch the screencast (which I’d have embedded, if they’d just thought that through a little bit). It explains it really well.

But the clever thing is that the drive is not just on the internet. It’s on your hard drive AND on the internet, and always checking for the latest version. If you go offline, you can still use that version, make changes and so on. Then, when you hook up again, it all resyncs with the latest changes.

So. Now I can work on current project files wherever I am. But even better – I can synchronise Things properly.

Things sync
As I said, Things stores all of the information you put into it in a database. That database is a file. If two instances of Things use the same database, then those two instances of Things are perfectly in sync. Dropbox to the rescue.

things

Here’s how to make Things work. Just open your Terminal programme, and copy/paste these instructions.

Once you’ve done that on one machine, open Things on the other machine while holding down the ALT key. It’ll prompt you for information about where the database lives. Point it to the folder on your local Dropbox.

And you’re done. Perfect Thingsync, without faffing about with Mail or iCal ToDo list synchronisation.

Backup
After using SuperDuper for the longest time (it’s pretty good, actually) – I finally made the switch to Time Machine.

time machine

I started out by commandeering a portable external 160GB hard drive to back up the laptop – and as soon as I realised how clever Time Machine actually is, I decided to use it on the Big Mac (the desktop iMac). The Big Mac has a 1TB internal HD, and I have two external 1TB hard drives – though only one power cable to share between them.

I was using one of them to house my music collection, because drive space on the Big Mac itself was at a bit of a premium, but I decided to ditch a bunch of unnecessary stuff, made some room, and migrated the music collection back onto the internal drive. Now, the external could be backup via Time Machine.

I set it up, and it did its thing overnight. Now, it will just make changes on the fly.

Hyperanoia
Then it occurred to me that with the second, unused 1TB HD, I could do a double backup, and house one of them offsite. I go into the office pretty much every Friday, so I can swap them over once a week.

One’s at home, one’s at work. One will do the automatic background backup all the time throughout the week, then on a Friday, I’ll take it in to work, drop it off, and bring home the other one. Worst case scenario – say, a fire in the home office – and I’ll have a backup of everything and it’s no more than a week out of date.

The laptop stuff doesn’t really require such measures – though there are documents I’d like to make sure I don’t lose. Some of them I’m now leaving in the Dropbox, if I’m working on them – but I’ll keep up my practice of emailing them to my backup Gmail account as attachments, and filling the email messages themselves with useful tags so I can find stuff again if need be, using Google’s brilliant search within mail.

The fly in the ointment
We’ve just learned this week that the university is going to start insisting that we use the Outlook calendar, so that they can see where we are and make meeting appointments on our behalf.

I relinquished my standard issue desktop PC almost two years ago, and haven’t used one since.

I don’t have any particular problem with integrating their system into mine, but I don’t know how or where I could synchronise my system with theirs. I know that Mobile Me talks to Outlook – but I suspect you have to have a PC that you can turn on, and integrate it with the software. It’s probably not going to talk directly to the exchange server.

Any ideas how we can make that go?
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I hope you’ve found something in these three posts useful. There may be others to come. I’m a big believer in systems in the service of productivity, and I don’t mind putting the hours in investigating and reporting this stuff, in order to save time and effort in the long run. Bursts of activity in the interests of less work overall.

I think I’ve found a combination of solutions that does all of this quite elegantly. It works for me – and, as soon as we’ve integrated the dreaded Microsoft bits – it’ll work for everyone else I connect with for work as well.