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June 30, 2011

How I Backup My Files

Possibly due to my posts about the importance of backing up files as well as being the owner of Computer Concierge NY LLC, I have been asked how do I back up my files. Let me first say that for any of the products I mention, I have not received any compensation or assurances, hints, discounts, etc of compensation as of June 30, 2011 for mentioning the products in question by anyone.

I use an external Western Digital Hardrive Model #WDBAAA6400ABK-NESN that I purchased from Amazon. It provides for automatic and continuous backups. If any file of mine is changed it is backed up when I close the file. When I have had to rebuild my system, it has worked fine and I was able to restore all my files. Further if I need to go back to a previous version of a file I am able to do that as well. My personal setting is where I can go back up to 5 file versions prior to the current one. I also have backups on several DVDs I keep offsite that I update about monthly. One of these is constantly updated while for the other DVDs it is a 1 time deal once the DVD is filled. Should there ever be some sort of catastrophe at home or if the external hard drive fails, I have a way of going offsite and getting back the contents of my files. It is recommended that you have another backup away from your computer should this instance occur.

I also am a Dropbox user.  I have blogged about Dropbox in the past.   I recommend it for all. You can sync up to 2 gb for free to your Dropbox account. However there are ways to get even more storage free. The most common is suggesting it to someone and when they become a Dropbox user from your suggestion both of you get an extra 250mg of storage.

This is the backup system that works for me. What type of backup system you need depends on various factors. For those living in Queens and Nassau County, NY call me at 917.572.3468. I can determine the backup plan that is best for you. Many people think a hard drive failure cannot happen to them. Nothing is farther from the truth. You need to have a backup plan and follow it before it is too late.

June 24, 2011

Why I Am Not Following You On Twitter

Twitter is a very prominent social networking and microblogging service. Those using Twitter have people they follow and people who follow them.

There are those people who I will follow when I see that they are following me. There are those I will tend not to follow. The reasons I do not follow someone are entirely not personal.  The person could be a very good person. These reasons are not absolute as I have made exceptions. Some reasons for not following someone are:
  1. They have less then 10 tweets. I like to get a feel for what the person is like before following. With few or none tweets of their own, I am unable to grasp what they are about. Do their tweets align with their profile? 
  2. Someone not having a profile or the profile does not tell me about them. Who are you? What are you about? I would like to know about you if I am to follow you.
  3. A person seems to be tweeting on an almost ongoing basis. There are those who it seems are constantly on Twitter tweeting what appears 200 times daily or so. Twitter is about conversation and in a conversation there is an exchange of ideas.
  4. Tweets consistently showing the same link. The person is spamming on Twitter. 
  5. Their interests do not match what I am interested in. Let's say a person constantly tweets about Newton's 3 Laws of Motion. This is a subject that would make me not inclined to follow. That said, I did once make an exception for a follower who I had no intent of following. They did however list me and mentioned me on a Tweet.  I must admit they charmed me into following them and I am glad to follow as whoever tweets for this Twitter handle is a really nice person.
  6. Their tweets are all about them and trying to plug their product and/or themselves. Similar to #4.  
  7. "Tips on making money" is in their bio. Again it is about them. We all want to make money but at least be subtle about it. 
  8. Someone who follows many people and hardly anyone follows them. A lot of times this ties in to having few or no tweets.  
  9. They do not have a link to their website or blog in their profile or just as bad the website link in their profile does not work.  
  10. They seem to argue rather than discuss. Twitter is about an exchange of ideas and not I am right and you are wrong. Further 2 people can have different approaches to an issue and both be right.  
While there are other reasons, these are the main ones.  For those not having many tweets and/or no profile, I want to know more about you before I follow.  

June 23, 2011

Maps Online Part II - Google Maps

In a previous blog, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps and Mapquest were discussed.  Google Maps is probably the most used online mapping service and understandably so because of the features and speed.

One of the great feature of Google Maps is when you type the name of a location, Google predicts the results of your search as you are typing in a manner similar to doing a Google search.  Type your search in the search bar and you will see what Google thinks you are searching for.  This can speed up your search since if your result shows you can just click on it and the map will show the location you are seeking. The ease of zooming in and out using your mouse's scroll wheel is just another reason this a good map.

Google Maps allows you to get directions by car, mass transit, walking or bicycling. Of the 4 maps that have been discussed it is the only one where you can get directions by all of the choices mentioned.  Bing Maps allows directions for all but bicycling.  Whether getting directions for a trip or navigating to an address, you can get both live traffic and the expected traffic based upon date and time of your expected travel.  The expected traffic is based upon past traffic patterns.  You will sometimes get more than 1 route when searching for directions.  On a long trip, the difference can be a matter of a few minutes but the longer route could be more scenic.  The choice is yours.

Google Street view is much improved but the picture quality still trails Bing Maps. That said, it is quite a bit easier to go to/from Google Street than going to/from Bing Maps Streetside view. What I personally like is the ease of navigation.  I was showing a friend of mine great vantage points NW of San Francisco to get great views of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Using the street view enabled me to give him a preview of what he would see in person on his trip.

As you zoom in an area, you can see the location of points of interest.  Further to the right of the search bar is an option, "What's Around Here"? You will see letter codes that correspond to the listing on the left side of the map.

The others have their features (the quality of pictures when using Bing Streetside, the turn by turn directions using Mapquest).  The features of Google Maps such as its speed and ease of use  are why it is the preferred mapping site to use.

June 11, 2011

Cloud Computing AKA the Internet

These days a lot is mentioned about Cloud Computing. In a nutshell cloud computing is another term for the internet.  When services like mention online backup what they also mean is that your data is backed up in the cloud. When you are on vacation and check your email, that email is stored in the cloud. If you are using a spreadsheet program in Google Docs and calculations are made to that file, the calculation is done in the cloud.  These are just a few applications that are done in the cloud.  Google has been designing a new operating system Google Chrome OS that will work exclusively with web applications. It is expected to be released later this year.

The beauty of the cloud is that you are able to access your files anywhere there is an internet connection.  If you are halfway around the world and need to know where that Tuesday meeting after you get back is and with who, you can go to an online product like Google Calendar to find out. Items in the cloud do not take up space on your hard drive.

Needless to say it isn't perfect and there are issues and concerns the biggest being privacy and security.  Since you are trusting your data to a third party you want your information to be secure and not easily accessible to those you wish to keep it away from. You also want to be assured that the provider will not lose your data.  As we know Facebook has had security and privacy issues.  I believe that as we move more into the cloud, these issues will resolve themselves. Security and privacy will be much improved because of competition and technological advances. Another issue is the accessibility of the data.  What if the internet goes down or either you or your provider lose internet access?  The quick and short answer to this is unless you have backed up your data locally you have to wait until access is restored. That said, web services are continually improving as to access and security.  Like any service providers there are good and bad.  Keep in mind if your hard drive crashes or you cannot get on your computer for some other reason, having backups is important. Cloud applications do guarantee the safety of your data.  Any reputable company storing your data online will have backups of their own.  I will say this in closing for those of you who do online banking and/or get credit card statements online. The bank statements you see in your account where you do your online banking that saves you space(you do not need a hard copy of them) is in the cloud as are the credit card statements you see in your online account.  Businesses are starting to move their data into the cloud accessing and storing it there.

Google Docs - 1 thing I Forgot to Mention

In my previous post of Google Docs I forgot to mention another key feature. You have the ability to revert back to a previous saved version of a file. This can be useful if a major error is noticed or for whatever reason you desire to revert to a previous saved version. Under the top menu select "File" and under "File" select "See Revision History". The revision history will appear in the right hand side. Select the date and time of the saved version you wish to revert to. Then select "Restore this Version"

Another good feature of Google Docs.

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June 10, 2011

Use the Internet to Save Your Trip

What would happen on a trip if you were to lose your passport, credit cards, driver's license, etc?  I find it to be a good idea to scan all except the credit cards and then save it as a word file using Microsoft Word (MS Word).  As for the credit cards, I make a list of that using MS Excel. I have the name of the card in one column and the card number in another column. You can also do a list in MS Word.  Using MS Excel is a personal preference.

In saving these files I make sure to password protect them. Since the method to password protect a file differs by program used and version of that program you need to go to the help section to determine how to password protect the file. I then email the file to myself. What I am doing here is adding an extra layer of security to information that if it fell into the wrong hands would make me more susceptible to identity theft. One would need to know both my email password as well as the password I am using to protect the respective files that contain this sensitive data. I would suggest making the passwords for your email and files different.

One does not have to limit to just credit cards, passport and drivers license. Scanning current drug prescriptions you are using and saving them to a word type file is another good idea where you have a copy of the prescription. This way if you were to lose the prescription drugs you had packed, you should have an easier time refilling it. You can also put the numbers of your travelers checks in a file as well. I also keep my phonebook in my Google contacts list so should I need a number I can get it wherever I have an internet connection which would include my smartphone.

Doing all of these is not a magic bullet should you have a loss. It will however make it easier to travel and in the case of a passport get a replacement more easily in the event of losing any important documents. I would also suggest that you avoid using an unsecured public wireless network to obtain any of this. If you have a smartphone, you can likely access this information using it. That said another way to store your files is if you are using a syncing program like Dropbox or Sugarsync. You can log onto the one you are using to access the information in question. I will suggest here that you do not save this information on the hard drive of any computers you may be travelling with. Better that it is in the cloud where the data and you are not in the same place. Also should your computer get lost or stolen, you can still access it from another computer. If anyone is interested in opening a Dropbox account let me know before setting up your account. I will send you an invite to join Dropbox and both of us will get an extra 250mb of free storage. A win/win for both of us. Note: as I mentioned in my blog last week, you cannot upload or save a password protected file in Google Docs.

Hopefully you will never need to access these files in an emergency.  However, having them in an emergency can make your life easier when it occurs.

June 9, 2011

Google Docs

There are some very good uses of Google Docs. It is a word processor, spreadsheet, or presentation program and can be an alternative to Microsoft Office. Some use it is a way to backup selected files online. It also is a way to share selected files among users where these users have the ability to make changes to the files or view only. You can backup files (up to 1GB free) here and share any files. Google Docs is a cloud application. All files are stored on Google's servers. You access them on the internet therefore in the cloud. You can set up folders on your Google Docs site and treat it as another drive but this one is in the clouds.  For $59 you can purchase an app that makes Google Docs your "G:" drive on your computer. On Google's page regarding this I see nothing about being able to sync files on your hard drive with Google Docs and vice versa.

Let's start with the backup feature. You do have the ability to backup selected files on your Google Docs account. You can drag the files you select to the indicated box or clicking on the "Select Files to Upload" link.  Note that at this time you have to upload individual files. You cannot upload by folder. You need to select all the individual files in that folder. Personally I find this to be a disadvantage and why I would not use this to backup files per se. Further if you are password protecting a file, Google Docs will not allow you to upload it to its site. Currently Google allows up to 1GB to be stored free of charge. However files saved in a Google Docs format are not subject to the 1GB limitation. There is no automatic backup. You need to upload the updated file(s) manually. Note that you can purchase additional storage. 20GB is $5 per year and 80GB is $20 per year. You also can purchase additional amounts.

Like Libreoffice, Microsoft Office, Google Docs also is an office software suite. Google's suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet editor and presentation program. Like most office software suites, it supports the basic Microsoft (MS) Office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). A big advantage of the Google Docs software suite is it can be shared, edited and opened by multiple users at the same time. This is a good feature when you are working on a team project for work, school or otherwise that involves a file(s) that all need to access and edit. When my wife and I are preparing for a trip, we will put a "To See" list on Google Docs for that trip that both of us can add to and edit . This sharing capability is a factor in why usage of Google Docs has increased. There are templates available for your use as well.

I personally like the sharing option the best. I talked a little about this in the previous paragraph. There are 3 sharing options. One is only where you and only people with permission can sign in to access the file. The second is where anyone with a link to the file can access it without signing in. The third sharing option is where the file is public on the web. Anyone on the internet can find and access it. You also have the ability to decide whether or not those with access to the file can also make changes. This is for any of the 3 sharing options. With a smartphone, files can be edited on your phone by you and others you allow to edit. For those who do presentations, this is a great way to email attendees notes from your presentation. You give those views view access and email the link.

Google Docs is a good application of Google especially when sharing files between users.  Try it for your next team project.

June 7, 2011

Your Future Employer – How They Get to Know You Before They Meet You

Over the past few years, the term online identity has grown in importance. Reputations have been ruined due to a poor online profile. Potential employers have always gone to references that you did not include on your job application when possible. We all know of Six Degrees of Separation and the expression “It’s A Small World.” The small world has gotten smaller.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, about 57% of adult internet users in the US admitted to putting their name into an online search engine such as Google or Bing. In 2006, the figure was 47%.

As the internet has evolved, so have ways to find out more about you. As mentioned,57% of internet users in the US say they have done an internet search on themselves. Per a recent Microsoft commissioned study,78% of potential employers have used an internet search engine to find out about potential employees. Social networking sites (Facebook, linkedin) and photo and video sharing sites (utube, flickr, etc) account for 63% and 57% respectively of how potential employers try to find out about you. I will note here that there are other ways as well but those just listed are the top 3. Personal websites, blogs, and online forums are some of the others.

What does this all mean? In today’s world, many employers record your at work computer activity. People have been fired from their jobs for going to porn, game, shopping, etc. sites deemed inappropriate. The keystrokes you do while on a computer at work can be tracked by your employer with the right keylogging software. Postings on Facebook where you complain about your job can get you fired. When you go for that new job, your online profile can and will be used against you if there is anything negative.

Just like you need to check your credit report before applying for a mortgage, you need to check your online reputation especially when searching for a job. If there is anything negative when you check, you need to clear it up. Although there are privacy settings in Facebook, you should treat anything that you post there as public information. This is due to the fact that Facebook has changed their online privacy policies where something once private is now public. What are your political beliefs? Your potential employer may have other political beliefs and may hold yours against you. There are various services that for a fee will improve your online reputation. The bad things may not be able to be cleared but they can be pushed further down on the search engine. As they say, do not post anything that you would not want your parents, spouse, children, etc. to find out about you. As an aside here, divorce attorneys are now using the internet (especially Facebook) to get information to assist their clients.

Anthony Weiner and Twitter

This is not going to be a political post. I do not get political on this blog. However there are times where politics and tech related issues intertwine and this is one of these times. This blog is from a tech perspective and I will not issue an opinion of Congressman Weiner one way or another politically.

Congressman Weiner admitted yesterday that he had tweeted lewd pictures of himself. He supposedly is one of the more tech savvy members of Congress. I have made mention both on this blog and on Twitter the need to be careful of what you put out on the internet especially social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. A lot of what you put out there in cyberspace is out in the open for all to see. Congressman Weiner who again is tech savvy should have known this. Unless your tweets are protected or you are sending a direct message to someone, any tweet you make is there and cannot be considered a secret in any way, shape or form. When I tweet, I realize this. If I make a grammatical error or another error guess what? It can be seen by anyone and does not put me in the best light. Anyone with internet access can see them by simply doing a search on Twitter. A lot of my tweets can also be found by doing a search on Google or another search engine. Since he admitted that he sent it, I cannot understand how Anthony Weiner as a user of Twitter could not think that somehow the Tweet of him in his underwear would be hush hush. If he intended to send a direct message, he should have been extra careful knowing the implications of the tweet in question. Also keep in mind that anyone using Twitter has the ability to retweet a tweet to their followers and of course that is there for all to see. So for argument's sake, if Charlie Sheen who has over 4 million followers was to retweet Weiner's infamous tweet all 4 million plus of his followers will see it. Sheen's followers can then retweet it to their followers and you can see this all spiraling.

Let me respond about hacked passwords here as Weiner initially said his account was hacked. You need to have a safe password. I have blogged about the need for a safe password in previous posts. Please see the link which also has links to related posts. You also need to be careful of phishing schemes.

In this day of social media, Google, Facebook, etc., we need to be careful of what we put online. Anything you do online in a public forum can be obtained by others. A few years ago I signed an online petition that photography in New York City subways not be banned. One time when doing an online search of myself, it came up. Anything I put on my website is not between friends but for the whole world to see. This means that not only what you put on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter do you need to be careful about. You need to be careful about EVERYTHING you put online that is not an email or text message. Yes the recipient of an email or text can share that with others. But that also holds true for what you tell someone verbally or in writing.

June 2, 2011

CCleaner A Good Free Software Product for Your Computer

CCleaner is a product developed by Piroform. It is used to clean unwanted files and invalid Windows registry entries from a computer. It is an application for Windows and not for Macs. However the Piroform webite which is responsible for CCleaner notes on its website that it soon will be making CCleaner for Macs as well.  It is free and a valuable program to have. One of its applications is the removal of cookies. For those who may be unfamiliar with cookies per Wikipedia they are "a piece of text stored on a user's computer by their web browser". What this piece of text does is that it stores various information on it. This information can be site preferences, shopping cart contents and an identifier.

Yes you can use the Disk Cleanup program in the System Tools of your PC. However CCleaner does a better job. As mentioned it can be used to delete invalid registry entries from your computer. It is not a sophisticated program for doing this but for those unfamiliar with registry files, it will do the job without harming your computer. It also is very good for cleaner your internet browser's cookies, history, temporary files and form history and download history.

Having said all this I will add that you can customize the settings. For example should you not wish to delete anything related to MS Office you can. This is important because if you select MS Office your history of recently opened documents will be deleted.

CCleaner also removes from your PC temporary files, listing of recent documents opened and clears your recycle bin. In addition it also removes unnecessary information from various third party programs. These include MS Office and Adobe Acrobat. If you like your computer to save your passwords (not recommended) or browsing history you have that option. Should you wish not to delete selected cookies, there is an option for that as well.

You also can uninstall programs using CCleaner instead of going into your computer's Control Panel.  The ability to wipe your hard drive also exists by going into the Tools option and selecting "Drive Wiper" then selecting "Entire Drive"  in the drop down menu to the right of "Wipe" so you do need to exercise some caution.

In all this is a desirable program to have on your hard drive. It is free and is a good way to get rid of unneeded files as well as being user friendly. I have found the settings to be easy to use.

UPDATE:  CCleaner is now available to Mac users as a free beta download.

I would like to add here that if anyone has a suggestion for a subject, please let me know. Also please feel free to comment.  All comments are welcomed.

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June 1, 2011

Maps Online - Part I

Some may remember the days of going to the neighborhood gas station and getting a free map to plan your trip or if it was a trip farther away, writing and getting directions from the oil companies such as Sinclair, Esso, etc.  Well those days are long gone.  They have been replaced by online maps, GPSes and even smartphones.

For online mapping there are 4 primary websites: Bing Maps, Google Maps, MapQuest and Yahoo Maps.  Bing Maps, MapQuest and Yahoo Maps will be covered in this blog.  Google Maps will be covered in a future blog.

Bing Maps is the new map on the block comparatively speaking.  The map allows you to get directions for driving, walking or public transportation.  It also is easy to send the directions to your email or cell phone.  You can get directions based upon current real time traffic conditions though this is generally limited to the major thoroughfares. Directions do note at the end of the route if you have reached a certain location that you have gone too far which is a nice touch.  The "What's Nearby" feature is also useful.  I found it easy to zoom in and out using the road view and arial view.  Where it has already been photographed, the Streetside view has clear pictures an certainly clearer than the heralded Google Maps. However when moving along the street in Streetside view there is not an indication of about where you are.  I do like the 3D views with which you can rotate/pan and zoom functions. That said, it is relatively slow to open and also to go from view to view as well as going to the location you choose.  There is certainly room for improvement here.  Also if you wish to reverse your route after you have gotten directions, you need to go back to the search page. This is not a good thing.

MapQuest has a lot of the features that the others have with 1 notable exception. You cannot use your scroll wheel to zoom in and out on the map. You can only get directions by car.  No walking, public transit, etc. directions can be obtained using MapQuest.  It has a street view known as 360 view but the areas available are relatively few and slower than expected.  I did not find 360 view to be user friendly. Like the others, there is a way to search for businesses in the area.  MapQuest has a drop down menu of choices or you type your own in the search bar under "Find a Business".  A real good feature of MapQuest when searching for directions is you can get turn by turn directions if you wish.  This and Google Maps are the only ones of the 4 maps where you can do this.  Bing Maps allow you to go to the text indicating the turns and click to go to the location on the map but MapQuest's turn by turn directions is preferred.

Yahoo Maps offers live traffic and a points of interest finder.  It also computes a route rather quickly.  Yahoo Maps is better used to computing a route by car. There is not a way to determine a route by other means.  Yahoo Maps is also the only map that I am reviewing that does not have any drop down menu for locating businesses. Google Maps does have a very limited one which is stretching it a bit and will be covered in a future blog as noted earlier. You also can use it to find a business along the map that is showing on the screen.  This is done by typing the category in the search bar under "Find a Business on a Map".  It is more of a no frills map to mainly be used for directions by auto and finding a business.  There is no street view like in Bing Maps or Google Maps.  Further you cannot get a map for turn by turn directions or click on the text directions to go to that part on the map.

One final note here.  All 4 maps allow you to click to change a route by dragging any part of the route.

Also for those subscribing by email to my blogs, please check your spam settings if you are not receiving them.  Some have noted that the email of this blog has gone to their spam folder.  It should be marked as "not Spam".

Dropbox – A Real Good Program for File Sharing and Accessing Files Away From Your Computer

Have you ever wanted to share files with someone without emailing them? Have you ever needed to access a file and you are not by your computer? Then Dropbox is for you. Per Wikipedia, “The Dropbox client enables users to drop any file into a designated folder that is then synced to the cloud and to any other of the user's computers and devices with the Dropbox client.”

While Google Docs is a way to share and store files offline, it is not as good as Dropbox. 3 reasons:
1. Using Dropbox allows you to upload by folder which at this point in time you cannot do using Google Docs. With Google Docs, you can only upload files. You have to set up a folder in Google Docs and move the files to that folder after you upload. With Dropbox, you can drag the folder into Dropbox and the folder and contents are uploaded.
2. You can set up more than 1 computer to have access to selected files. When you use the files and update, they are automatically uploaded on any other computer linked to your Dropbox account. You do not need to use a USB drive to transfer files or email a file to yourself.
3. Dropbox offers up to 2GB free storage. With Google Docs you are limited to 1GB of free storage.

Let’s discuss the 1st advantage. When you use Google Docs you can only upload files. You cannot upload a folder but rather the files in a folder. In Google Docs you upload the files in the folder, individually or collectively. What this means is that in Google Docs you need to create a folder name. Then in Google Docs you move the files to the folder selected. In Dropbox you simply upload the folder which would include all the files in the folder. A step saved.

I also like the time saver of the 2nd advantage. My wife and I have both a laptop and a desktop. When we travel, frequently our travel notes are written on the desktop. Prior to our trip we use a USB drive to transfer our travel notes to our laptop. Now that we have Dropbox and both computers are linked to the Dropbox account this is automatic. No USB drive needed here. That said, in order for the file to sync in Dropbox the file cannot be opened. While you are using the file, it cannot be synced to the Dropbox website or any other computer. Only files in the Dropbox folder are synced. If you do not want to share a file and/or folder you don't put it in the Dropbox folder. You save time in that you do not have to email files to yourself. You also do not need a USB drive to transfer files from 1 computer to another. This also has the advantage of backing up files on both another computer and on the Dropbox website. Don’t have another computer? Well like Google Docs, you can access the file from another computer by going to Dropbox on the web. If you want to share a file with others, you send an email allowing access to the file you wish to share.

The last advantage is academic. 2GB of free storage vs 1GB of free storage.

All in all, Dropbox is not only a good way of storing and accessing files online. It is also a better way of doing it than using Google Docs. Try it. You will find that you have some extra time on your hands for other things to do.