How your mobile phone or tablet could save your life

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Believe it or not, there are many ways your mobile smart phone could be used when you find your­self in the middle of an emer­gency situ­ation,  aside from the obvi­ous — mak­ing a phone call for emer­gency assist­ance, I mean.

The recent events in Japan and New Zea­l­and have shown that when dis­aster strikes, get­ting the most accur­ate inform­a­tion is likely the best way to make choices that could save your life.

Browser
Provided the event hasn’t taken out the loc­al mobile net­work, your mobile phone’s browser will help, link­ing you with many loc­al, nation­al, and inter­na­tion­al news ser­vices, as well as many dif­fer­ent chan­nels of com­mu­nic­a­tion (email, voice chat, twit­ter, etc).

Hard­ware
f1.jpgBut there are oth­er ways your smart phone can help. For example, many smart phone’s dis­play screens are bright enough to be used as a make­shift flash­light when the power goes out. Col­or Flash­light is a lead­ing Android app and Flash­light 4 is one of the most pop­u­lar ones in Japan right now.

As well, most phones these days know where they are in the world, either by tri­an­gu­lat­ing between com­mu­nic­a­tions towers, wifi sources, or built-in GPS sys­tems. Tie this in with any of the pop­u­lar map­ping applic­a­tions and you have a good visu­al under­stand­ing of where you are. Help­ful when you have to find an altern­ate route or trans­port­a­tion sys­tem in an unfa­mil­i­ar city.

An app for that? You bet!
As you can ima­gine, there are many things that you could need in an emer­gency. And, of course, there are some apps that can help.

Dur­ing the Tsunami warn­ings fol­low­ing the Japan earth­quake, inform­a­tion like that provided by this Hawaii­an-developed Dis­aster Alert app helped keep islanders informed about the impend­ing waves.

And after an event, find­ing people and shel­ter is a pri­or­ity.

Google launched their Google Per­son Find­er dur­ing the Christ­ch­urch earth­quake, and updated it for the Japan event.

And the Amer­ic­an Red Cross has released their free Shel­ter View app.

So as you can see, with just a few book­marks, per­haps an hour of app-store brows­ing, and a few dol­lars invest­ment, you can have a pretty good emer­gency pre­pared­ness kit all tucked neatly into your mobile data phone.

I think it’s time I star­ted on mine, what have I missed that I should add?
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Keeping your holiday photos safe

fz50.jpgThe hol­i­day sea­son is upon us, which means that we’ll be enjoy­ing time spent with fam­ily and friends. Many of us will grab our handy cam­era-enabled data phones and snap price­less shots that we’ll want to share, and keep for pos­ter­ity.

But that’s where the tech can get a bit tricky. Sure, we’ve tried shar­ing to our vari­ous Face­book, Flickr and Picasa accounts, but what about the ‘sav­ing for pos­ter­ity’ part.

Pho­tos in the Cloud
Well, two of those three ser­vices men­tioned above are a great start. Here’s the four that I’ve seen and used that will offer sol­id photo ser­vice over the hol­i­days and into the future:

  • Flickr offers a Pro level account (about $25 per year for unlim­ited photo and video stor­age) that will keep all your pho­tos online and avail­able. Free gives you unlim­ited stor­age, but only your most recent 200 pho­tos are view­able. Online image edit­ing provided by Pic­nik.
  • Picasa has a free account that offers 1GB of free photo stor­age and basic image edit­ing tools.
  • Smug­Mug is pri­ci­er, offers three levels of ser­vice, and is geared toward the more ser­i­ous pho­to­graph­er.
  • Adobe Pho­toshop Express gives you access to basic online photo edit­ing and organ­iz­a­tion tools, and 2GB of free photo stor­age. Addi­tion­al stor­age space can be pur­chased annu­ally.

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So, what’s so great about stor­ing your pho­tos online any­way?

  1. Backup — you don’t have to worry about keep­ing your images safe; the ser­vice you’re using does that.
  2. Shar­ing — easy to embed the images into blogs, email and twit­ter mes­sages. Each photo usu­ally has a pub­lic URL that’s shar­able (or private, if that’s your thing).
  3. Print­ing — a few of the ser­vices are offer­ing part­ner­ships with pro­fes­sion­al print­ing labs which lets you pro­duce pho­to­books, cus­tom prints etc.
  4. Integ­ra­tion — some of the more pop­u­lar ser­vices are already integ­rated into your iPhone cam­era applic­a­tions (such as Instra­gram). Push a but­ton and your latest shot is uploaded to the ser­vice, ready for you to edit and share.

Loc­al stor­age?
Yep, you can keep your pho­tos on your own com­puter, but you do run risks should your com­puter crash or worse. I do keep the major­ity of my images at home, stored on a net­work attached stor­age device that’s got two drives, one a mir­ror of the oth­er. So if one should die, I’ve got a copy of my data on the oth­er.

Also, I backup my pho­tos weekly, and move the backup drive to an off­s­ite loc­a­tion for even great­er safety. Yeah, a house­fire would ruin a lot of things, but I know my pho­tos and oth­er import­ant data would be safe.

Your needs?
It depends. Take a sol­id think about what you plan to do with your pho­tos, how you want to share them, and how import­ant they are to you (can you afford to lose them?). I’ve likely giv­en you some ideas to try and exper­i­ment with as we head into the hol­i­days. I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and how it worked (or didn’t).

Fat lady sings. Winners announced soon.

Thus endith my first blog con­test. And a very cool ride it was.

My good friends at Click­free, a Cana­dian backup tech­no­logy com­pany, agreed to provide the prizes (Click­free Trans­former SE) for a blog con­test chal­len­ging folks to provide there best (or worst I guess) backup hor­ror story.

I’ve received some rather good entries. Check out the com­ments in the ori­gin­al post for the entire list, but here’s a couple of excerpts to give you the idea:

In a multi-developer game devel­op­ment envir­on­ment:

We updated our loc­al SVN repos and tried to work with the new changes that we were all mak­ing (plus unknow­ingly the changes this oth­er guy made)… only the game ended up crash­ing. It worked fine before this latest update and no one was sup­posed to have made any changes that would cause this prob­lem, and yet, here it was, the game was crash­ing. Franticly we looked at all the changes “we” had made for the prob­lem (remem­ber we did not know this guy had checked any­thing in) and argue­ments rose over who was at fault of this issue (oddly no one fingered the par­tic­u­lar pro­gram­mer in ques­tion since we didn’t know he had com­mit­ted any­thing, plus it was 4am and no one was think­ing straight).

Stolen Grad-stu­dent Thes­is data:

I got a frantic call from a grad stu­dent once, say­ing that someone had broken in and stolen his com­puter with all his thes­is data and his 34 fin­ished draft thes­is — two years of data col­lec­tion research and writ­ing gone!

Win­ners?

In the next week or so I’ll be review­ing the entries and noti­fy­ing the win­ners. And yes, there will be a blog post about it. Stay tuned!

How to backup files across a network easily

Before I start, a friendly remind­er that you only have a day left to enter the con­test for a free Click­free Trans­former backup sys­tem. Tell me a backup hor­ror story.

It’s one thing to backup the files on your loc­al com­puter and anoth­er to backup files stored on oth­er com­puters on your net­work, or Net­work Attached Stor­age drives or serv­ers.

In the first case, odds are you simply drag and drop files and folders that are import­ant to you to a blank CD or DVD and burn your backup.

In the lat­ter, well, usu­ally a much more com­plex pro­cess with ded­ic­ated backup soft­ware is required.

Recently I grabbed a Click­free Trans­former SE to do some simple backup work on my desktop and laptop com­puters. Basic­ally, the Click­free Trans­former plugs into a USB port. Then you plug a USB Hard Drive into the Trans­former SE.

And the magic begins. The soft­ware quickly scans your loc­al sys­tem and cop­ies import­ant doc­u­ments, pho­tos, media and oth­er files to the USB drive attached to the Trans­former SE.

But back to the theme of this post, ‘back­ing up files across a net­work eas­ily’. Basic­ally there’s two things you need to do.

Map­ping your net­work drives

First, you have to have ‘mapped’ the net­work drives con­tain­ing files to be backed up. Map­ping the drive is a simple pro­cess that tells your loc­al Win­dows oper­at­ing sys­tem to treat the net­work drive as if it is a loc­al drive — even assign­ing a drive let­ter to the net­work drive.

Microsoft has a pretty good walk­through on map­ping drives in Win­dows XP. The pro­cess for Vista and Win­dows 7 is very sim­il­ar.

Con­fig­ur­ing the Click­free Trans­former SE
And this pro­cess is pretty simple. First, you have to get to the Click­free backup con­fig­ur­a­tion screens.

If you’ve seen a backup run, then you know there’s a count­down pri­or to the pro­cess begin­ning. When you can­cel that count­down, you abort the cur­rent backup. But you also now have the abil­ity to con­fig­ure your backup by select­ing which drives (loc­al or mapped net­work) and file types you want to back up.

This is import­ant because it’s pos­sible, when back­ing up mapped net­work drives, to try and backup more files than you have drive space avail­able for…should  you try and backup your entire photo, video, and music lib­rar­ies to one drive, for example. If this hap­pens, then the backup also fails to the con­fig­ur­a­tion screens, allow­ing you to tweak the con­fig so you can fit the backup on the drive.

Ready to roll?
And that’s all there is to it. The next time your backup runs, either manu­ally or auto­mat­ic­ally, files on those mapped net­work drives will be backed up along with the ones on your loc­al com­puter drives. Of course, depend­ing on how much you’re back­ing up, you may need to split the backup across a couple of drives 🙂

Monthly Backups: Have you started yours?

Before I start, a friendly remind­er that you only have 2.5 days left to enter the con­test for a free Click­free Trans­former backup sys­tem. Tell me a backup hor­ror story.

One thing I like to do is, at the end of every month, veri­fy that I’ve got a full backup of what I like to call my ‘for­got­ten data’, the data on my desktop or laptop —  data stored on the machines I work on day-to-day.

Once you set up a pro­cess to back up your serv­ers or NAS devices, it’s easy to get com­pla­cent and for­get that some of the things that could be import­ant to you are actu­ally stored on your loc­al com­puter not on the net­work; things like game pro­gress saves, edits to pho­tos, videos or pod­casts you’ve downloaded..etc.

So near the end of each month, I look at that stuff, determ­ine if it’s really import­ant to me or not, then copy it to a place on my net­work that will be backed up (using one of my oth­er backup sys­tems).

How ’bout you? Are you reg­u­larly back­ing up this ‘for­got­ten data’?

Spring’s on its way. Backup now — before you’re too busy.

I’ve writ­ten a lot about back­ing up your data over the years. But even though backups are import­ant, some­how they’re always 2nd or 3rd on the pri­or­ity list. ‘Some­thing to do when I get time’. And as Spring approaches, time is one thing that there’s going to be less of as pri­or­it­ies shift from inside activ­it­ies to out­side — yard cleanup, redis­cov­er­ing loc­al parks with the dogs, etc.

But back to backups. The key to keep­ing your data safely backed up is to make your data backup pro­cess so simple you can for­get about it, until you need it, of course.

In the past I’ve writ­ten about online backup as a solu­tion, but recently I’ve star­ted to use that as a sec­ond­ary backup sys­tem. My primary backup sys­tem is cur­rently loc­al hard­ware based, works flaw­lessly so far, and is simple.

The Hard­ware
In my case, it starts with the hard­ware. These days, USB drives are quite inex­pens­ive for their size, so I have three (500GB) units that I cycle through my backup routine. Each drive is naked — no fancy case — I use a Thermal­take BlacX dock­ing sta­tion to handle the SATA to USB con­nec­tion, which then lets me con­nect it to my com­puter. The drive simply rest in the unit and is then recog­nized by your com­puter as a USB stor­age device.

Which would be enough if I was to manu­ally drag and drop my files to the drive each time I wanted to back up, but remem­ber, I wanted it to be über easy. Which brings me to the next piece of hard­ware; the Click­free Trans­former SE USB inter­face.

This little hard­ware device sits between your USB drive (or dock, in my case) and one of  your computer’s USB ports. Once it’s plugged in and moun­ted by your sys­tem, it asks to install the Click­free backup soft­ware, and then launches a backup ses­sion (which you can abort and con­fig­ure) auto­ma­gic­ally. Remem­ber I said I like simple and reli­able.

The Pro­cess
So, now that I’m set up hard­ware wise, how does my backup routine work, you may ask. It works like this:

  1. Con­fig­ure, or recon­fig­ure the Click­free backup soft­ware to include new drives or folders (both on sys­tem and mapped to my sys­tem but moun­ted on my net­work)
  2. Veri­fy or reset the backup time and fre­quency if needed
  3. Ensure one of my 3 SATA drives are moun­ted in the drive dock
  4. Carry on about my reg­u­lar work — the backup will launch at the pre­de­ter­mined time and execute in back­ground
  5. Now it gets a bit tricky with 3 backup drives, but here’s how I do it:
  • When com­plete, remove the SATA drive ( I’ll call it Drive A) and take it to a safe off­s­ite stor­age loc­a­tion.
  • Pickup the drive (Drive B) cur­rently at the off­s­ite stor­age and bring it back to be used later.
  • Insert the third drive (Drive C) that I had on site, but not in use into the SATA drive dock. It’s now ready to be the backup drive at the next backup ses­sion.

That’s prob­ably the most com­plex part of this pro­cess. I like to keep two drives on site and one drive off­s­ite. The most recent backup is always off­s­ite and safe. The next-to-most-recent backup is onsite and avail­able if I need to recov­er a file or two I know have not changed since my last backup. And the old­est backup drive is ready to be used for the next backup ses­sion.

And that’s all there is to it. The Click­free backup pro­cess doesn’t encrypt or com­press the data, so should you need to recov­er a file or drive, it’s a very simple mat­ter to get at the files.

Want one?
Now here’s the cool part — your backup pro­cess can get back on track thanks to the fine folks at Click­free; they’ve giv­en me a few of the Click­free Trans­former SE units to use as prizes in a con­test.

If you want to get your backup pro­cess setup before Spring has sprung (and soaked up all your free time), either enter the con­test (tell me your data backup hor­ror story), or you can simply order a Trans­former SE dir­ect from Click­free — and yes, I have a dis­count code so you can even get a deal on part of your backup hard­ware. Use Grier10 when check­ing out to get a 15% dis­count on your order.

So what are you wait­ing for…Spring is on its way and you know it will eat up all your free time. Save your data now, whatever backup sys­tem you use.

Friday the 13th: Refuge in the backup

Ok, it’s a lousy title for a movie, but it is a great remind­er to review and execute your data backup strategies, both at home and online.

Why Fri­day the 13th?
Simply, it’s a day-date com­bin­a­tion that hap­pens infre­quently, almost ad-hoc. When it does occur, you can eas­ily plan to take time out to per­form your main­ten­ance chores.

It’s also a very mem­or­able day. In fic­tion, bad things hap­pen on Fri­day the 13th — so the best way to pre­vent those bad things from hap­pen­ing to you, is to take pro­act­ive measures…and what bet­ter day to remem­ber to do that than Fri­day the 13th!

Some things to do

  • Backup your home com­puter sys­tems
  • Backup your blog(s)
  • Backup your oth­er con­tent stored in the cloud (flickr, Google Docs, iTunes video & music)
  • Remove and delete pro­grams you’ve not used for a while
  • Review and backup your pass­word & account inform­a­tion
  • Purge your online email accounts of old mail
  • Defrag your hard drives

More read­ing
I’ve writ­ten a few posts about backups and main­ten­ance before, so if you want to dig into the detail, here’s a handy list, sor­ted by backup tag.

Life­hack­er pos­ted this great over­view of a per­son­al backup sys­tem worth check­ing out.