I Don’t Need A World Backup Day To Remind Me To Do Backups, Because I Rely On Automation!

Time Machine's retrieval interface. Image from Wikipedia.

Slashdot’s Ask Slashdot: It’s World Backup Day; How Do You Back Up? post reminds us to not forget to do backups for our data even though the post somehow either sarcastically or just idiotically suggests that April Fool day might be even worse than the data corruption event itself.  Anyhow, my very own answer to world backup day is that I have been setting up my own backup solutions that rely on automation.  Nonetheless, these backup solutions as a whole — not as elegant as I would have like!  I will tell you why in just a moment, for now let us take a glimpse into how I keep my data safe so far.

I’ve couple laptops.  Nonetheless, none of them is as important as my work laptop which is the MacBook Pro.  So, I want to make sure the data in the MacBook Pro is safe.  But how?  Time Machine of course!  With Time Machine, you can do backup for Mac data as long you have formated an external hard drive or a partition or (creating) a network share partition that is compatible to Apple’s journaled HFS+ file system.  Obviously you can also use one Mac to be the receiver of the backup data of another Mac, because Mac is Mac and all Mac supports the same file system type and network protocols such as AFP (Apple Filing Protocol).  In my case, I only have one Mac (i.e., MacBook Pro laptop), therefore I had formated my external hard drive with journaled HFS+ file system so I could infrequently do backups of  the MacBook Pro.  Why I infrequent do backups of MacBook Pro onto the external hard drive?  Well, I hate how I have to physically connect an external hard drive to a MacBook Pro laptop, because it makes the laptop feels stationary.  I needed a solution for doing frequent backups of the MacBook Pro, but how?  I solved this problem by virtualizing FreeNAS on a desktop machine of mine.  As FreeNAS (which is free to install and use) supports AFP sharing, I can now just connect the MacBook Pro to FreeNAS AFP sharing volume once, choosing the volume as the Time Machine, and the MacBook Pro will automatically do frequent backups on an interval basis (incremental backup on automation).  With FreeNAS being virtualized as a VirtualBox virtual machine, as long FreeNAS is running when the MacBook Pro is on, I don’t really have to physically have the MacBook Pro connect to an external hard drive for doing a backup, because the backup will be done through a local network on an interval basis (i.e., automation) — consequently allowing me to move about with the MacBook Pro at all times.  Isn’t that how MacBook Pro was designed for?

I’ve a desktop which runs Windows 7, and I use this desktop a lot!  Mostly, I use this desktop for gaming and doing stuffs that Windows does best, but I do not keep anything important on this desktop.  Why?  Windows is well known for being susceptible to vulnerabilities in regarding to computer security problems.  This is why I prefer to work on the MacBook Pro.  Nonetheless, the desktop is more powerful than the MacBook Pro, therefore I have to use the desktop for encoding videos (the videos I make for uploading to YouTube) and what not.  Anyhow, since I do not ever want to have to reinstall Windows if it can be helped, because reinstate Windows to the condition as how it was before can be quite gruesome in my opinion.  I’ve to have a backup solution for my Windows machine.  How is reinstalling Windows can be gruesome?  I’m security paranoid, and so it’s not so surprise to see me to go through the process of reapplying all the Windows updates before I even dare to use the Windows machine, and this whole process takes awfully long and boring.  Additionally, I still have to reinstall all of the software onto the reinstated Windows machine.  So, what is the backup solution I use to keep the data on Windows machine safe?  Simple, really!  I use CrashPlan!  How come?  CrashPlan is a super sophisticated backup solution which is quite fitting for enterprise backup purpose, but amazingly CrashPlan puts this sophisticated backup technology in the hands of the regular users.  It’s also simple to use, and it also has free backup plan which requires no fee or whatsoever.  Nonetheless, I use the paid CrashPlan plan and allow CrashPlan to locally and remotely do incremental backups for the Windows machine on an interval basis (i.e., automation).  Since CrashPlan is so intuitive and easy to use, I don’t really have any complain — setting it up once and the data on the Windows machine suddenly become more resilient.  For your information though, CrashPlan also supports Mac and Linux.

So, as you can see I do have backup solutions on automation, but why I still feel like I’m missing something here.  Well, it’s because I’ve more than one backup solutions for all of my data, including Mac, Windows, and Linux machines.  When my data are residing in different physical media locally, it just makes the whole shebang seems somewhat inelegant.  Part of the blame to this problem has to be me!   I trust the backups of a Mac with Time Machine more than anything else, therefore I have not used CrashPlan to do the backups for my MacBook Pro laptop.  I think I will eventually arrive at a better answer for all of my backup problems.  This will have to do with the combination of using CrashPlan and a physical NAS box which will utilize FreeNAS.  I plan to create a network attached box with enough storage space to hold all of my data locally; this NAS box will use FreeNAS as its OS.  FreeNAS talks to all major operating systems, therefore I should not have a problem of setting FreeNAS up to accept backups from Mac, Linux, and Windows.  So, locally, when NAS box is in play, doing backups locally seems much more elegant.  Keeping the local data even more safe (hopefully also secure), I have to have a plan for storing the local data in a remote location.  This is where CrashPlan comes into play!  I’ll use CrashPlan to slowly upload my local data to CrashPlan network (i.e., remote location).  One problem though, CrashPlan cannot be installed on the top of FreeNAS.  Solving this problem is easy enough!  I’ve to rely on VirtualBox and Linux!  So basically, Linux will be the host OS for the NAS box, and VirtualBox will run a virtual machine for FreeNAS.  I can configure Linux to run RAID 5 to prevent data failure on the NAS box itself .  FreeNAS will then be configured to just host as a storage attached network with software or without software RAID (i.e., depending on how much fun I want to have).  FreeNAS will see Linux’s RAID volume which consists of at least 3 hard drives (i.e., each hard drive has data capacity of 2 terabytes) as one single large volume.  Since I can install CrashPlan onto Linux OS, therefore I can use CrashPlan to do backups for my FreeNAS (VirtualBox) virtual machine.  This allows all the local data within the NAS box to be uploaded to CrashPlan’s network (i.e., keep data in remote location for data redundancy purpose).  Since CrashPlan encrypts all data, therefore I don’t have to worry about my data being easily access by uninvited guests.

In summary, in a way, you can say I don’t need a world backup day to remind me to do backups, because I rely on automation.  Automation?  Yes, because as you can see I don’t have to remember when my MacBook Pro laptop will use Time Machine to do a backup, because I had set the MacBook Pro to automatically allow Time Machine to upload the backups to the virtualized FreeNAS (VirtualBox) virtual machine.  Also, I don’t have to remember when I have to do a backup for my Windows machine, because CrashPlan is also doing this automatically for me on an interval basis.  My backups essentially run on automation.  Nonetheless, I prefer to have a physical NAS box so I can centralize my data locally (i.e., more elegant this way).

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Best Buy Is Closing Down 50 Selected Stores, Is This A Sign Which Indicates The End Of Brick And Mortar Stores As Online Stores Take Supremacy?

So, you have heard Best Buy is closing 50 selected stores, but do you wonder why?  Best Buy is the behemoth of brick and mortar electronic stores, and it’s a surprise for people to hear Best Buy is closing down 50 selected stores.  Some people think when Best Buy is frantic over losing profitability to online stores and have to reorganize their business model and structure, it’s a telltale sign of the end of brick and mortar stores in general.  I think it’s quite the opposite!  No, I’m not meaning that Best Buy will be OK or not OK, because I don’t know the future!  What I do know is that brick and mortar stores have some advantages over online stores, but some brick and mortar stores are just so underestimating the online competitors or shooting themselves in the foot.

What advantages of brick and mortar stores have over online stores?  Let me mention few examples.  The first example is that brick and mortar stores can sell the products to their customers right away, because the customers don’t have to wait for their products to be shipped to them however many days later.  This is a very important point!  When people want something, they want it quick!  They want to have that wish of theirs to be granted quick, because one more day to wait is one more day to dream about something they want so bad.  When brick and mortar stores fail to cut prices of their products low enough or provide services that are attractive enough, the incentive isn’t there and so the customers might as well measure the pain between waiting for a product online to be shipped or dealing with the headaches of shopping in brick and mortar stores.  I think the main point is to make the advantages of shopping with brick and mortar stores stand out like an oasis in a desert.

Have you heard how postal service might want to save cost by cutting back a day or two for delivering mails and physical packages?  You see, ordering online products can be expensive if the postal service gets less efficient and practical, because the private delivery services can then raise prices as there is one less competitor in the market (i.e., the government).  This is why I think it’s bad idea for postal service to go out of business, but I’ve digressed.  Anyway, brick and mortar stores have the advantage of allowing people to see that they don’t have to deal with the headaches of shipping.  When selling products in brick and mortar stores, the shipping should not even be considered as the part of the business model unless the brick and mortar stores carry products in huge sizes (i.e., that cannot be hauled away by customers’ vehicles).  When shipping has to be included in the brick and mortar business model, the shipping has to be less painful than how customers have to deal with online stores’ delivery services.

Brick and mortar stores have the advantage of allowing the customers just to walk in and return/switch products as long the products aren’t being used past however many days, according to a product return policy.  Online stores’ do allow people to return products, but the wait between the shippings is just not so enticing!  Whenever a business model has a delay variable in it, there is less incentive for the customers to be attracted to such business model.  I think as long brick and mortar stores write good product return policy (i.e., within reasons for both customers and the business), I can see the customers prefer to shop with brick and mortar stores since they can return or switch the products within couple hours.  I don’t think online stores can do that!

Brick and mortar stores should concentrate on providing excellent services.  When I talk about excellent services, I mean the display of the products, the customer service, and the whole nine yard.  You see, online stores only have digital pictures and reviews and testimonies to boost the trust of certain products, but brick and mortar stores have the direct connection to their customers.  It’s befuddled me to see a direct connection to the customers is losing out to something less direct such as digital images and unknown reviews/testimonies.  Sure, popular online stores have the well known brand to back their products, but popular brand names can only back the products so far.  One example of the resiliency of popular brand names is the trust of delivering the products to customers fast and safe, but I don’t think the resiliency of popular brand names can guarantee that the customers will be 100% satisfactory with the products they purchase through online stores.  A direct connection with the customers through brick and mortar stores is instantaneous, therefore the customer service representatives can help solve the customers’ problems right in the stores.  When the customer service representatives fail to help the customers in the stores on a constant basis, how do you expect to have the brick and mortar business that is capable in competing against the super efficient online stores?

Brick and mortar stores can become the showrooms for online stores when prices of the products within the stores are pricing at unreasonable prices!  When the prices of the products are just a tad more expensive than online stores’ products, I think the customers rather buy their products through brick and mortar stores right away since they don’t have to wait for the products to be shipped.  Some popular online stores ship their products super fast, but the customers might just want to carry the products home and try the products out in an hour or two later.  This is why I think brick and mortar stores have to track the prices of online stores so they can price their products competitively.

I don’t go to business school, and yet I’m able to provide few pointers to brick and mortar stores.  How come?  It’s all about common sense I think.  Not to brag, but I think any customer can come up with the same pointers as I had.  Of course, I might have missed many more pointers, but I don’t intent to sit and think so hard on this matter (i.e., I’m not running a brick and mortar store).  In fact, I just want to prove how easy it’s for a customer like me to raise a few pointers in regarding to how to improve brick and mortar stores!  In the end, I think brick and mortar stores can compete against online stores if they do it right!  Plus, brick and mortar stores can also have online presences easily since creating online stores isn’t too hard or expensive nowadays.  What’s better to have an excellent operation going on through brick and mortar stores and then providing even more capable online presence?  That’s a killer combo I think!

To Vote, Or Not To Vote With An Internet Voting System, That’s The Question!

Voting booths used for the L’Ordre des Avocats...

Voting booths used for the L’Ordre des Avocats de Paris (Paris Bar Association) 2007 election. The booths are in the library of the Palais de Justice, Paris and contain Internet-enabled touch screen voting systems. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Internet security is a cat and mouse game (i.e., Tom and Jerry).  The nature of the Internet has allowed hackers to stay one step ahead of law enforcements.  Even the FBI admits this in Cnet U.S. ‘not winning’ war with hackers, says FBI bigwig article.  What a particular hacker or hacker organization has done what lately has become an occurrent theme for the news headlines that proliferate the Internet, and so many of us have become somewhat familiar with hackers’ capabilities.

News headlines on hackers and their amazing hacks are definitely making people aware of how vulnerable the Internet has become.  I think before the Internet has become so vulnerable, the Internet was once a naive kid.  The funny thing is that back in the day when the Internet was still a naive kid, the Internet must had been more secure.  It was all about security through obscurity?  Of course, security through obscurity is equally as bad as having weak security, because obscurity isn’t a solution but just an attempt to hide the weakness of a system.  As we have seen how the obscurity eventually failed to obscure the Internet’s insecurity and led to the Internet security problems of today.

The widespread of Internet security problems are continually growing as we speak, because the Internet isn’t confining to a country.  Instead of becoming just the problems for a local geographic area, the Internet has made the world so interconnected that anyone who has enough knowledge of a system and a will can actually hack into a system from an ocean away.  This knowledge is cemented with news headlines of successful hack attacks that have been carried out by the hackers.  Yet, even with this knowledge, some people want to have an Internet voting!

(When I say Internet isn’t confining to a country, I’m not promoting a Great Wall of firewall of a country, but I’m just saying!  In fact, I’m fond of an open Internet!  This means I want to promote an Internet which allows common sense freedoms and greater social interactions so many more people can combine and exchange knowledge to move civilizations ahead, in a positive direction!  For now though, moving civilizations ahead, Internet voting system isn’t one!)

Politics can be dangerous as it is, but bringing in another danger such as Internet voting is like begging for adding fuel onto a hungry fire.  A professor of University of Michigan, J. Alex Halderman, in the Slashdot TV’s Hacking an Internet-Based Voting System video mentioned how easy it was for him and his students to take up the challenge of hacking into an Internet voting system (i.e., for a mock election) and beat it — the purpose was to test the security of an Internet voting system.  Washington D.C. city officers opened the Internet voting hacking contest to the public (i.e., anyone could take up the challenge), and they found out that it took only couple hours for the professor and his students to completely take control and manipulate the Internet voting system.

Professor J. Alex Halderman claimed that it was a script injection method that broke through the security of the Internet voting system.  Some codes weren’t sanitized enough, therefore allowed the users of the Internet voting system to enter the malicious text strings to bypass the security of the Internet voting system.  Codes weren’t sanitized?  You might encounter bad codes that weren’t sanitized properly on frequent basis but you just didn’t know about them!  How?  One example would be, the websites you had visited weren’t properly sanitized the browser requests, allowing you to enter bad codes in the browsers’ address bars (i.e., URL) — the bad codes would then command the web servers to do things that weren’t nice to the web servers’ administrators and users.

According to professor J. Alex Halderman, we just don’t have the technology to secure an Internet voting system yet, therefore it is foolish to use an Internet voting system.  We might have to ask, is it foolish to vote the traditional ways too?  I don’t know the exact answer, because I think voting through an Internet voting system or not, any election can be rigged if someone tries hard enough.  Remember, the hackers were around before the existence of the Internet, because in general hackers were the people that were smart enough to rig any system.

So, if any voting system can be hacked, why do we need to only avoid the Internet voting system?  I think the Internet voting system is the least secure method to vote!  I’m saying that even though I don’t know much about the traditional voting systems, because I know it’s foolish to allow just about anybody from any part of the world to be able to manipulate the democracy of the United States, easily.  Like?  How?  What?  Someone in another country can just hacking away at our Internet voting system and manipulate the election results; a country that isn’t so fond of America can directly manipulate the election results of the United States from a computer.  I guess to end this blog post best by saying this, it’s foolish to allow any insecure voting system to be voted by so many people (i.e., the whole world)!

Sources:

Want To Keep Your Data Around For 1000 Years? You Don’t Need Alien Technology To Do So! You Just Need Millenniata M-DISC discs!

A photograph of a digital disc with disc rot.

A photograph of a digital disc with disc rot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not too long ago I had contemplated on the question of how to keep data around forever.  Nonetheless, as many other grand questions that had popped into my mind before, this one too came and disappeared from my mind without an answer.  Until now!  I stumbled onto a YouTube video with the title “Millenniata M-DISC Permanent Storage Archival Grade Media Showcase NCIX Tech Tips,” and I had a eureka moment.  Of course, Milleniata M-DISC would not be the answer for my question, because even with Millenniata M-DISC data would go corrupted in about, 1000 years?  But it was close!  Close enough for me to have had a eureka moment!

What?  1000 years you said?  Yes I did say so, but I didn’t make it up.  Just watch the videos right at the bottom of this blog post and you would see they had said the same thing.  Anyhow, nobody would be able to live 1000 years, therefore keeping the data for 1000 years would be excessive, right?  For you and me, the answer is yes!  For the future of mankind, the answer is not even close.  What if we humans need to keep some data around forever so history can be told again and again to whoever wants to know about us in millions of years later?  For the dinosaurs, they have their fossil bones, for us, we might have our data discs and fossil bones too!  For folks who are paranoid about not losing data as long as they are the masters of their data, I think Millenniata M-DISC might have to be the solution for them.

What is with the might have to be the solution phrase?  Well, I like the idea of having data around longer than my own lifespan or anyone else’s lifespan, but writing data onto any disc is troublesome.  Plus, buying disc and keeping them is also troublesome (i.e., many trips to the store or losing discs or forgetting to label the discs).  Nonetheless, I still think Millenniata M-DISC has paved the way for what soon to come that blows your mind!  This is my hypothetical slashes prophetic saying and thinking, perhaps someone might try to improve Millenniata M-DISC concept and technology and come up with a way to allow people to store data onto hard drive form factor that allows data go uncorrupted forever?

OK, data go uncorrupted forever might be a wishful thinking, because nothing lasts forever in reality!  Not even the sun, the moon, the stars, and anything else you have ever thought of as having been around forever.  I still think though, data to last for 1000 years on a hard drive form factor is way more awesome!  Therefore, I’m crossing my finger and hoping that someone can improve the Millenniata M-DISC data storage concept sooner than later!  For now, I think I might try out Millenniata M-DISC technology.

Millenniata M-DISC technology is expensive, but is not out of reach for ordinary technological enthusiasts like you readers of my blog.  For an example, when I browsed Amazon for Millenniata M-DISC, I saw 10 pack size with 4.7 GB spec for each M-DISC costs around $26.24.  In my honest opinion, I don’t think $26.24 for 10 M-DISC (4.7 GB storage capacity which secures your data for 1000 years) is too bad!  Of course, not even with Millenniata M-DISC to have such capability as storing data to last 1000 years can circumvent the price drop of popular technology (at least I think so).  So, I guess just like any other technology that has been around long enough, we might see Millenniata M-DISC discs to drop in price gradually.  If this happens, we might see people flock to M-DISC technology so they can keep their data around forever just for the sake of having the ability to do so.

What About Thunderbird?

By now, probably everything good about Thunderbird has been said, but I truly profess still that you need to try out Thunderbird if you are heavily using emails. What is with the plural form of email?  Well, email is plural in a sense that you, he, she, everybody else and me might have more than one email account, and having to open up two to however more browser tabs constantly — just to have the webmail accounts stay dynamically update while you’re on your main browser tab doing what you do — is rather cumbersome and not so elegant.  Sometimes, it’s rather disturbing for some people to see they have so many browser tabs open!  This is why some people think Thunderbird and similar email clients are better for checking emails.

Email clients aren’t there to replace your webmail accounts, because the email clients are there to connect to your webmail accounts and retrieve the emails from the webmail accounts.  The awesome thing about using email clients is that the email clients can retrieve all emails from all webmail accounts so you don’t have to manually sign into each webmail account to check email.  Of course, you have to provide proper credentials of each webmail account for an email client to store (in encrypted form I hope), therefore all you have to do is to provide a master password at the beginning of every email client session (i.e., starting up an email client) so the email client will then automatically go and retrieve emails from all webmail accounts.  Thunderbird works this way!

Anyhow, I like Thunderbird for it’s one of those FREE but yet most reliable open source applications/software I have ever used.  Also, newest yet Thunderbird version which is the version 11.0 has made the process of adding new webmail account easier.  It seems now you don’t really have to remember each webmail account’s POP/IMAP/etc… settings, because Thunderbird only requires your email addresses and passwords.  Behind the scene, the settings obviously would be appropriately set up by Thunderbird wizard for each webmail account.  Thunderbird is also somewhat smart as it allows you to teach it how to seek out junk emails by having you from time to time mark new but spam emails as junk emails; once you have done enough marking of junk emails, you can always go to Tools > Run Junk Mail Controls On Folder to weed out the junk emails on particular email folders that you think somehow Thunderbird might have missed weeding out junk emails from those email folders in the first place (my bet is that you don’t have to do so).

I’m not using the Thunderbird’s Add-ons feature, but I can imagine this might be something that people like — it allows people to customize Thunderbird furthermore.

Thunderbird has ton of features (I’m being lazied to go into each feature in detail), and most users probably don’t even need to configure those features as I believe many useful features within Thunderbird might have been turned on by default.  Nonetheless, some people like me who would want to go into Thunderbird’s Preferences to furthermore customize Thunderbird.  For an example, under Preferences > Security > Anti-Virus, users can check the box which labels as “Allow anti-virus clients to quarantine individual incoming messages.”  I’m sure some of you out there might want to go through Thunderbird’s Preferences in detail and make changes, but for others they just only have to simply use Thunderbird.  So, I have to conclude that Thunderbird might not be a solution for everything email, but it sure is convenient and useful and pleasurable to use.

Update:  Oops, I forgot to tell you that Thunderbird is supporting all major computing platforms.  It supports Linux, Mac, and Windows!

Google Turns Up The Heat Against Competitors With Google Play, Allowing Googlers To Enjoy All Of Their Media In One Place Online

I don’t know what to make of Google Play just yet in practical sense, but it’s available now!  Nonetheless I dabble on…  It seems to me Google Play is how Google turns up the heat in competing against Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iTunes.  Google Play seems to boast of allowing Googlers to access all of their media in one place, but the beautiful thing about Google Play is that Googlers can access all of their media in one place online.  So, as long a Googler has an Internet connection and necessary equipment (e.g., laptop, iPad, iPhone), he or she can basically browse their media with Google Play.

Of course, users who actually have been buying and consuming Google’s media will definitely experience eureka with Google Play, but users who are so far only consuming media from Amazon or Apple might hesitate to try out Google Play — they might not want to invest their money in Google Play when their vast archives of media are already stored with Apple or Amazon.  Nonetheless, I think Google Play looks awesome and might be an awesome all in one online media destination for Googlers, because Googlers get to check out their books, movies, music, and so on all within Google Play.

I’m pretty sure that Googlers have to sign into their accounts before they can fully enjoy Google Play, because Google Play links all of their Google’s media accounts together.  How do I know this?  I can actually browse my Google Music within Google Play.  Of course, once you have a Google account, I think Google Play is pretty much made itself available to you.

Update:  Oh, one last thing I forgot to mention in this post is that Google Play is also making Android apps available to Googlers!

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