Fried Laptop, Learning From Mistakes, And Overwhelming Guilt

On Wednesday night, NHL was playing a game on my laptop while I made dinner. Suddenly, he shouted that my laptop turned off and wouldn’t turn back on again. I checked and, sure enough, my laptop was dead.

After questioning NHL, he admitted that he tried to plug it in, but wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he shoved the round power plug into a rectangular USB port.

Normally, this wouldn’t have been much of a problem. The power plug requires a metal contact inside the plug itself and the connectors in the USB drive sit atop a plastic piece. Unfortunately, that plastic piece had gone missing and one of the USB connectors entered the power plug.

You might be able to guess what happened next. A surge of electricity flowed through sensitive computer components not designed to handle such currents. My best guess is that the motherboard was fried.

I opened the computer and looked it over. While I couldn’t find and visible damage, given the nonresponsiveness of the laptop, a fried motherboard makes the most sense.

Replacing the motherboard would cost half as much as a new computer. Even then it might not work right as other components might have been fried. So it looks like it’s time for a new laptop for me.

As for NHL, he was, understandably, upset. I’ll admit that, at first, I wanted him to feel bad about it. Making mistakes teaches you nothing if you don’t take the mistake to heart. Too many people are all too eager to blame their mistakes on others and thus don’t learn from them.

After awhile, though, I saw that this had progressed past simple “feeling bad for his mistake” and had turned into full blown “nothing I do is right and I always mess everything up.”

I know that mindset all too well. It’s easy to get stuck like that and spiral downward quickly. At that moment, I set aside any anger I felt over what happened to my laptop and put on my parenting hat.

I told NHL that I understood how he felt and that I’ve felt that way many, many times before. It can be easy to sink into a depression over your mistakes, but that doesn’t help. I told him that, when I feel like this, I intentionally set those thoughts aside for awhile. I picture it like I’m packaging up my feelings/thoughts and placing them on a shelf in my mind.

Once I calm down and can rationally assess what happened, I pick the thoughts up again, figure out what went wrong and how I can do better next time. I make sure I take those lessons to heart but then I put all feelings of guilt aside so as to not let them overwhelm me. This isn’t to say that I don’t feel guilty. I do and will apologize immediately to anyone that I need to. However, for my own self-preservation, I need to be sure to keep myself out of the guilt spiral.
NHL seems to have recovered from his bout with the guilt spiral. I don’t know just yet if he’s taken the lesson to heart. (The lesson being: “Always pay attention where you’re plugging things into.”)

Now, I just need to hunt for a new laptop.

Backing Up With BackBlaze

computer-on-fireDisclaimer: BackBlaze gave me a year of free backups for this review.  However, all opinions below are my own.

Backing up is probably the most important step anybody can take with their computers. It’s also likely the least performed step anybody does.

Over the years, my backup routine has changed. I used to backup everything to CDs, then to DVDs when I had too much data for a group of CDs. Eventually, I had too much for DVDs and I moved to external hard drives.  I copied my important files to an external hard drive and copied that to a backup drive (in case the first one failed).

There were just two problems with my backup routine. First of all, it wasn’t automatic. I had to remember to connect the drives and run the backups for each of our computers. Frequently, I’d forget for months on end leaving important data vulnerable. Secondly, while I would theoretically take the second drive to an off-site location (i.e. somewhere other than my house), practically I’d never get around to it. This meant that one burglar or house fire could mean the loss off everything.

I’ll admit, for the longest time I scoffed at cloud backup services. Why would you pay so much for a tiny amount of backup space? For the amount I would need to pay to backup all of my important data (photos, videos, documents, etc.), I could get a new hard drive every year.  Recently, though, I started to realize how vulnerable my backups were. External hard drives were good for a local backup but without the off-site component, we could lose everything in a matter of minutes.

I researched online backup services and many of them suffered from the same flaw: I had over 1TB to back up and they were all offering plans starting much smaller and quickly riding in price. It looked like my scoffing days might continue and my data might continue to not be as safe as to could be.

Enter BackBlaze.

For only $5 a month, BackBlaze gives you unlimited space to back up your files. Unlimited means that you don’t have to worry about extra files pushing you over a limit and costing you extra.  If you have 3TB of files to backup, it will cost you the same as if you have 100GB.

When you sign up for BackBlaze, you download the BackBlaze Control Center.  This application will let you decide which files are backed up and which are skipped.  It can also manage how fast the backup runs, since you might not want to flood your Internet connection with backups and have nothing left to stream Netflix.  You can also get an estimate on how long your backup will take.

At this point is where I hit my first roadblock.  You see, where I live my available high speed Internet isn’t that fast.  Right now, we get 15Mbps down and 1Mbps up.  I had about 880GB to download.  Even if I flooded my entire 1Mbps with the backups and ran them 24/7, it would take 82 days to complete my initial backup.  At a more reasonable half-of-my-available bandwidth, it would take me 163 days.  If you have a faster Internet connection or less to download, you will complete your backup much quicker.  After that, subsequent backups will run quickly since BackBlaze won’t need to upload ALL of the files that you want to backup – just the new and changed ones.

So what happens if your files are lost?  After all, a backup service without a decent recovery option isn’t worth anything.  To this end, BackBlaze gives multiple options.  First of all, BackBlaze’s software can download your data just like it uploaded it.  Of course, while this option might not cost extra, it could involve extra time depending on your Internet speeds and how much data you are backing up.  In my case, if I used my entire bandwidth every hour of every day, I could get everything back in five and a half days.  At half of my bandwidth, it would take about eleven days.

The second option involves BackBlaze sending you a flash drive containing up to 128GB of data.  This costs $99.  BackBlaze can also send you a 4TB USB hard drive with your data for $189.  The drives are yours to keep or you can return them within 30 days and get refunded the entire cost.  Yes, this does mean that the flash drive and USB hard drive options would wind up being free after the refund goes through.

So would I recommend BackBlaze?

I have two main reservations about the service – one that is in BackBlaze’s control and one that is completely out of their control.  Their software operates on a "backup everything except for exceptions that you list" basis.  This means that, by default, it is trying to back up way too many files.  Sure, they exclude your Windows system folder by default, but still your hard drive is filled with files that you don’t really care about.  It would be better if their software allowed you to choose whether you want to backup everything except for exceptions or only back up folders of your choosing.

The factor that BackBlaze can’t change is ISP upload speeds.  As mentioned earlier, this can turn any online backup service from useful to "too slow to do any good."  After backup up constantly for a few weeks, BackBlaze is still estimating another 120 or so days until my initial backup is done.  I understand that there’s nothing that BackBlaze can do to fix this on the ISP end, but it would be nice if that USB hard drive option worked the other way as well.  BackBlaze could send a hard drive (with a refundable $189 deposit to make sure people didn’t just keep the drives), have you copy your files to the drive, and then mail it back.  Once the drive arrived back at BackBlaze, they could upload the data much quicker and issue a refund for the drive.  This could turn six month long initial backup sessions into one week long initial backups.

Still, even with these limitations, I would still recommend BackBlaze.  The service seems very fast and stable and the price is definitely right.  For the same price as a year of unlimited space at BackBlaze ($60), I would need to pay $120 for 1TB on Google Drive or Dropbox or $84 for 1TB on Microsoft OneDrive.  All three of these require me to pay more for less space.

No matter what you do – be it cloud backup, saving to external hard drives, or burning to disc – backups are a vital part of keeping your digital data safe.  Make sure that you come up with a plan that protects your files from as many different threats as possible. 

NOTE: The image above is a combination of "Cartoon Computer and Desktop" by DTRave and "Fire" by matheod.  Both are available from

A Guide To Website Hosting Options

web_serverCongratulations.  You’ve decided to make a website.  Maybe it’s a little "postcard site" with a single page advertising your business.  Maybe it’s a blog or forum.  Perhaps you are looking to build a huge corporate site or a web application that you hope will take off in popularity.  Before you write one line of code, though, you are going to need some place to put that site.

With a physical house, there are different styles to choose from.  That studio apartment might be cheaper to rent but it isn’t nearly as spacious as the five bedroom house.  The same is true of servers to host your website.  There are options ranging from the limited but inexpensive to the pricier but more robust.  I recently moved my hosting between these options and, during my research, realized that people might not know just what possibilities there are.  What follows is a quick and dirty guide between the most common types of hosting.  As with anything, there can be some that straddle the line or carve out their own niche.  However, I’m confident that 99% of the hosting options out there would fall into the following four categories.

Free Hosting

If you are just starting a small, personal site and don’t have a budget at all, you might want to consider this option.  Free hosts will give you space to create your website for, well, free.  The caveat here is that your site might be required to carry advertising for the hosting provider.  This earns the hosting provider income and you may not be permitted to share in that income.  Furthermore, your options for creating a site might be limited.  You often will be allowed to choose from a small set of templates to create your site.  While this can be a benefit to those who don’t know how to create a website, it can also wind up making your site look like a dozen other sites.  Finally, depending on the host, you may not be allowed to use your own domain name.  In other words, people might access your site via instead of  Needless to say, the latter is much more professional looking.  Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this option for any but the smallest of hobby sites and even then I’d recommend thinking twice.

Shared Hosting

Servers are powerful computers that can host web sites.  (They "serve" up webpages.)  Modern servers are so powerful that they can host hundreds or even thousands of websites on a single box.  This is where shared hosting comes in.  With shared hosting, a provider sets up a server and allocates you a set amount of space and bandwidth in exchange for a relatively small monthly fee (around $5 to $30 a month but this varies by host and what is offered).  You are free to make your site however you like, free from almost any restrictions.  Most hosts have provisions against illegal activities and/or porn, but so long as you steer clear of these you should be fine.

The downside of shared hosting is that the server is shared.  Imagine a big pool.  That’s our server.  A swimmer (a website) dives into the pool.  He has plenty of room to swim and splash.  Another jumps in and they can both splash all they want without bothering each other.  As more and more enter the pool, though, it becomes harder to keep swimmers from splashing other swimmers.  When you have a thousand in the pool, each swimmer can still enjoy the water, but they must take care not to splash too much.  If a website uses too much memory/server resources, the hosting provider can kick the website off the server.  You might think that the host wouldn’t want to lose the revenue, but you’d be wrong.  For every site kicked out, there are a dozen ready to sign up.

This happened to me once.  I was running our blogs on a shared hosting environment.  It was nice and inexpensive.  Then, with no warning, we found our sites suspended.  When we asked why, we were told that our two blogs were using too much resources and we needed to pay them to move to a dedicated server which costs much more money.  (More on dedicated servers later.)  Luckily, we were able to get our sites reinstated during the transition, but it was a rude awakening.  A shared server might be a nice place to start out, but it has very little room to grow.

Virtual Private Server Hosting

Instead of thousands of people jumping into the pool, Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is akin to setting up walls between a dozen or so swimmers in the pool.  Each swimmer has his own section of the pool and each section is prevented from interfering with the other sections.  There are less people per server so the hosting cost can be higher, but you wind up getting more power and resources.  Better still, since your sites are divided, you don’t need to worry about your site being kicked off for using too many resources.  The worst case scenario is that your server uses up its available resources and slows down.  The other sites on the server, though, would continue to operate unimpeded.

VPS hosting has many sub options.  Perhaps you are proficient at managing a server and want to save more money by getting an unmanaged hosting provider.  These plans can even rival shared hosting as far as cost goes.  (Say, about $8 a month.)  Or perhaps you aren’t as comfortable and are willing to pay slightly more for your server to be managed by the hosting providers’ staff.  This can be pricier, but still relatively inexpensive.  (Around $40 a month.)

Another benefit to VPS servers is that they can easily grow.  Suppose you had a VPS server set up with 10GB of hard drive space and you realize your site is now using 8.5GB.  You can upgrade your plan to, say, 20GB (paying more per month, of course) and your virtual server’s specs will be altered on the fly.  There will be no need to move your files/databases to another server at all.  (To use the pool metaphor, imagine the walls separating you from the other swimmers suddenly moved to make your pool segment larger.)  This means you can get a smaller VPS plan at first to save money and grow it as your site grows.

VPS hosting is a very attractive, and often overlooked, option.  In our case, after a stint on a dedicated server, we switched to a VPS server to save money.  We wound up paying only around 20% of our dedicated server cost and only around four times our old shared hosting costs.  I’d definitely recommend VPS hosting to anyone, but with the caveat of hiring someone to help you manage the server – or at least set it up.

Dedicated Server

Dedicated servers are definitely the most powerful option but can also be the most expensive.  Going back to the pool metaphor, we’ve kicked everyone out of the pool except for you.  You can splash, swim, kick, and play in the pool to your hearts’ content without fear of impacting anyone else.  You won’t be kicked off for using too many resources (though you still may be kicked off if you host content against your provider’s terms of service).  This is very much like Virtual Private Server hosting except you are the only one on the actual, physical server.  These plans vary quite a bit depending on the server’s processor, memory, hard drive space, etc., but plans regularly run into the hundreds of dollars per month.

I’d recommend a dedicated server only to the largest of sites and to the sites with plenty of financing.  Even then, dedicated servers have downsides besides price.  Unlike a VPS plan, dedicated servers can’t simply be updated on the fly.  If you need a bigger hard drive on your dedicated server, your host will need to back up your server, shut it down, replace the hard drive, start it back up, and restore the backup.  Then, you will need to test to make sure nothing broke in the transfer.  Upgrading more features might necessitate getting a completely different server – and moving your site between boxes.


No matter what option you choose, I’d definitely recommend hiring someone to set up your site.  It might seem tempting to toss together a site even without any web knowledge – and many programs claim to offer novices the ability to create any website with no experience required.  The fact of the matter, though, is that web developers do this sort of thing every day.  They know what works and what doesn’t.  They know how to avoid security pitfalls and how to increase usability.  The money you spend on a good web developer is well worth it.  Of course, full disclosure, on this last point I might be biased as I am a web developer myself.  (Side note: I am available for freelance projects so if you need a website built, drop me a line.)

There you have it, your four main options.  As I said before, there are other options out there that straddle the line or don’t fit into these neat boxes.  For the most part, though, these represent most of your choices.  while they are all fine options, they aren’t all good options for every website. Don’t set up your corporate page on a free host and don’t set up your tiny hobby page on a dedicated server.  (Well, in the case of the latter, not unless you’ve got money to burn in which case contact me about making your site.)  Choosing which hosting option your site is on is almost as important as choosing what your site will look like.  It is the foundation that your entire site will be built upon.  So take it slow and research your options before you just dive into the pool.

NOTE: The "web server" image above is by lyte and is available via

Wi-Fi Weirdness

The other day, while B was driving the car, I decided to check my phone for nearby Wi-Fi networks.  I didn’t plan on connecting to any – even if they were open, I don’t connect to strange Wi-Fi networks.  I just was curious what was out there.  I wasn’t prepared for my first Wi-Fi discovery, though.


There wasn’t a Mexican restaurant in the area, so I’m guessing this was someone who kept forgetting the password to their network.  All the security in the world won’t matter, though, if you advertise what your password is.


Why do I think that Mario lives near here?


I guess this is better than an idle donkey.


I’m not sure if this is Morse Code or a hidden smiley face.


Someone’s a fan of Star Trek!


Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

Download files baby. Uh huh, uh huh.

And all the devices say, it’s pretty fly for a Wi-Fi!


This Wi-Fi network will only download files that rhyme.  (You can’t download anything named "Orange.")


Someone’s a fan of Discovery Channel’s week dedicated to Selachimorpha.


Some Wi-Fi networks like to just keep it classy.


Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  It’s a Wi-Fi network!


I thought the connection on this one would be $#*^, but it turns out you can quickly download log files or memory dumps.

What weird Wi-Fi network names have you seen?

Extreme Geekery: Printing A Hard Drive

Hard_Disk_SmallIt’s no secret that I’m a geek.  It’s not just limited to watching shows like Doctor Who and movies like Star Wars.  It’s not just limited to memorizing random facts and having an interest in science.  I also love figuring things out sometimes.  Things that are too hypothetical to be practical.

For awhile, I’ve been  in geeky-love with Randall Munroe’s What If series.  In it, tackles some weird questions like What would happen if you put a drain at the bottom of the ocean? and How many people would a T-Rex let loose in New York City need to eat every day?  Randall delves deep into scientific facts and theories to back up his answers.  Sometimes he’ll use complicated equations used to calculate rocket trajectories and sometimes he’ll chart human growth rates.  Randall’s series has been so popular that he’s putting out a book.  (For disclosure purposes, I wasn’t asked by anyone to plug Randall’s book.  However, if I *was* asked to review it, I’d jump at the opportunity!)

I’ve been inspired by Randall.  For awhile, I’ve wanted to delve into some more geeky topics, but I didn’t want to scare everyone away by going full on mega-geek.  So consider this an experimental, possibly semi-regular series of blog posts.  Translation: As I think of them I’ll blog them but they won’t by any means overshadow normal postings.

WARNING: Extreme Geekery Ahead!

The first question I’ll tackle is:  If you printed the contents of a full 1TB hard drive, how big would the stack of papers be?

To figure this out, we first need to set a few ground rules.  We could print the actual 1’s and 0’s on the hard drive or hexadecimal (base 16) representation of that data.  Hexadecimal would be shorter.  For example, 11111001 in binary is F9 in hexadecimal.  Also, we’d need to decide on a font size for printing.  Obviously, choosing a huge font size would mean less data per page (and, thus, more pages) than a tiny font size.

We’ll print in binary (1’s and 0’s) since that’s more literally what’s on a hard drive.  Also, normal font size is around 10 point so we’ll go with that.

Next, we need to figure out how much data would fit on a sheet of paper.  By opening up, I was able to type in 83 characters per line and 49 lines per page using 10 point Times New Roman font.  This means 4,067 1’s and 0’s would fit on a page.  This leads to the next question:  How many 1’s and 0’s are in 1TB?

1TB, or one terabyte, is 1,000,000,000,000 bytes.  Each byte, in turn, is 8 bits.  Bits are those 1’s and 0’s.  This means that a one terabyte hard drive can store 8,000,000,000,000 1’s and 0’s.  (Theoretically speaking, that is.  Practically speaking, there are issues that keep you from getting all of those 1’s and 0’s on your 1TB hard drive.  We’ll ignore those issues for the purposes of this discussion, however.)

With 8,000,000,000,000 bits and 4,067 bits per page, we wind up with 1,967,051,881 pages.  That’s quite a lot of pages, but how tall would the stack be?

Some Google searching turned up that normal printer paper is 0.1 millimeters thick.  This means that the stack would be 196,705,188.1 millimeters tall.  Of course, 1,000 millimeters is one meter and one thousand meters equals one kilometer so this means the stack is actually, 196.7051881 km tall.  For those who don’t use the metric system often, this translates to 122.227 miles.  (Thank you, Google!)

Now we know how tall our stack of paper is, but what about a frame of reference?  We can imagine driving 122 miles, but that’s horizontally.  I doubt anyone drives vertically upward.  According to the earlier-mentioned Randall Munroe, 100km is the official edge of space.  So wherever this stack takes us will be in space.  Low Earth Orbit begins at 160km so some objects orbiting the Earth might hit into our stack.  Thankfully, Wikipedia says that the International Space Station orbits “between 330 km (205 mi) and 435 km (270 mi)”.  That’s much higher than our stack, so at least we don’t need to worry about the ISS crashing into our stack of papers.  (At least, not until we print out the 2TB hard drive.)

So now we know how big of a stack of papers would result from printing out the contents of a 1TB hard drive.  Aren’t you glad we can fit all of those bits into a relatively tiny casing instead of having to lug around a stack of papers reaching to space?

NOTE: The hard drive image above is by ricardomaia and is available from

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