The backup dilema

If you do anything on your computer besides checking your Gmail account, reading CNN and shopping at Amazon you need to backup your computer. Be it your picture gallery, your Quicken file, your letters, your novel, etc. If you don’t want to loose it, you need to back it up. As advanced and prevalent computers are these days, they still break, hard disks, die, etc. Having just one copy of a file in one location is asking for trouble. For anyone familiar with Murphy’s law you’ll know that the chances of something happening to a file is in direct portion to the importance of the file and inverse portion to the number of backups. If all you ever use is Opera, Firefox, Chrome or Internet Explorer likely the only thing stored on your computer are your internet site favorites. If you’re a chrome user (I’m not familiar enough with Opera and Firefox to know if this holds true for them or not) your favorites can be configured to be backed up to your Google account. So if Chrome is the only application you ever use you probably have nothing to worry about. However most computer users do not fall into that category. If you don’t care if you loose everything you’ve got stored on your computer (pictures, files, emails, contacts, etc.) you don’t have anything to worry about either, again very few folks fall into this category. If you don’t read your email in an web browser, instead use an application like Thunderbird, Windows Live Mail, Windows mail, Outlook express, Outlook, etc., chances are all your emails and contacts are stored on your computer and without a backup you risk loosing it all.

Generally speaking I would say there are three types of users when it comes to backup volume: light, medium and heavy. This is how I would define each category.

  • Light users has less than 2 GB of files to backup
  • Medium user has less than 20 GB of file to backup
  • Heavy user has more than 200 GB of files to backup

A novice user may be asking what a GB is. In simple terms it is a measurement for a size of a file, kind of like the metric system. It is difficult to explain how big it is in manner that gives an accurate perspective as files can be any size. It’s like trying to explain how many cups are in a liter or a quart without first defining the size of the cup. Generally speaking though you can store about 1000 low resolution pictures or about 250 MP3 songs in 1 GB.

For a light and medium users there are a lot of viable options for backing up online for reasonable price. For light users there are even free options available, here are few options:

  • My Other Drive offers free backup for up to 2 GB, the catch is that if you go over 2 GB you’ll start to pay.
  • Drop box Also offers free backup for up to 2 GB with subscription over that.
  • OffSiteBox Offers fee backup for up to 1 GB with subscriptions over that.
  • iDrive Also offers free backup for up to 2 GB with subscription over that

I haven’t tried any of these services as I’m a very heavy backup user (I have close to 2000 GB of files I want backed up) but they all look like a good solution for the right scenarios. One thing to be aware of is overseas companies offering online backup solutions. These might all be great companies but the problem is that network connectivity overseas is a lot slower than domestically. It’s a simple law of physics that it takes longer to go 6000 miles than 2000 miles, even when traveling at the speed of light as in the case of internet connectivity. Therefore I would stick with companies in the same continent as you are (so in the US for those of us in the US) for this purpose. The only overseas company I’ve come across offering backup service is Live Drive which is based in London England. Unless they have established a presence in the US (as in US customers data is backed up to a servers in the US) I would stay away from them (unless of course you live in Europe), simply for performance reasons. As an example when I measure the transit times from my computer in Kirkland WA to the iDrive servers the average result is 36 milli seconds where as to the Live Drive servers the average is 181 milli seconds. This means that it would take me 5 times as long to backup or restore the same amount of files to Live Drive compare to iDrive.

There are two other options for either light or medium users that claim to offer unlimited backup for one flat monthly fee, but I would not recommend these for heavy users. These are called Mozy and Carbonite. While the promise of unlimited backup can be enticing there is usually a catch to those offers. I haven’t tried Mozy but I did try Carbonite and I can not in good conscience recommend them. If you want an unlimited plan I would try Mozy simply because they aren’t Carbonite.

Generally speaking there is a gotcha’s when it comes to unlimited backup plans in that the company may have a desire to keep their space use down by limiting the number of copies they store and how long they store it. Say for example your Quicken file gets corrupt and you can’t open it, your backup file is most likely corrupt too so unless you have at least couple of different versions your backup can’t help you out. This is why it is important to keep few revisions of a file and any good backup solution will do that for you automatically. Another scenario is you accidentally delete a file of your hard drive, the backup company could decide to delete your backup too which defeats the whole point of a the backup. What if they keep it for a month and then delete it but it takes you six weeks to notice it is gone. These are the dangers of an unlimited backup plan. When you pay for the space you use it is in the companies best interest to keep many version of your backup and never delete files from the backup until you explicitly delete it from the backup as this increases the space you use. If you backup 10 GB of files and keep three copies then you’re paying for 30 GB backup.

My issue with Carbonite is I feel they are deceitful and unreliable. They claim they give you unlimited backup but they neglect to tell you that if you attempt to backup more than 35 GB you’re backup becomes so slow that it becomes unusable. They burry this information deep in this support article where they outline that if you exceed 35 GB that your backup speed will be cut by a fourth, and if you exceed 200 GB your backup speed will be one twentieth of a user that has less than 35 GB backed up. At that speed it will take you years to backup just few GB, so in practical terms you really can’t backup more than 200 GB. When I contacted support to complain about my backup speeds they gave me the total run around, blaming my internet speeds, telling me stories about how some users have really slow connection and basically just telling me bunch of stories. At no point did they actually fess up on how to they were set up, I found that support article by digging around their knowledge base system. They would never attempt to do any troubleshooting or do anything beyond providing irrelevant canned answers. I complained loudly to every contact at Carbonite I could find, including support and sales with no results. Then I found them on Facebook and told my story on their wall, initially they just deleted my posts but after I persisted awhile I was actually contacted by their VP on Support who apologized for the run around the support gave me and tried to justify their policies. He offered me a refund which is the only reason why I’m still a customer. I have no intention of ever paying them, but as long as they keep giving me free service I might keep them around. In the time I’ve had them I’ve gotten couple of automated emails saying that the computer hasn’t contact their computers for over a week and to please turn the computer on connect it to the internet. I contacted Carbonite support asking for explanation and told them that this computer is never turned off and always connected, even supplied proof of that. No response from support in any fashion. I’ve also found a lot of complaining on other blogs about Carbonite loosing peoples files so when they went to restore, there were files missing or in some cases their entire backup.

For heavy or very heavy users (like myself) the options are much more limited. All the online backup options are prohibitively expensive, for example OffSiteBox charges $164.95/month for 500 GB. Amazon Web Services seems to charge $75/month for the same amount. My Other Drive seems to be considerable cheaper as their ads talk about $240 per year for twice that amount. What I opted for was to maintain a local backup as I find it much more cost effective. I purchased few external USB drives and file synchronization software. For one time investment in hardware I had myself a backup solution with only thing missing was an off-site option.

There are a lot of options when it comes to file synchronization software, I ended up going with a program called Goodsync and I have been very happy with it. The license for it $23.95 and it provides a lot of flexibility. A good backup solution though needs to have an off-site option to protect against things like fire. My solution lacks this right now. One option would be have extra hard drives and trade drives with drives off-site, either your office, safe deposit box, etc. Another option is to put the second drive into a fireproof data safe.

Blogging application review

I’ve completed a cursory review of applications that allow you do your blogging off-line and synchronize to your blog later. I’ve played with Blogjet, BlogDesk and Windows Live Writer for the most part. I’ve looked at other applications as well but never got as far as even installing them for one reason or another, usually because their web sites didn’t compel me to even give them a try. I am windows user so I mostly concerned with that. Generally the free application are feature lacking compared to the once you pay for. The exception to that is Windows Live Writer which has all the features of a commercial application, thanks to the deep pockets of Microsoft. Lately though I’ve been getting bad taste in my mouth with the Windows Live suite of application, such as Microsoft forcing stuff on you (like the bing bar) via Windows Update. Another reason why I disliked Windows Live Writer is the size of the composer window. This is why I choose not to use Windows Live Writer . I went instead with Blogjet as it fully featured, easy to use and has the modest one time licensing fee of $39.95 at the time of this writing.

Are women better than men?

Are women better than men?

Someone once asked me if I though men or women were the better gender so I figured I’d blog a little on my opinion there, what my thoughts are surrounding that and my reasoning. For those that don’t know me I am a red blooded heterosexual male in his early 40’s at the time of this writing.

First a little disclaimer: I’m going to be talking generalities and stereotypes here. As such when ever you talk generalities and stereotypes you tend to over generalize, and as such it is very easy to find cases where such overgeneralization fails. I’m specifically staying general while acknowledging that it doesn’t hold true in all cases. I further acknowledge that I will be over generalizing, and exaggerating on purpose to illustrate a point. OK with that out of the way there are at least three separate topics embedded in the question “Are women better than man”.

  1. Can one survive (individually and/or as a species) without the other
  2. Which one is more capable, wider skill set, etc.
  3. Personal preferences

Can one survive (individually and/or as a species) without the other?

The short answer to that one is an unequivocal NO. Of course the species can not survive with only one gender. So lets expand the question into exploring which gender “needs” the other more. Naturally each gender will claim that they don’t need the other one. However I’m going to argue that men would have a much harder time being without women than the other way around. While I presume most guys will deny this and argue against this, even make derogatory statements against me for making this argument with statements such as “I’m revoking your man card”, I think those same guys would agree with me when they think about it even if they can’t admit it. One only needs to analyze a random sampling of single men vs. single women to see evidence of what I’m talking about.

As a species which would work better to repopulate society, lots of women of child bearing years and only handful of guys, or lots of guys and only a handful of women. Again I’m going to argue that here women have the upper hand. While it is still necessary for sperm to come from a man, a man doesn’t actually have to be involved with the process of impregnating women. Modern science has made it possible for a women to get pregnant without ever having to even see a man. I have not heard of science growing a baby without a woman carrying it to term. While it may run counter to social norms one man can impregnate many women even without any scientific means. While some might argue that this makes the man more useful, etc., it does demonstrate that fewer men than women are needed to maintain the species, making the women more important.

Lets look at an analogy. Lets say for the sake of argument that a person could either know how to drive a car or know how to start it, that it was impossible for the same person to both know how to start the car and drive it. Ideally the number of starters would equal the number or drivers. They are both important as without the one the other is useless, you can’t a drive car that doesn’t start, and there is no point to start a car than no one can drive. If there a lot of starters and very few drivers, most of the starters have nothing to do. However just because the drivers are factor of magnitude greater in number than starters things can still work smoothly. Drivers may have to wait a bit until a starter comes along but ones the car is started the driver is on their marry way and the starter can move onto the next car. To put the analogy in context of bringing a baby into the world, a man gets the process started but after the woman is pregnant the man is not really needed. Therefore I submit that women are better than man in this context.

Which one is more capable, wider skill set, etc.

Here again I’m going to argue for the woman. First lets examine what men tend to be better at generally speaking. The most obvious one is that a man can generally lift heavier items than women, in today’s society though there isn’t a lot of need for that, so how important is that ability? The other is that men tend to have greater spatial abilities. Spatial abilities is the ability to visual objects both in two dimensions as well as in three dimensions (for example to take a two dimensional architectural plan and visualize it in 3D), the relationship between the objects and the ability to rotate those objects in your head. Key example of this ability is when you are looking at a map, those with high spatial abilities keep the map oriented the same way regardless of which direction you are going, those with lower spatial skills will want to rotate the map so that the direction they are going points up. Men tend to have higher spatial skills, this has been attributed to men being greater navigators and scientists. Some have argued that all the greatest inventors in history have been men as well as the greatest warriors and politicians and thus men must be superior. This is a false argument in my mind as we don’t know all the variables. Throughout history woman has always been the caretaker of the family and as such undoubtable has had little time to be tinkering with stuff that would lead to invention. Men on the other hand, history tells us, were not that involved in their families and thus had a lot of time on their hand so they would tinker with stuff. So what is the true reason for all those great inventors through history were men? Is it just because men have superior spatial abilities, or because women were too busy raising families to have time for that, or a little of both? We will never know the answer to those questions, I suspect the answer is along the lines of “little of both”. So we’ve identified two things men tend to be superior at: lifting heavy things and spatial abilities. So now lets look at things that woman are better at. Here are few items I can think of where women outshine men:

  1. They can multitask. Guy’s are very single focused. Each gender is amazed at the other in this regard and both have their uses. In today’s society being able to focus on a lot of different things is a huge advantage in my opinion.
  2. They can tell the difference between eggshell, cream, ivory, and off-white, as well as the difference between hunter green and forest green and all the other different shades of colors. To guys it’s white, red, green, blue, etc. Not so much as critical skill set I suppose but still amazing to me.
  3. They can give birth to a child, talk about miracle of life!
  4. They are better communicators. They can talk about more than sports and cars. Most guys that seems to be all they talk about. I am constantly amazed the breadth of conversation women can have, sometimes all at the same time.
  5. They are much better at paying attention to detail for example they actually remember your birthday. As result they are better care takers.
  6. They can talk about their feelings, this is not something a guy is capable of doing. Guys can’t even identify their feelings let alone talk about them.
  7. They have stronger immune systems which may explain why they tend to live longer

So with 7 items versus 2 items I think it is clear which is the greater gender. Some may argue that men are greater leaders but is that really true? Are men really greater leaders or do women just let men think they are greater leader, in which case is that a strength or a weakness? My take is that is strength. If you look at most households men may claim they are in charge but up on closer inspection it is really the woman that is in charge.

Personal preferences

I have been called “girl crazy” which is a accusation I can not deny. As I think is evident from this post that I hold women in the highest regard. I guess it is all summed up in this joke:

Question: What did God say after he created Adam? Answer: I can do a lot better than that!!!!!

Then he created Eve and was pleased with his work.

Testing BlogJet

I have installed an interesting application – BlogJet. It’s a Windows client that allows me to compose and edit my blogs off-line. I’m testing it out and will let you know how I like it.

“Computers are incredibly fast, accurate and stupid; humans are incredibly slow, inaccurate and brilliant; together they are powerful beyond imagination.” — Albert Einstein