Get your digital house in order for 2015

Maybe you make new year’s resolutions, maybe you don’t. Either way, a new year always brings the feeling of starting fresh! That thing you’ve been putting off? Now’s the time to wipe the slate clean and tackle it. With that in mind, here are some tech-related things you might consider starting 2015 with.

Backup your stuff

It’s always a good idea to backup your stuff regularly, and now’s as good a time as any to set this up if you’ve been putting it off. Any backup strategy is better than no backup strategy, but ideally you’d have multiple copies of important data, stored locally and in a remote location. Have some really important stuff? Put it on a USB drive and stick it in a safe deposit box. For most data though, a combination of a local drive and the cloud is probably the way to go.

Backblaze 2.0 (fisheye)
Photo by ChrisDag

I have been using Backblaze for a couple of years now. For $5 per month or $50 per year, you get worry-free, unlimited backup. You simply install the software on your computer (Windows or Mac) and Backblaze will send everything up to the cloud automatically. You don’t need to worry about choosing specific folders to backup, and everything is encrypted. If you ever need to restore something, there are three options: you can download a zip file for free, you can pay $99 to get up to 128 GB sent on a USB flash drive, or you can pay $189 to get up to 4 TB sent on a hard drive. If you’ve ever lost something important, I think you’ll agree that Backblaze is totally worth the price.

Store stuff in the cloud

Related to the backup task, now’s a great time to take advantage of cloud storage. If you save stuff to the cloud regularly, I think you can worry about backing it up a little less. Saving data to the cloud is like backing it up immediately! You’ve probably been exposed to Dropbox and that’s a fine service but I’m a big fan of OneDrive.


With Dropbox you only get 2 GB of storage for free, but with OneDrive you get 15 GB and it’s really easy to earn more (and as an Office 365 subscriber I get unlimited storage). OneDrive supports Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Xbox. I use it for everything, especially OneNote as I wrote about last year. I can’t recommend it enough!

Another service to keep in mind is Mover. They’re a local company, and their service can help to migrate your data from one cloud storage provider to another. That might be useful if you plan on testing a few out. You could also use Mover’s backup service for $4 per month. Another great addition to your toolkit!

Get organized

Are you a to-do-list person? Maybe you like sticky notes? Spreadsheets? There are countless ways to organize your tasks and ideas, and I have tried my share of them. But over the past year, I’ve found that Trello works best for me.


Trello is the right combination of simplicity and power. You can create boards, which contain lists, which contain cards. You can then move cards from list to list. A typical setup will have “To Do”, “Doing”, and “Done” lists. And let me tell you, moving a card into that “Done” list is super satisfying! Trello works across devices and platforms, has a great responsive website, and is free!

A local service that you might use in a similar fashion is Stormboard, which provides a shared, real-time sticky note whiteboard. It’s a great tool, focused mainly on collaborating with others (which Trello can do too). Check out the tour to see all that Stormboard can do.

If more traditional task lists are your thing, then I’d recommend Remember the Milk. The service has been around for 9 years already, which feels like an eternity in the web space, but it’s still here because it is excellent. It too works across devices and services, and has a pretty advanced set of features.

Improve your security

Security was a big topic last year and will continue to be in the headlines this year. It can seem incredibly daunting to try to protect yourself in the post-Snowden world, but here are two really important things you can do.

First, stop using the same password for everything. In the security world people often talk about “attack surface”, and a different password for every website you use really decreases your attack surface. Because if one service is hacked and you use the same password everywhere, then all of your other accounts would be vulnerable too!

If you only use one or two websites, it’s easy to remember a different password for each. But more than likely you use dozens of services. That’s where a tool called a password manager comes in. I use LastPass because it works across devices and uses strong encryption to keep my data safe (I have used Passpack in the past too). When I sign up for a new website or app, I add it to LastPass and use a strong password that it generates for me automatically. If I had to remember every password, I’d be much less likely to use a strong password (random combination of characters), so that’s another benefit of using a service like LastPass (I take it a step further and generate random answers to the very insecure password recovery questions too).

So, what happens if LastPass gets hacked? Good question. Certainly their approach to encryption is one level of protection, but two-factor authentication is another. And that’s my second security tip – enable two-factor authentication wherever possible!


Two-factor authentication (2FA) makes your accounts more secure by requiring additional information when logging in. Typically this is a code sent to you via text message or generated in a specific app, the idea being that even if someone had your password, they’d also need your phone to login. It takes a few extra seconds when logging into a website or app, but it’s worth it. There’s an excellent list of websites that support 2FA here. For services that support software-based 2FA rather than text messages, you’ll need an app like Google Authenticator on Android or iOS, or Authenticator on Windows Phone.

Maybe you don’t want to enable 2FA on every site, but you should enable it on your email account at minimum (and get a new one if yours doesn’t support 2FA). So much of our identity and security online is tied to our email accounts, so it’s a critical area to focus on. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo all support 2FA. I also use it on key social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Of course I use it on financial services like PayPal wherever possible too.

Backup your data, start using cloud storage, use an online tool to get organized, and take some simple steps to improve your security. All the best in 2015!

1.2 zettabytes of data created in 2010

For the last five years or so, IDC has released an EMC-sponsored study on “The Digital Universe” that looks at how much data is created and replicated around the world. When I last blogged about it back in 2008, the number stood at 281 exabytes per year. Now the latest report is out, and for the first time the amount of data created has surpassed 1 zettabyte! About 1.2 zettabytes were created and replicated in 2010 (that’s 1.2 trillion gigabytes), and IDC predicts that number will grow to 1.8 zettabytes this year. The amount of data is more than doubling every two years!

Here’s what the growth looks like:

How much data is that? Wikipedia has some good answers: exabyte, zettabyte. EMC has also provided some examples to help make sense of the number. 1.8 zettabytes is equivalent in sheer volume to:

  • Every person in Canada tweeting three tweets per minute for 242,976 years nonstop
  • Every person in the world having over 215 million high-resolution MRI scans per day
  • Over 200 billion HD movies (each two hours in length) – would take one person 47 million years to watch every movie 24/7
  • The amount of information needed to fill 57.5 billion 32GB Apple iPads. With that many iPads we could:
    • Create a wall of iPads, 4,005 miles long and 61 feet high extending from Anchorage, Alaska to Miami, Florida
    • Build the Great iPad Wall of China – at twice the average height of the original
    • Build a 20-foot high wall around South America
    • Cover 86 per cent of Mexico City
    • Build a mountain 25 times higher than Mt. Fuji

That’s a lot of data!

EMC/IDC has produced a great infographic that explains more about the explosion of data – see it here in PDF. One of the things that has always been fuzzy for me is the difference between data we’ve created intentionally (like a document) and data we’ve created unintentionally (sharing that document with others). According to IDC, one gigabyte of stored data can generate one petabyte (1 million gigabytes) of transient data!

Cost is one of the biggest factors behind this growth, of course. The cost of creating, capturing, managing, and storing information is now just 1/6th of what it was in 2005. Another big factor is the fact that most of us now carry the tools of creation at all times, everywhere we go. Digital cameras, mobile phones, etc.

You can learn more about all of this and see a live information growth ticker at EMC’s website.

This seems as good a time as any to remind you to backup your important data! It may be easy to create photos and documents, but it’s even easier to lose them. I use a variety of tools to backup data, including Amazon S3, Dropbox, and Windows Live Mesh. The easiest by far though is Backblaze – unlimited storage for $5 per month per computer, and it all happens automagically in the background.

281 exabytes of data created in 2007

data I typed the title for this post into Windows Live Writer, and a red squiggly appeared under the word “exabytes”. I just added it to the dictionary, but I can’t help but think that it’ll be in there by default before long.

Either it takes three months to crunch the data or March is just the unofficial “how much did we create last year” month, because researchers at IDC have once again figured out how many bits and bytes of data were created in 2007. You’ll recall that in March of last year, they estimated the figure for 2006 to be 161 exabytes. For 2007, that number nearly doubled, to 281 exabytes (which is 281 billion gigabytes):

IDC attributes accelerated growth to the increasing popularity of digital television and cameras that rely on digital storage. Major drivers of digital content growth include surveillance, social networking, and cloud computing. Visual content like images and video account for the largest portion of the digital universe. According to IDC, there are now over a billion digital cameras and camera phones in the world and only ten percent of photos are captured on regular film.

This is obviously a very inexact science, but I suspect their estimates become more accurate with experience.

Interestingly, this is the first time that we’ve created more data than we have room to store (though one wonders if that’s simply due to a lack of historical data than anything else).

Read: ars technica

Goodbye optical discs, hello write-once memory cards!

Post Image Engadget posted yesterday about 1GB write-once memory cards from SanDisk that would cost around $5.99 USD. My first thought was that it would never work. Why buy a memory card you can only use once for $6 when you can buy a rewritable one for as little as say $15? It wouldn’t make sense. But after reading the comments and thinking about it a bit more, it became clear that write-once and rewritable memory cards could serve very different markets, just as CD-R/CD-RW and DVD-R/DVD-RW do today.

For the digital camera user, a write-once memory card doesn’t make much sense, unless it comes as part of a "disposable" camera. Otherwise, you’re likely going to want to stick to a memory card that you can fill up, erase, and fill up again.

For digital media however, write-once memory cards do make sense. Think about albums, movies, and games – they all come on optical media. And as handy as they are, CDs and DVDs are still pretty big as far as technology goes. Each disc is 12 cm across, which means you need a pretty big device in order to read them. Imagine how big your digital camera would be if it saved data on a CD! And yes, I realize there are mini-CDs and DVDs, but they have drastically reduced capacities.

By comparison, an SD card is about 3cm x 2cm. Much, much smaller. They can fit inside all sorts of devices, including phones, cameras, and digital media players. I’d rather have digital media like music, movies, and games come to me via the cloud, but if I have to purchase it in physical form, I’d much rather have a smaller SD card than a relatively large DVD.

Write-once memory cards make the most sense for data archival, however. I’m sure I’m not the only one that burns write-once DVDs as part of my backup regimen. How cool would it be to use tiny little memory cards instead? Rewritable memory cards have already far surpassed the capacity of DVDs, so I imagine that write-once memory cards won’t be far behind. Plus, backing up data to a memory card is faster and less error-prone than burning a disc. And when you’re done? Memory cards take up a lot less room than discs do, so you can store many more of them.

The one advantage that DVDs have over write-once memory cards, of course, is cost. You can buy DVDs for around 35 cents per disc. I don’t expect that advantage will last long. When production of write-once memory cards ramps up and technology improves, the cost will come down dramatically. Okay maybe one more advantage of DVDs is that they are harder to lose, but that depends on how you look at it 🙂

My initial negative impression is long gone – I’m looking forward to write-once memory cards!

Read: Engadget

Blast from the past: hard drives

The computer industry changes so rapidly that it’s easy to forget about the hardware and devices we had just a few years ago. I’ve been cleaning up the office, getting rid of some junk that we’ve had lying around for years, and I’m amazed at some of the hardware I’ve found. Hard drives best demonstrate the difference between then and now – they’ve had the same form factor for years, but the capacities are vastly different.

For instance, the hard drive from an old Toshiba T4900CT laptop is only 810 MB! Technically that’s 770 MB I believe, yes megabytes. I don’t know why I’ve kept this laptop for so long, it hasn’t worked for years. I guess I’m a bit of a digital pack rat. It was the first laptop I ever used. My family used it at the pet store back in Inuvik when I was a kid, and it worked great. I even took it on a field trip back in high school (Dickson reminded me that we played Grand Theft Auto on the bus).

I found this description on the Toshiba Europe site:

The T4900CT and its 75 MHz Pentium processor will give you such speed and power when you’re out on the road that you’ll really move along the data super-highway. Back in the office, there’s hardly a desktop that can keep up with it.

How times have changed! Not only does it weigh about 15 pounds, but it’s a good four inches thick! The last thing that processor makes me think of is speed and power.

Here are a few photos I took tonight: the 810 MB hard drive, a 9.1 GB SCSI hard drive, and a 20.5 GB IDE hard drive.

810 MB hard drive 9.1 GB hard drive 20.5 GB hard drive

I wouldn’t consider buying anything smaller than a 300 GB SATA II hard drive now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that seems tiny in a couple years. Hard to imagine that a hard drive with only 770 MB was ever actually usable!

Facebook continues to strengthen The Platform

Back in July I wrote about Microsoft’s so-called Cloud OS. There hasn’t been any Microsoft-specific news since then (that I’ve come across anyway) but more and more companies seem to be gearing up to offer cloud infrastructure services. Take Nirvanix for instance, an Amazon S3 competitor that launched earlier this month with some impressive features.

And today, the blogosphere is buzzing about Facebook potentially getting into the cloud services game (some might argue that they already are). Rev2 reports that Facebook is preparing to offer data storage services:

At this stage it seems unclear as to what the precise data storage offering from Facebook is going to be. The Developer wiki indicates that the new service is in Beta, however, there are no indications around more specific details such as space limitations. Costs are also not revealed so one could assume that the data storage offered may be free for a while whilst the service is still in Beta.

AllFacebook has some interesting discussion on the topic, and Read/WriteWeb notes that the service is somewhat in line with Facebook’s earlier acquisition of Parakey.

This is pretty intriguing news on it’s own, but it gets better. At the TechCrunch40 conference today, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the company is launching a venture fund called fbFund:

The size of the fund will be $10 million with anywhere between $25 to $250 thousand in grants available for each selected startup dedicated to developing Facebook applications. Founders Fund and Accel will get the right of first refusal for the first round of financing of any company in the fund.

Facebook created The Platform, and everyone went crazy. Anyone could develop an application that would run on The Platform, as long as they invested their own infrastructure, time, and money. Today Facebook took steps to eliminate two of those hurdles. Pretty soon, all you’ll need to invest is time.

I don’t think it’s wise to base your entire business around a Facebook application, but people will do it, and quite a few people will probably make money from it. The really good applications may even be able to transcend Facebook’s walled garden.

Looks like The Platform is just getting started.

Read: Rev2

Drobo: Infrant's ReadyNAS NV+ with better marketing

Post ImageHave you heard of Drobo? It’s a new storage device billed as “the world’s first storage robot.” I am not quite sure what that means, because there doesn’t seem to be anything robotic about it. Drobo has been receiving a ton of press lately, but I don’t know why. Take for instance, Michael Gartenberg’s post:

For the past few weeks, I’ve been using a new device that totally changed the way I think of external storage that finally does works the way I want and lets me leverage low cost and high capacity drives in their sweet spot. It’s called a Drobo and while some have called it a RAID array, it’s really much more than that.

What he likes about it is that everything is automatic. Drobo provides all of the advantages of a RAID array without having to do any configuration. Furthermore, you can replace drives with larger ones and your data is automatically migrated.

Thing is, there’s already a product that does all that. It’s called the ReadyNAS NV+ and it’s made by Infrant Technologies (recently aquired by Netgear). Their “automatic” RAID technology is called X-RAID, and it works like a charm. Actually, it does quite a bit more than the Drobo, and it’s only $150 more ($649 vs $499 USD). For instance, it allows you to specify a RAID-configuration if you want, and it also has a wicked management tool to configure monitoring, automatic backups, and more.

I guess the main difference between the two (besides the price) is that the Drobo is connected to your PC or Mac via USB, whereas the ReadyNAS is connected to your network via ethernet. But seriously, network storage is a much better choice. Most people have more than one computer, so all of them can access the ReadyNAS at once. Furthermore, if you turn off the computer that the Drobo is connected to, your data is no longer accessible. Not so with the ReadyNAS – your data is always accessible. Also, you’ll probably get better data rates over ethernet than over USB.

All of these points are mentioned in Engadget’s excellent review of the Drobo.

We’ve had both a ReadyNAS NV+ and an older ReadyNAS 600/X6 here at Paramagnus for over a year, and I have absolutely no complaints. I would highly recommend Infrant products if you’re looking for a storage solution.

I suppose the Drobo is positioned more as a consumer device, whereas the ReadyNAS NV+ has not been (at least not until being acquired by Netgear). I think Drobo probably has a wicked marketing team too, and props to them, they’ve managed to garner a lot of positive coverage.

That said, the ReadyNAS NV+ is a much better choice in my opinion. It’s too bad it hasn’t received the press coverage it deserves.

Read: Engadget

Amazon S3: 5 billion objects and counting

Post ImageOne of the more interesting stories to come out of the Web 2.0 Expo is that of’s Simple Storage Service (S3) passing 5 billion stored objects. You can watch a video of Jeff Bezos talking to conference attendees here. According to Bezos, S3 was storing just 800,000 objects in July 2006. That’s some pretty incredible growth, and I expect it will only continue.

More and more I am convinced that web services like S3 will become the norm. Companies like, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and eBay are all very good at building and maintaining the infrastructure their services require to operate smoothly and efficiently. It only makes sense to further monetize that competency.

S3 has had an incredibly positive impact on Podcast Spot, and I know we’d be able to make use of additional web services if only they existed.

Read: TechCrunch

Yahoo Mail gets better

Post ImageI haven’t used Yahoo! Mail in ages, but two bits of news caught my eye today regarding the service. The first, is that Yahoo! is going to start offering unlimited storage in May:

The unlimited storage will begin rolling out globally in May, and Yahoo expects to have all of its customers covered within a month, except for China and Japan. “We will continue working with these markets on their storage plans,” Kremer said.

Yahoo! is the first of the big players to launch unlimited storage. I can’t imagine Google and Microsoft will be far behind.

The feature is important for further development, as Om Malik reports:

What it shows is that the company is beginning to think of Yahoo Mail as a platform, leveraging cheap storage and a mega audience.

I think the other shoe is going to drop tomorrow when Yahoo in all likelihood is going to announce a Yahoo Mail API, which would open up the service to third party developers.

Really?! An API for a mail service? That would be pretty darn cool, I have to admit.

Read: Yahoo! Mail

161 exabytes of data created in 2006

Post ImageThere’s a new report out from research firm IDC that attempts to count up all the zeroes and ones that fly around our digital world. I remember reading about the last such report, from the University of California, Berkeley. That report found that 5 exabytes of data were created in 2003. The new IDC report says the number for 2006 is 161 exabytes! Why the difference?

[The Berkeley researchers] also counted non-electronic information, such as analog radio broadcasts or printed office memos, and tallied how much space that would consume if digitized. And they examined original data only, not all the times things got copied.

In comparison, the IDC numbers ballooned with the inclusion of content as it was created and as it was reproduced – for example, as a digital TV file was made and every time it landed on a screen. If IDC tracked original data only, its result would have been 40 exabytes.

Even still, that’s an incredible increase in just three years. Apparently we don’t even have enough space to store all that data:

IDC estimates that the world had 185 exabytes of storage available last year and will have 601 exabytes in 2010. But the amount of stuff generated is expected to jump from 161 exabytes last year to 988 exabytes (closing in on 1 zettabyte) in 2010.

Pretty hardcore, huh? You can read about zettabytes at Wikipedia. I’m not too worried about not having enough space though, even if we were attempting to store all that data (which we aren’t). Hard drives are already approaching the terabyte mark, so who knows how big they’ll be in 2010. Then of course there’s also the ever falling costs of DVD-like media.

More importantly, I bet a lot of the storage we “have available” right now is totally underutilized. You’d be hard pressed to find a computer that comes with less than 80 GB of storage these days, and I can assure you there are plenty of users who never even come close to filling it up. Heck, even I am only using about 75% of the storage I have available on my computer (420 GB out of 570 GB) and I bet a lot of it could be deleted (I’m a digital pack rat).

Read: Yahoo! News