ISC: Travel Light, Travel Smart (Dan Gould)
As an attendee of ISC 2012 we can assume you will take mountains of notes at meetings and workshops. Personally, I’m not a fan of paper. Piles of dead trees are a curse to take home, not all that easy to share and they create a storage nightmare. Digital files solve those issues but create new challenges and require a new thought process.
More and more snowmobilers are using laptops and tablets at meetings. A few even use smart phones, some of which are almost as large as a tablet. There were more than a few iPads at the ACSA DC Fly-In and it’s a good bet there will be even more at ISC.
I schlepped a laptop around for eons, but made the switch to an iPad a few years ago. There are plenty of pros and cons in the laptop vs tablet debate, but I find the tablet to be superior for note taking and simple meeting tasks. It certainly is lighter and more convenient to carry around. The only glaring downside for some is the touch-screen keyboard. For basic note taking the touch-screen works well but if you are a pro typist you may want to consider a real keyboard. There are plenty of compact Bluetooth keyboards to solve that problem.
So, you’ve gone digital–now you need a note-taking application and a file storage solution. The iPad doesn’t have a traditional file storage system of folders and the amount of storage is far less spacious than the 1 Terabyte hard drive on your home computer. There are hundreds of options out there but two in particular seem to get the highest recommendations, Evernote and Dropbox. Both are web-based tools that offer purpose-built apps for popular mobile devices, laptops and the desktop.
Evernote is my absolute favorite tool for taking notes and keeping track of projects. Start off by creating notebooks, not unlike folders, along with additional subcategories. For instance, I have an ISC notebook and within that I have a subcategory for each workshop I attend, another for each morning’s speaker, one for the ACSA meeting and so on.
In addition, you can create separate notes for other items… ideas for your association, brainstorming, questions to ask later, and so on. Since many attendees will be from out of town, you can jot down notes in advance, flight plans, packing lists, directions and hotel Information.
Important note (no pun intended): There are two options in regards to accessing your data, the free account vs. the premium account. I’ve been using the free account for two years without a hitch but you need to understand that an internet connection, either Wi-Fi or 3G, is needed to access your stored notes. Stored is the keyword. You can jot down all the notes you want and they will live on your device until you sync. After that they are stored in the “cloud” and you need an internet connection to access them. (ISC 2012 features free Wi-Fi at the Hotel, so use Evernote all you want).
If you want access to all your notes all of the time there are options. Use a 3G compatible device or spend a small amount of cash for a premium account ($5 a month or $45 a year). Heck, $5 for a month is chump change, especially if you only need it a few times a year. A premium account allows you to view Offline Notebooks and have access to whatever you deem important. You do need to designate the note for offline ahead of time, while connected. Bonus tip: If you own an iPhone the offline feature is included for free. It’s called “Favorites.” Just remember to mark the notes ahead of time, while connected to the internet. Now you are ready to work on a plane or any location without a 3G connection. Here are the offline details
Cut and pasting text and images into Evernote is simple, you can even save clippings from websites, and it’s all searchable. You can easily share and collaborate notebooks with other users or email a note to anyone. Suddenly paper makes little sense.
Another powerful feature is its ability to “read” text in photos. Take a photo of anything with text – a whiteboard, a product label, a sign – and that text will be searchable. Results vary but I’ve found it to be magic-like, especially if the photographed text is reasonably neat. In addition, notes are searchable by geographic location, you can record audio, it can even convert your dictation to text on certain devices. I’m amazed how well this feature works.
What makes Evernote so powerful is its syncing feature. Download the app to your desktop, laptop, phone and tablet. Take a note on one device and it automatically appears on all your devices within seconds.
The standard account is free, you have nothing to lose by trying it out. There are no storage limits but there is 60MB a month upload ceiling, a limit I have never hit. Go to the Evernote site and watch the excellent video tutorials that explain all the features.
The other must have for all my computing devices is Dropbox. One of the most confusing aspects for the new iPad owners is how to transfer and view documents on the device. It’s not all that obvious. Enter Dropbox, another free service that offers file storage in the “cloud.” Install Dropbox on all your mobile devices and computers, then access your documents wherever you are. Place a PDF, Excel or Word document in Dropbox at home and it will be accessible on your iPad within seconds.
Dropbox includes the “Favorites” feature for free, allowing access to files when you aren’t connected. Just remember to mark your Favorites while connected to the internet.
Before I leave for a meeting or trip I upload my “must-have” documents to Dropbox, things like bylaws, budgets, minutes, project outlines, PowerPoints, and anything else that I “remotely” think I may need. You can even upload video and photos. Think of it as an external hard drive that travels with you, a secure encrypted one at that. The free account is 2 GB, far more than a tablet can store, and should be plenty of space for most users. You can easily share files, too. This is especially handy for sending bloated files that are too big for email.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with Apple’s free iCloud service. Log into the iCloud website and simply drag and drop your files into the browser. That’s it, they will now be visible and editable on your iPad/iPhone. It accepts just about any basic Microsoft document. It is rather simple, in that there aren’t folders, but it works.
The only tools missing are editing apps. There are plenty of apps that can open and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs but Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote rank near the top for iPad users. Access your document via Dropbox or iCloud and edit away.
Are you a PDF user? If so, give GoodReader a try. Once installed you will be able to view and annotate PDF’s on your iPad or iPhone, even those that are stored in Dropbox or any other cloud service, such as Google Docs. I prefer annotating documents during a meeting rather than editing the original. With GoodReader you can take notes directly on the PDF, draw shapes and even scratch out your signature. It can read just about any text document out there and offers slick syncing back to Dropbox.
Are you a packrat? Do you need total access to your home computer and all your files all the time… master of your domain? The best solution I’ve found is LogMeIn and their incredible mobile app, Ignition. Create a free account at logmein.com and enjoy complete remote access and control of any computer you own via the web. (This is great for helping parents). If you want to access your computer from a mobile device, such as an iPad, download the $30 app and gain total admission to your computers. Just make sure your computer stays awake while you are away, screen savers are okay.
Post-PC is the new buzz-word but the reality of cloud computing on mobile devices is in full swing. Having all your files at the tip of your fingers, no matter where you are is no longer science fiction. Better yet, it’s not even expensive.