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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Singing: "I've Looked At Clouds From Both Sides Now"

This relatively short blog will be about YOUR DATA, clouds and their value to some, and some general backup tips & suggestions. First, some important background because it relates to the tips.

Some Background:

I was actually a latecomer to “PCs,” after getting my first used laptop and then an upright as a peripheral for my Palm Pilot. I was a Palm freak, loved tweaking and hacking the operating system, ran hacks and TWO hack managers, and pretty much lived by it. My first was the 505, and later a Tungsten T3. I still miss it for its spreadsheet ability, Agendus calendar, customized icons within calendar, excellent search function, TealScript (which allowed you to personalize graffiti) and many other programs. Sadly, with the attempt to combine with a phone (The Treo) and some awful OS (operating system) “advances,” ~ Palm died a slow death.

Once I had the used laptop 2 weeks (motherboard fried) and I got a decent upright, I was “away for slates” as they say in England. I wanted to learn everything I could about the Windows OS and in a short time was able to do simple programming like plugins for photography, “FiltersetP” used for adblocking in the Firefox Browser (for a long time the most downloaded script in Firefox history, finally beaten by of all things a silly theme! Haha!) and being a daily branch build tester for Firefox starting with version 0.80 (prior to the first public release “1.0PR”). That all meant I had files. A LOT of files. A lot of VALUABLE files, at least to me .. and backup became very important to me very fast. It's common sense, but VERY FEW people back up correctly or often enough. These are the folks that cry on FaceBook or to their friends about “OMG my hard drive crashed and I've lost everything!” Well … DUH. You're an idiot.

Once I started into digital photography, things really got “backup crazy.” I not only didn't want to lose any photos, but I now had a responsibility to clients to not lose THEIR stuff. The reason my 3 Nikon bodies have TWO SD Card slots is NOT to assign one for video or another purpose .. it's because I can set them for BACKUP and take each photo twice. If I'm halfway through a wedding or 2-3 homes in a day and that card fails .. no worries, there's a SPARE.

For almost 6 years I put everything on “The Jesus Drive,” a 256GB SeaGate external hard drive. Still I wondered “what if THAT breaks?” … so I put everything on multiple DVDs. I kept a notebook of 40-50 disks, each 4.3GB, in case the external took a dump. It is still working great, to SeaGate's immense credit .. but recently I purchased 2 1-Terabyte drives (1056 GB each) from Western Digital. They're called “My Passport” Drives .. $60 from Amazon. I formatted them in FAT32 (as opposed to the stock NTFS, which gave me problems in Linux) .. and then mirrored (simply copied over) the entire Seagate contents of around 80GB to both of them. Oila .. 3 externals of backup, all the same, so I could start cutting up the DVDs.

I'm convinced that external hard drives are still the way to go because of cost & privacy. I still don't fully trust ANY cloud for complete security of personal information or in my case, photographs ~ expecially those that might not be watermarked. How could anyone trust internet storage 100%? But the problem is … if all 3 externals are under one roof and there's a burglary, fire, earthquake, flood, etc etc .. you could still lose everything; in my case every digital photo I've ever taken, programs, backup settings, files, folders, etc etc.

EVERYONE has stuff they don't want to lose. It's not just businesses that can suffer tragic, irretrievable loss of “files.” They're no longer “files” if it's your grandchildren, favorite MP3s of songs, that scanned love letter from High School, etc. No matter what you use a computer for, what you put on it has value to YOU.

So get yourself a COUPLE of external hard drives, set up a folder hierarchy (I use subject matter and then yearly folders within them). Initially you can start with “Documents” and “Photos” and then years within those. You might have “cellpics” within “Photos,” or “scans” or “receipts” .. however it works best for you. But get those files ON THERE and do it ASAP, because there might not BE a tomorrow.

You will put your files on BOTH hard drives, in case one of THOSE fails. I had a problem in the SECOND WEEK with the 2nd Passport I ordered .. I suspect it was due to the NTFS formatting. That's when I decided to format BOTH in FAT32, and RE-IMPORT (mirror) the Seagate all over again. It took about 90 minutes for each transfer but I haven't had a glitch since.

NOW … if you want to take the next step, moving to the cloud, and feel comfortable about the information you're PUTTING on the cloud … here's my experience and some suggestions.

I won't name them all but I've auditioned (actually TRIED either on laptop OR my Android phone) … 7 clouds. SEVEN. Google Drive (which comes with a Gmail address) was one of the very first. It's still up there as a favorite, albeit a little clunky at times. You can only upload folders from the Google Crhome browser, and it's Android counterpart is “OK,” but not fantastic (and I'm a HUGE Google fan). Ubuntu (the Linux folks) offered “Ubuntu One” for a while, but I thought that was invasive and kind of “pestering” so I avoided it. Good thing I did … a year later they emailed everyone to say “we're discontinuing our cloud service so get your files off.” Lovely. Thank God I hadn't invested time putting stuff THERE. I initially was only going to use a cloud for CELLPHONE pics backup, and there are a couple of cellphone dedicated Android apps that will handle that but you can't access the uploaded files from a laptop. They also have relatively small data limits.

NOPE .. that wasn't going to do; I wanted something I could access from laptop and/or cellphone, and for several reasons I “dropped DropBox” despite it coming “stock” on my Galaxy Note 3. I had installed and used it extensively on my Galaxy S3, was awarded 52GB for a limited time, and when that wasn't extended I decided I could do better. Boy did I .. and you can too.

The WINNER, in my humble opinion, is … (drumroll) … Microsoft OneDrive. This after, again, trying out 7 clouds. Not only is their WEB interface terrific .. they passed the Android test. I had pretty much decided on “Copy Cloud” and promoted it to friends .. but their Android app was horrific. It would often say “you have no files.” So, after changing my PANTS, I'd look on the laptop and there they were, no problem. They just didn't appear on my phone app. Well folks, that is probably EXACTLY where you'll need them to appear .. you're out and about, perhaps out of town or state or country .. and need something, and “no files” is the last thing you want to see. MS OneDrive has not glitched ONCE on laptop or my phone, and I'm “committing” to it. By that I mean I'm going to use the 15GB they gave me, the additional 15GB they award you when you turn on “camera roll” backup on your phone, but I'll be purchasing extra space. And that's where things get really good.

Benefits of OneDrive:
  • Wonderful, simple interface (I despise “tiles” so I elect for list view)
  • Changeable Sort Order (when you pick yours, select options again and click “remember”)
  • FANTASTIC SEARCH ABILITY. OMG, I can find any house I've ever photographed! Awesome!
  • Price (more on this below)
  • OUTSTANDING Android app … which to me is 70% of the “WOW” factor of MS OneDrive.
Rather than futzing about with getting “500MB for a friend that signs up,” just pay 'em. Presently, 100GB is $1.99/month. Twice that, 200GB, is correspondingly $3.99/month. But go with the Terabyte (1000GB) .. and it's $6.99/month. That's the deal right there. I will never fill that up, because there are many files I won't be PUTTING up (celebrity photos, etc) again for security reasons. If they're not hacked in a year, I might change my mind. But that Microsoft OneDrive cloud combined with 3 external drives makes me comfortable about the safety of my data. Lest anyone think “Paul is nuts and going overboard,” let me say .. I've NEVER lost a file to data loss. Not one file. Not one damn thing. Ever. I'd rather be over the top with backup than “sorry.” Believe me, that's the attitude you should take as well.

I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you one little annoyance you'll encounter. If you're like me and have 11 years of “stuff” all organized in folders & subfolders & years & shoe size (the last one's a joke) .. that's terrific. But there is a 1000 FILE LIMIT upload at a time. You can't just drag the whole kit & caboodle into the browser upload window and go to lunch. So for example if I've got 65 shots of a Realtor's house in the MLS folder, and the same 65 in the “watermarked for web” folder … that's 132 files. The shots and the 2 folders. So 6 of those would be 792. Close to the 1000 limit already, huh? So don't attempt to upload more than a few at a time. Don't fret, you'll hopefully only lhave to do this ONCE and it's DONE. Theoretically, “forever,” unless you didn't like your cloud or something catastrophic happened to it online. Subsequent incremental backups will take a mere fraction of the time; it's the initial “OMG there's a lot of crap” which might seem daunting. Which is why 1) you STILL keep your external hard drives, and 2) be very picky about what cloud you use. I went through the pain in the a** of deleting all my files from DropBox, emptying the TRASH, and closing the account. I did the same with CopyCloud. So MS OneDrive was my 3rd “investment,” the 7th cloud I'd looked at, and the one I'm finally happy with. I hope you're just as happy.

Remember also that whatever your “internet connection speed” is … and “TW” lie about THAT constantly and forever … DOWN isn't the same as UP. Your download speed is one thing .. upload is dramatically less in 95% of cases. If you have Verizon FIOS, apparently they're the only ones who have same speed up AND down (you'll recall their commercial about the other guys not being fast, but rather “half fast” and the guy's wife doing a “half fast job of uploading the kids' photos). So bear that in mind; it will seem intolerably slow migrating a ton of files to the cloud but again, it should be a one time “deal.”

Hope this helps not only in convincing you to back up your stuff, but that using a cloud while keeping privacy in mind should help many of you access files on your phone without keeping them there using up space. Keeping 2-3 external drives in your home and 80% of their information on a cloud should protect you from data loss. Cheers.