Is it too late to talk about 2016 like it’s still new? Maybe it is if you follow a strict routine and live clearly within the lines. From my perspective 2016 still has potential. I started blogging back in 2003 when blogging was a relatively new phenomena. It was about a decade after Wil Wheaton, but still early in the whole blog ecosystem. People were getting used to the Internet from the comfort of their desktops and couldn’t decide what to call it.. Is it a blog or a weblog? (to be followed years later by the great Tweet versus Twit debate) In those days, the iPhone and Android were yet to be invented, most people still had LAN phones, and Gmail did not exist. Apple got in on the action and showcased the then new .Mac service which offered personal web hosting on the “Homepage”. Back then, I used a tool called iBlog (wow, it’s still around) to post my blogs. Sadly, my Homepage is long gone and my blogs are lost in time, but the idea of blogging still appeals to me. Today, blogging seems a bit antiquated and redundant having been replaced by the more succinct Twitter or the ever accessible Facebook. Professional bloggers care about SEO, driving traffic, and catchy media-rich posts. I’m in it just for the fun and I’m not all that concerned about my site stats. There are days when no one on the planet visits my blog. Statistically speaking, that is pretty amazing when you consider there are billions of people online. I’ve heard the criticism that people don’t have the time or patience to read anything longer than a sentence or two. Too bad, they should really slow down and savour my many meandering thoughts… I just spent about two hours discovering that my old website was somewhat preserved in the annals of the Archive Team whose motto is “We Are Going To Rescue Your Shit”. Cool, eh? I learned about an ancient file compression format called WARC- Web Archive. I downloaded my tarball and decompressed the WARC using these nifty Python ArchiveTools. I found my old MobileMe website and was even able to recover a lost video of my daughter’s piano recital! The Internet is a cool place. Here is a picture from my old webpage:
Well, back to Adventures in Play. Maybe I should rename this blog? Probably better if I just wrote something on a semi-regular basis. My blog feels like a really great book I bought a year ago that sits unread on my bookshelf, like a broken promise. No matter, I like it just the way it is. Adventures in Play just needs a little polish and a few more posts.
Apparently, I have been a member of NaNoWriMo for the past five years, but never had the gumption to participate. Why, you may ask? Well, for starters, it’s no small task to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. That’s 1667 words per day on average. Beyond the commitment of time, participating in NaNoWriMo is a little scary. After it’s all said and done, what if I produce a pile of utter nonsense? What do I know about writing a novel? The only things I write are emails, technical documents and the occasional blog post. Certainly, I have never written a novel before. The whole process has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but maybe after doing this for a month, I will learn something about myself and gain a small appreciation for what writers do. I accept that my novel will very likely stink, but you have to start somewhere, right? This is new, exciting and yes, a little scary, and that’s why I am doing it. Why not step outside my comfort zone for 30 days?
For the record, I know about keeping good backups, but sometimes stuff just happens in the perfect sh#t storm and you lose your data. That’s what happened to me a couple of months ago. Since then, I learned a lot about file recovery and the enormous investment of time and effort it takes to get back just some of the files. I also learned a little about letting go. Most of those lost gigabytes were files that I was meaning to get around to, but I just never had the time to sort through the virtual pile. That’s one way to clean house, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
In my case, the data was lost due to a formatted drive, and so the files had to be recovered using file signatures. I was able to retrieve thousands of files, but most of them didn’t have proper file names, so there was no folder structure to give a file its context. That’s okay for pictures but not great for source code. The worst part was not knowing what was lost, although I now feel pretty good about what I was able to get back. When all of my data went away, I quickly thought about the important stuff that was on my drive. There are a few documents, but really it all came down to the irreplaceable pictures and videos. That is what keeps you up at night, running through scenarios of how all of this could have been prevented, but what’s done is done and it does no good to dwell on things that can’t be changed. Data recovery was made more complex because my drive contained backups of my wife’s computer, so I had to deal with hundreds of thousands of duplicate files.
Throughout the file recovery process, I found a few fantastic tools which did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. These tools are awesome on their own and as a bonus, they are free! I could not have retrieved my files and sorted out the mess without them. So, given that I did a lot of research and testing, I thought I would present you with the best of breed software for data recovery and backups. If something like this ever happens to you, these programs can help you get back your data without having to spend hundreds of dollars and countless hours finding the right tool.
Please Contribute to the Authors
The software I recommend below is not a watered-down version of a commercial product. This software is awesome and absolutely free, but if you find it useful, please donate to the authors. It takes a lot of time and effort to write high quality programs and these talented folks deserve to be compensated for their hard work.
Best Data Recovery Tool
Getting your data back all starts with good data recovery software. When I lost my data, I initially sought commercial software believing that it would be higher quality than the free stuff and would provide me with a more complete recovery. That erroneous belief was dispelled after a few failed attempts at using the commercial product. These programs tend to be expensive, starting at $100 or more. Data recovery is time consuming too, so you want to choose a product that doesn’t waste your time by returning incomplete or corrupted data. For my particular data loss situation, I needed something that could recover files using file signatures. I discovered a truly remarkable and free piece of software called PhotoRec by CGSecurity. The software has a bit of learning curve, but don’t be scared off by the console interface. This utility scourers your hard drive for a wide range of file types that it can detect (for a complete list of file formats, go here).
For a detailed step-by-step guide to using PhotoRec, go here
I should warn you that this kind of file recovery takes hours and sometimes days to complete. When the process is done you’ll have a whole mess of directories (dir.001, dir.002, dir.912, etc) to sort through, and that is when you’ll need a good file duplication finder which brings me to my next best in class category…
Best Duplicate File Finder
In my experience, the absolute best file duplication finder software is:
When recovering data from large backup drives, you will really need a great file duplicate finder; one that is fast but accurate. DupeGuru is exceptional in that it is able to find all of your dups quickly and accurately. It has intelligent file selection, allowing you to weed out the dups without accidentally deleting both files.
Once the scan is complete, you will be presented with a results window showing a list of duplicates. From there you can easily delete the duplicates by choosing Edit–>Mark All and then Actions–>Send Marked to Recycle bin. However, it is a good idea to review the results to ensure that you aren’t deleting files that are in fact different photos that only highly resemble another picture. In my experience this only happens in very dark photos or when the pictures were taken in rapid succession and not much changed between shots.
Best Cloud Based Backup
(Tentative recommendation-see update)
Okay, the cloud based (centralized) version of CrashPlan is not free, but the good folks at Code42 do offer a free Computer-to-Computer backup solution that works great if you have a friend or relative who are willing to host your backup drive for you and in kind, you could host a backup drive for them. All of the data is encrypted, so no one can read files on the offsite hard drive. Although this option is really great, I chose to go with the centralized CrashPlan solution.
When performing a restore, I encountered several “Integrity check failed” errors. It seems that the CrashPlan agent occasionally encounters errors backing up files but does not report the error or perhaps is even aware that some files are corrupt. I found a blog post where someone else had a similar experience (see: http://try-dot-ch.blogspot.ca/2010/03/crashplan.html) There is no easy way to tell CrashPlan to re-transfer corrupted files but worse still, the agent doesn’t notify you of files in your backup set that are corrupt. I thought that overtime the files would “heal” but the integrity errors have persisted for months now. Obviously, I cannot wholeheartedly endorse a product with such a flaw. I have opened a ticket with Code42 to see if they can remedy the matter. I’ll keep you posted.
After working with the capable support staff at Code42, they were able to fix my file recovery issues. My support experience was excellent and I can now wholeheartedly recommend CrashPlan as a terrific cloud-based backup solution.
I tried other products like BackBlaze, but I recommend CrashPlan for the following reasons:
Unlimited backup of a single computer, including external drives.
Super-smart, yet unobtrusive backup agent that intelligently scans your system for file changes.
Economical cloud-based solution
Easy to use interface that makes backing up and restoring a snap. I restored a very large photo database without issue.
Keeps all versions of a file, not just the last 30 days. This is great if an important document gets deleted and you didn’t notice until six weeks have past.
You almost wouldn’t know that the app is there keeping all of your data backed up.
CrashPlan is secure, providing 448-bit encryption on disk and 128-bit encryption during file transfer.
Works on PC, Mac and Linux
The cloud is your friend. When you data lives in the cloud, you are far less likely to accidentally delete your entire collection of files.
So there it is. In the very least please consider using a cloud-based backup for your files.
Oh, I almost forgot another key part of my new backup solution. Having my data in the cloud is good, but I also wanted to have a good local backup that would allow me to fully recover my user files AND operating system in case of a hard drive failure. This brings me to my Bonus Software Recommendations:
Best Backup Software
The program I recommend in this category is not free, but sometimes if you want the best, you will have to pay for it. I don’t mind paying a reasonable price for software that is really good. I tried other products like EaseUs backup, but in my experience nothing beats:
The app has an amazing interface that makes creating and restoring backups a breeze.
Has an intelligent restoration process that actually works. I tried other products that left my Windows 8 computer unbootable after a restore.
You can schedule full and incremental backups.
Runs on PC and Mac!
Backups up data to a network drive
Comes with a lot of neat tools like Clone disk and Parallels Access.
But don’t take my word for it, you can download the free trial here.
There you have it. Something good can come from a data disaster after all. If you should ever find yourself in a similar situation, I hope my software recommendations and advice help get your data back in good time.
Happy New Year! It may not look like much has changed since I last posted, but behind the scenes I have been pretty busy. One of the big things I did was move Adventures in Play to a new hosting company. It wasn’t quite as simple as clicking a button to backup then restore. After my domain moved, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get my blog transferred after a few failed attempts to migrate my WordPress site, but it all came together yesterday and now I can focus on my much neglected blog. Yes, I have high hopes to continue blogging into 2015 with posts that are sure to grab your attention by providing you with invaluable tech tips and other useful tidbits. I’m grasping here but I am sure it will be worthy of your attention at some point (if you are bored of playing YouTube videos or games on your phone—does that ever get old?)
Well, I hope you had a good start to the new year. Now, I need to go and make some late New Year’s resolutions… Resolution sounds monumental, like enacting a law. Maybe we should call them New Year’s Goals or the Big To-Dos.
Oh, I almost left without posting an image. I just spent an hour creating a new favicon for my website and you might have missed since it is so small.
If you haven’t heard, Apple is updating its iCloud service, providing a better integrated cloud experience for all your iDevices at a price that won’t bust your budget.
The main feature of the new iCloud service that I am super excited about is Family Sharing. Now, up to six members of your family can share their App Store purchases, iTunes, iBooks, family photos, calendars, etc. This will save you money in the long run because now you don’t have to buy multiple copies of your favourite apps (like 1Password) to share in the fun. Although a lot of apps today are free-ish, some still cost over $15, a fee I don’t care to pay more than once.
The other reason that I am excited about this announcement is the reduced cost of online storage. Now, you can afford to backup all of our Mac data to the cloud and if you are like me, you have a lot of data. No worries, now Apple has provided all the space you need at a reasonable price. Gone are the annual fees where you had to guess how much space you would need for the year ahead. Now, you can upgrade or downgrade month to month. If you decide that you don’t need 500 GB of space, you can drop down to the 200 GB level.
You might be a little concerned about storing all of your private data in the cloud, especially with the recent stories of hackers breaking into Apple’s beloved iCloud, but Apple has investigated the issue and apparently shored up their security. I understand that part of the issue is weak passwords. Perhaps the lesson here is to make sure that your all of your online accounts have strong passwords. Hey, another reason to use a terrific app like 1Password to auto-generate some unguessable passwords for you! (Really, I don’t work for AgileBits but I think 1Password does deserve high praise).
Can it be? I haven’t written a post since March 2014?! Wow, where did the time go? Well, it wasn’t like I was a regular blogger to begin with, but seriously that’s six months! Shameful I know. To be fair, I have been busy with my new job and then there was summer vacation. Okay, that just sounds like a lame excuse. I know what happened, I developed “Blogger’s Block”, a condition worse than the common writer’s block. Once you stop blogging it is like 100 times harder to go back and write something or anything, really. You stop visiting your own website and feel bad for any loyal visitor who comes back day after day only to see the same post about a donut that I ate back in March. Granted, those were some yummy donuts. So now it is time for me to promise that I will return to my former semi-regular pattern of blogging, but that would be a comfortable lie. No, I cannot promise that, but I do at least aspire to write about something interesting, and maybe even helpful. I’ve read some truly great technical blog posts recently that sure helped me out (Thanks Jonas for your post about resolving an annoying SSRS Scale-out Deployment Error. Check out his blog: http://www.widriksson.com/).
Okay, it’s Friday night and I am off to eat some pizza and spend time with the family. That sounds like a Tweet… Hmmm. That reminds me, I haven’t tweeted in quite some time. Appears that my blogger’s block has transferred to my social networks.