How a Simple Bug In SimpleNote Can Simply Screw You / by Damon Lavrinc

I write and I travel. The latter always begets the former. So when it comes to taking notes, writing stories and putting down ideas, I need a medium. Like most 21st century writers, that normally involves locally saved text files. But a few years ago I started relying on services that synced between my primary note-taking devices: my phone, computer and iPad. 

It started with Evernote, which proved invaluable. But while testing a developer version of iOS 5 last year, Evernote was having issues, so I decided to switch to SimpleNote. It was an alternative that perfectly suited my needs. I wasn’t concerned about images or other frippery, so the text-only note-taking service was perfect for jotting things down on the go and penning short pieces that would later make their way into a CMS or my blog.

Then there was a trip to Italy.

I bought a SIM card after landing in Milan and threw it into my Nexus S. I had data, but no voice (for whatever reason), but access to Gmail, Twitter and the Web was good enough.

And then a mysterious thing happened.

After tapping away in Notational Velocity on my MacBook Air (sans internet connection), I got back to the hotel and connected to the overpriced WiFi. Notational Velocity proceeded to sync, and in the process one and half hours worth of notes – over 1,500 invaluable words, including quotes and off-the-cuff comments – disappeared without a trace. All that was left was a few sentences that were stored the previous day. What happened? It took a few reinstalls, several syncing tests and many drinks to find out.

My Nexus S was set to local time; nine hours ahead of my MacBook Air. Notational Velocity was syncing the most recent notes, which only included the content of my Nexus S. That meant that anything inputed in the future disappeared without a trace. 

I tested this several times with existing notes and three separate SimpleNote apps. If I typed something on my MacBook, when the next sync event happened, the changes would disappear, reverting back to the original text.

There was no backup on the SimpleNote webapp and the local files – a string of undecipherable hex characters stored in a hidden folder – were no use. All that work. All that effort. All that unrecoverable text was gone. It was enough to make me envy my Moleskin-touting counterparts. 

To SimpleNote’s credit, they were quick to respond to my freaked out tweet, but they were as surprised as me at the situation. It’s something they’d apparently never encountered.

So the solution was frustratingly simple: Set my phone to the same time as my laptop and iPad, and everything syncs up without issue. If I’d only known before landing nine time zones from home.