Looking at a Writing Workflow

Frederico Viticci shared his writing workflow. I too centre my files around Dropbox. My preference for writing app on iOS is iAWriter and I don’t use Evernote, I’ll write about why an everything bucket just hasn’t worked for me some other time.

I use Instapaper to store article I want to read and maybe write about. I often read them once on my iPad then if they are worth writing something on I will read them a second time while I write in MarsEdit. I send them off to my site (powered by WordPress of course).

For some reason my longer articles are often started on my iPad in iAWriter. I usually keep them there and work on them from my Mac and iPad as I have time.

Even when you think someones workflow is totally off base, it’s great to read them so you think about ways to change your workflow up and be more efficient.

Keep It all Backed Up

Spurred on by a recent tweet about backing up your data I figured I’d write about how I setup the backup for my own machines.

Unlike many reading this (or talking about it on forums) I haven’t had a drive failure. I’ve never lost data. I setup a solid backup without learning the lesson first hand. If you haven’t lost any information yet, setup a good backup and don’t learn the lesson for yourself, data loss is not something you have to experience.

Step One: Instant Backup

The first step in your backup should be a solid instant backup of all crucial files. For this I use Dropbox. Each of my current client projects goes into Dropbox, that means on each save the files get pushed offsite as well as duplicated onto my two different computers and I don’t even have to think about it.

For all of my Macintosh computers I also use Apple’s Time Machine, which performs onsite incremental backups.

For my Windows machines I’ve been looking for a similar solution. I’ve tried Genie Timeline, which seemed to be the best solution. Unfortunately it chokes after about 100GB and says my 1TB drive is full. I’ve re-installed, formatted, restarted, stuck my tongue out on a full moon Tuesday, and nothing has ever worked.

In a second I’ll also talk about my offsite solution, Mozy. Bundled with the Mozy software is an onsite backup to a hard drive. Again I’ve reinstalled, rebooted, formatted and done a dance but no matter what I’ve tried Mozy chokes “preparing data” forever so doesn’t backup.

Yeah that does mean I have no onsite backup on going with my PC’s. Since all my client files are in Dropbox I don’t get too concerned about it though. Sure I’m farther away from my music if the computer dies but that’s something I can deal with.

Step Two: Long Term Offsite Backup

The second, and most important in my opinion, part of a solid backup solution is offsite backup. Just like people used to keep their photo negatives in safety deposit boxes in case the house burned down we need to keep our important data offsite. If all you have is a local backup and the house burns down, or you get robbed the onsite backup is of no use.

I use Mozy for my offsite backup. Mozy runs twice a day, indexes my computer encrypts and pushes my backup offsite. You’re limited by your upstream bandwidth so it can take a long time to push your files offsite. I started with the most important files and slowly worked to the least important files.

Other Options

I’ve listed what I use for offsite backup but here are some other options below. I’ve never tried them but have heard of them and they seem to get good reviews. No I have not provided links to any other options for onsite backup. I’ve never found one that really works for PC’s and Time Machine suits my needs for Mac’s.

  1. Carbonite
  2. Jungle Disk
  3. Crash Plan

If you Only have One Choice

When you start on this journey of getting all your stuff backed up you may only have one choice. My vote if you’re only going to backup one way is to use an offsite backup. Offsite means that if you’re house burns down (God forbid) you still have all your data intact.

The image used at the top of this blog post was taken by miss_rogue. You can view it here.

Can We Get by with Web Apps?

google docs shot

google docs shot
Are web apps enough?

Web apps have been heralded as the solution to our online and offline lives. We do not have to install software on our machines. Things are backed up online and, in theory, we can edit offline with Google Gears (or other solution).

So looking at this promised land I decided to move my blog writing from Open Office with storage in Dropbox to Google Docs with offline enabled. I have now been writing exclusively in Google Docs for about a month and here is my experience.

The Good

I love the organization of Google Docs. There is just something about the simplicity of the interface that appeals to me. Drag and drop folder sorting is beautiful. Auto saving is great. Being able to check the content of a folder with by winding and unwinding the arrow for a folder is great. It just seems easier than drilling down a file structure and backing out of folders. I love that I am not really flipping back and forth between a file browser and an application for writing. I love that I just have Firefox open and can browse for links and write out of the same interface without having multiple applications running. Since I do much of my writing on a netbook having a single application open instead of a few is a great feature.

I find that the spell check works well and the standard keyboard shortcuts for boldand italic text work great. I really do not notice that I am in a web interface instead of a desktop application.

The Bad

While Google docs seems to promise document syncing and offline editing my experience leaves me wanting much more from Google docs. I typically operate over two main machines, a Vista desktop and an Ubuntu netbook. I take the netbook with me lots of places that do not have WIFI of any sort so I need to be able to edit my documents while offline.

The first fail came for Google docs when I was trying to start a new article over lunch one day. Low and behold the new document button is ‘ghosted’ out. So I scratched my head fired up Open Office and jotted down the notes I had in my head for an article. After a bit of research I found out that you can not create a document while in offline mode. You can ‘hack’ around this by creating a number of new documents while online and then editing them at a later point when you have a new document to write. Not a perfect solution but not too bad either so I could live with that.

The second fail or series of fails dealt with syncing my documents when transferring offline and online. For some reason a month after editing I still have documents that are marked at ‘edited offline.’ Despite the fact that I am currently giving Google Docs every opportunity to sync these items while I sit here online finishing this article in Google docs. Since it appears that the documents are just marked as ‘edited offline’ while still having the content syncedSo while this is annoying again I can live with that.

The final fail item was just today. I had planned to work on a document and finish it off for a blog post. Unfortunately for some reason Google docs decided not to sync that particular document today. So there I am ready to write an article and I get totally stumped. I suppose the great thing about that is I got to finish off this post about the ways in which Google docs has failed me. Maybe it has something to do with the Linux implementation of Firefox but to be honest I really do not care. I just want my apps to work.

The Conclusion

I love the thought of web apps and offline access but at this point I do not think that Google docs is there. Sure if you always have a WIFI connection Google Docs is a great resource but if you are editing offline and online you are out of luck (at least in my experience). I actually love writing in Google Docs but the syncing problems just kill the option for me. I really do not want to switch back to Open Office and Dropbox but I feel I have no choice. So I think I’ll be going back to using Open Office and storing documents in my Dropbox for syncing. The only downside to that is the poor functionality of Open Office for Mac. Fortunately my main machines are Linux and Windows with Mac as an occasional platform (at least for writing).

My next attempt at online document writing will be with Microsoft’s Office Live. Hopefully that is not a bucket of fail. Added after I scheduled the post Unfortunately it seems that Office Live is also a buckect of fail. While many browsers across many platforms are supported there is no Linux support in the Office Live site so my primary writing machine won’t work. I guess that means I’m stuck with Open Office and Dropbox for syncing.