It’s been a bad week for cloud computing. News of Matt Honan’s “epic hack” has been making the rounds, exposing the security flaws in Amazon and Apple that led to his iPhone being bricked, his iMac being wiped (resulting in the loss of priceless pictures), and his twitter account (the apparent target of this hack) sending out racial slurs.
I have never been a fan of “the cloud”.
To me “the cloud” is a marketing term for someone else is keeping track of my files. The cloud, in fact the internet itself, is a series of servers in data centers of all shapes and sizes. They’re sophisticated and expensive, but at the end of the day they’re really not that different from the tiny netbook on which I am writing this post.
Lots of blogs and news media sites are offering their tips for securing your digital life, and I thought I’d throw my hat into that ring.
7 Tips For Cloudy Days
1) Back your files up on multiple kinds of media: I’m a fan of three kinds of backups, flash drives, portable hard drives, and optical discs (DVD-Rs). Each have different operational lives and benefits. Optical discs may be only write once, but can last 10-20 years if stored properly. Even DVDs are a more than 15 year old proven technology. Flash drives have no moving parts and come in sizes that now rival hard drives. And portable hard drives can provide high capacity cheap fast space.
2) Leap frog your hard drives: A good hard drive will last at least four years (I own several that are pushing beyond 10). If you’re backing your files up on two hard drives (one of them can be in your computer), having a difference in age can significantly reduce the probability that they will fail at the same time.
3) Do it yourself: Be involved in how your files are managed. Almost any automatic process has flaws (I could [and may] write a whole blog post on my back and forth with Amazon Customer Service over my cloud music drive). Make sure you know when backups are happening, and initiate a backup process if you create something important you don’t want to lose. (Toucan and Free Commander are good programs for backing up between drives).
4) Everything you send Google can see: Okay that sounds a little paranoid but the reality is a file is much less likely to be seen on the internet if it only lives are your flash drives and laptops. Anything you send in an e-mail service, especially G-Mail, is archived and probably never deleted. You can encrypt these files but nothing beats them not getting out in the first place.
5) Burn only 4GB on DVDs: If you’re backing up a movie this doesn’t apply, but if your backup DVD is hundreds of MP3 files, try to keep the total file size at or below 4GB. This keeps a quarter to half inch ring around the edge that’s free of data (the edge is where most scratches and prints can happen). Remember that 4GB is probably 500-1000 songs and each song is only a very small part of that burn ring. Even a tiny scratch (if it’s deep enough) can wipe out a file. DVDs are fairly resilient, but still burn two copies. Don’t use Dual Layers or BluRays. They take longer to burn, they fail more often during the burn process, and they’re more expensive.
6) For documents nothing beats a flash drive: Flash drives have no moving parts and don’t require a power or USB cable. 8GB drives and 16GB drives are less than $10 in most places. Buy a couple, use Toucan to mirror them once and a while, and keep them in different places (one at home one in your bag). It’s okay to store files on your computer, but back them up on a flash. That way if your computer fails you don’t have to pull out your laptop’s hard drive to get files (I’ve done this). I’m emphasizing a couple of external storage methods because these cannot be wiped using the methods used in the “epic hack”.
7) For music buy MP3s (or convert): If you want to move your music around yourself on hard drives, it needs to be DRM (Digital Rights Management) free. MP3s are the easiest way to do this (Amazon sells these). They’re the most widely used music files by players and software, and they have a decent quality to size ratio. MP3s will move without playback troubles, unlike DRM iTunes files, and many WMAs. The basic tip is this, if you need software to manage your music (not just download), and the music won’t play independent of that software, it’s a bad sign for “owning” that music.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. If any of you have helpful tips I’d love to see them in the comments.
PS: Print pictures and put them in photo albums. It’s a keepsake and makes certain pictures more special.