Having dumped ninety percent of my packing onto Gwen I tackled the hardest ten percent: my business records and files.
Writers are pack rats, mostly, whereas professional military learn to travel light, again mostly. This dichotomy could have made me schizoid were it not for the most wonderful invention for writers since the eraser on the end of a pencil: electronic files.
“The Cat Who Walks Through Walls” by Robert A. Heinlein
I freely admit that I am a squirrel. When I find something interesting, I want to keep it. (Humans excluded, I’m not a psychotic squirrel ;-)). But despite a tendency to keep and use what I find interesting, I end up being much more closer to a digital nomad than a hoarder — because, well, digital.
Whenever I get something that I want to keep, yet it is not digital but can be digitized, I do so. Books, movies on DVD, postcards, letters, whatever — with very very few exceptions it ends up digital. And with today’s high-capacity hard-disk drives (in the terra-byte range(*)), storing digital information is easy. So is creating full backups (because otherwise, one mistake or accident can destroy it all).
But that creates new problems — if you want to go beyond a one-way digitize and forget street: Where do you keep all that data? How can you make sure that you can access it again, or even be reminded about it occasionally?
Personally, I love DEVONthink in this regard. I have already written about this program a couple of times — just have a look at the entries tagged with DEVONthink. Recently, I reorganized my DEVONthink databases and — for the moment — I am very happy with them.
Currently I have 30(!) databases. That sounds — hell, is a lot, but there’s a reason for each of these databases. I also have five more which are now superfluous but I have to yet transfer the content into the right databases.
To get an idea of the structure let’s first look at the different categories of databases. There are four without a category and 26 with a category:
Without a category:
- Collection Inbox
I do not like the Global Inbox of DEVONthink, so I created a separate database to use as inbox. The main reason is that when I backup the DEVONthink folder, I want to backup all my information, including what I have in the inbox.
Practically, I use the “Collection Inbox” to sort the information I get in DEVONthink in folders (groups) named after the other databases. It’s the main sorting hub which is sometimes useful when the respective database is not open.
- Community RSS
I have written about the use of RSS feeds to stay up-to-date with journal articles here. Likewise, you can get RSS feeds from most blogs and even YouTube channels (standard format is: http://www.youtube.com/rss/user/USERNAME/videos.rss — just replace USERNAME with the name of the channel, e.g., Thunderf00t ). You can create RSS feeds with the Data – New – Feed … menu item. Really useful and all of my RSS feeds are in this database. I use groups to, well, group them, e.g., YouTube, News Feeds, Interesting Blogs, Writing Blogs, Retractions and Frauds, Journals, Career, and Search Terms.
I also use this database for correspondence I want to keep. At least, if it’s work-related. DEVONthink can easily import eMails (drag and drop works).
- Mobile Syncing
There are some information I would like to have easily available on my iOS devices, and while every database has a “Mobile Sync” group (which I also use), I use an own database for this information. It contains, for example, a couple of Maps (when I don’t want/cannot use the Maps App) or a couple of images I want to keep with me (among others, family, but also profile pictures). While you could also do this with GoodReader or any other program, I found it more useful to have a database for this purpose.
- Work Projects
Anything work-related is in this database, for example, Publications, Teaching, Career, Advisory, and Groups for specific projects. Once something is finished (e.g., a publication) it does not stay there however. It gets sorted into an Archive.
With a category:
The databases with Archive in their name (e.g., “Archive Documents and Works.dtBase2”) are just that — archives. They contain information about the past, finished projects and the like.
- Archive Documents and Works
This database is my main document storage. Contracts, important documents, whatever, it’s stored here. I also use it to store the final PDFs of any works I have created (e.g., books I have written). It’s the one I absolutely need to have when the apartment burns down.
- Archive Private Memories
Things I want to remember from my private life are stored in this database. Photos with friends or partners, family, private eMails I cherish or hate, private triumphs or failures. They are stored in groups according to the year, with subgroups about the specific person or event.
- Archive Private Projects Full
This rather large database contains the files and material of private projects, e.g., InDesign files, images, etc. and the finished PDFs as well. Groups first denote the kind of projects (e.g., “Books and Writings”, “Drawings”, “Gifts”, “Photography”, “Posters”, etc.), then the year, then the concrete project. If I look for a specific project, I use the search function and the Reveal icon of DEVONthink to go to this place in the database.
- Archive Work Projects Full
This is the equivalent for work projects, e.g., “Advisory”, “Applications”, “Ethics Commission”, “Peer-Reviews”, “Publications” (subfolders according to type), “Teaching” (subfolders according to type), etc.
The databases for any audio files, although I differentiate between three major types.
- Audio – Music
I use iTunes to listen (and sync) my music, but I store all my music files in this database as well. Not that I don’t trust Apple, but I don’t trust them. 😉
- Audio – Podcasts
I listen to a couple of podcasts and use this database to store the files after I have listened to them. Yeah, digital squirrel, I could delete them, but who knows, there might come the time when I want to listen to them again. Especially timeless ones (e.g., non-technology related podcasts).
- Audio – Soundfiles
These are short soundfiles, which I sometimes use for system alerts or in Apps.
Databases I use for private ideas and projects.
- Create – Ideas
My main idea collection. They end up in text or rtfd files (if images are included). Currently there are about 16k files and I guess it’s time to check and tag these files for their uses.
- Create – Projects
I am a firm believer in focusing on one core project and — at the same time — collect ideas for seven or less central projects. Each project got a group in this database. Each group contains the relevant information.
In contrast to the normal archives (see above), these archives are rarely updated. Avoids having to sync/copy large amounts of data each time you make a backup.
- Deep Archive – Apps
A few apps (mostly widgets and other small apps) are stored in this database. I once wanted to reinstall a widget and the site was no longer available, so I learned to keep backups of these handy little helpers. I would not want to store larger applications here, that’s something for a simple folder structure.
- Deep Archive – Fonts
All fonts I have and use. Given that some apps add additional fonts and you can some high quality fonts online, I need a place to store them. This is the place for them.
- Deep Archive – Mails
At the end of the year, I download all of my emails from icloud into this database, sort it according to the person or project (groups) and delete them on the server. Keeps the use of the mobile storage space down and allows me to access them much, much later if I ever need to. Rarely used, but nice to have.
- Deep Archive – Social Media
A couple of good tweets or other screenshots, which I have already digitized (OCR). But who knows, perhaps I might need the original screenshots sometime.
I love (good) images and I have collected hundreds of thousands of them. While I have a pretty good memory I need to handle these amounts somewhat. I tried to solve this problem by using the one aspect I can always remember: what type of image is it?
- Images – Argumentative
Argumentative contains images that make a point. These are visual jokes, PostSecret postcards, infographics, and the like. Images that specifically try to convince a person or convey something.
- Images – Comic Strips
In contrast to argumentative images, these images are part of an established comic series. For example, Dilbert, Calvin & Hobbes, 2GAG, PhD Comics, Incidental Comics and the like. Yeah, I visit a couple of them each day and download the strips.
- Images – Computer Cuts
Screenshots from Mac OS or iOS apps end up in this database, including screenshots of games (including from my PS4). Also covers of games I have bought.
- Images – Design
These are images that could have been put with argumentative images, but while they usually argue for something, it’s not exactly their main goal. Examples are magazine covers, t-shirts, DVD covers, even scans of money or flags. Often text and photos/drawings.
- Images – Paintings Drawings
Anything that was drawn or painted that is not argumentative ends up in this database. For example, paintings/sketches by Luis Royo or Leonardo da Vinci, but also cuts from comics and graphic novels. However, cuts only, not complete comics (these end up in Sources — Private).
- Images – Photography
Anything that was photographed, sorted in groups like Animals, Astronomy, BDSM, Documentary, Food and Drinks, Graffiti and Street Art, Human Body, Landscapes, Libraries and Books, Living, Military, People, Plants and Flowers, Steampunk, Street Photography, etc. Some of these groups have subgroups, e.g., People has subgroups like Women, Men, Children, etc. or Human Body has subgroups like Dresses, Jewelry, Make Up, Tattoos and Henna, etc.
- Images – Video Cuts
Screencuts from any video, from movies to series to YouTube videos. Very comfortable to do with vlc (cmd + shift + s).
These three databases contain things I have created myself, however, they contain the material to build something with it, not finished projects (these end up in an Archive database).
- My Works – Photos Graphics
My own photos and graphics — whether made per hand and scanned, or on an iPad, or photographed with an iPhone or my X-E1. However, I do not store all my photos here but only good ones I want to use in the future (about 5% of the photos I make). I do not use Aperture for it, because I want to prevent acci
- My Works – Slides
I export the presentations I have made as PDF and put the slide into different groups, e.g., “Science”, “Time and Task Management”, etc. My goal is to have these slides immediately available when I need them, e.g., in a course or online with Google Video Chat.
- My Works – Text
Intended for smaller texts, not sure whether I need it.
- Sources – Private
A fairly large database which contains books and other material (not webpages!) that are not work related. They are tagged by topic (e.g., BDSM, fiction, comics, instructions, photography, quotations, cooking and drinking, poems, etc.) and named after the author and year. Mostly they are stored in groups (A-Z), but there are also groups for special topics, e.g., instructions, lyrics, and scripts.
- Sources – Web
The database for PDF exports of websites. Whenever I see an interesting information/article/website online, I click the DEVONthink browser plugin to have the current webpage imported in DEVONthink as PDF. Given how fast things can change online it’s an invaluable feature, especially given that the website URL visible in the “Show Info” dialog and the date-time code of the file tell you everything you need to know to cite the website. Just make sure you actually get the website, not an automatic forward to a questionable website, or only part of the page. Usually works very well, but there are exceptions. In these cases I simply print the page as PDF or export only the text and add the URL in DEVONthink manually.
- Sources – Work
Work related articles and books. Tagged mostly according to topic and source (haven’t tagged all yet) — these two are the two categories I think you cannot do without. Topic is e.g., academia, creativity, critical thinking and reflection, ethics privacy and security, media technology, mobiles, persuasion, statistics and methods, teaching and learning. Source is not the specific journal, but the type of publication. It is mostly relevant for distinguishing between books, journal publications, conference proceedings, magazines, etc.
Note that while I store all my work PDFs in this database, I also copy the articles/books I have read into my reference manager (Papers 2). But I need this differentiation between “all that I have found” and “this is really relevant and I am going to cite it”. Otherwise I would be swamped. After all, this database has about 8000 files in it.
So, these are my digital nuts and how I store them. I think it works, and I can work with them.
There are — of course — other ways to deal with all the digital information.
One other method is to go strictly be the source. Where did it come from. And in some cases, I do so, within specific databases — e.g., paintings/sketches by Luis Royo or photographs by Bettina Rheims. But what do you do with images you get from tumblr or twitter? It’s hard to identify the source. If I really want to cite an image, I might use Google Image search to find the source, but that’s something I’d do for a very small amount of the images. Not as default.
I also do not use a database for videos. The reason is that this database would be huge and given that the backup would not be incremental, but involve the whole database each time, it would take too long. Instead, I store the video files I want to keep in a simple folder structure (A-Z) in the same directory I store my DEVONthink databases in. Same with Applications (one folder only).
I also do not store Circus Ponies Notebook files in DEVONthink. I had some problems with these files when stored in DEVONthink. So they are in a simple OS X folder as well.
Why not simply use an OS X folder structure for everything? Among others, DEVONthink allows better (hierarchical) tagging, I have environments (databases) which limit the search automatically, I like the “Three Panes” preview view, the ability to easily create replicates, including replicates of folders and files into the mobile sync folder. This allows me to create a custom selection of data I can carry with me on my iPad and iPhone (several GB). Not only allows me to have the most important documents with me, but also provides me with a library in my pocket.
And yup, so far, it is working well. I love the ability to tag, or to change views and quickly scroll though a lot of images. And to get immediate feedback if I have imported an image or text a second time (DEVONthink goes by the content, not the file name, and is surprisingly accurate (but not perfect)).
How was the old saying? A place for everything and everything in its place.
(*) Note to future self in about 2024 (if I make it that far): Yeah, terrabyte was once seen as high capacity.