The Ridiculousness of Retina Displays.

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When introducing the iPhone 4, Steve Jobs said the amount of pixels needed for a Retina Display is about 300 PPI for a device held 10 to 12 inches from the eye. DisplayMate Technologies claims there must be at least 477 pixels per inch in a pixelated display for the pixels to become imperceptible to the human eye at a distance of 12 inches. What both of these knuckleheads fail to realize is that a Retina Display is unnecessary and often unusable for anyone over 12 years-old, anyone with average eyesight, or anyone who’s in the lucrative 45-54 age bracket with a little more disposable income than your average millennial.

Here’s the problem. We picked up a MacBook Pro 15″ with one of those Retina Displays. It’s native recommended resolution is 2880 x 1800 pixels. Without resizing just about every piece of text and menu on your screen, the average human might need a magnifying glass to get anything done. When we gave up with the Mac, we traded up to a Lenovo Yoga 2. Its 13.3″ screen was even more ridiculous at 3200 x 1800. That went back too. At least the Yoga had a touch screen, so pinch-and-zoom helps make pinch-and-zoom compatible applications usable. Apple, in its infinite wisdom, has still failed to incorporate the touch screen it made popular with the iPad into any of its PCs. But even the touch screen couldn’t help the Yoga in many applications. Some menus were literally the size of an ant. We attempted to change many of the Windows settings, but then it mucked up the rest of the applications. Eventually, we created a separate profile with the offending applications, and then realized that was a ludicrous workaround.  

We settled for a traditional HD display, which rounds out to about 1920 x 1080. The price was right too. The Macbook set us back $1,900. The Yoga 2 Pro ran about $1,200. The HP Envy I ended up with was a bargain at $700 at Best Buy. And I can actually use it.

Chuck Fresh, the PC-GYN is the CEO of Computer Care Clinic in Melbourne, FL. Visit www.computercareclinic.com for more thoughts, articles, videos, and helpful tips and tricks.

The Windows XP Survival Guide

This guy is a wizard. Throw money at him before he decides to give up.
This guy is a wizard. Throw money at him before he decides to give up.

On April 8th, 2014, Microsoft ceased issuing security updates and patches for Windows XP forever. It’s not that Microsoft is a bad company. They’re merely making a business decision to stop investing resources to support an OS that is over a decade old. Contrary to popular belief, XP is not “dead” — it’s very much alive and still used by millions of users worldwide. Over the next 10 years, Windows XP will slowly become obsolete and incompatible with newer hardware. It will eventually become virtually unsecured as lame hackers with nothing better to do systematically reverse-engineer XP.

If you are an “average” computer user, meaning you check your email, do a little news reading, play solitaire like a gypsy, and pay a few bills online, you could stretch your XP experience out another few years while remaining fairly secure and completely functional. You won’t be as safe and secure as you would be with Vista, 7, or 8, but you should be able to muddle through. Plus, you’ll save a couple hundred bucks.

To upgrade, or not to upgrade – that is the question. You could upgrade your Windows XP operating system to Windows 7 or 8, but only if your PC was built after 2006, has at least 2 gigabytes of random access memory, and hopefully at least a dual-core processor. Otherwise, it’ll be as slow as a tricycle on an interstate highway.

You may have heard some bad things about Windows 8, but it’s really not bad at all. The biggest gripe? Windows 8 does NOT come pre-packaged with Solitaire (you can download the Microsoft Solitaire Collection App for free). The Windows 8 upgrade costs $120 for the home version and $200 for the Pro version.  Since Microsoft has moved to Windows 8, they haven’t sold Windows 7 upgrades in over a year. You can, however, still purchase an “OEM” Windows 7 disc, which is meant for new PCs, for $100 to $200 depending on the version.

It’s important to note that there is no true “upgrade” path from XP to Windows 8. You’ll need to install Windows 7 or 8 as a “clean install”, meaning your programs and data will not transfer. You will need to reinstall all your games, programs, printers, and other hardware. Hope you remember where those CDs and license numbers are – that is, if your CD drive still works. The good news is that most older software, even old Office 1997, will probably work on Windows 8 with a little tweaking.

If you’re still on board, here’s what you can do to squeeze a little more life out of your Windows XP installation.

Install Mozilla Firefox.
Firefox is the second most popular browser in the world. It’s constantly being updated and patched and is compatible with virtually every important website. Firefox is faster than Internet Explorer, and it’s safer, too, with built-in pop-up blocking and advanced security features. It’s certainly not malware-proof, but no other browser is, either. Cost: Free.

Install the Firefox NoScript plugin.
In our NoScript video, we explain how scripts are today’s perpetrators. Block the scripts, and you’ve blocked a majority of the malware. Cost: Free.

Install Malwarebytes.
If you’re a Microsoft Security Essentials user, you’ll be glad to know Microsoft will continue to provide updates to their antimalware signatures and MSE engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015. Definitely download Malwarebytes antimalware as a strong secondary line of protection. Malwarebytes has pledged to support Windows XP indefinitely. Be aware that adding Malwarebytes will make an old slow machine just a tad slower. Cost: $25 a year for up to 3 PCs.

Image your hard drive.
If you’re really in for the long haul, get yourself a copy of Acronis True Image, Symantec Ghost, or some other cloning software, and make a backup image of your Windows XP hard drive as soon as possible. Some of our clients have insanely expensive CAD or medical software, and an upgrade would cost more than a new car, so that’s not an option. Better yet, pick up another Windows XP compatible machine, clone your hard drive to that, and tuck it in a closet somewhere. The Dell Optiplex 3000 series still has Windows XP drivers, but that won’t last forever. You can get Ghost here, or Acronis here, and a hard drive here. Cost: $50 for software, plus about $70 for a hard drive.

If your computer is too old or slow to upgrade, and you’re dead-set against the new Windows 8.1 desktop interface, you can still purchase a Windows 7 computer online through HP or Dell’s business divisions. The Home edition of Windows 7 will be available through at least October 2014, and the Pro version probably will survive an additional six months to a year.

The full guide from our website:
http://www.2594499.com/windows-xp-survival-guide.htm

Get Firefox here:
https://download.mozilla.org/?product=firefox-stub&os=win&lang=en-US

Get the NoScript plugin here:
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/noscript/?src=ss

How NoScript works:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKqbVLFhj1c

Get Malwarebytes here:
http://www.dpbolvw.net/click-6258408-11745277

Windows 7 PCs still available here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00K0HMT1G/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00K0HMT1G&linkCode=as2&tag=chuckfreshrecomm&linkId=AZUVAWZFJBG2V7RE

“Why isn’t my computer perfect?”

This guy is a wizard. Throw money at him before he decides to give up.
This guy is a wizard. Throw money at him before he decides to give up.

Most of our clientele are in their elder years. Over the past decade, I’ve learned these customers often have certain expectations when they hire a vendor to perform a service. That’s completely normal. I have expectations too, and I am the king of all sticklers. But what they don’t understand is how today’s services, especially in the computer field, cannot compare to the services of yore. Their expectations are often unreasonable.

So what’s the problem? Variables. In the olden days, a man or woman had one primary job or task to perform. It was much easier to master that one single task, since there were few changes that occurred over a career. A women who was a secretary was a master of her IBM Selectric. Once in a while, a new word would present itself, wreaking havoc throughout the office environment. And perhaps the coffee vendor may have changed the coffee formula, leading to an irate boss. But her job remained stable and similar for decades. A man who worked on a manufacturing assembly line probably did the same exact welding or assembly task for years. He had one job at a time. That job may have been modified every few years with a safer or more efficient technique, but it was basically a revision of the same thing. Men and women could easily master their jobs, because there weren’t as many variables.

Enter the computer and the age of technology. If you think back just ten years, no one had a smart phone. Chances are, you may not have had a cell phone either. Apple changed the world in 2007 with its iPhone, bringing powerful computer technology to your back pocket. Today, you not only have a portable phone, but you have a camera, a video camera, a calculator, a GPS device, an email conduit, a web browser, and access to over a million “apps” that can do everything from counting your calories to hooking you up with a date. It’s comical to see people “jonesing” when you take away their portable electronic devices for as little as an hour or two.

In the PC arena, Apple took the easy road. Their closed system or “walled garden” makes it much easier to create software and hardware that “just works.” But in the Windows PC environment, they opted for a more open system that allowed for competition and ultimately better pricing. There are literally millions of lines of code in the operating system that must correctly interface with software code written by often sloppy programmers. There are countless hundreds of thousands of software programs called hardware drivers that must also interface with the operating system that allow peripherals like advanced video cards, printers, and countless other niceties we add on to our computers to make our lives richer. In an open system, you have to be a mad genius to even entertain a career in repair the millions of things that can go wrong. A computer technician will face an infinite number of variables when troubleshooting what seems to be a “normal” problem with a computer. Without a doubt, today’s Windows system technician requires at least as much intelligence as the brightest physician, as much patience as a child care worker, and the creativity of Picasso. It is virtually impossible for one person to know every single detail of an operating system, countless hardware options, and hundreds of thousands of corresponding software architectures. Unfortunately, this is a field in which there may never be perfection.

Count your blessings that your computer technician was creative enough to find a way to get your computer working again. And understand that it is impossible to honestly ascertain the source of your problem. It is also often difficult to explain (or realize) how we repaired it, since we probably did not write the code for the one to fourteen software programs we used to repair your problem — not that we’re entirely sure which of those programs actually repaired your problem. Realize that we could drop everything else we’re doing and complete a forensic study of your usage history, but we’re pretty sure you don’t want us digging into your dirt. And a forensic study would cost about $300 an hour, so be prepared to pay for at least four hours, a bit more than our average diagnostic charge of $59. And the forensic study won’t fix your problem — you’ll have to pay extra for that.

The next time you insult your computer technician, comparing his or her service to your old job with many fewer variables, think about it. That technician is a modern day wizard.

The Qualm of Today’s Computer Technicians: Amateur “Computer Experts” May Be Doing More Harm Than Good

I never meant to become a computer repair technician. And I certainly never meant to open a computer repair store. It was one of those things that you kind of fall into in life. Long story short — this gig was more like a dare, or a challenge. I only have one regret — I left a bustling voice talent business because my daily CEO duties were too demanding. Overall, it has been a fulfilling experience over these past 9 years.

But today, I fear this job will soon come to an early end.

We run two of the last computer repair shops on the Space Coast of Florida. Due to recent downsizing in the aerospace industry, it seems every engineer who is now either early-retired or out of work validates himself not with model airplanes, weather balloons, or rockets — but by fixing computers. I don’t believe I can be effective launching satellites, so I have to I think it’s strange that they think they can do my job as well as I can. Most of them end up making a bigger mess than when they started.

Ironically, they eventually call me for free advice. I am a pretty nice guy, and I hate to turn people away. Engineers are very good with quantitative analysis and objective goals, but they fail miserably with anything that has to do with people. They can’t understand the huge sacrifice I make each time I bail them out. If you think about it, every time I help someone with free advice, I am putting another nail in the coffin of my career.

So here’s my dilemma. I’m in any business that has declined on average 20 percent a year since 2008. I’m at the point now where is it almost doesn’t make sense to keep my doors open. Granted, the computer industry is changing quickly, offering cheaper replacements and alternative technologies. But there is still a sizable population who believes in fixing things rather than adding toxic metals to a landfill. But if these ex-rocket scientists continue to offer to fix peoples computers, eventually people like me will all be out of business.

And I will no longer be available to offer that free advice that will get you out of the dog house.

ImageSince you aerospace guys are receiving retirement income, your computer repairing hobby won’t affect you financially. However, if I go out of business, my morale will suffer, my childrens’ education will suffer, the future will suffer, your deed-restricted neighborhood will suffer, and your tax dollars may end up supporting me. I don’t want that, and Rush Limbaugh tells me you don’t want that either.

So, rocketman, while you are trying to merely be helpful in the neighborhood or further justify your post-career genius, you are actually making things worse for me, and yourself. You crazy kids should be enjoying retirement — playing golf, cards, shuffleboard, traveling, bird watching, and doing all those other wonderful things that retired people do. Relax, for God’s sake — you earned it.

The next time you go to your neighbor’s house and offer to fix her computer, remember there are people out here (like me) who may not have intended on becoming computer technicians (all the aerospace jobs were filled at the time) who rely on that specific job to put food on their tables.

Sometimes your helping hurts. 

How To Back Up Your Computer.

HERE’S THE PROBLEM.
Have you backed up your pictures, documents, email and address book lately? I see digital tragedies several times a week. Baby photos gone forever. Months of bookkeeping lost to the digital abyss. Thousand dollar digital music collections decimated and returned to the arbitrary ones and zeroes they came from. If you have digital assets you would miss when they’ve gone, you’d better back them up sooner than later.

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The first problem is as far as technology has advanced, there is still no perfect storage medium. Each method of digital storage has its own vulnerabilities, just as any electronic device does. Depending on which you choose, it’s susceptible to theft, fire, water damage, oxidation, electromagnetic radiation, heat, power surges, poor manufacturing processes, bearing failure, and even too much sun. All hard drives and storage media will fail; it’s just a matter of time.

Secondly, our primary storage devices seem to work so well for so long that we become complacent in our efforts. It’s not uncommon for very smart people to believe their computer or phone or tablet will just store their priceless data forever.
Thirdly, the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. For a backup to be a successful backup, it needs to be current. This requires planning and constant follow-through. Depending on your method, you may be required to manually perform the backup, or at least periodically verify your backup is working correctly.

WHAT IS A BACKUP?
It seems like a silly question, but there is definitely some confusion about what constitutes a “backup.” A backup is any second copy of your digital media that’s physically separated from your original medium. For example, if you make an exact copy of a folder containing your digital photographs originally stored on your PC to a USB flash drive that can be physically removed from that computer, you have a valid backup of that folder of photographs. Remember, if you add more photographs to your computer, your backup is not current until you’ve backed up those new photographs too. Many folks forget backing up is an ongoing process. The logic of backing up intangible things can be confusing. It might be easier to understand what is not a backup.

  • Backing up to another folder on your computer’s primary hard drive is not a backup. When your primary hard drive fails, so will your backup.
  • Backing up to the recovery partition on your computer’s hard drive is not a backup. A partition is a logical (not physical) separation of the same, single hard drive. If the drive fails, so will your backup.
  • Moving pictures or music from your computer to an external hard drive is not a backup. By moving your data, you still only have ONE copy of your digital media, and you need at least TWO copies to have a valid backup.
  • Windows’ System Restore is not a backup. Although the system restoration process may miraculously resurrect misbehaving software, it has absolutely nothing to do with your personal data. And, since all your system restore points reside on your computer’s physical hard drive, when your hard drive dies, so too will your restore points.

To recap, a backup should be defined as a second copy of digital media that is physically separate from the original digital media.

WHAT SHOULD I BACK UP?
Back up anything you consider valuable, important, or difficult to impossible to reproduce. Typically, Computer Care Clinic recommends you back up the following:

  • Digital photographs, usually located in your Pictures folder under your user profile located under C:\Users\[your name]\Photos or C:\Documents and Settings\[your name]\My Documents\My Pictures. Older versions of Kodak’s Easy Share software may have stored your photographs in the “All Users” folder located in Windows XP under C:\All Users\Photos\Kodak Easy Share. Many folks forget to back this folder up.
  • Digital music, movies, apps, and books purchased on iTunes, Amazon.com, or on similar sites. Most of this data will be stored under C:\Users\[your name]\Music\iTunes, or C:\Documents and Settings\[your name]\My Documents\My Music\iTunes.
  • Your documents folder. This is the default location for most documents, tax files, family tree software, and many other useful things. Make sure you back up all the sub-folders in this directory too.
  • If you use Internet Explorer as your web browser and you’ve stored an extensive amount of Favorite websites, you can back those favorites up too. They’re located under C:\Users\[your name]\Favorites.
  • Other browsers like Firefox and Chrome store your favorites as “bookmarks.” These files are typically hidden on your hard drive and can be difficult to locate. Most modern alternative browsers have an export and/or a synchronization feature that, with a little homework, will allow you to export or save your favorites online.
  • Your email and address book, if you use POP mail with Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, or Thunderbird. This is a more advanced procedure since the files are hidden under your user profile. There are several articles and videos online that detail the steps involved.

WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T BACK UP
There are millions of inconsequential files on your computer that will do no more than waste space and time. Unless you’re creating a complete system backup that includes your operating system and programs, there’s no need to back up your Windows directory, your system restore points, your program files, and all the other incremental stuff that’s important to your computer but not important to you.

Some external hard drives come with software that will “image” or “clone” your hard drive, creating a perfect copy of everything just as it was the last time you created that image. It takes a lot of disc space to store that image, and it takes several hours to complete such a large backup. Once the image is completed, you may have the option to append that image with any new or changed files. In eight years, I can count on two hands the people who have tackled the project to attempt to successfully restore a computer from an image, and about half of those gave up trying. And since creating and maintaining a hard drive image is such an intimidating chore for an average user, it’s rare that the image was kept up-to-date with the most recent data. An image that is six months old will not have your current data on it. During the restore process, there are boot CDs that need to be created, and then the tedious process of re-establishing the image to a new hard drive. Imaging is definitely do-able, but you’ve got to be diligent. If you have the knack, the patience, and the spare time, go ahead and create an image, and keep it current. It could save you a lot of time reinstalling programs.

CHOICES IN BACKUP MEDIUM.
You’ll need to decide what media you’d like to use for your backup. There are three important considerations – reliability, cost, and storage capacity. There are no valid long-term studies on storage media since this whole computer thing is relatively new and changes so frequently. But I can derive from my personal experiences what’s worked best for my clients, and what I believe might be your best option considering your usage.

My most important lesson was to not trust any single storage medium. I have seen CDs, DVDs, hard drives, tapes, flash drives, and even cloud backups fail without notice or warning. Personally, my most important documents and photographs are backed up at least twice. And believe it or not, I still print some things out as an additional backup. Obviously, I’m not the “all your eggs in one basket” kind of guy. Here are the different types of backup media, and their pros and cons.

CDs AND DVDs
CD-R and DVD+R differ from typical software or music CDs, because they allow you to physically change them. A music or software CD can last for decades. But a writeable CD is a whole different animal.

Writeable CDs and DVDs store data when a laser burns digital pits into an organic dye, leaving a row of microscopic transparent and non-transparent areas aligned along grooves in the disc. All recordable CDs and DVDs contain a reflective layer that allows a reading laser to bounce off the CD/DVD and to be “read” by the pickup sensor in the CD or DVD replay device. Different types of dyes, recording substrates, and reflective layers behave differently. The quality of the recorded digital signal is also an important factor of life expectancy. Since consumer burners and players were not formally standardized, the data quality and life expectancy is unpredictable.

In the late 1990s, I purchased a certain brand of “gold” CD-Rs for about $2 each. At the time, these discs were touted to be the most reliable recordable CDs on the planet with an archival life expectancy of well over 100 years. I stored my discs in my climate controlled home office, in a sealed CD binder, away from any heat or direct sun. In 2005 I decided to test these discs. In less than ten years, more than half of those discs had read errors and would not work in several of my CD readers. I do not know if it was the writing process or the media itself, but my faith in CDs and DVDs has been shattered. I personally will not trust my backups to any CDs or DVDs.

Storage-wise, DVDs top out at about 8 GB for the latest dual-layer discs, which may barely be enough for today’s digital media storage needs. Even the latest (and still very expensive) “Blu-Ray” DVD discs will only store up to 50 gigabytes of data, which is relatively small by today’s storage standards.

To back up using CDs or DVDs, you can use a program that may already be installed on your computer like Roxio, Sonic, or Nero; or Windows has a built-in utility that does the same thing. You simply insert a blank writeable disc, open the CD writing program, choose the folders or files you would like to write to the disc, and most of the programs will tell you how much space you’re using and have remaining. Most CDs and DVDs are “write once,” meaning you can only “burn” them one time, and no further information may be added once the session has been closed. There are re-writeable discs available that you can change several times, but I’ve never used one – I wouldn’t trust it.

Another reason to avoid CDs and DVDs as a backup medium is many new computers no longer have an optical drive. This is a very good indication that this medium is on its way to becoming extinct.

USB FLASH OR “THUMB” DRIVES
One of the latest entries in the digital storage market is USB flash drives, often called “thumb” drives because they were originally about the size of a thumb. Today’s versions can be the size of a thumbnail, as they continue to shrink. A flash drive consists of a small circuit board shielded by a plastic, metal, or rubberized case with an external USB connector. USB flash drives draw power from the computer via the USB connection.

According to manufacturers, the memory in these flash drives is engineered with either multi-level cell (MLC) or single-level cell (SLC) based memory that is good for somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000 writes, depending on the process. There is virtually no limit to the number of reads from flash memory. Theoretically, even a well-worn USB drive may still be readable after several years. Regardless of the endurance of the memory itself, the USB connector hardware is specified to withstand about 1,000 to 2,000 insert-removal cycles before the soldering between the USB connector and the circuit board stresses and ultimately fails.
With that said, I still have an early 1 gigabyte flash drive that I have inadvertently run through my washing machine on at least three occasions, and it still works perfectly. I don’t have time to track write cycles, but I typically use flash memory for reading data more than writing data. It is at least five years old and still works perfectly. On the other hand, I also had a 64 gigabyte flash drive that has failed to read and been replaced three times under its one year warranty. It finally died after I bumped it with my wrist and compromised the USB to circuit board solder connection, well before the typical 1,000 insertions and removals.

Ultimately, these are a fairly reliable and inexpensive secondary backup device. Storage is limited but respectable, topping out affordably at about 64 gigabytes with 256 gigabyte drives now available and growing. The devices continue to shrink, making them convenient to store but also easy to lose or misplace. Backing up weekly would cause 52 annual writes and removals, which should theoretically get you thought this medium’s obsolescence well before a board failure. Granted, this technology is still relatively new, so this medium’s true longevity is still being evaluated.

Backing up to these devices is very easy. Simply copy (not CUT – cutting moves the files) and paste the files you want to back up to this drive, which will automatically show up in My Computer as the next available letter drive looking just like any other hard drive. Some devices come with backup software.

EXTERNAL HARD DISK DRIVES
The most popular method of backup is currently external hard disk drives. Currently available in capacities of 500 to 3,000 Gigabytes, they offer a tremendous amount of storage for a comparatively reasonable price. Essentially, this is an external version of the same exact mechanical hard disk drive that stores your data in your computer, typically connected via a USB cable. Today’s drives transfer data very quickly via USB 3.0, if your computer is equipped with that standard.

Some external hard drives come with imaging and/or backup software. Once installed, this software should prompt you to create an initial backup, and subsequently should automatically add any changed or new files to your backup as an “incremental” backup. This is a good method of backing up. The downside is that many people, especially those with laptops, fail to physically connect the hard drive to their computers periodically to allow the incremental backup to take place. It’s as if folks think backups take place via magic. Fortunately, some of the newer external hard drives have a wireless network interface, so as long as the drive has power and you’re on the same home network as that hard drive, your backup should proceed as planned.

An external hard drive will also allow Windows Vista, 7 and 8 to utilize its built-in backup capability. There’s an option to let Windows select the files to back up, or you can select them yourself. The interface is fairly simple, though it might take some effort to learn how to set backup time and frequency. The backup tool is located under System Tools in Vista and 7, and search for File History with Windows 8. Macs have a similar utility called Time Machine.

External hard drives have their downfalls. Most are mechanical and very sensitive to bumps or drops, especially when powered on. And since most are mechanical, they’re subject to failure just like the hard drive inside your computer. Portable solid state hard drives based on flash memory similar to USB flash drives are just beginning to hit the market. They’re still pricey, storage is limited topping out at about 256 GB currently, and the jury is out on their reliability.

To back up using an external hard drive, you may use the built-in software to configure and also schedule your backups. You may also manually back up by copying and pasting the files and folders you want to preserve via Windows Explorer or navigation via My Computer. An external hard drive will show up in My Computer as the next available logical letter drive. Remember, the external hard drive has to be connected to the computer you want to back up, and it has to be powered on at the time you scheduled your backup. You can also use it like any other hard drive or flash drive, and copy your files and folders directly to that external hard drive manually.

NETWORK ATTACHED STORAGE (NAS)
NAS devices are special computer controlled boxes that contain external hard drive storage devices that connect to your home or business network. After a network-based configuration process that can be a bit tricky to a novice, your computer treats a NAS device like any other external hard drive. Some later routers have USB ports which will accept off-the-shelf USB Flash Drives or external hard drives, essentially creating your own pseudo NAS device.

Your NAS can be configured to show up as a separate disk in My Computer and you’ll be able to access your files just as you would on any external hard drive. And since it’s not directly attached to any single PC, it can be accessed by several computers in your home simultaneously. I can seamlessly connect to the NAS I have at work from home via the Internet. Its software has let me “map” my internet connected NAS as the “L drive” in My Computer.

Today’s NAS devices come with additional features including software similar to that of external hard drives. Since it’s on your home network and always on, you won’t have to worry about physically plugging it in to complete your incremental backups. You will need a router of some sort at home, a place to store your NAS drive that has access to an Ethernet connection, and obviously A/C power.

Once again, a NAS is a single hard drive (or an array of several conventional hard drives), so they’re also subject to the same failures as any hard drive.

To back up using a NAS drive, configure the accompanying software to automate your backup. Or, similar to a flash drive or external hard drive, copy and paste your files and folders manually.

ONLINE BACKUPS VIA “THE CLOUD”
Online file storage solutions are becoming increasingly popular and are an excellent option, especially if you’re too busy (or forgetful) to backup on a set schedule. The “Cloud” is simply the collection of several third party organizations that maintain several computers responsible for storing data via a broadband internet connection. In other words, it’s a warehouse for people’s data. You upload your data, and it’s the Cloud’s job to keep it safe and let you retrieve it whenever you want it.

Internet cloud-based storage solutions include Dropbox, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, Google’s Cloud, Apple’s iCloud, Box, or Amazon’s cloud as well as scores of other paid and free solutions can add a virtual folder to your computer, which you can manage manually, just like any other folder on your computer. I use a free Dropbox account to share folders among my family and co-workers. I use SkyDrive and Google’s Cloud to backup books I’m writing as well as newsletters like this one.

Carbonite, Mozy, Norton, and several other companies offer more comprehensive backup systems in the cloud. Carbonite can be configured to automatically back up nearly every piece of data on your computer (with the exception of video files as a limitation of my $59 “home” option). The backup process happens over the internet, so your computer would have to remain on and not sleeping for this backup to work, and obviously, connected to the internet. Prices start at about $60/year. Click here for a special offer on Carbonite.

The pros of a complete backup system like Carbonite or Mozy are that they happen with no intervention from you whatsoever. No planning or manual labor is required on your part, which is perfect for many of today’s busy professionals (like me). As long as your computer is online and powered up, your data is incrementally being backed up to the vendor’s cloud storage.
Of course, things happen. You’ll need to verify your storage is backing up what you want it to back up. I had a customer who told me his data was not available after a hard drive crash due to some unidentified snafu in the cloud storage process. I’ve tested mine on several occasions, and all is well so far.

The initial backup process, depending on how much data you have to store and how fast your upload connection to the internet is, can take several weeks. Your computer will need to remain on (and not in sleep or hibernation modes) and connected to the internet for your initial backup to complete. Mine took about ten days. Even broadband internet connections with lightning fast download speeds are subject to crippling slow upload speeds. Upload speeds are typically 1/10th (or less) than your download speed, so keep that in mind. It is definitely not a fast process if you require an immediate backup due to an impeding failure.
Finally, anything online is subject to illegal access via hackers. Online services have been hacked and personal and government data has been leaked. Fortunately, cloud-based storage offers options to exclude certain files and folders from your online backup. I’ve excluded all my personal and financial data from cloud storage, and I recommend you too back that information up locally to an external hard drive or flash drive.

RAID
Finally, there is the Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks, or RAID configuration. RAID comes in many different configurations. For backup and continuity purposes, “RAID 1” uses two identically sized disks to make two copies of all your data with a process called mirroring. By writing everything on your PC to both disks simultaneously, a RAID1 mirror array ensures that even if one of your hard drives fails, your computer will still operate normally, complete with all your data, as long as the other hard drive is healthy. It’s very rare for both hard drives to fail at the same time.

There are two downsides to RAID. RAID will not save your PC in the event of a serious virus infection since both drives share the same exact data. If one drive is infected, both drives will be affected. And with few exceptions, most RAID configurations must be installed when your computer is built and initially loaded. You might have to completely reload your system to successfully establish a new RAID configuration.

Ironically, “redundant array of inexpensive disks” does not mean this solution is inexpensive. RAID mirror systems require additional hardware and configuration, and can add several hundred dollars to your computer’s upfront cost.

OTHER “PSEUDO” BACKUPS
Every time you upload a digital image to Facebook, Instagram, Photobucket, Snapfish, Flickr, or the thousands of other social media websites or online file sharing services, you’ve essentially created a backup of those images. When you email a picture to your friends or family, and if they’ve saved that picture, they’ve got a backup of that picture. In the event of a failed hard drive or some other catastrophic data disaster, you could painstakingly piece together a pseudo backup of at least some of your valuable data.

Digital cameras and smartphones store photos internally or on to SD cards or memory sticks. If you haven’t erased yours, your pictures and videos may still be retrieved from those devices. Don’t forget about printed photos in albums or frames – they can be scanned or photographed back into the digital domain.

Most of my important home videos are now stored on YouTube. Some are public, some are private. I can download those from YouTube whenever I want to, as long as my account isn’t hacked or I don’t forget my password.

And of course, there’s nothing like a laser printer, acid-free archival paper, and a fireproof file cabinet for the ultimate protection. It’s kind of old-school, but it works.

For more on this topic, read our article “Recovering from a Computer Catastrophe.” It’s definitely much easier, effective, and efficient to do your own backups, but these pseudo backups are a great third or fourth tier, just in case.

ITOK TECHNICAL SUPPORT RIPOFF WARNING

Maybe, just maybe, iTok actually does some legitimate work. But one of our customers was blatantly ripped off. What’s scary is that Bright House is referring their customers to this iTok place, probably for a kickback.
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I don’t have a problem with online companies doing computer repair. Lord knows there’s enough work to go around, and I can barely handle what’s in my store (http://www.computercareclinic.com).  But when they’re making millions while eating my pie and making us all look bad, I have a problem with that.

An older customer stopped in one day. He had an issue with his email account. He had inadvertently changed his email password, and couldn’t seem to remember what it was. He contacted Bright House and explained his situation, and apparently, they didn’t understand his concern, or maybe it was too close to lunch, but they were all too happy to refer this kind gentlemen to iTok’s technical support.

iTok conned this man into allowing them to remote control his computer. Within a few minutes of small talk, they informed him that he had “over 800 viruses” and recommended that he pay them over $200 to remove the viruses and install an antivirus. Fortunately, he balked and came to see us for a second opinion.

I scanned his computer with every tool known to man. I even used tools I hate. All came up with nothing more than a few hundred innocent cookies, normal for anyone who uses the internet.

Many of these remote support buffoons are reporting cookies and even event viewer logs as “problems” that require hundreds of dollars in useless repairs; much of which even a beginner could do themselves with a little Googling. This situation has caused undue damage to the reputation of several smaller shops (like mine).

As a matter of fact, the folks at Microsoft should be really concerned because it’s damaging their reputation. Seems everyone with Windows has a virus, according to these nitwits. No wonder the feeble minded are paying three times as much for a Mac.

Buyer beware. There are several of these companies scrambling to rip off you or your grandparents. Many are easily detectable from their foreign accents, but several new ones are domestic entities. Fortunately, iTok doesn’t cold-call people like the others do.

And remember, if anyone ever calls you and tells you they’re from the FBI or Microsoft, hang up immediately.