Saturday, December 27, 2008

Backup Frequently and Often

Originally uploaded by gadgetgy.
Since my first computer with dual 83K (that’s Kilobytes) floppies, which were great for text, the multimedia computing age has made our storage requirements grow exponentially. We literally store gigabytes of personal content like photos and documents, which have personal value, as well as paid digital media which can be expensive to download and collect. This data on the internal hard drive in our computers is a ticking time-bomb that can carry our precious media away once it starts clicking like a popcorn maker that only Orville Redenbacher would appreciate.

Any storage media is susceptible to mechanical or electronic failure before a device’s lifetime is extinguished; the problem with hard drives is that you only know when it is about to give up its ghost when it is too late. Recovering this data can involve luck or expensive data recovery services.

For this reason, I say backup your important data in many places, and often. The best form of backup is with a central device on your network, such as a connected network hub such as Apple’s Airport Extreme, or a Linksys USB sharing device or router for Windows users. I prefer these methods over all-in-one router and storage device like the Apple Time Capsule, which includes 500GB or 1TB internal drive options. This is because the Time Capsule has a lot of technology under the hood, and running all of that creates heat. Heat and spinning platters of a hard disk can create a cascade of errors like chip failure or thermal issues when reading and writing to the drive itself.  

External hard drives can run a bit cooler outside of a computer, which can help with a longer lifespan of the bearings and head motors, as they can see less heat. With these, you will want to keep the drive upright, out of the sun and with enough airspace around it.

Do it your-self fans will love FreeNAS which allows an old PC or laptop to run a free Linux based operating system as a backup server on your network. I have actually used FreeNAS to recover NTFS hardware based RAID partitions that Windows Servers would no longer mount and access! RAID is the ultimate in backup as many drives are spanned together into one single volume, and data is redundantly placed across these drives. This technology is cumbersome to setup and rebuild, but the external drive chassis by Drobo has automated this capability and is expensive, but very powerful.  If you go this route, look for automated software that can run on your laptop and desktop computers to automatically backup their data on the LAN, like Apple Time Machine.  See my post here on the Airport Extreme Router configuration!

Here are the things you need to look for in a backup external hard drive:
1. Warranty: First and foremost a 1-year guarantee won’t cut it. Go for 5-years, and three is all right.
2. Portability: Laptop based 2.5” external drives require no power or lugging of an AC adapter. With this portability, come smaller capacities of 500MB and slower rotational speeds of 5400 RPM, but you will be able to easily bring these on the road with you. The desktop 3.5” sized USB drives hold up to 1.5 Terabytes as I write this, and spin faster at 7200 RPM, but require a power brick and are 100% (or more) larger in physical size.
3. Speed – USB will be most compatible with devices like the new Macbook; which removed all other data ports, but if you store movies or shoot 12-megapixel photos, then you will want to find a drive that includes firewire 400 (traditional) and 800 (high-speed but downward compatible) as well as eSATA which is the fastest external interface currently known to man.

My favorite drives these days are the Seagate FreeAgent line. They max-out my three requirements above, sport a 5-year warranty, a choice of 2.5” and 3.5” sizes (get the big one for home and the little one for on the go!) and have fast interfaces. Their portable 2.5” Go series drives come in a PC version with a USB 2.0 port, and a Mac version (my favorite) which adds firewire and includes all of the cables for USB, Firewire 400 and 800 and a neat drive dock, plus these cables are “thick” and great quality with nice strain-reliefs built in. With the FreeAgent Desk USB is standard, but drives with Firewire and eSATA are available in up to 1.5TB capacities.

The drives have a neat industrial design, can stand on their edge perpendicularly for more airflow or lie horizontally, and the portable models have a neat silicone like bottom that may just keep them from flying off your desk or even out of your bag. The tops have an aluminum panel which works to dissipate heat and just plain looks cool, as long as it doesn't get scratched.

So there you go. You have data. It is important. Now get an external drive and back it up. Remember to store drives at different locations geographically if the data is extremely important. You do not want a natural disaster ruining your original and backups if they are all in one location. Just make sure you buy a quality drive!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Calacanis and Arrington Pups at TC50

Calacanis Pups at TC50
Originally uploaded by gadgetgy.
Last week had non-stop events in San Francisco, TechCrunch 50 (TC50), Apple's Lets Rock announcement and CTIA took my days, and the parties took over the nights. The dust has settled this week and I wanted to share my thoughts of the event. I saw a lot of stuff, and below is a sample of the good and bad that resonated with me.

On the first day of TC50, there was no wireless Internet access, which I actually liked. Having been to events with full-speed unadulterated Internet access like Demo, a few Gnomedexes and the Web2.0 conferences, and actually presenting at many events, it is quite annoying to speak at people gazing into their laptops. While many are tweeting your moments of awesomeness (like this) it's hard to have a connection with your audience when a laptop acts as a physical wall in front of your would-be engaged audience. Thankfully, a bit of off the cuff humor or a quick roll through a slide deck (as performed by Jeremy Toeman can force people to be engaged.

After a slow (read boring) start from Ashton Kutcher and his site - which I thought was for kids, but it's PG-13, the content at TC50 became more and more interesting. It was cool to see Marissa Mayer show Google's indexing (read scanning) of newspapers and the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and hot-linking on their scans of the printed page. You can read about the Archived Search paper project here:

I thought Yammer - which is twitter for corporations was as pointless as twitter for consumers (disclosure: I reluctantly tweet myself) and could kill productivity faster than corporate instant messaging and email already do. The "only when necessary consumer" in me loved the idea of OpenTrace - which is a way to see the environmental impact that a product has from its creation. Microsoft's Marc Smith tried this with bar code reading Pocket PC's back in the days of Aura (now closed) but it never "really" launched.

I can't believe that got such a great response considering their methods are obvious to tech-know-how-folk who run their own domains, or one of the 26 million people who use gmail. You see, those of us with our own domain, like can create a "wildcard" address scheme where anythingyouwrite at can come to one in-box. If someone (like Hertz Gold membership in my case) had their database of email addresses hijacked, I could turn off the address that I used by pointing it at a "blacklisted" or spam name that was created later. Gmail users can add a +uniquename to their gmail user name (before the @ sign - like [email protected] and you can see who is spamming you, and create a filter to move them away from your inbox. I do like their ability for them to automatically "folder" a "user name" so you can send everything for your "[email protected]" and have a single click of a folder to see your flights, hotels or tickets easily. Their truly unique feature is a daily "snapshot" that they can send to your primary email address, to let you know what came into your other inbox that day. Think of it as a peep-hole to see if you need to check that other box. That is smart.

It seems as the stuff going on at Demo day one was more interesting to me than the TC50 day one. But that changed on day two the TC50. Unfortunately I was not able to attend either of those conferences as the G4 network had me cover the Apple Lets Rock event. Which was interesting, albeit evolutionary, not revolutionary. You can catch the fun that we had over there; here:

Even though I wasn't present for their pitch, I did order the gadget from - I am more interested about what this will do to register my (lack of?) sleeping patterns than how far I run around the city during the day. Lets hope this hardware gets open sourced for other modules and capabilities. I also watched the demo from in awe. Their software uses GPS and WiFi location sniffing to overlay user submitted data on the top of video seen by the iPhone camera. Although it is a demo and may prove to be difficult to execute in the real world, it showed augmented reality - something that I worked on and dreamed of when I developed the CueCat barcode reader. Theirs was in a 3D space, which made it almost magical. Lets hope they create a database structure that can live up to its promise, without being too ambiguous. The guys from T9, the global standard in "touch once" texting software for numeric (read: non smart) mobile phones showed their Swype text input for touch screens. You can run this software on your Windows mobile device, by going to if you still use one of those phones. Yeah, I didn't think so.

On Wednesday the Internet was flowing through the TC50 air at the pace of the drip on that sink that you always meant to fix. Twitters mobile site worked well; on your laptop. And that was good enough for me. I was most interested in which uses actual sales data from lenders, insurance companies and god knows who else to tell you what others are paying for their new automobiles. This is an interesting service as the automotive business is never as cut and dry as you would expect a commodity product to be. Caveat Emptor!

The guys from showed a collaborative music site, like Apple's Garage Band but with a Web 2.0 user generated flair. You can upload your own beats, loops or tracks and let other musicians contribute to a final song, or use your beats in theirs. What happened to musicians finding each other on Craigs List? This site tears down geographical boundaries, which should give an interesting spin to concerts. I can just see it now, a live conference concert via iChat!

Back on the "what's old is new" tip, gives users access to health and other environmental impacts that products have and reports them to consumers. Again this is a take on Microsoft Aura in a Web 2.0 world. Oh, and a bar code will trigger a users input from a mobile phone in the near future - how novel. With 61,000 entries so far, and 200 data sources polled for information on these products, it may just help you to buy something that is "greener" than not, if you stop and take the time to check.

So there you have it. A quick look at the TechCrunch 50 presenters that I found interesting and gauche. By the way, as much as I didn't think so upon my seeing them online, the Calacanis and Arrington dogs were kind of cute in person. Name badges and all...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

iPhone vs Blackberry FREE HTML email


When I went to Europe this summer, two weeks before the new iPhone came out, I had to fight myself from buying the original iPhone before the new "3Jesus phone" was released upon my return. You see, as a Sprint cellular user, I am unable to use my 3G CDMA phone in Europe, because they do not support the network nor frequencies that we do in the US. For my mobile communications instead, I bought an iTouch and ran the iPhone 1.1.4 software on it, using WiFi hot-spots rather than the 2.5G EDGE cellular network. This mean that I had no roaming fees for data, which saved me buckets of money. The setup worked perfectly, although there were a few instances that I had to walk around more than I would have liked "dousing" for open WiFi. However, iPhone applications like eMail, Google Maps (with Skyhook WiFi location) and jailbroken applications like Twitteriffic all worked fine within open hotspots. The location finding via WiFi was spot-on and a real treat to have when I got lost in Amsterdam.

The thing that I really liked about my virtual iPhone, I mean iTouch, was that it was a wonderful media and information consumption device. "Flicking through" weather updates, web pages and even music (gasp!) was a deeee-light. But, trying to tap-tap away on a glass touch-screen for a twitter update, or worse yet an email, was a time-consuming and error ridden experience.

This European vacation with the iTouch convinced me that I was not going to buy an iPhone 3G (with what I also consider a terrible AT&T data and voice plan) upon my return to the States. But another phone had piqued my interest - the Blackberry 8330, another 3G device on Sprint and Verizon networks. As a long-standing member of Sprint's "All You can Eat" plan, now at $99/month, I was happy with the network, despite its lack of global coverage.

The Blackberry is no stranger to my pocket gadget arsenal, as I have had a couple in the past, but they were now down to 4 oz, and nearly half the thickness of my 3G Treo 755p. But one feature was really lacking on the Blackberry - its lack of HTML email support. I fell in love with the hardware however and made the leap, figuring that third party applications would provide the feature I missed, yet all fell short. Mail load times were longer, obtrusive messages popped up, and the font support didn't mimic the factory settings. You could tell this was an add-on, and if you installed it and can't figure out how to remove it, just look for SmartView within the Add/Remove Applications icon on the Blackberry Desktop software - and un-check it. Once I read about the 4.5 client software update, with the 2.5 Blackberry Internet Service upgrades that were coming to the carriers I hoped this could be my ideal solution.

As I am not one to wait for Sprint to release "blessed" firmware, I monitored the forums and checked others, who were less dependent on their mobile phones, that tested the "buried 4.5 firmware" on the Blackberry web site. A few catastrophes were debugged, and by deleting the vendor.xml file from the installation package which dropped it within the C:\Program Files\Common Files\Research in Motion\AppLoader then by running the 4.5 Desktop Manager, all of the Curve (83XX) model phones could be upgraded to the latest and greatest, with built-in HTML email support. Find your model of Curve's firmware and instructions here:

After upgrading both an AT&T and Sprint Blackberry Curve without fail, I was still unable to get my HTML email from Gmail and my hosted domains. Turns out, the profiles (with their unique capabilities) are sent down from the Blackberry Internet Server (BIS) which must be accessed by going to ( in my case) then after logging in, delete all of your current email addresses, and finally re-instate them. After the "Congratulations" email (this feat, I hardly consider congratulatory) your addresses will default to receiving HTML email and automatically load images. These features can be turned back off by clicking on the Blackberry button while in the message list view, rolling down to options, clicking on Email Settings, then disabling HTML or Image auto-load for each of your configured accounts. You may want to stop loading images if you are on 2.5G networks, but the HTML color, font and other settings will be beneficial to you. Corporate users with Exchange servers will have other settings that I am not privy to in my installation.

Oh, and Gmail users who do not want to get a copy of their own email just sent from a Blackberry to hit them again when they press send, use this fix to create a from-address filter of your own address:  Removing duplicate or email echos from Gmail accounts.

So for the next year or so, or until Android, some other hot phone, or Apple fixes all of their iPhone bugs (like this tweet from my buddy Brian Solis - I have the perfect phone for "producing content." Something I like to do. Like this how-to story for you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Defcon 16 - 2008 Coverage

There is no worse place to be than the city of Las Vegas in the summer. Yet, for years my brother and I have made our trek there for his birthday weekend and the conference that makes you want to never turn on your laptop, Defcon. This year is the 16th annual security conference and we learned about cable modem vulnerabilities, lock picking (a show favorite) and how to instantly take over an Internet kiosk via multiple vulnerabilities.

A ran into my friends at G4 TV while I was there, and got them hooked up with my buddies Zoz and Joe Grand from the new Discovery Channel show Prototype This! Take a look at the segment here and watch when I talk about the Wall of Sheep.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Lock down your Facebook or Myspace profile

The amount of "transparency" people have which means the amount of seemingly private information that people put on the Internet these days amazes me. Wether it is photos on sharing sites like Flickr, or too much information on MySpace and Facebook, this could come back to haunt you or otherwise make you need to explain your life to a higher power. I'm not talking about the pearly gates either.

I wrote a story for Young Money, a magazine that hits a couple dozen college campuses on how to lock down your profile within the most popular social networking sites, so you do not have to worry about accepting your boss as a "friend" once they find out about Facebook.

If you have not locked down your profile, go do it now. Oh, and good luck getting the data which Yahoo and Google indexed already out of those search engines. The Internet is a house of cards, just waiting to tumble.

P.S. The endearing photo is of my G4TV host buddy Olivia Munn. I'm sure it was just pre-show nerves or something.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cranky Geeks with iPhone 3G and more...

I made another appearance on Cranky Geeks in the hot (yeah right) July summer of San Francisco, on episode 125. We spoke about the iPhone and its revolutionary app store; which is the real story of the 3G iPhone, not the 3G which brings talk time from 10 hours to 5 hours. The worlds oldest blogger at 108 years old (someone else typed for her) passed away and newsgroup sites are having a problem with porn images.

But that's enough about the episode, click here to watch it then click the iPhone image in the next window!

Monday, May 05, 2008

Fake Steve Jobs - Daniel Lyons @ Web2.0

It looks as if all of my stories covering the O'Reilly Web 2.0 conference have been posted to the PC Magazine world... Here's a recap:

Marc Andreessen talks about what it was like in the early days of creating the browser at the University of Illinois then Netscape and what he is currently doing with the white label social networking site Ning.,1759,2288828,00.asp

Gear Log picked my story on Dash, the in-car GPS with WiFi and cellular wide area networking connectivity. It's got the whole "crowdsourcing" automatic web2.0 thing figured out!

Finally, my buddy David Spark did a little Q&A with yours truly and I pontificate on what the future of social networking will become. Hint, it is already a time-waster, but does not let you play scrabulous, but spamulous...

P.S. I need a hair cut.

Monday, April 28, 2008

2008 O'Reilly Web2.0 Stories Part I

Web2.0 Day 1
Originally uploaded by gadget.
Ok, so I'm a new tech guy in an old media (dead trees and analog broadcast) world. Until now, ya see. Last week was pivotal for me. A magazine that I normally write for in print emailed me right before the W2E event and asked me to blog on it. Coolio I think (but that means I need to leave the parties at a decent hour to edit) and I neglected to remember this: when you are used to long lead times in print and lots of back-and-forth conversations with an editor on "what your worlds meant" versus blog posts which need to be up quickly and succinctly.

That on top of a content management system that was trashing (removing/deleting/zero-daying?) my stories made things a little tricky, but alas that dilemma is being worked on by coders much smarter than myself.

Here's a quick rundown of the first bit that are posted:

Tim O'Reilly, conference organizer does a "Radar" event at most of his events - they are a favorite of mine since he has a bunch of Alpha-geeks (myself included-yeah!) that he watches to see what we are hacking on. This lead to the creation of Make Magazine (I'm lucky enough to be a founding contributor) and Foo camp in 2003. Check out what I caught from his speech here:,1759,2286997,00.asp

The Chairwoman of Mozilla foundation, creators of Firefox, Micthell Baker had mobile browsing on her mind. Good timing on this one as iPhone's WebKit and Nokia platforms are going to go head to head with advanced and high-speed capabilities as the Treo works its way out of pockets. I still have another year contract left on my 755p. Read about here vision for the browser here:,1759,2287824,00.asp

MySpace VP Steve Peerman says that we can learn from our users (how Web2.0 of him!) by giving them advanced looks at interfaces or features and actually (gasp!) take their criticism. Find out if you want to have Tom as your friend again (you did delete him right?) by reading here:,1759,2287877,00.asp

Wrapping up this overview post is a story from Google's Matt Cutts, who was talking about Spam, no not the food or what ends up in your email in-box (despite GMail's bad ass filters) but comment and web page spam. Solutions for this double yickyness can be found here:,1759,2287888,00.asp

More to come as their content management system at PC Magazine dawt com gets corrected!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Time Machine to Airport Extreme Router

Time Machine to Airport Extreme
Originally uploaded by gadget.
I an effort to consume less power, I am turning off my terabyte RAID server, and other full PC's but still want to maintain my automatic backups and remote file or server-like storage while I am on the road. The Airport Extreme became my router of choice a few months ago, with its ability to host 802.11n connections to my MacBook Air and its NAS capability. From my testing in 2007, the Linksys NAS on its 802.11n products is abysmal and should never be trusted.

With the March 7.3.1 firmware for the Airport Extreme, we are now able to do a Time Machine backup from a Mac running 10.5.2 to any USB connected drive - as long as it is supporting the following:
1. HFS+ File System that is Journaled
2. File Sharing enabled with "AirPort Extreme Password"
3. You must connect to the drive with Finder before launching Time Machine to select the drive

In my case, after upgrading the operating system (I love the Mac's auto-update) and manually updating the base station (I avoided 7.2.1 due to other issues) I thought I would be ready to go. That was not the case.

For the 500GB low-power USB drive that I have hung from the Airport Extreme USB port, I used HFS+ without Journaling to get a little more speed - important for me as I steam videos and music from this to media appliances that do not have hard drives. To add Journaling, I "disconnected users" on the Airport configuration, connected this drive to my Mac and loaded disk utility. From here I highlighted the volume name and clicked the button in the tool bar that says "Enable Journaling." After a few minutes of drive activity, I removed it and reconnected it to my Airport Extreme base station, with 100 Megabit - this is fine as the Gigabit version cannot run NAT fast enough to justify those speeds.)

My next "problem" was that I enabled specific user accounts to keep my shared data and private storage isolated. That will not work with this current firmware, so I "downgraded" to a single user account. I am not a fan of this, but the importance of the backup outweighs my desire to keep private files, well, just that. Since I am a one-man user on my home network, this is not such a big deal. The password is different from my WPA2 WiFi signal however, so that adds a layer of obfuscation.

Next, I launched Finder, connected to my drive with my new credentials and launched Time Machine. My drive is now visible as an "approved" Time Machine backup volume. This means that my Air can truly work as it should - with only a wire for powering its battery, not for backing up. I really dig that all Macs on my network will auto-backup to my big shared volume.

Now if only Apple would make a feature to disable big backups while I am working. It seems that even with 802.11n, backing up 100MB of data while I am trying to use the web is slowing things down. Note that I am not running NAT on the Airport, due to its slowdown of network address translation (converting my single ISP provided IP address to my private range inside.) For my router with fail-over ISP connection, NAT and VPN tunneling and host modes, I use a Netgear business class router. More on what I am doing with that, later!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Geeking out with the Cranky Geeks

I will be a guest crank today on Cranky Geeks with my old friend John Dvorak - the head crank, today Wednesday the 27th. We go live to the web at 12:30pm PST and replays can be found here: Cranky Geeks Episode 105 - February 27th, 2008

Watch all of the crankyness if you are eating your desk for lunch today. :)

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Live CES 2008 Coverage on G4 TV with Dave Mathews

G4 Stage
Originally uploaded by gadget
It's the first week of January and you know what that means! That's right, all of the electronics that you received for Christmas are now rendered obsolete thanks to the new product announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show.

This year I am working with the guys at G4 to bring you the latest in technology from the show floor. Tune in live January 7th and 8th at 4pm PST and 7pm Eastern on G4 TV (DirecTV 354) or tell your TiVo to record Consumer Electronics Show 2008 on both days to see what you will be looking for in your gadget future!

You can also keep up with us online at and of course via my Flickr page by just clicking on the photo here.