28 July 2011

Why’d They Do That?

Bartholomew McNamara was born about 1791 in Clare, Ireland. His native place as shown on the shipping records when he came to Australia was Lisdrumlandna, Clare. He married Bridget Lenehan in 1830 and like many of their countrymen, they and their children were followers of the Catholic faith. Bartholomew and Bridget migrated from Ireland to Sydney, arriving on 14 August 1851. They travelled to Australia on the ship "Sarah" which departed about May of that year. They departed with all eight of their children but their eldest son Patrick died four days before they arrived. They settled in the Queanbeyan, NSW district.

Like many others of the time they were escaping from what was known locally as "an Gorta Mór" meaning "the Great Hunger" but is more commonly known as the Great Potato Famine. The famine was a period of widespread starvation and disease and it caused mass emigration from Ireland between 1845 and 1852. The McNamaras survived most of the disaster period but eventually in 1851 had to leave. Family legend tells that they had a choice of going to America or Australia but didn't know how to choose as they knew nothing about either country. So why did they choose Australia? That same legend tells us that they resolved the dilemma with a simple toss of a coin. Whether Australia was heads or tails is not recorded.

Computer Backups

At a recent WFHG meeting, a couple mentioned how they had lost all their photos and what they'd had to do to recover some (not all) of them. That discussion led to a request for this article about backups.

Backing up your data is something you should always do. If you don’t you will lose data because for any computer, it's never a question of if something happens but when something happens. Hard drives don't last forever; they wear out and there are other causes for loss of data. Some of these are hard drive failure; viruses; a lost or stolen computer and/or hard drive; accidental deletion of data; accidental damage; improper software installation overwriting important data or simply just buying a new computer. In fact while preparing this article, the motherboard of my computer failed and I had to get a new computer and restore all my data. My backups meant that I was able to have a new system with a minimum of trouble.

Wikipedia defines Backups as "In Information Technology, a backup or the process of backing up refers to making copies of data so that these additional copies may be used to restore the original after a data loss event". That is a great definition but it doesn't explain the meaning of the word data. Inexperienced users often only think of their document and picture files as needing backing up. Although the choice is ultimately a personal one, here are some suggestions of which files you should be backing up : files relating to bookkeeping, banking or other financial transactions; digital photos and videos; purchased or downloaded music, movies and software; important work such as school projects; email settings, address book and emails you wish to keep; browser bookmarks and add-ons and the settings of your most used software.

How do you do a backup? The simplest option is to make a copy of the files on such things as a portable hard drive, a CD or DVD or even a USB stick. While simple, this is probably the most time absorbing way as each time you have to go to the files, select them and then copy. A much better option is to use good quality backup software. There are a number of very good free packages available including Comodo Backup, FBackup and SyncBack. These programmes allow you to indicate which files to backup, where to store them and when to do it. They even usually have an option that will immediately backup individual files anytime they are altered (a process called synchronisation). The other advantage of these programmes is they allow you to restore your files to wherever you wish to after you've had a data loss. A test restore should be carried out to ensure you are actually backing up the data you think you are.

Where do you store your backups? Initially the most common places are on a portable hard drive or on a disc such as a CD or DVD. These are perfectly acceptable options and are recommended. However, the thing often forgotten by people is to regularly make a second copy and ensure it is stored in a different location to where their computer is. This can be done by physically taking this second copy and leaving it at friend or relative's place or maybe leaving it at work. A newer alternative option is to use what has become known as the Cloud. This means to use the facilities of large organisations and store your files on their computers (known as servers). Six well known ones with the amount of free space they offer are DropBox (2Gb), IDrive (5Gb), Carbonite (-), Windows Live Mesh (5Gb), Windows Live SkyDrive (25Gb) and Backupify (2Gb). Backupify is a service to backup the most popular online services such as Google Applications like gmail, calendar and Picasa; Facebook; Twitter; Flickr; Blogger and LinkedIn). Most of these sites update changes to files automatically and also allow you to synchronise files between different computers (e.g. your desktop and laptop). If you want to investigate these further just put the name into your favourite search engine and have a look at their site. It is often a good idea to use more than one of these services so that you can store more than any one company’s maximum free amount.

Other options for using the Cloud include sites for photos (e.g. Flickr and Picasa) and videos (e.g. YouTube, Vimeo and MetaCafe). Additionally social network sites such as Multiply, Yuku, Facebook and MySpace can be used. The thing to realise with these other options is that the quality of the images or videos will probably be degraded. Remember using the Cloud is a way of storing data at a location away from your computer; it’s not a replacement for your in house backups.

This has been a simple summary covering the most important aspects of backing up. If you wish to know more, there's plenty of info available online.

Written for the WFHG magazine "Tree of Life", May 2011