Winning The War on Computer Disasters

Posted: July 22nd, 2010

The Deceased

The Deceased (R.I.P.)

Well, it happened sooner than I thought it would. Not too long ago, I gave the automated online backup a try so I could relieve myself of the pesky task of having to remember to do it myself. Turns out it was like buying life insurance before a vacation to Afghanistan. The beloved tower of power, a workhorse to countless projects and surviving several deadly viruses, had passed away.

He was 4.

Despite a quick mourning, the sudden death didn’t really phase me. His understudy, the Vista laptop, quickly took over the reins and was left a nice fortune from the completed and up-to-date backup sitting online.

Carrying out the work duties from the little Vista wasn’t cause for much pain and downtime. There are, however, some new protocols that I’ve put in place in order for the next unexpected death to create absolutely zero downtime and zero cause for pain, work buddy death notwithstanding.

1. Having a laptop that is completely synchronized to your desktop computer

I’m pretty thankful for the Carbonite backup saving my ass but there is one gripe I now have about it. I have about 20 GB of data to download and it takes three days to complete it. While I’d recommend to get an online backup, of any kind at the very least, a three day wait for your data can set you back.

Recently, though, I tried out Dropbox (thanks Jon) and wished I had started with this from the beginning. It not only backs up your data, it can synchronize files between any number of computers so, if one bites the dust, you have another computer to fall back on without the wait to update it.

Dropbox is even free for up to 2 GB of data and 10 USD/month for up to 50 GB of data.

2. Using an online service for the RSS reader and bookmarks

To me, it made the most sense to utilize a Firefox add-on for an RSS reader and save bookmarks through the browser. They are all part of a happy family so why not?

Not so smart. These were long forgotten as a part of the backup. Similar to the feeling of losing a few dollars from your wallet, it wasn’t anything too serious, but I would like them back.

While you can technically utilize an add-on, FEBE (Firefox only), to backup your bookmarks, RSS and browser configurations, it’s easier just to stick to online appplications with Google Reader and Delicious to store bookmarks. You can carry on without missing a step if you have to switch to another computer.

3. Use a password storage service instead of auto-saving passwords in the browser

OK, this one I started doing even before the online backup. We do tend to get lazy when it comes to passwords though. I mean, do you autosave in the browser (not exactly bad) or, worse, use the same password for everything from the Gmail account to your blog server to your online bank?

The issue is, of course, is that it is hard to remember all those passwords, much less, coming up with them. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have to handle this than someone who hacked my PayPal account then emailed all my friends to tell them about it from my Gmail. Uhm, not that it happened…

Anyway, I’d highly recommend you try out Mitto which has proven to be safe, using online security similar to those of banks. Plus it’s free. And it would be wise to change those “password123” passwords you’ve been using since the 90’s to stronger ones with a random mix of letters and numbers. This password generator makes it a whole lot easier.

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Have any Plan B’s in case your computer goes down or have any other suggestions to minimize downtime upon computer disaster? Let’s hear it in a comment!

Finally! Stop Forgetting About Your Backups

Posted: May 5th, 2010

Photo by JS.C (Flickr)

Photo by JS.C (Flickr)

Here’s an eternal question for you. How often do you perform a backup of important files on your computer?

Weekly? Whenever you get around to it?

If you’re like me, you would fall into the “oh shit it’s been a while better do one” category. Obviously this is highly fallible since, potentially, I could lose quite a lot of work in case a catastrophe happens. Really though, if you back up even once a week, there could still be a loss of data in case your hard drive decides to retire.

Losing data has happened to me exactly two times. One from hard drive failure and the other due to theft. I can tell you first hand that spending a week trying to recover a small portion of your data trully sucks.

I can also say it’s a safe bet that this will happen to you at some point (I just jinxed you).

At the start of this year, though, I began to use online backup services to handle this chore too easy to remember to do yourself. Online backups offer the advantage of backing up data automatically and on a daily basis. Also, once all your files are initially uploaded, from then on, they only backup new or updated files and don’t hog all the memory on your computer

Now, I only wish I had done this sooner.

So what are online backup services? Here are some of the recommended favorites:

Carbonite

This was my choice and I haven’t been disappointed by it. One great feature is that it saves changed versions of files for up to 90 days so you can easily recover those edits you didn’t intend to make.

The only downside is that it can only be used on a single computer. Therefore, if you have a desktop at home and a laptop for the road, you’ll need two separate accounts. Also, you have to manually backup video and installation files since this isn’t done by default.

Pricing is 55 USD/year for unlimited space.

Mozy

Since Carbonite only backs up a single computer, I utilize Mozy, which offers a free backup up to 2 GB, for my laptop. Otherwise the pricing is 4.95 USD/month (or 55 USD/yearly) for unlimited space. If you don’t have so much data this is the best option.

Similar to Carbonite, Mozy saves changed versions of files but for up to 30 days. It also can only be used on a single computer, a gripe I have with online backups.

SOS Online Backup

A PC Magazine editor’s choice. SOS offers an easy-to-use interface, backup multiple computers, file sharing (not offered with Carbonite/Mozy) and, not to mention, saves changed file versions forever.

A downside to SOS, though, is that it only offers up to 15 GB of storage which means you’d have to skip those mp3s and videos.

Pricing is yearly at 20 USD/2 GB, 30 USD/5 GB and 50 USD/15 GB.

Jungle Disk

If you need the ability to share files, backup multiple computers and want the ability to retrieve an old file version from anytime in the past with unlimited space, this one is it. Its essentially SOS with no limit storage. Had I known about this service sooner, I probably would have opted for this.

Their pricing structure is a bit weird so crunch the numbers at your own risk:

2 USD/month
Plus $.15 per GB of storage used per month
Plus $.10 per GB of data uploaded
Plus $.15 per GB of data downloaded

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Whichever one you decide, or if you even use one not listed here, take my advice and have one installed. One less worry (and one less bigger worry after data loss) makes all the difference.

For more information on Carbonite, Mozy and SOS, view PC Magazine’s detailed review of these backups.

Freelance In 40 Days [Day 7]: The Essentials For Freelance Work

Posted: September 1st, 2009

Photo by Emdot (Flickr)

Photo by Emdot (Flickr)

This is Day 7 of the Freelance in 40 Days series where you’ll learn to freelance just by taking it one day and one task at a time. Today’s tutorial will cover essential items for your freelance business that are well worth the expense.

It’s easy to believe that all a freelancer needs for work is a laptop and a free space at the nearest Starbucks. Ask any any veteran, though, and they’ll let you know that this is far from fact. In the rush to begin freelance work, we have a tendency to take for granted certain factors that are highly important in our work.

Also, new freelancers have a tendency to minimize costs at the start. While a smart strategy, there are certain costs that are absolutely necessary right from the beginning. Forgoing these can end up being highly regrettable which can cost you time you could be working, a lot of money,  your health or all three in the process.

The point is to make ourselves as efficient as we can in our work and prepare ourselves to minimize possible disaster in our business. Spending what we have to to cover these becomes essential to our business regardless of our desire to save.

1. Efficiency

A freelancer has to have the  best equipment available, but not necessarily the most expensive, in order to do his or her job as quickly and effectively as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to shell out for a $4,000 laptop with all the bells and whistles when a $1,000 laptop will suit your work just fine. This also isn’t saying you should try to upgrade that old Windows 95 machine thinking it will get you by. It won’t.

Have a list of the equipment, software and whatever other tools you need to do your job. Then do yourself a favor and make sure you have or obtain each and every one. It may costs you an arm and both legs, or you may have to beg-borrow-steal, but having anything less will cost you time which will cost you more in earnings in the long run. [DISCLAIMER: Steal at your own risk.]

2. Ergonomics

It’s a given that the majority of us will spend our time freelancing in front of a computer. What you may not be aware of are some of the afflictions it can cause when you are in front of it on a daily basis.

For example, hunching over a laptop day by day can lead to chronic neck, shoulder and back pain. You could become prone to repetitive stress injury typing all hours on a keyboard. Also, poor lighting as well as working long periods in front of a computer screen can lead to vision problems.

So preparing your workstation to minimize injury should be a priority. Ideally you want a work area where you can sit with your back straight, feet on the floor and looking directly horizontal at a computer screen. If it means you have to spring for a more comfortable desk chair and extra lighting for your workstation then do it.

Other ways to reduce injury are utilizing mousepads and keyboards designed to minimize repetitive stress injury. If you only use a laptop, try using a separate keyboard and mouse and prop up the laptop so you look directly at the screen instead of at a downward angle.

Take this seriously, too. You don’t want a bad case of “freelancer’s neck” or a wrist you can’t move to convince you otherwise.

3. Security

You are likely as a freelancer to experience one of two things at some point during your career: 1) Theft of equipment and 2) Loss of data on your computer. It really isn’t a question of if one of these happens to you but when. So when it does happen, you do not want to be caught with your pants down not knowing what to do next.

Unless you have enough savings to purchase new equipment in case of theft, it is well worth insuring it for a nominal monthly or yearly premium. The cost varies worldwide so consult a local homeowners insurance company or even google (i.e. “laptop insurance in new york”) one of the many insurers on the internet for coverage and pricing.

As for backups, it goes without saying that this has to be done. Plain and simple, though in one particular manner: online. To explain, physical backups normally reside on an external harddrive, but where is that harddrive stored after use? Usually nearby the computer its backing up which is dangerous in two ways:

  1. In case of a fire or natural disaster the harddrive could be destroyed along with the computer.
  2. If travelling with the harddrive, both the laptop and harddrive could be stolen if stored together.

Online backups provide the security of allowing you to restore data on a brand new computer anywhere in the world. So, in the event of theft or loss, you could conceivably be back up and running with a new computer and your old data within the day. Two reputable online backup services are:

  • Mozy: Provides unlimited backup for $4.95/month.
  • Livedrive: Provides online backups of up to 100 GB for 39.95 GBP annually (around $65) and unlimited backups along with synchronization between multiple computers for 99.95 GBP annually (around $160).

4. Health Insurance

It doesn’t do any good to hope we never get sick or injured while freelancing. Its also nice to not have that “what if it happens” worry constantly running through your head. Health insurance can take a small bite out of your wallet but is a bigger preference to the alternative scenario of spending the big dollars for medical treatment.

Having health insurance is usually the reason that many freelancers start out part-time and hold a full-time job at the same time. If you plan on freelancing full-time, however, then consider getting health coverage to protect you in case medical issues arise. Consult with local providers, or better yet, google (i.e. “freelance insurance australia”) to see what may be available for coverage online.

In the U.S., where health insurance is very expensive, there is coverage available through the Freelancers Union. Although coverage is not available in all areas of the U.S., they can provide affordable insurance or companies providing insurance for freelancers in your area.

Your Homework For Today

We covered a lot today, but we want to make sure we are prepared so we can work efficiently and protect ourselves in our health and equipment in case adverse events strike us. It also requires spending money before we even start earning, but it will pay us back later on. Therefore, ask yourself the following:

  1. Do I have all the equipment I need to work as efficiently as possible?
  2. Is my workstation prepared ergonomically to prevent strain and repetitive stress injury?
  3. Do I have a backup solution in place and insurance or savings to replace lost equipment in case of theft, disaster or loss?
  4. Do I have a health insurance plan?