Thursday, January 28, 2016

Aspen Documentation and Support Videos

Aspen Help Video Tutorial Page
Today, a colleague inquired about Aspen support and documentation. There are actually several good options, including some useful videos accessible through Aspen's help menu. The videos are concise quick hitters you might find useful for that nagging Aspen question. Here's the direct link.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Cloud Vs. Flash Vs. Other

A few weeks ago, several colleagues imbued with an abundance of cloud storage skepticism grilled me about cloud storage. It was clear from the start that they did not (knowingly) use cloud storage, and wanted to steer clear of anything cloud related. Later, I thought it important to share a summary of our conversation. Here it is.
Typical Data Center
Image:  Wikieditor234

What is the cloud?
The cloud has long been a colloquial term for a bunch of computers and servers connected by equipment and software to store, process, and transmit information. When nerds refer to 'the cloud', they do so because lumping all that 'stuff' into a single term is convenient. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Dropbox, Apple and a bunch of other companies provide a variety of cloud storage and related services.

Why should I save my files in the cloud?
Several good reasons come to mind. The convenience of being able to access your files from any device and any location with a network connection is powerful. Sharing your files with others is also a good reason to use cloud storage. Say goodbye to tacky email attachments forever; share via cloud storage. With cloud storage, backups happen automatically. Most companies provide an uptime guarantee and store data in multiple, geographically disparate locations to protect your data against fire, bombs, or natural disasters. Jeff B., our district's IT Director reports that in the event that you trash a Google Drive file and then empty your trash can the school's IT department can recover those trashed files for about thirty days after you empty your trash. Trashed file recovery is a nice security blanket.

Is storing files in the cloud safe or secure?
First, if the NSA, a persistent hacker in Connecticut, or a nation-state backed group wants any of your data -- stuff on your iPad, iPhone, Windows desktop, MacBook -- chances are high they already own it. But relax. As an individual, you're not an attractive target. Further, we need to get over the notion that our flawed home routers, venetian blinds, and deadbolts can do a better job of securing our data than corporations who have the talent and ability to build and deploy fortress like solutions. Cloud storage providers have elaborate security policies for physical site access, and they also have the brightest geeks on the planet securing logical access to your stuff. Combined with two factor authentication and strong passwords, your encrypted cloud data is pretty tough to steal.

But I like my flash drive.
I am not sure if the washer or dryer causes the most damage. Flash drives do not reliably tolerate laundry cycles, though. And, they fall out of pockets, are susceptible to static shock, mechanical failure, theft, loss, and ingestion by your curious Newfoundland puppy. Flash drives can be an okay storage and backup solution, but don't count on them for primary, working storage. Some of our colleagues have already been burned by flash drive failure and loss. Don't be the next multi-year data loser. Every flash drive will, at some point, break. Back yours up (to the cloud) before the drive fails.

But what about the documents and desktop folders on my MacBook?
Great! Are you backing the documents and desktop folders up on a regular and frequent basis? See the flash drive rant above. If your MacBook breaks and all its smoke escapes, and you don't have a backup, you lost your data.

I'm still not convinced. Has anyone ever seen one of these cloud things?
Well, sure. The data centers really exist. Here are a couple of videos that summarize what cloud storage buildings and equipment look like. EWG is primarily using Google's cloud storage, so the included videos are of Google data centers, but the representations made in the videos are typical of the data centers of other service providers.

If you would like to have a conversation about cloud storage, how you might get iCloud, Google Drive, One Drive, or Dropbox to play nicely together, or if you would like to double check your storage practices with a goal of preventing data loss, let me know. I'd be happy to work with you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Email Help And Organization

Today, I saw a teacher's school email drafts folder with over two hundred draft emails. That's over two hundred emails that got started, but were never sent! She refused to let me take a screen shot. We both had a good laugh.

There are some solid options built into our district's email system to keep email from being a scourge. If you would like help establishing email filters and organizing your email or wonder if Priority Inbox could lighten your email burden, let me know.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Display Cable Failures

Mini display port to HDMI adapter binding on a stack of paper. Ouch!
A recent rash of mini display port to HDMI adapter failures got me thinking about suggestions for prolonging the useful service life of the adapters. First and foremost, treat the adapters like fragile, thin shelled eggs. They are barely that rugged. Second, be aware of and avoid any impact, strain and stress you might inadvertently place on the adapters. Be sure adapters are not bearing any laptop weight by ensuring that the adapters do not bind on anything, like a stack of paper. Finally, if your mini display port to HDMI adapter broke, you can get a replacement mini display port to HDMI adapter for less than $4.00. Let's hope Apple drops its maddening proprietary adapter policy during future product releases.