Friday, 27 April 2001

Newsletter Issue 22, April 2001


Sam Young Newsletter

Issue 22, April 2001
Hi guys,
Rain. Isn't it great stuff? And don't we really need some now...
It's times like this that you start to think about natural disasters, and how easily they can happen. A few factors come together and suddenly you are pitched from everyday ho-him life into "my life as a soap opera" zone.
So the main topic of this newsletter is disaster recovery. If you don't have any plans in place, do something about it NOW. If you have already done something, CHECK that you have done as much as you need to do. Check out Saving Up For A Rainy Day and Diacriticals below.
Don't forget, if you want to be taken off my mailing list, click here to send me a reply e-mail and I will remove your name.

Saving Up For A Rainy Day

Friends of the family have just had a nasty experience with a computer virus. It shot their system to pieces and they lost the lot. And viruses are not the only thing that can make your system extremely unhappy: fires, floods, theft, burst water tank in the ceiling, power spike, electrical short, earthquake, dust or just plain wear and tear can all fry your hard drive.

My system has just had its quarterly clean out and reinstall to get rid of driver file failures and the dreaded Microsoft "go slow". Needless to say, I need a pretty comprehensive backup to reinstall quickly. Not to mention documentation of all my software, preferences, passwords, registration numbers, bug fixes and patches.

You should all be familiar by now with my constant bleating on about back-ups. If you are not backing up your data, think about the consequences of loosing the data you have;

  • Lost your calendar/scheduler/task lists
  • Lost all your email addresses
  • Lost all your emails
  • All your word processing is gone. Even if you have hard copies, how many hours  will you have to spend repunching the data in? How many times do you do a "save as" on a file to save yourself the time in re-inventing the wheel?
  • Lost all your templates
  • Lost your company electronic imaging
  • Lost your financials
  • Lost all the funky little bits of software that you have downloaded, and the major software that you got cheaper (and faster) on the net because you downloaded it
  • Lost all your internet bookmarks
  • Lost your family photos
  • Lost any music you downloaded
  • Lost all your machine preferences
  • Lost all your software registration numbers
  • Lost all your auto-entry passwords

Bugger.
How many hours of work will you lose if your PC goes down? For me it is maybe .5 to .9 of a day for every day I work. That's pretty significant.
For some of you it may only be .1 or .2. But that is still not something that you want to lose when you can easily purchase some appropriate technology and develop some systems to plug the gap.
So do something about it NOW. Tomorrow - or at least this week.
Then TEST your system to make sure that it works.

What to back up
If you save all the stuff that I am talking about into one folder (eg My Documents), you can back it up easily onto Zip disc or CD.  A list of things to back up for Windows 98:
  1. The links & folders found under C:\Windows\Favourites. These are your internet shortcuts. I usually just copy these over before I do my backup. Netscape Communicator Users should go to C:\Program Files\Netscape\Communicator\Users and copy "Users" across to their backup area.
  2. The shortcuts & files found under C:\Windows\Application Data\Microsoft. These are your application preferences, templates etc. I only back these up again when I know that I have changed my settings, toolbars or added a new template.
  3. Outlook.pst, usually found under C:\Windows. Your Outlook preferences & emails. You can copy Outlook.pst into My Documents, then delete the one in C:\Windows. Then when you restart Outlook it will look for the file; you just type in " C:\my Documents" in the Browse box. Then it is always in your backup area and you don't have to muck about copying it before you back up again.
  4. Windows Themes. For those of you that like a really customised look to Windows, you can save all your customised font, colour and wallpaper settings by installing Themes. Go to: Start button | Settings | Control Panel | Add/Remove Programs | Windows Setup | Desktop Themes. Install by selecting. Shut down & restart. Go to: Start button | Settings | Control Panel | Desktop Themes. Your theme will show as "Current Windows Settings". Click "save as" and change the save location to My Documents.. and give it a sensible name like "My Theme"! 
  5. List of all your registration numbers for your programmes. When you register online and get a rego number, do a screendump of the rego & paste the dump into a Word document (to do a screen dump, click the "Print Screen" button on the keyboard, open Word, click the paste tool. The exact screen view you could see on the net will be pasted into Word). You will need to print out updates as they happen: you need hardcopy to be able to reload your programmes when you computer has done down! Also check out Outlook Reference Folder under Hot Keys & Shortcuts below.
  6. Document your passwords. Whenever you get new passwords for software/ISPs etc, do a screen dump of your passwords (if you can read them) or write them down at the time. Save this info into the same doc as you have saved your rego numbers.
  7. Special patches and fixes for software. These are things like the Access registry fix for Office 97 (Access 97 won't run if you have Office 2000 installed), scanner failures like "ocraware.exe" & virtual device driver conflicts. Print out the fixes and save the patches into My Documents. Sure as shootin', when your computer falls over two years after you got an obscure driver file conflict between two bits of software, you aren't going to remember how you got around it when it comes time to reinstall.
  8.  All your data files & software downloads. At least once a week. And store your back ups somewhere away from your computer. Like in your PO Box. 
  9. If you have any software on floppies, make another copy on new discs. Test them, then store them away from your computer. Same deal with your CDs. There is nothing more annoying than trying to reinstall your software, finding that the discs wont work and (a) the company has gone out of business or (b) they no longer make the software or (c) the software will cost you $3000 to upgrade.

There are lots of other things that you will need to back up - eg if you use MYOB, you need to save all your data files and backups into My Documents from the software directory... or you will lose this information as well.



How to back up
Whatever storage medium you use, the accepted best practice is to create 3 generations of backups: 
  1. Parent - the most recent copy of your Child (child being the current live copy on your PC) eg If you are doing weekly backups, the parent was created this week
  2. Grandparent - the next oldest copy. This is LAST week's parent
  3. Great-Grandparent - the oldest copy. This is LAST week's grandparent & the fortnight-ago parent.

You rotate the backups around so that you NEVER overwrite your parent copy - always your great-grandparent. This is just in case something goes wrong with your PC when you are doing your backup... and you have just deleted your parent copy, getting ready to create the new one. And I have had my PC go belly up when I was doing a backup. Luckily I wasn't overwriting my most recent (parent) copy.
What to use?
Zip drive: this uses Zip discs. You can buy an external Zip for about $300. The discs are about $30 per unit. You get 250 meg onto one disc. Depending on how much data you have, you may only need a couple of zip discs. Really good option if you don't have too much data to back up and are on a standalone PC. Takes about 10 minutes to write a disc.
CD-RW drive: this uses CD-RW or CD-R. You can buy an external CD Writer for about $700. The CD-RW are about $5 per unit, CD-R are about $3. You get 530 meg onto 1 CD. CD-RW are the best way to go as you can reuse them about 100 times. You can only write to a CD-R once. Good option if you have a standalone PC and not too many CDs to copy (it takes about 15 minutes per CD).
External Hard drive: this is another hard drive in a box. You plug it in, copy the lot and take it away. Not cheap, but fairly easy to do - and not much use if you are on a network. You are not limited in size - I think you can get an external hard drive set up for nearly any size. You need to store the drive unit offsite to be effective though, and I am not sure how long it would take to copy data. Some people set these up to automatically backup overnight.
Tape drive: this uses magnetic tape. The external drives are reasonably expensive and so are the tapes. I have never used one, but if you have a lot of data to back up - like a small/medium or large network, this is definitely the way to go. Again I am not sure how long this will take, and there is definitely no limit on size.
Think about it, then put thought into action. Sure as eggs, if you don't, one day soon you will wish you had... and by then it will be too late.

Diacriticals

Did you know what all those little punctuationy kinda accent marks were called? I know what all their individual names are... and they sound so romantic: macrons, umlauts, cedillas, circumflexes, graves, acutes etc. But together they are called diacritical marks.

I had cause to find this out recently as I was trying to find the technical name for the little circle thingy that goes over a vowel sound in Swedish & Norwegian (it is a volle for those of you with unending curiosity like mine). So I looked on the internet.

It is immensely difficult to find something on the internet when the only way you know how to describe it is "a little circle thingy that goes over a vowel sound". Not a lot of hits there, even using Google.

So I first had to spend an hour trying to find out what the whole genre of punctuation marks were called. Except that I knew they weren't really punctuation marks, because they are commas, ampersands and full-stops, of course.

And at last I found them. A bit of an obscure reference in the Encyclopaedia Britannica to Webster's online dictionary and I was off and hunting the diacritical mark. Following are some of the sites that I found if you want to know more about diacriticals: http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q98/9/99.ASP and http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/cc/documentation/Foreign_Lang/Diacriticals/diacriticals_pc.htm and http://www.warwick.ac.uk/alt-E/rolling/article/31 and http://www.hclrss.demon.co.uk/unicode/combining_diacritical_marks.html and http://www.arts.cuhk.edu.hk/LocalFile/char.html

This search has refreshed my memory for just how inventive and tenacious you have to be to get a sensible answer out of a vast pile of data. But being the driven A-type that I am, I got there in the end. And at the time it seemed so critical too. Diacritical... 

Short+Hot Keys... and now tips
Outlook Reference Folder

You can store all sorts of useful information in Outlook, but not always in the way Microsoft intended. Like most people I have a lot of login names / passwords, account numbers, PIN's and other essential info for life in the early 21st century. Keeping a track of it can be a real pain. 

Here's my solution that you can copy or evolve to suit your situation. 

I created a new folder called 'Reference' by choosing File | New | Folder - type in the name of folder, make sure the folder is set to contain 'Mail and Post items' and choose a 'parent' folder. If you want your Reference folder to sit in the same level as Inbox then click on the folder above Inbox in the tree (ie Mailbox or Outlook Today). 

E Voila! You've made a bright shiny new folder ready for things to be added to it. Below are the steps for you to add info to it and some neat Outlook tricks along the way. 

The easiest way to add items to your reference folder is to drag a message from your Inbox. At first this means going back through old mail but later you can add things automatically using the organise tool, or as you open the messages. 

Say you find a message from a web site that you had to login to use. The message has the usual welcome stuff but also your login name and password - like all wise net users you have a different name and password for each site right (yeah, right!). 

Drag that welcome message from your Inbox to Reference and you're done. 

Or perhaps not. Sometimes the web site doesn't tell you the password - that's no problem since you can edit any message that has arrived. Double click on the message to open it and then choose Edit | Edit Message - and hey presto the message changes from view-only to editable. It may not look any different but if you click your mouse in the message pane and start typing you'll see that you can add, delete or move the message text. So you can now add a line with the password for the site. 

Better still you can move the login info from down in the middle of the message to the top where you can immediately see it when you open the message. When you're done choose File | Close and choose the save the changes. 

If there's no incoming message, you can make your own for the Reference folder. Choose File | New | Post in this folder, and a familiar looking message pane will open. There's no TO: or CC: naturally but you can type in a subject heading (the only chance you get to do this) and then type in text. 

You can store essential account numbers, local office numbers, links to tracking websites and other details all in the one place. When you need them you can find them quickly and copy details from the message to another email, fax or letter. 

If your Outlook settings are either Rich Text or HTML then you can have VERY decent formatting. You can enlarge and bold key info like phone numbers so you don't have to strain your eyes to find them. 

Other uses for a reference folder are legion. ISP login details with mail settings and list of dial in numbers around the country, hotel and airline frequent flyer numbers / pins and contact info (plus a link to my worksheet for tracking all those points), ICQ and Hotmail login details (you need both only occasionally and forget them in between). Calling card details and access codes for different countries. Serial numbers for registration of downloaded software. Phew!

Any way you choose to do it, making a Reference folder can be a real lifesaver - either give it a try, or save all your regos to a doc (as discussed in Saving Up For a Rainy Day above).

Oh - and don't forget to back it up into a file folder too while you are doing your contingency plans!

Hot Linx
At Ocean Wildlife you will find a selection of images and stories from New Zealand and the South Pacific; http://www.oceanwildlife.com/ 

Your PC system gone nuts but you don't know what's wrong? Try this freeware system stability tool: It tests the CPU and virtually all parts of the motherboard for errors. Check it out at http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file_description.asp?fid=7592 

Want some gen on another country? Check out the CIA's site on country profiling at http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/indexgeo.html 

Looking for some information on apostrophes? Letter formats? Salutations? Then check out http://www.kanten.com/styleguide/book/frames3.html. Use the index in the right-hand frame to find those elusive and troubling items! 


                                Catch you again soon!! E-mail your suggestions to me here