Friday, November 30, 2007

New Feature! Productivity Software!

Da Feature: Caught this on TechRIVET (awesomeness glazed in a sweet html sauce). Windows Live! Translate makes reading DNI in your native language a snap, which is a good thing because I no speak-o the funny-o languages-o. To the right you'll see a drop down. Click it, select your language and off you go.

Of course, you can always use Google Translate and bookmark the site in your native tongue as well. For example, here I am in Italian!

Da Productivity Software: While we're on the topic of Windows Live! Here's a nice organization/productivity tip. Sign up for FolderShare, another Live! service. Works on PCs and Macs. You basically set up a syncing relationship between specific folders on a several computers, run the application in the background, and voila! Your folders are kept auto'magically' synchronized. I love it love it love it. I write a couple new lines of code, download a new paper or two, and save meeting notes on my laptop, and within seconds, they are on my desktop. Yesterday I added a new lines of code to a MatLab script, saved the file, logged into my desktop PC using VNC, and the new version was waiting for me, ready to run.

The only drawbacks are:
A) You have to be running the program (very low memory and cpu footprint - I leave it on even when I play online games). You can close it, but if you edit the same file on both computers while the program is off it will keep two copies of the file renamed in the same folder.
2) There is a limit to the number of folders you can sync, and that limit is pretty low. Somewhere around 8. As far as files, no idea. I'm syncing my "papers" folder, which is 1,200 documents. 2GB file max size.
III) You can't sync some 'special' folders, like your music folder. They basically are making sure this remains a productivity app, and not a music sharing service.
v.4) I don't think transfers are encrypted.

Once installed and running, though, you can access any file on either PC from a browser (if you have the password). You can also invite others to download share files, though they need the software installed (it's free and sign up is 30 seconds). You can also set each folder to sync automatically or on demand.

Another nice bit of software is SyncBack, for offline syncing. The setup is a little long, because it has a million options that's you'll read about when you go through the first folder setup, but you have total control of everything (plus an easy wizard). I use this for syncing to my portable drive and flash drive. It can be set up to sync everything in one click. Oh yeah, the SE version is $30USD (what i that now? .02 Euros?), but the freeware version is great (and spyware/adware free). (PC only)

And last, but not least, for those 'sensitive' files, there's TrueCrypt. Free and powerful. You can create virtual volumes, encrypted partitions, and the the options are mind boggling. All I know is that you'd have to run all the world's computers for 3,000 years to get at my data files. I'm sure I won't care by then. Open source and stable. Using the entirely encrypted drive option is a little finicky and if set up wrong you'll find yourself reformatting in order to make it more usable. I did that, so just think about how you'll use it. For instance, if the whole drive is encrypted, then you always have to have a system with the software installed, or a flash drive with it. You can also copy a lightweight version to the drive with an encrypted file so that the software is accessible on any PC.

I have found that the best blend of security and usability is to leave the drive formatted as by your PC and create an encrypted virtual volume, which appears as a file on the drive. Keep the lightweight version copied to the drive somewhere and leave a little room for less sensitive files you access regularly. The downside is that if the drive is stolen, people can see that there's something special on the drive, because you have that huge honkin file. But, they will be unable to access whatever is on that virtual volume. Basically, it's always more secure to make it look like there's nothing out of the ordinary, but sometimes that isn't practical.

Couple quick notes: Remember that FAT has a low max file size (4GB?), and your volume will essentially be a file on the drive. NTFS isn't natively supported on Macs or Linux, but support can be 'added'. There have been some reports that the current ways of writing to NTFS from either can cause data corruption, but reading should be fine. ext3 isn't supported on Windows, though ext support can be added (don't worry about ext2 versus ext3 - they are compatible with each other (ext3 adds journaling)). I use Ext2FSD for messing with my Linux partition from Windows Vista without any problems. For reading a Mac drive, you'll have to shell out for something like MacDrive, which is obnoxious in general. Yes, it works, but why can't Apple jsut play nice with the other 95% of the world? And why can't Microsoft just release the some sort of NTFS spec? (PC and Linux)

And last but not least. Everyone has a flash drive now. So why not install some of your favorite apps on it, so they're always available? PortableApps has a nice package of free software. Various torrent sites also have portable-ized pay-for apps (like MS Office and Norton). Just FYI. And here's some love for you Mac users.


ethanbm said...

I tried the freeware version of SyncBack and it seems very good! Just what I was looking for to synch my portable USB drive across two computers.

Thanks for the recommendation!
- Ethan BM

P.S. what is the purpose of "Super Paper Friday"? Are they papers that you have read? (in which case, you are a prolific reader). Are they papers that you *want* to read? (in which case, you have high hopes). Are they papers whose abstracts sound interesting? (in which case, your brain contains a good interesting-thing-detector). Or what?

Brandon King said...

Glad you like the software. Works great for me across two computers with 3 drives.

As for SPF, I choose option 2 and 3 (want to read and have good intros, good authors, good journals, or some combinations of the above). I slowly work my way through them, prioritizing by project relevance and shelving the unrelated ones for later reading.

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