Amherst Bytes: Get Your Head in the Cloud
By Dylan Herts '13, Staff Writer
In photography there’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have on you; the point being that, when the perfect shot appears, it isn’t much help if your sophisticated DSLR is sitting on the front hall table at home. These days, computers and document storage function on the same principle. Laptop batteries will expire, flash drives will disappear and self-addressed e-mails will occasionally be sent sans attachment, but your e-reserves readings and your response paper are still due. Given the ease of Internet access we enjoy these days, the natural solution is to keep those readings and papers “in the cloud,” or stored on the web itself.

Dropbox, developed in 2007 by an MIT grad and software engineer who was tired of leaving his flash drive places, is the free, perfect solution to storing personal documents in the cloud. When installed, Dropbox creates a 2.0 GB (3.0 GB if you refer friends) folder on your computer that is automatically synchronized across as many computers as you install it on. Additionally, all files in that folder are accessible through a web browser on any computer with Internet access and even available via a free app on your iPhone/Android/Blackberry.

With Dropbox, your readings, papers and other schoolwork are instantly accessible from anywhere on or off-campus with an Internet connection. Unless you’re working with photos or video, two gigabytes will be more than enough for storing the entirety of your schoolwork (papers, e-reserves, etc). As soon as you save a document in your Dropbox folder, it’s automatically uploaded for access anywhere. Whether it’s downloading and working on a paper in the library or glancing quickly at a syllabus on your iPhone/iPod Touch to determine the reading assignment, Dropbox makes accessing your work unbelievably easy.

In addition to accessibility, Dropbox nearly eliminates the chance of losing an assignment. If a hard drive fails or a flash drive disappears, you can recover your documents simply by re-downloading your documents from Dropbox because your files are backed up (and encrypted) on Dropbox’s servers. Even if you accidentally delete a document, Dropbox provides a revision history that will allow you to recover any file deleted within the previous 30 days. That unparalleled level of data protection means that, unless you delete all the text in a paper and click save, it’s basically impossible to lose an assignment.

So your e-reserves and papers are safe and readily accessible. You can save and close an assignment in you dorm room and effortlessly open it back up and keep working in the library. You can read your syllabus anytime on your smartphone and print a reading in the library without a flash drive or e-mail. Now, imagine the same ease of use applied to note taking, whether it’s for class or personal organization.

Evernote was developed for just that purpose. It provides a desktop application, a browser interface and an iPhone/Android/Blackberry app, all of which allow you to edit a written note from (say it with me) anywhere you have an Internet connection. For a monthly fee of $0, Evernote allows you to keep a universal, globally accessible notebook that’s equally suited for typing notes in class or just keeping track of your to-do list. Those notes are stored safely in the cloud, and you can type your notes in class using Evernote’s desktop app or just add a quick reminder using your smartphone. Like Dropbox, Evernote means that you never have to worry again about losing items like Post-Its and notebooks.

Even for those who’d rather handwrite a note or record an audio reminder, Evernote is a winner. You can add images to your Evernote notebook, and they will be automatically scanned for recognizable text or handwriting. Photograph a menu, a list or a Post-It and it will show up as a photo with its written contents indexed so you can search for it later.

Evernote is just as powerful for audio recordings. Record a voice note and, with the help of a free third-party extension like Voice2Note, Evernote will transcribe that voice note into a text note. Even without a smartphone, Voice2Note will provide you with a personal dedicated phone number; call that number, speak your message, and it will be automatically recorded as a written note on your Evernote account.

Together, Dropbox and Evernote can revolutionize the way you keep track of personal documents and organize your written (and spoken) records. Both services are free, and while they have upload restrictions unless you pay, even the most active student users will find the free versions sufficient. Storing our documents and notes in the cloud makes them universally accessible and safer against destruction or loss. With Dropbox and Evernote, keeping your head in the cloud is free: download both, give them a try and see how they can make your life easier.

Issue 05, Submitted 2010-10-08 07:38:33