Revitalize Your Work With Plain Ol’ Text Files

With just a few clicks on your Mac, you can start making your life easier. Enter the new, simple, elegant world of synced text files.

A very quiet revolution began a couple of years ago among Apple users.

It started with Dropbox, the cloud service that turns a normal folder into a magic syncing carpet for all your files. Dropbox quickly became ubiquitous on Macs, iPhones, and iPads. (The rest of this article will assume you have Dropbox installed on your computer and mobile devices.)

Then some brilliant nerds wrote some elegant apps. These apps did one thing: They edited text files in Dropbox.

Why is this cool? Because text files are easy (for both human and machine), small, and workable on any computer ever created. And while syncing other kinds of stuff like contacts and calendars is hard for computers, syncing text files is relatively simple.

As the revolution was fomenting, David Sparks said, “Plain text: It’s timeless. My grandchildren will be able to read a text file I create today, long after anybody can remember what the heck a .dotx file is.”

So what can you do with text? Any kind of writing, notes, lists, or snippets. I use it instead of Apple’s Notes app. I write all my blog posts and newsletters in text, and also a lot of emails when I care about what they look like.

Start with TextEdit

There are growing options for text editors out there. But let’s start with Apple’s own TextEdit. This will go really fast, I promise.

TextEdit in Dock

You can find it in Spotlight or Applications.

Search for TextEdit

Open TextEdit > Preferences. Click here…

TextEdit menu

Then here…

TextEdit Preferences

Change the default format to plain text.

Format as plain text

Close the Preferences window.

That’s it. Just create and save files as you would any other document.

When you start, they’ll look like this:

Plain ol’ blank space, ready for you to fill it. And just like any other document, you should put them in Dropbox. Create a folder in Dropbox called Text.

Text folder

Open up Dropbox on your phone or tablet or another computer, and your file is there. You can refer to your notes, or copy text from them to paste into another app.

In Part II, I’ll show you how to edit that text on your iPhone and iPad.

Backup Address Book & iCal, and troubleshoot syncing

Just a quick note of instructions for Leopard.
1) Backup Address Book
File > Export > Address Book Archive …
Agree to the default file name, saving it with a date

2) Backup iCal
File > Backup iCal
Agree to the default file name, saving it with a date

3) Quit all applications on the iMac.
Then open iSync in Applications.
iSync menu > Reset Sync Data
Reboot

4) Let syncing happen. If it comes up with conflicts, review them, and choose the item in each conflict most likely to be accurate.

Switched to BusySync

Calgoo wasn’t cutting it. Failed once, and didn’t have a mechanism to kickstart it. I’ve been hearing about BusySync’s Google Calendar-syncing goodness for a while, and the reports are borne out: BusySync has low impact on my MacBook’s resources. It’s fast. And it makes nice two-way roads between iCal and Gcal.
I know it does other stuff, but I don’t care about those things right now.

Now, please, Apple: CalDAV on iPhone. Seriously.

Finally ported to Google Apps

My j2mac.com email, calendar, and docs are now all managed by Google Apps. I’m pretty impressed. Setup is easy. They even gave specific instructions for GoDaddy’s domain manager. And things like syncing calendar (with Calgoo) and address book (with Apple’s iPhone-Google sync) make business so much easier. I’ve also signed a couple of other folks up on it, too.

So if anyone has been using my j2worldofmac-at-gmail address, please delete it and stick with info-at-j2mac.com. It’s official!

Disable backups to speed iPhone/iPod touch syncing

Anyone who has iPhone 2.0 software is faced with the gi-normously long backups that iTunes performs almost every time the phone is plugged in. I’m grateful for the idea, of course; I spend a lot of time customizing my phone, and I would like all my settings, and logins, and game levels, and data backed up. Problem is, Apple’s implementation is terrible. Here’s the Ars Technica article about the issue, but in a nutshell:
  • The backups can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours.
  • The backups are not “incremental,” i.e. they backup all the data on the phone.
  • If someone calls you, the backup is interrupted.
  • Whenever the backup is cancelled or interrupted — when, y’know, have to use the phone — that backup data set is corrupted.
So here’s a solution. I recommend reading the whole post.

I have several (more than 30) applications installed in my iPhone 2.0 (some of them are over 10MB). I’ve been a bit disappointed with the oh-so-slow syncs in iTunes due to the required backup process. Searching a bit, I found that I could disable the backups by setting a hidden iTunes preference. Quit iTunes, open Terminal, and enter this command:

defaults write com.apple.itunes DeviceBackupsDisabled -bool YES

From the comments:

Also check out the free Backup Disabler, which is probably just a GUI for this hint.

UPDATE: iPhone firmware 2.0.1 dramatically sped up my backups! Yaaaaaaaay! We’ll see if it fixes the other stuff. In brief testing, the phone feels less crashy.

UPDATE: The backups got slower again after I started accumulating a lot of third-party data on the phone again.

UPDATE: iPhone firmware 2.1 is waaaaaaaaaaay faster on backups, and on installing apps.

I BLOODY HATE SYNCING

Jerked with Google Apps & Calendar today for an hour. Several
roadblocks, making it basically unusable as a collaborative tool. And
today, Google Calendar just got CalDAV. And it shows up in iCal!
And … it doesn't sync from iCal to the iPhone, over MobileMe or
otherwise.

Sonuvafrackin'bloodylichenlickin'skeetersuckin'sackin'frassin'mulletmuncher
!

I don't want 3rd-party, $$$-eating shareware conduits. I don't want
miscegenatin' web services. I just want to have one calendar that me
and a partner can edit and share.

I'm so sick of this, I can't see straight. (SSX Blur snowboarding on
the Wii might have something to do with that.)

ARRRRRRRRRRRRGH!!!!

Why I hate syncing

Here are a couple of screenshots from iCal. In each case, one event on
one calendar got duplicated a gazillion times between four different
calendars.

It happened a couple of different times. one time I fixed it by doing a search for the title, selecting all results and deleting; the second time I just deleted the offending calendars, which got spuriously created by the syncing process anyway — between iCal, Entourage, Plaxo, .Mac, a Treo, an iPhone, and maybe some other devices or services. Having this mass of baloney records in a database just makes syncing go slower and worse over the course of months.

I hope somebody (everybody) fixes this soon. There should be warnings or alerts or errors or something when potential duplication is going to happen.