Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Backup Devices

Update June 20th 2016: Software recommendation changed.

Again I got a good question from a customer (Thanks Brian). The answer became this article.

So far I did not write about backup devices because the offers out there are in constant change; what I give as an example might not be available any more tomorrow. But here are quite a few generally applicable bit and pieces of info to that issue.

General: I favor 2.5" external hard disk drives over 3.5" drives. 3.5" drives need an external power supply; who likes more cables?

Brand: Over many years I have personally had too many failures with drives from Hitachi, Toshiba and Fujitsu. For years Seagate was a dependable drive but at the time of writing up to 20% of Seagate drives reportedly fail almost "out of the box". That leaves us currently only with Western Digital. This may change at any time. Stay away from drives with other names, you never know what brand of drive really is in there.

Capacity: 500GB to 1TB (1TB = two times 500GB) is currently the "sweet spot" where you get the most GB per $ spent.

Speed: If you can get a drive with 7200rpm that is still quiet go for it.

Interface: The vast majority of computers still have only USB version 2 interfaces. But version 3 is available and MUCH faster. If you have a choice buy the drive with USB version 3, your computer can likely be  upgraded with a USB 3 add-on card; that is not cost prohibitive at all.

Software: Most external drives come with some sort of (often manufacturer specific) back up software that sometimes even installs automatically when you connect the drive for the first time to the computer. GRRRR! Who guarantees that this backup program will be be running on your next computer when you want to restore the backed up files to that new computer? Additionally some of these programs encrypt and/or compress your files; you can restore them only with exactly this program. Windows Vista and 7 come with a decent backup program, but it's only decent.
Backup is the only instance where I recommend to pay for software!
Update June 20th 2016:

All too often a backup does not get done because, honestly, to run "that darned backup program" is an additional chore. And such chores get "forgotten" too often. BUt this something I can not change; if you want to be secured against data loss you will have to run backups - and you will have to do backups regularly!

And to be totally honest, you will have to learn about the different basic backup functions and their names. There are literally many hundreds of tutorials about that on the Internet.

I recommend the $70 (one time payment!) program Macrium Reflect. The free version is sufficient for most home users but the paid version can do it automatically.

Update May 2020:

For backups I strongly urge you to completely ignore conventional Hard Disk Drives. This is by now an outdated technology!

Prices of SSDs (Solid State Drive) have in the meantime come down into a price range where there is IMHO no reason at all any longer to shun them. The speed advantage alone can no longer be ignored.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Stay safe.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Download Portals - A Nasty Side Of the Internet

We all sometimes want or even need to download that nifty program that will do something we think we need done on the computer. Many downloads of really good software are offered on Download Portals, web sites that are specially designed to make many different programs available in "one convenient location" and accessible through "one convenient user interface".

Did you see what I put in quotes in the previous paragraph? "Convenient", one of the regularly (ab-)used weaknesses of human nature.

A consistent single user interface for many different downloads certainly is a nice idea - when it's done correctly and without a hidden agenda. Some very well known download portals do have a hidden agenda; mostly it is about making some money from the fact that many people use them.

Today I found an excellent article on the Emsisoft Blog about the abuse that unsuspecting visitors are subjected to by some well known download portals. Here you find the original blog post with quite a bit of technical detail; Emisisoft makes very good anti virus software and their blog is written for a technically inclined audience.

To save you the need to wade through the technical details here is an excerpt from that blog post (two paragraphs) and then I follow it with just the skinny:

What are download wrappers good for?
You have every right to wonder what the point of download wrappers is at all, as conventional downloads have been just as simple and as well established for decades now. There are several reasons: Useful features such as pausing and resuming while downloading big files are mostly advertised. Current browsers support pausing and resuming downloads, though. You can also make use of professional download managers instead of having a wrapper imposed onto you. This argument is also rather weak as download wrappers are also used for very small target files that are sometimes even smaller than the wrapper itself.
For download portals there is first and foremost a good reason for using download wrappers: the possibility of systematically putting in ads. Software you have designed yourself for that purpose is way more useful than a website is. Plus, this offers the advantage of collecting statistical data on used hardware, which enables the creation of detailed user profiles. One must not forget the commercial effect, either:  When a user downloads software from a specific portal, they are highly likely to remember its name and use this portal for future downloads as well. Regular visits including unique user statistics result in more profits from advertising.

Example 1: download.com
Risk: Installing a browser toolbar and hijacking your browser’s homepage.

Example 2: softonic.com

Risk: Installing undesired software, fraudulent ad banners.

Example 3: softonic.de / RegNow

Risk: Unintentional redirection to unknown third-party providers, ad banners.

Example 4: tucows.com

Risk: Greatest risk due to accidentally installing third-party software and tampering with your browser.
Should you at any time have downloaded anything from any of these four download portals you may find any of these icons on your desktop, in your Downloads folder or in almost any other location:

PLEASE uninstall these programs from your computer; uninstall them no matter what they tell you when you attempt the uninstall.

The vast majority of programs offered by download portals is available from other sources without all the "extras". My customers know who to ask. 
As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

545 vs. 300 Million People - NOT computer related at all!

Please read this as an expression of a totally personal opinion; I just think the man is right! A Facebook posting by my stepson brought me to put that article out here. Even as a guest (legal alien) in this country I concur; should you disagree I explicitly ask for your democratic tolerance. Rude comments and comments inappropriate for families with children will will not be published, simple as that. I have not changed the text at all except for optics. If you have any doubts or questions about the veracity of the origin please refer to this article on Snopes.com and do your own research from there. Here we go:

Charlie Reese is a retired reporter for the Orlando Sentinel. He has been a journalist for 49 years. He is retiring and this is HIS LAST COLUMN. A very interesting column, it seems to be COMPLETELY NEUTRAL Be sure to read the Poem and the list at the end.
This is about as clear and easy to understand as it can be. The article below is neither anti-republican nor anti-democrat. Charlie Reese has hit the nail directly on the head, defining clearly who it is that in the final analysis must assume responsibility for the judgments made that impact each one of us every day.

545 vs. 300,000,000 People  By Charlie Reese
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.
Have you ever wondered, if both the Democrats and the Republicans are against deficits, WHY do we have deficits?
Have you ever wondered, if all the politicians are against inflation and high taxes, WHY do we have inflation and high taxes?
You and I don't propose a federal budget. The President does.
You and I don't have the Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does.
You and I don't write the tax code, Congress does.
You and I don't set fiscal policy, Congress does.
You and I don't control monetary policy, the Federal Reserve Bank does.
One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one President, and nine Supreme Court justices equates to 545 human beings out of the 300 million are directly, legally, morally, and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
I excluded the members of the Federal Reserve Board because that problem was created by the Congress. In 1913, Congress delegated its Constitutional duty to provide a sound currency to a federally chartered, but private, central bank.
I excluded all the special interests and lobbyists for a sound reason. They have no legal authority. They have no ability to coerce a senator, a congressman, or a President to do one cotton-picking thing. I don't care if they offer a politician $1 million dollars in cash. The politician has the power to accept or reject it. No matter what the lobbyist promises, it is the legislator's responsibility to determine how he votes.
Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.
What separates a politician from a normal human being is an excessive amount of gall. No normal human being would have the gall of a Speaker, who stood up and criticized the President for creating deficits. The President can only propose a budget. He cannot force the Congress to accept it.
The Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land, gives sole responsibility to the House of Representatives for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. Who is the speaker of the House now? He is the leader of the majority party. He and fellow House members, not the President, can approve any budget they want. If the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they agree to.
It seems inconceivable to me that a nation of 300 million cannot replace 545 people who stand convicted -- by present facts -- of incompetence and irresponsibility. I can't think of a single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 545 people. When you fully grasp the plain truth that 545 people exercise the power of the federal government, then it must follow that what exists is what they want to exist.
If the tax code is unfair, it's because they want it unfair.
If the budget is in the red, it's because they want it in the red.
If the Army & Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan it's because they want them in Iraq and Afghanistan ...
If they do not receive social security but are on an elite retirement plan not available to the people, it's because they want it that way.
There are no insoluble government problems.
Do not let these 545 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exists disembodied mystical forces like "the economy," "inflation," or "politics" that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.
Those 545 peoples, and they alone, are responsible.
They, and they alone, have the power.
They, and they alone, should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses. Provided the voters have the gumption to manage their own employees...
We should vote all of them out of office and clean up their mess!

What you do with this article now that you have read it... is up to you.
This might be funny if it weren't so true.
Be sure to read all the way to the end:
Tax his land,
Tax his bed,
Tax the table,
At which he's fed.
Tax his tractor,
Tax his mule,
Teach him taxes
Are the rule.
Tax his work,
Tax his pay,
He works for
peanuts anyway!
Tax his cow,
Tax his goat,
Tax his pants,
Tax his coat.
Tax his ties,
Tax his shirt,
Tax his work,
Tax his dirt.
Tax his tobacco,
Tax his drink,
Tax him if he
Tries to think.
Tax his cigars,
Tax his beers,
If he cries
Tax his tears.
Tax his car,
Tax his gas,
Find other ways
To tax his ass.
Tax all he has
Then let him know
That you won't be done
Till he has no dough.
When he screams and hollers;
Then tax him some more,
Tax him till
He's good and sore.
Then tax his coffin,
Tax his grave,
Tax the sod in
Which he's laid...
Put these words
Upon his tomb,
'Taxes drove me
to my doom...'
When he's gone,
Do not relax,
Its time to apply
The inheritance tax.
Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL license Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Excise Taxes
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax
Food License Tax
Fuel Permit Tax
Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
Gross Receipts Tax
Hunting License Tax
Inheritance Tax
Inventory Tax
IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
Liquor Tax
Luxury Taxes
Marriage License Tax
Medicare Tax
Personal Property Tax
Property Tax
Real Estate Tax
Service Charge Tax
Social Security Tax
Road Usage Tax
Recreational Vehicle Tax
Sales Tax
School Tax
State Income Tax
State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Telephone Federal Excise Tax
Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
Telephone Recurring and Nonrecurring Charges Tax
Telephone State and Local Tax
Telephone Usage Charge Tax
Utility Taxes
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, & our nation was the most prosperous in the world.
We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom
, if agreed, stayed home to raise the kids.
What in the heck happened? Can you spell 'politicians?'
I hope this goes around THE USA at least 545 times!!! YOU can help it get there!!!

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.  
Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.