In addition to setting some goals, the beginning of the semester also seemed like an opportune time to re-assess and re-configure some of the tools I rely on to make those goals happen. I started things off in the most indulgent way possible–by buying a new computer.
My MacBook just hit three years, and is starting to show its age. Rather than drive it to exhaustion and then replace it whenever it finally gave up the ghost (a decent, if inhumane, strategy that’s seen me through the last three laptops), I decided to switch to a desktop for most of my work, prolonging (I hope) the life of the laptop and giving me a beautifully expansive screen to write on.
That means I now have (and this is sort of embarrassing, but bear with me) an iMac, a MacBook, and an iPod touch. Assuming my laptop continues to chug along, I’m planning on using it for on-campus work once I’m back to teaching next semester. This means I need to keep my desktop and my laptop synced up so I’ll always have the most recent version of whatever I’m working on.
I’d been using Spideroak to back up my important files to the cloud, but their file management application freaked out when I moved my data onto the new computer, and after several unsuccessful attempts to unfreeze the program, I threw up my hands and went hunting for something else. In the process, I tested out nearly every cloud backup service out there (at least, every one with a free plan). There are a lot of good options. I’ve used Dropbox in the past, but I don’t like having to move files into the Dropbox folder. I have a fairly meticulous (or compulsive, depending on who you ask) file architecture, and I don’t want to have to mess with it by constantly moving things into and out of the Dropbox folder.
Syncplicity looked promising, since it lets you select folders to sync, rather than making you move files somewhere else, but the folder selection option was all or nothing–that is, I could sync my entire dissertation folder, but I couldn’t unselect the subfolders that I don’t want to keep synced (several of the research subforlders have some pretty enormous pdfs that will quickly exceed the 5 gb limit).
I finally settled on SugarSync, and so far I’ve been really happy with it. SugarSync starts you out with 5 gb of free storage, which is pretty standard right now. They’ve got an iPhone/iPad app, as well as an Android one, if you’re into that kind of thing, and a fairly user-friendly desktop management application. You choose which folders you want to sync from each machine you add, and you can unselect subfolders that you don’t want to have synced. There are features for sharing folders, although that’s not something I tend to need. I understand SugarSync lacks some more advanced features that Dropbox offers (more on that here), but all I really want is something that will keep the files I’m working on current on both machines, and SugarSync seems to fit the bill.
Having three devices that I use on a regular basis has also forced me to finally abandon my beloved, but limited, Things (more on why I love(d) Things here). As many of its fans have bemoaned for quite a while now, Things has no cloud support. This wasn’t much of a problem when I only had the one computer and the iPod–I just synced the devices via wifi whenever I needed to. But syncing three devices to each other is considerably more complicated, and borders on a pain in the ass. I wanted something that would do that for me.
Enter Wunderlist. Does almost everything Things does (the biggest shortcomings: no repeating tasks, and no sublists), looks good, has iPhone and desktop apps, syncs to the cloud, and, amazingly, is free. Things has been promising cloud support for well over a year, and when (if) that finally comes through, I’ll consider switching back, but right now I’ve found Wunderlist a strong substitute. And on top of that, the folks at 6Wunderkinder are getting ready to release an even more robust task-management platform called Wunderkit that looks like it’ll support all those things I’ve been missing (along with a bunch of social networking stuff I don’t need, but I’m reserving judgement until I see it).
I’m still in the honeymoon phase with the new computer, but so far the extra screen real estate has been something of a revelation, as has the improved ergonomics of a desktop. Being able to look up and ahead at what I’m writing, rather than down toward my hands makes a significant difference. I’d also forgotten how nice it can be to use a mouse. If only this thing could do the writing for me…