Home Computer Backup Strategy

Updated May 5, 2015 Since I work in the IT industry, several of my friends have asked me how I back up my home computer.  Rather than repeat the same thing over and over, I decided to create this post to try and outline how I do things.   I’ll also tell you what you should do as a minimum to ensure the safety of your data. If you don’t currently back up your data, you should.  That is of course if you would experience any grief if you lost all of your photos, documents, email, calendar, etc.  Personally, I have a TON of photos that I simply can’t get back if I lost all of my data.  I can re-write my resume if needed, download some music, but I can’t go back in time to capture an image I took on vacation five years ago.  I make sure I have several copies of ALL of my photos as I never want to lose any of them.  Beyond my photos, I treat most of my data in the same way, I ensure it is safe. Some people think their data is safe because they back up to DVD or an external hard drive.  This is better than doing nothing, but ineffective for two main reasons.  First, no one I know keeps up with a regular schedule of burning DVDs.  Their most recent backup is from 8 months ago and they don’t even know where the discs are.  Also, the sheer volume of data we have these days makes DVD backup cumbersome.  If I had to back up all of my data I would need 181 DVDs!  No thanks.  Second, local media like external hard drives are typically plugged into or stored right next to the computer.  If you have a fire, flood, experience a theft, or some other major issue, your computer and backup are both gone.  If you can maintain a rigorous schedule of rotating hard drives off-site, more power to you, but I like to do things the easy way.  In the words of Ron Popeil, I need to “set it and forget it“. Most people I know don’t back up their data, they never had a major failure and assume it will never happen to them.  It will happen to you sooner or later, no sense sticking your head in the sand.  Others think that is part of the risk in owning a computer, it just happens or it’s too hard to keep data safe.  Below are a few quick and easy things you can do to immediately improve your situation.  There really is no excuse not to do this. With that rambling out of the way I’ll cover what I consider the minimum effort needed to ensure that your data is safe.  I’ll also cover what I do with my data which is beyond the minimum but that is what IT guys do. PREAMBLE Data backup needs to be easy and automated.  I’m lazy and don’t want to be constantly doing something, it should “just work“. I assume you have a broadband internet connection.  If you are on dial-up or some back-woods connection this will likely not be helpful for you. I’m running Windows but this applies equally to Mac (though I don’t provide links). THE MINIMUM DATA SAFETY STRATEGY First, ensure you have some kind of anti-virus software running on your computer and keep it up to date.  If your Norton subscription expired two years ago it’s not doing much to protect you.  You are unlikely to be infected by a virus from a few years back, and much more likely to get something released yesterday.  There are good options out there for free, so please install one.  Avast is the one I use, it’s FREE and scores very well on the various tests conducted by third parties.  If you use Microsoft Security Essentials, I suggest...

The Grid: A New Way To Design Websites?

I remember developing websites when the web was just starting to take off (mid 90’s). Coding HTML by hand and using Mosaic 0.9 Beta as my browser. Over time, tools like Dreamweaver gave us WYSIWYG editors to make things easier. Today, this site is based on WordPress, one of the very successful web publishing platforms that sprung up in recent history to make creating websites and posting content easier still.  Themes, plugins, widgets, and other shortcuts means you never have to see the code, or do any heavy lifting.  It’s a great way to create a site, but you still need some tech skills to get it up and running.  I still go into the code to make small changes to the templates and plugins, even making a child theme to keep my changes separate from the parent theme.  The beauty is that once running, anyone can post content.  It’s no harder than writing an email.   Switching themes in WordPress is not trivial, having done this a few times I know that the change isn’t seamless.  Layout usually looks terrible and requires some effort to fix.  It doesn’t help that themes have unique features (like shortcodes) that don’t work elsewhere, so you may also need to edit your posts.  Further, you need a plugin like WPTouch to make the content look good on mobile devices.  As good as WordPress is, there is room for improvement.   Today, I saw that a new publishing tool, The Grid, is being developed that hopes to make building a site even easier.  Sites look good in any browser or on any device (desktop or mobile), layout can be changed and everything continues to look good and work well.  The video below gives a quick into to the service.     The Grid harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to take everything you throw at it – videos, images, text, urls and more – and automatically shape them into a custom website unique to you.     AI sounds good, but will it actually work and produce what I want?  How much control will I have over the look and feel?  Are “layout filters” really different from templates?  Will the automatic selection of color palette and fonts look good? Hard to say right now, you can’t create a site yet.  It sounds good but it is too early to say.  If you are willing to sign up now and be a founding member, you pay $8/month and that rate is locked in for as long as you use the service.  One launched the service will be $25/month so I’ll take the chance that it’s something I want to use and start paying now.  It won’t launch for about six more months, so it’s a $50 roll of the dice but that seems like a reasonable amount.  You can also get referral credits if you spread the word and others sign up.  So visit The Grid and check it out for yourself.  ...

Making The Switch: Laptop & iPad to Surface Pro 3...

  As an IT professional I have used many smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. Each has its place, and I have all of these devices for different reasons. My current devices are: Smartphone: Apple iPhone 5S (32GB) Tablet: Apple iPad 4th Gen (Retina, 3G + WiFi, 128GB) Laptop: Lenovo X1 Carbon (i7, 160GB) Desktop: Custom (giant case, 7 hard drives, 5 fans, etc.) Though this combo has served me well, I took notice when Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3. It’s really the first time that I thought a single device could replace both my laptop and tablet, so I decided to buy one to test the theory.  I went with the top spec Surface Pro 3 because I was already running an Intel Core i7 device with 8GB of RAM and didn’t want to take a step back.  If I could have purchased one with 16GB of RAM I would have done so, but sadly that isn’t an option.  So how does the Surface compare with my old devices on specifications?   Specifications   Spec Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Lenovo X1 Carbon Apple iPad Gen 4 CPU Intel Core i7 4650U Intel Core i7 3667U 1.4 GHz dual-core Apple Swift Cores 2 2 2 Clock Speed 1.7GHz 2.0GHz 1.4GHz Turbo Clock Speed 3.3GHz 3.2GHz   GPU Intel Integrated HDGraphics 5000 Intel Integrated HDGraphics 4000 Quad-core PowerVRSGX554MP4 Display Size 12″ 14″ 9.7″ Display Resolution 2160 x 1440 1600 x 900 2048 × 1536 Display PPI 216 131 264 Camera MP (front/back) 5 / 5 1.3 / X 1.2 / 5   Though the clock speed is lower on the Surface Pro CPU, it benchmarks higher in both single-core and multi-core tests. Also, the updated GPU in the Surface Pro tests better than my Lenovo X1. I suspect that newer models of the X1 have better specifications, but for me it’s an upgrade over my existing hardware.   Physical Dimensions   Spec Surface Pro 3 Lenovo X1 Carbon iPad Gen 4 Dimensions 11.5” x 7.93” x 0.36” 13.03″ x 8.92″ x 0.53″ 9.5″ × 7.31″ × 0.37″ Weight 1.76 lbs 2.8 lbs 1.46 lbs Combined weight of the X1 and iPad are 4.3 lbs, which is more than double of the Surface Pro 3. The weight was one of the things that struck me when I first picked up the device, it was lighter than I expected. Granted, you need to add some weight and thickness when you attach the keyboard cover, but it’s not that much. I’m saving a lot of weight by replacing two devices with one.   When you compare the devices side by side, you realize how small the Surface actually is.  A lot of tech is packed into a small case.   Hardware   Pros Much lighter than I expected.  It’s not a small device, but MS did a great job putting this thing on a diet.  Nicely done. The keyboard (more below). The kickstand is great, you can adjust the angle to suit any position and it’s integrated so you don’t need to add a case (like you do with the iPad). The Surface Pro 3 docking station is easy to use, and has the ports necessary for a full office setup (3 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, ethernet, audio, and mini display port). The power brick has a USB port that I can use to charge other devices (iPhone, headset, etc.).  Brilliant, why didn’t anyone do this sooner.  When travelling I can leave my Apple charger at home (just bring the cable).  I realize I could have just plugged it into the Surface USB to charge, but it only has one (see below) and I’m not even sure it’s powered when the device is off. I can only review the writing experience with the pen, so far I have been unable to pair it with my Surface to make the button...

What is Nikon Thinking? D300S, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810, D4s Compared...

With the release of the D750, I’m starting to wonder what Nikon is thinking with their lineup.  Shooters I know are waiting for a true replacement for both the D300s and the D700.  Arguments can be made that the D7100 replaces the D300s, and the D750 replaces the D700.  However, an equal number (and maybe more) arguments can be made that no replacements exist.  In this post, I’ll quickly cover some of the specs that differentiate the cameras that are current in the lineup.  Nikon has a lot of bodies on their site but I wouldn’t consider many of them current (D90, really?).  Here, I’ll just look at the D300s, D7100, D610, D700, D750, Df, D810 and the D4s.  The other bodies (D7000, D4, etc. that Nikon still lists are all very similar to at least one model discussed below).     Spec D300s D7100 D610 D700 D750 Df D810 D4s Release Date 2009 2013 2014 2008 2014 2013 2014 2014 Price $1500 $1200 $2000 $2500 $2300 $2750 $3300 $6500 Sensor Resolution (MP) 12 24 24 12 24 16 36 16  Nikon DSLR Lineup: Price vs Megapixels (Click for larger)   I’m not listing the spec of the lower end cams in the table, but they are shown on the graph above. In general the price curve makes sense, even if the D3300 is a kit price (with lens) and the rest are body-only. Higher spec bodies are higher in price. The D4s takes a huge jump in price, but it is as the top of the lineup and does offer great performance. The majority of the Nikon lineup now uses as 24 megapixel sensor, which is plenty of resolution for almost any application.  It must be a sweet spot for price and performance.  Now I realize that megapixels are not the only measure of performance but they do play a role, many consumers still stick to ‘more is better’.  The current cameras present a marketing challenge for Nikon, and so far they have not done a good job of telling us why you would buy one model over another. The D300s is sitting with just 12 megapixels (APS-C), for less money you get a much more capable camera in a D7100 but you give up build quality and familiar ergonomics. The D700 is also sitting at 12 megapixels (full frame), and Nikon has options that are more capable but unfortunately not in the same body.  The D750 has a better sensor (six years of evolution is an eternity in the tech world), but in a lesser body.  The D810 has a better sensor (best on the market in any DSLR), but with a much lower frame rate.  There is no clear upgrade path. The Df is an oddball too, having only 16 megapixels, no flash, no video, and a mix of modern and classic controls. Let’s look at a few more stats. Spec D300s D7100 D610 D700 D750 Df D810 D4s ISO Range 200 – 3200 100 – 6400 100 – 6400 200 – 6400 100 – 12800 100 – 12800 64 – 12800 100 – 25600 AF Points 51 51 39 51 51 39 51 51 Max Shutter 1/8000 1/8000 1/4000 1/8000 1/4000 1/4000 1/8000 1/8000 Frame Rate 7/8 6 6 5/8 6 5.5 5 11  Nikon DSLR Lineup: Price vs Frame Rate (Click for larger)   One thing that strikes me is that the D300s is a camera that was released in 2009 and Nikon has nothing since (outside of the very expensive pro bodies) that has bettered the frame rate.  If we look at the D700 it’s even more apparent (8fps with grip).  Both the D300s and D700 feature pro build and ergonomics, fast frame rates, great autofoucs and other related ‘pro’ features (flash sync speed, max shutter, etc.).  The D7100 comes close to replacing the D300s, but you need to accept a different style body...

Expert Shield vs GGS Screen Protector for Nikon D800...

  I’m giving away two Expert Shield screen protectors. Draw will take place on September 19, 2014. No stings, no BS. I have an extra Sony RX100 model and the D800 anti-glare model.   All you have to do is comment on this post with which model you want, add a valid email address (which won’t be visible to anyone but me). Winners will be announced here and I’ll contact you for a shipping address. Good luck!     Update: I only had entries for the D800 model, and the winner is Peter Looper!  I might run another draw for the RX100 model at another time.     Some time ago I posted about my issues with the GGS screen protectors.  The first one was faulty, second one was different from the first and had a plastic border which obscured the top and bottom of the LCD.  My third one (same as the first), arrived and it had some scratches on the glass.  I ended up using it, fed up with the whole process.  Needless to say, I wasn’t happy with the experience and made worse because you can’t seem to contact the company directly. About a year ago, I purchased a Sony RX-100 and decided to use an Expert Shield screen protector on that camera.  It installed perfectly, no bubbles and you can’t seven see it’s there.  One year later, it’s still on the camera and I have had no problems with it at all. I decided to finally replace the GGS screen protector on my D800 with an Expert Shield.  I have the standard and anti-glare models, but decided to go with the standard one.  The installation was easy, as before, and the result looks like a naked D800 LCD but I know it’s well protected.  Here are a few photos from the process. The GGS, note how it sits raised above the body.  It isn’t a perfect fit, and the one with the plastic frame (gen 2?) is a terrible fit.   Another shot of the GGS.   Last one of GGS.   The Expert Shield covers, which come with a microfiber cloth to aid installation. Expert Shield mounted on D800, a near-perfect fit for the LCD.  It comes with covers for both the rear and top LCD plates.   One more of the Expert Shield, looks and works great.   Overall, I’m very happy with the product and would recommend it to anyone looking for a good screen protector.  It’s much nicer than the standard Nikon covers and works much better than the GGS covers I tried.  I will be using this on all of my cameras from now on.  ...

Sony RX100 Black & White : Camera vs Silver Efex Pro 2...

I love this new Sony RX100, it’s a fantastic little camera.  I’m impressed with the quality and that is saying a lot since my other camera is a Nikon D800.  The D800 does spoil you with pixels and huge dynamic range, and you really notice the advantage when you start processing raw files from another camera.  However, the RX100 takes infinitely better images when I leave the big camera at home because it doesn’t fit in my pocket. This post is just showing three images from the RX100,  I was shooting in RAW+JPG in black and white mode.  The first image is straight from the camera.  I used default settings, but you can change contrast and exposure settings in the camera before taking a shot.   The image below is the same shot (camera JPG) but with minor processing done in Adobe Lightroom 5.  I think it looks a bit better, there some contrast adjustments, sharpening, vignette, and other minor changes. The last image is processed from raw (ARW) using Lightroom 5, Photoshop CS5, and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.0.  I think it turned out the best but I also spent more time processing it than the image above....

Testing WP Retina 2x Plugin

This post is to test the WP Retina 2x plugin for WordPress. The image was uploaded at 2880×1500 (603kb).  I’m also using CloudFlare and CloudFront with w3 Total Cache so I want to test it out to see if this configuration will actually work.  The photo is from my trip to Belize....

Nikon D800 Autofocus Repair Testing – The Sequel...

This is the third time I’m posting about the testing of my D800 autofocus system.  The first time was not long after I purchased it, just to see if it had the problem.  I found that it did have the problem, and I sent it to Nikon for repair.  When the camera came back, I tested it again.  Initially I thought it may have been fixed, but further testing showed there was still a problem. During this time, I also purchased LensAlign and FocusTune to help me more accurately fine tune my lenses and camera, but also to help me quantify the results.  When I tested my lenses, I noticed that the recommended fine tune values for three of my five lenses was +20 (the highest possible).  This suggested to me that the actual sharpest fine tune value may be even higher than than, but the scale does not allow further adjustment.  Said another way, if the fine tune is at the maximum value, the calibration is not within spec for the camera/lens combination.  I decided to give my D800 and my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G, Nikkor 80-200 f/2.8D, and Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 to Nikon along with my results to see if they can fix the left autofocus problem plus calibrate the camera for the three lenses. I finally received my camera back, and had a chance to test it with two lenses.  I tested with the 24-70 and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 Micro VR (this lens didn’t go to Nikon).  I did not fine tune the camera and lenses before testing, this is how Nikon sent it to me.  I used the same test procedures I outlined previously, with a small twist because I now have FocusTune to help me out.  The results here are all RAW conversions (the only adjustment I made in Lightroom was to convert to grayscale).  I shot in RAW+JPG (L/Fine), I shot a manual focus control shot for each of the five focus test points tested (center, top, bottom, left right – all at the farthest AF points).  Between each autofocus test shot, I defocused away from infinity and took five shots for each focus point.  I then loaded all of the JPG files into FocusTune and for each focus point I found the SHARPEST result from the five samples, so the results here are the best shots from the group. One thing to note, last time I sent the D800 to Nikon the work order showed “ADJ FOCUS SYSTEM” and “ADJ AUTO FOCUS OPERATION”. This time, the work order had: B2 Service Repair Rank B2 Repair RPL O-RING CLN CCD FIRMWARE UPGRADE GENERAL CHECK & CLEAN RPR ELECTRICAL CIRCUIT It is worthwhile to note that I was not having any problems with my D800 outside of the autofocus system, I’m not sure why they replaced the o-ring and worked on the electrical system. I see no mention of them even looking at the autofocus system.   Lenses Tested AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED   Test Results The grouped results for the 105mm lens, 100% crop under the autofocus sensor tested. Apologies that some of these are dark, I didn’t want to make any adjustments so they are presented straight from the camera with no editing.  I don’t see any major issues here, the focus system seems to be fairly consistent between all of the points.  Here is a closer look at the 105mm left side results.   I would say this is fine, doesn’t quite match the manual focus using live view and 100% zoom but I don’t think phase detect AF is ever going to be as good. The grouped results for the 24-70mm lens at 24mm. Here, the left side AF sensor is clearly softer than the others in the group.  Here is a bigger version of just the left side...

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