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Your Mom DEMANDS That You Backup Your Computer!

mom-n-kidI know, I know…when someone gets after you for not backing up your computer, it sort of feels like Mom is badgering you to brush your teeth and wash your hands, right?

Mom was right. Clean teeth are happy teeth and don’t you DARE touch anything with those filthy hands! If your Mom had included data backup in her admonishments to you, she would have been right about that too.

forgotWhen it comes to backing up your personal computer—you know, the one that contains all your digital photos, videos, music, important files and more—you probably think to yourself, “I’ll do it soon” or “Maybe I’ll use a cloud backup service someday” or “I have a solid state drive and, um, they don’t crash?” Unfortunately your best intentions, procrastination, laziness or nonchalant attitude won’t save those ONLY COPIES of precious baby photos, images from your wedding, videos of a family vacation, or those critically important, now-digital documents you’ve already shredded, when your hard drive crashes and can’t be recovered.

You have four options when it comes to backing up your one-and-only copy of a digital file:

  1. Buy a cheap drive and backup to it. Cheap drives don’t last long and aren’t that durable. I’ve had several go bad on me over the last 10-20 years.
  2. Backup to the cloud with a service like Crashplan. If you have multiple terabytes of data, however, it could take weeks to backup (and use a lot of your internet bandwidth) or you’ll be sent a big drive and you’ll have to backup to it and then ship it to the cloud service (to get a headstart on future backups and save both you, and the cloud backup service, a lot of bandwidth cost).
  3. Buy an ioSafe secure vault drive (more on that below).
  4. Do nothing and hope your computer’s drive never crashes, a power surge or brownout doesn’t fry the drive, your house doesn’t start on fire, or some burglar doesn’t come in and take your computer and its files for a joy ride in his stolen car.

Option #4 is like not having homeowner’s, auto, or health insurance. You may never need any of them, but if you do and aren’t insured, you’ll likely lose big or lose everything.

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Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime (Unless You Use Apple)

webrtcAs more of us work virtually, it is imperative that we can communicate with each other easily, seamlessly, and that the web browsers we use support standards vendors agree upon.

One such browser-based technology already exists. With it you launch a web browser that supports this technology and “call” anyone, anywhere who has internet access. You could see them on video. Share your screen with them. Get in to a chat or a group chat. Share files with each other. Plus, since web browsers run on virtually every modern mobile device, this ability would extend to your communications anytime.

Unfortunately, the #1 most promising technology, WebRTC, is only minimally supported at this moment. A standards battle is underway and is yet another one amongst giants hoping to dominate the next wave of unified communications…to our detriment IMHO. Seamless, easy, ubiquitous communication capability—with anyone, anywhere and anytime—should be in our hands already. The technology exists and works well.

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Napkin: A Surprisingly Powerful Communication Tool

napkin-logoGoing through my news reader early this morning I came across this one sentence post by John Gruber at Daring Fireball. It referenced a Mac app called “Napkin” and Gruber said that it’s a “great update” so I thought I’d check it out.

Wow. How did I not know about this app? Napkin allows you to essentially create a mashup of media that you can annotate and quickly share.

Huh?” you may ask. What do you mean by “annotate and quickly share” Borsch?

napkin-pip

An example of a screenshot annotated in Napkin and immediately exported to my desktop and imported in to this post. Time to create was about 1 minute.

My workflow consists of communicating with people every single day that are not in my office and some I’ve never even met personally. I have to communicate concepts to people at our clients, on my team, to subcontractors, and to friends and family. If I write up a bunch of text about a concept, often people just don’t get it. Creating a quick screencast is very time consuming so I only do that when my communication to one or more people absolutely requires it.

For my high value concept communications, let me tell you about the steps I went through before, and then after, I used Napkin.

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Telzio: An Amazing & Powerful VoIP Phone System

Visit TelzioIf you are a startup, small business, non-profit, or any organization that has employees demanding that their calls go to multiple phones since they’re traveling or remote, you owe it to yourself to look in to my new VoIP phone provider, Telzio. I continue to be blown away with how easy Telzio is to configure, use, and manage. Plus it is very affordable which I’ll tell you about in a moment.

MY POTS TO VOIP ADVENTURE
When the global economic crash occurred in 2008, one of our businesses dependent upon the home furnishings industry took a huge hit. Slashing costs became absolutely necessary and one of the easiest costs to lower was our plain-old-telephone-system (POTS) providers: AT&T long distance and our landline provider, CenturyLink (formerly Qwest).

After some due diligence I chose RingCentral (RC). I’m a geek and I personally set it all up. Unfortunately it took me about 50 hours to set up our internal phone system and fax machine, doing so with the help of RC’s only-somewhat-competent Philippines-based technical support. It was quite painful and taxed my technical skills to the limit, but we finally got it up-and-running.

As such I successfully brought our telephony costs down from $500-$600 per month to well under $170 per month. Those savings, along with a bunch of other cost-cutting measures we made, really helped us at a time when we had to fight to keep that business going like so many others had to do across our nation and the world.

Our home furnishings trend business is flourishing now, so why would I make a change to move away from RC?

Because making a change to equipment, or the plan, at RC is such a pain-in-the-ass, I just couldn’t go on. After investing 20-30 hours a few months ago with RC’s Philippines-based support folks to configure new VoIP phones we’d purchased so they actually WORKED, I was so mad that I wrote this Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral. He obviously read it and had someone on his team respond, so I finally got some help from a U.S.-based technical manager and everything was working.

But it was too little help, far too late to keep me as a customer.

WHY I DECIDED ON TELZIO
Knowing we were making a change for certain, I started analyzing every other VoIP provider that indicated they supported and encouraged small businesses to use their service. After looking at many options I set up a trial account at one that looked the most promising, Nextiva. To make a long story short they were just as complex and cost about the same (just under $170) so that wasn’t an option and I canceled the account.

telzio-decisionNext I looked at Vonage business, Ooma business, and even buying a bunch of these Obi200 boxes and using Google Voice accounts (which I do personally with my personal Google Voice account and it works great…but this wasn’t a business-ready solution). In fact, I even thought about setting up my own open-source Asterisk phone/communication server in-house, but then I realized it would burn up far too much of my time.

There just wasn’t any sort of system I could find that was easy to set up and use, was simple to edit and reconfigure, and a breeze to upgrade and add phones to over time. As I looked at all of these systems and tried them out, I continued to think there had to be some startup somewhere who had solved the VoIP complexity and tear-your-hair-out frustrating use of a hosted telephone system.

Then I discovered Telzio.

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Thank you, Apple, for iPhone Encryption

ip6-under-the-hoodThough our national security is an absolute imperative, the Edward Snowden revelations about mass NSA surveillance—and what most of us see as a direct violation of our Constitution by them (as well as their practice of passing that data to the DEA, FBI, IRS and local law enforcement)—the intelligence community made their bed…and now they have to lie in it.

From Wired’s article called Apple’s iPhone Encryption Is a Godsend, Even if Cops Hate It:

It took the upheaval of the Edward Snowden revelations to make clear to everyone that we need protection from snooping, governmental and otherwise. Snowden illustrated the capabilities of determined spies, and said what security experts have preached for years: Strong encryption of our data is a basic necessity, not a luxury.

And now Apple, that quintessential mass-market supplier of technology, seems to have gotten the message. With an eye to market demand, the company has taken a bold step to the side of privacy, making strong crypto the default for the wealth of personal information stored on the iPhone. And the backlash has been as swift and fevered as it is wrongheaded.

Though this is clearly the right thing for Apple’s business—especially if they continue to hope to sell in countries like China (see Apple iPhone a danger to China national security)—I still want to say, “Thank you Apple…seriously.

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Apple’s ‘Special’ Financing is Special Alright!

apple-financing

Just went on Apple’s web store to see about lead times for shipping the new iPhone 6. When I clicked to check financing options, this “Limited time offer” appeared.

Check out the paragraph below the “Apply Now” button where it states:

The purchase APR will be 22.99% or 26.99% variable, based on your creditworthiness.

Those are interest rates that a mobster named Lenny-the-kneecapper would love, no doubt. If you choose one of these payment options and miss one payment or are late, the interest rates kick in. It simply is a bad option and why so many people get in to debt with interest rates that mean you end up paying double, triple or more for a device like this one.

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Use Google Voice with a Phone for Next-to-Nothing

phone-iconIn addition to my mobile phone, I’m using a Google Voice (GV) number with a landline phone…and you won’t believe how cheap it is!

As a long time GV user, I was pleased to be able to ‘save’ my Dad’s phone number after he passed away last year. He and Mom had the greatest phone number ever and enjoyed having the easy-to-remember number for nearly 50 years. My sisters and I didn’t want to see that number vanish in to the ether, so I ported it to GV.

The number is SO easy to remember, I’ve begun giving it out as my own personal direct line. I have GV set so it rings my iPhone and SkypeIn phone number so I never miss a call. At work I can also have it ring the desk phone if I choose not to answer a call on Skype or my mobile phone. Pretty convenient. Also, since it is so easy to block spam and telemarketing calls with GV, I am going to place it on my business cards too since my ‘old’ direct line has received an increasing number of spam calls.

Are You Using Your Mobile Phone as Your Primary Business Phone?

mobile-phone-useOh dear God…please don’t use your mobile phone as your primary business line! The quality of a landline-to-mobile phone call is typically so compressed it makes it a bad experience for anyone calling you on your mobile for any length of time.

I find that most people under 35 years of age think it’s perfectly fine to use their mobile phone as their exclusive device for business, but it is not. Your mobile signal is compressed so your voice causes the other person to strain to hear you and it can be quite unpleasant. It’s even worse if you’re on an in-car speaker phone. You also probably don’t realize that, since your mobile signal is compressed even more at peak network usage times (like rush hour), your calls sound even worse to others if you’re in your car, a building, or walking around trying to have a conversation.

So if you are in an office, whether in your home or in a building and you have an alternative, please do not rely solely on your mobile phone for business calls.

A Great Option: Google Voice and the Obihai 200

Obihai200-f-bGoogle has enhanced their Google Hangouts recently by integrating GV in to it. That’s a big deal since many of we GV users had, for some time, been concerned that Google might kill GV due to lack of innovation or attention seemingly being paid to the service.

UPDATE 9/20/14: Obi200 can be used with E911 A friend of mine asked me if the Obi200 could, in fact, be used with 911 service. Turns out it can for $15 per year. Here is an Obihai blog post about it and how to set it up.

Not only is GV integrated in to Hangouts, but Google has extended their free U.S. and Canada calling and their international rates are really low. So keeping in touch is easier and more affordable than ever.

What if you could plug in a box to your internet router, a phone in to the box, and make phone calls for free? Yes, you could buy Vonage and pay $28 or more per month, Ooma for $129 (for the box) and their optional $9.999/month service, or you could buy a cheap box and get free calls.

I like cheap and free, especially since calling-is-calling.

The Deal

Good news for those of us who use voice over the internet (VoIP): Google Voice is now officially supported on OBi VoIP devices AND you can get their Obihai 200 for only $29.99 if you act fast and use the offer code: EMCPAWW99 here at NewEgg.

Here is the PDF datasheet for the Obihai 200 so you can download if you want to learn more, especially since it can do A LOT more than just connect with Google Voice.

Plug the Obihai 200 box in to your internet modem (if it has extra ports), a hub or switch connected to your modem, or an empty port in your Wifi router. Plug a phone in to the Obihai box (I bought this inexpensive Motorola DECT cordless phone for $22 and it feels nice and sounds great) and your total cost will be less than $60…and it will be a one time cost.

Your calls will sound SO much better and your friends, family and those of us on business calls with you will appreciate it!

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Dropbox Pro Now Has 10x More Storage!

dropbox-graphicLike millions of others, I use Dropbox on all my machines as do friends and family. Since I also share Dropboxes with clients, I purchased a Pro account for $9.99 per month and have almost maxed out my 100GB sized service. As of today, that same $10/month will get me 1TB of storage!

Though Dropbox’ unique sync’ing capability and ease-of-use is what has made them explode with more than 300 million users and 80,000 paying businesses using the service, they had to compete with others in the storage space:

  • Amazon launched cut-price Dropbox competitor called Zocalo
  • Microsoft OneDrive (formerly named “SkyDrive”) offers several consumer plans and, instead of Dropbox’ free 2GB os storage, the free level on OneDrive is a whopping 15GBs!

Besides just a lot more storage, there are some really useful day-to-day items which will add a lot of value. Dropbox is offering a surprising amount with this new release and will provide any of us with a Pro account more, so read on for some of the new goodness.

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Open Letter to Vlad Shmunis, CEO, RingCentral

CLICK FOR A JANUARY 27, 2015 UPDATE
CLICK FOR A WEDNESDAY, JULY 16, 2014 UPDATE
CLICK FOR A FRIDAY, JULY 11, 2014 UPDATE

ringcentral-logoAs a RingCentral (RC) customer since May of 2010, we have enjoyed your service and its capabilities. After my initial 40-50 hours of working with your Philippines-based support folks (yes, it was that painful to setup), we finally got everything up and functioning with our two lines (using Cisco analog telephone adapters), our 800#, fax line, and extensions. It has worked quite well ever since and we’ve evangelized RC to many clients and friends, many of whom have signed up with your service.

But man…is it ever hard to upgrade! Though we have had few issues with RC and little need to contact tech support, dealing with your folks in the Philippines is virtually impossible when it comes to upgrading our service or buying new phones!

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Is the Wells Fargo Mobile App Anti-Security?

wellsfargo-app

The Wells Fargo iPhone app disallows using the “Paste” capability in the phone to paste in long, high entropy passwords copied from my LastPass vault.

It is always interesting to me how banking apps, both web and mobile, specifically making a smartphone or tablet app very hard to use if you use a password with high entropy (see this Wikipedia article on password strength and especially “Entropy as a measure of password strength“).

Since I use a password manager (LastPass) with literally hundreds of sites in my ‘vault’, I use very strong passwords. They are comprised of upper/lowercase letters; numbers; special characters; and are ones that make it simple to have quite strong passwords for anything that matters (and they’re all different!).

So what do I have to do on my iPhone? Open my LastPass vault app; login to LastPass; find my Wells Fargo account; touch it and, in the popup, choose “Copy Password”; and then open the Wells Fargo app and choose the Password field; then choose “Paste”.

EXCEPT THE WELLS FARGO APP DISALLOWS PASTING A PASSWORD IN THE PASSWORD FIELD!

The problem is this: There is NO way I could ever remember my password since it is so long and contains so many characters of different types. Curiously the Wells Fargo app also disallows pasting anything in to the Username field…so I can’t even do a workaround by pasting my high entropy password temporarily in to the Username field and then typing it in the Password field.

Get your shit together Wells Fargo. With this app developed this way you are DISCOURAGING THE USE OF STRONG PASSWORDS! 

Of course, they do say on their website here that, “We take your privacy and security very seriously. Read about why our mobile banking services are secure. Learn more…” but I’m not going to dumb-down my password to use their mobile app.