Thursday, January 28, 2010

Online Backup Options for the Home Computer

Another New Year's resolution I'm willing to share: Find a way to archive digital photos that I can live with. Do I want to do prints and end up with a basement full of shoe boxes at the end of my life? Do I want to leave them on the computer? Do I want to order photo albums? (I do not scrapbook, so that's not an option.) I came to decide that I like the idea of saving my photos (and only ordering prints when I want), but I didn't like the idea of keeping them just on my computer. And, while we're at it, why not backup all my files (not just photos) because I haven't really been doing that either. Confession: In the past I have backed up my computer once a year onto CDs. Pathetic, I know.

Professional archivists will tell you it's best to have three copies of your data: One on the computer, one on an external hard drive or something like that, and one off-sight. Online backup is a great off-sight storage option.

Yesterday I spent way too much time on the computer looking into online backup options for home computers. In an effort to make sure time wasn't spent in vain, I'd like to share what I found.

There seems to be a gap in the online backup market for home users. For instance, most online backup services charge $55+ per year for unlimited online backup. I think it's a pretty good deal, especially for home users who backup more than 25 GB. The gap is for those who want to store smaller amounts: 3-20 GB. Why pay the same $55 a year if I'm only storing 5 GB and the next costumer is storing 40 GB for the same amount? (BTW for users only interested in storing less than 2 GB, Mozy.com offers this service for FREE.)

Here's an interesting option I found for closing that gap. Pay for only what you use. In the internet storage world, I'm talking about storing your data on a cloud. Here are a few companies that offer cloud storage: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Zoho, Rackspace... just to name a few. I settled on Amazon. Why? Because I already have an account with them and I trust the company. Amazon offers a service called Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service), charging just 15 cents per GB stored per month. For someone interested in storing, say 10 GB (me) per month, that would cost a little over $1.50 per month X 12 months = Just over $18 a year!

Okay, so what's the catch? There is a catch. In order to upload and download files, Amazon S3 users will need a S3 client installed on their computer. This client just acts as the middle man to move your stuff and make it user friendly. (These clients are only about 5 MB, so they don't take up a lot of precious space on your computer.) There are S3 clients you can buy for a one-time fee (around $30) and S3 clients you can download and use for free. I haven't found a free client that offers an automatic backup feature, but all of them offer syncing (which is basically manual backup).

I chose to look into three Amazon S3 clients: Cloudberry Explorer (Free), S3Fox (browser based-plugin for Firefox-Free) and Jungle Disk desktop edition ($2 per month).

In case you are wondering what my criteria was for choosing these services, here they are in order of importance:
  • Cost
  • Ease of use
  • Features
  • Popularity (good reviews)

Here's a little bit of info on each of them:



Cloudberry Explorer: This is freeware. I downloaded it yesterday and I have 18 days before it expires. I can always go and download it again for free in 18 days, but I must say this is turn off to an otherwise very user-friendly interface. Cloudberry is for Windows only. It offers file syncing, but not automatic backup. Cloudberry Explorer does have the capability to work with Windows Powershell (a task-based command line shell) to automate tasks like auto backup, but you have to be savvy enough to write a script. I'm not. Customer support can be attained through their blog and forums. You can purchase Cloudberry Backup for a one time fee of $29 to assist you in scheduling automatic backups of your files. I downloaded a free trial (15 days) and will try this.


S3Fox: This is a Mozilla Firefox plug-in. It's a fast download and can be found in the Tools menu of your Firefox browser. This is a great option for those with Macs, Linux or Windows operating systems. This is Free and will not expire, although you will likely have to download updates. Offers syncing capabilities, but not auto backup. In essence, the user must manually initiate syncing. Support is offered on their web-page through FAQs and email.


Jungle Disk Desktop Edition: Not free, but has an auto backup feature for $2-3 a month. Like S3Fox, Jungle Disk is cross platform, something I'm always keen on since I have some serious anti-windows leanings that I might give in to someday. (If I did this, it would be just about as expensive to go with and unlimited online backup plan for $55 a year, so I didn't bother exploring this option.) However, this option could still be cost effective for some, which is why I bothered writing about it.

In the next two weeks I will be using Cloudberry Explorer and S3 Fox (and maybe one other as I continue to read up on free S3 clients) to up upload and then sync my files manually. I'll be posting updates as I learn more about them. And in the end, I'll pick one of them to stick with. All my files that I will have uploaded to S3 with different clients will still be there when I decide to switch clients.

Monday, January 25, 2010

White Whole Wheat Flour

During a regular grocery shopping trip I accidentally bought the Kroger brand of white whole wheat flour instead of regular whole wheat. I guess I was on auto-pilot or something. I didn't notice until it was time to make bread. Oops! I thought... but hey, I have wanted to buy it, so why not give it a try? At my grocery store, white whole wheat flour is $1.00 more than regular whole wheat (one of the reasons I hadn't bought it before).

First, I am a bit of a bread enthusiast. I love whole wheat bread. I like it so much that I make it a couple of times a week rather than buy it from the store. A year ago I read about white whole wheat coming to the US, being used in commercial products and that it would soon be available for consumers to purchase in the flour form. I thought I'd have to keep an eye out for it since then.

After I made my bread with the white whole wheat flour, the first thing I noticed was the color: it's not really white like white bread (it's a lighter color than whole wheat, though). Next, it had a softer texture than whole wheat bread. And finally, according to me, the taste was bland compared to whole wheat bread.

I tried it on my family. My kids loved it just as much as they did whole wheat bread. They didn't even seem to notice a difference. But my husband and I both prefer whole wheat bread.

What I learned: white whole wheat would be great in cinnamon rolls, pancakes, muffins or even cookies (things I prefer to make with white flour). It might also be nice to put in whole wheat bread, just a cup or so to give it a softer, smoother texture. I might by it on purpose sometime.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Carmel Apple Dip Recipe

Carmel Apple Dip
8 oz cream cheese (room temp)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 T. milk

Whip cream cheese until smooth, add sugars and mix. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Serve with apple slices.

*This makes enough for a crowd. I typically half this recipe.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Go Google!


All I have to say: Go Google. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they don't want to take over the world.

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html


And go Yahoo!

Alibaba says Yahoo 'reckless' on Google stance

Who knew that internet search engines would join in the fight for human rights?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Casts Removed after Trigger Thumb Surgery

If you have not been following the progress on my daughter's trigger thumb surgery, you may want to read previous posts. Onward.

The last three weeks with my daughter in casts were not as bad as I had anticipated. I was busier taking care of her than I was before, but my daughter adjusted quite well to her limited fine motor skills. She colored and played with her toys as she normally would, making adjustments where necessary. She really missed playing with her Play-Doh. That was one thing we couldn't do with the casts. She tried to do things on her own first before asking for help and rarely got frustrated with it. I think she enjoyed the attention, but she must have started to get tired of it, because by the end of week 2, she was ready to get her casts off.


Yesterday after three weeks in casts, we went to the doctor to have my daughter's casts removed. I suppose I was naive enough to assume that once the casts were off, the whole trigger thumb ordeal would be all over. I assumed this because no one told me different. But when the casts came off and I looked at her thumbs, I could see that it wasn't over. For one, the yuck factor. My daughter and I both winced in disgust at her stitches at the base of her thumbs. Also, my daughter was naturally quite excited to use her thumbs and found that upon moving them, they hurt.


Well, her thumbs hurt because they haven't been used for three weeks and they are still adjusting from surgery. The physician's assistant told us that it might take up to a month (Gasp!) for my daughter to start using her thumbs normally again, adding that if it took longer than that, she would need physical therapy. But he assured me that the need for therapy is rare. He advised us to encourage her to play in the tub or swim and do other things that would help her keep her mind off of her thumbs so that she will start to use as usual.

A day later, my daughter still isn't bending her thumbs, but she told me it is because she can feeling the the ends of the stitches poke her. So, hopefully when the stitches dissolve that will help her feel more comfortable.  (update: the ends of the stitches that stick out can be clipped with nail clippers.)

I must say it is crazy to look at her thumbs now: they are straight!

(BTW, I tried to prepare my daughter for the cast removal and it really didn't matter. She wanted nothing to do with the cast saw no matter what the nice nurse said. There is no pain involved in removing the cast, just a lot of vibration which is scary to a little one.  My sweet girl cried as the cast was cut off. She later remarked that she was very glad her casts were off, but that it was scary.)

To read other posts about my daughter's trigger thumb experience, use the search term "trigger thumb" on my blog's search tool.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Saving Money on the Phone Bill

I've been getting the itch to turn my back on the phone company. When I think that we pay a modest $59 a month (tax included) for high speed internet and phone (with calling features), I think I shouldn't complain. I got a good deal, but the deal will run out in a few months. I can always call the company and ask for another good deal (I haven't ruled that out yet), but I could just find a way to get great rates all the time.

So, I did some looking online at my VoIP (voice-over internet protocol/digital phone) options. Originally, I figured the downside of VoIP options was the lack of 911 usage, but that has changed. Many carriers offer E911, in which you must register your number with your address. Another reason I've been squeamish about switching to digital phone: I didn't want to change my phone number. In many instances now days, you don't have to! Here's a helpful website that compares a few different options: http://www.consumersearch.com/voip/best-voip-services
The article goes over such regular VoIP providers like Skype, Vonage, the local cable co, Phone Power! and Ooma (If you haven't heard of this, it's pretty iteresting). I learned a lot from it, and it is definitely making me reconsider the digital phone option.

If you currently use VoIP service, please post a comment about your experience!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My New Year's Resolution: Home Organization

School papers, schedules, phone numbers, clothes, toys... What to do with it all? Okay, that's just one of my resolutions. (I love goal setting...I don't think I'd do much otherwise.) When it was just my husband and me, I thought I was well-enough organized, not super, but good enough that we knew where things were. Eight years later with four kids, I'm feeling less-organized and ready to make some changes.


There's this really cool new website called monkeysee.com. You can watch how-to videos made by actual professionals for free! I checked out what they had on home organization. It was actually quite helpful. It's no-brainer stuff that I just never had the time to think much about. I'm starting to put some of it into play right now. I typed up a phone list this weekend and I'm going to have my kids design their own boxes to put their school papers in this week. We will conquer this! Here's my inspiration:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ressurrecting Marbles, the Game


Marbles is a fun game, and pretty good fine motor skill practice too. It's a good family activity because children as young as three (but obviously not safe for children under three) can understand it and play quite well. In the cold winter months, you can play marbles inside with a piece of string or yarn tied together to make a circle.

For instructions on how to play, go here. Or watch this video.

The game is quite free-form, so you can make it up as you go too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Send A Free Fax Online

My husband and I just can not believe that any reputable company still works via the fax machine... but apparently they are still doing it. It's totally aggravating to haul myself (often with kids in tow) to a print/fax shop to send a fax, when I have a perfectly good scanner and computer at home! Plus, you get charged per page and you don't even know if the fax ever got to the person. I have problems with antique service, as you can tell. Yet, once in a blue moon, we must step back in time to fax something to someone. Here are some great options.

www.gotfreefax.com
- You can send a free fax (up to 3 pages) without any ads on the cover sheet. They even let you know that the fax got sent. And, I really like this: you don't have to set up an account to do it. Upload your word or .pdf document and type the fax number for the person it's going to, enter your email address and send! Yippee! They also offer faxing for more than 3 pages for a much better rate than your hometown print/fax shop (just under $2.00).

www.faxzero.com
- This place has pretty much the same idea as the one above, except that it puts ads on the cover sheet. I think this is great for when you want to show your angst at an organization for not accepting 21st century technology. They also offer ad-free faxes for a little more than gotfreefax.com. With both of these services, you receive a confirmation that your fax was sent. Bonus!

As far as receiving a fax for free, you can Google it. It exists, but you normally have to sign up for a free trial account (lame!). You can use drop.io (check it out) to receive free faxes and if you have an account with them (free) and rarely send faxes, this may be the best option. Only catch is that you have to send a drop.io coversheet to the person who wants to fax you. They have to use that drop.io coversheet to send the fax to you. Kind of a hassle, but it's free.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Saying Good-bye to the Hundred Push-ups

I'd say I gave the one hundred pushups program a fair shake. After all, it's touted as a six-week program and I did it for about 16 and a half weeks. If you've been following this, you know that initially I could only do 10 push-ups. I did my last max on December 31, 2009. I did 63 consecutive push-ups. Pretty good, I'd say. Could I have made it to 100? Sure... if I wanted to do it for 10 more weeks! But I just don't want to. I'm glad that I did this. It's been great for my arms and upper body. I'll keep it up because I really don't want to be back to only being able to do 10 push-ups before collapsing. There you go. That's my story with the program.