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Mini-Reviews by Members / Packrat - offline Backpack
« on: November 29, 2006, 09:34 AM »
I spent <a href="">a very long time searching for the best way of managing my GTD setup.</a>  Although my job back then involved quite a lot of travel, I usually had my trusty Compaq laptop with me wherever I went, so a local solution was the best for me - and I was also in some places where my internet connection was very, very dodgy (most memorably: I once spent more than an hour connected via the world's slowest phone line to download about ten email messages at an edge of a jungle in India). 

Now a lot has changed: I'm running a Macbook instead of a PC at home, and I have two new part-time jobs, one of which is split between two locations, which means my work computing takes place on three different PCs.  Which makes it a little difficult to keep track of things...  Of course, my Moleskines are my trusty companions (a notebook and - at this time of year - two diaries, a red 2007 and black 2006).  But there are some kinds of information that are more easily accessed @computer than on paper.   

I have always loved the idea of 37signals's <a href="">Backpack</a> - I've had a free account pretty much since they started, and twice have upgraded to a pay-subscription and then downgraded after a couple of months of not really being able to make best use of it.  <a href="">Quite a lot</a> has been said already about how to use Backpack for implementing GTD.  My own difficulties have been around not always having a reliable internet connection.

But yesterday I came across <a href="">Packrat</a> ($24.95 - free trial available), which uses the Backpack API to allow Mac OS X 10.4 users to access their Backpack account offline.

My major usage of Backpack is going to be away from home - on one of my work PCs, or travelling with the Macbook and no guaranteed internet connection.  I track my work projects on paper, except for data that needs to be accessible between locations.  So, really it's on the Mabook that I most need offline access to my Backpack.

And Packrat gives me exactly that.  I'm able to add lists and notes and new pages with no internet connection - anything I would normally do online - and as soon as I can connect again, it synchronizes the offline and online content.  In this screenshot, you'll notice the 'Sync' button is dimmed, showing that I'm currently offline:

As soon as I reconnect, the Sync button shows properly again, and when I click it, Packrat does its magic.

What I love about Backpack, which has drawn me back to using it again and again, is its elegant simplicity.  Packrat is designed with exactly that sensibility - it does everything it needs to do to be extremely functional, without overdoing anything.  It's unfussy in its design, straightforward to use, and it does exactly what it says on the box.  It gives me offline access to my Backpack: how brilliant! 

I agree - less is not necessarily more, but just enough definitely is!

No other replies?  I thought one of the AHK evangelists would have leapt on this one!   :)   I've figured out a laborious macro involving various searches and replaces - if you search for bolded £5.67, Word treats this as three words! '£', '5', and '56' - and then you have to do the '.' separately.  But now it seems my work has macros disabled universally!  :(  Back to the drawing board.

In my new job I'm responsible for updating several hundred inter- and intranet pages.  I work with probably a hundred authors, most of whom prepare their text in MS Word, which means their documents are littered with silliness like 'smart quotes' that our CMS doesn't recognize - so I have lots of ?s littering any text I cut and paste.  That's not a major problem since I can just save as plain text; I wish I could get them all to work in plain text, but that's not an option given most of their level of expertise.  What would be really helpful is if I could record a macro that would search-and-replace formatting within their documents with the correct html tags - so, rather than a 'bolded' word, would end up with 'bolded' with the correct html prefix and suffix (I tried to enter that here, but every time I do this clever bulletin board bolds the word!).  I can probably work this out myself (although I am having some difficulty working out how to get Word to find a variable string of formatted characters and replace that string removing formatting and adding code), but I imagine this is something others have also had to do, so can anyone advise me on an easy way of doing this?

I contributed this short piece over at the D*I*Y Planner planner site a while back - kind of summarises my onward journey from the review that started this thread...:

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