Back That Thang Up

Ever have one of those “oh sh^%!” moments when your data gets deleted or your hard disk spins out of control and takes all your data with it? We have all been there and it’s a painful moment. Sadly, it doesn’t have to be since it’s completely avoidable if we were just more proactive. I had my first oh shit! moment back in 2003 when my iMac went all wonky and I thought I had lost all my data. Luckily I was able to hook it up to another Mac and transfer the data safely to an external hard disk (thank God for target disk mode on Mac’s). That’s when I realized the benefits of running regular backups.

For me there are 3 “oh shit!” moments you are trying to protect against:

  1. Oh shit! I deleted a file (file diversity)
  2. Oh shit! my computer hard disk crashed (hardware diversity)
  3. Oh shit! everything got stolen (location diversity)

The first event is very simple to implement on a Mac, you just have to fire up Time Machine and attach an external hard disk. Then it will periodically backup all your files and keep track of the files you change and allow you to recover to a previous file for whatever reason.  Apple makes it even easier with a Time Capsule (a wireless router + hard disk) which continuously backs up your computer over a wi-fi connection to the Time Capsule…pure genius.

Many people forget about event number two because they feel it’s covered by event number one, which is not totally true. If your hard disk crashes you might have all your data on an external hard disk, but you still have to waste hours re-install your operating system, reload your applications and copy your data. That’s a major pain if it happens on a Monday morning and you have a big presentation later in the day. To cover event number two I use Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC), it allows me to make a bootable backup of my computer to an external hard disk. Which means if anything happens to my main hard disk, I can just plug in the external hard disk and boot-up as if nothing happened. It’s become a Sunday ritual to use CCC and make a bootable image to an external hard disk. Oh, and the best part is that CCC is completely free.

Event number three is where I still struggle to have a completely fool proof system. Before the dawn of cloud computing people used to have a multi off-site strategy, they would store copies of their data at their house, office and bank locker. If an earthquake were to hit then most likely all your local data storage locations would have been affected and thus making the strategy useless. But now you can easily backup your data to a cloud service like Dropbox, CrashPlan or Jungle Disk. I use Dropbox for my critical data and it’s great. But, I haven’t gone down the path of backing up all my data which is around 400GB and growing by 1GB a week. To transfer that over a 1MB line would be impractical and not to mention very expensive. In the meantime, I’m still searching for a complete full proof way to insure against event number three.

Well there you have it, a quick summary of how to avoid those three “oh shit!” moments. Since external hard disks are so cheap these days, I would say get two external units and starting backing up right now to avoid events one and two from happening to you. Granted all the information was Apple specific but I’m pretty sure the same can be implemented on the Windoze platform.

Most Indians Are Horrible at Math

When I was growing up in Indiana I was one of the few minorities in a town of 12,000 people. I would always hear the typical stereotypes about Asians being smart in math. Some how math was never my strongest subject and during my adolescence years it was highlighted quite frequently. My math teacher, Mr. Brother’s would hand out the graded tests based on your grade (highest to lowest) and invariably I would get back my test in the bottom 25%, god I hated that fu!@&% math class so much. However, it’s probably why I gravitated towards computers and Lotus 1-2-3. Funny thing, my hatred for math started even before I got to Indiana.

When I lived in Chicago one of our closest family friends had a son that was basically a supercomputer made to look like a dosa eating South Indian. Shyam was the all-star brainy kid of Chicago and I’m sure I was not the only kid in the greater Chicagoland metro area to get compared to him. Typical comments like “Well, Shyam can spell that” or “Shyam did 1599 on his SAT, he missed a point because he was busy writing to the New England Journal of Medicine about curing cancer.” At one point I thought the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg (pronounced “shyam-berg”) was named after him because he was so damn smart.

When I moved to India in 2005, I thought I would be surrounded by human Intel dual-core processors that would put Excel to shame. Slowly though I started to realize that only a subset of Indians are good at math. The more I looked around, the more I realized Indians are generally REALLY bad at math. This assumption was not from intensive research but looking at one simple product – the credit card.

Everyone wants to live the American dream which is really just consumerism fueled by credit cards and Indians are no different. 10 years ago credit cards were nowhere to be found in India but once the young work force started to work in call centers they started getting credit cards. The theory is these kids were pushing credit cards to Mike in Montana during the night at their call center job (remember the 12.5 hour time difference) and during the day they wanted to live the “American dream” so they would charge up a storm on their own credit cards.

Everything up to this point seems legitimate until you open the first bill and see the interest rate the banks charge. I got my first Indian credit card about 3 years back and almost had a heart attack while looking at my monthly statement where it said they would charge me 3.3% per month. I have NEVER in my life paid a nickel in interest but I was shocked at the arrogance of the banks to charge such high interest rates. It’s also part marketing, they never talk about the annual rate because that would scare people off. Instead, when people see 3.3% per month they probably think its okay and harmless. However, when you do the quick math of 3.3 times 12 you come up with 39.6% per year to have the luxury of carrying a balance.

Charging 39.6% is almost criminal. Oh wait, it is criminal but only if you take money from a microfinance institution like SKS Microfinance. Legally, if you take a loan from SKS they cannot charge you more then 26% a year, granted we are talking about different needs. Microfinance is about helping people get out of poverty, whereas credit cards seem to be helping people go into poverty.

Being in India, I can finally feel smart when it comes to numbers.