How Technology Makes The Same Process Faster

Blur of light in fast driving car at night

Technology is not some trickery that somehow will change a process.  Technology just takes an existing process and makes it a lot faster.  Let me give you an example of sending photos of the grandkids to grandma, both in the 1980’s and today. Fundamentally, this requires 3 basic steps:

  1. Take pictures.
  2. Review the pictures and select the good ones.
  3. Get them to grandma.

Now lets compare the differences.

Take Pictures

In the 1980’s version you would need to have your camera with you, have it loaded with film then you could take pictures.  My recollection is that film was most often 24 shots so once you take 24 you had to re-load to continue.

The 2017 version, you get out your phone open the photo app and click away.

Review Pictures

The 1980’s version you have to take the film to get developed (once you finished the roll), then go pick it up when it was ready. Many of the shots you took would be bad, but you still paid to develop those.

The 2017 version, flip through the photos you just took and delete the bad ones.  You didn’t have to pay money to develop a bad picture.

Send Them To Grandma

In the 1980’s you would then have to take the good photos and mail them to grandma.  Depending upon the distance, it could take many days for them to get there.

The 2017 version, you text or email the photos. Grandma can see the photos within minutes of the time the photo was taken and comment back about how cute they are.

What Changed?

In this example, technology did not fundamentally change the process.  In both the early 80’s and today people would take pictures, select the good ones and send them to grandma. What technology accomplished was to make the process exponentially faster and more effective (no cost for developing bad pictures in 2017).

That is the power of technology, to take a process you already do as part of your life and make it much more efficient.

A Good Backup Plan Is Essential

One of an organizations most critical assets is their data.  It is like the DNA of the organization, nothing will work very well without it.  With so many ways for an organization to lose its data, you need a well implemented data backup and recovery plan.  If you fail to do this and then lose you data, you may well go out of business and you don’t want that to happen.

The backup plan consists of three phases:

  1. On-Site backups.
  2. Off-Site backups.
  3. Website backups.

However, with some many backup options available, I want to address the overall strategy.

On Site Backups

You need to have an on-site backup. On-site backups can be restored the easiest and you have complete control over them. The purpose of an on-site backup is two-fold.

  1. First it helps you when you accidentally deleted that file you need.  Well if you have an on-site backup, you can just open your backup and restore the file.
  2. The second purpose is for a full restore.  This could happen if a computer crashes, gets a virus, upgrading computers, etc.  You can just restore the entire backup to a new computer and you are set.

So should how the backup process work?  Well, you don’t really want to do this manually because you are likely to miss something (plus that would be a pain).  What you want to do is use some automated backup software.

Any good backup software will help you setup what needs to be backed up. Then it will begin by doing a full backup of everything you told it to backup.  Once that happens the software will detect changes and backup those files. One of the coolest features of this is if you need a copy of a file 3 versions ago, it will likely have it.

Depending upon the size of of your files the initial backup could take days, it really depends on the size of the files you have on your device, and how fast your device is.

One thing you should be aware of is that you should have a backup hard drive that is about 2x the storage space of the device’s hard drive. This is because of the way backups work they have to write a bunch of temporary files but if your backup drive doesn’t have the space it will fail (I speak from experience).

While I’m discussing hard drives, if you have the money, use a Solid State Drive (SSD) vs. a standard hard drive.  A solid state drive is faster and performs better, but they are more expensive.

Off-Site Backups

On-site backups are great for an easy restore but what happens when the backup gets destroyed at the same time as your computers?  If you have a flood, fire, robbery, etc. in your organization, this could happen.  That is why you need an off-site backup and for this, I recommend using the cloud.

Cloud based backup services are great because they don’t rely on you having to do much.  You essentially sign up, configure their software and it runs in the background.  Once it has done the initial full backup, it will backup incremental changes that it detects.

Some services will actually send you a hard drive through the mail to get the initial backup done quicker (vs uploading all your files through the internet, which is much slower).  To upload a large computer’s files to the cloud could take a few weeks, but once that is done it runs the incremental when it detects a change.

Also be aware that some service only do computers while others do computers, phones, tablets, etc.  When you are shopping for a backup service be sure of what type of devices they will actually backup.

Don’t Forget Your Website

One of the key elements for an organization is your website.  Remember, the website is open 24/7/365 never calls in sick, and can make sales for you at 3 AM when you are sleeping.  Make sure that you have a backup of it’s current state and a couple versions back.  Don’t rely on the host’s backup that you can get.  You need a copy as well (just in case).  You should have the content files, code files and database (this is a file called a .sql file). And remember, most websites these days, the lion’s share of the content is in the database.

Why go though this effort?  Because if you have an issue and need to make a change and you already have these, it will go much smoother. For example, if you developer is unexpectedly unavailable and you don’t have the technical knowledge to go retrieve the files from the host, that is a big problem. Part of the deliverable from your developer should be the website files.

I have had the unfortunate situation of helping organizations that have been hacked and didn’t have a recent backup to restore.  Lots of hours were spent re-typing the content from screenshots of the hacked website.

So if you have not yet implemented a backup plan for your organization (or your family) go make an investment in the proper equipment or services today.


Resources

Time Machine – part of the Mac OS.  If you own a Mac you have this already.

Windows backup and restore. Part of the Windows OS.  If you have Windows you have this already.

Carbonite – Coud backup service.

Mozy – Cloud backup service.

Please note, these are not affiliate links.  I don’t make any money if you click these links.  They are just services I am aware of.  I personally have used Mac Time Machine and Carbonite and have been pleased with both.

 

Device Purchasing Tips

These days, most organizations have many devices.  What I have found is that in many cases people who are not computer geeks don’t fully understand what they are paying for.  In this article in this article I will discuss the various kinds of computers including their benefits and drawbacks so you can get the most bang for your bucks.

Budget and Needs

You must consider your budget and needs.  How much can your organization afford?  What are you wanting to do? Do you want to go Mac, PC or both? Do you need desktop or notebook? You need the answers to these questions. You also need a line item of your organization’s budget to be constantly funding technology upgrades.

I also highly recommend buying more than you need today.  That will help you future proof your investment.  Event with the latest stuff it seems it will be out of date by the time you get back from the store and open it.  If you only buy what will barely get the job done today, it means you will need to upgrade more often.

Mac or PC

Should you go Mac or PC? That is the age old question.  Well, just for full transparency, I prefer Mac but I also use Windows all the time too.  Just want to let you know I am biased.

Let’s start with Mac.  Where Macs excel is in the digital media (audio, video, photo) area.  They actually come bundled with applications to this this.  These are iTunes, Garage Band, Photos, iMovie (oh they also come with applications for Mail, Contact and Calendar too).  They also tend to use high end components, which is why they are more expensive.  However, a similarly outfitted Mac will cost about the same as a PC with similar components and software. Finally, they really only sell 5 models (all built by Apple).  These are the Mini (closest thing Apple does to entry level), iMac (all-in-one), MacBook (notebook), MacBook Pro (higher end notebook) and MacPro (high performance desktop).

Windows on the other hand excels on business applications, especially enterprise level.  But don’t expect a lot of default applications on Windows, you’ll have to buy those separately.  If you want an entry level ($300) computer Windows is you ticket.  But don’t expect that to do much more than internet and email.  And basically everybody and their brother that makes computers (other than Apple of course), makes PCs (with a wide range of computing power and price as well).  Now lets move on to computing power.

Computing Power

By computing power I mean is how effectively will the computer handle the task you are asking it to do.  This is a combination of mostly two components the CPU (brains of the computer, means Central Processing Unit) and RAM (Random Access Memory).  However, the graphics card and hard drive space also play a key role.

Remember, the CPU is part of the mother board (the green circuit board that everything else plugs into) so while everything else can be upgraded, if you want a better CPU you essentially need to buy another computer.  I look at 3 details of the CPU: its speed, cores and cache.  The speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), the cores are essentially its sections and the cache speeds up operations (by pre-processing repeated tasks).  For all three variables, the higher the number the better.

RAM will help your computer perform better. It handles the amount of tasks your computer can do at any one time.  With more RAM you have better performance on running many applications at once.  Like the CPU the higher the number the better.

Also consider hard drive space.  This is highly dependent upon what you are doing.  If you are doing a lot with video you will need a lot more space because video is really big.  I highly recommend using solid state drives, they are much more efficient and will give you better performance.  They cost a bit more but are worth it.

Finally, don’t forget about software.  Much of what you want to do isn’t done by the computer itself but the software to run on it, so plan for that as well.  And remember, not all software is cross platform (both Mac and PC).  Some is but some isn’t.  Always make sure the software you get runs on your device’s operating system.

Desktops

Desktop computers is where you will get the most computing power for your money.  If you are just after the most speed and computing power, go for the desktop.  You can get the most computing power with a desktop because it has the most space for components and inputs.  Small components generally mean that aren’t quite as fast.  Clearly the drawback of desktops is mobility but if you don’t care about that then a desktop could work for you. However, a great benefit from desktops (especially towers) is that they have lots of inputs for external devices and monitors and more monitors will make you more productive.

All-In-Ones

These are becoming more and more popular in the last couple of years.  If you don’t know what I mean an all-in-one is a desktop computer where the computer and monitor are a single unit.  An popular example of this is an iMac.  You don’t have to connect a ton of cables between the computer and monitor.  You just plug it in, connect the internet and you are set.

The clear advantage of the all-in-one is easy setup.  But know what you are paying for.  With the case of an iMac a bunch of what you pay for is a really good screen, not computing power.  Also, just like a notebook which I shall discuss next, an all-in-one has limited space, so it cannot offer the same computing power as a tower.

Notebooks and Notebook / Tablet Hybrids

For years the notebook computer was the gold standard of mobility but in the last many years the tablet industry has been introducing what I call tablet hybrids.  These are the devices that can be a tablet or if you attach a keyboard they can become a notebook.  This is really great for the consumer.  I know a few people that have these and they really like them.  Their drawback is you cannot run everything like a traditional computer would.

Even the traditional notebook computers still offer great mobility.  I have been personally using a notebook for about 15 years.  The mobility factor is just too good for me.  However, I do realize that I am giving up some computing power by getting a notebook.  It just doesn’t matter to me.  I don’t do enough tasks that require that much computing power.

Recap

So which is right for you and your organization?  It depend on what your budget is and what you intend to do with it.  It’s also a preference.  Some people like Mac, some Windows.  If you want to cut video and live stream your church’s worship service your best bet is probably a desktop.  If you need a computer for your office and all-in-one is a good bet.  If you are a sales person that is constantly on the road, a notebook / tablet hybrid is probably your best deal.

So what do you think? Leave your comments below.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to get more content, please follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page.

Security Fundamentals

The bad news is that your organization’s website is at risk, because they all are. There are plenty of people out there with devious intentions whose aim is to embarrass you and steal you and your users information.  I have seen many variations of this in my time as a developer, some of them due to my lack of experience at the time.  In this article I will give you an overview of the most common ways you can protect yourself from threats.  I will expand on all of these topics in later posts but I wanted to start with an overview.  So lets begin.

Threat #1: Passwords

You have passwords for your website (if you are using a CMS like WordPress), email accounts, computers, FTP, social media accounts and more.  The easiest way to protect yourself is to have strong passwords.  An example of a weak password is something like: password123.  Now I have not personally seen a password this week, but in my time I have seen passwords almost as week.  What you are aiming for is a strong combination of Uppercase, lowercase, digits and special characters.  The longer the better.  As an example our week password from above, password123 could be made much more secure if it were pa$sWord123.  However, I still wouldn’t use that.  It’s still too obvious.

Threat #2: Insecure Sites

The second threat is an insecure site, specifically yours.  What you need to do is to never enter any sensitive date into a website that is not running on HTTPS with a  valid security certificate.  And by sensitive date I mean passwords, credit card numbers, driver license number, social security number or anything you don’t want to be made public.  Your should be running your site over HTTPS vs HTTP because HTTPS encrypts the data between the client (your device) and the server, which makes it much more difficult to steal.  Fortunety, running over HTTPS is not hard too do and I’ll show you how in a later post.

Threat #3: External Threat

The external threat are those individuals with malicious intent, that intend to cause harm on your website and to your organization.  There are too many varieties of this to mention but the best things I recommend are related to your website setup. The first is to purchase and run anti-malware software on your web host.  This is essentially the hosting equivalent of anti-virus software for your computer.  The second is to run security plugins on your website that are finely tuned to detect threats such a brute force attack.

Threat #4: Internal Threat

The internal threat are those individuals in your organization that can harm your site but do so unintentionally and not out of malicious intent.  Typically these people accidentally break something they should not have been given access to in the first place.  This is an easy one to prevent.  Your administrator should limit user permissions so that users can edit what is necessary for them to perform their role and nothing more.  For example, if someone in your organization is only responsibility is for posting articles they should not have the ability to add and remove plugins, update themes, etc.