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Word save fail

6 Nov
I want to tell you a story about why you should save your thesis more often…

So to set the scene… On Thursday afternoon I wrote about 500 words for my thesis on my work computer. These words were in a file Thesis_20111103 in my AcBoWriMo folder. Because I am a good little nerd that file is kept in my Dropbox folder and backed up regularly to the cloud (and to my home computer) (see: my blog post on Dropbox:

On Friday morning I woke up nice and early read to get back into my AcBoWriMo writing. I opened up Thesis_20111103 from my dropbox account and realised that the 500 words weren’t there! After a few seconds of confusion I realised that I must not have actually SAVED the words I’d written in the Thesis_20111103 document on my work computer, meaning that the new words weren’t backed up to Dropbox and therefore weren’t on my home computer.

No worries I thought, I’ve got TeamViewer (see my blog here:  for this exact reason. All I had to do was remotely log into my work computer and save the version of Thesis_20111103 that was sitting open on my work computer (changing its name to Thesis_20111104). BUT, when I logged on to my work computer I was greeted by a blank desktop, none of the files that I’d left open on Thursday night were still there. Obviously my computer had crashed and restarted some time between 5pm on Thursday and 6am on Friday (DISASTER!). I opened Word with my fingers tightly crossed that Word autorecovery would save me – but alas the only version of Thesis_20111103 that autorecovery could find was from 9am on Thursday. The precious words were gone…


So now I want to tell you guys what you can do to stop this happening to you.

1. SAVE your documents regularly, use the keyboard shortcut (Crtl+S) or the little picture of the floppy disk, it doesn’t matter just SAVE.

2. Check your autorecovery options and make sure that Word is saving an autorecovery file regularly. BEWARE, even though these options are listed under ‘save’ autorecovery is not the same as autosaving. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is. It should be something that you never want to use and one day saves your life, NOT something that you rely on.

3. Save regularly, save, save, save and save again.

4. Think about moving to a word processor that does handle autosaving. I’m told Scrivener does a good job. I’m too far into writing my thesis to feel like I can change now but some people might be willing to change.


Adding a progress bar for AcBoWriMo

1 Nov

@Hist_Geographer asked me on twitter how I added the progress bar to my blog. The answer is a little too long for twitter so I thought I’d put it here:

Basically all you need to do is go to your appearance tab on wordpress, add a ‘text’ widget and edit the widget so that it includes the following text:

<div style=”width:175px;height:15px;background:#33FFFF;border:1px solid #000000;”>
<div style=”width:3.4%;height:15px;background:#00CCCC;font-size:8px;line-height:8px;”>
</div></div> 12,38/36,000 words. 3.4% done!

When ever you want to update the progress bar you just need to adjust the width of the second div (where it currently says width:3.4%) and then change the text you want to display under the progress bar (where is says 12,38/36,000 words. 3.4% done!)

You can do this with any blogging software that lets you add a widget that allows html

Working From Home

27 Jun

One of the great things about working on a PhD (as opposed to a regular 9-5 job) is that as long as you don’t have meetings or teaching you can work from anywhere. In fact I know a girl who managed to go overseas for a month without her supervisor ever knowing – she emailed her supervisor files as she was working on them, and managed to avoid scheduling any meetings.

But, even with the best file management (see my post on Dropbox), there are some things that you can’t do from home. For me the major thing is data-analysis. I don’t have a copy of SPSS on my home computer (and don’t want one!), but every so often I’ll be working on a paper from home and realise that I don’t have the results of an analysis that I need. It used to be that I’d just have to grin and bear it, and most often meant that I gave up actually ‘working from home’ for the day and spent time ‘watching television from home’.


And then Adrian introduced me to TeamViewer.

“TeamViewer connects to any PC or server around the world within a few seconds. You can remote control your partner’s PC as if you were sitting right in front of it.”

I can use TeamViewer to connect to my work PC from my home (or from my iPhone), and run any of the programs on my computer. Because I try to keep the files I am working on synced using Dropbox I mainly use TeamViewer for things like SPSS, that I can’t do on my home computer. But I also use it from time to time when I’ve forgotten to put a file in my dropbox, or when I need something I wasn’t expecting to need.

I worked from home on Thursday last week and logged onto my work computer about 10 times – at least once just to freak out my office mate by making my computer look like a ghost controlled it.

Handy hints

Download TeamViewer from here

Set up unattended access so that you can login to your computer without needing to be anywhere near it (and without needing to get a kind office mate to help you). This uses a username and password that doesn’t change.

You can also generate a one time use password if you’re using TeamViewer from a public computer or want to give a friend access to your computer

There is a small version of TeamViewer that is great for tech-support for Luddite family members

TeamViewer is free for personal and non-commercial use

There is a great iPhone app for TeamViewer so you can access your computer from your phone, this is especially helpful because the list of things you can’t do on your phone is probably longer than the list of things you can’t do on your home PC

Using Dropbox to back-up your PhD

20 Jun

Given how long we work on our PhD’s you’d hope that we all had excellent back-up and archiving systems in place. I know quite a few people that are very good at backing up to DVD every couple of weeks (I’m terrible at this – but that is another story).

But, even when we are good at backing up semi-regularly, we tend to be less good at backing up files we are actually working on day to day. For me this is especially true if I have needed to work on files across multiple computers (and so have put them on a USB key).

I had a USB key die a couple of months ago. The USB key had about 2 months worth of work I’d been doing as a research assistant. It wasn’t particularly difficult stuff but I had to spend weeks re-doing file merging and reference checking. The whole experience made me realise I had to do something about back-ups. And this is where dropbox came in.

Dropbox is a ‘cloud’ service that works by saving any/all files you place in your “dropbox” onto your other computers, iPhone/Android, and the dropbox website. It basically acts like a USB key on the cloud – so it is great for moving files between computers and for backing up the files (for both the short and long term). Using dropbox you can say goodbye to having multiple versions of the same file across different computers and stop having to email yourself files.

You get 2GB worth of free storage space – but you can upgrade to paid storage if that isn’t enough – although if you’re like me and mainly using it for word documents and PDFs that is unlikely to be a problem.

To start using Dropbox you just need to create an account and download the dropbox software to at least 1 computer. When you setup Dropbox, the setup will create a Dropbox folder for you on your computer. Everything that you put in this folder will be synchronised with all the other computers you have registered your Dropbox account with.

Handy Tips

If you work from home or have 2 computers in different labs then it is handy to also install dropbox on your second computer.

Since the files are also backed-up to the dropbox website you can also log-in online to access files when you’re using a computer where you don’t want to install dropbox.

Get extra storage space by going through the “Getting Started” guide, and by sharing your referral link with family and friends

Dropbox will save 1 older copy of every file – if you accidentally make changes to a file you can find the old one on dropbox and revert back