I’m going to stop blogging about Evernote soon

…but I’d like to just share my latest findings and opinions in case this will help you to decide whether or not to take the plunge.

For the most part, I am still pretty confident that Evernote will become firmly fixed in my routines as my main admin and organisational tool. Of course, the more time, effort, and data you commit to these things the harder it is to back out later. I think I’m approaching that point of no return.

I currently have two big concerns about whether Evernote is up to the job:

1) Security

Marvin the Android

Marvin from the original BBC TV series (not the wussy-looking thing from the later film)

A big concern is the ongoing fuss (and fear, outrage, shrugging of shoulders, boredom, acceptance etc) about the NSA and it’s Prism program – sucking in the minutiae of everyone’s lives by stealing all our online data. Like all online companies, Evernote will reveal your data to the US authorities if compelled to do so by a Court Order. Whether or not the NSA already has Evernote data is anyone’s guess. But what about the portions of encrypted text in an Evernote data file? Will the encryption keep the US government out? No chance whatever. Evernote uses an ancient method of encryption called 64-bit RC2. Asking the US authorities to crack data protected by this method is a bit like asking Marvin to open doors ( “Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to open a door” – Marvin the Depressed Android, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

Also on the subject of data security, it’s possible to prevent the casual snooper from getting into your Evernote data by protecting it with a password, but I understand that the data file kept on your hard drive is, in fact, unencrypted. A quick test of this was thwarted by Windows telling me that I couldn’t open the file because it was in use (which it shouldn’t have been as Evernote was closed). I think it’s prudent to assume that the data isn’t secure.

2) Data File Sizes

Those nice people at T-mobile gave me a new smartphone last week. It’s a rather nice Sony Xperia SP. I wasn’t sure why they had given it to me as we’d already agreed the details of my renewed contract. It dawned on me after I’d received it – it’s got 4G capability. I started getting text messages from them suggesting that I might like to upgrade my (freshly renewed) contract. I don’t like. Can’t see the point at the moment.

Android Logo

Logo of the Android operating system

Anyway, it’s an Android phone (nothing whatever to do with Marvin: “Android” is the operating system, like “IOS version 6” is the current operating system on an iPhone). It’s had good reviews and I thought it a good idea to bring myself up to speed with Android on mobiles, so I’ve been playing with it. I’m just getting to the tipping point where I might put my “proper” SIM into it. However, there’s a problem. The phone only has about 5gb of useable internal storage. That’s fine, normally, as you can fit a micro SD card of up to 32gb capacity. The problem is that Evernote does not allow the phone to move its data onto the SD card. It has to sit inside the internal 5gb. Well, my Evernote data is already 0.7gb and I’ve only been using it for a couple of months. There’s just a chance of there being a silly but big problem ahead when the data gets too big (and there will undoubtedly be other demands on that limited internal 5gb).

Nevertheless, I think I probably will make the move over to the Xperia as it’s very fast (especially with Evernote), has a bigger screen than the iPhone 3GS, and is rather nice.

The reason I keep pointing out the potential problems with Evernote as I find them is that I know what a big commitment it is to move over to a new admin system. In fact, I really like Evernote. It’s not perfect by any means but it feels solid and consistent, as well as flexible. Just to counteract some of the seemingly negative comments above, here’s a couple of tips:

Shortcuts – if you are already using Evernote, then you may find this link to some shortcuts useful.

Evernote List Sorted by Priority

Evernote List Sorted by Priority

Prioritising – one of my notebooks contains a list of “to do’s”. Each item in the “list” is a separate “note”. It is, of course, useful – and easy – to be able to sort the list into different orders, but Evernote does not have an inbuilt way of assigning a “priority” to a note, so sorting on this is not readily possible.

The answer is to create a tag for each of the numbers 0-9 (or more if you are even more neurotic about admin and organisation than I am). Then just add the relevant tag to the item (this doesn’t, of course, affect any other tags already assigned to the note). Then, just sort the list of items into tag order (see illustration). Since Evernote sorts each note’s tags alphabetically it means that the number tag comes to the left of the list and the entire list will be sorted on “priority”.

I wonder if Marvin could have thought of that.

Speaking of Marvin, if you don’t know what I’m talking about and have five minutes to spare, have a look at this YouTube clip

Amazon are now selling more books on the Kindle e-reader than any other format – see this link

There’s no doubt that e-readers have huge advantages over individual printed books:

  • It’s very easy to carry lots of books around. Great for long journeys.
  • It’s very easy to find, buy, and have books instantly available to read. This is especially true of the Kindle where you are more-or-less locked into Amazon. The purchase of a book (via the Kindle) is instantly and automatically followed by the download onto your own Kindle.
  • E-readers are easy to use and to read. If you have not yet looked at them because you think it is a strain to read a computer screen then do give them a try. The “e-paper” screen is very easy to read and does not induce any of the strain of reading a computer screen.
  • I hear from Kindle enthusiasts that subscriptions to periodicals works very well.

I don’t think that anyone is pretending that e-readers will replace real books altogether. There is none of the feel, or the smell, or the visual appeal that make proper books a joy to handle. They do work really well, though, for paperbacks and periodicals that you’d probably read once and then discard. You can also store pdf documents on e-readers so there’s plenty of scope for widening their usefulness.

There is one aspect of Kindles, though, that worries some people. This is part of the Kindle licence agreement:

The Software will provide Amazon with data about your Kindle and its interaction with the Service (such as available memory, up-time, log files, and signal strength). The Software will also provide Amazon with information related to the Digital Content on your Kindle and Other Devices and your use of it (such as last page read and content archiving). Annotations, bookmarks, notes, highlights, or similar markings you make using your Kindle or Reading Application and other information you provide may be stored on servers that are located outside the country in which you live.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle

This agreement has been interpreted as meaning that anything you do on your Kindle may be reported back to Amazon. They could analyse your reading habits in the minutest detail – eg:

  • How fast you read.
  • Which (juicy?) pages you return to.
  • Whether you actually finish a book.
  • What times of what days you are actually reading.

It seems that a lot of people don’t actually mind this. They don’t see any threat to their privacy or they don’t care about it.

Other people seem to think like me. I don’t want any organisation or any software giant analysing my actions to any extent greater than they need to in order to provide me with the product or service I am buying from them.

As it happens, the Kindle situation isn’t quite as bad as I’m making out because I understand that there are at least some aspects of it that you can control with the options provided. One such option is to prevent any highlighting that you do from being reported back to Amazon. Yes, that’s right. If you highlight a section of a book on your Kindle it will normally tell Amazon that you’ve done it!

Sony e-reader Pocket Edition

Sony e-reader Pocket Edition

Of course, if you want an e-reader but don’t want big brother Amazon breathing down your neck, you could buy a Sony E-reader and not a Kindle. Buying a Sony also means that you are not tied into buying your books from one source. Although you can buy books from Sony you can also buy them from elsewhere. I’ve been buying books for my Sony e-reader from Waterstone’s for over two years now and I really like it. It’s true that the Waterstone’s website is not as good as it could be and it’s also true that you have to download your book to a PC or Mac and then install it onto the reader. Personally, I’d much rather do that than have Amazon recording my every move. There’s no doubt, though, that the convenience and simplicity of instant purchase and downloading to a Kindle outweigh any privacy issues for a great many people (or is it just that they don’t know they are being watched?).

Last word: if you are considering buying a Kindle, do consider the more expensive option that comes with wireless 3G connectivity. This means that you can download from almost anywhere whereas the “Wi-Fi-only” option means that you have to be connected to a wireless broadband connection when you want to download (fine when you are at home, but not so clever at an airport).

© 2011-2017 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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