Category Archives: backup

Is Snow Leopard The New XP?

Like a lot of people, I purchased the Lion upgrade on the first day of availability from the Apple App store.

I upgraded two late-model Mac Minis along with an older 17” MacBook Pro. The Lion upgrade solved a freezing problem on the Mac Mini I use as an HD-DVR. However, it created a number of serious problems on the MacBook Pro – Lion would not work with my Verizon USB aircard, it would not back up to my HP Windows Home Server, and it would not work properly with the Ubercaster podcast recording application.

After living with these Lion-induced problems for more than a month on the MacBook Pro, I downgraded it back to a prior (and fully functional) Snow Leopard backup image. Everything is now back to normal, with everything once again functioning the way it should.

My MacBook Pro is no slouch, yet it seemed a bit sluggish running Lion compared to Snow Leopard.

If you have a Mac that’s more than a couple of years old, and/or you are running a variety of software and hardware that Lion likely won’t support and/or that may never be updated to run properly on Lion, I would strongly suggest skipping the Lion upgrade.

I found the Lion interface changes mostly annoying. On a computer (as opposed to an iPod), I prefer normal scroll bars. In Lion you can turn the scroll bars so that they remain on, but they are thin little gray lines that I have a hard time seeing and grabbing with the mouse. I don’t like the changes Apple made to the Finder in Lion, nor do I like the changes they made to the Spotlight Search functionality. I found the changes to the Mail program to be of dubious value, as well as the cosmetic changes to the Address Book adding no functionality.

Snow Leopard runs perfectly well and just might be the new XP.

La Cie and Thunderbolt

If you depend on moving a lot of data around and are looking for ways to move it faster then the Thunderbolt technology (formerly Light Peak) is something that should be of  interest to you. Companies and individuals who work in the area of video editing and transfer will be one of the first groups that will take advantage of the Thunderbolt technology. The Thunderbolt technology was developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple. The technology supports both data and display protocols simultaneously over a single cable. The Thunderbolt technology outperforms all other method of transfers by a mile.

Task that previously took a workstation will soon be performed on a consumer compact device. The new Macbook Pro is the first computer to take advantage of this technology. One of the first companies that has created a device that takes advantage of the technology other then Apple is La Cie. La Cie first show case the Thunderbolt technology at the Intel Developer Forum in September 2010. Since then it has worked even more closely with Apple and Intel to develop various storage solutions and peripherals that take advantage of Thunderbolt technology and to bring them to market. This close cooperation between La Cie and Apple  is nothing new. La Cie has been working closely with Apple for over 20 years developing innovative and cutting edge products. La Cie specializes in hard drives including desktop, mobile, network storage, Raid and Multimedia Hard Drives. Their newest product  called the Little Big Disk will be coming out summer 2011. The Little Big Disk was built to store large amounts of video and audio files. The integration of the Thunderbolt technology will allow that data to be transfer far quicker then any other technology. This in turn will speed up the process of both backup and editing.  Task that used to take hours will now be completed in minutes without any effect on bandwidth performance. Multiple Little Big Disks can even be daisy chained together to expand storage. You can also connect other peripherals like cameras or high resolution displays. The chairman and general manger of La Cie said it best:

“Thunderbolt technology is a breakthrough in I/O technology and
represents the future of mobile computing. Soon you will be able to
carry workstation-class power and functionality in compact devices,”
said Philippe Spruch, Chairman and General Manager,LaCie. “LaCie is
excited to be one of the first to deliver Thunderbolt technology with
the LaCie Little Big Disk.”

La Cie obviously sees Thunderbolt as the the transfer technology of the future. whether it is will depend on how fast other companies create products that take advantage of it.


GadgetTrak Remote Tracking Software For Mobile Gadgets

GadgetTrak is a piece of software that you install on your mobile phone or laptop. The software will periodically check in and let you know the physical location of the device. If a camera is present, for example on a laptop, it can even take a photo of the thief and email it back to the owner. The software cannot be disabled by the thief.

For a Mac or Windows laptop, the price is $34.95 per year.

For Android and Blackberry phones, which includes remote data wipe ability, secure encrypted backup and a loud piercing audible alarm even if the device is in silent mode, the price is $19.95 per year.

For iPhone, iPod, and iPad, the GadgetTrak app is .99 cents, The iOS version does not include remote data wipe, but does include remote camera and push notification support to inform the thief of the GadgetTrak software’s presence.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine.

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Iomega SuperHero Backup and Charger for iPhone and iPod Touch

As smartphones get more powerful with more storage, the possibility of losing something important when your phone is misplaced or stolen, gets ever greater.   And it’s not really business documents that are important, it’s your photos that are really irreplaceable.

Iomega‘s new SuperHero Backup and Charger for iPhone and iPod Touch can help with this problem. It’s a charging cradle that also backups up contacts and photos to the included 4GB SD card (which can be upgraded by the user, if needed). An Iomega backup and restore application is available from the iTunes store. It’s especially useful for those people who never sync their iPhone to their Mac.

Available from the end of January for $69.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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A Cheap, Simple Backup Solution

It may not be the latest and greatest, state-of-the-art in computer backup technology, but my solution for this very-necessary process is cheap and fairly easy to set up for the intermediate to advanced computer user.  And it’s been working flawlessly for the past 2 years.

It starts with having an old desktop PC laying around.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, mine was an old XP machine with a Celeron processor and 384MB of RAM.  And that’s more than powerful enough for what I used it for.  The system requirements are actually:

  • Motherboard with x86 processor
  • 192 MB RAM
  • 32 MB free disk space
  • Network card
  • BIOS that supports bootable CD-ROMs

First I pulled the old 40GB hard drive out of the PC and replaced it with three 750GB drives.  It helps to have a good sized tower case, but with 1.5TB drives now available cheap, a standard two bay case is fine for most users.  Let me just point out here that this step is the ONLY one that costs any money at all.  And it will cost you only as much as you want to pay for the drives.  You can add a second or third later also, so you don’t have to do this part all at once.

Next I went to FreeNAS and downloaded the latest build of the software.  At the time that was version 0.69.  It is now 0.71, but I have had no need to upgrade and I don’t foresee one in the future.  FreeNAS isn’t like Windows or Mac OSX – you don’t need to keep up with the releases.  Once you’re up and running you are good to go for years.

If you aren’t familiar with FreeNAS then let me explain just a bit.  It’s a free, open-source operating system that…well, I’ll let them explain:

FreeNAS is an embedded open source NAS (Network-Attached Storage) distribution based on FreeBSD, supporting the following protocols: CIFS (samba), FTP, NFS, TFTP, AFP, RSYNC, Unison, iSCSI (initiator and target) and UPnP.

It supports Software RAID (0,1,5), ZFS, disk encryption, S.M.A.R.T/email monitoring with a WEB configuration interface (from m0n0wall).

FreeNAS can be installed on Compact Flash/USB key, hard drive or booted from LiveCD.

It’s obviously the hard-drive installation that you will want to do.  Install it on your primary drive.  It does not take very much space as you probably already guessed from the “32MB of hard drive space” system requirement.  For the installation you will need to hook up a monitor and keyboard to the PC.  Don’t worry if you have only one each of these.  You’ll just be borrowing it for the installation.  Once you’re done then you can hook them back up to your desktop PC.  Don’t bother with a mouse – FreeNAS is a keyboard-only interface.  I used this excellent tutorial to walk me through it.  It looks intimidating at first glance, but once you get started and follow each step it really isn’t that bad.

Once  it’s up and running you can disconnect your monitor and keyboard and return to your regular desktop PC or laptop.  Now access to the FreeNAS box will be from any web browser on any computer on your network.  I recommend setting the IP address of the FreeNAS to always be the same, even if you reboot your router.  It’s not necessary, but it sure makes life a little easier.

You will access FreeNAS by opening a web browser and typing it’s IP address in – for instance mine is  Here you’ll be greeted with the status screen.  Click on the image below to see the full size version.

You will need to make sure that you configure each hard drive in your FreeNAS box to UFS (under Disks=>Format).  Create a Mount point for each one (under Disks=>Mount Point).  You can also set the IP address (under Network=>LAN).  You may also want to allow FTP access (under Access=>FTP).  This is handy because it allows you access to your files from a remote location.  I even carry a USB key on my keychain that has a portable version of FileZilla (free) on it that is all set up to access my FreeNAS so that I can do so from someone else’s computer.

Once all of this is up and running the way you want then it’s time for the last step – automatic backup.  There are several programs you can use for this step, but my choice is SyncBack SE.  SyncBack provides paid versions, but the link I put here is to the freeware version which does everything I need.  You can compare and make your own choice though.

Once you have installed SyncBack you can begin setting your automatic backup.  This is how I set mine up, but it’s certainly not the only way.

I created a separate profile for each backup – Documents Backup, Music Backup, Pictures Backup, etc.  Set each profile to run between the folder where your files are stored and a folder you create on a drive on the FreeNAS box.  By the way, creating folders on the drives of your FreeNAS is the same as on a Windows Hard Drive.  Access the FreeNAS drive in Network, double click the drive and create a folder.  Make sure the profiles you create in SyncBack are set to run in Backup mode NOT Sync mode.  This is important.  If you accidentally delete a file locally you do not want it to be deleted from the backup or else this is pointless.  Yes, if you really want to delete a file you have to delete it twice – locally and on FreeNAS, but that way accidents don’t happen.  I set each backup profile to run in the middle of the night – one at 2am, one at 3am, etc.

One additional thing I have done with SyncBack, and this certainly isn’t necessary, is setting up a Documents Sync profile between the My Documents folder on my desktop and the one on my laptop.  I set this profile to run every 10 minutes between 6am and 12 midnight.  Yes, the computers are shared and it’s not hard to access one from the other, but it’s even quicker to just click the Documents link on the Start menu.  Plus it ensures that when we take our laptop on the road we always leave with the latest copies of all of our files – even the one that was just created on the desktop right before we went out the door.  Click the image below to see it full-size.

That’s it for all of the setup.  If you would like to see a better walk through of how I set up SyncBack then I wrote one here.  I hope a few of you will find this useful and set up your own versions.  It’s a fun day playing around with some different types of software.

What is Your Back Up Plan?

235px-Floppy_disk_2009_G1What are you doing to back up your data? CD/DVDs, external hard drive, cloud backup, or nothing at all? We have all heard stories about someone losing their data because of fire, flood, or computer failure. Generally it’s not that business proposal or the letter to Aunt Maude they were working on that they get upset about, but the loss of their music collection or family pictures.

I have to admit over the years I really didn’t have much of a backup solution. Every few years I would upgrade to a newer and faster PC and transfer over my existing data. I would keep the old computer around or at least keep the hard drive in case I needed the data for some reason. Later, when small portable USB drives entered the market, I bought a few and started backing up stuff that I thought was important. My plan was to get a few of these and switch them out in a safe deposit box. That only happened once.

About a year ago the power supply in my Windows PC died and that was a wake-up call for me. I tried to find a power supply for the PC and found out it was a special order part and I would have to wait. I was concerned about my data so I bought a cheap Vista PC and used that to access the data off my old drive. I ended up copying the user data to a new folder on my new hard drive so I at least had it backed up and could start configuring my new system. At the same time I started my switch over to my iMac for my daily computing.

To make a long story short, I have most of my data on both the PC and Mac and all my new photos on the Mac. I now have a couple ways that I back up. First, I use Time Machine on my iMac which keeps me current to a local drive. I don’t have anything on the PC to automate the process, but I do have a few drives that I copy my user data too. But my main backup solution is in the cloud.

I use an off-site cloud storage solution for backing up my data. I use BackBlaze, but there are a few others that do the same thing (SugarSync, Mozy, etc.).  You download a small application (Windows or Mac) and configure the program. It then runs in the background when you computer is idle to back up your data. These programs don’t back up your entire system, just your user data. Backblaze claims it’s fast but it took over a month to back up my 225 GB of data. But once you’re backed up, it backs up any new files that it sees., and that is very fast. There’s a control panel that shows the back up status and it generally shows that I’m backed up unless I dumped a whole bunch of RAW photos to Aperture for sorting and editing.

These programs cost around $50/year (per computer) and most allow unlimited backups. BackBlaze keeps a copy of older files so if you deleted something you shouldn’t have, you can restore it to your system. You can search the backed up files and mark them for restore. They either email you a zipped file, or in case of a large scale restore, you can request the data on DVDs or a hard drive (for additional cost). The good news about these programs is you can try them free for 30 days to see how you like it.

I debated about using a cloud backup, but BackBlaze looks very secure and $50/year is pretty cheap insurance to have access to my data in case something happens. As added benefit, I can also log on to my BackBlaze account from anywhere and download any backed up file that I may need.

Cloud backup should not be your final backup solution — you should still do local backups as well as a disk image backup that can completely restore your computer to a working state. The real key to a back up solution is doing it on a regular basis. That can be backing up weekly to external drives, automatically to the cloud, or both. In the end your data should be in multiple places and not only on your computer or in your house or business.  Scott Bourne from MYDL.ME says that if your data doesn’t exist in at least three places (and one being off-site), it’s not backed up.

Electronics, like everything in life, fails from time-to-time and you need to be prepared. If you don’t have a back up plan, think about what you would do if something happened and you couldn’t get to the data on your computer. Do you have a plan B?

73’s, Tom