Monday, January 28, 2008

TGIF - January 28, 2008 - Backup Ideas

I received this question from an ELCA Youth Ministry Network Member in Kansas: What's the easiest way to do backups that will be stored offsite? We aren't doing any! (arrgh!)

Kudos for realizing that you should be doing backups! So should I and so should everyone else. I do backup some things, but I am not as attentive to it as I should be. This was a challenging question for me because I haven't paid as much attention to is as I should. So I am not able to make one good recommendation, but I will point out a couple of options. My current backup practice is redundancy. I keep things on my UFDs (see last week's post), on multiple computers at the office, and on a variety of online places. What else could I do? What else could you do?

I don't backup my e-mail because I don't have to. As you may guess from my earlier posts, I use a Google Mail ( account which currently gives me
6355.160193 (and counting) megabytes of storage for me e-mails and attachments. I'm only using about 5% of that space at the moment! All Google services are hosted on their servers and they redundantly back them up and keep them secure.

On my computer, I try and store everything that I might want back under a single folder. Windows makes this easy by providing the My Documents folder. If I use another program that wants to store its data somewhere else, I change the folder to be a sub-folder of My Documents. That way I know that copying that folder to another machines provides some level of backup. I routinely copy my laptop My Documents folder to a shared folder on our network.

You can use the built-in services that your operating system provides. Windows Vista Ultimate, which I am running, has a backup service built in, as do most other operating systems. You could use one of these to copy your data to a
portable hard drive, or to another machine on your network. As one example, is selling a SimpleTech SimpleDrive
that has 500GB of capacity for only $129.99. I would think that most church offices could copy all of their machines to a drive of that size. Then, of course, the drive needs to be carried elsewhere so that if the church burns down, the data isn't lost with it! And, of course, you need to remember to bring it back in and re-do it every week or so. If you are going to go with a physical backup system, this is probably the way to go. Otherwise you could find yourself going nuts with backup CDs and DVDs stacked to the ceiling.

There are also a variety of online options available. I am not going to try and list all of them here and I have not used most of them. They range from free to quite expensive in price. One of the currenlty free ones, Microsoft FolderShare (, allows you to synchronize files between multiple machines. If you set this up between a home desktop and an office desktop, that will keep your files in two places. Good backup security requires a third location as well, so ideally you would find a third machine to synchronize with as well.
  • These services provide automatic backup of data from one PC
    • Carbonite ( unlimited storage for $49.95/year
    • iDrive ( 2GB of storage for free; 50GB for $49.95/year
    • Mozy Online Backup ( 2GB of storage for free; unlimited for $4.95/month
  • These services provide space, but you must manually copy files to the service, often using a separate program. They generally allow sharing directly from the internet as well.
    • ADrive ( 50GB for free
    • MyOtherDrive ( 5GB for free; 25GB for $19.99/year; 75GB for $49.99/year; 200GB for $99.99/year
    • XDrive ( 5GB for free
    • OmniDrive ( 1GB for free; 10GB for $40/year; 25GB for $99/year; 50GB for $199/year
The time that most of us think about the ineffectiveness of our backup "solution" is about 45 seconds after we realize that our hard drive has crashed or the sprinkler system has ruined our computer and we don't have any of what we've spent years putting together. Planning ahead can make these sorts of tragedies a little less traumatizing.

Monday, January 21, 2008

TGIF - January 21, 2008 - USB Flash (Thumb) Drives

Do you find yourself wondering where you left the file that you wanted to work on? Do you e-mail things back and forth from the office to your house repeatedly? Do you have to make trips to find the computer that something is actually stored on? Or, even worse, do you work in a church that doesn't have a network!?! You need a USB Flash Drive, also known as a Thumb Drive.

A UFD plugs into a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port on your computer. Under any modern OS it is recognized instantly. Under an old version of Windows, you may need to install a driver in order to see the UFD. If your computer has USB 2.0 ports, you can rapidly move files to and from the UFD. If you only have USB 1.1 ports, it's still fairly quick, but definitely takes a bit more time.

UFDs are great for moving documents from one machine to another. They don't have any moving parts and they are much less likely to fail than a floppy disk. I keep one on my keychain so that I always have a few programs that I use often. It's also a great way to backup important files that you really want to be sure and not lose!

As is the case with all technology, prices of UFDs have dropped over the years. I bought my first UFD in the spring of 2003. It was a 64MB drive and it cost me about $50. A little over a year ago I bought a 256MB UFD and it cost me cost me about $25. This fall I splurged an bought a 4GB drive and it was the same price as the first one! You should be able to fit all the pictures from a trip onto a drive of this size. I would also recommend that you get one with a retractable connector, as you will eventually lose any cap that comes with a UFD.

If you use a lot of different machines and want your own bookmarks and browser, you may also be interested in using Portable Applications. There are a variety of websites that contain applications you can put on a UFD and then run on any computer without needing to install them. I have had good luck with, a collection of Open Source applications that will fit on a moderate sized drive. I used it so that I didn't have to lug a laptop around when I was visiting family this fall.

Finally, if you're truly literalistic, you can buy or make a Human Shaped Thumb Drive.

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

Monday, January 07, 2008

TGIF - January 7, 2008 - Word Replacements

So, you got a new computer for Christmas, or with that end-of-year budget surplus? Congratulations! But now you've spent the whole budget and you've discovered that your new computer comes with a trial version of Microsoft Office, which is going to stop working in 60, 59, 58, 57...days. You could spend a substantial amount of money in order to convert that trial version to a full-fledged version of the program. Perhaps you could take advantage of an educational or non-profit discount, which is a good way to acquire Microsoft products. (I'll write about this option in the near future.) You may also be able to use alternatives that are free and, in some ways, better. I would like to suggest a few of them.

Open Office is an open source office suite. It includes a word processor, presentation program, spreadsheet program, database program, and drawing program. All of these are able to open and save the corresponding Microsoft Office files. Open Office is developed by many people around the globe and there are new versions released frequently. While it cannot do absolutely everything that Microsoft Office can do, it is able to do everything that most people actually need to have done. It will run on modest computers, of both the Windows and Macintosh flavors. I think it is a good solution for those who are running older versions of Microsoft Office because it is patched and more secure than they would be. Open Office may be downloaded from at no cost.

Another option is Google Docs, found at You need to have a free Google Account in order to use these services. Google Docs includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and simple presentation program. All three of these are able to open and save the equivalent Microsoft Office files. While not nearly as robust as Microsoft Office, these tools provide most of what people need on a regular basis. They also provide a great solution for those who routinely work from multiple machines. Once you sign-in to the website, you can access your files from any internet-connected computer, running any modern operating system and web browser. Another noteworthy feature of Google Docs is that you can collaborate on files with multiple people at the same time. It is very interesting to be editing a file and watch text in another portion of the document get changed as someone else edits the file simultaneously. There are easy ways to e-mail files, download them as Adobe PDFs, and to share Google Docs files with website and blogs.

There are some other options available as well. For a "vintage" computer, Abiword is a free word processor that runs well with minimal system requirements. It can be downloaded from It will also open and save a variety of file formats. Some people will need to use Microsoft Office, but for many people, it is over-kill and over-priced and one of these other options will serve their needs quite nicely. I'm writing this article using Google Docs, because I can easily work on it from different computers. If I really wanted to, I could even view it on my cell phone!

God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New Knight Rider

I saw the first of these commercials while watching the AFC Wildcard Game yesterday. The funny thing is, I knew instantly it wasn't a car commercial, because of the NBC Olympic bug at the bottom left. I think I knew what it was before I even saw the glowing red lights under the cover.

Then, through the magic of YouTube, I found this longer format teaser.

And if you want even more, here's a clip of the car being introduced on the NBC lot.