Location Agnostic Research (with Backup): using Mozy, DropBox, LogMeIn, Adobe Pro, and Zotero

It’s been a long time since I posted here, so I want to quickly share some tips that have helped me this past semester. Before I started my PhD at NYU-Poly in August 2010, I was writing at book while in residence at Eyebeam and doing some engineering consulting work. This meant my laptop went wherever I did. However, once I started at NYU-Poly, I got a shiny new desktop computer. I had to figure out how to take advantage of the new hardware while still keeping in touch with my digital life on my laptop. The point of this post is to share how I’ve figured out an almost free way to work effectively in my new office or at home, desktop or laptop, and have access to everything I need. This has contributed significantly to my quality of life as a graduate student by always letting me get home for dinner and still work late when I need to.

1) Backup
Before I even get into the working remotely thing, I want to stress the importance of automatic backups. Not the kind where you buy an external hard drive and promise yourself you’ll sync up once a week, but the sync-without-thinking kind. I chose Mozy Home from www.mozy.com. It’s free up to 2 GB of backup, then just $5/month for unlimited backup of one computer. That computer is my laptop that lives at home. As long as it’s online, it gets backed up twice a day. I’ve never had a crash situation while using Mozy (knock on wood) so I can’t attest to how easy it is to recover, but the reviews are excellent.

2) Dropbox
Since I was still in the process of editing my book when I started my PhD, I wanted a way to access the files from work if the publisher needed something quickly or had a question. I also read a lot of research papers that I wanted access to at home and on my commute. Enter Dropbox.com. It creates a folder in your My Documents folder called My Dropbox that you can share between multiple machines. Just download Dropbox on both machines and log in with the same account. As an added bonus, you can also download a Dropbox app for iPhone. If there’s a paper I want to read on my commute, I go into my Dropbox app, make it a “favorite” so it downloads to my phone, then I have full access the pdf even underground in the subway. Nerd-tastic.

And, since the My Dropbox folder is on my home laptop computer, the Mozy backup (#1 above) backs up this folder as well. Double nerd-tastic life hack.

You get 2GB with the free account, and if you click here we each get 250MB more free!

3) LogMeIn
This is basically free remote access software. I first heard of it when I worked with a doctor doing clinical gait analysis from multiple office locations who needed to be able to view patient data at different locations. I now have it installed on my home laptop and my work desktop now, and as long as they’re both on and online, I can always control one from the other. I realize this isn’t the most energy efficient solution, so I adjust the power settings on each of my computers accordingly so they don’t do dumb things like keep the monitor on when not in use. This allows me to not only view files that only live on one computer or the other, but use programs that only live on one or the other. This is especially necessary with engineering software that can get expensive quickly.

4) Adobe Acrobat Pro
Speaking of software, this is the only program in this post that isn’t free, open source, or super cheap. But I’ve become addicted for a few reasons:

  • I used to print our articles just so I could highlight and take notes as I read. I don’t know how anyone can read and retain any level of information without doing that. Now I can use Adobe Pro to do that exact same thing.
  • That saves trees, printer ink, staples, etc.
  • Keeping digital versions of everything means they are searchable. My brain is not so reliable, and once something is printed there is no telling where it may end up.
  • 5) Zotero
    Zotero is like an awesome open source version of EndNote or RefWorks. If you’ve never used either, they’re all designed for managing references. Say you want to write an academic journal article, blog post, white paper, report, or anything you’ll need to reference other sources in or keep track of sources for. Zotero can automatically capture citation information so you never have to type it in yourself. It only works with Firefox (an open source browser) and actually lives in your browser. However, once you set up an account, you can download Zotero to Firefox browsers on different computers and it will sync up. In the preferences, you can set it to automatically download a pdf of an article you look up (if available). Then if you click on the pdf in the drop down and go to Show File, it will bring up the default file folder Zotero stores that file in. Then you can reference #4 above and take advantage of Adobe Pro to take notes on the pdf. The file stays linked through Zotero and your notes are preserved, and better yet the whole thing is searchable from within Zotero.

    Up too 100MB of storage is free, so I’m not likely to run out any time soon since I just use it for Word/Excel/pdfs, so it’s perfect.

    Shazam! Efficient, backed-up, mobile working. I hope to share more things about my first semester as soon as these pesky PhD qualifying exams are over (January 14th!!).

    People: Dustyn Roberts
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