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How I use Dropbox

Gone are the days of ferrying files back and forth using a CD-RW disc. Gone are the days of ZIP disks and the potential to have your data devoured by the ZIP drive. Gone are the days of toting USB keys around with files saved to them like 21st Century floppies.

This is the age of the Cloud and of Dropbox. I would be lost without it. I use it to keep my files in sync across my home and work computers. I use it to keep back ups of my writing, photos and other important things.

I use Dropbox to keep my digital life in order. The biggest benefit to the service it its flexibility. You can keep your home folder in sync, start torrents downloading remotely or any of the other Tips and Tricks the Dropbox Wiki has to offer.

In short, it will keep your files in sync between devices, both computers and phones. It will keep multiple versions of files so if you overwrite or delete something then change your mind, you can recover it.

It is simple to use because it’s just a folder on your computer. However, this folder has super powers. As long as you have Dropbox installed it will work in the background to keep everything in order.

I use it for a couple of specific things that I find makes my life a bit easier.

Evernote Watched Folder

First, I use Evernote. I love Evernote. It is my digital filing cabinet. If Dropbox is for everyday things, Evernote is for everything I want to keep for months, or years.

Evernote has a fantastic feature that will monitor a folder and automatically import anything saved to it into Evernote.

I keep my folder called, Add to Evernote in Dropbox so when I’m at work I can drop files into it and my home PC will pickup those files and add them to Evernote.

Add to iTunes

Like many people I have an iPhone and I use iTunes to manage my music. I’m not a fan of the cloud music services since I like to own my music. This presents a problem that eventually everything I want to listen to needs to end up in iTunes eventually.

This is easy enough when I am at home. However, when I’m at work and I buy an album on Amazon or I find a talk or podcast I want to listen to a single episode of I don’t have a good way to get it into iTunes.

Until now…

Ever since version 9, iTunes has had a folder called Automatically Add to iTunes. This folder can be found in your Music folder under your profile.

Remember to replace USERNAME with your own username.

  • If you’re on a Mac: /Users/USERNAME/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media
  • If you’re on a Windows 7 PC: \USERNAME\My Music\iTunes
  • If you’re on a Windows XP PC: \Documents and Settings\USERNAME\My Documents\My Music\iTunes

I use a system very similar to my Evernote setup. I have a folder called Add to iTunes in my Dropbox folder. Then, on the Mac at home, I have Automator run a simple folder action to copy any files found in the Dropbox folder to the Automatically Add to iTunes folder.

This way, no matter where I am, as long as I have internet access and Dropbox, I can be sure new music is added to my iTunes library and synced to my phone when I get home.

Camera Uploads

I love to take photos with my iPhone. I’ve taken so many I quickly outgrew the 5GB iCloud free account. I want to make sure my photos are safe and live somewhere outside my phone. Dropbox Camera Upload provides the perfect place to keep them safe.

First, when I plug my iPhone into any computer I have with Dropbox running, it will detect the phone and automatically save all photos to a folder called Camera Uploads. This also works with Android phones.

In addition to this, Dropbox released an update to the iPhone app yesterday, bringing it into parity with the Android app, which allows for uploading photos to the same Camera Uploads folder when the phone is connected to wi-fi. There is also an option to upload over the cellular network and those of you with unlimited data plans can take advantage of that.

eBooks for iPad

The last thing I use Dropbox for is keeping a collection of eBooks I’ve come across on the web for free. There are many people who will give away free ebooks I’ve downloaded. I also have friends who are writers and I’ve gotten copies of their books in Kindle, PDF, or epub formats.

I save all of these in a Dropbox folder called eBooks. Then, when I am on my iPad or iPhone I can browse to the folder, select the file and open the book in the Kindle app or iBooks. This keeps all of my books in a safe place and makes it easy to load them on the mobile devices without needing a computer.

How to sync multiple Google Calendars to an iPhone or iPad

My wife and I use Google Calendars to sync and share events and information. Ever since we setup a Bills calendar, it’s annoyed my that it won’t sync to our iPhones. Today, I decided to sit down and figure out how to make it happen for my iPhone and iPad. ((Just replace “iPhone” with “iPad” below.))

By default, only the main Google Calendar is synced to the iPhone. To select secondary calendars, open Safari on your iPhone and go to Google’s iPhone Select page.

Select calendars to sync.

Second, still on Safari on the iPhone go to Calendar Sync page and select the additional calendars to sync.

Manage the devices syncing to Google Calendar.

Force quit the calendar app and reopen it or reboot the iPhone. Once that is complete, you should see the additional Google calendars available to sync. Check the ones you want on your iOS device and you’re all set.

Calendar selection in Calendar app on iPhone.

SimpleNote is textual nirvana

You need to back up. Everyone says it but most people don’t. There is no excuse not to back up your data. If it is important enough to write down and save, it is important enough to back up.

Here’s an example. The head of a large media company is composing the eulogy for a friend of over two decades. He has written four pages of heartfelt prose. He pours out his thought sand feelings to be read to a crowded room of friends and family about his dearly departed friend. Upon completing his missive, he presses send on his mail client and sends the important document to his assistant for proofreading and editing before it becomes the final document to be practiced and delivered.

Or so he thought. Upon arriving at the office to meet with his assistant and go over the eulogy, she had nothing. She has never received the document. He went to look for it in via sent items. Nothing. He checked the deleted items. Nil. He checked the drafts folder. Perhaps he had forgotten to send the document and there it was!

Out of his four written pages, less than one remained. Sitting in the Drafts folder mockingly offering him a copy. A poor copy for sure. His words were lost.

Does this sound familiar?

How many times have you written a brilliant blog post, long, well-reasoned comment, or essay for class in a browser window or email client? How many times have you lost an important note? Did you take it down in a text file but never saved and your computer rebooted or crashed? I did not ask if you lost data because I know you have.

Enter Simplenote. The idea is so simple you’d wish you have thought of it first. In Simplenote for each note you start, it not only lives right then and there in the moment you wrote it. It will also push a copy to the “cloud” for safe keeping. So now your information lives in two places. Congratulations! You have now backed up. Wasn’t that hard? But what if you delete your note you ask? Well first off, you did something to delete it. It wasn’t a computer error or something out of your control. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes.

Enter versioning. This big scary looking word just means “more than one copy” of your document. What if you make a change to your document, delete a large portion without meaning to, or at the very worst delete the entire thing? Click a button or drag a slider and your hard work is restored just like that.

Simplenote is perfection of textual nirvana. Write words and don’t press save. Write more words and they’re all safe. Write your words and never worry about whether they’ll be there when you need them. It’s something we all take for granted, until it fails us.

Bluetooth Dance

I received a Motorola S305 Bluetooth wireless headset for Christmas and I absolutely love it. The wireless freedom for commuting means no longer wrestling with cords. The wireless freedom at work means no longer dragging my iPhone off the desk when I spin around in my cube. The wireless freedom at home means I am free to wash dishes, walk around, and just generally not have to deal with a digital leash.

For all the greatness of Bluetooth, it has one major short fall, syncing to multiple devices. iPhone, iPad, Home Mac, and Work PC are all sources for syncing. The most common problem I have is the iPad/iPhone sync. I use the iPhone to listen to podcasts while intake the train to and from work very week. However, when I get home I am more likely to sync over to the iPad for video or Pandora to unwind.

As it is now, here is the process for changing from iPhone to iPad.

  1. iPhone: Settings, General, Bluetooth, Off.
  2. iPad: Settings, General, Bluetooth, On.
  3. Motorola S305: Hold power button, wait for power on sound. Watch iPad screen for connect confirmation.

Doesn’t sound like a lot of work but it is 8 taps (10 if you count starting with a Home button press for each device). Then I need to assure the Bluetooth is turned off on the iPhone/iPad depending what I’m not using. It’s by no means a deal breaker or killer procedure but it does get tedious when done three to four times a day.

Here is what I envision as a solution.

An audible system for Bluetooth detection. After the initial pairing with a device, upon powering up the headset, it would read the last device it was paired with for easy re-pairing. Then, when you click the power/sync button it would cycle through the other paired devices in range and speak the device name.

For instance, Hit sync. Headset says “iPhone” click “iPad” click “Mac” or read computer name. Once the desired source is found, click a button to confirm and enjoy.

This would serve to allow syncing between a hand full of devices at your disposal and due to the pairing requirement, would prohibit the Bluetooth headset from listing every nearby Bluetooth device.

I have no idea what the feasibility of this is and if Bluetooth will even support it. But it’s a thought.