More Fun with Software

Having blogged my excitement about the public beta of DEVONthink 2, and trying to get myself re-organized for my winter break projects, I spent much of yesterday poking around in my various databases, thinking about how the data I access frequently is organized and trying to imagine better workflows. Over the last year or so, I’ve adopted a number of software packages and systems, and I figured I’d share some of what I’ve been using.

First off, of course, is DEVONthink itself, which I’ve been using to organize my reading notes, pdfs, and other bits of research data. I’ve also, as I noted, been using Bookends as my reference manager; it’s a little costy, but nowhere near so much as EndNote, and far, far friendlier.

This summer, for a whole series of reasons, I found myself getting a little paranoid about data security, and it suddenly occurred to me that not only had I not changed my primary passwords recently enough, but that I was reusing passwords in far too many places. The problem is, though, that I’m far too stupid to be able to remember as many passwords as I’d need to keep things really secure. Enter 1Password, a program that generates strong passwords and securely stores them for you. It also synchronizes beautifully with the iPhone, so that you need never be without that data.

Synchronizing data across computers, however, has been a challenge I’ve been trying to deal with for a while now. For the last several years, I’ve been using ChronoSync to synchronize data between my home machine and my USB drive, and then between my USB drive and my office machine, and so forth. Though ChronoSync is a dream, my system was still mildly awkward — heaven help me if I forget to sync before leaving one machine, or before starting to use the other. MobileMe’s Back to My Mac feature, which allows you to access any of your computers from any other, has gotten me out of a couple of jams, but it’s too slow to be ideal, and it’s not as automated as I’d like.

So yesterday I started tinkering with DropBox, which brings together cloud storage and automatic synchronization across multiple computers. I installed the application and dropped my databases in the dropbox, and then today installed the application on my office machine, which downloaded the contents of my dropbox. Any changes I make on one machine will automatically transfer to the other. (And DropBox uses SSL for all data transport and encrypts all files with AES-256, though the truly paranoid might want to create an encrypted disk image within the dropbox.)

Now to put those databases to work…


  1. Nice write-up.

    I’ve been using DropBox for the past 2 months and (so far) I find it the best of the new crop of file-syncing platforms.

    Before that I used but I canceled my subscription because it just wasn’t that easy to use and I wasn’t thrilled with the way webdav access worked on Macs.

    DEVONthink is one of those applications I really want to like but I still haven’t found a way to comfortably integrate it into my workflow.

    I upgrade (and pay!) every time they come out with a new version but I continually find myself underwhelmed with the new features.

    The main problem I have with DEVONthink is that, generally speaking, it’s hard to get stuff into my database and then equally hard to get to that stuff once it’s in there. I don’t like having to work within the confines of DEVONthink since I work mainly in a web browser, in particular Firefox.

    So I’m curious about your DEVONthink set-up and workflow. How do you use it? What are you preferred methods for adding/importing stuff into your database? Where do you store your database file? Do you find it frustrating not being to access what’s in your DEVONthink database from the web without setting up the web server feature? How do you work around that?

  2. Hi there, and sorry for the long delay in responding. Basically, I use DEVONthink to store my research notes in a way similar to what Steven Johnson describes here, mostly archiving brief transcribed passages. These passages are then complexly searchable (and now taggable), enabling me to find interrelated material relatively quickly, and often to draw connections I hadn’t yet been aware of. I tend to take notes in a text editor (either a standalone application like TextMate or DEVONthink’s internal editor) and then drag each individual passage into Dt, so that each is a separate entry in the database. It’s not perfect — a bit more time-consuming than I might like. And I’m sure there’s a better model. But with the database stored in my DropBox, it’s available pretty much wherever I am. And I really don’t need it to be more web-available, though I am curious about what that would add…

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