Tag Archives: backup

The Simple Functionality that DirecTV Still Lacks

directv logoA few days ago I had a DirecTV HR23 box go belly-up.  I awoke one morning to the smell of melted plastic.  I didn’t open the box, so I don’t know what went wrong, but it was obviously something bad.  Despite having no LED lights on the front panel there was still power – although it wouldn’t even try to boot up.  But, as long as the power cord was plugged in, the smell and a chirping sound (which probably was from the hard drive) continued.

DirecTV has always had excellent customer service, at least in my experiences.  This was no exception – they were ready to send me a new HR23 via priority shipping.  The box arrived in two days, along with a paid label to send back the old DVR.

Setup is simple – just plug in the old connections that are already in place.  Of course, you need to call DirecTV to activale the box, but that isn’t a big deal either.  It’s after that step that you see where DirecTV, and every other DVR (as far as I know), are lacking.

What do these cable and satellite companies need to add?  Backing up all of your recorded shows would be nice, but we have seen how difficult a netwrked DVR has been for Cablevision.  What I noticed when re-setting-up my HR23 was a glaring lack for backup of personal settings.  I had to, once again, add all of my season passes, set my video preferences, re-enable my network settings, etc.

Is it too much to ask that all of these personal settings be backed up by the provider?  Or at east that they provide a path for backing them up locally to a networked PC?  After all, the HR23 has ethernet and shows up on our home network.  It seems like a simple update to add backup of personal settings.  More importnantly to the providers, it doesn’t seem like anything that would cause them to end up in court.

This seems like a minor addition to the software package of any TV provider.  Still, it doestn’t seem to be mentioned by anyone as an update that is on the roadmap.  I know that I would seriously consider moving to one that decides to add it.


Clickfree Automatic Backup

Andy McCaskey invites Ian Collins of Clickfree into the booth to talk about ClickFree’s automatic backup solution. I think all of us know that we’re supposed to backup our hard drives and memory cards, but how many of us actually do it? Not many going by the number of times friends have phoned me up to see if I can undelete files or recover hard drives that have gone south.

Clickfree provide “the ultimate backup experience”, a combination of idiot-proof software and external USB harddrives which makes backing up and restoring files absolutely painless. No software is installed, it’s that easy.

And if you couldn’t even be bothered to plug in a USB drive, Clickfree have released a wireless version of their backup solution, the C3 Wireless Automatic Backup. Connect the unit to each PC, laptop (or Mac) in turn to initialise the software and settings, then simply leave it connected up to the power on a shelf and it does it’s business. 500 GB costs $179, 1 TB is $249. What price peace of mind?

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News.

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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

Dropbox — File Sharing

dropbox-logo A nice item to have in your geek toolbox is a way to share files on the Internet. Sending large photos or videos through email is simply not possible so you need another way. There are a number of sites that allow you to do this, but there is one that I’ve been using that has some unique features. It’s Dropbox.

Dropbox is a file sharing site that works on the Mac, PC, Linux, and even through your browser. You go to GetDropbox.com and sign up for a free 2 GB account. You download and install the program on your computer and it creates a Dropbox folder where you simply copy the files you want to share. Anything placed into the folder is sent to the “cloud” and can be accessed by you on other computers or after logging on to the GetDropbox.com website. You can also place files in the Public subfolder and send the unique URL through email or place it on your blog to share photos, videos, and documents. There’s even a mention of using the Public folder in Dropbox to host a small website.

If someone you know has a Dropbox account, you can send them a link to a folder you want to share on your computer. When they accept the shared folder, it appears in their Dropbox folder. Any items placed into the shared folder appears in the other’s shared folder. It’s a great way to share project files.

I’ve been using Dropbox to make some documents and photos available so I can access them later and as a way to move them between my Mac and PC computers. Since it keeps older copies of files you place  in your Dropbox folder, it’s a great way to keep backups of your important data and you can even access files deleted from your Dropbox folder.

One word of caution about storing anything sensitive in your DropBox folder.  In theory only you have access to the files, but this is the Internet, so it’s possible that others could gain access. I would encrypt any file containing sensitive data before placing it in the Dropbox folder.

If Dropbox is free, how are they making money? Well, the site is still very new but for the moment they are offering two additional storage accounts for those who find the service useful but need more storage. They offer a 50 GB account for $9.99 USD a month, and 100 GB for $19.99 USD a month.

You can sign up for DropBox by going here. Using this link will give you 2 GB of free storage plus an extra 256 MB as a bonus (you won’t get the 256 MB bonus if you go directly to the GetDropbox.com site). As a disclaimer I must mention that if you use my link for the bonus data, I get credit in the form of extra storage in my account.

There are a number of sites offering free cloud storage and there is nothing stopping you from signing up for a few. You never know when they may come in handy.

73’s, Tom