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David Chandler's Journal of Java Web and Mobile Development

  • David M. Chandler


    Web app developer since 1994 and former Developer Advocate with Google now residing in Colorado. Besides tech, I enjoy landscape photography and share my work at ColoradoPhoto.gallery.

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Archive for the ‘PC Tech’ Category

Windoze performance tip

Posted by David Chandler on February 25, 2010

At Tuesday night’s AJUG on Java performance tuning, Kirk Pepperdine was discussing the evils of swap in a RAM-plentiful age and offered this interesting freebie: set your paging file size to ZERO (assuming you do actually have enough RAM to keep everything in memory). Besides the ~10% boost you get from not paging memory to/from disk, it saves battery life on laptops by not spinning the disk as much.

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Posted in PC Tech | 5 Comments »

A comprehensive PC backup strategy

Posted by David Chandler on November 21, 2009

“The Saturday Evening post”

Have you ever thought about exactly why you make backups? What are you trying to protect against? Fire? Thieves? Accidental deletion? A few months ago, a friend’s desperate Saturday night phone call vividly reminded me of why I make backups. “David? Um, my daughter was finishing her 200-page novel that’s due Tuesday, and our computer has just died. As in won’t boot. Is there anything you can do?” Of course, they had no backups.

I don’t have the data in front of me to prove it, but experience suggests that the most likely reason you’ll ever need a backup is hard drive failure, with malware /virus infection probably running a close second. Here’s the strategy I’ve developed over the years:

  1. Put all your data files in one directory structure so you can easily copy it. I use a folder named “C:\@My” with subfolders for documents, music, pictures, etc. The @ causes it to show up first in alphabetical directory listings, which is convenient. In Windows Vista (and maybe XP?), you can use this system and still retain the convenience of your Windows user home folder (containing Documents, Music, Pictures, etc.) that shows up in all the standard file dialogs. Simply right-click on, say, David\Documents, click Properties, select the Location tab, and point it to  C:\@My\Documents instead. The reason I don’t just back up my Windows user folder is because Windows stores the whole user profile there, including a lot of stuff that’s not really data per se.
  2. Forget about backing up all your applications. Just keep your original CDs and serial numbers somewhere you can find them. The PC is expendable–your data isn’t. I’m sure there are solutions that will backup the whole operating system and all installed software, but for me it’s not worth the extra time or space it takes to run backups. The exception is applications you’ve purchased via download. I keep these in @My/Downloads along with a text file for each containing the installation key (or find it in Gmail, since it was likely emailed to me when I purchased it).
  3. Each year, less and less of my critical data exists solely on my PC. Nowadays it’s on my iPhone or GMail. I moved my iTunes folder under my @My directory so the phone gets backed up–see Edit | Preferences | Advanced, and I trust Google not lose my mail, though I’m not completely sure why–what if someone hacked my account and deleted all my mail?!?!#@? I guess I really should set up the POP3 account for Gmail with a local email client like Outlook and back that up, too.
  4. At any rate, let’s get to backing up. I back up smaller files like Quicken data (be sure to move this under @My, too), documents, and photos, on a nightly basis using an online backup solution, iDrive.com. With iDrive, I can store up to 2GB for free, and it’s only $50/yr for up to 150 GB. This is my first line of defense against hard drive failure. My data goes off site every night, and I don’t have to think about it.
  5. For larger files like RAW photos and video (as well as small ones), I backup the whole @My folder to an external hard drive every few days using Karen’s Replicator as I blogged about last week. The name of the game here is speed, and for that, you’ll want a hard drive (and computer) with an eSATA interface. I’ve been very happy with my LaCie 1TB external drive. On a recent typical backup run, Karen’s Replicator processed 62,702 files and copied 400 new or modified files totaling 5.5 GB to the LaCie in 8.5 minutes. Most HP and Toshiba laptops now have an eSATA port. You could backup RAW photos and other large files online, too, but DSL upload speeds are so slow that it may be impractical depending on how much new data you create each day.
  6. For large items of sentimental value like photos and videos that are not backed up online, I burn a DVD once a year and drop it in my bank’s safe deposit box in a Ziploc bag (think sprinkler system malfunction). That way, even if I lose both my PC and external drive, I won’t lose more than a year’s worth of digital memories.

Following this strategy, all your data except RAW photos and video always exist in three places: your PC, external hard drive, and in the cloud (online). For extra peace of mind for larger files not backed up online, you could get a second external hard drive and always keep one in your bank’s safe deposit box in a Ziploc bag (think sprinkler system malfunction).

As of this writing, all of my accumulated digital assets take up 168 GB. That already fits easily on a portable hard drive (though I haven’t yet found one with the faster eSATA interface). Within a few years, it will fit on a USB flash drive, I expect. In fact, it would almost fit on this kind of flash drive today. Buy a couple of these along with an eSATA hard drive enclosure from Fry’s and you’ll probably spend more time swapping backup drives at the bank than you will backing up your whole file system every day…

By the way, my friend’s story had a happy ending. I dropped the hard drive containing the novel into a USB hard drive enclosure I bought for $13 at my local Fry’s, plugged it into the USB port on another PC, and recovered all the data. External hard drive enclosures are cool. Fry’s is cool, too.

Posted in PC Tech | 2 Comments »

Simple Windows backup strategy

Posted by David Chandler on November 14, 2009

“The Saturday evening post”

Most external hard drives come with some kind of backup software, and of course there’s the Windows Backup and Restore Center. My complaint about these solutions is that they try to make it too simple, and thereby end up backing up far more than is really needed, which costs time and disk space. I’ve organized all my documents, photos, etc., under a single directory tree so that I can easily back it up, and all I really need is a tool that will copy any new/modified files to my external hard drive once a day.

That’s where Karen’s Replicator comes in. It’s a breeze to install and configure. Just create a job for each directory hierarchy you want to back up, specify the source and destination directories, and let ‘er rip. Karen’s Replicator has a built-in job scheduler, so just check the box on the Settings page to always run it when you log in, and your backups will run as scheduled. Best of all, it’s freeware, though I’m sure Karen wouldn’t mind a donation.

Posted in PC Tech | 3 Comments »

How to backup or move Picasa albums

Posted by David Chandler on November 7, 2009

Update Aug 13, 2012: as of Picasa 3.9, it is no longer necessary to backup Picasa albums separately using the technique discussed here. They are stored in the same folders as your photos, so you can simply copy all your photo folders to a new machine and you’re all set.

I’ve been very happily managing my photos with Picasa since version 2. Many machines ago, I began storing photos along with all my other portable data in a directory separate from the normal Windows user folder to make it easy to back up and move files between machines with an external hard drive. So far so good.

The problem is how to back up and/or move Picasa albums to a new machine, as these are not stored with your photo files like Picasa edits and captions are. Picasa 3 now offers a way to export the entire photo database; however, it is very slow and results in a very large file (multi-GB) when you have 10 years’ worth of digital photos. It’s not practical to export the entire database to make a weekly backup, so I was delighted to find this technique on a forum which allows you to move just your album data:

Restore Picasa albums

I’ve done it many times and it works. This way, you can continue to use an incremental backup solution for photo files and backup the tiny amount of data in C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2Albums\ to save your albums. The only catch is that when you rebuild the Picasa database as instructed in the link above, the photos referenced in the album must be in the same directory location as they were when the album was created.

In order to ensure that my photos stay in the same directory structure even when Microsoft changes the location of the Users folder between, say, XP and Vista, I keep all my photos in a directory outside the Windows user directory (I use C:\@My\Photos). When I get a new machine, all I have to do is:

  1. Copy the whole C:\@My directory to the new machine
  2. Install Picasa
  3. Copy the Picasa2Albums directory into place under the Users folder (C:\Users\David\AppData\Local\Google\Picasa2Albums\ in Vista)
  4. Rebuild the Picasa database as instructed above using the Shift+Ctrl+Alt combination.

Of course, this technique may not be supported forever, and hopefully won’t be needed as Google continues to improve Picasa. But for now, it allows me to backup my albums on a regular basis and know that I’ll be able to move my photos, albums and all, to a new machine when needed.

Posted in PC Tech, Photography | 6 Comments »

Free Web conferencing for Windows, Linux, and Mac

Posted by David Chandler on October 31, 2009

Yuuguu.com

I recently needed to share my Windows desktop with a Linux user over the Internet. It took only minutes to install the Yuuguu client and start sharing my screen. Remote viewers don’t need to install anything, as there is a Web viewer. But if the remote participants do install the Yuuguu client, they can also request control of the presenter’s screen.

Yuuguu also gives you a telephone conference line with global dial-in numbers. It is a free service in the US, although you still have to dial long distance.

Yuuguu lets you chat across several instant messaging networks. And it works on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Funny name, great service!

Posted in PC Tech | Leave a Comment »

Run Linux and Windows together without dual booting

Posted by David Chandler on October 24, 2009

Welcome to “the Saturday evening post.” This will be a more-or-less weekly PC tech post in addition to my daily Java-related postings throughout the week.

There are two programs I can’t live without under Linux: Quicken, which I first installed on 3.5 inch floppies and has run my financial life ever since, and RoboForm, which manages nearly 100 mostly-generated passwords for me. As much as I would like to run Ubuntu and OpenOffice exclusively, I am unwilling to dedicate another PC to the task or to be constantly rebooting.

I was therefore delighted to find that you can run Ubuntu right within Windows as a virtual machine using the free VMware Player. Here are the steps to install Ubuntu on a clean virtual machine.

  1. Download and install VMware Player
  2. Download the Ubuntu ISO image
  3. Go to easyvmx.com and fill in the blanks to create your virtual machine definition file. Check the LiveCD ISO-image box and enter the path to the downloaded ISO file. When you run VMware Player for the first time, it will boot from the ISO image just as if you had put the CD in the drive, allowing you to run or install Ubuntu in the virtual machine.

That’s all there is to it. Granted, with this approach, you still have to deal with Windows, but being able to switch back and forth between operating systems with Alt+Tab sure is handy.

A very cool thing about virtual machines is that all the data for the VM exists in a few files under your VMX directory. Which means you can copy the VMX files to a portable hard drive, plug it into any computer with VMware Player installed, and voila, you’re right where you left off. That is one painless backup strategy.

Theoretically, you can also run the other way around, by the way, and install Windows in a virtual machine running under VMware Player for Linux. However, I have not tried this.

Posted in PC Tech | Leave a Comment »

Ubuntu USB Wireless

Posted by David Chandler on December 15, 2008

Reason why I love the open source community #157:

Please leave really detailed comments on wiki pages like this one about which hardware actually works with your OS. See the comment for the FD7050, v4001.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/HardwareSupportComponentsWirelessNetworkCardsBelkin#USB

After reading this page and related pages for other vendors, I stopped my local Target, and was pleasantly surprised to find the Belkin myEssentials line of components, but not the myEssentials USB wireless adapter which so many folks have said works fine with Ubuntu and is very cheap ($15-$25). But not to worry, the Belkin referenced above was on the shelf for $35, and it featured a barcode sticker with “ver. 4001” on it. Bingo!

I plugged it in to my Ubuntu 7  machine, waited a few seconds, clicked the network manager on the launcher bar, and it had already found my network. I entered my password for WPA2-PSK (AES), held my breath, and voila, I can now move the Ubuntu machine to the basement for the kids 🙂

/dmc

Posted in PC Tech | Comments Off on Ubuntu USB Wireless

Ubuntu Saves the Day (Again)

Posted by David Chandler on December 1, 2008

Vista crashed again on a friend’s misbehaving Thinkpad, resulting in the invitation to reinstall Windows at startup. Whereas this had happened several times recently and Windows was unable to repair the installation previously, resulting in the loss of all data, and whereas my friend had stayed up till 3AM working on MBA projects that would now be lost, said friend was in despair.

Enter Ubuntu. We booted off the LiveCD and attempted to mount the windows drive, which Ubuntu had automatically detected. The disk was flagged with an unclean shutdown, so it did not mount, but Ubuntu provided a helpful error message with the complete syntax of the mount command with “force” option to recognize the drive. With a little additional Linux knowledge and trial and error, we came up with

sudo mkdir /media/SW_Preload
sudo mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda2 /media/SW_Preload -o force

Voila! There was the dead Windows drive, ready for transfer to USB flash or external hard drive.

Even if you don’t install Ubuntu, you should download a CD before you need it.

Related recommendations:

Backup 2 GB free at idrive.com. Easy and secure. Features continuous backup mode that will backup changes every 10 minutes.

Karen’s Power Tools Replicator is a free, lightweight utility for doing full or differential backups to an external hard drive. I set mine to run every hour.

/dmc

Posted in PC Tech | Tagged: , , | Comments Off on Ubuntu Saves the Day (Again)

 
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