Friday, May 15, 2009

Back Up or Be Stupid - your choice

One of my hobbies is flight simulation, and persuant to that, I've been reading the Avsim flight sim community web site for well over ten years. The URL is, but as I'm typing this at about 5PM PDT on Friday, the site is dead and gone.

It's gained that unenviable status because some, uh, (gotta watch my language here) nefarious, lowlife, twisted, gin'd up, lilly-livered, one-eyed son of a prarie dog (a.k.a. hacker) managed to bring down not one but both of their servers. The problem is that apparently the administrators of that site were using these systems to back each other up, and the hacker deleted the main partitions on the hard drives of both. I don't want to opine whether or not their backup "strategy" was a dumb one - although more than a few Avsim subscribers have already done so (and I do question why they didn't have an off-site master backup somewhere) - but it brings home in a dramatic and tragic way that we all really need to back up our important data. You know that, I know that, we all know that, but the fact is that probably every minute of the day someone somewhere loses data that is precious and irreplaceable, yet gone forever.

Now, my own backup strategy is fairly lame - periodically, I back up my most important data on this (home office) system to a USB memory stick, and less periodically I duplicate that stick's contents to another one, and keep that second stick "somewhere else" (e.g. in my car) just in case the house burns down. However - and it's really embarrassing to admit this - but at this moment all of my memory sticks are in the house "somewhere" (I think I know where they all are). So if this great old house that we live in (that still has some knob-and-tube wiring) burns up, I'm S.O.L. I guess I know what I'll be doing tomorrow...

So maybe I'm writing this as much to myself as to you, but at any rate, here's yet another reminder to make a copy of your really important Data Stuff.

Here's an idea: go to your favorite big-box warehouse - e.g. Costco - and buy one of those 2-packs of 4GB SanDisk (or whatever) USB flash drives. Back up everything that you care about onto one (assuming it will all fit), and then do a direct copy of everything on that drive to the other one. Keep the second one at your office, in your glovebox, whatever - just somewhere else than the first one. Voila! with that $40-ish investment and a little time, you'll probably be better off than you are right now.

Another idea, which I have not yet tried but sounds like a hella good deal, is to use a web-based backup service. One that I'm aware of,, backs up as much data as you can throw at it (from a single hard drive, anyway) for about $5 a month, and via a background process keeps the backed up data "sync'd" with any changes you make on your computer. There are at least a few other, similar companies - just google "remote backup" for more information.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To Update or Not To Update?

Early on in this blog, I encouraged you to keep Microsoft Windows updated with whatever Critical Updates that Microsoft pushes out. (BTW these are typically pushed on Patch Tuesday, unless something really serious comes up that Microsoft deems worthy of immediate attention. If you've got Automatic Notification turned on for Windows Updates - which you should - it's practically a sure thing that you'll get a popup on every single Patch Tuesday that there's new stuff to go get.)

However, for many years I took the attitude with my systems' applications that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". As a for-instance: until fairly recently I had been loathe to update Adobe Acrobat Reader to a newer version, because all that newer Acrobat versions have seemed to do is get way bigger and more unstable, so I was running version 5 until only a couple months ago on one of my PCs (the current version is 9.1).

I really wish I could continue with that mindset, but unfortunately (if your system is connected to the internet, anyway) it just really isn't advisable anymore. New exploits (cracks in the armor) are being found at a dizzying rate for practically any popular application that in any way interacts with your network/the internet.

However, keeping everything updated on a rigorous basis can be a serious pain in the okole, as I realized only yesterday. In general I am not a big Apple Quicktime player fan, but because iTunes installs it automatically (and because some media on the web is in ".mov" QT format), it's on all of my systems. On some of those systems, I have iTune's automatic update notification turned off because I don't run iTunes on them on a regular basis - and so the QT format on at least one of them is fairly old. That's a bad thing, because according to the QT wikipedia entry, all versions prior to v7.5.5 have a cross-site scripting vulnerability. I won't go into CSS here, but the point is that I have potentially opened myself up to Bad Stuff that I might inadvertently encounter just by clicking the "play" button on a video at some site that I'm not terribly familiar with.

It's unfortunate that we've come to this point, because Acrobat is not the only application by a long shot that seems to get bloated with every new release - in many cases, with things that we don't care about, but that the creators stick in there just to keep it New And Fresh.

I thought about making a list of applications that you should consider keeping an eye on, but I've decided that it would be very long but yet ultimately incomplete. So just be mindful of the applications you use in your web journeys, not forgetting things like Quicktime (and Acrobat) that you might never run directly, but that are auto-run by your browser when you click on something neat.