Old Dogs. New Tricks.

I have been a Windows user for over twenty years. I have used Linux on the desktop for around ten years. My primary work machines have run Linux for around four years. I never really used Macs. I have tried in the past, but it just never really worked out.

OS X looks good on paper, but I always found its resistance to customization and inflexible user interface offputting. I owned a Mac a while ago, but never really used it beyon the occasional testing of things I was developing “on a Mac” to say I did, or to verify compatiblilty with Safari.

When I started my new job on January 4, 2016, I was given a Mac. It’s one of the top-of-the-line Macbook Pro models with a Retina screen, a super fast CPU and a solid state drive (very fast). And I have actually gotten things done with it.

I really wanted to just throw Linux Mint on it, but one of my new coworkers gently told me it isn’t that painful to learn the Mac way of doing things. My biggest gripe is that keyboard shortcuts are dramatically different in a lot of cases. Linux and Windows are pretty much the same. OS X annoyingly has completely different cursor movement keys (Home, End, etc.) that go against established conventions. And there is no practical way to universally re-map them that I have found.

So I have to re-learn shortcuts at work and un-learn them at home. And there are the user interface differences like the position and function of buttons. Some of that is mitigated by software like Moom that doesn’t necessarily replicate how Linux and Windows work, but makes window management a lot easier.

I’m a week and a day into it and it’s actualy working pretty well. There are still quirks and annoyances, but I am adjusting to them. So the old dog is learning new tricks. With that said, I don’t see myself converting to the Apple ecosystem any time soon. I do see it becoming another piece in my toolbox.

I’m quite backed up

I have been a firm believer in redundant computer hardware for years. I have my important data on RAID 1 (which is two mirrored drives so that if one fails, there is another drive with intact data). It’s a bit expensive, since you pay twice for storage, but after some close calls, I have realized that my data’s value is far more than the price of a single hard drive.

I have also tried to take the data on various machines and get the backups in one place.

After talking with one of the owners of the business where we have a safe deposit box, I realized that I didn’t have a “meteor” contingency: What if a meteor hit the house and everything in it was destroyed? I have one now.

In addition to the redundant hardware, I’m in the process of backing up to two portable hard drives. One will stay in the safe deposit box while the other one will get backed up automatically with the latest important files. Once a month or so, I’ll swap out the drives. I also have “cloud” accounts so that the newer files that haven’t made it to the offsite backup are somewhere outside the house as well.

Is this perfect? No. But it has several facets that make it workable:

  1. It’s far better than nothing
  2. It’s as close to automated as I can make it. If the data transfers require any manual intervention, they won’t get done. The only thing I have to do is swap out the drives and move them between the safe deposit box and the house.
  3. It uses commonly available data formats and software. I’m using rsync on a Linux box. There is absolutely no vendor lock in, so I don’t have to worry about finding licenses to get back after a loss of some sort.
  4. Item 3 makes recovery as close to “plug and play” as possible.

So what’s important data? That’s going to be a bit different for everyone. Some of my important files would be considered losable by most and I’m sure I’m not saving some stuff that would be critical to others.

In general terms, here’s what is being saved (in no particular order):

  • Scanned documents and records. We have an excellent document scanner at home and a good digital workflow. Everything gets scanned into searchable PDFs: bills, insurance cards, ID cards, mail, receipts, etc. And it’s fairly well organized. The scanner was expensive, but it has more than paid for itself in convenience and peace of mind.
  • The “Documents” folders from all active computers. We both have lots of documents going back years. Everything form love notes to resumes.
  • Digital photos. Raw, processed, organized or not. It’s all in there.
  • Downloaded software that’s installed on our machines. Makes restoration a lot easier if you have all the installations in one place.
  • Media files (movies and music). I really really really don’t want to have to re-rip the DVDs and CDs, not to mention the months of spare time I put in organizing it all.
  • My home server’s web root. I am a programmer. This is where I do a lot of my work.
  • Backups from web hosting server. My entire online life needs a good backups.
  • Archived files from decades of being a computer nerd that I need to go through one day. This is probably cruft, but if there’s room, it’s better to back up more than you need than the other way around, you know?
  • Books I have in digital form (which is most of my books these days). I have also tried to convert from vendor specific formats to generic for wider device compatibility.

Since I’m “a computer guy” my process is a bit technical and probably more complex than most people would need. But if you don’t have an “in house” backup system, get one now.You can get a multi-terabyte external drive with basic backup software for under $150 these days. If that is a lot of money, think about how much it would cost to reconstruct your data.

I would also urge you to figure out a way to get your data offsite as well, even if it’s an online service. If you want a Box.com invitation (50GB free) just ask, or go sign up!

My tolerance for data loss is zero bytes and I have done what I can to make that happen. Think about what your tolerance for data loss is and act accordingly.


New Keyboard – gotta do it in person

As someone who sits in front of a computer for roughly ten hours a day, the way I physically interface with that computer is very important. Keyboard are a major part of that, and I have always been pretty pick about mine. For at least the last decade, I have used some version of Microsoft’s ergonomic keyboards. Despite being huge, I love the shape and they’re very comfortable to use for long stretches of time, but I’ve grown tired of the mushy feeling and the inconsistency between different keyboard of the same model. I wish Microsoft offered a mechanical version, although I’m apparently a noisy typist, so that might not be the best choice for an office environment.

I do like the snappy feeling of my ThinkPad’s built-in keyboard and also the Bluetooth keyboards I have for my iPad, so I went looking for a full-sized keyboard (gotta have my cursor keys and a keypad). Last week, I grabbed a cheap keyboard from Newegg that fit the bill. For the price it’s a decent piece of hardware, but I can tell this one isn’t designed to go the long haul. It at least let me determine that I can type on a standard keyboard and feel was good, especially for an inexpensive keyboard. I purchased this more as an experimental “proof of concept” than the keyboard I was going to use, so buying it sight unseen wasn’t an issue.

Knowing that I found a form factor I can live with, it was time to get shopping. And since this is something I’m going to be touching hours at a time, I needed to go see one in person before plunking down my hard-earned cash on my final decision.

I do not like shopping at “computer” stores. I actively hate Fry’s and their stupid checkout process where you get stopped at the door for a bag check after waiting in a long line to hand overĀ  your money. I’m glad there’s no Fry’s near me right now. Not to mention shopping there on Black Friday would be beyond my tolerance for closeness to hordes of other people. But that’s another story.

There’s a Micro Center nearby. I’ve been in this store before and found the staff eager to help, but not annoying or stupid (ahem Fry’s ahem). Despite being Black Friday, I decided to give it a whirl. The parking lot was crammed full (I had mistakenly parked at a closed business next door and that was a stroke of happy dumb luck since I was relatively close and found a spot). I was expecting the worst; the store was quite crowded. Despite the crowds, I was helped immediately and none of the employees seemed harried or stressed out. Awesome!

The lady who helped me was actually from home office (I wish I had noted her name). She helped me find the exact keyboard I was looking for, which turned out to be a Logitech K750. A little spendy at $64.99, but if feels great and has a solar recharging. How cool is that? No wires and no batteries to worry about. I’m typing this on it and notice I’m making fewer typos. I like the clicky snappy feel, just like the keyboards I had mentioned before.

“Home Office Lady” took as much time with me as I needed and made sure that I was happy with my choice. I didn’t feel like I was being rushed to make a decision quickly. I was even allowed to open boxes and “test” them right there. Nice. I love my new Logitechs (grabbed one for the house and one for the office) and got them for a great price.

This, folks, is customer service! Thanks Micro Center. I’ll be back.