Dropbox

Dropbox logoCloud storage with Dropbox

Dropbox is a cloud based data storage and synchronization service which provides 2GB of free storage and 50 or 100 GB for subscription accounts. Save your files in the Dropbox folder on your computer and as long as you’re connected to the Internet they’re automatically—and almost instantly—updated on Dropbox’s servers whenever you make changes.

Switch to a different computer and your data are automatically synced as soon as you go online. Even if it’s not your computer you can still access your files from your Dropbox online account or via a smartphone app.

The nice folk at DropBox give you 2GB of free synchronized storage and it’s a no-brainer to use. Download Dropbox using this referral link from One Wild Kiwi and you’ll get an extra 500MB of free storage. As will I. :)

This is an outstanding service.

Usage

Because it’s very easy to manage I use Dropbox for all my everyday working files – the ones that I access and/or change regularly: Files like my “fridge door” action file, my computer installation logs, inventory, web site and blog files, images and notes.
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Cloud Storage

cloud iconNo such thing as a free lunch?

There is when it comes to your data security.

In the dark days before cloud computing, if you wished to back up your valuable data, extra storage drives were the logical choice of medium.

If you worked on files using more than one computer or tablet you had to ensure that you synchronised updated every time you switched devices.

The quandary

The question when backing up to extra internal or external hard drives is: “Where do I draw the line?” If your main computer’s hard drive crashes, a backup is invaluable, but if you only have one backup drive it can be stolen in a burglary or destroyed in a fire along with your computer. So for total peace of mind you need at least two and one should be kept at a remote location. That means regular exchanging of drives, a potential loss of data you created since the last backup, and an lot of hassle we could live without.

Do you use more than one computer?

Data management is further complicated if you need to synchronise your files on two or more devices. There is excellent software for this. Microsoft’s free SyncToy and the excellent SyncBack SE are two very good sync utilities.

But running these programs is yet another job that we can do without. If you flip back and forth between your laptop and desktop, or between home and work, it’s a never ending task.

Enter the cloud

An extra hard drive is invaluable at home or in the office. I wouldn’t be without one for backing up my whole system using imaging software, but recently the game has changed for your data files: documents, email, photos, and music. There are services popping upall over the place like spring daffodils. Companies are clamouring to back up and synchronise your data files on somebody else’s whopping big hard drive in the “Cloudi.e. on a remote Internet site usually thousands of miles away from your place.

And what’s more, you can take care of a lot (possibly all) of your data without  parting with a single cent.
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Lies, damned lies, and statistics

john-key

Mr Key, you’re bending the truth

Last night, in a party political broadcast during the TV news, Prime Minister John Key looked us all in the eye and said that the National-led government will double exports by 2025. Can one lie about something that hasn’t happened yet? That statement was a valiant attempt. Even more blatantly misleading than the abandoned policy of “Catching up with Australia”.

The doubling of exports by 2025 has been National policy for some time and so far it is totally off track. Mr Key’s servants in Treasury and some fairly basic arithmetic blow his grossly misleading claims out of the sky.

Yesterday, in the Sunday Star Times, economic commentator Rod Oram (hardly a bastion of left-wing idealism) had this to say about current fiscal and economic policies:

…It is missing by miles its two key goals. Its first is to double exports by 2025. That requires exports to grow by between 5.5% and 7.5% a year. But Treasury forecast they will grow by 1.6% a year 2014-2018, even though our trading partners are growing by more than 4% a year…

I suspect that Rod is being overly kind. My loyal readers (both of us) who have heeded my rantings about the economic nonsense of perpetual growth in a finite universe will recall an easy way to work out doubling times for a given growth rate:

It’s called the rule of 70

To estimate the number of years for a variable to double, take the number 70 and divide it by the growth rate of the variable. This rule is commonly used with an annual compound interest rate to quickly determine how long it would take to double your money.

In this case divide 70 by 11 (years until 2025). You get 6.36%.

It’s all total nonsense

For years, National have been making growth predictions based on Treasury forecasts. Almost invariably, those forecasts have been hopelessly optimistic and the rosy outlook has had to be diluted. In order to make National’s fantasy world a reality, we’d have to have growth of about 10% per annum from 2019 until 2025.

Global growth is probably not going to recover to any significant degree under current developed world economic and energy policies. Every time international growth picks up, fossil fuel prices rise and put the brakes on. China’s economy is precarious, and by extension, so is Australia’s. As the biggest oil-fields dry up, and the false dawn of fracked wells fizzles out, that problem is likely to continue indefinitely.

So is it hopeless?

No.

We can get back on a modest growth path by adapting to new technologies. Just as we did 100 years ago when we were the richest nation on the planet. Eventually, we’ll all have to adapt to a near zero growth economy, but that will require a new economic system in which banks can’t create money out of thin air and then enslave the rest of us with inflation-building interest on money they didn’t earn.

If you have a spare half hour read my series of articles on New Zealand’s economic decline and what we (or any other economy) need to address if we wish to maintain our relative prosperity.

 

GST smoke and mirrors

Phil Goff

The Phil Goff doppelgänger. It seems to have beamed in from Alpha Centauri.

Winston First pinches Phil’s abandoned policy

“No GST on healthy tucker” said Phil Goff.

Yeah, right …

Once upon a time in a galaxy far away there was a bloke called Phil Goff who looked like leadership material and talked a lot of sense. When the dreaded Czarina, vanquished by the smiling assassin from Perill Grynch, scurried off to a lucrative sinecure in New York with a sigh of relief (and an eye on the Ruler of the Universe’s Secretary General’s job). Sensible Phil was sucked into a black hole, and a dysfunctional imposter replaced him.

The Phil Dalek charged out of its lair every week or two, savaged the PM with toothless gums, and offered a knee-jerk negative reaction to every government move, regardless of whether or not the attack was justified.

Phil got the chop and now David Mk IV takes over the savage gumming of Smiling John’s Gucci-clad heels. John Key could end world poverty, bring peace to the Middle East by next Friday, and re-invent cold fusion—Phil and the succession of Daves would proclaim it all the devil’s work. They scratch around for new causes to promote, with no regard to practicality or lack thereof.

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System File Checker

A Windows tool worth digging for

SFC is an invaluable tool in Windows. It checks that all Windows files are where they should be and that they’re uncorrupted, it then puts things right. If you’ve done all your virus checking, error checking and defragging, but Windows is still doing strange things, then SFC can be your saviour.

SFC in Windows XP

In XP it was thought by many to be extinct. Not so, for some inexplicable reason, Microsoft changed the default command:

  1. Click Start,
  2. Click Run,
  3. Type sfc /scannow,
  4. Then click OK and follow the instructions.

Starting with Vista they made it even more obtuse. You need to open a Command Window in Administrator mode:

SFC in Windows 7 and Vista

run-as-admin

  1. Click Start,
  2. Click All Programs, then Accessories,
  3. Right click on the Command Prompt option,
  4. On the drop down menu which appears, click on the “Run as Administrator” option.
  5. If you haven?t disabled User Account Control (and you shouldn’t!) you will be asked for authorisation. Click the Continue button if you are the administrator or insert the administrator password.
  6. In the Command Prompt window, type: sfc /scannow,
  7. press Enter.

You’ll see the system scan will begin. The scan may take some time and Windows will repair/replace any corrupt or missing files. You will be asked to insert your Vista DVD if it’s needed. Close the Command Prompt Window when the job is finished.

One caveat:

You may need a Windows CD or DVD to enable SFC to make repairs. Try not to get suckered into buying any Windows computer with just a Recovery or Restoration disc, if you can’t avoid it, copy, or borrow somebody else’s disc or download a Windows ISO file from the Internet and create your own disc. If System File Checker can’t fix it, the next step is a repair installation or if your system’s really messed up, a clean install from scratch. More on these coming soon.

Drained

The Listener veers right

A couple of weeks ago The New Zealand Listener editorial entitled “On the Road Again” waxed sceptical on the subject of inequality.

…Much is made, for example, of the gap between rich and poor, even to the extent of it being the subject of a partisan documentary presented by the all-purpose television guru Nigel Latta…

Sorry Listener Magazine and your multi-billion dollar corporate owner, but Nigel, as a psychologist, is as qualified as most to understand the effects of inequality. At least as qualified as the hordes of economists, commentators, and politicians who’ve flogged the neoliberal lie for the last few decades. To me his argument holds water, apart from the fact that he doesn’t seem to know that the banks create most of their mortgage lending money out of thin air.

…Thus Winston Peters proposes to help families by removing GST from essential food items (an idea previously abandoned by Labour) and assures us that the $3 billion in lost revenue can be recouped by targeting tax dodgers, as if pursuing evaders has never been tried before…

Hello? Yes, Winston’s had his opportunity to deal to the tax-dodgers before and didn’t take it. Politicians of all stripes keep promising to deal to the thieves, but just like their mates in the rest of the OECD, when they take the reins it seems to go on the back burner.

I wonder why?

Yeah, you’re right. Follow the money.

I disagree with Winston about the GST, I believe that scheme would be counter-productive (post coming up), but the recouping of tax is another matter. It’s estimated that at least $5 billion in tax is evaded every year in this little country and when you add the legal evasion (a.k.a. minimisation) by the likes of Apple and Google the actual figure is probably a lot higher.

This editorial was not inaccurate, but it only told half the story. For instance, when pointing out that the top 15% of earners pay more tax than the bottom 60%, there’s no mention of total income figures for either group, so the statement is meaningless. No mention of the subsidisation of the rentier class by the middle class. Nothing about the “middle class welfare” that John Key conveniently forgot about once elected.

Watch Nigel Latta’s TV1 report, The New Haves And Have Nots, for yourself and tell me which part of it is wrong.

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Two other must watch videos on this subject:

Inequality hurts the rich too

Richard Wikinson’s TED talk right here at One Wild Kiwi. The international view.

Mind the Gap

Bryan Bruce’s excellent TV3 documentary on Inequality in New Zealand: Mind the Gap.

Inequality hurts the rich too

How economic inequality harms societies

This remarkable TED talk by Richard Wilkinson should be required watching for every person on the planet, it needs to be shown in schools, it should be understood by every voter and particularly by every politician and economist.

Inequality is one of the most important causes of the woes of the 21st century world.

It’s worth noting that in the developed world, the most unequal societies are generally those of the English-speaking world and the most equal and most contented are in Scandinavia.

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See also:

Quick drive removal

Setting up a drive for Quick Removal

In a previous post I explained the implications of disc write caching. There’s an easy way to reduce the likelihood of data loss when removing an external drive connection. You can ensure that its Removal Policy is set up for Quick Removal. Some drives are set up in this way by default in Windows 7, but you need to check. The procedure below is for Windows 7, but it’s very similar in Vista or XP.

  • Open Windows Explorer (keyboard shortcut: Windows Key+e).
  • Click on the Computer icon in the left panel if it’s not already selected.Windows Explorer in Windows 7
  • Scroll down to the drive in question and right-click on its icon. You’ll see something like this:

right click menu

  • Then click on Properties.
  • In the new window click on the Hardware tab.
  • Click on the name of the relevant drive. As in my example, it’s not always clear which one it is!
  • Drive Properties hardware tabClick on the line for the drive in question.
  • Click on the Properties button.
  • Click on the Policies tab.
  • You’ll see this:

Drive Properties

  • Click on the Change settings button.
  • You’ll see this:


Removal policy tab

  • Click on the ‘Policies’ tab as shown above.
  • Ensure that the Quick removal radio button is selected.
  • Click the OK button.

That’s it!

Disk write caching

The old vanishing data trick

Trust me—you really need to know about disk write caching

Take care when removing your external drives. This applies to USB and firewire external drives, to flash cards and to flash drives – otherwise known as pen or thumb drives. If you don’t follow the rules, one of these frosty Fridays your safely backed up data will be toast.

Yeah? Why?

OK, this is mildly complicated. When Windows, or any other operating system, writes stuff onto your storage drives—hard disk drives, DVD and CD drives, or flash drives for instance—there’s a hurdle to jump.

Your computer can process data at speeds which are orders of magnitude faster than the rate at which it can write data to your disks. If Windows sat around and waited for those data to be written, your fancy new 4GHz processor would be spinning its quad-core wheels and your computer would slow to a crawl until writing was completed.

“The cheque’s in the mail”

Clever techie folk solved this problem a long time ago by introducing “write caching”.

The principle is quite simple: you disconnect the fast computer from the slow disk writing process. Instead of writing the data directly to disc in real time, the information is sent to temporary storage in a (fast) memory cache, the cache then reports back to Windows that the data have been written.

This is the IT equivalent of “the cheque’s in the mail”.

You and your computer can get back to playing Space Invaders and writing the great 21st Century novel. Unfortunately however, just like the mythical cheque, the data have quite possibly not arrived at their intended destination. Windows just thinks they have. Under the hood the data are still sitting in the volatile memory cache waiting for a quiet moment to be written to the target drive.

“OK, So what?” I hear you cry

If the postman steps on a landmine, the cheque in the mail will be dog tucker. Same with your cached data. If your PC is in the process of writing stuff (which it often does, whether you initiated it or not) and you:

  • remove a flash drive from its USB socket or;
  • turn off or disconnect an external hard disk or CD-R drive or;
  • have a power cut and you don’t have a UPS (uninterruptable power supply) or even worse;
  • turn off your PC without shutting down Windows first;

you have a significant risk of data corruption because file writing has not been finalised. If this happens you will probably trash the data and possibly your external disk or, if it’s an operating system file being written to, you can corrupt your Windows installation.

Oh dear, that’s a bit of a worry

Too right it is. But never fear, you can protect yourself.

Don’t turn off your PC without closing down the operating system first. In the case of Windows follow the usual routine to shut down, hibernate or sleep. Never—repeat, never—turn off power to your PC before the machine has shut itself down.

Hot tip

Keyboard shortcut for XP users: Windows key » U » U to shut down, Windows key » U » H to hibernate, Windows key » U » S to sleep.

safely remove iconClick on the icon (like the one shown on the right) in the notification area to the right of your taskbar to “safely remove” an external drive before removing it from its socket, turning it off, or removing its connecting cable from its socket. The icon may be hidden and you’ll need to click on the up arrow to reveal it.

To be 100% safe you should also follow that procedure before your computer goes into hibernation or sleep mode if you intend to remove the device.

  • Get a UPS – plug your PC, your monitor and your powered external drive (i.e. if it has its own power supply separate from the USB port) into it. In the event of power failure the UPS’s battery will keep your PC running while you or the USB’s bundled software shut down the PC properly. Not so necessary for laptops because you have a built-in battery.
    As a bonus the UPS will provide additional protection to your PC and connected devices in the event of power spikes and lighting strikes.
  • You can change the properties of individual external drives to disable write-caching. Then you may remove or turn off the device without going the “Safely Remove Hardware” route. Caveats:
    • Setting a drive up in this way affects the performance of your computer during the writing process to a greater or lesser degree dependent upon exactly what you’re doing.
    • But it’s safer for data security on external drives.
    • I set my external drives up with “Quick Removal” enabled, but I still use the “Safely Remove Hardware” icon to be on the safe side. I’ve been bitten.
    • XP can be flaky with this procedure and tell you that you can’t remove the drive because it’s still in use. This can happen even when you think writing is finished. In that case leave the drive connected or shut Windows down before removal. Vista is better in this regard and Windows 7 is better still.
  • The whole process is much less hassle on Apple’s Macs and on Linux computers. Usually you just need to right-click on a drive’s icon and select “unmount” to kill the drive.

Go to the next page to find out how to change the drive properties we’ve discussed.