How to lighten your backpack

backpackIf there’s one thing I hate, it’s carrying around a lot of stuff. I remember in college in the 80s having to carry my binders and textbooks around in a backpack – what a pain in the neck, and back.

Computers and the Internet have liberated us from having to carry around so much stuff. You can buy e-books (which are a bit lighter than regular books) and write notes in a document rather than on paper. But these advances have led to another problem: co-ordinating all your information and documents over several devices and locations.

Being a technical writer, I love to document everything, so I have hundreds of documents for all my personal needs. I need to be able to access this information:

  • in many locations – home, school, and work and
  • across multiple devices: my laptop, tablet, and phone

In addition, I want to be able to easily recover from what I call “The Terminator Scenario”. This occurs when your computer and backup drive both die or are stolen. I’ve known many people who lost everything when their hard drive died, because they forgot it was a moving part, and all moving parts eventually fail. It is only after this traumatic experience that they learn to back up their files.

But backing up to an external hard drive, while a good practice, does not protect you if someone breaks into your home and steals both your computer and hard drive, or if both are consumed in a fire, flood, tornado or some other natural disaster. It’s critical, therefore that all your files also be copied to the cloud.

I’ve found using Google Drive with Dropbox is an excellent solution. I use Google drive (formerly called Google Docs) to store all my documents and spreadsheets that don’t contain any critical private information. Although Google Docs is mainly used to store Google documents, you can store any type of document on it, making it a handy backup tool.

Google Drive gives you 15GB of storage for free; you can upgrade to 100GB for $2 U.S. per month, the best deal I’ve seen for online storage. You can also install a Google Drive application on your desktop that stores and synchronizes copies of the files on your hard drive, providing yet another form of backup.

I use Dropbox to store most other types of files. It gives you 2.5GB for free; you can upgrade to a whopping 1 terabyte (that’s 1,000 gigabytes) for $119 CDN per year, so it’s more expensive than Google Drive, but better integrates with your current file set. It’s great for storing any type of file and allows you to easily upload and download files to and from your desktop.

I use Google Chrome because a) it’s a great browser and b) once I log in, all my settings, bookmarks and Chrome applications are automatically loaded. This is especially handy when I’m logging in to different devices, including those that are not my own, such at a friend’s or at hotel.

Wherever I am, I use Google drive to make notes. I can then review and update them at home because they are the same files. I also use Dropbox to upload and download the project files. Again, whatever I work on at school, I copy to my Dropbox folder and it’s automagically there when I get home.

Finally, I use Google calendar to remember appointments, Google Maps to not get lost, and, of course, Google Mail (Gmail) to access my email anywhere. These apps you’ve probably heard of, but did you know you can use Google Keep to store simple lists?

As you can tell, I’m a bit of a Google nut. I think if I ever have another kid, I’ll name him or her Google.

(Maybe that can just be their middle name….)


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