Backups are a necessary routine for computers. Over the years, there has been many trends in computing that promised to make backups easier, simpler, but as humans, we still tend not to do a good job when it comes to backing up our data. The best solution for home users is Time Machine in Mac OS X. Simply add a drive (usually an external drive), and setup Time Machine to backup your entire main drive. Time Machine is the most simple backup to setup, but it is not perfect. After multiple backups, Time Machine usually encounters problems and the easiest solution ends up having to wipe your Time Machine drive and start all over again. On Windows, there are third party apps that allow for Time Machine like backups. Their main benefit is that their user interfaces are easier to use than the built-in Microsoft Backup program. There are also cloud backups as well now, so you can use iCloud, Google, Microsoft, or Dropbox for your backups. For most of us though, the cloud backup should really be a secondary backup and not your primary. In general terms the advice is to have a backup plan and to automate it as much as possible. Eventually all hard drives and flash memory fail in some way, and so backups are always going to be needed.
As a project manager, one backup strategy that I have used for a number of years is to have a one folder backup strategy. For my business laptop, I create one folder under C:\Users\Username\My Documents\. This folder I name Projects and I then create a shortcut for it and place the shortcut on my Desktop. For every project I work on I create a folder underneath the Projects folder. As I complete projects, I then move these folders to \Projects\Archive. Anything related to a project has to be save somewhere under the Projects folder. This takes discipline, but is very easy to do once you keep to this routine of saving files to one folder.
Although every Operating System now provides a directory structure for users, most people have made the Downloads folder their main working folder! How many times has someone asked you to help them find a file, and you have opened their Downloads folder to discover thousands of files? This happens way to often. The Downloads folder was never meant to be a work folder. It was mean to help users find their downloaded files, but over time, people have treated the Downloads folder as their main repository for everything. It is important to remember that the Downloads folder is really a temporary folder for files. Nothing important should ever exist in the Downloads folder. Anything in the Downloads folder can and should be deleted. Move all your important files and working files to your main Projects folder and never work on any files outside of the Projects folder.
Now that you have all your files in one location, you need to copy your Projects folder and anything underneath to a secondary drive, backup location, cloud service. Although at the end of the day, you could simply copy and paste, drag and drop, it is best to automate this. In a business environment, there usually is a network drive or NAS that you can backup important files to. There are multiple apps or commands that you can script to accomplish this. The easiest way I have found is to use SyncBackSE. Using this application, I automate the backup of the Projects folder to run Monday through Friday, while I am at lunch. This backup strategy works well and is uncomplicated to use.
A most perplexing problem occurred with my Windows Server computer. This computer was built about 2 years ago and is my primary server for the home network. It has a SuperMicro Workstation Class motherboard with ECC RAM. I built this box, after getting annoyed with inexpensive Dell Tower Servers. The Dell Servers performed well and are a good deal for most people, but my server is in my home office and I prefer a quieter box. The Dell Servers have noisy fans and even trying a few different replacement aftermarket fans, they still produced enough noise for me to invest in a custom system. I also found myself replacing the Dell Servers more often than I cared to. They were cheap enough, that I would end up upgrading the entire box every two years. The server I ended up building was very quiet and ran 24/7. It was connected to an APC UPS and so it ran almost without interruption. At least it did this until rather recently.
After running for two years, the box was completely silent one day. Pressing the power button on the case would do nothing. There were no lights or any other signs of life (in this case electricity). I unplugged the computer from the UPS and into the wall outlet directly. Pressing the power button on the case would make the case fan and cpu cooler fan spin for about a second or two. The motherboard would never light up. It would only do this once. I had to unplug the power cord and try it again to get the fans to spin. I then unplugged the power supply connectors from the mother board and then tried the paper clip test with the power supply and it would power the fans again for a couple of seconds.
Alas, I could not resurrect the computer. My next step was to order a new power supply from Newegg.com and hope that it was my fancy power supply and not my fancy workstation motherboard that died. The new 1050W power supply was an upgrade from the 850W it was replacing. Other than the wattage difference, the new power supply had a switch to cycle on and off the power supply fan as needed. Once I swapped out the power supply, the box came back to life. The good thing about buying good components is that they are warrantied. I submitted an RMA request through the manufacturer website and a few days later, it was approved. After a week or so, they sent me back another power supply. I expected them to send me back a repaired unit, but instead they sent me back a brand new sealed box!
Before I sent my power supply, I inspected it without opening it. The only thing I detected was that on the top of the unit, there was a sharp indentation, where it seemed as something pushed up against metal from inside. I am pretty sure that was not there when I installed it originally. Other than that the unit looked normal.
The Windows Server has been running now normally for weeks.
In this post, I discuss how to setup your own domain with Zoho Mail, a hosted email solution from Zoho. Similar to Google Apps, Zoho provides a set of online business tools including office apps, project management, and contact management. At the time of this post the hosted email package has a free option as well as higher tiers for users who need more options. The biggest selling point for Zoho is that none of their apps have advertisements, and so if you are bothered by other webmail solutions that feature ads, Zoho seems to be a good alternative solution. Other than webmail access, the other reasons to use Zoho is that it works with desktop email clients, smartphones, and tablets.
My Requirements For An Email Solution
In order of importance, here is what I was looking for in an email solution.
Integrates with your Domain name
- I wanted an email solution that would work with my current personal domain that my family uses.
iPhone and iPad Support
- Everyone in the family has an iPhone, iPod, or iPad that they can use for email.
Apple Mail Support
- Oh, we do use our Mac computers every now and then, so we need desktop mail.
- I want to keep email on the server, and not worry about losing it. I can also manage my email from my smartphone when I have time. This is really convenient.
- Free if possible, but am willing to pay for a good solution on a yearly basis.
- Not having my kids bombarded with advertisements is a good thing.
Step 1: Verify domain ownership
Please verify your domain ownership. This is required to prevent imposters from using domains to send malicious messages. You can follow either the CNAME method or HTML method for verification.
Step 2: Add / import users to your organization
As the administrator of your organization, you have a Control Panel link in your user interface. In the Control panel, click User Details on the left list of options and click Add User option on the top. You can also import a list of users by selecting the Import User option.
Step 3: Migrating data to Zoho Mail
We recommend you to test migration for 2 users before pointing MX records.
Step 4: Point MX records to Zoho
Point the Mail Exchanger (MX) records to Zoho to start receiving mails to your inbox.
Changing My eMail
Steps 1 and 2 were pretty easy. Since I only have 4 users accounts, it took a few minutes to setup my four users in the Control panel. I skipped Step 3, I don’t really keep a lot of personal email. My current email was stored in Apple Mail and I was fine leaving it there. The interesting step is number 4. The Internet works via DNS. The domain naming system allows everyone and everything to find each other on the network. This is accomplished by DNS having different types of records to point requests to the right place. In the case of most personal domains, you have two different parties involved. The first is a domain registrar who takes care of your domain registration. The second is your hosting provider, usually for shared hosting this is a cPanel type hosting provider. When someone tries to email you at user@some_domain_name.net, a lookup is made to the root DNS authority for the .net domains, your registrar is what adds your domain to the DNS authority servers. The root server then sends you to your nameservers specified. Your nameservers are at your cPanel hosting provider. The final step in the lookup is to see what your cPanel nameserver has for what is called the MX records. The MX records have the server that processes your email and ideally where the email is going to go.
Your current hosting provider has MX records for its own email processing. What needs to be done, is to remove the current MX records and replace them with MX records that point to Zoho’s servers. This way only your email, emails sent to user@some_domain_name.net, will route to Zoho, but everything else will still be at your current hosting provider. To do this most cPanel hosts make it easy to do this now. Log into your cPanel control panel and scroll down to the Email section. You want to click open the MX Entry icon.
You will first choose your domain name that you want to change the MX records for. This is your main domain. First add the MX entries as Zoho instructs, then remove your current record for your host. When the changes are complete, it should look similar to this:
The DNS changes take a matter of minutes to a couple of hours to propagate to the rest of the internet.
One of the most frustrating situations that I run into as a technology evangelist is observing people make poor technology decisions. As a tech guy, I want to advocate for the best technology solution possible, but you always have to consider who will ultimately use the technology, how much will it cost to implement, and over time how will it perform. In truth there is no perfect technology solution, all solutions have their negatives and positives; the best that you can do is choose something which satisfies all the requirements and that people are comfortable with. However, before you run out and spend your budget, consider the following to see if your technology choices are the right ones for you.
Technology Solutions For People Problems
Ironically, technology cannot fix everything, but that does not stop people from trying to use it in situations where it does not fit. The prime example of this is when you have a group of people that need to communicate but choose not to. You usually find that for personal reasons people do not get along and this causes the process to breakdown. All problems break down into two categories: you either have a broken process or you have a people problem. Most decision makers tend to ignore the people problem and focus on the broken process and this is a big mistake. In this scenario, any technology decision will fail because the people problem was never resolved. If people do not get along and stand in the way of a great process, the process will still break down. The best thing to do is to focus on the people problem first and allow the people that will work the process to be part of the solution. Involve everyone and communicate, communicate, eventually the solution will become obvious to everyone.
The Perfect Technology
When choosing a solution from a vendor, you will always get a sales pitch about how wonderful this solution will be for you and how it is so customizable that you cannot afford not to choose it. No technology just works. Everything is designed to work a certain way, and it takes time to learn new technology no matter how awesome it is. Do not buy the sales pitch, instead be prepared to spend significant amount of time when adopting new technology and balance it against how productive or how profitable it will make your process and business.
All of our advances in society have come about because someone had the great vision and determination to create something, even if it was by accident. It is those achievements that propel us forward. When it comes to technology we stand on the shoulders of these great visionaries and we sometimes lose perspective because of our admiration for such and such person. As much as I love all things made by Apple, I need to retain some perspective. Just because I love Mac OS X, does not mean everyone has to love it the same way. The right technology solutions are not always the ones that I want. Ask yourself, does it make sense to buy an entire rack server or will something smaller work just as well? As technology advocates we love our toys, but you want to be careful that not all your technology choices are your technology choices.
Avoiding The Status Quo
The tech world runs in cycles. At one time, the network server was cool, then all of a sudden it is not as trendy, and now it is back. As a decision maker, you have to study the trends and know when it is time to jump off and adopt something outside the status quo. Sometimes the new trend is not going to end well, I’m thinking mostly about those cheap netbooks that everyone was so enamored with a few years ago. On the other side, the tablet is something that just works and you will need to include them in your strategic plans. You want to be an early adaptor who picks sound and effective technologies and yes that is a lot harder than it sounds.
One of the major reasons Adobe bought out Macromedia was to get Flash. Without a doubt Flash is one of those technologies that makes the whole Internet experience that much more enjoyable for the end user. On the other hand, Flash can quickly become a headache when it does not work properly or if you are trying to work with it and it keeps changing. Given that I have put together the following list of resources and tips on dealing with Flash.
The first thing to understand is that there are really two implementations of Flash. There is the Flash ActiveX control which is used by Microsoft Internet Explorer and the Flash Plug-in. Firefox and Safari use the Flash Plug-in and not the ActiveX control. The ActiveX control is the Flash9x.ocx file and the Plug-in is the Flashplayer.xpt file.
On Windows, Flash is installed to:
On Mac OS X, Flash is installed to:
- /Library/Internet Plug-Ins
The best way to uninstall Flash from Windows and Mac OS X is to use Adobe’s own uninstaller. This can be downloaded from Adobe’s Tech Note 14157 page. Proving that nothing is easy on Windows, by default the Windows uninstaller does not remove registry entries. In order to wipe registry entries for Flash, you must run the uninstaller using a clean switch:
Since there are two implementations of Flash, there are essentially three installations of Flash. For IE (the ActiveX control), you can simply go to Adobe.com and look for the Get Flash Player logo and click on it. For other browsers, when you go to the Adobe.com page, it will instead download an installer for the Flash Plug-in. There is a third installer which is only for developers who want to include both the ActiveX control and Plug-in with their applications. You can usually download the latest installers here:
For testing purposes, Adobe does offer archived versions on their Tech Note 14266 page.
Once you have actually installed Flash, if needed you can also disable Flash Auto Update Notifications. This is done by creating a text file named mms.cfg and placing it in the following directories:
- Windows XP: C:\WINDOWS\System32\Macromed\Flash
- Mac OS X: \Application Support\Macromedia
The mms.cfg file should have: AutoUpdateDisable=1 to disable Auto Update Notifications. Information on doing this can be found on Adobe’s Tech Note 16701594 page.