A Backup Reminder

Today I wrapped up my first class in my Masters program. It’s been doozy and I have a lot of work to do before the final, but completing the first semester has been a weight off my shoulders.

I noticed about half way through the lecture today that the student I share a table with suddenly became distracted during class. Something just wasn’t right. After the class wrapped she looked at me in a panic and asked, “Do you know anything about computers?”

Turns out her laptop (a Toshiba that looked to be a few years old) stopped charging during class and the battery was running down fast. My friend wasn’t very computer savvy and all she could see was a ticking bomb that was counting down until the battery was drained, the screen would go black, and all her notes was trapped inside. Here we were, last class of the year, getting ready to break for Thanksgiving and she was faced with the prospect of losing it all because, of course, she hadn’t made any backups.

We spent a few minutes troubleshooting the power problem. Checked the plug, checked the outlet but it looked as though there was some kind of problem with the computer itself. She was heading across campus to the school's technology help desk have it checked out. I told her the most critical thing was getting her notes off the computer right then and there because we didn't know when the battery was going to die. She agreed.

keep a flash drive on my keychain for emergencies just as this. Because her class notes were kept in a few Word documents on her desktop making a quick copy was easy. She also emailed the most important documents to herself. Within a few minutes the immediate panic had passed so we took a few moments to sign her up for a free Dropbox account and I explained the importance of in the future, rather than saving her notes to the desktop, saving all her school work to her Dropbox folder would at least sync those documents to the cloud when she was connected to the Internet A free account will get you 2GB which isn’t much these days, but it’s enough to store your mission critical documents. Finally, I introduced her to Backblaze for backing up her entire computer once she got her hardware problem sorted out.

When I left her this morning the hardware problem wasn’t solved, but in less than 10 minutes we managed to backup her last four months worth of work and give her a lot of peace of mind as she was heading home for the holiday.

As “power users” we generally have our backup under control and don't really need to think about it. That's a good thing. But today I was reminded of just how many people are out there with no backups and are just one problem away from a catastrophe.  

Why don’t you reach out to one of your less tech-savvy friends this weekend and see if you can help them with that?

224: The Email Problem | Mac Power Users

Email seems to be a never-ending subject for Mac Power Users. So this week we try to tackle it again, including how David and I have tweaked our email workflows, the tools and processes we’re currently using to manage our email and maintaining sanity in an age of email overload.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Bradley Chambers Releases Learning to Love Google Drive

Bradley Chambers has been killing it recently. He’s writing regularly for Tools & Toys and Sweet Setup, his podcast Out of School with Fraser Speirs just released their 110th episode and he just released his third book, Learning to Love Google Drive.

This is a series of 10 screencasts that is available to purchase through iBooks or as stand alone videos that shows how Bradley uses Google Drive and why he thinks it’s a great alternative to Dropbox. I’ve been using Google Drive for years for Mac Power Users production but admittedly haven’t gone much beyond document collaboration. 

I look forward to digging in.

223: MPU Live: It’s So Choice… | Mac Power Users

Last Saturday was the first Saturday of the month, which means it was time for MPU Live. This month we spoke with Mike Rhode about his new book, the Sketchnote Workbook. David talks about his latest purchase, a iMac 5k with Retina. We also follow-up on a number of topics including academic workflows, goal setting security and share listener tips and answer questions.

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver

I’ve been struggling with my home audio system. I want to be able to stream audio from my Mac, iPhone or iPad to any of a number of speakers throughout my house. Thus far, I’ve been doing this by setting up an AirPlay based network with a series of speakers and Airport Express base stations. Unfortunately, I’ve found the reliability of AirPlay lacking with regular audio dropouts and other odd behavior. I’ve looked at installing a Sonos system, but have hesitated because of its proprietary nature and the fact that outfitting my house with a complete system would cost in excess of $1,500. 

The B1 may be a solution because it allows you to add high-quality bluetooth to an existing stereo system or powered speakers. I’ve seen inexpensive Bluetooth adapters for speakers available for years. I’ve tried a few and been unimpressed. Audioengine’s B1 is very different. The B1 uses a high-quality audio converter and special circuitry and an antenna to provide a superior experience. I connected the B1 to a set of Audioengine’s A2 speakers sitting on bookshelves in my home office that I had previously connected to an Airport Express for AirPlay support. The styling of the B1s perfectly complemented the A2s. In terms of audio quality, I found a significant improvement when using the B1 to stream music and podcasts when compared to the same speakers over AirPlay. The connection was stable and I didn’t experience any audio dropouts.

At $189.00 the B1 is pricey, significantly more so than other bluetooth speaker adapters that can be usually bought for $50 or less. But this may be an instance where you get what you pay for. The B1 isn’t designed to be plugged into inexpensive computer speakers, in fact, you won’t find a mini-audio jack on it. Instead, the B1 is designed specifically to connect to stereo systems or powered speakers. If you’ve already invested in high-quality speakers or an audio system, adding a B1 is a great way to upgrade your system to stream virtually any type of audio from your digital devices.

This article first appeared in the August Issue of ScreencastsOnline Monthly Magazine. ScreenCastsOnline monthly magazine is packed with hints, tips, articles and links to streamable versions of ScreenCastsOnline tutorials and delivered monthly via Newsstand on the iPad. You can find out more at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/

222: Workflows with Myke Hurley | Mac Power Users

This week on Mac Power Users David and I are pleased to welcome our friend and colleague Myke Hurley of relay.fm to the show. Myke chats with us about creating his new podcast network, the tools he uses for creating his podcast, juggling multiple jobs and why he finally decided to go full time with Relay.fm

You can find the show on the MPU site or subscribe in iTunes or via RSS.

ScreenCastsOnline Monthly Magazine: Managing Email On Vacation

This month’s issue of ScreenCasts Online Monthly Magazine is now available in Apple’s Newsstand App. In the November issue you’ll find an article from me about managing email while on vacation. 

The monthly magazine is packed with streamable versions of Don’s excellent video tutorials as well as articles, reviews and tips from authors including David SparksAllison SheridanWally Cherwinski and more. The magazine is free for ScreenCasts online Premium Members or available as a separate subscription or you can pickup individual issues. You can download it in the AppStore or find more info at http://www.screencastsonline.com/magazine/

A Tour of My Networking Closet

On several episodes of Mac Power Users, including our most recent Networking episode with Bradley Chambers, I’ve referenced my home networking setup. When I built my home 3 years ago I knew that I wanted a Ethernet backbone to feed each of the rooms in my house. In working with the builder, they had their electrical subcontractor create a data cabinet in my laundry room that would be the single hub for all of these networking drops so I could have one location for all my networking equipment. I’ve had several people inquire about this setup, so thought I’d post a picture and a little further explanation.

My networking closet. Someone really should clean up these wires.

My networking closet. Someone really should clean up these wires.

Coax Cable: Each bedroom in my house and the living room is wired with multiple coax cable ports. This is to connect Cable TV service and to allow flexibility in the future should I (or future homeowners) decide they want to relocate the TVs. All of these feeds terminate in this closet. There is also a main feed that comes in from the cable company that is fed into this box.

The house is designed to be connected to a traditional cable service. Currently I use my cable provider for Internet service so that feed is connected to my cable modem. I have an HD antenna mounted in my guest bedroom closet (out of sight) So I “back feed” the antenna signal through my entire house by plugging that cable into the “in” port on my Coax splitter and then feed the antenna signal to the other TVs in my house using the splitter that’s built-in the box. (If I had a traditional cable setup, that feed would go into the “in” port instead).

Ethernet Cable - My house is designed to have multiple Ethernet cable drops in rooms. I have two ethernet drops in each bedroom and five in the living room. I wired the house with Cat6 Ethernet cable because at the time the cost difference for new construction was insignificant (literally dollars) compared to the more standard Cat5 cables. All the Ethernet drops in the house terminate in this box and are run through a 16-port Gigabit Ethernet switch.

Telephone Connection - Although I personally don’t use a landline phone, I wanted to design the house with resale in mind. I have a few telephone drops throughout the house. However, these are also run off of Cat6 cable and the faceplates are designed such that you could either plug a traditional telephone line or a Ethernet cable into the wall outlet. There’s a “telecom distribution module” in the panel box that distinguishes whether a particular port is a “phone” or a “data” port. If it’s a phone port, than the telephone company’s input signal is plugged into the module and the ethernet  cable that corresponds with that port is plugged into telecom box rather than the switch. Presently I use all the  ports as data ports.

Power - Power is needed for the switch and modem.

Cable Modem - The cable modem is plugged directly into the line in provided by the cable company. It goes out to the WAN port on my Airport Extreme which is located in my living room. The first LAN port on the airport extreme goes back out and connects into the Gigabit Ethernet switch which then connects all the other wired appliances to the rest of the network. (So I really only have three usable ports in the living room since two are occupied as upstream and downstream for the Airport Extreme - but the Airport has two free LAN ports which can be used.). 

What I Would Change - All in all, this has been a great setup, but there are a few things I would change in my next home.

  1. More ports - Despite having at least two ports in every bedroom, a few extra ports thanks to unused telephone jacks and five ports in the living room, I’m finding it’s still not enough. Adding ports at the time of construction is cheap. If I had to do it over again I would have added additional ports in my closets (for servers, NAS, printers, etc) and additional ports in the living room and in my home office. I also would have added additional ports wherever I mounted a TV.)
  2. Battery Backup/Surge Suppression- I would have also rethought my power needs. If possible, I would have added a battery backup component and power suppression to the mix and perhaps additional power ports. The size of this particular cabinet (it has to mount between two studs) makes that impossible with this design) but perhaps alternate designed could have accommodated that.

  3. Relocate. - Next time I would have relocated this to a closet. Perhaps the master bedroom or home office closet. This would have allowed more options for keeping this equipment out of sight but allowed for easy expansion.

What does something like this cost - not as much as you would think. The “base price” of my house included running one coax cable to each bedroom and  the living room. Everything else, including the extra drops, Ethernet cable, the cabinet itself and the labor was extra. The total add-additional expense (not including the hardware I provided myself) was less than $2000. This was mostly due to the fact that at the time of new construction, running extra wire when the house is just a stud frame is very easy to do.