Today is World Backup Day

http://www.worldbackupday.net/

As good a day as any to start backing up your data or check that your backups are working.

 

 

Don’t forget to protect your digital assets

If you live in an area in the Red River Valley that is prone to flooding you might have already taken steps to protect some of your possessions.  But what about your digital assets like photos, music and other documents?  If your computer is flooded or worse you can easily replace it, but the thing you can usually never get back is whatever was stored on it.

For me, the most important thing any of my personal computers is the photo collection.  Unlike virtually anything else, photos can never be replaced.  I’d be pretty depressed if I lost photos and videos of my kids growing up or trips we’ve taken.  Because my photos are so important, I have made the effort to ensure that they are backed up in a few places.  At any given moment, my photo collection exists in five places.

As a Mac user I’m able to take advantage of the built in backup solution called Time Machine.  Using Time Machine I am able to backup my photo collection to an external hard drive.  Using this method alone my photos exist in two locations.  But the problem is both locations are still within my home.  If there was a fire in my home then I’d most likely lose my laptop and the external hard drive.  For extra protection I use a program called CrashPlan that copies my photos to my work laptop which is also backed up to an external drive.  Using this method my photos now exist in four places.

This seemed pretty good until the National Weather Service started providing flood predictions for the Fargo area.  Suddenly my secondary location no longer seemed as safe a spot as it once did.

For me, the final line of defense in my backup routine is utilizing the online backup services that CrashPlan provides and I’d encourage anyone who maintains a collection of anything that would prefer to not ever lose to consider some kind of online, internet based method for backing up their most important files.  While I personally use CrashPlan there are quite a few services available that do the same thing.  Although the piece is a bit old now, Lifehacker ran an excellent piece on the various online backup tools available that is still quite relevant.  Some of the pricing has changed so you want to visit the web sites of each to get updated pricing information.  You can also find a number of them by searching Google for “online backup.”

Get the locals in HD for free

Want to get the local channels in HD?  How about for no monthly cost?  Thanks to the recent digital transition you can get high quality HD to your HDTV with nothing more than an antenna like this.  To see if you’re home is within range of a TV tower simply enter your address into the TVFool.com TV Signal Locator tool.  In addition to an appropriately positioned antenna you also need a TV with an ATSC tuner or a digital converter box if you’re set is older.  Virtually every HDTV set sold has an ATSC tuner built in.

i29 Wireless offering 30 days free internet for Galleria tenants

i29 Wireless* is offering 30 days of free internet access for Galleria tenants.  The service is mobile and works throughout most of the Fargo-Moorhead area.  Learn more at http://i29wireless.areavoices.com/2010/10/15/i29-offer-to-galleria-residents/.

*I work for i29 Wireless

Going Paperless

I often read what is posted at usesthis.com to learn how others work.  Once in a while I can take what I learn from that site and apply it to how I do things from day to day.  In a recent post on the site the subject of the post talks about going paperless and I decided to follow the link on how he is accomplishing the feat.  The idea of going paperless has always intrigued me but I’ve never found the right setup.  You can read the blog post here.

Using an email client, IMAP vs POP

When using an email client such as Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express, Mail or Thunderbird you usually are offered just one way of accessing your email known as POP.  POP stands for Post Office Protocol and actually works very much like the post office.  Using your email client you check your mailbox for mail and if there is any then you download it to your computer and remove it from POP server.  This means that, once you’ve downloaded your email on one computer, it is no longer accessible from anywhere else.

Some email services, such as Google’s Gmail, offer a different way to access your email called IMAP.  Unlike POP, IMAP works more like webmail where all of your email messages remain on the remote server.  Because of this, IMAP is faster for reading messages because only the subject needs to be downloaded.  Also, if you routinely read your email from your computer as well as the web interface what you’ve done in one place will be shown in the other.  For example, if you read a message while traveling through gmails web interface, the next time you load your messages using our desktop client the message will already be shown as read.

Whenever you have the option, you should always insist on using IMAP for reading email in a desktop client like Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express, Mail or Thunderbird.  IMAP provides a number of advantages over POP that make using email more enjoyable if you routinely check your email from a number of different computers or locations.

Avoid email services provided by your ISP

Something I see time and again is someone switching their Internet Service Provider and having to let all of their email contacts that they have a new email address.  You can avoid having to do this by not using the email services provided by your ISP and relying on some one of the many free webmail services. Using a webmail service that is independent of your ISP means you shouldn’t ever need to tell your contacts about a new email address again and in most cases you’ll get far more features than what your ISP provides.  One thing to keep in mind however is you’ll get a lot less support from a free webmail service than you would your ISP.  That said, help is usually a click away.

Among the best is Google’s Gmail service which is completely free, includes great spam blocking and allows you to still use a regular email client like Windows Live Mail, Mail on OS X or any email client that supports POP3 or IMAP.  You can sign up for Gmail by clicking this link.

Apple TV

If you pay any attention to me elsewhere on the internet you’ll quickly realize I’m not shy about praising Apple.  I believe they make great products that are highly polished and work well.

At any rate, Apple has recently started shipping their new Apple TV.  If you’re looking for a way to easily rent movies from the iTunes store, Netflix or content that you have on your computer that is playable in iTunes give the new Apple TV a look.  At just $99 it is already a great buy but the fact that it is based on the same operating system that runs in iPhone and iPod touch says to me that some day we’ll see additional functionality released in the form of apps.

Apple TV at apple.com

Choosing an HDTV Part 2: Refresh Rates

One thing that you’ll find time and time again with technology is that each revision of a device has “better” specs than the previous revision.  This year’s model is faster than last year’s model and has more of this or that.  Sometimes the specification bumps aren’t all that meaningful, like 900mhz cordless phones versus 2.4Ghz cordless phones.  In most ways, 900mhz phones were actually better because 900mhz frequencies could get through walls better and offered better range that 2.4Ghz phones.  They certainly weren’t advertised that way.

Other times the numbers really are meaningful, such is the case with the refresh rates on today’s HDTVs.  Today’s HDTVs will almost always have a line item showing what the refresh rate is of the TV.  Common values are 60hz, 120hz and 240hz.  Any number beyond that starts to get into the realm of meaningless, here’s why.

When you watch a motion picture what you’re actually seeing is a rapid series of still photos but thanks to how the human eye works you see something that appears to be in motion rather than some choppy series of pictures.  The rate at which a TV can show these still images is referred to as the refresh rate.  The refresh rate then defines how often a TV is able to draw an image on the screen.  Most TVs until recently would refresh the screen at 60hz, or 60 times per second.

It turns out however that when TV shows or movies are created they are done so with a different refresh rate in mind.  Most movies are shot at 24 frames per second while TV shows are generally 30 frames per second and only occasionally will you see material shot in 60 frames per second.  The reasons for the different formats are many and are beyond the scope of this post but the important thing to know is that although the source material is in 24, 30 or 60 frames per second, your TV set is locked into displaying the material at the same refresh rate.

The problem with older sets is that they had no trouble showing material recorded at 60 or 30 frames per second because 60 frames per second matches up perfectly with the refresh rate of the TV.  Displaying 30 frames per second was also easy because it was simply half the rate of 60, so the TV set could simply display each frame of the material twice.  Playback would still be smooth. Twenty-four frames however doesn’t divide evenly into 60 and so special techniques had to be introduced so that movies shot at 24 frames per second would display correctly and as smoothly as possible on a TV with a 60hz refresh rate.

The solution to this was to increase the refresh rate on the TV so that all content, regardless of the frame rate, would display correctly and so the 120hz refresh rate was born.  Using 120hz as a refresh rate guarantees that the source material will divide evenly with the refresh rate of the TV.  120 divided by 24 is 5 and so each frame of a 24 frame per second movie is displayed 5 times before moving on to the next one.  Like wise with 30 frame per second material, each frame is displayed 4 times before displaying the next frame and so on.

Now that I’ve given you the long story, what does all of this really mean anyway?  It means that when given the choice, you should choose at least a 120hz TV set to ensure you get the smoothest playback of all source materials including movies and TV.  The only time you should go higher than 120hz is if you’re looking to get into the latest trend in HDTV, 3D.  Today’s 3D HDTV sets work by displaying slightly different images on the screen that are timed correctly with a pair of glasses.  In order to ensure smooth playback of all source materials, it is necessary to have a 240hz refresh rate because you are literally seeing the same show twice, once for each eye.

I realize this post was a lot more technical than you may have been looking for, and honestly its far more technical than I wanted to get.  The bottom line is that the fresh rate is a very technical thing but the important take away message is that 120hz is all you need if you have no desire to do 3D.  If 3D is what you’re after, then you’re going to want a 240hz set for the best performance.

Choosing an HDTV Part 1: LCD vs LED vs Plasma

Picking out a new TV today is filled with more choices than ever.  It’s no longer as simple as picking what screen size you want. Today’s choices include LCD, LED or Plasma, 720p or 1080p, 60hz, 120hz or 240hz and beyond.  This multi-part series will look at some of the more common decisions a person must make while picking out a new flat panel TV.

One of the first decisions you need to make when choosing a new HDTV is what display technology is the better fit.  On the market today you’ll find three basic types of flat panel HDTV: LCD, LED and Plasma.  In reality, there are only two types because and LED TV is actually an LCD display with a different type of backlighting.  I’ll get into more detail on that in a minute.  In the end, the real decision is whether you want one that is LCD or Plasma based.

LCD and LED

LCD and LED TVs actually only differ in how the display is lit.  An LCD TV is lit using a CCFL which is similar to a standard fluorescent light.  An LED TV on the other hand is lit using a series of LEDs, but it is still an LCD TV.  LEDs are more efficient and thinner which allows the TV itself to be much thinner as well.  This is something to consider if you want to be able to mount your TV on the wall using a wall mount.

Unlike CCFL, LEDs are instant on meaning the display will be at its full brightness immediately whereas CCFLs take some amount of time to warm up.  Also, CCFLs deteriorate over time which will affect brightness and coloration (white balance) of the picture.  Keep in mind however that the lifespan of CCFL based TV rated at around 60,000 and 100,000 hours so you’re still going to get years out of such a set.

Although Plasma sets have gotten better in recent years, LCD TVs are a good fit for brightly lit rooms, rooms that get direct sunlight, but are also fine for rooms where light is more controlled.  LCDs are also a great fit if you plan on using a PC or in situations where you’ll be showing static images for extended periods of time.  Unlike Plasma, there is absolutely no risk of screen burn-in with an LCD TV.

The last thing to keep in mind with LCD based sets is viewing angle.  Although manufacturers will claim otherwise, all LCD TVs have worse off angle picture quality than plasma TVs due to the nature of how the image is created.  LCD TVs look their best when viewed head on and not from the side.

Plasma

Plasma TVs work completely differently than LCD based sets.  A Plasma TV works by exciting three different gasses that then light up in three different colors.  These colors are mixed to create an image on the screen.  The result, generally speaking, is a picture with terrific colors and black levels.  Because the screen is more “active” than an LCD display Plasma owners need to take some care not to leave the same image on the screen for extended periods of time to avoid the risk of burn-in.

Plasma TVs are great in rooms where you have complete control over lighting conditions as they’re generally not quite a as bright as LCD sets.  Plasmas also offer better off angle picture quality due to the nature of the display.

LCD or Plasma, both are good choices

In the end, the decision between a LCD or Plasma based TV comes down to how controlled the lighting conditions are in your home, if off angle viewing is important to you and which display type looks better to your eye.

Next time I’ll take a look at the differences between 60, 120, 240hz and beyond refresh rates.