Evernote example
This is searchable text in Evernote

It’s not like I have much influence, but I want to give a quick shout out to three pieces of software that I’m finding useful in the lab: DokuWiki, Evernote, and Dropbox.

Dokuwiki, I’ve mentioned before; I use it as my electronic lab notebook.  It has all the standard Wiki features – easy lnks, images and text — with the major advantage over several other wikis that the pages are essentially stored as plain text, making backups, searches, and futureproofing relatively easy. A little rsync magic means that the version on my laptop is auto-synced to a remote copy for backup.

Evernote is a note-storage service.  It has a web interface and desktop apps for Mac and Windows, as well as iPhone integration, and it has useful gimimicks like OCR that can make handwriting  searchable text.  The iPhone integration is what turned this from a mildly useful service to one I use every day.  All the scribbled notes I make to myself in the lab, I now take snapshots of; they’re dumped into Evernote, and then when I write up the experiment, or when I’m replicating it, I have exactly what I did at my fingertips.  And for things that otherwise take a thousand words (like the number of colonies I get from a transformation of a particular ligation), a photo can be a better explanation.  Dump the photo into Dokuwiki, and  I don’t have to wonder if “LOTS OF COLONIES” means a hundred, or what.

Evernote example
More searchable text

Dropbox is file sharing.  Put a dropbox folder on your computer, and anything you put in that folder is silently and promptly synced to any other computer you use — Mac, Windows, Linux.   Even more usefully, symlinks work; take any folders you’re working on, and put symlinks to them in Dropbox, and forget about anything else.  Any time you work on a file or add anything new, the changes are intantly synced and made available on all the other machines. There’s no iPhone client, yet, but iStorage and similar iPhone apps work beautifully with it; so I essentially have my entire computer in my pocket all the time.

But that’s not what makes it so useful in the lab.  It also allows folders to be shared between different people.  That means that for relatively large files and folders (flow cytometry runs in the 100 MB range, confocal experiments that are two or three times that) my students and tech don’t have to fuss with compression and emails and hunting me down with flash drives or whatever.  Just drop the experiment in the shared Lab Folder on any of the computers, and a moment later it silently appears on my laptop.  My collaborator in Greece and I are editing a grant application; it’s in our shared dropbox folder, and whenever he makes changes they’re instantly reflected on my machine, and vice versa.

All three of these are freeware, though Evernote and Dropbox have paid versions with higher capacity.  I haven’t needed them yet, but probably will eventually, and they make my life easy enough that I’ll be happy to shell out for them.