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Mick

Off and On

Posted on by editor
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People say I’m annoying.

I’m coming to grips with that.

I’m like the therapist you never invite to dinner because you’re sure you’ll be chatting away with a big piece of neurosis stuck in your teeth.  It’s a lonely life, being a sometimes prophet of doom.  I don’t get invited to parties as much as I used to.  And the hard part is I can’t tell if it’s because I’m annoying, or just amazingly boring when it comes to encouraging citizens to back up their computers.  Probably both.

I know there is resistance here.

To some people it sounds like they’re getting pitched by a fast talking used car salesman when I ask, “What is your backup plan?”  To others, its like saying, “So, how is your diet coming?”  Or, my personal favorite,  “Finish that novel yet?”    Guilt and shame, like dysfunctional familiar family members, rush in to crush any chance we’ll feel more motivated to actually do something about it.  For many people backup plans are an onerous “should” in their lives that they’ll get around to “some day.”  Kind of like estate planning.  The latter was on our list of things to do for 4 years before my wife and I finally took care of it last year with a great local lawyer.

And just like Estate Planning lawyers, we try to prepare people for death in our line of work too.  [My editor says I have to work on my segues, so….]  And the number one thing we see die in computers, is the hard drive.  There is virtually no rhyme or reason why they go.  They can be brand new, with that new drive smell, right out of the box and just die the minute you take them for a spin.  Or they can be 15 years old with dust bunnies and corrosion, screaming like a Dodge with a bad fan belt, hot enough to cook breakfast on, still doing their job.  In spite of that, in terms of hard drive death, it’s not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’  It continues to be very immature technology and much more delicate than the average user thinks.

The vast majority of hard drives in use today have metal platters than spin very fast with a tiny head that flies micrometers above the surface sucking (reading) or spitting out (writing) magnetic bits of data, billions of zeroes and ones.  […Now if I can only wake my wife from the coma that last sentence just put her in…]  It’s like we have this boozy, circus clown inside our computer spinning plates on a stick.  And we all know that eventually, those plates (as well as the clown) will fall.

So what do we do?

Steel yourself, I’m going annoying again—>  We back up.

Okay.  I get that you get that.  But how much back up is enough?

Since the dawn of home computing in the mid 80s TechSperts have always said you should have at least 2 backup copies of everything you cannot afford to lose.  That used to be a punishing practice.  Not anymore for Mac users with TimeMachine software and external hard drives. I think we all can agree that backing up is now easier, more automated, carefree and reliable than ever before.   Your in-home or in-office backup drive should be your first line of defense.  So is that enough?

To quote Mr. Eastwood, the question should be:  How lucky do you feel?

In-home backups were certainly not enough for the victims of the last 3 major fires that roared across our mountains.  Some of those people lost everything, including their computers and backup hard drives.  All documents, pictures, movies, and music gone.  But even if you’re not in a fire zone, and as reliable as TimeMachine is for most people, there are still some who forget to plug in the drive or notice that it hasn’t backed up for a long time.

Oops.

So what should you do to prevent this from happening?  Glad you asked. 🙂

You need an OFF-site backup plan.  There are a couple ways to accomplish this and the first is dramatically more tedious than the second.

The old way we used to deal with this problem was to buy a second hard drive, make a second copy of all our data about once a week, and then cart that drive to a different location than your computer.  If you don’t mind all the manual copying you have to do and remembering to bring the drive with you when you leave the home or office, this old school approach might work for you.  It was our only option until recently.

But there’s a better, easier way:  Online (internet based) back up plans.  Off-Site and Online.

You never have to leave your home or office.  They work wherever you have an Internet connection so they’re great for travel too.  Online back up is only going to get bigger, better and faster and may one day (if you trust it) replace your onsite backup plans.  But not yet.

Why not?

For starters, it’s much too slow.  It usually takes a few weeks to get all of your data backed up to the cloud and depending on what you need to restore, it can take nearly as long to do so.  It also doesn’t backup everything.  You can’t restore your OS, or applications, and sometimes email is particularly hard to restore because of the way it’s buried in your system folder.  TimeMachine doesn’t have that problem and can restore everything in an hour or two.  Also, online backups are usually only kept for about 30 days.  Did you just realize today you deleted a file 3 months ago?  It will not be on your online backup.

Here at Mick’s Macs, a couple of techs and I tested 5 or 6 of the major services available about a year ago and didn’t find any of them really satisfactory.  We tested [the appropriately named] Mozy, [the explosively named] Carbonite, [the ominously titled] CrashPlan, [the bizarrely named] JumpDisk from Amazon, Mobile Me [Apple is still mysteriously absent from this space] and DropBox.  Mobile Me and DropBox are not really backup services, but rather sync services with online storage options and no automated software to do this in the background.  The one we ultimately picked as our favorite was not even on the radar at that time.

Without going into boring technical detail here, all of these plans we tested put a lot of stress on the computers.  Our MacBook Pros’ CPUs (engines) would race on high for hours as they tried to push this data up onto the Internet.  The computer fans kicked on and our temperature gauges (compliments of iStat menus) showed raised temperatures we were uncomfortable with.  They made the computer miserably slow, were hard to quit out of, and sometimes crashed our laptops.  It was a surprisingly adversarial relationship to say the least.  We felt all of these issues would unnecessarily shorten the life of our computers and our sometimes tenuous grasp of inner calm. The bottom line was none of them really won us over.  Great concept, definitely the wave of the future, but nothing really ready for prime time.

Then we discovered BackBlaze .

I kept seeing people rave about it in various tech forums so I wrote to the founders to check it out.  $5/month for unlimited data backup.  Seriously, unlimited.  If you pay for a year, it’s $50, or a little over $4/month.  We have tested 3 different MacBook Pros running on it since last Spring or so.

Here’s what I like about them.

You hardly know BackBlaze is there.  The web interface (on the rare occasion when you need to use it) is amazingly simple and clean.  It’s easy to sign up, easy to adjust your upload backup speeds with a throttle, and the control panel it installs is very unobtrusive.   Similar to the web interface, the control panel is also clean, easy to understand and use.  Very Mac-like.   But the best thing about it is that it does NOT take over your computer and throttle the CPU like most of the other programs we tested earlier in the year.

There is a free trial and we’ve started referring our clients to it using the link below:

http://www.backblaze.com/partner/af0717

If you try them out, please write to me to tell us about your experience.  The greater the pool of experiences, the more we can judge how they do with different users and machines.

And if you’re really, really happy, consider inviting your computer therapist over for dinner once in awhile?  Remember, it’s only your true friends who will tell you when you’ve got something stuck in your teeth.

All the best,
Mick

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