And Now, Something A Little Lighter

Last week’s blog was heavy-duty, I know. So I figured this week I should tackle a somewhat less weighty topic. And so, I give to you a thousand words on the joys (or not) of backing up data.

This is something that has been on my mind quite a bit lately. In this all-digital age, my wife and I have all of our baby pictures and videos stored on various hard drives, and I’ve been sick with worry lately that some of those videos and/or pictures might not necessarily be backed up somewhere. And all it takes is one failed hard drive, and everything goes POOF! I’m not a big fan of POOF. So I’ve been contemplating how best to make sure that there are multiple copies of everything, so we don’t lose those precious memory-records.

We do have an external hard drive that (I think) everything is stored on. The problem is that the videos we took when our son was a baby are only found on that hard drive. So if that hard drive dies, we lose all those videos. And one thing I’ve learned from technology experts over the years is that hard drives fail. No exceptions. So I’m determined to do something to make sure we don’t lose irreplaceable videos.

Now, I won’t keep you in suspense about what we ultimately decided to do for our backup solution. We went the cheap route and bought a second external hard drive. The problem with just using a basic external hard drive for backup is that you have to transfer everything manually. Which is, of course, a pain. But hey, we got a 1 TB hard drive for $75, which I think was a pretty good deal. And 1 TB is a LOT of storage space, so I’m not too concerned about filling it any time soon.

There are, of course, other options for backing up data. One of the cheapest and best options is Carbonite. Granted, I’ve never actually used Carbonite myself, so maybe it’s not quite as good as advertised, but their advertising sure sounds spectacular. For $55 a year, Carbonite backs up everything on your computer. It only works when the computer is idle, so it doesn’t slow down what you’re doing. It does everything automatically, so you don’t even have to think about it. And there’s no storage limit. The catch (at least for me) is that it doesn’t back up stuff on an external hard drive. It only backs up stuff that’s actually on the computer. And since I have files that are only stored on an external hard drive (because my netbook’s internal hard drive is a paltry 160 GB), Carbonite isn’t exactly a great solution for me.

Another option would be to buy a larger internal hard drive for my netbook and then back it up using Carbonite. The problem with that is that I don’t know if my netbook’s hard drive is upgradeable, and if it is, I don’t know what kind of hard drive it uses, and I don’t really know where to find that information. Plus, it would probably be more expensive than just buying a big external hard drive anyway.

Yet another option would have been to buy a whole new laptop with a big hard drive, transfer everything over to that, and then use Carbonite to back it all up. That would probably have been my preferred option, to be honest, but laptops are expensive. And unfortunately, I couldn’t convince my wife that we needed to buy one. Oh well. Someday, perhaps.

A fifth option would have been to buy a home server. For about five hundred bucks, you can buy a server that stores all kinds of files and whatnot, and can be accessed by any computer on the same network. Kind of an intriguing idea, but then again we would have run into the problem that some of the videos on the server would not be available anywhere else, and so if the server’s hard drive failed, we would have lost that data.

A final option would probably have been the best if we had money to burn. This option would be to buy something called a Drobo. Basically, a Drobo is an enclosure that holds multiple hard drives. And as far as I can tell, your computer reads it as one drive. So if you stick four 1 TB drives in a Drobo, it’s like having one drive with 4 TB of space. You can even get Drobos with as many as 8 bays. Stick a 2 TB drive in each bay, and that would give you 16 TB of storage space. 16 TB! To put that in perspective, 1 TB is 1000 GB. My 32 GB Zune holds about 400 CDs. So if you filled 16 TB up with music, that would be the equivalent of 200,000 CDs. That, my friends, is a lot of CDs.

The other nice thing about a Drobo is that, as long as you have at least two hard drives in it (and I suppose it would be silly to have a Drobo if you were going to only put one hard drive in it), if one of the hard drives fails, all of the data that is stored on it is backed up on the other drive. So all you have to do is pop out the bad drive and replace it with a good drive. Assuming that it works as good as advertised, it’s pretty much foolproof back up.

The problem with getting a Drobo is that they are expensive. A basic Drobo costs 400 dollars, and that’s just the enclosure itself. The hard drives cost extra. Of course, that sounds cheap when compared to the top-of-the-line Drobo Elite, which starts at $3500. For that kind of money, I could buy a truly epic laptop.

Now you know more than you probably ever wanted to about backing up data. Aren’t you so glad that you read this blog?

Rage

So when I started this blog, I always intended to have some posts that were about politics. But politics is a tricky thing to write about, especially for someone like me who doesn’t take criticism well. Everyone has their own opinions, and most people are convinced that their opinions are right and all others are wrong. So I prefer to write about innocuous things like video games and the internet that most people probably don’t have strong opinions about. But something has been on my mind lately and I can’t help but blog about it.

In case you’ve been living in a cave on Mars for the last two months and didn’t hear about it, there is a fairly significant environmental disaster going on right now in the Gulf of Mexico. Fairly significant, as in, easily the worst in U.S. history, perhaps even the worst in world history. And the things that I’ve been reading about it lately have made me feel… well, you read the title of this post, didn’t you?

For example, I read an article last week that was published in Rolling Stone magazine. A fairly liberal publication, right? One that might perhaps be favorably disposed towards a Democratic president, yes? Well, not in this case. The writer of the article, Tim Dickinson, spent eight pages savaging the Obama administration’s mishandling of the disaster. I strongly urge anyone reading this blog to read that article. It is disturbingly fascinating.

To those of you too lazy busy to read an eight page article, allow me to sum up briefly. During the Clinton and (especially) the Bush years, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the government agency that is responsible for overseeing the oil industry, became astonishingly corrupt, essentially allowing the oil industry to regulate itself. When Obama was campaigning, one thing he pledged was that he would clean up the corruption that plagued MMS. Unfortunately, he didn’t. And one result of this failure was that BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig had multiple safety issues, and we all know what happened next.

In addition, the Obama administration’s initial response to the disaster was just as inept and incompetent as the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Obama did convene his Cabinet as soon as he received news of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. And in this meeting he declared that this disaster needed to be the government’s first priority. But then BP told the government the oil leaking out was just oil that was stored on the rig, and that the well itself was secure. So the government took BP’s word and basically forgot about it for several days. Obama himself went on vacation, in fact. By the time the President and his staff realized the magnitude of the disaster, the situation was already rapidly spiraling out of control.

But lest you think that things are under control now, even if the initial response was a failure, I have another article that offers a peek into how the actual clean-up effort is going. This article details how clean up workers are not being issued proper safety equipment, but they are being provided with prostitutes. Well, hey, these guys need something to look forward to after a hard day of hazardous, unprotected work, right?

And in case you think that it’s just Democrats that are clueless about how to respond to this crisis, here’s a third article. Last Thursday, when BP executives were testifying before a subcommittee of the House of Representatives, one lawmaker, Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, criticized President Obama’s attempts to make BP pay for the damage they had caused, and actually had the gall to apologize to BP, even though BP had voluntarily agreed to Obama’s plan! Now, Barton did take pains to emphasize that his views were his own and that they were not necessarily shared by other Republicans. And he did later retract his apology under pressure from Republican leaders in the House. But the fact that this happened at all seems to me to be indicative of the mindset of many Republicans. It’s almost as if Republicans are programmed with this line of thought: “Oh! Obama’s doing something! Let’s oppose it!” It’s no wonder nothing ever seems to get done in Congress.

As an aside, I’m starting to think that we’ve reached a point in this country where both parties have failed. The Republicans exist to oppose the Democrats and the Democrats exist to oppose the Republicans. Neither party stands for anything substantial anymore. It’s just an endless back-and-forth tug-of-war between the two parties, and nothing ever changes, and nothing ever gets accomplished. But on the other hand, there are more than 300 million people in this country. How would we ever come up with solutions to problems that would satisfy everybody? Everyone has their own opinion, and everyone is convinced that their opinion is right and everybody else’s opinion is wrong.

And meanwhile, oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that the most likely solution to the spill is drilling a relief well, something that won’t be done until August at the earliest. And unfortunately, I’ve even read that the relief wells are not 100 percent guaranteed to work. So who knows when this will be over?

One thing that does seem to be certain is that the full impact of this disaster won’t be known for many years. Right now, no one really knows how much oil has spilled into the Gulf, nor does anyone know how much more oil will spill, nor does anyone know how far it will spread. I feel pretty confident, living in New England, that I won’t have to worry about finding tar balls on my next trip to the beach. But is my confidence justified? How do I know that oil won’t make it all the way up the Atlantic coast? Only time will tell, I suppose.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the ramifications of this disaster will outlive me. Whatever happens, the Gulf of Mexico has been forever altered, forever scarred. What a tremendous tribute to human greed and incompetence.

Roger Ebert Can Kiss My Shiny Metal Butt

I have a lot of hobbies. I like playing video games, I like listening to music, I like reading books. But one thing I don’t consider a hobby is watching movies. It’s not that I don’t like watching movies, because I do. Or rather, I should say that I like the idea of watching movies. When it comes to actually sitting down and watching a movie, though, I find that I’d much rather spend my time in other pursuits.

Here’s a little story to illustrate. About a year ago my mom and grandma bought me a Playstation 3 as a graduation (from college) present. One thing that I was excited about was that now I could play Blu-Ray movies. A year later, I do in fact own two movies on Blu-Ray. And I haven’t watched either one. I want to watch them. One of them (Star Trek) was a Christmas present from my wife. And I was very excited to get it. And when I see it sitting on the shelf, I think “Ooo! I should watch that!” But so far, I haven’t.

I think the reason that I don’t actually watch movies is that I have a pathological fear of boredom. See, when I was a kid, my parents did not buy me everything I wanted. Which was of course a good thing, because it meant that I didn’t grow up to be a spoiled brat. But it was also a bad thing, because it meant that sometimes I got sick of the limited number of things that I owned, at which point I became bored. And for some reason, being bored was/is such a horrible thing to me that I do everything I can to prevent it. And now that I’m grown up and have more control over what I can buy, I have a plethora of distractions to ensure that there is no possibility that I will ever be bored. (Although, as I’m not Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, I still can’t buy EVERYTHING I want),

As an example of my desperate need to not be bored, I will just mention that when I was folding laundry earlier this week, I was also listening to music and playing Sudoku at the same time. I know, it’s a sickness.

Now, you’re probably asking, “what does this have to do with watching movies? Don’t people normally watch movies as a cure for boredom?” Probably normal people do, but I’m afraid that I’m not very normal. I tend to find that I need my eyes, ears and hands all occupied in order to stave off boredom. If I’m watching a movie, my eyes and my ears are occupied, but my hands are not. And movies are pretty long. Sitting for an hour and half to three hours without anything to occupy my hands is a tall order for me. Sheesh, now that I write this stuff down, it makes me wonder if I have ADHD or something. Who knows?

In any case, I think this is one of the reasons that I like video games so much. With a video game, my eyes, ears and hands are fully occupied. Assuming it’s a good game, I can get totally immersed in it to a level beyond any other type of hobby/distraction. Video games are my ultimate cure for boredom.

Of course, that means that if I’m playing a video game, I’m pretty much useless for anything else. So as my family grows and I have more responsibilities around the house, I find that my opportunities for playing video games become more limited. Obviously, after my son was born, I began to limit video games with violence or other explicit material to the period after he was asleep for the night. But I still played family-friendly games with him around. (Which he enjoys immensely, by the way. He actually went through a phase where he would cry if I didn’t play my DS.) With two kids, however, I find that there is so much going on at any given time that I really can’t play any video games at all unless both kids are in bed.

But I seem to have digressed from my original topic. Another reason that I don’t watch movies is that I don’t have a lot of free time anymore. Once upon a time, back in the days before kids, I used to work at Movie Gallery. (This was also in the days before Netflix killed Movie Gallery, but that’s a topic for a different time.) Pretty much the only perk of working at Movie Gallery was that I got to rent movies for free. Movie Gallery wanted its employees to be knowledgeable about the product they were selling, so employees were allowed to take out three movies at a time for no charge. And because I could get movies for free and my wife and I had no kids, watching movies was one of our favorite pastimes.

Now, we have kids. And having kids means having less free time, which means making tough choices about what hobbies to prioritize and which ones to leave behind. (At least it does if you have a lot of hobbies.) For me, watching movies was one of those hobbies that got left behind. As much as I enjoy watching movies, I enjoy playing video games more. And when it comes down to deciding what I want to do when the kids go to bed, video games invariably win out. Occasionally I prefer to read or browse the internet and listen to music. But it has been a long time since I decided to watch a movie. Will those days make a return? Perhaps, once my kids are older and more independent. But in the meantime, it’s hardly the end of the world if I don’t get to watch movies. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play video games.

Also, sorry about the random title. It’s really hard to think of good titles for blog posts.

The Interwebs

I met my wife on the internet. Ten years ago, that would have been a pretty shocking statement. Now, I’m not so sure that it would be a big deal. But it’s hardly commonplace either. In any case, the internet has taken on such a ubiquity that I sometimes have to wonder how I ever survived without it. And yet the internet’s rise to prominence has been shockingly quick. Fifteen years ago I didn’t even know what the internet was. Thirty years ago (before I was born) the internet barely existed outside of military and university laboratories. And now it’s everywhere.

I’m not a particularly wealthy man (although I am particularly nerdy), but in my house there are at least 10 devices that can connect to the internet. All but one of them do so without any physical connection (darn you Xbox 360!). If I was a wealthy man, I can guarantee you that I’d own a lot more than 10 internet-enabled devices. What do I do with them all? Well, a variety of things.

One of the devices is a netbook, which I am currently typing this blog post on. My wife also has a netbook. We use these as our primary computers. We surf the “world wide web”, we download music, we get updates for our software, and so on. Four of my internet devices are video game consoles. On three of these, I use the internet connection both to update the firmware and download new games or add-on content. (The fourth one is a Nintendo DS Lite. It is technically capable of connecting to the internet, but I never actually use that functionality, since all you can do with it is play multiplayer games. I don’t play multiplayer games.) My wife and I also own a total of four Zunes, which can connect to the internet and download music. (The Zune HD also has a web browser, but it’s pretty basic. And slow. I hardly ever use it.)

So the internet is everywhere. But that wasn’t always the case. As I stated at the beginning of this post, my wife and I met on the internet. We met in 2001, before there were things like MySpace and FaceBook and Twitter. Instead, what happened was that I used to search for random people to talk to on AOL Instant Messenger. I was almost always searching for Christian girls. And one day my wife was the person I picked to talk to. Yes, not only did I meet my wife on the internet, I was actively looking for a wife/girlfriend on the internet! Nerdy? Well, ten years ago it certainly was, but I’m not so sure it would be considered so today. I don’t really know, since I don’t do that sort of thing anymore.

In any case, I didn’t realize I would marry this girl the first time I talked to her, of course. In fact, I didn’t particularly like her at all when I first talked to her. Turns out, she didn’t particularly like me either. But, I knew that first impressions can be misleading, so I decided to keep talking to her for at least a little while. And, as time went on, she started to grow on me. And for some reason, I started to grow on her as well. Less than a year later, I found myself getting on a plane for the first time and flying halfway across the country to spend a week with her and her family. A year after that, and we were married.

The thing that’s fascinating to me about all of this is that even though I met my wife online, I still can’t help but be flabbergasted at how gigantic and all-pervasive the internet has become. Four years ago we didn’t even have a broadband internet connection. Now, not only do we have broadband, but we have wireless broadband, and of course the 10 internet-connected devices that I mentioned earlier. In fact, I would say that I consider my internet connection to be more of a necessity than my phone connection, although more and more people are giving up their landlines these days, so I suppose that statement isn’t as shocking as it once would have been either.

This brings me to another thing, which is that as ubiquitous as the internet is nowadays, it’s only going to get more so as time goes on. For example, people who live in big cities can already easily access the internet anywhere from their mobile phones. Someday (Lord willing) such a thing will be possible in the small rural town I live in. But not only that, but more and more, things that are handled and/or stored on physical computers nowadays are going to be handled/stored “up in the cloud”, that is, on the internet. This sort of thing is already going to a large extent. For example, with my Zune HD, I can search for a song or album, and listen to it streaming from the cloud, without ever having the file(s) stored on my device. It’s a great feature, because I can listen to just about anything I want to, anywhere there’s a Wi-Fi connection. (Disclaimer: This feature requires a $15 a month fee, so don’t rush out and buy a Zune HD expecting to listen to oodles of free music.)

It’s hard for me to imagine life without the internet. Such a thing must be possible, since I didn’t even know what the internet was until I was 15. But I’ve become so used to it, so reliant on it, that I don’t really know what I would do without it. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I guess I would argue that it’s both, or neither. Overreliance on anything probably isn’t good, but I don’t think that the internet is more or as dangerous as, say, smoking cigarettes, or drinking alcohol, or gambling. In any case, whether you think the internet is good or evil, the fact remains that it is everywhere, and it’s only going to get more so in years to come.

I Was a Teenage Anarchist (Actually, I Made That Up)

A few weeks ago, I talked about how I feel like I’m getting old even though I’m only 29. It’s a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately, since I’m rapidly approaching my 30th birthday. I’d like to take this subject up again and explore it in a little deeper depth.

One thing that I’ve noticed as I get older is that the more I learn, the less I know. Let me explain. As a little kid, I realized that there were a great deal of things I didn’t know. I remember being in awe of how much my parents knew, and being convinced that they knew just about all there was to know in the whole world. But once I became a teenager, things changed. I didn’t really go through the normal “teen angst” phase where my parents were the most horribly out of date and embarrassing people I could possibly be associated with. But I wasn’t exactly eager to be seen with my parents in public either. In any case, I remember that, as a teenager, I truly believed that I knew everything that was important to know.

Now, of course, I look back at that attitude and realize how little I actually did know. The interesting thing about getting older and learning more is, the more I learn, the more I realize how more there is to know. I suspect that if I live to be 100, I’ll have a spectacular wealth of knowledge and believe that I know nothing at all. It’s also interesting to reflect on how my views of the world have changed. I grew up in a conservative family. My parents never really told me what to believe or anything, but of course people are influenced by the views of those around them. I distinctly remember, as a kid, believing that Republicans were good and Democrats were evil, end of story. As a teenager/young adult, I considered myself more of a moderate, but I still always voted for Republicans.

Nowadays I feel like my political views are more nuanced. Whenever I vote, I try to vote for the candidate who I feel will do the better job. In 2008, that meant I voted for almost all Democrats, but that wasn’t based on any kind of black-and-white, Democrats=good, Republicans=bad, kind of thinking. I looked at the track records of individual candidates and of the parties as a whole, and made my decisions that way.

Even though my political views tend to lean more toward the Democrat side of things, I don’t agree with everything they stand for and/or do. I’m pro-life. I’m opposed to homosexual marriage. I was pretty outraged when the news broke that permits for deep-sea oil drilling were still being granted even after the President’s so-called moratorium on drilling. So I still consider myself a moderate, although certainly a liberal-leaning moderate.

In any case, my point in talking about my political views was just to emphasize my fascination at a couple of things. First, I’m fascinated by how the nature of what I know and believe has changed as I’ve aged, and second, I’m fascinated by how my views of what I know and believe have changed. It really has been amazing to me how much wiser I’ve gotten over the years. (Yes I know that sounded like an astonishingly arrogant statement.) Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go back in time and meet my 17-year-old self. I think I would probably smack myself in the head and say “Get a clue, you moron!” Okay maybe not, but it would be interesting.

I don’t really regret any of the choices I’ve made, because I know that those choices have made me the person that I am today. And yet, it would be difficult for me to make some of the same choices if I were given a second chance to make them. For example, after I graduated from high school, I was thoroughly sick of school, and yet I believed that I had to go on to college after high school, so I ended up going to a small community college because a bunch of my friends were going there. It was a miserable experience, and I dropped out after one semester in which I got the worst grades I’ve ever gotten. In the long run, it’s hard to say that that was a mistake, since things ultimately turned out for the best, but if I woke up tomorrow morning on the eve of my senior year of high school, it would be hard for me not to do things differently. Like, say, go to the University of Minnesota and get a bachelor’s degree in history, and then move on to graduate school and get a Ph.D in history. But then I probably wouldn’t have met my wife and ultimately married her and had two wonderful children with her. So it’s probably best that we don’t get second chances at major life decisions.

In the end, I’m probably just rambling on about nothing. People get wiser as they get older! What a surprise! Although I do suspect that that doesn’t always hold true with everybody. But what fascinates me is not so much that I know more at the age of 29 than I did at the age of 19, it’s the fact I’m so much more willing to learn now than I was then. I’ve always loved learning stuff, but there was definitely a time when I believed that things were set in stone and that the world was the way it was and that things would never change. My viewpoint couldn’t be farther from that now. I realize now that the world is so much bigger and more diverse than I ever could have imagined in 2000. And I also realize that how I view the world now is almost certainly going to be different from how I view it in 2020, 2030, 2040, and beyond (if I’m blessed enough to live that long). And that, my friends, is exciting.