My computer ate my class notes!

This column was previously published in January 2009 in the Quid Novi, the newsletter for law students at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. Some of the information might be outdated and some might be targeted specifically at McGill law students.

We rely so much on our computers and laptop these days that taking good care of our computer files is a smart strategy. You laptop could be stolen, your hard drive could crash, or you can simply erase the document containing your notes. This article will go over some of the different ways you can backup your data, and give you some of the pros and cons of some of those methods.

The “do nothing” backing up method

This is by far the most popular and easiest to implement method. You don’t do anything. The only problem is that once something goes wrong, it really goes wrong. If your laptop is stolen, there is little you can do, besides going to the police. If you still have access to your hardware but have trouble finding your files, there might be some solutions. For example, Ontrack Data Recovery makes a product that allows you to recover files from corrupted hard drives (assuming the hard drive is still working). Another tool I used in the past is called WinHex: it’s a program that allows you to look at the raw content on your hard drive. You could use it to search for text you remember as being part of your document and try to extract it from the hard drive.

Anyways, I hope you read the rest of the article and never have to refer to this section when disaster strikes. While post-disaster solutions exist, they are never perfect.

WHERE: Trial of ontrack data recovery – http://www.ontrackdatarecovery.com/data-recovery-downloads/.
Trial of WinHex – http://www.x-ways.net/winhex/
PROS: Least amount of effort – before disaster strikes.
CONS: No real plan for the aftermath.

Backing up to your local hard drive

This is one option which, if setup right, gives you some protection around accidental file removals. The problem with this option is that it’s like putting all your eggs in the same basket. If you lose your hard drive, you lose your backup. Since this isn’t really a solution, I won’t discuss it much further.

PROS: Can help with accidental file removals.
CONS: No redundancy.

Backing up to a USB key

I know many law students are quite fond of their USB keys. We can even get a whole collection at the upcoming career days. Personally, while this is better than the first option, I find it to be one of the worst forms of backups. Why?

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The best thing since slice bread?

I recently installed the Swype Beta keyboard for Android. The keyboard replaces the virtual keyboard that comes by default with Android. In my case, I had a Motorola Milestone/Droid, so I had the stock keyboard.

I have to say, I’m very impressed with Swype. The accuracy is quite high, and the choices presented when Swype is not sure what word I meant to type are pretty decent and easy to pick.

Anyways, I think every Android user should look forward to having the option of using such a virtual keyboard.

The only thing I am waiting for is French support, which I understand will eventually happen. Right now, only English, Italian and Spanish are supported.

Law of unintended consequences?

John Gruber of Daring Fireball has a post about Adobe putting a hold on the HTML5 specifications.

So if I get this right, Apple says HTML5 is the reason why they don’t need to support Flash.

And Adobe turns around and puts a hold on the HTML5 specification.

Some companies water down their free software

I started looking for a document management tool. During my search, I landed on eDoc Organizer. I found the sales pitch for this software quite funny.

eDoc Organizer is designed for family use and for most people is absolutely free. Some companies water down their free software only to promote their upgrades at high prices later. That’s not how we treat our customers. We give you the exact same software, same features and protection, whether you have the basic, standard, business, or ultimate edition.

I started wondering how they could make money if they gave everything to everyone. Services? Ads? Not quite:

The only difference between the basic (free option) edition and the other editions is the amount of document storage. The basic edition holds up to 250 documents. For a household with ten different bills each month it amounts to over two years worth of storage. This should be sufficient for most customers, but for those individuals and businesses that want to use eDoc Organizer for more than household bills we do offer larger storage for a onetime software license fee.

A 250 documents limit? And you don’t count the number of documents as a feature?

It would be like Ubisoft giving out a game with all the features but with a 10 minutes time limit because most people won’t play the game for more than 10 minutes. I think it’s called a demo.

How to use a wireless gateway/router as a wireless access point

Why did this problem come about?

I recently bought a D-link DIR-628 wireless gateway/router. My goal was to get move up to the 5ghz signal. The advantage is significant: the actual throughput of your wireless access point is much better using 5ghz n/a signal rather than 2.4ghz n/g/b signal.

What I didn’t realize was how much I needed support for 802.11b and 802.11g. An oversight on my part? Partially: I could have bought a device that supported 5ghz and 2.4ghz simultaneously. But I didn’t, and I realized I needed to get that signal back and running.

What were my option? The most logical one is to go buy a Wireless Access Point. The funny thing is that Wireless Access Points are more expensive than Wireless Gateway Routers, yet are harder to find and do much less.

Next on the list was to connect a older wireless gateway router into my newer router. That could work, except that I would get a new set of IPs and possibly a firewall in the middle of my home traffic. I didn’t like this idea.

My solution was as follows. To implement it, you might need an Ethernet crossover cable, and a Wireless Gateway Router hub that is cooperating. In my case, I used an old US Robotics 802.11g wireless router that I had lying around.

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